So, it’s 2023. Yeah, incredibly, we made it past a full-on global pandemic, a proper economic crash in the UK, and we’re successfully ignoring some genuinely scary weather like winder in my home country of Romania now being completely snow-free and “bathed” in temperatures of over 17 degrees. But life goes on and content continues pouring in …
After a very weird December where I spent the first two weeks work-crazy and failed to do anything meaningful for myself, I managed to squeeze some quality watching, listening and reading over the long Christmas break. There is something incredible about the non-multi-tasking brain outside of work. Ideas actually coalesce and one is able to think about the things one reads and form a bigger picture, understand trends and even formulate theories of one’s own. There’s a wonderful alchemy of neurones firing in unusual ways, in creative ways which I’ve always thought to be the point of reading, listening and watching content, because, if you’re not doing all of that to feed your brain, then what is it really that you’re doing? Just shoving stuff into your brain to store it there and what?
So yeah, it was lovely to read and listen to podcasts and watch series and movies in a creative way, having time and space to think about what you consumed and letting it nourish you rather than overburden you. I did a fair amount of all of that and here’s some of the highlights.
A while back I told you about a Season of Chameleon entitled Wild Boys. I was genuinely taken by the podcast, not because it was a sort of semi-true crime thing (there was not crime), but because it was one of the most accurate descriptions of how people become radicalised on the internet and how one moves seamlessly from apparently innocuous things like healthy nutrition to being a semi-fascist. I wanted to see if the other seasons of Chameleon were equally as interesting, so I listened to The Hollywood Con Queen which pre-dates Wild Boys. Again, I was not disappointed. There’s plenty of catfishing podcasts out there (I’ve listened to a few myself and wrote about them in previous stories) but what makes Chameleon’s stories good is the fact that they genuinely try to understand not just what happened, but also why it happened, why people did what they did. And it’s often not simple explanations but things which are much deeper, more traumatic than one expected. So The Hollywood Con Queen is definitely one podcast I would recommend if you’re interested in catfishing and how computer mediated communication plays into people’s process of self representation and identity formation.
Maybe because I am still doing my Cyberpsychology course, I was also drawn to another podcast dealing with matters of the world wide web and, serendipitously, with another subject close to my heart, South Korea. I became obsessed with South Korea a while back when I started watching different cafe blogs from small coffee shops in Korea while also getting familiar with Kpop and Korean design; I then graduated to full on cake making from Korean influencers and K-culture including the insane online culture and digital communities of modern-day Korea. So these two things, the psychology of online spaces and Korean internet come together nicely in a podcast entitled Authentic: The Story of Tablo. The podcast is produced by Vice News and tells the story of a rapper in S Korea called Tablo and how he was bullied into semi madness by Korean netizens. It’s an incredible listen and I would genuinely recommend it for anyone interested in mob psychology, online bullying and the formation of online conspiracy theories.
I also listened to a long podcast about China’s current president, Xi Jinping, by The Economist. The podcast is entitled The Prince and charts Xi Jinping’s progress from childhood into his current position with lots of details and interviews along the way. If you’re trying to understand more about Chinese politics it’s a solid overview of what has happened in the past 30 years and it brings in a fair amount of expert commentary to make it solid and well researched. 10/10 would recommend.
Of course, I continue to listen to my regulars: The Rest is Politics, The Tennis Podcast, The Blindboy Podcast and Oh God What Now.
Finally, I have a special mention which I will talk about at length in next week’s update. I’ve started listening to a podcast called Death Panel, a bi-monthly release on the political economy of health. The first episode I got into was on why former US Rust Belt cities like Pittsburg are becoming healthcare centers. The episodes are long, longer than any podcast I normally listen to, so you’d need to be patient or listen to them on weekends, but the hosts are incredibly knowledgeable and have exceptional guests on. More on this later.
Pfew, long one already and we’re only past Listening.
It’s been a “momentous” couple of weeks of watching, let me tell you that. I finally got into Yellowstone and got into it deep, bingeing almost 3 seasons before I realised that it’s really addictive but not really good so I kindof gave up on it. I probably will pick it back up when I get very tired again, but for the time being the extremes of the characters and the sheer, stupid violence of some episodes is a bit too black and white for me. I get why people mention it as something they really like but it’s not a quality series. Just a very, very addictive one.
Because Yellowstone comes in a Paramount+ package I also flipped through some of the other trending Paramount+ series and tried the serialised re-make of American Gigolo starring Jon Bernthal. Bernthal is in everything these days but unfortunately he failed to convince me as a sexy yet righteous Gigolo, and I dropped the series after a few episodes. It could be good as a weekend binge when you’re having your period and don’t feel like you can get out of bed, but it’s January, a new year so I think I can do better.
And better I did with The English on the BBC. I mean if there was something I’d think of as the series of 2022, The English is definitely that. It was absolutely majestic, emotional, infuriating and wonderful and I loved every minute of it. I strongly urge anyone to watch it as it is absolutely amazing.
I am now in the process of watching The Lying Life of Adults on Netflix so I will report on that soon.
Films-wise, the end of the year was packed. I finally watched Shiva Baby which I found equal parts hysterically-funny and heartbreaking. I can definitely see why it’s on so many best of 2021 lists. I also tagged along to a Cinematologists’ screening (this is my amazing boyfriend’s podcast on film which you can listen/subscribe to) of the Cohen brother’s first ever feature called Blood Simple which I LOVED. It’s clearly starting to show some of the “mannerisms” that make the Cohen brothers who they are although it’s a bit less overt in that sense, which is quite lovely. It features a very, very young Frances McDormand and the highlight of it was a truly Cohen-esque scene where a character tries to get rid of a body which is not totally dead and ends up nearly getting shot in the face by the guy he’s trying to bury. It was grotesque and hilarious at the same time.
I ended the year with a hit and a semi-miss. The semi-miss was Alex Garland’s Men which my boyfriend really did not like and I did not mind too much, but thought could definitely have been more refined. I find allegorical musings on the status of women in a still patriarchal society to be quite difficult to land. Which is why the win of December was a movie called Corsage which tells the story of a 40 year old Empress Sissi. If you’re Romanian, you will have watched the Romy Schenider, Sissi in her prime trilogy and been left with a fairy tale image of the empress. Corsage picks up where that movie left off to show a semi-deranged, disappearing woman, stifled by her fashion, hair and diet and who eventually fades away. It’s a much stronger, darker story of how women get pushed down by what society expects of them and I really enjoyed it despite the editing being a bit random. I ended the “women in patriarchy” trifecta with “She Said” which I found bland both in script and acting. For such a punchy subject, the movie is downright boring. I’d skip it if you feel you’ve educated yourself enough on #metoo from other places.
I also watched both Knives Out movies and found them both to be very good fun. And rewatched Nice Guys (hilarious!) and Top Gun Maverick (love Tom Cruise, yes to all the jet fighting and naked torso beach dancing!).
Ooof. Okay. Loooong post so let me do a part 2 on Reading. It’s been a busy end of year… stay tuned.