In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Covering the 22nd of each month, please welcome Kayleigh Fongers (’18). Kayleigh graduated with a degree in writing. Born and raised in the mitten, she currently lives in Muskegon and spends her time writing, waitressing, and job searching. She loves tacos, concerts, and those beautiful Lake Michigan sunsets.
I started watching Friends a little late in the game. And by late, I mean a quarter of a century after it debuted on television and quite some time after Twitter and Reddit users deemed it overrated at best and problematic at worst.
I can’t deny that Ross is annoying and obsessive. I can’t deny that the overabundance of whitewashing and thin waistlines is disappointing. I can’t deny that some of the storylines are unrealistic and many of the jokes are offensive. And I also can’t deny that throwing out the infamous “Oh, it was the 90s!” line falls overwhelmingly short of being an acceptable excuse.
But I did watch the entire show, and I decided it was enjoyable. I told friends and family that I liked it. I received a sweatshirt with the iconic Friends logo for Christmas.
Then came the glimpses of negative tweets and articles on social media (how did I not see them before?). I started to shrink into a shameful quiet.
I’ve always been the kind of person who is easily impressed by the art and media I consume. I’m an overly sensitive soul who feels everything, deeply, sometimes all at once. I’ll clutch my sides with laughter, drench my shirtsleeves with frantically-wiped tears, and shiver as my arms prickle with goosebumps all during one movie.
I love friendship. I love love. I love nostalgia, and redemption, and all of life and its glorious portrayals in films, TV, and books. But the problem is that my emotions often blind me to the shortcomings of everything I watch or read.
When I saw Aladdin (2019) with a friend, I walked out of the theater with a huge smile on my face. “Oh my gosh, what did you think?” I gushed. “Wasn’t it so good?!”
“It was…okay” came the unexpected reply. To say I was embarrassed was a bit of an understatement.
Several months later, I kept glancing over at my friend as we watched Little Women (2019). I searched his face in the dim glow of the screen for any possible indication of disappointment. Fortunately, as we chatted non-stop through dinner afterward, I was relieved to find out that we shared the same happy sentiments. Yet I couldn’t help but think back on the Aladdin experience, and all the other experiences I had during which my friends, family and followers held drastically different views than my own.
Not too long ago, I resolved to become more critical and pointedly search for problems every time I opened a new book or stared at a screen. I figured this would put an end to embarrassing moments. It might help me become more informed, become a better human being, and perhaps even start to understand Woke Twitter.
So, I started a movie on Netflix one Friday night with these ambitions in mind. Forty minutes into it, I closed my laptop with a sigh. I had questioned every joke, scrutinized every character, and studied the plot points with so much attention that it became stressful and unenjoyable.
Can’t there be a middle ground? Can’t I be aware of the shortcomings but still walk away with an overall appreciation for whatever I’m watching or reading?
Looking back, I think I did a pretty good job of seeking that middle ground when I watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (I would assume any fans of the franchise have seen it by now, but in any case, I’ll try to refrain from including spoilers.)
Through that 142-minute rollercoaster, I noticed that the pacing felt a little too rushed. I felt my heart break in two at a character’s apparent death, and then I couldn’t seem to fully recover when it turned out to be a misconception. I noticed some minor plot points that were never resolved. So many things about the ending shocked me. I didn’t try to find problems with the movie, but they manifested all the same.
And yet, I sat there with tears streaming down my face as the credits started to roll, feeling nearly every possible emotion at once. And there was no trace of shame in my voice as I turned to my brother, the biggest Star Wars fan I know, and didn’t wait for him to speak before I articulated all my feelings in three words.
“I loved it.”
Maybe this is the middle ground—maybe it’s not just giving some grace to the movies and TV shows I watch, but also giving grace to myself. Ross Geller and galaxies far, far away aren’t perfect, but perhaps I can still find ways to enjoy them anyway.
Kayleigh Fongers (’18) graduated with a degree in writing. Born and raised in the mitten, she currently lives in Muskegon and spends her time writing, waitressing, and job searching. She loves tacos, concerts, and those beautiful Lake Michigan sunsets.