How Bad TV Shows Help Us Through Hard Times
I don’t know what came first, my own preoccupation with love or the films, novels and online blog entries dedicated to overseeing a relationship or navigating your mixed feeings during a breakup. I’ve written them myself. What you rarely read, however, are tips on how to prepare yourself for losing your deepest wish. That the people you love will always be around.
My boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks ago, and as with all breakups I had a fierce yearning for renewed connection. I’ve been able to manage my feelings with the help of my friends, who understand that it’s complicated, perhaps not hopeless, but very likely unsustainable. “Don’t call,” they say. “Give it time, everything will be okay eventually.” These are pieces of advice which are, logically speaking, reasonable and true.
Axiom I: All things must end.
Axiom II: Pain fades with time.
Prop. I: If you don’t call, if you give it time, you’ll get used to that person’s absence and the pain will eventually fade.
Proof: This is clear from Ax. i. and Ax. ii.
Prop. II: If the two of you get back together, it will be great until someone dies, which is an inevitable loss.
Also evident from Ax. i. and Ax. ii.
Prop. III: If the two of you get back together, it will be great until it isn’t and then you will repeat the process until the breakup sticks.
See: Ax. i. and Ax. ii.
Prop. IV: If the two of you don’t get back together now, or endure a permanent breakup at some point in the future, you will eventually get used to that person’s absence.
Proof: Ax. i. and Ax. ii. Every outcome leads to a personal acceptance of loss. Also, death. Q.E.D.
Another piece of advice I was given, which I did not finish, still seems like a great idea. “I have this break-up tradition,” a friend told me. “Force yourself to sit through a terrible movie, and project all your anger and anxiety onto it. And when you’re done with the movie, make the conscious movement to turn it off or eject it.
“Set it aside as you would your relationship.”
There was one warning, however. “Be careful which movie you choose. I’ve ruined good movies through this technique.” He added, “I still can’t watch Pete’s Dragon without thinking of my 8th grade girlfriend. Lisa, you bitch.”
Instead of watching a bad movie, though, I decided to partake in what is considered the very worst of all series. Because why settle for a single hour-and-a-half-long angst session when you could draw it over a whole week? This relationship, which lasted a year, meant a lot to me, and it’s going to take more than Swingers to work through the frustration.
Hemlock Grove is apparently the worst show in existence, in case you haven’t read almost every review on the Internet. If it is enjoyable to the viewer, it’s only because it is just so, so bad. (I wouldn’t expect anything less, or more, from Eli Roth.)
But I, for one, can’t come up with a suitable verdict on Hemlock Grove because I didn’t get around to watching the fourth episode. Or was it the third? I can’t remember.
To tell you the truth, it isn’t unwatchable. It feels very much like Gossip Girl with werewolves, which appeals to my low-brow-meets-high-brow sensibilities. The dialogue is always hinting at something profound, like when one of the characters interjects a random comment about Marx. The series also seems to explore the concealed nature of people, what’s hiding behind our exteriors. But if you’re looking for a serious take on those themes, taken to a psychological extreme, turn to American Horror Story, because the excruciating performances and artificial dialogue make the show horribly banal.
But maybe that’s just my projected angst talking. I like self-conscious meta-horror. Had I not watched the beginning episodes of Hemlock Grove for the sole purpose of shitting all over it, I would probably defend it against all those critics who couldn’t recognize thoughtful camp if it chased them through the woods and bit them in the crotch.
For the first two episodes, I concentrated every ounce of my anger and grief over my failed relationship onto this epic failure of a television show.
But as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t make it very far, because shortly after I witnessed that infamously grisly scene where Werewolf Boy’s human skin splits open during his transformation, I got a phone call from my mom in Ohio.
“Where are you right now?” she asked.
“I’m at home, watching a show,” I answered.
My mom immediately started to cry. “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but Grandma passed away about an hour ago.”
I paused the show.
My grandma was 80 years old and a lifelong chain smoker. She survived numerous types of cancer, including breast cancer, and has had her own personal trials which I wouldn’t have known about had other family members not told me. In spite of her good-naturedness and her penchant for cursing, she carried all of her very grim burdens with extreme silence. After suffering a minor stroke, she died about a week later when her heartbeat slowed to a stop.
My mom asked if I was okay. Without shedding a tear, I told her I was, and after hanging up the phone I unpaused that terrible, no-good, very-bad show.
Unlike my grandmother, however, I’m not capable of radically internalizing my grief, pretending like shit didn’t go down and that I’m not, like, totally freaking out inside. I’ve been through enough in my life that I can take certain things on the chin, but by nature I’m more the type to burst into tears after watching the Garfield Christmas special. (True story.) Not two minutes passed before I crumbled, placed my hands over my face and wept.
My grandma had died, and here I was wallowing over a breakup, trying to force angry feelings that simply weren’t there. There’s something unjust about swallowing my grief, transferring it onto something so meaningless to me, a teenage werewolf show, when two really meaningful things had just ended. An immensely valuable relationship with a remarkable dude, in which I learned so much about myself and my capacity for trust and patience. And more importantly, the life of my grandmother, who practically raised me alongside my mother.
Pop culture advice on breakups is often dedicated to feeling indignant toward the person who walked away, who didn’t try hard enough, who made you feel less than stellar. Those kind of emotional walkthroughs have their purpose, for sure, because one of the stages of breakup grief is self-blame. But not a lot has been written about the unadorned truth that, at some point, you will have to part with the things which are meaningful to you. That a person, just as well-intentioned as you and with just as many flaws, will someday leave your life for reasons you may never fully understand.
Death of a loved one is another one of those inevitable events, but you can’t grapple with it in the same way you do a lost relationship. No amount of arm-twisting or subtle emotional manipulation is going to bring that person back into your life. Certainly, the transference of emotions onto a Netflix original werewolf show isn’t going to make you feel any better. In some ways, the fact of death makes it easier to accept in the long run, but in another sense the permanence of it is a truth that is concealed to us by our everyday lives.
As people, we hide lots of things. As Hemlock Grove glaringly points out, we can be savage wolves in human clothing or, like the first victim, we can exist as budding intellectuals with Barbie doll exteriors. There are many facets of our personalities and instincts that are kept in a closet, which our selves aren’t even aware of. But there’s something else we hide that is much more precious and fundamental- our vulnerability when faced with unexpected loss.
After I learned my grandma died, I went for a long walk in my neighborhood. It was sunny and on the brink of a powerful rain. My old boss, a restaurant owner who treated many of his employees badly, was out walking his dog. He smiled at me, as if nothing had happened, or more likely he forgot who I was. Either way, I felt deluded by the strangeness of knowing that all people truly come and go. And it’s a feeling, along with my love and my sadness, that will fade as I move forward in life. See Ax. i and Ax. ii.
My friend’s piece of advice is a good one, and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t know what to do with their pain in dealing with a significant breakup. Although the immediacy of those bad feelings will disappear, I will never think of Hemlock Grove again — its outrageous wolfman-skin-explosion, its humanization of male sexual predators and Famke Janssen’s insufferable fake accent — without considering the temporariness of existence and the wisdom gained in suffering.
The love I had, the love that was lost. In that sense, I’ve regained so much.
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