2019年5月30日 星期四

The Interpreter: Watch “Fleabag,” take a mini-vacation from (some of) the patriarchy

It's lovely there this time of year
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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Welcome to The Interpreter newsletter, by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, who write a column by the same name.
On our minds: The joy of feeling seen.
A World of Women
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the second season of

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the second season of "Fleabag."

Max is away this week, which means that I (Amanda) have been left gloriously unattended. So it's time to write about the patriarchy! And television!
Though I've tried to be careful, there may be spoilers, so I hope all of you followed last week's instructions and became "Fleabag" completists. If you haven't, go watch it immediately. Then send me a note of thanks for bringing it into your life. Then come back and finish reading today's newsletter.
Season two of "Fleabag," the BBC/Amazon series from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is as good as everyone says it is. The dialogue crackles. The chemistry is electric. The cadence of character conflict moves the plot perfectly from startup to conclusion. The acting is masterful.
But the thing I loved most about it, as well as about "Killing Eve," one of Ms. Waller-Bridge's other shows, was the way they let me take a glorious mental vacation from the sheer default-maleness of public life.
"Fleabag" and "Killing Eve" don't merely star women, they populate their universes with them. The presumption seems to be that every major character should be a woman unless there's a specific reason for it to be a man.
I think that the first time I noticed was in the first episode of "Killing Eve," when the detective Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is recruited by her spymaster idol, Carolyn Martens, to participate in a skunkworks effort to find and capture the female assassin whom both Eve and Carolyn have divined is slashing her way across Europe. The women were in charge. They were the ones driving the plot forward.
When men appeared, they were secondary or tertiary characters who rarely survived more than a couple of episodes.
And take the business awards ceremony in Episode 3 of the latest season of "Fleabag." It could so easily have been a room full of men. Indeed, turning the scene into a sea of white men could have said something interesting and feminist about the hurdles Fleabag's sister Claire, a successful woman in finance, has had to overcome. But instead it was an award for "best woman in business." The audience was almost entirely women. The nominees (bar one unfortunate name mistake) and winner were women. Claire presented the award, jokingly chiding men about sexual harassment.
The only man to speak at all in the entire scene was a love interest for Claire. Other than him, it was ladies all the way down.
Episode after episode, women are the subjects and objects of the action. Men are relegated to the traditional "girl" roles — the love interests, the parents, the minor quirksters providing comic relief, the trusty helpmeet whose death devastates but also motivates the hero.
Ms. Waller-Bridge has spoken in interviews about how frustrating she found it to be limited to uninspiring female roles when she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her shows seem determined to even the balance sheet, one scene at a time.
I had no idea how powerful an experience that would be to watch.
Since I was a child, I've spent every movie, TV show and play trying to see myself in the characters. I would scan every scene trying to imagine who I would be if I were part of that world.  
It took effort. Usually the women existed either to further male characters' development, or to be sexy scene decorations, or as very pointed Examples of Strong Women who looked nothing like anyone I ever knew. Often they were all of the above. They didn't have lives or goals of their own. They weren't people so much as plot devices.
Even when there were characters I could easily identify with, the worlds they lived in were still run by men. The bosses, the colleagues, the military officers, the murderous maniacs, even the gosh-dratted mythical creatures — dragons, giants, centaurs and whatnot — skewed distinctly male.
I got extremely good at projecting a rich inner life onto any available female characters, and in a pinch even at making up characters who weren't there. The absent lady centaurs? Away at a conference. Female police sergeants? Getting back from running a complex surveillance operation any day now.
I never really noticed the energy it took to generate running supplementary fan fiction inside my head. But what a relief to watch "Killing Eve" and "Fleabag" and just … not have to do that.
What must it be like to almost never have to? What would it be like to just be able to show up to pop culture and be validated in your assumption that most of the important people you meet there will have something in common with you? "More fulfilling and relaxing experience of television" may not be at the top of the list of male privileges, but golly does it ever turn out to be great.
The shows can't offer that to everyone, of course. Both are very white, notwithstanding Sandra Oh's star turn in "Killing Eve." (Perhaps Fleabag's black friends are attending the same conference as the lady centaurs...?)
But it was still so meaningful to me. I don't just watch worlds of men on television; I live in one in real life. Though I have many brilliant female colleagues, right now all of my editors, the primary decision-makers in my professional life, are men, albeit very supportive ones. So is Max, my frequent collaborator. When I report my stories, the government officials, experts and senior executives I speak with are so much likelier to be men that, despite conscious and concerted efforts to achieve balance, I've written articles in which not a single woman speaks.
I know that this doesn't matter only to me. Research has found that women are more likely to become inventors if, as children, they encountered female inventors. Representation matters. Being able to see yourself matters.
And perhaps for white men, having the opposite experience will matter too. So watch "Fleabag." Notice where you aren't. Notice how you feel about that.
Imagine feeling like that all the time.
What We're Reading/Watching
  • The Weekly, the new television show that follows Times journalists as they report big stories, premieres this Sunday on FX. We'll be in a coming episode — watch this space for more information as we get closer to its air date. Until then, we're so excited to watch our colleagues as they do their amazing work.
  • The Intersectionality Wars: Vox's Jane Coaston unpacks the obscure academic term that has become one of the biggest flashpoints in today's culture war.
  • Virtuous Accomplices: In a new working paper, Oxford's Miles Jackson asks one of the big questions of humanitarian law and policy: What responsibility should humanitarian organizations bear if their relief efforts contribute to the war crimes of others?

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