Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.Read More
BY DEIRDRE COYLE
When I watched the first episode of Le Balm—the new web series by Cecilia Corrigan and Monica Nelson—I cackled, then anxiously touched my face to check the quality of my skin, then cackled some more. Le Balm follows a makeup vlogger named Madeleine who decides, after the 2016 presidential election, to convert her many followers into radical activists by smuggling coded messages about overthrowing the regime into her beauty product reviews and tutorials.
In the past year, women's media has been full of articles on self-care as both coping mechanism and radical act. Le Balm questions the validity of this rhetoric with dark humor and compassion. As Corrigan wrote to me in an email, "Dealing with questions about complicity, beauty standards, and the privilege of self-care in a time of political disruption, the series brings together the worlds of our current political climate of anxiety and the messages of women's beauty culture."
Despite a shaky connection between New York and Los Angeles, I video chatted with Cecilia and Monica in the hours before their West Coast launch party.
So I first wanted to ask how you came together to work on this project, and where you’re both coming from?
Cecilia: I met Monica when we were both working on another short film, Crush, which was another piece that played with dark comedy to critique a certain sector of culture—in that case, the art world. We have pretty different backgrounds—my background is academic, and I started out in poetry, now I write and perform weird comedy, and Monica has been working in branding and advertising for years.
Monica: Different backgrounds, for sure. But we share an interest in using narrative and humor to make a cultural critique, that’s sort of the space where every idea we tossed around landed. Cecilia is amazing at creating these intuitive comedic characters that mirror back a very honest reality.
Cecilia: One of the things I like about this character is that she’s almost uncomfortably familiar, like she’s just taking the idea that self-care can be a radical political act to its natural conclusion. So even though it’s parody, it also feels uncanny. I think we were interested in that discomfort.
Monica: Yeah, and there is truth to it as well. The idea for Le Balm started at a women’s group that was organized the week after the election. Everyone was trying to figure out how to respond. Then Cecilia was kind of joking about doing a beauty guru character who’s having a political awakening after the election, and I was like "we should actually do that." That’s how Le Balm got started.
Cecilia: Yeah, that group was cool; I know a few similar groups cropped up that winter. This one was called Feminists Against Fascism—it was all women, a lot of them worked in media, many of them were activists. I found myself thinking about the beauty industry and "women’s media" a lot at that time, and about the idea of a coastal elite. The election brought so much misogyny to the surface, but also revealed so many of the limitations of a feminist politics that isn’t intersectional.
In a way, is this character in Le Balm also grappling with these questions?
Monica: Yeah, in her own way. She’s just taking it very, very literally.
Cecilia: It definitely comes from a relatable place. I first got the idea in a moment of recognizing my own ridiculousness, when I caught myself deeply stressing out about whether I should switch my moisturizer with the changing climate, and simultaneously freaking out about the terrifying political changes that seemed to be already affecting vulnerable people in a really immediate way. I was like, "wow I’m the worst." And you know, I think one of the things that saves me from going crazy is laughing at myself.
Monica: The idea of using what we know, and our own personal experiences seemed really important. I was shaken by the way that women were receiving information, and how it was being framed. All of a sudden all women’s media outlets turned to women’s causes, and you would literally read an article about a social justice cause and a moisturizer in the same typeface and tone. I still have screenshots from that time period that we would send back and forth. Literally posting these headlines that were like, "Are you bleary eyed because of the news? Here are some eye brightener tips."
I did want to ask about the character. We don’t actually learn much about her background in the show, her story before she deleted all of her social media and then restarted it. But clearly she’s a privileged character: a young, attractive white woman able to make her living vlogging (she talks about her sponsorships in the first episode). Could you talk a little about how this character’s conception of "radical activism" is informed by these advantages?
Monica: This girl is earnest. That’s something that’s really important to us. This character did kind of exist in this bubble before the election. She was very sheltered and was able to create this whole ecosystem that was just hers. Her aesthetic was probably a little more decadent, or kitsch. But then her world was sort of blown. When we were briefing the team for the shoot, I would say "Imagine a girl that discovered politics and Garance Doré in the same day."
Cecilia: Yeah. She was definitely in a bubble before. I think a lot of people with a certain kind of privileged complacency felt like they had to become political, become "woke," right after the election. I imagined that whatever was going on with her in the lead-up to this moment, like whatever happened between the election and her new videos, was probably pretty messy. I think this is more than just a re-brand for her: I think she imagines that she’s going to be a real activist now. And in these videos we’re just watching her struggle to make makeup tutorials into political statements, about causes she just found out about and barely understands.
But I also find that struggle endearing: she’s striving to be better, she’s trying to use her influence for good, with, I think it’s called "cringe-worthy results?" She’s been in the business of selling self-improvement for a while, but now she wants to do a make-over on her soul, like Cher in Clueless (who, incidentally, is also a privileged white woman). It’s easy to make fun of people like her, but we decided not to make it a total mockery. It’s a complex situation, right? She’s trying to get involved, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing. And in the last episode I think we see her realizing that she might not actually be offering any useful advice, or helping anyone, by telling them that if they have self-confidence and look good it’s going to protect them from real political and legislative threats to their safety.
Monica: She’s just like, "the show must go on!" And, just like everyone, she’s trying to find new meaning and purpose in what she’s doing. She’s thinking, "I have this audience I could educate about these things."
Cecilia: Monica’s direction really helped bring that out, for me, when I was trying to find the character in the performance. At first I was doing her in a really over-the-top, you know, like, "Hiiii Guys!", like, vocal fry, totally kind of bug-eyed and scary, which is actually—you do see a lot of that. But Monica was like, "This person should be someone that you like. You have sympathy for her, she’s really different, and she has all these different interests, but she’s basically someone that you might know, or meet at a party, that you have empathy for." I do feel empathy for her.
Monica: I thought it was really important that she have depth, and that those things came through. That it felt like she was an actual woman struggling with these things.
Cecilia: Basically what I’m saying is that Monica was like, "Try doing good acting. Like that, except with acting."
Are you worried about the NSA watching the series?
Cecilia: Um. No.
Monica: It’s more like what if the beauty industry NSA sees it. But, actually it’s been funny having interviews with beauty brands. I show them a few episodes and they are laughing and fully understanding what we are doing, but then they say, "This is so funny, it’s amazing, we could never do anything like this."
Cecilia: And we knew that. The reason that we didn’t really pursue doing this like for a brand or even a magazine per se, is because we wanted it to exist on its own in a modular way, which adds an uncanny tone. It looks and feels like a beauty vlog. But at the same time it’s dark, character-based comedy. And the intersection of those things is unusual: it’s just its own thing. Hopefully in an enticing way.
Did you want people to initially view it as a real beauty vlog?
Cecilia: I think that the primary way to read it is as comedy, at least that's our intention. But it's presented in a coy way. But if people read it as a beauty vlog, that’s awesome.
In an email, you’d mentioned wanting to work in a "venn diagram of beauty journalism, political commentary, and unhinged comedy." Could you talk more about how those ideas overlap in Le Balm?
Monica: We had so many conversations about how we wanted to put it out. And at the end of the day, we just said, "This is original content." It’s scripted, but it’s playing with meta-reality. There are heightened moments, but it could be real, on some level. Nothing we’re talking about is fantasy. And I think that realism is something both of us are interested in exploring, that essayistic quality. We’re both interested in creative work as a critical practice. But then again, this piece goes back to some of the things we know best. Performance for Cecilia, and for me, creating "content." Le Balm uses those two things to write an essay about this very specific sector of our culture.
Cecilia: Absolutely: the performance of branded content creation. Le Balm is an imitation of vlogger culture, and a tribute to it. It’s comedy about beauty content and it also is actual beauty content, in a way. It’s an expression of this weird moment we’re living through, rendered through this really simple and clear concept. It feels very conceptual to me in that way.
Monica: I think it asks its viewer to imply the depth, and to read into it. I think that’s the type of content that I’m most excited about.
Cecilia: Yeah. I’ve always really loved stuff that lives in a certain frame but does something different inside of that frame. The work that excites me the most lives in a certain context but plays with people’s expectations. A lot of the ideas in Le Balm are everywhere right now, and there’s been some amazing journalism recently about the strange relationship between contemporary politics and beauty culture. Of course, Le Balm isn’t journalism, even if it is kind of essayistic.
Monica: I think it is rooted in documenting a real phenomenon. Now, beauty is a really powerful category, much more powerful than fashion, because of its ability to create such personal change. Historically, beauty industries have always boomed during political turmoil because beauty is something you can control. Like Elizabeth Arden and all these brands being like, "Red lipstick is empowering!" We have an episode about that. Maybe there is an innate truth to it, because you feel better. It’s a real feeling.
Cecilia: It does seem like there’s so much emotion attached to that space now, so much public feeling around beauty, skincare, makeup. It’s like the final market where people believe buying the right products could actually make them better people. So the character represents something I think is a huge part of life in America and the developed world right now. The new form of aspirational luxury is self-improvement: you want your skin to look better, you want to spiritually be better, politically be better. I think this character wants to believe what we all want to believe, to some extent, that we can have control over our lives and that we can prevent chaos from enfolding us by focusing on self-improvement.
Monica: Beauty is definitely an exercise in control.
Will there be more Le Balm, either in this form or another, in the future?
Cecilia: I’m working on a pilot that’s an expansion of this world.
Monica: I think we also like the idea of using it as a discussion piece. That’s the thing I’m the most excited about, is seeing what people get out of it. It’s been really fun to hear the reactions of people from different backgrounds. There are these funny signifiers that trigger things for people.
Cecilia: Yeah, one of the things I’ve noticed in comedy is that people, when things hit too close to home, tend to be kind of repulsed, they’re like, "Ugh, I hate that character," if they identify too much. Whereas if you’re more distant from the character, you just laugh.
Deirdre Coyle is a writer and goth living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Lit Hub, The New Republic, Hobart, Joyland, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter at @DeirdreKoala.
"The erasures are transformational, I think, in that they mutate the original messages of the statements into my own vision of the truth behind them. It’s sort of like wetting a sheet of paper covered in invisible ink and seeing the message hidden there."Read More
BY ANDI TALARICO
Happy 29th birthday in prison.
I write this to you on your 29th birthday, which you’ll spend in prison.
Happy Birthday, little brother, in prison.
I meant half-brother. It matters.
I don’t know how to write this letter. I don’t know how to do it.
I hate you.
Her life mattered too.
She was 23. She was 23 and you gunned her down over $60 worth of shit heroin. You did that.
I hate you.
I hate you for making this family the wrong kind of poor. A snarl of statistics on rural poverty, a tragedy so common, so small, you’re not even a footnote in the 10 page New Yorker article on the opioid epidemic. I read it on the train to work. I read a clinical article on the pharmaceutical industry on the train to work in New York City. In my ears, airpods scanned the highs and lows of Chet Baker. The most distant mirror.
I read about your world at arm’s length. I thought of you saying-
“Fuck you, Andrea, and your perfect fucking life.”
“Give me 20 bucks, Andrea. I know you got it.”
“You’re not better than me.”
I watch your arrest on the news. They show a picture of the dead girl on the bottom right corner of the screen. The reporter asks you what you have to say for yourself. You snarl,
“Get out of my face.”
I know you’re no broken branch on a perfect family tree. Not even a tree, really, a snarl of a thorny bush, really, a tangle of blighted limbs, really. To call anything that happens here cyclical is to bestow too much order upon it. Really.
We have different fathers. Yours was not a great man. Let’s say that. Let’s remember that when his chemicals crested or cratered, the wrong pill, say, the wrong smoke, the wrong spike, the wrong sniff, it usually ended badly for our mother. You’re too young to remember her broken arm. You’re too young to remember when he still drank. I watched him pour a beer over her head during an argument. I watched her hurl a glass ashtray at his face and almost blind him.
I was seven when you were born, barely not a baby myself. I learned how to love a new human through you, your bright brown eyes reflecting everything you saw around you, new and holy through you. You, on my hip. You, taking the bottle in my hand. You, a small version of me. You, making a big sister of me. You. You named me DeeDee. I named you Young King. I wanted to give the world to you. You.
Our mother joked that she named you for Jesse James. She always liked the bad boys best.
Your father was one of the worst.
I know it was right after he died that you spent your first bout in Juvie. What were you, twelve? Thirteen?
I know that you chose violence over grief, or violence through grief, or violence as grief, or that maybe violence is a grief, or that maybe grief is a violence in that it can murder the person bearing the weight of it.
It is not lost on me that your drug of choice is a pain-killer.
I love you.
I hate you.
That poor woman. I grieve for her life.
You poor child. I grieve for yours as well.
The letter I send will say just this,
Try to have a happy birthday. You know I’m here if you need books. Love you, little brother.”
Andi Talarico is a Brooklyn-based writer and reader. She’s the curator and host of At the Inkwell NYC, an international reading series whose New York branch meets at KGB Bar. She's taught poetry in classrooms as a rostered artist, and acted as coach and judge for Poetry Out Loud. In 2003, Paperkite Press published her chapbook, Spinning with the Tornado, and Swandive Publishing included her in the 2014 anthology, Everyday Escape Poems. She also penned a literary arts column for Electric City magazine for several years. When she’s not working with stationery company Baron Fig, she can be found reading tarot cards, supporting independent bookstores, and searching for the best oyster Happy Hour in NYC.
I have discovered a pretty well known podcast called My Favorite Murder. Two women, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, host the show. It’s considered a comedy podcast. Most people wonder: Where’s the humor in murder? Most would also argue that there is none. However, the humor comes from somewhere else. It’s part of this idea that in order to understand something better we have to get close it. In order to understand why people like Dennis Rader kill we have to pay attention and get closer. So, the humor then, it comes from a place of trying to conquer fear and come to a point of understanding.Read More
Aquamarine Space Unicorns is an awe-inspiring musical experience that sends you on an ethereal and unearthly trip to a galaxy far, far away from this god-forsaken world where mystical unicorns exist and are sometimes creatures that bellow like banshees, other times they soothe you like sirens, but never, ever are they tame in their songs that roar and fight for the oppressed and the marginalized. They graciously invited me to their magical woodland so I could interview them about their upcoming LP She Persisted (The Brink).Read More
All the petty energies expended on downtalking the nominations or defending your own excitement is better spent, I promise. Like on resistance. Or supporting people. Or writing moreRead More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I’m not trying to write a researched post or a think piece. I’m just writing to you, as a person. As an appeal.
I want to talk about the "witch hunt" against men by women and non binary folks. And about the way we talk about assault.
Many of us keep hearing people say that NOT ALL MEN (oh for the love of god, not again) have done "equally bad" things. Like, taking your dick out isn't the same as rape or wielding power or money over someone so they fuck you isn't the same as touching someone. There are lots of KINDS of assault, of course. We all know this. Although there are vastly different levels of short- and long-term trauma involved, what makes something that's nonviolent and space-invading okay if the other person didn't ask for it? There is a consent issue even if the body is not involved directly. Can we update this thinking, please?
Yes. There is difference between raping someone and staring at someone, both legally and ethically, but the fact of the matter is that ALL of these behaviors have gone un-checked for a long time and both require consequences. Different consequences, but consequences nonetheless.
The baseline consequence is that these assailants must look into the abyss and have it look back. They must know that they are predatory; they must live with it; they must die knowing it. Other consequences are legal, social, familial, professional, etc.
For society to be healthy, we need to tell our kids and men and boys (and everyone) that abuse of power is not okay in any way.
I’ve have heard a LOT of people saying that many of these stories coming out against Spacey, Weinstein, Louis, etc., are "bandwagon" stories. That they're tiring, not constructive, repetitive...and, the worst, "done for attention." (Because sexual assault attention is SO fun and validating, right?).
I have briefly considered these wayward opinions, which I have seen proliferated both by men as well as by smart, compassionate, and trusted feminists, women, and non binary folks.
But I disagree with these ideas.
If it feels like a "bandwagon" or a "witch hunt" it's because it is. For so long, women/non binary people have been told—either out loud, or quietly, through small, uncomfortable gaslighting moments and fucked up interactions—that our stories don't matter. Fuck yes, we have a hunt going. Do we sit inside while others ravage through the night for change? Or do we (those of us that can or want to) finally join, as we maybe have wanted to for so long? Remember: some of us stay silent for safety purposes. So we have to fight for everyone, even if they can’t for themselves.
I have two stories I’d like to share. About molestation and harassment. Both deal with sexual assault in different ways.
I’m saying it because I’ve been feeling safer—safe enough to do so. (I’ve already got all the attention I would need, thanks, so it’s not for that. #EyeRoll).
This is about being touched: At a young age—right before adolescence, I slept over a friend's house. The stepfather touched me as I slept. He touched my friend too. She was in the space as I was. I woke up. I told the friend in the morning what her stepfather had done. I told my mother. We went to the police. The youngest daughters said he'd raped them. The oldest, 16, said it wasn't true. Their mother called me a liar. The court case against him was lost. The two girls said they had lied. There was so much disbelief and so much attack against me (they'd said I was projecting my own lack of a father figure onto him) that the girls had just given in and tried to keep the peace and said it wasn't true. With all my heart, this shit was fucking true. He had me sit on his lap in the dark multiple times. But it was the 90s, a small town, and no one fought for me and my experience. I don't speak about this much, but do not for one second think it doesn't bother me that people like this get away with this fuckery. EVERY. DAY.
This is about being harassed: A few years ago I was in a management role at a startup. Another manager hit on me, tried to touch me, made advances at me. I told my young, "hip" boss what happened and he told me "that guy does that to everyone." He asked me not to speak up. They were selling the company. They didn't want to fuck shit up. I told the HR director who was leaving. This wasn't a silent situation. What happened? NOTHING.
Both are real and bad. And worth discussing in their own way. Both are systemic. Both are caused by society feeding ideas of (mostly) male power and dominance.
So if we are bandwagoning—whether in Hollywood OR in our lives in small towns and big cities away from the silver screen—it's because we're taking a chance we feel we are not alone in taking. Who wants to stand up and shout what happens all alone? It's bad enough most of us repress it just to be able to deal.
So, have some patience. Know that people are trying to find their way around in the dark. Know that this is the way to change. It's not perfect. If there were a manual for "how to finally make it known that male toxicity is a disease and is fucking everyone up since forever" maybe we'd know how to handle it. So, if you must critique a movement, consider the reasons it may be flawed first. Emotion is not perfect.
We see all these stories and all these admissions and we think it’s strictly a women’s issue or an issue done TO people (all people I might add: people of color, cis-het people, non binary folks, and people in the LGBTQIA community, every body, shape and size, everyone) instead of BY people.
But it’s more than that. This is a MEN's issue, mostly. It’s an assailant’s issue. The survivors can’t figure your shit out for you.
What this means: if you ARE in the demographic that hasn't abused your power or treated us like objects or raped us or even made us feel super uncomfortable or told us our allegations weren't real, then speak out. Speak out to other men and spread the fucking word. What kind of human are you if you don't?
And if you are those men: stand up, take responsibility and do the work to stare yourself in the eye and come to terms with how your wound wounded others. Fix this.
We cannot all heal unless we do it together.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding editor-in-chief and creative director of Luna Luna Magazine. She is also the moderator of its digital community. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bustle, entropy, Bust, Hello Giggles, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, greatist, Cosmopolitan and The Huffington Post, among other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press), war/lock (Hyacinth Girl Press), Andalucia (The Poetry Society of New York) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). her book, nympholepsy, was a finalist in the 2017 tarpaulin sky book awards.
Her work can be found in PANK, the Tin House blog, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, The Atlas Review, and tarpaulin sky, among others. She has taught or spoken at Brooklyn Brainery, Columbia University, New York University and Emerson College. Lisa Marie Basile holds an MFA from The New School. @lisamariebasile
Next month, you are turning 15. It’s almost December and you have Joan Jett hair and you are so excited to just have been kissed. You haven’t told anyone about being kissed, however, because you were kissed by two girls near the restrooms in a mall—and that’s the only place you can find privacy when your moms don’t let you close your bedroom door. When you can’t be alone.Read More
We know why men rape. Men rape for power. Men rape because they are born and grow up feeling entitled to other people’s bodies. For the most part, men aren’t questioned. Men rape women and other men and non-binary people and queer people all the time. Men rape because they think they can, and because they can, and because they get away with it.Read More
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. He is the book reviews editor for PANK Magazine, the TV/film editor for Entropy Magazine, and a columnist for LitReactor and CLASH Media. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.Read More
Lior Zaltzman is a person-thing of shape and color. Her pictures and words have been published on the Forward, JTA and Haaretz, among others.Read More
They're not broken boys. They're racists.Read More
Latina women don’t deserve to be represented next, we deserve to be represented now. Right now.Read More
Lior Zaltzman is a person-thing of shape and color. Her pictures and words have been published on the Forward, JTA and Haaretz, among others.Read More