Better Call Saul, Lilyhammer, Hillary Clinton

Let’s Chit and Chat about pop culture according to my humble opinion.

 

The Good:

 

Let’s start with the obvious: AMC’s Better Call Saul is not surprising anyone with its quick wit and dramatic plot. We saw and loved that writing in Breaking Bad. BCS surprised me in surpassing Breaking Bad with its intimate character insights and consistent sense of humor that doesn’t stunt or lighten the drama. Jimmy, the main character of BCS (Bob Odenkirk) is a less conflicted but not less interesting protagonist than Walter White was. I find BCS a refreshing experience because, god forbid, I actually like the main character. It’s a bit more classic of a show formula–an underdog working up in the world, but his moral compass combined with his tendency to wind up in the underworld is enough to keep the show more than interesting. Every episode of the first season was stand-alone satisfying even though the show taunts you with tantalizing cliff hangers in the last five minutes of almost every episode the way Breaking Bad used to. The show’s not yet airing on American Netflix (one of the only Netflixual perks of living in Britain, trust me). Although we see returning characters from Breaking Bad (notably the alternate story line in BCS, Mike Ehrmantraut’s), the show immediately takes on a pace of its own. It doesn’t rely on Breaking Bad the way I expected it to. I don’t hesitate to say that after the first season, in my book, Better Call Saul surpasses its predecessor.

 

The Bad:

 

As much as I appreciated Netflix’s original series Lilyhammer at first, the novelty of an American mobster moving to Norway wore off fast as stereotypes and formula took over the show. The third season only gets worse as the show fails to acknowledge Johnny’s (played by Steven Van Zandt) hypocrisy. His hypermasculinity in a Scandinavian country was also pretty funny in the first season but just becomes painful as he makes woman after woman into objects of his conquest for power of a Norwegian town. He intervenes with muscle when a Muslim man won’t shake a woman’s hand (he’s supposed to be the hero for feminism in this scenario, apparently) but the show fails to acknowledge his hypocrisy as the owner of a strip bar who hires his waitresses out as sex workers and overlooks their physical abuse by patrons. The show’s occasional chuckle isn’t worth my constant cringe. Is racism and sexism still where we are in comedy? What year is it? I would complain that the few women in the show have no character depth, but the men don’t either.

 

The Ugly:

 

The ugliest thing happening in my sphere lately are people’s ridiculous reactions to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. How often are we going to talk about her husband? How much are we going to talk about the Lewinsky scandal? How many times am I going to hear what color she should dye her hair or what color suit looks better on her? Please, someone tell me this is just a short phase people are going through and that I won’t have to hear this kind of garbage for the next year and a half? Why am I hearing, “I know she’s a woman, but I actually disagree on her foreign policies.” Let me help y’all by correcting that sentence: “I actually disagree on her foreign policies.” It’s as simple as that! You don’t need to apologize for criticizing her and you don’t need to feel any specific way because she is a woman. The most feminist thing to do is treat Hillary Clinton consistently with the way you treat every other politician. Isn’t this obvious?? Again, someone enlighten me with the year. So, I guess if you insist on critiquing her fashion sense, please spend the same amount of time doing this to Scott Walker. Or better, spare us.

Advertisements
Better Call Saul, Lilyhammer, Hillary Clinton

The F Word As A Tool of Empowerment

From an early age, I knew “feminist” was a bad word. Flirty boys in middle school youth group would tell me tired old “woman jokes” to get a reaction, but to prove that I was cool and easy-going I told the boys that kind of thing didn’t bother me. And it really didn’t. “I’m like, the opposite of a feminist,” I would tell them proudly, “none of that makes me mad.” It didn’t—I had great, kind men and strong women in my life, and my adolescent heart just didn’t see a need for the likes of the F word.

But nothing will bring out your inner feminist like college. I started to meet guys—for the first time in my life—that didn’t respect who I was as a person. They treated me with indifference (a well-known goodie two-shoes at the time, and already dating someone) as they fixated on the very single “party girls.” I would walk into a fellow freshman’s room to see his conspicuous poster of girls in swimsuits and my sense of worth would immediately shrink. As a theology major, I participated in classroom debates about “The Woman’s Issue” as male classmates reassured me that the Bible was very clear on the concept of women in leadership, but that children’s ministry was there for the taking! I met with a seminary recruiter who told me with sincere kindness that he thought I would be successful in ministry despite my gender. As all this built up, I overheard someone say in a coffee shop that “all feminism means is that you support equal rights for women. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter if you wear makeup or not, whether you are married or single. It doesn’t even matter if you choose to label yourself as such.” I didn’t believe the guy. I looked up the dictionary definition of feminism, dictionary-trusting English major that I am. He was right.

I had never considered myself a feminist before—feminists were mean and angry and boys didn’t like them. I was hurt though. I was hurt by the way I had been treated and the way other women had been treated. My mother had been refused a “breadwinner” bonus in the catholic high school that she taught physics because women aren’t supposed to be breadwinners. I was a little embarrassed to be a woman and I was angry that I was embarrassed. Periods are disgusting, the shape of breasts should be covered up, and just about every insult I heard every day could be unraveled to basically mean “woman.” My eyes were suddenly opened to the secret messages the world had been hurling at me since I was born. Chances are, no woman will make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated unless she’s wearing a bikini. Because what a woman does matters less than what she looks like. I listened to the nation’s endless obsession with the appearances of Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton. “Your worth,” the world said, “is in how much men like you. And men like [insert bikini model’s name]. Try as hard as you can to become her.” Suddenly, all the time I spent shaving my legs, putting on make-up, toning my abs, smiling when I didn’t feel like it, shopping for push-up bras…they were all just ways I could make myself more appealing to men. A male friend tweeted, “Yoga pants should have a weight limit.” The world said, “Work hard to make their worlds more aesthetically pleasing.”

So I guess, instead of explaining the extent of my frustrations when someone asked me, I found it easier to say, “I’m a feminist.” The word packed a punch and I liked that. It made people a little uncomfortable. Those of you on a coast or in a big city that think I’m exaggerating, I dare you to drop by any town in South Dakota, engage in conversation with someone in a public place, and drop the F bomb in regards to your beliefs. Chances are they’ll treat you like you proclaimed your loyalty to the anarchist revolution. In my experience, the conversation will either end or get so condescending that you’ll have to excuse yourself.

A male friend once questioned my use of the word: “It’s so violent. I mean, right or wrong it just has the connotation that women want to overpower men.” I was very cautious in asserting myself in this matter (and most matters, honestly). I didn’t want to seem to aggressive or mean. I wanted him to still like me. “I guess ‘equalist’ does the concept justice,” I said, and I used “equalist” for a while.

I explained my transition from “feminist” to “equalist” to a professor once in a coffee shop. She is a well-known diva, a fighter, and I’ve never seen her apologize. She ruffles feathers here because she simply does what she wants. She’s got opinions and she’s not afraid of her own voice. I explained, “maybe the cause would get farther if we gave up the F word…it rubs so many people the wrong way.” She chuckled a little and told me without hesitation, “Never apologize for the F word.”

And I stopped apologizing. The word makes some people uncomfortable, but if I’ve learned anything about words from writing, it’s that weak ones don’t do anything. No one remembers them and they don’t change anyone’s mind. If the word “feminist” is a little strong, so am I.

The F Word As A Tool of Empowerment

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist

I’m in Eau Claire, Wisconsin visiting my friend Livi. Livi is a hipster. She won’t tell you that, but she is. She’s wildly passionate about beards and flannel and if you opened up her itunes, you’d probably have a hard time finding English band names. This is appropriate, because the town she lives in is a hipster town. Don’t believe me? Ever heard of Bon Iver? Justin Vernon, King of the Hipsters?

Image

Justin Vernon is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He went to school where Livi goes to school (she seriously brags about it. ALL THE TIME). None of this matters that much, except that I went to church with her today. In Livi’s hipster church, they showed a hipster worship video (Christians can be hipsters too, I guess. Like, Jesus was a Christian before it was cool. Eh, eh??). This is it:

And as very cool as these musicians seem, I had a little bit of a hard time with some of the lyrics. “Win this nation back” in my ears sounds like a ringing endorsement for Mitt Romney, a plea to “put God back in schools” and, I don’t know, add the ten commandments as amendments to the constitution. I know some people are really passionate about all of that, but I think most of the whole America-is-Israel-let’s-make-laws-so-people-have-to-live-biblical-lives movement is pretty ridiculous. So when Livi got really excited about the song, I tried hard to think about it again. “Win this nation back.” What does that really mean? Maybe it’s not a buzzword for the right-wing fundamentalists. What would it really look like for the church to win the nation back?

Well, more than half of this nation is female. So let’s start there. We live in an oppressive patriarchy that tells women day after day that their purpose is for men to look at. This is striking a particular chord with me lately; I can’t get away from society telling me that women are for sex. They are objects… for men. (Chris, Sam, Jordan, Tad, YOU KNOW I’m not trying to blame ACTUAL males for this that are in my life. I love you guys. I’m talking about media objectification of women here. You three love women and I love you and we’ll all be best friends forever.) This heartbreaking reality becomes more real for me every time I drive past a strip club, see any commercial for beer, hear a sitcom make casual jokes about pornography, see magazines in the checkout line, or notice that #VSFASIONSHOW is trending on Twitter. These phenomena do horrible things to women’s self-esteem. It makes us feel like our worth is in how we look, and that we’ll never look good enough. It’s a driving factor in most girls’ lives: what they eat, when they wake up to work out, the kinds of clothes they buy, how they interact with men. It’s in our heads, true or false, that men want women for sex, not for their hearts or ideas.

I am becoming more and more convinced that none of that is true. Most of this is due to the extraordinary men in my life who prove to me again and again that they care about me. (Yeah, you guys. Plus you, Dadski.) They take my ideas seriously; they want to protect me from feeling like this patriarchy makes me feel. I’m imagining how the world might react if the church took this mission seriously. What if leaders in the church actually took on a *gasp!* feminist perspective and told their youth how beautiful women are because of their capabilities as humans instead of objects? What if they started proving that they meant that message by giving women *GASP* lead pastors’ jobs? Or encouraging women to go to seminary the way they encourage men to go to seminary? What if churches began to teach young men not to harass/harm/rape as often as they gave their young women the modesty talk? This nation is women, and it is fathers and brothers and friends and sons and this nation wants to see women respected. That sounds like a start to winning this nation back.

Another chunk of people in this nation are gay. And an even bigger chunk consists of people who love those gay people and want them to be treated like they matter. What would happen to this nation’s perception of God if the church began an overwhelming campaign to love gay people unconditionally? What if churches began LGBT missions (NOT to fix them, to love them exactly how they are) and proved to those people that they do matter to the church and to God? People are pretty good at detecting empty promises. How would this nation react to an outspoken love from the church? Some people would react with rage, I know that. I know those people personally, they live in my building. Churches have this really huge opportunity to love the kinds of people that Jesus would have loved. The outcasts, the abused, the thirsty. Win the nation, Church.

The bible makes a clear differentiation between “the world” and “the Kingdom of God.” I’ve always been annoyed with that distinction because it has been abused. “The world,” I was told, are the drinkers, the fornicators, the cussers, the feminists, the democrats, the gays! And “The Kingdom” is the church. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant at all. I think “the world” is the oppressive patriarchy, the society that tells women they have to lose weight to be sexy and that men have to whistle at women on the street or pick them up at bars to be real, masculine men. The “Kingdom of God” shouldn’t be known for not drinking, or not having sex until they’re married, or not cussing, or whatever. They can be those things too, but those aren’t the most important things. The Kingdom of God is a place where society’s lies are overturned, where everyone is loved and valued and living together in familial community, sacrificing for each other and ending their oppression.

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.”

(Isaiah 51)

Church, let’s rethink what justice is. You know God as a god of love, justice, peace. Prove to this nation that he means that for everyone. Win back this nation.

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist

Sports Metaphors and Barricades to my Faith

Dannika Nash

Of all the confusing words in religion, “faith” is the one that frustrates me the most. I would wager my little brother that the word is used by Christians more than any other (save “God,” “Jesus,” possibly “Amen.”), but its actual definition is one that most Christians would be hard-pressed to identify. I can picture it now: Jay Leno takes his camera crew into the churches of America and asks them to define “faith,” this word they use so often, and they stutter and stammer and are embarrassed and the men in Jay’s audience bellow with laughter and the women chuckle and the Christians cringe but are good natured about it, thinking they could do better if they had to. If caught by Jay Leno, I wouldn’t do a better job. I have only vague ideas about the meaning of the word itself. I know it is what Christians prefer to use these days instead of the word “religion.” I know we are taught to have it and keep a tight hold on it. I know it is similar to optimism, and people use it to cope with death and sickness and failures. At its worst, it is pitted against science and philosophy in books titled things like “Keeping your Faith in College”[1] and “Science and Faith: None Can Live While The Other Survives.”[2] But lately, I’ve been trying to look past the worst of Christianity to the best. Because even though the worst is easy to yell about, the best is full of life and beauty and real love.[3] And I found out from a year of yelling that hopelessness makes for okay literature and bad poetry and real, scary meaningless depression in my actual life. So I’m giving the best a try, and changing the channel really quickly from the televangelists.

images

I have a lot of problems with traditional Christianity. I’m a feminist who loves gay people and liberal politics and I’ve got some issues with authority. I was a communist once.[4] I’m fairly sure there are places in this world where those things and Christianity go together, but Midwestern America is not one of them. The more I’m reading books by Christian hippies though (Rob Bell, Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans), the more I feel like the church could actually be a place where I belong. I tried to be an atheist for a little bit last year, but I’m too scared of death. I had to put a little faith[5] into my understanding of this world to sustain the hope that death doesn’t mean death. That this world isn’t all there is. I’m still hesitant to call myself a Christian, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it, but Christians are looking less and less like women-hating science-deniers and more like protest-going-gender-including-beer-drinking real people that I want to be around. If that sounds like a compliment to you, you’re welcome.

travel-film-the-motorcycle-diaries

The thing is, as much as I really want to be a Christian sometimes, there are some major roadblocks that I can’t completely get past with my own will power. I’m not going to get into them; you can probably imagine what they are based on the information about myself I’ve already given you. Other religions are a big part of this barricade too, along with the concept of exclusive salvation and biblical authority. The point is that as hard as I try, I just can’t quite sign up for this thing completely. As liberal a church as I choose to attend, I probably can’t ever comply with a Christian creed without lying a little. I want to though, and I think that counts.

Mark tells the story of the father who brings his son to be healed by Jesus. Jesus tells him that all things can be done for those who believe. The father is frantic; you can feel his anxiety. “I believe; help my unbelief!”[6] It’s like he’s trying to slip a half-lie to Jesus at first, convincing him of something he didn’t know himself. But I have a feeling Jesus would be a hard person to lie to. I’m imagining him looking up in the middle of the father’s sentence, piercing him with the love and truth in his eyes. The father knew he needed this miraculous healing power, and he trusted Jesus not to freak out about his confession of doubt. Of course, he didn’t. He healed the kid. So I guess that’s where I am. I want to believe, God, help my unbelief. Heal whatever in my life needs to be healed to take my roadblocks away. The ball’s in your court, and I trust you to be the baller I hope you are. [7]

I like the book of John because he’s different and he strikes me as kind of a hippie with all of his love talk. He writes about Thomas after Jesus’s resurrection. All my life, I wondered why people kept naming their kids Thomas. The guy gets such a bad rap from tradition. “Doubting Thomas” had to see in order to believe. “Faith,” according to Saint Augustine, is to believe what you do not see. Thomas didn’t believe, or couldn’t. He saw Jesus die. He wasn’t meeting with the other disciples, waiting and hoping after Jesus died, he was off doing who-knows-what, moving on with his life and probably grieving the loss of the last three years. I like Thomas and I don’t think he’s the villain or the fool in this story. He needed more than what he got in order to change his life and his thinking, and he was still waiting for it when Jesus came to him. The thing about this story that I think is often ignored is Jesus’s reaction. Jesus doesn’t scorn Thomas and make him sit by while he rewards the other disciples that showed more faith. He meets Thomas in his doubt and he proves himself in exactly the way Thomas asks.[8] In my head, Thomas looked up at the God he thought he knew and said, “God, the ball’s in your court. I don’t know what you’re doing here, and I’m really having some problems with everything you just let us go through. I miss my friends but I’m not an idiot. I can’t just keep pretending I believe this when I don’t. If you really need me, you know me better than I do. Do whatever you’ve got to do.” This, I think, is courage. And that’s why I think people still name their kids Thomas. The guy was real, and whether we want to admit it or not, everyone is going to have moments where they either talk to God about their doubt or lie to God about their doubt. My campus pastor told me that God is always going to be more okay with our doubt than Christians are, and I trust God to be stronger than Christians and stronger than my doubt. So if that’s faith, I guess I’ve got a little of it.


[1] Given to me by a well-meaning relative after I described to her the fun I had during my school’s Harry Potter Week.

[2] I completely made that last one up, but it sounds realistic doesn’t it? Like something that was written in 1989 that was found on a bookshelf of a Sunday school room in a small-town Lutheran Church in Iowa? The cover would maybe have a monkey-looking human holding a bible with a confused look on its face? If I ever lost steam on my current career path, I may find success writing polemical evangelical pamphlets for church foyers. Ironically my made-up title contains a Harry Potter reference. 

[3] I think; I hope.

[4] I watched that movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” with Gael Garcia Bernal.

[5] Cringe

[6] Mark 9:24

[7] Still trying to wrap my head around the exact sports situation that metaphor implies. Like, is he on the other team? Or my team? Why is he in a different court than me? I only played one year of 5th grade basketball but I have a friend who’s pretty good at it so I figured I’m qualified to use the metaphor. I play tennis but I’m not that good. Wait, is this a tennis metaphor? Like the ball’s in my court, I’m going to serve it to you? Or something? The whole big green area is called a court, though, I think. I’m going to leave all of that alone, someone just call me and tell me. Baseball season’s coming up, Go Cubs Go! The word “baller”‘s still cool right? I heard a guy say it yesterday, it sounded cool.

[8] John 20:24, NRSV

Sports Metaphors and Barricades to my Faith