Parenting in the slipstream of popular culture
And what The White Lotus tells us about marriage, monogamy, and modern masculinity.
Since having kids, I rarely feel on top of things. I’m in constant battle with a to-do list that feels like the hairs growing inside my nose—where are all these things coming from? And why do they continue to multiply, no matter how much time I spend hacking away at them? Life is a never-ending index of boxes to tick, even in areas that once gave us immense pleasure. Are you closer to what you loved before you had kids? Or further removed? There’s a sense of inevitability—in order to be a present parent, you’re required to step away from the beating heart of culture, a relegation of your participation in the now to prepare for a future then. Attempts to stay abreast of everything—the way you once did, before you invited these tiny humans into your life—prove futile.
Ever watch a live sports game at home, and realise you’re a few seconds behind a broadcast a neighbour is tuned into? Every tense moment, every penalty kick, every home run, is foreshadowed by screams from the future. That’s how it feels trying to stay connected to culture as a parent. We exist inside of an artistic delay, in the slipstream of hype, hearing reverberations of praise showered towards the current hot shit; attempting to stay plugged in enough to maintain cultural fluency, but with enough distance to stop the whole thing from being ruined before we’ve found time to experience it. You might be a few hours behind. Sometimes it’s days. Other times you can measure the lag in weeks, months and eventually, I’m sure, years. “I used to be with ‘it’, and then they changed what ‘it’ was,” a middle-aged Abe Simpson tells a teenage Homer. “And it’ll happen to you.”
You find yourself pleading with the zeitgeist, begging it for patience. “I know, yes,” you offer up to the universe “I can see Beyoncé has dropped a new album, and everyone is saying it’s not just good, it’s great, it’s spectacular. It has a history of queer black house music running through its DNA, and has been done with the level of care and the stratospheric quality bar she brings to everything; not like when Diddy started taking MDMA and stumbled into his techno era, but more like Missy dropped that same drug and then dropped an album we’re still feeling the aftershocks from two decades later. Like that good.” You beg the world to wait, because you and your wife can’t listen to it yet, even though everyone on the internet is going nuts, because you’re visiting family, you’ve got two kids to wrangle, and the opportunity to escape to a mental dancefloor for 62 minutes in the company of Mrs Carter—including four of those in tribute to the queen of disco Donna Summer, and her partner-in-dance Giorgio Moroder—can’t simply be summoned from nowhere. (You will, mercifully, find that hour together in a rental car, volume close to the maximum, whilst driving through the New Forest, the kids in a car somewhere ahead, entertained by their grandparents.)
It wasn’t always like this. The pre-kid you managed to stay abreast of all the great shows, saw all the Best Movie Oscar picks, and had an opinion on the current critically acclaimed books. When writing this essay I brought up The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022 list, to see how I fared, judging my own list against the cultural barometer. I hadn’t read a single one. I embarrassingly scrolled to the bottom of the page, hoping to find a sliver of overlap, some connection between what I’d read and what had been deemed as worthy. 2022 wasn’t a bad year for reading, by all accounts, as I ended that circle around the sun forty-four books wiser than I started it. But there isn’t enough time. There are too many great books to read. Albums to listen to. Shows to see. And at the end of a day parenting, there isn’t nearly enough left in the tank—be it money, time, energy or desire—because parenting is fucking exhausting, and the idea of a weekend spent binging a series is as much of a fantasy as riding through Westeros on the back of a dragon .
I can stay on top of one show, at a maximum, a few times a year. Andor was the last one I watched week in, week out, reading the recaps, sharing theories with friends in the group chat. (What were they building in there?) Please don’t talk to me about The Last of Us. Not yet. I have a three-year-old kicking me in the back almost every night. That’s bleak enough. I adored the original, the first video game to use fatherhood as a narrative device to propel you through its memorable 15-hour story. I’m currently months behind the curve again, feeling my way around the early stages of another “dad simulator,” God of War: Ragnarok, which places the murder of Norse Gods an equal struggle with raising good kids. “It’s next on my list,” I will offer as a consolation to other dads watching TLOU in our community. It feels like a lie I tell myself to keep a grip on that final strand of cultural competency.
Honestly, I will start that next. I just needed to finish The White Lotus first.
I’m going to keep talking about season 2 of The White Lotus, share some thoughts on what I think the show is trying to tell us about marriage, monogamy, and the pursuit of pleasure, and share some of the best commentary I’ve found. If you haven’t watched it, now is a good time to say goodbye and leave yourself a mental note to come back when you’re ready. No judgement here—we’re all parents, and popular culture isn’t a race! We will still be be here when you’re ready.
And for those who have fully delighted in the splendours of the second season, and are already planning a trip to Italy, well. Spoilers ahead, if that wasn’t already clear.