60 HOURS: WATCHING A TV SERIES (AND WHY IT IS NOT WORTH IT)

In 2006 I published a monographic volume on The X-Files, entitled Expediente X: En honor a la verdad. I am practically certain that I was the first person in Spain to attempt to cover a whole TV series in a book with the intention of offering an in-depth analysis (accessible to the general readership) rather than just a guide with episode summaries (I did include that, too). If you’re curious the volume is here: <a href="http://ddd.uab.cat/record/118437. The X-Files is still today my favourite TV series, and I still consider it much superior to others who are now much better known. Actually, I find that Chris Carter’s brainchild, which lasted from 1993 to 2002 does not even exist for my own students, born around the time it was launched. A pity.

The X-Files was 200 episodes long and amounted to 150 viewing hours. Others ‘x-philes’ like me can verify for you what a torture seeing the complete series was, as Tele5 cancelled it with no warning, and the final two seasons could only be seen on private channel Fox TV, or on the then new, extremely expensive DVDs. Flat-rate internet access was beginning as the series reached its end and I’m totally sure that The X-Files was a key factor in the popularisation of piratical downloading among us using ADSL services. This, as we know, is a practice that has totally altered the way we see TV series, which is no longer dependent on their being shown on TV at all.

Anyway, a lo que iba: the long struggle to see the end of The X-Files put me off watching any other TV series for a couple of years. Then Lost came, in 2004, and like millions around the world I bit the hook and followed it with a crazy passion until its horrendously disappointing ending in 2010. That’s enough, I vowed to myself: no more TV series for me, unless they’re done and over. Then, last academic year, an MA student handed in an excellent paper on the hero-villain Omar from The Wire (2002-8) swearing to me this was the one series I could not miss. The IMDB rating is 9.4, in the range of Game of Thrones (9.5), Breaking Bad (9.6) or The Sopranos (9.3). 60 viewing hours later I can say now that Omar is the only thing I truly enjoyed from the series.

It is not my aim to review here The Wire, nor to question the taste of those 133,284 IMDB users who have awarded it that impressive 9.4. No. I aim at questioning, rather, the current vogue for TV American series that, more often than not, turn out to be not that good after all. Arguably, the new wave quality TV series started with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1), which, in its turn, inspired The X-Files (Fox TV). The current boom, however, is usually connected with HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007). Indeed, HBO has produced many other successful series: from Sex and the City to current hits Game of Thrones and True Detective. It also produced everyone’s favourite, best-valued ever mini-TV series, Band of Brothers (2001). But is it all, really, really, as good as so many claim? Hasn’t HBO contributed to inflating this impression?

I have read many opinions in praise of The Wire (also HBO) claiming that it works like a novel. My own consumption of this series corroborates this, even though it’s been a bit accidented (I saw seasons one and two in Spring, not continuously, and then have binged on seasons three to five this August, at a rate of three episodes an evening). The question is that at the (fast) rate I read The Wire would be the equivalent of a 3,600 page novel, more or less. Band of Brothers, which I loved, was 11-hours long, the approximate equivalent of reading a 660-page novel. If you ask me, in the end what we consume with each TV series is one story, no matter how many subplots this has. And my watching The Wire has left me with the clear impression that for one story I’m not willing to use more than twenty hours any more in my life. Whether this is TV or print fiction (sorry George R.R.R. Martin).

At one point in which we were desperately bored (no Omar in that episode), my husband and I worked out that 60 hours amounted to about 30 films, that is 30 stories. Supposing we only enjoyed half of these, we would still have 15 stories to remember with pleasure. Life is short, there’s so much to see and read, why use 60 hours in one story if many more pleasurable ones could be accessed in less time?

When I give friends, students and colleagues my line about why watching overhyped (American) TV is wasting precious time they usually tell me that I don’t understand the pleasures of seeing these new-wave HBO(-inspired) series: the pleasure, they tell me, is in the process not in the end result. You don’t watch to reach a sense of closure but, simply, to watch. Fair enough. My answer is, then, that I’d rather watch comedy (say Big Bang Theory) as in that case I need not worry about narrative arcs extended among many seasons and years. Sit-coms have that: you can plunge in and out, never mind about who Ted Mosby finally met in How I Met your Mother (2005-14).

Conclusions? It seems I am going to stick to mini-series. I am actually yearning to see again the British trilogy based on Michael Dobbs’s novels House of Cards (1990), To Play the King (1993) and The Final Cut (1995), currently being remade (or plundered) by Netflix (yes, not even a TV channel but an internet streaming service). As for Breaking Bad, which I have not followed, and seemed next on the list after The Wire, well, I don’t know… Add to this that I have just given up on BBC’s Sherlock after the awfully embarrassing episode about Watson’s wedding (3×3).

It’s that kind of week in which I just want to read…

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‘I DON’T NEED FEMINISM…’: TEN REASONS WHY YOU DO

Next semester I’ll be teaching for the first time a new BA elective, ‘Gender Studies (in English.’ This might be my only chance since, if Minister Wert’s reform of the BA degrees proceeds, we might lose altogether the fourth year and with it the electives. Anyway, I’m paying even more attention than usual to gender issues, which is why I came across the Tumblr space opened in 2013, ‘Women Against Feminism’ (http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/).

Rightly, this should be called ‘Young Women Against Feminism’ for a classic problem of feminism is its generational split. I recall a round table on SF and feminism a few years ago in Madrid. My three colleagues and myself were protesting against the ghettoisation of SF women writers, using by no means a radical feminist discourse. To my horror and consternation, a twenty-something girl in the audience told me ‘I don’t know what your problem may be, but in my generation we have solved them all.’ Well, if that were the case I would be happy but it is not –something you learn as you age. “I don’t need feminism because equality of opportunity already exists,” a young girl writes on Tumblr, and my question is “where?” Because if it is only in your own personal life and you don’t see beyond it, then this is a very callous attitude that disregards the reality of many women’s lives around the world.

I went myself through an acute anti-feminist phase twenty years ago, as a doctoral student. I rationalize it thus today: when a woman is young, starting her career and has not come across crude discrimination yet, feminism’s insistence on women’s victimization is annoying and frustrating. It feels disempowering. Besides, radical feminism can be deeply androphobic. This is something that young women going through the process of establishing long-lasting romantic relationships often find incompatible with their being in love. At the end of an angry androphobic conference panel I asked the leading androphobe, a married woman, how she managed to communicate with her husband at all. She was stunned. So was I at my own question… That was a turning point for me. The misogyny that feminism exposes makes me very angry, and this is hard to cope with. Sometimes it is mild anger that my partner sees no dirty dishes to wash, sometimes it is wholesale anger against men because one has killed his wife or raped a little girl. So, yes, there is that.

From what I read in Tumblr many young women think that feminism can be best defined as ‘androphobia’ (i.e. hatred of men). This, however, is just radical feminism, much less abundant anyway than misogyny. For me feminism is best defined as ‘the search of justice for women,’ that is to say, the struggle to ensure that nobody is discriminated against or hurt just for being a woman. If you’re one of the happy few women who have never met any obstacle or aggression in life because of your gender, then congratulations. What you need to do next, as a feminist, is to make sure that all the other women in the world enjoy the same beautiful life.

I have set for myself a target here, which is finding ten reasons why the happy young women writing in Tumblr might want to join the feminist fight for justice and equality in education, job opportunities and personal development. I’ll refer only to Spain, a Western country and a European Union member –paradise, in short. The figures are for 2013:

*women killed by ex-partners or current partners: 54, and this is the lowest figure in 10 years. Current figures for August 2014: 39.
*women who denounced psychological and physical abuse by partners and ex-partners: 124,894. More than 63,000 remain under police surveillance for fear they might be attacked. None really knows how much abuse goes unreported.
*number of rapes reported to the police in 2013: 1,298 (at least 60% are not reported out of the victim’s fear and shame).
*average salary difference for men and women doing the same job: around 20% (16’4% for the whole European Union).
*(un)employment: rates are slightly higher for women than for men and bad for all. 52’3% of women under 25 are unemployed, 23’6% of women above 25. Yet note: 75% of part-time contracts correspond to female workers. Only 75’5% of all employed women have full-time contracts, the figure is 93’4% for men.
*paternity leave: 13 days, as opposed to 16 weeks for the mother. Up to 40% new fathers only take the mandatory 2-day leave. 90% Norwegian fathers take paternity leave (which is months long).
*excess hours women spend per week doing household chores (in relation to their male partners): 6 (which the partners enjoy as free time)
*percentage of women members of Parliament and Senators: 37% (same as the European Parliament). But remember that women are 52% of the population and this was achieved because PSOE introduced a quota system. We have seen so far no woman President of the Government (yes, I remember Maggie Thatcher…).
*percentage of women members in Boards of Directors (for the 35 top Spanish companies): 10’9%. This is where business power lies…
*percentage of women professors (‘catedráticas’): 20% (but percentage of women graduates 54%). So… what happens to women when they start an academic career?

I need only compare myself to my mother to see how privileged I am on the professional and the personal fronts, often thanks to the efforts of feminist women in the 1970s and 1980s, whose names I don’t even know. And men, for let’s not forget that all-male Parliaments and Governments have often legislated in favour of women. Now think of women in less fortunate countries.

If you want to rename ‘feminism’ and call it ‘gender equality’ that’s fine by me. Whatever you call it, we certainly need it.

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UNSUNG HEROES OF SPANISH WOMEN’S HISTORY (WITH MY THANKS)

Isaías Lafuente’s non-academic essay Agrupémonos todas: La lucha de las españolas por la igualdad (2004) has been, as I explained in my previous post, a book I have devoured with great pleasure. And shame… that I didn’t know many of the women and events he mentions.

In the effort of trying to grasp the basics of US and UK feminism and women’s history as a specialist in English Studies, I have had no time to do the same for the Spanish and Catalan contexts. My secondary education should have filled in that gap, as it did for many other matters of local History. Yet, apart from the women writers (and not that many), and the queens, no other relevant Spanish (or Catalan) women were made visible to me. Lafuente is dismayed to see that the woman who brought the vote to Spanish women, Clara Campoamor, is not mentioned in the major Spanish biographical dictionary. I’m dismayed to realise that I only understood who she was when I saw Laura Mañá’s excellent TV movie entitled, of course, Clara Campoamor: La mujer olvidada (2011).

One thing I have learned from reading about women’s history is that it is hard to say whether the impact of pro-feminist legislation and social changes is, in the end, what matters most. It should be so, yet reading Lafuentes’ book I’m struck by how truly important are in the struggle to free women from our bonds things we take for granted: such as diapers, sanitary pads or even the mop. It is also peculiar to see how details I recall from my childhood, seeing my mother perform her household chores or worry about ‘adult’ matters, fit a much larger pattern than I assumed (perhaps because Spain has been quite a homogeneous country until recently). This ranges from her washing by hand all our clothes before the first washing machine was purchased to anxious conversations about the mysterious ‘pill.’

The hardest part of understanding recent women’s history in Spain is the realisation that we almost got it right. During the (chaotic) Republic of 1931 to 1939, when the Civil War was lost, Spanish women embarked in an often very fast process of equality with men. It is painful to see how all their achievements were brutally erased in 1939: often the distance between the first and the second woman pioneer in a particular field amounts to forty years. Also, even though the little conquests under Franco’s regime were often made by right-wing women, like Mercedes Fórmica, it is heartbreaking to see how much cruelty was poured on the bodies and lives of the ‘rojas,’ the women of the losing side. The split is so deep that we can say there are two histories of women under Franco, still to be fully written out.

I want to make a note here, then, of the unsung heroes who did the hard work for us, to remind those women who think we don’t need feminism that, if that is the case, which I very much doubt, it is thanks to their spirit and efforts. There are many others, it is just a small selection:

*María Elena Maseras, first woman to enrol for a university degree (1872, Medicine, Universitat de Barcelona) realising there was no formal prohibition against women.
*Dolores Aleu, first woman with a doctoral degree (1882, Medicine)
*Teresa Claramunt, textile factory worker and union activist, co-founder of the Societat Autònoma de Dones (1892)
*Carmen de Burgos (Colombine), journalist and first war correspondent. Published the first surveys on divorce and women’s suffrage (1900s-1910s)
*Emilia Pardo Bazán, major writer, denied three times a place in the Real Academia. In 1916 she was the first female full professor in Spain (by appointment): she never taught, as all (male) students rejected her. (Mª Ángeles Galino, was the second woman professor, in 1953).
*María Espinosa de los Monteros, co-founder of the Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Españolas (1920)
*Victoria Kent, first professional woman lawyer (1924), ‘Directora General de Prisiones’ under the new Republic (1931). She was the first woman MP together with Clara Campoamor, and Margarita Nelken. They were elected in June 1931 when women could not vote yet.
*Matilde Ucelay, first Spanish female architect, graduated 1936.
*Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria, communist politician, Vice-president of the Republican Parliament.
*Federica Montseny, first woman Minister in Europe (1936).
*María Telo, lawyer, founder of the Unión de Mujeres Juristas, helped get back for women the full civil rights lost under Franco in the 1970s.

I’ll end with a reminder of the terrifying forty year gap:
*Vote for women: 1 October 1931. Re-instated in 1975.
*Divorce and Civil Marriage: 28 June 1932 (made illegal retroactively by Franco in 1939). Civil marriage was re-instated in 1978, divorce in 1981.
*Abortion: December 1936, legalised by the Catalan Generalitat. Made illegal in 1941, legalised again with strong limitations in 1985.
*Legal equality with men: 1937. Lost in 1938, re-instated fully only in 1981.
*Birth control: All methods made illegal between 1944 and 1978.

Until the 1975 legislation reform, women were regarded as minors to the age of 25 (21 for men). Married women were subjected to the ‘licencia marital’: they had to obey their husbands, who were entitled to their professional earnings (until 1981), and had to obtain their permission to sign contracts, open bank accounts, get a passport…

This, I’m sorry to say, is not History way back in the past but within living memory. Ask your grandmothers, if your mothers are too young.

Learn and remember… and thank those who fought for you.

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3,000 BOOKS: (HALF) A LIFE-TIME OF READING

(Back to writing, a bit more relaxed after a well-deserved holiday… spent ‘doing a Wordsworth,’ that is, enjoying the beauties of the mountains, those of the Pyrenees).

Today’s topic is keeping track of reading –here we go.

I started keeping a record of the books I read, out of my own initiative, back in 1980 when I started my secondary school education, aged 14. I used a small spiral-bound notebook, which I still keep, in pretty blue paper (no pretentious Moleskines for me). This lasted me until 1994, when I moved the list onto my computer.

I call this list my ‘reading diary’ because I follow a chronological order but it is simply a list, written now in an impractical series of Word files, with a basic rating system (maximum 4 stars) which I started using also in 1994. Last year I opened a GoodReads account but I never use it (though as you know I read plenty of Amazon users’ reviews).

Now and then I wonder what anyone would make of my life looking at this list, particularly because I don’t keep a personal diary, or journal (this blog comes closest). I also wonder what researchers would do if they came across something similar for, say, Charles Dickens.

What did I want the list for? Obviously, to remember what I read. I was already a voracious reader and knew that sooner or later I would be unable to recall all the books I read. Not that the plan works that well, though, for the list often throws up books I seem to have read but have completely forgotten –quite spectacularly, it turns out I had already read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1992, but I was absolutely sure I never had when I read it this year (without first checking the list…).

Every January, when I start the corresponding yearly list, I have a quick look, see what I’ve been up to the year before. I also keep, by the way, a second list organised by nation and author for fiction, drama, poetry, etc, and by topic for essays. This is a pain in the neck to update but that has proven quite useful when, for instance, programming my future SF subject, as I know exactly which SF authors I’ve read throughout my life so far. And I couldn’t have gone through my doctoral dissertation, either, without my reading list.

Although I set myself some rules, I keep on breaking them which is why my list is such an imprecise record of all my reading. It only includes complete volumes, yet in some cases (plays, for instance) they number fewer pages than I’ve read in volumes I have abandoned half-way through (and that remain unrecorded). Then, sometimes I count re-readings, sometimes I forget. I’m never sure what to do about comics and graphic novels, either. The many articles I read every year go unrecorded, which I often regret for research reasons, but, then, a list of all I read might seem a symptom of some mental disorder rather than a useful memory enhancement tool. And, um, I have been unable to recall more or less reliably what I read before the age of 14.

Anyway, before I took my holidays, I realised that I would soon reach book 3,000. That’s fun, I thought, let’s see which of the many books I’m planning to read this summer becomes volume 3,000. I didn’t want the number to be meaningful, as the list, all considered, is quite inconsistent. Yet, this was not to be. To my amusement, when I updated the list after my holiday break, it just fell short of book 3,000 (book 2,999 was Lois MacMaster Bujold’s fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion, which would have satisfied me enough as book 3,000). Oh my… meaningful it must be, then.

After a longish absence, I visited my beautiful local library (Jaume Fuster at Plaça Lesseps) not really planning to borrow anything, just keeping my husband company as he searched for comics. Yet, book 3,000 came to me (I swear!), as it had to happen: it is Isaías Lafuente’s non-academic essay Agrupémonos todas: La lucha de las españolas por la igualdad (2004). Never heard of it? No wonder, it’s out of print –what a shame. But I loved the book and I totally love it that my volume 3,000 is a feminist book written by a man, teaching me plenty I didn’t know about women in Spain. (More about this in the following post).

I recently saw a BBC documentary on the impact of the social networks in our lives. A nine-year-old boy voiced his learned opinion that life before Facebook (what was he doing using Facebook??) was really boring… people had to read books! It would be idiotic to claim that reading and using social networks is incompatible, so I won’t embarrass myself. I’m just sorry this boy won’t enjoy the company the 3,000 volumes (better ‘friends’ than often Facebook ‘friends’ are) have kept me so far.

By the way, I don’t care and I don’t mind whether 3,000 are a lot of volumes, average for a university lecturer, or pitifully few. I’m not out to break records, whether absolute or personal. Actually, I find that the number has freed me from having to read a minimum a year, as I did when I was a student. I have no idea how many more I’ll be able to add and calling this list ‘half a life-time of reading’ may be not only overoptimistic but downright silly, who knows whether I’ll reach 96…

Just one thing: if you have children who read, start that list for them. They’ll be thankful when they grow up and start managing it themselves.

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