Three Things: October 2018


With thanks to Paula of Book Jotter for hosting—new participants always welcome!

Reading: I read so much less this month while I was in the States (five books over two weeks), and you know what? It felt great. It’s never been like that before. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about slowing my pace, although it happens every time I go to stay with family. This time, it was perfect. Perhaps it’s time that I admitted it: professional reading is wonderful, but it’s exhausting. Just because I can read five books in a working week doesn’t mean I always should. And in the meantime? Apple picking, mountain hiking, cheese-eating, wine and cider-drinking, dress shopping, downtown strolling, coffee sipping, novel writing, movie-watching, TV-lounging, dog-petting. Most of all, spending time with my family (both extended and immediate), and with some stalwart old friends.

Looking: The West Wing is available in the US on Netflix, which is not the case in the UK. During a weekend in which my parents left me alone in the house while they drove to New York to see my brother in a play (I couldn’t go; I had a wedding to attend), I watched the entire first season in two days and started the second. The show was always basically fantasy, but it is now, astonishingly, a period piece. There’s a moment – not a big one, in the grand mythology of The West Wing, but it stuck out to me – where the press secretary, CJ Cregg (played with impeccable wit and weirdness by Allison Janney), informs the White House Press Corps that the President has done a certain thing despite not being legally obliged to do it. It turns out that this isn’t true: the law does, in fact, require him to do what he’s done. There is agonizing in the communications department about this. CJ is really worried about it; although no one is likely to find out or be hurt by it, it matters enormously to her and to her colleagues. I nearly had to turn the TV off for a minute just to absorb the fundamental integrity of that, and to consider the absurd, mendacious shitshow of the current White House press secretary, not to mention her predecessor. Imagine Sarah Huckabee Sanders being worried about having lied to the press. Imagine Sean Spicer even noticing that he’d lied to the press. Jesus wept.

We also went to the cinema en famille and saw First Man, but I don’t actually want to write about it; the more interesting thing that I watched recently was the third episode of the new Doctor Who, which is about Rosa Parks. For the most part I’ve been enjoying the new season of Who: Jodie Whittaker is amazing in a lot of ways, even if she still has to convince me of who her character is now (as opposed to who or what she isn’t). (That said, the writers have built in some acknowledgment of this; more than once this season, we’ve heard her say that she’s still figuring out her personality in this new incarnation.) There are things about the Rosa Parks episode that are weird, though. First of all: no Alabama accent sounds like the ones we heard on screen. Some of the actors came awfully close at times, but…no dice. Second of all: the idea that Rosa Parks’s protest is a fixed point in time without which the civil rights movement would never have happened is categorically false. Was it hugely and immediately symbolic? Yep. Was the curation of that symbolism also pretty carefully planned by people like Dr. King (who makes a cameo appearance in this episode) and other leaders in the black civil rights community? Also yep. I’m not denying Parks’s importance, but I don’t think it’s right to attribute everything that followed to her actions, nor is it right to portray those actions as the result of a purely emotional response to mistreatment. Parks wasn’t the first person to protest bus segregation in this way, but – as in the case of Loving v. Virginia – the NAACP considered her the most promising candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest. I get that it’s hard to put all of civil rights history into a 40-minute episode, but possibly that’s a good reason for thinking really hard before you try to make a 40-minute episode that claims to pinpoint the moment that catalysed all of civil rights history.

Thinking: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking about voting. A lot. Ordinarily I vote absentee, with a ballot that the State of Virginia sends me through the post (unclear why we can’t all just use email, unless it’s because of the Russians, but clearly they haven’t been daunted so far). This year that didn’t work, for a reason sufficiently obscure to me, even now, that I still kind of suspect the Russians were involved somehow. Anyway, thank God, I was home two weeks before the elections, so I went and voted early in person. Voting is the most incredible privilege, you guys. Anyone who is not white, a man, over thirty, and a property owner needs to know that. People died – were shot, were trampled, were lynched – for our right to do this. Do you rent your house or flat? You owe your suffrage to people who died for it. If you’re a woman, a person of colour, a woman of colour (double whammy), you owe your suffrage to people who died for it. If you’re between the ages of eighteen and thirty, of either sex and any gender, you owe your suffrage to people who died for it. My generation is supposedly apathetic about politics, but to be honest, most of the people who I see engaging most passionately with the issues of the day are my age. No matter your age, you have to vote when there’s an election. It is non-negotiable as part of life in a democracy. It doesn’t matter if your work day is busy. It doesn’t matter if your kids are vomiting and your babysitter’s just quit. It doesn’t matter if none of the candidates “excite” you. Not everything is always going to be perfect about your political options. You still have to vote when there’s an election. (I get to vote in the elections of two countries. I’ve only ever missed one election, in the UK, and that’s because I moved house the day before and had no idea an election was happening in that borough.) Everyone. Has. To. Vote.

21 thoughts on “Three Things: October 2018

  1. My partner and I took refuge in The West Wing last year and worked our way through the complete boxed set (again). That last series is extraordinarily prescient with regards to Obama/McCain. Absolutely agree with you about voting. It was instilled in me by my mother when I was a child.

    1. It turns out that I haven’t actually seen all of it—I’ve seen episodes here and there, but never gone all the way through, and pretty sure I haven’t seen anything past about series 5—so I’m buying the DVDs secondhand and planning to make my way through them over the winter.

  2. Oh I had all the same kinds of thoughts about the Rosa Parks episode. It was great to see Doctor Who cover the topic, but making something that was part of a collective resistance movement into a moment of individual heroism did not sit well with me, especially as Parks’s actions seem to be especially vulnerable to this rewriting of history.

    1. Thank you! I haven’t made a concerted effort to find online criticism of this episode yet, but in the brief conversations I’ve seen about it on Twitter, no one seems to have mentioned this problem.

      1. Yep… since 1912. It’s regarded as a civic duty in the same vein as paying your taxes. And while I’m no longer eligible to vote in any Australian elections (when you’ve lived abroad for more than two years you’re no longer allowed to vote, a rule change brought in by conservative government not long after I moved to the UK) I make sure I vote for all the elections (mayoral, European, national etc) that I’m eligible for on this side of the planet. I truly don’t understand why people don’t exercise their democratic right.

      2. That’s a really annoying rule change. How infuriating.

        I think one thing about US elections is that states often make it very difficult for citizens; each state has different rules about acceptable forms of ID, voting registration deadlines, some states actively mislead citizens about election dates and polling places… It’s such a big country and voting is so decentralised that it’s very difficult to make sure that everyone has free, fair access. Obviously, those who can/know how to badger their election officials for accurate information ought to do so, but I think widespread electoral reform on a state level would have to happen before imposing a fine on non-voters would be remotely fair.

  3. I always read less when I’m visiting the States, but I don’t worry about it too much because I’m cramming in months’ worth of family time and socializing and can always catch up later. I’m glad you had a lovely trip.

  4. Thank you so much for voting. So many competitive races here in Virginia and great Democratic candidates. (Alexandria is not even a little competitive, and although our congressman is fantastic, there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I could vote for Leslie Cockburn, who’s running to rep my old hometown.)

    And thanks for sharing my post. That book is a stunner.

      1. Awesome! It’s looking like she may have a real chance. I grew up in Franklin County, so two hours south of C’Ville, but in the same congressional district.

      2. The 5th is IMMENSE. I hadn’t actually realised how huge it was until I went on Cockburn’s website. From Fauquier County to the North Carolina border?! It’s obviously been gerrymandered, but…like…by someone with absolutely no sense of shame, clearly.

      3. Yup! The fact that Roanoke and Franklin County are in different districts, but FC is in the same district as Charlottesville, continues to boggle my mind. We used to get all the Roanoke and Lynchburg media, but none from C’Ville, which makes it harder to be informed.

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