A Country Divided

By coincidence, two pieces of media I recently consumed simultaneously scared the shit out of me (sorry for the cursing, mom, but it’s true). It’s no secret that I’m scared and furious at our current administration and spend most mornings reading the paper while rolling my eyes at their latest lies. No one can know what will come out of this presidency, but a new book and a new TV show do their best to show how a divided country can lead to ruin.

I’m surely not the first person to talk about either of these, but I would recommend not consuming them at the same time because it truly meant a lot of dreary, negative thoughts for me. American War takes place in the latter half of the 21st century (around 2075-2095) in a United States fighting a Second Civil War, with most of the coasts (and Florida – sorry, Florida) flooded due to climate change and the southern states fighting for the right to use now-illegal fossil fuels. As I read this book, I also started watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. I’m sure there is no need for me to summarize it here, but to be brief it shows a United States that has been toppled by a theocracy and places women in subservient roles in which the “fertile” ones are ceremoniously raped on a monthly basis by high-level men in hopes of producing more children.

So, yeah. As far as The Handmaid’s Tale goes, I’ve been too horrified to watch more than one episode so far, but all signs point to it being an incredible show – at least, incredibly written, directed, and acted; incredibly scary to watch and consider how this could become reality.

As for the book, I am the Cutthroat Reader after all…

WHAT I READ:

American War (Omar Al Akkad)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 rebel states, I give this 4 assassins.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be.

Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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To be perfectly frank, I really gave this book 5 stars for concept and 3 stars for execution. As stated above, I love the idea of the book, but found myself at times interested and at times bored by the actual writing. Setting this book up in vignettes had some unfortunate flaws. We see life in pre/mid war border states; life in a refugee camp; a bit of life as a sniper for the rebels; a bit of life in prison; and a bit of life afterwards. But with these bits I never got a full picture of the countries, the war, or life for everyone, and most of it was a bit slow. We are tracing Sarat’s evolution into the North-hating person she becomes, but even with the intense eye focused on her, I didn’t get why she was quite so filled with hate.

I devoured the book and still recommend to others – but I suspect the topic of the book and its timelienesss will elevate it a tad more than it really should be.

Even though I didn’t love American War, I still think this book and The Handmaid’s Tale should be required viewing and contemplation for everyone. A book I was reading this morning struck me with the following line (discussing living as a gay man in modern America):

But you know we’re always going to have to rely on the goodwill of those of you who are straight for our survival. And that’s the damned truth.

This sad and beautiful line keeps sticking in my mind. It’s incredibly true for all marginalized communities – essentially anyone who isn’t a white, cis, straight, white wealthy male in America. The LGBT community, immigrants, lower class, women, non-Christians, etc etc – and all intersections of those groups – are just holding our breaths and crossing our fingers that those in power allow us to hold on to (or obtain) basic human rights like equal marriage, liberty, and the rights to our bodies. And the message of what could happen if those rights are taken away are perfectly captured in these two pieces of art.

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Why I Will Always Love Gilmore Girls

My reasons for loving the television show Gilmore Girls are certainly not unusual ones. I love it because of the mother-daughter relationship, and the strong relationship I have with my own mother; I love it because I love seeing a main female character who just loves reading and learning and that’s okay; I love it because who doesn’t want to live in Stars Hollow?!?! More than the plot itself, I’ve come to also love it for critical reasons: the writing is sharp, the dialogue is equal parts hilarious and gut-wrenching, (most of) the story development is strong; and it is just a genuinely strong piece of television history.

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Gilmore Girls has featured in almost every major milestone in my life. I don’t remember when I first started watching it – I don’t think it was right from the beginning, but surely it wasn’t too deep into the series – but it became our mother-daughter tradition to watch it religiously every week. We eagerly bought the DVDs sets (and termed the DVD menu background song “The la-las”) and watched them constantly. In fact, my father – who was most often on his computer in the loft above our living room – boasts that he’s heard almost every episode, although he’s literally seen almost none of them. He would sometimes surprise us by saying things like, “I can’t believe what Luke did this week, can you?”

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So, Gilmore Girls established itself in my life as a show that demonstrates the bond of mother-daughter relationships, normalizes them, and most importantly, made it okay to say that your mom is your best friend. We continued to bond over the show as it entered its 7th and final season in the original run, and I started my first year of college. While we couldn’t watch together, my mom saved the series finale for me on our TV at home and we watched it together, just like old times.

I continued to watch the show religiously in my mid-20s, post-grad school and very much unemployed. I actually DVRed the episode ABC Family played every day at 11am and looked forward to my daily watching ritual – never mind the fact that we owned all seven seasons and I could watch any episode at any time, without commercials. (Sometimes you just want someone to pick for you, you know?)

I dove deeper into the fandom when I discovered the Gilmore Guys podcast and learned how to think critically about one of my top two favorite television shows (Buffy being the other). It’s by no means a perfect show – Rory and Lorelai are often garbage people, and most of Rory’s boyfriends weren’t really that great (although I am definitely #TeamLogan for the original series). But, the community it brings together, and the fandom is brought back into my life, has been an integral part of the last two years of my life.

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So, imagine my excitement when Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life was announced. Finally, more episodes from one of the best shows on television, with the ending as originally envisioned by the series showrunner and written by a damn amazing lady (ASP, we love you). There are definite flaws in the new episodes, and things I didn’t love, but overall I was as pleased as punch to see my three favorite Gilmore girls back in Connecticut. (And yes – I actually LOVED the Rory storyline).

The only thing I didn’t love was that I wasn’t able to watch it with my mother, as she was selfishly living out her retirement dream and sailing to the Bahamas at the time. But, she’s saving her first viewing of the new episodes for when I’m home for Christmas. And so, we will settle in with popcorn and wine (something we couldn’t do the first time around), and likely cry together when we hear the “la las” and get to see our female role models.

In short: Moms are cool, my mom is amazing, and this show is everything to me.

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I have a vagina and I’m mad

Originally I had titled this post something like “strong female characters are the worst,” because I truly hate when people praise a piece of media like a book or movie because of the “strong female lead.” Have you ever in your life heard the phrase “strong male lead?” No, because it is assumed when you say “male character” that said character will be strong, capable, probably handsome, and generally will save the day. (You only have different than the stock male lead when you specifically qualify it such as by saying “nerdy male character”) (and, of course, this in and of itself is problematic, because it is presuming that there is no overlap between nerdy and strong).

And yet. It seems to me, and to a lot of people on the internet that share my opinion, the stock female character is a simpering damsel in distress. If you say “female lead” more likely than not she will be a second to the (strong) male lead. You must specify that actually, your character is different from others because she is strong.

And that is bullshit. Thank you, Star Wars, for finally getting a female lead in your movies who is more than a princess, but everyone stop saying she’s “strong.” She just IS.

Anyway, other people have said this better than me, and I’m so enraged today I’d rather segue this into something else: people hate women. This is just a thing. Don’t be shocked. The evidence is there, and persistent, and pervasive, and tiring. (And I’m saying this from a relative place of privilege as a cis, straight, white, middle-class individual). Nowhere is this more evident than the 2016 United States presidential election wherein a misogynistic, jingoistic, racist, xenophobic, demagogic known sexual predator won over one of the most qualified presidential candidates in recent history who happens to have a vagina.

Don’t give me any bullshit about why you voted for the demagogue (“I’M not a racist! I just like people who are!”). I’m sure that is perfectly true for a wide swath of the population – at least, I have to hope so, because otherwise this country truly is going to hell – but the cold, hard, fact is that women are treated with suspicion when anyone has a hint at their strength. A female lead is supposed to be nurturing; a strong female lead is someone who doesn’t know her place.

I just finished Lean In and learned about the Heidi/Howard study and I can’t stop thinking about it. Harvard Business School did a case study in which two groups of students were given a description of a successful entrepreneur. One group was told the entrepreneur’s name was Heidi; the other group was told Howard. The students rated Howard more positively, saying he seemed to be a more “appealing” colleague, where Heidi was seen as selfish and not someone who you would want to work with. This was literally the same (fictional) person – the only difference was in gender.

I have so much more than I could say about this, but I’m trying to stop dwelling on why people hate women (or, in general, those who are a different color/religion/culture/gender identity/sexuality than “what a normal American is”) and focus instead on the future. I’m setting up recurring donations to women’s rights organizations and actively seeking volunteer opportunities with the National Organization for Women, NARAL, and immigrant/refugee support centers. I can’t do a lot, but I can do this.

Also, screw you if you say a book is good because it has a “strong female lead” but here are some awesome pieces of art that have/are written by just normal, strong, flawed, funny females. This is by no means an exhaustive list – just what I pulled from books I’ve read in the last year or so – so please comment with anything else  I should add to my TBR pile:

  • Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg
  • Shrill, Lindy West
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore girls
  • Parks and Rec
  • Some Kind of Happiness, Claire Legrand
  • Leave Me, Gayle Forman
  • Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay
  • Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
  • The Thursday Next series, Jasper Fforde

The Best of October

I’ll be honest: I can be kind of a grinch when it comes to October (actually, I’m kind of a grinch about everything – I was complaining my butt off about how the summer was too hot, and look at me getting ready to moan about October!). Don’t get me wrong – I love me some fall cliches, the cooler weather, and finally taking out my sweaters and boots again. But there is one thing about October I don’t love… Halloween.

I KNOW, I KNOW. I’m a monster (every day of the year). But in honor of all the things I do love about October, allow me a non-bookish blog post with a detailed ranking.

Behold! The best things about October:

Reason 47,896: Halloween

I admit it: I don’t love Halloween. Coming up with a costume is stressful and often expensive, it’s usually too cold to wear for the end of October, and I tend to dislike any holidays that mainly revolve around drinking (see: New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras) and prefer holidays that revolve around presents (see: Christmas, birthdays, also the fact that I am obviously spoiled). So, I sometimes celebrate Halloween – the gentleman is a big fan of clever couple’s costumes, which is stressful in and of itself – but I do it with a slight scowl.

Moving on to happier things!

Reason 5: Mini candy

DUH, October is cool because of the explosion of mini candy bars in the store. Perfect K10 snacking size.

Reason 4: The smells and the cuddles

At my heart, I’m an 85-year-old woman, so nothing delights me more than to finally have a reason to sit on my couch, lit a nice-smelling candle, and cuddle up with a book, Netflix, or a person (sometimes).

Reason 3: Earlier sunsets

OOOH, I’m a maverick! I secretly get stressed out in summer when the sun sets super late, feeling guilty for being inside when it’s *sO gLoRiOuS* outside. An earlier sunset gives me the perfect excuse to stay firmly inside.

Reason 2: The Return of Fall TV

Finally, after a long, dry summer of television, my stories are back.

Reason 1: The *EXCELLENT* Halloween media I always have to consume this time of year

Tradition is tradition, folks. Starting when I was a baby freshman in college, I watched a few Halloween classics with my friends annually: namely, Hocus Pocus (obviously) and “And Then There Was Shawn” on Boy Meets World.

Everyone’s seen Hocus Pocus – OR SHOULD HAVE – but I implore you, go back and watch that episode of BMW. It is genuinely one of my favorite things and brings me a chuckle every time. “We’ll always remember he was this tall.” “You put on weight since the last time you were scared?” It’s just the best, people.

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Since then I’ve added in some other good media selections – Return of the Living Dead (which is just pure absurdity), the Parks and Rec Halloween episodes, and – of course – the Community Halloween episodes, especially the one where they all turn into zombies. Stop what you are doing and watch that RIGHT NOW.

WHO KEEPS THROWING CATS?!

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Note: not from that episode referenced, but also an amazing ep.

In related news, I just realized Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is streaming on Hulu, so excuse me while I do that forever.