Issue #9: Men and their potential for violence, on & off screen

Hi,

Welcome back to Continue Watching! Another two weeks and 2020 will be over! How are you planning to spend these last two weeks? What are the things that you’re leaving behind and what are you looking forward to?

The thing we’re looking forward to the most is growing this newsletter. Last week, we reached a milestone and we have not stopped scream-crying in joy ever since. WE HIT 100 SUBSCRIBERS! A hundred people want to read our ramblings on television, which at one point we thought were forever going to stay trapped in our WhatsApp chats to each other! We’re so, so grateful to every single one of you for subscribing and reading, and we hope to continue entertaining you with our very passionate opinions about TV.

Given the celebratory beginning of this newsletter, you might think that this is an upbeat issue, but that’s… not exactly what is happening. Both of us finished watching The Undoing last week (Shahana disliked it and Kashika liked it), and (SPOILER ALERT) watching sweet and fumbling Hugh Grant from 90s romcoms play a straight-up sociopath got us thinking about abusive, manipulative men on TV. So, while one essay focuses on how The Undoing makes a point about men’s potential for violence without really meaning to, the other is about how watching messed-up, abusive relationships be romanticised on Indian TV pushed one of us into abusive relationships throughout her 20s. It’s heavy, but it’s the answer to a question we’re asked often— why do you care so much about TV?

Speaking of caring about TV, there has been A LOT of TV news in the last week that we have very strong feelings about. So, without further ado:

  • It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has been renewed for FOUR more seasons, which has made Shahana very, very happy!

  • The Handmaid’s Tale has been renewed for season five, which is just exhausting to even read.

  • Julianna Margulies AKA THE Alicia Florrick from one of the best shows of all time, The Good Wife, has joined the already packed cast of The Morning Show. Other exciting names to join the cast next season: Hasan Minhaj, Greta Lee, and Ruairi O'Connor. Apple TV+ is really stepping it up!

  • Kashika’s TV goddess Lauren Graham has a new show! Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is about a bunch of kids who play ice hockey and while she is not happy about watching another show about sports, watch her fall in love with the show immediately. Lauren can do no wrong!

  • Disney Plus has announced a bunch of new TV shows, and there is SO MUCH Marvel Studios stuff for everyone who misses witnessing the magic of the MCU in theatres.

  • A very promising new Hotstar special, starring Pankaj Tripathi & Kirti Kulhari. We’re suckers for legal dramas here!

  • The trailer of season two of Dickinson, which put one of us to sleep while thoroughly entertaining the other one, is out!

  • The trailer of season three of American Gods promises more action as Shadow Moon tries to settle into a quiet life in Lakeside while the Old and New Gods have no intention of letting him rest.

But what are we watching while we wait for all these wonderful shows to start airing? Well, behold our favourite section!

CURRENTLY WATCHING 

Kashika

13 Reasons Why: This was always a difficult show to watch. But something happened in season two that made me swear off it in 2018. One week ago, apropos of nothing, I started watching season three and, after watching one particular scene on Sunday, cried so much that I had to use my Innisfree Green Tea Seed Eye & Face Ball to soothe my eyes. Streaming on Netflix.  

The Duchess: A foul-mouthed, fast-talking single mother is trying to navigate love and life in London while figuring out how to give her daughter a sibling, whom they call ‘our baby’. This show is really trying to do something, but I have no idea what it is. Everything the lead character does is meant to scandalise the audience, but so many shows have already done this in a much better fashion, so this is mostly a background watch that I would not recommend. Streaming on Netflix.

Shahana

Vikings: Made by Michael Hirst, who’s behind so many of my favourite period shows (The Tudors, The Borgias), Vikings revolves primarily around legendary Norse king Ragnar Lothbrok and his shieldmaiden wife Lagertha. Viking warriors, Norse gods, Christian monks, and Western politics--there’s plenty of action and scheming to enjoy. Streaming on Netflix.

The Fall of Anne BoleynThis is a three-part documentary series where historian Tracy Borman follows the last days of Tudor queen Anne Boleyn; her arrest, the subsequent trial, and execution. The show is constructed to follow in Anne’s footsteps, and Borman’s obvious enthusiasm for what happened and the events that unfolded are making it a really thrilling watch. Not streaming anywhere, but full episodes can be found on YouTube.

Before you move on to the essays, we have one burning question for you. In our next issue, the last one of this year, instead of recommending a show to you, we want to feature your recommendations for everyone. So, tell us, what is the one TV show you’ve been asking everyone to watch? What is the one show that got you through 2020?

A post shared by Continue Watching (@continuewatchingwithks)

Tell us and we will feature your answers in the next issue. Until then, we hope you have a great week! We’ve put a trigger warning for sexual and physical violence in our essays, so if you feel like you don’t want to read them, please stop here and take care of yourself. We see you, we hear you, and we’re here for you.

Continue Watching (and reading!),

Kashika and Shahana

The Undoing Unknowingly Makes A Point About Men’s Potential For Violence

By Shahana

[Spoilers ahead]

If you watched The Undoing and felt that it vaguely reminded you of Big Little Lies, you won’t be too far off. The Undoing is another David E. Kelley show where Nicole Kidman plays a tortured woman with a shady husband. But that’s where the similarities end. While BLL focused on the private lives of the protagonists and the parts they chose to hide from the world, The Undoing chooses to forego that entirely in favour of extreme closeups of Nicole Kidman’s wide, tormented eyes and flashes of scenes that are supposed to be red herrings to throw us off (are they flashbacks or things she’s imagining?). 

The basic premise of The Undoing is this: Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), a successful psychologist, lives in the more expensive part of New York with her pediatric oncologist husband Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) and their son Henry (Noah Jupe). She meets the mysterious and enigmatic Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), who is from a lower social and economic background than the Frasers, at a fundraiser meeting for their sons’ elite private school. The day after the fundraiser, Elena is found dead, brutally murdered in her studio, and Jonathan is the main suspect. The rest of the show follows the titular undoing of Grace’s life—everything she knows about her life, her husband, and her marriage. At least, that’s what the show is supposed to be about. To actually show us how Grace deals with her life falling apart, we’d have to see more than just the aforementioned extreme closeups of her eyes, but The Undoing doesn’t because it also wants to be a whodunit; exploring her inner thoughts would reveal that she isn’t the murderer, and the show wants us to think of her as a suspect. The Undoing also tries to be a commentary on the privileged lives of rich, white people and the protections they afford by virtue of being white and rich. 

What The Undoing ends up doing is something I don’t believe it set out to do. The show provides us with an expert study on predatory men, the male gaze, and why our interactions with men are almost always tinged with the realisation of men and their potential for violence. Violent men don’t have a uniform; they can look like a bearded, burly man in a wifebeater or a suave, charming man in a suit. We’re so conditioned to think that violent men look a certain way, talk a certain way, and are a certain way, that when Jonathan Fraser is accused of a violent act of murder, we go through the six episodes thinking “Oh it must be someone else” even though everything on the show points to it being him. The only thing well done on The Undoing (aside from Nicole Kidman’s hair and costume department) is casting Hugh Grant as Jonathan Fraser. Grant’s popularity was built on the stereotype of the English boy-next-door—self-deprecating in a really cute way, a man who isn’t aware of his own charm. Jonathan Fraser definitely has the exact same persona, except for one vital difference—Jonathan is very aware of his charm and the effect it has on people, and uses that to manipulate them towards his own ends. 

The show is peppered with instances where Jonathan commits small acts of violence on the people he claims to love. In Episode 2, when he surprises Grace in her beach house, his first instinct is to put his hand on her neck so she doesn’t call out or do something he doesn’t want. Later, Grace and Jonathan walk down a street talking about his infidelity and running, and he forces her into a hug, despite her saying “No” multiple times. It’s a hug she fights very half-heartedly, but she fights nonetheless, and Jonathan holds her to him forcibly, till she caves and melts into the hug. It takes a few seconds till she remembers she’s supposed to be angry and wrenches herself away, but it’s telling that he decides to ignore her refusal to be physically close to him. And this isn’t the only time he does it—he continually invades Grace and Henry’s personal spaces, which to him is justified because he’s giving them affection. In a later episode, he forces his way into the hospital room when Grace faints and subjects her to an unnecessary medical exam despite the fact that neither Grace nor her father Franklin Reinhardt (Donald Sutherland) want him there. In the last episode, he forces Henry into another smothering hug, ignoring Henry’s objections to it; Jonathan was trying to convince Grace that Henry had brutally murdered a woman, is it any wonder that Henry isn’t really feeling a hug from his father at that moment? Jonathan is a pediatric oncologist, his job involves him being around children all the time, so it’s not strange to assume that he’d have an idea of how to be around kids. The only takeaway from this is that Jonathan probably knows that Grace and Henry don’t want him around, but he doesn't care, because he wants to be around and he knows he can charm them enough to come around. If Jonathan is this indifferent and callous to the wants of his wife and child, is it any surprise that he commits further acts of violence on Elena, a woman he feels absolutely nothing for?

But Jonathan isn’t the only one on The Undoing to commit violence on Elena Alves. The show itself does it to her, pretty much every time she’s onscreen. In the first episode, when we meet her, she takes her top off to breastfeed her daughter. Breastfeeding an infant is not a sexual act, but we’re shown her doing this from multiple angles, for no obvious reason. Next, we see Elena approach Grace in a gym locker room. Elena is completely naked, and we see multiple angles of her body again, for no discernable reason except to hammer in the fact that Elena is an attractive woman. The next, Elena at the fundraiser, dressed in a gown with her decolletage in view, surrounded by admiring men. Elena again, in Jonathan’s memories, dancing in her underwear, taking her bra off. Elena, in Grace’s imagination, always in the throes of sexual pleasure, in the middle of passionate sex with Jonathan. Elena, at the end, begging for her life, in her gown with her cleavage bared, getting her face bashed in. Elena, throughout the show, lying dead in a pool of her own blood, in that same gown with her cleavage bared and her face bashed in. 

Elena is treated as nothing but a body, and is always shot as someone who is one of the architects of Grace’s “undoing.” What were Elena’s motivations for the things she did? Why did she fixate on Grace that way? We’ll never know, because The Undoing isn’t interested in Elena as being anything more than a plot device to further Grace’s pain and self-discovery. Jonathan, in trying to explain away his affair, paints Elena as a “crazy” woman, obsessed with him and his family. I’m inclined to believe him, because the show itself believes it and forces us to believe it. All we see is her strange behaviours around Grace; the staring, the crying in the bathroom, fleeing from the fundraiser alone, kissing Grace, the mammoth portrait of Grace in her studio—these are acts that without context and explanation really do seem like the acts of someone who is not okay. 

The Undoing commits the ultimate act of violence upon Elena by using her to cement the fact that the show’s victim, the person we are meant to feel sorry for, is Grace. It is the shattering of Grace’s domestic bliss we must feel for, not the woman whose skull is shattered and who leaves behind a grieving husband, young son, and infant daughter. It is another insidious act of violence the show commits on Elena as it sets her against Grace. Grace ends up being the woman who flies through the city looking for her son kidnapped by a deranged killer, who breaks through a police barricade, and then proceeds to lead him away by the hand from his murderer father. Grace is the ultimate symbol of motherhood, only deciding to throw Jonathan to the wolves when he threatens Henry’s wellbeing, while Elena lies in her studio, dead with her mutilated face, waiting for her young son to find her. 

Shows mentioned:

Big Little Lies - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Undoing - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐

How Hindi TV Shows Messed Up My Idea Of Romance & Pushed Me Into Abusive Relationships

By Kashika

[Trigger warning: Physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse]

Kya aap ek bazaaru nachaniya ko banayenge apne ghar ki bahu?” I heard this line, without fail, every single night while watching Bigg Boss for a month. It was the tagline of a new show which started airing on Colors last week. I watched the promo the first few times because the show is from the production house that made my all-time favourite Hindi TV show, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon (IPKKND). Namak Ishq Ka, the nachaniya show, is about a young woman, Chamcham, who is a gifted dancer, and uses that talent to earn her livelihood, while constantly being derided by everyone around her for being a naachne waali. You know, classic misogynistic Hindi TV stuff that tops the charts consistently in our blessed country.  

The second promo for this show, which started airing a week before its premiere, was about how the male lead of the show, who is a rich asshole like all male leads on Indian TV, considers anything that Chamcham touches untouchable just because she’s a dancer. The third promo showed that these two would soon be married in the show, a hate-marriage, if you will (the most popular trope in Indian TV), where a man and a woman get married against their will because of circumstances, and the man goes on to insult, humiliate, intimidate, and assault the woman while she mildly inconveniences him as much as she can until they fall in love because they’re meant to be. Pick the most famous Hindi TV shows—Kutumb, IPKKND, Ishqbaaz, Qubool Hai, Rang Rasiya, Madhubala—and you will find a hate-marriage in every single one of them. 

Here’s another thing all of these shows have in common—I love them. I don’t love the abuse part, of course, but I love the redemption. I love the moments of tenderness. Except that moments of tenderness immediately following moments of anger is a classic tactic used by abusers everywhere. When I started watching these shows, as a teenager, I didn’t know that. I would listen to the romantic songs playing in the background, the man grovelling in the front of the woman, professing his love for her in perfect lighting while her dupatta aesthetically flutters around her, and I would think, “So that’s love.” No one told me that it was actually the opposite. There was no internet riddled with thinkpieces at the time, and everyone in my family watched these shows. I thought it was normal. 

Here are some common tropes and storylines from these shows that are ‘normal’: 

  • Male lead (ML) manhandling the female lead (FL) in an argument, so much so that he leaves marks on her arms and she covers them up with her dupatta as the sad version of their romantic theme song plays in the background 

  • ML calling FL a slut because someone completely random told him that she spent the night with another random man

  • ML threatening to kill/hurt/harm a family member of the FL to get her to marry him to serve his purpose

  • ML holding FL responsible for every problem in his life and humiliating her every day as a consequence of the same

  • ML telling FL that she is not worthy of him because she’s from a lower socio-economic background  

  • ML gripping FL’s hand tightly in an argument, enough to break her bangles and draw blood

  • ML twisting FL’s arm behind her back in an argument while looking at her with a frustrating combination of anger and lust

All of this happens in 99.99% of Hindi TV shows and in the end, the male lead is always redeemed. This psychopathic behaviour is explained away as childhood trauma, trust issues, or abandonment issues, and we’re supposed to roll with it (which we do). Even in shows where the male lead starts out as a sensitive, sweet man (Omkara in Dil Bole Oberoi, Rudra in Ishqbaaz, Rohit in Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum, Shravan in Ek Duje Ke Vaaste, Sid in Sanjivani 2, and most recently KT in Shaadi Mubarak), they all turn into assholes sooner or later because that is the trend and the writers don’t know how to do anything else.

A lot of people judge me for watching Hindi TV, which is fine, but they do not realise just how many people are watching these shows. And these do not have the access to resources to understand how fucked up this is. There is always so much chatter about the damaging effects of shitty, problematic Bollywood movies like Housefull or Judwaa, but no one is talking about these shows that air every single day and consequently have a far larger audience and a much bigger impact. Every time a new show starts airing, someone will pick up a clip, make fun of it on Twitter, 200 people will comment on how fucked up it is and then forget about it. That show will continue to ‘entertain’ families across the country for months, if not years. That show will continue to shape the way young men and women think about love. And I am proof.

When I was 20, I moved out of my home town and went to work in Delhi. My world opened up. The number of people I started interacting with almost quadrupled. I had started dating young, but now I lived alone and could have anyone over anytime, so dating took on a whole new meaning. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was about to enter a tempestuous, troubled decade with relationships that would be the exact replica of what I saw in my TV shows. 

Somehow I was always dating the same kind of man. In the beginning, when we would fight and he would throw things and call me names and scream in my face, I would think, “How is this happening to me?” We would break up and he would come back grovelling, telling me I made him act like that. Telling me this is what happens when there’s passion in a relationship. There would be no romantic music and no mood lighting but I would take him back. I didn’t make the connection until years later, but I had internalised that this is what a relationship looks like. It’s fun when it’s good and volatile when it’s bad and that’s just life.

I remember watching Big Little Lies around the same time all of my friends were all watching it, and while it was in no way the first show about abusive relationships that we had watched, in fact we had already read the book, it somehow left the biggest impact. We would constantly have discussions about Nicole Kidman’s abusive marriage and how well it was portrayed. I remember thinking, by myself, why I am so affected by her portrayal of Celeste. Don’t I watch this every day in my Hindi shows? I never got a definitive answer but I think part of it was because Indian shows very rarely show sexual abuse in central relationships. For one, they lack the guts and nuance to do so, and secondly, since the central relationship has to ultimately be celebrated, they cannot show their male lead as a rapist or a straight-up wife beater. So they stick to the arm twisting and bangle breaking, which is also 100% abuse no matter how much it is romanticised in these shows. 

I recently watched The Undoing, a week after Shahana did. There’s a scene where Hugh Grant, who’s accused of murder, hugs Nicole Kidman, his wife, against her will. She thinks he’s guilty and he’s trying to convince her that he isn’t. I didn’t think anything of that scene. Until Shahana pointed out that he was invading her personal space. I went back and watched that scene and it was clear that he was. I spent a lot of time wondering why this scene didn’t bother me as it had clearly bothered Shahana. Years of watching women’s personal space being violated on TV has made it harder for me to pick up on these things. I have to deprogramme my brain and unlearn all the shit that Hindi TV and films have taught me. I’ve been actively doing it for years but I’d be lying if I said that the process is complete. Or that I have stopped watching Hindi shows. I do not understand how I can compartmentalise my brain and enjoy them but I do. It’s messed up. 

Over the years, I have met many other people who love these fucked-up shows and don’t know why. We all tell each other, “If in real life a man does to me what Arnav did to Khushi in IPKKND, I would fucking murder him.” But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that when a man has tried to hurt me like Arnav hurt Khushi, I have let him. I can only hope that I have learned and unlearned enough that now, in my 30s, I can break this pattern.

Shows mentioned:

Big Little Lies - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Undoing - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐

Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (despite everything)

Recommendations

We get so many requests for TV show recs from friends, so we’ll get to them here in every issue.

Listen, I love superhero films and shows, and I really enjoyed the Jessica Jones and Daredevil series. What can I watch now?

You should try The Boys, though it’s not quite like the superhero content you’re used to. This show is set in a world where superheroes are like celebrities managed by a huge Disney-like corporation called Vought. They’re basically like over-indulged celebrities who are so used to getting their way that they basically do what they want without any consequences. There’s no Steve Rogers-esque idealism here—the superheroes in this world are as corrupt as they come. Enter the Boys: a group of vigilantes who try to introduce the word consequences to these superheroes and reveal their depravity to the world. There’s plenty of violence, cursing, nudity, and gore, so if you’re squeamish, be warned. The Boys mocks the superhero genre, and does excellent social commentary on a few other problems as well.

The Boys is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Shout-Outs

Kashika

Reading this brilliant essay in The Atlantic, about why Ted Lasso and Emily in Paris were perceived so differently even though they are both shows about Americans who move abroad, was the first time I realised that Rebecca from Ted Lasso is the shame nun from Game of Thrones! How did I not see this before???

Shahana

I’ve never made a secret of how much I love reality television, and there’s no talking about reality TV without mentioning the Kardashians. This piece by Spencer Kornhaber unpacks how the Kardashians have lost the relatability-factor that kept us tuning in to their show year after year.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Links and resources to understand what’s happening around us, and what you can do to make a difference. If you want us to feature a particular cause or endeavour in this section, please email us.

As we mentioned in our previous issue, farmers are protesting at the Delhi borders. Khalsa Aid set up foot massagers for them, and the farmers were also served pizza for their meals. Because we live in a terrible world, there are people who have issues with farmers being given something nice. Just a quick reminder, none of these people said anything when farmers were eating rats. If you want Khalsa Aid to continue doing good work and provide farmers with more conveniences, donate to them here.


We hope you enjoyed reading this issue as much as we loved writing it. Please write to us if you have any feedback. We look forward to your emails, comments, tweets, and DMs with requests, criticism, recommendations, and anything else that you want to tell us. You can also follow us on Instagram here. And if you haven’t already, do subscribe!