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Mailbag for November 17, 2023
My brush with Japanese car culture, faux Ben and Jennifer(s) drama, Glen Powell’s full Netflix dance card, Swifty burnout (or lack thereof), and defending fan-girldom.
Jacek and I truly are on the trip of a lifetime here in Japan and every stop we’ve made over the last two weeks has been memorable in its own unique way. We started with two days in Tokyo, staying in Shinjuku, and then it was off to Kobe for two days, followed by Kyoto for three, Osaka for three, with a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima, and then Hakone which is where I’m writing this mailbag.
I’m telling you this because our itinerary was based around the Hakone stop, and the experience we booked here – Thursday 16 November -- was the only day we could secure for this opportunity, so Hakone became our final town before heading back to Tokyo (Shibuya) to round off our stay in Japan for four days. This is relevant not because I’m about to give you a travel guide, but because there’s actually pop culture involved.
A few months ago, when I was planning where to go in Japan, seeing Mount Fuji was on the list and initially I thought maybe, since Jacek and I like hiking, we could book a few days in Hakone do some of the trails. But then, when we were on the Oppenheimer junket in New York together, ET Canada’s Carlos Bustamante and I got to talking about Japan and he told me about this company that arranges tours through Hakone with incredible views of Mt Fuji. A note on Carlos – he’s been big into manga and video games and Japanese pop culture his whole life, so he knows what he’s talking about where Japan is concerned. And this experience that he described sounded perfect for Jacek.
Because it’s for car enthusiasts, specifically JDMs (Japanese Domestic Market). Jacek is into cars, video game racing etc, but not necessarily JDMs. His favourite car is the 911, though. He is obsessed with vintage Porsches and he’s a really skilled driver. So this was literally the most perfect way for us to see Hakone and Mt Fuji, with him behind the wheel of a 1991 Porsche 911 964 Turbo, me in the passenger seat, and as part of a convoy of JDMs and other classic and new performance cars, driving along the mountain passes that twist and turn around the Mt Fuji area.
I’ve posted footage of the experience on Instagram stories so if you’re interested in what the day was like, please check there. In short… it was FUCKING AMAZING. And terrifying! Because in addition to the sightseeing and the photos (that’s why I was there, obvs – for the gram!), we’re going through these crazy winding narrow roads on the side of a mountain and these drivers, including Jacek, are living out their Fast and Furious dreams!
That’s the pop culture I completely blanked on when I booked this experience. Because I don’t really fuck with the Fast Furious franchise. I saw the first two movies, can barely remember them, and Sarah’s the one who has had to review all 18 of them, LOL, so I can go about my life not really knowing much about Dom and the Family.
I do, however, know something about Initial D, the street racing manga that inspired The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift because that was a Hong Kong movie based on the manga series that was released in 2005 starring, at the time, some of the biggest young Chinese stars in the business. The final twisty path yesterday on our drive, the one that closed out the day, was on the same stretch of road where they set a famous racing battle in the manga. I wish I could show you Jacek’s face as he was navigating that part of the route…but I can’t, because I was too busy white knuckling through those turns.
But Initial D was only mentioned once by our guides yesterday, when they were giving us instructions about the final twisty mountain pass. Fast and Furious was the piece of pop culture that was most prominent. The soundtrack was playing when we arrived at the reception area. I overheard some of the other participants talking about whatever whatever cars they had chosen to drive and which FF movie those cars were featured in. Most of these people were hardcore – there was mention of understeering and other driving terminology that I went over my head – and some of them were so nerdy about it that they’ve actually acquired their own JDMs to drive back home, wherever they’re from Australia, England, the US, etc.
And so the bigger point I’m making here is that, well, everyone has a thing that they fanboy or fangirl over. In my regular life in Toronto, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to engage with fanboys and fangirls of Fast and Furious or Initial D. So it was an added bonus to an already incredible experience to be reminded, as a student of pop culture, of the various fandoms that there are out there. And the lengths that people will go to in order to stay connected with the pop culture thing that they love the most.
Time for your questions.
Question from Lo:
My algorithm reliably feeds me Ben Affleck and Jen Garner stories. They’re fighting at school pick up. They’re smiling at each other in a car. I assume these are being fed to us from one or both their camps. Do you have any thoughts on what the strategy is here? Is it Jen trying to stay in the public eye? Both of them? Why would Ben or JLo want a gossip story about how he smiled at Jen and misses her? Or is this out of their control and the paps just really want pictures of Jen and Ben because they sell? Which, I don’t think people really care. But then again I’m writing this question.
This is not Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s strategy – not at all. This is about the paps and the tabloids trying to create a false narrative that will increase the value of the photos that are regularly taken of Ben and Jen Garner coparenting. Because without that false narrative, well, the pictures are kinda boring, right? These are two people who used to be married an experienced a lot of turmoil near the end of their relationship but who have found a way to keep their family together through their friendship. It’s a friendship that evolved out of romance. Which is beautiful but it doesn’t sell.
What sells, however, is the suggestion that Ben and Jen Garner are so close that JLo might be jealous. And if JLo is jealous it could mean that there’s trouble in Bennifer. And if there’s trouble in Bennifer, well, people can make money off of that.
The responsibility, however, isn’t just on the paps and Page Six, however. Let’s not absolve ourselves in this situation. Because they wouldn’t bother with this kind of fiction if they weren’t tapping into something in the gossip psyche. I see it in my inbox all the time – fans of Jennifer Garner who hate Jennifer Lopez and it becomes a comparison game: who’s the better Jen? And it’s women sending me this shit. So that’s on us. Like, I’m not talking directly to you, but I’m talking to the collective, this muscle that we’ve been conditioned to develop that we, hopefully, are trying to eliminate, that reflexes to turning women into adversaries.
In this case, I do understand the compulsion. Because Jen Garner was the woman who had to endure some really dark years when Ben was going through it. And I’m sure many women can see themselves in the same situation and can relate to her. After all, seriously, how many of us can relate to JLo, LOL.
But the next step of relating to Jen Garner is to understand that, for her, it might actually be a relief that JLo is around. Because now it’s not all on her. And maybe THAT is why she seems so happy these days?
As for Bennifer and the recent round of rumours about whether or not there’s trouble between them…
I personally haven’t heard anything from my sources but, you know, they’re famous people who are famously in love and, as we’ve seen, that doesn’t always work out. So I guess it’s possible that there might be some issues? But one of those issues is also probably the fact that there’s a whole audience of people just sitting around waiting for them to fall apart. Which is fucked up, isn’t it?
I have a sports analogy for this – apologies to Sarah because the sport is golf, haha. When you’re setting up for your shot in golf, it’s not uncommon for amateurs to want to aim for the target but end up hitting it where you don’t want to hit it. For me, it’s the bunkers. I’ll line up by body so as to avoid the bunker, and in my head, I’ll be like don’t hit the bunker, don’t hit the bunker, and of course you know what happens. I hit the fucking bunker.
I wonder if it’s kind like this for celebrities in love. Like they can hear the negativity around them, and they tell each other, let’s stay together, let’s stay together, but the noise breaks through, and steers them in the opposite direction.
I’m not in the business of celebrity sympathy, not always. But I do sympathise with celebrities like Bennifer in this respect. Love is hard enough to protect when you’re not famous. But when you are famous, there are so many more outside challenges, including thousands if not millions of people predicting or waiting or in some cases wanting your love to end. Can we spare some empathy for that or nah?
Question from Yolanda K:
What is happening with Glen Powell’s Hit Man? Why is it not on Netflix already? Read your great reviews and can’t wait to see it!
Hit Man is expected to premiere in the first half of 2024. It’s not on Netflix already because Glen Powell already has a rom-com coming out this December, and he and Netflix will want to create some space between Anyone But You and Hit Man. Also, this time of year, Netflix has their hands full with their Oscar movies, like Maestro, never mind they’re attempting to launch their own self-sustaining sci-fi universe with Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon in December. Glen’s dance card and Netflix’s were already full, so off to 2024 Hit Man goes.
Question from Shauna Finlay:
Practical question-we know Taylor is smart and business savvy and an amazing artist-but this tour would also be an intellectual and physical endurance event. But she shows no signs of burnout or exhaustion. What is she doing to keep herself so ON for such an extended period???
I don’t know specifically what Taylor is doing to keep herself ON except to say that the way The Eras tour has been scheduled, she’s giving herself a lot of breaks. Like for the most part (not always, take it easy Swifties, I get that there are exceptions), she performs on weekends, leaving the weekdays free to decompress. And there were multiple week gaps here and there during the tour in the earlier part of the year where she could check out. It was similar with Beyoncé and the Renaissance World Tour.
I don’t remember it always being like this with tours though. I remember tour dates being much more closely packed together. A day or two off here and there but it was show after show after show all the time. Beyoncé and Taylor have the power now to dictate how often they want to perform, but artists who are at other levels of success may not be able to make that call or resist the pressure from the labels and the Ticketmasters and Live Nations of the world to add as many dates as possible.
But also, some artists just aren’t suited to tour life. Miley Cyrus has talked about this, how disconnected she feels when she’s on tour. Some artists, like Taylor, feed off the energy of huge numbers of fans in one place; others react differently. It doesn’t make one less than the other, it’s just a difference in personality. It’s the live performance equivalent of love languages. Taylor’s performance love language is big and loud; Miley’s love language for performance might be small and quieter.
And fans are the same way, aren’t they? I know many music fans who don’t want to see big stadium shows. They prefer smaller venues, they find the stadium shows impersonal and would rather spend their money seeing artists in more intimate settings.
If we’re talking about huge artists and how they’re doing their shows these days – Adele is a big name, right up in the conversation with Taylor and Beyoncé and she’s chosen a Vegas residency for her live output. When she last toured, she hinted at the fact that she might never tour again… and in Vegas she’s found a way to make big money, give a live experience, but not have to go from city to city. And Vegas shows are an endurance test, too.
I don’t want to get into a “what’s harder” conversation where live performances are concerned because my worry in that is, well, concerts are already so expensive, too expensive. So many people are getting priced out of them. And if we start to make live performances hierarchical, who knows what effect that will have on accessibility.
Question from Kathleen:
This Ted Talk clip about “fangirls” came across my FYP this morning and can’t stop thinking about it. As someone who has “fangirl blood” in my DNA, and has been pretty healthily addicted to celebrity, gossip, as a daily reader of yours since the email newsletter days, I’m always catching grief from friends and family members about my silly interest. I mean it when I say thank you for creating the space, so I don’t feel like such a loser. I’m curious to know what you think about this TED Talk thesis, and how interest in the lives of celebrities is not silly at all, and shows genuine interest in sociology, culture and interpretation of news through a different lens!
This week, for this question, Jacob Elordi comes to mind, because of what he said about The Kissing Booth, following that well-worn path of other white male movie stars who shit on the thing that made them. And, more often than not, the thing that made them was big with girls and women.
It’s the continued devaluation of fangirls and what fangirls are into, despite the fact that fangirls bring in BIG MONEY, money that funds so many other projects. Book publishing is a great example of this, because romance novels sell. The romance book industry is consistently disparaged, and yet it supports the industry’s ability to publish the “prestige” books that don’t sell nearly in the same numbers.
But that’s why I’ll always appreciate Harry Styles. Harry Styles has never, ever, ever once dumped on his boyband beginnings. He never, ever, ever talks down to his female fanbase. I mean, I wish he would sometimes where his romances are concerned because some of his fans can be straight up abusive about the women in his life, but for the purpose of this conversation, and the fact that fangirls have made his career possible, this is not an artist who looks back on his One Direction days and the music that came out of that time and the fans who responded to that music with any kind of disdain.
In fact, he has on multiple occasions defended pop, and fangirls, and teen girls, and given weight to what fangirls are passionate about. If only the male movie stars could get what Harry gets right.
The next time someone gives you a hard time about being a fangirl, ask them who is their favorite historical figure. When they have named someone, dial your passive aggression up to “Stede Bonnet” and point out that every historical figure is a celebrity of their time, and the study of history is, really, a study of celebrity. We’re still gossiping about Catherine the Great! And Napoleon deals directly with both the gossip that plagued Napoleon Bonaparte in his lifetime and the propaganda that has merged into his actual historical legacy (more on that next week).
History is shaped by rumor, innuendo, and gossip, and there have always been fangirls leading the way (for more on the connection between history and celebrity, I recommend Greg Jenner’s Dead Famous). For fuck’s sake, the novel was popularized by women. The NOVEL! We wouldn’t have NOVELS if not for fangirls reading romances in the 18th century! Men were like, Don’t let women read novels, they’ll get ideas! And women were like, You’re welcome for the defining form of literature.
Everyone is a fan of something, and it’s fucking lame women and girls get shamed for our passion when fantasy sports bros walk around, unashamed. There’s no shame in being a fangirl—you’re a historian!
So thanks for being fangirls with us, and thanks for making The Squawk a place for fans to connect with each other and talk, as much as we want, about our faves.
Keep squawking, keep gossiping,
Lainey and Sarah
PS. Next week is US Thanksgiving so there will be no Tuesday newsletter or Friday mailbag but we WILL still be posting threads and chats every day so definitely come to squawk, especially if TNT give us the remake to Meet The Parents!
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