Welcome to The Culture Wrap! This is the second edition of a new Friday feature edited by Jessie Tu, that shares her pick of things to read, hear and watch. Just in time for the weekend.
What to watch:
Late Night (dir. Nisha Ganatra, written by Mindy Kaling, starring Mindy Kaling & Emma Thompson)
Lately, I’ve tried to replace the word ‘guilty’ with, nothing. You know how we go around labelling things as ‘guilty pleasures’? (E.g. Reading Fifty Shades of Grey on a Friday night at 8pm? Scoffing Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream at 1am? Scrolling through Just Jared during the working day?)
Pleasures are pleasures. Why should they be guilty? Who’s making me feel guilty? I used to think rom-coms are guilty pleasures because they tended to be rather politically regressive, but I didn’t feel guilty about watching Late Night, because I shouldn’t feel guilty about watching a film that stars one of the most legendary actors of our time (Emma Thompson) and one of the most under celebrated geniuses of our time (Mindy Kaling).
Thompson plays a female David Letterman-style character, whose position on her own show is on the brink of being taken over by a young, male comedian. Enter Mindy, whose character is the same charming, gorgeous, earnest female she often plays. (See The Mindy Project, The Office, Ocean’s 8) Mindy is Emma’s saviour, and tries to turn the show around. The story is uncomplicated, and the characters are a little predictable, yet the digs on ageism, the racial homogeneity of the comedy world, and sexism, made me laugh out loud a number of times.
Settle into this one for some good laughs. It’s worth it. And you won’t feel guilty. It’s a story about two strong women. What’s guilty about that?
What to hear:
Music: King Princess
I think I’m a lookist. Which simply means I am really attracted to really attractive people. Like Mikaela Straus, who is a singer-songwriter based in LA, and goes by the name King Princess. She has been topping charts and already being heralded as “an Old Kind of Rock Star for a New Age”, with a swagger and tone that’s enviously good. Her songs are doused in a rum-smooth sweetness and rock-is-ness that reminds me to move my body every once in a while and pretend I’m 23 again, dancing carelessly inside a not-too-crowded bar on a Saturday night, somewhere in Chinatown.
I can’t stop drenching my day (and nights) in “Pussy is God”, a gorgeous crooning drum-beating pop tune about sexual desire, and “1950”, a smouldering gem of a song you’ll end up singing along with while you’re trying to work. This “burgeoning queer idol” is one to watch. Have her playing in the shower and get dancing while you’re washing your hair.
Podcast: Still Processing “So Y’all Finally Get It”
Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham
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our lil ole pod was nominated for a National Magazine Award, aka the Ellie’s or ASME’s. these are maybe the only awards journos care about (after the pulitzers, obvs, lol) and it feels so so so damn good for our labor of love to be recognized in a major way. whether we win or not, i’m celebrating this nom for the rest of the year! who wants to get a seafood tower w/me to celebrateeeeeeee 🦀 💦 🍤 🦐 🍾
Still Processing is hosted by two extremely clever New York Times culture writers, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham. I first heard about Morris when I was invited to the 2018 Sydney Writers Festival Gala event by a friend. The theme was ‘Power’, and 7 speakers, including Morris, spoke on their interpretation of the concept. I still think about his speech every now and then. He’s mostly a film critic, though he writes extraordinary essays on culture and race too. Wortham is the staff culture writer and often shares takes on this podcast about the ways she maintains self-care in the age of digital despair. The dynamic between these two friends is so palpable, so delicious.
I’ve listened to all the episodes, backtracking to its inauguration in September 2016. They speak about politics, race and culture in a way that feels extremely sharp, intelligent and eye-opening. I’m constantly shocked by the rigorous lines they’re able to draw between what’s happening in politics, society, and then to the films, TV, theatre, music and art and books we consume. Their lens is one that makes mine feel consistently narrow. I reach for them as a way to constantly remind myself of the immensity of the ways of seeing things. Last week, they released an episode extracting a live show they held in NYC, where they talked about the Black Lives Matter movement since George Floyd’s murder, and asking the tough questions about America’s future.
What to read:
Book: The Collected Schizophrenia by Esmé Weijun Wang
I am always curious about the lives of people who are so outside of my own experience and personhood. I don’t know anyone who suffers from schizophrenia, but since reading Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree (honestly, perhaps the most important book I have ever read) I have been fascinated by the unbearable tax placed on both sufferers of the condition, and the family and friends around them. And, of course, I’m always trying to find other Asian authors, because in the Western literary landscape, we sorely lack them.
Enter Esmé Weijun Wang, a second-generation Taiwanese-American based in San Francisco. She’s a writer and author of so many incredible essays, writing and poetry, it’s fruitless to try to sum it up here. In Asian culture, mental illness is a total taboo. We pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s interesting to read about Wang’s experience with the multiple conditions she’s been diagnosed with throughout her adult life, and learn about the excruciating details of the process one must endure in trying to live with these conditions. Vital reading for anyone, mentally ill or not