Thursday, August 09, 2012

Being Human

   
For the past few weeks, I have been immersed in Being Human: The Complete First Season, a wonderful little British series about three roommates who happen to be a vampire, werewolf, and a ghost. I’ve been nagging encouraging everyone I know to watch this series, not just because of how good it is, but also because I need to talk to people about it! I'm so delighted with having found this gem that keeping my mouth shut about the details in order to not spoil it for anyone is getting really, really hard. So. Go get it. You won’t regret it.

I love Being Human for many reasons, but mostly I think because of the questions it asks. Such as: What makes you a human being? How does human beings act and believe? What does it do to you when you do certain things that are viewed as unacceptable? What does it do to you if you tolerate such acts? How does it change you? Does it change you? What do you do to atone for it? And this is not in the Christian sense of atoning for sins, but in a deeper, humanistic understanding of right and wrong. The series tucks all these questions into some really solid entertainment that allows you to ignore the bigger questions if you so choose. Perfection.

But this post is not about Being Human, but more about being human. It's come about because of my choice of entertainment when I finished the third season of the British show and found that Netflix doesn't yet have Season 4. After a few moments of grieving this, I set about finding my next bit of Tb delight and settled on Damages: The Complete First Season. I've heard much about its excellence and know that Glenn Close is supposed to be amazing in it. So I queued it up and found it to be terribly addictive, so much so that I've watched two or three episodes a night.

And this is where it gets a little weird. Because I feel dirty.

Damages could not be more different from Being Human and please forgive me, there might be a spoiler or two in the next few paragraphs. The story is framed in a case against a billionaire named Arthur Frobisher who allegedly bankrupted 5000 of his employees by some nefarious corporate malfeasance. The employees have hired Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), a brilliant and ruthless lawyer. Ellen, a newly minted lawyer, has been hired by Hewes’ firm and is working on the case.

It took me a while to get over what Glenn Close has allowed a plastic surgeon to do to her face, but once I did, the story is fairly compelling. It cuts back and forth between the present when Ellene is talking to police about what happened before she discovered her fiancé murdered in their bathtub and in the six months before that following the progress of the case. And there is an astonishing amount of layers upon layers of duplicity and manipulation by both sides, all in the name of winning this case. Patty Hewes seems to be omniscient, always three steps ahead of everyone else and engages in some rather interesting tactics to get people to testify. For instance, she get someone to kill a dog, making it look as if it's done by the opponent so it's owner will be motivated to testify against Frobisher. And that's just one example. And this is all supposedly in the name of getting justice for 5000 employees who have lost all their savings.

And by the time I finished episode 7, I felt slimed. To the point where I felt that continuing to watch this series would somehow condone these actions. That accepting this as entertainment will somehow damage me.

Being Human is about people trying very, very hard to retain their humanity while their instincts (werewolf and vampire) push for something entirely different. Damages seems to be about people abandoning their humanity and reveling in something that comes pretty close to evil, while claiming it’s about justice. And maybe it's because I watched this two or three episodes a night instead of one per week, but I started to feel as if continuing to watch it means that I was tolerating or maybe even condoning this behavior and what does that say about me?

Where do you draw the line? What is justifiable and what isn't? I thought some more about this in relation to the Chick-A-fil craziness that's currently going on. On Friday, I read this post on Jezebel, which points out that fighting ant-gay bigotry with anti-fat bullying is just as bigoted and hateful (not to mention besides the point). I got pushed even more on this in a conversation on Facebook where a friend pointed out that the Jezebel post had some antireligious bigotry in it. I read it again and thought two things.

First, that if someone uses their religion to be bigoted and hateful whether in deciding who can rent an apartment or donating tons of money to anti-gay organizations, I am entitled to vehemently disagree with them and to point out that they are indeed a bigoted arse. And then I thought that the anti-religion point of view was pretty well hidden in the Jezebel post. In fact, I'm not sure that the post is against a particular religious view, but rather opposed to actions made in the name of that religion. In short, our discourse has changed and it now seems much more tolerable to be unfiltered and uncivil in a debate and I wish that were no longer the case. But here's a question: if certain statements qualify as hate speech, how tolerant should we be of that? If certain actions qualify as discrimination, how tolerant should we be of that?

Which brings me back to the questions asked in Being Human. What does it do to our humanity if you discriminate or say hateful things to others? What does it do to us when we tolerate such actions and statements? How vehemently should you oppose it? Can you oppose it with love and kindness? Are strong words or actions ever justified?

I don't have the answers, but I'm thinking about it. And this poem by George Eliot is keeping me company while I think.

(and I did finish Damages, although I'm pretty sure I won't go beyond Season 1)
   

9 comments:

Rose said...

I know what you mean, it's why I stopped watching Mad Men, it was just too bleak for me. I just queued up Being Human, the UK version. I'll be sure to let you know what I think of it! Thanks for the recommendation!

Diana Troldahl said...

I would hate watching Damages. My TV watching and majority of my fiction book reading is all about the entertainment, and watching shows that leave me feeling worse than before I watched them are not my thing.
I love watching science fiction, paranormal and urban fantasy shows, though.
Have you seen Lost Girl? I haven't watched it or Being Human yet but I am thinking about it(although i will definitely go for the UK rather than USA version of BH)
I love watching Warehouse 13, and was a HUGE Stargate SG1 fan (still am, really)

Knitting Linguist said...

Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking post. I've been out of town (and internet access, and touch), and missed the chicken mess. I wish I understood better why some people feel that the best way to call others on their hypocrisy is by being hypocritical. Seems wrong somehow. Also, I stopped watching Mad Men, and didn't start watching (after seeing the first episode) Breaking Bad for the same reasons you describe - it felt too much like condoning a lifestyle and set of attitudes that, in fact, make me deeply unhappy. I'll have to try Being Human; must see if it's appropriate to watch with my kids - it sounds like a good one.

AlisonH said...

Something I read today that had me thinking about our humanity: a man who found his after his small son mimicked his white supremacist speech. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-i-might-have-told-wade-michael-page/2012/08/10/da195914-e233-11e1-98e7-89d659f9c106_story.html?hpid=z2

Kali said...

That is one of my favorite poems.

Earin Marybird said...

I've been circulating around Damages but just haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. I keep hearing how great it is but do I really want to spend time watching lawyers being lawyers? My instincts are generally dead on. I still love Mad Men though it's getting a little boring. I've added Being Human to my instant queue just to check it out. First up though, Grimm, Season One.

I fear that the "Us not Us" is hard wired into humans. So much of it seems based on fear. What do you thing?

Gaina said...

I know what you mean about TV and feeling uncomfortable with certain things. I felt the same when I watched (or started to Watch) L.A Confidential. I abhor abuse of power and dishonesty and wondered: if I was starting to empathize with a character that may be guilty of those things did that mean my own moral compass was going astray? Still haven't seen the rest of that movie ;).

I believe we CAN have objective, productive conversations on sensitive subjects without it becoming an 'ist' as I call them.

For example:

* Conversations about immigration can be purely about logistics and finite resources and nothing to do with race, colour or religion.

* Women seeking female only spaces in order to feel safe are neither sexist or man-haters.

* People who suggest that perhaps mainstream schools are not the most appropriate environment for all disabled children are not ableist. And disabled people like me who've been through the mainstream and 'special' school systems and agree with that point of view are not 'traitors to the cause'.

Sadly there are people who will gleefully hijack the moderate discourse, and make it about racism or sexism or ableism to further their own agenda. The sad thing is that when this happens it helps nobody.

If you want a thoroughly sensible take on the Chick-fil-A episode by a gay man, I highly recommend you scoot over to Fantastic Babblings on You Tube and hear what Phil has to say on the subject. I love Phil, he's awesome :).

And if you like 'Being Human' you might enjoy the 'Undead' series of books by Mary Janice Davidson. The ONLY 'Chick Lit' I can stand.

mary said...

Thanks so much! I just spent the better part of the weekend watching Being Human, the UK version. Now I have to wait for the second season to become available from the library. Just one more addiction. I gave up on Mad Men and Damages after one season. Great story lines and acting but much too dark for my taste.

Leslie said...

I think sometimes strong words and strong actions are sometimes required to oppose hate and discrimination. We must always stand strong against hate. Of course I think it is important that we don't go there ourselves in that opposition, but keep in mind the Nazis pre and during WW2. We can't afford to tolerate that kind of behavior. Hate, intolerance and discrimation is evil whether it is couched in religious terms or political.