Celebrities Pop Culture

Are your favorite celebrities breaking gender norms, or just queerbaiting?

As gender roles blur, and sexuality being fluid, there have been allegations around some artists queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting can be defined as the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction, to engage or lure in an LGBTQ+ audience without ever explicitly showing such relationships or sexual interactions. The term queerbaiting is used to critique the practice of queerbaiting as an attempt to capitalize on and take advantage of the appearance of LGBTQ+ relationships when there is no actual real LGBTQ+ representation.

Queerbaiting can be seen in TV shows where interactions between two same-sex characters are suggestive of sexual attraction or relationship, but the characters are never in such a relationship. This is especially so when their sexuality is not depicted or mentioned. For instance, Tegan and Michaela, in the TV series How To Get Away With Murder. Yes, Tegan is a mentor to Michaela, but why do we get a closeup when Michaela expresses a devasted face when Tegan chooses to spend time with Annalise. It is subtleties like these that insinuates that there is more to the relationship of the two characters.

[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
While the Oxford English Dictionary recently recognized the term in March 2021, it has been used in the cultural lexicon for decades. The use of the term queerbaiting dates to the early 1950s, where it was first referred to as the encouragement of anti-LGBTQIA+ hatred. However, since the 2010s, the use and meaning of the term have changed and, is used in reference to opportunistic acts that aim to appeal to LGBTQIA+ audiences. Although the word “queer” has a history of being used as a slur, it is now used in its reclaimed sense, in the context of LGBTQ+ identities. The word queer is used to describe and refer to things involving people whose gender identity or sexual orientation falls outside the heterosexual mainstream.

In June and towards the month of July 2021, accusations of queerbating surfaced in our pop-cultural discourse at many celebrities, such as Madonna, Billie Eilish and repeat offender Harry Styles. The allegations were that non-queer artists were ‘appropriating’ queer culture and aesthetics in efforts to secure the monetary support and the support of LGBTQ+ fans without having to identify themselves outright openly as queer. This portrayal allows them to brush up alongside the seeming edginess of queer identity, without having to pay the price of openly being themselves in a queerphobic society.

In her music video for the song “Lost Cause”, Billie Eilish is having fun and dancing with other women, in a manner that some see as sexually suggestive. When Eilish shared photos from the video with the message “I love girls”, that was read by some as being indicative of a sexual attraction towards women. Critics, including those of the LGBTQ+ community, defended Eilish and rejected the accusation of queerbaiting and, emphasized that no one should be pressured in having to disclose or clarify their sexuality.


The central principle of the queerbaiting critique is targeted at celebrities who are often on the fence about announcing their sexuality. Comments that have brought on widespread criticisms of queerbaiting range from Harry Styles who draws on a feminine and playful ambiguous display of himself to, the comparison made between Madonna’s 2003 VMA kiss with Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera and, Rapper Lil Nas X’s performance at the BET Awards in June 2021 where he kissed one of his male back-up dancers. Several cultural moments that were seen as groundbreaking at the time are now being scrutinized, as real queer representation is being shown on screen.

Much of the criticism can be taken from a celebrity’s queerness being valid only if said explicitly in public spaces and interviews, or if represented to expectation. Ambiguity is seen as a wrongful act. In Harry Style’s case, this displayed itself as frustration that he portrays himself to be bisexual and continues to be winked at rather than explicitly proving or declaring that he does have sexual relations with other men. In as much as it may be seen as queerbaiting, we cannot accuse him of it without specifying that he is in fact not queer. Our assumptions about his relationship with queerness are only just a leap in the dark.

It can be said that the argument around queerbaiting, recognizes a material injustice and that many queer people are in a fight for their lives and livelihoods. While the sour double standard of praise is given to stars such as Styles, those who originate this aesthetic are faced with daily violence and exclusion. However, forcing one to out themselves as queer can also be seen as violent as it takes away the choice to be candid about their sexuality from the get-go. So maybe some people would like to have their queer cake and eat it too!

Not allowing others to self-determine their sexuality and even doing so vaguely falsely assumes that the queer identity or is rigid, contained and dictated when it is not.

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Health Care Mind Mental Health Health Coronavirus Wellness

There’s nothing romantic about therapy, but I still recommend it

Essay deadlines, a global pandemic, and limited social interaction left me overwhelmed … to say the least. Throughout the pandemic, I received news of relatives or friends catching Covid-19 almost routinely. To amplify this, my second year of university had also started. Like many students across the globe, I had to readjust to virtual learning. Although I enjoyed the convenience of zoom classes, the time of socializing between lectures and seminars was now empty. The stresses and anxieties I had pushed to the back of my mind started to occupy this vacant time. 

Lucky for me, there was an increase in self-care content on social media, which encouraged me to seek therapy. As an African woman, mental well-being and therapy were never discussed in my community. So, I felt hesitant while contacting the student therapy team at my university. At the same time, I felt like the hero of my own story and looked forward to meeting the new post-therapy me. 

Unfortunately, the excitement was fleeting. Throughout my six months of sessions, I discovered that different media skewed my expectations.

I always imagined therapy to be like the scene in Disney Channel’s Freaky Friday. In which, Jamie Lee Curtis’s character (after switching bodies with her daughter) has a therapy client and keeps asking, “How does that make you feel?” 

The scene is comical, but it is what I believed attending therapy would be like. A client, lying on a sofa letting out their emotions, and a therapist, repeating the word ‘feelings.

This scene, like many in Hollywood, depicts an automatic comfortability between therapist and client. Vulnerability seems easy within the confines of the session. I soon learned this was inaccurate; I did not find being vulnerable with a stranger anything close to easy anything close to easy, no matter how friendly she was. I have never been someone who finds it easy to talk about my feelings in-depth. Yet, I thought once I was in front of a therapist, my feelings would spill out. But her title and qualification made no difference.  It took me a few sessions to become vulnerable. At the time, I thought I was doing something wrong or that therapy was not for me. But I soon recognized it was all a matter of my misconceptions. So, I started unlearning what I thought were the universal truths of therapy. 

I realized that the journey transcends the one-hour sessions. This is true in that you must be practical with whatever lessons you learn during the sessions. In addition, it is important to come prepared to be vulnerable during your sessions. I found it challenging to transition from random everyday activities into my sessions. When I was having a good day, I would come into therapy excitable and waste the hour trying to preserve my mood. And it was just that, a waste. Therapy was the perfect opportunity to talk through any troubles from my week, but I was not always prepared to do so. Through this, I found the importance of some form of a prepping routine. I began spending an hour listening to some music, jazz, or reggae, whatever felt natural. In this time, I tried to connect with my emotions and do things that made me feel at peace. I felt ready to open up once my session started.

Another preconception I had to challenge was the assumption that my therapist would be my savior or guardian angel. Countless movies use the narrative of inappropriate client-therapist relationships. For example, in Silver Linings Playbook. The main character Pat’s therapist attends his dance recital and visits his home, extending their relationship outside the office. In real life, this would be unrealistic and unethical. But it depicts the idea of a therapist as a guardian angel, always there for the precious moments of your life. 

The phrase “everyone needs therapy” is all over social media. Although well-intentioned, it fuels this idea of therapy as a saving grace and the therapist as the angel on your shoulder. I often approached my sessions as a cure-all. My therapist once mentioned that I spoke of our sessions as though they had a fixed end date. Like I was waiting for the day, I would be cleansed of all stresses. And to tell the truth, I was counting down to the day the therapy finally kicked in. 

But I learned that it was a process that relied on me nurturing whatever I discovered in each weekly session. If I had any homework from my sessions, it was my responsibility to make sure I completed it. In the sessions, it was my responsibility to be completely honest and vulnerable. Ultimately, I gained clarity about my therapist’s role as a helper and not a savior. 

The biggest thing I wish I knew before starting is that therapy does not feel good. It is self-care like spa days, face masks, and taking walks, but it is not immediately pleasant. If I could change it, I would have spoken to someone with experience. I thoroughly recommend counseling or therapy for well-being. But make sure you do not rely on the media for advice, talk to someone with experience. 

My experience was hindered by me comparing my reality to what I had thought therapy to be because of the influences around me. Even so, I hope the conversation around therapy within the film industry and social media becomes more honest.

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TV Shows

Here’s why ‘Miss Scarlet and The Duke’ should be your latest TV obsession

Move aside, Sherlock Holmes. Flipping the script on Victorian procedural dramas, Miss Scarlet and The Duke is a delightful gem of a show premised on the first-ever female detective in 1880s Britain trying to make her mark in a male-dominated world. When British network Alibi dropped the miniseries in March 2020, the show became an instant hit among lovers of period pieces and has since gained further traction after its U.S. premiere via PBS Masterpiece earlier this year. 

The six-episode miniseries centers on the titular Eliza Scarlet, who is fighting to preserve her late father’s legacy as one of London’s best private investigators. When her father, Henry, unexpectedly dies under dubious circumstances, Eliza is subjected to fate’s whims as a woman of no means in a world where the only recourse for financial security is through marriage.

Determined to escape her lot, headstrong Eliza vows to continue her father’s practice. Using investigative and forensic knowledge passed down to her, Eliza sleuths through London’s cobbled streets and underbelly while dealing with the perils and frustrations of getting her work recognized as a female detective. 

While the mystery edges between gritty and macabre, it’s something else entirely that has me and the fandom in thrall. Opposite Eliza, is her partner-in-crime as much as a rival, her childhood friend William “The Duke” Wellington. He’s a Scotland Yard inspector who was Henry’s apprentice.

Their obstinate personalities and crackling banter make for explosive chemistry heightened by the undercurrent of danger that seems to always lurk around the corner. The constant will-they-or-won’t-they question has kept me riddled and frustrated throughout the show just begging for a nod at a potential romance. Needless to say, my heart isn’t the only one that couldn’t handle it:

And from New York Times-bestselling historical romance queen Sarah MacLean herself:

In fact, I think what makes the show particularly successful is precisely due to its detraction from romance. The show’s appearance capitalizes on the recent resurgence of costume dramas during the pandemic such as Sanditon and Netflix’s Christmas hit series Bridgerton when we were sorely in need of some Austen-esque escapism. Without making courtship as the show’s focus, Miss Scarlet and The Duke instead invites us to see London in the early 1880s from Eliza’s point of view as a penniless woman scraping her way through with seat-of-the-pants resources in solving crimes. 

Of course, gumption alone cannot surmount all of her obstacles in a man’s turf, and this is where her longtime friend Duke comes in. Eliza’s naïveté in the rookeries lends her a streak of recklessness that sometimes lands her in hot water. Meanwhile, Duke’s jaded nature from years of police work and shackling bureaucracy rightly counterbalances Eliza’s inexperience, though his occasional mansplaining verges on exasperation. Intense stares and lowkey I-burn-for-you moments aside, their relationship is one that is based upon genuine affection tempered by mutual loss over a beloved father figure. 

When asked about the series’ time frame, creator Rachael New specifically chose the early 1880s to lay the groundwork for worldbuilding in order to steer clear of early forensics, which sprung in the latter part of the century during the infamous Whitechapel murders. This allowed for creative license, adding a touch of supernatural elements in some of Eliza’s cases, such as one involving Victorian customs of death photography.

Additionally, the early 80s also witnessed the birth of a nascent suffragette movement in Britain that often came in the crosshairs of the authorities. This presents a conundrum for a woman detective who is often torn between making her place in a world where her role is predetermined and envisioning a different one where multiple possibilities can exist regardless of one’s gender. 

The series also attempts to touch upon issues of queerness and racism through intriguing side characters that overturn the facade of upright Victorian morality at the Empire’s heyday. Though these characters have not been sufficiently developed so far, they provide alternative windows into looking at a cosmopolitan London apart from Eliza’s point of view. Class becomes a major factor that weaves the lives of the main and recurring characters, informing much of their motives and allegiance. 

That said, I am pleasantly surprised at how grief is wonderfully handled in the show. Other than flashbacks, viewers are treated with ample moments between Eliza speaking to the appearance of her deceased father in the office, offering advice on how to proceed with a case when she hits a brick wall.

Not only does this underscore the deep love they had for each other, but it also allows Eliza to express her fears and hopes while mourning the sudden death of her only family member. On top of support from her friends, this device mimics psychotherapy for Eliza to process her emotions as she proceeds to uncover the truth behind her father’s death.

So what’s in store for season two? After the show’s renewal was announced, creator Rachael New has hinted at exploring Duke’s side of the story, from his impoverished beginnings in Glasgow into a Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard. That would certainly spice things up since we’ve only been treated to Eliza’s narrative thus far.

Season one also dropped a puzzling tip-off at the very end that opens a yawning question about who Duke really is. While fans await more gun-toting action in dresses with pockets, we’ll have until 2022 to mull over an onscreen kiss that never came through. After all, the devil’s in the yearning. 

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The Internet TV Shows Standoms Movies Pop Culture

It’s time to stop humanizing villains, and revel in who they truly are instead

Imagine you’re scrolling on TikTok. You stop to watch a video using the sound “Instructor Mooselini’s Rap.” As PaRappa The Rapper sings — “Alright, we’re here just sitting in the car. I want you to show me if you can get far! Step on the gas! Step on the brakes!” — images of villains who have received the spin-off greenlight from Disney cycle through. Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Loki, and Gaston start the list off, but then the video dives into unchartered waters: the hunter from Bambi, Marvel’s Red Skull, and Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine. What!?

While I made up this TikTok video, I do honestly think it could very well be a tale as old as time very soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a Disney boardroom far, far away, an exec has tossed up the hunter, Red Skull, and Emperor Palpatine as possible characters to revisit in an upcoming film or television show. This is because villain origin stories are becoming more common as film and TV content, which isn’t a bad trend. I mean, who doesn’t love villains?

One of my favorite villains of all time is Shego from Kim Possible. Shego got her start as a member of a crime-fighting quintet with her brothers. However, the more villains she fought, the more she became enamored with villainy. Ultimately, she left her brothers’ group because they were too incompetent and joined up with Dr. Drakken. One of the reasons why I like Shego is because she is confidently and unapologetically evil. Nowhere in Shego’s backstory is there any trauma or pain; she simply enjoys participating in crime.

However, Shego is starting to be in a villain minority. With the rise of origin story films and television, tragedy (“tragedy”) is becoming more commonplace. In my opinion, we’re reaching the brink of this style of content because making tragic backstories a necessity to villainy ruins the whole concept of villainy.

Cruella is probably one of the best examples of this. The online backlash to Cruella was very amusing. Many people were aghast that the writers thought a good origin story for the iconic character Cruella de Vil would be to have her mom murdered by a pack of dalmatians. It was a … choice, to put it politely.

Cruella de Vil seemed like one of the last irredeemable villains. As a character, she consistently delights in being cruel just because she could. We don’t need to empathize with Cruella, mainly because her unabashed villainy was the most fun part of her character. Disney could have given us an utterly absurd film similar to Suicide Squad in which we get to see more of Cruella de Vil being the fashionable scoundrel she is. Instead, they tried to justify her motives and actions (killing puppies!) — which isn’t always possible for villains, and that’s the way it should be.

Kuvira from The Legend of Korra received similar treatment as Cruella. During the fourth season of the show, Kuvira says, “I was cast aside by my own parents like I meant nothing to them! How could I just stand by and watch the same thing happen to my nation when it needed someone to guide it?”

In the Ruins of the Empire comic series, we learn more, finding out that Kuvira was a difficult child her parents struggled to raise and they eventually sent her away to Zaofu. While this origin story does pull on my heartstrings (more so than Cruella’s at least), this backstory makes me think the writers are setting the stage for Kuvira to start a program for abandoned kids, not become the Great Uniter.

Kuvira believed what she believed and did what she did not because she had a tragic backstory, but because she had a vision for the future of the Earth Empire. She wasn’t afraid to use any means necessary to achieve her goals, which to her meant employing fascism, imperialism, and tyranny to create order. Kuvira is a morally ambiguous villain that we do not need to empathize with to understand. I am saying this as a fully-fledged Kuvira fan. I’m not an apologist because there really is no defending Kuvira, but I do love her very much. Your fave is problematic: me.

Thanos is another morally ambiguous villain we do not need to empathize with in order to understand. And yet, I recently learned that Thanos has a “tragic” backstory in the Marvel comics. In some versions, Thanos’ mom hates him and tries to kill him; in others, she sees death in his eyes and tries to kill him.

Both versions are pretty tragic, and yet neither helps us further understand Thanos’ motives as depicted in the Avengers films. He didn’t want other planets to end up like his planet, and he thought the best solution was to eradicate half of the universe’s population. If anything, his backstory foreshadows his actions, which I think is the point.

However, some people argue villains are people to whom terrible things have happened. But that’s not always true, and that’s why I think tragic villain backstories shouldn’t be forced upon all villains. If we continue to use Thanos as an example, his goal to wipe out half of the population has nothing to do with the fact that his mom tried to kill him. But if Disney were to make a film about his origin story, the writers would probably try to make that scene a tearjerker.

It’s also frustrating because there are successful tragic villain backstories. The Joker and Killmonger both have origin stories that serve as in-depth explorations of the effects of systemic societal issues. But what systemic societal issue is Cruella trying to tackle? Not every villain has endured hardships. Sometimes villains are just evil, and that’s why we love to hate them. Trying to humanize these villains justifies behavior that shouldn’t be justified.

Real-life villains — you know the superrich, oil monopolies, major corporations, global dictators — don’t have tragic backstories (and their actions most certainly should not be justified). Jeff Bezos isn’t hoarding wealth for any other reason besides greed. Donald Trump didn’t run for president to change the U.S. for the better but to have power and status. In fiction, let villains be villains because people do bad things in real life for a variety of reasons, and it’s not always because of childhood trauma.

Like Alfred said, “Some people want to watch the world burn.” Full-stop, end of story. They want to watch the world burn, so they burn the world. I’d still watch that movie, especially if Shego was the main character.

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TV Shows History Pop Culture

I love history, but I can’t stand historical TV shows

I’m a big history nerd. I’m not only a history major, but someone who collects and wears historical clothes, who owns figurines of historical figures, who collects books on my favorite parts of history, and who played history games throughout my entire childhood. Studying history has always been a huge part of my identity, and one I’m still happy to include in my life today. But it’s probably time to admit it: I hate historical TV shows. As a history geek, I should love them, but it’s hard for me to stomach a single one.

These shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun.

I have one main reason, and it’s that these shows are straight-up boring. The lighting is too dark, the costumes too beige and ugly, and every word of dialogue is spoken in a raspy whisper. Everything is so bleak it’s almost impossible to follow. Try watching The Medici or The Tudors. I have difficulty figuring out anything that’s going on. And don’t get me started on the lighting in The Crown. 

A disheveled white man with a beard and a loose top.
[Image Description: A dark-haired white man in a dark shirt] via BBC. This is how Da Vinci’s Demons dresses its protagonists — in dull, disheveled, and downright ugly clothing.
And trust me, I won’t hear the excuse that real life was just as bleak back then. As a keen student of historical costuming, I know that a lot of historical clothing was bright, extravagant, and sometimes just ridiculous. I admit it’s not the biggest issue, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I feel like these shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun occasionally. You rarely see any entertainment or festivities in these shows, unless they’re doomed to go horribly wrong. You almost never see any characters genuinely laugh in these shows. Sure, living in the past was terrible in a lot of ways, but people still retained a sense of humor.

I’ll give you an example. I once made the horrible mistake of attempting to watch Da Vinci’s Demons, which loosely follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and encapsulates everything I hate about historical television. The show portrays Leonardo as a tortured, edgy womanizer, despite the fact that he was almost certainly gay and, by all accounts, a very pleasant person. Throughout the show, he almost exclusively wears dark, tattered shirts and dusty trousers, whereas the historical Leonardo wore brightly-colored tunics and tights. It might sound ridiculous to the modern viewer, but personally, I think we should acknowledge the absurdity of history. And let’s be honest, sometimes it’s easier to relate to people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

A brightly colored Renaissance painting of a wealthy, finely dressed family.
[Image Description: a Renassaince painting showing a group of people dressed in beautiful costumes.]This is how people in the Renaissance actually dressed! Short tunics, leggings, bright colors…it may not be as sexy, but it’s way more fun!
There’s also a lot of unnecessary drama in historical TV shows. I’ll admit, this trend strikes me as odd because there’s already so much drama in real history. Shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, The Last Kingdom, and The Medici like to make a big deal out of political battles and sex scandals, and rarely imbue these plot lines with any humor or humanity. Drama is important for entertainment’s sake, but we can still try and make the drama seem somewhat human. Most relationships aren’t built on stolen glances and steamy affairs. Why not portray these love stories with affection, awkwardness, and a tiny bit of down-to-earth humanity?

History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life.

Even the grand, epic battles are a little too dramatic for my sake. They ignore the disease, the squalor, and the sheer tedium of real-life battles. It might not be fun to acknowledge the unglamorous parts of history, but it makes for better television. If we’re going to relate to these historical figures, we need to at least see them as human.


Most historical TV shows seem totally unwilling to have any fun with history. They refuse to acknowledge that along with the drama and sadness of history, there’s also comedy and absurdity and awkwardness. Historical people were real human beings. Sometimes they wore ridiculous outfits, joked around with each other, and made awkward mistakes. History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life. I certainly don’t think these shows are evil, but they do make history feel so much more distant and detached than it really is.

We should remember that history has plenty of dimensions, some good and some bad, some funny and some serious, some totally normal and some downright weird. It doesn’t help to glamorize or romanticize history, but it doesn’t help to dull it down either. Historical figures were people too, and our television should at least recognize them as such. Besides, it’s more fun that way anyway.

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Music Life

Embracing pop music as an indie teen broke me out of my shell

I used to spend my teenage years looking down on mainstream media, content, and artists. However, when the iconic opening beats of Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom blasted through a store at the mall, it was mostly for show that I rolled my eyes and grumbled to my friends, “This again?”

Admittedly, I couldn’t deny to myself Charli’s EP was catchy. But whenever I would catch myself mumbling the lyrics to one of her songs, I would switch the music back to something indy and familiar like the Arctic Monkey’s song “R U Mine?” 

“Hey, let’s listen to real music,” I used to say. 

I began to wonder why I resisted mainstream music so much. Was it because every song that played on the radio was so saccharine and bubbly? Was it because most pop songs seemed to be selling one thing: a normative view of femininity, relationships, and sex? Especially binary characteristics of femininity I felt I would never live up to. 

I didn’t have the words to express how I felt about the subject, so I would just groan and badger my family to turn off the radio whenever pop songs would come on. I was convinced I would only enjoy myself when the Script, Coldplay, or any other artist I decided was popular but still not pop came on. In my teenage mind, their music explored more than clichéd romances or affixations on femininity. 

However, deep down, I was training myself not to enjoy Billboard’s Top Hits. I actively tried to brand myself as indie, alternative, and unlike the rest. 

Consequently, this attitude made it harder to engage with the people around me. When they talked about their shared interests like the new season of American Horror Story or played Taylor Swift’s new single, I would quickly shut them down. “Let’s listen to real music,” I would say, not meaning to but still coming off as demeaning. 

Deep down, I was training myself not to enjoy Billboard’s Top Hits.

As a result, I was quickly becoming someone who was difficult to be around. And understandably so as it gets really old to be with someone who doesn’t try to be invested in the interests of those close to them. Once I noticed this about myself, I realized I needed to confront what animosity I really held towards popular music and culture before I became unbearable to be friends with.

So, eventually, I had to ask myself: what was this facade that I was trying to keep up? What about pop music really bothered me so much? 

At the core of it, I found I was terrified of being like “other girls.” Now, the irony in this frame of thinking is so many young girls when I was growing up were trying not to be like the rest. And steering clear of pop culture was my way of going against what it seemed was expected of me as a teenage girl.

More than that, I was afraid that if I bought into pop music, I would lose certain aspects of my personhood that made me special. My self-proclaimed “edge” over everyone else would be no more. So I pretended pop music was all beneath me and even pretended not to like any of it. However, not allowing myself to enjoy things other people enjoyed left me feeling majorly excluded.

Allowing myself to get into popular culture, has broken me out of my shell

To be clear, it’s completely fine not to be interested in popular music, shows, or movies. Just because they are popular and mainstream doesn’t mean they’re relevant nor enjoyable to everyone. Yet, to demean the value of mainstream art just because it’s popularly consumed is wrong. Plus, I knew I secretly enjoyed it all.

Last summer, I burned through the existing seasons of AHS with a couple of friends who had already seen it. They were excited to relive the feeling of being in high school and I was just joining them along for the ride. Though, episode after episode, I couldn’t believe I was denying myself such good storytelling simply to maintain some imagined act of rebellion.

So the next time I went out with my friends, I unabashedly picked a Britney Spears song to sing at Karaoke and hollered her lyrics to the amusement of my roommates. “Toxic” is now infamously known as “Amal’s go-to song” amongst those closest to me. It felt so good to just let loose and enjoy good music without having my guard up. So what if I wanted to enjoy something tens of millions of people enjoy as well? 

Allowing myself to get into popular culture, from pop music to the TV shows that everyone’s buzzing about, has really broken me out of my shell. Now, I feel less alone. The culture I had always thought was excluding me actually made me feel more included than ever. Of course, there are still pop songs that would never make it into my playlist (I won’t be shady and name them). And shows I’ll still pretend I’m watching ironically, like Gossip Girl. But I will never again be a pop culture hater.

Plus, my music taste is still pretty indie, but I am not ashamed to throw some Nicki Minaj into the mix every once in a while.

Through embracing pop music and popular culture in general, I became more in touch with those around me. I found there is actually power in sharing interests with such a global community. And at the end of the day, it’s popular culture for a reason— all of it is just so damn catchy!

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Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I learned about sex through fanfiction, and it’s a bit questionable

I love fanfiction. I think there’s something about it that you can’t find in published novels or tv shows, it’s unique and hard to explain. And while it might sound odd, there’s a lot you can learn from fanfics.

Most people don’t realize what’s out in the vast web to be discovered. For example, you might be scrolling through the works of your new favorite tv show and finally decide to brave the uncharted territories of mature-rated fanfics. You’ll click on one with a funny summary and then fall down the fascinating rabbit hole to continue reading more. And in doing so, you might actually learn about sex through fanfics.

That’s what happened to me anyway. You see, I never really had the opportunity to learn about sex in my family. My culture treats sex as taboo and then expects girls to grow up wanting to have babies and get married into a life of pleasing their husband. And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

I went through the basic sex ed in school, but that didn’t explain a lot. Most of what I remember was the teacher telling us to use birth control if it came down to it, but we should abstain from sex. Senior year Biology was where I learned about my body properly; I was finally told about the many changes that the body goes through due to our hormones. But most importantly, I learned about male anatomy. At no point before this had anyone explained what sex is. I knew it was performed between males and females, but not how. Before that class, I thought it was code for lying in a bed with a member of the opposite sex. 

And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

And while that class helped clear up some of my more significant questions, it wasn’t enough. But I had nowhere to turn to for learning more. My parents weren’t an option, and asking someone seemed awkward. So I turned to the internet. For the first time in nearly four years of exploring fanfiction online, I dove into what I thought was the dark side and looked at the selection of M-rated fics. 

Thinking back on it, they weren’t even particularly spicy fics that I stumbled across. I was jumping back into the PJO (Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan) fandom for like the third time, and I had exhausted my supply of tried and true teen and lower fics. These fanfics primarily served as a way for me to learn specifically about sex and what it was, how it worked, in a setting that wasn’t overly scientific. It was all very vanilla, but that was fine back then.

Then I jumped into some Yu-Gi-Oh fandoms and looked around at the selection there as well. And that was the first time I learned about sex being possible between same-sex couples. Then I switched from my usual fanfic website to a more known and better one, Archive Of Our Own. And this was where things got interesting because there were tags for everything. If I wanted to explore a specific kink, I could check the tag for it and look at all the options in every fandom. 

And I did exactly that; I jumped through different fandoms and checked out every type of M or E rated fic that was unique and then added the new knowledge to the ever-growing list of things I knew about sex. I explored lots of different kinks. When Fifty Shades of Grey was coming out, and everyone was complaining that it didn’t show BSDM accurately, I went to fanfics to learn what they were all talking about. I’ve read many an ABO fic and several femdom stories. And I thought by reading all these fics; I suddenly knew everything there was to know about sex.

Then one day, an online friend talked about a time that she was sexually harassed and how some of these fanfictions we read lead her to think that it was normal. And I started to rethink the fics I was reading. 

It occurred to me that a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading wasn’t always safe or consensual. These were works of fiction, and therefore not always meant to be an accurate reflection of reality, but I had spent years normalizing the lack of consent that came with some of these stories. I didn’t even realize until a month ago that it isn’t normal for someone to cry during sex or for most people to get off to that. Many of the kinky fics I read also never really detailed much about the relationship outside of the sex, which made for a very twisted view on things. 

None of this means that I plan to stop reading smut fics. I’ve come to recognize that most of what is in these stories is simple fantasy. I should have never expected it could replace the learning that comes from talking to people about their experiences or having sex myself. 

But if anyone else out there is like me, then now is as good a time as any to look a bit more critically at the fics you read and made the conscious distinction between them and reality. I know it’s awkward to talk to others about sex, and let’s not lie on the internet, it can be dangerous

I don’t claim to know all the answers, and there’s no right way to learn about sex. But at the very least, I think it’s better not to put all the eggs in one basket. When you want to learn about something you should look at several different places. I’ve begun taking a more thorough route to my own learning, one which involved properly researching whatever sexual topic comes to mind in fanfics but outside as well with the help of google or asking some very close friends who I can trust.

This new system has been working so far, and I find myself enjoying some of the conversations I can have with people about these topics as well.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

21 shows and films you need to watch to become an award-winning journalist

When I read a story or watch it on the news, I start thinking about the people involved and all that they had to deal with during the time. In such circumstances, journalism-related films, shows and documentaries have helped me better understand the scenario through the compelling characters and in-depth research of the case.

Apart from helping me visualise important events such as the Iraq war and the Vietnam war, they are also incredibly relatable on a day to day basis. Be it through the challenges that I face in the newsroom or while I am struggling to strike a work-life/ personal life balance, these shows have entertained me and kept me sane.

Whether you are a journalist or have wondered what it would like to be one, here are the best journalism-related films, shows and documentaries for you:

1. The Newsroom (2012-14)

[Image Description: Yelling The Newsroom GIF that reads, “I’m going to single-handedly fix the Internet!”] via GIPHY
The show aired on HBO in 2012 with anchor Will McAvoy played by Jeff Daniels and his team. It revolves around the day-to-day challenges that journalists face in the newsroom and on the field. It also reflects on their personal lives and how difficult it becomes for journalists to sometimes keep the work/life balance. The Newsroom has 3 seasons but you would want more of it!

2. The Post (2017)

[Image Description: Steve Carell Newspaper GIF By Saturday Night Live] via GIPHY
The film stars Meryl Street as Katherine Graham, the first female Editor-in-Chief of The Post. The film follows the American newspaper’s quest of publishing the Pentagon Papers that proved the United States’ involvement in Vietnam and the difficult decisions that Graham was forced to make in the wake of the news.

3. Control Room (2004)

[Image Description: Un Haiti GIF By Al Jazeera Fault Lines] via GIPHY
This is a documentary film was produced by Magnolia Pictures that takes you inside Al Jazeera’s coverage of the US war on Iraq. If you are a journalist and want to cover war, this is your guide!

4. The Morning Show (2019)

[Image Description: Jennifer Aniston GIF By Apple TV that reads, “I’M GETTING MY GAME FACE ON.”] via GIPHY
This show produced by Apple TV has an A-list cast that gives the viewers a tour of all that goes in the world of morning shows. It is only on its second season but has already been nominated for the Emmys.

I am loving The Morning Show these days. Makes me laugh at my own behind the scenes of working in a newsroom and handling the chaos! Apple expanded the show’s scope and incorporated the #MeToo movement into the premise: In the pilot’s opening minutes, the beloved anchor Mitch Kessler, played by Steve Carell is fired from the titular morning show because of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

 5. Spotlight (2015)

[Image Description: GIF By Amazon Prime Video UK] via GIPHY
The film is based on The Boston Globe’s Spotlight unit, the newspaper’s investigative team. Spotlight follows a series of true events that unfold allegations of molestation against a priest. In the year 2003, the newspaper was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the same story.

6. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2018)

[Image Description: World Trade Center Wtc GIF] via GIPHY
Michael Moore’s remarkable documentary about the Bush Administration and the events in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 aims to unmask the American system and gives the viewers the other side of the story to ponder upon.

7. Sharp Objects (2018)

[Image Description: Amy Adams Camille Preaker GIF By Sharp Objects] via GIPHY
This one is based on Gillian Flynn’s debut novel by the same name. The film is a psychological thriller that revolves around reported Camille Preaker who is back in her town from a psychiatric hospital to find out about two murders.

8. Frost/Nixon (2008)

[Image Description: Richard Nixon President GIFthat reads, “Well, when the President does it… That means that it is not illegal…”
The film is based on the post-Watergate interview series between the British anchor, David Frost and former US President Richard Nixon. The film was not really about Nixon or Watergate at all. I felt that it was more about human behavior, and it rises upon such tran­scendent themes as guilt and innocence, resistance and enlightenment, confession and redemption.

9. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

[Image Description: Meryl Streep GIF that reads, “IS SOMETHING FUNNY?”] via GIPHY
The film is based on the bestseller by Lauren Weisberger that is a documentation of her own experiences as an Assistant to the Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour. This Anne Hathaway starter film exposes the ugly side of fashion journalism and makes you wonder just how much you’d be able to give up for your career.

10. The Bold Type (2017-2021)

[Image Description: Tv Show GIF by The Bold Type that reads, “Are we doing this? Because Rihanna’s gonna be out in ten minutes, so…”] via GIPHY

A series that skillfully crafted a media fantasy world that was based on the life of Cosmopolitan’s former Editor in Chief, Joanna Coles. The show’s central arguments may just be ideas we can all emulate: women can be fulfilled by their careers, infuse the professional with the personal and modernize an often male-dominated, occasionally stuffy industry from the inside.

11. Kill the Messenger (2014)

[Image Description: Studio Ghibli Film GIF] via GIPHY
This 2014 film was based on a true story about the San Jose Mercury News, where reporter Gary Webb goes on a mission to uncover the CIA’s secret funding through cocaine trafficking for the Nicaraguan rebels.

12. Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

[Image Description: Good Night And Good Luck Media GIF By Ari Spool] via GIPHY
The film released in the year 2005 but, it is in black and white. The story is a fictional account of renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow’s report on the then US Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigations prevailing inside the Congress. Director by none other than George Clooney, the film was nominated for many awards after it hit the big screen.

13. All the President’s Men (1976)

[Image Description: Applause GIF] via GIPHY
Yes, it is an old one. Yes, it is also about the Watergate scandal, but hear me out.

The journalism-related film is based on The Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who brought the political scandal to attention. The film was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry, for its historical significance.

14. Being Mary Jane (2013-2019)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Woman challenging by saying, “BRING IT!”] via GIPHY
The main theme of the journalism-related film and show is love (or the lack of it) in a journalist’s life. Mary Jane Parker played by Gabrielle Union is successful, has a high rating show, everyone likes her but, no one loves her. But of course, we are all here for Mary Jane’s happy ending and she sure does get one. You have to watch the show to know the ending.

15. The Pelican Brief (1993)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Denzel Washington GIF] via GIPHY
This thriller released in 1993 and was based on the novel by John Grisham that explores a law student’s brief about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices. The student then gets into contact with an investigative reporter to help her connect the missing dots in the case.

16. The Insider (1999)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Al Pacino Money GIF that reads, “MY OFFER IS THIS: NOTHING.” via GIPHY
This is a fictional account of the 60 minutes report produced about Jeffrey Wigand, the whistleblower involved in the tobacco industry scandal. You have to watch the film for Al Pacino’s finest performance as an award-winning journalist, Lowell Bergman who unravels the case.

17. Nothing but the Truth (2008)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine GIF By Apple TV] vai GIPHY
As journalists, out of the many oaths that we take, one that we are sure to give our life for is protecting our sources and that is exactly what this reporter gets into trouble for.

The film stars Kate Beckinsale and reminds viewers of the real-life travails of Judith Miller, the former reporter for The New York Times who spent 85 days in jail in 2005. It adds to and pivots from the historical record, and it sharpens the difficult legal, moral and ethical issues in the Miller case.

18. His Girl Friday (1940)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Cary Grant I’m Just Gif’n His Judge-Y Moments Tbh GIF By Maudite] via GIPHY
Journalists have a personal life, too. This journalism-related film narrates the story of a newspaper editor who is desperate to get back his ex-wife, a reporter.

19. Good Girls Revolt (2015-2016)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Season 1 Success GIF By Good Girls Revolt] via GIPHY
This Amazon Prime Original series was based on the sexual discrimination case chronicled in Lynn Povich’s book and set in 1969. It revolves around young female researchers at News of the Week. All they seek is fair treatment while they are being discriminated against by not being allowed to become news reporters.

20. Bombshell (2019)

films shows about journalism
[image Description: Margot Robbie Lionsgate GIF By Bombshell Movie that reads, “I BELONG ON AIR] via GIPHY
This 2019 film was based on a true case of sexual harassment at Fox News. Bombshell celebrates the women that the news channel in the spotlight made a mockery of and gives them a voice.

21. Supergirl (2015-2021)

films shows about journalism
[Image Description: Melissa Benoist Supergirl GIF By VIASAT3] via GIPHY
This CBS show was about a journalist who wanted to spread truth and justice through the power of writing. Despite having superpowers, Kara decided to explore a new path for herself and become a reporter.

These journalism-related films and shows have all helped me in some way or the other, be it after a rough day in the newsroom or helping me plan my next move in case I feel too stuck in my routine. Now that we are all still stuck in our homes writing, they also remind us of what journalists used to (and will) look like!

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Up and Coming Pop Culture

Here’s why Nitasha Syed’s talk show “Shaam Ki Chai” is bound to be your cup of tea

If you ask me for the one thing I look forward to every single day without fail, it’s sipping on my mug of chai as I sit outside in my garden, listening to the birds chirp away and watching the sun give off a golden glow to bid farewell. Sometimes my mother will join me and will occasionally comment on the peacefulness of it all. Other days, my friends will come over and we’ll catch up, laugh, cry and just have some glorious moments while we hold on to a steaming cup of chai.

As a desi person, a mug of piping hot tea in evening (or having my “shaam ki chai”) is so much more than just that. It’s an elixir of comfort, love and warmth (literal and figurative) to wind down from getting through another day. It has become such an integral part of our lives that, regardless of who we’re with or where we are, we can’t imagine the day ever being complete without it.

Pakistani-Canadian entrepreneur Nitasha Syed had the same sentiment, and it motivated her to create her digital talk show, aptly titled “Shaam Ki Chai.” The show highlights Pakistanis around the world doing amazing things and having light-hearted conversations with them… over a cup of chai while embodying its warmth in the content.

Image Description: Shaam Ki Chai’s logo on the left, with Nitasha Syed’s picture on the right. Source: Dope Desi Team
Image Description: Shaam Ki Chai’s logo on the left, with Nitasha Syed’s picture on the right. Source: Dope Desi Team

In an Instagram Live with our co-founder Mashal, Nitasha talked about her journey of becoming a software engineer in Silicon Valley, and how the lack of representation about Muslim Women in STEM careers inspired her to enter the media space. Watch the conversation here.

However, when COVID-19 hit and she was “sitting at home with all the filming equipment,” inspiration came to her. She created the recording set in the patio of her own house, and asked her friends and family to tell their stories in a conversation over a cup of tea. And that’s how “Shaam Ki Chai” came to be.

I think nothing encapsulates what the show is all about better than her opening line

“Having chai is like having a heart to heart with someone without realising you’re having a heart to heart with them. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months with the Pakistani diaspora all over the world.”

While your average talk show is filmed in a carefully constructed set, with footage undergoing copious amounts of visual and audio editing in order to be presented perfectly, Shaam Ki Chai has none of that. And I think that’s what adds to its perfection.

The show is filmed in Nitasha’s own backyard patio, and wherever the guest is filming from. There is no editing of any sort; you can hear birds chirping, cars whizzing by and even the occasional airplane flying overhead. It’s as authentic as you can get, and it truly does fit with, as the kids say, the vibe it aims to give.

If you’re a 90s kid like me (hey fellow millennials!), you’d find the show almost nostalgic. However, the topics discussed are very relevant in today’s age and stage. Guests who have appeared on the show talk about tackling imposter syndrome, culture and identity, startups, navigating their respective fields and challenges, and fond memories of Pakistan that they carry with them.

Nitasha mentioned how she wanted to talk about all these topics without the negativity that often saturates Pakistani talk shows.

In the Instagram live, Nitasha very rightfully pointed out that conversations at home are heavily influenced by what the media focuses on. “Media affects our perspectives,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to highlight these stories.”

Nitasha features CEOs, tech leaders, journalists and any Pakistani who’s making waves on weekly episodes. Some featured people include Kalsoom Lakhani (co-founder of I2I Ventures), Ali Ahsan (founder of Mangobaaz) and Abu Bakar Khan (founder of Diaspora Creative).

You can watch the episodes on their official Youtube Channel and their Instagram. I promise you it will definitely be your cup of tea, along with a literal steaming cup of one.

I’m the desi girl who will never refuse chai at any given time of the day. It looks like I’ll be having it twice a day from now on.

Check out our Instagram live with Nitasha here

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TV Shows Movies Pop Culture

Why are plus size women always relegated to the comic relief sidekick?

We all know the trope. The main character is skinny, white, pretty. She can be goofy, but rarely at her own expense. Her love stories are the focus of the plot. She always has a funny sidekick, often a woman of color, and most commonly a plus-size woman. She’s there to provide emotional support and a witty one-liner or two. Think of Sookie in Gilmore Girls, who plays second fiddle to thin and quirky Lorelai Gilmore. Or think of Etta Candy in every incarnation of Wonder Woman. Even children’s shows, like Total Drama Island, Good Luck Charlie, and Austin and Ally repeat these tropes. Don’t fat women deserve better?

It’s nice to see fat women in the media, for once, but why do they always have to be funny? Almost every larger woman in TV or the movies is basically a walking joke. Sure, it’s gotten more diverse, but the representation itself has barely improved. Fat women are still relegated to comic relief or goofy sidekick. You might say we’re a long way from the Fat Monica gags on Friends, but that’s not true. Think about Insatiable, featuring Debby Ryan, which treats its main character as a joke until she loses weight. That’s the same formula, isn’t it?

Let’s consider some of the most popular plus-size actresses around now. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson both broke into the mainstream years ago, and their popularity has rarely floundered. They’ve both been in dozens of TV shows and movies, usually playing comedic roles, which they do brilliantly. Rebel Wilson just recently had her first starring role in a romantic comedy, for which she garnered critical praise. Melissa McCarthy won an Academy Award for her dramatic lead role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? However, if you ask most people, they primarily think of them as comedic actors or side characters. Why is that? They’ve both shown that they have range, and both immense comedic and dramatic talent. They’ve both played lead roles. So why do we relegate them to comedic side characters when they’ve proven that they’re capable of so much more?

These two women are success stories, however. Most plus-size actresses never get the chance to expand into dramatic acting. Skinny comedic actresses have plenty of opportunities to break into dramatic acting, even if they’re not particularly talented actors. Skinny comedic actors also get totally different treatment. Actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick are in plenty of rom-coms, but when they’re funny, it’s quirky and cute. They’re rarely the butt of a rude joke. Furthermore, these skinny comedic actors are able to break into dramatic roles with ease. Plus size actresses have to prove over and over again that they’re worthy of serious roles, whereas skinny actresses can easily transition from comedy to drama and vice versa. 

The problem I see with this is that plus size women constantly have to prove their worth to others time and time over to be taken even remotely seriously. They need to be funny and willing to make jokes at their own expense in return for our consideration. We require humor and self-deprecation from fat women, in return for the common human decency we all return. Fat women don’t need to put on a performance to earn their keep. They are capable of the same range of emotions and humanity as the rest of us.

Get rewarded for everyday activity. $10 sign on bonus.

We deserve more fat women on television, and not just as comedic sidekicks.

I want fat women in periodic dramas, with pretty dresses and dramatic love triangles. I want to see fat women in rom-coms, having meet-cutes and falling for handsome heartthrobs. Let’s see some fat girls in coming-of-have fantasy stories, as the chosen one, as the hero.

Plus size girls and women have every right to just as beautiful, dramatic, and tragic as their skinny counterparts. For once, I’d like to see a version of Gilmore Girls where a plus size mother and daughter are the protagonists, and get to be cute and quirky and fun. I’d like to see a fat Wonder Woman too.

A woman’s value should never be dictated by her size, and that’s true in television as well as in real life. Let the big girls be the heroes for once. They deserve it.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

“One Tree Hill” premiered 17 years ago (feel old yet?) and these are my 17 favorite scenes

17 years ago, One Tree Hill first aired. To say it’s the one show I always go back to isn’t doing it justice.

I was 11-years-old when I started watching it. There was so much about the show and myself I didn’t understand then. But I knew how it made me feel – it was that thick feel-good threaded in with a sense of nostalgia, butterflies deep in my stomach, and an overwhelming sense of bliss as every season passed. That pure binging addiction, the need to see more, want more, constantly be in awe of every single episode. Even the ones that you never want to watch again (you all know which one I’m talking about – RIP Keith).

I’ve rewatched the show too many times to say. And the score, the characters, the dialogue – the town – One Tree Hill – all of it resonates with me. This was the millennial show. We grew up downloading the newest episodes on a USB at 6 am the morning before school, putting them onto a disc, only to come home and pop them onto our DVD players to watch. It was a different kind of viewing. The weeklong yearning for the next episode, the age of LimeWire, Jimmy Eat World, punk chic, and high school. Those years.

We grew up fascinated and obsessed with the lives One Tree Hill created on screen. Was it healthy? Maybe not. But the way the show affected us, with Lucas’s (Chad Michael Murray) narration leading us into an ease with every episode, with Nathan’s (James Lafferty) character growth and progression, Haley’s (Bethany Joy Lenz) soft heart, Brooke’s (Sophia Bush) candor, and Peyton’s (Hilary Burton) yearning. 

Of course the show also introduced most of us to Chad Michael Murray, the classic teen heartthrob. And there are so many other characters that deserve acclAmation: Jamie, Karen, Keith, Rachel, Quinn, Julian, Chase, Skills, Quinten, Mouth, I could go on… and JAKE! Always Jake. 

And yet every time Gavin DeGraw’s voice took over that screen with the silhouette of a 17-year-old boy dribbling his basketball across a bridge, I felt that connection to it. Are there any shows like One Tree Hill today? Will there ever be? Probably not.

Here’s a list of some of the most iconic scenes:

1. The State Championship (4×09)

Heartbeats playing in the background, confetti dancing in the air, and Lucas finally confessing his feelings to Peyton – this was one of the big ones. How can this scene not make anyone’s heart full???

“It’s you. When all my dreams come true, the one I want next to me, it’s you. It’s you, Peyton.”

2. When Lindsay leaves Lucas (5×12)

Lindsay realizes that Lucas’s book had always been about Peyton, and we flashback to the first moment Lucas and Peyton ever spoke to one another. And everything we, the audience, had been yearning for finally culminates in that scene. Yes, Lindsay was sweet and good for Luke, but she was no Peyton. She was no comet.

“The boy saw the comet and he felt as though his life had meaning. And when it went away, he waited his entire life for it to come back to him.”

3. Haley and Nathan’s first kiss (1×08)

One of my favorite moments ever. When Nathan messes up but he finally gets his shit together and realizes that Haley is the one for him. ‘Dare You To Move’ slowly plays in the background.

“At this point, there’s nothing you can say or do to surprise me.”

4. The Wannabe Dance (4×21)

This episode was probably one of the best episodes of ALL TIME. Hyperbole is needed because that’s how good it was. It was filled with so much love, and hope and nostalgia. Like the crescendo finally reaching its apex, like a story you’ve held close to your heart for so many years, finally finding its place to rest. Because, let’s be honest, after season four things just weren’t the same.

5. Haley and Lucas’s roof traditions (2×22)

I loved all of their traditions and their friendship as a whole. Their golf course, their balloon throwing, their opening up of letters before the first day of school. Ah, so many feels. And of course, let’s not forget that this is the episode that ends with the iconic ‘May Angels Lead You In’.

“Because losing our way would be the most cruel of things. This year, I lost my way.”

6. Nathan and Haley’s first tutoring session (1×03)

This culminated into not only One Tree Hill’s, but TV’s, greatest on-screen tv couples of all time. I loved Haley’s no bullshit attitude, her love of tutoring and helping others out, and her fierce loyalty to Luke.

“Don’t say I never gave you anything.”

7. Haley sings for Nathan for the first time (1×15)

Being introduced to Bethany Joy Lenz’s voice was a blessing for us all. And the first time she sings in front of Nathan is an intimate, warm and fuzzy scene that’s quintessentially One Tree Hill.

8. When they graduate from high school (4×20)

Seeing all your favorite tree hill babies graduate from high school was so nostalgic – I’ve always loved graduation scenes. The scope for so much more out there in life, the thrill of new beginnings and closely held memories: all coming together. And how can we ever forget Haley’s water breaking while she gives her valedictorian speech? And of course, quoting Julius Ceaser automatically won my heart.

9. Peyton and Lucas’s wedding (6×23)

Their marriage ceremony taking place where they first spoke – everything coming full circle. What the fans had been yearning for since season one, finally happened in the most beautiful of ways.

“Peyton Sawyer will become Peyton Scott.”

10. Jamie and Quinten dancing together (6×01)

Their relationship was literally one of the cutest ever – little baby Jamie brought so much joy to the show.

11. When Sheryl Crow sings for Haley and Nathan (1×17)

I could go on and on about every Naley moment ever and this article would still not be over. But this one definitely deserves a top feel good appreciation.

12. When Brooke asks Lucas to fight for her (3×13)

I loved Brooke and Lucas’s relationship while it lasted, and this moment was filled with so much angst and hope for this young teenage love.

“The difference is I love you Brooke.”

13. Nathan and Lucas at the river court (3×02)

When Lucas fights for Haley and Nathan’s relationship, it’s one of the first moments you see them coming together as brothers. Were there tears involved? You can bet there were. Every big marker of their lives happened here: the first moment Nathan and Lucas played against each other. The last game they had with all their high school friends. The day they all vowed to meet there again five years later. All those epic, astounding, unchangeable moments that happened there.

14. When Haley records her first song (2×08)

Even though it was with Chris Keller and their relationship came in between Nathan and Haley’s, it was one beautiful song and beautiful moment. And every-time “Where the stars go blue” plays, you can bet I’ll be scream-singing it.

16. Peyton and Ellie bond over music (3×10)

I loved Ellie, her bold fierceness and her nature, the way she was with Peyton. When they discuss how music connects to the first time you heard it, the weather and all the smells and all the tiny moments that brought it together – a reminder of why this show is epic.

“It’s like heaven. Only it sounds better.”

17. The grand re-opening of Karen’s cafe (8×22)

The trusted quote “somebody told me that this is the place where everything’s better and everyone’s safe” hanging on a sign board to greet everyone as they came.

Honestly, every moment on the show deserves a place on this list for me. These are just a few. Yes, it’s the best tv show that’s honored our screens. And it always will be.

The finale was the perfect ending to that show.

“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day you’re seventeen and planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today and then someday is yesterday and this is your life.”

Will I ever be over the fact that Luke didn’t make it to the end? Nope. Not okay.

Writing this piece alone is giving me goosebumps because this was the show my childhood consisted of. Every word etched a space in my heart, and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me.

There’s a moment you reach when watching a show, when you feel everything the characters feel, when the music lulls you into a blissful mood, and every episode is like taking another bite of your favorite food.

17 years later, this show still does that. After all, there’s only one tree hill, and it’s your home.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Mahershala Ali’s new character on ‘Ramy’ is “the perfect Muslim”

The Golden Globe-winning dramedy Ramy has returned to Hulu with a second season, starring creator Ramy Youssef as the fictional Ramy Hassan, an endearing Muslim millennial from New Jersey. Season 2 continues to follow its title character on his spiritual journey, which is more of a crisis than anything else.

Ramy has just returned from his quest to find purpose in Egypt, his motherland, and is wallowing in the ruins of his love life. After a frank intervention from his concerned friends and almost being shot while on the toilet, Ramy seeks out spiritual guidance for his problems. This leads him to meet Sheikh Ali, played by the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali radiates grace in his role as the endlessly patient and wise Sufi Sheikh. Kind but uncompromising, Sheikh Ali brings Ramy the structure he so desperately needs in his life as well as divine purpose. Ali listens to Ramy’s woes without judgment, demanding openness and honesty if he is serious about changing his ways. Ramy leaves his stuffy, conservative mosque for the Sheikh’s Sufi Center, a place where men and women pray side by side. Eager to conquer his demons, Ramy begins following Sheikh Ali’s instructions to the letter, starting by switching his diet to halal-only

“Our ummah often doesn’t understand what is haram and what isn’t. Nothing in and of itself is haram,” explains Ali. “It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it. Alcohol, for example, isn’t haram. Drinking it is. The rules are very important in our faith. Not for the reasons you might think. I was confused about this once too.”

Ali goes on to use an orange and its tough skin as a metaphor for the rules in Islam. The tough skin is necessary for preserving the sweet inside of the fruit. “The outer Sharia protects the inner spirituality. And the inner spirituality gives the outer Sharia its purpose and meaning.”

If Ali is the composed spiritual leader of a beautiful faith, Ramy is the extremely messy believer struggling to hold himself accountable for his destructive actions. He wrestles with being more than just a good Muslim, he struggles to be a good person. The pair test each other, the Sheikh challenging Ramy to destroy his ego as Ramy pushes the limits of Ali’s patience. 

Also in the mix are a string of temptations, ranging from Ramy’s porn addiction to alienating his friends with his renewed sense of morality as well as the Sheikh’s beautiful daughter Zainab. As Ramy undergoes his spiritual makeover, his family members are confronted with their own challenges. His immigrant mother struggles to understand the issue when she misgenders one of her Lyft passengers and is anxious to earn U.S. citizenship so she can vote in the upcoming election. Ramy’s father is cracking under the pressure of hiding his lay-off from everyone and becomes increasingly depressed as he realizes the American Dream doesn’t exist. Deena, Ramy’s sister, is forced to combat misogyny and Islamophobia in a way Muslim men never experience.

As a first-generation New Jersey Muslim myself, I was excited to see how creator Ramy Youssef would portray us. Our representation in Hollywood is severely lacking, usually limited to villainous terrorists or oppressive parental figures. With Ramy, Youssef wanted to honestly depict how first-generation Muslim Americans engage with their faith, instead of distancing themselves from everything that makes them different. Personally, I was expecting a diverse group of characters pursuing their respective versions of the ever-elusive American Dream and building each other up over waffles at Tops Diner in Newark, but Ramy is absolutely nothing like that. Although characters are diverse and they do hang out at a diner, it is usually to check in with Ramy’s truly awful decision-making. 

The series isn’t meant to be a catch-all work of representation for every Muslim but instead stems from the experiences of a highly flawed individual. That is not to say Ramy isn’t relatable, the range of characters and their respective worries speaks to more than just Muslim audiences. Islam is an important part of Ramy’s identity yes, but it does not make him who he is. By centering themes of forgiveness, redemption as well as discrimination and the dangers of ego, Ramy masterfully opens the door to audiences from all walks of life.