Your Humble Blogger recently came across the Adrienne Rich poem “What Kind of Times Are These”, which is an answer to the Bertoldt Brecht poem “An die Nachgeborenen”. When I wrote about that poem, six years ago, I concluded that it was important, in dark times, to talk about trees, to share our joys in small and large things, even as we also did whatever we could to fight our fears.
I haven’t done much of that.
I don’t know that I will do much of it next year, either. I hope to! But I have been hoping to for six years, or more, and we’ll see what I actually write and post. Ah, well.
For now: I really enjoyed the television series We are Lady Parts. It’s a… sitcom? It’s one of those British shows that’s more or less a single story told over six half-hour episodes, with comic bits and dramatic bits. To the extent that it’s a sitcom, the comic situation is that our main character, Amina, is a studious and shy young woman who finds herself the lead guitarist in a Muslim-feminist punk band, despite terrible performance anxiety. The performances are great, the music is great (well, terrible, but also great) (I would totally put “Bashir With the Good Beard” in my music collection), the writing is pretty good, the visuals are often entertaining, and I just enjoyed it a lot.
It’s not the type of thing I enjoy—for one thing, I don’t really like the whole dramedy thing, and I have very little patience for what is called “character-based” comedy, which generally means that the scripts have very few actual jokes. Also, there’s a fair amount of Humor of Humiliation, which generally makes me igry. And I found those things frustrating about this show, sure. But I also really enjoyed the stuff that I really enjoyed, so the Sources of Viewer Pleasure totally outweighed the Sources of Viewer Irritation.
Among the things I really enjoyed about it was the portrayal of the five (or so) women in the center of the plot—the women in the band, mostly, including the manager, are all British Muslim women, and otherwise have very little in common—their religious traditions are different, their ethnicities are different, their family situations and backgrounds, gender presentations, sexual orientations, work lives, all are different. They all feel really specific to me, although of course I don’t actually know anything about being British Muslim woman, so it’s possible that it’s all terribly vague and shallow. Still, it feels really specific.
It fits in to a group of films and television shows about people who are British and Muslim that I have been watching for years and years, going back to My Beautiful Laundrette and East is East and Goodness Gracious Me. In the last, oh, ten years or so, I have increasingly found that I’m more likely to want to see a film or series that is at least part concerned with the British Muslim community (or communities, since obviously there are vast differences between those different groups). I don’t know if that background is important to enjoying this particular thing, but I suspect it’s part of my enjoyment—I was delighted, for instance, that the main character avoids the now overused trope of having an overbearing traditionalist parent whose overprotective and stifling love must be escaped without severing the true and honest bonds of family. Instead, Amina’s mother and father are pretty clearly the people who went through that as teenagers thirty years previously, so Amina has to instead rebel against their loose and ineffectual encouragement.
Slight Digression: I wonder also if this is why I ultimately was disappointed in the Ms. Marvel series—I enjoyed some of it, but I felt like it didn’t really do much new with what I considered to be old and worn-out tropes. It was pointed out to me at one point that I hadn’t seen those tropes set in New Jersey (other than in the comic), which is totally true, but after the first couple of episodes I felt they did very little with the New Jersey setting. And, of course, I hadn’t seen those tropes in a superhero story (again, other than in the comic) which is, again, totally true, but somehow also, meh. End Digression.
I do wonder if the appeal these kinds of shows have for me is connected with my own background, growing up in a religious minority. The specifics are wildly different, of course, but some of the concerns are similar. There’s a strange combination, in this show, of community insularity and minoritized status—our characters almost never interact with anyone who was not raised in Islam, but they are also a small group within a country that largely views them as somewhere between odd and dangerous, and certainly as foreign. That experience binds them in common—as I feel with other American Jews—but does not in any way erase their differences.
And, I suppose in the end, it is a found-family movie, and that’s what I really liked about it. I mean, spoiler, yes: the band breaks up and then gets back together.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,