Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Killing Eve" Is Killing Me

It's not news that we live in difficult times. Just a few months ago the New York Times wrote, "Long-term use of antidepressants is surging in the United States, according to a new analysis of federal data. Some 15.5 million Americans have been taking the medications for at least five years. The rate has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000."

I don't take antidepressants, but it's not because I don't need them -- it's because I already take daily medications for other health problems and the thought of adding another makes me anxious, which is why I take all the other meds in the first place. (Control of blood pressure and heart issues.) Instead, I rely on reruns of old sitcoms (Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens) to lift my spirits, calm me down and make me laugh.

Now more than ever the entertainment industry dominates our culture, offering distraction from a harsh reality: climate change, political infighting, homelessness, destitute refugees, foreign wars. Binge-watching TV shows is common, and I've done my share. Comedies like Grace & Frankie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, VEEP, the soapy Grey's Anatomy, and even the violent but mostly funny and stylistically beautiful The Sopranos have prevented me from dwelling on the terrifying state of affairs we all face. But there's a whole other category of "entertainment" out there that I just don't understand, even though lots of other people do.

I passed up the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad for years, because who the heck finds pleasure watching a man with terminal cancer who turns to making and selling crystal meth as a way to stockpile cash for his family after he's dead? Finally I decided that 58 Emmy Award nominations (and 16 wins) couldn't be wrong, so I caved. I lasted for five episodes of the first season, until the horrifically bloody deaths of so many people in the unsavory drug world made me feel so much worse than ordinary life without that show in it. I quit watching it and felt better immediately.

Recently, on the recommendation of a close friend and because I love Sandra Oh, the star of the series (pictured above), I decided to check out the BBC hit Killing Eve. I managed to sit through two of the 43-minute episodes in the show's first season. This involved watching people die in the following ways: a hair pin stuck in an eyeball, four slit throats, a stomach pumped full of bullets, and two poisonings by asphyxiation. Each murder was performed by a young female sociopath assassin who had a ball doing it, basically laughing all the way to the bank. In fact, I found her cold-hearted reaction to murdering strangers for reasons completely unknown to her even more disturbing than the very acts themselves.

I did not have any fun watching this scripted mayhem, yet all the reviews of the show promised I would. One critic called it "delicious fun," while another said it was "an intelligent spy-thriller and captivating good time." The fans love it, so now it's on to Season 2. None for me thanks-- I'm hoping to sleep through the night sometime soon.

I am left wondering why so many people find this sort of entertainment entertaining. As a society, we've come a long way from Mr. Ed (talking horse) Car 54, Where Are You? (dumb cops) I Dream of Jeannie (astronaut marries a genie who lives in a bottle), Leave It to Beaver (average American family solves typical problems), Father Knows Best (the title says it all), and all the other shows of the 1950s and 60s that were not about drug addiction, prison life, sex crimes and murder, murder, murder, murder. I see Killing Eve as a further descent into Hell rather than as an escape from the one we live in called Real Life, and no fun at all.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Merry Christmas After All

How did I get this old without ever seeing any of these?
Last night, momentarily insane, I agreed to travel during the Christmas holidays. My lapse in judgement may have stemmed from a "Cool Whip shot" I ingested at a Christmas party two nights ago.  I'm not sure what was in it; one person said rum and another said Kahlua. Anyway, hoping to shed my "Bah, humbug!" reputation and get in the spirit of things, I went for it. This was right after a fellow reveler had approached me with a plastic bag full of individual cups of jello, holding it out for me to take one. I asked what it was and she found my query so hysterical she had to tell several  people standing nearby about it. Anyway, turns out they were "Jello shots," which was news to me. Despite my past consumption of pot, LSD, mescaline, cocaine, magic mushrooms, hashish and a wide variety of frozen alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas sticking out of them, I had never come across one of those. (Live and learn.)

As for the insanity mentioned earlier, my husband and I will fly almost all the way across the country to be with friends in Phoenix on Christmas Day. Naturally my mixed emotions are being whipped into a lather by the TV meteorologists who aim to make every weather event The Storm of the Century. This morning, during a local report on the friendly snowfall we are experiencing as I write this, one of them said, "I promise this holiday weekend, travel will be a mess!" (Really? You promise?)

Normally, being Jewish we usually do nothing besides watch a movie and order Chinese take-out, like we learned in Hebrew school. There's no frantic last-minute shopping or late night gift-wrapping sessions, and Christmas is just a regular day, only without mail and the newspaper. But this year we will celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus with dear old friends who are Italian Catholics, complete with a tree, holiday lights, presents and a lasagna dinner attended by 14 people. I better start shopping.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Marriage 101

A young newlywed friend of mine asked me if marriage is more than having someone to listen to your complaints all the time. I told him yes, of course there's more to it. Marriage is a wonderful convenience for people who are looking for a scapegoat, which is just about everyone. Around my house I get blamed for everything. If anything is lost, I obviously threw it out. If the door is locked, I obviously locked it, even if I was asleep in my bed when my spouse went out to get the mail at the post office.

On the other hand, when you need a driver to take you home after your colonoscopy, you've got one at the ready. Last time I asked if I could simply call a cab and they said no, explaining that the hospital will not permit you to leave with a stranger after you have been anesthetized. (Thanks a lot, #MeToo movement.)

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Fake Authenticity of Lil Miquela

"Keep Obama in president!"
Surely you remember the "Obamaphone lady," pictured at right, a somewhat endearing idiot who was voting for Obama because he was giving all the people on welfare free cell phones, as opposed to his opponent Romney, about whom she succinctly said, "He sucks."  At the time I was appalled that such a large portion of our population believed such rot and acted upon it. But by today's standards that Obamaphone lady was a Rhodes scholar.

An article in today's Wall Street Journal describes the rise of an Instagram superstar who has 1.5 million followers watching her every move. Her name is Miquela Sousa, a.k.a. Lil Miquela, and she's about to become an even bigger "influencer" than the Kardashians, if such a thing is possible what with Kim's ginormous butt. But here's the rub: Miquela is a fake. As in not a real person, but a so-called "CGI-based social media influencer" represented by a Los Angeles startup called Brud. CGI stands for computer-generated imagery, and Miquela came to be in 2016 as part of a digital art project with an Instagram account.

Her agents have Miquela inserted into photographs of actual high-end restaurants or wearing expensive fashion brands. Billboards in London and Japan currently feature her touting Ugg products, testing the power of a social media celebrity. "I think the success of digital talent is in their engagement and their authenticity," said Adam Westcott, partner at a talent management firm for social media influencers. (Yes, he said that.)

While Kim Kardashian has a fake butt, at least she's got a beating heart. Suddenly she doesn't seem quite so bad.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Film Review: DUMPLIN'

Given the state of the nation it was only a matter of time, but finally, being fat is in. And not only is it in, but it's better than being thin. Apparently fat people are nicer, more generous and have a better outlook on life than mere superficialities. Or so the story goes. (Truth be told, they do judge people on looks, and anyone audacious enough to be thin and in shape sucks.)

The Netflix movie Dumplin' brings this point home in spades. Despite the fact that it's not a "real movie" but one made for TV, it's gotten a lot of reviews, all positive, including one calling it a "feel-good hit" and a clear thumbs-up from a New York Times critic who is usually hard as nails to please.

It turns out that I am even harder to please since I found it cloying, simplistic and impossible to watch in one sitting without tossing my cookies. So I watched it two nights in a row, since I wanted to get it under my belt after reading about it in so many places. I am always interested in the portrayal of fat people in films, having grown up in the enormous shadow of my obese older sister and seeing the devastation involved firsthand. Also, I've been a fan of Jennifer Aniston since her days on Friends and wanted to see what she's up to these days. (She was one of the film's producers.)

The movie, based on a young-adult novel of the same name, turns a blind eye to the girth of the main character, an obese teen named Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) who goes by the name of Will (she's so strong!). But her skinny mom Rosie (Aniston) still calls her by the childhood nickname Dumplin' -- an obvious reference to her doughy, pudgy body. Rosie also leaves prepared salads for Will in the fridge, which is supposed to indicate how unfeeling and downright malicious she is in wanting her only daughter to lose weight and get healthy. (I thought it was nice.)

There's no dad in sight and we wonder who pays the bills, since Rosie spends most of her time running teen beauty pageants in a small towns somewhere in Texas. She's done it for years since she won the local crown herself twenty years ago. Daughter Will decides to enter the pageant despite her obvious physical flaw, and gets two other friends -- a macho lesbian and an even fatter girl -- to join her as a protest to all those horrid people who value looks and thin bodies and girly girls. (How dare they?)

Blah, blah, blah. The handsomest boy in high school (Luke Benward) falls for Will even though the thin, sexy girl who ultimately wins the pageant asks him to the dance, but he doesn't like her "that way." Instead he wants only Will because she's so beautiful on the inside. (This movie is a fantasy, after all.) The entire soundtrack is comprised of Dolly Parton songs -- she wrote six new ones for this film -- so if that's your thing you'll be entertained. Also amusing are a group of drag queens who help Will and her cohorts transform themselves for the pageant, doing their hair and makeup and teaching them how to strut their stuff.

In the end Rosie sees the error of her ways and the fat friend is named First Runner Up, but Will is disqualified for breaking some pageant rule -- she's such a rebel! -- even though she gave a fabulous performance and the crowd loved her. Buoyed by the applause, she strides out on her wobbly, red high heels and goes straight to the diner where the hot high school boy works and they kiss, out in the parking lot next to the dumpster, because now she knows she's worth a guy like him.

All I can say is poor Jennifer Aniston. She deserves better.

Seize the Day

Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring, the Moon in Autumn
  By Wu Men Hui-k'ai
Ten thousand flowers in spring, 
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, 

snow in winter.

If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Let's NOT Do Lunch

I just learned about a poet named Rumi who lived in Persia about 800 years ago, give or take a century. Supposedly he is the most-read, best-selling poet in America today, which I find hard to believe since you never hear a word about him. Instead it's Trump, Trump, Trump all the time, and occasionally Maya Angelou. Anyway, I listened to one of Rumi's poems on a meditation podcast and decided to order "The Essential Rumi," and I'm glad I did. Reading his words late last night rescued me from a Darkening Mood that threatened to morph into a Pit of Despair where I might have lain until God knows when, seeing as my husband is out of town and I have no friends in the immediate area checking in on me.

Even if I had any, that's simply not the Maine way -- I could lay in that Despair Pit for a week without anyone noticing. I've accepted that fact after almost ten years here, until today when an article in the Wall Street Journal on the dangers of loneliness among aging baby boomers gave me a start. The claim was made that loneliness "is as closely linked to early mortality as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day or consuming more than six alcoholic drinks a day. It is even worse for longevity than obesity or inactivity."

So starting today I vow to reach out more. For example, yesterday I never interacted with anyone except with my husband on the phone. On the other hand, I spent hours painting in my studio, which is more rewarding to me than chit-chatting at a cafe with a friend. (Maybe the loneliness thing doesn't apply to artists.)

As for Rumi, he suggested fasting as a way to increase creativity and self-realization: "There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness. If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire." So there's another reason to skip lunch with a friend. Or even lunch alone.

"Killing Eve" Is Killing Me

It's not news that we live in difficult times. Just a few months ago the New York Times wrote, "Long-term use of antidepressant...