A Bit of a Decent Slog
On being online for a while, The Batman, a couple of birthday boys, and so on.
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In the opening minutes to John Waters’ Polyester, scratch-N-sniff PSA1 notwithstanding, a crowd of puritans protests outside the home of the owner of a local dirty movie theatre. I think about that scene a lot, how the owner uses the protest to promote his business, how they threw eggs at his wife, and how the protesters insist on decency.
Decency is a funny thing. Theoretically, it’s quite abstract and unspoken, to some extent we all have some idea of what decency is, well, unless we don’t. There are plenty of indecent obscenities that I’m a fan of, there are plenty I’m not. That scene in Polyester got me thinking a lot about the kind of language we use to talk about the media we consume and the stealthy growth in the need to ascribe some sort of moral standing or quandary to what that media consumption says about us.
I read this tweet last week that got me thinking about this as well, and got me thinking about my own writing:
In my very limited knowledge and overexposure to internet culture, my first ever anxiety about how anything one could ‘co-sign’ could be perceived as ‘problematic’ was on Tumblr. Before anyone knew to use canceled in that context, people were fighting with teenagers about the political correctness and sensitivities of TV shows that would not give those two elements a second thought.
The same kind of language is pervasive today in the aestheticization of activism and social justice. Our internet presence being extensions of ourselves is an often fraught discussion prone to the worst kind of people making the most noise. But it is something worth discussing, or at least reminding everyone that sometimes shit isn’t that deep. Not to be yet another Maybe, Baby parrot (her newsletter is just that good!), but Haley Nahman said something on her podcast this week about how with the rise in ‘influencer activism’, it’s more likely that people are using the Instagram carousel infographic to check a ‘fall in line’ box as opposed to using it as a jumping-off point for further reading, research, or collective mobilization. These infographics have been shared so much they fall into the trap of being assumed to be completely true or authoritative. As if the need to show everyone you’re a good person overtakes any actual action to do good? Does that make sense? ‘Goodness’ is an entirely different conversation altogether, we’ll get to that someday.
There is a bizarre, loose formation of a ‘community’, in the most facetious sense of the word—not to say that all communities must ascribe to a certain amount of depth. I am out of my depth in that field, I’m afraid. Which, going by what I was just talking about in the previous paragraph, I should shut up.
The idea of communities forged online isn’t foreign to us at all. I think the first instance a young person would be exposed to that online would be through fandom culture. I could talk about this forever, we know this. A lot of my body of work thus far—be it written or spoken on silly little podcasts—has been about unpacking my teen years and how they’ve affected my life online and offline. How they’ve affected my media consumption, in particular. I hold a lot of that late noughties to early 2010s stuff in high regard simply because it reminds me of a simpler time in my very short life.
I’ve always had this bizarre fixation with how internet subcultures can convince themselves of anything. Kind of like a cult. Surely, you’ve all taken this quiz. I am at a Low Risk of Joining A Cult—which checks out because I was alive when Larry Stylinson was at its peak. I could write essays upon essays on the cult of Stylinson. Perhaps I will someday. It’s a pretty gnarly anthropological study. I’m also quite interested in this individualized approach to media consumption and fandom interaction—the fix-it fics, the RPF self-insert fic culture of Wattpad, and the pre-emptive introductory carrd pages with every detail our parents used to warn us not to share online.
A fandom is a kind of community—you and all these people who like the same stuff as you can talk about it and express yourselves with the same degree of enthusiasm. This is a huge reach but the way fandom culture has evolved (and arguably devolved) because of the way we use the internet kind of parallels the shift from a collectivist attitude to an individualist one.
I think now the things the kids are doing is something called ‘reality shifting’—I don’t entirely understand it because I’m a skeptic that thinks it’s a guided meditation/maladaptive daydreaming aid set to whichever fictional space or character of the person’s choosing. I’ve read a bunch of articles on it. There are a lot of ASMR videos and soundscapes for it on YouTube2. Ironically enough, teens on TikTok are finding community in their desire to individualize. I see it in this ‘shifting’ business. I see it in Ye Olde One Direction fandomhood.
Back when I was on that other godforsaken blue website (Tumblr), fanfiction, whatever form it took, was all the rage. I’ve proofread a few for some mutuals. The thing I was always envious of was how prolific those writers were, and how prolific still an entirely new generation of writers are. These writers write for free and they write often, driven only by their own passion for whatever they write about and the audience they cultivate. There’s something kind of wholesome there that offsets the potential weirdness that can be involved with the genre.
It goes back to that line of questioning (if you can even call it that) about decency earlier. There’s a certain amount of indecency online that’s passed off as decent. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone, right? Another libertarian approach, if you will. I’ve also noticed that this ‘death of sex’, this retreat into a kind of puritanism and sanitization also coincides with this obsession with comfort and coping. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of my media consumption has a lot to do with comfort and coping. I just find it interesting that there’s now an entire subculture dedicated to self-soothing. It’s rough out here, I get it.
There’s also a lack of nuance there—any criticism or expression of dislike to whatever comforts you becomes a personal affront, not just to the perceived, subjective quality of the work we consume, but how that reflects on us as people. Which, again, isn’t even that deep. Some people have a lot of time on their hands and feel the need to argue about it. That’s something I don’t entirely get.
I was reminded about all of that watching SNL last weekend. There was a sketch at the end where Oscar Isaac plays a janitor called Michael who sits down in a writing workshop. Michael has ambitions to be a writer, and the group encourages him to read what he’s been working on. It has a ridiculous title, and it’s about a janitor called Mike who meets a young girl in need of his assistance. That young girl wants to learn how to “make out”. That young girl is Dua Lipa.
Oscar’s voice work was where most of the laughs came from, the fanfic itself helped him sell the voice. This pathetic little voice with a creepy earnestness behind it. I wish the reactions of the cast members in the sketch were played for more laughs—the men were “enthralled” by the boldness and fantasy of Michael’s work whilst the women were grossed out. Very typical. It kind of goes back to decency, again. Mikey here committed his fantasies about Dua Lipa to paper, a creative outlet for him. A creative outlet for many fans with a slew of ethical and decency-related implications. The fact that this pseudo-Wattpad piece of sketch comedy has made it to an institution as widely received as SNL? That’s a little wild to me. Fanfiction isn’t some dirty little secret anymore, there’s enough of a precedent for it to become—at least in this case—the butt of a joke.
Celebrity worship is a weird, fickle little thing. I do owe a lot of my newsletter to it—to taking it apart, putting it back together, and indulging in a little thirsty literature. Sometimes it gets dangerous, sometimes it’s just harmless fun. There are so many facets of the idea of celebrity that are just so fascinating—why it exists, why people covet it, why it can be a silly little hobby, or why it can fuel an entire industry on its own. It’s one of late capitalism’s most bizarre byproducts—when the people become the product, not just a mode of labour anymore.
I end a lot of my passages like this: “This is often a longwinded way of saying something.” Which admittedly makes me a pretty craftless writer. To quote Matt Berry on Community: it’s a lot of “crass, artless thuggery”. That’s what my work feels like sometimes. And that’s okay. I can only learn more and improve. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I’m not in the mood to look for solutions for whatever problems I’ve barely scratched the surface on. I would need more time. More than a week between things I want to say. I should give myself the grace to do so. But this is all just the effects of spending the last two years adjusting to a world constantly under duress. I’m not really one to judge. But I like keeping this here as a document of things to point out and explore further another time.
I rewatched Polyester recently. And on the same night, I watched Mimi Cave’s Fresh and then The Batman the next day. I’ve been really close to giving up on movies. I’m glad I didn’t. Movies are rad. Even if they’re not all that ‘good’, they’re pretty fuckin’ rad. I guess I shouldn’t let people that aren’t very rad affect my relationship to things I think are rad. Nor should I let that affect how I think about things. Thinking can be rad too. Duh doy, Ari.
SPOTTED: Bruce Wayne at Gotham Square Garden for Mitski Concert
‘The reclusive Prince of Gotham was seen filming and singing along to the singer’s hit single ‘Working for the Knife’ from her latest album, Laurel Hell.’
I saw The Batman over the weekend. I got dressed up and everything. All dressed up for some guy wearing my glasses going on IG Live to tell riddles! Let’s go, Team Edward!
I adored this film. If I saw Battinson as a teenager I would’ve been even more obsessed. It’s everything I could’ve asked for in a Batman film and more. It’s Batman as we’re meant to know him: a detective.
It really did remind me of reading volumes upon volumes of Batman that I was definitely not old enough to be reading. It was also the week I started re-reading The Court of Owls Vol. 1 and it became even more apparent to me that Matt Reeves really understands that at Bruce Wayne/Batman’s core is an obsession. Nothing like a sad little guy driven by an obsession to distract them from the world around them. Protecting Gotham is driven by grief from the loss of his parents, sure, but Batman is born out of an obsession with justice and vengeance.
This guy calls himself vengeance and is obsessed with a Nirvana song! We love you, little emo boy!
I don’t really have anything new to say—something that haunts me every week getting on Substack. I just loved that film a lot. Colin Farrell’s Penguin has Gotham’s longest Duolingo streak, he has never missed a session to practice his español with that weird little owl. Is Duo in The Court of Owls?
Three-hour movies are great when they’re full of hot people to look at shot by the guy that shot Dune (another film full of hot people to look at), little freaks to keep you entertained, and a Michael Giacchino score so close to the dictionary definition of perfection that you lose your goddamn mind in the IMAX theatre. I want to talk a little bit about Catwoman. I think Zoe Kravitz maybe my favourite incarnation of Selina Kyle, simply because (at least to me) she feels very modern and timeless at the same time. Similar to Bruce, she kind of has a one-track mind as well, she just wants answers to why her world has suddenly gone awry. I like that we get to see both these well-loved characters at a stage in their careers where they’re still trying to figure things out. Very relatable, very now, very yass, very slay. All that. Also, look at this fucking shot:
I love how flustered Bruce gets around Selina. So true, bestie. I too would not know what to do with myself if Zoe Kravitz just decides to kiss me out of the blue. I think I would apologize to her. There’s a little bait and switch in the film where Reeves weaponizes set photo leaks and I loved it. Chef’s kiss. Also, one of my favourite comedians, Janine Harouni, (who used to host these awesome open mics in West London that I frequented) was a lovely surprise in this film.
The Riddler was everything. Paul Dano was acting circles around everyone with his face underneath a mask and my pair of clear glasses. He was the most Fincher thing about this Matt Reeves movie. Love to see it. Can I have one oat milk question mark latte, please?
I hope we get to see more of this Batman. The natural progression to playboy!Bruce Wayne will be fun and silly to watch because he’s such a loser right now. I really want to see this Bruce take a Robin under his wing, just a couple of sad broken boys trying to get by. I’m obsessed with this film I will be for many years to come.
Happy Birthday, Elvira Lind’s Husband!
Happiest of Birthdays to the one and only Oscar Isaac, founder of the Oscar Isaac Institute of Whoresmanship and Thottery. We love him out here. This is my favourite Triple Frontier screenshot. Without Triple Frontier, this newsletter would not exist.
Future Husband Wait, Who Said That?
Pisces men must have me in a chokehold! I can’t believe the two fellas living in my head rent-free were born on the same day a year apart! That’s wild! Anyway, happy birthday Guy From the FBI Show. I too wish I was as tall as Daniel Henney! Matthew, if you’re looking to give the screws you keep behind your fireplace to a special girl, holla at me. For real. I am so serious.
Who’s That Girl? It’s Not Jess?
Speaking of Criminal Minds, the aforementioned FBI show who once hired Jason Alexander—THEE George Costanza himself—to play a serial killer in a lace front wig, there was an episode my mum and I rewatched in Season 5 that featured a very familiar location. Or at least it looks similar to a very familiar location.
It’s an episode that also serves as the backdoor pilot to Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour starring Forest Whitaker, Michael Kelly, and the guy that plays John Constantine in the DCTV shows. Forest Whitaker’s character and Greg from Dharma and Greg (pre-altercation allegations, of course) are discussing details of the episode’s case in a non-descript California bar. It’s dark, it’s drenched in red light, the seats in the background are leather with these cute little lamps. My brain went straight to The Griffin, the alleged name of the bar Nick Miller in New Girl works at.
I would like to see that crossover! Nick would be impossible to interrogate, he’d just be sweating or burrowing himself into his Julius Pepperwood alter ego (“Thin crust pizza? No thank you. I’m from Chicago”). Schmidt would feel threatened by Dr. Reid’s casual government usage of Commes des Garçons sweaters. Winston would insert himself into the investigation to prove his competence, accidentally being profiled as the UnSub. Cece and Morgan try to out-smolder each other. A 500 Days of Summer reunion with Jess and (ironically enough, the name of her ex on the show) Spencer!
Free me from the shackles of this cop show. I only wanted to see the pretty boy. How did we get here?
His Ass is READING
I can’t believe I am witnessing the My Year of Rest and Relaxationfication of champagnepapi in real-time. This stack of books presumably inside Drake’s house makes it look like he is either trying to impress a BookTok-er or is becoming a BookTok influencer himself. I’m kind of obsessed with Nightbitch being in this stack. What’s your Goodreads, Drizzy? I would like to know! I would not be surprised if a month from now The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo would creep into that stack of books!
A Knitting Pun
As promised, one non-media consumption thing per newsletter if I can manage it and this week is yet another little insight into my assorted knitting projects!
Demon Slayer cardigan for my brother
My brother saw a TikTok a couple of months ago of someone making the very popular Tanjiro outerwear from Demon Slayer using the Harry Styles JW Anderson cardigan method, but the crochet version. I decided to knit. I’ve made that JW Anderson cardigan before (I’m actually thinking of re-doing it), so this was a nice chance to do a simplified version of that. Just two colours. My brother picked out a different green, it’s not accurate to the show, but he likes it better.
Alleged Scarf Taylor Swift Left In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s House (10,000 Minute Version)
Like hell I was going to pay $35 for a red scarf from a ten minute music video. I’ve been knitting this for several months. I’m thinking of making my own embroidered tag that says “JAKE SMELLS”. I take breaks from it every now and again. It should be done soon.
Rumple Buttercup Socks
This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in my life. But it’s also the cutest thing. I am a huge fan of Rumple Buttercup. It’s oddly life-affirming. And the author is easy on the eyes, too. When you first meet Rumple in the book, he says that one of his feet is 11% larger than the other. I’m making these socks mismatched, and the beginnings of this green one I’ve made approximately 11% bigger (a few extra stitches by mistake). Socks are really fun to knit. The needles on the purple sock have less friction than the ones I’m using on the green sock. I’m more inclined to work on the green one. It is also a nice shade of Rumple Green.
I’ve loved knitting. I think it’s one of those sublimated dreams I had when I was a kid—I’ve always wanted to make my own clothes and I’ve yet to learn how to sew so this is as close as I can get to my childhood ambitions for now. I also really wanted to be Wolverine as a kid. We’ll see what I can do about that in a few years.
This week’s newsletter has been a bit of a slog. I might take a small break to regroup and write my silly little stories for a while. Thank you for reading. I love you all very much.
I think about that Odorama opening all the time, when I was still working at the Prince Charles Cinema, a colleague handed me an original but defunct Odorama card for a screening of Polyester. I was not allowed to keep it, but believe me, I tried.
I was just looking for some ambiance (Penelope Garcia typing ASMR has been kind of a godsend).