Everybody Hates Gatbsy

Wanna-be high-brow media critics across the world wide web are lining up to put their stamp of disapproval on Luhrmann’s Gatsby adaptation.  It has officially become the “cool” thing to do.  But they’re being too harsh.

leonardo-dicaprio-plays-the-strenuously-polished-trove-of-secrets-that-is-jay-gatsby-in-baz

no-rage-faceAllow me to start with this: it is almost impossible for a film like The Great Gatsby to live up to its literary counterpart.  Impossible.  Not that there has never been a successful film adaptation of any book ever, just that it couldn’t be this one. If you’re like me, you read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella at a pivotal point in your life (somewhere between 15 and 25, maybe?) and, in doing so, you run the risk of succumbing to nostalgia.

No fantastical cinematic achievement can live up to the emotion we may have felt at glimpsing into the tragic lives of these kindred spirits at a time when the hormones in ourselves were raging out of control.  For me, at least, the idealism, the gluttony, the phoniness, and the heartache all found good company among the inner turmoil I was experiencing for myself as an oppressed, middle-class teenager.  (Sigh. Such hard times, they were.)

Here is what some people are saying:

  • “[Luhrmann’s movies] revel in surface, spectacle and sensory overload. They’re audaciously, passionately artificial and at the same time unabashedly romantic — post-modern pop medleys aimed at the heart, not the brain.” Tom Charity, CNN.com
  • The movie feels bloated, with a few too many scenes of speeding cars careening through the streets and pointless musical segues meant to reflect the carefree attitude of the time.Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
  • His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
There, there, darling. They don't mean it.

There, there, darling. They don’t mean it.

You get the idea.

It appears that the main problem these critics, and many, many others, have with the film is everything that makes it perfect for its medium.  The book is bound to be more introspective and intellectual by the sheer nature of its form.  A movie made in 2013 cannot be blamed for using those tools at its disposal to make it as visually stimulating as possible.  Gatsby definitely becomes a spectacle, with swinging camera shots, dazzling colors, sensational parties, and fantastic wardrobes on beautiful people all shot in 3D with an electrically-charged soundtrack to enhance it.  But instead of hating it for all that it is not, we should celebrate Gatsby it for all that it is.

This is not to say the The Great Gatsby is without flaws.  But I forgive the movie these errors because of its loyalty to the original story and its beautiful delivery.  You should too.  Because, if at times the glitz and glamour all seem a little self-indulgent and ultimately empty, well, now you know how Gatsby must have felt.

“The Americans” – Inspiring Russophobia in the 21st Century

Some Things:

  1. There are spoilers in here.
  2. I am not Russian, not that it should matter (although I’m probably on some CIA watch list at this point).  I took a Russian history class once back in my community college days, that’s about it. (Dr. Richard Trimble taught it, and it was awesome.)

When Mitt Romney remarked that Russia was our worst foe on CNN last year during his campaign, my friends and I had a good chuckle at his expense.  Born in the post-Cold War era, we are unfamiliar with the anti-Russian sentiment of the former governor and some of our parents.

That is why, when I saw the series premier of the Americans on FX, I was blown away.

(If you have yet to see the show, check it out.)

Ok, FX, we get it.  Homeland, the Showtime espionage thriller about a CIA agent and a US marine, is wildly successful.  You wanted to cash in on some of that.  And hey, it was only a couple years ago that some Russian sleepers were rounded up in Yonkers.  Besides, you made it a period piece, set in 1981: smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War.  So it’s all good, right?

Nope, not even close.  The unforgivable rampant Russophobia ruined this show for me.  It is most evident when comparing the two main characters.  Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are Russian spies who have been living undercover in the US for over a decade.  They have two children and an FBI agent for a neighbor (who saw that coming?).  Despite the fact that they are both Russian spies, their likability is very much in congruence with how “American” they seem, not in terms of heritage but characteristics.  I find that, in the pilot at least, the more relatable characters are more American and the less relatable are Russian.

The Jenningses

Philip

  • Philip is an American sympathizer, as evidenced by his desire to defect and turn Timochev over to his FBI neighbor (which he doesn’t do out of love for is wife – awww). Also seen when he first comes to America and notes that “everything is brighter.”
  • Possesses more impulsive but ultimately more endearing qualities than his partner/wife, including an openness with his affection, playfulness with his children, and fierce protection of his family.
  • In general, seems more emotional, open, and (ultimately) American.

Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth is very loyal to Russia, saying that she would “lose everything before [she] betrayed [her] country.”
  • Less endearing characteristics: in the first scene in which we meet her, she is prostituting herself for information.  In moments with her children, she is distracted and distant.  She also blatantly challenges her arranged marriage with Phillip.
  • In general, she’s a colder character, less emotionally accessible and less likable.

I do not find these differences coincidental.  The majority of the rest of the characters in the show demonstrate the same split between Good (American) and Bad (Russian).  Beeman, the American FBI agent, is still a slightly two-dimensional character at this point, but he seems like a nice-enough guy.  Timochev is Russian, and he’s a rapist/woman-beater whose death leaves the audience satisfied.

The question I have yet to answer is, why now?  Although the lines between “us” and “them” are not so neatly drawn as in, say, a Bond film, they are still there in the Americans.  What does this show say about our cultural understanding of Russians in America?

fx_americans_keyart_p_2012

I have been told that I am not giving the show enough credit, and that further episodes will reveal it as an allegory that shows the struggles and triumphs of both sides of the story.  I hope that such is the case.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to Homeland.

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

“Catfish” and Transgenderism

Note: This post contains spoilers about Catfish the Movie and Catfish the TV Show.  If you have yet to partake in these fantastic entertainment adventures, what are you waiting for?!

Meet Nev Shulman:

Nev ShulmanHe’s a good-looking, seemingly well put-together young guy who only recently gained wild popularity because of the overwhelming response to his movie and subsequent reality television show: Catfish.

Catfish the Movie is a documentary about Nev, filmed by his friends, and his experience in an online romance with a girl named Megan who refused to meet him in person.  Eventually it was revealed that Megan was actually Angela, a middle-aged woman with an entire network of fake Facebook profiles.  Catfish: the TV Show is incredibly similar, based on the experiences of people who e-mail Nev looking for help with their own online romances.

I love Catfish.  Ask my roommate.  It’s the kind of show that gets me out of my seat, screaming at the television (or, in my case, the computer screen) because 10 times out of 10, nobody on the Internet is who they say they are.

“It’s a dude, bro!”

The plots in two particular episodes of this small screen masterpiece – “Kya & Alyx” and “Rod & Ebony” – include twists involving transgender people and the confronting the issues that arise.

Extremely Brief Synopses:

In “Kya & Alyx,” a girl (Kya) falls in love with a man she met online (Alyx) who turns out to be transgender.  Alyx, although born female, identifies as a man.  That should have been the end of it.  But Nev, in so many cringingly awkward moments of naïveté and insensitivity, continues to call Alyx “she” and “her,” and goes so far as to confront Kya about her sexuality.  Kya, at least, knew how to handle the unexpected surprise with grace and acceptance and love, which made the episode bearable.

“Rod & Ebony” was different, and even more uncomfortable as Nev awkwardly navigated his way through the unfolding sexuality drama.  Rod met Ebony on a website for gay men, and she claimed that she was transgender but considered herself a woman.  It was later revealed that she was born a woman, but had identified as a lesbian for years prior (which, I guess, for some reason, makes the whole transgender lie thing make sense, maybe?).  In his first encounter with Rod, before any of this was revealed, Nev callously and casually remarks, “I can’t believe you’ve been talking to this guy/girl for four years now,” proving once again that he has no idea how to react in these situations.  Once Ebony confesses that she is not, in fact, transgender, Nev spends the rest of the episode convinced that Rod is a closeted gay man dealing with his sexual suppression.

How They Messed Up

These episodes indicate that Nev has no idea how to identify or characterize those who label themselves “transgender,” because they do not fit into his spectrum of perceived reality.  To Nev, and so many like him, if a person (X) is born male, that person is a man.  If another man (Y) falls in love with X, Y is gay.  However, since we (in America) live in a society where it is (mostly) accepted that biological make-up does not necessarily account for sexuality, why should it have to account for gender identification?

confused

Confused yet?

Me too.  But it’s ok!  Because the map of reality regarding sexuality is constantly changing and, at times, it is easy to get lost.

Redefining Reality

This show seems so indicative of where we stand culturally.  As a society, America has grown more tolerant of non-heterosexual people, but not completely understanding.  The lines between sexuality are thin, sometimes nonexistent and constantly changing.  That which is perceived to be different can have a hard time finding a place to fit into our definition of reality, unless we change that definition.  Transgender people are out there (by the time this post is published, 22% of the episodes of this show so far deal with such situations) but so many people have no idea how to react to them (as evidenced by the show’s own host and cameraman).

I’ve always found MTV to be ahead of the curve when it came to social subjects like drug use, single parenthood, and LGBTQ teens – sometimes to the point of exploitation – and I applaud them for including relationships involving transgender people.  I only ask that they and Nev and Max and the rest of the crew strive to be as sensitive and informed as possible about what can be considered “different,” in a sense: be willing to define reality.

I encourage anyone to share their thoughts and opinions, in a respectful way (if at all possible).  I want to know other people’s take on this show with these episodes in mind, and I want to know whether or not I have gone completely off the deep-end, floating in an abyss, reaching for unattainable political correctness.

Until next time,

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.