High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Month: March, 2013

Television Work Admiration

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Photo taken by Susan Cohen of her TV

I admire the women who work on television. No, that sentence was not a mistake. I did not mean to write I admire the women who work in television. I admire them and hope to join them someday, but they are not who I am writing about.

I admire the women – they are really characters – I watch each week on sitcoms and dramas who accomplish so much during each episode. For example, I watch Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife and I wonder how does she do it all? Yes, I know Alicia and the show are not real and yes, I know her accomplishments are thanks to television magic where a legal case moves a billion times faster than it would in real life. Even though I know these facts, I am still amazed by Alicia and her television peers who get it all done in between commercials.

I think my television work admiration has a lot do with my fascination with how others work. I find others work habits so interesting. I am convinced they know some secret to work success that I have yet to learn and if I study how they work, I will uncover it. I see them pounding on keyboards in a library and think wow, look at them type their papers. For a second, I want to be just like them until I realize that my thoughts are a bit presumptuous regarding fast typing equaling success. These aggressive typers could be writing terrible papers and their vigor is a result of procrastination or a desire to just get it done without concern for the quality of their work product. I am a fast typer – I took typing in middle school – I can do the same if I want to.

The truth is that I know I am a fine worker. However, I still question my work habits. I think it has a lot to do with my having been a procrastinator when I was younger. Having been a procrastinator has shaped my perceptions of how others work. It leads to thinking about what it is like to not be a procrastinator. Is it truly more productive? Does getting it done sooner mean a better work product? I have learned that the other side of procrastination is at times better and at times, I need the push that comes from procrastination. I now understand that non-procrastination is not always greener.

I may always wonder about how the other half works or maybe as I get rid of the procrastination residue, I will just see Alicia as a television character and the aggressive typers as people who need to learn to type quietly in a library. Even if I reach this point, I am still going to want to grow up to see patterns and solve puzzles like Carrie on Homeland. I guess the television work admiration is not going to go away.

A Favor for Taylor Swift

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Once again, Taylor Swift is part of the pop cultural conversation this week. Then again, when is Ms. Swift not part of the conversation. She wants the attention and the media likes to give it to her. This particular moment in the spotlight is thanks to a quote featured in Vanity Fair in which Ms. Swift shares her thoughts on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler making light of her dating life at the Golden Globes.

Since the media likes to keep tabs up on Swift, her thoughts spread quickly through the pop cultural grapevine. I have not read the article, but I have heard and read about it in several sources. Additionally, Vanity Fair offers a summary of the article on its website, which includes her thoughts on Fey and Poehler.

““You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people,” Taylor Swift tells Vanity Fair contributing editor Nancy Jo Sales on the subject of mean girls in general and in response to an incident at this year’s Golden Globes, where Amy Poehler and Tina Fey mocked her highly scrutinized love life. “Because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’”” (Vanity Fair, March 5, 2013)

In response to Ms. Swift’s quotes, two excellent articles have been written. The first by The Cut, a blog on NYMag.com, explained that the quote Ms. Swift thought was Couric’s was actually said by Madeline Albright and went on to provide its history as it has moved from one woman to another. The second article is a piece by Patricia Murphy in The Washington Post’s She The People with the appropriate title “Taylor Swift, lighten up!!

In asking Ms. Swift to lighten up, the piece examines how Fey and Poehler’s joke was by no means sexist and that perhaps Ms. Swift needs to recognize this fact. To assist her, Murphy writes, “Taylor Swift certainly doesn’t need advice on writing a hit song, but she does seem in need of guidance about what sexism is, what it isn’t, and how to know the difference.  So I offer Taylor a few tips on navigating a society that remains sexist in many ways, but is less so today because of women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, not in spite of them”. (The Washington Post, March 7, 2013) 

Murphy instructs Swift on how to change her modus operandi with four suggestions, which are listed below:

“1. Know who the good guys are.”
“2. Know your role in a situation.”
“3. Lighten up!”
“4. Read Bossypants.”

The suggestion Murphy provides are excellent and to the point. If Ms. Swift wants to be taken seriously, she should read this article. I would like to offer one correction to the article and madke one addition. The correction is that the article should not say “good guys” since the subject of the piece is women. I know this is an expression and one, I, a Barnard grad, might even use. Instead, it should say, “Know who your sisters are” or something to that effect.

The addition I would like to make to this piece is that Fey and Poehler are actually doing Ms. Swift a favor. Murphy touched on this point, but did not address totally it when she said, “A list of Taylor Swift songs reads like a broken-hearted teenage girl’s text message log.  “Should’ve said no,” “I knew you were trouble,” “We are never ever getting back together.”  In exchange for chronicling the ruins of her love life, she won over legions of young girls and made $35 million last year alone.  But she also opened herself up to jokes about making a career out of breaking up with boys, even if those jokes come from other women.” 

Murphy indicates that Ms. Swift positioned herself to be made the butt of many jokes, but did not say that the jokes are actually a wake up call. Fey and Poehler are basically telling her she needs to ship up or ship out. Through their joke, they told her that she is making a fool of herself and she needs to get her act together. They have done her the greatest favor anyone can do for her right now. The fact that Ms. Swift misses the subtleties of the joke shows that she sees nothing wrong with her behavior. As a result, she is sure to find herself sitting at an award show listening to more jokes about her choices. 

 

The Eloise of HBO

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I watch Girls. I do not always agree with or relate to the characters choices, but I enjoy watching the show evolve. I respect Lena Dunham for the risks she is taking and look forward to where each new episode takes me. However, when it comes to Lena Dunham outside of the show, I’m not sure how I feel about her. I want to like Lena because I find her show interesting. However, in spite of watching Girls, I feel Lena always takes it one step too far in her tweets and comments. She deconstructs the intelligence and humor I see in her by going that far. I understand she wants to take it that step further because that is part of her public persona, but I just wish she stopped a sentence or even a word sooner. I see the strengths in her and I feel she could do more by saying less.

As much as I want her to stop and keep it classier, she is not going to stop so I need to separate Lena’s work from Lena. However, this separation is difficult because the two are intertwined. I always knew Lena and her work were connected, but it was only last week that I realized how deeply intertwined she is with her work. I made this discovery after I heard she incorporated Eloise into her Purim spiel at the Jewish Museum’s Purim Ball.

The truth is that Lena created Hannah like Eloise. Hannah speaks like Eloise and behaves like Eloise. Like Eloise, she watches, describes, and interacts with the world around her and does so in a simplistic and at times cadenced manner. Hannah is never producing ridiculously complex sentences and does not stray too far from her egocentric perspective. Hannah sees the world as Hannah does and Eloise sees the world as Eloise does. Obviously the rhythm and subject matter differ between Hannah and Eloise, but the differences between them do not take away from their connections. Hannah is the Eloise of HBO.

If Hannah is designed after Eloise and Hannah is a manifestation of Lena then Lena herself is Eloise. Lena is becoming the Eloise of my generation. She definitely deserves to be HBO’s Eloise, but I’m not sure about her role as my generation’s Eloise.  She has been given a platform to watch, describe, and interact with the world solely because of her film Tiny Furniture and two seasons of Girls. Yes, the work speaks for itself but in the scheme of things, how much has she really contributed? Are we giving her too much credit? Am I even giving her too much credit by writing this piece about her?

I have no answers, but I feel that seeing Lena as Eloise helps me understand where she is coming from when she tweets and speaks. Lena sees and interacts with the world in a literal manner just like Eloise. If I start to understand that she is not that complex then I can stop hoping that she stops taking it a step too far.

A Puritanical Education

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A far off land called undergrad

Once upon a time in a far off land called undergrad, a fair maiden was required to write a thesis. This maiden knew that in order to leave this land, she had to complete this substantial document. When asked what she would write about, the maiden came up with two ideas: the Dutch in New Amsterdam or the Puritans and their Half-Way Covenant. Encouraged by an advisor, she selected the latter. She really should have selected the former. (Seriously, what was she thinking)

Anyway, the maiden began to research the Puritans. The task was arduous and she was often confused and overwhelmed. She struggled to understand the Puritan’s Congregationalism. Her sources were in an English far different from her own. Frustrated, she began to procrastinate –  something no maiden should do. With the thesis due in a matter of weeks, the maiden eventually got to work. She logged long hours in the undergrad’s castle. (Columbia’s library is akin to a castle) However, she ran out of time and had to hand in whatever she had.  The maiden received a B+ on her thesis. (She has no problem publicly admitting her grade) She was disappointed, but knew that at least that mediocre grade would allow her to leave this far off land.

After graduating from this land, the maiden vowed never set foot in any far off land again. Instead, she went to the far off land called the real world. At first she liked the real world. She could go out to dinner on a weeknight. She thought that was really cool. However, the maiden missed the far off land called undergrad and decided to try a new far off land called grad school. She vowed that in grad school she would work harder and learn from her Puritanical choice. The maiden has kept her vow and dedicated herself to the pursuit of perfection. Just as in undergrad, she must write a thesis. (It is really a Master’s Essay) The maiden has begun to work on this big essay and promises to do better than that B+ and prove that she is an excellent academic.

The moral of the story is that if I had not selected the Puritans and received a B+ on my thesis, who knows if I would have gone to graduate school. My thesis shortcomings left me feeling like I had more to do academically. Part of that desire to do more was to apply what I had learned from my thesis. The thesis taught me how not to conduct research and construct a thesis so that now I am able to do it differently. That is a wonderful gift. I am so glad I received that B+ and more importantly, I am so glad that Barnard made me write a thesis. Thank you Barnard.

Royal Introductions

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I met Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, through Newsweek. I know this may be surprising given that I am a Royal watcher. However, I was not always a Royal watcher. This too may be surprising. The truth is I am a Royal watching newbie and before Newsweek introduced us, I had feigned interest in the Royal family. The interest that I did have resulted from my passion for history. In other words, it was limited to Royal history.

My lack of interest meant I missed the Waity Katie period and did not get too involved in William and Catherine’s engagement in November 2010. I certainly acknowledged the news as I do with all of the day’s news, but I thought ok, it will be cool to watch a Royal wedding on TV or something to that effect. Everything changed after I read Newsweek’s article “Citizen Kate.” It was published about a month before the Royal wedding and I read it because I like to read. I thought it would just be another article. I was WRONG. Nothing would be the same after this article. Yes, it was that powerful.

Whereas other publications put her down for letting time pass and keeping a low profile – including not being on a career path –  Newsweek got to the core of Catherine and her decisions. She was a woman who understood what she wanted and what needed to be done to get it. So, Catherine loves William and wants to marry William, and loving William and wanting to marry William meant being patient. She was not waiting for William. She was being patient. There is a big difference between the two. Catherine was well aware that she could not misstep, and in order to prevent such an action, she was quiet –  a quiet that was thought out and methodical. She let things evolve and take their time. Catherine, back when she was Kate, was wise beyond her years.

The article also took interest in her maternal grandmother. Catherine’s grandmother was a coal miner’s wife and raised her daughter, Catherine’s mother Carole, to want more. Carole raised Catherine with the same goal. As the article explained, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, is in part thanks to her mother and her grandmother. The power of raising powerful women.

By the time I finished this article, I had gained a new role model. Catherine, who I had limited interest in ten minutes before I started reading, now became someone I wanted to emulate. No, I do not want to be a Royal. Instead, I want to approach things the way Catherine does. She takes her time in order to do things right. She see things as incremental and part of a bigger picture. I know that my view of Catherine may not be how everyone see hers, but this is how I see Catherine. I see her as a strong, powerful woman who understands how the world works. The world requires patience and she was patient and it paid off. Look at her now.