twitter/coocklisiado

As I’m going to be facing the ‘real world’ in just a few short months, I’ve been thinking with increasing dread about who I will be for the rest of my life. How I can maintain my identity, without the role of student to anchor it?

When I try to picture the next few years, I can’t help but do so through the lens of film and television. In periods of transition or uncertainty – often to my detriment – I’ve used television and movies to mould my life. I’m not alone in doing this. As we were adjusting to middle school, my friends and I became obsessed with Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and did all that we could to make ourselves into Blair Waldorf and Aria Montgomery.

Now I see these shows as fun escapism, but they were serious business in middle school. Leaving secret messages from ‘A’ for each other, like the ones that spurred the drama on Pretty Little Liars, started as an inside joke but ended as an actual fight. Eating lunch by myself was boring and lonely, and I was sure that I did not look as cool as Aria and Blair did when they fought with their friends.

The perspective of age and distance allows me to look back on these shows fondly, but at the time trying to become Aria Montgomery undeniably made my life worse. And that is to say nothing of the money I wasted to buy a single pair of socks because the store that sold them had been mentioned on Gossip Girl.

How I wish I looked in the clubtwitter/crabe_man

I still see in myself this tendency to try to make reality out of fiction, though to a lesser degree than when I was younger. The best moments of my life are invariably the ones that look as if they belong in a movie. Like when I am out with friends, at a party or a club and think “this looks like that one scene from Black Swan,” or sitting in a café or park thinking “this looks like the beginning of a film, something must be about to happen”.

Mostly, though, the feeling is disappointing. Everyday things, like riding the bus or working in the library, are exciting – or at least meaningful – on screen, while they remain mundane in real life. Maybe it’s because on screen they are part of a larger story. It’s much harder to form your real life into a coherent narrative.

This does not stop me from trying, but the narrative is easily shattered. Others so often make it clear that they do not share my vision of myself. For instance, when I am imagining myself as a mysterious and glamorous character from a film noir but my friends insist on reminiscing about our embarrassing childhoods, or I have a slightly awkward interaction with an acquaintance in Sainsbury’s.

“The best moments of my life are ones that look like they could be in a movie”

The tendency is hard to abandon, and I’m not sure that I want to let go of it. Not to be clichéd, but film and television can open new worlds. I probably would not be at Cambridge without Hermione Granger. More importantly, studies have been done on the power of representation, especially for people who have historically been under-represented in media. We must be able to imagine something, ourselves in a position of power or as part of a community, before we can be either of those things. Those images are necessary in both reality and in fiction.

Whatever the problems that come from trying to make life into a movie, in the end this makes it worth it. Even the ‘bad’ role models on Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl allowed me to picture myself as different from who I was, and helped me to see that my identity was something I could make.


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We may always end up disappointed, but an attempt to create a new life can bring us closer to it, even if it is still unreachable, and so is better than no attempt at all. Today, the characters on The Good Place provide me with messy and imperfect goals, and I think about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina when I shop in second-hand stores.

Our lives are broadened when we allow ourselves to be influenced, aesthetically and morally, by the things we see around us. It is important to be critical of those influences, and to choose our ideals carefully, but also not to abandon them. Even as I go out into the ‘real world’, this is a somewhat childish habit I plan to take with me.

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