Memoirs of a wimpy kid

Posted in Drama, family, gender, movies, society, TV by jrahman on April 28, 2018

Not only has my pre-tween boy read all 12 Wimpy Kid books, watched various movie versions, played the board game, and been through various activity books, he has convinced me to read (by which I mean listen on audibles) a few.  They are fun.  It’s not hard for me to see a bit of my own wonder years in these stories.

Of course, my tweens were in the 1980s Dhaka, not modern American suburbia.  My teen years were in international schools in the tropics, owing to my father’s job.  I was in high school (in the American sense) at the same time as the gang from 90210.  A quarter century before social media, our social lives were shaped by and mirrored what we watched on the tele.  It was appropriate years before Rage Against the Machine penned — Cinema simulated life in trauma / Forthright culture, Americana / Chained to the dream they got you searchin’ for……

Imagine then how old I felt when watching Dylan McKay grounding his teenage son in Riverdale.

Now, here was an idea — take the key characters from a comic book set in the happy days and set them in a town that must be the twin of Twin Peaks, this was stuff of inspired imagination.  I found the first few episodes of Riverdale riveting, but then somehow lost track.  I guess these days, if it is not binge-watched, it’s hard to watch at all.

Well, I wouldn’t at all recommend binge-watching the other Netflix teen drama from 2017.  Then again, I found the show quite padded, and just-not-good-TV, so I wouldn’t really recommend it at all.

But even a bad show, sometime, makes you think.  

Of course, considering that 13 reasons why is a year old Netflix show, so I suspect if you were to watch it, you’ve already binged it.  Just in case you didn’t — heavy spoiler alert.The show is about a group of teenagers in a typical American high school.  Its narrator is a girl who, before committing suicide, records her story in cassette tapes — no, the story isn’t set in the 1980s, and I don’t know why tapes.  Each half of a tape is about a specific person whose actions contributed to the girl taking her own hand.  The tapes are being listened to by our protagonist, who is very much the goodie goodie type, as if Greg Heffley has grown up to be in high school.

It caused some controversy last year about glamourising suicide.  The show’s basic premise is that small, micro incidences, over time can add up to overwhelm one, to the point of suicide.  If that lesson is to be taken seriously, then I wonder if the show should be watched at all — it can most definitely add to one’s despair.  If one is so despondent as to stare at the empty walls, perhaps a show like this is the last thing they need.

The narrator says, again and again, that she struggled to be visible to the cool kids, and felt betrayed, repeatedly, by even those she thought were her friends.  The thing is, she didn’t exactly seem invisible.  Far from it, she seemed very much at the centre of stuff.  Of course, no one could tell that she was suffering.  Human mind is a mysterious thing, and appearances can be deceiving, sometimes dangerously so.

Right, so we should be kind and understanding to each other.  Who can disagree to that.  And implication of that message is that our actions have consequences.  There is a short step from here to moral responsibility.

Does the show take that short step?  There are 13 acts of transgression that makes the narrator take her life.  Are the 13 reasons — which range from friends being rude all the way to rape — morally equal?  As the Aziz Ansari episode shows, it is all to easy to conflate all sorts of transgressions unless we apply some clear ethical framework.

No, dear reader, rest assured — I am not about to become a Muslim Jordan Peterson.  In fact, religion is not needed at all for moral philosophy.  But a life without morals is a sure way to trouble.  It may be a way for parents to connect with their teens?  Maybe.  If I were to watch the show with teenagers, I would focus on the moral choices made by key characters.

The parents were perhaps the best part of the show.  Parents of both the narrator and the listener were shown in great details.  They were understanding, listening, caring modern parents who were working hard to engage with their kids.  Parents of a few side characters were also shown — the overbearing mother, and the disciplinarian father, who were contrasted with the white trash single mum and the absent parents of the rich kid.  All these parenting style, and no one had any idea what the kids were upto.

No one tried to teach the kids any kind of moral framework, but even if they did, could they make any difference?

(Thanks FR for making me watch this).

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