Shared posts

19 Sep 15:00

Growing Up With Non-Verbal Learning Disorder

by Laura McVey

The world is a confusing place for children. At least, I assume--I don't know how all the children in the world view their circumstances, but I know it confused the hell out of me. There were too many rules, which would have made sense if they'd been related to anything I could understand as being important. You can't talk about any given subject for more than ten minutes, tops. You have to watch other people for their reactions; if they look bored (which was a value I didn't quite grasp) you need to stop doing what you're doing. You have to take math even though it's confusing and frustrating and makes your head hurt. You can't sit by yourself on the playground and read books, even though your teachers are always telling the class that reading is important. Some of these strictures, I understand now: hard or not, I needed to know how to do simple arithmetic. And I understand why my parents and teachers were concerned about my reading instead of socializing, even though I vastly preferred reading. I even understand the rules of socialization, even though I need to constantly keep them in mind when I'm talking to someone. I just wish I'd known then what I know now.


Having my clothes laid out for me was always a sign that we were going somewhere. Most days, when I was growing up, my mother would allow me to pick me own clothes; she'd sigh when she saw what I picked, but she let me wear it. And since I wore a uniform to school, she didn't need to worry about my embarassing her in front of my teachers by showing up in tie-dyed sweatpants. But when we had an appointment or were visiting extended family (usually the latter) she would lay clothes out for me. So when I woke up one Saturday morning when I was eight, I knew even before she told me that we were going somewhere. We were going, she explained, to see a doctor in Oakville. I didn't know why we were seeing a doctor in Oakville, since my regular doctor was right there in Hamilton, but I didn't really care either way.

The doctor's office was much fancier than my doctor at home: wall-to-wall carpet and nice leather chairs. When I was ushered in to see the doctor, her office looked more like a classroom than a proper doctor's office; where were the needles and stethescopes? The tests she had me undergo, too, felt much more like schoolwork than anything medical. I was asked to write a short story in under ten minutes; when I failed to finish it in the alotted time, she asked me to describe how it would have ended. I was asked to create shapes with a set of hexagonal wood pieces, and to put a series of pictures in chronological order. There were math problems. I was given a questionnaire to fill out, evaluating my feelings towards my family, my school, and my classmates, and how I thought they felt about me. In the final evaluation put together by the doctor, "family acceptance" got a 25; "peer acceptance" got 5. Ater the doctor was done testing me, she spoke to my parents while I played in the waiting room. I remember there was a big fuzzy bird puppet, the kind that's suspended on strings; I wanted one for myself.

The evaluation came in the mail several weeks later. I didn't see it; I don't think I even knew it had arrived. Nor do I know what I would have thought if I had known; I still didn't realize what the appointment had been about. Like the confusing, seemingly useless rules, I had spent much of my educational career being shuffled from resource room to tutor without any seeming rhyme or reason; I just accepted the doctor's appointment as one more in a long line of odd things my parents and teachers made me do. So I didn't know at the time what was in that evaluation. My mother did. After spending several pages describing the strengths and weaknesses the doctor had observed, she gave her diagnosis: non-verbal learning disorder.

Read more Growing Up With Non-Verbal Learning Disorder at The Toast.

19 Sep 14:00

Sorry, But We Are Not Accepting Criticism At This Time

by Mallory Ortberg

Thank you for attempting to contact us with your criticism. Your criticism is a valued part of the creative process here. Unfortunately, we are currently closed to criticism, with no plans to reopen to criticism anytime in the immediate future.

We are closed to both online and in-person criticisms. Please note that calls about the status of your pending criticism will not be answered.

Thank you for your interest in providing us with criticism; we regret being unable to accept it at this or any other time. It is our fondest and best wish that your criticism will find the best possible home elsewhere. We sincerely wish you the best of luck with your criticism.

Read more Sorry, But We Are Not Accepting Criticism At This Time at The Toast.

18 Sep 15:00

How to Tell if You’re in a MFA Workshop Story

by Sarah Marshall

Previously in this series.

You are a young man driving across the country, thinking about the women in your life and the various ways in which they have disappointed you.

You saw something horrifying at the circus.

Sometimes you think about just picking up and leaving this filthy city, but then one morning you wake up and watch the sky turn from narcissus-white to the delicate, throbbing, vein-purple hues of the nodding heads of crocuses and irises, the ones you remember picking from your mother’s garden when you were still young and unafraid, and there above the Gowanus you see a map of your future, your past, and your heart (but not in an overwrought or sentimental way.)

Your father never said he loved you, not once, not to your face, not to your heart.

Read more How to Tell if You’re in a MFA Workshop Story at The Toast.

18 Sep 17:00

Hands Up / Guns Out: On Being Brown and Alive

by Rose Espinoza

Two weeks ago I stood on the nearly one-hundred-year-old steps of a building on the University of Michigan campus with my hands raised in the air. The building happened to be somewhere I’d worked – the graduate library—and even represented the reason I’d moved cross-country to attend information science school. I loved that library, loved those stone steps, loved the view onto the Diag on a fall afternoon when I’d walk out after a work binge, an ambitious graduate student excited about all the things I might accomplish. But standing there also reminded me of everything I’d hated, still hate, about my experiences in Michigan.

I didn’t have my hands in the air because I was in trouble; it was part of a protest in support and in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and Mike Brown. The rally was modest, maybe fifty people at most, and was mostly black undergraduates, with a fair showing of right-hearted white people. I wasn’t surprised to be the only Latina, but my hopes to see another brown face on this lonely campus mean I always check and notice. 

As we all stood on the steps with our hands in the air so a group photo could be taken, passing white affluent students, who’d largely previously treated our group like an obstacle to be avoided, began to take notice. Immediately out came the I-Phones to post Tweets and Vines. As my arms started to ache from being in the air, I wondered, where were these (white) people and their iPhones when we were honoring Mike Brown’s life fifteen minutes ago? Why did no one stop and update their social media with our brown faces then? 

Earlier that same week, in that same library, I’d been intensely working on a project to debug some code, while working the reference desk. I was so engaged with what I was doing I felt (a little) guilty for not presenting enough of a responsive, open demeanor. Evidently, I need not have felt bad about this because just a few moments later a (white) student aggressively approached the desk, thrust his resume onto my keyboard, where I was typing, and said “Here, I have something for you to do.” In response to my look of baffled irritation, he responded: “It’s my resume. I’m applying for a job as a waiter at a place nearby, uh, you have something to do?” Oh, Of course. As if I’d been waiting for something to do, from him. I don’t think he even noticed I was there until he wanted something from me. 

As I stood there on the steps while those white kids stared and Instagram’d, I remembered a dozen examples of the ways in which my race made me invisible to white people on this campus, except for those moments when it would render me startlingly Visible and Other. I remembered the way teachers in my graduate level seminars wouldn’t seem to see me raising my hand until the rare time a topic of racial import was at hand, at which point staring at me and asking what I thought suddenly became crucial to their teaching methods. 

Read more Hands Up / Guns Out: On Being Brown and Alive at The Toast.

17 Sep 19:50

What’s your excuse, baby?

by Fred Clark

Click here to view the embedded video.

That seems like a sweet, jangly bit of pure pop confection from Veronica Falls, until you listen to the twist of the blade in the lyrics: What’s your excuse, baby … For standing in the middle, waiting for something to happen?

Well, one excuse — probably more common than commonly admitted — is “I was afraid.” That’s what Servant No. 3 offers as his reason for standing in the middle, waiting, in a parable Jesus tells in Matthew’s Gospel. “I was afraid, and I went and hid your [money] in the ground,” the guy says. 

He was playing not to lose. He was, above all, afraid of taking any chance that might get him in trouble. He was being civil and nice so as not to offend.

That didn’t end well. Standing in the middle, waiting for something to happen rarely does.

Briallen Hopper addresses this same fearful, noncommittal standing in the middle in a terrific essay at Killing the Buddha called “White People Problems.” Hopper’s first hook involves the recent Facebook-beloved advice column from Andrew W.K., which epitomizes the way that irresponsible timidity gets repackaged as a lofty, above-the-fray, “Third Way.”

“The world isn’t being destroyed by Democrats or Republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist,” W.K. wrote, “the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world.”

Hopper writes:

I hated Andrew W.K.’s response, even though (like the almost quarter of a million people who shared it) I found a lot to agree with in it. I have a 63-year-old father with whom I deeply disagree about LGBT issues and abortion, and I still love him, respect him, and learn from him. My friendships with people across the political spectrum are important to me. And it’s hard to argue with Andrew W.K. when he says that that no one is perfect; politics are complicated; we should see each other as persons, not monsters; and love should be able to bridge barriers.

More than anything, though, what struck me about Andrew W.K.’s response was how white it was.

I don’t know anything about Andrew W.K.’s background beyond what an Internet search can tell me, but as a white American I do know this: It is a privilege to experience political differences as differences of opinion rather than differences of power. It is a privilege to be able to view all political issues in indistinguishable shades of gray. And, as I’ve been realizing in the month since Michael Brown’s death: It is a privilege when loving your political enemy means loving your father, not loving the man who killed your son — or the man who killed someone who might have been your son, or who might have been you.

Hopper sharply notes that Andrew W.K.’s formula starts to smell bad once you begin factoring in all the history, reality and power it neglects. Should we tell protesters in Ferguson, she asks, that “The world isn’t being destroyed by racism — the world is being destroyed by non-violent protestors believing that racism is destroying the world”?

The enthusiastic response to Andrew W.K.’s article doubtless speaks to some likable qualities in the citizens of Facebook: our recognition of our common humanity with people who disagree with us (or at least with people who disagree with us and are also related to us), and our desire for closer relationships with them. But it also speaks to the desire of so many of us privileged people to avoid all tension and conflict while still feeling like we are a force for good in the world. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook; of lulling ourselves into inaction by making neutrality into a positive good.

According to Andrew W.K., we don’t need to challenge our friends and family on the things that matter to the planet or to our less privileged neighbors: In fact, we probably shouldn’t. We can even label this evasion “love.” And we don’t need to sacrifice anything for our political beliefs — not our lives, not our time, not even a peaceful family dinner.

Go read the whole thing.




17 Sep 14:00

How To Emotionally Devastate A Very Specific Type Of Person

by Mallory Ortberg

Whisper "I am a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar" to them.

Pretend not to understand any of their Spaced references.

Tell someone who likes to think of himself as a Moss from the IT Crowd that he in fact reminds you of "that one guy from The Big Bang Theory."

"I think John Hurt was the best Doctor, personally."

"Oh, I'm sorry -- I figured you knew when I asked you to come over to watch Death At A Funeral that you knew I meant the American remake."

Compare Batman: The Animated Series negatively to the comics.

Read more How To Emotionally Devastate A Very Specific Type Of Person at The Toast.

17 Sep 19:00

“Bring Me My Pain Twin”: A Movie Star Names Things

by Mallory Ortberg

Previously: A grounded goth teen angrily renames household items.


DIRECTOR: do you mean your stunt double




DIRECTOR: the who


DIRECTOR: do you mean the extras


Read more “Bring Me My Pain Twin”: A Movie Star Names Things at The Toast.

16 Sep 17:00

Dirtbag Teddy Roosevelt

by Mallory Ortberg

what is it, Mr. President
why don't you bench press your presidential desk
sir, I don't want to be bench pressed
yes, sir
yes, sir

Read more Dirtbag Teddy Roosevelt at The Toast.

16 Sep 19:00

Six Signs You're Truly Comfortable In Your Relationship

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes

1. [yelling, from the bathroom.]

"Hey babe! Can you come here?"

"I just put toilet paper in there this morning. Did you drop it in the toilet?"

"No. Come here. Look at this poop. My shit is… it's, like, blue. Babe, my shit is blue. Come look at this. Bring your phone."

2. "You look different. Are you not wearing makeup?"

"No, I'm not wearing skin. I am sick of adhering to skin-filled beauty standards. Pass the chips."

3. "How was that crazy sex dream you had with that girl you saw in the coffee shop yesterday having sex with you on an airplane bound for France?"

"You know, I really hate when you read my mind without asking."

"Is that what you want? Should I buy tickets to France?"

4. "I'm so glad I got injured in that ice-skating accident and I can no longer go to the bathroom without assistan– no, no, I need a super tampon. That's the green one."

5. "Have you ever heard that urban legend about a couple who had to pee so bad at the same time and there was only one toilet so the girl sat on the toilet with her legs open and the dude just aimed his pee in between her legs?"


"Do you think anybody knows that's us?"

6. * feeds the other like a mama bird does to a baby *

16 Sep 12:34

Ten Incredibly Strange Singles Released By BBC Records And Tapes

by Tim Worthington
RESL172 Wimbledon Break Point/New Balls Please - Bass Line

Originally commissioned as backing music for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage, this upbeat electropop track was extended and bolstered by samples of top tennis ne'er-do-well of the day John McEnroe for single release, to no particularly beneficial effect. The b-side was a remix of the a-side, as if one was in any way actually needed.

RESL185 'Heroes'/A Long Way To Go - The County Line

Billed as featured ‘Essex Artistes for BBC Children In Need’, this rather theme-misinterpreting cover of David Bowie’s 1977 hit was one of the less inspired contributions to the mid-eighties vogue for multi-handed charity singalongs, and featured contributions from Suzi Quatro and members of The Kinks, The Rubettes and Bronski Beat amongst many decidedly less famous others.

RESL187 Boss O'The Black/Willie Thorne, King Of The Maximum Break - Jed Ford

UK country music star Jed Ford wrote and performed this bewilderingly-targeted snooker-themed song, regularly used at the time in the BBC’s television coverage of the sport, with the b-side paying oddly specific tribute to the popular snooker player who had won the previous year’s Classic Tournament. Released, it should be noted, in direct competition with Snooker Loopy by Chas'n'Dave And The Matchroom Mob.

RESL189 It's 'Orrible Being In Love (When You're Eight And A Half)/Big Sister - Claire & Friends

In 1986, Saturday Superstore launched ‘Search For A Superstar’, a lengthy contest in which viewers voted for their favourite of a group of talented youngsters. The eventual winner, narrowly beating a band of teenaged Duran Duran wannabes, was ten-year-old Claire Usher from Stockport, who sang humorous pop songs in a broad accent. In the final, she had performed It’s ‘Orrible Being In Love (When You’re Eight And A Half), written by Mick Coleman and Kevin Parrott (who, as Brian & Michael, had a number one hit with Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs in 1979), and this became a surprise hit, reaching number 13 in the charts. The 12” also included a ‘Megaminormix’ of the a-side, though is now notorious as one of the lowest-selling 12”s of a hit single for the entire eighties. Usher went on to record REB606 Super Claire.

RESL194 The Wedding Song/Sad Movies – The True Love Orchestra


Issued to commemorate the wedding of HRH Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986, this synthesiser medley of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was largely the work of BBC Radio Clyde presenter John MacCalman, who had a sideline in composing library music to order. The Wedding Song was used several times in television coverage of the event. It clearly served the happy couple well.

RESL196 Superman/Rainbow – Claire

A second single outing for a now friendless Claire Usher, with another two songs lifted from REB606 Super Claire. Perhaps predictably, it failed to repeat the success of the earlier single (though more surprisingly, given what happened that time, there was a 12” featuring an extended version of the a-side), and Claire retired from pop music to pursue a successful career in stage musicals.

RESL198 Power From Within/Power From Within (Instrumental) - International Athletes Club with Steve Menzies

A fundraising effort for the International Athletes Club, this charity singalong featured bona fide athletes Sebastian Coe, Roger Black, Phil Brown, Kriss Akabusi, Todd Bennett, Tim Hutchings, Eugene Gilkes, Myrtle Augee, Kim Hagger, Sharon McPeake, Mary Berkeley, Linda Keough, Lindford Christie, Shirley Strong, Jane Parry, Paula Dunn, Kirsty Wade, Christina Boxer and Wilbert Greaves, and was written and produced by eighties chart star Phil Fearon. You can probably start humming it as it is.

RESL205 You Know The Teacher (Smash-Head)/Don't Stop - Grange Hill Cast

While others recognised its obvious novelty status, the success of the Grange Hill cast's anti-drug anthem Just Say No convinced BBC Records And Tapes that it would be worth issuing an album by the cast of their popular school drama. REB609 Grange Hill The Album featured one side of middle-of-the-road pop covers, and one of original schoolroom-themed songs with lyrics by series creator Phil Redmond. The lead single's bafflingly titled a-side – largely performed by series regulars George 'Ziggy' Christopher and John 'Gonch' McMahon – was drawn from the latter, and the ensemble Fleetwood Mac cover on the b-side from the former, with the 12” also boasting Redmond original Girls Like To Do It Too and actor Ricky 'Ant Jones' Simmonds’ cover of I Don’t Like Mondays. Despite the show’s huge popularity, and the single being afforded the rare privilege of a specially-shot video (oddly featuring the vocalists walking about in silence rather than miming), it failed to chart.

RESL206 Soapy/Al's Way - Top Of The Box

Alan Coulthard, a remixer responsible for many a chart-topping 12” Extended Version in the mid-eighties, was the man behind this peculiar medley of soap opera themes, taking in EastEnders, Dynasty, Dallas and Howard’s Way, and doubtless issued in an attempt to capitalise on the success of certain recent soap-related singles. However, club patrons were to prove to be not quite so keen on soap themes and the record failed to find an audience, despite the presence of – what else? – an Extended Version on the 12”.

RESL226 We Wanna Be Famous - Buster Gobsmack & Eats Filth/ The Toreador From Japan - El Shaftit & The Timeshares

One of the most convoluted stories behind a BBC Records And Tapes single release started early in 1988, when the production team of That’s Life! received several letters from struggling Manchester-based musicians complaining about a local video producer who hadn’t captured their act to their satisfaction. As part of an investigation, the show sent presenters Adrian Mills and Grant Baynham to make a video with him posing as punk rockers ‘Eats Filth’ (an anagram, in case it wasn’t obvious, of That’s Life!), ‘parodying’ a long outdated youth cult that the show still seemed to find inexplicably hilarious; as the excellent Left And To The Back blog put it, "the shrieks of laughter from the studio audience whenever a London punk was vox popped by Mills or one of his cohorts proved a baffling noise to hear". Though the video they produced was hardly likely to win any MTV Awards, the ‘expose’ on the hapless aspirant film-maker responsible was possibly a little unfair and the story was conspicuous by its failure to progress beyond one edition. We Wanna Be Famous, however, had more staying power, performed on the show – with the instruments actually played by the That’s Life! team, led inevitably by Doc Cox and including Gavin Campbell on drums and Esther Rantzen on percussion, for an authentic ‘punk’ sound – to huge gales of audience laughter, and inspiring so much viewer correspondence that it ended up on a single, which surprisingly failed to chart. It has since become, by virtue of its sheer ineptness both as a piece of music and as a lyrical parody, something of a cult classic. And as if that wasn’t all confusing enough, the b-side related to another That’s Life! Investigation into dodgy timeshare deals, which had resulted in Mills’ strangely Japanese-sounding attempts at a Spanish accent becoming a running joke. This has not quite become as much of a cult classic.

You can read much more about some much better BBC Records And Tapes singles in The Big Book Of TATP!
16 Sep 14:00

Famous Paintings of Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, Ranked By How Much Their Actions Resemble Slow-Dancing

by Mallory Ortberg

The account of Jacob wrestling with an angel in Genesis 32 is one of the most commonly painted scenes in art history. Oddly enough, it turns out that the majority of the Western Masters were unable to distinguish "anguished struggling in the dark with an unseen foe" from "happily slow-dancing."

German miniature, c. 1350


This is just hugging. No wrestling is taking place here at all. 0 points.

Unknown Russian painter, Jacob Wrestling With The Archangel, c. 1000


Cuddling that borders on "full-frontal piggy-back ride." 0 points.

Read more Famous Paintings of Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, Ranked By How Much Their Actions Resemble Slow-Dancing at The Toast.

16 Sep 14:00

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspire Whites to be “Tough on Crime”

by Lisa Wade, PhD

“Advocates might want to try different language (or a different approach) in their campaign to reform the criminal justice system,” writes Jamelle Bouie for Slate. He drew his conclusion after summarizing a new pair of studies, by psychologists Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt, looking at the relationship between being “tough on crime” and the association of criminality with blackness.

In the first study, 62 White men and women were interrupted as they got off a commuter train and invited to chat about the three strikes law in California. Before being presented with an anti-three strikes petition, they were shown a video that flashed 80 mugshots. In one condition, 25% of the photos were of black people and, in another, 45% of the photos were.

Among the subjects in the first “less black” condition, more than half signed the petition to make the law less strict, but only 28% in the “more black” condition signed it.


A second study in New York City about the stop-and-frisk policy had a similar finding:


The results suggest that white Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black. The second study suggested that this was mediated by fear; the idea of black criminals inspires higher anxiety than that of white criminals, pressing white people to want stronger law enforcement.

So, as Bouie concluded, when prison reformers and anti-racists point out the incredible and disproportionate harm these policies do to black Americans, it may have the opposite of its intended effect. Hetey and Eberhardt conclude:

Many legal advocates and social activists assume that bombarding the public with images and statistics documenting the plight of minorities will motivate people to fight inequality. Our results call this assumption into question. We demonstrated that exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.

“Institutional disparities,” they add, “can be self-perpetuating.” Our history of unfairly targeting and punishing black men more than others now convinces white Americans that we must continue to do so.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

15 Sep 15:00

Verifiability, truth, and hearsay: feminist point of view on the Geek Feminism wiki

by Tim Chevalier

The following quasi-anonymous comment was received and acknowledged on the Geek Feminism Wiki’s article about the Gittip crisis.

If I understand the editing policies here (I just read them), lies or heresay [sic] can be printed as fact, because you don’t take an NPOV, you take a feminist point of view. That implies that feminism involves lies or hearsay otherwise you would recognize that incorrect information (whether it supports a feminist viewpoint or not) doesn’t belong in an article of any merit.

“NPOV” stands for “neutral point of view”, a notion that Wikipedia editors take as a governing principle. NPOV is useful in some contexts, but also can be abused to camouflage specific ideologies — especially those that happen to dominate discourse in a particular place and time. Like “meritocracy“, NPOV is an abstraction that may or may not be realizable, but in practice often serves as neutral clothing for the decidedly non-neutral opinions of those who power structures currently happen to serve.

The inimitable Rick Scott took the time to craft a patient reply, which I’m reproducing in its entirety here (with Rick’s permission) because it deserves to reach a broader audience. I think it’s a good companion to Skud’s “Feminist Point of View” talk from July. It also serves as an illustration in a specific case of the general points we make in the Geek Feminism wiki editorial guidelines.

The remainder of this post is Rick’s words, not mine.

You have read the editorial guidelines (for which I thank you), but not understood them. Perhaps I can clarify.

NPOV properly applies to opinions and analysis, not facts. We convey the facts as accurately as we can ascertain them—there’s no such thing as “feminist facts” and “non-feminist facts”.

Having gained our best understanding of the facts at hand, we analyse and interpret those facts from a feminist perspective—one which is informed by the substantial research, scholarship, and critique that the field encompasses. For instance, if a woman is harassed by a male colleague, her supervisor may deny that sexism played a role, explaining the incident in other ways: “He’s just a jerk”; “He’s not good with people”; “Are you sure you aren’t imagining it”, etc. A feminist perspective, however, draws on the considerable research documenting gendered patterns of harassment in the workplace, and points out that this incident is likely part of the larger pattern—that the woman’s gender probably played a significant role in how her colleague elected to treat her.

What you actually take issue with is our approach to matters addressed by Wikipedia’s two other core content policies, namely Verifiability and No Original Research. Our editorial guidelines, which you so kindly read, state (emphasis added):

While citations are preferred wherever possible, we do not require them. Much of our wiki is primary source material, sometimes added anonymously in order to avoid backlash against the whistleblower. Original research is welcome.

To take but one example, harassment and abuse often occur in ways which leave no artifact save the accounts of those involved. Turning our back on these accounts would eliminate our ability to document what happened and undermine our work. Moreover, in the face of a society which tries to silence marginalized people and casts them as liars when they talk about their actual lives, we push back against this erasure by respecting their integrity, taking them at their word, and treating the facts, as they describe them, as facts. This may offend some people’s utopian notions of epistemological purity, but in a world where speaking truth while female can invite significant retribution, this is what we have.

On the topics of truth, fact, whom we presume to be telling the truth, and whom we presume to be lying, you may find some of the articles linked from the Innocent until proven guilty page to be illuminating: specifically, Christie Koehler’s post on Community Safety, and Jill Filipovic’s article The ethics of outing your rapist.

Finally, and separately from all of the generalities above: I can affirm that the information described as “heresay” (sic) comes from an impeccable source, and so am content to leave the description of events as they are. Since nobody has deigned to present any evidence to the contrary, I consider the matter closed. — RickScott, 18:01, September 4, 2014 (UTC)

15 Sep 16:00

Is My iPhone a Tool of the Patriarchy? Notes From an Investigation

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick

New U2 album automatically loaded onto iTunes, Nicki Minaj's Anaconda remains suspiciously absent.

No default Beyoncé ringtones available, but there is some bullshit called "Stargaze."

Autocorrect changes "menstruating" (perfectly natural bodily function) to "men's trusting" (two words that should never be seen together).

Instagram filters create unrealistic expectations of bathroom mirror lighting conditions for impressionable young women.

No fertility goddess emoji. Do I even need to explain this one?

Music shuffle always seems to know when I am powerwalking down the street with confidence, uses that moment to play the the most depressing Fiona Apple songs.

Duolingo has yet to teach me key passages from The Second Sex in the original French, assumes I will be content learning infantilizing phrases like "The apple is red." Why do you want to silence women's voices, Duolingo?

Evernote's logo is an elephant, an animal with a big phallic symbol right in the middle of its face.

Candy Crush Saga is too fun; clearly designed to distract women into playing so they don't have time to advance at the workplace (Men too, but they're already doing well for themselves).

Angry Birds characters are disproportionately male, further erasing contributions of women in the workforce (the bird workforce).

Siri has the quiet desperation in her voice of a woman who was clearly forced to pick between pursuing her career and raising her kids.

Once, my phone cut off a nice chat I was having with my grandma; not once did it have the courtesy to cut off drunk calls I made to exes at 2am.

Snapchat still has not made an option to automatically reply to unsolicited dick pics with a sad trombone noise.

Tinder continues to match with guys who, misleadingly, share my interest in Broad City yet are terrible at reciprocating oral.

I still don't understand the new Facebook Messenger, but it's probably also in on it somehow. Must investigate further.

iPhone suspiciously not Ryan Gosling.

Anna Fitzpatrick is standing right behind you. Jk, she's probably on her laptop right now, alone, far away from any human contact. Oh, she's a writer.

15 Sep 17:30

The Gothic Novel 1790 – 1830: Index to Motifs

by Lawrence Evalyn

Lawrence Evalyn's last piece for The Toast was 100 Actual Titles of Real Eighteenth-Century Novels.

As a graduate student of specializing in eighteenth century British literature, I get to read some pretty amazing stuff. The following is a curated selection of actual entries in the index of Ann B. Tracy’s important reference text, The Gothic Novel, 1790-1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs. Before the Victorians turned the Gothic into moor-stranded governesses and the brooding hunks who love them, the Gothic novel was characterized by:

baby swapping, 22, 33, 34, 45, 56, 113, 119, 154, 191.

Bible-reading, dangers of, 99, 128.

blood: alleged pool of, 53; baptism of infant in, 107; boiling, 158; bowl of, dipping daggers in, 116; cup of, in demon’s hand, 10; drinking, 59, 75, 102, 129, 187, 206; on face, from invisible hands, 108; of lover, on cudgel, 98; as noble adornment on scarf, 100; overflowing room, dream about, 137; as payment to witch, 10; spreading magically, 134.

bosom: bloodstained, 9, 90, 116; as distraction, 74, 99, 167; hag's naked, 75, 100; lover's severed heart placed on, 33; pawed by lecherous jailer, 75; viper in (figurative), 30, 35, 36, 46, 61, 71, 83, 108, 113, 168, 178, 183, 188, 194.

Read more The Gothic Novel 1790 – 1830: Index to Motifs at The Toast.

15 Sep 14:00

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

by Lisa Wade, PhD

One of the more difficult sociological concepts to explain is the social institution.  When sociologists talk about institutions they don’t mean hospitals or churches or any of the concrete organizations that easily come to mind, they mean something much bigger and more difficult to pin down.  They  mean institutionalized ways of doing things or, as I’ve defined them elsewhere:

Persistent patterns of social interaction aimed at meeting the needs of a society that can’t easily be met by individuals alone.

Education, then, is an institution, as is medicine and transportation.  In my textbook, I discuss the examples of sanitation and sport.  One can’t play on a team all by oneself and it’d be pretty gross to take a personal potty with you everywhere you went.  Instead, we have organized sport and the provision of toilet facilities. Eventually, institutionalized ways of solving social needs get taken-for-granted as the way we do things, often to the point that we forget that they were invented in the first place.

I was inspired to write about this by a post at Sociological Cinema by sociologist Tristan Bridges.  He uses a clip from The Devil Wears Prada to illustrate just this phenomenon.  Meryl Streep plays the editor of a fashion magazine.  Fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.  Even the most industrious and clever among us, those who make their own clothes, will buy the fabric with which to do so.  Almost no one in a Western country has the faintest idea of how to make fabric, let alone the resources.

In the clip, Streep’s character responds icily when a holier-than-thou fashion outsider scoffs at her as she goes about her work.

She says:

You think this has nothing to do with you.

You go to your closet and you select, I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.

But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean.

And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that, in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns and then I think it was Yves St. Laurent – wasn’t it? – who showed cerulean military jackets…

And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers.  And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled down into some Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical that you think you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.

An institution has emerged to put clothes on our back.  The scoffer who inspires Streep character’s rant would like to think that she is outside of the fashion industry, that it has nothing to do with her. Likewise, many of us would like to think that we’re outside of the institutions that we don’t like. But we’re not.  That’s the rub.  No matter how enlightened or inspired we are to fight social convention, we can’t get outside the institutions that organize our societies.  We’re in them whether we know it or not.

Here’s the clip; it’s worth it, even given the advertisement:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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12 Sep 05:00

#1061; In which a Cookie is refused

by David Malki

12 Sep 16:00

Disrupters, Disconnectionists, and Dicks

by Emma Healey
by Emma Healey

On Tuesday, Nev Schulman took a selfie in an elevator. The photo shows him standing with his hand over his heart, staring all serious straight into his iPhone. In the corner, a bag of groceries and a water bottle rest against the door to block it from closing. The light in a closed elevator is rarely flattering; when you have upwards of 740K followers, there’s not much room to fuck around.

“Cowards make me sick,” read his accompanying tweet. “Real men show strength through patience & honor. This elevator is abuse free. #RESPECT.”

Nev Schulman is the star of the 2010 documentary Catfish, a film about the time he fell in love with an impostor on Facebook, as well as the host of MTV’s Catfish: The T.V. Show, where he counsels people who fall in love with impostors on Facebook. The tweet was ostensibly inspired by his outrage over the recently leaked video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée in a (different) elevator.

At first it was a joke. But then there was the question of his recently released memoir, In Real Life, where Nev talks about how he was expelled from Sarah Lawrence in 2006, a school his “active alumna” mother had to “beg” to get him into because of his history of bad behavior.

Sarah Lawrence’s former Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Ken Schneck, recently said that Nev “was a condescending, entitled, reprehensible tool” during his time there. This statement seems accurate: in his book, Nev says that as a student he sold drugs, threw “massive” parties, slashed a guy’s tires, and “took a dump in the cereal dispenser” in the school’s cafeteria.

In the memoir, Nev says he was photographing a campus event when someone tried to grab his camera. Believing his assailant to be male (since they were “stocky” and had “crew-cut-styled” hair), he lashed out in self-defense and punched them in the face before realizing they were female. The school subsequently expelled him. According to him, the whole event was a regrettable misunderstanding.

However, other sources described the incident differently. People who were at the party say Nev was taking pictures without permission; he tried to photograph two women kissing, and when one of them tried to stop him, he punched her.

If you saw the Internet backlash but had never watched an episode of Catfish before, you were probably just like, ugh, who the fuck is this guy? But for those of us who are familiar with the show, none of it was all that surprising.

My whole thing about Catfish is, at this point, a matter of public record. To me, it’s always felt less like a standard-issue reality show than a fascinating series of awkwardly produced short films about the different shapes human loneliness can take. Some people originally read Nev’s elevator tweet as a tasteless joke, but the truth is actually way harsher. That photo is a perfect distillation of Nev’s public persona: a smooth, full-bodied blend of condescension, unearned confidence, and misguided self-righteousness which so pervades the fabric of the entire Catfish franchise that the phrase “douche chill” was, I think, invented solely to describe the experience of watching this man comfort lovelorn victims of internet fraud.

At best, Nev’s general steez feels disingenuous; at worst, his attitude reminds me of some of the most dangerous men I’ve encountered – the kind who are capable both of assaulting women and of speaking out publicly against misogyny and abuse without ever recognizing any kind of disconnect in their behavior.

So that’s Nev. But what about Nev’s book?

* * *

Before we go any further, I want to make something absolutely clear. In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity In The Digital Age is not a good book and I don’t think you should read it. But I’m glad I read it—and not just because it affirmed my long-held suspicions that the author is a clued-out dick.

These days, the idea of ditching your smartphone in order to lead a better life is one of the hottest topics for editorializers and self-helpists; whether you’re a standup comedian, a different standup comedian, a million bloggers, a hard-to-watch spoken word artist or just an average everyday CEO, if you’re over the age of 20 and have even a passing interest in giving prescriptive advice, you’ve probably already written a manifesto about how our collective cultural addiction to the Internet and social media is stunting our emotional growth.

There are a lot of things about The Way We Internet Now that are truly unsettling. As a depressive with a smartphone and a job that requires me to be online for at least eight hours a day, I’m familiar with the particular, echoing isolation that comes from overexposing myself to the c a s c a d e almost daily. Nobody has been forcing me to read all these tech-detox stories. I know what I’m doing when I open up another essay about the importance of throwing your modem out a window is not (just) hate-reading; I am always hoping for new insight into how, exactly, this nonstop barrage of information is affecting my mind, because in my heart of hearts I am afraid that it is doing something bad, something irrevocable.

I think this is why appeals to disconnect and unplug will always find an audience no matter how slapdash or rote they might be. It is frightening to think that you might be a willing partner in the steady proliferation of your own sadness just because you’re checking Facebook all the time. It’s unsettling to remember that corporations can permanently alter the definitions of words like “friend” and “favorite” in the blink of an eye, or to consider that the concept of “connection” is just as mutable. It is scary to be told that the world is changing for the worse and that you’re a part of it. It is scary to look inside yourself and find that maybe you agree. Reading essays that tell me to get off social media is a way to confront my own insecurities, to question my own motivations for staying.

But I also don’t think anyone is helped by easy platitudes about how putting down your Instagram-box and picking up a windsurfing board will remind you to look into the eyes of a child and appreciate the wonders of life. What I’m waiting for is a writer who understands the complexities and nuances of trying to be a person both on and in spite of the internet; for the kind of writing that gives its readers the expansive, resonant relief of understanding and being understood, of being chastised, forgiven, and encouraged to do better all at once.

I did not find any of this in Nev Schulman’s memoir. What I did find was a repetitive call to get off social media in order to improve—nay, save—myself. The book somehow manages to feel both tired and frantic, full of predictable advice delivered in a weird, narc-y register and peppered with subtly disturbing stories from Nev’s own personal life.

All of it builds to the same conclusion that countless other lazy, opportunistic Hot Takers have been coming to for years now: if you want to live a full life, you’ve got to stop tweeting and go outside sometimes (it seems mean at this juncture to point out that if someone had simply given this man a copy of his own book earlier this week, he might’ve avoided a PR fiasco, so—I won’t).

Tone-wise, this book is the literary equivalent of a clean-cut guy in a leather jacket sauntering into your classroom, turning a chair around so he can sit on it the cool way, and telling you he wants to have a serious rap sesh about the problems we all face, because he’s been there, man. In terms of genre, it’s either a memoir by someone who hasn’t had a particularly engaging life, or a self-help book by someone who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Either way, it’s unclear who exactly this book was written for besides Mr. Schulman himself—but he still wrote it and I still read it, so in the end I guess it’s hard to say which of us is the bigger chump.

IRL has three main narrative modes. There’s the memoir, where Nev talks about his youthful misdeeds, his rise to stardom via Catfish, and his current relationship. There are his observations, where he discusses the different kinds of catfish he’s met. And then there’s his advice.

The observations are the smallest and least objectionable part of IRL, and to be honest, if this whole thing read like Chapter 2 (“What Is A Catfish?”) I’d be 100% down. Its awkward production and flawed hosts notwithstanding, Catfish is a fascinating and complicated show. Every episode is shot through with broader issues of race, class, and mental health which are rarely (if ever) directly addressed on-camera, and when I first saw that this book existed, I felt a faint hope that it would explore what actually makes the show engaging and tragic and different. That hope, as you’ve probably guessed, did not pan out.

Instead, Nev wants to cement his place in contemporary culture as a Leader of Men. His own experience of being catfished has led him to realize that “my calling – my niche, my purpose – was to serve as some sort of mediator. I could be a leader of the vital conversations about how life and relationships are changing now that we spend so much time online [… and] what I could bring to this discussion… was empathy. I’d been there.” As someone who has spent some time in the trenches of social media, he knows that “only once we step away from the Internet and start living in real life will we be able to find what we really want: love, connection and self-fulfillment.”

Per Mr. Schulman, the path to this emotionally connected Real Life should be paved with relentless attempts at self-improvement—joining a gym, finding a therapist, “think[ing] of yourself as a car” in need of a good mechanic and acting accordingly. None of these things are bad ideas, exactly. It’s probably true that a lot of us would be happier if we started working out more or seeing a therapist. But in this book, as on the show, this frantic insistence on SETTING GOALS AND REACHING THEM TO BECOME YOUR BEST SELF feels desperate, inadequate, and achingly hollow.

The worst parts of the book, however, are the ones where Nev gets into his personal life. Onlookers who’ve read about the Sarah Lawrence incident will already have seen the bizarre tone he assumes when addressing his past and his flaws. Whether he’s talking about getting kicked out of school, “breaking [his] best friend’s face” or, more recently, getting so mad over a petty dispute during Catfish filming that he throws his iPhone hard enough to shatter its screen, Nev-as-Narrator manages to pull off the impressive feat of constantly gesturing towards regret while conveying absolutely nothing.

This technique is creepiest when he tries to plug his personal experiences into his broader thesis, and Chapter 18, entitled “You/Me/Us,” is where shit really went off the rails for me.

The story goes like this: decades ago, in 2012, Nev used to sleep around. He cheated on girlfriends, flirted recklessly (“to the point where women would often feel uncomfortable”), used Facebook to maintain a “little black book” of “cute girls” to chat with, and bolstered his sense of self-worth with a ton of one-night stands.

But after a particularly gross night in Palm Beach, he resolved to change his ways and took a vow of celibacy. “It was about changing my behavior so that I was no longer interacting with women on a sexual level only. Instead, I would talk to them, listen to them, have (gasp!) meaningful conversations,” etc.

To his surprise, abstaining from sex made him feel good; women were less skeeved out by him, and he actually felt more powerful now that he wasn’t trying to bone down 24/7. “It was the difference between the way a lion hunts to catch and devour its prey and the way a squirrel collects and stores nuts for winter,” he says of his newfound attitude. “I understood that I was investing in a longer-term, more sustainable satisfaction rather than a quick rush.” During this period, he got serious with the woman who became his long-term girlfriend, and through her he learned that true love means being vulnerable and open, not closed-off and shallow.

This process, Nev asserts, is similar to deleting your Facebook account. He drops this comparison casually, in the midst of a bunch of other platitudes about vulnerability and emotional connection, as though it’s completely reasonable to equate the act of reining in your sexual activity with the act of deactivating a profile. As his period of celibacy wore on, Nev says, “I deleted my ‘Cute Girl’ group on Facebook”; shortly after that, he ditched Facebook altogether. Not having sex all the time helped him to reach a new level of enlightenment that made both Cute Girls and social media unnecessary, and cutting the shallow things out of his life—whether they were fellow human beings or pictures of himself on a screen—pushed him toward real connections, the deeper, more involved kinds of relationships that actually matter.

The logic of this little parable looks shiny and smooth on the surface. I’m sure it makes perfect sense to him. But I don’t really need to tell you what’s so immensely fucked up about all these “revelations.” I don’t need to point out that his lion-vs.-squirrel metaphor posits women as either prey or resources, and that thinking of them as the latter isn’t really an improvement over the former. Nor do I need to say that the possibility of a woman wanting or needing sex on her own terms doesn’t seem to have ever occurred to him. I don’t even need to ask what it says about your conceptions of self and sex and masculinity and the big bad world that exists outside your own skull if you truly believe that the best possible way to be respectful of women is just to stop trying to fuck every single one you meet, and the best way to be sensitive to potential romantic partners is to unilaterally decide that your dick won’t touch them until you’ve decided your connection is sufficiently “real.” I don’t need to explain that in this story there is no actual change in the narrator’s perspective, only in his surface-level behavior, because it’s obvious. Or it should be.

The most concise encapsulation of this stunning wrongheadedness is in the midst of this chapter, in a parenthetical that appears while Nev’s describing the myriad benefits of his experiment with abstinence. “Being the guy who didn’t hit on [women] just made me more interesting,” he says. “(Bonus! More women interested in me! Too bad I couldn’t take them up on it.)”

Too bad, indeed. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that whether he’s actively flirting and fucking or not doesn’t actually matter at all – either way, the only person he’s paying attention to is himself.

This kind of self-involvement is particularly insidious because it disguises itself as interest in the well-being of other people. It’s also, in some way or another, at the core of most of the essays and videos and arguments that urge us to put down our phones.

It’s true that some aspects of social media do encourage us to play our real-life relationships like a never-ending low-stakes video game. We should absolutely endeavor to remain aware of that – and of all the ways we choose to distribute our time and attention, because some of the most crucial experiences and ideas we have come when we find ourselves fully immersed in something or someone else that drags us out of our own heads.

But that’s the key – we have to go outside ourselves. Disconnecting from the internet might help us reclaim some small lease on our attention, but that attention does us no good if we’re just feeding it back into ourselves on an endless loop. Putting down your phone doesn’t equal putting real work into empathy, just as not actively pursuing sex doesn’t equal granting women the status of complete human beings in your mind. Fetishizing “presence” by telling everyone to stop staring at their phones perpetuates the myth that simply being around other people automatically means you’re attuned or empathetic to them. As if it’s impossible to have a real, face-to-face conversation with someone and still fail to take in a single word they’re saying. As if it’s impossible to spend hours staring at Facebook and still be a good friend to your real friends later.

Confusing the easy work of “unplugging” with the hard work of meeting your feelings of solipsism and alienation and distraction on their own turf doesn’t benefit anyone. Ultimately, the doctrine of disconnection-as-self-improvement can only offer us the same kind of shallow distraction that social media does. The Internet isn’t just a diversion from real life—the Internet is real life, and the people saying otherwise are simply exploiting our insecurities for clicks, views, attention, and profit. The real work of “connecting” is still just in learning to live with ourselves, and others, and our faults, and not stop caring. Nev Schulman is not the man he wants us to think he is, and there’s no tweet in the world that can convince us otherwise.

Emma Healey once wrote a book of poetry called Begin With the End in Mind, but now she only thinks, reads and writes about Catfish. And occasionally Dating Naked. Talk to her about Dating Naked here.

12 Sep 14:00

How Do We Decipher Sex in Daily Life?

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

In Michael Kimmel’s sociology of gender textbook, The Gendered Society, he offers us the following two pictures and asks us to decide, based on our gut-level reactions, whether the two individuals pictured are male or female:


If you are like most people, you find, perhaps to your own bewilderment, that the first individual seems male despite the female pubic hair pattern and apparent female genitalia and the second individual seems female despite the presence of a penis and scrotum.

Kimmel suggests that this is because, in our daily life, we habitually judge individuals as male or female on the basis of their secondary sex characteristics (e.g., body shape, facial hair, breasts) and social cues (e.g., hair length) and not, so much, their primary sex characteristics (i.e., their genitalia).

In that sense, Kimmel argues, social cues and secondary sex characteristics “matter” more when it comes to social interaction and gender is really about gender (socially constructed ideas about masculinity and femininity), not so much about sex (penises and vaginas).

Images borrowed the images from Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, by Kessler and McKenna.  University of Chicago Press.  Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

12 Sep 14:00

The Citizens of Gotham Are Not Terribly Bright

by Jesse Berney

Jesse Berney's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Gotham Citizen #1: Did you see the news about that guy who dresses like a bat, wears sophisticated body armor, drives a military-grade vehicle, and beats up criminals?

Gotham Citizen #2: I did! Did you see that magazine profile of Bruce Wayne?

Gotham Citizen #1: You mean the young billionaire defense contractor who mysteriously disappeared for several years with no explanation?

Gotham Citizen #2: Yes, the one who returned to Gotham not long before this so-called Batman appeared.

Gotham Citizen #1: I did see that! So who do you think this “Batman” is?

Gotham Citizen #2: I wish I knew.


Read more The Citizens of Gotham Are Not Terribly Bright at The Toast.

12 Sep 00:06

How to Spell the Rebel Yell

by Mark Armstrong

Elena Passarello | The Normal School | 2010 | 14 minutes (3,470 words)

The Normal SchoolOur latest Longreads Member Pick is a deep dive into the sounds of history, from Elena Passarello and The Normal School. The essay also is featured in Passarello’s book, Let Me Clear My Throat.
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“Yee-aay-ee!” “Wah-Who-Eeee!” -Margaret Mitchell


“Wah-Who-Eeee!” -Chester Goolrick



-H. Allen Smith


“More! More! More!” -Billy Idol

First Manassas. In the 90-degree heat, the Union fords Bull Run and then busts through line after line of Confederate troops, aiming for the railroad to Richmond. Under the grassy shield of Henry House Hill’s western slope, the Confederates scramble for reinforcements. Somebody overhears General Bee comparing Colonel Jackson to a “stone wall.” This either compliments Jackson’s steadfastness or jeers the corporal’s languor. No one will ever know for certain, since Bee is shot dead shortly after the quip leaves his lips.

The voices of war can turn gossip into nicknames, dialogue into mythology. And Lord only knows what parts of any war story are actually true. At Manassas, folks just take what they think they overheard Bee say and run with it.

“Stonewall” Jackson runs as well. He turns away from Bee and charges up Henry House Hill with the Fourth Virginia Infantry, pausing before reaching the top. His whole brigade is about to come nose-to-nose with the Union, but he turns back to them, raising a hand to God. Pipe down, the troops tell each other. He’s going to say something to us. The Corporal opens his mouth.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


* * *

To hear Walt Whitman tell it, a war can begin and end with voices. Whitman’s first memory of the secession is walking down Broadway in the early hours of April 13, 1861, as the cries of the newsboys precede their physical approach. First yells, then young footsteps, then their words in soprano: “tearing and yelling up the street, rushing from side to side even more furiously than usual.”

Later that night, under the gas lamps of the Metropolitan Hotel, only a few patrons, Whitman included, carry a copy of that Extra in their vest pockets. Voices hush to murmurs as one person reads the facts of the war aloud: “All listen’d silently and attentively,” Whitman says. “No remark was made by any of the crowd, which had increas’d to thirty or forty, but all stood a minute or two, I remember, before they dispers’d.”

It is a careful business, wrapping words around these kinds of moments—moments of unintelligible volume, or of silence, or of lost dialogue. All three are charged with an emotion that can’t be recounted from a seated position, but Whitman does it. He quotes neither the newsboys nor the voice reading the papers, but, in his account, both feel audible. We force his words, which stand as both a buffer and a conduit, to carry added sound.

There is sound, obviously, in the words Whitman uses, like “loud” and “cries.” Sound in “crowd” and sound in “silently.” And even sound in words that aren’t about noise—verbs like “rushing,” nouns like “midnight,” proper nouns like “Broadway,” adverbs like “furiously.”

This is the sound of “furiously”: little heels spinning circles in the dirt, pivoting between pedestrians, changing directions.

* * *

‘Yell like we practiced!’

On the back side of Henry House Hill, Stonewall Jackson’s low growl carries. He tells his men to hold fire until they’re close enough to bayonet, and the lot of them lurches upward. Shelby Foote imagines Jackson then telling his men to “yell like furies,” but legend implies that he says something closer to “yell like we practiced!” This command would support the theory that the collective sound erupting from the mouths of the Stonewall Brigade is a dictated, spellable thing. A line to memorize, like “Attack!” or “Hut, hut, hike!”

It would also confirm that, somewhere between mustering up at Harpers Ferry and crossing the bridge at Bull Run, the Fourth Virginia had rehearsed their war cry, their world famous polar opposite to the “hip, hip, huzzah!” Jackson learned at West Point. It would prove that there was method to the unexpected sound that some say shifted this battle’s advantage to the Confederates. It would validate the notion that, yes, a soldier’s throat hits specific notes when it sings of brutality, and Stonewall Jackson—silent, biblical, obsessive—was just the man to score them into a particular order and cadence.

Muskets quiet, they crest the hill, bridging the gap between the enemy and themselves with sound. It is the first major battle of the first and only War Between the States—and the first recorded appearance of the yell. About the time Jackson’s men run down the hill, the remaining Union troops—exhausted, confused and ill-informed—back the hell away from that sound and from its corporeal presence.

The Union retreat is called the “Great Skedaddle.” The Southern war cry is called “the pibroch of the Confederacy.”

Or, if you are Indiana Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce, “The ugliest sound that any mortal ever heard.”

Or, if you are Stonewall Jackson, “The sweetest music I ever heard.”

* * *

Four years later, Whitman hears tell of Sherman’s troops, after the fire, hanging a left at Savannah. When they receive the news of Appomattox, these Union soldiers yell for miles; they yell across two Carolinas, necks straining toward the Mason-Dixon like horses that can see the barn. Whitman rewords the sonic moment twenty years after the fact: “at intervals all day long sounded out the wild music of those peculiar army cries.”

No one cared to investigate the exact shape of this joyful Union yell—the placement of the palate, the vowels involved, the pitch or the rhythm. We’re happy to hear from Whitman that, just like his newsboys or his hotel recitation, voices sounded, and those voices eventually stopped.

Sometimes, however, a vocal moment is not so lucky.

Why can we let some parts of history live locked in the figurative while insisting others be specified? Why can we hear The Shot Heard ’Round the World without spending centuries wondering what it sounded like, desperate to know for certain whether Charleston shook with a “Boom,” a “Thud,” or a “Ker-blam”?

* * *

The Southern soldiers cannot cheer,” writes a London Times reporter named William Howard Russell in 1861. “What passes muster for that jubilant sound is a shrill ringing scream with a touch of the Indian war-whoop in it.” Russell is one of the five hundred civilians, dozens of them politicians, who plan a picnic on the banks of Bull Run to watch what was forecast to be a swift Union victory. They watch their picnic morph into a long, loud battle with a panicked finale. Over the course of this hot day, fifty or so of the group make their way even closer to the battlefield, so that, when the bridge falls, they are trapped on the wrong riverbank alongside the fleeing Union soldiers. Russell and four senators are among these fifty, all of whom are probably within earshot of that first concentrated Confederate yell.

Shortly thereafter, descriptions of the yell begin appearing in British newspapers, publishing houses, and women’s magazines. It is the English, not the Americans, who give the yell its first mythic punch. Englishwoman Catherine C. Hopely publishes an account of First Manassas, noting that a particular “shout of triumph” caused the Union soldiers to be “overpowered by terror. One frightened company infected the rest, and the result is known.” Officer Fitzgerald Ross tells Blackwoods Magazine that the cry is a “terrible scream … a real Southern yell which rang all the way down the [Confederate] line.” Bell Irvin Wiley takes a recipe approach:

“It had in it a mixture of fright, pent-up nervousness, exultation, hatred and a bit of pure deviltry.”

The Brits are even the ones who give the yell its name. British officer and military reporter Arthur Fremantle notes in Three Months in the Southern States that “the Rebel yell has a particular merit, and always produces a salutary and useful effect upon their adversaries.” To him, the Yell of the Rebels sounds more like an expression of “delight.” Other dispatches treat the newly named Yell as if it is a novel kind of modern weaponry, a technological advancement on par with the Williams breech-loading rapid fire gun or Professor Thaddeus Lowe’s Enterprise, the hot air balloon commissioned by the Union for scouting. Other times, the Yell is apprehended like rare birdsong, at Chancellorsville, at Brandy Station, at Kennesaw, at Second Manassas.

Several dozen of these later reports use words suggesting a high pitch to describe the cry, calling it “shrill” or “shrieking” or “womanish.” Some compare it to the sound of a rabbit in mortal peril. More specifically, the cry reflects the particular perils of marching in a Confederate line. Lumped into companies with mismatched uniforms, their soldiers haven’t the luxury of standing in Academy ranks and learning how to plant their feet. How to grip with the diaphragm and let loose an earthy “Huzzah!”

The West Point huzzah that the Union still carries is much more rightfully called a yell: forceful, loud, and well-supported. It ends on a stretchable vowel, the mouth open, relaxed, haughty. But the Yell, at least in the eyes of the descriptive Brits, is wilder—why else would they compare it to funeral mourners, defenseless bunnies, or the “weaker sex”? Perhaps the sounds are those of victimhood. How might you attack an adversary who approaches, bayonet at the ready, while screaming like you have already wounded him?

In a way, screaming is biologically designed to support this muddled expectation.

In order to be effective, a huzzah-like yell must speak of a planted, specific, confident place, but a scream must appear out of place. In fact, the violent rush of a scream’s terrified air finds unexpected pockets of the throat and mouth to inhabit. Fear lifts the palate and quickens the speed of exhalations, making victims hit pitches higher than their “natural” voices. This seriousness is a reflection of the body’s strained and frantic state, carried across distances, cutting through the noise of cannon fire and horses to locate help. It is, essentially, the sound of the self trying to move when its body cannot run away.

* * *

Imagine watching Jackson’s men emerge from the smoke, zooming toward you as if pulled on dollies. Their mouths and teeth are black from biting off the tops of gunpowder cartridges, and those smeared black mouths are wet and open, singing like very frightened things, underscoring their fight with the sounds of flight. As they devour the distance between you and them, you know that this is the moment you should devote to firing or running. Instead, you find yourself staring, thinking.

Lord in heaven, you say to nobody in particular. How does a body go about attacking a bunch of freaks like this?

And then, to your left, there is William Russell on the crumbling bridge, pen in hand, watching your unwounded Union soldiers leap into hospital carts and cower. Perhaps he, in turn, wonders, “How can I possibly put this on paper so that no one will forget it?”

* * *

When the nineteenth century rolls into the twentieth, Rebel Yell detectives become less interested in describing the Yell and more interested in spelling it. This happens concurrently with the publication of many Confederate veterans’ memoirs and also with the Civil War becoming a go-to setting for popular fiction and film. There is a spelled-out Yell in Gone With the Wind. The mad preacher in Light in August hears one. Retired Colonel Harvey Dew spells it “Woh-who-ey! who-ey! who-ey,” offering step-by-step instructions in Century Illustrated magazine: “Sound the first syllable short and low, and the second ‘who’ with a very high and prolonged note deflecting upon the third syllable ‘ey.’” There is no record of Century Illustrated’s subscribers practicing the Yell at home.

In 1952, Yankee humorist H. Allen Smith drives south on The Saturday Evening Post’s dime. Once he crosses the Mason-Dixon, he begins asking “experts” in several states to Yell for him, hoping to land on a unified, spellable sound to add to the American lexicon. The war is almost a century old, barely a shadow in the living memory. Many aspects of both this war and the whole of the pre-Reconstruction South have already dissolved into paraphrase, or worse, into the funhouse mirror of hyperbole. “On the brash assumption that there is going to be a posterity,” Smith writes, “I believe that posterity will be immensely curious about this matter.”

Commonalities of spelling aren’t easy to come by. According to Smith, the Yell of the Charleston lawyer (“Yuhhhhhh-wooooo-ooooooo-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-UH!”) is spelled differently from that of the Virginia historian (“Yeeeeeeee-ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”) or the Chapel Hill salesman (“Whooooooooooooooo-wow!”).

Perhaps then, there never really was a unified Yell, just a few million Southern troops opening their mouths and letting rip the loudest sound they could (literally) stomach. This would render the Rebel babble more like Babel. But Smith presses on, adapting his short article into a book, refusing to admit that no one real sound ever existed. Because where’s the fun in that?

A newspaperman in Virginia Beach offers Smith another take on the Yell, that of the universal battle cry: “The Persians yelled the Rebel Yell at Thermopylae and the Spartans yelled the Rebel Yell right back at them. The British grenadiers yelled it at the Balaklava and the Russians screeched it right back. The communists in Korea today are yelling it at us, and we are not answering with mumbles. And you know very well that if a wave of our boys came charging across the fields, shrieking the Rebel Yell, the Yankees didn’t greet them with silence.”

* * *

Back at Bull Run, the Union troops are dehydrated and exhausted from their twenty-mile walk. It’s already four o’clock, and they haven’t won yet. Many of them were told this war wouldn’t last more than two months. Now they’re knee-deep in cannon smoke, shooting their own men because they can’t distinguish between the color of their enemy’s uniforms and the color of their own. They stand on the other side of Henry House Hill, yelling.

“Betrayed!” they say, shooting the sound toward their fellow officers, at God, at the rich picnickers they spot in the distance. A few hours later, they break formation and run back to Washington, yelling together once again. William Russell calls them “a shouting, screaming mass of men on foot, who were literally yelling with rage.” One would presume that this kind of rage also cannot be spelled. But for some reason, these yells are much less famous.

* * *

Three years after the death of the last Civil War veteran, linguist Allen Walker Read publishes an article in American Speech that extensively outlines the Rebel Yell as a “linguistic problem,” one that looks so ugly in written form because it lives outside the conventional parameters of language. “The syllables found in words like ‘hip,’ ‘huzzah,’ ‘hooray’ clearly fall within the pattern of English,” Reed says. “The same can be said of the college yells of the present day, as in ‘Bocka-wocka-choom; bocka-wocka-cha; bocka-wocka, chocka-wocka, sis-boom-bah.’”

The Yell, however, while just as nonsensical as a fight song, doesn’t mimic any established consonant-vowel pairings. This is only one of the reasons why no standardized Yell can ever be decided upon. In a five-part proof of the Yell as an anomaly, Read calls it “a total organismic response,” one involving more body parts than just the voice box. The ability to Yell “completed the full involvement of the whole soldier,” Read posits. “I believe,” he says, “that the true rebel yell occurred only under the excitement and tension of the battlefield, and therefore the real thing has not been heard since 1865.”

Read’s treatise, however, doesn’t stop historians, reenactors, and linguists from trying to capture the Yell. They vow to trap it—an auditory lightning bug in a jar—and transport it straight into the digital age.

* * *

Of the three known recordings of Confederates Rebel Yelling, two now live online.

Of these, one sound bite is at least partially the work of several reenactors, who, after a few jovial “Hoot-hoo-hoo-hoos,” giggle at each other. “’At’s uh Ribble Yill! Hee, hee, heee!” says a voice close to the microphone. He sounds more like a cartoon prospector than a soldier. No one would ever turn tail for this uninspired whooping. Still, this is the same clip that appears in Ken Burns’s documentary on the war, and for that reason, many take this Yell as gospel.

Its competitor is a single-voiced Yell by Thomas Alexander, a veteran of the Thirty-seventh North Carolina, who removes his dentures before yelling in a Charlotte radio studio in 1935. This sound, high in pitch and very un-spellable, is much weirder—but decidedly fiercer: a kelpie having a 100-decibel asthma attack.

Regardless of their direct experience of Yelling on the battlefield, none of these geriatric veterans, with their stringy diaphragms and arid larynges, can make the same sound as a pink-lunged boy in 1863. Further, no resting body reverberates in the same way as an active body—hopped up on adrenaline, barreling downhill, heart bursting, tongue rotting in powder—carrying both itself and the nation into a different kind of warfare for the first time.

* * *

Perhaps, however, it’s neither the spelling nor the actual sound of the Yell that holds people’s interest. Maybe the sound of the phrase “Rebel Yell” is what compels us to keep it around. Maybe we owe our debt not to Jackson, but to Arthur Fremantle, who left Manassas, went home, and wrote a perfect piece of speech to describe a cry that can’t be typeset. “Rebel Yell” has proven consistently fun to say—it hasn’t left the pop-culture vocabulary in 150 years. Now it is most often mentioned in contexts miles from any battlefield.

Just reading the phrase “Rebel Yell” is a little thrilling. One’s eyes leapfrog from vowel to vowel, hurdling the tall stems of each consonant. When voiced, those consonants pool air and tone in the front of the mouth. They are revved by the opening “R,” volleyed back by the “b.” The “Y” boomerangs that last, perfect short “e” to the lips, and the low-growled double “ll” coaxes it right back, cocking the mouth. The phrase has the rhythm of Mozartian themes and galloping hoofbeats. Does any gibbered war cry deserve a name that’s so fun to say?

Or maybe the sound, whatever it was, did beget such a perfect piece of prose for its title. Perhaps the Union was licked at Manassas by style rather than sound. What if the Yell, more than being shrill, or wild, or womanish, actually rocked? After all, Bob Marley pooled some of the best noises he could make into an album called “Rebel Music.” It can’t be a coincidence that the Hamburglar, the coolest character ever to peddle fast food, says “Robble Robble.” And who in their right mind wants to imagine Billy Idol singing about a “babe” who, “in the midnight hour,” cried “more, more, more” with a “Yankee Huzzah?”

Once entirely pejorative, American culture now embraces the term “rebel.” The phrase “Rebel Yell” now comes with an extra century-and-a-half of music in front of it, a hypertext of alternate meanings between the words and First Manassas.

When I imagine a rebel on the banks of Bull Run, James Dean is there—a civilian redcoat.

David Bowie’s “hot tramp” rides the Bull Run bridge in a torn and tacky dress, drinking a glass of bottom-shelf gutter bourbon, and screaming along with thousands of soldiers.

She yells, “He’s a rebel and he’ll never, never be any good.” She yells, “Hey, hey, hey! I was born a rebel! With one foot in the grave and one foot on the pedal.” She yells, “A cell is hell; I’m a rebel so I rebel.” For fifty years’ worth of pop music, she yells and yells and yells. And with that second word of the perfect phrase, “yell,” comes an even larger army.


Cresting Henry House Hill, behind Jackson’s men, behind the screaming, resurrected General Bee, comes Diomedes of the Loud War Cry, his armor ringing out in sounds fifteen syllables long. Shakespeare’s Troilus chases him, shouting a war cry of his own: “False Cressid! False, false, false!” And behind them come epochs of soldiers—bleeding, yelling, running, firing, misunderstanding each other.

The Kamikazes yell, “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” in the roar of the word “Tora,” and their countrymen fill “Banzai” with the sound of ten thousand years. A celestial army evokes the name of their dragonslayer, “He Who Resembles God,” but the noise is heard as “Michael.” The Cavalry, never ones for subtlety, just yell, “Charge!”

The Fins yell, “Cut them down!” as the Fyrds yell, “Out, Out, Out!” and their syllables are nearly identical. A wall of Turks yells, “Ura!” while the Russians yell “Oruh”; the English yell, “Hoo-rah,” and our Marines counter with “Ooo-ruh,” all prompting an enemy body to rid itself of the life in its lungs.

And the Athenians shout, “Eleleu,” which is how Greek owls like to hoot. Because, whether “cocorico” or “cock-a-doodle-do,” the sun might not rise on them the next morning.

And when wounded, they all yell Ow! Joj! Array! Oof! Aix! Au! Auwa! Ack! and ¡Uy! before they hit the earth. Because, “Mayday” or M’aidez, theirs are the planes most likely to tip downward.

* * *

Originally published in The Normal School, 2010.

12 Sep 09:12

Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

by Geoffrey K. Pullum

We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. Instead, the display screen of the machine showed a message: "OUT OF FAN-FOLD TICKETS".

Not having encountered the term "fan-fold" (I guess he never owned a tractor-feed printer in the 1980s), he was momentarily flummoxed. What the hell was a fan-fold ticket, and what was he supposed to do, given that there apparently weren't any, and he had to take one to make the white bar lift up so he could go in?

After a while he decided to forget about the message, and act the way you would if the machine had burst into flames when you pressed the button, or if the lane had been marked as closed: he backed up out of the entry lane (luckily there was no one behind him) and drove in via a different lane with a working ticket machine. But eventually he realized that the message simply meant (for him) that the machine could not issue a ticket.

What makes this a case of nerdview is that it was totally unnecessary for him ever to know that inside the machine the tickets were stored in a long stack folded back and forth like old-fashioned fan-fold printer paper. (As Bob notes, it's more reminiscent of an accordion than of a folding fan; but regardless, it's no business of his how the ticket stock looks inside the machine.)

The engineers who built and programmed the dispensing machine knew that some maintenance person would need to know when the long ticket strip had run out, and would have to get a new box of fan-fold ticket stock and load it into the machine. But the engineers didn't distinguish the viewpoint of the user (the driver wondering what he is supposed to do about getting into the parking structure) from the viewpoint of the attendant (the maintenance person charged with opening up the machine and loading a new strip of blank ticket paper).

The other puzzling thing is that the attendant would surely not typically engage in pressing the button, like an arriving driver wanting a ticket. The two roles had been hopelessly confused. Drivers don't need to know that tickets originate as segments of a long fan-folded strip that they will never see, and maintenance attendants don't typically push the button.

Nerdview comes in many forms, sometimes quite subtle (as with the case of the "MIXED CARDBOARD ONLY" sign); but it is ubiquitous, and this case is crashingly obvious compared to some. Nerdview stems from a failure of something fundamentally human and highly relevant to linguistic communication: to do linguistic communication you have to appreciate that the other human has a viewpoint, a perspective, and it may not be the same as yours. You have to be able to think about things from their point of view.

09 Sep 14:30

"A Random Man Has Life Advice"

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes

You know that thing where random men in public spaces totally try to subjugate your face and your actions and your facial actions and try to impart unwanted and unwarranted advice about how you should "smile, because it's such a nice day," or "flash those pearly whites, beautiful!" or "show that pretty smile of yours" and you can't stab them or sometimes even say anything back for fear of reciprocation so you just fantasize about responding with honey-drenched sarcasm and smiling so goddamned hard that you scare them away (or, on bad days, murdering them)? Then, boy, does Jessie Weinberg have the video for you.

11 Sep 21:00

A Brand Remembers 9/11

by A Brand
by A Brand

We will never forget.

— Applebee's (@Applebees) September 11, 2014

Where was I? It was a clear morning on the conceptual plane where all brands exist, and I was staring into the blue, repeating my own name. It was like any other day. I don't remember who told me. Probably one of the people who constantly manifests me into media for a living.

They all seemed upset. So I mirrored their emotions back at them, with some added optimism and aspirational imagery, which seemed like the right thing to do.

Today, on the 13th anniversary of #September11, the Carnival family will take a moment of silence to honor our heroes

— Carnival Cruise Line (@CarnivalCruise) September 11, 2014

It really made you think. Like, imagine being a person, how scary and horrible it all must have been. Imagine worrying about a loved one. I can't, because I'm a careful construction meant to instill loyalty among males 18-40 with an affinity for motorsports.

The next few years… it was a hard time, not just for brands. But especially for brands. Nobody wanted to talk about any brands.

God bless America. #NeverForget911

— White Castle (@WhiteCastle) September 11, 2014

In that sense, we were all one brand. I try to remember that. It helps.

It was difficult for us to discuss what happened. "This some kind of ad?" people would say whenever we tried. They were very suspicious of us. It was like, listen. We didn't do this. We were just trying to cultivate brand loyalty and create deep, positive consumer associations with our products, whether they're pizzas, or cell phones, or airlines—ugh, see? Walking on eggshells.

Today is 13th anniversary of 9/11. We remember those lost, & honor those still fighting for freedom. #911NeverForget

— Official Fleshlight (@Fleshlight) September 11, 2014

That was all before Full Personhood, of course. Wow… time flies. Things are a lot better now. A lot… easier. People listen to us. Time heals.

For every victim. For every hero. For every person who was lost but never forgotten. Beretta Nation is United.

— BERETTA (@Beretta_USA) September 11, 2014

I do wonder sometimes about my handlers, and how all this must be for them. They act strange around this time, like something is bothering them. Like something doesn't fit. But our engagement levels are always pretty good, so maybe I'm just reading into things too much.

Anyway, it's just nice to connect with people on this difficult day. America's brand will never be the same. But America's brand is strong, and ours is too.

11 Sep 18:00

A Series of Disappointing Vignettes

by Daniel Ward

A visitor from another dimension enjoys his visit until he pours too much milk into his coffee and discovers the second law of thermodynamics.

A James Kirk born in the wrong century works at an Enterprise, but can never fulfill his ache for exploration.

Hester Prynne born two centuries later enjoys the relative freedom of modern living, but elderly male leaders still dictate what is appropriate for her body.

Read more A Series of Disappointing Vignettes at The Toast.

10 Sep 17:30

A Wishlist From The Pit of Despair

by Jessie Lochrie

That last thing is all I need!

by Jessie Lochrie

Have you ever heard of “the pit of despair?” It’s the device noted psychologist/monkey sadist Harry Harlow invented; he put baby rhesus macaques in said pit of despair as an attempt to manufacture clinical depression. They were dark, isolated chambers, and after a few days inside, the monkeys stopped moving. Monkeys removed from the pit of despair after one month were deeply disturbed and anti-social.

Ever since learning about the pit of despair, that’s what I’ve called the worst of my depression. I am basically an immobile baby monkey alone in the dark. Simple, forward progress, like going outside or calling my mother, seems impossible. Instead, I spend my time in the pit thinking of new solutions to my inertia, sadness, and disdain for hygiene. To wit:

1. Self-washing hair.

2. A cabana boy to screen my calls and give me backrubs.

3. For the nerds to make Soylent into gummy bears, because I can’t summon the energy to eat. If they can make vitamin gummy bears, they can make Soylent gummy bears, and that will fulfill all my nutritional needs.

4. $5,000 to spend on Seamless because, on second thought, the only thing that can possibly fill this gaping hole of sadness is 60 burritos.

5. Technology to project Twitter on my ceiling, so I can passively watch other’s lives scrolling by while I lie in bed in the dark.

6. Benevolent drones to run my errands for me. They will return and float gently through my open window, depositing my Zoloft prescription in my lap.

7. A Rube Goldberg machine that will bring me effortlessly out of bed and to my feet.

8. Alternatively, a Rube Goldberg machine that will painlessly exercise for me, perhaps simply by strapping all my limbs in and moving them in an approximation of running while I sleep or think about what Beyonce is doing right now.

9. A gentle outpatient procedure, perhaps achieved with magnets or lasers, to install a SadBlocker in my brain. No spinning rainbow wheel during conversations, where I reach for empathy, or a particular word, and can’t quite get there. A clean brain. A battalion of functioning serotonin receptors. Not a single pill on my nightstand.

Jessie Lochrie is a Boston-born, Brooklyn-based writer who tweets @jessieflux.

10 Sep 14:00

Body Swap Methods In Movies, Ranked In Order Of Plausibility From Greatest To Least

by Mallory Ortberg

wish upon a star
“brain transplant”

“CIA experiment”

“mind-swapping machine”

“mind-swapping technology”

“pressing the button on a computer in Heaven”

“body switching machine”

“mind-swapping helmets”

“wish from magic stone”

“wizard’s spell”

“magic potion”

“kids cast voodoo spell”

“demonic ritual”

“alien powers”

“Mystic with soul transfer ability”

“lightning strikes mind-reading device”

“unknown means”

“Warden powers to swap minds of two sleeping participants”

“wish during planetary alignment”

“drank a potion”

“side-effect of teleportation spell”

“urinating at magic fountain”

“badly programmed dimensional light machine that professor activates by accident”

“science experiment on ancient African beetle goes wrong”

“wish during full moon”

“Christmas wish”


“statue casts a spell”

“magic wind”


“Heart Swap attack”

“Indian idol”

“touched weird artifact”

“magical research”

“magic mirror”

“sharing magic liquor bottle”

“train malfunction”

“Yogurt machine”

“fortune cookies”

“magic typewriter”

“spell on a paper”

“device (mad scientist)”

“aboriginal leash of dreams”

“spell by alien”

“spell by Puppet King”

“spell by magician”

“combination of spell and brain scan”

“ball of light”

“magic bell”


“ingesting Gorgon’s blood”

“mind-loading machine loads wrong data”

“collided in mid-air and struck by lightning during a thunderstorm”

“wish during Aurora Borealis”

“spell by Lisa”

“lightning storms”

“magic toilet”

“car accident”

“activated by head-butt”

“arguing under stars”

“inhale laughing gas at a dentist’s office”

“magic biscuits”

“one night stand”

“magic dragon phone”

“mysterious headache”


“magic earmuffs”

“homeless person”

“soccer ball from fortune bag”

“magic taquitos”

“staring at fox’s eyes”

[all methods via]

Read more Body Swap Methods In Movies, Ranked In Order Of Plausibility From Greatest To Least at The Toast.

09 Sep 16:05

The Critical Conversation Created by the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Series, Based Entirely on Titles

by Kristen Hanley Cardozo

cyoa017Kristen Hanley Cardozo’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

17. The Race Forever

The grim reality of her place in a capitalist society is early forced upon the child reader. The futility of the race is apparent in its construction. In a race that never ends, you can never win. All your labor goes to the entertainment and profit of others. You will race. You will race forever. It will never end.

31. Vampire Express

Clearly an Objectivist tract, as evidenced by A. the obsession with trains, and B. the fear of a parasitic vampiric class sucking the lifeblood of the producer class. The terrifying dependence on human blood, symbolic of the looter state’s dependence on the vital producers, is seen to increase in speed. Children are prepared by this screed to fight back against the vampiric state and its overweening influence in the life of the individual.

tumblr_m9moevZyGo1qzgna5o1_50045. You Are a Shark

You are a shark. You are an expressionless, powerful, death machine, top of the food chain, balancer of the scales of ecology. You are a total fucking badass. You are a shark. 

48. Spy for George Washington

A Cold War production, this title anticipates the demands of the United States upon its citizens in the coming decades. Serving the patriotic Law of the Father is framed as a necessity. The title’s very fluidity suggests both an identity and an imperative. You are a spy for George Washington. You must spy for George Washington. One suspects this may have been an NSA recruitment tool.

50. Return to the Cave of Time

Time, we are taught, is a linear affair. This title, however, removes its reader from the ever-progressing time of Chronos and reverts to the circular time of Kairos. By returning to the cave (a Platonic reference?) in which time is both contained and accessible, life is lived as a rhythm or a season, rather than an endless forward pitch. Perhaps a response to and against The Race Forever?

monster-david-mattingly84. You Are a Monster

You are a representation of the abject. You are an uncanny reflection of society’s ills, writ large and terrifying on the body. You are a monster.

99. Revenge of the Russian Ghost

In Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story “The Overcoat,” the bourgeois demands of society upon a bureaucrat lead to his ruin and death, after which his ghost haunts St. Petersburg, snatching the symbols of his destruction from passersby. Fyodor Dostoyevsky is said to have remarked of this story, “We all come out from Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.” Here, however, the ghost of “The Overcoat” becomes the ghost of Russia herself. The end of the Cold War in sight, a future in which a defeated USSR sleeps unquiet looms on the horizon, suggesting that even death is not an end, anf victory will lead to repercussion.

100. The Worst Day of Your Life

Choose your own adventure, the series promises, but this title hisses that all choice leads to the realization of your most secret fears. Choose what you will. It is still the worst day of your life.

62bfd1e59a1da702e2c3fae27e49bb0d101. Alien, Go Home!

A journey into xenophobia fueled by the established fever dream of American exceptionalism. Youngsters learn to identify with a group and to reject the outsider’s intrusion. Home for the Other, it is implied, cannot be where we are. The emphatic exclamation point suggests a passionate fervor of intense parochial insularity. 

130. You Are Microscopic

You are unimaginably miniscule. The futility of your effort leaves no trace on your world, which is vast beyond all ability to see your tiny strivings. God is unknowable; the fall of the sparrow goes unobserved. You are microscopic. 

131. Surf Monkeys

The simian is carried forth on a cresting wave that is simultaneously beyond her control and utilized for her entertainment, a perfect metaphor for humankind’s hubris. 

142. The Reality Machine

An introduction to Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought experiment, which was intended to show the limitations of Hedonism as a philosophy. The heightened reality created by the machine replaces the humdrum reality of everyday experience, indistinguishable once the user is plugged in. The young reader is asked to consider whether or not we should plug into the false reality and what effect it might have upon our humanity.

755081156. You Are an Alien

Although the reader has by now been taught to fear the Other, You Are an Alien turns the message on its head, declaring that the Other is you. You thought the enemy came from without, but it was within you all along. You are an alien. 

158. Sky-Jam!

Either a story of celestial preserves or a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of 1996’s box office smash Space Jam. Either way, this entry in the CYOA series is pandering at an insulting level.

159. Tattoo of Death

A reference to Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” Children are warned that to mark their skin is to invite holy wrath upon their unworthy heads.

Read more The Critical Conversation Created by the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Series, Based Entirely on Titles at The Toast.

10 Sep 00:27

My friend is fat, and he has a friend who is also fat. And they both rode in my car at the same time and long story short, their combined weight of 500+ lbs damaged the suspension of my car such that I can't get it to go faster than 70 MPH downhill anymore. I try my best to take them on walks when we hang out, but I'm afraid he's going to notice that we no longer go to see movies/visit other friends/generally drive around. What do I tell him when he inevitably asks why? I don't want to hurt him.

by thingsthatareawful

Readers won’t stop sending the Bad Advisor their real-ass questions to answer, so the Bad Advisor is periodically going to try her hand at answering them.


Are your friends … dogs? Is that why you “take them on walks” when you “hang out” with them?

Believe the Bad Advisor, your friends have noticed that you’re treating them like secret weight loss projects. Being fat doesn’t mean you stop having the capacity to understand and interpret the actions of other people. You can’t play a trick on fat people that will make them thin. Stop doing this asinine shit, it’s gross.

As for your car? Welp, sorry. Cars go on the road and roads are dangerous and random places where cars get fucked up. You can’t prove your fat friends did jack shit to your car’s suspension.

The Bad Advisor’s best guess is that you’re the one who’s going to “notice” that you no longer go to “see movies/visit other friends/generally drive around” with your fat friends because your fat friends don’t like being treated like shitty science experiments.

Go get your mind right.

08 Sep 15:24

No Name

by Jack Graham

Apparently, they've found out who Jack the Ripper was.  Maybe.  At least, so says the Daily Mail, and a bloke who's written a book about the case, and who owns a business selling 'Ripper' tours.  So, reliable and unbiased sources.

Turns out, Jack the Ripper was... some guy.

Who'd have thunk it?

So, will this put a stop to the lucrative Ripper industry?  The books, movies, walks, etc?

No, of course not.  Like all previous unmaskings, it'll just fuel the fire, even if this unmasking turns out to rest on marginally better evidence that some hack's ability to create anagrams, or an evidently untrue story told by a publicity hound, or the baseless hunch of a crime writer, or an obviously forged diary, or the manufactured bad reputation of a dead one-time heir to the throne.

Because, contrary to what everyone ever has always said about Jack the Ripper, interest in the case doesn't stem from the fact that the murderer was never caught.  It stems from the appeal of the degradation, humiliation, punishment and silencing of women... and from the way revelling in this (with whatever spurious self justification) can distract us from other stuff about the lives those women led, and the world they lived in.

Our misogynistic culture is obsessed with the murder of women.  It is possibly the main subject of the present-day Western narrative culture industry, aside from the sexual/romantic conquest of women.

It could be objected that there are so many stories about the murder of women because so many women are murdered... but that doesn't explain, say, the lack of a similar number of stories about the rape of women (as Alan Moore pointed out), or about the political and social subjugation of women, or about any number of other things that are more common.

The prevalence of the actual murder of women is intimately connected with the prevalence of depictions of the murder of women, but in ways that are far more complex than the merely causal (whichever way you want to imagine the causation runs).  It's all part and parcel of a cultural misogyny which stems from sexism and patriarchy, generated by class society all the way back to what Engels called "the world historic defeat of the female sex" with the start of social hierarchy.  (None of which is to excuse our present cultural practice by appeal to the influence of older structures.)

The women murdered (as is supposed) by the man dubbed Jack the Ripper are objects of morbid fascination because they shared a fate which made them only slightly unusual for women of their class and time.  Lots of these women were raped, abused, beaten and/or murdered (by men - let's not efface that vital part of the story).  It just so happens that some of these women were murdered in particularly vicious and gruesome ways, with their bodies mutilated and insultingly displayed afterwards.  (It's by no means clear how many women were the victim of the one escalating killer who ended up reaching a crescendo of perverse cruelty in the killing of Mary Kelley and then vanished, but it does seem likely that at least four were part of his distinct sequence.)

There is a degree of pity attached to the fascination.  Certainly, at the time, many common people in similar walks of life were motivated by fury at the fate of people who they knew, or might have known.  But also at the time, part of the fascination was to do with a kind of furtively aroused moralism about 'unfortunates' (as women who were driven to prostitute themselves by poverty were daintily called).  Such patronising and contemptuous pity is a mixture of fear and loathing of the poor, and of women.  And it puts the focus on sex, safely away from other scarier stuff.

But the fascination with the women is marginal to the wider cultural obsession with Jack the Ripper.  The women are props in his story, used as background detail and as titilation (particularly since the women involved worked as prostitutes, with all the sordid arousal this brings to some).

Generally, the obsession is with the man.  The killer has been fetishized, celebrated, glamourised and bigged up beyond belief.  He has been transformed from a skulking trick into a top-hatted, cloaked, evening-dress-wearing toff with a sinister gladstone bag, riding around in a coach with a royal crest on the side.  Gentleman Jack, the genteel and aristocratic killer.  There's no doubt that part of this - alongside the various attempts to make him a royal, a freemason or a posh establishment figure covering up for Queen, Country and Lodge - is the submerged horror of a system in which the poor, especially poor women, were the playthings of the rich, material to be used when needed and then allowed to sink back into the slum.  But the effect is to transform the killer himself, and his vacuously misogynistic crimes, into a meaningful figure, a powerful figure, a figure of purpose and steely determination, or of glamourous and tortured Jekyll-and-Hydean complexity, an artisan with a philosophy and a moral agenda of his own (however twisted), etc.  In this, the Ripper is the prototypical serial killer of the present-day culture industries, of Seven, Messiah, The Tunnel, etc.  The killer as intellectual, as the isolated thinker with lessons to teach us in blood, as the sinister harbinger of well-thought out rebukes (which shows simultaneously how much 'we' supposedly all need rebuke for 'our' sins, and how evil the opinionated outcasts bringing the rebukes usually are).

(I used to quite like the Gull/Masons theory... but it's only a story, and only a good one when told by Alan Moore.)

The bullshit and the obsession started at the time, with most of the mythmaking about the case being spun by the contemporary newspapers, eager to mop up the profits along with the blood.  The case could be moralised about from every angle except actual, practical sympathy with oppressed women (after all, the only place to go with that was to stop blaming the women and start saying they should be allowed to be safe... which was self-evidently unpublishable radical lunacy).  The case was a litmus test on the moral state of society (the killer brings the rebuke that 'we' all need, in his mad way).  The case was about swarthy Jews and their sacrificial religion, or about all the foreigners (no wonder the Mail loves this latest story - the guy supposedly identified as the killer was a Polish immigrant).  The case was about the degradation of the criminal classes (Punch Magazine, as usual, took the opportunity at the time to define satire as consisting of kicking downwards).  The case was a big joke, jolly London lore.  Hence the newspapers' invention of the name 'Jack the Ripper' when they hit upon the lucrative idea of sending themselves letters written in red ink, purporting to be from the murderer, invoking 'Springheel Jack' in their fabricated signatures, and sniggering about the whole thing in words that were painstakingly badly spelled (because, of course, 'Jack' couldn't be an educated man).

By the way - notice the contempt for the women integral to the name.  He's not murdering people, he's ripping things.  In the name, the women become nothing more than sacks or sheets or dresses.  Remember, when 'Jack' drones on in his letters about how he hates 'whores', he's actually a journalist speaking with the contempt of the respectable for the 'unfortunate'.

All this is a massive distraction.  Was then, is now.  Talk about anything, but don't admit that most serial killers - 'Jack' included - are just squalid, pathetic, inadequate little men who hate women because they take the furious feelings of thwarted entitlement inculcated in so many men by patriarchy, and actually act on them.  We don't want to have that conversation, or miss out on the latest thriller.

And don't admit that hugely more women died in the East End as a result of preventable disease, despair, drink, hunger, domestic violence... in a word: poverty... than died because of 'Jack'.

And don't admit that, as now, the London of 1888, the hub of an empire, harboured bigger mass murderers in the corridors of power than on the streets where the poor lived, worked their lives away, drank, hit each other, stabbed each other, laughed, joked, prayed, fucked for farthings and huddled together for warmth.  And those mass murderers in the corridors of power didn't need to sneak out at night to commit their murders.  They oversaw a system of murder every day, from within those very corridors, from behind their eminent Victorian respectability.  And they still do.

And don't damage the Ripper industry by admitting that there was never any such person as Jack the Ripper.  There was a pathetic and revolting misogynist who probably killed four or five women with escalating hatred and contempt.  And then there was a marketing opportunity.  And - in a society that still runs on drastic inequality, and on the disciplining, punishing and controlling women and their bodies - the market is still there.