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YA 6_2 HD, in English, with critical commentary

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Published on Jul 31, 2010

This clip is offered in hope of making available an English-language version of "Young Americans" (YA) of higher visual quality than seems to have been available online, together with comments (below) that may enhance appreciation of YA as dramatic art.

Questions that may be worth asking about YA episode 6, part 2, include:

-- Should we take seriously, or as playfully ironic banter, the mutual assurances of "Jake" Pratt and Hamilton Fleming that Scout Calhoun and Will Krudski have no idea that Pratt and Fleming are together? In the immediately preceding scene, Calhoun and Krudski agreed, after Pratt and Fleming left, that Pratt and Fleming are "together." In episode 5, Calhoun called Pratt and Fleming, to their faces, "little lovebirds." At Friendly's, at the start of episode 6, Pratt hinted to Calhoun and Krudski, by reference to "Boys Don't Cry," that she is a cross-dressing girl, that Fleming and she are not gay. And Fleming comically undermines his own assurance by saying to Pratt, "They'd never think that about ME," implying that they might think that about Pratt. Is all this consistent with the view that Pratt and Fleming are speaking in dead earnest, and that Fleming is deeply concerned not to be perceived as gay by Calhoun and Krudski? How does the moral character of Calhoun and Krudski diminish both Fleming's concern that they know that Pratt and he are together, and Pratt's inclination to hide her true gender from them? What does this suggest about the dependence of descriptive truth on normative truth?

-- The shot of Pratt and Fleming leaving Rawley to go on their date is the only shot in YA of any of YA's protagonists going through the front door of Rawley, save in episodes 1 and 7 while Fleming is perched in the window above that door. Fleming is at Rawley's door whenever any protagonist is seen going in or out of it. Does this seem consistent with the view that Fleming is Rawley's door-spirit, its Janus?

-- Pratt's suggestion that she and Fleming go on a date, during which she will not cross-dress, seems an act of compassion such as Fleming's complaints about the effect of her cross-dressing on his sense of sexual identity seem intended to elicit. However, from the moment Pratt changes into a dress at the marina until she changes back into denims upon their return to that marina, Fleming seems to reward that compassion poorly, enacting a caricature of a male chauvinist gender stereotype, even to the absurd extent of ordering for Pratt at the restaurant without first asking about her preferences. This forces a difficult interpretive choice on the viewer. One can believe that a character previously remarkable for his sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and compassion, who was willing actually to be gay in order to love Pratt, is suddenly transformed, by an overpowering need to play a male gender role, into an insensitive and offensively domineering jerk. Or one can believe that Fleming is acting, deliberately provoking Pratt into revealing her emotional reaction against traditional gender roles, in order to show her that he is fully aware of the roots of her emotional problems and her self-destructive behavior before telling her that he loves her -- because what she needs, although not what she wants, is to be told that she is loved, warts and all, by someone who plainly sees her warts. The latter view entails believing not only that Fleming is a consummate actor, but also that Fleming has planned the whole thing in advance, and covertly controls the whole course of events. However, the former view is simply impossible, and, as Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes say: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Does Fleming, after Monica's visit to Rawley in episode 5, have enough information about the roots of Pratt's emotional problems to do this? To anticipate confidently that enacting a caricature of male chauvinism will elicit from Pratt a reaction so hostile as to afford him occasion to tell Pratt that she is "a cross-dressing she-man" who "doesn't know who she is," and thereby reduce her to asking whether Fleming thinks she's a freak, and whether he still likes her? To devise a plan to humble Pratt to the point at which being told that he loves her will be effective in helping her to overcome her despair of being loved?

The two still shots at the start of this clip are of a 4th century CE mosaic of Orpheus taming the beasts, excavated at Philipapolis, Syria, and of a scene from Jean Cocteau's 1946 film, "Beauty and the Beast." The lute music played during those still shots is Hans Neusiedler's "Gassenhauer" (a tune heard on the street, c. 1536). YA's musical theme for its Pratt/Fleming scenes, previous episode recapitulations, and most crew rowing scenes, Hans Zimmer's "True Romance" theme, is adapted from Carl Orff's "Gassenhauer nach Hans Neusiedler" (1935).

-- Ichabod Grubb, July 2010

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