Events

2018 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Sunday

For pop culture junkies, it’s easy to go way too hard at the Vulture Festival knowing that you could be getting the inside scoop on Syfy’s Deadly Class one moment and touring Grand Central Market with Phil Rosenthal and Nancy Silverton the next. We learned our lesson from last year and paced ourselves accordingly on Sunday, focusing on a handful of the festival’s returning “signature” events. Read on for some of our favorite moments from Day Two.

Amber Tamblyn and Roxane Gay Host Feminist AF

There’s nothing like a good walkout jam, and co-hosts Amber Tamblyn and Roxane Gay nailed it with a throwback to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” as they took the stage alongside guests America Ferrera, Ada Limón and Carmen Maria Machado for their Feminist AF reading series. Gay began by reminding the audience that just last week, 110 women were elected to the United States Congress. This transitioned nicely into a reading of “Be a Good Boy,” from the collection Forty-Four Stories about Our Forty-Four Presidents; the flash fiction piece centers around an intimate moment between John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie in their White House bedroom as John considers how the building does not feel like home.

Poet Ada Limón captivated the audience with “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” a visceral evocation of female strength through the image of an “8-pound female horse heart.” Though the poem was written several decades ago, it was recently published in her collection Bright Dead Things and won a 2015 Pushcart Prize. Carmen Maria Machado followed with her self-described “hit single,” “The Husband Stitch,” from Her Body and Other Parties. The story—whose title refers to an extra stitch given during the repair process after a vaginal birth, supposedly to tighten the vagina for increased pleasure of a male sexual partner—plays on the schoolyard tale of the girl who wears a mysterious green ribbon around her neck.

Pants-sharing BFFs America Ferrera and Amber Tamblyn closed out the reading series, each sharing intimate, emotional essays. Ferrera read an excerpt from her personal contribution to an anthology she recently edited, called American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures; the essay discusses a trip to Honduras when Ferrera encountered her estranged father’s grave by happenstance. Tamblyn followed by taking us back to Election Night 2016—a night she spent at the Javits Center in Manhattan amongst fellow Hillary Clinton supporters, watching “Katy Perry anxiously chew[ing] on a celery stick.” Tamblyn’s essay, from her upcoming collection Era of Ignition, follows her journey through carrying a pregnancy to term post-election and her worry about keeping her daughter safe in this world. She ended her reading by playing a recording of her daughter’s heartbeat, eliciting heavy sighs and a smattering of sniffles from the audience.

Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast Live!

At this point, our Vulture Festival experience wouldn’t be complete without an absurd musical number from Rachel Bloom. Thanks to Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino of Off Book—an improvised musical podcast, just like the tagline says—a lucky handful of folks got to experience just that, in an oddly fitting velveted lounge in the basement of The Hollywood Roosevelt.

McKenna and Reino are forces of improv nature, spinning a hilarious melodic tale about Disneyland’s Tower of Terror ride right before our very ears. There was fantasy! There was drama! There was a song about STDs! At one point, they even sang a number about being forces of literal nature with McKenna’s “Lightning” and Reino’s “Thunder” shepherding special guest Bloom along in her role as “Hurricane.” I can definitively say that I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. And, as McKenna and Reino told the audience, it’s impossible to experience that exact musical ever again.

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Events

Get Your Pop Culture Fix at Vulture Festival Los Angeles

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Calling all pop culture lovers: Are you feeling a little empty inside after realizing you blew through the new season of Stranger Things this Halloweekend? Did that fresh new trailer for Annihilation leave you chomping at the bit for Natalie Portman’s next performance? Perhaps you’re already missing the cast of Scandal even though there are still three episodes left? Or maybe you’ve been holding out all these years for the chance to ask Damon Lindelof about the ending of Lost…and the meaning of life? If so, the folks at Vulture Festival Los Angeles have you covered.

Just like its NYC-based cousin, Vulture Festival Los Angeles has one hell of a stacked lineup. Besides the talent mentioned above—Natalie and Kerry?!?–the festival features the likes of Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Sofia Coppola, Roxane Gay, Amber Tamblyn, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham, Ed Helms, Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Ted Danson, Jonathan Ames, Robert Pattinson, and a whole bunch of other ridiculously cool people.

What’s more, the weekend-long festival offers a wide variety of pop culture panels, screenings, and other awesome—if slightly absurd—events. There’s an 8:30 a.m. private tour of The Broad art museum with New York magazine and Vulture senior art critic Jerry Saltz. There’s a scavenger hunt across Hollywood with the stars of Search Party. There’s even a 100th song celebration sing-a-long with Rachel Bloom and the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

And to top it all off, tickets to most events are only $25 and include access to the AT&T Vulture Lounge poolside at The Hollywood Roosevelt and a free drink. If you’re in more of a “treat yo self” mood, however, a limited quantity of all-access Vulture Passes are available for $495.

Vulture Festival Los Angeles is going down on November 18th and 19th at The Hollywood Roosevelt and a handful of other venues in the L.A. area. To see the full lineup or to purchase tickets, please visit the Vulture Festival website.

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Books

Lit Ladies: A Reading List for International Women’s Day

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There’s a lot going on in honor of International Women’s Day, but if you’re unable to participate in today’s many, many activities, know that it’s totally 100% okay. As a friend so aptly put it, “[M]any (if not most) women do not have the luxury of not working or not engaging in unpaid/paid work on International Women’s Day.” May we suggest as an alternative that you head to your local library and pick up a book by a female author? After all, there is still very much a palpable bias against women in the literary world. Below, you’ll find some suggestions, compiled from DP contributors’ personal favorites from recent releases (as well as an older, but no less informative pick).

Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual by Carol Livoti and Elizabeth Topp. An oldie but goodie, this resource from an OB/GYN-writer (also, mother-daughter) team discusses sex, abortion, STDs, and other anatomical matters in a conversational, no-nonsense manner. Do note, however, that this book is largely geared towards cisgender women.

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. This book stems from the online project of the same name and combines smart political writing, a wealth of vital statistics, and compelling personal narratives for a globally-minded view of the discrimination women face on a daily basis.

Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s latest effort began as an actual letter to a childhood friend, covering a range of matters from gender roles and choosing toys to the Black diaspora and developing a sense of identity.

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti. Blogger and feminist writer Valenti covers much the same ground as Everyday Sexism, albeit through the intimate lens of a memoir from a woman who has so often found herself the target of hostile threats in a public forum.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. A Bechdel-approved memoir, New Yorker writer Levy recounts a tale of womanhood, grief, and remarkable resilience in this darkly humorous tome.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. Chang states that she “wanted to write a different type of immigrant story” for her debut novel, a clever, hilarious effort that will both tear at your heartstrings and make you laugh out loud.

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen. Jensen compiles forty-four of the best feminist essays, poems, comics, and drawings for a volume that features such diverse perspectives as Roxane Gay, Laverne Cox, Wendy Davis, and Wendy Xu.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, Smith offers a graceful, globe-trotting narrative with her latest effort, a novel peppered with social commentaries that she has touched upon in the past but now tackles head-on with a confident sophistication.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. Never shying away from provocative titles (re: the Chris Brown essay), Gay’s short story collection examines the lives of women and their intersections with matters of race, gender, and class.

Un/Masked by Donna Kaz. Playwright and Guerilla Girl Kaz (a.k.a. Aphra Behn) tells her story of abuse, survival, and her awakening to radical feminism in this poignantly honest memoir.

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Social Justice

Guilt, Historical Amnesia, and the Question of Empathy

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Lately, I seem to hear the same voice every morning when I turn on the radio during my daily commute. I can practically feel the pent-up anger, like a suffocating cloud of smoke, filling up my car as Donald Trump’s gravelly voice huffs and puffs through another grandiose yet substantially wanting speech. A few weeks ago, he said he could “relate” to police brutality against black people. Yesterday, he rehashed the subject of building a wall to stop illegal immigrants. Today, the topic was tax reform.

Commentators on the NPR program agreed that his proposal—though, like usual, lacked any fleshed-out details—hearkened back to Reagan-era policies. Trickle-down economics, as those of us who like to keep ourselves at least somewhat informed know, doesn’t work in favor of anyone but the already rich. It slows down economic growth, widens the income gap, and further harms those at the very bottom of the economic ladder. But it’s easy not to pay attention, to hear “less taxes” and cheer. It’s easy to forget what has already happened and learn nothing from the past. It’s also easy, with facts, articles, and knowledge on your side, to feel superior, to dismiss Trump supporters as ill-informed and be done with it.

A lot of you have wondered why I haven’t commented on any of the recent incidents of racism and police brutality in America. The simplest response I can come up with is that I needed some time to think. I may be a minority, but I am not black. I will never be subjected to the very specific brand of prejudice inherent in both explicit and implicit acts of racism against black men and women in America. I needed to figure out, as Roxane Gay discussed in this article for Marie Claire, how to become more than an ally. I needed to figure out how to take on this fight in a way that addressed my own privilege; does not ask more of those who have nothing left to give; and does not further marginalize those who I’m trying to help.

We’ve failed black men and women in America. In light of interpersonal racism and police profiling, this is fairly easy to see. But I think it is harder to understand how all non-blacks have failed them, and this is even more difficult to accept.

When a black person is shot and killed, their bodies, like many black bodies before them, are objectified, politicized, and stripped of their personhood by news reports and water cooler talk from non-blacks. Their stories are repeated until all that’s left of Trayvon Martin and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are observations and analyses of racial injustice and social struggles, and though often with the best of intentions, these discussions remain divorced from the fact that people—living, breathing human beings—lost their lives.

So we continue to talk and analyze and squabble on Facebook about these matters. But, at some point, we forget and go back to our daily lives. We, as non-blacks, have the privilege to forget. We get excited for the latest Harry Potter book or the Olympics or some other funny thing on the internet. Meanwhile, our black brothers and sisters can’t afford to forget. The person behind the news story could easily be a relative or a friend. The person could be them.

We’ve all failed black men and women in America. We’ve failed them in terms of systematic injustices, yes, but we’ve failed them even when we have every intention to help. As this piece by John Metta brings up, the inability to acknowledge our role within a racist system makes us just as guilty. (This article specifically calls out white people, but I would argue that this discussion extends to anyone who has enough privilege to only worry about a ticket when pulled over by the police.) Those of us who think of ourselves as socially conscious, as “woke” even, draw a line between us and them, between the “real” racists and the “allies,” even as we continue to benefit from a racist system and politicize, dehumanize, and co-opt these stories to produce outcomes that create little more than elevated chit-chat. We continue to forget that after awareness must come action. Voting. Writing to your local police chief or Washington representative. Calling out people on their implicit racism even though they may accuse you of pandering to political correctness. We continue to forget the people who have died as a result of this racist system, as a result of negative stereotypes and groundless associations as old as the country we live in.

I witnessed a police shooting not too long ago. Two police officers were involved in an altercation with a black man. I’m not entirely sure what happened, whether the man genuinely posed a threat to the police officers or not. I’m not sure I’m even qualified to judge such a matter. What I do know is that a man ended up on a stretcher, bullet wounds on the side of his body, his white t-shirt soaked in his own blood. I know that even in the face of such an incident, even with the blood right in front of our eyes, the talk that surrounded the incident, even the words that came out of my own mouth, denied the victim of his personhood. Instead, our sorrow was expressed in platitudes, our analysis of the event purely political. Our words were no different than those we would have used if we saw this event on TV, or even simply heard about it in a passing conversation. We’re desensitized to such things. We are numb.

Such incidents sadden and anger us at the time, but rarely do these sentiments last beyond a news cycle. They don’t shake us to our core, lead us to change how we act around police officers, how we act around strangers in general. We keep on keeping on, because we have privilege.

Now let’s get back to Donald Trump. While his horrifying talks about nuking America’s enemies and dismissing Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and rapists are enough to make one worry—to say the least—about his ability to serve as a diplomatic world leader, it’s his distinct lack of empathy, and the seeming popularity of this particular trait, that worries me the most. A lack of empathy leads a demagogue like Trump to categorically condemn all Muslims as one and the same. A lack of empathy leads thousands to cheer for such a condemnation.

This again relates back to the subject of police brutality and systematic racism. Though there are certainly other factors that filter into such situations, a lack of empathy arguably plays a role in power relations between police and the public, preventing one from seeing the person behind the stereotype. And while abstraction as a way of thinking can lead to important realizations and a deeper understanding of the inner workings of various social tensions, a lack of empathy erases the human face from such political discussions, rendering the very reason for these discussions as irrelevant.

It is simple to go through the exercise of absolving oneself of guilt regarding racial injustice if you consider yourself politically aware, socially conscious, even sensitive to racial issues. It is easy to forget the past, to overlook the fact that in retrospect, the blame for the tragedy extends beyond the perpetrator and involves the onlooker, the witness who saw, who pitied, who understood, but still did nothing.

True empathy should compel one to act. We already know that we will never fully understand nor experience the systematic injustice that black men and women are subjected to in this country. But if we say that black lives matter, what are we going to do about it?

Stay tuned for a list of reading material to aid in thinking critically about these issues, personal stories to remind you of why this really matters, and most importantly, resources to guide you in doing something about all of this.

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Books

On Sweet Valley High, Chris Brown, and Being a Bad Feminist with Roxane Gay

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I came to realize that I might be a “bad feminist” around the same time Beyoncé’s surprise album dropped. I loved the album. I mean, I liked Beyoncé a lot before the 13th of December 2013, but the album led me towards a whole new realm of fangirldom. As always, the tuneage was excellent, but what got me hooked were the lyrics. It was so empowering for me to hear a young married woman of color (like myself) declare herself a feminist (like myself) and still manage to be this incredible sexual being (like what I really, really hope to be in the bedroom).

A few days later, the critics emerged. Not just of the Pitchfork sort, but the cultural pundits as well. Beyoncé has always been a polarizing feminist figure. With the album’s explicit avowal of the basic tenets of feminist (see “***Flawless”), however, the debate between her vocalized beliefs and her hyper-sexual public persona came to a head. Feminists everywhere either tried to revoke her feminist card or came to her defense. Mikki Kendall at The Guardian declared that “Beyoncé’s new album should silence her feminist critics.” Black Girl Dangerous wrote on that deeply problematic reference to Whitney Houston and domestic abuse. bell hooks voiced her distaste over Beyoncé’s act as a whole—eventually culminating with hooks calling Knowles an “anti-feminist terrorist” in a panel discussion last May.

I began to wonder if my feminist card should be revoked for loving—or worse yet, feeling empowered by—the album. This line of thinking led to even more self-examination of my possibly less-than-feminist behaviors. Am I a “bad feminist” for being slightly obsessed with the fashion industry (#NYFW)? Am I a “bad feminist” for occasionally jamming out to dirty rap? Am I a “bad feminist” for questioning the amount of time feminists spend on theory? (Caveat: I do think it’s important to study theory when coupled with discussions that involve current real-world situations, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw’s coinage of the term intersectionality and its use in academic discourse; I’m critical of the study of theory that holds real people and their nuanced life experiences at arm’s length, creating a sort of idealistic, academic circle jerk that ultimately cannot be reconciled with how people live their lives. In my own personal experiences, most women couldn’t give a rat’s ass about all this feminist jargon because they either don’t understand it, they don’t have the time and money to understand it, or if they do understand it, it often can’t be reconciled with their daily lives. But I digress.)

These are the kinds of questions that led me to Roxane Gay’s collection of essays, appropriately titled Bad Feminist. In the introduction, Gay declares:

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself….I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off.

The essays in the collection range in topics from gender and sexuality in The Hunger Games to racial profiling in the cases of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Trayvon Martin. “I Once Was Miss America” contains Gay’s recollections of her love for the Sweet Valley High series as a young Haitian girl in suburban America. Gay calls out the faults and biases of mainstream media in “When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot.“ In the darkly humorous but painfully truthful “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them,” Gay talks through the often-times misguided conversations young women have over the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident of 2009.

Drawing connections between literature, movies, television, politics, and pop culture, Gay guides her readers across a sort of curated anthology of very recent history as seen through her eyes. Gay’s feminism is intersectional; she acknowledges that her identity is multifaceted, yet these many layers overlap (and sometimes contradict) to inform her worldview. She is careful to note that though she tries to understand things from other points of view, the essays in this collection are meant to be read as someone’s opinion rather than indisputable fact. This constant reminder of the author’s humanness is one of the factors that makes Bad Feminist so accessible, regardless of the reader’s personal beliefs. After I finished the book, I remember thinking, “I want to tear this thing to pieces.” Not because I hated it—quite the opposite in fact. I loved the collection so much I wanted to share it. The “tear to pieces” bit came about because I thought of a different person each time I finished an essay; since I only had one copy, I considered dividing up the collection and giving each person a specific part of the book. All of these people did not share the same worldview as Gay, myself, or each other, but I knew they could relate on some level to the essays I wanted to share with them.

Above all, Gay shows immense amounts of compassion for her subjects. For instance, despite her strong opinions on the injustices of the Trayvon Martin case, she refuses to demonize George Zimmerman. In “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” Gay discusses both Amy Winehouse and Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed dozens of people, many of whom were teenagers. Gay reminds us that with these tragedies, human lives were involved, and we should never forget that, regardless of circumstance. “I have never considered compassion a finite resource. I would not want to love in a world where such was the case,” she writes.

Gay is human, as are most of her subjects (or their creators) and her readers. It’s an obvious fact that shouldn’t have to be stated, but we too often forget that behind every book, TV show, political movement, and terrorist act are living, breathing human beings. “Like most people, I’m full of contradictions,” she tells her readers in the final essay of the collection. Flawed as we are, however, she also reminds us that it’s ok to have beliefs—strong ones at that—even though our day-to-day actions may never fully live up to our ideals: “Maybe I’m a bad feminist, but I am deeply committed to the issues important to the feminist movement. I have strong opinions about misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on….I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

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Ladies We Love

Ladies We Love: Roxane Gay

I owe a lot to Roxane Gay. Her thoughtful pieces on current events and pop culture allow me to think more clearly about my own feelings on these topics in the news. I can’t tell you how many times her Salon.com articles have saved me from being an inarticulate rage monster on social media, spewing incoherent, vitriolic babble against public figures who turn out to be misogynists and racist jerks. Though I don’t always agree with Gay’s opinions, I’ve got mad respect for what she has to say. Her writing is always carefully considered, with nuanced opinions that provide you with an argument to consider, rather than a pedantic play-by-play on how you should think. Gay was kind enough to answer some questions for Dinner Party about writing, celebrities, and being a “bad feminist” in a short interview below:

It seems like every other day, there’s some pundit on the internet bandying about the words “bad feminist,” which happens to be the name of your latest collection of essays. Why did you choose this title for your book, and what do you think about feminists using the term to criticize other feminists? I began calling myself a “bad feminist” tongue in cheek, but the more I thought about it, I realized that I may not be a perfect feminist in word and deed but I am very much a feminist, and I am going to claim my feminism, however flawed it may be. In terms of feminists using the term to criticize other feminists, alas, that is disappointing and that kind of finger pointing and name calling has no place in feminism. It does nothing to further our agenda.

On the flip side, celebrities like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Shailene Woodley have either sidestepped away from the “feminist” label or outright rejected it. Why do you think that is—and to put it bluntly—should we care? Given the Supreme Court’s recent decisions about buffer zones and Hobby Lobby, both of which are desperately harmful to women, no I don’t give a single damn about celebrities disavowing feminism. For one, they are working from a place of ignorance. It is also their right to disavow feminism and it’s silly to ask celebrities if they are a feminist or not. That kind of question is designed to make them say ridiculous things and I hope to never play that game.

You’ve already published another book this year, the much-lauded novel An Untamed StateWere there significant differences in conceptualizing and writing these two books? Both books came from a place of fierce passion but I wrote An Untamed State during a very compressed period of time, so I was fully immersed in that world, day after day until the novel was done. The essays represent a body of work from the past several years so putting the collection together allowed be to be both retrospective and introspective.

Besides your books, you also keep a delightful blog on Tumblr (just like us!) about food, relationships, musings on current events, and corrections for grocery store circulars. Does the blog inform your more formal writing projects? The blog is often times a laboratory for my essays. It is where I also first got the idea for my next nonfiction book, Hunger.

What advice can you give to budding writers, particularly of the nonfiction persuasion? Be relentless, be fair, be committed to using writing to bring about truth.

Gay’s new collection of essays, Bad Feminist, drops August 5th.

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