Frivolous - an Introduction
    Welcome to Frivolous, a collection of writings, musings, and art. Predominantly there will be essays reflecting on our relationship with media, culture, & art, but there’s room for poetry, prose, and more. This project has been in the works for a while, as I have been steadily compiling and building up a mass of pieces to release. In its original conception, my title was You Are What You Watch, with the subtitle “Theories of Media Consumption.” But Pulitzer Prize winning data expert Walt Hickey released You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything. So back to the title drawing board. 
    I settled on Frivolous with a glimmer of a tagline, “Musings on the Unimportant Things.” For that is what I treasure most in life, that which is unnecessary. This follows in the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s art for art’s sake, and the radical emphasis of pleasure over the hetero-capitalist demands for productivity. 
    My interest in examining works tossed aside as frivolous or unserious has origins in author and video essayist Lindsay Ellis’ series The Whole Plate, a series teaching basics of film studies and theory through the lens of the Transformers films. Her philosophy behind the project aligns quite neatly with many of my frivolous interests:
“That certain films succeed, even flourish, where others don’t, reflects something about us a culture. And I’m not trying to say that Transformers is something dark and devious. I’m not interested in defending the existence of these movies, nor am I going to decry them as the herald for the end of Western civilization. No, I think even Transformers goes a little bit more complex than ‘movie good’ or ‘movie bad.’ What I do intend to argue is the automatic dismissal of any serious discussion on the topic of Transformers or Michael Bay. And I do understand the impulse to stick your fingers in your ears and go ‘lalalalala’ at the things you don’t like, but that does not mean that these things don’t keep chugging along, existing, influencing, and being influenced. By dismissing Michael Bay, you also dismiss his worldview, the themes and ideas he pushes, what resonates with his audience, and why… You can say that this sort of thing is not worth your time, but that does not mean that a lot of people are not seeing these movies, or that they’re not important, and it certainly does not mean that movies like this are going to go away anytime soon."   - Lindsay Ellis, The Whole Plate, "Transformers and Film Studies."
Transformers has been dismissed as not serious enough, not worthy for careful study, but I believe all art, all media can be studied more closely. No matter how frivolous or extraneous. In a Philosophy & Film course I once took, there was much debate inspired by the professor as to what films can "do philosophy." I argued that all film could do philosophy, or at the very least prompt philosophical thought. Transformers can be used to contemplate Marxism or gender studies. A six second Vine featuring a woman in a bikini with an assault rifle chanting "I hate my body; I hate my body," can prompt as deep a reflection on our modern militarized society as The Hurt Locker or Paths of Glory. Well, maybe not as deep. 
    But “trash” or low art isn’t all that can be dismissed as frivolous. High or fine art, too, can be deemed as unserious and unimportant, worthy of discarding. Poetry too silly, literature too pretentious, humanities departments getting defunded. All of the industries I love are being destroyed in the interest of capital and money. To a modern newspaper, the only interest is in providing value to the shareholders. The reporters and editors that create the actual work can be thrown out the window. Why do you think so many CEOs and production companies are falling over each other in the race to fire artists and replace them with AI. Only money matters. The art is disposable. I see this reflected in my daily career as a theatre teacher. I am aware and constantly reminded that theatre, as an elective, is extraneous, unnecessary to graduate, lower priority than more important, useful core subjects. But for some students, theatre is the only reason they come to school. 
    These writings are an attempt to grab the world by the shoulders and scream, “this matters. No matter what they try to tell us, art is worth studying, examining, exploring, and creating.” 
    There are still remnants of my original concept, “you are what you watch” in this:​​​​​​​
In my elementary school cafeteria, there was a poster that haunted me. Most of the decorations were variations on “got milk,” but this one warned, “you are what you eat” over an image of a student turned into a gummy worm. The gummy worm head poked out of a school polo, and two gummy worm arms held books and supported a backpack. The inverse of this, found in a health textbook, was also terrifying: a muscle vegetable man. He had a carrot head, turnip shoulders, and lettuce pecs. This food body horror imagery was prevalent in a lot of ‘00s children’s marketing, like Gusher’s tv ads featuring kids who swelled up and exploded, or anti-drug ads that threatened if you smoked a cig, your body would deflate like a balloon (I wish). All horrifying and fairly reductive, but there is a core truth in these ads. It matters what you put in your body. 
Person eating gummy worms turned into giant gummy worm..
    If what we physically consume changes us, then can the same be said for what we consume with our eyes? There can be a reflexive impulse to insist that you are above influence from the media you consume, like reductive arguments on video games and violence. But the mediums, structures, exhibition, and representations in what you consume still shapes the way you interact with the world. At the very least, isn’t what we choose to spend our time and money consuming worth examining?
    I’m less interested in individual shows and films and more in the culture surrounding media. The “you” of my initial title is important because every person will have a different reaction and relationship to any given piece of art. Millions of pieces of art, millions of viewers. I’m interested in patterns, movements, and themes between these two groups: “you” and “what you watch.”
    My essays will be contradictory. There will never be a definitive answer to how anyone should feel about or watch any one work of art. I don’t want my writing to be prescriptive screeds. I’d rather create fun and thoughtful jumping-off points for readers to have more insightful conversations on their own. 
    Unlike the gummy worm poster, this newsletter isn’t going to argue that “if you watch trash, you are trash,” but rather that what you watch is worth considering. If it has an influence on you, then what are you choosing to spend your time watching? Who are you watching? How are you watching, and how is it watching you? 

Published May 6, 2024 | Edited by Chandler P. Jorgensen
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