TV vs. Reality

Here’s a little test how you can find out whether reality on screen is more real to you than what so many others call “real life”. If more than half of these statements are true, then you’re a real TV addict.

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Cultural Diseases, Part 1: LOVE

According to wikipedia love is “an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.” According to the Beatles love is all you need. According to Shakespeare the course of true love never did run smooth. According to Nietzsche there is always some madness in love.

But what exactly is love and why are we always trying to achieve it? How come that we all have certain ideas about “true love” and where do they come from?

When a person is falling in love it is often the case that this state shows symptoms that we rather associate with diseases and illness: sweaty palms, inability of articulation, insomnia, lack of concentration, etc. This also leaves room for the question: Is there a cure?

According to Lynn Pearce and Jackie Stacey, scholars on romance, there are two ways of explaining our cultural and individual obsession with love.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the first one is rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis. According to Freud libido is dependent on obstacles: you desire exactly that which seems unobtainable to you. If there are no real obstacles (such as a family feud in Romeo and Juliet, a fatal disease in Love Story, or the class divide in Pretty Woman), mankind invents obstacles in order to make love more enjoyable. One of the most common obstacles to love, which paradoxically heightens libido and desire, is the overvaluation of the loved one, Lacan’s object á, as maybe most clearly and nervewreckingly exemplified in Bella Swan’s constant adoration of sparkling, gorgeous, rich vampire Edward Cullen in Twilight. Freud further argues that this dates back to oedipal attachments in early childhood. The child idealizes the parent of the opposite sex as source of all knowledge and prime caregiver. You try to identify with this person, which is also why – in later life – we want someone who is like us, you understands us and who “loves us the way we are” as Mr. Darcy feels for Bridget Jones. Yet, despite a cultural perception that women are the ones who overvalue and who consume romance and love stories, Freud claims that this idealization of the loved one is more true for men:

“Where (men) love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love.” (Sigmund Freud)

One of Freud’s successors in psychoanalysis and the father of psychosemiotics, Jacques Lacan, also feels that our adult perception of love is intrinsically connected to childhood experiences. He claims that in the mirror stage the child enters the symbolic order and simultaneously loses its connection to the imaginary order in which he/she conceived of him-/herself as perfect. This creates a loss and a constant feeling of lack which we try to fill, for example by looking for the perfect relationship and for someone who makes us “whole again”.

But there is a second explanation for our desire for desire, which stems from structuralism. Here it is argued that the very pattern in which love stories are organized is extremely simplistic: falling in love – experiencing love – fulfillment of love in marriage/or loss of love. The very simplicity of this pattern allows for various re-writings of love plots and those re-writings can be adapted to current cultural norms: Patrarchan love sonnets deal with courtly love, Jane Austen allows you to look into women who fall in love, Whitney Houston sings about endless and eternal love, and Friends’ Rachel and Ross show you that the love of your life might have been there for a long time and that you need some perseverance to have your happily ever after.

“To invoke the metaphor of a virus, it is its capacity for mutation which has enabled romance to survive.” (Romance Revisited, Pearce and Stacey, 1995. P. 12)

Western culture appreciates a good story and the simple romance plot which can either end as tragedy or comedy, with its similarities to a fairytale structure, is the perfect archetypal story. We organize our relationships as stories, starting with the initial meeting and ending in a happy end and failure but we tell the stories over and over again and everyone can “invent” their own love story with this simple plot structure. French semiotician Roland Barthes systematizes love by exploring a discreet set of “figures” (e. g. “waiting”, “declaration”, “jealousy”, “fade-out”) and a set of exactly 79 emotions which can be tied in with the figures. This allows for a wide range of different love story patterns, which can be shaped into a narrative form like a jigsaw puzzle.

In 1992 Haddaway asked “What is Love?” but he didn’t provide an answer. Neither can I. Whether our quest for love is a relic of the oedipal stage or is rooted in our appreciation for a good story… I don’t know. I just know that love is all around.

Episodes – How You Smellin’?

Sorry for the unusually long absence but I had some important things to do… such as watching Episodes.

Episodes is a British-American sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc who is playing “Matt LeBlanc” who used to play “Joey Tribbiani” on a famous TV-Sitcom called Friends.

While many people considered actor Matt LeBlanc very “last season” and had little good things to say about his Friends-Sequel Joey, which brought LeBlanc a lot of money but very little fame, LeBlanc is back with a vengeance. His endeavor of incorporating a once-famous actor, who is always associated with a single role but who struggles for success nowadays, would have been daring even if he hadn’t named the protagonist after himself. The show could have been a huge failure and LeBlanc the target of ridicule… but instead it is an instant success and LeBlanc went home with a Golden Globe early this year.

In interviews LeBlanc tries hard to make clear that his new sitcom is far from being ultimately autobiographic. Nevertheless he acknowledges that there are a lot of similarities between LeBlanc and “LeBlanc”: both seem to be condemned to hear Joey’s former catchphrase “How You Doin’?” over and over again, both have to fight against being mistaken for Joey and thus considered fairly simple (LeBlanc mentioned in interviews that while playing Joey on Friends, people used to speak to him very slowly), and thanks to Joey’s reputation both are frequently thought to be extremely good in bed…

This balancing the nuances of reality, fiction, and metafiction is exactly what makes Episodes so attractive. In articles it is often applauded for its up to date, postmodernist irony and the viewer indulges in a constant train of thought on where the real Matt LeBlanc ends and where fictional “Matt LeBlanc” starts. Episodes allows you to get to know the real man behind our beloved “Joey Tribbiani” but just when you thought you were really getting to know him it deconstructs this intimate audience-actor-relationship by humorously pointing out that the “Matt LeBlanc” you just got to know is again just a character.

Here’s an example: Episodes’ “Matt LeBlanc” is a real ladies man because all the fangirls still remember Joey Tribbiani’s outstanding performances as lead actor in bedroom scenes, who can pop a bra open just by looking at it. While this is fairly realistic and you can imagine female fans trying to score with actor Matt LeBlanc, Episodes takes this issue of supposed hypersexuality over the top by equipping their fictional “Matt LeBlanc” with a ridiculously gigantic penis which is compared to “a sea creature from a Jules Verne novel.” Fictional “Matt LeBlanc” is here probably more “Joey Tribbiani” than real-life actor Matt LeBlanc.

Confusing, isn’t it? But also highly entertaining and intelligent.

In season one’s last episode, “Matt LeBlanc” shows female protagonist Beverly (played by Tamsin Greig from Britain’s cult-sitcom Black Books) his own perfume called “Joey… How You Smellin’?“. Due to a series of unfortunate events (to avoid spoilers) some bottles get smashed and there’s a lot of Joey in the air. To me, this is the core scene of the show. If an actor has played a famous character for a long time, this character sticks to him like a bad fragrance.

Instead of trying to cover up this fragrance with other perfumes, LeBlanc distributes it as freely as one of those annoying perfume promoters in shopping malls. Yet, he secretly added a hint of postmodernism, a sprizz of realism, and a good portion of self-irony… to me, this new creation smells like a hit!

Click here for the trailer: Episodes starring Matt LeBlanc

10 Things a Sitcom Fan Should Do Before He Dies

There is a lot of information out there on how to live your life: 100 places to see before you die, 100 books to read before you die, 100 things to eat before you die etc.

May I present:

10 Things a Sitcom Fan Should Do Before He Dies

1) Talk to your friends about your new love interest calling him “Mr. Big” (girls only!)

2) Try to hit on a girl/boy telling them you are a celebrity called “Lorenzo/a Van Matterhorn”

3) Order a lot of Indian Food and play Halo with your friends

4) Have a boyfriend bonfire*

5) Suit up!

6) Tell friends that you’d go on holiday while staying at a local hotel to chill out

7) Spontaneously start singing on a formal occasion

8) Keep using female names on a male pain-in-the-ass colleague

9) Get a psychiatrist

10) Get a newspaper delivered to you on the name of “Miss Chanendela Bong”

 

 

And now: 5 Things a Sitcom Fan Should Never (No Really… Never) Do!

1) Do not share food!

2) Do not let Mr. or Miss Right get on that plane to Paris!

3) Do not go to a spray tan salon and count to 10 mississippily

4) Do not go to a karaoke bar and sing “I will always love you” in the presence of Mr. or Miss Right

5) Do not say the wrong name on your wedding!

 

If you can think of any more things to do or not to then, share them with me in the comments!

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* A boyfriend bonfire is when you celebrate lighting all the memoranda of a lost love on fire. While this is now a fairly common feature in pop culture, our respect needs to go out to Miss Jane Austen, who had her character Harriet (in Emma) burn everything that reminded her of Mr. Elton.

My Third Nipple…

In The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes writes:

“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”

This is actually a thought that crosses my mind pretty often. I love reading and read a lot, which sometimes gets me wondering whether I spend too much time pondering on the literary quality of my own life. When there’s a thunderstorm going on outside, I wonder how amazing it would be living in Wuthering Heights and trying to hide my affection for Heathcliff. When I’m in London I immediately imagine myself buying flowers just like Mrs. Dalloway did. And when I wandered the streets of Dublin a few years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was taking the same route as Leopold Bloom once did in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Last week I rented a DVD entitled Lost in Austen, in which a contemporary London girl, who wonders why her boyfriend does not bear any resemblance to any of her favorite novel heroes, suddenly discovers that a secret door in her flat allows her to enter the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

And this BBC mini-series is by far not the only cultural product which tackles the problem of reality meeting fiction. I will stick with my initial example of Pride and Prejudice, as this is a cultural phenomenon which has shaped Britain’s sense of its own past and has made its way into the hearts of many (predominantly female) readers… or viewers, as in the case of my alter ego Bridget Jones. Bridget is addicted to the BBC-adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and she becomes somewhat annoyed when she finds out about the real-life love affair of Colin and female co-star Jennifer Ehle:

“When I stumbled upon a photograph in the Standard of Darcy and Elizabeth, hideous, dressed as modern-day luvvies, draped all over each other in a meadow: she with blonde Sloane hair, and linen trouser suit, he in striped polo neck and leather jacket with Shoestring-style moustache. Apparently they are already sleeping together. This is absolutely disgusting. Feel disoriented and worried…”

Bridget adores Darcy and Elizabeth but wants their love affair to remain strictly locked up in a fictional world (I would hate to see Darcy and Elizabeth in bed, smoking a cigarette afterwards). Welsh cult author Jasper Fforde, on the contrary, plays with the idea of connecting the fictional world and the real world. In his Thursday-Next-Series, he designs a fictional Britain obsessed with literature where there are actual gang fights going on regarding the true identity of Shakespeare. His protagonist special agent Thursday Next enters the world of Jane Eyre and is culpable for the novel’s happily ever after. A few weeks ago I attended a reading of Jasper Fforde in which he discussed this idea turned topsy-turvy and wondered how fictional characters would find their way in our world: “Imagine Hamlet in Starbucks… My God, he could never decide!”

Although I try keeping fiction and reality apart, I want my life to have a certain literariness and I love secretly comparing myself to Catherine Earnshaw or even Bridget Jones, and I also love to imagine entering their world… Do you, as well?

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Oh! Nearly forgot: You probably still wonder about the title of this post. You might even have expected some pornographic content… (Come on, admit it!) Or a very personal confession? Well, then I am sorry to disappoint you. The title only refers to a quote from Friends’ Chandler Bing (who does, or rather did, have a third nipple), who jokingly said: “If you press my third nipple, it opens up the magical world of Narnia.” Well, a blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do to advertise her new blog. So go out there, spread the word, tell people about my blog, twitter about my blog, write poems about my blog etc.

And please: Hit the comments and tell me which fictional character you would like to meet, to have some drinks with, to change lives, or to fall in love with. Would you rather have a passionate Heathcliff waiting for you outside in the storm (as I would) or do you prefer going to Bermuda with a sparkling accessory such as Edward Cullen?