September has been… a lot. I’m putting this together at the halfway point of the month and I just… want to take a nap. I want to rest. But I already got a bunch of content consumption down for the month so I felt I could pop this in the schedule and keep it moving. Cool? Cool.
How Do We Criticize Our Own? (Also, Stop Calling Lizzo a Mammy)
I love Princess Weekes. I adore her insight, the nuance and brightness she brings to tough topics, and her really great POV on fandom. This is no exception.
Criticism is something I feel very strongly about. I cut my teeth on cultural and social criticism (which overlaps often) by Said, Baldwin, and hooks to say nothing of critics in the present. Criticism is like… opinion backed up by facts and explanation. You don’t have to agree all the time – and I know the joy of going full Mariah “Sorry I Don’t Know Her” Carey when I see criticism I dislike or disagree with. It’s valid. You’re valid.
But people can’t quite understand how you criticize media made by your community – or that we can. Criticizing Wynonna Earp or Lost Girls for their very beige queer representation (and fridged Black male characters) doesn’t mean the shows are bad. It just means that they can’t be 100% what I need as a fan. Talking about what a show like Killjoys – which Princess mentions and has queer characters of color in main, supporting, and villainous roles, as a show you wish people liked more… isn’t hating on either Emily Andras production (she was creator of WE and producer/showrunner of LG at one point).
We get to critique things on our own time and on our own dime. What’s important is making sure we’re creating and consuming criticism in good faith and for the right reasons. If I got into a show for spite just to write about it and piss off the fandom… that’s not a good reason. My critique would be bad and biased in a way that’s not helpful. If you engage with criticism, knowing you can’t stand having your worldview challenged or your interests criticized, whatever response you have in a heated media fan moment? It’s unlikely to be good… or in good faith.
Fanfiction that features 9/11 provides an outlet for people who still grapple with the trauma from that day. But Stitch warns that the dynamics of fandom and how it relates to politics can also create fiction that’s less respectful and more grotesque.
“With years of distance between the stories written and the original events of 9/11, there seems to be some sort of cushion for fans who choose to use those events as a catalyst for relationships—and Iraq and Afghanistan for settings,” Stitch said. “The cushion allows them room to fictionalize real world events that changed the shape of the world as we know it, but it also insulates them from having to think about what they may be putting into the world.”
First of all, I love that I get to be cited in cool things like this. I have loved Gita’s writing for ages and it’s cool to get to talk with her about fandom.
Second, I stand by everything I say in this piece, but I want to lean on this segment a little: part of why we can write historical AUs is because of the cushion of historical distance. I have two undergrad history degrees. I am all about that historical cushion. I used to write (in a little notebook I carried everywhere) the kind of disturbing pro-Caligula (yes, him) fic that de Sade would’ve probably found apalling.
I could only do that because of the cushion of time. That doesn’t make what I did wrong, just… weird. In the same way that writing 9/11 stories isn’t this inherently awful thing… just a little weird. Because just like I wasn’t thinking of the realities of being Caligula adjacent at any level when i wrote my weird shit… most people using 9/11 or US intervention in the Middle East as settings for their stories… Aren’t thinking about the wider world or even about the people who live/d in those settings. Not every piece of fanfiction needs to pull that cushion out from under the reader/writer’s ass ass but… its presence is absolutely something that makes it clear why some stories simply cannot address certain topics.
Felicia D. Henderson, a Black producer and screenwriter who worked on Family Matters from 1994 to 1996 before moving on to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Soul Food, and Empire, recalls the tension in the writers’ room when the episode was being workshopped. Television shows are typically written by a staff that collaborates on scripts; trading ideas and criticism around a table is an integral and sometimes raucous part of the process. Yet there’s a hierarchy in the room: The senior writers hold sway and the showrunner is ultimately in charge. Family Matters was no different. Then a junior writer, and one of only a few Black staffers on a team of more than a dozen, Henderson was at first hesitant to weigh in when a white writer tossed out the possibility of Carl responding the way he did. But the line felt wrong to her, and she spoke up. “I just said, ‘Well, no Black father would tell his Black son that,’ ” Henderson told me recently. “And the room got silent. I mean, you can hear a pin drop.” The white showrunner defended the line, and it went in. “It was clear in the room and in the moment that I had offended them,” Henderson recalled. “Like, ‘What, are you saying—we’re racist?’ No, but I am saying that’s not realistic.”
“Good Cop, Bad Cop” ends with Carl confronting the officer and reconciling with Eddie. Viewers get the kind of safe conclusion that wraps up a “very special episode”: Eddie was right to be upset, because some police officers really are racists. Last year, a month after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, the Family Matters cast reunited on Zoom to look back at the story line from 25 years ago. “When they wrote the episode, we didn’t realize it would be so revealing and telling today,” VelJohnson said.
Revealing and telling, yes, but maybe not in the way he thought. For Henderson, working on Family Matters offered an introduction to a defining feature of her long career in Hollywood. Negotiated authenticity is the phrase she uses to describe what many Black screenwriters are tasked with producing—Blackness, sure, but only of a kind that is acceptable to white showrunners, studio executives, and viewers.
Authenticity is tough. It’s tough to recognize, craft, and accept. I grew up watching a lot of these shows that were kind of staples in my life and my sister’s life and I never quite thought too hard about who was making them. Or why. One of the episodes of TV that’ll always stay with me is the episode of A Different World that deals with the 1993 Riots in Los Angeles and the difficult existence that Black people in the city had. It spoke to me even as a tadpole (years after the actual episode had aired, obviously). But when you sit there and think about it… part of why that episode – and countless other Very Special Episodes on Black television shows – only got as far as it did because it was muted enough to still appeal to a white audience.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about how television gets made and why we watch what we do and ultimately, it’s very distressing/depressing stuff. But it’s knowledge worth having, that’s for sure.
‘I’m not a normal woman and it offends men’—Megan Thee Stallion on sexism and refusing to be silenced
MTS: I used to not be under such a microscope. Everybody didn’t watch everything I do, there weren’t so many people able to come into my life and to take it apart and criticise it. And sometimes when I would see people say things to me — you know, little stupid stuff on the internet — I’d want to clap back. So I had to realise if I was clapping back at every person who says something crazy to me, I would be insane, because I’m fighting over 1,000 people a day. It just was confusing to see people say the nastiest, ugliest things to somebody who they don’t know and I can’t imagine that they would do that in their real life to people on the street. But I had to learn, ‘Girl, relax, protect your peace.’ So now I’m just, like, ‘Okay, Megan, you are famous. This is kind of what you signed up for. You didn’t sign up for people to just consistently bash you, but the internet is an open space.’ Now I’m in the space where I’m, like, ‘I don’t care. Let me get out of here and do what I came to do.’
I love Megan Thee Stallion. That’s my baby. If she’s ever mean to me i will cry because I adore her but then I’ll move on because my niecelings are mean to me regularly and she probably caught me slipping.
Anyway, I adore Megan. She is incredible, lovely, powerful, and fragile. I want to protect her. Sure, there’s the parasocial relationship to account for but… Megan feels like she could be a nieceling or a bestie’s lil sister. She’s good at cultivating fondness in me, noted curmudgeon except with the younguns, in the same way Lil Nas X is.
I loved this interview with her and the interviewer is very good at measuring the mood, staying on top of a situation, and gently asking tough questions. 10/10 hope to be as good an interviewer as her one day!
Right now, Gameboys: The Movie feels groundbreaking. Its ethos manifests in the way that we see ourselves, the way that we live and the way that we love. But as SB19’s “Hanggang Sa Huli” soundtracks the final scene, Gavreel and Cairo tearfully say goodbye, and the film looks ahead with wishful eyes, towards a future where the ground has been broken and Gameboys is the norm. Where the heart contained in its fiction spills into reality, where gay love in all its richness and complexity can simply be love.
This op-ed for Teen Vogue is beautiful and it’s just a very good reminder of the role BL has actually taken across the years in providing representation of and for queer people and our stories. (As the author, a cool Twitter mutual, points out, the “Gameboys” franchise has expanded to stories about queer women with “Pearl Next Door” so it’s not just dude love.)
We’ve covered this repeatedly, but I’m in love with the way that we find ourselves and our queernesses across communities. Even though an ocean separates me from queer people in Thailand, shows like “Gameboys” (and its subsequent movie?) show that well… we’re part of a global community and we share so many things… like our love.
This was just a beautiful piece and I hope everyone reads it and then dives into Thai BL.
Vinay Harpalani, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, who took a constitutional-law class that Bell taught at New York University in 2008, remembers his creating a climate of intellectual tolerance. “There were conservative white male students who got along very well with Professor Bell, because he respected their opinion,” Harpalani told me. “The irony of the conservative attack is that he was more respectful of conservative students and giving conservatives a voice than anyone.” Sarah Lustbader, a public defender based in New York City who was a teaching assistant for Bell’s constitutional-law class in 2010, has a similar recollection. “When people fear critical race theory, it stems from this idea that their children will be indoctrinated somehow. But Bell’s class was the least indoctrinated class I took in law school,” she said. “We got the most freedom in that class to reach our own conclusions without judgment, as long as they were good-faith arguments and well argued and reasonable.”
I am so interested in the pushback against Critical Race Theory because it mimics, on a larger scale, the things I deal with in fandom? Where people who aren’t even actually reading or understanding what I wrote, position themselves as experts on my position and get mad about it. Like Lustbader points out about Bell’s CRT course: I also love good faith arguments that are reasonable. Imagine what’d happen if that was actually the response my work got? Imagine if we could work together to unpack why we like the weird shit we do. Imagine if people had good faith arguments in 2021 instead of simply accusing strangers of violent crimes for liking or criticizing things online. IMAGINE IF THAT HAPPENED.
In the Mood for Love is considered to be one of the greatest films of the 21st century, and for good reason — it’s a story of lonely people suffocated by the conservative nature of cultural expectations that gives a masterclass on cinematically doing less and saying more. We never see the two’s adulterous partners, so all we’re left to experience aren’t the facts of the betrayal but the feelings that come with it. And while nothing sexual occurs between Mo-wan and Li-zhen, the all-encompassing erotic tension between these two beautiful and stylish cuckolds is the heart of the film. As for Leung, this is him at his most earnest, portraying Chow as a doe-eyed romantic with a longing gaze that shoots the shot his words can’t.
In The Mood for Love is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I’ve only watched it once, years ago, but mmm… it lives in my head rent free for sure. One of the best things about the response to Shang Chi has been everyone just going full head empty, endless thirst over Tony Leung. He is easily one of the best actors out there period and his talent and soulful gaze… Oof. Love that man. Love his films.
While the “acting white” theory used to be pretty popular to bring up in debates about black academic achievement there’s a catch: It’s not true.
At best, it’s a very creative interpretation of inadequate research and anecdotal evidence. At worst, it’s a messy attempt to transform the near-universal stigma attached to adolescent nerdiness into an indictment of black culture, while often ignoring the systemic inequality that contributes to the country’s racial achievement gap.
People will try to claim that they don’t mean “oh you sound white/have white interests…” but it’s actually a lie? They’re not sitting there judging teenagers for liking Naruto and saying “oh that’s ‘white interests'” because they think being a weeb on any level makes you a tool of white supremacy. Genuinely, they’re going “you don’t match what I expect a Black person to look/sound/think like… so you are acting white” without any acknowledgement that the weeby Black dude with a perm probably also is a closet conservative whose non-Black friend group have ___ – pilled him into some weird ass shit.
Anyway, some smart Black kids are acting white. But you can’t tell from how they talk or what shows they watch. You can tell from the conversations they have and how they interact with Blackness.
It’s hard to find fault with these young Disney Channel stars speaking about patriotism and what it means to be an American in the ways most of us were taught to do. But it’s fascinating, now, to look back at the way in which Disney Channel participated in the collective cultural pressure to produce patriotic content to be consumed en masse. Disney wasn’t going to create a kid’s version of 24, but they had to do something. Express Yourself was Disney’s solution.
Another 9/11 piece, this time from Ashley Reese @ Jezebel. I genuinely didn’t remember that Express Yourself started as pro-US propaganda – I remembered the most recent incarnation that was very “my ethnic family does this specific cool tradition” in nature. So this was a disturbing time travel trip that I won’t take again, but that y’all should!
The Power Of Hallyu – But At What Price? | Deciphering South Korea – Ep 1
If you love documentaries and learning new cool things, please check out the four-episode series that CNA put out for its “Deciphering Korea” series because I think it’s beyond valuable and it’s a super interesting look at a country you might be familiar with but don’t know that well.
When the world is good and normal, one of my not-so-guilty pleasures is the pulp fiction bin at my local comic shop. Located in the literal basement of a building owned by a jazzercise studio, what more could you possibly ask for when it comes to a location for finding cheap books and trashy stories? The real joy, however, is when my guy gets a stack of old erotica. I’m not talking about the Fabio romance covers from the 1990s where there’s a bit of side-boob and a hunky himbo embracing her in a very, “yeah, we’re gonna definitely do straight sex stuff” way. I’m not even really talking about the types of books you’d probably find in your grandpa’s boxes tucked way back in the basement with true gems of cover lines like “She rode high, wide and wicked on a merry-go-round of sex” (an actual tagline courtesy of Any Man Will Do by Greg Hamilton, 1963. I can’t make this up).
Lesbian pulp fiction is kind of actually life changing. This article is such a good look at the history of one of the best, queerest media pieces of queer US history. I love it so much. Also shout out to the guy at the local queer adult store who wouldn’t sell me anything but lesbian pulp fiction before I turned eighteen. I appreciate him so much because without him, I wouldn’t have known about how amazing these ridiculous books were!
Williams’s characters give us more than an outline of lives lived; they hold within them the magnitude of what it means to insist upon living despite unlivable circumstances. His performances indicate that he understood deeply that beneath each wail of relief or cry of agony lay a whole life, a portion of whose dignity he consistently brought before his audience.
Williams’s greatest talent may lay in resisting the lure of caricature. In his hands, vengeance did not calcify into predictable spectacle. His three most iconic characters—Lovecraft Country’s Montrose Freeman, Boardwalk Empire’s Chalky White, and The Wire’s Omar Little—probe the vast interior lives of Black men whose wisdom and vulnerability are rarely seen on screen. Over and over, Williams explored the conflict of a powerful, earth-shaking love concealed by a performative disdain that in turn concealed the profound pain of the world’s betrayal of Black people and its refusal to love dark-skinned queer Black men in particular.
I don’t really… have words here? I just feel so fucking sad that we’ve lost a legend.
The princess also created the show’s final big bad, her uncle Gumbald, in an effort to give herself a family. Families, especially absent or estranged ones, are a big theme of “Adventure Time.” In one extended mini-series, Finn sails off to finally discover the secrets of humankind’s fate and his missing parents. In another story line, Marceline tries to patch things up with her own dad, an irresponsible demon-king addicted to sucking souls.
This is heavy stuff for a young audience, which is to say, it’s perfect stuff for a young audience. “Adventure Time” exists in a kind of liminal zone between the poptimistic thrills of “The Powerpuff Girls” and the phantasmagoria of late-night Adult Swim.
And it’s a story of transition, too — orphans and foundlings trying out independence, building surrogate families, growing up.
Early on in September, I watched all of Adventure Time.
Yes, all of it. All ten seasons and two of the three specials – I can’t watch the one set in the afterlife. I just can’t.
Adventure Time is easily one of the best television shows to come out of the United States. It is brilliant, upsetting, disturbing, beautiful, and so much queerer than a lot of people clocked at first. It was the perfect thing for me to watch as I struggled with my self of self and with my worth as a person early on in the month – it was rough. I’m better now, I promise. Like My Little Pony and that week I spent only watching that, there are some US television series that leave me thinking that they’re simply brilliant for how they engage with complex subject materials and encourage a new way of looking at the world.
I’m not technically the target audience for Adventure Time at this point and I wasn’t back then… but wow… Wow did I go through it with this show. If you’ve never watched this show before, please treat yourself to it!
So, what have y’all read or watched this month?