“13th”, and the importance of listening to other voices when they speak…

I’ve had Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th on my to-watch list for a while now. But it was a film I needed to be in the right mind-state to watch. I’ve not been in the right headspace to actively view anything for a while, but as soon as I was this was my first choice. 

And here’s the thing that struck me.  

I knew every single fact this film presented. But I had never put them together in such a way to realise what it was that they were showing me. 

I shouldn’t have needed someone else to make me realise these things. 

But I did. 

I am white privilege. There’s no denying it. But I’m also like to believe that I’m educated, left-wing, and that I think critically about the world around me. I try and fight unconscious bias. I try to look beyond my own world and see the lives of others. 

But boy, oh boy does privilege get in the way of me seeing things. 

As I watched 13th, I realised I knew each fact that they presented. I know about slavery. I know about the civil rights movement. I know how life for people of colour is innately harder. I know about the ways right-wing politicians have weaponised race. I know x. I know y. I know z

I know all those things. 

I just don’t see them. 

I don’t feel them in the way they needed to be felt. 

I’ve never experienced them. 

If you’d ever asked me, I would have said I knew all about the problems people of colour have faced historically, and face now. I would never have claimed that I understood their experience –  or that I could – but I would have said that I knew what that experience was. 

DuVernay has shown me exactly how little I saw any of it. 

There is knowing, and there is seeing and understanding. 

I didn’t put it all together. I didn’t see the depth. Or the history. Or the exhaustion. Or the anger. Or the fear. 

I can look down at all those born into vast wealth, all those who went to private schools, all those who can trace their family lines back to ancient aristocracy, all those who got their high flying jobs through family connections, all those who have never even considered what it might feel like to worry about not being able to afford something they need, and say “I’m better than those people”.  

But I am just as much a product of white privilege as they are. My life isn’t theirs, but I’m still white. 

Just because I haven’t benefitted from the system as much as some, it doesn’t mean I haven’t benefited from it at all. It doesn’t mean I’ve ever questioned it. It doesn’t mean I haven’t made racist comments simply because I didn’t think about how offensive they were. Or, even worse, because I wasn’t educated enough to know they were offensive. Doesn’t mean I’ve ever called people out for making the same comments because they weren’t “that bad”, as if there’s a sliding scale of racism and as long as you don’t go too far it’s okay. 

I’m going to try and do better. I’m going to made an effort to actively look out more films and read books about the subject, to actively think about the media I’m consuming and the places I work. I’m going to try and stop allowing myself to not notice when all the people around me, in either my personal and professional lives, are white. 

The amount of whiteness in my life shouldn’t be normal. “It’s how I grew up” isn’t an excuse. 

Hopefully I can do better. I’ll get it wrong. Privilege is a hard thing to break through, if only for the fact that part of its very essence is to hide itself in the everyday. But I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep listening. Hopefully people in my life will not let me fall back into old habits, and hopefully I won’t allow them to either. 

It’s no one’s job but my own to ensure I improve myself. I just ask that people don’t allow me to slip into bad habits, and in return I shall try to do the same. 

Recommendation: “The War of the Wolf” by Bernard Cornwell

Now an old man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg finds himself drawn back to Wessex by old oaths and the inevitable coming invasion of Northumbria. But while an ailing King Edward means that soon he’ll find himself marching south, for now he is drawn north by personal vengeance and what may be his final battle.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about Bernard Cornwall’s series being very samey. I can understand the argument. But I still find that each once is just as readable as the last, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for War of the Wolf to come out in paperback.

I think these books avoid seeming too similar by being based on history. The characters are driven by on actual events, and so while the plot and characters may undeniably have a similarity across all the books, the fact they are draped over the backdrop of history gives them a realism they might otherwise have lacked.

Saying that, I would have though I’d have liked this one less. The majority of the story in War of the Wolf is not based in real events. Essentially, the book sets up the coming death of Edward and rise of Ethelstan that I assume will be the drive of the next story, leaving the majority of the story fictional. But I still enjoyed reading this just as much as the previous stories.

There’s also the fact we’re coming to the end of this series. Uhtred is now in his sixties. And while he, our narrator, can’t die, Cornwall does a very good job of showing age catching up with him. He’s losing speed. He’s still imposing, but lacks the raw power of youth that drove him before. And at the same time, he can see that Christianity is winning, and the old religion, his religion, is passing away. He’s a man beginning to face his own mortality, but in a way that suits the character.

There’s maybe two more books left to this series, assuming that it will end with Ethelstan’s rise as the first king of England (sorry for spoilers, but I think we’re out of the statute of limitations for events over a millennia ago), and War of the Wolf kind of has the feeling of a quick breather before the final push to the climax of the story of the creation of England.

If you’re a fan of the series, that fact is going to leave you more than excited for the next instalment.

TV Show of the Year 2018: Final Space

I had a few contenders for my TV Show of the Year. Both Bojak Horseman and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had new seasons, and there are always amazing new shows coming out. And then, right at the end of the year, The Haunting of Hill House came out and blew me away. I mean, I was and still am angry that it did the lazy thing of buying the rights of the book just to use the title to draw people in (it is nothing to do with the novel) but the series itself was amazing.

But in the end I’m picking Final Space as my TV Show of the Year 2018.

Final Space

This is one of those shows that surprises you. Like Bojak Horseman you go in expecting little more than a fun, lighthearted animation, but by the end of the first season you realise you’ve been tricked into watching something deep, filled with intelligent plot and complex characters.

If you give this show a go, you need to push through the first couple of episodes until the style clicks. At first the protagonist comes across as not as funny as he’s trying to be. A little too zany, seemingly throwing around jokes that don’t quite hit. By after a while you realise they’re not meant to be jokes. It’s not him doing a “bit”, but just his personality.

I’m not saying that it’s the greatest show ever. There have been ones this year that have been more complex, worthy, epic, or emotional. But Final Space gives an experience that subverts your expectations, making what you think will be a simple cartoon sci-fi programme and giving you character depth and plot complexity that you just weren’t expecting.

Plus, if you don’t fall in love with Moonpie then you have neither and heart nor a soul. And that’s just sad.

fullsizeoutput_37dd

I have a Moonpie cushion, because my wife knows how to buy good birthday gifts!

My 2016 TV Show of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

This one gave me a little difficulty. We all know that we’re in a so-called “Golden Age of Television”, and as much as that phrase is tired and overused I can’t deny that with subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime I’ve had copious excellent television to get through. By rather than one of the series that everyone’s already raved about online, I’m going to pick one that we started watching on a whim without knowing anything about it and turned out to the be one of the cleverest TV shows I’ve seen in a long time.

ceg

On the day Rebecca Bunch is finally about to reach her lifelong goal of being made a Partner in a prestigious New York legal firm, she is suddenly struck by just how miserable she truly is. Then, mid-breakdown – she runs into an old boyfriend. Releasing that the time she dated him – for just 3 months one summer over a decade ago – was the last time she was truly happy, Rebecca drops everything and follows him across the country to win him back.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the smartest pieces of television writing I’ve watched in years. While the premise could be one of a thousand bland rom-coms or generic sitcoms, writer and star Rachel Bloom instead created something that’s both a fun musical show and a deep look into the divide between what society has taught us to think we want and what we actually need.

Rebecca drops a high-flying legal career to be with the boy of her dreams. Why wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? They had a Meet-Cute on the day she needed it the most. That’s what television and movies have taught us; that our fairytale will come true if we just believe enough to fight through all obstacles. Why should it matter that she’s stalked him across the country? Or that he’s been with the same girlfriend for fifteen years? Or that her actions throw the lives of so many people into chaos? It’s meant to be!

Ultimately, this show is about the delusions we build for ourselves to hide from the truths we don’t want to face.

While also being a light-hearted musical.

Did I say the writing on this show was really clever?ceg1cast3_0509ra-max-620x600

It’s the layers to the characters and the plots that make this show unmissable. They’ve managed to avoid or subvert every trope in their path, without a single lazy path taken. If two characters have an ‘amusing misunderstanding’, rather than stretching that out for an entire episode they will talk it out and focus instead on the underlying issues. We’re introduced to characters such as “the boss who wants to be everyone’s friend”, or “the controlling bitch girlfriend”, or “the love interest”, but as the series progresses you see how none of them are solely defined by these labels. You also see why they are this way. Why does the boss so desperately want people to like him? Why is the love interest’s girlfriend such a controlling bitch? Why does the love interest stay with his girlfriend even though she’s so unpleasant and demanding? And, most impressively, all of them change and grow in a way that suit the character rather than the longevity of the show. Or getting preachy.

Basically, if you’ve not caught this show I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do. It’s currently half way through its second season, and you won’t find many shows so that subvert television character tropes so well.