History of Literary Hate Mail, ‘Broad City”s Essential Female Friendship, and More: Today’s Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. Today we have an interview with Wavy Gravy, the Grateful Dead clown. We’ve also got a beautifully in-depth piece on the legacy of literary hate mail, and a look at what makes the female friendship in Girls and Broad City so powerful. Lastly, a piece by bell hooks on Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

First, Rolling Stone asked maybe the last person you’d expect them to ask about politics: it’s Wavy Gravy, the Grateful Dead’s stage clown! Well, he’s actually a huge figure in the counterculture movement, and his clowning generally brings more sense to the political world than most of our actual politicians. And, while that’s great, it’s also fascinating to hear him discuss attending the original Acid Tests, as immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

I was there in the beginning with the Merry Pranksters and I spent the better part of the early evening at one saying, “The Kool-Aid on the right is the electric Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid on the left is for the children.” Two giant galvanized ash cans, brand new, one with acid and one not. Tom Wolfe got the information that I put the acid in the Kool-Aid at Watts. I didn’t. Fucking Owsley [Stanley] did. I still have mothers hit me with umbrellas, because they think that probably 50 people committed themselves that night.

At The New Republic, William Giraldi looks at the history of literary hate mail, from the antiquated letter to the modern comment section — and, of course, Twitter and Facebook comments. This is especially apt to us here at Flavorwire, as we only recently disabled our comment section and have all grown much more rested since its disappearance. Still, this long piece is fascinating in the way it turns what can be seen as a spiteful waste of time into something of a tradition.

Before the imperium of the internet, there was a pleasing ritual involved: The hate mailer had to put pen to pad, choose the envelope and stamp, unearth the address of the publication in which the offense appeared, then walk down the block to the mailbox. It was a personal affair, from the hater’s hand to the author’s. And the chances were high that the author would read the letter, too. Remember when you used to get letters in the mail? You always read them. Now the hate mailer’s slap is only a click away from reaching your face, but also only a click away from being deleted unread. Gone is the pleasure of the personal.

Buzzfeed writes about Girls and Broad City and the benefit of actual complex relationships between twenty-something women are finally being properly portrayed in the mainstream, especially in the way they’re separate from romantic relationships, which tend to take the spotlight in most shows. And, given the changing nature of the lives of young women, this is especially important.

For the first time in American history, there are more single women living in this country than married ones. And as Rebecca Traister declared in a recent op-ed in support of her new book, All the Single Ladies (which has just been optioned for TV), this demographic shift brings to light the meaningful platonic relationships women have with each other that can sometimes outlast romantic ones. The rabid popularity of the Elena Ferrante novels, the proliferation of #squads and #covens, and the fawning over of such pop-culture besties as Amber Rose and Blac Chyna are indicative of this tidal change. Even if the cynic can see the dry-eyed calculations behind Instagram posts and hashtags, it is hard to deny the symbolic power of witnessing female camaraderie. (Especially in contrast to female bitchiness, a persistent trope throughout film and television.)

What’s left to be said about Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Well, anything that bell hooks has to say, obviously. The activist and author took to her site to discuss the capitalist intentions behind Lemonade, and points out that the art’s consumption is not limited to black females, because any artist who creates a product for mass consumption is most likely seeking lots of money — that’s the nature, and purpose, of creating art on this scale. hooks does take issue with the way Beyoncé, for much of the album, paints the black female as a victim, and hooks condemns female violence as a vehicle for liberation.

Contrary to misguided notions of gender equality, women do not and will not seize power and create self-love and self-esteem through violent acts. Female violence is no more liberating than male violence. And when violence is made to look sexy and eroticized, as in the Lemonade sexy-dress street scene, it does not serve to undercut the prevailing cultural sentiment that it is acceptable to use violence to reinforce domination, especially in relations between men and women. Violence does not create positive change. Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators make use of the powerful voice and words of Malcolm X to emphasize the lack of respect for black womanhood, simply showcasing beautiful black bodies does not create a just culture of optimal well being where black females can become fully self-actualized and be truly respected.