Binge-watching Netflix seems to be an acceptable pastime for once. Not only do we have more time on our couches (now that we’re not commuting for an hour or going out after work) but we all need to escape the grim reality, at least for a few hours.
Offering plenty of scandal, sex and adrenaline-rushing escapes, Babylon Berlin is a show designed for binge watching, and (for better or worse) ironically foretells our current predicament.
The show is set in Berlin in the “Golden Twenties”, a zeitgeist by both political instability and cultural hedonism and progressivism.
It is a world where cross-dressing nightclub singers moonlight as Soviet-employed assassins. Where nudist lake outings and police massacres of left-wing protesters occur simultaneously.And where a shell-shocked grizzled army veteran produces illicit lewd films.
Into this melange steps Gereon Rath, a police detective from Cologne who has been temporarily summoned to Berlin under surreptitious circumstances. Although ostensibly working with the vice squad, Rath ends up being drawn into a homicide investigation that unravels a complex web of conspiracies (I haven’t reached the end yet, so I can’t reveal how it unfolds) involving mutinous Reichswehr (army) officers, pro-Trotsky communists, a mafiosi nightclub mogul, a trove of gold and even Rath’s police department colleagues.
The plot and cinematography are so furtively adroit, revealing major backstories and side plots-in pieces-through a glimpse of binoculars or a brief flashback, as to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat. The fact that nearly every character has some fishy doppelganger heightens the suspense.
And yet, the most powerful part of the series is the strange hindsight it offers in our current predicament.
Only a-month-and-a-half ago I was frequenting gay nightclubs on a weekly basis. The West Hollywood nightlife-almost as libertine as Weimar Berlin’s-carried on with full force despite the ominous illness seeping into the country.
Like the Berlin of Babylon, our republic was in a precarious state. Politicians routinely flouted democratic norms and connived with foreign powers. Inequality ran rampant. Gun violence was a part of daily life.
But if you were part of the middling urban bourgeoisie, with just enough of a paycheck to indulge in cocktails or pour-over coffee on the weekend, you could rationalize everything away, or forget it even existed.
Until the economy stopped…
Anyone with a basic knowledge of European history knows what will happen next in the Babylon story: the 1929 Stock Market Crash will lead to totalitarianism, which will lead to the bloodiest war in Germany’s history.
We’re past the crash phase now. Which is why watching Babylon arouses such a strong feeling of nostalgia.
Life is short. History is long.
When will I be able to frequent nightclubs again without the risk of contracting a terrifying illness? Where will our turbulent geopolitics take us?
These thoughts don’t usually linger. I am always too giddy to move on to the next episode.
And even when they do, my feelings ultimately move from despair to contemplation.
One discreet message I pick up from Babylon:
A corrupt society is probably not worth retaining, regardless of its temptations.
I had a busy social calendar in February. I went out to bars and coffeeshops every weekend, where I chatted and flirted with both friends and strangers. I kind of miss those days.
Nor surprisingly, COVID-19 was rarely mentioned in these conversations.
Americans are notorious for shying away from unpleasant topics in conversations. As the saying goes, “never talk about politics, religion and death.”
Vox’s David Roberts, notes how “small talk” in conversations between strangers or at social events serves a purpose of social bonding, rather than conveying information. Thus, small topic focuses on “topics of reliable comity, and stresses fellow feeling rather than sources of disagreement.”
However, as my past life experience shows, keeping our conversations light and cushy prevents us from confronting issues of grave importance.
Imagine if we had talked about COVID-19 at the bar. We might have thought about social distancing earlier or even demanded answers from officials hesitant to tell the truth.
In the long run, Climate change poses an even greater threat to our existence, but is still considered too awkward and “nerdy” for the cocktail party.
By neglecting such topics of social importance, we fail our civic duty as citizens of a democracy to stay informed on the issues we vote on.
Some might argue that you can only have a good conversation with a person who is knowledgeable of the subject at hand. Yet, conversations about the weather are a core part of small talk, and we aren’t all meteorologists…
This is not to degrade small talk’s role in facilitating social bonding. A certain exchange of niceties at the beginning of a conversation is psychologically needed to initiate contact. This opening small talk should be differentiated from the dominance of superficial yet agreeable topics in many conversations.
Indeed, American small talk’s aversion to uncomfortable topics discourages people from opening up about their personal troubles or struggles. By foregoing topics that make them vulnerable, participants in a conversation lose an opportunity to establish a deep connection. By pushing discomfort, pain and anguish under the rug, conversational norms further a harmful stigmatization of mental health.
Having struggled with Obssessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Asperger’s traits for much of my life, I can vouch for the last point being far from trivial.
Much of the pain and depression I have experienced in my adult life might have been assuaged if I felt more comfortable sharing my feelings with others.
In the current crisis, let’s resist the urge to deflect conversations and shame “negativity” or geekiness.
Let’s give ourselves (and others) space to share and listen, to love and to learn.
February 15 brings a sigh of relief:) For singles of all genders, Valentine’s Day can be a cause for anxiety.
Since I have borderline Asperger’s symptoms and tend to miss indirect and non-verbal cues, the pressure I feel to flirt in February can jitter my nerves. I have a feeling that many other men feel the same.
Why is it that, in the era of #metoo, straight guys are expected to pursue girls and not the other way around?
Evolutionary psychologists would argue that it is “natural” for a woman to choose the partner because she’ll end up having to carry his baby for nine months.
And yet, being the smart apes we are, our personality and “character” traits likely have as much to do with social conditioning as with evolutionary hard-wiring.
Indeed, a study conducted ten years ago found that when women were given the initiative to approach men as part of a speed dating experiment, they were as assertive as men who were told to approach women.
I can’t speak for the experience of women, so I won’t attempt any answers. The speed dating experiment article noted that the large size of women’s accessories makes it harder for women to be mobile at speed dating events. I wonder what role slut-shaming (by stigmatizing female sexual expression) and women’s safety concerns (e.g. the risk of being a victim of assault/ harassment) play?
Regardless, I think there are some major problems (based on my experience talking with other guys about the subject) with the expectation that men should initiate relationships.
It makes flirting and courting stressful for guys like myself, who fall on the spectrum or have other issues that impede social interaction. Male mental health is an often overlooked subject: The role flirting plays in this should be taken seriously.
I also feel that it reinforces some toxic male behaviors.
The belief that men’s “success” in dating depends on how strongly they pursue a partner can lead men to coerce women into sex.
The pressure for men to be witty and interesting when flirting encourages patronizing displays of expertise (i.e. “man-splaining”).
In a recent study of sexuality in young men, Psychologist Peggy Orenstein expressed shock at finding that “It was still all about stoicism, sexual conquest, dominance, aggression…. athleticism, (and) wealth.” All of these characteristics are–to one degree or another–seen as enhancing men’s ability to “win over” attractive women.
Readers, do you agree with my perspective?
What has your experience with flirting as a cis/trans guy/girl been like?
One of the front runners in tonight’s academy awards is Marriage Story. Having watched Marriage Story on the weekend of its Netflix release, I feel the award is justified but at the same time, reveals a lot of what is wrong with the culture of Hollywood movie-making.
I was raised by divorced parents, so Marriage Story resonates with me strongly. I appreciate the films emotional realism (the nuanced expressions of the characters making their outbursts all the more vivid and powerful), its moral ambiguity (the story never being that simple) and deft portrayal of the intricate emotional web of romance. By the end of the movie, my face was wet with tears.
And yet, something about the characters’ lives is just a bit too good to be real. The repeated jaunts from coast to coast. Nicole’s (Johanssen’s Character’s) career as a Hollywood B-list actress, with a scandalous reputation. Nicole and Charlie’s effortless coasting through the most gilded hillside and beachfront neighborhoods of Los Angeles, as if money is never an actual issue.
“In LA, there is space,” everyone tells Charlie. On what planet are these living? LA has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country.
The root of the issue with Marriage Story is a little thing called representation.
Its not just about race (as popularly perceived) but about class and geography. By confining its gaze to a privileged creative perspective, Marriage Story, like many other Hollywood movies loses its power and its appeal.
Update (April 13, 2020): Since I wrote this article back in January, COVID-19 has spread to every corner of the globe. It has killed more than 100,000 people and sickened millions, while tanking the global economy. While most of the public’s attention has shifted away from the virus’s origin story, many of the dynamics I highlight in my article still hold true:
We still don’t have definitive proof that the virus originated in the Huanan Seafood “Wet” Market. It most likely came from bats, but exactly how and when it spread to humans is still unclear.
The belief that the pandemic started due to the butchering or consumption of “exotic” animals at a Wet Market, fuels anti-asian hate crimes.
China is permanently banning the illegal wildlife trade (much of which occurs outside of a typical wet market). However, eliminating wet markets themselves would upend traditional food ways (providing the primary means of selling food for rural residents). In regards to the wildlife ban, there could be issues with compensating farmers and effectively enforcing the ban. Without either of these, the law foster the proliferation of more dangerous underground activity.
It is also true that Chinese Medicine corporations and the Chinese Forestry Department provide institutional support for the wildlife trade. Thus the breeding and trading of wildlife exceeds the issue of wet markets and consumption of certain species.
The trading and breeding of multiple species of wildlife does carry grave public health risks, which I don’t intend to downplay here.
Anthony Bourdain appreciated the energy and dynamism of wet markets. I wish he were still around to educate the public.
The coronavirus outbreak is exposing America’s deep-rooted underbelly of anti-Asian racism. From teasing on the playground to stigmatization at the shopping mall, (many) Americans’ reaction to the outbreak reveals the extent to which they conceive of Chinese, like myself, as a monolith-devoid of individual humanity.
Perhaps the most disgraceful instance of racial hysterics has been the media’s portrayal of China’s live-animal (or “wet”) markets as an incubator of disease.
In China, a “wet market” denotes an ad hoc market where fresh meat and produce, rather than “dry” packaged goods, are sold. Because of the Chinese preference for freshly-slaughtered meat, animals are often displayed alive and butchered upon purchase.
Think of them like a cross between a farmer’s market and a petting zoo.
The coronavirus outbreak may have originated in the Huanan Seafood Market, a wet market in Wuhan. Since the outbreak, the American mass media have ominously portrayed these markets as alien and unsanitary.
A New York Times Article depicts China’s “Omnivorous Markets” (as if their customers were animal rather than human!) as purveyors of “unusual fare, including live snakes, turtles and cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats…” The article notes that many blame the markets’ “culinary adventurism” for the epidemic.
Bloomberg News’ Headline demonizes wet markets as a “Breeding Ground” for viruses. The body text of the article highlights the fact that “shoppers mingle in narrow spaces with everything from live poultry to snakes” in the markets as “a key reason” for their culpability in spreading disease.
The New York Post‘s Paula Froelich does not even mince words in her writing. These “filthy markets” boast a “fetid stench,” she writes (based on experiences in unnamed third-world locations), akin to “the sweet and nauseating smell of death.”
The supposedly unsavory character of the wet markets leads Froelich to assert what the other authors imply: that the wet markets are a public health risk and should, therefore, be shut down for good.
Although this argument sounds logical on the surface, the lurid portrayal on which it relies draws on racially-motivated stereotypes about Chinese cuisine.
During the 19th-century, Chinese immigrants to America (who began arriving in the country during the California Gold Rush) encountered vicious discrimination from the country’s White majority. One area in which prejudice manifested was food.
White citizens decried the Chinatowns of western cities as “nuisances” because of the perceived “stench” emanating from their kitchens. White politicians regarded Chinese “coolies” as inferior based on their preference for rice over beef. And white newspapers obsessed over Chinese consumption of “unusual” animals like rats.
Although times have changed and sushi, larb and dim sum can now command Michelin stars, questions Asian-Americans receive about eating “dog” and stigmas around the smell of kimchi show that the “othering” of Asian food (and people) is very real. Sub-consciously or not, the media’s portrayal of live animal markets as an incubator for pandemics plays into this.
Moreover, the media’s blame of wet markets for the Coronavirus epidemic grossly oversimplifies the story. It is true that the Coronavirus likely originated in bats and, therefore, infected humans via an animal carrier. However, scientists have not affirmatively established the Huanan market as the site of the disease’s transmission. A study in the esteemed Lancet medical journal found that thirteen of the 41 initial Coronavirus cases were not linked to the market.
Suppose, however, that China’s wet markets do transmit the disease? Should we accept the media’s premise that the Chinese government should shut down the markets?
To me, it seems cynical at best to promote a crackdown on mom-and-pop enterprises by an authoritarian regime not hesitant to employ brutality. Many of the wild animal sales in “wet markets” sustain small farmers who would otherwise be decimated by big agribusiness.
Furthermore, a ban on wet markets or the sale of wild animals in China may prove ineffective. When the Chinese government banned the sale of certain wildlife following the SARS epidemic in 2002, trade in the outlawed specimens migrated to the black market. Unregulated and invisible to health authorities, black market operations are less likely to follow healthy or sustainable practices.
Finally, suppose a ban on “wet” markets is effective. The Chinese have switched from shopping for freshly-slaughtered (domesticated and wild) animals at a local “wet” market to buying packaged meats, from the standard cow-pig-chicken trifecta of domesticated animals, at Walmart or Costco.
In this future scenario, meat has to be trucked for a longer distance or flown in, greatly increasing the greenhouse gas emissions from food transport. Likewise, the industrial farms and slaughterhouses involved in meat production release far more carbon emissions than the family farms that once supplied wet markets. Increased consumption of beef in China requires expanding pastureland for grazing and feed growing, destroying forest habitats across the globe.
Overall, the transition from wet market to packaged meat consumption in China could result in a far less sustainable environmental outcome, compared to the status quo.
Indeed, the contribution of industrial meat processing to Climate Change has become a favored marketing device of vegan and vegetarian advocates these days.
So, rather than castigate wet markets, why not accept them as the dynamic enterprises they are, while promoting sanitation measures at the markets that can tame the risk of outbreaks.
And rather than gag at the Chinese consumption of fresh, wild animals-we should admire the Chinese willingness to consume animals that require less resource-intensive agriculture.
Once upon a time, a blog was an online personal journal, with minimal formatting and detailed writing on niche subjects. In the past decade, with the rise of social media, blogging has become more capitalistic, with a focus on obtaining mass appeal (and revenue) through posting popular content. My search for popular blogs in 2019 reveals a slew of sites that boast top-notch web design but primarily serve to teach a practical skill or offer cliched self-help advice.
While the former type of blog lacks widespread readership, the latter type of blog has superficial content. Very few blogs manage to say something interesting in a way that is accessible to a large audience.
Enter Entrepot. A site devoted to sharing my thoughts, ideas, and experiences with the world. A site intended for self-expression, yes, but also for education and dialogue.
I will offer insightful perspectives on topics ranging from transportation to film.
I will write well-researched content in words that are easy to follow.
I will encourage discussions by asking questions more often than I provide answers.
By challenging so-called “conventional wisdom,” I will provoke the imagination.
My aspirations come from a very personal place. I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge with others. Being on the Asperger’s Spectrum, I possess a rich repertoire of thoughts but find the process of landing traditional academic careers too stressful and rigid (My two year planning master’s degree was intense enough). Blogging allows me to pursue my passion in the most rewarding way possible.
Content-wise, I will post two pieces at the end of each week.
One will be a short review or diary piece, documenting or reacting to a particular movie or experience I encountered during the week.
The second will be a more in-depth “thought” piece about a conceptual topic that interests me.
Topics that I expect to cover include Cities/Planning, Culture, Transportation Geography and Personal Relationships. However, I don’t want this blog to be defined by any particular subject, and I will write on different themes as I see fit.
Overall, Entrepot embodies a new type of digital environment, one that is deep, open, informed, curious, down-to-earth and often funny:)
I am excited to begin posting and even more excited to receive responses.