18 April 2013

Leavings 041813

These are just some things I've been thinking about; you can read through the whole thing or just skip to the parts you're interested in.

1. Through the Deep, Dark Valley, by The Oh Hello's

Annoying apostrophe aside, The Oh Hello's show promise on this debut album. I chanced upon it on NoiseTrade, a pay-what-you-what website, but it's also available on the band's own website.

The bible geek in me got a really big kick out of all the references in the lyrics — there's some Psalm 23 and post-Exodus Hebrew frustration, some Adam and Eve angst, and a prodigal son narrative in there, for instance — but it's nothing like any contemporary Christian music I've heard. I haven't seen any interview or post in which the band makes some statement of faith, anyway. The only obvious clue is "I Was Wrong," whose first line is, "I was born at the hands of the potter." But these songs about love, wandering, and forgiveness could apply to any other relationship, not just one's relationship with their God.

The best songs are open to interpretation. For instance, my favorite, "Like the Dawn," could very well be about Adam's discovery of Eve, but it could also be about a relationship that may or may not be doomed. In "In Memoriam", the mention of God, which the band capitalizes on its website, could tell you that the song is addressed to God, but it could also just be a passing mention in a song to a faithful lover or friend.

Foreign critics say that the US is having a folk music revival, so I guess The Oh Hello's hope to be part of that. Listeners might thus be quick to dismiss the band as copycats of the Kings of Leon or Mumford & Sons, especially on the songs with male vocalist Taylor in the lead. However, I hope you stay for the stronger songs, the ones where female vocalist Maggie is the star. It's not just because I'm female myself or because her voice has a lovely drawl, but also because those songs happen to be lyrically stronger.

I think the album could have done without "I Have Made Mistakes" entirely; it seems redundant right after "I Was Wrong." One exception to my Maggie-songs-are-better kick, though, is "The Lament of Eustace Scrubb"; Taylor's subdued voice conveys the plight of this Narnia character very effectively, while the lyrics don't give the whole story away.

2. "The Carrie Diaries" and wish fulfillment

I've never seen "The Sex and the City", but I like its prequel series, "The Carrie Diaries", whose first season just finished. I think many of the characters' actions and reactions in recent episodes are wish fulfillment, but I don't care. If young girls get their ideas about sex and relationships from the culture they consume, then I hope they're consuming this, because the lessons from this show could save teenage girls from a lot of pain.

a. Don't put up with shitty double standards for males and females.
b. If you think a relationship is getting in the way of getting good grades and/or being true to yourself, maybe it's time to revalue that relationship.
c. Great boyfriends don't pressure you into doing anything you don't feel ready for.
d. Overthinking things can ruin friendships and relationships.
e. When you screw up, don't make excuses or create unnecessary drama; just apologize.
f. Sex is not love, but if you're not one of those people who can detach themselves so thoroughly, it's better for you to do it with someone you love.
g. Parents are people, too — but they shouldn't dump their drama on you or use you as a go-between when their relationships are on the rocks.

3. Diverse casting

Another thing I like about "The Carrie Diaries" is its diverse casting: Ellen Wong (Jill "Mouse" Chen) is Chinese, Katie Findlay (Maggie) is part-Chinese, RJ Brown (Thomas West) is African-American, and Freema Agyeman (Larissa Loughlin) has Iranian and Ghanaian parents. Also, Chloe Bridges (Donna LaDonna) may have Hispanic roots; her real surname is Suazo, and she played a lot of Hispanic characters before playing Donna LaDonna. (I read a lot of Wikipedia, okay?) I think they just need to even up the number of POC males/boyfriends; there's only one, and he's with Mouse, the only other teenage character clearly identified as a POC.

Diverse casting and representation is something I've taken an interest in since the racebending debacle that was "The Last Airbender". It's nice when casting directors recognize that POCs don't have to play stereotypical roles, when they don't whitewash POC characters in the source material so they can cast the current hot young white actor, and when writers realize that characters can be changed to accommodate more POCs in a dominantly white cast. For instance, Mouse in the "Carrie Diaries" source novel isn't actually Asian, but casting Ellen Wong shows that you can have POC characters who are just as capable and valuable.

It's also nice when they incorporate a POC/biracial actor's roots into the story. Larissa Loughlin could just have been a fabulous black British lady, but her back story includes escaping an oppressive adolescence in Ghana. Kristin Kreuk, another part-Asian actress, commonly plays white characters, but in her current series, "Beauty in the Beast", her character Catherine is biracial, with an also biracial younger sister (played by part-Filipino Nicole Anderson) and a clearly Asian mother.

Actually, "Beauty and the Beast" also has a laudably diverse cast. Not only is the lead biracial, but the police chief is black, Catherine's partner Tess is Hispanic, and the new assistant district attorney is South Asian. It's nice to see POCs written as complete human beings instead of stereotypes, and it's even nicer to see POCs in positions of authority and power.

It's also nice when American shows recognize that POCs are Americans, too, not outsiders just trying to blend in. So, while movies like the "Red Dawn" remake and "Olympus Has Fallen" show whites as the heroes and POCs as inferior and/or untrustworthy — if not as the antagonists, plain and simple — "Beauty and the Beast" shows that POCs can be good citizens who live to protect the innocent and uphold the law of their [new] homeland. Catherine's mother appears only in a few flashback scenes, but it's important to note that she's portrayed as a good-hearted military scientist who wants to defend her country.

The best part is that nobody's view of the characters is obscured by their racial or ethnic backgrounds; the audience doesn't see an all-caps look-at-this BLACK police chief, but a capable, solid police chief who just happens to be black. The only time someone notices a character's race is when some jerk refers to Tess as "Diversity Barbie", but it never happens again and is clearly taken as offensive.

I'm just sad that "Beauty and the Beast" has pretty mediocre writing; I want the show to succeed if only for what it achieves through its cast.

I'm not the one to break down all the good things about diverse casting, though; a lot of this stuff I came to appreciate by reading Racebending.com. I can only add that while casting in American media doesn't seem relevant to Filipino pop culture, I'd still like to see the day when teleseryes don't use blackface, when brown or dark actors and actresses can play leads (who are not oppressed yayas or ignorant indigenous people), when Chinese Filipinos on the screen don't all have thick accents and care only about who will inherit the family business, when characters from Visayas and Mindanao don't just serve as comic relief with "funny" accents, and when casting in general favors other Filipino actors as much it does half-white actors. Throw in some good, original writing, and hey, maybe I'll start watching local TV, too.

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