A Hater’s Guide to New York

I’m not saying don’t go, I’m just suggesting that the actual city is basically a middling Woody Allen impression.

by E.L. 

New York Times Square
Image via Wikicommons

 There are some things you should keep in mind if you plan to visit the City.

What city, you may ask. Of course, it is exactly that attitude which betrays your embarrassing lack of cosmopolitan vision, and this is what you are coming to the City to correct.

You must first remember that there is no place for your bumpkinish awe at grand architecture. So don’t look up. If your eye strays above shoulder-level – better yet, above the pavement directly in front of your feet – you will look like such a tourist. Do everything in your power to hide this fact from real New Yorkers.

The best way to fool the natives is to go to Time Square and complain loudly about how much you hate tourists. And when you return to whatever sorry township you came from, you will carry this newfound disdain for the uninitiated home with you alongside your mostly-empty Metro card.

There is literally no destination that does not require you to wait in line. But the good news is that when you finally get in to whatever miserable hole of a dive pizza joint (alternatively, whatever New American swoop of artisanal foam) you’ve decided on, you will feel like you’ve really earned it. It’s as if the city is hazing you. Perhaps this is why natives love New York so much – some sort of post-hazing over-identification.

It’s called Stockholm Syndrome in kidnapping situations.

(Have you considered that you might not even need to go to New York to get the New York experience? I can make you a YouTube playlist of all the location shots from When Harry Met Sally and Manhattan for you to watch on your phone while you blithely ignore traffic signals.

I’m not saying don’t go, I’m just suggesting that the actual city is basically a middling Woody Allen impression. And wasn’t Woody Allen’s best work 35 years ago, anyway?)

There are bagels there. You may have heard that these are the only bagels worth the name. I can’t confirm or deny that. But if you’re going anyway, even after my YouTube playlist, you might as well try one.

You will notice that New Yorkers don’t make eye contact. Don’t take this personally. It’s simply a charming local superstition that the fleeting-est of glances into another human’s eyes will bring one’s alienated soul into contact with another and produce a brief but profound moment of empathy that threatens to lay bare the yawning loneliness of a life led among eight and a half million strangers.

Central Park is a thing, I guess. It’s really quite pleasant if you like golf course landscaping.

(If you’re in the market for seething masses of disgruntled people and overpriced food, have you considered your closest theme park? Everyone at Disney World is a tourist, so you’d fit right in! Just like Time Square only without all the New Yorkers there to hiss at you. Just think about it is all I’m saying.)

Discovering New York is like learning a new lover, so be patient and go slow. You’ll probably get used to the smell and if you’re careful you won’t catch a disease.

Definitely definitely go. Definitely go and don’t come back. Surrender your hayseed heart to the Big Apple. Don’t you read The New Yorker? Haven’t you seen Rent? It’s just like that. New York isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. New York is the Spirit of Christmas – if you keep it in your heart, even in the Midwest you’re a New Yorker for life.

Seriously, I think you should just stay home and watch Manhattan.

Alien Others and Selves

Starting off the new year with some good old-fashioned American paranoia!

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Via @5thWaveMovie

by E.L.

There is an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a normal American neighborhood is thrown into violent chaos by the appearance of a strange object in the sky. The fear that alien invaders might be masquerading as a human family causes neighbors to turn with suspicion on those they’ve known all their lives.

Like so many Twilight Zone episodes, the true monster here is Man. The lesson is that the enemy’s best weapon is the seed of paranoid doubt we harbor against those closest to us. It is a not-so-subtle commentary on McCarthyism’s hysterical campaign to root out the communist threat by encouraging citizens to denounce their friends and allies.

The communist, like the aliens in The Twilight Zone, is so dangerous precisely because its otherness cannot be easily recognized. Soviet sympathizers can look exactly like everybody else, and the possibility of their presence among us is so terrifying because it challenges our confidence in our own capacity for self-recognition. The identity of friends, spouses, teachers, and politicians cannot be trusted precisely because they look just like us. Familiarity itself becomes suspect as the mask of a dangerous otherness.

Continue reading “Alien Others and Selves”

Leaving Something Behind: Reading Socially Through Book Traces

E.L. documents her journey through the margins of one library’s books—thinking about reading as a social process, about building community, and about what we can learn from the scribbles left behind.

 By E.L.

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Alderman library stacks at the University of Virginia

Follow Book Traces on Twitter @booktracesuva, on Tumblr, and on the official website.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries lately. As a grad student and inveterate skimmer of books, this is not rare. But for the past six months, I’ve been working as a project intern for Book Traces, where I systematically inspect my university’s circulating book collection for evidence of how past handlers have used, modified, and engaged with their books.

Continue reading “Leaving Something Behind: Reading Socially Through Book Traces”

Acro Collective Bookshelf : November

acro bookshelf logo

Editor’s Note: Hey friends! I’m pleased to bring you our new feature, Bookshelf. Each month we’ll hear from Acro Collective creators on what they’re reading. For November, our creators delve into a diverse mix of texts. As we all head off into holiday season, remember to set aside some time for yourself—perhaps with one of these good reads? Continue reading “Acro Collective Bookshelf : November”

What We Mean When We Talk About Choice

…my point is that there is no easy choice between choice and social determination — that choice itself is not the solution to the oppressive pressures of racism and patriarchy because the choices we have (and the fact of choice at all) are constructed by the very systems we wish to use them to undermine.

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Let me tell you something. My feminism doesn’t much care about Beyoncé. My heart may beat to the beat of “Partition,” but debates about the potential feminism of Yoncé’s lyrics, ass, or marriage leave me cold. Bey’s choice to make her body and sexuality central to her persona is held up against the fact that such displays are always filtered through white supremacist patriarchy. We can only ever think of her as fully in control of her performance, image and body, or totally and abjectly victim of a system that uses women’s bodies against each other. Her self-determination is always besieged by the fear that she might have been working for the male gaze all along. But no, we shudder, the male gaze is foiled and frustrated just so long as we can convince ourselves that this was Bey’s choice.

 

Choice, we pant fiercely. Choice will keep Beyoncé safe — choice will save us all.

Continue reading “What We Mean When We Talk About Choice”

Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)

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Image via Sony Movie Channel

With the scent of pumpkin spice and school supplies in the air once more, I finally feel justified in offering a guide to the Addams women. Go rewatch Addams Family Values not only because it’s a case study in sequels that trump their originals, but also because it gives the world the misandrist triumvirate of Wednesday Addams, Morticia Addams and Debbie Jellinsky.

Continue reading “Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)”

Artists and their Muses: “Mistress America” review

Mistress America is about many things. It is a screwball comedy refracted through the Woody Allen hall of mirrors.  It is a study in the dynamics of desire and exploitation in female friendship. It is a biography of a muse according to the object of her inspiration. It is an account of the early days of college life just as the imperative to “discover yourself” feels simultaneously, paradoxically, crucial and passé. It is a portrait of the artist as a young co-ed. Continue reading “Artists and their Muses: “Mistress America” review”

Must-Read: Friendship Stories

Post may contain slight spoilers.


Since tittering with Acro coven-mate K.S. at the beefcake and bromance of Magic Mike XXL last month, I have been hungry for more stories about friendship. One of the best things for me about the Magic Mike sequel was the way it dwelt in male friendship and let the quiet moments between the men unfold. Those, more than any panting over hard dude bods, are the moments that I recognize as most genuine.

Friendship seems always to get short shrift in popular discussions about relationships. While desire, usually expressed as sex or ambition, romance or power, is compulsively and regularly narrated for us, friendship is always the consolation prize. It is the zone that represents thwarted desire. As a form of dependence that does not preserve the individualism undergirding our narratives of desire, friendship has the potential to be something radically affirming and constructive. And for all our chatter about the difficulties of romantic love—men are like this, women are like this, am I right, ladies???—it is friendship that feels truly dynamic, diverse, complex and difficult.

In preparation for this list I asked some of my friends to recommend their favorite stories about friendship, and as with most friendly advice, I summarily ignored it all (thanks, buds!). So below find a more or less idiosyncratic and personal list of friendship stories that I find particularly compelling.

Broad City

 

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Via @broadcity / Instagram

 

The relationship between Abbi and Ilana is the best-friendship I’ve always coveted. Both effortless and deep, whimsical yet vital, youthful but solid, their friendship is striking in its simplicity. Neither sex nor competition muddies their rapport and mutual devotion. And unlike other female friendships on this list, this is not the sweetness of girlhood dependence before adulthood and the world of men and sex intrudes. No rich dentist or kinky neighbor could hope to replace the spark that exists for these women in each other.

 

Ilana is the best-friend unicorn of every 20-something girl’s dreams. More adventurous, brazen and cocksure than the staid Abbi with a sporty suffer-no-fools attitude and a seemingly boundless well of affection, she is the exciting boundary-pushing fantasy girl that inspires so many submissions to Thought Catalogue. The manic pixie dream friend who doesn’t seek adulthood or personal development, but will joyfully hump a wall in triumph at learning that Abbi has finally, finally, pegged a guy.

Every time I hear Ilana’s “dooood!” I am reminded of all of my cusp-of-adulthood friendships and the self-contained intensity of young women who keep the best of themselves for each other.

We are, all of us, just Abbis searching for our Ilana.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

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There is a certain kind of friendship that is only possible in the presence of a shared enemy. I’m not talking about the kind of bonding facilitated by a bad boss or a mean teacher, but about a primal connection that can draw people hurt by the same person together. These friendships are built on the perverse satisfaction of dwelling in one’s misery, of discovering an ally who will poke your wound only to comfort you in your hurt. Finding someone who knows your pain intimately, and won’t ask you to metabolize it constructively.

This is the friendship that Roz, Charis and Tony share in Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. Each woman has fallen victim to Zenia, erstwhile best friend and recidivist husband-stealer, whose long-ago death is not as permanent as it should be. They are drawn together through their shared anger and pain at Zenia’s various betrayals, but they are equally bound by an unspoken grief at her loss. Although each woman rages and mourns at the loss of her man, filtered through that pain is the more fundamental betrayal of sisterhood and friendship perpetrated by Zenia herself. We might have expected it of men, they say, but how could a woman do such a thing to me?

Drawn together by the betrayal of another woman, Roz, Charis and Tony need each other simply to bear the pain of losing both their men and their sisterhood at once.

Withnail and I

 


Unlike other nostalgic 80s films about the 60s, Withnail and I remembers the era as intermittently hopeless and hysterical through the lens of a rapidly disintegrating friendship.

The film follows the relationship between the titular Withnail, played masterfully by Richard E. Grant, and Marwood (the “I” played by Paul McGann), two unemployed actors living one drink to the next in a grimy London flat as they attempt to snatch a little relief from the oppressive misery of their lives on a misguided holiday in the country. It is about the kind of friendship made possible by substance abuse and the kind of substance abuse facilitated through codependence. Alcoholism enabled by a friendship that feels distressingly like addiction. Withnail’s calls for alcohol are a constant refrain, and one of the best scenes in the movie has Withnail guzzling lighter fluid after they’ve run out of booze while Marwood objects that “you should never mix your drinks!” Riding the line where devotion slides into addiction, it deftly captures the feeling of emotional hangover.

Here is codependence and self-destruction at its most horrific and compelling. Here is friendship with a profound loneliness at its center. Here are men who consume each other with needs that can never be satisfied.

I should mention this is a comedy.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

 

The actual outlaws, Sundance and Butch bottom left and right / Wikimedia commons
The actual outlaws, Sundance and Butch bottom left and right / Wikimedia commons

 I am devoted to bromance. Although I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about women and their relationships, my heart positively melts in the presence of genuine affection between men. Bromance isn’t exactly rare in film—the buddy movie is a time honored tradition, as is the cowboy flick—but the friendship between Butch and Sundance transcends, for me, the usual perimeters of male friendship prescribed by Hollywood. Their jauntiness is not a cover for homosexual panic. Their friendship is not an excuse to flee shrewish wives. They do not compete for money or jobs or women. No grudging respect, this. Theirs is a meeting of kindred hearts.

Butch and Sundance are so obviously in love with each other in that way that we fall for friendships that feels like destiny. The movie feels a little dissonant because it looks and feels like a gritty revisionist western with the sparkling banter of a romantic comedy. It lets Paul Newman and Robert Redford be beautiful and charming at each other in a way that feels more consistent with Frank Capra than John Ford. Theirs is the closest to genuine sexual tension to appear on this list. The banter is clever and flirty, and it really seems that bickering through the desert on horseback is the greatest pleasure these men could imagine. If Robert Redford were a woman they would have found their way into bed before the third act. As it is, they consummate their love through the proxy of an apparently non-competitive romance with the same woman—Butch handles the seduction and Sundance gets the sex. But rather than doing the obvious queer reading this film is begging for, I want to dwell in the friendship. This movie allows us to enjoy the erotic potential of friendship without insisting that its only pleasure must eventually be sex.

 

Harry Potter

Dumbledore’s Army via @HarryPotterFilm / Twitter
Dumbledore’s Army via @HarryPotterFilm / Twitter

At its center, the Harry Potter series is about the vital necessity of friendship to the struggle, any struggle. The ties of friendship in this world have the power to mobilize armies and topple totalitarian regimes. These books believe that courage is a function of community and that the causes we fight for must include the people we love. Friendship here is nothing if not a political association. It is the very basis of revolutionary potential and political action. Fighting for a better world cannot be divorced from dedication to community just as investment in friendship is intimately tied to enthusiasm for justice. It is, perhaps, a romantic fantasy to believe that a pure enough love can solve political problems, but I think it is just as true that the model of anti-individualist dependence offered by friendship is a good place to begin building a sustainable politics.

Friendship here, as in a lot of other YA fiction, is so much more critical than romance. The crucible of puberty and sexual awakening is a strong presence, but desire can never sustain the struggle the way friendship does. The most touching relationships in the series are not the romances, many of which whiff hard, but the fierce loyalty and trust comrades carry for each other. They fight for the world so that their friends may continue to live.

 

Sula by Toni Morrison

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The friendship in Sula is, in many ways, quite the opposite of that in Broad City. While Abbi and Ilana can live uncomplicatedly for each other while high-fiving over their various conquests, Nel and Sula grow up violently and early to discover that the communion of women is perverse and destructive in a world organized by men under the sign of hetero love. Among many things, Sula explores the ravages that adulthood and sexuality have on the exuberance of female friendship.

Sula and Nel’s adolescent devotion disintegrates under the pressure of Nel’s choice to marry a man named Jude while Sula remains unattached and unapologetically unconventional. Eventually Nel loses Jude and Sula both, and they live most of their lives without each other. But Sula’s death provides one of the most heartbreaking moments of mourning for friendship I have ever found:

 

“All the same, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.” And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. “We were girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”

 

To be girls together. That is a loss worth mourning.


Do you have a favorite story about friendship? Any recommendations for must-reads? Let us know in the comments! 

Trigger Warnings: A Discussion

Just in time for back-to-school, three writers at ACRO who are involved in high school or college instruction unpack the rhetoric of the “trigger warning”.

Trigger warnings began as a way to tag texts that may provoke a reader’s PTSD, but they have become widely used in tagging texts that contain content that ranges from offensive to traumatic. What began in social justice forums in the blog-sphere has made its way into discourse about the academy at large, leading to a call for the re-examination of the pedagogical value of certain canonical texts, the role of the professor and student in a shifting higher-education system, and the ethics of certain kinds of representation.

Just in time for back-to-school, three writers at ACRO who are involved in high school or college instruction unpack the rhetoric of the “trigger warning”.

Trigger warnings began as a way to tag texts that may provoke a reader’s PTSD, but they have become widely used in tagging texts that contain content that ranges from offensive to traumatic. What began in social justice forums in the blog-sphere has made its way into discourse about the academy at large, leading to a call for the re-examination of the pedagogical value of certain canonical texts, the role of the professor and student in a shifting higher-education system, and the ethics of certain kinds of representation. Continue reading “Trigger Warnings: A Discussion”

How to Slowly Transform Yourself into Patti Smith

Do #wcw one better—as E.L. puts it, this is “A handy step-by-step guide for your metamorphosis into one bad bitch idol.”

Performance with the Patti Smith Group, Germany, 1978 via Wikipedia
Performance with the Patti Smith Group, Germany, 1978 via Wikipedia

A handy step-by-step guide for your metamorphosis into one bad bitch idol.

1. Become very comfortable with your nipples. So comfortable, in fact, that that they lose all meaning. You wouldn’t even notice if they disappeared.

2. Become the muse/lover of a talented young artist whose pictures of you will sometimes feature your nipples. This is to remind you of their existence.

3. Start writing poetry.

4. Carry the tragedy of lost girlhood innocence in your eyes. Never smile again.

5. Wrap androgyny around yourself like a cloak of rumpled, woolen menswear.

6. Your poetry should be just exactly what the poetry of a young woman on the cusp of maturity ought to be. That is to say, angry that it ought to be anything at all.

7. Surround yourself with the kinds of men who wear sunglasses indoors. You have about as little use for women as you do for your own femininity.

8. Discover that you are only ever naked or dressed like a chic hobo.

9. Rage, rage against the myths that have made the world thus. Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not yours.

10. Read lots of Sylvia Plath just to be sure. Anne Sexton too. Chant “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” in the mirror every night.

11. Buy a wide-brimmed hat. This is an advanced move—do not attempt until you have mastered steps 1-10.

12. Rock that triangle hair, girl.

13. Find that your fame has alienated many of the men in the punk scene. This is the most punk rock thing of all. Never stop making men angry.

14. The phallic fortitude of mens suiting softens into something more vulnerable when draped over your slight shoulders.

15. Become a member of an art collective or four. Begin calling yourself a poet slash visual artist.

16. Never let anybody tell you how much hair grease is too much hair grease.