A Remedy to Media Desensitization
After the Game of Thrones episode with Sansa’s ‘deflowering’, I decided that I needed to take a break from “gritty”, “edgy” programming. A cultural shift is happening and there seems to be nothing on the table that we cannot discuss or see anymore. I’m a strong supporter of the freedom of information, artistic-expression, and choice. That said, I worry—and personally suffer at times—from the overwhelming sensationalism that surrounds certain media. I understand why it is important to accurately portray violence and evil—I have often written divisive, dark material myself. Still, I feel that an over-immersion in this type of content separates us from the humanity that we need to objectively view and tackle rigid gender roles and issues of sexuality and violence. Live too long in the darkness and darkness is all you know. Sometimes it’s easier to just turn off my brain and watch something mindless, instead of having to worry about furthering—or dismantling—negative social constructs with the material I’m watching. I look to laugh. I look for something that doesn’t tax mind or morality.
A hearty serving of brain-pap was what I intended to feed myself when my partner and I flicked on Netflix the other night. While scrolling through our options, I saw a still of Jane Fonda grimacing at Lily Tomlin and was immediately intrigued. “Grace and Frankie,” their new show is called. I didn’t read the synopsis—I rarely do, even with books. I knew that there would be tomfoolery and hilarity with this duo. Grace and Frankie has a kind of magic to its casting and delivery that’s as rare and unexpected as the scent of vanilla while standing knee deep in a fly-buzzing quagmire of manure—my analogy on the current state of crass programming that gluts our media. I rarely, if ever, watch situation comedies. Only that’s not what Grace and Frankie is, entirely, and you realize that right from the opening sequence where all four of the major characters are introduced: Grace (Fonda), Frankie (Tomlin), Sol (Waterston), and Robert (Martin Sheen). The four are at a restaurant. First, only Grace and Frankie are present and we can sense their forced pleasantness around the other. They’re really only acquaintances on account of their husbands who work together. Said husbands, Robert and Sol, arrive for dinner; they’re nervous and fidgety. The men almost immediately come out to their wives, professing their love for one another. They have been involved in an affair for decades.
At this point, there are a number of ways in which a comedy tackling social issues of this depth—homosexuality, infidelity, trust—could go horribly off the rails. However, through the power of the performances and a passable script (which gets better as the show matures), the actors guide us through a great betrayal and shattering of relationships, and build something quite remarkable from the pieces. Reviews have been mixed on Grace and Frankie. I’ve read a few blurbs on the show’s ham-fisted characterizations but I’ve never found that to be the case. In the many episodes of Grace and Frankie that I’ve enjoyed, I’ve seen the show deal with addiction, ageism, unfulfilling sexual patterns, death, and of course all of the foibles and disasters that accompany the whole “our husbands are gay” quandary. I like how the writers and actors make less of a fuss about being gay and more of a fuss about the betrayal. That’s why people are usually angry when someone comes out—they think they should have known, they blame or project themselves into the situation. I enjoy how the show slowly paces the long process of healing between former partners, and interweaves that with the budding, beautiful friendship of the titular characters.
A show can’t do or be everything, and you can only impart so much wisdom through twenty minutes of comedic drama. I can forgive the show’s failing of not being life-altering satire. What Grace and Frankie does right, however, is to show human relationships at their most flawed and vulnerable, in a digestible way. You see, it doesn’t matter what the message is if people are too offended to heed it. Grace and Frankie shows people who have hope. It shows people who are old and still beautiful (inside and out). It has a number of lessons for us to learn if we are willing. Also, you get to see Fonda tripping balls on painkillers and peyote juice in the very first episode. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Most of all, I watch Grace and Frankie because I worry for a diet of the mind consisting solely of grim, dark gruel. Too much of one thing is never good. We need levity. We need thoughtful lightness in our emotional diet. A world fed only on Cersei’s machinations and Sansa’s cries makes for a starved and violent populace.
Feast of Dreams
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
As King Brutus licks his wounds and gathers new strength, two rival queens vow to destroy each other’s nations.
Lila of Eod, sliding into madness, risks everything in the search for a powerful relic, while Queen Gloriatrix threatens Eod with military might—including three monstrous technomagikal warships.
Far from this clash of queens, Morigan and the Wolf scour Alabion, hunting for the mad king’s hidden weakness. Their quest brings them face to face with their own pasts, their dark futures…and the Sisters Three themselves.
Unbeknownst to all, a third thread in Geadhain’s tapestry begins to move in the wastes of Mor’Khul. There, a father and son scavenge to survive as they travel south toward a new chapter in Geadhain history.
“Fine playing,” said Maggie.
The Silk Purse’s proprietor sat down at the table where the night’s entertainment fiddled with his lute’s strings. The bard glanced up and smiled at her with his eyes, although he kept on tinkering and tuning to the pitch of his voice. Maggie watched him for a spell. The man was mystifying. He was as distant as a dream one forgot and so far into himself, his music, or some secret obsession that she might as well have been elsewhere. He was certainly handsome, though, and in their short conversations today, he’d proven a capable and witty talker. She wanted a bit more of his talk.
“Will you be staying on another night?” she asked. “Before heading back to…”
She realized that in all their discussions, the man had never told her where he had come from—or where he was headed. Or much about himself at all. Even stranger, she couldn’t pin down how she’d made his acquaintance. Had he come knocking at the tavern door yesterday? Had he smiled a dashing hello with a lute over his back and a promise to play for coin? That seemed right.
“Would you like me to stay?” he asked suddenly.
He grinned from ear to ear and displayed his offer of companionship as confidently as the fox he reminded her of strutting around the henhouse and picking its prey. She could see him evaluating her body—her full breasts, strong hips, thick, wind-tossed hair, and comely face. She was as chipped and beautiful as a sculptor’s favorite piece. She wore her hardship plainly, but it had not dulled her beauty, and he seemed to appreciate her weathered self. As for the fox’s proposal, Maggie was a sensible self-made woman without need for a man. Once or maybe twice a year, she took one to her bed, but she never asked him to stay or even to break a morning fast with her. Whatever her hesitations, when the fox smiled—fiery and daring—she lit up and felt as warm as a woman sinking into a bath. A decision was made. A little outside of herself, she slid his hand over hers. She reinforced her agreement by standing up from the table and leading him past her tired staff as they cleaned up the night’s mess and rolled the drunks outside. The trip up the stairs and into her chambers was fuzzy. Suddenly, they were alone and kissing in the dark. He whispered of her beauty. “Like a cameo of Diasora,” he declared.
She wondered who Diasora was while he plucked his fingers upon and within her as though she were his lute. They tumbled into chairs, onto the carpet, and onto the bed. She wasn’t sure where they were half the time. She swallowed his hardness just as he ate and kissed the mouth between her thighs. Together they rolled and tumbled about in the dark and moaned in ecstasy. She rode him against the wall and swallowed his gasps as he spilled himself inside her. It was careless, and she should have known better. Apologetically and with a perverted grin, he cleaned out with his tongue what he had done, and passion carried her mind away again. Through the haze of their sex, she would remember his handsome smell—vanilla, subtle incense, and sweeter herbs such as marjoram. Sometimes he sang to her ears while playing the instrument of her body. She would most remember this—his passion and musicality.
When they finished, dawn had come. It cast its hard rays though the curtains and into their humid nest of sin. Maggie should have felt embarrassed or shamed even, but instead she snuggled into her lover’s taut flesh while he continued caressing her breasts. Milk drops, the bard called them, for their pendulous whiteness and succulence. She chuckled as he said it. She would have slapped any other man who made nicknames for portions of her anatomy.
“Where will you go?” she asked.
She knew this was a fleeting encounter. Men as artistic at loving as he were called to greater passions than women.
Alastair kissed her breast. “Well, I shall stay in Taroch’s Arm a while longer. I have another task to which I must attend. One more meeting after this.” He sighed and looked off with his multicolored stare to count the ceiling’s lines.
Maggie snuggled into him further until she realized what he’d admitted. “Wait! Meeting? Is that what this is? What is your aim?”
She leaped from the bed. Alastair went after her and backed her into a corner. He appeared stricken and white from regret. Rather brazenly, he kissed her so deeply she lost her breath. Although Maggie allowed it, she slapped him as soon as their lips parted. He grinned and rubbed his cheek. “What fire you have!” he said, adding sadly, “How much you remind me of a woman I once knew. Do understand. This is not how I had planned our parley. I am not ungrateful, though, for this turn of events. I would stay for a thousand kisses more if I could. However, my master is most demanding of my time.”
“Master?” she exclaimed.
“You are fortunate, Maggie. Most serve masters and destinies from which we cannot break. You have made so much of yourself without the hands of others. Despairingly, I must ask this of you. It’s a task you cannot refuse.”
I can, and I shall, she thought. No man, not even a roguish wanderer, could boss her around. Then the fox whispered a secret and those familiar names to her: Thackery, Caenith, Rowena, and Galivad. By the time he was done, she had no resolve to argue. She had only an unwanted urgency to pack, make quick arrangements for the Silk Purse’s managerial duties, and leave. She had no choice—not with so many lives at stake. While she busied herself about her apartment, the bard came to kiss her a final time, and they fell onto the bed. For all their grinding, they did not make love. Soon he stopped, studied her, and soaked in her beauty. Maggie closed her eyes. She would not watch him leave. When she was certain he had gone, she pulled her sturdiest boots from under her bed and put them on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, Christian A. Brown received a Kirkus star in 2014 for the first novel in his genre-changing Four Feasts Till Darkness series. He has appeared on Newstalk 1010, AM640, Daytime Rogers, and Get Bold Today with LeGrande Green. He actively writes a blog about his mother’s journey with cancer and on gender issues in the media. A lover of the weird and wonderful, Brown considers himself an eccentric with a talent for cat-whispering.