Living for the Revel (catvalente) wrote,
Living for the Revel
catvalente

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Thirtysomething Thoughts

So old Thirtysomething eps are on Netflix Instant now. I vaguely remember my parents obsessing about this show when I was a kid, and now that I AM thirty, I wondered if it would speak to my adult experience at all, in a way that Gossip Girl and all the other dramas about high school kids just don't anymore. (And a word on that: guys, if you want them to drink in swank bars and screw around and have careers, just don't make them high school kids. God. What is wrong with a protagonist over 20?)

The answer, so far: not so much.

But as an anthropological artifact, it's fascinating.

I chose to watch this at a bizarre moment. The show started in 1987, and the characters claim to be 31. Which means they are in fact precisely my mother's age when this show began, being born in 1956. And just about precisely MY age now, as I turn on the show on my newfangled streaming media future device. Which means the characters onscreen are raising me, kids who are now my age.

I understand this show was revolutionary in its time--allowing family life to be less than perfect, adults to have drama and angst that was pretty damn well-written and acted and not some Three's Company joke or 90210 esque televised problem novel--people were engrossed in this show in a big way. I was eight when it came out and I remember everyone talking about it.

But I can't see myself in this show.

The three characters who don't have children are all useless in various ways: a stoner deadbeat, a whiny girl moaning about how she doesn't have a man yet and wants a baby (and doesn't know anyone born after 1960, which is mind-boggling, and I guess evidence of how stringent generational lines were before the internet), and a career girl whose actual career is somewhat fuzzy, also crying about not having a man or a baby. The baby and man having cast is having the standard white middle class troubles with balancing kids and work and fidelity and oh noez maybe I'm not cool anymore because I have a baby.

There is no woman who has arrived at thirty knowing what she wants to do and doing it well, no married couple happily without children, no guy who is lost and searching but also intelligent and not a total loser. Nobody trying to make rent, let alone mortgage, with a shitty job because there are no jobs left. No one I know is on this show, except possibly for the very few happily married childed couples with solid jobs I am acquainted with--except all of those are also either poly, kinky, or science fiction authors as well, and those are not groups represented on Thirtysomething.

Also the entire plot of the pilot is ZOMG THE BABY CRIES WTF. Shit, dude, you didn't know that before you, you know, had one? Even if I weren't the oldest of five kids, television has taught me that children cry, sometimes for a really long time. It's amazing.

I feel, subtly, as though I'm watching an alternate universe. A world in which thirty is old, and choices are death, and marriage is a horror, but one which you must embrace at all costs. For my generation, thirty is just barely grown up, and almost no one I know has issues like: should I take this million dollar contract or not, should I be faithful to my boring wife or bang my secretary, is my awesome maleness wasted on suburbia and actual relationships with actual people? (And oh my god, can we stop having that conversation?) In my world, these are at best upper class forty-something issues.  Fifty something, even. Most of my friends are trying to hard to stay employed to have affairs and hate the extraordinary burden of a full time job. (And almost everyone I know who has had an affair left their spouse and is now in a stable long term relationship with their affairee.)

It does strike me in a sort of hilariously chilling way that these people who are literally my parents are talking about the lie of grown-up hood and how their parents had it so good and so perfect and...well, even I fell into it. Grownupness is a lie now, of course, but my parents always had it figured out, didn't they? Except of course they didn't. My parents were both on their second marriage and second or third kids by thirty, my mom was in grad school at forty, and is still discovering herself in ways I admire and that will never be shown on television. They didn't have it figured out. They were lost. We all are, I think, all the time. When I watch Hope raging about the dress her mother wants her to wear and how she doesn't want to be feminine I laugh, because her idea of non-feminine is the most feminine thing I've ever seen, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing the crap Hope wears--and Hope would faint at both the combat boots and spangles I wear and the pajama pants I live in around the house. Hope is now the enemy, the old guard. She used to be the voice of a generation.

And yet, I am involved enough to look at her and say: you are hateful to your mother (holy crap, I would never treat my mother like that) and totally self-absorbed in your stupid kid, as if your mother doesn't know it's hard to raise kids, and maybe this is universal, because for every friend I have with an awesome child and balanced soul I have another one whose Facebook profile picture is of their child and not them, as though they have no identity but their offspring, and no stories of their own. Some of that other generation was so much angrier and harder than mine is, and I can't help repeatedly pointing to the internet as a reason why. We spend half our time reading other people's most intimate thoughts, and their age and gender and looks are erased, so that we don't have to dismiss them for not being like us. Of course, that's an idealized sentence, but it's how my world was built.

It's all so complicated. And it's hitting me hard in the place of my own ambivalence about having children, and where I fit in the world. I don't fit in Thirtysomething land. Or at least if I do I identify with the men's problems more than the women because I have no kids, but I'm not ashamed of it and I love my job. In the world of this show I would be a child--they talk about their aging faces and good god I look the same as I did when I was eighteen--or an alien.

So I'm fascinated, like an archaeologist, uncovering the pottery and amphorae of my parents' angst. And I really want to talk to someone about it: did you watch this show? Have you recently? What do you see in it, as through a glass, darkly?
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