We just finished watching Series 4 of the new Doctor Who. My 23 month old* has now watched more Doctor Who than anything else on screen — not that he’s been watching with us, because he (and we, when he’s not napping) is nominally TV-free, but sometimes he wakes up in the middle of an episode that we Just Can’t Not Finish (like this afternoon, when we were 20 minutes away from the end of the final episode of the season), and, well, it happens.
In fact, our feelings about Doctor Who pretty well exemplify why we are TV-free: I am a TV addict. Watching one episode of a show I like is pretty much like eating the proverbial one potato chip; it’s just not something I can do. I must have more, and more, and more, and then my child is watching lots of things blowing up and the planet being towed by a little blue box and clapping and exclaiming “ball! big ball!” and it occurs to me that perhaps this might not be that wise a decision. If we were not TV free, the TV would be on nearly his (and my) every waking moment — I know, because I’ve done it before, years before, lasting for years, losing years. And we’re so not doing that with him.
Doctor Who, now… well, there must be exceptions. Doctor Who is one of ours — probably the greatest, in the large sense of the word. Both The Man and I have been speculative fiction fans for most of our lives; he more the fantasy, I more the scifi. I do not pretend it’s a good genre; I could easily do a feminist analysis of the Doctor Who universe, and the outcome would not be favorable (old white man has all the power and a series of usually attractive usually female “companions”, running around in his powerful phallic technology, beating the monsters and saving the world? yea, that’d be a big fat feminist fail right there). And, let’s face it, it is so pure cheese. Tasty, yes, but in the man-made (hah!), full of words no normal mortal can pronounce, you know it’s bad for you, cheese from a can (blue, of course) kind of way.
And I love it. Really, truly love it. I loved Star Trek (TNG, DS9, the movies), and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Gallactica (no spoilers, we’ve only gotten through the first two seasons so far), and honestly can say that Firefly was the best thing ever on TV (although before anyone forwards me a “Help Serenity Fly Again!” petition: it’s dead, Jim. let her go. it’s over). Cheesy bad speculative fiction with a giant glop of interpersonal drama is right up my alley. I can see how bad it is, and I totally and completely fall for it anyway. Hard. Especially the Doctor.
I was the other day trying to explain why that is to a friend, who doesn’t get speculative fiction at all, much less the aliens-and-technology kind of the TARDIS’s universe, and I think I stumbled on something:
I am bipolar. Bipolar Type II with Rapid Cycling and Mixed States, specifically. Most of my paternal family falls somewhere on the bipolar spectrum, and my maternal family were mostly alcoholic, which often masks some underlying mental or mood issue. My love of speculative fiction also runs in the family — as I revealed on Ruth’s blog, my whole natal family would play D&D together, and our family bedtime books were along the lines of The Lord of the Rings (and yes, my name is really Arwyn, and yes, I’m named after Aragorn’s elvin lover). My father, and this is not an exaggeration, owns every Analog magazine from 1950something onward, and, this might be a tiny exaggeration although if you could see his house you’d know how little, just about every SciFi book ever published. So I come by it honestly.
Back to the point: one of the key features of bipolar disorder is grandiosity; in the “up” part of the experience, this manifests as a feeling of I Can Do Anything, or I Am The Greatest. If I write an essay when I am manic, it is the best essay ever, and will earn me publishing and critical acclaim and fame and wealth. If I so much as pick up a craft, like knitting, my thoughts are filled with invitations to The Daily Show and the Whitehouse, where Very Important People will fawn over my every word on the topic. (This happens in the down part of the cycle, too, where not only am I horrible, but I taint everyone around me, and might very well be the downfall of civilization. This is no more or less crazy, but feels rather worse.)
Which brings us back to Doctor Who. The Doctor and his companions are special — not in the Stuart Smalley “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me!” kind of way, but in the “You are the most important woman in all of creation!!!1!” way. The grandiose way, the way those of us with this mood disorder (and probably the rest of y’all too, although if so you’re better at hiding it) secretly believe we are, in a teeny tiny corner of our souls, all evidence to the contrary. It is escapism, to be sure, and fun and enjoyable, yes, but I think these types of shows, where “the fate of the world, nay, the universe, nay, all the universes! is in your hands!!” (and therefore in the hands and minds of those of us pulled in to that cosmos), have a special attraction for those of us prone to this way of thinking to begin with.
Healthy? Oh, likely not, and surely not at its extremes. I’ve watched my father read his life away: he worked, he ate, he slept, he had a family, but mostly, he read. He read scifi, and fantasy, and anything with magic or near-magical technology or psychic pseudocats; anything to escape to a world bigger and better, or bigger and worse, or just somehow bigger – more grandiose — than the admittedly mundane one he lived in. His hobbies were D&D and the SCA – a magic-wielding role playing game (where he was usually
god dungeon master) and a sword-wielding medieval recreation group where no one is less than a lady or lord, with all the swagger and finery of the middle ages and none of the dysentery. He spent so little time in this universe, I sometimes think we may be less really real to him than Honor Harrington.
And I’ve come close to that myself. Hell, I’ve been there, myself, where Q was more real to me than God, where life was just what I had to do to have more time, in my imagination, as a dragonrider (although not just a dragonrider, of course; no, that wouldn’t be grandiose enough, so something always makes me even more special in even the specialest of universes). It’s as attractive a prospect to a part of me as it is horrifying to the rest of me.
So why watch at all, then? Why not just shut it out altogether? Because I think I lose something when I starve the part of myself entirely. It can be overdone, to be sure, and I’m glad the Doctor doesn’t have new episodes daily or I really would be in trouble, but I think that by feeding that part of myself a little, I keep alive something worthwhile. Some ability to think big, dream big; to play; to immerse myself in an imaginary universe; to be downright daft and silly in public, the mundanes be damned. It serves me well when the Boychick wants to dance in public, wants me to drink tea made of wooden food toys and jingle bells, and will even more, I believe, when he wants me to build forts, slay his monsters, and tell him he can do anything he sets his mind to.
I want him to have that expanse of the imagination. I want him to lead a play-full life. I don’t want to lose him to those other worlds, or have this one drained of color for him in comparison, as I’ve seen happen in my father, and I’ve seen happen at times in myself; I want him to see the fantasy for what it is, to see the cheese and the sexism and the racism and the cliched writing and the overwrought acting, but oh, let him love it anyway. Let him never lose the ability to dream, and to join in another’s dream, to have flights of fant’sy — just let him land softly, and enjoy the plain world, the simple, complex world in all its mundane glory, as well.
And so we are TV-free, and watch Doctor Who 12 hours a year, and eventually, the Boychick will likely join us for more than just the last 20 minutes we couldn’t put off. And that’s OK. Let him know the joy of the now, and the joy of the imagination. Let him be sane and stable, and let him be just a teeny bit crazy too. Let there be both in his life, in about those proportions.
*23 months old?? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *fingers in ears* Lalalallaalala I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaar yoooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuu!