Friday, March 22, 2013

Realistic Fantasy

Whenever I'm watching reruns of my favorite Nickelodeon and Disney Channel TV shows online, the comment section is full of messages about how these channels have gone way downhill, how shows nowadays are all unrealistic (e.g. involving fame and stardom, rather than real life), and everyone really misses the shows that we grew up with. I do agree with most of these people - I love the shows that I grew up with and I don't really like the current shows on these stations.  But in terms of the plot lines being unrealistic, I understand the appeal.

There is a Disney Channel movie I've always liked called Read It and Weep, based on the book, How my Private and Personal Journal Became a Bestseller. As the title suggests, this movie is about a girl, Jamie, who gets her journal published and ends up on the bestseller list.  Jamie's journal consists of her own life as a fantasy story a (ex: bullies are evil witches and ogres, she is a hero with magical powers). She keeps her 13th journal on this special laptop computer, which she can type on one minute, then swing around and draw on the next. (I'm sure you can do this on a tablet now, but when the movie came out in 2006, I had never seen anything like it.) Jamie accidentally emails her journal into a school essay contest instead of her essay, she wins the contest, and a publishing company asks her to make it into a book. She hands over her other 12 journals, and pretty soon she's a bestselling author. She worries about her classmates finding out that they're the villains in her book, and she gets caught up in the fame and fortune and neglects her friends. The hero in her story also comes to life and becomes her alter ego, who encourages her to continue ditching her friends and hang out with the popular kids. The story ends with her apologizing to her friends for ditching them and to her whole school for writing mean things about them.

Jamie's Journal
I like this movie, but it has a lot of issues. For starters, the fact that Jamie's journals are ready to be published with no editing is very, very unlikely. It's also unlikely that no one would have noticed how good her writing was before - her friends say she's the best writer in the class, but she would have had to be a real prodigy for the story to work, and that's never indicated. I also didn't like that the main focus was on her getting caught up in the fame and fortune, and ditching the people who have been there for her all along to hang out with the cool kids who were mean enough to be the villains in her book. I know that this can happen, but I feel like this is the lesson behind almost every teen movie, and it's annoying to have that still be the main issue in a story about this exceptional writer. I think the conflict of her classmates finding out that she wrote about them would have been a better focus, because it's more unique to this story. It also didn't make sense that her alter-ego started pushing her away from her friends and telling her to hang out with the mean popular kids, when in the journal story, she fought against the kids who were mean. I didn't like that Jamie apologized for writing what she did, saying that she should have written positive things instead. She has every right to write what she wants in her journal, and even publish what she wants. It's not bullying to fictionalize people and say bad things about them, as long as you don't identify them. Trying to hurt someone and make other people think bad things about them is not the same as telling your own story in which some people happen to play a negative role. With a little editing, Jamie could have made sure that her classmates' identities would be hidden. She should have apologized for not making those edits, not for writing what she wanted in her private journal!

Jamie and her Alter-Ego
So why do I still like this movie even though I've found so many problems with it? Because it's my fantasy. I bonded with Jamie right away because she wrote so much in her journals. She was on her 13th and I was on my 11th when I first saw the movie. And that concept of writing a fantasy story about the people in your own  life was something I had always thought about doing, but never did. I would have loved to have a hero version of myself following me around all the time, who would do what I only dream of doing to some people. The computer she wrote her journal on was so cool, and the way she updated the story every day and illustrated it like a book - it was what I wished my own journals could look like.  Getting the story discovered and published would have been my wildest fantasy.

I think there are two types of fantasy: there's regular fantasy/sci-fi with witches, wizards, aliens, time travel, and things that can't actually happen. Then there's what I like to call "realistic fantasy," which includes things that are unlikely to happen. The same way it's fun to imagine having superpowers or casting magic spells, it's also fun to imagine real-life fantasies, like being an undercover pop star, landing a role on a TV show, or getting your journal turned into a bestselling book. I wanted to be an actress and singer in high school, and I'm pretty sure that if shows like Hannah Montana and Sonny with a Chance had been on back then, I would have liked them. Maybe not loved them, but liked them, the way I like Read It and Weep. I think that a lot of us enjoy living out our fantasies, whether they're actual fantasy or not. So I understand why these realistic fantasies are popular.

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