Something a little different on the menu this week.
It should come as no surprise that I’ve been really enjoying the latest season of You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s majestic film-history podcast. Called “Gossip Girls,” the season is principally a deep dive into the historical relationship between gossip, celebrity, and power, but it also tells a story about how we relate to news, information, and the idea of truth; the ideological shape of the news business in the early 20th century; and the opening decades of an ascendant industry trying, even then, to justify its existence. (Hmm, sounds familiar.) Suffice it to say, it’s all very much my shit.
The season chiefly centers on the stories of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the famed/infamous gossip columnists who wielded tremendous influence over early Hollywood, often using editorial tactics that were, shall we say, ethically dubious. Often defined by the feud they had with each other, Parsons’ and Hopper’s careers were striking early instances of the celebrity-media industrial complex that persists to the present day. The texture of that continuity, by the way, makes for the season’s most intriguing hook.
I wanted to speak with Longworth about the new season, and I was fortunate to do so with some much needed help. For this piece, it was my great pleasure to collaborate with Anne Helen Petersen, the writer and journalist who covers quite a bit of ground with her work. Petersen recently published a book giving greater shape to the concept of millennial burnout, and, these days, she can be found writing Culture Study, her newsletter about the intersection of work and culture. (She and I are also part of Sidechannel, an experimental Discord collective that you can read more about here.) But Petersen was once a budding academic who wrote a dissertation and a book about the history of celebrity gossip — which is why I was very excited to ride shotgun on this conversation.
This joint interview with Longworth, conducted last Thursday, is edited and condensed for clarity. It’s somewhat dense with proper nouns and concepts, so I’ve linked aggressively out to pieces with more context. Let’s get to it.
Nick Quah: Okay, so, just to set the scene: Why did you build a whole season around Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and the early years of celebrity gossip?
Karina Longworth: You know what? I think I started from a stupid, ignorant place, because as much as I’ve read about Louella and Hedda in terms of how they delivered the news about various stars — or, in some cases, invented that news — they would sometimes still blur together in my mind. I would be trying to remember a specific star’s story, and I would just get confused: Was it Louella, or was it Hedda who wrote that thing? It was one of those things where I felt like, at some point, I had to buckle down and really learn everything there is to know about both of them so I can tell them apart.
Last summer, I was trying to figure out what I would do in 2021, and there were several potential podcast seasons that I was thinking about. Louella and Hedda were one of five ideas, and I ended up deciding to go with them because, you know, we were running up to the election, and there had been more scrutiny of the media in the media. Obviously, that trend had been sort of a rolling ball that had gotten bigger and bigger over the course of the Trump administration.
And then, also, you had what was specifically happening within the celebrity gossip world, with Instagram creating new ways of disseminating gossip. One big example of this is @deuxmoi, but there are also a few other accounts where it’s some combination of blind items, reader tips, and blurry photographs. They’re sort of taking what something like the Daily Mail does — narrativizing paparazzi photos — and doing it in this crowdsourced way.
One of the many things I found interesting about @deuxmoi is how there’s almost an element of fan fiction to it, where people would write in and say things like, “Please tell me Chris Evans is as amazing as I think he is,” and then whoever runs @deuxmoi would go through their files and post all the things they’ve been sent about Chris Evans. Or, you know, there’ll also be things like fantasy casting, or “Who do you wish you would match with on Raya?”
It really does feel like there’s an evolution there, and whenever something new is happening, it makes me want to figure out how we got there and connect all the dots as far back as you could go. With Louella and Hedda, you have an opportunity to really connect the dots in terms of gossip all the way back to the beginning of the film industry.
Anne Helen Petersen: One of the things I love about the work you’ve done leading up to this season is that you’ve basically established something like an “extended Old Hollywood universe” within the podcast sufficiently enough so that your listeners aren’t suddenly like, “who are these old biddies?” — in my head, I always refer to them as the old biddies — because they’ve showed up in previous narratives and seasons. They’ve been supporting characters, and now we’re completely shifting them to become the main characters in a way that’s fascinating.
Longworth: Absolutely. The season I did before this one was about Polly Platt, and I feel like you could have listened to every episode of the podcast previous to that and still not know who Polly Platt was when that story started. But with Louella and Hedda, if you’ve ever listened to my podcast before, you probably know who at least one of them are or were, because you might’ve heard me tell a story about them. Or, you know, because you’re probably interested enough in the subject matter to be aware that there were these two old ladies who were on the sidelines of so much Hollywood history.
Petersen: I love the point in the first episode where you’re essentially doing media criticism on what’s going on at, for example, the Los Angeles Times during that stretch in time. You’re expanding on the knowledge of what these publications were politically invested in, in a way that I think sometimes people are like, “Oh, maybe I know what’s going with Louella Parsons and Hearst at the time,” but that other piece of the puzzle with what was going on with Hedda was so important. It unlocks so much.
Longworth: And I’ll just add: That dynamic makes up a good part of the season, both the inherently conservative nature of the Los Angeles Times at the time, which was Hedda’s home paper, and also the the fact that the equally conservative Time Magazine empire, who was not employing Hedda and who had no financial stake in here, decided to back her over Louella.
Quah: Do you think there’s a Parsons-Hopper equivalent today?
Longworth: I really feel like, in 2021, there’s no equivalent in terms of coverage of movies and celebrity. I talk about this at the end of the season, but that kind of gossip — What are celebrities doing? Who are they? What are they really like? — doesn’t seem to be driven by big personalities like Louella or Hedda any more.
The last of them is maybe Cindy Adams, but with all due respect, how relevant is Cindy Adams anymore? I think celebrity gossip is driven by different forces now than it was in that time period. As the season goes on, it’s going to look at how Louella and Hedda found their power challenged by a lot of newcomers and by the general expansion of the field.
Petersen: Yes, oh my gosh. Do you cover Sheilah Graham at all?
Longworth: I do, yeah. She’s a major character in a couple of episodes.
Petersen: Ah, amazing. I think you’re totally right about those shifts. There were a couple of people, like Rona Barrett, who took up the mantle in the seventies, and I remember being really interested in Perez Hilton in the mid-2000s, because he was the first person I had seen who had taken up the mantle in a way that involves co-mingling with the stars. That was the other thing: All these celebrities invited these older ladies to their parties. They were, like, present at their baby showers.
Longworth: Somebody like Sheilah Graham, though — I think she was savvy enough to know which of the stars were really her friends and which ones weren’t. One of the tragedies of Louella Parsons, and one of the reasons why I do have more empathy for her than I do for Hedda — even though you could argue that both of them were pretty evil — was that Louella really thought people liked her. It took her a really long time to understand that people were using her.
Petersen: And she was using them. Could you talk a little bit about your research process?
Longworth: So, I made the decision to do this story in September of 2020 [Nick’s note: i.e. during the pandemic], and I was specifically looking for topics where I felt I would be able to pull them off just by buying books online and reading things on, like, Newspapers.com.
But the story of covering any story about Old Hollywood at all is that you have to be skeptical about the sources that are available. Hedda and Louella each wrote two autobiographies, and it’s hard to believe a word of them. In episode three, there’s this part where she’s like, “Oh, well I got this offer from United Press and they were going to pay me so much money, but I slept on it and I realized I couldn’t leave Mr. Hearst.” And it’s like, really?
You have to assume that, when they published these books, it was in a media climate where people just kind of shrugged and said like, “Well, if they said it happened, I guess it happened.” Nobody was really applying too much scrutiny to it. When it comes to things like that — or really, anything — I try to read as many sources as I can get my hands on and then be transparent about what I believe and what I don’t believe.
Quah: Tell me a little more about that. One of the things that’s striking to me about Parsons and Hopper is that there’s a performance of truth in the gossip that’s operating from the position of being “in the know,” but I imagine the projection of transparency is also contingent on a similar kind of performance in the work. Do you have, say, specific turns of phrases or something you use when communicating what you perceive as the truth of a matter?
Longworth: I would just say that I try to be very transparent about what my sources are and which sources I feel more strongly about whenever there’s any discrepancy. Certainly, I’ll say things like, “I believe Frances Marion’s version over Louella’s version,” and I try to talk on the podcast as much as possible about why I think certain things are more trustworthy than others.
But at the end of the day, you have to call it kind of creative nonfiction in a way because, especially with a season like this where most of the material is from about 1915 to the early 60s, there’s no one alive I can interview, and any documentation of that time is going to be questionable on some level.
Petersen: Yeah, I found this when I was trying to reconstruct what happened with Loretta Young, which both Hedda [and] Louella were part of in different ways. How do you second- or third-hand reconstruct the truth? And I think the thing I tried to arrive at is that, well, we can’t know, but we can talk about it. How do you set up your listeners to be on board with that sort of ambiguity?
Longworth: I guess I’ve just always kind of positioned what I’m doing as more historiography than history. It’s more about discussing how these myths get made, how things were written about at the time, and what we can understand about these situations from our perspective in the present day that maybe was not spelled out at the time.
You know, I just accused @deuxmoi of doing fan fiction, but on a certain level, there’s a part of what I do where I’m asking people to go on an imaginary journey, you know? Part of it is me trying to get inside the head of people who are long gone and trying to imagine what they would have thought or felt, and then I’m trying to recreate for the listener and get them to imagine what that would feel like, too.
Quah: I get the sense that’s also a tension that’s very much present in contemporary media or reporting, at least to me. I suppose I mostly feel this way about sports journalism, and some forms of political journalism, where, on one level, the subjects are very much alive, but there are power machinations that go in and around the messaging and information sharing, and on another level, there’s still some amount of imagination that happens on the part of the reporter to, like, understand the interiority of an athlete or a politician.
Longworth: I definitely feel that in terms of sports writing, for sure, and even in sportscasting. I’m a big fan of baseball, and I listen to a lot of games on the radio, and when somebody is doing good play-by-play, they’ll say, like, “Clayton Kershaw steps off the rubber,” and then they’ll talk about what the athlete is doing in a way that’s meant to evoke how the athlete must be feeling, but they’re doing it live. So, obviously, there’s no way they’re doing it based on an interview or anything. They’re just making it up based on the evidence put in front of them.
Petersen: There’s this great point in the season where you mention how we’ve introduced this conversation of bias into the way we talk about the news today, though it’s never been absent from gossip. But I think there’s this inclination to view these more feminized spaces, like gossip columns, as apolitical in some way, which is ridiculous. Celebrity gossip is inherently political — the framing of it, and so on. I would love to hear more about your thoughts on that idea.
Longworth: Do you know the site, Crazy Days and Nights?
Petersen: Yeah. It’s gone kinda QAnon, right?
Longworth: Exactly. So, that’s what I would say if anybody says that “celebrity gossip isn’t politics.” I was really deep into the site like maybe three years ago, and I [was] reading all the blinds and trying to be smarter than the commenters, and I was kind of a witness to the site taking a turn, not just among its commenters, but with the content of the site (which is obviously responsive to the commenters), which took this turn where suddenly everyone is a pedophile, and all of the blinds are like this sort of dark fan fiction — although, you know, they don’t seem to be fans. They’re accusing people like Steven Spielberg of being serial predators.
So, yeah, I don’t understand how you can think that really anything in the world that we live in today is not political. What’s interesting to me is I remember a time when nobody was talking about The New York Times having any kind of political slant, or the L.A. Times having a political slant. We just received these things as news, and that wasn’t that long ago. So the fact that there is this conversation about it is what is new, but the slant is not.
Quah: Could you walk me through the production process for this season?
Longworth: It took a while, because I was also working on another project at the same time, and for a while, I was going back and forth.
It’s hard to give you an accurate timeline, but I can tell you that in August and September, I was reading a lot of books, about four or five different subjects to try to figure out what stories I would do for the podcast in 2021. I ended up choosing two topics, and during that process, I read Louella and Hedda’s books, I read a biography of Louella, I read a biography of Hedda. I read some David Halberstam about newspapers and media brands. I read Neal Gabler’s book about Walter Winchell. I need to do at least that much research just to figure out how many episodes of a season there are going to be and vaguely how the story will break down across those episodes. [Nick’s note: You can find Longworth’s full reading list in her show notes.]
I’m working with [more] new people on the podcast network side now than I have in the past, but my experience is that they need that information in order to start approaching advertisers several months before the episodes are done. I was doing the writing mostly between New Year’s and the end of March, and I probably did most of the recording during that period. I just recorded episodes eight and nine over the past couple of weeks.
And then, I’m in a situation now where I had to hire my own editor [Evan Viola] to work on it with me. I hired him around April, and he’s also working on other things, so we just finished editing episode five, and I have all the material for him to edit the episodes whenever he gets around to it. He’s doing basically about one a week right now.
Quah: Two random questions to wrap this up. First, what obsessions or rabbit holes are taking up your free time right now?
Longworth: I don’t know if I have any, to be perfectly honest. There’s another project I’m working on, which is also a podcast but not You Must Remember This, [that] has been extremely time consuming, so I’m trying to finish the season while also working on this project. My husband just left town two days ago to go shoot a movie in Europe, and I’m supposed to basically be packing up our house and like getting ready to join him. So, I just don’t really have any free time. When I’m not working, I’m trying to not be on the computer, because it drives me crazy. I’m basically watching baseball and going to bed early.
Quah: Which segues nicely to the second question: What’s your take on the Dodgers right now?
Longworth: Well, you know, it’s very difficult to win two World Series in a row. We’ve also had a lot of injuries. There’s really no reason why Sheldon Neuse should be playing every day. They just won two in a row, so there’s a lot of baseball left to play, and I’m hopeful for the rest of the season, but at the same time, it’s hard to get too upset at the current World Series Champions.
In Other News
New York Public Radio fires On The Media co-host Bob Garfield, citing a “pattern of behavior that violated NYPR’s anti-bullying policy.” According to the press release on the matter circulated yesterday, the decision was made following a recent investigation by an outside party, which concluded that he had violated the policy. Garfield was apparently also a subject of an investigation last year, which resulted in disciplinary action at the time. The release also noted that On The Media will continue production with Brooke Gladstone as the sole host.
On Twitter, Garfield wrote: “I was fired not for ‘bullying’ per se, but for yelling in 5 meetings over 20 years. Anger mismanagement, sorry to say. But in all cases, the provocations were just shocking. In time, the story will emerge…and it is tragic. On the Media was the pride and joy of my career.”
If you’re at the station and would like to talk about it, you know how to find me.
IAB: U.S. podcast advertising revenues climbed to $842 million in 2020, expected to exceed $1 billion in 2021. That’s the headlining takeaway from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)’s fourth annual podcast advertising revenue report, which the organization released ahead of its upfronts event last week.
The report is based on a study that involved surveying a pool of “leading Podcast Industry players,” taking those self-reported numbers, and projecting out to deliver an estimate of the broader market. In other words, it’s prudent to pay closer attention to the trend line than the actual numbers.
The $842 million in 2020 number marks a 19% increase from 2019, which, of course, is a development that should be read against the larger context of the pandemic. On the one hand, this data point gives further substance to the general take that podcasting has proved to be resilient under pandemic conditions — perhaps even a beneficiary of it — as publishers, creators, and various entertainment industry operators flowed into the medium and its capacity to support socially distant production in search of stable business. On the other hand, the negative economic impact of the pandemic is still present in the $842 million number; the IAB had previously projected the industry to reach $863.4 million in advertising revenue in 2020.
Meanwhile, the report also featured another notable estimate: that podcast advertising would exceed $2 billion by 2023, effectively doubling in size over that stretch. I imagine this projection is driven, at least in part, by corporate enthusiasm pertaining to the industry’s increasing consolidation around a few advertising sales options; the rise of marketplace platforms with greater dynamic ad insertion, programmatic, and targeting features; and basically the ongoing co-option of the podcast space by traditional audio players, who bring their wealth of existing advertising relationships with them into the Hot New Thing.
One should take any and all optimism around these points with a grain of salt, however. The IAB may project that advertising revenue will double over the next two years, but it remains to be seen whether those gains will trickle down to more creators, more shows, and more good jobs — or whether they’ll just be concentrated among a few companies, a few platforms, and a few big talent winners.
In any case, the IAB report’s emphasis on advertising revenue itself should also be taken with a grain of salt. Given the big subscription tool announcements of the past few weeks and the rising interest around direct revenue for podcasts, the industry’s set to grow far beyond the scope, and interestingness, of the IAB’s future studies.
Persistent Problems with Apple Podcasts. I’m continuing to get reports — about a dozen now — from podcast creators experiencing problems with reliable publishing on the Apple Podcasts platform. To be sure, there has always been some sporadic wonkiness with the platform in the past, but there seemed to be a sharp uptick in bugs since the rollout of iOS 14.5 (which caused some new usability issues, as documented by Macrumors here) and an update to the Apple Podcast Connect portal late last month. And the volume of these problems doesn’t appear to be abating anytime soon.
Specific issues run the gamut: substantial lag times between submitting content and when that context actually appears in the directory; new episodes appearing only for those subscribed to the podcast feed but not for those casually browsing the listings; the occasional disappearing episode within broader catalog; and inconsistent submission loops, in which updates on some shows appear to kick in at different rates than others. All these issues are exacerbated by what’s been described to me as slow customer-support systems relative to other platforms.
This news blurb is a tricky one to write, because the podcast creators and publishers I’ve communicated with about this generally decline to be identified for fear of losing favor when it comes to future marketing opportunities on the Apple Podcasts front page. But you can find some public accounting of bugs out there, including this running tally by Justin Jackson, the co-founder of the podcast hosting and analytics company Transistor.
Still, I felt it’s important to flag this phenomenon even under these mostly anonymized circumstances — if you’re facing similar problems, I reckon it’s useful to know that other people dealing with it too. Furthermore, despite increasing platform competition from Spotify, the Apple Podcasts platform continues to be a crucial pillar of podcast distribution, and back-end problems like these, combined with what’s been described as relatively unresponsive customer support, make for potentially existential frictions for podcast creators and publishers who need to be reliable presence in the lives of listeners.
Apple declined to comment, by the way. In the meantime, I imagine creators should keep hassling the company through the Apple Podcasts Connect portal.
Meanwhile, at Spotify… From Bloomberg: “Spotify Wants to Hire a Hollywood Vet to Oversee Its Podcasting Studios.” Something to know if you’re keeping the org chart in the back of your head.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, here’s your periodic reminder that behind every so-called No. 1 Podcast is some combination of: an incredible amount of work and effort; considerable time spent and the opportunity costs embedded within; the contributions of an established track record, profile, or celebrity; some amount of innate talent; some amount of risk; considerable investments both monetary and otherwise not always visible to those outside of the show; and some substantial amount of luck.
Sure, you might not need more than a microphone and an idea to start a podcast, but it takes so much more to make a good one, however defined, and it takes a hell of a lot more on top of that to make a decent living off it.
Let’s not underplay the true costs.
➽ From The Verge: “A podcast app is exposing subscribers-only shows.” That app, by the way, is Castbox. I’m not sold on the notion of private-feed privacy being an existential threat to direct podcast revenue just yet, but the vulnerability is worth tracking nonetheless.
➽ From The Atlantic: “On Clubhouse, a black badge was meant to identify trolls. It’s become an emblem of the app’s dysfunctional moderation system.”
➽ The news that Seth Rogen is making a podcast with Stitcher wouldn’t ordinarily catch my interest… until I learned that Richard Parks III, of the indescribable Richard’s Famous Foods Podcast, is working on the project. Long live the peeklay.
➽ Shout-out to the Planet Money TikTok legend.
➽ Dustlight Productions is staging an apprenticeship program, in collaboration with Simplecast. Details here.
Flash Forward Is a Team Sport
Even if it’s been years since you were in a class, the term “group project” may still send shivers down your spine. I’d say that’s for good reason: It’s uncomfortable to work with others on something you know will reflect on your ability, especially if it’s something you care about.
Perhaps, then, you’ll feel better knowing that even established creators aren’t immune to this feeling.
Rose Eveleth, the host and creator of the acclaimed Flash Forward, recently released a book adaptation of her show. In the podcast, each hour-longish episode takes on one hypothetical future scenario — an underwater volcano erupts and creates a new island, housing is guaranteed for everyone in the U.S., and so on — for which Eveleth synthesizes the perspective of experts to assess how possible that future actually is. The book, in turn, transforms 12 such futures into visual experiences, each chapter an original comic that’s set within a given world, which is then accompanied by an essay by Eveleth.
The structure of the book, titled Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide To Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows, takes the form of an ambitious anthology corralling a dozen visual artists of different styles. It’s inherently collaborative, and if you listen to the show, you’d likely detect similar collaborativeness in Eveleth’s approach to audio. For example, in the aforementioned episode about guaranteed housing, she brings on six different expert sources and utilizes three voice actors to bring the idea to life.
However, Eveleth says, the book marked the first time she’d ever actually, formally collaborated with anyone on Flash Forward. And, honestly, it kind of freaked her out. It was only last year, after all, that she expanded the podcast production team beyond just herself and Matt Lubchansky, who for years has created original illustrations for the show. And that expansion was modest, adding just one producer to the team.
Creating a book project filled with stories told by someone other than herself would require some level of agreement about the unifying ethos of the project. Having already produced Flash Forward for three years by the time planning for the book began, Eveleth wasn’t worried about that. However, she was worried about what came next: maintaining the ethos of the project throughout a bunch of individual, unique, artistic processes while also convincing potential readers that the end result would somehow be different enough from the show to warrant spending money on.
But consider that this book wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for the input of other people. It was illustrator Sophie Goldstein, an eventual co-editor and contributor for the book, who reached out with the very idea of a comic anthology in the first place, Eveleth says. This was after numerous agents had contacted Eveleth in the past proposing that she write a book; she ended up partnering with one back when she was toying with a “half-baked book idea,” she says, but that was years ago, and the book didn’t come to fruition. She didn’t quite know where to go from there, especially in response to recommendations that any book she write specifically be an adaptation of Flash Forward. Then came Goldstein, an artist with an idea.
A graphic anthology, says Eveleth, “was the only version that made sense to me, but I never would’ve come up with that on my own.”
Though she was initially uneasy about bringing so many individuals into her work, when she looks back now, Eveleth says that the unpredictability throughout the process “was, in some ways, the best part of it.” This rang especially true at times when she had doubts about the appeal of the book, as noted before. Why would people buy the book, she thought, if it was “the same thing as the free podcast”?
It turned out that, with a different individual at the helm of each story, it basically wasn’t possible — let alone commonplace — to rehash what the episodes had already done. When other people brought their artistic styles to the stories, they also brought with them their lives, memories, and opinions. This made the book a whole different animal than the show, quelling her fear that readers might be bored or unimpressed.
“Box” Brown, for example, took a future where people are strapped with lie detectors and turned it into something Eveleth didn’t see coming. Instead of emphasizing the implications such technology would have on making small talk or negotiations, as Eveleth did in the original episode, the artist imagined a use case where a lie detector called out negative self-talk, correcting the wearer when they unfairly criticized themselves.
New takes on the stories didn’t dilute Flash Forward’s brand, either, which was Eveleth’s other fear. There’s a unity among the art, which likely has to do with how intentional the process of assigning the stories was.
From a list, each artist picked the three episodes they would most like to adapt, with Eveleth deciding the final lineup after weighing those preferences alongside her desire to maintain some variety throughout the book. Ultimately, what Eveleth wanted most was for the artists “to be working on a chapter that they cared about,” she says. Take Julia Gfrörer, who creates horror comics — “I didn’t want to just assign her something and have her be like, ‘I don’t care about this,’” Eveleth recalls.
At the same time, once the topics were confirmed, Eveleth stood her ground. She gave each artist all the research she’d done on the story when she originally reported it, including complete interview transcripts, after which the artist would pitch her several story lines. She also created and shared an in-depth document, solely to detail the “vibe” of Flash Forward.
While the podcast hasn’t historically depended on so many people in such an intimate manner, Eveleth was perhaps always destined to make a book project in exactly this collaborative way, since she’s known to take on work that pushes her out of her comfort zone: Of any given endeavor, she says, “if I don’t think it sounds hard and fun, I don’t really want to work on it.”
Publishing a 266-page, multi-authored book could certainly be described as hard, at the very least, requiring consistent and detailed input from people from different niches. What’s more, the realm of art is completely out of Eveleth’s wheelhouse, and she knows it. “I can’t draw at all,” she says. “I’m a terrible drawer.”
Over time, Eveleth knew that embracing such an unfamiliar format, which spoke so strongly to her when Goldstein first suggested it, was — perhaps ironically — exactly how she could finally publish a book that felt honest and fitting for her work. What’s more, in writing the essays that she contributed to each chapter, she had an opportunity to revisit ideas and concepts that both she and the larger culture have shifted on since their corresponding episodes were released. And those changes of heart, too, have been the product of other people.
In an episode from 2015 — back when Flash Forward was published by Gizmodo under a different name, Meanwhile In the Future (she now owns the show) — Eveleth explores a future where no one really cares what your gender is. At the time, her default assumption was that lots of people had a desire for this, that the binary of “man” and “woman” was limiting and undesirable, and that it would be revolutionary for lots of people if those labels, and their associated identities, didn’t exist. Now, particularly after spending time listening to the podcast Gender Reveal, Eveleth acknowledges that she didn’t previously see the whole picture.
“Many people do in fact deeply identify with that identity,” Eveleth says, even though she herself is “slowly sliding more and more toward non-binary land.”
“That’s not in the chapter or anything,” she adds, “but my thinking has changed around what the options even are.”
In some day-to-day situations, it’s best when there are fewer options, which is easy to see at this current moment: It’s safer to wear a mask, but, technically, many people now have the choice not to. Disagreement in that context can endanger the group; disagreement in other contexts, however, may improve it. It isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s good. And if, in that context, it still scares you, that’s exactly the point. That’s where possibility hides.