Who talks, who listens
If you've never seen Treme, I recommend it highly. Very highly. It was co-created by David Simon (with Eric Overmeyer), who was responsible for The Corner and The Wire, both set in his home town of Baltimore (as was an earlier series he was involved with, Homicide: Life on the Streets). Treme is set in New Orleans, starting three months after Hurricane Katrina. It's about people trying to get back to normal life in their city with its unique culture. It chock full of music!
Like all of Simon's shows, Treme (the Tremé is a neighbourhood just northwest of the French Quarter, home to many a jazz musician) has wonderful, memorable characters. Included among them, maybe even more than in previous Simon shows, are wonderful, memorable female characters.
Ladonna Batiste-Williams (Kandi Alexander) is married to a dentist in Baton Rouge (where so many fled and stayed) but spends much of her time in New Orleans with her mother to try to find her brother, who seems to be lost in the prison system, and to keep her bar going. Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) is a chef who runs her own regional haute cuisine restaurant, which in the wake (literally) of the hurricane is having a tough go. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is the kind of lawyer who spends most of her time trying to help people deal with a broken system.
We just watched season one, episode five. There were two scenes that really struck me. Simon and company are very deliberate in what they put on screen, so I have to think I was supposed to be struck.
The evening before, Janette had made dinner for four well known New York chefs and really impressed them. It won't pay Janette's bills, but it was a personal triumph for her. So the next day at a second line parade, she finds her erstwhile boyfriend, Davis (Steve Zahn) (who is really more like a guy she sometimes sleeps with). She tells him she has great news. He doesn't even listen. He cuts her off, shows her a CD that he had just made for an ersatz campaign for city council, and then takes off. She never gets to share her news.
Well, maybe that's just Davis. He's an asshole who thinks only of himself. But then later, there's a scene where Toni comes home to her husband Cray (John Goodman), an English professor at Tulane, after a really hard day. She's been trying to locate Ladonna's brother, trying to deal with another friend's missing trombone (stolen by police), all kinds of shit. She walks in and tells her husband something like "you wouldn't believe the day I just had." Does he listen? He does not. He cuts her off and tells her about his own bad news, admittedly rather serious, about probably having to return an advance on a book he hasn't finished over the course of something like six years. Like Janette, Toni never gets to share her own story.
In both cases, neither man even makes an attempt to listen to the woman. He immediately goes into talking mode. Not listen, then share. I imagine there are people who would not have been struck by that. I definitely was.
And then there's Annie (Lucia Micarelli). Annie is a very talented, classically trained violinist who can play just about any style. She and her Dutch boyfriend Sonny (Michiel Huisman) busk on Bourbon Street for the tourists. She's a far better musician than he is. She almost turns down a couple of great gigs when he is out of town. She is fiercely loyal. He is nothing of the kind—jealous, yes, but not loyal. He cares much more about himself than about her. Yet she circumscribes her own life because of him. She is not only loyal. Despite her talent, she seems to lack the confidence to go her own way.
I think women in western society really have come a long way over time. I think there is more equality of the sexes than there used to be. But it's amazing just how insidious sexism can be. Some men, at least, just don't see it in themselves. Sonny is a jerk anyway, so we don't expect much from him. We just hope that Annie will learn that she has so much more to offer than he even cares about. But Davis, despite being an asshole, is a university-educated ostensible radical, a crusader for social justice, at least in his own mind. And like the radicals of the late 1960s, of whom he often reminds me, he never seems to understand that gender inequality, in the most ingrained ways, is at least as much of a problem as the social ills against which he constantly rails and indeed is part of them. And Cray is a genuinely good guy. I'm sure he loves Toni, as she loves him. They have a good marriage. But still, he would rather talk than listen. He might not even know how to listen.
Small, subtle things still can have a huge impact. But the smaller and more subtle, the more difficult they are to change. Yet we must change them.