On Comfort Media

If you’re a person with any awareness of the chaos that was 2020, you’ve probably engaged in some form of comfort media in the last few months. Whether it’s a comfort album, comfort movie, comfort TV show, comfort book, or comfort video game, it seems like a lot of us turn to art to make us feel safe and in control when we’re stressed. While some people may say this is a coping mechanism that shields us from our larger problems, I would argue that comfort media actually does the opposite: it allows us to engage with the inner questions we have that drive us to pick up different works of art, and our emotional attachment to media can actually help us understand each other and the world.

For me, a big part of staying sane last semester was allowing myself to engage in media that I already know I love. It was hard for me to take any time for myself, but when I did, I never felt more refreshed and at peace than when I used my free time to engage in things that weren’t related to school, physical fitness, or work. When I watch a TV show I loved in childhood or listen to an old playlist, I don’t just get the chance to invest in that story or feeling again — I also get to explore just why it excited me in the first place. So, without further ado, here’s a short list of my favorite ‘comfort’ media pieces and what I think they reflect about the person I’ve grown into today.

Comfort Show: 'Gilmore Girls'

Like many people, I love the show Gilmore Girls — but unlike a lot of people, it isn’t because I watched it as a child. I only started watching the show as a senior in high school, so the nostalgia for the show that so many of my friends harbor isn’t a part of my enjoyment. Still, whenever my life is careening off of its rails, I always find myself turning to Stars Hollow and the Gilmores to make me feel better — and weirdly, every time, it actually works.

My most recent rewatch of the show started on March 13, when my university shut down due to COVID-19. Because I was also a Resident Advisor at the time, I was responsible for checking on all of my residents and making sure they were getting home safely. Because my school gave us such short notice, my brother and I had to stuff our belongings into one car and drive home, instead of splitting the space evenly and flying home with most of our things in suitcases like we had in the years before. Suffice to say, I was stressed about basically every aspect of my life, and I felt totally lost in the amount of stuff I was saying goodbye to all at once — so I did what any rational person would do. I started rewatching a sitcom that I loved to serve as a kind of emotional balm, a sorely needed and nonintrusive distraction that would keep my head above water. 

I think that if you’re looking for a relatively peaceful, always friendly, and sometimes boring TV show, then Gilmore Girls is ideal. It’s the perfect mix of family drama and whip-fast dialogue that I crave, and because so much of the humor relies on the commentary and lighthearted pop culture references, it’s an easy show to pop on while you’re doing other tasks. I think that, of all of my comfort ‘things,’ Gilmore Girls is probably the most representative of what I want in my life — it’s peaceful, warm, and full of hope for the future.

Comfort Movie: 'Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse'

Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated film about Miles Morales, a teenager in an alternate universe who has to take on the mantle of Spiderman to fight a crime boss and save New York City. This movie won practically every award that existed when it came out in 2019, including an Oscar and a Golden Globe. It’s kind of the opposite of Gilmore Girls in tone, medium and general vibe — but let me tell you right now, every part of it is AMAZING. The art, the writing, the music and the love of comics is burned into every frame of this movie, and the enthusiasm of the team behind it is infectious. I always find myself turning to this movie when I need to get inspired or when I’m feeling unmotivated. It both comforts me by assuring me that animated movies can be this unbelievably good and inspires me to keep doing what I do — whether it’s getting my degree, taking care of myself, or making weekly cartoons for Instagram (which you can find on @latefordoodles, by the way). Miles’ story is one I think anyone can relate to, and I always find myself smiling and excited to move forward with my life as the credits roll.

Comfort Album: ABBA’s 'Arrival'

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Madeline, everyone knows ABBA. It’s cheesy Mamma Mia music — the sound of wine moms in the summertime.

Listen, I know ABBA doesn’t have the same appeal as something more emotional, like Phoebe Bridgers or Frank Ocean. But I have found that when I’m in a slump, listening to sad music only makes it worse, so for me, the ultimate comfort can be found in music that is almost incandescently happy. And no one makes happy music like ABBA.

Whether you listened to their songs growing up or you avoided them like the plague, I bet you could probably sing along to at least one song from Arrival. When I feel down and overworked, nothing hypes me up and makes me feel like myself quite like disco music, and singing along to it blaring through the speakers is an experience I would recommend to anybody who feels exhausted with their life. I know that it helps me remember to be grateful and take things one day at a time — and that if I do as ABBA says and approach life as a “dancing queen,” that it (whatever ‘it’ is) is going to be alright.

Comfort Book: 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief' by Rick Riordan

I'll admit it. I was far more diehard for Percy Jackson than I ever was for Harry Potter. It was the first multiple-book series I ever read as a kid, and I absolutely fell in love with the characters, the sarcasm, and the Greek mythology that makes this book series special. Over quarantine, I started rereading the original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with my friends. Even though it's my fourth time moving through the books, I feel like I love the series even more than I did when I was obsessed with it in fifth grade. If you never read Percy Jackson as a kid, but you know that Disney+ is making an adaptation of it and you want in on the hype, I can't recommend the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, highly enough. It's a fun and engaging romp that'll take you through the Underworld and back, and I think anyone, even someone older like me, would love to get away from the COVID-19 world and dive headfirst with Percy into a world of myth and monsters.

So there you go — there are my four favorite comforting pieces of media. I hope that this list helps you make it to the end of your semester/season/year and that you’ll try to take a look, not just at the things that bring you comfort, but at why those things are important to you. I know it helped me to do the same.