“the beads of time pass slow / tired eyes on the sunrise / waiting for the eastern glow”

(WARNING: Here Be Spoilers. I talk about plot lines from all five ASOIAF books and the four existing seasons of GoT, as well as some spoilers for the next season that have gotten out via interviews and set photos. If you have read all that stuff, you’re in the clear.  I really don’t talk about the novellas or the World book. If you haven’t read all that stuff or watched all that stuff but don’t care and want to read semi-comprehensible nerd ramblings, you are also in the clear.)

This year I finally managed to finish all the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. And by “all the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series,” I mean “including all the prequel novellas, the new World of Ice and Fire pseudo-encyclopedia, tons of Tumblr meta and message boards and maybe just a few terrible Arya/Gendry alternate-universe fanfics,” because if you’re going to go fan, you might as well go hard.

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The reason there was so much internet ephemera available for me to consume is that the fandom is starving. Author George R.R. Martin has them (I mean US, I guess…ugh) in the palm of his hand, and that hand should really be typing faster. The fifth novel in the series came out in 2011 and landed with a similar critical thud to the fourth novel — the two were originally meant to be a single book but GRRM’s editor seems powerless to reign in his worst indulgences so they had to be split or they would have been unreadable. As it is they are so dense that various fans on the net have suggested different orders in which the chapters of the two books can be read to make them less of a slog. Myself, I just decided to to read all the chapters of each character in a row to get through the fifth book faster. Many of the plots don’t even come close to intersecting, and I adjusted for the few that do — reading the Theon and Asha chapters together, for instance, or the various things that happen in Essos save for Arya.

I suppose the question is, why do people keep reading, then, if both the books published in the last decade have been terrible from an editorial perspective and intermittently engaging from a plot perspective? Because we are taking him at his word that he’s going somewhere with all of this, that the world building is essential, that things may have gotten a bit labyrinthine along the way but he’s got an endgame in mind and he HAS A PLAN.

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Hm. You know who else supposedly had a plan? The Cylons. How did that work out for Galactica fans? Yes, those of us with an unyielding and unhealthy love for serialized scifi/fantasy have been burned before. How much time did I waste ruminating on the mysteries of Lost? Too much. How many times during the last season of Buffy did I mentally reassure myself that Joss wasn’t just spinning his wheels with the potentials plotline? Too many. It’s a sickness, it really is.

The TV show Game of Thrones, as a result, is about to turn an interesting corner. It is transitioning from a filmed adaptation to a televised fanfic. I’m not sure this has ever happened before, that someone has started making a movie or a show out of unfinished source material, presumably with authorial assurances that of COURSE he’d have finished the books by the time they’d caught up, or at least one of them, no way would it take him another five years…and the author then went “ehhhhh, you know what, it’s more fun writing all the backstory that the actual story; I think I’ll just do that now,” and left the producers high and dry.

Like any adaptation, Game of Thrones has already made its fair share of changes along the way. First of all, they aged up all the kids so it wouldn’t be so creepy to see, for instance, Daenerys getting married to Khal Drogo (although they undermined that by somehow managing to make their wedding night way rapier that in the book) or Littlefinger lusting after Sansa (whoops, still creepy).

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They made Tyrion a lot more cuddly and handsome than in the book because, y’know, Dinklage.

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They made various plot tweaks that overall served the narrative well and managed to trim GRRM’s sprawl down to a level that at least avoids the necessity of having a character flow chart mailed to every HBO subscriber. (“The coat of arms for House Waxley is three candles on a field of…” WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW THIS GEORGE.) As an adaptation, it has been generally quite successful.

Things started to go off the rails a little last year in season 4, though. The reaction to making a particular Jaime/Cersei sex scene extra rapey was far more heated than the reaction to the aforementioned Dany/Drogo extra rapey scene, mainly because you’re supposed to put rape at the BEGINNING of a redemption arc, not smack in the middle. Didn’t these guys watch Luke and Laura in the late ‘70s?

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They ran through Bran’s entire plot to the end of the fifth book even though everyone else is still back in the third book — and it appears to have been inadvertent, given that producers Benioff and Weiss basically went “uhhhh, I guess Bran’s not going to be in the fifth season, oh well!” This leads to a further complication in that the character of Bran is supposed to be around 10 and is lugged around in a glorified Ergo carrier on a large man’s back, whereas the actor who plays Bran is now approximately 37 years old and weighs 180 pounds. (Also puberty made his nose grow faster than all this other body parts, which isn’t a problem from a narrative standpoint but is just kinda unfortunate. Maybe they’re giving him a year off in hopes his face will catch up to his nose?)

(OK, this next paragraph is about to get even more inside-baseball. You have been warned.)

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The biggest shock of the season came when the much anticipated final scene of the final episode turned out to be just Arya sailing away into a computer generated Narrow Sea rather than the epilogue scene from the third book where a previously brutally murdered character is revealed to have been resurrected by the one damn god in this whole theologically overpopulated series that seems to have any capacity for miracles at all. (I still hold out some hope for the Old Gods; the Seven are clearly bullshit.) Fans went absolutely apeshit when said previously brutally murdered character didn’t show up. They did backflips on the forums trying to think up how the show could sneak the character in during season 5. But Benioff and Weiss pretty much said, “Nah, we’re just going to cut that. Oh, and by the way, next season we’re going to cut all that Iron Islands shizz. And those new and seemingly important characters Tyrion hangs out with for a while. Forget that, too. We’ll have him meet up with Dany instead, because why not. That Prince of Dorne who goes looking for Dany? Let’s scrap him too. The immolation scene would use up too much of our CGI budget. In fact, let’s scrap two thirds of the Dornish royals. Let’s just send Jaime down to Dorne instead.”

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Lord knows what the crap Brienne will be doing in the Riverlands with Jaime now down in Dorne and Stoneheart eliminated entirely. It would be difficult to make that plotline more meandering and pointless than it is in the book, but maybe Benioff and Weiss are up to the challenge. How they’re gonna string out “Sam and Gilly bone on a boat” and “Davos hangs out with webbed-fingered Northerners we’ve never heard of before” plotlines over 10 episodes, I do not know. “Sansa walks down a mountain with random ladies and dying epileptic kid” is obviously going to get some heavy revisions as well. Really, the only characters who have enough plot to make it through 10 episodes are Jon, Theon, Tyrion (although they’ve apparently excised a big chunk), Cersei, and maaaaaybe Dany (even though everyone hates the Meereen shit), Arya (I fully accept that I’m the only one who hates the Arya-in-Braavos shit), and Asha once she runs into Stannis, because all the Kingsmoot stuff is gone.

So looking at all of that, it’s impossible to think of the final three seasons as anything that super high profile fanfic. By the end of season 5, if Winds of Winter isn’t out, they will be flying almost entirely blind other than the intel GRRM provided them on the “R+L=J” situation that everyone who’s read the books and isn’t in some boredom-induced headcanon idiocy spiral (“Hey, what if Jon Snow is actually Cersei’s first baby with Robert, and Dany is Ashara Dayne’s illegitimate child with Benjen!”) accepted ages ago. Oh, and some people are going to fly on dragons and presumably fry up some White Walkers. And Littlefinger will die horribly. (It is known.) But whatever ends up on screen, it’s going to bear about as much resemblance to the actual denoument of the books as any random fic written by a nineteen year old on a LiveJournal with a URL that includes a portmanteau of some unlikely coupling like SanSan or DanOrah.

Oh well. As long as GendRya live happily ever after, I’ll take whatever else we get.

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And Davos gets to retire with his wife on the Summer Islands. Then I will be well and truly sated.

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“Here Is Fruit For The Crows To Pluck…Here Is A Strange And Bitter Crop”

I had meant for this to be a post about the 20th anniversary of the release of “Exile in Guyville” and the effect that album had on my life. I meant to write a post about music videos that stopped me in my tracks when I happened across them on MTV during my adolescence (“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos, “Hit” by the Sugarcubes, and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, for the record). Maybe I’ll still write that post someday. But on this day, I would like to write about something else I saw on MTV during my adolescence that was far more mindblowing, although I didn’t realize it until years later.

Like most kids my age, I watched a lot of MTV. And so like my most kids my age, I ended up watching a lot of The Real World. It’s a little hard to remember now, since the show long ago descended into a swamp of debauchery, showcasing the absolute worst America’s youth has to offer, but that first season is actually a relatively understated little documentary: 13 episodes about young people pursuing careers in the entertainment industry in a still-vaguely-gritty New York. It’s available in its entirety on Hulu+, and watching it without all the blaring pop music that branded it as an MTV product (“Julie’s in church, but she’s a rebel! Play ‘Personal Jesus’! Now they’re about to fight! Play the ominous tinkly piano bridge from ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen!”) but had to be removed for licensing reasons, you’ll find the overall vibe is very chill. There are a couple episodes that are spectacularly mundane. Andre and Heather are trying to record mediocre albums, Norman turns out to be gay and gets a boyfriend and nobody particularly cares, they’re all sad that Jerry Brown loses the Democratic primary so they paint a big Jerry Brown mural on the loft wall that also includes Sesame Street characters for some reason… The producers tried to spice things up by shipping the girls off to Jamaica to “meet guys”, but Julie just gets her ear talked off by a Canadian masonry salesman and Becky hooks up with one of the show’s directors, getting him and his glorious salt-and-pepper mullet fired. Outside of a totally nonexistent romance the producers tried to cobble together from footage of Julie peeing on the toilet while Eric was in the shower, there was really only one source of drama or narrative thrust.

And that was Kevin.

Kevin Powell has gone on to a decent career as an author, public speaker, and activist. He’s also had a less decent career as a politician, failing multiple times to unseat Ed Towns as New York’s congressional representative from the 10th district by making rookie mistakes like telling a bunch of Satmar Jews he would “bring home the bacon” to Williamsburg and also, you know, not paying his taxes. But in 1992, Kevin was a cowrie-shell-necklace-wearing spoken word poet (Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, y’all! I read about that in the Sassy magazine piece on spoken word! Man, I thought that must have been the coolest place on earth) from Jersey City who was the oldest and most outspoken member of the cast.

Midway through the season, Kevin was made the butt of an extended practical joke meant to highlight how little time he spent in the loft. The show essentially made it appear like Kevin spent the majority of that loft time arguing racial politics with his castmates. The most memorable argument is the one he had with Julie, the 19-year-old ingenue from Alabama, who claimed he had physically threatened her. He emphatically denied basically every aspect of her story, and the production staff apparently inexplicably (and conveniently) had no footage of the blowup in question. I tend to believe Julie here, given that her account was filled with consistent explicit details (he allegedly called her a fucking bitch, threatened to break all her fingers, and threw a metal candlestick), while his rebuttal was basically, “Nope.” So it’s a classic he-said she-said. Kevin’s stance was that everyone made assumptions about his character and potential for violence simply because he’s black. The fact that he says this while physically towering over Julie, thrusting himself into her personal space and shouting two inches from her face tends to undercut his case here a little. But a lot of what he’s saying is clearly true on a systemic level, even if his personal behavior in this particular situation was hardly exemplary.

Kevin was clearly a very angry young man. But on a certain level, he had a right to be. Earlier in the season, he had another fight, this time with a tipsy Becky, who started blathering something about how we live in a great country that’s a melting pot full of opportunity, which made Kevin snort. Becky tried to defend her statement, Kevin made a crack about the land being stolen from Native Americans, Becky said he had a chip on his shoulder, they bicker, Kevin calls her a racist and Becky of course gets indignant, because as we all know being called a racist is obviously way worse than being affected on a daily basis by systemic institutional racism.

And then Kevin says something really important.

K: Race plus power equals racism, look it up.

B: What power do I have, Kevin?

Watching this when I was 12 years old, I thought Kevin’s statement was ludicrous.

Watching it now, 20 years later, I realize that MTV had enrolled me in Critical Race Studies 101 and I didn’t even know it.

Race plus power equals racism. A lot of the arguments about this boil down to semantics. People of color can certainly hold their own prejudices, or be bigoted. But racism, as a word, holds a specific meaning. It means that we live in a country that was literally built on the backs of black slaves. It means that our society functions in a million ways, big and small, even today, that make it almost impossible for black people to succeed. A society where a seventeen-year-old black boy in a hoodie who happens to be walking in a former Sundown Town is seen as a threat just for his very existence. A society where there is apparently nothing criminal about stalking that seventeen-year-old to the point where he finally turns and confronts you and then when he hits you shooting him point blank in the heart. A society where everyone wants to talk about the kid’s record of school suspensions and weed-smoking as though that’s relevant when he was by all accounts walking back from buying Skittles and Snapple, but not about the shooter’s record of both sexual and domestic assault (not to mention punching a cop!) because that has nothing to do with anything and his parents say he’s a nice guy and not a racist so that’s good enough to trust his word on anything he says about the night in question. A country where the shooter’s lawyer has the audacity to assert in a post-verdict press conference that if the shooter was black the whole thing never would have gone to trial. A country where black males are disproportionately imprisoned, disproportionately sentenced, and disproportionately disenfranchised upon release. Sure, everyone would have been ok with a black vigilante shooting a white kid in Sanford, Florida. Totally would have been fine. Knock knock.

Something else the shooter’s lawyer said was equally jaw-dropping:

“There are people who are vicious in their hatred for George Zimmerman. I don’t know which is the one who’s going to walk down the street at the same time George does. They know what he looks like; he doesn’t know what they look like.”

Welcome to Kevin Powell’s life. Welcome to Trayvon Martin’s life.

I could link here to many different first person essays by black men who feel like what happened to Trayvon could happen to them, essays by black women terrified that what happened to Trayvon could happen to their sons. But while Becky and I, as middle-class white women, still face systemic obstacles based on our gender, we can never fully understand what it is like to fear for our lives simply because of the color of our skin. That is a privilege that we have and are able to take for granted.

As an adolescent, I thought Kevin was an angry aggressive dick with a chip on his shoulder, like Becky and Julie did. And you know, my opinion of him hasn’t changed all that much, except now I feel like the chip on his shoulder is valid and his anger is earned. In the last 20 years, LeVar Burton has moved from teaching kids literacy to advising young men on how not to get shot by cops for driving while black. What George Zimmerman did was apparently totally legal, and all the cable pundits talk about the potential for black riots in the aftermath of that verdict. That’s Becky’s melting pot? That’s Becky’s country of unlimited opportunity?

The Real World is basically just a filmed orgy now. But 20 years ago, it was planting tiny seeds for young people to have a deeper understanding of complicated social issues. In the first few years of the show, before I was even able to drive, I saw intense discussions about race, and about homosexuality, and about abortion. We saw a young man living with and then all too quickly dying of AIDS. And we saw Kevin Powell, who was intelligent, and angry, and passionate, and flawed.

“Race plus power equals racism, look it up.”

I wish more people, myself included, had followed his suggestion. Because if what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and what happened within the justice system following the shooting, wasn’t about power or race, then I would like someone to tell me what it was about. Was it about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it a tragedy of errors? Was it about how those fucking punks always get away with everything? Tell me. But more important, tell Kevin Powell. Tell the parents of Trayvon Martin, of Oscar Grant, of Kimani Grey, of Kendrec McDade, of Sean Bell. Of Amadou Diallo. Of Emmett Till.

“You’re a terrible mother.”

I got a text message at 2 p.m. Sunday from my sister asking if I had finished watching the new season of Arrested Development yet.  That should give you some idea of my level of fandom — my sister thought it was entirely possible that I could have watched 8 hours in television in the 12 hours since the show had been released, even though 4 of those hours had occurred before the sun came up.  And at a different point in my life, I very well might have.  The Maggie of 2006 whose RAZR flashed the phrase “LOOK AT BANNER, MICHAEL” upon start-up probably would have been into her slo-mo rewatch by then.  2013 Maggie, however, was only halfway through the first Lindsey episode.  I wasn’t enjoying it very much.  But then again, I hadn’t enjoyed the pilot when it first aired, either (I hated GOB, oddly enough), and I picked up pretty quickly that these new episodes were going to be structured like a puzzle that folded back around on itself.  I was impressed by the ambition of that undertaking. I have enough trust in Mitch Hurwitz to figure it would all work out and the second half would be better than the first.  That was true, although some plotlines paid off better than others. The various cliffhangers definitely make me eager to see the supposed movie they have planned.

I think this series of episodes was clearly flawed, especially compared to the original three.  My understanding is that Hurwitz was still in post-production until almost the last minute, which is sort of mind blowing and also shows…and I’m not talking about the occasionally off-putting green screen effects.  These episodes, even the best ones, needed editing.  Being a half-hour show on a broadcast network necessitates trimming each episode down to 22 minutes maximum.  Removing that particular impediment had disastrous results in a couple of the early installments of the fourth season.  I’ve rewatched the first two episodes now and looked for ways to cut the things down to under 30 minutes, preferably 25 minutes, and it would be relatively easy to do.

In the premiere, there are jokes with Michael that seem to go on and on for no real good reason.  The scene where he rambles on trying to figure out how to manipulate the roommate vote was interminable on first watch.  On second watch, I realized it wasn’t really all that bad, but it suffered from coming after the shower/post-shower walk-and-talk/uncomfortable dorm room scene/outdoor walk-and-talk — all of which could have been compressed into one scene and easily gotten Michael’s desperation across.  The shower scene should have been removed entirely.  It was too cringeworthy, even for this show, and really out of character.  I understand that they wanted to illustrate that Michael has hit rock bottom, and there’s a lot of precedent for Michael being oblivious to George Michael’s feelings, but as far as I can remember he’s always had a pretty clear understanding of BOUNDARIES, especially compared to his other family members.  And really, it just wasn’t funny enough to make it worthwhile.

The other episode I’ve rewatched is the first George Sr. episode, which continues to be among my least favorite, and just generally needs small cuts across the board to give scenes more zip and make the few punchlines there actually are land better.  The real problem with the first two episodes in particular, and the first half of the season in general, is that it just isn’t that funny.  And I understand that is a structural necessity to a certain point — the first half is set-up and the second half is punchlines.  But there is no need for the early episodes to be so bloated when there are so few laughs in there.  Run through the exposition, set up those pins, and then linger while knocking them down if you really feel the need to luxuriate in that unlimited runtime.

The Lindsey and Tobias episodes are better than the Michael/George Sr. episodes, although they suffer more from the mildly convoluted timeline, and the second Tobias episode would also benefit from some serious editing.  I strongly disliked the Marky Bark character.  Apparently the same actor also played the boom mic guy on the Office, so he’s ahead in the running for Least Valuable Player of the 2012-13 TV season.  DeBree got a lot of leeway from me because I love Maria Bamford and know she’s extremely talented, but in the end she just didn’t seem like a character that would organically occur in this universe.  It’s really not until the first GOB episode that the thing really turns a corner, and even in that, the first half needed major edits; all the Ann stuff dragged.  I appreciated seeing Bruce McCulloch, because BRUCE MCCULLOCH, but really, what was the point of having him there?

That went for pretty much all the cameos.  You had people who were way too famous for the role they were playing (‘sup, Krasinski), people who were pure fan-service for comedy nerds (Bruce, a split-second of Dan Harmon), and people who I wasn’t sure whether they counted as cameos or were just character actors who needed the work (Diedrich Bader, the guy who plays John Ralphio on Parks and Rec).  Terry Crews acquitted himself well as Herman Cain, and Garcelle Beauvais was fine as his wife.  (I snickered at her name, “Ophelia Love” — say it out loud and it’s mildly amusing.)  Isla Fisher did not convince me she was even mildly attracted to either of her Bluth love interests.  Especially George Michael.  I’m actually kind of grossed out by Michael Cera at this point.  He had a moment back in ’08 or so where it looked like he might grow up kinda cute, but my God, he did NOT.  There was way, way, way too much George Michael funsexytimes in this season, between the animation of how bad a kisser he was to half-open silk kimonos…although his punchline to the woman he slept with in Spain was a killer.

My skeevy reaction to Michael Cera definitely colored my take on his two episodes in the second half, which I found the weakest, especially considering the company they were in.  Buster, Maeby, and GOB were the three episodes in the second half I would say were the same caliber as the original series.  The Buster episode in particular had me chortling loud ugly donkey laughs on multiple occasions.  Sorry, I’m apparently a sucker for humor related to a giant rubber hand.  But while I was definitely interested in some of the cliffhangers (the Anonymous guys, villainous bald Sally Sitwell, Maeby in jail, and of course the missing Lucille…although I doubt they’ll have the nerve to follow through on the darkest implications there), I really did not care about the plotline that got the parting shot.  The season actually made me hate Michael.  And I think that was the intention, but unfortunately it’s not the kind of hate where I either want to see him redeem himself or else really loathe him and want to watch him be punished.  I kind of don’t give a shit about the ostensible protagonist of the show anymore.  It seems to be pretty universally accepted that the episodes about the more peripheral characters were more enjoyable than the episodes about the fathers-and-sons dynamic that powered so much of the original series and seems to be the intended emotional through-line of this season.  I think that making the beginning so Michael/George Sr. centric and the tail end so Michael/George Michael centric shows that we’re supposed to be oriented around that grandfather-father-son pole while all the other characters sort of spin wildly around the periphery.  And I don’t know if that bodes particularly well for the movie, in the end.  Still, I am impressed by Hurtwitz’s chutzpah in structuring this thing the way he did, and I’m always glad to watch more Bluth madness.  I can’t wait to see what these episodes look like when he tries to cut them down for syndication.

“I like getting older, I feel like I’m aging into my personality.”

Last week I made a series of mix CDs, which is a periodic necessity since I own what is apparently the last car ever manufactured without any sort of iPod input functionality. The theme of these particular CDs is basically ’90s/early ’00s R&B and rap, and I’ve put them together in an effort to avoid having to listen to the DJ I despise who does the Throwback Lunch on the local hip hop radio station. Seriously, if I had to hear this guy mispronounce Tony Toni Toné one more time I was going to drive off the highway in a blind rage. THEY SAY THE NAME OF THE BAND IN THE LYRICS OF THE SONG YOU JUST PLAYED, TONY TONI TONE HAS DONE IT AGAIN, LITERALLY LIKE 45 SECONDS AGO, THIS IS NOT AS HARD AS YOU’RE MAKING IT.

In the process of making these mixes, I’ve noticed a few things. Firstly, it turns out that much of the joy inherent in listening to the Throwback Lunch is unexpectedly hearing a song you had almost forgotten. It’s way more fun to hear “Da Dip” randomly on the radio than to hear it for the fifth time this week, always nestled between “Rump Shaker” and “Tootsie Roll’, because you just haven’t bothered to switch the disc out. Also a lot of these songs are legitimately terrible, which I knew at the time. I went on record in high school as saying “My Love Is The Shhhh” was the worst song of the nineties, and I stand by that assessment. But something about nostalgia will momentarily trick you into ignoring their flaws until you find yourself driving around, a grown woman in a sensible midsized sedan, crooning “LEMME WORK THAT BODY, BABY!” at the top of your lungs.

The last thing I’ve noticed is that, whereas 10 years ago I would have happily driven down the main drag of a college campus blaring embarrassing pop cheese with the windows down, more and more I keep the windows up. Why? Because it has started to sink in that the kids who are currently in college have almost none of the same cultural reference points as I do. The first moment this became clear to me was when a former co-worker, who was 21 at the time (and this was a couple years back now) heard Sisqo’s “Thong Song” playing in the store and yelled, “Aw yeah, this was my JAM…in second grade!” *record scratch* (Oh god, kids today must have no idea what a record scratch sounds like…this only just dawned on me…) Anyway, I actually really love this girl, but I was absolutely struck dumb by that. Second grade! And of course, she’s now graduated. The freshmen this fall will have been born in the same year that I… I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. They were born in 1995. The first year I did, like, EVERYTHING. Probably the single most formative year of my life. So as much as I enjoy blasting “Here Comes the Hotstepper” from my stereo, the kids looking at me sideways in front of the dorms were FETUSES when that song came out. So the windows stay closed.

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I’ve always been almost comically interested in the idea of “generations”, possibly because I started paying attention to cultural commentary at a time when the gestalt was overinvested in “generation” dialogue. In the wake of last week’s ludicrously unoriginal “Me Me Me Generation” cover of Time, it’s important to remember that we have been through this bullshit before.

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When I was an adolescent, Generation X was the focal point of pop culture. Reality Bites and Singles and Slacker and Clerks. Kurt Cobain. Marc Jacobs doing a grunge collection during New York Fashion Week. Those first few actually good seasons of The Real World. Friends sitting around coffee shops drinking from mugs that, in the words of one of Phoebe’s boyfriends, “I’m sorry, might as well have NIPPLES on them.” And the book itself, Generation X, by Douglas Coupland, which illustrated young adults of the ’90s as nothing more than essentially anonymous retro Fisher Price Little People wandering through the desert of modern society. (Honestly, having read almost the entire Coupland oeuvre, I think Generation X is one of his weakest books. Microserfs gets the same point across, with a fun Web 1.0 flavor, and is just more fun to read.) Douglas Coupland himself skirts the top edge of what’s generally considered the Gen-X timespan; he was born in 1961. Richard Linklater, director of Slacker, was born in 1960. David Foster Wallace was born in 1962. Cameron Crowe, who wrote Singles, was born in 1957 and was married to the chick from Heart, if you can think of anything less grunge than that. All the longitudinal studies I’ve seen about Gen-X tend to define it as being people born between 1961 and 1981, but anyone born at the top and bottom edge of that range would tell you that is absurdly broad. The idea that Barack Obama and I are of the same generation is ridiculous. But at the same time, Obama is clearly not a Boomer, and anyone my age would flinch at being referred to as a Millenial.

Doree Shafrir, who has written for Jezebel and Slate, coined the phrase “Generation Catalano” for the folks I’ve always seen as my cohort, people born between 1976 and 1981…basically people who were teenagers while My So-Called Life was on the air. We are the generation that aped grunge but could never truly be grunge; the generation that was raised on MTV but could still vaguely remember a time when it didn’t exist. Those of us who dragged enormous desktop PCs with us to college fall between the true Gen-Xers who used electric typewriters or went to a computer lab, and the Millenials who take the fact of having a laptop with them in seminars as a given. (I was always amused by the number of kids I saw at the Apple Store who would drop their computers off at the Genius Bar for repair like we were asking them to saw off their own arm, telling us, aghast, “But I have class tomorrow; what am I supposed to do without my computer?” I always wanted to just hand them a #2 pencil and a composition notebook and see if they would just stare, uncomprehending, like a neanderthal seeing fire for the first time.)

Clearly Generation Catalano is a stupid term, one that also reflects how much of this talk about generations is a white upper middle class thing…seriously, every article I’ve ever seen bitching about Millenials has been written by deeply myopic east coast media types about deeply myopic east coast media types, ignoring large swaths of the country that don’t have the luxury of complaining about how hard it is to find internships or arguing about how entitled Hannah Horvath is. But there is definitely a group of American thirtysomethings, of which I am a part, who were deeply influenced by the Gen-X media flurry of the early ’90s but can’t truly lay claim to the label.

I think one of the reasons I responded so strongly to the show New Girl upon discovering it this past season is that it’s the first show I can remember that’s about my peers, starring my peers, specifically addressing what it’s like being one of my peers. Like, Dawson’s Creek was people my age and older playing people three years my junior. How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory are both about people generally my age, but half the casts are pushing 40. (Will Ted meet the mother before Josh Radnor qualifies for social security? Stay tuned to the inexplicable season 9 to find out!) New Girl is often described as being another sitcom about twentysomethings sitting around an unrealistically large apartment, essentially Friends redux. But Friends was a bunch of thirtysomethings (and later fortysomethings; seriously, how ridiculous was that episode about how they all turned 30 when Lisa Kudrow was clearly almost menopausal?) playing twentysomethings, whereas New Girl is a bunch of thirtysomethings playing thirtysomethings. And that’s kind of the whole point of the show — they’re living like they’re still twentysomethings, coming to terms with the fact that their twenties are rapidly receding into distant memory. I can relate to that. They’ve basically established that the characters were born in 1981-82, but the actors were all born in ’78 and ’80, and I get the sense the writers are too. The music cues are for the most part spot on. The fact that Nick’s favorite songs are “Groove Is In The Heart” and “Call Me Al” really couldn’t be possible if he was a Millenial. I don’t think Deee-Lite translates for people who weren’t alive in ’91. Although I am still boggled by an anachronistic use of Titanic in a late season 2 episode. That episode as a whole had some weird pop cultural choices (“Stay” by Lisa Loeb at the senior prom in 2000? Probably not a thing that would happen), but that was the exception rather than the rule, and I am clearly way pickier about this stuff than the vastvastvast majority of the American viewing public. I’m worse than Comic Book Guy sometimes, seriously.

The other thing I sincerely enjoy about New Girl (or at least I did until the later part of the season got bogged down in a romcom plot that I enjoyed from a SQUEEEEEE!! perspective but not so much a humor perspective) is that the sensibility is just off-kilter enough that it doesn’t seem to be written from the standard sitcom playbook. Extended slo-mo chicken dances to Phil Collins, physical comedy set in a Chinese water massage parlor, Rusted Root-soundtracked threesomes with the warlock drug dealer from Buffy, Zooey Deschanel fending off a coyote in the desert by impersonating the Road Runner…it’s just operating from a quirkier, more improv-influenced base than Modern Family or Two and a Half Men. It’s not the surreal insanity of the first three seasons of Community, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got at this point.

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New Girl is a favorite over on the media review section of The Onion‘s website, the AV Club. AV Club comment sections have become my favorite place on the internet. It’s the sort of website where basically every thread descends into an extended “Dental Plan….Lisa Needs Braces” reference at some point. In other words, it’s populated with comedy nerds who are exactly my age with exactly my taste in humor. This is in contrast to a website that I keep wanting to like, Splitsider, which is the comedy-specific arm of the Awl/Hairpin blog empire. The Awl was created by Choire Sicha and Alex Balk, who are both around 40 years old; no one would contest them as solidly Gen-X, and Balk at the very least would probably laugh witheringly at the fact that someone born in 1980 bothered to expound at this length about something so pointless as “microgenerations”. And then he would drink more whisky and be glad that he’s one day closer to death, and that’s why I love Alex Balk. Anyway…Balk and Choire unfortunately hired a bunch of singularly unfunny Millenials to write Splitsider, which leads to me hate-reading a lot of that site the way I hate-listen to that clueless DJ on the Throwback Lunch. Any writer for a website that would describe Elf and Wedding Crashers as “classic movies” or, as triggered a tirade on my Facebook wall recently, willingly admit to being introduced to Michael Ian Black, David Wain, and Michael Showalter through Stella web shorts rather than from The State, is simply not someone I can take seriously as a comedy aficionado. There are people who watched Stella web shorts in their freshman dorm room, and there are people who watched The State Skits & Stickers VHS tape in their freshman dorm room, and never the twain shall meet.

I think there is a social context to how you encounter certain things that are considered comedy milestones that help define generational dividing lines. Someone who watched the first episode of Saturday Night Live as it happened, saw Belushi and O’Donoghue having a bizarre, contextless conversation about feeding someone’s fingertips to the wolverines, must have said, “Holy shit, we’re allowing 20-something nihilists to write and perform TV shows now??” They will always have a different understanding of that show within both the context of the time and the context of their own personal history than someone like me who randomly stumbled across it on Nick at Nite nearly 15 years later and got maybe a third of the jokes. For me, watching things like The State and Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show in their first run as an adolescent was incredibly formative to my appreciation of comedy and my sense of what is funny. Whereas someone who knows David Cross from watching Arrested Development on Netflix and goes to seek out Mr. Show years after the fact is going to be like, “Oh hey, this is funny!” But there won’t be the same sense of wonder as when your friend slips you a VHS they programmed to tape HBO Sundays at midnight, and your resulting astonishment that something so simultaneously ambitious and lo-fi and altogether bizarre is actually being shown on TV.

I will never be able to appreciate the Lenny Bruce obscenity trial as anything but a historical anecdote, but to my parents and other people their age, the fact that someone was talking about “cocksuckers” and “jacking off” in a comedy routine was shocking. Now it doesn’t make us blink. Carlin — not shocking to me. Bill Hicks — not shocking to me. Andrew Dice Clay — not shocking to me. Because I saw them all at such a young age that I just considered them the standard, didn’t understand the fuss. People who don’t remember a time before a 24-hour comedy channel are as foreign to me as people who secretly listened to Carlin LPs in the attic so their parents wouldn’t hear the words shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker and tits.

Me, I listened to a Divinyls cassette single on a purple plastic boom box in the attic, because even though I didn’t really know what “I Touch Myself” was about, I knew enough to know I didn’t want my parents to think I did. And my jam in second grade wasn’t “Thong Song”, it was “Push It”, which I learned all the lyrics to phonetically, clearly not knowing what a “baby pop” was. And I have plenty of friends who would cringe to hear that I was in second grade when Salt N Pepa first came out, because my god, they were in HIGH SCHOOL in 1987! And so it goes. What’s more disorienting than anything is that, after spending so much time being the youngest member of various web forums, I’ve suddenly reached the age where the “Things That Will Make You Feel Old” lists on Buzzfeed are being written by and for people at least five years my junior. Don’t even get me started on Thought Catalog; that shit is incomprehensible to me, across the board. The people I thought were the epitome of cool when I was an adolescent are now impossibly old. Jon Stewart used to host a show on MTV where he would wear a leather jacket as the Afghan Whigs performed. Now he’s 50, the epitome of the comedy establishment, and everyone in the Afghan Whigs really needs to start watching their cholesterol intake. Thurston and Kim broke up because Thurston wouldn’t stop running around with a 34-year-old he worked with while writing a book about “mix-tape culture”. Adam Yauch died of salivary gland cancer last year. Hell, Jasmine Guy plays the GRANDMOTHER of a TEENAGER on Vampire Diaries. I mean, clearly Whitley Gilbert was secretly closer to Byron’s age than Dwayne’s, but that was still a swift kick to my diaphragm when I saw it. Gen-X is turning 50, Millenials are having their quarter life crisis, and I…I still know all the words to “Shoop” and follow Thomas Lennon’s twitter full of Smiths-related hashtag wordplay and Instagrammed pictures of Prince-symbol-shaped pancakes he makes for his toddler. I’m cool in my own mind. And now, when I watch My So Called Life, I sympathize with the parents and want Angela to get over herself. Generation Catalano is getting old, man. And our namesake is a mess. Have you seen that guy lately? Talk about not aging gracefully.