Shakespeare Is Everywhere: Mid-Life Crisis Edition

Okay, normally I try to be nice. I know that’s hard to believe, but really, truly, I try not to call out everyday working writers on awful, awful mistakes, judgments, and opinions and instead try to focus on writing that inspires me. I’d rather save the bitterness of my little existence for comic self-flagellation and find work to share that makes me see the world in a new way.

But really, Pamela Druckerman of the New York Times, I can’t let your article pass without speaking out.

Granted, I love listicles, especially Great Wisdom Listicles. I love listicles that are little essays unto themselves, that have a little meat to them and aren’t just the entertaining little fluff pieces most of them were meant to be (that is, lists of anecdotes with no evidence backing them up). And I further love listicles that are relevant to me. So I was all set to settle in and find out What I Would Learn in my 40s, according to a New York Times-affiliated writer, a writer who’s living out her 40s in freaking PARIS, no less, which is absolutely one of the outcomes I would have chosen for myself and my family had I the option of giving the Fates my list of Dream Destinies. (Inspector Spacetime is becoming an excellent chef, and Little Fickle and I love eating and relaxed lifestyles. I’m sure we Fickle-Spacetimes would have done great.)

So I start reading your article. It’s late at night. Things are going great. Then I get to this passage:

The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks.

Excuse me, Ms. Druckerman? Did you just say that, out of ALL the books that exist on the planet today, out of ALL the books that people are expected to read in their years of education and being well-read adults, you could actually picture a world in which your example New York Times reader who has made it to her 40s has never read Hamlet????!!!!

HAMLET??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No, seriously, this was just a lapse, right? You were probably drowsy from your long day of consuming fine wine and coffee and cream-laden foods, and just meant to say “the certainty that you will one day read Anna Karenina,” isn’t that right? Because as a New York Times-affiliated writer, you surely know that the entire text for Hamlet only takes up about 350 pages of a paperback–which is about as long as the first two Harry Potter books, far less long than Game of Thrones (817 pages), and even less long than Gone Girl (422 pages). You surely know, too, that, since many of the lines of Hamlet are written in verse, the text is far less dense than a novel, and that even with the difficulties involved with understanding Elizabethan English, the average 18-year-old could likely read Hamlet in less than a week. You know that Hamlet has been the most esteemed book written by the most revered writer in the English language for at least 200 years, that bits of Hamlet have been included in English schoolbooks since the 18th century (check the contents of William Enfield’s The Speaker, published in 1774, that was meant to help students learn elocution, if you don’t believe me), that some of us readers of the New York Times have also read Hamlet far too many times to count. You know that the average citizen of the Western world often can’t go a day without bumping into some line or passage from Hamlet. (Hell, “To be or not to be” and its iterations alone must pop up in some god-awful huge percentage of modern advertising.) That said average citizen probably reads or hears a couple of pages of Hamlet every year based on chance encounters with pop culture.

You know all of these things, Ms. Druckerman, right?

Right???

And you really think that somewhere out there, there’s a New York Times reader who has somehow avoided reading Hamlet?

Dear God…

you’re not really saying, are you, that, as a New York Times-affiliated writer, you’ve

NEVER

read

Hamlet?

 

I…I’m not sure of anything anymore.

 

 

When Did the Recap Replace the Review?

Not a real post here. Just a question that’s come up again in my brain. Said question came up several times when I was watching last season’s “Game of Thrones.” Come to think of it, I was probably pondering the issue during last season’s “Downton Abbey,” too. Lots of controversy in both those TV shows of late, and since Television Without Pity folded in May, I’ve had to slog around to discover who’s thinking what out in there in Internetland. (I suppose I could just have a look on Twitter, but that can be an even worse trudge, with less actual information and more chances to enter the conversation and become an offensive idiot.)

So last week, the latest season of “Doctor Who” began, and it’s a seriously transitional season: a brand new Doctor is taking the helm and the companion is staying on. This is the first time current show-runner Steven Moffat has had to deal with this specific situation. Last week, I thought everyone involved did a brilliant job, but this week I wasn’t so sure how I felt. (To be honest, I thought large portions of this second episode were pretty damn cheesy. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, has now banned me from watching the rest of the season with him. Spoil sport.) After the episode ended and Inspector Spacetime and I had a robust argument over the cheese content of the story, I did what any red-blooded insomniac laptop user would do, left my husband sleeping on our bed, and came to wander the Internet for Official Opinions on the TV show I just watched.

Inevitably, as I scrolled through screen after screen of links, I bumped into many, many recaps. Maybe six or seven recaps for every self-proclaimed review. That’s when I realized I was thinking the same thought I’d had when I went looking for material on “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”–namely, why the hell does every blogger do so much recapping? I’ve just seen the goddamn episode. I don’t need anyone to repeat back to me the contents of my last TV experience. Long ago, broadcasters handled that themselves in the form of reruns. I want to know what other people think about shows. I want analysis and observation and–dare I say it–argumentation.

Granted, I used to love reading funny recaps, and I often read them on Television Without Pity or its predecessor, Mighty Big TV. But as far as I can remember (and this was almost fifteen years ago, so my memory might be getting a tad hazy), the writers who put together those recaps were acting as commentators, picking out zany details and explaining references and weaving spontaneous-sounding jokes as they summarized, so the whole thing felt like a written-down version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s not an easy thing to achieve, no matter how effortless it appears on the page.

Now, apparently, we have a huge horde of people who have gleaned from those old TV sites that recapping = funny and are now acting on that insight by carefully documenting what goes on in a particular show week after week. The problem is, the reason why the old recaps were funny (and I’m sure some current recappers have a handle on this, too) is that they weren’t just summaries of what happened onscreen. A simple summary of a show would be a transcript, and if you think transcripts are fun reading, you clearly haven’t encountered a lot of court documents in your day.

No, the old-style recap, the kind that started the genre, is a comedic work of art. It makes you laugh till you cry. It makes you want to re-watch the show to see for yourself the goofy glitches the recapper caught and you didn’t. It does not simply plod through the scene-by-scene antics of the kitchen staff and then dutifully list every one-liner fired off by the Dowager Countess. Why the hell would anyone want to read that, except if they happened to miss the episode, and in that case, why do we have DVRs and HBO GO and On Demand and all the other technological doodads we have nowadays to make sure we don’t miss a single second of any video event anywhere in the world?

Seriously, folks. Have we, as a culture, probably the most literate in history, become so rushed, uncaring, or dumb that we would rather have a writer repeat a TV show back to us than hear what she might have to say about it? Are we too terrified to enter into discussions these days, for fear of starting flame wars? Or is it just that “recaps” are much easier and faster to write than reviews, the way “listicles” are easier and faster–and thus more profitable–for the impoverished freelancer to produce than detailed reportage?

Oy. Now I think I don’t want to know the answer. I’m going to toddle off to bed before I depress myself more. Carry on with your recapping, kids. If some of you have deeper thoughts to contribute, please put them in a helpful section on their own, so I don’t have to waste precious seconds reading my TV shows.