The Pleasures and Pains of the Small Screen

by Eve Jones (V). Photograph by Sven Scheurmeier.

I’ve never really had on-screen romantic crushes, but I remember from a young age having this ache when watching my favourite actors on screen. Watching Rachel McAdams in The Time Traveller’s Wife, Rose Leslie as Ygritte in Game of Thrones, and most recently Kiernan Shipka, who plays the title character in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (CAOS).

As I hope to be bezzy mates with these people one day, it embarrasses me to say how much I wanted to be them at one point or another. The actors and their characters merge together in my mind to create this superhuman who is everything I long to be: brave, daring, hard working, funny, likeable, confident. In the past, this led me to send off (or thankfully just keep in drawers) gushing fan mail that I was convinced they would read and immediately want to befriend me. I hoped they would understand me as I thought I understood them.

My latest foray into this kind of mania is potentially my most embarrassing yet: I’m 20 years old and I am literally crying that I will never be Sabrina the teenage witch. I’m in a social policy lecture wishing I was Kiernan Shipka. I’m eating dinner with my boyfriend wishing I was Kiernan Shipka. I lay awake at night wishing I was Kiernan Shipka.

I am aware of the ridiculousness of the situation. I have a good, privileged life and normally I love escaping into TV shows, so I was confused as to why I felt so sad just thinking about CAOS (which is brilliant, by the way). So, rather than wallow in my painful obsession, stalk every cast member on Instagram and read their entire IMDB bio, I thought I would try to investigate. How had I come to feel like this? My first clue came from a university English course book: An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (more thrilling than the title suggests). Talking about Emily Dickinson’s poetry, they wrote:

“It can feel oddly jarring, even painful to stop reading a poem like Dickinson’s. The world it creates – in the space of just 16 lines – can seem more charged and vital than the everyday reality to which we return on putting down the book.”

Isn’t it that vitality that we rewatch a film or return to a TV show season after season? How vacant our bedroom can feel in the silence after the credits roll. The further away a film or show takes us from our reality, the more banal it can seem to come back, absent of those characters and their purpose. And we love to take ourselves deeper, turning the lights off, binge-watching, youtubing cast bloopers, researching plots. It’s no wonder that a detailed, enchanting other world, whose characters are scripted to be special and lovable can have such an impact on us. They create something delicious and we devour it with relish.

But it wasn’t the show that I missed, it was the life that I was temporarily able to live (and knew I never fully could) that made me so melancholy. So I kept searching and eventually while watching a School of Life video on Youtube, I came across another potential answer. The narrator suggested the idea that the beautiful scenes in films sometimes make us more sad than morose:

“The loveliness is drawing our attention to some of the struggles we face, and to some of the things we really want, but are finding it so hard to get: reconciliation, forgiveness, tenderness, an end to the fighting, a chance to say sorry. We start to cry at a brief vision of a state of grace from which we’re exiled most of the time.”

Again, I’m aware that this idea of being exiled from a state of grace all sounds very dramatic, but feeling separate from those on-screen joys and experiences resonated with me. Instead of reconciliation, forgiveness or tenderness, what I so desired was the admirable traits of the characters and the chance the actors had to produce something worthwhile. Being positive, fierce and willful felt so unattainable as, having just started university, I moped about feeling like sleep-deprived, friendless potato.

It is easy, especially with social media, to become fascinated by the actors who get to make the art that you love and be closer to that world you so want to be a part of. I longed to be both Sabrina and Kiernan Shipka as they lived extra-ordinary lives: Sabrina playing with literal witchcraft, Shipka with the magic of magazine covers and TV sets. It was easy to concentrate on what I didn’t have in light of what they did, who I wanted to be in light of who they already were.

Now, I’m trying to let go of this desire. Instead of cringing at myself, I’m attempting to develop some of those characteristics that I admired in Sabrina, her friends and Shipka. Maybe I can’t be a courageous witch, but I can try to be a more confident, a better friend and make change that matters. I’m still eagerly awaiting the next season of CAOS, which will hopefully be equally abundant with teen rebellion, defiance of the devil’s patriarchal systems and diverse representation.

I just hope that next time I don’t get quite so entwined in the pain and can simply be grateful for the pleasure of some good TV.

Eve’s essay, “The New Female in Film” appears in Issue 04 of Boshemia Magazine.

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