Category Archives: Television

Representation of cisgender women’s bodies on film.

dunham

 

I’ve written a lot about representation of bodies (specifically Black bodies) recently so I wanted to share some words I heard from writer/actor/director Lena Dunham during her interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. She was asked by co-host Charlamagne Tha God about her portrayal of her own body on the show – what inspires her in this regard. One of the things I love about Lena Dunham is her, shall I say, double consciousness regarding her (totally normal) form. She has an awareness of the way her particular body is viewed in a sexist and misogynistic visual culture; at the same time, she has the ability to not give a fuck (most of the time… she’s still a human being). Here’s part of her response:

“I think I had this feeling like, I need to expose a body that I know so many women have […] there was this part of me that was just like ‘see me, and don’t just see me, see all the women who look like me and understand that this is what a female body is. Because what we see is not real. And we all know that. And I think we’re moving more in a direction of people wanting to be more open about what the human form looks like … but especially when we started Girls five years ago, people had violent reactions to seeing me naked, repulsed reactions. And it’s so crazy because probably half the guys who are so horrified by this, ‘this is what your girlfriend looks like, this is what your mother looks like, this is… a body.”

It is still astonishing to me how regressive a-holes responded (and respond) to Lena’s body on film… and it says so much about them, who they are… their ugliness. Dunham’s ability to face all of that misogynistic, dehumanising vitriol (from men and women) though is magnificent to behold; truly. I cannot think of another pop cultural figure in the last decade who has challenged and subverted the gaze as much as Lena has; been regularly denigrated for doing so, but powers on anyway… and I continue to love her for that. There is a reason she gets letters from young girls (and grown women) who feel empowered by her ease with herself in the face of a visual culture that not only routinely affirms the body-loathing of girls and women, but that attacks her body specifically. The way she handles all of that is genuinely, truly, beautiful. 

Some more beauty right here.

Looking forward to Season 6.

Watch: munchies, chilli balls & an airbnb.

A quick post about something funny, moving, and entertaining.

After many recommendations, I finally watched the web series ‘High Maintenance’; it really is a thing of beauty.

Below are three of my favourite episodes so far, in the order you should watch them in (the first two episodes are related).

First up, ‘BRAD PITTS’:

This second one kind of struck a nerve – and features the hungry lady from the video above. Dating after recovering from serious illness, in my experience, can be a little weird – you just hope for someone who isn’t completely freaked out by the realness of your life, and there are many people who don’t want to deal with that. But exposing that reality to someone on the second date isn’t as challenging as having chilli on your… sensitive areas. ‘RUTH’:

And I enjoyed this one about a couple doing the Airbnb hosting thing, putting up with grating house guests (including a couple of Australians) to pay the rent (incidentally the recent episode of ‘Broad City‘ in which they rent out their apartments to international visitors for one night to make money made me laugh so hard). This scenario is really my personal nightmare – I hate people all up in my stuff and personal space. But maintenance guy really helps a brother put his foot down in ‘TRIXIE’:

 

New post soon, as mentioned.

How Donald Trump reflects his voters.

A transcendental meditation teacher once told me that in her belief system, the leaders that emerge and are chosen to lead a particular collective of people, are the direct product of the collective consciousness of that group of people. So what are we to make of Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination? And what does it say about the consciousness of the people who gravitate towards him?

I must admit that I am not in the least bit surprised by his popularity in the race for that party’s nomination. Any level-headed observer of the tone and “quality” of politics on the U.S right – both in the lead up to the 2008 election of moderate President Barack Obama and after that historically significant win – will remember, that when Obama moved into The White House, the right wing moved into the nut house (to paraphrase one comedian).

We remember John McCain, the 2008 nominee (who sold out so many of his own long-held principles to maintain the support of hardliners within his party) trying to calm down the enraged crowds who attended his rallies, whilst simultaneously trying to harness their energy and stoke the fires of opposition to the prospect of the “foreign” named man becoming President. One incident, described in this Politico article, is stuck in my memory: when a middle-aged white woman was given a microphone and told McCain she didn’t want “Arab” Obama in the White House. On that particular day, McCain wasn’t prepared to let the factually wrong statement go uncorrected. He told the woman:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

The statement appeared to be a moment of decency, McCain stepping away from the “red meat” script, and yet, the insinuation of the correction was that to be an Arab (which of course, Obama isn’t) also means to not be a decent man or citizen of the U.S. Still, McCain was booed relentlessly by the Republican rally attendees that day, every time he pleaded for reason and calm, in the face of outlandish or slanderous statements regarding Obama being a terrorist, a socialist, and so forth. Politico documented the dynamic between him and the crowd:

McCain promised the audience he wouldn’t back down — but again sought to tamp down emotions.

“We want to fight, and I will fight,” McCain said. “But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”

At which point he was booed again. [emphasis mine]

“I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity,” he added over the jeers. “I just mean to say you have to be respectful.”

Gone are the days when a Republican front-runner called for civility and respect from their own flock. But where do people think the mob booing – and the seething xenophobia and reactionary impulse that inspired the booing – went? Those people, and their energy, obviously did not disappear; and going by their reaction to McCain during that campaign, they were already pining for a new, more extreme, less civil leader. Meanwhile, outside of that arena, Donald Trump was becoming as angry about Obama’s ascendency as the woman who used “Arab” as a pejorative. Trump emerged as a serious ‘birther‘ – one of the conspiracy theorists who wrongly believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States – in 2011.

In April 2011, NPR published this post on its politics blog, ‘Donald Trump, Birther In Chief? Poll Has Him Leading GOP Field With 26 Percent’. It says: “This poll […] indicates there’s a hardcore birther segment in the Republican Party that will reject any candidate who says unequivocally that Obama was born in the U.S. And those birthers are rewarding Trump, who has become something of the birther in chief with very strong support.” It also provides this excerpt of the poll findings:

“23% of these voters say they would not be willing to vote for a candidate who stated clearly that Obama was born in the U.S. 38% say they would, and a 39% plurality are not sure. Among the hardcore birthers, Trump leads with 37%, almost three times as much support as anyone else. He comes in only third at 17% with those who are fine with a candidate that thinks the President was born in the country. Romney, who recently stated he believes Obama is a citizen, leads with 23% with that group but gets only 10% with birthers.”

I took articles like this seriously at the time, and hence have not been surprised by Trump’s popularity amongst Republican voters over the past year. Back in 2011 NPR also published this piece, ‘The Nation: Confronting Trump’s Coded Racism’, which identifies the historical context and racist nature of the accusations that Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and provides links to several excellent pieces (by people of various political stripes) that directly take on Trump’s race-baiting. It also contains this assertion:

“Still, racial dog whistles only work when a lot of people play along. Otherwise a coded attack — aimed at the racists but clinging to deniability — curdles into public, blatant racism. (That’s bad in politics and business, so it would restrain even a business candidate like Trump.)” [emphasis mine]

It would only restrain someone who knew they did not have the support of a large group of xenophobic nationalists and racists; at this point Trump does have their support. And right now, much like the meditation teacher asserted, he is a conduit for their frustrations, resentment, hatreds, fears, and (this is crucial) their egoic aspirations for grandeur. Furthermore, it is not unusual for uncivil language and extreme statements like the ones Trump produces regularly to be rewarded by right wing voters. Anyone who has ever watched a Republican debate that did not include Trump would have still witnessed extreme, violence-endorsing statements being cheered by the audience.

And yes, that audience isn’t only “white”. Much was made this week about the fact that a good percentage of Latinos in Nevada voted for Trump; it is wise to remember these voters were Republicans when processing that information. There are of course other people who are not traditional partisans, who consider themselves to be reasonable people, and who find Trump appealing for one position or another. One Latino man who plans to vote for Trump told The Daily Beast this, when asked what could possibly turn him off Trump – his naiveté is telling: “if he came out and used the ‘N’ word or something like that, I probably would not vote for him. But what is one racist thing that he said? The guy’s never said anything racist.”

Trump recently levelled a ‘birther’ accusation against his Republican rival, Marco Rubio. It has followed a distinct pattern that has characterised his other ‘birther’ accusations. The Atlantic published this piece recently, titled ‘Trump’s Birther Libel’, which makes the case that he is attempting to make American citizenship a matter of “race and blood”. It is important to note that Trump has the endorsement of people for whom race and blood are an obsession: white supremacists. Including a former KKK leader. The reason for this is obvious to all but the most naive.

John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’ just aired an excellent, well-informed segment addressing Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, the reasons for his popularity amongst right wing voters, the gulf between the image/brand he has cultivated and his many failures as a business man, his pathological lying, and his unwillingness to outright condemn and distance himself from white nationalists (in essence, his base). Oliver makes an important assertion: that both being a racist nationalist and pretending to be a racist nationalist in order to win votes makes a candidate contemptible. Trump is guilty of one of those.

You can read Vox’s article on the segment HERE.

WATCH the segment below. Or if you live outside the U.S, you should be able to watch it HERE.

 

A changed man.

This is a post about character, and growing up.

I’ve just re-watched Season 4 of HBO’s ‘Girls’ ahead of the premier of Season 5. Back in 2013, I wrote some personal reflections on Season 2 of this fantastic series here. In that post, I discussed the secretly self-loathing, relentlessly negative and unmotivated character Ray. But Ray became a very different man in the third season, in the aftermath of Shosh dumping him (it has been my favourite season so far – Hannah’s hopeful, solo moment in the final episode had me feeling all the feels).

One of the big surprises for me about Ray’s evolution in Seasons 3 and 4 was how much I grew to love his character. His concern for Marnie, who in my view is an entirely different person in Season 3 and 4 (extremely lost and wounded, thus unwisely entangled with the sensitive but selfish two-timing Desi) brings out the best in Ray, who, in his own words, was previously Marnie’s “whore” (episode 5).

Ray’s new interest in community service and politics was also a nice new story development, a way for this critical thinker who can spot the faults in everything to seek to shape the world around him in a constructive manner. I am eager to see what direction his character takes in Season 5, as all my favourite moments in Season 4 involved Ray and his valid concern for Marnie.

And since it is Valentine’s Day, here is my #1 moment – an unusually emotionally vulnerable moment for Ray:

“As we move forward I ask you to remember this: we are at our best when we’re together. Even if it doesn’t seem like the perfect fit; even if the path is laden with obstacles, frustrations, we need to work to understand each other, and to listen to each other, and ultimately to love each other.  

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, none of us has a crystal ball, right, no one knows what the future holds, but when you need me, please know that I’ll be here. If you take a wrong turn, I’ll be here. If you get stuck in a rut, and you can’t get out, I’ll be here. If you feel like there’s no one else on this planet that you can talk to, I’ll be here. Whatever happens, please know that I promise to always, always, be here.”

~ Ray’s victory speech subtext message to Marnie, who had just become engaged to Desi (a man who was content to use her as his side bitch for months). Episode 9.

Ray was also the one who initially encouraged Marnie to pursue her dream (Season 2) and pushed her to believe in her capabilities, press on with the show and perform solo without Desi – whom he had just spectacularly told off for underestimating Marnie and for using her to stroke his ego for so long (Episode 10, Season 4). Ray and Marnie’s connection has always been odd, sometimes fraught, but these two have compelled each other to grow up in really important ways. If only Marnie had listened to Ray regarding Desi, too.

ploshansky

The heart broke :-)

I just remembered – the other day I heard the following Mike White anecdote about his HBO show Enlightened, that made me smile.

In Season 1 of the series, there is an episode titled ‘The Weekend’, in which Amy Jellicoe tries to orchestrate a peaceful weekend away in nature with her junkie ex-husband, Levi. She takes him on a kayaking trip to a place that holds significance for them, their collective history – a history filled with both joyful, and deeply painful, memories… memories of losses incurred, wounds they inflicted upon each other.

In the course of the episode, Amy comes to terms with the reality of who Levi is in the present, and comes to a place of acceptance of their painful past, in order to let it go.  In voiceover at the end of the episode, the following monologue plays:

“You can try to escape the story of your life but you can’t. It happened. The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke. I knew you when you were young. I know your heart broke too. I will know you when we are both old and maybe wise. I hope wise. I know you now, your story. Mine isn’t the one that I would have chosen in the beginning, but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine, and it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There is so much time…”

Trust me when I say it is a gorgeous episode and moving monologue in context – every word of it counts. But when HBO executives viewed the episode, one exec said to Mike, “God, the voiceover at the end of that episode just makes me want to kill myself!” And he really wanted three lines to be taken out: The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke.”

Mike, of course, didn’t want to take them out, having spent so much time carefully crafting that script. He took the feedback, but, instead of excising them, had T-Shirts printed with those three lines, and sent them out to HBO execs, with an earnest plea for them to not make him take out those lines! 

 Tshirt

They still, however, wanted him to take them out. So he just didn’t. Instead, he told HBO he would take out the lines, then at the last minute told the head of post-production to leave the lines in. And at the official premier of the series, that particular episode was one of the episodes chosen to be screened. During that event, Mike sat behind the guy who had told him to take out the lines.

At the end of the episode’s screening, that guy turned to him and said, “The end of that show kills me everytime – I love it! You did such a good job with that episode!” all moved and oblivious to the fact that Mike didn’t, in fact, cut the lines… because in context the lines are fucking good. And, acknowledging sadness and loss is actually OKAY – an emotionally mature and thoughtful audience will be able to handle it.

The moral of the story?

  1. A good writer with a mission knows what they are doing. Leave them alone.
  2. If you are such a writer, trust your instincts.
  3. I appreciate post-breakdown Mike White on a deep level.
  4. Heartbreak can make you smile.

I want that t-shirt 🙂

Pacific Stories NITV Premier on May 13th!

Hello again.

Back in 2011, I wrote HERE about the premier of a film project I was fortunate to be a part of called Pacific Stories. Produced by Amie Batalibasi and Lia Pa’apa’a, auspiced by Multicultural Arts Victoria and funded by the Australian Council for the Arts, 8 filmmakers with varying levels of experience made short films exploring our experiences of identity as (mostly) Melanesian Pacific Islanders in Melbourne. Personally, it was a very important learning experience. Before the DVD compilation received a G-classification last year, I wrote HERE about clearing the last copies of the unclassified DVD.

Now, the Pacific Stories films are going to be screened on NITV, at 10:15 pm on Monday the 13th of May, 2013. They will then be on rotation over the next 3 years. Huge THANKYOU to the work of Amie and Lia. They conceived and drove this project, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that.  

We are all so pleased! NITV programming is absolutely fantastic, it is national, and the network only screens 5% non-Indigenous Australian content – so it is a privilege to be included.

Here is some more official info on Pacific Stories:

Eight Australian Pacific Islanders share their stories about the challenges of negotiating Islander culture, language and identity in an Australian context. With cultural backgrounds from across the pacific (and the Torres Strait), these filmmakers explore the struggle to keep family connections strong, stories from the spiritual world, celebrate Oceanic art, and contemplate the meaning of age old traditional practices in our contemporary world.

Australian/ Solomon Islander documentary filmmaker Amie Batalibasi and Samoan/ Native American Community Arts practitioner Lia Pa’apa’a facilitated the project over 7 month period and produced all eight short films.

Representatives from the islands of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and the Torres Strait Islands participated in the project and were involved in discussions around issues facing Australian Pacific Islanders and also filmmaking workshops – to create scripts for their own short films. The series of films that were created are of an extremely high caliber.

One film, entitled “Kome Kalana – My Bubu ” is about Warrie Kome, a young Papua New Guinean man who grew up in a small village on the central coast of PNG. It is a very personal portrayal of his Bubu’s story and how it’s connected to his story. Kome Kalana is an honest and raw narrative about his grandmother and how her unique culture shaped him and allowed him the freedom to discover and to be the man that his is today – now creating his own culture and identity living in Australia. Paia Juste-Constant (Motu Kekeni/Papua New Guinean/ Australian) wrote and directed the film called Reva Reva. She says, “Reva Reva” speaks of my connection to my grandmothers and their full body tattoos. This beautiful canvas is far greater than a staining of the skin, more than a pattern of ink”. Other films written and directed by Ranu James, Leilani Gibson, John Harvey, Pauline Vetuna, Lisa Hilli & Venina Kaloumaira are also a part of the series.

The films as a series of works allows the viewers to get a better understanding of the complexity of Pacific urban identity and what it means growing up in Australia.  Pacific Stories takes the viewer on a journey through the Pacific through the eyes of it’s children, who growing up in the urban metropolis of Melbourne, Australia have to negotiate their identity and culture away from their homelands

The films will premiere on NITV at 10:15pm on 13 May 2013.

~

Alright. Time for me to get it together and finish some scripts, I reckon…

Girl Enlightened. Part 2.

In the post Girl Enlightened’, I mentioned I was about to watch the second seasons of the HBO shows Girls and Enlightened (at one point they were paired on the HBO schedule, so fitting I should watch them together). Having since watched both those seasons, over two posts this week I will discuss them – starting with Girls (I’m writing relentlessly and dealing with an anxiety issue at the moment, so I find thinking about characters, stories, and story worlds rather helpful to the process).

Whilst I only liked the first season of this show, I loved the second season, impressed at how many issues and themes it manages to explore in 10 episodes – issues that resonated really strongly. Season 2 of Girls is generally darker, which is appropriate as these characters age. It is funnier, which is never a bad thing (often it’s tiny throwaway lines buried in monologues that crack me up – Adam in A.A., mentioning how he showed Hannah how to use soap, for example. I choked on my Milo whilst watching that).

And, as is the case with second seasons, we get to know all the characters more intimately. Their flaws are as terrible and real as ever (written by someone I think genuinely loves these characters, flaws and all) and I like that – season 2 depicts with clarity the difficulty of personal change and growth in individuals and relationships. We see characters repeating mistakes and regressing, which is true to life for most – if not all –  of us. But I’m not going to recap everything that happened in the season.

Instead, below are some things that got under my skin, positively and negatively, that the writers deserve major props for – seriously inspiring. This season did what the first one didn’t – it both moved me and made me reflect on my history of relationships in a deep way. I connected to every single character. And I always appreciate when a story does more than just entertain or distract me from the business of living. The greatest stories always do.

MARNIE: IMAGE IS EVERYTHING.

There are things that I really like about Marnie – she won me over back in the season one finale, as she started to loosen up and took the high road with Elijah and Charlie (classy). But one thing that really gets under my skin negatively is Marnie’s attraction to glamour, glaringly apparent and desperate this season. Marnie lost interest in Charlie for a number of reasons, but a minor one was that he didn’t match the image of what a “Man” should be in her messed up mind (whereas Booth Jonathan, inexplicably, did). Season one introduced us to this particular flaw – remember when she told then boyfriend Charlie that he should be able to “go about his business, piss me off and not give a fuck! It’s what men do.”

In season 2, Marnie’s masturbation fantasy comes true when she starts having (spectacularly funny) sex with the “brilliant” artist Booth, assuming thereafter that she is his girlfriend. This is soon followed by crushing humiliation, when she discovers Booth does not consider her to be his girlfriend at all, merely an employee. The Booth storyline is seriously inspired – it tells us so much about both the characters in only a handful of interactions. And, as big an asshole as he was, Booth Jonathan was completely right about Marnie’s insincere attraction to him – she liked his image and lifestyle, not him as a person. Even she admitted that she fell in love with “the idea of you”.

Marnie’s re-attraction to Charlie only after her discovery of his winning success is thus all the more nauseating to me. I felt bad for her after she lost her job at the gallery (although Ray’s quip to her that “I think the world has the 3 curators it actually needs” made me chortle – and I’ve been a curator!). I loved her attempt to view her hostess job in the best possible light, and accept that humbling experience with as much grace and positivity as possible – Marnie’s best qualities, I think. If the singing thing doesn’t work out this girl should be working in public relations. But her re-emergence in Charlie’s world – setting aside their important history and his feelings for her – is just terrible.

It reminded me of the big fight Marnie had with Hannah at the end of the first season, when equally flawed Hannah said to her, “What do you want besides like a boyfriend with a luxury rental? Seriously, that’s where your priorities are. You have always been this way, and now it is worse”. Marnie may actually love Charlie – her realisation/confession after brunch was sincere, no doubt. But her motivation for reconnecting to begin with was tainted. I can’t imagine where their relationship is going to go in Season 3, but, given that Christopher Abbott (the actor who plays Charlie) has fled the show, it can’t be good (side note: Abbott guest starred in Season 2 of Enlightened. Playing a cocaine enthusiast! See my next ‘Girl Enlightened’ post for more on that).

SHOSHANNA AND RAY: THE ODD COUPLE.

Shoshanna’s relationship with Ray enabled me to empathise with her (and Ray) as a character a lot more, given the scenario of older partner/cynical partner is very familiar to a younger version of me (as familiar as the dynamic between Hannah and Adam in season 1).  The words she used to break up with Ray would have hurt him tremendously, and that was horrible to watch. Yet those same words speak to a level of self-awareness on Shoshanna’s part that I wish I had had earlier: “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human.” Weird to hear a character articulate that, but she’s absolutely right. Shosh is the youngest, just as flawed as the other girls (see cheating with the sexy doorman incident). But her breaking up with Ray is more of an initiation into adulthood than the relatively insignificant act of losing her virginity.

Maybe some of her complaints about Ray are superficial (not wanting to spend $4 on a taco is not a deal-breaker, yo). However, feeling emotionally and mentally drained with someone certainly is. Shoshanna’s learning where her boundaries are. For that reason, I loved this storyline. I’ve read a couple of comments that praise Ray for being such a great boyfriend (written by 30-yr-old + men I noted, unsurprised), and she certainly brings out his often-suppressed better nature. But, he is not a good match for Shosh, and he really does have issues. Ray is negative about everything (often in a very funny way, but that energy would suck to live with 24/7). He is rude to everyone including his supposed best friend Charlie – because deep down he is insecure, hates himself, and feels like a loser (see end of great episode “Boys” – written by Murray Miller).

In response to Shoshanna’s break up speech, in which she says she can no longer handle his “black soul” (ouch), Ray attacks her back and exclaims there is a “difference between negativity and critical thinking!”. But I don’t think that Ray actually knows what that difference is. Despite being 33, and intellectually sophisticated (at least, by his own estimation), he is one of the least self-aware characters in the show. And Adam called him out correctly during their fight on Staten Island: “You don’t know shit about love!”, he tells Ray. And how could he? Ray doesn’t even love himself.

(Funny too how Adam also says to Ray, “You’re just babies holding hands!” – given that when Shoshanna partially confesses about the doorman incident, she says she held the doorman’s hand. Ray feels safe with her because he sees her as innocent and inexperienced. I wonder if he could actually handle being with a complicated, sophisticated woman of his own age. One as hypercritical as he is).

HANNAH: WRITER’S BLOCK, MENTAL ILLNESS, & THE NATURE OF LOVE.

Oh my gawd, Hannah. I grew to love her in season 2 – that is in stark contrast to season 1, in which I found her infuriating. I laughed a lot at her this time, but of course she has more seriously ugly moments – her treatment of recovering junkie Laird (probably the kindest soul in this particular TV universe) was grossly inconsiderate, and although it had to be done (given how toxic things had become between them) the way she ended things with Adam was a mess. She even managed to make me side 100% with a Republican (her short-lived boyfriend at the beginning of the season, Sandy). Hannah turned on Sandy because he disliked her writing, but cites his politics as the problem – even though she really didn’t give a shit until he criticised her essay!

That being said, Hannah is more vulnerable in season 2. This vulnerability is exposed after Jessa goes AWOL – Hannah’s mental illness issues and her unravelling fear made me go from infuriated to genuinely sad for her. Close to the bone. The way Lena Dunham portrayed the illness symptoms made me think she (the human behind the character) had actually experienced that dysfunction (which I see she has, according to Google). It is such an honest depiction that I couldn’t help but be moved, and whatever criticism she copped for that storyline (and how shitty Hannah is to her parents), it is truthful. I’m thoroughly impressed at Dunham for going there. She made me want to wrap Hannah in a blanket, give her a hug, and tell her (albeit hilarious) publisher/editor/boss to back the eff off.

As for the season’s finale: whether ironically romantic or not, what I did appreciate was how it completely subverted my expectations of a deeply disturbing ending – who could have seen that coming? I like the Natalia character, and Adam and Hannah should probably stay the hell away from each other and pair with people more stable than they are. That being said, it was still profoundly moving, for one important reason: when Hannah was at her lowest – chopped up hair, alone, ill and frightened, hiding under a bed cover – he didn’t turn away. He came through for her, and it is that realness and strength that I really get about this aloof, unconventional creature – as crazy as he can be, he truly loves her, flaws and all. That ending, OTT as it was, said more about his character than hers.

So why does he love her? On Staten Island, when Adam found himself in the odd position of defending the girl he understandably wanted to purge from his brain forever, he said of her, “Everyone’s a difficult person. She was accepting of my brand of difficult.” For all her flaws – and lord knows she has many – I think this accepting nature is one of Hannah’s genuine positive qualities, rather than the more often cited traits of “wit” and “quirkiness” attributed to her even by Ray (traits which, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with actual character, and more to do with personality. Of course, there is a difference).

But, do Adam and Hannah have a better grasp of love than the other characters in Girls? I don’t know. Unlike Natalia, Hannah didn’t care how dark his apartment was – being an oddball herself, she seemed to be able to embrace his dark side and kooky interests without asking for him to change at all. Her only requests were extremely basic and related to how he treated her. However, that may have been due to her own damage – in the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ (a confounding detour which may or may not have been a dream), she tells the handsome doctor of her perception that she needed to take in all experiences in order to learn from them, so that she could help others with her learned insights. But, that this perception had led her to both invite and put up with some pretty fucked up and painful things. “Something’s broken inside of me”, she tearfully admits.

Hannah’s acceptance and courting of all experiences can therefore be extremely harmful to herself. Some of the experiences she accepted with Adam, she may have accepted because of this same inner brokenness. If Hannah was a real-life person, it would be better for her to try and understand what that brokenness is, and how to take care of herself, either solo or with someone healthier for her than him. Natalia obviously doesn’t have Hannah’s wounds – she is very clear with Adam about what she does and does not want, in bed and beyond. She obviously wants a conventional relationship, and to help him fulfil that role for her (see her reaction to his apartment and her offer to help him get “organised”… right before the disturbing ‘on all fours’ encounter* – an encounter she hates, but evidently forgives, whilst making it clear to him she is not cool with his darker sexual proclivities).

Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t really know what she wants yet, or even who she is. She’s still just a girl (I say empathically, not condescendingly). I can’t imagine what will happen to her, or who she will become, in season 3.

Which is why I can’t wait to see it.

*Interesting to note that right before the “on all fours” incident, Natalia tells Adam that his apartment is “darker than you are”. My gosh, what a depressing end to an episode of television, but brilliantly directed and written by Dunham (with executive producer Jenni Konner). Dunham never wastes a sex scene – hers actually tell the audience a great deal about the characters and their relationships, which I appreciate. 

Girl Enlightened.

It stands out for its stillness, its unglamorousness, but above all, for its conflicted attitude toward its characters and their world.”

LAURA BENNETT review of ‘Enlightened’

I think I am psychically drawn to flawed, complex, female protagonists. Hence my current viewing habits: a disconcerting love/hate reaction to Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s way over-analysed ‘Girls’ character; and Amy Jellicoe, Mike White’s ‘Enlightened’ protagonist, portrayed intensely by Laura Dern. I came to both these HBO “drama & comedy” shows in typically delayed fashion – an aversion to anything that receives an obscene amount of hyperbolic applause and simultaneously hysterical criticism (in essence, anything trending) thankfully kept me away from ‘Girls’ until I just felt like watching it one day. On the other hand, ‘Enlightened’, whose creator I have inexplicable maternal affection for, has not received the smallest fraction of the hype of ‘Girls’, and even fewer viewers (I only mention this because the shows were apparently paired in the HBO schedule). However, the critical response, particularly for the second and sadly last season (which I am about to watch, in addition to the second season of ‘Girls’), has been very favourable. But it was a podcast interview with the sensitive White himself that finally compelled me to view season one. I just love the guy.

And I loved the season, too. As batshit (pathologically honest) and annoying as its protagonist can be, ‘Enlightened’ both amused and moved me, in a way that ‘Girls’ – although it distracted and amused me (sort of) – never did. With ‘Girls’, aside from Dunham’s idiosyncratic sense of humour, it was her own portrayal of Hannah that I found strangely compelling. Had she not been playing that role, with her normal body occasionally on display, I would not have watched beyond the pilot. It fascinates me how the uninhibited exposure of a body shape so against the typical screen-acceptable vision of a woman, provides the perfect bait for the inner misogynist, and mean girl, in many people (cue “she’s fat/ugly/unworthy” insults from haters all over the world – I think I find the reaction to Hannah more interesting than the show itself). And so, the awfulness of Hannah’s entitlement somewhat diminished for me because she was so… odd. And so messy. Amy Jellicoe is messy too – but in a different way. Hannah needs to get her shit together if she wants to be a professional writer and functioning adult, and Amy is living the continuing challenge of integrating a higher consciousness (a post breakdown-induced “spiritual awakening”) into her daily life, with long held self-destructive patterns to overcome every step of the way. Both scenarios are familiar territories for me.

But ‘Enlightened’, tonally and thematically, is just a different kind of show, with a completely different intent to most television shows – even on cable. Mike White (who also plays Amy’s co-worker/side-kick Tyler) wanted to write a different kind of story about a woman – rather than “a dating show”, he wanted to create a simple storyline that would allow a deeper, slower exploration of a character, without a focus on her sexual relationships (like ‘Girls’often has). He also wanted to draw on his own experiences of having had a breakdown and then finding what can loosely be described as “spirituality” (Buddhism, plus the self-help genre) useful in his recovery.  White understands and depicts the problems that can accompany being reduced to ground zero, and the pure unfiltered joy of finding a new way of being in one’s own head. It is a sacred, intoxicating, and extremely vulnerable space to be in, one I know very well, but one challenging to sustain amidst the perpetual shit fight that is the ‘real world’ of human relationships. Moreover, it looks crazy to anyone on the outside of it (even more so when the individual experiencing it was crazy to begin with). This “comedy of alienation” (White’s words) satirizes both evangelical, optimistic New-Agey freaks, and the cowardly aspects of corporate work culture. In the process, it delivers one of the most genuinely complex yet consistent portrayals of a woman – indeed, a person – I have seen on television.

Amy is a recovering rager, a scarily self-absorbed, emotionally demanding friend, but with a naivety that borders on airheadedness (I just invented a word!). At the same time, she is genuinely compassionate, affectionate, desires real and deep connection with other people, and is earnestly trying to change the world around her for the better. The problem is, she is going about it in completely the wrong way – thanks to a lack of understanding of other people’s perceptions of her, and an embarrassing lack of self-awareness. She doesn’t recognise her own anger. She doesn’t understand how inappropriate it is to unload her volatile emotions on others. She doesn’t recognise when she is making people uncomfortable. She doesn’t anticipate people’s reactions to her words and actions even though they are pretty predictable. She fills her head with self-help jargon and doggedly believes she can affect the world exactly as she imagines she could in her mind, with fairly egotistical fantasies about becoming some sort of New Age environmentalist hero in her workplace – a lousy corporate citizen called Abbadon (Hebrew term for destruction). Amy has had a glimpse of “enlightenment” – but she is still a human being. Her ego – and the cold hard realities of life – are getting in the way of her do-gooder ambitions.

Because of this, the moments that I find most stunning and moving in the first season, are when Amy (embodied brilliantly by Dern) hits walls in her interactions with other people and finally SEES herself – her own blind spots. In contrast to her more frequent self-righteous moods, these are moments in the story of genuine “spiritual” breakthrough – when she realises that she needs to change on the inside (her perspective and personal behaviour) before she can pontificate to other people about how they should be living their lives. Other moments that truly move me are when Amy momentarily relinquishes her more egoic fantasies and ambitions about what an “enlightened change-agent” should be doing to ‘save the world’, and recognises the good she can do in her own little corner of the world, every day. Episodes 3 and 5 exemplify this, beautifully. In addition, her ongoing relationship (friendship) with her ex husband tests her capacity to forgive, let go, and accept him with all his flaws (episode 4 is gorgeous in this regard… loved this poignant episode). Amy’s relationship with her mother, who has difficulty showing her love, tests her similarly. And her tense, passive aggressive relationship with her former assistant provokes some of the most unpleasant aspects of Amy’s character – not to mention some truly uncomfortable moments in the story.

But, even as she accumulates these breakthrough insights, she unfortunately persists in trying to affect big change in her environment, and big drama results – Amy cannot seem to help but stir shit up. It is a trait that she is well known for at Abbadon. When we meet Amy in the first episode, she is in the throes of a workplace break down, pre-“enlightenment” (her first words in the series are to a co-worker: “Fuck off, Cheryl. Back-stabbing cunt!”). Following her very public break down, she checks herself into a new-agey treatment centre in Hawaii to recover. Afterwards, she returns home feeling completely changed, eager to resume her old job and affect change in the lives of all she knows, Abaddon, and the world. Just how much she has changed, however, can only be ascertained by watching how Amy reacts to all the things that used to stress her out and set her off: her ex-husband Levi’s drug problems (convincingly portrayed by Luke Wilson), the hostility and politics in her workplace, her relationship with her cold mother (played wonderfully by Laura Dern’s real life mum Dianne Ladd), her tense relationship with her former assistant/fake friend Krista (nuanced performance from Sarah Burns), and her enemy status with former co-worker/adulterous lover Damon (Charles Esten).

In addition, Amy is broke, heavily in debt (because of the treatment centre bill), has to live with her mother, and is given a data processing job as a legal concession in the basement of Abaddon, working alongside what she initially perceives as a “bunch of carnival freaks”. Her former position further up in the corporate hierarchy has been filled, she keeps getting into trouble with HR, and Krista is now an Account Manager occupying Amy’s former office and brown-nosing Damon. The workplace is full of rage-triggers… someone as fiery and oblivious as Amy was always bound to make waves, one way or another. The waves this woman makes, and the ridiculous schemes she comes up with, are among the many reasons I kept watching, and why I am so keen to check out season two. After the meandering and perceptive introspection of the first season, ‘Enlightened’ takes a turn, with a tighter plot focus, propelled by Amy’s desire to uncover corporate malfeasance at Abbadon, whilst maintaining, I’ve heard, some of the contemplative aspects, philosophical nuance and poetic monologues that marked season one. As well as it’s inherent compassion for its characters. The contrast between Amy’s genuinely good intentions (revealed in those contemplative moments) and her actions in the world, highlight how difficult it can be to translate right thought into right action, when you are a flawed human in a flawed world. But Amy – bless her batshit heart – never stops trying.

I wish so hard this series could have continued. Considering people like me, a couple of AV Club writers, and reviewers are its only fans, it was never going to be a success. But I’m happy Mike White got a shot to do it. He called it his “Cinderella moment”.

Leaving you with two personal anthems: first song ends episode 3 of Girls (‘Dancing on my own’); the second sublimely overlays the last scene in episode 1 of ‘Enlightened’ (Regina Spektor’s ‘Human of the Year’).

Always happily surprised when a TV show plays a song I actually know 🙂 Rare.

  

 

 

Random Clips time!

As the title suggests, a selection of random clips.

Posting just because. Is there any better reason?

My brothers and father appeared in this episode of Frontline (02:40 my big bro firing a gun, hehe). It’s a brilliant series from the Working Dog team – a fantastic piece of satire. Particularly loved the storyline in this episode, ‘Playing the Ego Card’:

This is in my ears right now: Thievery Corporation’s “Shadow of Ourselves”. Reminds me of a gorgeous friend I knew briefly……. 🙂 back when SBS was still screening Eat Carpet:

These guys, Bombay Royale, rocked my world recently:

Ordering laksa at a takeaway recently, I was recognised by a happy fella who shouted me a beer once ages ago while watching the XX perform this. Reminded me how conspicuous a girl with a fro in a wheelchair is!:

My boys The Roots on Yo Gabba Gabba!!! Performing “Lovely, Love My Family”:

This is still heaven to ears…. By The Middle East:

This is the trailer for the film Beginners, which I annoyingly missed out on a MIFF ticket to (left it too late! Damn my depressed winter hibernation):

And I’m not afraid to say I’m really looking forward to seeing this feel-goody escapist South African/UK production, Africa United, this week. Go kids! I sincerely hope they showed you the money:

 

 

 

Go Back to Where You Came From: Post Mortem

Sorry for the delay in posting this, have been preoccupied with other projects and writing assignments for the last two weeks. 

SBS screened the follow up Special Live Event to the 3-episode Go Back to Where You Came From mini-series on Tuesday 28/6.  The participants were assembled in front of a live audience of family members, the resettled refugees who appeared in the program, other cast and crew, and selected viewers. Each was asked to give their thoughts on the series itself and how their participation in it had affected them.

THE JOURNEYS.

This is basically the journey of each participant in Go Back to Where You Came From:

Raye (lives opposite Inverbrackie detention centre, South Australia).

Raye started her journey with bitter hatred towards asylum seekers: “They get given everything; all they do is complain; we’re rolling out the red carpet with a glass of champagne at the end of it.”

By the end, she had bonded so deeply with the family of African refugees who had taken her in at the beginning of the series that one of their sons stayed as a guest in her home. Her entire journey, in fact, was punctuated with tears of sympathy, empathy and compassion for refugees.

Raye’s husband encouraged her to participate in the series, after becoming concerned about Raye’s level of anger and it’s effects on her health. A recent retiree, she had spent 22 years working with intellectually disabled children – work she believed in: “People don’t understand people with a disability. They fear them. Bringing them into a community and trying to get the community to accept them is rewarding”.  Part of her bitter resentment of asylum seekers was her perception that the plight of these people was being neglected, whilst the refugees were being cared for.

She now extends her compassion to refugees, and feels strongly that we should be helping refugees still languishing in other countries and camps. The inherent unfairness of the life most refugees face disturbed her enormously.

Racquel (Anglo Westie from Western Sydney).

At first glance, a living stereotype: 21 year-old Racquel is a high school drop out, uneducated, unemployed, breeding dogs in the backyard.  Living in a “working class” suburb (many newly arrived migrants are settled in former “working class” suburbs) and concerned at all the foreigners populating Western Sydney.

Racquel was aware she was kind of racist, expressed support for Pauline Hanson, and admitted to not liking Africans. In Malaysia, she was alarmed when she saw women with “tea-towels” on their heads.

Her journey was thus the most remarkable: despite dragging her feet most of the way, by the end of the series, she had learned to see the humanity in Africans, and in refugees. In the special live event, she distanced herself from the xenophobic statements she had made, regarding them with embarrassment. Her boyfriend, who encouraged her to go on the program, was pleased that she now appreciates how lucky she is, and has overcome some of her phobias about people and travelling. And a Muslim woman in the audience extended a hand of friendship to Racquel personally, so she could get to know “a woman in a tea-towel”.

Occasionally, reality TV gets it right.

Gleny (happy leftie, part-time teacher and singer).

Gleny’s “character arc” was expected to be the smallest, given she went into it with the view that Australia should be accepting more asylum seekers, and was even willing to take some people into her own home. Her experiences did affect her deeply, though, and deepened her appreciation of what she has here in Australia. Notably, Gleny also felt disgusted at the vitriol that was spewed about Racquel by supposedly enlightened “progressives”.

Adam (lifeguard from Sutherland Shire and participant in Cronulla protests/Riots).

Prior to this, Adam, 26, had lived in Cronulla his whole life and travelled through Asia and Europe, working in Greece as a lifeguard last winter. He was a zero tolerance kind of bloke: “Instead of harboring them, we should just put them straight on a plane and send them back. Don’t worry about giving them a feed or shower.”

By the end of the series, his views had changed significantly – he openly admitted that he would “get on a boat” without much hesitation if it offered him a glimmer of hope for a better life. His trip to a detention centre in episode 1 offered him the first real insight into the psychology of being the Other, the asylum seeker – he got to see up close the psychological desperation that sometimes follows indefinite detention.

Interesting to note, too, that his own brother, a firefighter, was on call the night of the Villawood Detention Centre fire in April this year, and that Adam had predicted the tumult beforehand, after his experience.

Darren (Adelaide man with military background, member of the Liberal Party, practicing Christian).

42 year-old Darren’s surname, Hassan, can be attributed to the fact that his ancestors were in the first group of Muslim families to arrive in Australia in the late 1800s. He is married to and raising a family with a Taiwanese woman, with whom he is also running an import/export business. Darren also believes multiculturalism is generally not working.

At the beginning of his journey, Darren was staunchly against “boat people”, arguing that they are not refugees, but economic migrants.

He is still against “boat people”, but has more compassion now for “genuine” refugees stuck in countries like Malaysia – like those he met during the series. Darren believed that getting on a boat was an incredibly irresponsible thing to do, and that in order to get on that boat, the “boat people” would first have to travel through other countries – any of which they might be “safe” in. He still holds this view.

Roderick (Vice President of the Australian Young Liberals and a former president of the Young Liberal Nationals in Queensland).

Roderick, 29, had never been overseas before this series. His biggest fear was being perceived as a giant lefty, which I guess is why he wore those “Keep Right” and creepy Tony Abbott fanboy t-shirts. His concern about asylum seekers arriving by boat and the ensuing debate was that the focus should be on the issues that drive them here in the first place.

His views had not significantly altered by the end of the series, although he did insist the experiences of the journey had affected him. I got the sense that as he sat in front of that live audience, he was still concerned about being perceived as a giant lefty, whilst simultaneously being concerned about being perceived as an insensitive right wing asshole. Probably why he wore the “Keep Right” t-shirt with the pants that were given to him as a gift in Africa.

I don’t think he is a lefty or an asshole. Just a centre-right financial planner.

TRANSFORMATIONS.

Over the 3-night screening of the series, and afterwards, I did read/hear many viewers in forums and my own conversations express the opinion that “the people” who really needed to watch this series would not be watching it. Raquel’s transformation, however, indicates to me that we need to expand our understanding of who “the people” are. So many people rushed to judge Raquel from the get-go, understandably – she expressed vile, offensive opinions. But I always kind of viewed her as a product of her environment (given her level of education, her 21 years, her narrow life experience, her upbringing) rather than a hardcore, incurable racist ideologue, and was thus not surprised at her turnaround once given exposure to other places, other people, other eye-opening experiences.

If given an education, more life experience and human interaction with those they would otherwise have no contact with, some people who would otherwise wallow in the mental swamp of ignorance, smug judgement and fear could conceivably transcend their beginnings.

An enlightened society would try to facilitate this transcendence…. for ALL its members.

And if you’ve had the good fortune to have been born into a fairly comfortable family with enlightened parents who could afford to give you a broad education, be thankful (for your accident of birth), but also, ask yourself: if you had been born into Raquel’s situation, had the same family, level of life experience, education, socialisation… would you really be drastically different to her? I doubt it. People can change, but they need to be supported and educated to be better. Inside and outside the classroom.

With that in mind, it’s worth remembering who else changed their attitudes towards asylum seekers during this journey: Adam, who was at least self-aware enough to admit to being “sheltered” in the first episode, and Raye, who in the final episode admitted that she had previously had “tunnel vision”.

BOO EMPATHY.

Participant Darren complained at one point during the series that he did not appreciate being forced to feel empathy for boat people. I found it odd that he said this, given the premise of the entire program was to retrace the steps of a former boat person or refugee all the way back to their country of origin. To walk in their shoes…. i.e. to EMPATHISE.

Something that Paul Sheehan objected to strongly in this article  (friend shared this on FB with preamble too rude to reprint here). But Sheehan should note that Darren, having apparently been forced to empathise through participation in a television program he willingly signed up for, still holds the view that boat people are not legitimate refugees (despite the fact that the majority are found to be legitimate refugees).

How could this be? How could someone take an empathic journey and not be brainwashed, as Sheehan might say, with a bleeding heart progressive “let them all in” mindset?

Because what all the moronic knee-jerk empathy haters fail to understand is that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy (although the two are not mutually exclusive).

Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean you eschew your own thinking or analysis. Empathy is about seeing the humanity in others. It’s about seeing yourself in others – including in others who, on the surface, are not like you. Empathy is about understanding where other people are coming from. It doesn’t necessarily mean you condone what they do or agree with the decisions they make. It means you understand the reasons behind those decisions, and, hopefully, it means that you stop branding those people with unnecessary and de-humanising labels.

A reasonable person, having seen the kind of things a refugee has to go through in order to find a life in another country, would probably think twice before assigning a group of people they really know nothing about a crude, derogatory name. And they might think twice before making a statement like this:

“Instead of harboring them, we should just put them straight on a plane and send them back. Don’t worry about giving them a feed or shower.”

IT’S COMPLICATED.

The level of debate about asylum seekers and “boat people” would be greatly improved upon the exclusion of this kind of rhetoric. Empathy and sound policy analysis… and an appreciation for the fact that the refugee and asylum seeker issue is immensely complicated, affecting real, desperate people, is what’s needed in this debate.

And that is essentially what host Dr David Corlett said in his final words to the participants in episode 3 – that this issue is extremely complicated and multifaceted. Each of the participants, some of whom had very black & white views prior to the journey, have a greater appreciation for this fact now.

Hopefully the audience does too.

More on Australia’s Humanitarian program, Mandatory Detention and the Malaysian Solution soon.  

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