It’s Me the Marriage Hype Man
It’s probably best to get out of the habit of calling things guilty pleasures. Own what you like and all. But it’s hard to drop common phrases so we all understand that maybe people aren’t actually ashamed when they talk about liking The Vampire Diaries, wearing UGGs, or eating a lot of candy corn. One thing that should not be a guilty pleasure even in the most casual sense: participating in the institution of marriage! Yet that seems to be a thing a lot of people feel really embarrassed about being into. The wildest version of this I’ve seen in the recent past is this emotionally confused and long twitter thread:
Threads like Joanna Shroeder’s can be read as particularly zealous examples of heteropessimism, a phrase coined by Asa Seresin in a 2019 essay for The New Inquiry. It caught on quickly even though we still don’t quite know what do about it. Lazy jokes about men mattress one towel PS4s have fallen out of fashion, but I still run across straight women claiming that “nobody would CHOOSE to be straight!!” Well, the implication I guess is that men still would because it’s not strange or stigmatized to talk about the many reasons women are interesting and beautiful. Seresin’s diagnosis of heteropessimism as a fundamentally self-absorbed and self-protective mechanism doesn’t – maybe especially doesn’t – spare straight women. She writes, “A certain strain of heteropessimism assigns 100 percent of the blame for heterosexuality’s malfunction to men, and has thus become one of the myriad ways in which young women—especially white women—have learned to disclaim our own cruelty and power.”
Shroeder’s thread is a strange mix of blame laying and blame shifting. Women are uniqely unprepared for “what marriage is,” yet she is also snide about “fellow miserable wives who self-medicate with affairs, boozey weekends away & ‘wine mom culture.’” The people trapping these women are not only their husband and men in general, but a nebulous they that seems to encompass well, everybody. It’s more like heterofatalism (not my original term) than heteropessimism. Her conclusion is utterly empty: it’s not even that these problems could be solved by greater education and self-awareness. It’s more that the problems can be predicted through a depressing and cynical moderation of expectations. There is this final gesture of giving more support to women in their roles as wives and mothers, but support from who and in what form? Because the only thing Shroeder seems to actually be arguing for is a rejection of any kind of optimism or romance towards marriage. A dour whisper network targeted at the entire institution doesn’t seem like the same thing as support, to me.(more…)
A few days ago, the science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders published a short essay titled “The Sweetweird Manifesto.” Is it an essay? IDK. I hate it when people call anything I do a “write-up” so I’m extending Anders that courtesty. In the piece, she did a “towards a working theory of” type observation of a storytelling trend that pairs absurd/bizzarre aesthetics with generosity, kindness, and emotional connection as the focus of the character and plot development. To Anders, sweetweird encompasses “…stories that feature lovable characters and a focus on supportive chosen family, set against worlds that are, shall we say, somewhat tarnished and bizarre.” Since the post first went up, Anders has revised it to include more book recommendations and more background on the origins of this type of story.
Look I fucking hate this. It’s pretty weird to me in the middle of a wave of moralizing and puritanical panic about queer sexuality that a well-known author chooses to go to bat for wholesomeness. It would be one thing if Anders set out to define a subgenre and why she likes it, and even to express her desire for more of it, but she very much did use the word “manifesto.” The last section of the post is titled “the future belongs to sweetweird.” An author in AD 2022 is using the word “grimdark.” Throughout the post, Anders does some not very deft maneuvering to position sweetweird as 1. a mode of storytelling found particularly in queer stories. 2. a constrast to cynicism and misanthropy that is the domain of “cranky cishet white dudes.” 3. therefore ideologically and morally superior to darker/cynical/pessimistic/et al narratives. We’re talking about this because Anders ultimately positioned her preference as a moral taste. When challenged about this online she did the milquetoast “Steven Universe has incredible trauma in it” dance.(more…)
The Reluctant Hometown Hero
The other day I watched Summer in Andalusia, an anime gem from 2003. It’s by studio Madhouse, but you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a Ghibli venture, since director Kitarou Kousaka worked on films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Nasu: Summer in Andalusia follows a Spanish cyclist, Pepe Benegeli, over one day in the Vuelta a España road race. The movie is less than 50 minutes, and it’s tempting to call it fizzy, a diversion, a cool drink to go with a vacation to an exotic place. But it’s more like the meal that grounds the story and connects the characters: pickled eggplant and red wine. That is to say: unfussy but rich and heavy with tradition. I imagine some people have watched Summer in Andalusia and found it pleasant but slim. I found it to be a beautiful and restrained window into legacy, family, roots, and talent.
It’s a sweltering day in the Spanish summer, but it’s the day where the Vuelta’s stage happens to run through Pepe Benegeli’s hometown. Pepe is a domestique for his Belgian beer-sponsored team (the logo for which is clearly a Delerium Tremens reference). This means that his job is to support the athletes who actually stand to win the entire race. The star he’s supporting, Gilmore, as well as his sponsors and most of his competitors, are not Spanish. This movie reminded me that I am part Spanish, specifically Andalusian, but I did not have an accurate picture of the landscape in my mind. The idyllic-to-my-ears title Summer in Andalusia and its cover image of three young people on a bike conjured up something a little more Call Me by Your Nameish, with tranquil pools and lazy days spent under fruit trees. Andalusia is more desert than lush paradise, though, and all the cyclists are suffering.(more…)