Backtalk: Nat Geo’s Racism & Spring Break

This week, Dahlia and Amy talk about how the National Geographic is finally coming to terms with its racism and how we think about spring break in pop culture. Finally, in its 130th year, National Geographic is beginning to acknowledge its history of perpetuating colonialism through racist editorial decisions. Like, duh. The impact that the magazine has had on how folks view many parts of the world can’t be understated. The same can be said about pop culture references to spring break and popular destinations that are seen as party towns without thinking about how these cities are homes to entire communities. And of course, we’ve got a new Amy vs. Dahlia—and this is a spicy one.



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TRANSCRIPT

DAHLIA: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by our Bitch Reads partnership with Powell’s Books. Two books I am super excited to pick up are The Red Word by Sarah Henstra and Girls Burn Brighter BY Shobha Rao. I try to read every book with “girls” in the title. 

AMY: Yes! I’m really interested in Stealing The Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television by Joy Press Because I love TV, and I love reading about women in TV. 

DAHLIA: Pick up your next Bitch read at Powells.com. 

[theme music] 

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

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

DAHLIA: We start every episode of Backtalk by talking about our pop culture moment. What’s yours, Amy? 

AMY: Well, my pop culture moment is a tweet. So, this is something I’ll link to in our post at bitchmedia.org. It is a tweet from a sportscaster and journalist who’s reporting on college basketball at the moment. Her name is Kim Adams, and her Twitter handle is @Kim_Adams1. So, she tweeted this thing where it looks like there’s a shootaround before a match. And so, she’s dressed in her professional clothing, which is like the pencil skirt, and she’s wearing heels. And she kind of shuttles onto the court really quick, and she shoots this three-pointer that swishes right in! And then you hear somebody from far away yelling at her to get off the court, ostensibly because she’s wearing heels, and I guess you’re not supposed to be on the court if you’re wearing heels. But it’s just such a magical thing to watch: a woman trot up to the three-point line and just—with beautiful form—shoot this basketball into the basket. And watching that just makes me think of like, you know when you’re a little kid, and one of the ways in which you tease other people, you might say like, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” 

DAHLIA: Mm. 

AMY: I was thinking for her ,anything you could do, she can do better in heels. Why shouldn’t she also go on the court and show off her skills as well? So, check it out. It’ll be on our post at bitchmedia.org. 

DAHLIA: My pop culture moment is a follow-up to a previous pop culture moment. A few months ago, I was really excited about the new season of Top Chef, and that season has ended, and I am not excited anymore. Here why. Many, many years ago in my learning about reality TV, I learned about the winner edit and the loser edit. Which is basically like— Now that I’m savvy about it, I feel like if you pay attention to how they’re editing and what footage shows are pulling, especially in competition shows, right, you can sort of tell when someone’s getting the winner edit, which is when there’s lots of clips of them being like, “Oh my god! This would change my life if I won.” I just think that as you watch more and more reality TV, especially competitions, which Amy and I do constantly, I think you sort of get a sense of when someone’s getting a winner edit or a loser edit. 

You might recall that I was really excited about Top Chef because I’ve watched every season since the beginning, and this season Tom Colicchio, who’s one of the judges, was like, “We have the most diverse group of chefs ever competing this season.” And Tom Colicchio published a piece about how it’s important for chefs and restauranteurs to create ladders so that women chefs have more opportunities in the workplace. And during the finale episode of Top Chef, everyone was wearing little Planned Parenthood pins, and I was like, all right! I’m feeling really good about this. And the final finalists was a white man named Joe Flamm and a Black woman named Adrienne Cheatham. And I really felt like Adrienne was getting the winners edit because they were having clips of her saying like, “What if I was the first Black woman Top Chef? That would be life-changing. I’m so excited.” 

And in the finale, they were judging Adrienne’s food, and one of the judges said like, “This plate is the best plate I was served all season from anyone.” And I was like, yes! Adrienne’s gonna win. Adrienne’s gonna be the first Black woman Top Chef. Wah wah. That’s not what happened. They pick Joe Flamm, the white guy who cooks Italian food. 

AMY: UGH! 

DAHLIA: And that’s not to say that his food’s not good, but really?! After all of that set up of her getting to say like, “I could be the first Black woman Top Chef,” which is a huge deal, not just talking about Top Chef the show, but just women and people of color in the restaurant industry, it’s a big deal. But then wah wah: white guy named Joe. 

In fact, there were two white guys named Joe who were in the final four of Top Chef, and they picked this one instead of the Black woman. It just pissed me off. I got pissed. She totally deserved it. 

AMY: That’s so sad! I think that you and I watch of reality TV, especially competition shows, and you can sort of tell when there’s weird editing shaping a narrative. But in this way, ‘cause I don’t watch Top Chef, but from what you’re saying, it kind of felt like the cynical ploy to— 

DAHLIA: Oh no! 

AMY: I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s what they they’re doing, but like the cynical ploy to sort of get eyeballs on the show. Because we know that there’s feeling of, we need to uplift women and people of color in all these different industries. It kind of reminds me of how ,when I watched the trailer for Godless, I was just like, fuck, yes! A Western about women in a town where there’s no men. And you watch the show, and it’s actually a story about two dudes, you know? 

DAHLIA: [laughs] 

AMY: So, I don’t know if it was a cynical thing to get people to watch the show, to be like, “Oh my god! This might be the first time a Black woman’s top chef wins.” And ultimately, that’s not what happens because even though it’s a manufactured television show, it still has to reflect the realities of our lives, which is, it’s unfair; it’s structurally unfair. 

And I also think for shows like that in particular where it’s about food, it’s about taste, there’s no more non-analogy way to say this is how we’re talking about structures and how structures form tastes for something, you know? And we can easily dismiss it and say, “Oh, it’s just a food competition show, cooking competition show.” It’s not just a food or cooking competition show because the people who win these shows go on to helm their own restaurants, make money off of the brand of being Top Chef. And then they go on to sort of get to set the canon of food or something.  

DAHLIA: Right, yeah. 

AMY: So it means something to win something like this and to be to have your hard work acknowledged by an industry even if it’s just a “silly show.” So, that sounds really disappointing to me, and I’m so sorry that you had to watch that! 

BOTH: [laughs] 

DAHLIA: Ugh. 

[cutesy bells ring] 

Amy and I are constantly arguing about things and sharing our arguments with you, our dear listeners, in this segment we’re calling Amy Versus Dahlia where we make our case about a particular very important argument. And then you, the listener, gets to decide which one of us is right. In our last episode, our Amy Versus Dahlia was about who is the best TV mom. Amy’s belief is that the best TV mom is Penelope Alvarez on the show One Day At A Time, and my vote was for Frankie Bergstein on the show Grace & Frankie. The results are in. Our listeners have voted, and 165 of you weighed in. And the winner is…Penelope Alvarez with 90 votes. 

AMY: Yay! Yaaaay! 

DAHLIA: Amy you won. Amy’s right. Amy! 

BOTH: [chuckle] 

AMY: You know, before we started recording, our amazing producer, Ashley, said that she voted for Penelope because she is the best TV mom at the moment but also ‘cause she thinks  that I’m an underdog. And I will always take underdog votes. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

DAHLIA: OK. This one is a major one, a major Amy Versus Dahlia. 

AMY: Yes! 

DAHLIA: And this is the one you have to vote on now. This Amy Versus Dahlia is a little bit different. We are asking you, the audience, who is the worst bro. Amy make your case. 

AMY: My worst bro of recent memory is the one and only infamous Martin Shkreli aka the Pharma Bro. So, in his measly 34 years of life, he’s already wreaked so much havoc. His most infamous fuckery was when he bought the drug Daraprim, which is an anti-malarial and is also used to help treat patients with HIV. And he bought this drug, and he increased the price per pill by 5,000%. So, the price per pill used to be $13.50, and then his company increased to $750 per pill. So, I mean when he did that, it was huge fucking news. And I was reading his Wikipedia bio, and in the bio, it just basically said that he’s just a conniving motherfucker who’s always looking for ways to exploit things that make money. 

And he’s back in the news recently because he was convicted of securities fraud connected to the time when he used to run hedge funds. And do we ever hear anything positive when it comes to people who run hedge funds? No! [laughs] So, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, and the only downside to all of this was that he was reported to have cried during the sentencing. The sad thing is that there are no photos of this. So, I mean that’s the only negative of his sentencing. 

He’s also very infamously known for buying the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and the unreleased Lil Wayne record Tha Carter V. And he teased that he would release Once Upon a Time in Shaolin when Trump got elected president. He’s also a noted misogynist with attacks against Hillary Clinton, and he was also harassing writer and journalist Lauren Duca. 

He’s just a all-around rotten guy, and I think that the worst bro package for Martin Shkreli is that he has such a punchable face. 

DAHLIA: [laughs] 

AMY: He’s always smirk! He has an arresting smirk face. You know what I’m saying? [laughs] 

DAHLIA: Oh yeah. 

AMY: Yeah, very smug. He’s got like a smirky smug face. So, I really do think that he is the worst bro of recent memory. 

DAHLIA: It makes me sad when I have things I wanna add that make your case for you. 

AMY: [laughs] 

DAHLIA: But these are really funny details that I really want people to remember. During the jury selection process for Shkreli’s trial, I don’t know how this happened, but some of the transcript of the selection process was leaked. And the things that potential jurors said about Shkreli are so funny. So, of course it’s like the judge is like, “Do you think you can be fair and impartial in this case?” Let me just read some of the things that potential jurors said that got them excused. 

One juror said, “I’m aware of the defendant, and I hate him.” 

BOTH: [laughs] 

DAHLIA: Another juror said, “I think he’s a greedy little man.” And then here’s a judge, says, “Have you heard anything that would affect your ability to decide this case with an open mind?” And a juror said, “I don’t think I can because he kind of looks like a dick.” 

AMY: [scream-laughs] 

DAHLIA: And then, and my favorite example, is that this juror just keeps again saying, “I know he’s guilty. I’m not gonna let him get away with this.” The judge is like, “OK, you’re excused.” And he keeps talking. The juror goes, “And he disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan.” 

BOTH: [laugh] 

DAHLIA: So funny. I’m sorry to be making your case for you. 

AMY: I’m not. I’m not. 

DAHLIA: But it’s so fucking funny. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMY: I mean, I and all those potential jurors can’t be wrong. He is the worst bro ever. But who is your candidate for the worst pro ever? 

DAHLIA: OK. My case for worst bro, I submit to you Milo Yiannopoulos. 

AMY: HA! 

DAHLIA: Milo rose to infamousy as sort of one of the main alt-right trolls. He has worked at Breitbart with Steve Bannon. He participated wildly in Gamergate, directing harassment towards women. Actually, last year I wrote a post at Bitch Media, and it was the most popular thing I wrote all year. Its headline was Bad Things Milo Yiannopoulos Has Done In Case His New Publisher Cares. Just Kidding They Totally Don’t Care because Milo got a book deal with Simon & Schuster, which was promptly revoked because, as we’ve discussed several times on this show, his book was totally garbage, and an editor totally ripped it apart. 

Milo Yiannopoulos is anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, transphobic. He’s famous for saying, “Feminism is cancer.” He’s famous for— I mean he’s just like he wants to be a shock jock. He has this image of himself as being so ostentatious and provocative but also sort of in a fun way, which I don’t think that there’s anything fun about the way that he’s targeting harassment towards women and people of color online, trans people in person at his talks. He’s just this kind of person who sort of embodies this alt-right ethos of making fun of other people for their ability and their capacity to have feelings. Like, he wants to pretend like he’s post-feelings and post-insults and and post-offense. Even though he’s just kind of like a watered-down version of a shock jock, he just has no shocks left because he’s already dished them all out. 

We last saw Milo Yiannopoulos subbing in for Alex Jones on Info Wars. And what was Milo Yiannopoulos doing? He was plugging their horrible snake oil vitamins. 

AMY: Oh my god! 

DAHLIA: And he was like, “You too can try these milk thistle vitamins. I’m trying them right now.” And I just feel like he’s the worst bro because he’ll never go away. I think that he’s just out here hanging on for dear life being like, “Please, I’m still relevant. I wanna shock you. Let me shock you.” I was really hoping he would go away, and I think he’s the worst bro because he’s never going go away. 

AMY: And he stooped to be so low as to sort of be an Alex Jones surrogate by hawking snake oil. ‘Cause that’s some Alex Jones shit. You know what I’m saying? 

DAHLIA: Yeah! It’s bad fame. He has bad fame because he’s just famous for being mean and a troll and just the kind of person that thrives on hurting other people’s feelings and making fun of them. I think that’s so much of what he does is so low. And there’s nothing behind it. There’s no thought or intellectual content behind anything he says. He just wants to make people mad and buy his book. 

So, if you head over to bitchmedia.org in our post for this episode of Backtalk, we will have a little poll that you can take part in. Please let us know because I feel like for me, this is a very loaded Amy Versus Dahlia. Both are very, they’re very bad bros. And so I don’t know. But I’m very curious to hear what the Bitch community thinks. Who who is worse? Who is lower? Is it Shkreli or Yiannopoulos? Only you can decide. 

[cutesy bells ring] 

AMY: We wanna take a minute to thank all of our supporters. And you also can become a supporter if you’re already. So, you can become a Pollinator, who are a special group of Bitch listeners and readers who contribute just $8 a month. and with that $8, you would get a subscription to Bitch Magazine, which the latest issue is called Revenge, The theme is revenge, and the cover is gorgeous. It’s just really beautiful! You should pick it up or check it out. So, you get a subscription to the magazine. Sorry. I digressed a little bit. And you get a Bitch mug, and you get a sticker. You can join by going to bitchmedia.org/pollinators, and it’s just $8 a month! I was thinking was $8? Around here in Oxford, Mississippi, $8 is a matinee ticket to go watch a movie. So, you can treat myself and Dahlia to go watch A Wrinkle in Time. 

DAHLIA: Aw, thanks. 

AMY: [laugh] Yes! By becoming a Bitch subscriber. Thank you so much. 

DAHLIA: And one of our favorite things to do is read the reviews and comments that we get. We would love it if you took the time to give us a review. Give us a rating over on iTunes. It helps Backtalk pop in to more people’s feeds. But let me read this review by Cake Happy ‘cause we love it. Here goes. “I love Backtalk.” Thank you! “Amy and Dahlia give me all the vocabulary I need to communicate properly about the fuckery that goes along with patriarchy. I honestly think that without Backtalk, I would’ve thrown many phallic objects out of the window of my apartment in an attempt to quell my feminist rage in 2017.” 

AMY: Whoo! 

DAHLIA: “Backtalk makes me feel validated in my discontent, and more importantly, challenges me if I ever stray into the land of white feminism. I’m a proud B-hive member, and you should be too. Y’all are heroes.” Hey, thanks so much Cake Happy. What a nice note you left us.  

AMY: Oh my god! I haven’t read that one. That is so nice! Aw. 

DAHLIA: And thanks for being a member of the B-hive. It means so much to us, one, to get to hear great comments from our audience, but also to know that you support our work. It means so much to both of us and everyone here at Bitch. 

[cutesy bells ring] 

AMY: All right. In our first segment we’re going to be talking about National Geographic’s latest print issue. It is a race issue, and in it, they’re fessing up to some shit. 

So, National Geographic, which is a magazine that published the first issue in 1888, which is 130 years ago?. My math is so bad! [laughs] 

DAHLIA: No, that’s totally correct. That’s correct. 

AMY: Yeah, OK. I was trying to do it in my head. 100-and-30 fucking years ago, and just finally now in 2018, The Year of the Dog, they are finally admitting that they were up to some fuckery. In the race issue, one of the prominent pieces of it, they sort of admit to this. And in this piece called For Decades Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. That’s a point that I think a lot of people have been making about this magazine, and it’s finally hitting them for some reason. 

There is a New York Times story about this where they talked to University of Virginia professor John Edward Mason, who was tasked to sort of look over the history of the magazine to talk about how it treated people of color or non-Western countries. And he said, “Through most of its history, National Geographic, in words and images reproduced a racial hierarchy with brown and Black people at the bottom and white people at the top.” I mean that’s unsurprising if you ever even looked at just a cover any of these magazines. 

DAHLIA: Mmhmm. 

AMY: And I think it’s important that we talk about the legacy and the impact of National Geographic because it was really amazing that it was like in all classrooms and in all libraries from, I remember from when I was a child. And it’s just like one of those staples that we remember looking through and flipping through to see other parts of our world that we don’t live. And in the piece that is in the National Geographic that was penned by the editor in chief, Susan Goldberg, she says that, “Race is not a biological construct.” Thanks, Susan. 

BOTH: [laugh] 

AMY: “But a social that can have devastating effects.” And she quotes writer Elizabeth Kolbert to say that, “So many of the horrors of the past few centuries can be traced to the idea that one race is inferior to another and that racial distinctions continue to shape our politics, our neighborhoods, and our sense of self. “So, Susan goes on to say, “How we present race matters.” And she hears from National Geographic readers that the magazine sort of provided their first look at the world, the world around them and how, “Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they’d never even imagine. It’s a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we’re rightly proud. And it means we have a duty in every story to present accurate and authentic depictions, a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.” 

So, I was thinking more about, like you know how we talk about the top of the show, about what happened at Top Chef, and how I do think that media platforms and industries are having this understanding now that conversations are veering towards a specific place. Conversations are veering towards a place where we wanna talk about impacts of marginalized communities, of people of color, of women, of trans folks, of LGBTQ folks. And so, I think by doing that, they’re hoping to get eyeballs on them, which in turn creates profits.  

DAHLIA: Mm. 

AMY: I mean I think that’s a cynical read on my part, but I also think it’s an honest and true read, especially when I think about how this magazine with a very storied history. It’s been around for a 130 fucking years, and now they’re deciding that race is an issue to delve into and to admit that they’ve done fucked up jobs on? So, there’s a cynical part of my brain that’s just like, yes, I understand. You want to claim this mistake so that you can fix it. And that is the first step to acknowledging that there was a problem, to see it and to lay it bare. But then when you look at the institution and the organization itself, then I think it has to also reflect the work that you say that the material you’re printing is trying to address. 

So, I went and looked at their masthead, and their masthead has 25 people on it. And within, I think, the higher-level executives, there’s one Black woman. And her name is Debra Adams Simmons, and she is National Geographic’s Executive Editor for Culture. And she was the lead on the race issue. And so ,the rest of the higher-up staff on this masthead are, as far as I can tell ‘cause I only look at images, are white folks or white-passing folks. So, in that instance it’s really hard not to think that this is an issue not just a tokenizing Debra Adams Simmons, but tokenizing this issue by siloing into one thing. If you guys haven’t been talking about the impact of race and the impact of your narrative that you shaped around race throughout these decades that you’ve printed this fucking magazine every fucking month, and then now you just realized it, you will an entire issue into saying that like, “Oh, by the way! Race is a social construct!” Something that’s been talked about for decades and decades when we’re talking about anthropology and sociology. 

It’s really making me think how serious are you taking this responsibility? Yeah, sure, you called yourself out, but what are your next steps? I get that this is a good first step, but I think they have to do better because National Geographic, it’s much-respected. And it’s something that is a first look into the rest of the world and how we shape narratives around what we think the rest of the world is doing. And whether or not they deserve to have, I guess, humanity from our perspective as Westerners, and it shapes our opinions of what we think how developing nations are operating, whether or not they would deserve humanitarian efforts, you know? Just it really does come down to very material things like that. And I acknowledge that National Geographic is trying to do better. But motherfucker, it’s been a 130 years! Do better quicker, you know what I’m saying? 

DAHLIA: Yeah. The piece that National Geographic put out, kind of like a post-mortem of their work saying like, here’s some of our reporting in the ‘60s, here’s some of our reporting in the ‘30s, and here are words that we used and how they’re totally inappropriate, I found that really interesting. And I think it’ an interesting primer for someone who’s just learning about, or just starting to think about, the way media coverage or media bias can shape people’s perspectives, especially about other parts of the world. But it is sort of like Intro 101 kind of material, and like you’re saying, for it to be meaningful, it does have to be reflected in more than just the fact that this piece happened or this issue happened. It does have to be reflected in continued changes in their coverage, continued changes in their masthead. 

But you know what I could not stop thinking about is the writer Ijeoma Olou. Has this really amazing profile of Rachel Dolezal in The Stranger, and Rachel Dolezal says in that piece that some of her first experiences of blackness were seeing photographs in National Geographic. And Ijeoma sort of pushes back on her and says like, but those are not experiences of blackness. Those are photographs that are filtered through a photographer’s idea, probably a white photographer’s idea, of blackness, selected by a white editor, published by a white magazine. This is not a view of blackness. This is filtered through lots of other people’s perspectives. 

And that’s something that Soleil talks about in last week’s episode of Popaganda, Faking It. And like you’re saying Amy, that this is a magazine that was in everyone’s library, and this is a magazine that at least in one case that we know of, in Rachel Dolezal case, very much shaped this fetishized idea of blackness in the world for her, so much so that she couldn’t get her head around the idea that what she was looking at wasn’t reality, that photographs aren’t reality. They’re a subjective representation of reality. And then that’s what National Geographic has been serving up all this time, you know? So many people were sort of trained to look at those photos as fact, as documentary, instead of saying like, well, hold on. Who took this photo, under whose guidance, and who selected it, and who paid for it? And so, I think that that’s what National Geographic is now trying to do: peel back some of those layers and say this is what our decision-making process was like, and here’s why it was flawed. But again, we’re talking about 130 years. And as you’re saying, yeah, fix your problems a little bit quicker. 

AMY: Right, and in the analysis by that professor, John Edward Mason, he said, “National Geographic wasn’t teaching as much as reinforcing messages they already received. And in doing so in a magazine that had tremendous authority, National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into colonizers and the colonized. And that there was a color line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.” You know, it’s like we can’t say that white supremacy it was using National Geographic as sort of their mouthpiece or whatever, but National Geographic did play a part in sort of offering supporting material in a way, you know, by not questioning how they’re framing the pieces and stories and photographs in their own magazine. 

I mean even in this special issue, the race issue, on the cover of the issue, it shows two twin sisters. And these two twin sisters can be read one as being white, and what is being Black. And so, there was a entire cover story about how this could have happened in terms of genetics, and I don’t know, fertilization. I didn’t read that piece. But what I think is really interesting is that they used these two twin sisters on the cover, and it says, “black and white.” And it says, “These twin sisters make us rethink everything we know about race.” 

DAHLIA: [laughs] 

AMY: And the thing I wanna call out here is this use of these twin sisters make us, us rethink everything we knew about race. Wait. Who’s the us, and who’s the we here?  

DAHLIA: And what did we know? 

AMY: Yeah. Excuse me. Just ‘cause you all are ignorant doesn’t mean I’ve been ignorant! 

DAHLIA: [laughs] 

AMY: And I think even framing it with the us and the we, it creates a conversation of what side are we on? Who’s the one that needs to be taught these lessons? So, using voices and word choice like that reaffirms this idea that like, “Oh! We didn’t know any better!” UGH! Like, “We’re all such studied and smart people who graduated from Ivy League universities. But oh! Who’d of thought that race was a social construct?! 

DAHLIA: [laughs] 

AMY: Fuck you guys! I’m not here to play like this. You know what I mean? And it’s disheartening to think that I personally think that they’re trying to capitalize on conversations around race, honestly. For me and my cynical-against-capitalism but kind of love-the-capitalist-system heart, [laughs] think that they’re trying to capitalize off this continually heightened conversation that we’re having around race. And they’re doing it in such a way that I feel like it’s very tokenizing, and I’m not sure if this means that this magazine will really move forward. 

I hear a lot of people saying “congrats,” like clapping hands emoji to National Geographic for acknowledging this. But as we continue to say about lots of institutions that are recognizing how much harm they are producing for communities and industries, I guess it remains to be seen what the effect will be, now that they’ve acknowledged this. Will they hire more people of color on staff to be on their fucking masthead? The people who make decisions, the people who assign stories, the people say who say like, “No! This picture exoticizes an entire country.” You know, will they be hiring more people with more inclusive perspectives? I mean that remains to be seen, and we talk all the time about how people in power have that authority to sort of steer an organization into doing specific types of work. So, I think they need to shake shit up on their masthead, just the masthead alone, I think, in order to really move National Geographic forward if they really wanna take this shit seriously and responsibly. 

[cutesy bells ring] 

DAHLIA: I know that this week and last week and sort of a cluster of weeks in March are people’s spring breaks. And so, I’ve been thinking about this clip from the Eddie Izzard standup special Dressed to Kill, just this little moment here where he’s talking about white people invading the United States. 

[recorded clip starts with audience laughing] 

EDDIE: They finally got this. They said, “Ah! This is where our God has brought us to. We can practice our religion here. We can raise a family. There’s nobody here.” Excuse me? There’s nobody here.  

[audience roars with laughter] 

Yes, a land empty of human existence. Who the fuck are these guys? 

[laughter] 

EDDIE: What’s all this, please? No, we don’t want any food, thank you very much. 

[laughter] 

Just put some clothes on! 

[laughter] 

DAHLIA: So, I feel like that clip really speaks to how I imagine the social construct of spring break, which is this Americanized idea that students sort of have the right, [laughs] the right to party, as the Beastie Boys would say. And that they take that right to other places that have existing communities. Spring break students go off into Mexico, but very often to beach towns, and they leave a tremendous amount of waste in those beach towns with sort of no regard for who is cleaning that up, are they being compensated, how are they being compensated? Like what is the work that goes into taking care of these children, basically, because they’re students, because they’re teenagers? At what cost to others does this feeling of a right to escape and indulgence, like what does that cost other people? 

And I feel like that’s been sort of like a growing commercialized concept of spring break, really I think, since I mean since earlier, but mostly I think about it in terms of MTV’s Spring Break, right? Which is something that I used to watch every year where MTV would just take over some beach town and would just have teenagers partying on camera with Carson Daly all week long, just presenting this glamorized idea one, that spring break equals partying, partying equals drinking. 

I actually had this really goofy experience I when I was living in Long Beach. There was this time when I tried to go to the beach with some of my friends, and I didn’t realize that it was during MTV Spring Break and that they were filming MTV Spring Break at the beach where I was trying to go. I was just trying to chill out, and these producers swarmed on us, and they were like, “Do you have wristbands? Do you have wristbands?” And we’re like, “No, we live here.” 

AMY: [laughs] 

DAHLIA: And they’re like, “Get outta here. You can’t be here.” And that’s just like one personal anecdote. But think about that happening in a larger scale to other people to people whose livelihoods depend on the beach, but also people who live in these areas. 

I was thinking specifically about this quote from A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. So, I just wanted to read it. Jamaica writes, “Every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour, but some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives, and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourists, want to go. So, when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.” 

And I really wanna recommend this piece that we have up at bitchmedia.org by Bani Amor. It’s called Check Yourself Before You Wreck Someplace Else. And in that piece Bani just talks about the ways that travelers should think about approaching travel in other countries and what their money and their waste does to local economies and to local workforces. And I know that this message might be reaching some folks after their spring breaks, but there was always a spring break next year. But I just urge listeners, when you’re traveling especially internationally but especially for these kinds of like party trips, to just be really mindful of who is picking up after the excesses of these party trips. 

AMY: Yeah, and I think that this connects to what we were just talking about with National Geographic because their narratives, they’re shaped around certain types of locations. And like you’re saying, we grew up watching MTV Spring Break in these very specific types of cities or coastal towns or beach towns. There’s a narrative shaped around them that they literally exist so that college kids can go there and get a fucked up a week. 
DAHLIA: Right. 

AMY: Yeah, and I think that there is a sense of like we don’t wanna know any more about what that city or that place is like outside of spring break, you know? And that there are people who live there for 51 weeks out of the year, outside of your spring break, and that this is their home, that they have entire lives that are on that beach when you’re not there. They have their own economy. And in a way it’s shitty that sometimes their local economy can be reliant on the spring break. So, they have to accommodate these people who may not be respectful to their home. And I think it can be a beyond spring break thing. Any time you go on vacation to a place where the economy is really reliant on tourist dollars, to understand that just because you’re going there to spend your money doesn’t mean that you own it or that you can be disrespectful to that place, physically, or the people who live there. 

And I do think this is why sometimes people talk about there’s like the ugly American tourist stereotype. And I think that sometimes it’s valid and true, not all of us, obviously, but that there’s this entitlement that happens when we goes to certain places. And I think that when narratives shape those places to be seen as less-than or that they exist to service us, to service the people from “developed nations,” then when you go there, you’re kind of maybe already on this footing where you think that you’re better than them. And that’s just because you paid for the plane ticket to get there, that you paid for a hotel to be there, that you can treat other people and their homes like shit. And I think that’s something that we need to think more conscientiously about to be good stewards of the fucking world and not just not just of people going places to get fucked up at. 

DAHLIA: And I feel like it’s part of the legacy of colonialism that so many white people can go to a beach and be like, “Ah, it’s empty here. This place was made for me to enjoy,” without thinking about, like I’m trying to say and that Eddie Izzard clip, without thinking about the people who live there and have lived there for hundreds of years, that this place isn’t empty and wasn’t just magically left beautiful for you. 

[cutesy bells ring] 

DAHLIA: At the end of every episode of Backtalk we share something we’re reading, something we’re watching, and something we’re listening to. I recently watched the horror film Veronica on Netflix. It’s brand new. It is a movie from Spain; it’s in Spanish. And, for me, it kind of felt like a cross between The Craft and It Follows. And it’s a bit of an exorcism movie, so plus The Exorcist on top of it. But it’s set in the early ‘90s and sort of partially set at a Catholic school. So, there’s all of these kind of Craft Catholic school girl vibes. And it reminded me of It Follows because it has a really great soundtrack with a lot of that horror movie synth that I’m so into. And I watched this at home with the lights on, with my cat and my boyfriend, and I was still covering my eyes. That’s how scared I was of it. 

AMY: [screams with delight] 

DAHLIA: [laughs] It was really scary. I really enjoyed it. Loosely, I would say, don’t fuck around with the Ouija board in the basement of your Catholic school during an eclipse. Bad things will probably happen. And what I really especially liked about Veronica is that it is mostly about children. Veronica is the main character, and she’s possessed by some sort of bad spirit. But she ends up having to battle it on her own while trying to protect her younger siblings because her mom is a working mom and isn’t around to help them. And so, I really liked the way in which— I mean what I love so much about horror films is how much they focus on young people, on teenagers, and I really liked the way this movie was able to just isolate this group of three girls and a boy in their home as the site of horror. So, I really recommend Veronica on Netflix. 

AMY: I’m so glad you mentioned how scary it was because I was going to ask you how [laughing] how scary it was! Because I love scary movies, but since I live alone, I can’t watch them alone at night because it just really does scare me. You know I love listening or watching true crime stuff, but I can’t do it at night because it just scares me. 

And I actually have the read pick because I just got back from AWP in Tampa, Florida. And AWP I think stands for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs even though there’s like two Ws there. [laughs] But essentially, it’s a conference for writers to get together and to go to panels and to go to a ton of offsite readings where there are open bars. So, it was pretty incredible. And there are lots of poets and lots of poetry, and I think it’s a really special place for folks who love poetry to get together and admire one another’s work. 

And I picked up some really great volumes, and I wanted to recommend three books of poetry. They’re not super long to read, but that’s why I feel good about recommending three at a time. And they’re all by Asian American poets, and I started reading all three of them, and I’m just loving them. And also because I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on podcast, but I’m taking the poetry workshop at my school. And it’s been really hard and scary and challenging, but it’s really given me an even more newfound appreciation for the form. 

So, the three books of poetry that I want to recommend are Hieu Minh Nguyen Not Here. It is on Coffee House Press. Bridled by Amy Meng on Pleiades Press. And Jenny Xie’s Eye Level on Graywolf Press. All of these books of poetry sold out while I was at AWP. 

DAHLIA: Whoa. 

AMY: Yeah, I know. And also, a little bit of a shameless plug here: but all three of these writers are also Kundiman Fellows. Which is the organization for Asian poets and fiction writers, and they host an annual summer retreat for us to get together. And I know them all personally. So, I do wanna say, full disclosure, but their work is just so arresting and beautiful. And I think that really honestly, in my heart of hearts, I think the world needs more poetry. No joke. And I think that sometimes poetry can feel very opaque and difficult to understand. But I think that people say this a lot about poetry in that it kind of puts ideas and feelings and experiences into words that cannot be expressed in any other way. And I do think that that is profoundly true. 

So, if you get a chance to read poetry, read as much as you can, and these are three different books that I think are just gorgeous renderings of different types of experiences. And I will link them all in the bitchmedia.org post for this show. 

DAHLIA: To end the episode, my song recommendation is called We Are Androgynous. It’s by Girls In Trouble. I saw this song performed live in Portland maybe a year ago, and it was just so haunting and so, so beautiful. Girls in Trouble is an indie folk art pop song cycle that explores the stories of women in the Torah. I can’t say enough how beautiful and lovely, haunting in a lovely way I think this song is. So, it’s called We Are Androgynous, and it’s by Girls In Trouble. 

AMY: Thanks for listening! 

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening! 

[folk rock plays] 

♪ We are androgynous double-faced beings, 
one looking forward and one looking back. 
Formed in the light of the throne in the sky, 
we are never alone and we never die. ♪ 

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show in 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.

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