Taking a long hard look at my life, I have to admit, I feel like a loser.
It’s OK. You don’t have to tell me that it can’t be as bad as all that. Stats are stats.
I’m 32, live with my mom, have never had a full-time job, and dropped out of college. Twice. Plus I can’t drive, have no savings, all my friends are in my computer, and I’m technically obese.
It’s not all my fault, though. I’ve had a debilitating illness for over a decade which has seriously put a cramp in my style. I also know in many ways, I’m lucky. I have somewhere to live, my parents love and support me (including financially, sometimes) and I’ve managed to write for some fantastic publications, from books to national newspapers to blogs aimed at intelligent women (hello, you).
But sometimes being ill has kind of… worked for me. In the past, I’ve been able to use it as an excuse to avoid a lot of stuff I’m scared of. It’s not just a case of “I was ill and couldn’t do anything.” I could do a few things, and I picked badly.
It’s only now that I feel a sense of my mortality (dunh dunh dunh!) and am wondering what I might miss out on in future as a result of being incapacitated for so long (marriage? Kids? Please God, not travel?!) that I’m starting to rake over some of my decisions, things like waiting to go back to college, when if I were less of a perfectionist I could have studied locally, or by distance learning, when my health was better than it is now.
As I’m going through this introspective, reliving-the-past phase (I guess I could call it “grieving,” if that didn’t strike me as overly self-indulgent), I’m finding solace in pop culture. This isn’t unusual: like a lot of people, I’ve always escaped into TV shows when I feel low. What has changed is the kind of show I’m watching.
Since at least the ’60s, there have been female-centric TV dramas about women’s struggles: at work, with love, or in starting a family. But for the most part, they’ve stuck to the superficial. Programs like Ally McBeal and Sex and the City showed women who had maybe one problem (usually the man they were dating) while the rest of their life was solid. They were aspirational-slash-completely unrealistic and when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I appreciated that.
But now escapism isn’t as interesting. I want TV that reflects my experiences; something more real. And that’s what writers and producers are delivering.
Fair enough, “real” might not be the first word that springs to mind when you think about Being Erica, the Canadian show in which a woman is regularly ripped out of her present day by a magical therapist in order ro relive past regrets. But Erica Strange is a woman with real problems. At the start of season one, she’s been fired from yet another crappy telesales job despite having a Master’s in English. Far from everything falling into place, she is criticised by her family, humiliated by college peers, and forced to take a low-level position that would normally go to someone ten years her junior.
While it would be lovely if her past-events therapy allowed her to rewrite history in a positive way, she often makes things worse, ending up concluding that sometimes things will never work out the way we want. She can’t bring her dead brother back however hard she tries, getting together with the guy she’s loved since college doesn’t turn into the romance of the century, and one of her oldest friends will always let her down. Sometimes the show is so close to life that it’s hard to watch, but at its most heartrending it can also be almost like therapy. It certainly makes me feel less alone.
As does Drop Dead Diva, somewhat ridiculously. It too has a magical (un)realism aspect, but boy do I relate to the story of Deb, a twenty-something model (no, not that bit) who dies and, following a little snafu in heaven, ends up in the body of thirty-something Jane: fat, unstylish, little going for her besides her work (ah, there we go). But as we watch her become comfortable in her plus-size skin, having fun with new friends, dating, and dealing with the life she left behind and all the grief (or whatever) she has about that”¦ well, I find it reassuring and more than a little inspiring, even if Paula Abdul does pop up for a cringe-worthy song and dance number every now and then. (“˜Cos she’s a judge! And Jane’s a lawyer… Never mind.)
Maybe the fact that these shows are being made and connecting with an audience (for at least three seasons each, so far) means that I’m not as alone in my feelings of loser-dom as I sometimes suspect.
There’s a reason people buy into these narratives. Could it be that to some extent, on some level, we all feel like losers? And if we all feel like losers… maybe none of us are?
I may not have a magical therapist like Erica or a guardian angel like Jane, but I can take comfort from them – and from the most iconic thirtysomething female character to ever start over. It’s possible her theme song is right, and I’m going to make it after all.
Who are your favorite pop culture lady losers?