Here’s a solid 17 minutes of me talking about it, which you can also listen to on your regular podcatcher of choice.
Here’s a solid 17 minutes of me talking about it, which you can also listen to on your regular podcatcher of choice.
|Sentimental Garbage||Jun 12|| 4|
“Who is your favourite Simpsons character?” is a stupid question for idiots and children. Springfield is an orchestra and no one instrument can play the symphony alone. That said, the answer is Mr Burns.
But even that is not the whole story. Because my real favourite character isn’t just Mr Burns, but vulnerable Mr Burns. Which is to say: Mr Burns with his jacket off.
Burns with his jacket off!!!! Burns with his jacket off is Superman without his cape, Samson without his hair, Harvey Weinstein without a complex web of non-disclosure agreements. He is wiped out, he is finished, he is a senior citizen who can’t ride the bus properly, he is too old even for old people, he is desperate for his former decadence but resigned to the idea of not getting it back, he has the thinnest little wrists!
The indignities Burns suffers when he has his jacket off – getting punched in the face by Homer and having to hide behind a pot plant, getting locked in a dairy cabinet, being told by a wrestler that he smells – are so minuscule compared to the pain he freely inflicts on other people. This is a man who tried to block out the sun. And yet! When I see Mr Burns with his jacket off I don’t want any harm to come to him, I want to hide him in my pocket so he may never be troubled again. My feelings for vulnerable Mr Burns is a disturbing reminder to me how much I am willing to let old men get away with, and a clue as to why we have ended up with a world as unjust as it is. And yet! Here I am! Feeling these feelings anyway!
One of my favourite ever episodes of The Simpsons is Brush With Greatness, where Marge paints Mr Burns. I love any episode of The Simpsons where Marge finds greater purpose within the arts, even if it always ends on a downer, because inevitably we are reminded that Marge Bouvier is a gentle, creative flower and Marge Simpson is doomed to return to a life of drudgery. But anyway, Marge paints a nude Mr Burns, and in defence of the painting says the following: “I wanted to show that beneath Mr. Burns' fearsome head, with its cruel lips, spiteful tongue and evil brain, there was a frail, withered body, perhaps not long for this world. As vulnerable and beautiful as any of God's creatures.”
Marge, I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.
The Simpsons go to church every Sunday and they get dressed for it. I love Lisa’s little hat and her puffed-up sleeves. I love Bart’s wet hair. I love that Bart’s suit is brown. A brown suit on a little boy. The stiffness and the dated design of the kids clothing conjures such a specific sense memory of what it is like to buy fancy clothes as a child, when you’re no longer in the supermarket with the shiny plastic dinosaur de-cals, but in an entirely separate shop run by old ladies and where children’s clothing is called children’s apparel. If you grew up in a churchy atmosphere, you saw a lot of these shops: I went for my Communion, for my Confirmation, for my brother’s Communion, for my brother’s Confirmation. Weird shops that smell bad are unavoidable in the childhood quest for holiness.
I love Marge’s lipstick! It is the exact shade of lipstick that belongs to a woman who has one lipstick that she keeps in her handbag for church and for emergency meetings at the school. It is not too red, which would be garish, nor too pink, which would be infantile. My guess is that it is called “Essential Burgundy” and is worn down to a nub.
What I like about the church outfits is that they are also used for any semi-formal occasion, including graduation day at a dog obedience school.
I have lived with a man long enough to know that you must never get between a man and his robe. Gavin’s Homer Simpson robe is teddy-bear brown and feels like a bath mat that has been washed with hair conditioner. It was ten years old when we first met so it is now old enough to drive. Women’s robes are never like men’s robes. There are sexy, slinky dressing gowns. There are ‘cosy’ robes made of that overly-plush polyester that feels dry and itchy against your fingertips. As a woman, you can buy a robe three sizes larger and it will still never work the way a man’s robe just works. You’re drowning in fabric yet still find yourself with body parts exposed, never fully covered enough to answer the door and sign for a parcel. The sleeves fall into your coffee.
A man becomes a man when he finds his True Robe. The robe that is welded to his person, the robe that makes him a cosy mountain of solace, the robe you can cry into when you get bad news from home. The True Robe temporarily allows for a version of masculinity we’re all comfortable with: sensitive and strong, gentle and protective. No arguments can be started when a man in his True Robe.
One of my favourite Homers is Homer when he’s in his True Robe. Robe Homer is cute Homer. Homer when he has food poisoning from a week-old sandwich, and then watches The Erotic Adventures of Hercules with Marge. Homer when he skips church and eats waffle batter. Homer when he eats 64 slices of American cheese.
(Other good Homers: Homer in his half-moon glasses, Homer in his long-sleeved shirt and tie, Homer in his mumu)
There’s no new episode this week, but here’s a mini-episode about some of the fiction I’m taking back down off the shelves recently in light of the political climate. Here are the books mentioned.
The story I mentioned (“Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology”) is actually available as a sample on the Fawcett Society’s website, if you want to try before you buy. I read it on a flight last year, and like all in-flight reading, will probably remain over-attached to this book until I’m dead.
It had long irked Riley that his blackness or the degree of his loyalty to the cause should be suspect because he wore blue contacts and bleached his hair blond and because, on top of all that, his name was also Riley, and not, say, Tyreke. It irked him that he might be mistaken for a self-hating Uncle Tom because he enjoyed cosplay and anime and comic book conventions and because he happened to be feeling the character of a rich Japanese schoolboy a little too much at that very moment.
The story about the tailor that I mention on the podcast (“Synsepalum”) is also available as an extract on Minor Literatures and it’s just so breathtakingly good that I have to paste some of it here:
On the third occasion the women wore their outfits, they discovered Manu had lied to them. They could wear the designs only three times. The third time, they couldn’t get out of them. Seams tightened, buttons couldn’t be undone, petticoats became silken cages. The women rolled around in the damp earth of their gardens, climbed onto their husbands, partners, lovers, hollering to them to get the scissors, knives, shears, anything to cut them out. They spilled onto the streets. It was on this morning that Noma arrived outside the museum to find the crowd of women. Manu had disappeared, gone to the next place, the next set of women who needed to feel good, whose images of themselves he could manipulate, like startled adult changelings behind a lens. The atelier was empty, the sewing-machines and mannequins forlorn in the void.
Donate to UK Black Lives Matter: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund
Exist Loudly Fund to Support Queer Black YP: https://www.gofundme.com/f/exist-loudly-fund-to-support-queer-black-yp
SARI Stand Against Racism and Inequality https://www.sariweb.org.uk/who-we-are/donate/
Girl Guiding: https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/
|Sentimental Garbage||May 30|| 1|
When my first book was published, I bought myself a gift. This is pretty common among authors. Some writers buy jewellery, some buy an extravagant piece of furniture, some buy art. I suppose what you buy depends on the size of your advance. The whole point of the author’s self-gift is that we want something heavy and beautiful to point at, something utterly surplus to requirements, and be able to say “I bought this thing with money earned from my writing and I trust my talent so much that I am willing to let it be totally useless.”
I commissioned a gold plated portrait of Marge Simpson.
You will notice that it’s not just any Marge Simpson, but Marge Simpson in the very moment she discovers her pink Chanel suit in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield. Like a lot of female Simpsons fans, I am into this episode of The Simpsons far more than is necessarily healthy. It’s a remarkable episode for lots of reasons: it’s deliciously Marge-centric, a fairly rare occurrence during this era. It’s also extremely grounded in reality, in that the zaniest thing that really happens is that Marge finds an authentic Chanel suit for $90 (roughly a quarter of what it cost to commission a gold glass portrait of her finding the same suit). It’s also the first Simpsons episode to be written and directed by two women. My friend Tash has described Scenes as “the female Get Out”, and she’s right. The airless rooms of well-dressed women; the mounting pressure to both perform and go unnoticed; the constant jabs from her country club friends, and those who don’t want Marge to take their ‘attempts to destroy her too seriously’.
It’s perfect. It’s also exactly how I felt about publishing a book for the first time. I wanted to both perform and go unnoticed. I wanted to impress airless rooms of well-dressed cunts. I wanted armour for the attempts to destroy me (namely, one-star Goodreads reviews) that I shouldn’t take too seriously. So I commissioned Alex May Hughes for this portrait, to act as a kind of future reminder to myself of how terrified I was in June 2018.
This is just one set of intense emotions I have about secondary outfits in The Simpsons. But there’s more!
Maggie in her star suit
I’ve noticed that in animation, when something can’t talk but you want to bestow noble qualities upon it, it is best to just animate it as though it were a dog. The horses in both Mulan and Tangled are animated to behave like dogs. The raccoon from Pocahontas is a dog. Pegasus is a dog. Next time you’re watching a cartoon, watch out for it. There is a dog in almost everything, even when it is not a dog.
In most Simpsons episodes, if Maggie is doing anything aside from sitting on Marge’s lap, she is either behaving like a very small adult, or like a very brave dog. Notable exceptions to this are when she is in her star suit. There’s something so baby about the star suit: the winter padding so thick that she can’t really move, the little hands poking out from the cuffed sleeves, the teeny little feet tilting upwards. I love Maggie in her star suit.
Kent Brockman off duty
When you’re young, you find it very easy to relate to the children in The Simpsons – I am a Lisa sun with a Nelson Muntz moon – but because the adults of Springfield are so universally and thunderously flawed, it means you have to reckon with your own worst traits in order to find your centre. I see a lot of myself in Kent Brockman. The thing about Kent Brockman is that even though we know him as the reliable small-town news broadcaster, in Kent’s head he is a serious journalist. In Kent’s head, when he’s chain-smoking at his typewriter, he’s Dustin Hoffman in All The President’s Men. Krusty and Kent are two sides of the Springfield show business coin, the key difference being that Krusty wants endless love, and Kent wants endless respect.
Kent at his typewriter! Kent at his typewriter makes my heart break in two, because it’s the first clue we have that not only does Kent write his own broadcasts, he tries really hard at them. All of his parting shots are so over-done, so desperately writerly, so obviously the last crumbs of a once-held hope to be the next Norman Mailer.
Please, consider the below Kent Brockman quotes and imagine him writing them on his typewriter, so delighted at his own bon mots.
In other news, Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor of all time, is apparently still inventing, despite the notable handicap of being dead.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.
Kent probably wants to write a book and probably would write a book if he didn’t love being on TV so much. I’m not saying this is me, necessarily, but I understand it, I get it, I feel it. To be a great artist and a great capitalist is a hard thing to pull off, but god knows me and Kent are trying.
Next time: Mr Burns with his jacket off, church outfits, Homer in his robe
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I’m on a social media hiatus. No big dramatic reason, I just came to the realisation that I am addicted to having a numerical score awarded to my every thought and whim, and that maybe that isn’t very healthy, brain-wise. So far, I feel much better for it. The problem, however, is finding somewhere on the internet that I can have appropriate down-time from what I’m doing. I need The Toast to come back. I need The Hairpin. I need Allie Brosh to decide that she does like making Hyperbole and a Half, after all.
Where do you waste time online? The Cut is fun, but I’m a little bored of hyper-zeitgeist feminism with a perfectly groomed arched eyebrow and witty jokes about skincare. Give me something a little weirder, a little spikier, a little more dumb. I’m all ears.
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