The evolution of public shaming

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In a piece for Vanity Fair this week, Monica Lewinsky opened up about why she decided to participate in a docuseries called The Clinton Affair:

Filming the documentary forced me to acknowledge to myself past behavior that I still regret and feel ashamed of. There were many, many moments when I questioned not just the decision to participate, but my sanity itself. Despite all of the ways I tried to protect my mental health, it was still challenging. During one therapy session, I told my therapist I was feeling especially depressed. She suggested that sometimes what we experience as depression is actually grief.

Grief. Yes, it was Grief. The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.) Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.

Lewinsky has made a few public statements about her experiences in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and I’ve found them all to be insightful and moving (see: her TED talk on the price of shame). Lewinsky continues:

Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words. Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Blair Foster, the Emmy-winning director of the series, is testing that idea in myriad ways […] I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women. Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful. But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.

The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal happened while I was a teenager, but I think I’m still coming to terms with how our society and the media completely annihilated everyone involved. Weeks of newspaper headlines and endless jokes on late night TV served to normalize mockery of this young woman who was caught in a vortex of circumstances that any normal person would barely be able to comprehend (This representative clip from David Letterman is absolutely cringe-inducing to watch today).

I had a similar thought when I watched Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary about Amy Winehouse, Amy. Winehouse was ridiculed endlessly for her background and drug problems, and the documentary implies that the public scrutiny drove her to the substance abuse that ultimately took her life.

The notion that society and the media prey upon celebrities (often women) until they have extracted all they can from them is not a new idea. South Park made an episode about it. The Onion satirized it. People like simple narratives, but what these instances reveal is that by reducing individuals down to an idea, a catchphrase, a single act, we perform a kind of psychic violence upon them. We strip them of their individuality and their complex fullness. We make them into punchlines.

The difference now is that there finally seems to be a stronger willingness to reflect on the decisions we’ve made in how we think about and discuss these things. In doing so, hopefully we can finally reckon with who we were and who we should become.

Also: For a thorough and engrossing rundown of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, check out the second season of Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast.


The 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, in 20 statistics

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We’re less than 48 hours from the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, but for me, here are the statistics that defined it:

  • 29: The number of seats Democrats gained in the House, as of this writing
  • 2: The number of Senate seats Republicans gained in the Senate
  • 46,143,122: The number of votes cast in favor of Democratic Senators
  • 46: The number of Senate seats Democrats now control
  • 33,593,564: The number of votes cast in favor of Republican Senators
  • 51: The number of Senate seats Republicans now control
  • 2.6%: The percentage vote that Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke lost by
    • 95%: The percentage of black women that voted for Beto O’Rourke
    • 71%: The percentage of white men that voted for Ted Cruz
  • 62,712: The margin of victory in votes that Georgia governor Brian Kemp won by, over Democrat Stacey Abrams (a runoff is possible but unlikely)
    • 1.5 million: The number of voters Georgia purged from rolls under Kemp (source)
  • 1.2%: The margin of victory that Democrat Tony Evers beat governor Scott Walker by in Wisconsin
    • 1%: The maximum margin of victory under which a competitor in the governor’s race can demand a recount, thanks to Scott Walker
  • 61%: In exit polls, the percentage of people ages 18-44 that voted for Democrats (source)
  • 92%: Percentage of Democrats in exit polls who believe Congress should impeach Trump
  • 100+: The number of women elected to Congress, many of them running for the first time
  • The first openly gay male governor ever elected: Jared Polis
  • The first and second Muslim women ever elected to Congress: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
  • The first Native American woman ever elected to Congress: Sharice Davids
  • The youngest woman ever elected to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Overall, this week was a big victory. Dems gained control of the House, there’ll now be a check on executive power, Trump’s legislative agenda is basically dead, and many people from underrepresented groups were elected. That said, I can’t help but think about the fact that millions still voted in favor of bigotry, weakening our institutions, and taking away the rights of others. It feels like our country is on the knife’s edge and a healthy majority of people, woefully underrepresented in our current governmental structure, are just barely holding us back from oblivion.


A few more takes to consider:

The cruelty of Trump

Adam Serwer, writing for The Atlantic:

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

Once you begin viewing cruelty as the end itself, as opposed to a means to an end, the policies and practices of Trump begin to make a whole lot more sense.

Twitter bans Alex Jones

Yesterday, Twitter finally banned Alex Jones and Info Wars from its platform:

In a Twitter thread, Buzzfeed reporter Charlie Warzel explains why this banning took so long:

Twitter likely sees this decision as being consistent with its rules (despite the fact that many have complained about Jones’ behavior on the platform for years). In August, when deplatforming Jones gained momentum, Twitter will argue it did not want to appear reactive by banning. Nor, it appears, did they want to ban him retroactively for old violations (which is why when CNN and others provided old examples of violating tweets, they issued Jones a warning/made him delete the tweets). Of course there’s a *huge* disconnect between this vision (which Jack sees as transparent and consistent enforcement) and what other people felt (that Jones was constantly acting in bad faith and that he would continue to harass, etc). […] Twitter sees this as part of bigger way to gain user trust. Reality is that is likely a naive view. People will be mad Jack et al didn’t do this faster. Folks on far right will see this as yet MORE censorship. If this was all a way to gain trust…not sure you can say it worked.

I’m relieved that Twitter has made this decision and saddened that it took this long. That said, I’m back on Twitter. A few people have asked me if my newsletter will continue, given that it was created in the wake of me leaving Twitter. The answer short answer is yes. Expect regular updates via email/blog post for as long as I can keep doing them. (If you’re new here, welcome! Subscribe to my emails here.)

The long answer is that being away from Twitter has really made me realize the effects that Twitter had on my life, both positive and negative. There were many things I missed about being on the platform: the film community, the hilarious memes and turns of phrase by the witty people I follow, the feeling that I was constantly up-to-date with the news, the ability to promote my work to a large audience and get it seen by thousands.

But I also realized all the terrible things about Twitter. I spent so much of my days refreshing it constantly for no reason in particular. I saw how the site is designed to reward only extreme opinions. Every day was just a constant stream of people dunking on each other and getting hundreds of thousands of retweets/likes in return. (Just look at Twitter Moments during any given day to see how the site facilitates and encourages this)

Most importantly, I was dismayed at how the site completely eliminates nuance. There are heroes and villains. If you participate, you are either the person being annihilated, or you are the person behind the gun, joining into the dogpile.

I welcomed the opportunity to write these newsletters/posts. It gave me the chance to step back and try putting together a complete argument. It forced me to slow down and think more deliberately about what I put out into the world. It prevented me from instantly sharing every passing thought in my head.

I’m grateful that you’ve taken the chance to be on this list and let me communicate with you directly. I think it’s made me a better thinker and honestly, a better person. So, thank you.


  • The most extraordinary story this week was the publication of an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times seemingly admitting that we are witnessing an administrative coup in the White House.
    • I found the follow-up interview with the section’s editor to be a fascinating tight-rope walk. I was also stunned that he didn’t seem to understand how big of a deal this piece would be, and the intensity with which people (including reporters at his own paper) would try to uncover the author’s secret identity.
    • David Frum at The Atlantic captures my thoughts on this whole affair: “If the president’s closest advisers believe that he is morally and intellectually unfit for his high office, they have a duty to do their utmost to remove him from it, by the lawful means at hand.”
    • Pod Save America also has a good perspective on the op-ed: it feels extremely self-serving and accomplishes nothing.
  • I’ll be at XOXOFest in Portland this weekend. If you’re around, hit me up via Twitter/email/whatever and say hi!

Not gonna take it

This New York Times piece by Kelly Marie Tran is truly something. A must-read for anyone who doubts that Asian Americans also experience profound marginalization:

Their words reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life: that I was “other,” that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them. And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from. And to me, the most disappointing thing was that I felt it at all.

Because the same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me. […]

I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of color in a white-dominated world. This is what it is to be a woman in a society that has taught its daughters that we are worthy of love only if we are deemed attractive by its sons. This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.

Tran deleted her Instagram account after being harassed, but we definitely haven’t heard the last of her.

That time I bought out a movie theater to show ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

It all began with a cover story from The Hollywood Reporter entitled “The Stakes Are High for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ — And That’s the Point. The article chronicles how filmmaker Jon Chu and writer Kevin Kwan had to make a tough decision about how/where to create a film version of Crazy Rich Asians:

Behind one door: Warner Bros., which had outbid other traditional studios with a distribution offer for Crazy Rich Asians a week earlier. Behind the other: Netflix, the great disrupter, which had come in hot the following Monday, dangling complete artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront. Now Warners had come back with not so much a counteroffer as an ultimatum, giving the filmmakers just 15 minutes to pick an option.[…]

Kwan and Chu had already tried to rationalize the cash grab: “Maybe we donate a percentage of our extra income to great causes,” Chu recalls the two having discussed the night before. “But where does that money go? Right back to trying to get to this position of getting us [Asians] on the big screen.”

No wonder Kwan, 44, was nervous. “I could sense every lawyer on the call shaking their heads: ‘Ugh, these stupid idealists.’ Here, we have a chance for this gigantic payday instantaneously,” he says. “But Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose. We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.” Adds Chu: “We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make, which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us.”

Asian Americans have been starved for big screen representation for decades. Not since The Joy Luck Club was released 25 years ago have we seen a film by a Hollywood studio set in modern times, starring an all Asian and Asian-American cast. Crazy Rich Asians would be that film for us, and Kwan and Chu both felt it was worth gambling millions of dollars on giving it a splashy, theatrical release in an industry where those types of things still have cultural cachet.

People often tell you to vote with your dollars, but when you’re an Asian American, you only get a few chances per century to financially express to Hollywood the types of stories you want to see. So when I heard about this story, I asked myself: What can I do to help? How can I show Hollywood that diversity on screen and behind the camera can mean big business?

I’d heard that there was a movement (#GoldOpen) to buy out theaters to show the film. I’d never done anything like this before, but after seeing the movie and being deeply moved by it, my wife and I both agreed that this being part of the #GoldOpen movement was a tangible (but not completely insane) way that we could show that we wanted people to Crazy Rich Asians seriously.

So I bought out a small theater in downtown Seattle to show the film this Saturday.

I talked about my rationale for doing so on this week’s episode of the Slashfilmcast, but I didn’t really expect it to make waves. Next thing I knew I was being featured in Seattle Times story on the subject, then doing interviews with local news stations King5 and KIRO (click the links to watch).

I’ll have a lot more to say about the film itself next week, but for now I just wanted to express my gratitude for the kindness and conscientiousness of all these local journalists who had me on to talk about the movement, not to mention all of my friends and acquaintances who have encouraged me on this little adventure.

It matters which stories society thinks are worth telling. It matters to see yourself and your lived experience represented on the big screen. Representation matters. I hope we can tell this to the world this weekend.

Asians and Affirmative Action

Aaron Mak, writing for Slate, about his decision to hide his ethnicity during the college admissions process:

There are multiple ways to interpret my college application experience, all of which hinge on whether you believe the allegations of anti-Asian discrimination in college admissions. If you believe that the discrimination does exist, then my attempts at passing were a way to sidestep a policy that treats me unfairly. If you believe it doesn’t exist, then I bought into a myth designed to slander affirmative action for the benefit of a white majority, giving rise to an anxiety-ridden climate in which Asian applicants are constantly told that they need to take steps to hide their identities.

I know many Asians who’ve struggled with these kinds of issues. Whether there’s actual advantage or a disadvantage to being perceived as Asian, it’s never something that we have the option to stop thinking about.

Stephen Colbert interviews Anthony Scaramucci

I don’t know what Anthony Scaramucci was anticipating when he first booked this Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, but I can’t imagine it was this. For nearly 15 minutes, Colbert relentlessly presses Scaramucci on questions he’s clearly uncomfortable to be answering, such as whether or not Steve Bannon is a white supremacist and what’s it really like working in this “dumpster fire” of an administration.

Colbert provides almost no quarter, even refusing an attempt by Scaramucci to turn Colbert into a “character witness.” It’s a stunning interview that puts to use intimidation tactics the likes of which The Mooch himself would probably have employed in a different situation.