Monday, 16 July 2018

Top 5 Things Wrong With Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale was one of my favorite books before many of the show’s current crop of fans were born.  Margaret Atwood’s chilling dystopia has only become more frightening with time as the global political situation disintegrates. If Trump can become president of the US, it seems that Gilead could be just a right-wing fundamentalist coup away.   

The first series did an outstanding job of capturing the book’s menace and oppression, but with a contemporary twist that drew on current events in a very potent way. Who can forget the images of women dressed as handmaids protesting anti-abortion bills?

Image result for handmaid's tale protests

 The second series, not so much. 

 I had misgivings about where the writers would take the story line once the original material was exhausted, and sadly these misgivings were justified. 

BruceMiller said in an interview that he has 10 seasons of the show mapped out, but there is already a feeling that the show has lost its way and is just lurching from one cliff hanger to the next. Without a solid grounding in reality and believable character development, the shock value wears off very fast.

This is borne out by the persistent grumblings from fans about how they were bored this season, despite the dizzying twists and turns. 

So here are the top 5 things wrong with season 2:

1. Repetition. Things started to deteriorate for me when June returned to the Waterford’s household. Not only was it unbelievable that the Waterford’s would agree to this when they could have left her chained up in the basement till the baby was born, it was tedious (and the whole thing was repeated yet again when she returned to breastfeed). The same conflicts were played out ad nauseum between June and Serena, and it pains me to say this because Elizabeth Moss is a wonderful actor, but the close-ups of June’s steely glare, so powerful in the first series, became a little annoying. I understand why the writers felt the need to place June back in a situation which is rich with drama, but it had already been mined in season one I think they should have taken a risk here and created something new. 

2. Serena’s redemption. It’s true that Serena and June’s relationship did change quite substantially this season, and Serena actually showed some signs of humanity, however her redemption took place far too quickly to have any emotional resonance. Someone who is capable of holding a pregnant woman down to be raped, and who has been a brutal and vindictive oppressor, is not going to change that quickly because of a baby. I’m sorry, but it’s not going to happen, and even if it did, it in no way makes up for her past actions. Just because Serena is a woman and has started to realise that she’s built her own prison, it seems that we are supposed to give her a pass for her role in creating Gilead, as if wanting a baby of her own is a valid excuse for destroying the lives of countless others. She bears more responsibility than many of the men in the show and should be held to account. Can you imagine the outrage if a male rapist was so easily redeemed? June’s forgiveness and concern for Serena does not ring true, and the scenes where she enters the bedroom and consoles her are ridiculous.

3. June’s freedom. For someone who is essentially a slave, June has a hell of a lot of autonomy to wander around the Waterford’s house, peeking through their bedroom door and intervening in marital disputes. I understand that the dynamics between her and the Waterford’s are warped, and that in some strange ways they’ve come to depend on her, but it’s implausible that a handmaid would be given this much freedom, especially considering their fraught history. She even slaps Waterford across the face without consequences. The lack of realism is jarring and detracts from the power of the first series. 

4.  Commander Lawrence. A new character is a welcome addition, and Commander Lawrence is certainly intriguing, however it’s implausible that someone this eccentric would reach such a position of power in the highly conservative Gilead, and even less likely that he would be one of its chief architects. We’ve seen commanders and their wives strung from trees outside their stately homes after a purge, implying that no one is safe from the ‘eyes’, making a character like Commander Lawrence highly unlikely. I appreciate the idea of a commander who has changed his views and is secretly working for the resistance, but such a character would need to fly well under the radar to survive.

5. The ending.  June’s decision to stay, after desperately trying to escape for two seasons, is just a transparent plot device to keep her in Gilead. It makes no sense in the context of the story and gives me little hope that season three will be much better. Waterford’s creepy comments about wanting another baby only add to my fears that June is going to end up, yet again, back in the Waterford’s house, playing out the same psycho-dramas with her frenemy Serena.

The clincher was the final steely glare as she raised her hood over her head.   

 Image result for handmaid's tale season 2 finale

 FFS, enough with the steely glares, June.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

5 Reasons Donald Trump Could Make a Great President

Many people consider Donald Trump an embarrassment and a major liability for America. They can’t believe a man of Trump’s calibre has made it this far in the presidential race. 

To others Trump is breath of fresh air, someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and say what he thinks they want to hear. 

If you fall into the former camp, don’t despair.  While an openly racist, misogynistic and torture-loving president might not seem like good news for everyone, there is always a silver-lining.

Below are 5 reasons why Donald Trump is actually the perfect candidate for the Oval Office.

1.      His privileged upbringing and billionaire status make Trump an ideal representative of rampant capitalism. Many people believe that the Don is a self-made man, but like so much about him, this is false.

Trump built his own fortune on the back of his father’s wealth which was amassed through government subsidies for low-income housing. Trump started out with a ‘small’ $1 million loan from his father followed by an estimated $40 million inheritance in 1974.

It can’t be denied that Trump’s life has been one of extreme privilege and wealth. With no experience or understanding of the struggles of ordinary people, Trump is the perfect person to preside over an economic system which rewards the speculation and greed of the few at the expense of the many.

2.      Trump can rid the nation of the scourge that is political correctness.  By having the guts to claim that the vast majority of Mexicans crossing the border are drug-runners, criminal and rapists he’s made it possible for others to stereotype with impunity. This enables disgruntled white people to lose sight of the real source of their problems by blaming the nearest brown person.

Trump’s views on Muslims are just as enlightened, and his solutions to the problem of unwanted foreigners on American soil are sheer genius.  Building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and halting the entry of all Muslims into the country, may not be even remotely practical measures, but they sure do appeal to the right people, and that’s what counts in politics today.

3.      As if his racist comments and dog-whistle politics weren’t enough to recommend him, Trump’s roots in the race-hatred run even deeper. His father, Fred Trump, was arrested at a Klu Klux Klan rally in Queens in 1927 and he also had a civil rights lawsuit filed against him for refusing to rent his properties to black people.

With much of Europe moving in a rightward direction in its scapegoating of refugees and Muslims, Trump is truly a man for the times.  His racist pedigree and enthusiastic use of race baiting throughout his campaign prove that he would be more than comfortable strutting the global stage with other racist world leaders.

4.      Trump has no commitment to the truth whatsoever. His ability to not just bend the truth but discard it completely is unparalleled in recent history. What makes this even more astounding is that many people know he’s lying and don’t care. For them it’s part of his charm and they are impervious to actual evidence.

The ability to tell bare-faced lies without flinching is an excellent quality for a president to possess. This skill comes in very handy when invading other nations under false pretences, or talking up the economy when everyone knows it’s a pile of dog shit.

5.      The man loves war and is enthusiastic about torture. He’s said as much in interviews: “I’m good at war…I’m really good at war. I love war in a certain way, but only when we win.”

While this may set alarms bells off for lefty pacifist types, especially when combined with his other fascistic qualities, it does make him well suited for the role of president.  Trump’s desire to win and his demonstrated refusal to be restrained by any moral and ethical considerations could make for some interesting times ahead!

Donald Trump might not be everyone’s cup of tea it’s true, but his qualifications for the top job are undeniable. Given the chance he could take America to places many had never believed possible.

Trump, Violence and the Right to Free Speech

Given Trump’s enthusiastic support for violence against protesters at his rallies, it’s not surprising that he’s been hit with a lawsuit. Three people have filed a complaint against the candidate claiming they were racially abused and threatened with violence at a rally in Kentucky.

Trump’s encouragement of violence has been well documented. He’s defended the violent actions of his supporters in the past by saying they were overcome by their love for America. From New Republic:

They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, they don’t like seeing higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know — I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects.”

Notwithstanding the belief that liberals love big taxes, this statement could equally be applied to those who are protesting against Trump. Protesters clearly love their country enough to get out there and take a stand against what they see as a very dangerous turn in politics.

To Trump and his supporters the protesters are “professional troublemakers” and “puppets of the institutional left.” Andrew Marcus, a filmmaker who recorded a protest in Chicago, put it in a nutshell. From

This was a premeditated act of harassment and intimidation to shut down the Trump event but wrapped in a message of stopping the hate.

Trump supporters on the other hand, are seen by opponents as racist red-necks who are more than a little crazy. This impression was reinforced by John McGraw, the 78 year-old white man dressed in cowboy gear, who sucker-punched a protester as he was led away by police. From Inside Edition:

Number one, we don’t know if he’s ISIS…We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American,” he added. “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.

His victim was RakeemJones, an African-American man who attended the rally as a "social experiment" with a "diverse group" consisting of a gay man, a white woman and a Muslim.

While this conflict seems to symbolize in a potent way the great divide that has opened up in American politics, what is actually does is obscure the middle ground made up of those who are attracted not so much by Trump’s race-baiting but by his promise to bring back jobs and restore manufacturing. These are the people who have been hit hardest by deindustrialization and the loss of job security. Student Kyle Netzle made this clear at a rally in Wisconsin. From Alternet:

What I think is the biggest thing for me is that if he is able to bring back big corporations like manufacturing back to America that would be great. I'm in school for welding so that would be big.

It’s true these supporters are vulnerable to slogans and easy answers, but they also see a vote for Trump as a way of sticking it to the Establishment, which in their eyes includes the proponents of identity politics who they have been taught to see as their enemies.

It’s easy to write these people off as deluded and uneducated, but they have much more in common with anti-Trump protesters than they realize. All of them are angry and worried about the state of American society. All of them are yearning for change. Considering how ugly and divisive the political contest has become, is there a better way of reaching these people?

Fox’s Megyn Kelly may actually have made a good point when she commented on a recent protest in Chicago. From MediaMatters:

Is this the way to shut down the ability of Chicagoans and those who have traveled in some cases for miles and miles and waited for hours and hours to get in, to have their say and hear him for themselves? For all these people know, they weren't Trump supporters. Maybe that gentleman would have walked away saying "You know what? He's not for me." We'll never know now, because they shut down their right to listen.

Do protests at Trump rallies make a real difference or do they create more hostility among the very people the protesters should be trying to reach? It seems Trump’s popularity might finally be waning but the discontent which attracted people to him is still very real and could easily be exploited by another politician. There’s a desperate need for genuine communication in America today. Maybe it’s time to stop judging and start listening.

Friday, 30 October 2015

It's Baaacckk: NaNoWriMo 2015

Wow, it’s almost November, and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month

I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and to my shame it’s been almost 12 months since I’ve updated my blog. That’s not because I haven’t been writing, I just haven’t done nearly as much as I'd hoped. The fact is I’m still working on the novel I started for NaNoWriMo last year. I have 15 chapters which are rough but it’s starting to take shape and now I just need to find out how it’s going to end. So the plan this year for NaNoWriMo is to finish the damn book (the first draft anyway), and then get down to the real nitty gritty of trying to pull it all together and make it work.

The goal is 10 3000 word chapters by the end of November, which is 30,000 words. I’m guessing I’ll probably need to write furiously for at least an hour every day to achieve this. This will mean forsaking all other entertainments, which Foxtel have decided to help me with by cutting  our service. It’s good to know the universe is taking care of me.

Looking back on my last post about NaNoWriMo I haven’t really taken the lessons on board. I haven’t been writing every day or setting daily writing goals and I haven’t made any efforts to become part of a writing community. These are all things I plan to rectify in the near future, so may NaNoWriMo 2105 be the first step in the write direction! (bad pun intended)

I strongly urge all writers to take the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. It’s just like the All Bran Challenge in many ways: it’s very good for you and is known to produce  a lot of crap ; - )

Hemmingway said it best:



Friday, 16 May 2014

Sister Wives, Miserable Lives

Until last night I’d only ever seen a few minutes of Sister Wives as I was flicking through channels looking for something else to watch. In the minutes before I moved on the husband was consoling one of his crying wives and I thought he seemed reasonably kind and attentive. I've never been able to understand what attracts women to polygamous relationships but each to their own, I thought. If it works for them then that’s their business.

Last night there was absolutely nothing else on TV so I decided to give Sisters Wives another go. The first thing that struck me was how utterly miserable three of the wives seemed and how lacking in warmth their relationships were with each other. Meri looks like she’s permanently on the verge of tears, Janelle is clearly over the whole thing and can’t stand Kody (with a K. Maybe he should take one of the Kardashian’s as a sister wife, or all 3) while Christine just faded into the background. The only one that seemed content was Robyn, the most recent and considerably younger trophy wife. All of them, apart from Robyn, seemed bitter and starved for affection, and how could they not be when they only get one quarter of a husband? The rest of the time they’re on their own knowing that Kody’s shacked up with another woman.

The only women this kind of relationship could possibly work for are those that can’t stand their spouse and want to spend as little time with him as possible. I can imagine that if your husband is an abusive jerk  then not having to cook his dinner and perform your wifely duties each night would be a very nice arrangement. For those who actually want an equal, mutually satisfying relationship with a man who is committed to fulfilling their emotional needs it is a recipe for disaster.  I can also imagine that if you are popping out a baby each year it might be nice to have a support system of other women in place to share the burden and help with the child-rearing. This utopian ideal is clearly what the Brown family believed would change peoples’ perceptions about polygamous relationships when the show first aired. In reality the opposite is true.

The wives' hideously ugly McMansions with their dusty, barren yards are perfect symbols for this emotionally dysfunctional family who, as one of them acknowledged in a recent episode, are not much closer to each other than ordinary neighbours. The kids are clearly devoted to each other and provide the only real warmth in the show. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grown up in a household with a father who is parenting 17 children in four separate homes. I question how strong the relationship could be with even the most devoted father in these circumstances, let alone a self-absorbed, narcissistic patriarch like Kody. There’s just no way that he is able to spend the quality time with all of his children and wives that they need and to think that he can is pure arrogance. His emotional distance from his offspring is quite evident in the fact that he refers to them as “Janelle’s eldest” etc. I strongly suspect that he doesn’t really care much about anyone beyond himself. You can see the glazed look in his eyes whenever he has to deal with his wives’ problems. His arm might be around them and he might be saying all the right things but mentally and emotionally he’s nowhere in sight.
The empathy is overwhelming
Despite my strong dislike of Kody I even feel an inkling of sympathy for him. It must be completely exhausting having to move between four needy and insecure women. He doesn’t even have a place to call home as the houses belong to his wives. It’s not humanly possible to love four women equally and there has to be one woman he’d prefer to be with above the others, but instead of being able to admit this and release them all from this torturous situation he has to carry on with the farce that they are one “big happy family.” The whole situation makes me surprisingly angry and my advice to all of them is to stop pretending and face reality.

Meri: You are struggling with where you belong in the family now that your daughter has left for college. Do you really think this situation is going to change? It’s not, it’s only going to get much worse. You face many years of unhappiness unless you get out of this “marriage” and find a man who can give you the undivided love and attention you deserve.

Janelle: You are a very smart woman and you have already shown that you can make it on your own. Your weight problems are directly linked to your unhappiness in this five-way relationship. You’re supressing your emotions through food and the only way this is going to change is to deal with the situation that is causing you pain and misery. Get out of his sham marriage, shake the blinkers from your eyes and show your children what you’re made of.

Christine: Kody started courting another woman when you were pregnant and took off on his honeymoon shortly after the baby was born. He then made it clear that you had been replaced by a newer model. This man is not deserving of you. You don’t need to feel “grateful” for the meagre scraps of affection he throws your way. Kick him to the curb where he belongs and find out what a real relationship is all about.

Robyn: You might feel secure now but remember, what goes around comes around.

Kody: For God’s sakes, grow up and man up. 

Disclaimer: After watching another episode of Sister Wives I think I was a bit harsh on the Browns who seem to be a lot closer and happier than I thought. Sorry Browns, but you did provide a focus for my PMS.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Writing Quote for 2014

Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, said, "We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart." It is the same with this way of practice writing. We must continue to open and trust in our own voice and process. Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Neglected Mother of Detective Fiction

Everyone's heard of Edgar Allan Poe, the so-called father of American mystery fiction. Everyone is familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes, arguably the most well-known detective in literature. Of course we all know who Agatha Christie is, so why is the author Anna Katharine Green, who was a major influence on both Doyle and Christie's writing, so unknown today?

Green is the author of The Leavenworth Case, which was the first detective novel ever written (Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue was the first to have a detective hero) TLC was published in 1878, nine years before Sherlock Holmes appeared on the literary scene. In her books Green established many of the genre conventions that are still used to this day. At the time her book was a bestseller. Critics predictably claimed that a novel which displayed such a detailed knowledge of the criminal system couldn't possibly have been written by a woman. Unlike Poe, Doyle and Christie's books, TLC has slipped into obscurity, along with the many other novels she wrote.

Green was a prolific writer, penning a book a year for five decades, spanning two centuries. Many of these books are now available for free on Amazon, which is how I discovered this badly neglected author. I downloaded a copy of The House of Whispering Pines, and from the opening page I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. When I did a bit of research on the author I was truly shocked that I'd never even heard of this woman who has had such a major impact on mystery and detective fiction. So what is the reason for this neglect?

Some reviewers have claimed that her books are too wordy and old-fashioned for contemporary audiences. I disagree with this argument. Other classics from the same era which are much harder to read are still enjoyed by many. My feeling is that because of her obscurity Green just hasn't reached the audience that will appreciate her work. There are several editions of The Leavenworth Case on Amazon and the highest number of ratings for any edition is seventeen. All of her other books have only a handful of reviews. Goodreads is  little better, where reviews number in the hundreds for TLC and two other books have over one hundred ratings, but this is a mere drop in the ocean compared with Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue which has nearly five thousand ratings for one edition. Most of Green's books on Goodreads have less than fifty reviews.

There's something very wrong with this picture and I don't think it's just a coincidence that Green, a woman who wrote the first fully-fledged detective novel ever, has conveniently been erased from literary history. Sure Agatha Christie was, and still is,  an extremely popular female mystery writer, but it's one thing to be a great author in a particular genre, and another thing to actually play a key role in establishing that genre.

Have you heard of Anna Katharine Green? I'm willing to bet that most people reading this haven't. To help rectify this situation, I urge you to go to her Amazon page and download some of her books. They're free so you've got nothing to lose. And spread the word about this author who deserves a lot more recognition than she's received. I can't put it any better than Michael Mallory who wrote in his article The Mother of American Mystery: "If any American writer is due for a major rediscovery, even if only on the basis of historical importance, it is Anna Katharine Green. While largely forgotten today, her novels paved the way for…well, for just about everybody working in the mystery genre." I for one am thrilled to have discovered this forgotten author with a very large body of work to immerse myself in.