Note: This post contains spoilers about the show '*** Education'
So, I watched this new series on Netflix called “*** Education”, starring Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson.
It is a comedy-drama centring on a sexually-repressed teenager, 16-year old Otis Milburn (played by Butterfield), and his friends as they navigate the most tempestuous time of one's life: being a teenager. As they voyage through the currents of the journey, they chance upon the most invigorating topic of discussion in those years (and the years to come): ***!
It got me thinking. And that I did. A lot! (No pun intended: Keep you mind out of the gutter! :P)
The word is enough for us to either burst into a fit of giggles or become increasingly uncomfortable.
It isn't our mistake. We, as a society, have been stifled when talking about ***.Dont Do That Avengers GIF from Dontdothat GIFs
*** is talked about in whispers and in secrecy. It is not to be mentioned, to be kept under covers. The mere whisper of the word is sure to make people angry or look at you like you have avowed Satan as your master.
Stigma, is that you?
Though what we have been taught is that *** is a bad thing. A thing to be done “tauba, tauba” over.
Most people do not have the proper knowledge about their own bodies. A gruesomely true fact because no one bothered to teach it to us.
And whatever we don't understand we try to mask with humour or complete censure. Our discomfort in talking about it stems from the lack of dialogue.
The topic is wonderfully addressed by the series, in such a witty way that you will find yourself questioning where it had been when we were teenagers.
When Otis unknowingly helps a fellow student, Adam, to come to terms with his body and sexual issues, having eavesdropped a lot on the sessions conducted by his *** therapist mother, Jean, and picking up some knowledge, cash-strapped Maeve thinks it would be a good idea to open an underground *** clinic for the school where students can get some therapy in exchange for money. Otis is to be the therapist.
Otis is apprehensive about ***. So much so, that he can't even masturbate. The thought of touching himself repulses him. To think about someone in a bad light and get pleasure from it? The expressway to hell. He believes it is bound to make him a bad person.
And I couldn't help but compare it to the world we live in.
We Don't Talk Anymore
In our world, we never have a healthy discussion about ***.
Where do babies come from? What is ***?
What is masturbation?
If the answers to the above questions were met with silence or some ridiculous answer, congratulations, you are a part of the myth-induced generation, most probably in your tweens now.
According to Indian movies of the past, *** is two flowers intertwining and birds singing to each other as the actors on screen indulge in “sin”.
The stigma around masturbation is real, we are told it is a terrible thing to do. Various myths surround it and even the mere mention raises eyebrows, not to mention the religious aspects.
Indian parents have their go-to on *** ranging from “ignore whatever is happening” to the quintessential silence or the best alternative: avoidance.
Worse, they instil fear about the topic. Who hasn't heard the myth that parents claim about kissing?
“If you kiss someone, you can get pregnant. So, abstain!” (You got us there!)
Studies suggest that nearly 88% of males and 58% of females never received *** education from home or schools.
Only some parents take the “talk of the birds and bees” seriously and imbibe it from an age when the child does not become defensive about it. My parents encouraged the talk but to a certain extent.
Of course, you can't ask everything from your parents, but they are there to give you the initial knowledge.
The relationship we have with our parents is a precursor to being comfortable with them. The parent-child dynamic is of vital importance.
There is some change in the newer generation though, parents today are savvier about the topic. Trust is essential in the relationship; you shouldn't shame a child for asking a question.
'*** Education's' stellar storytelling focuses on the very delicate relationship between parents and children. And its repercussions on the latter's sexual initiation.
In the series, Gillian Anderson, in a departure from her role as the uptight Special Agent Scully on 'X Files', plays Jean Milburn, Otis' overbearing mother who is a celebrated *** therapist.
Jean is overly intrusive in Otis' life, especially his sexual awakening (or the lack of it). She analyses every aspect of his life; his bedsheets, his notes, his books and his relationships. Otis is frustrated with her.
Gillian Anderson is a phenomenon as Jean; whether it being confronting Otis about his pretend masturbating or snooping around his room when he specifically asks her to stay out. The best part of Jean is her advice; though a bit calculative, it is insightful.
Jean is a cool mom; she is astute and shrewdly tackles problems, she smokes pot with Otis' friends, has no-strings attached relationships with her clients (mostly one-night stands), is friendlier to his friends more than him. Moreover, she has a very liberal and comfortable stance about ***. She encourages him to talk about it and share his experience.
All this makes Otis even more uncomfortable.
However, they share a strong relationship based on trust; Otis can speak to her when he wants to.
In complete contrast is the principal of the Moordale Secondary School, Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie), who can't stand to be in the same place where the word *** is uttered. He is a stern educator (on face value) and has a terrible relationship with his son, Adam. And a tendency to binge on chocolates when stressed.
In another wonderfully written episode focusing on the perception of *** by young people relating to an incident at school, he gets uncomfortable when the word vagina is repeatedly used by the students. He stands as the allegory of the society. The society which wants us to be good citizens, good people but also covers our eyes over brutal realities.
Abhi Umar Hi Kya Hai!
Being a teenager is hard (and being an adult is no piece of cake either). With so many hormones and emotions cruising through us and having a field day on the body and mind, it is natural to feel annoyed and cranky.
Add to it the changes in the body and you have got the recipe for a complete train wreck. With nothing to guide us through the turbulent time, when something we can't understand seems to be happening to us and we are not being able to talk about it, we can't help but feel isolated.
This is where *** education comes into play.
Another oft-shrouded topic is the concept of sexual orientation. You are born a certain way. You can't help who you like, and you shouldn't try to change yourself just to fit in.
In our society, people with a certain orientation, other than being straight, are looked down upon. Even after years of struggles and fights, the LGBTQ+ community faces harsh criticism and is ostracized. Though hope seems to be emanating with the recent abolishing of Section 377, it's a long battle till people change their mindsets.
Talking about fitting in, we all try to fit in, try to change ourselves in order to please our peers, to be accepted. We let ourselves become someone else in the process of accommodating others.
Otis' best friend, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), is openly gay and loves to cross-dress. Like every other teenager, he is coming to terms with his sexuality. He is also fastidiously trying to get into the elite group of the school. He tries hard but keeps failing. He wants to be cool but is always the afterthought.
Also, it doesn't help that his religious father condemns his dressing up and is afraid of how the world perceives his son, though they share an immensely layered rapport which is rather intricate.
Eric's arc is a marvellous one.
When he gets assaulted because of his sexuality, it opens up his mind to the truth of life; you are what you are, and you shouldn't let others influence your journey.
*** Education: What is That?
I cannot remember having a ***-Ed class ever in school.
The chapter on “Reproduction “in Biology class garnered a lot of Cheshire-cat smiles from the students or discreet whispers and a lot of “ahem-ahem” from the teachers.
What I do remember from the class is a lot of giggling from the students as the words “vagina” and “*****” were mentioned. A rush of uneasiness when the teacher (visibly uncomfortable while valiantly trying to teach) showed us a picture of the female reproductive system. A boy turning away when the slide showed us the diagram of the male reproductive system.
Raucous laughter on the word “condom” and nervously twitching students when the topic progressed to abortion and safe ***.
The series has an episode where Otis gets humiliated in class when a video of his mother teaching how-to put-on condoms starts playing on the monitor. Mortified, he leaves the class as his classmates keep laughing and pointing at the screen.
I would think I was lucky (even with the horror of sitting in a class where *** was the topic) as compared to my friends who were asked to read the chapter on their own.
We have been fed with the notion that *** is something to be ashamed of. In pure puritanical style, we have been asked to listen and follow whatever is being doled out to us.
Being curious is natural, especially when we are young, we tend to have an inquisitive outlook. More so about *** which seems to be a taboo topic.
As the series progresses, we find out the real reason behind Otis' trepidation about ***. And the reason for it is not uncommon.
We have been coddled by our parents, who in an attempt to safeguard us from the harshness of life have hidden away important aspects of growing up.
Thus, we have grown up with some quite weird ideas about *** and sexuality.
Look at this video for instance!
For a society which has been so sexually repressed and anything that mentions the word comes under criticism, we are obsessed with it. As they say, the more you make something forbidden, the more people want it.
Banning something only leads people to know it more. Just because you won't talk to your child about *** doesn't mean that they will forget about it.
Movies, novels, mainstream media, everything has a connotation leading to ***. Some do it through veiled references while some approach it directly.
*** is that forbidden fruit. When one does not get it naturally, they turn to a different path which leads to either a complete misunderstanding of the concept or the person's eventual ruin.
Not knowing what to do leads us to do things we shouldn't.
*** education does not teach us to have *** early, it isn't making children precocious, but the timing of the education is vital.
It makes you aware of things which a young person should know.
Shockingly, 52% of young children in India have been sexually abused during the formative years, but the children are unaware of it, until later in life. The reason? They had never been told about the difference between a good touch and a bad touch.
In a few instances, even if the children have spoken up, parents have shut them down in order to not deal with the societal shame it attributes. What will other people say?
Log Kya Kahenge?
The series focuses on Maeve Wiley, an apparently promiscuous teenager who has *** often and is labelled “cock-biter” by the students. She is a closeted genius; she puts on an armour of indifference (her quintessential “go **** yourself”) and a certain dumbness to counteract the facts of her life. Pink hair, dark makeup and an astounding personality. Between you and me, this role seems to be tailor-made for Margot Robbie. :P
A drug-addled mother and an absent father have hardened her to never depend on anyone.
“I am into complex female characters”, she says.
She finds them interesting because they parallel her life; she reads feminist literature, is a talented writer and a complete badass but she knows that her financial conditions limit her to a life of solitude and suffering at best. She uses dark humour as a coping mechanism.
Also, it is the reason that when she finds love, she doesn't pursue it. Because she thinks that it only leads to sadness.
She gets pregnant in the series and decides to get an abortion. In this brilliant episode, very poignantly essayed by the talented Emma Mackey, Maeve tries to understand what the ramifications it'll have on her. And how she copes with it. One of the best episodes of the 8-episode series.
Teen pregnancy is not limited to the West. It is a problem all over the world. We cut short our own resources by ignorance.
*** education is more than just the physical act of ***. It is about knowing your body better, finding out what works for you.
Everyone is clueless about *** when teenagers or even as adults; be it the act itself, your own organs or the results of having unprotected ***. What we can do is ask questions and we will find answers.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Emma Mackey (@emmatmackey) on Jan 11, 2019 at 3:24am PST
Yes, it is imperative to ask the right person and go through the right material. It is time for parents and the youth to be proactive and attempt to start a healthy discussion about it.
There is a lot of misconception about ***, further fueled by misleading articles on the Internet, the wrong type of pornography and weird ideas fed by society.
One needs to understand it isn't how porn shows it. It isn't that easy or that graphic and it is done by actors. It is essential to remember that everything in moderation is good, even porn. Though, porn perpetuates an unrealistic view of *** it does provide some knowledge on the subject but not the real picture.[s1]
Why I Liked The Show & Why I Think You Will Too
On a superficial glance, the series might look like another teen angst-ridden high school drama but on closer inspection, it is so much more that. Though there is a considerable amount of nudity and some racy scenes, they are just a propeller of the show's narrative. What else do you expect from horny teenagers? :P
*** is something which you have to understand with a lot of help. Your parents can provide you a perspective, but it will be theirs. Eventually, you have to get your own perception of it.
This show helps in changing the way we perceive it, in a good way.
The show features well-etched characters wonderfully essayed by the actors. The character development is flawless.
The show tackles complex aspects in a very clever way; pushing the envelope but not being preachy. In its own witty way, through smart banter and clever dialogue, the show opens up about issues everyone faces, age notwithstanding.
Asa Butterfield as the socially-challenged, sexually-repressed Otis is delightful. He plays the character so convincingly that you will relate to him easily. Then again, he was brilliant as Bruno in “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”; I hardly know anyone who hasn't cried (or felt devastated at the least) after watching that movie.
Another fascinating part of the show is how they have portrayed friendships. Friends are the people who help us through every phase of life. They are the ones we can talk to about stuff which we can't with others.
The bond between Otis and Eric is truly a beautiful one which will make you call your BFF right away! Maeve and Otis' budding friendship which starts off as a business transaction into a seemingly romantic one is something to look forward to.
Inclusivity is yet another part of the show, the storylines concerning the gay characters have been well-written and superbly executed.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Netflix US (@netflix) on Jan 24, 2019 at 10:59am PST
Other standout characters are Ola, Aimee, Adam, Lily and Jackson.
Lily (Tanya Reynolds) with her strong urges and body comfortability finds something new about herself which shocks her.
Aimee with her affinity to please, finally learns the truth about being a pushover.
Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is the star of the school: Head Boy, superb athlete with a bright future but a terrible secret.
Ola (Patricia Allison) with her quick wit, superb attitude and the apparent bisexual/queer vibe she sends (Season 2, maybe?), and Adam (Connor Swindells) with his brilliant portrayal of a bully with body issues and sexuality ineptness, steer the show to the winner it is.
The best part is that Otis gives advice to people on ***, though he is not entirely sure about the concept himself, and gets to realize what he is lacking, on the same journey.
The show brilliantly shows us how we tend to not realize our faults and misgivings until we see it in someone else.
Though Otis' therapist career is a bit Streisandian, with him mostly giving correct advice and being right quite a lot, it provides the necessary thrust to the narrative.
With its teen angst omnipresent, this show has an 80s John Hughes movie vibe, while set in the UK with an American school backdrop, and it is sure to make you marvel at its genius. (Confused? I was, too! :P)
The best thing it has done is that it has opened up discussions about ***, a much-needed education in today's society.
It is a long wait until India opens up about *** education and comes up with a series (are you listening, Netflix India?) with it being the central theme, this series is enough to keep us entertained while getting educated.
Go, watch it!
Looking forward to Season 2!