“I’ll still feel the same around you.” – Why Boy Bands Will Always Matter

1d dance

Posted by Sage

A few weeks ago, I woke up to another must-see Amy Schumer sketch gone viral. And it brightened my day significantly. “Girl, You Don’t Need No Make-Up,” is typical Schumer wit: bouncy and bright, but with a razor-sharp edge of social commentary. I strongly suggest you watch the clip if you haven’t yet, but here’s the gist: As Amy gets ready to walk out the door and face her day, a boy band accosts her with an upbeat tribute to her natural beauty. As they sing about how much they prefer the “real” her to all the trappings of woman-dom, she cheerfully dismantles her entire morning routine. Faced with an actual au naturel lady, the band changes their tune, shoving pressed powder into her hand and crooning worriedly about how they can’t date “the ghost from The Ring.” It’s magnificent. A proper critique of the impossible standards that women face practically from birth.

you don't need no makeup

Though if you only read the headlines that accompanied the clip, you wouldn’t take it that way. “Amy Schumer Skewers One Direction.” “Watch Amy Schumer Make Fun of One Direction.” Okay. While the song in the video is absolutely a parody of “What Makes You Beautiful” and there’s a bargain-basement Harry Styles present, that’s not the end of the story. Methinks that Amy Schumer has better things to do than to write and produce scathing takedowns of four-year-old boy band songs. The song was the vehicle; the target was larger. Yet the same outlets that participate in promoting the very standards that Schumer is protesting decided to lump the blame on one harmless pop group, both to refuse accepting any responsibility and because, hello, clickbait. The headline “Amy Schumer Unleashes Giant Squid-Monster On One Direction” would also garner a lot of hits, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

liam haters gonna hate

The weird mass-framing of this sketch got me really miffed, and not just because I’m in the middle of a One Direction obsession spiral. (Nice to meet you, I’m 32.) It’s because the internet responded to a sketch calling out media sexism with more sexism. Boy bands are traditionally viewed as a feminine interest. Even less acceptable, they’re typically an interest of women who are young, one of the demos that’s given the least credence in pop culture and in society at large. Amy Schumer’s parody was about the relentless and contradictory appearance policing that women face; where filmmakers are barred from a Cannes red carpet for wearing flats at the very same time Midwestern teens are tossed out of prom for baring their shoulders; where magazines scream that yes, men will still want to have sex with us even if we don’t go to bed in eyeliner – as if that’s the be-all, end-all permission that we need to do whatever we damn well please with our own faces – at the very same time they’re running Kate Hudson’s professionally lit make-up-free “selfies” next to full page ads for $200 jars of La Mer. The media turned Schumer’s sketch into something petty, and, in the process, got their jabs in once again on young girls. This thing they like? It’s stupid. It’s stupid and silly and it doesn’t matter.

1d hug

Except that it does. (“It DOES.” – Ross Gellar.) Boy bands matter. They certainly mattered to me. (And continue to. Louis Tomlinson has many important tattoos.) This whole shitshow got me thinking about why that is; what, beyond a flurry of stampeding hormones, makes us love them so god damn much?

one direction slap

Falling in love with a boy band unlocks a chamber of your heart that, until you do, lies cold, dark, and empty, aside from the cobwebs. It is a fierce love, both unimaginably generous and perfectly selfish. I think part of society’s sneering attitude to teen girls comes from fear – fear of our intensity, of how hard we dedicate ourselves to things. That’s why every boy band who’s ever sat on a late night couch gets the question, “What’s the craaaaaaziest thing a fan has ever done to you?” Those raging lunatics, amirite? Animals, all of them. How is it less acceptable for Directioners to feel personally part of the band’s success than for fully grown adult men to beat each other up in parking lots over professional football games? At least those bitches picked up their phones and text-voted for the VMAs.

did you

It’s FUN, though. It is fun as hell, let me tell you. Loving a thing is so much more of a trip than feeling meh about a thing. When I think about it, I can still conjure that pleasantly cavernous feeling that developed in my stomach when *N Sync appeared on stage for the first time at the Pittsburgh stop on the “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” tour back in 1999. They were there, and so was I. I loved them so much, I felt sure I would die of it. I would drop dead on the sticky floor of the Star Lake Amphitheater, in my platform sandals and baby blue American Eagle tank top. (Justin’s favorite color, natch.) I’ve heard people speak similarly about the birth of their first child, which, okay. But how often does that happen? Once. I saw *N Sync in concert six times and that feeling never faded.

nsync live

This heart-breaking, earth-splitting love just takes over. And it can survive any cynicism thrown at it. I was repeatedly told as a teenager that I was “too old” for boy bands, while action figures and video games lined my brothers’ shelves, generating no comment. If anything, my interests were the more adult ones. They were born of a fascination – the siren call of boys. Cute boys, who could dance. (And I will come at anyone who tells me that boy band love doesn’t jive with a feminist identity. There’s nothing about paying five beautiful men to dance for me that’s not the very best of feminism. Carry on.) Nursing a band obsession satisfied my unquenchable interest in boy world, a place I still find exotic as an adult. Boy bands give us the opportunity to observe boys in their natural habitat, without fear of judgement or rejection. Because it starts with the music and the videos, but then it expands. It wants everything. We want to know these guys, beyond the Tiger Beat details. (Though those are still important. Apple Jacks are Justin Timberlake’s favorite cereal, pass it on.) No minutia is too boring. No brief interaction un-mined for personality traits and patterns. There’s a reason why girls flocked to see Never Say Never, The Jonas Brothers 3D movie, and This Is Us. Those movies give girls the opportunity to be both a fly on the wall and the center of everything. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fans,” they say, and that’s you, oh my god. But also you’re one of the guys, there in the hotel room when Big Rob shakes Joe Jonas awake and in the venue when Louis rolls through on a skateboard and grabs a bucket of popcorn off a table. Being a teenage girl is the most terrifying. There’s humiliation around every corner. But not here. Not with these guys. They will never make you feel bad, or let you down.

narry coca cola

Like any entertainment delivered on such a massive scales, boy bands are marketed to within an inch of their lives. We know, okay? We just don’t care. Knowing that backstage machinations have been orchestrated to sell us “The Hot One,” “The Shy One,” “The Bad Boy,” etc. does nothing to stop the spread of our fervor. Because as soon as said band gets a foothold, they belong to us. The ownership changes. I don’t care how many focus groups have been held to discuss which one looks best with a goatee.

liam i like the idea of saving

Continue Reading

“This is sickness.” – Live Writer Commentary on “Dalek” and Enduring Dirt [Contained]’s Easy Laughter


Posted by Sage

Last week, I had a double dose of English playwright and screenwriter Robert Shearman. First, I sipped on a Twelfth Doctor cocktail while Shearman gave live commentary at The Way Station on his one and only Who episode, series one’s “Dalek.” Then I sat inches from the heavily-trafficked bar cart in the first New York production of his 1992 play, Easy Laughter. With those two pieces of work running around in my brain, I have made one assumption about the man. For being such a congenial gent IRL, Robert Shearman’s sure got a dark side.

"Doctor Who is for kids!"

“Doctor Who is for kids!”

Of course, every monologue and piece of dialogue drops a shade darker when delivered by Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. In fact, Shearman told us that Chris, who was “extraordinary to work with,” did things with the Doctor’s private encounter with the Dalek that the writer never expected. Eccles performed the scene in a “very non-Doctorish way,” which initially horrified Shearman – and then he saw the final product. (Fun fact for all you censorship heads: “Dalek” carries a higher advisory rating than the other episodes in the season because the Doctor purposely tortures the captive Dalek.) Shearman described Eccles as an actor without vanity, remembering that he insisted a take where his forceful delivery generated a pretty gross spit bubble that stayed on his lip not be reshot.

Shearman has the unique honor of being the writer who introduced the Daleks to a modern audience. Obviously, he felt the pressure of the job. “This is the only Doctor Who episode I don’t consider to be canon,” he told us. “Because I know I made it up.” Even watching the full episode that day was an unusual experience for him. He finds it difficult to go back to his own work, and guessed he hadn’t seen “Dalek” in its entirety in almost ten years. (I asked him about Series 8’s “Into the Dalek” and he said he was surprised and flattered that his episode was well-regarded enough to merit a bit of a sequel.) But from the moment the episode kicked off, it was clear that the writer remembered every moment of the process just fine. Even which actors shared their sandwiches (those were his favorites) and which extra broke his confidentiality agreement by selling photos of the updated creatures to a salivating British tabloid press.

dalek van statten

Fans have Shearman’s wife to thank for his characterization of the Daleks, especially that “oh shit” moment when one levitates up a flight of stairs. He did his best in his episode to address all the reasons she found the monsters a bit lame; to thank her, the no-nonsense Goddard took her name. Even more adorably, Bywater’s namesake is a schoolmate of Shearman’s, who introduced the writer to the show when they were just 11 years old. Aw.

In the Q&A session, Shearman went on to discuss the mascot-like nature of the modern-day Dalek. Its image has been used to sell practically everything: stuffed toys, salt & pepper shakers, the “I Dalek London” shirt I wore to the bar that day. And that’s disturbing, considering the villains were developed in 1963 to represent the fascist force that held the world in its grasp not two decades before. The Daleks are Nazis. They wield plungers and talk in funny voices, but that doesn’t change their hateful insides.

Easy Laughter Press

Courtesy of Dirt [Contained]

In Easy Laughter, produced by Dirt [Contained] Theatre Company, Shearman imagines a grotesque future where these ideas have fully taken hold. We meet a wholesome nuclear family unit, who’ve stepped right out of ’50s sitcom: wife Patsy (Maria Swisher), husband Dennis (Michael Broadhurst), son Toby (Jay William Thomas) and daughter Judy (Tana Sirois). Their interactions are both irritatingly effusive and worryingly robotic as they prepare for a holiday that resembles Christmas, but only just. The audience surrounds the action on three sides, the open fourth of the stage housing what we learn is the Christtide tree. As I mentioned earlier, my friends and I were sitting directly behind the bar cart, which was a popular spot as everyone from dad down on to the kids imbibes whiskey heavily throughout the play. I could’ve used a drink myself.

Easy Laughter is an unflinching, pitch-black satire. The horrifying history that made this family what they are unfolds throughout the play, but it takes no exposition to know from the very beginning that something is deeply, deeply wrong here. Patsy is almost vibrating with fear as she waits on her husband, children, and eventually, her visiting father-in-law (Nick Dematteo). Dennis takes confusing pride in being a glorified pencil-pusher; he’s the head of the family unit anyway, as his constant jabs and chastisements remind his wife. But he’s slowly being supplanted by his own son, a Rolf-looking motherfucker whose rosy cheeks and ridiculous short-pants can’t disguise his pulsating ambition and razor-sharp meanness. Little Judy still takes joy in the magic of Christtide and the celebrated miracle whose eventual reveal sent half of my audience into tears of revulsion and shock. Underneath their hearty apologies and compliments (“Thank you very much, indeed.”), the family looks like they’ll begin tearing each other apart at any moment. When the shared values are so in-human, even your loved ones are your enemies.

Shearman wrote the play as a student, and that makes so much sense to me. Easy Laughter goes hard; the idea is executed to extremes. It feels immediate. Subtlety is for the grown-ups, but we idealists don’t have time to fuck around. It’s an audience assault. The Dirt [Contained] production (the play’s first New York staging) fully commits, as do the actors. I was exhausted for them by the end of the piece; that kind of sustained mania has to be depleting, not to mention their very inhabiting of such a monstrous universe. Tana Sirois especially stood out. Casting adults as children doesn’t always work out (though Clifford holds a special place in my heart), but I nearly forgot that Sirois wasn’t actually 8-years-old. Stephen Massaro’s direction uses the space nicely, making the audience looking in on the Simpson family holiday about as uncomfortable as we could be. (Thanks, man.)  After the well-earned but subdued bows, we filed out of the theater, barely looking at each other the whole way.

Easy Laughter ended its run, but you can still support by voting for the production in the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.