Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Friday, Apr 22, 2011
A memorial for a groovy time traveller's assistant.

It was a real shock to hear of the news of the death of Elisabeth Sladen (19 April 2011). She was a real hero of mine in the ‘70s. Of all the figures that I was regularly in touch with via popular television programmes, her character of Sarah Jane Smith, in the original BBC Doctor Who series, was one of the most inspirational. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

I really liked the way they styled her. She wore groovy fluffy coats and cloche hats, flared jeans and fitted jackets with magnificent lapels. She was assistant to Jon Pertwee’s doctor and my favourite, Tom Baker; from 1973-1976. In recent years Russell T Davies reintroduced the character in his revival of the series in 2005 and went on to create The Sarah Jane Adventures for children’s television in the UK.

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Thursday, Apr 21, 2011
Unlike other formats, the sitcom allows us to suspend disbelief because we know this is a set, we know there’s a reason we’ve never actually seen a New York street in Friends, or the fourth wall of an apartment in any show. And we’re okay with that.

According to television, Chicago is having its moment. Of the new shows to come, and those from the past few years, many more than usual have been based in the Windy City: these include Shameless, The Good Wife, The Chicago Code, and the new NBC pilot Playboy.

But not all of these shows, so bold about their sense of place, are made alike. Surprisingly, The Good Wife, which is so particular about its accurate depiction of corrupt Chicago, shoots all its scenes in New York. What was less noticeable in the first season has become an almost flagrant disregard for strong exterior shots, and has made it difficult for someone who has lived a significant portion of their life in both cities to really buy it. In fact, during one episode from this season, “Six Feet Under”, we see two main characters driving around a neighborhood that is so clearly Park Slope I expected to see multiple baby strollers next to multiple coffee shops, all lining the sidewalk. Which begs the question: is accurate location a necessity for a good television show, or merely a perk?

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Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011
Glee's episode "Sexy" demonstrates how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.

When I was growing up, television shows used to advertise ‘very special episodes’ which meant that a sitcom character had a friend who got pregnant or a classmate who was being abused. The phrase was a cue that a popular series was going to highlight a social issue that was rarely discussed on television. The stories usually involved the secret abuse/pregnancy/addiction being discovered by a shocked main character. The effect however, was more of a ratings stunt than an important contribution to social dialogue.

Recently, Glee did its version of a ‘very special episode’ where the characters spoke and sang about sex—both gay and straight. It was thoughtful, funny and at times, touching. It didn’t, however, stage a shocking moment or a stunt. Glee‘s approach to the subject not only allowed the series to meaningfully add to the teen sex conversation, but also demonstrated how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.

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Tuesday, Apr 5, 2011
When considering sexual acceptance in mainstream media, bisexuality is really the last frontier.

In 1952, when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo slept in separate adjacent twin beds on I Love Lucy, but somehow still had a baby together, CBS and the FCC were sending a message to American audiences: You know what’s really going on, but we’re not going to show it. Though clearly not all married couples conceive their children in this particular locale, the twin beds represented a wink from the network to the audience (this issue, and television in the ‘50s in general, is elucidated beautifully in the movie Pleasantville).

Everyone knew that the real Lucy and Desi shared a bed, as did most couples watching the show. But because they did not show a realistic couple doing realistic things together, CBS and other networks fed into a culture of silence that invalidated the life choices of heterosexual couples all across America. It’s small choices like two beds that told mainstream America that sex was taboo, even if it did take place in a marriage.

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Thursday, Mar 31, 2011
The Bachelor does little more than advance silly notions about single women and their approach to relationships.

On this season of The Bachelor, Brad Womack is looking for love—again. In 2007, Brad was also ‘the bachelor’ but rejected both of the women he chose as finalists. In the four intervening years,  he apparently conquered his fear of commitment and is now ready to find a wife. What is surprising about this is not that he’s back on the show, but that this show continues to come back. The Bachelor does little more than advance silly notions about single women and their approach to relationships.

Tagged as: big love, mean girls
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