When I became a lawyer, I entered a new and unfamiliar social stratum, completing the journey I had started in law school. There were cocktail parties with professionals, office parties with colleagues and dinner parties with friends. “Just like in the movies and t.v.,” I would happily think to myself.
To blend in socially, the learning curve was steep. Some lessons I learned from error: don’t show up at the advertised time of an event (or else you will be hanging out uncomfortably alone with the hosts for a while); carefully balance your wine glass with a plate of finger food, to avoid spilling on yourself or others. Some lessons I learned from observation: make small talk by asking about the other person; “work the room;” and the big one, greet friends with slight kiss on the cheek. We never greeted with a kiss where I grew up, though I had seen it done in the movies.
Many of my formative life lessons have come from television movies and shows, not something one readily admits in the higher social strata. When I was growing up, t.v. was my connection to the world. As a teenager, I would hide in my bedroom, away from the family chaos around me. Sure, I could have been reading books, but we weren’t much of a book family. We were a t.v. family, and I had my own small black and white t.v. with rabbit ears, i.e. no cable.
Some shows on t.v. were pure escape, such as the Love Boat. But others, particularly the movies, were transformative. As I have written previously, Choices of the Heart made a huge impact on me, providing inspiration for selfless service to others. There were other movies featuring strong women too, such as Norma Rae . I was educated about the horror of the WWII concentration camps through The Hiding Place and the miniseries Holocaust and about America’s dark history of slavery through Roots. The visual images of television evoked powerful emotions that shaped my brain and heart like no book could.
On the lighter side, my view of “the good life” was also shaped by television. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I soaked up romanticized images of what “making it” might look like. There were the shows of independent women, such as That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, with their images of glamorized apartment living in the big city. Other shows re-enforced these images, such as the Bob Newhart Show, as did many movies, such as those featuring the Rat Pack (reruns mind you).
Oddly, lawyer shows, such as L.A. law, did not shape my image of the lawyer life, perhaps because when I decided to become a lawyer it was to be a public interest lawyer. I had no expectation of leading a fancy, dancy lawyer life. Indeed, I was committed to simple living.
But, I did enjoy socializing. My husband did not, though he continued to encourage me to go out without him. Seeing couples having fun, whether in person or on television, was painful. Sleepless in Seattle. Hearts Afire. Mad About You. They all brought me to tears.