Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love
The Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney of newsletters is tap dancing with legends, partying with Paris, and outsourcing all decisions.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
Give us a rom-com from a simpler time. A time when lead actors fell so bananas in love during production, they’d run off to Vegas for a quickie marriage that would be annulled by premiere time. A time when Julia and Richard sparked the kind of wildfire chemistry that would forever warp a young girl’s notions (ahem) of what real-life love was supposed to look like. A time when a susceptible viewer could get so swept up in the action onscreen, she might find herself unconsciously puckering up during that kiss in act two.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, these days actors seem to be less swept away than ever before. Anyone who watched Amazon’s J.Lo vehicle Shotgun Wedding (Runaway Bride having been already claimed by Roberts ’n’ Gere) or Netflix’s new Reese Witherspoon-Ashton Kutcher travesty can assume the answer to the age-old question “is the rom-com dead?” is: decidedly yyyyyyep. Reese and Ashton looked so awkward together doing their press days for the film that eventually it came out that, duh, they’re strangers: They shot their movie in two different locations and were barely in the same room together during filming. Now we’ve got a Covid-era smooch between Jonah Hill and Lauren London in Netflix’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? flip that never even happened: The kiss is all CGI. We’ve got Dan from Gossip Girl proclaiming his distaste for sex scenes. And, in weird cross-generational solidarity, we’ve got Liam Neeson chirping up to say he’s never doing one again. Well, XO to Dan—and, fine, you, too, Rob Roy—but we’re not having it. And we’re not the only ones fed up with the state of the onscreen union. The New Yorker pondered the question in their recent rom-com roundtable. Sophie Gilbert mourned the death of the sex scene over at the Atlantic last week. Out at Wired, Angela Watercutter made the case that good and sweaty and weird sex scenes are an essential part of storytelling. We concur: Who would we even be without Ghost, Out of Sight, or Secretary? Look—just as we expect an athlete to sacrifice the body when nose-diving for that winning touchdown (did we say that right?), your Spreaditors demand that actors sacrifice the heart for the moviegoing public. We demand old-fashioned screen tests for chemistry before the movie is cast. We demand all in.
We demand a little good, old-fashioned reckless emotional chaos. Look, actors, we know it’s scary out there. But that $15 mill paycheck will cover a helluva divorce attorney and some killer therapy.
Meet you at the pottery wheel,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: You play Harry, we’ll be Sally: Smash that heart button (please)!
PPS: T-minus six days until The Kingdom of Prep: The Inside Story of the Rise and (Near) Fall of J.Crew by a promising young upstart named Maggie Bullock lands in bookstores and mailboxes everywhere. Your mailbox could be one of them; simply pre-order it here or here. In the words of Rousseau: Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Tap dancing with Judy.
When it rains, it pours, and we’re about to be in a full-on Judy Blume deluge—pegged to the film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and an Amazon Prime doc about the author, both out this spring. I’m here for it. Obviously. The new Atlantic features a big, satisfying profile of Blume, whom writer Amy Weiss-Meyer visits at her home in Key West. The sinister book bans that continue to mushroom across the country give the piece about Blume (author of just-edgy-enough tween material) some teeth, but Weiss-Meyer doesn’t overdo it on the culture-war stuff, instead leaving us with a taste of what it’s like to tag along with America’s once and forever confidant to adolescents, who’s tap dancing (literally) into her late 80s. In Harper’s, you can read the creator of pop culture’s most famous first-period narrative…on her own first period! The essay, excerpted from Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s Our Red Book, is short, sweet, and enthusiastic to an illuminating effect: This woman has never been afraid of puberty. And thank the Lord for that!—Rachel
Read “We Still Need Judy Blume” in the Atlantic here.
Read “First Time for Everything” in Harper’s here.
Songs about Jane.
What kind of announcement is guaranteed to turn the heads of two cofounders of a newsletter about women’s media? The news that, come April, Jane Pratt will launch something called DeedDa. In Vanity Fair, Joe Pompeo interviews the legendary editor who still wields “enduring influence on a sizable cohort of Gen X–aged women.” I read this with both anticipation and, shall we say, measured expectations. Sassy magazine, which Pratt helmed in the ’90s, starting at the tender age of 24, was biblical to me. Jane magazine, which she launched in ’97 and which lasted 10 years, could be a fun read, too. But xoJane, the website Pratt started 2011? Not exactly my kind of gal. Writes Pompeo: When Pratt “brought her Sassy-style journalism to the web with xoJane, it ended up being a combustible formula. The site coincided, after all, with the rise of virality, clickbait, trolling, digital oversharing, all of that unsavory stuff.” Yeah, that, but also: so, so many gross-out stories. The new baby, DeedDa, is backed by a woman formerly known as the “Bangle Billionaire” and based on a different formula: “first-person confessionals will mingle with e-commerce.....kind of like if you put xoJane into a blender with Net-a-Porter or Goop. No advertising, no paywall.” Retail subsidizes editorial. And not just for women; this time around, the vibe does not feel especially female-oriented. Well, hey. I like to ogle new stuff as much as the next girl. And not since Lena Dunham shuttered Lenny Letter in 2018 have we had a reliable place where famous women could go to spill their guts, in their own words—a niche that Pratt helped carved out. Rachel, I’m game to read some bonkers essays by Cher and Courtney Love, aren’t you?—Maggie
Maggie, I appreciate that you flat-out ignored the third writer example Jane gave to Pompeo, like if you didn’t acknowledge it it wouldn’t come true: Cat Marnell (now sober, according to Pratt). I’d love to be proved wrong, but in the constant words of my two-year-old, “I’m not ready” for more personal unspooling from Marnell anytime soon or maybe ever. (How to Murder Your Life really wore out the toddler.) Paris Hilton she is not.—Rachel
RB, I was assiduously ignoring the Cat Marnell factor, but I guess you’re not letting me off that easy. I knew Marnell many moons ago, and liked her. I had serious ethical qualms about XOJane’s role as publisher/profiteer in Cat’s public downward spiral—a mental health and addiction crisis that produced a ton of clickbait. Those feelings came up again, reading Pratt tell Pompeo (rather blithely, to my eye) that she’ll now be editing a sober Marnell for the first time. I’d like to think the Jane Pratt is invested not just in her writers’ confessions but also in their wellbeing…right?—MB
Let us all hang out.
Last Monday, the impossible happened: I found myself gathering with the same group of adult girlfriends twice in one day, first at an impromptu President’s Day park meetup with various babies and later over wine and the Bachelor. It was bliss. That kind of get together, free from belabored scheduling or programming, filled the nights and weekends of my twenties; it made being a video-store clerk in high school and a summer-camp counselor in college my personal nirvana. But who gets to just hang anymore? In her new book, Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time, Sheila Liming calls the modern lack of unstructured social time a “quiet catastrophe”—part of the problem, in a loneliness-plagued society. Slate writer Dan Kois hung out with Liming her in her hometown of Burlington, Vermont, for a profile that is delightful, intimate, and persuasive—and will have you mentally clearing chunks of your calendar. Meanwhile, over at Elle, Hannah Seligson has an essay that rejects the suggestion that she should get some mom friends, citing (fictional FX-channel resident) Rachel Fleishman’s poisonous parent network as backup. As Spread regulars know, Maggie and I both majored in Fleishman Is in Trouble in college, so I can say with some authority that Seligson’s argument does not hold up. She writes that just because you and another woman have kids who both like Elmo, that’s not the basis of a friendship…which, um, of course not. But Hannah, mom friendships are based on the same foundations as any other friendship—the idea is that you also happen to have kids near the same age, so you can hang out and talk shit while they play. That’s it. Yes, you have to do a little legwork to find out which moms you might have a foundation with—relationships are work!—but the goal, like Liming preaches, really is just hanging out. Hannah: Bachelor, Monday, 8:30 p.m., my place. Let the tire-kicking begin.—Rachel
Read “The Case for Hanging Out” here.
No, you decide!
In the Cut, Charlotte Cowles test-drives the irresistible services of Montevideo-based Nell Wulfhart, a self-styled “decision coach”—and genius, if you ask us—who charges $197 a session to tell you what to do professionally, maritally, or socially over Zoom. Read it here.
GQ is our favorite women’s magazine of the month.
Not to get all Fleishman’s-y on you again, but among the many threads that have emerged from that show is the alleged antifeminism of Libby’s longtime preference to work at a men’s magazine, which she believes is “better”—gutsier, more journalistic, more ambitious—than a women’s publication. Reading GQ this month, I kept thinking…maybe Libby was right? The female gaze is all over a pair of profiles in this issue. First, the startlingly good Gabriella Paiella takes on a juicy but tough subject, Kendall Roy (aka the wildly self-serious Succession striver Jeremy Strong). Finding something fresh to say about Kenny in the wake of that New Yorker profile, which not only made use of every millimeter of his backstory, but also ignited a weird defensive firestorm about judgy profile techniques? Daunting. But Paiella covers our favorite pretend scion with more humanity and more humor than her predecessor, and made me gobble up every word. (Also a great listen, FYI.) Meanwhile, Hunter Harris, the most fun celebrity-insider voice of her generation, tooling around Vegas with Usher and his entourage? Yeah, I’ll read that. Harris both bangs the drum about Usher’s unparalleled success—Confessions is the best-selling R&B album of the 21st century by a male artist!—and works in a storyline that, sorry, is totally for the ladies: Usher, performing his big ole heart out, because he deeply cares about thrilling the middle-aged moms who come to him on their girls’ weekends. Rachel, fire up the jet, we’re going to Sin City.—Maggie
Read “Jeremy Strong Won’t Break” here.
Read “How Usher Became the New King of Vegas” here.
From the hayloft to the cineplex.
If you thought you were going to make it out of this Oscar season without hearing me talk more aboutWomen Talking, well, you were, to borrow a catchphrase from my dad, el wrongo. On this week’s Little Gold Men podcast from Vanity Fair, director Sarah Polley and loquacious producer Fran McDormand joined David Canfield for a conversation about the awards race so far. (If Canfield can call her Fran, why can’t we?) The best part is when Polley talks about what she believes is her adaptation’s crowning achievement: Droves of Mennonite women seeing the film—for some, their first-ever movie theater experience. “They’re singing in four-part harmonies to the hymns, and they’re standing up and screaming at the end,” Polley said, audibly grinning. “There’s more buggies in the parking lot every day.”—Rachel
Those of you who’ve been with the Spread since our second issue (or those of you with a subscription to a small indie zine called Vanity Fair) may remember Alice Robb’s twisty ballet-world murder mystery—still one of our favorite true-crime pieces in years. Now Robb has a memoir out, about her time at the School of American Ballet as an adolescent ballerina, and the New York Times’s Alex Vadukul has a profile of Robb herself on the occasion.
Read it here.
Girls in the windows.
Writer Noelle Bodick, in the Point’s latest issue, has done a number on my brain. In a review of Joanna Walsh’s genre-defying new book, Girl Online: A User’s Manual, Bodick makes lacerating assertions about the role of “the girl” in internet culture—the million different ways that women (even men, to some degree) make ourselves smaller and more digestible via the way we speak and act online. “Ditzy ‘likes’ get expertly parallel-parked in the middle of sentences to tone down what are sometimes even smart thoughts,” Bodick writes, “while ‘so obsessed with’ swirls around like a fever dream…Women more than twice of an age of a teen songstress weigh in on having or not having a driver’s license.” At first I felt removed, maybe even a little smug: I, for one, chose not to watch Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u on Disney+, despite it being right there for the streaming. Then I kept reading only to realize that…oh my gosh…the call is coming from inside the house. “Hysteria,” Bodick continues, “is the self-diagnosed malady du jour.” I am a Girl Online!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Am I what Susan Sontag called “an accomplice in [my] own underdevelopment as a human being”?! In the book, Walsh writes that she is “very tired of using my self as an example.” Touché. Times, like, a million.—Rachel
Read “Girls Online” here.
I’m 33. But only in my head.
One night in February, at 11:30 p.m., my friend E. and I stepped off a New York City sidewalk, past a velvet rope, down a few steps, and into a subterranean room glowing with neon light and throbbing with bass. What I’m saying is, we went to a club. (I have to physically restrain myself from calling it “da club.” Whoomp, there it is.) The first thing I saw? A bunch of old people. Let’s be kind and call them middle-aged folk, in good sneakers and cool haircuts, with non-geriatric moves, getting down. I thought: What is wrong with this place? Then I thought: Oh wait, these people aren’t old. Or, they are. But so am I. This is what it looks like to go to da club with a bunch of people old enough to call it da club. Fortysomethings. In the Atlantic, Jennifer Senior gets into the puzzling gap between how old you are and how old you think you are:
“I’m 53 in real life but suspended at 36 in my head, and if I stop my brain from doing its usual Tilt-A-Whirl for long enough, I land on the same explanation: At 36, I knew the broad contours of my life, but hadn’t yet filled them in. I was professionally established, but still brimmed with potential. I was paired off with my husband, but not yet lost in the marshes of a long marriage (and, okay, not yet a tiresome fishwife). I was soon to be pregnant, but not yet a mother fretting about eating habits, screen habits, study habits, the brutal folkways of adolescents, the porn merchants of the internet.”
Whether this denial is a sign of eternal optimism (I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, let’s dance!) or fatalism (aging = death, so I must still be very young, let’s dance!) is still up in the air.—Maggie
Read it here.
It’s all about the Barbaras, baby.
This weekend I stumbled upon an interview with artist Barbara Kruger in the Drift, published last fall. At first, I was annoyed that I was so late to discover it. Then I settled in and had one of those magical thank goodness I missed it then so it can be new to me now! experiences. Kruger, 78, is so wise and funny and prickly I found myself screenshotting quoteafter quote (I also found myself glad not to be the one conducting the interview; kudos for hanging in there to get the goods, Rebecca Panovka and Kiara Barrow!). Her gimlet-eyed ability to size up and process the past 50 years of American culture left me awestruck. It also made me free associate to another unflinching Barbara, also of Kruger’s generation, whose work centered on the underbelly of the American Dream: The late, great Barbara Ehrenreich. If these two had ever sat down for a joint interview, the room would have exploded. But! Ehrenreich’s Fresh Air episode from 2014—one of my favorite Terry Gross chats ever—makes for an excellent companion piece to the Kruger conversation.—Rachel
Read “‘Feels Like Life’: An Interview with Barbara Kruger” (here).
Listen to “A Nonbeliever Tries To Make Sense Of The Visions She Had As A Teen” here.
Paris when she sizzles.
Paris Hilton is one of those celebrities who’ll always be making a comeback (to the comeback to the comeback, and on and on…), and I—a Simple Life stan for 19 years and counting—will always be one of the culture consumers who will at least glance at the project at hand. Did I watch her Netflix cooking show while organizing my 2021 tax write-offs last March? Yes, I did. Right now, with the births of both Paris: The Memoir (via Dey Street Books) and a baby boy named Phoenix (via surrogate), Hilton is doing her most complicated comeback-dance combination yet. So far, she’s hitting all her marks. For the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, Hilton told Emma Carmichael about keeping the gestation of the baby secret from everyone—even her parents—which I found thrilling. Funny enough, though Bazaar gave her the cover, Hilton gave Vogue the first baby pictures. (Well, Vogue does really like her Amazon housewares line.) Hilton is also on the (digital) cover of Glamour UK, accompanied by a heavy-duty interview in which she describes being drugged and raped at age 15 and also having an abortion in her 20s. She’d never talked about abortion before, she told Glamour, but the overturning of Roe got her attention. To which, I say: That’s hot.—Rachel
Read “Paris Hilton Is Dropping the Act” in Bazaar here.
Read the Glamour UK interview here.
Is this what freedom looks like?
A ball of anxiety curled up inside of me as I read Carrie Battan’s profile of Jordan Turpin in Elle. Five years ago, Turpin escaped from the house where she spent her childhood, captive, abused, and sometimes even shackled to her bed alongside her 12 siblings. She was so removed from the outside world that when she escaped, she ran down the middle of the road—she didn’t know what a sidewalk was. (Immediate flashbacks to Room.) Today, though, Turpin is a TikTok star who attends movie premieres, has a million followers, and poses in a $5K Erdem dress in the pages of Elle. She has a “team of Hollywood insiders helping her to manage this unique type of fame.” Unique, indeed. “In private, Jordan processes the trauma of her upbringing by writing raw and exhaustive journal entries, but in public she pens sunny TikTok captions to her nearly one million followers (‘Hope everyone has an amazing day!’ she likes to say).” Reading it, all I wanted to do was build a tight protective bubble over this child. Even reading the Elle story—and now writing about it here—makes me feel conflicted: Shouldn’t we be paying less attention to her; how could this overexposed existence be anything but harmful to someone with her experience? Agh, Rachel, the whole thing has me in knots.—Maggie
Maggie, The article tries to have it both ways about media-world vulturism; it doesn’t work and the Erdem dress is the smoking gun. I’m a huge fan of Carrie Battan, who did a commendable job with an awkward-at-best assignment, but my gosh, give this girl some sweatpants, a library card, and a warm bath.—Rachel
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I watched all of those rom coms recently and had the exact same thought. So depressing. Even Ticket to Paradise was terrible and if George and Julia can’t make a rom com work we are totally doomed. I think so many actors these days are too buttoned up and in control and not free-spirited enough for that kind of chemistry to work anymore. I mean I’ve loved terrible rom coms over the years bc of great chemistry so I’m no snob!