During the height of the Twilight era, I was one of the feather-haired girls who dressed in all black and practiced my vampiric smile in the mirror before school. I wrote erotic fanfiction and modeled my outfits after the ones I’d studied carefully during my hundreds — yes, hundreds — of watch-throughs. I was deep in the heart and soul of this questionable-at-best franchise, and I loved every second of it. But I have a confession to make.
I still love it.
When it’s my turn to pick a movie to watch on a lazy Friday night, I immediately swipe to the “children and family” section on Netflix in search of the worst, most overdramatic Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM) I can find. I look for keywords like “high school romance” and “talent show”, and revel in the innocent melodrama that unfolds before me, usually draped in something glittery and heavily branded.
I would rather re-watch the entire High School Musical trilogy than 2001: A Space Odyssey. I have trouble sitting through “fascinating” documentaries about the meat industry, but have no problem thoroughly enjoying an equally long teen drama about love letters and a diary that’s somehow sent to the entire school. Give me your trendy music scores, your abysmally-written monologues, your overcomplicated plot that relies on outdated stereotypes. I want it all.
I’m not uncultured by any means. As a musician and an actress, I can appreciate the classics (the Breakfast Club) and the greats (the Lord of the Rings franchise). Some of my favorite movies are Terrence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love genuinely terrifying horror movies like Hereditary and movies that blow my mind like Arrival.
But lately, my tastes are limited to movies that I can digest quickly and easily. My boyfriend describes this as “oatmeal” versus “cereal”. The universally acclaimed movies like The Hunting Ground are oatmeal — they may not be as easy to watch either due to length or subject matter, but they make you a better consumer of media and make you think more critically and feel more deeply. Then there’s cereal, which includes films like Suicide Squad, which are movies you watch just for the fun of it — or in Suicide Squad’s case, just to make fun of it.
When I was younger, I tried to watch and appreciate as many oatmeal films as I could. I wanted to seem mature and well-rounded so I could keep up with the adults around me. As I’ve gotten older, I just don’t have the emotional capacity to be put through the wringer over and over again, especially not after a long work week. As an empath, it’s hard for me to appreciate the beauty and nuance of a film about pain and suffering after spending the entire week reading about tragedies, dealing with irate customers, and managing the stress of my job.
“Bad” movies give me an escape. The plots are so empty and meaningless, and . the writing is so bad that I can easily distance myself from the characters enough to laugh at them instead of getting too emotionally wrapped up in their problems. It’s much easier for me to see someone bleeding out onscreen if the special effects are reminiscent of a 5-gallon drum of ketchup.
I like that the characters are easily accessible, transparent almost, and simple enough that I can picture myself in their situations. Who hasn’t fantasized about being the plucky nobody who is inexplicably crowned Prom Queen and steals the hottest boy in school from the mean Queen Bee? Who wouldn’t want to be the awkward teen who saves the day with their earth-shaking superpowers and then wins the big game later that evening? My life is fine as it is, but I would be lying if I said I never wished I could live out my very own Cinderella story at a Homecoming dance.
I’m a responsible adult. I pay bills, I work full-time, and I take care of my boyfriend and our two fur-children. I stay hyperaware of the world around me and make sure I’m an informed citizen and a diligent voter. I have well-researched, well-formed opinions about important issues like abortion and the death penalty. Some people even say I’m too serious about social justice.
But just like the one-dimensional characters in the “bad” movies I adore, at night I take off my mask and become someone else entirely. Someone who can lay back and relax, sipping wine while following some half-baked plot written for teens by a man at least 40 years older than his audience.
My heart is too soft to absorb the complexities of a cinematic masterpiece. I’ll watch those when I refill my mental and emotional gas tank. For now, give me sparkly vampires and a bowl of popcorn. I’ll take on the real world when I’m done vacationing in this one.