Victoria Jelinek


Arrested Development

The third season of Netflix’s series Ozark was recently released and everyone is talking about it and whether a fourth season will be greenlit. I’m keen because Jason Bateman executive produced it, is directing and starring in the series, and he’s fantastic and talented. An extra boon is that the brilliant and wry Laura Linney co-stars. I always liked Bateman, but he won my admiration through the TV series Arrested Development, so I thought to revisit this work of genius in case you’ve already binge watched season three of Ozark.

arrested devpt

Arrested Development is based on the radically dysfunctional family Bluth (fictional of course). It’s more subversive than Modern Family (btw, I like Modern Family very much). Each season of this brilliant sit-com was always in danger of cancellation despite numerous awards, including several Emmy’s. But this didn’t stop creator Mitchell Hurwitz and the rest of the team (inclusive of Ron Howard, who is its narrator) from defying the usual crowd-pleasing antics of the genre. It made them more satirical and absurd as though they had nothing to lose. The show flouts political correctness as it takes clever and humorous swipes at everything in contemporary society: the comfort of family; the general incompetence of businessmen, inclusive of the television and movie industries (the narrator critiques the art of narration during an episode); war, via “mama’s boy” Buster Bluth’s progression in the US army; and the flawed things we all do to get through our day. One of my favorite episodes includes the montaged intervention for alcoholic mother Lucille Bluth, which turns into “one of the Bluth family’s better parties.” There are running gags about self-absorption, repressed sexually, physical shame, fecklessness, and naiveté. At the center of it all is Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, whose dry, self-effacing wit and deadpan comic delivery, are ideally displayed here.

Watching Arrested Development is time well spent any way you look at it, but especially during our period of confinement.

 

 

 

 

 



Shameless USA

ShamelessShameless USA is a family drama based on the UK’s long-running hit of the same name. William H. Macy leads the cast as the working class patriarch of an unconventional Chicago clan of six kids who, helmed by their eldest sibling, Fiona, keep their ramshackle home afloat while their dad is out getting blindingly drunk each day.

While the original series, set in Manchester, is grimmer, grittier, and, arguably, more shameless than the USA based series, the American version is still good. Yes, even as the actors in the US version are more attractive, their teeth are good, and their home is larger and prettier than the British version (prompting the question of whether Americans are comfortable with the ugliness of poverty), their circumstances and behavior are similarly outrageous and touching. Sure, Americans don’t ‘do’ subtlety as well as the British, so much of the action is obvious and flat-footed (such as when young Debbie puts the pillow under the head of her passed out father, thereby showing us the acceptance and love that the family feel for him, rather than permitting the audience to discern that via observation), they are still an audacious, criminally-inclined family trying to survive without resources other than their wits and each other.

I came late to these series, which have both been running since 2004 and 2011*, respectively, but it’s never too late to watch entertaining television – particularly during confinement. Moreover, I have found that by watching these fictional families, which in many ways reflect the truth of poverty in that the people make perpetual sacrifices in order to meet the minimum needs of life, have to get by on practically nothing, and whose permitted aspirations are often little more than surviving, I have gained perspective about my own life’s desires and expectations. As I’m entertained watching this series, I’m also inspired and resolved to be more modest in general. And, at this terrible moment in our shared global history, that’s a good thing to learn and to remember as we face our collectively uncertain future.

*Ending in UK in 2013 and in USA in 2021.



The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man

The Accidental Further Adventures book reviewThe sequel to The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is another deft satire about the flaws of modern society. Using Allan and Julius’s latest adventures, with its madcap twists and turns, Jonasson creates a thought-provoking portrait of the current state of the world.

After climbing out the window of his retirement home on his 100th birthday and accidentally entangling himself in an epic adventure involving a suitcase full of cash and a gang of ruffians, the spry Allan and his best-and-only-friend Julius, settle into luxury on Bali. Most people wouldn’t grow bored of sipping cocktails beachside, but Allan and Julius aren’t like most people so their decadent life has become a bore and they’re restless. Julius decides to liven things up with a hot air balloon ride in honor of Allan’s one-hundred-and-first birthday. When the operator jumps out of the balloon to take a bite out of Allan’s birthday cake, Allan and Julius accidentally snap the lever that sets the balloon in motion and they go sailing up into the sky. But they’re not hot balloon experts, of course, and end up having a crash landing at sea before being rescued by a North Korean ship carrying smuggled uranium on board. Soon, Allan and Julius are swept up into an international diplomatic crisis that involves various global players such as Putin, Trump, Merkel, and Kim Jong-un.

I found myself looking forward to going to bed each night in order to continue reading this book in peace. Allan is an incredibly endearing character leading us through twists and turns galore in an intricately plotted book. All the while, Jonasson makes thoughtful and relevant points about power, truth, morality, and the role of perception in current affairs, and not in an ideological or pedantic way, but with nuance, wit, and warmth.

A highly amusing and intelligent book that I absolutely recommend!

 

 



XXII: Radio Play

We are taught to consume. And that’s what we do. But if we realized that there really is no reason to consume, that it’s just a mind set, that it’s just an addiction, then we wouldn’t be out there stepping on people’s hands climbing the corporate ladder of success. River PhoenixLove in Recovery

In my opinion, the best humor has a tragic core. And, what better source for dark and amusing material than addiction? Think of Carrie Fisher with her book (then film) Postcards from the Edge. Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mall Rats, or Get Him to the Greek.

Addiction forms the setting for Radio 4’s fantastic six-part series Love in Recovery. It’s such a funny and interesting radio play that after a friend sent me a link to one show, I plundered the BBC I Player back catalogue. I have both laughed and cried on occasion while listening. It’s sharp and fresh, even as the story of immoderation in alcohol is age-old.

There are lines throughout that I have pondered after each of the 15-minute vignettes, such as, “The hardest thing in the world is just getting through…” Or, “I waited to feel better…it never came.” Or, “There is no cure. You will never be fixed. It’s horrible. But it’s just the way it is.” These motifs speak to me. The illogical sense of complete failure, disappointment, and a life full of more regrets than triumphs are familiar. That unhappiness, insecurity, and the sense that I’m not what I might have been had I been someone else (if that makes any sense to a rational person) is the albatross I’ll carry forever. That drugs and alcohol blissfully stop my brain from thinking too much. The characters in Love in Recovery feel much the same way. It rings ‘true’ to me. And it should. The writer, Pete Jackson, has an interesting backstory, which provides the lynchpin for the radio play’s authenticity.

Amidst the distress and pain is much humor. There is the subtle (sic) nod to the great British ‘art’ of “grumbling,” as well as slang, dialects, and cultural references that contribute to a sense of the everyday and the ‘everyman.’ Like Andy, for example, the needy group leader, who’s constantly offering cookies (biscuits) to the participants with the enticement that, “They’re from M&S.” And, as is often the case in the best Brits, humor coexists with self-deprecation and sadness. For example, one episode finds Julie (Sue Johnston) giving an unwaveringly powerful portrait of a woman who attempted to find happiness at the bottom of a glass after her husband of 40 years left her: “He went off with the cleaner, who ironically turned out to be a dirty bitch.”

All the actors are stellar. And, the sentiment resonates. It’s fundamentally about how even though you feel alone, that you have the worst difficulties, that you are the worst of the worst, you’re not. That even as you have some slim understanding that this vicious voice telling you these horrible things is false, and the facts belie this ‘self-speech,’ there are others who also find life hard. However, by sharing our stories, our difficulties, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, we can help one another take one day at a time. This works for anything, really, whatever the issue. Addiction takes many forms – alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, fornicating, exercise, and work. Or all of the above. Perhaps, as is the case for me, it’s ‘simply’ the compulsion to excess at all times, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Both substances and through actions. Big happy. Big sad. Big success. Big flop. For me at least, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my current struggle for moderation. My own floundering objective to be ‘balanced’ also seems to reflect modern society’s own battle with itself, arguably making addiction a universal story. For me, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching films, and looking at paintings isn’t just for diversion. They provide insights into the human condition. And through this, greater understanding of the world we live in, as well as ourselves. It’s comforting to find a sense of propinquity in the world. And, one can find beauty in ugliness, just as there’s humor in the darkness.

 



XIV: Nevermind

Saw this on Twitter today – what the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” would look like today…

Nevermind Cover Today



XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 



December 19, 2018 VII – Baby It Does Seem Cold Outside

Baby Its Cold Outside cover

“Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” Camille Paglia

Something I always stress with my students when we begin studying a book in class is the context in which it was created. The context (time period, locale, gender and socio economic status of the writer, historical and cultural events during the period in which it’s written) informs why and how the text is written. It is the seeming inability or unwillingness for many to consider the context in which songs, films, theater, photography, painting, art in general, is created, that gives me the impetus to write today. Specifically, I address the once-again attempt to ‘ban’ the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is frequently played during the holidays.

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in order to perform it with his wife at their housewarming party as they said ‘goodnight’ to their guests. It was written by Loesser as a playful call-and-response duet in order to amuse its listeners. A few years later, the song was used for the musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which the male and female parts are identified as “The Wolf” and “the Mouse,” respectively. In the musical, the Wolf and the Mouse have been out on a date and after having a nightcap at the Wolf’s house, the Mouse is making her excuses to go home while he’s trying to persuade her to stay. In this back-and-forth between them, “I really can’t stay…” the Mouse sings, “But, baby, it’s cold outside…” those wishing to ban the song argue that he’s trying to ply the female with alcohol against her wishes and then take advantage of her – certainly many of we women have experienced this attempt and it’s what is, essentially, “date rape” the reasoning goes. Is she succumbing to his unflagging persistence against her wishes? Or, does she really want to stay, but is playing hard to get?

I believe she does want to stay but is playing coy because “good girls” in the 1940’s didn’t have sexual desires outside of marriage (or, arguably, within marriage, but that’s another post). At the time in which the song was created, women – or the Mouse in this case – understood that there were distinctly “acceptable” behaviors for women that were in direct contrast with what was deemed “acceptable” behavior for a man. It was beyond the confines of social “acceptability” for a woman to succumb to her sexual desires and stay the night with a man she had just been on a date with. Giving in to one’s desires could invariably prevent a “good girl” from having a “good marriage” later, which was at the time the raison d’etre for women. Realizing the boundaries of social expectations, the Wolf, through his repeated refrain, is offering her the excuses she needs in order to stay the night without any guilt. Moreover, at the time in which the song was written, “What’s in this drink?” was a stock joke because claiming to drink too much could ostensibly be used as an excuse for bowing to one’s ‘hidden’ wishes – behaving as one wouldn’t normally according to the social expectations at the time. Additionally, if one listens to the song, there are no predatory elements in the tone and style of the music. The female singer is not anxious or afraid – she’s playful, sexy, and desires the male. The song is, indeed, suggestive of light, flirtatious banter, just as the author Loesser intended when he wrote it to sing with his wife after their party.

I include the link (below) to a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” performed by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In this version, the roles have been reversed – Lady Gaga is the “Wolf” and Gordon-Levitt is the “Mouse.” I think it’s a wonderful rendition that captures the essential spirit of the original song.