Category: Social Commentary

MPAA Approved

Approved Conduct Long Tile Cropped Small

When two people who love each other fight, it’s one of the most piffling spectacles around. Testosterone prevails, prompting inner gorillas to puff out their chests, and nerves are frayed, making it hard to understand what the argument’s even about through all the Jimmy Stewart stammering. Teeth grit as the couple tries to refrain from making statements they can’t rescind and ultimately, if the pair is still smitten when the blows begin to cease, somebody caves and they’re left wondering what the last hour and a half was worth.

When two people who don’t love each other anymore fight, however, it’s an entirely different can of beans. Especially if one party is plagued by bipolar disorder and the other is ultra-hypersensitive.

There was a time in my childhood when I regularly beheld the savage evidence that love was fleeing my household in increments, and as a result I pledge to the Tao of Separation when I say that sometimes divorce is a wonderful thing.

But at the age of thirteen, years after the screaming tournaments had dissipated, peace had become commonplace, and my parents were well adjusted to their separate lives, homes, and dating arenas, my father mistook my disapproval of his new girlfriend for resurfacing divorce pangs, and my younger sister and I were sent off to divorce camp.

Feeling the resentment Hansel and Gretel must have felt when their woodcutter father listened to his second wife and sent them packing, I was furious about the arrangement. After all, I was in the prime of the raging preteens (a likely cause of the aversion to the new lady friend, but with Dad’s concurrence after their break up, I still maintain that she was neurotic). In those dark ages I was teeming with the only year-long hellishness my parents would ever have to endure from their children, and chartered the histrionic teenage slogan “everything’s unjust.” Attending night classes at a nearby high school for counseling on a bygone facet of life that I’d been rejoicing for years certainly fell into the “unjust” category. I’m not positive what my sister thought about the whole ordeal (she was still in the stage of indifferent agreement, probably to avoid my preteen wrath), but she trudged into Westview High School’s empty, after-hours hallways with me just the same: going up against my intimidatingly muscular father and his obduracy was not an option.

I don’t remember how long divorce camp lasted each night or how many times we attended it. In fact, I don’t remember much of divorce camp at all, as if self-induced amnesia wiped my adolescent slate clean. That, or I just wasn’t paying any attention. But while the course curriculum and the face of our male counselor slip my mind, I remember the atmosphere with clarity. Divorce camp is a sorrowful place, attended by kids who probably resisted their parents’ decisions to partake with the same obstinacy I displayed but who probably needed a compassionate guide to lead them out of the throes of misunderstanding. By surveying the circle that my sister and I had become a part of, it was apparent that all the children in attendance, including one of the popular girls from my own school district who I was startled to recognize, were conflicted about the ordeal their parents had brought upon them, and while my sister and I sat through the lessons with apathy clear on our faces, it was humbling to witness the effects divorce has on a child when it’s dealt with incautiously.

Even though they wear the red badge of divorce, my parents are exceptionally gifted at the job they ushered into their lives when I was born. They certainly weren’t one of those calendar-counting couples, eager to have kids since they played “house” in their juvenescence (like… eh hem… me), but they arose to the task of nurturing and educating their children with such a natural finesse that besides the year of frenetic hormones, my sister and have always been confident, good-natured individuals with unyielding love for the people who raised us. It was with this same open-dialogue and compassion my parents always administered that they went about familiarizing us with the end of their marital union, and because of their attention to detail, I’ve never been able to relate to the children who blame themselves for their parents separation. For me, divorce was a welcome relief. Sure, it meant moving back and forth between parents every two weeks for the next nine years, enormous laundry basket and textbook-filled backpack bursting at the seams in tow, but that only produced incredibly efficient packing skills.

Still and all, observing the despondent faces of my fellow counseling detainees, under bright, interrogational fluorescents no less, revealed to my kid-self that divorce is very often not such a clean affair, and there are bound to be emotional casualties beyond those of the legal settlement parties.

So I suppose the moral of this disquisition goes something like this: should you have kids now, or should you acquire them somewhere along the line (either unexpectedly or pre-planned since a matronly childhood), try to maintain an honest discourse with them–and not just about life-altering issues like divorce, but about all facets of life. They may be small and naturally incur your irrepressible baby-talk in the early years, but having been a small, tow-headed child at one point, I clearly remember that even little kids can absorb new information if you take the time to teach them. Besides, if an open relationship means saving your kids from belittling experiences like the extraneous divorce camp your neurotic girlfriend recommends, then why wouldn’t you engage in a little confab with your baby-kin every now and then?

Advertisements

Freeways and Formalities, By Jane Austen

Los Angeles is an ugly city. Sure, Beverly Hills is prime, swank real-estate, the lush, green neighborhoods around UCLA are undeniably gorgeous, and the permanent postmodern exhibit that comprises every beachfront’s residential promenade could double as a high brow architectural installation at MoMA. Unfortunately, the LA you see splayed in every movie that doesn’t take place in New York, is a small, glistening segment of a larger picture, and driving down the 110 from Cesar Chavez Blvd to Culver–parallel to the cityscape and a slew of rundown buildings no abandoned building junky would ever photograph–is one of the ugliest routes you might ever take.

To make matters worse, LA’s legendary traffic utilizes this thoroughfare as one of multiple premiere runways, resulting in exasperatingly long exposure to the unattractive setting that defines downtown.

When stuck in this logjam and conversation begins to run short or iTunes Shuffle keeps producing songs you don’t know the lyrics to, the only alternative to gazing out at the unkempt urban landscape is to revive a childhood compulsion and start observing the passerby, all inching along beside you in the thick interstate pile up.

Yes, I’m that uncivilized girl.

What my slightly unsubtle observations have rendered is not only verification of LA’s status as one of the most teeming melting pots in the country (rife with endless people-watching opportunities), but also that despite this populace of diversity, we are becoming an increasingly sequestered culture.

Back in the 90s, an age that some in my generation deem “golden,” observing passing faces from the car always garnered a lot of attention in return, as people looked back with equal unrestraint. Back then, everyone seemed to agree that cars were akin to travelling exhibitions and all the physiognomies of the world were up for complimentary display in the Turnpike Gallery. Today, if anyone accidentally locks eyes with another human–mobile or otherwise–stomachs start tumbling like Russian gymnasts and eyes are quickly reverted back into the safety of our personal bubbles. While I’ve succumbed to this phenomenon of gaze-reversion for fear of offending and therefore can’t blame anyone for antisocialism, I can at least recognize that these walls we keep mortaring ourselves into with our incessant texting, social networking “friendships,” and self check-out lines at the grocery store are beginning to climb to ridiculous heights.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a hyper-compulsion to greet people I pass in the street, and in this day and age of physical and technological isolation, committing this act anywhere other than Savannah, Georgia, with anyone under 40 seems to startle people into horrified taciturnity. It’s so bizarre that the inhabitants of this planet are obviously hellbent on exponential reproduction but simultaneously insist on creating more tools to easily avoid all those 7.057 billion other people we currently reside with. Does this trend suggest that we as a species are inherently antisocial? Or is a history of welcoming strangers into the neighborhood with pies just waiting to repeat itself, the way fashion and music can’t resist looking backwards? I’m no anthropologist and can’t provide any data to back up these meanderings, but who knows, maybe one day soon every passenger on the I-110 will be hollering at one another just like the cast of American Graffiti.

No Hablo Nada

I can’t remember the last time I audibly stammered to someone’s face, but I won’t hastily forget this occasion.

Today as I headed back from work, turning onto Chicago St. in my neighborhood of district-homages and sweating profusely after a two mile hike in the quintessentially dry heat of the southwest, a woman I’d passed once before noticed my friendly smile and returned the favor. Then, she uttered an entire conversation in rapid-fire Spanish. When she paused for my reaction, I opened my mouth and nothing came out… for several seconds.

Now before you go dismissing me as the ignorant Anglo-Saxon I made myself out to be on the corner of Chicago and Michigan, allow me to divulge a little history. Ever since I was mistakenly assigned Spanish Immersion History in the 6th grade, I’ve always taken Spanish classes. Not only was this decision based on the advantages the skill provides in the job market, but it also stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a household that doubled as a mini Mazatlan; bedecked in a vibrant, chili pepper color palette, adorned with a skull-faced Catrina or Frida or collection of alebrijes in every room, and owned by a woman whose obsession with Mexico bridged from her hacienda replica in Portland to a casa auténtica she inhabited for a time in Oaxaca. While I resided in this Latin American lifestyle with mi mamá, Spanish was spoken fluently under our roof, and the approbation I received in Spanish class reflected it.

Once I graduated from high school and money began to dictate my education, language was forced to take the wayside, and the extreme expectations art schools perpetuate extinguished any time or energy I had to devote to practicing a second language. It’s true what they say about retention diminishing once you’ve exited childhood, and I’m the perfect case study. As a high school student, I could understand and speak Spanish, easily read and write in the language, and even think in Spanish, but inconstant exposure has stripped away several of those capabilities, reducing me to someone who can understand what you’re saying, but won’t be able to respond unless you’re only question is, “How are you?”

I have to consider myself fortunate for retaining anything at all though–especially considering the fact that my summer job during college involved teaching art to over 150 Spanish-speaking middle school students. It’s a sure bet that if I hadn’t been able to understand the petty wisecracks my kids initially made behind my back, I would have never earned their respect. Personal experience and three years in the business taught me that teenagers are ruthless enough when they feel age inhibits adults from understanding them, let alone a language barrier. Step back into the shoes of a fourteen-year-old and come armed with comedic ripostes for every snide remark, however, and you’ll earn yourself some incredibly entertaining friends.

Today, years after my participation in the Spanish Honors Society and my stint as a middle school ringmaster, I reside in what several downtown Los Angelenos have described as “the ghetto,” but from my perspective it seems a lot like home–or what Mexico City will be like once I finally travel outside of this country. My community is predominantly Hispanic, the surrounding shops are mostly tiendas and mercados, and thus far only the beaming woman I met in the street today has attempted to make conversation, discussing things I understood (Isn’t it a beautiful, sunny day? How are you doing? Good? Well my dear, may the Holy Father in heaven watch over you and bless you with good health and a wonderful day!), but could only think to say, “¡Gr-gracias!” to in response.

It’s sad to think that a girl so smitten with audial and visual language, who used to sing classical arias in Italian, German, and French and who continues to create multi-lingual artwork, has to stammer her way through one phrase of Spanish. Call it a fluke and blame it on the heat of the day, the two mile trek on blistered, flip-flopped feet, or the preoccupied concentration with what on earth I could discuss in this blog today, but ultimately I think this shameful faux pas is a sign: time to whip out a sombrero in the guise of a thinking cap, seek the counsel of the venerated Rosetta Stone, and get back to broadening my mind, Sybill Trelawney style!

The F!@# Crutch

When I first started watching True Blood, it was at the recommendation of a friend while attending school in Savannah, Georgia. If the timing hadn’t been so specific, I doubt I would have been beguiled into tuning in, but living under a garnish of Spanish moss that bedecks the lantern-lit, cobblestoned deep south in a magical humid haze made watching a show about Louisiana juju irresistible. My lifelong fascination with cryptozoology didn’t hurt either.

So I watched on while sitting in friends’ freshman dorm rooms where the closest thing to a couch was a thin mattress whose springs all but emerged from the upholstery; under the covers in bed both out of fear of the lurking, bicorned monster in season 2 and to keep from waking Michelle, the first of many nightmarish college roommates; and back home in Portland (in a real bed), where I introduced the show to my sister and giddily critiqued the episodes away, Moon sister style. Soon, my eager engagement with the show morphed into an enjoyable hobby, and then into a mere outlet for expelling stress. Today, I only watch the show as an homage to the nostalgia of new beginnings in a reputably mystical city that now resides on the opposite side of the country.

But why have I steadily deviated from the crux of the show’s target market, gradually exhibiting less interest in watching at the same rate that the expanding tour bus industry is causing Savannah’s quaint charm to diminish?

The answer’s quite straightforward actually: the show went bad like milk that sours before the sell-by date in any state south of the Mason-Dixon line. Not that True Blood was ever phenomenal television with the same notoriety attributed to programs like Breaking Bad and The Wire, but after season 2’s mythological shenanigans, the quality of each season spiraled faster and faster down your standard concrete drain. Fortunately for the show’s ratings, True Blood hosts a horde of vampires, werewolves, fairies, shape-shifters, were-panthers (…?), and HBO’s signature obsession with boobs: everything Pavlov would employ to have a contemporary pop culture groupie salivating at the mouth in seconds. And although the plot has grown increasingly convoluted, one can’t deny that the show is ever lacking in excitement–even if we caustic viewers find the excitement incredibly ridiculous.

But what gets my goat is the writing. Having dated a screenwriter for the past year and a quarter (and having met nothing but screenwriters and Michael Sheen’s next assistant since moving out to L.A.), I feel just in saying that a major responsibility involved in developing a script is manifesting characters through their dialogue. In the first couple seasons of True Blood, the dialogue served just that purpose: defining the wholesome, southern belle-with-a-strange-ability archetype of Sookie Stackhouse as an entirely different character than the traumatically inured Tara Thorton–both of whom are extremely different than the endearing, distinctively idiomatic Lafayette.

As the seasons progressed, however, the action began to take precedence over the characters (possibly because the writers had all that aforementioned convolution to try and weave into coherence), and all the individual attributes that typified one personality from the next began to dissipate until, come season 6, we seem to have been left with one overarching character. And that character likes to say “fuck” in response to absolutely everything.

Somehow, this character-melding phenomenon merely spritzed the male ensemble before emptying its whole crop-dusting load on the female line up. For instance, even though their dialogue wasn’t spared from the show’s new favorite word, gargantuan wolfman Alcide is at least decipherable from backwater sheriff Andy Bellefleur, even if Alcide has diminished to nothing more than Batman-esque rasping and growling and a completely useless subplot. The ladies on the other hand are a catastrophe of incessant cursing as a means of normal conversation, perpetual reduction to tears (both of the saline and sanguine variety), and snidely defensive retorts that ooze with melodrama.

For example, the once child-like Sookie whose outcries used to involve phrases like “tits on a turtle” and “you no-account backwoods trash!,” recently replaced Grandma Adele’s polite influence with the truncated, adult argot of seasoned vampires like the ever brazen Pam De Beaufort. Even Pam, however, who didn’t have to change a smidgeon of her dialogue to fit into the “upgraded” ensemble, lost her luster when she catalyzed the next chapter in Tara’s storyline and tears and endless expletives ensued. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t stop there, combining Jessica Hamby, Luna the shifter, Nora the surprise sister, Willa the girl who clearly doesn’t curse in reality, Sarah Newlin the zealot, Nicole the activist, those masculine, huffy werewolf chicks, and almost all the other female characters into this steadily amassing, tear-strewn, “fuck”-fixated conglomerate with the most limited vocabulary I’ve seen since Stephenie Meyer books were big.

From a writer’s perspective, one of the greatest things about the art form is the ability to imagine up individualistic characters driven by backgrounds sui generis in nature and complete with their own relevant vernaculars. Even though the author’s voice will always be preeminent, designing a narrative with multiple characters creates the opportunity to personally inhabit different psyches and explore the various memories, motives, and reactions that create a versatile cast of individuals in reality.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh and ignoring the possibility that the writers puppeteering these True Blood characters are slaves to the f-word themselves and thus take their dialogue seriously, but coming from a network that brought us the linguistic poetry of shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, and Game of Thrones, can I be blamed for expecting dialogue that transcends fuck?