In Like a Lioness, Out Like a Lamb
The Wayne and Garth of feministy newsletters debates political-ad propriety and bids adieu to a Hollywood battle-ax.
People of Spreadlandia,
(Sung to tune of the closing bars of “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin—a song we assume you all know because Maggie’s four-year-old has been singing it a lot lately?):
You ain’t never seen an ad, never seen an ad
You ain’t never seen an ad, never seen an ad
You ain’t NEVER. SEEN. A [political]. AD. LIKE. Thiiiiis!
Even as we watched a heavily pregnant Katie Darling, the aptly named candidate for Congress in Louisiana’s first district, be wheeled into a hospital room in her new and groundbreaking political ad, we still didn’t quite know where she was headed with all this. Huh! She’s showing prenatal care, while also talking about abortion rights…in Louisiana, we thought. Whoa, that’s new. Next thing we knew she was lying on her side in a hospital bed, looking uncomfortable yet photogenic: this was no mere checkup we were witnessing. Wait, is what we think is about to happen really about to happen? Yes. While we don’t exactly see Darling’s afterbirth hit the linoleum—this is no Game of Thrones birth scene; the ad has the down-to-earth rural-liberal sheen of a Subaru spot—Darling shared moments of her son’s actual birth, holding viewers rapt while her voiceover laments underperforming public schools, climate change, and her state’s “strict” and “severe” abortion ban. Your Spreaditors agree with every word out of her mouth. Yet our feelings on the ad itself diverged. Here’s a replay:
Rachel: As a native of Mississippi whose parents back home in Jackson still can’t drink the tap water because of the epic processing-facility failure, I was in tears—bowled over by the poignancy of the thing, and by the sight of a young, relatable, female politico from the South (even/especially a Dem!) admitting that there are real problems to tackle, rather than just running on her ability to preserve the status quo, i.e. “keep Louisiana great.”
Maggie: Totally agree: Amazing. Plus, she’s running against Steve Scalise, who would likely sign Lindsey Graham’s truly evil national 15-week abortion ban. Scalise must be stopped. Let’s vote for Katie! Oh wait, we can’t. But Rachel, how did you feel about her mining the birth of her son for an ad—even an ad for something like this? I couldn’t help feeling a little squirmy.
RB: If the status quo in her state/our country wasn’t so dire, I might find it over-the-top. But since what’s at stake is over-the-top, I find myself cheering on Ms. Darling for using everything she’s got, even her most personal moments, to maximize her chances in this important battle. Of course, it could backfire—maybe swing voters are more cynical than I realize—but my gut reaction is: Katie Darling is dying for our sins and for that I am grateful!!
MB: Dying for our sins! Gosh, that’s very…biblical of you. I want to agree with you, Rachel: Anything for the cause! But I wonder what the cost is of using everything at your disposal, including a moment that doesn't just belong to Darling and her husband (Mr. Darling?) but also to their newborn son and toddler daughter.
RB: Eh, whatever. Everything has a cost; she’s just done the analysis and decided it’s worth it. (This is coming from someone who almost never even puts her kids on Instagram for the exact reasons you articulate.) To which I say: Go Katie! I hope you’ll invite us for a breastfeeding sesh in your next installment!
Spread sisterhood, you gotta see this thing! And then, please: Jump into the chat. How does Darling’s ad land with you?
In the immortal words of a young poet named Salt and another called Pepa, push it good,
Rachel & Maggie
The Art of the Attack-Obit
In the days since the death of Hollywood gossip lioness Nikki Finke—the ruthless wheeler-dealer of inside info who lived to “make the comfortable uncomfortable,” changed the game of celebrity reportage, and founded (and sold) Deadline—the reviews have been…mixed. Or maybe not so mixed, actually. Her New York Times obituary recalled David Carr’s line describing her as, “the queen of the ritual sacrifice.” Writing in Puck, former Hollywood Reporter EIC Matthew Belloni rolled out fresh allegations about her dubious ethics and ruthlessness, contending that she blackmailed sources and in some cases completely falsified stories, just to gain leverage for future scoops—the kind of eye-popping details that would definitely get you sued if your subject was alive to fight them. (It’s almost fun to imagine how Finke would have exacted her revenge on Belloni…) Fact-checker turned TV writer Lila Byock unspooled a delightful little ditty on Twitter that begins thus: “During my tenure as a @newyorker fact checker, I spoke with CIA agents & North Korean diplomats & movie stars, but the most difficult subject I ever interviewed was Nikki Finke.” Collectively, it’s resulted in a swirl of dishy details about her life story that are surely being woven into a biopic as we write. Still, as powerful as Finke was, she was also a hermit. She never went out in public and few, it seems, really knew her, as evidenced by the fact that every media outlet has run one of the same two photos of her since her death: She loomed large behind the scenes but basically didn’t exist in public. What was Nikki Finke really like? We asked our most reliable source/forever girl crush—our friend and former Elle colleague Lisa Chase, who was Finke’s editor in the late ’90s at the New York Observer. Here’s what Lisa had to say:
Twenty years ago, I knew Nikki Finke very well. I was her editor at the New York Observer, where she wrote about Hollywood and power. Peter Kaplan, then editor of the Observer, resuscitated her as a beat reporter, one of several such back-from-the-brinks in her long, storied, and infamous career. Quickly, it became clear to me that Nikki knew a shit-ton about Hollywood power players, and that they called her all the time to find out what was happening at the studios and to sow misinformation, gossip, and discord through her when it suited their purposes. She had a kind of righteous indignation about how money was wasted and abused in the TV and film businesses. She’d grown up rich, then was disowned by her family when she chose to be a journalist and not an Upper East Side-Out East wife.
What also quickly became clear was that she could not write on deadline, which is kind of a problem if you’re a journalist. One day as I was desperate to fill the big-old hole in the paper (back then it was made of actual paper!) that was gaping for her MIA piece on super-agent Mike Ovitz, I called and begged her to just start telling me the story. For the next two hours, she did, and that’s how we got it done. The problem, for me, was that the story was a big hit. From then on, that was how she filed her pieces. She never typed a sentence for us again.
I was close to her in those days. I learned about her upbringing in high-society New York, that she’d been in the last class to attend Miss Hewitt’s School for girls, which she figuratively burned to the ground on her way out. She was brilliant and, in her youth, gorgeous. I once heard the editor in chief of a major publication go all gaga as he described her as “the most entrancing woman to walk through the newsroom.” She was married briefly to a scion of a wealthy, high-powered Manhattan family (think AIG and a pavilion at Weill-Cornell Medical Center). After that, she was a correspondent in Moscow, and in Texas, where she fell in love with department store magnate Robert Sakowitz. I think she really loved “Bobby” and was sad about the end of that relationship. I visited her West Hollywood apartment in the late nineties. I was one of a very few who ever did. When I saw her in Manhattan on her trips back east, she always wore giant sunglasses. With her perpetual tan and glorious blond waves, she looked like the sun.
Finally, I couldn’t take being her editor—being her enabling amanuensis, really. It wasn’t a normal way to work, and I couldn’t check the veracity of what she was asserting while I was trying to pull the story out of her. She lied repeatedly about being on death’s door as a way to justify not filing her piece. And then she’d call a few weeks later, miraculously better. After I quit her, I stayed in touch occasionally until the day in 2012 when she said something unforgivably nasty to Peter Kaplan, who’d called her to ask a favor. He was by then my husband and was in chemotherapy.
I ceased to return her calls, including when Peter died of cancer about a year later. But on August 22 of this year she texted me: “Lisa, please call me tomorrow. Something important to tell you.” For some reason I did, and after a few pleasantries, she told me she was calling to say goodbye. She’d been sick a long time—with what exactly, I don’t know—and had decided to pull the plug on herself. She said she’d be dead in a month. I told her I was sorry and thanked her for contacting me. She died about seven weeks later.
Her meanness was no joke. But her intelligence, give-no-fucks reporting style, ambition, and funniness were no jokes either. There wasn’t anyone like her.—Lisa Chase
Thank you, Lisa! And now back to our regularly scheduled programming!
The “Queen of the Gays” abdicates her throne.
With the midterms countdown at T-minus 29 days, we direct your eyeballs to a profile of Kari Lake by the Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey. Arizona’s Obama-donating broadcaster turned Trump-beloved gubernatorial candidate is an election denier who by all evidence is more opportunist than ideologue (in her pre-Republican life she was reportedly a drag show-frequenting Buddhist). Lake is terrifying not only because of her Trumpian media savvy, but because she’s smarter and more well-spoken than the Tangerine Palpatine (thanks again, Stephen Colbert). A Republican strategist puts it this way: “On a scale of one to 10, this is a 13-level threat.” He doesn’t mean she’s a threat to race frontrunner Katie Hobbs. He’s talking about a threat to democracy, period. Deep breaths, friends. Also on the midterms beat: Elle’s Isabel González Whitaker has a solid profile of Catherine Cortez Masto, both Nevada’s first woman senator and the nation’s first Latina senator, who’s hustling to defend her seat. And the Cut goes long on high-profile Missouri freshman Congresswoman Cori Bush.—Rachel
Read “Trumpism Has Found Its Leading Lady” in the Atlantic here.
Read “What Happens in Vegas” in Elle here.
Read “The Pain and Glory of Cori Bush” in the Cut here.
What does this bring up for you?
RB, I want to approach this one carefully. This past weekend, the writer Emily Gould used her newsletter, Emily Gould Can’t Complain, to announce that she is getting divorced. More notably, to crowdfund some or all of the $20K she says it will take to cover her divorce expenses. Even coming from Emily Gould—the former Gawker editor who has, throughout her nearly twenty years of essayistic oversharing on social media and in the blogosphere, proven herself to be virtually shame-proof, a 40-year-old woman who’s long had the boundaries we now associate with Gen Z—this one was a shocker. Partially because, as loyal Spreaders will recall, Gould and her soon-to-be-ex, Keith Gessen, are a literary It Couple who as of May were opening their home to a New York mag journalist to promote Gessen’s latest book, a parenting memoir. When I say carefully, I mean it: There is a definite on-the-edge-ness about Gould’s tone in the newsletter, in which she acknowledges her struggle with bipolar disorder and a recent incident with her medication levels. Still, I also think it’s worth talking about Gould’s call-out for cash. On our text chains, it elicited a spectrum of responses: Some friends were totally turned off by the absence of discretion, especially where the couple’s two young children (already stars of the aforementioned parenting memoir and complementary profile) were involved. Others were feministically offended by the cost of divorce, an issue Olga Kazan examined in this story in last year’s Atlantic. Gould isn’t exaggerating: Private attorneys charge $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees, on average. Kazan notes, “In one large study, about 15 percent of separated spouses, who were disproportionately low-income people of color with children, simply stayed separated rather than divorcing.” My own response—and I guess I’m just on a privacy kick this week, go figure—is a mixed bag: A) a fundamental queasiness with Gould’s apparent comfort in disclosing not her relationship details but her precarious finances. Which says a lot about my own hang-ups, I know. B) existential career angst: If a media personality as well-known as Gould can’t afford her own divorce without Patreon, well, who the f*ck (in our world) can? C) an instant hunger for the sure-to-be-interesting next installment in the saga. Too much?—Maggie
Is the experience of reading A.C. Shilton’s recent Outside essay about becoming a surrogate mother to two developmentally compromised lambs even as she grapples with the fact that she may never have children of her own…transporting? Is it cathartic? Or is it just torture?!? For this fragile postpartum reader, it’s D) all of the above. Elsewhere in the read-at-your-own-risk department: The New York Times covers a Montreal family that is seeing as much of the world as possible before three of their four children lose their eyesight. Good grief.—Rachel
Read “My Chances of Being a Mom Were Fading. Then Two Beautiful Lambs Came into My Life” here.
“The beautiful mess effect.”
CNBC media & tech reporter Julia Boorstin interviewed 100-plus female CEO types for her new book, When Women Lead. I should want to read it, I know. But after 16 years in the trenches of women’s magazines, including 13 at Elle, where seemingly every month we produced another “Women In…”-themed issue (as in: Women in Music, Women in Hollywood, Women in Tech, etc.) my women-in bandwidth is officially all dried up. So thank you to Jessica Yellin for delivering a most informative, succinct book report on When Women Lead on her News Not Noise podcast. Yellin and Boorstin are buddies but more than that they are both on-air journalists who know how to jam-pack a lot into an hour, sans fluff. Boorstin delivers genuinely fascinating science and stories from her research that made me feel a little guilty about my anti-women-in (but always pro-woman!) stance: How people tend to judge themselves more harshly when embarrassing things happen to them than they tend to judge other people. How to get female-led companies over the hump of bias when seeking funding. (Add a do-gooder element, which makes funders think you’re “warm” and therefore feminine in the “right” ways…I could go all day on this one!) And how women are afraid to ask their friends for professional help—men feel fine about networking, but it makes women feel “icky”—we want to get ahead on our own merit. Within minutes of finishing the ep, I emailed a woman I’ve long admired for some work advice—something I’ve been intending to do for months—which I’ve already begun to put to use. Can you tell?—Maggie
Be a better person than Maggie and order When Women Lead from the Spread’s Bookshop here. Or take the easy way out and find the News Not Noise podcast here.
Zis is how zee French do solidarity.
Last week, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, and beaucoup other gorgeous French women posted videos of themselves chopping their hair in solidarity with Iranian women. I applaud their efforts…but couldn’t help but chuckle at the preponderance of model types who snipped away eensy wisps of hair using delicate manicure scissors, while staring at the camera with the defiance of Che Guevarra. Vive la revolution!—Maggie
Admittedly, we’re a little late on Casey Cep’s mega New Yorker piece about Johnson & Johnson’s scandalous and deadly use of cancer-causing talc in baby powder. That’s because it’s taken me a few weeks to steel myself for it. Talc has allegedly left thousands of women with ovarian cancer…yet J&J will still be using it in some countries until 2023! Cep goes deep on J&J’s sickening “Texas two-stepping” to legally get around much of the damage they’ve caused. If, like me, you haven’t dug into this one yet, do that now. Our blood can boil together. Here’s a tiny, enraging slice:—Rachel
“With women, especially women’s reproductive health, history demonstrates again and again that these products aren’t tested well, the side effects aren’t well known, and there appear to be more adverse events,” [University of Connecticut law professor and complex litigation expert Alexandra] Lahav told me. “There’s this sense that it’s O.K. to experiment on women’s bodies in real time.” When such experiments go wrong, they cost companies, but not as much as they might: according to Lahav, lawyers on both sides report that women’s cases are less profitable than cases involving men.”
Read “Johnson & Johnson and a New War on Consumer Protection” here.
Bananas for Splitsville.
So this is what Emily Gould is after? Here, here! “The truth is, I didn’t feel maxed out on my two kids or particularly overwhelmed by my life,” writes novelist Amy Shearn in the New York Times, extolling the virtues of divorcée life. “In recent years, I’ve worked full time with focus and satisfaction. I’ve parented calmly while managing some tricky stages for my tweens. I wrote an entire novel during my evenings and weekends. I learned to play the ukulele. I’ve fallen in love at least once. On many weekends, I sleep in, take long walks, read books, see friends. My home is tidy.” I can’t decide which line fuels my jealousy more, Rachel. (Prob not the one about the ukulele.) Shearn’s point is that married folk should divide our time and domestic duties the way those in “well-managed” divorces do, “so that each parent has roughly the same amount of work time, child care time, household chore time and free time.” Nice idea but she doesn’t bother going into how married people who still live in the same house should do this. She just says it’s easy. Which leads me to believe another pleasant side effect of her divorce is amnesia. Readers, do you know anybody whose home life and division of labor is this…tidy? Please send details, preferably in powerpoint form.—Maggie
Read “A 50/50 Custody Arrangement Could Save Your Marriage” here.
Researcher Brigid Schulte has pointed out that “just having a man in the house tends to increase the load for women—partnered mothers do more housework and child care than single mothers.”
Dream date…or is it?
Above Alexander Skarsgård, Peter Sarsgaard, Six Feet Under-era Peter Krause, Peter Kraus from season 13 of The Bachelorette, and even Michael Che, Christian Bale has long occupied the top slot on my celebrity hall pass list. (I know, what an incredible honor.) Also the fact that, though I do love me some Timmy Chalamet, Bale will forever and always be my Laurie from Little Women. But reading his new GQ cover interview with Zach Baron, it was disconcertingly as if Bale and I had gone directly from first base to couples’ therapy: Where has the mystery gone, Christian? Baron got two long chats with his subject over two days in a California diner—enough to go deep on the actor’s mind and his process, and what seems to be his self-hatred? Or at least self-abnegation. How each time he takes on a role, he must totally break himself down before he can build the scraps up into a new character. I finished the interview—did I mention it’s looooong?—with a new respect for the work…and a long-awaited promotion for Sarsgaard. Also: A lingering feeling that maybe Bale should choose a lighter part next…like maybe a rom-com? But with two babies, two big kids, and a marriage to tend at home, maybe what my list really needs instead right now is a nice, simple Chris—sans the -tian—or two. —Rachel
Read “Christian Bale Keeps Trying to Quit Hollywood” here.
We were gonna leave you with this lady…
You may have heard that last week was Fat Bear Week. Every year during this hallowed week, bears of all breeds and creeds go about their lives without wearing Spanx or any other kind of shapewear, and this time they really let loose. We salute you, bears! We also salute Amy Schumer, and cannot bear for you to miss (sorry) her new “Home Spanx'' sketch hyping the return of Inside Amy Schumer (out October 20th on Paramount+). Schumer is spot-on as always. Watch it here.
…but then we heard Angela Lansbury had died at 96.
A wildly competent detective. A maternal teapot. A sexy-nerdy witch-in-training. Ms. Lansbury, thank you for all you have given us!
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Well, now I am obsessed with Katie Darling. Thank you for putting her on my radar! Question…are y’all listening to Archetypes?! I think it is good. Really good. I’d be curious to hear your take.