Dahlia and Amy ring in the new year (yay!) talking about how the world is burning down (boo!). The beginning of this decade can feel hopeless, but all hope is not lost: stay informed, organize, and create change.
Couples Therapy on Showtime is a really interesting look at the work of being a therapist. There’s also a very strange and engaging new Dracula miniseries on Netflix.
Severance by Ling Ma is the apocalyptic dystopian consumerist novel of our times.
“Fresh Blood” by Eels
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DAHLIA BALCAZAR: Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
AMY LAM: And I’m Amy Lam.
DAHLIA: And oh my god, Amy, Happy New Year! It’s been a little while since we’ve had an episode of Backtalk. How are you doing?
AMY: I. am. hanging in there. [Laughs.] So, I am sitting in the guest room/hoarding room at my parents’ house.
AMY: I unexpectedly have been here for more than two weeks. It’s almost, I think it’s about two and a half weeks now. I came down. I was supposed to be here for like a week for the holidays to visit my family, to see my baby nephew, who’s so adorable and actually made this trip so worth it. But due to suddenly unforeseen things, which aren’t tragic or sad or anything, it’s just like circumstances, [both laugh] I’ve had to stay much longer than I anticipated! And [laughs] I actually thankfully get to go home tomorrow. But because I didn’t know I was gonna be here for so long, I didn’t have my gear to record this episode. So, I had to go to the store and buy all this new gear that I don’t even know how to use and quickly Google everything and get it all together.
And then also because I’m not sitting in my requisite closet right now [chuckles] to record this, I hope it sounds good for our listeners. And I hope that if you hear weird, sort of like scratchy, tingly noises, it’s my family’s dog walking on the [laughing] hardwood floor.
DAHLIA: It’s not a ghost. It’s a dog.
AMY: [Laughs.] Yes! It’s like his little dog nails, you know, kind of critching, cratching on the floor. So, I’m hanging in there. I’m doing okay. It’s like not the worst thing ever, but you know how when you’re gone from your home for so long, all you wanna do is sleep in your own bed? That is like my greatest desire right now.
So this has been my holiday break time into New Year time. And one of the ways in which I’m also coping with being here forever is to think about how I will start anew when I get to go home and what our New Year’s resolutions might be. So, Dahlia, do you have New Year’s resolutions that you’re working on?
DAHLIA: I’m not someone who grew up doing New Year’s resolutions. And then ever since I started doing them a few years ago, I found them to be so helpful. So, a few years ago, I read the book The Artist’s Way, which has sort of like a variety of tips that you’re supposed to use all together in order to unblock yourself and free your creative potential. And one of the parts of the book is that, specifically, you’re supposed to do all of the things and not just one of the things. But I totally disregarded that. And the one thing that I practice from The Artist’s Way, or I try to, is the idea of morning pages, which is that just like as soon as you wake up first thing in the morning, if you can, that you hand write three pages, just stream of consciousness, writing down whatever comes into your head, even song lyrics or random thoughts. And I found that that is really, really helpful and just sort of like, cheesy as it sounds, like opening up your creativeness. I think it’s nice because afterwards, you can look at it and be like, wow! I just wrote, even if it’s just nonsense, I just wrote like three pages. That’s a real accomplishment. And you feel like your day is going. Anyway. I’ve been trying to do that as often as I can. And I stumbled across sort of like a more extreme version, I think, of morning pages. Amy, have you heard of The Most Dangerous Writing App?
AMY: No, I haven’t, and I’m very intrigued, actually.
DAHLIA: Okay, so The Most Dangerous Writing App is just like a web extension or just like a website, actually, that you go to. And I don’t even know. It won’t even tell you how long you have, but it is a website that will delete everything you’ve written if you stop writing—
AMY: Oh my god. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: — for more than I don’t know. But let’s say like seven seconds. It’s something pretty fast. You get a warning. The screen starts to go like bloody red, and you’re like, oh, no! And all you have to do is just start typing, and it’ll stop that. But it’s so scary at first. But I started doing it, and it’s like if you just do it, if you just sit down and you keep going, you can write like 500 words in six minutes. It’s unreal. And I feel like even if you, again, even if what you’re sort of like getting out there is kind of nonsense, it feels really good to be like, I’m doing it! I’m writing! I’m going! And I think even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, I feel like it’s a really kind of freeing exercise and just sort of getting your thoughts going. And it works so well. It’s so scary. But really, you can write so much so quickly.
AMY: That app sounds so up my alley because it has really high stakes.
DAHLIA: So high!
AMY: [Chuckles.] Such high, weird stakes but that’s also connected to writing. So, I’m definitely checking that out. And you’re so right about how sometimes, you just need to get started.
AMY: Because since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of time. Because I’m a little bit strained because I have a car, and my parents live in the suburbs in Southern California. So, I’m just kinda in their house a lot. And I’m writing a lot in my journal, which I wasn’t doing at all in the past year. And I am sometimes just writing like, oh, today I did this. Or I’m reflecting on that. And it just kind of feels like, I don’t know, not necessarily revealing or all that enlightening. But then you get to a point where you just write like two lines that you’re like, wow, this is a good thought, and I’ve written it out so well. I can’t believe that I got here.
AMY: But it took like 400 words to get there, and it’s so worth it.
AMY: So it’s definitely a practice that is so good for you, not just like, as you’re saying, for writing, but just as like, I don’t know, processing feelings, processing thoughts or ideas. So I am totally into your resolution to do The Most Dangerous Writing App. So, are you going to be doing it every day?
DAHLIA: Okay. So, I’ve been trying to do morning pages every day, but that sometimes, I don’t, the problem is that I don’t like to get up and do anything in the morning.
AMY: Same, same! Same, same, same, yeah.
DAHLIA: That’s really my problem! [Laughs.] And so, I’ve been slacking a little bit on morning pages. So, I’m trying to say maybe if I don’t do morning pages, then certainly I will do The Most Dangerous Writing App for 500 words, if not try to do that every day generally for 500 words.
AMY: Okay, I’m definitely checking that out.
DAHLIA: ‘Cause I totally agree with what you’re saying, Amy. I feel like sometimes there are thoughts or images or ideas that I just feel like I would not have gotten to if I hadn’t written just the garbage first. And that’s kind of like a really striking realization for someone who is like, no, but starting is so hard! To think that actually you have to get through that to get to something good, it feels very humbling to think that. [Chuckles.]
AMY: You know, you just reminded me that every writing teacher I’ve ever had have said repeatedly, you just need to get your fucking butt in the chair.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Right.
AMY: Maybe they didn’t say “fucking” or “butt.”
AMY: But they all say—
DAHLIA: No, they probably did!
AMY: Yeah! But they all say you, like I actually had one teacher who was just like, maybe you should strap yourself in. Tie your legs to the legs of the chair so you can’t get out or give yourself punishments if you get up from your chair. But it is something about how you have to put the hours in where you’re sitting in front of your writing instruments, be it your laptop, your little typing processor, your notebook with your pen, whatever it is, where you just put in the time where you’re putting words on the page. And I think that if you’re, unless you’re the most talented, gifted writer where every other sentence you write is beautiful and profound, I think for the rest of us, [laughs] the rest of us writing peasants out here, you know, it often will take hundreds of words to get one good sentence.
AMY: But I think that even that very fleeting feeling of euphoria from that one sentence is so worth it ‘cause that sentence can boost you to write another 7,000 words to get to another good sentence.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Yeah.
AMY: But it’s so worth it. Okay, that’s a very good resolution. I’m into it.
DAHLIA: Oh! Okay. What’s yours for this year?
AMY: So, my resolution was I had actually like you, I am on and off about resolutions. I did one, one year that I was pretty successful with where I was like I ate a pretty strictly vegan diet for year to see if it helped change my mood. I don’t know if it did, but I think it’s because I did bad at record keeping, as in I didn’t really check in with myself as a person! [laughs] But I think it helped me feel good, mentally to an extent. So, I was like, I think there is value in doing something that’s where you kinda like just reset your clock because it’s the beginning of a new year. And I hadn’t thought of anything I wanted to do, but I inadvertently stumbled into a resolution. Because do you remember, I think it was a couple episodes ago where I talked about an app I really loved for reading books. It’s called Libby, the app that you can get from the library.
DAHLIA: Oh yeah.
AMY: Yeah. So I found that I really love his app because I also got, I gifted myself a tablet over Christmas. But on that tablet, I only have screen things to watch stuff. Like I have my Netflix, my Hulu, my HBO Go, so things I can watch TV shows and movies on and only other things to read stuff. So, I have the Libby app. I have the OverDrive app, so other apps are connected to my library. But I don’t have any social media apps on it ‘cause I don’t want to be tempted. And I also don’t have an email app on it ‘cause I don’t wanna check my email. So, it’s purely a entertainment app or entertainment tablet thing. So, I find that I often, if I don’t feel like watching film or a TV show or whatever, I’ll just open the Libby app and read the books that I checked out. And I’m reading so much more! [laughing] I know that sounds not very radical or new or interesting, but for me, it’s been a big deal.
So I was thinking could I read 50 books in this year? I know some people do like the 52 books for 52 weeks in a year. But I think that because this app has really helped me to remind me to read more often ‘cause it’s right there, and I’m always looking kind of at this tablet anyway, that I think I can do it. And so, I already finish a book at the beginning the year, so I’m gonna count that as a book that I read this year even though I started it in December! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: No, of course, of course. That’s fair.
AMY: Just like a minor cheat. Yeah.
DAHLIA: No! [Chuckles.]
AMY: But so, I’m gonna try it and see how it goes. I mean, I’m shooting for 50, and I’m not gonna be hard on myself if I don’t get 50 books. But I have heard other people who have done 52 books a year, and sometimes they cushion their list with graphic novels because they’re a little bit faster to read.
DAHLIA: Oh. Yeah.
DAHLIA: I think that’s fair. [Laughs.]
AMY: Yeah, so I’m gonna slip in a few, a few, maybe 10-ish graphic novels.
AMY: But I’m really into this because another thing that I’ve heard a lot from writing teachers is that like, one of the ways in which to improve your own writing is to read more. And I think I’ve been sorely lacking in that because I’m so extremely online. I read a lot of social media. I read a lot of pieces, articles and essays online. But I think there’s something missing in reading longer narratives, like novels or in reading tightly-packed, well-done short stories. Or even long nonfiction books. You had recommended some books in the past, that I’m like, wow, I need to read those books, and that are like investigations or that are deeper dives into historical events. So, I’m super into this. I know it’s only the second week of January, so I can be very enthusiastic. But I think it’s possible, and I’m excited to try at least.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: It’s been a little while since we’ve had a new episode of Backtalk. We were on a short break. And I was noticing, in the lead up to the end of the year, all of the upbeat things that we could talk about for when we came back from the break. I knew that the Golden Globes were happening soon. I really wish that we had done an episode of Backtalk when Cats had just came out because I really thought we could make fun of Cats. And then right after New Year’s, I texted Amy. We were talking about what we were gonna talk about in our first episode of 2020. And I was like, I’m so sorry to be a downer, but I think we have to do like, “Happy New Year. The World is On Fire” episode.
AMY: [Laughs.] I know. I mean, when you texted me that, I was like, okay.
AMY: I was like, fair. [Laughs.] I mean, yeah, it’s like I think that ideally, we didn’t wanna start off the first episode of the New Year talking about such sad, shitty things. But this is our sad, shitty reality. And I think that in avoiding it, it doesn’t make it go away. Which seems like I mean, I think that the avoidance strategy is something that as a world, as a cultures, as a peoples, we’ve employed and that we used for so long. And in a way, it’s what’s gotten us into this mess. So, I guess in the spirit of not avoiding this shit, which I think is really at the ethos, the thesis of Backtalk, [chuckles] we need to talk about it.
.] I mean, and I think it ties into exactly what I’m about to say about Australia, which is that Australia’s very much on fire
right now. And Australia’s fire season started in September, and so these wildfires that are hugely devastating right now have actually been going on for months. And though the devastation has been increasing, it’s something that lots of people weren’t paying attention to. And I’ve been reading commentary about how very alarming that is about the future of other kinds of climate events like this one if even, I mean, of course, it’s true that we live in very, very hectic, chaotic, disastrous times, as we’ll continue to talk about. But if even a country like Australia, if worldwide people aren’t paying attention to the fact that it’s on fire, that doesn’t bode well for future climate emergencies
in other countries.
The fires which started in September have killed at least 24 people. There’s been at least 200 fires around the whole country. Although this very much has to do with climate change, police in Australia have arrested and charged two dozen people for deliberately lighting fires. But climate change is also a huge factor here because Australia’s experiencing one of its most severe droughts in decades. A heat wave in December— this is shocking—a heat wave in December broke the record for the highest nationwide average temperature where some places were above 120 degrees. And also, really devastating, of course, it’s creating tremendous land devastation and ecological devastation, but it’s also killed many, many animals. The total number of animals affected nationwide, they don’t know because a lot of estimates don’t include things like insects. But it could be up to a billion animals that’ve been killed by these fires. And so far, they’ve covered 100 million acres of land.
AMY: Yeah, it’s so striking, the images that are coming out of Australia that have to do with this fire. You see pictures where somebody’s sitting in their bedroom where they have really big windows, and everything is just like, it looks like they put an orange filter over their camera.
AMY: It’s just, you know, I can’t imagine living somewhere where your home is just day and night, just smoke and ashes and fire. And to think that this is just the environment doing what it has to do because of its reaction to how we’ve treated it, it’s so devastating. And then like you’re talking about the wildlife. I saw this little video of these people who were biking in New Zealand. I don’t know if it’s, I think it’s ‘cause it’s affecting nearby places. But it could’ve been Australia. I have a terrible memory. But they were biking, just kind of doing a leisure road biking or whatever, and they came upon a koala bear. And the koala bear was so thirsty and so dehydrated that it went up to the bicyclists—
DAHLIA: Oh, yeah.
AMY: —and asked for water, essentially. And they just gave him bottles and bottles. They just fed him bottles and bottles of water. To think that this wild animal, which is now sort of seeking refuge from people because this animal doesn’t know what else to do, it’s just so heartbreaking. I mean, obviously, not just for the animal, but the people who are living there. I think that the fires in Australia are just…are so heartbreaking and so sad and are a larger-scale version of what happened in the U.S. not too long ago, the wildfires in California. And I think about that because my family lives in California, and I grew up here. And I grew up here knowing that almost every summer, the Santa Ana winds will blow through Southern California, areas in Southern California, will ignite wildfires in the hills. But to see that in California, they’ve been, these fires have been also very unprecedented and they’re increasing in intensity every summer.
And these events, these natural disaster events all over the world are interconnected. There’s also record-level floodings and these completely wild storms that people have never seen with super intensity. All these climate disasters are interconnected
and are a consequence of climate change, and it cannot be ignored. And I just think that it’s wild because in a way, because if it’s not happening to us very directly affecting me and my lifestyle, whether it’s inconveniencing me or not, I think that for a lot of us, we’re able to sort of compartmentalize climate change. I don’t know if that sort of like a symptom of being alive at this time and age. But I think that there is a part of us that’s like, well, this is happening somewhere else, you know. Like when the wildfires were happening in California, I live in Oregon. I’m like, wow, this is really horror what’s happening in California. And in a way, I was very interested because my family lives here. But then there were also wild amounts of flooding in the Midwest earlier this year that I didn’t pay that much attention to because I don’t have family in the Midwest. So, I think that the ways in which we cope with this type of disaster will inform our behavior toward it. And I don’t know what to say, except that it’s just really sad and can make you feel really powerless.
And I also think it’s interesting, at the beginning of the segment you were talking about, how maybe we could talk about the Golden Globes for this episode so we don’t have to talk about some real shit. And I actually did catch bits and pieces of it. And I was like, I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was a little bit shocked and underwhelmed by this weird consolation that celebrities were sending to Australia, when they were doing their presentations or when they were doing their acceptance speeches. Like when Joaquin Phoenix, he was making his speech because he won for Best Actor, for playing Joker in Joker,
he kind of like trailed off. And I think he did this sort of impromptu speech about supporting Australia
and how this is tied to climate change and how the people in that room at the Golden Globes ceremony, he was addressing them. And he was saying, well, maybe we could do better. Maybe we don’t need to take private jets to Palm Springs. [Laughs
DAHLIA: Oh, my god. Oh, no. Oh, no!
AMY: [Laughing.] I’m sitting at home and thinking, wow! This is such a weird responds to how we can help with climate change. Maybe it’s the first step. But honestly, it just made me have more questions than really think about what are true, real solutions. So, I mean, I don’t know what we can do. You know, we’ve had an entire episode talking about climate change and the ways that we can be better citizens of this earth, for not just ourselves, but obviously for future generations. And in this really fucked up way, everything feels intractable, like we’re unable to change this. And I don’t know how many more severely devastating natural disasters we have to encounter before our governments take this shit seriously and force citizens and force big, multinational corporations to do a lot of the pollution that contribute to climate change to be better. I don’t know what the answers are right now.
DAHLIA: Ugh, it feels super gross, especially that Joaquin Phoenix—not that especially that it was Joaquin Phoenix—
DAHLIA: —but that sentiment just feels especially gross because I feel like, thinking about impeachment and thinking about it what’s just going on in our government, I think that maybe the framers couldn’t have anticipated this unwillingness for so many politicians to do something if it’s not in their financial interests or if it’s not in the financial interests of their lobbyists. I don’t know. Maybe the framers didn’t think about how easily corruptible people are. They couldn’t consider the wealth that would accumulate in this country. But it feels really unhelpful for Joaquin to say something like, well, maybe we shouldn’t spend money on jets. Like, no, well, what if you spend your money on lobbying the government? Or what if like— I just feel like, you know, you’re saying everything is intractable. And I feel like it seems that way because there’s enormous wealth in politics that normal, everyday citizens giving their $5 here and their $10 there have a really, really hard time competing with because so many politicians are themselves millionaires. And they wanna keep being millionaires, and they wanna keep taking the money of their friends, the millionaires who want them to ignore the climate crisis.
AMY: Right. I think that’s a really on point critique of— I hate talking about Joaquin Phoenix’s stupid speech—
AMY: —but because his speech really points to this notion that we need to take personal responsibility to make the world better and make it more habitable.
AMY: But a lot of it, you know, I think we talked about this in our climate change episode, isn’t about our own personal actions, which are good and helpful and do contribute to lessening of climate change. But when it comes down to it, it’s really about these massive corporations that abuse loopholes in regulations that dump massive amounts of toxins into the air or into the oceans, into, lands that devastate this earth. And it’s what you’re talking about. It’s essentially capitalism run amuck. And these politicians don’t…it isn’t their priority to regulate them if their pockets are being lined. And so, I think that’s maybe where this conversation needs to shift, you know, where it’s like it is about personal responsibility. But it’s increasingly obvious that it’s also about corporate responsibility.
AMY: And…nothing’s being done!
AMY: I mean, I don’t know how else to verbalize it. You know, it’s like I think that every day, we make it a point to put the correct items in the correct colored bins.
AMY: You know, like this goes in the green bin. This goes in the blue bin. This goes in the black bin. But then, are we holding accountable these big corporations that aren’t doing their part to put their shit in the right colored bin? And to also pay their fair share of taxes that can also help build infrastructure to make climate change more handle-able. I don’t know. That’s not a word. But I think that this is increasingly becoming very scary, and I don’t know what to do about it except to, I guess we have to just talk about it and to think about how we can collectively harness our voices to make change.
And then, of course, the other thing that we felt like we had to talk about, even though it’s another horrifying example of how we’re in a very fucked up worldwide situation right now, is that right after New Year’s Eve, Trump, who is an impeached, a fully, an impeached president, decided to execute a high-ranking Iranian official
, a general, by dropping several bombs on him as he was outside of Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The U.S., of course, did not notify Iraq that they were going to do that.
DAHLIA: They also didn’t notify Congress that they were gonna do that.
AMY: [Laughs quietly.]
DAHLIA: It’s super, super fucked up. And another whole fucked up layer on top of this, on top of assassinating a high-ranking military official of a sovereign nation, is the fact that over and over when Obama was president, Trump tweeted and called up Fox & Friends and did a little Twitter videos. There’s so many, so many instances of him saying, “I predict that Obama will start a war with Iran in order to be re-elected for a second term.” And it’s so like, I don’t know how many times I’ve said this on Backtalk, but so many things about the Trump administration just make your head feel like they’re going to explode. But just the barefacedness of that happening three days after New Year’s Eve on an election year, it’s just, it’s mind-exploding.
AMY: It. is. mind-explodiiiiing! I mean, it’s mind-exploding because there’s so many layers of fucked-upness. One of the fucked-up layers, like you’re mentioning, is that this is an election year. And this feels like strategy, which is fucked up because this is a movement toward going to war. And I guess that history shows that often, we do not change presidents if we’re in the middle of war.
AMY: And this is, it feels like a strategic thing that Trump is doing. And another layer of the fucked-upness is that he’s making these official remarks on. Fucking. Twitter. He’s using Twitter as a platform by which he’s making presidential decrees and announcements. There is this tweet that, after the assassination happened, he tweeted a bunch of bullshit. And then he also tweeted, the body of tweet, it wasn’t even like an image post of an official document with like, this the presidential seal from the White House or anything. It’s a literal tweet that said, “These media posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike back and perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!” So, he is communicating with Congress through this one-sided tweet because he’s not necessarily engaging in conversations on Twitter. And I don’t think that a president should. And a lot of people screen grabbed that tweet and were adding Jack— Jack is the CEO of Twitter—being like, why are you allowing this maniac to use Twitter as a platform to make these types of decrees? This is so wild! This is absolutely against any notion of what we think are proper procedures. I don’t even know what is happening right now. I think that [laughs] both of our brains imploded, melted, and then got reshaped into loaves of bread.
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] And that’s not, of course, Trump is continuing to tweet just bananas things. Over the weekend, he tweeted this very long quote. But at the end he wrote, “We have targeted 52 Iranian sites, some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture, and these targets and Iran itself will be hit very fast and very hard.” People also were pointing out on Twitter, that is a violation of the Geneva Convention. That is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. And it’s like…I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if this is an instance where, if Twitter blocked, like once and for all, took down his account, I don’t know. I mean, he’d probably find some other way to keep doing things like this. But it’s just like…ugh! It’s very challenging for your brain to accept that all of these things are happening and to also be watching our representatives try to deal with it and to see sort of this ham-handedness.
I know that it is actually very terrifying and very dangerous, and Iran has already, has threatened to retaliate. This is a very messed up, very volatile situation in the Middle East, and it’s very real. And at the same time, I feel like there’s this Twilight Zone quality to watching pundits and politicians talk about it, because everything really does seem like, I feel like especially this week, but certainly under Trump, things feel really precarious. And rather than taking the opportunity to call Trump a war criminal, to say that he’s violating the Geneva Convention, he’s threatening to violate the Geneva Convention on Twitter, that he has taken military action, an impeached president has taken military action without consulting Congress, I think people feel, politicians feel scared and freaked out like everyone else, even though it should be their responsibility to lead us. I think everyone is really freaked out, and even Democrats, I think, are scared to take the opportunity to be clear about what’s happening.
And I feel like, again, so many things that’ve happened, so many huge things that’ve happened with Trump as president have this like nightmare Twilight Zone quality to it, for instance, that was really heightened. Bizarrely, on Monday, the Iraq Defense Ministry said that they received a letter from the U.S. government, cheerfully announcing that they respected Iraq’s sovereignty and were going to leave the country because Iraq had voted the U.S. military out. Because they are a sovereign nation in Iraq, and the United States assassinated someone in their territory. And so, Iraq was like, we received this letter saying that the U.S. is gonna leave. And it’s like people at the White House didn’t even know what was going on, didn’t know that letter had been sent. And then a few hours later, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to come out and say, oh, yeah. That was a mistake. That was a draft. We’re actually not gonna be leaving Iraq. But oops. Sorry, we didn’t mean to send that letter. And it’s just like not to say that that was on purpose, but it’s just like some of the mindfuck of living in this administration is like death threats on Twitter! We’re sending this letter that we, you know, in the letter it says, we respect your sovereignty as a nation. But like, oops, no, we don’t! And it’s just such a fucking mind fuck to sort of be trying to grasp onto what’s real.
AMY: And I mean, I think we’ve all known this, but that is what this administration is about. That’s how they operate. And I think that’s how they flourish by confusing us, by gaslighting us, by making us completely bewildered by their behaviors and their decisions. And so, by doing this, we often are focusing then on how they’re fucking up. And then our attention gets shifted from one fuckup to the next fuckup up.
AMY: But the very scary, scary, scary, scary, dangerous thing about this is that each fuckup becomes increasingly catastrophic or has more catastrophic implications. You know, like he just got impeached. So, let’s start a war. And so, what’s next? What if a legitimate official war is starting and, the military industrial complex becomes like a full and heartened entity that Trump gets to use? What then? What happens after, if it doesn’t go his way, or if something even more wild happens? I think this is something that’s very, very, very scary, and…it’s wild that we can feel this way. But to see, like you’re saying, our elected officials, like the Democratic politicians also react in a really bewildered way without a grasp on anything is also frightening. Because then who knows what the fuck is happening? And who is capable of holding him accountable? Especially as a president who’s been officially impeached, that he gets to run wild and run amuck and do all this wild shit. My favorite thing that I mentioned before as a way of coping is to compartmentalize it.
AMY: I get to put it in a box and then put that box inside of me somewhere, deep deep! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Write it into the most into The Most Dangerous Writing App.
AMY: [Laughs.] Yes, right! So, what do we do?! I guess we just continue to be informed about it and try to make our voices heard as a collective. I have already seen that dozens and dozens of anti-war protests have already cropped up. The people who wanted to make their voices heard have already been organizing over the holidays, no less, to get together, make their voices heard, and to say, we will not stand by and watch this happen. I think that as a little bit more time passes, there will be even better organizing, bigger rallies to show this administration that we are not gonna let this happen again and again, and especially with this monster-human shit sack behind the steering wheel of this really wild automobile that he wants to drive us into the ocean with. So, I think that there is hope. This is an election year. Maybe as much as sometimes we deride the electoral process, maybe we need to believe in something. And this is perhaps a way that we can show this motherfucker that we will not accept it, and he needs to get the fuck out.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: At the end of every episode, we share something we’re reading and watching and listening to. I have two watch recommendations. In previous episodes, I referenced celebrities couples’ therapy show, and that is not what I’m about to talk about. That is a Vh1 show with celebrity couples. But there’s a new show on Showtime called Couples Therapy, and it’s basically a reality show. I think it was maybe four different couples meeting with their couples’ therapist. And I thought it was fascinating. I feel like in another life, I would’ve liked to have been a therapist or a psychiatrist because I feel like hearing people’s problems and sort of analyzing them, and man, this therapist was just so insightful in the way that she could see through these couples. I just like, they were short episodes, like half an hour each. And I just watched all of them so quickly because I thought it was so interesting. So, I really recommend that show, Couples Therapy.
And then another show that I— ha ha, this is gonna be a pun— that I devoured really quickly is there’s a very strange Dracula miniseries on Netflix. I think it just came out over the weekend. It’s just three episodes, and I don’t wanna spoil it at all, except definitely, it takes a very strange turn in the third episode. And I don’t know. I found it just really, really fun. I mean, of course, it is, Dracula, so there are some Dracula-related deaths.
DAHLIA: But it gets, I don’t wanna spoil it, but it gets super weird, super confusing. It’s unclear to me if there’s gonna be another installation of this miniseries, but I would welcome that because it gets…I just, I won’t, I mean, it’ll have to be a surprise for when you watch it. But those are my TV recommendations. Amy, what have you been reading?
So this is my first book from my 50 book list that I finished at the beginning of the year, like last week. It is Severance by Ling Ma
. So, this is a debut novel from the writer. And it is an apocalyptic, dystopian, consumerist novel of our times. One of the reasons why I’ve been dying to me this, I think this book came out early last year in 2019, is that the cover of this book is like chef’s kiss.
AMY: It is so well done! I love this cover! I’m kind of really into design, you know, be it architecture, graphic design, poster designs. But we don’t talk about the covers of books enough, like book covers, at all enough. And I wonder how they’re like, you know, the National Book Awards or other really big prizes for books, I wish there was [laughing] a book cover category! You know? Like at the Oscars, they give awards, you know, costumers, sound designers, sound editors. Why don’t they do an award for book cover designs? Anyway, that’s a complete tangent. [Chuckles.]
But based just on what little information I knew, the premise of the book and the book cover, I had been dying to read it for a long time. And it was all my hold at the library for a long time, and I finally got it. And I just really was endeared by the premise of it. ‘Cause the premise is that the world is essentially sort of coming to an end because of this fever that’s struck people. And I don’t, of course, I wanna spoil why this fever is happening. But once the fever happens, people become essentially immobilized and no longer themselves. And they lose their consciousness. And then so, the book is told from the first-person perspective of its main character, her name is Candice Chen, and how she navigates her life right before the fever begins to take over people. And it’s very a New York City-type of novel where it’s a lot about being in your 20s and living there and seeing the end of the world happen while you’re there and then how to sort of survive it.
I do have some quibbles and critiques of it [laughs] as a writer. [Continues laughing a bit.] But I do feel like maybe there are parts of it that were a little underdeveloped, especially coming from a first-person perspective. But overall, I am glad I read it, because I think that it kind of turns on its head what an apocalyptic novel can look like. And it was interesting, especially because I think this is maybe a little bit identity politic-y of me, but to hear about the end of the world in the U.S. from a Chinese American perspective was also interesting. And I think that that was a place where there was a lot of, you know, where there could’ve been a little bit more sussing than worked out happening. But the book is what it is.
AMY: And I think the writer did what she wanted to do. And I liked it for what it was. So, my recommendation is Severance by Ling Ma. Honestly, if not only just to pay respects to the book cover. [Laughing.] Which is so ridiculous, I know!
DAHLIA: Okay I have two things to add. One is that I totally agree with you about the book cover and book covers generally. The website LitHub very often does sort of like, I don’t know, deep dives into the creation of particular book covers where they’ll have the designer show alternate versions to particular book covers.
AMY: Oh, wow.
DAHLIA: I love that part. So cool. So, I recommend that. And then two, oh my god, I read Severance, and I love it. And it is such a fitting recommendation for this episode.
AMY: [Laughing.] Yes!
DAHLIA: And I mean, it is kind of a downer apocalyptic kind of book. But I found it really fresh. I found it, I don’t know, it made me feel hopeful for the new year in kind of a surprising way.
DAHLIA: I really feel like I read it at the beginning of last year, I’m almost certain. Well, I have the listen pick. And it’s gonna be sort of a dark listen pick to go with this dark episode.
DAHLIA: Another thing that’s going on in current events is that Harvey Weinstein’s trial is starting this week.
DAHLIA: His trial for rape and sexual assault of three women is starting. And so, I was reading about that, and it gave me related reads. Did you know that Robert Durst, “the Jinx’s” trial is about to start in February? So, that’s like a on the sly recommendation for the documentary series The Jinx from HBO, which is so good. And just like I know a few episodes ago that I was talking about wild story documentaries. But The Jinx is such a wild story, such a good documentary series. And yeah, and Robert Durst’s trial for the murder of Susan Berman starts in February. And so, my dark recommendation song for this episode is the song from the opening titles of The Jinx, which is the song “Fresh Blood” by Eels. It pops up into my most listened to songs frequently. And I’m like, god, this is such a good song. So, as a closer to our sort of apocalyptic, Happy New Year episode, this is “Fresh Blood” by Eels.
[“Fresh Blood” by Eels plays]
♪ “Sun down on the sorry day/
By nightlights the children pray/
I know you’re prob’ly gettin’ ready for bed/
Beautiful woman, get out of my head/
I’m so tired of the same old crud/
Sweet baby, I need fresh blood/
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Emily Boghossian. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.