We need to talk about Sharp Objects – and expectations

I’ve just finished the last episode of the eight-part Sharp Objects – a HBO show based on the book by Gillian Flynn. The main protagonist is Amy Adams’ Camille Preaker, a journalist who goes back to her hometown of Wind Gap to report on a missing girl.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gone Girl, Flynn’s last screen adaptation. I found it a bit too stylized without the substance to back it up. But Sharp Objects is something else. It deals with some pretty challenging topics and successfully uses a strong cast of actors to portray some unique relationships and carefully lays out the murder mystery puzzle pieces. Most importantly, it doesn’t fall into the traps or use the typical tropes of many other series in this genre.

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Amy Adams’ character is a woman with depth and complications. The more we learn about her, the more I didn’t understand why we’d ever want to return to her hometown of Wind Gap, but that’s besides the point. Through a series of flashbacks and back-story in-filling, we learn about why she left in the first place and the reasons behind the strained relationship she has with her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson.

Alongside these flashbacks, the main story driver is Camille meeting her much younger half sister Amma – the on-the-surface Stepford child who would seem to be the perfect candidate for a next abduction in this murder mystery.

The entire series does an excellent job of keeping the audience hooked without using obvious and tired cliffhangers at the end of each instalment. I didn’t want to immediately watch the next instalment – instead, I wanted a few days to process it. The series is certainly the best kind of a slow burn and invites the audience to really think about the themes at play throughout its eight episodes.

In doing so, the pained relationship between Camille and her mother made me think about expectations and how they drive so much of our lives. In Sharp Objects, the expectation on Camille to be a certain person drives her to self harm. This is an extreme version of what impact expectations have on us – but it’s something that’s very real.

Whether personally or professionally – in society, at home or on the street – expectations for how we should look or act are everywhere.

When I was around 12, I decided angst was for me. I started listening to Blink 182 and I happily still do. I began going to gigs at Brighton’s ‘cool’ music venues and I skated. I was at the age where we begin to make choices about who we are. It’s also when we usually begin to feel expectation creeping up behind us.

When you’re a kid – in the snotty-nosed, scraped-knees meaning of the word – expectations are there. But they’re not about things you have to make decisions about. In general, you’re expected to behave and go to school without too much fuss. But as soon as we start to explore who we want to be and put ourselves in a position to decide as much, there’s expectations of how we’re supposed to look and act. And that’s bullshit.

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Back when nobody understood me

Along with my teenage angst, I invested in a lip piercing, some stretchers for my earlobes and come my 18th birthday, a tattoo. It was only small and still holds meaning some ten-plus years on, but it started me off. I’ve now got a few tattoos and while I’m fully aware they’re not all actually that well done, each one means something and I wouldn’t not get them done again if I had the chance.

But the expectation of who you are changes when you have tattoos. I’ve certainly experienced clients, reporting managers and people in social situations react to my tattoos as if it’s something that changes who I am or how I’m able to think. And I don’t even have that many.

I am fully aware that some people don’t like tattoos and I tend to keep them covered up in professional situations for that very reason. But the insinuation that the decision to put some ink into my skin is somehow linked to my intelligence or my ability to do my job is frankly mental.

I want to point out that I am by no means trying to say that I’ve experienced any kind of serious repercussions as a result of having tattoos. But comments and scoffs – even someone acting as if they’ve found out something horrific about me – have at some point or another been commonplace.

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The last tattoo I got after a trip to California

And overall, I’m not all that different. Which just makes me think more about the pressure other people must experience from expectations when their cookies aren’t the same shape as everyone else’s. Expectations from employers, colleagues, even friends and family can have a detrimental effect.

Amy Adams’ character in Sharp Objects is an exploration of what can happen if we don’t live up to the expectations of our higher-ups. And that’s not cool. Anyone should be able to look, act and behave in any way that makes them happy.

I think what I’m trying to say is that in spite of whatever expectations we experience, just be happy in who you are. If you come up against someone who expects you to be a certain way and doesn’t give you a chance when you aren’t – screw them. These kinds of expectations come from an external source. If someone feels as though you should be a certain way and thinks less of you because you’re not – that’s not your problem.

Work with people who are like-minded. Socialise with people who understand it’s not how we look that defines who we are. Be bold in your decision to be who you want to be. If you can do that and be happy – that’s awesome.

Now – where’s the nearest tattoo shop to my new flat… It’s been far too long.

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