Sweet escapes: Pop culture rescues to combat election-year depression

Don't be afraid — FiveThirtyEight will still be there when you finish watching "The Golden Girls"


Mary Elizabeth Williams
July 25, 2016 11:55PM (UTC)

On Friday, after I'd been pummeled by a week that included the fiasco known as the Republican National Convention and the chorus of complaining over Hillary Clinton's vice presidential pick, I got into my pajamas, curled up with my 12-year-old daughter, and watched a double feature of "Freaky Friday" and "10 Things I Hate About You." It did not Make America Great Again. It did however make me, for a few hours, feel like not crawling under a desk with a bottle of wine, so that's something. I highly encourage you to do likewise.

Last week, I wrote of my own work-in-progress attempts to soldier through this election year without falling into depression or FiveThirtyEight-related OCD. And I continue to watch my friends and colleagues doing the same, trying to figure out how to stay responsibly informed without losing emotional energy and surrendering to despair. But while it's one thing to say, "Just don't look at every single trainwreck," it's also helpful to say, "Here, maybe trying moving your attention in this direction for a while instead." So on Monday I put out the call to my colleagues and Twitter friends for the movies/TV/music/books/plays that inspire them and keep them going when the idea of checking CNN one more time seems like a mental health suicide mission. They're probably not all your personal happy place, but they're a good template for a starting point.

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Some people say they look for narratives that offer context for the current state of the world. Swiftfilm's Husain Sumra says, "Star Trek: TOS gives me hope one day we can all unite for a greater good, while the Marvel movies let me savor likable heroes…. And HAMILTON reassures me that while it gets rough sometimes, America can and will figure it out. It's what we've always done."

My friend Laura Hogan chooses "Golden Girls" — a "comfort TV" favorite of another friend too — as well "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," because, "In general, I know the bad guy will lose in 48 mins." Writer Lorraine Berry agrees, saying, "'Law & Order SVU.' Olivia Benson always gets the bad guy." In a similar vein, technologist Kat Capps says, "I watch reruns of 'The Walking Dead.' It puts everything we are dealing with into perspective."

Others prefer more escapist fare. Joshua Gross of the design and development company Planetary says, "The daily world news has been pretty dire lately and as important as it is to keep up with it, I definitely need a break from it sometimes. I've found travel books, such as 'Trans-Siberian' by Bart Schaneman and 'This Book is About Travel' by Andrew Hyde, a really nice break and dive into the fascinating, uplifting (and sometimes gritty) parts of the world. In-depth historical works like 'To Conquer The Air' by James Tobin bring home exciting, exploratory feelings that brew some positive creativity."

And maybe this says more about the demographic of people I talk to on Twitter, but there is strong support out there for "The Great British Bake Off" when the world is getting you down.

Further suggestions to make you remember the world can be a good place: The Tim Ferriss podcast. The game "Journey." "BoJack Horseman." "The Adventures of Rick and Morty." R.E.M.'s "Around the Sun." P.G. Wodehouse novels. And one person suggests, "Movie soundtracks. Things like 'Lord of the Rings 'or Marvel — that heroic sound makes the world seem better!"

Among the Salon staff, Amanda Marcotte says, "'Jane the Virgin' cheers me up."  while Tatiana Baez recommends, "When I want to feel good, I re-watch episodes of 'Gilmore Girls' and I re-read sections from Nora Ephron's 'I Feel Bad About My Neck.' For something more current — the Netflix show 'Grace & Frankie' is a great mood-lifter!" Erin Keane recommends, "Live recordings of Springsteen shows. They're 3 1/2 hours of joy. I also love really stupid reality TV like 'Vanderpump Rules,' because nothing happens on those shows — they can build an entire season around two pieces of gossip. It's very soothing, compared to good shows where you have to pay close attention or you're lost." And Daniel Denvir says, "I'm reading 'The Empathy Exams' and it's not always cheery but very approachable and excellent." Other staff TV picks: "Party Down," "Bob's Burgers," "Family Guy," "Mr. Show," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Silicon Valley" — and the sweet soothing rhythm of C-Span.

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We are living in by far the most information-overloaded moment in human history. A lot of that information is angry, demoralizing or just plain inaccurate. A lot of it will hurt your soul. So remember that it's okay to take breaks. The disasters will be waiting when you're done. It's just about staying in balance, and if sometimes that requires the help of Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy, so be it.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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