Backtalk: OK Meme-er

This week, Dahlia and Amy talk about the meme that’s the perfect digital eye roll. “OK Boomer” is the millennial and Gen Z clapback that has some people clutching their pearls. But what does this meme say about calling out people in power and starting a conversation about what young people stand to inherit? 

 

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT]
 
DAHLIA BALCAZAR: One of the best parts of hosting Backtalk is getting to talk about books and writers. New York Times opinion writer Lindy West’s new book, The Witches Are Coming, is something that we’ve been waiting for, for a very long time. We have a great review of it at BitchMedia.org, where our cofounder, Andi Zeisler, writes that, “The Witches Are Coming is about the way pop culture both reflects and builds on social and political beliefs, biases, and assumptions that are intrinsic to America. More important, it’s about the question of what’s possible when that culture begins telling news stories.” Find your next great read at Powells.com.
 
[theme music]
 
AMY LAM: Hi. Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam.
 
DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
 
AMY: And we start off each episode by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. What is yours, Dahlia?
 
DAHLIA: Well, I’ve been reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name. Chanel Miller is a writer who was formerly known as Emily Doe in the Brock Turner case a few years ago. And she wrote this incredible statement that was published by BuzzFeed and later, now has become part of this book. The memoir is so good, and I’m sort of savoring it in reading it, passing it out slowly. But last night, I started following Chanel Miller on Instagram. Her account is ChanelMillerKnowMyName, all one word, and she is the best cartoonist! Her Instagram is full of a lot of her cartoons that are just really funny, really well-drawn, a lot about sort of the anxiety and stress that she’s been feeling talking about this book and being public about who she is and her story.
 
In fact, last night she accepted it a Glamour Woman of the Year award, and she read a poem aloud that she’d written. And I watched her read the poem, and I cried. And sometimes looking at these cartoons makes me cry. Her work is just really, really good. Obviously, so meaningful. So, she’s like– I’ve never recommended a follow before, I don’t think.
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: But I really, really like her work. And I’m just so delighted to see that she’s also a really talented visual artist as well as a really talented writer.
 
AMY: Yeah, I remember seeing clips of her when she was on 60 Minutes, and they sort of showed her writing studio or her writing room and her illustrations as she was a drawing on her wall. And yeah, it was really sort of evocative yet fun sort of line drawings in her room. And I was like, man, I really get upset when people are multitalented like that.
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: Like, it wasn’t enough that you’re an amazing writer, but you’re also a very gifted illustrator. So, yeah, I think that is a very good follow recommendation.
 
DAHLIA: What is your pop culture moment, Amy?
 
AMY: My pop culture moment is kind of random a little bit. But I just felt it so much, I couldn’t help it. So, I am actually dying to see the Korean film Parasite that’s directed by Bong Joon-ho. I’ve just heard so many great things about it. And kind of like how you were talking about savoring Chanel’s memoir, and sometimes how we talk about when we encounter a really good piece of pop culture. We don’t want it to be complete or done ‘cause that we can’t enjoy it anymore. So, I’ve been waiting for it to come to Portland. It’s in Portland now, the film. But I’m waiting to go see it. I’ve been waiting for good, perfect moment so that I could gather people I love [laughing] to go watch this film with me.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: So I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve just heard so many great things about it. But recently, I encountered this interview with the director, Bong Joon-ho, where he talks about what he wanted the film to do. And it just so resonated with me. So, this is my favorite pop culture moment was this quote that he said. I just saw the screen grabs from it, and people are sharing it wildly. So, essentially, he says, “I tried to express a sentiment specific to Korean culture. All the responses from different audiences were pretty much the same. Essentially, we all live in the same country called capitalism.” [Laughs.] Because this film is supposed to be sort of like a juxtaposition between a very rich family and a very poor family in South Korea. And I don’t know what happens, but it’s supposed to be very masterful, and there’s twists and turns. But I think the reason why this quote resonated with so many people is because the film resonated with lots of people. But that it’s true: All of our lives are so touched by the effects of capitalism and to the point where it transcends cultural bounds that a filmmaker in South Korea can make this film speaking about his very specific culture and insights and the nuances of how people interact with each other. And yet, it was so true for so many people around the globe because we are all living under the thumb of capitalism. So, thank you for [laughs], thank him for saying this.
 
DAHLIA: Wah wah.
 
AMY: I know, right? [Laughs.] But actually, it just hyped me up even more. I’m even more anticipating to see this film. But yeah, I don’t know why my pop culture moment is recommending a film I haven’t seen yet! [Laughs.] But it just seems so salient that I had to share.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
DAHLIA: Earlier this month, 25-year-old New Zealand lawmaker Chloe Swarbrick was giving a speech supporting a climate crisis bill, and she was heckled by an older member of Parliament. Her response confused her audience, but delighted millennials everywhere.
 
[recorded clip plays]
 
CHLOE SWARBRICK: In the year 2050, I will be 56 years old. Yet, right now, the average age of this 52nd Parliament is 49 years old. OK Boomer. Current political institutions….
 
DAHLIA: The phrase, “OK Boomer” seems to have been born on TikTok, where it’s getting more and more popular. The hashtag has been viewed on the platform 18 million times. Merch with the phrase is selling everywhere. The phrase has been the topic of a New York Times Style piece. In that New York Times style piece, the writer talked about how at senior picture day at a Virginia high school, a group of nine students used duct tape to plaster “OK Boomer” across their chests, for their senior picture yearbook, in their forever yearbook. The New Zealand politician Chloe Swarbrick explained the phrase OK Boomer as, “a simple summarization of collective exhaustion.” It’s a rallying cry for young people who are sick of the hypocrisy and complacency of Baby Boomers. Recently, a conservative radio personality, Bob Lonsberry, tweeted that, [chuckles] “Boomer is, in fact, “the N-word of ageism.”
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: He tweeted—
 
AMY: OK Boomer! [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Yeah! Yeah, you’re right. “Being hip and flip does not make bigotry okay, nor is a derisive epithet acceptable because it is new.”
 
AMY: [Still laughing.] OK Boomer.
 
DAHLIA: So, of course, he was fully ratioed. He deleted the tweet. Dictionary.com even decided to dunk on him too. Dictionary.com tweeted. This is their tweet: “Dictionary.com defines ‘boomer’ as an informal noun referring to a person born during the Baby Boomer, especially one born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1956. In contrast, the ‘N-word’ is one of the most offensive words in the English language,” is what Dictionary.com had to say about that. But that’s really striking a chord amongst sort of the media coverage about, OK Boomer. And like I said, there’s articles about it everywhere. The Washington Post is covering it. NBC News is covering it.
 
Speaking of that: so, a professor of leadership and management wrote for NBC, “Generational difference is one of the final frontiers where identity-based stereotypes, prejudice, and put downs are allowed to not only run rampant, but also to be expressed without shame.”
 
AMY: OK BOOMER! Oh my god!
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
DAHLIA: But I think what’s super interesting is this general conflation of, OK Boomer with prejudice like racism. I think it’s especially interesting considering, as Joan Summer’s pointed out over at Jezebel, it seems to be largely white teenagers who are using the phrase, “OK Boomer” on TikTok. But there is so much here that makes me so excited to talk about, OK Boomer. There’s hurt feelings, generational divide. Honestly, that ridiculous sentence about what kind of prejudice is allowed to run rampant and be expressed without shame. I’ve been reading so many articles about it today, and I’ve been thinking. NPR asked recently, “Is OK Boomer a meme, a call to action, or maybe a warning?
 
AMY: [Laughs.] Well, I think people have to chill ‘cause I think first and foremost, OK Boomer is a meme.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: You know? And I think that we’ve talked about it a lot on this podcast, like what memes mean in the bigger culture, larger culture and the effects it can have and how it actually helps to sort of condense an idea or a feeling in a easily digestible way. But this notion that perhaps it’s like the N-word of ageism, it’s so ridiculous. Because I’ve heard this said before, but when you compare two words to each other, in a contest of which word is worse, and there’s one word that you literally cannot say either, i.e., the N-word, that word is worse.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: That word is the true slur. “Boomer” is not a slur. And I think it just goes to show these bizarre hurt feelings behind being called out in a way. And I think that in terms of it being a meme, OK Boomer is really just a way for younger people and people of younger generation to express their frustration of having to sort of come of age and figure out who they are in a world and climate that maybe may not exist in another 20 or 30 years, you know. And ‘cause the phrase came up with Gen Z folks, not even with Millennial, but Gen Z folks, like folks who are teenagers, and like you said, on TikTok. And I think it was used as sort of a pushback against older folks, sort of chiding them and telling them how they should be living their lives. And in fact, lots of people are saying it’s really just sort of like a digital eye roll. And it really speaks a lot to non-Gen Z culture that we’ve taken this digital eye roll and blown it up to say that it’s like all these really horrible things or these very heavy things that it’s just, you know, it’s just being imbued with so much meaning.
 
I actually think that when you were talking about Chloe Swarbrick, the New Zealand Parliament member, I think she just did it in such a perfect way!
 
DAHLIA: I know.
 
AMY: Yeah. Because she was actually giving a statement about climate change. I think they were debating maybe like a zero carbon emission bill in their Parliament. And during the speech, and during the clip that we played, she’s talking about where she’ll be one day in 2050 versus how lot of the members of Parliament probably won’t be alive anymore. And somebody was criticizing her for calling out, like how she’s so young. And so, she took that as a moment to be like, yeah, OK Boomer. Shut up. You are unconcerned with helping climate change because [laughing] you won’t be around anymore. But I also really love that she made a Facebook post later responding to this. And I really wanna read her post because it’s so succinct. She says, “Today I have learned that responding succinctly and in a perfect jest to somebody heckling you about your age as you speak about the impact of climate change on your generation with the literal title of their generation makes some people very mad.”
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: So, she goes, she says. “So, I guess Millennials ruined humor. That, or we don’t just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados.” [Laughs.]
 
You know, I think she’s speaking to a lot how there’ve been an onslaught of criticism from Millennials, and I think it’s trickling down to Gen Z, about how Millennials are ruining so many things. There’ve been a lot of news stories about how Millennials have ruined Applebee’s or fast casual dining ‘cause they can’t fucking afford to eat out, right? Yeah. Millennials are ruining real estate market because they can’t fucking afford to buy homes. You know, Millennials are ruining this and ruining that. It’s like, why don’t we talk about how generationally, the people in power who are Boomers are literally ruining the Earth so that they can no longer maybe inhabit it in of the coming generations? So, I think that this meme is essentially, it runs the gamut of being a digital eye roll but all the way to a very succinct critique of older generations that have created an environment that is very unsustainable. Yet, we’re supposed to live it in the way that they lived and prospered in it decades ago.
 
DAHLIA: I think in the process of memification, things get a bit flattened. And I feel like what a lot of the people to whom I would say, “OK Boomer” to their complaints is that, by nature, the meme is a response. And it’s not a response to just anything, you know. OK Boomer fits as a response to a person saying like, “Greta Thunberg shouldn’t be protesting. She should be staying in school.” Or, you know, a typical “get off my lawn” kind of crotchety statement, except about someone being hopeful or positive or wanting to change the future in a better way for the people who are going to be alive in the future. [Laughs.] Which is– Oh my god. Not all of us, you know.
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: Not all of us [laughing] are gonna be alive in the future. Okay, so speaking of that, it seems to be exactly the case in New Zealand Parliament. You know, this politician was exactly saying like, I know I’m young, but I’m gonna be the one living through the effects of what all of you who are so much older than I am, all of the laws that you’re passing. That’s exactly the complaint. Like, OK Boomer, you’re passing all of this onto us, the younger people.
 
In fact, this year, the average age of members of the House in the U.S. Congress is 57. The average age of senators is 61. Both of those is among the oldest class of Congresspeople in U.S. history. And it’s like so rich, I think, for these people to be writing these op-eds and be appearing on TV and acting disgruntled that younger people are pushing back at them. Which is like one, younger people have always pushed back at older people. That’s what younger people are supposed to do.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: But also, you know, when you think about it, it is kind of messed up that a group of one age group is making laws that affect everyone else, especially when you add on top of that that those people are disproportionately white and male and older.
 
AMY: Right. And yeah, I think that in this discussions of all this, one of the most obvious thing that’s not talked about a lot is that yes, yes, young people like to pick on old people. That’s just how it’s always been, you know?
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: And it’s so, so true. And I think that you know how often, when somebody says something and people feel hurt by it, like you feeling very attacked, maybe the reason why you’re feeling very attacked is because you feel implicated, right? So, then you have to sort of interrogate, why do you feel implicated by this digital eye roll? And another thing that’s so funny is that every time anybody says—‘cause I’ve heard and watched some reporting on this—no matter what the age of the person is, they always say, “OK Boomer” in a very specific way. Because everybody knows the tone that you take when you’re eye rolling. You know what I mean? [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, exactly.
 
AMY: Yeah. So, it’s like a thing that everybody understands. So, I don’t understand this surprise about it. But I think what’s surprising, though, is who feels implicated by it. I think that– ‘Cause there are people who are Boomers that are like, “Yeah, OK Boomer me.” Like, yes, old people are stuck in their ways. And it’s really up to young people to create change. They need to be loud to be heard ‘cause they’re the ones who have to inherit a lot of this. But then there are the Boomers who are feeling offended by this because they are also the generation who theoretically marched for civil rights, marched against the Vietnam War, went to Woodstock, were hippies and shit. So, I think some of them are feeling implicated ‘cause they’re thinking like, yo, we organized, and we got our voice heard, and we changed things. But that’s not true of the entire generation. The people who did that organizing and protesting, they were part of a counterculture that was pushing against a mainstream culture that’s way the vast majority of it, of the folks. And so, yes, that generation helped to create a lot of social-political change. But they also helped to maintain a status quo that makes I think coming of age right now very difficult.
 
It’s not even just climate change, but the cost of education’s fucked up. This idea that there are Boomers who kind of like low-key humble brag that like, well, I went to school, and I finished without any debt. And then I ended up buying four houses, and I had a stable career and raised a whole family. And all my kids went to college. It’s like, yo, like, I’m going into college, and I can’t even imagine–I mean if I was like a Gen Z kid–if I was going into college, I can’t even imagine the amount of debt I’m coming out of, and thinking that there’s barely any jobs out there. Or like the jobs that do exist are going to underpay me so that I’m beholden to my student loans for the rest of my life. That shit’s scary. And then on top of that, there’s climate change. And then on top of that, there’s healthcare costs.
 
You know, it’s like I think that having to come of age and become a grown up and an adult in this time and age is really feeling very precarious. And if the worst thing that Gen Z can lob or Millennials can lob at the older generations is to say, “OK Boomer,” just take it. ‘Cause a younger person, say, “OK Boomer” to an older person is not like them, sort of imposing a type of a policy on them so that they can’t live their lives. Maybe except for the only exception is Chloe [laughing] in the New Zealand Parliament.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: ‘Cause she was trying to pass some good laws. But I think that this outrage from older folks, it’s like it’s lacking so much self-awareness, it’s making it laughable.
 
DAHLIA: And I guess I can see how a Boomer might be like, well, I didn’t do this. It’s capitalism’s fault, or  it’s the republic– I’m not a Republican. I don’t support these policies. I can see how a Boomer might feel like, you know, I feel so attacked right now!
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: I didn’t do any of these things! But, you know, no one’s saying, “OK Boomer” to Jane Fonda, who’s out there getting arrested every week protesting on Capitol Hill.
 
AMY: Right.
 
DAHLIA: And that’s what I’m saying also, is that in its simplest, OK Boomer is a response. And you know, the phrase, “if it don’t apply, let it fly,” I think about that all the time.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: And I just feel like, like you’re saying, if someone feels implicated in an OK Boomer response, interrogate that. And is it because, in fact, it does apply? Because if it don’t apply, let it fly! [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Like you could just be like, oh, well— I mean, not to say like— You should be a bit introspective, and it’s always a good question to think, in what ways do I uphold the status quo that oppresses other people? We should all be reflecting on that, you know! But I think it’s so funny that to see it as an attack on a generation. And for— This article that I was reading at NBC for this professor of leadership and management to say, intergenerational conflict is one of the currently still-accepted taboos. And it’s just so funny to think about it because it’s like the only realm in which it sounds like they’re talking about that is politics! I talking about young people, not saying like, “You’re irrelevant because you’re old.” But, “Listen. It has been status quo for decades.” Like some members of Senate have been there for a really fucking long time! Mitch McConnell has been in the Senate—
 
AMY: Whoo.
 
DAHLIA: –has been in Congress for a long-ass time, you know. And so, you can, of course, be a Baby Boomer and be totally hip and with it and be like Jane Fonda. And you can be a Boomer who is complacent in what is very clearly large-scale environmental catastrophe on top of gerrymandering and election hacking and all kinds of just huge democratic threats. And it’s like, complacency in the face of that rather than recognizing the urgency. And that’s what gets an OK Boomer. Not just your age, but complacency and hypocrisy about what are actually existential threats to many young people.
 
AMY: Yeah, I think if you see— [chuckles] It’s so funny how we’re talking about this meme in sort of so, so seriously and almost academic terms, but I kinda love it.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, do it.
 
AMY: I think this is what we do. But I think often if you see the application of young people saying, “OK Boomer,” yeah, it can be anything as trivial as just like rolling your eyes at an old person being like, “You just need to pull up your bootstraps and get your shit done.” And but often I think it’s even, it’s a more solid critique of people in power. Because when I hear “OK Boomer,” I don’t think of it being directed at people like my parents, right? They came her as refugees. They did not come here, they did not come to the U.S. as people who held any sort of power. So, I think that even the “Boomer” in OK Boomer is a very specific set of people. And like you said, if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. So, I think for my folks, first of all, I would never say, “OK Boomer” to them ‘cause they would disown me. [Laughs.] We don’t fuck around like that in our culture, but! Which I think says something about the phrase, and I think it’s like it’s often speaking to people in power or people who have benefited from the people, the policies that people in power have wrought.
 
So, I think when we talk about, OK Boomer in this academic, what we need to talk about, like who is the Boomer being implicated? So, we have to look at the intersections of race and gender, right? And like immigration status. I don’t think that like, generationally, my parents fit into the Boomer generation, but they are definitely not the people getting OK Boomered even though they have very old-people sentiment sometimes, [laughing] right? You know? Like nagging me to do things. But I don’t think that they’re implicated in this very specific way in which this phrase is being used because they’ve never wielded any serious power to impact many people’s lives.
 
And I think that on a more serious side of this meme is that this is a way to say the people in power for generations and how they wielded their power has greatly impacted my life as a young person. And this is one very small way in which I’m taking some of that back or calling you out on it. Sure, I made some t-shirts and sweatshirts that say, “OK Boomer” on it and phone cases that say, “OK Boomer.” But does that really hinder your life or make you stop and think about the policies that you’ve enacted that have really affected me? I think that if anything that this meme could do is maybe open and start conversations for people in power who are older to think like, wow, really think deeply about what the work that they’ve done has and how it has impacted generations to come. And I’m wondering if that’s happening with this. I think that with any meme, it just probably for a few more months, it’ll be out of fashion, and nobody will say “OK Boomer” again and would probably be embarrassed to do it.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: You know what I mean? Nobody hits the dab anymore.
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: And I think that even just the fact that the New York Times wrote about it or that it’s getting covered on CBS This Morning or some shit has already made this meme sort of embarrassing. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Yeah. It’s already embarrassing for the true young people who are younger than us that we’re talking about. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Yeah! I know! We’ve already made it not cool.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: So, I think that if anything, at this point, it’s just a tool now to maybe start conversations with older folks, I think in particular, older folks who feel implicated by OK Boomer.
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: And we wrap up each episode by recommending something to watch, read, and listen. And I have the watch pick this week. And my watch week this week is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I don’t know. We actually talk about the show a lot. I think Dahlia, you’re a big fan of the show, right?
 
DAHLIA: Mmhmm.
 
AMY: Yeah. So, we’ve often talked about the show and how they have some really great reporting and deep dives into super salient topics. But this past week, they aired an episode specifically, Season 6, Episode 29, in case you wanna find it.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: And I’ve dubbed it that the Eat Shit, Bob Murray episode. [Laughs.] And it’s so good! So, you know, at the end of each show or toward the middle, second half of the show, John Oliver and his staff do a deep dive into a topic, and on this episode, they do a deep dive into what’s called SLAPP lawsuits. The acronym is, I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it’s spelled SLAPP lawsuits. And essentially, SLAPP lawsuits are brought on by either really wealthy individuals or very wealthy corporations against small people, like individuals who are just like middle class or working class or against small news organizations that have very limited budgets as a way to silence them or as a way to signal to other people to not talk badly about them. So, in this case, it’s about Bob Murray, who is a very wealthy man who made a ton of money off of coal mining. And what he does is that he puts on SLAPP lawsuits against small, community-owned I guess like newspapers as a sort of warning against other newspapers to be like, don’t write anything about me because I’m going to put a lawsuit on you and make it litigious so that you have to spend like hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight this frivolous lawsuit that will end up going nowhere. And in fact, I guess about half the states or more than half the seats in the U.S. have laws against it because oftentimes, the SLAPP lawsuits are frivolous. And you can just tell by the filing of it, so it doesn’t have to be brought to court. But then there are still a handful of states that allow them.
 
And in this episode, John Oliver talks about how a few seasons ago, they did a segment about Bob Murray and how he is a heinous pile of shit. And Bob Murray sued the show to sort of silence them, and they couldn’t talk about him for a lot of episodes. But the lawsuit finally got wrapped up, and it got dismissed. But HBO ended up spending, I think he said like $200,000 on this lawsuit or something ridiculous like that. But HBO has that money to spend on it. But because they won this lawsuit, they kind of just went ham on it, on Bob Murray, as a way to say, “Fuck you again and eat shit again.”
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: And there’s this amazing turn in the show where John—kind of a spoiler alert—but John Oliver is like, you know what? Because of this lawsuit and how much it has cost HBO and our show, I can’t really say much more about Bob Murray. And there’s like everybody in the audience kinda gets sad. And then he turns around, and he says, “But I can sing about it.” And there’s like—
 
DAHLIA: Aaaah!
 
AMY: —a beautiful musical number that just talks amazing shit about Bob Murray. Because one of the loopholes is that you can say ridiculous things about somebody if it’s being presented in a ridiculous way that nobody could possibly believe is truth, and it wouldn’t be libel or slander, whichever one is the spoken one. And so, he goes on to do this amazing musical number that calls out this coal baron who’s horrible and is purposefully trying to silence people who are criticizing him and the effects of his industry and the work that he’s done. It is so amazing. And I think that this is this type of media and pop culture I love. And I’m just like, tap it into my veins [laughs] when the powerful get called out in absurd ways. So, I definitely recommend checking out this latest episode of Last Week Tonight and just watching it, watching the show in general, but this episode in particular.
 
DAHLIA: I’m gonna do that right now. That sounds so great.
 
AMY: You’ll love it. I know you’ll love it.
 
DAHLIA: Oh my god. I have a read pick that I devoured voraciously. It is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Carmen Maria Machado has a book of short stories called Her Body and Other Parties that was definitely a Backtalk pick!
 
AMY: Mmhmm.
 
DAHLIA: I’m sure I raved about it. And it’s also being turned into an anthology TV series, which I’m super curious about. But In the Dream House is her second book, and it is a memoir. And it’s very interesting in terms of its style. It’s comprised of a long series of short vignettes in different styles, so every chapter has a title like “Dream House As Time Travel,” “Dream House As Romance Novel.” And it’s sort of exploring these different genres and different styles. But the central topic is this relationship that she had with an abusive girlfriend. And at the same time, remarking upon the absence of and creating a place within an archive of stories about queer domestic abuse. And so, there’s a lot of really interesting research woven throughout the more straightforward sort of narrative, memoir narrative.
 
And I was reading a review of it in the New Yorker, and the review described sort of how you start reading the book, and first, there’s a dedication. Then there are three epigraphs. Then there’s an overture. Then there’s a prologue and another epigraph. And you know, that’s true. That’s how the book is. It’s just like a lot of short sections as you start reading. And the writer wrote, “Reading this material feels like waiting for a haunted carnival ride to start.”
 
AMY: Whoo!
 
DAHLIA: “You’re wondering, when does it begin? Then you realize it’s already begun.”
 
AMY: Ah! [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: And I was like, oh my god. That’s exactly what it felt like. And I really love that review and that sentence. So, I really loved it. I really read it in almost a day: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.
 
AMY: Oh, I can’t wait to read that. And yeah, I’m also certain that her collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a read pick.
 
DAHLIA: For sure.
 
AMY: Yeah. And that first story in that collection, ooh, it’s so good!
 
DAHLIA: Oh yeah.
 
AMY: It’s so sexy and haunting and just beautiful, just a gorgeous piece of writing. So, I guess an addendum to your read pick [laughing] is to read also her collection of short stories.
 
DAHLIA: Yes.
 
AMY: Yeah. That first story, aw, it’s just like stuck in my head. It’s so gorgeous. And I have the listen pick. So, my listen pick is actually in memory of Kim Shattuck. Kim Shattuck was the lead singer and guitarist for the band The Muffs. She passed away in October. I just remember Kim and The Muffs being a mainstay in the pop punk scene back in, I guess, the ’90s or early 2000s. And I was relistening to some of her music, The Muffs’ music, and I’m just, just so, I don’t know, saddened and heartbroken that there’s this lost in the world. Because The Muffs actually, I think they were just in the studio recording a new album. And the song I listened to is called “Sad Tomorrow,” and it’s just a peak The Muffs where her scratchy, rebellious voice is on there and just really perfect pop punk riffs. So, I just wanted to play “Sad Tomorrow” by The Muffs in memory of Kim Shattuck.
 
[“Sad Tomorrow” plays]
 
♪ “You’re the talk of the town/
So you say, “Oh oh”/
I don’t know why you’re so glad/
When my head’s filled with sorrow/
So, maybe if I fade away/
There’ll be no sad tomorrow….” ♪
 
AMY: Thanks for listening.
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.
 
♪ “My whole life is a drag/
Baby, listen to me/
When I go away, will you care?/
I feel naked and weird/
Do you see what I hear….” ♪
 
Thanks for listening to Backtalk! This show is produced by Cher Vincent. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.
by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar was a senior editor at Bitch Media, the co-host of the podcast Backtalk, and the host of the live show Feminist Snack Break. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.