The wires are hot with Miley Cyrus this week. She is being denigrated as everything from Disney Princess gone bad, to Lady Gaga wannabe, to a prime example of usurper and exploiter of black culture. Wow. The power of media and a six minute display of really bad taste.
Black cultural theorists are damning the performance as a parody or minstrelsy take-off on an urban dance fad and the objectification of the black female body. Feminists are stating that Miley is being judged harshly for just doing what male performers have been doing for years. Gay rights activists are up in arms over the opportunistic bisexual displays. Parent organizations are weeping over the loss of the tween-age, innocent icon. Music aficionados are turning purple at the butchering of what was only remotely something called music. Movie lovers are outraged with Robin Thicke’s theft of Beetlejuice’s favorite suit. Animal rights groups are protesting the absurd use of teddy bears as symbols of pornography. It seems Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, by guilt of association and participation, have set off a maelstrom of cultural intrigue.
But you know what? One can take any source and make it into an example of how injustice is done to any particular group. Hell, even with my limited knowledge of cultural and literary theory, I could build a case for the marginalization of the Jews as shown through the story of Three Little Bears.
Yes, there was a plethora of injustices demonstrated from many sides. Yes, Miley stepped into a minefield of idiocy by taking on an “urbanized” caricature. Yes, she objectified not only the black women on stage, but herself as well. Yes, she mimicked the vulgarities done over and over again by male performers. Yes, she took advantage of the current media attention on homosexuality and made it base. Yes, she shot down her goody-two-shoes identity to a degree that side of Montana. Yes, she sang off key and ‘danced’ with less grace than Pinocchio. And yes, she misused the image of teddy bears and foam fingers the world around. It’s all there and then some.
But, personally, I think she’s just a naïve, stupid little girl play acting at what she thinks grown-ups do. And if that is what the grown-ups do in her neck of the woods, then heaven help her and us.
I am a people watcher. Not a professional mind you, no license or training from a top secret English Council, no just strictly amateur here. It is a great boredom eraser. Sometimes, I invent lives for the people or sometimes I just give them fun names and watch their antics. Take the other day when I was stuck in the Financial Aid office of my university.
The Financial Aid office moved to a new location this summer. It was formally housed on the second floor of three story Georgian style mansion built in the early 1800s. Payne Hall was originally a storehouse and makeshift prison as part of the Augusta Arsenal. Housing financial aid there always seemed fitting to me. The new location is just as old, but much smaller and previously used as such varied things as the purchasing office and art studio.
The old office had a high service bar behind which the helpful and optimistic financial aid assistants barricaded themselves against the constant torrent of often simultaneously confused and bitter students. The new office has no such physical impediment. The old office also had seating for about 15 people; the new office has zip, nada, not one seat for those who wait in monetary anxiety.
The new office is not designed to have customers, so when the new semester begins, as it doing so now, the little entrance way quickly becomes crowded and all are pressed together. Ten to twelve people fit in the little alcove if they do not mind invading each other’s personal space and everyone has used their Dial. So it was among these circumstances I was able to get some practice in people watching.
For the first part of my wait, it was pretty much your usual college kids making sure all was good with their scholarship and grant money. Our local university is in the middle of a hostile corporate takeover, so it is plain to see why they are worried. The move is not going smoothly.*
After a while, and outside of all the PDAs some individuals started to stand out. The No Child Left Behind Family, Baby Dyke, Junior Businessman, the OMG sisters and Chickie Babe. What can I say? I was there for a long time…
The No Child Left Behind Family consisted of at least five kids, I think, there may have been more. It was hard to tell as they continually floated from inside to out and back again. They were all pretty interchangeable, except for the kid in the wheelchair stuck in the corner and left to play games on a phone. I never did discover who was there to talk to the assistants, the mother or any of her brood.
Baby Dyke came in with a YMCA swim instructor t-shirt and life guard red swim trunks. Tall and thin, she sported a mohawk that fell into soft curls in the middle. Even this girl’s hair could not be straight. She carried all extraneous objects in the waistband of her shorts. Phone, wallet, keys, each was pulled in turn when needed. The reason she stood out to me was really one single comment. Upon being told she would need to supply a copy of her last year’s W2, she said and this is a direct quote, “You mean the IRS keeps copies of that?”
Junior Businessman came decked out in a three piece suit. Truly, an entire three piece suit and a briefcase to top it off. I am not quite sure who he was trying to impress. The whole point of financial aid is that you need money. Looking like Alex P. Keaton really doesn’t help your cause.
The OMG sisters are at every university function so I am not surprised I saw them that day. I am pretty sure you have seen them – they are the girls who upon seeing another member of their tribe squeal at a torturous frequency level followed immediately by a high pitched repetitive screams of, “Oh My G-d, it’s you!” These vocalizations are usually accompanied with the waving of hands then followed by a round of ritualistic maneuvers mostly involving a-frame hugs and kisses that are thrown in the general direction of the intended recipient. It can be a painful thing to witness.
The coup de grâce of the afternoon was Chickie Babe. CB made a grand entrance in low cut, form fitting, sherbet orange dress, with matching platform 4 inch high heels and oversized, bronze, woven, heart-shaped handbag. She had flatiron brown hair with just the right swoop at the bottom. Her smartphone was blinged out with a multitude of shiny little rhinestones, which I thought would be uncomfortable to grasp, but without pain there is no beauty, as I am told.
CB owned the place. She put herself square in front of the door so that she would be the first thing seen to all who entered. She kept her head down just so much, while creating obviously important text messages with an imperious flourish yet able to keep an eye on her audience. When a friend came in she dared not associate herself with the OMG sisters. She merely put out her hand and said, “Come stand with me, Darling.” “Darling?” We live in Georgia, for goodness sake – no one says, “Darling” unless you are referencing someone’s grandchild under the age of twelve or a homemade handicraft we are not quite sure of.
Up to this point, CB had merely elicited a raised eyebrow and slight smirk, but I tell you I had to turn away not to laugh at her next move. When Johnny Olson announced her name as the next contestant on “Will Your Financial Aid be Approved,” CB sidled up to the desk and proceeded to lean over the desk giving the lovely assistant full perusal of les doudounes. As with Junior Businessman, I am not quite sure what this was supposed to accomplish. The assistant was not a cop who pulled her over for a minor traffic violation and was clearly not impressed with the display.
From her bent over position, CB whispered to assistant that well, she did not have her student id with her and that she wanted to know…the assistant interrupted her and asked in a bored voice, “Name?” CB looked somewhat taken aback then gave her the name, but still whispering a mile minute. The assistant read off whatever magic computer revealed and as if she could not believe the statements, CB grabbed the monitor and turned it to her face. The nonplussed assistant sat for a heartbeat then reached up and slowly turned the monitor back around. CB did not get the hint but craned her neck further around to look at the sacred words.
I do not know what the assistant finally whispered to CB, but with it she was able to wrest CB from her personal space. CB stood up adjusted her clothing, checked something on her phone, tossed her hair and with as much dignity anyone can muster on 4 inch platform heels walked out of the office. The assistant crossed her name off the list and called the next contestant, who thankfully turned out to be me – Smirking Old Lady.
*(http://nation.time.com/2013/07/19/cash-strapped-universities-turn-to-corporate-style-consolidation/) – read the comments for the real story.
I am a late comer to many of the hip television shows of the last decade. I guess using the term hip pretty much says it all anyway. I work nights, never invested in a DVR and do not subscribe to premium channels. My t.v. watching has pretty much subsisted on trying to stay current with Bones and Glee through Netflix or Hulu. Not exactly the Ingmar Bergman stuff of television, but entertaining to a tired mind (although I did write a cool paper on the media industry’s use of intentional propaganda in the employment of the word “fag” using Glee as the basis – but I digress). Heck, our television reception has been gone for a month now.
I am also not a fan of entertainment violence, especially graphic or psychological violence. I like my occasional shoot-em-up, but gruesome or nightmare inducing, no thank you. Bones is about as icky as I can take. So why in the world would I choose to watch Breaking Bad? I mean have you seen the promotional cover? It is Hal from Malcolm in the Middle after six rounds of steroids. I think the premise intrigued me enough to take a gander.
Breaking Bad is a Vince Gilligan creation, produced by AMC, surrounding the gradual and terrifying decline of a middle-aged, rather emotionally disenfranchised high school chemistry teacher, Walter White. Having been diagnosed with what was thought to be imminently terminal lung cancer, Walter, who has limited monetary resources, stumbles upon a plan to make quick money to leave his family after he dies. He becomes a meth amphetamine “cooker” with one of his former high school students Jesse Pinkman. (*spoiler alert starts now)
I have to admit here and now, if I had started watching this in real time, I would have given up. The story arc for me was incredibly slow and boring. The constant close-ups of Bryan Cranston’s slack mouth angst were wearing. The wooden acting of the supporting characters was bothersome and the whole perfect emotional tug set-up, with the pregnant wife, disabled (and unbelievably naive) teenage son, kleptomaniac sister-in-law, and stereotypical DEA agent brother-in-law was a bit trite. It would have been too much of an investment for my need-a-resolution in 50 minutes mentality. Where were all the award winning acting and critically acclaimed story lines?
The stilted life of the White family prior to the discovery of Walter’s undercover and dangerous vocation was mind and emotionally numbing. Hints are thrown out throughout the program that Walter left his stimulating and potentially lucrative partnership in a research lab in order to maintain family equilibrium after his son was born with cerebral palsy and the characters literally embody this loss. They move through their lives stiff and locked in their own individuality. There is an ironic lack of chemistry between the characters. It is not until Walter’s other life as Heisenberg, the drug king, begins to overtake the family’s that the actors and their characters come to life. Save one.
Jesse Pinkman is Walter’s former student and character foil. In the beginning, Jesse is a live wire, a junkie living on the edge with the chemicals he produces. Jesse is the one who feels and has true connections with the people around him, unhealthy as they may be. Aaron Paul’s portrayal of the messed up, but lovable poor, little rich kid and his reactions to his dissolving world is riveting. The intensity of his sorrow in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s death is gut wrenching. Try not to clench up when her phone is finally disconnected. As Walt becomes more alive in his separation from all that is moral in regards to life, Jesse dies with each ensuing disaster. He becomes the stilted one, unable to make those connections anymore.
I found out that the original intent was to kill off the character of Jesse in the first season. As a viewer, I agree with Gilligan that would have been a mistake. For me, it is the odd play between Jesse and Walter that keeps me coming back. I find the Walter/Jesse dichotomy fascinating. Many of Walter’s moral disconnects come when he believes he is doing something in Jesse’s best interest. It is like watching a documentary on a Nazi officer ordering the deaths of hundreds of people and then coming home to be the doting father to his children.
The periphery characters do not interest me as much as do Walt and Jesse. I sometimes find them intrusive. Although there are compelling plot lines that obviously run parallel – what would the show be without the ever present danger of Hank Schrader, brother-in-law and DEA agent extraordinaire, discovering the goings on – but they are just props to propel the dark and light balance of Walt, Jesse and their respective descents from humanity.
Hank succumbing to the emotional trauma of facing off with bad guy Tuco, witnessing the death’s and mutilation of fellow DEA agents in El Paso and fighting for his life against the twisted Salamanca brothers is, to me, while good acting by Dean Norris, too blatant in its equivalency to Walt’s succumbing to the evil that resides in himself. Only in finding the goodness – the will to fight the bad guys – does Hank find his strength. It is finding the badness – the will to come out on top – that brings out the strength in Walt.
I do not care for most the women characters at all. Walter’s wife Skylar, played by Anna Gunn, is a whiney irritant. Walter’s sister-in-law Marie played by Betsy Brandt was given the unfortunate and weirdly out of place subplot of overcoming some form of kleptomania. The only interesting sub-play for Marie is her subtle obsessive compulsive act of lining up her artificial sweeter packets – her chemical dependence and reflective image of Walter’s perfectionism.
The woman character I do admire is Wendy. The horribly ravaged meth addict is the only character who remains true to herself. She is hard to look at and harder to understand, but she is really the only character who remains “moral”. Look at her, she is a decaying, filthy shadow of a human being, but Wendy is the only one who cannot bring herself to murder, not just because she knows the two drug dealers or because of the danger – it is just wrong.
All the other supporting cast are obvious symbolic representations of the parts of Walter/Heisenberg: Gus, fastidious and dangerous; Gale, fastidious and pure in his love of the science; Badger and Skinny Pete naive and dirty at the same time; Mike, the former cop and Saul, the sleaze lawyer, two characters who represent the worst of those who should represent the best. Even Walter’s son Walt, jr. (played well by RJ Mitte) shows a physical image of innocence trapped in a constant struggle of mind over body.
I know it sounds funny to say it took me until the end of season three to really want to be invested in the show. That is a lot of time spent on the off chance something will get better. I think the hook finally hit when Walter shot the drug dealer he ran over to save Jesse on that last episode. When he looked at Jesse and said that one word, “Run,” something clicked and I got it. I wanted to know if this story has just been a long build up to the complicated revelation that perhaps, just perhaps, Walter was always Heisenberg, just cleverly disguised beneath layers of built up mundane banality. I wanted to know if his other life as ordinary husband and father was really the coverup. I wanted to know if Jesse could ever come to terms with what he had done with his life.
Breaking Bad has become a habit I do not want to kick just yet. After I finish the rest of what is available on Netflix, the withdrawals will be difficult, but I will get a bump by reading what happened in the end. I have no issues with knowing what will happen before I see it. I read all about the plot lines after I started watching in the first place – it helped me stay with it. I have learned that the build up is worth the wait. For as Walt Whitman said, “The future is no more uncertain than the present.”
Church, yo. I’m hip.
*Breaking Bad airs on AMC at 9/8pm – returning on 11 Aug. All 5.5 seasons are available to view on Netflix streaming.