A Bird’s-Eye View

The personal is political.

Second-wave feminist slogan

In AP Literature Class, we’ve talked a lot about power, including massive power structures such as race, class, and gender. However, I know that for me, sometimes these concepts can become very abstract. I don’t always connect our talk of these issues with the real world, because in my everyday life, power structures have always just surrounded me, as seemingly natural as the air I breathe. I am desensitized to them, and I have no way of seeing the extent to which they actually shape my life. That is, until, every once in a while, a really good piece of literature makes me zoom out and gives me a bird’s eye view of life with which I am able to realize how much large-scale power structures do impact individual lives. In my opinion, The God of Small Things might do this the best of any book we’ve read this year. 

The God of Small Things deals not merely with power dynamics, but it makes clear their consequences in a very poignant way. By juxtaposing the characters’ personal power struggles with their power struggles on a systemic level, it shows how large-scale power structures can have deeply personal impacts. 

One quote that I believe shows this very strikingly is on page 101. It consists of Estha’s thoughts as he has just come back into the auditorium after being molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man and is watching the Sound of Music. He wonders if one of the characters from the film, Baron von Trapp, would be able to love him and Rahel and be a father to them, and imagines that Baron von Trapp has the following questions that Estha and Rahel must answer before he can decide.

(a) Are they clean white children?

No. (But Sophie Mol is.)

(b) Do they blow spit bubbles?

Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.)

(c) Do they shiver their legs? Like clerks?

Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.)

(d) Have they, either or both, ever held strangers’ soo-soos?

N… Nyes. (But Sophie Mol hasn’t.)

“Then I’m sorry,” Baron von Clapp-Trapp said. “It’s out of the question. I cannot love them. I cannot be their Baba. Oh no.” 

To me, this quote is particularly heartbreaking because it highlights so many of Estha and Rahel’s vulnerabilities and insecurities due to both the state of their personal lives and their status in society. 

First of all, their desire for Baron von Trapp to be a father to them shows their yearning for a father figure in their lives because of the absence of their own father. While this is personal to them, it is also connected to the political because the reason their parents divorced was because their father was abusive, and the reason Ammu even got into a relationship with an abusive man in the first place was because she was desperate to escape from her own abusive father and was not allowed a college education because she was a girl, so she had few options other than marriage (38-39). Therefore, Estha and Rahel’s lack of a father, while it is very personal, is also connected to issues of women’s rights and feminism. Likewise, Baron von Trapp’s questions about whether Estha and Rahel blow spit bubbles and shiver their legs also shows how their relationship with Ammu can be tense because they sometimes remind her of their father (especially when they blow spit bubbles an shiver their legs) (80), and therefore how the effects of something as large as sexism can be felt even in a deeply personal sphere.

Another way Roy blends the personal and political nature of Estha and Rahel’s insecurities in this quote is the mention of all the ways Sophie Mol meets Baron von Trapp’s standards while Estha and Rahel don’t. Estha and Rahel are acutely aware of how much their family adores Sophie Mol, and this not only sparks in them children’s natural jealousy at another child seeming more loved by their family than they are (if any of you have little siblings, you might have felt this when they were born), but also a sense of inferiority based on a WHITE/person of color and WEST/east power dynamic. Estha and Rahel are cognizant of the fact that Sophie Mol is so beloved by their family not only because eight-year-olds are cute and it’s always fun to see a family member who you haven’t seen in a long time, but also because the fact that Sophie Mol is white-passing and British makes her somehow extra special and superior. Thus, once again, Roy shows how large-scale systems of power such as racism influence things as intimate as family dynamics and children’s’ self-esteem. 

But for me, the word that blends the deeply personal and the political the most strikingly is the word “clean.” 

(a) Are they clean white children?

No. (But Sophie Mol is.)


The idea of Estha and Rahel not being as “clean” as Sophie Mol and the white children in The Sound of Music is a really loaded concept in this passage in so many ways. On one level, it reflects racism, as people with darker skin have often been seen throughout history as less “clean” than people with lighter skin, particularly in the West and countries that have been subject to Western colonialism. However, it also relates to Estha’s experience of abuse, as it is not unusual for survivors of sexual abuse to feel they have been made “dirty” somehow by their abusers if they have not yet been able to come to terms with what happened to them. So, as Estha sits watching The Sound of Music, he feels doubly “dirty” both because of what happened to him on an individual level and because of what society tells him about who he is. To me, Roy’s multilayered use of the word “clean” and her repetition of it throughout the chapter is a perfect example of how the lines between personal struggles and political struggles can become very blurry for marginalized people and how each type of struggle can have an impact that is extremely profound.

“Crazy Rich Asians”, a Rom-Com with a Deeper Meaning

The film “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) directed by Jon M. Chu is one of the highest grossing romantic-comedy films of all time and is the first film in 25 years to have an all Asian cast in Hollywood. This rom-com was adapted from a novel also titled “Crazy Rich Asians” written by Kevin Kwan. “Crazy Rich Asians” not only broke box-office records, it also increased representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood.

The film centers around Rachel and Nick, a young couple living in New York. Nick and Rachel have been dating for quite some time, and Nick invites Rachel to go with him to his best friend’s wedding in his home of Singapore. As Rachel and Nick leave on their trip to Singapore, Rachel (who was born and raised as a part of the middle-class) begins to realize Nick’s secret; his family is insanely wealthy.

When the couple arrives in Singapore, Rachel learns that Nick is one of the most “eligible bachelors” in all of Singapore, and women are fighting to be with Nick. Rachel, who has never once been in the spotlight, gets to know Nick’s elite and eccentric family, as well as learn the ways of extremely wealthy socialites.

The comedic elements of the film are not solely represented through one-liners and jokes, but rather a much deeper social meaning. The film focuses around a female protagonist, who, in the end of the film, is the one person to make the biggest choice that determines her and Nick’s future as a couple. Rachel is the one who is given the choice whether or not to marry Nick, as marrying Nick would force him to break off ties with his mother, who disapproves of their relationship. Rachel loves Nick, but also wants for him to be able to have a relationship with his mother.

These power dynamics are very interesting and quite ironic, as the middle-class woman is the one who is making this major decision for an extremely wealthy man.

This irregular shift in power dynamics is very comedic, because in today’s world, all too often, money equals power, but in this instance it didn’t. In addition to money, Nick is also a man, and it is a “norm” in society for the man to make major choices in a relationship. The woman of normal economic status was the one making the decision that would impact Nick’s entire family with either choice she made.

Rachel made the decision to not marry Nick out of love for him, as she did not want him to lose contact with his family. But, in the end, Nick proposes to Rachel with his mother’s ring, and reveals that she has given them her blessing to marry.

The comedic element of irony is quite present in this film, and it is used to reveal the roles of gender and class, and how our views of them impact our perception of the world. Personally, I found it quite comedic that Rachel was the one to make the choice, when Nick and his family are of elite social status and great wealth.

I now realized after more closely analyzing the comedy in this film that it has a much deeper and socially rooted meaning, as it discusses the issues of gender and wealth, and how we view people according to these factors.

Comedy Can Also Be a Profound Art Format

Long time ago, I used to think only great tragedy like King Lear can give reader not only the impact of story but also some meaningful message. These messages transmitted by the miserable ending of those characters always make us think about the society or humanity. We empathize with the story, feel the power from it and make some changes about ourselves or the things around us. However, as I have appreciated some famous art works all over the world recent few years, I gradually recognized the appeal of comedy.

One of them I watched last year called Operation Love . It is a famous Japanese TV series. The story mainly tells a young man who is attending his best friends’ marriage ceremony looks at the slide show of their past and regrets. He believes the bridegroom should be him, but he never has the courage to transmit his feeling to her. He finds Rei(heroin) always kept a sad countenance in the photos which makes him feel even regretful. At this moment, a fairy occurs and gives him the chance to travel back in time and fix those sadness. The plot itself is not so amazing since it is a very classic time lapse. However, as you keep watching, you will probably get fascinated by Ken’s character. He is hard-working but also clumsy. In order to find Rei’s favorite coffee milk, he spent all his afternoon searching in the city. He knows he is a ordinary person, but he doesn’t follow the rules and is willing to take risks to accomplish impossibility. He looks very optimistic, but he is actually anxious and timid. Even though he has tons of weakness, he shows me what is the true persistence looks like.

Ken uses the number of each Japanese character to calculate the success rate of his proposal
Ken

As I noticed his efforts, I received a huge amount of courage from him. I tried to express my feelings more straightforward just like him. There is a famous joke came from this show which called Japanese run because Ken is always running in the story. He failed again and again during his time lapse and blamed on the destiny, but he finally speaks out his true voice. Except for pursuing his own love, he helped others during his trip as well. He once encouraged his friend who feels very inferior because of his height to confess his love manfully. What’s more, since he came from the future, he knew that Rei’s grandpa would die soon at that time. So he persuaded Rei to visit her grandpa and tell him her gratitude personally. This behavior made Rei eliminate her biggest pity in the future. The humor of the character, the exciting music, the sincere friendship and the pure love all make the Operation Love a literal great work. I learn so much from Ken and his experience. If a show can make an individual grows and has a better understanding of the world, that’s enough to call it “meaningful. ”

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

We all know of Charlie Brown, or Peanut’s, a cult classic that has shaped children’s literature for a while now. Charlie Brown is known for it’s lovable characters, american archetypes, and silly situations, and recently, a continuation of the Charlie Brown universe was created, but this play gives us a completely new twist.

Dog Sees God takes the characters and relationships in Charlie Brown and sets them years in the future, when the characters are teenagers. Instead of dealing with their previous innocent problems, the kids have new ones to deal with. Charlie Brown (now CB) is grieving the death of his dog, meanwhile questioning his sexuality and place in society, Sally (CB’s sister) is goth, and throughout the show questions her life’s true philosophy, and Lucy (Van’s sister) has been institutionalized for setting the little red haired girl’s hair on fire. The characters go through life in high school, dealing with others while dealing with their own personal issues and conflicts, and I won’t spoil it but the end brings tragedy and illustrates the unfairness of real life. Dog Sees God is about as far from the sentiment of Peanuts as you can possibly go, but somehow maintains the relationships and archetypes of the characters within their universe.

This play is full of satire. The most obvious would have to be parody, as this play is a direct parody of the original Peanut’s comics. Taking the original characters, this play twists them into extremely realistic adult versions of themselves, playing off of the little quirks the characters originally showed and exaggerating and forming them into phobias, diagnoses, and larger plot points. This play is also full of all types of irony. Verbal irony is used throughout the show in dialogue and interactions, bringing attention to the relationships between the characters and acting as a way to point out the extreme natures and flaws of some of the characters. Situational irony coats the entire show as many of the things the characters do we wouldn’t expect from them, such as PigPen ending up the “bully” of the show or Lucy acting as a psychiatrist for Charlie Brown from the confines of the institution she was placed in.

This is a comedic show (at least for the beginning), but the use of satire especially when in relation to such a classic children’s story brings forward the real problems with the social structures created in a high school environment. The characters from peanuts create a surprisingly good base for the archetypes of modern teenagers, so this parody works very well as a commentary on the toxicity of interpersonal relationships and friendships. The work is funny and comedic in the lines but also manages to bring light to issues like homophobia, sexual abuse, and addiction, especially when it pertains to teenagers. And by the end of the show, illustrates the consequences that can come from these actions when they are let grow and go untreated.

Satire in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Image result for ricky bobby

Ricky Bobby was a man who was born to go fast. Born in the backseat of a race car, Ricky lives by his dad’s saying, “If you ain’t first, your last”. Talladega Nights delivers more than dark comedy, this movie highlights problems that circle marriage, revenge, social standards, and peace within one’s self.

Check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zPcMma_C7A

From the start and to the finish, there are many moments within this movie that implement a variety of satirical methods. One example is dramatic irony. Within Ricky Bobby’s journey to success, he is very concerned with his image and how to deals with others. Especially with his wife and the media, these two things grow and complicate his life as the story progresses and causes dramatic irony to reach the audience. In light of the bigger picture, this movie mocks the idea of marriage and its burdens that come with success. Overall showing that marriage is not as pleasant as it is socially seen.

In addition to dramatic irony, there are many accounts of parody within the movie. On the whole, there is a taste of both tragedy and peace. Specifically, the use of deliberate exaggeration adds the comedic effect to stress the peace of Ricky’s life. As well as peace, Ricky also faces getting revenge on his former partner who stole his wife. Although seen as funny, this moment demonstrates social norms with a twist of comedy. All in all, it is important to view these things as the movie progresses, the bigger than comedy subjects are dealt with.

Overall, this movie points out the stresses of life, taking a comedic turn, and summarizing them through traditional forms of tragedy and comedy all in one movie. From rising to falling, to rising again, Ricky Bobby fights through social constructs and finally achieves happiness.

The Satirical Comedy of “The Truman Show”

The Truman Show is a movie about an average guy whose whole life is recorded and screened as a tv show. Although he doesn’t know it, all of his friends and family are actors and he is part of a huge tv set. Throughout the movie you can see how the director manipulates the factors in his life to evoke a reaction out of Truman so that the audience gets what they want. Truman gradually finds out the truth and makes the decision to leave and start a life of his own – one not recorded nor controlled by a director.

Check out the trailer:

There are plenty of satirical methods used in The Truman Show. One of the biggest ones used is dramatic irony. For example, throughout the whole movie the audience knows that Truman ‘s life is constantly being recorded even though he doesn’t. Truman believes his friends are real and is completely oblivious of the show that he lives in which is ironic since the audience knows the truth.

The Truman Show is also a parody of media and reality tv shows. Truman is an average guy just living a regular life. No one would truly be interested in anyone like Truman so the director spices up his life to make it more entertaining to the audience. It exposes the reality of media and how it controls people’s lives just for the entertainment and enjoyment of others. Media is all controlled by likes and followers and Truman’s life, although not willingly, is controlled by the audience and what they find entertaining. It is so hard to find real people on media because its over a screen and people can act fake just to get more popularity. Truman reflects this idea by leaving the show to find his truth and to finally be in control of his life.

Jim Carrey, who plays Truman, stars in many comedies and usually plays roles that are mostly for entertainment purposes rather than satirical purposes. Although, this movie is very comedic and exposes the media in funny ways, the overall message that it is trying to convey is one that is real and one to learn from. It isn’t just a movie to make people laugh and to entertain but also to convey a message: stay true to yourself and don’t let media, technology, or popularity control who you are and the way you choose to live your life.

The Office: Gender Inequalities in the Workplace

The Office is a sitcom television series that depicts the everyday lives of office employees in the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The Office uses satire to play on issues that exist in actual corporate offices such as sexism, racism, and other stereotypes through humor.

One episode that touches on sexism in the office place is “Boys and Girls.” In this episode, Jan, the Vice President of Sales at Dunder Mifflin, takes the women to a seminar called “Women in the Workplace.” This meeting is to discuss issues that women face in the corporate setting, but Michael, the branch’s regional manager, gets upset because he feels excluded, therefore he forms a seminar for the men to talk about “men things.” 

Michael centers his seminar on the idea that it is a “guy’s gripe session” where they can use the time to discuss their issues with women in the office and women in general. The whole idea of pitting women against men plays into gender differences because of how often men and women are pitted against one another in the corporate environment. Michael also mentions how the break room was once made into a “lactation room” which he finds disgusting and hopes that the women are not planning to do that again. The show uses humor to touch on the issue of breastfeeding in the workplace and how it is viewed often times viewed negatively by men. Michael was also demeaning Jan for her traditionally “masculine” qualities like her authority and assertive nature. This was illustrated when Michael called her a bitch shortly after her departure in order to relate and fit in with the other guys, which is reflective of how powerful/successful women are often labeled this way in the workplace and society in general. The episode ends with Michael saying that you need both men and women in the office because the purpose of women is to create sexual tension to keep things interesting. This line was particularly satirical because sexual harassment in the workplace is often fueled by this ideology. 


The Office mirrors actual societal views and issues that are present in society and the corporate environment. This episode, “Boys and Girls” does a great job of satirizing actual gender differences that exist in the workplace. In The Office, the gender representations, while exaggerated for humor, carry an important message of how inequalities still exist in office environments across America.