Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things I Like and Have Been Liking

Sitting around the house without work, power, or your spouse tends to lead of ruminating by candlelight over things you've enjoyed more or things you think you might enjoy more. Here is a list of things I've enjoyed more than sitting at home alone with the power out (which is not to be taken as any indictment of their enjoyability). 

The Count of Monte Cristo
Not the book, but the anime. Mike got me this series for Christmas, and though it's only 24 episodes long we've been slowly taking it in for over a month, and just finished two days ago. It's not that the series lacks appeal, but that it does seem to require some acclimation, some digestion, and some adjustment of our general TV-watching mood. It's animated essentially in layers--hand-drawn over CG, textures and patterns over the hand-drawn, so that the characters tend to look as if they've been in a fight with a Geocities wallpaper. 

It took me about four episodes to get used to this, and to the telling itself, which is centered on the Count's mistress's son Albert rather than on Edmund Dantes and his gradual transformation into the Count. The series tends to emphasize the sordid intrigues of Paris and of a world (spoken of with gravity and dread: "Eastern Space") meant to stand in for the lawless, pirate-haunted, desert islands that populate the book. This for me was a little difficult to follow--not so much because I'm familiar with the book, but because to follow Albert is to follow this sweet little rich boy, naive of the plotting and manipulating that is immediately and obviously apparent to us. Eventually, that focus is earned as we watch Albert shed some of his spoiled and self-important naivete about the world while retaining his idealism and strengthening his youthful exuberance and passions. I don't mean this to be a spoiler, and hopefully if you watch the show it won't be--but Albert literally hugs away the final problem of the series. It is the kind of ending Mike and I have always marveled at in anime, where the character saves the world by the sheer power of their refusal to compromise one single thing. It is at once inspiring and ludicrous. 

And, in a way, so is this show. I came to enjoy the gratuitous animation and found it suited the melodrama of the plot. There's a club girl with hair made out of sequins, a newsman with a shirt made of sensational headlines. Once I got used to it, these exaggerations complemented the storytelling well. 

Besides, there is something I love deeply about revenge stories. My next novel will be one if I can come up with a situation solid enough to support the explicit plotting and impossibly high emotion that revenge brings with it. Would you ever pursue revenge? I don't think I would. I love imagining the person who is otherwise like me, but would, under the right circumstances, devote the entirety of their lives to one ludicrously single-minded pursuit. Most of the best books I can think of are revenge books on some level. Go! Do the outsized and complicated deed that could never resolve the past! I am in love with reading about that quest.

The Simpsons
, Season 7
In planning my writing class on The Simpsons, I began to feel that my collection was just a little lacking, and I had to decide which season was most needed to bring it up to par. This was the one I chose. It's full of classics, of course; you've got Bart selling his soul, Lisa becoming a vegetarian, Homer making himself obese to get on disability, Mr. Burns finally waking from a coma and naming his shooter, and Selma entering a sham marriage with Troy McClure. But what I found out after rewatching this season (and this one I moved through quickly; I've already watched a few of these three times, plus commentary) was that I really bought this season for Marge. Marge's character develops in really stunning ways this season. 

There's "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield," where she finds a Chanel suit on clearance and uses it to fit in to higher society--I about lose it when we find out that Springfield has a luxury clothing district, and that Marge drives herself there in secrecy and desperation to obtain a Chanel dress for her initiation into high society, this time at the regular price. It helps that Marge is my mom--naturally selfless, fiercely loving, fully committed to the life that she was kind of trapped in (my mom is old enough that she was never going to get to be much other than a clerk, a teller, a teacher, even if she had great aptitude for other things, which she did). So when Marge buys a dress she can't afford, I think of my mom doing that, and I think of how very much she must have wanted what wearing that dress would mean for her. And how sad when she gives that up. But how hard it would have been to carry out what she wanted anyway. How sad for Marge that nothing can really ever change, and what a testament to her that she finds joy for herself in other ways, making it work for her anyway. 

There's also "Marge Be Not Proud," where Bart shoplifts and Marge briefly grows distant from him. Watching these two in tandem is telling, I think--if Marge can't have anything outside her family, and if her family lets her down, then what's she got? They really got to the heart of her this season, I think--much more so than the Marge-centered episodes that center on reversals, where she gets a boob job, or becomes a cop or an Olympic curling champion, or starts weightlifting, and so on. Reversals of her character aren't nearly as interesting as the kinds of explorations you see in Season 7. But they do help, in the scheme of things, to show us how hard she works to "be" Marge Simpson, all the performances she puts on, and what other kinds of performances she might like to try for a day. That kind of thing. I could write feminist love songs about Marge all day. Not that she represents a feminist, or even a kind of feminism. It's just that she sort of explains all the things, closeted and tamped-down things, women really need in order to take their right and full place in the world. Marge doesn't need a different job, or a different husband. She needs something of her own to put her faith in.

I do read, as well, not just watch TV--I promise. I just haven't finished anything recently. I'm gearing up for David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which we're reading in our master's workshop, and I hope to get some time soon to finish Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others, a book of stories that are sometimes fables, sometimes fantasy, sometimes sci-fi, all pretty impeccably imagined and made to matter. Looking forward to be able to say more about these soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment