This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- The DNC afterparty nobody asked for.
- Dolly and Cher to the rescue.
- Remembering a Drag Race star gone too soon.
- A foolproof guide to getting a husband.
The tangles and knots that modern celebrities contort themselves into any time there’s an occasion for accountability or apology is as painful to watch as the tone-deafness of their performative, often useless attempts at political activism can be.
With the last few months amounting to Hollywood on a tightrope walk carrying a boiling hot cauldron, burning us more with every misstep, we should all be grateful that the legends arrived to set the example once again and teach these idiots how it’s done. Please welcome to the stage, Dolly Parton and Cher.
Showing off her unique talent at being the best at absolutely everything, yet adhering to her duties as the Patron Saint of It Really Shouldn’t be So Hard, Parton gave an interview explaining why she—back in 2018 before it was in the national conversation—removed “Dixie” from the title of her dinner attraction “Dixie Stampede,” owing to the word’s glorification of the slave-holding Confederate South.
“When they said ‘Dixie’ was an offensive word, I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to offend anybody,’” she said. “As soon as you realize that [something] is a problem, you should fix it. Don’t be a dumbass. That’s where my heart is. I would never dream of hurting anybody on purpose.”
In one corner, we have dozens of celebrities and companies paying millions of dollars for consultants, strategists, and publicists to stress over what changes to make in response to Black Lives Matter, in return burping out nonsensical boilerplate language to accompany the empty gesture. In the other, we have Dolly Parton: “Don’t be a dumbass.”
It echoes what she said about Black Lives Matter. “I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen. And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”
What I love about Dolly Parton is that everything about her that we hail as perfection is actually just being a human, one of Hollywood’s most endangered species.
Then there’s Cher, who has spent the last few days in a spiral trying to figure out how she can personally save the Postal Service. Not tweeting about how the Postal Service should be saved. But how she’s gonna get her iconic Cher self out there and do it.
First was the plea for someone, anyone, to let her know what her course of action should be. (She wanted to volunteer.) “IS NO ONE GOING TO HELP ME WITH POST OFFICE,” she tweeted.
Then, after about an hour had passed, she tweeted the update. She had called two post offices and asked to volunteer, and was politely turned down by both. “I Said ‘Hi This Is Cher,& I Would like to know If you ever take Volunteers.’” Turns out anyone who works a post office needs to be fingerprinted and background checked.
We need to first address the fact that an entire movie, if not movie franchise, needs to be made about the post office worker who picked up the phone and heard on the other end of the line, “Hi, this is Cher, I would like to know if you ever take volunteers.” Also requiring acknowledgment is the utter cruelty in denying us the capital-S Stories that would surface from Cher working in a post office.
And let’s not dismiss the potential for postal uniform redesign (artwork credit: me):
But, jokes aside, it’s inspiring to see that, while younger generations of public figures keep screwing this up so bafflingly bad, people like Dolly and Cher are still the benchmark for good.
There are things that people say when someone dies that have become such reactionary vernacular that, well-intentioned as the words may be, they sometimes seem meaningless or rote to me. It’s the condolences equivalent of, “How are you?” “Good, you?” “My friend died.” “They were a light.” It’s almost like a thing you’re supposed to say.
It’s a hang-up I have that’s outlandish and likely unfair, but one that I’m thinking about now in the aftermath of the news that Chi Chi DeVayne, the stage name of popular RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Zavion Davenport, died Thursday at age 34 of suspected kidney failure. All over social media, her drag sisters and family, friends, and fans have been remembering her. Almost uniformly, they are mourning the loss of a person and a performer who was “a light.”
Maybe it’s another instance of what I was talking about before, a nice thing we say out of habit. But in this case I get it.
I’ve been watching videos of her on stage, revisiting old interviews she’s done, and remembering why, even if she was never a frontrunner when she was there, I was always drawn to her on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
She was a gymnast and ferocious dancer. She was goofy and unafraid to look bad, which in turn often made her look spectacular. She had an easiness about her that made humor come naturally, sometimes unintentionally, exuding a familiarity that made you feel like you just found a best friend, who you never actually met, through a TV.
When she returned to Drag Race for an all-stars season, she described herself as a “trash bag queen with the heart of gold.” How can you not be immediately attracted to someone as humorously self-effacing as that? She was candid, movingly so, about her struggles with sexuality and escaping her upbringing in Shreveport, La., as a gang member.
The power of the show, of course, is the ways in which it spotlights the undeniable talent of people who have had to fight and manifest for themselves the power and confidence to love themselves in a way they could present so proudly and unapologetically on stage. Each runway, challenge, and lip sync is a celebration of the hard journey from the darkness into the light, a light the best of them, which Chi Chi was, starts to harness themselves.
I watch her lip sync to “And I’m Telling You…” from Dreamgirls in a Drag Race episode (see it here), and am struck by both the pain and the triumph of it. Chi Chi is a flips and tricks queen, but here she was, planting her feet, and summoning a lifetime of struggle into a performance bright with resilience. It’s true, and it’s my mistake because it really does mean something: Chi Chi was a light.
This list of “129 Ways to Get a Husband” from McCall’s magazine in 1958 went viral this week, and it is my favorite thing ever. Of course, it’s outrageous. Thank god things have changed, because this is some horrifying shit. “Go to all reunions of your high school or college class. There may be widowers there.”
Just for fun, I followed some of the tips this week to see if they worked. I stumbled when I entered every room, would randomly go cry in a corner, and walked back and forth in the living room carrying around a hatbox. My boyfriend didn’t even notice anything was different.
The Vow: Cults! Docuseries! All of 2020 America’s weirdly favorite obsessions.
Class Action Park: My parents talk about going here when they were younger as if they had survived war.
Love in the Time of Corona: It’s slim pickings this week.
Love in the Time of Corona: But also…that title...speaks volumes...
Unhinged: A Russell Crowe thriller that thinks you’ll want to brave corona to see it in theaters.