I voted for Macron

Emmanuel Macron won in the French elections, resolutely thumping Marine Le Pen’s bid for office with over 65% of the votes. I voted yesterday, going to the Lycée Français de Chicago. I don’t speak French very well, nor do I read it very well and was worried about being grilled by the French officials who would sniff dismissively at me. Last time I had to deal with the French government was when I was renewing my passport at the French consulate, and struggled to explain in French to the staff that I would be more comfortable speaking in English. I’m not sure if it was because of my bad French, but it didn’t go well, and I left the consular office with a headache from trying to make myself understood.

I was luckier yesterday because I didn’t really have to speak much. I was able to read enough to figure out which line to go to and I knew enough in French to say hi, give my name, and grab the ballots. Oh, let’s get to the “ballots.” The voting comprised of two slips of papers, each with a candidate’s name, and a little brown envelope. I then scuttled over to a booth and put Macron’s name in the envelope and then after being confirmed and checked for the second time off a manifest, I dropped the envelope into a large glass box.

Normally I wouldn’t vote. I lived in the United States for over 30 years, and held little interest in French politics. But the last year has been so ridiculous. Starting with the Brexit referendum in June, it felt as if we couldn’t get through a month without some fresh hell popping up. Theresa May and Donald Trump are the faces of unfettered populism that has gripped most of the west.

And France wasn’t immune. Marine Le Pen ran on a similar campaign of suspicion, xenophobia, racism, and isolationism. And she was popular. In the first round of the elections, she came in second, and was moving on to the second round. Despite the polls confirming that Le Pen wouldn’t win, I was nervous. The polls promised Brexit wouldn’t pass and that Hillary Clinton would win. I was cautiously optimistic that Macron would win, but didn’t take anything for granted.

And though we’re celebrating Le Pen’s loss, it’s not over yet. Despite her promises to the contrary, May is holding a snap election in June. Because the Brexit negotiations aren’t going well, and there a lot more difficult than May imagined, she’s hoping to cleanse the government of anti-Brexit naysayers who are gumming up her plot to destroy the UK. Confident that she’ll be able to purge parliament of Labour and Lib Dem MPs, May is banking on the general elections to go as well for her as the locals went a few days ago, when the Torys picked up 130 seats, while Labour shed 120 seats. UKIP, the racist alt-right party in the UK, lost all of the local seats, but that’s not a silver lining – it’s aluminum. UKIP helped destroy the UK’s relationship with the EU, and is riding off into the sunset, happy to allow the Torys to finish the job.

But for now, I’m relieved. And I hope that Le Pen’s loss – predicted, but still a surprising – will be a necessary road block to the populist movement in Europe. Hopefully, Le Pen’s loss will put an end to talk of dismantling the EU. Hopefully, Le Pen’s loss will put an end to talk of curbing immigration, freedom of movement, and the acceptance of refugees. I’m hoping.

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I got my MFA, now what?

Yesterday I walked across the stage and got my diploma, and now I am part of an elite crowd, I’m an MFA grad. For the past four years, I worked with other wannabe writers, workshopping stories, reading other writers, and revising and tightening manuscripts. I was lucky in that I had some of the best teachers out there – Janet Wondra, Priscilla Perkins, Kyle Beachy, Suzanne Scanlon, Chrisian TeBordo. Each instructor made an important impact in my writing, by both challenging me when I was going in the wrong direction and encouraging me when I was going in the right direction.

The other students I worked with were better writers than I. They were talented writers who had to write. It was in them. Me? I’m not a naturally gifted writer. I’m not a great writer. I’m a solid-to-decent writer who can write a great piece once in a while after a ton of work. That’s not to say that the other writers in the program weren’t hard workers, they were, but they were starting with a stronger base. But that isn’t new for me. School has never come naturally to me. I’m lucky in that I love school, and I love being in school, so I don’t mind the extra work it takes to catch me up to the other students.

A few years back, in a class about arrealism, I was assigned to write a writer’s manifesto. It was an interesting assignment because I never thought about a writer’s manifesto. I thought about why I was writing. I thought about my writing heroes – David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Tina Fey – and I tried to understand why they started to write. What inspired them?

As a reader, I was always drawn toward humor. I love comedy. When writing, I wanted to make my readers laugh in the same way that Sedaris does. When we presented our manifestos to the class, other students had high minded reasons for going into writing, and name checked some literary greats. My inspiration? Madeline Kahn and Teri Garr. I wanted people to enjoy themselves when reading my work. While my classmates cited Austerlitz as their inspiration, I said Erma Bombeck.

Getting my MFA is definitely a bittersweet experience for me. I feel a sense of accomplishment, because I was able to juggle full-time work, a part-time job teaching, and going to grad school part time. It was a lot of work at times, and there were many overnight sessions of reading and annotating. But I love all of this. I love studying and going to school.

So, it’s a bit bitter that I’m done with my MFA work because it’s probably the last time I’ll be in school. I’ve identified myself as a student for a long time. And now that part of my life is over. Now, I have to compete with the more-talented members of this MFA gang for spots in literary anthologies, journals, or chapbooks.

For MFA, I had to write a thesis – mine was a book-length collection of essays. This past Tuesday, I participated in a reading, in which I read an excerpt of a story about my dad’s recent battle with cancer. The reception was positive. The people in the audience laughed and reacted warmly to my story. Predictably, the other writers were better: Matt Styne, Phyllis Lodge, and Chicago-area writer Jessica Anne were brilliant, each reaching the kind of creative high I can only dream of attaining. They’re just better. I don’t say this as a self-deprecating thing. It’s just honesty.

Right now, I got a couple things bubbling away. I’m writing some film pieces and am looking at other calls for papers. I’m also continually working out on paper (yeah, I write on paper first – I got stacks of legal pads) how I feel about Europe, the EU, Brexit, and London. Stuff keeps changing over there, so I feel like I’m never done.

Something sticks with me from the reading on Tuesday. We were introduced by the professors, and Christian TeBordo introduced me, and called my work sophisticated, which is a very generous and kind compliment. I always wanted to be called sophisticated. When I think of the word sophisticated, I think of Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, or Dorothy Parker. It’s nice company (I just realized that I inadvertently implied that Christian compared me to Wilde, Coward, and Parker – he didn’t, he’s not nuts).

So, now I’m hearing the faint dulcet tones of a PhD program calling me like a siren from a distance. I’m not naïve and know that a PhD can be an expensive albatross, and it isn’t a guarantee. But I like the idea of being a perpetual students (though I don’t like the idea of owning a perpetual student loan).

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The queens try acting with so-so results on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Ever since RuPaul’s Drag Race moved to VH1, the reruns have been aired on weird hours, so I missed the last two episodes, but was able to catch this week’s episode “9021-HO” which is predictably a take on Beverly Hills 90210. The guest judges this week were Tori Spelling and Jenni Garth, and the episode’s competition was an acting challenge – never a good showcase of the contestants. For the most part, the acting challenges are a way for audiences to see how sloppy and unprepared the contestants are, though the comedy queens manage to shine.

But in this season, the funniest queens have all been booted out, which makes the competitions somewhat tedious to watch. And add two guest judges who seem woefully underqualified for their jobs, and you get a meh episode. Spelling and Garth are game enough, but really, if the producers wanted to inject some much-needed oomph, they should’ve gotten Tiffani Theissen and Shannon Doherty. Spelling – an outspoken queer ally – can be good for some humor (when she’s self-referential, she can be surprisingly sharp and ironic), but for this episode, both actresses are supposed to “direct” the queens and give them acting tips. Tori Spelling is giving acting lessons.

Anyways, the queens are given a “script” and it’s a mess. The queens lurch through predictable sex jokes, and two stand out: Shea Couleé and Trinity Taylor (who wins). Trinity channels the extravagant slapstick of Jennifer Coolidge (Michelle Visage name checked Coolidge, too), while Shea took on the scene-stealing role of Grandrea Zuckerwoman. What’s even cooler about Shea’s performance is that she took on the role after Aja threw a tantrum after being initially cast in the role. She pouts and throws an actual tantrum, which she regrets immediately, after she realizes just how childish she looked in front of the other queens. It’s rare that the queens are so self-aware, and it’s refreshing to see Aja taking responsibility for her actions. It’s not enough to save her, but I admire her integrity, even if she banged the pooch during the competition.

Though Trinity and Shea did win, it was a hollow victory because the competition was so absurd. The runway is tied to the 90210 theme by being vaguely 1990s, which vaguely meant big hair – but then again, when does a drag queen not have big hair?

The lip synch for your life was the early 90s club classic “Finally” by CeCe Peniston. It’s a drag classic (and will forever be attached to Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in my mind). The bottom two were Aja and Nina Bo’nina Brown, whose runway looks were okay (I guess) but failed in their performances. Nina’s runway look was the most hi-de-ous look – a sorta Cats meets Drag Race look. The makeup was disgusting and was very unattractive (it was busy and had way too much going on and her face looked more like a road map than a cat’s face)

The high point of the show was during the makeup scene, in which the queens share personal stories. Trinity’s story is especially touching as she saw her mother die when she was a child, and then she had to watch as her grandmother die. I usually find the editing during these sequences especially crass and cynical as the cutting and the splicing make it look like a chase to who had it worse. I wish the editors used a more careful hand when packaging episodes, because the impact is lessened when the sharing starts to look like a contest. There is some of that in “9021-HO” which is unfortunate because the stories are heart wrenching.

Despite its new home, Drag Race has been lackluster so far. I’m hoping the rest of the season will rally. The next episode is the comedy challenge with Fortune Feimster (I love her and she’s very, very fab). Jaymes Mansfield, Charlie Hides, and Cynthia Lee Fontaine are gone, and they were the most obvious stars of a comedy challenge. My money right now is on Trinity, who did so well in this episode, channeling comic hero Jennifer Coolidge.

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100 things I love about the UK

Theresa May is competing with Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump for the West’s most evil politician (her latest pile of hot garbage is working to curb non EEA/EU family members from moving to the UK with their EEA/EU loved members), and it’s easy for a lot of EU/EEA folks to feel disenchanted about the UK. I have to admit, when I read complaints about EU expats or the EU, and how we’re to blame for the UK’s ills (never mind that the UK government has been steadily chipping away at its infrastructure for years with austerity, going back to Thatcher), it’s easy to join in on the “let’s crap on the UK” parade. And at times, I do indulge in some anti-British sniping in a comment thread on Facebook or Twitter.

But this post is about what I love about the UK. These are the hundred things – these aren’t in any order – that I love about the UK. And yes, this is very London-centric because I know London well, but I haven’t been to other parts of the UK (outside of Edinburgh), so this is very much what’s important about the UK to me – it’s not a list of what is the “greatest” thing about the UK – after all, none of my 100 things include sports and science (reflecting my lack of interest in both subjects).

  1. London – easily, the greatest city in the world. I’m looking to make the plunge and move to London (am applying for jobs as we speak), because I’ve fallen in love with London the first time I was there back in 2003.
  2. The literature – I’m an English literature scholar and a voracious reader, and British literature is some of the best I’ve ever read.
  3. Agatha Christie – the first Agatha Christie novel I read was one of her later ones, A Caribbean Mystery, with Miss Marple. I read it in camp when I was twelve. I didn’t like camp because there were lots of mosquitoes and my bunk mate left food in his drawer that attracted a colony of ants, but, I picked up Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and fell in love with her ability to create these vibrant, lived-in worlds. After that book, I zipped through her other works, and have been a lifelong Agatha Christie fan.
  4. The food – yes, the food is very good in the UK. Contemporary British cuisine isn’t just steak and kidney pie or fish and chips (though those items are heavenly). Because of globalization, freedom of movement, and immigration, there are lots of different cuisines that have influenced modern UK cooking.
  5. Delia Smith. I’m a foodie and I love food writing, and I think that Delia Smith ranks alongside Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, and Julia Child as a titan of food writing.
  6. Speaking of Elizabeth David, I read French Provincial Cooking and Italian food annually.
  7. Speaking of reading writers annually, Jane Austen. Easily the greatest writer in the world. Pride and PrejudiceEmma, and Sense and Sensibility are my three favorite books ever. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice – easily – at least 20 times, and each time I read it, I discover something new about the book.
  8. Tony Benn – the Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders was a thing. I discovered Benn by picking up one of his diaries. He was a prolific diarist and an incredible advocate for progressive left-wing causes (and I loved how obsessed he seemed to be with Pizza Express)
  9. Soul II Soul – with much respect to Chic, I think Soul II Soul is the greatest soul/dance band ever.
  10. Shirley Valentine – it’s a great movie. Not a classic or a genre-busting film, but one that gives me all of the feels whenever I watch it. I fell in love with the travel narrative because of that film.
  11. The London Trocadero – yes, yes, I know this is the Times Square of London, and the hippest of the hip hate the Trocadero (you know what, I love Times Square), but the London Trocadero is where I had my epiphanous moment and I realized, “I have to live here.”
  12. King’s College London – it was the first college that accepted me into its PhD program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept the invitation, but I still love it for that reason.
  13. Emma Thompson. Funny, beautiful, smart. What else could one ask for in a woman.
  14. Once while walking down the street in Bayswater, a jogger was running behind me, and I stepped out of his way, and he called out over his shoulder, “Thanks, mate!”
  15. Truly, Madly, Deeply – Anthony Minghella’s first film that introduced me to the charms of both Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. It was a great movie, mismarketed as the “thinking man’s Ghost” when it was so much more. A gentle, lovely comedy about love, loss, friendship, and grief.
  16. French & Saunders, together and apart. It seems like everything these ladies touch, turn to gold. Whether it’s Absolutely FabulousThe Vicar of Dibley, or Jam and Jerusalem, I know that if I catch either one of them, I’ll be entertained for hours.
  17. Love Actually – Woody Allen wrote valentines to Manhattan, and Love Actually is the perfect valentine to London.
  18. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. One of the greatest post-WWII, post colonial novels about living in London. It was a major work that focused on the lives of working-class Black people in London. It’s what prompted me to do research in Black British literature, and why I’m so interested in the topic.
  19. Stephen Fry – because he’s really smart.
  20. Simon Amstell – because he’s really smart.
  21. Jane Goodall – because she’s really smart.
  22. Helen Fielding, easily one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, and the closest heir to Jane Austen’s crown as the Queen of Literary Comedy
  23. Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses was a huge influence on the way I looked at literature and its power to spur conversations – many uncomfortable – about identity.
  24. The Beatles – because, duh.
  25. The Rolling Stones – because, bigger duh.
  26. Dusty Springfield – because, biggest duh.
  27. J.K. Rowling – she restored my faith in the kindness of billionaires and despite the overwhelming shadow of Harry Potter, she was able to create a neat side career as a brilliant mystery novelist under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.
  28. Patricia Routledge – she is more than just Hyacinth Bouquet
  29. Prunella Scales – she is more than just Sybil Fawlty.
  30. Angela Lansbury – she is more than just Jessica Fletcher.
  31. Virginia Woolf – After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I spent my time envying her because I wanted to write just like her
  32. Boy George – great singer, wonderful songwriter, and caustic wit.
  33. Richard Curtis – his movies are middle-of-the-road sap, but I can’t help getting sucked in whenever I watch one of his big-hearted, sentimental stories.
  34. Zadie Smith – White Teeth and On Beauty are two books that have influenced the way I write and read, and her nonfiction prose is some of the smartest I’ve ever read.
  35. E.F. Benson for introducing the world to those glorious monsters of pretension, Mapp & Lucia.
  36. Sally Phillips – the only comedienne I’ve ever seen who can steal a scene from comic Einstein, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
  37. Willy Russell – a great comedic writer who finds the inherent dignity in working-class people who want to do better with their lives and are striving something more.
  38. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office – one of the most fulfilling and challenging periods in my career, and one that I treasure and hold close to my hear. I am honored that I was once a staff member.
  39. Jane Eyre – my favorite Brontë novel about a young woman who faces obstacles in her life and faces them with dignity. It’s also a great novel about the importance of working hard and for not succumbing to life’s travails. Jane Eyre is also one of the wittiest characters in Victorian literature.
  40. Ricky Gervais – because of Extras and The Office.
  41. Catherine Tate – because of The Catherine Tate Show and Doctor Who (and I’m willing to overlook her so-so work on the US-version of The Office)
  42. Princess Diana – a lady who could’ve easily had teas and shopped (and I’m sure she did all that), but that wasn’t enough, she also advocated for the homeless, was an AIDS/HIV activist, and an anti-landmine warrior.
  43. David Hume – one of the most intimidating writers I’ve ever read, and not sure if I understood all of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, but was an important introduction to philosophy and empiricism.
  44. Armando Iannucci for bringing the world Veep.
  45. Yo! Sushi – whoever thought of putting sushi on a conveyor belt is a genius. Now, if I can just rig it, so that the convey belt simply glides the food right into my mouth would be the best.
  46. British Alternative Comedy – a movement in comedy from the 1980s, that spawned such icons like Jennifer Saunders, Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Dawn French, Helen Lederer, Ade Edmondson, Ruby Wax, Jo Brand.
  47. Alan Bennett – his Talking Heads monologues are incredible. He’s a master of tragicomedy.
  48. Pet Shop Boys – ironic, detached, smart, and stylish. They have created some of the most literate and intellectual dance music for the last 40 years. Their first two LPs, Please (1986) and Actually (1987) are great Thatcher-era reflections on the gilded glamour of the 1980s. “West End Girls” is a song that takes me back to London each time I hear it.
  49. Tate Modern. When I visted the Tate Modern a couple years ago, it had a great exhibition on pop art, and I was able to see original Andy Warhols and Keith Harings.
  50. The Graham Norton Show – whenever I get sad, I just watch the red chair segments on The Graham Norton Show and all is right with the world.
  51. Meera Syal – Anita and Me is a great novel and Meera Syal is a very, very funny lady.
  52. Stonehenge – I’m not much of a history buff, and I don’t “do” ancient ruins, but Stonehenge is pretty fantastic and mysterious. Built around 2000 BC (!), folks are still figuring out what Stonehenge was about, but many think it was for ceremonies.
  53. Newham – my favorite part of London, it’s where I lived when I was in London. It’s not fashionable or tony like the Mayfair or Belgravia, but it’s a great area. The Queen’s Market is a wonderful draw, and I loved the brick row houses. It’s a very diverse area, too, with lots of ethnic restaurants. I lived on Green Street, next to the Upton Park train stop.
  54. Hanif Kureishi – his films My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and London Kills Me is a great, stylish pop look at British national identity in 1980s Thatcherite London. His books like The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album are also wonderful looks at race and ethnicity in the UK. He asks difficult questions about extremism, nationalism, xenophobia, and multiculturalism.
  55. Tracey Ullman, who made “hearing voices in your head” into an Emmy-winning career.
  56. Annie Lennox – one of the few singers who has been able to leave a legendary band – the Eurythmics – and make an even greater impact as a solo artist. Diva and Medusa are her two best albums, and though the follow ups didn’t measure up to those albums, Diva and Medusa have enough classic performances that they have become legendary. She has a huge loud voice, second only to Dusty Springfield when it comes to blue-eyed soul.
  57. Stock Aitken Waterman – yes, yes, yes, I know they were peddlers of mushy, plastic pop during the 1980s, but underneath the prefab gloss and deadening drum machines were some of the hookiest pop songs ever. The trio introduced us to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, worked with legends like Debbie Harry and Donna Summer and became Internet legends when their Rick Astley tune “Never Gonna Give You Up” became a meme in 2007.
  58. Merchant Ivory Productions – nothing says classy, elegant English movie like “Merchant Ivory Productions.” I can practically see myself, lolling about in a rowboat in the Lake District, dozing underneath the hot sun of an English summer.
  59. Naomi Campbell – her picture should be in the dictionary under the words beauty and fabulous. Imperious, difficult, and demanding, it’s too bad Naomi Campbell can’t sing (she tried, bless her) because if she could, she would be the perfect descendant of Maria Callas.
  60. Kazuo Ishiguro – a literary chameleon, he can shift and change his author voice depending on the project he’s working on. His best work The Remains of the Day works as a wonderful midcentury novel of class and politics. His other classic novel Never Let Me Go is a credible work of dystopic science fiction.
  61. Judi Dench – a national treasure. And yes, Tracey Ullman, she probably would get away with shoplifting.
  62. Kristy MacColl is a funny, sad, witty singer-songwriter whose range is dizzying and breathtaking. Whether it’s country, girl group, new wave, punk, or alternative pop, she was able to write and perform in these different styles, telling sad and funny stories of wistful dreaming.
  63. Mr. Bean – Rowan Atkinson’s most mainstream creation, Mr. Bean is a Chaplinesque creation of a man child who stumbles through his life – grimacing and grumbling along the way – and finding creative solutions to the obstacles he faces. Atkinson is a genius physical comic who imbues Mr. Bean with a poignant absurdity.
  64. Caitlin Moran – she’s my hero. I want to be Caitlin Moran. When Donald Trump won the presidential election, I turned to her for sustenance and succor.
  65. Emma Chambers – she is the definition of scene stealer. If you can overshadow Dawn French, Hugh Grant, and Julia Roberts, you know you’re a genius.
  66. Nick Hornby – I’ve always been jealous of Nick Hornby because no one person should be able to write funny, relatable, and touching stories like he does. And he’s easily one of the best essayists around, and I feel like he’s my literary spirit animal. Whenever I try to write music or pop culture essays, I ask myself “What Would Nick Hornby Do?”
  67. Christopher Hitchens – he was an asshole a lot of the times and his essays sometimes made my head explode in anger. But he was probably the smartest writer that I ever disagreed with.
  68. Mark Kermode – one of the greatest film critics alive.
  69. Alexander McQueen – a genius fashion designer who took an avant garde, punk aesthetic and wrapped it in haute couture fashion.
  70. Tracey Emin for sharing with her audience the names of everyone that she has ever slept with from 1963 to 1995.
  71. “Smalltown Boy” – the greatest coming out song ever. Jimmy Somerville’s angelic falsetto croons over the the thick synthpop/house production, and his lyrics tell the story of a queer kid who deals with homophobia.
  72. Different for Girls – I wish more people knew about Richard Spence’s 1996 film about a man who falls in love with a trans woman. It’s a gentle, tiny drama that is ahead of its time in its depiction of trans issues in the mid 1990s. It dates a bit, and there have been stronger more accurate depictions of trans relationships (and yeah, a cis man is playing a trans woman – not great) But it still deserves celebration and a higher profile.
  73. William Shakespeare – Well, obviously…
  74. The Britcom – As Time Goes By, Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances, Absolutely Fabulous, Good Neighbours, Steptoe and Son, The Vicar of Dibley, French & Saunders, Gimme Gimme Gimme, To the Manor Born, The Young Ones, Girls on Top, Father Ted, Cold Feet, Coupled
  75. The British Museum – where I got to see my first Da Vinci.
  76. Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright  – they taught me how to eat.
  77. Bleak House, Little Dorrit, The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and everything else that the great Charles Dickens had ever written. Social critique was rarely ever so beautifully and devastatingly captured on paper.
  78. Vivien Leigh for Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois.
  79. Paul Gilroy – Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack should be required reading for everyone.
  80. Kingsley Amis – I think Lucky Jim made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  81. Stella Gibbons – I think Cold Comfort Farm made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  82. Douglas Adams – I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  83. Of Human Bondage – the first “great” novel I’ve ever read and the one that made me want to be a literature scholar.
  84. Kobena Mercer – one of the most astute and brilliant essayists and critics out there. I still teach his article on the politics of black hair.
  85. Gilbert & George – challenging, strange, unsettling, uncompromising, and creative.
  86. Mike Leigh, who shows his audience a different kind of London – the complex and complicated world of working-class London that is rarely portrayed on film. This isn’t Richard Curtis’ scrubbed London of gleaming skyscrapers, red phone boxes, and elegant sidewalk cafes; instead, Mike Leigh’s films show an uncompromising London, a London that is struggling from the indifferent Tony Blair Administration. If one wants to know just how Brexit became a reality, one should simply look at Leigh’s films, that show just the kind of landscape of poverty and disenfranchisement that made the environment hospitable for Brexit.
  87. Kathy Burke – an underrated genius. A woman who could make blinking hilarious.
  88. BBC Television
  89. Adele – the woman who will bring back Cool Britannia
  90. 30 St Mary Axe – known as the Gherkin or the lipstick building, it’s the building that means London to me. With the St. Andrew Undershaft church in front of it, shows why I love London so much: a mixture of the old and the new -a medieval church standing in front of the gleaming glass skyscraper.
  91. P.G. Wodehouse – he makes me laugh every time, never fail with his effete and classy wit (I always wanted to be the uber-efficient Jeeves)
  92. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – an art festival that exposed to me all kinds of visual and performance artists, including some great stand-up comedy (it’s where I got to see the great Joan Rivers)
  93. Joan and Jackie Collins – not great artists by any means, but they lived like no one else.
  94.  Beautiful Thing – Jonathan Harvey’s a sensitive artist who wrote the lovely film Beautiful Thing, a tiny little coming of age film about a young queer student who falls in love with a student athlete. It’s a great movie about a working-class home and one of the few queer films in which the hero doesn’t die, isn’t killed, or presented as a villain or image of pity.
  95. The YBAs – the moment during the 1980s when British visual artists were as successful as pop stars and made the UK lead the world when it comes to contemporary art. To me, the gleaming, glossy success of the YBAs was the epitome of Cool Britannia, and how global, dynamic, and forward thinking British culture can be.
  96. Amy Winehouse – the brilliant love child of Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield, who had a stark, cracked voice soured by a tragic life that ended far too soon.
  97. Kadija Sesay – a brilliant scholar and writer whose talk I attended when in London that made me fall in love with Black British culture and Black British literature.
  98. The Photographers’ Gallery – My partner and I found this gallery by accident. In London, we were looking for a Border’s, but didn’t know that it was closed at that point, so we were just walking through the dark side streets. When stumbled upon the gallery, we popped in and saw a fantastic exhibition about Eastern European immigrants who were victims of trafficking in Western Europe. When we move to London, we’ll make the Photographers’ Gallery one of our haunts.
  99. That for the present, the UK is part of the EU.
  100. Mother Mash – one of my favorite places to eat, in one of my favorite places in London, Carnaby Street. It’s touristy and gimmicky, I know, but bangers and mash is easily the best food ever, and being able to choose your own kind of mash, bangers, and gravy is just pure genius.

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Two books try to figure out why Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election

It’s been over a hundred days into President Donald Trump’s administration, and liberals are still in reeling in shock over his surprise victory. By all reasonable accounts, Clinton – a former first lady, senator, secretary of state, and a one-time leading presidential candidate should’ve bested Trump, whose main claims to fame were reality TV and real estate. But on November 8th, Trump won a decisive victory with the electoral college (though Clinton won almost 3 million more popular votes). Right after Clinton’s high-profile loss, people were asking “What happened?”

The 2016 election will undoubtedly inspire a library of books trying to figure out how Trump succeeded and Clinton failed. Two of the earliest entries in this topic is Susan Bordo’s The Destruction of Hillary Clinton and Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Bordo’s book is a personal response to  Clinton’s loss – she is biased toward Clinton, and creates a long list of factors that contributed to Clinton’s loss including James Comey and the FBI, Putin and Russia, Bernie Sanders and the Bernie Bros, sexism, and misogyny. There is one major person that seems to be completely blameless: Clinton herself.

Thankfully, Allen and Parnes have written a far more nuanced and fair representation of the 2016 election. Though sympathetic and fair toward Clinton, the two writers present an alarming picture of a behemoth of a campaign that is in disarray. Though the writers understand that Comey’s repeated interference in the election made a difference, the duo also look at Clinton’s role in the demise of her presidential aspirations.


Bordo’s point of view is highly skewed, but that wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing, if she was a little more honest about Clinton. It seems as if Clinton could do no wrong, and it appears as if everybody in the world had a hand in the campaign’s failure, except for Clinton. She’s not wrong in that the factors she list did have negative consequences on Clinton’s fortune. But what about the candidate herself?

According to Allen and Parnes, Clinton was a figurehead of a sprawling and disorganized campaign that was split into various factions, each competing with each other for the candidate’s ear. Clinton also guarded herself with an inner circle that was made up of sycophants, all acting as yes people to Clinton to protect their jobs and their proximity to her. And Clinton herself at times appears to be self-serving, self-defeating, and unable to successfully communicate her message to the voters. Her ineptitude and mercurial temper makes Shattered feel like a script for Veep.  The research that Allen and Parnes did – including extensive interviews – means that the book is chockfull of testimonials from insiders who worked in the doomed campaign.

Bordo has done her homework, too, but most of it works as a book-length essay than a work of investigative writing. That doesn’t mean Bordo’s book isn’t worthy or valid; but it does mean that if one reads The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, one should manage the expectations. To Bordo’s credit, she never claims that her book is a definitive and journalistic take on the elections. Instead, it works more as a theoretical interpretation.

For Hillary Clinton supporters, Shattered will be a sometimes hard read. Though they ultimately paint Clinton as a decent, if flawed, candidate, they do not hold back. The Clinton in Shattered can be tempestuous, temperamental, paranoid, defensive, and at times, lacking in self-awareness. Her qualifications and her intellect is never in question, nor is her patriotism or her desire to do good. But the writers also put those positive qualities in context; they don’t allow for her estimable pluses to negate her unequivocal negatives.

As much as these books are on Hillary Clinton, they’re also about a DNC that needs serious evaluation and a reset button. That is the ultimate takeaway from both: the DNC cannot operate business as usual anymore because even with a supremely talented and qualified candidate like Hillary Clinton, it can still lose to a patently unsuitable candidate.

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Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon cinch Emmy nominations in the final ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ recap

The last episode of the first season of Feud is suitably sad and free from the delicious camp that made the first few episodes so enjoyable. But that’s okay, because the end of Joan Crawford’s and Bette Davis’s stories is so sad. Since last week’s episode covering the filming of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Bette and Joan became estranged from each other. Both their careers took ignominious turns, with b-movies and cheapie “indies” in Europe. The final episode takes its title – “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” – from Bette Davis’ final line in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. It takes place in 1969, when Joan Crawford is living a solitary existence in a tiny appointment in Manhattan. She just took a role in Trog, a notoriously bad horror flick about a scientist who tussles with the missing link.

The filming of Trog makes up a depressing sequence of scenes because the film is a shitshow of corner cutting. Crawford is years from her heyday as the Queen of MGM or Warner’s, but she still has her standards. And seeing Crawford humbled by the shoestring production – she has to change her clothes in a van and freshen up in a public toilet – is hard to watch. Her manager urges her to turn down Trog, but Crawford’s desperate enough that the tawdry film appears to be a viable comeback vehicle. Just a few years ago, Crawford was able to demand perks and salary hikes, but by 1969, she was past her prime.

Along with her career troubles, she’s also very sick. Jessica Lange is physically transformed into a wreck. Instead of the raven hair and Hollywood tan, she’s sporting chalk-white foundation and unflattering red hair, and later a fright wig of gray. And when she sees a terrible picture of herself in a newspaper, she vows to never appear in public again. As her health starts to fade, she takes stock of her life, and it’s all very depressing. She feels bruised because daughter Christina is about to publish Mommie Dearest, which accuses her of physical and emotional abuse. The show doesn’t take sides in this case: she’s a loving mother to Kathy and a tolerant grandmother to her children; but when a teary Joan broaches the subject of Christina, she doesn’t actually deny the abuse charges.

The centerpiece of the Joan Crawford scenes is a dinner party scene that takes place in Crawford’s fevered imagination. Hedda Hopper and Jack Warner, young and untouched by time, are trading quips and playing cards. Crawford, looking awful, in a billowy nightgown and her bedraggled gray hair, shuffles to the table, instantly transformed to her prime, glamorous in a gorgeous red gown. Bette Davis joins the party, too, also Hollywood glossy.

The conversation is far more honest and piercing than anything these characters have said to each other before. Because it’s all in Crawford’s head, the exchange works to figure out why Crawford’s life and career has been marked by pain and anger. Warner sums it up as movie people are looking to make up for their insecurities by gaining the approval of their audiences. It’s a little clichéd and too pat. But once the imaginary Hedda and Jack leave the table, it’s just Bette and Joan. For much of the episode, Sarandon is a reduced presence (more on her later), but when the two divas have a tete-a-tete alone, it’s a rallying moment of beauty. Crawford’s neediness creates a scene in which both admit that they would like to be closer friends. It’s painful to watch just how kind Davis is to Crawford, and when the latter leaps up in joy, you almost believe this is actually happening, until Mamacita interrupts the scene and we’re back to a scraggly, sick Joan Crawford, sitting alone in her living room.

This episode will cement Jessica Lange’s chances of an Emmy nod. She’s masterful in this episode. It’s difficult to pinpoint which moment she’s strongest, but when she dissolves into grateful tears after Kathy insists that she was a good mother, she packs a wallop. Susan Sarandon is every bit Lange’s equal, though, because Bette Davis had a far more even keeled approach to life, her story is less tragic and operatic. But the finale does put Davis through her paces, too – especially when it comes to B.D. (Kiernan Shipka), who, like Christian Crawford, has a jaundiced view of her childhood.

Like Crawford, Davis is going through a career valley. Unlike Crawford, she’s able to maintain a semblance of dignity because at the end of the day, Davis is a workhorse, who can still fall back on her talent. Because Crawford’s major draw was her beauty, she felt that once it fades, she’s at a disadvantage. Though Davis is piqued by her career misfortunes, she knows that she can still deliver fantastic performances (and she’d pull out of her career dumps in the late 1970s with a string of well-received TV movies).

But it’s hard.

It’s hard because by 1969, Bette Davis is no longer a vibrant movie queen, but an ossified legend. She’s not seen as a vital actress, but one who had an iconic past. She’s frustrated that her repeated attempts at TV pilots have all failed, and is looking at Katharine Hepburn as her new rival. Unlike Davis, Hepburn managed to maintain a consistent film career. When Hepburn refuses to pose for a Life magazine cover with Davis, Sarandon does a great job in conveying the hurt and humiliation that Davis must’ve felt (and the hurt and humiliation that Crawford must’ve felt). It’s a telling moment that shows that even though Davis sees herself as the efficient, “together” one, she is full of insecurities, too.

And that’s what Feud is all about: insecurities. Both Davis and Crawford nursed some serious feelings of doubt about their place in their industry. Sexism and misogyny factored largely in the obstacles the two women had to overcome, but much of what they battled – aside from each other – was their own feelings of self-worth. When Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was filmed, both Davis and Crawford were on the precipice of the end of their career; unfortunately, Crawford wasn’t able to capitalize on the film’s success nor was she able to use the success to find personal happiness. Davis, on the other hand, may have pulled off a second career with Baby Jane, but like Crawford, her personal life was still sad and unsatisfied.

Throughout the show’s 10 episodes, critics were praising Jessica Lange’s performance, insisting that she should make some room on her groaning mantle for another award. I think Lange’s work on Feud has been superb, some of the best work she’s ever done. But Susan Sarandon shouldn’t be ignored, either. Her role was harder because Ryan Murphy and company had envisioned Feud to be really Joan Crawford’s story. Crawford is the character who changes the most and has to suffer the most – all of this giving Lange a wide range of emotions to sell. Bette Davis could have been a caricature, but Sarandon seemed to shy away from the famous mannerisms and speech patterns until the last few episodes. Also, Feud depicts Davis’ life as much more stable and Crawford is much more tragic. Speaking of award-worthy performances, it would be remiss if Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Jackie Hoffman, and Judy Davis were all shut own – each was wonderful, holding his/her own against the titular titans. Kiernan Shipka and Kathy Bates were great, but their presence was far too brief, while Catherine Zeta-Jones was just weird in the choices she made as Olivia de Havilland (though Feud could do a spin-off in the third season and have it be Feud: Olivia and Joan (Fontaine). The writers – for the most part – did a masterful job in creating a compelling drama and not just a by-the-numbers biopic.

The ending of Feud: Bette and Joan show the two divas laughing right before filming starts – right before all of the backstabbing, sniping, fighting. Crawford extends an olive branch of sorts and hopes the two can become friends. Davis takes a beat and concurs. It’s a shame that these two ladies never got on, and it’s a shame that their industry thrived on pitting women against each other; by only offering a few choice roles to women, the film industry made natural enemies of people who should be colleagues. As fun and campy as Feud got, it also was a serious social critique on misogyny and sexism and the havoc it can wreak.

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‘Veep’ predicts the horror that was the 2016 presidential election in its 5th season

Veep‘s 5th season aired from April to June in 2016, three months before the horrifying election day that turned our political landscape into one long, unending Saturday Night Live sketch. In its fifth season, Veep managed to survive the departure of its showrunner, creator Armando Iannucci, intact and deliver 10 satisfying and hilarious episodes. Watching the show after the election takes on added irony, poignancy, and just sheer feelings of the uncanny and just how prescient the show would prove to be.

In the fourth season, President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) found herself in a strange situation on election night. She was tied with her rival (though she won the popular vote – the Electoral College screws over pioneering female presidential candidates even in fiction), which set forth an obscure and arcane set of rules that meant congress would vote for the next president of the United States. Much of season five concerns itself with Selina’s campaign in wooing members of congress to back her.

Throughout the season, Selina is not only trying to hold on to her position as president, she’s also trying to enact legislation that would leave a legacy (she even wants to push forward talks between Tibet and China in hopes of a Nobel Peace Prize). The problem is, as always, Selina and her band of misfits are incapable of not screwing up. In the reality of Veep, a narcissistic nincompoop like Selina Meyer can be president, which is a hilarious conceit. While she has drive and ambition, she’s also lazy, distracted, and extremely self-serving. And it doesn’t help that she’s assembled what is probably the most inefficient team in presidential history. While all of this politicking is going on, Selina’s daughter Catherine is filming Selina’s annus horribilis for a student film.

While Selina’s story takes center stage,  supporting characters have minor arcs, as well. Mike (Matt Walsh) is in the process of adopting a baby from China; Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) are going through a will-they/won’t they; and Jonah (Timothy Simons, brilliant and deserving of some serious Emmy love) runs for congress. These stories provide background and often act as white noise for the main plot, which focuses on Selina’s desperate and oft-foiled fight to stay president.

I imagine that the writers of Veep had a field day creating outlandish and ridiculous scenarios to put their characters in – whether it’s in Camp David, where Selina tricks Catherine into thinking they’re sharing a family Christmas (when really, she’s hosting the Chinese president); or in a hospital bed, cheering over her mother’s deathbed because she got good news about her campaign – but watching Veep now feels scary in its accuracy. Selina is not meant to be president and doesn’t want the position out of patriotism or sense of duty. She sees it as a source of power, influence, and wealth. None of that would be so terrible if Selina was good at her job, but she’s a series of blunders and fuck ups, one more catastrophic than the next. And like any seasoned politician, Selina lacks empathy and self-awareness and cannot acknowledge her role in her downfall.

But despite her many flaws and faults, Selina remains a compelling anti-heroine that viewers will want to watch (though I’m not sure how many would root for her). She’s not a stupid woman, nor is she without any political instinct or know how. The problem is she doesn’t have an internal filter – she merely works off her id. And when her blunders result in some devastating loss or setback, her instinct isn’t to have a postmortem to figure out where she went wrong; instead, she lashes out at those around her.

Part of what makes Selina so interesting and fascinating to watch is the furious comedic energy Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings to the role. Veep is a wonderful opportunity for the comedienne to show off not only her genius for savage one liners, but also her estimable skills as a physical comic. Selina Meyer is a monster and there’s something subversive and awesome in watching a female sitcom lead not be likable or adorable. Even in moments when we are naturally drawn toward sympathy, like during the moments when Selina’s mother is dying, Selina still manages to reward our momentary lapses of judgement by doing something heinous and awful, thereby restoring order.

The sixth season started with Selina humbled and bruised. She’s a mere private citizen now, being buried underneath the shadow of the second female president of the United States, Laura Montez, who quickly swallowed up any lasting imprint that Selina left in Washington. The show has taken on unintended shading, given the state of world politics at the moment. It’s satire, but it’s satire that hits uncomfortably close to home. Veep has evolved over its six seasons into a gallows, whistling past the graveyard kind of show. It’s no longer just funny ha-ha, but also funny OhMyGodWhatIsGoingOn. And right now, we could all use some laughs.

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