Talk Hole: Alison Roman, Nancy Pelosi, and Everyone But James Charles Get Canceled
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 across Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is still chic, even in isolation. This time around, Talk Hole discusses the cancellation of shallots, Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of Donald Trump, and the un-canceling of James Charles.
ERIC SCHWARTAU: I’m making a martini.
STEVEN P-H: I’m having a Campari soda.
SCHWARTAU: How much vermouth to vodka?
P-H: Barely any vermouth. I wanted to congratulate you on your haircut again.
SCHWARTAU: Did you notice the back? I faded it. [Turns around for camera.]
P-H: Is it supposed to look like that? It seems almost intentionally asymmetrical.
SCHWARTAU: That’s good. Asymmetry is very… I mean, just putting an A before anything is fab. We’ve been using the word asynchronous a lot in education.
P-H: I identify as ahandsome. You know, one thing we’ve learned about education is it was always about childcare, not the math or whatever.
SCHWARTAU: #MomsNotMath. I have seen a lot of kids in the background of Zoom meetings.
P-H: Okay, none of my coworkers have kids. Yet I assumed they were all older than me. I assume anyone with a whiff of professionalism is older than me. I assume anyone who’s more successful than me is older than me as well.
SCHWARTAU: We say that age doesn’t matter, but I do think there are certain attributes to exact ages.
P-H: Like how 27 is the best age to be a graphic designer?
SCHWARTAU: Yes, and to kill yourself.
P-H: 33 is the best age to be a martyr. That was the age that both Jesus and Alison Roman were killed.
SCHWARTAU: I jumped to the defense of Alison Roman mainly because I have made numerous dishes of hers, though her spring tofu soup did make me very gassy, maybe more than any other dish I’ve made. So maybe she should take that into consideration. She’s canceled for that.
P-H: I think the real divide is aesthetic—between coastal classy elitism, this Romanoff bougie millennialism, and then Chrissy Teigen’s dated food court vibe. Anna Khachiyan called them both “Madewell normies,” but I have to disagree. Roman is a former Madewell girl-turned-Rachel Comey girl, who makes Mediterr-adjacent recipes for other Comey girls and their moms. Teigen is an Everlane girl in gifted Yeezys making Cheesecake Factory recipes for Uncommon James shoppers. She’s way richer than Alison Roman, but her audience is mid-market Madisons. I mean, gun to your head, name a single Chrissy Teigen recipe.
SCHWARTAU: I go soft on Chrissy because she did give me my first-ever viral tweet and she follows me, so although I defended Roman, I wasn’t willing to tear apart Chrissy. She hasn’t interacted with me since that viral moment, but I still consider her close family.
P-H: I have this same relationship with Padma Lakshmi. I can’t talk shit about her. It’s hard when glamorous POC food women follow you. I side with Teigen, though, because her response to the whole situation was funnier; she said that she doesn’t have a content farm, she makes it all herself. “I am the farm, I am the pigs”—that was funny. Whereas Roman was just pure self-involved martyrdom, just pure Warren witchery. “When it’s your baby’s first internet backlash that’s amore”? I was just like, eyeroll into the back of my head.
SCHWARTAU: Alison’s not that famous, she just popped onto the scene. I think she didn’t even realize she was comparing her own position to Chrissy and Marie Kondo. Not that Marie Kondo got involved in the drama.
P-H: It didn’t spark joy for her. My other theory is if she had done this interview with a really vaunted publication it wouldn’t have been a big thing, because it wouldn’t have seemed like a secret. But she did it in some trade publication, so it seemed naughty.
SCHWARTAU: Trade is very naughty.
P-H: It’s like how Ben Mora got canceled for having a private Twitter, whereas if he said that stuff out loud and in public, I don’t think anybody would have cared.
SCHWARTAU: That’s how everyone’s getting away with everything now, hiding in plain sight. It’s how Trump keeps his power.
P-H: Trump’s the ultimate example of someone who says every little cancelable and/or illegal thing that comes into his head. There’s no smoking gun ever, there’s no gotcha moment, because he’s out and proud. There’s also the cultural appropriation conversation around Roman, which could be interesting but isn’t.
SCHWARTAU: I mean, she’s not being like, “How to Make Authentic Thai Curry From My Grandmother’s Recipe.” She’s just using coriander.
P-H: But I think the criticism of her is that she’s not referencing the story of someone else’s grandmother’s use of coriander.
SCHWARTAU: She’s representative of, let’s call it the Salt Fat Acid Heat movement, where it’s not about the culture behind these foods and where they’re from. It’s about having this universalist scientific knowledge: what’s a salt, what’s an acid, what’s a fat.
P-H: Isn’t that show all about the culture behind the foods? Isn’t it this condescending girl going to Italy to be like, ‘Oh my god, the Nona knows how to do it.’
SCHWARTAU: No, I think the overarching idea is teaching you that cooking involves the same concepts no matter where you go. It goes back to Chopped. You just get thrown these ingredients and you have to like come up with something. You know, people want fusion dishes.
P-H: Fusion was so early 2000s “East meets West.” It was all about tempura tacos, parmesan ramen, etc. But we’re post-fusion. And we’re certainly post-fear of ethnic cuisine, so I don’t buy the idea Roman is erasing other cultures to make it more palatable. Even a MAGA dad in Missouri wants sushi on Friday. Although personally, I would not get sushi in Missouri.
SCHWARTAU: If you can’t see the sea, you shouldn’t taste the sea is my motto i just made up right now. I’m also mad because I could only find very expensive anchovies for her anchovy shallot pasta. I feel like anchovies are sold out all over the city. Sardines on the other hand…
P-H: I have confused those things since the day I was born. We say packed like sardines, but the truth is anchovies also come in a can.
SCHWARTAU: Anchovy erasure! Speaking of erasure, can you believe our technical difficulties going live last week?
P-H: I’d love to discuss how harrowing going live was, and investigate why our experience using the app Instagram was so incredibly homophobic and violent.
SCHWARTAU: First of all, I blame your connection.
P-H: I’ve done two other live shows and it worked.
SCHWARTAU: My boyfriend screen recorded our conversation because he’s very sweet. He sent me a 1 GB file of the whole thing.
P-H: Is he your boyfriend, or is he a server?
SCHWARTAU: In many ways, I am looking for a server.
P-H: Have you ever met IRL?
SCHWARTAU: Yeah. Well, he’s in the cloud, right now. The cloud is Canada.
P-H: Convince me that Canada is real and not just extra data storage for America.
SCHWARTAU: They both have a lot of free space. And if you think about it, paper is the original data storage and there are a lot of trees in Canada. So, in many ways, it’s always been a server farm.
P-H: That is the sound of my mind getting blown, honey.
SCHWARTAU: I could write a book about it. That idea is equivalent to a book. And don’t get me started on tree rings and the volumes they speak.
P-H: Canada be like, “I am the farm. I am the pigs.”
SCHWARTAU: I love how it ended with 18 people in a Zoom meeting where we had them all muted. It was this beautiful ending for the survivors.
P-H: When you go through an experience like that, you feel really indelibly connected to those people. It’s like the Nathan For You episode where they all camp on that mountain to try and get 15 percent off gas or something.
SCHWARTAU: Except in this version, they couldn’t speak.
P-H: Maybe one day when this is all over they’ll run into somebody in real life, and they’ll be like, “Were you at that crazy Talk Hole Zoom? What a disaster!”
SCHWARTAU: They sanctioned us because you were playing copyrighted music at the beginning. They decided whatever you did after that was against the rules and they needed to take away our bandwidth.
P-H: This always happens to gay people.
SCHWARTAU: That’s so true. You know, I just finished a gay book.
P-H: Wait, don’t tell me—the Bible.
SCHWARTAU: It was Gore Vidal’s The City and The Pillar.
P-H: Oh, I do love Gore Vidal. I read part of one of his books, many years ago.
SCHWARTAU: You might be kind of a Vidal-esque figure.
P-H: He’s an insane cunt. So I identify with that.
SCHWARTAU: But he also went to a fancy school and has a little holier-than-thou attitude.
P-H: Yes, we are both pretentious. I also think he tries to be less servile to authority than most of his cohort, and I’m the same way.
SCHWARTAU: To make this comparison more nuanced, he’s a political dropout to some degree like yourself, though he did try to run for governor of New York.
P-H: I literally was fired from politics! And I still try to be a political authority on things, yet I’m also like fuck it. But he was just such a virgin and fat and I don’t identify with those things.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t think he was a virgin or fat. I read his autobiography.
P-H: Google search: “Gore Vidal fat virgin.”
SCHWARTAU: That’s not the way to search. That’s finding the answer you want to see. Type in “Gore Vidal skinny whore.”
P-H: Interesting. This BuzzFeed article says, “Gore Vidal, Iconic American Author, Had Way More Sex Than You.”
SCHWARTAU: Love a challenge!
P-H: So the next topic is going to be Instant Influencer. I really hope you watched the finale.
SCHWARTAU: I did.
P-H: I think this is possibly the best show of all time. It’s a show on YouTube, obviously a fake show that they shot in three days. So I see it as a pilot of a concept. And I think the answer is loud and clear.
SCHWARTAU: Instant hit. I just hope next season they have more contestants.
P-H: It’s so brilliant and manages to address all of the issues of what it means to live in a society today and be addicted to our phones. The utter collapse of meaning that has accompanied the democratization of media is on full display in a way that all these other shows from legacy culture producers have tried to show and failed, like that one we love—I’ve already forgotten the name—
SCHWARTAU: Love Is Blind. Love is Blind is for millennials who are looking to get married. This is for Gen X-ers who are looking to get validated.
P-H: The contestants want to be influencers, which is an inherently empty position. How do you create this kind of scaffolding around yourself with a fake sense of meaning so you can sell a product? The goals of the challenges are literally to sell products and get people to make copy-cat videos. There’s no smokescreen. You’re trying to get views and likes and numbers.
SCHWARTAU: And it all revolves around painting your face. How far can you really take an idea when you are limited to such a small surface area? Which I think we saw exposed in the finale—I’m not sure anyone knew what the word “concept” meant.
P-H: Ashley had the best look, with her Off-White-inspired text “lips” on the mouth and “cheek” on the cheek. But she was literally just doing Off-White. It was just someone else’s idea.
SCHWARTAU: She definitely had the best story. A single mom and a beauty influencer? Hand me a tissue.
P-H: There was lots of text on the face, also. The insecure white girl—Kailin?—she just wrote “words people think she is” vs. “words she actually is” on each side of her face.
SCHWARTAU: Which is very corona, using a face covering to send a message.
P-H: I loved the element of the collapse of language. She spelled naïve wrong.
SCHWARTAU: I also love how James Charles is 20-years-old and is acting like he’s RuPaul and has done this for 40 years.
P-H: He’s 20!? Wow. I mean, Tyra Banks actually is the rubric for this. She invented the den mother reality show host persona.
SCHWARTAU: Ru has been trolling Tyra ever since “Supermodel” came out. I do think there’s something to be said for Drag Race. There’s slightly more of a family feel, or actually maybe Ru is just better at exploiting the queens and keeping them under her watch. With ANTM, all those girls just kind of disappear into the reality void.
P-H: That’s very true. The drag industry promotes making it on your own, but as a model, someone has to choose to photograph you. There’s no modeling night at a bar.
SCHWARTAU: Drag Race asks more of its contestants. It’s Project Runway meets Top Model. I don’t think models really get billed as artists. They’re traditionally in the muse category.
SCHWARTAU: No one seems to be stopping models from calling themselves artists, and vice-versa. I’m imagining Art Forum looking like Vogue in a few years.
P-H: Back to Instant, this is also the only time I’ve ever seen a reality show include video editing as a crucial skill if you’re under 30. Part of every challenge is literally editing the video.
SCHWARTAU: This is the TikTok, front-facing comedy world we live in. I always say the comedy is in the edit, but that’s because I can barely string a sentence together. The most ‘this is a pilot’ part of the show is when they get kicked off and James Charles opens the door to the ring light set and awkwardly stands next to them in his huge heels, but the contestant is still sitting. The height differential is humiliating.
P-H: And then they have to film this cheery sign-off video together while the person’s crying for being eliminated, which I find so humiliating and fun to watch. And ironically, it’s born from this need to be relentlessly positive where everything now is about self-love and confidence and building each other up.
SCHWARTAU: I don’t think it’s about relentless positivity. It’s about the ruthlessness of capitalism.
P-H: You have to put on a happy face when you get sold for parts. And they do! I just love the tears streaming down their faces while they’re just like, ‘Like and subscribe.’ And James Charles is in his insane strappy custom blazers.
SCHWARTAU: I was much more impressed with James Charles than I thought I would be. I started watching his makeup videos and I was like, okay, he is getting kind of conceptual here. He had a blind girl do his makeup.
P-H: That is definitely a concept. I’ll watch makeup videos and YouTube haul reviews to blow off steam after a long day at the office, and I prefer the videos where they really tell you what they’re doing. “If you have a dark under-eye circle this pigment reacts this way” or “this viscosity of the product does this.” It’s the same with the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen videos: “So the onions are gonna emulsify and you’re going to get a lot of that creamy good caramelization. And you’re gonna have to wait about five minutes for the oxidation to start taking place.” Even if I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, I want to hear that expertise.
SCHWARTAU: It’s science! We want to hear about the Salt Fat Acid Heat in the eyeliner.
P-H: Maybe this is just me being a Northeastern liberal elite Warren witch worshipping the cult of professionalism.
SCHWARTAU: This is why The Ordinary brand is so popular. It’s telling you all this stuff you don’t understand, and you’re like, wow that sounds so smart and scientific.
P-H: I mean, when you put numbers on something, it looks smart.
SCHWARTAU: That’s so true.
P-H: But there is a disease in influencer culture of reacting to things without explaining your reactions. I hate when I’m watching a video and I see some girl slathering on foundation and she’s like, ‘I hate this.’ Why do you hate it? What exactly is the issue with this versus the other 17 pieces of paint on your clown face right now? I’m watching you put on makeup. Make this worth my time.
SCHWARTAU: So you’re saying there’s a lack of criticality.
P-H: Yes, yes. And I think that the woman judge on Instant Influencer who invented Anastasia Beverly Hills, I don’t know if her name is Anastasia or if her name is Beverly Hills, but I do think that she is advocating for more critical discourse.
SCHWARTAU: She’s advocating for you to remember her name. On the topic of critical discourse, who am I supposed to get my pandemic news from these days? Bill DeBlasio, Andrew Cuomo, The New York Times? When is it safe to open Grindr?
P-H: They’re going to start letting people on beaches, but you can’t go swimming. Make it make sense. Like, what possible science could undergird the theory that it’s okay to be on a beach, but not in the ocean? You’re much more likely to be close to someone on a beach than you are in the vast depths of Poseidon’s realm.
SCHWARTAU: My friends are planning a vacation to Greece in July and I’m planning a trip to my roof. COVID is really exposing how disconnected everything is and how everyone is getting information from very different sources. We’re all just going to pretend it doesn’t exist but still use it as an excuse for antisocial behavior.
P-H: Social distancing is going to be a really good “you can’t sit with us” kind of excuse on Fire Island this summer.
SCHWARTAU: That being said, let’s get a house. If anyone’s reading this column who does have a share, get in touch.
P-H: I feel like that’s going to be the trend—these morally flagellating, modest-sized versions of extravagant vacations. You go to Greece but you stay in a contactless hostel and have to walk everywhere in ancient gladiator boots.
SCHWARTAU: I’m taking my time in quarantine to enjoy being a human and not feel like I need to be in a certain place to exist.
P-H: Not only do I have anxiety about making my secret post-quar corona plans, I also still have anxiety about being productive enough during quar. It’s only added to the litany of anxieties that plague a modern woman, which is me.
SCHWARTAU: Same. Well at least there’s now a trillionaire, and we can all aspire to be him, so it gives us something to look forward to.
P-H: And you know what they say, you can’t spell hope without Bezos. Which means kiss in Spanish.
P-H: Wait—Nancy Pelosi fat-shamed Trump.
SCHWARTAU: Shady queen! Go on Red Scare, Nancy.
P-H: Nancy Red Pill Pelosi.
SCHWARTAU: It’s always hydroxychloroquine and never hydroxychloro-King. Think about that.
P-H: Nancy Pelosi is canceled. Earth is healing.