Subtitle: Despite all this demand.

If the thrill of Christmas is getting to be with your family and loved ones, last year was the worst Christmas season ever. Neal and I made the most of our pandemic isolation. We baked a lot of cookies. We got ourselves a new 55″ Samsung LED TV. It broke in 3 months, and Samsung in its poor customer service wouldn’t replace it even though it was under warranty, but at least we had the TV to watch Hallmark Christmas movies on.

I live-blogged 9 of those movies (out of 40+, not a thorough coverage). It was fun the way the 90s were. It was not a marathon, but when I think about doing it again this year, I imagine what a marathoner thinks after they finish that marathon they’d been telling themselves for years they’d train for. I see a Been There Done That T-shirt, also from the 90s.

Why run a second marathon if you’re not a marathoner? I’m trying to imagine being such a person, and the only things I can think of are (a) you want to beat your time out of a sense of disappointment or striving, or (b) the experience gave you a pleasure you’ve never felt before and can’t manufacture elsewhere, so it’s time to chase it again.

There’s no better way to live-blog bad television, unless you talk about striving to be funnier with it, the thought of which sends me down a bleak road. It’s the road I’ve seen any time I’ve thought this season about live-blogging a Hallmark Movie, which Neal and I have already watched 5 of and it’s only November 10. So then there’s the question of what pleasure it gave me, and whether I can’t get that pleasure elsewhere, and if I can’t get that pleasure anywhere other than live-blogging bad television, I have much larger problems than what kind of content to post here for the next two months.

When I was 20 years old, I was given the job—paid, even—to review visual art shows around Pittsburgh for a print newspaper. I was an art history minor at college, or more exactly I was in the process of switching my minor from art history to writing, but it was enough to let me feel qualified, and I guess the job was of such little importance that my editors felt it was fine giving it to a 20-year-old who knew essentially nothing of art’s processes or market.

At the time, I also worked as the Opinions Editor for the school’s daily newspaper. I was a pundit on a tiny level, with a readership of maybe tens of people. I use the word not to place myself among anybody, but to capture the job at hand: opinion-haver. Take-maker. The best part of these jobs was getting to decide what I thought, write it down in words that conveyed those thoughts entertainingly, and see it published within days. I got the first and last word. Sure, sometimes we’d get letters to the editor,[1] but nobody read those.

Now I’m a man in his 40s who’s been writing his 2nd nonfiction book for 10 years. I’m acutely aware of the struggles it takes to make art, to see it through the long and complicated process, and while I still value reviews for the conversations they help us have about what art is doing and what it could or should be doing, when I sit down and work, again, on this book, I hear a lot of critics in my head. I hate every one of them. I don’t know why they have to keep telling me I suck, or that this argument I’m making about consent paradigms is branding me as a sociopath, or that telling people about this part of my life proves I’m a pervert nobody should respect.

“God, you’re dumb,” say the critics in my head. It’s such an easy job, being a critic. You get to sit back, wait, and have an opinion.[2] As a writer who hasn’t published anything in over a year, more and more this job feels very sad and self-destructive. And worse: it feels just riddled with jealousy. Many people get to have the (formulaic, fakey, heteronormative, bullshit-heavy) movies they wrote appear on screen for an audience of millions, and I get to sit in my home office wondering why I have so little to show of the 10 years I’ve been working.

I don’t like the form of their success, and last year I got to pretend it was the form I didn’t like. This year, I know it’s just the success.

They already showed the Danica McKellar one. Faithful readers of this blog will recall that I love Danica McKellar. They paired her with a man I have a very hard time looking at, and the charisma was off, but they gave her the job of “Christmas Tree Whisperer,” and she got to have a number of scenes where she dropped pine needles in test tubes and shit so’s to deduce the cause of the rot problem at the Man’s family Christmas tree business (he refused to diversify what they planted and somehow they still could afford that house they put his character in).

After it was over (they kissed and there was still 15 minutes left, confusingly), Neal said, “We might have to think about alternatives to Hallmark movies this year,” and he didn’t have to say another word. I felt the same thing. Is it like we woke from a nap and the dreams we were having, fun at the time, feel pointless amid the day’s pressing needs?

Or rather, the day’s open doors. Live-blogging bad TV is a merry-go-round. Fast, fun, and it feels like you’re getting somewhere, but you’re not.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Once, a letter to the city alt-weekly took me to task for a poor review I gave a group show of local artists (Boring art = the sum of my take), and in it, the letter writer called me a “wannabe art critic.” My editor printed the letter the following week, along with a note she signed underneath it, which read, “Dave Madden doesn’t want to be an art critic, he gets paid to be one.” I wish I had it framed.
  2. Sure, there’s a lot of work it takes to form informed opinions. You have to see a lot of things, and you have to read a lot. It’s a lot of tracking, a lot of extended attention-paying. You have to remember what one artwork did at a certain point that created this feeling in you of “No” or “Yes” and then make a case for how this is a flaw/victory in terms of the work’s stated aims, and not in terms of you and your quirks or quibbles. (I mean, if you want to be good at the job you have to do this.)