I can’t believe I am so spoiled by TV and the new, amazingly creative stories that are being told. They’re so funny, devastating, cruel, compassionate, and, ultimately, relatable; all in one show, often one episode. How?! There are 2 TV shows I watched in June I can’t shut up about: Fleabag and Ramy. While I was going to write a review, and am going to back down from that because there is just so much to any one episode of both of these shows it was too intimidating to write a review. I knew I’d miss something, and as with TV shows, the best reviews are in the details. However, I do want to write a little bit about how it makes me wonder how we are, how society is, how I am, being deeply influenced by the new (imo, better) stories that are being told.
(Caveat to this whole blog post: all statements I am making are my own (lol) and from the perspective of a person who is 100% not an actor/anyone in any sort of TV/movie business. A simple consumer, like yourself (maybe).)
In an interview Phoebe Waller-Bridge said that Fleabag inspires her to be bolder. At first I thought, wow, because Waller-Bridge is such a great actor and Fleabag is such a well-developed character it’s easy for me to forget that Waller-Bridge is acting when she plays Fleabag. Fleabag’s impulsive, reckless, daring, audacity, and forthrightness is, of course, part of her character not synonymous with Waller-Bridge herself as a person.
Anyway, I write all of that because I’m curious how these characters, these complex, complicated, messy, almost hyper-realistic characters with layers of contemporary traumas and issues, are affecting their consumers, even including their writers. Living in a golden age of TV in terms of volume, access, and platforms for more of these incredibly well-written, complex, creative, genre-bending stories that increase representation not only in identity of writers and actors but also what kinds of stories are told. Having access to these different, bolder, less white stories, and heroines that feel more relatable and realistic than others before gives me permission to be bolder myself. To ask for more, to settle for less. As our new heroines are being written to stop accepting men’s shitty behavior that would have been written as a joke a few years ago, I am more confident in not accepting shitty behavior in my own life.
Watching Fleabag gives me confidence that there are women who act like her and that women can act like her. Not just that women can have scathingly dry wit, but that women don’t have to bite their tongue and say their incisive and biting remarks under their breath. Women can be (justifiably) angry and express it rather than stifling it. Women can steal things and piss other people off without caring. Women can be mischievous, loving, careless, grieving deeply, and so fucking funny all at once. Fleabag is so exciting to me because Waller-Bridge has SO well written and executed a character, plot, and relationships that really display an amazing amount of complexity not only in Fleabag, but also her sister and her father. You can see Fleabag inhabit all these aspects of herself, containing a multitude of feelings, desires, happiness, unhappiness, grief, trauma, and love, all without the show itself being too maudlin, over-the-top, or explicit. Fleabag feels so real to me and I think it’s half because I feel like her and half because I want to be her. I want to be more mischievous and care less. I want to be bold and brave and more forward.
The relatability of these shows bring their messages of trauma and healing, desire and exoticism, intensity of emptiness and loss, impulsive self-destruction and a deep compassion, the trickiness of bridging two cultures, two lands, and two life philosophies and without getting lost in it all, to a new level of salience. Both Ramy and Fleabag make me think about how these complications, contradictions, and tensions have played out in my life and added layers to my own humanity. The narratives I watch make patterns in my own life a little clearer.
So the question I have is now seeing these women on TV, how is that impacting me and a larger audience who is watching her? How am I/are we going to be bolder and more forward for watching this kind of TV, seeing these new stories? How am I going to care less and take more? I’m excited and mostly grateful for these new shows, for showing me possibilities I always knew I had, but never knew what it would look like to be. These shows and stories are so important to me because these new narratives show me what it might look like to boldly push the boundaries of patriarchy, to push the definition of “womanhood,” to push the boundaries of whiteness, particularly as a woman of color. I am reminded that to be more reckless, more careless, more loud, more honest, more woman, more non-white, more myself is really an act of breaking the power whiteness and patriarchy wants me to think it has over me, my mind, and my body.
I’ve decided not to write about Ramy in this blog post as deeply because there are just too many things this show brings up that I want to talk about, and I’m not a good enough writer, yet, to string all of those things together in a coherent and non-rambly way. This blog is rambly enough. However, I will bullet point just SOME of the things I love, love, loved from the show.
- The way it really religion and tradition with such respect, and really shows the tensions between this and millennial peer expectations and general young person desires.
- It is also so fucking funny.
- The way it also writes such full and complicated women!!!!! It dedicates a whole two episodes focusing solely on the sister, Dena, and the mom, Maysa.
- The double standards Dena must deal with as a woman are so clear and frustrating. The show does a great job of developing an emotional arc so when she meets a cute guy and goes over to his house, it is so hard to watch when he (unsurprisingly but still disappointingly) starts saying exotifying, racializing, and Islamophobic things towards her and excuses himself by saying he would kill to be anything but a boring white guy (that’s not the reason why you’re boring). This episode is so squirm-in-your-seat-real for all WOC out there.
- The Maysa episode was also AMAZING. It shows how Maysa feels, and is, overlooked, under-appreciated, and forgotten which I can’t imagine is an uncommon feeling for immigrant moms. It shows her desire for interaction and hurt getting mocked and ignored by other Americans. It also shows her desire for companionship and to be seen, and desired in general. It shows moms having feelings and sexuality which is amazing and never shown.
- Lastly, I love the end of the show and how it shows Ramy going back to Egypt to find himself and being so disappointed. Going back to a culture or country where everyone says you belong to, but not finding the magic, cultural key to solve your problems or find enlightenment is so REAL. Being a third-culture kid and feeling lost is so real and this show really nails that feeling throughout. I love it so much.
After reading “The Making of a Millennial Woman” by Rebecca Liu in Another Gaze, I have more thoughts than I could coherently write down but I chose a few excerpts from her essay that I think are so true, especially as I focused a lot on the relatability and exciting aspects of Fleabag to me. Liu points out that if we look deeper, push past the carefully crafted unlikeability-likeability of Fleabag, she’s not as thrilling as I first thought.
“Relatability as a critical tool leads only to dead ends, endlessly wielding a ‘we’ without asking who ‘we’ really are, or why ‘we’ are drawn to some stories more than others. What does it tell us that ‘we’ are meant to be drawn to women who live in elite social worlds, whose lifestyles many cannot afford, and whose rebellions against the world are always a little doomed and not that unconventional, even if we’re meant to think otherwise? Why are we so eager to graft relatability onto them? The irony of the ‘unlikeable woman’ is that their ‘abjection’ is likeable, even admirable, to us: they are sharper, wittier, and more beautiful than anyone we know, ideals taken to be ‘real’-life characters. Does celebrating relatability involve engaging with the lives of others, or taking flight from one’s own?
For all of the chatter about how revolutionary, powerful and important these fictional lives are, the Millennial Woman par excellence is a deeply disempowered human being. Fleabag has no friends, cannot talk about her trauma, and admits to relying on sex as a way to sustain her rapidly deteriorating sense of self-worth. …These women are not so much avatars for the emancipatory possibilities of womanhood as they are signs of a colossal social failure to provide substantive avenues of flourishing, care, and communal generosity.”