I was watching Miracle on 34th Street today (actually watched it twice in a row because for some reason AMC is too lazy to program more than two movies a day) and was *astounded* at how quickly Dorey and Bryan “fell in love”, a feature of most romantic comedies and certainly the unvarying theme of all Hallmark movies without exception and even when about dogs. Despite having spent my fair share of nights in the early (and later not so early) years of my childhood planted on the sofa giggling along while Matilda (I really don’t know her by any other name) charms Santa and her father-to-be with brimming precociousness and an unusually cute face that I sometimes want to eat, I’ve never taken objection to and frankly never noticed this glaringly obtrusive trend before. For those of you who didn’t spend your childhood junked up on Christmas movies and bonbons smeared on your face, there is really only one thing that you need to know re Dorey and Bryan’s romantic relationship and that is, to oversimplify things, that they have only spoken a handful of times (I realize this may be contentious and some may say that they’ve been dating for as far as we know years, but to my discretion I’m pretty sure they met an hour before the movie started) come Thanksgiving and are married by Christmas. And yet up until my 22nd year of life I accepted this as normal if not laudable behavior. What?
Now, I don’t mean to preach about “media’s” destructive influence on society and give you some annoyingly pedantic essay that would make me hate myself as much as you would (although to be honest, I probably will do that sometime next week) but I really just want to know if and how movies are reflecting or influencing real life? Of course this conversation could go on forever and across an entire breadth of lifestyle modeling, but for relationships specifically, do the interpersonal patterns in movies affect how we play them out in our own lives? On the one hand I’m quick to point blame at them for what I see as a general tendency in couples to not know (or seriously care to know, or in “the right ways” (I hate me too, it’s ok)) each other before committing to serious undertakings, myself having been included. It seems more common than not that people unknowingly sustain their relationships on superficial pretenses and that it’s only a matter of time before the cracks fissure and you drop into hell—or my mom just told me that so I’d be celibate forever. But hoping it’s the former, maybe we’re doomed to this miserable forgone romance and our only salvation is in trade schools for the healing heart during which we brandish ourselves with symbols (“optimistic”, “hurt”, “healing”, “addicted to red meat” etc.) in order to attract compatible companions (which I’m pretty sure is an arranged marriage in which case we should all just get those).
Yet on the other hand, I think these subliminal movie messages can’t possibly have had any irreversible effect or else I would’ve married that guy I met in the hall once 10 years ago at the drinking fountain. Yet due to some divine intervention I’m happy to report that I’ve thus far dodged (or more likely was dodged by) every man that would have possibly taken me as his nearly teenage wife after one month of dating. Instead I enjoy yelling at Jonatan until we both cry, in addition to long walks to the delivery ice cream truck. Quite simply, it amazes and inspires me that I’m in a relationship in which I feel aggressively genuine, and seek to cultivate in an intentional way. If it were up to Hallmark I’d be married to some hick who for no reason wants to be my kid’s dad and likes when I make him waffles in pumps and a bustier. But here I am, androgynous as ever with a fierce suspicion of all men who don’t approve of my shredded underwear from the 6th grade, and I find myself with a person that is as comfortable being as inexcusably frumpy as I am, respects me as much as I respect myself, loves his family as much as I love mine, accepts me more than I can myself, and challenges me intellectually & emotionally every day except for when all we do is nothing + sugar and fat. So how do I reconcile my fear of having drank the romcom kool-aid for far too long and without warning, with finding myself, wits in tact, exploring a relationship that is deeply soul enriching and with no foreseeable plans to marry? Some might just say it’s a Christmas miracle.
(Also I’m 22, so…)
In recent months I’ve been caught up in a slew of vacation idleness including and mostly limited to a copious amount of brain rotting cable television (no offense Hallmark movie channel) and unhealthy amounts of red meat. While it definitely has its rewards (never need to think, move, or shower) it becomes an exhausting chore to remain so inactive for so long. But what seems equally if not more troubling is how easy and addicting this lifestyle can become, and how much of an active effort it is to be productive and keep mentally and physically agile. So why this hair pulling contradiction of feeling compelled to do and accomplish things and similarly feeling compelled to the couch, steak in hand? Does anyone else share this distress with me or should I start going to therapy?
This whole issue came up today when I stumbled on an old email that I sent to someone after my freshman year of college, and was relatively shocked at the general interest and curiosity that seemed to possess me, and also discouraged that the questions that were unsettling then are those that are now more complicated to me today. The email was surprising and also expected–I feel like I’ve been trying to figure out the same thing for years without much clarity or progress. Whereas in college it felt like self-indulged rumination, now it’s clear to me that it’s always been a struggle to feel as though I’m fully realizing my ambition and intent (because, after all, what is my ambition and intent?), and far too tempting to be pulled into the way easier yet much less rewarding mindlessness that accompanies TV and stuffing my face. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not my nature to be in a fixed state of always secretly wanting to go home and watch movies & TV (albeit I’d like to think at least good movies & TV but this is up for debate) no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It’s with honest effort that I understand these incongruences and try to come to some productive arrangement between the two. Maybe I’m just intimidated by the increasingly certain realization that life requires a constant level of control and purposeful determination (and thereby diligent restriction) that always by nature becomes (or just inherently is) a life in effortful strife. This is especially exaggerated by the conviction of desperately wanting creative control over my life that often precludes the traditional workspace–a workspace in which being diligent is enforced and supervised. During the disparate months at a time that I’ve had a job, my high productivity is quite frankly amazing to me and I’ve wondered to no avail how to sustain a similar work ethic of my own accord.
It never feels good to be overcome by self doubt and question not only my abilities but even more terrifyingly my motivations. Am I just lazy? Am I just disillusioned and day dream too much? Or might I actually have an uncompromising need to explore creative/self-made endeavors and am I willing to cultivate the work ethic to back it up? It’s gotta be one or the other, right? I worry that I’m never going to outgrow this teenage cliché in which I desperately try to define the meaning of life while I lay in bed eating Ho Hos for dinner. It’s the 15 year old, pizza buffet loving, teeth rotting girl in me that whines, can’t I just have my cake and eat it too?
It’s not easy to always have a clear picture, partly because information is distorted by those who own it, partly because misapprehensions are made by those who don’t live it. So as best as I understand it, this is what’s been happening. In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to China after 150 years of British rule with the promise that in 2017, it would be able to democratically elect a leader, a function of the “one country, two systems” principle that acknowledges Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous state that, unlike Beijing, is not communist. But as of this year and breaking its promise, China decided that a committee from Beijing was still necessary to appoint its leader (presumably to carryout the interests of the mainland). This violation of basic recognition and political trust rippled through the region as people united in their outrage and took to the streets. Their position stands that Hong Kong citizens deserve the right to a democratic election and society—a right to which they were promised. Instead, they’ve been faced with mounting force tactfully used to villainize and silence the movement. On our fourth day in Hong Kong, we met two 20 year old students walking in Admiralty, a zone of peaceful protesting bustling with door to door single occupancy tents decorating a major highway. They were passing out yellow ribbons for individuals to wear in solidarity with the movement. A few minutes later and our interest piqued, they were wide-eyed spewing their passions and frustrations about the government conspired police perpetrations against the protestors, urging us to stay away from more dangerous areas of protest where the police employ third party triade members to ambush peaceful protesters, often times with harassment and violence. They explained that the peaceful movement was being falsely demonized for refusing reconciliation efforts when in fact it was government representatives that had purposefully missed scheduled negotiations. They confided their concerns for the future—the growing class divide, the increasing unaffordability, and the fissuring culture of Hong Kong. They lamented on the immigration policy that has allowed a fast growing population of mainland immigrants to overwhelm the Hong Kong population, resulting in fewer jobs for Hong kong citizens and exorbitant housing prices. The students worry about their present lives, their future selves, and how they’ll get a job and place to live after college. They seek to be heard, considered, and validated as a member of their own community, condemning the abuse of power and failure of mainland China to recognize Hong Kong’s right to democracy and autonomy.
A few days earlier in Beijing, my brother and I met for the first time, and my mom for her third, an old friend of my grandmother’s. Uncle Feng Cheng was wistful and stoic, as evidenced from his entirely unexpected yet poignant Christmas letter that we received last Christmas to our Michigan address after decades of lost contact. Dressed each day in tan khaki slacks, a navy wind breaker, and Nike tennis shoes that predate the ’90s, he recounted stories of his impoverished youth, his love of Jane Austen books, and harangued somewhat sarcastically and somewhat seriously about the power and inevitability of cats to mystically possess their owners. We spent an evening in his home, which is sparse but well adorned– turn a corner and you’ll find a collection of classical music records even though there is nothing with which to play them because he has given both of his record players away to friends. The small details, and the big ones—his overt and unfaltering generosity, his openness and warmth, his calm and collectedness reveal a whole, contemplative and earnest person. In the following days in Beijing and then on our travels back to Hong Kong, we shared brief but resonant discussions of his views about the protests (of which he was not in support but neither vocally opposed). He recounted fleeing with his father to Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation of China at a time when there were only roughly a million people living in Hong Kong. Desolate, removed, and extremely poor, they lived on the beach in a small hut. From an early age he began to memorize lines of English literature on his way to and from school, eventually memorizing whole books at a time. Finally at 16, he left for the states to attend Harvard, and came back two years later to Hong Kong where he’s lived and worked at Hong Kong University ever since. He reflects on this with a certain air of melancholy, emphasizing that he grew up in very dire circumstances but insisting that hard work, above everything else, created opportunity for him. It’s with this conviction that he believes that everyone deserves an opportunity, and, defined by his experience, believes that mainland China is in a very good position to provide everyone with that chance. To him, he sees the economic boom and prosper of his country, a country that not long ago was vastly poor and rural—the empowerment of his people and reform that has transformed living standards, social rights, infrastructure, education, and global involvement & prominence. He believes in the strength of China, in its values and politics that have given rise to a rebirth of a faltering country. He believes in its future for him, for Mainland, and for Hong Kong. His experience is as genuine as the students’ handing out ribbons of solidarity in Admiralty, both equally as valid and supported by experience and passion.
I personally don’t know enough of the history or current political climate to make a claim as to who’s more “right” or “wrong,” but see the purpose in at least trying to understand the emotional and intellectual reasons that affect both sides of this or any conflict, because undoubtedly if you don’t no progress will ever be made.