4 Items of Popular Culture With Which I Have Been Recently Obsessed

An update here seems rare, but if anyone is looking at my Twitter feed, you would know that I am almost always consuming a huge load of popular culture, way too much for my health. In fact, it’s become such a big part of me that I even cited it as one of my hobbies during job interviews recently. (Interviewer: So, what do you do for leisure? Me: Uh, I mostly consume a lot of fiction?) I’ll get back to you on how that fared.

One of my pet topics is how much popular culture rocks. There are always going to be snobs everywhere who believe that something is not of artistic merit simply because it is also on billboards (I do sometimes have that tendency too), but these people usually have something against fun (I’m not, though). And not only that – I think there is great value in popular culture simply because it has the power to reach so many people. Excellent pieces of popular culture are not rare at all; in fact, so much good writing and mythology can be found in popular things. So, I thought I would share with you four things that have recently captured my obsession, and just how good they are. Cos I like talking about things I like.

1. Selfie

Selfie is about social media-obsessed Eliza Dooley, who suddenly realises ‘likes’ and friends on the Internet are not the same as having friends in real life. She enlists the help of Henry Higgs, who can pretty much market anything.

When I first heard of this, I thought it sounded like the most ridiculous show and yet another thing that feeds the insanity of the Internet. Eliza Dooley sounded like someone I would hate. BUT of course I was wrong because how could I hate a character that Karen Gillan plays.

Selfie is AWESOME. Not only are the characters absolutely charming and funny, the show is also about how to balance cherishing a genuine connection with the logics of social media that have seeped into real life. It explores a real friendship between two people who just make each other better, and I think that crux is what makes me love the show so much. That, and the fact that John Cho and Karen Gillan have so much chemistry. I would argue that without Karen Gillan playing the character, Eliza Dooley can easily be someone very dislikeable, but she is charming and vulnerable. Also, John Cho!!!

The show is also pretty awesome with diversity in their media representation, from having an Asian American romantic male lead, to exploring the relationships of African American secondary characters.

The only downside is that ABC has ostensibly canceled this little gem of a show, and there will only be 13 episodes, and they are not even airing the last few!! The final few episodes will appear on Hulu and ABC.com though, so web ninjas outside of the US can access those. But who knows, an online campaign to get the show back on track might gain traction. If any show can attest to the power of the Internet, it is Selfie.

2. Black Widow and Winter Soldier comics

There have been many One True Pairings that I have loved with the burning passion of a thousand suns, but this one. This one. Has been scorched into my heart very recently and have left me with all. the. emotions. All. Of. Them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Black Widow and Hawkeye pairing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, during our viewing of Captain America 2 in the cinemas, my boyfriend and I spotted Natasha’s arrow necklace at the same time and pulled at each other excitedly and violently.

‘You know what it’s like to be unmade?’
‘You know I do.’

My recent foray into the Black Widow comics have made me realise that these lines from MCU apply even more to the Winter Soldier and Black Widow’s relationship in the comics. As a young girl training in the Red Room, Natasha was trained by Bucky, who was then the Winter Soldier, fished out of the water memoryless and revived by the Russians to act as their assassin. They quickly begin a relationship that is forbidden, as Natasha was promised to the Red Guardian and the Winter Soldier’s programming started to crack with the help of a real connection. After the people in power found out, they punished the both of them for it, and placed Bucky in temporary frozen stasis (the one you see in Cap 2) between missions.

Their relationship is so compelling to me simply because of the parallels in their histories. Both Nat and Bucky were heavily brainwashed again and again by the Soviet Union, causing them to lose memories and identities. Both have red in their ledger, and have a lot of make up for. Both are masterspies but believe themselves to be unworthy of superhero status, but they are such superheroes to me. Steve Rogers is all moral uprightness, but Nat and Bucky are both so honourable, despite all the ugliness of their past.

Black Widow and Winter Soldier are also among the best-written romances in comic books, in my opinion. Their romance is one of equal partnership, where both are amazing at their jobs, and both are major badasses. No one is used as bait, victim or source of (wo)manpain for the other, and both are allowed to shine and be more awesome together. There are also a few glimpses into their domesticity that can be scream-worthy for a fangirl.

“I remember everything, Natalia. And you were the one good thing in all of it.”

3. Code Name Verity

Recently, I consumed this book on the journey to and from Hong Kong as if I was eating fire. A stunning piece of historical fiction set in WWII, the novel tells the tale of two best friends: a female spy who got caught in Nazi-occupied France on her first day and the female pilot who dropped her in the country.

Firstly, it is incredibly rare to find a good novel that focuses primarily on a female friendship with two fully developed and interesting characters. I was so moved reading about their friendship, thinking about all the female friendships I’ve had in my life, and how extremely important all of them are to me.

Secondly, it’s a book that focuses on the role of women during the wartime effort, which is also rather rare. These women are depicted as extraordinary for confronting the strict gender norms and roles of their time, but were also simply great at their jobs and therefore perfect for the roles they play in the war.

This book is truly awesome. It’s a real page-turner, and the ending is devastatingly good, as books set during the war tend to be. Its narration is also really inventive, and it catches you off guard by using two limited perspectives. I feel like I cannot really give more detail for fear of spoilers, but Code Name Verity is certainly highly highly recommended.

4. Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin is a telenovela-styled drama that features 23-year-old Jane, who has decided to stay a virgin until marriage, but was impregnated via artificial insemination by accident. It is the funniest show I’ve watched in a while, and each episode’s dramatic twists and turns are simply great television. The telenovela tone of the show is pretty much the best thing, complete with a self-aware and hilarious narrator and fantasy sequences.

The greatest thing about this show, however, is that despite its sense of drama, there is something very real about it. Caught in different situations, the characters are so so understandable, even as their make mistakes and bad decisions. I completely understand the trajectory of each character, even if I do not necessarily like them. And I think that’s one of the marks of good television writing.

Main character Jane is also very likeable. It’s interesting because so much drama can happen in the show despite Jane being super honest with everyone around her. The fact that the show does not fall back on overused tropes or in contrast uses them extremely well is testament to great creative decisions.

Also, Jane’s long-lost father is telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega, and he is basically the best character I’ve been watching on television these few weeks. He is, quite simply, the best.

Elementary (because I can’t stop talking about it)

Man, instead of spending the weekend studying the 12 chapters of my Marketing textbook, I finished the entire first season of Elementary, and gosh was it worth it. I’ve been prodded multiple times by people (you know who you are) to watch BBC Sherlock, and I definitely would soon because I know for a fact that it is brilliant, even if it might be problematic. Also, cinematography.

And when I started on Elementary (I start shows based on my gut, really), I was afraid of getting into this whole comparison between the two shows, and Watson is a girl ahhh girl cooties and is this abandoning homoerotic subtext and what a ripoff americuh, etc. etc. But, really, as soon as I started the show I know it was to be treated as something separate and independently brilliant, and just a different thing from BBC Sherlock altogether because the chosen focus of the two series are very different. (Oops, haven’t actually watched BBC Sherlock so I am not an authority on this, so lemme continue talking about Elementary!)

But gosh I am so endeared by Elementary because it treats the relationships and characters on the show so well, and it never shies away from emotion. I mean this in that when I went into the show, I expected Sherlock to be brilliant of course, but because of his brilliance, to be generally unimpressed by other people’s merits and careless about how he treats others because he can get away with it (read: House and other portrayals of emotionally complex geniuses.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise when Sherlock is so open right from the beginning about how humanistic he is – admiring the integrity of Captain Gregson, developing a steady respect for Detective Bell, and consistently showing how Joan makes him better and pushing her gently to realise how great a detective she can be instead of coming in and saving the day as most male consulting detectives do on shows. I kind of expected to go through a journey of unraveling and ‘peeling of layers’ of the Sherlock onion and discover how he has a capacity for sympathy and compassion and respect, but there was no unraveling; he was just presented as such from the beginning!!! And I love it. 

We also didn’t have to go through 19 episodes before we finally see a rare moment of vulnerability where the audience can go oh poor broken man let me love you and make you better. There is so much frank and upfront vulnerability about this version of Sherlock and it is so refreshing. (It does help that JLM has such a generously expressive face.)

How much I love Joan Watson warrants another post altogether, but I just wanna say here that Watson and Sherlock have always been on equal footing from the beginning and that is simply wonderful. Nobody has to earn respect from anybody, and nobody has to prove anything to anyone. Everyone just starts out liking everyone so much, and that is simply endearing. 

So, watch Elementary!!!!!!

Of Television

The depression of the Chuck fans at the series finale of their show has created a sort of ache in me. It really strikes me how much television means to people, and how much it has saved the lives of many.

The thing about television that makes it different from films and even books is that it’s intimate. It comes right into our living rooms, and consequently right into our hearts and minds. Television characters stay with us for years. We fall in love with them, only to hate the decisions they make, ache at their losses and weep for joy at their victories. They make us ponder over their choices and reflect upon our own. They love in a way we don’t dare to, but reminds us of the magnitude of the heart.

We get frustrated at them, but we talk to them and keep them in our lives. We love them for years and years. And when the series ends, it’s akin to losing an entire family.

Television is so powerful. Not just because of the experimentation with audiences, the original concepts, and the amazing soundtracks, but because of how genuine it is, because we see ourselves in television, and we become better because of it.

So, thank you, all my favourite shows and my favourite fandoms.

I will miss you.