Three Days at the Fair #3DATF
Updated: Nov 9, 2019
This is Coach MK's Link-riddled FIERY INTRO to the Happy Birthday, Dear Susan episode of Fitness Protection: The Podcast, now available on your favorite podcast player. We (meaning Coach MK) originally conceived this as shownotes, but the notes and links quickly got out of control....so shownotes are now the blog. You're welcome!
We are testing this new podcast format for FPP- speaking about relevant events and tying them to our running in the intro to give context to our discussion- did you like it? If it had been 10 minutes or 5 minutes long, would you have enjoyed it more? PLEASE TELL US! You are our first listeners, so you will always matter MOST. firstname.lastname@example.org
How have I been? Down in a hole. A BOTTOMLESS REDDIT HOLE!!! I binged Stranger Things Season 3 because #winonaforever and was like REDDIT TELL ME WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Then, Courtney Love’s 55th Birthday happened, and with nothing on my calendar until this podcast about Susan’s 50th birthday, there was nothing to stop me from a DEEP THOUGHT DIVE about the importance of 1991-1994, when Edward Scissorhands was EVERYTHING and Winona and Johnny and Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain dominated all headlines.
Sorry, Coach Sarah, you’re gonna have to sit back and let me talk AT YOU for a minute, since you were what, 5 years old in 1991? I was 13-14, and Susan was 22.
I don’t think you can overestimate the cultural impact of Courtney Love, and how much she, as well as the collective response to her, shaped a generation of women and our relationship to ambition.
Let’s start with a fun fact: My youngest daughter is named Violet, and I've said why- cheyanne suggested it bc purple is my husband's favorite color, but how the name got on the list in the first place? It was my favorite song for years; I will never forget how I felt when I heard those opening chords the first time, in my bedroom, hovered over a pink Sharp tape deck EXACTLY like the one featured on stranger Things 3.
The chatter around Courtney Love was fascinating. She is the first ambitious woman I remember being aware of, so I couldn’t miss how her ambition was used against her, to invalidate her achievements as well as her talent and her marriage.
In last week’s podcast, I discuss how I did not view myself as talented much less THE MOST talented, but I truly believed that hard work, GOOD work, would be enough, because ambition fuels work and work is GOOD, right? I didn’t understand how ambition could be a bad thing, how the world would hold it against me. I believed that the world could reward the work of J.Lo and The Incredible Talent of Mariah Carey, too. the mythology around Courtney Love and the way even notable female journalists perpetuated those narratives, shook me to my talent-less most-tenacious core.
*Sarah has no idea what I'm talking about*
You don’t look convinced, so let’s drive this home - can you think of another ambitious, EVIL calculating woman who emerged on the national stage around the same time period? Whose ambition was used to invalidate her accomplishments as well as her marriage? EVERYONE was talking about her marriage. We still do. Haha, check the shownotes over on the blog for my thoughts because I KNOW WHAT HAPPENS when you say her name out loud even once (SKIP DOWN TO FOOTNOTES FOR MORE!).
So, 1992 is when I really started paying attention to the narrative structures women had to navigate, how limited my responses in any given situation really were, what people just would NOT listen to. It was everywhere, I couldn’t unsee it.
Like, remember Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting and disappeared for like 15 years? of course you do! That was 2001! Remember why she started taking painkillers in the first place? Probably not, prior to 1996 when concurrent digital publishing became the standard, publicists had (more) power to kill stories before they were 'out there'. Now, publicists exist to train powerful people on narratives and story angles so they can use the media to their advantage, it's a totally different game. And it’s JARRING when a man won’t play it; it’s his to lose.
Courtney Love called attention directly to those narratives and how inescapable they were for women in a time when no one really gave a shit. She would remain an angry junkie groupie with a guitar who got lucky and married a rock god (never mind facts- it's no secret who was bigger when they met and married; even the least seasoned Reddit sleuth could pull together a timeline that questions the dominant narrative: that she was dating Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and specifically dumped him for Kurt's rising star. Not true. She was a fixture in the music scene...both observing and performing. She wrote every song she sang. She had her own agent and label before meeting Kurt. She has stated multiple times that Violet is about her relationship with Billy; she dumped him for someone who treated her better. She can prove Kurt did not write that song; she'd been touring it before they met. But that's not as familiar a narrative as "ambitious golddigging whore"). What's true is that her sound DID change after signing with Kurt's management- she wanted to transition into the mainstream.
Now that it’s Courtney Love's 55th birthday, she’s OLD FOR A ROCK STAR YOU GUYS, and #metoo has happened, retrospectives have started popping up all over the place, giving her proper credit for bringing third-wave feminism into pop culture. It’s still brave and edgy to pledge allegiance to any part of her, but we are finally entering a time when a woman can be messy and self-destructive and ANGRY and justified and correct all at once. We can be...as complicated as men. Courtney absolutely had a hand in that. In spite of the media.
OH THE MEDIA- I don’t trust anything I read. When a fellow woman is talking, I know what isn’t being said, because I know what I’m not supposed to say. All those stories of Johnny Depp's RUMORED bad behavior, either squashed before they were written or given a loving spin, while Winona is left twisting in the wind. We judge her trauma, not the offender who traumatized her and we judge her harder for her silence. Now it's public record and VERY obvious what a total wreck he is, so bringing Winona on stranger things is CATHARTIC. Just wish she had been able to celebrate her return to the spotlight without having to answer for him in every press junket.
I will never condone or excuse a woman's drug abuse, and I won't romanticize it in a man. I am open about my own because I’m not ashamed- the Just Say No campaign did not prepare me to enter a professional environment where the successful people, the people I wanted to become, were doing drugs AND doing their jobs. These people were neither losers nor burnouts; I wanted to fit in. Courtney taught me how to talk about it without apologizing for it, a conversation that I believe will improve my parenting now there’s no longer a “ type” in an age of widespread opioid and stimulant abuse.
I look at my Violet and wonder if the song she was named after will resonate with her when she's 15, or if change in our narratives is really coming. It seems to be. On Courtney love's 55th birthday I can say with confidence that I'm no longer as angry as I was when I first heard Violet back in 1994. That’s why I put Violet on the shortlist- I’ve gone way farther than a 15-year old MK in rural TN could have dreamed of. Naming my final child Violet felt like closing the circle while noting that those narrative structures I feared in 1994 still exist in 2018. As for Courtney Love, I hope she has found a kind of peace, too and am glad the narrative of her importance is shifting. The articles written today matter, they will be given more weight than the wretched, grotesque 1992 Vanity Fair cover story.
Conversely, we look at the end of Dr. Frank Meza's life last week, how most of his life was lived before the digital age so his death only speaks to the most recent headlines about his marathon cheating.
I expressed some opinions that had folks rushing to defend the websites who investigated his cheating, even though my opinions did not yet involve the websites. My opinions were specifically about the folks who tried to ruin his professional reputation, a position I made clear in my mantra on Wednesday. I love it when people get involved and DEMAND change and retractions, when they care enough to question the narratives they are fed. I get worried when those demands on a private citizen spread beyond the gatekeepers, in this case that would be the race director, a private members-only forum, and spaces dedicated to marathons.
It's terrific that the ugly, provably false narratives about Courtney could die with print media and the new emerging one may have more lasting power, changing how she will be remembered. It's horrifying that someone who lived most of his life out of the public eye is having the opposite experience. What happened to Dr. Meza should give us all pause, especially the next time we are moved to leave a negative review on the internet.
Do these investigative websites have a place? They can, yes...when they punch UP and fight the established powers. A lot of incredible fact-checking and, to me, ACTUAL journalism, much better than what I see in papers (which report 'he said she said' more frequently than actual investigation and questioning of motives) only happens on these spaces, and on reddit.
Like the bollocks criticism of Taylor for not speaking out or using her platform the way Katy Perry did in the 2016 electoral cycle. It isn't hard to look at Big Machine's roster of talent during that period to see who else spoke up and determine that maybe she couldn't. It's scary that journalistic outlets following her every move aren't bothering to do that. It's scarier to think the most powerful woman with the biggest platform in the world still couldn't really control how she used it. So far, that type of thinking has only happened on Buzzfeed and Reddit, which paradoxically makes it easy to dismiss. ‘Doing what will keep her popular’ fits the narrative. That a powerful woman was still subject to men in suits or bound by an NDA, doesn’t. We want to believe we are past that. Where were we when Courtney was having this same fight with Universal?
This matters because Scooter Braun’s wife, in an Instagram post no less, has accused Taylor of weaponizing her fans against her husband, knowing that identifying Scooter as her enemy was encouraging them to attack him on social media platforms...like Instagram. See? SHE’s the bully. I might own her masters, but SHE has millions of followers, she has the power. Underdog, what? She has her own army! How dare a wealthy woman with her own army complain out loud about a BUSINESS DEAL? She is too grown to be this immature!
Bullying is generally seen as picking on someone smaller or less powerful, it’s punching down. The prospect of online bullying is a whole different level. When the mob comes for you, they are really hard to stop, just like a story that's been picked up by national news wires. Even if you are a rock goddess in your own right, a good story with a familiar narrative you care about can easily, still, trump easily researched facts.
Happy Birthday Courtney Love, and prayers for the family of Frank Meza and for the owners of the websites whose use case is now called into question. Sometimes you do good, but sometimes you haven't. Like your pursuit of LaToya Snell. You punched DOWN, there. That was garbage and undercuts everything you claim to stand for. If, following this moment of reflection you decide to continue, I hope you are now aware of how large and devoted your audience is, how much power they wield, and commit to producing more good than garbage.
Now seems like a good time to take you all the way back to May 2018, when a coworker named Susan came to me with an AMBITIOUS idea, and apologized right after she asked for it. I will always be fascinated by my generation’s relationship to ambition, for having BIG IDEAS. Ambition really is a lot like our tits- we’re supposed to have ‘em but no one is EVER supposed to see ‘em up close. It’s just too NASTY.
I said no to this idea originally, but like a good fungus that produces penicillin, it grew on me. Today’s episode, Happy Birthday Dear Susan, is dedicated to every runner who is not yet comfortable saying their ambitious, secret goal out loud. You will never be criticized for showing absolutely natural things like your ambition, or your tits, in the Fitness Protection Program. (But FB might ban you so let’s not go crazy on the tit photos over there). You can be ambitious, and messy, and complicated, and unfocused, and be tenacious AF all at once. It really isn’t THAT complicated. You are easy to love.
We hope you enjoy the story of how a bunch of NASTY WOMEN convened to dominate a one-mile loop on an absolutely gorgeous fairground for 24 hours during Three Days At the Fair.
You don't have to align with a force to be shaped or affected by it. Whether we acknowledge it or not, I truly believe that my generation looked at how the media and our parents talked about Hillary Clinton: with caution as well as confusion.
We were told to be ambitious, to DO THINGS, to reach for the SKY! ,,,but make sure people LIKE you or you'll be like Hillary Clinton. At the same time, there just weren't many famous female role models we could look to. Ambition was the 'right' answer but it was also the stick a woman could be beaten with- she leaves? she cares more about her career than her marriage! she stays? CALCULATING BITCH can't get to the White House any other way! She cares more about POWER than VOWS!!! So, we're supposed to have ambition, but what are we supposed to DO with it? We still don't know, culturally, how to combine family with ambition, how to feel about two ambitious careers in a household that also contains children.
I, Coach MK, always felt like I should carry my ambition like my tits- obvious enough no one has to look for it, at the same time not calling attention to it. It's harder than it sounds, because the range of 'acceptable' differs from person to person, so basically it makes me subject to the opinions and perceptions of others. Hillary's ambition was too obvious- she stayed with a cheating man because AMBITION. She valued the white house more than love. What kind of an example was she setting by staying????
At the same time, how was she supposed to leave? Had anyone else (or any other woman) gone up against him and won? Would leaving REALLY have prompted support or reduced scrutiny for her? I'm not convinced. She refused to apologize for her anger, for her frustration, for being a human in a messy situation she didn't necessarily create (why she stayed or didn't go is none of our business). With zero media training, she was thrust into the spotlight by her husband's advisors hoping she could take the heat off of him in a moment of crisis (click any link in this section to read more). Mission accomplished- that heat transferred to her and stuck. She refused to perform contrition and we hated her for it. You know who DID perform contrition for decades? Monica Lewinsky. Is she off the hook yet?
Now, I'm not saying Hillary was perfect or above reproach. That said, I've been in countless situations where no matter what I do, I lose. So, her position in this losing game is familiar.
Courtney Love was different. She acknowledged every rule she was breaking. She owned up to her drug use, her relapse, her parenting mistakes, the damage she did to her kid. She refused to apologize for mistakes she felt she'd already atoned for. She owned her messiness and the trauma from which it stemmed. And if you see interviews from 2016 onward, you see a different woman- the mourning widow whose life has never been the same since her messy, drug-user husband committed suicide.
Aligning with either woman above, even showing a modicum of empathy or support for either woman for even a singular event twenty years ago, is dangerous and polarizing. Critical thinking isn't encouraged; we just avoid touchy subjects because there is no winning. I realize how dangerous this is- there are LEGIT reasons for not liking and not supporting either woman in question. That doesn't mean all of the criticism, media attention or backlash they've received has been fair.
Which is why Winona matters. She wasn't messy. She wasn't complicated. She had a bad day. She played by the rules and we still abandoned her. We are told not to seek rewards and to accept punishment like adults...which means our mistakes are held against us. Mistakes have grave consequences we don't disucss. We worry about rising anxiety and perfectionism in teens...and we blame social media without ever looking inward or outward- the whys are pretty obvious, it's beyond what the kids are facing at home.
All I want is a world where my daughters can make mistakes, learn from them, fail, and rise with the support of people around them. I will never stop looking for what is required to make a second act happen....for my kids as well as my runners. For my generation, it will be a matter of whether or not we can truly own our ambitions in every corner of our lives so our kids know what to do with theirs.
OK, But COME ON TAYLOR SWIFT??????
Ok HELL YES Taylor Swift. I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL YOU GUYS. Business is nasty, and NDAs mean public information about private negotiations flows in one direction only. The only person talking is the person who can, or a conspirator whose less-famous name will never come up- and they know their version cannot be countered. That's not a setup for truth-telling.
1. This garbage. She was suspended in the air, standing on a malfunctioning stage, AND WAS SUPPOSED TO HIDE HER EMOTIONS?????????
3. I think the tilted stage in "Look What You Made Me Do" points directly to that incident. The rest was manufactured.
4. This happened amidst drama that her label, with all of her masters, was being sold to Apple.
5. Scott had been trying to sell the label for years. YEARS. Talent development isn't cheap. Taylor was arguably the only cash-flow positive artist they had who successfully crossed over into the larger, lucrative pop world. (Remember The Band Perry? They play clubs instead of stadiums now.)
Yes, all the links above are from one website/industry blog. A blog that has watched Big Machine's rise, and documented the career of its biggest ticket (which, to be clear, is and has always been, Taylor) as well as its horrifying mismanagement. If Taylor can't stop it, what are the implications for smaller acts, acts that are just starting out? This is why Taylor matters you guys. She isn't little by any means, but that doesn't mean she isn't controlled in ways she resents.
I'm not saying Taylor is perfect. I AM questioning the narrative that she would intentionally go from 'brilliant businesswoman' behind the scenes to 'petty child who starts fights' in the headlines because...record sales? Does that even make sense? I think she was trying to communicate something no one wanted to hear, something she contractually could not say. IT WASN'T THE FIRST TIME. (And this site doesn't even like her!)