Lunchtable TV Talk: Dicte – Not the finest hour of Danish TV

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The Danish TV show, Dicte, starring Iben Hjejle (most non-Danes will recognize her only as the girlfriend from the film High Fidelity), is not a bad show, but compared to other recent Danish television, it’s not exactly great either. While Dicte (the name of the titular character) follows the same kind of investigative bent as police procedurals, it is actually a show about a journalist returning to her hometown – Aarhus, and yes that is what Aarhus looks like – after a divorce. She investigates and finds herself in a lot of trouble at times, but she has a bristly relationship with the cops.

The very popular and well-lauded show, Borgen, crosses some of the same paths in that there are several investigative journalists and journalism at the core of the story. We don’t see many shows that treat journalism with much respect or importance – at least not that I can think of. Maybe The Wire (it figures that a former journalist was responsible for bringing that show to life). I like it when “entertainment” questions the role and place of journalism, the rights of journalists and the media in general. (One reason I will miss The Daily Show with Jon Stewart so much. He called the media out all the time.) Dicte does not do much of this – quite the opposite of something like The Newsroom, which took this kind of questioning too far into ridiculously preachy territory. A balance could be struck somewhere in the middle.

Dicte, then, is a passable show with compelling enough stories, decent acting and of course the thrill of listening to the weirdness that is spoken Danish.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Daily Show – Goodbye, Jon Stewart

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The Daily Show will go on, and it might be entertaining and topical, but I don’t know if I have the flexibility to continue watching. Jon Stewart should not necessarily define what The Daily Show was. After all, he was not working on it alone. Plenty of other comedians, and most importantly, writers and other behind-the-scenes talent, made The Daily Show work on many levels. But Stewart led the way, and he led for pretty much the entirety of my adult life. Seeing him “retire” from the show is like one of those shifts that you don’t even realize the significance of until they are upon you. Someone who was there for almost two decades acting as the voice of reason, eviscerating ridiculousness with humor, is suddenly gone. There’s a void. There will be a void. Going to miss Stewart. A lot.

Sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality in women’s sports

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The tension and irritation has been building up in me for a long time, even though I was unaware of its presence and imperceptible growth. I am not an athlete nor am I someone who has been vocally feminist for much of my life. I had a few conversations with former colleagues – women who were much older than me, who had been through some of the trials of being the only woman working in a completely male-dominated workplace (an air traffic control center). It’s not as though women are not expected somehow – still – to take notes and make the coffee, but back then it was not just understood but was blatantly stated as a requirement and not questioned. Fighting against these slights in daily work life has never been a conscious part of my life. But strides made by women who came before me paved the way for me not to have to think about such things (as well as the installation of automatic coffee machines!).

I believe wholeheartedly in equality for everyone – and I mean everyone – but when I undertook a master’s program in gender studies, the extremes of feminist theory put me off by being so anti-man. I have not personally suffered – to my knowledge – for being a woman, and I am sure that in some measure this is because I am a white woman who, in the Nordic countries where I live, blends into the scenery and enjoys the privilege that comes from so many different aspects of the accident of my birth and the conscious choice of where I live (which is another layer of privilege – having the choice to decide where to live and to go there).

Similarly Scandinavia conscientiously attempts to lead the way on matters of equality. It does not always succeed, sometimes tripping over itself trying to be “too fair” or politically correct and coming out looking foolish. But the thinking is in the right place. I also say that I have not “consciously” suffered because I don’t know that we are always aware of the things we are numb or indoctrinated to. While no man is outwardly making lewd remarks or insisting that I do something degrading or something that is anything other than equal to what he would do, there have probably been times that I was perceived or treated as “lesser than” because I am a woman. I have been blissfully ignorant to this, if and when it did happen, because my life has still been lived on my terms and has been relatively easy to boot.

Revealing this as my backdrop, I can’t really explain what incensed me and pushed me over the edge about sexism, misogyny and racism in women’s athletics. Not even looking at the flat-out stereotypes any longer (as though all women athletes must exist at caricature-like extremes, i.e. either women who appear as masculine, steroid-pumped sportsmen-lesbians from Cold War era East Germany or ultra-feminine, would-be fashion models who look cute in a short skirt). Either direction these stereotypes travel, they smack of objectification and are on display for the criticism and analysis of the world (and it’s not just men engaging in the bitterest criticism). Not because they are athletes in the public eye but because they are women.

We can see this dynamic quite publicly and visibly played out in the form of Bruce Jenner, former Olympic champion, who is now known as Caitlyn Jenner. As Bruce the athlete, no one would have questioned how he looked or would have sexualized his existence to the degree that all women athletes put up with today. And as Caitlyn, she is suddenly subject to this kind of scrutiny. Jon Stewart explained it best in a recent episode of The Daily Show. Now, suddenly, as a woman, Jenner’s worth is all tied up in her “fuckability” and her beauty.

This holds true for women athletes the world over. And when it is not explicitly about their bodies as objects, and how their bodies and fashion sense reflect on their character (!) or deservedness to win (!!) (e.g., when a Wimbledon winner (Marion Bartoli) is ripped to shreds because she is “too ugly and/or too fat” to win), it’s about the invisibility or lack of support for their sports. FIFA‘s (soon-to-be-former president) Sepp Blatter infamously remarked that women’s football might be more popular if they wore tighter/shorter shorts; Al Jazeera reported on the discrimination against female footballers in Brazil while The Atlantic reports that Brazil’s biggest male footballer makes 15 million USD a year, while its biggest female football star cannot find a team to play for. Al Jazeera and more recently John Oliver highlighted the sexist inequality of FIFA insisting that the women’s World Cup be played on artificial turf rather than grass.

All of this is frustrating but not quite the infuriating push I needed to get really angry. Instead, Serena Williams’s win at the French Open this weekend finally made me seethe with rage. Looking at her winning history, she is singularly the greatest female tennis player ever to play the game. Can she be recognized simply for these record-breaking achievements in athleticism and sporting victory? No.

No one is or has been (in recent memory) more susceptible to the powerful and ugly forces of sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality than Serena Williams.

If all female pro-athletes, particularly in a “demure” arena like tennis, are treated like sex objects who should be supermodels, what can we expect? And when the kind of racially charged, barely veiled racist language cues come into play on top of the sexism and objectifying, shouldn’t every woman be angry?

**Edited later to note that The Atlantic published a piece on French Open men’s champion, Stan Wawrinka, which states: “It’s that Wawrinka doesn’t look or comport himself like a Grand Slam champion. From his bright pink “pajama” shorts to his faintly dadboddish physique, the Swiss native looks more like someone you’d find at Home Depot than Roland Garros.” Finally someone jumps on what a man looks like and how he “comports” himself. Equality, right?

Facts

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The fact that I am home on a Friday night watching Cosmos and catching up on the week’s The Daily Show and Colbert Report while thinking about the discussion of big data going beyond just big data into “fast data” (that is, real-time data) and considering nature and its weirdnesses (for example, the Swede who crashed into a moose with his car; the moose was killed. Imagine the car driver’s surprise to learn that the moose, whose body was completely slashed open when it crashed through the windshield, had… “deposited” her as-yet-unborn calf in the backseat of his car. Stranger than fiction).

Fridays – cementing my nerdiness as usual.

Why I Changed My Mind: Amy Schumer

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My change of heart in this case was not so much changing my mind about Amy Schumer herself or her comedy because, frankly, I had never really heard of her or her work. My instant dislike stemmed from the endless advertisements for her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, which appeared constantly in every single commercial break while streaming The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online. Is it Ms Schumer’s fault that 1. the ad nauseam ad campaign was overkill and turned people (namely me) off before they could even give her show a chance and 2. the ads Comedy Central makes for its stable of shows feature the most obnoxious bits and bobs, making the shows appear annoying and unwatchable, also before potential viewers could give them a chance? No. I had the same problem with another of the overkill ad campaigns propelled like an enemy sortie at the unsuspecting target when Comedy Central promoted the brilliant Broad City in exactly the same fashion. Granted ads are ads – they are so short that they can’t reflect a whole lot of the intelligent humor and depth that give these shows their cachet. But can’t the ads and those who make them dream up some way to make their shows seem less one-dimensional?

I thought Broad City looked dumb but gave it a chance – but Inside Amy Schumer got the shortest straw. I saw the ads, which made her look like a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed idiot playing stereotypes for laughs, and I immediately thought she and the show were anything but groundbreaking and inventive. Turns out, though, that while Schumer has written some skits in which she plays a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed (to a mad degree) character, her comedy swims in thrashingly funny but incisive commentary – deeply feminist, hypocrisy-poking/exposing, hyperbolic, sarcastic. I’ve been gasping and then laughing my way through both seasons of the show. It’s sometimes shocking in its sudden lack of political correctness (as most of the best comedy is), painful in its mix of humor – swinging between self-absorption and self-deprecation, much of it quite topical (see the skit about the combat video game in which the female video game character suffers and reports an assault and is faced by a screen reading “Character Assassination Complete”; not only is the idea behind the video game reminiscent of the recent controversies about sexual assault in the military with the reaction of the guy friend with whom Amy’s character is playing video games, telling her, “You obviously did something wrong – maybe you just shouldn’t play” a further level of commentary ) and most of it universal (see the “Stolen Years” jewelry collection ad, the ISP customer service freakout session skit, the superfluous nature of enormous penises bit in her standup act, all the skits about groups of female friends being competitively self-deprecating … and pretty much every skit and standup bit in the show)…

A handful of things were extra fabulous: Josh Charles’s appearance on an episode just after his shocking departure from The Good Wife – Schumer and Charles make glorious fun of the pomposity of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which was absolutely necessary.

An offhand reference to the Operation Smile charity (which my company works with and sends volunteers to). Mentioning jokingly that TMZ maybe thought she was Paula Deen (which might not have made me spit my coffee out – in laughter – if I had not been lambasting Paula Deen a whole lot lately with my Firewall – check out Paula Deen “oiling up a bird” and deep-frying it with her Aunt Peggy, who has a very “Derek-esque“, vacant smile going on here).

Some of the over-the-top, possibly over-the-line humor – the “We’ve all been a little raped”/”grey area of rape” bit, the “AIDS/dealbreaker/gluten allergy” date – a bit gasp-worthy, then laugh-worthy and then thought-provoking. How many times have we all been on a date or in a situation where someone tells us something really uncomfortable and offered us an “out” but we still sit there, awkward, convincing ourselves that we’re okay with something that is really not okay with us or that makes us tongue-tied to the extent that, as Schumer blurts out, “I don’t know what I’m saying.” You might be able to say something eloquent and articulate and thoughtful if you’re not blindsided – but unprepared, how do you not stumble? “Is that a dealbreaker for you?”

“No, it’s great!”

Amy Schumer is a smart woman holding a mirror up to herself, to all of us, to society – willing to (like most good comedians) be vulnerable, embarrassed and embarrassing.

Pleased to have made her acquaintance.

Double down on doubling down

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It’s everywhere. Our language is polluted.

On this week’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report I heard more mentions of the term “double down“. Not only did Jon Stewart refer to the KFC pseudo-sandwich, The Double Down, he included a clip from another news program in which someone’s political idea was “doubled down” on.

And then on The Colbert Report, his guest, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, on the show to discuss his new doc, The Address (about Abraham Lincoln‘s famous Gettysburg Address), said Lincoln was “doubling down on the Declaration of Independence“. Learn the Address! (The next night, in discussing green energy, Colbert also used the term “double down”! I swear, it’s everywhere, and I wish it would stop.)

Colbert also discussed the new USPS Harvey Milk postage stamp, exclaiming, “A gay man on a stamp!” I love mainstream coverage of stamps! “Make no mistake folks – if it’s mail, I’m licking something.

USPS Harvey Milk postage stamp

USPS Harvey Milk postage stamp

No One Owns Your Ugly

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No, no one owns your ugly. Just you. We all have the capacity to be ugly people – and I mean ugly on the inside and in how we behave. Yesterday I quite insistently wrote that I hate listening to English people speak (unless they are using the word “dirty”), which is just a broad and ugly generalization. I had one, maybe two, specific people in mind – and my fussiness had nothing to do with their being English. Mostly it was because they whine all the time (or whinge as the English say). I have loads of lovely English friends who span the whole of England, including the varied and fascinating array of regional accents. So, yeah, I am just trying to sweep up that bit of ugly and deliver a half-assed apology. Even if there is no one to apologize to since this is just my platform for aimless rambling.

Friendship
When it comes to friendship or feeling – who is the glue? I have often described myself as the glue that holds friendships and groups of friends together. I discussed this with my brother recently – this strange sense of feeling that he and I have always had that we needed to continue making efforts when it was not really in our best interest; this sense that people do not care – even if they are or have been among your best friends – when you just fall out of their life. They don’t mind that you keep making the effort with them but if you didn’t the friendship would probably just die. And they would not mind that either. I used to be this way too – loyal, attentive and in pursuit (although I know this sounds a bit stalker-like) to a fault. Until I realized I was wasting my time. It is just another exercise in holding on to things from the past – and there is enough stuff, and are enough people, in the present to deal with. Like most things, there is a constant need to remind oneself to be in the present, the present, the present.

Friendship: TV Debate – Broad City v Girls
Considering friendship as it is portrayed on TV, I watched the most recent season of Girls on HBO. I cannot explain why I watch this show because there is absolutely nothing likeable about it. Many critics have written about the characters and how the show is somehow “realistic” even if the characters are not likeable. Creator/writer Lena Dunham gets a lot of press for creating this realistically unpleasant world in which she and her girlfriends live as well as for her penchant for on-screen nudity and willingness to show off a lot of her less-than-perfect physique. She is lovely and gifted with more talent than I can describe; more power to her. I don’t have a problem with any of this.

My problem with Girls, perhaps – and this may only reflect my wish to believe that people are not as selfish as they appear on TV – is that the characters are so painfully self-involved and totally, thoroughly up their own asses in terms of selfishness and disregard for the feelings, accomplishments, achievements, failures, insecurities and problems of others. The only character in this show who seems to have any sense of a compass in terms of how he feels about and treats others is Ray, and he is not particularly likeable either. Not that people need to be likeable (particularly on TV, where, if I face reality, most of the most memorable characters are the biggest dicks in existence from whom no one would take the kind of shit they dish out). Ray, too, is fallible – but then, aren’t we all?

Friendship, in my book, is not friendship when rendered and lived the way the friendships in Girls are. These girls are brutal to each other, they use each other, they say things to each other that no caring people would ever say. They are unsupportive and have really selfish fights. I might expect some of this behavior from adolescent, hormonal girls – but from women in their early 20s? Not so much. If a collective of women has this many problems with each other, are so hopelessly different, cannot put themselves in each other’s shoes, would rarely, if ever, go to bat for one another, delight SO MUCH in taking cracks at these “friends” when the others are not around (and the list goes on), how – oh, how – do we imagine that these girls are friends?

In some ways, yes, it’s a problem – I watch and think it’s horrible, awful and unrealistic. Critics and fans alike set the internet on fire talking about how “unrealistic” it was when Dunham’s character seduced (and rapidly destroyed a casual relationship with) a character played by Patrick Wilson last season. Such a “bedding” might not happen every minute of every day, but it is not unrealistic.

But women who decide to put up with the kind of abuse and backhanding from supposed friends that the women of Girls take episode after episode? That’s unrealistic! Maybe because these women are all insecure and troubled and selfish, they somehow can only survive and attract/maintain friendships with people who are equally shallow and self-absorbed, almost a theatre of “I can give as good as I get” of selfishness and casual cruelty. I started to wonder whether it was a reflection of how young women really are or whether it was a generational thing. Or whether this was all exaggerated because it’s a TV show. Is it possible, I thought, that young women (on TV) cannot reflect some of the genuine selfishness of youth while also still displaying genuine care and loyalty for their friends?

And that’s when I saw Broad City. I had been inundated and annoyed by ads for the Comedy Central show Broad City for weeks (these always appear between segments of The Daily Show when you watch it online). The ads really did not inspire me to watch the show – it looked a bit crass and frankly annoying like a lot of Comedy Central content. Then one Saturday afternoon I decided to give it a try. Apart from finding it quite funny, if vulgar, I found the two main characters, Ilana and Abbi, far more relatable in some ways (albeit exaggerated versions of relatable) than their Girls contemporaries – most of all because their friendship was so strong. It was obvious why these two were friends, why they turned to each other and were there for each other through thick and thin, supportive but not above the occasional poking fun at each other – not because they are spiteful, entitled assholes (as the characters in Girls feel like) but because they just know each other that well and enjoy the good-natured ribbing.

Now I am sad that Broad City’s first season is over, but endlessly relieved to see Hannah and co from Girls done with their third season. Certainly it says more about me and what I think friendship is – or what TV should be – than it does about the quality of either show. (And it does not say much in my defense that I keep watching stuff I really don’t like. I can’t help myself. What would I complain about otherwise? How could I maintain a robust hate list? I don’t have a monopoly on it, but I have to keep myself ugly somehow; I own my ugly, after all.)

I finally found someone uglier than you, A.M.” – Olli

Pretty (Ugly Before)” – Elliot Smith

Why I Changed My Mind: Ben Affleck

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My ex-boyfriend and I were at the movies in Reykjavik once when a preview for the film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck, appeared. The text that flies across the screen in the beginning of films with an authoritative voiceover read: “Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck” and my then-beau, despite hating people who talk in movies, whispered, “What? Ben Affleck won an Oscar?” At the time it was for his co-writing of Good Will Hunting, but seeing this “news” disappointed the guy – how could Ben Affleck win an Oscar? (Long before Argo won for best picture – note the guy isn’t likely to win any acting awards.)

Ben Affleck has long been the butt of jokes – we are not the first to make them, but the joking days may be (at least close to) over. After a lot of poor role and film choices and very public relationships (most notably with Jennifer Lopez), Affleck put his head down, made some good choices, started directing, married Jennifer Garner and had a family. I also would argue that he is not someone who overreaches – I respect actors who choose roles that may challenge some perceptions about them and may challenge their own abilities, but not so far out there that they become totally unbelievable. Affleck never bites off much more than he can chew.

The reason I decided to write about him now, though, is that I read in Mother Jones about his upcoming Congressional testimony on Congo. I don’t really like the way the article defends Affleck’s so-called authority on the subject:

“It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities.” (Italicized emphasis mine.)

This kind of statement makes it sound as though just showing up a few times and having a few meetings with warlords imparts expertise. How do we know that these warlords did not just meet with Affleck because they liked Gigli and Pearl Harbor – and they spent their meetings talking about that together? I also don’t want to discount his expertise – I don’t know whether he has any or what the depth of it is.

Compared to a lot of people being named as ambassadors to countries they have never visited (see The Daily Show’s hilarious take on the “diplomat buyers club”) and have no connection to or knowledge of, I’d say Affleck’s got a leg up. I would also venture to say that most of the Congressional members hearing testimony from Affleck or from the line-up of Central Africa/Congo experts know nothing about the subject, if anything, about Africa as a whole. Comparatively speaking, Affleck is bloody well an expert.

Considered, reconsidered – I used to think Ben Affleck was a joke – as an actor, entertainer and, had someone laughably suggested, as a “Congo expert”. As I stated, though, the guy does not overreach when it comes to his acting, seems to have a healthy sense of self and good sense of humor about who he is – and then “does the time” when it comes to serious issues in which he chooses to get involved – and bottom line – he really does not have to. I have a newfound respect for the guy and have come to appreciate some of what he’s done cinematically. Quite honestly, as well, any light we (or he) can shine on atrocities in DR Congo is also welcome.

Me, I am just happy to take a look at the DR Congo passport (again!)

Congo passport

Congo passport