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Meet the New Zealander who knows more about Kim Jong-un than almost anyone

Read and Listen The Spinoff

Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, talks to Toby Manhire about her new book The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, about working in China, and about reporting from Christchurch
'Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post , talks to Toby Manhire about her new book The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un , about working in China, and about reporting from Christchurch after March 15 T here are few stories on the world news pages as enthralling, and as opaque, as North Korea. Created as part of a carve-up of the Korean peninsula after World War II, the country is now on its third leader in the Kim dynasty, Kim Jong-un, who came to power eight year ago at the age of (probably) 28. The story of the young autocrat is told in Anna Fifield’s new book The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un . Smart, incisive and chock-full of scoops, Fifield’s book was published last month to a chorus of praise from critics. It’s all deserved: thousands of hours of research and reporting have been whittled into a page-turning yarn that paints an engrossing portrait of Kim-the-third. A graduate of the University of Canterbury’s journalism school, Fifield has reported from around the world for the Financial Times and the Washington Post – from London, Washington, Tehran, Beirut, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, even the rogue state of Sydney. The publication of The Great Successor coincided with a surge in headlines about Kim Jong-un and his relationship with his nuclear-powered pen-pal, Donald Trump. Fifield was all over the US news channels on its launch last month. After her return from a fortnight promoting the book in the US, she spoke to The Spinoff from Beijing, where she is bureau chief for the Washington Post . The Spinoff: In the last few weeks it seems like you’ve had the most effective book publicists imaginable, in the form of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Anna Fifield: I could hardly have hoped for better timing. It was entirely coincidental that the publication date hit the first anniversary of the Singapore summit. Kim Jong-un created a lot of news for me by sending his beautiful love letter to Donald Trump, which Donald Trump reciprocated. And then the scenes of that extraordinary impromptu meeting between the two men at the DMZ reinforced the point that I make at the end of my book, which is that these are two very unconventional leaders. Kim Jong-un is so different from his father, Kim Jong-il. He’s so much more audacious and spontaneous, and Donald Trump is completely unlike any American president ever seen before. It’s the combination of the two of them that makes for this very unusual opportunity right now. Yes, Trump is acting in very unorthodox ways, but I think maybe it takes some unconventional thinking to make a breakthrough when it comes to North Korea. So you think there is a chance this unorthodoxy, or to put it less generously, wildness, on the part of these two leaders really could bear fruit? Yes. I don’t for a second think that Kim Jong-un is going to give up his nuclear weapons. I think he needs them for his security. But I think there is huge scope between where we are now and complete verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of his nuclear programme. So there’s room to play in there. And the fact is that Kim Jong-un really, really wants economic development in North Korea, and he cannot have that while these sanctions are still in place. The sanctions have had a really, really huge impact on the North Korean economy, so he is not going to be able to make good on his promise to the North Korean people that they will never have to tighten their belts again while the sanctions are there. He has this very strong motivation to play ball here with Donald Trump, to try to make some progress. For all of the pooh-poohing of the way Donald Trump has said things – like that the beaches in North Korea are a perfect place for condos, and the way he does see North Korea as a real estate development opportunity, I think there is a bit of an overlap there with Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un wants high-rises. He wants to be able to say that life is getting better under him. And that’s not because he cares about the people of North Korea, but because he wants to stay in power. He’s still only 35 years old now, so he potentially has four or five more decades ahead of him. His grandfather lived till 82. So there are a lot of variables, obviously, but if he’s seeing the big picture and playing the long game, he knows that he needs to deal with North Korea’s really decrepit economy. The economy figures as a strong theme in the book: the importance of a liberalised economy to normal North Koreans. How important is that to Kim Jong-un? Hugely. That liberalisation did start during the famine in the 90s, out of necessity, when the ration system completely broke down and the regime couldn’t feed the people any more. It was kind of tolerated by the regime. But now under Kim Jong-un, he’s actively encouraging it. There are all of these huge market buildings, built by the state. The state makes money out of renting all the stalls. It makes a huge amount of money from taxes. Plus all of these officials are on the take, getting corrupt and rich, in the operation of these marketplaces and the supply chains around the country. So many people are feeling like their lives are improving, and Kim Jong-un hasn’t had to do anything at all, really, to foster that feeling. All he had to do was stop thwarting entrepreneurialism. He just had to allow it to flourish a little. The reason I concentrate so much on the economy in the book is because there’s this perception that North Korea is stuck in a time warp and has not changed one iota since its foundation in the 1940s. But in fact this marketisation process has been a huge change in the way that the system operates. It’s really loosened the state levers of control over the people, and allowed more information to come in. As trade comes over the border from China, so too does gossip, and movies on USB sticks, anecdotes about the outside world. It has been a really massive change. Anna Fifield with the American and international editions of her book at the launch in Georgetown, Washington DC. Photo: Toby Manhire You are one of the few journalists who has been able to repeatedly visit North Korea, and to observe, even if in a limited way, life there. How many times did you travel there, and what were you able to see, to see change, over the course of those visits? I went 12 times over a period of 11 years. My first visit was in 2005. Most of the visits were to Pyongyang, which is the showcase capital, the part they want outsiders to see. But from there I did travel a bit, to other fairly circumscribed areas. I was never able to go to the northern areas, where the people who are considered hostile to the regime live. But by visiting pyong even and being able to compare how it was changing over time I did manage to make some observations about what was happening in North Korea. I distinctly remember one year in the middle of winter, I went to Pyongyang and I went to the best hospital in the country, the Red Cross hospital in the capital, and there was no electricity. It was freezing cold. There were patients sitting in pyjamas in this room. I was wearing a huge North Face jacket and I was cold in there. It’s so illuminating, even going to Pyongyang, thinking: wow, if this is what their best hospital is like, imagine what the ordinary hospitals out in the countryside are like. I’ve been able to see things like that, to build stories off little insights. And you have along with that a depth of information drawn from defectors, or as you call them escapees.  It’s ironic that my best reporting about life inside North Korea comes from life outside North Korea, from going to find people who have escaped. I’ve managed to find a lot of people who have escaped very recently. People up on the Chinese border with North Korea, for example. Or I’ve intercepted people in Thailand and Laos as they’re on their escape route out from NK. Sometimes I’ve talked to people who were living in North Korea just a week before. Those people are able to give very, very up-to-date testimony about what life in the real North Korea is like. These people haven’t told their stories at all, or very few times at this point, so they’re not, hopefully, bored by talking about their lives in North Korea. Because once they get to South Korea, they can be hounded by journalists, and once they tell their story again and again some of the details can get lost. By talking to them on the way out I’ve been able to collect really valuable insights into the way that people survive in the system, how they protect their children in the system, how they have managed to get ahead or to thrive despite the system. In the course of researching this book I did ask people a lot about the first time they heard about Kim Jong-un and their first impressions about him, to describe what it was like to live in Kim Jong-un’s NK. You went to Switzerland, where Kim Jong-un lived as a teenager. And if your book were to be smuggled into North Korea on a USB stick that would be one of many facts that would come as a surprise to most people. That’s right. They don’t know that he went to school in Switzerland. They don’t know his mother was born in Japan. They don’t know he has an older brother. Even his younger sister, who’s there at his side all the time, they don’t technically know that he’s his younger sister, though they can probably figure it out. But they would be very surprised about Switzerland. He and his siblings were sent there because it’s famously discreet, so they could have some sort of normal life, instead of being isolated inside the compounds in North Korea, have no friends and not go to school. So we went to school there from the age of 12 to 16. They were trying to give him a normal life. He didn’t really have that normal a life, because he had difficulty communicating. He was used to being treated like a little princeling and expected everything to go his own way. He didn’t seem too interested in academics. He just wanted to play basketball the whole time. But during these very formative adolescent years, he did have exposure to the outside world, to different ways of life. One of the things I did was I went to the educational authorities and they showed me the curriculum he would have studied. I was able to see all the things they would have learned. They really stressed to me that all students in Switzerland are taught to be open minded and tolerant and to respect other religions and cultures and different ways of life. So I wonder how much of that he absorbed at the time. Not very much by the look of it. One of the revelations of your book, which Trump was responding to when you were in the US recently, is that Kim Jong-nam was a CIA agent. How does the brother of Kim Jong-un end up a spy for the enemy? I think he was kind of down and out after Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011. But also the way that he has used fear and the repressive system of surveillance and punishment that has been in place for a long time. He has not let up on that one iota since he took power, contrary to these expectations that he was some Swiss-educated reformer. He hasn’t. The concentration camps remain. The incredibly severe systems of punishment for anything deemed to be a political crime, like questioning his leadership. Those remains in place. He’s managed to use both loyalty and terror to keep the system intact. The terror applies to the ordinary people but it also applies to the elites. So he has dispatched with people who could potentially challenge him or rival him for power. That includes his uncle, his half-brother, the head of the army, the propaganda chief. All of them he’s gotten rid of and installed people who are loyal to him, who owe their positions to him alone. Is there a danger at times of falling into a trap, which I think I personally have at times, of regarding North Korea and its leadership as a comedy story? There is a danger. A lot of people, including myself, have fallen into this trap. They don’t make it easy for us not to sometimes see them as comedic. There’s one picture of Kim Jong-un that gets used on almost every single story. And that’s him next to this giant vat of lubricant with a giant smile on his face. It just kind of seems to capture so much of the ridiculous about this regime. Because it is ridiculous, the propaganda myths they make up about the leaders in order to keep them in power. Saying that a double rainbow appeared in the sky when Kim Jong-il was born. That Kim Jong-un could shoot a gun and drive a car before he was even school age. It is ridiculous. And their appearance, obviously; they look like buffoons. So they have tended to be treated as a joke. But they’re not a joke. Especially Kim Jong-un is not a joke because he’s really proved his seriousness with the nuclear programme. He’s defied all of the expectations and predictions to build a credible nuclear weapons programme with astonishing speed, to show that he’s able to fire these missiles. So as we treat him as a joke we’re underestimating the threat, the real threat that he does pose. To his neighbours, to the outside world, and the United States. But we also underestimate or ignore the threat that he is posing to his own people on a daily basis. The North Korean people live in this system and live in fear of this system and live in hunger because of this system, because of the way that he operates. So we should be taking him seriously out of respect and concern for the North Korean people. If we just treat him as a cartoon character then we miss all that serious side. You’ve been talking a lot about North Korea, but you have a day job as Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post . How’s that? The Post is now blocked in China? Yes. Last month six more websites were added to the blacklist and we were one of them. What does that mean for working there, leading a group of journalists in a country where you are essentially deemed hostile by the state? It doesn’t have a massive impact on us from day to day, because we are writing what we need to write anyway, and many people in China who want to read foreign media use VPNs, so they can still access our site anyway. But the Chinese government views foreign journalists with an enormous amount of suspicion. It’s just really incremental. Being on a blacklist just changes it incrementally. It was a very difficult environment to operate in beforehand. And it still is now. A much bigger issue for us is not government actions against the Washington Post or the New York Times or whoever, but what the government can threaten to do to ordinary people, or to experts. It’s become a lot more difficult to just report in China, because people are afraid to talk. The man on the street kind of stories are difficult to do because people don’t want to attract the attention of the authorities. University professors don’t want to talk in case they get into trouble or speak out of turn. So it’s a very controlled environment for Chinese people to operate in. Much more than it is for us. Which are the stories that will dominate in the year to come in China? The trade war is obviously a huge story for us as an American paper, and that is not showing any signs of going anywhere soon. Just in general the broader clash between the United States and China, and this jockeying for dominance that we see playing out through the trade war, but also technology, the Huawei dispute over 5G technology, the very near-misses in the South China Sea between the two countries’ militaries. There’s the tussle over Taiwan, as well; it looks increasingly as if Xi Jinping may want to try to coerce Taiwan to return to mainland control. So generally speaking I think the big, broad-brush picture is the rising of Xi Jinping and the increasing control of Xi Jinping and the way that he is creating this hegemonic power to rival the United States, trying to divide and conquer countries to be either with China or with the United States. We see that playing out now with Huawei and 5G and how the Chinese are looking at New Zealand and Australia and the UK as proxies for how this is going to be resolved with the US; they’re trying to peel away these countries from the US. You returned recently to New Zealand in unexpected and not at all happy circumstances. You were, on March 15, on holiday? Yes, in Thailand, on holiday, after submitting my final manuscript of my book. I take my laptop everywhere I go, but having worked so hard on this book for two years, I said to my son: I’m going to leave my laptop behind, and he did a happy dance. So off we went, and of course, then, Murphy’s law: I really needed that laptop. I was on the beach in Thailand glued to my phone watching as these breaking news alerts came in and watching events unfold in Christchurch, and just looking in complete horror at what was happening, and feeling this very strong need to be there, and to write about it. It affected me a lot. I thought I had a duty to the readers, as well, to be able to write about this, as one of very few New Zealand writers working for an American paper. So I very much wanted to be there. What were your impressions of your time in Christchurch? How did you describe the aftermath to people unfamiliar with it? I was really quite overwhelmed by the way New Zealand responded. It was a very loving response, if that’s the right word. I’m used to being in America and looking at the response to all the shootings, and the anger. But to see that way that, obviously, Jacinda Ardern responded. But also others: Trevor Mallard standing up in parliament and greeting people in Arabic. To see women wearing headscarves. And Hagley Park opposite the mosque, where there was this massive haka done by high school students. That was the thing that got me. I had to go behind a tree and have a little cry after that. To see this beautiful rainbow of New Zealand teenagers, you know, of every different colour, all doing a haka in unison, just showed me something. It was very moving to see this cohesiveness of spirit, and the way that we can share our culture, with Māori culture at its centre, felt very different to the often divisive responses to these kind of incidents in the United State in particular. So I felt very proud. But then, also, as I wrote for the paper, there was a soul-searching that went on in New Zealand after the incident. All these various stories coming out about people talking about casual racism and how prevalent that was in New Zealand. It forced a kind of reckoning and, I think, made many people act to make New Zealand an even more inclusive place. Full disclosure, because democracy dies in darkness: I read a draft manuscript of the book and made a few minor suggestions. Buy at The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un at Unity Books'

A definitive list of all the terrible things that happened on Desperate Housewives

Read and Listen The Spinoff

Before Big Little Lies, there was Desperate Housewives. Sam Brooks lists all the truly terrible things these women did over eight seasons.Fourteen years ago, the lives of four women (plus Nicolette Sheridan) captivated the world. What secrets did
'Before Big Little Lies , there was Desperate Housewives . Sam Brooks lists all the truly terrible things these women did over eight seasons. Fourteen years ago, the lives of four women (plus Nicolette Sheridan) captivated the world. What secrets did these suburban ladies have? Why did their best friend kill herself and hang around, narrating her friends’ lives like a ghostly subtweeter? Why did they try and pretend that Eva Longoria was the same age as the rest of these women? It can be hard to fathom just how huge Desperate Housewives  was at the time. It was the biggest show on the planet for about two years. It made household names of its stars and racked up a truly ridiculous amount of awards. Now it looks like somewhat of a relic – a prime time network soap opera that aired 22 episodes a season, ricocheting between heaviness (suicide, sexual assault, murder) and wackiness (Susan falling over lots) between scenes. It featured almost no household names – the most famous person on this show was Teri Hatcher , people! I’m not here to talk about whether or not it was a good show, or what long term cultural impacts it’s had (although I’d argue this show paved the way for the likes of Big Little Lies, Orange is the New Black  and even  Riverdale ). No, I’m here to talk about all the terrible things these monstrous human beings did over eight seasons. There’s a lot because these characters are truly nightmarish gargoyles. They make the characters on Grey’s Anatomy  look like paragons of professionalism and the kids on  Glee  look like moral compasses set to the truest of norths . Let’s get into it. Content warning: Desperate Housewives touched on suicide, sexual assault, murder, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and just about every unkind or illegal thing a person can do to another person. These are mentioned below. The cast of season one of Desperate Housewives. Season One What’s this season’s mystery? Why did Mary Alice kill herself? Turns out it was because she was being sent blackmail notes after someone figured out that she and her husband Paul had murdered the biological mother of their adopted son, Zach. They also buried her under the pool. This is about as hinged as the show gets, plot-wise. Mary Alice, the narrator for all eight seasons of the show, is inexplicably interested in the lives of her terrible friends after her suicide. Susan thinks her neighbour Edie is sleeping with Mike, the new mysterious plumber who has moved onto Wisteria Lane. She breaks into Edie’s house and accidentally sets it on fire. Gabrielle, a 5’2 woman who was apparently a runway model, has an affair with her 16-year-old gardener. Bree poisons her husband with onions after he asks for a divorce. Susan’s neighbour, Mrs Huber, finds a measuring cup Susan left at Edie’s house when she set it on fire. She, of course, blackmails Susan. Bree breaks into her therapist’s cabinet and steals a recording of not only her husband’s session but her dead friend’s session. Bree tells everyone her husband cries after he ejaculates. Thanks, Desperate Housewives, for making me write that sentence. Carlos hits the cable guy because he thought the cable guy was sleeping with his wife, Gabrielle. But instead of saying that, he lies and says it was because he thought  the cable guy was gay . Paul claims his dead wife wrote her own blackmail note. Gabrielle sends her mother-in-law, Juanita, to the casino so she can have sex with her underage gardener. Her mother-in-law is a gambling addict. Paul commits his own son to a mental asylum (not the politically correct term, but absolutely the term this show uses). Lynette gets addicted to her son’s ADD medication. Andrew, Bree’s son, gets drunk and hits Juanita with a car. Bree covers it up. This is the first car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. Paul kills Martha Huber because she stole a blender from their house after his wife died. Which is less an eye for an eye, and more an eye for a head. Bree reports her own son to his school for smoking weed. Lynette tries to get into a yoga class by saying that her son has cancer. Bree shoots her boyfriend in the foot. Gabrielle kisses  another  underage gardener to make him realise he’s gay. Bree sends Andrew to a deprogramming camp for being a ‘bad son’. Susan tries to get her mother to move back in with her abusive boyfriend. Carlos tampers with Gabrielle’s birth control pills. He then physically forces her to sign a postnup. Bree tries to get a priest to convert Andrew into heterosexuality. Bree spoonfeeds George, her new boyfriend, at his request at a restaurant. George poisons Rex by changing up his prescription. Rex straight-up dies. This is still not as bad as being spoonfed at request in a restaurant. Carlos beats up an underage gardener for not  being gay. Zach holds Susan hostage. Lynette sabotages Tom’s promotion at work, Tom finds out, quits and makes Lynette go back to work so he can be a stay-at-home dad. The cast of season two, and a shit ton of apples. Season Two What’s this season’s mystery? Why is Betty keeping her son Caleb chained up in the basement? It turns out he’s intellectually impaired (oof) and accidentally murdered a girl in Chicago (oof) and they’ve fled before anybody finds out. But actually, Betty’s other son, Matthew, murdered the girl after she made fun of Caleb’s intellectual disability in a fit of rage, and he let Betty believe that Caleb murdered the girl. Also, the Applewhites are black. This is not a great season of the show, to put it bluntly. Gabrielle swaps her paternity test results out because she’s worried that the father of her child might be her underage gardener. Susan hits Edie with her car. This is the second car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. Betty starts drugging her basement-son. Lynette lets a rat loose in the house to teach her husband a lesson. Gabrielle vandalises a woman’s rose bush after she sees her underage gardener go inside with her. Lynette spills hot coffee on her boss when she can’t take her son to his first day of school. Andrew tells George about Bree’s sex life with her husband, who George also killed. Lynette kills her son’s imaginary friend. Susan wears her mother’s wedding dress without prompting. George throws Bree’s therapist off a bridge after he tells Bree not to marry George. George sets Bree’s ex’s car on fire. Lynette stages a mock kidnapping to teach her kids a lesson. Carlos hires Gabrielle a grief counsellor after she has a miscarriage without her knowledge. When George attempts suicide, Bree says she’s called the ambulance when she hasn’t. George dies. Lots of homophobic stuff with Bree, which is a terrible concept for a spinoff. Susan gaslights a doctor so he’ll date her. Carlos throws someone through a window after he blackmails Gabrielle with her nudes. Gabrielle sets fire to a nun, one of the lesser-known Adele hits. Betty slaps her non-basement son, Matthew. Lynette’s boss hazes her by getting her to eat raw bacon. Susan tries to marry a gay man to get health insurance. She later tries to commit insurance fraud with her ex. Bree slaps her son after he calls her a drunk. Gabrielle declares she only wants to adopt a ‘hot baby’. Lynette weans a five-year-old off breastfeeding by giving him chocolate milk. Gabrielle steals a baby. Bree tries to have sex with her Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor, who is also a sex addict. Felicia, Martha Huber’s sister, tries to bully Paul, who killed her sister, into killing himself. Caleb attempts to rape Danielle after being lied to by Matthew and persuaded to kiss her. Betty’s solution is to poison Caleb. Edie sets Susan’s house on fire in revenge for setting her house on fire a season ago. Andrew sleeps with Bree’s AA sponsor. Bree leaves Andrew at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in retaliation. Felicia fakes her own death via blood dumping and cutting off her own fingers, to frame Paul. It is somehow successful. Bree breaks out of a psychiatric ward after checking herself in. Zach murders his own grandfather so he can get his inheritance. Orson, a new character who will spend far too long on this series, runs over Mike on purpose. This is the third car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. It turns out that Matthew, the non-basement son, murdered the girl that Betty thought Caleb murdered because the girl made fun of Caleb. A lot of dumb stuff happens, and Matthew ends up being shot and killed by the police. This is not the most racially sensitive season of Desperate Housewives . The cast of season three of Desperate Housewives. Season Three What’s this season’s mystery? What’s up with Orson? Turns out he was in a psychiatric hospital after his father committed suicide and was forced to marry his pregnant girlfriend after she miscarried. She then faked her own death after he had an affair, then his mother killed the woman he had an affair with. He then realises that his mother, Gloria, killed his father and that it wasn’t suicide at all. Also, he hit Mike with his car because he did some plumbing for the dead mistress. That’s reason enough for me to not want to get into a proper trade. Bree thinks she’s had a stroke. Jokes! It was just an orgasm. Also, Bree dates Orson. Gabrielle threatens to deport her eight-month pregnant surrogate. Somehow, this is not the last time that Gabrielle will do this! Lynette sets the recently divorced Carlos up with her husband’s secret ex, Nora. Edie gaslights Mike, fresh out of a coma after being hit by a car, about his relationship with Susan. Also, she makes him believe that she’s his girlfriend. Gabrielle pushes Carlos out of a window after he finds out she wants to postpone their divorce so she can get more money out of it. Laurie Metcalf (the mum from  Lady Bird ) holds everybody up at gunpoint at a supermarket. For some reason, Lynette tells Laurie Metcalf that Nora slept with her husband, so Laurie straight up shoots Nora  dead . Laurie also shoots herself dead. Lynette then has to raise Nora/Tom’s kid. Gabrielle pulls a girl whose mother has just died out of a pageant because she’s not pretty enough. She later dates the girl’s father. Gabrielle holds a flower shop owner hostage so she can find out who is sending her flowers. Bree throws a dinner party to prove to the neighbourhood her husband didn’t murder his wife. Lynette flashes a guy so he’ll give her husband’s pizzeria a liquor license. Orson’s mother Gloria lets his ex-wife Alma, the one who faked her own death, drug and rape him. Gloria later locks Alma in the attic. Gabrielle embarks on a relationship with her stalker… who is Zach! Zach is her dead friend’s son. Orson’s mother tries to kill Bree and frame it as suicide. She later has a stroke and dies. There’s an episode that focuses on the men, which is disgusting. Edie and Carlos have an affair. They have sex that’s so bad they injure each other. Lynette has an emotional affair with someone who works at her husband’s pizzeria, where she now also works. She fires him. Gabrielle’s new boyfriend hires thugs to beat up a meter man who gave her a ticket. Edie gets Carlos evicted from his house so he has to live with her. Bree fakes a pregnancy on behalf of her daughter. She also hides her daughter away at a nunnery. Nunneries exist in the  Desperate Housewives  multiverse. The cast of season four of Desperate Housewives. Season Four What’s this season’s mystery? What’s up with Katherine Mayfair! Okay, so Katherine used to live on Wisteria Lane but left in a shroud of mystery. She returns with a new husband and a teenage daughter, who she has lied to all her life saying that her husband died. It turns out that Katherine’s ex-husband was super abusive, and her daughter died young in a freak accident. So she adopted a girl from Romania who looked like her daughter and raised her as though nothing had happened. Gabrielle has an affair with her ex-husband, Carlos. Bree breaks into new neighbour Katherine’s house in order to steal her lemon meringue pie recipe. Gabrielle flirts with Katherine’s husband Adam (Nathan Fillion?) so she can make Carlos jealous. Edie turns Carlos into the IRS because he cheated on her. Gabrielle and Carlos accidentally knock Gabrielle’s new husband overboard, presumably drowning him. He’s fine, but tries to kill Gabrielle, as one does on Wisteria Lane. Armie Hammer??? Multiple people die in a tornado, including Gabrielle’s now murderous husband, a woman Adam is having an emotional affair with (Ida Greenberg), and an old woman who sacrifices herself to save Lynette’s family. Bree pimps her son out to her contractor so he’ll finish fixing her house faster. Carlos hides the fact that he lost his sight in the tornado. Gabrielle finds this out and pranks him. Gabrielle exploits Carlos’ disability for better parking. Lynette’s twins, Porter and Preston, set Rick’s restaurant on fire because of last season’s emotional affair. Gabrielle uses Carlos’ seeing eye dog to help around the house, and then when the dog can’t do anything for her, she tries to take her back to the training centre. Edie kisses Orson when he stays with her because Bree found out he hit Mike with her car. Edie, is, of course, Bree’s neighbour and supposed friend. Lynette’s new stepdaughter, Kayla, turns out to be a sociopath whose idea it was to burn down Rick’s restaurant. She convinces Preston to jump off the roof. Lynette hits Kayla after she threatens her daughter. Susan lies about her financial situation to prevent her daughter from getting an internship, ensuring that she stays at home over the summer. Gabby steals $118k from her tenant, who is a drug dealer, and who also has that amount of money in cash! There’s a five year time jump, because that actually wasn’t dated at the time. The cast of season five of Desperate Housewives. Season Five What’s this season’s mystery? What’s up with Dave? Okay, literally buckle in for this one. It turns out that during the five-year time jump, Mike got into a car accident that ended up killing Dave’s wife and child (the fourth car-related incident). Now he’s come back for revenge, which ends up with him staging an elaborate death trap where he holds Susan and MJ (her and Mike’s son) hostage on the same road that his family died on, and orchestrates it so that Mike will have to hit them with a car. At the last moment, Dave lets MJ leave the car, and there’s a harmless collision. Somewhat ironically, this is the only time someone on this show who has been around a car hasn’t been hurt by that car. Gabrielle tries to make her daughter lose weight by getting her to chase after a car. Bree feeds her vegetarian grandson meat. Susan pushes Gabrielle’s daughter, Juanita II, after Juanita pushes her son MJ to the ground. Orson pretends to go to work every day to make Bree think he’s not a loser. Orson is, even among these people, the worst. Lynette sets off the fire alarm at Bree’s Business Woman of the Year Award ceremony, purely out of spite. Lily Tomlin??? A woman who hired Carlos as a masseur tries to climb into bed with him and Gabrielle. Dave, a new neighbour, sets a club on fire. In fairness to Dave, adults were doing a Battle of the Bands type thing there, so I’m willing to let this one slide. Gabrielle is concerned at how she looks, so she tries to get Carlos to postpone the surgery that would give him his sight back. Lynette pays her son’s girlfriend-slash-teacher to go to another town. She is pregnant with his child. Jokes! She’s lying! Lynette lets one of her twins stand trial for the other. Mrs. McCluskey, a plucky elderly neighbour, nags Beau Bridges into a heart attack. After Bree hires him at her catering business, Orson hacks into her computer to find out how much he’s making compared to her son. Orson becomes a kleptomaniac… for no reason? Maybe spite? Susan kisses someone who is at her house to evaluate her parenting. After robbing a house due to his spite-induced kleptomania, Orson runs into the street. Edie swerves to avoid him and hits a utility pole. She’s electrocuted to death because Desperate Housewives  had budget cuts and showrunner Marc Cherry had issues with Nicolette Sheridan. This is the fifth car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. Also, the woman whose house Orson robbed dies of a heart attack, because Orson is still the worst. Bree tries to get her divorce lawyer to break the law when handling her divorce. Bree fakes a robbery in her own home and tries to pin it on Orson. When Orson finds out, he blackmails her into staying with him. Honestly, I’m still on Bree’s side here, even though she’s… a monster. Everybody on this show sucks, and if you ran into them on the street, you’d cross over to the other side. The cast of season five of Desperate Housewives, absolutely not qualified to wield those weapons. Season Six What’s this season’s mystery? Who is Angie and who is the strangler? Angie, her husband Nick and son Danny move onto Wisteria Lane, and things get dodgy immediately, with Julie getting strangled in the bushes and put into hospital. It turns out that Angie is an eco-terrorist on the run from the cops as well as her abusive ex, Patrick. It also turns out that the strangler is Danny’s friend, Eddie, and he’s been doing it to a lot of people. Susan tries to crush Angie’s son Danny with a car because she thinks he strangled her daughter. This is the sixth car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. Katherine keys Bree’s car after Bree fires her from her catering company. Susan accidentally shoots Katherine with Danny’s gun. Bree lies to a client about being Italian, then lies to Angie about her friend being set on fire (?) so she can get her Italian recipes. Katherine stabs herself and tries to frame Mike for it. Orson, once again, blackmails Bree with insurance fraud. A fucking  plane  crashes into Wisteria Lane, a couple of years before it happened on  Grey’s Anatomy.  It kills Mona, who was blackmailing Angie, and Sue’s ex-husband, Karl, who happened to be having an affair with Bree at the time. Lynette also miscarries one of her twins. Susan pretends to be a doctor so she can get Katherine’s daughter Dylan to commit Katherine to a psych ward. Orson, now paralysed from the waist down, continues to blackmail Bree. Bree sprays Orson with a hose when he asks to be washed. Orson threatens to kill himself if Bree leaves him. Just great behaviour all around, guys. Bree’s ex-husband’s secret son Sam joins the family. Eddie, Danny’s friend, strangles Porter’s Russian girlfriend after she makes a joke about his appearance. He later chokes his mother, played by Diane Farr (remember  Numb3rs ?) to death. Angie’s ex, Patrick, holds her hostage so she’ll build him a bomb like the one she built in New York. Eddie holds Lynette hostage, then helps her deliver her baby, somehow saving the baby’s life. Orson leaves Bree for giving up her company after Sam blackmails her. Apparently, it’s not okay if someone else  blackmails Bree. The bomb that Angie is building explodes, killing Patrick. Can you spot the new cast member? Season Seven What’s this season’s mystery? What’s going on with Paul Young, who is out of prison and has a wife? Okay, so it turns out that he’s been cleared for the murder he was the frame for (the one where the lady cut off her fingers in order to frame him). Also, he’s unknowingly married to the daughter of the woman who framed him for her own murder. Exciting times! It turns out that Juanita II was swapped at birth with another girl! Susan takes a job on at ‘Va-Va-Va-Broom’, which is one va too much, and is also a website where camgirls dress up and clean rooms. Bree accidentally hits Juanita II with her car, mirroring when Andrew hit Juanita I with his car. It’s the seventh car-related incident. Lynette scoffs at Tom’s post-partum depression, then swaps out his weed for oregano. He does not leave her immediately. Renee is scared of little people, so Bree hires a dwarf from her church to scare Renee when she’s on a date. Those are all words I just typed, and a plotline that serious dramatic actresses Marcia Cross and Vanessa Williams had to act out. The gay couple kiss onscreen for the first time, several seasons after being introduced. Gabrielle calls immigration on her daughter’s adoptive mother after she calls her a bad mother. This woman has to flee to Texas because of this. Paul, who apparently has infinite money, buys up as many properties as he can on Wisteria Lane so he can open a halfway house there. During a protest against Paul wanting to build sad halfway house, Bree fires a warning shot into the crowd. They riot and stampade, injuring Susan and one of the aforementioned gays. Bree lies to the mother of her boyfriend’s child and says that he doesn’t want to meet his child. Gabrielle gets obsessed with a doll as a substitute for her daughter, the daughter that she got deported to Texas. Lynette’s mum’s new husband has a heart attack, and makes Lynette wait until morning to ring for help so that she can get his money in the will. Beth, Paul’s new wife, shoots herself in the head so she can give Susan one of her kidneys. Susan is also dying of kidney disease after being trampled in the Bree-induced riot. Bree gaslights her son into going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. To cover up that she is still friends with Bree after Carlos finds out that Bree’s son Andrew hit Juanita I with a car, Gabrielle says that a red hair on her coat belongs to a clown she hugged at a party . Felicia, the lady who cut off her fingers, frames Susan to make it look like she is poisoning Paul. She then hooks Paul up to a poisoned IV, and promptly gets hit by a truck on the highway. This is the eighth car-related incident on Wisteria Lane (technically not Wisteria Lane, but I’m counting it). Everyone covers up the murder of Gab’s stepfather, Alejandro, who re-emerges after many years and who tries to rape her at gunpoint. It is unnervingly similar to the plot of Big Little Lies. I literally can’t stop laughing at this. Season Eight What’s this season’s mystery? This one is a different vibe. Basically, the mystery is: are the Wisteria Housewives™ finally going to get any comeuppance for what they’ve done? Even though, admittedly, killing a rapist in self-defence is probably one of the few defensible things that any character has ever done on this show. Gabrielle hits someone with her car after she revokes her preferential parking at the school. Susan does an artistic interpretation of the cover-up because she’s a painter. It gets sold at a gallery, and people get suspicious. Susan is, and I can’t emphasise this enough, dumb as bricks. Bree’s cop boyfriend stalks her. He’s later hit by a car, which is the ninth car-related incident on Wisteria Lane. Susan visits Alejandro’s family to apologise and does not apologise. Orson moves back in with Bree, immediately gaslights her, and is revealed to be the one who sent her notes in order to get her back. These notes also drive Bree to the brink of suicide. Ben, the new guy, engages in insurance fraud. Mrs McCluskey casually asks Bree to euthanise her. A loan shark kills Mike in a drive-by shooting. It’s the tenth car-related incident. Lynette sabotages Tom’s relationship with his new girlfriend so she can get back together with him. Bree’s lawyer, who is defending her on a murder charge, falls in love with her. Mrs McCluskey confesses to the murder because she’s gonna die anyway. Everyone finally moves away from this crime-ridden suburban hellhole, and Felicity Huffman goes to plead guilty for fraud for bribing her kid into college . Total Lynette move, Huffman. More definitive lists by Sam Brooks: A definitive list of all the fireable offences over 15 seasons on Grey’s Anatomy A definitive list of all the dumb shit that happened on Glee The One Where I Rewatch Friends And Give The Episodes Honest Titles The original 151 Pokémon ranked from worst to best Spice Up Your Solo Career: Ranking the solo careers of the Spice Girls A tale of survival: I watched 42 episodes of Outlander in a week The Spinoff’s official Tim Tam power rankings A definitive list of all the weird shit that happens in the Metal Gear series'

Inheritance: The Matariki play that explores Pākehā privilege

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Inheritance plays as part of The Basement Theatre’s Matariki season this week. Sam Brooks talks to one of its creators about what the show wants to say. Jess Holly Bates has quite a bit of experience making shows that start conversations.Her
'Inheritance plays as part of The Basement Theatre’s Matariki season this week. Sam Brooks talks to one of its creators about what the show wants to say. Jess Holly Bates has quite a bit of experience making shows that start conversations. Her show  Real White Fake Dirt critiqued Pākehā privilege in a way that was both scorchingly intelligent and riotously funny. Her show The Offensive Nipple Show , created with Sarah Tuck, advocated body positivity and rampant nudity in a series of hilarious, highly physical sketches. Her latest show, created with Forest Kapo, doesn’t look to start a conversation – it looks to continue one. Inheritance  bills itself as “a quivering sitcom of the colonial present”. To deconstruct that, it’s a show about the inequality crisis currently plaguing New Zealand, using a variety of theatrical forms. The idea is to encapsulate both Bates’ and Kapo’s stories of class difference – Bates is Pākehā, Kapo is Māori – and then encourage an audience to interrogate their own privilege. According to Bates, the show came from the pair wanting to address parts of their friendship, particularly the difference in their backgrounds. “When you have great differences in a friendship, like you find your own language to communicate, but actually when you look at the icebergs that you’re standing on, it can be quite confronting. We’re using our embodied experiences as a gateway to talking about a much bigger inequality gap that’s happening.” A key reference point is the ‘Mother of All Budgets’. The 1991 budget was the first one delivered by then-minister of finance Ruth Richardson, and it was arguably so unpopular with the public that it not only cost National the next election, but ushered in electoral reform on the whole. “I’m a child of the Mother of All Budgets, and so are a lot of us – we all carry these intrinsic beliefs about the way society is organised that aren’t actually natural. They’re cultural, they’re political.” “In a way, it’s a love song to Ruth Richardson – what would it be if you’re lying in bed next to the person with a completely different experience from you, and you have to feel and build a relationship? What does that even look like? Jess Holly Bates and Forest Kapo are the co-creators of Inheritance. On the surface, it sounds like one of those shows that’ll be confronting you with how wrong you are, and how wrong your existence is. Those shows exist, and there’s a limit to how much use they can be in a world where people are engaged with so many conversations at the same time, conversations around just about every societal issue that you can name. On one side, an artist could have an audience who aren’t ready to engage with what you’re saying, and on the other, an artist could have an audience who are so advanced beyond what the work is engaging with that it can seem remedial. People hate being pandered to as much as they hate being preached to. Inheritance  is neither pandering nor preaching. When Bates talks about Inheritance,  she talks about it as a ‘post-book show’. By that she means that this isn’t a play that is trying to prove that anything exists. It’s not a head’s up about racism, or sexism, or classism. These things absolutely exist. “T he conversation starts from the point that we’ve all read the book, we all know that inequality exists. It’s not interesting to me to try and pose the argument, or convince this audience. I’m interested in something beyond that, so to me it’s a conversation about healing, and it’s the feeling of healing. And I mean that’s the form as well.” There’s a genuine care and keenness in making sure that the audience is held, and not just talked at. That gentleness doesn’t just seem key to this work, but the work that Bates is setting out to make in the future as well. “How can we hold that knowledge, and how do we cope with what we know? It requires a real tenderness, because knowing where we stand in the world, knowing our privilege, is a hard thing to hold.” Forest Kapo, Jess Holly Bates and the proverbial money tree. Bates is refreshingly frank about her Pākehā heritage, and what that means in the context of a Matariki season as a co-creator. “ It’s interesting being Pākehā and being inside the Matariki framework. You have to be very delicate with that, but at the same time I think it’s important that we can fold together because I am a person of the Treaty, like that’s the reason why I’m here, I’m Tangata Tiriti. “So that’s my reason for why I stand in this Matariki framework because I think it’s really important to go ‘Okay, what would it be not to disavow the history?’ What would it be to stand here and try and actively feel and listen?’ I feel firm in the kaupapa that we are building something beautiful and necessary, and that we want to open up a conversation – as opposed to in the past, where I’ve really yanked conversations open.” For Bates, it’s about staying in the conversation and not disengaging. It’s about listening (‘not just with your ears, but with your whole body’) and being open to what’s being discussed. “ If we can decolonise the conversation enough, we can go ‘it’s not about winning or getting it right’.” “There’s no such thing as fucking it up, it’s about staying in the room. Staying in the room is the whole thing, you know?” Inheritance runs from June 9 – June 13 at The Basement Theatre. You can buy tickets right here .'

The whakapapa of our literature

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'Dr Tina Makereti — reframing the way we look at Māori and Pasifika literatures.So vast, so fabulously varied a scatter of islands, nations, cultures, mythologies and myths, so dazzling a creature, Oceania deserves more than an attempt at mundane fact; only the imagination in free flight can hope — if not to contain her — to grasp some of her shape, plumage and pain. — Albert Wendt, Towards a New Oceania (1976)   I’ve been thinking a lot about why we don’t pay as much attention to our Māori and Pasifika literary heritage as we should.Partly because that’s my job, but also because Māori and Pasifika writing is groundbreaking, vibrant, and unique to our many shores.So it’s strange and sad that we’re still some way from realising its potential.Whenever I’ve spoken or written  about this before, there are three points that seem to generate the most astonishment and concern.Firstly, only a tiny percentage of our published creative works in any given year are Māori or Pasifika. (In a survey which looked at a period of about six years since 2007, the total for Māori was only 3 to 6 percent; Pasifika even less.) Secondly, right now in Aotearoa, you still can’t take a single university course in Māori literature in English — those that were established having been quickly disestablished as soon as their creators moved on.And, thirdly, much more research on Māori literature is conducted overseas than in New Zealand.Why should this matter to anyone outside academia?Because the outcome is so important for our young people and their future.In general, our children and young people don’t get to read stories that include people like them, from communities like their own.Our children don’t get to hear voices like their own, they don’t see themselves in the literature they encounter, and, therefore, they’re less likely to see literature as something that belongs to them.If they happen to love literature so much that nothing will keep them from studying it, they’ll have a difficult time finding the teachers and researchers they need at tertiary level to help them read and critically engage with it from a Māori or Pasifika perspective.It simply isn’t something that we in New Zealand prioritise.Those who are part of the “field” of Māori and Pasifika literary scholarship, such that it is, are stretched thin.Why is that?In his iconic 1976 essay, Towards a New Oceania,  which I quote at the start of this column, Albert Wendt managed both to capture the extraordinary and diverse creative power of Te Moana nui a Kiwa — and to diagnose some of the issues that keep us from harnessing that creative power.Sadly, more than 40 years later, those issues are as relevant as ever.We still grapple with the continued effects of colonisation in our communities.We still struggle to recognise and understand the power of our creative literatures.We still struggle with how to identify ourselves in cultures that are evolving, as they ever have, wanting to hold on to some imagined “authenticity” — a word that seems to help no one.Of course, there is no single, perfect definition of our identities as Māori or Pasifika peoples.No single way to be who we are.One of the most insidious things colonisation does is take away our sense of ownership over our cultural identities, because we don’t feel that we’re “enough”. Not Māori enough, not Island enough, not brown enough, not enough te reo, not enough tradition in our upbringing.So we don’t need to make things better just because we should, or because it’s fair, or even because of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.We need to make this better because our young people are literally in pain, still feeling the effects of the issues Albert identified all those decades ago.And while it isn’t going to be easy to make life better for them, I’m 100 percent confident that owning their own stories will help.Because literature can do two things.It can give us a home, a safe place; and it can take us as far away as we want to go, expanding our world beyond what we knew was possible.Imagine a world in which the vast array of Oceanic stories was available to everyone from birth into adulthood, affirming us in all our diverse realities.Imagine a world in which young Māori and Pasifika people felt comfortable and confident adding their own idiosyncratic, messy tales to the mix.Our shape, plumage and pain.One pathway I’m happy to be able to make available is a new course I’m teaching called Oceanic Literatures of Aotearoa: Ngā Tuhinga Kōrero o Te Moana Nui a Kiwa.Ngā mihi to Massey University and all those who have supported the introduction of the course.I want Māori and Pasifika students especially to have the opportunity to study the richness of their literary heritage, but I have to be content that the majority of students will probably be non-Māori and non-Pasifika, at least in the beginning.Many of these students will go on to be teachers who will be much better equipped to do the same for their students.We’ll begin by destabilising the Eurocentric worldview — the worldview through which most university study proceeds — and asking how a Māori and Pasifika worldview might inform our reading.The Eurocentric university model I’m talking about asserts that knowledge is an objective thing we can collect.But what I’m suggesting through this work is that, in Māori and Pasifika terms, we don’t always need to know everything.As Carl Te Hira Mika has argued, a kaupapa Māori worldview not only provides space for uncertainty — making room for the unknown; the mystery behind what we think we know — it requires it.Creative writing requires these things of us, too: to make room for paradox, nuance, and not knowing, and to pay heed to relationship and connection.For Māori and Pasifika students, I hope that this approach will be a relief.You don’t have to have all the cultural knowledge to be who you are — there is no full-stop, no beginning or end, no “authentic” definition.For Pākehā students, I hope that this approach will be a challenge: You are not the centre of things.You cannot become  the centre of things, not in this field.I also want to demonstrate to my students that, as a teacher, I’m humbled by my ignorance in the face of the immensity of the Pacific and all her peoples.It would be extremely arrogant to claim knowledge over the whole of Oceania.The other thing we’ll do is flip how Māori and Pasifika literatures are usually read.We’ll challenge the popular notion that Maōri and Pacific literature only began in the 1960s and 1970s.As suggested, for example, in this quote from a 2014 Mana  magazine article: “Before Ihimaera published his first novel in 1973, there was no Maori literary tradition.” Alice Te Punga Somerville notes that when we make statements like this, we’re missing the short stories that went before this novel, not to mention Hone Tuwhare’s poetry and the creative pieces that were published in Te Ao Hou  for some time before that.But I think this quote from the well-regarded Māori magazine is revealing.We don’t think  we had a literary tradition because we don’t recognise a lot of our literature as  literature.We’ve been defining our literature in Eurocentric terms, as our education system dictates, rather than defining it on our terms.If you’re fortunate enough to be studying through wānanga, or Māori or Pacific studies, or schools of te reo, you might receive a different understanding than this, but for the majority in mainstream education, Māori literature is only ever seen as a late addition to a long and illustrious tradition of various English literatures.Pacific literatures are often seen as arriving around the same time.This lateness to the literary party implies either lack of interest or lack of ability, neither of which is true.But, defined on our own terms, our literatures go back many centuries too.So instead of placing Māori and Pacific literatures as late arrivals to English literature, we will instead recognise a whakapapa of Māori literature that goes all the way back to Te Moana nui a Kiwa.This reconnection to our Oceanic whakapapa acknowledges relationships with other Pacific nations that existed long before European exploration of the Pacific.Following Epeli Hau’ofa and subsequent Pacific scholars, we situate ourselves in the Pacific as an ocean continent.The Latin alphabet, reading and writing, books, and English literature were late but very welcome additions to this cultural landscape.We already had our stories and poems and other forms of literature, but we were very happy to incorporate new ways of transmitting thought.So the European contribution to our literature was important.But from this vantage point, English is the latecomer.And in thinking about our pre-contact literatures, it’s important to note that they weren’t only  oral.Suggesting that we had no visual means of conveying narrative has the same effect as suggesting that we only developed a literary tradition in the 1970s.As Teresia Teaiwa wrote, if we assume that the roots of Pacific literature are only oral, “we continue to mystify writing as a practice and reinforce it as alien.” Teresia was trying to liberate us from assumptions that seem to hold us back from claiming and celebrating written literature as something that is “ours”. Written literature isn’t alien to us, because our ancestors were already using sophisticated coding built into various visual artforms — carving, weaving, tā moko, tatau, tapa — to tell our stories.As Patricia Grace showed us in Pōtiki , our wharenui are libraries where our stories are built into the walls and into the very faces of our tīpuna.It’s my hope that reframing the way we read Oceanic literatures will help re-invigorate a field that has the potential to show us the way, as Albert Wendt says, “through a genuine decolonisation … explaining us to ourselves and creating a new Oceania.”   Dr Tina Makereti  (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Rangatahi ) teaches creative writing and Oceanic literatures at Massey University.She  is  the author of  The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke  (2018) and co-editor of   Black Marks on the White Page   (2017), an anthology that celebrates Māori and Pasifika writing.In 2016, her story Black Milk  won the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize, Pacific region.Her other books are  Where the Rēkohu Bone Sing s  (2014) and  Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa  (2010).  Tina’s course on Oceanic literatures starts on July 15.Full details can be found  here .   © E-Tangata, 2019 . 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