▪ I think Halloween is a fun holiday. I haven’t dressed up in a long time, but I like seeing the costumes that people devise, and who doesn’t enjoy handing out candy to (mostly appreciative) children? As an adult, though, I haven’t lived anywhere with active trick-or-treating: I was either in grad student housing (Yale and UC Irvine), an apartment building (Princeton and Jersey City), or a country where Halloween isn’t yet a widely celebrated holiday (China). This year was the first time since I moved out of my parents’ house in 2005 that I expected to have trick or treaters ring my doorbell.
But I wasn’t sure how many I would get. I live in a condo development with some kids, although not a huge number, and they tend to be on the young side. (Real estate agents would probably call these condos “starter homes.”) And since the development is fairly cut off from others around it, I thought it was unlikely that kids from the larger neighborhood would wander over here. Still, I live in fear of not having enough food when I entertain, so I bought five bags of candy. Better to be safe than sorry.
I came home from work on Monday, dumped all the candy in a mixing bowl and churned the mix in an attractive presentation, turned on all the house lights visible from the sidewalk, and waited for the doorbell to begin ringing.
And waited. And waited. And finally, as darkness fell and the street remained quiet, realized that I had been stood up.
Apparently, trick-or-treating is not practiced in my development.
Anyone want some candy?
▪ I’ve been knitting a lot in the past week (no hints about what, as it’s a gift), which means some time in front of the TV every evening. I stitched my way through the first seasons of two new online shows, both based on real events: Good Girls Revolt and The Crown. Good Girls Revolt, on Amazon Prime, is a retelling of the 1970 gender-discrimination lawsuit that female “researchers” at Newsweek (or News of the World, in the show) filed to force the magazine to expand the job opportunities available to them; The Crown is a big-budget Netflix drama that will, if its creator’s vision comes to pass, eventually tell the whole story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, from her accession in 1952 through the present.
Both shows are good knitting companions, as I can pretty easily keep one eye on the action and one on my needles. Watching back-to-back based-on-a-true-story historical dramas, though, has made me think a lot about the limitations of that genre and what a production needs to do to transcend them. In both of these cases, the shows are trying to introduce tension and conflict, which are immediately mitigated in my mind by the fact that I know how things play out. Whatever hesitation and obstacles the Newsweek/News of the World women might have dealt with in the run-up to their lawsuit, I know it gets filed; whatever marital friction Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip experienced as they adjusted to her new role, I know that they resolved it and remain married to this day.
Such shows, in other words, need to be exceptional in other areas, because their primary plots are more or less fixed. The Crown, with its rumored $100 million budget, definitely wins on production values, and clearly took a cue from Downton Abbey in assuming that American viewers enjoy ogling the trappings of British aristocracy (we do). The pace is a bit slow, but for the most part I was into it. Good Girls Revolt, on the other hand, initially drew me in but over ten episodes wore me out with its tendency to rely on “Why pay any attention to [now-famous person’s name here]? She/he’s never going to amount to anything” jokes, as well as a very lax approach to historical accuracy outside of the lawsuit plotline. (Why is Nora Ephron there??? She worked at Newsweek in the early 1960s, not at the end of the decade. Just make up a character who serves her function in the show, DON’T USE THE NAME OF A REAL PERSON WHEN WE KNOW THAT PERSON WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THERE.)
Sorry. Historian issues.
▪ It’s considered bad form in the scholarly world to review books by friends and close colleagues, so I’ll just leave this here as a public-service announcement for anyone interested in Chinese history: my friend and graduate-school classmate Kate Merkel-Hess recently published her first book, The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China*, with the University of Chicago Press. You can hear Kate discuss the book with Carla Nappi in the most recent episode of the New Books in East Asian Studies podcast. (And the book is great. I think I’m allowed to say that much.)
▪ I don’t think there’s an announcement online yet, but on Wednesday, November 16 I’ll be at Central Michigan University talking with graduate students about non-academic careers for historians (or humanities majors more broadly). If you’re in that section of the state and want to attend, send me an email and I’ll get you the time and location info.
* Amazon Associates link. If you make a purchase via this link, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. Thanks for your support! ~Maura