2015-12-30

How I Met Your Mother

2015 was a turnaround year for me.   I had hit a rock bottom period in the beginning of the year, and was able, with help, to get my life back on track.

I outline it a bit in the So Yeah post, but I don't dwell on the trigger.  

That trigger was How I Met Your Mother.  Really.

There's nothing really remarkable about HIMYM that sets it apart from other sitcoms.   It's generally harmless.  I didn't have any especially powerful crushes on any of the female characters (not even Robin).   The plot was more or less coherent over so many seasons, and nice touches like having The Freshman, by The Verve Pipe playing in the background when Lily and Marshall first meet in the dorm kept give the show an awareness of what people my age experienced at certain stages of life (As a senior in HS in 1998, I am about 1 year behind the main case in age).

So why did HIMYM have such a profound effect on me?

Part of it is described by David Foster Wallace in E Unibus Pluram.  When I first read this essay as a Junior in college, I was stricken by just how much I agreed with the overall assessment of popular television as a series of cynically constructed in-jokes, that re-enforce our own individual egos (because we get them, thus thinking we're special), and began to assess my own entertainment choices through a similar filter, for a while.  While there's more to it than this, I bring it up, because it is the where the seeds of self-assessment were planted in me.

So I want to begin with a quote about loneliness from DFW.

The second great thing is that television looks to be an absolute godsend for a human subspecies that loves to watch people but hates to be watched itself.  For the television screen affords access only one way.   A psychic ball-check valve.  We can see Them; They can't see Us.  We can relax, unobserved, as we ogle.  I happen to believe this is why television also appeals so much to lonely people.   To voluntary shut-ins. Every lonely human I know watches way more than the average U.S. six hours a day.  The lonely, like the fictional, love one-way watching.  For lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness--in fact there exists today social and support groups for persons with precisely these features.  Lonely people tend rather to be lonely because they decline to bear the emotional costs associated with being around other humans.  They are allergic to people.  People affect them too strongly.  Let's call the average U.S. lonely person Joe Briefcase.  Joe Briefcase just loathes the strain of the self-consciousness which so oddly seems to appear only when other human beings are around, staring, their human sense-antennae abristle.  Joe B. fears how he might appear to watchers.  He sits out the stressful U.S. game of appearance poker.

DFW plays up the voyeurism angle a bit more than I feel is applicable to most people; most people aren't fiction writers, so they generally don't have a need to describe realistic interactions, so motivations for consumption might differ somewhat.

So loneliness, and for some one with social anxiety disorder, his description of the voluntary shut-in is very apt (we won't go into the background of the anxiety, which in my life, can be traced to one particular event, primarily, from which I'll probably never recover completely, and no, it wasn't when my house was robbed).  Preoccupation with the perceptions of others can be a powerful opponent, especially, if one is caught up in the illusion of transparency, or the idea that their internal thoughts and feelings are visible, or apparent to others, and that they are being constantly judged on their internal monologues.

Seriously, read the whole thing. 

So let's circle back to HIMYM by talking about Firefly.  (those are Firefly posters in my living room):


And Firefly was the other other show that I was really obsessed with.  And the reasons are the complete opposite of HIMYM.

Firefly was a show I could relate to.   It tickled my ego in precisely the way that E Unibus Pluram describes.  I got the metafiction, the tropes, the odd genre-bending juxtaposition of westerns and space opera.  The characters were even somewhat relatable, given the context.

HIMYM is almost none of these.  It is a very straight-forward look at the lives of my peers, the forming of relationships, the settling down, that while others who have accomplished these life stages may relate, I was completely incapable of doing so.  

The period appropriate soundtrack choices and references to certain college-age antics (like playing Edward), where things that could certainly trigger some nostalgic feelings in me, it became clear to me that I was missing out on the main point of the show, that I was supposed to be feeling that about everything!

I was supposed to look at the flashback vignettes, along with the the seemingly perpetual struggle for Ted to settle down, as part of a more complete picture of how human relationships form, and what is really at stake.

So in the self-aware meta-narrative of my life relating to the choices of fiction I consume, I had alienated myself.  Completely.

And it was devastating.

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