Category Archives: media

Maybe Nick Hornby was right

I have a friend named Sarah, whom I met in college. Sarah is very funny, highly opinionated, and a voracious consumer of pop culture. Her favorite quote (which might have even been in her Facebook profile before she exited the ‘book for good) was the classic High Fidelity line that seems to captivate so many of my peers: It’s what you like, not what you ARE like, that matters.

Spoken in the movie version by the perpetually hangdog John Cusack, it takes on the cadence of wisdom, even followed up by his next statement, “Call me shallow, it’s the fuckin’ truth.” It does seem to be in many ways the fuckin’ truth these days, especially where social media is concerned. I’m still an avid Facebook user, though my newsfeed is increasingly taken up by the inanities of diet plans and an endless parade of engagement rings and photographs of gooey-faced babies. I share things most often via Facebook, partly because it’s the medium I’m most comfortable with at this point and partly because it usually results in more reactions from my friends. In the ten (!) years since I joined I’ve carefully cultivated an online persona made up of the articles and statuses I share, the comments I respond to, the photographs I post—and, of course, the things I (literally) like.

I’ve looked at many a wedding photograph, and read more than a couple of crushingly dumb but enticingly titled Thought Catalog articles—but not reacting to them means I can keep that part of my “personality” hidden. Enjoying a BuzzFeed roundup of walnuts that look like Chewbacca? Fine. Broadcasting that enjoyment to the world? I’d rather not. It doesn’t really matter what I am like in person when I’m using social media, because the platform allows me to create myself as I want—in my case, generally enthusiastic, moderately snarky, and interested in all things puppy.

The same applies to online dating, to a certain extent. The profile you fill in might ask you how you feel about religion and how strongly, how you describe yourself, and what you’re looking for in a relationship. It also asks you what music you like, what movies and TV shows and books. But it’s all a measure of how you want to seem. What will people think if you put down Gravity’s Rainbow versus 50 Shades of Grey? Game of Thrones or The Bachelor? It’s a conscious creation of yourself that goes way beyond the self-editing everyone does in person-to-person interactions, because there’s so much more lead time. Think hard, the blank questionnaire says, because potential mates will judge your answers just as harshly as you judge theirs. In the absence of presence, when the prickle of chemistry can’t be felt, What do I like? can turn into What do I wish I liked? Perhaps it can make us more honest, or at least more revealing of our inner desires. Or perhaps it all becomes shallow, when a mention of Pynchon stands in for depth like a shorthand with no good translation.

So if I saw a post like this on Facebook, would I hit the like button? Maybe. But not without thinking long and hard about how it would make me seem.

Update: Strangely enough, I wrote this without realizing Facebook’s birthday was today. The site rolled out automatically generated “look back” videos of the content each user has shared since signing up. While I’m sure it involved a vastly complicated algorithm of some kind, the events highlighted were not necessarily the ones I would have chosen. So maybe I now have two social media personalities—the one I craft for myself and the one the platform decides for me. It’s a bit of an odd feeling, I have to say.

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This is what it’s like to cover the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner red carpet for Elle

You arrive at the hotel in a cab, early because you expect a lot of traffic. There is not as much as you thought there would be. You step out, blinking in the sunlight, feeling strange to be wearing a cocktail dress and false eyelashes at 5:30 in the evening. A gaggle of hopeful stargazers is clustered around the entrance of the hotel clutching cameras and camera phones. They all turn to stare as you walk by, and you hear the whisper ripple through the group like rustling leaves: “Who is that?” Finally they realize you are not anyone of note, and turn their attention back to the hotel entrance. You walk in on a literal red carpet. A crush of photographers and reporters stand to the left of the entrance, microphones dangling, jockeying for lens positions. They, too, stare at you, hoping you are someone you are not. You are with your much more glamorous coworker and her husband, who have actual invitations to the pre-parties; all you have is your business card and an printout of an e-mail from Elle.com’s editor.

You manage to finagle your way onto the list at the ABC party with minimal embarrassment, and you head to the tent. You immediately see Ty Burrell, who is wearing a tux but has not bothered to shave, holding hands with his wife while talking to Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show. They are standing by a picnic table, at which is seated John Oliver with his wife, who is much more attractive than he is. You decide you are both too shy and not drunk enough to approach any of these celebrities. Your coworker suggests hitting the bar. You get a free glass of white wine and clutch it like you are Tom Hanks in Castaway and it is your ever-loyal only friend Wilson. You drink it way too fast.

As you’re draining your glass, your coworker tells you Tony Goldwyn of Scandal has arrived. You get another drink. Then Kerry Washington comes in. You steel yourself, gulp down the rest of your wine, and head to the entrance. They are mobbed by reporters much more legitimate than you, with photographers and cameramen; you have just your iPhone. You hover awkwardly, until finally you see Tony Goldwyn break away and head into the party. You stop him, say you are a big fan of the show. He shakes your hand and smiles, exposing teeth so white and even you are momentarily distracted. He is incredibly charming and gracious. You ask him a few questions before releasing him, then sigh in relief that the first interview is over. You look at your phone and realize you forgot to hit record.

And it continues. Some celebrities—Charles Esten from Nashville, especially—will be overwhelmingly nice to you. He will smile the TV-worthy smile that crinkles his TV-worthy blue eyes and introduce you to his mother, whom he has brought as his date. He will call himself a “local boy” and talk self-deprecatingly about getting nervous before playing the Grand Ole Opry. You will thank him for the interview and think to yourself that you’re getting the hang of this.

Until you meet the celebrities who are not quite so nice. You will touch Kerry Washington on the arm, timidly, to get her to turn around, and she will fix you with a deathlike look and give you somewhat clipped answers that come out as friendly on paper. You will attempt to approach Eric Stonestreet, whom you assume will be as happy-go-lucky as he is on Modern Family, and he will shut you down completely. You will spot Connie Britton—glorious hair flowing, blue lace dress swishing—and will follow her into the party at a safe distance, as she’s stopped every few seconds by fans and acquaintances, trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. You never will. Other people you do not get up the nerve to talk to: Hayden Panettiere. George Stephanopoulos. Sofia Vergara (though her date will stand behind you on the lawn as he smokes a cigarette, and when you try to make polite conversation, he tells you he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s smoking, then leaves, crushing his half-smoked cigarette into the grass with his heel).

You can’t get into any of the other parties—in fact, you can’t even get down the escalator—so for a few minutes when your coworker and her husband go downstairs, you are sickeningly alone. You go back to the ABC party and stand around, nervously. You are slightly buzzed, nervous. You get up your nerve to talk to Shonda Rhimes, who laughs at you when you ask for spoilers. And then it’s time for the dinner and the celebrities begin to file out of the tent, and it’s like a giant whoosh of air is sucked out of the space, like the world is a balloon deflating, and you’re left among the wilted canapés and dirty glasses, still blinking in the sunlight that somehow now seems a bit less bright than before.

This Weekend

On Sunday, my college roommate and my other friend from college are screening the movie they made together, Not Waving but Drowning, in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s a big deal for my roomie because she’s from the Washington area—which means I got to interview her for the website. An excerpt of the interview is below; you can read the full thing (and see an adorable photo of them) here. I have such talented friends.

Tell me how the movie and your partnership first came about.

DW: The idea started my freshman year of college, when I was 19—kind of from that overwhelming feeling of being trapped and being anxious. I started writing the script after I moved to New York [after graduation]. I went through this long period of restlessness, and a lot of the characters came out of that. It was a year of writing and working on it, and it was definitely a lot of getting to know the characters. It’s kind of a collage; there were lots of little things I knew I wanted to include, so it’s more like a novel in that you spend some time with these people and in the end maybe you learn something, rather than setting things up in the first act. At times it felt urgent that I be working on it, and at times it became distant. Like the characters—they kind of wax and wane.

NE: We started working on this in 2008 or 2009, and I quit my job in April 2010 to work on it full-time. Devyn and I were both delusional and thought it would take us one year to make the movie—it’s been two years, so only twice as bad as we thought.

When did you decide to include the short, The Most Girl Part of You, at the beginning?

DW: That was something that came about while we were in beginnings of preproduction. I wasn’t super-happy with how Not Waving but Drowning began, and I’ve been a huge fan of Amy Hempel since I was in college. I was thinking about howGirl would make such a great short film, and as I was walking home listening to music and imagining it, I got excited about making it. I feel like not a lot of people see short films . . . I liked the idea of putting a short with a feature so people could see both, like it being a throwback to when you used to see a short film before a movie.

What’s the common thread between the two?

DW: I felt like adding this other story brought the whole thing to completion and made it feel more cyclical. I hate the term “coming of age,” but Girl is one transition, going from a kid to a girl, and Drowning is a second transition that I think happens at different ages for different people. [Girl] is about a child becoming a girl and having her first sexual experience. I think that transition is very obvious; we’re used to seeing that in film, and by setting that up it makes it more open to the fact that Drowning is another transition. So though these are different stories with different characters, it could have been one person. I think there are a lot of similarities between the relationships themselves, in the sense that they’re these symbiotic relationships. [InGirl], Amy relies on Big Guy to be the mouthpiece in their relationship, and then they lose each other, so there’s the idea of having to grow that other half that you relied on in the friendship. The more I analyzed it, the more I could find a lot of things that were really similar between the two.

PS: Because our Internet at home failed yesterday, this is a makeup post. I’ll be putting up two today!

Facebook

Earlier today I video chatted with my college roommate, a random pairing who to this day remains one of my best friends. At one point we ended up talking about Facebook. It came out when we were freshmen in college, the first year we knew each other, living in a tiny, freezing shoebox of a room and dealing with exams and communal laundry rooms and the necessity of reinventing ourselves away from home. We decided as a joke to marry each other (yes, this was back when Facebook only had three relationship options, believe it or not), and through the years and the jobs and the boyfriends we’ve never changed that status. My friend pointed out today that it’s been almost nine years.

Throughout that time, Facebook has changed innumerable times. As have I, I guess. And as the interface of the site has changed, so, too, has its content. Where once I saw stories of drunken hookups and exam stresses, now I see update upon update of engagements, marriages, ultrasounds, and baby’s first fill-in-the-blank. Maybe it started when Facebook became open to everyone—mothers, grandmothers, high school students, bosses—but Facebook is just a different beast now. It used to be exciting, thrilling even, to log on and check your notifications, see who had friend-requested you—and, let’s be honest, to photo-stalk your latest crush.

But as my friend pointed out today, I’ve been on Facebook for nearly nine years. That means—and this is entirely my fault for simply not doing it—that while my circle of actual friends has naturally pruned itself to the people I still care about and want to be in contact with, my virtual friend circle has done nothing of the sort. For some reason it seems childish to “unfriend” someone for such a trivial reason as the fact that you haven’t spoken to them in years (irony intended, in case it doesn’t come across online). So my feed is full of photos of babies whose parents I once took a class with in college…I think? or sat next to during lunch at the sorority house a couple of times.

It has the interesting effect of making me feel both a bit disgustedly superior and a bit ashamed. I know myself, and my values and thoughts are reflected in the people who have become and remain my good friends. These people and I are at fairly similar points in our lives. But my Facebook feed often reflects otherwise. It’s enough to make me want to deactivate my account sometimes, to stop piling on that internal, infernal pressure of ring, poofy white dress, squishy soft babies.

It also speaks to a larger problem, one I find myself considering even as I occasionally get sucked into the whole social-media world. That world relies so much on crowd sourcing, on “individual expression,” even if said expression is just telling the world what you ate for lunch or that you are JUSTSOMAD at your ex-boyfriend. But it lacks—or maybe we ourselves have developed to lack—the necessary filters to make that information meaningful. Facebook makes it easy to see everything, and to comment. But should you? Do we need to make it so easy to share our every thought, our every emotion, as soon as it occurs, to everyone we know (and sometimes people we don’t)? Lord knows I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I often regret it—but I just as often post some stupid joke or amusing headline and don’t really consider how many people will take the time out of their day to read it.

Sometimes it seems like social media makes communication so easy, it’s taking all the meaning out of the word. Just as the definition of “friend” changed when Facebook came along, “sharing” now means something else entirely. I am not always old-fashioned…but it does sometimes feel like the prevalence of social media has led to what can only be described as a plague of oversharing. When being a part of that world is a necessary component of your job, is there a way to curate it, to avoid the endless sonogram photos and inane vague status updates? Can you dip a toe in the pool without falling all the way in headfirst?

Print Vs. Web

I’m sure this is a topic I’ll touch on more than once, but it’s been on my mind more this week because of the project I’m tackling at work. My main job is Web-based, but twice a year I serve as the managing editor for a visitors’ guide to the city and surrounding areas. It’s almost the only time I work on the print side these days, and while it is a lot of work—a lot of work—I also really appreciate the opportunity to complete a project that leaves me with a tangible product at the end. My favorite part of my previous job was that after all the long hours and late nights and last-minute corrections, office copies were delivered and I could hold the magazine in my hand, page through it, and know that I had a hand in every single article, every nook and cranny of every page printed.

I’ve never gotten over the thrill of seeing the pages laid out and designed, the different fonts splashed against one another, the colorful photographs and crisp illustrations. It makes me envious of the designers’ talents. It’s the whole reason magazines are fun to read. Sure, the content is great, but if they were printed in black and white like a pamphlet, who would want to take them to the beach or page through them while chatting with your friends or your manicurist?

The Web is cool because it’s so immediate, so timely—and, let’s be honest, because fixing mistakes is easy. But for me, print is still more pleasant to consume. If my boss is reading this, I hope he doesn’t take offense.

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