Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
A few years ago, New York City-based stand-up comedian Corinne Fisher, 30, was going through a personal slump: She'd just been dumped unexpectedly by the man she thought she was going to marry, in a Panera Bread of all places. "I had what I would describe as a nervous breakdown," she says. "I lost 20 pounds, my hair was falling out because I wasn't eating properly." She spent hours sobbing on the shoulder of her friend and fellow comic Krystyna Hutchinson, 27. But amid the moping, Fisher got an idea for a new project: She would take the High Fidelity approach and interview all of her ex-boyfriends and lovers to figure out what went wrong.
Hutchinson—who, like Fisher, is unabashedly horny and not shy about sharing her sexual escapades—was on board, but for a slightly different reason. She'd become frustrated by the "notion of shame around women who have a lot of sex and enjoy it." So in December 2013, the duo, collectively known as Sorry About Last Night, launched Guys We Fucked: The Anti-Slut Shaming Podcast.
Every episode begins with an update on each woman's sex life, but the podcast quickly evolved away from its focus on past paramours. There's still plenty of chatter about threesomes and sex toys, but the show also takes on touchy topics like pedophilia, pimps, and sexual violence in frank conversations with comedians, actors, sex workers, and activists. Guests have included the likes of sex columnist Dan Savage, Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, and female pornographer Stoya. Two years into its run, Guys We Fucked began to pick up speed, and it now boasts more than a half million listeners. In August, it became the top comedy podcast on iTunes for a stint. It's still in the top 10—despite initially being blocked by Apple due to its profane title. I caught up with Fisher and Hutchinson to talk about Miley Cyrus, capitalism in the bedroom, and "no bullshit feminism."
"I say, 'Okay, I'm just going to talk to Corinne'—and I can forget the fact that 100,000 people are about to hear me talk about my pussy."
Mother Jones: What made you decide you were comfortable airing your sexual exploits and questions to hundreds of thousands of listeners?
Corinne Fisher: Nothing. Because we didn't know that was going to happen. And now sometimes I'm like, "Damn."
Krystyna Hutchinson: Corinne and I are really good friends and we've been working together for four or five years now, so our chemistry is really good. I say, "Okay, I'm just going to talk to Corinne"—and I can forget the fact that 100,000 people are about to hear me talk about my pussy.
MJ: Have you experienced any negative side effects of being so open about your sex lives?
CF: The negative side effects are very directly to my personal life. Being single and talking about being "a big old whore," is not going to be the best sell for yourself for dating. But to play devil's advocate, I don't really want to date somebody who's not comfortable with everything I'm saying.
MJ: What's the best reaction you've gotten to the show so far?
CH: A couple credited us with them being able to conceive!
"The first email we got that blew my mind was from a girl in India who was raped by a member of her family."
KF: The first email we got that blew my mind was from a girl in India who was raped by a member of her family, and then she started listening to the podcast. She said, "For the first time in my life I can look at myself as a sexual being." We did one with Wendi Starling about the night she was raped. After that aired, we were inundated with emails from girls that experienced almost the exact same thing, with someone familiar. It really pushed home the message that this happens way too much. We're opening up topics that not a lot of people are comfortable talking about. It's exciting to know that at least it helps some people.
MJ: Why did you include "anti-slut-shaming" in the title?
KH: Just having a vagina made me want to include that in the title. There's this shame around women who have a lot of sex and enjoy it. It's one of the huge parts about being a woman that's really frustrating. I really wanted to speak to that, and talk about our experiences with men who have been assholes, with men who have been great. Because that's the one common denominator between all of my friends and me: We all have stories of a time that we were sexually harassed.
MJ: There are plenty of sex podcasts out there already. What was the void you hoped to fill?
CF: The one in my soul.
KH: One of the voids that we didn't set out to fill but I feel like we are filling is no-bullshit feminism. We want to talk about the shitty stuff. We want to talk about what we're bad at. We talk about how women are physically weaker than men. Some people don't want to say that, but it's true. Why can't we just talk about it? And just scrape all the bullshit away. I respond to that type of feminism so much better. And I think it's something that men can really get on board with, too.
MJ: Some people think sex motivates pretty much every decision we make, what we wear, who we talk to, everything we do all day. So why don't women talk about it more?
KH: It all comes back to shame. The reason I don't wear tops that show cleavage, because I have giant tits, is because one time in the eighth grade this girl accused me of sticking out my boobs to get boys to like me. These little tiny scarring things. I think you just get inside your head, and because no one else is talking about it, you stay inside your head and you think you're alone in this kind of struggle to be open about your sexuality. That's pretty much the core.
CF: There's a lot more value on the sexuality of a woman than a man. If there's too much sex on the market, the value of the item decreases. If you're a woman who's giving away your sexuality, even if you feel good about it, men look at you as something that has a lower value. I think we somehow got that into our heads that that is true. When really it's just a mechanism of control.
"Anyone who knows anything about comedians knows that we are very morbid people."
MJ: So really your podcast is about trying to rethink capitalism?
CF: Kind of.
MJ: A lot of your listeners are teens and college kids. Do you feel a sense of responsibility?
KH: We feel a huge sense of responsibility when someone young writes us. And we are very clear that we are not doctors. If we give you anything medical, it's because we Googled it. The last thing we'd want to do is give anybody the wrong info, especially someone who's impressionable.
MJ: You have a very lighthearted rapport about some pretty serious issues. Do listeners ever take offense?
CF: We always have to keep reminding the listeners: This is not a sex podcast. This is a comedy podcast where we talk about sex. Anyone who knows anything about comedians knows that we are very morbid people. We can find humor in pretty much anything.
MJ: Apple was censoring your podcast for a while. Did you ever figure out why?
Apple's censors "bleeped out the word 'titties.' I don't understand that. There's way worse words in our titles."
KH: iTunes has third-party censors that kind of comb through everything to make sure nothing was missed. In our podcast the word "fucked" was not bleeped, because we were never told it had to be, and they just eliminated it from all search fields and charts. All the fans tweeting at iTunes podcast is actually what got Apple to call us personally to sort it out. And they were very cooperative and understanding and they apologized—so that was nice.
CF: But then they just bleeped out the word "titties." I don't understand that. There's way worse words in our titles than "titties." Apple is a notoriously conservative company, as are a ton of big companies. It's not surprising—it's just disappointing.
MJ: Is part of your strategy to lure people in talking about boobs and threesomes, and then subtly school them about safe sex and female empowerment?
CF: Would you want to listen to a podcast called "Sex Is Like Really Cool When We Consent?" or would you want to listen to a podcast called "Guys We Fucked"? I want to listen to "Guys We Fucked." Those girls seem fun.
KH: So much of the sex talk is so clinical and boring and dull. I think what keeps people listening is that we are funny, and we do tackle some interesting topics.
"It's crude, but the women hold the power in that title...This is guys we fucked. We did the fucking!"
CF: It was very specifically called "Guys We Fucked." Yes, it's crude, but the women hold the power in that title. Most times, a guy says, "Yeah, I fucked that girl." No, no, no. This is guys we fucked. We did the fucking!
KH: It's taking ownership of your sex life.
MJ: Journalist Rachel Hills had a book come out this year called The Sex Myth. She said, "We internalize this idea of sex as something that is constantly available and that everyone is doing, and if you're not doing it, there's something wrong with you." Do you think our culture today is oversexualized?
CF: We can only speak to our own libidos. We just both coincidentally are hypersexual people. But we've had people on that are more vanilla, as we call them. There's nothing wrong with that. We had a man well into his 30s who was a virgin, and there's nothing wrong with that either. But yeah, of course we're oversexed. We always talk about how we need crazier porn to get off, or a bigger vibrator. We're an oversexualized society. But it's also mind-blowing that in this oversexualized society, we're also so ashamed of sex. We're getting very mixed messages.
KH: I think what society is obsessed with is comparing themselves with everybody else. Everybody needs to relax. Stop comparing yourself to everybody. You walk down the street in New York and see billboards with beautiful women, and it's like, yeah, they're beautiful women. You don't have to be that thin. You don't have to be that beautiful. They're nice to look at. The end.
MJ: If you could interview any celebrity or politician about his or her sex life, who would it be?
KH: [Assumes a high-pitched Southern drawl.] Beyoncé, because I love her. She is my Jesus. No, but really: Beyoncé.
"It astounds me how people can hate certain celebrities so much when, honestly, 99 times out of 100, it's just because they hate something about themselves."
CF: Miley Cyrus. She's someone who's made to look like an idiot. But if you really follow her online and listen to the things she says, she's doing her own thing and being herself in the most basic way. Like yeah, you shaved your hair off and you sing in your backyard and you smoke weed and you're sexual. Great! Do whatever the fuck you want. You're an artist. That's what you're supposed to be doing.
KH: She deserves a lot more respect. Everyone loves to roll their eyes at her. The same way everyone loves to roll their eyes at Kim Kardashian. Who cares? She is not interrupting your life. It astounds me how people can hate certain celebrities so much. When, honestly, 99 times out of 100, it's just because they hate something about themselves.
MJ: If you were moderating one of the debates, what would you ask the candidates?
KH: My question would be around the Planned Parenthood videos. Every single [GOP] candidate was really using propaganda at its finest. I was so frustrated that no one called them out to say, "No, Planned Parenthood is getting consent from the mother of that fetus to extract fetal cells to donate for research." It's so different. What's happening is that all these idiots watching the debate, a lot of them are impressionable, and it's kind of dangerous. They're going to hop on this train of, "They're selling baby parts for money? Fuck that." And now everyone wants to defund Planned Parenthood.
CF: Mine would be—no bullshit, "Why do you want to be president?" But it's just full of fake answers and bullshit. I like who I like, Hillary Clinton! I am not really holding out for a hero to help change the world. I'm going to change the world my fuckin' self as much as I possibly can. I can't be waiting around for other people to do it.
KH: Insert slow clap.
MJ: What inspires you about Hillary?
"There are so many people whose jobs are related to sex that we'd love to talk to."
CF: I love a hard worker. She's fucking put in the time. I don't think there is in history someone who's wanted and tried to be president more. Give her a shot. I think she's really shown up and she's going to give it her all.
MJ: Who are you hoping to talk to in future episodes of the podcast?
KH: People who have had something really dark happen to them and want to talk about it. Or sex workers. There are so many people whose jobs are related to sex that we'd love to talk to. And comedians we really admire who are comfortable talking openly about their sex life. Models. We have a dream list of guests. It's very long.
MJ: So, you won't be interviewing many people that you've slept with anymore?
CF: Honestly, I talk about sex so much now that I've become more conservative in my personal life. I'm not as into it anymore. That sounds terrible, but it's like my job.
What if, contrary to current El Niño predictions, California never again catches a break from drought? Such is the world imagined by Mojave Desert-bred Claire Vaye Watkins in her electrifying debut novel Gold Fame Citrus.
Watkins was born in Bishop, California, a small city in the Sierra Nevada's eastern foothills, and grew up in parched territory nearby. She first made waves with her short story collection, Battleborn, which won the Dylan Thomas prize and the New York Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Vogue called Watkins "the most captivating voice to come out of the West since Annie Proulx."
Gold Fame Citrus opens with young couple Luz and Ray eking out an existence in a vacant mansion in what was once Los Angeles, during a "drought of droughts," under the "ever-beaming, ever-heating, ever-evaporating sun." Bronzed Luz, wafer-thin and grimy, traipses around the mansion in a starlet's old robes, dodging rats and scorpions and living as "basically another woman's ghost," while Ray, usually shirtless with long, unbound curls, attempts to turn the villa into a survival bunker.
Watkins' prose sizzles, her pen morphing sentences into glimmering new arrangements.
In this vision of the not-so-distant future, the West has run dry. Its citizens, who had once crowded California in search of "gold, fame, citrus," are now referred to as Mojavs and are all mostly banned from the more lush parts of the country. Water is rationed in paltry jugs at precise points of the day.
While attending a demented raindance festival, Luz and Ray encounter a strange girl they call "Ig," who clings to the couple and soon thrusts herself into their lives. Afraid of the vagabonds who might come looking for Ig, the improvised family flees Southern California in a search for more fertile territory, passing nomads, forest graveyards, and anthropomorphized sand dunes along the way.
Watkins' prose sizzles, her pen morphing sentences into glimmering new arrangements. While surrealist fiction is often striking for the fantastical scenery it conjures, Gold Fame Citrus haunted me with its references to objects I now take for granted. In a passage describing the only fruit still available in Luz and Ray's world, Watkins writes:
Hard sour strawberries and blackberries filled with dust. Flaccid carrots, ashen spinach, cracked olives, bruised hundred-dollar mangos, all-pith oranges, shriveled lemons, boozy tangerines, raspberries with gassed aphids curled in their hearts, an avocado whose crumbling taupe innards once made you weep.
Just as she turns a familiar landscape into a mysterious and foreboding geography, Watkins breathes new life into words we thought we knew well. Gold Fame Citrus will hypnotize you like a dream, and make you want to take a big swig of the water we have left.
David J. Peterson might just have the brainiest job in Hollywood. He's a conlanger, a guy who constructs languages. You may have heard some of his work on fantasy TV shows like Defiance, Star-Crossed, and Game of Thrones—Dothrakis and Valyrians both spew his handiwork. And no, these languages aren't just well-organized jibberish. A true conlang (constructed language) behaves like a natural language, with its own logic and structure, as Peterson explains in his new book, The Art of Language Invention, out this week.
Drawing on his academic background in linguistics, Peterson began creating new tongues in 2000. He penned "The Conlang Manifesto" and in 2007 co-founded the Language Creation Society, a network and website with online resources for people who want to get serious about conlanging.
The Art of Language Invention, part technical manual and part linguistics lesson, is chock full of funny pop-culture references—Prince, Back to the Future, the Miami Heat. Even if you're not a conlanger wannabe, it's a worthwhile read on the origins of language and the way words reflect and shape our behavior. Down below, we highlight some of Peterson's advice for language constructors, but first, we asked him to translate a handful of 2016 presidential campaign slogans into his own tongues. Behold...
The Conlanguage of Politics
Dothraki for "Make America Great Again!" Gage Skidmore
Kinuk'aaz (from Defiance) for "Jeb!" Gage Skidmore
Castithan (from Defiance) for "A political revolution is coming." AFGE
Trigedasleng (from The 100) for "It's your time." Brett Weinstein
High Valyrian (from Game of Thrones) for "Reform. Growth. Safety." (Guess that one didn't work out for Scott Walker, who fled the GOP race like a wildling escaping a white walker.) Gage Skidmore
And now here are six things you'll want to know before you set out to construct a tongue of your own:
1. Never confuse a conlang with a fictional language. In a famous scene from Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia repeats the Ubese word "yotó" to say several very different things. Though Ubese supposedly existed in the Star Wars universe, it was haphazard and never fully fleshed out—hence, a fictional language. Same with Simcity's Simlish and the gibberish spoken by the minions in Despicable Me. Mischaracterizing a fake language as a conlang will make you look foolish, Peterson warns.
2. Be clear about your intent. Otherwise, you could end up with a "malformed mutant" that doesn't serve any purpose, such as Peterson's first language, Megdevi—a moniker that combined his own name with his then-girlfriend's. ("The rest of the language follows from there…") One sect of conlanging society seeks to create naturalistic languages, "pretty much exactly like those spoken here on earth." Another branch hopes to solve philosophical puzzles. In Ithquil, a tongue created by philosopher John Quijada, it takes just two words to say, "On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point." Unfortunately, it can take hours to construct a single Ithquili sentence, so it's "not something you'd pick up and speak with your friends."
3. Know your history. Be intimately familiar with the people meant to speak your language. Otherwise, you risk polluting your new tongue with remnants of your own culture. Game of Thrones' Dothrakis are a violent nomadic people who live, breathe, and die on the saddle. They don't need an equivalent of the word "please."
4. Determine your acoustic economy. It's up to the conlanger to choose the right sounds for the language. Unless, of course, a producer asks you to create a foreign and "harsh"-sounding language, as Peterson was asked to do with Dothraki. In which case, you better hope for actors who take your language as seriously as did Jason Momoa, who played Game of Thrones' Dothraki king, Drogo—"the hulkiest, beefiest, dreamiest mountain of a human being to ever speak a crafted language," Peterson says.
5. Give your language staying power. Always be looking for opportunities to promote your conlang via some other medium. Many sci-fi and fantasy novelists are looking for languages to use in their stories. "See if you can work on one of those," Peterson says. "If those books get optioned, the language creators will go along with it."
6. Don't quit your day job. The best conlangers are unfailingly curious, "the type of person who would enjoy taking apart a stereo just to see how it works," Peterson says. But you're not likely to get rich doing this. For most people, the payoff is the satisfaction and possibilities the hobby affords. Ask yourself: "What do I want to say with this new language that I can't say in my native language?"
You can catch Peterson's handiwork in Season 6 of Game of Thrones, which premieres on HBO on April 24. Here's the trailer:
In 1991, Toni Tipton-Martin was riding high: She had just been named the first black food editor at a big metro daily, Cleveland's Plain Dealer. While in Dallas for a conference, she nabbed an invite to a cocktail party at a swank hotel. She approached the venue "really feeling excited and privileged" until "the doors to the ballroom opened—and someone asked me to get them a drink." To some of us, being mistaken for a waitress might seem like a trivial misunderstanding, but for Tipton-Martin it evoked the legacy of black servitude in the United States. She spent the rest of the conference in her hotel room.
Toni Tipton-Martin Jonathan Garza
Her mortification prompted something positive, though: She began looking into the written history of female African American cooks. It seemed scant at first—the literature on Southern food frequently failed to acknowledge them. Back in the 1800s, for instance, when white women began recording their family food traditions, they took credit for their slaves' handiwork. "You owned Sally, you owned her recipe," Tipton-Martin reflected on an episode of the podcastGravy.
But black chefs eventually began self-publishing their own cookbooks, and Tipton-Martin has collected nearly 300 of them. There's a sophisticated 1930s guide from the Los Angeles Negro Culinary Arts Club featuring new ingredients like oleo/margarine and Jell-O, a book by a radical 1970s chef who espoused using brown and black cookware, and a popular tome by Lena Richard on New Orleans cuisine—which Houghton Mifflin republished in 1940, but removed her name and portrait from the cover.
Recipes from Eliza's Cookbook, compiled by the Negro Culinary Art Club
On the rare occasions that black chefs were credited, Tipton-Martin discovered, they were often portrayed as mammies "working out of a natural instinct or with some kind of voodoo mysterious magic," she told me. Sure, they sometimes relied on quirky methods (measuring out ingredients by comparing their weights to that of an egg or a walnut) and folksy language ("putting vegetables up for the winter," a.k.a. fermenting), but compare their acumen to the requirements of any culinary school syllabus, Tipton-Martin says, and you can start to "see the depth of knowledge" these chefs possessed.
"You owned Sally, you owned her recipe."
In late 2009, Tipton-Martin's research culminated in The Jemima Code, a blog and touring exhibition intended to shine "a spotlight on America's invisible black cooks," many of whom were skilled project managers, entrepreneurs, and creative masterminds. Now she's made The Jemima Code the title of an appetizing new book out today from University of Texas Press, bursting with illustrations, how-tos, jingles, and rare archival photographs. Tipton-Martin, who's twice been invited to the White House as a guest of the first lady, is already at work on a sequel, a collection of 500 recipes. She calls it The Joy of African American Cooking.
We're just reaching the hottest part of the summer, but already much ink has been spilled over air conditioning. Recent New York Times articles wondered why the United States is so "over air-conditioned," with its frigid office buildings and archaic cooling calculations that make work unbearable for many women, not to mention terrible for the environment. Yet in a series of essays for Slate, writer David Engber has argued that the case against AC is overhyped; Americans still spend more energy heating their houses than cooling them.
But elsewhere in the world—in crowded countries where heating isn't necessary—air conditioning markets are just warming up. In late April, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese air conditioning manufacturer Daikin Industries announced plans to open its second plant in the subcontinent, double production, and expand its existing stock of 200 showrooms to 350 by the end of 2015. India isn't the only place where AC is all the rage. As climate change nudges global temperatures upward, incomes are also rising, meaning millions more people can afford to beat the heat. Sales of home and commercial air conditioners have doubled in China over the past five years, with 64 million units sold in 2013 alone.
We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process—the same as 19 million cars.
The advent of AC in those countries will do more than simply make companies like Daikin rich. Here in the US, air conditioning has influenced where people settle. Over the past 80 years, hordes of Americans migrated south and west to cities like Miami and Phoenix, where AC made broiling conditions bearable; in turn, the growth of these Sun Belt communities ratcheted up the demand for cooling. These days, almost 90 percent of American households have air conditioning. We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process—the same as 19 million cars.
By contrast, in Mexico, only 13 percent of households have AC. But in a recent study, Lucas Davis, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business, predicts that the country's rising per capita income will mean more than two-thirds of Mexican homes will have it by 2100—creating annual emissions equivalent to 4.4 million new cars. Across the globe, Davis predicts, demand for cooling will put more strain on electrical grids, causing shortages and price spikes along with more pollution.
More emissions means more global warming, which means more appetite for cooling.
In the United States, power companies fire up "peaker plants" to create extra electricity on hot summer days. And these plants are often dirtier than the usual facilities, leading to a vicious cycle: More emissions means more global warming, which means more appetite for cooling.One 2009 study predicted that by 2100, heating and cooling will account for 12 percent of global carbon emissions—but because of climate change, demand for heating will have shrunk by 34 percent, while demand for cooling will have grown by 72 percent. More energy-efficient equipment can mitigate some of that, but experts estimate these gains will be more than offset by the overall increase in air conditioning.