End Times Update 5/22: John Mulaney, Billy Porter, and UFOs

One clone's perspective on pop culture.

John Mulaney


Each week one of Popdust's disposable clones — grown in a vault deep beneath the Mojave desert — is exposed to the outside world through a relentless feed of news, pop culture, and social media.

The arduous process accelerates their dissolution back into an amorphous clone slurry. But before they go, they leave behind a document of what they've absorbed and what they've learned — a time capsule preserving a single moment in the slow-motion collapse of civilization. We call these, End Times Updates...

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Photo by David Balev - Unsplash

The race for the 2020 Emmys already has impressive contenders. On Netflix's Unbelievable, the trio of Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Wever should not only receive nominations but win for their moving performances.

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"Game of Thrones" Win Proves an Emmy Is Worthless in 2019

Industry awards are all about industry politics.

71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - 22 Sep 2019 - Drama Series - 'Game of Thrones'

Photo by Rob Lour (Shutterstock)

I didn't watch the 2019 Emmy Awards.

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Powerless Protests: "The Handmaid's Tale" Inspires Cosplay with a Cause

As Margaret Atwood said, "'The Handmaid's Tale' has actually become a meme in US politics. You'll find it turning up on Twitter. Somebody has to tell the Republicans 'The Handmaid's Tale' is not a blueprint."

Women dressed as handmaids stand in front of the crowd at the Women's March to protest the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. WASHINGTON D.C., USA - Oct 17, 2020

Photo by Stephanie Kenner (Shutterstock)

In 2017, 12 protesters donned The Handmaid's Tale's eerie red cloaks and white bonnets to march into the Texas Senate and protest a bill that forces women to carry non-viable pregnancies to term.

Since then, TheHandmaid's Tale garb has become "the viral protest uniform of 2019," with women's rights activists protesting abortion bans and violence against women from Croatia to California. Protest fashion isn't a new tactic, but it's more potent than ever, from Handmaid's Tale star Elisabeth Moss taking inspiration from protesters to actor Billy Porter using his gender-bending red carpet appearances to bring attention to women's issues. But activists tying their message to pop cultural imagery has the potential drawback of tokenizing their causes as a passing meme or piece of online outrage, rather than calls to action.

With Alabama and Georgia leading the way on regressive state bans on abortion, the overlap between the series' fictional Gilead and the future of America's conservative policies is strikingly ominous. Even Margaret Atwood, author of the 1985 novel, told the BBC that her speculative fiction about government control probably wasn't as foreboding as it should have been. She said in 2016, "I don't think I was worried enough. I think if you're looking state by state some of the laws they're putting in right now I probably wasn't quite worried enough." Atwood added, "The Handmaid's Tale has actually become a meme in US politics. You'll find it turning up on Twitter. Somebody has to tell the Republicans The Handmaid's Tale is not a blueprint."

"Protest fashion isn't a new tactic, but it's more potent than ever..."

Elisabeth Moss, executive producer as well as lead actor in the series, also noted the show's similarities with real-life crises, from restrictions on reproductive rights to families being torn apart at U.S. borders. "It feels that line between [an] entertaining television show and real life, at that point I can barely see it," Moss said. "When I see those women wearing handmaid costumes and marching and protesting in them, I'm even more proud to put it on. I know what that costume stands for and what it means, and that's inspiring." Series creator Bruce Miller added, "I would love for our show to be irrelevant. That's the goal."

Activists in pursuit of that same goal have taken inspiration from the Hulu series in the "form of resistance cosplay," incorporating the costume into their protests. But from jokes on late-night TV to Kylie Jenner throwing a tone-deaf The Handmaid's Tale-themed birthday party, donning the red cloaks today still rings of cosplay rather than activism.

After all, riffing on the show's imagery began as a mere marketing stunt by the studio. In 2017, dozens of women were hired by the studio to dress in red cloaks and appear at the SXSW festival to promote the show before its premiere. That's when the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Heather Busby, saw an opportunity to make a political stance. She directed 12 protestors to run to a costume shop, purchase the costumes, and march to the Texas Senate gallery to protest a state bill restricting access to abortion. Similarly, The Handmaid Coalition is a political action group founded with the slogan, "Fight to keep fiction from becoming reality." In their mission statement, they describe, "The overall goal, like the imagery, is shared: protecting our rights and standing with organizations on the front lines of the fight for a fully equitable America. Our BODIES, our LIVES, our RIGHTS, our FUTURE."

But when responses to protests mostly live on social media and in internet memes, is there a chance of making real change? As Wired pointed out, "Everywhere the handmaids go, the media follows: Their image has become a staple of late-night set pieces, campaign emails, and, praise be, Twitter jokes." Absent are policy changes or responses from policy-makers (the Texas bill protested by the first set of handmaid protesters passed). The cloaks and hoods are mostly treated as a form of "resistance cosplay" in the truest sense: It's playing dress-up for a cause.

Trump's The Handmaid's

Still, Moss has faith that the imagery can make a striking statement that sticks in people's minds. "I hope that people take it that seriously," she says. "I hope that they don't just treat it as a catchy thing to say. I hope they take that feeling and put it into action. I hope that people take their feelings of frustration about the show's relevance and actually do something about it." The problem, as Wiredcritiqued, is that imagery alone isn't powerful unless it's attached to collective action: "The costume's flexibility is part of its power, but also keeps handmaids from being real drivers of discourse...Handmaids embody gendered pain and dread so vast it's hard to put into words: sexual violence, physical violence, governments taking control of bodies, bodies valued over beings, being reduced to a womb alone. All they really say is 'No to all that,' albeit in a highly concise and memorable way."

So far in 2019, the only win The Handmaid's Tale-style protests have earned is Kamala Harris making public comparisons to Alabama's abortion ban, stating "This isn't a scene from The Handmaid's Tale. This is happening in Alabama — in our country — in the year 2019," and the recent debut of season 3 earning high ratings. Ultimately, "Protest fashion is more about communicating rejection and anxiety than creating tangible change on its own." Whether it's Instagrammable #Metoo apparel or even the bright Yellow Vests of Parisian protestors, wearable messages of resistance are only acts of protest when they're connected to actions. Otherwise, it's an edgy fashion statement without any power to enact change.


The Best Moments from the 2019 Tonys

James Corden celebrated the Tony Awards winners of 2019, from newcomers like "Hadestown" to revived classics like "Oklahoma!"

A female director finally won.

New York City (the superior city) beat out Hollywood last night—proving theater is superior entertainment. Rachel Chavkin, the only female director on Broadway right now, won Best Direction for Hadestown and made sure no one will forget it. She proclaimed that the lack of diversity in the industry is "not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be. So let's do it." Brava.

Rachel Chavkin Wins Best Direction Of A Musical At The 2019 Tony

Hadestown Awareness

Speaking of Hadestown, the show's 14 nominations resulted in 5 wins and exposure for those who had yet to hear about the phenomenal show. The performance of "Wait for Me" piqued the interest of many who had never seen something like it before. Let's just say ticket sales are now booming.

The Cast Of Hadestown Performs "Wait For Me" At The 2019 Tony

A Taylor Mac Appearance

His outfit alone was delightful enough to be a marvelous moment, but Mac outdid himself. Mac introduced his play, Gary, A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, lighting up the room with a smile while explaining the horrifying premise.

Playwright Taylor Mac Shines As He Describes Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus At The 2019 Tony …

Elaine May is Marvelous

The six decade career-actress spoke humbly, noting, "I've never won a nomination for acting before." The 87-year-old not only gave away her character's ending in The Waverly Gallery, but cracked a few jokes along the way. The short and sweet speech was a perfect moment for the icon. Bless her.

Elaine May Wins Best Leading Actress In A Play At The 2019 Tony

Being Reminded Oklahoma! Is a Great Musical

Oklahoma! is definitely benefitting from the comeback of yeehaw culture. Between Ali Stoker's heartfelt speech and the fun, catchy performance, the cast proved Oklahoma! earned its Best Revival Tony.

Ali Stroker Wins Best Featured Actress In A Musical At The 2019 Tony

The Cast Of Oklahoma! Performs "I Cain't Say No/ Oklahoma" At The 2019 Tony