For decades, the world of romantic fiction has been divided by a heated debate about racism and diversity. Is there any hope of a happy ending?
I found this article because I wanted to read romance novels again. I decided to check out the Romance Writers of America website. I noted several announcements in their news section that started to ping my kerfuffle-dar: they’re hiring a DEI consultant (which honestly would be a great idea for most organizations but based on my observations, organizations only do this after an incident), there have been changes in their board membership, special statements from award nominees withdrawing themselves from consideration… So I decided to hunt down the origin of it all and found this handy summary. That summary pointed me to this article, which I found especially interesting because a lot of it centers on my local RWA chapter, which I have been adjacent to in a couple of ways, though never a member.
It’s a great piece because it illuminates the way institutional racism touches an industry, how people can do antiracist work in their own area of expertise, and also serves as a list of authors to check out and books to read.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go track down some books about BIPOC & LGBTQ people that definitely have happy endings. And then I’m going to read them.
It feels like there have been a thousand times Rachel Bloom has said something in an interview and I felt like shouting, “YES THIS!” but this is a new flavor of that:
I came from a very… rigid is the wrong word, but a very set technique of sketch comedy writing. When you study at UCB, if you do improv or sketch, you find the game of the scene, you heighten the game. It’s almost mathematical. And I think that for so long, some of the sketches I wrote, I wasn’t necessarily bringing my full self to them, because I was trying to fit into this like mathematical technique. I was surrounded by guys. So everything I wrote was probably subconsciously trying to, like, be acceptable to the male gaze. So when I started writing songs, because it was combining what I learned from sketch comedy with musical theater, my first love since I was 2 years old, it felt like I was bringing myself fully into my writing. I wasn’t trying to be anyone else, because I could bring in emotions, I could bring in those tropes that I’d been absorbing for my entire life, and then use my techniques to shape that.
Like Rachel, I have loved musicals from a young age. Like Rachel, I trained in improv and sketch writing at a school/theater that emphasized game: you begin a scene, find the first unusual thing, repeat it, heighten it, and break the pattern with your punchline. Not only did we learn that structure, but we also learned how to write particular flavors of sketch: fish out of water, comedic duo, commercial parody, satire, superpowers, torture game, literalization, and mapping.
I had a lot of fun and I got really good at recognizing game, if not initiating it, but there was a fundamental disconnect between how most other people in my comedy community did comedy and how I did comedy.
When I showed up at sketch class eager to show everyone Mike O’Brien and Tina Fey’s crazy car salesman, in my mind a brilliant example of a commercial parody combined with literalization, the class tore it to shreds.
My strongest sketch was one in which several adolescent girls show up at a county fare to participate in a literal melon growing contest and express their insecurities about their produce. (It’s a mapping scene, mapping their growing bodies onto the growing produce, see?) It was a deeply personal sketch, drawing on my own experiences with never feeling like I had the right body shape as an adolescent, whether that shape was too small or too big.
Eventually, I ended up on a hip-hop improv team – thanks almost entirely to developing a Hamilton obsession. (Seriously, if you want me to like something, just write a musical using/about it.) Again, I was a little sideways from the group sensibility; my favorite raps drew on my impostor syndrome and my frustrations with family holiday gatherings. My favorite scenes were often quiet little things, with comedy arising from the awkwardness of two people trying to connect, or things that used my heavily pregnant body as a punchline itself (I was pregnant for my entire tenure on that team), or preferably, things that combined both, like one scene where I had ended up on a blind date and ended the scene responding to my scene partner’s “This’ll be a funny story to tell the kids” with the line “Ohhhh… You want kids?” while I was eight months pregnant.
(We do comedy in our bodies. They are one of the tools we have, and we don’t leave them behind, even when we take on characters with different physicalities than our own.)
While everyone was very nice, I often felt out of place. And reading this quote from Rachel Bloom pinpoints a lot of the problem, I think. I imagine that, while she wasn’t writing with her whole self, Bloom was very good at writing that kind of sketch. I can even imagine some parallels between her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Rebecca Bunch’s success as an attorney and Bloom’s as a writer, both getting good at/pursuing the thing everybody says you’re supposed to want (in Bloom’s case, right down to auditioning for Saturday Night Live).
And I love that in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bloom has gotten to finally write more personal things and bring her full self to the table. It’s such an important piece of art for me, personally, and reading about this part of her experience has led me to rethink how I engage with comedy and what types of writing and performance I want to pursue in the future.
Welcome to our ongoing Game In Progress review of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Over the next few weeks, Clayton Purdom will be playing through Guerrilla Games’ new PlayStation 4 exclusive and checking in with his thoughts on how it’s shaping up. We invite you to play and comment along as he delves into this post-post-apocalyptic world in search of answers and sweet, sweet robot dinosaur meat.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does biting social commentary. It does thoughtful character exploration and broad parody, often in tandem, and nearly always very well. It has, for four seasons, expertly deconstructed and explored the romantic comedy, horror movie, and musical, among other genres, to say nothing of ideas, stereotypes, cultural issues, and trope after trope after trope. It would like, in its penultimate hour, to remind you that to deconstruct or parody something, you’ve got to know how to do it really well.
As homeowners, our job became spending money to prevent our house from killing us
Kaitlyn Tiffany interviews Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
Highlights and marginalia:
“The villain here is not necessarily the internet, or even the idea of social media,” she writes. “It is the invasive logic of commercial social media, and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction.”
Yes! While these tools will necessarily be biased by their creators’ biases, they aren’t necessarily evil. But the prevalent model isn’t people-focused, it’s profit-focused, and that means it has different incentives than it might otherwise.
A lot of self-help books have this rhetoric of “do this one thing and your life will change forever,” you’ll never have to read this book again, and you’ll just be fine. I think this is very different; you have to know that you’re going to keep getting sucked back in and be realistic about that.
I think if more self-help books were honest about the fact that you’ll need to revisit them, they’d be more useful, but we’d also probably have a lot fewer self-help books.
What if social media were a public utility — one you used for your own purposes and left alone otherwise? What if there were no profit incentive to trap you in a loop of seductive, brightly colored apps?
One of the things I talk about in the last chapter is this idea of a social network that’s actually a utility, where you go to it to do the thing you wanted to do and then you leave. It’s just sort of there for you to use, like a landline.
I love this idea. Odell talks about a Chrome extension that hides her Facebook feed. This is essentially what I’ve done, but manually: I follow no one on Facebook. I do kind of treat it like a landline: if I want to catch up with a particular person, I head over to their timeline and browse it directly. This mitigates the problem Odell describes here:
A lot of times you’re going to a site because you have some idea of something you needed to do or see, and then 20 minutes later, you have no idea why you’re there.
Contrary to recommendations from Silicon Valley iconoclasts like Jaron Lanier to delete your social media accounts, Odell suggests that there is value in keeping something like them while reclaiming our attention:
we actually really need something like social media. Especially in a time when a lot of people live far away from family, it’s actually really important, I think, to stay connected to other people.
It’s that something like that sticks with me. Could the IndieWeb be the something like that she means? She has me pondering the ways we kept in touch before Web 2.0 and how I can replicate them now to take advantage of the affordances of the modern web without succumbing to that villainous commercial logic.