Emily In Paris, An Alternative Interpretation.
Emily In Paris is the new comedy-drama mini-series from Netflix that promises to be a hit. It's generally age-rated at 12A per 30-minute episode and has a reported an approval rating of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although the French aren't too happy about how they are portrayed on the show, many Americans and Englishmen alike have taken a liking to the romantic viewpoint that Paris is like a small town, charming and quaint enough to discover yourself in. But could there be an alternate reading of the mini-series? The AHF podcast 'So This Week I Watched' is usually reserved for dissecting alcohol appearances and addiction depictions, but there is a lot to unpack in Emily In Paris - especially seeing as it is a series. Let's talk about the first couple of episodes.
When we are first introduced to Emily, she's running. She's healthy and jogging, immediately shown to be confident and content in her body and in her life. It's evident that this attitude seeps into her work, as one of her proposed initiatives is to 'Add meditation to medication' - highlighting she knows the importance of health and happiness primarily coming from within. It seems like by and by Emily is a good role model, even her boss seems to look up to her because she knows who she is and she likes who she is. It's charming to see confident depictions of young adults in media, as it usually seems like our protagonist has to be reaching rock bottom for them to be relatable or for us to be rooting for them. But largely, Emily has her life together and we like her precisely because of her responsible nature, optimism and can-do attitude.
But this is met with some friction when she meets her boyfriend at a bar. They order alcohol nonchalantly and even though they're trying to celebrate, the destination doesn't strike as particularly celebratory. It's loud, seems uncomfortable, the situation gets worse when she breaks the sudden news that she's moving away to Paris. It makes her boyfriend uncomfortable and they bicker. It's interesting that the first time alcohol is introduced in the series, it's portrayed as masquerading as a social lubricant. The characters think it will help them get to the bottom of things and help with prolonging or breaking important news but it never really does seem to be truly helpful. This mirrors our own misconception in society that alcohol helps with all deeper conversations and social interaction, but it can actually prompt bad social anxiety and escalate uncomfortable situations as seen here. It really shows that it's important to have important conversations sober! Numbing feeling only prolongs hurt and the myth that alcohol helps everything go down smoothly is just that. A myth.
When Emily finally does arrive in Paris, she drinks up the culture. Pun intended. She's immediately offered out for drinks by her estate agent who is showing her the apartment she's staying in. Her colleagues encourage smoking as a 'pleasure'. There are so many different vices offered to her, and it's clear Emily feels the need to concede, not because she genuinely has an interest in heavily drinking but because she's in a new high-pressure environment and wants to be liked by colleagues. Even Emily admits to a stranger on a park bench that she's incredibly lonely and wants to be liked. Unfortunately, this is the reason why a lot of people start drinking - the culture around us and pressure to keep up. 'Social-effect motives' ie drinking to fit in, to be liked, to be included, is pervasive across cultures. People see it modelled and start in groups. Even with all of the beauty around her, Emily feels profoundly disconnected and second-guesses herself, wondering if alcohol is the key to connecting with others. Spoiler: it's not. It never is.
The truth is that Emily's fighting against the current in a culture where they already perceive her as arrogant and ignorant. But it's all illuminated when a colleague admits to Emily that they are afraid of her - her ideas are 'new and exciting' and they are stuck in their old ways. Emily clashes with her boss despite reminding her that they are on the same side, on numerous occasions. This could easily be directly translated on to the alcohol industry and entertainment industry. There are so many new and exciting ways to be sober and alcohol-free that they can feel threatening to big industries that have been around for a while. Inevitably, they'll need to adapt - this is why we're seeing big alcohol release alcohol free products and pubs co-opt alcohol free days and events. Maybe at first, a social space for adults without alcohol sounds wild and unfeasible to some, but it should always be asked why that is the case... If as a society people are finding it difficult to socialise without copious amounts of booze, there is something that needs to be addressed.
It's clear that there is a big clash between staunch traditionalism and society she has been introduced too, but she does find reprieve and reaches out to others like her. It's interesting that the first person she actually has a meaningful relationship with, she meets in the park on a beautiful day. Away from drugs, alcohol and all those other distractions, they form a bond talking about life and love and loneliness. She meets another person outside a florist, and they strike up a meaningful conversation and connect. There's a distinct pattern. And again, the first big success Emily has at work is protesting against the system. They're little wins but powerful ones.
Emily In Paris presents an interesting case for making a system work when you're invested in it and changing it enough to adapt to your needs. There are so many things Emily appreciates about Paris, in the people, the culture, the city. But there are also aspects of her personality and integral bits of herself that she is deep down unwilling to change. This is a good thing! This confidence helps her, even when things are not going smoothly. So many people who are alcohol-free and sober run across this same problem - wanting to connect with people in profound, new and exciting ways but meeting a resistance when told alcohol is the best and only way it's done since it's the way it's always been done. And funnily enough, that's not true.
Aside from the underlying narrative, it's a quirky romantic comedy (which is hard to come across these days!). It was interesting to watch a culture shock that was accurate albeit slightly exaggerated for comedy sometimes.
Have you watched Emily In Paris? What are your thoughts?