When TV Feels Like Homework

Ever since I had kids (ok, ok… if I’m honest, even before I had kids), I have a mental queue of TV series and movies that I “should” watch. You know, the entertainment equivalent of eating fancy meals (not vegetables because that would be documentaries and the History Channel). Like, I should totally watch The SopranosLost, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, etc. But just the thought of it is mentally exhausting and feels insurmountable.

At least before I had kids, I could binge watch series (and believe me, I have!) but now that I have kids, it seems almost impossible. Unless, of course, I’m binge watching something kid friendly. That’s what we call business as usual in our house. In the rare moments when I have free time, I’m too tired to invest it into watching a series where I’ll be hooked and need to know what happens next and due to my extremely addictive nature, will lay aside all other life-giving duties just to splay out on my couch and zone out to five seasons of some awesome show. It’s even too exhausting to think about watching a movie (let alone remember what movie I wanted to watch).

Currently, I have in my DVR queue the last 4-5 episodes of Burn Notice which ended last summer, at least half of last season’s Covert Affairs, several episodes each of Vampire Diaries and The Originals, and this does not include all the shows that I gave up any pretense of watching and deleted from my DVR to make room for more Dragon Riders of Berk for the kiddos.

want to watch these episodes, but the reason I don’t is because I know myself. They’re like potato chips. I can’t just watch one. If I finally sit down to watch one, I will have to immediately WATCH THEM ALL. Then before I know it, it’s 2am, Hapa Papa is annoyed at me, asking things like, “What are you, a teenager? You think you’re still in college? YOU HAVE BABIES!” and I’m exhausted and cranky the next two or three days.

Yes, I know. A TV Bender leaves me out of sorts for days.

Those shows better be the most awesome things my eyeballs have ever seen. EVAR.

As a result, I end up watching shows that I like and love, but aren’t full of sex and violence so I can watch them around the kids. Even then, sometimes, it gets dicey. Plus the kids get annoyed and I get manipulated into watching Dragons for the billionth time. Again.

It’s easier to leave the TV off.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who finds consuming entertainment hard work!


White Man’s Burden

You know what I’m sick of seeing on TV and in movies? Some white dude swooping in to protect and save either women, minorities, or people from a different culture from some thing – be it sexual slavery, rape, themselves, etc. What spurred this rant? This week’s NCIS episode.

Now normally, I love me some NCIS and Leroy Jethro Gibbs. (Mark Harmon just does it for me. I realize this makes me some kind of old, but whatever. Don’t judge me.) But this episode just pissed me off. Why? Because ostensibly, the episode was about smuggling Afghani women who were fleeing arranged marriages or abusive husbands into America. The women came to attention because some Afghani families hired a hitman to find the escaped women in America and “honor kill” them by dumping acid in their face. (Apparently too much hydroflouric acid can cause cardiac arrest. Who says TV doesn’t teach you anything?)

However, mostly the episode just highlighted Gibbs and his guilt over not helping earlier. When an Afghani women’s shelter is threatened with a bombing by the local men, Gibbs goes outside and fights off the mean Afghani men. *eyerolls* The women are just props and background. You never care about them except in a vague “feed the children” kind of way, and the emphasis is only Gibbs, his “bravery” for standing up to those “savages” and how he saves the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not pro bombings, abusing women, or marrying teenage girls to old men. But really? FFS, people. White dudes are not the only saviors in this world but time and time again, we get some stoic, no nonsense white guy swooping in (reluctantly, natch) to save these poor victims from whatever trite villainy of the day. It’s really just a prime time version of the After School Special and the Very Special Episode.

It’s contrived and really fucking annoying.

I’m all for shows that truly highlight issues that are ripped from the headlines, but I am NOT for using whole groups of people – especially victims – as gimmicks. They are only present to set up the hero. This objectifies and re-victimizes these people all over again.

Of course, I’m totally screwing up my explanation. I’m rarely very good at explaining issues of privilege in clear, useful language. I’m much more of a ranty “GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!! THIS SUCKS BALLS!!” type of reactionary writer. For some coherent reasons why this situation is annoying, here are some recent articles I cribbed from Racialicious.

The Problem With Miss Saigon
Malala Yousafzai and the White Savior Complex
War Before Memory
Mighty Whitey (from TV Tropes)

So that’s what you get today for a post. Rantiness. But it can’t be just me who feels this way, right? RIGHT?

*Image courtesy of Racialicious.

Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?

I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge. I think I’m beautiful. It sounds so wrong to say it, but I have eyes. I can look in the mirror. (I won’t kid myself and say what I really mean is that I’m beautiful on the inside. We all know I am the vain, flighty sort.) Sure, I’d look much better if I made any sort of remote effort to dress well or wear makeup, but I am really far too lazy and practical.

I used to tell Hapa Papa all the time that I was the better looking half of the relationship. He would retort, “For now…

Don ‘t all fight for him at once, ladies. He’s all mine.

Because although it may not be objectively true, it certainly is culturally true. (The only thing I’ve got going for me is that I’m Asian so I should age well. But Hapa Papa is half Asian, so it really could be a toss up.) After all, men allegedly just get better looking and more attractive as they grow older. (Personally, I think the thicker bank account has more to do with this “attractiveness,” but I digress.) Women, on the other hand, do not. Apparently we shrivel up and turn into desiccated old-lady husks as soon as we hit twenty-five.

Sometimes, I really despise American beauty standards.

Anyhow, I bring this up because a few weeks ago, I heard Lana Del Rey’s song, Young and Beautiful, on So You Think You Can Dance. I know I’m the leaky sort anyway, (from many parts of my body – but I blame that on babies and hormones. Too much?) but I teared up. I found the chorus particularly sad, lonely, and true to the insecurities we all have from time to time.

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

– Young and Beautitful, Lana Del Rey
(You can find the full lyrics here.)

I initially heard it as more of a woman desperately trying to convince herself that the person she loves will still love her. But perhaps it is more the quiet declaration of a woman confident in her lover’s long-spanning love. I don’t know. Personally, I tend towards the cynical, but that’s a different topic for another day.

What this song really does, though, is make me feel sad and melancholy.

I think of Fiddler On the Roof’s song, Do You Love Me?

I remember the vows people make when they marry – to love and cherish the other person for better or worse, until death do they part – and that these vows are supposed to be the answer to the poignant question, “Will you still love me?” And yet, the question still has to be asked because in our American culture, people are disposable and vows aren’t really all what they used to be. 

I think about infidelity and how people always ask if the other woman is younger and more beautiful as if that’s a valid reason to leave a wife. 

I think of Hapa Papa and how I was a little dismayed after having Cookie Monster because my stomach got all poochy and my body was a little lumpier than before and how Hapa Papa told me he thought I was beautiful because my body grew and birthed Cookie Monster and wasn’t it worth it to have him even if my body had changed?

So is it any wonder that the song stirred up a longing to be loved that deeply and steadfastly? I’m just so grateful that I am.

Here’s the song for you to enjoy. I’ve also included the video for the dance. I won’t tell if you get something in your eyes.

Where Are the Characters that Look Like My Kids?

Having been forced to watch HOURS of PBS and SPROUT programming, I have found there to be a lack of diversity on many children’s programs. (I know. Amazing observation.) Also, I know I wouldn’t have ended up watching so much of this if I were a better parent and never allowed my children to watch TV, but that ship has sailed.

Anyhow, it’s not so much that the programs don’t have people of color IN the show, but more so that they are not the MAIN character or person with agency. They’re there, but as sidekicks or very minor, secondary characters. (Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. eg: Dora, Diego, Ni Hao Kai-Lan) Otherwise, the POC are in very special episodes like “Let’s learn about Chinese New Year!” or “Let’s learn about Cinco de Mayo!”

Disclaimer: By no means am I an expert on this subject. I have no studies or reports to back up my statements. I am just going with what I see on a daily basis. (And I don’t really watch too many kid shows in general, so again, not an expert on kid shows.) Also, I have linked the shows to Amazon affiliate links. I honestly don’t expect you to buy these DVDs (it’s free on PBS!), but hey, you never know!

Ok, back to illustrating what I mean. For example:

1) Super WHY!Cookie Monster adores this show. But there is really only one black girl (although she is a princess) and perhaps Wyatt may be part Latino (but that is never clear or obvious). If there are other people of color in the show, it is only in very special books where they are in another country or it’s a festival or whatever. It’s rare to see POC around just in every day situations and not as an anomaly.

2) Wild Kratts – Again, Cookie Monster LOVES this show. But even though there are two brilliant women in the group, Aviva, the Latina inventor and Cookie, the black navigator, they are mostly background. The main agents of the show are two white males. Of course, it’s based on two real white males, so I understand. Again, I’m not lamenting the fact that there are so many shows with white men in it as main characters. I am lamenting the LACK of POC as main characters. I certainly do not begrudge the success Chris and Martin Kratt experience.

3) Curious GeorgeGamera LOVES Curious George and watches this show endlessly on the PBS Kids! app. I think the reason I include this show is because although there are people of color represented (and some are main characters), there is no context for this city. I know it’s supposed to be ANY city ANYWHERE, but it really isn’t. It always seems like it’s in Brazil or some South American country, but then it ISN’T. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. There’s just SOMETHING that is a little off about the show. That’s all. I could be crazy about this one.

4) Thomas and Friends – Please keep in mind, Cookie Monster watches hours of this show (and its fan made videos) on YouTube every day. I totally appreciate how it allows me to not parent. I know the show’s set on an island near/owned by England, but seriously, not everyone in England is white. I swear! They have POC, too! So why aren’t there any on the fucking island? Every once in a blue moon, you see perhaps an Indian, but they always have accents. Come on. Really? You can do better.

I could list more, but I’m lazy and quite frankly, I can’t think of any more off the top of my head. And that is usually the basis of whether or not I do things. Ease of completion. 😀

Now, onto some shows that I think do really WELL in this area.

1) Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – When I first started watching the show, I was boggled at why my kids, let alone ANY kids, would watch this drivel. But then, I realized, they repeat the same theme/song throughout the whole 30 minutes in different contexts and it’s super catchy. However, what I MOST appreciate about this show is that there are black people in it! And in mixed families! And not all the black people are related to each other! What a revelation!! No, seriously. I find it FANTASTIC.

2) Caillou – OK, I know many parents find this show utterly annoying, but I really like it. I like its slow pace and that it really is similar to the life of a toddler and being a parent of a toddler. I think that’s why so many kids love the show – because it accurately portrays their experience. Anyhow, I do enjoy how there are many different families of color and that people of color are portrayed in normal, every day situations. Yes, sometimes there is the highlighted very special Chinese New Year episode with “chinky” music, but for the most part, Asians don’t have accents, and people of color are described as old friends and are treated as such.

3) The Legend of Korra – Ok. Technically, not a preschooler’s show. So sue me. And yes, I realize that the racial constructs are NOT in the same world as we live in. But I don’t care. It’s pretty fucking awesome to see people of color be main characters, have agency, and kick ass in both physical and intellectual endeavors. Also, fucking awesome show in general. (Particularly since it’s anchored in a lot of Chinese and other Asian culture. Which just makes it more awesome.)

4) Young Justice – Alright. Again, not a “kid’s” show. But they’re super heroes – and SO MANY of them are of color. And they’re not just side-kicks. They are legit super heroes in their own right. And plus, AquaLad? OMG – yum!! Of course, because this show was so awesome, it was canceled. Fucking Cartoon Network. 😦

Now, if you’re still with me (and if you don’t have kids and are still reading – bless your hearts, you crazy people, why are you still reading this?), please understand that I’m not dissing these shows. I think for the most part, they’re perfectly fine. But they could be BETTER, with very little effort (I think). Plus, think of all that niche marketing!!

What shows do you think are especially good at diversity (whether socio-economic, racial, sexual orientation, etc)?