Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Comfort Culture

Yesterday was good, then bad, then somewhere in between. We're all drained from the holidays, despite or because of the fact that they went off so well. Luckily, I'd taped the Thin Man films on TCM for Kim, so she could drift to sleep to the sounds of Asta barking. Tylenol PM has nothing on Powell and Loy in Kim's world. The films take her to a place where comfort shuts out the pressures of the day, month, year.

Part of yesterday's difficulty was occasioned by Skylar watching the first third of Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events in rapid succession. I warned her that the former was a lot darker than its predecessor, which she now adores, but had forgotten about the ravenous abominable snow monster in the beginning. The latter had a little too much death and not enough happy ending in it to win her over. She liked the visual aesthetic, but was disturbed by the narrative's dark teleology.

Today, as a consequence, she is going to watch her Barbie movies, Rapunzel, Princess and the Pauper, and the current selection Swan Lake. If you haven't seen clips from these films, you might have a hard time imagining how parents like Kim and I can regard them as tolerable. They certainly are strange for a first-time adult viewer. The computer animation, even on the newest one, is oddly, almost deliberately early-to-mid 1990s. The settings look like something from Myst. And the characters all look like plastic dolls come to life, in keeping with the need to make Barbie "realistic" in her lack of realism. Amazingly, though, the films convey good messages about friendship and forgiveness, downplaying the importance of appearances in the process. The storylines, as Kim likes to say, are "classic" in feel, even when the ending is changed, as it is in Swan Lake, to be less sad. Sure, the movies are designed to sell product. Sure, Skylar has managed to rake in a good deal of said product, between her grandparents and parents. But the experience of her watching the films themselves -- and I mean watching them over and over -- has been overwhelmingly positive.

Anyway, as I put on Swan Lake for her a little while ago and watched the opening scenes, I realized that the films have become "comfort culture" not only for her, but for me. Even as I type this, I'm finding myself soothed by the sounds coming from the television in the front room. I also find those Thin Man movies awfully relaxing, following Kim's lead.

I think I've said this before, but it would be a very good idea for someone to do a rich, theoretically savvy study of the continuum that links "comfort food" with "comfort culture." The factor of repetition is key, naturally, to both phenomena. Does the notion of "comfort" I'm invoking here provide a means of partially redeeming the repetition compulsion, balancing its conservative ideological function with a more sanguine quality?

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