Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The O.C. -- A Case Study In Watching TV With Young People

This post is related to my last post, which was a rather long, boring, and preachy post.  Maybe this one will be more fun, while also serving as an example of what I was talking about in my last rather long, boring, and preachy post.  Maybe it will serve as a bit of a clarification, if you will.

Some of you reading this may have never heard of the TV show entitled "The O.C."  It was enormously popular from 2003-2007.  In spite of its enormous popularity, the first time I heard about it was last spring when I was engrossed in watching another TV show -- "SouthLAnd" -- which I also didn't hear about until late in the game, as in the middle of Season 4.  "SouthLAnd" has an amazingly talented ensemble cast.  I had seen most of the principal actors from "SouthLAnd" in other TV shows and movies, with the exception of one, whose name is Ben McKenzie.  So, being that I had never heard of him, I decided to look up his IMdB to see if he had done any other work.  Lo and behold, he had done a lot of other work, including a TV show called "The O.C."  I googled "The O.C." and discovered that it had been quite a hit.  It was billed as a teen soap opera, which normally I don't watch, but because Mr. McKenzie had impressed me so much with his work on "SouthLAnd," I decided to give it a try.  So, I ordered the DVD's and proceeded to watch it, along with my two daughters, who are in their early 20's.  They, too, had never before heard of or seen "The O.C."  They had, though, been wrangled (by me) into watching "SouthLAnd."

"The O.C." is the tale of a young man from the "wrong side of the tracks" named Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), who -- through the actions of Providence and some extremely creative storytellers -- ends up being adopted into a wealthy family in Orange County, California.  Admittedly, "The O.C." has many soap-opera elements to it.  What drew me into the story, though, is its touching portrayal of such things as family life, friendship, forgiveness, and hope.  The writing is also clever and sprinkled with ample bits of humor.  And Mr. McKenzie does an absolutely superb job of making his character relatable.  Ryan -- from the very first scene of the very first episode -- is someone for whom you deeply care, someone for whom you want only the best.  He is also damn hot.  He wears white wife beaters, which show off the fact that Mr. McKenzie probably works out constantly.  He sports uber-cool leather accessories, and his expressive face and off-putting manner caused my younger daughter to wonder "if Ben got away with lots of things while he was growing up."  So, of course, since Ryan Atwood is the way Ryan Atwood is, there are going to be sexual situations.

As a parent, I had a couple of alternatives.  I could decide that we were not going to watch this show in my house, with all its "objectionable" content.  Or, I could decide to take advantage of all the teachable moments it presented.  If I chose the first alternative, we would have missed out on what turned out to be an absolutely delightful story.  I would have also annoyed my daughters.  And I wanted to watch the show myself, so there's that.  Therefore, I chose the second option.  I didn't turn out lecture after lecture on sexual morality for my kids, based on "The O.C."  But, I did use situations presented in the show and the questions my kids had as an opportunities for the tossing about of ideas.

Here is an example:

Bridget and I were at a Mexican restaurant one night, having a little mom-daughter dinner, because the rest of the family was otherwise engaged.  She said to me, "What would you say if I brought Ryan Atwood home?"

I laughed and replied, "I would high-five you and shout, 'Score!!!'"  I then said, "I have never, in all my life, known a guy like Ryan Atwood.  And I have known a fair number of guys.  But, if you did happen to find him, there are a lot of good things about Ryan.  He's a good person.  He's good to people.  He's kind.  He works hard.  And, yeah, who doesn't want a hot boyfriend?"  But, I also told her, "I wouldn't go locking yourself in any pool house with him, though.  The chances of ending up pregnant would be pretty high.  And even if you didn't end up getting pregnant, if you slept with him and then broke up, it would break your heart even more than it would if you hadn't slept with him.  That's been my experience in life, anyway."  To throw some good humor into the whole thing, I ended with, "If you did hang out in the pool house with him, I'd make you keep all the blinds open.  And I'd walk back and forth every five minutes and wave at you guys."

What were my goals in this conversation?  I wanted Bridget to know that I perfectly understand the appeal of Ryan Atwood.  He's great.  But, I wanted to sort the fantasy from the reality.  I also wanted her to know that I am -- always -- on her side.  I wanted to speak to her in a way that let her know that she can come to me with anything, any time.  And I wanted her to know that I have a sense of humor and a sense of fun about things youthfully romantic.  After all, it's just a plain old good time talking with and laughing with a daughter about "The O.C."

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