Why Are So Many Characters Underground?

I'm completely baffled and more than a little dismayed by the sudden surge of pop culture products featuring people being held captive in tiny spaces, usually underground. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Room, and a godawful novel called the Light of the Fireflies or some such are all about people who were kidnapped, are being held against their wills, and are/were being systematically lied to.

Of course stories about kidnappings and liars are a dime a dozen (especially on Amazon where you can buy a book for a penny) but these seem more hurtful to me, perhaps because the people who are treated like this in real life never get to put it behind them. Say the name Jaycee Dugard and one doesn't think about her current life as a writer and creator of a support foundation for those damaged by trauma. The first thought is of her terrible ordeal. Years ago I knew a fella who worked with Patty Hearst on a film. She was chatting with him at craft services as they both got breakfast, but all he could think about was her kidnapping and brainwashing. And this was literally decades after she had been freed! So I find it offensive on some level when we're told that these types of crimes are funny, as in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or a couple of hours of diversion as in the film Room, or whatever the hell the fireflies thing was supposed to be. (Yes I hated that book as I haven't hated anything in quite awhile. I don't usually talk about entertainment that I hate in this column as there is so much that I enjoy to talk about, but I have been a little obsessed with loathing it since I finished the thing a few days ago.) Anyway, despite my concerns this type of story seems to be pretty embedded in today's zeitgeist.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as I was preparing to vote in the SAG awards and despite my misgivings there is a lot to like. Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) plays the title character, who goes around with a bit of a daft, disbelieving expression throughout season one (season two debuts today!). Her character was kidnapped as a middle schooler by a dude pretending to run a doomsday cult, and hasn't yet matured beyond that middle schooler sensibility. So what does an “Indiana Mole Woman” do when she's rescued? Takes off for New York City of course, where she will be able to fit in with the eclectic populace.

She gains a roommate, Titus Andromedon, an aspiring actor/singer played by Tituss Burgess (30 Rock), a loopy landlady played by Carol Kane, who I know best from her iconic role in Princess Bride, and an even loopier employer played by Jane Krakowski (30 Rock). Chaos ensues, as they say.

My favorite part of season one is Jon Hamm (Mad Men, Minions) as the kidnapper/leader of the cult, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. He is disgustingly good as a snake oil salesman type, defending himself at his trial and weaving a sparkling web of lies. If you haven't seen it yet, here is Titus Andromedon singing his breakout hit Peeno Noir, an ode to black penis.

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Room
Room is a film that I would never have seen if it weren't for the SAG awards. It's also about a young lady who is kidnapped by a horrible person, who rapes her and holds her captive in a shed in his backyard. Ma (Brie Larson) gives birth to a little boy called Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who is celebrating his fifth birthday as the film begins. He has no idea there is more to the world than “room” (he names all of the inanimate objects, with very practical names) and believes that what he sees on television is not part of his world. They are existing as well as they can but when their abductor Old Nick (who should be called Old Scratch) becomes unemployed Ma realizes they are in more danger than ever. She comes up with a terrifying scheme that she hopes will result in their rescue.

The film is essentially split into two parts; in room and out of room. The first half deals with the problems of being incarcerated while the second deals with post traumatic syndrome, the invasion of the media, family problems and everything else that comes with a widely publicized terrible event. Both Ms. Larson and Mr. Tremblay are phenomenal in this film, giving nuanced performances that are heartbreaking and poignant.

A bit of a spoiler: at one point Ma submits to a television interview and the reporter asks her if she doesn't think she was being a bad mother by keeping Jack in the shed with her. Isn't she selfish by not sending him out into the world without her? While Ma is devastated by this question I just wanted to holler at the reporter. Old Nick is a kidnapper and a rapist. Why would anyone trust him to drop a baby or a tiny child off in a safe space? Killing and ditching the child would by far be the easiest thing to do. She did the right thing by keeping her little boy where she could watch over him.

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Room [Blu-ray + Digital HD]

The Horrible Fireflies Novel
And now we come to the book I hated so very much. Called the Light of the Fireflies and written by Paul Pen it's a story about horrible people doing horrible things. The narrator is a preadolescent boy who lives in a basement with his mother, father, developmentally disabled brother, grandmother and a brand new baby. His sister is the mother of the baby which immediately raises the question who is the father? With only the family ever seeing each other there is no answer to that question that isn't disturbing and criminal.

The narrator seems to be a decent child who is facing his first real ethical dilemmas. I liked him and I think he does very well through most of the book, especially given the handicaps he struggles under; ie role models who are abusive and frightening.

Everyone older than he is has been burned badly, with his sister so disfigured she has to wear a mask. At the beginning of the novel I kept wondering how this worked. They seemed to be hiding from some sort of post apocalyptic event, or perhaps a genocidal war, or something similarly calamitous. Assuming they were burned in the last minutes before they went underground, how did they all survive? The types of burns they have are difficult enough to treat under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately that wasn't the only thing that didn't add up for me.

The entire second half of the book is ridiculous, with people behaving just about as badly as you can behave. Suddenly the sister goes from someone we care about and want to protect to a supposed monster that the entire family reviles. But the motivations didn't work for me. Yeah the sister makes a few mistakes, some of them rather large, but her subsequent punishment is so far out of proportion to her “crimes” that I kind of gave up on the book.

Which is not to say I didn't finish reading it. I did and the ending was the worst part. As an Amazon reviewer notes, the boys in this family are catered to in every way while girls are considered disposable and neglected to the point of no return. The novel was one of the March Kindle options that are free to Amazon Prime members. I have read three of them so far and didn't even bother getting one for April. I couldn't even finish January's choice. February was okay but nothing to write home about and March was the fireflies book.

While I am ending on a downer note next week will be more positive as I am tearing through a stack of library books at a frantic pace and already have a couple of fun ones to discuss with you. Until then!

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The Light of the Fireflies

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is an interesting idea. Called Radiooooo, it's a site that allows you to listen to different types of music from all over the world, through the ages. Pick a country and pick a decade and you are good to go. http://radiooooo.com/