…you could consider reading The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal to prolong the binge.
I discuss the series and the Nobel on the chick lit blog here (with some spoilers).
I’ve pretty much stopped watching Hollywood movies mainly because I find them stupid and choc a bloc with unpalatable stereotypes, but about once or (gasp!) twice a year I might find a film or two to get excited about.
Like Black Panther or Last Jedi. Note that these are superhero films or thereabouts; in these it’s easier to suspend disbelief.
The run-up to the latest Ocean film convinced me to give it a shot; a star cast of women featuring Cate Blanchett – I could get on board with that.
I thought it could be a chick flick that I could go to with a gang of girls, except none of the said girls were up for it, most because the weekend I wanted to go didn’t work but one because the reviews were bad.
Which they were though some feminist blogs did have positive things to say, from which I took heart.
In the end, I dragged V which was not the best choice. My thoughts:
1. Sandra Bullock always has an ‘interesting’ nose but it was particularly noticeable here. Is it possible she had some work done to it, or that her face as thinned too much. I unfortunately have to agree with V that in some shots she looked like Michael Jackson.
2. Both Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock had too much make-up on. If you can see the foundation, it’s not a good sign. What were the make-up artists and cinematographers thinking?
3. I have a girl crush on Cate Blanchett but I don’t know whether it was because she was acting in such a stupid film – and it was a stupid film – that she came across as a bad actress. She just didn’t inhabit that character.
4. With the huge budget, you’d think the screenwriters would have tried a bit harder with the plot. The first bit when Sandra B walks out of Bergdoff Goodman with stuff she didn’t pay for after unsuccessfully trying to return them didn’t make sense to me. Don’t these products have barcodes? Also the part where she pretends to be a couple who just checked out, don’t hotels always check IDs? Did I miss something here? Did the filmmakers think the audience would have never shopped in a department store or checked into a hotel and so wouldn’t know better?
5. Rihanna and Awkwafina were good. The latter especially. It was obvious they were ticking racial boxes and they still missed a Latina.
6. Speaking of which, Mindy Kaling’s Hindi accent was atrocious; I don’t think how the lady speaking to her kept a straight face. They would have done better to hire Priyanka Chopra
7. The film did pick up once the Met Gala plot got underway.
8. I now have a crush on Sarah Paulson instead of Cate Blanchett
9. There was some gay subtext with Sandra B and Cate and I wished they’d gone to town with it.
10. Anne Hathaway can act, and is also attractive which is suddenly a surprise to me.
I came away not entirely irritated and somewhat entertained so it was not a complete loss. It seemed like a waste that with presumably a big budget and a great cast, they couldn’t have done better.
Have you watched the film? What did you think?
I went into Season 2 of The Crown with low expectations based on reports by friends that it was only so-so. I was pleasantly surprised.
I loved the focus on Margaret and her evolving relationship with Anthony Armstrong-Jones who is so hot and not what the palace ordered.
As ever, I am fascinated by the strains in Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage. It’s interesting that a royal marriage would have some of the same ‘issues’ that us average joes do. Some things never change.
The episode on Philip’s childhood and it’s impact on Charles was an emotional wringer. I came out of it feeling terrible for both. It was cleverly done – by showing where Philip was coming from, it prevented him from being seen as an absolute bad guy.
My absolute favourite episode of the season, however, was the Jackie O one. I loved the first candid private conversation between Jackie and Elizabeth. When the plot took a turn in the direction of a catfight, I winced. [Spoiler Alert} But I liked how it rose above that with Jackie reaching out and Elizabeth showing both compassion and statesmanship at the very end. So much has been written about the Kennedy family, but seeing them through the queen’s eyes was interesting.
And that’s what makes the series interesting as a whole. The Queen is in a sense both a bystander – but one with a privileged view from above – and involved in so many major historical events of the 2Oth and 21st centuries. When the series began, I had wondered whether there would be much of interest in the life of this rather dumpy looking woman with her flock of corgis, apart from her being a beastly mother-in-law to Diana. Turns out, there’s a lot – both personal and public.
Finally, I finished watching all 7 seasons of Mad Men. Yeah I know, the series ended three years ago, but what can I say, I just got on board.
Mad Men was my pseudo-therapy these last three months that have been hard on me professionally. It allowed me to immerse myself in something absorbing and beautiful and forget the stress of juggling the too-many classes I have to teach.
Some (obviously belated) thoughts [SPOILER ALERT]:
At a conference I once attended, a woman with pink hair presented a paper on the ethics of bingeing on TV shows. She argued (and I paraphrase what I understood) that given that several TV shows are engaging with topical ethical issues, bingeing could be seen as an immersion in ethical dilemmas and not a retreat. While this is an attractive proposition, someone in the audience pointed out that bingeing today may involve engaging with complex ethical issues, but it doesn’t really go beyond that into actual political action. It remains a solitary, self satisfying act.
I’ve been off TV for a while. For one, I prefer reading and V hogs the TV (we have only one in the house, shocker!) and because I have alternative entertainment in the form of books I’ve never really fought it (except when he started watching Trump’s antics through the prism of Fox News that is). Then we discovered streaming software and I slowly got back into TV, partly fueled by the fact that there is really a lot of excellent TV being produced.
My current mental state also means that I need an escape route. So yeah, I’m not one of those claiming any ethical dimension to my TV indulgence. It is escapism pure and simple. TV helps me ignore the claims and worries of real life by projecting me into other worlds and giving me other things to think about.
If I’m honest, books do the same for me and probably always have. V was the first person to suggest to me that there was nothing intrinsically noble about reading and it was just escape. I don’t entirely agree. Books stretch the imaginative faculties in a way that TV doesn’t – which probably accounts for why TV has been my escapism of choice lately, it’s just easier. Ironically, I can finish a good book faster than I can watch an entire TV series (I can’t/don’t watch on the MTR or at uni, instead I read recaps and analyses of the episodes). Also finding the right book is also challenging. I do have some ideas in mind, but it involves a trek to the library. Yeah boo effing hoo I have a library system at my fingertips but don’t seem to have the time for a ten minute walk. I also still have vestigial guilt about reading anything not PhD related or more recently unrelated to the courses I’m prepping for. Reading is not free from worry and need to work.
So yeah for probably the first time in my history, TV is taking precedence as a form of relaxation and all I can say is:
A) who would’ve thunk?
b) I’m grateful. Grateful that a medium of such entertainment exists. Grateful for streaming services that are like a cave of treasures for the taking.
Not grateful for the problems I’m trying to escape but they are admittedly not life and death.
This too is another change. I used to want to tackle things head on, wrestle with them mentally and figure out What To Do. Now as more things seek beyond my control, I’m leaning towards Let It Be. However, I’m not evolved enough to just LIB without some kind assistance. Enter the Idiot Box – the 20th C’s own form of therapy lite.
After I finished watching the Girls finale (this is the first time in ages I’ve actually watched a series almost live), I had to fill the void with something. So I turned to Big Little Lies that has been getting a fair bit of critical acclaim. Even the hyper critical feminist site I read approved.
Early in the first episode, however, I started getting uncomfortable. The show focuses on over-involved moms at a California school, and don’t I know this kind well? However, the portrayal of the intrigue, malice and general bitchery seemed to me a bit over-the-top. I am happy to say that while I have had glimpses into this kind of personality, fortunately at the schools my kids attend, the full-on PTA mom type is the rarity. This may be because the schools are more (upper) middle-class (so the majority of the moms work and don’t have that much time for school involvement), a lot of local parents (who probably have their own politics that I’m oblivious to), or maybe I’m just lucky. From what I’ve heard about other schools, there is a culture of mothers (and I almost never hear of dads being that involved which also irks me) pitching in a lot and the associated drama. This really seems like a Western thing. I have noticed that at Nene’s school, the PTA activities are driven by Western mothers. I did briefly get into some drama at the beginning of the year with one super annoying woman, and I have basically retreated from the whole thing.
Nevertheless, the Big Little Lies kind of competitive parenting is not something I have witnessed. I was a bit annoyed at this cliche of the women-can’t-get-along stereotype. However, as the show progressed, it became apparent that each of the central characters was shown to be more than the facade she presented at the school drop-off. Reese Witherspoon’s character Madeline was almost scary in her upbeatness (which is basically so Reese but edged with a sinister air) but at home they showed her vulnerability and also her intelligence. So that was nice. When Reese, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley go for coffee together, it took me back to the three-mums group I was part of in Nene’s kindy and I immediately tagged myself as Shailene, the outsider who was not well dressed enough.
What got to me though was the vulnerability of the children who get caught up in the politics of their parents. In the very first episode, one kid is singled out on his first day at school and it really broke my heart. I guess this is one of my not-so-secret fears as a mom and the way it plays out was so unfair. The teacher actually publicly talks about a bullying incident at school and then asks the bullied girl to point out the person who hurt her. I was actually gazing open mouthed at the screen, appalled at how stupid this was. I hope that if I were in this situation, I would just speak up before it went further and insist that the ‘investigation’ not be conducted this way.
This incident splits the mommy crowd more rigidly into camps. And when the singled out boy is not invited (understandably) for a party of the girl he allegedly bullied, Madeline decides to draw a line in the sand and refuses to send her very popular girl either. When I watched that scene, something in me snapped and I realized I couldn’t watch anymore. The whole thing was too intense, and I ended up reading up on Wikipedia what happens in the end.
[BIG SPOILER ALERT]
I’m relieved to note that all’s well that ends well. The series does not end with one massive catfight but with the women actually acting in solidarity. This rescues it for me, and although I didn’t watch till anywhere close to the end, makes me feel better.
It’s a beautifully shot series, tackling some serious issues and with great performances so it’s worth a watch. I just don’t know – even though I know the ending – if I can go through with it.
This post discusses the Girls finale It contains spoilers so read on at your own peril.
So, the Girls series finale. Last month I was at a conference at which there were a couple of papers on Girls and during the discussion someone pointed out that because there has already been a baby on the show, they were not convinced that the series would feature another one. Maybe that comment stuck, or it was just my perception of Hannah’s character but I kept waiting for her to have an abortion or miscarry even as she kept getting bigger and bigger, right up to the penultimate episode. The idea of Hannah having a baby seemed kind of unreal, especially since she didn’t seem to have made any arrangements in particular or had a stable source of income. In fact, this is true of the series as a whole; even as the girls seem incapable of holding down a job, they always seem to make rent… in New York! To be fair, their struggles to make rent are portrayed, but considering this is New York, you’d think it would be an endless anxiety for people who don’t have a stable income, not a random problem. Anyhow, with a baby on the way, the question of financial stability seemed even more pressing – there were people like Elijah and later bizarrely Adam – who offered to help, but with time not really with money. So maybe Hannah’s parents would pitch in, though that wasn’t mentioned either. Or maybe I’m the only one who things about these things.
Anyway, the show resolved the financial question by having Hannah move away for a job in the penultimate episode, but again that’s happened before with the writing workshop thing, and although it seemed like that was the series finale (it wasn’t), I continued to wonder how Hannah and motherhood would play out. Well, the finale episode delved into that.
And I found myself somewhat disappointed. Not because of the fact that the episode was anticlimactic, which it was intentionally in keeping with the show’s ethos, but because of the depiction of the trials of early motherhood. Which were pretty on point actually. But almost in a cliched and tired way. Breastmilk vs formula, baby won’t latch, gosh I’m so tired, noone understands. These are so familiar and so old, do they bear repeating? Or maybe I am on the moms Facebook page too much where we hear this ad infinitum from actual mothers. I get that portraying this ordinary reality might be groundbreaking television, but is it? Really? I feel like it’s been done before (or maybe just in my own life)? Am I not appreciating the innovation of depicting raw new mother frustration on TV just because I’ve been-there-done-that (by the way, I have lots of sympathy for actual new mothers) and that it all might seem gritty and novel for millennials without kids?
Oh, and a lot of people are upset with Hannah’s yet-again display of self-centeredness in fighting with her mom when she came to help. First of all, the idea of just Hannah and Marie going it alone while very sweet was also very stupid. When I realised that that’s what was happening, I was like um. I suppose this is an American thing but it is so stupid. Did Hannah even try to solicit help from other people? Where is Elijah who was so supportive throughout the season (though admittedly he did say he’s not going to leave New York and his career took off). You’d think Hannah’s parents, knowing their daughter would have the sense to be there. Well. Kudos to Marnie although she seemed to morph – not surprisingly – into the kind of partner who is all about the gyan without actually having to put her raw boobs on the line. I was impressed with how calmly she dealt with Hannah’s meltdown though.
Okay, so back to Hannah’s mom. Yes, Loreen was awesome. But about Hannah being a bitch to her, while in character, it was probably the one time it was/is okay. When my mom came to help me out after I delivered Nene, she at one point mentioned to me that her oldest sister-in-law had counselled her to not be offended by anything I said to her, that new mothers could be like that. And I was. And Hannah was. Hannah shouting at the very people who were helping her, because in the end they couldn’t really help her feeling of helplessness and utter total exhaustion, was very realistic and in fact normal. Okay, so maybe this episode is about something after all.
I think was killed it for me was the very end. I wish they could have fed the baby formula and moved on. But no, the culmination had to be about Hannah getting the baby to latch. And okay, this is about a narcissistic person who as her mom said gives up when the going gets tough deciding to come back and follow through. But it just felt like such a betrayal of all those women struggling to breastfeed, who cannot breastfeed (like Hannah’s mom incidentally) who had to watch the triumph of the series being getting the baby to latch and thereby proving redemptive for the central character. And I get that this is only redemptive in the context of Hannah, but given that the whole breastfeeding dogma has become sooo oppressive (I saw one post on an FB Moms group about how a baby was actually dehydrated by the insistence on breastfeeding, and of course, event though this post is a drop in an ocean overflowing with the endorsement of breastfeeding, you had to have a lactation consultant butt into the say “I am sick of this…breastfeeding is hard, if you can’t do it, get over it”. Like if you are sick of all of three women sharing their distress, move on, don’t while pretending to help tell people they didn’t try enough), you’d think that they would have gone a different direction. I don’t know.
So after the season finale of Girls, I started Big Little Lies which is also critically acclaimed. Hell, one of the feminist blogs I read which is against everything (this is not to say all feminist blogs are against everything, just this one tends to be quite critical) endorsed it.
But this post has gone on too long, so I will discuss that in a separate post.
I finally caught up with Season 5. [Spoiler Ahead, read at your own discretion]
V happened to walk in on me watching the epic fight between Adam and Jessa. “Is this where you learn your drama?” he said, or something to that effect. “No, I’m dramatic because I’m like these people,” I said. “Angsty.”
Girls, for all its crazy, presents the ideal of kind of friendship – where people drift but tey come back, sliding into bed next to their sleeping friend with the confidence that they will be accepted.
On the other hand, Girls presents some unrealistically narcissistic people. In one scene, Shoshana is in a bar with her new boyfriend and a guest, and she has some earth-shattering epiphany, and while her boyfriend is in the loo tells the other girl, “I have to go home” and leaves. This might have been excusable as a once in a lifetime thing but this happens on this show with alarming frequency. People decide they are in the midst of some emotional upheaval and just have to leave. No matter how dramatic I am, I think waiting and explaining why you have to leave is essential.
Back to friendship though, at one point Adam accuses Jessa of siding with Hannah even though Hannah is selfish blah blah blah. And Jessa says, “Yes, that is what friendship is.” That is, friendship doesn’t mean always liking the person you’re friends with. This was an important insight for me.
There is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from binging on a television series, a new form of pleasure. (There’s also the pleasure of waiting for the series your addicted to week after week, but it’s a pleasure I don’t have access to anymore since we cut cable).
Anyhoo, my latest obsession is Fresh Off The Boat. One of the weird things is how a number of my TV series picks come from fashion websites (e.g. the And Then There Were None miniseries, and Outlander Season 2… strangely, I never felt like watching season 1) and feminist sites (e.g. True Detective and I’m pretty sure Fresh Off the Boat). I can’t remember what the site said about Fresh Off The Boat, and having watched it, I’m pretty sure its politics aren’t up to scratch, but unfortunately, I’m addicted. There’s an added pleasure of watching it through my familiarity with Chinese culture though
First of all, I’m in love with the kid Eddie (though the other two are pretty darn adorable as well), and his swag. Now that I have kids, I’m gobsmacked as to what it would take to get a kid to act. And that kid really can act. Unless that’s his personality. In which case, I want to be his friend. Although I’m not into the Beastie Boys. Eh.
But more than Eddie, I’m into Jessica. That woman is so badass, I want to be her. Also I identify with her even though I’m totally not her.
For example, in the opening scene of the first episode, Jessica grumbles about having to move to Florida at all. And this is so going to be me when we eventually move back to India. Except some episodes down when Jessica concedes that her dear husband was right. That is not going to be me. Unless it all turns out to be wonderful, in which case, yes, I will grudgingly concede. In the matter of the move, Jessica is more of a softie than I would ever be.
Jessica’s reaction to encountering someone better than her at something she has decided she is good at is also familiar to me. I’m scared at failing at things I really want to be great at (e.g. making a career in academics), so I might just cop out instead. This could also apply to cooking: the best or nothing.
Obviously, I’m not tiger mom. In fact, I was telling a friend the other day that I’m more Panda Mom (I just want to lie around sleeping and eating bamboo shoots while the children do likewise, preferably feeding themselves but since I’m too lazy to teach them to properly do that, I end up spoonfeeding) but I have certain standards that I expect my kids to achieve. Thus, I now do some “alphabet” practice with the kids every day. Just 15 minutes but it feels like 3 hours.
Mainly I wish I had Jessica’s thick skin. She is utterly confident really does not give a shit. She does not feel bad to be a cheapo, an auntygiri trait I’m trying hard to master, and she she tells it like it is. I never thought I’d be the groupie of an Asian Tiger Mom but there you have it.
[Spoiler Alert – I’m talking about the TV series Making a Murderer, Jinxed, the OJ Simpson trial, and the Aarushi case here. If you’re not familiar with these and don’t want to know how they turned out, stop reading now]
You know in your typical detective story there’s a crime, detective comes in, and thanks to his/her prowess, the crime is figured out, usually the culprit is caught and order is restored? Well, we’ve been watching a series of TV shows when the opposite happens.
First up, Making a Murderer. WTF. I mean, what the everloving fuck. That is all I have to say on the matter.
The case this story reminded me of the most was the Aarushi case. I am convinced Aarushi’s parents are not the murderers, and the fact that they were caught in the quagmire is like a nightmare upon a nightmare. We watched the movie based on the case – V was not familiar with it – and while a bit Bollywood, it does a good job of showing up for example, the internal politics in the CBI. This may not have been exactly how things went down, but it’s a possible explanation for why there were two CBI teams, something that has always confused me.
Similarly, Making a Murderer, brought out for me the fallacies of the judicial system. For one, the need to believe that the police are above board, even when they are patently not so. How, a guilty verdict is supposed to be delivered when the case is “beyond reasonable doubt” but in a jury system, this does not seem to be the principle at work. Rather, people seem to need to play safe, that they are not letting out a murderer, rather than being cautious about depriving innocent people of their liberty. Moreover, in cases which rest on the implication that the police are corrupt, it is even harder to get a jury to convict as it would involve ordinary people suspending their belief in the fundamental idea that the cops are the good guys.The requirement that the decision be unanimous also means that the stronger members of the group will push people towards their view, and people may just cave in because if they don’t they’re going to be sequestered as jury members indefinitely.
Finally, judges, especially lower level ones, are implicated in the same system as the DAs and the police, and even though the ultimate decision is with the jury, judges steer the case (making decisions on what evidence is admissible, for example) and can be swayed by their own interests, as well as propensity to stand with the system they serve. In this sense, I think a bench of judges is better than a jury of “common folk”. Watching this series, I actually began to think that justice would be better served using an algorithm, something I’ve never thought in the past.
In contrast to Making a Murderer, the series Jinxed is about Robert Durst whose wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The differences between Durst and Avery is that Durst is a millionaire. And Durst is free, though apparently the very latest news is that the quantum of suspicion is once more upon him.
A similar cast is the famous OJ Simpson one. There is a new series on FX dealing with that case, and we watched the first episode. It’s much more slickly packaged being on regular television, and I must say I prefer the documentary style. Because I remember the outcome of the case, I have the comfort of knowing what happens in the end, even if the result is hardly satisfying.
In Making a Murder, Avery in a telephone call to his mother, says: “The poor always lose.” And looking at these three cases, that seems to be so. Durst and Simpson were able to afford the best legal defense team. Avery was fortunate that a good lawyer worked for him pro bono. But while an amazing legal seems to be almost a necessity for victory, being from a reputable family certainly helps – and Avery was not. It’s the thing that the philosopher/social scientist Bourdieu calls “cultural capital” that Avery lacked.
Ultimately, these cases showed me how justice is rarely served. It is the very thirst for justice that is the beginning of its undoing because when people want justice what they really want is closure, and quickly. This means that a culprit has to be found and sacrificed, and it seems okay with most people that someone – anyone, but preferably someone who fits in with our idea of what a criminal looks like – is made to pay so that we don’t have to contend with the idea that danger is lurking out there.