The Joys of Hate
October 9, 2011 § 17 Comments
In honor of today’s exam readings, which include Jonathan Gray’s super seminal “New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-Fans and Non-Fans,” Derek Johnson’s “Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom,” and Melissa Click’s “Untidy: Fan Responses to the Soiling of Martha Stewart’s Spotless Image” (particularly that last one), I decided to share the following anti-fan account, or should I say, fan account (also; see MIRACLES, above), chronicling me and my oldest childhood friend Katie’s lurv of Martha, Queen of the Spiders. Enjoy!
At some point during my tragicomical stint in Boston (RIP 2005-2007), I began collecting Martha Stewart memorabilia. I had a FREE MARTHA shirt (a holdover from her days at Alderson), several R-rated collages (it’s called TALENT), three copies of Martha, Inc., an unflattering and very unauthorized biography (which describes its subject as “a foulmouthed, manipulative shrew who dumped her husband for, among other transgressions, not stacking the firewood just so“), and three glossy portraits yoinked from some post-jail fashion spread.
The portraits, my crowning achievement, and which I had professionally framed, hung above my bed. Because of course they did. In one, Martha languished on a green chaise lounge. In the second, she wore a puffy cocktail dress and was backlit by blinding spotlights. And finally, in what might be my favorite image of all time, she smirked directly into the camera as the grabby silhouette of some unseen sex-person wiggled his hand down the collar of her shirt. Granted, these disembodied fingertips are nowhere near the Danger Zone. Still — it was almost too good to be true, and upon discovering the this little gem in whatever magazine I called Katie, my best-slash-childhood friend and only partner in this sort of crime. “Martha,” I gasped into her voicemail. “Trying to be sexy. Some guy—his hand. Kato his hand is down her shirt!” The next morning, Katie sent me an email. “You should hang it above your bed,” she suggested.
By that time, Katie and I have been somewhat obsessed with Marther for nearly ten years (going on fifteen years as of press time dear god). As tales of fandom (anti- or otherwise) tend to be, ours is quite involved & at times even emotional, due to the power of friendship; for the purposes of this blog, however, let’s just say she tickled our collective pickle. But don’t misunderstand, we weren’t interested in her recipes or her weird birdhouse gardening projects or the calm, do-it-yourself serenity she seemed to generate like SCRAM ankle monitor feedback during a thunderstorm. Nor were we incensed by her perfectionism, by her glaringly anachronistic obsession with house and home, by her WASPy affectation. We weren’t exactly fans, and we weren’t exactly critics. We did however see her as she was, a conundrum wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a tasteful pumpkin shawl. Because let’s not forget, although she took great pains to present this façade of gentle Wife and caring Mother, Martha Stewart would fuck you up. And that was why we loved her.
Before there was Wikipedia, there was us. And we knew everything there was to know, in part because Katie would pour over Martha Stewart Living‘s hilarious “Remembering” section and separate the biographical from the shit about whatever shit she was making. She always brags about her dad, Katie explained. Her maiden name is Kostyra. She grew up in a middle-class family in Nutley, New Jersey. She was one of about sixteen children. Or five, same difference. The important thing was that papa Kostyra loved Martha best, and instilled in her the unwavering perfectionism that had made him such an insufferable bastard. You know, like the circle of life.
And how, due to we’d take our newfound knowledge and apply it to her beige-toned show, which may be the best piece of performance art in television history. Not because of the crafts or food or whatever, but for those moments where the real Martha would peek out from behind the TV mask, if only for a brief and brilliant second. Though we rarely watched together, Katie and I would take notes, and every afternoon before practice (we were highly motivated student athletes at a prestigious liberal arts university nestled in the foothills of Los Angeles) (jk clown college in Awesometown), we’d discuss the most notable bits.
For the most part, these highlights involved guests, both celebrity and familial. Martha, we quickly learned, was a sensual seductress and had a total ladyboner for Bryant Gumbel, a semi-regular guest who couldn’t boil a carrot to save his life. Whenever he was around she’d handle the knife just so, softly, coquettishly, before chastising him for burning the butter or not slicing the tomatoes in perfectly uniform fashion. Gumbel would nod and lean in, eager to learn whatever his mistress could teach.
This kind of thing, however, was all-too infrequent; more often than the semi-celebrity, Martha would host novice cooks, i.e. the daughters and nephews of friends and relatives. These shows were almost always awkward, since Martha was clearly doing someone a favor and couldn’t bring herself to affect anything above perfunctory tolerance. On one such occasion, Martha apparently agreed to interact with someone’s niece for a segment. Martha did her best to make small talk (“You plan on going to college someday?”), but gave up after the young lass asked if eggshells were part of the recipe. “No,” Martha answered, suddenly disgusted. “No, this recipe doesn’t call for shells.” When the girl’s segment was over, Martha smiled unconvincingly and patted her, coolly, on the arm. “So good luck with college,” she flatlined.
Then there were the fellow chefs. Martha never said anything outright but you could tell, there was only room for one cook in her kitchen. A particularly spectacular example of this came in the Fall ‘01 season, when a pretty blonde stopped by the show to talk about some damn thing. Martha decided the two should bake pies, then challenged her guest to a decoration-off, wherein each woman was to roll out her own piece of pie dough, hand carve decorative stars and leaves, and place said stars and leaves atop a freshly-filled pie. After carving about a dozen each, it was clear that the blonde was winning, at least, was giving Martha a run for her money; time was quickly called and Martha declared herself the winner. At this point, the blonde began committing decoration to crust. “Don’t put the stars with the leaves,” Martha snapped, eying the blonde’s haphazard work. “They don’t go.”
But the best shows, the most fun shows, were her holiday specials. Of course she did Thanksgiving and Christmas but the clear winner, as far as Katie and I were concerned, was Halloween — the masochistic undertones fit the series nicely. In the 1999 Halloween installment, for example, our girl dressed up as a sexy (yet classy!) witch. Right before commercial, and just after blanketing some ridiculous caramel apple thing in wispy strands of “spider webs,” the camera panned up. Martha lifted her left hand and motioned to her right shoulder, on which perched a sparkly, doubtlessly hand-made spider toy. “You’re really going to enjoy these delight-ful caramel apples,” Martha promised, pronouncing, as always, her interior Ts. “Even lit-tle beau-ty thinks so.”
Later in the show, she threw a “party,” complete with bubbling cauldron and bloody parts and a gaggle of fidgeting children. Martha tried to convince said children –the progeny of various cameramen and producer-types– that they were, in fact, drinking blood and eating cookies made out of real fingers. The children slowly lowered their treats. “Oh, you’re not scared, are you?” Martha asked. “Good!” she cackled, before any of the wide-eyed creatures could make so much as a squeak. A few awkward minutes passed. “So scurry off into the night,” she finally demanded, at which point the children quietly shuffled off-stage.
In conclusion, being an anti-fan is the same thing as being a fan except funnier.