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Cobras, Cobras, Everywhere
The Delvey and Holmes of newsletters is high on our own supply this week. Plus: Our first-ever guest star has a sexy French name…
Friends, As the world burns, we suggest taking mental refuge in a life of white-collar crime. Vicariously speaking, of course! We made quick work of Inventing Anna, Netflix’s Anna Delvey/Sorokin huckster tale, which we found addictive, recognizably Shonda-fied, and about two episodes too long. Anybody wanna discuss Anna Chlumsky’s aggressive, scary-eye interview tactics? Or the possibility of filing a feature while sitting on a towel, just in case your water breaks? Our real question is: We’re media world junkies (duh), so when this series—based on Jessica Pressler’s story for New York magazine—turned out to be a workplace drama, we ate it up with a spoon. But does the journo-centric framing work as well for people outside the media bubble?
Just as we got that empty-inside feeling when a binge is over, we remembered we have exposés and courtroom drama aplenty on deck. On Thursday Hulu will serve up The Dropout, starring Amanda Seyfried1 in the first Hollywood rendition of the Elizabeth Holmes story, based on Rebecca Jarvis’s 2019 podcast of the same name (the other biggie is a Jennifer Lawrence-led movie directed by Adam McKay and based on John Carreyrou’s blockbuster book, Bad Blood). And if you want a fresh trial to follow, may we redirect your attention to the New York mag newsletter Court Appearances. You may recall that Choire Sicha launched it last fall to cover the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Now it’s back, baby, to focus on another story that had us in a tizzy back when New York writers James D. Walsh and Ezra Marcus broke it in 2019. Remember Larry Ray, the dad of a Sarah Lawrence College undergrad who moved into her dorm room, mind-controlled her friends, and was ultimately arrested and charged with sex trafficking, forced labor, extortion, and tax fraud? Ole Larry’s about to have his day in court, and Walsh and Marcus will be documenting it all in Court Appearances. Our first Q, festering since 2019: How the heck does a grown-ass man move into a dorm??
One more thing before we release you into the Spread wilds: Hold onto your tasteful maillot—or your bikini top if that’s more your thing (this is an inclusive space!). The Spread is going on spring break next week. We’ll catch you on the flip side—specifically, March 15. While we’re out, please commit the time you usually spend reading the Spread to…sharing the Spread! And liking the Spread! That little heart icon is in need of a big squeeze.
Rachel & Maggie
Hating on your husband? De rigueur!
In 2016, a vision arrived on my television screen via Netflix: A tiny Asian-American woman in a skintight black-and-white minidress, red flats, and red cat-eye glasses, led by a very, very pregnant belly. Ali Wong’s first big stand-up special, Baby Cobra, felt like cracking open a surreptitious pineapple White Claw after several sweltering hours in the sun watching—and watching and watching—the kids “dive” at the community pool. She talked about her very specific yet oh-so-universal immigrant family. She called HPV “a ghost that lives in men’s bodies and says BOO in women’s bodies.” She mined every inch of her pregnancy for comedic gold. Obviously I couldn’t wait for her recently dropped and well-reviewed (third) Netflix special, Don Wong, in which Ali would wax hilarious on life with two kids and wild professional success. My kinda stuff! But y’all: When I watched it last night, I just…couldn’t get it up. The material left me not only cold and squeamish but sad, like the dissolution of a once-promising friendship. There’s a chunk of jokes about obligatory oral sex, which struck me as over-trod territory. But most of the 55 minutes is spent on a big admission: Ali desperately wants to cheat on her husband—a great guy who she says looks like Keanu and with whom she has two wonderful children. The bit is a little funny, I guess? Kinda? But all I could think about was the guy: How does he feel about this prolonged joke? How will her kids feel when they inevitably watch this one day? What the hell had come over me? I slapped myself across the face, hard: RACHEL, GET IN THE GAME! THIS IS WHAT COMEDIANS DO!!! But I couldn’t get past it. Good comedy connects. This did not connect—not even with me, Wong’s friendliest audience. Maggie, Am I being a prude? Has some kind of man-protecting impulse come over me for the first time ever? Help!—Rachel
Rachel, I haven’t watched Ali’s latest, but thanks for wrecking it for us all! I had a similarly out-of-character gut response this weekend, when I spotted another Heather Havrilesky essay about her preternaturally phlegmy mate, this time in Esquire. Regular readers will recall that we’ve closely followed the release of the advice guru’s new book Foreverland, about the travails of marriage. (Why so keen on this subject, Spread editors? NO COMMENT.) First there was the excerpt in the New York Times about how nuts Havrilesky’s husband drove her: You remember, the one where she wrote, “Do I hate my husband? For sure, yes, definitely.” Then came the book review by Walter Kirn, who took her to task for revealing the dirty laundry of her own marriage…in a memoir about her own marriage. Boy did we have a good laugh about the predictable, patriarchal Times at that one! But by the time this latest excerpt rolled around, I found myself uncomfortably close to Kirn’s camp (and to that of the New York Post, it turns out). My husband is a weenie, Havrilesky more or less writes. He bitches nonstop about a “minor foot injury”; he’s “losing his hair, but he says the Rogaine he bought is ‘too sticky.”’ Taken on its own, the story might have been endearing. As the latest in a media siege denigrating one seemingly nice man, it made me wince. She goes on to praise him—or at least to admit, somewhat begrudgingly, that despite his flaws she plans to keep him—but the damage is done; late-breaking pros can’t undo the cons. I’m no book publicist but I imagine it’s hard to promote a tome that is specifically about one woman’s decision to stick it out with her irritating mate without risking the appearance of piling on. And maybe this is one more necessary overcorrection for womankind: Being able to shit-talk one’s husband in the public square is a bold declaration of independence from within the bonds of marriage—as Havrilesky herself has said, worthy if only as a counternarrative to the Instagram-perfect B.S. unions other women try to sell us. And of course Havrilesky and her husband will have negotiated their boundaries around this material: Books don’t spring up out of nowhere. Nor do comedy specials. They’re discussed and edited well in advance. But, paging Oprah, or maybe Andy Cohen: It would be nice if at some point we got to meet the silent partners in these unions. I’m ready to hear their sides of the story.—Maggie
Read “My Aging Husband” here.
Buy Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage here.
A plus-size woman walks into Vogue.
In the new issue of Vogue, the magazine’s senior fashion and culture editor Janelle Okwodu takes on the thorny topic of working in the upper echelons of fashion as a plus-size woman. It’s a brave undertaking, one that’s handled with impressive professionalism, as she traces the lack of plus-size clothing options through her youth and into her career, which started in earnest in 2006 (I too got my first fashion-adjacent job that year, which aligned with the mainstreaming of the skinny jean—in other words: not a size-inclusive time!). The piece begins with a heartbreaking scene: Okwodu is sent to cover a show at New York Fashion Week, only to be sneered at by the PR check-in girl, who couldn’t believe that someone who looks like her could be representing Vogue—and tells her as much. Okwodu details exactly how she stuck it out, making herself look fashion-y despite retail’s slim pickings. Her section on tailoring men’s shirts and constantly scouring the internet for larger sizes from establishment-approved brands, is both exhaustive and exhausting. And that’s the point, kind of: That this smart woman spent a huge percentage of her brain space and energy hand-wringing about what to wear to work. But through the piece I found myself growing angry at Vogue itself, which is complicit in the whole struggle—why should there be so much pressure for a writer who knows her stuff to also peacock in a Zoom meeting? There’s more to life! I also found myself wondering how race plays into Okwodu’s mental math—she’s a Black editor at a traditionally very white institution (one that’s gotten flack on its handling of race over the years, including regarding the cover of this very issue, on which Kim Kardashian’s skin seems to be darker than her natural tone and also may be channeling Naomi Campbell (maybe?)). But biting off the race-size double whammy was apparently more than Vogue could chew. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel.—Rachel
Read “Fitting In: How Fashion Finally Made Space for Me” here.
Hymens for sale.
Most of the time the Spread feels a lot like your 10th-grade English teacher: We don’t want you to just read the Cliff’s Notes version of these great reads! We want you to savor the real thing! I mean, look, we’re busy too, we get it—but our raison d’etre is digging through the internet muck to find stuff that’s worth actually reading. No disrespect to UK-based writer Neda Taghinejadi, a doctor and researcher who specializes in sexual and reproductive health, but her new story in Wired is a rare exception: Here’s a story we want you to know about it, but we don’t want you to have to read. Too infuriating. When I first sent it to Rachel, she threw her phone across the room. So here’s the salient info in as few words as possible: Hymens. They serve no biological purpose and they don’t mean a damn thing: Verifying that a woman still has one does not make her a virgin, and don’t even get me started on whether virginity has any reflection on her worth. Also: Fuck you forever, T.I. Nevertheless, in one 2017 survey of American OB-GYNs, 3.5 percent performed “virginity testing” on request, and 1 percent had performed “hymenoplasty,” or reconstructive surgery, in the last year. Online, there is no shortage of B.S. “tightening” creams that claim to make a lady feel “like a virgin” down there, and—get this—the latest addition to this racket is the artificial hymen: capsules or dissolvable membranes containing fake blood, which promise to give you “your virginity back in five minutes.” Writes Taghinejadi, “These products are advertised for every conceivable purpose, from offering an option to women in desperate circumstances, to catering to fetishes, to enhancing intimate relationships. (‘Make every night Valentine’s night,’ suggests one company).” OK, you can throw your phone now.—Maggie
Read “Recreational Virginity and the False Promise of Artificial Hymens” here.
The kids are not alright—in fact they are…twitching.
I’ve always wanted to name a band or—who am I kidding—a feminist media project of some kind Hysterical. This week, I’m having second thoughts. Remember back in 2002 when a group of teenage girls in Leroy, New York, all began uncontrollably twitching and became a media sensation? (Read Susan Dominus’s New York Times Magazine story for a refresher here.) Or the hiccups outbreak among another gaggle of girls in Danvers, Massachusetts, a decade later? (Read Dan Vergano’s BuzzFeed piece on this one here.) The gist of both phenomena is that a community of teenage girls “caught” Tourette’s-like behaviors that, in hindsight, experts believe were psychological—and perhaps the modern-day version of what our Crucible-era ancestors linked to witchcraft and hysteria. Recently, similar cases have cropped up in individuals from the US, France, and Canada to remote islands like St. Helena and New Caledonia. So how could such a tic spread without the proximity of community? Um, TikTok. In a harrowing piece in the Atlantic, Spread idol Helen Lewis investigates the new phenomenon of social media-contagious mass psychogenic illness, where screen-glued teens—mostly girls, most of whom have been extra-glued to their devices due to pandemic isolation—are coming down with the exact same tics (throwing food, crying out, screaming the word “beans”) as Tourette’s-beset social media influencers. It’s enough to make me consider banning TikTok at our house—or at the very least learning how to block certain TikTok-ers on our 11-year-old’s iPad.—Rachel
Read “The Twitching Generation” here.
It’s the Letitia James profile we’ve been waiting for—and from Rebecca Traister, no less. New York mag has put New York state’s fearless new-ish attorney general on the cover, and she makes for a fascinating subject—a self-described Brooklyn “church lady” who’s going after Trump, unafraid to tangle with Cuomo, hates fundraising, and still has time to help out the elderly folk on her own block. If you need someone to root for, she’s the one.—Maggie
Read “The Object of their Ire” here.
Mo bitcoin mo problems.
If you’re in the mood for an of-the-moment yarn that falls into both the “confessions of” category and the “widow” category—two of my personal favorites—I recommend the Walrus’s “Confessions of a Bitcoin Widow,” which comes straight from the mouth of Jennifer Robertson, whose ostensibly super-rich husband died shortly after they tied the knot and left her not with beaucoup cash but with an unsolved mystery.—Rachel
Read it here.
Neri goes west.
Remember when megabrain-with-supermodel-looks Neri Oxman was dating Brad Pitt? Now the MIT Media Lab star is in the news for her actual work, which layers art, architecture, biology, and engineering: Her new SFMOMA exhibition is about the built environment using organic materials. The stuff is wild and this Q&A with Dwell’s Emily Wilson hurt my brain (please do not quiz me), but I’ve thought about it a lot and think you might too—Rachel
Read “Neri Oxman’s Radical Vision of for the Future of the Built Environment” here.
Véronique Hyland’s fashion canon.
Shiny, sparkly, out-of-this-world guest star alert!! On the eve of her eagerly awaited book of essays, Dress Code (pre-order here!), we asked Elle fashion news director Véronique Hyland to chime in Spread-style on the three classic magazine stories that shaped her fashion-writing education. Without further ado, we pass the mic:
“The Only One” by Hilton Als, the New Yorker (1994)
It’s tough to write a “fashion person” profile that isn’t either fawning or cruel. Als’s 1994 story on André Leon Talley is both an absorbing read and a master class on the genre. It crystallizes his need to find belonging in fashion, the way his life and work blurred together, and the beauty and pathos of that state. The story opens at a male revue, the ideal venue to showcase Talley’s potent mix of earthiness and romanticism. (And brows both high and low. That detail where his fur muff grazes a chintzy spread of potato chips and fruit punch? Chef’s kiss.) But it doesn’t shy away from the somber parts of his story—the loneliness of being “the only one” in a largely white fashion industry, and the chilling moments of casual racism he faced. Read it here.
“Lost and Found” by Amy Larocca, New York (2005)
I was lucky enough to work with Amy a bit at New York magazine, but before that, I inhaled everything bearing her byline, and it doesn’t get better than this profile of Marc Jacobs. “I love a blouse that’s dumb” is a quote that will stick with me until approximately the end of time, the comparison between Jacobs and Steven Spielberg is both apt and unexpected, and the sections about his path toward sobriety are sensitive as opposed to sensationalized. Plus, Jacobs’s insistence that his clothes are decidedly not sexy marked this mid-aughts swing (also seen at Marni and Lanvin) away from the “female chauvinist pigs,” bare-it-all mood of Y2K fashion. A vibe shift, if you will. Read it here.
“The Rapture” by Daphne Merkin, Elle (2011)
There are many formative Elle stories I could point to—Ruth La Ferla’s profile of Todd Oldham where he basically invents the concept of underboob, or anything by beauty genius Jean Godfrey-June—but I don’t want to keep you here all day, so if I had to isolate one, it’d be Merkin’s sharp take on Belgian genius Dries Van Noten. He isn’t a high-octane, stapler-throwing fashion “character.” As she writes, the designer’s presence “comes at you in layers, sort of like his clothes.” She paints a finely wrought miniature of a quiet, private person who, she says, “wears his love for fashion on the inside of his sleeve—unflashily but intensely,” but who nevertheless has had an outsize influence on the way we dress. Read it here.
And finally, a couple things to take your mind off the bad stuff…
WATCH: Pamela Adlon’s Better Things, one of the greatest shows on TV—and, I was so happy to note, even better once she shed Louis C.K. like a dried out old snakeskin—returned Monday for a final season on FX. While I’m sad this is the end, I am intrigued by the unlikely guest appearance by one Sharon Stone, who is sure to look like a divine alien in the mix of Adlon’s delightfully scruffed-up cast, and excited to see the growth (physical and spiritual) in Adlon’s fictional children, to whom I feel unnaturally attached. In the New York Times, James Poniewozik reminds us why the show is great: “To care about someone, in Better Things, is to see them honestly — even unsparingly — but also to exalt them. You help them find their light.”
SCROLL: This New Yorker story, entitled “Everyone Can Be Liz Taylor on Jewelry Instagram,” was an almost eerie case of wish fulfillment, considering I’ve spent the past two months obsessively scrolling Instagram accounts of jewelry companies like Spur and Heirloom Revival which promise to reconfigure old, unworn jewelry into shiny new treasures, and wondering if I should take the plunge. I’m a slow processor and, as my husband likes to point out, “a hard woman to separate from a dollar.” Check back with me in 2023, I’ll doubtless be stuck on the same fence. But window shopping is fun…and free.—Maggie
We do have initial concerns about the makeup application. Holmes’s style was full kabuki. Seyfried looks pretty damn dewy.