WELCOME TO TALK HOLE, A MONTHLY TOPICAL CONVERSATION BETWEEN COMEDIANS ERIC SCHWARTAU AND STEVEN PHILLIPS-HORST.
STEVEN: [Gawker Editor in Chief] Leah [Finnegan] never responded to my email about infographics for Talk Hole.
ERIC: She never responded to my email about covering the U.S. Open for Gawker.
STEVEN: Did she quiet quit? [Editor’s note: She was on vacation.]
ERIC: Maybe we got quiet fired.
STEVEN: I like to think we get fired every month.
ERIC: Then at the last minute we get asked back for one more column as sort of a farewell tour.
STEVEN: Like Serena Williams’s final U.S. Open run.
ERIC: She’s loud quitting.
STEVEN: She’s really milking it! Tennis is such a racket.
ERIC: She’s leaving to be a mom — some call that Love.
STEVEN: After all these years as just a number in the rankings — the ball is finally in her court.
ERIC: And honey, she’s serving.
STEVEN: I couldn’t help but wonder, was quitting tennis what I really wanted — or was my drop shot a double fault?
ERIC: And just like that… it was game, set, and match.
STEVEN: It looks like Gorbachev just quiet quit too.
ERIC: We should pour one out for him.
STEVEN: As long as it’s port wine.
ERIC: He got all those republics to quiet quit the USSR.
STEVEN: I think he was also number one seed at the U.S. Open.
ERIC: It’s true, Slavic peoples are overrepresented in tennis tournaments.
STEVEN: It’s because they have a war mindset. Every inch of border fought over.
ERIC: And every inch counts. The countries over there keep getting smaller and smaller.
STEVEN: So does quiet quitting mean you just phone it in at work?
ERIC: It means you’re on your phone at work.
STEVEN: It implies that normal quitting is somehow raucous. Dramatic. Marching into the board room and screaming “Take this job and shove it!” But then you look around and realize you’re just WFH, so all you can do is post nudes in Slack and wait for IT to change your login info.
ERIC: Quiet quitting is passive-aggressive unionizing. You don’t want to make a scene so you just do half as much work to feel like you’re getting paid more. It’s unspoken solidarity.
STEVEN: It’s a celebration of passivity.
ERIC: And passing is fine. Not everyone needs an A. Yet thanks to grade inflation, everyone thinks they deserve one.
STEVEN: It’s our generation’s “9 to 5.” Except instead of hog-tying your sexist boss you’re coming into the office at 11:30 a.m. with a matcha and just kinda not participating in a meeting.
ERIC: Used to be you’d just pocket the office stapler to make yourself feel alive.
STEVEN: But now we don’t have printers at home, so what would we even staple?
ERIC: It’s the act of stealing, not the object itself.
STEVEN: Right. It’s about power, not function. The rush. The thrill. Like Nancy Pelosi going to Taiwan.
ERIC: You’re stealing back your time. It’s reverse wage theft.
STEVEN: I saw a rather accurate description of what it’s like to work for an agency on It’s Nice That. Someone said “everyone pretends to be so excited about the work we’re doing, but it’s like how can you get excited about a banner ad”? So many people’s jobs are ultimately completely boring and useless, so they don’t feel the urgency to quit, but they do feel passive about the whole endeavor. Nothing’s ever at stake.
ERIC: People are so humiliated by their jobs that they would rather just disappear than quit. And it’s easier now that everything’s remote — you can remove yourself from the bullshit and keep the paychecks rolling in.
STEVEN: That’s why I like working as a freelance podcaster and boyfriend. I get the best of both worlds — no bullshit and no paychecks.
ERIC: You can’t quit if you don’t have a job.
STEVEN: But you also can’t take a vacation.
ERIC: And then you can’t go to Europe.
STEVEN: Which is why you need a job to go to Europe. Quietly.
ERIC: I feel like all of Europe quiet quit after WWII. They realized too much ambition is bad.
STEVEN: Germany just channeled their ambition into auto manufacturing. But I guess that’s not very impressive, because they already have the designs all worked out, so it’s just kind of plug and play at this point.
ERIC: And I suppose France makes perfumes.
STEVEN: But that doesn't seem very hard. It’s mostly water.
ERIC: I think the general attitude is that people have found better things to do than their jobs.
STEVEN: Quiet quitting is a desire to soften, to pull back from hard expressions and sharp lines, to retreat into the gooey folds of maybe, a little later, I’m not sure. Neither yes nor no. It’s non-binary.
ERIC: Until you actually get fired.
STEVEN: The binary strikes back.
ERIC: As did Biden.
STEVEN: Yes, congrats to everyone who had their student loans forgiven. Now people with loans don’t have to feel so loan-ly anymore.
ERIC: No more loans, no more moans.
STEVEN: Not to pry, but where does the money go? When you get a loan “forgiven,” does that mean the government pays the “lender” the money you would have owed? Or do they pay the school you went to? Or does the money just vanish off a spreadsheet somewhere on a server?
ERIC: All loans go to heaven.
STEVEN: God is the ultimate bookkeeper, and SHE always balances HER checkbook.
ERIC: And Jesus is her nepo baby who got into their first choice college.
STEVEN: Yes, he got into Nazareth U on scholarship, did 15 years and never graduated. Classic case of failing up.
ERIC: This is a good thing for the economy. People freed from debt will start spending more.
STEVEN: Which will contribute to inflation, which is good because no one likes deflated things. Too end-of-summer pool-toy vibes.
ERIC: Well, it’s time to deflate the floaties. We’re going back to school.
STEVEN: To take on more debt.
ERIC: I think the problem is that students have to go into debt in the first place. If college was cheaper or free and the government paid for it, there wouldn’t be this specter haunting over everyone’s education. Don’t we want people to go to college?
STEVEN: We want them to be in debt. It’s great for creditors. Yet so painful for our psyches — it’s this burden, a punishment, an albatross.
ERIC: Debt is an abusive relationship.
STEVEN: Are the people who are mad justified? Imagine you didn’t go to college, or perhaps did, but you paid off your debt. You worked hard and now your tax dollars will be used to pay Jenny Hyphenated-LastName’s four years of Lesbian Dance Theory! The government is validating her/their choices over yours.
ERIC: Well, a lot of those angry people got a PPP loan and god knows what dance classes they spent it on.
STEVEN: The comparison to PPP isn’t really a good argument. The pandemic affected everyone, not just those who chose to get a degree in Lesbian Dance Theory. If you believe that student loan forgiveness is unfair because it validates a certain lifestyle choice, then you can’t say the same thing about PPP. It only validates not wanting to work, which is a universal desire.
ERIC: Belated thanks for telling me about the PPP loan, Steven. I don’t think I would have been able to send my employee to Europe this summer without it. My employee being me.
STEVEN: That’s also what I used my PPP loan for. And my entire team was really supportive of his (my) R&D trip to France. And unlike these student loan forgiveness recipients, I didn’t help contribute to inflation, because I was spending money in France.
ERIC: France comes and goes, but debt is inevitable. You need to go into debt to have good credit. Proving you can manage your debt, that you can carry the burden of capital is how you are valued in America. A little forgiveness goes a long way.
STEVEN: I forgive, but I don’t forget. That’s something a strong female lead would say in a movie where she has been wronged, and I think Biden should say that, too.
ERIC: Dark Brandon energy.
STEVEN: It seems like the DNC is finally figuring out how to meme. Biden is on the verge of being cool.
ERIC: To be honest, I’m not really familiar with the Dark Brandon memes. I just said that because I was trying to be cool, like Biden.
STEVEN: They’re repurposing conservative aesthetics, low-bit flame graphics, pepe frogs, even their language — Brandon was originally a negative term for people of Biden experience — and using them to make Biden seem cool. Which of course has this very, aggressive, nihilistic, smirking masculinity to it. Which in theory would be counterintuitive to the soft, feminized corporate philosophy of liberalism.
ERIC: I guess self-righteous infographics have run their course.
STEVEN: The question is — can you be a liberal feminist and say that a man is badass?
STEVEN: Is that the answer? Or are you saying that’s not the question?
STEVEN: Classic liberal. Always flip flopping.
ERIC: The more hidden Biden stays the better. People like that he’s not in the news — we don’t have to be confronted with his identity, so liberal feminists don’t have to decide whether he’s badass.
STEVEN: It’s funny how quickly a video of Biden that would’ve been read as doddering and senile now reads as, like, wiley and charming. Context changes everything. He’s on a streak. He’s notching up big wins for the party and now it’s like he’s the old, sinewy fox.
ERIC: He’s sinking baskets in the NBA game of beltway politics.
STEVEN: He’s weaving baskets for his basket-weaving degree at the University of Lesbian Dance History.
ERIC: Which American taxpayers are paying for!
STEVEN: Not to be a professor of media studies at the Paley Center, but it seems we’re seeing a broader sort of “based,” meme-fication of the liberal politics. Look at the Ukraine conflict — official government channels are touting NAFO (North Atlantic Fellas Organization) and using it in propaganda recruitment videos. They’re slapping Shiba Inu stickers on tanks.
ERIC: I’m not sure that’s a broader trend. Center-liberal politics is still mostly emails from Nancy Pelosi doing a GoFundMe for her Taiwan trip.
STEVEN: So you’re saying I’m just extrapolating some grand theory of society based on one tweet I saw? What am I, the New York Times Styles Section?
ERIC: Yes. I wish I could put you behind a paywall.
STEVEN: I was watching this Ukrainian guerilla warfare recruitment video, that’s trying to get people in Russian-held areas to join the resistance. It felt very Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.
ERIC: Because it had a female protagonist?
STEVEN: Because it was a video. I especially liked the part where they say you can contribute in your own way. You don’t have to make bombs you can just like, distribute flyers, if that’s more your speed.
ERIC: Everyone forgets about the power of propaganda.
STEVEN: Unless it’s a Beyonce album. Then you never hear the end of it.
ERIC: Yes, like many gays, I certainly gave Renaissance a proper gander.
STEVEN: Is it me, or is she always still doing “space” as a concept? Shiny tinfoil and pointy dresses. “Alien superstar.” Galactic stuff. She controls the universe. She is the future. She’s always wanting to impress you with her power, her control, and what’s a broader kingdom than all of space itself? But there’s something quite retro about “space” meaning “cutting edge.”
ERIC: But she’s a Black woman in space. She’s projecting into the past, present, and future to elevate Blackness across space and time. And I think her power comes from being impressive in the first place, not simply wanting to impress.
STEVEN: The thing about Beyonce is she’s so impenetrable and perfect. She always has to intimidate you with her operation, her army, her guerrilla warfare. The vocal runs are so elaborate; the production is so confident. And I appreciate that she’s really consistent with that aesthetic. But where’s the intimacy? Where's the vulnerability? Personally, my favorite Beyonce album is “4” because it’s the most fragile.
ERIC: Why do you want a Black woman to be weak, Steven?
STEVEN: I said “fragile” not weak. Lana del Rey is fragile and she could probably deck me.
ERIC: Well, Beyonce is a literal she-ro for keeping Elton John off her album, which many pop stars have failed to do lately.
STEVEN: That’s where Beyonce really excels. She is 100 percent confident in her status as a gay icon. She understands the gay community in a way Gaga and Britney and Dua Lipa, all of whom have done recent collabs with Elton, never could. Gaga and Britney and Dua are, at their core, basic girls who want gay best friends. But they don’t really get it. It’s not part of their culture. And so they need to put Elton John on songs to be like “Yes queen! I see you! Aren’t we kiki-ing?!”
ERIC: Now I’m worried Elton’s going to show up on Taylor’s new album — the cover is looking very disco, very gay-baitey.
STEVEN: You know who definitely has gay friends? Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
ERIC: I love how this administration is so Veep — the Finnish prime minister has a recurring role now.
STEVEN: And Kamala continues her several-year-long endurace art piece of imitating Selina Meyer.
ERIC: Dancing her way around opinions with circuitous platitudes while looking beautiful.
STEVEN: Kamala rushed to Sanna Marin’s defense saying “Now is not the time to be talking about the Prime Minister and her lifestyle. And whether or not she parties. And what her choices may or may not mean. As a woman in this office, now is the time to be talking about solutions to the issues that we want to talk about. Because that’s what this is all about. This is about America and the world, taking the time to have the discussion, so we can be open to learning about the ways we should — and should not — be taking that time to have a conversation.”
ERIC: People are trying to compare Boris Johnson’s partying to Sanna Marin dancing but an old sweaty British guy doing coke in his office seems a lot worse than a pretty Scandinavian woman dancing at the club.
STEVEN: Sounds sizeist, but okay.
ERIC: I didn’t say anything about size. You just associate sweaty with fat and pretty with thin, and that’s on you.
STEVEN: I also associated Finland with being boring and neutral. And now they’ve got a hard-partying prime minister and they're joining NATO.
ERIC: I’ve always felt that there was an edginess to Finland.
STEVEN: Well, they are on the edge of Scandinavia.
ERIC: If they’re in NATO do they automatically join NAFO?
STEVEN: North Atlantic Femme Organization.
ERIC: The Future is Finland.
STEVEN: Let me Finnish this thought — I think either way in 20 years all politicians will have videos of them partying. Unless you’re a loser.
ERIC: Good thing I went to Honcho Campout this year.
STEVEN: Ahh yes, the libertine gay techno festival in the woods, where all monkeypox chasers with a single feather earring can fist each other over the sounds of a pitched down vocal sample from a ’70s house track played over a ’90s breakbeat. And straight girls can wear sunglasses.
ERIC: You’re just jealous you didn’t go.
STEVEN: I’m jealous of everything everywhere all at once.
ERIC: What’s great about Honcho is I just kind of let my phone die. Therefore, unlike most vacations, it’s not about posting and making people jealous.
STEVEN: So no one got a video of you getting fisted?
ERIC: Yes, I’m Sanna Marin-proof.
STEVEN: But then people will think you’re a loser when you run for office.
ERIC: Which will drive me to win to prove them all wrong.
STEVEN: What was the vibe this year? As you know I attended in years past, but had to miss this year as I have a boyfriend and I want to make space for people of single experience.
ERIC: There were more people. And that there were more food trucks. It felt more festival-like.
STEVEN: Sounds straighter.
ERIC: I saw like, one Burning Man straight couple. But the trajectory is definitely queerer, or straighter, which are the same thing now?
STEVEN: I think everything intimate or indie eventually dies or becomes cannibalized by the mainstream. I was in Dimes Square the other night, the infamous alleged locus of edgelord politics and unwoke art, and it was more Disneyland than Wikileaks. There were security guards at every bar. You had to show ID just to stand outside. It was almost — dare I say it — a police state.
ERIC: So it is fascist.
STEVEN: You can’t spell fashionable without fascist.
ERIC: Fast fascist.
STEVEN: I actually don’t know how to spell fascist. My phone is always tries to correct it to “facist” or “racist.”
ERIC: So Tim Cook won’t even let you say fascist.
STEVEN: And that’s fascism!
ERIC: I noticed they’re installing LED screens in subway cars. I think we might be witnessing the end of the psycho-copy era. Now you can just show a wordless video.
STEVEN: Right, LED screens allow us to see a hot dog dripping with mustard and so we don’t need additional copy that says “TFW you want a hot dog so bad you’re willing to take your ex-boyfriend to Governor’s Island for coffee.” Or you can just have a girl, twirling in a dress, without some additional psycho-copy like “How to get that ‘I aced the interview and I still pummeled my ex-husband in divorce court while renewing my passport’ look.”
ERIC: Hearing you spitball like that makes me think advertising will never stop being copy-centric. You copywriters cannot be stopped.
STEVEN: I think the problem is my brethren (copywriters) all just make fun of the client to their face with the most obscene, dumbed-down, straight-up ugly copy. The client will say “we want this to appeal to New Yorkers,” so you submit something ridiculous like “dresses so good they’ll make you wanna buy them — in Times Square.” And then the client loves it! Because it achieves some uncanny valley version of millennial copy by hitting a couple reference points they understand. And then it actually ends up as the campaign. That’s the only explanation I can offer for those “Guest How You Guest” ads. It’s like copywriters are trying to quiet quit — but it’s backfiring.
ERIC: Subway advertising is also just advertising for really sad things. When I watch tennis, I’ll see ads for Range Rovers and financial advisors and travel — things for rich people. But subway ads are all for apps that promise to deliver a pint of Ben & Jerrys in 15 minutes, or help you find a third to split the rent.
STEVEN: As Donald Trump would say, SAD!
ERIC: That’s why I’m quiet quitting the subway.
STEVEN: Cars are back.
ERIC: And I’m parking this column in the “filed” section.
STEVEN: I hope it’s an alternate side Monday because these takes are pretty alternative.
ERIC: It’s electric. We need an outlet.
STEVEN: I think Gawker is technically an “outlet.”
ERIC: OK, I’m quiet quitting.
STEVEN: What was that? I couldn’t hear you.
ERIC: [forgets to file column]
Previously on Talk Hole: Talk Hole: Out of Office