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S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest. Is Love Blind Audition. It’s Wednesday, March 4th, 2020. On today’s show.
S3: Netflix is really diving into the reality space with both hands following up the circle with Love is Blind. We discussed this mutant variant of The Bachelor with Slate’s own Daniel Shrader. And then literature, art, pop culture. All have dealt historically with the idea of an epidemic. It is so rich symbolically, just as it is rich dramatically. Today, each of the panel has brought in an item to discuss in light of the covert or covert 19, the coronavirus. And finally, what is the fate of the tomboy? In a kind of would be maybe post gender world, we discuss a series of articles and we’re joined today by Julia Turner, who is the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times. Hey, Julia.
S4: Hello. Just one word for our listeners.
S5: As you can hear, there is some construction happening here. So we’ll try to keep the sound to a minimum. But you may hear more of that, Julia.
S6: The fact that you can put up drywall while doing this podcast just never ceases to amaze me.
S7: Very impressive multi-tasking.
S8: Yes. And we’re joined by Dan Cases in D.C. right now. Hey, Dan.. Hey, everyone. Glad to be here. Dan, of course, is a staff writer at Slate.com and is the author of How to Be a Family The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to find a New Way to Be Together. A recent a wonderful book. Okay. What shall we dive right in here? Let’s do.
S9: All right. Digging right in. A group of attention seeking basket cases can’t coon’s severe pron. issues. soft-core pointif soundtrack and what purports to be a controlled experiment in love and attraction. We are back in the badly misnamed named Land of Reality TV. In this instance, Love is Blind is on Netflix. It takes 15 men and 15 women, segregates them from one another by gender in IKEA bedecked pseudo shmancy digs and lets them interact with one another across genders only in confessional style pod rooms in which they can speak to one another, but they can’t see one another. Along the way to trying to answer the question Is love blind? Or really? I would put it slightly differently. Should we bypass the arguably most trivial thing, arguably most trivial thing about a person, maybe at least in the long run, and start with conversations that have looks and blah blah blah proceed to their human essence. He’s got a yacht. Let’s listen to a clip.
S10: This is maybe so. I actually am with you on that. Like I enjoy enjoy it.
S11: Yeah. We get to the essence of each other and it’s not like, oh, I’m blinded by his blue eyes. Like I’m is just like, well, this is really what I want. Laying it all on the line.
S10: Tell me where you are. Honestly, and I tell you why I’m honestly and if you accept that day, do you know you’re just not for your not for me. Yeah. This is definitely changed my life. Five days then. And I know who I want to be. My future husband. I can’t believe it.
S12: It’s only been five days. Oh, my God. I’ve had meals in my refrigerator for longer than that. That’s crazy.
S13: I’ve spent every second of this experiment focusing on finding my wife, and I think I found her.
S14: I feel immense attraction to her and I’ve never seen her before. I know Warren is a one. And I don’t need to do any more search and read. I’m ready, right?
S9: OK. We’re joined by Daniel Shrader, who is a podcast producer for Slate. Daniel, you and I, we we already have quite a history here. But but boy, are we going to add to it today. I mean, first first of all, I have two things to say to you, buddy. The first is, fuck you for making me watch this. And the second is if you so much as spoil one iota of it. You are dead to me.
S15: Then just go away in a minute. How about this?
S1: I watch three episodes and I’m so fucking hooked on this thing. Shrader, you traitor.
S16: Well, let me just say I’m thrilled to be back. That is the best news of 20/20 to hear that you are hooked on this show. And let me just say, Steve, if you’re only three episodes and then you haven’t even gotten to the actual good parts of the show, you’re not either tonight.
S1: I got to the end of Episode 3, dude. I mean, cheese. Oh, my God. And also, by the way, like being addicted to something, you know, if this were Adderall or crack or porn. I mean, you know, it’s not it’s not necessarily a vote in its favor.
S6: But but why don’t we turn this into something like a traditional chat show format here? Daniel Schrader, tell me why you like the show.
S17: I love. Love is blind because it is the it’s the perfect type of reality show where you throw a bunch of pretty enough strangers together and see what happens.
S16: And so I think that what this show really is doing is more interesting than just the pods. Of course, I do think that this is really what Yorgos Lanta most meant to make when he meant that made the lobster. But also, I think this is like. The posit is the first part of it. Once these people get to know each other and end up proposing to each other through walls, which is pretty wild, they then go on a vacation. But then we get to what you haven’t even gotten to yet, which is really the meat of the show, which is then moving back to Atlanta, where they all have to live in apartments together in a shared building. So they’re all neighbors and then meant they go back to visit each other’s homes that they live in and meet each other’s families, discuss things like their finances and how they are going to actually move forward as if they are getting married. It is delicious. I mean, the speak A, the species is doomed.
S6: But B, I have high hopes for Lauren and Cameron. I want to dwell on something very quickly before we open it up further, which is that, yes, they move beyond the pods very quickly.
S1: But the pods do seem to be an instrument of this kind of metaphysical certitude that they arrive at, that they are actually in love with one another. Which I understand could be a performance for the cameras. I mean, the premise of the shows, you don’t proceed beyond phase one unless you partner up, become quote unquote, engaged. Sight unseen, engaged to this other person. And then you get to go to Cancun. But that’s the weird thing, Daniel, about reality TV. It’s it’s hard to argue that these people overwhelmingly aren’t having something resembling real emotions.
S18: Well, I think the the pods actually do a very interesting thing. And I don’t think it will be spoiling it to say that later on after the people who have gotten in relationships move out of the pods and get back from Mexico. They are two of the couples end up having fights. And during those fights, they find that the only productive way to actually express their honest feelings is to be in separate rooms and not look at each other while they’re fighting. And so part of this makes me think maybe this is the way people should fight. Maybe this is the way people should emote. They should be like there’s something about that security of being alone and expressing your feelings to someone without having to see them and without having to see how they receive your reaction of not feeling. That really opens you up, to be more honest with yourself.
S15: You know what? The show is an enormously powerful argument in favor of talking on the telephone.
S16: I have no idea what that is. It’s explained.
S7: That is what they are doing. They are having long, passionate telephone conversations with another person. Except for that, they just happen to be in two separate rooms talking through a wall instead of over a line. But these relationships are built the way that once upon a time many relationships were built, whether by letter, by telephone or whatever. Right. You spend a long time away from someone. Perhaps you’re a soldier off at war communicating with with your lady back on the homefront, or perhaps at someone you, let’s just say, met at the University of Wisconsin band camp in nineteen ninety one and then spends a full year just talking to solely over the phone and via making mixtapes.
S19: And you build the relationship that way like there’s this is a very specific argument in favor of, as Daniel says, working things out without having to face each other and having all the baggage associated with that.
S7: Like coming up all the time, you can actually get a lot done and be very free in your emotional communication and very vulnerable when you’re not facing that person. And the telephone is really great for that.
S20: But I thought you were gonna say this was a great argument in favor of podcasting as a medium of emotional intimacy, which outcasted has to think.
S21: You could argue telephone conversations, but with only one side working, he well, actually I out to them, to the millennial among us.
S5: I would ask. So one of the conceits of the show is in the modern life, that one hilarious part of the show is that Nicholas, Shei and Nick and Vanessa cliche show up every so often to like read terribly from a bad script and preside over the whole affair.
S21: And like everyone, the contestants in the audience are just like, Who are you? What are you doing here? Okay. But among the drivel that they say is like in this age of swiping, right. So much depends on your appearance. But what if. Is love blind in this experiment?
S5: And and it and it struck me that actually one of the things that seems kind of useful to nerds about modern dating is like, yes, you have to put a photo up and and that is like a precursor. But there is this but there’s texting like text. There’s typically a period of text flirting before you go actually bother to meet someone in person which is not unpopped like in its in its exchanges.
S20: Or at least there is a verbal part typically in the. They in between of the. I basically like that person’s picture. And do I like the 3D real person of them. And so I felt like the physicality of modern flirting with slightly overstated. True or false, Daniel?
S22: Well, I think the issue that I’ve found with that is that.
S18: And I thought about this a lot in terms of online dating, in terms of hookup apps, that when you are when you do just have a photo and then you’re texting. I find I can be much more like I could I can sound smarter and be more playful on text than I am maybe in person. But also, it’s less genuine because I can play a character as opposed to them hearing my voice and hearing the type of person I come across as. And so for all that, we can glean a lot from a photo and a series of text exchanges. There is something lost that you don’t really understand whether or not there will be a click there until you meet in person. That’s why like a lot of times dates don’t go well from online apps and things like that because you think you click online, but you’re really only clicking with this one version of them and that like being able to even just hear the voice component. You don’t realize until you hear it how much that even can impact your perception of who a person is. And so in some ways, I do think it would be a better experiment in terms of fostering stronger and more lasting relationships. If there was some sort of photo exchange just so that people knew, like this is the person I’m talking to. But then, of course, you also wouldn’t get the deliciousness of this type of drama that we get or anything like that.
S23: But I will say that the show makes a. Assertion on behalf of the idea that first impressions based on looks in person or worse, you know, on a on Tinder. Right. Is there. That’s so conducive to a kind of false positive that that something is gained affirmatively gained like Dan, for example.
S6: You know, you before you went to band camp, you had been in the physical presence of this other person. And at some conscious and unconscious level, you know, you’d made a pretty primal decision about your, you know, attractiveness to them or your openness, openness to their attraction to you that is completely absent from this show. I mean, how much do we credit the idea that there’s that something inherently trivial and false happens in those first moments of seeing and being with someone?
S23: That this show, I grant you, is not a tightly controlled social science experiment, but it has. Assiduously decided that you are just not going to be physically present to this person before you form a conversational. Attachment to them. And I just wondered, did that.
S6: Strike any kind of nervous that just gimmicky reality TV?
S15: I guess, yes, if you’re talking about false positives, not to spoil too much for you, Steve, but so many people got engaged in the pods that they had to cut some people out of the later versions of the show. And not every single one of those engagements has resulted in a forever marriage. I just think, like it seems to me like the what the show is teaching us is that when you when you give people the chance to engage conversationally for a long period of time, and then, yes, also combine it with the artificial pressure of a reality show in which some people just want to succeed by the terms of the show, whatever those terms are, and other people are driven by that.
S19: You know, the desperate desire to be partnered or married. You create a situation in which in which way more people form bonds, which then fall apart once they actually encounter each other in the real world and are faced with sort of the real world questions that arise. And and that’s like fascinating and delightful. But I don’t think it’s an argument against the old way of meeting people face to face and and figuring out whether that physical spark means anything to you.
S5: You know, it strikes me that we are taking the like moral proposition of this show quite seriously, like possibly slightly more seriously than is warranted. I mean, it’s true what you say about the telephone.
S24: Like, I feel like I remember the most dramatic moments of my high school life entirely involved, like long, long, long phone conversation.
S25: Oh, my God.
S20: I would die to have on meandering flirtation to the point where, like your ahead, you’d have your phone would be like pressed against your face and be kind of sweaty. But you and your era would hurt. But you. But you couldn’t stop talking. But they do all shroud.
S5: They all end up taking this experiment, quote unquote, which they keep referring to very, very seriously. On the other hand, they’re one of the pleasures of the show is that they do seem sincere and to have made some kind of sincere bonds. The other is that they all seem trapped in this mass hysteria where they think it’s plausible to become engaged to someone they’ve just talked to for five hours in a pod or 16 hours or whatever over five days. And they keep saying things like, am I crazy?
S21: But I just really love him. And it’s like, no, you’re crazy. Like you don’t have him marry him. On this Netflix show, you’ve now met someone nice, go move in together, spend some time together, see if you’re a match like the artificiality of like. And the next step is, but you’re walking down the aisle like that goten has ever stakes. Wealth is ludicrous.
S3: Let me just say very quickly, I it’s not that I take the show or its premise seriously at all. I take seriously how seriously they take it.
S23: And you’ll notice, Daniel, that there are an inordinate number of very devout Christian, self-professed devout Christians on the show.
S1: And when you really look at the premise or you look at the way in which the premise is being taken seriously by the contestants, they clearly believe that there is a human essence which is separate from the physical body. And and I I really I challenge you to tell me that I’m not I’m wrong when I say this is they believe that they are zeroing out the incidental features of humanity and talking soul to soul. And I don’t believe that that’s what’s happening. But I I am an tranced by how seriously they take the possibility that that’s what’s happening.
S17: Yeah. I mean, we’re definitely not taking the show more seriously than it takes itself, obviously. But I think that pointing out the religious aspect of it is very important. I was actually about to say that I think an aspect of this that it’s important, keep in mind is that this set in Atlanta, these people are all live in the south and most are from the south and being from Atlanta myself. It’s a it’s a it’s a very religious area. My dad’s a minister. And so I get the motivation because this is so many of my friends back homes, motivations of just that need to fulfill a relationship requirement as part of this attempt at life or whatever. And so I think a lot of these people are feeling that stress, particularly someone like Jessica, who is 34, which by southern standards could be thought of as old. And so she needs to settle down with someone. And it’s laughable to think that she would want to settle down with Mark or Barnett because both of them are such messes on their own. But I do think that there is something that this show is getting at and some reason why everybody that encounters it is so entranced by it. Like yesterday I was in the kitchen at work talking to someone about the show and then somebody left the studio and just immediately joined our conversation because they had been watching it, too. It’s this show that like seems to have attracted so many people to it, because we all want to figure out what that other thing that soul outside of the body tightness is, if there is anything like that. We want to know that maybe we could find a blind love like this. Honestly, I would try the show.
S21: I don’t know if I would actually try the show, but that was a binding contract.
S15: Can I zoom out for a moment to talk about the show as a viewing experience? I could talk about this show for 100 years. However, it is just awful to watch the show. The show is not actually enjoyable to watch in long stretches. I did get up and walk away from my laptop and like every 10 to 15 minutes. But there’s one part of the show that is just insanely good.
S19: Probably the best TV I’ve ever seen in my life. And that is the tease at the end of the first episode when we’ve met all the characters and we understand the situation.
S26: And then it gives us maybe sort of a a perfect two and a half minute short film that shows us all the insane shit that is going to happen over the next eight episodes or whatever. You know, it’s like, have you ever been in a room with black people before? I didn’t deceive anybody. I can’t go through with this. Please stop recording this. Drinks thrown in faces and brides falling on their asses. I would watch that forever. I would watch that for so long, even as I chafed against having to sit through like the long interviews and conversations between people that seem just interminably boring to me. And so it strikes me that what is great about the show is that it is on Netflix, that it is the subject of an enormous amount of conversation and writing on the Internet, on sites like Slate and elsewhere, and has a robust Wikipedia page so that you can delve into all of that. Find out everything you need to know about the actual fates of these people on the show and then dip into the series. Just to the extent that you watch you on your laptops, you can see that an incredible breakup in Episode 3. So you can see what happens in the weddings in the finale so you can watch the teases at the end of every episode and you like. You can curate this little viewing experience for yourself or myself. That made a show like this not only tolerable in a way it otherwise never would have been, but in fact intensely enjoyable for those like little bursts.
S22: So I have two answers to that. First, I would say yes. I love diving deep into this show. I certainly wasn’t the person who was looking on Google Maps to find out where their shared apartment building was, because I’m not familiar with the highways in Atlanta. But also this is my plea to make everybody watch reality television at 1.5 speed.
S27: I say yes, but I trust me.
S16: It is the sort of like Alvin and the Chipmunks. So it’s not pitched up any higher. It’s just faster. That is that is the pace at which every show should be consumed. That is a reality show, particularly this one. It’s how I watched all of it.
S20: I mean, I just I got say I had learned that trick. I would have watched the finale by now. I’m I’m like nine episodes through, but I didn’t quite make it all the way.
S6: I’m pretty into it. And I’m still writing the fast forward ten seconds button pretty hard. I mean, this is this this show would have peeved the living daylights out of Dana Stevens, who if something is a half hour, she wants it to be 15 minutes. You know, nothing deserves to be an hour long. I do not understand why this thing is. What is it, 45 minutes to an hour, Dana? That’s crazy for this format.
S16: Well, you could make it 30 to 45 minutes.
S23: Then that’s six.
S7: Or you can or you can create your own one and a half hour experience, which is very intense and great, and then talk about it forever afterwards, which is what is actually the best thing about it.
S20: All right. Can I. Without trying to spoil too much for Steve? Can I just propose that we briefly discussed, though, the fan favorite union of Lauren and Cameron. And I want to ask you complete usts.
S28: I think their relationship.
S20: Does not fill me with happy joy because she seems so tentative. And he’s like got this steadiness of intent and and it’s kind of steadily coaxing her along toward the aisle. But at so many points, she seems kind of bewildered by where she’s found herself and a little bit resistant. And, you know, of course, the idea that if love is blind, you might find yourself in an interracial couple that you hadn’t previously contemplated. And doesn’t that speak to the, you know, the ability of human soul to connect beyond life experience with everything else? Like I I. Yes. In in sort of structure.
S29: It is a great story. But in practice, I do not find their tender encounters squee inducing. I find them slightly cringy because I feel like she’s genuinely I think part of it’s just that they both seem relatively sane compared to reality contestant types, whereas Amber and Burnett seem more like people you might find on The Bachelor. And they seem more like real people. But then, because they seem like real people, you’re like, well, why wouldn’t you do the real people thing and just frickin like slow your roll and get to know each other and see if this love really can flourish like I did? Are you guys just completely head over heels for them in the way that all of America seems to be?
S22: I have thought a lot about them. I I really did like them a lot as I got swept up in the show. But as the season played out, I definitely became more hesitant with my love of them. I think they are of the all the couples, they’re the best. They are the clearly the sanest and the most attractive, in my opinion. But also, I think the problem with them that I’ve encountered is that I think what you’re highlighting about Lauren not being as in it as Cameron is spot on. Part of what like makes me. Not suspicious, but worried about Cameron is that he seems so physically like attached to her in a way that at first seems very like romantic and loving, and he just wants to like show her physical intimacy. But at a certain point it becomes this sort of insecurity that it comes across as that he is so scared of losing her that he can’t let her go physically. And I think that speaks to probably a his past relationship that he was coming out of before this. And so he’s still kind of recovering from that. So I think that like he having come from a long term relationship, is so much more invested in making this work than she is, not because she doesn’t love him, but because she might not have had this like deep previous long term relationship to compare it to in a way. So also, Laura Bennett pointed this out to me yesterday on Slack. He just doesn’t ever make any jokes. He’s not funny. There’s like some lack of argument to him that is really disappointing and makes him less attractive.
S20: That’s that is characteristically well-observed. Faler about it.
S6: The four of us are in separate locations, right? Yeah, we’re all in our pods. So we’re speaking soul to soul to soul to soul. I thought there was some special thing. I think Daniel, the next millennial bait reality TV show has to be people tapping out messages to one another from their cells. Prison like cells. And then we’ll see if people can fall in love that way.
S15: It’s getting late. Too close to Parasyte by Seyma for torture. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
S6: Yeah, I think that’s Morse code, isn’t it? But yes, sorry.
S20: Yes, Flagg’s would be more fun and visual than Morse. Podcast.
S3: Pitch it. Netflix is buying everything they tell me. All right, Daniel Shrader.
S6: It was a real joy to have you back on the show and to not see you, but here you.
S18: Thanks. It’s always great not seeing you either.
S6: All right. Now is the moment or a podcast. We talk business. Dan, what do you have?
S30: Business? Do I have business? Yes, I do. And Slate Plus this week, we will be talking about a piece from The New York Times from a woman whose ex-boyfriend is now dating Lady Gaga. I believe the piece is weak sauce. Julia believes the piece is great. We’ll argue about it. And then Steve will declare that I am correct. Back to you, Steve.
S31: Tom Boy is now stipulated, though somewhat anachronistic word. We will get into that. But first, once it denoted young girls who refuse stereotypical dress attitude, behavior, activities, all traditionally associated with girls. Once there were tomboys aplenty in pop culture, their message was, you do not have to be feminine to be female. As Lisa Celan Davis said in a recent New York Times piece on the subject, she goes on to describe her attachment as a young woman girl to Joe on the facts of life and how Joe was the culmination of what Kristy McNichol and Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal had wrought in some iconic movies of the 1970s. And then Joe gave way to Sporty Spice, Xena and Buffy, and being a tomboy got folded into the attitudes of the Reagan 80s. You could be powerful, but you also had to be pretty darn for our. Let me start with you. You’ve written a book about parenting and you do a podcast on parenting for our quite limited slice of the country, country, gender non-conformity being non-binary are now pretty much quotidian aspects of being a parent. For much of the country, though, they have doubled down on the idea of gender as something essential about a person rooted in biology and expressing itself accordingly in culture. In one example, I can never quite get my head around or these gender reveal parties.
S3: What struck you about this argument about tomboys? Is it? Is it thinking forwardly about gender or backward-looking about gender? Where did you come out on this?
S25: As a parent, I definitely feel as though having every sort of different kind of gender expression available to my kids and to kids in general seems really valuable to to have them all out in the world, to have them all as visible as possible. And so the tomboys of 80s that Lisa Davises article discussed are a real archetype that I don’t see so much in pop culture anymore. And that bums me out. I might push back a little on the idea, though, that the that other parts of the country have fully doubled down on a kind of gender conformity. I mean, I take your point about gender reveal parties. I think for many parents that still that delineation still matters. But when that kind of determinism comes up against them, the messy reality of kids growing up, I have found in my experience that even in, you know, non coastal elite places, parents and kids are a lot more likely to embrace a lot of different ideas along the gender spectrum than they were, you know, even 10 or 15 years ago. I mean, just to take as an as an example, the town that we lived in, in Kansas when I was writing the book, you know, 10 years ago, it was unheard of for kids in that high school or middle school to embrace any kind of gender nonconformity in the school wouldn’t even allow like a lesbian, gay and allies school group. Now that group is going strong. They’re trans kids in the high school. Obviously, there are still difficulties along with that as there are in any kind of high school environment. But even in those places, ideas about gender are evolving. I think a lot more quickly than they are among teenagers, than they are among older people. All that is to say, I do miss the tomboy as a particular kind of widely accepted.
S15: Pop culture archetype, a kind of character who served as a sort of shorthand for a bunch of complicated ideas that kids in particular are just starting to get their hands around at around the age that are watching something like the facts of life about nonconformity and about how the embrace not only of the other genders, quote unquote, clothes and interests can represent a kind of yearning for a not only a different life for yourself, but a different kind of world in which you can live.
S3: Julia, what do you make of that? I mean, I take Dan’s point that the rest of the country, especially under the age of 20 or fifteen, is, you know, joining in a transition away from highly essentialist notions of sex and gender.
S6: If that’s the case, isn’t the word like tomboy doomed that effectively we’re going to move so far away from any essentialist notion of gender as it relates to behavior that labelling a girl something unusual or noting a girl for acting like what was once traditionally considered to be masculine? That seems like a thing that does sort of seem like an artifact of the 19th century that may not last very far into the 21st.
S20: Yeah, I mean, I find it a little bit hard to predict. I am we I was excited to revisit the subject of tomboys because we talked about them a little bit when we talked about little women and and Jo’s resistance to marriage and the conventional trappings of the circumspection of female life. And even began a debate that I think we talked about here, where I asserted that Lizzie Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is a tomboy. And David Plotz aggressively resisted that notion in private correspondence with me and on Twitter. And it sort of has led me to think about different experiences of tomboy ism and how I identified with them as a girl growing up. So I think there’s the kind of like Jackie Sports I don’t want to wear your ruffles and I’d love to just play on the softball team type tomboy. Then there’s kind of their Anne of Green Gables. I just can’t be bothered with manners. And wouldn’t it be more fun to muck about in the stream and oh gosh, now I’m covered in mud ono type of tomboy. You know, I feel like you could put you start a little bit in that category from Game of Thrones, right. She she’s forever grossing about needlepoint and the kind of constraints of of the life bound by her. And thinking this through, I was just thinking about how much I identified with these tomboy types as I was mostly reading them, although I of course, Joe is my favorite character and the facts of life like whose wouldn’t be growing up, even though I was by no means a tomboy. Like I say, I think that the psychic impact of. These images of young women who felt constrained by expectation was beyond actual identification. I hated sports. I found it very confusing. I liked knitting. I don’t think I ever tried needlepoint, but I you know, I enjoyed womanly tasks and had basically good manners and was kind of just a good girl. Did my homework type. And yet these figures of intelligent resistance to expectation were mesmerizing and, of course, fascinating. And just because I didn’t actually want to play softball didn’t mean that I didn’t feel seen and represented by the full personhood of these women. And I think that’s that’s you know, that’s what’s exciting about the idea that we might not need the tomboy anymore. Is the is the notion that maybe we’re entering a world, a world where the personhood of women is is expected rather than denied. It’s really fascinating. I would argue looking at the general landscape, that maybe we’re not quite there yet.
S15: It is really fascinating to me that, as Davis notes in the piece, everyone loves Joe. Right. And in the facts of life. And everyone found Blair prissy and annoying, even Blair’s. Steve, what do you think about this to you? Do you truly get the sense that we are rapidly moving beyond any kind of label like this, or do you think that labels like this are valuable even if the types start disappearing from pop culture?
S23: I mean, I think. You know.
S32: I find it I find it hard to believe we’re not going to evolve sufficiently beyond these receive gender categories, some point in my lifetime that the idea of a tomboy will just seem, you know, completely inscrutable, almost. I mean, maybe I’m being I’ve raised two daughters, neither of whom really went through a tomboy phase, but it’s partially because occasionally they acted like what might be called a tomboy and the way they dressed or, you know, the way my older daughter in particular played, you know. But it wasn’t it wasn’t set against the gender expectation that was rigid enough for it to be perceived as daring or nonconformist in any way, which seems to me, Julia. Right. Ought to be the ideal here. Julia, what do you make of that?
S4: Yeah, I mean, one interesting critique of the Tom DeLay in one of the articles we read in preparation for this was that it’s worth looking historically at what it means to valorize the tomboy, which is that it is valorize and male traits and the fact that there’s sort of contempt for the Blairs of the world, you know, or I think this was an essay from The New York Times from a couple of years ago, which we actually may have discussed on the show about the scorn that her daughter gets for wanting to wear glitter and lipstick and ruffles and how we still allow even in in quite progressive circles, just contempt for the feminine was really provocative and made me think about the most radical and exciting thing. Thing about Greta Gerwig. Little Women, which is the reclamation of Amy, right? Amy, is the Blair a little woman. She’s the unredeemed press that the girly frivolity and belt embodied and the kind of radical reclamation of her and her interests and her thoughts actually strikes me as perhaps the way forward of of of reclaiming.
S20: Femininity as classically defined as something to value and valorize, you know, whoever it manifests and whether it’s a girl or anybody who identifies in any way with their gender.
S33: I mean, right now, one way to think about, you know, the the power that the idea of the tomboy so has is to think about it’s more, more or less its opposite. Right. There’s it’s certainly even among middle schoolers and high schoolers. It is more, quote unquote, acceptable to be a tomboy or to be a girl with masculine traits or even to be a trans boy than it is to be a sissy. Right. Or or to be a boy with with with stereotypically feminine traits or feminine dress or to be a trans girl. I do think that even in the more progressive younger generation, the the gender stereotypes and the gender essentialism that we recognize from our childhood still manifest itself most strongly in a devaluing of the stereotypically feminine hand of Al arising of the stereotypically masculine, which is to say the even the Buffy’s and Zenas that Davis’s article points to while they’re. Feminine in that they are you know, that Buffy is, for example, straight.
S26: And she dresses cute and she is traditionally pretty. She’s not frilly or roughly or frivolous. And the way that like an Amy is or in the way that that often feels sort of traditionally queer.
S33: And I and I do see among the kids of my kids’ generation this interesting hazy line between between gender fluidity and the end and the willingness to accept the female, the traditionally feminine in anyone. And so it seems to me like there’s there’s still power in these things, positive power and negative power. And it’s not clear to me that it’s going to go away in our lifetimes.
S20: Your kids do resist the traditionally feminine.
S33: I do. Yes, I think so. And I think that there’s it’s a it’s a lot even in the high school that my older daughter goes to where there are tons of trans kids and tons of gender fluid kids. It seems easier socially to go in the direction of masculinity than it does to go in the direction of femininity has sort of traditionally thought of. It is easier for girls to express a kind of traditional masculine effect than for boys to go the other direction.
S4: Right. And in some ways, femininity is like a more complicated category, right? Is femininity, you know, defined however you want to define it, a natural state of things to be encouraged and enjoyed? Or is femininity the result of super restrictive social constraints? You can’t have a job. You have to be in the home. You you know, your concerns are domestic. You you you have these limits. And within that, you create an identity. So I think it’s just a more troubled I mean, you know, I guess masculinity is troubled, too. I’ll give you guys that. Fine, fine. But right.
S5: But the way it trouble is in its oversimplification of where we’re all screwed up by the binary, I suppose. But but certainly the way in which that freedom and responsibility of masculinity is limiting. I don’t know if it’s a valorize limit as opposed to a demonized limit. So it’s just hard to know where that goes. But but the notion of creating space for and again, this is part of what is making me love little women even more.
S20: Part of what’s what’s so striking about that is, is the reclamation of domestic concerns as worthy and important.
S15: Tomboys are as a category, just like fun, a hike in the same way that like. Boys crossing over into the traditionally feminine are fun, and they’re and as story tools, they’re so useful and delightful.
S5: Coming back around to the question I think I asked a few weeks ago, which is like name a heroine of literature who’s not a tomboy, who is like, yup, love it. Can’t wait, right. You know, it’s always like that, though. The second sister, the older sister is the feminine idea. And the second sister chafes like witch. What? Who’s not that? It’s just so it’s so essential, the storytelling, right?
S15: Storytelling is all about breaking. Like good stories, good narrative is about breaking out of some kind of constricting, you know, something that constricts you. And so. Four girls for young women and particularly that’s storytelling always seems to revolve around that. And so in the 80s, in the 70s and 80s, when when tomboy characters in particular were like the accepted, understood visual archetype of a person who rejects the constrictions upon her and it was doing something exciting as a result like that was valuable. Maybe one reason we don’t see tomboys so much in culture anymore is that I mean, maybe it’s just maybe it’s a little bit of a sign of progress that there are other ways to or other modes that that read to a mass audience as rejecting the patriarchal constrictions on women, yet yet still being like acceptable in a way that a mass audience will understand.
S34: I mean, maybe that’s progress that you don’t need that visual shorthand. You don’t need a sideways baseball hat to convince an audience that a character’s desire to be something other than a wife and mother is like valuable and valid.
S5: Well, one model here. Right. So my kids have finally gotten into Harry Potter. Praise J.K. Rowling for saving me from the endless years of just reading encyclopedias of Lego sets based on Star Wars characters from which I am now happily emerging. Her mighty right. There’s a there’s a version of her Maini who well, first of all, there’s a version of the book in which a man is the hero. So maybe it’s not so great that she’s the sidekick, but there’s a version where she’s so smart and they don’t believe in her. And women wizards can only be blah. And this analagous, which is, you know, they’re there. We just read a scene in which the slither in Quidditch team has no women. And it’s like a sign that they’re bad, as is everything with Slither. And I don’t really understand why one of the houses just has no redeeming qualities. Seems really weird that they would’ve structured it that way. But anyway, you know, like to have kids who grew up with one of the prime texts of their childhood as probably kids for last 20 years largely have not have one of those classic like I’m chafing. But I want to but I want to be more. But what can I do?
S20: And just have her manias like competence and capability, you know, lightly mocked here and there in her hand, shooting up play, but essentially be a given that she’s an equal participant in all the travails yet whose signature scene is the moment that she puts out a pretty ball gown and is revealed to be shit.
S21: No. Does that happen at the end?
S7: So they wrote the final book form and book for her. During the year.
S21: All right, I take it all back, takes off. She’s still she’s still less constrained.
S35: Yes. That’s an embrace of femininity. Will embrace everything. I have a question, though.
S36: To what extent does the young adolescent or preadolescent heroine reflect whatever wave of feminism we’ve passed through most recently? Right. So, you know, maybe during first wave, you know. Proteau Feminism. You’re just trying to say that the genders don’t divide neatly into binaries and action and agency in the world, you know, befalls men as a matter of biological fate and, you know, domesticity and motherhood, etc, etc cetera. Right. But then you go through a wave of feminism that’s, you know, tougher, angrier in some crude way more butch and breaks through. And then you go through another way, a second wave where femininity gets reclaimed. But in conjunction with a sense of agency in the world and on and on and on. So there’s not some, you know, horrible recrudescence in her mind putting on a dress. Does that ring any bells with anybody?
S15: I have a I have a thought about this, which is that I actually think that the cycle is accelerating. I think that culture made for middle schoolers and younger children now is much more likely to be made by someone who’s like twenty three than it will then in our generation when it was much more likely to be made by someone who was like forty five. I just think that the that the the Internet, plus the explosion of comics for middle grade readers and teens, plus just the explosion of Y.A. as a mode has caused a lot of these products to be made by much younger people and much more closely reflect the actual. Yes, gender concerns and attitudes of the audience that they’re addressing.
S6: Right. Well, Dan, because the presumption that a 45 year old lives in the same universe and the common universe with the 3 or 5 or 10 or even 15 year old is totally out the window. Right. And by the way, they’re being, quote unquote, influenced by YouTubers who are a year older than them, the same age as the maybe a couple years older. This old generation is getting shrunk down to, you know, 18 months. So, yeah, that makes that makes a ton of sense. The cycle is going to go go rapidly faster. I Julia, I would just say one more thing as a parent, which is that, you know, we’re talking about, you know, cultural icons on the one hand and the, you know, inner lives of young people on the other.
S32: But the most critical engine of social change in this regard is just gonna be the reactions of parents when their kids do something unfamiliar. And and over and over and over again, just experientially, it’s clear that you sort of just go with it. If you know, if your boy wants to play with a truck, you don’t have to snatched away from him. And similarly, if your girl wants to play with a truck or if words like boy and girl just don’t attach in any meaningful way to the way that they’re behaving and self conceiving, it’s you just you just have to know what. I mean, the difficulty of parenting is knowing what flow to go with and which one to stop. And in the most, you know, it’s so ad you know, it’s so ad hoc that there’s no rule. This is a non algorithmic is as a life challenge could possibly be. But I I think you get my point right, which is this conceptually, if a parent recoils in horror at something a very small child does, that’s what the child internalizes.
S20: Right. And I think it’s it’s interesting to watch this accelerating pace of change. And even I mean, I love the way you put that, knowing which flows to go with and which ones not.
S37: I remember becoming aware when my boys were 4, 3 or 4, they were like doing their pre-school interviews or whatever. Now they’re even younger.
S20: They were like two. And Ellen was given like a baby doll in one of these sessions. And he was so tender with it and like fetid a little bottle and just made me realize we hadn’t. He’d had like one human shaped doll for a while and then it just sort of fell into the abyss and we didn’t look at and it wasn’t something we fostered or didn’t foster. And and he he just was like so tender on the spot.
S4: And it made us realize that every time he looked at a cement mixer and was excited about it, we were like, Oh, let’s get him a cement mixer today. And I think we got him a couple, you know, figures after that. They didn’t totally stick, although still he’s got like a whole universe of figures with his loveis and stuffies that that is. There’s a lot of like play acting and tender talk to all of them and taking care of them that his brother is just less interested in. But I you know, I do feel aware of the fact that I still somehow created a gendered flow there, despite never quite meaning to or wanting to, because I can’t imagine that if I had had a girl who was 2, she would’ve never seen a baby doll before. Hmm. Yeah.
S6: All right. Well, if you’re interested in following up and looking at the article we were responding to. It’s called Bring Back the Tomboys. It’s in the February 11th New York Times by Lisas Celan Davis. All right. Moving on. All right. Well, let me begin by saying obviously we’re not the Political Gabfest, we’re not the medical gabfest. We are the culture get past. Our job is to look at things culturally. We don’t mean to slight any aspect of the story. Also, we don’t know right now what we are dealing with in the Corona virus. Is it a pandemic on the scale of Spanish flu? God forbid we sincerely hope not. Is it a very, very, very bad cold virus? It does not seem to be. Only that we don’t know whether we’re facing a pandemic or a panic yet. But we wanted to talk a little bit about how works of art, literature, pop culture and otherwise have dealt with the theme of the epidemic. And as Rebecca Onion has pointed out on Slate Contagion, the Soderbergh movie from 2011 is suddenly in the top 10 on i-Tunes. The format we decided on, each of us would pick a cultural item or artifact relating to disease, epidemic, pandemic, plague, etc. and talk about it a little bit. Dan, why don’t we start with you. What did you pick and what was it like to read it?
S19: Now, I wanted to bring in and talk about a novel by Max Brooks called World War Z. That is, in fact, a iZombie novel. It is a kind of oral history set in the years following mankind’s survival of a zombie of a zombie plague and the great war that results are told by the survivors. The story of that pandemic, the zombie pandemic from the very first cases all the way up to the final victory achieved by a sort of combined force of humanity, of the remaining humanity over the zombies. This was turned into a movie, a big hit movie with Brad Pitt that I have never seen because it is seems way too scary for me. But the movie also seems very focused on the sort of zombie action, the fast zombies chasing people and the battles between humans and zombies. In fact, the book is much more focused on infrastructure and organization. It’s actually a real buffet for nerds like the like Max Brooks loves having, you know, former generals or former administrators dissecting battle plans and talking about the supply chain and discussing the vectors of infection. It’s really about a massive organized response to a crisis and the kinds of sacrifices that that kind of massive organized response requires in order to survive the crisis. And in the context of what we’re experiencing now, you know, I find that there’s such a desire and this is one thing that Rebecca Onion’s piece in Slate talked about. There’s such a desire on the part of all of us to fit the news into our understood narrative framework. Right. We we always want to try and understand the ways in which the things we are experiencing are like, oh, it’s just like that scene, an act, one of any pandemic movie where someone coughs and then everyone looks at the coffer and you and you and you would start to think, oh, could it be worse than I think? But what’s scary about this book isn’t isn’t the sort of beat of the story progressing along and the pandemic getting worse. What’s scary about it in the context of what we’re seeing now as is, are the ways in which the mistakes in the book that individuals and governments make seem very, very recognizable and foreseeable for our own current situation. Right. In the book, there’s an incompetent president. There’s a population that distrusts science. There’s a Chinese government that withholds information about early cases and in fact, silences a doctor who diagnoses a very early case. Max Brooks won’t wrote for The Washington Post last week about his book Getting Banned in China. And how frustrating that seems now in this context. I mean, no wonder it got banned, but also no wonder that as I reread it, I found myself just thinking, oh, it’s not that I am worried that the disease is going to spread exactly the way the disease spreads in this book, that I’m worried that we’re going to make the same mistakes that the fictional characters in this book make, that there are going to be breakdowns of infrastructure and organization that are totally foreseeable, but that we have set ourselves up to make nonetheless.
S6: Julia, what? What did you pick?
S38: So I actually prompted by you, Steve went back and reread Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which is a very different kind of encounter with morality. It’s one that takes contagion as a given of human existence, but begins to examine it, the mechanics of it. And and it’s really about how we perceive culture in a globalized world. And it’s really interesting to read this book that uses contagion and virality as a metaphor for our descriptive mechanism for social change in the transmission.
S20: Of trends. I mean, there’s there’s some of it that’s around actual diseases and there’s discussion of syphilis epidemics and AIDS epidemics and and the rest. But there’s also a lot about like hushpuppies and crime and, you know, all caught kinds of delightful anecdotes, as one might expect to find in the work of Malcolm Gladwell.
S39: But I think.
S4: 1, it’s almost the reverse. Well, or maybe it’s not the reverse. Neither of these texts is particularly interested in diseases as diseases, right? F. Alwasy uses the fact of a spreading disease to to examine political and social structures and how they would respond to crisis and how well they are prepared or not prepared in in the tipping point. The metaphor of the disease is essentially a tool that tries to help us understand how a living in a globalized world feels and how it is now that more there are more humans. They can more easily encounter other humans. There is more freedom of travel and more freedom for all kinds of things to spread and how that changes our experience of the world.
S20: And the thing that struck me most about it, especially because we are probably here in the United States with six deaths reported and 100 plus cases approaching, our own tipping point is that the tipping point is, is there’s an actual tipping point like what is the point at which the thing actually spreads? And then there’s a perceptual tipping point, which is what’s the moment at which you begin to grok, allow? This is everywhere. And they’re not. Sometimes he’s talking about that one and sometimes he’s talking about the other. And when you bring it back to actual contagion, the distinction between the two seems more essential than it does when you’re talking about hushpuppies.
S6: Well, I read The Plague by Alberich Kamu, which I’d never read before. The supposedly existentialist climbin there sort of two things people who hadn’t read it might know about it other than obviously being about the outbreak of plague in a modern Algerian city. It’s that it’s an existential is classic and that it’s a some kind of a parable or allegory for fascism. Actually, I found both of those things a very, very limiting way to read the book, which I regard as great. Now that I’ve finally read it, that absolute masterpiece of modern literature, it’s less about, well, let me begin by saying that it’s so apposite because it takes this highly commercial Algerian port city, a treeless city called Oran, a real city that that Kemo, who grew up in Algeria, was raised in Algeria, was familiar with. And it and it goes under heavy lockdown of a kind that we’re now seeing in China because of an outbreak of a rat and and flee, spread plague and a kind of old fashioned medieval bubonic bacterium. And I would say the first thing that I note about the book is the incredible competence and seriousness of the prose, not self seriousness, but seriousness. It mixes and almost American hard-boiled tone that derives from Hemingway. But even a little bit from Hammett and the detective writers, just an incredibly affectless, factual kind of writing that emerged, I think, out of World War 1 when just bullshitting in a Victorian way about anything seemed inappropriate to modern experienced. It mixes that with the rhapsodic French philosophizing and the combination is narcotic. I mean, one could read this interminably. One could listen to Camus speak and write and observe forever. And the second thing I would say is its mode of it. Its mode of attention. It’s told mostly from the point of view of a doctor attempting to treat, you know, ever more geometrically increasing numbers of patients. But it’s it’s really about it’s not existential in the sense like it’s trite, Lee reminding us that we should be aware of death in ways that modern life confuses us to be forgetful of it.
S40: In fact, it’s a it’s really a precise examination of modes of attention and inattention. And it treats the plague as a plague. It is not some hidden, you know you know, Camus is a very secular writer. There’s no sort of Old Testament sense that who we are is going to be suddenly sharply defined and refined by the fact of this disease. I mean, the book is devoted to the idea of human happiness and and it treats this in an intrusion as an awful, awful tragedy. But but nonetheless, it does focus people’s identity and attention in ways that are completely surprising. So. So faced with fascism or the plague, the least likely people turn out to be heroes in some instances. I mean, some some essence of who you are has to rise to the surface in order to in order to face it. And that’s. Beautifully told, but that the time I will. Leave off by just saying that the that that the attentiveness of the prose itself to the physical details of a community suffering under excruciating disease that is going viral. Is that attention to detail is remarkable and quite believable. I think because of can lose experience in the resistance.
S6: He was trapped in Paris under the Nazis and in contradistinction to start and de Beauvoir fought the Nazis with total derring do and heroism. And that seriousness is what is in the bones of this book. So I highly recommend it to anyone who’s never read it.
S20: I am among those who have never read it.
S30: That reminds me of Rebecca Soldats book, A Paradise Built in Hell, which has her sort of journalistic NSA istick chronicle of the communities that form in the midst of disaster. And it is an attempt at a sort of counter narrative to, you know, something like the road where the focus is on it. At the hint of disaster, our society falls apart and it becomes every man for himself. This is, you know, accounts of of in actual disasters. What happens is that people band together. They support each other. And they do so not only with like a grimness of purpose, but with like real joy that they find meaningful work within the context of a banding together and and sustaining a community through some kind of a disaster.
S6: Yeah, Dan, that’s beautifully put. I mean, solidarity becomes necessary to survival. The whole is stricken. The whole must react as a whole.
S3: I mean, it’s a very moving aspect of this book. Julia, it strikes me that the common theme among all three of us is that in one obvious sense, this is a natural disaster or an act of God or where however you want to put it, it is nature and somehow in some ways unexpectedly interacting with us in ways that are biological and natural at the same time. How do you ever separate that out from the human dimension of the political dimension of how we react to it, how we deal with it, and how we allowed it to happen?
S6: I’m curious because the Gladwell is probably the least directly apposite to a, you know, outbreak of a disease. Did it did it in any way sharpen your sense of the relationship between. You know, virality, as we understand it, in the digital space and virality is we’re going to come to acquaint ourselves with it during what may be an epidemic.
S20: I think what it did is highlight for me the degree to which the situation we’re in is unprecedented because because we haven’t faced so communicable and uncertain a disease, it seems, at a moment that’s ever been this global.
S38: I mean, even just the difference in the last 20 years since SaaS in the early odds or whatever, 59 years in the mobility of people in China.
S20: And just what China looks like is is exponential a to use word that is sort of cliched in this context. But I also think apt. And so. The possibility of the communication of everything from diseases to ideas is so much more than it was even at the turn of the millennium. Right. And you sort of there’s something about living in a new millennium where you’re like where in the future now and it’s you. It’s kind of hard to fathom how different 20-20 is from the year 2000. Even if we all know we didn’t have iPhones back then and whatever else.
S4: But it really is substantially different from the world we lived in. At the moment of stars, which is essentially, I think just just after Malcolm Gladwell wrote this book. So we things are more communicable and we have an increased ability to perceive their communication. Right. If if this were 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, what would we even all know about what was going on in Suhan?
S20: Would people in one have been travelling all over the world in the way that that has propagated the disease in that gestation period that we seem to be seeing that they would have allowed the spread and then would we had the sense of, OK, well, we can all sit in our homes and we can watch Contagion again and try to remember or apprehend its lessons? Well, while we think about what it means to live in modern society. It’s all it’s all transforming quickly, even from the moment when the book was written.
S30: Yeah, I think that the real difference. I mean, what’s revolutionary now is not even so much how much more communicable the disease becomes because of how because of the way that society has opened up, but how much communication we can do about the disease. And that’s led to meet to a pretty interesting situation where, Julia, you talked about the difference between the real tipping point of a virus and the moment the tipping point of our recognition of the virus and its import. But it seems to me that this is the first case where we have been truly ahead of the game like so far ahead of the game that people are responding to a virus as if it is a pandemic. And and it is not truly yet, at least within the within the constraints, the United States. Right. I mean, maybe this will turn out to be wrong. And actually, right now, at this moment, the moment that we record, you know, thousands of cases are incubating in the US. But right now, people, I feel like, are behaving as if we have reached a tipping point when it’s not clear that we necessarily have. Right, right there.
S19: So as the example I’ll give right now, the creative writing world is in this total uproar because AWP, the Associated Writing Programs Conference is this weekend in San Antonio. And San Antonio just happens to have declared a public health emergency yesterday because of a number of cases. And military quarantine had an air force base in the city. Almost everyone who came from the the coronavirus cruise ship and came back to the United States has been in quarantine in a Air Force base in San Antonio. And and so the creative writing world is just basically like in flames. People are bailing out of this conference by the score. Panels are getting canceled. They just announced last night that the conference will go on. Yet in the last 24 hours, like two dozen people I know who were previously going off, decided at the last minute to just eat the plane fare and cancel it. But yet at this moment in San Antonio, there has only been one confirmed case of someone with a virus not in military quarantine. And so like the the disproportion of the response, because of the enormous amount of information that we can get and the way that our brains take the information we get and immediately narrative ize it, immediately set it going on its merry path along the story of apocalypse that we have all heard so many times and can easily imagine like that. It seems to me, has created a situation where we are so far ahead of reality in a way that feels unfamiliar to me.
S6: Egged on a little bit. Medical professionals who seem freaked out by the exact nature of the virus, its transmissibility, its subsequent effects. I mean, it’s not entirely a narrative construct that this might be pandemic.
S15: No, not at all. But it isn’t. But it seems to me that people are behaving right now as if it’s one month from now. Yeah.
S38: Yeah. I mean, I think one thing we’re experiencing right now is the difference between having access to a wealth of information and the distance between that and any knowledge or certainty or insight about what that means about how we should act, how we should behave as a society, whether it’s rational to make a run on all the Purell at the Costco or sort of stupid comfort that that is irrelevant to what the actual trajectory of the disease will be.
S4: I mean, I think we are the news reports suggest to me that we are past a tipping point in the United States with multiple instances of community spread in multiple states. And and that things will get worse before they get better. But that’s, you know, my non-scientific, uninformed conclusions based off of having a wealth of information that I’m trying to interpret without without the clarity that anybody would like. You know?
S6: Already will. Obviously, all of our fingers are crossed that this is as contained and as ultimately trivial as it possibly could be. We will watch it play out. All right. Moving on. All right. Now is the moment in the podcast and we endorse Dan, what do you what do you have?
S15: I have two things. One, because I meant to mention it during our tomboy sequence, but then forgot too, which is just there’s a really great comic for like high school readers called Tomboy by Liz Prince, which is about which is a great memoir about growing up a tomboy and what what that is like and is sort of a great introduction to that, like cultural.
S34: Signifier for a generation that is not maybe as familiar with that cultural signifier as we were. No, you’re right. It’s a great book. But by the endorsement I had intended to make for today is the I’m endorsing the Pitchfork Sunday Review. So now though, the older I get, the less I find myself able to really make great use of regular pitchfork reviews. Like I just no longer understand the cultural connotation of a 7.6 the way I once did. But every Sunday, Pitchfork runs along critical essay on an album that the site has never reviewed before, and that sometimes means something recent. More often it means something from the 70s, 80s or 90s. And these pieces are inevitably totally fascinating. They’re always by really good critics. Lindsays all adds or Eric Harvey or Stephen Pearce. Half the time it’s like a very thoughtful new look at an album that I already know really well, but that maybe I haven’t read anything about recently or that are never something like Red-Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson or Tracy Chapman’s first album or Superduper Fly by Missy Elliott. But the Sunday Review has also done what I always hope. Great criticism will do, which is it has introduced me to records that have become part of my regular listening rotation that I’ve totally fallen in love with, even though I totally missed them the first time around. Like Bennie Maupin’s The Jewel in the Lotus or TalkTalk Spirit of Eden or Lamont Young’s well-tuned piano. I have discovered those albums because of great essays in the pitchforked Sunday Review that have given me the context from which these albums came and a little bit of a story about their creation and then made an argument for why they are great listening. Experience isn’t worth knowing about and understanding. So check it out every Sunday on Pitchfork, the Pitchfork Sunday Review.
S6: That’s very cool. Julia, would you have.
S20: Well, in the spirit of our conversation about virality, I would like to recommend to you all a video that first went viral, as best I can tell in 2014, but which only just arrived at my shores this month. Or maybe even last month since it’s early March. And hopefully does not indicate that even if the Corona virus outbreak is largely quashed, someone will get coronavirus in 2010 26. Probably that is what will happen anyway.
S35: This video is called Camera Falls from Airplane. And then something dramatic happens at the end. And I won’t tell you what it is. And we’ll put a link to it on our show page.
S3: All right. Why of two quick endorsements this week. The first is, you know, everyone freaks out about A.I. The machines are going to start to think they probably do already. They’re going to start to, you know, take over our toasters and our cars and finally kill us. This is the most overblown, ridiculous fear because of a conceptual error. Machines will never, ever be able to think. Which I firmly believed was a philosophical proven. Some people may regard that as an oxymoron. I don’t. There’s just a categorical difference. It’s a category error. There’s just a difference between what mechanical computation is and thinking is. And that that that that is a gap that will never be bridged by a machine. So we don’t need to worry about it. Well, it turns out someone who actually knows computers better than your average philosopher wrote the cover story for the American scholar this month. It’s called No Ghost in the Machine by Mark Halperin. And artificial intelligence isn’t as intelligent as you think. There are many people with a name like Mark Halperin. This is the Mark Halperin, who was a member of the IBM Programming Research Division in 1957 and has worked for software companies ever since. So he seems. No, he’s talking about. But his point simply is that we’ve we’ve done this for millennia. We invent a new kind of machine and then we analogize from the machine to our human essence and vice versa and get hopelessly confused about the two. And then when we invent some new miraculous machine, we completely drop the previous machine as a commanding metaphor for what thought or human essence is and just move on. So and then we’re going to do the same thing with computers. Computers do not think computers are not brains, brains are not computer. And it was just refreshing to have someone make this argument from an authoritative, technologically authoritative point of view. And then very quickly, the Swedish duo’s first aid kit. I don’t know if I’ve endorsed them before or if I haven’t. The album Stay Gold is amazing, but especially the song Shattered and Hollow is just. These guys are so, so good. Tight harmonizing sisters from Sweden. What else could you ask for? It’s it’s incredibly beautiful music, highly recommended.
S15: Would you like to know how many times you’ve previously endorsed first aid kit? Yes, please. How many? Twice.
S35: They must be that’s good. Third time’s the charm. Let’s go for the hand. I resign. Can I respond briefly to your first endorsement says?
S20: It just ties up a couple of things on our show around our and transmit with technologies. I heard a story which may be legend that the the longtime congressman, Barney Frank, hated email and loved the telephone, and that his line on this preference of his was that if the iPhone had somehow been invented first or computing had some of an invented first or email, we could all email each other. And then in like the year 2000 and 7 or whatever it was, Steve Jobs stood up on a stage. It’s like I’ve invented a device that will allow you to pick up an object which will be connected to an infinite string of wires to another object somewhere else.
S29: And when you do, you will hear the voice of a loved one and be able to talk to them in real time with great speed. We would all be like, Oh my God, what an advancement. That’s so much better than this asynchronous writing back and forth bullshit. Give me a telephone. It can’t fucking wait to talk on the telephone and that our collective delusion that email is an advancement on the telephone rather than a retreat from it is is is insane.
S20: Which I find very persuasive. Just harkening back to our our conversation about the power of voice. So hopefully that’s encompassed in that Helprin essay. I see. I’ll just assume it’s in there.
S6: That’s great. That is wonderful. God bless Barney Frank. All right.
S41: Well, thank you, Dan.. Thank you, Steve. And thank you, Julia. Thank you.
S42: You’ll find links to some of the things you talked about today. That’s at our show page at Slate.com. Less culture first. We love it when you e-mail us at culture, first at Slate.com. Please do it really next week. We do have a Twitter feed. It’s absolute. First, our producer is Justin Marley. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Dan Poise and Julia Turner. I’m Steve INSKEEP. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
S43: We said we going to get.
S44: We said we going get.
S45: He’s going to get and run from our fears.
S46: Once we get.
S20: Hello and welcome to this Slots Blues segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest today we join you to debate a recent essay which appeared in The New York Times called My Ex-boyfriend’s New Girlfriend Is Lady Gaga. This essay was hailed by many as delightful. The best thing you’ll read on the Internet today must read and derided by Dan Kois as not that good, except for one paragraph. So we will learn in this segment which paragraph? Goys. That was good. What his argument is for why the rest of the essay was bad. I will perhaps say a word or two in defense of the essay. And then Steve will adjudicate which of us is right, as he did last week, wrongly declaring quite the victor goys.
S30: Give us your thoughts on the situation that this essay describes is delightful. Write that this woman, Lindsey Krauss, who is an editor at the Times and the Opinion Section. Her perfectly nice, perfectly handsome ex-boyfriend. All of a sudden he’s just like a rando. He’s a he’s a norm, a normy. He just ends up dating Lady Gaga somehow. And one day her phone just blows up with messages from friends being like, Are you okay? And she doesn’t even understand why until she discovers what has happened. And then she tracks her, you know, her sort of summize stalking of this person from her past who suddenly is pulled into this whirlwind of of the fame monster, Lady Gaga, and what it means to try and compare yourself to that person and your old relationship to this new relationship. So the situation is delightful. The essay itself is extremely pedestrian, like Lindsay Krauss is a decent enough writer to make clear, like what the situation is. But she’s not a particularly lively or or vivid or funny writer. And the way that she unpacks this situation seems very, very pedestrian to me. And the best way that I feel like I can illustrate that is the way the essay ends with this moment of of her taking her boy, her ex-boyfriend’s relationship with Lady Gaga as a way to think about, well, should I be living a more ambitious life? Should I be doing something that’s bigger, but then essentially undercutting that with this kicker, which is recently someone sent me a photo of my fiancee and me dancing at a wedding and I posted it on Instagram. Notice that she made sure to mention that she has a fiancee. I saw Lady Gaga’s boyfriend in the views and I realized we’re actually all the same strangers smiling on a screen. I think the argument of this piece should not be that actually we are all the same as Lady Gaga. The what is interesting theoretically about this piece are the dramatic differences between a romance has lived in the public spotlight and and the way that we all view it, not just you, the the ex boyfriends, ex girlfriend and our own romances, our own relationships. And maybe if she had drawn out the ways that her relationship with her current fiancee differs not only from that old relationship, but with this publicly viewed thing, this object that is in the Instagram windows of everyone she knows. That’s an interesting essay, but this isn’t it. This is like a totally adequate first person essay by someone who is an editor, not necessarily a writer who tells a couple of good jokes and has. Yes, I maintain one truly good paragraph. Julia, what is your case for this essay?
S20: My case for this essay is exactly the opposite of yours, which is that the obvious place to have taken this essay would have been what is fame, what is romance in the public eye? What are the differences between intimacy inside and outside of it? Like joke, joke, joke, riff raff riff. Isn’t this hilarious meat dress, rimshot, etc.. And that what I loved about this essay is that rather than taking the obvious route, it is a really interesting meditation on what it is we do when we study the romances of others and when we think about the romances pursued by the people we used to have sweaty phone conversations with and the way in which our social media connections to one another make everybody kind of a you know, everybody’s Freddy Prince Jr. Everybody you ever met is like a lightly formerly famous person who you could find out about if you want to. Right.
S21: Whereas he I’m not sure. I think he’s still married. Sarah, Michelle, Guy and I have a food line.
S20: And then you just click it up and there they are. And you can kind of see how cute they got married. That a baby. Oh, man. Maybe they got divorced. Hey, they moved to Seattle. Wow. Their kid is cute. You know, like you just you everybody sort of visually discoverable in a way. The previously only celebrities were, you know, on the cover of photo play or whatever. And. The notion that her ex is somewhere and even though he is dating Lady Gaga and experiencing whatever the heck that is like. But she is this kind of ambient. You know, peripheral figure in his vision as well. And that somewhere in his Instagram stories, he’s seeing his college ex, you know, loving it up with some fiancee at some wedding somewhere. I don’t know. I thought that was a surprising place to take it. And it helped for me, the reading experience be more than like, oh, I see the headline. I know exactly what this piece is gonna be. I felt like I had had a nice, pleasing think about modern life. At the end of the essay, Steve Adjudicate will make Dan tell us which paragraph was good.
S6: I’m standing in the center of the ring. I’m holding both your wrists. The crowd’s booing a little bit because they wanted to see a little bit more blurred, a little more Gore. But, you know, you both got touched up a little bit, but there’s a definite winner here and. Thrown towards the sky is the wrist and left arm of Julia Turner.
S47: I’m filing havoc with commission for the Federal Argument Commission.
S3: Vegas. Vegas had a hand in this one outright. Yeah, I hear you. I liked this essay.
S8: I thought there there’s a certain genre of writing of that is writers by people who really aren’t primarily writers. And they’re refreshing. I mean, not all the time, but but sometimes they’re great because exactly that. Do you.
S6: They avoid all of the ticks, all of the gestures, all of the tricks, all of the obligatory, you know, moves like the friggin Westminster Dog Show. You know that that a piece like this would have to, you know, go through in order to score score all the necessary points if it were written by a writer writer. I think this is just a really nicely executed piece of light writing by a non writer. It’s very well done. And I take the point of that, which is that there used to be this form of fame that was otherworldly. The world sort of got leveled by social media, but but kind of not really in some ways. Maybe the toxic relationship we had to the really, truly very famous now has just been sort of transferred into our personal relationships. Thanks to social media. But then it reverses that nicely right at the end. And it says, no, actually, if you think about it a certain way, you can you can flat in the world again. And I’m I’m here to prove that because my ex-boyfriend is dating fucking Lady Gaga and I learned, you know, how to cope with it. I thought it was gentle and modest in in ways that self-consciously good writing aren’t. And and got it. What this woman’s actual truth was and not the the, you know, striven for truth, capital t truth that a real writer who had something, you know, kind of miraculous like this land in their in their lap, you know, what they would have made of it would have been so overblown.
S20: In the end, that is, first of all, a faint praise zee win. But I will take that.
S15: I hope Lindsay Crouse never listens to this segment where even the people who liked her essay are like, wow, I love it because she’s clearly not a writer. But she’s I mean, she may be.
S6: For all I know, she’s her generation’s fricking Tolstoy. I mean, I there’s no evidence to the contrary. It’s just this piece did not strive to hit a nine run home run, which is what, you know, your average writer would see this one coming down the center of the plate. Oh, my God. My fucking ex is dating a global superstar and swings so fucking hard. And I just liked that this was a. I’m like the whole point of the piece is taking something mammoth in stride and the tone of it reflected that.
S30: The bit I liked best does that very, very well and is and reflected a tone that I and and a ability with a joke that I wished was more present in the rest of the piece, which was a very simple moment. I went to a nice store. I had never been inside before, and I tried something on. The clerk asked me what the occasion was. I found out from Facebook that my ex-boyfriend asleep dating Lady Gaga. I told her and she looked me up and down.
S35: Ha! She said, Really?
S7: It’s a very good joke. I wish the peace had more. Very good jokes.
S35: Poor Dan, his his small mind only can be entertained by the tin of a hollow rimshot. Well, you’ve shared your thoughts with us and we are better for it.
S5: All right. Thank you so much. Slate Plus listeners for supporting Slate and its journalism and inexplicably, the work of Dan Kois. Hopefully his pieces are full of jokes that he would enjoy.
S15: Larded with jokes.
S1: Oh, my God. Meat dresses. They’re wearing meat dresses full of jokes. Yup.