She lightens my sadness,
She livens my days,
She bursts with a kind of madness
My well-ordered ways…
One thousand whims to which I give in,
Since her smallest tear turns me ashen.
I never dreamed that I could live in
So completely demented, contented a fashion.
– Steven Sondheim, “You Must Meet My Wife” from A Little Night Music
So I realized the other day that my original intention for starting this blog was not just to put down my thoughts about TV but to try to watch TV through someone else’s viewpoint. Not only was this supposed to mean watching my wife’s shows with her and telling you what I think, but watching with someone whose thoughts and feelings are very different than mine and reporting what they think.
The blog was always meant as both a tribute to my wife and an experiment for me. Today, I’m going to try an communicate the ways in which she inspires my work more generally and this blog in particular. I also haven’t conveyed how central her opinions, her emotions and the investments in her TV habits are to this larger project as I watch her watching stuff.
So without further ado…
Meeting My Wife
So introductions. Obviously I’m going to say that my wife is the most amazing person I know. She’s a talented actress, she’s super-smart and more than a match for my ambitions and idiosyncrasies.
We talk about deep stuff – religion, politics, the purpose of art – what’s wrong with the world and what’s right with it, what we want to do with our lives when we grow up. You know, the usual.
She puts up with my terrible jokes, which is more than you can ask from any partner.
My wife is also a very strong, independent woman. She’s very pragmatic, stoic and level-headed in everyday life. Which is one of the reasons that I find her reactions to TV so fascinating, as it often brings out the opposite reactions in her.
Watching With My Wife
One of my great joys in life is sharing the experience of watching anything (plays, movies, tv) with my wife.
On our first date, we went to see a play together. Occasionally, during the performance, I would glimpse over to look at her. In her face, I could see my wife experiencing every emotion the characters projected. Not only was she emoting with them but was seemingly feeling their heartbreak on the stage. At these moments, tears ran down her face. I found out later that these reactions were not unique to this particular play, but happens when she watches anything.
This is another way of saying that she cries a lot, but she cries in all the right places.
She cries at the moments when the artist wants her to, in the parts where every fiber of their craft works toward the explicit goal of moving someone to tears. She cries when she sees people suffering on TV. She cries when she sees people overcome adversity. She cries when she sees people happy.
She feels in ways that I don’t. Things move her in different ways than me. Most of all, watching with my wife is such a pleasure because it reveals to me just how big her heart is. In my opinion, this is one of her best qualities and often I am moved simply by how much she is moved.
My Wife is the Ideal Spectator
More than anything else, I think that this makes my wife the ideal audience member. Hopefully, this is a far cry from saying that my wife is a sucker. What I want to say is that she is the perfect person to watch while watching TV, because I think she is the ideal person that creative people had in mind when designing these shows.
Certainly this is another way of saying that she is part of the demographic that these shows are meant to appeal to, and by proxy, the kind of woman that is meant to be moved by these works.
So, when she cries watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, or Say Yes to the Dress or at the end of Modern Family it’s not simply because she’s a sucker, but because its the show’s purpose to move her and people like her.
Where we go from here…
So let’s call my first week of postings a warm-up to better and (presumably) deeper things to come. Ultimately, I want to be asking why and how these shows and movies are playing into gendered assumptions of TV viewing, and why they work so effectively. I’m hoping that this blog raises some questions about pleasures of watching TV as a couple, as an individual and as a man watching what are presumably marketed as women’s shows.
Finally, I want to try to find the in-between places, where my wife and I are moved equally by what we watch and find the moments where gendered spectatorship break down. I assume that this project is more universal than specific. That more than just my family unit watch Oprah as a family and that there is productive stuff in between where all of us can find some common ground.