Debunking My Televised Beliefs, One Youtube Spiral at a Time
My mom’s silver minivan slowed to a stop, but I was already unbuckled. I scrambled out, up the concrete steps with the black wrought iron rail, through the swirly screen door that creaked like an old bone, and into my grandma’s waiting arms.
“Hi Grandma.” I pressed a quick kiss to her cheek then darted past her.
“Hi sweet baby,” she said as I threw my Littlest Pet Shop bag stuffed to the brim with books, pencils, and coloring supplies onto my couch. My couch was the comfiest and, most importantly, the closest to the television. I let the sounds of my two sisters bickering over the other seats recede into the background as I settled in to watch that glorious, magical box.
My parents were anti-television, so the only time my sisters and I had free rein to watch TV was at my grandma’s every Friday afternoon. We still couldn’t watch kids’ stuff like Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, because they showed children being disrespectful. Instead, we watched what my grandma called the oldies but goodies: Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Cosby Show (before we knew Bill Cosby was a rapist), and my favorite, Full House.
Whenever I watched the opening credits of Full House, I envisioned myself as part of the Tanner family, packed in their red convertible with a dorky dad and two cool uncles. I found it more than a coincidence that DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle had no brothers (just like me). They shared rooms (like me, though their rooms were significantly bigger), and they had a dog (I always wanted one). The Tanners had their struggles, but anything could be fixed in thirty minutes by Danny, Uncle Joey, or Uncle Jesse. The Tanner girls didn’t have to do chores in my memory, and they made more choices than I could imagine in my structured, routine life. For me, there was a clear hierarchy: mom and dad at the top who made all the decisions, and below them us girls who dutifully did what they said. My life was a predictable and boring white American middle-class nuclear family existence.
Intellectually, I’ve always known that television and movies aren’t real, but whenever I watch television, I revert emotionally to that little girl who put herself in every show she watched, a girl who wanted so badly for a magical reality to be hers.
One day, I watched a video: OBGYN Rates 10 Pregnancy Scenes in Movies and TV – How Real is it? The narrator, Dr. Rodriguez, is a friend, so I watched with a sense of comfort as she discussed the birthing scene from WandaVision. Wanda is doing the breathing that I’ve come to expect from a birthing scene, “hee-hee-hoo.” In a kind but amused voice, Dr. Rodriguez said she had never seen this breathing technique used in a real-life birth. I had to stop the video.
You mean to tell me that every birthing scene I have ever watched on film is a lie? A fissure formed in little Lizzy, which soon widened into a crack. Soon, I was in a youtube tailspin, binge-watching experts debunk my beliefs.
The little Lizzy that still lives inside of adult Lizzy was crushed. Her belief in movie magic crumbled. Holes formed in my perfect reality, a reality where I didn’t have to make choices because everything was already perfect.
While I, adult Lizzy, was reeling from the destruction of her coping mechanism, I watched a Ted Talk by filmmaker Rob Legato, who worked on Apollo 13 and Titanic. Legato talked about how he made these events seem real to audiences: “Once you believe something’s real, you transfer everything that you feel about it, this quality about it, and it’s totally artificial. It’s totally make-believe, but it’s not to you. . . I was showing you what you wanted to see.” That’s the trick to movie magic. They weaponize what you want to believe and spend millions of dollars to make it feel real. Innocent, little Lizzy wasn’t a fool; this is what the industry is all about.
Adult Lizzy isn’t quite sure what to feel. Although the anger has lessened, the cynical version of her wants to deconstruct everything—prove that nothing is real, that there is no magic in the world—even as Little Lizzy still desperately whispers, what if they’re still real? The realist in me chimes, this is just a part of growing up. Little Lizzy wished to escape reality because she didn’t have agency in her life. But I’m not a little girl anymore. I have the power to change my reality into what I want it to be. It took re-examining my escape hatch to realize that I have the power to change my life. That’s something we all have to learn, and that’s real magic.
Lizzy Young is a writer and educator. She is pursuing her MFA in young people fiction writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She discovered her passion for creative writing in college where she published her first children’s book, Luis’s Adventures on the Panama Canal, in partnership with the University of Tulsa. She currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.