#2060 | grieving for a vienna

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Vienna, Austria

It sounds so stupid and obvious but I am in love with Vienna the way most people who visit the place are. I was there over the weekend with fred and edwin, both of whom were skeptical at my wide-eyed amazement, fred asked: for someone who travels so much how can you be so easily amazed still? and edwin said: close your mouth, you look like a demented person (I was smiling at the air).

The truth is i find relief in my wonder. When I first started the broke student’s guide I was very new to travel and so literally everything made me gasp. I was, in other words, 11 year old daniel radcliffe entering diagon alley for the first time, right down to the perpetual gape and bespectacled naiveté. Even then i was afraid of (dare i say it?) growing up, one day letting the faraway concept of adulting allow more pragmatic concerns (jetlag, financial worries, the hassle of packing, the inability to see the humor in being pickpocketed abroad) rob me of that first instinctive reach toward wonder whenever life threw new situations at me, whenever I visited a new destination. So when Vienna took my breath away it was as much a gasp of amazement as it was a gasp of relief. Let me never reach a stage, i thought to myself, where i would face new wonders and be blase. Let me never allow myself to hide behind the facade of boredom.

But there was no possibility of keeping unfazed in Vienna. As we wondered around the city I kept muttering to myself and the boys this city is so so beautiful I can’t comprehend or process this and as a result we made no plans for any kind of concrete sightseeing, we rented bikes and cycled wherever, dropped them off and continued ambling along, stopping for coffee or beer whenever we felt like it with a kind of laziness. We joked: we saw absolutely nothing in vienna but there was no internal direction to ‘see’ anything because the immersiveness in the city was already enough. And the days rolled on.

Towards the end of the trip we were granted an incredible, drawn out sunset, and i was amazed all over again by the universality of the golden hour’s charm. But as the sun started actually setting i felt an immense sadness settle in me. The sunset was lighting up the city in fire and gold as it reflected off the gilded facades of Vienna’s buildings, and watching this I felt a kind of reverence at that kind of beauty and also a heaviness at how temporal this moment was. I could feel the moment dimming and dimming as the sun continued to sink and i knew it was exactly how my memory of the moment would be, the wonder I was feeling at that instant fading away slowly as time passed, so that eventually i would only remember that i had once felt amazement and wonder at the beauty of the city during dusk but not actually be able to locate and reexperience the feeling of wonder within me. I got sadder and sadder.

With a sense of mourning I conveyed this to edwin and he said dont be ridiculous there is so much world left to see. As he said this the sun did its final dip below the horizon and it was officially night. It was 10pm. We went for dinner.

There is no neat resolution to this arc. Back in Germany I thought I had better write this down before I forget. Already parts of it I am forgetting, I looked through my phone’s photo album earlier today and thought with surprise: that’s right, we did have some pretty weird soda that masqueraded as coffee. The bittersweetness returned. And so I am grieving for a version of Vienna that exists only in my memory, and an inconsistent one at that. But then again I have to remember that there are so very few neat resolutions in life. It sounds so stupid and obvious but I am in love with Vienna the way most people who visit the place are.

x
jem

#2159 | Off I go

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fruits of my labor

Nach Deutschland gehen!

Going to be working remotely out of Germany these couple of weeks. A friend of mine relocated there early this year and some time last month I got a text along the lines of ok i miss you you can come visit me now. To which I replied, I thought you’d never ask.

Hold your horses, haters. As frivolous as it sounds to be zipping off to europe to get work done remotely, I paid only 200 bucks for my air ticket because of MILES and credit card promos, and am trading McDonald’s garlic chilli packets for couch space to sleep on! Hurray. But seriously tho, I’m super looking forward to reuniting with my old friend and also to having undisturbed blocks of time to work on ~REDACTED~ during the day while he’s at his job. Har di har.

The real question is – do i actually remember anything functional from my months and months of german lessons? Were all those hours spent slaving away at memorising gender forms of inanimate objects wasted? What is Lubeck anyway? All these questions and more, answered right here on jemmawei.com in the months to come.

x
jem

#2158 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Los Angeles

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Hey guys,

So I spent two and a half weeks in Los Angeles last December/this Jan, a grad trip of sorts for Shane and I after having just completed our Masters. I feel a bit funny saying that cos the rest of my batch has moved on with their adult lives and here we are still using terms like ‘grad trip’ at the age of twenty five. Ho ho.

Anyway, first things first: LA is an expensive city. I must say that this wasn’t a budget trip per se for me, in the sense that I wasn’t scrimping and I did have a couple of nice meals and all, but I also wasnt living lavishly because I think the broke student spirit residing in me will never allow me to splurge unnecessarily without feeling an insane amount of guilt. But yes, after two and a half weeks there I’m just going to say that Los Angeles is an expensive city, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone on a tight budget to travel there because it’s just too pricey. It’s also a lot less budget-able than New York, where you can essentially walk everywhere or take the extensive metro network, and scrimp on things like museum entries which are mostly donation based, etcetera. But if you’re still determined to go, here’s some notes on how you can make it a more cost efficient trip!

Getting to LA


The only airline that flies direct from SG to LA is United.
It’s a 15 hour flight there and an 18 hour flight back (different routes i think?), and no matter what airline you fly it’s going to cost you upwards of a thousand dollars.

After all the recent controversy with United (and Asian passengers!) the guys were a bit hesitant to take the flight. But pragmatism won out in the end. United’s flight is the only direct flight, as I’ve said before, and they have very good timings. You depart from SG at 11am and land 10:15am the same day in LA, meaning you start the day once touching down, and the flight back departs LA at 8:55pm, which is a nice safe hour that gives you a comfortable amount of time to meander from the city to the airport without having a crazy rush, if you time it right. Time not wasted on flying and transiting means money saved, especially if you had to take leave from work or something. Also, I’d flown United to San Francisco in October, and it was a pretty good experience, so I wasn’t super paranoid about the flight.

There were four of us on this trip, and I firmly believe that this is the ideal number for group travel to LA because so much of your cost savings is going to be predicated on splitting the bill. The regular flight price for United from SG to LA was 1.8k, but because we booked it in a group, the fee somehow went down to 1.3k. I dont know why for sure, but I suspect it’s because United charges a different fee for group bookings. Anyway, we ended up paying 1.3k to fly there.

brunch with all my boyfriends ✌🏻

A post shared by Jemimah James Wei (@jemmawei) on


Friendship!

Note: This was also high season cos we flew in December. If you’re flexible on dates, I think you might find it much, much cheaper to fly in March or something. It’s good to plan early so you can keep monitoring the price. But we were kind of stuck with Dec cos the other two boys were also limited by their EOY leave at work, so I think we did pretty well given these dates.

In comparison, the only other airlines that will give you a comparable price is China airlines and Philippine Airlines with one or two transits, a total flight time of approx 20-24 hours. . Everything else – ANA, SQ, etc, all cost about 1,600 and above for our dates.

Cash or Card

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At some point in the trip I started trying to pay for my coffee in cash instead of card (it’s sooo natural for me to just tap my card, damn it paywave!!) just so I wouldnt be left with USD

LA is very credit card friendly. I could have done the entire trip with only 100 bucks cash, but i was paranoid and changed 500USD. Turns out I had 400 left by the end of the trip because EVERYTHING WAS PAID FOR WITH MY CARD. Oh well.

I think this depends on your comfort level – I prefer paying with card because I earn more miles per dollar for overseas spend, which I then use to redeem flights (makes sense for me because I’m a frequent traveller). Also, I dont have to try and guesstimate how much I’ll spend then risk ending up with not enough/ too much foreign currency at the end of the trip.

But this is also contingent on the fact that i am not a spendthrift. I am extremely cautious with money in general, and I dont get trigger happy in stores. Sure, I like looking at shops, but I very, very rarely actually buy something unless I have had my eye on it for awhile (like the google home) or unless I have thought about it for a long time/ know i will get maximum utility from it. If you are trigger happy in stores and cannot handle a credit card, do NOT plan to use your credit card for anything except emergencies.

Getting Around in LA

Los Angeles is super spread out, which means you cant really walk anywhere. Their public transportation is slowly improving, but it isn’t great either. This means that a lot of cost is going to go to taking Ubers and Lyfts everywhere. Their Uber/Lyfts actually arent expensive compared to Singapore, if you consider the distance taken. Plus if you split it four ways, sometimes it can end up cheaper than taking public transport, and you get a lot of time saved. So do your calculations based on your group size.

I do suggest that once you get a US number, you download Lyft (I assume you already have uber). Lyft is kind of like the Grab of LA, in that it’s an uber competitor, it has frequent promo codes, and it’s often marginally cheaper. First timers to Lyft will get a certain amount of credit, I think it’s two five dollar rides. So just get everyone in your group to sign up for it, and you’ll get eight rides discounted. There are also promo codes like if you take Lyft from the airport to the city, that kinda thing, and they’re usually advertised in LAX once you touch down. On the other hand, I didn’t get a single uber promo whilst I was in LA.

So what we did was, whenever we had to head somewhere, one person in our group would check Lyft and one would check Uber. We’d just take whichever was cheaper. We stayed in LA city (as opposed to LA county), so most of our rides were like seven to ten dollars. When you divide that by four, that’s like two to four dollars each. Compared to the metro, which is $1,75 per ride and takes much longer, you can see how this is a good compromise.

All the two dollar four dollar rides do add up though, so you see how LA becomes expensive really quick.

If you’re wanting to head out to somewhere further, like Venice beach or Santa Monica, you can take the metro which goes straight there. It’s still $1,75 for the base tap-on ride but takes about an hour plus. A car will take half an hour from central LA but cost twenty to thirty dollars. So it’s really dependent on the needs of your group, but as a general rule taking a mix of long distance metros and short distance ubers should work out well. Otherwise, a day pass for the metro is about $7.

Car or No Car?

I used to labour under the impression that one was useless without a car in LA. Its all those damn books about the place, I tell you. Anyway. The long and short of it is, no, you dont need a car if youre only staying in central LA. You can just take the metro or uber/lyfts. And parking is a nightmare anyway, plus what they say about LA traffic being horrendous? Yep. That’s all true.

If you want to leave central LA for, say, palm springs or Joshua Tree, you’ll probably need a car. We rented one from Hertz for a road trip to palm springs and joshua tree!

Getting a number

You’ll need a US phone number to sign up for Lyft, and it’s generally useful to have a sim card in the states because you can call ahead to check on availability of museum spots, dining reservations, opening hours, that kinda thing. I recommend T Mobile for tourists, which I’ve been using the past 4 trips to the states.

Tmobile has a tourist sim which lasts 3 weeks if I’m not wrong. Prices are as follows:

30USD – 2GB, unlimited texting, 1000 mins.
45USD – 3GB, unlimited texting, 1000 mins.
50USD – 10GB, unlimited texting, 1000 mins.
75USD – Unlimited data, unlimited texting, 1000 mins.

IMO the toss up is really between the 2gb and 10gb plans. If you’re looking at the 3gb plan you might as well top up 5 bucks and get the 10gb. When I went to San Fran I only got the 2gb plan because I was there for only 4 days. But this time I got the 10GB because it was two and a half weeks. I used about 9 out of the 10GB this trip, so I think it was a pretty safe estimate!

Accomodation

Hostels in LA are like, nearly non existent. And they’re not cheap anyway cos you pay per person per bed. Hotels are insane. So we booked an Airbnb for the majority of the time we were in LA central, and then when we did road trips we booked cheap motels that could house the four of us. The key is to book early – because all the cheap places will be taken fast. We literally saw an airbnb booking disappear from under our eyes when we were considering a couple of options, then experienced major fomo afterwards!

Again, when you travel in a group of four, it’s easier to get a whole apartment then split the cost, whereas if youre alone or with just one other person, it might be more economical to book a private room in someones house.

Attractions

Things that you can do in LA aren’t expensive per se. Many things are free, and even more things are cheap. But it’s the getting to those places that will rack up the bills, cos of all your ubers and lyfts. It is not the kind of place where you expect to walk around and stumble onto hidden gems because of how spread out it is, you’ll have to roughly know where youre goin – your trip will greatly benefit from having a plan, basically!

In Central LA, here’s what I suggest:

Museums – The Broad

Start your day by queuing for museum tickets to The Broad. The Broad is my favorite museum in the world, and I honestly think they have one of the best permanent collections ever, as well as a great curatiorial team. They also offer free tours within the museum, which is worth taking if you have the time. All museum staff are mandatorily trained regarding all permanent and travelling exhibitions, so if you ask them about anything they’ll be happy to explain to you the pieces and exhibitions youre interested in.

Entry to the Broad is free. You just have to queue for it, and it’s often a long queue. Yayoi Kusama’s exhibiton was in town the week we were there, and that was ticketed at $30, which meant the queue would be mad no matter what. We made use of our jet lag and went on day two of our trip – meaning we were awake super early and started queueing at 630. There are a couple of breakfast places open nearby catered to the working crowds, so one or two people in your group can be runners and go get coffee and breakfast for the rest while you queue.

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The famous infinity room, part of the Yayoi Kusama exhibition

A useful thing to do is follow @TheBroadStandby on twitter for updates on the queue situation – they will update regularly on how long the standby queue is, and also if the queue is closed for the day.

There is another trick to getting into the Broad fast – they do media passes. So if youre in town on a conference, or if you write for a magazine, or if you have a sizeable social media following lol, just write in and request one. It’ll take a couple of days, but they’ll give you one. I got lucky last year – I had a media pass for the airbnb conference, and they just waved me in. Woohoo!

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(Very) tired faces in the queue at 6am – the sun hadnt even risen yet

Architectural Wonders – The Walt Disney Concert Hall

Entry to the broad is based on timed tickets, so you probably wont get it right away. Take your time while waiting to head to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is literally right next to the broad. It’s designed by Frank Gehry, and it’s really a gorgeous structure. You can either walk around the outside of the structure – there are stairs taking you to the top – or take a free tour of the museum during opening hours! Just ask the staff at the front desk. Unfortunately, no free passes or student tickets to the actual LA Philharmonic performances. Those are mad expensive. Sorry, broke students – just do the free tour, then youtube the performance once you’re home.

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Other architectural wonders that are walkable from here: The Bradbury Building, just down the Angel’s Flight (more on that later). It’s the oldest commercial building in LA, and where scenes in Blade Runner were staged, as well as where the last scene in 500 days of summer was filmed. People actually work in this building now, but the building itself is such an architectural star that visitors are allowed to wander up till the first landing but not beyond it.

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At the bradbury building! It’s free to enter, but you’re restricted to the first landing

Also: The Eastern Columbia Building, which is a great remnant from the Art Deco period. It’s very recognizable because of its iconic blue and green structure as well as the giant EASTERN text and clock sitting atop the building. It’s such a visual landmark that no one is allowed to build structures that will block the top of the building! It’s also appeared in many movies, and Johnny Depp has like, five penthouses in it. However, despite hanging around the lobby cafe for like, half an hour, Depp did not appear, so that remains as just a fun fact and nothing more..

One more: The Orpheum Theater. It holds a special place in my heart because this is where the Airbnb Open conference was held last year, and it’s such a beautiful building! It’s a historic theater with a beaux arts facade,

Lunch – Food Trucks or the Lemonade

The Broad is also surrounded by some nice lawns, so you can grab lunch at the food trucks nearby and picnic off the grass. But FOOD TRUCKS ARE EXPENSIVE IN LOS ANGELES!

This was such a shock to me because in New York you can get Halal guys for like six bucks?? Here they have this fake version of the Halal guys and it’s FIFTEEN BUCKS for a gyro. No thx.

The guys got a korean rice bowl from this food truck (also about 17 bucks) but I walked a little further to MOCA, which is across the Broad.Hot tip: The Museum of Contemporary Art is free after 5pm on Thursdays, for those of you interested in visiting. It’s not as good as the broad though. They do have a great eatery at the basement called Lemonade, which does poke bowls or marketplace salads. It’s about twelve bucks, and much healthier than most of the fare you’ll get in America.

Iconic Attraction – The Angel’s Flight

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We got SO lucky with this because the iconic Angel’s flight that you see in the La La Land montage only reopened in late 2017! It’s been closed for years, and technically they weren’t even supposed to be able to film La La Land there but someone in the film team convinced the metro team. Later on the authorities were like, it never should have happened. LOL.

But anyway I super recommend taking it because theres nothing like this in Singapore, it’s only 50 cents (as compared to in San Fran where it’s an actual tourist attraction and so, costs 7 bucks), and also, it’s literally up the major flight of stairs connecting you from the MOCA/Broad area to Downtown LA. Which is a pain in the ass (literally) to climb up and down from. So yeah!! I took this three times cos I loved it so much!!

It drops you right at Grand Central Market, which is where you can get a great (and cheap) dinner. Another good to know is that Grand Central Market is one of the only places you can use a free restroom in that area, so if you need to pee, mark that in your map. Coincidentally, there’s also a Tmobile located not far off from the bottom of the Angel’s Flight, so you can get your sim card if you havent already done so. Also, the Bradbury building is only two blocks down – as mentioned above.

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Grand Central Market! Tacos are awesome, also, if youre there in the morning, try Egg Slut

Highly recommended – Two hours at The Last Bookstore

I already wrote a post about The Last Bookstore, which is one of my favorite bookstores in the world, last year after my trip to LA. Here it is for those of you who are interested: http://jemmawei.com/2017/05/10/2083-ladiaries-airbnb-walks-the-last-bookstore/

I spent quite a lot of time here this trip – both bringing the boys to see it as well as spending an evening there during my solo days. They’ve got couches around so they’re happy for you to sit and read, the music playlist they have on is always ace, and they even have a graphic novel section where you can peruse copies of the latest Xmen issue or whatever. The second floor is also wonderful, and is full of photo spots for the instagrammer in you. There are also cute pop up stores and an artist collective on the second floor, where you can buy aesthetically pleasing and pricey kitsch items. Either way, it’s an amazing place, and I cant imagine a trip to LA wtihout dropping by here at least once.

Late night entertainment:

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I was freezing when I took this photo. Heads up – there’s also a cafe with wifi inside serving Stumptown coffee, you can go there and get some work done. But you still have to come out and queue for your show

One of my favorite things about LA is its comedy scene – it’s mostly improv, as opposed to New York’s stand up scene. I went to at least three shows per week when I was there – that’s how much I love it!!

Upright Cititzens Brigade had the best show I watched in LA, but there are lots of comedy clubs, and I spent the most time at the now closed (!! :c ) iO West hollywood. But if youre in the market for comedy, The Groundlings, Nerdist School (now called The Ruby), and Second stage are also all good ones to go to.

If you’re trying to hit Upright Citizen – they do have free shows, but theyre mad popular and you just gotta get there early to queue. Paid shows arent that expensive, they can be five or ten dollars, but they sell out fast so either go early and put your name down on the waitlist (lots of people buy tickets then just dont show up to various shows all over town, not just UCB), or reserve a seat online.

Outside Downtown LA

Fun and free things to do include heading down to the beaches – Santa Monica and Venice beach are both really nice, and if youre in Venice, walk down their famous canals! It’s surprisingly fun to just stare at houses.

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It’s about half an hour by car from central LA.

Nearer to the city center, Griffith Observatory of La La Land fame (ok i kid, it’s always been iconic) is also free to enter and offers some of the best views of the sunset. I wrote a whole post on it when i went two years ago, here: Funny Stories from Griffith Observatory.

There are also free museums and free museum days in LA, here is a complete list from Time Out for your handy referral 😀 If you have a limited amount of time in LA and cant afford to wait for the free days, bring your student ID as many places have discounted student prices.

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Urban Lights, outside LACMA. Free, but the museum is by paid admission – unless its the second tuesday of the month!

Tipping and taxes

One thing that drives me crazy about America is their resistance to being straight up about how much something costs. For the life of me I cannot understand why they dont just tell me how much a pair of shoes cost!!! How hard is it to display the tax-included cost of an item? Instead, if the advertised price is ten bucks for a lipstick or something, it’ll inevitably ring up to about eleven dollars at the counter once they include tax. This is mega irritating, but theres nothing you can do about it, so.

Tipping is also huge in the States. It’s a whole debate, so lets not get into that, only know that you have to tip. Here are some general rules of tipping:

– Cab drivers need to be tipped, but it’s optional if you take Uber/Lyft.
– You need to tip for table service. So if you sit down to eat, it’s gonna cost you an additional 15 to 20 percent.
– Service staff are paid really badly in the States (I have a couple of american friends who worked as waitresses for a long time, so I’m not just talking out of my ass) so they really do rely on your tip to make ends meet. So dont be cheap and not tip if youre sitting down for dinner. Generally you tip more if youre impressed by the service, otherwise it’s a standard 15percent. If its a fancy place like a hotel dinner or something, probably twenty percent.
– If youre purchasing from a cafe to go, pay with cash. Things like buying coffee, etc, it’s always better to just pay in cash because then youre just paying for your cup of coffee. There’s usually a tip jar at the side but my theory is if I’m taking it to go, I’m not technically being served, so I’m just gonna pay for my coffee and that’s it. If you pay with card, they’ll give you this little iPad thing and ask you how much you want to tip right in front of them: No Tip, 15, 17, or 20 percent, and it’s embarrassing to say no tip lol. So it’s usually just easier to pay in cash.

Miscellaneous

If you’re staying in LA for long, figure out where the nearest laundromat is to your apartment and if they have any deals. The one near our place was pretty great, it’s called Aroma Laundry & Water and had old school arcade games. Also, free laundry on certain days of the month – see sign above my head.

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wash wash wash wash

Otherwise, bring detergent and wash your clothes in a sink or something in your apartment. We did laundry as a group because there were 4 of us (again, it only cost us like two bucks each cos we split the price of two big machines) and also because we were there for 3 weeks and that’s too much to be washing in a sink.

Wrapping up

Hokay, this post is long enough as is, and I hope the info was useful to you guys headed the LA way!

You can see why heading to America is expensive – all these small additional costs add up real quick. But well, if you wanna go, you wanna go. So best be mentally prepared 😀 LA is a really iconic place, but I still maintain that lots of what’s great about LA lies outside the city center (Disneyland, Joshua Tree, Palm springs..) so if you have the chance to do an extended trip, you wont regret a little change in scenery by renting a car and heading out of town!

If any of you have additional tips for saving money in LA, please send them my way and I’ll compile a list. Otherwise, happy trails, yall. Till next time:

x
Jem

#2157 | Moon River

I was listening to Melissa Benoist’s rendition of Moon River in the car the other day. It’s from the CW Supergirl x The Flash crossover musical episode, which basically makes it a shoe-in success in my books because i love musicals and i love my cheesy television. Anyway the episode is great. And also anyway that is not the point. The point is that Melissa Benoist, who plays an adorable and gawky Supergirl, is awesome. And girl can sing!

Here’s where we pick up the thread of the story: I’ve been addicted to her rendition of Moon River for the last week, which means I’m always playing it in the car as the boyfriend drives (quick poll: who gets control of the music in the car – the front seat passenger or the driver who has to keep his eyes on the road anyway?) which annoys said bf to no end since his music taste is trash and he can’t appreciate the dulcet mezzo-soprano tones of Melissa Benoist. As his hands have to stay on the wheel he has resorted to different ways to get me to change the music, one of which was yelling that huckleberry friend alludes to slavery so I should stop singing the song to which i was like huck finn wasnt a slave u doofus (for those of you wondering about Huck Finn and how we should read books like Twain that openly use words that are problematic in the modern context, this piece from The New York Times is a pretty good read).

Aka it did not work. The drive from our homes to the CBD is a good half hour, so that’s half an hour of him trying different methods to get me off the song while keeping his eyes on the road. I had all but won, I could see him being worn down. Victory was so close. If I won rights to play Moon River it would mean rights to music jurisdiction in the car forever. Ten minutes from my office he started laughing and I (regretfully) asked him why. He refused to answer but started laughing again every time the song restarted. Finally, he went:


You’re basically mooing.

What do you mean?

She goes: Moooooooooo-n river.

Shut up.

Moooooo

Shut up!

Moooooooo

Long story short he ruined the song for me with a cow impression.

Modern romance, y’all.

x
Jem

#2156 | April’s To-Watch Recommendation: Netflix and Marvel Studio’s Jessica Jones

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Netflix and Marvel Studios: Jessica Jones

Yes yes I know I’m late, but here I am anyway with April’s to-watch recommendation, just in the nick of time!

With the buzz surrounding this month’s release of the mega marvel movie, I thought it was a good time to revisit the ground-level heroes from the Marvel universe. Besides Iron Fist, which I consider to be Marvel’s equivalent of Disney Pixar’s Planes, I’ve binge watched my way through the entire Defenders collection on Netflix, and enjoyed them all. I find that the drawn out format of the television series gives showrunners more time to play around with proper issues and flesh them out in ways that a two hour movie can only briefly touch on, and in many ways I find that the ground level shows are making much greater headway in terms of progressiveness as compared to their cinematic counterparts. Not that that’s a criticism of the MCU – different forms serve different purposes, obviously – but when you take a step back to appreciate the way the individual facets of the Marvel franchise come together, overall, I’m impressed.

I’ve frequently mentioned that Jessica Jones is the best of the entire Defenders series, but I’ve never actually gotten down to explaining why. Therein lies my agenda for the day. I find it to be the most underrated of the series – and it’s been my firm favourite ever since its inception, despite Jessica Jones being clearly not for everyone. This is true of both the character in the context of the show, and the show in context of today’s world. The show is grungy, the titular character is determined to be unlikeable and makes horrible decisions, and the show has none of the feel-good payoff that most marvel narratives have. In addition to that, the marketing around the show has leaned very heavily on the fact that Jessica is a strong woman, and makes the immediate connection from there to it being a feminist show. I have issues with this because I feel like labels like these are meant to just shoehorn shows (or books, for that matter) into a genre for targeted marketing, but that’s a story for another day.

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One of the posters for Jessica Jones

Regardless, it is a feminist show. But it is dangerous to assume that anything is feminist simply because it prominently features females. No. To feature women in a show is simply to depict reality. The bar is higher than that. Jessica Jones is a feminist show because it intelligently engages with and represents female-centric trauma in a responsible manner. That, I think, is the crux of the show. There are two narratives in any show: the first being the entertainment plot (aka the storyline) and the second being the narrative of what the show is actually trying to say. Eg. GLOW is about females trying to put up a wrestling show but it is also about the mythicism of an unbreakable female friendship. The Good Place is about Kristen Bell’s character trying to hide the fact that she’s a fraud in the afterlife, but it is also about the moral philosophy with regards to the age old question of what we mean to each other. The Handmaid’s Tale is about Offred trying to survive in a dystopian patriarchy, but it is also about how beliefs can be dangerous when taken to the extreme. And Jessica Jones is about a superpowered woman trying to take down her ex-abuser who has mind control powers that only she is immune to, but it is also about the struggle of processing the trauma of a sexually and emotionally abusive relationship.

I’m referring specifically to Jessica Jones Season 1 (season 2 is also very good, but it deals with a different set of issues). The journey Jessica takes is as much to take Kilgrave (stupid villain name, but very charismatic acting) down as it is to try and process her trauma in a realistic manner. Pop culture trying to deal with sexual abuse and trauma is not new, but there are several things that stand out in the first season of Jessica Jones:

Despite being a show that deals with sexual abuse induced trauma, the actual rape of Jessica is never shown on screen. Instead, the effects of that trauma are intricately explored throughout the season, unlike many other shows that use rape as a plot device to shock and scandalise an audience coughGameofthronescough. The decision not to portray the actual rape onscreen has the unintentional (or not?) effect of paralleling the real life publicised rape cases – no one outside gets to see what precisely went down between the aggressor and victim, and all we have to go on are the victim’s words. In this case, we have to believe Jessica when she says she was raped and abused or the show falls apart, but it does leave us wondering about the difference between our readiness to believe a fictional character’s account over a real life victim.

Jessica’s recovery process is not a textbook survivor story, she does not seek help or display any desire to get better, she is stubbornly self reliant and finds her solace at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. She deals with her trauma by turning into an alcoholic with self destructive tendencies, but the show does a very good job of not romanticising the grunginess of the spiral – other characters are constantly pointing out the problems with her behavior, and how this makes her selfish, irritating, and hard to be around.

The sexual abuse was never portrayed as a transformative act, something a character has to go through to become stronger. It is portrayed as what it is – a crime. And at the end of the season, Jessica does not come to a convenient peace with herself just because her assaulter is out of the picture, because that is not how trauma works in real life. This is something Netflix has been pretty good with – look at Glow and how the friendship between the two female leads didn’t recover by the end of the season: because a visceral betrayal doesnt get put behind normal human beings over the course of one season. That’s just not how it works.

The trauma Jessica has to deal with is not just induced by the nonconsensual sexual relationship she engaged in with Kilgrave while under his mind control. It is also found in all the tiny ways she was emotionally controlled and manipulated (the show’s repetition of Kilgrave ordering women to smile and mean it is a tad on the nose, and for good reason), as well as the ways Kilgrave denies the charges when she finally confronts him. Would she still have to deal with post-relationship trauma if she had to deal only with emotional abuse and not physical rape? I think so – and that’s precisely what happens in the original comic books.

JJKILGRAVE

“Just smile, Jessica.

I am thinking of Chimamanda’s ted talk – the danger of a single story – when I say this: narratives like these are important because they show that there are different ways of reacting to the same traumatic incident. I recently read an article on Harpers Bazaar (“Sometimes you make your rapist breakfast”, 2018) which referred to the idea of the Perfect Victim, which I thought was timely. While this is not to say that there arent survivors who process their trauma in a textbook recovery kinda way, I think it’s important to recognise that there are many different ways of reacting to a traumatic incident like sexual abuse, because when we only acknowledge one way to be a victim and survivor, then what we do is invariably dismiss victims who don’t follow this narrative. Take for example Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which was the source of a lot of debate last year for its portrayal of suicide. For all the buzz around how Hannah’s suicide was portrayed, I found merit in the way the show portrayed the fact that another character in the show, also named Jessica, remained friends with her rapist as a means of dealing with it. Does this decision not to cut off the rapist retrospectively undo the rape? No – it remains what it is. To believe otherwise is to buy into the dangerous cultural myths regarding what legitimises sexual assault and makes it ‘real’.

I emphasise the involvement of both Netflix and Marvel Studios whenever I speak about Jessica Jones because the fact that they are both giants in their own rights is crucial to my final point – which is that the element of widespread appeal is the very element that cements the role of entertainment in the ecosystem of social commentary simply because entertainment forms reach and educate a wide audience that may not ever pick up an academic paper on trauma. Both Netflix and Marvel Studios have made missteps before in their attempts at engaging with social issues, but the important thing, to me, is the attempt. For if the big corporations don’t try, then how can we expect the financially struggling independent studios to solely shoulder the full responsibility of engaging in dialogue about difficult issues? And Jessica Jones represents to me a near-perfect child of that attempt.

Jessica Jones season one and two are streaming on netflix

Looking for more entertainment recommendations? You can read the rest of my monthly pop culture recommendations here

x
Jem