Monday, October 31, 2016

Insecure (2016--)

I am so excited that Insecure exists. I am so excited that it exists on HBO, a major network. It is no secret that black-driven media is severely lacking in the mainstream. This show is pretty damn important in the sense that it is driven by black voices in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes, and that black women are central to its plot and creation.

Issa Rae, the brainchild behind the Awkward Black Girl YouTube series that Insecure builds and extends upon (HBO, I see you and your video-site poaching!), is funny. But that's an understaement. this woman knows how to make the uncomfortable of everyday into an art. Her humor pokes fun at everyday life, confronts the absurdity and upsetting double-standard of micro-aggressions* and racism, and is totally, lovably self-deprecating.

Screenshot from trailer
Her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji) is a brilliant addition. While Issa is an open hot mess, Molly seems like she has her shit together, and tries very hard to make it appear that way. She has the job, the style, and the personality--but she is not so much unlike Issa. Neither of them have their shit together. None of us really do.

Insecure has solid material, a talented cast, and the support of a major network. But it needs work.

Great jokes get lost in scenes cut too long. The pacing is paradoxically too fast, yet too slow. Plotlines are not explored deeply enough to seem significant or make sense in the show, yet they are explored too long for the viewer to not expect more (example: Issa & Molly's "Broken Pussy" rap fight, the kids going to the beach, Molly's coworker's experience with being "too black" for the office--all great plotlines that either need to be explored with more attention or not at all).

Ideas are free-floating within an episode, without the much-needed episodal or season spine holding them together. Sure, the former may be more like real life, but we are not watching to see real life. Real life is boring. We are watching to see real life represented through storytelling, and that takes some organization. As is, the series often bores me.

I hope to see the series find its form as time goes on. The potential is abundant.

Screenshot from trailer

*I spoke in another post of my frustration with college activist jargon, so it is unfair to use the term micro-aggression without an explanation. This term refers to actions and comments that subtly (though sometimes not so subtly) show and promote racism. Micro-aggressions can take many many forms, from references to stereotypes in speech, to a customer service representative watching some customers more closely than other, etc.

Watch the trailer here

Currently jamming to: Xenia Rubinos

Saturday, October 29, 2016

High Maintenence (2016--)

Screenshot from trailer
Many people try to stretch a good thing until it rips. Fortunately, even after transitioning from a Vimeo short series to a 30-minute long HBO series, the creators of High Maintenance have kept the show's essence strong.

Each episode is nostalgic. The kind of nostalgia characteristic of experiences you have never had, the kind of nostalgia that doesn't anchor itself to any specific moment, but to all moments in a squinty-eyed Christmas-tree-light-fuzz kind of way.

High Maintenance is a series of vignettes connecting New York's inhabitants--beings of differing ages, lifestyles, backgrounds, identities, species--by a pleasantly average weed dealer. Each vignette is crafted with care, holding each character and their story to a high level of respect. The series thrives by its placementy of each character on this oddly level playing field of being human (for the most part). Despite drastic differences in their everyday and their challenges, they are united. Yes, they are united by the dude selling them all weed, but they are also united by something...bigger. Don't get me wrong, differences are not glossed over; they are present, but characters and viewers are united with the commonality of being human.
Screenshot from trailer

I'll mark this as to-be-continued because I have much more to say on the show, and I have been meaning to write about it for awhile. For now I need to head to the gym (trying to strengthen my arm & back muscles so that I stop hunching!).


I am back a few days later before 5 in the morning on a workday because I can't seem to sleep. Anyway.

To sum up what I had written earlier, each episode feels like a package wrapped carefully and intentionally. From the asshole hipster pair to the older Chinese immigrant couple to the neglected dog, the series spans wider than others do. Individuality is highlighted where at first it may not appear to be present, and vice versa, actually. I am thinking of the episode featuring the Muslim teenage girl, whose mere appearance calls her belonging into question. We see her struggling with the common experiences most American teenagers face, no matter their background--her balance of family and self, her exploring of who she "is", along with more individualized challenges.

Screenshot from trailer
It struck me, watching this, that I truly do not remember another fictional piece of media I have consumed that features a Muslim family. This was not something I was unaware of before, but seeing such a powerful depiction of this character forced me to acknowledge my lack of exposure not just intellectually, but emotionally. I felt, and feel, a renewed anger about the lack of representation of a variety of people and experiences in mainstream media.

Of course, when I feel this way I have to check myself. Young, upper-middle class, Christian-raised, white woman isn't the most lacking demographic in American media. My own identity, though mainstream media still has quite a way to go in its representation of women in general, white women included, is pretty goddamn represented and comfortable, comparatively. I am learning the art of balancing my identity with my emotional response to inequality because my identity allows me to experience these emotions only empathically. I have the ability to detach from the emotions if they become inconvenient because they are not of me. I am trying to understand how to care without being capricious.

Screenshot from trailer
That was a major tangent, but I will keep it here. That train of thought is an important part of High Maintenance. These vignettes call upon the viewer's engagement. They are too short to think for us; they leave too many ends open, so we have close them ourselves.

Watch the trailer here

Monday, October 3, 2016

Thoughts: College Activist Jargon

I know better than to read the comments section. We all do. The people going out of their way to have a tiny tirade in the small print aren't doing shit except making me angry, and I do not accomplish anything meaningful through this anger. Nevertheless, sometimes I get sucked into the wormhole.

Online criticism has surrounded Duke's Men's Project, which aims to "explore, dissect, and construct an intersectional understanding of masculinity and maleness, as well as to create destabilized spaces for those with privilege.” I would like to note here that Carolina students started the same thing a few years ago, with a near-identical name. GO HEELS. 

People are outraged! It is basically castration! The feminazis are taking over!  

Of course, this is untrue. Those people are idiots, but non-idiots could easily be confused by what the Men's Project aims to do based on its description, and that isn't their fault. 

The jargon surrounding progressive ideas makes those ideas inaccessible to the everyday person. If you are not currently involved in an activist community, you will not know the new lingo. My office coworkers were confused by the group's goal "to create destabilized spaces for those with privilege.” Is that because they are unintelligent, or simply uneducated? Absolutely not. It is because that phrase makes no sense to someone who has not been surrounded by the meaning of these words in an activism context.  

I tried to clarify with a more accessible definition. Admittedly, I had a hard time staying away from buzz words, being a recent college activist myself. "College activist jargon for saying that the group wants to create an opportunity for individuals whose actions/views are given the upper-hand in these situations at large (in this case, that law and society is more willing to side with the male perpetrator’s story over the female victim’s) to challenge themselves to think about how their everyday actions contribute to a bigger issue. Facing these things down makes people feel uncomfortable (“destabilize”) in a way that they don’t have to on their day-to-day."

Okay, so it's no wonder that they used their jargon-filled definition. It is so much easier. The problem is, anyone who can understand the jargon is already on board with the cause. If the goal is to change society we need to make our argument accessible to those people who may not have had the opportunity to engage with these topics in the same way we do. 

Not only does this jargon-y language disengage people who would like to be on board, it further disengages people who have not had a lengthy education. 

This article does a good job at combating the hostility against the Men's Project. One thing that stuck with me though is the mention of changing the language. We absolutely need to change the language around masculinity, rape culture, etc. but we also need to change the language within our progressive framework. 

Accessibility will promote change. Ostracizing people for not understanding jargon will only create push-back. People should not require a social justice translator. 

The Nix by Nathan Hill

What a disappointment. It shouldn't have been, but it was. The Nix by Nathan Hill was bad, and I should have seen it coming.

I promise I began the novel with an open mind and open heart. I got caught up in the publisher's marketing scheme. I looked longingly at the novel's cover on my computer screen before it even came out. I read the lengthy list of promises authors and reviewers made, saying that this would be the book to read this year. My beloved John Irving shared a positive review. My heart fluttered.

Like most heavily praised, widely read popular fiction that sparks my curiosity because of its following, it left me confused. Confused at how in the world people could stand this novel, let alone call it great.

The Nix is an attempt to strike the heart of the average middle-class American. Hill draws our attention to little quirks of our time and place, like the potentially faux-faded t-shirt of the college-aged girl and her skewed logic at what society owes her, an obsession with video games, and this in the very beginning. Rather than artfully craft these time-markers into the story, the story becomes the time-markers. The novel reflects what many see and feel on an average day, framing it in such a way that is supposed to be endearing. We are supposed to be endeared to this character and this author because they notice the things we do, and write them down. It wants people to feel in on the joke of life, but it fails to artfully craft this joke of life into anything interesting.Nothing new is shared, no interesting perspective, no wisdom. One key to great literature is some form of newness, which can take many forms. This novel takes none of them.

Beyond being simply blah, it reads like a first draft NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) Challenge. It is all over the place and oozes with self-aware irony in the worst way. The way that the guy looking through records at Urban Outfitters would. The novel tries hard to be funny, but it fails. It tries to tell a story, but meanders down many a winding road leading nowhere. On top of all that, we are offered low-key sexism and a severe lack of character development.

It is a hodgepodge reflection of other books that have already been written, and it goes on and on and on. It isn't good, but with all this press it will inevitably be well-received.