What would you consider misogyny — words? actions? What if misogynistic words don’t reflect in the kind actions of the person? What if kind words don’t reflect in the misogynistic actions?
Marcus (Tayc), a famous French rapper peppers his lyrics with “hoe”, an entitled blowjob, expecting women to keep shut, with a provocative irreverence to consent — ‘I’m not going to wait for her ‘yes,’ I only have one night.’ — that drives feminists up the wall jeering, and fans up his courtyard cheering. If you think Christmas Spirit, the French 3-part limited series, gives him an arc of redemption, you would be wrong. Instead, it does something very odd — it glosses this pop misogyny with his otherwise-kindness and a veneer of French Christmas spirit.
It was like watching that scene in Emily In Paris, where Emily is trying and failing to explain why having naked models advertising a brand is — or can be construed as — misogyny. It is that gap between “is” and “can be construed as” that chafes. It is an uncomfortable gulf. But it’s not like Christmas Flow is naive. It knows this, it knows that art embeds itself and grows from society, leaking into and absorbing its vices and virtues. In a scene in a high school, it shows a teen boy calling a girl a slut, and feeling vindicated by Marcus’ music video where he does the same. So what gives? Why doesn’t the show go all the way to a morally comfortable conclusion?
Algerian actress Shirine Boutella (Lupin) plays Lila, one third of the feminist trio, the “Simones”, a pop-journalist paltform. Serious beef with Marcus ensues, courtesy his lyrics. But through the chaotic concoctions of the rom-com genre, they meet, and the initial haze of anger melts into something resembling love, and then becomes it. At one point, she asks her feminist pals, “Do you think we could be wrong? That he could actually be decent?” The arc Marcus is given is not a recognition that his lyrics are misogynistic, but that he can write music which isn’t misogynistic. There’s a subtle difference between the two, one requiring an apology, and the latter a glossing over.
But more than the discomfort, there is a hubris that drives the show. Christmas Flow did not need three 50-minute episodes. That is at best, an indulgence of time. The sub-plots and side characters are flattened around the central narrative tension anyways. Lila is given a boyfriend who is written into and out of the show with a genie-wish-like ease. The feminism of the “Simones” itself is as performative, tote-carrying as you would imagine. It isn’t generous as much as it is vindictive. At one point they are told, “The feminism that is seen is the feminism that sells”, and they are aghast, even insulted. But isn’t that exactly what they are doing? It is not like we are looking for nuance, for this show slots itself head-neck-shoulders in the Christmas genre. But a comforting flatness would do. One that doesn’t inject the happily-ever-after with significant doubts about the moral matrix of its male protagonist. Maybe there is another gulf between discomforting, nuanced stories and flat, comforting ones. Christmas Flow resides there.