A difficult year filled with loss, injury, false hope and wasted time have caused my gratitude levels to surge approximately 5000% for the ever-decreasing amount of good things in my life. Trust me- there are few people who are more thankful for their family, job, and safety than I am this Thanksgiving.
I’ve had a spate of overnight shifts lately, and there’s little to do in the darkest hours of the morning other than think. A lot of this thinking has revolved around how I’ve gotten to the point I am in my life, for better and for worse. I’ve been examining my choices and decisions, as well as the external factors that have shaped me into who I am today. External factors like the media I’ve consumed over the course of my many years, in all its different forms.
It’s challenging to parse through the many avenues that pop culture has been delivered to me, and even more challenging trying to figure out what I enjoyed on a base level and what affected me to the core. Which narratives are indelibly embedded into my consciousness, and which ones were just good for two hours of fun? Which music actually mattered in the long run?
Typically when I write about and criticize media I approach it in the most objective way I can. Here it’s the exact opposite, literally. I didn’t consider these pieces of media in terms of how good they were, but simply how they fit into the larger context of my life and how important they were to me. If you’re looking for long thinkpieces about the cultural significance of the following, I’m sure the internet has many. I’m not trying to convince you that any of these are good. Here you will only find short stories of why these things are ensconced within my being. These are five pieces of media that I’m very grateful for.
[Musically]: 102.1 The Edge live-to-air nightclub broadcasts
It wasn’t one song, album, artist, or even genre that turned me into a music fan. It was the curated playlist of one DJ that played from 9:00pm-2:00am on weekends that reeled me in. Martin Streek’s singular taste in alternative rock and electronic music irrevocably altered my youth, even years before I actively began listening to music. Saturday nights driving home from the skating rink. Sunday nights trying to frantically finish homework assignments soundtracked by the radio playing downstairs in the kitchen. These are the most vivid moments of my childhood, and those songs eventually led me to spending hours on end discovering a world I’d end up immersing myself in completely. Ranging from dark new wave to deep trance cuts to industrial metal, the only common thread between all this music was that it found a home playing late at night while I struggled to put together a book report due the next day.
[Emotionally]: The O.C.
There are few things that bring me joy in life like when a prestigious publication or permanently cynical personality concedes that a guilty pleasure had some merit to it. Early-mid 2000s teen soap opera The O.C. is one of those guilty pleasures, having garnered praise from many pundits both too-cool-for-school and Ivy League. That’s partly why – despite many urges – I’ve never written up a glowing essay about the show- it’s been covered many many times before. So I won’t rave about the instantly defined characters, the self-aware winks to the audience, or the revolutionary soundtrack- but I will tell you that all these things came at a moment when I was most impressionable. These wealthy people were relatable, and I either wanted to be friends with them or be them. The sun-dappled California vistas and moonlit piers became dream destinations, and the southern US remains one of the few places in the world I want to visit. Appropriately enough, the show ended right before I exited my teenage years. It was a seminal transitory experience that led my from my faux-rebellious rap-rock teens into my early 20s. And I still can’t look out a car window without hearing Phantom Planet’s theme song.
[Comedically]: Space Ghost Coast to Coast
An absurdist, sometimes surrealist satire of late night talk shows, SGC2C came to me by way of burned CD-ROMs from a high school friend. The show had ended by that point and it had never made any sort of major impact on Canadian airwaves, so it became my little secret. The “arrogant idiot” has long been one of my favorite archetypes, and Space Ghost personified it wonderfully. Even better was seeing how each celebrity reacted to the strange and oddly specific non-sequiturs, from Thom Yorke’s bemusement to Conan O’Brien’s indignant scoffing. There was something about the balance between “lol so random” and mainstream humour that hit me in just the right way and informed my style of writing comedy to this day.
[Narratively]: The Illustrated Man
A collection of prescient short stories from sci-fi mastermind Ray Bradbury, this anthology essentially defined my favorite tropes in fiction. Lonely protagonists traveling through empty cities on a quixotic quest? Basically me every Friday night. While not every one of the short stories deal with these elements, a large amount of them do. Some of the most powerful visuals I’ve ever experienced are ones I haven’t seen, but are evoked in this book. There’s also what I consider one of my favourite quotes of all time:
“Memories, as my father once said, are porcupines. To hell with them! Stay away from them! They make you unhappy. They ruin your work. They hurt.”
[Aesthetically]: Megaman X
The last time I could have been considered anything even remotely resembling a “gamer” was circa 2000, with the final games I played “competitively” being that year’s Pokemon sequels. I played a few casually since then, but it’s been well over a decade since I held a game controller in my hand. So to have a video game affect me in a meaningful way is a surprise to even myself.
My family was not particularly well-off in 1994 and we only ever ended up buying three games for the Super Nintendo- two Mario games and Donkey Kong Country. Once a month we’d head over to the rental shop and try something from there, with this being one of the first. It was also the first “serious” game I ever played, and carried with it a heft that Mario never could. Even though it was rendered in a 16-bits, the crumbling robotic dystopia was unlike anything I’d seen before. Like with the Bradbury stories, the adventurer strolling (or in this case, side-scrolling) through long-abandoned factories and airfields on a scorched Earth was strangely magnetic. Plus Sigma was a much more terrifying recurring boss than Bowser ever was.