Shared posts

05 Aug 13:15

Rob Rhinehart's Latest Attempt to Make You Buy Soylent Is Terrible

Madison Metricula

"horse-killing farts"

Rob Rhinehart's Latest Attempt to Make You Buy Soylent Is Terrible

I think Rob Rhinehart is trying to turn himself into some sort of creepy nerd messiah. Today he posted a giant essay to promote the release of Soylent 2.0, the next version of his sperm-esque food replacement drink. It was all about how he’s given up alternating current so he can get ready for his life as a space cyborg.

Rhinehart has all the hallmarks of a future cult leader. First of all, he’s marketing a pseudoscientific bullshit product, Soylent, which promises to liberate your nerd mind from its analog meatsack. Though actual nutritionists say replacing your food with Soylent is a bad idea, why should you trust them? Rhinehart, an electrical engineer, knows better. If you just drink Soylant, you no longer need to do icky physical things like eat solid food and store rotting items in your house. (Yes, he actually refers to food as “rotting ingredients,” which is not exactly a good sign from a dude trying to sell you things to eat.)

But now Rhinehart has taken it to the next level. He isn’t just trying to sell you on a dubious product from science fiction. Now he’s discovered that the road to enlightenment is slick with Soylent. In today’s manifesto, he’ll sell you on a whole new way of life. Inject your fingers with magnets so you can feel electrical current. Then give up on dirty, dirty alternating current, which uses up so much energy. Use a butane “space stove” to heat water for your coffee. Ride in Ubers to cut down on emissions (that is, if you can’t ride “robot horse cheetahs, or drone multicopters.”) Get your clothing custom-made in China, and stop doing laundry. Drink Soylent warm so you don’t need a fridge.

It’s a little bit Scientology, and a little bit 4-Hour Work Week. There are cleansing products somehow related to outer space, and there is outsourcing of manual labor. Rhinehart calls it “opulence in asceticism.” And it’s all based on what every successful cult has as its foundation: a deeply-felt wish to make the world better, coupled with an equally fervent desire to be completely superior to everyone else. Just follow Rhinehart’s instructions, and you can be cleaner, smarter, and more special. Even better: you’ll be closer to the future, just the way hermit monks were once closer to their gods.

Writes Rhinehart in his cult manifesto:

The first space colonies will have no coal power plants. I am ready. For now though, as I am driven through the gleaming city, my hunger peacefully at bay, I have visions of the parking lots and grocery stores replaced by parks and community centers, power plants retrofitted as museums and galleries. Traffic and trash and pollution will evaporate, if only we are willing to adopt some routines.

This futuristic vision, this desire for a better world where we are “driven through the gleaming city,” rests on a completely fake premise. Pollution will never “evaporate” if we “adopt some routines.” You can’t fix political conflict and economic imbalances and runaway climate change by taking Uber and drinking Soylent. Just like you can’t replace food with a disgusting supplement.

But it’s so tempting to believe that Rhinehart has all the answers — because if he has them, then you do too. After all, cults and brands share one thing in common: they sell you products by appealing to a belief in your own potential superiority. You could optimize yourself. And live in a better world. If only you’d adopt some routines. And buy Soylent 2.0.

Contact the author at annalee@gizmodo.com.
Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: CA58 326B 1ACB 133B 0D15 5BCE 3FC6 9123 B2AA 1E1A

04 Aug 19:28

The real reason some men still can't handle the all-female 'Ghostbusters'

Madison Metricula

"Australian feminist Dale Spender theorizes that this happens because men aren't comparing how frequently women speak to how frequently men speak; they're comparing how much women speak to how much they think women should speak. 'The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence,' she explains. 'Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.'"

Hearts across the man-o-sphere shattered Thursday afternoon when it was announced that there was no all-dude reboot of Ghostbusters in the works. It was an especially tough blow because—just hours earlier—those fans were celebrating the news that screenwriter Drew Pearce had apparently just finished drafting a script for a new, righteously manly addition to the franchise (although it should be noted that Pearce later clarified on Twitter that his movie would be “inclusive,” with both a “mixed gender team” of ghostbusting humans and ghosts).

For the record, my GB idea has a mixed gender team. Also ghosts of all classes (I to VII). It's very inclusive that way.

— Drew Pearce (@mrdrewpearce) July 29, 2015
Unfortunately, just hours after Pearce revealed his “gigantic bold idea” to MTV news, Ivan Reitman, producer of the upcoming all-female Ghostbusters film, released the following statement:
There has been a lot of excitement recently about what is happening with the Ghostbusters franchise. As the producer of the new Ghostbusters film, I feel the need to clarify. There is only one new Ghostbusters movie and that is the Paul Feig-directed version coming next July, presently filming and going fantastically. The rest is just noise.

On social media, people's reactions have been hilariously out of touch with reality, ranging from faux-intellectual comments about how gender-swapping is “pandering” to women to complaints from Twitter users that the new film will “ruin” their childhoods. While a new Ghostbusters movie might seem like a silly thing to get so bent out of shape over, the backlash against the all-female version reveals some pretty brutal truths about the misogynistic underbelly of our collective unconscious—and shows why the all-female Ghostbusters is so necessary. 

Melissa McCarthy will ruin ghostbusters, always typecast into the same bad/annoying role

— Benjamin (@Eb0n_Hawk) July 31, 2015

@Ghostbusters not the new ghostbusters. Look like the biggest jokers going. Way to ruin a franchise 👍🏻

— Benedict Protheroe (@protheroe_ben) July 23, 2015

I will not be watching the new Ghostbusters in 2016. Nothing against the all female cast but why ruin a classic. There's no more talent

— john n c (@morrisseyfan2u) July 20, 2015

New Ghostbusters cast being all female is just Hollywood pandering

— Pokémonye West (@PokemonyeWest) January 27, 2015
Part of the problem is, of course, straight-up misogyny (not to mention unfounded fears about Fake Geek Girls co-opting everything nerdy men love), but it’s also the fact that men are genuinely unaccustomed to seeing women in films. In a 2013 interview with NPR, Geena Davis discussed how the under-representation of women both onscreen and off leads men to have a skewed sense of what gender parity looks like.

Davis cited a recent study that examined the ratio of men and women in groups, explaining that researchers “found that if there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50. And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

She continued:

My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance—that the movies that they've watched are about, let's say, 5 to 1, as far as female presence is concerned - that's what starts to look normal. And let's think about… in different segments of society, 17 percent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 percent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn't that strange that that's also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we're actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you're an adult, you don't notice?

There are other studies that reveal similar findings. One of them, which looked at gender parity in the workforce, showed that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in workplaces than their female colleagues do. Another study showed that men are so used to dominating the discourse in a mixed-gender setting that a group needs to be 60 to 80 percent women before women start occupying just as much time in the conversation as men. In spite of all this, men continue to perceive that women take up more space in group discussions.

Australian feminist Dale Spender theorizes that this happens because men aren't comparing how frequently women speak to how frequently men speak; they're comparing how much women speak to how much they think women should speak. “The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence,” she explains. “Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.”

Going back to that 33 percent figure that Davis cited, it's interesting to note that it can be applied directly to the Ghostbusters franchise. Including the film that's still in production, only a third of the representation in the films has been female: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson each acted in two entries in the series (that’s eight male entries), while Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig fill out the new cast (four for women).

Men aren't comparing how frequently women speak to how frequently men speak; they're comparing how much women speak to how much they think women should speak. 

However, that ratio still feels like over-representation to some men—because in a way it is, based on their ingrained notions of how and how often a woman should be represented. Setting aside how ridiculous that notion might seem, we need to take a long, hard look at how our culture creates the perception that a group where only a third of the members are women appears to some people to contain “too many chicks.”

The media we are exposed to shapes how we view the world. Representation matters, and when we only see certain types of people reflected onscreen—namely, white, able-bodied, heterosexual men—then we start to feel like those people are the norm; anything else is lesser or even non-existent. That, in turn, creates an extremely biased view of the world, one that further influences the culture we create.

We need media that, thus, features a diverse cast of women—because the only way to correct our perceptions about gender parity is to make sure we're exposed to films, books, and TV shows that represent the people we often pretend don’t exist.

The new Ghostbusters movie won’t ruin anyone’s fond memories of adolescence—in fact, they might make a lot of peoples’ childhoods a little better. For the young women who might not be used to seeing themselves on screen—or to being told that their stories matter—Wiig, McCarthy, and company aren’t just battling the supernatural. They’re fighting to give us a new generation of heroes.

Anne Thériault is a Toronto-based writer, activist and social agitator. Her work can be found in the Washington Post, Vice, Jezebel, the Toast and others. Her comments on feminism, social justice, and mental health have been featured on TVO's The Agenda, CBC, CTV, Global and E-talk Daily. She's really good at making up funny nicknames for cats.

Photo via SBH Tattoo/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

31 Jul 20:02

Why the modern sex toy doesn't look like a human penis anymore

Madison Metricula

Heck yeah!! There's no reason a vibrator should look like a penis by default. Also, OMG the "she must want a huge cock" thing was so true. It really *has* been recent (last ten years) that we're seeing real innovation. And yeah, when they look kitchy, there's an automatic tawdriness that's not always desirable.

You’ve seen what a penis looks like. Sure, there are variables that make each one a little different—the world is beautiful that way—but, generally speaking, they all fit a certain mold.

As the male sexual organ, the penis was designed to transport sperm from one body into another. As an added feature, the penis can also summon orgasm in a female partner during this process. But we know this isn’t always the case. While a healthy male organ works pretty well for its intended reproductive purpose, there are some design flaws in terms of maximizing female pleasure.

So what if you could redesign the penis, make it a little bit better? Which pieces would you change, and which would you keep? Erasing the need for reproductive functionality, would you scrap the whole thing and start from scratch? In the end, would this magic device—capable of bringing women waves of pleasure—even resemble the penis in its current human form?

Welcome to the world of modern-day vibrators, a place largely devoid of the original pleasure device.

As sex toys have become increasingly sleek and modern—taking cues from the minimalistic designs of like Apple and Ikea—one clear trend has emerged: They no longer look like human penises. In fact, they no longer look human at all—which, according to designers, entrepreneurs, and sex therapists alike, is a very good thing.

Kitschy and grotesque

The first time the American public saw a non-human organ used to stimulate sexual arousal was in the early porn films of the 1920s. Over the previous few decades, small home appliances marketed under the guise of medical necessity (to cure the female ailment of “hysteria“) had become commonplace—kind of like how we now see “personal massagers” advertised in Brookstone. But in the new black-and-white pornos of the ’20s, audiences saw these appliances used for very non-medical purposes.

And once the public was confronted with the idea that these devices could be used strictly for pleasure, the products disappeared from women’s magazines and reputable store shelves.

Vibrators made a second coming about 30 years later, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But even though Americans were talking about sexuality more openly than ever before, we still weren’t totally cool with the idea of incorporating these objects in our sex lives. In response, early industry leaders made them as outlandish as possible: Rotating glitter-dicks, two shafts emerging from one testicle-shaped base, rubber duckies that secretly vibrated. We displaced the awkwardness of using machines as sexual aids by turning these aids into novelty objects, or toys.

But there was a big problem with this approach. Since the products were advertised as “novelties,” not health aids, they were held to lower standards than medical devices and other things we put inside our bodies. The cheap toys were unsafe, ugly, and ineffective. And not at all sexy.

“I don’t think anyone has ever said, ‘I want a vibrator that looks like a bunny rabbit and a penis all smashed together,’” Ti Chang, the female co-founder of sex toy and jewelry design company Crave, told me. “I think the sex toy industry has really had a lot of male voices—it’s been men designing products for women, so it tends to be very male anatomy centric. Like, ‘Oh, it’s sex, she wants a big cock, so we’ll just make lots of different colors of cocks, and to make this really silly, we’ll put a little rabbit on it.’”

Companies like Doc Johnson—a leading novelty company for decades, notorious for its line of Realistic Cocks—offer a good example of the “she wants a big cock” mentality that dominated the industry during the late-20th century. Robert Rheaume, the president of high-end sex toy company JimmyJane, charmingly described these hyper-realistic dildos as the kind of severed penis you’d get if “there was an Orc from Lord of the Rings walking around, and they cut his penis off.”

He also argued, by nature of them being just so grotesque, they’re not very sex-positive. He put it to me this way: “Let’s say you and I are well into our sexual relationship, and I pull out this giant, Doc Johnson, 15-inch cock,” Rheaume said. “You might be like, WOAH, where’s that going? Get out of my apartment right now, I’m leaving—call me a taxi, call an Uber. It’s just intimidating and scary for some people.”

Kitschy, intimidating, grotesque—all are terms you could use to describe the sex toy market up until the early 2000s. The poor designs, cheap rubbers and plastics, and incredibly dick-centric domain of products presented itself as an untapped valley of junk, just waiting for a messiah. This is what Ethan Imboden, the founder of JimmyJane, realized upon walking into an Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo a little more than a decade ago.

“As soon as I saw past the fact that in front of me happened to be two penises fused together at the base, I realized that I was looking at the only category of consumer product that had yet to be touched by design,” Imboden said in his 2012 Atlantic profile. Coming from an industrial design background, and lacking the desire to manufacture what he saw as landfill products, he left his job designing everyday consumer products to launch JimmyJane—a sex toy company that would put safety, design, and sex-positivity first. Around this time, a small, luxury intimate toy company in Sweden called LELO started doing the exact same thing.

The kitschy sex toy industry was primed for a big change, and companies like JimmyJane and LELO were ready to usher it in.

Disrupting the dick

Skeuomorphism is a concept in technological design that describes our tendency to retain tactile aspects of the physical world as we move more of our lives onto screens. At Apple, for example, skeuomorphic design was thought to ease the transition from the real to the virtual. Turning a page on your Mac or iPhone would closely resemble turning a page in a real notebook, paper sounds included. If you can recreate the physical aspects of a very familiar, tactile world in the flat, virtual reality of an operating system, designers have long believed, maybe more people will feel comfortable using the product.

Pure Romance

In sex toy design, this has translated into manufacturing dismembered penises and inventing crevices meant to resemble human vaginas and mouths. But why—if women and couples are looking for something more than their own, very real human parts—would they want a plastic knock-off of those same parts in bed? Just as some people argue that retaining archaic, physical traits of notepads on our iPhones is unnecessary, companies like JimmyJane and LELO saw retaining the original design of human organs as unnecessary and outdated.

Of course, there will probably always be a market for straight-up dildos—which are different from vibrators—and which, by nature of their intended internal purpose, must resemble a human penis. But female-oriented vibrators allow more room for innovation.

With this in mind, JimmyJane and LELO’s emphasis on design, coupled with major tech advances of the early 2000s, allowed these pioneering sex companies to essentially reinvent the penis. “Technology drives the industry—it’s tech, tech, tech,” Patti Britton, a clinical sexologist in southern California, told me. “Everyone’s going for the faster, the most options for control, as well as these really unusual and really sophisticated designs.”

Related: Can teledildonics really make sex better?

Those sophisticated designs are now pretty commonplace, and they look nothing like human parts. The design shift comes as a result of technological advances, yes, but also reflects a pretty significant ideological shift. Vaginal penetration, as we now know, isn’t necessarily the key to female orgasm, and penises aren’t naturally shaped to stimulate the elusive G-spot. Skeuomorphism started disappearing from the industry, and the dick was reinvented—and ultimately displaced.

Luxury investments

When sex toys start looking less like severed organs, it gets easier for consumers to take them seriously. And when consumers start to take them seriously, it opens up room for a luxury class of sex toys—something that LELO and JimmyJane, especially, have capitalized on. Most of LELO’s products start at more than $120, though the company also boasts a 24-karat gold plated vibrator for $15,000. As Steve Thomson, LELO’s global marketing manager, told me, creating toys that last a lifetime, like a nice espresso maker or television, is “a way of challenging assumptions about the sex toy market as a whole.”

“There’s always going to be a place for novelty goods and phallic-shaped items,” Thomson said. “But I don’t believe that’s the future of sex toys in any way. People are moving away from the assumption that it’s purely a substitute for a partner.”

To Thomson, as well as industry leaders at JimmyJane, Crave, and the numerous other companies that have joined the modern sex toy craze, the future of sex toys is in making objects that fit easily into a consumer’s everyday life. That’s why, as technology improves, we see things like app-controlled panty vibes and vibrators equipped with memory that will store your favorite sexual patterns.

Along with loosening cultural values around discussing sex—almost everyone I interviewed cited the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise as a major breakthrough—the shift in toy design has transformed the industry from a $1.3 billion a year industry to a $15 billion a year industry in revenue alone. “If it’s okay for the modern mom to have dialogue about Fifty Shades of Grey, sexuality and masturbation, I think it gives us complete permission to have these conversations and to make these products available,” Rheaume said.

He’s not wrong. Research shows that not only are more women using toys, they’re owning up to using more toys. Consumers are literally taking their orgasms into their own hands, and they’re commonly paying upwards of $150 to do so. Is it worth it to buy a vibrator that costs a bit more than something you might find at your neighborhood adult novelty shop if it means it’ll last longer and isn’t toxic to your body? Absolutely.

But not everyone can afford it, and while some products come with a money-back, orgasm guarantee—they don’t always work as advertised. Has design for the sake of being beautiful, and innovation for the sake of being advanced, displaced the actual functionality of the vibrator?

Related: Why women love porn GIFs

That’s what was bothering Janet Lieberman, a mechanical engineering grad from MIT and enthusiastic sex toy user. Facing repeated disappointment in the toys she bought, Lieberman realized she was in a unique position to utilize her expertise to make things better. The technology was good, but she saw it going in the wrong direction. There was a sort of machismo attitude slipping into products designed for women—who cares if your device can track your orgasms, give you Bluetooth feedback, and looks like modern art if it doesnt work?

Now, as co-founder and lead engineer for the New York-based sex toy company Dame, she’s ushering in the newest wave—and quite likely the future—of sex toy design.

Women come first

One of the big problems with the sex toy industry is how male-driven and controlled it’s been throughout most of its history. Sure, the men at LELO and JimmyJane have women’s desires in mind—both Thomson and Rheaume told me about the extensive research measures their companies take when designing new products. JimmyJane, for example, relied on data about average labia size from the renowned Kinsey Institute when creating its new Form 5 vibrator, which is designed to simultaneously stimulate a woman’s labia and clitoris.

And to make sure the products hitting the market are truly effective, the leading companies also rely on demo communities—women who test new prototypes and provide detailed feedback. But, as Lieberman argues, there’s a difference between running a product by a demo audience and having a woman—the target consumer of the product—involved each step of the way.

And so, it’s becoming increasingly common to see women-run sex toy companies, or to see women involved in the design and engineering process, according to industry insiders. “If they’re products for women, you kind of want women everywhere in the process so they’re making the right priorities,” Lieberman told me.

A female designer and engineer, for example, might know right off the bat whether something is going to work. It’s not that men don’t take all the important components into consideration—after all, some of these products are used mutually between partners—it’s just that women are more likely to understand the various nuances in their own anatomies, and take those into consideration in the engineering process.

While enabling sex toys to track activity and communicate long distance via the internet—both features on the newest models—is cool, Lieberman and Crave’s Chang both stressed a personal mission to deliver what sex toys have long promised: really fantastic orgasms.

“Having an orgasm is like a birth right, you should have it!” Chang said, in a sentiment famously voiced by Nicki Minaj and, more recently, Amy Schumer. In her process at Crave—which steers clear of trying to mimic anything anatomical—function always comes first.

Lieberman and her business partner, Alex Fine, took a similar approach when building Dame’s first product, a couple’s vibe called Eva. “I wouldn’t say that one of our primary goals in designing this was that we wanted it to be beautiful,” Lieberman said of the device, which resembles a futuristic beetle. “We wanted it to be accessible, but we put function ahead of form.”

They also wanted to make sure the cost wasn’t prohibitive—a sex toy that’s too expensive can actually detract from sex, she argues. Eva sells for $105, a price-point Lieberman attributes mainly to the device’s high-quality silicone and the rigorous research and design process that went into it. Lieberman likens the Eva to a pair of really good headphones: You can hear the music, it sounds incredible, but you aren’t super aware of the fact that there are two small speakers in your ears.

Lieberman acknowledges that before sex toy designers could think about getting back to the core purpose of the industry, consumers needed to be introduced to beautiful, high-end luxury products. But the next wave of sex toys will likely follow her function-over-form philosophy—and encourage an even bigger audience to come.

***

So, are we moving toward a world where penises, and human sex organs, are obsolete? Of course not. We’re just moving toward one where we can do better than what the average human body has to offer. As Patti Britton, a certifiable expert in all things sex, put it, there will always be an element of humanity that can’t be captured by even the most elaborate of sex toys.

“We’re still human beings—we’re skin and bone and flesh and energy,” Britton told me. “So far we really haven’t matched that one in the lab, we may one day. But I think, overall, humans will want to be with humans. That’s how we’re wired.”

29 Jul 21:04

I Moved Home To Take Care Of My Parents With Dementia And It's a Thankless Job

Madison Metricula

It's hard. We want to care for aging parents, but then that means you don't get to have a life. Like, I know life isn't fair, but I hope I never do that to my own kids by preparing reasonably for my own elder and end-of-life care.

At 56 years of age, I returned home to care for my parents. Both of them have dementia. I​ lived in ​their ​unfinished basement with spiders and centipedes. That was four years ago. 

Now, I have ​less money and fewer prospects.​ My siblings are not interested. My father hates my mother. My mother hates my father. Life is a dark comedy.

Baggage. 
Baggage. 

When I look back at photos of my father taken just one year ago, I see him staring blankly. Looking off into the distance. Disengaged.

Previously, he was a starched gentleman wearing England’s finest bespoke attire. A dapper and courteous physician, psychiatrist and pilot.

Suddenly, or so it seemed, my father stopped caring about his garb. His perfectly polished Oxford Brogues were scuffed. He could not fold his French linen cuffs. Inserting his silver cufflinks was more puzzling than a killer Sudoku. He stopped wearing shirts with more than 6 buttons, resorting to stained white undershirts.

Despite leaving obvious clues, a trail of breadcrumbs to his brain, no one noticed. Except me. I lived with them. My siblings dropped by the house every few months for a visit lasting an hour. More if it was rush hour. Less if there was a sale in the mall.

Thus, no one thought that my father’s increasingly bizarre behavior was more than an eccentricity. Sitting on the porch in his Fruit of the Loom white boxer shorts. Relieving himself by a Maple tree whilst visiting the family's grave site. Conversations filled with non sequiturs. Sentences which changed tense. Lost credit cards. Erratic mood swings. Missed appointments. One of his patients complained about his repetitive and random questions.

All the while, the family made excuses for him.

“He is tired.”

“His patients are so draining.”

We waved off the bowel incontinence. The bed wetting. His change of diet from strictly meat and potatoes to chocolate cheerios and ice cream.

Until he was admitted to the hospital. They diagnosed the strokes, the damaged white brain matter. So, there it was, on his hospital record. This was unacceptable for Dad and most of the family. After all, if we had maintained the facade of normalcy for 5 or 6 decades, why change?

However, my mother embraced the diagnosis. Finally! Time for revenge. A chance to pay back all the abuses of their marriage. She told everyone. But, no matter how many times she told Dad that he had dementia... he forgot. So, it was a bit of a let-down.

Their nasty, mutual pecking has not gone into remission. In fact, it has escalated. They know each other’s triggers so well. The diagnosis brought new insults for my mother’s arsenal. But, my father does not react to her slights. He does not seem to remember.

Unless he does. Then, when my mother is out of the house, he sits by me and confides. “You know; your mother says I have dementia. I do not accept that diagnosis. These young doctors are not trained they way we were. They don’t know what they are doing.”

My father's instructional TEDTalk is accompanied with hand signals, head shaking, and spittle. And a firm, unshakable belief in his mental facilities. Despite any intrusions from reality.

Dementia runs in the family. My father has an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. My mother is an interesting cocktail of narcissism and mixed dementia. 

This combination provides her with the attention span of a toddler and the empathy of an earthworm. She refuses to seek help because she believes the problem is stress. The source of stress? My father. 

Together, they are a heady mixture. At 60 years old, I live in their basement, acting as caregiver, household manager and (according to them) family inconvenience.

When I go out, even to the corner, I tell my parents: where, with whom,  and for how long. And I take my phone. My parents are very concerned about me.

One block from home is an upscale grocery store filled with all the middle class people you would ever want to see. Most of them over 80 using canes and walkers. But, my parents are concerned that there is evil out there. They don’t know the source or when The Apocalypse is coming. But, they are pretty sure they can hear the sound of horses' hooves.

Therefore, everything, even a stroll to the corner is fraught with anxiety. “I'm going out now,” I call out when I leave.

“I'm back,” when I return.

Then, I am peppered with questions.

What took so long? What did you buy? Where did you buy it?

Sometimes, I run into a friend at the grocery store. We might stop and chat over the radishes. This will require a phone call to update my parents on my location. "I am at the corner. I will be home in 2 or 3 minutes.”

Losing my mind.
Losing my mind.

This is odd. And kind of confusing. For over 50 years, this independent couple hardly knew my name. But, now they check on my every move. Not just outside of the home. They go through my mail and papers on my desk. This is done in a very obvious way. Not subtly. 

If I come home with a bag and leave it unattended, my mother will open it and look inside. A new bra wrapped in tissue. No matter. Pull it out and examine it. Look at the size. Look at the cost. And don't forget to remark on both. 

Their level of anxiety is such that my parents are concerned if I am not in the house all day and all night. And my whereabouts within the house are known. This does not mean that the front door stays locked. It does not. 

The reason for this is that neither of them can determine how the front door latch works. They will lock and unlock the front door several times before deciding it is safe to leave. Then, off they go, down the front steps. Leaving the door ajar.

They both do this. They blame each other.

You might assume that this level of high alert would mean that we know who has a key to the house. But we do not. Keys are given out freely. Most peculiarly, extra house keys are hung on hooks throughout the house. Anyone coming in the house can see them. Grocery deliveries, letter carriers, repairmen. You would think that this would scare the two people who are most concerned about security. But it does not.

A few weeks ago, I suggested to my father that we change the locks, if only to ensure a reduced likelihood of an unwanted visitor. He looked at me with all of his shrunken, stooped and scrawny might. He said, "They had better look out, or they will have to deal with me.” An interesting point of view, since he loses his balance walking across a carpet.

My mother finds the slope on the sidewalk to be a hazard requiring Cirque du Soleil dexterity.

So they dwell in the space between oblivious and panic. Between a tenement and the moon. Through the door, beyond the mirror and into the land of the Mad Hatter. And here I am, through it all, often listening to their discussions on how I stack up in comparison with the other family members. 

Without fail, I come up short.

29 Jul 21:03

Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun”

Madison Metricula

I've been following this! I can't wait to see the documentary.

It's been two years since filmmakers making a documentary about the song "Happy Birthday" filed a lawsuit claiming that the song shouldn't be under copyright. Now, they have filed (PDF) what they say is "proverbial smoking-gun evidence" that should cause the judge to rule in their favor.

The "smoking gun" is a 1927 version of the "Happy Birthday" lyrics, predating Warner/Chappell's 1935 copyright by eight years. That 1927 songbook, along with other versions located through the plaintiffs' investigations, "conclusively prove that any copyright that may have existed for the song itself... expired decades ago."

Further Reading

If the filmmakers' lawyers are right, it could mean a quick route to victory in a lawsuit that's been both slow-moving and closely watched by copyright reform advocates. Warner/Chappell has built a licensing empire based on "Happy Birthday," which in 1996 was pulling in more than $2 million per year.

Plaintiff Jennifer Nelson's movie is actually called Happy Birthday, and it's about the song. She had to pay Warner/Chappell $1,500 to use the song in her movie, and that didn't sit well with the documentarian. She's seeking to get that money back and also represent a class of plaintiffs who have paid similar licensing fees to Warner/Chappell on a copyright she and her lawyers say is illegitimate.

The 1927 songbook referenced above was found in a batch of 500 documents provided by Warner/Chappell earlier this month. That cache included "approximately 200 pages of documents [Warner/Chappell] claim were 'mistakenly' not produced during discovery, which ended on July 11, 2014, more than one year earlier," Nelson's lawyers write.

The new filing comes as US District Judge George King was just two days away from holding a hearing about whether or not songwriter Patty Hill abandoned her rights to the lyrics. The plaintiffs say that the newly discovered songbook evidence is so strong that the copyright abandonment issue is moot.

"[T]he documents prove conclusively that the song is in the public domain, thus making it unnecessary for the Court to decide the scope or validity of the disputed copyrights, much less whether Patty Hill abandoned any copyright she may have had to the lyrics," they write.

Missing notice

Reading the motion is an exercise in understanding the mind-boggling complexity of music copyright.

In 1927, Chicago music publisher The Cable Company produced the 15th edition of the children's song book called The Everyday Song Book (Graded). It included the "Good Morning" and "Birthday Song," which featured the melody for "Good Morning To You," a song dating back to the 19th century, combined with Patty Hill's lyrics for both "Good Morning" and "Happy Birthday."

Further investigation showed that the song appeared in editions stretching back to 1922, which in the plaintiffs' view "proves conclusively" that "Happy Birthday" entered the public domain no later than that year. The song was printed without a copyright notice unlike other songs in the book. Rather, it included a notice that read "Special permission through courtesy of The Clayton F. Summy Co."

The Summy company is a publisher whom Warner/Chappell has maintained never authorized any pre-1935 publishing of the "Happy Birthday" lyrics.

That important line of text published underneath the song's lyrics was "blurred almost beyond legibility" in the copy that Warner/Chappell handed over in discovery. Plaintiffs' lawyers note that it's "the only line of the entire PDF that is blurred in that manner."

Plaintiffs acquired their own copies of the songbook, including a first edition published in 1916, which didn't have the song, and versions published 1922 and later, which include it without a copyright notice.

That's critical, because under the 1909 Copyright Act which was then in force, a published work had to include the word “Copyright,” the abbreviation "Copr., " or the "©" symbol, or "the published work was interjected irrevocably into the public domain."

The plaintiffs argue that the 1922 publication without proper notice forfeited copyright in the work. Even if the judge overseeing the case doesn't agree with them, however, there's a secondary argument: the copyright for the whole 1922 songbook expired in 1949.

There's even a third line of defense: even if the work had been published in 1922 with proper notice, and even if that copyright had been renewed in 1949 (which the plaintiffs say it wasn't), the song still would have become public domain at midnight on December 31, 1997.

Warner/Chappell hasn't yet responded to the motion. Since a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, it's likely there will be some further developments in the case later this week.

Warner/Chappell "should admit defeat but they won't because too much money is at stake," plaintiffs' lawyer Randall Newman told The Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the new motion.

27 Jul 15:27

I Have Over 4,000 Dollars of Bridesmaid Debt From Women I'm Not Even Friends With Anymore

Madison Metricula

What. The. Fuck. I am so glad my friends don't do expensive stuff like that, and if they did then they helped cover it. I mean, we asked A LOT of our friends during our wedding, but we tried to be appreciative and emphasize that no one needed to do more than they felt they could. Also, most of this was time and not $Texas.

When she says I do, you need to be prepared to say I don't.

I don't want to be your bridesmaid, that is. I know. I know. Why wouldn't I want to be intimately involved in my best friend's, sister's, or brother's wedding? Hear me out. 

We're programmed to believe that an invitation to be a bridesmaid is an honor, and it is. So please don't take this advice as an attack on wedding traditions, even though it's coming from a happily-single, 33-year-old woman. 

Being a bridesmaid is an honor. But, it's much more than that. This honor is really a promise, practically a contractual agreement, to do whatever the bride asks of you.

I don't want to be your bridesmaid.
I don't want to be your bridesmaid.

So, before you agree to this honor, this privilege, and the accompanying obligations, you should be aware of what will be expected of you. You should be aware of exactly what you're agreeing to, specifically with regards to financing this honor. 

Going in with your eyes wide open will make the experience what it should be, a celebration of your loved one's love. Going in blindly could ruin the experience for you, put a permanent stain on your friendship, or leave you struggling to pay off your bridesmaid's debt long after the bond of your friendship has dissipated. 

Saying "I don't" isn't necessarily rude. It may be the only responsible option.

Before you accept an invitation to be a bridesmaid, have a candid discourse with the bride about what her plans are, what she anticipates the costs being, and what you're financially competent to spend on her big day. (This is all assuming that you want to be in the wedding party.)

I know. I know. It's so crass to talk about money when someone is sharing their big moment with you, asking you to be involved in their big day. But it's not crass. It's necessary. It's responsible. And it's the healthiest thing you can do for your friendship. 

It's also financially sound advice. Let my varied experiences pave a yellow brick road of guidance for you.

The wedding industry has become a financial monster, and I am not afraid to say that the incredible amount of money people spend on these common affairs is socially irresponsible, considering the prevalence of poverty in this world. That's just my opinion. A wedding should be a celebration of love, not money. But the inverse is usually the occasion.

Of course, each person is free to have the most ridiculous, exorbitant gala -- to celebrate their wedding like they've just discovered the moon -- as they see fit. That's their choice. 

But… you might get suckered into one of these affairs, totally blindsided, and forced to assume a portion of the cost of this financial smorgasbord, far beyond what you initially imagined.

In my early 20s, I was a bridesmaid in two of my best friends' weddings. I never asked them what it would cost me. Instead, I eagerly blurted out Yes when they asked me to be a part of their special day. I wasn't thinking about money. I was so flattered to be invited. To be included. To be one of the girls. Accepted.

Fortunately, those two turns around the bridesmaid-carousel turned out to be great. Both weddings were lovely, and incredibly unassuming of me. I spent less than a thousand dollars on both weddings combined. For me, at that time, that was affordable. And the icing on the bridesmaid cake is, that I'm friends with both of these women today.

Fast-forward the clock seven years, and now I am invited to be in the weddings of two of my best friends, as we approach our 30s. This is where I stress that your financial circumstances are a necessary consideration of your acceptance.

When my first best friend asked me to be a bridesmaid, I immediately accepted. Glowing in her happiness, I didn't even consider my finances. 

I was in my first year of law school, living off student loans and the tips I made bartending two nights a week. Zero savings. For the previous five years, I had been a student-by-day, bartender-by-night, struggling to pay my outrageous rent in NYC.

When I agreed to be her bridesmaid, the last thing on my mind was what it would cost me. Part of me assumed that it would be like the weddings I'd been in before. Part of me assumed that my best friend wouldn't ask anything of me that she knew would be a financial imposition. Most of me didn't consciously think about it. 

That was a mistake. One that I would pay for, literally, with over 2,000 dollars of debt plus interest.

So you would think that by the time my second best friend asked me to be in her wedding that I would have learned my lesson? No. This time I was invited to be the maid of honor, an even bigger financial commitment. 

And this time, I was in my second year of law school, working as an unpaid intern, with zero disposable income. Basking again like a deer in wedding headlights, I immediately accepted the invitation. It wasn't really a question, right? Wrong. Almost 2,300 dollars of debt later, I realize that it was, and one that I should have politely declined.

Without getting into the details of why both of these weddings cost me so much money, I will say that there are certain factors that you can discuss with the bride at the outset to eliminate the possibility of breaking your bridesmaid bank. 

How many parties will you be attending (presents will be expected for each one); where will you be expected to fly and how many times (one wedding meant three round-trip tickets to Florida for me); will she being having a simple bachelorette party or an extravagant weekend away somewhere; and finally, will you have any choice in anything -- dress, shoes, hair, makeup? All of these things add up. Quickly. And before you know it, your honor is costing you thousands of dollars.

Then, you have to take some time to think about it. Please, think about it. Ask yourself if you will have to finance this honor with debt. Ultimately, this is your choice. Your decision. Your debt. 

You may just want to give the bride a flat number, what you're capable of spending. Let it be her choice to invite you with that limitation as a condition of your acceptance.

If the bride is really your friend, then she will understand that you can't put your future at risk without a moment's pause to consider the economic realities.

Bridesmaid hindsight has left me with this insight, which I hope will become your foresight: Financing a bridesmaid honor with debt is not a good idea. It's not fiscally responsible. And it won't make your friendship any stronger. Would a friend really ask you to do that? 

I encourage you to commit only to what you can. Be open, sincere, and let her decide if she wants you and your financial limitations to stand beside her on her wedding day. If not, no hard feelings. No resentment, and no ugly taffeta gowns and lavender satin wedding shoes.

But, if you do decide to blindly accept, at least be aware of the risks and appreciate the possibilities. You should be willingly to risk financial debt for a friendship that might not exist further down the road, for reasons out of your control. 

I know. It sounds cynical, but it's not. It's realistic. It's my reality. Just graduating law school, I have over 4,000 dollars of bridesmaid debt on my credit cards, aside from my student loans, but my two best friends are not a part of my life anymore.

Being a bridesmaid should be an honor, not a debt. And bridesmaid debt shouldn't outlive the friendship. But sadly, it often does. So choose your weddings wisely. 

27 Jul 14:32

15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood

Madison Metricula

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

Damn right, Atwood!

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood’s most profound quips.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of her dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

22 Jul 16:02

Severus Snape Does Not Deserve Your Pity

Madison Metricula

I love Snape *in spite* of his obvious "nice guy" shtick.

Can I say this out loud? Well… here it goes: it really bugs me when people get all weepy about Severus Snape and his somber, torturous tale. As a Harry Potter fan I usually keep this to myself because Snape fans are a little rabid and also he’s played by Alan Rickman on film, and speaking poorly of any Rickman-played character is probably a criminal offense in most countries.

But it really does bother me. And maybe not for the reasons you would assume.

Important disclosure at the fore: I think Severus Snape is a great character and it does hurt to learn how isolated and lonely he has been his entire life. I understand why he has the following that he does, why he garners so much love and empathy. He’s tortured, which gives us an emotional investment in his progression. He was bullied in school, which we can all relate to—most kids have born the brunt of teasing at some point in their lives. And he’s an incredible double agent, toeing a line between Dumbledore and Voldemort that no one else in the books is capable of, which is outright flipping cool.

But there’s a disturbing skew in Potter fandom, one that sees Snape painted as some sort of pitiable, tormented martyr. That contingent usually also seems convinced that Harry’s papa, James Potter, should never have been given a shot at that title and ruined Snape’s chances at happiness. Which causes me to give them the side-eye and wring my hands awkwardly.

Because it makes more sense to me to see Severus Snape’s tale as a cautionary one, a list of “What Not To Do” when life deals you the bottom of the deck. He suffers a great deal, absolutely—but every time chooses to handle his pain and grief in a way that is further damaging to others.

But love! Unrequited, abandoned love! His Patronus was a doe! Yes, I do remember. And it hits home because we’ve all been there, all know what it feels like to care for someone who isn’t giving you the time of day, or at least not the kind of attention you’d prefer. But for those who are somehow under the impression that Snape had his dear love Lily Evans stolen away by that stuck up, rich boy cad, James Potter… I’m at a loss.

Severus Snape, Lily Evans, Deathly Hallows

Rowling’s use of flashback in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is meant to offer us a lot in one go, giving readers the only sequence of the infamous Marauders that we can experience in realtime. We find out that teenaged James Potter is quite the insufferable show off, that he and Sirius were cruel to Snape, and that Snape’s idea of a good comeback to the bullying was to rebuff one of his oldest, truest friends in a way that was unforgivably prejudiced. What is contained in that unhappy memory is the moment where he loses Lily forever; though they obviously were not as close at that age as they had been as small children, she was not willing to cut herself off from him until he threw the word “mudblood” in her face.

But because we don’t see the in-between, the line that runs from there to James and Lily’s happy marriage, that might read to something like: Lily got angry at Snape for shouting something awful at her and decided that the ultimate way to “show him” was to marry that guy who’d made his life a living hell as a teen. Which is clearly not what happened. James grew up a little and stopped being a jerk. Lily noticed. (We hear specifically from Sirius and Remus that Lily didn’t start dating him until their final year at Hogwarts, giving James a couple years to sort himself out.) Snape made some bad friends and started dabbling in things he shouldn’t. They went their separate ways.

Except Snape kept carrying that torch for Lily. On paper it sounds sort of beautiful, but in actuality… that’s kind of creepy. More creepy for the fact that he gave up trying to make amends, and never attempted to form a similar relationship with anyone else. He kept a specific version of her in his head, built out of childhood memories and the moments he watched her from afar, and decided that was good enough. It didn’t stop him from offering Lily and her family up to Voldemort the instant he heard a helpful prophecy regarding Harry’s birth. He backtracked, because apparently he was fine with Voldemort killing Lily’s child and husband, the people whom she loved more than anything; he was only horrified at the thought of her death. And that’s not real love—caring for someone without considering their happiness is the exact opposite of love, in point of fact. It makes them an object of your affection rather than a subject. Perhaps his feelings for Lily were the only thing that prevented him from truly going “dark side” with his Death Eater pals, and for that we can be grateful. But the damning aspects of that love show up the instant Harry hits Hogwarts.

Sure, Harry looks more like James than Lily, sure, he’s got a bit of that Gryffindor bravado, but here was the perfect opportunity for Snape to make peace with his past. It’s true in more ways than one, specifically because Harry had also come from a home where he was ignored, abused, treated like less than a household pet. If Snape loved Lily so much, you would imagine he would want to do right by her son to honor her memory, wouldn’t you? But it seems that his hatred for James was much stronger than his feelings for Lily.

Well, if it weren’t for James, Harry might have been his son! Except there is no evidence to support that belief whatsoever. Even if he and Lily had remained friends, even if James Potter vanished into thin air, there is no reason to think that Lily would have ever fallen in love with Snape. And that misdirected anger toward James leads him to use his position of power as a teacher and a guide to take out his schoolyard grudge on Harry in any way he can manage.

Severus Snape, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Goblet of Fire

Which brings me to perhaps my biggest peeve with Snape—he’s a terrible teacher. Rowling herself has said this as well, that on the teaching spectrum Remus Lupin was supposed to represent the absolute best experience you could have, and that Snape represented the worst. People can gripe all they want about Snape being right to give Slytherins an unfair advantage in this class when they receive no such advantages anywhere else in the school, but it doesn’t change the fact that the kids he favors most are not good students. He favors Draco at first because he enjoys Draco’s ongoing cockfight with Harry, and later (more appropriately) because he knows what Draco is going through as a result of his family’s Death Eater status. But the ways in which he constantly belittles Hermione for actually caring about the subject he teaches is reprehensible, and furthermore, damaging to the very cause he’s fighting for by potenially leaving students ill-equipped. It’s even more disappointing because Snape has the ability to be an excellent professor; he simply choses not to be out of bitterness.

Is it understandable that Snape feels the way he feels? Absolutely. Is it acceptable that his actions in response to his own feelings continually harm others? Not so much.

The point is not that Severus Snape was a monster and no one should ever think well of him. The point is that Severus Snape is not a hero, and wouldn’t want to be called one. He is a man burdened by real demons, who makes the wrong choices, who pays for it with everything that is dear to him. And he’s the one who makes that bed. He knows he has to lie in it, knows that’s what he earned for himself, and that’s why he does everything in his power to make it right.

Severus Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Narcissa Malfoy, Half-Blood Prince

It’s what makes Severus Snape such a mesmerizing character in the first place. He doesn’t want to be coddled by anyone who feels for him, who wants to ease his pain. He would probably feel pretty awkward about Harry using his name to christen one of the Potter brood. Severus Snape doesn’t need pity because he’s not meant to be pitied—the owning of his failures are what make him exceptional.

And that is far more interesting than being a martyr any day.

Emily Asher-Perrin has the Marauder’s Map, and she frequently uses it to sneak out for sweets. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

13 Jul 13:08

Reddit Is Not the Front Page of the Internet

Madison Metricula

Sharing the snippet because the formatting translates weird, but this was the most interesting part to me:

"Describing Reddit without making reference to its gender asymmetry is akin to reporting on Pinterest, which is 72 percent female, without noting that the site caters to women.

And, indeed, when The New York Times reviewed Pinterest in 2012, they rightly referred to it as "female-oriented," but when the CEO of a 74 percent male social network resigns after facing intense criticism from its users—much of it laced with misogyny—they somehow forget to label Reddit, in turn, as "male-oriented." Reddit too often passes in the media as unmarked and neutral territory while sites like Pinterest get pigeonholed as girly."

It's a subtle reinforcement of male as default in public spaces.

The best thing I've seen on Pao & Reddit so far is this, which is really just a fact-check, but an important one http://t.co/n2hXAZA8lp
13 Jul 13:06

Cindy Gallop: ‘I want to be the Y Combinator of sex tech’

Madison Metricula

I don't 100% agree with CindyG all the time, but I adore what's she's trying to do. Why can't we sell real sex, honestly and openly? Why is the only sex for sale sanitized and skewed?

I love porn; amateur porn, some pro porn, erotic lit... Let me pay you. btw, the kink.com family of pron has awesome production values and generally well reviewed by the producers and talent. Not all of it is extreme stuff.

Like, I like how she describes "mainstream" porn as not necessarily evil but that if that's the only thing young people are exposed to it can be skewing. It should be just one part of our erotic experiences. Fantasy books don't make you think you can fly, but many people don't initially realize women who bang vagina-havers in real life don't have long nails.

It isn’t just the Irish who are afraid to talk about sex, venture capitalists and financial institutions also tend to get a bit hot and bothered about the subject. That’s the view of MakeLoveNotPorn’s Cindy Gallop who wants to make sex one of the hottest areas of start-up activity.

Formidable and fearless are words you could easily use to describe Cindy Gallop, the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld. I prefer the alliteration of insightful, innovative and interesting.

As we talk in the foyer of the Marker Hotel, Gallop speaks with conviction about gender bias in the tech industry, the businesses she’s started and her views on sex and most importantly, people’s inability to talk openly and honestly about sex. She says more than once: “I cannot say it more emphatically: Ireland you need to open yourself up to talking about sex.”

Having grown up in a sexually repressed Ireland where you were told to confess “impure thoughts” at the confessional, I wholeheartedly agree.

After more than 30 years in advertising, Gallop made waves at the 2009 TED conference when she launched the MakeLoveNotPorn website to provide more relevant information on human sexuality than that provided by hardcore pornography.

‘Ireland: you need to open yourself up to
talking about sex’
– CINDY GALLOP

She followed this up with IfWeRanTheWorld, a web platform designed to turn good intentions into action by allowing people and brands to easily coordinate “microactions.” Brands like Levi’s used the microactions platform to revitalise the manufacturing town of Braddock in Pennsylvania.

At the recent Inspirefest 2015 event in Dublin, Gallop said that she wants to see women making huge exits from start-ups. And, on the subject of the ongoing gender bias in the technology industry, she said, confidently: “All those barriers will fall away from all of us when we can prove that women can make a shit-ton of money.”

Selling fridges to eskimos

The road that brought Gallop to where she is today began at Somerville College at Oxford where she studied English literature. “Like everything in my life, things happen by accident. I fell in love with theatre at Oxford where there was a thriving student drama scene and I wrote, acted and stage-managed and just fell madly in love with theatre.

“I was good at drawing and drew the posters and I started helping with the promotions aspect and before I knew it I began a career as a theatre publicity marketing officer and I did that for years until I got fed up working every hour God gave me and earning chicken feed.”

Not much different to journalism then, I deadpan, and this fires Gallop up: “My time in theatre and advertising has given me a very strong belief that everyone should realise the financial value of what they create. Theatre and journalism are areas where ideas and creativity are often massively undervalued and often, strangely, by the creators themselves.

“I have a real issue with the mindset that because you choose to be an artist or a creative therefore you must starve in a garret. If you create something that gives other people pleasure you should see the financial return and the more people who enjoy it the greater the return should be. That was why I designed the business MakeLoveNotPorn the way I did. I feel strongly about how we undervalue creativity and art.”

‘I like to blow s*** up. I am the Michael Bay of business’
– CINDY GALLOP

Gallop’s departure from theatre and into advertising was yet another accident. “I was marketing officer for a theatre in Liverpool and I was giving a talk to a community in Merseyside and afterwards this lady came up to me and said: ‘Young lady, you could sell a fridge to an Eskimo’. I thought that was the universe telling me something and I decided that it was time to go into advertising.”

Gallop’s career in advertising was meteoric and by the 1990s she was responsible for large accounts such as Coca-Cola, Ray-Ban and Polaroid.

She became known for her tagline: “I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.”

In 2003 she was named Advertising Woman of the Year from Advertising Women of New York and by 2006 she was running her own advertising business, Cindy Gallop LLC.

Let’s talk about sex

cindy-gallop-inspirefest15-2

Cindy Gallop wants to change society’s conversation about sex matters

“MakeLoveNotPorn was an accident too. I never consciously planned it. It came out of direct personal experience.”

Gallop likes to date younger men in their twenties and realised that society’s inability to communicate about sex needed to be dealt with.

“I discovered an issue that would never have crossed my mind if it had not appeared so intimately and personally. I encountered what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society’s total reluctance to talk openly about sex. I realised that porn was by default becoming the sex education for a whole generation.

‘One of my frustrations is that people think of porn as one big homogenous mass, but it is as rich and varied as the world of literature’
– CINDY GALLOP

“I found myself discovering a number of sexual behaviour memes. If I was experiencing this then other people must have been too.

“I am very action-oriented and decided to do something about it.”

Gallop feels strongly that society’s instinct to brush subjects like sex and porn under the carpet are causing greater harm than the blame being laid at the door of the porn industry.

She said, for example, that the average age that children are exposed to porn material on the internet has plummeted from eight down to six because of the ease of access to devices like smartphones. “It doesn’t matter what controls you have at home, kids live their lives in other places – the playground, friends’ houses. We live in a digital world and in many privileged homes kids can access tablets and smartphones and all they have to do is Google a naughty word and they are suddenly exposed to all kinds of material.

“When I talk to women and mothers – especially in Ireland – the word ‘porn’ is seen as all-encompassing and one of my frustrations is that people think of porn as one big homogenous mass, but it is as rich and varied as the world of literature.”

She argues that without society talking openly and rationally about sex, the chances of kids and teenagers being traumatised by what they discover is compounded by peer pressure and the wide open internet.

“I wish society would understand the opposite to what it believes is true. Women enjoy sex just as much as men and men are just as romantic as women, but neither gender is allowed to be open about it and state the fact.

“MakeLoveNotPorn is not anti-porn. We are buidling a platform with tools that make it easier for people to talk about sex – both publicly and generally and also openly and honestly in private in intimate relationships.”

Shortly after MakeLoveNotPorn began, MakeLoveNotPorn.tv was established in 2012 to make real-world sex socially acceptable and socially shareable.

“The problem is with society not talking about sex, people not learning about sex in schools, and the only place people will take their cues from is porn on the internet.

“Our role is not to censor, it is to open up the conversation, fund the entrepreneurs who want to disrupt the conversation for the better.

“I spent 30 years working in the business of communication and I know that the great things in life are born out of good communication and sex is no different.”

Why Silicon Valley needs to be turned on to sex tech

Despite her high-profile career and the popularity of MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld, Gallop points to an anomaly.

“My team and I fight and battle for every little piece of infrastructure that we use. This is because in the fine print of everything from finance to technology it says ‘no adult content’. I can’t get funded and I can’t find a bank anywhere in the world that will allow me to open a business bank account.”

“PayPal won’t work with us, neither will Amazon. We had to build an entire video-streaming platform from scratch because Brightcove won’t host our content.

“The entire adult industry has the same problem and, as a result, an entire industry has sprung up to serve the adult porn industry. But we aren’t the adult porn industry. We are on a social mission.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that MakeLoveNotPorn.tv operates a revenue-sharing model with creators.

Once again, Gallop believes the structures of the finance in the tech industry are pushing porn deeper underground and into a shadowy underworld.

‘We aren’t the adult porn industry.
We are on a social mission’
– CINDY GALLOP

“Every bank that refuses to bank an honest, legal adult company, every payment provider that refuses to process payments and every business entity that refuses to work with adult companies, they are directly responsible for all the bad things that are happening the porn industry.

“The answer is not to censor or shut down, the answer is to open up. If you can’t allow a company like MakeLoveNotPorn to do business honestly then you are perpetuating the bad things and not helping somebody who wants to disrupt it for the better.”

Agent provocateur

cindy-gallop-inspirefest

Cindy Gallop on stage at Inspirefest 2015

In disrupting the adult industry for the better, Gallop says socially acceptable navigation and curation are needed. “There is no Yelp for porn because it is socially acceptable to talk about restaurants at the watercooler, but not about porn.

“I have many friends in the porn industry who are creating interesting pornography that is open, healthy and fantastic, especially female pornographers. But if you are a horny 16-year-old in Donegal you are going to go straight to YouPorn.com and you are going to stay there. It’s not YouPorn’s fault, it is society’s fault for not being able to talk openly and honestly about sex in the first place.”

‘The only thing that breaks the cycle is
innovation and disruption’
– CINDY GALLOP

Gallop says she is bringing a business perspective to the world of porn and sex tech that you won’t find in the pages of the Harvard Business Review or in the hallowed halls of Trinity College Dublin.

“Porn is like any other industry I studied as a business person. It has gotten so big, though, that it has gotten conventional. Just like reality TV which was pioneered 20 years ago and was so innovative, it has fallen into a morass with shows like Jersey Shore.

“The only thing that breaks that cycle is innovation and disruption.

“I am trying to open up the business world’s minds that the next big thing in technology is disrupting sex and I’m a champion and an advocate for disrupting the porn industry.

“If I can get MakeLoveNotPorn to make a shitload of money, I want to one day start an incubator or accelerator and venture fund for radically innovative sex tech and porn start-ups. I want to be the Y Combinator of sex tech.”

Gallop believes that sex tech and porn start-ups could actually produce returns way beyond anything Silicon Valley can dream of.

“I am working to raise a round of funding and if there are any open-minded investors in Ireland I would be happy to talk to them.”

She has a logic that is reminiscent of how VHS won out over Betamax in the video recorder standards battle of the late 1970s, mainly because the porn industry decided to support VHS.

Gallop just points to the fact that the single biggest grossing author on the planet is EL James, author of 50 Shades of Grey. “She has out-earned Dan Brown, Michael Crichton and Jim Patterson and the movie has just shattered box-office records.

“That is the financial power of socially acceptable, socially shareable sex.”

Cindy Gallop on-stage at Inspirefest 2015 (video)

13 Jul 12:58

Horror, White Bodies, and Feminism in ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’

Madison Metricula

I am not entirely sure if this is serious but it made me watch the video. Also, "delicious torture"? No one really writes that, right? Or maybe horror authors/enthusiasts?

This is a guest post by Josephine Maria Yanasak-Leszczynski.

Rihanna’s video for Bitch Better Have My Money, directed by Rihanna herself and the Megaforce team, is an intersectional feminist revenge horror masterpiece. This video also has a lot of people up in arms due to its supposed misogyny and definite violent imagery. However, many of its critics have missed the hard facts: for instance, there is very little on screen violence in BBHMM. Yet its masterful use of suggestion and direct attacks on ideologies American society values make it an effective and affecting horror piece.

A note before I begin: I have named the characters by the archetypes they represent. White Woman is the woman kidnapped initially by Rihanna and her crew, the women that aid her in the less than lawful activities she engages in the video. White Male is the character played by Mads Mikkelsen, an actor currently best known for portraying horror legend Hannibal on television.

The video’s White Woman is objectified into a symbol of Whiteness from the beginning: She exists in a beige and white house, with a creepily well behaved light-colored dog, and a non entity White husband taking the place of furniture as she dresses in front of his still presence. White Woman applies perfect make up, then dons a diamond necklace. She is blond and thin and wears expensive designer clothing. The camera does not caress her perfect body, but it is also not hidden.

White Woman applies makeup in her beige bathroom.
White Woman applies makeup in her beige bathroom.

On this bland palette and sparse introduction we are able to place our own assumptions based on her superficiality. To some viewers she might be a trophy wife, others may see signs of a successful career woman, or even a woman locked in a career where her looks are her resume like a model or a dancer. In any of these assumptions, she is outwardly successful. Material wealth surrounds her, and attractiveness is upheld by her rituals and accessories.

The effect of White Woman’s abuse in the video is incredible: how many of us White female viewers feel blows land on ourselves? Yet with the exception of a blow to the back of the head with a bottle, we see only pushes to swing the woman as she suspends from the rafters of a barn and a minimum of on screen violence.

White Woman attempts to flag down a cop moments before being bludgeoned.
White Woman attempts to flag down a cop moments before being bludgeoned.

This violence is all the more effective because of the use of White Woman’s nudity. In her living room, we see her breasts through a translucent bra. She covers them with a designer coat before kissing her husband good bye, then picks up her dog and stepping on an elevator with Rihanna and a large trunk. The next shot is of her nude in a car of fully clothed women. Where a scene before she was powerful in designer lingerie, the queen of her domain even, she has suddenly been made completely vulnerable.

This liberal use of nudity is the “gross display of the human body” in horror described by Linda Williams in her essay “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” There is a duality in White Woman’s role: first of all, she is the ideal we have all been pushed to attain. Secondly, she is a woman made helpless when stripped of the armor of her status symbols. Viewers that have felt physically vulnerable as women imagine the bodily abuses on their own physical forms and internalize it: bodily horror materializes.

However, the horror for viewers is not just an attack of a physical nature. The fear of this piece comes just as much from the viewer’s self identification. If they hold themselves up to the impossible standard of Whiteness that is considered the societal norm, they put themselves in the place of White Woman. If they have broken that cycle, they see themselves in Rihanna and view a different story altogether.

Throughout her manipulations of White Woman, an assault on Whiteness itself is bubbling beneath the surface. Whiteness interpreted into these archetypal forms has kept Rihanna from what is assumedly owed her, and this is the visual fantasy of her taking that back.

Rihanna is making war on the white washed femininity that she is held up to, but with her diverse comrades, she is also making war on and conquering that singular view of female perfection that chains us all. By removing and later replacing White Woman’s wrappings, the physicality of the attacks translates into not just an attempt to dismantle the superficial elements of Whiteness, but blows against the White body itself. After all, these impermanent objects are only symbols of the idealized racial identity we are all taught to strive for; they are props to bring us closer to that impossible goal.

Rihanna is aided by two women that are racially different from herself. These women are symbols many critics have missed. Unlike the narratives supported by mainstream, primarily White and straight feminists, Rihanna’s storytelling is truly inclusive.

The male gaze is incarnate in the male police officer that turns up in only two scenes. He is kept from doing his job, catching Rihanna and crew, by his inability to take the attractive bikini-clad women for anything more than something to be ogled at. In the video, this presumption of the male gaze is used by Rihanna to further her goals.

It is during an interaction with this officer that the video makes what I consider to be its only sexual objectification by nature of camera movement. The camera pans to Rihanna’s buttocks next to the floating body of her victim as a parallel to the actions of the officer and a reminder of the job he has failed to complete. While nudity is a repeating focal point in the beginning half of the video, it is curiously lacking in sexual overtones up to this point. Unless, of course, one is unable to separate the naked female body from objectifying sexuality.

Unlike other revenge stories, agency remains firmly in the hands of the protagonist in BBHMM. We do not have to endure what has happened to Rihanna’s character in this narrative in some poorly managed introductory horror sequence, though the ransom requests are illustrated on screen. Instead, we see what Rihanna is: powerful in a society that would otherwise hold her down and screw her out of her money.

This last point is particularly poignant when depicted through her interactions with White Male. In an unexpected turn, it is White Woman’s husband who is revealed to be “The Bitch” and not White Woman herself. While his nature is shown through short cuts of him laughing evilly and the like, his exact crimes are not depicted by the narrative.

Instead, as a lead up to the delicious torture sequence that is undoubtedly about to ensue, Rihanna pauses to inspect the various tools she has at her disposal. While it would make for a tidy story to have him refusing to pay ransom on a woman they randomly kidnapped be the motive, all possible reasons to murder White Male are helpfully written on labels beside Rihanna’s tools to demonstrate the scope and nature of his crimes against her.

In this video, White Male is a placeholder for White males in general, just as the White body of the woman in the beginning of the video represents the overwhelming Whiteness of the narrowly defined bounds of accepted femininity. Much like his wife, White Male’s body is exploited and used as a symbol of his own White power.

His body physically interacts with the money that in this video represent power: bills are literally rubbed on his body in a sensuous display of sexuality by two women that serve as further examples of physical comfort. Just like the furniture and clothing in the White Woman’s entrance scenes, the White Male’s props identify him as powerful by nature of the accepted system of symbols that represent wealth in mainstream culture. It is important to note that White Male is the only character seen with physical money at this point.

In the end, Rihanna’s search for satisfaction and White Woman’s suffering stem from the same root: White Male’s inability to value them, and therefore underestimating them. White Female is returned to her residence, relatively physically unharmed. She apparently does not interfere with Rihanna’s treatment of the husband that did not respond to ransom demands earlier in the video.

White Male struggles against his bindings
White Male struggles against his bindings.

White Male’s torture is not shown. The next shot is of Rihanna leaving the house, covered in what could be presumed to be his blood. The act itself is not intended to be the satisfying part, but instead the viewer can take comfort that the job was done.

The final reveal employs relief from the implied violence of an unexpected sort. The bloody legs hanging out of the trunk shown in the first shot of the video do not, as we assumed, belong to the dead body of White Female. Instead of an end to the implied violence and hedonism through what is assumed to be its inevitable conclusion in a corpse, we see a triumphant and relieved Rihanna. Bloodied from her task, but enjoying a cigar on a pile of money she earned.

Recommended Reading: “This is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism”

Josephine Maria Yanasak-Leszczynski has a name unpronounceable by human tongues. She is a freelance writer, reviewer, and author (as J.M. Yales). Very occasionally she makes art from recycled scraps of metal.

08 Jul 19:21

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Madison Metricula

yyyaaaaaasssss

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

When artificial neurons meet anime characters, the going gets weird.

Since Google’s Deep Dream system allow people to upload photos for the AI to enhance, people have been uploading all sorts of pics, many of which are pornography (this is the internet!). But amid the sea of uploaded meme pics and selfies, there are also anime images.

Let’s see what Deep Dream does to those:

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

[via 2ch]

Of course, people are uploading video game images, too.

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Original:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Deep Dream:

Google Deep Dream Is Turning Anime into Nightmares

Half-Life 3 confirmed.

To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter@Brian_Ashcraft.

08 Jul 14:02

Serious Bill-Paying Skillage

Madison Metricula

Cool dude good at video games gets the girls and glory and this line thrown at him by the hot girl: "“That's some serious bill-paying skillage,” she said. “Color me impressed, Zack-Zack Lightman.”"

150707_books_Armadaillo

Illustration by Ethan Rilly

Armada is a story about how gamers are the most important people in the world. This is not a new story; it's served as the inspiration for countless video games over the past 40 years, not to mention the recent harassment campaigns that spawned out of gaming culture and the wounded, entitled pride at their heart. While the aims of the novel are onanistic rather than malicious, Armada nonetheless demands to be bronzed as the perfect embodiment of the impulses that so often make games—and gaming culture—boring, self-indulgent, and regressive.

Armada is the highly anticipated second novel from Ernest Cline, who hit the best-seller list in 2011 with his debut, Ready Player One. Set in 2044, that first sci-fi adventure took place in a dystopian future in which people escape their lives by jacking into a virtual reality universe. This VR world was created by a programmer who was obsessed with ’80s geek culture and built an elaborate treasure hunt into the game based on his very specific predilections. The resulting journey was a confectionary pastiche where the player who essentially “got” the most ’80s references was promised vast, godlike abilities, and the worship of nostalgia was framed as the path to happiness, salvation, and power.

Although this sounds like fertile ground for a critique of the inward-facing tendencies that so often pervade modern gaming, Ready Player One was far too joyously self-absorbed in its referential excesses to step back and examine what they might mean. It was still a page-turner, though. Armada is neither as immersive nor as fun, though it remains just as committed to sucking the sweet, nostalgic marrow from superior works of science fiction and pop culture.

Print

This time around, our hero is Zack Lightman, a high school student who is one of the best players in the world at the fictional space shooting game Armada. After nearly 100 pages of overly specific descriptions of Zack's online battles with his friends, everything changes when a spaceship ripped from the game itself lands on the front lawn of school, and a man emerges to announce that Zack is so good at video games that he has been enlisted to fight aliens.

If that sounds familiar to you, that's probably because you've seen the movie The Last Starfighter, which is about a young boy who is so good at video games that he is enlisted to fight aliens. Or perhaps Ender's Game, a story about a young boy who is so good at video games that he is enlisted to fight aliens. In an interview with the Verge, Cline explained the secret sauce that makes his story different from the other sci-fi tales that have told similar stories: Yup, it's pop culture references. “In a zombie apocalypse movie,” he said, “nobody's ever seen a zombie movie. Or in an alien invasion movie, nobody has ever seen an alien invasion movie like Independence Day. That's what Armada is — if an alien invasion happened today, we'd be aware of all of that and reference all of this pop culture.”

Indeed, after Zack blasts off to join the Earth Defense Alliance, he explains how he feels again and again not by telling us, but by referencing the experiences of main characters from better versions of this story: “I felt like Luke Skywalker surveying a hangar full of A-, Y- and X-Wing Fighters just before the Battle of Yavin. Or Captain Apollo, climbing into the cockpit of his Viper on the Galactica’s flight deck. Ender Wiggin arriving at Battle School. Or Alex Rogan, clutching his Star League uniform, staring wide-eyed at a hangar full of Gunstars.”

This is a book that ends with someone unironically quoting Yoda.

Barely a page goes by without a reference to Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Flight of the Navigator, Transformers, Starfox, Space Invaders, Zero Wing, Iron Eagle, Star Trek, and on and on and on. Geek culture has long been preoccupied with trivia; the ability to recognize and make references to games, movies, and TV shows beloved within various “geeky” subcultures is often considered an in-group badge of honor, a signifier of credibility and even power. Armada is a book designed entirely around getting the reference—high-fiving the readers who recognize its shoutouts while leaving everyone else trapped behind a nerd-culture velvet rope of catchphrases and codes.

Armada often feels like it's being narrated by that one guy in your group of friends who never stops quoting the Simpsons, a tic that feels increasingly tiresome and off-putting in the face of the novel’s supposedly apocalyptic stakes. On more than one occasion, soldiers salute each other en route to world-ending battles by solemnly swearing that “the Force” will be with them, and one character flies to his supposedly tragic and moving death while screaming quotes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is a book that ends with someone unironically quoting Yoda.

The shameless, jejune wish-fulfillment of the book burns hot and bright, from the moment our young gamer hero gets summoned to space from the lawn of his school, while the girl who dumped him and the jerk who bullied him look on with disbelief. When players like Zack are recruited into the Earth Defense Alliance, their in-game prestige also immediately translates into military rank and real-life power. “Elite” recruits like Zack are immediately promoted to flight officer, meaning they immediately outrank many of the enlisted men, even if the flight officer is a smart-ass teenager who goes by the handle Kushmaster5000.

We're also told the government has been tracking the habits of its elite players, and when they arrive at their virtual battle stations, they find their favorite snacks waiting for them, their favorite songs queued up to accompany their virtual space fights, not to mention a “special strain of weed that helps people focus and enhances their ability to play videogames” that's been cultivated just for them. In one revealing moment, Zack calls his mom in midst of the alien invasion and says the words that burn in the heart of every gamer who has ever felt demeaned for the hours they lavish on their favorite hobby: “All those years I spent playing videogames weren't wasted after all, eh?”

Zack’s mom is one of the very few women in the book who get any airtime at all, as is his love interest, a fellow gamer recruit named Lex. You might wonder: What is Lex about? What motivates her? It doesn't matter. What's important about her is that she's a hot girl from Austin who gets his jokes, has “alabaster skin,” sports a seminude Tank Girl tattoo, and wants to make out with our hero after hearing that he's one of the best Armada players in the world:

“My Terra Firma ranking is too abysmal to say out loud,” I said, laying on the false modesty with a trowel. “But in the Armada rankings I'm currently sixth.”
Her eyes widened, and she swiveled her head around to stare at me.
“Sixth place?” she repeated. “In the world? No bullshit?”
I crossed my heart, but did not hope to die.
“That's some serious bill-paying skillage,” she said. “Color me impressed, Zack-Zack Lightman.”
“Color me flattered, Miss Larkin,” I replied.

It's a cringingly terrible and transparent bit of self-indulgence, one of many in the book that walks so close to the line of video game fan fiction that it becomes nearly indistinguishable.

Author Ernie Cline.
Ernest Cline.

Photo by Dan Winters

Early in the book, Zack rifles through the belongings of his dead father, who died in a mysterious accident but left behind journals that detailed a strange, conspiratorial obsession with ’80s video games and movies. Zack has spent a lot of his life consuming those same games and movies in hopes of recapturing something that has been lost—the same impulse that drives so many people to obsess about the past. But in a brief and fleeting moment of insight, Zack finally decides to close up the boxes and move on with his life. It was “high time [he] grew up,” he decides, adding that “the time had come for me to stop living in the past.”

The novel spends the next 300 pages doing the opposite.

Armada reads like a coming-of-age fantasy for people who came of age long ago; despite the fact that Zack Lightman is only 18 years old, he drives a 1989 Dodge Omni, watches ’80s movies like Say Anything, and can't stop listening to ZZ Top. We're told that he's just immersing himself in the beloved media of his dead father, but hearing a modern-day teenage character talk about ’80s culture with the intimacy and nostalgia of his 43-year-old creator feels more than a little contrived.

And familiar: Ready Player One, the novel that launched Cline's career, was a sci-fi adventure about teenagers cavorting through a futuristic virtual reality world where the limitless creative possibilities of the digital universe were oddly laser-focused on 1980s pop culture references. The sins of Cline's era-specific obsessions and wafer-thin characters were forgivable, given the effervescent pleasures of his geek-culture mashup. With Armada, Cline finally has the opportunity to address the question of whether his work has legs beyond the crutch of his referential obsessions. The answer is no.

Our fantasies can tell us a great deal about ourselves, and the fact that Cline's work has often been trumpeted as the ultimate “nerdgasm” or some sort of apotheosis of nerd culture should be troubling to anyone who identifies with the label. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, on its own; our love for the media of our youth—and more importantly, for the qualities that made us love it in the first place—is not only worth remembering, but also capable of sparking new and wonderful creations, so long as we are able to distinguish inspiration from imitation.

It's a valuable question for gaming culture—and “nerd culture” more generally—to ask itself: Do we want to tell stories that make sense of the things we used to love, that help us remember the reasons we were so drawn them, and create new works that inspire that level of devotion? Or do we simply want to hear the litany of our childhood repeated back to us like an endless lullaby for the rest of our lives?

Armada is for everyone who wants the latter, a book-length love letter of cultural hyperlinks that refer you elsewhere but contain no meaningful content themselves. Take away the shoutouts and the plot points borrowed wholesale from far better works of science fiction, and the story in Armada doesn't just fall apart—it doesn't exist at all. It’s simply a long series of secret handshakes, designed to grant access to the most enduring and beloved fantasy world of so many aging gamers: the idea that nothing will ever be more important than the things they loved when they were young.

---

Armada by Ernest Cline. Crown.

08 Jul 13:59

Romantic love is a patriarchal conspiracy, according to new Melissa McCarthy film

Madison Metricula

I'm not entirely sure if this is serious but it was hilariously written.

"There are a lot of cringey moments in the film, but nothing — not even an arms-dealer super-babe pulling a knife out of her own hand and attempting to stab Melissa McCarthy with it, which is not fluid safe — scared me more than the initial images of Susan Cooper deferring to the superdouche."

WHICH IS NOT FLUID SAFE

Like many women between the ages of three and two hundred, my hobbies include breathing, using magnifying mirrors to gain a more intimate perspective on my pores, and falling in desperate, horny love with people who do not want me. I do the latter with particular zeal. 

Really “appreciate my personality” but “just want to be friends”? Pshyeah, I’ll pick up your dry cleaning. Think I’m “totally beautiful” but “honestly just don’t feel that way”? How about you barely talk to me and I do all your math homework. Want to “learn more about me” but “just happen to prefer thin heterosexual women”? Uh, duh I’ll give you a foot massage and invite you to my parties. What else would I do?!

I do not mean that everyone I have feelings for should be ethically obligated to want me back (though that would be convenient) or that my gap teeth are somehow so irresistible that anyone who is not immediately fisting me is defying the laws of physics.

I mean that somewhere along the line — somewhere between Disney movies and adolescent lesbian “experiments,” somewhere before the first time a partner hit me but after street harassment got hip — I learned that love meant being constantly unhappy, that sex meant being constantly unhappy, that if I wanted someone, I was going to suffer, and that this was the natural state.

Think of all the shit you’re supposed to suffer through to make someone want to fuck you. Make yourself hungry on purpose. Stick a pencil in your eye. Tear the hair from your pussy by its roots. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t eat too much. Don’t slurp your spaghetti. Don’t be vulgar. Don’t be smart. Don’t pee with the door open. Like what your partner likes in bed, unless it involves your anus. Don’t kiss anyone else. Don’t look at anyone else in that specific way. You know the way — that way that makes your partner’s stomach soupy with jealousy. Forgive them when they snap at you. Forgive them when they push you just that one time. Follow them across the country to a place where you have no one to talk to if they push you again. Shrink, retract, don’t go too far, don’t make too much money, don’t laugh too loud, don’t be you. For god’s sake, be anything but you.

This is what Melissa McCarthy’s character does at the beginning of Spy, the new Paul Feig secret agent flick that literally everybody but me has written about already.

That was my segue. Here’s my thesis. Spy is about a lot of things: Melissa McCarthy being a bad bitch, our collective political anxieties about Bulgaria. But it is also about female talent, and all the tiny, insidious ways we as women are taught to minimize ourselves, the ways we are sabotaged by all the shit that passes as love.

Obligatory plot summary (spoiler alert, motherfuckers — it’s about the journey, not the destination): In Spy, Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who serves as the loyal in-office sidekick to a dashing male superspy who is also — surprise surprise — a royal douchebag. She literally saves his life on the daily and he repays her by giving her a plastic cupcake on a string. Gosh, that’s enough to turn even me heterosexual!

Meanwhile, of course, Susan is actually a wildly talented ass-kicker who could run circles around her douchehat partner if she so chose. Since she is socialized as a woman, however — and thus shares several of my favorite hobbies — Susan is instead so in love with the douchehat she doesn’t realize that he is actually totally threatened by her talent and using her emotionally while sabotaging her career. The American imperialist project eventually taps our protagonist to go out into the field, where she proceeds to kick monumentally hot, super-devious, bitchtastic Eastern European lady ass (which is geopolitically interesting to say the least) and, with the help of her lady pal sidekick, saves the motherfucking day.

Here is another thing I love about the movie: It totally centers female relationships. The men are incompetent and/or sexually aggressive douchebags — even the evil male masterminds trading diamonds for support of global terrorism (#notallmen). The women, meanwhile, are gutsy, brainy, harebrained, and wickedly decked out. They scheme schemes, they deal deals, they’re bitches, they’re friends. Spy doesn’t pass the Bechdel test — it blows a raspberry at the Bechdel test and streaks the fuck out buck-naked while lesser films cower in snow pants.

There are a lot of cringey moments in the film, but nothing — not even an arms-dealer super-babe pulling a knife out of her own hand and attempting to stab Melissa McCarthy with it, which is not fluid safe — scared me more than the initial images of Susan Cooper deferring to the superdouche. Listening and smiling while he rubs her talent into the ground. Serving him as he disrespects her. Minimizing herself.

This scared me so much because I have been that woman.

We know — so many of us know — how physical and emotional violence can chip away at us, how we shrink from hands from fists from verbal fists until we are shrinking not only our muscles but ourselves, making ourselves smaller and smaller as someone grows fat off of us in a kind of growing that can never be sated.

It is harder to pin down the more subtle ways in which we are taught to minimize ourselves in relationships of all kinds — though particularly if we are women in romantic relationships with men. We do not try out for the debate team because our boyfriends are trying out for the debate team and we do not want to beat them. We do not tell our girlfriends about previous partners because they get nasty when we remind them we have fucked men. We put up with our partners’ biphobia, or racism, or sexism, because they love us and baby, that’s the best you’re gonna get. It’s so hard to pin a good man down these days — if he drinks too much occasionally and the sex doesn’t always feel consensual, remember the 401k.

There is a difference between violence and small sleights that accumulate. But the two are next door neighbors, the latter on a spectrum with the former — bus stops on the way to abuse. My experiences of violence in love have taught me not that I got unlucky and the way we’ve been taught to love is otherwise good, but that there is something deeply, fundamentally flawed in a rhetoric of romance that teaches us to make ourselves smaller so our partners can feel big.

Of course, the world is hard and our loves, like everything else, operate within constraints. There are a lot of reasons we stay in relationships that harm us. Anyone who has ever been asked, with care that feels more like an accusation, “Why don’t you just leave?” knows how hard it really is. We stay for material necessity, for threat of violence, for the children, because the person mistreating us needs our care, we stay because they have become so fundamental to our identities that if we leave we will not know who we are.

We do what we need to do, and this too is dignity.

But Internet, you listen to me right now: I am going to be a fucking Susan Cooper.

I am going to be Susan Cooper because there are people out there who think my g-spot jokes are sexy, and don’t want me to stop telling them; and lovers who would, when I have to work rather than go down on them, kiss my shoulder and make me tea. I am going to be Susan Cooper because the world is better off, and the people I love are better off, when I am at my best and fiercest. Because often, those lovers who would debilitate us in their search for wholeness are themselves debilitated, fragmented, by the same ideologies that motivate them to use us. Because it is a great act of love to work on the systems that make it hard for us to love each other in the first place.

Susan Cooper used her talent to stop a bombing, shore up the security state, and save lives from a mixture of ideology and greed.

We don’t need bombs as metaphors for the things that kill us. The emergency is now and here. It is the structural and ideological factors — unlivable minimum wage and unjust immigration laws, police brutality and unavailable abortion, and actual, physical bombs — that prevent us from being all the awesome things we could be. Each second with someone who tells us to step aside so they can get ahead, rather than stepping ahead with us, is a small tragedy.

Anyone to whom you give your time and love should make you feel like the hottest shit on planet Earth. Because you are a superhero. You are a miraculous collection of bones and joints and blood, of thoughts and hunches, absolutely unprecedented, utterly unique.

If we are going to change the shitshow that is this world, we need to start ass-kicking.

07 Jul 15:26

Patriarchy in my Vault

Madison Metricula

Like, this doesn't immediately offend me as a feminist (except that pregnant women can't, like, do anything), but as a humanist it's a little bit of a turn off to play a game where the humans are being farmed for societal growth. Like, I get it, but using people as breeding cows so casually (or without a higher level of satire) is weird.

Richard is also playing it and the sounds annoy the living fuck out of me.

Vault510Welcome to Vault 510, my creation in Bethesda Softwork’s new iPhone game, Fallout Shelter. The people here are happy. They have plentiful food, water, and power. They have a medical bay and a science lab. They have a radio station for entertainment, and a strong door protecting them from the uncivilized, irradiated wastes outside. On those rare occasions when raiders do break in, they have powerful weapons with which to defend themselves. And when they’ve been working too long, they can retire to the well-appointed living quarters for some romantic company. There is no jealousy in Vault 510, and as little incestuous behavior as I, their Overseer, can manage with a population this small. There are also no gay people, and apparently no birth control, because every liaison results in a pregnancy. Children scamper through the corridors, and most of the women are cheerfully pregnant.

That last bit shouldn’t be a problem, but it totally is.

All the Bethesda games I’ve played have had the unwritten rule that children shall not be harmed. In games like Fallout 3 and presumably the upcoming Fallout 4, when there is violence children will run, scream, and cower, but never get injured. They are functionally invulnerable. The player can fire bullets at them, and the only response will be a young voice declaring it mean. This is a perfectly defensible choice on Bethesda’s part, and they’ve carried it into this game as well.

The trouble is, in Fallout Shelter adult pregnant women get treated the same way as children. When a fire breaks out, or there’s an infestation of radroaches, non-pregnant women will calmly start dealing with it alongside the men, but pregnant women will run away and hide. They can’t handle emergencies at all. Presumably they act like this because they are considered to have an inviolable child inside of them (which is dubious enough), but the result is that pregnant women are thus significantly less capable. As I am trying to keep this bottled society as functional and happy as possible, this makes me have to do several uncomfortable things:

  • In the early game I am incentivized to keep women pregnant as often as possible because it (a) makes them happy and (b) raises the vault’s population and thus my labor pool.
  • I have to take weapons out of the hands of women and give them to men, because even if a woman is holding a combat shotgun, if she’s pregnant and a roach appears she will run and hide rather than shooting at it.
  • I have to separate the pregnant women and lean toward having male-dominated working environments, because if an emergency breaks out and all the pregnant women flee, the situation could spread, whereas it will be contained if the room is staffed primarily by men or non-pregnant women.

The mechanics of this game are forcing me, as Overseer, to institute patriarchal norms into my society. If I want my vault dwellers to survive, I have to disempower pregnant women. And since the women want to be pregnant and I’m incentivized to keep them that way, this functionally means disempowering all women. While I’m otherwise enjoying this game, the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout Shelter insists on being a big ol’ boys club. I really don’t like that.

Where’s Imperator Furiosa when you need her?

imperator-furiosa-612x380-136069

07 Jul 14:21

Rape Is Not a Shortcut to Narrative Substance

Madison Metricula

Okay, so preaching to the choir on the "rape is being used as shorthand for adult" and it's tired, but WHY IS THIS STILL A THING.

Side note: the complaints about the Fury Road comic floating around are completely justified. One of the writers said that if he didn't graphically depict the rape and sexual slavery, people might think the Five Wives were just "spoilt girls". As if being raped by Immortan Vader in his underground bunker to breed his sons was, like, a cake walk.

Rachel Eddidon is great though. She hosts X-Plain the X-Men with her husband.

WARNING: While the following images have been censored, they remain fairly graphic and may disturb some readers and may also be considered NSFW. 

I am so tired of writing about rape.

If you didn’t catch the news, last Friday, the website Comic Book Resources posted a five-page preview of the latest issue of the Game of Thrones comic book adaptation. And the pages they published — the pages Dynamite Entertainment sent out as representative of the book, which is a standard practice for comic book publishers — included an incredibly graphic rape scene. Erect penis, front and center. Woman bent back nearly double, naked, arched like a porn star.

It just so happens that was also the week that HBO decided to add—and then vigorously defend — a graphic rape scene in the Game of Thrones TV series (a trend the network continued this week), and that both fall in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness month — and yes, thanks, HBO, Dynamite and CBR, we are in fact extra aware of sexual assault now, so, well done, there. It’s worth noting, too, that this is coming on the heels of an incident where a fellow comics editor and journalist got a slew of graphic rape threats for having the temerity to critique the portrayal of a teen girl in a piece of cover art (also published on CBR).

But it’s also not just this week, or this month. It’s this year. This decade. This lifetime. This is business as usual.

game-of-thrones-comic-book-dynamite-rape-scene
Censored here, this graphic panel was distributed by Dynamite to the media and actually published by some outlets without a content warning

I am so tired of writing about rape, and especially rape in pop media, because I have had this conversation dozens and hundreds and thousands of times, as a crisis advocate and an educator, as an editor and writer, as a human being. Because last week, a fellow pop-culture journalist realized that she’s gotten so many rape threats that they’ve begun to feel routine, and this is the landscape where I work every day.

Because rape is still the go-to for lazy storytellers trying to look edgy or add depth to a heroine’s backstory with a minimum of thought.

Because all of this is happening in visual media where women are hypersexualized to an extent that involves posing dead women like pin-up girls, making it so there is no act involving a female character that is not glamorous and sexualized.

Because a major comics news site thought it was okay to post a graphic rape without even a token “NSFW,” and because before that, a publisher thought it was a good idea to add that panel in the first place; because an artist drew it like pornography, and an editor signed off on it, and nowhere in this process did anyone apparently think this might not have been the best course of action.

game-of-thrones-drago-daenerys-nonconsensual
The ‘Game of Thrones’ television writers changed the book’s depiction of  Khal Drogo and Daenerys’ consensual marriage consummation to a rape

The Game of Thrones books by George R.R. Martin contain rape — and consensual sex — but rarely in graphic detail. Conversely, both have been given front-and-center roles in the TV adaptation for HBO. Twice, the series has courted controversy by depicting consensual encounters from the books as rape — in the first season, Danerys’s marriage consummation with Khal Drogo; and again this season, when Jaime Lannister raped his sister Cersei beside the corpse of their son.

Those changes are significant because, for the most part, the story around them stays the same. As the AV Club wrote, “The Daenerys Targaryen [from the books] who falls in love with a man [Khal Drago] who granted her respect when no one else would is different from the Daenerys Targaryen who fell in love with her rapist [on the TV show].” To make Jaime a rapist transforms him from a morally gray but ultimately sympathetic figure to a monster — but a monster who, in the context of the show, continues to live the same life and evoke the same responses as the literary counterpart who’s still on the other side of that moral event horizon.

On a larger scale, Game of Thrones‘ use of both rape and consensual sex on television is gratuitously one-sided — how many penises have we seen so far? The graphic rape content serves very little narrative purpose and, at this point, adds little to the world the show has built; instead, it’s played for casual shock’s sake, and the effect is along the lines of a kid trying to prove he’s grown up by peppering his language with profanity.

This is not rare: for a long time, rape has been media shorthand for “edgy” and “adult,” a go-to for artificial depth. It’s been so badly overused that it’s become a thin trope. It’s offensive in connection to its real-world context, as Laura Hudson discussed last week at Wired; but it’s also offensively lazy storytelling, a cheap stand-in for character development, and, at worst, a means of spicing up trauma with a little extra titillation.

game-of-thrones-dynamite-comic-book-rape-scene
Censored here, this graphic panel was distributed by Dynamite to the media and actually published by some outlets without a content warning

So: let’s talk about the rape scene that showed up on Comic Book Resources last week, the one from Game of Thrones #20, part of Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptation of the Martin novels.

Visually, Game of Thrones is a pretty traditional mainstream American comic — which is to say, it’s constructed and presented as a straight male power fantasy. Men in comics like this one are exaggeratedly strong.  The women are exaggeratedly — and always — sexy. They’re sexy on the phone. Sexy on the job. Sexy fighting. Sexy tortured. Sexy dead.

Sexy raped.

The anonymous woman in the preview page is fully naked, arched back at an angle that showcases not only as much skin as possible, but also the rapist’s substantial erection. If it’s supposed to contrast darkly with the caption — “This was the deliverance the Dothraki brought the lamb men” — it misses its mark badly; instead of viscerally horrific, it verges into pornographic, with a slapstick “AAAIEEE!” slapped in the middle. Story-wise, this is background action: after that establishing shot, which takes up nearly a half a page, we pull back to the characters we’re actually there to see.

The rape, though, is what sets the tone — less of the scene that follows than the sensibilities that inform their telling.

After a few days online and a cascade of angry tweets when it was finally discovered last Friday, CBR quickly pulled the preview and apologized directly via tweet to journalist Janelle Asselin, who’d called the site out on Twitter. CBR characterized their error as a consequence of a “batch upload” — implying that no one at the website had bothered to review it before posting. The full preview remains online at other outlets.

Dynamite publisher Nick Barrucci issued this public apology last week:

“I and the staff of Dynamite Entertainment apologizes; while the Game of Thrones source material is mature and we are faithful to that material, we should have been more careful in how we released that content for previews. We have learned from this unfortunate error, and will work to avoid future such incidents.”

The issue, then, as Dynamite apparently sees it, is not the inclusion or execution of the scene itself, but merely the faux pas of using it in a wide-release promotion. For CBR’s part, the site’s Executive Producer Jonah Weiland has made a personal statement about the matter in the comments below this very article, saying, “That image and how the scene was depicted has no place in comics.”

game-of-thrones-Jaime-Cersei-rape
Another moment described as consensual in the book was depicted on television as a rape

It’s possible to use rape well and tastefully in fiction in just about any medium, at least in theory. Certainly, it’s been done. But it requires an awareness of both content and connotations that both Game of Thrones adaptations seem to lack; an understanding that intent and execution are not the same, and that neither will cancel out the larger media and social landscape that will inform a scene’s impact.

There are ground rules so basic it’s almost bizarre to type them out, and yet:

If you do not understand what constitutes rape, you should not be filming rape scenes.

If you do not understand how to portray rape without sexualizing it, you should not be drawing rape scenes.

If you do not understand the implications of adding graphic rape to a narrative, you shouldn’t be doing it.

The quote at the top of the “Gratuitous Rape” entry on TV Tropes reads, “Take a good look at your story. Why do you think a rape is what you need for it to progress? Is there something else that could fill the same function? Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn’t.”

That quote is from an article I wrote seven years ago this month — and have since written, in form after form, context after context, more times than I can count.

What Game of Thrones — and so many other comics, and movies, and TV series, and books — do is not edgy. It’s certainly not new; this ground has been broken again and again, overworked until nothing could thrive there. It’s not even offensive in an interesting way.

I love comics; I love television. I care about them as a consumer, as a critic, as a creative professional. I want them to be good. I want payoff, not what amounts to a very violent and sexist take on sleight-of-hand.

But most of all? I am so tired of writing about rape.

A previous version of this article said “After a few hours and a cascade of angry tweets, CBR pulled the preview…”. We’ve corrected it to reflect the fact that the offending preview was available at CBR for several days before Asselin tweeted her complaint, after which it was promptly deleted.

24 Jun 17:11

Man Spends Six Years Crocheting One Super Mario Bros. 3 Map

Madison Metricula

This is so hardcore. Almost too hardcore.

Man Spends Six Years Crocheting One Super Mario Bros. 3 Map

Norwegian computer programmer and skydiving champion Kjetil Nordin put over 800 hours of work into researching and crocheting this lovely recreation of the map for Super Mario Bros. 3 World 1. Redditor Buttermynuts spent several minutes making it into this equally lovely GIF.

Anyone with basic crochet skills and a whole lot of free time can make a map out of yarn, but Nordin went several extra miles, researching the exact yarn colors needed to emulate the map—which Reddit points out seems to be for the Super Mario All-Stars version of the game—going as far as to scrap an entire section and restart when the water turned out a bit too purple, as reported by NRK (via IGN).

Redditor AlexKingshill, posting as a friend of the creator, uploaded a slew of lovely shots of the gorgeous piece.

Man Spends Six Years Crocheting One Super Mario Bros. 3 Map

Man Spends Six Years Crocheting One Super Mario Bros. 3 Map

Man Spends Six Years Crocheting One Super Mario Bros. 3 Map

Nordin’s next project will be finding a way to mount the yarn map to a wall without completely ruining it. I sincerely hope he does not own cats.

24 Jun 17:10

Boswick the Clown Doesn’t Understand Why Adults Are So Scared of Him

Madison Metricula

I agree that "being afraid of clowns" is a trendy affectation for most adults. Also, serious quotes from Funnybone make me love this.

Boswick the Clown. Photo: Amanda Demme/New York Magazine

No one is better at making children laugh than Boswick the Clown. He doesn't understand why adults are so scared of him.

Among the indignities the clown routinely endures, the theft of his Ralph Wiggum antenna topper barely registered. Until a few weeks earlier, a foam miniature of the imbecilic Simpsons character, mid-nose-pick, had crowned the antenna of the clown’s Toyota Yaris. Then some joker had taken it, and now the car, though small and red and still hinting at foolishness, was missing the finial touch that nudged it into clown-car territory.

Not that there was any mistaking its owner’s occupation, as he stood behind the Yaris in a parking lot in Vallejo, north of San Francisco, on a mild evening not long ago. He wore a black top hat encircled by a purple ribbon, and a spritz of graying hair frizzed from under the brim. His nose was a red sphere, his face had an ocher tint, his cheeks were rouged, his eyelashes mascaraed, his lower lip underscored with black greasepaint. The sleeves of a polka-dot shirt ballooned out of a mauve vest, and suspenders kept a pair of baggy turquoise pants from puddling around the clown’s enormous, bulbously toed shoes, which had been cobbled from alternating patches of black and white leather. If you looked closely, as he popped the hatch to retrieve a bubble-gum-pink suitcase filled with props, you could see that his right index finger was torqued leftward from tying tens of thousands of balloon animals.

It is an occupational injury but a wound of honor, too. Anyone can throw on makeup and bill himself as a clown, but few are willing to go through what it takes to truly become one and bear the costs of that commitment. These include the kinds of reactions he has to deal with, like right then in the parking lot.

“Sir?”

Two couples in their 20s were walking past, giggling, and one of the men was speaking.

“Hello, sir!” the clown said.

The man gestured toward the woman he had his arm around and said, “She’d like a hug.”

The woman shrieked, recoiling, as her boyfriend tried pulling her toward the clown.

“ ‘Oh, I hate clowns,’ ” the clown said in a falsetto pantomime, waving his hands above his head in mock panic. “ ‘Ahhhhr, they’re scary! Ahhhhr!’ … How do you think I feel when I look in the mirror?”

The couples laughed, and the clown did, too, but he didn’t really think it was funny. The whole scary-clown thing had gotten out of hand. Clowns now live in a world where everyone seems to hate them, or profess to do so. One of the remarks the clown hears most often, while driving, is someone in another car yelling — the words are always the same — “Fuckin’ clown!” It surprises and dismays him every time.

One day earlier, Boswick, as the clown is known, stood in his office a floor below his apartment in the Inner Sunset neighborhood, on the south side of Golden Gate Park. He wore jeans and running shoes and an unbuttoned plaid shirt over a black T-shirt. Small patches of floor were visible amid a clutter of costumes and props and other clown detritus, which included an orange TV set; a pink chest of drawers; jester shoes with bells; a shelf full of Mad-magazine books; letters from publishers rejecting Boswick’s proposed Kid’s Guide to Snotty Comebacks; three whoopee cushions (he was running low); a photo of Boswick with an elephant at the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas; a unicycle he’d forgotten how to ride; an old pair of clown shoes made by someone no longer alive; and a fish-shaped bag full of balloons in 17 colors, including lilac and periwinkle. “I get really anal,” Boswick said. “I want to have a lot of colors.”

There is still nothing Boswick would rather be doing, 27 years after he became a professional clown. Back then, clowning had seemed just the thing for a child of divorce who remembered “watching my parents argue when I was 4 and getting their attention by doing something weird and funny,” who had gymnastic ability and thought it was a hoot to deliver a well-executed pratfall, who liked to juggle and had awoken one morning in college with the name Boswick on his tongue and finger painted it across his dorm-room wall. Later, when he was accepted at both the Dell’Arte physical-theater school and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he chose Ringling largely because of the joy he felt when he opened its acceptance letter and confetti spilled out. In those days, clowns, far from being the butt of jokes, were still touchstones of American childhood. Adults cherished youthful memories of Red Skelton and Bozo. Clowns featured prominently in the launch of a new circus, Cirque du Soleil. The craft of clowning could be deemed worthy of a MacArthur grant.

Boswick approached what he did with an artist’s sincerity. During a six-month tour of Japan with Ringling’s The Living Unicorn show (featuring a hybrid Angora goat named Lancelot who had a solitary horn projecting from his head), he’d thrived on the energy of the big top. If Boswick experienced any negativity, it came from colleagues. Once, as he was practicing juggling while standing on a friend’s shoulders, another clown had walked past and said, “Save it for the ring.” “There was a very jaded quality, like, ‘I’m going home to get drunk,’ ” he said. “That struck me. I don’t get being jaded.”

But within a few years, Boswick saw something begin to change in the way the public thought about clowns. Some of the blame went to John Wayne Gacy, the prolific serial killer who had moonlighted as a clown named Pogo and later sold clown paintings from his cell on death row. Stephen King’s novel It, featuring the demonic Pennywise, lodged the idea of the evil clown more firmly in pop culture. The internet rendered it contagious. BuzzFeed regularly posts items like “Insane Clowns Are Haunting Southern California” and “21 Vintage Clown Photos That Will Make Your Skin Crawl.” The possessed clown doll that had a cameo in the original Poltergeist was front and center on the posters for the film’s reboot this month, and in September, Ten Speed Press will publish When Clowns Attack: A Guide to the Scariest People on Earth.

It’s true that a clown’s exaggerated face, both lifelike and not, is uncanny — one could argue it’s inherently disturbing. There’s also a cultural wariness, given the past decades’ illumination of pedophilia, of men in masks touching other people’s children. And professional clowns believe that the proliferation of untrained ones hasn’t helped. “As with any art form, there’s a lot of lousy clowns and mimes out there,” says Steve Smith, a former dean of the Ringling Bros. Clown College who is now creative director of the Circus Center in San Francisco. The same whiteface that may look great from the nosebleed seats at Madison Square Garden can produce sensory overload in a small gathering of children. “There are these huge organizations that turn out a lot of people with good intentions but who have no barriers and will scare the hell out of you,” Smith says. “If you’re facing a 3-year-old, don’t hover over them, get down on your knees. If they scream, go away.”

Though Boswick and other clowns allow that some children are genuinely afraid of them, in their experience most are not. Instead, they see clown fear among adults as a lazy pose, a jokey affectation that has become easy to adopt as clowns fade into irrelevancy and the number of people who’ve seen one in real life dwindles. “It’s a designer phobia, really pretentious,” says Sparky, a clown who lives a block away from Boswick. “I can tell a person who has a clownaphobia right away if they have it; 99.9 percent are phony. I’ve met maybe two people who have it. If they have it, they apologize profusely. The other ones go, ‘Oh, clowns are scary, that’s spooky.’ ” Boswick’s good friend Funnybone, who has worked in South America and Asia, says, “You go to another country, that concept of being afraid of clowns is nowhere. When I worked in Japan, I wore full clown makeup. It really is just something that’s happened here.”

Boswick isn’t hung up on the innocence of clowns. While some of his peers have gone as far as to protest unflattering portrayals — most recently, the amateur group Clowns of America International denounced American Horror Story: Freak Show’s Twisty, a disfigured and brain-injured kidnapper and murderer — Boswick is a fan of It and impersonated Twisty for an AHS-themed Halloween haunted house for a South Bay tech company. “I love scary clowns, and I think it’s all part of the big universe of what I do,” Boswick told me. He himself invented a character for a nightclub gig, Nasty Ass the Clown, who walks around chomping on a Tiparillo cigar, tying balloon animals out of condoms, growling, “Hey, nice tits!,” and telling off-color clown jokes.

Still, the denigration of clowns has had real-world consequences, and Boswick, like other children’s entertainers, has been forced to adapt. In the early ’90s, after seven years as a traditional whiteface clown, he switched, as nearly all clowns outside the circus now have, to less obtrusive makeup with a flesh-tone base. For his many appearances at libraries, Boswick has made putting on his makeup part of the show. For birthday parties, he now, like Funnybone, explicitly markets himself as wearing “kid-friendly makeup.” And among the list of “hints” he sends schools in advance is: “If there is a child that is afraid of clowns, let them watch Boswick from a distance. I promise, they will join the other children.” As parents booking children’s parties increasingly request clowns without makeup or, worse, magicians, Boswick has lately been trying on a new makeup-less character with a sort of 1870s-steamboat-gambler look, and he’s been boning up on his sleight-of-hand skills.

A real clown, as Boswick sees it, can survive the stripping away of makeup and costume and balloons and juggling and magic; an irreducible nub of clownness will remain. It’s a kind of comedic physicality combined with an unshakable commitment to the reality of the character’s world. Like Einstein’s insane person, he’ll do the same thing over and over expecting a different result — assuming a chair will be beneath him, even though it wasn’t last time. Boswick’s favorite example of a non-obvious clown is Stephen Colbert, at least as he was on The Colbert Report: The suit and tie and combed hair were “a little too perfect,” and he never, ever, broke character.

But Boswick still struggles with the trend away from makeup. Wearing the clown nose “just works so much better for me,” he said. Recently, bare-faced at an 11-year-old girl’s birthday party, he teased her about her “boyfriend” — boilerplate Boswick shtick — and then apologized for not checking to see whether her Facebook page listed her relationship status as “It’s complicated.” “The dad’s like, ‘Hey,’ ” Boswick said. “I’m like, Oh, yeah, this joke is coming off weird, oh, wow … With the makeup, half my show is Harpo Marx stuff, chasing grandmothers around and flirting and making jokes. The other day, doing those jokes without makeup, I was half-creepy. A friend of mine said recently, ‘Maybe you’re being lazy with the comedy.’ I said, ‘No, I just feel so much more free with makeup.’ Without makeup, there are a lot more rules I have to follow. As the clown, I can break all the rules.

“I want respect, and I don’t want respect,” Boswick continued. “I want respect for who I am and my résumé and how hard I work, how many classes I’ve taken, and at the same time I think respect for clowning is the dumbest thing in the world. Why would you have respect for clowns? Clowns are the ones who’re making fun of the world. If you respect the clown, the clown’s doing something wrong.”

On a recent Saturday morning, David Magidson walked into his bathroom but nothing came out. “Stage fright,” he said, reemerging into the hallway in his apartment. He’s still unjaded. He knows what a big deal it is for parents to hire Boswick. He knows the stress of wanting to throw a successful party and how important it is to them that their children are entertained and feel loved. And so he still gets nervous before every gig, including the three he had lined up that afternoon.

Magidson is a 52-year-old husband and father of two boys, which makes him a rarity among the clowns he knows, few of whom are married and none of whom have kids. He’s also the owner of a rambunctious dog, Dewey DeGrasse Tyson, who wouldn’t stop jumping on him as he morphed, beneath his peeling bedroom ceiling, into Boswick. He started by pulling on one of his more than 30 pairs of Simpsons boxer briefs — “ ’Cause you have to be funny all under” — and a pair of knee-high candy-cane socks. His belief in character integrity extends to wearing real hats and clothing with actual pockets. “Amateur clowns have lots of pockets that don’t work and cute flowers. I’m like: No. They pin on their hats. I’m like: Nope, not for me.

As Magidson put on his face, standing before a mirror in the chartreuse bathroom he shares with his wife, he applied the same philosophy, painting his own nose red before gluing a red plastic clown nose over it. In this he was following Ringling tradition, as well as forestalling inadvertent glimpses of the man behind the makeup. “Kids will say, “You’re not a real clown.’ It’s very strange. How do you answer that one, ’cause what is a clown?”

Boswick steered the Yaris south toward San Jose. Even when he’s driving, he tries to keep a smile on his face, but this effort is sometimes derailed by his devotion to Howard Stern’s radio show. “When there’s swearing and stuff going on, and I’m going through a toll booth or getting gas, and it’s roaring out my window, I’m like: God, I’ve got to turn this down, I’m a clown.” Entering the parking lot for his first performance of the day — 4-year-old Izabela’s birthday party at a Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos — he called her mother, Shelley, to let her know to prepare the kids for his arrival. Boswick has learned, over the years, that the show begins before he enters the room, and the tip sheet he always sends in advance contains hard-won wisdom like “Feed the children before the show” and “Don’t give noisemakers to the children.” He likes there to be a sense of anticipation when he appears.

Immediately upon entering, he called the children, who had been jumping in a bouncy castle, to gather around him. “Come closer,” he said, and they did. “No, back.” They retreated, giggling. “No, closer. No, back.” And so on, and for the next hour he performed the remarkable feat of holding the attention of a group of 4-year-olds and making them laugh for much of that time. Boswick’s act consists in large part of behaving like an idiot. He mixed up the kids’ names (Hannah became Harmonica and Hanukkah, Izabela became Is It a Bell?, Shaya became Shia LaBeouf), their sexes (“This boy is a girl?”), their relationships (“This is your husband?”), their ages (the 4-year old was 14? Forty?). He got angry at misbehaving inanimate objects (a top hat that kept falling off, juggling clubs that dropped to the floor or hit him in the head, balloons that snapped back on him or flew away before he could tie them off). He performed a few bona fide magic tricks that caused the kids to gasp, and he was liberal with potty humor, coaxing the kids into sitting on whoopee cushions, making flatulent balloon noises and waving away imagined gas clouds, confusing “blue” with “poo,” pretending to throw up, and putting a diaper on the birthday girl’s head.

A lot of this is Clown 101, and a good bit of it is Boswick. “Boswick,” Boswick told me later, “is bringing out my own insecurities and making them big. Pointing out the top of my head in shows, having the kids call me Baldy. My hair is a big deal. I’m not sure I would have become a clown if I had normal hair. It’s near bald, which I hate hate hate hate hate, yet love love love love love as a clown.”

In Izabela’s show, there was a fair amount of good old circus skill at work — the magic, the juggling, and balloon-tying, which went on for more than half an hour at the end — but a significant part of Boswick’s artistry is how he manages the room. He made the kids the stars of his show (“It’s a pet peeve of mine, people don’t get how to use an audience volunteer”), threw the occasional bone to the adults standing around (quipping about Christopher Guest, “shvitzing” and “upstaging,” and trying to cha-cha with a grandmother), and above all demonstrated a canny grasp of child development. He knows that most card tricks are beyond the ken of little brains that don’t understand the difference between a heart and a spade, and also that within just a few years, his audience will roll their eyes at the same magic tricks that dazzle them now. He knows that there is no joke, with the 4-to-7 crowd, that can’t be beaten further into the ground.

“You were great, sir,” Izabela’s grandfather told Boswick after the show was over. “You really got the kids entertained.” Boswick hears variations on “Everyone loves a clown” from 70-somethings all the time. They, and their young grandchildren, are alike in not cracking wise about clowns. (They are perhaps the only ones innocent of shareable slideshows about creepy clowns.) Izabela and her peers appeared to either love Boswick or otherwise find him somewhat disquieting, frequently hilarious, and impossible to turn away from. Throughout San Francisco and its surburbs, Boswick has superfans, who show up regularly at his library shows. “In certain circles, he’s a celebrity,” his wife told me. “Most of those people are between 4 and 6.” Fern Charles, who is 9, first had Boswick at her 4th-birthday party. “I think he was very vulnerable, that’s the role he played, and I think that appealed to my daughter,” said Fern’s mother, Kristin. Fern has since had Boswick at her 5th-, 6th-, 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-birthday parties, too. “She said: ‘I want Boswick to be at my parties until he’s no longer a clown,’ ” Kristin said. Fern has no awareness of a world in which clowns are anything other than lovable, but her parents know that not everyone shares her attitude. “We warn people who haven’t been to one of her parties that Boswick will be there,” Kristin said.

After saying good-bye to Izabela and her friends, Boswick took advantage of the JCC bathroom to wash his hands. “ ’Cause kids skeeve me out quite a bit,” he said. “The older I get, the more I’m becoming, like, OCD, which is really weird, because look at what I do, what I’m around.” The kids touch everything. They lick the balloons. They spit on the cake when they try to blow out the candles. Back in the car, Boswick rubbed some off-brand sanitizer on his hands.

Though the show was by all measures a success (Shelley, Izabela’s mother, would later send Boswick a gushing email), Boswick tends toward self-criticism, and as he ate a postshow sandwich in the Yaris, he was already nitpicking. The party music, weirdly dirgelike at times, had been an energy killer; the layout, with adults standing distractingly behind him, was diffuse; his new plastic nose, pressing against his face, was making his actual nose run; and the kids hadn’t eaten beforehand, so he had to rush the show at the end. One thing he did like was how the mother had taken a lot of pictures, over his shoulder, of the kids’ reactions. He thought he might add that to his tip sheet.

The next gig, a house party in San Jose for the birthday of a 7-year-old boy named Chase, began inauspiciously. Before Boswick had even entered the house, a mother in the backyard told another mother that she “never liked clowns. They freak me out.” The party was a collision of eras, the clown a quaint throwback figure amid an array of oppressively themed action-movie paraphernalia from Costco (Transformers cake, Transformers piñata, Transformers goody bags). While Boswick’s act kept the kids laughing, a little blond boy named Anthony kept hijacking the show, at one point grabbing Boswick’s leg and not letting go for several minutes. As Anthony held on, he buried his head between Boswick’s legs, thus treating the parents to an extended display of a middle-aged man in makeup clomping around with a young boy’s face planted in his crotch. A mother in the front row looked aghast, her face frozen in a wince.

A little girl asked Boswick if he’s “a real clown,” which he suavely deflected with “You found out” (one of hundreds of rejoinders from Hey Quit Clowning Around!, his self-published book of “funny comebacks” for entertainers who find themselves in such situations). By the end of the show, though, the clowns-freak-me-out mom was laughing as hard as anyone, and Boswick’s favorite part was the leg-hugger. “That’s just magical stuff, ’cause he was so hilarious, and that’s when you get to be a clown. It’s like, What’s the clown going to do? Is he going to get mad?

Boswick’s final show of the day, up in Vallejo, proved the most challenging. He is practiced at handling the varied subcultures of the far-flung Bay Area. He’s used to dealing with Berkeley parents with delusions of gender equivalency. “I’ll hear a lot, ‘Well, my kids, the boys don’t care about weapons and things.’ And you’re like, ‘Uh-huh.’ Boys are boys. They want to beat each other. When you make balloon animals, they want swords. They want guns. They want AK-47s. They get really specific. And girls want flowers and pink, unless they don’t.” But tonight’s show, a big one for a Filipino family in a VFW catering hall, was chaos from the get-go. A DJ was playing loud dance music, there was a face painter competing for the audience’s attention, a huge spread of food anchored by lechon asado beckoned, a 49ers banner hung disruptively near to his head, and the kids were overtired and aggressive.

Boswick had noticed lately that he’d been getting a lot less work from the Filipino community, and he wondered whether the scary-clown meme had “infected” it, too. But as he drove back to the city he was mostly upbeat. “What was really nice about the middle party today, and I guess the early one, too, is I was able to give them live entertainment, a live show, a very specific thing — theater for children, for families, designed to their event and their place — and that’s pretty cool.”

Magidson didn’t start out with big dreams to tie balloon poodles for the kiddie set. “I remember telling my roommate I wanted to be a clown and saying I didn’t want to be a birthday-party clown — I wanted to be a stage clown, a theater clown,” he said.

But Ringling wasn’t for him — the pay was awful, the lifestyle family-unfriendly — and his theatrical work never took off either. Kloons on Ice, his three-person clown troupe that had nothing to do with ice, didn’t make it past the fringe-festival circuit, and the two other members ended up leaving the business. He was making some money as a children’s entertainer, but he was reluctant to define himself as one — “It’s sort of frowned on, what I do” — and the ambivalence held him back from being more successful.

When he turned 30, in 1993, he considered giving up clowning altogether. He had gotten married, and his wife was pregnant, and he seriously thought about getting certified to become a schoolteacher. But then he took a series of workshops at Landmark Forum, and they helped him face facts: He’d been waiting for a career instead of making one happen. He took the plunge and bought an ad in the Yellow Pages; as the only San Francisco clown with Ringling on his résumé, he started getting a lot of work.

The economics of clowning are tough. After 9/11, the going rate for a show dropped from $300 to $250, which Magidson often discounts as low as $175. And of the 250-plus shows he does a year, a significant fraction are for charity in places like hospital cancer wards. He made around $30,000 last year.

Although he’d prefer to spend his time exclusively clowning, he has taken all kinds of work over the years to subsidize his income. He worked for a Filipino fast-food company, Jollibee, dispatching other entertainers to its Bay Area franchises. For a time, he had a contract booking balloon-makers into a particular Red Lobster restaurant. Some of the jobs have nothing to do with clowning. He recently trained with a company called iCracked to fix iPhones with broken screens, and he’s considering driving for Uber.

Magidson’s middle-class anxieties come into conflict with his aversion to authority, and he doesn’t always think things through. A sideline as a substitute schoolteacher got sidelined after he was discovered to have been filming an irreverent YouTube series, Hey Mr. Sub!, in vacant classrooms. (He was escorted from the building.) At a Clown College reunion years ago, he performed a stand-up set, including a joke about organizing a summer picnic for NAMBLA — “We need a bouncy house, we need a clown, we need balloons” — that became notorious. Another time, he was approached to appear on Wife Swap. He thought it would be good for name recognition, until his wife said: “That’s unseemly.” “I cringe a lot,” Magidson told me. “I don’t cringe at my clowning. I cringe at David.”

The constant dispute in Magidson’s head, between the voice that asks “What am I doing with my life?” and the one that says “This is what I am called to do,” reflects a frustrating synchronicity: He is maturing into something the world no longer seems to want. The better he gets, the more he has to slum it as a non-clown entertainer: a strolling juggler at a software-company event, say, or a balloon-tier at a mall-kiosk wireless-service promotion. “You do need to do what you need to do,” he told me. He’s been a pirate, a jester, a vaudeville juggler, an elf, the Easter bunny. For a long time, he wouldn’t do Santa at Christmas, but six years ago, he caved and he has since done it a lot — it’s lucrative, and he enjoys it. He has been steadfast in his refusal to do face-painting, an oft-requested service, because he views it as a technical skill having nothing to do with a character. A few months ago, for the first and last time, he did Spider-Man. He felt ridiculous crawling around in the outfit, and the character made no sense — he was a Spider-Man who tied balloon animals.

Even when Boswick can focus solely on being a clown, he is hyperaware of his place in the entertainer hierarchy, quick to take offense at the haughtiness of magicians and at the snootiness among clowns from San Francisco’s Clown Conservatory, whose ambitions lie more in the direction of Cirque du Soleil than the local birthday-party market. He can be snooty, too, about the Shriners and other retirees for whom clowning is a golden-years lark. “I look down quite a bit on the amateur clowns,” he said. “I can’t help it.”

Any number of times, Boswick has thought he was on the verge of striking it big. A DVD he made, Here Comes the Clown, got library distribution but never really took off, though he still occasionally gets phone calls from strange parts of the country. (Usually the calls go like this: “ ‘Is this Boswick?’ ‘Yup.’ ‘Are you really Boswick?’ ‘Yup, that’s me.’ ‘Is Phoebe the Duck there?’ ‘She’s out back.’ And then they just hang up on me.”) With his friend Pat in the Hat, he created a business called Clowns4Less, which he hoped could scale his income by creating Boswick-trained cheaper clowns who’d pay him a royalty, but then the internet removed all barriers to entry and the market was flooded by self-styled clowns at the same low rate. He imagined that Hey Mr. Sub! might inspire a sitcom. Last year, he and Funnybone and Pat in the Hat were up for a possible reality show on TruTV that would focus on them and on Boswick’s longtime feud with his clown neighbor Sparky.

Sparky and Boswick had a friendly relationship until the launch of Clowns4Less, which Sparky felt was a direct attack on his livelihood. “I called them Scabs for Less,” Sparky (né Brian Wishnefsky) told me. “We’re still suffering for it now, having to compete against schlockmeisters and hacks. Boswick said: ‘Well, it’s just business.’ I said: ‘No, it’s like shitting in your own bed.’ Neither one of them were rocket scientists, that’s all I can say.” Sparky acquired several confusingly similar URLs, including Clown4Less and ClownFourLess. “I covered all my bases. I couldn’t believe how dumb they were. It was like clown wars. Then I bought Boswick’s URL. He’s got Boswick.net. I got BoswickTheClown.” Sparky and Boswick eventually reconciled, but they were prepared to restage their conflicts for TruTV’s cameras. The cable channel ended up passing on the show.

Magidson still feels bad about the sacrifices his family has had to make. He can’t pay for a vacation that requires getting on a plane. His wife’s job, as a manager at the theater where she and Magidson met as young box-office workers, supplies their health insurance. A generous in-law contributed the down payment for their house. Their younger son, Dustin, attends the progressive, private Urban School, in Haight-Ashbury, courtesy of a sizable scholarship, and Magidson’s mother helps with the college tuition for their elder son, Duncan.

Having a clown for a parent has its advantages, of course. Since most of Boswick’s work is on weekends, he was able to be an unusually present and available father during the week. Throughout his sons’ childhoods, he always made a point of hiring live entertainment for their birthdays (bird and reptile and science shows, though, not clowns or magicians). And there was no shortage of playfulness in the Magidson home. When Boswick’s wife, Diane, arrives home from work, her husband and sons are invariably sprawled across the floor, playing dead. She steps over them. “The thing with clowns, the jokes don’t change all that much,” she told me. “It was funny the first two or three times.”

It’s not that Diane, who Boswick calls Zelda Washbucket when referring to her during a show, can’t be a good sport. At their wedding, she went along with the plan for her and David and their attendants to simultaneously turn to face the guests wearing clown noses. But after nearly every guest at one of her post-marital birthday parties brought her a clown-related gift (clown candlesticks, clown picture frames), she announced a ban on “clown crap” and allows only a single clown item — a painting of father-and-son hobo clowns, given by her uncle — to hang in their living quarters. She described marriage to a clown as “living with someone who always wants attention.” Sometimes he will come home, undress, and run around in his makeup and underwear. “And that is why people are afraid of clowns,” she said. “This is not a good look.” Diane’s sister is married to Boswick’s old Kloons colleague Woody. “My poor mother,” Diane said.

Duncan and Dustin never knew a world without clowns. They appeared as little clowns in their father’s videos and helped him with his theater shows, Dustin handling sound and lights and Duncan taking tickets. Duncan went through a phase of being mortified by what his father did and insisting he not tell anyone. Boswick agreed not to volunteer the information, and he also agreed to fully recline the driver’s seat, lying out of view, if he ever came to pick Duncan up from junior high while he was still in makeup from a gig. Once, he made the mistake of getting out of the car, sending his son into a fury that lasted a month. “Yeah, when I was a little kid, I was kind of bitter about it all the time,” Duncan told me. “I’ve come to accept it.” Now, it’s a fun fact to reveal to new friends, who tend to find it fascinating. He’ll show them YouTube videos of his dad in costume. Halloween is Duncan’s favorite holiday, and he described the easy access to costumes, makeup, and expertise in applying it as “probably the greatest thing about having a dad who’s a clown.”

Dustin, now a high-school junior, has never been as bothered by his father’s job, though he usually describes it as “children’s entertainer.” “Whenever I say ‘clown,’ people will say it extremely loudly, and I’m like, ‘Stop it.’ And then people who do know will say it loud just to bug me.”

Last year, Boswick had an experience that made him feel better about what he does. He went to his second Clown College reunion. It was in Florida — attended by around 275 graduates, plus circus fans from around the state — and this time he skipped the NAMBLA jokes. “People were like, ‘Are you going to do that thing you did last time?’ ” Instead, he volunteered to clean up between acts, and whenever there was a lull, he’d come out dressed as Boswick and intersperse his little routines while he cleaned. “Every time, I got about 32 seconds, but it killed. It was like coming home: Wow, this is what I trained for, this is what I’m good at.

I joined Boswick and Funnybone and their friends Super Gigi and Sandra Leathley one night for dinner at a restaurant in Haight-Ashbury. Boswick and Funnybone originally met when they figured out years ago that they had both been receiving discomfiting calls from the same lonely latchkey kid, a girl named Regan, and they spoke on the phone to confer about it. They later became such good friends that Boswick paid for Funnybone to do Landmark, which is also where Boswick first met Super Gigi, who specializes in strolling characters with names like T-Ruth the Funky Psychic and Audrey Heartburn. Sandra, a face painter, had booked Boswick into a bunch of Santa gigs this past Christmas, and he was buying her dinner to express his gratitude.

The group naturally gravitated toward shoptalk. Sandra had only one gig the coming weekend, doing glitter tattoos. She talked about having to sign NDAs for some of her Silicon Valley clients. Funnybone passed around his iPhone 6 with a video of the large stateroom he’d been given while performing on a recent three-week South American cruise.

Boswick related a dream he’d had the night before of appearing on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart as a clown correspondent, and he told a story about the time he was chased in his car while wearing a clown outfit. Boswick and Funnybone talked about the confounding rise in negativity about clowns. “I never used to like clowns,” Sandra admitted, recounting a traumatizing early Ringling experience in which a clown ran up to her and shot his flag gun. “My brother hated clowns,” Boswick said. “Before caller ID, you’d get calls — ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ” Funnybone said. He and Boswick laughed.

18 Jun 18:12

How Men REALLY Feel When You Keep Your Last Name

Madison Metricula

“It sounds like she's trying to hang onto her "single person" identity and not identify with the fact that she's married now.”

Will middle school girls doodling “Mrs.” in front of their crushes’ last names soon be a thing of the past? More than one in four brides want to keep or at least hyphenate their last names, according to a new survey from WeddingDays.co.uk, a UK wedding directory.

Granted, the site only polled 200 brides-to-be from overseas. So we decided to look into how women feel on this side of the pond. Turns out, it’s a slightly different story: Just 8 percent of married women have decided to keep their last names (while about 6 percent either hyphenate or modify their last names in some other way), according to a 2011 survey from The Knot.

The number of women keeping their maiden names after marriage peaked in the 1990s, when about 23 percent of married women decided to buck the name-taking tradition, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Social Behavior and Personality. The same research found that the number decreased to about 18 percent in the 2000s, although it’s worth noting that a woman’s age when she ties the knot seems to make a big difference; women who get married when they’re 35 to 39 years old are 6.4 times more likely to keep their names than women who put a ring on it between the ages of 20 and 24, according to a 2010 study published in Names: A Journal of Onomastics.

What’s up with the decline? It could be tied to the fact that the marriage rate in the U.S. is the lowest it’s been in more than a century, according to a report from The National Center for Family and Marriage Research; it’s entirely possible that, rather than holding onto their own last names after marriage, some women aren’t as interested in getting married at all.

Still, we were taken aback by the numbers—especially since there are so many valid reasons to want to keep your own name: You may have built up a professional reputation that you don’t want to compromise, you may feel like changing your name means sacrificing part of your identity, you may not want to imply (even in the slightest) that getting married means your partner is gaining “ownership” of you, you may want to honor your family—and the list goes on. In a follow-up post, we asked Women's Health readers to share why they kept their own names (or didn't). Read their reasons here.

But as surprising as the low percentage of women keeping their own names might be, how men feel on the subject is even more shocking. We polled Men’s Health readers about how they’d feel if their wives kept their last names, and more than 400 people responded. We had no idea this was such a hot-button issue. See for yourself what they had to say:

63.3 percent of Men’s Health followers said they would be upset if their wives kept their maiden names.

“I'd like her to want to be a part of my family and be proud of our name.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“One family, one name. If she didn't take my name, I'd seriously question her faith in us lasting as a couple. And I don't want hyphenated kids.” —Brandon Robert Joseph Peyton, via Facebook

“I believe the purpose of marriage is raising children, and children take their father's name (as a way of identifying paternity). Mothers always have a special bond, carrying their young. Fathers don’t, so [passing on our name] is our compensation.” —Matthew Bratcher, via Facebook

“It sounds like she's trying to hang onto her "single person" identity and not identify with the fact that she's married now.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“Hyphenation is a direct “f*ck you” to a man’s masculinity… it elevates his father-in-law’s manhood over his own.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

96.3 percent of Men’s Health followers said they wouldn’t take a woman’s last name if she asked them to.

“My name is part of who I am.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“Call it pride or ego, whatever. It’s not happening.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“[I wouldn’t take a woman’s last name if she asked.] Admittedly, this feels hypocritical, though.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“That’s just not manly to me.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

Of course, there are some exceptions…

“It would mean a lot if she wanted to adopt my last name, but I've always felt that as long as she loves me I don't mind what she wants to be called. Changing her name doesn't correlate to a higher level of commitment.” —James Roush, via Facebook

“I have no problem with my wife keeping her last name, her friends, her job, her bank accounts, and her individuality. The only reason for a man to demand a woman take his surname is so that he can demonstrate ownership. Ultimately, this is the woman's decision and not one for the man to make or influence.” —Greg Hassler, via Facebook

“For me, it all boils down to making a conscious decision to be on the same team. I don't care if she takes mine or if I take hers or if we completely make up a new one; the point is that for the rest of our lives, we are committing to being on the exact same team.” —Corey Barton, via Facebook

“I have daughters. I want my daughters to keep their name.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

When Men’s Health followers meet a married woman who uses her maiden name, here’s what some of them think:

“She’s a strong and independent person.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“It’s not a close relationship.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

She puts herself ahead of her marriage.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“Their sex life is probably terrible.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

“Their relationship is laid back.” —Anonymous respondent, via a SurveyMonkey poll

What are your thoughts on women who keep their last names? Would you want to hold onto yours? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and check back next week, when women who’ve kept their last name after getting married will weigh in with their stories.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Narins

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More From Women's Health:
Why You SHOULDN'T Find a Husband in College
Are You Ready to Move in Together?

The Scary Way Your In-Laws Affect Your Marriage

08 Jun 12:56

Make an Impact with Motherfucking Glitter

Madison Metricula

Thank you. I will!

Want to make an impression at parties or job interviews, but don’t know how? It’s easy! Simply transform yourself into a motherfucking glitter bomb. People will be trying to get you out of their heads (and off their furniture) for weeks!

Show off your inner goddess with so much fucking body glitter.

First impressions are important, so make it count! If you want people to remember you, you need to dazzle them. So slather yourself in globs of body glitter! It’ll give you the youthful glow of a ‘90s tween at a school disco, while also ensuring you leave a sparkly stain on every surface you come into contact with. People who shake your hand won’t forget you in a hurry, girl!

Perfect for: business meetings, first dates, contact sports.

Stun him with motherfucking glitter glue.

Whoever said, “All that glitters is not gold,” was a fucking idiot – if you want to be the golden girl at a special event, then you’re only option is to literally outshine everyone there. You can also take things up a notch by adorning every square inch of your clothing with sequins, rhinestones, and anything that comes in a Bedazzler expansion pack. If you’re not blinding everyone within a 30-foot radius, you’re not fucking doing it right!

Perfect for: weddings, funerals, that upcoming court date.

Just throw that shit everywhere.

Still worried people might see past your retina-damaging exterior to the dark void within? Plug up that bubbling sense of emptiness by literally throwing glitter all over the fucking place. Just buy tubs of it from the craft store, walk around the most populated areas of town, and toss armfuls of the stuff all over the people around you, like a merciful medieval nobleman except that this is an assault and your weapon is tons of fucking glitter. You’ll be leaving behind a trail of sparkles for weeks to come, meaning that people will know that they’re walking in your footsteps. You effortless trendsetter, you!

Perfect for: the gym, brunch with the girls, visiting your dying aunt.

If you can’t sparkle them with your personality, sparkle them with motherfucking glitter, girl!

27 May 13:29

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

Madison Metricula

Significant weird, fear more than wendigos

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

Guys. I’m kind of freaked out right now.

That’s partially my fault. I’m in a confusing part of the internet right now, and it’s midnight, and I’m trying to figure out this creepy game I’m playing. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It was in Rolling Stone. It was on Vice. It was on The Hollywood Reporter. It’s been viewed over a million times across various big YouTube channels. It was even on Kotaku.com...almost two years ago.

In 2013, a humble little (unofficial) JRPG called Kanye Quest made a splash online thanks in large part to its novel premise. Basically, on his way to take out the trash, fictional Kanye somehow travels through a wormhole into the future. Yeah, really. In this future, Kanye gets sucked into a prophecy that involves clones, Tupac, and all sorts of other rap figures like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre—all of which Kanye can duke it out with via turn-based rap battle.

Many people played through the hilarious game, defeated Lil’ B, and saw the ending. You can see a normal playthrough here, courtesy of videogamedunkey:

You’d think that would be that, but for whatever reason, the game started floating around again earlier this year. On January 28th, 2015, an anonymous user uploaded a Pastebin where they described what happened after they got an itch to play through the game again, randomly. According to this person, they had played the game before, but had never beaten it. So they decided to change that. It’s a kind of suspicious story, but roll with it for a second here.

After getting to an early portion of the game, they noticed that one of the terminals that Kanye can interact with displayed this message:

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

At first glance, that seems like gibberish. But it’s not. “I realized it said ‘ASCEND and worship The Based God,’” the poster wrote on Pastebin. “I thought ‘oh, cool fluff messages’ and just kept walking.”

A little later in the game, you come across a lady that asks you a question:

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

The game then gives you a prompt.

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

You can enter anything you’d like, and the character will simply say she wants that too:

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

It seems like a joke, which is probably why nobody thought anything of this portion of the game when it first made the rounds. For whatever reason, the anonymous player decided to input “ascend” onto this prompt, as it was one of the potential words displayed on the gibberish screen from before. To their surprise, the screen flashed, and they were teleported here:

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

Now, when it comes to a game that’s about battling rap clones that are thousands of years old, maybe having a portion of the game involve a butterfly doesn’t seem outlandish. But what you have to understand is that prior to this Pastebin from January, nobody had come across this part of the game before. Nobody had seen this. Nobody knew it was in there; there are no references to this portion of the game in any of the write-ups or YouTube videos that originally covered it.

It is here that the game reveals its true nature to the player, however. Here, the player is greeted with the following text:

Congratulations! You have proven yourself to be an open-minded and curious thinker. We must apologise for deceiving you, but we can reveal that the game you were playing until this point was a ‘front’ constructed to protect what you are currently accessing. We must ask that you do not reveal this area to the public. If you believe that you may be prone to revealing information, or do not wish to participate, please close this program immediately by pressing ALT-F4 or selecting the NO option when it appears. By selecting the YES option, you agree to participate and not reveal information.

Here is what the game says if you select ‘YES’:

The following is a thought exercise designed to help teach you something beneficial. By undertaking this exercise, you will hopefully be affected in a positive way. Due to the nature of the exercise, this “something” cannot be revealed immediately. This exercise may or may not be restricted to this software. It is important to remember that the purpose of this exercise is to benefit you. You will not be timed. We cannot provide any more information, except that we wish you good luck. You may begin now. Welcome to your ascension.

It is at this point in the story that the Pastebin seems like a load of bullshit, yeah? Like the sort of thing that practically screams “I AM A SHITTY ATTEMPT AT CREEPYPASTA.” Still, I was intrigued—I’m a sucker for these sorts of things. So I downloaded Kanye Quest 3030 once more, and I tried out the steps outlined in the Pastebin. And...they worked.

I shit you not. They worked. I’ve done it multiple times, and every time the game takes me to the strange screen. It’s all in there: the butterfly, the terminals, the drab color scheme. As far as I can tell, all of this stuff was in the game to begin with, people just didn’t find it—the independently-owned site I downloaded this from, RPGMaker.net, says the file was uploaded on 7/22/2013, and has not been updated since.

The curious thing about the secret portion of the game is that it is full of terminals that the player can go up to and interact with. None of them do anything—they simply give you a roman numeral, and then ask you to input a word. Without this word, you can’t move forward. There are a ton of these terminals, each one acting as a gate.

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

[Source: Ben Nine]

Stuck and unsure of what to do, the original poster says they tried contacting the developer to no avail. They tried contacting other people involved with the game, and didn’t get very far either. Eventually they decided to data mine the game, and that’s where they found a number of passwords that all corresponded to each of the terminals. The passwords are a mix of common, every day words like ‘hatch” and “idle,” and strange words like “Jagatai” and “Flacon.”

I spent over 40 minutes inputting each and everyone one of the passwords into their individual terminals to make sure this was all legit, and every time I got through one of these segments, the screen got progressively darker and darker:

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

Eventually, I could barely make out anything—the only thing I could hear was the repeated unsettling tone that the game plays over and over in this section of the game. On the final terminal screen, however, the game flashes once more and teleports you to...a blank screen. When this happened to me, I thought I had crashed the game or something. It didn’t seem like I could move. But when I pressed the inventory button, the game brought the menu up, so it was indeed working. I wandered aimlessly on this white screen for a while, and every so often the game would throw a random encounter at me. The enemy was also blank—no sprite. It was named “JFZZJNMS,” and it would disappear immediately after going into battle. I have no idea why that’s in there or what it means, but it’s in there.

For Two Years, This Kanye West Game Has Been Hiding a Disturbing Secret

Anyway, after wandering around on this blank hellscape for a little bit, I eventually came across a final terminal, which I promptly used. I was so excited I booted up Bandicam to try to record it, but I didn’t realize that my hotkey for recording is also the same hotkey for closing the game—so I didn’t get to see all of what the final terminal says first hand, though I can confirm that it exists and you can interact with it.

The Pastebin says this is what the terminal says when you use it:

You have proven your worth once again. You have ascended. However, further ascension is always possible. If you do not wish to ascend further, your journey ends here, so please close this program by pressing ALT-F4 or selecting the NO option above. By selecting the YES option, you agree to participate further and you grant us permission to interact with your possessions. Would you like to participate?

If you choose NO, you get sent to the title screen. If you choose YES, it shows this:

Over the following two week time period, we will interact with you and your possessions in several ways. Keep an eye out, as some of these ways may be subtle. Others may not be. We may attempt to contact you directly. If we do this, we will attempt to notify you of our prescence using a key-word. If you still consent to participation, please select the YES option above. Do you wish to participate?

Apparently, if you say yes, the game asks you for your name and your address. The Pastebin says that if you give the game your information, it thanks you and says “Enjoy the next two weeks and await instruction.” Weird, huh?

Somehow, this gets stranger. The Pastebin notes that it does not seem like the information actually gets sent anywhere, nor has the poster noticed anything strange in their everyday life since discovering the game. But still: what is the point of this creepy optional area? I tried contacting the developer, but they didn’t get back to me. The last update on the official website was on 08/23/13. (Curiously, the theme on the Tumblr is called “Accent.”)

I can only speculate as to the purpose of the optional area. It could have been that the developer was just having some fun. It could be that they included it to bring more attention to the game, on the off-chance someone found it. The entire discovery on the Pastebin seems a little suspicious to me. That said, the area itself is genuinely unnerving, especially when compared to the rest of the game.

The Pastebin has a very particular interpretation of the hidden area of the game. According to this anonymous poster, the game seems like it’s a recruitment tool for a cult. Specifically, the Ascension Cult—hence the name of the first password, and the repeated mentions of the word “ascending,” not just in the game, but in some of the promotional materials for the game, too.

Here is how the Pastebin describes the cult—do note that I cannot confirm if this is at all relevant. If I reprint it here, it’s because I’m reporting what the most popular theory about the Kanye West JRPG is, as of a few months ago:

Ascensionism is a New Age cult that goes back to at least 2006. Its main beliefs focus around there being two spirits that make up a whole being. A physical spirit, the body, and an ethereal spirit, the soul. Long story short, souls live lifetime after lifetime until they reach a point where they are judged by themselves after a death and, upon deciding they have been sufficiently good, destroy themselves and become primordial soulstuffs from which new souls form.

Apparently, orthodox Ascensionism believes that all souls, before combining with the spirit of the body, form pacts with the souls of all beings that they will encounter into the future. This leads to the ascentionist belief that any harm done to a person was agreed upon prior by their soul during a contract signing with the other person’s soul and that they were, quite literally, “asking for it”, thus justifying any harm they can perpetrate against people.

They also believe that if a person is cloned, their soul is split into two parts, and as such, they do not truly die until the clones are dead because any soul from a dead clone or originator will just wander until it finds another clone with the same host spirit and will combine with it.

This is bad, to ascentionists. They believe that if a soul lives on for too long, it becomes corrupted by the bad circumstances it has accumulated and will become evil and twisted over time because they cannot be purged of their experiences by death to start anew. They believe that souls that become evil and are wandering from clone to clone are the “shadow people” that people see in the corners of their eyes. According to them, there is some ancient group of 9 people or so who have lived for centuries by cloning themselves repeatedly and indefinitely, and their clones are what constitute the majority of the “shadow people” seen today (not really centuries, per se, because ascentionists measure time in eons that are determined by a certain number of lifetimes a spirit has, but you get me.) This goes back to the plotline of the game, where all of the evil characters were continued clones of rappers who had accumulated evil by being alive for so long and never truly dying, while the good characters, aside from Kanye, were clones that had been dormant for so long that they couldn’t accumulate the bad energies gained through experience.

The Pastebin postulates that maybe the game was an alternate reality game used by a cult as a recruitment tool, the idea being that anyone that solves it would be worthy of gaining membership. Truthfully, I don’t know if I buy this. Part of the proof that the Pastebin uses is a different ARG game, which it claims was used by cultists as a means of recruiting members. That ARG supposedly uses a lot of the same weird words that this Kanye West JRPG does. But when I looked into it, all of the things documenting the older ARG are dead links. In general, a lot of the ‘evidence’ used about cults in the Pastebin leads to dead ends, threads that mysteriously stop updating suddenly, or links that go nowhere.

This might be enough to make you think twice about accepting the popular theory around this game, but I leave that part up to you. Other crackpot theories include the possibility that maybe the game was meant to be an ARG for the movie Jupiter Ascending. But even if it’s not a weird cult thing/marketing for some brand, the fact the game was hiding this all along is still really creepy. The area itself is eerie, and going through it makes you wonder why in the world anyone would make something like this. And lets be real, the dead ends surrounding this game only make it seem that much weirder, no?

If the entire thing is a hoax meant to drum up more attention for Kanye Quest, then I applaud the developer. On its own, the game was already really cool—that’s why it blew up originally. This new element discovered earlier this year elevates the game further, and makes it one of the best Creepypastas on the internet right now. But unlike most internet scary stories, you can actually experience a good chunk of it on your own, if you’d like. The game is downloadable, after all.

Have fun. Don’t give your info out to any weird cultists while you’re at it.

[Image via Getty]

27 May 13:28

Disney Comic from 1960 shows what a radical man-hating feminist Daisy Duck was

Madison Metricula

Last panel hits pretty hard, no lie. Look at how they advertise tampons

tumblr_n3w8crS8ha1s2wio8o1_500

“A Sticky Situation” (1960) by Carl Barks. Daisy Duck calls out the patriarchy. So little has changed. And remember, she was Donald Duck's girlfriend, so she was probably pissed at him. Donald DICK is probably more like it, amirite SJWs?

tumblr_n3w8crS8ha1s2wio8o2_540 tumblr_n3w8crS8ha1s2wio8o3_540 tumblr_n3w8crS8ha1s2wio8o4_540 [via theremina]

27 May 13:28

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

Madison Metricula

They were hitting that donkey angle pretty hard

"But what of the donkeys, you ask? They remained silent and still, their heads heavy under the strange weight of ranunculus and eucalyptus, feeling a mysterious, dark sensation they, mere donkeys, couldn’t define: shame."

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

If the wedding planning galaxy is a weirdo cosmic circus into which no woman is adequately prepared to be flung until it’s far too late, Martha Stewart Weddings magazine is that galaxy’s big fat Jupiter: Dazzling and marbled with soft, undulating peachy-pink colors on the outside; turbulent, full of hot air, and marred with an ever-churning gaseous storm system that could swallow the entire Earth whole without even batting a single spacelash on the inside.

Here are the insanest things from the Spring 2015 issue.

1. A Cubism-inspired Escort Card Display (Page 103)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

This is the intro page for the Good Things section, but it is really more of a Distressing Thing. What, what, what am I looking at? I’ve stared at the photo of this escort card display for probably three hours (at an airport, on a plane, in a subway—all places where I do my best thinking), and it still makes no sense to me. Where does it end, where does it begin? Why does it have to be so sharp? Who has time for this? Why anything at all? This wedding is over.

2. This Step-and-Repeat with the Bride and Groom’s Name All Over It (Page 104)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

Right around the corner from Cubist hell, we see the second-worst idea Martha has had this spring: A wall covering emblazoned with, what else? The names of the happy couple! In this photo alone, “Allison and James” appears what feels like 40 times, and one can only imagine what lies beyond the step-and-repeat. An Allison and James tattooing station. An Allison and James virtual reality booth, where you can pretend to be Allison and James for 15 three-dimensional minutes. An Allison and James face transplantation pod, where you can finally become the Allison and James you’ve always wanted to be. Plus Allison and James napkins, photobooth props, and Cubist Escort Card Display.

3. This Flower Crown-Wearing Donkey at a Real Wedding (Page 128)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

What went into this decision? Was “put a flower crown on donkey” on the showrunner’s to-do list? Probably right after “Set up ice sculptures in toilets,” but before “Nail all chairs and tables to ceiling and set DJ on fire because literally 0% of anything matters anymore now that I have designed a wedding where a farm animal wears a flower crown.” In the writeup for this wedding (North Carolina, 100 guests, rained but was so much fun no one noticed!), the bride says, “The wind was blowing and the cows were mooing… You could feel the love.” But what of the donkeys, you ask? They remained silent and still, their heads heavy under the strange weight of ranunculus and eucalyptus, feeling a mysterious, dark sensation they, mere donkeys, couldn’t define: shame.

4. This Advertisement for a Casket-Liner of a Wedding Dress (Page 264)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

There is so much to fear about this dress, featured in a Cristiano Lucci ad. Its skinlessness. Its plush shantung skirt, with pleats so deep and defined they look like fingers reaching up from a hand in a hole that reaches all the way down to hell, where Satan himself is grappling at this poor woman’s torso, mistaking her for dead, like, “Girl, you belong with me!” Oh, and that sad little built-in beaded belt, which is struggling and failing to define this woman’s waist, and that sad little illusion lace top, which I know was sketched up in a boardroom. You can hear the designers now: “This is subtly sexy! This is a modern bride!” Even the color of this dress is a hollow white—empty like a corpse’s eyeball. No, no, no, a thousand donkeys in flower crowns no.

5. This Palm Springs Real Wedding Featuring Synchronized Swimmers (Page 312)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

If you have a low tolerance for some real bullshit, please stop reading, because this 4,000-day wedding bonanza in a desert will blow your brains out and replace them with a teensy succulent. A midcentury-and-pastels-infused “wedding vacation,” this event had everything and more: a poolside reception with mismatched chairs, “air ferns,” music swiped from the how-it’s-made video that came with the groom’s Prada shoes (IDFK), a cake topped with origami gemstones (goodbye), pink sea salt favors, a random stack of plates with a single flower head on top. But the crown jewel of this what-even-are-we-here-for-again? The synchronized fucking swimmers. That were used. As decor. For a wedding. “Nothing says ‘midcentury’ like synchronized swimmers,” jokes the bride in the magazine, as if stopping at an Eames chair would have been too trite.

And one actual Good Thing: This Perfect Floral Bustier Dress (Page 336)

5 Insane Things From Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, Spring 2015

Ohmigod, all is forgiven. This dress is life.

Images via Martha Stewart Weddings.

Lauren Rodrigue works in advertising in New York City and is marrying a total babe on July 16, 2016. Tweet her at @laurenzalita.

04 May 19:37

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch

Madison Metricula

Yet another instance of patriarchy sucking for dudes.

“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…What do boys learn when they do not see men with close friendships, where there are no visible models of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?” -Kindlon and Thompson, Raising Cain
(With thanks to BRETT & KATE MCKAY)

Recently I wrote an article titled The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer in which I asked people to consider the following:

American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives. I’ll call it touch isolation. Homophobic social stigmas, the  long-standing challenges of rampant sexual abuse, and a society steeped in a generations old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days or weeks at a time without touching another human being. The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is lasting and meant to provide connection and comfort. Think, leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt. Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as cry babies.

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

port2And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay for an article they titled: Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

The McKays note in their article the following observation:

But at the turn of the 20th century, … Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images.  You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put ten people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in his article, Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support gay marriage initiatives. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

Recently, when visiting my 87 year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair. Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show fifty years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial. I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed/obsessed American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

For those who are interested, here are a few sources on the issues I raise here: In an article in Psychology Today Ray B. Williams writes about the central role of touch in living happier, healthier lives:

Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says “in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Keltner cites the work of neuroscientist Edmund Ross, who found that physical touch activates the brain’s orbitfrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Keltner contends that “studies show that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassion response…”

A clear indication of how central touch is in our emotional and cognitive development can be seen in the range of studies examining touch and infants (both human and animal), here summarized in an article titled The Importance of Touch in Development found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s web site. The article notes:

Developmental delay is often seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. For example, orphaned infants exposed to the bleakest of conditions in eastern European institutions exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development, as well as an elevated incidence of serious infections and attachment disorders (1) Much evidence now points to the importance of touch in child development and suggests the possibility that these orphaned infants are not suffering from maternal deprivation, per se, but from sensory deprivation, and more specifically a deprivation of mechanosensory stimulation.

Read more about the central role touch plays in human communication in this amazing article in Psychology Today titled The Power of Touch.