Art Imitating Life: When TV Really Nails It

By Eddo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Eddo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I want to preface this by saying that I have never before seen an episode of Glee. While I understand that lots of people love it and that’s cool, it’s just not really my cup of tea.

That being said, it was hard to miss all of the buzz last week when the promo spot for  “The Quarterback” episode was released online. This episode was to be the tribute to Cory Monteith’s character, Finn Hudson. Monteith, as you’re probably aware, died of an accidental overdose this past July. Though I’d never seen a single episode of the show, I watched the promo because I (strangely) gravitate toward tragedy for some reason. Immediately, something felt very familiar to me, and I knew that I’d finally have to watch an episode.

I just finished watching it. And it was brutal. So brutal that, instead of getting caught up on other shows as planned, I’m here, at 2:15 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, writing it out.

I remember sitting in homeroom in 8th grade and having the teacher read us a form letter telling us that another student had died. He was a year ahead of me. He committed suicide. I didn’t know him, but I was really shaken up about it because I was in 8th grade. I’d just dealt with my grandmother dying a few months before, but this was different. This was closer to home in terms of age. And it stirred up the emotions that I was still processing from losing my grandma (the first person close to me to die).

That didn’t prepare me for what it would be like when I was teaching.

Fortunately, I never lost anyone I was close to in high school. A few years after graduation, a few of my classmates died, but I wasn’t close to them. My primary observations of teenagers grieving all came from my sister. She lost a friend to an unfortunate gun accident. She lost a friend to cancer. And, two weeks before their high school graduation, she lost one of her very best friends very suddenly to an unknown (at the time) health complication.

And that still didn’t prepare me for what it would be like when I was teaching.

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A Strange Fascination With Tragedy…

When I was in third grade, we learned about The Challenger explosion, which happened 25 years ago today and is the reason why I’m thinking about all of this. In some way, my nine year old mind managed to turn this lesson into a cause for concern, that perhaps something equally as tragic could happen to my beloved teacher or even to me someday when I became a teacher. I managed to convince myself that if I really paid attention and became totally fixated on in, I could somehow prevent further tragedy from happening.

When I got home from school, I told my parents all about what I’d learned. In turn, my dad told me about how he remembered watching it live in the kitchen at my grandmother’s house where we were living at the time (whether I was there with him or not is still unclear. I may have been at pre-school, but he thinks I was there). He was talking to my mom on the phone and told her that it had just blown up, and she didn’t believe him. I have a memory of being in my grandma’s kitchen, of my dad sitting there with the TV on. I can see the coiled phone cord stretched across the room. I just don’t know if that’s the same memory. It’s been driving me kind of crazy for 19 years.

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I was perusing some posts on Twitter earlier today when I saw this picture, which had been re-tweeted 100 times before I passed it along, too. It was labeled as the best picture to come out of Haiti so far, and I couldn’t agree more.

Prior to last week’s unimaginable earthquake, two things always came to my mind when I thought of Haiti. The first was Alicia Silverstone in the movie Clueless saying that “we could certainly party with the Hati-ans” – an accidental mispronunciation that was ultimately left in the movie. The second was of religion. Growing up as a Catholic, I’d grown accustomed to hearing the phrase “…and our sister parish in Haiti” during Mass. While I’ve grown quite far from my Catholic upbringing (at least, as much as anyone can ever do such a thing) for personal reasons, that church – that sister parish – was the first thing I thought of when I heard the news.

I have found it virtually impossible to watch coverage of the immediate aftermath and the relief efforts, for the most part. While I feel that the public has a right to know what’s happening when it affects them and should be aware of what’s going on in the world, I realized on April 20, 1999, as news of the Columbine massacre ripped through the country, that the media is comprised of sharks. I can’t understand why they feel it’s necessary to show us pictures of dead bodies lying in the streets. I’m sure this happened before Columbine, but in the years since then (9/11, Katrina, etc.) it seems as though they have little or no respect for the dead or for the survivors. Their attempts to “shock” us with these images have not only contributed to paranoia, fear, and, ironically, mass desensitization (and they wonder why the youth of America are the way they are), but the act of showing those pictures is, itself, insensitive. I get that, unless we can actually see what is happening there, we really can’t understand what it’s like for those people. At the same time, putting cameras in their faces to publicize their suffering isn’t going to make it any better. Continue reading