Underneath my yellow skin

How I Digest Popular Media

I just finished my umpteenth rewatch of Poirot (David Suchet. He is the only one in my mind), and I have a few thoughts on it and my popular media consumption in general. I wrote a post about the show specifically, so I’ll keep that part brief and move on to the broader issues in general in this post.

First of all, Curtain, the final episode (and final novel in the series. Fun fact: Agatha Christie wrote it in WWII in case she got killed, and it sat in a vault for thirty years before being published.) It’s interesting to think about the fact that she wrote it before she wrote roughly half of the later novels. I cried buckets watching Curtain–again. The last few series were darker than the originals in general, and the final episode was drenched in melancholy. I’ve written before how Curtain is the perfect episode. From the oppressive atmosphere to the exemplary acting across the board to the fact that for once in the later series, they stuck pretty close to the source material, it’s a solid ten.

I need to talk about Hugh Fraser in this episode. During the whole series, he’s our eyes and ears as the affable, hearty, naive, tenderhearted but thoroughly English Captain Hastings. He is our stand-in, and he grew into the role over the years. If David Suchet IS Poirot, Hugh Fraser is equally Captain Hastings. I’ve written before that the allies in the series haven’t gotten the credit they deserve, and the series really wasn’t the same without them. They brought back Hugh Fraser for Curtain, and from the first second we see Captain Hastings, it’s clear that the ravages of time have visited him. He’s still a fine figure of a man, but there’s grey in his hair, and there are lines on his face that previously weren’t there. There’s also a sadness in his eyes because of the death of his wife. The grief is heavy on his ramrod straight shoulders, and it’s not helped by the fact that his daughter is a more modern woman who doesn’t have time for useless emotions like grief.

The look on Captain Hastings’ face when he realizes that Poirot is dying/dead still haunts me. It’s the one still from the episode that stays with me long after I watch the episode (and makes me bawl my eyes out). As much as I adore David Suchet as Poirot, it’s Hugh Fraser’s Captain Hastings who carries this episode. Usually, he’s a bluff, hearty man who’s ready with a smile and a quick joke, but in this episode, he’s a shell of his former self.

In the last post, I wrote about my issues with the book series and a few with the TV episodes as well. I think it’s important to be aware of these issues, but it’s also inhibiting at times. I like to say that I don’t like movies, and while it’s not strictly true, I do find it an inferior medium to books (same with TV). I don’t like TV and movies in general because I find it difficult to believe what is happening on the screen is actually real. I rarely get lost in a movie or TV show the way I do novels, and I think it’s, ironically, because I’m being given too much detail whereas in novels, I have to imagine them myself. In fact, I don’t like books with too much description and just skim those sections.

I find books to be more engrossing than visual media, and it’s probably because I’m a word person. In addition, I have a psychology background, and I’m more interested in why something is happening than that it’s happening. In visual media, you have to accept shorthand stand-ins for background and psychological motivation that you don’t with the written word. In addition, books earn more trust from me because they have more time to establish themselves as they don’t have a time limit. Movies/TV shows have to quickly set tone, pace, etc., within the first few minutes, and for me, that’s not enough time to really get into something. I like to be dined and dined* and ease into the main entertainment of the night.

In addition, novels are becoming increasingly diverse. Yes, we have a long way to go, but if I want to read books with Asian American women as protagonists, I can. Visual media-wise? Not so much. Most of the representations have been cringeworthy at best and non-existent at worst, and I have no patience for it any longer. It’s 2018, and it’s time Hollywood embrace the diversity that makes America great. I have a zero tolerance policy for movies that persist in defaulting to the white dude norm.

I think one of the reason I love musicals and Poirot so much is that they shortcut the part of my brain that is constantly criticizing the visual medium I’m watching. “This isn’t realistic enough.” “She wouldn’t say that in this situation.” “Way to move your face to hit their fist!” I’ve also written how I like foreign movies better because the actors look more like normal people. It’s hard with American TV shows and movies to buy any premise when the lead actors are all supermodels.

Poirot is period, so I’m more willing to accept the broad characterizations. In addition, it’s not meant to be hyperrealistic, so that part of my brain is silent as I read/watch. Musicals are clearly not meant to be realistic because people break into fucking song all over the place, so I accept things in them that I wouldn’t in other movies. Also, songs can shortcut my need for tons of background and plug straight into my emotions, which is another reason I love musicals. Weirdly enough, it’s probably also why I like procedurals because I know they’re niche.

It’s tricky to criticize the popular media I consume in a way that’s constructive but still allows me to enjoy the media itself. I think one reason it’s hard for me to find something I enjoy watching is that my criteria is not genre-based (in general). I like media that is more psychological than action-based, and I care more about plot than I do about action. It’s the same with video games. I don’t like any one genre; it’s more about an amorphous set of criteria that I have a hard time pinning down. In addition, I can tell within seconds if I’m going to hate something (game, TV show, movie), but it’s much harder to know what I will like.



*I don’t drink.

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