Of Poc! Characters

As a non-white person, it’s often tempting to reimagine racially ambiguous characters in literature as, well, not necessarily white/Caucasian. For some time, there’s been an idea on various platforms (specifically deviantart/tumblr/reddit) that Hermione Granger, all round badass witch from the Harry Potter series could be black/Indian/biracial, especially given that her skin tone and/or ethnicity has never been explicitly mentioned anywhere in the seven books. I’ve spent a considerable time trawling the interwebs for fanarts that feature a racebent Hermione, and while doing so, I came across this comment from a fellow desi who refutes the theory of Hermione Granger as a PoC (Person of Colour) on a very colonial ground:

“I’ve never bought the depictions of Hermione as non-white. To me, she’s the very embodiment of the white man’s burden. She takes it upon herself to free the house elves, but without asking them what they actually want. In fact, she bases her entire view of house elves on the knowledge that they work in the kitchens without pay or benefits, and on Dobby, who every single elf we meet in canon regards as odd or even heretical. She never bothers to talk to another house elf, but simply assumes that she knows what is best for them. House elves are not a stand-in for any real world oppressed group. We know nothing of how they or their society work, and when Hermione insists that they get sick leave, she does not even know whether house elves fall sick. They are magical creatures, and even though they are sentient, they cannot be regarded as automatically having human wants and needs. Every house elf (including Dobby) states that he or she lives to work, and this may be so. And this is not the only time Hermione is disrespectful of non-humans. When, IIRC, Parvati is gushing over Firenze, she dismissively says, “I’ve never liked horses much” (even if she’s just being catty). She invades the centaurs’ territory despite prior warning not to, to trick them into getting rid of Umbridge for her (though I don’t think she had many choices on how to do that). And while werewolves are non-human for only one day a lunar cycle, in PoA, when she’s telling Harry in the Shrieking Shack that Lupin and Sirius are working together, she tells him that he’s a werewolf in a manner that it seems more likely that he’d be working with a (at that time assumed) Death Eater. There is no evidence that she knows that it’s a full moon that night, meaning that she is denying Lupin’s personhood for no reason but fear. I really think these attitudes are very colonial in nature.”

– Satchit Bhogle

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Thoughts?

Ross Geller is problematic- and why

Hi!

So I recently made a mortal mistake- I rewatched F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I hadn’t revisited the show since I watched it as an awe-struck 13 year old who immediately wanted to take off for NYC as soon as she finished three seasons of it. But the two month long summer vacations strike, and what did I do? I decided to watch all ten seasons of it again. Why? Because I was reeling from the sadness that had enveloped me as soon as I finished watching Parks and Recreation and I needed the comforting hug of an old acquaintance- and I thought FRIENDS would do that. Wrong move.

First let’s talk about some generally worrisome facts about F.R.I.E.N.D.S:

  1. New York City is only 40% Caucasian, and yet through and through the cast and the background characters are all consistently white and straight.
  2. Despite being ‘revolutionary’ in some ways (by featuring a gay wedding and mentioning trans folk in subtext back in the 90s), the treatment of LGBTQ+ members by the six main characters is blatantly homophobic- Chandler’s dad is constantly misgendered and what’s worse, scenes with Helena Bing are always, always accompanied by freakin’ laugh tracks.
  3. The fragile masculinity. Full stop. Remember the Nanny episode? Remember when Ross loses his ‘salmon’ shirt? (salmon, you guys! not pink! ugh! how can you possibly confuse the two indistinguishably similar colours?!) Remember when Joey has to wax his eyebrows and can’t do it because of his judgmental ‘best friends’? Remember when Ross doesn’t want Ben to play with a Barbie doll because he doesn’t want him to ‘turn gay’? I could continue, but let’s move on.
  4. Ross Geller

RossGellar

The first three points are disturbing, but I want to talk particularly about Ross Geller. Ross is the backbone of the group- he is Monica’s brother, Rachel Green’s on and off love interest, and Chandler Bing’s college roommate and best friend.

Ross has had a crush on Rachel since high school, and he doesn’t make a secret of it. On Rachel’s first night in NYC, he tells her that he’s always liked her, and she replies that she already knows. Ross does the proper thing here by asking her if it’s okay if he asks her out sometime. Good boy, Ross. Too bad you couldn’t behave the same way through the seasons.

Rachel in the meanwhile sees other guys, notably Paolo, the attractive Italian who lives in the same building. Ross is jealous of Paolo’s good looks and lilting accent, and he makes no attempt to hide it. He makes fun of Paolo’s limited knowledge of English, and calls him a ‘crap weasel’ to the face.

Now cut to Mark, the guy from Bloomingdale’s, who Rachel works with. Despite being in a relationship with her, Ross believes that Mark’s friendly behaviour is simply an attempt to lure Rachel. Ross doesn’t trust her when she repeatedly insists that he is only a friend.

Now cut again to when Rachel and Ross have had Emma, and Rachel decides to have a night-out with Phoebe. She wears a decidedly low-cut dress and Ross has decided that he will have none of it. She’s had his baby, how dare she think that she is a sentient, independent woman who can dress how she wants and go where she pleases? Ross is seriously displeased that Rachel is acting independent of his will. And when the guy Rachel met at the bar calls their home phone, Ross destroys the message he leaves because he doesn’t want Rachel to see other guys.

To say that Ross is jealous and possessive is a tremendous understatement. He sees people as his own– when he finds out that Monica and Chandler have been seeing each other secretly, he flips. It’s his SISTER! Forget that she is Monica Geller, an attractive woman in her late twenties with a promising career as a chef. Nope, she is Ross’ SISTER, and nothing more. And speaking of possessive. When Ross and Rachel get married whilst drunk in Vegas, she immediately wants an annulment. And what does Ross do? He doesn’t get one and tricks Rachel into thinking he did. Is that supposed to be a move that screams ‘I’m eternally in love with you and this is my only way to get married to you’?? Because all it does for me is reinforce how disgustingly controlling and sneaky Ross really is.

He is terribly insecure about his masculinity.

If you search for the word ‘hypermasculinity’ in the dictionary, you will probably find Ross’s name next to it. The man cannot do a thing without wondering a thousand times whether it will affect his machismo.

He cannot get a tan without thinking if it is a traditionally feminine thing to do. He can’t wear a pink shirt without insistently calling it salmon. When Monica tells him to wear a little makeup to detract from his teeth-whitening debacle, he becomes aggressive.

Obviously, it is not all Ross. Joey and Chandler can’t hug without hesitating at first. Joey can’t get his eyebrows waxed without ridicule. He can’t knit with Janine without Chandler mocking him.

But I do not find Joey or Chandler as problematic as Ross. Joey and Chandler’s only flaw seems to be their exaggerated masculinity, while for Ross, it seems to be one of his many, many flaws.

If you would like to read more on this, I’d recommend Rhiannon Thomas’s excellent article on her deconstruction of Ross Geller, or Anna Mardoll’s fantastic piece on the same.

Readers, if you loved something as a child, be it a book, a TV show or a movie, rewatching/rereading it as an adult may not be the best idea. Leave it as it is, because revisiting it will only drastically alter your opinion of it.

Also, do tell me in the comments below if you have started disliking something you liked as a child after you rewatched it.

See you soon!

The difference a year can make

Hello!

It’s been aeons since I blogged, but in my defence, motivation- the writer’s greatest friend/fiend deserted me and I found myself lacking a muse.

Regardless, I’m back now, and despite how ominous the title sounds, I can assure you it won’t be.

Sooo anyway, I am in my second year at college now! I would insert some nostalgic musing about how fast time flies, but at the fear of sounding like a middle-aged woman at a family reunion, I desist.
Yes, I’m officially done with year one of college. Two more years, bring it on!

I remember vividly my first day at college- butterflies named fear, excitement, anticipation, doing a salsa in my stomach. I remember the serpentine lines of freshers, like me, waiting at the main office, to file some paperwork to assure the officials that we weren’t gun-wielding overlords.

My first day was actually quite anticlimactic- after settling down, we found out that classes wouldn’t begin for at least a week. My enthusiasm fizzled out faster than a faulty firework. I didn’t meet any of my current friends that day, either- most of them I would meet at various points in the subsequent year.

I remember feeling lost- in spite of being surrounded by throngs of people just like me- fresh out of school, stepping into a new, new world. I felt lost because of the mammoth building. I felt lost because of the sprawling campus. I felt lost because of the hoi polloi. I didn’t realise that I would soon be one of them ( I mean, I did, but if I admitted to that, the trope of the new, confused student is pretty much ruined).

Now cut to the second year, which is as different from last year as humanly possible.

No, the sprawling campus is still there. The throngs of people are still there.

But the thing that is different is the assurance that I have a bunch of friendly faces somewhere in that crowd.

The assurance of familiar professors and their familiar teaching methods and their now boring, goofy jokes.

The assurance that no, there are no scowling seniors who will beat me up and steal my cold coffee right out of my hands.

The assurance that no matter what, things can’t get too bad because you have a group of complete nutters and amazing professors to boot.

Update of sorts

Hello! So, the first month of 2015 has already gone down, and I’ve done…nothing. No wait, I have. That one day I did start writing-never mind, I never finished it. The thing is, it’s hellishly cold here, and when it’s cold, I essentially stop functioning. < No, there’s no snowfall or anything,  but it did dip to 0 C once (that’s about 40 F for you international weirdos), and where I live, that’s unprecedentedly low-and also my heating’s broken, so these past days have just had me burritoed in bed, listening to Twenty-One Pilots and sipping gallons of soup.

Also, I’m in second semester now! I’m actually seriously pumped about this semester, seeing how I have some of my most favourite writers- Virginia Woolf, Amitav Ghosh, Bronte, Rossetti, among others. This does mean that I have to do fourteen novels and anthologies in under four months, but doing your preferred major means work=fun, folks!

January was also the month I spent outrageous amounts of money on books(and that’s saying something)-thanks to the generous gift money I collected during my holiday in December. Ah, the perks of having a huge family. I’m taking my passion for feminism to literature now- so I bought the Awakening by Kate Chopin, Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, and Bossy pants by Tina Fey.  I’m done with Moran’s brilliantly funny book, and I look forward to reading the others.  Also, feel free to drop in your recs about your favourite feminist book, and I’ll get to it eventually.

What else? Oh yeah, President Obama visited India (which you probably already know, unless you’ve been living under a rock). The brouhaha surrounding his visit kept us all on our toes for a couple of days, and also he quoted DDLJ, one of Bollywood’s most iconic movie in his final speech at Siri Fort Auditorium here in Delhi, and I must say, America, you’re in good hands, indeed.

Finally, I started applying for internships. Well, mainly for the experience, but also, ya know, for ze $$$. The process is still in its nascent stages, so let’s see how that pans out.

So, that’s been my first month of 2015! How’s yours been? How’re your resolutions going? Take care of yourselves, especially if you’re in the blizzard-affected parts of the US, and I’ll talk again soon! Xo

The Academy and the Year of Overt Tokenisation

I like the Oscars. It’s been a tradition for the past six years to wake up at half past six on a chilly March morning ( it is usually in the middle of finals or mid-terms), and sit wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV. When I was younger, I liked the Oscars because of the beautiful, glitzy couture, the perfectly coiffed hair, the stunning Jimmy Choos and Louboutins that the ladies wore. As I grew older, I started understanding the hitherto un-understood jokes and subtle digs. Now…well, the Oscars are still the event I look forward to the most, but there are several things that, being a woman of colour, are pissing me off. Things that we, as a supposedly intelligent specie, need to discuss. STAT. Right off the bat, we have the most obvious problem this year. Not a single nominee, from either the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, or Best Supporting Actress is a POC. I know, I know, talent doesn’t depend on the amount of melanin there is in your skin. But hey, it looks like the Academy didn’t even bother with its usual gimmick of tokenising this year. Ya know- the one where they add one black man in one category out of 24, to make an entire community feel happy. . o3 The Academy’s aforementioned tokenisation is usually subtle- last year, for example, 12 Years a Slave won the Best Movie, with Lupita Nyong’o picking up the statuette for Best Supporting actress for the same movie. Steve McQueen also got nominated- for, you guessed it, 12 Years a Slave. o4 Actually nvm about the ‘subtle’ thing- as Andrew Paxton in the Proposal quips, this is ‘as subtle as a gun’. Wow, Academy, you really love your slave movies, don’t you? It would be swell if you found some other way to recognise the African-American community than just through movies about slavery and subjugation, but then again, I’m Indian, which means my people get even less recognition. I could count the number of movies involving Indians that got nominated for an Oscar in the recent times on literally one hand. Then of course, is the question of recognition of the LGBTQ+ community and their contribution to films, but I guess that’s something that can’t be addressed as easily as the issue of racial representation- seeing how sexual orientations and gender expression are personal to everyone, and the choice of whether to come out or not varies. Till a few years ago, for example, no-one knew that veteran actress Jodie Foster was, in fact, gay, until she came out during a Golden Globes speech. Then there are the abysmal statistics about women and the Academy. 94% of the Oscar voter are white and 77% male. For the Best Actor winner, there’s an expected $3.9m increase in salary, whilst for the Best Actress, the amount is just $500k, or an eighth of what the man gets. .o1 This year, the most obvious snub was towards Selma- a movie on Martin Luther King’s struggles. Its director, Ava DuVernay was touted to make the Best Directors’ List- in doing so, she would’ve been the first African American woman to get the honour. Instead, the Academy shocked everyone on Thursday when DuVernay didn’t make the list. Sure, Selma’s still nominated for the Best Movie, but it’s just not the same. It’s almost like a consolation prize- ‘Hey, sorry we’re still so obvious in our preference of putting white men in every category ever, but here, have a best picture nom. It’s unlikely you’ll win,though, because seriously, how many movies on slavery and civil rights can you make?! So it’ll most likely go to this movie about some dude going to some planet and inevitably screwing everything up, even though white people have dealt with this theme innumerable times. Sorry, maybe next time!’ And last, but not the least, WHERE WAS THE LEGO MOVIE’S NOMINATION FOR BEST ANIMATED MOVIE? Seriously, you refuse to recognise one of the most adorable movies ever made? Were you dropped on your head as a baby, Academy? Did How to Train Your Dragon 2 have Lego Batman and Lego Dumbledore chilling together? Yeah, didn’t think so. Fix your stuff, Academy, before it’s too late. Let’s see some diversity up there.

note- statistics from Stephenfollows. He has some very interesting reports on gender and racial representations in various areas, so you can go check it out as well.

PS- I loved Interstellar, pls don’t hate me.

Things that made me happy in 2014

Hi! As the year draws to an end, I have been conscious of how overwhelmingly happy I have generally been this year, so I thought I’d put together a list of all the things I’m grateful for. Bear with me, for this is going to be a long one.

Things that made me incredibly, incandescently happy this year (in no particular order)
1. Passing school with excellent grades
2. Joining college and doing what I always wanted to do
3. Sleeping in
4. Chocolate-covered donuts
5. Long road trips
6. Arctic Monkeys
7. Celebrities speaking out for feminism and marriage equality
8. Cheap books
9. Books, in general
10. Shopping trips with mum
11. Musicals
12. The warm, fuzzy Hello Kitty slippers I bought recently
13. Hugs
14. Tetley’s Masala tea
15. Wearing a Saree for the first time
16.Exploring new parts of the city with friends

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17. Nutella
18. Drinking cold coffee on a rooftop café
19. Burying my toes into the warm sand
20. An hour long phone call with a long-lost friend

21. A new haircut
22. Fanfiction
23. The news that Jared Leto will play Joker in ‘Suicide Squad’
24. Freshly laundered pyjamas
25. Visiting the Book Fair even though it was pouring cats and dogs
26. A cappella music
27. Garlic bread
28. Rereading Harry Potter
29. The realisation that my whole life is ahead of me and I can do whatever I want with it
30. Petting a dog
31. Barbecues
32. Bath and Body Works’ Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion
33. Loudly singing along to the radio
34. The time I offered my seat on the train to a young mother and her beaming in return
35. Chocolate cake in a mug
36. Humans of New York’s blog
37. Baking
38. The beach
39. Family dinners
40. Winged eyeliner
41. Online friends
42. And finally, this blog, and all of you ❤


Warm Christmas and New Years greetings to all of you reading this! This post is more a reminder for myself than anything, so that when things are looking down, I can read this post and remember that there is so much to be thankful for. See you in 2015!
Xo

When celeb culture went a step too far (Zoella)

I consider myself an artist. More than that, I consider myself an admirer of art and artists. I hold artistic authenticity and creativity in very high regard (most of us do, I think). Which is why  I feel the deepest desire to put into words what I have been stewing over for the past few days-   Zoe “Zoella” Sugg, Internet star, beauty guru, vlogger, and now, proud “author” of “her” new book.

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Zoe’s book, a chick lit novel titled “Girl Online” quickly soared to the top of Amazon’s best selling list within the first week, dethroning the likes of JK Rowling and Dan Brown in terms of sales. In hindsight, I guess it was expected, what with her six million-strong fanbase, it’s not surprising in the least.

The issue here has nothing to do with the statistics and sales of her book- it’s the revelation that Zoe did not write the book at all, that she had a ghost writer to do it for her, that the book was but another piece of fan merchandise to sell and extract money out of to Zoe, and not a work of creativity and innovation.

I would like to be a writer some day. I’d like my voice heard one day through the written word. And when some twenty-four year old celebrity effortlessly gets the kind of success that I (and millions of other youngsters like me) can only dream of, it’s hard not to despair and feel bitter.

More than the feeling of doom I feel will inevitably descend on mankind eventually if this kind of stupid blind worship of celebrities continues, we also need to talk about how aforementioned stupid blind worship of celebrities lead to the erosion of respect for the writing profession.

When a book purportedly written by a celebrity hits stores, along with other mundane items like coffee mugs, keychains, t shirts, coasters, mousepads, or (in Zoella’s instance) a makeup range, fans of the celebrity will start viewing a book as something that takes as little effort to create as a keychain or a t shirt, consequently resulting in masses of young people thinking of a book as not a work of art, but as yet another item that can be bought off a store shelf.

Do we really deserve this kind of nonchalance towards the work we do? Do we really need people to further contribute to the notion that writing is a breeze?

Emblazone tea mugs and clothing and jewellery and makeup and posters with your name- I don’t care. Rake in thousands through sale of your ridiculously overpriced merchandise- I don’t care. But to have a book written by someone else and slapping your name on it and lying to your millions of fans is not cool at all- it’s downright disgusting. Claiming someone else’s art as your own is not only a moral low, it also entails your young fans believing their idol is a superhero capable of anything and everything.

Celebs need to stick to the traditional merch and leave out stuff like books and music CDs out in their pathetic attempt to add more $$$s to their already burgeoning bank accounts. Writers and other artists have a tough life trying to carve a niche for themselves in a market characterised by heavy competition, as it is- we really don’t need celebrities to make it more difficult for us.