What's love got to do with it?

Or: How do I learn to stop worrying and love...anything 

Among the world's varied challenges, the Low Patriarchy Diet isn't exactly the toughest. Even at its toughest, it still just boils down to conscious consumption. And no one is keeping tally, or judging my choices; which is just as well, because I've really blown my diet on McElroy-branded content in the last few weeks. 

Honestly, it's gotten to the point where I feel a little guilty about just how much MBMBaM I've been watching and listening to. I genuinely believe in the LPD as a force for good, but right now, I'm struggling. I've been in a weird mental health space for a while now, from what I suspect is a mid-life crisis of sorts. That doesn't mean I'll date someone half my age, or get a sports car; those would both be a little out of left field for me. This mid-life crisis is less about my lost youth (I could care less about that), and more about redefining who I am in the midst of a lot of personal and social changes. I've felt lost for....well, for years now, on and off. One of my coping strategies is psychosocial comfort food, of which MBMBaM is a prime example. The McElroys sense of humour hits me just right, a perfect mix of goofy and quick-witted that is as comforting to me as a warm bath. 

It's familiar....but not TOO familiar.... 

It's familiar....but not TOO familiar.... 

But, like all baths, you've gotta get out eventually. And so I find myself struggling again, as the McElroys start to lose their effect on me, and nothing else is there to take their place. Outside of the LPD or the Ladyist, I can revisit old loves; try to rediscover the feeling of safety and security they once gave me. Doing this project, though, I realise just how many of my old faves are out of bounds to me, and I find myself caught in a guilt-trap that only serves to make me feel worse. 

So here's where you come in: what are your LPD-friendly comfort foods? Here's a few of mine to start us off:

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Noname's  Telefone  deals with some serious subjects, but it remains resolute and tender in spite of the shadows.  

Noname's Telefone deals with some serious subjects, but it remains resolute and tender in spite of the shadows.  

Parks and Recreation  is a gimme

Parks and Recreation is a gimme

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes me laugh like Ryan North and Erika Henderson's  Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes me laugh like Ryan North and Erika Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

I'm not feeling the sharpest, so I'm already drawing a blank. This is where you come in! What's your pop culture comfort food? (Please keep it LPD-friendly, thanks!) 

Bang On

Bang On is only a few months in, and I've only just caught on to it, but it's very quickly become a favourite of mine. Like Heben and Tracy of Another Round, the core of Bang On is the friendship between hosts Zan Rowe and Myf Warhurst, and the easy, lived-in dynamic they have. Both women are radio professionals with long-standing careers in the industry, so it's disarming to hear them chat (or, as the title would have it, bang on) so casually about whatever pop culture is on their minds. Myf's been an open book for a while now (her unsubtle thirst as this year's Eurovision host for SBS was wonderful), but Bang On has given me a glimpse into Zan that I bloody love. It's almost scandalous to hear her, a composed, professional presenter, making jokes about Zyf (the name for their fictional music festival a la Fyre Festival) sounding like the noise of pubes being caught in a zipper, and talking about her teenage job in an Essendon bakery. It's the least cool podcast there is, and that's what makes it so much damned fun. 

LPD Music Roundup!

It has been Too Long since I shared anything here, and I've come across some killer tunes lately, so here's a few of the artists and bands who've been floating my boat. There's a Spotify playlist below, so you can listen along!

Cayetana – New Kind of Normal

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I actually can't believe it took me this long to catch on to Cayetana. Their perfect mix of late-era riot grrl, precision-crafted pop hooks and paralysing depression should've turned up on my radar when I was looking for a successor to Waxahatchee's sublime 2013 record, Cerulean Salt. If you've ever dug Waxahatchee, or any other Crutchfield projects like P.S. Eliot, this is for you. If you don't get to the end of New Kind of Normal and just start the record over again, I'm not sure we can be friends. 

 

 

Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream 

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Haley's album before this, Last War, was a quiet favourite of mine back in 2014. There's a slow-burning quality to her songwriting, a sense that a heat is slowly building that the album art (a house that's still burning down) only reinforced. It wasn't until Impossible Dream  came along that I reeeeally clicked, so I've been blessed with two Bonar albums at once. The song that sold me is the opener on Impossible Dream : 'Hometown' is a strong, simple strummer that captures the complicated feeling of old familiar places. Compared to more outwardly muscular tracks (like the wild, sky-shaking 'Kismet Kill'), 'Hometown' is an understated gem that shows the confidence in Haley's songwriting. It feels like a song that has always existed, but she was the one to finally capture it. It's a perfect companion to 'Bad Reputation' off Last War , another song that feels less 'written' than 'discovered', it sounds so perfectly formed. 

 

Tegan and Sara –  Love You to Death

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I've listened to this album so much that I'm worried Tegan and Sara will take out a restraining order on me. To be fair, it's impossible to resist the New Romantic, high-drama-higher-cheekbones of Love You to Death. They showed hints of a nascent pop instinct earlier in their career ('Back In Your Head' is ten years old, how do you feel?), but LYtD is their complete and unflinching embrace of pure, razor-sharp pop. It defies you to pick a perfect song, knowing very well that the only answer to that is "whichever one is playing now". There's not a sloppy moment, not a chorus that doesn't come crashing in at the atomically-precise moment it should hit. Producer Greg Kirstin (one half of The Bird and The Bee, who's Hall & Oates tribute album you should check out; producer to Lily Allen, Pink, Adele, etc etc) makes LYtD a glossy delight, doubling down on those killer pop hooks with clean, rippling synths and sparkling neon tones. The album is so perfectly crafted that it could become sterile in the wrong hands, but Tegan and Sara invest everything with strong, clear emotion and personality aplenty, keeping even the ballads tight with their deft harmonies. This is one of the best pop albums in living memory. Why are you still reading? Go, listen!

 

 

Noname – Telefone 

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Unlike all the other 2016 albums I slept on in the list (Haley Bonar and Tegan and Sara both came out last year), I've just never stopped listening to Noname's Telefone. At first, the mixtape's appeal was the first luxurious, warm grooves – album opener 'Yesterday' rides in on the warble of an old organ and boom-bap drums, and slides into what might be the gentlest, most uplifting chorus I know. It's an easy listen, a great soundtrack for evening reflection and a gentle uplift in the morning. 

Those smooth tones disguise Telefone's sophisticated blend of soul and hip-hop, though, and provide a safe backdrop against which Noname contrasts the dread and anguish of black life. 'Casket Pretty' is a slow head-nodding groove that hides a somber reflection on police brutality in its rounded tones. "I hope you make it home/I pray to God that my tele don't ring" she speak-sings, "I am afraid of the dark/blue and the white/badges and pistols rejoice in the night". She deftly switches gears, doubling the beat one line before shifting to staccato bursts of precisely-crafted assonance with the confidence of a slam poet, because she is one. She sings about checking "my Twitter page for something holier than black death" just before that gorgeous chorus on 'Yesterday', which shifts the tone to something much more somber as she "pictures your smile/like it was yesterday". There's an incredible maturity to her work, the tough wisdom of someone forced to grow up too fast. So it was startling to see how young she is, how bright her smile is, how easily she leads a band when she did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR earlier this year. She communicates with her whole face, so seeing her perform brought a new level to an album I was already head over heels for. 

Queerstories

In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that the host of the Queerstories storytelling nights, Maeve Marsden, is a good friend. I should also acknowledge that I would treasure and delight in the podcasts that come out of those storytelling nights even if Maeve were a sworn enemy with whom my family had a long-standing blood feud (I say this in the knowledge that it would be impossible for anyone to maintain a blood feud with anyone so sweet, charming and fucking hilarious as Maeve, so I have the luxury of never having to test that idea).

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Queerstories podcasts are as unpredictable and diverse as its guests, who include national treasures like writer Benjamin Law, SBS presenter Patrick Abboud, and writer Rebecca Shaw (who is also a personal friend, and someone who only has blood feuds with conservative Queensland MPs). I should've learned my lesson by now, but I still make the mistake of listening to Queerstories on public transport, and find myself having to choke back tears on a peak-hour train (if your face isn't a salty waterfall during and after Patrick's story of brotherly love, self-acceptance and powerful friendship, please see a doctor to have your heart plugged back in). Some are devastatingly funny (Bec's proposal of straight-woman conversion therapy will have you howling with laughter), while the wisdom and emotional self-knowledge in pieces by Liz Duck-Chong and Jax Jacki Brown will get that salty waterfall flowing all over again.

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So, don't listen in public unless you're very comfortable with strangers watching you weep, but absolutely do listen.

Book tickets for Queerstories, a monthly storytelling show at Giant Dwarf in Sydney, here

Search Party

Alia Shawkat's new show is what Girls might be like if Lena Dunham watched Chinatown or The Searchers. So, y'know, that old story. 

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The trailers for Search Party pitch it as a wacky comedy, but it's about as laugh-out-loud as Breaking Bad. The few laughs you get come from blacker-than-black comedy, and the rapidly dawning sense that everyone on this show is horrible.

Dory (Alia Shawkat) is maybe the least horrible of the bunch, surrounded as she is by a narcissistic compulsive liar (John Early gleefully playing the baby-faced not-quite-villain), a vain, "racially ambiguous" actress (Meredith Hagner)  and a manipulative, infantile boyfriend (John Reynolds). But Dory's not exactly stable, as she finds when a curiosity about a missing college acquaintance spirals into an outright obsession. As she dives deeper into a mystery involving a cult, a private detective and grisly murders to keep secrets safe, the desperate need to find this girl she hardly knew starts to undo her, like John Wayne's Civil War vet in John Ford's The Searchers. Her ex-boyfriend Julian (Brandon Michael Hall), probably the only emotionally capable person in her life, asks Dory what she's getting out of this, and at the time, it feels dismissive and unhelpful. As the search for Chantal drags on, and Dory's paranoia begins to escalate, you see that Julian was right to ask that; Dory's hunt for Chantal quickly proves to have little to do with the missing woman, and everything to do with Dory's lack of direction or identity. 

I don't feel like I can properly talk about Search Party without discussing it's unsettling end, so be warned:

~~~~~~~~~HERE THERE BE SPOILERS~~~~~~~~~

 

   

  

By the tenth and final episode, Dory's conspiracy theory imagines Chantal as a runaway from the cult that impregnated her, as a morally ambiguous private detective, Keith (Ron Livingston) chases them both across the Canadian border. Paranoid to the point of delusion, Dory and her boyfriend kill Keith in a sort-of-kind-of moment of self-defence, just as Chantal comes home. 

As Keith's blood seeps out from under a cupboard door, Chantal chats genially with her former college acquaintances, talking about her disappearance as 'a social media break', and a chance to really 'find herself'. She has no idea about any cult, and the sonogram that led Dory to believe that Chantal was pregnant is as much a mystery to Chantal as to everyone else. Dory and Drew look over at the cupboard holding Keith's dead body, as they realise that they'd imagined this whole conspiracy. 

Like I said earlier, this is black comedy at its very bleakest. I can't think of another ending that has so unsettled me like this did; my gut sank along with Dory, as we realised how far into delusion she (and her friends) had gone. I was so disturbed that I couldn't get to sleep for hours afterwards, which usually isn't an issue for me. For all that Dory and her friends are horrible, they felt horrible in very real ways, and the (fatal!) mistakes they made felt even more serious for that.

I can't recommend Search Party as an easy watch, and it's certainly not the goofy comedy it's pitched as, but it's so effective as a mystery and a human drama that I want you to watch. And then come talk to me about it, because I am so keen to talk this out. 

 

UPDATE: I've heard that a second season of Search Party has been greenlit, which is cool and all, but I think the story's better left where it ended. I'd prefer they left some questions unanswered, and I'm not sure how they'll repeat the magic of the first season without imitating it or completely abandoning the show's premise. If nothing else, I hope Dory and Drew have broken up, because he is...

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Still Processing – We Still Love You Whitney Houston [Podcast]

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I'm still beating myself up for sleeping on Still Processing for so long. Heben and Tracy from another beloved podcast, Another Round were guests for the then-new show's Best of 2016 episode in December last year, and recommended it back then. To my shame, it took me until May to catch on, and now I'm playing catchup on my new favourite pop culture podcast.

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Their delightful, thoughtful interview with Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was the first time I realised how special this show is, but it's their recent retrospective on Whitney Houston that turned me into an all-out fan. Hosted by two culture writers from the New York Times, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris are a terrific combination of wise, passionate, cerebral and playful, and the Whitney Houston episode is a perfect showcase for their easy-but-expert dynamic. There's no doubt that Jenna and Wesley are long-term fans of Whitney, and they make no bones about their love for her; there's no pretense of objectivity as they make their case for Whitney being the greatest singer of the rock'n'roll era, but they speak with such sophisticated knowledge of Whitney, her contemporaries and the culture around her that their argument is nonetheless rock-solid. You'll come away convinced of Whitney's status as an under-recognised legend who's career flame-out cast an unfair shadow on her true legacy; I certainly did, and I'd never thought of her that way until Jenna and Wesley so wisely pointed it out.

If you've got Whitney pigeon-holed as the over-singer behind 'I Will Always Love You' from the Bodyguard soundtrack, listen to this episode to have your preconceptions thoroughly challenged. They get extra points for correctly identifying 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' as the Greatest Song (I'm paraphrasing, go with me), which is as close to an indisputable truth as pop-culture commentary gets. So let's go out on a high note: 

Post-script: the best, nicest Whitney joke. 

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Keeping me honest – LPD Diary 1

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Because we see it so rarely, it's easy to believe that there just isn't as much pop culture that's Low Patriarchy-friendly. If the Ladyist taught me anything, it's that there is a tonne of work that we rarely see, buried as it is in an avalanche of white, cishet, men. It takes actual effort to find the hidden treasures. 

Thats why I'll be keeping rigorous track of everything I watch, play, read and listen to while I'm on the Low Patriarchy Diet. Not only does that help to keep me honest, it means I get to share all the wonderful stuff I find, which is the best part of these projects.  

And it's not a one-way street! If you see stuff you think I'll dig, please tell me: you can link me to it on Twitter (@gingerBFG), tag me on Instagram (@thegingerBFG), or comment anywhere here with your new LPD-friendly fave. 

Some days will just be quick digests; especially when I've talked about a show/comic/whatever in the past, I'll give you a quick overview of the thing that's making me happy. Every now and again, where I can find the time, I'll do some deeper-dives into a text that's really speaking to me, and that I think you'll enjoy too.  

For now, here's a quick recap of the LPD's early days, and the stuff I (re)discovered by starting the Diet. 

 

Another Round 

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How appropriate that I check back in with this fantastic podcast at the episode where they have Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw (the law professor and writer who coined the term "intersectionality") as their guest. I'd almost forgotten how easy and fun the dynamic is between hosts Heben and Tracy, and their casual, intimate interview style is just a delight. Dr. Crenshaw is, by her own admission, a private person, but Heben and Tracy had her chatting with equal ease about the Say Her Name movement and Beyoncé's visual albums. This show has been a favourite of mine for a few years now, but I admit I'd let episodes build up over the last few months. This was a timely reminder about the importance of intersectionality, and the difference it makes having a space by and for black women. 

Listen to Another Round here

 

Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

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It's such a thrill to watch the way Angel Olsen has grown and changed as an artist over the last few years. I love an artist who can make an album that's an evolution of the last one but that is so distinct from what came before. I adored (and still adore) the noisy, heartsick alt-country feel of Burn Your Fire For No Witness, but MY WOMAN is something else again. I'm a little late to it (it was a common sight on 2016's Best Of lists), but I'm making up by listening to it over and over, to the exclusion of just about everything else. Personally, I'd like to suggest lead track 'Intern' as the theme for the new Twin Peaks series – it has that eerie, loping synth of Angelo Badalamenti's original theme, with a classic torch song feel that would be a perfect match for David Lynch. I'm hooked on 'Shut Up Kiss Me', though; a neat Buddy Holly-ish rock'n'roll throwback, It feels classic and modern all at once. Angel lives in the contrast between old and new, with the chops as a singer and songwriter to get incredible work out of that conflict. She's fucking sublime, and you should listen to her right now. In fact, it was another podcast, Song Exploder (hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway) that made me revisit MY WOMAN, and what a debt I owe it. Song Exploder is incredible for forcing you to listen closely to a song, opening your ears to something new or helping you hear something familiar in a whole new way. Rest assured I'll talk about Song Exploder more soon. 

Listen to Angel Olsen on Song Exploder here, or check out the album on Spotify

Dear White People

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TV adaptations of movies are a flooded market right now, and they can't all be Fargo, but DWP lays out (some of) the complexities of black identity so smoothly in the pilot that I was hooked before I knew there was bait. Still not smitten, but Logan Browning brings enough firey glares to the lead that I'll be back for more. Also good for the in-world Scandal parody, which is both loving and absurd. 

 Dear White People is a Netflix Original

 

Oh, and don't let me forget about Horizon: Zero Dawn (I'm still in the early days, but expect a deep-dive on this real soon). 

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Starting out again is always tough, though. Got a hot tip for something I should check out? Let me know!

Meant to be broken – the rules of the Low Patriarchy Diet

So how does the Low Patriarchy Diet work? 

When I started the Ladyist, the core proposition was pretty straightforward: everything I watched, read, played or listened to had to feature women. The focus was on representation, and seeing women's stories told. That was also a practical choice; I initially considered focusing exclusively on women as creators, but that's difficult in a few ways. In a creator-centric medium like music, or literature, it's easy to see who has the creative influence just by looking at the spine. But how do you decide that a TV show is a woman's work? What about a movie, or a game, or comics? Determining the power relationships in collaborative media is much trickier. Not to mention, of course, the power structures that keep women out of key roles, even as they dominate underrecognised roles like editing. 

Another of the Ladyist's many lessons, though, was to highlight the differences between the ways men represent women and how women represent themselves. There's a nuance and insight that comes with personal experience that isn't /impossible/ to replicate, but it's extraordinarily rare to see men write women with the same kind of depth and precision a woman might bring.

Imagine for a moment that you're a chef by trade, and you've been working in kitchens for years. Your hands are riddled with burns and scars you don't even notice it anymore, and you know the innermost workings of restaurant life. One night, you're watching TV, and there's a scene set in the kitchen. You find yourself bristling at the knife technique of a junior chef, and sneering at the undisciplined way the sous chef is making out with a kitchenhand on a freshly cleaned bench. It's distracting, isn't it? Infuriating, even, to see your life rendered in cliches by someone who's definitely never done a 22 hour shift on Mother's Day. 

Now imagine that you can't stop being a chef, and that you have to wear your whites everywhere, and everyone treats you like you were that stereotype you saw on TV.  

That sucks, right? In an ideal world, chefs would be able to tell their own stories, or at least be asked to contribute, and have their contributions respected.  

That's why I'm going to put a greater focus on creators this time around. I'll still be looking for on-camera representation more, given all the complications I mentioned before, but the impact of a creator can't be underestimated. Especially when figures suggests that women are actually getting less roles behind the camera (even as on-screen representation grows), it's more important than ever to critically analyse the credits.  

One other big change from the Ladyist to the LPD is the time frame. Where the Ladyist was a year-long project, the Low Patriarchy Diet is intended to be a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle change. The Ladyist was great for the headfirst-dive-into-icy-water shock of realising how few things in my collection were Ladyist-friendly, but that shock soon wore off as the search became second nature.

Having an end date also prompted a lot of people to ask what I was looking forward to "after I finished". I understand the logic there, but focusing on the end made the Ladyist feel more like a pub bet than a constructive change. Rather than keep talking about it, I've already started on the Low Patriarchy Diet, and plan to keep it up for as long as I can.