Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Playing Humanity Straight: The Essentialist Philosophy of Star Trek

When James T. Kirk encounters the man who would forever be known as his greatest villain, Khan Noonien Singh, we learn something about Earth history. In the late 20th century, humanity attempted to go beyond its physical limitations via genetic manipulation. The result was a breed of super-intelligent, super-strong people who had commensurate aggression and arrogance. The war between unaltered humans and these augments was the Eugenics War and it either caused or was a contributing factor to the world war that would send humanity into a post-apocalyptic dark age, only brought out by the work of Zefram Cochran. This caused all genetic manipulation to be banned in the Federation.

Fast forward a century or so and we learn that that ban has been slightly lifted. Genetic engineering is now acceptable as a corrective tool for people born with genetic defects. Enhancement beyond that is illegal and people who have been enhanced are second-class citizens at best and locked away at worst.

Consider also technological enhancement. Jean-Luc Picard has an artificial heart. Geordi LaForge has a visor that corrects his blindness. Yet we never see a single instance of a human who has used technology to augment their body in such a way that surpasses the limitations of a fully abled human. In fact, we have the Borg in stark contrast. More machine than biological, their individual abilities have surpassed any individual human but at the cost of individuality and freedom, rendering them nearly-unstoppable monsters.

Cloning is also questioned as being outside of the natural order of humanity. When the Enterprise-D encounters a lost colony who survived being wiped out via repeated cloning and the abandonment of sexual reproduction altogether, little effort is made to preserve their new entirely asexual culture. They are simply told to reproduce as per the biologically mandated norm in order to survive.

There's a common thread to all of these cautionary tales: there is a 'correct' humanity that needs to be preserved. Star Trek has often been hailed as an optimistic counterpoint to the tendency of sci-fi to pick holes in future tech and create doomsday scenario- but the show is actually quite clear in that it's only optimistic because humanity doesn't try to change essential aspects of its physiology. Indeed, there is an ideal human and technology is only there to 'raise' differently abled people to that standard and no further. Deviation from the biological norm is heavily discouraged.

With this in mind, it suddenly becomes even more dire that LGBTQ+ representation is practically non-existent on Star Trek and 100% non-existent among humans in Star Trek. The lack of representation takes a darker turn: perhaps it is this very basic essentialist view of humanity that precludes the existence of LGBTQ+ people. It's clear that the writers of Star Trek generally held this view- after all they wrote all of the cautionary tales of deviating from the norm. It doesn't take too much of a stretch to assume that this is also how they viewed LGBTQ+ people- a deviation to be discouraged and not represented. It seems as though, to the writers, this lack of representation in humanity is not a bug- it's a feature.

Consider the cultures in Trek that exist outside of a cis hetero gender binary. The aforementioned clone colony from "Unnatural Selection", the agender species in "The Outcast", the three-sex species in "Cogenitor". They all have something in common: they're antagonists and their antagonism is directly related to the fact that Federation humans have a moral complaint related to what makes them different. In general, this complaint stems from the fact that these cultures engage in patriarchal actions, but twisted to fit the mold of their different sexuality. Is this a flipping of the narrative of the damage of the patriarchy or is this a defense of the correct cis hetero patriarchy? If there were an example of such a culture that was presented sympathetically, perhaps that question would be easier to answer.

But there lies the greatest disservice the Trek writers did to the show. They simply didn't present those stories. They didn't allow themselves to explore those margins of the human experience in a positive way. They took an essentialist stance- one that knew what 'humanity' was without question and treated everything else as inhuman- even if those features were something already found within humanity.

Picture mildly related.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Necessary Whiteness of Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen

There are precious few superheroes whose whiteness I feel is an important aspect of their character. For the vast, vast majority, they are white as default and created and drawn in an era when the idea of making them anything but white would've been unthinkable- literally, no comic creators would think of it. Holding onto them as white is basically saying that we accept that enduring legacy of racism in our popular culture. That's because they have always been white, and obviously they must continue to be so- it's our heritage.

However, there are two men whose whiteness says something about them and about their roles as superheroes.

Bruce Wayne is a man who grew up with every single possible privilege afforded to him. His childhood was spent comfortably in the blanket of invulnerability that created for him. When that was shattered by the death of his parents, he turned to rage and vengeance. He looked at a world that damaged his own privileged perspective and demanded 'justice' for that crime.

Bruce Wayne, ladies and gentlemen.
It's notable that Bruce's initial quest was not to be a crimefighter- he merely wanted to punish the man who killed his parents, Joe Chill. Generally, he doesn't get this revenge- other people tend to kill Chill before Bruce has a chance, frustrating his quest and redirecting his rage. He no longer has a clear target, but someone needs to be held accountable.

As a result, he uses his vast wealth to be the Batman. Batman is a force of fear and legend. The intent is that the possible consequence of brutal violence at the hands of a masked vigilante will cure the city of its criminals. These people who commit crimes need to be punished swiftly and without question. It is inherently the logic of the white male who thinks society itself has wronged him by allowing these people to exist. Bruce Wayne is a man who faced tragedy and instead of asking how and why it happened, demanded that other people suffer for him. He asks society how it can rebuild his fortress of privilege.

In contrast, take the other essentially white man in question: Oliver Queen. Again, his whiteness is intrinsically tied to his privilege and how that informs his personality and his goals. Like Bruce, he comes from a whole dang lot of money. After being stranded on a desert island and forced to survive on nothing but himself, he developed skills by necessity (not anger, unlike Bruce)- skills he would have to use to destroy criminal organizations based on the island.

He returns to Star City to fight crime as an adventurer, the Green Arrow, but the more he explores the criminal side of his city, the less he sees it as adventure- he starts to understand the real core problems. He starts to empathize with those who are truly oppressed. He starts to see the systems of power keeping them that way and endeavors (with varying degrees of success) to fix them, both through his connections and money as Oliver Queen and by the point of an arrow as the Green Arrow. He's not acting out of rage- he's acting out of concern. Where Bruce asks society "How can you help repair my fragile feelings of privilege and masculinity?" Oliver asks "How can I help you repair yourselves with my privilege?" The (fantastic) Arrow TV show goes a step further- he returns from the island understanding that not only was he blinded by privilege, his privilege was actually quite directly causing the oppression of others. His family's wealth was built on the backs of other people and the systems that allowed that to happen, the people who caused it, were the things that needed to change- not the petty criminals who were created in that system. 

There's a lot put upon Bruce Wayne's psyche in that really, even when he's being Bruce, he thinks of himself as Batman. He's only in danger when he's Batman, when criminals and supervillains are aiming to kill him, when society shuns him as a vigilante. So it's telling that he chooses to internalize those feelings even when he's not wearing the suit- when he's actually just the richest whitest dude in Gotham and no one could possibly be a threat to him. In contrast, Oliver Queen adopts the Arrow persona, but is still essentially Ollie. He doesn't internalize that oppression and danger- he willingly takes it on to help people when he has to. He's a great contrast in every way.

It's not like I'll get up in arms if such a day ever passes that either is cast with a person of color. I'll actually be fine with it. But I do think there's something important said about both of them via the fact that they're white. It doesn't happen often with superheroes, but in these two particular cases, it actually works. 

Here's a picture of Stephen Amell shirtless.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Akira, Shakespeare, Whitewashing, and Racebending

The triannual threat from Hollywood to make a live-action Akira movie has once again reared its ugly head. In years past, it's always been made very clear that they intend to make an "American" version with an entirely white cast. This is, of course, horrible. Akira is a deeply Japanese manga. The culture described is based very firmly in Japanese youth culture of the era in which it was written. The plot is a reflection of cultural memory of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Translating it into American culture is deeply problematic and difficult, and that's even assuming anyone involved gives even the slightest shit about doing any more than saying "It's set in Manhattan now, and everyone's white." Which is what's going to happen if this abomination ever gets made (it won't.)

But one of the arguments I see people make in favor of that treatment (and, horrifically, they exist) is that cultures all over the world get to do their own version of Shakespeare! That's something that's ours, as white people, dammit, why do they get to do it?

Oh my goodness, what an argument. Let's put aside the issue of cultural appropriation and its intrinsic ties to power differentials and colonialism- that colonialism impresses its own culture on other people's by choice and then steals from them by force and hegemonic pressure. I mean, that's a really big elephant to put aside, but I'm not the best at discussing that and it's not a topic people who would be making the Shakespeare argument would even believe in anyway.

I am, however, pretty good at discussing history, and motherfucker you just put Shakespeare and race in the same discussion so yes, let's discuss that.

There's two Shakespearean plays where a person of color is a prominent, even titular, protagonist: Antony and Cleopatra, and Othello. Of the two, Othello is the more interesting and is widely celebrated as one of his best tragedies. The 1965 film version is the single most critically rewarded film adaptation of a Shakespearean play. It's survived largely unchanged for over 400 years.

In it, Othello is a Moorish captain in Venice, in love with an Italian woman, while forces conspire to keep them apart, succeeding in tragic fashion (spoiler alert). Themes of racial and cultural divides are central to the story. Othello's actual racial identity is much debated, as the Moors were a very cosmopolitan people in Elizabethean times. Some contend he was of Arabic descent, others say he was of sub-Saharan descent- in any case he was certainly a person of color.

It probably goes without saying that Shakespeare did not actually cast a Moor as Othello. His players were 100% white English dudes, including the women (basically, they were Monty Python.) There's some debate as to whether Shakespeare had ever even met a Moor. So, naturally it was played in blackface. In fact, an actor of color did not play Othello until 1826- 261 years after it was written. Richard Burbage took the stage to play the Moor in London and his presence was about as well received as you can imagine:
Unsurprisingly given the times, there was considerable resistance to the presence of the world's first black Othello. Eighteenth century London was the epicentre of Britain's pro-slavery lobby, and the press conducted a campaign of blatant racism against him. In one of his two Othello performances at the Covent Garden theatre in 1833, The Atheneum objected to actress Ellen Tree as Desdemona, being "pawed about on the stage by a black man." The Times newspaper had been just as scathing eight years prior, when it commented that, "Owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English."
Of course, this was England, where racial issues were certainly present, but not quite a fraught as in America.  In fact, in America, a racially correct Othello wasn't seen until 100 years later in 1943, when Paul Robeson played the character.

And then, we come to Hollywood. You'd think, okay, the first black film actor to play Othello couldn't have come too long after the first American stage actor. Oh, gosh, you would think huh?

1995. Laurence Fishburne. That wildly celebrated 1965 version I mentioned earlier? Sir Lawrence Olivier in blackface. In Nineteen. Sixty. Goddamn. Five. That's only 50 years ago and he was nominated for an Oscar for his blackface.

So yeah. Let's goddamn bring Shakespeare into the race conversation, because it's not really helping the "WOO WHITE PEOPLE" side over here.

In more positive news, Neil Gaiman's American Gods is being adapted for TV by Bryan Fuller (creator of Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal). Production is starting as soon as they cast the protagonist- Shadow.

Like Othello, Shadow is described as having dark skin- certainly a person of color. He is however, left very racially ambiguous. Many people assume he's black, other people picture a more Hispanic character- I feel like he probably looks racially ambiguous, owing to the themes of America's role in taking the cultures and gods of immigrants and stripping them away into nothingness, forcing them to leave behind their identity.

At any rate, Fuller had this to say about casting him:
I think if we cast a white man to play Shadow we would be the biggest assholes on television...
One of the things I’m most excited about for American Gods is the diversity in the cast because there’s such a wide range of ethnic Gods in the world. Right now, we’re imagining two white roles and everybody else is non-white, so my goal, Michael’s goal, certainly Neil’s goal has been to have a very ethnically diverse cast. That’s important to all of us.
Right. On.

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Blogging with Privilege

I spend a lot of time thinking about why the hell I blog (for the three weeks out of the year that I do). I don't consider myself or my opinions particularly important. But I still (occasionally) write things. Part of it is feeling like I should be writing more. Just the act of writing encourages better writing and even if it's terrible, sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.

But then there's the issue of what I tend to write about. It's no secret that I'm a cis white dude. But a lot of what I write are opinions and analysis of feminisms and racisms and other social justice-y things. Why the hell does another white dude's opinion on any of this matter, even if it's from the perspective of an ally?

Puppy unrelated.

It's totally a question I find myself wondering anytime I write anything related. Am I adding anything meaningful to the conversation? Is it even possible for me to add anything meaningful?

I feel like one way I can answer that is: I'm not necessarily part of the larger conversation. Yes, this blog is public, but I don't want to inject it into a conversation where my presence has not been requested. It's a place where I can converse with myself. Where I have a record of thoughts and can look back and decide whether or not I agree with myself still. Really, I have to lack any anticipation of anyone caring (not hard!)

In that sense, it's easier to blog. I'm just talking to myself publicly. But why do I need to do it publicly?

Maybe it's because it'll be easier to link my thoughts? Maybe it's easier to be called out when I'm wrong. I like that second one. Because I'm totally and easily capable of being wrong and if someone comes across me being wrong and tells me I'm wrong, that means I could be more right later on. Which is good. So maybe that's the value? I have a corner of the internet where I talk to myself about things I find important. If someone listens in, they can point out flaws in my logic. If no one listens in, that's okay too.

I don't know why it took me that long to figure that out.

Friday, June 12, 2015

On "Transvestite"

I recently came across someone mentioning online that the word 'transvestite' has fallen out of favor. At first, I was a little confused. I can understand it being largely inappropriate- after all, it can be easily incorrectly used to identify a transgender person, implying they are merely dressing as the opposite gender but aren't truly that gender. But it seemed to me it still had value as a word- after all, Eddie Izzard. A man, firmly identifying as a man, wearing women's clothes and makeup.

Kitty image irrelevant to post.
But it occurs to me that if Eddie is a man, wearing his own clothes, aren't they men's clothes? They belong to a man. They're not worn by anyone other than a man. How are they possibly women's clothes? And if they're not women's clothes, he's just a man with a particular style, like pretty much every other man.

Of course, I'm not actually saying Eddie isn't allowed to have his own identification as an executive transvestite. It's just not something I'd ever really sat down and thought too much about before. It just became bizarre to me that things can belong to a gender. If you don't sew up the middle of those lower body garments, that's a woman's skirt. What if a man owns it and wears it? Nope, it still belongs to some mysterious theoretical woman who might come claim it someday. You've been warned, damn you! So maybe there's no real value to the word 'transvestite' after all- it describes a person who, ideally, doesn't need to be described at all.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On MMOs, And Why I Play Them Then Forget Them

I've never been good at sticking with playing MMORPGs. I've tried tons. WoW, LoTRO, Rift, WildStar, The Old Republic, Star Trek Online...but I never stick with them, no matter how much I keep trying. And, yet, I keep trying. Something keeps compelling me.

When I was 6 or 7 I found Gemstone 3 on Prodigy. Gemstone 3 was a MUD, the text-based precursor to MMOs. I was enthralled. I was always a nerdy kid, I loved the Chronicles of Prydain and The Hobbit, and I took to the opportunity to explore a fantasy world with other people like a fish to water. Simutronics, the creator of the game, at one point was creating a game called Archmage, which was supposed to be a graphical version of their MUDs. The idea was mindboggling, that you could have that many people playing the same game and actually see the world instead of reading it. It never came to fruition, though, and my video game interests turned console-ward with Final Fantasy 3 and Earthbound spurring the charge, though I always maintained a love of MUDs.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I'm on WoW. Initially, I get the same thrill as those old days. So many people to talk to. So many places to explore.

Unfortunately, something began to creep around the corners of my mind. I wasn't competing with the other players directly, like PvP so often does even (especially?) in MUDs. I was competing to beat the game first. Suddenly it just snapped from exploring to a rich world full of interesting people to "I'm playing a video game that I have to deal with other people in." People who troll and harass you. People who you have to rely on to complete tasks but we're merely playing a game together.

It killed the magic. It was just a game. A game with a win condition. Sure, the win condition was updated every so often, but then I thought back to the MUDs I loved. There was never a win condition. There was no such thing as "endgame". You made what you wanted out of the game. You decided what your character's journey was, the life you wanted to live, and you strove for it. In that sense, you were always exploring new territory. You were always reading new stories and you weren't playing a game with people, you were genuine collaborators, doing something new and special every time.

From beginning to end, every character has pretty much the same story in any MMO. Best case scenario, you're devoting huge amounts of time in your life to be one of the first ones to finish the story. There's no magic there, there's just achievement chasing.

But I keep chasing that thrill of exploring a new world. And I keep running into the same game. The same goals. The same disappointment.

Friday, May 29, 2015

History Post: Khaemwaset

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

When I was in high school, I read Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandias for the first time. It became the first and probably still only poem I know by heart. Coincidentally, I also read Watchmen for the first time that same year, wherein a super-intelligent hero goes by the alias Ozymandias.

I learned quite a bit about the real Ozymandias- Ramesses II. Despite Shelley making him synonymous with great rulers forgotten by the world they once ruled, he was not. In fact, he's still quite renouned as one of the most powerful kings in antiquity. Heck, he's a major character in the most popular book ever written: he's the Pharoah in Exodus.

I started using the name Ozymandias online shortly after that. Not really that seriously- I had the teenage tendency to just glom onto whatever I liked at the time and use it as my screen name. It just so happened that that was pretty much the last time I did that so it stuck.

However powerful and interesting Ramesses II was, though, he wasn't the person in his family I like most. Dude had a few sons and daughters- somewhere between 40-50 total. And not all of those sons were destined for the throne, obviously, not least of which because he lived to be 91 and outlived at least 10 of those sons.

One of those sons was Khaemweset. He never took the throne- he died well before his father did. So he got to spend his whole life as a member of the royal family without any particular responsibility. He took one up of his own choosing- history.

Ancient Egypt is popularly viewed as one big lump of history. Pyramids, Pharoahs, the Sphinx, all of it took place in the same big nebulous 'ancient Egypt.' Reality, of course, is far different. The life of Ramesses II took place 1000 years after the Great Pyramids were built. His son spent his entire life looking up at them and was determined to make sure they were understood and not lost to history.

He studied them, learned everything he could about them from local legends and what was already known at the time. He restored them as best he could do they could weather the sand and ages. Whenever he learned new facts, such as the names of kings entombed within them, he carved their names into them so they would not be forgotten.

In that big nebulous area of the past we simply refer to 'ancient history', Khaemwaset was the most determined ancient historian. While his father was poetically linked with the ruination of monuments, he will be forever linked with their preservation and study.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Second Chance for Diversity

Back in 2010 a social media grassroots campaign formed around the fact that Sony was rebooting the Spider-Man franchise. The idea: why not cast Donald Glover as Peter Parker? After all, the defining features of Peter are that he's smart, a bit of a nerd, but wise-cracking and fun. He grew up in a working class neighborhood in New York City, an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle. Also, he got bit by a scientifically improbable spider. Nothing about the character was defined by his skin color- he was white because he was created by white dudes in the early 60s, but that description could easily fit someone of pretty much any race- after all, it's NYC.

In fact, that issue is something that has plagued comics. It was 40 years before Batman had a recurring black supporting character. Shakespeare's works have more prominent people of color than the original Justice League (or, for that matter, the current Justice League too.) The origins of nearly all popular comics come from a time where it was literally unthinkable to make a main character anything but white- simply put no one thought of it. Yet those characters and stories have endured for nearly 80 years in some cases and, while we live in an era where it's okay to reimagine Hamlet as a lion, it's not okay to reimagine Peter Parker as black.

Except while the Peter Parker campaign failed, not everyone in Hollywood is pushing against it. On The Flash, Iris West (pretty much originally conceived as "Hey, The Flash needs a Lois Lane") is played by Candice Patton. On the upcoming Supergirl show, Jimmy Olson is going to be played by Mehcad Brooks. We've seen our first glimpse of the new Hawkgirl in the season finale of the Flash- the Earth 2 version of Kendra Saunders, now represented by Ciara Renee. The (awesome) DC TV universe isn't the only place this is happening, either. Ben Urich in Daredevil was played by Vondie Curtis-Hall (brilliantly). Ultimate Nick Fury has been the MCU's most constant companion, and they very pointedly chose to pretty much make the Sam Jackson version the canon Nick Fury across all of their properties.

Meanwhile, canon characters of color are being raised to greater prominence. Age of Ultron ended with Falcon and War Machine being part of the New Avengers. On Flash, Cisco Ramon (who was considered so offensively stereotypical in his original comic incarnation that artist George Perez refused to draw him) is a main character and extremely well liked by fans. Agents of SHIELD brought Daisy Johnson front and center.

It represents an attempt to say "Hey, for whatever reason (racism) these stories were completely white the first time they were told. Let's try again." And while it's far from perfect (notice how no one mentioned is the main character), it's better. It's an admission that the original stories came from a worse time for a lot of people- and that adapting them to a new medium means we can do better this time around.

And, in turn, comics have started to try- at least Marvel has. The current comic Avengers include Ms. Marvel (aka Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American from New Jersey), Nova (aka Sam Alexander, a Latino teenager from Arizona), and Miles Morales- the Ultimate Spider-Man inspired by the campaign to make Donald Glover Spider-Man.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Failure in Kirk's Success

I keep thinking about the recent Trek movies. I don't know why, but I can't get them out of my head and how much I'm disappointed in them. One of the things that keeps bothering me is Kirk. Not Chris Pine's portrayal of him- that's fine, but his hero's journey. In the Original Series, Kirk was successful through force of will. He broke rules because he thought it was right. He fought monsters and won because he was very good at that double-fisted smash move. He did things well and was rewarded for doing them.

The new Kirk is portrayed as someone whose destiny it is to follow in his alternate universe version's footsteps. The end result is a Kirk who never really earns his place. He's the Destined Hero, someone that shouldn't exist in Trek or, if it does (e.g. Benjamin Sisko) it's accompanied by a more more philosophical look at it- one that questions out understanding of reality (e.g. Benjamin Sisko is the destined hero because he was the one who revealed to the prophets that he was their destined hero and oh my goodness non-linear time is confusing.) Now, for a while that's where my annoyance ended. They broke something Trek-like.

Recently I've reconsidered that its even a little bit worse that that. Kirk is the poster child for privilege now. This is a guy who keeps getting every chance. Pike gives him a shot in the bar because of his father. He gives him command of the Enterprise because of a lucky guess. Spock Prime interferes with the timeline and tells him to take command again because of alternate universe Kirk. Prime manages to get Kirk yet another chance after he's demoted for breaking the Prime Directive just because of a feeling.

Kirk gets every goddamn chance to succeed and we're supposed to be happy when he does. Of course he does. Everyone keeps letting him! People refuse to let him fail because he's the special boy. He didn't actually work his way up to his status, he kept being placed in the exact position to be the guy who gets the glory when there's success. The original Kirk would fail and work his way back to success. He was flawed and worked past his flaws. He was a great captain because he was a great captain, not because everyone else believed he should be. The only time I can remember Kirk being handed a role for success because of who he is was Star Trek 6- he was given the ambassadorial position because he was so renowned as a dude who hated Klingons. He was given the role because his personal failings made his success more meaningful, not because he was a great man destined for greatness.

New Kirk never worked past anything personal to succeed. His failure to uphold the Prime Directive didn't come into play when fighting Admiral Robocop. His brash and lewd behavior wasn't an impediment to beating up Tattoo Romulan. New Kirk gets to be the same jackass he always was, but in a position for everyone to constantly praise him. Nothing learned, nothing gained, just the enthusiastic support of his peers because he happened to be the captain of the flagship of the Federation at the right time.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Podspeed you! Black Emperor

Paul F. Tompkins is, these days, pretty much renowned as the patron saint of comedy podcasting. He'll show up on pretty much any podcast, be charming and funny as hell, and leave you wanting more. His original podcast started 5 years ago as maybe one of the most ambitious comedy podcast projects yet created. Each episode involves a recorded sketch from his variety show in LA, a conversation between some of his ridiculous stable of improv characters, and a phone call to his good friend Jen Kirkman, all of which are strung together by his trademark hilarious stream-of-consciousness ramblings scored by Eban Schletter (who is only the best.) Though the podcast has been defunct for 2 years now, after the end of its second season, it still stands as a great piece of entertainment and, hey, the fact that it has an end might be a bonus- it's not a permanent commitment.

Comedy Bang! Bang! regular Lauren Lapkus presents a idea for a podcast that ends up being a bit too risky to always pay off. Known for her absurd characters on CBB, she ran with that idea into make a podcast where she's always playing a new different character as a guest, while a new person each week is the host of the show. As a result, each episode is only as strong as her guest. She needs someone and a premise to play off of so if her guest(host) isn't up to par, the entire episode falls flat. That said, if the guest(host) is up to snuff, it wildly succeeds, especially when seasoned podcast veterans or her friends in the Wild Horses UCB improv group are in charge.

Janet Varney is a comedian and actress of some note (and the voice of Korra in Legend of Korra!) but she shines particularly brightly as a podcast host. The JV Club invites women of Hollywood onto the show to discuss their childhoods, school, and lives before they because famous. Varney pulls it off with wit and a friendliness that seems to set her guests immediately at ease and creates fun, funny personal conversations. Each episode ends with a game of MASH, a uniquely clever way to dig a bit deeper and learn more about each person. It's breezy, but very entertaining,