HAS AZIZ ANSARI CEMENTED HIS ROLE AS THE VOICE OF MILLENNIALS?
MASTER OF NONE
Craig Schwartz enters a small door hidden behind his office filing cabinet and finds himself in the mind of actor John Malkovich, in Charlie Kaufman‘s Being John Malkovich. Craig, played by John Cusak, is able to see and feel everything Malkovich does. I often think about this film. I most recently thought about it while watching Season 2 of Aziz Ansari‘s Master of None, which is out this month on Netflix. Is Aziz Ansari in my head?
For many years, I have seen Aziz Ansari around New York City. One time at Bowery Ball Room. Another time I saw him at The Four Horseman. I have seen him in various neighborhoods throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. I know I am not alone. Friends have told me they too have seen him around town. Following the first season of “Master of None,” it was not unusual to hear things like: “Let’s go to Dirty French because Aziz Ansari loves it.” Sure, Ansari is not actually heading to the 7 1/2 floor at LesterCorp and climbing into my head nor any of my friends’ heads, however, I ask, has Aziz Ansari become the voice of the millennial generation? Is he speaking for an entire generation?
// ON PRIORITIES
The first two episodes of Master of None takes us to Italy. Dev (Ansari) is learning how to be a pasta chef. He is also trying to escape his life back in New York and heal a broken heart. The first of the two, “The Thief” is an ode to Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri Di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). The story goes: Dev’s phone is stolen, while in the picturesque Modena, Italy. Dev just recently entered the number of a woman he met and wanted to date (the first since his recent breakup). The phone also had a photo Dev just took of his young friend Mario posing with a celebrity who happened to be outside the pasta shop that Mario’s grandmother owns and where Dev works. The two scour Modena tryng to find the thief.
In the Vittorio De Sica’s classic (and one of my favorite films) a poor man named Ricci has his bicycle stolen as he works plastering posters. Ricci needs his bike for his job. He needs to get paid and supply food for him and his son, Bruno. The duo sets out searching Rome for the bicycle thief. Dev and his young friend Mario are searching for a phone because they want a women’s phone number and the photo with a celebrity that’s saved on the phone. Dev and Mario are faced with a first-world problem. I cannot help but assume that Anzari and co-cretor Alan Yang did that on purpose to poke fun at the problems millennials and the youth generation prioritize.
Dev constantly finds himself struggling with what he should prioritized. One episode he goes on a “date” to Storm King Art Center — a sculpture park outside of New York City. There he questions why he hasn’t been there before. He questions why all he does is eat at restaurants instead of experiencing the world around him. In another episode, “Door #3” Dev is offered a job that forces him to evaluate his priorities.
// ON RELIGION
Speaking of priorities, I don’t think I have seen anyone touch how millennials view religion as brilliantly as Aziz Ansari. Season 2 Episode 3 is recommended to any parent who doesn’t understand their child’s relationship with religion and to any child who doesn’t understand their parents’ religious views.
The opening scene of “Religion” shows children of various faiths being dragged by their parents to places of worship. Dev is then having breakfast at a friend’s house where he tries bacon for the first time. When his mother calls, Dev tells her he is having bacon. His mother tells him that they don’t eat pork because they are Muslim. Dev hangs up the phone and takes another bite.
Throughout the episode we watch a grown up Dev go behind his parents back to eat pork. Dev even corrupts his cousin who along with his parents are in town to celebrate Ramadan. The two do the unthinkable. They skip daily prayer to attend a barbecue festival. The charade is up when Dev decides to order crispy pork during a family dinner. Dev’s mother becomes angry and refuses to talk to her son for a couple weeks.
Dev’s father heals the wounds by explaining to his son that it is okay for him to do what he wants but not to do it in front of his mother because it hurts her feelings. Dev texts his mother after reading a passage in the Koran, that she gave him, about not pressuring your religious belief on others. She responds to him: “at least you are reading it.” Dev smiles.
The episode ends with Dev’s parents heading to a mosque and Dev heading to a bar. Dev’s parents are seen hugging and laughing with their fellow congregants, as Dev is shown doing the same at a bar with his mutlicultral friends. Religion for Dev’s parents is where they go to be with their friends and to get a sense of community. Dev has been able to find that connection without the religious component. He can eat bacon at a bar with friends and feel the same sense of community as his parents do by abstaining from bacon. Both generations want that sense of community. They both need those relationships to be happy. Each generation is more like the other than either is willing to admit.
What Ansari and Yang accomplished in this episode is pure genius and quite beautiful. Throughout history older generations have had a tough time understanding younger generations. Likewise, younger generations have had trouble understanding their predecessors. It is not necessarily religious traditions that connect us all. Instead it is our love for one another and our yearning to be part of something outside ourselves. Dev in a sense created his own community and traditions by not being religious. Dev has turned his local bar with friends into his own “mosque” where he can be himself, connect with loved ones, and learn from one another (while being free to eat bacon).
// ON DATING AND RELATIONSHIPS
When Dev’s phone was stolen in episode 1, he lost his ability to call a woman he just met. Episode 4 titled “First Date” opens up with a series of women using a dating app on their phone deciding if they should swipe right when Dev’s face appears. Clearly Dev, like all 20 and 30-somethings depend on their phone to find love (or a one night stand).During “First Date” Dev goes on a series of first dates. Each date starts out at the bar at the Four Horseman. Then if it is going alright, they sit at a table. Should dinner go well enough, Dev and his date head to Westlight, the rooftop bar at the William Vale Hotel. Should that go well they head back to his or her place.
What is most fascinating about “First Date” is the macro-conversation about how different of an experience men and women have on these dating apps. Women are bombarded with sexual innuendos and dick pics. When they do not participate or don’t find the virtual harassment funny, they then get called derogatory names. I recently wrote about an episode from the first season which shows how different a walk home for a woman is to that of a man. Ansar or his co-creator Alan Yang are not women but clearly they are listening and trying to understand where women are coming from and they execute their research flawlessly.
Additionally, Dev gets into conversation with one woman, a black woman, about how difficult it is for her to date on these apps as a black woman. Likewise, Dev talks about some of his frustration being Indian on these dating apps. Although millennials are more diverse and accepting than older generations, dating apps may cause further segregation. Dating as a minority gets discussed when Dev is out on a date with Priya. They discuss Indian cliques – Indian people who only hang out with other Indian people. This is Ansari and Yang bringing up the discussion of the “Black table” or the “Asian table.”
Dating is difficult. Social media seems to have made it even more difficult. Navigating and judging someone through their social media pages may not be the best way to get to know someone. We may end up still sitting at our “own” tables and never fully come together.
// ON RACE
Race is brilliantly a theme in every episode of Master of None. If you miss the references then perhaps go back and try and find them. Or perhaps try and open up your mind to understand them. If you are that person who says “I don’t see race” or that “I love everybody” then you are kidding yourself and coming off as someone who either doesn’t understand where people are coming from or downright racist. Season 2 Episode 6 puts race as the main topic. It is also Ansari’s love letter to New York: “New York, I Love You.”
It is apropos that Ansari would choose to develop an episode addressing race and call it “New York, I Love You.” According to the 2010 Census New York City is 33% non-hispanic white, 25.5% Black, 28.6% Hispanic/Latino, 12.7% Asian, 4% two or more races.
“New York, I Love You” starts with Dev and his white friend Arnold and Black friend Denise (Lena Waithe) as they cross an Upper West Side street. The story transitions to Eddie, a latino doorman at a pre-war Upper West Side apartment building. Eddie is carrying groceries for an elderly white woman who says “I don’t understand this political correctness shit. Native Americans? Why aren’t they called Indians like they used to?’ She also asks Eddie to not eat mangoes behind the desk anymore. It turns out he was not the guy eating mangoes, but rather a black guy. As Eddie is working we see various tenants of different backgrounds entering and exiting the building. We also see Eddie interact with his fellow, multi-racial colleagues in the break room. Apparently, doorman have lives and opinions too.
The story transitions as one of Eddie’s colleague heads to the bodega to pick up some mangoes. Behind the counter a black deaf woman, Maya, rings up customers. While Master of None tells Maya’s story there is no sound and no score. We are seeing New York through Maya’s eyes. Once she is off her shift, she meets a fellow deaf woman, this time a young lady of Indian decent. They discuss relationships.
Maya then heads to Fishs Eddy where she meets up with her white love interest. They end up in a heated and risqué sign language conversation in the middle of the store. A woman than comes over to sign that they should stop talking about “vagina” in a store where everyone can see, including her young children. It so happens that the mother and her kids know sign language. The kids are running around the home goods store signing “vagina”. Who knew there were so many deaf people in New York?
The story transitions to two young white women in the back of a cab heading to shop or have brunch in SoHo. The young women are talking about the new Nicholas Cage film, Death Castle. Cage, supposedly plays a black guy. Upon hearing this, the black driver, Samuel calls his friend to complain about the young ladies in his car. Once Samuel’s shift is over, we see him get off the subway in Brooklyn and walks home through a diverse community. Samuel lives in a crowded apartment with three other guys. The foursome decide to go out to a club. Samuel and his friends end up waiting 2 hours outside of 1OAK only to get turned away by a black bouncer who told them they can’t come in without girls.
Samuel and crew eventually end up at Lucky’s Famous Burger on 23rd Street. They get introduced to a bunch of black women who are starving for some burgers and fries. Samuel and his friends help the ladies reopen the shop. They end up having a blast together. They created their own night club right there in the burger shop. Ironically a few of the ladies say they want to the Nicholas Cage film. The episode ends with every person in the “New York, I Love You” from Dev, Arnold and Denise to Eddie and Maya to Samuel and his friends all watching Nicholas Cage presumably in black face. Each of their expressions are priceless.
“New York, I love you” is not the only episode that focuses on race. The episode titled “Thanksgiving” where Dev spends Thanksgiving each year with Denise’s mom played by the awesome Angela Bassett takes a more direct and topical approach to race. One year they discuss O.J. Another year they discuss Sandra Bland. “Thanksgiving” is also about Denise, a black woman, coming out to her mom, and her mother slowly accepting her daughter’s lifestyle and girlfriend. One funny scene is when Denise’s black girlfriend discusses living in China. In China people confused her with Beyonce.
“New York, I Love you” is less direct and that may be the beauty of it. The episode is probably the most authentic love letter to New York City that has ever been depicted on film. It is also the most strikingly raw and real depiction of race in 2017. How people from different backgrounds interact or don’t interact with each other is the focal point of this episode. Furthermore, how people feel or don’t feel about race (whether they claim to see it or not) is the point of this very relatable episode.
Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang are not actually in my head. They aren’t climbing into it trying to understand how I see things or how I feel. Instead, Ansari and Yang have become the voice of a generation by just living and observing and being themselves. “Master of None” is unquestionably the most relatable show on television to millennials, whether they have seen it or not. They get the mindset right. The mannerisms are on point. The topics they discuss are the issues at the forefront of millennials’s minds. Their relationship with their parents, friends, potential love interest are spot on. It is no wonder it took them a couple years to craft this masterpiece after completing Season 1.
I have often thought about how cool it would be to hang with and be friends with Ansari or his character Dev. Then I realize I already am. There are so many elements of Ansari/Dev that I see in many of my friends and I hope they see the same in me.