JEN VAFIDIS: HI JANE. There is a new Taylor Swift album out today, and it is already totally undeniable. The first single is a #1 hit, the second single was #1 on iTunes within 10 minutes of its release, and Taylor has been teasing us via Instagram about these new songs for what seems like years. It’s only been a few weeks, but still. I love her, you love her, let’s talk about her.
JANE HU: When I tell people that 1989 is going to get me through the rest of 2014, I’m 100% not exaggerating. Even though the three pre-releases have really sent some MIXED SIGNALS about the feel of the album, T-Swift has never let me down before. I adore this album, but the leading track actually had me a little worried for a moment!
VAF: I hate the first song on this album, and I have a feeling you also don’t love it. But maybe I am wrong?
You may recognize Teyonah Parris for her role on AMC’s Mad Men as Dawn Chambers, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s first African-American employee, and subsequently, the series’ first recurring African-American co-star. As Don Draper’s former faithful secretary, she has mastered the series’ distinct sensibility of balancing thoughtful, serious drama with wry humor and wit.
As Parris started her role on Mad Men, I began writing my master’s thesis on the series, a critical feminist analysis of the representations of women in the workplace. After hours of multiple viewings, I was most intrigued by the pivotal scenes among Parris, Elizabeth Moss, and Christina Hendricks, and their personal and professional struggles at various levels within the fictional advertising agency. For a series set amidst the civil rights and second-wave feminist movements, Mad Men has done little to directly address the issues surrounding them.
Parris seems acutely aware of the developments in contemporary mainstream and independent film and television, and has actively taken on challenging and complex roles that address issues of race, gender, class, and privilege. With the end of Mad Men in sight, her career is only getting started: she has two projects premiering this month—Dear White People, a critical favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Lebron James-produced Starz basketball drama Survivor’s Remorse. She also worked with Amy Poehler in this summer’s satirical rom-com They Came Together, poking fun at the inherent tokenism of the sassy-best-friend archetype.
I talked to Parris about her education as an actor, landing Mad Men, working on Survivor’s Remorse and Dear White People, and the future.
I just came home from a weekend stranded because two trains caught on fire. Now I am too tired to crawl into bed so I am lying on the floor of my closet. My delicious, walk-in closet, as big as my room, bigger than the studio apartments my friends own. You have to walk through it to get to my room. My walk-in closet makes the increasing chances of death by flaming subway train (or two) seem reasonable to me. My walk-in closet with a rug thick as a blanket. I lie on it and stare at my clothes like they are my psychoanalysts. They are.
People raised in East Coast cities often ask me what it was like growing up up in Idaho, a state they incorrectly perceive to be part of the Midwest and correctly perceive to be rural, fresh-smelling, and home to a populace as white as peeled potatoes. Sometimes I tell a story about the first week of seventh grade, when a middle school neo-Nazi student threw a chair at me. He was assigned to a seat across the table from where Ben and I sat in art class and slashed large graphite swastikas onto his drawing pad for our benefit. Ben, who was Jewish, and therefore the only other person in our class not descended from solid-limbed Rocky Mountain Protestant stock, was a friend of sorts; we rode the same bus. It was through Ben that I began eating lunch with a group of punks, and it was these punks who, upon learning of the art class assault, would arrange to beat up the Nazi in the soccer field after school.
The first ghost story I ever heard was from my mother. She described how once, while sleeping in an upstairs bedroom in her sister’s house, she woke to the feeling of twin icicles curling around her ankles. They were hands, but she didn’t see a body, exactly. More like an abstract interpretation of a body, female, crouched at the foot of the bed. It yanked once, hard, and she opened her pink teenaged mouth and screamed, causing it to let go and vanish. The details shift uneasily when she retells this story—sometimes there is a horrible, unseasonal rainstorm beating the roof, sometimes she is 15, or 17. But these two details remain the same: The bed belonged a dead woman and she never went into that portion of the house again.
There’s a lot of paranormal activity in my family. Whether it is more than most other families is hard to say, but we seem to have more than most. During holidays and family events, after the adults wander into the kitchen to drink coffee or head off to bed, us cousins gather in some remote part of the house and talk about the things that go bump in the night. These are our heirlooms, a series of signals and omens that help us make sense of each other and our shared family history, which is by turns strange, mysterious and murky. These stories open up a portal to the parts of life that don’t seem to make much sense but as still just as real as the rest of it. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that sometimes a ghost isn’t always a ghost. Sometimes, telling a ghost story is a way to talk about something else present in the air, taking up space beside you. It can also be a manifestation of intuition, or something you’ve known in your bones but haven’t yet been able to accept. But sometimes a ghost is exactly what it is—a seriously fucking scary spirit.
From the outside, Toronto seems like a utopia: the world’s greatest rapper calls this city home (that’s Drake, if you haven’t been paying attention), gay couples are free to get married, our healthcare system is beleaguered but subsidized, and our film festival is a barometer for Oscars. Torontonians are a happy clash of cultures; almost half the population are native speakers of another language. Vogue recently named our bustling Queen West the second hippest neighbourhood in the world. THE WORLD, YOU GUYS. VOGUE.
But in the tense run-up to the municipal election later this month, there’s been a lot of drama that exposes the conservative, xenophobic face of this city’s power elites. Two female candidates, both women of colour, have publicly come forward about incidents of basic bullying hate rhetoric directed at them online and IRL, some originating from self-professed members of the ill-defined, amorphous mob known as Ford Nation.
Whenever I have an idea for something funny to write on the Internet, I have to make sure that it isn’t just something I’ve subconsciously ripped off from writer/webmistress Mallory Ortberg. If there is a joke to be made about anything, chances are Mallory’s already made it, in a both subtle and absurd way that will seep into your brain and stick with you for months.
On November 4th, Henry Holt is publishing Texts from Jane Eyre—a collection based on the series in which Mallory sums up the entire canon of Western literature in a few textual exchanges with great accuracy and even greater lols. Believe it or not, Texts From was spawned on THIS VERY HERE SITE. Buy a copy, then read this interview. Or read this interview and buy a copy. Buy a copy, read this interview, then buy another copy for best results. Anything else you were planning to do today can wait. It was probably dumb anyway.
Mallory! Hi hi hi!
Are you READY? For some harrowing questions that will make you look deep within yourself? Let’s DO THIS. I’m ready to get controversial.
I’m not sure when I decided that my eyebrows—thick, dark, and joined—weren’t considered attractive, but I was a preteen when I realized that I would have to do something about it. When I was 12, I begged my mother to let me get the offending patch waxed. Getting my eyebrows “fixed” was Step One of the makeover process that I just knew was necessary if I was going to be a pretty teenager. In teen magazines and on The O.C. (everyone’s favourite show in 2003), I saw smallness and whiteness celebrated in bodies, in clothes, and in upturned noses. Even Kristin Kreuk, the only image of non-white beauty I remember from that time, was hairless and thin.
I always wondered if my eyebrows could be a little better—a little more arch, a little less thick, a little further apart. Maybe, by some miracle, my eyebrows would make the rest of me seemed smaller, small enough to fit into a white, blonde, hairless ideal that seemed to be attractive to everyone around me. I understood that to be small, to not offend, was to be feminine, which seemed instrumental to achieving all the milestones of successful teenagehood—parties, boys, Marissa Cooper’s hipbones.
My current job—very grown up, very mundane—affords me a lot of time to peruse the Internet. I sit at my desk, wait for phone calls to come in, for my co-worker to bring in more baked goods and for lunch to roll around so that I can finally step outside and smell the fresh air.
Recently, while at my desk, I read the worst headline: “‘Hot Dog On A Stick’ Files for Bankruptcy”. After 68 years of selling freshly made lemonade, hot dogs, and cubes of cheese dipped in batter and fried on sticks, Hot Dog On A Stick is no longer serving with style and a smile. Foot traffic in malls is down; people trying to eat less breaded and fried meat; and as a result, the once-iconic mall chain is filing Chapter Eleven.