Backtalk: Our Favorites of 2018

In this episode, Dahlia, Amy, and special guest Soleil share their pop culture faves that got them through this year, from Shirkers and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, to online hoaxes, sandwich outfits, and Queer Eye. We’ve celebrated the best of this year’s pop culture, and now we’re ready for you, 2019.

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[theme music]

Welcome to Backtalk. This is the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Balcazar, Senior Editor at Bitch Media.

AMY: I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.

DAHLIA: And today, for our end-of-year episode, we have a special guest.

SOLEIL: Hi! I’m Soleil Ho, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.

AMY: Yay! Welcome, Soleil!


AMY: We’re so excited!

DAHLIA: This is the Popaganda-Backtalk crossover. Sorry, I just talked over you.

SOLEIL: [chuckling] No, it’s okay. It’s kind of like Bitch Media Infinity War. I’m so excited.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

AMY: I hope our listeners also think about it that way. We’re gonna make special merch that are like little figurines of us being sold on Toys R Us. But actually, Toys R Us is shuttered. So, that’s a bad idea.

DAHLIA: Is that true? I didn’t know that.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

AMY: JK! There will not be special merch.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: I’m just very excited.

SOLEIL: But half of us will die at the end of this episode.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

AMY: But there’s three of us, so I guess one and a half of us will live.

ALL: [laugh]


[cutesy bells ring]

In the last episode of Backtalk, Amy and I were arguing about what the best holiday movie is. I was on Team When Harry Met Sally. Amy was on Team Home Alone. And I think this is maybe the first time this has ever happened in Amy versus Dahlia: you, the Backtalk audience, are completely tied. I checked twice today. Both times we were completely tied. So, I guess, Amy, they are both the best holiday movie? Although–



AMY: No, go ahead.

DAHLIA: Although, in our comments, which of course we love to read, several people were like false! Muppet Christmas Carol is the best holiday movie.

AMY and DAHLIA: [laugh]

AMY: And I’ve never seen it all the way through, so I feel kind of like a terrible cultural critic. But now I’m gonna seek it out and try to find it. But I did wanna call out some of the amazing comments people made when they were voting. And it was really surprising to me when people were really anti-Home Alone. There were a few people who said they didn’t like it ‘cause they didn’t like slapstick comedy. And I was like, whoa! There are a lot of slapstick haters, which I also respect a little bit. [laughs] But thanks so much for voting, everybody. We love the comments. You guys are so hilarious when you text in little side notes with your votes.

DAHLIA: It’s like the best part of our day is just getting little text messages from all of you.

AMY: And we don’t have a new Amy vs Dahlia this episode. We’re gonna let you rest peacefully for the rest of the year.

ALL: [laugh]

DAHLIA: Yeah, you don’t have to participate in our arguing for two weeks!

AMY: But we’ll have a fresh new argument in our next episode.

[cutesy bells ring]

DAHLIA: Since this is the last episode of Backtalk this year, I did wanna do just one last petty political p-minute. I don’t know if you all knew–I didn’t know–but not only is the War on Christmas ongoing, but actually Donald Trump won the War on Christmas this year. He’s been mentioning that he won the War on Christmas. He mentioned it in May and in July and in August. He’s just been saying it whenever he can. So, here’s Trump’s explanation.

[recorded clip of Trump at an event]

TRUMP: It’s awfully early to be thinking this, but I always think it: remember the attack on Merry Christmas? They’re not attacking it anymore. Everyone’s happy to say, “Merry Christmas,” right?

[crowd erupts in a raging cheer]

And that’s because only because of our campaign.

SOLEIL: Wow. So, what was the body count on the War on Christmas, the final count?

AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: Well, it took Rudolph the red-news reindeer, red-nosed reindeer. It took gingerbread people, gingerbread men. It’s been a lot of terrible battles fought in the War on Christmas.

SOLEIL: [chuckles] I mean, ugh, okay. That’s cool.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

SOLEIL: I mean I wanna see blood. This isn’t a real war. I wanna see people die. Otherwise it’s just all, just talk. It’s all fake.

DAHLIA: It’s all just fake news, Trump.

DAHLIA and SOLEIL: [chuckle]

SOLEIL: I mean you know, when people talk about the War on Christmas, I always imagine, I don’t know, like terrorism. Like Christmas sleds flying into Christmas trees. Is that too real? I’m sorry.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: I’m like, “Tell me more!” [laughs]

SOLEIL: What was the instigating factor, you know? Did someone pick up Santa Claus and hold him hostage?

DAHLIA: Oh. Oh! In fact I know the answer. So, officially, the War on Christmas began in 2005.

AMY: Wow.

DAHLIA: Completely, you know, it’s fabricated. But then-Fox News host John Gibson wrote a book called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Which is outrageous. I didn’t think anything; I didn’t even know it existed. What’s interesting is that the book specifically talks about public school administrators and government officials who are banning symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees because they think it violates the Constitution. And it was Bill O’Reilly who jumped on that idea and was like, “No no no. Let’s talk about political correctness instead. Let’s talk about how the liberals hate Christmas.” And in fact, the author of this book, The War on Christmas, said that he has been amazed by sort of the lifespan of his idea of the War on Christmas. But we can all, well, it’s good now ‘cause the war is over. Finally.

AMY: Well, maybe to answer Soleil’s question about the body count, maybe Bill O’Reilly got left behind in this War on Christmas bullshit because he’s no longer in the zeitgeist. And he kind of got disappeared a little, which I’m totally okay with.

DAHLIA: Yeah, totally well-deserved.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: And also, again, I am impressed by the reach of the military industrial complex, that it succeeded in this victory on the War on Christmas. Congratulations, guys.

DAHLIA: That’s nice. That’s good.

SOLEIL: Let’s clean up the budget, right? That money that we were sinking into the War on Christmas can go to universal basic income and healthcare and all that stuff now, right?

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: Let’s wait for that press conference from Trump to come.

ALL: [laugh] UGH! Okay, wait for Sarah Fuckabee Sanders to be like, “You guys. Great news. We can divert the budget now.”

DAHLIA: [laughs]

SOLEIL: [chuckles] Everyone gets Christmas presents. Oh my God. It makes so much sense now.

DAHLIA: It’s finally Christmas!

AMY: [chuckles]

[cutesy bells ring]

And in this last episode of 2018, we got together, and we wanted to talk about our favorite pop-culture picks. We wanna start off by talking about some of our favorite things that we saw and watched.

I can start off by talking about the documentary that I’m just so glad I got to see. It is Shirkers. It is on Netflix, and I talked about it as one of my watch picks in a couple episodes ago. I just can’t get over how amazing this documentary is and how it just put me in my feelings, my adolescent feelings, of like just being you know, a teenager who had dreams and aspirations of being somebody who’s creative and wanted to put my own art out there and to see it reflected in such a moving documentary that’s about reflecting on you know, gross and, I don’t know, unfounded potential that could’ve happened and what our world and our zeitgeist and our culture could’ve been if the original Shirkers would’ve been released like 25, 30 years ago. And so, I just wanted to shout out Sandi Tan for making such an incredible documentary and that we finally got to see some semblance of what the film was. And I cannot overstate: please please please go to Netflix and watch his documentary. I know that not everybody’s gonna feel the way that I felt about it because I have so many, so much attachments to who Sandi Tan was when she was 19 and how I would’ve felt if I would’ve seen this documentary when I was in my 18, 19, 20-year-old-ish-ness. But I just think that it’s just such an incredible piece of art. And also, Shirkers has been on a lot of Top 10 2018 film roundups that I’ve seen, not just documentary. She’s just like film full stops for this year. I just cannot say enough how much I love this documentary.

DAHLIA: I remember when you recommended it, Amy. And I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna watch that right now!” And then I went–I did–I went home, and I watched it. And yeah, Amy is not hyping it up. I mean you are hyping it up but totally appropriately.

AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: It is so gorgeous. And it’s just like it’s everything that you would want from a documentary and such an interesting story. It’s sad and beautiful. And I think the most amazing part is that in this documentary, you’re watching footage of what would’ve been this movie, Shirkers, and it’s so…it’s like watching a time capsule that you didn’t know you buried, you know? It’s like looking at the lives of these young women who are making this movie, who are active in this punk scene in Singapore. It’s just this incredible time capsule of a moment that for all of the people involved in making the film, this moment they thought was lost because they’d lost this footage for a decade or more. And it just seems like a beautiful gift to be sharing this time capsule with the rest of us. I loved it so much.

SOLEIL: Okay, Amy, so one question, ‘cause I haven’t seen it. Are there ghosts?

AMY: [laughs] Well, I guess there are metaphorical ghosts because the filmmaker is, in a way, haunted by the potential of what could’ve happened if this film would’ve been made.

SOLEIL: [laughs]

AMY: And I think that’s a real true thing. Like it did haunt her for a really long time. She talks about it in the documentary. And I think that in trailers for this documentary, they’re kind of trying to frame it within the #MeToo movement by saying you know, because the reason why the film wasn’t made for so long was because a man had had the film reels, and he’s the one that absconded with them and then kept it from them. But I think that this documentary’s way more than a comment about a man taking the dreams of this teenage girl. I think it just speaks a lot about like youth and art and what it means to see oneself reflected in that art. And I think to have unburied this ghost, yeah, and to see it onscreen now, it’s in a way, it’s powerful but in a different way. And I just, I just can’t get over it, honestly.

SOLEIL: Okay, I’ll watch it then.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: Good!

SOLEIL: As long as there’s no scary ghosts, I’m good.

AMY: No! There are no– [laughs] No, it’s not scary, yeah.

SOLEIL: [laughs]

DAHLIA: Although, I guess also there’s the ghosts, I mean kind of to be more metaphorical, Shirkers is sort of about maybe a teen serial killer who’s trying to gather up ghost friends, right?

AMY: Yeah, the original Shirkers.

DAHLIA: Oh, okay. [laughs]

AMY: Her experimental kind of film! But there are no ghosts! It’s not a scary movie.

DAHLIA: Okay. It’s not a scary movie.

SOLEIL: Great. Perfect. All right. Love it.

AMY: [laughs] Okay. That was my only screen pick, so whoever wants to go next.

SOLEIL: My screen pick was sort of this, okay, so it’s basically Queer Eye, which was rebooted this year. Which feels weird. I feel like it was rebooted last year, but it actually was this year on Netflix. And so, but specifically, it’s about Antoni Porowski, who is the culinary person of the Queer Eye guys or the Fab Five.

DAHLIA: [chuckles]

SOLEIL: And you know, I find him so fascinating because when the show came out, there was so much debate online and on Twitter and whatever about whether or not he could cook. Because he was like the the food guy, but the things that he demonstrated as far as dishes for their subjects to cook were really basic. And so, there’s this really interesting tension between of course his desire, I think, to present comfortable foods to these people who are very working class whatever etc., etc. and the demands of people who are in the media who are just like, “Why aren’t you showing them how to make like beef wellington and fancy stuff and showing them how to drink really good wine?” You know, it’s very different from Ted Allen, who was the previous–Was it Ted Allen? Yeah–the previous food guy. And there was a lot of accusation flying around that Antoni just got the position ‘cause he’s cute, which might be true. He’s like the cute straight-acting one, you know. [laughs] But I thought it was so fascinating, just the interactions between him and the other characters on the show because the other ones were just like, I don’t know, all about improving the person’s lives and giving them a whole new wardrobe and helping them understand color and how that works with them and how to do their hair and shave and exist in a clean body. And Antoni was like, “Here’s a guacamole.” [laughs] That was just so funny to me.

So, yeah, I mean I chose that because it was just one of the most revealing things, I think, as far as the Twitter media conversation about shows and pop culture, just how people with different values and thoughts about food clashed with each other and clashed with the message of the show. And of course, Queer Eye in general, it has a ton of problems, but the majority of episodes make me cry.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: Yes, same. You know, I had really not thought about how weird it was that we–myself included–was so hard on the Antoni about him and the way he taught people how to cook because I am the laziest cook ever.

SOLEIL: [chuckles]

AMY: And if I were one of the Fab Five, I would be teaching the things Antoni would be teaching! And I actually think that the way I cook is very sustainable, and it’s nourishing. I get what I need out of it.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: I’m not trying to be fancy. If I wanted that fancy shit, I would just go out and make somebody else, pay somebody else to cook that for me. But it’s true though, because I think it’s like, I don’t think we often think about how unrealistic it is to have some guy show up at your house and be like, “Oh, this is how you filet a fucking fish.”

DAHLIA: Right.

AMY: Or, “how you flash boil some vegetables” for whatever the fuck. Like, I don’t care.

SOLEIL: [laughs]

AMY: If I hadn’t been cooking up to this point, even if you teach me how to cook this way, I’m not going to cook that way. So, I hadn’t thought about how actually, Antoni’s really non-cooking style is more productive than I think it might be if like fucking you know, Chris Kimball showed up or whatever into my kitchen and tried to teach me what to do.

SOLEIL: Yeah. Also, Chris Kimball’s a creep.

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: So, first of all, he can just stay away. I hope he stays out of your kitchen. But the thing that is interesting is that Antoni’s approach is very incremental as opposed to like, let’s shave off your beard or let’s buy you a whole new wardrobe or whatever or you know, you should go to therapy, and let’s box it out. But his is just like, “You know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Here’s how you add a slightly fancier cheese to the grilled cheese sandwich to impress your friends,” you know, that kind of thing. That makes sense.

AMY: It’s so much more attainable and accessible. And I think that we all understood that, but we still wanted to make fun of it.

AMY and DAHLIA: [laugh]

SOLEIL: Yeah. Well, he’s really easy to make fun of also.

AMY: Yeah! He is really adorable and isn’t super flashy about it, and he is easy to make fun of.

SOLEIL: Well, he says these things during the show that just make me wanna scream where he’s like, when they’re in the car, right? They talk about being bullied when they were kids for being queer. And he’s like, “Well, I’ve never been bullied.” And just like okay! Good for you!

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: God! Eat shit.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

Or you know, he’s just so, he’s so the sheltered liberal boy who’s like, “I don’t understand why people just can’t accept people who are different.” And like, okay.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

AMY: So, Dahlia, what are your screen picks for 2018?

DAHLIA: Okay, well, I’m really sorry Soleil, but I have to recommend something scary with ghosts.

SOLEIL: Oh no!

DAHLIA: Cover your eyes and your ears.

SOLEIL: Oh no!

DAHLIA: [laughs] This year, I was so excited and so obsessed with the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.


AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: I won’t say anything too scary about it.

SOLEIL: Well, I’m already scared. Aaah!

DAHLIA: [laughs] So, what I loved so much about it is that The Haunting of Hill House has been made into a few movies. I have such strong memories of seeing the one from the ’90s with Catherine Zeta-Jones in it. Like maybe I’m the only one, but [laughs] what I really liked about this interpretation is that I’m a huge, huge Shirley Jackson fan. She’s the author of the novel The Haunting of Hill House. But the novel is about adults, and it’s about three adults who come to a haunted house, and they’re trying to see are ghosts real. But instead of sort of being a literal adaptation of the novel, the TV show sort of, it seems as if they sort of go into the margins of the story and sort of fill it out in these really interesting ways. Which is that the characters who are adults in the novel in our usual understanding of The Haunting of Hill House are children in the television series. And the things that happen to the characters, most of the things that happen to the characters in the book, also happen, but they happen to these characters as children.

And so, I think it really smartly sort of– I mean I think I said this when we’re talking, maybe we talked about this on Backtalk. I mean if you have, everyone has a tough childhood, but when you’re being bullied by ghosts, it’s especially traumatic. And I think you know… I just was so impressed by the way that the show sort of made ghosts a childhood trauma and made it sort of understandable and made it as part of the character development for these people who then you see these characters as children and as adults in the series itself. And I just thought that was so smart, and I really enjoy how shows like The Haunting of Hill House or The Handmaid’s Tale, how they are sort of exploring past the boundaries of the original source material. And I love everything creepy and scary and Shirley Jackson, so I was just…ah, I just loved it. Sorry, Soleil. [laughs]

SOLEIL: Oh, it’s okay. So, I watched the first episode at Amy’s house when I was visiting.

DAHLIA: [laughs] I think I knew that!

SOLEIL: Yeah. And I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. I was so scared.

AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: It is scary, yeah, yeah.

AMY: It was actually–okay. So, Soleil is very scared of scary things, which I completely understand. But I kind of love scary things, but I can’t help but remember how scared Soleil was at this one scene where–

SOLEIL: Oh no! [laughs]

AMY: –it’s a closeup of the door knob turning, and Soleil lost her shit at this door knob turning slowly. And I was like, wow, okay. Soleil is not handling this.

DAHLIA and AMY: [laugh]

AMY: That is how I knew. It wasn’t even like a scary, scary thing. It was a closeup of a door knob slowly turning!

DAHLIA: But Amy, someone is on the other side of the door!

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: It’s so scary. It’s a ghost!

DAHLIA: But wait. I think that if you watch enough horror scary shit, you know that like for me, it isn’t that the door knob was the scary part like you’re saying. It’s what’s on the other side. So just seeing what comes through the door is the scary part, but I was really cracking up at how it was literally a closeup of the door knob. And Soleil was like, “I CAN’T!”

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: I would say, “Okay, we’ll just watch Tara’s House for five hours now so we can wash this out of your brain.”

AMY and DAHLIA: [laugh]

SOLEIL: Yeah. No. I still went to bed with the light on, though.

AMY: I know. I remember! [laughs]

SOLEIL: Oh my god. That was intense. And I know that, I know that the story is about more than ghosts, and it’s about trauma and you know, families and all of that stuff. But ugh… I can’t.

AMY and DAHLIA: [laugh]

SOLEIL: I can’t go through there.

DAHLIA: I really appreciate people who know their boundaries the way you do, you know. You can’t do it, and that’s okay.

SOLEIL: [laughs] I did, I mean I did sit through Hereditary.

DAHLIA: Oh! That’s very scary.

AMY: Wow!

SOLEIL: That’s a super scary movie.

DAHLIA: Amy and I saw that together, right?

SOLEIL: Oh, did you?

AMY: Yeah, we did. Yes. I actually thought it was gonna be one of your screen picks, Dahlia.

DAHLIA: Oh, it should’ve been. I forgot.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: So, wait. Do you have another screen pick?

DAHLIA: I have one more screen pick, yes. Not another scary one. I just watch this show all the time. It’s like one of the shows that’s just so pleasant that I just have it on to make me feel happy. And that’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is from Amy Sherman-Palladino, who is the creator of Gilmore Girls, and it stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam Maisel. My second favorite actor on the show is Tony Shalhoub who plays her father, Abe. And then also Alex Borstein is incredible as Susie. So, the show is about a woman who finds out she’s getting divorced. Her husband leaves her, and then drunkenly, she goes to a stand-up club and ends up performing stand-up and decides to make a career for herself in standup. And everything about it: I just love it.

I really appreciate shows where you can really see that actors are acting and they’re trying and they know their lines. And one thing I love about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is there are so many continuous shots, really long continuous shots, that have people coming in and out of rooms and interjecting and arguing. And I especially love that in the scenes with Miriam and her parents. And another thing that I love about this show, and I think part of what makes it feel like so familiar and homey for me, is something that I’ve been calling the “Jewish normativity” of it, which is that every character in the show is Jewish, I think. And that’s just default established that you’re in this world where people are celebrating Jewish holidays and are eating Jewish foods and are making jokes in Yiddish. And it’s just such a delight. And the second season just came out. I think I like the first season better. But it’s, I… I’m just verklempt. I cannot say anything other than it’s just so delightful and funny.

SOLEIL: It’s a period show, isn’t it?

DAHLIA: Yes, it is set in, I think, 1959.

SOLEIL: Aw, okay. So, it’s got a really good hair.

DAHLIA: Oh! It has amazing costumes too, amazing costumes and hair.

AMY: Yeah, I watched a few episodes of it, and I do really, really love the art direction and the costume design. It’s gorgeous. It’s so lush and beautiful to look at. Kind of like I recently just finally watched Carol.

DAHLIA: Oh yeah.

AMY: Yeah, that though also is really lush and beautiful. You know, often I think about how if only that period wasn’t so mired in systemic, like very serious, terrible systemic oppression of so many different people, I mean not unlike what we’re experiencing today, but it was also very, it’s just a beautiful time period in terms of clothing and art design, which is so bad.

AMY and DAHLIA: [chuckle]

AMY: Okay! Which segues into our read picks! [laughs] It actually does not segue into our read picks. I apologize.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: But I want to share one of my favorite books that did not actually technically come out in 2018, but I read it this year. And it is a collection of poetry by the poet Ross Gay. It is called Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, and he does have a new book coming out in 2019, in February 2019. It’s called The Book of Delights. I’m really looking forward to it. But the 2016 collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude was just so fucking moving. I really was just floored when I read it. And it’s a collection that I just sat in my house in the living room, and I read each poem out loud to myself like I was doing a reading. And by the end of each poem, I would be like sobbing. I just think that Ross Gay has just such a way with setting tone and mood with these small vignettes said he draws with his words where in one moment, you’re in this fanciful street corner eating plums plucked off of a neighborhood tree. And then in the next moment, your taken to the back alley where you see a woman living in poverty. And it’s just, I don’t know. I think he just has this intense sensitivity toward who we are as people and how we can feel things all at the same time. And it’s just such a gorgeous piece of work. It was a National Book Award finalist.

And I just, I think it’s also a really good entry point for people who don’t read that much poetry. I am still one of those people, and I think it’s just I’m converted when I read his work. It’s just so gorgeous. And if you do read Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, I really do suggest you sit in a room and read each poem out loud once, twice, three times and be moved by your own voice reading his words. It’s so beautiful, so gorgeous, and also very accessible. And ‘cause there’s also poetry that I just don’t fucking get, and I think like [laughs], I think it’s supposed to be really good because of the form it’s taking, and there are a lot of rules to poetry that I’m unfamiliar with. But I think Ross Gay’s work is just so gorgeous and just taps into something that we can all identify with. And I just can’t get over how wonderful this collection was.

SOLEIL: Do you know any lines from it off the top of your head?

AMY: NOOO, Soleil! What is this, a quiz show?

DAHLIA: [laughs]

SOLEIL: Well, I wanna hear it. I wanna hear you…maybe I just wanna hear you sob on air.

AMY: [laughs] I don’t have it in front of me, but get it from your local library if you don’t wanna buy. You know what I’m saying? But I actually met him this year ‘cause he did a reading at my school, and I went up to him with my book to get signed. And I was like, “Yo. I read your book, and I cried at every single poem.” And he was just like, “That’s wonderful!” [laughs]


AMY: Yeah. I mean that’s the other thing about Ross Gay is that he’s just a delightful human being who just seems very open and not pretentious and just wants people to read poetry because he understands what it can do for people. And I just can’t get over how gorgeous his book is.

SOLEIL: Mm. Cool.

AMY: Yes, and I’m sorry I don’t have any lines off the top of my head. [laughs]

SOLEIL: That’s okay. Could you imagine, though, an audio book where the reader just weeps at the end of every….you know?

AMY: [laughs] I wanna pitch that now.

DAHLIA: Yeah! There’s something there, I think.

SOLEIL: Or just a podcast that’s just like 30 Minutes of Tears. Ooh.

DAHLIA: Sad Poems with Amy Lam.

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: Yeah! I would totally listen to that.

DAHLIA: I would too.

AMY: Well, that’s gonna get in the way of the podcast that Soleil and I wanna do some time in the future where she reads blind items to me about celebrities, and I guess who the celebrity is.

AMY and SOLEIL: [laugh]

DAHLIA: But how will you know if you’re correct?

AMY: Some of them are kind of obvious.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: And it’s just a fun thing ‘cause then it’s kind of like a weird game, and I was really into it when Soleil was reading blind items to me when she was visiting.

SOLEIL: Yeah, it’s like riddles.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: Celebrity riddles. Page Six Riddles.

ALL: [chuckle]

AMY: Dahlia, did you have a read pick?

DAHLIA: I have been obsessed with this book all year. Actually, it has the word “obsession” in the title, so very appropriate. It’s Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin. I’ve just been so inspired by this work because it’s so much the kind of work that I aspire to do, which is, it’s a collection of essays that sort of follow the cultural trope of the murdered woman in American stories, in true-crime podcasts, in Twin Peaks, in Veronica Mars, just like from different kind of media to different kind of media just following how American culture is consistently fascinated with the idea of a dead pretty young girl. And it’s an idea that I guess I’ve been thinking about a lot in the back of my head just because I grew up watching all of this stuff, watching Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars and growing up around the time of Jon Benet Ramsey and all of that. And it’s like this book really made the idea coalesce in my head and really be able to see this cultural obsession, not just throughout the media experiences I’ve had in my life, but also going back to noir films, going back to just like our cultural myths and how the beautiful dead girl has become an undying–no pun intended–American cultural myth. I was just so taken by this collection and just really inspired by the really smart thinking that went into it.

SOLEIL: Oh, cool. So like, Twin Peaks, right? That’s the first example that jumps into my head.


SOLEIL: Oh. That’s a really good dead girl though, ‘cause she comes back.

AMY: Well, excuse me! Spoiler alert!

DAHLIA: [laughs]

SOLEIL: Oh shit!

ALL: [laugh]

SOLEIL: Does she, question mark. There you go.

DAHLIA: Yeah, yeah. You don’t know. It’s in the Showtime series 20 years later. Who knows? It could be a dream. It’s all a dream.

AMY and SOLEIL: [laugh]

AMY: Oh my god!

AMY: That book does sound super fascinating ‘cause I am also really into true crime stuff. And yeah, I’m into all true crime stuff, so it’s not just when the murder happens to a young pretty dead girl. But I think they’re, like you’re saying, in the cultural zeitgeist, there is a very particular interest when the victim is a young woman. And then there’s just so much interest in around the story of her life and the story of how this could’ve happened to her. Like a why her thing and to understand more deeply what it says about us as a culture. That sounds fascinating.

DAHLIA: And just it’s consistent, you know? It’s like I can think of just so many examples of this in real life and in our fiction, that just American culture is just obsessed with, like you’re saying, the whodunit and what happened to this poor dead girl?

SOLEIL: Yeah, and it’s really easy to invest in a dead, pretty girl, for sure.

DAHLIA: Mmhmm.

SOLEIL: I mean I wonder about that. Like if… I don’t know. I do like monster mysteries too, though, where like there’s a dead monster washed up on the beach.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

SOLEIL: I feel like we’d get just as invested in those too. I forget what they called it, but there’s a thing in New Jersey on the Jersey Shore that washed up, and I think it turned out to be like a dead raccoon. But everybody was enthralled with it for–

DAHLIA: I totally know what you’re talking about because it looked like a freaky monster.

SOLEIL: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]

DAHLIA: And it turned out it was just a raccoon.

SOLEIL: [laughs] Maybe that’s the truth about all dead girls, you know? Like maybe they’re just raccoons.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: Speaking of which, we can now transition to the miscellanea that we loved in 2018. And Soleil’s got a couple of really great ones.

SOLEIL: Yeah! Sorry. I didn’t realize they had to fit a theme.

AMY: No, they didn’t.

DAHLIA: No no no.


AMY: So, we’re really excited, yeah.

SOLEIL: So, my first miscellaneous one is the dress or the cultural outfit worn by Miss Vietnam.

AMY: Oh god, yes! [laughs]

SOLEIL: During the, I guess, yeah, the what is it? I don’t know.

AMY: Miss Universe.

SOLEIL: The Miss Universe thing. And she dressed up as a…. I actually don’t know if it’s right to say that she dressed up as a bánh mì vendor because it’s not. ‘Cause her skirt is like a giant tutu made of sandwiches. And she’s got these two huge baskets, and in the background it’s just got this hat. But they’re all like fully-dressed Vietnamese sandwiches with meat and herbs–but like they’re fake–inside of them. And it was amazing. It’s just amazing. I’ve never seen a pageant queen dress up in food, especially Vietnamese sandwiches, like bánh mì. That was so funny. And she rocked it also.

DAHLIA: I’m looking at it right now, yeah.

AMY: Yeah, she just looks so confident. She’s just like, come and get it, bitch. She’s just like unapologetically Vietnamese. You know I mean? And the thing about these sandwiches is that they’re not like a super fancy, elevated Vietnamese cuisine types of food. It’s like this the type of food that people eat every daily, working Vietnamese people. And the vending of it isn’t like a glamorous thing either. And it was just so amazing to see her wear that and not as a joke, you know? I mean I think like a kitschiness to it that was just so adorable. But I think that for a lot of, especially Vietnamese-American folks that I saw talk about it, it was a celebrated thing, not like a, “Oh my god, what is she doing?” It’s like, “Oh my god!!! What is she doing?!”


AMY: And in a way that I think made a lot of us proud to see somebody like us up there and be like, “Yes! We fuck with those fucking baguettes!”

DAHLIA and SOLEIL: [laugh]

SOLEIL: Yeah, and it’s like rhinestones all over it. It’s just amazing. I think it’s because it’s, like you’re saying, it’s a humble food, but it’s elevated but in this way, not the typical way we say elevated where they put pork belly in it and charge you $13. But it’s elevated sartorially. And that’s really cool.

AMY: And you had another miscellaneous pop culture pick. What was that?

SOLEIL: Yeah. Okay. So, this is the hoax. This is my favorite hoax of the year, and it is Justin Bieber eating a burrito….

DAHLIA: Oh, yes.

AMY: [laughs]

But sideways. And you know, so, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, listeners, but there was a photo that went viral earlier this year that showed, apparently, Justin Bieber on a park bench eating a burrito, but sideways. Like eating it like, I don’t know, taking a big bite right out of the middle rather than eating it from the end. And he’s dressed in a sweater and sunglasses and a beanie, and it went viral. And it turned out–and it made people really angry too-it turned out it was a hoax. It was these YouTubers who found a guy who was a Bieber lookalike and set him up on a park bench for a photo shoot in L.A. and took photos and set it all up. And it was like this really interesting commentary on the nature of virality, and it was their experiment to see what behavior or what concept would go viral if they did that. And it worked. It was really interesting.

AMY: Yeah, it was cool. I mean I saw the video of them, like the behind the scenes of them creating the hoax. And I think it was just like it kinda pulled the curtain back to show how easy it is to spread fake news. I mean this is kind of inconsequential fake news even though people got riled up ‘cause he’s eating this burrito sideways. But it was just like, wow, they literally did it within a day. I mean the planning of hiring this guy, flying him out–I think from, I think maybe he was also Canadian–flying him out, dressing him up, finding the right wig to put on him, the right types of clothes. And then having a good backstory behind why this random person was able to shoot this picture of him eating this burrito on this park bench.

And it really just goes to show how easy it is just to spread things that aren’t true, but it was interesting to see how it went viral so quickly. I remember I saw that picture before I knew it was a hoax and thinking like, that picture’s a setup. Not that I thought Justin Bieber was fake, but that I thought Justin Bieber was in on the joke, like maybe he was like, “Let me like mug it up and eat this burrito sideways,” you know, “and then let the paparazzis take a picture of me.” But I think it just says a lot not just about what we get angry at, like why were so many people were appalled that he was eating a burrito sideways and felt the need to tell everybody about it? But that how quickly this crew of YouTubers were able to trick so many people into believing it was him by creating some random backstory about a photographer being at a park in L.A., and he just happened to see Justin Bieber alone eating a burrito. And everybody believed him.

SOLEIL: Right.

AMY: Yeah. It’s like there’s so many layers of things that it says about us as a culture when it comes to this one kind of innocuous hoax, but I think it could be a study about us.

SOLEIL: Mmhmm. Yeah, I mean the thing about food too on the internet is so interesting where if you take a well-known food like a burrito or a guacamole or whatever, and you just fuck with it slightly, it’ll go viral. Like if you put peas in your guacamole, right? Or quinoa in your phở, or like things like that. People just go nuts. I love it.

AMY: [laughs] Maybe it’s because it’s kind of like a safe thing to have an opinion on, you know, because there are so many things that are maybe too fresh or feels like it could easily feel like a wound that you don’t wanna talk about. But food is something that we can all have feelings about and not hurt another person as much about it if we have an opinion on how to eat a burrito. But yeah, it was just, it was a fascinating thing to watch unfold, for sure.

SOLEIL: Yeah. It’s like the pineapple pizza sort of meme discussion or even like pumpkin spice, which you know, you should listen to the Pumpkin Spice episode of Popaganda if you wanna hear more! [chuckles] And those sorts of conversations are so common now on Twitter and Instagram and all of those other platforms, like you said, because it’s really accessible. But I would also argue that it’s an entree into these bigger conversations. Even if we’re not all ready to have bigger conversations about globalism and culture and whatever, it’s a way to start. And I think we all want to have these conversations, but we just don’t wanna confront each other as much as people think, you know, internet people I mean.

AMY: Yeah, so instead, were just like, “Oh my god! This is not how you eat a burrito!” [laughs]

SOLEIL: Right. Yeah yeah yeah yeah. [laughs] I know the Mexican internet really came out for that.

AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: I have to say I didn’t know until just now that that was a hoax.

ALL: [laugh]

DAHLIA: I definitely saw the photo, and I definitely, just like you, Amy, I was like, no! He has to know he’s being photographed. ‘Cause it looks like such a staged paparazzi kind of photo. And damn. I did not– I got duped. I got fake news-ed.

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: Wow! How does it feel?

DAHLIA: Ugh. I don’t know. I’m still reeling.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: Well, we’ll send you the link to the video where the guys show how it was done.


AMY: And they actually put a lot of effort into it.

DAHLIA: Yeah! I thought, everyone thought it was him, you know! No questions. Every website was running it.

AMY: Yeah, it was kind of incredible to see that being exposed. Which kinda leads me to my last pop culture pick, and he is somebody that’s also on YouTube, much like the hoaxers that did the Justin Bieber burrito thing. His name is Bretman Rock. He has a YouTube channel, and that’s how I think he got to be super well-known. And people call him a makeup guru. So, here’s the thing about me, which I actually don’t talk about very much on Backtalk, but I love watching makeup guru shit on YouTube. And there is a lot of makeup guru shit. There’s a whole industry of makeup guru shit happening on YouTube. There is like the makeup gurus. There are channels that are devoted to talking about the tea about makeup gurus, like the drama about makeup gurus. There are makeup guru crossovers. There’s a whole economy around skincare and cosmetics and the personalities behind them on YouTube.

And I think there’s one person who I think is like the most unproblematic fave in that world, and his name is Bretman Rock. He is a Filipino Hawaiian. He’s Filipino who lives in Hawaii, and he just like kind of grew up on YouTube doing some stuff. Like he’s had some tutorials and stuff, and he had a couple of collabs this year with ColourPop and was with Morphe where he put out some amazing eyeshadows and lip kits and things. But I watch him because he’s just so fucking funny. And him and his sister, Princess Mae, are hilarious. And the thing about him is that I just feel like living, being alive, [chuckles] is just kind of really hard a lot of times, and when I watch his channel or when I watch his stories on Instagram or when I see anything he posts, I’m just always momentarily taken out of how fucking hard it is sometimes to just like wake up and put on clothes and brush my teeth.

DAHLIA: [chuckles]

AMY: [chuckles] And you know, I think he’s just like he’s carefree in a way that I just, I admire. But yet he’s also real about shit, you know. But he’s not mired in it. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just know that when I watch his shit, it’s just like it’s just so refreshing. And he’s also kind of like a rags-to-riches type of story, where he grew up in a really working-class household with an immigrant single mom living in Hawaii. And he’s been able to build something out of his own personality because he’s so fucking funny, and he’s so interesting. And he’s made something out of nothing, essentially, because people like him for who he is, and people watch his videos for that.

And also, in the world of makeup gurus on YouTube, he’s actually not the most famous. There are other people–other white folks in particular–who are way more famous than him. But I’m like this guy, he’s doing amazing work. And also he’s there for the queer Asian representation too. And so, him and his sister, and they’re just like two young people who I just feel like are just fun and funny, and they’re like a bright spot. And I’m just always excited when they post new shit. And I just don’t know how else to express that. I appreciate them for doing this ‘cause also the shit they put up is free. You know what I mean? I don’t have to pay anything to watch it too, and I’m just like, they get paid because I give them a view or two or three. And I’m just glad that there are channels like this that exists in these hard times.

SOLEIL: [chuckles] So, okay. One question I have about YouTube videos, though–

AMY: [laughs]

SOLEIL: –is like how authentic do you think this person is? You know, like how much of an affect? You know what I mean? Like because I always wonder about the performativity of these people on YouTube and just like the character they get into.

AMY: I think that’s another reason why I fuck with Bretman Rock: it’s because I know that there is a lot of performativity, especially for these these makeup people. ‘Cause I think they’re held to these specific standards. That’s why there are drama channels that track drama between all these fucking makeup YouTubers. But I think because we literally saw him grow up from like a high school student, and he’s unchanged in that like he will always be that bitch.

ALL: [laugh]

AMY: And he will tell you he’ll always be that bitch. And I know that there are parts of him that, of course, we don’t see. But I think that the reason why people like him so much is because he has this authenticity about who he is and what he came from. And he puts on a show. Yeah, he’s performing for us because we come to watch him and his sister be rude to each other or tell things about their families and stuff. But I think that there’s still this sheen of authenticity to him that, as a viewer, I think is still there if that makes any sense.

SOLEIL: Yeah. Yeah, that does. It’s interesting as someone who makes podcasts, right, thinking about how authenticity is a selling point. But also, once you start thinking about it, it stops being as authentic. It’s kind of like noticing your nose. You know what I mean?

AMY: [laughs] Yes. Yeah, but I think that sometimes I watch these people, and I’m like, oh, you’ve really curated your life. You know what I’m saying? And I know that there’s an extent to which, like for him in particular, I’m like, is your life curated, or have you just started making money? You know what I mean? I think there’s two different ways of thinking about how what you’re showing us about who you are. And I think that sometimes he flexes, but I’m like I think you’re flexing because you want to show your audience that you’ve worked really hard for something, and now you’ve earned it. And I think that’s why I still think that there’s an authenticity to him that I just really love and adore.

And he’s still like, I think, 19 or something. He’s not even 21 yet. But I think he’s just done such great work, and I think he is a voice in this community that we haven’t seen before in this very niche place, and I just really love it. And his name is Bretman Rock, and I think if you wanna get into the world of random YouTubers, he’s like a place to start.


[cutesy bells ring]

AMY: All right! And we will wrap up our yearend episode with our music pick. And we decided that we really, really, really love Cardi B’s Money. On this day that we’re recording it, the music video for it dropped, and it is beautiful, it is lush, it is gorgeous, and it is like so fucking sexy in all the right ways. And I actually was telling Dahlia that for the Money video, I wanna see a reader for it so I know and understand all the references in this video. And one of the reasons why I love this song so much when it came out earlier this year is because it’s really about Cardi B saying like, I really love a lot of stuff, but I really love getting paid the most. And I know that that’s a really capitalistic thing to say, but I’m also thinking that when she says, “getting paid,” it could be insert whatever it is that you really desire. [laughs] Like in the chorus she says, “I was born to flex. Diamonds on my neck/ I like boardin’ jets/ I Iike mornin’ sex/ But nothing in this world that I like more than checks.” I fuck with that. But I also fuck with saying you know, there’s something more in the world that I like more than a good bowl of conscience.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: You know what I’m saying? So, insert whatever it is that you really love. But yeah, there are moments that I’m like, I wanna fucking get paid for real. But also, there are moments where I’m like, I really just want to be with my partner. You know what I mean?

DAHLIA: [laughs]


AMY: I think it’s just like a one size fit all song for what you need–

DAHLIA: The thing you love.

AMY: Yes, for the thing that you love. And that’s why I love this song so much.

DAHLIA: Yes. Well, I texted–I actually called and texted–people when the music video came out today, and I made us have a little viewing party here at work. And then I watched it like three more times. Every year, I write this list of what–like this is kind of the inspiration for this episode is like–I actually write down what musicians or what artists got me through this year. And yes, Cardi, I think, is gonna be on my list this year and every year moving forward. I love this song and her album so much.

Something that I’ve especially loved about Cardi is that her, well, I can’t say her biggest hit ‘cause every song is her biggest hit–but when “I Like It” came out last summer, I remember reading this interview where she was like, “Oh, I didn’t know if people were gonna like listening to music in Spanish. But then I was like, No! I’m just gonna do it! Let’s make them listen to music in Spanish.” And it’s just like, I know it’s like so meaningful to so many people who haven’t heard songs that they like in the mainstream or people that look like them in the mainstream. And god, I just have to say that like rap and– Oh, I was gonna say something really controversial. I was just gonna say I think rap in Spanish is better than rap in English. I’m just gonna… in my opinion but– [laughs]

AMY: Dahlia, It’s okay. You can have those opinions.

DAHLIA: For a second, I was like, oh my god! That’s the most controversial thing I’ve ever said!

AMY and DAHLIA: [laugh]

DAHLIA: I just, you know, rap in Spanish. Speaking and flexing: if you can rap in Spanish, I think it’s quite impressive because Spanish is so much faster than English. So, if you can rap along with Cardi in Spanish, I think that is you flexing. So, this is Money by B.

AMY: Thanks for listening!

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening!

SOLEIL: Thank you.

[Money by Cardi B plays]

♪ “Bitch, I will pop on your pops (Your pops)/
Bitch, I will pop on whoever (Brrr)/
You know who popped the most shit? (Who?)/
The people whose shit not together (Okay)/
You’da bet Cardi a freak (Freak)/
All my pajamas is leather (Uh)/
Bitch, I will black on your ass (Yeah)/
Wakanda forever….” ♪

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This episode was produced by Alex Ward. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to and donate.

♪ “I like my niggas dark like D’USSÉ/
You gonna eat this ass like soup (Ayy)/
I was born to flex, diamonds on my neck/
I like boardin’ jets, I like mornin’ sex/
But nothing in this world that I like more than Kulture….” ♪

by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam was a contributing editor and co-host of Backtalk at Bitch Media. Find her at & Twitter / Instagram.