What I’ve Done During the Pandemic (Year in Review 2020)

Well, we’re still doing this, aren’t we? Alright, normally I wrap up my year with a thrilling and sentimental post about all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve seen. That didn’t happen this year; not to say I’ve done absolutely nothing but for sure it feels wrong to structure it or even think about this year in review like past years; this year is nothing like past years. The pandemic has kept me inside for most of the year and it has changed many facets of my daily life. But I still think it’s worth sharing some of the things I have done and did manage to do as safely as possible during this year indoors. 

January: Ah yes, January Amanda. Blissfully aware of the storm that was approaching. I had a convention in February that I was trying to prep for on top of my day job and podcasts. I was busy, I had things to do. 

February: UshiCon! A convention I’ve been trying to get into for years and finally made it. It was…well, an experience. I rarely regret convention experiences but I left this particular con exhausted, bitter and upset with myself. In personal news; I was also at the worst of my depression. I was horribly ill and miserable and was at that stage, taking it out on everyone including myself. I started back on antidepressants because I couldn’t stand who I was anymore. February also brought with it something I wasn’t expecting. Someone tried to cancel me. Now, I don’t have the energy to relive the saga but there’s a whole video on the matter that can bring you up to speed. 

March: I spent a pretty decent amount of March adjusting to the new medication but it was in March that the whispers of whatever virus that was affecting China was starting to take root here. I remember the day my boss encouraged us to work from home and if I had known that would be the last day I’d leave that office; I’d probably treasure it a little more. Working from home was a huge adjustment of trying to figure out a schedule that still allowed me to work but also accounted for the fact that now I was at home. I had to find things to fill my time in ways I was not used to. Luckily, work and the podcasts kept me busy.

April: I had a couple of virtual panels to do in April and started making masks. Amazing how cosplay started to fill a void in my life when I felt like there was nothing else to look forward to. Virtual conventions are really something. I admire event planners who had to scramble to make in-person events suddenly virtual. But it just can never quite capture the magic, can it? It’s never going to be the same. By April I had pretty much settled into what I assumed would be like the many other pandemics I’ve survived during my lifetime but I didn’t know that this was still just the tip of the iceberg. 

May: In May I did a shocking amount of baking and cooking. Mostly baking for other people because that’s how I coped with an uncertain world. I also started therapy which for longtime readers is probably a bit of a shocker. I haven’t been in therapy in a while and like most mentally ill people; I’m great at giving therapy but bad at being in therapy. It’s hard to be open about my emotions but as my psychologist cranked up the dose on the antidepressants, it got easier to talk about my past and trauma. Work continued to be a huge stressor for me; I had left a job in the death care industry (one I truly loved) hoping for more responsibility and more advanced. I got a lot of grunt work and stress that began to fray on my nerves and make me resent myself and others. 

June: By June I was sure that I no longer understood linear time. My podcasts and column kept me busy but it was also incredibly hard to think about days outside of work and not work. My day job exhausted me, I couldn’t see my friends and the conventions I had been looking forward to all year were steadily closing and canceling as the virus took its hold. I haven’t had anxiety like this before. Having anxiety during a pandemic is a unique kind of hell. It’s being constantly on edge about something but with the state of the world, there are plenty of things to be on edge about.  Oh and I lost my job. That happened. 

July: I celebrated my 30th birthday quietly with a friend in my quarantine circle without pomp or circumstance. Earlier in the year, I had thought of so many plans to celebrate a birthday that is so special but no, I stayed home and ordered in with a friend while watching trashy television. It may not have been a cruise or Las Vegas but it was nice to still be able to celebrate. 

August:  Freelance work and looking for a stable job kept me busy. I continued working on the things my therapist said and stayed on my meds. I did my best not to isolate the way my depression wanted me to do. Without conventions or other reasons to do anything, I found myself increasingly missing the things that give me meaning and pleasure. Luckily, I’d not only get a new job in August but also a visit from my best friend, Carlos, who had always been quarantining safely and took some time out to visit me. It was great even if we spent most of his visit in my apartment watching television; it was just great to do that with someone else. 

September:  I continued working, podcasting and doing my best to find my stride. The two podcasts continued to keep me busy as did the social media and design work for them. I’ve always known I do a lot for my hobbies but it was around this time of the year that I became aware of the fact that indeed, I was working quite hard all the time for these projects. September was quiet even as I tried to find more little reasons to leave the house safely in some sort of vague attempt at finding normalcy again.

October: Fortunately, October for me means two live shows and actually getting to be in costume. I wasn’t expecting to miss being in costume so much; even though I’ve been cosplaying for years. Having something to work on, to keep my idle hands busy, to look forward to was immensely rewarding and restorative. 

November: I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving away from my ancestral homeland for the past few years. I’ve mostly stayed close to my chosen home out of convenience but now considering the pandemic of it all; staying home was really the only option. Again: I got to celebrate with a friend and cater in to mitigate stress and the intimate gathering was exactly what I needed. November also featured an election that I’m pretty sure took a year or two off my life. 

December: I made the choice to go home for Christmas. I’m not sure why, but it felt right. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed something that felt like my life before this pandemic. I was safe: stayed in a hotel, limited my contact with others, wore my mask: I did everything possible to be safe and honestly, I don’t regret going home and seeing my family.

I’m going to keep wearing a mask and socially distancing. I’m going to keep doing my best to be responsible. This year has been absolutely insane personally, professionally, emotionally and more and I know every year I thank my friends and those close to me but dammit, I can say with confidence that I don’t think I would have made it through this year without my friends, found family and biological family. I’ve been so fortunate to have my health and my support system and the job I have and the podcasts I get to work on. I’m just fortunate, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Stay safe, everyone. Thanks for reading and sticking with me through this year. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 48- Faust

It’s the end of the year and still Tori’s birth month so join Amanda and Tori go over Faust talk a lot about Don Bluth and discuss the finer points of leggy owl demons.

The Comforting Xenophobia of Border Enforcement Shows

Yes, it is the Year of Our Lord 2020 and I am still talking about copaganda. In my continued hunt for shows to watch that isn’t ER. I found myself down a rabbit hole of watching UK Border Force, a show all about the border agents of the UK either out trying to find illegal immigrants, undocumented workers or those bringing drugs or other illegal items into the Queen’s Dominion. It’s a pretty slow-paced show; usually just people bringing in too many damn cigarettes through customs. But every once in a while the show gets really fast-paced when someone brings in drugs via their body cavity or in the lining of their luggage. Every once in a while someone will bring in too much cash and the best episodes feature dogs on the job. But one thing came to mind as I continued, there was a shocking amount of casual racism, jingoism and xenophobia in these shows. 

The UK version was not the only border force show I’ve seen, I’ve seen the US version which is…well, American and the Australian persuasion which seems very concerned about fruit: I’m serious so much of the episodes in New Zealand are concerned about mostly Pacific Islanders bringing in native fruits that could “damage local flora and fauna”; there’s even a hilarious part where a tourist bringing in an apple that was left in their backpack from another flight causes a $5,000 fine. And while I’m not here to minimize the threat of ecological threats it all does seem so excessive. Especially when it comes to the treatment of indigious peoples bringing in food or medicine that is culturally relevant or significant to them: these border agents are literal colonizers telling the people who were here before them that their native fruits and veggies and medicine are “dangerous” and “unregulated” and have the authority to have those goods destroyed. 

Another main focus of these shows is the finding and capturing of illegal workers and immigrants with varying levels of sensitive language. Because these shows are sensationalized, it’s easy to think of them as linear good and bad. Those who work illegally and take jobs away from native Britons or Aussies are bad and the good guys are those enforcing those rules. But many of these people are coming from poorer regions of the world and are often of color and the irony is not lost on me that those in colonizing countries demanding that people of color “enter the country the right way”. Again, I am not an idealized liberal who doesn’t believe in borders and I do very much agree that it’s always best to enter a country legally, but if you are from a poor village in India or Africa and coming over to England to work is the only way you can make money to support your family: you will do what you need to do. We’re also not going to ignore that much of “developed” world had no issue relying on the labor of people of color regardless of how they entered the country (it was not of their own will) and to this day benefit sight unseen on the backs of immigrants and people of color working whether it be legal or not. 

Shows like this work because they are inherently framed as a struggle of good versus evil. The good and brave border force agents are here to keep the country safe and the bad and evil people taking up jobs and resources and not paying taxes are bad. The editing and framing is dynamic and stories are shortened and stripped of nuance and complexity. We’re meant to, through framing, camera work and editing think that all actions taken by the border force are good and meant to keep us safe while anything that puts that safety at risk is bad. But most of the undocumented workers at the chip shop aren’t causing harm. The student who overstayed on his visa is not likely a terrorist and while the person who smuggled drugs in via laptop is in fact a criminal, they’re likely doing so for money. 

There are bad people out there who want to bring in drugs and illegal cigarettes and weird pornography and there are in fact terrorists who want to hurt people. But border force shows continue to push a linear narrative in situations that are oftentimes full of nuance. People don’t flee their home countries for no good reason but we don’t have time in a forty minute reality television show for nuance.  

It’s all a form of propaganda; a show to let you see just how hard border enforcement works and to show them the “danger” they put themselves in to keep us “safe”; but we’ve already covered that due to the nature of framing and editing that danger is clearly played up for the sake of sensationalized television. The chases, the thrill, the finding people trying to enter the country without permission in trucks and the drugs, oh the drama of the drugs. It makes the border force agents look capable, exciting and like they’re really doing something; just like all the other cop shows before it. Live PD was created almost explicitly to show cops as human after a string of police shootings of unarmed black men (a string that continues on to this day). Shows like this are meant to humanize the police and law enforcement but showing us as viewers just what the police do for us. It’s meant to remind us of the danger and hope that a little good press will make it easier to swallow the bitter pill of police violence. Look at all these cops doing the right thing; ignore the ones that have committed murder in cold blood. And it’s comforting for a while to see it; it’s called “security theater”, sorta like how you feel safer with extra TSA agents after 9/11 even though they really haven’t stopped any actual terrorists and have only succeeded in being angry at my flat iron, concerned by my bra’s underwire and upset at my potato chips in my backpack.  These actions are meant to make us feel safe and secure and reassured while we are meant to ignore all of the wrong going on underneath the surface. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading- Episode 47: The Phantom of the Opera

In this episode, hosts Tori and Amanda talk Gaston Leroux’s pulpy novel The Phantom of the Opera, talk orientalism and mention the world’s greatest movie: Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge.

Breaking Characters Down

I love the moment when  a character is at their lowest point. When they can’t look up and see the light, when they’re down and being kicked, when things are a mess. I love drama and mess and catharsis. What I don’t love is when writers tend to beat characters down for no good reason. We’re going to go over a few examples of breaking characters down in mostly western dramas because it is a unique issue faced by series that go on for hundreds of episodes with a constant need to ratchet up the tension. Because we’ll be talking character arcs and plot points: a spoiler warning is in effect: proceed with caution if that’s something you’re particularly sensitive to. 

 Dr. Spencer Reid has been through a lot. His time in all 15 seasons of Criminal Minds saw him battling an addiction to painkillers, the death of his girlfriend at the hands of an insane stalker, the continued ups and downs of his mother’s deteriorating mental health and the death of his mentor, loss of his best friend and the faked death of a beloved coworker. Spencer has been through a lot to say the least. But what does that do for Spencer? Spencer who is already kind, trusting, supportive and loving: what does it do for him? Does having his mentor murdered and having to solve the case make him a better investigator? Does having to watch his girlfriend die make him more empathetic? Does losing Morgan after years of dating- I mean, friendship do anything for him? No, it makes him hardened and sad and pathetic. And while he is far from the only character in Criminal Minds to have episode after episode hurt him, it feels particularly undeserved for Spencer; who as of the narrative has already been through so much. 

Sam Taggart is a nurse we meet in ER and when she’s introduced she’s scrappy, young and has a child despite her young age. She’s often referred to as Teen Mom and becomes less known for her actual character traits and more for the men she sleeps with from Dr. Kovac to Dr. Why is John Stamos Here. Sam is also known for her no good ex who is a literal convict and garbage human. She does her best to distance herself and her son from her horrible baby daddy but a dramatic season finale and season opening episode duo have her literally kidnaped by her convict ex along with her son. She is taken on a hostage road trip for a while after her convict ex stabs her then ex-boyfriend with a paralytic drug and during the road trip, she is raped by her ex. For network television, we see a pretty decent amount of the crime which turned my stomach upon first viewing. You see the light leave Sam’s eyes, you see her lay here, you see her resist and then not. It’s a tragic scene that ends with her murdering her attacker and taking herself and her son to freedom. What was that supposed to teach Sam? What is the lesson? What was the reason? Was the lesson to continue to do what she had been doing: not trusting her ex and being strong? Was the lesson that rape makes a woman stronger? Was the lesson that overcoming your attacker with violence makes a woman stronger? What was the lesson Sam and thus the audience is meant to learn from her trauma? 

By now you may be asking why I care so much. You may be curious since I started by saying that I love melodrama and stakes. Well, I do. But they have to amount to something. We’re going back to Criminal Minds for an example of an arc done right. Aaron Hotchner, the person who revealed that I have Daddy Issues, had an amazing arc of him losing his marriage and wife because of his dedication to his job at the BAU. After his season nemesis, The Fox, escapes and threatens the safety of his ex-wife and son; he drops everything to save his family. The episode is full of tension and drama and ends with Hotchner losing his ex-wife, who he still loves dearly and is the mother of his only son: Jack. The funeral scene that we get of Hotchner eulogizing his wife and actually taking time off of work to be there for his son shows us how important his job is and was to him but how much this particular loss hurt him. Hotchner was broken but did learn a lesson; one he continued to learn until he was killed off of the show because his actor was bad. 

Any time a character is hurt, it should mean something and shows that go on for hundreds of episodes: it’s hard to keep making pain meaningful. It’s hard to continue to invent new, fresh horrors for fictional characters to undergo and the nature of serialization means that oftentimes, many of these things happen in intense proximity to each other. Spencer Reid goes through many of his losses in what we can only assume is a year’s time. That’s enough to break anyone down. It’s especially distressing when this happens to female, BIPOC or neurodivergent characters because oftentimes trauma is a shorthand for character development for these kinds of characters. It’s lazy and bad experiences do not make up for a lack of character development. Breaking characters down does not make them more relatable, more human, more complex or anything: it just leaves them broken. And especially when dealing with characters of color, the neurodivergent or female characters; it’s so important to let them have stories that are happy and okay. So many queer characters, female characters or characters of color are faced with stories that are just punishing; they often end in death or suicide and that does something to you when the only representation you see is that of strife and pain. That does not minimize the stories that are painful, those will always be there but being able to just one see everything come out okay in the end: that would be truly something.