While I’m sure other stuff has been happening around the world, the last couple of weeks in Israel and the United States have been crazy.
In the US, we had a blue wave in the House, more firings in the White House, CNN had a stand-off with the president, the president popped over to France, and major elections had recounts.
In Israel, the apathy of the citizens of Jerusalem was staggering – the new mayor won by about 6,500 votes in a city with a population of 865,000 with only 30% of eligible voters voting. Israel is defending its citizens against attacks by Gazan rockets (460 rockets over several days from Gaza into Israel), but now there is a cease-fire. However, the defense minister stepped down, which rocked the delicate coalition, and that may bring about national elections.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Truth is stranger than fiction.”
Yeah? I’ll have some of that fiction now, please.
The nice thing about fiction is that it’s clean and all the boring unimportant bits are taken out. You don’t have to waste your time on details that don’t push the story along. Real life has just too much stuff going on and you don’t know what’s really important or which way to look.
I’m a fan of thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and I’m not averse to vigilantes with strict internal moral codes. At the moment, my fictional world is making a lot more sense than real life. But I do need fiction that makes me think. I need a theory or a particular worldview to chew on.
A few weeks ago, a British show called Strangers caught my attention. A few of the main characters are British, but it was filmed in Hong Kong with Chinese actors speaking Chinese (scenes with subtitles!). My original thought about reviewing this series was to point out that Britain is now getting in on the Asian drama wave. But I’m going to take it in a different direction.
What I loved about this show was that it was filled with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I know the usual tropes, so I really appreciate a show that keeps you guessing. For instance, here is a synopsis of the first fifteen minutes: A woman is driving while crying on the phone. She’s hit by a truck. A self-satisfied professor starts his lecture and is pulled out of the lecture hall to be told his wife has died in a car accident. He’s afraid of flying, but goes to Hong Kong to identify his wife’s body and bring her back to England. He sees a man holding a picture of his wife. Who is this man? None other than her Chinese husband who she’s been married to for the past 20 years.
Say what? I’m hooked. And it goes on like that for eight episodes: an unexpected twist every fifteen minutes or so.
I won’t spoil it for you. The unraveling of the mystery is very well done; I enjoyed the meandering pace.
What made me think, though, was a nearly throwaway line in the first minutes of the show. The smug professor wrote a book called Do Nations Exist? The brown-nosing student says “Nations are imagined; they only exist in our minds.” The professor answers, “Surely a group of people claiming to be a cohesive whole is, at best, a lie agreed upon.”
You can watch the whole show without ever thinking about this line ever again. However, given the events of real life, you might see that the story shows you the answer. Our professor leaves his ivory tower and arrives in a dirty, dark, smoggy Hong Kong. He finds that everything he thinks is true is not, everything he expects in the world is upside-down, and all of his British cultural touchstones have no meaning in Hong Kong. He expects the police to help, they don’t. He expects the British consular officers to help, they don’t. He thinks the Chinese husband is working against him, he isn’t. Then there’s the journalist, the university friend, the activist, the refugee, the Triad gangster, the conglomerate owner, the British consul, the hotel manager – no one is who they appear to be. And what about the elections in Hong Kong? There are protests and the usual rumors and power plays. But how does it fit in? (As I mentioned, nothing is introduced that isn’t important. It’s clean and we know where to look, even if it might be misdirection on the part of the writer.)
It’s possible that the important bit of the line is “a lie agreed upon.” When you hold up the mirror of fiction to real life, you might find that everything you think is true isn’t. All your expectations are baseless. Your interactions in the world go awry because you are a stranger in a strange land.
But then why throw in nations at all? Do they exist? Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you are inside, then they don’t – or don’t have to. If you are outside, then they most assuredly do.
As for me, for the moment, I prefer to stay in my fictional world that makes some kind of sense. Real life is just too crazy right now.
Here’s the opening of Strangers
And a quick teaser