Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Narrator

I love generating narratives.

For example, I have always wanted to buy a Roomba and a Scooba, and program the Roomba to vacuum the carpet parts of the floor, and the Scooba to wash the hard parts of the floor, and then name the Roomba Romeo and the Scooba Juliet and they could have this forbidden love, divided by the invisible boundary and their neverending task to clean only their own parts of the floor.

their love is so beautiful and doomed. and helpful around the house.

And of course I love scripted TV (other people generate good narratives too!) but I like reality TV for the opportunity it gives me to impose my own narratives on what I’m seeing. Reality TV editors are somewhat constrained - they have to pick and choose from the material they get from the participants. Often, this means more narrative suggestion rather than being INFORMED OF FACTS LOUDLY BY THE SCRIPT. This is a barely-exaggerated example from a TV show I actually quite like:

Bad Agent: Why are you so mad at me?
Good Agent: You are HYDRA! Which, in case you haven’t been watching the show or the tie-in movies or reading the comic book series, is an EVIL organization that was founded by Nazis! Including [insert name of Nazi character here]! So I am mad at you due to that! National Socialism not cool!
Bad Agent: But I want to kiss you. Due to my romantic feelings I have. For you, I should specify.

With reality TV having no explicit script, I have the opportunity to imagine and project onto these hapless figures on my TV screen.

Case in point: I became obsessed with Dancing with the Stars* this season, which I started watching because a) dancing rules and b) they did a Disney episode, so I had to watch it. But I kept watching for the narrative I got to project onto it, which was that a certain supermodel-dating male dance professional had unexpectedly fallen in love with a certain lady Olympian ice dancer and could not figure out to manage his feelings other than to 1) stare at her intensely, 2) give fierce interviews about how she is the best dancer in the competition and everyone must know it, and 3) choreograph insanely torrid dance numbers about problematic love stories.

Liz: “Look at him! Look at how he is staring at her like he is the Phantom of the Opera and he wants to marry her and lock her away forever in his dungeon palace underneath Paris!”
Husband: “mmhmm.” clicks on e-mail
Liz: “Are you even watching this with me right now?”

three minutes later

Liz: “Look at how she is like the only thing that soothes him when he starts raging about their samba scores?”
Husband: “Hrmmm.”
Liz: “Your e-mails canNOT be this interesting.”

Thus when the finale of Dancing aired on Tuesday night, I was definitely interested to see if Said Olympian and Said Danceman won** (because they were unquestionably the best dancers) but I was MORE interested to see if my imposed narrative would prevail: if he would be forced to acknowledge that, even though she wasn’t a leggy blonde, that the tiny fairylike ice princess had completely stolen his evil Russian heart.

Incidentally, there is so little adjustment needed to make this story a feature-length musical.

Perhaps I’m relying on shipping reality TV participants for narrative fix these day because now that I’m older and out of school, I get less of this material from the people in my own life. At school there’s always a good chance that someone has a story going on - when there are enough people thrown together for long enough, someone is going to fall in unrequited love with someone, or develop a deep animosity to someone, or have a secret about someone that they can’t admit. There’s something going on. But my own personal life has become, for the most part, very uninterestingly happy (it’s why the fairy tale doesn’t bother describing in detail the “happily ever after” bit). My conflicts these days are largely internal:

  • Liz vs. Liz’s Desire to Eat Cookie Dough For Dinner
  • Liz’s Budget vs. Liz’s Preoccupation With “Free” With Purchase Makeup Samples
  • Liz’s Job vs. Liz’s Wish She Was a Sitcom Writer, or, While We’re Wishing, Sitcom Star
  • Etc.
And my friends are all very mature people with children and careers and other qualities that make me a highly unsuitable companion for them and make it difficult to craft short-term narratives about their lives. (Without them getting mad at me for fabricating things. Heh.)

This is why my favorite time of year at work is the summer when we get a bunch of interns who are still in school. Let me tell you that the narrative potential of all my coworkers is LOW. We are an extremely boring bunch. A good percentage a married; an even higher percentage are married to their work; and if anyone is dating each other, they are keeping it entirely secret, which would make sense in light of the fact that lawyers are very careful about sexual harassment. It’s terrible. No material at all.

But the interns! They are still young and in school and there is always the potential that two of them will start dating each other, and even if they try to keep it secret they will fail. Or one of them will develop a crush on another one, and that one will like a different one. Really, that any of them might do anything human at all would be a huge ramp up. Ideally, something like this would happen:

so much drama

The odds are low based on demographics alone - and even fledgling lawyers have a much higher-than-average ability to rein it in and act professional - but a bored gal can dream. At least until I can afford two expensive cleaning robots and a seamstress to sew tiny Elizabethan outfits for them, I need something to narrate about.

*Huh, isn’t ABC doing very poorly in the network ratings these days? I may be single-handedly keeping them afloat with my viewing habits.

**Of course they won. Because they were the best. And because I voted for them 10 times like a crazed teenybopper watching The Voice. I have no shame.


  1. Do I count as a mature friend despite the fact that I do not have children or a career because I'm still in school? Plus, I don't exactly know how mature I really am. haha. I'm obsessed with TV too because my life is pretty boring, so I get it.

  2. See, if we'd managed to make brunch happen last week, I could have given you interesting pieces of my decidedly non-mature, barely-grown-up life to form narratives outside of reality tv! :P