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Ideal weekend: rain, books, tea, and geek comedy ftw. Tons of schoolwork, maybe less ideal, but some of it is actually really interesting.

(I went on a bureacuratic treasure hunt through the university and managed to sign up for an "introduction to lit theory" class, ("But why?" Lit department. "It sounds really interesting," I say. "You understand it's theory, yes? Just...theory.") and it's honest to god making me giddy. I'm sitting there in class while the prof explains the breaking of genre in Thelma and Louise and literally bouncing up and down a little. Structuralism! OMG, structuralism. Where has this been all my life?)

Anyway, ahem,

Community was pretty good, though on-the-nose social satire might not be their strongest suit. Read more... )

Interestingly meta episode from TBBT, which usually isn't meta in the slightest. Not as bleak as last week, but it had it's moments.

I got into an interesting argument elsewhere about which show is more politically progressive, and I really do have to go with TBBT, even though that maybe makes me insane. Community simply embraces a kind of post-modern fantasy of progressivism, you know? Both shows think the world is fucked and are critical of it, but Community creates an escape, while TBBT admits its power.

Characters on Community do escape, but into this fantasy world. (Community is at it's most interesting, I think, when it suddenly looks in the mirror and admits that Greendale isn't real life. But then it shies away from that again.) One that is properly racially diverse and celebrates education, growth and the ability of good friends and can-do spirit to get you through anything. TBBT has a bunch of people trying to do that, and failing. Dismally, pathetically and gracelessly, to an intrusive laughtrack and embarrassing jokes. (I find that hearbreaking and clear- eyed, but I see why it's not everyone's idea of a good time.)

It's just my usual argument about finding any kind of story that merely gets representation right more than a little politically tepid. Just because your show/book/whatever is wonderfully sensitive and inclusive of race/gender/orientation/etc, doesn't make it actively progressive, merely tolerable. (For example, Meljean Brooks books or even Brooklyn 99, at it's worst.) It can even obscure, rather than expose, the underlying structures of oppression.

I get that "exposing structures of oppression" might not be everyone's idea of a useful thing for a sitcom or a romance novel to do, but we're actually quite happy being super-critical of representation in precisely the most popular, omni-present sort of media. I really don't know which is more politically effective - the cynical exposure of misery or the presentation of a hopeful alternative.

It's very possible that the work the latter does, with the normalization of gay characters or women in the workplace or whatever else these things have contributed to has been more socially worthwhile. But as art, I prefer something like Scandal or The Big Bang Theory, or even Remington Steele, that subvert the post-modern progressive ideal by having it crash up against good old human folly and weakness. Showing the characters trapped in their socially curated needs to fit in, to be loved, to feel cool, strikes me as more interesting and more powerful than showing the people who've magically escaped.

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I am loving this meme. If anyone wants to hear me ramble about anything else, drop me a note. The second half of the month is pretty weedy. Anyhoo:

Favorite Female Characters

I capped it at 3, both because I started running out of time, and because, while there's many, many female characters out there I love and celebrate and think are awesome and want to win at everything forever...these are some of the ones I find really fundamentally compelling. They're not necessarily all that awesome, or badass, or even strong all the time, but they're tangled and knotty and human, and I'm all over that.

Mellie, Scandal - I simply cannot look away from her. She's brilliant, vicious, magnificently bitchy, furious, ambitious, self-destructive, disciplined, passionate, desperate, lonely and basically a horrible person, but that does nothing to make her a whit less sympathetic. I love her. A woman who embodies all the hypocricies and the lies about what women are supposed to be, who chafes under them until she's raw but ties her own knots all the tighter, because this is what she set out to do and she will never, ever, surrender.

The moment I really fell for her? When she's ranting, gloriously, about everything she's sacrificed for him - her ambitions, her career, her home...she had his children for him. It's not so much that I loved her for being a mother who admitted she perhaps never particularly wanted children, it's that she never particularly wanted children and she had them anyway. For him, for his career, for his ambitions, so they could look right on the campaign trail. How amazingly insane is that? Who does that? How much do you have to want it, to tie your life together like that for someone? What have you been taught, what do you believe about what you can do yourself, not as someone's wife that you will turn every single aspect of yourself over to a man's political ambition, that you would make that ambition the core of your being?

And yet. She's not a doormat. She's not a victim of her praxis. She lies and cheats and steals and fumes her way through life. Sometimes she's all soulless, loveless political ambition, looking at her husband's long-term mistress with sneering contempt when she isn't good enough at being his mistress, and then she's this vast, dangerous operatic storm of a person, begging him to at least pretend to love her. At least in public. She'll do the rest.

Amy Farrah Fowler, The Big Bang Theory - Amy makes me really, really acutely uncomfortable, but in a good way. Assuming there is a good way. (I have kind of zero tolerance for sentimentality, so I take sitcoms really seriously and have a blast.)

She's a stunningly vulnerable person, and she's a stunningly vulnerable character. She's not pretty. She wears garish clothes and clumpy shoes. She's not nice and she never catches a break. She's confident, rude, weird, condescending, inappropriate, really, really smart...and apparently the loneliest person on earth. I love all the contradictions of her, how they add up. How she dives into friendship and romance and sociability like an elephant into a china shop. She just has this ridiculous, raw courage, I think, where she'll stand up and just say I think I want this now. Be my friends, be my lover.

At the same time, that gives her such vast capacity to be hurt, and the show doesn't shy away from it. Watching her play with femininity like it's a new toy she's taken out of the box and suffering for it, is uncomfortable and subversive. Watching her fixate her affection on someone who is probably incapable of ever returning it is heartbreaking. Watching her managing to wrest bits of dignity and intimacy out of the molasses-slow wreckage of it all is sometimes kind of sublime.

Laura Holt, Remington Steele - Ok, Laura is badass, and awesome, and strong all the time. And she has an excellent collection of hats. She is, first and foremost, just cleverer and braver and by and large better at almost anything than almost anyone else, and it appears to be driving her crazy.

She's a brilliant detective and she has this almost absurd physical courage - she regularly jumps in front of moving cars, drives like a maniac, gets into fights, breaks into houses, climbs fire escapes in heels - whatever needs doing. The show makes no particular fuss about it, it's just the way she is.

Laura is after...everything. Some perfection of life - career and romance and glamour and ambition. She'll be a beautiful woman celebrated for her brains, with a man who's perfectly masculine and perfectly supportive on her arm, all at the same time. She is going to solve every question ever raised by feminism single-handedly, before lunch, while wearing heels. If she needs to will it into existence, than that's what she will do. She spends the whole show running up hard against the fact that it isn't perfect. That other people aren't perfect. That they will go their own way and do their own thing, and that they will love her in their way, with their own quirks and their own caveats.
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An arc! A giant crazy arc! What the hell were they going for with these 4.5 hours anyway? What were they trying to achieve?

Oh, who cares. I thought it was great. The lies, the deceptions! Twists and turns! All the betrayals and regrets! The KGB agent chained up in the dungeon! 

I don't know why this is considered a terrible season...it has a certain mad epic ambition I can't help but admire. 
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Apparently this episode is widely loathed? So wrong - it's kind of fabulous. 
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Truly, the past is a different country, but keeping a computer next to the kitchen sink?!? 1986, you baffle. 
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So in this episode American private investigators join forces with Moscow police to defeat an American tycoon and a Soviet apparatchnik? Excellent. Feminist and with it's class politics in the right place! Oh show. The Cold War was just adorkable, seen from here. (Also, Laura's grey-brown suit and matching fedora? Totally awesome. And totally 80's. I think i'm becoming immune. Or surrendering to the infection.) 
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4.08 - Coffee, Tea or Steele - hi there, absurd depraved 80's decadence! Arab oil sheikhs and everything! So Laura gets sidelined and harassed for being a woman, which hasn't been a major theme for a while, at least not this blatantly. I wonder if it's deliberately to go hand in hand with the odious 1%er setting. 

4.09 - Good grief, cheekbones. Also, suspenders. On to the list of things we need to get men wearing again you go.   Also, "Kafkaesque". Aw, and Laura takes Christmas really seriously. Of course she does. And Steele...doesn't. Because *wibble*. No fair pulling the Dickensian stuff like that in what starts out as a silly episode, and with cheekbones and suspenders. Really, it's just bloody cheating. *wibble*. 

That image of the top floors of a very tall, steel and glass, building exploding, ouch. What history will do to a nice piece of  Christmas thriller-farce. And Vietnam, also ouch. I can't tell how much of this is supposed to be played for laughs (everything is about 'Nam, man*) and how much is just tragic. Or both, or how we're supposed to swing along with the changing emotional tone of the episode. Whatever, it works for me. And I really should have called who the villain was!

*I did a couple weeks of watches in psycho-settlements out past Hebron back in boot camp. We were once greeted by a man in a cowboy hat, an ankle length coat, a long white beard and two pistols on his belt, who explained in this amazing American accent that he used to in the Marines, man, in 'Nam, man, and he's got more weapons than a platoon in his house, man, and if anyone he didn't like so much as looked sideways at him, he'd blow their head off. Man. Didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
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I can't decide if the best line of this episode is "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," or "I'll get you the whole MGM catalog on video tape."

So that kind of whiplashed between a typical mad hijinks RS episode, and the rarer but welcome deep-and-emotional RS episode. Really rather vicious turn there with the bombs and the guilt. Monroe is a great character. I'd wish he'd show up again, but he probably won't. The total dearth of secondary characters really stands out sometimes. Don't know if it's something of it's time or just a peculiarity of the show. The only other 80's shows I can recall ever watching a lot of were, I think, ST:TNG and, er, Fame - both of which had large, ever evolving, ensemble casts. 
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4.05 - Forged Steele - There are issues and they are about trust and it is complicated...so they talk about it. Straight away. Like adults. And it's intelligent and interesting. And hot. Also, the hole in the floor was fabulous. Great plot.  

4.06 - Corn Fed Steele - Did this have something to do with Reaganism? I dunno. Nevermind, I was distracted by collarbones and barnyard puns anyway. 

Gradually, fashionwise, one can begin to see echoes of what will one day be known as the 90's. It's not precisely attractive, per say, but nevertheless kind of a relief. 

Watched Brave last night, and must confess to being a teensy bit underwhelmed. It worked best for me on the humor level - I laughed quite a bit. Alas, I was also a little bit bored quite a bit. The plot was just slightly too thin, with too few characters being given any development to go on that long. It needed a subplot or something. It's also very, very pretty, but nothing quite made me go wow visually either. Still, unusual subject matter dealing with mother-daughter relashionships in a way that isn't awful is welcome. 

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 "Have I Got a Steele For You" 

Aha! It clicks. I grok Laura now, beyond just thinking she's generalized awesome of all sorts: she's simply the bastard lovechild of Ada Lovelace and Batman. 

No, really - she's a superhero. She's always on a mission, she's right and she knows it, she's got a touch of the vigilante to her, and she must ruthlessly place her brilliant analytical mind between herself and the world, lest the unquenchable fire of her grand passions drive her inevitably to madness and grief. And she has no sense of personal safety at all, ever. If she could fight crime by running around at night in a costume and kicking ass, she totally would. That she's not constantly doing things that are outrageously physically and personally dangerous is mostly due to an iron discipline and a sound grasp of statistics, not because she ever believes for one moment that she can't pull it off. She's like the emotional equivalent of those people who can't feel pain and have to be super, super careful and pad their houses because otherwise they'll be walking around with broken shins and things and never notice.

Also, hats. 


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