To The Edge of Obsession and Back

Dames Nationals, I-- Dame M.-- have a confession to make. Before this year, I did not entirely get how incredible Céline Dion is.

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I KNOW, I know!! How could I fail to perceive her majesty? Had I not seen her in VH1’s Divas Live? (I had not.) Did I not realize she had an unabashedly goofy sense of humor? (No, I had no idea.) Thank god, though, thanks to the work ofsome tireless friends, I have finally come correct, and just in time for Céline to experience something of a personal renaissance-- one that includes a cover shoot for Vogue magazine AND, best of all,  a magical video of Céline being extra extra in a variety of elaborate headpieces. A video that, in addition to being full of absolutely iconic moments, ALSO happens to work very well as a music video for Your Dames’ pick for the Song of the Summer, 2017.

If you’ve been sensibly on board with Céline for ages, like the right-thinking Dame Sophie, please forgive my dilatory appreciation. But if you, like me, have been sleeping on this Queen, please awake and give her the adoration she so deserves.

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Your fave could NEVER.


Livetweet Reminder: HOT FUZZ on Sunday, August 6th

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Come join us as Judge Judy AND executioner on Sunday, 8/6, as we revisit one of our favorite comedies of the last 20 years: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s action-packed, gut-busting buddy cop parody/tribute HOT FUZZ, AKA the movie that finally made Dame Margaret realize how great the Kinks are. The details:

When: Sunday, August 6th at 7:30 PM
Where: Twitter, where we and our cherished Dames Nationals will be waxing rhapsodic and cracking wise at the hashtag #HotDames
How: By queuing the movie up on Netflix or even, if you’re equipped like we are, by popping in a good, old-fashioned DVD.  


SURPRISE! We’ve plunged into our files for an ASK TWO BOSSY DAMES week!

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Let us be the Lilo to your Stitch.

Hooray, Dames Nationals! It’s that special time of newsletter month when we plunge into the replies to our handy dandy Google Form and select a couple lucky friendaloos to receive some deluxe, personalized bossing from Us Your Dames. So sit back and be advised! And please do send us any questions percolating at the back of your beautiful brains for future iterations of this column!

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Dear Dames,

I’m looking for advice on how to go after “that feeling” (as you so well put it in your June 9 newsletter), when you’re averse to engaging in negative emotions, and no pop culture is exclusively positive.

I’ve had a rough couple of years. Difficult birth and early motherhood with my now amazing 5 year old, followed in quick succession by a divorce, a life threatening illness, and a change of job, city, and leaving behind friends. The good news is, I’m coming out the other side, happier, healthier, and wiser. The bad news is, I’m totally pop culture illiterate and worse, phobic. Because of my precarious emotional state, I’ve been completely unable to handle anything super dramatic and it’s very very hard to handle anything where women are subject to violence. This has been going on for a while. So no Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or Handmaid’s Tale. It’s gotten bad enough, though, where I’m even not able to get through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Master or None because I get overwhelmed when the characters are embarrassed or in peril or any sort.

I’ve enjoyed some cooking shows, and documentaries about art, dance, theatre, or food. But now I think I’m ready to start dating. And making new friends in my new city. And conversation is so often about pop culture. So I guess I’m looking for two tips: 1) Hints on how to get over over-the-top empathising with TV and movies? I know there is great art to be found in shows like Handmaid’s Tale, and I want to experience it. 2) How to work my way back into the pop culture as a form of shared experience and conversation?

Thanks, for your unabashedly positive feminism and encouragement, Dames!

Trying to make the world my oyster


Dear Oyster,

Boy, do our hearts go out to you. As people who love art intensely and feel our feelings deeply,  we’ve definitely both had periods of time where being deep in our feelings made engaging with the culture we love so much difficult, despite never weathering a series of storms quite as extreme as the ones you've been through the last few years. Beyond even that, we’re also distinct individuals with that palettes range from idiosyncratic (Dame S.) to willful and stubborn (Dame M.), which means that we’re more accustomed than you might imagine at being out of step with whatever culture “everyone” appears to be consuming at the moment.

In light of that, the most important thing we have to tell you is this: common cultural references are not a prerequisite for good conversations. They can be an extremely convenient shortcut to an interesting conversation with people you don’t know well, sure, but just as often they can trick you into thinking you’ve found a kindred spirit when in fact you’ve just found someone whose recall of funny lines from Arrested Development is just as automatic as yours. In the moment, it can FEEL emblematic of Much More Significant Similarities, but often it’s a sign of someone who thinks references to other peoples’ stories and jokes are an effective substitute for original observations. With that out of the way, here are some ways to access a little of that social ease even if you can’t watch the shows “everyone” is watching.

First, forget fluency-- just get yourself conversational in the big shows of the moment. See if you can find a recapper you like and keep up on the big happenings that way. Find a friend you know who likes the big shows and see if they can give you a general idea of who’s who and what’s what in Westeros (translation: the fictional kingdom where Game of Thrones takes place). Once you have your bearings-- just ask questions! Ask what they like about the show, which characters they find the most compelling, what the big plot points are and how they hope they’ll be resolved. If your conversation partner is interesting, they’ll be able to make this into a good chat even if you’ve never seen a frame of the show that they’re describing-- the same way they could make you feel like you “know” friends or family members of theirs you might never meet. Dame Sophie will never watch Game of Thrones-- it’s not to her taste-- and Dame Margaret is perpetually seasons behind on it. But, since we swim in the fine waters of twitter, we usually know enough about what’s going on to make or understand jokes about the world, or ask questions True Fans have a good time answering. We are fully confident that you’ll be able to do the same!

As to your first concern, how can you get back into the swing of watching things, what we’re going to advise you to take baby steps. Even with the sitcoms you mention-- Master of None and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt--  you’re jumping into deeper waters then you might realize, and you’re going to want to start a little easier on yourself. What we recommend is that you start with shows high on TV artifice and pretty tied to episodic rhythms, where the stakes may get high briefly, but you know everyone’s going to be ok. Some favorites of ours that match this description are Parks & Recreation (feel free to skip S1), Netflix’s recent remake of One Day at a Time, Brooklyn 99, and Playing House. Every so often, dip your toe into something more serious. Maybe start by revisiting an old favorite, where the emotional beats are known to you and you’ll be prepared in advance for their impact. And lastly,  although you’ve mostly talked about TV, music might be a type of culture you could try out. If you live in a place that accommodates it and have an openness to attending live music, it can be a great pathway into cultural relevance and social interaction. Music can be extremely moving, but it does not have the same threat of being emotionally overwhelming that fiction can have. Or, if it does hit you hard, it’s usually only for the span of a 4-minute song-- a little easier to manage.  Either way, we’re sure Billy Eichner is wrong…

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This problem is neither incurable, nor impossible to socialize through. We have confidence in you! Go out and conquer that world!

Sincerely,
Dame M. (with vital assists from Dame S.)

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I mean, this is a little bit of a strong statement, but you would know about obsession, Loki.

Dear Dames,

I find my most extreme cases of fangirling to be... all-consuming, overwhelming and, to be quite honest, somewhat painful and, by the end of its cycle, joyless. How do I... stop that from happening? Right now I just manage it by being afraid of liking stuff, which goes so completely against every fangirl-bone in my body! But I'm also tired of finding something great and thinking wearily "well, here goes my life for the next couple of months" and "I hope you're really good, 'cause I'm going to suck the life out of you and if you turn out to be like the Twilight Disaster of 2008 that's going to be awkward".

I just want to like something and not go all Heathcliff over it. Any advice?

M

Dear M,

I feel this! There can be so many ups and downs in fandoms, and it can be exhausting, for sure. Just deciding to not fangirl isn’t really viable as a long-term, though it can be a helpful tool in the short term, particularly if you use it to make sure you meet important personal or work deadlines. All the great fan stuff will still be there when it’s more convenient for you to engage with it.

So, how to address and interrupt the last steps of the cycle? Can you identify what causes the pain & joylessness you describe?  Is it discovering a fave is problematic? Do you just get bored? Do you find yourself drained if you’re on a particular side in a major fandom disagreement? If you can pinpoint where things go off the rails for you, you may be able to gird your tender, enthusiastic heart for next time by developing some cautionary self-talk in advance.

In addition to learning to repeat to yourself “every fave is problematic, keep your hopes within reason” or similar pithy maxims (admittedly, that one could be considerably pithier), you can give yourself some emotional breathing room by engaging with things you like rather than things you looooove. You mention being afraid to like anything, and I think that’s no way to live, so a slight adjustment could work in your favor. Think about some things you like just fine, choose one, and practice engaging with it the way you normally would with something you are wild about. I suspect the distance afforded by a lower degree of emotional attachment will give you some room to identify the things about fandom that are the most and least rewarding for you, which could help you enjoy the things you truly love more -- and more sustainably --  the next time one of them rolls around.

And finally! In my experience, loving a thing is great, but loving a thing in company with similarly-minded friends is very much The Actual Best. I assume you have rock-solid reliable fandom buddies. Make use of your messaging platform of choice and get to hollering with them! These group texts have been very important for me as both an outlet for my overwhelming feeeeelings and also a way to keep them in check as needed. Good luck, and remember these wise words:

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Yours in flailing,
Dame S.
 


How I Fell Back In Love With U2 (Maybe U Will, 2?), by Dame Sophie, Happily Re-Ensconced in the Bosom of Her Talented Irish Sons

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Are you serious right now?

Like a lot of people who listened to the radio and bought music in the 80s & 90s, I loved U2, and then I really, really didn’t. They hit their popularity stride right when I was very ready to be swept up in their dramatic, political fervor. I plunked down my babysitting money for a big, moody-ass Joshua Tree poster to put on my bedroom wall, I got a cute boy to dub copies of War and The Unforgettable Fire for me, and then I bought myself a subscription to Rolling Stone so I could obsessively reread all of their U2 coverage, especially The Edge’s interview about his musical influences. (As I had been a George girl, so I was immediately & forever remain an Edge girl.)

I saved up my babysitting money to see them on the ZooTV tour the week before my senior year of high school started - my friends & I got seats on the field! We were so psyched! And then we loved Zooropa, too! Everything was so great! And then I went to see them on the Popmart tour, and I just didn’t like it. How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was...fine, I guess? Obviously, I bought a copy, but the thrill was gone. And so a solid 15 years or so passed. U2 continued to tour, and they did that Spiderman musical (????), and Bono had that terrible bike accident, and then they continued to tour some more, and I just thought, with a sad sigh, “well, we’ll always have Paris.” I tweeted snottily about it back in 2013, saying weeeeee were never getting back together, but still sometimes like to make out.

But then they announced The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour and all my “ugh, they haven’t done anything interesting since 1993” cynicism was washed clean away. U2 was touring my gateway album! They were going to play it in full! The 12 year-old who played & rewound and played & rewound her copy of The Joshua Tree was beside herself with giddy anticipation.

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I can’t remember the last time I was this delighted to be so very wrong.

If you’re feeling susceptible to being swept up (or swept back up) into a love for this band of brothers, here are some of my current favorite things & some places to go next.

  • Ok, so first of all, these four dudes - working together since they were scrappy teens in the mid-70s - all still love each other and are having the best time together on this tour. One of many things I cried about at the show we saw was the evident joy in their faces as they played together. They were having so much fun making sure we all had so much fun with them. Their delight in each other was every bit as infectious as their beautiful music. That fun was really moving. 41 years into this enterprise, they don’t need to tour. They don’t need to do anything they’re not 100% into doing. They love it, so they do, and I’ve been very happy to be swept up by and into that joy.

  • Specifically, it seems very clear that Bono and The Edge are the OG Harry & Niall. The evidence:

This is not another 1D rant, promise (OR IS IT?)

  • I mean. QED, friends. There’s obviously some kind of non-murder-based horcrux use in play here. I could just rest my case, but the historically-minded Tumblr-based fan Mars has this excellent summary of Bono & The Edge’s 41-year friendship and creative partnership. This is a homoerotically-charged friendship & artistic collaboration of the highest order and I am here for it. Relatedly, I now have a high quality 5x7 of this image framed in my house right now. The photographer is happy to sell you a copy, too.

  • People (myself included, on more than one occasion) like to ding U2 for being blowhardishly, sometimes clumsily political. And yeah, sorry, guys, rhetorical subtlety is not really your long suit. But when I was 12, I didn’t know anything about apartheid, or the repressive political regimes in Argentina and Chile, or the troubles in Northern Ireland. I barely knew anything about Martin Luther King, Jr. You know what’s a very effective inducement to start following world news? Getting great, catchy songs about geopolitics stuck in your head. This nerd started reading the international section of the newspaper and joined Amnesty International thanks to U2. They had zero fucks to give about how uncool it was to write & sing those songs, and that’s...kind of cool, actually.

  • E*MO*TIONs: for my money, nobody delivers a heartbreaking, impressionistic tone poem like Bono. Seriously, when was the last time you saw their Live Aid performance of “Bad”? Give yourself the gift of a rewatch of this superlatively earnest jam about heroin addiction (and please look beyond the mullet, I beg you). The Edge is a very close second in this category, as in the case of his spare, bleak as hell "Love Is Blindness" and "Running To Stand Still" (oh, is that what it feels like to have your heart ripped out of your chest so delicately that you think it feels good while it’s happening? Ok, great, good to know.) (Not sure why Mario Batali is there, but he is FEELING IT & I agree.)

  • When Achtung Baby first came out, my friends & I drove around and around and around in our parents’ cars, debating the lyrics, trying to understand how U2 got from the hopeful expansiveness of “Where The Streets Have No Name” to the desperate, soul-crushing loneliness of “Love Is Blindness”. (TL;DR: the Edge’s divorce is how.) If podcasting had been a thing back then, we would have started one. Happily, here in the present, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks binge-listening to some U2-y podcasts, all brought to my attention by lovely DamesPal & Guest Editor Syazwina Saw. The best is this episode of Talking Like a Jerk, in which hosts Lindsay Hogan & Jason Mogavero get all the 100% accurate, furious critiques of the band out of the way at the top so they can then unabashedly praise what’s still so great about them. The silliest is U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, hosted by comedy fellows Adam Scott & Scott Aukerman. These episodes are long, and digressive, and did I mention silly? Very, very silly. And addictive: I’ve already burned through the whole series. I recommend starting with their Rattle & Hum episode, though the episode where they actually interview the band is also a classic. Again: FUN.

  • Charming band banter is all my joy, and the YouTube has furnished a trove of such delights, including A day in the life of The Edge (in which Bono wakes Edge up way too early and then suffers the consequences when his night owl bestie is ready to stay up til the very, very wee hours following their show in Miami), this lovely performance & interview on Irish tv’s The Late Late Show,all four of the lads on Graham Norton, and of course, this video for Electrical Storm", in which Larry Mullen, Jr. falls in love with a mermaid played by Samantha Morton. I mean, who wouldn’t?

  • Ride or Die: these men care about each other so much, something Adam Clayton highlighted in his acceptance speech when he was given the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award from the MusiCares Foundation last month. “We have a pact with each other. In our band, no one will be a casualty. We all come home or none of us come home. No one will be left behind. Thank you for honoring that promise and letting me be in your band.”

  • It’s easy to rattle off a list of contemporary rock acts who owe a sonic debt to U2 - the Killers, Airborne Toxic Event (remember them?), Arcade Fire, Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and more - but what about country? This very week, Rolling Stone published a fascinating, in-depth piece about U2’s love for country music, their 90s work with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Willie Nelson, and their influence on contemporary country. It’s so good!