Jane Austen, Sexual Predators, and Holiday Weekends

It appears this is a long weekend. I know this because instead of zooming yesterday, my kids made bath bombs, facial scrub, lotion, and glitter aloe from a kit somebody gave Frances on her birthday. Then we had a salon. Clem rubbed my feet and then I rubbed hers and life can’t get much sweeter. Really, if not for my enormous ambition, which I think Daniel Day Lewis expressed best in There Will be Blood, as, “There is a competition in me,” I’d trade my laptop for the perfect company of the most excellent people I share a house with. I don’t know how I wound-up so lucky.

But there is a competition in me.

Along those lines, while writing the television pilot for Good Neighbors, one of my excellent producers suggested I make it read less documentary, more true crime. And I was like: What is that? So I’ve been watching lots of true crime. I really love “There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane.” It reads to me as very feminist and compassionate, without letting Diane off the hook for the gruesome deaths of all those kids. “The Jinx” is good fun and kind of ridiculous. “Amanda Knox,” is pretty great for critiquing the ways in which the press is the catalyst for investigations, when it ought to be the other way around. I empathized with Amanda’s weird quirkiness, and I’ve known people like that in my life, who react unexpectedly to shocks, because they are more tender people, not less. I’m looking for true crime recs if anyone has them – women’s stories are of particular interest. I’ve seen “Mommy Dead and Dearest,” and it was informative and extreme. I did not watch the fictionalization of that story, as I thought making spectacle of it was pretty goddamned gross. The Memphis Three docs were terrific, and I’m so glad those three were finally released, though I wish they’d have been able to sue for damages. The doc itself focuses mainly on making sure they’re freed and their stories get told, but it also, perhaps unintentionally, showed the ways in which the framing of a story informs a viewers’ opinion. So, we think it’s one guy who committed those crimes through two episodes, then, in the last episode, we think it’s someone we’d overlooked before. We’re so oddly quick to place blame, to believe what the camera and its flawed operators show us.

I also watched “Neverland.” The first episode was so appalling I almost didn’t watch it through. I believe those men utterly. It was obvious at the time, and it’s obvious now. I’m glad I watched the second episode, as it’s so easy to blame the parents, specifically, because this is American, the moms. But in showing their stories it was clear that they, too, had been groomed. “Abducted in Plain Sight” was my most recent viewing, and I could not watch it through. I sped to the end. The parents here were much more guilty, but it was also clear that the pedophile in question had groomed them for years. The pedophiles in these films had in common a twisted point of view, in which they constantly manipulated for their own gains. And by twisted, I mean – I could never write them, unless I interviewed one. They focus deeply on the child and their families, separate the child by interfering with the child’s parents’ marriage, and then say all the things that will make the child confused and vulnerable and loyal. In the 1980s, there was this notion we were all taught that pedophiles actually love children. They just love them too much. What became clear to me in watching these films is that they absolutely do not love children. They are simply master manipulators, because getting a child alone is all they ever think about. In my first novel, The Keeper, I tried to show the pedophile compassion and his own point of view. But now I see that I was wrong. There is no compassion earned. In the world, there are monsters. These people are monsters.

As I do when things get bleak, I turned to Jane Austen to clear my head. I love Pride and Prejudice. Mansfield Park may be my favorite, because I identify most with Fanny, but in filmic version, P&P is just more romantic and fun. I love the 2005 version with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen, so I watched that twice, and then I watched the 1995 mini-series with Collin Firth for good measure. In reading the reviews, most people consider the former the better version, but I disagree. I find it discursive, as so many things made for television can be. I also find if lacking in warmth. Firth and Ehle shoots lots of glances at each other, never smiling and sometimes glowering. In the 2005 version, Macfadyen breaks into a grin upon being teased by Knightly, and it’s such a delight. The differences here are that in the 1995, the story follows the novel’s arc, where they dislike each other, but eventually fall in love. I think this is silly. In the 2005 version, they’re always in love. Despite the criticisms mounted against it, I think the latter feels more modern and more true. Or maybe I just think MacFadyen is 100% hotter.

As I scroll through my facebook and twitter feeds, I see so many political posts. I do not think they are helpful. I do not think polarizing people, rejecting them for opinions I do not agree with, makes any sense. I do not like yelling and I do not like self-righteousness. I do not like being yelled at by angry people when I express my own opinion, and then having to wonder if it’s because I’m a woman. It’s exhausting and moronic. I feel we are fools, fighting about our current figurehead king, when there is a massive political machine beneath him. We’ve put a name on the top of that machine, and scream at each other about it, without ever evaluating the machine itself.

I was listening to the Economist Podcast this week, and in it, I learned that when voting was lowest in the 1980s, Oprah’s ratings were higher than voter turnout. That same thing may apply this year, with more Americans registered as Amazon customers than registered to vote. Economist was talking about how we can raise the number of voters, and I was thinking about how people fight wars for the opportunity to live in a democracy, and we’re throwing ours away with both hands, like entitled assholes.

I should add that for anyone who isn’t white (and also women), American government has not historically been fair or representative. Surely, some people are tired of pushing up against a system with no visible results. But I think these results are happening. They’re just happening so slowly it’s not perceivable to us now, living through it. In other words, this is not Gilead.

I should also add that though the edifice of our government seems crumbling, and the scaffolding we continue to erect will not make it any more functional, the people involved are often good and diligent, and hopeful despite bad odds. I would like to be one of these people.

Happy Labor Day.

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