Bingeing While Black: Stranger Things

strangerthingsposter_zpsblbcdx4pNumber of episodes: 8

Average episode length: ~50 minutes.

Length of binge: 1 day

I was going to say that an entire season in one sitting is a record for me, but I remember Games of Thrones‘ first season recuperating from my wisdom teeth removal.

Unlike then, this binge was not the product of incarceration, nor one borne of necessity. I sat through all 8 episodes in one day because the show was just that enjoyable.

As expected, spoilers abound.

The entire series had the sort of slow burn that I’ve come to expect of a Netflix series. Lord knows we don’t have the patience to watch one episode per week, so the story can be spread out without worrying about whether or not the audience will forget any details and thus don’t have to mention every episode Eleven’s backstory or what happened to the Chief’s daughter.

Having been raised on Disney, I don’t know much about film in the 80s. My film experiences of the time period began and ended with a firetruck red-haired mermaid. A friend in my bowling league mentioned that Stranger Things was rife with references and homages from the 80s and that heightened his enjoyment of the show even more.

Me, I simply enjoyed what was placed in front of me.

The tone was set from the very beginning as a terrified scientist (never a good thing) runs down a hallway trying to escape… what? He makes it as far as the elevator, breathing a tenuous sigh of relief until death comes from above. We’re then immediately transported to an idyllic 1980s house, replete with a colorful assortment of nerdy kids, an over-it older sister, a put-upon mom, and a useless dad.

The characters are all immediately likable, especially the main four, locked away in their basement playing D&D. Pokemon who? We’re later introduced to Winona Ryder’s frenetic mom character, a highlight of the show and Chief Hopper who has given up for reasons we don’t immediately know.

As the show progresses, all of these characters come into their own, each having moments to shine, particularly the surprisingly emotionally aware Dustin (him declaring that he knows he’s not Mike’s best friend was heartbreaking). Eleven, however, struck a chord with me and within her first appearance became my favorite. An androgynous heroine? Sign me up.

Again, I don’t know much of 80s films; I didn’t watch The Goonies until I was 22. But from the few I remember watching on UPN33 on Saturdays after all the kids’ shows had ended, Stranger Things had every 80s trope checked.

That being said, there is one trope I wish would have been left in the 80s.

While Stranger Things was recognizably one big love letter to the time period, the casual homophobia that was apparently so common at the time doesn’t translate as well. On more than one occasion, from episode one, the disappeared Will Byers was repeatedly referred to as a “queer” with the spectacularly loathsome bully Troy making the implication that Will was the unlucky victim of a child molester.

Now as a man of queerness myself, I have a soft spot in my heart for gay characters and was hoping that this information, whether true or not, would pay off. But it never did. The molester line in particular was only meant to enrage the straight character, to give the straight character some cause to finally “man up” and face the bully while the gay kid is off in limbo, probably dead.

In fact, as soon as Will’s queerness was brought into question, I was beginning to fear that Stranger Things would succumb to the Bury Your Gays trope also very prevalent in the 80s. Another character, Barbara “Barb” Holland, while not explicitly lesbian, shows no interest in anyone aside from her best friend, Nancy. (Verily, she doesn’t show interest in anything at all, but that more speaks to a lack of female character development which is another issue in and of itself). Spoiler alert, Barb, too, gets taken by the Demogorgon and giving us a tally of 2/2 of LGBT characters now gone. That’s literally 100% of the introduced queer characters dead (as far as we know). And we all know about LGBT and their math problems.

Now, for those who say that I’m reaching, I reply: you’re absolutely right. But reaches are all that LGBT people have in terms of representation, especially in the 80s. The fact that I even have to lump the acronym together is disheartening. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and queer people should each have their own form of on-screen representation. Until then, we have one character whose sexuality wasn’t explicitly declared in a heterosexual-dominated television landscape who has been given the task of speaking for every one of us.

Don’t worry, folks. I’m not going to attack every show I watch for not having LGBT representation. Unfortunately, heterosexuality is still the default, even in my own head. The writers of Stranger Things, however, chose to reference the possible sexuality of a ~12-year-old and thus elected to put themselves in the position where they could be criticized for their handling of a gay character. They could have made one of the surviving characters gay or, hell, not mentioned it at all (because, again, it never paid off).

And, as I said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show. Eleven is by far one of my favorite characters and I would pay money to watch the adventures of Eleven and Friends. There’s a fantastic E.T. homage that I won’t spoil that made me laugh for being both expected and unexpected. I would definitely recommend it to any 80s horror/coming-of-age genre fan with a functioning nostalgia filter.

Heres-and-Theres:

  • Where did Will learn how to assemble/load a shotgun?
  • If the Demogorgon tracks by blood, why did it attack Will? Was it just really hungry? Were no females in town suffering visits from Aunt Flo that month?
  • Transdimensional telepathy, yo!
  • Those kids seemed remarkably unfazed by the massacre at the high school.
  • I would also pay money to watch Joyce Byers and Karen Wheeler talk about what their kids are up to while in the kitchen making casserole.
  • Why does Stacy have a blonde wig?
  • Karen Wheeler has a story to tell, I know it.
  • I’m absolutely glad Stacy called Jonathan out on the creep factor. I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those stories where the misunderstood nerd gets the hot girl who understands him. The only thing Stacy “understands” is that that creature killed her best friend and Jonathan saw it first.
  • What was that egg in the Upside-Down??
  • What did the government say to Hopper?
  • Is Will simply having PTSD or is that vision a sequel tease?

Bingeing While Black is still a relatively new blog, so I’m experimenting with format. I think from here, I’ll start a rating system based on the four criteria I observe as a writer: plot/story, characters, dialogue, and acting.

For Stranger Things:

PLOT/STORY: A

CHARACTERS: C (Needs more females of agency, less dead gays)

DIALOGUE: A

ACTING: A+ (those are some fantastic child actors, but the plus is especially for Millie Bobby Brown and Winona Ryder)

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

My Favorite TV Zodiacs: Virgo Women

Confession: I have an unhealthy zodiac obsession. Among the first questions I ask when meeting someone is “hey, when’s your birthday? Oh, and also your name, I guess.” Knowing the star you were born under immediately gives me all the information I need to work you… er… work with you. (Scorpio? Let’s be BFFs. Gemini? Boy, bye. Until tomorrow.)

“That’s silly,” you might think. “There are only 12 types of people on Earth? Insane!” Actually, once you’ve thrown in moon sign, rising sign, and the 9 other influential planets floating around, there are actually 8,916,100,448,256 types of people on Earth. And since we [fortunately] don’t have that many people living and breathing, there are types of people that haven’t even been discovered yet! Exciting, right?

I often combine that unhealthy obsession with my other unhealthy obsession: the goings-on of television. As I blissfully rot away in front of the boob tube, I try to keep some brain activity going by ascribing zodiac signs to my favorite characters. “Maybe we’d get along in real life,” I think, as I wipe my Tostito-dusted hands on the dog.

So, while I’m catching up on my bingeing this week, and in lieu of any interesting or timely topics, I’m dedicating this blog post to the best zodiac sign: Virgo.

(Full disclosure: I myself am a Virgo, so this list is a bit of confirmation bias. But it’s my blog, so shut up.)

According to astrologists Starsky and Cox, authors of Sextrology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes and Cosmic Coupling, Virgo women share the distinctive traits of:

  • Pragmatism
  • Adaptability
  • Contemplation
  • Composure
  • Obligation
  • Perfection
  • Worry
  • Analysis
  • Reliability
  • Modesty
  • Self-righteousness

With these traits in mind, I’d like to present to you my nominations for favorite TV Virgo women.

Note: Since TV writers don’t often go out of their way to state a character’s birthday (birthday episodes are the worst), this is all speculation.

Jane Gloriana Villanueva of Jane the Virgin

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Jane the Virgin tells the story of one Jane Gloriana Villanueva who, in an accident of telenovelic proportions, was artificially inseminated with the sperm of some guy she kissed years ago and is now her boss.

Evidence

I mean, come on. The word “Virgo” is practically in her name. While obviously not all Virgos are virginal (some are proud closet hoes), they are obsessed with perfection, whether it be how their room is organized or how their day is planned. No one knows from planning like Jane, who has kept a calendar since her pre-teen days and with the birth of Mateo (spoiler alert?), has been color-coding every moment of her and his day.

Pragmatism: Jane literally took the bus to her own wedding once Rogelio’s car broke down.

Worry: According to Sextrology (and general life experience), many Virgos are nitpicky hypochondriacs, always looking for the pit in the cherry. Not a single episode goes by where Jane isn’t biting her nails (well, not literally, because she’s too perfect) over Mateo’s latest sneeze, being a good mother, Rafael’s commitment to their relationship, advancing her career, or her own mortality. Rogelio stopped speaking to her for two days (he was kidnapped, but) and Jane had already begun furrowing her eyebrows. And when Mateo actually did get sick—through absolutely unavoidable circumstances—guess how long Jane beat herself up about it? Too long.

Reliability: Petra’s own baby daddy wasn’t in the room to watch her give birth. But you know who was? That’s right, Jane.

Obligation: Jane will shoot a text whenever she can’t make it to an event, like when she had to skip Rogelio’s premiere to comfort Xiomara. One of my Virgo friends absolutely abhors her family with the one exception of her mother. She hates them so much so that she moved across the country to get away from them, but the moment her mother asks her to fly back home for even the most trivial thing, she’ll hop on the next plane.

Self-Righteousness: Jane, fed up with Xiomara’s lack of responsibility, gave her mother the extended cold shoulder after chastising her. Have you ever ended up on a Virgo’s bad side? They’ll stop speaking to you for months if they think that they’re right (which they often are), waiting for you to come around and see their point of view.

One particular moment when I absolutely knew Jane and I shared a sun sign was during Chapter 33, where Jane’s mother fed her advice on “reading the signs” with Professor Chavez. Every little detail of their interaction was analyzed and overanalyzed to the point where Jane had led herself into believing that the good professor wanted something more than a student/teacher bond.

I cannot tell you how many texts I’ve sent to my lady friends overanalyzing the tiniest moves made by any potential suitor. Each text, Facebook poke, or pat on the back was an unequivocal declaration of love and while I’d like to say I’ve grown out of that, there are still… times.

As it turns out, the actress that plays Jane, Gina Rodriguez is a Leo, the sign preceding Virgo, and I’m sure she’d be the first to say that while she and Jane are similar in many ways (their activism, their passion for the Hispanic/Latino communities), there are quite a few ways in which their methods diverge.

Look, people, guessing the birthdays of fictional characters isn’t exactly a pseudoscience.


Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife

Another person I want to be when I grow up whom I greatly suspect of belonging to the Virgo persuasion is Alicia Florrick.

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The Good Wife is a drama series following Alicia Florrick, who returns to her career in law after her husband, the State’s Attorney, was caught in a sex/political corruption scandal.

Evidence

In Sextrology, Starsky and Cox note that the Virgo tendency to look the other way or get lost in minutiae often leaves them the victim of cheating spouses.

From the very beginning, creators and producers Michelle and Robert King have stated that the series was about “the education of Alicia Florrick” as we watch her evolve from demure stay-at-home mom to a legal force to be reckoned with, all while navigating the constantly changing torrential atmosphere of the legal profession. Which speaks to Alicia’s prime Virgo trait-

Adaptability: In seven seasons, we have seen Alicia go from go-getter first year associate to equity partner to named partner at an opposing law firm to State’s Attorney candidate to head of her own law firm back to equity partner all while juggling being a single mom and the incessant needs of her perpetually philandering political candidate husband. You try thinking about handling that without your head spinning.

Modesty: After all, she is the good wife. But don’t let the name fool you. Alicia is the first to want to cast off the Florrick surname, fearing that by using it, she’s given advantages she didn’t earn. She’s received pep talks from friends and enemies alike about using the power of the Florrick name. After a few seasons, she’s the one calling the Florrick shots.

Contemplation: I once read a recap of TGW that specifically focused on Alicia’s reactions. To say that the woman is inscrutable is an understatement. There are several scenes in which Alicia shouts entire sentences with just a look, limiting her verbal reactions to simply one word. Virgos are constantly lost in their heads and while I do know one or two Virgos that wear their hearts on their sleeve, I know many more who come off as cold because Virgos don’t want anyone knowing they fear themselves incapable of doing it all (they can, though).

Composure:

Have you seen her wardrobe?

Even Michelle Obama, First Lady and actual American royalty, was caught in a Sophie’s Choice-level of “Who Wore It Best?” with Alicia.

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The only loser is us for not being as god-like as they.

Reliability/Perfection: If I could list every time Owen or Veronica called Alicia “the perfect one” or “the caretaker”, telling her that she would never leave Peter because it would be too messy or complicated for her to attempt, I most certainly would. Unfortunately, I don’t have a team of interns working around the clock to find me clips (though I am taking volunteers).

Like with Jane, I had a moment of shared Virgoness with Alicia Florrick during the season five finale where Zach took off for… Dartmouth, maybe? College. He took off for college. Anyway, wanting to avoid a messy goodbye, he left the very night of his graduation. Alicia stood in the doorway on the other side of the apartment as he left, not wanting to smother him. It was clear that she didn’t want him to leave, but that she knew that he should. The moment of distance enrapt in complex emotions, contemplating what the exact level of affection the situation calls for is something with which Virgos, myself in particular, struggle constantly.

Suffice it to say, Alicia Florrick is a bonafide, daughter-of-Demeter Virgo lady and while I will accept arguments that she might actually be, say, a Capricorn, I will also physically fight you if you take this away from me. So there’s that.

[Possible] Honorable mentions:

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

P.S. This zodiac series may or may not be a filler for BWB downtimes. You have been warned.

2016: A Garbage Year

I’m not usually compelled to speak on a great many things. Like Hamilton‘s Aaron Burr, my motto has always been, “talk less, smile more”. Except without the smiling.

However, 2016 has been admittedly and uncategorically a bad year. There ain’t nowhere to put 2016 but in a trash can. Toss it out. Take it to the junkyard. Send it to a dump in the middle of the ocean and let the Great Barrier Reef deal with it.

Let’s talk trash about this garbage year.

So far, we’ve got:

  • that whack Zika virus giving babies and pregnant a hard time
  • North Korea acting a damn fool with their nuclear weapons
  • Brexit morons
  • tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced, mangled apricot hellbeast Donald Trump clinches the RNC nomination
  • Olympics are a complete mess
  • that utterly senseless Pulse nightclub shooting
  • the lord took it upon himself to remove from us Prince, Doris Roberts, Alan Rickman, and Natalie Cole

I tell you, as written television becomes greater and more abundant, reality seems to only be getting worse. And I’m not talking about the Housewives.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, two men, two actual human people, were added to the ever-growing list of unjustified police-involved shootings. The first, Alton Sterling, shot on camera for doing a grand precise total of nothing. The other, Philando Castile, according to reports, did the opposite: everything he was told to do. But because they happened to Black human people, people who did not fit the look of what our society (or perhaps just cops) deems a “good citizen”, these two men are dead.

After the tragedy in Orlando, I wanted to tattoo a small rainbow strip on myself, perhaps purchase a Pride bumper sticker for my car, something to demarcate that I am gay and I am proud and I am not going away. Only God and FedEx know where that bumper sticker is now.

But there is no bumper sticker for being Black. My Blackness is evident when I walk out the door, when I get out the car, when I wake up in the morning. Being Black is not something I have to tattoo on myself for people to see; it is absolutely something I live with every moment of every day. And the older I get, the more dangerous that becomes.

Yesterday, I sat in my car waiting for an order from a restaurant in a very nice, very affluent neighborhood here in Los Angeles. An old woman came out to sweep her porch (as old women do) and as I stepped out the car, I thought to myself, “Let me adjust my walk so she doesn’t find me threatening.” She could call the cops and I’d be just another hashtag.

Although… wait a minute, her discomfort is not my problem. I’m not a threat for existing. I can’t be. That’s not fair. Unless I am coming toward you waving a gun in your face, screaming, “I’m going to murder you if given the opportunity!”, I should not have to think about altering my physicality, justifying my general presence just to make someone else feel 3% less antsy.

And I’ll bet you NRA dollars to cop donuts a straight, white man has never felt and will never feel that way.

In high school, I struggled with several identities. Raised in the church from my womb-escape day, I tried to be a devout Christian, but they didn’t want me because I was gay. As I got older, traversing treacherous tenth grade, I discovered it seemed the Blacks didn’t want me for the same reason. I started exploring my gay identity more, reading books—both fiction and non-fiction—about being gay, our “lifestyle”, truly immersing myself in the knowledge of my fore-kweens. As I reached prime sexing age, I discovered that, guess what? The gays? Not that fond of Blacks.

Sounds like a difficult life, doesn’t it? It was. For a very long time, I resented both sides. But as I got older, got better at being me, accepted the fact that I was never going to be anything other than gay, black, and nowhere under 175 pounds, I learned to love myself, my lips, my people, everything that is me and them. Yes, there are intracommunity flaws, but since Eve said to Adam, “bae, what you think bout this apple, tho?”, humans who love each other have been flawed.

The point is, both of my identities are under attack, constantly, incessantly. In the media and in reality, I am twice a second class citizen. I live in a world where my quotidian, day-to-day walking and breathing and picking my nose is a threat to someone’s world view. And I am tired.

I’m tired of being killed for who I have crushes on and my wider-than-thou nose. I’m tired of having anxiety attacks when I see a cop car behind me, wondering whether to text my mom “i love you” now or later (or if I’ll get pulled over for texting!). I’m tired of my fight-or-flight response activating when being hugged by another man, even platonically. I’m tired of the way things are now.

Thus, I leave you with four simple solutions: 1) gun reform legislation, 2) better police training, 3) put women in charge of everything, and 4) empathy.

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

 

Bingeing While Black: Mr. Robot and the Art of Uncomfortable Silence

Another week, another show. (I wish I could say I had the wherewithal to keep up that kind of momentum, but I gotta work, kids.)

After a year, I was finally able to cross Mr. Robot off my to-watch list, having heard so many wonderful things about it, but never knowing what it actually was. I knew the main story revolved around an expert hacker dude played by professional cutie Rami Malek. I knew that Dahlia from Suburgatory was wandering around somewhere and that casting Christian Slater was a coup akin to scoring Kevin Bacon for The Following. Knowing the typical USA fare, I put all these facts together to guess that it’d be a quirky show about a crime-solving hacker and his dumb-blonde partner who would teach each other about life while trying to keep their activities secret from boss Christian Slater.

Girl, was I wrong.

The show started dark, giving Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson several different personality disorders from his opening monologue, and not the fun, Monk kind. He breaks the fourth wall to address us, the viewer, as a conscious figment of his own imagination. Within minutes, we learn that he’s paranoid and as one of the best hackers in TV history (aside from Felicity Smoak, obvi), he has every right to be. There’s a conspiracy starting at the tippy top and at any moment, it’s going to come crashing down on his head.

By the revelation of episode eight, I was pleasantly confused, throwing an empty Ben and Jerry’s carton at my roommate wondering why he hasn’t finished this show yet.

I’m not going to spoil the twist because I, fortunately, was not spoiled despite the show being a year old. Instead, I’m going to answer another question.

A friend and my personal TV mentor asked me what I liked most about the show, if I did, in fact, like it. I did and I told him what intrigued me most were Rami Malek’s long pauses, and the quiet, absolute silence of some of the scenes. One could believe that, outside of his internal monologue, Elliot has the fewest lines of anyone in the cast.

I’m fascinated by the concept of silence, how many people, especially in Los Angeles, can’t stand sitting quietly when there’s someone else around. From riding in Ubers to standing in line at Starbucks, people fear not talking, preferring to fill the silence with conversation, not all of it vital.

I once had a neighbor tell me that she’d prefer I stopped using her recycling bin (my own apt. building didn’t have one) and rather than arguing with her, I simply blinked at her, listening to her scramble to fill the silence with a reasonable excuse as to why she didn’t want me to recycle. She eventually relented.

Mr. Robot excels at silence, using the power silence has to invoke the kind of creepy tension that keeps the show’s tone hair-raisingly fascinating, leaving the audience waiting with bated breath for the next moment.

Take for instance any scene between Eliot and his psychiatrist. Without voiceover, the scene exists as two people in a room staring at each other. The balance of power is a source of dramatic irony here. Eliot’s psychiatrist, Krista Gordon, played by the multi-talented Gloria Reuben, thinks that she’s in control by reasoning of the fact that she is, for lack of a better term, saner than he is (with sanity being the bellwether of societal typicality). The audience knows, however, not only what’s going on in Elliot’s head, that he has the power to demolish anyone he so chooses, but the audience also knows that Elliot has more information on Krista than anyone she’s ever known. And knowledge is power, after all.

In fact, unbeknownst to many characters, Eliot holds all the power in nearly every interaction. Even when you worry that brute force and violence may triumph, like it does when we encounter the drug dealer Fernando Vera or his less unhinged but equally dangerous brother, Isaac, ultimately Elliot knowledgeably finds the upper hand.  Because it is what goes unsaid that truly makes knowledge scary.

Why is that? Fear of silence, of pauses, of the unknown. Nothing is as scary as what your own mind can make up.

Some would argue that fear of silence is linked to a general fear of death. Other studies say that unease with silence is a learned behavior brought about by the abundant and constant onslaught of modern technology (which is an ironic statement given Elliot’s day and nighttime activities).

Whatever it may be, Mr. Robot drew me in and strung me along for all ten episodes, using silence to play with me as my own mind scrambled to fill and explain every moment on screen.

I look forward to season_2.0 and hope the silence is more than I can bear.

 

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

 

P.S.:

Elliot is initially surrounded by no less than four women, all brilliantly complex with different motives, and it is fantastic.