Some Distractions

This has been a tough week. Trump’s victory in Indiana and Kasich and Cruz’s subsequent exits from the race have set the stage for one of our two main political parties to nominate a demagogue with worryingly fascistic tendencies and the open support of white supremacists as their candidate for President of the United States. I have nothing to say about this that hasn’t been said already with more eloquence and knowledge of political theory and history, but it’s loomed large in my mind all the same, draining my ability to sustain thought on other things. In addition, I’ve also been battering my head against several personal downers that, while thankfully not rising to the same level of threat to our polity, I still have no desire to discuss anywhere outside the confines of my private diary. So this week, instead of my usual essay, I’m going to share some of the media I’ve been consuming of late to help take my mind off things.

These are not all relentlessly chipper, upbeat things. Sometimes I want that, but sometimes I also just want something that’s utterly gripping, and that can often involve dealing with emotions on the heavier side of the feeling spectrum. They’re also not necessarily the things that I think are The Most Politically And Representationally Correct And Righteous. They are things that I find enjoyable. Putting them on this list should not be taken as a blanket endorsement of every trope or implication that appears in them. The “it’s OK to enjoy things that are Problematic” conversation is one that has happened to exhaustion, and I’m not really interested in having it again. (That said, if you have specific questions as to how a particular work listed below treats a particular issue, I’m happy to offer what insight I can!) I’m also obviously not offering “spend time engaging with these things” as a solution to problems like the rise of Trump. But people aren’t machines; we need time to take respites from fighting for a better world, and these are things I have found valuable in doing that. Self care, recharging, taking a breather, and all that.

So with all of that throat-clearing out of the way, here are some things I have been enjoying spending time with recently:

  1. Jane the Virgin (season 1 streamable on Netflix). I gave a shout-out to how intricately and deftly constructed the plot of this show is, but it has so many other excellent qualities besides. The comedic timing is impeccable, the shifts from comedy to drama and back again work, and the characters are utterly real. Among many other things, it’s a show about imperfection, about trying, falling short, and trying again. It’s a show about tenderness, and about staying tender in a world that is not always open to such vulnerability. (Also: The lesbians aren’t dead! (At least as of episode 17. No spoilers!))
  2. The Toast. Old news to most of you, I know. But Mallory Ortberg has a pipeline directly into my core aesthetic, and whether it’s reviewing Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (“Death is like declaring church-based bankruptcy”) or inveighing against raccoons (“MAYBE THEY ARE JUST AN ASSEMBLAGE OF VERY CONDENSED SQUIRRELS”), her writing speaks to me.
  3. Check, Please! “But Brin,”, I hear you say, “isn’t that a webcomic about bros playing sports? I feel like that is approximately zero of your interests!”. Au contraire, my imaginary interlocutor! It is a webcomic about friendship and baking and the adorable ball of Southern Gay™ that is Eric Bittle. Also, there is hockey.
  4. Periodic Videos on YouTube. Based out of the Chemistry department at the University of Nottingham, this YouTube channel started out with the goal of making a video about each element in the periodic table, and then expanded from there. Sometimes this involves interesting and subtle explanations of deep chemical principles, and sometimes it means trying to make Jägerbombs that literally explode. Martyn Poliakoff was knighted by the British government for this. (Best to avoid if you have a strong aversion to overuse of the word “fantastic”.)
  5. The screenshotsofdespair tumblr. I can’t offer any explanation for why I find this soothing. Decontextualized screenshots of unintentionally nihilistic computer messages don’t exactly scream “a refuge from the muchness of it all”, but scrolling thru their archive is weirdly calming, so.
  6. Mary Beard, SPQR (maybe available at a public library near you?). Mary Beard’s history of Rome runs from its mythical founding to 212 AD when Caracalla granted full Roman citizenship to all free men in the Roman Empire. Beard’s writing is lively and authoritative, and she has a knack for explaining the stakes of certain thorny historical snarls without getting bogged down in presenting every possible pertinent detail. In examining how an unremarkable town in a swampy part of Italy grew into the largest empire Europe had seen in the time, she’s less focused on the movements of armies and elections and more on what it meant to be Roman, in both the political and cultural senses, and how that shifted and changed over time. It’s super engrossing and I regret every time I have to put it down.
  7. Lowering the Bar. This is a legal humor blog (written by an actual lawyer!) that I check every day for updates. After all, where else would I read a discussion of whether an alligator counts as a deadly weapon under Florida law?
  8. Alice Isn’t Dead. Created by the same people behind Welcome To Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead definitely falls much more firmly in the Horror genre than their other offering, but there are definitely stylistic similarities. The concept is that it’s a truck driver narrating her search for her former love (who, as the title indicates (not to spoil it or anything), isn’t dead) as she drives around the country making surreal deliveries and encountering monsters in various guises. Makes me have a lot of feelings about that time I drove across the country myself.
  9. The Hydraulic Press Channel on YouTube. I am not going to defend this on intellectual, emotional, or artistic grounds, but I am going to say that if I had a hydraulic press, this is exactly what I would do with it and it is beautiful.
  10. Shen Khar Venakhi (YouTube). This is a traditional Georgian wedding hymn, and this is a recording I turn to whenever I need to remind myself that there are beautiful things in the world. 
    1. You are a vineyard, newly blossomed.
      Young, beautiful, growing in Eden,
      A fragrant poplar sapling in Paradise.
      May God adorn you. No one is more worthy of praise.

      You yourself are the sun, shining brilliantly.

Maybe next week will be better.