9.19.2014

sexism, magic, and pre-famous cameos: watching "bewitched" on netflix

The best use of TV, for me, is as a sleep aid. But I never thought I'd revisit comedies from my early childhood.


I've watched a bit of comedy in bed, while ready for sleep, for my entire adult life, and quite a few years before that. Tuning in to something funny has always helped me tune out the pressures of the day. Like many people who have struggled with insomnia, I have strict rules about what I can and can't read, see, or talk about before sleep. TV comedy is the perfect sleep prep.

But only certain comedies work, and there are so many that I don't like. Depending on what re-runs are available or what cable package we had, I sometimes had to schedule my bedtime around TV schedules! Kind of crazy.

Streaming Netflix via Roku has been the perfect solution. I'm guaranteed something funny to watch every night, whenever I want, and in order: insomnia meets OCD. Plus I can watch 10 minutes and conk out - taking three nights to finish one episode - or watch three episodes if that's what it takes. I've burned through so many comedies on Netflix - I'll fill in the history below - that I had to get creative about what might qualify. When I saw Bewitched was available, I gave it a try.

It's funnier than I remembered, and not as offensively sexist as I expected. Sure, Samantha is referred to as "just a housewife" - not a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom, but a woman married to a house - and she spends all her time cooking, cleaning, or shopping. And sure, her only desires are to love and please her man, and to support him in all his manly endeavours.

But she's not the only woman in the show. There are the secretaries, of course, respectfully referred to as Miss So-and-so. And there are female executives, too, and they're not always played for laughs. Gladys Kravitz is a harebrained gossip, but her husband isn't much better. And of course, there's Endora.

Agnes Moorehead's most famous role, as the foil to Darrin Stephens, turns out to be funnier - and more complex - than I remembered it, too. Endora loves to flaunt her power, and only her love for Samantha keeps her in check (and Darrin in human form). There's sexism in the stereotype of the meddling mother-in-law, but more often than not, Darrin is getting his comeuppance for his weaknesses: for not trusting Sam, for jumping to conclusions, or for his own hubris, in thinking he might be stronger than Endora. In a feminist reading of Bewitched, Endora is a woman at the height of her power, and although she has to exist outside the normal sphere, she is free and nearly unstoppable.

Samantha herself, try as she might, cannot shoehorn herself into the housewife role. This is not portrayed as her own failing, but as the silliness of a husband who is too uptight or insecure or conservative to enjoy his mate's talents. I expected Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha to be another version of Barbara Eden's Jeannie: a powerful woman trapped in a gilded cage, always trying to please her Master. I was wrong. Samantha Stephens is intelligent, confident, dignified, and playful. She might have promised Darrin not to use her witchly powers, but when she gives in, she's right, and he looks ridiculous.

Perhaps the most fun thing about watching Bewitched is a parade of guest appearances by people who would later become famous. Paul Lynde was famously Uncle Albert, but I didn't know that he appeared first as a nervous driving instructor, so flamboyantly Lynde that he was actually toned down by half as the uncle. So far, in addition to Lynde, I've seen Maureen McCormick, who would later be Marcia Brady, Eve Arden, Raquel Welch, Vic Tayback, Arte Johnson, June Lockhart, James Doohan, and the biggest future star so far, Richard Dreyfuss, who didn't even rate special guest billing. Scrolling through Bewitched's IMDb entry, I see several to come, including an uncredited turn by my favourite voice, June Foray as baby Darrin.

* * * *

I am always looking for more comedy. So if you've got a hidden gem to recommend, please do! Just don't be offended if I try it and don't like it. Comedy is funny that way.

Past pre-sleep-comedy has included The Simpsons (completely random and out of order), Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad (first two seasons only), and King of the Hill. Eons before that were Seinfeld, Mad About You (shout-out to Murray, my favourite TV dog), The Honeymooners (one of the funniest comedies of all time, and I've seen every episode a dozen times or more), The Dick van Dyke Show (Nick at Night), and the occasional Frasier.

So far on Netflix I've burned through The Office (US), Malcolm in the Middle (greatest sitcom ever), Community (Netflix ends in the middle of a season!), Parks & Recreation (until it stopped being funny for me), and Brooklyn 9-9. I'm loving Shameless (UK only) but it's not pure comedy, and often not right for bedtime. Allan and I watched Episodes together, and are now watching BoJack Horseman. So those don't count.

I am waiting and hoping for Netflix to get: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H, and Barney Miller.

9.11.2014

it's september and u.s. war resisters in canada are at risk for deportation

Two years ago, almost to the day, US war resister Kimberly Rivera and her family were forced out of Canada by the Harper Government. Kim - peace activist, artist, mother, dreamer - crossed the border and was immediately taken away in handcuffs. She served more than a year in prison, separated from her husband and children. Her crime: refusing to kill innocent civilians in Iraq, and refusing to risk being killed and leaving her own children without a mother. When news of her removal from Canada was announced in Canada's House of Commons, the Conservative MPs applauded.

Now it is September again, and again US war resisters in Canada are at risk for deportation. People who have lived in Canada a long time, made a life here, people with jobs and families and roots, may be thrown out of the country.

The Harper Government wants to do the bidding of the United States. Stephen Harper may finally get his wish - what he was denied in 2003 - and get to send Canadian troops into Iraq. And he doesn't want these truth-tellers around to testify to the harsh reality: that the US's 2003 invasion, destruction, and occupation of Iraq caused the horrors that are going on there now. Because the truth is, if the US and Canada wanted to help the people under siege in Iraq, they wouldn't be doing it with bombs.

Here we go again? Apparently the majority of Americans now believe there are ISIS sleeper cells in the US and overwhelmingly support military action. Glenn Greenwald asks:
How long will we have to wait for the poll finding that most Americans “regret” having supported this new war in Iraq and Syria and view it as a “mistake”, as they prepare, in a frenzy of manufactured fear, to support the next proposed war?
Meanwhile, my friends - who refused to make war, who have risked so much for peace - may be forced to leave Canada. If that happens, they will be jailed in the United States. They will have criminal records that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Because they refused to participate in an illegal war against a cilivian population.

If you can help, please donate here. If there's more you can do, I will let you know!

9.08.2014

150 cities + 500 arrests = whatever it takes for $15

Last Thursday, fast-food workers in more than 150 US cities went on strike. Some 500 workers were arrested for civil disobedience, including this man, José Carillo, an 81-year-old McDonald's worker.


In Detroit, there were so many arrests that the police gave up: they ran out of handcuffs.

There's a very short video compilation of some highlights from the day here on Facebook. And here's another good video, this one of the Chicago action, where 51 workers were arrested.

9.07.2014

thank you, charley richardson! your legacy lives on

On Labour Day, I happened to see this on Twitter:



I am on my union's labour-management committee, the group that meets monthly with management to discuss members' concerns and try to resolve issues. I was intrigued and followed the link that Rank and File had posted.

To my surprise, the original "how to" advice was written by the late Charley Richardson, who passed away in 2013. I knew of Charley, mostly by his outsize reputation, from another part of his life: along with his wife Nancy Lessin, he co-founded Military Families Speak Out.

MFSO is now defunct, but the organization did tremendous work advocating for veterans and against wars for oil and profit. As it happens, MFSO bears a special place in my own anti-war activism. Shortly after the US invaded Iraq, while we were waiting to emigrate to Canada, Allan and I attended an MFSO event in New York. The tiny Judson Memorial Church was packed to the rafters, people applauding and weeping as parents, spouses, and siblings of soldiers testified to the terrible treatment they endured, and to the real motives behind the wars. I never forgot that meeting, although it would be many years before I reconnected with its mission.

Years later, working with the War Resisters Support Campaign, I often heard about Richardson, Lessin, and MFSO. They were incredibly supportive to the families of soldiers and veterans, whether or not they were active in the military, had finished their tours, or had deserted. A friend and comrade of mine was close with the Richardsons, and that's how I learned that Charley, only in his late 50s, was dying. Here is his obituary in the Boston Globe.

Now, more than a year after Charley's untimely passing, I had stumbled on some of his wise and practical advice. Digging a bit deeper, I learned that part of Richardson's legacy as a labour educator has been archived and preserved as "The Charley Richardson Guide to Kicking Ass for the Working Class".

And here, perhaps, is the best part of the story. I shared the article with our labour-management committee team. The response was strong and positive. We prepared for our next meeting with new resolve, and we had the strongest, most effective labour-management meeting I've seen since joining the team more than a year ago.

Thank you, Charley Richardson!

9.04.2014

fast-food workers are on strike today. you can support their cause.

Fast-food workers all over the US are on strike today, demanding a living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. Did you know that the majority of fast-food workers are adults trying to support families on those crap wages? Their pay is so low, they qualify for food stamps! So taxpayers are subsidizing McDonald's, as the fast-food industries rakes in billions in profits.

If you're in the US and you pass a fast-food outlet today, especially a McDonald's, please stop by to show support for these courageous workers. They are the cutting edge of the labour movement today, risking so much to create a better world.

We can all support the fast-food workers' cause by visiting this page, signing the petition, and checking back for updates. And sharing with your own networks!

9.02.2014

what i do, what i miss, and what are they thinking: answers to the question, "what do you do?"

When we moved to Canada (nine years plus a few days ago), I wondered what, if anything, I would miss about the US. Who would have guessed it would be watching "Baseball Tonight"? Yup, the only thing I miss about living in that crazy country is watching a baseball-highlights show on ESPN. Not bad!

In a similar vein, what do I miss about being a writer? A strange sound that I can't quite decipher.

When people would ask that inevitable question, "What do you do?", and I would answer, "I'm a writer," invariably, I would get this reaction: "Ooooo..." Their eyes would go wide, their lips would form an O, and out would come a sing-song sound of amazement. I don't know why this was. I don't know what it meant. But it would always happen!

Except in New York. No one "Oooos" over anyone's work in New York, and certainly not over writers. Writers in New York are more common than tourists in Times Square, or rats on the subway tracks.

But everywhere else, when I said I was a writer, I would get this "Oooo..." response.

Who would have known I would miss it?

I do miss writing professionally. I miss the writing life. When Allan and I talk about his next book project, about his research and his process, I miss it. A lot.

At the same time, I'm very aware that what I'm missing had become quite rare in my life. I'm missing when it was going well: when I was working on absorbing assignments that paid decently and would be published and distributed. And if that had been a more common occurrence, I would have stayed with my original intent for library school: a job as a part-time librarian, to replace my day-job, while I continued my (part-time) writing life.

But that wasn't the case. Good writing jobs had become far too scarce, and I got excited about librarianship, and so it goes.

But who would have guessed how I would miss the sound of that "Ooooo..."! It's the silliest thing, especially since I don't even know what they were Ooooing about, what romantic misconception about writing was at work there. But it was fun. I'd say I was a writer, the other person would Oooo, and it gave me a little buzz.

So how do people react when I say I'm a librarian?

They either reply with a tight little, "Oh, that's interesting," kind of like you would say, "What's that smell?" Or else they say one of these seven things, collected (with GIFs) by Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian blogger (and Director of IT at the New York Law Institute).
1) “Do people still even go to the library now that there’s Google?”

It’s amazing how many people respond this way when I tell them I’m a librarian. I assure them however, that we are somehow soldiering on in the library field, along with all of the doctors who are still attempting to stay relevant in spite of WebMD.

2) “So, are you like, a volunteer?” Usually followed up with “What? You need to have a Master’s degree to be a librarian?!!”

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has been astounded that librarians hold advanced degrees.

3) “But isn’t print dead at this point?”

Yes, this is still a thing people are saying.
Click through to read the other four. I've been working as a librarian for only 14 months and I've heard all of these multiple times.

9.01.2014

what i'm reading: indian horse by richard wagamese, a must-read, especially for canadians

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese, is a hauntingly beautiful novel about an Ojibway boy's journey into manhood. It was the Readers' Choice winner of the 2013 Canada Reads, CBC Radio's book promotion program. But if you're like me and don't listen to the radio, you may have missed it. Don't miss it. Indian Horse should be widely read - by everyone, but especially by Canadians.

In a slim, spare volume, drawing vivid pictures with very few words, Wagamese brings you into the Ojibway family. They are struggling to hold onto their culture - and indeed, to keep their family physically together, as children are being abducted and forced into the so-called residential schools.

Saul Indian Horse, the hero and narrator of the novel, survives the residential school by finding solace and joy in an unlikely place: hockey. Hockey is an integral part of Indian Horse, and Wagamese has written some of the best description of sport I've read in a novel, seamlessly knitting the poetry of game into the narrative.

It's that seamlessness that makes Indian Horse so special. As the reader journeys through the different times of Saul's life - his original family, the residential school, the rink, a Native hockey team, anti-Native bigotry, and so on - the writing is never didactic, the information is never grafted on. We are always in the flow of the story, reading more with our hearts than our minds.

For non-Canadian wmtc readers, residential schools are a euphemism for the government and church-administered programs that attempted the forced assimilation of Native children. These "schools" are more properly thought of as forced labour and indoctrination camps. They were places of horrific cruelty and abuse. For many Canadians, they have become a symbol of a shameful past that continues to echo into the present. But when something becomes symbolic, in can lose its specific reality. Wagamese brings us into the reality as it was lived.

If you're someone who cringes at the idea of reading about the cruelty to children, I encourage you to read Indian Horse all the more. What you know of residential schools is likely gleaned from news reports, perhaps when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was holding hearings. I strongly encourage you to read a First Nations writer's account. It's stark and honest, without being graphic or sensationalist. It's an important exercise in empathy, in bearing witness. It's an important piece of history.

But I assure you, reading Indian Horse does not feel like reading important history. It's one boy's journey, and it will move you.