Tag Archives: commentary

why dietland matters

Coming off of SaTC week, let’s focus on some very different television: Dietland.  Based on the 2015 book by Sarai Walker, this show tells the story of a “morbidly obese” woman, Alicia “Plum” Kettle, who has put her entire life on hold until she is no longer fat.  She denies herself more than just food: she denies herself feelings, love, sex, socializing, a career, her writing, baking, hopes and dreams.  Her life is limited to a few blocks of Brooklyn (HI PARK SLOPE!) except for days she goes in to her employer, a Hearst Media style publisher in Hudson Yards (which is where L’Oreal is based in reality), where she ghostwrites for a glamourously thin editor played by Juliana Marguiles.  By the third episode though, she’s realizing she isn’t denying herself life because she hates herself.  She’s denying herself life because the world hates her.

Show protagonist Joy Nash – in “normal” joyful clothes as herself, and as the self-denying trying-to-be-invisible Plum Kettle

So far the reviews have been mixed: the show is well written, well put together, and different than anything else on TV, but tries to cram in a lot.  The original material is almost hallucinatory in its surreality at times, so I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise.  The problem is that the sheer density of the book has resulted in reviews which speak too much to the crowded nature of the show, and fail to notice that this is the first show to openly talk about two important topics.  The first of these is the way American society has, for years, taught women to enable and ignore poor behavior by men, while, at the same time, punishing and mocking women for behaving (or appearing, which seems to be considered a behavior in itself) in non-standard ways.  The second of these is the national addiction to antidepressants, and the impact of long term use and withdrawal.  Selling pharmaceuticals to one in four Americans is so lucrative than I’m genuinely shocked anyone called out that it might not be a good idea.

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First of all, I’m incredibly impressed that this show actually depicts and narrates the constant pressure women feel  in society to allow men to engage in the behavior that makes women feel bad, while simultaneously pressuring us to not engage in behavior that would make anyone else around us uncomfortable.  It is the first time I’ve seen a show on TV that portrays a fat woman being sexually harassed for no reason, and acknowledging that she is reluctant to speak up or clap back because g-d forbid she she should make it worse. Dietland actually takes this a bit further, and not only calls out men’s shitty behavior, but actually tries to show us all how to hold men accountable for it, without putting all the pressure to resist on the women who are the victims of said shitty behavior.  In last night’s episode, when a man harassed a woman in a convenience store, the other women in the bodega banded together to film and shame him.   We do not all have to torture and kill rapists as the shadowy “Jennifer” organization does, but as a society, we do need to call out men who harass women on the street or who slut-shame them in convenience stores.

This is one of the reasons why Dietland matters.  It shows men’s response to women who do not follow a socially acceptable code of conduct, which includes not only behavior, but appearance.   Society should hold men accountable for making choices to “grab women by the pussy”, rather than giggling and infantilizing those choices as “boys will be boys“.  And when a man bro’s out at the expense of a woman, making a comment on her weight or appearance for his own amusement (as a custodial worker does, mocking Plum to his buddy in an elevator), it is the responsibility of the other men to tell him he’s an ass.

The second reason this show matters is that it shows a protagonist going off anti-depressants and the consequences for doing so.  There are many voices of reason that remind Plum she was on doctor prescribed pills, that she should, at the least, wean off them rather than go cold turkey.  But antidepressant withdrawal is a BFD as we begin to discover that it is easy to reap initial benefits from medication, but difficult as hell to get back off said medication when it becomes ineffective.  No one really wants to talk about how awful it is to try to come off antidepressants, a consequence that is not well researched and on which patients are certainly not well educated when they start the medication in the first place.  It’s doubtful that I would have turned down antidepressants in 2005 had i known it would be such an awful experience to come off those drugs in 2018.  However, I was not prepared for how awful the withdrawal would be, nor was I really prepared to face the fact that the antidepressants hadn’t been working for years.  The NYT has been running a whole series on this recently, which is as much about the withdrawal as it is about the fact that no one is studying withdrawal.  To have a mainstream TV show address the idea of antidepressant withdrawal feels extremely timely as we start to investigate what the real long term effects of these medications are.

I do wish Dietland addressed the proven fact that antidepressants rarely remain effective for more than a few years.  In the book and TV adaptation, Plum is on Y, an antidepressant that seems to have successfully repressed her feelings ever since she began taking it to cope with rejection from a man she trusted with her feelings.  The show addresses the ready willingness with which we sacrifice joy to avoid despair, the way we are encouraged to embrace antidepressants out of emotional risk aversion.  It does not address the real challenge, which is that if an antidepressant is prescribed for real depression, we are very likely on borrowed time with it – and we must take ownership for hacking our own brains in anticipation of the day it no longer works.

So for these two threads alone – Dietland matters.  It’s got its clunky parts, and can be jarring and unfinished in places.  The reviews are not wrong in that it is trying to cram a lot of plot and theme into a single hour long episode.  However, I believe this is important TV.  The more we portray these issues in television, the more we address the way we, as a society, still choose gender inequality.  This show reminds us that as women, our inequality is constantly reinforced through the beauty and body image standards imposed on us, both by men and by ourselves. The more we show the methodology in which women are made lesser, the more we can find ways to make us equal.

 

 

 

happy 20th to impressionable women everywhere

Parts of the Internet this week have been celebrating Sex & The City: The 20th Anniversary, since the show debuted on June 6th 1998.  These articles and discussions seem to be based in one of 3 major streams of discussion:

  • The show is fantastically dated, in a way that makes it a time capsule of (white, middle-class) Manhattan at the turn of the 21st century.  It is from that parallel dimension of existence, modern life without the Internet or smartphones or even widespread email.
  • The show was both forward and backwards for its time.  Forward in its focus on female relationships and for its lack of judgement of pre-marital sex, backwards in that it only includes LGBTQ+ characters as caricatures and punchlines.

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#WokeCharlotte is the BEST 

(There is a good post up on Jezebel illustrating the blinding whiteness of the show, btw)

  • THE MEN ARE ALL GENUINELY AWFUL.  In hindsight, every single one is terrible.  Except Harry.  And Smith.  But it took the show until season six, five minutes before ending, to come up with these grown ass man characters who could be in genuine equal partnerships between a man and woman.  (Also, no one should be Team Big because I agree with the Dirtcast podcast that he is likely a Republican BUT THATS OK BECAUSE NONE OF THE GIRLS EVER VOTED LOL WTF)

The show, however, did apparently inspire an entire generation of women to move to New York City and live fabulous, SaTC type lives.  This mostly applies to women my age, women who were in our impressionable 20s when the show was at its height, who then went on to use it as a model of sophistication and worse, a model of potential for what life should look like in a big city.

I actually think the portrayal of New York City was limiting to what is possible here.  This city is a kaleidoscope of experiences, and is never the same two days in a row, a constantly shifting myriad of possible experiences and storylines told through the eyes of millions of people from thousands of cultural backgrounds.  If anything, Sex and the City had blinders on to the majority of experiences possible in the city, limited as they were to their stratum of society, their parties and galas and balls and weekends in the Hamptons and only the most two-dimensional of art.  It calls into question how one should define sophistication: should it be familiarity with a conventional white upper-class culture, or should it be the ability to know one’s city from multiple perspectives?

However, I didn’t pick up my drive to live in a big city from SaTC.  I’ve wanted to live in a big city since I realized there were big cities to live in.   What I did absorb was a lot of  modeling for heterosexual relationships with emotionally immature men.  This is fine when you are 24 and you are dating a Jack Berger type and you need a framework with which to understand what the hell his problem is.  This is not fine when you actually find the love of your life and find yourself actually afraid to express emotion because you have picked up too many bad lessons from a TV show.

It’s this latter point that worries me a bit about Sex and the City.  Are there other women my age who use the show’s storylines as one way to map out our experiences with males?  By creating characters for a dramedy, could Sex & the City have inadvertently have given us a set of male character references that we’ve internalized by mistake?  Did the show contribute to the normalization of emotional immaturity in men by providing us with those models at a vulnerable time in cultural history?

I do not hear my friends actively making statements like, “oh, he’s just being like Big” because a) they’re not idiots and b) that reference is two decades old.   Still, could the idea of Carrie and Big’s relationship dynamic, where he is an emotional man-child who sabotages all her other relationships to keep her attached to him, and she still ends up with him as a reward for his bad behavior – has that permeated our culture as acceptable?  Could the idea of these insecure men like Steve or Berger, men who couldn’t accept high earning women (and yes, I know Steve got over it) have entered our brains as an acceptable thing that we should just put up with and make excuses for?  Has SATC reinforced these behaviors as acceptable or did it just reflect our own inter-gender dynamics back to us?

I am afraid I can’t answer this through my own experience: I’ve been with my husband since I was twenty-seven, when the guys I was dating were also in their late 20s and early 30s, and were all still emotionally immature.  My knowledge of male behavior by men over the age of 30 is therefore limited to third-hand insight: pop culture, advice columns, and the tales of my friends.  Therefore, the idea of this kind of poor male behavior being normalized may be a pop-culture stereotype.  But as we begin to hold men accountable for their immaturity and entitlement , we have to re-evaluate what behavior women have normalized and internalized over the years as part of heteronormative dynamics – and SaTC may be one of the sources we have to question.

Still.  Happy birthday to Sex & The City, happy 20th to all of us for having the show, and all its modeling of women, their friendships, their sex-positivity and their ability to pursue vocational callings in the big city.   Even if their characters still couldn’t figure out how to use a smartphone (aaaaaaaargh) in 2009, we still should celebrate Miranda having a BlackBerry in 1999, buying her own apartment and being an unapologetic “Esq”. We should still celebrate Charlotte eventually recognizing that Harry’s love and devotion to her was something special.  And we should celebrate the merciful death of the movie series thanks to Kim Cattrall, whose Samantha was the best of the characters, not because of her sexual independence, but because she was a business owning badass who loved herself more.

For that, and for silly women everywhere, happy 20th.

 

 

strapped

I was skimming Tamara Draut’s Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” at the library on Saturday. Paul and I had gone for a fresh load of books, because we live three blocks from a fairly sizeable L.A. library now, and are the sort of adorable nerd couple that go there on weekends. I was scanning the new releases and was curious: what IS happening to my peers across America?

Turns out, not much good. Maybe in the fly-over states, there’s a mythical place where people are living at similar quality of life levels as their parents. But with the squeeze on the middle class, I bet that’s only because their parents are out of the pages of “Nickel and Dimed”. There was anecdote after anecdote about people my age, in a similar position to me, who are buried in credit cards, mortgages, student loan debt. I’ve been lucky – MY loans were extremely low, and were from the Canadian government. I live in L.A. where there is NO point in a mortgage, as buying is so much more expensive than renting. And I have not fallen prey to the unscrupulous, poorly regulated credit card companies. And even I, until literally a few months ago, lived hand to mouth, breaking even every single month, completely unable to save more than 5% of my salary at best. (I’m supposed to be saving 20% now. I did the classic “if you get a raise, put it in savings” stunt right after I paid for Christmas. And the move, and the redecorating, etc, etc)

I fail to see what it is that is wrong with the system here. Why is it that, in major cities, NONE of us seem really able to get ahead? Seriously. I do really well, IMHO. I don’t make six figures, but I made all the right choices & got a lot of lucky breaks and now, here I am, twenty-eight, no kids or house to pay for, and yet – I’m still not really making much more than I need to live on.

OK, I have it easy, and have NO right to complain. I have my own career, a steady living I fell into a few years ago, where I have doubled my salary in the last three years through dumb luck and hard work. But even with all my luck & my comfy regular paycheck, I just burned through four months of savings in two weeks. $1100 to get Zippy fixed up. $850 for taxes on my freelance work last year. $335 for a parking ticket to the City of Los Angeles for parking in a handicapped spot last year. A run of bad luck, and bam! Back to zero in my savings account.

Obviously, there’s places I could cut & save. Vacations, for example. Especially vacations that involve staying at the W and eating at an extremely high-end restaurant. Magazine subscriptions. DirecTV/TIVO. The few, occasional meals out that we do go for. Throwing an upscale wine and dessert party for our friends. But seriously, that’s a few hundred dollars here or there – and it’s SO MUCH bigger than that. And I LIKE being able to spend money on things like that, because I haven’t broken free of the system enough to let go of material rewards. I don’t spend money eating out for meals very often – I pack lunches – and I don’t go to movies or even drinking at clubs very often, so I think I’m pretty OK with the indulgences I do have.

I guess the point is that its frustrating, trying to save money, and never seeming to be able to. At least I had the $2K to pay for a run of bad luck, too – many of my peers don’t. And even thinking about THAT makes me sad, because I’m at the upper end of the spectrum when it comes to Twenty-To-Thirtysomethings In The Big City. What does everyone else do? Hit the credit cards? Go into debt at 12.9% APR? Take six months to pay off $2K and end up paying a hundred dollars interest on it? Call their parents at the cost of their pride?

It isn’t even that I feel like we got scammed out of the quality of life that our parents had, or that previous generations had. I think the whole system of money, jobs, all of it – I think it’s fucked up. I think the way we’ve regimented ourselves into currency, constantly, is wrong. I think THAT needs to go out the window. Suspiciously like communism, which we’ve proved Westernized humans don’t have the mindset to adapt to right now. How do you squeeze out the middle class though, if there are no financial classes? Making life easier for the middle class would be a great patch – but this is a huge problem – and I think it’s tied into sustainability, consumerism, and so much more than I won’t even go into because my lunch break’s over – and i have to go make that money now.