Game of Thrones

One of the most anticipated shows, Game of Thrones, comes back and starts its final season on Sunday.  It has been two years since the last season, season 7, aired on HBO, and people cannot wait for to see the final season.  There are no rules in the show and everyone is waiting to see who, if anyone, will survive till the end of the show. Game of Thrones is one of the most watched shows in the U.S. right now, so there will be many watch parties for the premier of the final season.  Here are some ideas for a Game of Thrones watch party.

Game of Thrones is a show that you have to devote your entire attention to or else you will undoubtedly miss something important in the show.  But if you think that you can handle multitasking, there are many drinking games that are fun to play to the show. These could be good to make you and your guests watch the show more closely to see when you have to drink.  My favorite list is to drink when: Daenerys dragons appear, someone gets drunk, main character dies, Little Finger schemes, when there is lots of violence, white walkers appear, the Iron Throne is shown, and someone says “winter is here”.  This list will make you drink steadily throughout the episode.

While it is hard to eat while watching game of thrones because of the gore, some snacks would be ideal for a watch party.  An easy snack is to make Game of Thrones cookies, they may be difficult to decorate if you decide to put the houses banners on them.  You could also just decorate them with house colors or with each houses saying, such as “Winter is Coming” and “Fire and Blood”. Another idea is to make cake pops that are shaped like dragon eggs, or even just a cake that is shaped like a dragon egg.  If you have all three eggs guests can choose which dragon they want to eat.

The last thing that you could do for a Game of Thrones watch party is to dress up for it.  It is hard to find any clothes that resemble the characters that are under $70, but shirts are only $20.  There are many shirts that say “Winter is coming”, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”, and “A girl has no name”. You could buy a shirt that represents you favorite character and wear it in the hopes that they will not die.

America’s Got Talent

The tv show Americas Got Talent (AGT) is a popular summer show that the whole family can enjoy.  It has been running for 12 seasons and has gone through many changes in judges, sponsors, and now hosts, but one thing that has remained constant throughout the show is that singers dominate the competition, particularly child singers.

With an abundance of singing shows like The Voice, The X-Factor, and American Idol one would think that someone aspiring to be a singer would audition for one of those shows.  But a very large amount singers audition for AGT. Singers dominate that competition on the talent show to the point that it almost certain that there will be at least one if not two singers in the final three.  Singers have won the show over half of the time. In the past several seasons, child singers have begun to dominate the field. Child singers have won the past two seasons of the show. This has become a trend in the past several seasons but the very first winner of AGT on season 1 was an 11 year old singer named Bianca Ryan.  These children are very talented but they get a lot of their votes on their “cute factor” instead of only their talent. There voices may also change and they can’t grow into an amazing career, which is the goal of the show.

All of the singers present and competing on the show leave less room for the unique and variety acts that AGT was created to discover.  Perhaps there should be some limit on the number of singers that can be let through to the finals, because it’s not that these singers don’t have talent, there are just many other options for them to show their talent.  Where other acts don’t have that platform, like magicians and dog trainers. For true off the wall and unique acts AGT is the only place to show off their gift, and season after season they are overshadowed by the singers who come on the show.

I’m Growing Skeptical of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel…

[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Please read only if you’re familiar with the show– I don’t want to ruin it for anyone!]

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From the very first episode of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel starring Rachel Brosnahan, I was utterly, breathlessly hooked. From the cinematography to the flouncy ‘50s costume design to the vibrant pastels to the gorgeous New York landscapes– from the premise of a high-spirited, hilarious young mom who finds herself suddenly divorced by her flighty jerk of a husband, to her assent into New York’s comedy scene as a woman– from her caustically funny manager to her down-to-earth father and her new season 2 boyfriend– the jokes, the conversation, the writing– everything about this TV show, at first glance, is extremely well done. I loved it, and still do. But Season 2 made me suddenly weary of all its flaws. I found out, moreover, that the show is written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame. From where Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ended, knowing the poor large-scale writing for Gilmore Girls, and after deconstructing the subtly problematic premises of Midge’s character, I’ve come to seriously fear for the fate of the rest of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The last episode of Season 2 ended with Midge getting a call from a famous singer asking her to tour with him in Europe for six months. This is big break she’s been waiting for a year now since she’d seriously started doing comedy. However, by the end of the episode and season, she realizes that her focus on her career necessarily means she’ll lose her domestic family life. The last minute of the series shows Midge going back to her ex-husband to spend only one night with someone who she knows loves her. Theoretically, a woman being torn between domestic, conventional life and pursuing a career in comedy in the fifties could be a very compelling and believable conflict, especially in the midst of a divorce– but this really isn’t the case for Midge. If there’s anything that Susie Meyerson reminds us of over and over again, it’s that Midge is extremely well off and has multiple support systems. She doesn’t really need to choose between her career and her family– she has parents and a maid at home who basically provide totally free child care and housing, she has an ex-husband who is still gaga over her and willing to beat up any blundering male comic who gets in her way, a boyfriend who– on top of being an accomplished surgeon and owning a mansion of a New York apartment– is head over heels for Midge and wants her to live out her dreams of being a comedian, she has a manager who works tirelessly to book her in the best gigs in and out of New York– and yet– you really expect me, an intelligent audience member, to believe that Midge has to choose between her career and the rest of her life? It’s bullshit.

And… this is where I remember that the show was written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. She’s a fantastic writer and director, always seamlessly building engaging and funny dialogue, directing gorgeous scenes and settings. It’s all fun to watch episode to episode. But her work breaks down upon closer inspection, and, if there’s anything I know from watching Gilmore Girls, Palladino’s writing meanders and gets lost somewhere in the middle of the series, and I’m worried this will also be the fate of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Both series center around a powerful female character archetype– like smart, good-natured, and hard-working Rory Gilmore and lively, stunning, hilarious Miriam Maisel– who have huge networks of support, wealth, and privilege, and whose only downfall, apparently, is being a woman. These characters don’t seem to have a lot of flaws, they’re perfectly poised. In short, it’s just a fantasy that it becomes a little hard to believe at some point. Emily Nussbaum in an article called “Hello, Gorgeous!” for The New Yorker sums it up perfectly: “The verbal anachronisms (“totally”), the sitcom clams (“Good talk!”), the cloying Disneyfication of Midge’s Jewish family…. Her marvellousness comes from the fact that she’s immune, a self-adoring alpha whose routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some “fucks” thrown in.”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is, like Gilmore Girls, a sweeping, glittering fantasy of a powerful and ambitious young woman storming the world that Americans, and especially American women, seem to want to right now. It’s not a bad fantasy– in fact, it’s quite good and engaging and hilarious, a distraction from exhausting dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale. But like all fantasies, it’s not an accurate reflection of sexism or the stakes of chasing a reckless dream. I’ll definitely keep watching the show– but not without a grain of salt.

We Are What We Cook

I was always fascinated by the flickering flame that lit up the stove top. The blue lights gave off a seductive heat that I was warned against. The results were magical too. My grandma conjured up steaming concoctions of Chinese broccoli and sausage, sweet pork ribs, and sticky pork knuckles, glistening with a fine sheen of oil and love. But all my efforts, even under her tutelage, were met with disappointment. “Too much shrimp paste”, my grandma says, after the briefest taste of my limp green beans. “Not enough soy sauce”, she says of my steamed eggs. She teaches me how to wield the cleaver, but its overly large handle keeps slipping from my hand. She shows me how to shake and shiver the wok, but my garlic keeps burning anyway. I end our endeavors at the age of twelve in a petulant fit, disappointed.

It was years later, before I approached the kitchen again. This time, I was hesitant, much readier to leap away from the flame than to embrace it. I changed tactics. Instead of homegrown techniques, I turned to the endlessly tacky. Instead of the intimacy of family, I chose the distance of a stranger. Thus, began my journey into the depths of food television, starting with the most generic channel of all, the Food Network. As I watch Bobby Flay chop onions for his Chicken-Posole Soup or Giada De Laurentiis grate parmesan with a pearly smile, I wonder why I and thousands of others have fallen for their effortful charm. I am not sure that I am really looking to be an excellent chef. For I don’t need to know how to perfectly poach a chicken breast nor do I care how to pulverize a mixture of pine nuts, parsley, and peppercorns into a pesto. It even feels traitorous in some ways, to pursue this life of domesticity, instead of the modern, working woman that I was taught to be. Why do cooking shows, then, continue to entrance me?

But cooking shows were not born in the modern era. The first cooking show was an invention of the late 1940s by a balding British man named Philip Harben. According to current standards, he is not telegenic, but there is a jolly workman look to his crumpled tie and rolled up shirt sleeves. Harben taught people how to cook, not for entertainment, but out of necessity. With Britain still on rations, his cooking show showed how to cook with a nearly bare cupboard. Not so today, when television shows promote only fresh, organic, picked-minutes-ago produce. Perhaps Harben’s show does not seem to be the direct answer to my question. But one can easily see the key characteristics of the modern cooking show already germinating underneath the surface. By 1947, a year after his show first started, the BBC began referring to him as a ‘television chef’. It is more than a simple name change. It is the birth of an entirely new profession, a new genre of television. It turns what was once relegated to an individual kitchen to something broadcasted into a million homes at once.

It is a community that I thrive in. I eagerly look up recipes on the official Food Network website. I buy cookbooks and collect all the recommended gadgets. I have become a dedicated fan, not of cooking itself, but of cooking as an imagined lifestyle. It turns out I didn’t need cooking as a reality; only as a fantasy.

Kylie Jenner and Relating to Celebrities

If you don’t follow celebrity news, you may (fortunately) be unaware that socialite Kylie Jenner gave birth and announced it on Super Bowl Sunday with the release of a touching video to her daughter. As someone who is mystified by the continued popularity and success of the Kardashian family despite the wide-spread disdain the average Joe seems to have towards them, I want to dissect my experience of seeing people actually care about this birth.

Kylie is 20 years old, making the announcement feel more personal to me as someone who is also 20. She is not the first person my age to get pregnant, with Facebook keeping me up to date on the surprising number of engagements and childbirths that have occurred in my graduating class since we left high school. But I am fascinated by how much difference class seems to make when assessing individual success.  While I struggle to finish essays to graduate, Kylie is already the proprietor of a lip kit line despite the backlash her latest ventures in cosmetics have received. Though the material success at such a young age is impressive to me even as a privileged middle-class college student, the fact Jenner’s family was already wealthy before she came of age due to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” makes the profits made on the lip kits less a story of individual triumph than corporate strategy. Following in her sisters’ footsteps, she has used her family’s overexposure on television to make lucrative business deals. Knowing how little social mobility there is in America, I am not surprised that the rich only find ways to get richer.

This makes the warm welcome and excited buzz for Jenner conflict me. On the one hand, I am of course happy to hear of a child being born healthy to an enthusiastic mother. This is evidenced by how Jenner managed to keep her entire pregnancy a secret despite being in the media spotlight and rumors being leaked and dismissed for the last few months. The way she did not prioritize making a profit off the attention her pregnancy would have generated is an encouraging sign she wants to put her baby first. However, I deeply question if a young, unmarried mother at 20 years old would have been met with such fanfare if she had been poor or Black. The stereotype of the “welfare queen” painted young, Black single mothers as a huge drain on government aid and was a tool of rhetoric in the public discussion about welfare throughout the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. What keeps us from calling Jenner irresponsible as opposed to some of the women most in need in our society — the money she is raking in now, or the financial stability we assume her upper-class status will guarantee her in the future?

I hope that Kylie will be a wonderful mother and has a happy future with her daughter. I hope that Travis Scott is a supportive father even after he will inevitably leave the picture, following what I’ve seen in Hollywood relationships. But what I hope more than this is more critical discussion of how we talk about the way race and class defines the way we talk about women’s agency. It’s clear that the media won’t.

Bonding through Bad Movies

Watching TV and movies is a good way to bond with friends. Many of my friendships originally began because we shared an enthusiasm for a particular show—I still have go-to friends to text when I watch a new show that I love. But let’s be honest: when it comes to being close friends with someone, you need to have more than just a couple shows you watch in common. To take that final step to becoming close friends, you have to talk about something other than the newest episode of Jane the Virgin. (That said, the season premiere of Jane the Virgin, which aired yesterday, was emotional and hilarious, and I’ll love anyone who watches that show.)

I went on a ‘retreat’ this past weekend with a few of my friends for fall break. We stayed a night at my friend Christian’s parents’ cabin on Sage Lake. There may have been some drinking going on—not that I partook, obviously, since I won’t be of legal drinking age for another two months. But in terms of actual activities, we played some card games, played a game of sardines, and mostly just hung around by the lake or in the cabin. It was definitely a fun way to spend a day, with lots of good company.

Toward the end of the night, we settled down to watch a movie. The movie was largely fun—it was Avalanche Sharks, one of the terrible Syfy schlocky movies about poorly rendered sharks terrorizing civilization. (One of my chief complaints was that there weren’t enough sharks! There should’ve been more gore! At least we got to hear the phrase “it’s spring break” uttered 30 times.) I’m of the firm opinion that if you’re aiming to bond with friends, it’s much more fun to watch a shitty movie than to watch a good one. A couple people wanted to watch Blue Velvet, which I’ve been meaning to see, but on a night when we’re supposed to be having a bunch of fun, is watching a quality neo-noir drama really what we want?

Some of my best experiences with watching movies have been watching dumb shit. My brother and I regularly quote Birdemic, the famously terrible amateur movie about a bird attack. I still smile remembering the night in high school when I got together with some friends and watched Mega Shark Versus Crocasaurus. (We also watched Paranormal Activity 3 that night, but high-quality horror movies might be the exception to the ‘good quality = bad for fun’ rule.) The thing is, most good movies you can watch anytime. You don’t need to be with friends to do it. In fact, I’d probably prefer to watch Blue Velvet alone; it’d probably be more impactful that way. When I’m with friends, on a night kind of meant for bonding, I don’t just want to check off something on my movie list. I want to do something fun.

Maybe that’s why I started to get bored after Avalanche Sharks, when we decided to just watch some TV on Netflix. I get it. It’s a comforting default to put on an episode of Parks & Rec or 30 Rock, especially when everyone is tired. But one of my few disappointments of the retreat was that we started to fall back on TV when we could’ve made more of an effort to connect. Then again, maybe a trip where the explicit purpose is to ‘bond’ is a little forced from the beginning.

I’ve just learned more and more recently that most good TV and good movies I prefer to watch alone. There are no variables—I don’t have to deal with possible spoiler sources, or the slight self-consciousness that prevents me from really physically reacting the same way I might alone. (For example, I actually said ‘what the fuck’ many times when I was alone watching Dogtooth. If I’d watched that with a friend, I probably would’ve said the same thing, but more for their benefit, for the social aspect, than as a genuine reaction.) I don’t have to have my opinion influenced by someone else and what they might be thinking. I don’t have to get pulled out of the experience by some annoying theatergoer who’s laughing a little too hard, or a crying baby, or a guy who’s pointing out the logistical issues in the third act of Finding Dory. I can react the way I want to.

So yeah, there are a lot of reasons I don’t usually like watching high-quality movies and TV with friends. It’s usually better to just pop in something stupid. Sure, it’s sometimes fun to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when I hang out with friends from home. But every time I’ve watched Caillou, I’ve had a much more memorable time.