“The Patriarchy Can F Itself” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate culture Gabfest the Patriarchy can F itself, Ed.. It’s Wednesday, July 14th. Twenty twenty one. On today’s show, Marvel’s Black Widow stars Scarlett Johansson in the title role. She’s the Lady Avenger who’s been given short shrift previously. And if she gets her full shrift here, it co-stars Florence Pugh as her Long-Lost sister. It’s from Disney and Marvel, of course. And then Annie Murphy, the beloved co-star of Schitt’s Creek, returns with the dark meta sitcom Kevin Can F Himself. It’s on AMC. And finally, the most viral short story of all time was cat person. And it’s going viral all over again. We discuss a recent Slate essay by Alexis Nowicki, the woman whose life experience is the short story appears to have been based upon. Joining me today is Allegra Frank senior editor at Slate Dotcom.

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S2: Hey, yes, I am the senior citizen editor at Slate, this famously young person website.

S1: If you’re a senior citizen, it’s late. What the fuck am I? I’m zester

S2: great. Great, great grandpa Slate.

S1: I open the door and you walked right through it. Thank you. And her first full episode gig for the culture Gabfest. We have Heather Schwedel, the staff writer for Slate. Hey, Heather, welcome.

S3: Hi. Thank you for having me.

S1: All right, Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, is the Dead Avenger. No spoiler alert necessary here. This is one of the dramatic climaxes of The Avengers trilogy. We now get her back story and she gets her rightful place at the center of her own movie. So let’s start at the beginning. Sisters Natasha and Yeelanna began their lives as Russian agents and deep cover in Ohio. They believed they were part of a perfectly normal American family. When their cover got blown, they were instantly exfiltrate it and ended up in Cuba. This bogus family was completely torn apart. And as we of course, all know is fans of The Avengers, Natasha became a super assassin and finally an adventure. OK, it’s a plot, I have to admit I can’t fully follow. And it fits in with in a vast mythological time line that I can’t bring myself to master or care about. That said, at the core of this movie is a kind of intimacy and a feminist parable. And an interesting question, which is, was this original family really bogus? Does it have some emotional reality? How did it shape the lives of these women who grew up to be Florence Pugh and Scarlett Johansson? The movie is directed by Cate Shortland, who initially turned down the job, but Scalzo talked her into it because she loved her indie movie Lure. All right. And what we’re about to hear, the two sisters are finally reunited. They fight with one another physically, but then spar verbally.

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S4: Why do you always do that thing to what the thing you do when you’re fighting the like the last thing you do and you want to help when you’re fighting with the arm and the hair? I mean, do like a fighting force and it’s a fighting those little closer and closer. Oh, come on. I mean, they’re great poses, but it does look like you think everyone’s looking at you like all the time. All that time that I spent posing, I was trying to actually do something good to make up for all the pain and suffering that we caused, trying to be more than just a trained killer. Well, then you were fooling yourself because pain and suffering is every day, and we are both still a trained killer. Except I’m not the one that’s on the cover of a magazine. I’m not the killer the little girls call their hero.

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S1: Allegra, let me start with you. It seems that this is the attempt of the Marvel Universe to correct for its past. Sexism plays this character that somewhat unceremoniously sacrificed and in The Avengers trilogy and place are at the center of her own film. What would you make of all this?

S2: It’s both interesting and a little bit sad in that Black Widow has been part of the MCU since Iron Man two many years ago. I mean, I think a decade right. And quickly became a popular character. But unlike every other avenger other than the Hulk, she never really got or Hawkeye, whatever, she didn’t get her, you know, her do her solo film. And it’s kind of disappointing that it took until after her death to actually grant her that, especially when there was a clear opportunity to give her, you know, the first female led superhero Marvel film, which Captain Marvel ended up usurping that title from her. So to combine that with the fact that, like, of course, you know, there were things out of Disney’s control with the pandemic, but she had a sort of softer seeming launch than other Marvel heroes receive because of the dual premiere in theaters and on Disney. Plus, it just feels like, you know, this could have been such a huge blockbuster and more relevant piece had it been released several years back. But at the same time, this movie has done quite well for itself. I mean, obviously, Disney lucked out in that we’re finally in a much safer place here in the States where we can go to the movies. And it apparently performed very well on Disney Plus. And it is the most successful movie to come out since before the pandemic already, which is pretty, pretty impressive. But yeah, I mean, I’m I’m curious all of your thoughts in terms of the timing of this release, because it does feel a little strange that the star here is a dead character.

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S1: Heather, what do you make of that?

S3: It’s funny. I am, I think, much less familiar with the MCU than Allegra. So I was asking her before I watched this movie yesterday, OK, you know, why do I need to know? Should I go in college? I read up on it and she was like, I think you’re OK going in cold. You know, she’s dead, right? And I was like, oh, no, no, I didn’t know.

S2: And so I was like, OK, well, she’s dead.

S4: So I have some pretty vague

S3: I’m very glad you told me that. And I did read up more because I just decided, you know, I do not know enough about this going in. And yes, it’s very strange that she’s dead and that they went back and made a movie about her. Now, in the you know, this movie is set, I guess, five years ago between the events of some other MCU movies. And I think that also affects the stakes of the movie in that, you know, I I knew the character was dead now. And also I sort of felt like this movie is just she’s kind of. Waiting for the events of another movie to start, it felt so like inconsequential and I Black Widow, you know, she’s someone I had seen in at least one Avengers movie, but I find her kind of boring. Maybe that’s just in comparison to Florence Pugh, who I think steals the show a little bit. But Florence Pugh is funny and sassy and and black widows just seem sort of humorless that her only joke in the movie was, I think about saying Budapest correctly.

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S4: Budapest. Yeah, Budapest. No, it’s Budapest. You passed. Budapest.

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S3: That wasn’t funny.

S1: I mean, I you know, it’s funny, I come in, Heather, slightly more versed in the Marvel lore maybe than you were, but also immune to its charms. Half an hour into this movie, I was just turned off by it. I think for all the reasons you’ve enumerated that,

S2: my God, you God, please, please keep going. But I’m not always upset.

S1: What kept me curious is that you are that that there was a degree of difficulty there. And I wanted to see how this, you know, very gifted director was going to handle it, which is how do you tell a parable about feminist agency within a movie franchise, a hyper commercial movie franchise devoted to killing people and blowing shit up? Right. And I actually think she began to pull it off about a half an hour into the movie when the when the ersatz American actually Russian deep cover family gets reunited. And suddenly you do have an emotional core at the center of the movie. And the movie becomes about something, which is what’s the relationship between these very, very damaged, like primally damaged sisters who nonetheless have retained, you know, some kind of a high IQ bearing towards the world and their obligation, you know, to. Triumph, the superheroes effectively vis a vis these two fake parents and are these parents fake parents or real parents? And actually I thought that was really integrated, well integrated. That emotional truth of that weird situation got integrated pretty intelligently into a movie that has to be has to be by the demands of the form, you know, devoted to violence and explosions. So at the end of the day, I kind of ended up admiring and enjoying this. But I the point is absolutely well taken that for how underwritten and for how much of an afterthought a role played by the magnificent Scarlett Johansson could be. Florence PUE kind of steals the movie. She has a tendency to steal every movie she’s in. She’s got Allegra the most bewitching combination of a radiantly beautiful traditional by traditional standards of radiantly beautiful movie stars face and a perma frown. Right. She’s such a curious figure. And that’s perfect because one of the interesting facts of the separation of these two sisters is one became very American and has an essential optimism at her core and one became very Russian and has an essential cynicism at her core. And that’s how these two are playing off of one another in some sense as they rediscover one another. And it’s also a lot of this movie worked for me.

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S2: OK, you saved yourself. I just like I’m not like a marvel, Stan, or anything to like to be clear. But I just so enjoyed this movie. I mean, I think a large part of it is what you were just saying about Florence Pugh, who I completely agree. Like, I have been obsessed with her since, you know, midsummer, which I think she was the only good part of that movie, and little women, which she was the best part of that great movie. So I totally agree. Like, she steals the show. And I think that actually helps affirm the existence of this movie a bit more for me, because as we are saying, like it does, the timing is so strange that this is set five years ago and Black Widow has, you know, been a dead character for two years now in terms of, you know, and game came out in twenty nineteen. So as sort of more of an origin story for Yelena, who, you know, Florence Peus character, Black Widow, Sister Natasha, sister it that’s part of what really affirmed this movie’s existence for me and made me love it so much that she gets so much of the spotlight as opposed to it just being like very slowly. Natasha Romanoff’s film, which does feel a little bit like an increase to service to this great character who never really got her solo do. But at the same time, like Florence View is so magnetic and fun and, you know, just really creates such a whole character here that it ends up being really great. Like, I just enjoyed every scene she was in so much. This ended up being one of my favorite Marvel movies easily, you know.

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S1: And the other great thing Florence Pugh in this movie gets to do in addition to like, you know, kickboxing and, you know, wearing cool outfits. And actually, she does have some of the funnier lines. Like she’s a much more interesting, interestingly written character than Black Widow is. She also casts skepticism on the franchise in an interesting way. She keeps with her Russian cynicism. She keeps saying to Natasha, you keep telling me how The Avengers are your real family, the family that you made, as opposed to the one you were saddled with by fate and biology. And she’s like kind of calling bullshit on that over and over and over again. I mean, I have a question for for for both of you guys, really, which is the movie is an attempt to justify violence as entertainment within a feminist context and avowedly feminist context. Did that did that work for you or did that feel like a gigantic multinational entertainment entertainment conglomerate having its cake and eating it, too?

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S3: Yeah, I’m not someone who loves violence onscreen. I think, you know, that’s one of my main issues with superhero movies. I really don’t need to watch Florence Pugh and Scarlett Johansson fight with each other violently. I would I would rather see them do almost anything else.

S2: I crave the violence. Others. Yeah. I mean, totally don’t understand me.

S3: You know, this is such a cliche, snob thing to say. But these movies, you know, you have such great casts. Dave David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are in this. William Hurt is in this, which is crazy. And everyone just seems wasted in a way like they they could be. I would I. I want to watch them be superheroes that I did like the the family part at its core, as Steve mentioned. So thinking about the violence, I mean, you know, it it did annoy me. The the idea of the self seriousness that Steve mentioned that, you know, with their crusaders for what is right and true. And I liked that Florence Pugh punctured some of the Marvel universe, his way of being so impressed with itself and all the great stuff it’s doing.

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S1: I have to say, I did love David Harper in this movie. I thought that was a well-written character. Very funny. Yeah. Played and and also Allegra kind of has a the aura of communist era nostalgia to him. I mean, he he was sold a bill of goods by the Soviets, you know, but but he remembers what it was like to be something of a true believer and to have fought for something that he thought he believed in. And so there’s this marvelous kind of combination of disillusionment and moral innocence to him, finally, that it really worked. And he’s just plain funny, right? Like kind of kind of has this maudlin nostalgia for the fake family. And you can’t tell whether that’s purely manipulative at points or sort of pathetically sincere. I am a simple man,

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S4: and I think that for a couple of deep undercover

S1: Russian agents, I

S4: think we did pretty great as parents. Yes, we

S1: had. And the shit they give him as the father of two daughters who give me unless there was something like really affectionately reminiscent of of real life to that

S2: definitely a I mean, it’s definitely a girl power movie, but also a girl dad movie.

S1: That’s why it’s suckered me in the end. Yeah. Put your finger on it. All right. Well, it’s Black Widow. It’s it’s the first really true wide release post pandemic blockbuster. It seems to be doing Bitcoin, both streaming and in the theaters. Maybe check it out. If you do, let us know why we’re wrong. OK, moving on. OK, well, before we go any further, this is typically in the podcast where Dana discusses business, but because she’s off doing God knows what, I’ll I’ll do it instead. Our first item of business today, and this is a critical one, is to remind listeners about Summer is one of my favorite episodes of the show every year concocted by Julia Turner out of her magnificent robot imagination. The idea is that you know what’s making you Strutt? What song you listening to this summer doesn’t have to be new, can be old, can be intermediate somewhere in between. But but what’s making you during this summer months. So send us an email suggestion. We love it. We compile a huge list. We all listen to the list. We live with the list for a week or more, and then we call from it and discuss typically with Chris Motlanthe. Anyway, so send us send us an email with a song that’s making you Strutt this summer. You can send that email to us at Culture Fest at Slate Dotcom. That’s culturist at Slate. Com. All right. Our next item of business is to tell you about our plus segment today. A listener named Kelly wrote in to ask us if there were any, quote unquote, rabbit holes. We fell down during the pandemic. You know, a preoccupation you never in a million years would have thought possible. But the pandemic somehow, the isolation, the claustrophobia, the uncertainty of it, suddenly sent you down this rabbit hole. What was it Kelly admitted to getting really into the Korean boy band beats. So, you know, we’re going to come up with our equivalent of beats. Mine, coincidentally, is beats. But I’ll find another one and discuss if you’re a slate plus member. And there’s a topical question you want us to discuss in a future Slate plus segment, please send us an email, just as Kelly did to Culture Fest at Slate Dotcom. That email address yet again is Culture Fest, Slate dot com. We love to hear from you. If you are not a slate plus member, let me hear Proselytized. We’d love it if you could sign up and support us at Slate Dotcom Culture. Plus, it’s only one dollar for your first month and for that dollar you’ll get ad free podcasts and tons of bonus content like our exclusive Slate plus segment appended to this episode. You’ll also get to hear members only programming on other slate shows like Slow Burn, where the political Gabfest political. I’ve no idea what this thing, the political Gabfest is, but, you know, they tell me it exists and members get unlimited access to all the great writing at Slate Dotcom. So do us a favor. Sign up today at Slate Dotcom Culture plus again, that slate dotcom culture plus. OK, back to the program. OK, well, it’s weird and by weird, I mean, I suppose incredibly, incredibly sad when you think about it. How much of the sitcom The History of the sitcom has involved semi infantile men married to women who are either paragons of virtue like Edith Bunker and all of the family, Marge Simpson in The Simpsons or absurdly beautiful, I’m thinking now going all the way back to Mary Tyler Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show or Suzanne Pleshette on The Bob Newhart Show, and then up through the Kevin James sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond. It just gets played out over and over again. They tend to be one or both, right? Virtuous or beautiful or both. But now exploring the preposterous gap between this absurd premise and lived reality comes the new AMC sitcom. Kevin can f himself fuck himself. It stars Annie Murphy of Schitt’s Creek on that show. She was incredible. She was. It was it was it was just the classic example of a super intelligent actress playing a spoiled airhead. I mean, she really made it archetypal all over again. And then over the course of the show, revealed Alexis’s, her character, Alexis’s hidden reserves of shrewd shrewdness, her capacity for tenderness and wellbeing. It was just it really was a wonderful performance. It was only a matter of time before Annie Murphy got her own show. Here it is. She plays the sitcom Wife, though, with a huge and very dark twist here. She’s the wife and a throwback sitcom. And when we’re in that portion of the show, it’s filmed in bright Technicolor. It’s multicam, a simple set, a braying laugh track. But as soon as her titanic infantile husband leaves the room and the story focuses on her, the color palette drains off completely. And we see this real person. What would a real person be like if they were forced to live out such a synthetic, bizarre, synthetic reality? And she is, as you might expect, a neglected, abused woman who’s on the verge. What you’re about to hear is so reminiscent of that 70s Show or Roseanne, you might mistake it for an actual sitcom, but it’s actually meta. But this comes from the sitcom portion of the show.

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S4: Kevin, when I bought you those Curt Schilling co-stars, you promised you’d use them coffee tables from Pottery Barn. Pottery Barn from Goodwill is just goodwill. It’s like getting a lobster from McDonald’s. It’s the nicest thing we have in this house. I think you’re forgetting about my Wade Boggs rookie card. No, I’m not. They’ve been here for 10 years now.

S3: What do you think it’s time we take some of the

S4: money we saved and invest in our future? Wade Boggs only appreciates I never get that feeling that maybe change wouldn’t you know, look at the time. It really should get really should get going. Can’t we switch places for the day? How that work? Well, you can wear a fat suit and install cable and I can work at the happiest place on earth. It’s a liquor store. I know what I said.

S1: All right. We’re going to do something slightly different, going to listen to two clips, because the tonal difference when she snaps out of sitcom Dreamland is so extreme. I think the listener will need to get a taste of that to understand the show. So this will just be a very short clip in which she fantasizes about stabbing her infantile husband with a broken beer glass. Now, it’s quite the different soundscape, Heather, this show is built around this quite jarring contrast, and it’s getting at something very real about toxicity and the relationships between men and women. Did it work for you as a TV show?

S4: Hmm.

S3: However, I know I’m worried I’m going to be the hater of this episode or whoever. Yeah. So I like the concept of the show, but I just I think I found it kind of gimmicky. They do do a good job of recreating that. This sort of like Kevin James sitcom type of show in the sitcom portions of it. But but they almost do it too well or it seems like they’re just recreating it without any sort of level of commentary or anything where it’s extra pointed that you I feel like you could just cut all the sitcom scenes out, make your own show of them and, you know, play them on on any TV channel in syndication. I guess I was just I didn’t feel like they were doing enough with that idea. And then this idea that the whole show’s conceit that, you know, oh, women, women are neglected. These sitcom wives, they actually have interiority that seems kind of, you know, obvious or not very of the moment or, you know, we knew that 10, 15, 20 years ago, that it doesn’t I don’t understand. They’re not doing anything particularly new with it. They’re saying, oh, she has this rich in her life. And she actually seems sort of I mean, you know, I’ve only watched the first four episodes. The show is still getting its sea legs, but she seems sort of like vague and muddled, like I don’t really know what’s going on with her other than that. She’s sort of this this suffering wife. But I. I wanted there to be more.

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S1: Yeah. I mean, Allegra, as we’ve covered on this show before, ad nauseum, I’m old, really old. So I’m an I remember sitcoms like this and I remember watching them. I mean innocently is almost exactly the wrong word. But but but stupidly. Naively and and over time, though, this dynamic became really clear. It seems like an anachronism from an almost deep past at this point is there’s something. Relevant in a contemporary sense here that makes this urgent to you,

S2: I would say it feels old, but maybe not as old as going back to, like you said, Mary Tyler Moore, like thinking honeymooners. You know, those shows about those two hander couple shows this definitely it’s supposed to be a pastiche of, you know, that literally that show Kevin in heaven can wait with them. Kevin James or King of Queens, all those kinds of late 90s, early 2000s shows about like man, child, husband and beleaguered wife. And this show parodies that so well that it doesn’t even feel like a parody. I mean, I don’t

S3: even know exactly

S2: right. Yeah. Like, I don’t even think it’s a like trying to parody it so much as it’s trying to, like, really like hammer home that contrast. And it’s that’s what makes the show feel both really dated and really annoying to me because of how well done the sitcom parts are. And as has Heather said, like it, it really does feel like a gimmick versus and then the drama parts. I’m seeing a lot of comparisons to people like, you know, Skyler White from Breaking Bad, who was sort of this maligned character by the fans. But she was this put upon wife who kind of broke bad herself. And that discourse and trope itself also feels tired, like not as old, of course, but like Breaking Bad ended several years ago now. So even that, you know, character type is not too interesting anymore. So when the two are matched up together, I’m just like, OK, there is no sense of urgency to me, even though I really do love the concept. And I’m always here for, like, a woman trying to get her do or take down a man who’s just truly horrible. But increasingly, I am getting frustrated by how well done those sitcom parts are to the point of just being exhausting and awful.

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S1: Yeah, I so I’m I I’m inclined to agree with you guys, but I will say this, that for the foreseeable future. But then Levy and Annie Murphy can do no wrong. And, you know, it would take so much to use up the goodwill that I have towards both of them left over from Schitt’s Creek. And that’s like a it’s it’s not a baseless affection. Right. She is her as Alexis was. It was such a precise, carefully observed controlled performance of a person who superficially at least has none of the virtues that the actors playing her exhibits and playing her right. It was it was just she’s oblivious to other people in the inner lives of other people. She thinks instrumentally and selfishly as a character, whereas the actress is just so closely observing her, so closely observed human behavior in order to make that a precise rendering. And I think she’s doing a lot of the same here. I mean, she’s playing this beleaguered Boston area sitcom Wife, who’s uni dimensional in the in the Technicolor universe, but signaling to you rather subtly that she’s not, you know, dimensional so that when you make this, you know, crazy twilight zone leap into the world of prestige, TV drama and emotional supposed emotional reality. You know, you do see her as I see her as the same person. And that performance shows this whole other side to her as a dramatic actress because that her life. When rendered in these naturalistic terms is really miserable. This is this is a portrait, I mean, is a portrait of deep, deep domestic imprisonment and personal unhappiness. And I just think she’s at moments she’s so transcendently better than the writing. But that performance carries it for me and it makes me want to see how that plays out. I totally agree that flashing back to this anachronistic sitcom world, that I think everyone in sort of the age of the Internet and certainly post me to understands is just this preposterous artifact of our recent pop cultural past is is it’s tough. I mean, almost in a weird way, Heather, I think would have made the show work better, oddly enough, is making the sitcom parts funnier so that you actually enjoy watching the sitcom and hate yourself for enjoying a sitcom, you know, and and that way they wouldn’t feel like a didactic point being made over and over and over again.

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S3: I was thinking maybe what they needed to do is make it more Doddy in a way where it starts out. But then, you know, over the few episodes like that, that sort of seems in that world start to show and like weird stuff starts happening or like there you just see that more lurking there. It just it doesn’t just stay this sort of like consistent cookie cutter sitcom. But I definitely agree that there was some element missing from that part of the show.

S2: I think another thing like this is going to Steve’s point about how magnetic and great Annie Murphy generally is. I only really care about her and her life and what’s going on with her. And I think that’s like what we’re supposed to do. But I’m thinking of it was episode four. I believe that just was like when I was kind of hitting a breaking point because it was going back and forth of like, OK, you know, Alison, Annie Murphy’s character was not even near Kevin. She was on a road trip. It was this drama and that was far more interesting. So she and Kevin were not even in the same space, but they would continue to go back to what Kevin was doing. So we’re not even getting the side of like, OK, this is her day to day. This is what she has to put up with. And so this is informing our knowledge of this character. It literally was just like Kevin doing some dumb crap and literally just felt like, oh, my God, I am in Kevin’s show. I increasingly hate Kevin. Like, I don’t want to spend any time with just Kevin on his own. This is only valuable to me when it’s like the contrast with Alison’s inner life.

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S3: Yes, you do have to admit that there Kevin is perfect.

S2: Oh, he’s so good. He’s so good in that role.

S3: Yeah. The actor’s name is Eric Peterson. His his face is just cartoonish. And he. Yeah. I mean, he really he should get one of these CBS shows and he’s out of this one because that might be the best use of his talent.

S2: Oh my God. He deserves it now. A real a real Kevin. But I do want to say I feel like we are sounding well. I don’t I don’t want to speak for you, Heather, but I feel like I’m sounding far more negative about the show than I actually feel like I am. Like I have to say, I think it goes back to the Annie Murphy thing, like I enjoy her presence enough that I’m still, like, going through this show and finding myself wanting to watch the next episode, like immediately, even if I don’t think it’s doing anything particularly novel, like it goes back to. I actually don’t like Schitt’s Creek very much, but I’m sorry you didn’t like Black Widow, so I don’t get to like Craig. It’s just how it is.

S1: I’m sorry. Oh, my God. Futch the defibrillator. I’m going I’m gonna

S2: kill each other today. It’s fine. We will have to reset Gabfest look forward to new culture Gabfest next. But I didn’t really like Schitt’s Creek except for Annie Murphy. And as you mentioned, Dan Levy. I thought Annie Murphy as Alexis was fantastic. Like she was the only reason I was watching that show. I kind of was like zoning out in everyone else’s scenes, basically as I watch that show. So I am just like I’m happy to see her in another mode, even though her Worcester accent is just I I’m

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S3: just going to bring up the accent. What do you guys think, Julia Turner? We’re here to get the Boston perspective.

S2: It’s a really bad accent, and I forgive her a little bit because she’s Canadian. So, you know, she’s not from here. But I don’t know what anyone else is. Excuses. It is very bad.

S1: All right. Well, let’s end on a positive note, though. I’m Allegra. I’m with you. I, I, I there are things about the show that I wish were different. It frustrates me. That exasperates me. But for Annie Murphy and for for. For some of the genuinely dark heart that this thing is showing, I’m hooked. All right. Well, Kevin can f himself or fuck himself. It’s on AMC. And I think this segment may generate a lot of opinions. So hurl them at us or you address. All right. Let’s move on. In twenty seventeen, the short story cat person appeared in The New Yorker magazine and thus an unknown writer named Kristen Ruthenian joined the tradition of J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Alice Monroe. But her story did something there’s never did. It went viral. It went really viral. And everyone I knew read it. We talked about it on this podcast. You pretty much had to read it. You had to have an opinion about it. You had to hash it out with the people you knew online and off. The story itself told the story of a young woman, a college sophomore who has a romantic relationship with an older man. He’s a kind of a slob, I think, sort of a know it all, the kind of a loser, but something intriguing about him. She’s both attracted and repelled to his charms. They have sex. The sex is bad. There’s a long description of that. She then goes to him. And then over the course of texts, increasingly the veneer comes off of her paramour and his rage and misogyny surface right at the end of the story. A curious fact about cat person was unknown until just now. This past week, many of its core details were taken from an actual person’s actual life. Joining us now is Alexis Nowicki. Welcome to the Gabfest.

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S5: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

S1: Congratulations on your essay. It’s it’s really wonderful. Let me quote from a little bit. The similarities to my own life were eerie. The protagonist was a girl from my small hometown who lived in the dorms at my college and worked at the art house theater where I’d worked and dated a man in his 30s as I had. You go on to say that you recognize the man in the story, too. We’ll get to that. But you ask, how did Rapini and a person I never met somehow know about me? That must have been a very strange experience. And for quite a long time you actually didn’t know the answer to that question. You lived with the omnipresent vitality of the story with with an overwhelming but at the end unconfirmed suspicion that it was partially about you. What was that like? And then how did that finally come to an end when you realized it really was

S5: I mean, at first it was sort of just wild. And there was a phase of my life where I was sort of as like a fun fact, just telling people, oh, this story is about me. But I didn’t have evidence. So I, I kind of just convinced myself that it wasn’t I convinced myself that, like, yeah, it was a crazy coincidence, like, but I, I think in order to make myself feel OK and not totally creeped out, I, I convinced myself that it was just that a coincidence. And it wasn’t until my ex, who I call Charles in the piece, died that I found out that it actually was about me and had to process it in a real way. But I had been avoiding it really until then.

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S1: Right. And you could I mean, not to be glib about it at all, but you could see the confirmation that it was about you as a form of vindication. Right. You had a suspicion that if it were untrue, would be merely paranoid. It wasn’t paranoid at all. It was rooted, in fact. But it was also it also brought your alienation into a new phase in some sense. I mean, things that had really happened to you had been in some sense repurposed. And what was that like?

S5: My first instinct was actually to reach out to Kristen Rapini herself, but I realized that I was too angry at the time and I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t going to have a good result. And I talked to an old writing teacher, coincidentally, and she suggested I try writing about it, which I also my mom also said the same thing. And then my mom said it. I, I kind of just brushed it off because I don’t know, it was just my mom and she doesn’t like she’s not in the writing world. She doesn’t understand or something like that. But as soon as a writing teacher said I should do it, I, I did. And it ended up being kind of I think the best thing I could have done in terms of empowering myself to reclaim the narrative. But I also felt that the reason that I wrote it initially was it was more that I felt so scared and this was kind of the first death I’ve experienced. So maybe this is something that happens every time someone dies. But I felt so scared of losing the memories that I had of not since I was suddenly the only person who had them. I was so scared of forgetting them and also of remembering instead what Kristen wrote and cat person. And so I just felt that I needed urgently to make a record of everything that happened in my relationship. And then once I had written it, I thought, oh, this is actually something that might be of interest to others.

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S1: Just fine for our listeners, what the urgency might be. Your experience, what was there was something doubly odd about reading a short story that quite clearly seemed to have lifted details from your own own life with surprisingly little revision, but then with one mammoth revision, which it it it it you know, it was a work of fiction. So it’s not quite right to say mischaracterize the actual relationship, but it didn’t accurately represent the man that you knew and had a relationship with. So in some sense, I imagine correcting that record was also important in some sense.

S5: Absolutely. I mean, part of what I think I was trying to do was like to restore the the reputation of this person who had been misrepresented.

S2: So something that was really interesting to me about I mean, your story beyond literally every part of it was that just like the original short story, it immediately engendered, you know, immediately set off a ton of conversation. Like this was something I was sharing with friends who had read the story, friends who hadn’t read the story. It was just something that everyone sort of had interest in or an opinion on. And I wonder, like what that experience was like as well, you know, it being put out into the world and watching as people responded in real time to the reality of your situation, your life.

S5: Yeah, I had not gone viral before, which is a strange experience. It felt like too overwhelming all that was happening to really process it. And then the next day I was sort of like, oh, wait, like where did all the attention go? But I mean, the main thing is, like, a lot of people were sending me tweets from especially fiction writers who felt that they were I mean, maybe maybe threatened by it or or felt that I was saying that you can’t take anything from real life when you’re writing fiction, which, of course, is not true. And I don’t think I was saying that. And I I didn’t pay a lot of attention or care very much about those tweets. And I also felt like the overwhelming response that I did pay more attention to was that people really understood that what I was actually writing about was just this crazy thing that happened to me and how it’s actually a pretty complicated situation. And there’s no there’s no real right and wrong that I’m asserting here. I guess I’m just kind of writing about a nuanced situation. And I was really pleased to see that people got that and that people understood that it was more complicated than just this person did something wrong or or more complicated than taking sides. But of course, because of Twitter, people want to take sides. And that happened in the in the discourse.

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S3: I found it interesting how I think some some people also seem sort of gleeful to discredit Rapini and and sort of use this as some sort of evidence like, oh, she’s a bad writer. She she steals things, you know? And I my reaction to that was I sort of wanted to defend the story still. You know, I she has admitted that what she did was wrong. But, you know, there’s still so much that I appreciate about the story. And I, I, I was wondering, you know, how do you think of the story today? Are you able to separate yourself from it?

S5: I understand why it had the reaction that it did, the reception that it did. I understand why people loved it at the time. Unfortunately, I think I’m never going to be able to separate myself from it. And I don’t think I was able to read it at the time, even with any sort of distance, because it was just such a different experience for me, reading it and recognizing myself in it. So I don’t think that I’ll be able to have distance from it. But I do wonder, like if if she had just changed a few key details and if I wouldn’t have been so recognizable in the piece and if my ex hadn’t, I wonder what reaction I would have had to it. I probably would have some appreciation for it, and I guess I do have some appreciation for it in the conversations that started. I just certainly cannot separate myself from it, really.

S2: There’s a timeline I’m thinking of now where it’s like I mean, obviously we discussed and your pieces about sort of auto fiction and authorship. And, you know, these are my very explicit personal details that even though the names are changed and as you said, the pivotal scenes are not taken directly from your life like I do wonder about. What it would be like if there was a version of the story that was still inspired by you, but without that same specificity,

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S5: I think about all the fiction a lot. I mean, I work in book publishing and my maybe this isn’t answering your question, but in my job as a publicist, I’m constantly thinking about, like, how I need to get readers to see an author as credible and with fictional story is often how I go about doing that is by saying the author is from a similar background or has had a similar experience to the narrator that they write about. And I don’t know. I feel like there’s no. In my opinion, no black and white and no clear answer on what is an OK amount to borrow from someone’s life. I think that the least you can do is change recognizable details, but I honestly have I have not thought so much about what my reaction would be to that person if I hadn’t seen myself in it.

S1: You know, we’re we’re we’re living through a kind of funny moment where there’s some weird premium in Hollywood on basing movies on true stories and insisting on that truth, even though a cursory fact check reveals, you know, it’s just been reworked beyond almost beyond recognition. But there’s some there’s some value to that for some audience members somehow believing that they’re getting a history lesson as well. And then similarly, you can count on most fiction being I mean, for all of human history, fiction has been a of fiction to some degree. Right. It’s drawn upon real experience. But there’s there’s, you know, in the age of Toronto and Kansas Guard just to name two of the Giants. But but, you know, on down the line, there’s obviously certain kind of recognizable porousness between Real-Life and supposedly fictionalized details in a way that what made this story so. Unique in some sense, is that this was a very small canvas, short story by an unknown writer that achieved unprecedented vitality. I mean, it’s been called the first short story to ever go viral in this way. It’s not you know, short fiction does not go viral until that person. And that must have shocked its author that that happened. And I wonder if it I don’t want you to speculate, but I just wonder if it dismayed her as well. I mean, this it was probably. A story she anticipated would be read by a few hundred people when she wrote it right, there was, you know, the sense of awesome responsibility came after the fact, I would imagine, of it going viral. And so it’s just a bizarre quirk of fate in the age of the Internet that the two of you got Cleo elevated and she was suddenly faced with the responsibility of having done that, of not having sufficiently fictionalized it. And you were faced with this weird existential vertigo of watching things that had happened so exclusively to your own interior. Right. Like so exclusive to your own personal experience, suddenly become part of the like not just common but nearly universal conversation among our peers. So it’s just reality plays a huge part in in whatever the ethics may or may not be of the story in some sense.

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S5: Yeah, absolutely, I. And that’s part of why it’s so complicated and why I don’t explicitly say she did something wrong, because I, I don’t think she knew there was no way she knew it would go viral. I think there was no way she knew that The New Yorker would publish it, like when she submitted it. She was she had not published writing before. And she also had no way of knowing that. I I don’t think I mean, I know she kind of stuck me on social media, so maybe she did. But like, no way of knowing that I would end up working in book publishing and be someone who would definitely be participating in the conversation people were having around cat person like I very well could have, you know, gone a different direction with my life. So I think there was sort of a convergence of of things that, of course, she wasn’t prepared for, which is interesting because it brings up the question of intention. And I don’t think that she meant to hurt anyone.

S3: You know, it’s just really interesting that we had the whole Internet talking about a short story, not only once, but twice and sort of talking about these questions of fiction. And when I heard that Slate had this piece in the works, I was personally excited about it because it’s up my alley. But I was surprised it kind of lit up the whole Internet. So I guess I mean, for all of us, that’s kind of a cool thing, right, that we were all talking about fiction and and ownership of stories and all of that.

S5: Yeah, I was honestly shocked. There was a part of me that did not think anyone would care about this, especially now. But but I guess people still care about cat person.

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S2: I guess in late June, I remember seeing news about casting for the cat person movie, which that was like the first time I had thought about the story in quite some time. And then I was somewhat amused to see that like, oh no, actually we are I guess we’re sort of in a cat person cycle again, like, you know, your story came out a few weeks later. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the fact that guess there is a movie in the works based on the story itself, because I’ve seen some people say, well, actually, if there’s a movie to be made, it seems like it’s Alexis’s story more than the original.

S5: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve seen some good tweets about like doing something sort of adaptation style. Yeah. Which I get in theory. I honestly, I’m having trouble seeing how my essay could be a movie. Maybe I’m being a bit close minded and I also don’t know that I want to see us in a movie. I honestly I don’t think I will watch the one that is slated to come out. I wonder if it will be changed in some way. Maybe I’m overestimating the power of my essay. But yeah, I mean, the timing of the movie being announced was a huge coincidence. Yeah. And I guess probably maybe good for for my essay in terms of publicity, but yeah. Wild.

S1: All right. Well, I think wild is a good note to end on. Alexis, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking about this great segment and a wonderful essay. So really appreciate it. Thank you.

S5: Thank you.

S1: All right, now is the moment in our podcast and we endorse Allegra. What do you have?

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S2: OK, so I have a real big obsession with cookies, which is very like it sounds very immature, like I love cookies like Angelica Pickles or something, who I still very much relate to despite being 24 years older than her. But I love cookies. And as someone in New York, I like to find, you know, kind of local ish bakeries that make good cookies. And I will have to say that my favorite place is not somewhere that you might think would have such good cookies, because the cookies they have are not exactly what you’d expect from a cookie. So it’s called city cakes. It’s on it’s right near Union Square in Manhattan. So it’s I think it’s on West 18th Street. But you should Google that. It’s it’s it’s sort of in the teens and they predominantly make, you know, custom cakes. Obviously, it’s a cake. It’s a cake shop. They make these really beautiful, well-designed cakes, but they’re real claim to fame is they have these cake like cookies. They’re cookies that are meant to be shared like cakes, which I share it with myself like a cake, which means I eat it in one sitting and feel really sick afterward. But they are these really dense half pound cookies. Some of them are just traditional chocolate chunk or oatmeal raisin. But then they also have really interesting flavors like a Moccia almond cookie. They had a rainbow snickerdoodle cookie for pride. So I love going there because it just smells wonderful. I start salivating looking at the display case of the cookies and then they are just like the largest, heaviest cookies I’ve ever had, which is dangerous for my health. But I do try to share them with others. And I’ve never been disappointed with these cookies at City Cakes in New York. I think they just have the one location. So you’re going to have to come travel and visit me and bring me some cookies in order to try them. But highly recht for the locals here.

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S3: I have had those cookies and I can second that recommendation. Yes, actually, yeah, I agree. I really respect your cookie taste now. Yeah. Wow. Thank you. Yeah.

S2: They are so good, right. Yeah. Heather will share a cookie next time I see you.

S3: Yes.

S1: What a great endorsement. Um Heather, what do you have.

S3: Um, OK. I want to recommend a documentary called Kid 9D. It’s on Hulu. This came out a few months ago and I think it sort of flew under the radar. What it is, is it Solar Soleil Moon Frye, who played Punky Brewster as a child actress when she was a teenager, she had she just sort of carried a video camera everywhere and took video of all her friends. And she happened to be friends with every other child actor in Hollywood. So that so that footage sort of sat for twenty years or whatever. And now she she is sort of puts it all together and she adds in, you know, diary entries and voicemails. And it’s you get to see sort of all these like nineties child actors. She was friends with everyone like Brian Austin Green from nine and to A.. And Mark Paul Goslar from Saved by the Bell. She dated everyone. There’s one scene where you hear her voice mail talking from Mark Wahlberg, asking her out maybe. And she dated Danny Boy O’Connor from House of Payne. So it’s it’s it’s just like a fun glimpse into seeing all this footage from a very different time. I mean, you know, it was before social media. And I don’t think these kids ever thought this footage would be seen a lot. It’s you know, it’s them like partying and laughing, drinking, doing drugs. So it’s it’s very fine in that way. It’s but it’s it’s also very dark because, you know, being a child actor, like for her generation, especially as she ended up knowing so many people who, you know, had a really hard time and she actually had a hard time, she she never really transitioned into adult actor. So I don’t think the documentary is is perfect. I, I think I wish she had been able to transform her story or have more kind of perspective on it and and the darkness of of being a child actor. But the all the footage and just the nostalgia is sort of. Too good to pass up. So I do recommend it if you if all of those people I named mean anything to you, I think you’ll enjoy this glimpse into the past.

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S1: That sounds that sounds amazing. Oh, my God. Punky Brewster. I mean, yes. Just incredible. Right. Blast from the past. All right. I am going to endorse two things. The first is an essay in The Baffler about the artist, Alice Neal. Alice Neal, of course, having this huge posthumous renaissance because of a career retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think I’ve already said that people should go see it. I really want us to discuss it on the show. The challenge is getting everyone to go see it and can barely post pandemic times. It’s just among the most moving Archos I’ve ever seen, probably the most moving one I’ve seen in the last decade easily. You know, Neal was a portraitist, the Feminized. I mean, she just was attempting to portray women’s work and women’s pain on canvases. Anyway, there’s an essay in The Baffler. What I’m endorsing this week is an essay in The Baffler about that about that aspect specifically of her work by the writer Jessica Fletcher. It’s called This Woman’s Work. It just brought home to me again, you know, you go see an exhibit and it’s so visual and immediate and it stays with you, it moves you. But over time, you begin reacting to the reaction in some sense because the arts is not in front of you. I mean, I understand you can see it on the Internet, but that’s not the same in some sense. And so reading along vividly argued essay about the moral vitality and importance of the work was was was great. So anyway, it’s called this woman’s work. It’s in The Baffler about the painter Alice Neel. And if you can please go to the Met and see that show, it’s it’s astonishing. And then the second thing is there are two kinds of Allegra. You know, this there are two kinds of Pizzeria. What are the two major kinds of pizza eaters,

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S2: pineapple pizza fans and non pineapple pizza fans?

S1: I like that. That’s good. That was very nicely done. But wrong. There’s the there’s the incidental pizza eater, the pizza eater who just thinks of themselves, the pizza eater, but they’re not really a pizza eater because they’re not a pizza pilgram. Right. The pizza pilgram is the person who’s like they hear about a parlor and they’ve got to go. They hear about a place or they have known forever that like if you’re in Boise, Idaho, you’ve got to go to such and such a pizza parlor. And they just it’s in the bucket list. And I’m a pizza pilgram. And I know you two must be two, but there is in Troy, New York, which none of you ever go to but could you could pull over on the way to Vermont or Canada or wherever, you know, Montreal or I don’t know, whatever place you’re going to. That’s not Troy, but if you’re lucky, it’s troikas. Troy is a wonderful city on the up and up to Fazio’s. I’ve talked about it already on the show, del.icio.us pizza parlor going back to the 1950s. It’s just a frigging Mecca. This past weekend, my kids were craving to Fazio’s and so I drove like just such a sucker. I’m such a parental sucker. Like I was like, OK, I’ll get in the car, I’ll go get your pizza. And I went and got got a bunch of pies from DeFazio and it’s just the best, best pizza. I’m telling you, if you are a pizza pilgram, you’ve got to go to the Fazio’s in Troy, New York. So that’s my endorsement and I’m sticking with it. Heather, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was really fun.

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S3: Thank you for having me, Allegra.

S1: You’re pretty good. You’re OK.

S2: Thank you. That’s all I aspire to. It’s just baseline.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. No, you, you’re this is great. This is really fun.

S6: O o o o o o o.

S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate dotcom culture first. You can email us as always. We love it. We really will try to respond. A culture fest at Slate Dotcom is our email address. Our intro music is by the wonderful composer Nick Brittelle. Our production assistant is Cleo 11. Our producer is Cameron Drus for Heather Schwedel and Allegra Frank. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon. Hello and welcome to this Lamplugh segment of today’s show, a listener wrote in, Kelly wrote in and asked us if there were any rabbit holes that we fell down during the pandemic. You never in a million years would have thought possible. Kelly admitted to getting into the Korean boy band PTTs. So did we have any unexpected obsessions? Were there any like, you know, LaBron time, Internet sojourns? Allegra, let me start with you. What what snuck up on you in this way in the in the course of the pandemic?

S2: So I have always been a fan of reality TV shows, but it became a lot easier to just really, like, consume them so quickly and like ad infinitum when I was locked inside all day and like pining for the, like, social contact, I guess. So my and at the same time, one of my favorite reality shows of all time is America’s Next Top Model. So I become like very obsessed with top models, like crazy people like Tyra Banks. And another fave is Tyra’s best frenemy, Naomi Campbell. So my roommate and I discovered that Naomi Campbell had a reality show of her own in the mid 2000s, mid 2010s, and it happened to be on Amazon Prime. And we watched it obsessively. We we became Naomi Campbell die hards. We are like, let’s get a giant Naomi Campbell print for our living room. We would buy any magazine that she happened to be on the cover on kind of recently. For whatever reason. We watched all of her blogs, which are fascinating. There’s one that she made pre pandemic about her flying routine, where she would like clean down every seat and like, had face mask like she was Proteau ready. But then there was another video of her flying during the pandemic and she was wearing a hazmat suit. Like we were just obsessed with every piece of content that Naomi Campbell made. But we are most obsessed with the show The Face, which was a modeling competition, I believe it was on oxygen in the US, but it was originally a UK series and we watched it in like a weekend. It’s not great. It’s like Naomi Campbell and two other top models each have a team of models that they’re trying to, like, raise up to be successful. And then one of the judges teams ends up winning at the end. And Naomi Campbell is such a ruthless woman on these shows. It’s so funny. And the US version is basically a remake of the UK version, which was so strange. So we are like comparing them very intimately as of like, oh, they did this challenge in the UK one episode five. And this is happening in episode three of the US one. And we just became Naomi Campbell scholars, which maybe this would have happened to me anyway, that I love reality shows and celebrities. But during the pandemic we so much time in our house was devoted to Naomi Campbell chat.

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S1: This is little probably a little before your time, but I was an avid cable TV watcher, like to the point of full on zombie hood. Just the moment that the supermodel got invented more or less by VH one was I mean, they probably didn’t invent it, but there was just as always, this category of fashion model. And, you know, there was just this concerted attempt on the part of some very cunning cable TV executives to cross pollinate, you know, the sudden proliferation of cable channels in the nineties and therefore the the ability to micro program and cover all kinds of things that you wouldn’t cover otherwise. And the enormous pomposity of the fashion business yourself, seriousness and pomposity of the fashion business. And so thus was minted all of a sudden, the supermodel, this new category of model, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, all of whom achieved this level of celebrity, the models prior to them hadn’t because they had this new platform upon which to zoom their images everywhere simultaneously. And but the but the I believe that the that the choicest quote, the most representative supermodel moment was what Naomi Campbell told the journalist, I don’t roll out of bed for less than ten thousand dollars.

S3: I know now that Lynn Linda evangelist’s that

S4: I might go further on. Do you, Heather,

S2: come in for the fact

S4: that

S3: it was very representative of the moment? And that’s totally Naomi Campbell’s vibe, though, right? Like she would say something like that. I think she just to not say that, but that is a great quote. And I would like

S1: to get to her nonetheless. Well, yeah, imputed to her nonetheless. OK, I love it. The Naomi Campbell rabbit hole is is the rabbit hole almost to end all rabbit holes. But maybe, just maybe Heather can top you what it is.

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S3: OK, so I think a lot of us probably got into Tic TAC over the pandemic. I certainly did. But, you know, it’s not enough of a rabbit hole to just say you got into tick tock. Tick tock contains infinite rabbit hole to go down. So one that I just sort of flashed in my head because it was such a distinct rabbit hole in that I really have not revisited it. But around January, I found this guy on Tick Tock called Buty King Vald B, you, you, T.Y. K and she and he’s a personal trainer and his whole thing is that he builds booties. And so to explain a little, I guess to the extent that you can explain tick tock sort of has this culture and maybe young people today of like where it’s great to have a big bite or that’s sort of the beauty ideal, the hourglass like so much more so when when than when I was growing up. It’s really changed. And, you know, having a big bite is this whole big thing. To the extent that this guy has made his brand that, you know, he does he helps women do workouts. I think it’s mainly women with the whole goal of, like, building their but and he shows all these insane, you know, before and after shots of like a woman with like a flat pancake butt and a woman with like a huge, like big like muscular butt. And it so, you know, I definitely found this at like 3:00 in the morning and in January one night. And I was thinking, like, I don’t know that I ever thought, like, oh, I’m going to get a big butt. But it was useful to me in that I don’t think I had really ever understood. You know, people always talk about the importance of of weight training and everything. And I don’t think I’d ever really understood that you could do like body weight exercises at home. And I think I was always, like, sort of exhausted by cardio and like kind of hate cardio. So it it changed my thinking a little bit in that I really like I was watching some of his videos. I do think I learned a little bit about exercise and stuff and have become, you know, I have since become better about doing like I like to do exercise videos now in a way that I didn’t before, not not really his videos. But they also just amused me in the sense that, like, you know, a lot of his videos show like good movies to do to like grow, grow a booty. And like a lot of the time, he’ll just, like, show a woman and have her like like turn around and just like point to her butt and be like, I built this and I don’t know, the whole thing is so insane. But, yeah, I just that was definitely a rabbit hole the few days where I was obsessed with Budik.

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S2: So even though you’re not watching all of his are doing all of his workouts, do you feel like you’ve now become a beauty queen in your own life.

S4: Oh no, no I wouldn’t say I, I

S3: don’t know what my relationship is with the beauty monarchy at this

S4: moment.

S3: Um, I think he’s sort of funny and the whole cultural shift towards everyone wanting to have a big bite is interesting. But I had no I wouldn’t say I’m a beauty queen.

S1: Oh, my God. I mean, after Naomi Campbell and the beauty kingdom, I’m going to feel a little silly. Saying that you’re going

S4: to feel like

S1: my pandemic obsession was bicycling is just, wow, it’s such a dud. But and it’s like so unoriginal. It was impossible to get a hold of either a bicycle or an acoustic guitar to buy one during the pandemic because every middle aged yuppie had you know, we all suffer from exactly this, having the exact same thought patterns, believing ourselves to be original while having exactly the same thought patterns as every one of our peers. And so you go on the Internet to buy what should be an eight hundred dollar guitar and it turns out to be more like four grand. So I already owned a guitar. And the truth is, I already own the bicycle. I just needed to refurbish it. But I just I have this and I have been a serious cyclist like twenty years ago or, you know, fifteen, twenty years ago when my kids were smaller, nonsexist. And pre-existent and I got back into it, and the truth is, it is to my mind, it is the one fully, genuinely utopian machine human beings have ever built. I mean, there may be others that are semi utopian, but talk about something that is utilitarian. Brings immense amount of joy, often the instant you’re on, it has collective nostalgia for our common pre-industrial past has individual nostalgia because learning to ride it was an archetypal moment, presumably with a parent and and has, as far as I can tell, no negative externalities. Bad things only happen to cyclists by people in cars or doing other, you know, industrial things or whatever, you know, whereas the bicycle itself just no negative. What the tell me the bad thing a bicycle does. It tones your calf muscles, for God’s sake.

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S3: Does it do for you.

S2: But yeah. Are you king now. Are you a foodie prince.

S1: I so I, I have like a really weird fucked up like metabolism or whatever metabolic response that to various kinds of exercise. So I swim a lot. I gain weight. Right. It’s weird. I just get so ravenously ravenously hungry if I bike a lot. It is an appetite suppressant in addition to being so I’m like I don’t think I have it.

S4: But right now I’m bootless.

S1: I’ve been booted out of the beauty kingdom, but which for me is not a bad look, by the way. But anyway, so I’m having a good time on my bicycle. I know it pales like you can’t, you know, you know, you know, it’s like I think Aesop might have said this. It goes way back. You can’t ride a bicycle down a rabbit hole.

S2: Wow. I’m sure he did. Can I tell you, Steve, I honestly love this because I cannot ride a bicycle despite being 27 years old.

S1: We’re going to get you out there. I know. I’m going to run behind you pushing it along. Yeah. So engineering. And then I’m going to give it a shove and off you go.

S2: This is great news for me, is what I’m saying. I now have someone who is hardcore and they can teach me because I can’t ride a bike, I can’t drive a car, I can’t swim. You mentioned swimming. I’m just learning like here’s all the things I can get Steve to help me out with.

S1: I just I kind of want to ask why you can’t do these things, but I think we’re going to get into some very personal territory, so I won’t.

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S2: Oh, I mean, I’m just an anxious person and everyone everyone knows I just have so much anxiety. I’m like, I was on a bike as a kid once and I was like, but I’m going to fall. And so then I just didn’t do it anymore.

S1: I know that that’s that that. But that brings us back to the magic of the bicycle, which is there is a powerful instinct on this thing that’s just, you know, your wheel base is, you know, on some bicycles is an inch wide. Right. Look, you should fall. But there’s the one thing that keeps you from falling is forward momentum. Right? So it’s just there’s this moment of faithfulness that a kid needs to like this little leap of faith that a kid needs to make and no kid is there. Evolution has prevented a kid from believing that this is the case, that this thing can stay upright. And it’s the parent who’s like, no, no, no. The parent is giving the child forward motion in that moment and saying, no, no, no, your own power or propulsion will keep you upright. And then there’s that miraculous moment where the kid realizes that’s true. And for the rest of your life, you can ride a bicycle. In this moment, you were deprived of Allegra. And that makes me very sad.

S2: I’ve just always been a hard core skeptic of anything that anyone over the age of 40 has told me. So parents are doomed.

S1: Your faith never left. But that’s that will rectify this, I promise. Yes. All right. Well, that does it for our slate plus our Silat Plus segment for this week. Thank you for all of our members, all of our listeners, you really help support what we do at the culture Gabfest and what everyone does at Slate Dotcom. And of course, we love hive mind ing these topics getting emails every week for suggestions we’re at no loss for what to talk about next. So keep those coming. Heather, thanks, Allegra. Thanks. And we’ll see you all next week.

S2: Yeah. Thank you.

S3: Thank you.