Posted on October 27, 2015
By Cybele Knowles
One of my favoritest funniest things I’ve read on the internet in recent memory was this tweet from Shaadi Devereaux, a Black and AfroIndigenous writer who uses media to build narratives for Trans Women of Color:
When this tweet popped up on my timeline, I was in the right frame of mind to receive its wisdom. A few months earlier, I had ended another relationship malformed by male entitlement and my overtolerance of that entitlement. In a short, sharp bite, Shaadi’s tweet expressed what I’d been feeling: that pursuing a relationship with a man was a very serious, tragic waste of my time. This tweet both made me lol hard and reminded me of my resolve to reduce the amount of my time, space, and energy that I’m willing to give to a man.
Misandry is a now-not-new trend in comedy. In fall 2014, it was well observed in articles by Amanda Hess for Slate and Jess Zimmerman for Archipelago, among others. Both discussed popular misandrist mottoes as ironic performance. Jess Zimmerman very helpfully boiled it down: “NO, NONE OF US LITERALLY WANT TO KILL ALL MEN. Here’s what we do want to kill: the concept of masculinity.” Just a few months ago, The Medium published a more measured article about misandrist humor by Charlotte Shane, in which she points out the important failures of popular misandry memes, including cissexism, gender essentialism, and racism.
Here’s my less eloquent analysis: misandrist humor is mean and ridiculous but sometimes necessary.
Misandry is mean because it dismisses an entire sex. It’s ridiculous (ironic) in that many (perhaps most) of the practitioners of misandry don’t actually dismiss all men. But despite that, misandry can be useful. Life-saving, actually. To illustrate why, I need to share another tweet from Shaadi, a laser blast of 100% truth:
“We care about their comfort to grotesque levels.” We care about men’s comfort to the point of committing grotesque acts against ourselves: devaluing ourselves, depriving ourselves, violating ourselves. The first step in learning to stop caring about men’s comfort so much is to stop believing they are more important than us. We need to shrink them down to our size; then we have a fighting chance of remembering ourselves in the crucial moments.
Certainly from the outside, misandry looks like a big, crude weapon that destroys everything in its path totally and immediately. But for women, our reflex to prioritize male happiness over our own is such a solid, monumental construct that misandry’s bludgeon only knocks out a few of the supports. You have to start somewhere.
Shaadi’s tweet lived in my head for months. Then one day, I decided that wasn’t enough. I wanted the tweet rendered in a tactile way. It would have been best to spell it out with beads, but I don’t know how to do beads. My handcraft of choice has always been needlework, so I ended up embroidering the tweet in black silk floss on the very fragile and thin cotton of an antique nightgown I bought at an estate sale for a few bucks.
As a finishing touch, I framed the embroidery with the nightgown’s original lace border. It feels nice to “have” the tweet as physical object in addition to its existence as shimmering pixels on my phone and a life-saving motto burned into my memory.
Let’s leave the last word to the brilliant Shaadi Devereaux! She followed up her original tweet with this great addition:
Don’t forget it, ladies! His fuckery is just germinating. If you like fire-tweets of personal alchemy, follow Shaadi (@TwittaHoney) on Twitter.
Posted on August 30, 2015
By Cybele Knowles
Last week, Marina Franklin did a GREAT set on Conan, which was a not-turn-downable invitation for me to write about one of my favorite stand-up comedians. First of all, though, I just want you to watch Marina’s performance. Are you ready to fall in love?
I first encountered Marina Franklin in Women Who Kill, a 2013 stand-up comedy special featuring Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser, and Marina. Of the four, Marina was the one for me—the one who, after the DVD ended, sent me scrabbling through YouTube for more of her work. This had everything to do with her distinctive voice (by which I mean her authorial voice rather than her physical one), the uniqueness of which was made all the more obvious due to the fact that the performances of her comadres on the DVD (Amy, Rachel, and Nikki) overlapped in aspects of voice. Marina’s voice was just different from anything else on the DVD, and different from anything else I’d ever heard, and funny as hell. You can watch a clip of that performance here.
In her stand-up, Marina doesn’t talk loud or move much, and she doesn’t need to. Through her facial expressions and her voice acting, she creates a completely magnetic performance. I believe a great deal of this magnetism comes from the fact that Marina performs an individual whose psychological state and identity are continuously shifting. One second she is fragile, her voice halting with uncertainty; the next she is forceful. One second she stunned by the world (“He pat my fro”); the next she is riding the horse of life confidently (“I’m a dream come true, baby”). I’ve come to think of Marina’s onstage persona as quietly but forcefully kaleidoscopic. She plays a person who is many people, and in this, connects with us. None of us is just one person; we’re all a grab-bag of crazy confidence and hobbling self-loathing and everything in between, with roots in many lands and cultures. Few people see us in our multiplicity, but it’s there, and Marina’s multifaceted, multinuanced performance gestures to the wild multiplicity in you, the viewer, too.
I just used the word “roots.” Marina talks about having grown up as an African American in a white neighborhood at the beginning of this clip. “I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. White neighborhood; I was the only black kid,” she says. “That really fucked me up. Then I moved to a black neighborhood and it was too late. I was white.” She goes on to say, “That’s why I’m not a sassy comedian on stage. I don’t have that energy…. People like that from a black female comic. That HMM. That MMM. You know, like on BET?” What Marina does instead is code-switch deftly and dazzlingly. This shifting of identity through speech is a part of her kaleidoscopic performance.
Through all her changes, the solid ground of the shifting self that Marina performs—the periods at the end of her multivoiced sentences—is her beautiful smile. It says, “I defy boundaries, including the one between you and me.” It’s irresistable. Marina performs around NYC and also produces a podcast, Friends Like Us, every episode of which features four women of color with very different views on hot topics.
Posted on August 26, 2015
By Aisha Sabatini Sloan
When I moved home at age thirty to live with my mother, I slept in the den because the apartment was so full of boxes, I couldn’t make a pathway between the doorway of my bedroom and the bed. I couldn’t go to sleep without watching Louie, and my memory of that time involves (repeatedly) waking up at around two or three in the morning because we were having an earthquake and my dog, for the life of her, couldn’t figure out which direction to project her barking. Afterward, Netflix wanted to know if I would like to continue watching Louie, which was perhaps the only question that I knew how to answer. I thought I was just looking for a giggle, but by the time Louis C.K. travels to Afghanistan and a duckling wobbles out into a gun-lined gulf between nations, eliciting laughter, I realized that this show wasn’t just loosening the pain in my chest, it was opening a hole there and filling me with the kind of globalized compassion that allows Buddhist monks to grow new neurological pathways. The narcissism of my mid-life shenanigans made this feat—to feel empathy?—all the more impressive. When, two years later, I still found myself “in the process of helping my mother move,” it was Maria Bamford who distracted me from obsessing about nuclear attacks and earthquakes in the middle of the night.
It was love at first YouTube. The premise of The Maria Bamford Show—“After being sighted by a homeless Comedy Central fan in Detroit, where she was selling clock radios on the sidewalk, she retreated to her parents’ home in Minnesota”—was my story, too, albeit with a bit of a twist:
In her 2012 Netflix show, The Special Special Special, a performance recorded in her home, for an audience of only her parents, Maria describes her online dating profile as follows: “I can wear the same outfit for five days or I can crouch down in the shower and make myself real small.” This list of skills was uncannily similar to my own range of abilities at that time. I realized then that making humor of my current state was the only thing that broke through the thick haze of my anxiety and depression that didn’t involve drugs or exercise. Since then, I have also realized that, as much as Claudia Rankine and Haruki Murakami, these comedians were teaching me how to write better, by demonstrating the payoff of weird lyricism and surprise. As much as James Baldwin and Pema Chodron, they were telling me that life would only ever, always be a struggle; that real laughter exists on the other side of that resignation.
The thing that truly zaps me is when Maria gets plain witchy with her rambling. Her response to a DJ who likens her brand of humor to schizophrenia seems like voodoo masquerading as a joke, a koan of absurdity that refutes and one-ups his misdiagnosis: “Hey, coward, if somebody sings out their Batman poetry to a largely hostile Barnes and Noble crowd, or if you crank out a raw unedited skull of a Granny Smith apple, pop that on a Bratz doll torso, upload that to Etsy, price it high, if you think of doing a nude clown opera, you write it, you cast it, you actually fucking do it? That doesn’t show you’re insane. That shows you are hardworking.”
I guess some part of this review is fueled by Cybele’s mention of Joyce Carol Oates’ recent twittered misgivings about stand-up comedy, a judgment that feels like a violation—slander against my gurus and therapists. For the geniuses of either craft, there is simply no difference, to my mind between literature and comedy. In fact, I’ve wondered if the stand-up stage is where some of the best essays are being written.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan is the author of a book. She now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she is attempting to be a little less Zen. One can overdo these things.
Photo of Maria at the top of this post is by Tierney Gearon.
Posted on August 21, 2015
By Hannah Ensor
“We should stop trying to introduce people to the things we love,” I said to my partner last week. We had just made my parents listen to an episode and a half of The Mystery Show while on family vacation. We had started their Mystery Show introduction a little under an hour before our drive was over, and when we started the winding climb to the house where we were staying, we still had twenty-one minutes of the Britney episode left. We didn’t have a “driveway moment”; instead, my very tired parents and my partner and I schlepped our stuff inside, and my dad fell asleep on the couch.
To be clear, my parents didn’t say they didn’t like the show; it’s that they didn’t say much at all (although my mom did ask, at the end of the first episode, “Do you have another episode on there?” and that’s why we started the second episode in the first place). I begin here in the service of explaining what happens to me—and perhaps to you, too—when watching myself watch a beloved media object through the eyes of someone who’s experiencing it for the first time, and noticing every delineation of their not yet having arrived at any opinion about whether they, too, are fond of the beloved media object.
In Portland two springs ago, the aforementioned partner and I thrust a different beloved media object in front of another set of family members: we were bringing a sketch from the then-web series Broad City to my sister and her partner. They had a nonreaction to the program similar to the one that my parents evinced last week; it’s not that they hated it, it’s that they said nothing in the face of something I find truly beautiful, moving, exasperatingly and heart-breakingly relatable, hilarious. In these cases, I’m baffled, and offended, and crazy insecure about why this might be.
The sketch in question was “The Commute,” which follows the two leads—Abbi and Ilana—preparing for their impending workdays in their two apartments:
For me, this sketch is my happy place. Or, one of my happy places (another is this Key & Peele sketch, another is this video of Diana Taurasi kissing Seimone Augustus’s cheek). When I watch Abbi and Ilana be so very much themselves to the absolutely perfect soundtrack of Pass That Dutch and Gypsy (two perfect songs joining into one), I thrust my arms into the air; I feel alive. I love that, without words, we learn so much about these two women, and are able to align and/or distance our own stupid selves with/from their stupid selves, even when/if the basic facts of our lives are so different from theirs. My heart breaks with love for Ilana when the whole tilt of the sketch dissipates and she breaks in with “I want babies.” They’re able to turn a corner with that one, and to turn one more time with Ilana’s simple “fuuuuck” and the elevator ding at the end. I think it’s just perfect, and could watch it all day today and till about lunchtime tomorrow.
This all changes when I watch it with someone for whom it’s their first encounter with Broad City; that’s confusing and nerve-wracking. Of course they’ll hate me when they hate the clip. Of course they’ll think I’m an idiot when they think it’s dumb. When the clip fucking starts with Ilana pulling out the vibrator for her morning orgasm, I remember that I’m with my sister, and get uncomfortable about how she and I have never really talked with each other about sex. When Ilana says the thing about babies, I immediately want to explain what a non sequitur is and why I like this particular one, even though I’d be uselessly telling this to two English Ph.Ds., and anyway my understanding of non sequiturs stems mainly from my childhood readings of the comic strip by the same name. I think my sister’s a little bit the Abbi to my Ilana, even as I’m a little bit the Abbi to my partner’s Ilana.
At the end of the three-minute clip, my sisters, at whose house we were staying, said, “So do you two want sheets?” We made our bed and went to sleep.
In conclusion, I suppose I will now aim for indifference when it comes to whether or not you find this clip hilarious, so relatable it breaks your exasperated little heart, moving, beautiful. Maybe you’ll like The Mystery Show, or the WNBA, or Key & Peele, and maybe you won’t. My beloved media object needn’t be yours; which is to say, if I really love something, it doesn’t matter if you do, too, right? But… do you?
Hannah Ensor is a poet living in Tucson, Arizona. She coordinates the Reading & Lecture Series and the Summer Residency Program at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, is the president of the board of directors of Casa Libre en la Solana, serves as an assistant poetry editor for DIAGRAM, and co-edits textsound.org. More of her writing can be found at hannah-ensor.com.
Posted on August 14, 2015
On Joyce Carol Oates, Stand-Up Comedy, Poetry, and How Each Genre Is a Special Snowflake and We Need Them All
By Cybele Knowles
Joyce Carol Oates says a lot of unconsidered sh*t on Twitter and we should just ignore her, but I couldn’t resist responding to this:
I wasn’t the only one to take the bait: in about 24 hours, JCO’s tweet received almost 2,000 (mostly indignant) replies. So she made things worse:
My reaction to that was best expressed in this reply:
Although JCO’s assertion that comedy “cannot approach the epicenter of our lives” is so wrong it appears to be a taunt, it is true each genre has a unique set of powers and limitations. I watch a lot of stand-up comedy and I attend a lot of poetry readings, and I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between these two genres. Both strive to express something important using artful language that is compressed, rhythmic, and/or otherwise rhetorically marked. In their live performances, both poets and stand-up comedians create artificial cadences to basically enchant the listener, as do preachers, pastors, and rappers.
And what is different between comedy and poetry? To make a sweeping generalization, poetry often gets at the “truth” through the specific detail, where stand-up comedy often gets at the “truth” through a generalization. It’s the rain on the red wheel barrow vs. “Asian parents are like this.” (I have an Asian parent and they kinda are like that.) Neither approach expresses the whole truth, but each has something important to speak to truth.
So yes: stand-up comedy is a holy endeavor, and poetry is a holy endeavor, and even Joyce Carol Oates’ dark-sided, crime-obsessed, sometimes-verging-on-pulp fiction is a holy endeavor. I tweeted this at Joyce Carol Oates:
But this post is what I really meant to say.
Posted on July 28, 2015
By Laura C.J. Owen
I’ve never seen a full episode of Amy Schumer’s show, I don’t really care for her stand-up, and at the time of the writing of this post, I hadn’t yet seen her movie, Trainwreck. Yet I would declare to anyone I met, “Amy Schumer? OMG I LOOOOOOOVE HEEEEERRR!!!!” (Yes, I talk like that; I am a good time at parties).
What gives? Am I a liar or a poser? Possibly, like, in general. But I’d venture to guess that many (maybe most) of the fans contributing to Amy’s current pop-culture moment have the same relationship with Amy’s comedy as I do.
Amy’s Comedy Central sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, produces one-to-three-minute skits. Excerpted from the show, certain skits, having achieved viral success, pop up all over my Facebook, Twitter, and favorite websites. Thus, I’ve watched Amy Schumer in the way many of us consume much of our pop culture these days: through clips on YouTube.
I, like an increasing number of Americans, don’t “have television”, and watch my television almost entirely through Internet streaming. I could, if I wanted to, watch full episodes of Inside Amy Schumer via Comedy Central’s dreadful website or, more efficiently, through the streaming service Hulu. But I’m more than happy to be informed by the Internet of the cream-of-the-crop Amy Schumer sketches and watch them in short bursts. And then force my boyfriend to watch them. And then post them to social media. And then interrupt something more important in my everyday life by saying, “Have you seen that Amy Schumer sketch?! You HAVE to watch RIGHT NOW,” and pulling out my phone or computer and pulling up YouTube and saying, “Sorry, it’s just taking a second to load,” and, “God, this ad is so long, hold on just a second, I promise the sketch is funny.”
(Amy Schumer’s internet-accessibility is no thanks to Comedy Central’s own website, which, like most television network websites, sucks. It’s difficult to access full episodes, the website is slow and clunky to navigate, and even short clips are preceded by very, very, slowly loading ads. As usual, Hulu is a better and more efficient way to access a show like Inside Amy Schumer, though you do have to pay a monthly fee and there are short ads. And, of course, YouTube is even better, being free, though you are unlikely to find a full episode. Comedy Central, despite its shitty website, obligingly posts clips of many Amy Schumer sketches to their YouTube channel. Jezebel has reposted so many of these that the grumpy among the commentariat has been complaining that Amy Schumer is played out, not that great, and probably Jezebel is paid by Comedy Central to promote her).
I don’t think Amy Schumer would have achieved the success she has if she’d stuck to stand-up and never ventured a sketch show. As I said, when I tried to watch her stand-up, I was really disappointed. Her comedy relies on battle-of-the-sexes humor; watching her stand-up, I realized that most of her observations aren’t that funny outside of a surreal sketch-comedy format.
My favorite George Saunders wrote, “Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to.” Amy Schumer’s sketches tell a certain kind of truth more quickly than a comedy set ever can. And, to flip the Saunders quote, her sketches tell a truth in a surreal, convoluted way that amplifies and complicates the sometimes-banal observation at their center.
For instance, there isn’t nothing particularly ground-breaking in pointing out that waiting on hold for the cable company is torturous; what makes the sketch “Calling the Cable Company” breath-catchingly hilarious is how Amy Schumer takes the conceit to surreal extreme after surreal extreme.
Further, the observations at the center of a sketch like “Fight Like a Girl” are banal to the point of reinforcing misogynistic characterizations. The main joke is that women are “smarter and crazier” than men, running circles around them in clever traps to elicit compliments…and hoo boy, don’t irk them when they’re on their period, har har! But the sketch’s execution—a seriously done parody of a fight-training sequence straight out of some nineties movie you definitely watched as a kid—makes the hoary clichés somehow funny.
Don’t get me wrong: Amy Schumer has been lauded for her feminism, and I agree with this assessment. Her famous “A Very Realistic Military Game” takes on rape in the military demonstrates that you can make a rape joke, if you skewer rapists and sexist bureaucracy rather than victims.
But that doesn’t change the fact that much of her comedy reworks the old “men talk like this, and women talk like this” you can hear at any amateur night at a comedy club. The difference is in the awesome sketch execution.
“Men hate shopping lol!” isn’t funny, but “Say Fine to the Shirt” is fucking hilarious because of its spot-on imitation of “Say Yes to the Dress” as well as Justin Long’s over-the-top dude-bro performance. Again, if I went to a comedy set where some comic cracked, “Dudes hate shopping, amirite? Women have ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ – they should make a show for dudes called ‘Say Fine to the Shirt’!” I probably sit stony-faced. But the sketch makes me laugh every time because of its extended commitment to the premise and the great performances.
Similarly, “A Couple Chooses a Movie” is peak “men talk like this, and women talk like this” (men don’t want to admit they like “Pitch Perfect” lol!), but the spot-on skewering of things like horror-porn movies makes it perceptive and relatable.
In fact, I’d argue that Amy Schumer’s success as a feminist is in part because she takes now-standard feminist observations and executes them in a confidently ridiculous fashion. It’s not ground-breaking to point out that roles for women in Hollywood disappear as they age, but “Last Fuckable Day” spins out the premise in a fantastically surreal way, as three actresses ritually celebrate this coming-of-age non-existence. Amy Schumer’s feminism is safe feminism, with what the Guardian charitably described as a “blind spot” about race (the Washington Post has a blunter take).
In brief: I agree very much with most things that Amy Schumer has to say in her sketches, but I don’t find those things very profound or even ground-breaking, and sometimes I even find them boring or problematic. That doesn’t mean her sketches aren’t often very, very funny, however.
I’ve enjoyed her show’s most recent third-season sketches the most, because they take the simple premise and wrap it in a more complex parody. Her early sketches suffer too much from letting one joke dominate. As time as gone on, she and her staff have mastered the art of adding a twist to the end of the sketches, complicating the simple joke, such as in “Search History” (watch all the way through) or “Multiple Personalities” which tags on an extra twist-joke at the end.
Arguably, the show is at their best with parodies. Skewering boy bands and condescending “I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are” songs might seem like easy pickings, but “Girl You Don’t Need Make-Up” is not only a perfect parody, with insight into our culture’s complicated mixed-messages to women about make-up, it’s also a damn catchy song. Are you infuriated about rape culture in high-school football? Check out Amy’s pitch-perfect “Friday Night Lights” parody. Having difficulty explaining why Aaron Sorkin is so patronizing in his writing of female characters? Share “The Foodroom.” These parodies deserve the highest praise of all, which is that they create their own object: you do not need to know any of the source material to find them hilarious.
One day, I’ll watch an Inside Amy Schumer episode all the way through. For now, though, excuse me while I go play “Girl You Don’t Need Make-Up” for the millionth time.
Laura C.J. Owen is a writer and teacher in Tucson, Arizona.
Posted on June 20, 2015
By Cybele Knowles
“The Western canon is full of jerks from beginning to end—just mean awful people who make terrible decisions and ruin everyone else’s lives.” In Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, author Mallory Ortberg, starting from this position, creates imaginary text conversations between prominent figures from Western lit and their (unfortunate) friends and family. It’s simultaneously a love letter to the canon and a hilarious critique of how we discuss and value it.
As she often does in her her pieces for The Toast (where the first of these text conversations appeared), Mallory translates the words and actions of revered literary characters into a contemporary voice and format that renders them human-ish again. Battle-scarred and weary English majors (self included) will respond to this re-humanization with extra delight. Reading Texts feels like someone let fresh air into the classroom—and then shared Starbursts and sugar-free Red Bull from their backpack with you. A surge of energy and glee results.
Just take a look. Here’s the beginning of a convo between adventurer king warlord Odysseus and loner demigod witch sender of mixed messages, Circe:
So much of the fun of Texts from Jane Eyre comes from the voices Mallory gives to characters who were unpleasant to begin with, or whose unpleasant attributes she exaggerates for comedic effect, including Hamlet (spoiled f*cking brat), Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby (major f*cking bitch), and Sherlock Holmes (highly unreliable coke addict).
Mallory’s portraits are moral evaluations that, without fail, find the evaluee to be wanting. If you’re not a battle-scared and weary English major, you may not be aware that since the emergence of New Criticism in the mid-twentieth century, this has been an unfashionable way to examine literature. New Criticism, according to Wikipedia, was a way of valuing literature that emphasized reading “to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object.” To oversimplify somewhat, New Criticism cared about structure and form, not content and context. Reading, Writing, and the Rhetoric of Whiteness by Wendy Ryden and Ian Marshall describes the constraining effects of the New Critical approach as follows:
New Criticism teaches us that the “text” is a self contained entity with an internal unity. Conflict, ambiguity, and resolution all contribute to the meaning of the text which stands alone as its own universe…. The principles of New Criticism do not easily allow for students to engage their own experiences in the interpretive act, and so just as New Criticism was formulated in the 1920s and 30s as a reactionary response against liberal democratic progressive views at the time on the part of its architects and became part of a kind of an intellectual Jim Crow, so too does New Criticism serve as a kind of short circuit between students and their experiences.”
New Criticism loosened its chokehold in English departments decades ago, but institutions change slowly, and our reading as taught in schools is still limited by New Criticism. Probably we still know as much as we do about metaphysical poetry (English poetry of the 17th century that featured extended metaphors called “metaphysical conceits”) and still study it because the extensive and controlled (tidy) poetic structure of these works was the perfect food for the specific metabolism of New Criticism.
One of the most canonized works of Western lit is the metaphysical poem “The Flea” by John Donne. In this poem, the (male) speaker tries to persuade his (female) lover to have sex. Both have just been bitten by a flea, and the speaker’s persuasion is based in a comparison of the lovers’ blood, mixed within the body of the flea, to intercourse. The comparison is held up as a characteristic achievement of metaphysical poetry and praised for cleverness. But there are other ways to look at this poem—other things to note about it. Here’s Mallory’s take:
This conversation is funny, but for me (battle-scarred, weary English major who, as a young pup, was forced to seek nourishment from the dry teat of New Criticism) it also represents a great paradigm shift. It’s so delightful to take a break from admiring the length of a poetic comparison, or the lasting potence of a literary work, or the singular genius of a creator, and look at a poem also as human interaction: between character and character, writer and reader, context and context.
Speaking of the singular genius of a creator, some of my favorite conversations in Texts from Jane Eyre feature poets and artists being incredibly trying to their loved ones due to their extreme self-involvement. Some are narcissists and some are just so lost in their unique world views that they’ve turned feral. Mallory’s William Blake falls in the latter category:
Here Mallory gives her imagination free rein, but in other conversations featuring the self-involved genius, she bases her satire on historical fact. Henry David Thoreau was, among other things, the author of Walden, a work of creative nonfiction about two years he spent living in a cabin in the woods in pursuit of “simple,” “deliberate living” and “self-sufficiency.” As you know, IRL you can only live for two years in a cabin if you’ve saved up a bunch of money from your tech job or you’re being subsidized. There were no tech jobs for Thoreau back in 1852, but there were other forms of privilege:
Lol! What really happened was: Thoreau got his friend Emerson, who owned a plot of land, to let him live on it in a work-exchange situation. But what is true and useful in Mallory’s representation of Thoreau is his failure to acknowledge, in the writing he became so famous for, the many privileges that allowed him to live as he chose. Not everyone can afford to live “deliberately,” a moral descriptor applied to socioeconomic status. (This is very American of Thoreau; in this country, the good have always been the wealthy.)
Texts from Jane Eyre gives us permission to read canonized texts not only as structures divorced from context and content, but as relational and subject to moral evaluations—and this permission is timely. We always need multiple ways to read. But right now, we especially need encouragement to read in ways that allow for interrelationships and moral evaluation. We need ways to read that shine the light on what used to be overlooked and outright concealed. In the past month, the nation has been presented with a number of powerful stories: the transition of Caitlyn Jenner, the race fraud of Rachel Dolezal, the image of an armed white cop sitting on a African-American girl wearing a swimsuit, the racially motivated massacre of members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. How these stories are told to us, and how we then retell those stories, will make all the difference in whether we move forward from this time with greater reverence for life, or less.
Life requires us to live in context and make moral choices. Let’s do the same thing in our reading, as a way to practice for life. In his book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, author Jonathan Gottschall explores the assertion that stories originally were a way to practice and study for life, in the same way that a flight simulation program prepares a pilot to fly. He writes, “Through stories we learn about human culture and psychology, without the potentially staggering costs of having to gain this experience firsthand…. Fiction [storytelling] is a powerful and ancient virtual reality technology that simulates the big dilemmas of human life.” The stories of the canon can serve just as well, if we just let them.
Mallory’s re-writings of canonical texts have the power to restore canonical works to us with a new framework for relating to them, all the while modeling a way to read that is both very old and somehow new and necessary. You can find much more of Mallory’s re-presentation of Western art and writing at The Toast, the website she co-founded with Nicole Cliff.
Posted on March 17, 2015
Welcome to All-Girl All-Comedy Reviews!
I’m an omnivorous culture vulture, a person who gets excited by both stand-up comedy and experimental poetry, comics and rom coms, power pop and hip-hop.
Recently I realized that much of my favorite art from any genre is comedic. I think I’m drawn to comedy because I tend to be anxious and confused. Comedy reconciles us to life by transforming our negative emotions/experiences into positive ones. As such, I believe comedy is the most useful art form. (More from me on the necessity of comedy for hapless humans can be found here.) I started this blog so I’d have the excuse to spend more time with comedy: watching, reading, going to shows and fests, and just thinking about comedy.
I made this blog about comedy specifically by women, trans, and nonbinary folk because these are the artists that deserve more attention right now, within the social and economic structures of comedy. When I look at the calendars of comedy clubs or the comedy section of Netflix and Hulu and my neighborhood video store (Casa Video I heart you), I want to see way more female-identified artists.
In this blog, I and my fabulous friends will be reviewing stand-up, literature, internet culture, music, film, television, visual art. Any and every genre is up for discussion, and we’ll look towards the past as well as exploring the present and creating a future. If you have a favorite funny girl-identified artist, let us know about her!
Thank you for reading,