Talk Hole 2020: A Year of Guilt in Review
Talk Hole is the bi-weekly spoken column of New York’s alt-comedy darlings Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, offering their oracular powers of cultural analysis on all corners of the zeitgeist (high, low, top, bottom). From a call in Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is chic and drop references to hot trends, hotter temperatures, and scalding political debates. This time around, Talk Hole reminds us of everything that happened this year: Nancy Pelosi’s haircuts, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the city-wide return to brunch. We did it, Joe!
P-H: Welcome back! Should we acknowledge how long it’s been since our last column?
SCHWARTAU: I’ve been in Canada.
P-H: A famously un-columned space.
SCHWARTAU: And now I’m back in the land of chaos, corona, and columns.
P-H: Our problems always have a way of following us home.
SCHWARTAU: That sounds like a Taylor Swift lyric. I do like Evermore—although I’ve just been listening to one song on repeat.
P-H: Can I guess which?
SCHWARTAU: It feels like a Lana track, if that’s a hint.
P-H: “Champagne Problems?”
P-H: Well I don’t which one sounds like Lana to you. None of them are about dating a cop on the beach or shopping at Kohl’s.
SCHWARTAU: “Cowboy Like Me.”
P-H: Put the dying American masculine ideal on a pedestal. Very Lana. Personally, I’m more of a musician, so I’ve been really interested in the more experimental parts of the album—”Closure” with its unique time signature, or all the official merch, which is of course silent.
SCHWARTAU: Okay, well I’m kind of a romantic. So I fall in love with one song and then don’t hear anything else.
P-H: You say romantic and I hear obsessive. Which I think really defines our year of isolation—alienated people alone in their homes, psychotically focusing on minutiae—confusing fandom for intelligence, insecurity for thoughtfulness. You’re “obsessed?” No sweetie, you’re just antisocial.
SCHWARTAU: Obsessive has a negative connotation, but I think it is at the root of love. I’ve been reading this gorgeous book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous woman who’s also a botanist. It’s called Braiding Sweetgrass, which I’ve been affectionately calling “Breeding Sweet Ass.”
P-H: Once again, sounds like a Taylor Swift track, or possibly a rumored third album.
SCHWARTAU: There are two songs with plant names on the album, so she’s basically a botanist. The book is all about the wisdom we can learn from plants. At some point she defines love in a series of bullet points: that love is about nurturing, health and wellbeing, protection from harm, encouraging individual growth and development, the desire to be together, generous sharing of resources, working together for a common goal, celebration of shared values, interdependence, sacrifice by one for the other, and creation of beauty.
P-H: That sounds like a resume.
SCHWARTAU: Well, did I get the job?
P-H: I was actually one of the first to replace the paragraph in a resume with bullet points.
SCHWARTAU: I was the first to add bullet holes.
P-H: After graduating college, I entered my resume era. At the time, there was a whole school of thought that said a resume should be basically a paragraph for each position—I was a pioneer of bullet pointing.
SCHWARTAU: Well, my high school guidance counselor in California sure got wind of your trend real fast…
P-H: You know, first to market doesn’t always get the glory. Few people know I was the first to call it “Dimes Square,” or that I invented jokes about gays walking fast. But those ideas are my gift to the discourse, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
SCHWARTAU: Okay, next topic: I love my apartment. Sometimes you have to leave an apartment for a while to remember how much you love it, unless the place you went is nicer.
P-H: Your sublettrix didn’t fuck it up? No scuff marks on the floor? Bloodstains on the Casper?
SCHWARTAU: Honestly, they left it better than they found it.
P-H: I believe it was Kamala Harris who said, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
SCHWARTAU: So wise—and she’s half a TIME Person of the Year!
P-H: The liberal media just can’t make decisions anymore. Is that cancel culture?
SCHWARTAU: It’s PR culture. Everyone gets in a room and says, “We can’t do this person because of X, Y, Z,” so they come up with some toothless compromise.
P-H: That sounds very similar to cancel culture.
SCHWARTAU: It’s political correctness, which prevents the cancellation. I guess they’re the same sides of the coin.
P-H: The same sides of the coin. Very curious to see what this coin looks like.
SCHWARTAU: God. The only thing I don’t like about doing this column is the fact that I am confronted with my inability to properly say one single idiom.
P-H: Well, you were just in Quebec where they can’t even pick a language, so.
SCHWARTAU: I’m more of a visual speaker.
P-H: But I do wonder if the inability of our esteemed magazine editors to make a decision is going to harm society in the long run. For example, why do we both have a column?
SCHWARTAU: When they started picking two Pantone Colors of the Year, someone must have said, “If we do blue we will be perceived as picking a masculine color, but if we do pink it will be too girly.” All you’re doing is reinforcing a binary, rather than imbuing the color you choose with power. Justice for purple!
P-H: It gives credence to fear.
SCHWARTAU: Leadership is making hard choices.
P-H: I believe that’s a quote by Pete Buttigieg—my Person of the Year.
SCHWARTAU: Our new Secretary of Travel.
P-H: Now that’s a choice.
SCHWARTAU: Host or travel? The age-old question.
P-H: I think it’s more of a 10-year-old question—before Grindr, everyone was hosting. Should we talk about Shia LaBeouf? Obviously he’s disgusting and I believe Twigs 100 percent. He reminds me of Aziz and Louis CK, two people I personally never found cool. All these dorks were gutted when they got canceled because they loved them. But I’m like, hello, obviously these nerdy guys radiate weird aggression for getting rejected in high school. So I wasn’t surprised. And let me also just say this—Shia’s art partner, Luke Turner, has me blocked on Twitter.
SCHWARTAU: Well, that guy seems unwell.
P-H: He blocked me because I’m a vicious online leftist, but as an addendum to this bullet point—I heard this L.A. gallerist gay is suing Shia LaBeouf because they mounted this show that was specifically making fun of Luke Turner, and Shia LaBeouf allegedly came and punched this guy and stole his hat! So he’s getting sued for battery and petty theft.
SCHWARTAU: Now, is it boof or buff?
P-H: I think it’s funny to say boof.
SCHWARTAU: So you’re making a little joke. I’ve always been pretty grossed out by his artist cosplay—a huge red flag, as if real artists aren’t red flags enough. If you become a famous, rich movie star and you’re still just trying to gain acceptance at some Chinatown openings, like, maybe try enjoying your life? Just go to Malibu and get some sun, babe!
P-H: He was just jealous of James Franco’s bit.
SCHWARTAU: But James Franco is hotter and smarter. But I think he’s canceled too? As for Twigs’s lawsuit, I listened to Azealia’s Infinite Jest-length Insta story, and I agree.
P-H: Azaelia, or should we say Dr. Banks—in honor of Dr. Jill Biden’s professionalism—said it reeked of “evil white PR women in a conference room.” 100 percent true. It became a media circus.
SCHWARTAU: As Dr. Banks says, there’s a whole cottage industry of lawyers, agents, PR vultures who stand to gain from a lawsuit and publicity. But I think it’s possible to be suspicious of their motivation without blaming the victim.
P-H: They met on the set of this movie he wrote called Honey Boy. Her character had to do an American accent and apparently it’s really bad. I kind of feel like she should also sue him for that—casting her with this American accent that ruined her acting career.
SCHWARTAU: My regular accent ruined my acting career.
P-H: In the year 2020 you can’t make money touring. You can either do the Taylor route and release two albums, or you can sue your ex. One’s not necessarily better than the other. So I don’t judge her for that.
SCHWARTAU: Trump is kind of suing his ex, in a way.
P-H: Trump’s ex being America?
SCHWARTAU: Correct. I don’t even remember Shia and Twigs dating.
P-H: I remember her and Robert Pattinson. I saw them together once, and they seemed… short.
SCHWARTAU: My friend Brighton has been working with Robert Pattinson for a while. I feel like he read our column once?
P-H: One thing I don’t love about this lawsuit is that she’s suing him for giving her an STD, which is so homophobic. We literally still live in time when people can go to jail for giving someone else HIV, which is psychotic. If you have unprotected sex with someone, you take responsibility for maybe getting an STD. It’s deeply anti-gay.
SCHWARTAU: Speaking of homophobia, you can claim a guy made a pass at you and basically get away with murdering him. I just saw a gay panic case on a Canadian true crime show.
P-H: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it ’til I die of gonnorhea—everyone’s a bottom, and a lot of those bottoms are gay. Speaking of Canada, how was it?
SCHWARTAU: I kind of jumped the gun and left before the election was called.
P-H: Honestly, that was the best party of the year. The entire city was at brunch. 2020 was the year of guilt, and all that guilt melted away in an instant. Every Lauren in the Tri-State area felt like all the mask-shaming and protest-blaming and riot-fearing and small business GoFundMes were solved, or at least temporarily suspended. Everyone threw on all this Biden-Harris merch out of nowhere and every corner of the whole city was alive and bathing in sweet relief.
SCHWARTAU: Everyone took a big ballot dump.
P-H: You felt 30 pounds lighter. There was a real sense of camaraderie in the streets in this way that I feel like I haven’t felt since we were at the protests. But this time there weren’t any cops shoving me to the ground. The liquor stores in Manhattan couldn’t keep champagne on the shelves. And we were just getting wasted and then we went to The Odeon and then we went to the East River amphitheater. This truck exploded on the highway. I think someone died? It was all really fun.
SCHWARTAU: Was everyone masked, or like, making out?
P-H: I saw at least one person go home with someone else, so yeah.
SCHWARTAU: As Kamala said, “We did it, Joe!” I’ve been living a quiet, peaceful life in Montreal buying leeks at the farmers’ market and performing bilinguality. It’s a very bi, vers, flip-floppy city.
P-H: But do you agree with me that Montreal is so D-list? Everyone there is a video game developer who’s playing D&D in the park with a wooden sword.
SCHWARTAU: The Québécois don’t speak either of the two predominant languages on this continent, so they are definitely kind of blazing their own trail.
P-H: I follow this Toronto news outlet and the other day they had a headline “New Taylor Swift Lyric Video Features Canadian Street.” The saddest shit I’ve ever seen.
SCHWARTAU: There are a lot of secret Canadians.
SCHWARTAU: You either leave Canada or stay long enough to become an SSENSE model.
P-H: Canada’s just a shell company and I’m not the first person to say that.
SCHWARTAU: I told the border patrol agent that.
P-H: How intense was the cavity search?
SCHWARTAU: They were kind of like, “I’m too tired tonight.” I felt a little bit rejected. But they did pull out a dildo from my luggage in LaGuardia, which, by the way, had the hottest COVID glow-up I’ve ever seen. She had work done!
SCHWARTAU: I’ve got my dildo. I’m ready. GO.
P-H: Nancy Pelosi got a haircut. Good or bad?
SCHWARTAU: I’m pro. She needed a trim.
P-H: Agreed. This wasn’t just the year of guilt, but also the year of the guilty caption. Just the longest paragraphs you’ve ever seen in your life. You couldn’t get a haircut without saying, “First of all, I would like to point out it has been six months since I have received haircare. Second of all, I always prioritize local quex-led haircuttists. Thirdly….” Everything has a fucking appendix! An absolute deluge of content.
SCHWARTAU: Fuck a vaccine, we need Instagram editors.
P-H: Next item—James Charles. We’re pro-MUA right?
SCHWARTAU: Yes, everyone has the right to a different face. James Charles’s show makes me think of the new Slag Wars, that Cock Destroyers show that came out.
P-H: Oh, I haven’t seen that.
SCHWARTAU: Let’s just say my cock is fully intact. Which brings up another show: Stylish with Jenna Lyons.
P-H: I’m obsessed with this show. Never in reality television history has there been less at stake. There’s no penalties or rewards. A competition to “redecorate Jenna’s desk” resulted only in the winner hearing Lyons say, “I preferred your desk.” She’s starting a business, but has no idea what it is, or even the industry it’s in. She simply wants to wear blazers and be seen as a Girlboss. Every episode is this Pascalian wager: “We need to design an office because New York Magazine is coming to photograph it.” But there’s no work to do in the office!
SCHWARTAU: If you build it, NYMag will come.
P-H: It’s a stunning meditation on the pointlessness of creative labor and the inevitability of the post-work economy.
SCHWARTAU: She’s blazer-ing a trail to communism.
P-H: Okay, next topic: Post Malone launched a rosé. I don’t remember this. That seems very three years ago.
SCHWARTAU: I barely know who Post Malone is. I think we’re post-Post.
P-H: Next: Black Lives Matter—yes or no?
SCHWARTAU: I’m gonna go with yes. In Canada, there were also lots of Native Lives Matter signs.
P-H: There’s a lot of Native lands where they’re doing a ton of mineral extraction. This reminds me of my phone—the RED one, which is helping stop AIDS in Africa, thanks to Bono—but it’s lithium, which is mined by children in Western Australia. So there’s actually no ethical consumption under capitalism! I keep saying this and no one’s listening.
SCHWARTAU: “There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism” sounds like an excuse to do something bad.
P-H: Like Quibi, which did something very bad and was roundly punished for their crime.
SCHWARTAU: A quib pro quo.
P-H: As you know, I did personally destroy them. And I’m proud of that.
SCHWARTAU: They didn’t stand a chance.
P-H: I think that Quibi’s failure is an outlier though. Paying $6.99/month to stare at your dumb phone? That’s the future. Everything is a service, not a good anymore. You used to be able to buy a CD and listen to it as much as you want. Now you have to rent your music from Spotify. Same thing with video games, TV, our apartments—we will probably start renting food soon. If you never own anything outright, you always have to have an income, so you’re always a slave to the system. Quibi didn’t put the pieces together right, but the world that they imagined is still the world we’re living in.
SCHWARTAU: I think Quibi came out at a time when people didn’t want to feel like they were doing something that was bad for their mental health. People wanted meditation apps, not Chrissy Teigen judging roommate disputes in a fake courtroom.
P-H: Quibi was a baby, but a lot of older business-folx also died this year: Opening Ceremony, China Chalet, Lucky Strike, Century 21, Pier One, Pret a Manger. Do these businesses deserve to be open, yes or no?
SCHWARTAU: Let’s be honest here. There were a lot of stores. A skyrocketing number of stores. Of course, I love to pop into a shoppe. But I mean, what were the economics behind all of these operations, anyway?
P-H: I am so done with misplaced small business worship. Small businesses are still businesses: they still exploit their workers, often more so than big biz. Look at any restaurant! They’re hotbeds of abuse. It’s such a fucking canard paraded around by gutless politicians on every end of the spectrum that small businesses are these paragons of ethical purity. Not to mention bullshit bootstrappist propaganda! I love my local bars, but some quex-led soaperie is not inherently better than Costco. Let them all burn.
SCHWARTAU: Well, you’re certainly knocking them down when they’re down.
P-H: I’m not knocking. I’m knowing. The people who work at small businesses absolutely deserve all the support in the world, but the fact that the business they work for is small is not interesting to me. To be honest, it’s sizeist. For a society that allegedly wants to change body image standards, I’m seeing a lot of deification of the tiny.
SCHWARTAU: Like Tinyletter. Newsletters are the new stores.
P-H: On a darker note, I just wish we all could’ve taken a pause from being desperate content shills this year. The Zoom awards ceremonies. The audience-less parades. The Kelly Clarkson Show with the disembodied screens filling up the seats—people beamed in from their Wayfair-outfitted homes, dancing quietly to the Black Eyed Peas. Truly chilling.
SCHWARTAU: And to add fuel to the Wayfair fire, The Drew Barrymore Show.
P-H: Despite a pandemic, people still did the most humiliating things possible in the name of exposure, corporate allyship, and brand awareness. I just read in Us Weekly that Jordin Sparks performed on the Kalahari Resorts African-themed float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She was singing her Old Navy commercial theme song, shilling for some all-inclusive Sandals knock-off to an empty Herald Square. It’s like, does anyone have any self-respect anymore?
SCHWARTAU: I hosted a Zoom Drag Race viewing series.
P-H: So that’s a no.
SCHWARTAU: Well, I’m thrilled to report we reached Drag Race herd immunity.
P-H: Last question: vaccine, yes or no?
SCHWARTAU: I’m gonna see what everyone else does first.
P-H: I don’t understand why they won’t give it to gays first. We’re 10 percent of the population, but I feel like we’re doing 40 percent of the spreading. Everyone I know who’s gotten it is either gay or got it at a gay person’s house.
SCHWARTAU: I saw Ian McKellan got the vaccine. He’s at the intersection of gay and old.
P-H: Maybe old people do need it first. And then you also have moral hazards like with the Wall Street banks—bail them out once, they’ll just start taking risks again. Gays need to learn.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t think we have that gene.
P-H: Dr. Schwartau, I think you may be right.
SCHWARTAU: Okay, see you at the local vaccinerie!
P-H: I think they went out of business.