Every Week is a Strange Week, Also Metaphors

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I believe wholeheartedly in the power of storytelling to help us understand ourselves and each other, to make sense of the world we live in. And while I don’t believe that we have to be able to identify with characters or worlds for this to work – and in fact, it wouldn’t work if that were the case – I do think it’s interesting the way that some stories become so far reaching in spite of a highly specific and localized narrative structure.

This has been coming up a lot for me with Netflix shows. For example, Daredevil:

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Watching Daredevil feels like a superhero show – this may seem obvious, but when you think about it, it is by far the most local of all the Marvel storylines. Daredevil is essentially fighting an extremely violent version of gentrification in his neighborhood, but it feels of a scale with the wormhole that opens up above the Empire State Building in the first Avengers movie. Jessica Jones, I’ve already talked about, but is still worth mentioning again. It’s a specific story, about a woman and her superpowers and the villain she’s fighting, but it too is of a much larger scale – a metaphorical one, a more universal female experience of the power that society gives men over women.

I like the big stories, the ones that are bigger than the world I can see. I like the ones that use superpowers and spaceships and magic to manipulate the world, to twist what I know into a new shape so that I can look at it from a different angle. And yeah, I like to escape. I like a world that is at least partly unrecognizable. Everyone has moments where they don’t want to be here wherever here is, and when that happens I like to read or watch something that I can disappear into.

Still, there has to be something recognizable, right? It’s hard to immerse yourself in a world where everything is unfamiliar. I’ve talked about Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand before, and while I love it a lot, it’s not the most immersive story. Pronouns don’t even work the same way. Still, there is something recognizable even in that too – a specificity about relationships and attraction that comments on and reflects a recognizable experience.

I was thinking about this a lot while watching Stranger Things which is such a weird, beautiful story about family and friendship and society and government conspiracies and monsters. These things are all entwined so carefully and so intricately that the alternate world becomes an obvious metaphor for the characters’ lived experiences. But it’s also a real place, imbued with weight and specificity so that you believe in it – you see the parallels, but you also fall head first into the story. The Upside down serves the story because it provides a mirror, but it’s also actually a mirror in which allows the characters to find answers/closure/judgement for actions in their own world.

IT’S SO COOL!

This blog post could have been an ode to Stranger Things honestly, because I loved it, but I need to watch it a few more times first. Mostly it’s an ode to Netflix shows, because their metaphors so unbearably elegant and I think that’s why they’ve had such success. They’ve found a way to tell a story that is so wonderfully specific and fleshed out that it can’t help but find some universality. The metaphors aren’t just metaphors – they are stories. And it’s beautiful.

Yes, I know this blog post is late, and mostly incoherent. I had a bit of a strange week with not a lot of sleep – part certain individuals having loud phone conversations at 11:30pm, part the weather, part having potato chips in my pantry for the first time in ages, part thinking about a Nano novel, which would bring my current projects total up to three. But in thinking about this stuff I’ve been learning a lot about storytelling and how it gives me the chills and what makes it awesome and I’m really excited about that. So enjoy!

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Jessica Jones, Or When Watching Hurts

jessica-jones-article-main-photo-640x360Jessica Jones came to Netflix on November 20, 2015 – all thirteen episodes, barely a day of television if you’re really committed to binging, a few weeks at most if you aren’t.

I just finished it yesterday. For those of you playing along at home, that means it took me ten months to watch thirteen episodes of television. That’s less time than the average American television show with its 21 to 24 episode seasons. What took me so long you might ask? Did I not like it? Did I even want to finish?

Of course not! It’s a super hero television show featuring a strong, badass female lead who drinks a lot of whiskey and takes no bullshit and runs around solving crime. It is everything that I’ve ever wanted out of the world. (Aside from a heist movie with an all female cast, but look – I’m getting that too!) And yet, even when Hannah and I were bored with endless How I Met Your Mother and got stuck during the Fauxlivia parts of Fringe, we still didn’t go back to it. Instead of buckling down, I’ve spent the past five and a half months watching episodes of America’s Test Kitchen and Parts Unknown over and over and over again.

Even still, once I sat down to finish it, I split my attention between the action on television and the action in my Two Dots game.

There is something unbearably real about watching a woman who has suffered the kind of sexual, mental and physical abuse that Jessica Jones suffers walk through a world that doesn’t believe her, that doesn’t believe in the power a man held over her. The metaphor is too shallow – abusers don’t need mind control to make victims, to hide themselves in plain sight, to avoid justice and persecution. Abusers and rapists, particularly when they are white men like Kilgrave, often get away with their crimes, leaving the women they abuse trying to put back together a shattered life with little to no support from the systems that are meant to protect them.

Just look at Brock Turner, who was released after serving only three months of his six-month sentence, a sentence meant to protect his fragile soul from the damage that might have been incurred in prison. Brock Turner is about to embark on a speaking tour to warn college students about the dangers of alcohol and promiscuity. If we can’t blame the woman, we have to blame alcohol and hook up culture, because god forbid the guy who committed the action carry the weight of it. Can’t you just hear the echoes of Kilgrave blaming his parents? Blaming Jessica?

For every 1,000 rape cases, 344 are reported. 63 of those reports lead to arrest. 13 of those cases actually get referred to prosecutors. 7 of those rapists will be convicted, but only 6 will go to jail.

When you hear stories of women who were abused, can’t you hear Kilgrave saying, “Oh, my god. Jessica, I knew you were insecure, but that’s just sad. I’m not torturing you. Why would I? I love you.”

When you hear stories about men who kill women who rejected them, can’t you hear Kilgrave saying about Jessica, “Dear God, I would do anything to see the look on her face when she realizes she’s helpless. I’d make her want me. Then reject her […] Or maybe I’ll just kill her.” Is that not the exact thing we fear when we invent boyfriends to get guys in bars to leave us alone?

This is the problem with good art – it can be incredibly difficult to stomach. Sometimes, it forces you to image horrible possibilities and sometimes you don’t have to imagine them. 1 in 5 women on college campuses will be sexually assaulted. It’s not imagination, but a very real, very pervasive fear that governs what women do, where we go, who we talk to, and what we say. Its much too easy to put yourself in Jessica’s place, trying to reconstruct safety in an impossible world where your abuser not only walks free, but you have to watch his power grow.

This could happen to me. This could happen to someone I love.

But finish I did. I didn’t fall asleep easily last night.

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