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 Zoom call in New York, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is still chic, even in isolation. This time around, Talk Hole discusses J. Crew’s demise, Tara Reade’s name doppelgänger, and Britney Spears, the oracle of quarantine living.
ERIC SCHWARTAU: Hi.
STEVEN P-H: Well, well, well.
SCHWARTAU: J.Crew. Rest in Pinterest!
P-H: My theory is J.Crew only ever made money during graduation season—girls buying white eyelet dresses for graduation every April. In the wake of canceled ceremonies, their sales dried up.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t get this reference. I feel like this is very Massachusetts girl.
P-H: It is. We wear white dresses on graduation to honor our foremothers.
SCHWARTAU: We are the daughters of the witches you couldn’t burn!
P-H: And the unflattering hemlines of the navy halters you couldn’t sell.
SCHWARTAU: [Brandishes book] I’ve been reading over here. I spend so much time in my reading corner now.
P-H: It’s called a nook.
SCHWARTAU: That word was on the tip of my tongue, but I said corner instead.
P-H: Were you worried that people would confuse it for the Animal Crossing character, Tom Nook, who’s on everyone’s brain right now?
SCHWARTAU: Yes. Tom Nook is standing on my brain.
P-H: It seems like we’re having trouble talking, which brings me to a new theory: I was getting myself cancelled yesterday by being in the middle of a West Village gay pride parade that you may have seen on Twitter.
SCHWARTAU: Oh my god, that image is going around.
P-H: It’s almost as viral as the video I just posted! So I’d biked there, and I was noticing groups of people together, but no one seemed very talkative. It was as if everyone’s been waiting so long to socialize, they’d forgotten how to talk.
SCHWARTAU: I cannot make eye contact with anybody.
P-H: Exactly. There’s the guilt factor. There’s the being seen factor. You don’t know if it’s okay.
SCHWARTAU: I ran into a friend in the park, and I had to ask consent to go over and say hi.
P-H: We usually get over the hump of awkwardness in daily interaction by being physical and using body language and kissing and smiling. But all these things are weirder when you’ve got a mask on and you’re six feet away.
SCHWARTAU: Right, you create this awkwardness. It’s already there with any social interaction, but with social distancing, you don’t get to deweaponize—
P-H: You don’t get to deweaponize the awkwardness. I love you saying that word.
SCHWARTAU: Thank you. I’m glad you repeated it.
P-H: My question is … is it over? Because the vibe this weekend was very like, it’s randomly over and everyone’s just out. I biked to Manhattan. Can you imagine? I felt like I’d never used my legs before. It was the most pain I’ve ever been in all my life.
SCHWARTAU: I can’t believe you biked.
SCHWARTAU: I think that is Grimes’s baby name.
P-H: Then I went to the Seaport, and it reminded me of this recent episode of RHONY where they go to this Seaport-y bruncherie and Dorinda goes, “This doesn’t feel like New York. This feels like Boston.” And then we got to the Christopher Street pier, and it was randomly normal vibes.
SCHWARTAU: Why did every white person get the memo to go to the pier at that time?
P-H: I couldn’t tell if it was eerie or fine. Everyone was walking around with their to-go craft cocktails. Okay, I have a point coming on. Are you ready?
SCHWARTAU: Absolutely. Let me just change into something more comfortable.
P-H: In this Trumpian, post-truth era, no one knows which authorities to trust. We don’t trust the media. There’s no unified institution people listen to. All we have to trust are vibes. Basically, the decisions of the country are being made on a vibe basis.
SCHWARTAU: I completely agree, as a vibe.
P-H: A month ago, the vibe was super serious. Then the vibe was silly. Now the vibe is … that it’s over?
SCHWARTAU: The vibe is very like, we’ve done our work, we need a break. There’s quar fatigue.
P-H: The vibe is just 7PM.
SCHWARTAU: The nurse claps are starting to harmonize with the right-wing protesting, and now we’re all just making noise and hugging each other on both sides of the political spectrum.
P-H: This is very the mural I saw at Bloomingdale’s on my epic trip to Manhattan. They boarded up Bloomingdale’s with this mural of well-intentioned phrases, including the word “bipartisan” and, in another corner, just “7PM.” The concept of 7PM.
SCHWARTAU: A time of the day that will live in infamy.
P-H: Now when we clap at 7PM, we are clapping for the concept of clapping at 7PM.
SCHWARTAU: The most fun part is seeing your neighbors, who you’ve never seen before in your entire life.
P-H: Sorry, the cats outside my window are having their own 7PM right now. They are fucking each other so loudly. It is truly heat season.
SCHWARTAU: Much like cats, I’ve become obsessed with birds. I paw at the window every time I see a bird fly by.
P-H: You sound unwell. I’m calling the police at 7PM.
SCHWARTAU: I’m considering getting into video games because I’m like okay, my brain is not actually being stimulated by watching birds. I’m also trying to read The Stack by Benjamin Bratton.
P-H: Wait, let me guess what it’s about. Losing your virginity at the library?
SCHWARTAU: That’s the sequel, Between the Stacks. No, it’s about software and sovereignty.
P-H: Whoa, okay. That sounds like an article in the last fifth of The Economist, like in that weird finance and technology section, and you’re just like, who even understands this?
SCHWARTAU: After having an Economist prescription—well, subscription—I realized that you’re basically just reading the same thing every week.
P-H: A magazine has stylistic unity. The Economist has these short articles that seem like they’re really intelligent and predictive but never actually reach a conclusion. Every single article ends with, “And it remains to be seen whether Egypt’s economy will improve or un-improve.”
SCHWARTAU: Right. I’ve been thinking about media forms.
P-H: You have said you are a media theorist.
SCHWARTAU: So one thing I wrote down in my little notes, which I think actually speaks to your viral video—congratulations, by the way—
P-H: Thank you.
SCHWARTAU:—is the concept of being on mute, which I think is a big moment in time right now. In your video, in a way, you’re on mute. You’re a mime.
P-H: Yes, I’m evoking all of us in the work zoom meeting. Muted yet frantically dancing to appease the boss.
SCHWARTAU: Being on mute is liberating.
P-H: When you’re on mute, you’re removing a layer of meaning, like how my video has the text removed. You let the viewer—or your co-workers—create meaning from your face. And why not? IRL meetings were a waste of time anyway.
SCHWARTAU: Hell is an eternal meeting. Offices are labor camps. Google locks up employees as long as possible and plies them with “amenities.” That said, my work has become so integral to my life now that I do it from home. And I used to keep them separate. I’ve been forced to find purpose in my work.
P-H: I’m curious to know what you thought your life was versus your work.
SCHWARTAU: I basically mean my apartment. My life equals apartment.
P-H: Speaking of your apartment, I want to talk about sexuality.
SCHWARTAU: I just looked at this matrix of top, bottom, big spoon, and little spoon. Gemini was directly in the middle.
P-H: And as we all know, I’m a Gemini. So many tops are little spoons because they put in all this work and then they want to be comforted.
SCHWARTAU: I think one of the biggest misnomers is this idea that big spoon means top.
P-H: I know, but ultimately it does make sense because if you’re actually getting truly topped the guy is much bigger than you. So, therefore, he’s also the big spoon.
SCHWARTAU: Is that a materialist viewpoint?
P-H: Yes. Žižek found dead. And a twink found even deader underneath him.
SCHWARTAU: Big spoons are dangerous.
P-H: I broke my little spoon banging him on a pot for essential workers. Okay, so the other day I was walking to Henry’s to get wine in Bushwick. I feel like there’s more people on the streets here for a couple of reasons. A) because the people in this neighborhood are not fleeing to second homes. And B) because all the bars and restaurants are closed, people have nowhere else to go.
SCHWARTAU: That makes sense. The neighborhoods with a lack of access to resources and no tourism obviously have more people still hanging around.
P-H: A second home is a resource. It should be guaranteed to everyone.
SCHWARTAU: People are resources, real estate is resources, culture is resources, everything’s coming up resources.
P-H: Okay, cultural vibes, we have to talk about cultural things. This is a cultural podcast. So the Met Gala …wait, no, fuck that. Anderson Cooper had a baby.
SCHWARTAU: Now Don Lemon needs to have a baby. I wonder if they have a rivalry.
P-H: I’m sure they have a rivalry. You know, I used to intern CNN in … I’m not going to reveal my age, actually. But Anderson was closeted then.
SCHWARTAU: What was the level of interaction?
P-H: We would make eye contact across the newsroom, while both walking at the most insane gay speed. Picture me literally sprinting in the tightest jeans through the Time Warner Center and him at a nervous jog in his Macy’s blazer, locking eyes, knowing each others’ darkest secret, without saying any words.
SCHWARTAU: A socially distanced love story.
P-H: But with Andy Cohen and Anderson having their surrogate babies, I’m just like, gays—you don’t need to. You don’t need to have your own mini-me. The whole point of homosexuality is to not reproduce. That’s why god invented it.
SCHWARTAU: But there’s so much pressure from your family that wants a cute grandkid.
P-H: Why can’t you adopt then? Like, why do you need to plant your flag in some woman’s womb? Can you just chill?
SCHWARTAU: It’s narcissism. You want to see this younger version of yourself. You hate being you, you hate getting older, you hate being boring. So you want to have this little you—that’s your youth serum.
P-H: It’s a fear of dying.
SCHWARTAU: You can choose to have a kid or you can choose to be an artist. Everyone is trying to create their legacy.
P-H: Legacy! Wait, Eric. That’s so smart. That was, like, a smart thing. Can I admit something embarrassing?
SCHWARTAU: In fact, I’d love it if you did.
P-H: Yesterday I did go ahead and look at my ex’s boyfriend’s Instagram to see if I surpassed him in followers, and I had not.
SCHWARTAU: Your ex’s boyfriend. Wow.
P-H: I’ll admit it. Followers are one of the only things in a post-truth economy that we believe in.
SCHWARTAU: We’re living in Follow Feudalism.
P-H: Back in the day, you had to have taste. There’s a reason Naomi Campbell became a supermodel, because she actually has talent and people recognize that. Nowadays, we look at whatever the algorithm has said. Although you could say the algorithm is just responding to what people like. Maybe it’s just the same thing.
SCHWARTAU: There are people behind algorithms.
P-H: Algorithms are people. #YesAllAlgorithms! Okay, my list keeps wanting us to talk about the Met Gala. It didn’t happen, but people went to it?
SCHWARTAU: I thought I saw everyone being like, “I’m at the Met Gala!”
P-H: I saw celebrities doing fashion shows inside their homes, in big apartments walking towards the camera.
SCHWARTAU: Well, Britney Spears invented doing that, so …
P-H: She did invent cameras. We should talk about her burning down her gym.
SCHWARTAU: Britney’s gym is the new Schrödinger’s cat. Existing in multiple states simultaneously, both burned down and not. Or, maybe Britney is the cat? Anyways, I love how she’s just like, “Oh, by the way…“
P-H: The way that she casually threw it in there! She is the original savant of quarantine. She’s been sheltering-in-place for the past decade, making nonsensical videos in this big empty TikTok mansion before there even were TikTok mansions.
SCHWARTAU: They took her keys away, and she’s just always ordering oil paint and canvas off of Amazon.
P-H: And all because of her weird legal conservatorship.
SCHWARTAU: Maybe what we’re doing is being put in a conservatorship by the state.
P-H: The Chicago walking gays videos started it. That’s when China was like, “We need to make a virus. We need to wrap this up.” Wait, did you hear about the fabulous woman who, like, invented Corona? She’s allegedly a triple agent for France, China, and Gilead. She’s so fab. Everyone’s calling her Batwoman, but her name is Shi Zhengli, which is such a chic name.
SCHWARTAU: Makes sense to me. I don’t mean to be sound conspiratorial, but the companies profiting off of this are like the five biggest companies in the world.
P-H: At the same time, an Aperol rep gave me a free Aperol spritz as I was picking up my Caviar from Minetta Tavern in the West Village the other day. And so, in that sense, I think that these big companies are giving back to their community. I guess Aperol hasn’t been controlling the world like Amazon.
SCHWARTAU: I just saw an ad for Postmates that had all these celebs, like John Legend and Katy Perry, saying their favorite spot that they like to support by getting takeout.
P-H: My favorite spot that I support is this little company called Postmates that’s based in San Francisco. Now more than ever, they need a seven percent transaction fee when I get a matcha green tea coconut substitute sorbet delivered at 2AM! Everyone’s trying to reposition their absolutely barbaric practices as being benevolent. Speaking of evil corporations, there was some Amazon worker strike on Friday and I saw so many people saying, “Don’t buy a foam roller on Amazon today! Wait til tomorrow!”
SCHWARTAU: The strike was actually a promotion.
P-H: Anything that puts the onus on individual civic action is going to be annoying and ineffective. It’s the same with global warming. Emissions have only gone down five percent since this started, even though nobody is driving anymore because of quar. And this is why we will never escape capitalism, because Americans are so trapped by the language of capitalism—all we know is to try to devalue other people, shame them for their individual actions, and lie. Next topic: Tara Reade.
SCHWARTAU: I mean, the name alone.
P-H: It’s completely insane. No one is going to mention the fact that her name is Tara Reid.
SCHWARTAU: I know. There’s so much association with that name.
P-H: About being an unreliable female narrator.
SCHWARTAU: Exactly. But also having her career ruined over a nip slip. She’s a tragic figure.
P-H: The issue with a case like this is men are either creepy or they aren’t. Joe Biden is quite simply one of the creepy ones. He sniffs every girl he meets.
SCHWARTAU: It’s incredible that he is the nominee.
P-H: In other news, I watched Cameron Diaz’s livestream today with her stunt double. It was really disappointing. I thought they were going to be doing stunts. They were literally just talking to each other.
SCHWARTAU: You know, talking can be entertaining in many ways. We’ll end on that. Congratulations on your viral tweet, Steven.
P-H: Congratulations to me.
SCHWARTAU: Love you.
P-H: Love you, bye.