Looking back on my fiascos with members of the male gender, I have often wondered if there was something inherently wrong with me. Despite being a smart girl with above average social skills, when it comes to guys, I can be dumb as bricks. Honestly, I may be some sort of idiot savant; a female Rain Man who just can’t function in the presence of a Y chromosome (I’m not sure what the “savant” part is yet). If I had a nickel for every conversation I’ve had that started with, “I just don’t understand why he doesn’t LIKE ME!” (often slurred through tears), I’d have $5.65, easily. With college and high school behind me, I am finally in a position to redefine myself and break old habits. I, my friends, am on the road to recovery. And I have completed the first step: I admit I have a problem. I am now onto the next step, which is identifying the cause of said problem. Now, while it would be quite convenient to blame my mother, father, or one horrible date, I won’t take the easy way out—no sir.I blame Dawson’s Creek.
This realization happened a couple years ago, and is really resonating now. Let’s travel back in time, gentle reader…
6:00pm—the height of rush hour. Me and at least half of Manhattan are packed into one subway car. As I grip the center pole for dear life (and try to inch away from the old man who is coughing up a lung), I overhear two teenage girls having a conversation.
“Wait, Rachel, are you still dating Cory?”
I immediately look up. I love gossip, even if I have no connection to the parties involved.
“Yeah,” Rachel says slowly. “Melissa, don’t give me that look— it’s going good.”
“Really?” Melissa rolls her eyes, and pauses. “Rach, he was a total asshole at homecoming.”
“I know, but it’s okay. Afterwards we talked about it and he was like, ‘Nothing happened with Lana, I just want to be with you.’”
“He really said that?” Melissa softens.
“Yes.” She nods intensely, then leans in closer. “He even said, ‘You make me want to be a good boyfriend.’”
“Oh my god, he totally pulled a Pacey.”
"I know. It was so sweet. I’m like totally his Joey.”
The girls go quiet, as they think of Cory with tenderness. The subway lurches forward and the old man knocks into me, filling my nostrils with the smell of tobacco and phlegm.
For those of you who spent your childhoods doing productive things like reading and playing outside, “pulling a Pacey” refers to the character arc of Pacey Witter, from the hit teen drama Dawson’s Creek. Pacey went from reckless smart aleck to sensitive, intuitive businessman over the course of 6 seasons. Though Pacey is in no way a real person, his personality and character arc can be referenced as though you were speaking of an old friend.
And I don’t know what’s sadder—that the girl did this in conversation without a hint of irony, or that I actually knew what she was talking about.
Dawson’s Creek debuted on the WB network in the winter of my freshman year of high school—or, as I like to call it, the worst of times. There were 34 new students in my grade, and cliques were rivaling for those that would best fit their membership. Meanwhile, this madwoman—let’s call her “my algebra teacher”— was oppressing me with crazy rules that were just not gonna fly. I said to her, “Listen lady, you cannot just come into my life and tell me a letter stands for a number and expect me to be okay with it.” She disagreed.
Anyway, back to Dawson's. The episodes often began with a long shot of suburbia in all its glory. Capeside: A beautiful coastal every-town, where Caucasian youth brim with hope and enthusiasm. It was pretty much a walking Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. If you’re a viewer who is darker than a paper bag, you already feel a little awkward.
Sidebar: Why do television shows that are meant to appeal to the 18-34 year old demographic function under the assumption that there is only one White/right way to appeal to them? There are many places in America where the minority is rapidly becoming the majority, and the refusal to reflect this in popular television only serves to alienate those groups and reinforce stereotypes. Hell, I go sailing. I love it. I eat Chips Ahoy cookies, I watch Gilligan’s Island. Why didn’t we see a blacktress paddling up the creek?!
Sorry, I digress.
Jen and Joey were the ladies of the creek; they were cut from the same cloth, but Jen was the left over scraps. And for some strange reason, both of these girls fought of the affections of television’s worst leading man.
Yeah, you heard me. Dawson Leery was a lame-o. That’s Spanish for “one who is lame.” As I’ve already said, I was a film major in college. I knew guys like Dawson, who constantly quoted movies, lived life as though it had a soundtrack, and wanted to be Spielberg—these guys had no friends. On top of that, Dawson said things like, “I'm talking about the romantic apotheosis.” And “It -- you call it wish fulfillment or delusion of the highest adolescent order. But, Joey, I'm tellin' ya, something primal exists between us.” No one between the ages of 12 and 22 talks like that! First of all, you don’t learn such words until it’s time for the SAT verbal, and once you know them, you would never actually use them in conversation. That’s how you get bitch slapped. How anyone like Dawson got his own creek in the first place is beyond me.
I remember the first time I fell in love with a boy. It was my junior year of high school on the plantation and he was a new potential Massa. We instantly became friends and spent all our time together--he treated me like an equal, and he even liked Negro music. And he. Was. Cute. He was smart and funny and wanted to be a filmmaker—he was my Dawson (though much less lame and slightly more hipster). I remember watching Dawson’s Creek one night and actually crying, because I could relate to feeling like the rejected friend.
And the night I decided to write “My Dawson” a letter telling him how I felt…. Yep, I’d watched an episode of “The Creek.” As I wrote, I was tragic and hopeful. I poured out my soul, inserted song lyrics, and wrote in my best handwriting using a purple pen.I re-wrote it and re-wrote it, and finally decided I couldn’t take the pain any longer. He had to know how I felt so that he could finally fall in love with me. I knew if I could muster beautiful, flowing prose, he was would reciprocate just like the real Dawson. Guys were capable of such self-expression, I just hadn’t given him the opportunity.
So I handed him the letter one day after gym class, as he headed home. I distinctly remember it. He was saying goodbye and I tried to breezily pass the letter to him. When he asked what it was, I just told him to read it later, “No big deal.” When I felt the weight of the letter travel from my hand to his, it felt heavy. Later that night, I wrote in my journal, “he didn’t even know he was holding my heart in his hands. Perhaps he will give me his.”
And the next day, he came to my locker and smiled. We chatted as though nothing had happened. I knew that once we had a moment alone, he would talk about the “romantic apotheosis.”
But he didn’t. He never said anything about it.
When I confronted him, he said he didn’t want to say anything cause he didn’t want us to stop being friends.
So much for life imitating art.
I cannot count how many times I sat in front of the television watching, let’s say, Saved By the Bell or Pimp My Ride and secretly thought, “I want that.” As kids, we wanted the toys or the Happy Meal; we were determined to “collect all four!” of whatever was being sold. As teenagers, we wanted it and the persona attached—whether it’s the hair color of a certain actress, a Quarter Pounder with cheese, or a ride that is indeed pimped. And these desires were far worse than a high-calorie nugget made of “chicken product.” After all, toys and food could be bought. But if you wanted to be popular or get a boyfriend, you had to change who you were to fit whatever standard was being held at the moment. Between commercials, teasers for the next episode, and the weekly onslaught of these television shows, it was impossible to shake these feelings unless you lived in an igloo. For so many young women, this want can extend far beyond material possessions and become an innate desire to change oneself and become someone that is not actually real. Such expectations set us up to fail and only reinforce feelings of inadequacy.
“Um, so what are you going to do about it, Sojourner?” You ask.
“I’m going to expose it for all it’s worth, like I did just now” I say to you confidently.
“And? We all know TV isn’t reality—“
“Even reality TV?” I lower my eyes over my spectacles.
“No, that’s different.” You mumble, taken aback by my clever word play.
“It’s real people in real situations, being forced to do crazy things. It doesn’t get any more real.”
I chuckle lightly and wipe my brow. “Oh, you poor naïve soul. That’s all editing and camera tricks. Nothing is unfiltered.”
“Wait, so you mean Survivor—?"
“Is simply a bunch of actors who got rejected from the cast of RENT, trying to make ends meet.”
“Yeah, well… your mom’s trying to make ends meet!”
“That was real mature,” I scoff, as you stop reading this bloggery.
“Oh, so you think you’re better than me now?!”
You keep reading.
It's a hell of a lot better than watching TV.