Monthly Archives: April 2020

Words on Walford: Fortnight of 13 – 24 April 2020

Has the pandemic changed the way anyone else watches EastEnders? I used to watch every night, but lately I’ve been saving up four episodes (or what would be a week’s worth in normal times) and binging them at the weekend. In some ways this is nice—Friday night was spent in Walford, for example, and I made an event of it—but then I go two weeks without seeing my favourite show and dodging spoilers, which isn’t easy given how many EastEnders stars and fans I follow on social media.

I touched on the decision to move to two episodes a week in my last blog but didn’t discuss it in depth because I didn’t see much point. I still don’t—the producers were left with an impossible choice and are making the best of a bad situation, which I respect—but I do wonder how this change will affect future viewing habits. I don’t know if I’ll go back to watching every night or if I’ll continue to binge at the weekend. It might not matter; iPlayer has already revolutionised how we watch tv. Then, it might: will people used to getting only two episodes a week go back to demanding four? After all, our attention spans are getting shorter, not longer. Might two episodes a week be all people want to commit to once our hectic lives resume?

This was certainly seen as a justification for cancelling my favourite American soap opera, All My Children, back in 2011. Executives at ABC didn’t feel people wanted an hour-long drama five days a week anymore. Of course, British soaps are a different beast in so many ways so the analogy is far from perfect, and I don’t think any of the British soaps are in any danger of being cancelled. This is all idle speculation on my part. Still, if and how the pandemic changes our viewing habits will be interesting to see going forward.

Until then, there’s still a lot to unpack from the last fortnight in Albert Square.

From the moment Iqra convinced Ash to go to Vinny’s party, I knew it would be trouble. Nothing good comes from convincing your partner to go to a party they don’t want to attend, especially when it is thrown by a family member. It’s like Iqra has learned nothing from her year in Albert Square.

That party was very confusing to me. At first, I thought it was just a way for Vinny to show Ruby his sick beats. Turns out there were drugs there, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand why. Was Vinny selling the drugs? Were people just doing drugs (as they’re wont to do at a party/rave)? What was Dotty’s role in all this? I freely admit it might just be me who missed these things—the flashing lights and loud music made it difficult for me to follow what was happening, just as it would have in real life (I’m not a nightclub kind of guy). Still, I was left with more questions than answers.

Still, a couple things were clear to me—both regarding the Panesars. One is, as has been hinted before, this is not a family to mess with. So much has happened since last autumn that it’s easy to forget the Panesar brothers first came on the scene by kidnapping Lola in revenge for Ben stealing Kheerat’s car. This is a family of violent gangsters on par with the Mitchells. Now we know they also do, or sell, drugs (again, unclear on what was happening there). We know that they don’t keep this a secret, that it’s a family operation which even Ash was, if not involved with, okay with—she lied to the police and paid off the homophobic guy Vinny (understandably, if not rightfully) beat up with aplomb. I mean, in those moments I saw in Ash Panesar everything Louise Mitchell wishes she was.

So did Iqra, and that is bound to cause problems for the couple going forward. While their row over Ash’s behaviour was resolved with “I love you” this week, it’s clear that the Panesars and their seedy dealings are going to continue to drive a wedge between the couple. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—soap is nothing without conflict—but it does raise some questions in my mind, specifically regarding Ash. It made no sense to me that Ash would suddenly act like a stone-cold thug when that is not what we’ve seen before, and it made even less sense to me that she would subsequently warn Iqra not to make her choose between her and her family. This is a woman who spent years avoiding her family, to the point or changing her name—have they ever addressed why she was Ash Kaur, now Ash Panesar?)—so I felt like I got whiplash watching how quickly her personality changed. Was it the booze? Is something else going on with Ash? I hope the show explains this change soon.

Still, I’m glad to see Iqra and Ash getting screen time. They’re one of my favourite couples, and both Priya Davdra and Gurlaine Kaur Garcha are capable actresses and just a delight to watch. More of them, please.

The other big development to come from this party was Keegan’s arrest. After months of issues with racist coppers, his storyline has finally reached a rapid boil with his arrest in the melee outside. I’ve been very glad to see EastEnders tackling this storyline, and I think they’re handling it very well. Keegan is one of the most interesting characters of the past decade, and Zack Morris is such a talented young actor. I love seeing him front-and-centre where he belongs.

There’s a lot to unpack here, though, and frankly I could write an entire entry on Keegan. So, let’s start with the smallest. That near-riot outside the party escalated very quickly and was very clearly just a plot device to get Keegan arrested. That the police were called I understand—Ruby warned Vinny that Marsha (whom I have never heard of before now but want to know everything about) would call them—but that instead of dispersing the crowd threw bricks at them I don’t get.

Still, as a plot device it worked, and Keegan was arrested for something he didn’t do. Perhaps coincidentally, this all happened because of a party thrown by Vinny, who was the first character to mention to Keegan that the cops were targeting him because of his race. That is clearly what is happening here, even if the police officers themselves don’t seem to think so.

Too often we think of racism as only being outward projections of hate—burning crosses, racial epithets, violent hate crimes, overt discrimination—when in reality it is much deeper and more pernicious. People can be racist in little ways, ways they might not even be aware of. Ever cross the street when you see a Black person walking? Ever make an assumption about someone’s intelligence or education because their name or accent sounds “Black?” Ever hear about a violent crime and assume the perpetrator must be BME? These are just a few examples of subconscious prejudice. We live in a society which teaches us that Black people are danger, or less intelligent, or more prone to violent crime, and even if we don’t want to we internalise those messages.

Denise Fox understands this, which is why she was more sympathetic to Keegan than Jack. It is important that Denise is the one siding with Keegan here, too, because Denise has never been one to let Keegan’s shitty behaviour pass without comment. Keep in mind that in their first meeting Denise slapped Keegan for being a disrespectful brat. Denise now being one of Keegan’s allies—and, I suspect we’ll see, his fiercest—is telling. She understands what he’s going through better than almost anyone else in Walford. She also has, in the eyes of both the audience and her neighbours, moral authority. Denise is unflinchingly fair, so if she says “nah, this is some racist bullshit,” it carries an added weight. I’m not saying it should be this way, mind you; Keegan saying “this is racist” ought to have been enough.

No one wants to admit they might be even a little bit racist, though. Zack Morris himself tweeted earlier this month that “[t]this storyline isn’t about ‘racist police.’ [I]t’s about the unconscious bias that is imbedded within society when it comes to black people.” He’s right, and I think the story is even more interesting and relevant because they are tackling these subconscious biases. It would have been so easy to make these police officers foaming-at-the-mouth racists, but by bringing Jack Branning into it, we’re meant to see how even people we think of as “good guys” can have subconscious prejudice.

Full disclosure: I’ve never liked Jack Branning, even as I love Scott Maslen and the way he plays the role. He’s smug and self-righteous. But most viewers think of him as a “good guy.” His unwillingness to believe Keegan, then, indicates to the audience that even those of us who see ourselves as decent, non-racist people can, in fact, be unaware of our own racial biases. I am very excited to see how this storyline plays out over the coming weeks, especially as Keegan and Denise deal with their white partners’ inability to see their point-of-view, and I continue to commend EastEnders for tackling this important topic with sensitivity and nuance.

This feels like a good place to leave off, even though there is so much else to discuss. I’ll put some of it in my stray observations section, but most of them could do with much more analysis. There was just so much happening in the last fortnight, it is hard to narrow down what to write about in detail. The past four episodes are the best since the 35th anniversary, and everyone at EastEnders should be very proud of the work they’re doing. The show is in rare form, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Stray observations: I got a distinct 90s feel from these episodes, with the way that they went from one conversation to another in the Square and the market. I liked it. I really like the sense of community which has returned to the show. Chantelle’s scene with Kheerat in the caff felt forced. I know they’re going to end up having an affair, but I’m not yet convinced. Mikayla coming back was random enough, but for her to now be so upset about the son who tried to kill her (and who she said she never wanted to see again) feels like a heel-turn. She’s Leo’s mum, so I guess no matter what he did she would be sad he died, but Christ alive, this feels contrived. I also feel like Gray and Whitney are destined for an affair. It’s going to happen. Ugh, Whit really does have the worst taste in men. “Ugh, like at what point does Whit decide to become a nun or a political lesbian?” is literally a line from my notes. MORE RUBY PLEASE. Louisa Lytton is so sorely underused. Tiff getting the ring Keanu gave to Louise seems like a bad omen. Tommy’s dyslexia storyline will be interesting, and Davood Ghadami was very good in his scenes with Shay Crotty. Glad Sharon’s going away to see Michelle; her and Phil should not get back together. Where the hell was Bernie in all the Keegan drama? Tiff could have used her best friend and Keegan could have used his sister. Honestly, they need to use Clair Norris a lot more than they do. I feel like Oates and Sen just don’t know what to do with Bernadette, but I love Bernie and want more of her. Did anybody else notice the cups from the caff got a jaunty redesign? Love the Rainie and Stuart scenes. They’re so good together. Ricky Champ and Tanya Franks are so charming and imbue such humanity into two broken characters. It’s a pleasure to see them act together. Jean thinking Daniel was in the box had me howling with laughter!

Scene of the fortnight: Rainie asking Max for a divorce and not knowing Ruby’s name. I know I didn’t talk much about Rainie and Stuart, but they really were a highlight of the week.

Line of the fortnight: “I only blow on my husband’s dice.” – CHANTELLE!

Performance of the fortnight: Zack Morris as Keegan Baker. Just absolutely broke my heart. I love both Zack Morris as an actor and Keegan Baker as a character so, so much.

Character of the fortnight: Ash Kaur Panesar. She really surprised me this week and is clearly more complex (and messed up) than any of us realised. I’m looking forward to learning more about Ash and her crazy family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

 

Reading my teenage blog: “If I Had One Wish (Prom 2004)”

In the midst of the pandemic, proms are being cancelled left, right, and centre. Thinking of all the high school seniors who are missing out on their senior proms had me thinking about my own. I feel bad for these kids, because for many of them prom was something they have been looking forward to for a long time, perhaps years.

Prom is one of those things that, before about 10 or 20 years ago, was virtually unheard of in the UK, another imported American tradition many people (especially over the age of 40) sneer at, like Trick-or-Treat and blonde idiots with bad haircuts in charge of governments.

In America, though, prom is a big deal. While the advent of the “promposal” and attending viral videos is a distinctly Gen Z phenomenon, even for a middle-aged Millennial like me, prom was accompanied by much anticipation and excitement. It’s a rite-of-passage, the last chaste high school event but also the first adult date. Restaurant reservations are made. Limousines are hired. After-parties are planned (though most adults would cringe at this notion, my experience was there was always somewhere to booze after prom). It is hyped, most notably in films like American Pie, as the most magical night of adolescence, the climax (in the case of American Pie, literally) of four years of high school.

As a young gay man in 2004, prom was more a chore than anything. I actually remember not wanting to go to my senior prom because the whole thing seemed tedious, at best. My then-boyfriend, who lived on the other side of the state and was about 5 years older than me at the time, had no desire to go – for the obvious reasons of age, but also because 2004 was still a time when a boy taking another boy to the prom was controversial and often generated national headlines. I had a friend (whom in retrospect was no friend at all) who called me selfish for even entertaining the idea considering the controversy it would generate. Going stag to my own senior prom seemed pointless, especially as I’d done the whole prom thing twice before (sophomore year as the date of a senior; junior year in my own right). I knew what to expect and honestly didn’t want to be arsed about it.

But, I went, because I was convinced by friends, family, and society that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. Considering how rarely I think of high school, and how in the grand scheme of my life those years feel more like a footnote or a prologue than anything, I doubt I would have. As it turns out, though–and as you’ll see in the entry below–my senior prom turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life, though not for the right reasons.

So here we go, an entry from my teenage blog from the day after my senior prom. As always, I have not read this before pasting it into this blog and will react as I read.


25 April 2004

My senior prom was last night, and it proved to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I did the typical prom stuff – pictures, dinner, dance, and party afterwards – and of course, being Skylar Ashton Gates, added a flare of drama to each of them. However, by the time I had left the dance floor and was heading home to change, I couldn’t help but to smile. “It’s the most perfect night,” I told Kalpana as I was leaving. Later on that night, as I was being rolled in for x-rays, I would admit that I may have spoken a bit too soon.

A couple things to begin with. This blog came after I’d deleted my original blog (which the first few essays in this series came from) and started on another website. In doing so, I began writing under a pen name – Skylar Gates, the “Skylar” bit which survives to this day. That’s right, reader – Skylar isn’t my legal name, though for the past 16 years most people have called me Skylar. “Kalpana” is also a psuedonym for a friend of mine, as I began using fake names for everyone in 2003 in order to protect their privacy and to avoid another “scandal” like the one that erupted when my original teenage blog was discovered by students and school administration early in my senior year. Turns out being the early 00s version of Redneck Gossip Girl had consequences. That’s another story though.

Prom 2004

The phone rang at about 8:30 yesterday morning, and I reluctantly rolled over to pick it up.

I now think of 8:30 AM as “sleeping in,” so, fuck you 18-year-old Skylar.

“What?” I asked.
“Morning, sunshine!” Safie said brightly.
“What are you doing up so early?”
“Why are you still in bed? It’s prom day!”
“Ugh, I forgot about that,” I laughed.
“Are you still going with me and Kalpana to get our hair and nails done?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m going with you tonight though.”
“Okay,” she said. “Meet us at school at about 5:00 for pictures.”
“Will do,” I yawned, and hung up.

So, this was also the time I put dialogue in my blog. Most of the conversations were as close to verbatim as I could remember them, and “morning, sunshine!” is definitely something ‘Safie’ would say. In fact, ‘Safie’ follows me on Twitter and may well recognise herself in this.

I slept until about 1:00, when I got up and played online for a couple of hours, just talking to people and surfing [REDACTED]. After that I took a nap until 4:00, when I got up and fixed my hair and all that jazz. I wanted to wear my hair up, but I couldn’t get it to stand right, so finally I just put it down in a “fuck it” type deal. It actually didn’t look too bad. Even people who hate my hair down were saying it looked good. =)

“I slept until about 1:00.” Seriously, fuck you teenage Skylar.

Hair. You can see from the picture accompanying this blog that there is very little I could do with hair that short. I have always preferred my hair longer, even though a lot of people have told me through the years that they prefer me with shorter hair, or a pompadour – none more so than my grandfather, who to this day still says at least twice a week that he wants to cut my hair. He disapproves of men having long hair. (He also disapproves of men wearing shorts, or at least he did when I was in high school.) My hair right now is not quite shoulder-length, but I want it to get there.

One thing I distinctly remember about high school, though, is fighting against rigid gender norms – fighting with myself as much as anyone. I wanted my hair long, and I would have loved to have gotten my hair done and my nails done, too. However, gender was strictly enforced in my family and in my town. My father and grandfather both have very different recollections of my childhood than I do. A couple years back my father insisted I would have been allowed to cheerlead as a child if I wanted. I guess I’ll never know because I never asked, but only because my father made it very clear in things he said about the one boy cheerleader there was, about me sleeping with stuffed animals, about my general timidity and lack of interest in “boy things” that it would not be allowed. This isn’t meant to insult my father – like I said, he remembers this differently and surely would have his own explanation – but to simply convey my experiences.

In high school I had started to rebel against this, but only just. I remember wanting to wear makeup as far back as high school, but I dare not ask. I picked my battles. Sometimes I did get my hair coloured, though never as elaborately as I would have liked. It was also never as long as I would have liked. Being gay was rebellious enough, I calculated; best not push things.

There were other things, too. One of the first things I did when I moved to college, though, was buy some concealer. I still remember my friend Laura sitting in my freshman dorm room teaching me how to apply makeup. It was liberating.  

I redacted the name of the website I blogged on, just to further ensure my privacy.

So at 5:00 I got to school, passed Mandy but didn’t realize it was her because she had a new car, and went inside. On my way in Cyndi stopped me, helped me fix my tie, and we talked for a few minutes before her mom took a picture of us. Got inside and found Kalpana, Ashley-Rose and Donnie, Britannia, anda bunch of other people. Just sat around before taking my pictures and waiting for Safie and Shawn to get there. It took them forever to get there, and when they did we went ahead and headed to Middlesboro to eat.

Here we’re getting into some of the names I don’t remember. I know who Kalpana, Ashley-Rose, and Britannia are. I believe I know who Cyndi is. I am less sure on Mandy (she might simply be my friend Mandi, but I’d need further context). Safie and Shawn I know. But Donnie? Who the fuck is Donnie?

I tried to find one of those horrid official portriats they do at prom, with the cheesy, cheap backdrop, but I couldn’t. I know we have some, but I can’t be bothered to dig one out when I have a photo album of Kodak moments handy. So you get one of those.

Going to Middlesboro to eat, for me, was a big deal. I lived in one of the most rural areas east of the Mississippi. Stinnett, Kentucky is 7 miles outside Hyden, Kentucky – population 375ish and the only town in Leslie County. It was about 30 miles to Hazard or Harlan, the two cities with the nearest McDonald’s and Wal-Marts. Middlesboro was about an hour away on windy, steep, and narrow mountain roads. The only time I went to Middlesboro was when we were driving through to visit family in Tennessee (where I now live) or for prom. If I recall, we ate at Ryan’s Steakhouse – a chain that I believe no longer exists.

On the way over there we just talked and blasted the stero with “Holidae Inn” and all of these other rap songs. Kept passing dead snakes in the road, which sucked, and just laughed and had a good time. We talked about people we knew, but nothing really bad, and discussed who we thought would win prom king and queen. Safie, Kalpana, and I were all already on prom court, but we weren’t sure who would win. We all put our money on Brighton and Britannia and talked about how some people thought they got back together just for prom, and Kalpana started talking about how Brighton and I used to flirt in geometry all the time last year. We started talking about that day last year when Britannia balled Brighton out because he was talking to me and not her. Safie and Kalpana were both there, and I mean… wow, fun times in geometry, lol.

Hated snakes then. Hate snakes now. It didn’t suck they were dead; it sucked I had to see them. Using “prom court” loosely here. We didn’t have a prom court, per se. We had people who were on the ballot for king and queen. I suppose that is what I considered “prom court.” OH MY GOD I REMEMBER EVERYTHING THINKING BRIGHTON AND BRITANNIA GOT BACK TOGETHER JUST FOR PROM! Literally everyone thought that it was a publicity stunt. We were so jaded.

That geometry class junior year was lit. There were very few of us in it, the teacher was chill as fuck, so we mostly just talked the entire time. Brighton would probably not call it flirting with me, and even I remember being unsure it rose to the level of flirting – I think he was just being polite? But this was 2004 in southeastern Kentucky. If you were a guy and you talked to the openly gay guy without calling him a fag, you were flirting. Also, Britannia had a reason to be a little upset about Brighton flirting with me (I had a massive crush on him which I thought was a secret but apparently was not). Early in my senior year she and I got into a massive argument over it in the middle of the school. “It’s just because you’re in love with my boyfriend!” she screamed. Y’all… you could have heard a pin drop in that hallway. It was like something out of a tv show. (My response was “fuck you,” and then I stormed off, because, well, she wasn’t wrong. Okay, ‘love’ might have been strong, but I fancied him.)

Got to Ryan’s and thought we’d have to wait forever, because the crowd was fucking huge. We were the only prom people there (everybody else went to London, Hazard, and Harlan), and the crowd proved to be smaller than we thought, because we were seated in no time.

Ryan’s is a steakhouse, not a boy’s house. London is a town in Kentucky, not my beloved London. 

So our waiter came up to us and started taking orders for soda. Let me tell you, he was so fucking cute it isn’t even funny! I mean, I wanted this boy so badly you just don’t even know. His name was Josh, he looked about my age, with really pretty brown eyes and short brown hair. He had the cutest little ass, lol. Anyway, so the entire night I was sitting there flirting with the waiter, and Safie and I were trying to figure out if he’s gay or not.

“God, it doesn’t matter,” I sighed. “That boy is too hot to be waiting tables.”
“Well what the fuck do you expect him to do?” Safie asked. “Be on the table?”
“Wouldn’t hurt,” I smiled devilishly.
“You’re such a little whore,” she laughed.

I can’t remember what the waiter looked like, but I do remember that he was ridiculously good looking. This Sex and the City talk is a bit much, though. Feels like it wouldn’t fly in 2020, but I can’t decide if that’s because I’m older or because society has progressed past ojectifying the hot waiter.

I got up to go get some fruit (ended up getting nothing but strawberries), and when I came back there were these women telling Safie and Kalpana how pretty they were.

“Well you’re just so beautiful,” they said.
“Well thank you!” I beamed. The women laughed and Safie hung her head as they walked away.
“They weren’t talking to you, dipshit,” she said.
“Well they could have been,” I laughed.

Good comic timing, teenage Skylar

A few minutes later we were talking about how painfully obvious it is that I’m gay.

“I suppose it is pretty obvious,” I laughed.
“Well, finally!” Safie screamed.
“We’ve been telling you that forever,” Kalpana said.
“I dunno though. Shawn,” I turned to Safie’s boyfriend, “did you know I was gay when you met me?”
“Well,” he laughed, blushing. “Uh… not until you opened your mouth.”
“Oh,” I laughed. “Well then it’s settled. I’ll be a mute straight guy.”

It’s funny, because some years later, when I first met the guys in the fraternity which I would end up hanging out with (but never pledging) in college, they said they had no idea I was gay. I wonder how much of this was just Eastern Kentucky thinking anyone who didn’t fit a narrow definition of masculinity was gay? I’ve always kind of thought I read gay, and I’ve always been fine with that – I mean, I am gay, so whatever – but it’s interesting how people percieve me. Obviously online it’s a bit different, but in person I wonder. I never think to ask because, why would I? 

We finished and I left Josh (who I kept flirting with throughout dinner but never really decided if he was gay or not) a $5 tip before walking out. On the suggestion book I wrote “Give Josh a raise!” and we walked out.

“Wait,” I said. “I’ve gotta pee. I’ll be right back.”
“I’m going to leave you,” Safie warned.
“Oh hush,” I said.

I ran back in and walked up to the greeter. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she smiled. I quickly scribbled down my phone number and wrote my name under it.
“Give this to Josh,” I said.
“Okay,” she laughed, and I ran back out.

Ugh this is so cringey. On the one hand, giving a waiter your number hardly makes you Kevin Spacey. But there’s something about this that just rubs me the wrong way now. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing something like this, not least because of how awkward I think it would make him feel. It actually reminds me of the hot waiter at Reno, when I lived in Chicago. This was about 2013. I was a regular, and he was hot but also very sweet. I was smitten. My friends tried to get me to make a move, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it while he was working. I remember thinking that was wildly inappropriate. I always hoped I’d run into him somewhere else in the city, but I never did – except when he changed jobs and ended up working at another place I went, albeit less frequently.

On the way home we jammed some more hiphop and just gossiped like usual. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but the hour back to Hyden passed in no time, and before you knew it we were walking into the prom. I voted before going in, of course for myself. My prom queen vote went to somebody, but I don’t know who. I just closed my eyes and let my pencil fall on a line, and checked the box next to it. Whoever got my vote can thank me later, lol.

There were a couple friends who read my blog, even after “the scandal,” so I wonder if my prom queen vote really did go to a random person or if I just said that. I honestly can’t remember.
So I got in and just mingled, talking to Kendall, Cordelia, and everybody for a while. I danced for a few minutes with Bethany, did the Cha Cha Slide, and went out to talk to Mandy about her new car (which is gorgeous) and all of that jazz. I walked into the commons and found Kendall, talked to her about the waiter for a few minutes and walked back out to talk to Britannia.

THE CHA CHA SLIDE!

“So, how are you tonight, your highness?” I asked.
“Huh?” she looked at me, puzzled.
“Oh cut the shit,” I laughed. “You know you and Brighton will win. You can be all humble around the others, but with me… let your ego soar.”
“No we won’t,” she said. “We would have if you wouldn’t have broken up, but now I don’t know.”
“Hmm… I still don’t know,” I said. “Good luck.”
“Thanks. You too,” she smiled.
“Thanks,” I smiled back, and walked off.

I am assuming “we sould have if you wouldn’t have broken up…” is a typo, and the “you” should read “we.” Britannia and I ended up parting as friends, despite a couple massive public rows along the way.

Hung out a while longer, talked to Oliver and Emily and decided to stay long enough for the crowning and then bail with them to go to a party or something, and danced some more. Cordelia and I talked about how far we’d come this year and how if you’d have told us in October that we’d be taking a picture at prom together we’d both have laughed, and that’s about it. They had this wierd little contest where the straight guys got up and sucked down the juice from a baby bottle (Tim won) and then it was time for the crowning.

Coredelia was part of “the scandal.” It really is remarkable that she and I made up as quickly as we did, because I legit hated her for a while. That whole thing was way overblown. Whatever.

“And your 2004 Leslie County High School Prom Queen is…” the DJ paused for what seemed forever. “Kendall Williams!”

Yay!

I screamed louder than I’ve ever screamed before. I mean, I was so fucking pumped. My best friend, the insecure head cheerleader who was convinced everybody hated her for one reason or another, was our prom queen. I swear to you I about cried. When she reads this she’ll probably think I’m full of shit, but I was so fucking excited that you just don’t even know. I knew that would make Aram king, but for some reason I didn’t care. I mean I really didn’t. Aram did win king, and I was actually happy for them both. Even though they bailed right after that.

“Kendall” is absolutely one of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met. Reading this put a big smile on my face. I haven’t talked to her in years, but she was such a lovely person and really was one of my best friends in high school. 16 years later, I’m still chuffed for her.

Do they do Prom King and Queen in the UK? I don’t think they do. Basically it’s a popularity contest. The Prom King is often just the most popular boy, while the Prom Queen is just the most popular girl. They get flimsy little crowns and bragging rights at high school reunions, but beyond that, not much. It is considered an honour, though, and sometimes you’ll hear people mention it as a “fun fact” about themselves years later, though most people over the age of 20 know that what you did in high school doesn’t matter, not even to the people you went to high school with.

They had the court dance, and being one of the only ones on court that didn’t have a date, I danced with Kalpana. On one side of me was Amy and Samuel, on the Mandy and Blake, and on another was Greenlee and Stephan. All around me my best friends were, and I think it sunk in to all of us right then that we were graduating in a month. Mandy and I smiled at each other and mouthed one thing – “2004” – to each other. Amy winked at me, and I swear I thought I saw a tear in her eye. Safie and Shawn danced slowly, and Greenlee looked so beautiful. I thought Britannia was crying in Brighton’s arms, but I’m not sure. I know that, realizing that we were graduating and that I was leaving them all, I almost began crying. I just leaned my head on Kalpana’s shoulder and sighed.

What is this “court dance?” I don’t remember that being a thing. I’m guessing it was the first dance of the prom king and queen? Okay, I know who Mandy was/is now. 

“I can’t believe this is our senior prom,” I sighed.
“I know. We’ve come a long way.”
“Yeah, we have,” I said. “We haven’t killed each other. It’s a miracle.”
“I don’t know. You and Britannia came close a few times.”
“But we emerged to be the best of friends,” I smiled. “I’m really going to miss everybody.”
“Me too,” she sighed. “me too.”

Narrator: he did not miss everybody. There are some of them I genuinely do miss, but I haven’t remained close with anyone from high school. There are some whom I talk to on social media from time to time, but the truth is once I graduated I left town and never looked back. It has been probably 12 or 13 years since I even stepped foot in my hometown. Once my grandparents left, I had no reason to go back. Weirdly, I had planned on visiting this summer. I now only live about 2 hours from there, so it seemed like an easy trip to make. The pandemic has probably killed any hope of that, though.

I left right after that, came home and changed, gave Oliver some of my clothes to wear, and headed out. While there I put on a couple of neclaces. One was my brown A&F one I bought in Daytona with Amy. The other was my St. Sebastian neclace.

“What’s that one?” Oliver asked.
“It’s my St. Sebastian neclace,” I said. “He looks out for me and keeps me safe.”
“Riiiiiiiight,” he said. “You wear too many neclaces.”

The story of my Saint Sebastian necklace is actually really neat. There was a website called Saints for Sinners, which produced hand-painted necklaces with various saints on them. Somehow I discovered this website in 2001 or 2002 and sent an e-mail to the owner, telling her or him how much I loved their artistry and how, as soon as I had a debit card of my own, I would order one. They responded by asking for my address and which saint I wanted. From the moment it arrived I wore Saint Sebastian around my neck daily – until the night of my senior prom. You’ll see why.

We left and went up to “Party Boy’s” house first, but there was no party, so we just cruised around for a while before taking Emily home. The entire night I was telling Oliver to slow down, because he drives like he’s flying a plane. Emily freaked out on me at one point, telling me to stop being a “back-seat driver,” but I didn’t care. It had rained during prom, so it was extra slick, and on the curvy roads of southeastern Kentucky, I know that wet curves equal almost certain death. Thoughts of Bridget hydroplaning into that bus were constantly on my mind, and I tried explaining to Emily and Oliver why I was so paranoid, but they didn’t seem to understand.

I don’t remember who Party Boy is. I don’t remember who Emily is, either. I do remember Oliver driving like a goddamned maniac though. And I do remember poor Bridget, may she rest in peace. 

Drove back towards my house, and he thought he saw his dad sitting in the little parking lot type deal right before you turn up my hollow. The truck pulled out when we passed, and freaking out because his dad fucking hates me and would probably kill me if he caught me with Oliver, we sped down the mountain and turned up the road towards Micki’s house. We got up there and drove for a while before, convinced we’d outrun the truck, turned around. On our way back I was still a bit nervous, but I was ready to get home.

Micki and her sister, Tosha (known as Micki-Tick and Tosha-Tick, though I only ever called Tosha ‘Tick’) threw some kick-ass parties. I went there for a little bit after my sophomore prom and it was one of the best nights of my high school career.

“Oliver, slow down,” I said. Things got fuzzy. I felt us leaving the road. I heard the trees scratching the door. The windsheild busted. Things to hazy, like you were looking at a really bad picture taken on a digital camera. We crashed into a tree. I was jerked forward, the airbags rushing out, my seastbelt keeping me restrained. I saw my dad and stepmom getting married, my first day of kindergarten, a field trip I took in fourth grade, winning the geography bee in seventh grade, [redacted] meeting Sarah and Shaun, breaking up with Benji, [redacted] coming out to my dad, moving to Kentucky, meeting Ryan, meeting my birthmother, Bridget’s funeral, my first class with Chem, fighting with Britannia, hugging Kendall, playing with Angelica, Jacob, Grandmother, and Grandfather in the snow around Christmas, kissing Adam at Planet Hollywood, winning first place at FBLA state conference, and dancing at my senior prom. I seriously thought I was about to die.

Okay, so this requires some explanation. To begin with, we did have a car accident, and it was a pretty bad one. The car was totalled, and if we hadn’t hit that tree we would have careened off the side of a mountain. Beyond that, if we hadn’t hit the tree exactly where we did – almost exactly the middle of the car – one or both of us would likely have been killed. It was terrifying. That being said, I do not remember my life literally flashing before my eyes. I am pretty sure I included that for dramatic effect. The entire time I was reading this I rolled my eyes. I was such a fucking drama queen. [I redacted two memories that require context to be included responsibly, and it would be too distracting and time-consuming to provide that context in this essay.]

Things really did slow down, though. I do remember that the accident appeared to happen in slow motion, that I couldn’t quite process what was happening. It’s weird, because I remember the accident, but only in flashes and bits, not as one continuous memory. That was the case from the beginning. I just remember that it felt like we travelled through brush and trees for minutes when in reality it couldn’t have been more than a couple seconds, at most, from the time we left the road to when we crashed into the tree.

My brown vintage A&F flipflops flew off my feet, and the car stopped, smoking. I felt glass in my face, and went to wipe it off. I looked at my hands and ghasped. They were covered with blood.

“Oh my God,” Oliver said. “Oh my God.”
“Just get out of the car,” I said. He climbed out and I discovered my door was stuck, so I climbed over the driver’s side and got out. I cut my foot on some glass as I did.
“I’m so sorry!” he cried, hugging me. “I’m so sorry, Skylar.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m alive. It’s fine.”

I have long understood as a truth about myself that while I’m quite panicky and high-strung most of the time, I am great in an emergency. I freak out very easily, and anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you that. HOWEVER, in a crisis, I am amazingly calm and level-headed without even trying. When shit gets real I somehow snap out of my neurosis and into Superman mode. I’m not talking like “oh God, we’re not going to meet this deadline” crisis, but “oh shit, the house is on fire and we’re trapped” crisis. 

A car passed us up going towards the main road. Another one came and stopped. Blaine rolled down his window, and I looked over at him and Alicia.

“Oh my God,” she screamed. “What the fuck happened?!”
“I wrecked,” Oliver said.
“Well I can see that,” she said. “Is everybody okay?”
“We’re alive,” he said.
“Can you get service on your phone?” I asked.

She tried but couldn’t. It wasn’t a minute later that Whitney, Ryan’s cousin and an aquaintance of mine, pulled up. I knew I was right near Stephan’s house, so I was going to walk down there, but instead Whitney took me down to the hospital.

“You can take me home,” I said.
“No, I think you better go to the hospital,” she said.
“I’m alright,” I said, shaking.
“Right. Where do you hurt?” she asked.
“My neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee,” I said. “All on the right side.”
“You look awful,” she said. “It’s goign to freak you out when you see yourself. But I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks.”
“Thank you so much for this,” I said. “I’m sorry if you had any plans.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” she smiled. “I’d have done it anyway. So what happened?”
“I don’t know. He lost control, I guess.”
“Were you all drinking?”
“No,” I said. “We’re both sober. That’s what’s sad.”

“Were you drinking” is a fair question, but I got asked it so many times that night that it really began to annoy the fuck out of me. I was always very honest: no, we had not been drinking, but the point was to find somewhere to drink. I wouldn’t have gotten in the car with Oliver had he been drinking (those poor decisions would be made in college), but I, at least, planned on getting drunk off my tits.

Got to the hospital, checked in, and Whitney stayed with me for a long time. They took me back, laid me down in a room, put a neck brace on me, and had me give verbal consent for a few things before Grandmother got there. (I called her right away, but had told her it wasn’t that bad.) The doctor came in and looked at me, and he asked me how I was doing.

“Well, I’m alive,” I said. “I’d like to stay that way, too.”
“I can imagine,” he giggled.
“I’m not going to die, am I?”
“No,” he said. “I think you’ll be alright. But, we’ll be overly cautious here. Just to make sure, we’ll keep you for a few hours. Something might be wrong, but we’re not sure.”

Again, here is an example of me being dramatic. I was scared, that is no lie, but I was 99% sure as soon as I climbed off that mountain and back onto the road that I was going to survive. Even when I saw my face – and it was incredibly bloody – I knew the worst I would endure is some minor scarring. The cuts were mostly superficial (like nicking yourself shaving, but on your entire face) and while I was sore, I could move fairly easily. I did have some shoulder injuries, but they were minor in the grand scheme of things. I knew I wasn’t going to die.

Grandmother got there and ran into the room, not five minutes after Whitney had left. She started freaking right away.

“You told me it wasn’t that bad!” she screamed.
“It’s not,” I smiled. “I’m alright. I’m alive, aren’t I?”
“Looks like barely,” she sighed. “I’m going to go call your grandfather.”
“Alright,” I said. “Just hurry, because I don’t want to be alone.”

It’s impossible to say why I didn’t want to be alone – was I scared? was I bored? was it both? – but I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when she saw me. She was terrified. By that point I knew I was fine, just sore and cut to pieces. 

They took me back for x-rays, a CAT scan, and all that jazz, and I just laid there for a while. This girl, Rachel, who was Bridget’s cousin, was in the bed next to me. She’d gotten into a fight or something and had to go in. We talked for a while about high school, teachers we both knew and all that stuff, and she helped me put my bed up so I could see people coming in and out of the room. Oliver’s mom came in after a couple of hours and checked on me, which I thought was nice, considering she hates me, and she stayed with me for a little bit while Oliver was being examined.

Oliver’s mom was, at the time, a cruel and homophobic woman. I should point out at this juncture that Oliver was someone who had harassed me for much of high school but come out of the closet my senior year. We became friends, but only friends. People suspected we were dating, but we never did. I just wasn’t interested in him like that.

My x-rays and everything came back normal, so they let me go home after giving me four stitches in my lower lip and bandaging my head, which has a huge gash in it. They said I’d be sore for a while, but that’s about it. The doctor asked if I wanted off of school on Monday, and I told him no.

I still have a scar below my lower lip from this accident.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’ve got portfolios to work on and stuff.”
“You really should take a couple days off,” he said.
“Neh, I’ll be alright,” I smiled.

Now? “Hell yeah, give me all the time off work, please and thank you.”

I came home, washed my face, took a bath (I can’t wash my hair until my gashed forehead scabs, which should be tonight according to the nurse, and I can’t get my stitches wet), and went to bed, ending prom 2004.

I forgot about this. The forehead gash was bad, and big, but didn’t leave a scar as far as I’m aware. Oh, yes it did. I just looked in the mirror. At least, I think that’s a scar from this accident. Anyway, if it did it’s barely noticable, unlike my lip scar which is much more prominent (though I doubt most people notice it).

Go fucking figure, eh? The one prom I actually remember and I remember being in the hospital. The one prom I don’t drink at and I get in an accident. The night that had been perfect ends in hell. Yeah, I could sit here and tell you that prom 2004 sucked, but it didn’t. I met a cute waiter, had fun with my friends, danced my ass off, saw my best friend being crowned queen, and lived through an accident that I’m very lucky didn’t kill me. I truly believe St. Sebastian was watching over me tonight, and that because of him and God I survived. I’m just so thankful that I’m alive and no paralyzed, and that Oliver is okay too. Sure, it sucks being all banged up and nasty looking, but I suppose it really is better than the alternative, eh? Besides, at least being alive my wounds can heal. Could you imagine if I’d had died and they had an open casket, and this was how people remembered me? Oh, I’d be looking up and crying, screaming “SHUT THE DAMN CASKET!” Yes, at least now they’ll heal. And I can say that I ended my senior prom with a bang. =D

“I’d be looking up and crying, screaming…” LOL I see what you did there, baby Skylar. Clever. (Get it, I’m in Hell?)

That accident was bad, but it could have been so, so much worse. When I think of the friends I’ve lost in auto accidents, including Jasmine who died two months after this entry, I consider myself very lucky.

It’s interesting to see how “magical” I thought my prom night was in this blog, because all these years later I don’t remember it as being anything special. I wonder whether this was for dramatic effect – to juxtapose a happy night with the tragic ending – or if I really thought prom was great when I wrote this? I actually think it’s more the former. Towards the end of my senior year, I remember feeling that I wasn’t feeling enough. I thought I should be nostalgic and upset and maudlin and emotional about leaving, and so I put on a affectation of such. In reality, I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there. I’ve always tended towards sentimentalism, so it is possible – probable, even – that this is an early example of that in my writing. I simply can’t be sure.

To any current high school seniors reading this, though, let me be clear that in hindsight my senior prom sucked and I really don’t remember anything from the night other than the accident. I rarely think about it. My guess is that unless you’re prom queen or king, or you get engaged (like one couple did at mine – hey, it’s the south), you probably won’t think much of yours either. It’s fun at the time, but frankly it’s quite forgetable. College – college is where the real fun lies. College is where the memories you truly cherish will be made.

Finally, it doesn’t get a mention in this blog, perhaps because I didn’t realize it at the time of writing, but I lost my Saint Sebastian necklace that night. I never saw it again. I assume it got lost in the accident. I still think, though, that Saint Sebastian was there to protect me that night, and that he went to someone else who needed him afterward.

How was your own prom? How did you get there? What did you wear? Who did you take? Where did you eat? What was your prom theme and your prom song? (Ours, if I recall, was “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse. The theme I think was “If I had one wish,” hence the title of this blog, though what the hell that means is anyone’s guess.) Let me know your prom memories in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Weeks of 30 March – 10 April

 

It’s been almost a month since my last Words on Walford blog. The truth is, like the rest of the world, coronavirus quarantine had me a bit down. Rather than watching something as grim as EastEnders (and make no mistake—grim is why we love it), I’ve been tuning into cherished sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and The Golden Girls. In these dark times we all need a laugh.

However, just because Covid-19 has stopped the rest of the world doesn’t mean life in Walford has come to a halt—at least, not yet. Showing only two episodes a week in order to stretch out the remaining catalogue of new episodes as long as possible has slowed down the pace of drama, or at least the pace viewers are getting it. Obviously the episodes we’re seeing now were filmed months before the pandemic, so the writers and producers had little way of knowing how radically life would change for the rest of us and, presumably, the folks on Albert Square. I have found myself wondering how Sonia is coping as an NHS nurse, how Bobby is feeling stuck at home with miserable old Ian, and how Chantelle is coping being trapped with Gray.

Perhaps we’ll never know. One thing is for sure, though: the decision to air only two episodes a week, while understandable, does risk hurting the stories. For nearly 20 years the show has broadcast four times a week, and the last time it aired only twice weekly the cast was significantly smaller. That makes sense, because you have less time to tell the stories of a big cast. That, I suppose, is my concern with two episodes a week. It has been nearly three weeks since we’ve seen Jean, or Keegan, or Whitney. These are major characters with major storylines. How will not seeing them for possibly weeks on end effect how those storylines are received?

As I said, it’s entirely understandable why the BBC decided to cut back on the number of weekly episodes and there’s not much that can be done about it, so this isn’t a criticism so much as it is simple curiosity. Of course—and this is the uncomfortable elephant in the room—what happens when they run out of episodes? Will the story just pick up again where it left off? Will there be a time jump? Remains to be seen, but it seems impossible that this lockdown won’t affect future storytelling.

For now, though, let’s look backwards. The last fortnight saw the story of Dennis’ death get wrapped up (at least for now) with a neat, yet disappointing, bow on top. Dennis’ funeral was a letdown, not least because we really didn’t get to see much of his funeral. Jay leading the horse-drawn carriage through the Square was a moving scene, though the incidental music was unnecessary. This has become a hallmark of the Sen era, and it’s hit-or-miss. I was a big fan of “Stay Another Day” playing at the end of the Christmas Day episode, but EastEnders has never needed a score to stir our emotions and it doesn’t need one now.

Aside from giving Denny a final sendoff, the funeral ushered Phil (Steve McFadden) back to the Square. Exactly what I feared would happen has happened: Phil and Sharon have reconciled, or at least made peace. Their tryst was expected and just as disappointing as I imagined. I said weeks ago that if Denny’s death wasn’t the end of Phil and Sharon it would be wasted, and I was right. Sharon justifying her dalliance to Ian—that Phil loved Denny too and there was some comfort in being with him because of that—made sense, I guess, but it was still infuriating. These two have been toxic for nearly 30 years, and I hoped the final nail in Dennis’ coffin would be the final nail in their relationship’s coffin, too. No such luck.

If anything, it’s clear that Sharon is going to be used as a plot point in Phil’s broader redemption arc. First came Phil turning himself in, followed by forgiveness—or at least absolution—from Sharon. Then we saw Phil have a heartwarming scene with Ben, telling him he’s proud of him as Ben struggles with his hearing loss. Perhaps I was naïve to think that Phil Mitchell would finally get his comeuppance. Steve McFadden is a national treasure and Phil Mitchell is as iconic a character as soapland has to offer, so of course proper justice—prison—was out of the question. I had hoped Phil would get it some other way, though I was never sure how. That looks unlikely to happen, and Dennis’ death will be just another dastardly deed Phil gets away with. If that’s the case, his death will have been one of the biggest mistakes in EastEnders history.

Also, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind now that Kayden is actually Phil’s biological child? I don’t know how or when that secret will be revealed, but it will. It’s so obvious and such a shame. It looks like everything I hoped wouldn’t happen in this storyline is going to happen. Disappointing.

Another major storyline to play out over the past two weeks is Dotty’s continued blackmailing of Ian. Finally gaining the upper hand, Ian managed to steal back the phone with the incriminating voicemail in which Dennis unwittingly names him as his killer (even though Phil definitely remains man most responsible). It’s becoming clear that when—and it’s only a matter of time—Sharon finds out Ian locked Denny in that room she will blame Ian, not Phil, for his death. I’m not happy with this, and I think it’s really a stupid storyline, but it is what it is. Whatever. Phil must have a prosecco-flavoured dick or something because nothing will keep Sharon off it, not even her son’s death.

Whatever. Back to Dotty. The final scene on last Tuesday’s episode, in which she makes clear to Ian that she still plans to tell Sharon about the voicemail, was interesting. For a long time we believed Dotty was only blackmailing Ian because she wanted the Arches—like her dad, apple, tree, etc—but it turns out she wants justice more than payout. Dotty is shaping up to be a complex, interesting character whose motives aren’t always as dastardly (and, I imagine on the other side of that coin, altruistic) as we think. Nick Cotton was pure evil, a villain through and through, but Dotty is shaping up to be more like, dare I say, Phil Mitchell. That is, she could end up being one of soap’s great anti-heroines, a woman who does the wrong things for the right reasons (or vice versa at times). Played brilliantly by Milly Zero and written in a way that makes you love her then hate her then love her again, Dotty Cotton has the makings of an EastEnders legend.

The other major development over the past four episodes was Mick and Linda’s decision to sell the Queen Vic. Watching Linda fall off the wagon at Denny’s funeral was boring because it was so expected—though who can blame her the way Sharon had a go over those pepperoni pizzas?—but the payoff was worth it. Watching Kellie Bright and Danny Dyer play the scene where Linda talks about growing up in a pub and how that has influenced her relationship with booze was deeply moving, and anyone who has struggled with drink can relate to desperately wanting to be one of those people who can only have one. Seeing Shirley and Tina both support their decision to sell was heartwarming, too. The Carters are at their best when they come together as a family and seeing them rally around Linda has been nice.

So who will buy the Vic? That’s the question on everybody’s mind. The most obvious choice is Sharon. She can’t crash with Ian forever—and won’t want to once Dotty reveals the truth—and even though she slept with Phil, I don’t think they’ll reconcile quickly. Hearing Sharon talk about how happy she was growing up in the Vic might be some nice foreshadowing. Karen Taylor has also come into some money courtesy of Ian Beale bribing her to move away. It would be a very Karen Taylor thing to do to take that money and move just down the street. Ruby Allen—who got a line of dialogue last week!—could fancy owning a second business, possibly allowing her mate Stacey to run it once she returns. Ian could make a bid for it (Lord knows he’d consider it his crown jewel), or the Panesars. Sharon is the safe bet, but it really could be anyone—even someone not currently on the canvas.

Whoever it is, though, Mick and Linda selling up is the end of an era. I did the maths, and the Carters have the longest stretch of time as Queen Vic landlords in the shows history. Phil Mitchell has more time overall behind the bar, and Den and Angie Watts ran it for longer when you count backstory (pre-1985), but on screen, Mick and Linda have the longest tenure. It’s going to be weird seeing Linda’s flamingos painted over and not seeing Mick pulling pints. It’s also going to be strange seeing them adjust to life in Walford not running a boozer. What other discernable skills do either of them have? What will they do for money? Will they open a restaurant? It will be fascinating to see how they adjust to their new reality in the weeks to come.

Stray observations: I’m really not sure how I feel about Jags and Habiba, but I’m glad Habiba is getting a storyline. It’s good to see Sharon reclaim the Watts name. Callum sleeping in his pants and socks is weird. I can understand sleeping in pyjamas and socks when it’s cold, but how do people sleep in pants and socks? Is this a thing?  Ballum said “I love you.” That was sweet. Could there be a Peter-Bobby-Dotty love triangle? Or are they setting Dotty up for a romance with Vinny? Hard to tell. Vinny and Dotty have an interesting dynamic though. Wow, when’s the last time we saw Riley and Chatham?

Scene of the fortnight: Sharon going after Phil with a knife. Wish she’d shanked him. Alas and alack, as June Brown says.

Line of the fortnight: “A night with bad baby Banksy? Computer says no.” – Dotty with the jokes

Performance of the fortnight: Milly Zero really killed it as Dotty these past two weeks.

Character of the fortnight: Phil Mitchell. I mean, he’s going to get away with murder. Credit where it’s due.

How Modern Family changed American television

When Modern Family won the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, I was livid. A derivative show which mashed the mocumentary-style of The Office up with the formulaic family sitcom (a la Everybody Loves Raymond), I couldn’t see how it could it could possibly rank as more “outstanding” than Glee, another nominee in its first season which revolutionized what we thought television could be. Inclusive, ingenious, and in more than one way groundbreaking, Ryan Murphy’s dramedy about a misfit show was far more deserving than yet another show about a (mostly) white upper-middle-class family.

I still think Glee deserved the 2010 Emmy, but having watched Modern Family over the years, my opinion of it as “trite and derivative” has changed. As the sitcom aired its series finale last night, I began to consider its place in the annals of television history. Far from being just another boring sitcom about rich white people, I have come to appreciate that, in its own quiet yet hilarious way, Modern Family helped pave the way for more diverse representations of American families. Indeed, it challenged the notion of what “family” even is in modern America.

Back in 2009, when both Glee and Modern Family debuted, they were notable for including two types of characters up to that point rarely seen in American scripted television: gay me and Latinas. For Glee, this was central to the show’s identity from the very first episode. Inclusion became its raison d’etre. Sometimes that felt heavy-handed, but even when it was more subtle, the writers were loud and proud about their intention to make sure this show represented as many people as possible.

Modern Family took a more subtle, but no less effective, approach. The first episode centers in part around gay couple Mitch and Cam revealing that they have adopted a baby girl from Vietnam. The reveal—in which Cam (played hilariously by Eric Stonestreet) holds up his daughter, Lily, under a spotlight as “Circle of Life” blasts over his home sound system—is both gut-busting hilarious and incredibly moving. It is also very, very camp—a trope the show never shied away from but never exploited.

Herein lies the beauty of Modern Family. Mitch and Cam are not the sanitized Jack McPhees of Dawson’s Creek nor the one-dimensional stock character of Will & Grace’s Jack McFarland. These characters are gay—they’re written with gay sensibility, they have mostly other gay friends, their cultural references are familiar to any gay man (even if they aren’t always familiar to straight audiences)—but they aren’t defined exclusively by their sexuality. Like many real gay men, they both embrace some things which would be considered “stereotypical” (a love of show tunes, matching silk robes, Cam’s flair for the dramatic) but also defy them (Cam is an ex-football player and current coach; Mitch has a dry wit and low tolerance for tomfoolery).

The show was perhaps less successful in avoiding stereotypes with Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the beautiful Latina and second wife of Pritchard family patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill). Many jokes in the early years revolved around the other, white characters’ inability to understand her accent, her supposed criminal past in Columbia, and relied on objectifying her in some ways which, only a decade later, feel incredibly sexist and dated. Yet Gloria was mostly treated by the writers and therefore the other characters as an integral part of the family. When she was portrayed as an outsider, it was usually alongside Cam and Phil (Ty Burrell), the other characters who had married into the family.

She, too, developed into a more complex and interesting character than the stock character of the fiery Latina she might have been in less able hands. Because of this, Modern Family was able to explore the immigrant experience with compassion and heart, even as immigrants were being vilified by politicians and even the President.

What truly made Mitch, Cam, and Gloria—and by extension, Modern Family—so revolutionary, though, was that they were loved and accepted by their immediate relatives. That dynamic—an extended, blended family consisting of characters diverse both in demographics and personality—was as central to the show as inclusion was to Glee, and it is arguably just as important. It’s hard to quantify just what impact these characters had on American society, but as The Atlantic reported in 2015, some people who previously opposed gay marriage attributed their change of heart to Mitch and Cam.

In that way, at least, the Pritchetts and the Dunphys have left an indelible mark on American society.  They loved one another as much as any family. The show wasn’t always the most innovative, but it was warm, cozy, and often funny, like that Christmas sweater your grandmother knitted you which you pretend to sneer at but secretly wear when the winter is just a little too dark and cold.

The series finale was a fitting coda, as the family moved on, being split across continents and oceans as they all went their seperate ways. Though filmed months before the current pandemic, it felt incredibly prescient watching these characters struggle with the idea that their tight-knit family would be seperated, with no idea when they might again be together. At a time when we all wish we could—but can’t—be with our crazy uncles, uptight sisters, or grumpy grandpas, it was comforting to spend one last night with Family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Skylar’s Favourite Self-Isolation Entertainment

 

It has now been more than three weeks since I left the house, and like many people around the world, I’m starting to go a little stir crazy. Rather than climb the walls, I thought I would share with you all some of the ways I’ve been entertaining myself since self-isolation began (and before).

These are a few of my favourite things. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Films and Television

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I recently subscribed to Disney+ (£5.99/$6.99 per month), and it is money well spent. Nearly every films Disney Animation Studios has made there, including some of my all-time favourites. I have already watched The Great Mouse Detective and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, both of which were childhood favourites. Hercules is my favourite Disney film of all time, and its infectuous music and beautiful, sunny animation is sure to brighten your day. I also recommend The Three Caballeros, an underrated 1944 film which features Carmen Miranda’s sister as the first human to ever interact with a cartoon character on film (she dances with Donald Duck).

If you’re looking for more adult fare, I suggest Last Holiday, a charming romantic comedy from 2006. Starring Queen Latifah as a woman who is wrongly given only weeks to live, it is funny and poignant and replete with gorgeous scenery as Latifah’s Georgia Byrd flees her mundane job at a New Orleans department store for the glitz and glamour of the opulent (and real!) Grand Hotel Pupp in a Czech spa town called Karlovy Vary.

Also guaranteed to make you laugh until you cry is Pride, a wonderful film based on a true story about a group of lesbian and gay Londoners who raise funds for striking Welsh miners during the Miners’ Strike of 1984. Showing that we all have more in common than we often think, its a little film with a lot of heart and a wonderful cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, and George MacKay.

If binging a television series is more your speed, my favourite comedy of all time is The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four pensioners sharing a house in 1980s Miami and starring American national treasure Betty White. It is streaming on Hulu in the United States. Another personal favourite of mine is Schitt’s Creek, the story of a wealthy family which suddenly loses it all and finds themselves exiled in a small, backwater town. Don’t let that fool you, though; it’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious show with a lot of heart. (It is streaming on Netflix in the US and UK.) Finally, one of the most underrated British comedies of all time, Hebburn is a must-watch. Set in the eponymous northern town and chock-full of Geordie accents, Hebburn is a humurous look at a working class family in modern Britain. (Not currently streaming anywhere as far as I’m aware, but you can watch some episodes on Daily Motion.)

YouTube and other Websites

Back in November, I started writing “daily recaps” for a soap opera I created. Set in a fictional college town, it revolves around the lives and loves of a group of professors, administrators, students, and donors of a private university in Kentucky. In February I started putting it on Wattpad, and it has grown from “recaps” into 5000 word “episodes” during this lockdown. Obviously I want you to read my soap opera (entitled College Heights, a reference any of my fellow Hilltoppers will get), but there’s a lot of great fanfiction and other writing on Wattpad, too. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth was based on a Wattpad story, for example. Or, maybe you’re a budding author who wants to try their hand at fiction? Wattpad is a great website to post things you don’t want to submit for publication.

Maybe nonfiction is more your jam, though. If so, I have become obsessed with This Victorian Life, a website run by Sarah A. Chrisman, a woman who – with her husband, Gabriel – lives as a full-time Victorian. She has written a number of nonfiction books about the Victorian era and has a series of historical fiction called The Tales of Chetzemoka. I read the first one and enjoyed it, but the website is what keeps me coming back. Sarah posts poetry from the Victorian era, blogs about her life, and videos she uploads to YouTube. The Chrismans have engendered some controversy (it’s not entirely clear Sarah and Gabriel believe women should have the right to vote, for example), but that doesn’t diminish how fascinating their lives are and how endearing Sarah herself is. A highlight of the website and her videos is the Victorian recipes she shares. I tried this one a couple months back!


In fact, since we’re all stuck inside now is the perfect time to try a new recipe. Simply Sara Kitchen has become my favourite cooking show on any medium. With a salt-of-the-earth sensibility and charming personality, Sara cooks all your favourite American comfort foods, from fried chicken to Johnny Marzetti casserole in an easy-to-follow format, making sure even the most novice of home chefs can enjoy delicious, down home food.

Another YouTube channel I watch religiously is Company Man. At some point we’ve all wondered about a company we use, whether it’s asking ourselves how Amazon got so big or what ever happened to Blockbuster. Company Man traces the rise and fall of all kinds of iconic companies, and with it examines the history of American capitalism over the past 150 years. Though he never reveals his face, he is an utterly affable man and his voice is incredibly soothing. The content, though, is what keeps me sticking around – it’s endlessly fascinating to see how these companies have changed, adapted, or not as the case may be. My personal favourite is a video he did on Ocean Spray (yes, the cranberry company), which has a far more interesting story than I ever realised.

Music

Imagine being quarantined without a streaming service? One silver lining to this pandemic is that it happened at a time when so much good music is at our fingertips. I use Apple Music and LiveXLive (formerly Slackr), both of which have their pros and cons. One thing I like about LiveXLive is that its stations are almost like radio. Jess, who hosts the Weekly Country Countdown, and Parker are two of my personal favourite presenters. Apple Music allows you to create playlists and buy music, though. There are a plethora of others out there if neither of these meets your needs.

As far as what I’m listening to, I have found myself coming back to three artists in particular. The first, Dame Vera Lynn, was “Forces’ Sweetheart” in the Second World War. “White Cliffs of Dover” and “There’ll Always Be an England” are two of my favourites, but I dare you to listen to “We’ll Meet Again” and not cry given the current circumstances.

Another artist I love is Alexander Rybak. The winner of Eurovision 2009, Rybak is an amazing violinist and folk singer from Norway. His songs are innovative and infectuous and never fail to leave a smile on my face. He is also an energetic and captivating live performer.

Finally, it’s an oldie but a goodie – Buzzfeed Quizzes. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent mindlessly finding out which member Jonas Brother I am going to marry or which European city I should move to. Go ahead and laugh, but I know you want to know which member of One Direction is your soulmate. (Mine’s Louis. Stay jealous.)

Books

For the past several weeks I have been slowly making my way through John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. It’s a dense read in the best of times, but given everything that’s happening I have found I need to take several breaks from it. Still, it’s a riveting history of not only the most devestating pandemic in human history but also American medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you’re looking for something that induces a little less existential dread, my favourite novel of all time is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles told from the perspective of his lover Patroclus. Beautifully written, excellently crafted, and achingly told, it is a masterpiece of modern fiction and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. Another, more whimsical, romance is Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blueabout a British prince who falls in love with the son of the US President. If nonfiction is more your style, Alkarim Jivani’s It’s Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the 20th Century has long been a personal favourite of mine. If you want something more sandalous and juicy, Ramin Setoodeh’s Ladies Who Punch dishes all the dirt on more than twenty years of The View, America’s most dramatic talk show – both on- and off-screen. If you’re looking for a good biography, Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards tells the story of my favourite actor of all time, River Phoenix.

Apps

One of my favourite boardgames of all time is Clue, or Cluedo as it is known in the UK. There’s an iPhone app that allows you to play Cluedo against a computer with varying degrees of difficulty. It does cost £3.99/$3.99, but it’s well worth the investment.

Another great app is Redstone Games’ crossword puzzles. I do about two to three of these puzzles a day, and like Cluedo they have settings from easy to very hard (though the very hard ones still only take me about 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how distracted I am). The app is free, though you can pay to have the ads removed. (I have not and do not find the ads distracting at all.) The only drawback to this one is some of the words/clues repeat, which can take a bit of the challenge and fun away. But overall, it’s a great app.

Ever wonder what your hair would look like purple? Or blue? Or both? I’ve been using this hair color app for years to see what my hair, and even celebrities’ hair, would look like if it was dyed any colour of the rainbow – or, indeed, the rainbow. It might sound silly, but you would be surprised how much time you can end up spending just trying on different hair colours. It’s easy to use and free to download.

Everyone has been downloading Houseparty and Zoom, but I suggest trying Marco Polo. Rather than being a FaceTime/Skype substitute, Maro Polo lets you leave video messages for your friends and family which they can watch at their leisure. Even though we’re all stuck at home many of us are still leading busy lives, which means we don’t always have time for lengthy video chats. Marco Polo is an excellent substitute which still allows you to see your loved ones (and for them to see you), but on your timetable.

 

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan