sally wainwright

One of my friends here in California is an immigrant from Taiwan. She had her parents stay with her for a couple of months, and invited some people over for a party so that everyone could meet. The next day her parents had told her they had felt like they were in a movie. Surrounded by all white friendly Americans a movie was their point of reference.

Even though I’ve lived in California for more than 20 years I feel the same way half the time. Yesterday I was walking on the trail close to my house. It’s a beautiful loop on the side of a mountain with a creek and some classic California yellow hills. I go on this trail and I am surrounded by perfection. Perfectly toned bodies, perfect brand name exercise outfits, perfect bikes, perfect dogs. Perfect take-out coffee cups. Perfect sunglasses, perfect hair.

There is a strive for perfection in American culture that gets to you after a while. It makes your eyes gloss over, and it makes your brain gloss over. It’s impersonal, and boring. The perfection of film and TV has carried over into real life, and with image driven social media there is no end in sight. There isn’t a crack in anything.

I balance the mind-numbing perfection by watching none-American TV. I grew up with British TV in Sweden, and the cultures and cultural values are similar. Recently I’ve discovered Sally Wainwright, a British writer for television. She’s created Scott & Bailey (a Manchester version of Cagney and Lacey), Happy Valley, and Last Tango in Halifax among others. She’s also been a writer for a truckload of other shows. A lot of the actors recur, and Nicola Walker is one of them. She’s not perfect, but she’s a star. And she looks like someone you work with.

Sally Wainwright creates female characters who are complex, interesting, and believable. They drink too much and throw up. They have sex with the wrong person. They worry about their kids. They act with natural authority at work. And they have wrinkles, and sometimes they wear clothes that don’t fit right.

Watch a few episodes of the police drama Scott & Bailey, and all of a sudden you’ll realize that there isn’t a single male chief, sergeant, or medical examiner anywhere. It’s not announced upfront, and it will only dawn on you after a while. But every single scene consists of women, named characters, who talk about something else than men and drive the plot forward.

In Happy Valley Sarah Lancashire, as sergeant Catherine Cawood, obviously kicks ass. But she also literally kicks the shit out of someone when she’s left alone with the man who raped her daughter. She’s no Wonder Woman, but she’s strong, lovable, scary, and vulnerable, all at once.

Sally Wainwright also lets women be funny. In one scene sergeant Cawood leaves the home of an elderly immigrant who has agreed to give shelter to a young woman who has blown the whistle on a human trafficking ring. As she leaves, Cawood reminds the old woman to “lock this door”. “Oh, I was thinking to leave it open”, the old woman says. “And maybe put sign, you know, ‘human traffickers come here’.”

She reminds me of the Japanese woman who sold me make-up in Japantown in San Jose when I first moved to the US. To help me pick a shade, she said, in equally broken English, “Your age, ENHANCE. My age, COVER UP.” She quickly circled her face with her hand, and then she turned around and gestured towards the balding spot on the back of her head. “Cover up, cover up.”

As I write this I realize what I miss in American film and TV. I miss the warts-and-all attitude of the culture that raised me, but I also miss a presence of female humor, and female language, independent of men and male taste. TV series written by women, for women, but still considered part of the mainstream. A wider mainstream, if you will.


In the wake of the election, during protests and in discussions about the new political landscape, you often hear the notion that “we don’t have the luxury of despair”. This means that only those who aren’t affected by the new immigration laws, or lessened legal protection of diverse groups, can afford to despair. Despair becomes a sign of privilege. Those truly affected, on the other hand, know they will have to fight. No time to rest, no time to despair.

I experience despair.

You can argue that it’s because I am privileged. I am white, heterosexual, employed. I have a roof over my head, a car to drive, two passports. I can use gender neutral or gender designated bathrooms, no problem.

Or, I can tell you this:

I have two passports because I am a dual citizen. I am Swedish by birth, and American by choice. I became a US citizen in 2010. I received a certificate, a little flag, and a form letter signed by Barack Obama. For the past 6 and a half years I have felt increasingly American. I have become more and more comfortable thinking about myself as an American. I use “we” when I teach. I eat Peeps for Easter and I kind of like baseball.

I worked at a polling place on election day last year. The precinct where I worked voted around 70% democratic. The precinct where I live voted 80% democratic. But, we all know how it ended. Donald Trump was elected president.

And I find myself in a new situation. I don’t know where to turn. I see white friends in pictures from protests, defending “their” America. But I don’t identify with their America. Their America existed while I was still living in Sweden. Their high school memories live in a place I never knew. If we travel far enough back into their America we end up in a place where all I knew of America was negative: The Vietnam war, Nixon, and Harrisburg.

My America had a black president, and a black first lady. As a white immigrant I could fit into their definition of America, because their definition of America was an expanding, evolving, one. If I am to be defined by my skin color only I cannot be an American. I am lost.

for the swedish reader, a small rant

Spanarna, Sveriges Radios gamla goding, har sänts sedan 1988. Enligt hemsidan fick programmet nyligen det europeiska radiopriset Guldrosen i klassen Reality & Factual Entertainment.

Programmet, de flesta svenskar har antagligen hört det åtminstone någon gång, har ett enkelt upplägg: En panel om tre personer levererar varsitt inlägg, där de beskriver en “trend i samtiden”, som programledaren brukar säga.

Förra fredagen, den 19 september 2014, pratade Johan Hakelius om den tilltagande, och enligt honom oroväckande, trenden att låta folk själva definiera vem de är. Hans första exempel (inläggen i programmet har alltid tre exempel) var ISIS, Den islamiska staten i Irak och Syrien som ändrat namn till IS, Islamiska staten, därigenom läggande under sig ett teoretiskt sett oändligt område.

Han fortsatte: Och det här är ju ett allt vanligare problem i en värld där vi har lämnat iden på att det finns nån slags objektivitet eller objektiv sanning, /…/ någon rim och reson att pröva begrepp mot. Utan allting skall vara en fråga om självdefinition. Och om man inte får definiera sig själv så är det kränkande.

Därifrån går Hakelius till sitt andra exempel, som handlade om den sortens självdefinition som har med enskilda individers identitet att göra. “Är en man en kvinna, om han, eller hen, upplever det som om han är en kvinna?”, frågade han sig till exempel. Och “kan [någon] hävda att han är svart bara för att han känner sig svart?” För att riktigt stryka under det löjliga i detta spädde hans spanarkollega Calle Norlen på med “Jag ser mig själv som österrikare!”. Helfånigt, ju!

Men. Jag skulle svara obetingat ja på båda Hakelius frågor. En transsexuell människa känner sig som om hon, eller han, fötts i fel kropp. Personen kan se ut som en man, men känna sig som en kvinna. Lätt. En person med ljusare skinn än president Obama, och med gröna ögon och blont hår, kan vara svart. Lika lätt.

Det tredje exemplet handlade om Fotbollförbundet. Förbundet utan genitiv-s. Egen identitet, skapad i ett språkfel.

Hakelius gled från vad han kallade identitetspolitik till Fotbollförbundet på ett glättigt bananskal. Hela panelen skrattade och tjoade. Alla skrattade åt Fotbollförbundet.

Hakelius sa såhär: … jag har stor respekt för de här kinkiga fallen som har att göra med kön och ras etc. Det kan vi prata om tills korna kommer hem. Men, det finns fall som driver mig till vansinne och jag vägrar acceptera. Vi vet alla, och nu kommer det exemplet… 

Och där, övergick han till att prata om Fotbollförbundet.

Men det är något knepigt med början av det sista citatet. Efter att han talat respektlöst om svarta, och transsexuella, säger han att han har stor respekt för de här kinkiga fallen som har att göra med kön och ras etc.

Johan Hakelius säger att han har respekt, men har just visat att han inte har någon respekt alls. Han vet att han borde säga att han har respekt, så då säger han det. Det är vad som brukar kallas politisk korrekthet.

En fråga man kan ställa till någon som Johan Hakelius är varför det är så viktigt hur andra identifierar sig. Han vill ha mer objektivitet, och mindre subjektivitet. Begreppet hegemoni säger att i ett givet samhälle uppfattas som objektivt det som inte hotar status quo.

Jag tror det är såhär: Bara den som aldrig haft sin ras ifrågasatt, eller gjord synlig, tycker att rasifiering som begrepp är löjligt. Bara den som möts av respekt vart han går tycker det är löjligt att andra kräver respekt. Bara den som lever i ett samhälle som automatiskt definierar honom som naturlig och självklar skrattar åt andras behov av att själva få bestämma hur de vill kategoriseras.

the bechdel test

I don’t think the second season of Orange is the New Black is as good as the first one. I’ve only seen an episode and a half, though, so maybe things will improve.

One series that is really good is Call the Midwife, from the BBC. It has popped up as a suggestion on my Netflix for a long time, but when I finally gave in to the algorithm I had to admit they were right. (Key words, I’m sure: British, strong female lead, costumes.)

Set in London’s East End in 1957-58 it shows up close how poverty and the absence of birth control made life hard for women. The series makes a strong argument for national health care. It also gives great insight into nursing, and the importance of compassion.

It’s absolutely refreshing to see fiction where almost every scene passes the Bechdel test. To pass the Bechdel test a movie has to have at least one scene where two (named) women have a conversation about something else than a man. The list of movies that fail the test is, of course, endless. Among a list of movies that surprisingly fail the Bechdel test are Run Lola Run, and Avatar.

I think Netflix should incorporate the Bechdel test into their algorithm. Or maybe they already did.

you can dream

This is the front end of a 1939 Frazer Nash/BMWThe Blackhawk Museum in Danville houses truckloads of antique cars, and pretty much all the cars are fantastic. Some of them are beyond fantastic. There is one, from the 1920s, that is made from tulipwood. They seem to rotate the exhibits tho so the tulipwood one wasn’t on display yesterday when I was there.

I think what is fascinating with these cars is that they are so much about the dream of the future, and about the dream of traveling there. Cars from the 1930s look like space ships. They look fast, as if the future couldn’t get there quick enough. The romance of that is irresistible. A Toyota Prius? Dull, and practical. But does it really have to look dull and practical? There is a statement about our times in there, and it isn’t good.

There were two old guys walking around the exhibit yesterday, making conversation like 5 year old boys: “This one is mine!”. “No, I’ll go with the Packard.” Adorable.

fabulous fashionistas

Fabulous Fashionistas is a documentary about six British women (average age: 80) who dress and act just as they please. Their sense of style, and lust for life, is fantastic. The movie is refreshing and inspiring, but sadly no longer available in the US. I saw it via the Channel 4 site some months ago. It has been taken down since.

All you European lucky people should look it up. The rest of us will have to wait, I guess.

Slideshow from The Guardian, here. Review from the Guardian, here.