Auld Reacquaintance

31 December, 2020 at 2:18 pm (dear diary)

I have discovered that I don’t listen to as much music around the house as I used to. After a decade and a half of living alone, while I still love music, what I have discovered that I need, subconsciously, are other human voices. My father is a fan of classical music, and has always had a strained relationship with public radio, which was the primary source for intelligent classical programming, but which featured talk, talk, talk ninety percent of the rest of the time. For whatever reason, he had little use for listening to other people; it wasn’t what he needed as part of his background. Whereas, while I like the comfort of listening to familiar music — and, perhaps as part of my father’s influence, much of that music was comprised of orchestral film scores — for the last several years my primary source of internal stimulus and conversation has been podcasts.

In talking with my friend Meggie, I discovered that what I thought was normal parasocial behavior — of imagining myself in conversation with the podcast hosts, figuring out how I would answer the questions being posed if I were ever to be a guest — was not entirely typical. It is, perhaps, born more out of a combination of using podcasts as a substitute for human interaction and a wistful male ego that aspires to one day accomplish something that would lead to being sought after as a guest that leads me to practice my answers to questions from people I will never meet.

The 'Make Noise' applause light in front of the audience at the 2013 taping of Ask Me Another in the Wilbur Theatre, Boston.Much of my podcasting still is primarily sourced from personalities involved with either the Largo/UCB Los Angeles comedy nexus, or prominent figures from BBC4 panel shows, and are usually trivia shows or film podcasts. So there’s a degree of interactivity built in to the format, making the parasocial relationship not so surprising (he justifies somewhat defensively…). Much in the way that Jeopardy is built around the audience trying to see if they would do as well as the contestants, I listen to podcasts with an ear toward how I might have performed. Which, incidentally, almost happened: I was an alternate contestant for the touring Boston episode of Ask Me Another…, I got to dodge the bullet of actually losing live on air, and got preferred seating to safely maintain the listener relationship. The producer told me that, as an alternate, the next time I attended a performance I would be able to jump to the front of the queue and be selected. I laughed and said that I wasn’t likely I’d be in Brooklyn on a random Tuesday or Wednesday night, but that I’d keep that in mind. Seven years later, the producer has moved on from the show and I wonder both: if that offer has expired, and also if that’s why I still live in this zone of thinking that I need to keep on my toes in terms of possible participation.

So I wander around my apartment answering lots of questions being asked of other people. I’m trying to choose what my favorite starter, side, main course, drink, and dessert would be in the Dream Restaurant, I’m trying to figure out what film I first remember seeing, which film I loved as a kid and think is shit now, and which film that people hate but I love and conversely which film people love but I can’t stand, and I’m determining how I would have rated a movie on a scale of 0 to 99 when I first saw it in 1999, and how those ratings would have changed today? But those are all year-’round reflections and inquiries. The timely, seasonal question over on Doug Loves Movies has been: what is the holiday movie that contestants have chosen as their favorite?

My answer to this question, as documented in the Financial Times, is traditionally The Apartment. Weirdly, this answer is a bit of a dodge. Despite the heart of the action of the movie taking place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s not really thought of as a Christmas film. But surrounding the literally perennial debate as to whether Die Hard is really a “Christmas movie”, or indeed whether any Shane Black movie is “a Christmas movie”, just because they inevitably are set during Christmas, is, well: what actually constitutes a Holiday film?. A member of my nerd friend group told me that he determinedly thinks of Addams Family Values as a Thanksgiving movie because of the fabulous “Turkey Day” skit in the heart of the third act, despite the fact that the skit quite obviously takes place at a Summer Camp. Which is more important: setting or sentiment? One of the most important scenes in Sleepless In Seattle is set around Christmas, but the culmination takes place on Valentine’s Day. Similarly, When Harry Met Sally… ends on New Year’s Eve, but takes place over various years, and is most frequently associated with the warm, glowing hues of Autumn. So, somewhere undergirding the question is, does it feeeeeel like a Holiday movie?

As much as anything, it seems to me like a Holiday movie is a title that you look forward to re-experiencing during this time of year, and that this annual slice of time gives you the excuse to revisit with Occasion. That’s part of the reason why The Great Escape is thought of as a Christmas movie in Britain, because it’s a family-friendly film (“What did you do during the war, Daddy?”) that is believed to have been programmed as a mid-day repeat for everyone to gather around. The content of the film is irrelevant insomuch as it’s four-quadrant enough that it can constitute family experience, and the success of doing that at least once will codify a title as part of a canon we wish to repeat. With our current glut of home video options, we don’t always need an excuse to revisit certain media. But our love of ceremony inculcates in us the desire to ritually elevate some of these experiences as Special Events for Certain Times.

And I think that part of the reason why my answer is half-hearted — it works on paper, but isn’t as successful emotionally, resonantly — is that I tend to reject that thinking. Which, as Andrew Hunter Murray pointed out the recent holiday episode of the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast, means that I fall into a host of other attributes listed in this YouGov survey of people Who Don’t Like Christmas. Many of those descriptions may seem fine on the face of it, but they do feel quite damning when all grouped together. Oof. So in order to reduce that feeling of Scroogishness, I’ve decided to list some of the things I do look forward to at the end of each year:

  • Speaking of Doug Loves Movies, I love the Garfunkel and Oates version of the original Hard & Phirm DLM theme song. It makes me gleeful just from the first two notes. And I always look forward to the annual 12 Guests of Christmas celebration, which has occasionally taken place as early as my birthday. One of these days I’m going to make to one of those crazy, star-studded Hunger Games knock-outs.
  • Comedy Bang Bang (former Comedy Death-Ray, formerly not a thing) is a hugely influential podcast, and I try to make a point of seeing the live shows when they tour, but what I particularly love is the end of the year wrap-ups where Scott and Paul do the countdown of the most popular episodes. Threedom has made the casual, behind-the-scenes interactions between Scott and Paul slightly more commonplace, less of a precious rarity, but I still look forward to their particular banter here each year.
  • The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is a beautiful, magnificent piece of nonsense, and a way I like to quiz myself as to how much I’ve paid attention to the news over the course of the year. Since it’s obviously skewed toward a UK focus, it’s really a testament to what has been covered on The News Quiz, The Now Show, and Mock the Week more than what I recall, and I always, always score lower than the contestants… even the ones deliberately disinterested in winning the game.
  • Noel Fielding and Richard Ayoade in the Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2016

  • I haven’t watched Charlie Brooker’s Netflix show Death to 2020, but I have been assured that it is not a revived version of his annual, year-end Newswipe shows. More’s the pity. I miss those.
  • Since I began this post by pointing out my music listening has decreased, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I don’t use Spotify enough to generate meaningful stats in its popular post-sharing scheme. But that’s more due to the fact that I still prefer to buy music and listen to it on my computer (until I have to upgrade and that goes away). But I do enjoy the same impulse of assigning numbers to the habits and trends I’ve vaguely noticed over time. Luckily, I still pop open AudioScrobbler about once a week in order to upload some of my stats to Last.fm. They won’t fully process 2020 until it’s actually over — Think of that! Statistical accuracy! &mdsah; but I will enjoy their summary when it’s ready.
  • And while I did tell the FT that I like to watch The Apartment every year, I like to have options. So I was glad to be reminded that Metropolitan is also an “in-between” Christmas and New Year’s movie, and that The Thin Man is a New Year’s film. I usually swap between going out to live music or a bingeing an entire series as a New Year’s Eve activity. Without many public options for NYE 2020, I might decide to brave the ever-decreasing returns of the Thin Man series tonight, if I need a distraction until midnight.

As I approach this season next year, I’m going to keep this list in mind. While I may describe myself as a person who doesn’t particularly care for Christmas, I actually have lots of things I look forward to, even if very few of them have jingle bells or tinsel at their heart. It will be good to remember that. Why, what are you doing New Year’s Eve?

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