Backtalk: Who Gets to Make Mistakes?

This week, Dahlia and Amy round up some of the big hits of bad takes. From Lena Dunham’s letter from the editor where she admits to lying to protect a rapist to a weird piece dissecting Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” music video, who gets to make mistakes over and over again? Writers get the brunt of the backlash, but how much responsibility should the editor take when they’re the ones who click “publish”? Amy vs. Dahlia wants you to weigh in on the best winter flick! Amy can watch “Home Alone” every year and Dahlia loves Nora Ephron’s classic “When Harry Met Sally.” Who do you wanna chill with more? Kevin or Sally? Text “winter” to 503-855-6485 to let us know what you think!

WATCH

The Price of Everything is an illuminating (and slightly devastating) look at the art market and a bourgeoisie that sees art as purely an investment.

READ

Amy can’t get over how fresh, funny, and perfectly timely Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s short story collection, Heads of the Colored People.

LISTEN

Jessie Reyez’s defiant sad girl vibes seep through her voice in “Saint Nobody.”

 

Photo credit: The Hollywood Reporter

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TRANSCRIPT

[theme music]

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

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

DAHLIA: We start every episode by sharing our pop culture moment. Amy, what’s yours this week?

AMY: Mine is a tweet from user Bill Dixon @BillDixonish, and it says, “About five years ago, I worked in a restaurant and Ludacris came in, ordered spring rolls, and sent them back. When I apologized, he said, ‘Don’t apologize. Spring Rolls are unpredictable.’

BOTH: [laugh]

AMY: I think about this at least once a week. So, I saw this quote, and I was so delighted because I’m assuming when he says spring rolls he means like the salad rolls, you know, like with the rice wrapping and that’s really fresh, and you dip it in a peanut sauce. They’re so delicious. And they are kind of unpredictable. I think if you go to like a not-great restaurant, they can be inconsistent. So, but just to think of Ludacris being like, “You don’t need to apologize. Like I totally understand this. This is a type of food that’s unpredictable.” And it just made me like, I don’t know, I was just delighted by this. So, that was my favorite pop culture moment.

DAHLIA: I love Ludacris.

AMY: [laughs] Okay, what’s yours?

DAHLIA: This weekend, I was in New Mexico. I was in Santa Fe, and I went to Meow Wolf which is—I’d never heard of it before but—it’s an artist collective and an art and music venue. They have a permanent installation in Santa Fe called The House of Eternal Return. And a bunch of people had been telling me to go, and they were like, “Oh, I don’t wanna tell you too much about it so it’s a surprise.” When you’re in line, you cannot see at all what the museum or what the space looks like, but then it’s like you just open a door, and it feels like you’re on a movie set. You’re looking at the outside of just a home, like a suburban home. And you know, it’s sort of like a museum, and so there are people just walking around and exploring. And you start going through the house, and things sort of start seeming very strange and maybe a little creepy and maybe a little scary. And then you can go through a door that takes you through the washing machine. And then suddenly you’re like in these other totally beautiful and amazingly-designed rooms, and so you can explore it. Sort of you just walk through the rooms and look at the art and listen to the music and stuff, or you can try to sort of there’s a mystery that you can try to solve. I think I got kind of a handle on the narrative of what’s going on, but I did not even start to seek the mystery. But it was amazing! It was like one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was a little creepy, but there were definitely five-year-olds there running around.

And so, it’s sort of a narrative is loosely sort of about [chuckles] interdimensional time travel, of course, and it was just the coolest, coolest thing. And Meow Wolf is opening other installations in Vegas, Denver, and D.C. And so, I’m gonna definitely go to any and every one of these anytime I can. I cannot recommend it more highly. It was amazing.

[cutesy bells ring]

Our shows are produced by Bitch Media, a nonprofit independent feminist media organization that is entirely funded by our community. If you love waking up to a new episode of Backtalk, join hundreds of fellow listeners as a member of The Rage today to help Bitch reach our $85,000 fundraising goal by December 31. As a member of The Rage, your monthly donation includes a subscription to Bitch magazine in print and digital, a special rage-inspired mug you’ll never wanna put down, exclusive access to a members’ only texting group, and loads of other snazzy benefits. So, don’t wait. Become a member today at bitchmedia.org/rage.

AMY: And we really appreciate it when you rate and review us on iTunes. Recently, I very sadly [laughing] asked for a review ‘cause we haven’t got one in a while! And we actually got one single amazing review from user Isabellatio. It says, “I look forward to Popaganda and Backtalk every week. The conversations affirm my beliefs and challenge my stubborn biases.” Oh yes! Thanks for interrogating yourself [laughing] and saying that! “And I love to vote for Amy versus Dahlia.” We also love it when you vote for Amy versus Dahlia. Thank you so much for that review. We really appreciate it, and it helps us to gain visibility on iTunes. So, when you have a minute, please head over to iTunes and rate and review us. We read every one of them, and it helps to boost our morale. ‘Cause we need it. [laughs] Because sometimes you know, this is like a small, shining moment in our day, and we know that people are listening to us! In parenthesis, this is our cry for help! [laughs] So, please take a moment and rate and review us. It really does brighten our day.

[cutesy bells ring]

And it’s time. [chuckles] For Amy versus Dahlia! Hey, yay! I’m doing my own sound effects. And a recap for our last Amy versus Dahlia was we were arguing about whether we are in favor of the winter holidays or not. And I was definitely in favor, mostly because I like shiny things and lights.

BOTH: [laugh]

AMY: And I really love the responses. One of the ones in favor of Merry Everything. Their reasoning was “Because of Kalua hot chocolate.” And I really cannot agree more. [laughs]

DAHLIA: Well, obviously, I’m the Debbie Downer Ebenezer Scrooge of the two of us. I really feel like I have no need for the winter holidays at all. And here’s a person who agrees with me. They wrote, “Let’s stick you in a room with a bunch of people you don’t really like during prime infectious disease season. No thanks; I’d rather avoid my racist uncle and the flu.” Great point! What a great point.

AMY: Very good point. But also a shout out to getting the flu vaccine.

DAHLIA: That’s true.

AMY: ‘Cause I got it for the first time in like a decade because I’m really scared of being a carrier. Even though I don’t get that sick, I don’t wanna carry the cooties to get somebody else who’s more vulnerable from being sick. So, I just turned this segment into [laughs] a commercial for getting the flu vaccine. That being said, I love this segment! Which I was so surprised by it because when the first results started coming in, hecka people are like, “I hate the holiday seasons. I hate winter.” But then a lot of people, it turned around. And Merry Everything won.

DAHLIA: I was really surprised by that, but Amy’s fans are so strong.

AMY: [laughs].

DAHLIA: So, Amy, you won this one. I lost.

AMY: Yes, yes! So, which is actually a great segue for our next argument, and it is, what is our favorite winter movie? Dahlia?

DAHLIA: Okay. Well, the obvious choice is When Harry Met Sally.

AMY: Oh! Okay. Tell me more. Explain.

DAHLIA: Okay. It is so charming. It takes place over the course of like 10-ish years as Harry and Sally, who are not even friends from college, sort of like slight enemies from college, become friends and become closer and fall in love. And it takes place over several New Years, which I don’t like Christmas, but New Years, I can get down with New Years. That’s like saying goodbye to the old, hello to the new. I watch When Harry Met Sally. It’s like the perfect I feel sick and crappy, I don’t wanna go anywhere or do anything kind of movie. And it just feel, maybe it’s the only holiday movie that can warm my cold heart. But excellent acting. It has Carrie Fisher. It has Billy Crystal. It has Meg Ryan. It is so, so funny! And I just loved it my entire life. I dare you to not love When Harry Met Sally.

AMY: Okay, I’ll give you some of that.

DAHLIA: [gasps]

AMY: ‘Cause I do like Meg Ryan in it. But there’s something about Billy Crystal that I just can’t get behind. And I think it’s his hair.

DAHLIA: [laughs] You can’t, it’s not his fault. It was the ’80s. [laughs]

AMY: It’s just wildly distracting to me especially like in the flashback scenes, you know, when they first meet: Is he wearing a wig?

DAHLIA: I’m sure they’re all wearing wigs.

AMY: Yeah. It’s just, it’s deplore, so.

BOTH: [laugh]

DAHLIA: Damn!

AMY: So, that is why sometimes you cannot fuck with [unclear].

DAHLIA: You came down harsh.

AMY: [laughs] Yes, and my vote for my favorite wintery kind of movie is Home Alone.

DAHLIA: [chuckles]

AMY: It is a classic. I think it really tugs on my nostalgia heart strings. And it really helps me because I have had many fantasies about what it would be like if I was left home alone and how I would fend for myself. And you know, it’s amazing to see a child thwart two bumbling criminals who are literally breaking and entering.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: I think it’s a movie about having agency [laughs] and having hope and knowing that you can survive on your own against all odds. It is like such an inspiring and fun film, and I think it’s just like it just makes you feel like you can do anything.

DAHLIA: Is that the one Trump is in?

AMY: [laughs]

DAHLIA: Or is Trump in the other one? [laughs]

AMY: [laughs] I don’t remember [unclear] the actual, if he’s in the one. But I’m just remembering watching it, and it’s such a fucking rollercoaster because you know, when the film starts, you’re just like when you are the kid who was left home alone, you’re thinking you’re that child who was forgotten. And then against all odds, even though you are the forgotten child, you build a life for yourself.

DAHLIA: [laughs]

AMY: So, that’s why I deeply fuck with Home Alone, and that is my favorite wintery time movie to watch. [laughs]

DAHLIA: Okay. Well, I cannot wait.

BOTH: [laugh]

DAHLIA: I bet you’re gonna win again. I can’t wait for people to vote. Please, please vote. If you text the word “winter” to our phone number, which is 503-855-6485, you’ll be prompted to vote, and I can just predict this is gonna be hysterical. So, text the word “winter” to 503-855-6485.

[cutesy bells ring]

DAHLIA: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by our BitchReads partnership with Powell’s Books. One book I wanna recommend from our winter BitchReads list is Shout Your Abortion, edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes. It features work from over 100 contributors. It has people telling their abortion stories and also really, really cool, rad art related to reproductive rights. I loved flipping through it, and I’m gonna give it to some friends for the gifting season. Pick up your next BitchRead at Powells.com.

[cutesy bells ring]

In this episode, we’re gonna talk about what’s been sort of a week or two of bad takes on the internet. There was a piece in The Cut about Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s wedding in which the writer called her a scam artist. There was a piece at Into about Ariana Grande’s “Thank You, Next” video, which called the video “surprisingly anti-queer.” And then on sort of the other end, there are these two also very bad takes: Bari Weiss and Eve Peyser in the New York Times did this sort of like in-conversation piece with each other talking about how they hate each other on the internet, but actually now they’re real good friends once they met in person. And Lena Dunham guest edited the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment issue, and in it she wrote about the time that she defended Girls writer Murray Miller after he’d been accused of sexually assaulting an actress, which we talked about back when it happened.

AMY: So one of the reasons why we wanted to look at these pieces is because we wanted to talk about sort of like the treatment of Lena Dunham and her being the guest editor as compared to like what happened what the writer for The Cut, the person who wrote the Priyanka Chopra piece. So, I actually like some of Mariah’s work at The Cut. She does this really good series called Konsistency Errors—and the Konsistency’s spelled with a K—where she talks about Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And she tracks each episode and how what’s happening in each episode, the storylines are completely fucking weird in terms of timeline issues. And it’s such a fascinating thing, and I think it takes a lot of effort to be that on top of it. And she’s a Black woman writer, and you know, there are a lot of people calling the piece out but then also calling out The Cut for being irresponsible in editing it and publishing it and how people were really quick to “cancel” Mariah and her, and not just a piece, but Mariah herself.

So, if you look at that up against how Lena Dunham’s been treated and how she’s made so many mistakes. Like her career is actually littered with more mistakes than I think there are things that could be considered accolades, right?

DAHLIA: [chuckles]

AMY: And what’s like the backlash that she gets? She’s given a guest editorship for the Hollywood Reporter where she owns up to essentially lying to protect a friend of hers who wrote for her show. And to think about the contrast in treatment for these two people, and I know it’s like a very specific thing to pull out Mariah Smith’s piece from The Cut versus what happens with Lena Dunham and the opportunities that she’s given. But I think it’s a moment to look at how these two people are treated at this time and how Lena Dunham, as a white woman creator in this industry, continues to be given opportunities no matter how much she fucks up.

DAHLIA: Yeah, let me read a little part from the Hollywood Reporter. [clears throat] “And so I made a terrible mistake. When someone I knew, someone I had loved as a brother, was accused, I did something inexcusable. I publicly spoke up in his defense. There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life. I didn’t have the ‘insider information’ I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all. I wanted to feel my workplace and my world were safe, untouched by the outside world (a privilege in and of itself, the privilege of ignoring what hasn’t hurt you) and I claimed that safety at cost to someone else, someone very special.”

One more paragraph: “To Aurora: You have been on my mind and in my heart every day this year. I love you. I will always love you. I will always work to right that wrong. In that way, you’ve made me a better woman and a better feminist. You shouldn’t have been given that job in addition to your other burdens, but here we are, and here I am asking: How do we move forward? Not just you and I but all of us, living in the gray space between admission and vindication.”

I feel, Amy, you know, [chuckles] being an editor is hard, you know, and it’s really hard work. Someone the other day asked me like, “Oh, do you like being an editor?” And my first answer was, “It’s hard.”

BOTH: [laugh]

DAHLIA: Because we have to take seriously how is an argument built and what words are used and what responsibility does the writer have? What responsibility does the reader have? And it is wild to me. I mean it’s really clear to me, I think, this piece has not been edited because in fact, it is a letter from the editor. And just the amount of privilege and just the amount, as you’re saying, like the biggest, biggest opportunity to guest edit a huge publication and also take this much space in a magazine’s publication to end up saying what’s ultimately very self-serving and kind of a ridiculous apology.

AMY: And to guest edit the Women in Hollywood issue no less. And I think that for her to make that admission in the letter from the editor, it’s one thing, but I think that it wouldn’t feel so fucked up if she has not had a history of doing this. And then she apologizes, and then she just keeps getting more jobs, you know? Like the people who hired her to be a guest editor knew that this was gonna happen, and they let it happen because she’s fucking Lena Dunham. And it just really goes to show who gets to make mistakes, right? Being an editor is a huge responsibility, but then sometimes when you are the editor, you’re behind the curtain. You’re behind the scenes. And when a bad take gets published, the writer gets most of the flack, and the publication gets flack as sort of like collateral damage or whatever. But the writer gets a lot of the direct criticisms and the direct feedback, and sometimes really harsh shit happens to them. And I think that in this case, it’s like who gets to make mistakes? Like somebody like Mariah Smith for The Cut, she got a lot of the venomous feedback, and The Cut got some of it, right? But I don’t know the name of the editor who edited her piece. That’s not on the tip of my mind. I know Mariah Smith’s name. But for Lena Dunham to be given this opportunity, like you’re saying, it doesn’t sound like anybody edited it because she was the editor! And she gets to make mistakes over and over and over again and still be given these opportunities.

I think that Mariah Smith will survive this, but it just really goes to show that who gets to make mistakes, who gets to survive it, and then who gets to continue with their career long after that mistake happens. I mean we’ve been doing this podcast long enough where we’ve done enough cancelling of our own. But I think that because of that, I’m coming to this place now where I think of cancel culture as very toxic. I think that some people deserve to be canceled if they repeatedly exhibit the same toxic behavior, but I think that sometimes some folks should be allowed to make mistakes. Because if everything that I’ve ever thought or written was published for the internet for Twitter to dissect, I would have been canceled a long fucking time ago! Because the thing about being a person is that you grow, you form opinions, and then you realize, oh, some of those opinions aren’t correct or that they’re problematic or that they need to be re-examined, and then you mature and you grow as a person. Nobody comes out of the womb like the perfect social-justice warrior or whatever, right? And sometimes takes are just bad, and that’s all they are. It doesn’t say that, that doesn’t mean that the writer who wrote it is like a purely evil, very bad person and should not exist in this world.

And it happens a lot, and oftentimes the writer has written a bad take. And I think sometimes the editor and the publication knows it’s a bad take, and they publish it because they know they’ll get clicks. And that means you know, that would transfer it to advertising that would transfer it to revenue. And I think that sometimes these publications put writers in harm’s way in order for that to happen, and they take no responsibility for it. And then the writer becomes the collateral damage. So, it’s just one of those things where I think we have to examine it from multiple perspectives. It’s like well, does this mean that this person’s a really truly awful human being for writing this? Or is this just a bad take that was received poorly? Or is this person Lena Dunham?! [laughs] Who has historically done and behaved in a way that’s harmful to a lot of people. I mean this isn’t just about Aurora Perrineau and how Lena Dunham really undermined her accusation of sexual assault by one of Lena’s friends. But it’s about a pattern of behavior where Lena will do something that’s very harmful and then be like, “Oh, sorry, guys! No big deal!” And then nobody holds her accountable for it in a true way that she can feel like okay, this has harmed my career, and I shouldn’t behave this way.

DAHLIA: I mean even more in Lena Dunham’s very long letter, there’s a line that says this to Aurora. She writes, “This space is yours to do with as you please, when you please. I will keep holding this space. It will always be here.” First of all, I mean if you’re confused, I’m confused. It doesn’t really make too much sense. But we talk so much about who gets the space to say what they want in this publication, or who gets the space and discourse to say what they want. And we’re talking, in this sense, about kind of literal space like pages in a magazine in which Lena Dunham got to apologize but also slips in there that she lied. She says that she, at the time, she said that she had insider information that proved that Aurora Perrineau was lying. And now she’s saying, “Actually, I was lying.”

And people need editors; even editors need editors. You know, mistakes happen when you write, and maybe sometimes you say something in a way that you don’t know how it’s coming off. And all of us can understand that because we all were in ninth grade English literature class. And so, you know, sometimes you write things in the wrong way. But like you’re saying, it’s consistently, consistently over and over.

And I think what’s really interesting, these juxtapositions, you know, Lena Dunham was the editor. Bari, in this piece—Bari Weiss and Eve Peyser—Bari Weiss is the editor of The New York Times opinion page. Whereas in this case with The Cut and this story at Into, these are people who, as you were saying, should have, did have, the oversight of editors who should’ve been watching out for them. And in this outrage click culture, it gets harder and harder for editors and writers to work together on something that isn’t just clicky.

[cutesy bells ring]

At the end of every episode, we share something we’re reading, watching, and listening to. Amy, you have the read. What are you reading?

AMY: I just finished Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People. It is a collection of short stories, and I was just so into it. The stories are so fresh and like of our time, kind of. They’re smart, funny pieces, and they kinda look at social media, Blackness, gender, and more. And I just really can’t say enough about this collection. Go to your library, go to your bookstore, get it. It’s so amazing. And I think that on a very like self-centered way, when I was reading it, I’m like, wow. I’m kind of writing stories that are like this, so that when I saw Nafissa published this in a beautiful hardcover book, like you know what I’m saying? It’s just like, wow. These stories can be published, and they’re kind of wonky and weird. And I had not read pieces like this, and I think she’s doing it so well. Just incredible. The collection is called Heads of the Colored People. Please go check it out.

DAHLIA: Over the weekend, I watched this documentary on HBO. It’s called The Price of Everything. And it’s a very sad, kind of ironic and cynical look at the art world. But I really feel like my eyes have been opened regarding capitalism and the art world. It has interviews with one of my favorite people to follow on the internet: New York Magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz, who is the best Instagram follow. But it is sort of a look at how the sad fact that people see art and sort of “masterpieces” as investments and not necessarily as works that enrich your lives or enrich your house. But it’s really more about diversifying your portfolio. And I loved it even though I hated it. And I also learned a lot about Jeff Koons who is kind of the hackiest artist you’ll ever hear about. I really loved it, but also it’s kind of depressing regarding capitalism and being an artist.

AMY: Amazing. [laughs] Speaking of depressing shit, my listen pick is Jessie Reyez. I really love Jessie Reyez’s voice, and she does this defiant sad girl pop R&B thing. This is a track that I’m just super into. It’s called Saint Nobody. Thanks for listening.

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.

[Saint Nobody plays]

♪ “If tomorrow doesn’t come, I got my guns loaded/
For the fight, I’ll take it high, I’ll take it high/
If my days are almost done and I’m the one going/
I’ll be alright, I’ll be alright ‘cause/

Nobody’s gonna say I didn’t give it all (Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya-ya)/
Tiptoein’ on the cliffs, I think it’s worth the fall (Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya-ya)/
If I get there and my tank’s on E, then I’ll be okay/
Destinations like it’s about the journey anyway/
Nobody’s gonna say I didn’t give it all (Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya-ya)….” ♪

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 bitchmedia.org and donate.

♪ “….Walk around with war paint on my face/
’Nother reason why I work like a motherfucker/
If tomorrow doesn’t come, I got my guns loaded/
For the fight, I’ll take it high, I’ll take it high/
If my days are almost done and I’m the one going/
I’ll be alright, I’ll be alright ‘cause/
Nobody’s gonna say I didn’t give it all (Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya-ya)…. ” ♪

by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.