Monday, December 5, 2016

Identity Politics: Who's Who on Television?

One month after the election, liberal’s heads are still spinning. Their initial shock of a Donald Trump victory may have dwindled, but their resentment and resistance are still vacillating between a simmer and boil. As they scramble to answer the question "How did this happen?", (a question that will never find solace in absolute terms), a fraction of America has purportedly found an answer: identity politics. The voice of the white working class, they argue, is drowning in a cacophony of African-American, Asian-American, Latino, LGBT, Muslim, and women’s voices. 

The theory is that Clinton lost the election because she was conducting the team identity orchestra while ignoring the white working class ensemble— that is, until Trump picked up the baton, organized his musicians, and struck up the band. Somehow, his group equipped with fewer people managed to play stronger and louder. 

The story of the white working class, for the time being, is on center stage. But in the quest for a sliver of the spotlight, there lurks a bigger question: Whose stories get to be told? 

We would be remiss to overlook television’s role in answering such a question. Many stories are told via cable and broadcast networks. And, let’s face it, we Americans love our TVs. For many of us, they are portals into worlds unknown; they expose us to cultures that we might never experience first hand. This clout, this influential potency— what should be television’s strength— is its most formidable power. 

Many of us have distorted ideas about each other based on what we’ve seen on television. Just talk to any student at my work site—a predominately Latino and African-American high school— and he will admit to never having interacted with a white person, yet he knows what they — the monolithic “they”— are like because he’s watched Girl Meets World and Family Guy. 

Growing up in Southern California, I was fortunate to attend ethnically diverse schools, yet my notions of the behind-the-scenes lives of my white friends were shaped by television shows such as Family Ties, Full House, and Rosanne — the most white working class narrative I had seen as a kid. Although these sitcoms were popular and critically acclaimed, two of them perpetuate the myth of the happy middle-class white family who lives in a two-story house and never worries about paying their bills. 

2016 is the most diversified year in television that I’ve seen. Streaming services and on-demand access have expanded our options. Shows such as Atlanta, Fresh Off the Boat, Broad City, Queen Sugar, Jane the Virgin, and Fleabag are shifting our perspectives on what it means to be human. 


In a perfect world, television would be a panoply of narratives that do not sensationalize, romanticize, or bastardize our lives. These stories would, instead, tell the truth: that no single ethnic group has a monopoly on happiness and financial success. The breadth of our experiences is far more diverse than our skin colors and religions and sexual orientations. If the media took the time to reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic landscapes of our communities with honesty and integrity, then maybe this concept of identity politics wouldn't be such a bitter pill to swallow. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why I Now Appreciate Gilmore Girls

When I was in college, I was devoted to one television drama: Dawson’s Creek. I was addicted—unabashedly addicted— to the cheesy histrionics of Joey and Dawson, Joey and Pacey, Joey and whomever. When Dawson’s father died in season five, I was livid at his absurd departure, and I even considered expressing my disdain in a letter to the show’s writers. But by the end of the series, I had forgiven them for their transgressions as I was pleased to see Joey, finally, make the right choice. All was right with the world.

Gilmore Girls lay on the fringes of my radar. I remember trying to watch an episode or two but losing interest after ten minutes. I couldn’t relate to Lorelai and Rory’s mother-daughter relationship. Their banter annoyed me; their intimacy made my eyes roll, and their theme song made me gag.

Sixteen years later, I am a fan. That ten-minute deadline that I had demanded upon the series to captivate my attention was not enough time to delve into the richness of the show’s narrative. I couldn’t see how Lorelai’s frigid relationship with her mother, Emily, balances out her loving relationship with Rory. I couldn’t appreciate Luke’s aversion to the usage of cell phones and wifi in his diner— a sacred space for breaking bread and exchanging ideas and sharing memories with real live people. I couldn’t open myself the possibility of being swept away into Stars Hollow: A town where the stakes are low; where terrorism doesn’t exist; where national politics don’t divide its citizens. A town where, if there is a sheriff, he doesn’t need to carry a gun.

I now love the show’s theme song, “Where You Lead,” penned by Carole King. It  has overtones of one of her classic pieces— “You’ve Got A Friend.” Although its lyrics are syrupy, its casual rhythm and polished pop background vocals serve as the perfect backdrop to the montage of Lorelai and Rory’s bitter-sweet moments. As a thirty-something-year-old woman who has come to appreciate my mother in ways in which my twenty-something-year-old self-wasn't capable, “Where You Lead,” makes me smile because now I get it.

I get that Gilmore Girls isn’t about some cutesy mother-daughter duo whose purpose is to demonstrate how to be an ideal mother-daughter team. Gilmore Girls is a show about honoring the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. It’s a show about piecing together the shards of broken relationships, shards that might cut you and make you bleed. But you keep picking them up, gluing them together into a fragmented mirror that will always reflect the truth: that nothing is perfect, everything is work in progress.

I haven’t watched Dawson’s Creek in years. To be honest, I haven’t missed it. And that’s okay because as I age, my tastes change, seemingly, for the better. Where they lead, I will follow.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Twitter Rage


Tweet.

After the premiere of Ghost Busters this summer, Leslie Jones’ Twitter feed was clogged with racist and sexist tweets. Ostensibly, people were less than thrilled that women— including one black woman— had been cast in their male-dominated sacred cow.

Tweet. Tweet.

Kanye West has reached his melting point. Yesterday during his concert in Sacramento, he produced a tirade that cheered Trump, shaded Beyonce, and derided the politics of the music industry. Concert-goers, fed up with his polemic, instantly took to Twitter, documenting his irascible behavior as they promulgated their own 142 character rants, and demanded their money back. 

Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!

President-elect Trump— the poster child for Twitter— fired off a series of trenchant tweets aimed at the cast of “Hamilton.” Evidently, Trump was not amused with their calculated patriotic plea to a particular patron named Mike Pence. 

Tweet?

What is this world coming to when a tiny blue bird is the harbinger of public outrage? This season of twisted politics has birthed a new brand of warfare that takes place on the battleground of Twitter. Its weaponry: tweets-- those sharp, pithy, bullets that can pierce a person’s heart and unhinge his ego. Those tiny tweets can unite and divide nations. They can amass millions of people for the sake of good or for the sake of— well, you are probably too familiar with the second option.


Twitter adds a new dimension to rhetoric. Why spend hours writing and delivering a full-throated speech when you can distil your words through the tiny blue bird and potentially reach far more people? If you’re upset that your waiter served scrambled eggs when you specifically asked for sunny-side-up, don’t bother appealing to her civilly. Instead, discharge a deadly fusillade of tweets adumbrating her carelessness. Disappointed with your friend? Bypass the tete-a-tete; pick up your bird, and fire away. 

We are morphing into a culture that prefers condensation over deliberation; the brusque remark over the thoughtful response. But when you strain diplomacy, with all its rich textures and flavors, through a sieve, you are left with a tasteless cup of enmity. And far too many people are sipping from this cup.

Perhaps Twitter rage is a new brand of techno-trauma for which we must teach ourselves to pause, take a deep breath, and count to ten. Or maybe we teach ourselves to avoid it altogether and instead practice the ancient art of conversation. 



Monday, May 26, 2014

What Everybody Needs

Last week I had an inspiring tweetversation with one of my twitter friends.  She was delighted to discover that I am an author because she is an aspiring author working diligently on her children’s book.  My fellow tweeter confessed that she felt stuck in her writing process. I offered some encouragement:


“You’ll have good days and sticky days.  Don’t give up.  There are people waiting to read your story.”


She responded:


“Thank you!! Coming from you it means a lot. :)   I’ll keep trying no matter what!!!”

Although I encouraged her to write, she encouraged me to be encouraging.  Her gratefulness reminds me that it’s okay to reach out and extend kind words to people.  Words are powerful, and you never know how they will change the trajectory of someone’s life.