Monday, January 9, 2012

Review – “Switched at Birth” (2011)

Dear Mrs. Spangler, I did not pirate this for my paper, I wrote it. Proof: #4344321

Review – “Switched at Birth” (2011)

„Switched at Birth“ is a TV series that started airing on ABC Family in June 2011. The story revolves around two 16-year-old girls who find out that they were given to the wrong mother/family in the hospital when they were born when one of the teenagers discovers that her blood type does not match with her parents’. Bay - one of the daughters - lives in an upper class neighborhood. Her parents have a house and guest house with a pool and tennis courts on their park-like estate. A few miles away, deaf Daphne - the other daughter - lives with her ethnic single mother hairdresser and her grandma in a small apartment in a rather run-down area of Kansas City. After learning of the switch, when her mother cannot pay the rent and has to move out, Bay’s family decides to let them stay in the guest house to get to know each other and so the hustle and bustle begins. The families grapple with the social gap, their one daughter’s disability and the complications of separate biological and social family.
The characters in “Switched at Birth” are more real and flawed than in most recent TV series, showing many usual parent-child interactions set off track by the unusual situation between the families and daughters, initially posing the question which family, rich or poor, biological or social, will “win” each girl. The series comes to the conclusion that even though there is no genetic similarity, social connection over a long period of time outweighs biological relatedness, which at first upsets the idea that people who are related biologically belong together. The plot of a very different, but equally strong connection in blood that evolves while the families are getting to know each other through similarities in interest and prepositions sets this record straight. Out of this situation, a new issue is forming though: How to deal with “the other mother” when the families realize that the respective other has a rightful social claim on one’s daughter, sister or grandchild?
The very realistic portrait of life as a deaf teenager, which is another central theme in the show, is achieved by casting actually deaf or hard of hearing actors, e.g. Katie LeClerc as the deaf daughter and Sean Beardy as her deaf best friend, for most of the deaf characters. It is astounding how perfectly realistic the interactions, thoughts and reactions in that motif are portrayed and how they are helping to understand the way that many kids with disabilities are not so different and in fact able in most areas of daily life. Silent signing, along with subtitles, takes up about one fifth of the show’s lines, frequently putting the hearing viewer into the same spot that the deaf one usually holds. The actors convey that disabled people can be as capable in daily life as hearing people and that being deaf, in this example, rather means being different than having a problem that needs to be fixed or that makes a person less able. This performance is even more stunning and substantive knowing that the person conveying it is, to a certain degree, performing their daily reality.
 And yet, this show is not all about being deaf or the daughters’ switch. Producer Paul Stupin brings a vast amount of experience addressing teenager’s issues and promoting the picture of strong women on television. His involvement in the series is undeniable, bringing with him the pen stroke that made movies like “Scream” (1996) and series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997), both of which seek to empower women, unforgettable. The simple clear cut, high contrast one-camera filming style that has also made the vampire action series a great success, enhances the show’s focus on visual stimuli. The narrow, relationship centered approach in “Switched at Birth” that focuses on a mid-sized cast of well-rounded characters rather than a small main cast and a lot of flat extras has also been used by Stupin before to make “Dawson’s Creek” the number one teenage soap of the 90s.
Bringing together the two worlds of rich and poor that are so very apart due to the usage of the same zoom of super-realism that had been applied to the show “Beverly Hills 90210” (1990), which he worked on as well, is a tremendous achievement. The extremely stereotypic depiction of the rich, the poor and the differences between those is striking though and considering that “Beverly Hills 90210” ended 11 years ago, the theme might not entice the main audience, teens and young adults, as it did in the 1990s: The show portrays Bay’s rich parents as conceded and entitled, living in their own little box of a world, unable to reach out or relate to someone other than their kind. The poor family is constructed in a typical way as well: At the beginning of the series, Daphne, her grandma and her single mom hairdresser, who non-surprisingly is a sober alcoholic, are living together in a bad part of town. Despite the evolution of relations between the two families, this deep socioeconomic gap continues producing new issues and does not regress, unlike depicted in other female driven series as “Judging Amy” (1999) or “Charmed” (1998) where such issues are solved quickly to make room for new troublesome topics. It remains to be seen if the conceptual themes of series for young people that have been established in the 90s are still applicable to teenagers and young adults today, with a twist.
Along with his great casting skills, combining all those features into one, Stupin has created a one-of-a-kind sociocritical, funny, beautiful series that yet has to reach its peak Nielsen rating, already premiering with a new ABC family record of 3.3 Million viewers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


All relatively intelligent beings sort experiences and things into different categories. This is our basic way of learning things and taking this experience to evaluate new experience. A simple example to that process would be a toddler learning animals: Let’s say the urban family has a dog and they venture out to an agricultural area for vacation. The kid sees a cow and says “big dog” because it fits the depiction of a four legged furry being. Now it will probably be told that this is a cow and during the trip it might learn different sorts of animals such as pigs, cats, sheep and the – two legged – chicken. It learns that “dog” is a sub-group of “dog like things” called animals and that there are lots of other sub categories. Also, the new category “four legged beings with fur” will be broadened by the example of “chicken” which has two legs and feathers, yet parents call it animal too…”What the faaaaaaaak?????” – No problem, just change the label. 

In our head, we do these kinds of things all the time when we learn new stuff. Yet when we get older, the process of changing labels and adding new categories decreases a lot. By the time we are considered adults, our system of categories has pretty much formed and we see the world through a sort of prism that splits reality in a unique way for each person. This prism is formed by earlier experiences and it gets harder to change one’s view of the world with every new experience we add to our set of drawers. 

It is easyto imagine our brain as a big hard drive where we store and recall data butthis is not the case. In fact every memory changes when we add new experiences and so it is ever changing for every moment in time we experience. Memories are always set in context with one another. This explains why it gets harder to change one’s beliefs and values when we are getting older: the already existing network has to be entirely re-arranged each time and a bigger network requires lots more changes than a small one.
This unique network-prism lets people enhance different aspects of situations so every living being experiences every moment in time from a different perspective. And also this is why every person relates every label to different ideas. 

I do have a problem with excessive labeling as it hardly does any person justice. Given, it is the base of our thinking structure and we rely on it to get through every moment, but in my opinion most people do the labeling in a one-dimensional way and attach too many connotations to a label.

I have always been rejecting general labels to myself. I was in a church youth group, but I wouldn’t see myself as Christian. I sleep with guys but I wouldn’t define myself as gay, I was born in Germany but I don’t like being called German. Why? Because to all these labels, there are strong connotations that are not true for me. Christians must be religious and abide to the word of god…I was never exactly certain what is up there. Gays are …like, you know, a certain way…I am not. Germans are supposed to be tactical, logical and somewhat boring…I might be that to an extent but that is not all I am by far, so in this case, I rather consider myself a citizen of Berlin (which is much more reputable to me) and Europe than of German nationality. I also don’t like beer. ;)

Yet, I still use labels to define people, because as an earthling with a thinking structure similar to yours I have to. Excessive labeling can be very useful if you have to evaluate a situation very fast and it definitely is a method that should be used, but still it is important to keep an open mind and be willing to change your initial evaluation and extend it. In this sense it might be useful to discard the idea of drawers and work with a model that supports clusters that are connected to each other, so we do not just have one or two drawers we put a person into but 6 or 7 clusters that people are related to from different angles to a certain extent that can be extended indefinitely. That sounds complicated but this actually is what our mind works like, all we have to do is realize and use this rather than just draw from the one strongest attribute we relate to a person, which is what we do when we think of drawers. Use your mind's full capability!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Hmmm, a friend just asked to write something about the theory that every person is acting 100% out of egoism at the core of it all, no matter what it plays out as - the nicest most giving person as much as the most egocentrical one. The theory is intriguing, I admit, but as we go deper and deeper towards the cores of our selves, as with it is physics there are other forces playing a role, thought structures and instincts that we cannot discuss singularly. My process of thought along this line e.g. got me to the question of how time exists; if it is parallel, multidimentional (which would mean every moment in time exists for itself and cannot be severed but experienced in several different realities) or linear and if the human brain has an interdimensional port that can transfer information without the limits of time and physics...way too far.  

I don't know enough to actually write something like an answer to that question and I doubt I ever will. I suppose we are not far enough yet in psychologic and physiologic research to determine what motivates us at the core, what egoism actually is and how the human brain develops over the years responding to internal and external stimuli. 

What I can say is that I don't think you can compare the egoism that we see in greedy or selfish people to what we are inclined to call egoism of the self, like the sense for self preservation, because one is an instinct we are born with and the other is a pattern of thoughts and emotions in relation to society. So I think it is save to say that egoism has nothing to do with human nature, it is something that people acquire during their lifetime. Everybody has a sense for self preservation, but along with other influences like a sense for community and partnership, a sense for self-progress and, very important, religion or world view and much more we might not see, every human being developes their own logic of how to act and if it makes more sense to be egocentric or gracious and to what level. And other people who went to a similar but completely different process judge those people to determine what they are like, relying on their own experiences...

Things are not always as easy as they seem. Actually barely so at all.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Euro Crisis

I just realized something: We are all waiting for the financial crisis to end, but how could it end? Under what measures? In what way? Did anyone think of that at all?

We are building debt shields for states and banks but as long as those are needed, the common currencies of the world will stay unstable. To satisfy the need for national debt interest and to provide the money for the European Stability Mechanism ("Euro Rettungsschirm", abbr: ESM), countries have to take on more loans. In fact, what many people do not realize is that the ESM itself are just loans that have to be paid back after a certain period of time and so if countries that are already in debt do not spend their money wisely (which is likely as they don't seem to have been doing that before->they are in debt!!!), they will be in a lot more trouble in the future, so in fact this may NEVER end if we keep going like this! This would be like lending money to a guy who is already in debt big time and is likely to lose your money too. Furthermore, he has to pay back all the other loan sharks first, so when do you get your money back: probably never. Which brings both of you in an even more unstable situation.

Also, countries that have a public safety net are obligated to serve their people first, so if many people are jobless (which usually is the case in poor countries) and the state does not have money and to pay for social services even, the money from the loans will go there and so will not be invested in infrastructure or debt reduction and in a few years when that money is gone, the country in question will need more. We can see this process in the example of the reintegration of Eastern Germany. The eastern states got billions of Euros from the west to invest in infrastructure and build up their economy but most of the money had to be used to pay for social welfare, which is why even now the eastern part of Germany is far behind economically.
The fact that government officials stay in office usually about one to 10 years at most usually and the fact that they have no responsibility concerning the long term consequences of their actions in office makes this even more dangerous as the repercussions for getting way too many loans usually take effect decades after the money was transferred.

Countries, in fact, are not supposed to make surplusses or minusses like companies, they are supposed to manage the public money and to reinvest it into the country to the best effect. Getting loans to do great things for your poeple (to get re-elected) is a great temptation  for all politicians and the big  pay-back will not be due for 10 or 15 years, which is longer than most high-ranking politicians are (supposed to be) in office. Investing part of the money into debt reduction is not a prestigious project so most politicians will try to avoid paying back more of the loans they or their predecessors started than absolutely necessary and the national debt keeps on rising...
In fact, countries should not be able to get loans at all due to their structure, purpose and governance.

So what does this mean for us and our future?
The debt crisis will not just end, it is way to complex. At this point almost every country owes every other country unimaginably high sums of money and debts are still on the rise. If a few countries do better, other countries will get closer to crashing. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that several diverse, potentially oppositional governments over 30 years time will follow the same policy of debt reduction in every country to bring debt levels down to a tolerable level. You don't just pay back 1796 Billion(!) euros (approx. 2500 billion dollars; debt Germany 2010) within one or two years. The system is flawed and the crisis will go on over decades if we do not change the system or let it crash and see what happens.

Monday, October 10, 2011

the perfect moment

The other night, I met my American friend at the club. I wait for him a little bit, go in...nothing going on yet. Get a drink, light a cigarette and sit outside until he finally arrives by taxi.
We say "hi!" and hug. I never seen him before, he asked me to go out with him when he is in Berlin for vacation via facebook a few weeks ago. He knows nobody here and saw me through a common friend in LA where I had been at that time. Matt is sturdy but good looking...smaller than me. His hair the color of red you can only guess with if it has been dyed or not. Sorta cute, but definitely a little older than me.
We go in, talk a little. While I was waiting, the club has been filling up so there is a nice crowd on the dance floor, but not too many people.

We start dancing to a pop/dance mix and the dance floor keeps filling, it is crowded now and people push us every few seconds trying to pass, so we shift locations. That is when I first noticed that cute blond guy. About 20 years old, tall and skinny, talking to his buddies. Me and Matt dance, drink, smoke and have fun dancing and I ocasionally catch a glimpse at blond guy and other cuties. Matt and me talk about the city, the music and the differences and similarities between LA and Berlin. Then the tranny show begins. Naturally, Matt doesn't understand anything they are saying so we go to the lobby to be able to talk a little more. Sitting down on a bench, we notice that Blond Guy and one of his friends are there too, they are dancing to the music, so we join them. The cute boy catches my eye and it is obvious what is about to happen. I feel awkward because I am supposed to show my buddy around and also, I got to work tomorrow and it is about two hours after time to go. I panic. I noticed the blond's t-shirt before that night, the white shirt says "make history" in black letters. I ask Matt "Do you know that book by Stephen Fry, <<Making History>>? It is really quite interesting...", just to win a little more time but after a minute or so, my supposed catch says something like "Ugh, let's go in again!" to his friend in a very frustrated manner and they leave for the dance floor and my heart drops.
Going after him now would be awkward and I need to leave anyway, so I say goodbye to my friend who wants to stay a while longer and walk to the bus feeling like an idiot. Why didn't i just go for it???

At home I brush my teeth, put my contacts into the box with protein remover and pass out on my bed.
That week nothing really happened and I am sort of excited to see him again tonight, if he is there...another wednesday...10/12/2011.
 I go to the club with my Friends Eli and Paul, the usual suspects. We get a drink and go onto the dance floor and there he is. Cute as last time with the same shirt, but dark with white text...colors inverted.

I leave my friends and go up to him and say "Hi! Willst du tanzen?" And he replies "Ja, klar!" so we start dancing really close, his eyes sparkle in the most beautiful green-blue I have ever seen and we look at each other for what feels like hours and cannot stop. We get closer and closer...very slowly and carefully. The skin feels so soft under his shirt, I get chills feeling a burst of endorphines suddenly released when he runs his hand over my cheek...and then the universe explodes in endless firework with colors of a brilliance nobody has yet seen. Our lips touch and time stops, the perfect moment.

beep beep beep...beep beep beep -
8:30am 10/6/2011
Snooze - Dismiss?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do I believe in „the one“?

When I was 16, there was no doubt about it, I would find someone, fall in love and spend the rest of my life with that person. But what has happened since then? I have had some relationships, some hook-ups and I am not really sure anymore if I should, if it is reasonable to keep up the hope of finding someone. I see many people who get disappointed over and over again by failed relationships and yet they keep trying, but is giving up on that really the answer? After all there are people who found someone to love for a lifetime, even though it has become more exceptional than the norm. In Germany there is the new expression “Lebensabschnittspartner” (something like “life period partner”) that describes the new idea of having a partner for a distinct period of time, being aware that the relationship is likely to end at one point with both people going their own ways. It is no secret that the success of a long-term relationship lives or dies with the wish to commit on both sides. There is a certain number of humans that would be suitable to any one person, the big question is if both are willing to commit at the same level.
Mutual affection is definitely a requirement for a working relationship, but to keep it going, mutual interests and time apart, as all the psychologists give couples as advice is just as important as the willingness to commit. For most people there is a time in their lives when they start to settle down. For some, who then tend to live a more conservative lifestyle, this occurs very early in their 20s and some people still have boyfriends when they are 60 and feel good about it. We all have that wish to find “the one”, some people feel about that stronger than others and yet when we really are ready, we definitely will find that one person out of the people that are compatible with us that is willing to commit to the same extent.

Our ancestors lived in a society where early marriage was necessary for our well-being as the partition of roles was very clear and life was hard. Now that we are living in a world where the essentials of life are handed to us, where we can buy food and commodities, we are safe in a society protected by laws and rather just jurisdiction, we have won the freedom to live other models than that of man and wife each dedicated to the tasks they were born into by definition of gender and social status roles. We still inherited the sociocultural roles from our parents and until about 50 years ago when life started to become easier due to new technologies, this was a justified social construct, but is it not time to overthink our social roles and the sense they make in the world we are living in today?

Maybe we just need to take off the pressure and value the moment. We might find someone to spend the rest of our lives with at any point along the way, the question people should ask is whether they are ready to commit. Many people today are running around with the thought of immediate commitment in their head, placed there by an old cultural status quo. Yet most of them deep inside know that they are not ready and want to gather some more experience, and many  of them are torn between those to concepts too much to actual enjoy the ride. To use the much quoted notion of ice cream: How do you know if you don’t like vanilla if you have only had chocolate? And what sensations do all the other flavors hold?


Sunday, March 13, 2011


Today, I read an article about a convicted murderer who supposedly was mentally ill because he witnessed his brother being killed by two cruel teenagers over nothing when he was a kid. Their victim was a 5 year-old boy who refused to steal for the two thugs. But is it not more complicated than that? The author of the article suggests that this story alone and the survivor him being left alone with this experience was the trigger for his later conviction. But where does it start? 

The two thugs supposedly had an IQ significantly below average, which is stated to be an important fact, but how do you measure a person’s intelligence? What did they experience in their early life to become selfish and cruel? They probably grew up in the street and who tells their story?  

In life, we are faced with choices every day, choices between good and bad. What makes the 8-year-old who when he was 24 tried to murder a human being the victim and the two thugs who killed a boy when they were 11 and 12, kids, half as old as the recently convicted murderer, the criminals?
What gives the author the right to select this person as good and others as bad? Are some people born bad and some good? Are some people drawn to crime whereas others are good from the beginning? The author suggests that by telling us the story of the good 5-year-olf that dies and his by relation also good brother. But if this was true, how could this one act make that boy bad? Why where there no relatives that took care of him so that this incident could be processed? 

Are we born to be good or bad?
Genetics can determine our characteristics to an extent, e.g. perseverance, intelligence, drive and what our prominent senses are, but it comes down to the relations we have, this is what determines if we are good or bad, the first 6-8 years of our life are when our brain grows most. Permanent structures and behavioral patterns also form during this period. This article suggests that those two pre-teenage thugs are bad because they are homeless ghetto kids, but what happened to them during their first years? The most unstable financial and social situations are found with single mothers in ethnic areas. Yet those single mothers are the main source for new lives in this country where those kids grow up unsupported, on the street with their mothers incapable of providing financial and emotional support. Now when we read that article we identify with the 5-year old victim and say that those are bad people but what did we do to prevent any of this? What do we do to prevent things like this from happening in the future?

We read this article, shake our heads and move on, but then what did this young boy die for? He lived in the same neighborhood as those thugs and his brother, he was five years old and when he was threatened and had to be scared for his life he refused to give in. Was this boy better than most of us, was he better than you at five years of age and being raised in a poor area? What does that tell you about yourself?
Every day we are faced with choices and most of the time we chose to look away or do what we are told. Maybe this would have been the right thing to do for the kid, maybe it would have kept him alive and his brother sane.
But what kind of world does that define?
How does this picture reflect on yourself?