Cazzie David's Too Full to Fuck, Lauren Oyler's I Feel That I Am Being Made Crazy By the Distortion, Jenny Odell's How To Do Nothing, Harling Ross' I Used to Think I Was Better on the Internet, But Now the Opposite Is True, Clio Chang's The Substackerati - WILDCHILD SG

Of Internet Content and The Substackerati

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Welcome to Laundry List, yet another Wildchild column, which is essentially a list masquerading as an article. Call it a listicle, if you will. What is a laundry list exactly? It is defined as “a long or exhaustive list of people or things.” We’ve deliberately kept the column title vague so we can talk about anything that tickles our fancy. No refunds if the list is not long or exhaustive. 

I’m stoked to finally kickstart the first Laundry List with a list of internet content that I had consumed earlier this week. This is an article format that I’ve toyed with during quarantine but I thought it would be better to find a thread that connected the articles or podcast episodes and ended up getting in over my head, which only added to my growing pile of incomplete drafts (23 and counting). But I’ve decided that a chronological archive has its merits after all. Without further ado, here’s the internet content that I enjoyed this week:

#1. “I Used to Think I Was Better on the Internet, But Now the Opposite Is True”

An essay that adroitly encapsulates how I feel about social media. In an ideal world, I’ll be able to disappear from social media for good. But as someone who is trying to build something (this site!) on the internet, I need the visibility that social media platforms accord to me and my work.

The more followers I accumulate, the more people there are who know me only as a series of fractions, and the greater the dissonance becomes. An obvious solution would be to reveal more about myself on social media—offering up a comprehensive cocktail of bad days, good days—the lows alongside the highs. But there is another voice here, one that whispers: Be careful. Because the idea that I have the power to stop the gap from widening is also an illusion. Even if I think I’m controlling what I reveal, I can’t control how other people understand or interpret it. The problem isn’t the amount of or even the nature of what is revealed. The problem is what social media requires of us, which is to split ourselves like atoms, stripping away opportunities for nuance in the process.

Harling Ross

#2. Cazzie David’s interview by Lorde

Raphael, Wildchild’s ex-music writer (don’t worry, we’re still tight), shared this interview with me given our mutual adoration for the singer. We both didn’t have a clue who Cazzie David was – the interview hinted at her mother being an important film producer – but that changed very soon.

The duo’s conversation about board games made me confess to him that while I enjoy the occasional game night, I am not inclined to play (board) games often since I perceive them as indulgent and less worthy of my time. Each game, win and loss is fleeting. On the other hand, when I dedicate time to a craft i.e. writing, I have something to show for it at the end of the day. But this highlights my unhealthy need to “always be optimizing” (à la Jia Tolentino) and to be productive, which gave me something to think about.

#3. “Why Everyone’s Talking About Doing Nothing”

My struggle to do nothing from the point of view of capitalist productivity (i.e. play board games without guilt) compelled me to read this relatively old personal essay that reviews Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing. I started on the book months ago but need a little nudge to continue. I picked it up because I had heard nothing but praise for it. Though I’m only done with the first few chapters, I’ve constantly felt inspired by the discourse that surrounds the book. 

As a culture writer, I used to feel that I “needed” to have at least two reactions to every push notification-worthy pop-culture moment. First, that “I know about this thing,” and second, “I care about this thing in a way that signals my moral/political/socio-economical alignment.” But reading Odell’s work, and engaging with her philosophy, has made me care less about immediately expressing my thoughts (for the sake of it), and more about examining and processing them. This consideration can redirect an immediate reaction away from, say, self-immolation and instead toward self-reflection.

Lillian Min

#4. “Big nepotism energy w/ Avi & Harling” from the Maybe Baby Newsletter

I enjoyed Haley Nahman’s podcast episode, which centered around Cazzie David and nepotism — she’s the daughter of Larry David (of Seinfeld). Cazzie David’s piece on The Cut, titled “Too Full to Fuck”, sent Twitter into overdrive. 

The essay is an excerpt from her forthcoming book of personal essays, No One Asked For This, the very book that she mentions in the aforementioned interview with Lorde. My curiosity was piqued – personal essays are my jam, after all – but I was not motivated enough to do more research. Turns out, I didn’t have to. Between the discourse on Twitter as well as the inescapable media blitz, information about her book deal practically fell into my lap.   

The premise of the comedic essay is, as the title suggests, that women are often too full to have sex – they literally cannot make room for a penis – but they are uncomfortable to use it as a reason or excuse to say no. The episode addresses the areas in which the essay was lacking, from the blatant double spaces interspersed in the essay to how, as Harling Ross pointed out, “references to disordered eating are baked into the subtext of the story without being acknowledged and called out as disordered.” 

But the discussion in the podcast chiefly circled around the unproductiveness of tearing down individuals who benefit from an unjust system. After all, it is possible that the excerpt was picked for The Cut because it is the most incendiary of the lot and thus, may not be representative of David’s writing skills. Avi Bonnerjee, another guest on the podcast episode, talks about the gap between some individuals’ credentials and the heights that they reach, which makes certain instances of nepotism more intolerable and grating to the general public.

#5. “I Feel That I Am Being Made Crazy By the Distortion; an interview with Lauren Oyler

It seems fitting that the next item on my list is Lauren Oyler’s interview about literary criticism. Afterwards, I found Delia Cai’s helpful summary of said interview. I first stumbled upon Oyler because of her viral criticism of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror and was captivated by her work ever since. I decided to read the negative review while I was in the midst of completing the book – one that I was enjoying, in fact – even though I knew it would definitely alter my reading experience. My first instinct is to trust the writing in front of me. I don’t read with a critical eye; I’m always waiting to be told what’s wrong or right, and how to think, as if there is a model answer for everything. While turning to a critic’s words may perpetuate my reliance on authority, reading a negative review of a beloved book introduces alternative views that ultimately forces me to be more critical about the text that I am engaging with and to make up my mind about where I stand on the subject at hand. 

But I digress. This interview also shines a light on the American publishing industry and how publicity campaigns distort books. Although Oyler mentions that she tries to make her negative reviews relevant to readers who are never going to read the books she critiques, I am faced with the urge to read them just so I can better comprehend her criticism.

There are two types of bad books. One, your aim is completely stupid and misguided, and you should not have written a book that attempted to do that. Two, and this is more common in my world, you had this nice aspiration that you did not remotely execute. Yes, writing is very hard, and no book really lives up to its aspirations, but once you’re an adult you can’t be writing bad books all over the place. People might read them! It’s not your right to be a writer. It’s not your right to be read. It’s not your right to be a public figure. A just society is one where everyone has a home, food, healthcare, an education, and vacation for four weeks a year. A just society does not mean everybody gets to be a celebrated writer if they want to be. If we consider literature important, we have to critique it rigorously. 

Lauren Oyler

#6. “The Substackerati”

This long read is a deep dive into the complexities of Substack, the online platform that writers have been flocking to in droves, given the slashing of media budgets and rise in furloughing and unemployment during the pandemic. If you don’t already know what Substack is, think of it as Patreon for writers or Mailchimp with a homepage, where writers own their intellectual labor and distribute their work at tiered subscriptions.

Since the ad model has been exposed for being an unreliable revenue source that “incentivized clicks, retweets, and likes over incisive prose”, the paid subscription model utilized by Substack seems to be the solution that sustains the creation of good and thoughtful content. Yet, the article reveals that the company itself is ultimately dependent on venture capital.

Time and again, journalists have seen venture capitalists barge in on their newsrooms with claims that they’ll solve the industry’s problems, only to end up losing their jobs or being forced to churn out clickbait.

Clio Chang

While Substack is typically perceived as more equitable and meritocratic than traditional media, this article interrogates whether the patterns of marginalization from the latter will be replicated by highlighting the fact that the most successful writers on Substack are “those who have already been well-served by existing media power structures” for “[most] are white and male; several are conservative.”

The article also features Patrice Peck, who created her newsletter, Coronavirus News for Black Folks, during the onset of the pandemic. Her story elucidates the labour that goes behind creating a newsletter, from the production to the promotion on social media, as well as the downsides of working for yourself — isolation, blurring boundaries between work and life, and burnout.

Writing is often considered an individualistic enterprise, but journalism is a collective endeavor. And that is the paradox of Substack: it’s a way out of a newsroom—and the racism or harassment or vulture-venture capitalism one encountered there—but it’s all the way out, on one’s own. 

Clio Chang

I loved reading about her journey, precisely because it felt so relevant to my own. Of course, unlike Peck, I’m working on this passion project for free. Still, I occasionally feel overwhelmed by my commitment to publish an article at least once a week or grapple with uncertainty about the quality of the content that I produce. Self-publishing and self-editing can be frustrating for someone who yearns for guidance and validation from authority figures. I used to depend on my trusted peers to be my copy editors but lately, I’ve been trying to be more independent because of how deeply satisfying it is for my creative and intellectual output to be wholly mine.

Thank you for making it to the end of the first Laundry List, which is a format I definitely would have experimented with a long time ago, if I were on Substack instead of WordPress.

Feature image by Sherryl Cheong

One response to “Of Internet Content and The Substackerati”

  1. Why I Started A Website of My Own in 2020 – wildchild

    […] for monetization, it is an unlikely possibility in the near future. There has been substantial discourse about how the ad-based publishing model unsustainable since it incentivizes clicks and gives advertisers control over the output. While I feature brands […]

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