Posted in Television and Film

13 Reasons Why It’s Okay Not to Be Okay

And now, in an astounding feat of bravery, I will attempt to touch this topic with a ten-foot pole.

If you’ve hip to the jive within the past few weeks, then you remember when Netflix released the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and you also remember the controversies that follow.

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If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the gist: the television series is based on the premise of what happens when a teenage girl commits suicide and then leaves cassette tapes detailing the reasons why to the people she says caused her death. The cruz of the controversy lies within the question of whether the show glorifies suicide or sets up this scenario as a revenge fantasy for high schoolers.

Let me clear: I’m not here to change anybody’s minds about anything(though, to be clear, I will almost always agree more with the freedom of speech over censorship, and this show is no exception). Also, I watched the show with full knowledge of the characters and the plot; I read the book it was based on, by Jay Asher, when I was still in high school.

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What I do want to talk about is why it’s important to speak up if you or someone you love is struggling with bullying, harassment, or mental health issues. One of the things that I think the show did accomplish well was show how many people would have been willing to help the main character, Hannah Baker, if she had only told them what was going on.

I won’t sugarcoat things for you: issues like rape, drug abuse, and self-harm are incredibly relevant to today’s teens. And no, I’m not just talking about “normal kids” or “public school kids;” I’m talking about all of them. Over the years, I’ve met people from all walks of life who have struggled through their teen years, including myself. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or whether or not you think these issues “relate” to you. They do, or they will, and you need to be prepared to talk about them.

So, here are my 13 Reasons Why it’s okay not to be okay.

1. Your Feelings Matter

I know it feels like a joke now to say that someone’s feeling are “valid,” but that doesn’t make it any less true. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from a super surprising source: comedian Louis C.K.

Whatever you’re dealing with, whether it’s personal, or even caused by other people, you can recognize your feelings for what they are. You don’t have to hide them, or brush them off. In fact, that usually makes things worse.

2. You Don’t Have to Tough It Out

They tell us that nobody likes a complainer. But letting people know what’s going on in your life, especially if it’s difficult enough to threaten your happiness, shouldn’t be called complaining. Admitting that you need help is nothing to be ashamed of.

3. You Can Take a Moment

If something or someone is stressing you out, you can step away from the situation. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to reflect on you and your emotional state. Don’t make it a habit, but also don’t construct a prison of your own making.

4. It’s Not Your Fault

Even if everything you’re feeling is completely internal, no external forces involved, you still shouldn’t blame yourself. It might be what we call a “heart problem,” or it could be something you need medication for. The point is, you don’t need to feel like a bad person for not being completely in control.

5. You are Not Weak

This isn’t an issue of strength, either. You are not weaker or lesser for the way you’ve been feeling. You’re human, and there should be no loss of pride or value concerning that fact.

6. There’s Nothing “Wrong” With You

This isn’t something to “fix.” You are not broken. Again, you are human. This is a season of your life, and in all of its difficulty, you are still you. Sometimes, you need help, but that’s not a reflection on you or your character.

7. No One Can Tell You How to Feel

Even me. This post isn’t supposed to be a diatribe; it’s meant as a comfort, to say that whoever you are, if you’re struggling, I believe you. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned since working with kids, especially at-risk kids, is that if they tell you anything that is remotely suspect of trauma or abuse, your immediate response should be: “I believe you.” I’m not going to negate your feelings. I’m here to listen, and if you need, help.

8. That Doesn’t Make This Okay

Don’t let someone demean your feelings by saying this is just a “growing experience.” What you’re going through sucks. Actually, it more than sucks, but at the risk of sounding too vulgar, I’m going to leave it at that.

9. You are Not Your Emotions

You are not a “sad” person, a “troubled” person, or a “difficult” person for what you’d dealing with. As I’ve said before, you’re still you; emotions do not change anything. You are you feeling sad, feeling troubled, having difficulties.

10. You are Not Alone

I hate to say it, but I’ve been there, too. Most people have. For me, it was anxiety, and some days, it still is, though I’ve now graduated past the bit where I’m afraid to leave my dorm room/apartment(not the best time for me). We all have struggles. We all have burdens. We’re here to help, not to judge.

11. You Have a Voice

Speak up. You don’t have to suffer in silence. People are here, and they’re willing to listen, as long as you’re willing to talk. They say the first step to feeling better is admitting you have a problem; if you can talk about it, you’re already halfway there.

12. There’s Always Hope

As Annie says in a roundabout way, tomorrow’s only a day away.

Things will get better. How you feel now does not dictate how you will feel in the future. You can’t change your emotions, but you can change your attitude.

13. Take It One Step at a Time

Don’t take any drastic measures. You don’t have to change your life in a day. If you want something in your life to change, whether it’s you or the way you’ve been treated, it’s okay to take it slow. Going to fast can make things feel even less in your control, and that’s not a good feeling. The goal is to make you feel at peace with yourself, not like it’s up to you to “fix” or “be fixed.”

So I hope that if you’re struggling, you talk to someone about it. It doesn’t have to be. You might not even now me. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching and reading things like 13 Reasons Why, it’s that everyone has something they’re working through, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.

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Posted in Television and Film

You Only Had to Follow Three Rules, Billy!

Don’t you hate it when somebody does the complete opposite of what you asked them to do?

It’s annoying enough when it’s a coworker. Or a friend. But a kid with a seemingly harmless exotic pet that has the potential to cause chaos, ruin, and mayhem?

Welcome to Gremlins.

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Monsters and Mayhem

For those of you unfamiliar with the film from 1984, let me break it down. When a young man in a sleepy small town receives a strange animal from his father for Christmas, he accidentally breaks the creature’s three rules for care taking, and inadvertantly creates a host of ugly, evil monsters that try to take over the town. Both hilarity and horror quickly ensue.

These monsters are, of course, the titular gremlins, but they start out that way. The first form of the animal is introduced as a “mogwai,” which is a cute little creature in a Jim Henson, big-eyed, slightly-less-possessed-than-a-Furby kind of way.

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The misspelling of the word “furby” I think only further cements my point.

According to the internet, “mogwai” means “ghost,” “demon,” or “evil spirit” in Cantonese, which plays a prevalent role in Chinese mythology. The word “gremlin,” however, is much newer one, coined in times of war.

Gremlins rose to popularity in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force sometimes in the 1920s. Pilots and air crew would often blame mechanical failures on strange, mischievous creatures that could cut wires and grease floors to sabotage important missions. Though naturally unfounded, these stories proved invaluable support to troops morale even into World War Two, as airmen went up head-to-head against the German Luftwaffe.

It’s a lot easier to blame your failures on a mythical creature than it is to take responsibility for your actions.

Which bring us back to the movie. On the one hand, you can’t blame poor old Billy for the havoc he’s caused. He didn’t know what was going on, and most of it was an accident. On the other hand, isn’t that what brought gremlins into the world into the first place?

It’s interesting to me that gremlins seem to represent mistakes. They are careless, thoughtless actions that hurt the people around you. For those of us familiar with the terminology of sin, it strikes a pretty clear comparison.

There’s no small coincidence in the fact that, in the Cantonese translation of the Book of Job, the translators use the word “mogwai” instead of Satan.

Obviously, Steven Spielberg didn’t intend for this movie to be a metaphor for the sin in someone’s life, but the similarities don’t stop there. Consider the nature of the gremlin: they multiply quickly, without any chance of covering them up. They start out small, unassuming, even cute, only to quickly take over your life.

The ending for Billy turns out differently. He doesn’t need some messiah or savior; he learns how to erase his mistake. But there’s something powerfully symbolic in how he uses bright light to kill the gremlins. Again, the imagery might be unintentional, but it’s still there: darkness, as always, is conquered by the light.

Add this to the fact that the film takes place during Christmastime, and there’s something very powerful about it.

Of course, this is also one of the two films in 1984 that prompted the MPAA to conceive the PG-13 rating; apparently, some viewers were shocked to watch a scene where a gremlin is set on fire in a microwave.

Now that’s what I call a TV dinner.

All this to say: sometimes movies aren’t that deep. But sometimes, beneath the surface, they really are.

 

Posted in Television and Film

They Laughed First, We Laugh Last

I scroll through my Netflix queue and look at all the shows I want to watch. But I only have an hour to spare; do I really want to commit to a full episode of Luke Cage?

Instead I watch John Mulaney’s New in Town for the thirty-fourth time.

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I think that the first time I heard a comedian who had not starred in a sitcom was on a car ride to the dollar store with my older sister. It was Demetri Martin’s special, These Are Jokes. I was probably about 14 at the time.

And thus began my stand-up addiction.

Favorites of mine include Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Donald Glover, Bo Burnham, Demetri Martin, and yes, John Mulaney(Be advised – watch all at your own risk. Comedians are famously uncensored, and some of these are no exception). Netflix’s taping of live specials has also produced never-ending fuel for my need to be entertained, and over the past year and half, I’ve watched too many of them to even name.

And with the more-recent influx of comedian-related news(yes, we are still looking at you, Bill Cosby), I started wondering when funny men and women had the funny idea to tell jokes for a living.

Like most forms of art and entertainment, the first real comedians came from Greece. One of my favorite examples of this is from a play called The Cloudswritten by Aristophanes. This ancient piece of literature reads more like a Harold and Kumar film than something written by a stuffy-old Greek. My favorite piece of dialogue -“I am amused at a lizard’s having pooped on Socrates.”

Classic(al).

After that, the art of comedy gets a little lost, as do a lost of the arts before the European renaissance. Even as theatre and literature caught up with the rest of history, stand-up comedy as we know today did not exist for a long time.

The earliest resurgence of stand-up comics that I could find was in Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. These acts, however, were so heavily censored that they required no improvisation from the comics and very little room for creative freedom.

Americans, meanwhile, had found freedom in entertainment with their popular vaudeville acts. Most of their jokes were based on stereotypes, often centered around ethnic groups or social standings. From here until the 1960s, comedians like Bob Hope and George Burns started appearing on the television, leading into the golden age of comedy.

New York City was and is a comic’s paradise. Names like Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, and Bob Newhart started in the city only to reach international fame. These days, comics still go to NYC in search of fame and, well, at least the rumor of fortune.

And these days, international comics are what we need. The freshest voices on the rise are as diverse as their jokes: Aziz Ansari, Nasim Pedrad, Leslie Jones, and those are just in America.

That’s really what a comedian is, when you think about it: everyday observations spoken in a different voice. It takes all people, with all viewpoints, to make a good joke.

And couldn’t we all use a little more laughter in this world?

 

 

Posted in Television and Film

All My Friends are Heathers, Take It Slow

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I recently watched Heathers for the first time. Keep in mind, I obviously knew the story: after all, it’s a cult classic. Girl meets boy, girl kills friends, boy goes nuts, the whole shebang. Half the quotes were already ingrained in my memory by the Internet. Still, the film stayed new enough to keep me interested as I watched it.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the premise, let me break it down for you. At a high school in suburban Ohio, a group of girls known as the Heathers act like they rule the world. They’re mean, seventeen, and ready to crush your dreams. Everything starts going downhill when their new friend, Veronica, starts feeling discontented with their lifestyle. She meets a boy named JD, whom she describes as a “dark horse,” and the story violently unfolds from there.

I think what surprised me the most was how innocently it all started. Yeah, Winona Ryder’s Veronica is no saint, but she isn’t a murderer. She’s just a girl with a divided moral compass, too decent enough to follow the Heathers blindly, but dark enough to wish they were dead. JD doesn’t seem to be a bad influence at first: he’s funny and cool and knows how to spin a phrase. It’s only as the movie goes on that both she and the audience begin to realize that she’s literally living in a nightmare.

So for most of the movie, I chose to watch it like a horror film. A girl, enchanted by the charms of a beautiful boy, watches as he destroys her entire life. “Our love is God,” JD says at a turning point in the movie. “Let’s go get a slushie.”

Let’s get back to Veronica. Never mind the fact that Veronica’s former best friend is named Betty(which I think is hilarious), Veronica seems stuck in between two worlds. She’s smart, she’s popular, she’s somehow an expert handwriting forger even though she writes in her diary like a psychopath. For me, this is where the story gets the most interesting.

The question remains: “Did Veronica mean to kill those people?” Some would say she was led astray by JD and his perfect hair, but I still wonder. At the beginning of the movie, she grabs the wrong cup “by accident,” but because there’s a lid on one cup and not in the other, the audience is left feeling doubtful. Later, when JD tells Veronica that the bullets in her gun are fake, you can tell she doesn’t believe him, but she ends up shooting someone anyway.

Which perhaps explains the residual guilt that Veronica feels throughout the movie. I don’t think she knows if she meant to kill them, either, but she certainly wanted to. She admits it herself, that she wanted them dead. But is that the same thing?

According to the Bible: yes. Jesus said it himself, that hating someone and wishing they were dead was the same thing as killing them with your bare hands. Perhaps, then, Heathers should not be considered a psychological thriller, or a dark comedy.

It’s wish fulfillment, pure and simple. Instead of Aladdin, where a boy dreams of winning someone’s heart, this is a story where a girl gets everything she wants only to discover that it’s not what she wanted at all. In fact, for someone who takes such drastic measures to change her life, she finds that nothing really changes after all.

Again, that’s human nature in action. The culture of Veronica’s high school fills the void she creates when the first Heather dies. It takes Veronica the entire film to realize that the only way to change things for the better is to take positive steps, not negative ones.

So, next time you’re tempted to off your best friends, remember what Heathers taught us: murder solves no problems, it only creates them.

On a side note – Heathers is now a pretty fantastic musical. Check out a song here.

 

 

 

Posted in Television and Film

Lost in Translation: Watching Without Subtitles

This is admittedly one of my stranger habits.

Now I know a lot of people watch foreign films, myself and my friends included. These are modern-day classics: Pan’s Labyrinth, Amélie, and the like. With the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, it’s never been easier to watch internationally acclaimed movies without having to hunt down a version with subtitles(Plus, you get the added bonus of telling people you watched a foreign film the night before; the look on their faces always says, “Wait. You can read?!?!”).

This is the point where I wish I could write about all of the groundbreaking and influential things I have learned from watching international films and television.

But I can’t.

I deliberately choose to watch the cheesiest and most melodramatic content that I can find. On purpose.

Because to me, one of the best things about watching movies and tv shows in a different language is seeing how much they can do a budget of almost nothing.

Maybe it’s the theatre nerd in me. As someone who has always had to do a lot with a little, I can relate to the fact that their sound-stages can’t compete with ours. Most are unable to pull off the same endorsements that American TV thrives on, so nobody ever says, “Is that a Honda?!” in the middle of a car chase or comments on “my new Apple iPhone 6” (winks to the audience; sitcom-esque laughter ensues.).

So when someone’s identical twin comes to town, or a secret society bent on a main character’s destruction comes to power, I still laugh, but I’m also fascinated by the story structure. Many of these foreign shows and movies include so much more drama in their plotlines (excluding Degrassi, of course), that the dynamics of the story can change at a moment’s notice. Emotions run high: one moment, a character is in love, and the next, they’ve literally murdered someone.

Now that’s my kind of television.

But even in the midst of all this drama, there’s still one thing that makes my experiences even better.

I turn the subtitles off.

Again, I do realize how weird that is. My own parents can’t even watch a BBC production anymore without a line of text at the bottom of the television screen, and those are still in English!

And it’s not like I’m doing this to learn another language, either(though I have learned more than you’d think). Through all of the Spanish soap operas, the German thrillers, the Finnish boarding-school dramas, I was struck with one overwhelming realization.

Humanity, across all countries, languages, or any other barriers, is the same.

We are all interconnected on the same spectrum of human emotion. Everything, every gesture, grimace, smile, and sneeze, betrays our common compositions. The same stories resonate in our souls, the same wants and needs in each culture, regardless of where someone comes from.

When the subtitles are off, I can still follow the storylines(it’s not that difficult, especially if it’s a dramatic episode), but that isn’t the point. Now I can focus on each character, on how what they’re saying is conveyed far more through how they same something versus what they actually say. It’s a lesson in body language and reading faces, but it’s more than that, too.

It’s a lesson in compassion.

That’s why we watch things, isn’t it? Some of it’s about the entertainment value, sometimes we just want to unwind, but at the end of the day, we watch things because we care about them.

You want the characters to succeed. You want them to get the girl, or the guy, or whatever else they’re fighting for. Even for the characters you hate, there is still a dark fascination to know what drives them, what makes them who they are. It’s why we can’t stop listening to the villain’s monologue, even when we know they’re lying, or that their doom is nigh.

We want to understand. We want to empathize. And the truth of the matter is, words don’t mean as much as we think they do. Take any well-written show the critics talk about: Westworld, Mr. Robot, Atlanta, etc. Without emotions, they mean nothing.

Which brings me back to watching without subtitles. Because, like I said, words mean nothing without the emotions behind it. So here’s my challenge to you: go to Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon Prime(you can even find something on YouTube if you want), and start watching something in a foreign language – it doesn’t matter what. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the characters and the basic plot, turn off the subtitles.

Sit back, and observe humanity at its finest: in the throes of raw emotion.

Maybe you’ll even learn something.