Tag Archive: Social Commentary


“I Am Not A Witch”: Review!

“I Am Not A Witch” (2017) is a Zambian film that mixes magic realism with biting social commentary. For those interested in dipping their toes into African Cinema, I highly recommend!

With Love/ Maaretta

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Today is the last day of Black History Month! In Honor of this, here’s some reading recommendations, from comics to novels to poetry.

Normal post will return in March!

Take Care/ Maaretta

Dorit Rabinyan is a rising star in the literary world. Born in Israel to Iranien Jewish parents, she has three books translated into English: “Persian Brides”, “Our Weddings” (also published as “Strand of a thousand pearls”) and “All the rivers”. “Persian Brides” won the Jewish Quartely-Wingate Prize in 1999, and “All the rivers” has been an international best seller. However, “All the Rivers”, has been controversial in Israel; despite being well received and winning an award, in 2015 a scandal emerged: a committee of teachers requested the novel to be added to the recommended curriculum for Hebrew high school literature classes. Another committee in the Israeli Ministry of Education however objected to the request and declined to add it, on the grounds, according to The Economist, that it ”promotes intermarriage and assimilation”. In short, ”All the rivers” has gotten flack for portraying an interfaith and intercultural relationship.

Before moving on to the review, I must tell an endearing story about when I was waiting in a posttalk line to have Ms. Rabinyan sign her novel, ”Our weddings”. Ms. Rabinyan had not quite understood that she was suppose to do signings after her talk. Her publisher went to get her for the signing, and when Ms. Rabinyan appeared and saw the line, she exclaimed happily: ”Wow, are all these people here for me? This is fantastic!”.

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All the rivers” tells the sad love story of Liat, a Persian Jewish woman from Israel who, while temporarily living in New York, meets Hilmi, a young Palestinian man. Despite Liat´s internal reluctance, the two fall in love. However the relationship is filled with conflicts and Liat, additionally in her hesitation, hides the relationship from her parents and from many of her friends. Hilmi and Liat, in the midst of their tumultuous relationship, continually revert to mammoth arguments regarding the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Regardless, as the days go by, and the relationship with Hilmi deepens, it becomes harder for Liat to stick with her original plan to merely have a frivolous adventure while on a long trip and to return to her ”normal life” once she leaves the escapade of New York.

While the novels premise may sound banal and the books description would have the book sound like your average star crossed lovers story, ”All the rivers” surprises with a complex, mature and engaging story of politics and life. The novel is told from Liats point of view, and Rabinyan does not shy away from showing her heroine as deeply flawed. Liat often in fights with Hilmi exposes her insensitivity, and she often, and flippantly voices opinions she would be horrified to hear others utter. Yet, at the same time, Liat is very likeable. She is kind, self- critical and deeply cares about Hilmi, her family, and the humanity of all those around her. For those unfamiliar with Jewish culture they will certainly learn much about it through Liat´s narration.

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Hilmi as a character is loveable. Hilmi´s an ambitious and aspiring artist, has a deep and subtle sense of humour, and, despite a past of hardships engendered in the experiences of the Palestinian occupation forsakes bitterness for compassion and understanding. While hurt that Liat hides him from her parents, he has also remarkable patience with Liat. However he is not kind to a fault.

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In the two leads, Rabinyan explores a different spin on the tropes of intercultural relationships. While often in a text which wants the reader to sympathize with the protagonists, the tendency of the narrative of the two lovers would be written as free from prejudice or bias. Here though, we are exposed directly to Liat´s main flaw of her unremitting bias towards Israelis, and her admission of prejudice regarding Arabs, something she shamefully admits and tries to work on. (Note: people of Iranian descent consider themselves Persian, not Arabic). Liat is not purely a bad guy; Rabinyan shows that Liat deeply cares, supports and loves Hilmi, and listens to his stories of oppression without gaslighting him.

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Rabinyan’s plays in a refreshing perspective to the star-crossed lovers story showing us a human relation of real people embedded in both their prejudices and the dilemma of a loving intercultural relationship which resolves to neither the unloving or unkind. The novel paints a very morally complex and honest reality that explores the problematic nexus of privilege and biases, while showing the personal, political struggles the lovers have in recognition of their ignorances and invisible, unchecked privileges. The politics of the story are honest, and multilayered, while also being delicately critical of Israeli norms in understated ways.

Hilmi´s backstory also breaks ground in how Middle Eastern characters are often depicted in both cultural representations and narrative structure. Hilmi talks about his father, who he mentions was an atheist, and while it is never stated Hilmi himself does not seem very religious. While most literature often depicts Middle Easterners as Muslim or Christian, ”All the rivers” depicts two often forgotten groups: Jewish Middle Easterners and Atheist/non-believing Middle Easterners.

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The political context of the novel, one which the lovers are entrenched in and struggling against, revolves ultimately around the paramount and continual system of apartheid system towards the Palestinians in Israel. Hilmi, when going to Ramallah to visit his family, describes the oppressive atmosphere of the wall and details the surprising event of his time in prison for painting as a teen (the authorities thought he had painted the Palestinian flag). The novel, despite being written by an Israeli writer, does not shy away from the less than stellar aspects of the conflict.

The book is addictive, and difficult to put down. Despite being utterly depressing, ”All the rivers” also makes the unfortunately still relevant cautionary tale of not letting intolerance get in the way of the most human of things, our relationships with one another. Liat, despite knowing Hilmi is a good person, and despite acknowledging that she loves him, does not allow herself the relationship she desires due to fear of her parents disapproval. This denial leads to a heartbreaking ending where Liat is forced to face the harsh reality, of not only lost opportunities, but also of injustice as a destructive force. ”All the rivers” will surprise readers greatly, while also making them cry and rethink. Rare books do so much.

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Photo by Benoit Courti

All the rivers” is a triumph. Even if love stories are not your usual cup of tea (or if you just generally don´t like star-crossed lovers stories) still this novel cannot be recommend more highly. Beautifully written, brave and filled with both overt and restrained insights, ”All the rivers” is the love story for the person wanting to understand the world just a little bit more, and think of the individual enterprise a bit more clearly.

Sniff: “It´s so difficult to be noble when you´re suppose to get rich simultaniously”

-“Moomin and the Railwaystation” by Lars Jansson

Film adaptations are a difficult prospect. How much to keep, what will translate well enough to the alternative media, how to avoid deforming and misusing the original source and its intentions. Especially in childrens media/culture, it is common for a screen adaptation to become lighter and unnecessarily softer, removing things that would be seen as “too depressing”/”scary”. Though certain subjects, or their presentation, may be problematic for children, it is still a fact that life itself is quite messy and at times unpleasant and saying otherwise to kids is just a gratuitous and deceitful deviation from the real. On top of that, children by nature are curious and often quite philosophical, and the world being the chaotic place that it is will lead to children experiencing things like death, divorce, bullying etc. to which literature can offer help in coping and understanding these issues. This inclination goes a long way to explaining why the “Moomins”-books, that are chock-full of philosophy and curiosity, have been so poorly adapted when it comes to cartoons and films. Therefore it is no small pleasure to say that in 2014, a fantastic adaption was made of the Moomin comic strip, “Moomins At The Riviera”.

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left to right: Moominmamma, Snorkmaiden, Moomintroll and Moominpappa

The Moomin series started out as novels and comic strips, created by Tove Jansson who wrote the original eight novels, and add-ons, following the Moomin family and their friends. The novels delved into a slew of issues, including death, morality, family, loneliness and middle age crises. The characters who were primarily focused on were the naïve yet kindhearted Moomintroll, the wise, gentle Moominmamma, the angry adopted sister Little My, Moomintrolls vain yet tough girlfriend Snorkmaiden, and the proud Moominpappa. The comics, outside of the novel series, were initially written by Tove Jansson, and then later were run by her brother Lars Jansson. The comic strip was massively popular in England and Japan, and is regarded to this day as Finland’s most popular comic strip. However, inside of the Moomin-fandom they are slightly controversial; some fans love them, some fans dislike them and feel like the novels are fair superior. There is also a third camp (in which I am in) that feel like the comics are at times great, at times lacking.

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The animated film “Moomins at the Riviera” (2014) is based on a comic strip arch that satirized class and social norms, but the comic arch suffered from a poorly written Moomintroll – he was written as a bit possessive and unkind to Snorkmaiden in the original comic strip. The animated film adaption keeps the satirical elements, while also improving on the character development.

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As the film begins, the viewer is introduced to the Moomins and their friends. Life in their valley is relaxed, tolerant, and blissfully tranquil. However Snorkmaiden reads about a fancy hotel in a magazine, and after telling the rest of the gang about the fantastic place she´s read about, they decide to embark on an adventure to find this hotel. When they get there, it turns out that their adventure becomes more of a misadventure. Snorkmaiden gets caught up in the superficial glamour, Moominpappa gets swept up in his own pride and neglects his family, and Moomintroll after seeing Snorkmaiden flirt with others feels abused and abandoned. It is only Moominmamma who keeps her head high, trying to help her depressed son and other lonely creatures at the hotel. As Moominmamma points out: “If only this place wasn´t such a bad influence on us”.

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While the humor and the characters are as loveable as in their book and comic counterparts, what makes this movie a wondrous continuation of the series (and also watchable to people not familiar with this franchise) is it´s witty, intelligent social commentary. At the films beginning the viewer is introduced to an honest, straightforward narration to the family´s philosophy. This is laid out in in the story line through a brief encounter with a lively band of self-proclaimed pirates. Moominmamma mistakes their feverish search through their home as a hunt for a missing “treasure” chest of tropical seeds she had found, while, in reality, and of course, the pirates were scavenging for the booty of a chest of gold. Moominmammas honest confusion at the pirates disregard for the seeds is comical, but also speaks volumes of the alternative lifestyle the Moomins live; that is, one not consumed by wealth or focused on the materialistic.

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In the film version of “Moomins At The Riviera”, while being residence at the hotel, the gang for the first time has to cope with real judgment for their ways and mannerism. They are constantly too clumsy, too obscene, they don´t have the right clothing etc. Snorkmaiden however learns to blend in and Moominpappa is befriended by man from a high class family who´s impressed with Moominpappas “boheme” lifestyle. However Moomintroll becomes more and more helpless as Snorkmaiden becomes enamored with someone else.

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Scene from original comic, duplicated in film

A clear rift is driven between the individuals of the Moomin band, yet despite this wedge sundering to the group Moominmamma and Moomintroll try their best to rekindle their old life. Moomintroll tries to woe Snorkmaiden with a boat trip, Moominmamma tries to help a dog who has an unfortunate fondness for cats. In one beautifully written scene, Moomintroll falls into a deep melancholy when he once again gets dogged by Snorkmaiden and ends up just sulking by himself. Moominmamma tries to engage Moominpappa in this, telling him “our son is a little down, maybe you could give him some advice?” which Moominpappa hand waves away as Moomintroll just being “philosophical”. With such simplicity the pain of the rift is made clear; popularity and outward glamour have in fact corrupted them.

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It is also in Snorkmaidens and Moomintrolls conflict where the film becomes a superior production to the original comic. In the comic strips arch, Moomintroll has a tendency to get angry when Snorkmaiden wants to go to parties and has a habit to belittle her (which he never did in the books). However in the animated film production, he supports her desire to go to the hotel and doesn´t demean her as in the comics. Additionally his jealousy is explored more as a symptom born of his insecurities in light of his girlfriend openly flirting with strangers, as well as the hotel’s general alienating nature. In other words, he is more like the lovable Moomintroll from the books, which gets the audiences sympathy even in his more flawed moments.

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The film, on top of its family dynamics and life style philosophy, also focuses sharply upon the issue of class. The Moomins are read by the hotels celebrities as poor due to their lack of knowledge of fancy food, of their lack of materials and appearance. This assumption creates a hostile attitude, but also naïve admiration; Moominpappa impresses a man from a well-to-do family who wants to “suffer for his art” and live as “the poor”, however he quickly abandons this notion when he lives upon common food for a day, and endeavors to sleeps outside for one night. His one day experiment in downward mobility ends with his exclamation “I´ve lived in poverty quite enough now”. This satire of the exotification of poverty is quick biting, and spot on.

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Moomins at the Riviera” is a fantastic film that loyal Moomin-fans and casual viewers will both love. The atmosphere is gentle despite the satire, the characters are instantly loveable and the themes resonate in an international tone. A must watch.

Since April is considered a national “Child Abuse Prevention Month”, I have decided to dedicate the following blog post this month to novels that discuss physical abuse aimed at children and teenagers. Three of the books are aimed at children, while one is a memoir meant for adults. The books I´ll write reviews for and discuss are the following:

“The book of everything” by Guus Kuijer,which tackles domestic abuse where both children and women are subjected to this horror.

“Seis veces Lucas” by Lygia Boujunga, which tackles emotional abuse.

“That mean old yesterday: a memoir” by Stacey Patton, which tackles child physical and sexual abuse as well as racism and the legacy of slavery and other racial oppression.

“Secrets” by Jacqueline Wilson, which tackles both physical and emotional abuse.

Feel free to tell me if there´s any books or films I should look into regarding this subject!

Best wishes/ Maaretta

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(Trigger warning for discussions of poor prison conditions and torture)

It is probable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does not need an introduction. She´s the writer everybody reads, she tops all the best seller list, and she´s well loved by book lovers of the world. Her most famous work, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, has been adapted into a film. Her books have won numerous awards and to many, she´s an introduction to African Literature. Gushing about “Americanah” or “Half of a Yellow Sun” is expected from everyone. While indeed her novels are masterpieces, very few people have actually talked about her short story collection, “The Thing around your neck”. It is a shame, because in her stories she deals with many important issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia and colonization. Her short story collection is diverse not only by including many LGBT-characters and having a cast full of POCs, but also in different story settings. She has a historical story, stories about rich people, stories about poor people, a story about writers, stories of politics. The narration also differs in tone in many stories. And while perhaps not all the stories are great, they all capture a certain truth about ordinary lives.

Ms. Adichie

Ms. Adichie

“Cell One” is narrated by a young girl, who is in fact not the real protagonist of the story. Her narration is done by casting a cynical, fed-up eye on her rowdy and small criminal big brother, Nnanamadia, and her parents who continually enable his behavior. The family is fairly wealthy and the brother in fact is heavily implied to continually even steal from his own family. His criminal behavior comes from his involvement with gangs at his university, which early in the story leads him into being imprisoned. This comes as a terrible blow to the parents, but the narrator sees this as her brother getting his just deserts. While it´s never explicably stated, this resentment most certainly comes from parental favoritism and a sense of the brother using his male privilege to get his parents to let him get away with terrible behavior. This dynamic reminded me of Jamaica Kincaid’s memoir, “My brother”, where Ms. Kincaid discussed parental favoritism combined with gendered double standards: her mother would allow her brother to be a slacker while being quite tough on her daughter. While the parents are not harsh towards the girl in this story, she on the other hand has become resentful of her brother.

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The plot revolves around the family´s visits to the prison. Nnanamadia first is haughty, but slowly he starts to change over the course of the visits. He starts mentioning an old man who has also been brought to the same prison. This man has been arrested since the police couldn´t find his criminal son, and therefore imprisoned him instead despite a lack of evidence he had broken any laws, and to add insult to injury they also threat him with less respect due to him being poor.

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

As time passes on, Nnanamadia begins to mention and talk about the old man whenever the family visits him. He becomes more and more melancholy in his speech, talking about how the guards are nasty and mean-spirited towards a fragile man who´s harmless. He talks about how no one visits the man, and how the guards neglect the old man in favor of other prisoners. Through the dialogue, the reader begins to notice a huge change in Nnamanadia; before he was conniving and self-centered, but after his witnessing of the fate of the old man, he has begun a venture of human maturation into an empathetic person who sees outside of his own world. With every visit he goes further into his metamorphosis. A particular telling moment is when the parents bring food for Nnamanadia during their visit. Nnanamadia looks at the food, and quietly states that he wants to give it to the old man, who is not properly fed in the prison. The guards blandly and blankly state that this is not allowed; Nnanamadia just silently stares at this offering of food from the family torn and distrait at the inhumanities brought up in the gift. He´s attachment to the old man makes him want to for the first time in his life prioritize someone else besides himself.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in “The Simpsons”

In the climax of the story, Nnanamadia is taken into cell one, where he is severely beaten as a form of torture. And frankly, when the guards tell the parents why this horror is visited on Nnanamadia it becomes as intellectually appalling as emotionally wrenching experience for the reader.

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

What makes “Cell one” such an incredibly story is that it packs many social and political issues such as corruption, harsh prison conditions and class into a narrative lodged acutely in the intimate and personal. The issues are deeply tied with the character growth of Nnanamadia and his tale of growing understanding casts the reader into an optimistic stance of the possible and hopeful side of human behavior. It is contrasted by the guard’s cruelty, which makes them a great foil to Nnanamadia. There´s an old saying in the feminist movement, “The personal is political”, which this story captures by showing how politics and corruption affect the old man’s life as well as Nnanamadia´s coming of age. By showing how the machinations of corruption detours, deforms and defeats human lives – and it is the most fundamental aspects of human existence that are at stake in these questions – Adichie´s writing is an ideal example of social commentary done with concerned focus and sure precision.

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Cover for “The thing around your neck” in Swedish

“Cell one” is a breathtaking tale, and despite not being a novel, has all the great elements of a literary magnum opus. It would, in my opinion, be also amazing to see this story adapted into a film. The prose is perfect, even in the advents of the young girl’s resentment, and the wondrous personal honesty of the voice of the narration flings the reader along an engrossing plot filled with heartbreaking events. This is political fiction at largest and finest.

Hello readers, I´m in New York right now! And just finished one major course at the university, with another course coming to an end (meaning lots and lots of time consumed by studying for the exam). So since I have quite little time, I would like to just briefly recommend some films, Tv series and Graphic novels. During this month I can say that a post on the Adult swim television series “Rick and Morty” will be posted soon enough, and a discussion about a “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” episode is due this month as well. So stay tuned, and check out some of the stuff mentioned below.

The film “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an excellent character study as well as a psychological thriller. It tells the story of a young girl who struggles with reuniting with her sister after escaping a cult. It´s directed by Sean Durkin and stars Elizabeth Olson, who does an excellent job depicting the complexities of being brainwashed, as well as how painful it can be in the battle of freeing oneself from the oppressions of authoritarian control. John Hawkes (known mostly by his roles in “Deadwood” and “Winter´s Bone”) is shockingly creepy as the cults charismatic leader. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is also a riveting depiction of systematic sexual abuse and oppression of women. The cult has extremely old fashioned views on gender, and therefore rape is used as a form of getting the newly recruited women to submit. Martha, the films protagonist, not only undergoes such abuse herself but is also shown drugging another girl during such rituals. It´s disturbing, but unfortunately feels like an honest account of how different forms of groups and societies control women. The film easily passes the Bechdel test, and has a heart-breaking depiction of Martha´s relationship to her sister. Martha´s sister tries to understand and support her, but it´s a difficult situation. Few films have such an honest depiction of family: showing events of the interpersonal which even the most loving family members are not able to control nor come to grips with. It´s an unsettling, moving and tragic watch, and it´s a guarantee that once you´ve seen the film you´ll never forget it.

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“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a 2011 French film that has nearly nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway. Despite the name being a little misleading, this film is a thought-provoking, political piece that is neither simplistic nor preachy. Directed by Robert Guédiguian, the film spins the tale of an elderly couple who are life-long Marxists and who, once they find themselves the victims of a robbery, are forced to question not only their ideologies but also themselves. The film unravels the robber’s story, the thief’s mother, the aforementioned couple and the couple’s children – with all of the characters attempting to come to terms with their feelings, thoughts, and views on the situation. The director cleverly gives each character reasonable arguments. The thief points out that despite the couples avowed Marxism, they still exist in the sphere of the privileged due to their class and that what they may consider fair is not always fair for someone else. The robber’s mother (who has abandoned all of her three children, forcing the thief to become the sole provider for his two underage brothers) points out that it was her boyfriends (the robber and his brothers have two different fathers) who pressured her into having children and then promptly abandoned her after the children were born. The film also attempts to convey how little acts of kindness can at times solve huge problems. A smart film well worth watching!

Original french poster

Original french poster

“Daddy´s Girl” by Debbie Drechler is a very nauseating, but powerful graphic memoir. When Ms. Drechler was a child, she was reputably molested by her father. This would later reflect in her relationships in college, where she undergoes a rape and isolation from her peers. The comic is short, but honest in its brutality and melancholy. Dreschler shows the many layers and forms of abuse, and how they intertwine with each other. It is filled with gut wrenching scenes such as when Debbie wonders if she is a horrible person, since god allows her father to molest her and if her mother is so distant to her due to her father’s abuse. Even more unsettlingly, the comics end is left open, making the reading experience even more a disturbing endeavor. It´s fairly harsh, but definitely worth the read.

Scene from "Daddy´s girl"

Scene from “Daddy´s girl”

This recommendation is no doubt cliché, and therefore I´ll keep this extra short. I was first not sure whether I should or shouldn’t watch “Breaking Bad”, but finally caved in and have loved every minute of watching the first four seasons (fifth season still unseen). It follows a chemistry teacher named Walter White, who in order to pay for his cancer treatments takes up with his former student Jesse to cook Crystal Meth. The writing is tight, the acting superb and the comedic moments (bloody) hilarious. One of the best acting performances was done by Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the drug kingpin and Walters temporary boss Gustavo “Gus” Fring. Gus´ calm and collected demeanor is eerie yet fascinating, and as he switches between playing nice to ruthlessly violence one is reminded of such works as “American Psycho”. Gus has also an interesting back-story and motivations, which the show did an excellent job building up. “Breaking Bad” has also done one of the funniest bottle episodes, where Walt obsesses over killing a fly. Great series!

Walter and Jesse

Walter and Jesse

That’s about it for now. Happy Watching and reading!

“All of the great artists get censored!” – Linda (voiced by John Roberts)

“Bob’s Burger” is an animated series created by Loren Bouchard and premiered on television in 2011. It centers on the misadventures of the Hamburger restaurant owning Bob and his family. The family consists of his wife Linda, who is perky and peculiar, and their three children: the continually exaggerating Gene, the socially awkward Tina and the sly, mischievous Louise. “Bob’s Burger” is packed with great lines and quirky dialogue, and finds its way to dealing with impressive subjects from time to time. The show is also pleasant in its interesting depiction of a working-class family; “Bob’s Burger” is not a “down-to-earth” realistic but does portray the plight of this class’s persistent economic trouble, which is important and appreciable to represent. And it is firmly refreshing to see a show that is which is finally female-friendly (i.e. free of overly sexists jokes) in this genre (naturally excluding the “Simpsons”).

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

In “Bob’s Burgers” first season, the eight episode “Art Crawl” tackled the issue of censorship. More specifically the episode was about censoring art, as well as has some amusing musings about cultural assumptions about art itself.

The episode begins with Bob walking around the neighborhood with his kids as they check out the neighborhoods annual street event focused on art. The event is an “Art crawl”, where people display their indolently done paintings. Bob points out quickly that he does not want the children to think that the Art crawl represents what real art is meant to be or obtain. Considering how artist and art have at times been the punching bag for mainstream comedy, it’s pleasant to have Bob make a sincere defense of art. Tina then suggests that they visit a museum to learn more about Art. This is met with strong protest from Bob and her siblings (this is met with the idea of a “art visit” is going to far). Already in the first four minutes of the episode lazy and stereotypical attitudes towards Art, especially mirrored in television culture, are confronted and parodied. Bob points out the “art festival” is a profoundly narrow idea about what Art both is and entails. The scene defends art as a cultural form, stating that it is much better than many may believe, yet uses a singular relatable scenario as showing Bob falling into the common and routine avoidance of culture.

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The show also plays with the myth of the unstable and conceited artist as well. Gayle, Linda’s extremely insecure and erratic sister whose art the family is not allowed to critic, is a an embodiment of this trope (it is mentioned that she had eaten lipstick to become “red inside”).

Linda's sister, Gayle

Linda’s sister, Gayle

However, the idea of the unstable artist is also satirized. The youngest child of the family, Louise (voiced by the always awesome Kristen Schaal ) sees the potential in making money in the “Art Crawl” phenomena and tries to get her siblings Gene and Tina to make street art for her. However her siblings express themselves as “true” artists, to which Louise then decides that she must cut off her brother’s ear, in reference to a supposed action done by Van Gogh. This highlights how people focus on outsized legends and absurd stories to constantly create the odd mythical presence of the mad artist which alienates these workers in Art from the normal working class. The constant mystification art, and the creation of art, to the point that art and artists are viewed more as characters from ridiculous melodramas instead of being engaged with as serious creators of our visual culture.

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However the most prominent theme of the episode is censorship. Other popular cartoons have dealt with censorship before, for instance “The Simpsons” episode “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” and the two-part “South Park” episode “Cartoon Wars” (which was later discussed again in the episodes “200” and “201”). These two previous shows dealt with censorship through fictional controversies, i.e. with the Simpsons cartoon violence and with South Park the representation of the prophet Mohammed. In both of these cases the object of controversy was not a product made by a family member. In “Bob’s Burger” this is the case.

Gayle, Linda’s sister, visits the family for a while and hangs her new paintings around the walls of Bob’s restaurant in tandem with the neighborhood Art Crawl event. To Bob’s horror, Gayle has devoted all of her works to the depiction of various animal’s anuses. Bob surmises, quite correctly in fact, that the paintings will have a negative effect on the customers eating in his establishment. Bob makes the case strongly to his wife, Linda that she has to tell her sister that Gayle has to take down the paintings. When she refuses, Bob comes up with a scheme to take down the paintings without Linda noticing. He also decides to come clean with Gayle and state that he just doesn’t want the paintings hung on the walls of his restaurant. This plan quickly changes after Edith, the elderly woman who runs the “Art Crawl” event, shows up to complain about Gayle’s paintings. Bob explains that the paintings have been removed, to which Edith than replies: “Good, they were indecent” adding “I won’t allow them to be shown”. Bob becomes furious after hearing Edith state that she won’t allow people to see this art given her own interpretation of what art should be available, and therefore hangs all of the paintings back up. Bob’s actions are strikingly similar to an old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, that Voltaire among others have used when defending freedom of Speech and expression. Bob absolutely hates Gayle’s paintings but will not let her work be censored by authoritarian personas. He decides to make a stand since he feels that someone has tried to rob him and others of their choice to express themselves. Edith continues to protest against the paintings while Bob tells Gayle to paint more. Bob fights back against censorship by encouraging more provocative art. So Bob takes his protest against censorship a step further – he not only will defend Gayle, but encourage her as well. Bob takes the idea of defending a person’s right to express themselves freely, but also encourage them to express themselves in a way he doesn’t like.

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The Episode “Art Crawl” takes an interesting turn on censorship when the family discovers one morning that the paintings have been vandalized. The animals have been given pink underwear as a cover up. Bob assumes the person responsible is Edith and heads over to her store. There he confronts Edith and vandalizes her artworks in revenge (by giving all of the paintings in her shop “anuses”), only to find out later that it was his wife Linda who vandalized the paintings, since she was so disgusted by them. While Edith wanted to censor the paintings, Linda is the one who actually takes to vandalism to censor. The family pays Edith for the damage caused and Linda realizes that she should have perhaps just honestly told her sister her opinion of the paintings. The episode portrays the vandalism as an act of censorship, which it is. Edith praised the vandalism act but did not do it herself. Linda did because she could not express her dislike. Naturally, it is harder to critic art when someone close to you is the creator, but it is pointed out that Linda should have just voiced her opinion. Once again the importance of expressing one’s self is highlighted. It is also stated that Bob’s anger was understandable, but his action of changing Edith’s paintings was over the top, since he also does a form of censorship by editing Edith’s paintings against her will.

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“Art Crawl” illustrates the measures a person will go to fight against censorship. Bob can’t stand people bossing others about their expression. It rings a truth about censorship in the real world; to defend freedom of speech, people must sometimes defend things they despises themselves. “Art Crawl” strongly defends freedom of speech, realizing that we will not always like everything culture produces, but censorship is not, nor is ever, the answer.

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“The PJ’s” (1999-2001) was a stop-motion animation created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins. The show centers on the main protagonist Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy) who is the chief superintendent of and lives in a housing project with his wife, Muriel (voiced by Loretta Devine). The show as well as centering on the awkward adventures of Thurgood followed the escapades and personalities of the myriad residents living in the housing project. The show has been heavily criticized for depicting negative racial stereotypes of life in the projects by many social activists, including the great director Spike Lee, and the cartoonist Aaron McGruder even accused “The PJ’s” of being nothing but a host and list of stereotypes in his comic strips “The Boondocks”. I agree with these accusations, along with feeling that the show in a whole relied on labels and simplistic characterizing which didn’t always seem the reality of representation to either minorities or those of the captured classes who must deal with living in socially neglected lower income housing. The show seemed to also for the most part ignore the subject of poverty too often and neglected to touch on the subject of discrimination of lower classes. That is, except for the third episode in the first season.

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This episode, titled “The Door”, begins with the inhabitants of the building expressing consternation about the front door constantly breaking and leaving them victim to (what they perceive as) criminal elements of the neighborhood. Thurgood at first dismisses these complaints, but eventually is compiled to secure a new door for the building. Everyone falls instantly in love with the new high tech and exceedingly secure door, feeling it will give them the protection they need. These hopes are destroyed soon after the door is found to have been stolen – only to be returned by criminal gang who decide to occupy the project house.

What worked in “The Door” is that the viewer is exposed to the problems and dangers poor people must face continually in the milieu of there neighborhoods and in the social planning they are forced (by money) to inhabit. The shows succeed by detailing the residents of the project in the human terms of people striving to secure a place of living which is safe and protected. Though “PJ’s” was made for comedic effect, this episode features a heartbreaking scene where Thurgood strolls down the hallway of the building while the residents one by one look out of their apartment with statements such as: “I’m frightened!” to which Thurgood only can answer with the powerless reply: “I’m sorry”.

The Door” depicts the characters of “The PJs” as sympathetic and likeable, fully humanized. The show wasn’t able to do this in any other episode and was inclined towards a meager portraiture of characters to laugh at. The characters are depicted as poor (and also all of them are non-white), and simply laughing at them for this is extremely problematic and without empathy. Yet with “The Door” the characters actually display something thought- provoking about poverty: how vulnerable and trapped the people living in it are. This is an important subject to think about right now, especially with the ascendency of poverty, and the schism of inequality, has climbed in the past few years.

So check out the third episode of the first season of “The PJs”. It’s a very solid episode, even if the rest of the show wasn’t. The whole episode is featured below in three parts.