Sometimes, when I’m stuck in traffic or lying in bed, scenes from Mad Men’s fifty-sixth episode, “Mystery Date,” play in my head like a home movie on mute.
In his article “How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap,” Sam Anderson writes that “a cultural critic is betwixt and between: not a regular consumer of culture and yet someone immersed deeply enough in it to appreciate its inner mechanisms.” I feel strange saying that my recaps of a show like Bachelor in Paradise are a significant piece of cultural criticism or that they make me a cultural critic. (Though, certainly, some gorgeous writing came out of recaps of the final episode of Mad Men that wove together the end of the show for its viewers.) But I believe that the position I occupied, the sort of liminal space that an anthropologist would call a key informant, enabled me to situate Bachelor in Paradise within a context where individuals would actually enjoy it.
Anne Carson writes that prose is a house and poetry is the man on fire running through it. I think we managed to convince ourselves that movies can be that house, when really it’s more of an Airbnb. Checking into an Airbnb for the weekend is not the same as living in a house. While you are physically inside of a home, it is temporary, it is free of obligation aside from the implicit agreement that you will effectively not be the man on fire running through it. But owning a home requires sustained and incremental effort: you need to pay the bills, you need to maintain your property. And with that dedication comes intimacy: it’s your house. It’s the place you return to again and again.
As Game of Thrones approaches the finale of its fifth season, the show faces an interesting dilemma. It has caught up with its inspiration, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, and is set to outpace it in the upcoming sixth season, venturing into territory that the books have not yet explored. While Martin stated in an April 2015 interview that he hoped the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, would be published before the series premiered in 2016, the likelihood that the seventh book, A Dream of Spring, will be written before the series exhausts the material of The Winds of Winter is close to impossible.
This past semester, I asked the undergraduates in my creative writing class to name the materials they felt were absolutely central to the class and the readings they felt had not earned their place on the syllabus. Overwhelmingly, my students cited a particular prose poem for the second category. While they could not find anything stylistically, technically or pedagogically wrong with it–in fact, most enjoyed the poem–they found the subject matter too trite for a college class. The poem was Kate Durbin’s “The Hills, 5,” the subject: reality television.