TV

Review of HBO's Euphoria, episodes 1 -3

File this under “mildly chagrined, but would still watch.” Euphoria is not a high-brow drama about teens. It’s a well-filmed horror show for parents where you’re supposed to eat popcorn and think about the good ol’ days. Hear me out:

Rue (Zendaya, 23) is back from rehab with no intent on getting better. Parents in this show are easily fooled, absent, or are predators hunting teens. She forms a friendship with the new girl in town, Jules (Hunter Schafer, 20). I guess Rue is tapped in enough with the cool kids to get invited to the parties, but not enough to have any actual friends other than Jules. In this sense, she’s floating in the middle of no where without anyone sensible to ground her, and has no interests other than drugs. We get the sense that this is tied to her father’s slow death from something probably like cancer.

Everything about this show is mega-angsty with no levity whatsoever—that doesn’t make it unwatchable, but it creates this very specific category of watchable that I find compelling while at the same time significantly depressing. I felt the same way about Skins and 13 Reasons Why. It’s independent of whether or not these shows are actually well written, but for me it does throw a glare of nonreality to them. There is tons of angst in being a teenager, but these shows tend to show the most extreme version of this—I don’t think this is because it’s supposed to echo reality, but because older people—particularly people with kids—are drawn to it the way we slow down on the highway when we see an accident. If you were to make a list of things that make parents clutch at their pearls, this show is a grab bag of them.

THE INTERNETS! Kids use it to share sex tapes of other students as a form of shaming or humiliation. To use anonymous sex apps to meet up with strange S&M dudes in hotels. To buy fake urine to pass drug tests that oblivious moms force you to take. They definitely don’t use it to watch people play games on Twitch, to make funny videos on TikTok, or to do anything of substance related to an interest or hobby.

THE DRUGS! Peak pearl-clutching: your daughter may be in a drug-dealers house and somehow be forced into a situation where she will literally have to lick fentanyl off the knife of a brown drug dealer with facial tattoos. Rue is apparently isolated enough that none of her friends are willing or able to say, so . . . maybe this is self-destructive? (Edit, I wrote the above after episodes 1 and 2— episode 3 is a little bit better at indicating that Rue is friends with Jules and Kat, although on the whole, I don’t think these friendships are three dimensional, which kind of makes the first person narration from Rue telling her friends’ stories not quite work for me. We’re supposed to see Rue-Jules as one of these hyperintimate female friendships you have when you’re young—episode three has a drop of this— Jules saying, “I can’t watch you kill yourself” and some of Rue being jealous, but not too much of their actual bond, which is mostly shown by them riding bikes).

BOYS AND SEX! Pretty much every male on this show is a horrorshow nightmare dumpsterfire. The only halfway decent one is the drug dealer (not the fentanyl one—the white one that Rue is friends with). There’s the one who sort of shames/ manipulates Kat (Barbie Ferreira, 22) into having sex with him in a roomful of other boys, only to post a video of it online. When she discovers this no one (even other girls) seems to have any empathy for her, even though one must imagine these other girls are dealing with the same horrorshow nightmare dumpsterfire boys. There’s Nate (Jacob Elordi, 22) whose sociopathic tendencies are starting to evolve into controlling behavior centered around his girlfriend (who in an act of revenge, has sex with an older boy [played by a 24 year old] in a pool in front of him, then lies about it later saying she blacked out.) Girls are either hypersexualized or being raped—nowhere in between. Jules has been talking to someone online and meets up with him at a hotel for a disturbing sexual encounter she does not seem to enjoy—the man involved turns out to be Nate’s father.

This show feels like a dark fantasy—I can’t use the word idealized because that has a positive connotation, but in this world, everyone is beautiful and makes terrible mistakes. There’s no compassion, no friendship, no awkwardly fumbling toward sexuality with a boyfriend who actually has a soul. No one’s laughing at anything except ironically. Recently I talked to one of my friends who’s a child therapist and she said high school has radically different tracks— if you were on the nerdy honor roll track, the notion of a party where someone might legitimately die of anything other than a peanut allergy seems outlandish. So maybe my own high school experience was just vastly different than licking fentanyl off a knife. It was closer to Freaks and Geeks except I really didn’t have friends to play D&D with.

It made me think about why we like these hyperdramatic shows about teens that take themselves super seriously in their negativity. Consider Skins where there is, I swear to god, a situation where Tony (high school student) is in some sort of dangerous situation in a warehouse where a scary dangerous guy demands that he (Tony) have sex with his (Tony’s) own sister (Effy) in order to placate the scary guy. Compare to Friday Night Lights where Julie feels pressured to just get sex “over with,” arranges alonetime with her boyfriend Matt (insert heart emoji), only to have him discover that she isn’t really ready and to suggest that they could just, like, hang out, which they do, making fun of each other’s feet and goofing around.

Think about how these shows mix sex and lurid things in a bid to be “real” or at least this is what they say they’re doing. But notice how they tend to cast actors that are a lot older; they want to show good looking people having sexy times, or maybe even really being in peril, but then there’s the conundrum about feeling weird about casting people ages 14 to 18, the actual age of most high school students. If they were actually working with actors that young, there’s a variety of things they’d have to more seriously consider, and we as viewers would have to ask ourselves some difficult questions. This isn’t a “real” show any more than Skins was. There’s actually a scene where Nate buys his girlfriend lingerie. I’m sorry, but when in the history of the world has a high school boy 1) bought his girlfriend lingerie and 2) it fit perfectly even though men who have been married for 10 years are still mystified by the whole bra/band/cupsize thing and also even if you know the size that doesn’t mean that any particular thing will fit you?

TLDR: Euphoria= listening to a superhip soundtrack while being stuck in the passenger seat of a car driving very quickly towards a brick wall with stylized graffiti on it.

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.

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.) 

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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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.

Update 6/10/2019: a surprising number of people have read this article. Life has occupied me; I will return with another longform article about Poldark in June after I’ve had a chance to watch the most recent season. I’m hoping it will be me coming back after seeing some interesting developments in this villain.

Trust me, the morally reprehensible things I say and do aren't reflective of me as a person.

In the past two weeks, what looks like what is going to become an increasingly common “scandal” occurred surrounding the show The Bachelor. (Or The Bachelorette, to be more specific). During the season premiere a guy named Garret clearly became one of the frontrunners for Becca, this season’s Bachelorette. While the show skirts as far away from politics as possible, it’s known from her social media that Becca considers herself as part of “the resistance” and voted Democratic in the 2016 election. In this article by two women who also host a podcast about the show, one of the contestants, Garrett, was outed as having liked a bunch of morally reprehensible posts on Instagram including ones that made fun of: the Parkland kids who survived the school shooting (calling them crisis actors), undocumented immigrants, feminists, and trans children. (He immediately deleted the account once this was exposed.) 

There's a chance that the producers of the show did this on purpose--knowing that Becca is at least a somewhere left of center, and that this would lead to conflict and therefore good TV. I imagine this is what happened when they had their first black Bachelorette and included a contestant who compared the NAACP to the KKK on not-too-hard-to-find social media posts. We could work under that assumption of wanting drama, or assume their background checkers are just lazy. 

But would this even lead to conflict? Becca publicly responded, in as much as she can, (because I'm guessing he was one of her final few..) in an interview by saying she would address issues as they come up, but that "I can't fault anyone for what they believe, and who's to say that anyone is truly what they believe in if they just double tap . . . I am a strong woman and I do believe in certain things, but again, that's what's so great about our country — everyone is entitled to their own opinions." This is a really, really different response than the reaction of the black Bachelorette--Rachel--had when confronting the contestant who said racist stuff. Her response wasn't, "Oh, he's  a good person who just kept accidentally saying terrible things--lay off him would you!" Garrett responded with the typical "I didn't realize the things I did were hurtful / I need to learn/ this isn't reflective of who I am as a person" apology. ("I need to learn/ go to rehab" is definitely a great all purpose excuse for just about anything, isn't it?) But we're not here to talk about him. 

We're here to talk about the Beccas. The straight guy who cringes when his father says something anti-gay at the dinner table, but doesn't say anything. I want to talk about the white girl with the white boyfriend who grits her teeth when he says something racist against blacks. It doesn't really affect the straight person at the dinner table because he isn't gay, or the white girl because neither she nor her boyfriend are black. The ignorant views of their loved ones don't directly negatively affect them, but are seen as more embarrassing than fundamental conflicts because I guess, to them, their values don't constitute a dog in the fight. 

Why can't you fault someone for what they believe? We make decisions about who we want to surround ourselves with, and sometimes people come into conflict with those values. On the one hand you want a partner you have chemistry with who also wants the same things (a house, a picket fence, a family), but then there's this pesky thing where he says something profoundly ignorant about another group--but don't worry--you're not part of that group. You can just sweep it under the rug. 

You can just say, "Well you don't know him." You don't know him like I do! Indeed, I will never know your racist boyfriend the same way that you do if the two of you are white and I am brown. Your boyfriend can be caring and kind and considerate to you, while at the same time thinking that gays are disgusting or that migrants aren't human beings with inherent dignity. You just don't know him like I do! Indeed, I don't. 

 

Like many people caught in the apology chamber, Garrett responded in an Instagram post "I am a sincere, genuine, loving, light-hearted, open minded and non-judgmental individual." I'm willing to bet that Garrett has never met one of the Parkland kids, who not only survived the mass murder of their friends and classmates, but are pushing through with activism despite grown adults feeling the need to attack and threaten them despite their being children who were almost just murdered. I'm willing to bet that if quizzed on the situations in El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and other countries that led to migration, he would not be able to tell you much and in all likelihood couldn't find most of these countries on an unmarked map. You've never met these people, but have hateful things to say about them (at worst), or at best, you don't really hate them but think their situations are funny and should be made fun of on social media. Call me a square but I don't find devastating earthquakes or drug cartels funny. 

Is it really fair to judge people by their social media accounts? It's true, your finger can slip and you can accidentally like a post promoting a conspiracy that the victims of a mass shooting are in fact actors rallied by a vast left wing conspiracy to seize the guns you use for mass shootings. To be fair, I do think there are instances where people take things out of context, like the movie that puts on its poster that a reviewer said "This movie is fantastic!" when they actually said "This movie is fantastically stupid!" And I do think its unfair to dredge up Livejournal posts from decades ago and point out how un-woke someone was, when in reality only some of us have documentation of how un-woke we are, and, let's face it, collecting points for pointing out unwokeness is sort of tiresome. 

Here is an exhaustive list of the past handful of things I did on Facebook and Twitter: a request that they make a movie out of cockygate; an interest in attending a poetry performance; 3 likes to UPS Dogs, a Facebook group where UPS drivers post pictures of their favorite dogs on their routes; a comment that news media "controversial comments" instead of "racist comments" suggests that there is a legitimate debate underlying the idea that racism is bad; 3 comments about whether or not the robot from Netflix's Lost In Space is sexy or not (it isn't); a Twitter moment about peacocks stopping traffic on a highway wherein I commented "cockblocking;" and this, which can only be described by looking at its awesomeness. This is actually a pretty accurate representation of who I am. Not a complete representation. But no one who knows me would be shocked that I liked/said/tweeted any of these things--they are all pretty run-of-the-mill for me. So if you were known to be an open-minded, kind, considerate person who's on social media, likely connected with friends, wouldn't your friends be shocked if you posted something morally reprehensible? Does the fact that they're not shocked say something about you, and something about them?

Whenever this cycle happens--an insulter says something insulting, there's negative publicity, then an apology--we are told, "Wait, get to know the real person, you don't know them like I do." We are asked, again and again and again, to get to know this person, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to assume good intentions despite the data before us. And yet those who insult are never giving the benefit of the doubt to the Parkland kids, or getting to know the migrants or their situation, or assuming that the person they are deriding is an actual human who might be as sincere and open-minded and loving as the insulters claim to be but aren't. In other words, "Treat me fairer than I treat you, otherwise you're being unfair." Sadly, an argument that keeps being made over and over. 

What Bubbles Under the Surface of MTV's Catfish

Why do I continue to love this show? Despite the fact that it's formulaic--and continues to be after years of being on the air. Despite the fact that it's fake. Despite the forced moralizing that occurs at the end of each episode, wherein the catfish is supposed to feel bad for catfishing but often doesn't. Despite the hokey "hosts being adorkable" thing (I like Max, but not a fan of Nev). 

It's the same story over and over. A youngish person ostensibly contacts the show with a story about how they have been in love with someone for several years that they met online, but they have never met in person. The other person--the catfish--refuses to videochat/ has a broken phone/ lost their truck and therefore can't meet the catfishee. Nev and Max arrive with their high tech investigative skills (ie, they look on Facebook and Instagram and do Google image searches, which apparently no one else has figured out). They contact the catfish when they've collected enough "evidence," and the catfish always miraculously agrees to not only meet up and be filmed (show spoiler: typically the catfish actually contacts the show, which is why they never run into a catfish who refuses to meet). Despite the fact that it's the same thing over and over, I find myself completely riveted during act three, the moment when they're knocking on the catfish's door and you have no idea of who is going to come out. I will run out of the kitchen in order to not miss the reveal. (NB: I am never sitting in front of a TV and just watching it, so when I actually have my eyes on the TV for more than 3 seconds, someone has done something right.) 

Forty percent of the time, the catfish is someone who is LGBT but closeted, often in a small town where no one ever says, "Wait, which gay bar with the roofdeck and the bartender with the arms?" (#DCLife). Forty percent of the time it's just someone who used the pictures of a (culturally-dictated) more attractive person because they're insecure. The remaining 20 percent is a grab bag of more interesting cases: pure sociopaths, best friends who were secretly in love with the victim for years, and one recent rarity: and old gross dude trolling for young women. (sidebar, why doesn't that happen more often? And I can't even think of an instance of the catfish turning out to be married.) 

The show often sends the hosts to meet victims in places where reality TV typically doesn't go: Oklahoma, small towns where one can apparently be the only LGBT person in their entire class. You see small houses and trailers, and tons of people of adulting age that live with their parents and yappy dogs and work regular jobs. It seems a stark contrast from the constant parade of TV/movies/books that focus on New York City, LA, London, places where people who would be poor in real life live unrealistically opulent lives (not to use a dated reference, but it's beyond laughable that we're supposed to believe that Carrie Bradshaw can afford all those designer shoes when she's a freelance writer). Every so often on the show when the host takes the victim to meet the catfish, they find out that the victim has never actually been on a plane before. In some cases, they've never even left their hometown. The hosts often respond with a chipper, "You've never been on a plane before?" How quaint! Median income in Oklahoma is (let's ballpark it based on this dated website) is $45,000; in my hometown of DC its $93,000 (to be fair DC has one of the highest median incomes in the US, and using the median rather than the mean glosses over the income disparity the city has but whatever). There's even been cases where it clearly seems that both the catfish and the catfishee were faking just so they could meet each other (maybe just to get on TV, or maybe so someone else can pay their airfare.) 

I wish the show would get more in depth about the psychology behind this incredibly weird phenomenon. In between the movie and the TV show, the concept of catfishing is so well known that they added the new meaning of the word to the dictionary over at Merriam Webster. People on the show know what this is, but still fall for it. Or maybe they don't fall for it at all-- maybe they know the whole time that these relationships aren't real. Sometimes the people involved are somewhat isolated--just in general, not just in terms of not being willing to pursue other romantic relationships because they are spoken for. Sometimes they are approached by other would-be mates, but turn them down in favor of a relationship that is purely electronic. In either case, they've settled for an electronic facsimile of a relationship: no physical presence, not even videochatting, just a stream of texts, phone calls, emojis, and maybe an occasional picture stolen off Instagram. 

We don't really talk about loneliness in this country. Usually we're kidding when we are: making fun of cat ladies and "Oh no I'm going to die alone LOL." Even for introverts, the desire for companionship is so fundamental to what it is to be human that being denied companionship can often be lethal. Suicide is the tenth largest cause of death in America--it's right up there with cancer and heart disease. Even amongst people who can both articulate their feelings and are willing to do so, they're far more likely to say they are "sad," "bored," or "depressed" than to say that they are lonely, or lacking in human companionship. Some turn inwards toward depression (self-directed hate), some turn outwards. We always talk about lone wolf mass shooters. They're "lone." I don't feel bad for them, but I wonder about the power of the sickness that is loneliness, not feeling part of a community, or not feeling validated. 

Last week I was at a speakeasy (#DCLife again) with some friends and one lamented that he wanted to move into a commune in the woods and just not deal with anything. Easy to feel that way when the news is pretty stressful, but we were also talking about how the very structure of life--at least here and now in America--is isolating, overly focused on work, overly focused on nuclear families. In this scifi thing I'm writing, there's this character from a planet that has been destroyed that is often described as a utopia. People sitting on porches calling out to each other, a town where everyone knows your name. One thing I based it off of (here's a knife in your heart) was something one of my Arabic teachers told me about her childhood growing up in Damascus: a large house that is more like a compound, shaped like a square with a courtyard in the center, the whole extended family living in the same house so closely that the cousins are like brothers. So . . . not sure what it says about me that I had this planet destroyed.