10 Pounds of Culture in a 5-Pound Bag

DAMES NATION, WE’RE BACK!

Haaaaaaay.

A big, big thank you to Meryl & Liz for taking such excellently Bacheloriffic care of you all last week! We missed your beautiful, friendly, clever faces, MWAH! And we have an excellent, lengthy issue here for you this week. Advice, enthusiasm, and links galore await. But first: announcements!
 


Live-Tweet Alert!

Our next movie live-tweet will be….(drumroll please)

Tangerine, an LA-set caper about two trans sex workers shot entirely on an iPhone 6. This film is one we’ve been meaning to watch, as it got a bunch of great reviews, and it’s available on Netflix.

Where & How: on Twitter, via Netflix -- use #TangerineDames to follow the conversation

When: Sunday, April 10 at 8PM ET

We’ll send out reminders as we get closer to the day, but we wanted you to be able to save the date now. Join us!

Facts only.


And! A Word About Guest Editors

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and as you may have noticed, we aim to stoke the fires on all sides by leaving you in the very capable hands of guest editors on a monthly basis. We do this because taking time off from our usual regular newsletter duties gives us the mental space to write more longform-ish material for you (usually in the form of Bossy Spotlights and Ask Two Bossy Dames), and provides us with an opportunity to highlight the work of excellent writers whose work we love.

Our next guest editors, taking over the April 1 issue, will be our beloved podcast pals, Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting, of Overdue (the podcast about the books you’ve been meaning to read).

In an extra-fun twist, we will be taking over their show the following week. Dame Margaret has been reading V.C. Andrews’ iconic 80s trash classic Flowers in The Attic and Dame Sophie is going to enjoy listening to her rant about it, while trying not to flash back to her own experience of reading the entire Dollanganger series (as well as the first two Heaven books and the truly bonkers My Sweet Audrina) in middle school. Our May guest editors will be ~a surprise~, taking over the May 20 issue.

And now, on with the show!

Did you know that a huge percentage of the top GIF search results for “on with the show” are of Tom Hiddleston? Kismet!


Ask Two Bossy Dames!

Hello Dames! I've been enjoying your weekly insights, links, and GIFs for several months now, and I think you & Dames Nation are just the people to help me out here.

A while back, you responded to a reader's question about what to watch/read/consume during her (hopefully brief) period of unemployment. I, too, am about to leave the workforce, but for a different reason: I'm having a baby, y'all! He'll be my second one, so I have some idea of what to expect: the sleeplessness, the mood swings, the stretches of time I'll be spending trapped beneath a baby over the next 3+ months.

I need your help with that last part. Before my first kid, I was pretty pop culture savvy -- I had what seemed like an endless list of TV, movies, and books on my to-do list. Kid #1 was also born right before the Olympics, which was so great -- for two weeks, no matter what time he woke up to feed (or just to yell at me), there was some obscure sporting event to entertain me. In the two years since, however, I've spent more time chasing after a baby/toddler and less time keeping up with what's new and good in terms of entertainment. And this time, I will not have the Olympics to save me. So I need your help.

I don't have very strict parameters -- I'm open to just about any genre and format. (TV, books, comics, podcasts, comedy specials, etc.) Longer works like movies are the only thing I'd like to avoid, unless it's something that won't be wrecked by near constant interruptions. Also, I'd like to stay away from any plot lines involving children in peril or harm, for obvious reasons.

But that doesn't mean I'm looking for fluff, either. For example, the first book I read after Kid #1 was Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park, which deals with some not insubstantial issues while also being incredibly easy to digest. (The chapter lengths alone: A+++!) I've also been beating myself up for catching up on Jane The Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in the last month or so, as these are so great at being simultaneously super fun and super smart, and really should've been saved for baby time. So, recommendations in those general veins would be great -- but again, I'm open to new things too!

Thank you so much for reading, and for any recs you can send my way. (And thanks to you from my kids, too, who will surely benefit from having a mom who, though sleep-deprived and hormonal, is at least well entertained.) -- Mama C.

Dear Mama C,

Your second baby may well have arrived by now! We hope everyone is healthy & as well-rested as possible. Although her own maternity leave 10 years ago is but a misty, water-colored & tear-stained memory, Dame S does have some solid recommendations for you. Let’s start with TV.

You mentioned being caught up on Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; are you familiar with Galavant? Season 2 is on Hulu and it is a hoot. It’s a loving spoof of romantic/heroic quests, punctuated with hilarious musical numbers. The songs are co-written by Alan Menken of The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty fame, the scenery is gorgeous, and a Hey, It’s That Guy! crosses your screen every few minutes.

If, when I tell you that Kylie Minogue shows up to sing a song called “Off WIth His Shirt”, a disco number in an Renaissance Faire-looking gay bar, you sit up & say, “YES, PLEASE”, this will be the show for you. I’m hoping Season 1 will become available soon on a service you already subscribe to, but even without it, you’ll catch onto the plot very quickly (and also, that is what Wikipedia is for). Galavant gets terrible ratings, so watch while you can.

Another choice in the fun-and-smart vein is Agent Carter. It’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but you needn’t be a superfan to relish the witty banter, boss-ass feminism, international spycraft, and the costumes. Oh! The costumes! Some back-ups for you, drawn from the Dames Canon:

  • Friday Night Lights: your Dames are living proof that you needn’t care at all about football to fall hard for the Panthers (and later, the Lions) of Dillon, TX. The acting, character development, and pure heart of this show are unbeatable. Texas forever.

  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: we’ve talked a lot about our love for this Australian import before, but it’s always worth repeating: Lady detective. Chosen family. Faaaaabulous costumes. Smokin’ hot chemistry with a variety of partners. Also, solving murders.

  • Master of None: we’d basically watch Aziz Ansari assemble IKEA furniture, and that would make a great episode B-plot, so, producers, there’s your freebie, enjoy! Aziz stars as an aspiring actor and the show tracks his adventures in friendship and love in an idealized New York. This is something you can gulp down in a couple of days, and we wouldn’t leave you hanging, soooo here’s one more:

  • Catastrophe: a sexy, cuss-filled romantic comedy for the ages, about actual adults having a messy & utterly winning relationship. Season 2 comes to Amazon Prime in 2 weeks!

How do you feel about audiobooks? I think those are great for when you’re up in the middle of the night and don’t want the glow of the TV to encourage your baby’s interest in wakefulness (or your own, ugh, post-partum insomnia is the worrrrrrst). Alternately, 20-minute podcasts are also ideal for this time of night, because they’re just long enough to engage you, but not to wake you up for the long haul.

Some favorite snack-sized shows include 99% InvisibleSong ExploderThe Memory Palace, and The AllusionistRadiotopia podcasts are, across the board, reasonably snack-sized, and unreasonably great. On the slightly longer side are Whistlestop (my political boyfriend John Dickerson’s stories from the historical campaign trail. That man can spin a yarn.) and Another Round (which we talk about almost every week, we know, but it’s at the nexus of serious & light, and their segments are all in the 15-20-minute range).

Musically, I am also a big fan of playlists on Google Play (formerly Songza, RIP). Shhhh, Don’t Wake The Baby and Dream Pop Deep Sleep are excellent for encouraging everyone to head back to the snooze lagoon, and one of my favorites for boogie-ing around the house with high-energy youngsters is A Retro Cocktail Party. (I regret to say that despite my best efforts, you must be logged into Google Play Music to make these links take you to them.)

I’ll close out with some reading recommendations.

Part the First: Comics/Graphic Novels:

Some of these are series, some are stand-alone novels in comics form. The series are all available in trade paperback, and at libraries everywhere.

  • Hawkeye - if you’re an Avengers person, I can hear you thinking right now, “what? A series about THAT guy? Ugh, Renner!” Let me assure you, This Hawkeye (or Hawkguy, as he’s often called) is not Hawkeye. Well, he is, but he’s not. Matt Fraction has re-imagined Hawkeye as a world-weary guy with too much heart than is strictly good for him, and the results are deeply engrossing. Best of all, once you’re hooked, you won’t be left hanging: Fraction has concluded this story arc.

  • Fun Home &  Are You My Mother? - a two-part memoir by Alison Bechdel. The first, which was adapted into a Tony-winning musical we strongly endorse, is about growing up to be an out lesbian as the child of a closeted gay father, who killed himself just after she came out. The second is about her relationship with her mother, and while it’s much more cerebral and less story-driven than Fun Home, it’s so good that I can’t leave it out!

  • Persepolis - Another excellent two-part graphic memoir, by Marjane Satrapi, about growing up during the Iranian Revolution. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and writing this recommendation, I realize I’m overdue for a reread.

  • Hark! A Vagrant & Step Aside, Pops - these are two anthologies of Kate Beaton’s webcomic (also called Hark! A Vagrant), and they are best described as a perfect combination of erudite as HELL and deeply loopy. If gut-busting riffs on The French Revolution, the Brontes, and Canadian stereotypes are your jam, well, you’ve probably already read these. But maybe those things are your jam and you just don’t know it yet? In any event, they’re perfect for someone whose reading is frequently interrupted, and who could use a good guffaw.

  • El Deafo, by CeCe Bell and Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson - both these stand-alone graphic novels bear the dual distinctions of having won Newbery Honors and being serious favorites of Dame S’s 10 year-old daughter. El Deafo is a funny memoir about growing up deaf and Roller Girl is about finding your way in a community of your choice after realizing that your old friends are really not for you, after all.


Part The Second: Regular Books/Audiobooks:

  • The Big Crunch, by Pete Hautman, Winter Town by Stephen Emond, and Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman - these are a trio that I think will scratch that Eleanor & Park itch for you. They are all finely-observed YA romances featuring complex protagonists -- and if memory serves, none of the chapters are very long!

  • On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss - arguments about vaccination are tiresome. You know what’s the opposite of tiresome? This amazing book about the history of vaccination. I’m listening to the audiobook right now, and it’s one that I’m taking very slowly because although it’s not long, it is so rich with insight and historical context and deep empathy that I need time to process each section as I go. I’m buying copies for friends because it’s such a perfect combination of urgently important and instantly engaging. Biss’s voice is both authoritative and searching. I just can’t say enough about this one!

  • The Small Change Trilogy by Jo Walton: Especially great as audiobooks, these mysteries set in an alternate 1950s England that’s slowly sliding into Fascism after surrendering to the Nazis following the Battle of Dunkirk are gripping page-turners with great characters and short chapters.

  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud: However you encounter these books, about a wise-cracking djinn and his dour, ambitious 11-year-old master, and the corrupt government of magicians they must thrive within, or take down, we think you will love them. But, as with the Small Change trilogy, they are especially great on audiobook -- as narrated by our boyfriend, Simon Jones -- and they are often easy to find in public libraries’ Overdrive collections for completely free listening!

Mama C, we hope these suggestions will interest and sustain you through your maternity leave & beyond! Please let us know how you get on, where we’ve hit the mark & where we’ve gotten it not-quite-right.

 


Dame Sophie's Wildly Whipsawing Tonality

A frequently accurate representation of pillow talk chez moi.

  • Both your Dames are die-hard Nora Ephronites, so we’re not really sure why anyone would need to be convinced to watch the new documentary about her, Everything Is Copy, but if you do require being sold, Michelle Dean’s assessment should sort you right out. BONUS: my new favorite quiz of all time: Which Jewish Woman Writer Are You? (I am Judy Blume and Dame M. is Dorothy Parker).

  • [Trigger warning: rape & assault. Scroll right past if you need to.] So, Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of rape and assault charges this week. You may imagine my response of equal parts disgust, outrage, and lack of surprise. The judge in the case singled out the way Ghomeshi’s accusers behaved following their assaults: they were so nice & friendly towards their alleged attacker, so how can we believe them? Well, the first lesson of Femininity Training 101 is Be Nice, is how. This essential piece on how politeness conditioning can lead to confusion about sexual assaults comes to us via DamesPal In Our Minds Anne Theriault.

  • Over on Twitter, we frequently post listings of items on Etsy that we love and think you will, too, but as much as we endorse a well-priced investment piece, we want to make sure all Dames Nationals are aware of the free culture & decor available to them, too. For example! The New York Public Library has made a collection 2000 beautiful early 20th-century art posters available for download. Gussy up your cubicle or the living space of your choice for next to nothing! Open Culture posts about this kind of thing all the time, and we are INTO IT.

  • Jia Tolentino is one of my favorite writers, and her insights about gender & ethnic identity, the role of graduate stipends in making it as a freelancer, and her (correct) insistence that what the Internet needs is more nuanced thinking about difficult topics are so good that I listened to her two-part interview on the Longform podcast twice. (Special throwback shout-out to Jia’s exquisite tinybitchtapes project, of blessed memory, which lives on in playlist form on SoundCloud and in her TinyLetter archive.)

  • T. Rex performing A Chorus Line, before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. People trying to perform graceful feats of athleticism while dressed as T. Rexes has to be my favorite iteration of this Internet Thing. The way they reeeeeeally try to extend their useless little Cretaceous arms, while also not being tripped up by their enormous tails, tickles me nearly unto breathlessness. See also: Ice skating T. Rex (h/t DamesPals Ann & Kylee for a recent flood of these delightful videos).


Dame Margaret's Tuneful, Tonsorial Round-Up

Wildly different women. Literally identical hairstyle.

 


This Week in Hamilton: Let’s Argue About Hamilton!
By Ben Coleman

This week, we brought in Dame S’s friend Ben Coleman to talk about Hamilton - specifically, about critiques of the musical that have been emerging over the last few months, now that the first blush of theatrical infatuation has faded a teensy bit. Ben is the Literary Manager for the dramatic publishing company, Samuel French Inc., and knows more about theatre than we’ll ever forget. We’re thrilled to have him here with us today.

You can follow Ben’s adventures in the single-episode sensation Pour Me Another, or follow his theatre commentary on Twitter and Instagram by following @benreviews. Take it away, Ben!

So we’re all on the Hamilton bandwagon, right? Awesome. I think.

Personally speaking, I am one of the lucky few to see Hamilton at The Public Theater, Off Broadway. The first reviews for Hamilton had not been written, and I am admittedly a moderate fan of In the Heights, so my expectations were somewhere in the middle when I attended in February of 2015. Then, an announcement from King George III (Brian D’Arcy James!!!) reminded us to silence our cell phones, the house lights went down, an aggressive drumbeat struck, and I gradually felt my world shift over the course of next three hours. In the short blackout before the final bows, I squeezed my body with all my might (I could hold onto this feeling forever if I pressed hard enough), wiped the tears from my face, and leapt to my feet applauding wildly. “The world will never be the same!”

Since then, there seems to be no end to the chatter about Hamilton. In my own small way, I contributed, touting my enthusiasm to anybody who would listen; urging people to beg, steal, borrow, or barter to get a ticket. It’s been over a year since Hamilton debuted at The Public. The mystical fog surrounding the musical has lifted (sorta), and given way to something new for Hamilton: critiques. Theatre practitioners, scholars, critics, and fans unanimously dub Hamilton the most significant contribution to musical theatre in almost 20 years (since Rent). However, beneath the choruses singing Hamilton’s praises, undertones of dissatisfaction can be heard, and we should probably be paying attention.

Hamilton is unequivocally a political musical. Forget about the fact that it historicizes a tarnished political figure; it is an examination, commentary, and reframing of the racial, immigrant, and feminist narratives so problematically handled by American history. I mean...right??? But what if Hamilton isn’t the socio-political slam dunk we all want it to be? What if it’s time to hop off the bandwagon? Recently, HowlRound, a “knowledge commons by and for the theatre community”, released James McMaster’s piece Why Hamilton Isn’t the Revolution You Think It Is. While McMaster considers himself a Hamilfan, he refuses to be “satisfied” by the feminist politics, bootstraps immigration narrative, and racial diversity.

Stacy Wolf, one of the foremost scholars on feminism in musical theatre expresses her disquiet regarding the treatment of Hamilton’s female characters in The Feminist Spectator. Rutgers professor Lyra Monteiro’s Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is highly critical of the choice to include people of color in a show that perpetuates the legacy of a whitewashed history. So it’s not all praise out there, folks. This is not a cry to stop adoring Hamilton, but an invitation to think critically about it.

I would implore all the fans to engage with the discourse surrounding this musical phenomenon, to reflect, and to revel in the stickiness of these arguments.

  • Is it empowering for people of color to feel ownership over a history that has systematically excluded them?

  • Is it shitty that the coolest show people of color can be in on Broadway has them playing white people?

  • Do Angelica Schuyler Church, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, and Maria Reynolds represent the simplistic female tropes of the muse, wife, and whore? Does Lin-Manuel Miranda work to subvert those tropes?

  • Is the “bootstraps immigrant” narrative problematic when getting “a lot farther by working a lot harder” has not equaled success for most undocumented Americans? Or is LMM telling the story of just one immigrant who did work insanely hard and rise up?

There are no easy, straightforward answers. However, as we go forth with our critical thinking caps on, we must also acknowledge the parameters of writing a musical! No one show has done all the things to appease all the people, ever. Lin-Manuel Miranda set incredibly lofty goals when creating Hamilton, and he (arguably) accomplished them. It’s hard to write a bad musical, it’s harder to write a decent one, and writing a great musical is probably one of the most impossible tasks in the world. Although Hamilton is sprawling in scope, inclusive in casting, and totally unified in its artistic vision, it’s built to tell the story of one man: Alexander Hamilton. As we critique what Hamilton could or should be doing, let us not ignore what Hamilton already does, and what Lin-Manuel Miranda set out to do from the start.

Go forth! Read, listen, analyze, argue, and let the rap battles commence! Here's a round-up of the readings I mentioned above, plus a couple more:

This Week In Hamilton, Standard Issue:
Primarily delicious leftovers from last week, which you may have missed!