A Series of Unfortunate Series

The watching of series phenomenon has altered the way we live. I fear that family life will never be the same.

First came TV dinners; then came social media and lately series; all transforming us from social, companionable beings into individualistic  fowl who pop into our chicken coops after dinner with the zeal of a greedy child hiding the Christmas chocolate back in the advent calendar.

I suppose I am speaking on behalf of all those with addictive personalities – you know who you are: you have to finish all the chocolate once it is opened; you can’t stop scrolling through Facebook/Instagram notifications, even though you are bored already with other people’s family outings/ neatly arranged meal/cocktail/ or random sunset; you just have to try once more to reach reach the next level on Candy Crush, and of course you who cannot stop until you have finished every season of a series.

Binge watching is the problem, not the series itself. I mean ever since Charles Dickens first began publishing his works in serial form, both weekly and monthly, readers have become used to anticipating the next episode.  Daily and weekly television programmes did the same thing. Who does not remember the excitement of the opening bars of the Dallas theme or the desire to know who shot JR?! Now, however, an entire season of a show is dumped on Showmax or Netflix (I don’t want to know if you are pirating your addiction) and we no longer have to delay gratification by waiting to see the outcome of the cliffhanger ending, because Netflix tells us that the next episode of Luther is opening in …7…6…5…seconds. And then you carry on, even if you really should switch off and go to sleep; have sex with your spouse; or have a conversation with a flesh and blood person. And let’s face it Idris Elba. Well, Idris Elba:Image result for idris elba

Too much of anything is bad for you, my mother always said. And reluctantly even Idris needs to be switched off from time to time because as Aristotle pointed out 3000 years ago, true happiness should not be confused with pleasure; and just to be clear, series are ‘passing pleasures’ they do not give us deep, soul happiness. In fact the obsessive consumption of episode after episode can cause the same kind of sick feeling after you’ve polished off the whole Cadbury’s Milk Choccie.

It seems some shows also result in rather tumultuous emotions:Related image Game of Thrones fans are so devout that they gather in bars for ‘watch parties, causing some problems for HBO because they are publicly screening the shows, costing the channel revenue. But just look at the picture above – this is the episode when we discover how Hodor got his name – my girls wept for half an hour after that. I still think these cult parties are better than the habit most of us have of disappearing into our own territory to watch alone though.

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Such solo viewing of series has brought about a new form of cheating on your loved ones. My husband and I used to watch series together, but because one or the other would want to stop after a while (that would be him – he has more restraint), accusations of going on alone can rend a relationship asunder.   There’s actually a name for it, I kid you not: ‘Netflix cheating’ and any number of ‘scholarly articles on betrayal-by-watching-on. Such behind-his-back watching was found to be considered worse than sending flirty smses to someone else in one study. Seriously?! And yet this addiction for ‘just one more’ is so compelling …

Like all film media, we must always consider the hidden cultural messages we are being exposed to. There is your usual standard US propaganda in shows about law enforcement. And here I must pick on services like HBO yet again with the gratuitous sex and violence in shows such as Game of Thrones. Pause to consider that the target audience of channels such as HBO are 18-44 years and male and you get an idea whose interests are being catered for. This explains why there is so much hyper-masculinity and misogyny vis a vis nudity and the general way women are depicted. We become so inured to regular blood-spouting decapitations and debauchery that they begin to seem normal. And that is how stereotypes and implicit bias works, my friends.

Big Bang Theory has been accused of ‘the complicity of geek masculinity’ in reinforcing gender stereotypes, despite having as its protagonists ‘unconventional male characters’. So beware of those hidden biases when you watch your series and ensure you are not unconsciously assisting in the perpetuation of homophobia, hyper-masculinity and misogyny.

Of course one could avoid watching these shows, but – the FOMO darling! I just had to watch – and to be honest it was rather satisfying to see the chicks taking control. Now if I say ‘and there’s Jon Snow’ I shall reveal my own sad objectification of men. So I won’t say, ‘And then there’s Jon Snow.’

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At least with sub-titled shows, we also have exposure to other cultural experiences. We have been fascinated by Rita set in a school in Denmark and has shown some interesting contrasts to our educational offerings: small, glass-walled classrooms for one.

Then there is the Rocky-III phenomenon. Some shows go on longer than they should. They have a season or two, the producers are making money, so they carry on with further seasons which just just don’t have the same sizzle. Sometimes a story is exhausted after its initial telling. Then it should stop to avoid the soapie-type serial developing. Orphan Black,  for example, just got so convoluted and ridiculous that I stopped watching. Breaking Bad got it right. Mind you that was the most mind-blowingly brilliant show ever! As a work of art, it was sheer brilliance. And it ended. My daughter has been nagging me to watch The new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale which is also a superb piece of theatre and despite being rather dark it is compelling. This one at least has a screenplay for the new season written by the original author so there may be some integrity there, but I do hope it does not become like the sequel to To Kill a Mocking Bird, which ruined the original.

Anyway I’m off to my own coop now to snuggle in and watch the next episode of my current show. “Winter is coming’ after all.

 

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Read to know; not right to know.

Image result for the right to know celebrity privacyAuthorship:

The ‘unmasking’ of author Elena Ferrante’s, who has been writing under a nom de plume since 1991 begs the question of the ‘whether the public has a ‘right to know’ as the journalist who set about discovering her identity claims, and calls into question the cult of the celebrity as well.

I write autobiographically and I use my own name and those of my family members liberally. That is my choice. I’d love to say that I have stretched the truth about what goes on inside our home, but seriously you couldn’t make this stuff up. It does restrict me as a writer somewhat because I have to remember I have a public persona at school and one doesn’t want to reveal too much dirty laundry, especially the teenage boys’, but knowing my name doesn’t mean my audience owns me or has a right to pry into my mail.

I invite the reader into the bedlam that exists around us for the vicarious enjoyment of other war-torn parents not quite coping with the tumult of raising a family, in order to make others look anew at their lives and think, ‘Thank God I am not as bad as Colleen.’ I don’t mind if unknowns ‘know me,’ (It’s hard to hide when you drive a large, noticeable bus around town with 4 ?/2 redheads) but I am certainly not inviting Joe and Julie Public and their awful kids to picnic on our lawn (It’s full of prickly weeds and windblown pollen from the neighbour’s tree, which is guaranteed to irritate your allergies anyway).

I do not have the talent to create worlds and characters as a creator of fiction might. Elena Ferrante does. I do not have the desire to keep my name unknown. Elena Ferrante does. That is surely her right. If you buy her books and enter her world, you have not bought her. Your relationship is with her characters only. While you may be intrigued by the mystery behind her anonymity you do not own her or her personal story, because her personal story is not what she is selling. The public does not have a right to know.

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare at the moment. If I have learnt anything from it, along with my years of English teaching, it is that we don’t know much about old Willem Wikkelspies. Personally I think Marlowe wrote all that stuff, but that’s another story, which serves only to irritate Shakespeare’s purists who can’t prove he did because we don’t know anything about him. The art must speak for itself whoever wrote it and it does. That is what has made his work so durable. The characters tell the human story no matter who put quill to paper.

Actors and even reality television entertainers are entitled to privacy. They participate in a film or programme and after that we do not own them. We pay to watch a film, not to know that Brad Pitt may or may not have been drunk on a plane or that some emaciated Survivor star is bonking an Idols finalist. Unlike the royals who frankly are owned by their nations (yet still are entitled to tan topless in the peace of their homes), celebrities are private citizens. I don’t want to know the details of Kim Kardashian’s ordeal during a robbery, despite having been invited into her onscreen world (and gracefully declining). In fact that robbery is perhaps an extreme result of some folk thinking they even have a right to the possessions of famous people. Not even the trashy Osbournes want you to or let you see everything.

This is not about censoring the right to know what our governments are doing or the l’art pour l’art view, because for me, all art clearly comes out of and is part of a moral and historical framework. But, unless a novel is written by a criminal who is profiteering from his crime or a politician who should be spending the time in office serving the people not selling books to them, I say we should leave the jolly author alone!

However, you are welcome to send me money and flowers. Then I’ll show you my new toenail polish if you like. The girls say it’s ‘a bit bright, you know!’

Thoughts on thoughts

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Sometimes I make the mistake of asking my family members what they think I should write about. More than anything else, it gives me a glimpse into their thoughts.

‘Write about me,’ one giddy teenager proclaims, while spilling toothpaste on herself, next to her pyjama clad twin, who at least suggested the more mature topic of the crisis in higher education. That tricky topic was echoed by an older sibling who maintained I should consider the debate around decolonisation of universities.

‘Explore why one moment they (our offspring) are watching Barney and Noddy and the next they have rejected their childhood,’ said Andrew, ever conscious of the aging process in others, ‘or sadistic teenagers’ (corrected by one to ‘edgy’ teen) without taking his eyes off FIFA ’16, handed down by Michael who is now on to FIFA ’17.

I won’t ask him, the footballer, I thought, because he will either suggest how they have not yet solved the FIFA cheating glitch with the new version, or something like the vagaries of the English Football transfer window. And the only thing I know about that particularly confusing aperture is that it is now closed.

Sean believes I should review a book and I just might dissect one of the Jeffrey Eugenides novels I have recently finished (if you haven’t discovered this writer and need a chuckle, while coming to grips with deep stuff, he’s your man – Jeffrey, not Sean). Sean’s first suggestion was a self-conscious exploration on the writing of a blog, but, as you can see, I’m way ahead of him.

Liam is MIA tonight, but he told me to stop writing or I would be late for mass (such a good boy! I can say that because he is at the Marais’ house annoying them). Mika on the other hand hummed and hawed and suggested ‘cooking.’ Mwahahaha. But I could mention that Lizzy is now baking banana loaf which smells sublime.

I eventually broke down and asked Michael who merely said ‘I don’t know’ – I hope that is not what he is thinking, but I do have a fair idea now about what each of my other beloved relatives is contemplating. Which begs the question: What am I thinking about and why do I not have a topic of conversation at hand?

The answer is a trifle sad, I must confess: other than worrying about my school’s upcoming Umalusi desktop submission and my own inertia in beginning some of the policy writing I need to do, and wondering whether eight o’clock is too early to go to bed and read my book in the school holidays, I’m not really having any deep insights on life or personal epiphanies. Teasing out the semiotics of such thoughts, what I have realised is that my whole focus generally is on the needs and interests of my family (which is good but can be a bit Betty Crockerish) and my school (Yes, important during term-time); yet I have not cultivated any actual hobbies of my own which often has me getting caught in the middle of trying to please everyone and ignoring my own self.

So, to my horror, on a Sunday night I am having to admit that I am suffering from housewife’s angst. It’s disturbing to admit that even executive women can subjugate their ‘self’ to the vagaries of external views (even though in this case, to be fair, I actually asked the family what I should be sharing in my blog). But I think we women, all too often fall prey to a subversion of self which we mistake as Christian kindness, but often erases ourselves and our own interests or needs, as we try to please everyone.

No more of that. (Even though from time to time – I must remain a bit of a martyr in order to use that against the progeny) I shall employ  a new philosophy which I cannot politely name (it rhymes with ‘bucket’). I shall indulge my own thoughts and share my own ideas.

After that I shall ask my family what they think about my blog.

Writer’s Block

Rowling wrote the opening of the Harry Potter Books on a serviette in a coffee shop. So. I’m in a coffee shop. But there are no serviettes; my coffee is finished and there are no book ideas. People keep saying I should write a book, but I am ashamed to say that I keep being distracted by people-watching.

I should be beginning a saga about the triumph of endeavour and the resilience of the human spirit. Instead, I am amusing myself by gleefully reminding myself that that toddler clunking his toy cars on the table like Roger Taylor and screaming fit to bust is not mine.  Aaaand… oops… he is so desperate to get Mom’s attention (while she discreetly breastfeeds the next in the line of future teachers’ nightmares) that he is threatening to paddle in the water feature.  I catch the eye of a new mom, gracefully sipping her latte while engaged in dignified conversation with the older, elegant version of herself and we share an amused look. What she doesn’t realise is that I am also thinking, ‘ hee hee – that will be you in two years, chick.’

It’s a motley crew that surrounds me at the neighbouring tables: the man next to me has an eye patch and his female companion, nice and comfy in her ugly scuffed Uggs is patiently listening to his bluster. A pregnant mom battles up the adjacent stairs with a somnolent pre-schooler in her arms, who wakes up halfway and wails (more schadenfreude for the old cow at my table). How I remember those days of schlepping ‘sleeping kids (and/or large bags of dogfood in shops) around!

Outside the picture window a gardener diligently weeds the island circle and my thoughts digress to his life off the job. Did he walk all this way to work from Dunoon? What struggles has he overcome and how is this menial labour covering all his needs? An old man shuffles past, supported on both sides by two young women, presumably his grand-daughters. Both are laughing uproariously at something he has said, heads thrown back, delighted in his company, despite his slow progress.

I chuckle at the awkwardness of a succession of men carrying wives’ handbags which dangle unnaturally from their arms, as they attempt to come to terms with this perceived ‘unmanly’ contraption. (One looks quite heavy too). A man hops out the entrance to stand waiting for a lift at the entrance rotunda, clearly unused to the crutches perched painfully beneath his arms.

Then it strikes me that I am witnessing precisely what I was guiltily trying to contemplate: Here, from my booth in the hospital cafetaria, I am watching people survive adversity and conquer their personal demons  simply  by living.

Whether it is family, like the old man, dogged stoicism, like the gardener, companionship or Prozac (what Dennis the Menace’s mom is dreaming of), or even the faith supported by benign and innocuous ministers of religion like the one I saw clutching his bible as he strode off to visit the sick, something drives each of us to overcome life’s difficulties.

It’s certainly not the crappy abstract art that some painter has prostituted his talent to produce  for the clinic’s walls!