Direct Comparison of Trunk Club and Allume (from a regular person who is not a fashion blogger)

In short: I’m a lazy person who would like it if someone else could magically pick out my clothes and send them to me. As you can clearly tell from looking at this blog, I am not a fashion blogger, youtuber or whatever, just a normal professional person writing a review of two different services for anyone who might be curious but is a little dubious of fashion bloggers because of whatever financial ties they may or may not have to the services. I tried Stitch Fix for quite a while— I liked it at first (my stylist was very good), but I felt that some of the items I purchased turned out to not be good quality, and my stylist changed and then never seemed to get me. (I also think Stitch Fix is moving closer to computer modeling, which is fine, but computers sometimes don’t get the weird quirks that only humans can pick up.) I heard about Allume while I was sort of thinking I might stop doing Trunk Club.

Review of I Am The Night/ Root of Evil

Review of I Am The Night/ Root of Evil

I don’t have cable, so didn’t have access to I Am the Night until well after it had initially aired on TNT— but as a true crime fan, it was definitely on my radar. I fell upon the Root of Evil podcast first and was blown away. I knew it had something to do with the Black Dahlia murder, but the Black Dahlia part of it was in now way shape or form the wildest, or most fucked up part of that story.

Do men know that we do these things?

RO Kwon wrote a piece in The Paris Review, “On Being a Woman in America While Trying to Avoid Being Assaulted,” about all things she does in life to try to avoid being assaulted. This is my take on the same issue.

One of the first things I do in the morning is walk the dog, which half the year, is early enough that it is dark out. I deliberately wear clothes that I can hide in that make me look like a boy or young man—oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants. While sometimes I would prefer to wear the hoods of my hoodie or coat up, the problem with this is that it blocks your peripheral vision and you can’t see when people are coming up behind you. But sometimes it’s cold and I’ve forgotten my hat, and I put my hood up, but I think about the peripheral vision issue every single time—like this might be the one time where it matters. I like listening to podcasts or audiobooks when I walk the dog, but if it’s dark out I frequently think about how this can be a risk factor, and that if someone assaults me, people will say, “You shouldn’t have had your headphones in.” I wear sneakers because if I had my work heels on people would say “You shouldn’t have had heels on.” I have 911 on autodial on my phone. With respect to security, the dog can be either a boon or a risk factor. On the positive side, she isn’t scary, but the fact that she might bark could be something of a deterrent. The dog also creates an easy excuse to do things while walking that seem nonsensical, like turning and walking the opposite direction (to avoid someone creepy), or stopping and rotating while the dog investigates something (so that I can turn my body to look at someone who is behind me.) On the negative side, if the dog is in the actual act of pooping, this creates a risky moment where I can’t exactly run away if something happens. A dog attracts unwanted attention from people who are looking for an excuse to talk to me. For example, the guy who said hello, and when I said hello back too quietly, said WHAT YOU DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH or the one who said WHAT YOU’RE TOO GOOD FOR ME. There’s also the guy who, careening closer and closer to me, told my dog to shut the fuck up because she barked at his sudden movement toward me. One guy said he wanted to fuck my dog. When my dog has diarrhea, my main concern is her health, and my second main concern is that I will have to walk her in the middle of the night, maybe at 2 or 3 in the morning. There is a spot very close to my front lobby I can use, that would take me about 5 seconds to run back to my lobby from. There’s decent lighting there, but only sometimes enough traffic that if something happened, someone would see. Although that doesn’t mean they would stop.

Because I walk my dog so much, I have gotten to know the local bouncers at bars near my house. I realize this is a really good thing because they recognize me which decreases the probability of the bystander effect. One time I was walking near one of these bars and a large man crossed the street heading directly towards me, cursing under his breath while he tapped an enormous bolt-cutter against his leg. Something told me that if I made eye contact with him, it would be very dangerous, but that if I turned and walked the other direction it would be even more dangerous. I was able to veer towards the bar, where someone recognizing me made me feel safer. I continue to see that man on occasion—I think he is a neighbor.

There have been several times where, leaving early in the morning for work, a random man was sleeping in the lobby. This situation is more creepy/weird/frightening, not “lol why is there a random man in the lobby.” I have several locks on my door. They are always locked. Before I go to sleep, I check them once or twice. My dog walkers and apartment concierge have their own keys and access to my apartment—I have thought about this. Maybe 40% of the time I am already in bed for the night, I will get up and check to make sure the lock is locked. I have Googled more than once about what is the best weapon to have in your house to prevent against intruder. I have kept a steak knife on my nightstand more than once. The dog is good, because if someone tried to get in, I would have a few seconds warning. The best option would be to jump off the balcony. If I had time, I could tie some sheets and try to climb down, or maybe drop some pillows down. The issue with this is that once you land and break whatever bones, you’re then lying on the street and anyone can come up to you. Also I have thought about how I would need to save the dog too. One night, around 9 or 10 at night, a random man pounded on my door and tried the lock. Because at first he knocked, my instinct was to go to the door and open it. I had the sudden realization that just because someone knocked, that doesn’t mean I have to acknowledge the knock. This actually was a realization, because it goes against decades of having politeness norms drilled into you, or learning that ignoring men can lead to them being enraged.

I have had things in my apartment break, or large items that need to be delivered, and in these cases the person who comes is always one or more men. I used to pretend I have a husband sometimes, but now I just live dangerously.

* *

If I walk out of my home, these are the types of harassment I can encounter, in order of least to most aggressive.

Unwanted complements about my appearance or an admonition to smile: If you don’t understand why this is annoying, read this entire essay and ask yourself if you still don’t understand.

Leering/ staring: this often makes you regret your choice of outfit, but let’s be honest, sometimes it happens no matter what you’re wearing. There are certain parts of streets that I circumvent just to ignore staring. Sometimes the staring is not just staring, like the way a dog would look at an ice cream cone, but is a spine-chilling, hate filled stare ala “I want to Black Dahlia you.”

Catcalling: The “best” case scenario is that they do it and nothing else happens. But often times they expect a response. You can force yourself to say something friendly, or to do a tight-lipped smile. You can nod politely. You can ignore them but see entry on screaming below. You can ask them not to do that, but see below. You can yell at them, but see below. You can’t talk to authorities, because this isn’t illegal.

Saying hello, then, regardless of your answer, walking along beside you and trying to talk to you and persisting even if you say you are married or have a boyfriend, because your boyfriend isn’t here isn’t he? The walking beside you thing happens a lot—I think they think it is something like a date or something they’ve seen in a movie.

Screaming: often occurs if any of the above are not properly acknowledged. Frequently: Stuck-up bitch, whore, racist (any race—doesn’t matter), do you speak english. Sometimes the screaming evokes more screaming if you ignore it, because you are still not acknowledging them.

Following. I recommend always knowing the best route to take beforehand if someone were to start following you. If, for example, he keeps asking for your phone number on the metro despite you saying you are married/have a boyfriend (even if this is not true, it is the most successful way—trying to make it clear that you are someone else’s property), then he waits to see which metro stop you get out at, you can wait for him to get off first. One time I tricked a guy this way, then I saw him look for me on the platform and I did an elaborate path to evade him, then wondered if it was safe to go home, because maybe I couldn’t see him on the street, but he could see me.

Throwing objects: beer bottles, stones, liquid.

Things I have done to try to avoid street harassment: ignoring (see screaming entry above), avoiding areas entirely, smiling, pretending I have a phone call, wearing headphones (this does not work—men will ask you to take them off.) Two things that have very significant impacts on cutting down street harassment: 1) don’t go anywhere, 2) have a man walk with you —sometimes a guy starts to harass you then then realizes you are with a guy and apologizes to the guy 3) drive.

* *

Being in a car and driving makes me feel safe, most of the time. Except right when you get into a car, you have to lock it immediately, because a man could have been following you. I look in the backseat sometimes. The problem with driving is that you can’t run out of gas in the middle of no where because something bad could happen. My dad said girls should ALWAYS have at least 20 dollars cash tucked away in their car. But even if you find a gas station in the middle of the night, something bad could happen there. If you are on an isolated road and a car rear ends you, should you pull over because that’s what you’re supposed to do, or should you not pull over because it’s a bad man? If you are on an isolated road and what appears to be a cop car tries to get you to pull over, should you pull over or is it a man impersonating a cop? (On that topic, if a man comes to your apartment and claims to be a cop, someone investigating a gas leak, or other such emergency worker, do you trust him and let him in or try to verify his identity? If you try to verify his identity, in either case, he might get angry because you are questioning his authority.) The other really bad thing about cars is parking garages, which can be a nightmare. They are filled with dark spaces, places to hide, and are often deserted. I try to park as close to the entrance next to a bright light. Sometimes there isn’t a bright light. Someone was sexually assaulted at the parking lot of the Whole Foods I used to go to. I don’t go there anymore.

Places where I lace my keys between my fingers to serve as a weapon: parking garages, parking lots, streets in the day or night, long isolated hallways in buildings at night, elevators, broad daylight in a public area just because someone is acting bizarre.

Don’t walk home alone at night, someone can rape you. If you are alone on a metro car, someone can rape you. If you take a cab or an Uber or a Lyft, someone can rape you. You should text your friends when you get home.

* *

Many women have fake numbers. Sometimes they give them out to guys because if they don’t give their number out, the guy gets mad, so it’s easier to just placate him. It’s also good to have a number other than your cell phone number—like Google Voice—that you can use for dating because sometimes if you are not interested in a guy, he will start harassing you.

When you go out on a date, your first concern is if the person is even safe to even be around, the second is whether or not you like him / are compatible.

Sometimes guys try to walk you home after a date, which is sweet, and I wish I could accept this sort of sweetness, but in reality, I have them walk me to another location and let them think it is my home. Women also do this with Uber drivers who give them weird vibes.

I once went on a camping date with a guy I had just started dating. I sent my friend a pin of my location via my iPhone with an “lol in case you never hear from me again” message.

I was on a date once with a guy who said that he liked when DC was grittier, like when there was an abandoned house by his apartment and there would be “crazy guys” hanging around it. I said that as a woman, I did not like DC when it was “grittier” because crazy guys who hang around abandoned houses are the same ones that stare, yell or follow me and make me feel unsafe. He said he hadn’t thought of that before.

* *

There is a lot of writing and blogging and Instagram around the idea of women traveling, or women traveling alone and they make it look glamorous. I spend a lot of time thinking about security when I travel alone. One time I rented a room in someone else’s apartment because it was cheap but when I got there I realized it felt a little weird and my door didn’t lock. I kept trying to lock it as quietly as I could because I didn’t want them to think I was locking it. This shouldn’t have been scary really, because the apartment was a posh apartment inhabited by two gay guys, but I still didn’t sleep well. I have stayed in more than one AirbnB where the bedroom door didn’t lock. In one case I spent over five minutes trying to do that thing where you tip a chair towards it and hook it under the knob so someone can’t get in. (The problem with this is that some doors open in, and some open out). Other times I put a chair in front of the door with a bunch of crap on it, so at least if someone tried to open it I would have a few seconds warning. When I have stayed at other people’s places, I’ve often been uncomfortable if it is on the first floor, or there is a sliding glass door. I never stay in hotel rooms, or rent places on the first floor. I always use the deadbolt.

One time I went to the Dominican Republic with a friend. We had prearranged hotel transport from the hour to the resort—a one hour ride. When we arrived, no one was there to pick us up. We tried calling the resort, but they were confused. A man who ran an air transportation “business” offered us a ride for cheap in an unmarked van—this was the only option and neither of us spoke great Spanish. Inside the van there was a woman sleeping. I was starkly alert the entire drive, working out contingency plans. How did I have any idea of where he was actually taking us? When we got there alive we laughed and had some drinks.

* *

If you have a male gynecologist, there is usually a female nurse in the room with you while he is examining you. This wouldn’t have to be a thing if it didn’t have to be.

* *

When I was in college, myself and all my female friends developed a sixth sense or something. It was the ability to look across the dance floor at your friend, and from once glance at her eyes understand that she was saying “please come over here and free me from this situation in some way that makes this man mad at neither of us.” Sometimes women smile at men and it’s kind of a wonder to me that the haven’t yet developed this sixth sense about what we’re actually thinking about when we smile.

Wish choux were here..

I 100% am writing this blog post so I can repeat the above joke, which I texted to a friend who could not make Thanksgiving.

I took a class at Sur la Table on making choux pastry, something I have only tried one other time while resulted in gougeres were bled butter as they baked and ended up looking like alien dung. I’ve managed to successfully make creme puffs at home since taking the class, which was totally worth taking. The hands-on nature was the best way to learn, and the chef was right there to answer “does this look right” questions.

Making the choux dough itself isn’t hard—you just have to get all these minute things right. The hard/ annoying part is dealing with pastry bags. They are annoying and sticky to fill—I do recommend not overfilling and using a rubber band to secure the open part. Also I had to figure out by trial and error what the appropriate size for the opening should be for piping.

These were traditionally piped with a pastry bag. I learned that the dough is pretty sensitive and will somewhat hold the shape of any irregularities when piping. The ripples and nubs you see came from the raw dough not being smooth and my not patting down the little bits that get left when you pull the tip of the piping bag away. They take longer than you think to bake, and you CAN’T open the oven to check on them. (I mean, you kind of can after they have done the majority of their puffing.)

These were traditionally piped with a pastry bag. I learned that the dough is pretty sensitive and will somewhat hold the shape of any irregularities when piping. The ripples and nubs you see came from the raw dough not being smooth and my not patting down the little bits that get left when you pull the tip of the piping bag away. They take longer than you think to bake, and you CAN’T open the oven to check on them. (I mean, you kind of can after they have done the majority of their puffing.)

These were filled with  chocolate pastry cream , which came out okay despite my messing up the recipe. (I put everything in at once, and was short an egg yolk). The cream did thicken up once it sat in the fridge long enough.

These were filled with chocolate pastry cream, which came out okay despite my messing up the recipe. (I put everything in at once, and was short an egg yolk). The cream did thicken up once it sat in the fridge long enough.

This is the exact same choux recipe, cooked on the same parchment and baking sheet. The one difference is that I experimented with using a disher instead of piping, because piping is a pain in the ass. The dough is substantially stickier than cookie dough, but a lot easier than piping. I pat them down more to soften the shape. Baked, I don’t think you can really tell the difference, and they tasted the same.

This is the exact same choux recipe, cooked on the same parchment and baking sheet. The one difference is that I experimented with using a disher instead of piping, because piping is a pain in the ass. The dough is substantially stickier than cookie dough, but a lot easier than piping. I pat them down more to soften the shape. Baked, I don’t think you can really tell the difference, and they tasted the same.


Review of HBO's Sharp Objects (has spoilers)

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I'll lead with the positive: the main reason to watch this show is not the murder mystery, but for the execution of how the story is told. (In a weird, obverse opinion of my last review of The Blackkklansman). 

Positives: the performances were incredibly strong all around, but in particular Amy Adams (Camille), Patricia Clarkson (Adora, her soft-spoken but histrionic southern belle of a mother), and Eliza Scanlen (Amma, her not-quite-right wild-child half-sister). I loved the Southern Gothic feel when Camille returns to her hometown, complete with a lovely-but-creepy house with a wraparound porch. 

The thing that kept me intrigued, and the thing I admired about it the most, is the way it was filmed to resemble human memory, as opposed to linear storytelling with breaks to make it easier for the viewer: ie, Camille sees the hingey-thing on the back of the toilet, then we stop the story for a liner flashback of that entire memory so that it's easy to digest. Even though I think they didn't do this because Camille is a damaged, fractured person, I think stylistically how they actually did it is closer to how people experience memory. A scene is interspersed with brief flashes with no explanation, sometimes so momentary we can tell that she's thinking of two things at once. Or even more than two. This felt literary to me, which is why I didn't need tons of intrigue to the storytelling aspect. I'm rewatching the first episode right now and they just showed a brief cut of Camille looking at the hingey part of the toilet--a full 6 hours before we actually see the story of why that matters. I hadn't even noticed it the first time around. 

Negatives: I never thought the show was boring like other viewers apparently did (I didn't mind the somewhat unnecessary Calhoun Day diversion), if you put the entirety of the show together, there's about 20 minutes of Camille driving, listening to music, or drinking vodka out of a water bottle. We get it--she's an alcoholic. I don't think people need to be shown more than two or three times. 

I was a wee bit frustrated with the (first) climax which occurs in the house. Ultimately, Camille is incapacitated with whatever poison her mother has given her, and is feebly trying to cry out to once-lover/cop Richard while she is prostrate on the bathroom tile. Ultimately it is Richard & co who rush in to save the day, arrest Adora, and spirit the sisters away for medical treatment. Was this not agentic enough? Just before this, Camille had made the discovery (..or rather, was given the information by Richard) that Adora had probably been poisoning Marian, Camille's younger sister who had died of a mysterious illness when she was younger. Death by munchausen by proxy so Camille rushes to the house, realizing that Amma--currently "ill" in the care of their mother--is in danger. She encounters a bizarre dinner tableau: a sickly Amma dressed in a white nightgown and a crown of flowers, her mother setting up a massive feast to her and her creepily silent husband. In an interview, Gillian Flynn mentions that she wasn't bothered by the show's decision to have Richard rescue Camille, more or less, because Camille did do something agentic: she takes her sister out of the line of fire by pretending to be sick and taking on her mother's "care" (ie, poison) herself. The action has the duel duty of both proving her suspicion, and giving Amma some time to recover. So she did do something agentic, but I realized this morning what really bothered me:

She runs into the house, thinking that her mother killed her little sister, and is possibly in the process of killing her other little sister... but she enters the house and silently sits down at the table? How about forming some distraction, grabbing your sister by the arm, and running off? What's to stop her? Her mother's in her 60s, and Camille is young. How hard would it have been to overpower her? How hard would it have been to grab that blue bottle of whatever noxious "medicine" and throw it across the room? Flush all the pills down the toilet?

Two practical things: can we please please please retire the female reporter who sleeps with people involved with her investigation thing? And did Camille really have no where where she could stay except for with Adora? No per diem from the paper? How much is a hotel in that small town? Given the high psychological price of staying in a home filled with trauma... why stay there rather than the Motel 6?

My only other problem was with the ending. It bothered some people, but I liked it. I was definitely not expecting an ending that abrupt, but stylistically it made sense to me. And I had already taken my eyes off the screen when the cut-scene appeared during the credits. If the entire story is through Camille's perspective, it wouldn't make sense for the cut scene of the murders to appear in the normal timeline of the show. My problem was that the scene itself was so fast it was sort of incomprehensible. I rewound and watched it 2 more times. While I think the images were great (particularly that really disturbing ending one of Amma) I actually misinterpreted what I had seen. The girl getting killed by the river I got, but I definitely didn't think that the image of Mae, Amma's new friend, gripping the fence was supposed to be her getting killed. I got that something violent was happening, but didn't necessarily think it was murder until I read recaps this morning. 

On the topic of Amma being the murderer (which I suspected the entire time), one plot-holey thing. They find the bloody pliers in Adora's house and it's assumed she was involved in the murders. Yeah, but fingerprints--whose fingerprints would be on those pliers? Amma's, not Adora's. (I doubt she wiped prints off if she didn't bother cleaning the blood off.) This made it a bit unrealistic to me that Camille would be the one to discover Amma, rather than physical evidence catching up with Amma. (who is arrested in the book, and her friend Mae's death is more in view.) 

And really smart to put the trailer for True Detective with Mahershala Ali right after.. It looked so good that I was sold before they even said the words "True Detective" (good advertising, considering I didn't like the first season, and skipped the second.) 

Review of Blackkklansman

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I hate to say it, but here is a thing which started with a great premise, but then failed in its execution. It had everything working in its favor: a great hook and timeliness. A black cop who pretends to be white over the phone in order to infiltrate the KKK. Even the pre-setup: he's the first black cop in this particular precinct, and they warn him that he is going to to have to "be the Jackie Robinson."

It's based on a true story, so I can't fault the story for going where it does which is to say to pretty expected places once you know the premise. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to play the part in person, Flip is conflicted, Stallworth starts a relationship with Black Power activist Patrice (Laura Harrier) only she doesn't know he's a cop (and yes, she would mind.) 

This movie was startlingly long. When I was sitting there I was thinking, crap I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I left the theater and looked at my phone, expecting it to be 11 (the show started 7) and was surprised to see that it was only 9 pm. How on earth does a movie feel two hours longer than what it actually was?? Even while watching it I kept being pulled out of the story by thinking "this scene is much longer than it should be" and I found myself wondering about how established artists can get away stretching their arms and taking up space and making work that is too long but emerging artists have to trim their work to be beyond super-lean. 

So if it felt too long, I have to wonder if there was enough story to fill out two hours. Surely there should have been, but yet it didn't feel like it. The movie could have gone more into depth on both Stallworth's and Flip's characters. What's Stallworth's background, what did he study in college (there's a point to mentioning that he avoided Vietnam because he was in college), what is his family like, and what made him want to be a cop? For about ten seconds, the movie touches on the fact that Flip, while Jewish, grew up without really "being Jewish," and maybe an interesting conversation about identity could have been had here. We are given bonked-over-the-head examples about why Patrice might have been driven toward the Black Power movement, but this movie painfully, painfully lacks in subtlety. What, for example, distinguishes Patrice from any prototype of a young student involved in the movement? (Nothing). Maybe the heavy-handedness of the movie was intended to make it more easy to digest for people who don't know much about that time period. But I would have rather seen scenes putting everything in context than scenes that felt like 40% of them could have been cut without sacrificing anything. 

The unsubtleness of this movie is a mismatch with the sort of audience that goes to see a movie like this. The parallels to modern day America are really obvious--enough so that the obvious nods to the present day could have been written a bit more obliquely or even not at all and we still would have seen them. But if you didn't feel like everything was spelled out in enormous billboard-sized capital letters, there's the ending.. After the movie ends there's a few minutes of documentary footage ramming home the parallels today. As if it needed to be stated. This included the graphic footage of the people being murdered/injured in Charlottesville by a white nationalist plowing a car into them. We've seen that footage--everyone sitting in that theater had. It isn't news to us, and felt weirdly misplaced and jarring, like being hit over the head with a bat while hanging up anti-bat-hitting posters. 

This Stupid Reality TV Show Is The Perfect Demonstration of What Is Wrong with Non-Minority "Progressives."

Sorry to write a serious blog post about a stupid TV show. But in case you missed it, a white woman who identifies as a progressive and part of "the resistance," this season's Bachelorette, picked one man over another and got engaged on last night's episode. The controversy was that after the season premiere episode aired weeks ago (so after she got engaged) it emerged that he had liked alt-right "humor" posts on instagram that implied that feminists are ugly and anti-feminists are beautiful and patriotic; made a joke about throwing migrant children back over "the wall;" made fun of trans people (children, specifically); and accused Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg of being a "crisis actor" (a view promoted by extremist and all around idiot Alex Jones, who promotes conspiracies to sell protein powder and just got kicked off the internet).  

Garrett, the guy who did this, apologized a couple times for doing this, and made it seem like liking something on Instagram is just something that happens by accident. [It's not, incidentally, that I don't think his apology was good enough; it's that I think his apology is irrelevant. Apologies are often what you do when someone catches you doing what you normally do.] He said he didn't mean it, and that anyone who knows him can attest that he's a great guy. And yes, people have insisted that he's a great guy-- previous suitors who have been kicked off the show already, Becca (the bachelorette), Garrett's family, and Becca's family. Becca says, on the last episode, that the two men she has fallen in love with are "the best guys on earth." Notice that all the people involved making this assessment seem to not be noticing that this is fundamentally an issue of values--specifically values that aren't really about them

All of these people insisting that Garrett is a great person are white, and as far as I can tell, have none of these other minority identities- LGBT, migrant, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR. Embarrassingly enough, I consume a lot of pop-commentary about the Bachelor, and on a lot of this media, white non-minority hosts dismiss the Instagram scandal as "stupid but not necessarily reflective of him as an individual." 

What is reflective of you as an individual but your actions? Doesn't the fact that you find punching down say a lot about who you are as an individual, morally? (let alone in terms of emotional maturity..) 

If you're progressive and part of the majority--straight, white, not an immigrant, able-bodied-whatever-- the true test of your progressiveness is not at the ballot box. It isn't the bumper sticker you put on your car or what candidates you donate to. Because there are far too many "progressives" who are all about all these things until it comes to anything involving them. [Or on the obverse, they don't care about anything until it involves them--which is behind the hard-to-explain annoyance that some minorities had about the Women's March). If you're white and your boyfriend is racist against blacks, it might not come to a conflict because his racism isn't directed at you--it's just an inconvenience that you'd wish would magically go away. You could confront it, but wouldn't it be easier not to? I think what some people forget is that racist people aren't necessarily all-around assholes who walk around with devil horns spouting sulphur from their mouths. They can be incredibly kind and sweet and caring to you, and to their families, and to their friends. But just because they're nice to you doesn't mean they're nice, or good people at all. You can't call yourself a progressive if you're okay with your significant other having attitudes that while not harmful to you, are harmful in general to minority groups. If you're not bothered by this, you really need to ask yourself what your values are. If you think someone who punches down would be a good father, have fun raising some really wonderful children.. 

Maybe this bothers me in particular right now because I'm not mad at people who make fun of migrants, (because I think they're a lost cause) I'm mad at their ostensibly "progressive" family members. These are the same family members that year after year complain about their "crazy" uncle, of "frustrating" parents-- you push some turkey around your plate, and then go back to their regular lives sharing shit on Facebook to make yourself seem woke. You are the problem. The gay 13 year old in rural America is forced to directly confront his family over and over because he has no choice. This is what has moved the needle in terms of America's acceptance of gays in the past few decades. They weren't doing a public service--they were forced to because their lives and wellbeing depended on it. One version of this 13 year old will somehow manage to convert his family to PFLAG waving allies. Another version will face the trauma of realizing that this family is no family of his, and that he will be forced to find his own non-biological family. Another will move his family some, but not all the way, and will continue to have to battle for years. Another might find it overwhelming--which is perfectly reasonable for a young person with no support in the one place where he needs it the most--and turn self-destructive or even suicidal. People with minority identities were forced to fight this fight with enormously high stakes, and yet some of the people who call themselves our allies are unwilling to even lift a finger in their own houses. 

Rant over. I leave you with an actual image of the couple from the show last night. (And yes, that is him pulling her deeper underwater by the foot, which I guess is supposed to be funny). 

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Is my ex a psychopath? Take this quiz to find out.

I wrote the below quiz-- which is just for fun--because we've all dated at least one person where, after the fact, we wonder what on earth we were thinking. Some estimate that about 4% of the American population is psychopathic. While we often associate that word with violent criminals, a good number psychopaths aren't violent--they just display a constellation of not-so-great personality characteristics that hang together. Many can turn out to be successful individuals who--to people who don't know them that well--seem to be perfectly normal. Charming, even. But some of us know better.. 

If this topic interests you, subscribe to this blog on your RSS or give me a follow on Twitter. I'm an author and am currently writing a novel about psychopaths. You can find much of my fiction online linked through here

Give Poldark's George Warleggan the plot he deserves

A couple of weeks ago, I blew through all three seasons of Poldark in one weekend, or maybe close to it. I had it on in the background as "period piece background noise I didn't expect to really capture my attention," but it totally did. (Apparently I also weirdly forgot my fetish for 18th century men's fashion.)

Not only is the show filled with lush scenery (waves crashing on rocks beneath dramatic cliffs, people riding horses in haste, etc.), but the writing is really, really good. Particularly in Season Two, with the infidelity plotline, every single character involved responds in a way consistent with their character, and in ways that highlight both their positive and negative traits.) (Well, I'm not sure Elizabeth has any positive traits, but whatever). 

Season 3 had me pondering the fact that the writer's haven't entirely taken advantage of villain George Warleggan. The WETA blog says he is a flatly evil character, one step away from twirling a mustache; I don't entirely agree, but they do have something of a point.  Over the course of the series, George shown himself to be cold and conniving when it comes to both business and life--sometimes playing unfairly. He is weirdly obsessed with taking Ross Poldark down--and what is this based on other than the fact that he basically hates Ross for having what he doesn't: the support of the townspeople, actual love from his wife Elizabeth, a sense of honor. Ostensibly, he has beef with Ross because Ross is "responsible" for inciting the riot that led to the shipwreck being looted (the shipwreck containing some of George's property). But we all know that he 2% cared about the property and 98% just wanted Ross to be tried and hanged--which seems a bit extreme. 

But I just rewatched Seasons 1 and 2 and took a closer look at him. The development of his relationship with Elizabeth is a weird mixture of creepy and pitiable. It's clear he likes her when she's married to Francis Poldark and is already attempting to put the moves on her. When he first propositions Elizabeth, more or less, unless I'm wrong, she didn't seem repulsed but genuinely caught off guard. Surprised, but not "oh God how do I get out of this." I think for her it came out of left field. I do believe, in his own strange way, George loves Elizabeth. (I'm not sure why, because everyone seems to fall in love with her based purely on looks...?) 

Maybe there was a world where Elizabeth and George could have been happy--this makes me sad. Her decision to marry him was both practical and eyeroll worthy. She's a widow and her mom has just had a stroke. Standing beside the drooling mother's bed she asks the doctor, "But who will take care of her--?" then a look of distain comes over her face when she realizes that the caregiver could be her. God forbid we don't have servants to do something, or have to get a job, or figure shit out for a while before she might actually fall in love with a man who wants to marry her. Okay, I realize that's unfair--the aristocracy didn't work back then. Although I did wonder how hard it would have been to scrimp and pinch for a while--sell off some of her crap and let some servants go. Instead, she spots George through the window getting rid of some pesky serfs who want to work her land, which apparently by law is their right. He could take care of her, and she wants to be taken care of. And I never go the sense that he was disingenuous in his offer to take care of her; someone purely evil wouldn't do that. 

She marries him, quickly, and for his money basically, but I got the sense that she had some hope that maybe it would work out. George quickly ruins any chance of this, mainly through his desire to get rid of his Poldark stepchild. Really much of her hatred of him stems from actions he does solely out of his obsession with Ross. (It's more like he himself is a worser enemy than Ross is.) It didn't have to be this way, but he does several things that destroy any hope between them: getting the governess and wanting to send the stepson away, and the trial against Ross which was overkill. A really unexpected turn for me at least was that Elizabeth and George start to become an evil couple together--which was relieving because many many many shows/books/movies fall into the trap of "the first love is the only-est, best-est love." Her turn toward the evil was somewhat satisfying because her unhappiness brought out the nastier parts of her personality and I didn't find much about her redeeming anyhow. 

But George is more interesting to me. Sometimes there's this one grain of humanity in him that makes me feel sympathy or want him to have a turn of character. He suspects that "his" baby with Elizabeth--Valentine--is actually Ross Poldark's but you get the sense that he's almost tricked himself into thinking the baby is his. At least until stonecold Agatha tells him the truth. He seems really broken by this, and I don't think it's just because of Poldark. No matter how despicable George is, Elizabeth wronged him and continuously lied to him. Sure, there were various strictures on women that made life hard for them, but I can't see Demelza making that series of decisions. Sure-- George is pathetic--he gets all sniveling when Elizabeth (lying about the paternity issue) threatens to leave their home, and let's be clear George is dishonorable and nasty and single minded. I don't know why he seems to love Elizabeth, but he does. I truly wondered if he actually loves Valentine and this was a serious blow to him (he doesn't have an heir after all). I love the moment that followed: Ross going out to look for Demelza in the dunes--of course we think he's about to catch her in the act of cheating--but instead he comes upon George, who is dazed with the realization about Valentine. For a split second George is a human, but then he goes back to being George. This moment echoed back to the moment when George found out that Ross's baby had died and for a split second was at a loss. 

Don't blame George for the infamous toad incident in season 3. Oh damn, this show got dark. What started as a funny prank against George--Demelza's brother Drake putting toads in George's ponds--gets hella dark when Morwenna has to marry the gag-reflex-inducing Reverend Osborne Whitworth. At first the Reverend just seemed like a pervier version of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice--funny, foppish, and gross. But then it gets much darker than the tone of Poldark generally with him being physically abusive and a rapist--I kept waiting for Morwenna to be rescued at the last minute. And it's George and Elizabeth--who has now drunk the evil George Kool-aid--who have pushed this marriage into existence. Because it's a "good match." (There's one weird misstep in the plotting here: when Morwenna's weird sister showed up, I thought for sure she would pretend to try to seduce the Reverend and then murder him . . . but instead seemed to like boffing him??) [Another tangent, how on earth is the guy on the left played by the guy on the right??] 

Here's the thing: George has no idea how bad the Reverend is. He knows Morwenna isn't crazy about him, but how many women got to marry someone they were crazy about? You know who does know just how bad the Reverend is? The good doctor Dwight. And while he does try to press the pause on the Reverend's appetites for Morwenna after giving birth--that's all he does-- presses the pause button. George's sin, really, was that he wanted to control Morwenna and family wealth by marrying her off--Dwight's sin strikes me as worse (albeit not outside of what would have been typical male behavior back then.) 

It's clear that Poldark is headed towards more political storylines, and that both Ross and George will be players. The only two things George cares about are himself and Elizabeth and I'm not even sure about the second part. His political identity could easily get tied into his sense of honor; if Poldark wants to keep treading the same waters, we could have Ross and George square off again and again. Or . . .

Make George the villain he deserves to be. George should be smarter than he is on the show. He's made his wealth rather than inherited it, so it's a little unrealistic that his deviousness is pretty consistently ham-handed. I wish they would let him be as full blown smart as maybe a man who's made his own wealth might be. And while Ross clearly has flaws, sometimes he falls too hard on the "good guy who's always right" side (at least when it comes to the shows political plotlines.) Moving the show towards increasingly political plotlines leaves a lot of room for complex machinations--I would love to see George pull off some Cersei-level political maneuvering rather than say, printing slanderous pamphlets. I would love there to be something Ross and George could agree on--a common foe where they would have to work together despite despising each other! Someone who offends George's honor and Ross' political sensibilities-- but I'm not sure the show has that sort of sensibility, particularly after what happened with Morwenna. If Morwenna isn't going to save herself, it would be nice if we just didn't default to Ross saving the day. Too often shows default to "good guys save people, bad guys hurt people, and if bad guys save people they are redeemed." There's a few other options-- like bad guys doing the "right" thing for an entirely different reason. Bad guys responding with a level of retaliation that the good guys wouldn't "stoop" to in a way that is more satisfying to viewers. Bad guys outmaneuvering other bad guys because they are more clever.

A spoiler-ridden review of Hereditary

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Hereditary falls squarely in the center of what I think is an exciting development in horror movies: horror that leans more towards the literary. Reviews of this movie had a lot of "Not since The Exorcist..." language which made me skeptical, along with my friend's text along the lines of "Have you heard the hype about this movie? People are saying it's traumatic." Well that was enough to sell me. 

Hereditary very much reminded me of The Witch and It Comes at Night with some echoes of The Exorcist. I suppose I would consider The Exorcist literary horror, but it does lean more towards overt horror (ie, looking at horrifying and explicitly unpleasant things for long scenes.) The way this movie was filmed--as if the camera is lurking--and the excellent score reminded me of all three: unnerving drones, unpleasant prickly noises, indistinct sounds you can't quite pick out. With the exception of The Exorcist I generally don't find literary horror scary, but I do enjoy it. 

What I found most horrifying in this movie wasn't the supernatural elements, which I doubted the existence of for maybe four-fifths of the movie. There's some indication in a very Rosemary's Baby way that the recently deceased mother of Annie (Toni Collette) was a witch. The narrative does feel like it's headed for supernatural elements, particularly in the way it focuses on Annie's profoundly creepy daughter Charlie. She's unnerving (amazingly well acted by Milly Shapiro), but I thought she was headed for either demonic possession or a diagnosis of psychopathy (there's a scene where she finds a dead pigeon and cuts its head off to keep). But it was easy for me to push the supernatural to the side for most of the movie because an unexpected turn. 

This is the scene I keep thinking about even days later. The teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolf) lies to his mother that a party he wants to go to is more of a school BBQ and she makes him take his sister. He takes her, and leaves her alone for a minute so he can smoke pot with the girl he likes. Charlie eats some cake with nuts in it and starts going into anaphylactic shock. Peter puts her in the family car and hurries her to the hospital, and of course you can see the accident coming. But I was 1000 percent not expecting the way it would go down and how it would be depicted. The accident is horrifying, and it both is and isn't Peter's fault. You could see a teenager getting into this situation from being mildly irresponsible, but not outrageously so. We don't see exactly what happens and it isn't clear that Peter has. There's an incredible scene of Peter just staring straight at the camera for at least a full minute, stunned, and the sense of horror and dread and there's no going back from this is palpable. Alex Wolf, the by way, who I've only ever seen in Jumanji nailed this scene. He heads home, in a daze, lies down in his bed, and there's an extremely painful scene of his blank face as he can hear his mother's off-camera screams as she discover's Charlie's body. Toni Collette's screaming here was more disturbing than any piece of violence or weirdness that occurs in this movie. 

For almost all of this movie but the end, you could interpret it as being about the impossible task of the family dealing with this death. How does a mother then relate to her son? How can he possibly cope with being responsible for the accident? When supernatural things seem like they're happening--Peter and Annie seeing apparitions, Peter's self-injurious behavior--this can all be explained away by hallucinations they are experiencing from intense grief and guilt. There's also the issue of mental illness: Annie's family tree is rife with it, and she rather casually mentions at a grief counseling meeting that her mother had Dissociative Identity Disorder. Personally I don't believe in DID, and wasn't sure how I'd feel if the movie turned out to be about it. Abrupt changes in Annie's behavior--ostensibly from possession--could be explained by DID if you wanted to take a non-supernatural interpretation of this movie. It was this aspect of the movie--grief as the supernatural--that I found most intriguing. It could have ended ambiguously, and I thought the movie was headed this way, but then it goes full Black Phillip.  

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Black Phillip, if you haven't seen The Witch, is the family goat who at the end of the movie, starts speaking in the voice of Satan. The talking goat is the point of no return, and the same thing happens in the last fifth of Hereditary

We then get firmly grounded in the idea that the witchcraft angle is real. This leads to an ending that was very similar to The Witch with a dash of Rosemary's Baby thrown in. The one thing that left me a little puzzled is why--possessed or not--Annie bizarrely kills herself. Whatever entity that has taken her over (and it isn't clear who exactly) already has possession of the body, so why it needed to end her life was unclear (unless, I suppose, it was a human sacrifice). Overall, grounding it in witchcraft didn't take away the emotional complexity--much like how The Witch was still about all these strictures that were/are put on women. It still raised interesting questions-- was Annie's sleepwalking actually sleepwalking, some supernatural thing, or some form of mental illness? Was what Peter did something he could ever come back from? (I desperately wanted him to just leave the house and not come back.) How can the husband (Gabriel Byrne) draw the line between indulging his wife and allowing her outbursts while also being wary that she might be in the middle of a psychotic break? How can he balance dealing with his own grief while the tension between his wife and his son is becoming worse and worse? 

There is one thing about this movie that I did not like and found unfairly gratuitous: WHY WHY WHY the dog. Come on man. Any horror movie or thriller where there is a family dog, it is basically there for four-legged cannon fodder. Towards the end of the movie the dog isn't particularly present and I probably would have forgotten about it . . . Except then there is a one second scene that just shows the dog's body cast aside in the garden, it's murder, apparently, occurring off screen. By someone. For some reason. THIS WAS A SENSELESS DOG DEATH. WHY. It did nothing for the plot, and the dog did not get to fully develop his character arc as a result.