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My lords, my ladies: I’m here to let you know that something spectacular happened during Episode 4 of “Game of Thrones” Season 8. (And no, it has nothing to do with resurrecting the Night King.)
After years of flirtation and undeniable chemistry, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) finally succumbed to their love. This was after Brienne played a drinking game with Jaime, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Podrick (Daniel Portman), and somewhat admitted to being a virgin. After she got up to use the bathroom, Jaime followed her into her chambers and, well, things got hot … literally.
Viewers and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) understandably lost it.
“I’m happy that you finally got to climb for it,” Tyrion told Jaime when he learned of his brother’s new love affair.
And like Tyrion, fans of the show have been waiting for these two to get together since they first met back in Season 2. Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) ordered Brienne to return her prisoner Jaime to King’s Landing in exchange for her daughters, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). But once both Stark girls vanished from the capital by Season 4, Brienne ventured off to find them, leaving Jaime to continue a relationship with his cruel sister-lover, Cersei (Lena Headey).
But then, after years of separation, Brienne and Jaime reunited at the Dragon Pit meeting in Season 7. Jaime eventually decided to cut all ties with Cersei and fulfilled his pledge to fight against the army of the dead in the North ― and he ended up side-by-side with Brienne on the battlefield.
Asked about Jaime’s intentions regarding Brienne following her knighting ceremony in Episode 2, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told HuffPost that, yes, there is “a version of love” between them.
“The truth is she likes Jaime Lannister and she believes in him and the goodness in him, and he absolutely admires and believes in Brienne of Tarth,” the actor said. “When it comes to Brienne, he doesn’t have to pretend — he doesn’t have to fight her anymore, if you will. That whole game they’ve always played? [When he knights her] he’s like, ‘Yeah, well, I admire you.’ He has nothing but respect for her.”
In terms of walking away from Cersei last season, Coster-Waldau believes Jaime could no longer stand for the only thing she believes in: power.
“He understood that clearly if they don’t all work together they don’t stand a chance,” Coster-Waldau said of Jaime’s decision to fight the army of the dead. “The fact that he knows his sister saw and recognized the same threat and her calculations led her to the exact opposite result — it’s just shocking. I don’t know why it took him so long to realize what the rest of the world always knew — that she is a crazy monster — but he finally did. And then he left.”
Still, Coster-Waldau added, “She’s obviously always going to be a huge part of him,” he added, “and there won’t be a day where he won’t be thinking of Cersei.”
Well, that statement turned out to be true.
After finally letting himself be vulnerable with Brienne, Jaime leaves his new love in the North and heads back to King’s Landing ― amid the battle for the throne.
“You’re not like your sister. You’re a good man,” a teary-eyed Brienne tells him as he readies his horse. “Stay here, stay with me, please. Stay.”
It’s unclear whether or not he’s going to be with Cersei in the end or defeat her once and for all. What we do know is that Jaime is “hateful” like his sister … but perhaps in a different way.
MargoMartindale’s boisterous laugh reverberated as she made her way down the hallway to the hotel suite where I was sitting at The Roxy in lower Manhattan last week. Soon enough, the door opened and the Emmy-winning actor, and her cheery disposition, entered the room.
“Hi! How are you?” she joyfully asked me, removing her raincoat and surveying herself in a mirror. “My hair’s looking flat, but … ”
After reassuring her that her hair was perfectly coiffed, I reminded Martindale of the time we chatted a few years back for her role in the John Krasinski-helmed Sundance flick “The Hollars,” in which she plays a whip-smart mother battling a brain tumor. Her performance earned copious amounts of praise, but unfortunately the movie ― which came two years before Krasinki’s “A Quiet Place” fanfare ― didn’t sit quite as well with critics.
“I got the reviews of my life, but the movie didn’t get those reviews. So then, that’s the end,” Martindale insisted with refreshing honesty. “I love John … and it didn’t matter what it was going to be. It made me cry when I read it and I loved everyone that was involved in it, so it was a win-win for me.”
First and foremost, Martindale goes with her heart when it comes to accepting roles (although money is always a good thing, too, she admitted).
She’s been a scene stealer in countless movies and TV shows over the last three decades: “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992), “Practical Magic” (1998), “The Hours” (2002), “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), “Dexter” (2006-08), “Justified” (2011), “August: Osage County” (2013), “Mother’s Day” (2016), “The Americans” (2013-18), and the list goes on ― and on.
So, it’s no surprise she took on the part of Enid Nora Devlin in “Blow the Man Down,” an indie crime comedy by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy that recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Enid is a bed-and-breakfast owner in the small, beat-up fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine. Or so we think. In actuality, that B&B is a brothel, and Enid is covering up a few dark secrets; secrets the catty town matriarchs ― played by Annette O’Toole, June Squibb and Marceline Hugot ― are well aware of.
I sat down with Martindale to talk about the film, but also get down to the real question: Does she like being considered Character Actress Margo Martindale? (CC: “BoJack Horseman.”)
You’re now known as Character Actress Margo Martindale, but does that bother you? Or is that a pat-on-the-back kind of title?
I think it’s great. I mean, I think anybody who really acts is a character actress? [Laughs] I know what they think it means, but, to me, it means great.
Because is that a goal of yours …
To do something different? Absolutely. And sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you do things for money, and sometimes you do things for money that are different, too. But I’m trying very hard not to repeat myself.
Just recently you popped up in “The Act” on Hulu as Patricia Arquette’s [who plays Dee Dee Blanchard] mother. Dee Dee is, of course, known for her Munchausen by proxy case.
That was an incredible experience. Truly, truly exciting. And fun to create that crazy look. A very different look for me and a different woman, really. And I love Patricia and I knew that story well.
Dee Dee’s mother is a real person, so did you expand on what you researched or try to create a character?
Well, there was not much to read about her mother. All I did was look at pictures and the more pictures I saw, the more I wanted to play her. That’s when I asked to wear a wig because I saw one picture of her hair and I thought, “Oh yeah, I got to do this.” That hair is fantastic! It was a little manly, combed-over a bit later on in her life, I guess, so they made mine look younger, bigger, but still! And she had great eyebrows. Honestly, I showed my friends and husband pictures and said, “Look at this woman! I have to do this! I have to!”
What’s it like to be on a set of a show for just one episode?
Honestly, they were so embracing and it was an ongoing story, so it didn’t feel like I was anything but a huge part of it. That’s the way they made it feel. And Patricia and I have worked together before and the arc of the part was all stages of her life really in a very compact time, so it did everything I like to do.
Do guest roles interest you more than having a full-blown gig — where you can just come in, play a bit and move on to something else?
Not usually. Usually, I want a full-blown gig, but that was a very particular, extraordinary beginning, middle and end, and a real reason for that part. It was worth doing one episode.
So how did you come to be a part of the indie “Blow the Man Down” — a dark thriller-comedy, I’d say.
I was very interested in the story when they sent it to me. I liked where it was set and I liked that it was so dark and funny. I liked that it was all women and a lot of older women who were powerful. I liked that it was a lot about friendship. And I liked that it had some murder in it.
Yes, set in this nice Maine fishing village, and boom, a murder. What?
[Laughs] So good! But you know how that kind of thing can happen? In a seaport town, all the sailors come in and those women were being used up and, some of them, discarded before I came in and made a business out of it.
You got to work with June Squibb and Annette O’Toole …
And Marceline Hugot. June and I are friends for 40 some-odd years. We live next door to each other — we’re neighbors!
So it must’ve been so much fun to shoot this together.
Oh yeah. We all stayed in an inn together and we would have our cocktail hour and June, man, she’s something else. She really is. She is really remarkable.
I can’t imagine what that cocktail hour was like! What did you ladies drink?
We mostly drank martinis. [Laughs] I could usually have one martini and then I’d have to have wine, but June could do more than one.
Well, she’s June Squibb!
That’s right, she’s June Squibb! She’s something else.
Does this movie, with a comedic undertone, add to that camaraderie on set?
Yes, and it was just a great group ― a great group of gals. And the young women [Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe] are just fabulous. And Gayle Rankin, who I just love. It was a really great group and a beautiful setting and Drew [Houpt] who produced it is a class act and it was all done beautifully.
We stayed in Brunswick, Maine … in the winter. Extraordinarily beautiful. And then we shot out across islands. I mean, we were out on the peaks and it just couldn’t be prettier. A lot of the bars and places we were in, those are real places we went.
Do you enjoy being on location rather than on, say, a soundstage?
I think it’s really, really nice. Years ago, I did “Practical Magic” and we shot that in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, and they built the facade of the house since it was supposed to be East Coast. But we all lived on one of those islands in a little group of cottages — a coven of women. And this movie reminded me of that somehow.
You’ve been on a handful of TV shows — “The Americans,” “Justified.” Is it overwhelming now to see the sheer amount of content out there?
I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing and not thinking that there are 1,000 of these out there. You rise to the top in the ones you’re in and if you don’t, just do good work. I have “Sneaky Pete” dropping May 10 and it’s the third season, and that group of actors is extraordinary. Will it ever rise to the top? I don’t know. Should it? Yes. But I’m just saying to go, do the work and make it the very best it can be.
I’m sure when “Game of Thrones” is off the air, people will be looking for something else to watch …
Well it was off the air for a minute!
Two years! But it feels like it’s the only show anyone’s talking about now.
[Laughs] It is all anyone’s talking about. My daughter included. She’s now watched every episode of “Game of Thrones” — she came to the party late — and she’s like, “I can’t go anywhere tonight because [deep, presenter-like voice] ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Would you do a medieval fantasy show? Damn, that would be fun.
[Laughs] No. But maybe I should watch it! Medieval Margo! Medieval Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale! [Laughs some more]
Well maybe it’s not medieval, but you have another crime movie “The Kitchen” coming out, co-starring Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss and Melissa McCarthy. That must’ve been fun.
It’s fun, yeah. It could’ve been … [Pause] I wish we could’ve played a little more. But we played plenty.
Whenever you have comedy it’s fun to play …
A drama? With Tiffany Haddish?
I think it might be funny. [Laughs] Let’s just say, it is a superhero women movie. It’s some bad women, which makes for some kind of … it’s one of those odd things. It’s both.
You play an Irish mob wife, is that correct?
My husband was the head of the Irish mob and he went to prison and I really did all the work behind the scenes, and then those girls come along. Tiffany is married to my son in the movie.
And you run this operation?
I was running it until these bitches came around. [Laughs]
You said you do things for the money sometimes. But in the current Hollywood landscape, can you be a little pickier when there’s more content out there?
I’m pretty picky, but I’m not in Hollywood. I’m in New Yaaark. I’ve worked out there a lot and I did a movie this year because it fit into my schedule — “Instant Family” — and I’m so happy I did it because I thought it was just a lovely, funny, important movie about the foster care system.
So that’s how you decide to take something on — when you feel it?
I felt it was fresh, that’s what I felt. And I started it, I went to Maine, I shot in Maine, finished in Maine, flew back to Atlanta, finished that, and then I did “The Kitchen.”
Is it hard to bump back and forth from characters?
I can tell you that was the first time I would have to remind myself, “What town am I in?” But not usually.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Actress Carice van Houten’s crimson-covered Melisandre first caught our eye on “Game of Thrones” in Season 2, when she held a ceremony on a beach to burn effigies of the seven gods widely worshipped in Westeros.
Back then, she was serving one of the Baratheon brothers, and she wasn’t too popular.
Fast forward to the eighth and final season ― past a poisoned maester, a demon shadow baby, a bastard bloodletting, a man resurrected and a child made to burn at the stake ― and she’s still not exactly being named prom queen. As one of the series’ most complicated characters, Melisandre has nonetheless been present, and sometimes responsible for, numerous key plot twists.
But in “The Long Night,” Episode 3 of the season, after spending hundreds of years trying to save humanity from utter devastation, Mel finally kicked it.
We may never find out exactly where she came from, what she did before the story began, or exactly how old she is, but at least we know why she took off her magic, life-preserving choker to let herself die when she did ― after the battle between the living and the dead had been won.
Whether “conscious or unconscious,” van Houten told HuffPost, “that was always the thing she was working towards.” That is, ensuring the living survived before she herself joined the ranks of the dead.
Below, we talk about that final moment and why it was so tough to play the lady in red.
So, you wrote on Instagram that Tuesday night was your first time seeing Episode 3. What did you think? Did anything surprise you?
Well, it surprised me how emotional I got from it. Of course, I was a bit geared up ― everyone had warned me. But still, to then actually see it. I was watching it with a friend, and when it was over I was sort of joking and trying to be funny, and not let the emotions hit me, and then when he left, we watched a bit again because it was quite fast, everything. And it really hit me. I didn’t see that coming, and I just got all sad. But not just because of my own character dying ― just everything adding up, really. The buildup to that episode was so great, and the music was great. I felt so honored to be the last note of that piece of music.
It just felt like the nightmares that I have sometimes. Being chased. It also tapped into everyone’s primal fear of dying ― we’re all trying to run away and we’re all scared for that unknown thing. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t escape it. So it sounds sentimental but it felt almost like, when the time comes, we need each other. It doesn’t matter, all our little wars and our little fights. It’s about standing together.
Why did Melisandre take off the necklace when she did?
I think that it’s always been, whether conscious or unconscious, that was always the thing she was working towards. It felt really like her purpose had been served and there was no reason for her to stay alive after all these hundreds of years. It was sort of a bittersweet ending, finally being able to let that journey go.
Even though she’s this ancient character, she seems to change over the course of the series and ends up questioning herself and her purpose. Overall, how would you like fans to think of Melisandre?
It is a character that really plays with your sense of moral, I guess, and really confuses that, confuses your view on a person. One moment she burns a child alive, she thinks that’s a good thing to do ― which, of course, is the most horrifying act you could think of. And then she brings Jon Snow back to life. So that’s really confusing for an audience! Where’s your sympathy, you know? And I think that’s good, because it challenges the mind.
It’s a tricky character. It’s been a tricky character for me to play, as well.
I can see that ― people were not happy after she burned Shireen. But her whole arc gives you a bit of whiplash.
I mean, I’ve always tried to defend her as much as I could ― which is, of course, tricky, because how do you defend someone who burns a child alive? That’s a tricky thing. In order for her to accomplish what she needs to do, in order to save everyone, she needs to do such a horrifying act that she couldn’t even allow [herself] to get [emotional]. Otherwise she couldn’t have done that. And she shouldn’t have done that, obviously, and we see how that affected her. That’s what makes her human for the first time. It’s not like, “Ah, well, I fucked up. Oh well! Whatever.” You do realize she damn well knows the fact that it didn’t work and is a very sad affair. It’s been a tricky character because of those extreme acts.
Do you ever get extreme fan reactions, when people see you?
It’s usually nice things. Yes, when I burned Shireen, I got a lot of death threats to my character via Twitter and Instagram. But you know, I didn’t take that personal. And I didn’t take the questions whether people could marry me, the season after when I brought Jon Snow back alive, didn’t take those serious, either. It was just fun to see how fickle the audience was themselves, you know?
It’s just funny that I ended up playing this character. I find it very funny that I was the one playing this character. Of all the things I think I’m good at, being confident and being a stern, strong woman is not the first thing that comes to mind.
Shooting that episode seemed kind of awful, so many nights in the cold, wind and rain. How did you guys keep morale up on set?
I mean, if you have Liam Cunningham [Davos] there, you’re fine. Because, I mean, he’s just a goofball that takes the piss. He’s funny. He’s a very good colleague. But I wasn’t there for the full 11 weeks, I came in and out.
The crew was just amazing. I felt like such a wussy and such a fucking diva ― I’m not a diva, but I felt like, how can I complain when I’m only flying in and out and these people are here every night?
OK so Battle of Winterfell is about to start. Melisandre lights the Dothrakis’ curvy swords.* They ride off heroically, and then all their lights go out. And everything is absolute silence.
That was such a horrifying moment!
I know! What’s going through her mind when she sees her magic fail?
What everyone thinks, I think. Just like, “Fuck.”
And then it was just about getting to Arya.
Right. So there’s that whole theory about Melisandre and Arya, that when Mel tells her back in Season 3 she’s destined to permanently shut people’s eyes ― “brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes” ― she’s predicting Arya will kill the Night King (who has very distinctive blue eyes). Did you know that Arya would kill him way back then?
No, no. I’m sure [Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] said something at the time, like, “Obviously this is a significant thing, but we’ll come back to that later.” Like they said to me, “Oh, you’re actually really old, but we’ll come back to that later.” I probably thought it was about her list.
I know what you’re going to ask me, but I don’t know.** It’s still a thrill to say, “I don’t know,” even after my death. Don’t ask me. I’m dead.
Is it a relief that you don’t have to worry about spoilers really anymore?
Yeah, sort of. I saw other colleagues post things to Instagram when they die, and I thought, I don’t really want to spoil it. … But now I think, ah, whatever. If you don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably forget about the internet.
Who do you want to win the Iron Throne?
It’s in [line with] my character, and he deserves it. But in an ideal world, I would want Samwell Tarly to be on the throne, but I guess that’s very naïve to think that we could live in a world where he could be king.
* These are apparently called “arakhs.”
** We were, indeed, going to ask van Houten what she thought of the likelihood of the prediction coming true.
Once upon a time, there was a flailing television network in need of a Cinderella makeover. As if arriving in their own magical carriage, a cabal of gay men swooped in to save it ― fairy godfathers savvy enough to envision a morality tale for an America that was finally ready to listen. Unbeknownst to them, they were about to change TV and popular culture as we knew it.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the Bravo phenomenon now known simply as “Queer Eye.” From conception to Netflix revival, the series’ success resembles something of a fairy tale. The concept was a gamble, the format sometimes trafficked in stereotypes and the title risked alienating both queer eyes and straight guys. But when the show premiered in July 2003, it defied all expectations, becoming the highest-rated program in Bravo’s then 23-year history.
The ball was just getting started.
Few pop culture phenomena have enjoyed success as immediately as “Queer Eye.” The aforementioned cabal, de facto life coaches known as the Fab Five, were instant celebrities; top brands pined for a spot on what the creators called their “make-better” pageant. Before long, Bravo was saturating its lineup with all things “Queer Eye,” including a derided spin-off. By the time ratings for the five-season series had dwindled, the show was already the reality TV model upon which its network’s future was built. Essentially, we can thank the OG Fab Five ― Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez ― for inadvertently birthing the “Real Housewives” masterstroke.
When Netflix added the series to its vast slate of revivals in 2017, however, the “Queer Eye” premise felt outdated. Gay men arriving on hapless heterosexuals’ doorsteps, asking to be heard? Surely our queer-friendlier landscape had progressed beyond that. But instead of fighting for mere visibility like the original “Queer Eye,” the streaming rendition emphasizes a deeper human connection, one that more thoroughly challenges conventional notions of masculinity and self-care without renouncing the flagrant consumerism that’s part of its DNA. The warm fuzzies evoked by the two seasons released in 2018 ― starring Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness ― prove America was hungry for bygone comfort food.
That the fairy-godfather blueprint could be retrofitted to appeal to today’s sensibilities now seems obvious. Sure, we’ve achieved LGBTQ milestones since “Queer Eye” first aired ― marriage equality, more gender-neutral bathrooms, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the rise in transgender awareness ― but that does not mean America standardizes equality. The new Fab Five know this: They approach their missions, currently set in the Deep South, like a vocation. Similar to their original counterparts, they demolish walls with humor and grace, confirming that the open-heartedness of “Queer Eye” is timeless.
But back to that “once upon a time.” We spoke to 20 people involved with both iterations of “Queer Eye,” tracing its humble beginnings in Boston all the way to its streaming dominion in Atlanta. Along the way, stars were born, a new reality television scheme was popularized and culture was made just a little gayer. In other words, everyone lived happily ever after. But a lot happened in between.
In The Beginning
To understand how “Queer Eye” came to be, we’ll need to take you back to the early days of a company called Scout Productions, born in 1994. What began as an indie-film outpost in Boston, producing the thriller “Dead Dog” and the Debbie Harry crime dramedy “Six Ways to Sunday,” partnered with documentarian Errol Morris in the early 2000s to create the acclaimed interview series “First Person.” The deal led Scout’s founders, David Collins and Michael Williams, to land an exclusive distributor in Rainbow Media (now known as AMC), which owned IFC, Fuse, Trio and a little network called Bravo, then home to a hodgepodge of arts programming. In September 2001, Scout Productions found itself in need of a new project.
Michael Williams, co-founder of Scout Productions: The turning point of all of this was 9/11. All that business of people coming to Boston stopped. Every movie that was scheduled was canceled. Nobody wanted to fly into Boston. It stopped our business dead.
David Collins, co-founder of Scout Productions: I said, “This reality TV stuff is really taking off. Let’s come up with a reality show.”
Williams: In September of 2001, David and I were down in the South End of Boston [at an art party]. We were going into a loft, and there was a commotion going on. It was this woman who was there, and her husband came to meet her. He was dressed kind of geeky and disheveled. She just started to pick on him: “What were you thinking when you left the place? Look at those socks.” She was really being loud, and it stopped everyone, like, “Wow, this woman is really berating her husband in front of everyone.” She pointed over to this group of three guys and said, “Look at them. Why don’t you dress like them?” And the guy, innocently, is like, “Well, they’re gay ― they know how to dress.”
Because they were having this conversation so loudly, the three guys heard it as well. They came over to them, surrounded the two and said, “Listen, ease up. He’s not that bad. This is what you have to do. You can do this here and that there.” We’re observing the whole thing, openmouthed. And David turns to me and says, “Well, there it is. There’s our show.”
I said, “What show?” And he goes — and I swear on everyone’s grave ― “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
David Metzler,Scout Productions executive producer (and token heterosexual): They came running back to the office and told me about it. I said, “That’s a terrific idea.”
Williams: At the time, I was obsessed with Esquire. The magazine was broken up into fashion, grooming, design, culture, and food and wine. Those verticals were playing in my mind when we saw the poor straight guy getting supported and loved by the gay guys.
Collins: Frances Berwick and Ed Carroll bought our very first TV series with Errol Morris. So that’s what began our entrée into television.
Williams: We took the train from Boston to New York and went in and sat down with Frances and Ed in the old Rainbow Media offices.
Vivi Zigler, former vice president of marketing at NBC: Bravo had been very much an arts and entertainment network: Cirque du Soleil, “Inside the Actors Studio,” indie films.
Williams: I knew I had a really cool pitch book that explained the show, and I knew I had a really cool idea. I pitched it to them, and I remember Ed Carroll laughed so hard, thinking I was joking.
Ed Carroll, former Rainbow Media executive: We immediately liked it.
Pitch book, ‘The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’
Williams: They said, “Yeah, this is so crazy it just might work.” Basically, they sent us away and said, “Let us think about it for a minute or two.” I think it was the next day when they called and said, “You know what? We want to do a pilot.”
Carroll: We got back to Scout within 24 or 48 hours. The pitch was really well-thought-out. We had a reality show on the air called “Fire Island,” which was “MTV Beach House” but set with an older, mostly male cast. It was fun. It was only about eight episodes, but every time we put this thing on the air, the ratings spiked. We weren’t able to get advertisers to come along in that early day, but you could see the audience was ahead of sponsorship.
So when the folks from Scout came in and said we have this concept and it’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” Frances and I were looking at each other, because we had been talking about what the success of “Fire Island” meant and what we could do next.
Collins: We sent the pitch book out [to other networks], but it was unsolicited. We got calls months later from MTV. “Oh, I just opened this thing on my desk. I love it.” We were like, “You’re two months late and we’re already doing it with Bravo.”
Making The Show Fabulous
Scout Productions had found its linchpin: “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Now it needed a cast. Williams and Collins turned to the Esquire verticals, which became the show’s five columns of expertise. It was just a matter of finding people with the right pizzazz ― a hefty task, as the show never wanted to hire celebrities.
Williams: The Fab Five was a spin on the Fab Four, and I think we picked the Fab Five because in the early days, when we were shooting the pilot, the conceit was a slow burn of the guys becoming superheroes. One has a blow-dryer, one has a frying pan, one has champagne. They all have their tools of the trade. They swooped in, fixed the straight guy up, left the sparkle powder on the floor and went to the next guy.
Collins: The [test pilot, a sort of rough draft of the series] got green-lit in early 2002. We filmed in June 2002. So we had four or five months to figure this out. For that pilot, we had a mishmash of folks in there. Then we had to cast the actual show.
Williams: There was a call for gay men in these five categories. It was radio ads and newspaper ads. We had a three-day massive casting call at the Bravo offices.
Metzler: We saw a lot of guys, like, hundreds of guys.
Williams: We also went to all of the magazine editors and said, “Hey, all of your top guys who happen to be gay in those five categories, we would love to meet.” We would have [people] come in and make over Dave Metzler and a couple other guys who work at Scout, like, “What would you do with this guy?”
Metzler: We just tried to build chemistry ― see who hit it off, or who made sense together. Carson [Kressley] was one of the first people to audition, and instantly, it was clear that we needed him.
Carson Kressley, fashion expert from the original Fab Five: I was working at Ralph Lauren and I had a wonderful job as a stylist and a creative director there.[One day] one of my coworkers said, “Hey, I was on the way to work today in a cab, and I heard about this show on the radio called ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’ And they’re looking for real-life gay men who have expertise in areas of fashion and food and design,” and I was like, “Oh my god, I would be perfect for that, I should try out.”
So I called Bravo, which I thought was a nonstick cooking spray. At that time, I had never really seen much on the network. […] I didn’t even really know how television shows worked and that production companies made them and then sold them to networks.
[Bravo] gave me the name of the production company, which was Scout Productions in Boston. I think this was even pre-Google. It was like in the Ask Jeeves era. I think I did 411. I called in, and they said that two producers, creators of the show, were in New York and they’re casting it this week. They said, “If you have a headshot and a résumé, send it down to us.” And I’m like, “I don’t really have a headshot, but I have a picture of me with some Ralph Lauren models, and we’re all wearing snowflake sweaters. Will that do?” And they’re like, “Just send whatever.” Then finally, about a month later, they said, “We want you to do the pilot.”
Williams: Carson dragged in a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk. No, not a suitcase ― a steamer trunk filled with stuff that he presented during his audition. He had been working for Ralph Lauren, and it was filled with every preppy outfit you could put together. He knew exactly what it was that we were looking for.
Metzler: Right there, in the beginning, he became an anchor. We probably tortured him with being part of weeks of auditions. We were trying to build the next set of people who worked with him.
I was like, “Oh my god, I would be perfect for that, I should try out.” So I called Bravo, which I thought was a nonstick cooking spray. Carson Kressley, fashion expert from the original Fab Five
Jai Rodriguez, culture expert from the original Fab Five: When they were looking to recap a culture category, they wanted someone who was a fixture in New York nightlife. My agents were mulling it over and someone in the office was like, “What about Jai? He’s an actor, but he has that ‘downtown thing’ on the pulse.”
[At my audition, there] was a board room of, I would say, 12 people, and Carson and Ted were there. There was an empty chair between them. I basically sat down between them –– I was there to check chemistry. Their job was to fuck with me, to try to throw me off-course and see if I could bounce back immediately. However, no one told me that. When the board would ask me a question and these guys wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise, I started being funny back because I thought, “Well, I’m not going to get this job, but I’ll be memorable and there will be something in the future.” An hour later, they were like, “You start Monday.”
[Editor’s note: When Jai Rodriguez was cast, he replaced original culture vulture Blair Boone-Migura, who appeared in two episodes of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” Season 1 as a “guest” expert. Boone-Migura later sued producers for breach of contract, but the case was settled before it went to court. Williams declined to comment on the matter.]
Thom Filicia, design expert from the original Fab Five: I met a woman [who worked for a talent manager] who was having, literally, a panic attack in the elevator. My dog was in the office until 5:00 [and] had to go to the bathroom. I finally got in the elevator in my office building in SoHo, and the elevator gets stuck between the floors. And she’s like, “Oh my god, I have bad news. I’m like a total claustrophobic,” and I said, “If you bad news, I have real, real bad news. My dog’s going to drop a bomb in about two seconds.” We were in there for like two hours […] we were making calls on the phone and I said, “Oh, the firemen sound really good-looking.” There was a lot of bonding.
The next thing I know, she’s calling me up to see if I wanted to be on television. She had things come across her desk that were […] like, “We’re looking for a gay guy who’s an interior designer who has television experience.” She called me and said, “Do you have any television experience?” I said to her, “If you consider me turning the elevator into my stage that day, that would be it.”
Williams: Months later, when we delivered the pilot [that would go to air], Bravo loved it. But then everything was put on hold because there were talks about NBC coming and buying Bravo. We were basically frozen. I remember in January of 2003 calling the original Fab Five and saying, “I don’t think this is going to happen.”
Kressley: In my heart of hearts, I thought this was probably gonna go nowhere. And it was fine because I had a great job.
Rodriguez: No one watched Bravo. It was not like being cast on Bravo now. [It] had one major hit and it was “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” so no one told us what [the show] would look like. I thought it was something that people would never even see.
Zigler: Jeff Gaspin and I worked on the NBC acquisition team for Bravo together, working on buying the network from Rainbow Media. Jeff was opening the cupboard doors, if you will, looking at what was in development.
Jeff Gaspin, former chairman of NBC Entertainment: At the time, makeover shows were really in vogue. “What Not to Wear” on TLC was a pretty successful show, but you had never seen one that was focused on men, and then on top of that, one that was hosted by five gay men, which was truly different and groundbreaking. Our timing probably couldn’t have been better, because that same year, the term “metrosexual” was starting to enter the lexicon. It was one of those great examples where the moons aligned on all fronts. I’ve never seen a show explode as fast as that show did in my career.
Filicia: We were a part of reality television, I think, when reality television was still a bit green, and it was a little bit more pure.
About The Word ‘Queer’…
When “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” premiered, “Will & Grace” had just ended its fifth season, “Queer as Folk” was a cult hit on Showtime and “The L Word” was about to debut. Gay programming was seeing a steady upswing, but the word “queer” still carried a stigma. As it turns out, that wasn’t the only controversial part of the title.
Zigler: So many networks and so many executives are defined by the first show they go out with. So it made this an interesting, brave, different and defining choice. I can remember sitting in senior leadership meetings talking about the title, and there was so much conversation about the word “queer.”
Rodriguez: I was nervous about being associated with a show at that time with the title “queer” in it. There really wasn’t much LGBT programming.
Filicia: I think the strategy was […] “let’s rock the boat a little bit.” I think the plan was always to present [the word] in a very positive way.
Collins: We always knew [the show] was never mean. It was make-better. This really was about lifting people up.
Gaspin: The ad sales team at NBC was afraid that the title was going to be difficult to sell to advertisers, which it actually was at first. And then my affiliate sales team was afraid that the title would make it inappropriate to sell the channel to cable operators. Both the ad sales team and the affiliate sales team asked me to change the title of the series. And I said no.
Filicia: There was a major furniture company that we ended up doing a lot of work with over the course of the four years that we shot the show. In the beginning, when I reached out to them to talk to them about participating, they were really offended by the name of the show.
For a while, people would have trouble saying the title of the show. They’re like, “Oh, you’re from ‘Gay Eye,’” because “gay” was a softer word that they felt comfortable saying out loud. Jai Rodriguez, culture expert from the original Fab Five
Zigler: The word “queer” at the time had not been used widely, and certainly not in a positive way. No one wanted to use a word that would make anyone who was gay or lesbian feel that we were exploiting.
Rodriguez: The funny thing is, for a while, people would have trouble saying the title of the show. They’re like, “Oh, you’re from ‘Gay Eye,’” because “gay” was a softer word that they felt comfortable saying out loud.
Gaspin: My department reached out to GLAAD to make sure it wasn’t going to be offensive, and the response we got was that actually they were trying to take the stigma off the word “queer” and get it back into the lexicon in a more positive way. Once I got their support, I wasn’t going to budge on the title.
[Editor’s note: Representatives of GLAAD declined to comment for this story.]
Collins: While indeed we were taking back the power of the word “queer,” we also knew “queer” just meant difference. It’s just a unique perspective.
Williams: In the original pitch book, the show was called “The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” But then when NBC came over with Bravo, we got a call: “We have to talk about the title.” We thought, “Oh, here it comes, they want to get rid of ‘queer.’” But it was fully about the word “the.” They didn’t feel it needed the word “the.”
Metzler: We got caught up in the idea that “the” makes it definitive. There’s only one queer eye, you know? All of a sudden we were grammar teachers.
Collins: It was the queer eye, not just any queer eye.
Zigler: As a marketer, I’m going to [think about] how people are going to talk about it. David and I had a whole conversation about “everyone’s just going to call this ‘Queer Eye.’” […] Eventually, David agreed with me.
Collins: I think it was around the 30th episode or so that we actually dropped “for the Straight Guy.” So many people keep adding “for the Straight Guy,” even on the Netflix incarnation of it. But we dropped “for the Straight Guy” way back with Bravo.
The Big Debut
With a cast in place, an eye-popping title and the reported $1.25 billion NBC acquisition intact, the marketing team at Bravo and NBC launched a massive “Queer Eye” promotional blitz. It paid off in spades when more than 1.6 million people watched the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” premiere on July 15, 2003.
Frances Berwick, head of programming at Bravo: When we decided to pick up the show, it was by far the strongest thing that Bravo had in our development slate, and Jeff Gaspin, to his credit, made the decision that we were basically going to put pretty much the entire marketing budget for the year against the show.
Gaspin: I used what I called the single-bullet theory, which was, “We’ve got one bullet in the gun, and we’re going to fire it all at ‘Queer Eye.’”
Zigler: We had developed what, at the time, was quoted as one of the most expensive cable campaigns to date: $10 million. [Editor’s note: Gaspin estimated that Bravo’s marketing budget was closer to $7 or $8 million for the year, versus $200 million for NBC.]
Berwick: [NBC] gave us promotion that we would never have been able to afford to buy on an NBC network. That was the real game-changer.
Gaspin: The idea was, look, if you go small with this, no one’s going to notice. We flew planes over beaches with “Queer Eye Coming.” The whole title was definitely a lightning rod, so being able to market that is sometimes a marketer’s dream.
Zigler: We began with a teaser campaign, meaning something that would provoke and entice some interest without giving away all the information. I wanted to choose a distinctive color palette for a show that had its own distinctive color palette, if you will. I remember sitting with the design team from NBC. We sat in a room and they brought me many color combinations. We were doing bus shelters and billboards and transit and all of that.
Carson styled the shoot for us. The [Fab Five] were super talented in their own right, so they brought a lot to the creation of the show. I used them during the marketing a ton.
Williams: For a good six months, there was a fight about a lily. It was a flower that was a shadow in the background of the original “Queer Eye” poster, which was a Casablanca lily that’s usually associated with funerals. It became the death-lily controversy, through which hundreds of emails went back and forth about why we were using a death lily in a “Queer Eye” poster. No show in the history of television has ever had a gayer fight.
Rodriguez: I think we were the first people that were allowed to close down the Brooklyn Bridge, where we shot the “Queer Eye” music video. That was pretty epic and groundbreaking.
Collins: The original video that was shot was a humongous deal. We closed down the Brooklyn Bridge with a call time at 3 in the morning. We shot this video all over New York City. We had to shoot the entire video in 18 hours because the guys were going to go onto Barbara Walters’ most fascinating people of the year interview. They were so upset with us because they all looked so tired. They had been awake for 24 hours shooting the video. It was Wayne Isham shooting the video, who had shot for Madonna.
Zigler: The show premieres, and it’s the best ratings in Bravo’s history. It puts Bravo on the map. We started getting requests for our guys to be on “Oprah” and the cover of Entertainment Weekly. It became this cultural phenomenon.
Lauren Zalaznick, former NBC executive: Something like 20 times — 20 times! — the ratings that Bravo had ever gotten for anything.
Zigler: We premiered on a Tuesday night at 10 p.m. One week later, FX premiered a show called “Nip/Tuck” in the same time period. “Nip/Tuck,” in its way, was also remarkable and groundbreaking. I remember jokingly calling Chris Carlisle, who was the head of marketing at FX at the time, to say, “Did you have to go Tuesday at 10? We should compare notes here, my friend.”
Gaspin: I had decided at the time that to have one show featuring five gay men was an island on the network, so I commissioned a [dating show] called “Boy Meets Boy” to pair with it. So we had a block of gay programming, and that was also pretty novel. I actually thought that was going to be the show that broke out, not “Queer Eye.”
Kressley: I didn’t know if it would have any kind of longevity, and fortunately it did. And by like August that year, we were, like, on “The Tonight Show” and doing “Ellen” ― and it was a real whirlwind, going to the Emmys. Because, you know, six months before, we weren’t on TV ever.
How It Became More Than A Show
Whatever doubts existed about “Queer Eye”’s premise or title were quickly ameliorated by the loving response from viewers. Soon enough, brands were clawing to integrate their luxury goods into the makeovers ― a pivotal departure for anyone who feared the LGBT-oriented format would be a handicap.
Zigler: I walked into my office the morning after, turned on the lights, and of course, my message light was blinking. The switchboard didn’t know what to do with all the calls. I remember just sitting there playing one message after the next on speakerphone. Some were hateful and threatening, which did not surprise us. We’d been getting a lot of grief as we talked about the show in the press.
But what was amazing was I remember there was one call in particular from a woman who identified herself as a schoolteacher in Florida and said she watched the show with her mother, who was an older retired schoolteacher, and that the two of them wanted to applaud us for what was a lesson to the world.
Rob Eric, chief creative officer at Scout Productions: What made a big difference to all of us was meeting real people. One of the letters I always recite is from a guy living in Boston, originally from Georgia. Massachusetts was the only state where you could have gay marriage, and he was going to get married. With his family in Georgia, he always had to keep his relationship quiet. He wanted all of them to come and said, “I’ll invite them anyway, but I know they’re not going to come.”
And out of the blue, he sent the invite to his family in Georgia, and he got a response from his sister, “Oh my god, that’s great, of course we’ll come.” He was so taken aback by it. He goes, “Great. Thrilled! Surprised! What made you change your minds?” She goes, “Well, ever since we started watching that ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,’ we understand a little more now and we would love to come to your wedding.” Every time I read that letter, I thought, this is what we set out to do.
Kressley: One of the [reasons] I think people responded so positively to the show was that we never really were making fun of these straight guys. Yes, we had a laugh, but we were in on the joke and they were, too.
Filicia: We were five very different gay guys who were having a lot of fun together and helping this one straight guy. And I think that that really struck a chord at that time.
Kressley: I think growing up gay and maybe being the subject of bullying or teasing or ridicule or whatever our individual circumstances –– I think maybe subconsciously we were just like, “We’re never gonna do that. We’re gonna have a hearty laugh and have fun with these guys, but we’re never going to belittle them.” Growing up gay made us maybe a little more sensitive. Sure, we had fun with it, but it was never us against them and it was never making fun of them.
I think growing up gay and maybe being the subject of bullying or teasing or ridicule or whatever our individual circumstances –– I think maybe subconsciously we were just like, “We’re never gonna do that.” Carson Kressley
Zigler: Fast-forward a year later, and GLAAD was giving us Outstanding Reality Show. I remember being at that dinner with the GLAAD folks, who were so incredibly complimentary and supportive of what had happened.
Collins: We became the largest-selling international format at NBC Universal for a long period of time. Every territory. We were in over 180 countries that were buying the finished product of the show. There was a massive department that started selling the show. Original formats of the show started popping up all over the world: the UK Fab Five, the Australian Fab Five, the Netherlands Fab Five.
Kitty Boots, original “Queer Eye” stylist: We got very lucky in being able to secure some good designers to help dress the boys, which was great. The first episode was done by Etro, and the second episode was done by Marc Jacobs, who I adore ― he’s a friend of mine. I would spend a lot of time on the phone, saying, “Hi, I’m calling from a TV show called ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’” People were like, “Hang on a minute. What’s the show called?”
Berwick: At first everything was much harder, and then lots and lots of brands wanted to be in it.
Boots: Once the show got rave reviews and a huge audience, it made it a lot easier.
Filicia: [My vertical] was very product-driven, and I had to really establish relationships with all of the retailers. We really tried to work on building relationships with people so that we could get them to sponsor an episode.
Rodriguez: Originally, in Season 1, I remember that we had to go to IKEA a lot because they were totally gung-ho and on board. I do remember early on that we could not get Whole Foods to commit until after the show was successful. I mean, I shop there. I don’t have a problem with Whole Foods. But I remember them as a brand that stuck out that did not want to play ball with us Season 1.
[Editor’s note: Representatives of Whole Foods declined to comment for this story. In a statement to HuffPost, representatives of IKEA said, “Queer Eye aligned with the core IKEA value of inclusiveness, presented great ideas for a better life at home, and seemed a natural partner for KEA from the very beginning.”]
What About Stereotypes?
“Queer Eye” is among a handful of programs to advance LGBTQ representation in popular media, but it wasn’t without its detractors. From the beginning, critics of the show questioned whether its image-conscious stars were merely manifesting queeny stereotypes. Furthermore, beyond the one-season spin-off “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl,” which featured three male hosts and one female host known collectively as the Gal Pals, the series’ casting hasn’t done much to push past a male, cisgender point of view. But while there’s always room for more inclusivity, the original Fab Five don’t see the show as tokenizing.
Kressley: [If] we were playing people and not ourselves, maybe that would be a valid argument. But we were five gay men on TV ― on reality TV ― just being ourselves, just being exactly what we do in our normal lives. And we were quite good at it. So I think that puts a kibosh on any of those “reinforcing stereotypes.”
Rodriguez: What do you do when you’re assembling five guys who happen to be good at their fields and those fields happen to fall into stereotypical things?
If we’re talking about stereotypes, I guess you could say me and Carson were the more fabulous camp because I’m a performer and Carson just, like, sneezes glitter. What are you going to do? Jai Rodriguez
Berwick: Before [anyone had] actually seen the show, there was a lot of very negative press because they thought that we were stereotyping gay men. […] So what we saw when the show hit the air was a complete reversal of that, with the press saying, “This has so much heart and this is doing so much, and it’s just a great show and really fresh.”
Filicia: We got a little bit of bad press in the early days. There was a well-known fashion designer who does a lot of work on QVC, and he made a comment saying he thought that we were perpetuating stereotypes. I won’t say his name, but he did say that he thought that we were perpetuating stereotypes.
Rodriguez: Prior to “Queer Eye,” there was no all-gay, out cast on television. Kyan was the hair guy, but he was also the “butch guy.” You also had Ted, [who] talked about being married on the show. You had people like Thom ― people always thought he was the “straight one.” If we’re talking about stereotypes, I guess you could say me and Carson were the more fabulous camp because I’m a performer and Carson just, like, sneezes glitter. What are you going to do? Those are all the kinds of people I hang out with anyway. I have my Kyans. I have Thoms, and my Carsons.
Kressley: I remember we did the TCA, which is the Television Critics Association, and there was some sassy reporter in the audience who said, “I’ve watched the show, and isn’t it like you’re now picking on straight guys, and does this seem fair, and has this ever happened to you?” And I said, “Yes, it has. It was called high school,” and the room erupted, and they thought it was so funny, and it just kind of set the sassy tone of us being unapologetic.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
It’s hard to think of another show whose overnight success matched that of “Queer Eye” in the days before social media. The Fab Five were at the center of the zeitgeist when their show won the Emmy for Outstanding Structured Reality Program in 2004, but subsequent seasons’ ratings steadily dipped. In early 2007, after five years on the air, Bravo pulled the plug, now able to coast on the popularity of other gay-friendly programming like “Project Runway,” “Top Chef,” “Million Dollar Listing” and the nascent “Real Housewives” franchise. But without “Queer Eye,” none of those other shows would have been possible.
Collins: Suddenly the guys were celebrities, and we were along with them. We were going to the Grammy Awards, the Emmy Awards. The stars, who we were like, “Oh my god, there’s Sarah Jessica Parker,” were coming up to the guys, being super-fans to them. Sarah Jessica Parker was like, “I love your show. You’re so nice to people. It’s so refreshing to see on TV.”
Rodriguez: I remember Ashton Kutcher pulling me aside. […] Ashton was [at a party] with his girlfriend, Demi. He was like, “Hey, oh my god! I love your show. Look, look, I know your move.” I taught this couple a dance move [on the show] and he did it with Demi, and I was like, “I’m dead. I’m officially dead. I’m dying right now.”
Collins: I remember Demi Moore and J. Lo gushing about the show. Demi Moore knew every straight guy’s name on the show.
Rodriguez: President [George W.] Bush referenced us a couple times. We were the punch line of a bunch of late-night shows. […] We were the presenters at the VMAs when Beyoncé won for “Crazy in Love.” We saw Britney and Madonna kiss live and in-person that year.
Gaspin: [The show] was hugely popular, and what tends to happen when something shines so brightly is, it starts to dim. So the show started to dim much faster than I expected, or that I’d really ever seen for a show that shone so brightly.
Zalaznick: Unlike a traditional cable hit where you premiere and then want to grow, “Queer Eye” had a broadcast-network pattern, where it premiered at its peak and never achieved that rating again. It was still huge.
Linda Lea, producer: There was just a lot of pressure to deliver a lot in a short period of time.
Collins: We had episode orders happen very quickly upon the success of the show. I think we went from 12 to 15, and then our next order was 40. It was insane.
Lea: We just kept finding new guys with fresh stories. […] There was probably one where we thought we were jumping the shark, wondering if we should or shouldn’t do it. We’re like, OK, we’ve met every guy, we’ve told every story. What’s next? We’re like, let’s go find a guy who was a nudist.
Zigler: Because it was such a phenomenon, it felt like grabbing a tiger by the tail. We were all thrilled but pleasantly surprised by how big, how fast. You’re not staffed up for a team to handle what we had.
Gaspin: For some reason, and I still don’t understand why, the ratings dropped precipitously. It just didn’t hold on to the hotness and the success. I’m still dumbfounded by it. Even when we brought it back several years later, it didn’t really rate. I don’t have a great answer for why. That’s one that still baffles me.
Lea: We were all aware that everything has its timeline, and we were all smart enough to forecast it and see it in advance and make sure that we had a beautiful 100 episodes. We were smart enough, and the network was smart enough, to end it at that time.
Gaspin: The show was fairly expensive for Bravo at the time. […] We ran it too many times, which is what you do on cable when you find a hit. But fortunately, we were able to have additional hits after that, “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” being two. So we weren’t as dependent on the series. When you looked at the ratings and the financial equation, you realized it was time to move on.
Zalaznick: Even though it fell into decline sooner than you would want, it actually led to the retransformation of Bravo as you know it today in a very particular way.
Williams: Bravo smartly took the five verticals and built out other products. It became the five areas of focus for Bravo. “Top Chef,” “Project Runway,” all of those shows were born out of “Queer Eye,” because those categories ― or buckets, if you will ― became of interest to their audience.
Lea: We had all been a really tight-knit group of people, so no one really wanted to disband. But there wasn’t a feeling of loss. There was a feeling of, wow. We really accomplished something that we’re all really proud of that’s going to stay available to viewers when we’re long gone. The show was such a game-changer that it might end up on Mars someday in a capsule.
Bringing It All Back
In October 2007, “Queer Eye” aired what was then considered its final episode. But these days, it seems no show is dead forever. The streaming era has given us an endless treasury of revivals and reboots. After pitching a “Queer Eye” reboot to traditional networks, Collins and Williams found an unsurprising home in Netflix, the epicenter of the streaming boom.
Williams: [The idea for the revival] came from [talent agency] WME. There was a big internal meeting over there where someone said, “Hey, I think ‘Queer Eye’ and other formats were starting to bubble up again.” […] So many times we’re pitching with networks and they go, “Bring us your ‘Queer Eye.’” We kept saying, “Well, we can bring ‘Queer Eye’ back.” Everyone passed on it, and the reason why was because it was so identifiable with Bravo. We came close with a couple [networks].
Bela Bajaria, vice president of content acquisition at Netflix: Scout Productions had actually shopped the series around before it came to Netflix.
Williams: The difficulty in the process of this casting was, day in and day out, Rob and David and I had to look at all these tapes of handsome gay men. It was so hard.
Bobby Berk, design expert from the new Fab Five cast: I got a call from my publicist one day, telling me that they were recasting the show. [She] got me a Skype audition about two weeks before the final audition. I think it was scheduled for […] 1:30 in the afternoon, and at 1:15, the power went out in my building. I was like, “Oh my god. I have no Wi-Fi. I have no way to do the Skype interview!” So I jumped in my car and frantically drove as fast as I could to my office, which is about a mile and a half away. I ran up to my office. I’m all hot and sweaty and disheveled. I do this Skype interview with ITV and I’m like, “Oh my god. That was a nightmare. That was so bad. There’s no way I’m going to get this. I’m never going to hear from these people again.”
They just kept pulling up pictures of really ugly rooms on Google to show me, “Hey, what would you do with this really ugly room?” Bobby Berk, design expert from the new Fab Five cast
Karamo Brown, culture expert from the new Fab Five cast: I was in bed watching “Watch What Happens Live” with Andy Cohen, and Carson Kressley was on. I saw him talking about the fact that they were bringing back the show, but it would have five new guys. So I called my agent and was like, “Hey, can I get in on this?” And it was three weeks before they were gonna be done casting, and they told my agent it was too late. My agent was like, “You got to see him.” And this very sweet woman was like, “Fine. As a favor to you, we will.” And three weeks later, I was cast.
Collins: The chemistry tests are everything, both in the original and in the new casting. We were at the hotels here in Glendale with the top 40 finalists for this round of “Queer Eye,” and we were there probably for six, seven, eight hours. Almost instantly, the magic started to reveal itself. You can see the guys coming together.
You can see that Tan was rising to the top, and Jonathan. They found each other, and they say, to this day, that four of them started a text chain with each other that said, “Let’s do this together. Let’s be a team.”
Berk: [One day] was like a speed-dating segment. They set up three little tables, and each person from each category got five minutes at each table. Interior design was the last category, so I think I sat around for about 12 hours that day to do 15 minutes of interviews. At that point, I was [sick with the flu]. My dad was having open-heart surgery that day. [Days later], they started putting us just in a room of five, like one guy from each category. They started rotating other people around. Then Karamo and Tan ended up not ever leaving again, and then Jonathan and then Antoni. We all just lost track of time. Probably it was 8:00 or 9:00 at night. We were all like, “We need a break.” We walk out and there’s literally nobody left. We are the only five guys.
Nobody was left but us, and we all just looked at each other and were like, “Oh my god, I think we got this.”
Tan France, fashion expert from the new Fab Five cast: I’ve never seen anybody like me represented on the show, so I went for the audition. I agreed to a Skype interview. During that call, I thought, “Oh, this could be for me.” Then a week later, I went for the in-person audition –– they called it chemistry testing. I never thought in a million years that I was going to get it. I just thought “I’m going to go and make some friends.”
Berk: They just kept pulling up pictures of really ugly rooms on Google to show me, “Hey, what would you do with this really ugly room?”
France: When they showed me pictures, I wasn’t just willing to rag on these people. I said, “I don’t know what their circumstances are. They may need those overalls for their job. I want to know more about them.” I’m not willing to just butcher these people in a room full of people who are going to laugh and point. That’s not what I’m all about. They’re like, “No, that’s exactly what we wanted to hear.”
Bajaria: In the end, this new Fab Five picked each other just as much as the producers did. Bobby, Tan, Karamo, Antoni and Jonathan all locked arms before any final decision had been made. Their bond is a huge part of why this show is successful.
Williams: We went out to find the best people in those five categories, and once we narrowed it down, we played mix-and-match in chemistry tests to see how they work together. [But] we’re not going out and saying, “Let’s look for the Carson” and “Let’s look for the Thom.”
Bajaria: We saw the vision and the opportunity to continue the dialogue that began with the original show, breaking down stereotypes on both sides of the aisle. This show is so much more than a makeover show.
In the end, this new Fab Five picked each other just as much as the producers did. Bela Bajaria, vice president of content acquisition at Netflix
France: I knew “Queer Eye,” but I didn’t know it was going to be different from the last version. And I didn’t want to do the last version. I love what they did in the previous show, but I wanted to be able to talk about the ins and outs of gay life […] at least that I’m married to a man and that I want kids and I have hopes in my future in the way that my straight counterparts do. I don’t think America was ready for that 15 years ago.
Berk: I think the original “Queer Eye” definitely started us on the journey to normalize the LGBT community and make people realize that we are just people just like everyone else. It started the road to acceptance. And I think that what the new “Queer Eye” is doing is it really is driving home the fact that we are just like everyone else.
France: For me, going into the South was the main perk of this. It was the thing that really got me excited, because I was going to meet people who had never met somebody that looked like me, spoke like me, behaved like me.
Jonathan Van Ness, grooming expert from the new Fab Five cast: I’m from rural Illinois, so going to rural Georgia didn’t feel out of place for me. It didn’t feel awkward for me. I mean, I can put on a kilt and, you know, no-shoulder hoodie and go into a Rotary club and not bat an eyelash. That doesn’t feel out of character for me.
Brown: For us to be able to go down [South], and for us to have an open ear and open heart, to be able to learn from these guys, as much as they learned from us, was the most special thing. I was so glad, because I get messages from people on social media who say, “Now I’m not afraid to reach out to someone that’s different than me.”
Van Ness: I really wanted to tear down that idea that gay men all wax and that we like really trimmed eyebrows and no body hair […] and that’s what you need to do to be well-groomed. I really wanted to tear down a lot of that. The idea that there is one way to be beautiful […] is so old and so archaic. […]I wanted to empower people to find their own truths, instead of having me ― instead of an “expert” ― tell you what your truth is.
Antoni Porowski, food expert from the new Fab Five cast: The format of the show […] screams for intimacy and just real conversations and just really beautiful, quality one-on-one moments.
Williams: Like a good suit, the foundation stays the same, but the accessories change.
Its Legacy, Old And New
While most of the “Queer Eye” format mirrors that of the Bravo edition, straight guys are no longer the only subjects. The revival’s first season included a semi-closeted gay man; the latest season features a religious woman and a transgender man. And in the age of social media, the Fab Five are even more public than their original counterparts, traveling the globe to promote the show and liaising with fans across platforms.
Kressley: [“Queer Eye”] was such a blessing for me in many ways. The show helped me come out to my family. The show helped me be more comfortable in my own skin with a wide variety of people.
Rodriguez: The thing I walked away most glad of is that I have had probably thousands of people in the past 14 years pull me aside in quiet moments and say, “Because of you, it was safe to come out to my parents.” That, to me, is the best takeaway ever.
Filicia: [The straight guys] were genuinely and sincerely –– I would say, if we did 101 episodes –– I would say without a doubt, 100 of them were really on board and excited to meet us, to be a part of it, and to actually take our advice, and they felt sincerely excited about the process.
Berk: Religion used to be my life, and when I came out, it turned its back on me and it’s not something I can forgive it for. Of course, here comes this episode [Season 2, Episode 1], smack dab in the middle of a church, and I almost didn’t do it. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations happening where I was like, “No.” It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a guy named Joel from Scout [Productions]. He was like, “You know, you’ve got to do it for the little Bobbys. The little Bobbys and the little Joels that are still sitting in those churches around the world…”
That conversation is what finally made me okay with doing that episode. The episode turned into a life-changing experience for me. We went in to help [Tammye], and she helped me. That’s one of probably my most favorite experiences, not just in filming the show, but my whole life.
Porowski: My sexuality has always been sort of intimate […] and now it no longer is, and I’m actually really thankful for it.
I have had probably thousands of people in the past 14 years pull me aside in quiet moments and say, “Because of you, it was safe to come out to my parents.” Jai Rodriguez
Kressley: I was on a flight, and the flight attendant gave me a little napkin. It was folded over, and it had my initials on the outside. And on the inside […] it said, “I watched your show when I was a teenager with my family and I’m gay and I was afraid to come out to them and your show allowed me to have a dialogue and I literally am a happy, successful, well-adjusted guy because of you and your show.” And I get that a lot, and it always gives me goosebumps.
Brown: The more people see us and they get to learn and meet queer people, and get to understand that we have the same desires, fears and hopes, is when people start to shift and change their mindset.
When A.J. came out [Season 1, Episode 4], what a lot of people don’t get to see is the letter that he wrote. He and I actually had an hour-and-a-half conversation where I inspired him to write that letter. During that conversation, he had some of the most amazing laughs and cries that just were so inspiring […]
The thing that I would say that I wanted to bring to the show […] was to make the guys cry […] to make them have a cathartic moment.
Porowski: I would love to see us explore different communities.
Van Ness: I’d love to like, go to Puerto Rico. Let’s help Puerto Rico rebuild, like let’s really get our hands dirty. I’ll help Bobby. Let’s do it.
France: I want to get to the point where we are representing as many demographics as possible. I think that we got off to a great start, but there’s so much more to be done. So, I would like to continue on in the U.S., but then this is a global show ― will be a global show. I would love to continue on in other parts of the world, too, and see what we can achieve there.
Rodriguez: “Queer Eye” is epic, and I’m happy to pass the baton to this new fraternity of boys.
France: What you see on the show is only a fraction of what we actually film. There’s so much more that we do with the show, that you just don’t get to see.
Filicia: I think that we were humble, and we were friends, and we were close, and we were fun, and we were kind to each other and other people.
Kressley: Honestly, I just wanted to get guys out of pleated khakis.
Roxane Gay has a list of nemeses. There are six, and the acclaimed author and critic keeps the list in her phone’s Notes app.
The names are secret, but the existence of her nemeses isn’t. If you’re one of Gay’s half-million Twitter followers, you almost certainly know about her nemeses, because she tweets about them frequently.
Once she posted a screencap of the note, the names censored by a solid black box. Another time, she posted a list of descriptions of her nemeses: A Scrabble competition foe, a famous writer, a celebrity. The celebrity is the one she tweets about most often; she grumbles about this nemesis’ perpetual smile, cutesy persona and clear skin.
She’s landed on these nemeses for various vague reasons; they are typically people “whose very existence troubles your soul,” as she recently explained to me over email. Now that they’re on the list, she wishes for fantastical triumphs over them. She imagines doing karate on them, or fantasizes about her friends hating them too. Instead, she tweets ― and, occasionally, casts a curse.
These nemesis tweets are like phantom beef: We can smell it cooking, but the dish never seems to arrive at the table. Who are these nemeses? Where is the beef?
When I reached out to Gay to learn more about her nemeses, she was extremely forthright ― except, of course, about their identities. “I may be petty,” she wrote, “but I am a kind person and would never want to escalate something like this into anything more than what it is.”
“Having a nemesis is emotional catharsis,” explained Gay. “I don’t really want bad things to befall them beyond say, papercuts and abject failure.”
And it must be great catharsis, because nemesis Twitter is, it seems, infectious. Gay denied any claim to having created the nemesis craze, but admitted, “I do see other people discussing their nemeses more openly now, and if I had something to do with that, that’s fine.”
Recently NPR critic Linda Holmes tweeted about hers.
Do you have a nemesis? I have a couple. And I just found the place on one of Nem’s web sites where Nem admits that Nem was doing EXACTLY what I told Nem that Nem was doing years ago, which Nem denied doing for ages and basically told me I was crazy. (1/2)
Is the nemesis tweet, with its more openly playful attitude toward internet feuding, the new subtweet?
In its exasperating obscurity, nemesis Twitter does resemble subtweet Twitter. A subtweet is a tweet that addresses a person while attempting to evade detection by that person ― by not tagging them, or by not naming them to avoid text search.
A classic subtweet will be legible to an in-the-know subset of the audience, or can be untangled with a little sleuthing. In a 2015 article, Ian Bogost, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the Ivan Allen College distinguished chair in media studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, described a subtweet as “a private whisper shrouded in ‘I didn’t say anything’ innocence.” He notes that this draws attention toward the subtweeter ― knowing faves from those who believe they understand, as well as anxious questions about what they’re referring to.
As Gay has found, a nemesis tweet also invites speculation ― bottomless speculation, because it offers almost no hope of a solution. The offense that prompted the tweet exists only to the author, and therefore it’s not even really relevant to other people.
So is a nemesis tweet just a subtweet? I asked Bogost, who responded via email, “I think it’s more like what we used to call ‘vaguebooking?’ … You know, when you post something but leave out so many details that basically nobody can know what it means.”
The vaguebook fits more snugly with the nemesis tweet profile. But nemesis tweets seem to be an evolution beyond both subtweets and vaguebooks.
Where vaguebooks (“Ugh, you really can’t trust anyone, can you?”) seem lab-engineered to attract a barrage of sympathetic questions (“oh no, what happened??”), nemesis tweets are pleasingly self-sufficient. Followers may be curious, but they’re not being implicated in the task of helping or comforting the tweeter, nor do they have any basis to feel that the tweeter’s nemesis has any bearing on their own lives.
Unlike a subtweet, there isn’t even an in-group that can understand the nemesis tweet, except for the author and, possibly, a very small circle of personal intimates, and it’s exceedingly unlikely that it will get back to the subject. The nemesis tweet is an act of aggression with no tangible target, like a wild punch at the air while envisioning your enemy’s face.
It’s Twitter drama stripped of its interpersonal violence: all petty, no pain.
Indeed, it smacks more of entertainment than real, human conflict. I asked Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, why the word nemesis carries such a cinematic punch, and she pointed to its origin as the name of the Greek goddess of retribution.
“Later, we see ‘nemesis’ used more and more in the world of comic books to refer to an enduring or very difficult opponent ― every superhero had a nemesis,” she told me. “I think that history gives ‘nemesis’ a weight that ‘enemy’ or ‘opponent’ doesn’t have ― it puts your struggles into a mythological or heroic frame, even if that’s a jokey one.”
“That epic quality,” writer Mallika Rao, a former HuffPost colleague who has bravely spelunked into Twitter dynamics in the past, theorized in an email, “bestows this mode of tweet a stagey, formal quality, a kind of performative aspect that moves it into the realm of make believe.”
The nemesis tweet is an act of aggression with no tangible target, like a wild punch at the air while envisioning your enemy’s face.
For those who wish to untangle the true identity of a secret nemesis, the quest is most akin to corkboarding an epic “Game of Thrones” fan theory about Jon Snow’s parentage. It’s a journey undertaken through love of puzzles, not through fear of being left out of an important conversation, like who is being wrong about identity politics on Twitter today.
Finding out who Gay’s nemeses are has become a Twitter pastime. In her mentions, people respond with volleys of guesses: Retta? Mindy Kaling? Reese Witherspoon? (Personally, I am at least 30 percent convinced her primary nemesis is Reese Witherspoon.) Occasionally she’ll deny it, with a succinct “nope” ― each time adding another brick to the scant existing nemesis canon ― but other times she ignores the guesses.
With little hope of finding the truth, I tried to suss out what I could from Gay.
Several of her nemeses are writers, she informed me: “a reviewer who said something petty and diminishing about me in a review of one of my books,” as well as one who “talks a lot of fallacious trash about me and dislikes my writing around fatness.” Based on these particulars, I had a guess or two, especially for the former ― like Lauren Oyler, who wrote a scathing review of Bad Feminist for the now-defunct Bookslut ― but nothing conclusive. There’s also a writer she’s “jealous of”; this failed to narrow the field, as I imagine there are many writers of whom even a very successful author such as Gay might be jealous.
Gay described another as “a handsome musician with long hair.” (I noticed at this point that unless her upstairs neighbor is a handsome musician with long hair, at least one entry on the list had likely changed. Then again, is her upstairs neighbor Harry Styles, or perhaps Jared Leto?)
Her primary foe, Gay explained, “is someone my person has a crush on and so I must destroy them because they smile too much and aren’t that attractive and just because they are famous doesn’t mean I can’t take them in a fight.” Now we’re on steady ground: I still feel like this could be Reese Witherspoon, if not one of literally hundreds of other famous people.
But whatever the identify of this smiling foe, this celebrity Joker, the deadpan glee in Gay’s hatred is the real show here. The slightness of her grudge, juxtaposed with her belligerent rhetoric, feels familiar. In the depths of our meaty heart muscles, we have all nurtured an aching rage at someone who has done absolutely nothing to us.
“I think the performative quality of the nemesis tweet and Twitter in general softens the isolating effect of anger,” Rao mused. Twitter allows us to commiserate, if not about the specifics, at least about the general feeling.
Gay’s nemesis tweets hold their appeal, Bogost told me, because “[p]eople are just looking for a way in, something to see in themselves in others, and in others in themselves.”
Where subtweets can seem snide, gossipy and cowardly ― a 2016 study found that subtweets were perceived more negatively overall than direct tweets ― the nemesis tweet seems relatable, down-to-earth and honest, with a tinge of campy drama that serves to make our own petty impulses feel heroically larger-than-life.
I haven’t had a nemesis since middle school, and I feel like I’m missing out.
Since Gay started tweeting about her nemeses, I’ve noticed more and more people on Twitter simply swooning with jealousy: They, too, want a nemesis. Many of them note that they haven’t had one since childhood, or perhaps high school ― apparently the optimal time for acquiring a nemesis.
I asked some Twitter regulars why they found a grown-up nemesis so appealing.
“It would be a nice relief from being my own nemesis, you know?” said writer Talia Lavin, another former colleague.
Directing recrimination and blame outward, at an archetypal opponent, might offer a way to siphon off anxious thought patterns. Lavin, in particular, spends a lot of time tweeting and writing about hateful political groups and dealing with harassment in response ― a miserable conflict that offers little of the epic scope of a superhero movie or Greek tragedy.
“Right now,” she told me, “I just have trifling little Pepe Nazis in my mentions and none of them have the juice to go toe-to-toe with me. I crush them with one stubby finger. It’s dull.”
Dull, and also, for many, emotionally and psychologically draining. Conflict is gripping because it drives narrative, but the astonishing speed of online debate has collapsed any narrative tension. Instead, Twitter conflict has spiraled into an endless, mind-numbing roar of vicious threats, trolling and doxing; no great battles are won or lost, but the sniping and cruelty are constant, especially for people in marginalized groups.
A nemesis offers the mythological hope of one great opponent, one climactic battle, and maybe, in the end, someone vanquished. It’s a fantasy not of a life without conflict, but a life with conflict that’s both more intellectually stimulating and more logistically feasible.
But Gay’s nemeses aren’t there for her to joust with ― they don’t even know they’re involved in a feud. It’s a gentler iteration of the Internet Beef, a concession, perhaps, to the punishing pace of conflict online. In a nemesis tweet, we can perform our grudges and gripes for a highly amused audience without risking blowback or a demoralizing back-and-forth.
It’s not that this wasn’t happening before the internet. People have always talked behind each other’s backs; it’s just never required so much creativity to pull off. Social media, like open-floor office plans, first threw all our private conversations into a public space, then forced us to communicate more quietly (in subtweets, for example) to shield each other from our human messiness. We still need to vent and talk shit about each other ― we don’t live more harmoniously just because we don’t have walls between us ― but we have to hide in real and metaphorical corners to do so. We gossip over Slack instead of at each other’s desks; we subtweet instead of posting “@RWitherspoon i hate your shiny hair.”
(I mean, yes, some of us do that too.)
It can be maddening to do so much of our talking in venues where we have to be on our best behavior. What a simple, pure joy, then, to go all-in on a beef that will never come back to bite you ― or even, for that matter, your enemy. Fostering and tweeting about the nemesis is practically self-care, in fact; the loathed enemy barely factors into it at all.
“Pettiness,” Gay wrote, “is a healthy outlet.”
And maybe, in a sea of Pepe Nazis and MRA trolls, an anonymous nemesis is the most worthy opponent, and the best self-care, a woman on Twitter can have.
One day in early November of last year, an Instagram heartthrob posted a photo. In crisp black and white, the picture shows a mop-topped young man, his handsome face stubbled, a cigarette dangling casually from his lips. Behind him is a scene of tropical leisure: a pool, sunshades, abundant vegetation. But he’s ignoring it all. He’s looking down at the table in front of him, where a book lies open atop a scattering of perfectly arranged papers. It’s a scene worthy of Ernest Hemingway, or at least of Chris Isaak.
The comments below the image are ecstatically confused.
“Is that you?!?!?!?! Finally?!?!?!” queries one.
“OH MY GOD ATTICUS IS THAT YOU????!!!???? OMG PLS TELL USSSS 😫😫😫 IF THATS YOU, YOURE SO GORGEOUS ATTICUS 😍😍😍❤️🔥😫😘😘😘 YAY FINALLY!!!!!!!,” hyperventilates another.
“What a wicked thing to do, to let us wonder if it’s you … ” chides a third.
Atticus is that rarest of things ― a celebrity poet. He’s also anonymous. He writes under a pen name and wears a mask in photos and for public appearances. To be clear, the mopped-top man from the November photo is not Atticus. Rather, he’s a coy decoy meant to titillate those giddy fans, clueless as they are to the poet’s true identity.
Atticus’ rise in the poetry world has been meteoric, unhindered by the concealment of his real name. He first posted on Instagram in 2013 and now has nearly 900,000 followers, the number still steadily growing. In late 2015 or early 2016, he published his first chapbook. In 2017, Atria Books, an imprint of big five publisher Simon & Schuster, published his collection Love Her Wild. Karlie Kloss, Shay Mitchell and Kaitlyn Bristowe are all thanked in it, and with good reason. Atticus poems frequently pop up on the Instagram feeds of celebs like Kloss and her crew, not to mention those of Bachelor alums like Bristowe. In September, Atria published an essentially identical follow-up collection, The Dark Between Stars.
Atticus’ work and persona ― like the work and personas of other popular Instagram poets ― are perfectly calibrated to attract fans: bland, generic, aesthetically pleasing, and therefore the perfect projection screen for readers’ desires. He specializes in the sort of broadly phrased epigrams about love and heartbreak that people eagerly like and share online, often printed over white backgrounds or saturated photos of long-maned, long-legged girls. One of his most beloved, oft-quoted poems romantically urges the reader to “Love her, but leave her wild”; women caption Instagram selfies with Atticus lines like “Just enough madness to make her interesting” and “She wore a smile like a loaded gun.” He’s prone to maudlin images that wouldn’t be out of place in a country song, like women with “whiskey-sipping / skinny-dipping” smiles. The poetry might be bad, but it is too inoffensive and nonspecific to alienate. Anyone can see themselves in Atticus’ poetry, and what they’ll see is a slightly heightened version of themselves, enigmatic and alluring.
His identity had remained cloaked until last week, when a rival Instagram poet, Collin Yost, revealed the name of the author behind Atticus. He posted evidence on his Instagram account, as well as a story accusing Atticus of plagiarism, piling up examples of verses that appear at worst cribbed and at best vaguely similar to quotes from writers like T.E. Lawrence and Oscar Wilde, and to Pinterest slogans commonly attributed to Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Yost was frank about his intentions. He thought Atticus was a “thief,” an “appropriator of old classics” — as he put it in an email to HuffPost. He cited poet Thom Young as a collaborator in the exposé; in a phone conversation with HuffPost, he noted that Young had been attempting to draw attention to Atticus’ overly energetic remixing for months, to little avail. Atticus, Yost argued, deserved to have his identity exposed. “Maybe it’s harsh to say,” he said, “but I’m like, there’s a reason to wear that mask when you know you’re not putting forth a real, genuine piece of work.”
This was revealing in another way, too. For five years now Atticus had teased at his identity: masked photos that nonetheless hinted at his physique, chiseled jawline and windswept blond hair; allusions to his love for whiskey, motorcycles and F. Scott Fitzgerald; that sort of thing. Yost, in his trollish way, showed that he understood something essential about Atticus and his appeal. The way to break the spell was first to show the actual man behind the poetry.
When I began working on a piece about Instagram poetry, a year ago, I had no intentions of breaking any spell. I was hoping to interview a number of working poets, booksellers and publishers about the resurgence of poetry on social media and beyond. Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur are selling like hotcakes; Maggie Smith, Danez Smith, Tracy K. Smith and other acclaimed poets (even ones without the surname Smith) have seen urgent, cathartic poems go viral on Twitter. I wanted to find what was working in a social media poetry world that has swept in so many new readers.
Versions of this story get written from time to time, and they tend toward a patronizing sunniness. “My love is like a hashtag; Instagram gives rise to new poets,” announced the Wall Street Journal last September. “Selfie age gives new life and following into poetry,” reads a Guardian headline from 2016. “In a land of selfies and shots of lunch, poetry thrives,” proclaimed the Boston Globe.
These stories map an increasingly egalitarian poetry landscape. In place of the traditional gatekeeping system is a supportive, welcoming environment, particularly for marginalized voices. Purveyors of female empowerment and romantic expression like Kaur, Nikita Gill and Yrsa Daley-Ward flourished in this ecosystem. Instagram poets who might not get a second look from the predominantly white literary establishment have risen to prominence on their own. The trend is democratizing, both for writers and readers.
Instagram and other social media, Daley-Ward told me in a phone conversation, “are a beautiful way to get the work to people for whom poetry has never been acceptable. For whom poetry has always seemed like a closed door, a certain type of person, a certain class of person, gender or color even ― which is ridiculous, because words are for everyone.” (Daley-Ward’s collection bone, which she initially self-published, was recently re-released by Penguin.)
According to booksellers and publishers, the work of Instagram poets really is bringing in a new audience. Popular internet poets “seem to have engaged a ‘new generation of poetry,’” Strand Books’ Leigh Altshuler told HuffPost last year. “Customers who may have primarily shopped in other sections are now also spending time in Poetry.”
“We have definitely seen the ‘Milk & Honey’ effect,” Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, wrote in an email to HuffPost, referring to Kaur’s first collection. “This title is one of our top sellers week to week and has been on our Best Seller displays for 18 months.” Last year, she said, poetry sales at Powell’s shot up by 28.5 percent; in 2018, she told me, the trend has continued, if less dramatically, with poetry sales rising by about 12 percent.
All this new readership seems like a net positive for poets with traditional careers, as well. Graywolf, an indie press that publishes numerous acclaimed poets, has been enjoying the effects of a poetry boom. Last year was “a notably strong year for poetry sales” at Graywolf, publicist Caroline Nitz and sales and marketing manager Casey O’Neil told HuffPost in an email in November 2017. The press published two 2017 National Book Award shortlisted collections, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, which saw strong sales and went into multiple printings within months.
Not that there aren’t detractors. Thom Young, one of Atticus’ exposers, is an ardent critic of Instagram poetry. A published poet, Younghas held forth on the subject in outlets like “PBS NewsHour” and The Wall Street Journal. He gripes that the work of popular Instagram poets is “not really poetry” but recycled clichés that anyone could write. In glowing articles on the Instapoetry trend, he’s often the only curmudgeon waggling his finger in judgment.
Overall, in these pieces and in the cheery round-ups of the best Instagram poets, the trend is presented as pretty much all upside: more poetry, more reading, more expression. But as with so many things on the Internet, anyone who pokes around the realm of Instapoetry quickly finds herself wrestling with shadows, with half-truths and pseudonyms and slippery motives. It’s peopled by scammers and opportunists and ironists faking sincerity ― or is it the other way around? The men who unmasked Atticus are hardly straightforward actors themselves. It turns out there is better art and artifice in the creation of the characters who make Instagram poetry than in any of the poetry itself.
At first blush, Collin Yost embodies a straightforward Instapoetry type: perhaps more of a cosplayer than an artist, but a genuine and even sentimental one. In his ripped black jeans and bowler hats, Yost taps out his achingly earnest lines on a 1978 IBM Selectric II, garnishing the poems with actual cigarettes.
In August 2017, he became a weird sort of semi-famous when his book of maudlin, derivative verse received a drubbing from a claque of Twitter critics and literary blogs. Afterward he assumed such an air of wounded innocence that even one of his tormentors, writer Laura Yan, was remorseful. “I’m completely fine with criticism when it is actually criticism,” he told Yan in a sensitive, even apologetic profile published in The Outline. “But saying ‘you’re a pretentious dick and your writing is trash. please stop. hope you die’ isn’t criticism.”
But, as a few Twitter critics noticed at the time, Yost hadn’t just suffered from the general, overly harsh critique he decried ― he’d dished it out, too. A Twitter user named Rebecca posted a screenshot of a Facebook post Yost put up in June of 2017. It’s a link to a “PBS NewsHour” interview with Young, in which Young opined on the sad state of poetry online. “Milk and Honey is not poetry,” Yost wrote in his post. “We live in a current culture of doodle poems and one to four-liners. We must get back to roots and feelings and fire.”
Back in 2017, I was surprised at the apparent friendship between Instapoetry’s embarrassing posterboy of the moment and its most vicious critic. I glanced at Young’s Instagram, and quickly noticed that he’d recently reposted a Collin Yost poem, cigarette and all. “This,” Young captioned it, “is probably my favorite poem by my satirical kindred spirit.”
This surprised me, as so many revelations from the Instapoetry world did. If Yost was a satirist, why didn’t he simply say so when Twitter’s literary critics descended, knives drawn, to rip apart his poetry?
I reached out to Yost, who clarified a little. “I do write genuine short pieces that I feel deeply and that I know my audience will relate to, but occasionally I do write satirical pieces as well,” he explained. “For my audience, it’s easy to differentiate between which is which because they know my tone and style.” His self-published book, A Shot of Whiskey and a Kiss You’ll Regret in the Morning, contains only his genuine poetry, he said. To be honest, reading through his Instagram feed and book, it was difficult to observe a clear difference between the earnest and the mocking ― and if it was earnest, there was hardly a bright line between Yost’s work and the kind of standard-issue Instagram epigrams his friend Young decried. “She taught the ocean waves / how to crash,” concludes one short poem from his book; “Give me all of you. / Every day. / I promise to love you so,” goes another.
And it worked. Yost, who had around 10,000 followers in August 2017 and now has over 18,000, tapped into the same market as poets like Kaur, whom he once openly criticized. During the wave of backlash from Twitter critics, Yost responded with taunts about his book earnings. “I’ll make sure to keep that in mind while I stay in the top 10 percent of sales on Amazon and keep getting direct deposited while I sleep,” he posted on Facebook. After the wave crested, he seemed to realize that getting popular and marketable on Instagram is a political game, a potentially lucrative one, and needs to be played carefully. “You know posting these pieces will gain attention and traction — it will inevitably lead to more likes, followers, and discussion,” he told me when we emailed in November of last year. “You have to be able to draw them in.” For a time, he frequently tagged Andrews McMeel, Kaur’s publisher, in his posts.
Though he agreed with Young, writing that “poetry is overcrowded and watered down now. Especially online,” Yost was cautious about voicing more strident criticism. Most of the Instagram poetry community is demonstratively supportive rather than openly competitive ― poets will repost each other’s work and promote their book releases ― and when we emailed last year, he candidly admitted that he was trying not to ruffle feathers anymore. “I try to not step on as many toes because I’m slightly new. Also it’s such a close-knit community that I like to try to stay friends with everyone,” he told me. “I’ve seen what it’s like to be made fun of or dragged down.”
Of course, Yost hasn’t entirely stuck to his dovish persona. In recent months, some noticed, his Instagram became rather political; he took to posting right-wing poems, some of which included “MAGA” references, excoriated socialism, or celebrated Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Then came the jabs at Atticus, culminating in his Instagram story and post alleging plagiarism and exposing the poet’s identity.
After Yost’s big reveal dropped, we spoke on the phone. He insisted that he didn’t have a “vendetta” against Atticus, that he could be a perfectly nice guy. But he hinted that it rankled to see Atticus’ fame and fortune grow, when so many other, worthier poets on Instagram struggled to find wide audiences. Yost seemed particularly perturbed that Atticus’ sloppy work, while making him plenty of money, reflected badly on the genre as a whole. Atticus and his cohort of successful poets, he argued, are “basically just running a monopoly on the writing community of only helping each other and not helping the rest of the community, and all they’re doing is giving everybody else this generic bad name.”
But Yost’s collaborator, Thom Young, hardly seems troubled by giving Instapoetry a bad name: In fact, it’s his pet project. And he seems to be the motivating force behind the latest data dump. Young told him about Atticus’ real identity two years ago, when they first began corresponding online. Yost also told HuffPost that most of the instances of alleged plagiarism were compiled by Young, who had tried posting about Atticus on his own Instagram without getting much attention. “He’s been compiling those for, gosh, I don’t even know how long,” Yost said.
Young, who lives in Texas, is a published poet. But he’s garnered media attention ― and become a go-to expert source on the evils of social media verse ― for something other than his serious work: parodying Instagram poets. After noticing that Instagrammers were attracting huge follower counts by posting poems he found trite and insubstantial, he began to follow suit, posting saccharine one-line poems on his account, even as his captions hinted at the joke or openly criticized this style of poetry. The approach was double-pronged: He was taking the piss out of successful poets like Kaur and Atticus, but also exploiting the same tactics to boost his own profile.
It’s not all affectionate ribbing, either. Young expressed some real disdain for this kind of popular poetry, and some resentment about the advantage these poets have in building audiences. “A lot of what I consider quality writers are ignored, just because they don’t write that kind of simplistic work,” said Young, who has worked as a high school English teacher. Young, at least, is no longer being ignored. He quickly built a large Instagram following with his parodies (currently over 50,000 followers), and he told me that the tactic had also boosted sales of his real books of poetry, which he links to from his account and constantly peddles in posts. In April, he also published a satirical novel, Instapoet, about the genre that haunts his dreams.
When we spoke last year, there was something refreshing in his surliness, at least at first. Here was someone paying Instagram poetry the compliment of taking it seriously enough to hate it. For the most part, the literary establishment has ignored Instagram poets. As Laura Miller once wrote of Jennifer Weiner’s easy-reading commercial fiction, the Instapoetry genre is considered by most poetry critics to be too predictable and formulaic to merit analysis. When poets and critics do acknowledge it, it’s with benevolent appreciation.
But this tolerant, even warm, approach leads the critical conversation surrounding social media poets toward a false-seeming positive consensus ― especially since plenty of people do hold Instagram poetry in utter disdain. Snide parodies of Kaur litter social media, and one has even been turned into an Amazon bestseller: Milk and Vine, a spoof volume in which all the poems are actually dialogue from Vine videos. Young just seemed to be the only credentialed expert willing to voice the skepticism felt by many about Instagram poetry’s artistic merit.
But while Young is now regularly cited by the media as an accomplished poet who dabbles in Instagram satire, his actual literary career ― and identity ― is surprisingly hazy. He’s published poems in a number of small literary journals, none particularly notable (more 3AM Magazine than Poetry). In bios and media coverage, he’s described as a Pushcart nominee, an honor shared by untold thousands of writers annually.
He’s also put out a long list of books, but all appear to be self-published, either through a standard choice like CreateSpace or shell publishers such as LOMS. There’s not much information about LOMS online, just a ghostly Facebook page and a skeletal web magazine, The Last Chapter, which is referred to as a division of LOMS. The contact email is the same one through which Young reached me.
When my questions about his career grew more pointed, Young referred me to his new publisher, Bone Machine Books, with any further questions. The website for Bone Machine listed only Young and a fellow writer he frequently promotes online and in interviews, Scott Laudati, as authors. Though the listed editors are Milo Savage and Jerry Ovad, the web domain is registered to Laudati. (In an email, Laudati told me that he had a discount from registering his own personal website’s domain, so he let Bone Machine use it.) No trace of publishers or editors named Jerry Ovad or Milo Savage turns up elsewhere online, but the name Milo Savage does appear in one suggestive place: It’s the name of a character in Young’s book Resign.
Young seems to be behind much of the apparatus, not just the artistic work, of his own poetry career ― but, like Atticus, he has taken some pains to disguise who he actually is. Months after our original interview, when I reached out to Young with a follow-up question, he rather casually told me that “Thom Young” was a collective of four writers who met at Texas Tech University ― though he, the person with whom I’d been corresponding, was the primary one. I was bewildered, and pressed him: Was Thom Young the real name of the primary writer? Who were the others? He finally responded, saying that he, Laudati and a writer named Matt Blythe all wrote under the name “Thom Young.” I asked Laudati, who did not attend Texas Tech and met Young more recently, about this. He seemed confused, saying they were working together on a book but were not a collective working under that name. I can find no evidence of Blythe, who is listed as the coauthor of Young’s satirical novel Instapoet, existing anywhere but an Instagram account that interacts with Young’s. Its profile picture is a stock photograph.
Young, I began to suspect, isn’t a collective, but he also isn’t a man named Thom Young.
Young’s publishing and social media history is a web of feints and tricks, but in one case, I thought he was telling the truth. He has appeared several times on “The Stark Truth,” a small radio show that often features people on the political fringes. In the course of one interview, Young mentioned some of his book covers were designed by his brother Jeb, who owned a business called Tumbleweed TexStyles. A man named Jeb does co-own Tumbleweed TexStyles ― Jeb Matulich. Thom Young has commented on Matulich’s blog, Junky Trinkets. “Congrats bro, doing big things,” he wrote on a 2013 post.A man named Ben Matulich was listed as a teacher on a Texas high school website, and his education seemed near-identical to the education history listed on Young’s LinkedIn: graduated from Texas Tech in 1997, followed by a master’s in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2001. I checked the phone number at which I’d reached Young earlier that year: It was listed as belonging to Ben Matulich. Even his email, I noticed at this point, featured the initials “BJM.”
I asked Young several times to confirm or deny that his real name is Matulich; while he wouldn’t confirm it, he repeatedly failed to deny it, either.
I asked Yost about the fact that Young, like Atticus, used a pseudonym to shield his true identity. The former poet is Yost’s ally and mentor, the latter a villain he believes is “hiding” behind his persona. Did he think it was different for Young to do so? He seemed confounded. “Tough question,” he said
It’s unclear why Young would need a pseudonym, but the vagueness of his identity has likely been conducive to building his poetry-world persona, a persona that’s both marketable and disproportionately influential in this niche genre. His credentials might be murky, but they carry a greater impression of authority than just another dude publishing his poetry on CreateSpace. Besides, an aura of mystery, as Atticus has also discovered, can go a long way in selling yourself as an artistic genius.
Or maybe it’s all just about the lulz. After I pressed Matulich about his identity, he stopped responding to my emails ― and he changed his Instagram handle. His old handle, once the home of Thom Young, now bears the name “Benjamin M.,” and a simple bio: “lol.”
Young is certainly one thing: a troll. He’s trolling the Instagram community, admittedly, by posting poems and then mocking readers who actually enjoy them in the captions. He’s trolling the media, too, getting his opinions into mainstream publications under a false name and meager credentials.
“PBS NewsHour” mentions that Young has played with other identities ― he’s posted poems under the satirical persona of “Tyler Young” ― but not that Thom is itself a pseudonym. He also appears to have experimented with other spoofs. Last year, he reposted a poem by Amala Kaur, whose bio reads “poetess/india/new book mother’s blood out soon.” (The account only posted four poems, all in April-June 2016, and her poetry and mention of the book appear nowhere else online.) “Dude. This is you isn’t it?” commented well-known Instagrammer the_poetrybandit. Young responded, “no no my Indian prodigy 😂.”
In an email, I asked Young about Amala Kaur, and whether he had created the account. He did not respond. If Young did create the Amala Kaur account, which does seem like a parody of Rupi, what with the shared name and meager Internet imprint, the undertones are less innocent than his general satire of Instagram poetry. A lot of the social media poetry out there is written by white men, like Christopher Poindexter and Atticus, but Rupi Kaur fans have sometimes defended the poet by noting a particular fervor to the disdain for her work that they argue derives from sexism or racism. The Amala Kaur account, which parodies the South Asian imagery Kaur explores, seems to validate these concerns; the satire targets something other than just the quality of her verse.
Young seems deliberate and even gleeful in his provocations ― even if the attention he generates for himself is critical. In 2016, the poet Chen Chen published a poem called “Ode to Reading Rimbaud in Lubbock, Texas,” which lyricized the tension of living as a queer Chinese-American man in a deeply conservative Texas town. Young wrote a mocking rebuttal entitled “Ode to Reading Bill O’Reilly in Portland,” which derided “millennial snowflakes” and “your collective pseudo intellect / that never fathomed the common sense of the electoral college.” It’s shallow, needless satire, crafted to insult liberals rather than to illuminate any real oppression faced by conservatives in left-leaning locales.
When Chen Chen wrote a blog post that dismissively mentioned Young’s response, Young celebrated on Instagram: “It’s just not the IG pop poets that hate me but real poets that are actually half way talented but you see when you speak your mind that’s a danger to them,” he wrote. “The premise of my poem ‘Ode to Bill O’ Reilly in Portland’ was a satirical take on the other poet’s poem where he bashed the conservatism of West Texas. So I did the opposite which he didn’t like because remember they are always so tolerant until you disagree with them.”
The logic here is reminiscent of right-wing trolling and victim posturing online. Intolerance of racists is framed as just as wrong as intolerance of marginalized racial groups; if acceptance is the goal, this logic goes, why can’t you liberals accept that some of us want a white ethnostate? There’s also a telling use of “satire” as a deflection: I said something offensive only to prove OTHER PEOPLE are offensive. If it’s all just a joke, everyone else is silly to take it seriously ― a stance that proved devastatingly effective for alt-right trolls that propagated shitposting culture and Pepe memes. It’s not that Young is an alt-right troll ― but in a similar vein, reading through his Instagram or his satirical novel, there’s so much directionless “satire” and misinformation that it’s impossible to pin down what he’s telling the truth about, which appears to be exactly his aim. If the character of Atticus was built to capture the ambient yearning of people on social media, Young has engineered a persona to channel their rage ― at artistic gatekeepers and frauds, above all.
It’s fitting that Atticus’ anonymity positions him as a universalized voice: His verses are exactly what most of us would write, if we sat down to write romantic poetry. Some read like saccharine attempts at aphorism (“I’ll let you into my heart, but wipe your feet at the door”) or pop lyric wit (“my atoms love your atoms, it’s chemistry”). Many, in their conceptual simplicity and linguistic timidity, read like parodies of poetic schmaltz, rudimentary observations about love and desire set down in plain words: “I just need / you / and / some / sunsets”; “home lives / inside us now / wherever / together / we go.”
His books even lack the clarity of viewpoint one might expect from a single author, instead vocalizing popular clichés that often clash with each other. Each poem has the smug certainty of its epiphanic truth, but taken collectively, Atticus’ philosophy is a self-contradictory mess. He mouths a sort of feminism, celebrating women “waiting for a sword” rather than a protector and urging men to “build her wings / and point her to the sky”; then again, the women he writes about are often cast as alluring agents of chaos (shades of Jordan Peterson), or valued for the healing and inspiration they offer men. One prescribes “brushing a girl’s hair / behind her ear / once a day” as an alternative to therapy. A poem that begins, “It was never the way she looked / always the way she was” seems adrift in a sea of verses about women so beautiful the very stars are jealous, and black-and-white photos of slender sylphs in bikinis.
Often Atticus seems to be playing at MadLibs, with his own oeuvre if not with others’. Sometimes love is a poison we drink willingly; other times “thinking of you” is a poison he drinks often. Or perhaps fame is the poison we down despite clear warning labels. The metaphor apparently works equally well for any of these distinct concepts.
And then there are the allegations of plagiarism. Some are tenuous, echoes that could reflect little more than the banality of the sentiment and the phrasing of both versions. Or they could be intentional allusions, like Atticus’ “too wild to last / too rare to die,” which he carefully notes is an homage to Hunter S. Thompson’s “Too weird to live, and too rare to die” in the acknowledgements of Love Her Wild. Others look more damning, like a poem, “Ghost of Oxford,” that ends “for dreamers of day / are dangerous men” ― a near-exact mirror of a passage from T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Prior to my conversation with his representative this week, the poem’s caption did not mention Lawrence; it’s now been updated to scrupulously attribute the quotation. A screenshot of the original is below.
Some allegations bend back on themselves: Yost and Young, for example, claim Atticus plagiarized F. Scott Fitzgerald in one poem. His poem and the quote do bear a noticeable resemblance ― but the Fitzgerald quote they cite isn’t his. It floats around on quote cards and inspirational roundups under his name, but it appears to be verbal flotsam from some corner of the internet, not from a literary classic. Even the quotes assiduously attributed to those underappreciated masters, in this world, all too often turn out to be deceiving. It’s not clear who should be more embarrassed, Atticus for possibly ripping off a Pinterest quote card or Young and Yost for attributing it to Fitzgerald.
As with Rupi Kaur, claims of Atticus’ overappropriation of other poets have drifted around the community for some time, but it hasn’t been enough to discernibly dampen his popularity ― in part because the similarities are often slight enough to be set down to coincidence or allusion, in part because the size of his following far outstrips the reach of the accusations, and in part because for these Instagram poets and their audiences, creating fresh, original verse isn’t the point.
Atticus is a brand, not an artist; his books and Instagram and appearances cohere into a marketable aesthetic rather than an oeuvre of literature. His fans aren’t getting much, in terms of art, that they couldn’t get from a country song, a whiskey commercial and a throw pillow cross-stitched with inspirational sayings ― the key is that they’re getting everything at once, the country song, the whiskey commercial and the throw pillow, all from a persona that can be whatever you want it to be.
Atticus is not difficult to find, once you really look. His website was set up by Atticus Publishing, LLC, and if you wanted to know who the poet is, you’d just have to look up the LLC’s registration record. He registered the business himself.
Or you could look at the first people Atticus followed on Instagram, or the people he thanks in his book acknowledgements, and you’d find that they all have the same Canadian quasi-celebrity in common. He has other things in common with Atticus ― the sweep of buttery blonde hair, the blue eyes that twinkle from behind the poet’s mask, the passion for motorcycles and sailing, the admiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald, the stint in Oxford two summers ago (Atticus has mentioned in interviews that he spent time studying poetry there in 2016). It all comes together quite quickly; when I started looking into the poet last fall, I figured it out almost by accident, in about 10 minutes. The secret isn’t carefully locked down; Yost told me that he’d heard of his true identity not just from Young, but from several other poets he’d met in the past few years.
As Yost posted on his Instagram last week, Atticus’ real name is Duncan Penn. He, along with his brother and two friends, became minor reality stars after they toured North America in a bus completing a long bucket list; the result, a show called “The Buried Life,” ended up airing on MTV in 2010. Today, he dabbles in publishing books, producing TV and farming lavender.
Unlike Elena Ferrante, who once said of her anonymity that to “relinquish it would be very painful,” Atticus has publicly said that he’s not too attached to his mask. “I’m not precious about who I am underneath,” he told the Globe and Mail. “If people found out, if people have guesses, I don’t care; I’m not worried about that.” Still, when I repeatedly brought up his real identity via email in late 2017, Penn asked me not to reveal it. “I would prefer to remain anonymous,” he wrote in an email. “Given that the other publications I’ve worked with have respected my decision to maintain anonymity, I’d ask for the same journalistic consideration from you.” (For the record, I contacted Atticus with questions about Instagram poetry and, subsequently, his identity, but at no point entered into any agreement about the story’s angle or preserving his anonymity.) Representatives for Atticus and Atria declined to comment.
So why be anonymous at all? He says it’s so that he can “write what I feel and not what I think I should feel.” Maybe so ― he certainly wouldn’t be the first. It rings slightly false, given the polished, consumer-ready nature of his work, which reads as deeply aware of its audience’s expectations. I think of the boy band heartthrob who withholds most of his real self from public view, the better to leave a blank screen for his fans’ projections. It’s clever brand management, and in a poetry scene whose stars thrive by stamping their name on syrupy platitudes and marketing them as art, brand is everything.
It’s not just Atticus, though Yost and Young certainly seem to feel that way. Yost, who at least uses his own name, types his poems on a typewriter and litters them with cigarettes. Young pumps up his follower count and book sales by mimicking other Instagram poets, while also savvily positioning himself as a righteous voice of dissent. In each case, the poetry is less than impressive, and the truth far more complicated. In the cases of Atticus and Young, their avatars help maintain the mystique of their chosen personas.
In unmasking Atticus, Yost was trying to to smother the mystique with dull reality. Rather than just going after the poetry, Yost went after the persona. But even he is doubtful that revealing the man behind the curtain will have any effect. “I don’t think it would harm his business or any of that stuff. I really don’t,” he told me. “I think people already have a preconceived idea of what they want to like.”
Fans may not be turned off by Yost’s ripping away of the curtain. But if so, that’s only because the curtain itself has become the point — not what’s behind it, not even what’s in front of it, just the romance of something being concealed at all. What art Atticus is capable of lies in creating an air of fascination surrounding a blank space. He can count on his fans not looking too hard for answers because the question is what they want anyway.
In January, Atticus posted a screenshot of an Instagram message apparently sent to his personal account. “You’re Atticus aren’t you,” the message reads. His caption reads, “A gentleman never tells. Clever gal.” Some in the comments gloat that they have figured it out, too, while others make wild guesses. But mostly, the commenters don’t want the mystery revealed. “Your mysterious identity is poetic and beauitiful [sic],” wrote another. “There’s no fun if you know his identity. Just saying,” shrugged a commenter who preferred to remain in the dark. Even those who’d already figured it out mostly wanted to keep playing along. One commented that she hadn’t been able to resist digging up the truth, but she wasn’t thrilled that she knew. “It’s better,” she wrote, “when it’s a mystery.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated R.M. Drake is white. He is Colombian-American.
Watching Jonah Hill’s new film, “Mid90s,” which came out Friday, I couldn’t shake how familiar the whole thing felt. There was something about the taco spot, the eggshell-colored alleyway behind the skate shop, the ginormous public school the kids sneak into, the fights and big hair and bland streets. Even the sup foolsand fuck shits, the way the phrases don’t so much roll off the actors’ tongues as rattle out of their throats on the creaking Spitfire Bighead wheels of their u’s and o’s and i’s — even the vowels felt like home.
The movie, a “coming-of-age” “animal-kingdom” film about skateboarding in Los Angeles, according to Hill, is about a place as much as it is about the era alluded to in the title. Hill and his siblings were raised in Cheviot Hills, a ritzy neighborhood on Los Angeles’ Westside. “Mid90s” is certainly not set there. But it did feel a whole lot like the neighborhood next door, where I went to school when I was the same age as the film’s shy 13-year-old protagonist, Stevie.
“Are you serious?” Hill said when I told him that in the ’90s I had attended Palms Middle School, a large and diverse LAUSD public school in a Los Angeles neighborhood of the same name.
We were sitting in A24’s Manhattan office, a little over a week before the release of “Mid90s.” Hill had just returned from a cigarette outside and slipped on the requisite company hoodie, and now he was prepared to talk for exactly 20 minutes ― so said the PR guy ― about his passion project, which follows Stevie as he tries to earn the respect of four skateboarders he notices one day. But Hill was expansive, even inviting, over the course of our interview, particularly about the setting of “Mid90s,” an authentic slice of in-between Los Angeles.
Hill told me that he used to spend time around Palms Middle School and considers it the neighborhood where he really grew up. Speaking affectionately, with an Angeleno’s connoisseurship of the fine gradations of banality, he described Palms as “bland,” “almost colorless,” a “no man’s land” whose lack of distinctive character breeds subcultures.
While I gave up on skateboarding early on, the world Hill depicts felt in many ways like the very specific enclave of Los Angeles I knew. I remember standing silently and in shock as a undersized sixth-grader in my enormous school when a kid in the boy’s locker room asked aloud if anyone wanted to buy weed for the first time, just as I remember the first time I saw a large group of children surround two boys as they beat each other until they bled. I remember looking over at the skater kids, wishing they’d befriend me. And I remember when they later did, and we proclaimed ourselves the “Dream Team,” words I later got tattooed on my body, as did they. Like Stevie and his friends, we felt bigger than the small world we inhabited because of one another.
Hill feels similarly attached to the neighborhood, but gentrification in Palms forced Hill to film in the city of Montebello, which has retained something of its working-class character. But, he said, “I tried to recreate Palms the best I could” — the fictional Motor Avenue skate shop has to be a subtle nod to the real Motor Avenue, the street he lived on as a child. Had I ever been to the Hot Rod skate shop? he asked me. The Surplus Store on Venice Boulevard? The Cuban restaurant Versailles?
“This is how I grew up in Los Angeles. This is what I saw and what I wanted to celebrate,” he said.
The promotional line, advanced not least by Jonah Hill himself, is that Jonah Hill has grown up. He’s 34 years old now, a serious movie maker, less the cutup who angrily berates his friends to audiences’ delight. It seems appropriate that the film that betokens this new, adult Jonah Hill, while not exactly autobiographical, is a reckoning with the world of his adolescence.
To hear him tell it now, filmmaking was always the dream ― the acting career preceding it more something he “fell into and was blessed with” than anything else, he told me. Hill turned a friendship with Dustin Hoffman’s son into a bit role in “I Heart Huckabees,” before catapulting to fame and fortune when “Superbad” earned an astounding $170 million worldwide. Within a few years, he was doing movies for the Coen brothers, Duplass brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, earning two Academy Award nominations and planting his flag as a serious actor.
But even back in 2007, Hill was already telling people he hadn’t grown up wanting to be an actor. He looked at people who had charted their way from the comedy world and into serious filmmaking ― “people who were my heroes, like Mike Nichols or Barry Levinson,” he said ― and tried to figure out how he could do the same. He noticed something. “Usually their first films were things that were personal in some way,” he said.
A few years ago, Hill started work on a script about skateboarding in Los Angeles. Hill has described his childhood as “super emo” in certain ways ― he cried a lot as a kid, wasn’t the greatest student or best athlete ― but became deeply invested in the city’s skating subculture. “It just came into my life when I really needed it,” Hill said.
His favorite moment in the movie takes place at a makeshift skate park, where the children sit and speak to a homeless man ― played by the rapper Del the Funky Homosapien ― with a compassion for his situation that seems genuine. The scene, Hill said, is informed by some of Hill’s own experiences as a child.
“We all judge people,” Hill said. “It’s just that I felt that we didn’t judge people as much, and that helped me to become a less judgmental person.”
Sitting a few feet away from this soft and and reflective version of Hill, it’s hard to remember that this is the same guy who vaulted to fame just over a decade ago on the back of a film in which he called one of his co-stars “faggle,” or who, in 2014, called a paparazzi a “faggot.” Recently, he’s talked more openly about his insecurities and past mistakes. “I think that if I’d even done this two years ago, I wouldn’t have been emotionally mature enough,” he said.
“Mid90s” isn’t Hill’s own story. It couldn’t be. While most of the children in the film come from working-class homes, Hill attended Crossroads, an elite private high school in Santa Monica. And at its weakest moments, the film can feel like an exaggeration of the LAUSD experience. Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, is seemingly prepubescent, yet we see him slam an entire 40-ounce in a bathroom shortly and get pulled into a room at a party by a much older teenage girl. While the movie might take some dramatic liberties with its characters, Hill’s choices here were thought through. With them, he is trying to work through an idea about the “misogyny” and “toxic masculinity” of a community he still holds close to him.
“The sexual experience in the film isn’t enjoyable” for Stevie, he said. “It only becomes enjoyable when he realizes it’s his currency to rise up within the group.”
Hill has a similar explanation for his decision to have the kids hurl homophobic slurs at one another throughout the film. Hill said he knows how “gnarly” and “uncomfortable” it is to hear the word “faggot” in the film, but explained that he felt he had to include the language to be true to the period he lived in.
The decision didn’t come without doubt. In a small moment of panic, Hill sent a last-minute scene to his producer, Scott Rudin. In it, Hill said, “someone says the f-word and then the other kids discuss whether they should be saying that or not.” Rudin, who is openly gay, hated it.
“He was like, ‘That’s so much more disrespectful. Did you guys ever have that conversation about whether you should be saying that or not?’” Hill said. “And I was like, ‘No, we were completely unaware of how fucked up it was.’ And he was like, ‘Then it’s super fucked up to rewrite history.’”
“These are all lessons I felt our generation had to unlearn ― and obviously in this time right now, we’re being forced to reckon with a lot of that,” he added. “It’s disgusting how people spoke, but it was how it was and hopefully we can see that and see that that needed to change.”
From the outside, Stevie’s set of friends appear to be bad students and authority-questioning degenerates from troubled households ― the exact kind of people Stevie’s mom, played by Katherine Waterston, wants him to avoid. But as the movie unfolds, we discover that they possess a moral code often overlooked by people outside their community.
Ray, played remarkably by Na-kel Smith, is one of the group’s older members. A quiet and thoughtful boy, he possesses clear ambition and dreams of exiting his current life through skateboarding. It pains him to watch as his oldest friend, the aptly named “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt), descends into something that looks like it will become substance abuse. At one point, when he sees the painfully young Stevie drinking alcohol once again, he quietly takes it from him and says he’s had enough. In the same scene, he walks over to two professional skaters to politely try and shoot his shot. The moment reminded me once again of my own friends, middling to poor students like Ray, who instead focused deeply on their ever-widening pursuits ― first skateboarding, then music, filmmaking and more.
Ever since I left Los Angeles in the mid-2000s, I have defended the city as more than just Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills and an ocean. Outside of Los Angeles, I felt compelled to try and be my own miniature Jonathan Gold, representing the city as I knew it to be ― not just 9 million green juices and a workout class, but a wondrous metropolitan organism filled with myriad bland and beautiful cultures and subsections, as well as my supposedly degenerate friends. It ends up Hill felt much the same way.
“My parents were from the East Coast, so if I would ever go visit like my grandpa or whatever, people would always say ‘Surf’s up’ to me,” he said. “I was like, I’ve never been to the beach. I’ve literally never surfed.”
“Mid90s” is a pure product of the Angeleno diaspora. Like me, Hill lives in New York City now. And like me, Hill has held onto his own personal Los Angeles, retained some sense of its surfaces and contours, its cultures and subcultures. With his movie, Hill is arguing that the best areas of the city can be found at the in-betweens. And they’re best found early on, with friends. If you’re a Stevie, you could certainly do worse than to find yourself a Ray.
In the late 1970s, two very different horror movies redefined the proliferating genre’s norms. In 2018, updated renditions of the same movies are doing it all over again, at a time when horror is enjoying a renewed cultural footprint.
The new “Halloween” and “Suspiria” open a week apart in October, with the former generating totally insane profits and the latter introducing an eminent cult classic to fresh audiences. But what makes the pair unusual is how deep their connections run, from the films’ chummy directors and correlating scores to the ways the treasured tales are now being modernized.
When “Suspiria” and “Halloween” were first released, they elevated burgeoning subgenres and vaulted their respective directors into Hollywood’s underground A-list, despite the fact that each was produced without a large budget or the backing of a major studio. The Italian maestro Dario Argento, drawing inspiration from Thomas De Quincy’s opium-aroused essay series “Suspiria de Profundis,” placed 1977′s “Suspiria” within the pulpy trend known as giallo, a baroque tradition that melded slasher tropes, supernatural terrors, erotic exploitation and mystery elements. (Today, “Suspiria” is arguably the definitive giallo paragon.)
With “Halloween” one year later, John Carpenter landed his own magnum opus and popularized serial-killer escapades ― first initiated via “Psycho,” “Black Christmas” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” but crystallized with “Halloween,” which would go on to spawn countless copycats and remain the most celebrated hack-and-slash until “Scream” almost 20 years later.
Both movies revolve around young women thrust into waking nightmares in what should be safe spaces: The original “Suspiria” finds a Snow White-esque Jessica Harper fleeing a renowned German dance academy that turns out to be run by a wealthy witches’ cult; “Halloween” has a suburb-dwelling Jamie Lee Curtis evading the masked murderer Michael Myers while babysitting her neighbors’ kids. The heroines survive, but otherworldly evils render them victims nonetheless.
Argento and Carpenter became friends and mutual admirers after their films debuted, citing each other’s work as influences. “I thought it was just wonderful,” Carpenter told me earlier this month when I asked him about “Suspiria,” known for its hallucinatory color scheme. “I thought the style [and] everything about it was just fabulous.”
Coincidentally, Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name”) and David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”), the respective directors responsible for this year’s “Halloween” sequel and “Suspiria” reimagining, are also pals. In fact, Green was slated to direct “Suspiria” before Guadagnino took over. They developed the project together in 2013, and Green penned an early draft of the script after spending time at Guadagnino’s house near Milan.
“It was a big-budget horror movie at a time when the ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies and other micro found-footage movies were defining horror,” Green told me of his “Suspiria” efforts. “Nobody wanted to make my $20 million elegant opera of a horror film. So that went, and then Luca decided to do it himself.”
Guadagnino, who fell in love with Argento’s “Suspiria” (as well as Carpenter’s sci-fi romance “Starman”) as a teenager, was set to produce Green’s interpretation, which he’s said would have diverged from the version he eventually directed himself. “I love David,” he told ComingSoon.Net. “I am a big fan and I am so proud that we have our two horror movies out more or less in the same week, so it’s fantastic.”
Like that of Argento and Carpenter, Guadagnino and Green’s unlikely camaraderie extends a “Suspiria”-“Halloween” legacy that’s as profound as it is over-mythologized. Part of that lore revolves around the films’ haunting music, often imitated but rarely topped. Various articles over the years have claimed that, when composing the “Halloween” score, Carpenter took cues from the symphonic “Suspiria” melodies, written and performed by prog-rock band Goblin.
“Sure, I loved that stuff,” the ever-nonchalant director told Dazed in 2017 when asked whether Goblin influenced him. “It’s really neat [the way Argento uses music.] And he’s a totally underrated filmmaker, I think.”
But in our interview, Carpenter denied the linkage altogether, saying it’s merely the stuff of legend. “It really wasn’t that big an inspiration, I have to admit,” he said. Before offering a definitive rebuttal, Carpenter continued, laughing: “Actually, I won’t say it wasn’t, just because I want to continue to be associated with it.”
Instead, Carpenter said, his score stemmed from the bongo drum tutorials he’d received from his father. Using a 5/4 time signature, he banged out a rapid-paced tempo that electrified his brilliantly sleepy chase sequences. Even if it’s indirect, however, some “Halloween” hymns do bear a passing resemblance to the pulsating hypnosis heard in “Suspiria,” which at times conjures the minor-key classic “Tubular Bells,” whose discordant timbre became a perfect anthem for 1973′s “The Exorcist.”
Just as Carpenter’s “Halloween” tunes announce Michael Myers’ presence before the villain is seen, Argento, who contributed to the Goblin album, aimed to conjure an occult ambiance before it’s ever revealed that the dance school’s imperious headmistresses are casting spells. “I need music that always lets the audiences feel that witches are there, even if there is nothing on the screen,” he instructed the band, according to keyboardist Claudio Simonetti.
In the new “Halloween” sequel, which expunges the franchise’s 10 intervening installments, Carpenter and Green toy with the scores’ perceived similarities. (Yes, Carpenter returned to help compose the contemporary film’s music and serve as a creative consultant.) In rejiggering 1978′s prototype, Carpenter wrote “The Shape Hunts Allyson,” a track whose lullabying synthesizer and throbbing drum pulse echoes the “Suspiria” theme. Appearing around the soundtrack’s halfway mark, it underscores his and Green’s kinship with the giallo fantasia they’ve long revered.
Stylistically and thematically, Green and Guadagnino also overhaul their predecessors’ vintage gender dynamics. Since the ’70s, “Suspiria” and “Halloween” have found detractors who challenge the former’s misogynistic bloodshed and the latter’s ostensibly conservative choice to kill off sexually active teen girls. The 2018 versions rewrite Argento’s and Carpenter’s unintended wrongs.
Green and Guadagnino have reveled in their films’ female-centered craftsmanship. “I think I’ve quietly made a very feminist horror movie. I mean, it’s three female leads kicking ass and getting rocked,” Green proclaimed. Guadagnino has said “Suspiria” is “soaked in the ideas of feminist art,” including that of Gina Pane, Francesca Woodman, Judy Chicago and Ana Mendieta.
In practice, of course, “Halloween” and “Suspiria” feel far different from each other. Green’s is a full-throttle crowd-pleaser, and Guadagnino’s a meditative slow-burn ― an inverse from their predecessors. Furthermore, this “Suspiria” score, composed by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, sounds nothing like Goblin’s maximalist synth roar. It sounds like, well, Thom Yorke, he of eerie laments.
Guadagnino, a fellow Italian who also sets his “Suspiria” in 1977, trades Argento’s phantasmagoric hues and thin plotting for a gray palette rich with psychological nuance. Susie Bannion, the repressed Ohio-born protagonist portrayed by Dakota Johnson, arrives in a politically fraught Berlin without the same resistance to witchcraft that plagued Harper’s character. As Susie succumbs to a well-robed Tilda Swinton’s matriarchal incantations, a more explicitly feminist (and gruesome) narrative rises to the surface ― one that exalts the vigor of feminine convergence without shying away from the brutality it sometimes yields. It’s a story about motherhood, trauma and the quest for power, told through dance, an art form adept at marrying sensuality and violence. Victimhood is not on the table. She won’t torch the building and run.
Green’s calling was less about rectifying Carpenter’s transgressions than it was those of the many writers and directors who took over in Carpenter’s absence. (Until now, Carpenter has barely touched a “Halloween” entry since co-writing 1981′s “Halloween II.”) The franchise redrafted the fate of Curtis’ defining lead, Laurie Strode, many times over. She’d died offscreen by 1988′s “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” but was resuscitated and presented as a traumatized underdog in hiding in 1998′s “Halloween: H20.” Michael ultimately prevailed in 2002′s “Halloween: Resurrection,” killing Laurie after she promised to reencounter him in hell. In other words, she never got the triumph she deserved, letting us instead root for Michael in typical slasher-flick custom.
The new “Halloween” gives her that triumph. By the end, it’s more her fable than it is Michael’s.
Forty years after the sociopath stalked Haddonfield, Laurie is holed up as a doomsday prepper ― but not the kind of naif who’s long populated horror (Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” and Judith O’Dea in “Night of the Living Dead,” for example). Her paranoia has splintered Laurie’s relationship with her only daughter (Judy Greer), rendering “Halloween” another chiller about motherhood and PTSD. Rightfully convinced Michael will return, Laurie is armed physically and emotionally, ready to combat the boogeyman who has caused her so much grief. Like Susie in the current “Suspiria,” she is not about to turn her back on the horrors surrounding her. Even with wildly different outcomes, both movies result in confrontations and revelations. The malefactors who produce their inciting dread are usurped.
But softer corollaries emerge, too, even if they’re unintended. The most unnerving “Suspiria” scene, in which Susie’s dance movements possess a recreant student’s limbs so they crack and contort in abnormal shapes, somewhat mirrors a conceit posited in “Eyes of Laura Mars,” the 1978 giallo-light thriller conceptualized and co-written by Carpenter. “Mars” centers on an edgy photographer (Faye Dunaway) who becomes viscerally linked to a serial killer and experiences his crimes as he commits them ― much in the way that Sus’s choreography manipulates her classmate in real time. It’s a demented sort of catharsis, the kind that only the darkest and most disturbing films can achieve. If closure marked the initial “Suspiria,” disconcertedness torments its remix.
As “Halloween” and “Suspiria” continue a year filled with socially fertile horror titles (see also: “A Quiet Place,” “Hereditary,” “The Little Stranger”), the parallels between the genre’s 1970s heyday and today’s renaissance grow denser. It makes sense: Both decades are thorny, moody eras in the American consciousness ― ones where the scares seen in our headlines influence the ones that invade our big screens.
Like Susie says in “Suspiria” with cryptic menace, “Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?” But in Hollywood, the worst sometimes yields the best movies.
“Halloween” is now in theaters. “Suspiria” opens in limited release Oct. 26.
Mortimer Goth settles in to one of the 15 wicker chairs that have suddenly appeared by his lit fireplace. He feels strangely compelled to sit and remain seated, as if guided by an unseen hand, even as the room he’s in grows curiously hotter and hotter. Before he knows it, the chairs around him burst into pixelated flames. He’s on fire! He calls for help, but his wife, Bella, can’t hear him. She’s swimming in circles in their backyard pool, searching fruitlessly for a ladder that doesn’t exist.
For the uninitiated fiddling around their family desktop, the original version of “The Sims” was mostly about nurturing humanlike characters through life’s minutiae. For everyone else, “The Sims” was and is a game about death, about wacky, inconsequential death, about fiery death and watery death, death by starvation and death by electric shock and death by skydiving malfunction ― Mortimer and Bella’s worst recurring nightmare. And as the game evolved over the years, a kind of meta-game has formed around it: a subtle relationship between creative, death-obsessed “Sims” players and the game’s ever-adapting designers, keen on raising the stakes of the simulated lives we so easily ended.
Today, death on “The Sims” can feel harder and harder to come by. But it’s never impossible.
the point of playing The Sims was to spend a lot of time on the Sim’s outfit and then delete the ladder so they eventually drown in the pool
In the scenario above, the deaths of Mortimer Goth and his wife were no accident. They were the result of a human player deciding to set in motion a series of events that would lead to the inevitable demise of digital beings brought to life in a simulation game. That human player could have ushered Mortimer and his wife into a room and removed the door, watching as the Sims starved inside. The player could have prompted the characters to start making a feast with their cooking skill at Level 1, tempting a shoddy oven to burst aflame and engulf them. The player could have even neglected the couple’s guinea pig, only to have Mortimer pick it up and allow the rodent to administer one fatal bite.
But that player chose to cluster highly flammable chairs near the fireplace and hope they caught like tinder, and remove the ladder in the swimming pool once Bella, ignorant of the option of simply lifting herself out, dived in.
Back in the heyday of the game’s first iteration, everyone killed their Sims. I feel confident in stating this even without hard data to back it up: Killing Sims wasn’t exceptional behavior, it was the norm. Just look at the Reddit threads relaying depraved “Sims” activity with comments spooling into the thousands, or this Polygon article, where it is written, “It is a proven fact people love killing off Sims.”
“That was the only enjoyable way to play ‘The Sims’!” Maddy Myrick, 31, told me. She’d responded to my callout on Twitter, asking first-generation “Sims” players to explain the morbid habit of killing a thing you were ostensibly tasked with keeping alive. “Sometimes I would start a new family, convinced that I would let them live. But, inevitably, I quickly became bored with designing their house (which I was never able to finish).”
And so she killed them. Sims have died for less.
One of the most common tactics for killing a Sim, beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness, is the “murdershed” method, as one “Sims” player described it: the doorless room.
“My favorite thing to do was lure my Sims into a seemingly normal space and then take away its exit,” my colleague Sara Boboltz confessed in a direct message. “So, I’d make a tiny house and take away the door. I’d make a pool and take away the ladder. Make a two-story house, take the stairs. You get it. Sometimes my Sims would be teachers I didn’t like.”
“I made a guy who was a compulsive neatfreak,” Reddit user vsanna wrote in a comment that rose to the top of its thread. “Put him in a really surreal little house with a wedding buffet and a hamster or something, deleted the door. Eventually he went insane from lack of cleanliness and depression over his little rodent friend dying, and starved to death once the banquet rotted. I put the resulting urn in the room. I then repeated an identical scenario several times, always keeping the urns in the room.
“Eventually the tenth iteration of this guy is up all night, every night, terrified of a parade of ghosts of himself.”
Our penchant for serial killing has not gone unnoticed at “Sims” headquarters. According to “The Sims 4” senior producer Grant Rodiek, who’s been with the company since 2005, the latest version of the game registers around 28,000 Sim deaths per day.
“I think [killing Sims is] a way players can express ultimate control over a thing. It’s funny, mischievous, dark, without being grotesque,” Rodiek said. “It’s a kinder, gentler method of using a magnifying glass to burn insects.”
Between life and death in “Sims 4,” there’s still no single path to playing. The vastly open-ended game nudges you toward certain goals — meeting your Sims’ physical needs; securing them a means of making money — but no task or accomplishment is necessarily required.
Rodiek and his colleagues have had a lot of time to analyze the preferences and behaviors of “Sims” players. He’s whittled users down to a handful of types: There are the “aspiring Frank Lloyd Wrights” who love tinkering in the game’s Build mode; the Create-a-Sim artists who painstakingly remodel favorite characters or celebrities in digital form, or the narrative writers who play out classic storylines (think: mysterious new kid, star-crossed lovers, etc.) in Live mode.
“And then you have the sort of people … we call them deviant players,” Rodiek said. “People who like to mess with their Sims, people who like to poke at the system, people who like to have fun and break the game and do weird stuff.” (These categories, I’d add, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)
In the early years, these players, in an effort to discover all the ways they could ruin their Sims’ lives, might’ve swapped stories with friends about building murder houses and endlessly uppingtheir budgets for DIY torture devices using the “rosebud” money cheat.
As the internet’s capacity to bring people together has evolved since the early 2000s, so have user-created parameters to keep gameplay interesting. Forums hold lists of restrictive challenges, which can involve everything from having one Sim birth 100 babies to re-creating consecutive historical eras with each generation of a family. On YouTube, players show themselves re-enacting “The Hunger Games” or building lengthy mazes meant only to make simulated life harder for their tiny humans.(One Simmer who orchestrated 12 seasons of Sim “Hunger Games” — complete with training days and sporadic gifts of food like apples — was recently hired on by Electronic Arts as an assistant producer.)
Over the years, the current base game — there are four total now — is supplemented with expansion packs to provide new ways to play the game — and kill your Sims. Rodiek said it’s the first thing developers plan out with each new expansion, along with new places for your digital hedonists to hook up.
Much-beloved YouTuber “Call Me Kevin” has a series showcasing his comically deadly restaurant in “Sims 4,” where unskilled chefs serve up the sometimes-fatal pufferfish nigiri introduced in the “City Living” expansion pack. It’s the only thing on the menu. Watching him play, you see Sims dining casually together, only to be interrupted when one diner clutches at their throat and falls head-first into their food. He’s amassed quite the graveyard behind the restaurant, complete with a coffin that you can WooHoo in — Sim-speak for sex.
so ive been playing the sims more and i just killed 28 sims to make a church graveyard
Part of the widespread appeal of killing Sims might be that the actual moments of their demise aren’t particularly disturbing. Generally, dying Sims just drop or crumple to the floor in distress, disappearing altogether in some versions of the game. Coming across a hungry cowplant provides the bizarre and delightful visual of a giant flower consuming a Sim, but there’s no blood or errant limbs left behind. In a fire, Sims might become visibly odorous as their Hygiene levels plummet, but that’s about it — no gore or horror-movie theatrics.
There are some deaths “The Sims” avoids altogether.
“We don’t let toddlers burn to death,” Rodiek said. “That’s just gross. That’s not funny, there’s nothing humorous there. We don’t let dogs burn to death because like, again, that’s gross.”
Eventually, the grim reaper, who can talk to but sadly not have children with Sims, comes to collect your character’s soul, leaving an urn or gravestone in the Sim’s place. The reaper himself has a cellphone or a tablet, ostensibly to process the Sim’s soul, or something. It’s all a little goofy.
The fact that players have long brought Sim death on themselves is all a part of probing the edges of an established world.
Philosophy professor C. Thi Nguyen, who has written extensively about the philosophy of games, likened the act of killing Sims to the innocent phenomenon of “speedrunning,” where players try to complete a given game as fast as possible.
“One of my favorites is a speed run of ‘[Super] Mario [Bros.]’ where you try to get zero points … even though the traditional goal of ‘Mario’ is to max out your points. Trying to get to the end as fast as possible with zero points is actually much harder and much weirder,” he said. “You’re playing the game in an unintended way, which, for some people, I think it makes them feel more creative.”
“The system seems to tell you, ‘Look, the point of this game is to take care of the Sims,’ and all the tools that are given to you are given to you to take care of your Sims,” he said. “So if you want to kill your Sims, you have to do kind of creative and unexpected things and kind of remix the game.”
However, Nguyen said it was also possible that, for the players who like “The Sims” for its narrative possibilities and engage with “the fiction of the game,” explorations of death could have deeper personal significance.
“It may vary from player to player, but I think from talking to a lot of players it’s actually about the creativity of using the system for a new purpose,” he said.
Whatever the explanation, the game’s creators have come to understand that we use “The Sims” not just to simulate life, but to play God. And it’s impacted the way the game has shifted, from “Sims 1” to “Sims 4.”
The first two versions of “The Sims” ― which Rodiek described as “disastrously hard” ― made it easier for the Goths to expire outside of a player’s purview. Direct Sim-on-Sim homicide isn’t possible, so accidents were more often fatal: a grilled cheese that burns down the house, a malfunctioning skydiving simulator, or a fatal shock delivered to a character standing in a puddle during an electric repair. In “The Sims 2,” simply being in the front yard at the exact time a satellite falls to Earth could be the end of a Sim’s brief journey.
But nowadays, compared to “Sims 1” and “Sims 2,” it’s a lot harder to deliberately kill off dear Mortimer and Bella. Anyone coming to “The Sims 4,” the game’s latest version, might notice their characters can now easily hop out of a pool, ladder or not. It’s a change that came with “The Sims 3,” effectively eliminating one of the preferred manners of Sims murder.
“I love how funny and surprising it is to say, ‘Hey, we as a team recognize what you’re doing and, ha-ha, we flipped the switch,’” Rodiek said. The decision was born out of developers’ desire to further up Sims’ intelligence and self-sufficiency with each new version. Players, he said, “got pissed at this.”
“Basically, our thought was if Sims are smarter, and if Sims are less likely to just frickin’ die all the time, well, maybe they’re smart enough to pull their asses out of the pool,” he said, noting that you can still kill them from exhaustion if you build walls around the pool. “They’ll still fart at the wrong time and they’ll still just pass out in a pool of vomit if they’re tired enough and the timing is wrong, but that, at least, is a win for them.”
Now, if you leave them unattended, “your Sims will basically default to neutral,” Rodiek said. Players can worry less about making sure everyone has had a bathroom break or a meal. If you don’t direct your Sim to do it, they’ll likely figure it out themselves.
“Our tagline was, ‘We want to move past peeing,’” he said of shifting Sims’ needs beyond basic survival. “However, for them to really succeed, you have to nurture them. And nurturing your Sims comes from more emotional, higher-level fulfillment.”
Now, Sims have aspirations generally based on interests or specific actions: One Sim might want to become a tech genius, while another wants to become the neighborhood enemy. Fulfilling these wishes results in rewards that make the Sim better.
Ever feel like a sims character where the player made you swim in the pool only to remove the ladder and now ur just,, stuck
I’m usually a gentle “Sims” player, nurturing my families into fulfilling home lives and careers, watching as they level up in activities like baking and guitar playing, occasionally tossing in a love affair here and there. For the purposes of this article, though, I set out to kill as many Sims in “Sims 4” as I could.
Not wanting to delete doors and watch my Sims starve, I fell back on faithful killing strategies, like the classic fire scenarios. There were newer tactics I could try, too: In “Sims 4,” even Sims’ emotions, taken to the extreme, can be fatal; their hearts can explode from sheer rage or cease beating from hysterics.
In “Seasons,” the most recent expansion pack, Sims who are skilled in flower arranging can whip up a mysterious plant, the scent of which ages or kills its recipient. A video from website Sims VIP illustrating this particular death demonstrates the cruelty: At first, an elder Sim is pleased to be receiving a gift. But upon realizing his bad luck, he becomes angry, shouting out “Narb!” He wipes his brow, swoons to his knees, and even checks his pulse one last time before the grim reaper arrives.
“Seasons” also allows the possibility of death by freezing or overheating, or getting struck by lightning. New kinds of warnings tip you off to these sorts of ends: The game indicates via a Sim’s “moodlet” that your electronic buddy might die if he doesn’t get out of the blizzard, or change out of his snowsuit during a heat wave, or run in from the thunderstorm.
One of the suggested ways to murder your Sims is through overexhaustion, though once a Sim becomes “uncomfortable,” many actions, like jogging, become unavailable to a player. In “Sims 4,” more Sims simply die of old age than tragically before their time: Age accounts for 30.5 percent of deaths in the game, compared to the 11 percent who die of hunger; the 10.7 percent who drown; or the 10.6 percent who die in a fire, according to statistics provided by Rodiek.
Maybe I’m unpracticed, but I couldn’t murder my Sims. I made one Sim flirt with her husband’s dad in front of her husband, enraging the husband until the spouses became enemies, then nemeses. I had them all fight — illustrated by a cloud of dust and occasional flashes of limb — but it only made them a little dazed. I had them all pee themselves, then installed a shower and had them all walk in on each other, but no one reached the deadly “mortified” level of embarrassment. I made the dad swim in the pool in wintertime, but he kept getting out once he started freezing. Without resorting to the walls-around-the-pool method Rodiek mentioned, I couldn’t play God quite like I used to.
Defeated, I had the enraged husband and wife divorce before closing my game. It seemed only fair. When I opened up “Sims 2,” however, I found that one installation of the “shoddy fireplace” did the trick in no time. My Sims freaked out and wailed, too frantic to obey my requests for them to stand directly in the flames — but the blaze got them in the end.
Stakes, Rodiek acknowledged during our interview, are what make “The Sims” fundamentally interesting. Making death a part of the game from the start provided those stakes.
“It is really great when people have a Sim that they really care about, and they care about how they orchestrated their life, and they see them raise children, and maybe get a divorce, and then their children grow up and then they die. They go, ‘Oh, man, I could just re-create them, but it will never be that Sim.’”
“Our game is about creating weird, quirky, erratic, strange little humanlike characters that we want you to care about deeply,” he added.
In a perpetual quest, developers hope to keep inching “The Sims” toward a better reflection of real life and death, to keep raising the stakes and allowing customization in ways that matter to players.
In 2016, “Sims” released an update that expanded the possibilities of gender expression among characters, no longer restricting certain hair, makeup or clothing items to one gender or another and allowing players to select whether a Sim could impregnate others or get pregnant, regardless of outward appearance. Similarly, Rodiek said, creators are discussing the possibility of incorporating Sims who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or use a wheelchair. To help develop these, the team has been talking to players who have similar experiences.
“In actually talking to these players, talking about how it affects their lives, we’ve been thinking, how can we reflect this in a way that works in our game?” he said. “That’s the stuff we’re actually looking into that we really want to figure out, because it’s scary to get it wrong, but I think it’s so important if we can get it right.”
In terms of death, Rodiek said he could envision developing a kind of long-term, terminal disease within the game from which Sims can’t recover (but, seriously, don’t ask him about it on Twitter, because they’re not making this right now).
“I could see us approaching that in sort of a generic way that we’re not saying that it’s this specific cancer. But we’re basically saying that your Sim has something that can’t be cured and they will die before their time as a result of that,” he said. Maybe, he added, it’d be an option players could toggle on or off.
“I think it’s a reality of life … in a way that is like, yes, it’s real, and yes, it’s sad. But maybe for someone who wants it, it’s cathartic or its interesting and it helps you tell a story,” Rodiek said. “Those are some of the things we’re trying to grapple with and talk to our players about how to get right. And it’s terrifying, but it’s really cool if we could do it.”
Wherever one may look, it will be impossible not to see art there. Buildings, streets, parks, kiosks, roads and even people walking them, everything is a kind of art. Maybe, it is not that straightforward as the items covered in visual art articles, but it is still a way to self-express and impresses. With people being so motivated to create and self-express on a daily basis, there has ever been an enormously important part of their lives expressed through art.
In order to better understand cultures, cities and their histories, the first thing to look at is definitely pieces created by local artists and telling their personal stories. Importance of these pieces cannot be underestimated as art has always been kind of an acid test for better understanding of times and situations. Today it is also increasingly important to keep abreast of the recent art news and try to understand these by reading interesting art articles.
Visual Art News As A Way To Better Understand Societies
Undoubtedly, this craftsmanship is crucial to every society and culture as it tells stories and explains cultural concepts otherwise difficult to comprehend. For everyone who is at least slightly interested in learning more about the way modern artists see the modern world and its developments, reading art news UKis rather a must.
Moreover, there are also a number of other benefits this craftsmanship brings into our lives and well-being of the societies we exist in. These include:
source of inspiration and creativity: by simply looking at some of the world’s masterpieces can make you much more inspired by your own artistic process. If you are not connected to it whatsoever, simply viewing the ways other people expressed themselves and letting all the boundaries go may significantly boost your creativity;
tells meaningful stories: it is not only the source of information on who did what and when. Rather, it plays an enlightening role by showing scenarios from which people can learn something important for their personal lives, societies they live in or people they are close to;
therapeutic effect: for relaxation, winding out or again making the creative juices flow, painting is a perfect activity to perform. However good or bad you are, it is all about the process and its calming down effect.
All in all, learning about this world usually means learning about new cultures, societies, and their manifestations. One of the easiest and also challenging ways to do so is through art.