Face your fronts
My latest television binge obsession is the UK Netflix show Sex Education. The show centres around adorably awkward Otis, a high school student whose mother, to his horror, is a well-known and published sex therapist (Gillian Flynn never looked so good). Without quite knowing how he winds up there, he soon finds himself in a sort of business arrangement with rebellious diamond in the rough Maive who uses his inherited knowledge, language and tact to provide a sex therapy service to the students of their school, despite Otis being - unbeknownst to her - an absolutely clueless, completely inexperienced virgin. As he and we meet the various eccentric, relatable, charming, cringe-worthy student body and all the messy relationships they hold, Otis faces the normal struggles of any high school boy, and then some.
The show is utter brilliance and beauty, and I genuinely feel would be a source of great enjoyment to every kind of person. As well as handling issues we have all faced in some way with such care and unflinching honesty, it also boldly dives into topics that are not often put front and centre of mainstream television shows. Additionally, the variety of characters reflects such beautiful diversity, from gender, ethnicity and sexuality to family dynamics, living situations, religion, and attitudes. This portrayal of every kind of person and how life can be lived isn't at any point a commentary, merely an inclusion. The fact that the school jock and hottie of the school has two mums of different ethnicities doesn't even warrant mention, but the fact that they're overbearing, strict and have unrealisitic expectations is the focus of any family scene, a thing many people can relate to in some way, prompting a sense of familiarity with the character and their situation, despite how different it may look on the surface. The inclusion of such diversity in this way is a true step to building a better society, in which we don't stop and comment on differences, but can recognise parts of ourself in any and everyone, no matter the circumstances surrounding their life.
ANYWAY, as into it as I currently am, when I saw that two of the main actors from the show were on a Podcast produced alongside a website Gurls Talk, I naturally tuned in. Amongst many wonderful points of conversation, both the women were asked to share the best piece of life advice they have been given. One of them shared a saying accredited to her co-star on the show, actor Ncuti Gatwa. He plays my absolute favourite of all the characters in this show full of vibrant, unique, flawed, fabulous individuals, so that he sounds like a genuinely fantastic person is really just the cherry on top of a wonderful - albeit ill-informed - impression I already had of him.
The life mantra which he shared with his colleagues is this: face your fronts. It sounds simple, but it is so relevant in this age of social media. I know not everyone is intoxicated by social media, the internet and modern pop culture (such as the 'reality' television which dominates screens in homes around the western world) but the fact is, by having one foot always in that vast digital dump, we are constantly comparing the reality of our own lives to the heavily augmented one we see on screens. We distract ourselves from what we have and pour energy and emotion and thought and time into what we don't have. As the host of the podcast, Adwoa Aboah says, comparison is the enemy of joy. This comes from one of the world's most successful models, a woman whose style and looks are undoubtedly the envy of many, but a woman who has suffered years of mental health issues from the constant comparison that comes with the industry she works in. These three words of wisdom are instructing us not to compare, not to look sideways at what someone over there is doing. Look forward. Look at your life and the people and things that fill it and give them all your energy. The rest is meaningless.
Hearing this conversation reminded me of something I recently read - ironically, on Instagram. It was the caption to a post by actor Ian Somerhalder, in which he recalled a memory from 1996, before reflecting on that time. It read:
How different 1996 was. I read books with an insatiable thirst for philosophy, history, science and nature as shadows lengthened in the sun. What a time. People talked and talked and talked about life on the streets, in parks, in restaurants and bars. It was a special time. The time before the smartphone. I often think about those times when our focus was experiencing moments and not broadcasting every single moment of our entire lives... there was so much clarity. I miss those times.
Don't get me wrong, I think social media and the internet is often a wonderful thing. It connects people, it opens our minds, it enables us to keep in touch, and access news and seek the things that light fires in us. But it also fills us with a lot of information - largely filtered and false - about what other lives look like. Information we don't need, yet gets into our minds and makes us look at everything we have as if it is lacking. But Mr Somerhalder is right - we too often don't have the same thirst for firsthand experience as we used to, not without capturing it and making sure everyone else knows about it, so we can be the sense of their own comparison (whether we admit or are even aware of such motives or not). And Mr Gatwa is right - we need to start facing our fronts.
I know that was a very rambling and random blog, but it's just a thought I've been mulling over this week and wanted to get down in words. If you're still with me, thank you! You deserve a treat. I wish I could give you a chocolate biscuit. For all the internet's wonder, it still doesn't let us push physical items through our screens to pop out of yours, does it? Rubbish.
For those of you that haven't yet experienced the joy of this show, I urge you to laugh and cry and dance and gasp at it. Fair warning, there is sex - hardly surprising, on a show called Sex Education - and it can be awfully silly at times, but it is beautiful too. Just give the trailer below a watch (to the end!!) and see what you think.