Monday, May 30, 2016

TV: Love

"I thought you were an Ice Queen but you're not, are you? You're really sensitive."

An ex once said this to me. It came with the realisation that there was a pattern in my love life. When men realise I have feelings and I'm no longer 'cool', they become faintly disgusted and lose interest. This process, the collapse of the Cool Girl illusion, is what makes Judd Apatow's Netflix series Love relatable.

Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs)
Here, I'll recount a narrative surely many women can recognise. First, you clock that a guy fancies you. You feel some duty to reciprocate but quickly remember that you're an independent woman who doesn't owe men anything. You endeavour to emit unsexy friendships vibes, hoping he notices. (They usually don't bother to notice.) Then, sometimes, you end up sleeping with him. This can happen due to drunkenness/low self-esteem/a random spike in libido. If a couple more of these nights happen, you might start to really like him. "Yes! I'm going to get a nice boyfriend! He's not perfect but that's okay!" This is when he gets all confident, goes cold and fucks you over. A classic tale.

"Surprise! I'm not the cool girl, okay?" is a great line. (As an aside, I feel compelled to note that, as a woman, fucking around doesn't mean you don't care. It means you care so much that you need to anaesthetise yourself to the world while secretly, very deep down, hoping this tosser will be the one to stick around.) This conversation is so real, and these honest bits of dialogue are the show's main strength. 

Love is funny, well-acted and charming in a similar way to cult TV series Freaks and Geeks. However, there are faults to touch on, especially the phenomenon of hot woman (played by Gillian Jacobs of Community fame) with nerdy, ugly dude (played by Paul Rust of no fame). This feeds into common tropes, namely Give Geeks a Chance and Ugly Guy, Hot Wife, and reflects textbook double standards. Come to think of it, Judd Apatow always pairs an unattractive or average-looking man, often a nerd with little experience, with a Beautiful Woman (i.e. one who has been certified male-approved by society). In fact, it's kind of his thing.

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up (2007)
Mila Kunis and Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) - spoiler alert: by the end of the film, Kristen Bell's character also wants to bang him. NB: This film was only produced, not directed or written, by Apatow.
Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in Superbad (2007)
A character played by Elizabeth Banks pursues Carell's Andy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Does Apatow repeatedly use this formula as a shortcut to empathy, expecting the audience to root for the underdog? Likely. Are these male protagonists, at least to some extent, self-inserts? Also likely. I can't help but suspect nerds get a kick out of seeing themselves 'get the girl' on screen.

Let's have a look at Gus' romantic/sexual interests...

Heidi (Briga Heelan), the blonde bombshell
Gus' girlfriend
The two young women who want a three-way with Gus *hard eye roll*
Achingly cool Binki Shapiro, who plays someone at a party interested in Gus
All these women are beautiful, and Gus is not. That isn't to say beauty standards are right and everyone should only couple up with others in their 'league'. Men like Paul Rust, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, etc, are considered superficially unattractive by shitty beauty standards. (Ideals that have not been created by women, by the way, and can't be compared to those imposed upon us, cf. Beauty and Misogyny by Sheila Jeffreys.)

Some attempts have recently been made to subvert these tropes. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013) and Rebel Wilson in How To Be Single (2016) are supposed to defy conventional beauty standards, mostly by not being size zero. These women are given sex lives, or at least desires. But the differences between these fat female characters and comparable fat men in Hollywood are significant. Most notably, the men are protagonists rather than amusing sidekicks. But they are also, crucially, given love lives. When McCarthy's Bridesmaids character announces she'd climb a man like a tree, her sexual appetite is being played for laughs. How To Be Single sees Wilson's character engage in casual hook ups, being 'cool' about it, and that is posited as progressive because it means men are willing to fuck her. Is that really a step in the right direction?

Returning to Love, I think Mickey trumps Gus on all bases - looks and personality. Yes, she's fucked up but she is undeniably fun and funny, while he is uptight and often cringe-worthy. I'm certain Judd Apatow is aware of his male lead's unlikability, which makes some later decisions baffling. Nonetheless, I'll be watching Series Two when it arrives simply because I love Mickey Dobbs, whose doesn't-give-a-shit, 'why not?' attitude and deep insecurities speak to me on many levels. I just hope the next instalment is fair to her. After all, if Gus can score hot chicks to make nerds happy, can't we 20-something-year-old single women see Mickey be happy?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

My First Polling Day

Three weeks ago, I turned up alone to West Hampstead station on the instructions of an email from my local party. Campaign organiser Vicky put me in a group with Councillor James Yarde, Councillor Thomas Gardiner, Youth Officer Jack Boardman and former MP (now London Assembly Member) Andrew Dismore. Wearing Sadiq Khan stickers and clutching leaflets, we started the two hour canvassing session.

The process is this: someone 'runs the board', giving you names of past Labour voters and their house/flat numbers from a list on a clipboard. You knock on the door or ring the buzzer. There are usually several names that you need to remember for each flat.

"Hello, my name is Sienna! I'm from your local Labour Party!" This upbeat greeting is followed by  questions. 'Do you know whether you're registered to vote? Do you know which party you'll be voting for on May 5th?' If they respond well, we also ask about the EU referendum in June.  With this information, you return to the board person and share the data you collected. They write it down in a code: 'V' for voted, 'L' for Labour, 'X' for non-voter, etc.

Most of the properties we were covering had buzzers, which meant talking over the intercom. Somehow this made the process more nerve-racking. 'This is the hardest it gets,' said Andrew Dismore.

May 5th: Election Day

After finishing my internship at House & Garden, I decided to canvass as much as possible. Come election day, I have a few sessions under my belt. I go to a nearby committee room ready to campaign on polling day from 7am to 10pm. Jack has given me the impression everyone does this, but it turns out we are the only ones this year. (Two days later, I am still hobbling, unused to 15 hour walks.)

Meeting voters, I tell them elections are today and ask whether they've voted. Some are annoyed and say they've already voted; quite a few are surprised - "Oh, is that today?". A couple of people I spoke to seemed to think they could vote all week, one dismissing me with "it's alright, I'm voting Saturday" and another asserting he planned to vote in the next couple of days. Why don't we have posters everywhere saying 'Election Day Today'? We really need to make this clearer.

The real fun starts in the evening. Although my feet are vibrating with pain and my legs are wobbly, excitement (and, admittedly, pride) keeps me going. We run around telling people who are under the false impression they're unregistered to get dressed and vote. One man says he can't leave to vote as his child is sleeping. I say I'm sorry to hear that and it's a real shame - every vote counts! Later, he comes out of his flat, groggy-looking kid in hand, asking for directions to the polling station. Another voter (surrounded by scary barking dogs) claims he will vote Labour just for me. These moments make my heart buzz with joy.

I still find myself too nervous to join in some political discussions with the other activists for fear of sounding stupid. Councillor Thomas is super knowledgeable about housing, and Jack has equipped himself with every detail of local politics. Thomas - fair enough, he's in his 30s and elected. Jack, on the other hand, is my age. I feel complete shame when I don't know about the Kilburn estate that makes its own honey and I can't name all the Camden councillors. But I've already learnt so much. 

Here's my advice: don't wait until your knowledge is perfect to get politically active if that's something you'd like to do - just go for it. 

Child Genius Leaves Vogue House

Perhaps I should attach this photo to my CV in future?

My six month internship at House & Garden has come to an end. We inhabitants of 'The Box' (the online team's tiny office) marked my departure with a trip to Pizza Pilgrims, and my box of leftovers was labelled 'Child Genius' for that was my Condé Nast name.

Some of my H&G pieces: