Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When You Come Back, I Won't Be There

In my day-to-day life I tend to put a lot of my energy into my job, home and whatever familial drama happens to surface (usually at the worst time).  Needless to say, when I do stop to smell the roses, I morph into a jellyfish-like creature who watches reality television.  The other thing that is relevant to this discussion is the fact that I do not have cable and take the time to seek out my favourite shows online.  I make a point to watch what I do.  

One of the shows that I tune into faithfully is America's Next Top Model, and I have watched both the British and Canadian spin-offs.  Normally I don't write about particular television programs, but the current cycle of ANTM has been disappointing enough to spur me to devote a blog post to it.  In order to talk about my current issues with the show, I will go back to a previous post I wrote about the book Reality Bites Back.  This book discusses ANTM at great length, and how it promotes unhealthy body image, racism and the idea that a group of women will inevitably turn on each other.  There are opportunities for genuine conversations about these topics between Tyra and her young protegees, but instead the focus is on tears, fights and the quest to overcome difficult pasts.  

Over the years, several models have been criticized for weight fluctuations, deficiency in height, or the appearance of a lack of effort.  In some cases, they are pretty cringe-worthy for anyone in possession of critical thinking, and so going into this cycle I lost some of the enthusiasm that I once had for the show.  What eroded my enjoyment even more was how the producers have gutted the usual cast members: Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and Miss Jay Alexander.  Whether they all happened to want to pursue other goals, or Tyra tyrannically banished them, there is something to be said for keeping long-time characters so that the audience has a sense of familiarity.  

These casting changes, in addition to the new format which allows fan votes to count for who will be eliminated, make for a very different season than those previous.  It is almost like the show is either trying to evolve (and alienating fans in the process), or the rats fled the sinking ship and ANTM had to make some necessary changes. Whatever the real story is (and I do not think I will ever hear the real truth), this season is below par and I will not be going out of my way to see where the show is headed next.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Elizabeth and After

After reading the first book in the Twilight series, I wanted to dive into something completely different.  I opted to read  Elizabeth and After by Matt Cohen, a book set in a small town outside of Kingston, Ontario.  

.The story centres around Elizabeth McKelvey, a teacher who dies tragically and shapes the   lives of the three men closest to her in life.  She is always in the background of the narrative, quietly influencing the decisions of her son Carl, husband William, and former lover, Adam.  Her absence seems to be as powerful as her presence may have been had she lived.  Up until late in the novel, the reader does not get Elizabeth's perspective and her thoughts and feelings are described through her effect on these men. Their reactions to her actions and death are how Cohen presents her as a silent (for the most part) central character. I found this to be the most fascinating aspect of the book, as I am accustomed to stories told from a first person point of view, centring around an interesting protagonist.  

The male characters, whose lives are continuing to be impacted by the loss of Elizabeth, are interesting studies in denial and self-destruction.  Each in their own way, they cope with their grief and try to struggle through their remaining days.  Carl is particularly adept at getting into scrapes and causing collateral damage to the women in his life.  He is the subject of much conflict when he returns to town, and his strain of the narrative provides the most suspense. Especially in the latter hundred pages of the novel, where the action comes to a head.  I personally related to Adam Goldsmith, who always seems on the outside looking in, but who plays a vital role as tensions intensify between Carl and just about everyone.  

If I am totally being honest, I would say that I had my struggles getting through this book, reading twenty pages here and there, taking my sweet time.  In my mind I know that this is due to my restless mind, rather than the quality of the writing or the way that I related to the characters.  Despite my frustrations, which were with myself, I would recommend this book as an interesting study in the effects of grief, on both a family and a small community.