Insane Catsuit Posse
While recovering from our chin lifts, the Lucy and Ethel of newsletters is mining the depths of our teenage souls, battling with TV critics, and bowing to Rihanna's Alaïa-ensconced bump.
This is not a drill: SpreadBaby needs a name. Between shopping for head-to-toe lace bodysuits, selflessly co-running a media empire called the Spread, nourishing her family via delicious takeout dinners, chauffeuring her big kids around to various sporting events, and having her pelvis regularly massaged due to a muscle issue (it’s a thing), Rachel has been been leaning hard into her second trimester. Now we’ve only got three months to go until the debut of Miss July, the next—and final, we assure you!—spawn de la Spread. It seemed like kismet when this week’s New Yorker introduced us to the concept of the professional baby namer. Right! We can’t think of a better way to spend $1,500 when you’re making a free newsletter and expecting a new
cash suck adorable little one. But the namer’s names left us cold: Parks, Soren, Adler, Asher, Astro, Axel, Bodhi, Brave, Calliope, Florian, Barabas, Roscoe, Stavros, Balthazar, Chloe, Isla, Delta, Genevieve, Theodore, Stellan. Blergh. And then it struck us: Why pay a name lady when we have you, Spread Nation? We propose a derby of sorts: Please send us your suggestions, and if we end up choosing yours, you win…a prize! If you also guess Rihanna’s baby name, you win…two prizes! This is not a joke: Please reply to this email or weigh in via the comments section. Girl child. Last name: Baker Burnett. Go!
But first, would you say you have a Broccoli haircut?
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Actual headline spotted this week, but you’ll have to take our word for it because there’s no link available as yet: “How an ADHD diagnosis made me a better plant mom.” THANK YOU, ALLURE MAGAZINE.
P.P.S. We called it! For those who’ve been asleep and/or awake this past week, an update on the National Magazine Awards, which went down last Tuesday night in Brooklyn and will matter to some of you A LOT and to others of you not at all: We were delighted—though not altogether shocked—to see that the American Society of Magazine Editors is taking the Spread very seriously, as evidenced by Harper’s Bazaar’s shiny new elephant statue for General Excellence in the lifestyle/fashion/service category—hot on the red-soled heels of its watershed Spreadie Award win last December. Congrats, Bazaar team, on your coronation. Congrats, Spreadinistas, on being ASME’s most predictive precursor!
P.P.P.S.S.S. If you like this, like us…by clicking that heart icon. Merci.
Jewel will saaaaave your soul…Or scorch your buns 24 years later!
In 1998, a pop-culture bomb went off—at least to those of us who were music-video obsessed and not old enough to drive: Jewel, the buxom, snaggle-toothed 24-year-old yodeler from Alaska, whose mythology included a stint living out of her car in order to make her music dreams come true, was given an on-air vocabulary lesson by MTV News correspondent Kurt Loder, then 53. Jewel was there to promote her first book of poetry, A Night Without Armor. But Loder was a real crank about the whole enterprise—calling out Jewel’s malapropism of casualty, when she must have meant “casualness.” Jewel got pissed; the exchange deteriorated from there. (Have no memory of this? Do yourself a favor right quick.) Now that Jewel is twice the age she was back when Loder schooled her—and apparently has a Masked Singer win under her folksy-chic belt?—she is, as they say, speaking out. On Friday, Stereogum published an interview in which she unloaded on Loder (sorry), now 76, calling him a dick and “a full-grown man who does news for children.” And…it kind of turned my world upside down! As a teenager I relished Loder’s snarky takedown of Jewel, failing to appreciate anything about their age difference and power differential. And I put Loder on such a high pedestal, I literally did a presentation on him as a “Journalist I Admire” for my college journalism major. Was my younger self some kind of deep-down misogynist? Was Kurt just punching down all along? Do I need to apologize to Jewel for my foolish games? This being the era of the social media mea culpa, in the two days since this broke Loder has already apologized, undoubtedly the right move, even if it’s just to put this whole thing to rest. But Maggie, what do you think? Was young Jewel the victim of the sexist gotcha machine, or did she deserve to be called out by the nineties’ second-most-important Kurt on national cable TV?! Also: Does this episode provide enough modern-day fodder for Renée Zellweger to finally play Jewel in a biopic?! WHAT ARE THE LESSONS?—Rachel
Rachel, I don’t remember this at all because, as you so often point out, I’m older than you, and was able to operate a motor vehicle in 1998, by which time I was taking long-distance trips to the estrogen-fueled concerts of Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos, i.e. women who felt real pain. I had no patience for the Top 40 feels of Jewel (cue snooty eye roll). Today I was all fired up to write an impassioned defense of Loder for daring to be a “real” journalist and call ’em like he sees ’em—after all, Jewel was 24 years old at the time and a self-described “poet,” which makes her fair game for some healthy criticism in my estimation. But then I watched the YouTube clip and saw Loder go out of his way to insult a sweet-seeming young woman, and fail to back down even after Jewel explained her struggle with dyslexia. Yuck. I suppose that in the eternal reexamination of every second of ‘90s pop culture, we were inevitably going to turn this stone over, too. Still, I’m not sure what the significance of this is: Am I supposed to think Jewel, too, has been the victim of terrible sexism? I mean, I’m sure she has—but I don’t know that this one question by this one dude is really…that big a deal? Since I haven’t done a deep examination of Loder’s work, I don’t know: Is he sexist? Or did he just have PMS that day? Or, like me, did he just have a real aversion to namby-pamby ooey-gooey Jewel? Is one snipe-y low blow interview question a thing that needs to be “reexamined” 24 years later? Or does a performer, male or female, just grow a thicker skin and, next time they’re on the interview circuit and Kurt Loder comes calling, give him the one-finger salute?—Maggie
First I read the article. Then the book. Then I watched the documentary. Then I studied the court reports, obsessed over the Instagram feeds…and yet, somehow, I STILL got hooked on the TV show?
We hear from editor friends that the story-pitching process has become more freighted than ever at the big glossies. These days, writers only want to pitch stories that have the potential to get “picked up,” i.e., to enjoy a second life as a podcast, or a limited series at Netflix, or a movie—or all of the above. Well, yeah. That’s not just because writers are fame hungry: They’re just hungry-hungry! In 2022, most freelance writers make a lower word rate than they would have earned back when Loder was dissing Jewel. A Netflix deal has become the only real hope of making real money. Sorry, Rachel, sometimes I just have to unleash my freelancer rage. What I really wanted to talk about: In today’s New York Times, TV critic James Poniewozik notes the “nonstop pageant of ripped-from-reality series”: Reported stories that are adapted as a podcast, which then becomes a limited series, which later pops up as a feature-length movie. Pony (can I call you Pony?) argues that when shows are based on material we already know so well, it’s “hard for them to be more than digestible versions of things that already exist, the video equivalent of audiobooks.” Overfamiliarity leads to predictability, leads to boredom. That makes perfect sense. Yet for me it’s the opposite: Because I know the source material so well, I love this new game of analyzing the storytelling decisions the TV creators are making—while simultaneously researching the missing details of the story online as I watch—and considering the subjectivity of the material itself, and of who they want viewers to empathize with (or not). The height of this weird, satisfying meta viewing experience is Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s The Dropout, which follows the new Hollywood IP pipeline to a T: a Wall Street Journal exposé turned book, turned pod, turned show and, still to come, movie. I’m here to tell ya, The Dropout is great: A) It is free of the schlocky Shonda Rhimes nighttime-soap lacquer that permeates Inventing Anna, and it doesn’t give you that dirty-inside feeling that comes with watching Pam & Tommy. B) Creator Elizabeth Meriwether, formerly of New Girl fame, infuses utterly humorless source material with a highly attuned awareness of the absurdity of startup culture and our deification of people like Holmes, and just enough weird pop culture references to give it serious lift, without shirking the responsibility of conveying the real weight of Holmes’s jaw-dropping lies. Episode #4, entitled “Old White Men,” is a thing of beauty that had me cackling alone in my living room, and if it escapes Emmy/Golden Globe attention I will personally picket whatever academies failed us. And, C) The show casts the tragically undersung ex-SNL character actor Michaela Watkins as an in-house Theranos lawyer who does Holmes’s dirtiest work but also, in the finale, gets the last word—thanks to Meriwether’s reimagining—on the human impact of this white collar crime spree. Worth watching if only for Watkins's delicious facial expressions as she pledges allegiance to the increasingly bizarre Silicon Valley wunderkind…and starts to see she’s made a deal with the devil.—Maggie
The family of Jean-Michel Basquiat is out to set the record straight on the artist who, since his death in 1988, has become a larger-than-life figure, looming Warhol-like over the cultural landscape. Their new pop-up mini-museum of his work and life, orchestrated by his younger sisters and his stepmother, reminds us that before his canvases were used to sell Tiffany diamonds and hipster skateboard decks—and before he became the hairstyle icon of Hova—Basquiat was an actual human. A son, a brother. The show, cleverly titled Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure© (a nod to the artist’s rampant posthumous commercialism) includes never-before-seen art but also artifacts from his life, home movies, and video interviews with friends and family. There’s even a full-scale re-creation of the Basquiat family living and dining rooms. In Harper’s Bazaar, the great Salamishah Tillet writes that part of the show’s intention is to, “upend the long-standing racial stereotypes that have frequently clouded his work and reveal the central role that his Puerto Rican and Haitian heritage and relationship with his Black family played in nurturing his creativity”—a role that the sisters say many in the art world have been shocked to learn about over the years: The myth of the young Black phenom who sprang from nowhere does not, apparently, leave room for the cultural and intellectual ideas he got from his upbringing. I loved Bazaar’s photos of his younger sisters with his works, but found this family portrait from this week’s New York (above), with accompanying text by Carl Swanson, even more moving. Seeing his family proudly assembled in their finery is a potent reminder of his roots—still very much alive—and of his physical beauty, which still runs strong in the younger generation.—Maggie
Read “A Basquiat Family Reunion” in New York/Curbed here.
Read “Reframing Basquiat” in Harper’s Bazaar here.
Cosmo, we salute you!
In the new Cosmopolitan—which features a cover image that I cannot get out of my mind despite not having the foggiest who “Bella Poarch” is—you’ll find a reported feature by Elizabeth Kiefer about a sexual-abuse lawsuit that names two Boston Ballet-adjacent heavy hitters as its defendants. Kiefer interviews four dancers, all plaintiffs speaking on the record for the first time. We’d love to have seen what the 2,500-word piece could have done with a little more space (remember Alice Robb’s different but also quite compelling ballet-murder mystery in Vanity Fair last fall?), but nevertheless, we doff our top hats (yes, we wear top hats at all times) to Cosmo for taking on this kind of enterprise feature—they’ve done a handful over the past several months, more than any other “women’s magazine,” and we’d know: We’re always on the lookout. No matter what Poniewozik says, we hope this one gets optioned quick, as a feather in Kiefer’s cap and to Keep Print Alive, but also because we think it would make for a great Hollywood adaptation! Think Black Swan meets Spotlight meets Bombshell meets The Tale.—Rachel
Read “Rosie. Dani. Gina. Sage.” here.
I’m tired of mommy guilt—having it, reading about it, writing about it. But here I am, doing all three once again! Because I’m a sucker for an Atlantic-y headline positioning a piece as The Definitive Story, be it on college sports, or raising boys these days, or on being both single and female, or um, work-life balance (that was was so definitive, back in 2012, that we don’t have to talk about it anymore: Problem solved!). This time around it’s “The End of Mom Guilt” by Lara Bazelon. Subtitle: “Why a mother’s ambition is good for her family.” I agree and identify with Bazelon’s thesis and most of her points (she’s smart!). I also admire the writing and storytelling on a structural level (she’s smart!). But even though Bazelon’s entire purpose is absolving guilt by modeling a guilt-free lifestyle, in which she makes trade-offs without baggage, I can’t help but feel a lot of…guilt radiating from both the project and her approach to it. Bazelon writes about her childhood fantasies of having a perfect mother, and then through some personal reporting reveals that there’s no such thing. Nice idea—and of course very true. But Bazelon’s crusade to end motherly guilt vis-à-vis her own tangle of family responsibilities and professional ambition—previously discussed on Meghan Daum’s podcast, in the New York Times, in her novel, A Good Mother, and now, again here in an adaptation of her new book, Ambitious Like a Mother—does nothing for me but create solidarity with another woman who suffers mom guilt! I wish the headline had been: “Mom Guilt: Same As It Ever Was.” Though I wouldn’t have necessarily clicked on that one—just doesn’t have that authoritative, we-have-all-the-answers zing, does it? The momming story I still want to read from Bazelon is one about what her own mother did right, to produce four swashbuckling, wildly successful and good-doing daughters of which Lara—a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and a high-powered criminal-justice attorney—is just one: Emily Bazelon is a criminal-justice expert, a big New York Times writer, a fellow at Yale Law School, and a Slate Political Gabfest cohost; Jill Bazelon founded a financial-literacy nonprofit; Dana Bazelon is senior policy counsel to Philly D.A. Larry Krasner. Maggie, Maybe we should do a joint interview with Mother Bazelon and Mother Malone? What was their secret parenting sauce? I guarantee you guilt was not a major ingredient.—Rachel
Rachel, Maybe one day we could host a Spread podcast where we hash all this out? Kind of like Red Table Talk, but with more journalism and fewer entanglements. (Too soon?)—Maggie
Read “The End of Mom Guilt” here.
A double lightning round!
Dear Rachel, It’s me, Maggie. I need to hear your thoughts on just a few more items, please! XO, MB
1.) What was your relationship with Sarah, Plain and Tall as a girl? I’m sad to hear the author, Patricia MacLachlan, died, but happy to have read this lovely obit about her in the Boston Globe.
You know, I was always assumed to be a Sarah, Plain and Tall stan. Probably because I was tall, and I’m realizing in this very moment that I must have also been plain! But another thing that Sarah was was very thin—willowy—and I was not. So I could never identify with her physically (which, in this case, the author not only leads with but elevates to title material!), and only read the book once.
2.) Why are J.Lo and Ben Affleck bothering to get married? And/or what feelings does this announcement bring up for you? A theory from another friend: He’s the only one who makes her feel smart and she’s the only one who can keep him sober.
Thanks for asking! I feel nothing.
3.) Why is David Mamet saying men are pedophiles?
Ugh—poor Zosia! Can you imagine if this was your father? I think we have to squash all pedophile talk—except when, you know, talking about actual, specific pedophiles—from this moment on, or Marjorie Taylor Greene and co. win. So I’m shutting up now! Goodnight!
Dear Maggie, I too have a few questions for you! Love, Rachel
1.) Hey, I realize it’s late in the game, but should I get a Telfar bag?
Honestly, I never got the Telfar thing – it’s one of those fashion moments that came along JUST to remind me that I don’t “get” anything anymore, which I think is kind of mean.
2.) Now, a threefer: Were you invited to Brooklyn Beckham’s wedding, did you invite the Williams sisters to yours (I think they must be the world’s most popular wedding guests), and do you love Vicki’s mother-of-the-groom slink as much as I do?
Little known fact: The Williams sisters actually officiated our ceremony. It was after that time I beat them at Wimbledon (they were a doubles team, I was a single powerhouse). There was not a dry eye in the house.
3.) You and I have spent significant time offline discussing our feelings about Simone Biles and the media’s reaction to her GOAT resignation. To dramatically oversimplify things, do you agree that Gen Z athletes have been built to break down more easily than their predecessors?
I think it’s possible that’s true. But the very fact that they may break more easily as athletes could make them better suited to go out into the world as humans?
One follow-up: What do we want? A profile! When do we want it? NOW!
Friends, we still don’t have a real profile of elusive kabillionaire MacKenzie Scott, but we’re getting closer to something like a composite portrait. First she was the subject of a Fortune article we wrote about last week; now we get an in-depth background study by New York Times reporters Nicholas Kulish and Rebecca R. Ruiz, who define her as “the most consequential philanthropist in the world right now—one who is very much operating on her own terms.” Those who were stymied last week by Fortune’s paywall (sorry!) are in luck: The Times story is far more satisfying, tracking Scott’s privileged childhood, her parents’ financial scandal, and her salad days in New York, waitressing to pay the rent. Best of all it dives deep into her years-long correspondence with her former professor and writing mentor, none other than Toni Morrison, using letters stored in the Nobel laureate’s archive at Princeton University. I got actual chills reading how warm and devoted Morrison was to her former student, and how much faith she had in her as a writer! More trivia reveals Scott to be a true Spread woman, Rachel: In the ’80s, she was no fan of the Laura Ashley prints her friends wore! And her mother’s name? Holiday. I think I just won our baby-naming competition before it even begins.—Maggie
Read “The Fortunes of MacKenzie Scott” here.