Summer 2017 TV recommendations

The Girls Revolt - I’m having trouble sticking with this one, but I want to persevere. Story of women reporters fighting for their rights at a fake magazine called ‘News of the Week’. The Nora Ephron storyline, with Grace Gunner aka Meryl’s daughter in the role, was a strong start but it flounders as the season goes on. 

The Fall- It’s ages since I’ve watched this, but I really enjoyed it. A crime show but not a whodunit. It had me from the first scene where Gillian Anderson’s character cleans the bathroom with a face mask on. Feminist AF.

Big Little Lies - instant classic. Using use Disney on Ice as a weapon has never been so entertaining. 

Gypsy - psychological thriller about a manipulative therapist wrecking havoc with her patient’s lives. Naomi Watts is fantastic. Wish it had gotten another season. Loved episode 7 especially, a tightly paced parallel seduction sequence. 

Homeland - Was I the only one who thought this season (6) of Homeland was essentially about the fear of a female president? Always love watching how they put the jigsaw together, though I also did laugh heartily at Phil’s one line review: “Go home Homeland, you’re drunk”

Fauda - a thriller set in Israel. It’s about the conflict, but so much more. This one is seared into my brain. Read David Remnick’s piece.

House of Cards - Excellent, as always. This season was Claire’s. Her steely focus, her certainty, her ambition, the shit she pulls…eesh. She doesn’t seem privately tortured, she’s just burning the thing down and it’s very entertaining to watch. 

Transparent - I've said it before and I'll say it again. I dunno how a Jewish Californian family can remind me so much of my own, but they do. Loved this season, especially the beautiful finale. 

Moonlight - Like just about everyone else, I LOVED it. Especially the last scene. The director tugged a little at my heart, and then said “fuck it” and jerked my whole heart right out of my body and plastered it up on the screen where two black men were having a cuddle and I just melted. I made that “aaawwwhhh” sound way to loudly, pulled my earphones out, stuck the laptop under my bed and fell asleep on a cloud of emotion. 

All my faves live on Tumblr.

Five articles about race, art and how to create important work responsibly.

I’ve been thinking about the complicated intersection between race, art and appropriation. How can you make creative work about the topics that matter responsibly? Who owns collective pain? And, who gets to write about it? How can we navigate complex issues with some semblance of sensitivity and intersectionality, while also allowing for creative autonomy? It’s a messy topic, not least because there are humans involved and they’re nothing if not messy.

I haven’t figured out very much, nor am I gonna risk the wrath of the privilege police to put some narrative shape on what I do think. But, I did want to share some of the best reads on the topic. Things that made me pause and go ‘huh’, as I try to unravel the knot.

Hope you enjoy.

Getting In and Out, Zadie Smith

Queen Zadie on the complexities of being biracial and how these arguments become flattened beyond all usefulness by those who can’t accommodate complexity. Her piece is filtered through the lens of ‘Get Out’ and an photography exhibition in New York’s Whitney Museum.

What are White Writers For?, Jess Row

“We still live in a culture in which white people are very seldom stopped from doing anything they want to do, and when they are stopped or challenged, get extraordinarily upset about it. I’m one of them. I inherited this attitude and have inhabited it all my life. My term for it is “white dreamtime.” And waking up in the middle of a dream, as we all know, is an unpleasant experience. Shriver seems to believe that white writers—and white people generally—are entitled to a kind of public dreamtime, in which nothing they imagine or fantasize should be challenged, critiqued, or even interpreted.”

On HBO’s Confederate, Tah’Neshi Coates

“African Americans do not need science-fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that that “history is still with us.” It’s right outside our door. It’s in our politics. It’s on our networks. And Confederate is not immune.”  

(It’s not on this topic, but I really recommend this piece. It’s is a systemic debunking of the argument that Trump is a reaction to the economic instability of the white working class, but rather the incarnation of white supremacy. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt of that now, post Charlottesville.

What if Western media covered Charlottesville the same way it covers other nations?, Karen Attiah

A little satire to help the medicine go down.  

How do you make a responsible movie about anorexia?, Jia Tolentino

Is it possible to make art about “socially contagious afflictions like anorexia and suicide”? Not only is it possible, it’s important. I saw and loved this film. I’m sure it’ll have its critics, but I also know that it will do a lot of good.

Reading List: 32 articles about productivity

Big picture:

How smart people get things done:

Advice:

 

Four quick pieces of advice for recent grads

  1. You’re graduating into a decent economy, so you’ll have options. Take the job where you'll learn the most - find a good boss who'll let you fail and learn and try things. 
  2. Spend an hour a month on long term career tasks - polish your linkedin profile, network, learn about your industry and how it’s changing. 
  3. Don’t worry about career development too much. You'll figure it out. Don't look for a master plan - you can work hard, have fun and seize opportunities as they present themselves. That's enough. 
  4. Follow your instincts and your interests. 

We don’t need another conference on violence against women

There’s a certain kind of activism that revolves around organising conferences to deal with big, intractable societal problems like violence against women. On the surface, it seems like a good idea. Gather the relevant people together, make connections, hear what works in other countries. There’s a community aspect to it and an ego gratification showy part, both of which feel good. 

But it does a huge disservice to victims not to make that work about impact. 

It’s easy to imagine a utopian vision of Ireland as the first small country in the world to eliminate violence against women (which, btw, ain’t never gonna happen). But, it’d be much more useful (& more difficult) to start challenging our own internalised misogyny, to interrogate the thousand tiny ways that a patriarchal mindsets shapes our country and our culture.

I think it’s the cognitive dissonance that really bothers me. Just how far the experience of violence feels from conference rooms and fancy biscuits. Just how divorced from reality all the kumbaya-ing seems compared to the devastation of violence and the slow, windy path back.  The seat covers and the break out groups and the flip chart paper feel so hopelessly naive next to that reality. 

There is a place for speeches, sharing ideas and networking, but not at the expense of tangible action. At the very least, let’s not pretend that talking (usually to the converted) is the same as action. 

 

Blogroll

WAS I THE ONLY ONE WHO THOUGHT THERE WERE TOO MANY MEN IN WONDERWOMAN?

There was the blissful lesbian utopia at the start - hot warrior women in Xena costumes, not a man in site (realtalk: that is not how women would dress if left to their own devices/freed of the male gaze, but WHATEVER) but once she left the island paradise, it was all men, all the time. A racially diverse set of complex men, sure, but men. Except of course for the sassy sidekick who was buxom and quirky in the exact same way that sidekicks always are. 

Also, wasn’t mad on the whole ‘love conquers all’ vibe of the ending but I guess that’s what you get from a superhero film. 

Still, let’s set the sequel in that woman-only utopia and have her fight her inner demons or something. The men can have literally every other superhero movie that exists. 

ON ‘THE RULES DO NOT APPLY” AND PRIVILEGE

There’s something about the internet’s quickness to reach for the ‘check your privilege’ card that makes me very uncomfortable. Take this piece, reviewing Ariel Levy’s heartbreaking memoir about the loss of her baby, marriage and home. I read and loved the book, though I think the article captured something more viscerally arresting. (As you would expect it to - the article was a short piece written in close proximity to her experiences. The book was editorially sculpted to make an argument.) I enjoyed the book, but it hasn’t lodged itself in my brain the way the article did. 

Privilege has become such an easy, predictable argument. If you don’t like something written by a person with a relative amount of privilege (as almost all authors have), the line of attack is to undercut their authority to speak to their pain at all. 

The reviewer quotes a statistic that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Because it’s so common, she argues, it’s not a particularly worthy subject for a book. The fact that miscarriage is heartbreakingly common doesn’t make it any less devastating for the individual woman involved. You don’t get to say that women who’ve suffered a loss that is profoundly female in nature just need to get over it already and stop whining. We should encourage conversation about something that has historically been considered a shameful, private loss. You don’t need to be suffering more than everyone in the world to say that you are suffering.

Levy has done us all a great service in writing about the pain of having a female body that just won’t do what it’s supposed to do. (Obviously, female bodies are for more than baby-making but that is one of its biological functions.) By sharing that particularly female trauma, she expands a conversation that’s often held at an antiseptic distance. 

It’s worth mentioning too that though what Levy experienced was technically a miscarriage, giving birth at 19 weeks alone on on the floor of a Mongolian hotel room following a placental abruption is rare and deeply tragic. It’s not the same as a woman quietly miscarrying at home in the early weeks of pregnancy. One is not necessarily less devastating than the other but the scientific term (‘miscarriage’) keeps both experiences at a safe, clinical distance. Getting into the gory reality of female bodies is something we rarely do in polite conversation, and to me, it’s a profoundly feminist act. 

Because it’s a well-written memoir, this book reaches beyond the personal to touch on broader societal trends. But, it’s not supposed to be a seminal feminist text. Many reviewers have tried to jam this book into an idiotic ‘can women have it all?’ conversation where a memoir about loss really doesn’t belong. Surely it’s not because it’s written by a woman and about “female” experiences that it must be judged against some idiotic “is it feminist enough?” metric. Or is it because the protagonist is an independent women who didn’t orientate her life around a man? I’m sure there’s some dude writing about breaking his leg in timbuktu that isn’t required to speak to the broad political realities of being a man. I can’t believe we need to say it, but maybe we do: just because a book is written by a woman doesn’t mean that it needs to be explicitly feminist in order to be considered worthwhile. 

There’s more than one way to write about privilege. You don’t need to hit us over the head with it the way the privilege police seem to want. Sure, you can cherry pick lines to illustrate Levy’s obliviousness or you can acknowledge that her privilege (no matter how extensive) doesn’t protect her. Privilege isn’t a static thing, it ebbs and flows. And regardless of how it insulates you, you’re still at the whim of life. This is a book about our essential human vulnerability, about the limits of our control.

I do understand the impulse. It drives me round the bend to see people so full of privilege and opportunity be so oblivious to it. But, they are no less deserving of their own pain and they are certainly no less entitled to talk about their experiences. You don’t have to read them, obviously, but they’re just as valid. There aren’t many male authors in my reading lists, for very good reason. Men get enough of a say in life, so I devote my reading time (& book buying budget) to women’s voices. I try read diversely too, but because I try to be interested in lots of things and not because the privilege police will get me if I don’t. 

A richter scale of privilege/suffering is not a useful metric to judge the value of creative work. Writing (and in particular writing by people who identify as women) deserves a more thoughtful critique than that. A book should be reviewed on its own merits, measured against what it tried to accomplish and the extent to which it achieves that goal. Levy’s book is well written, thoughtful and reaches beyond her own experiences to make broader arguments about the nature of life on this planet. I really recommend it. 

THE TALKING HEADS ARE TALKING ABOUT CHILD ABUSE

Just a quick note to acknowledge just how MADDENING it is to listen to the same old talking heads talk about child abuse as if it’s some unfortunate bad thing that just happens and not something we can and should prevent. This time, it was about the horrific news that emerged from Tuam*.

As a country, we’ve been having the same conversation for thirty years and yet media commentators still manage to be genuinely baffled, both by the scandals and how things haven’t changed. They seem oblivious to the fact that you know, someone has to actually change it in order for it to change. 

You only get to say ‘I can’t believe it’ the first ten times it happens. After that, you start to sound like an idiot. There’s been 22 reports into the systemic abuse of children in Ireland. The circumstances differ, but the core message is the same. Children are treated like shit. And if there are women involved, they are also treated like shit. This is what happened in Ireland.

The same talking heads shake their heads at how it’s a “systemic problem” and “ordinary people in Ireland are really shocked”. Voices go up an octave, everyone gets whipped into a flap and then they go to a break and come back to talk about the afternoon’s sports fixtures. Or worse, they pause for the fucking angelus.

* A quick explainer, for non-Irish readers: for most of the 20th century, Irish women who became pregnant outside of marriage were sent to homes run by religious orders. Sex outside of marriage was considered deeply shameful, and they were sent away to have their babies. Usually, their children were taken from them and adopted/fostered. It’s now emerged that “significant quantities” of human remains are buried in the sewage systems of a home in Galway. The bodies of babies and small children were dumped there. 

P.S. I also read this whole statement (12 pages!) about how the religious orders feel that “a great wrong has been done to them” and how it has been “very painful” for them. I wanted to understand how they could feel that it was appropriate to think (not to mind say, not to mind issue a public statement) about how upsetting the scandals have been for them. These are the people who were guilty of/complicit in the systemic abuse of women and children. I read their statement in a vain attempt to understand their point of view. Needless to say, I didn’t get any answers. 

HILLARY CLINTON'S LOSS *HURT*

I don’t think people really understand just how psychologically wounding Clinton’s loss was. 

There’s a strong rational argument for why she was a bad candidate. But I’m not really available to have that argument because the loss was just so viscerally devastating. Most women have had that experience - being the most qualified, performing whatever ‘likability’ is required, the very best girl in the class - and still not getting the job because there’s a less qualified man available.

I’ve mapped all the shitty ways I’ve been treated in work onto her experience and your talking about her ‘unlikability’ or her voice or even her emails makes me want to flip the table. ALSO, she didn’t loose the election. (Hey there Russia, hey there popular vote.)

There’s an almost mythological hatred of Hillary Clinton - that she is a monster. Sure, she’s not the best campaigner and she’s made some bad decisions and I’m sure she farts now and then too, but she’s not a monster. She is a woman though, and maybe that’s worse. 

(She’s fine, btw.)