Thursday, December 22, 2016

In the song, Coney Island Baby, my hero, Lou Reed, asks us to remember that different people have peculiar tastes.

End of the year best of book lists are a funny thing; in small press communities, where monetary rewards are slim, and promotion can be hard to come by, they can seem more like popularity/ personality contests then actual meritocracies. Reading a book, no matter how enjoyable, requires energy, and investment, and while I can understand the desire to hype a friend’s work, or to potentially make a connection by hyping someone's work, it isn’t much benefit to the reader who just wants to trust your recommendation, and read something good. When a person operates from this fishy place in politics, it's called cronyism. Though I doubt there is any actual promise squeezed from those being listed, another word that might be applicable comes from the music industry: payola. I’m sure it’s all borne of the desperation that comes from trying to get one’s work out there; but let’s be real: it corrupts year-end best of lists.

Believe me, I wanted to find a better picture of Lou with a book.

The following is a list (in no particular order) of the written things (a play and a zine are also included) that came out this year that I really enjoyed.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek

Problems by Jade Sharma

I'll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell

When Watched: Stories by Leopoldine Core

Drugs (play): by Cookie Muller and Glenn O' Brien

Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz

SCAM: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue (zine) by Erick Lyle

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Mostly Sexist Agenda of Nasty Nicknames for Female Celebrities

I'm reading Sady Doyle's amazing new book Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear...and Why and I remembered this list I made back in 2013 (when I had a lot more time to think about about the plight of female celebrities then I do now). It was up online somewhere then, but I'm reposting it here. With the passage of time, there are a few things I would change about what I wrote-- but there are also plenty of new nicknames I could add to list.

It's a societal disparity as old as the hills, women are reviled for the same things men are celebrated, and the evidence is in the pop culture pudding. For every one Wacko Jacko there are ten Parasite Hiltons, but not all of these nasty nicknames for female celebrities can be traced back to the media, and an editor out to craft a catchy caption or headline.  Both #1. and #3. came courtesy of on- and- off friends of the starlet, while #8. was coined by the star’s fans as a term of endearment-- she's actually embraced the moniker, and sometimes uses it to describe herself.

An especially nasty nickname can attach itself to a celebrity for time eternal-- the implication the nickname makes becomes the association the public makes with the celebrity, and that implication can become impossible to shake. The majority of these nasty nicknames just reiterate what the public has come to expect from its famous females, and the designee has been slapped with the moniker for not living up to those ideals: Fergy fug, for ascending to fame while being in some nameless, faceless, editor's very important mind, unattractive; Hanoi Jane for being so vocal and visible with her anti-establishment views during the Vietnam War; and the Portly Pepper pot, because who would ever believe that the leader of the free world would risk everything for a chubby girl?

A few of the ignoble nicknames originated with Perez Hilton, who in the early years of his popular gossip blog, seemed to create them daily for sport. Since becoming a father, he has publicly resolved to be less "mean-spirited" towards the celebrities he covers. It’s a testament to the entrenchment of some of these nicknames that they still remain in active use despite their creator's disavowal.

Below is a list of famous females who nasty nicknames may live on in infamy:

1. Fire Crotch

This nickname for Lindsay Lohan came from the mouth and mind of brat scion Brandon Davis, who imparted it upon the world while being videotaped by the paparazzi, in the company of Paris (Parasite) Hilton. The prurient interest of the part of Lindsay's body that it purports to reference, combined with Brandon's Mr. Jeeves- style patois as repeatedly enunciates "Crotch" like "Crutch" in the TMZ video of the encounter have contributed to the moniker’s memorability.

2. Sexual Napalm

Not a nickname per se, but pretty much, considering how often "Sexual Napalm" is mentioned when Jessica is. "Jessica Simpson, Weight Watcher's new spokeswoman, Sexual Napalm!" "Jessica Simpson gives birth to daughter, Sexual Napalm!" This description for Simpson’s sexual explosiveness came courtesy of musician/pro boyfriend John Mayer, who kisses and spills more often, and much more graphically than Taylor Swift, but gets light scoldings for his disclosures, not unfunny award show parodies. (Mayer also informed the world that Jennifer Love Hewitt's body was "Wonderland," and Jennifer Aniston was "clingy.")

3. Bimbo Summit/ "The Animal"

 For a short time in 2006, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton appeared to be friends; they engaged in friend -like activities, such as entering and exiting clubs together, and carpooling. Photographic lenses everywhere were kept in a constant state of contortion as paparazzos followed their every move, and clamored to get shots up their skirts as they made them. The tabloids had a field day with the threesome, concocting headlines like "The Three Horsewomen of the Apocalypse" and "Bimbo Summit." The neat & tidy celebrity package didn't last long, and after the friendships fractured, sources close to Paris leaked her private nickname for Britney: "The Animal," because according to Paris, Britney never thought before she acted. (I would like to note that I think most animals think a lot.)

4. Mushy Fartone

Let’s do some free association with Mushy Fartone. Mushy: soft, like a bowl of potatoes, or maybe squishy, like the belly of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. It’s impossible to free associate with Fartone. It’s just “Fart one.” When you put “Mushy” and “Fartone” together, what’s the implication? “Fat Gassy Girl?” When I was in junior high, the bane of my existence was a boy named Leonard Reebe. Whenever I saw Leonard in class, or crossed paths with him in the hallway, he would intone loudly enough for everyone to hear,"Beee-Owna!” a parody he’d contrived of my own name, Fiona. The insult was in how he said the name, and in the visual it conjured. "Bee-Owna!" was slovenly, and bred parakeets in fetid cages.  “Bee-Owna!” never left the house, and ate TV dinners while watching The Price is Right in a muumuu. “Bee-Owna” was my Mushy Fartone. If we think of Perez’s website like a movie, Mushy Fartone is the equivalent of Perez casting Mischa to play the role of a Garbage Pail Kid, when, by the nature of her being a young starlet in Hollywood, she tried out for role of the ingénue.

5. Hanoi Jane

This is a real patch. Snoopy won't forget. A Google search will bring up pages and pages of these Anti-Fonda images, some calling for her execution as a traitor, and many of them handcrafted. (It’s interesting to think of dudes getting the craft bug inspired solely by their hatred of Jane Fonda.) Though Jane stands by her opposition to the Vietnam War, she's apologized numerous times for the infamous photograph of her sitting on an anti-aircraft battery and has since said she feels that the picture was staged as a photo op by the Vietcong.

6. Waity Katy

Kate Middleton earned this disparaging moniker for the eight years she dated Prince William before he proposed, the implication being that:
1.she withstood the wait because of her want for the crown.
2. she withstood the wait because as a smart, attractive young woman from a wealthy family with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Saint Andrews she had nothing better do.
3. she withstood the wait because she's a pathetic doormat.
After she and William became engaged in 2010, the nickname changed to Lazy Katy because Middleton left her job to prepare for the round the clock job of being a monarch.

7. Wino

 In the same way that identifiable, one- word celebrity names like Prince, or Madonna, are often considered to be the height of fame, nasty, one- word celebrity nicknames could be considered the depths of cruelty. In the excellent 1962 film, Lilith, Kim Hunter’s character says to Warren Beatty’s, "Insanity seems a lot less sinister to watch in a man than a woman." If the sentiment‘s true, it's a sinister inequality that the media relishes chronicling.

8. Glammy Skank

In the late nineties, Courtney Love started a website called It became one of the most popular websites on the net, and for a blink and you missed it moment, Courtney was heralded by the media as an e-entrepreneur. By the early aughties, Courtney had fallen out with the administrators of the site, but during that brief window when everyone was getting along swimmingly, her fans at kittyradio gifted their queen with this honestly affectionate nickname. "Glammy skank," for glamorous skank.

9. Horse Face

Women love Sarah Jessica Parker for her sartorial flair and film and television roles, while men despise her, possibly because they felt ignored all those Sunday nights during Sex and the City's six season run. Routinely ranking in the top three in those vile online "Ugliest Women in the World" lists (as did Amy Winehouse, before her death), there is even a web site called, which bills itself as "a loving tribute to the aging style icon," and whose webmaster refers to themselves as "the stable master" and asks for donations to the site to "protect aging NYC carriage horses."

10. Fergy Fug

Sometimes I wonder, if, at a tender age, young boys are taken aside, and told a secret by older men. Actually, what they are told isn't the secret; it’s that this multi-generational information-sharing actually occurs. "Quickest way to wound a woman, young man? Tell her she's ugly."  Hurt people, hurt people, blah, blah, I get it, but why the special relish when it comes to lobbing looks-related insults at famous women? Does it feel like some kind of power equalizer? Maybe you'd never give me the time of day, but I can still tear you down physically. How come women don't come up with nicknames like this for famous men we find to be unattractive? Or annual "Ugliest Men" lists?

11. Miseralba

At one time, Jessica Alba, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, she starred in films like Honey and Sin City that showcased her sexiness, and was voted number one on's list of the "99 Most Desirable Women." Then she got married, had two children in quick succession, and the media decided she was miserable. Why the sudden change in good feeling? Subtle indictment on the fuckability factor of married moms? Are the kids and the ring a wrench in the wet dream?

12. Super Head

Actress and model Karrine Stevens received this nickname for her purported superior oral sex skills from the rappers she worked with and dated while appearing as an extra in music videos for the likes of Jay-Z, L.L Cool J and R. Kelly. Segueing her industry experience into a successful writing career, Stevens has written three New York Times bestsellers and owns her own publishing company. Still, websites like default to adjectives like “slorebag” and “Hollywood jizz-bucket,” over “resourceful” and “industrious” when describing her accomplishments.

13. The Portly Pepper Pot

In 1999, Monica Lewinsky was the most famous twenty-two year old woman in the world. President Clinton would infamously go on television and lie about her, saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” and the populace would come to learn in John Mayer- worthy detail just what the commander in chief considered to be a sex act. Feminist leaders were hesitant to publicly lend their support to Lewinsky, because of the risk to the liberal- leaning Clinton administration. There was a locker-room undercurrent to much of the scandal, and the flat-out disbelief from bros in the media that the most powerful man in the world would risk the presidency for a chubby girl in a beret. (Paula Jones had received much of the same ribbing about her looks, and would go on to have plastic surgery, paid for by right-wing donors.) The New York Post came up with "pepper pot" moniker, and used it interchangeably with Monica’s name in its coverage of the debacle. Interestingly, Urban Dictionary defines a “pepper pot” as  1. (noun) - An assertive person who shares opinions or acts in ways that are stronger than the extant social power structure might predict. Especially women, since men often wrongly expect women to be weak, acquiescent, or void of certain types of knowledge. Monica has said that she dealt with the stress of the media onslaught by knitting, and in 2000, became a paid spokeswoman for Jenny Craig.

14. Nauseating Nancy

Usually, in a last act of crass politesse, a nasty media nickname is retired after the designee's death, especially when the death is a tragic one, as was the case with Amy Winehouse and the vile "Wino." Not so after the death of Nancy Spungen, the drug addicted, and mentally- ill girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. Even after her gory murder in Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel, the press kept it open season on her character. The ante was upped even further when Malcolm McLauren and Vivenne Westwood began selling t-shirts poking fun at her murder that read "She's dead, I'm alive, I'm yours," above a picture of Sid.

15. The Dragon Lady/ "Yoko Ono" as insult

Asked how she felt about the racist nickname bestowed upon her by the British media, Yoko Ono turned "The Dragon Lady" on it's head, saying, ""I'm kind of honored to be a dragon lady. The dragon is a very powerful, mythical animal . . . well, probably they think I'm powerful, thank you very much." Blamed for the break-up of a band "more popular than Jesus," Yoko Ono is that rare breed of maligned celebrity whose own name has become institutionalized as an insult. From Courtney Love, to Kate Moss, to Demi Lovato when she dated a Joe Bro, any woman who gets up close and personal with a guy in a band is at risk for the moniker. About Ono, feminist writer Germaine Greer once said, "Her enormous wealth can be no consolation for the knee jerk assumption she encounters a hundred times a day that she destroyed Lennon's gift and broke up the best band there ever was." Her name may have become an insult, but I doubt with her music, film making, and activism, Yoko Ono has ever let the insults define her. I agree with Greer that money is of no consolation to Ono. I think her art is.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Recently I wrote a review of Jarett Kobek's fantastic new book, I HATE THE INTERNET for Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Initially, the book inspired me to write something that focused much more on internet outrage, the wrath of which a main character in the book experiences. I ended up scaling back on that focus for the published review, and wrote about the book's other plotlines and themes instead. I think what the book initially inspired me to write is still valid, so I've decided to post it here. (The line of red stars denotes where the personal-style commentary on online outrage starts.) If you haven't read this book yet, you need to. If it isn't obvious from the opening, I'm a huge, huge fan of the book, and Jarett's writing in general.


No writer’s work in the last year has inspired in me in so much post-reading activity as California author Jarett Kobek. His fictionalized, “psychedelic biography,” ATTA, the first of its kind to attempt to humanize 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, led me to order the salacious biography, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince  that Kobek puts in the terrorist’s hands as he attempts to learn more about U.S infidel culture; his If You Don’t Read, Why Should I Write? led me to sit down with a cute reference librarian in search of English-language translations of Saddam Hussein’s execution (Kobek’s book features an excerpt, along with dialogue from celebrity sex tapes, juxtaposed with the celebrity’s arrest record); and his excellent novel, BTW, inspired me to binge watch the 1994 BBC production of Middlemarch, then read the CliffsNotes to the classic George Eliot book. (I craved a deeper understanding of Middlemarch in the moment, in relation to a recurring tangent in BTW. I hope to read Eliot’s 700+ page opus soon.) The writings of Jarett Kobek, though broad in their scope, all have one thing in common—the masterful tangent, the tangent risen to art form. Often, it was the tangents in Kobek’s work that were inspiring so much of my activity.

Because Kobek makes so many references to art, culture, language, and philosophy, in some ways, his writing reminds me of a Re/Search anthology from the 90s, but one with an underlining storyline that is rooted in the present day, and covers matters much more pressing to the moment.

Kobek’s writing does something else that deserves to be lauded, and is on display in his eviscerating new novel, I HATE THE INTERNET  (We Heard You Like Books): he breaks down the disconnect inherent to our outrage-impulsive age. The way he does this makes me think of the weekend after Sept. 11th, when Lorne Michaels famously asked Rudy Giuliani on Saturday Night Live if it was OK to be funny again. Thankfully, Kobek doesn’t ask anyone’s permission.

Kobek takes the saga of the internet—the people displaced from their homes to make room for it, the user on user crime that is so multi-faced and endemic, and the vengeance-loving masses waiting for the next e-wrong to right —and gently, considering the heady ground he’s covering, makes the sordid tale very funny.

It’s a brave thing to do, considering how emphatic some internet users can be in their belief that there is no grey area.  I HATE THE INTERNET asks, “Why is activism in the 21st century nothing more than morality lectures typed into devices built by slaves?” Kobek also gives the time in which we live a new name: “terrofucked."


One of the primary plotlines of I HATE THE INTERNET involves a successful comic book illustrator, a woman in her 40s, named Adeline. Adeline finds herself in the middle of online controversy after giving a talk to the students of poet Kevin Killian (Kobek often weaves real people into his storylines, and real storylines onto his people). During the talk, Adeline is asked by a student if she thinks Facebook and Twitter can serve a role in the pursuit of social progress. It’s her response to the question that causes her so much trouble:

“Social progress might have had meaning twenty years ago when I was but a young thing, but these days it's become the product of corporations. But what do you people know anyway? You’re a lost generation. Even your drugs are corporate. You spend your lives pretending as if Beyoncé and Rihanna possess some inherent meaning and act as if their every professional success which only occur because of your money and your attention is a strike forward for women everywhere."

What she says is videotaped by a student, and uploaded to the internet. The internet in turn metes out its most finely tuned form of social progress.

As Kobek writes:

“A wide range of humanity believed that Beyoncé and Rihanna were inspirations rather than vultures. Adeline had spit on their gods.

This wide range of humanity responded by teaching Adeline about one of America’s favored pastimes, a tradition as time-honored as police brutality, baseball, race riots and genocide.

They were teaching Adeline about how powerless people demonstrated their supplication before their masters.

They were tweeting about Adeline.”


What Kobek highlights in I HATE THE INTERNET is what is so often lost, or conveniently overlooked, in our present day, need- for- high- speed internet rage:

The internet and it’s platforms are often the products of the baddest of bad guys. Twitter and Google, the platforms that Kobek focuses on most heavily because of their effects on the inhabitants of San Francisco, the novel’s setting— were built by displacing poor and middle income people from their homes in order to move tech execs in. They are platforms that profit from upset, and thrive on human suffering. They in turn market that human suffering, using it to sell products for corporations  who enable other forms of human suffering across the globe. Twitter, Google, and their ilk profiteer off the suffering so endemic to our times— where police officers are routinely acquitted of killing unarmed Black men, and wars are fought based on lies—as well as the much less significant human trespasses, like a 40 year old female comic book illustrator calling Beyoncé and Rihanna frauds.

It’s a tough thing to think about when meting out our responses online: who are our strong emotions most benefiting? Who are they most hurting? And who are the ones most deserving of our anger? Using whose corrupt tools are we fighting for social change? And what does that say about us, knowing that these tools are corrupt, that we continue to use them? Considering their vested interests—would these platforms really want the social change that we think we are using them for?


 While reading I HATE THE INTERNET, I found myself thinking about the people I know in online publishing circles, myself included, who have sometimes found themselves hesitant when publishing their stories, especially if those stories touch in some way on matters related to gender, class, sexuality, or race. Well if you’ve nothing to hide, then what would you have to be hesitant about? a voice—the ghost of internalized internet dramas past— asks. Well, it’s not always so cut and dry, a voice sounding like my own replies.  There are grey areas to things, there are the experiences that exist on the peripherals of our beingthere are the tangents: things we’ve seen, places we’ve been, people we’ve known, people we’ve  sometimes been ourselves. In online publishing today, if you are writing anything touching on those subjects, you might feel like it would be beneficial to you to mark your side —establish your stance. Qualify. And experiences don’t happen that way, if you are to write about them honestly. Our lives happen in experiences. When experiences are fine-tuned to fit agenda they become politics.


If we were to get very kindergarten about it, inherent to the most common occasions of internet upset is the idea that the person at its center has done something offensive, and that offensive thing in turn reveals something about the offender’s moral center —their inner core as a person. Things in this way easily become very black and white. Once one has incited internet upset, that person has become marked, branded: they are bad.  I've never seen a person's reputation completely recover from this. (And would concur that some people have done things so egregious, a tainted reputation is far less than they deserve.) The implication to this might be if one wants to avoid finding themselves in the center of internet upset, if one wants to try to remain "good,” one should try to stay attuned to what constitutes offense—but keeping track can be difficult, because the definition is always in flux. A recent example of this would be the death of music icon David Bowie. By mourning David Bowie online, the week of his death, Jan 10, 2016, a person could find themselves unexpectedly considered "bad,” a person could find themselves unexpectedly considered horrible: a person could find themselves considered by some to be a rape sympathizer.

On Jan 10, I posted this on Facebook in response to Bowie's passing:

 There are some people you don't think of as being mortal. David Bowie made the world a much more interesting place.

Soon afterward, I started seeing posts conflating people's grief with rape sympathy, because of a sexual encounter Bowie had had with an underage fan in the 1970s. As I read the posts and comments, more posts began to appear. Some posts posited it was OK to mourn David Bowie as long as one also acknowledged their support for victims, their disdain for perpetrators of sexual assault.

I had a strong reaction to this. In order to avoid causing offense, I had to qualify my post about David Bowie’s death to explicitly state that I was against sexual assault?

If I had amended my post to reflect this—immediately after reading the other posts— it might have looked something like this:

 That my feelings of sadness at David Bowie’s death might be somehow misconstrued as an endorsement of sexual assault… Frankly, I’m offended by your offense.

I didn't amend my post, though I did put up a new post saying that I found the conflation to be madness. While I stand by that, I wish now that I hadn't responded at all.

Later, I found myself wondering: noting my interest in the posts that had made the conflation, had Facebook tailored my feed to specifically highlight the posts that had made that claim? The more posts I read reflecting that view, the stronger my need to react felt.  
Noting my interest, had Facebook tried to inflame me?

Reading the posts had kept me from logging out. They had led me to post again, and to comment, which I hadn’t planned to do. And there were things related to the posts that Facebook could try to sell me. As I stayed online reading and clicking, these books popped up as ads on my computer screen:


While reading I HATE THE INTERNET, I also found myself reflecting on other incidents of big internet response. When websites use elements of sensationalism and scandal-mongering in their stories, it’s called clickbait: the sites are purposely focusing on the more provocative aspects of a story in order to up web traffic; often, at the expense of the story’s accuracy. A semi-recent, yet unique example of this would be when the online site Jezebel published the unretouched photos from a photoshoot Lena Dunham had done for Vogue magazine. What was unique about the situation was that Jezebel was called out by their readership for the reason they claimed to have run the photos: Jezebel claimed they published them to expose Vogue for body-shaming Dunham. Their readers said they didn’t believe Jezebel’s motives were nearly so righteous.

If we acknowledge that websites do this, manufacture upset in the hopes of garnering reaction, can we not acknowledge that individual people might exaggerate their upset online, too? When our supposed altruism and goodwill towards others becomes “shareable,” “likeable,” commendable in the moment, a commodity that can be used to increase online Klout scores, might the integrity of that altruism find itself in danger? Might we invent occasions by which to show off our supposed altruism—might our good deeds become performative? And what if those good deeds were best showcased when juxtaposed against the supposed misdeeds of others? Might we go out of our way to look for, and create villians?

Dunham, took to Twitter (of course), to share her thoughts about Jezebel running the unedited photos: “It’s way cooler when people do things out of pure blind spite than phony altruism,” she wrote.


So what post-reading activity did Jarett Kobek’s  I HATE THE INTERNET inspire in me? I’m proud to say I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I still have an account, and can access the site from my browser, but it’s baby steps—my goal is to get down to a maximum of an hour and a half of online time a day. In the weeks before reading the book, I’d been considering setting up an account on Twitter: I thought I liked the idea of downsizing my thoughts to 140 characters or less. Ultimately, I decided against it. I deleted my secret Instagram account, too.

Because the truth of the matter is, I really hate the internet.

And if you stop to think about it, after reading Kobek’s great new book, you’ll probably realize you really hate the internet, too.

I’d like my actions to reflect that.

For now, real social progress for me happens in baby steps.