Tik Tok: Time’s Up

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My teenage daughter has found a new way to waste tons of time: the phone app Tik Tok. For the uninitiated, Tik Tok is a platform for posting short videos of yourself usually singing, dancing, or performing in some way. According to my daughter, it’s supposed to be the antidote to the glammed up versions of ourselves we’ve been posting on Instagram. (When I say ourselves, I mean the youngsters!)

On Tik Tok, you see, you can be silly and unpolished. Getting laughs is pretty much the point. Lately, the craze seems to involve posting intricate dance moves and having others compete with their own Tik Tok posts replicating the same dance. The whole thing seems terribly pointless, and the expenditures of time on the site are ridiculously wasteful.

Let’s face it. If you feel the need to post pictures or videos of yourself on social media, you are looking for attention and approval. It matters not whether the image is an airbrushed ideal you are trying to portray or a “Hey, I’m just a regular girl/guy” persona.

My daughter is the youngest of four children, and I am grateful that my three older kids grew up largely before the influence of social media. It has been a struggle to rein in my daughter’s addiction to her screen and insist that she get homework done, rest, and interact with her own family from time to time. I can’t imagine if I had had to deal with crazes such as Tik Tok four times!

I recall the advent of social online presences when my oldest child got AOL Instant Messenger on the computer. She would simultaneously complete her homework and chat with friends. Once my husband and I discovered an “away message” on AIM that included a mild expletive. We grounded her from the computer for a month!

In the good old days, I could also monitor what my kids were listening to music-wise. They were only allowed to download radio versions of songs that removed all the bad language. And although they did have iPods and could ostensibly get around that rule, they largely listened to their music in ways that I could hear.

I don’t envy younger parents. A tech-saturated world is only going to get more advanced. Soon parents will be grappling with teens having virtually reality sex and killing off their enemies in not-so-innocent VR games. I guess I should be happy for the relative innocence of Tik Tok.

Still, I think the clock needs to run out on Tik Tok. I still have to get my daughter through her senior year!

Wait for It

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Ever since the arrival of paid subscription television, the Big Three networks ABC, NBC, and CBS have been looked upon with a certain amount of disdain. Network shows are seen as largely predictable, saccharine, and not particularly worthy of critical acclaim. For a few dollars a month, viewers can watch quality TV without the interruption of annoying commercials. Further, streaming services such as Netflix have allowed the New Millennium phenomenon of binge-watching an entire season of a television series in one sitting.

I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy some of the critically acclaimed fare on these subscription networks: The Sopranos, Homeland, and Stranger Things, to name a few. Yet I am still a fan of so-called network TV. And I was heartened to find that I am not alone. Los Angeles Times writer Robert Lloyd penned a defense of network TV that appeared in my Chicago Tribune today. He pointed out that while broadcast series have been largely snubbed in recent years at the Emmys, there is still much to be enjoyed about these stories that enter our home week after week. I must agree.

One criticism of broadcast television is that it is bland and not edgy. The main reason for this perception is that the FCC regulates the content of shows appearing on the Big Three networks. NBC’s The Good Place even uses this fact cleverly with the conceit that, in Heaven, all swearing is converted into innocuous language. (“Holy Mother-forking shirt balls!”) Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t need gallons of blood, gratuitous nudity, or strings of F-words to be entertained. What’s more, I can watch the more family-friendly fare you find on network TV with my kids.

Because network television has to appeal to a broad audience, TV snobs find it uncool to like 30-minute sitcoms, police procedurals, or family dramas. Yet some of the most clever comedies of recent times originated on broadcast TV. I defy anyone to find a funnier, hipper or more heart-warming comedy than The Big Bang Theory. And the comic timing of the actors on Modern Family is nothing short of genius. As Lloyd points out in his commentary, streaming services have been spending big bucks obtaining the rights to former network shows due to their widespread and enduring popularity. (“In defense of network TV,” Robert Lloyd, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 19, 2019)

Of course, there is nothing enjoyable about sitting through television commercials, and this was an initial appeal of paid-for TV: the lack thereof. But with the advent of the DVR, viewers can still avoid TV ads simply by fast forwarding them. Or we can use commercial breaks the way gramps and I did in the olden days. It’s the perfect time to use the bathroom or get a snack.

I have to give credit where credit is due. Competition from subscription TV programming forced the Big Three to up their game in terms of quality. Today there are some wonderfully nuanced and special shows on the networks. My favorite is the drama This Is Us. Although I’ve always found the series title atrocious, I am amazed each week at the depth and surprises to be experienced in following the lives of the fictional Pearson clan. Each episode leaves me dying for more.

And that comes to the final reason to love network television. There is something special about seeing a story unfold week after week, to be given small doses of an ongoing saga as opposed to watching episode after episode and, as Lloyd puts it, “feeling way too full and maybe a little dirty.”

Broadcast television will give you a steady diet of laughter, inspiration, and suspense – if you’re willing to wait for it.

 

The Death of Shame

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Growing up Catholic in the Sixties, I was more than well acquainted with the concept of shame. “Shame on you!” was a common reprimand to children who stepped out of line. As I got older, I started to see the propensity to shame people as a negative thing. And it can be. Making people ashamed of their natural feelings and inclinations leads to a low sense of self-worth.

Nowadays, however, I think we’ve completely lost the sense of shame to the point where we can hurt and abuse others and still go about our normal lives without any sense of contriteness or trying to rectify the situation.

The #MeToo movement exposed the sexual predation, harassment and assault perpetrated by many men in the public sphere. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Matt Lauer, we were horrified to discover how many powerful men have used their position to prey on women (and in some instances men). The behavior of these men -ranging from sexual remarks to nudity to sexual assault – was rightly denounced, and the perpetrators seemed to pay a price. For a while.

Take the case of Charlie Rose. Not long after he was fired from CBS over allegations that he paraded around naked in front of female interns and made inappropriate sexual comments, a report came out that Rose had been shopping around a comeback show in which he interviewed men who, like himself, had been accused of sexual harassment and predation. In other words, he had the audacity to attempt to profit off of the very heinous behavior that made him temporarily slink away from the public eye. My initial thought was, Have you no shame?

Little by little, however, these men will weasel their way back into the world of entertainment because we live in a world without shame. Not long ago, I read a story about an appearance by comedian Louis C.K. at a Chicago nightclub. (“No apologies, no notes at Louis C.K. show,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 21, 2019) C.K. had been exposed (pun intended) for his propensity to masturbate in front of female colleagues behind the scenes of his standup shows.  During his Chicago show, C.K. alluded to the allegations against him by proclaiming that everyone had a “thing” that would be embarrassing if others found out about it – as if his behavior was a harmless peccadillo and not a case of harassment. He painted himself as a victim, alluding to the fact that he used to sell out giant venues and was now playing to a small crowd. No shame indeed.

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that famous men seem to have no sense of culpability for their own actions. After all, our current president bragged on video about grabbing women “by the pussy.” If ever there were a poster child for a world without shame, it’s Donald Trump.

Our society seems to have a high tolerance for the misbehavior of men, especially white men. For example, despite allegations of rape against Brett Kavanaugh, he was confirmed to the highest court in the land. Victims are consistently doubted and put on trial as if they were the perpetrators of harm. Even when we choose to believe the allegations, we seem to have a need to forgive and forget, thus allowing predators to get away with their actions and survive, if not thrive.

And that’s a shame.

 

Sharing DNA Does Not a Family Make

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web_ready_gathering_final_kondrichLately I’ve been seeing stories about people seeking out others whose mothers were impregnated with sperm from the same donor – ostensibly looking for “siblings” they didn’t know they had. There’s even a new TV series called Almost Family, the premise of which is that a young woman discovers that her father, a renowned fertility doctor, used his own genetic material to impregnate many of his patients. This news sends her reeling and in search of biological half-sisters and other half-siblings running around unbeknownst to her.

I object to the idea that sharing DNA makes someone a part of one’s family. Aside from medical considerations such as the need for matching bone marrow or a kidney, there is no real family connection between people conceived in the sterile confines of a medical facility with sperm from the same donor. And the implication that somehow “blood is thicker than water” is a slap in the face to adoptive families such as my own.

I have three biological children conceived, luckily for me, the old-fashioned way. I loved the early bonding I was able to have with them, loved being able to nurse them and know them from even before they were born. I recognize the emotional pull of wanting to have one’s own biological children. And I truly understand why couples go through the rigors, expenses, and discomforts of fertility treatments.

But I also have a daughter adopted from China when she was eleven months old. I missed her very earliest days and the ability to breastfeed her. We had a short adjustment period during which we had to get to know each other, and she had to learn to trust us as her new mom and dad, brothers and sister. Yet today, my closeness with her, my sense of her as my own child is indistinguishable from my feelings for my other three children.

A family is made from shared love and experiences, from late nights comforting a colicky or sick child, from laughs shared at the dinner table, even from fights and defiance and setting boundaries. Families are made, not born, and a tenuous biological connection is fairly inconsequential.

I’m not dismissing the urge for adopted children to wonder about or search for their biological parents. Wondering why they were given away, wanting to know something about the mother, say, who carried them in her womb for nine months is perfectly normal.

But thinking that somehow you’re connected to someone because the same anonymous donor contributed his DNA to both of you? That reduces the idea of family to something mechanistic, impersonal, and ultimately meaningless.

In this day and age, families come to be in so many different ways. It’s unconditional love that makes a family, not the biological origins of one’s birth.

Play It Again, Sam

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My family likes to tease me about my penchant for watching certain television series over and over. How many times, they want to know, do I need to see thirtysomething or Gilmore Girls before I’ve had enough? The answer, of course, is: I’ll never tire of these or many other books, movies, and TV shows.

Repetition is a standard feature of life, starting in childhood. Mom and Dad might not enjoy reading Goodnight, Moon every night into infinity, but their sons and daughters can’t get enough of it. When my own kids were young, they wore out the VHS tapes of their favorite animated movies. They insisted on reading the same books time and again even though we had a gigantic library of selections.

Children’s fixation on repetition is actually important for their development. Repetition helps them learn. It not only helps them practice new skills, but it actually strengthens connections in the brain. Remember having to memorize poems or Shakespearean soliloquies? It may have seemed dull and pointless at the time. We saw no future in which we would suddenly launch into, “Friends, Romans, countrymen . . .” But our teachers knew something we didn’t. Rote learning is good for our brains.

Beyond practicality, rereading favorite books or rewatching favorite movies and shows is comforting. It connects us with certain feelings and thoughts from times past. I can’t read a Curious George book without picturing myself in the children’s section of my childhood library, unable to read just yet but still eagerly poring over the pictures of George and his friend, the man with the yellow hat. Watching season 7 of Gilmore Girls reminds me of the summer before my oldest daughter went off to college, and I still get teary-eyed thinking about it.

“Play it again, Sam” is actually a slight misquote from the classic movie Casablanca. In the film, Ilsa asks the piano player at Rick’s, “Play it, Sam.” And at the end of the film, Rick simply tells Sam, “Play it.” By sheer repetition, though, the line stands for an iconic moment in an iconic movie.

So have no fear of playing it again, reader. Whatever it is, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy it just as much as, if not more than, the first time around.

Generation Gap

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WoodstockThe other day my teenage daughter sat at the kitchen table and started reading off a list of 100 famous movie lines: everything from “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” A few were vaguely familiar to her. But for the most part, she had no idea where most of the lines came from or what they meant.

“How is ‘Rosebud’ such a famous line?” she demanded. She also wanted to know why Humphrey Bogart was the speaker of so many famous movie quips. As she went down the list, occasionally she asked me to replicate the intonation of the line as it was spoken in the movie. But it’s hard to convey, say, the hair-raising quality of the little girl in Poltergeist when she turns away from the television and says, “They’re h-e-e-e-re.”

My husband and I realized right then that we had failed to indoctrinate our children in the all-important canon of memorable films. Indeed, in so many areas – music, theater, television, history – there’s a generation gap between our own experiences and knowledge and that of our kids.

Much was made of the so-called generation gap during the 1960s. After the hardships and deprivations of two major world wars, members of the “Greatest Generation” were cautious, conventional, and level-headed. They enjoyed the economic well-being of the Fifties and saw it as a result of hard work and sacrifice. Self-expression was not valued as much as order and peace.

The Baby Boomers, children and grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, were born into relative peace and prosperity. As they grew up, they chafed at the older generation’s insistence on conformity and favored freedom and experimentation. Hence, the social unrest, drug use, and wildness of the hippie generation.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the famed three-day music festival in the farmland of upstate New York. There have been all kinds of retrospectives on Woodstock and what it represented to the people who were there. Interestingly, my daughter has been captivated by Woodstock and has spent hours with my husband watching a PBS documentary on the subject. She even had a conversation with a family friend who was at Woodstock, and I’m sure in her mind she was comparing his experience with her own immersion in Lollapalooza a couple of weeks ago.

The friend explained that he and many of his friends had planned to meet at the festival, but that, in the days before cell phones, there was really no way to connect with them once he’d arrived at Woodstock. There were hundreds of thousands of people amassed on the Yasgurs’ farm. Security consisted of volunteers with no weapons at all simply trying to convince the crowds to be cool. When food ran out, people from nearby farms contributed produce, and festival-goers themselves prepared and served the masses.

Although it’s definitely not my cup of tea to attend a huge music festival, there was something magical about the way Woodstock unfolded. Many of the greatest musicians of all time performed there. The PBS documentary showed footage of Jimi Hendrix rocking “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his guitar. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young performed live for only their second time on the Woodstock stage. It was music history in the making.

It’s hard to describe to young people what it was like growing up in a different era. Mine was one less saturated with media and technology. My kids can scarcely believe that my husband and I would be out and about on our bikes all day long without any contact with our parents. Now if they don’t pick up their cell phone on the second ring, I immediately go to DEFCON 1!

I think it’s great that my 18-year-old daughter has become interested in the past, especially the recent past as experienced by her own parents. After all, we are not only creatures of the present but of the accumulated past, the men and women and events that came before us. And learning about that past is one way to bridge the inevitable gap that each generation experiences with the one before.

More Than One Thing

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lastblackman1.0The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a quiet movie that is playing at only a handful of select theaters. Most critical reviews are focused on its treatment of San Francisco and the woes of long-time residents displaced by gentrification. But I took something else away from the film.

In a scene towards the end of the movie, the main character Jimmie Fails gets up to speak at a showing of his best friend’s improvisational play that has turned into a de facto memorial service for a neighbor recently shot dead. In describing his complicated relationship with the man, Kofi, Jimmie says, “Everybody is not just one thing.” That line stayed with me long after the movie ended.

Everybody is not just one thing. We tend to categorize people and judge them by superficial characteristics: looks, clothing, manner, speech. In Last Black Man, a group of young men in the neighborhood stand around swearing and insulting each other, pushing each other around, acting the tough guy. But when Kofi dies, the most belligerent of the group collapses into the arms of the very same man (Jimmie’s best friend) whom he has relentlessly mocked in the past.

In our increasingly polarized society, we need to remember that people are complex. Take Donald Trump, for instance. I myself have had very little good to say about our current president. And I don’t feel like he’s a good man. But I do not know Donald Trump personally. He may be a loving husband and father. He may be a good friend. His public persona is not the whole of Mr. Trump or of any of us. So it would behoove us to think carefully about labeling and name calling and ascribing hateful titles to people, something that, ironically, Mr. Trump does on a regular basis.

We should also hesitate to paint all members of a group with the same broad brush, whether they be Wall Street bankers or migrants at our border.

All of us are afflicted with the same infuriating, confusing, and glorious infirmity: the human condition. The Last Black Man in San Francisco portrays this reality beautifully. There are no clear villains or heroes in the movie. Instead, we get an up close portrait of a friendship and of the life of two young men navigating the new realities of their beloved city and trying to find their own place in it.

Let’s remember that we are all many things and afford each other the respect deserved by all human beings.