Talk Hole: War Vibes

Steven Phillips-Horst and Eric Schwartau discuss geopolitics, Fashion Week, and CoolSculpting.

Julia Burlingham
Steven Phillips-Horst and Eric Schwartau
Theirnobyl

WELCOME TO TALK HOLE, A MONTHLY TOPICAL CONVERSATION BETWEEN COMEDIANS ERIC SCHWARTAU AND STEVEN PHILLIPS-HORST. TALK HOLE BEGAN IN 2015 AS A STANDUP SHOW IN CHINATOWN, THEN A SERIES OF PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGNS AND ART ACTIVATIONS, AND NOW THIS COLUMN.

ERIC: Is it gauche to launch a column the day after a sovereign nation gets invaded by its much larger neighbor?

STEVEN: Well, it’s our job. And capitalism doesn’t stop for war.

ERIC: Some would say it even starts war.

STEVEN: God gives his toughest battles to his most adequately compensated columnists.

ERIC: Let me start off by saying I am anti-war.

STEVEN: Brave.

ERIC: And my heart stands with those affected by this trauma.

STEVEN: Those who don’t know what to post. Those who want to post self-promotional content but fear it will look insensitive. Those whose birthday is today.

ERIC: I saw a post saying empaths are having a tough time and should take a break. War is about self care.

STEVEN: I saw a post saying the distance from Milan to Ukraine is the same as Chicago to New York, to highlight the dissonance of having Milan Fashion Week right now. Really makes you think.

ERIC: Chicago is the Ukraine of America.

STEVEN: And Ottawa is Moscow.

ERIC: Americans are struggling to relate to this.

STEVEN: I saw someone else holding a fundraiser for Ukraine. The U.S. Department of Defense has sent them billions of dollars worth of weapons. Do they really need a GoFundMe?

ERIC: Holding a bake sale for the Pentagon.

STEVEN: Also, this is not a joke — Ukraine has an official war Patreon now, where you can support them with a tank a month.

ERIC: Patreon patriotism. Subscribe to your favorite nation-state.

STEVEN: It’s frustrating you can’t be anti-war without being labeled a Russian sleeper cell.

ERIC: Ugh, I hate picking sides.

STEVEN: Same. It’s hard to choose sides in a political conflict when you don’t know anything about the history or context, and have nothing at stake personally in the outcome.

ERIC: Meanwhile Nancy Pelosi is buying Gazprom stock.

STEVEN: And that is brave.

ERIC: Ultimately, I feel very blessed to not have experienced war first hand. Just imagining where I would go if they started bombing New York.

STEVEN: Bombs over Bushwick.

ERIC: And the first place I thought of to escape to… was Hudson. Do you think Kyiv residents are fleeing to a similarly gentrified town on the Dnieper River?

STEVEN: I pray there is no one like you in Kyiv.

ERIC: My concern with Ukraine’s strategic position is that the major river runs through the middle of the country. It would be much more effective as a border…

STEVEN: So you’re saying Russia should take the whole right side? That sounds very glib, Eric.

ERIC: Oh, I’m supposed to apologize for playing Risk a few times at the ski lodge when I was a kid? I’m sure Putin already knows there’s a river there.

STEVEN: From Settlers of Catan to Settlers of Putin.

ERIC: My official statement is that whatever position has been taken is a strong position to take, and that I hope my fellow Americans will consider their own positions when taking them. Hoping that will help my column approval ratings level off.

STEVEN: I reiterate my previous position that the United States has been saber-rattling since I as long as I can remember about missile defense shields and NATO expansion, factor in a bloodthirsty foreign policy establishment and the refusal of Hollywood to let Russians not be villains, and the West has concocted a toxic brew to goad Putin.

ERIC: You never said this before.

STEVEN: If I say “my previous position,” it makes me sound principled. It’s called being a trend forecaster.

ERIC: And as the ex of a trend forecaster, I reiterate my previous position that “Breakaway Republic” would be a great mid-market preppy clothing chain.

STEVEN: It sounds gorpcore to me. A more streetwear REI — shell jackets with breakaway/zip-off sleeves.

ERIC: Sorry, and the war is on Hulu right? Is it a limited series?

STEVEN: It’s on NATO+.

ERIC: I just started watching The Crown to get reacquainted with European politics.

STEVEN: Wrong empire.

ERIC: But the right vibe.

STEVEN: Everyone’s got a chip on their shoulder because of all the history.

ERIC: Russian aesthetics have been fashionable for a while now — will it be awkward to wear Gosha Rubchinskiy now?

STEVEN: Do you think every other country in the world was apprehensive about wearing Tommy Hilfiger and Micheal Kors after we invaded Iraq?

ERIC: Michael has been oddly silent on Ukraine.

STEVEN: Another Putin puppet I’m sure.

ERIC: I keep forgetting that the president of Ukraine is a former comedian. He basically played the president in Ukrainian Veep.

STEVEN: That would be like if we elected Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

ERIC: And then got invaded.

STEVEN: By Canada.

ERIC: There are all those trucks amassing along the border up there. What is Trudeau planning?

STEVEN: The truckers are protesting vaccine mandates.

ERIC: …for now.

STEVEN: You know, trucking has long been the domain of the closeted male — a dying breed in our closetless society. Maybe that’s why they’re upset.

ERIC: Have you seen the closets on Selling Sunset? They’re huge.

STEVEN: Yes, but they have no doors.

ERIC: Right, so you can’t be trapped in them.

STEVEN: Even when you’re in, you’re still out.

ERIC: All the world’s a walk-in.

STEVEN: As far as Trudeau is concerned, I think Western governments really fumbled the syringe with the vaccine conversation. They should just put it in the water like they do with fluoride.

ERIC: Fluoride in the water makes you gay.

STEVEN: There is definitely a correlation between having big, shiny white teeth and being gay.

ERIC: My Canadian fiancé says everyone supports the government and that all the money and support for the protests is coming from the U.S. Canada is generally more pro-rules, anti-honking than here.

STEVEN: I’m impressed by the effectiveness of the convoy. Four hundred truckers can completely shut down trade in the whole country.

ERIC: It helps that the whole country is one long road.

STEVEN: I remember protesting in NYC two years ago with a lot more than four hundred people and not getting very much done. If only everyone had a truck.

ERIC: My truck and I would’ve moved upstate.

STEVEN: I mean if you don’t want to listen to truckers, maybe you shouldn’t be so reliant on them to transport your Shein tops.

ERIC: I think Trudeau is more of an SSENSE girl.

STEVEN: Which brings us to Fashion Week.

ERIC: Good idea. We should shift the tone to reiterate we’re superficial New Yorkers who have no business sounding off on geopolitics.

STEVEN: Then we can seed in subtly intellectual observations until the audience believes we’ve earned the right to criticize NATO.

ERIC: I loved the Eckhaus Latta show, which was also the only show I was invited to.

STEVEN: I loved it too, and for the same reason.

ERIC: Well, you were also working the Eckhaus Latta show, so you love that you got paid.

STEVEN: Love is love! I was doing live commentary for the Eckhaus Latta Instagram, which made me feel like a Joan Rivers NFT.

ERIC: I think everyone was doing commentary for social. I saw a lot of phones out.

STEVEN: Yes, but I was an official ambassador. Personally I think it was genius of them to have a comedian make fun of their clothes.

ERIC: Making fun of yourself also protects you from criticism. It says “I’m in on whatever joke you’re going to make so don’t even bother.”

STEVEN: This is why I refer to my hair as a “wig.”

ERIC: And that is on tea, sis.

STEVEN: Also, fashion brands being “funny” is usually, like, making a really big bow. The HBA two-toed boot. The cloven-hoofed Tabis.

ERIC: The Miu Miu miniskirt definitely has comedic potential.

STEVEN: Ultimately, there’s nothing funnier than a guy getting hit in the balls.

ERIC: Right. Trying to be funny is usually not.

STEVEN: Fashion comedy is a hologram of a deceased supermodel slipping on an NFT of a banana peel.

ERIC: Fashion comedy is someone wearing H&M.

STEVEN: Hot take incoming: I think fast fashion is bad.

ERIC: That investigative podcast we listened to really got under your skin.

STEVEN: Obviously the labor conditions are sinister. But the environmental degradation is arguably worse — our addiction to cheap thotwear means our grandchildren will be at the beach in Malibu, wading through $7 halters from Shein.

ERIC: Ok, She-went-in on that environmental damage.

STEVEN: I was also shocked to learn that Shein was not Germanic sounding but in fact pronounced “She In” as in “She In Some Clothing.”

ERIC: They’re following the SSENSE formula of having a confusing name.

STEVEN: They should really call it SSAD.

ERIC: Societally Shitty Addiction to Dirt Cheap Clothes.

STEVEN: Everything that makes society sadder — atomization, inequality, deforestation, declining sperm count — make us more likely to seek solace in cheap clothing. Nothing brightens your spirits like $2 flip-flops emblazoned with smiling shit emojis, or $1 sweatpants that say “Buckle Up, It’s Princess Time.” But sewing those sweatpants in Guangzhou then trafficking them to Cincinnati via Amazon tanks makes society that much more atomized, unequal, deforested, and despermed. You can’t break the cycle.

ERIC: Remember when sisterhoods used to share one pair of traveling pants that fit perfectly?

STEVEN: We must find joy again in shared pants.

ERIC: That’s what Grailed is for.

STEVEN: They may sell menswear, but Grailed is a sisterhood.

ERIC: A sisterhoodie.

STEVEN: Should we talk about your ex’s vibe shift article?

ERIC: Just to clarify, he was heavily quoted in it, but did not write it. And tldr — things change, time passes, people get older.

STEVEN: When you and trend forecaster Sean Monahan broke up, was that a vibe shift?

ERIC: Sean has a knack for getting girls to write articles about him. That’s something you and him have in common. Congrats on your NYT full-page ad btw — sorry I mean, article.

STEVEN: If you want press, you have to be friends with girls. Or at least know one.

ERIC: I’ve never spoken to a girl.

STEVEN: Sometimes life is about speaking to people you might not want to sleep with.

ERIC: I have a twin sister. We shared a twin-size womb for nine months. That was enough.

STEVEN: You must have saved a lot on rent.

ERIC: Press is the tip of an iceberg. A mountain of endless emails, drinks, girls, girls emailing drinks — it’s more work than you think.

STEVEN: And I am the Titanic, desperately chugging through hostile waters in search of validation.

ERIC: And the Titanic was on its way to New York… for press.

STEVEN: “You could make the morning papers!” is the line I internalized from that movie.

ERIC: I don’t remember that line.

STEVEN: And you don’t have a full-page spread in the Times, do you? Anyway, back to the vibe shift —

ERIC: —trend forecasting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Sleaze is back,” says local sleazebag.

STEVEN: “People are fake,” says local Gemini.

ERIC: They get paid by companies to predict the same trends they’re “forecasting.” They’re complicit. It’s a story, not a science. Weather forecasters are much more honest. They’re not getting paid by the weather.

STEVEN: Okay, the weatherperson isn’t paid by God, but maybe Big Shovel is paying them to say it’ll snow. Bespoke waterproof jacket brands are paying NOAA to make sure every three-inch rainstorm has an alarmist hashtag.

ERIC: Receiving fewer inches than advertised… story of my life.

STEVEN: So your ex alleges in his original Substack article that the vibe is shifting — people wore skinny jeans and smoked in 2009 but were wearing high-waisted pants and being woke by 2017. Hard to argue with.

ERIC: I’d argue the word “vibe” needs to shift away. I thought we blacklisted it in 2019 after an affliction of Good Vibes Only signage.

STEVEN: He’s not wrong, but you could just as easily make the un-fact-check-able argument that culture has not changed at all in the past 30 years. Despite the undulating evolution of pant width, people have been wearing soft button downs since 1996.

ERIC: I feel like I'm supposed to say something about neoliberalism.

STEVEN: Capitalism wants you to say something about neoliberalism.

ERIC: And that’s fascism.

STEVEN: I reiterate what I’ve said in multiple columns now — which is that the future is autistic, lesbian, and Canadian.

ERIC: So that’s what they’re protesting up in Canada.

STEVEN: Breaking news: your ex just liked my tweet about Julia Fox not surviving the Vibe Shift.

ERIC: Ok… vibe shift.

STEVEN: Can a person be a vibe shifter? I’m thinking Columbus, Gutenberg, Edison.

ERIC: Ok… white men vibes.

STEVEN: I think vibe just means “trend,” which means Edison began an era, not a trend. We’re still in the bulb era.

ERIC: So an era is a long trend. A moment is a short vibe.

STEVEN: Maybe the vibe is… abstraction. TikTok is all about making up choreo to the headlined sections of a Wikipedia page. Articles about vibe shifts have no facts in them. This column oscillates wildly between political conjecture and obtuse personal anecdotes.

ERIC: The vibe is there is no vibe. Everyone is just a walking billboard for their own stupid lifestyle choices.

STEVEN: Vibes not found.

ERIC: Unfind your vibe.

STEVEN: Leave the vibes in 2020 with the rest of your sweatpants.

ERIC: Vibe like no one's watching.

STEVEN: No shirt, no vibes, no problem.

ERIC: Make vibes, not war!

STEVEN: Speaking of war, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl because life is too short. Post quarantine, I have no interest in these manufactured excuses to consume content as a group. Television is for openly antisocial behavior like watching Love Is Blind with your lover you have nothing else to talk about with.

ERIC: So true. I watched Love is Blind with my dog and we don’t really talk much.

STEVEN: As a folk of branding experience I did watch the ads.

ERIC: Watching ads is billable hours.

STEVEN: My take is they were bad. Every agency/client thinks they need to do this big-budget “narrative” ad with celebrities, because things that cost money are good.

ERIC: Everything is such a mad-lib. Zendaya feeling nausea in a Kia. Ok wait, that’s a rhyme. The Coinbase ad that was just a QR code screensaver worked because it’s how we’ve been ordering food — Americans are a hungry people. I also liked the Larry David one.

STEVEN: That one was so pathetic. When you can tell that someone spent $600 million on a 30-second spot, it makes me physically uncomfortable. Desperation is a foul-smelling cologne.

ERIC: Pay Me by Larry David, a new fragrance for men.

STEVEN: People were comparing the glut of crypto ads to the dotcom boom — because that bubble “burst”? But I’m like um, the internet is still here. Websites were not a fad.

ERIC: I think it’s fair to compare Dogecoin to Pets.com.

STEVEN: Which means your pet dog is about to tank?

ERIC: There are too many pandemic dogs in Bushwick. Might be time to hedge some bets.

STEVEN: I’m trying to figure out what “Pets.com” is in this analogy. Is cryptocurrency as a whole Pets.com and “money” is the internet? And therefore crypto is over, but money will live on? That could make sense, because it’s not like buying leashes online tanked, it was just that one website.

ERIC: Sorry, I'm confused. Why do you need a leash?

STEVEN: For my pet NFT ape.

ERIC: NFTs make great pets in a New York City apartment because they don’t take up too much space.

STEVEN: I love that NFTs “democratize ownership,” so that “artists” can “own” their “work” — as if your work isn’t yours to begin with.

ERIC: It’s so “collectors” can “own” “artists.”

STEVEN: Adding more layers of ownership does not liberate anyone. If my landlord had a landlord I would not feel more empowered.

ERIC: The future is buying a Zillow NFT of a house instead of actually owning one. You own the dream but not the reality.

STEVEN: Because Zillow’s already manipulated the market to price everyone out.

ERIC: Decentralized networks were supposed to cut out the middleman taking your money but it seems like the opposite is happening. It’s just another massive wealth-transfer scheme.

STEVEN: Point being, we are not freed from fiat by converting it to digital fiat if we then have to convert back to fiat.

ERIC: Did you just call me fiat?

STEVEN: Speaking of CoolSculpting, congratulations to Julia Fox on her breakup.

ERIC: Her and Kanye’s brief relationship was very affirming for New Yorkers concerned about their fleeting relevance.

STEVEN: I’m concerned with the amount of “affirmation” we need. Why is all therapy now “LGBTQ affirming?” Sucking dick is gay-affirming. How much more evidence do you need?

ERIC: Used to be all you needed was conversion therapy and CoolSculpting. Men were straight, women were sculpted.

STEVEN: CoolSculpting is definitely a previous vibe. The ultimate quick fix. The hybrid name with wonky capitalization. Even Kanye isn’t writing in all caps anymore.

ERIC: Sentence case is back.

STEVEN: VibeShifting.

ERIC: I’m just tired of supporting everyone’s reinvention tours — coming out as magazines, launching their gender, conceiving a merch line. There’s only so much double-tapping I have left in me — my biological validation clock is ticking.

STEVEN: Biden has double-tapped a non-binary drag queen to look after the country’s nuclear waste. That’s a direct quote from a Daily Mail headline, I don’t know how to top that.

ERIC: A lot of drag queens are actually tops, so you might not have to.

STEVEN: They are bald bald, which is also a win for representation.

ERIC: The uranium has already gone to their head.

STEVEN: Cooling towers are not very non-binary to me. I mean, there’s always two of them.

ERIC: But they are hourglass-shaped, which is feminine, and also toxic, which is masculine. So it kind of evens out.

STEVEN: Smooth enough for her, radioactive enough for him.

ERIC: Looking forward to the next Chernobyl — sorry, Theirnobyl.

STEVEN: They are also a “kink advocate.” Is nuclear fallout a kink?

ERIC: Nuke me daddy. This is why Lindsey Graham is such a war hawk.

STEVEN: I remember when the climate change movement was really gung-ho about nuclear power. Then a couple Fukushimas later and now everyone’s a little more… fluid about their support.

ERIC: Meltdowns are very fluid. It’s in the name.

STEVEN: Personally I’m less concerned about meltdowns and more worried about the rapacious extraction of all these minerals — I mean, the uranium mining in West Africa is wildly damaging to the environment, not to mention the politics of siphoning all the wealth out of local communities. I wonder what our new Goddex of Waste has to say about this.

ERIC: They say they’re uncomfortable with your use of the word rapacious.

STEVEN: This image of them leading a lecture at this puppy play conference—there’s something very Biden about a corporate kink meet-up in a well-lit Marriott Conference Room at 2 p.m.

ERIC: It feels very Canadian.

STEVEN: Which goes back to my earlier point about the future being Canadian, lesbian and autistic.

ERIC: The way you keep saying that. You’re really sticking to your Degrassi guns in a Euphoria world.

STEVEN: I will not join the TV bandwagon.

ERIC: That’s very the meme where Cassie is lying in the shower and where Maddie is banging on the door. You’re Cassie and the T.V. bandwagon is Maddie.

STEVEN: The brainwormery of that sentence.

ERIC: Criticizing my syntax is violence.

STEVEN: I am sending troops into your Cerebral Cortex.

ERIC: But you already lobbed off my Crimea.

STEVEN: And now you’re Transnistria?

ERIC: Donetsk. Don’t tell.

STEVEN: Stop being a Donbas.

ERIC: Ukraine’t seen nothing yet.

STEVEN: All I Sea is you making an Azov me.

ERIC: This is worse than war.

STEVEN: Imposing unilateral sanctions.

ERIC: Disarm this column.

STEVEN: Peace out!