Suggestions for Celebrity New Year's Resolutions in 2020

It's not the advice they want, but it's the advice that they need

Photo by: Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

With the year coming to an end, the annual announcement of New Year's resolutions are kicking off.

People want to make changes in their lives, and a new calendar gives people the occasion to rethink their habits and try to live better in 2020. But so often we are not the best judges of our own problems. Like the friend who announces that he's going to start eating more kale as he downs his eighth shot of tequila, it's sometimes necessary to get some outside perspective from the people who love you most. With that in mind, it's time to take a cold, critical look at our best celebrity friends, and give them the advice they need for the new year—whether they want it or not.

Kanye West: Don't Start a Cult

Kanye West attends the Manus x Machina Fashion in an Age of Technology Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by: By Ovidiu Hrubaru / Unsplash

Kanye, you've never been the kind of person who does things the easy way. You could have stuck with being a musical genius, but you decided to be a fashion icon too, and you created the Yeezy. When they gave a Grammy to Taylor Swift instead of Beyonce, you didn't tweet something passive aggressive—you got up on stage and did something about it. When you were in debt, you didn't talk to your bank, you asked Mark Zuckerberg for $50 million. And more than a decade after you said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," when it seemed like the whole world was finally ready to stand up and condemn a Republican president's bigotry, you declared that Donald Trump was your brother because you're both "dragon energy."

So now that you've started your Sunday Services, released an album of spirituals, and produced a Christian Opera—Oratorio?—you are fully set up to devote the rest of your life to developing and running the cult of Yeezus. But is that really how the greatest artist of all time should be focusing his energy? Sure you could convert your fans into an insular flock of devout followers who would die for you. But at this point, that would honestly be too easy. It's time to shake things up. It's probably not too late to decide to be the most influential sculptor of our generation, or the greatest therapy patient of all time. Even if you decide to focus your energy on your 2024 presidential run, that's cool, as long as you avoid taking the easy path: Don't start a cult. Also, please don't tell T.I. that investigating his daughter's hymen is "god approved..."

Kim Kardashian West: Fix the American Justice System

Kim Kardashian attends the CFDA Fashion Awards at Cipriani South Street, in New York

Photo by: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Kim, you've honestly been doing some amazing stuff in the past couple years, and we all kind of feel like we were underestimating you. For too long we thought of you as just a reality show star and a fashion model—an artifact of America's vapid celebrity obsession. But you are so much more than that. Since 2017 you have helped free dozens of prisoners who were falsely convicted or hit with overly punitive sentences. In 2020, we're going to start setting our expectations higher to really help you reach your full potential. Starting January 1st, you have twelve months to fully fix the problems with the American justice system. If you finish early, maybe try to solve climate change too. And maybe check on your husband—seems like he's trying to start a cult.

Tom Hooper: Don't Make Any More Musicals

Tom, after you directed The King's Speech, you won the Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director in 2010, and you clearly felt empowered to pursue your true passion—making star-studded movie versions of classic musicals. Les Miserables was a hit at the box office, and it even won some awards, but the reviews were mixed. You could have asked yourself why you cast Russel Crowe in a movie that required him to sing, or you could have taken that as a sign that your passion for musicals may not be aligned with your particular talents as a filmmaker, but you were undeterred, and we admire your perseverance. That said, with the selection of your second musical adaptation, you revealed something important about yourself: You have terrible taste in musicals.

Cats has always been a bad musical, and there was probably no way you could have made it into a good movie. You may have misunderstood the appeal that allowed the show to run for 18 years on Broadway—people liked the wild costumes, and the way the performers moved through the audience. The music itself was only ever decent at best, and your ambitious plan to put Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Dame Judi Dench in motion capture suits, and digitally convert them into cat creatures would have been misguided even if the result hadn't turned out so deeply unsettling. So, while you've scrambled to recover something watchable from the ashes of this disastrous movie (please don't—it's better as a disaster), we want to make sure you go into 2020 with this important lesson: never again.

Jeremy Renner: Make a "Cats" Movie

Jeremy, no one appreciates your genius. People spent much of 2019 mocking your musical ambitions and using your personal app to embarrass you. It's time for you to show the world that you have nothing to be embarrassed of. Take your incredible singing voice and your untamed energy to a project that truly deserves you: Cats.

We know it's not what people expect, but you're unpredictable, we gotta tell you. And sure, they tried to make a Cats movie this year, but they forgot the secret ingredient—that certain, special Rennergy. You could play every role! And also, all the characters names could be changed to Jeremy Renner, and instead of CGI, you could just be buck naked, covered in body paint. All us Renner heads would go crazy for it. It's a good idea, and it's how you should spend 2020.

Eddie Murphy: Don't Leave Us Again

Eddie, you were gone too long, and your comeback has been too good. Don't be a Mickey Rourke. Be a Michael Keaton—come back for good. Dolemite Is My Name is an amazing movie, and your recent appearance on SNL destroyed their usual ratings. So don't just tease us that you might get back into stand-up or you're thinking about another movie. Make 2020 your year. That is all.

Bill Maher: Lose a Lot of Weight

Bill, you made headlines in September by advocating for fat shaming saying that "it needs to make a comeback" and, "Shame is the first step to reform," and you couched it in terms that made it sound like you were helping people get healthy. You seemed to be implying that people who struggle with obesity don't even realize there's an issue, and they need your bullying in order to see themselves clearly. We were shocked, not because you were ignoring the fact that a shame spiral of yo-yo dieting is actually more detrimental to cardiovascular health than obesity itself, but because you delivered your proclamation with such the smug sense of superiority. It meant that you were absolutely right—that you can't even see what a disgusting pig you are.

Bill, you may think that you are as slim and svelte as ever, but the jowls beginning to form on your cheeks tell a different story. We have to wonder what you even see when you look in the mirror, because for must of us it's hard to even stomach looking at you. To put it bluntly, if you don't have the decency to be ashamed of yourself, we'll have to shame you into dropping some of the excess weight you're lugging around. An adult male skeleton typically weighs around 25 pounds, so our best estimate suggests that you should aim to lose about 135 pounds in 2020. That might sound like overkill, but trust us, no one will miss it when it's gone.

Elon Musk: Get Off the Internet

Elon Musk at the Rihanna's First Annual Diamond Ball at the The Vineyard on December 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, CA

Photo by: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Elon, remember last summer in the aftermath of the Thai soccer team cave rescue, when people were criticizing your ill-conceived submarine plan, so you called that rescue worker "pedo guy?" And remember how now he's suing you? Or what about the people who have taken issue with your "mass transit" plan that involves drilling a new, single-lane car-tunnel every time traffic gets backed up? Remember how you called your critics "subway stalinists," and dismissed the recognized phenomenon of induced demand as "irrational?" And that's not even getting into all the abuse you took over the botched Cybertruck demo. That must have been hard for you, but not as hard as it was for the rest of the world when you tweeted that image of Tesla stock reaching 420.69...

The point is, you just don't seem to be mature enough to handle the internet. You are not alone, a lot of billionaires—and even "billionaires"—seem to have trouble controlling themselves on Twitter. The good news is, you can still have an active, vibrant life. By all means, keep developing new battery tech and launching free-internet satellites for the world to use. Just don't use the Internet yourself. Make 2020 the year of Elon unplugged. You'll be much happier without being confronted by all the people trying to poke holes in your genius, and we can maybe go back to thinking you're kind of cool.

Grimes: Leave Elon Musk

You're way too cool for him, and you know it.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders: Please Save Us

Just in case Kim can't fix all our problems alone, could you two please team up and save the world from the people who are so afraid of you? Kthanksbye.


In Honor of Larry Ray: Six Surreal, Still-Active Cults You Should Watch Out For

The Sarah Lawrence sex cult was is not an isolated incident. From aliens to snake-worshipers, here are six of the wildest cults around that are still actively recruiting in America. Read on to know how to recognize them before it's too late.

Want to leave your life behind in exchange for eternal enlightenment? You're not alone.

Sure, some people channel their desire for spiritual direction and everlasting redemption into, say, religion or nihilism—but cults often offer easier and sexier alternatives to good old-fashioned faith. Cult leaders tend to offer quick, life-changing solutions to problems, cultivating a reverent base of followers by lavishing attention on them while simultaneously exploiting their insecurities and offering them a purpose.

Those techniques were used by Larry Ray, the man who lured six Sarah Lawrence College students into a cult after moving into his daughter's dorm living room. Though many of them have extricated themselves from Ray's grip, his influence still affects many of their lives today.

To make a long story short: After being released from prison, Ray moved into his daughter Talia's home at Sarah Lawrence and immediately began to preach his strange gospel to the students living there. He eventually persuaded them to live with him in Manhattan, coerced them into sex acts, and forced them to pay him thousands of dollars for damages he told them they'd caused. Though his story has now been made public, Ray still remains in contact with his daughter and some of his "lovers" (whom he referred to as wives).

Larry Ray is far from the only charismatic, manipulative figure out there, ready to take advantage of impressionable people seeking guidance. Here are six of the strangest, currently-active cults you should be aware of—so you can know to watch out if one of them ever approaches you and tells you that aliens are on their way, and only ones who will be saved are those who move into his spare bedroom.

1. Unification Church: The South Korean Cult Recruiting On Wall Street

Take a wrong turn in NYC's Wall Street and South Ferry area and you may run into a recruiter for the Unification Church, a South Korean organization that preaches—among other things—that before she married Adam, Eve had an affair with Satan, causing the downfall of humanity. They also believe there is a female aspect of God called the Holy Spirit who has manifested herself as an old South Korean woman, and, of course, the end of the world is nigh.

This cult goes by many names, including Shinchonji, Church of Jesus, and the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. It was founded in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon, whose book Divine Principle builds on the New and Old Testaments. Among other doctrines, it proclaims that Sun Myung Moon is the new messiah, able to bring people back to their unfallen state.

Known for separating recruits from their families and for conducting elaborate marriage rituals, the cult has fractured into several offshoots since its leader's death in 2011, but it still actively recruits all over the world. Typically, the cult reels in members by disarming potential candidates, initially refraining from mentioning the Unification Church and acting like they are just trying to share eye-opening religious doctrines.

2. Eckankar: Interdimensional Soul Travelers

This cult supposedly has ancient roots that were "rediscovered" in 1965 by a man named Paul Twitchell, who told followers he studied under two Eck masters. Sometimes called "The Religion of Light and the Sound of God," the path proposes that the human body is split into two levels—the soul, which is the eternal, innermost part of each person; and the body, the tangible and temporary part. Within the holy spirit, there are two parts: the inner light and the inner sound, which can be used to connect with God. Members of this cult use a method called "Soul Travel" to project themselves into other dimensions, like the astral plane or the realms of the gods. They also believe that God speaks to followers through dreams and memories of past lives.

Unlike the Unification Church, Eckankar does not actively recruit members, but rather distributes literature and information to interested parties. However, former members have stated that its leaders have threatened nonbelievers with dangerous consequences. Ex-members have accused the organization of "use of mind control terror" during "sleeping and waking states" and "use of entities/demonic appearances to terrorize," among other things. Additionally, its current leader is also its CEO, who has sold the organization's materials and publications for profit.

3. Raëlism: The Extraterrestrials Are Waiting

This "UFO cult" was founded in 1974 by Claud Vorilhon, who allegedly encountered aliens who informed him of the true origins of all religions. After this encounter, he created his own spiritual path, preaching that the earth was created by humanoid extraterrestrials called the Elohim, who informed early humans that they were actually angels, cherubs, or gods. Raëlism is based on eventually creating an earth that is peaceful and beautiful enough for the Elohim to visit. It preaches free love and denounces money and work. Things get weirder, though; it also states that an important part of reconnecting with the Elohim is cloning—a process that, when perfected, will allow humans to achieve immortality. Members participate in a baptism ceremony that involves transferring human DNA to the alien realm, so you can be recognized as a believer when the time comes for eternal judgment.

Though they supposedly have around 85,000 followers, the cult has recently had trouble recruiting They are currently trying to build an embassy in Cambodia.

4. The Brethren: Freegans for Jesus Christ

Alternatively known as the "Body of Christ" and the "Garbage Eaters," this cult preaches the renunciation of all earthly delights in exchange for total devotion to Jesus Christ. Its members live as vagrants, eating trash and avoiding bathing in order to purify themselves for the impending end of the world. The cult also forbids dancing, laughing, communicating with family members, using technology, and interacting with the opposite sex—at least until Jesus descends again. They also mandate a strict dress code, forcing women to wear ankle-length skirts and head coverings, and banning sideburns and long hair for men.

The cult received some bad press in the 1970s when families staged deprogramming interventions for loved ones who had joined. Since then, members were encouraged to completely cut off contact with their families. The Brethrens' founder, Jim Roberts, died in 2015, and he was succeeded by a man named Jerry Williams, aka "Brother Hatsair." So just make sure to exercise caution if a gutter punk ever starts spouting metaphysical poetry about renunciation and apocalyptic revelations.

5. Nuwaubian Nation: The Final Battle Against Satan Approaches

This cult initially pieced together New Age mythos, Christianity, Egyptian iconography, African rituals, and a belief in aliens to form a tapestry of conspiratorial thinking. It was founded by Dwight York, and it proclaims that when the aliens return to earth, a select group of 144,000 humans will be spirited away in a flying city to fight a final battle against Satan.

The Nation caught on, even building a compound in rural Georgia. But in 2002, York was finally arrested for running a massive child molestation ring. He was sent to prison for life, but the compound still remains, as do small clusters of followers.

6. Church of God With Signs Following: Poison Has Nothing On Faith

This bizarre cult hinges around one peculiar practice: snake-handling. Based on a misinterpretation of a passage from Mark in the New Testament, it proposes that snakes are actually demonic, and in order to prove one's faith in the holy spirit, one must lift them up in the air and even allow them to slither across their bodies.

Here's the seminal quote: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing*, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover,"

—Mark 16:17-18

The cult also believes that if a snake bites you and you convulse or die from the venom, you simply have not followed the church's doctrines appropriately. As of now, there have been over 60 deaths from snakebites in their religious services across the US.

Most of its members still live in a tiny community called Jolo, which has a population of about 824. Recent studies reveal that there are about 40 snake-worshiping churches in America.

7. House of Yahweh: The Only Way to Survive the End of the World

This cult was founded by J. G. Hawkins, who first changed his name to "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins and then to "Yisrael" Hawkins. It is currently headquartered in Eula, Texas. House of Yahweh followers practice a form of Jehovah's Witness doctrine emphasizing polygamy, total allegiance to Hawkins, and the importance of preparing for the upcoming apocalypse.

The cult treats women harshly; according to one ex-member, women are marked as "unclean" during the daylight while on their periods, ordered to sit on a placemat, and forced to carry a sign that marks them as "unclean till sunset." Women as young as 15 are told that if they marry Hawkins, they will receive a ticket to heaven. The cult renounces politics, advocates for strict diets, and forces members to break ties with their families.

According to Hawkins, the end of the world is near and only those who join his cult will survive. He also informs followers that aliens will return to earth—but these aliens are manifestations of Satan, and so all members must follow Yahweh's laws to resist the temptation of evil.

Hawkins' organization has a global reach: A group in Kenya made the news for building nuclear fallout shelters in response to his predictions, and the House also has bases in South Africa, Burma, Kenya, Australia, and Belgium. The cult has been under fire from allegations of abuse, sexual assault, and criminal negligence. However, it still remains active, and Hawkins allegedly has $2.1 million to his name.


So why do people join these cults, and why do they stay? The aforementioned survivor of the House of Yahweh wrote, "I think the truth to a lot of this revolves around the idea that we all want answers in our life. We desire some form of certainty so strongly, that we are able to get near a 'danger zone' and risk our capacity for logic and rational thinking to fly out the window. The more desperate we are, the easier it is to let this happen."

Though they're bizarrely entertaining in a kitschy, American Psycho-type way, it's actually tragic that so many of these cults have descended into violence, abuse, and manipulation, when most of them were founded on an ethos of love, unity, and purpose. Then again, the same fate has plagued so many religions that have lost touch with their central messages (usually nothing more or less than love thy neighbor) in exchange for hate, control, and monetary gain. Because of this, we all have to watch out for anyone who calls themselves a modern messiah and seems to be selling redemption for a small fee.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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What Netflix's 'Bonding' Gets Wrong About Sex Work

While the show may have intended to illuminate and subvert the stereotypes facing sex work, it's gotten a lot of heat because of what many dominatrixes claim to be a misrepresentation of BDSM culture.


Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

Sex positivity is a buzzy term people love to throw around these days, and while it's a good thing that more and more content creators are exploring the stories and experiences of those involved in sex work, it shouldn't be treated as another clickable trend.

When content focused on highlighting the sex work industry isn't handled with the proper nuance, research, and sensitivity required, it can yield some pretty ugly results.

In 2018, the U.S. Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) / Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bill, which was intended to curb online sex work. In actuality, the legislation silenced and endangered sex workers by forcing them off of their safe, online platforms––essentially their legal storefronts––and deterred the actual policing of online sex trafficking.

The ramifications of the bill––which conflated consensual sex work with nonconsensual sex trafficking––were felt across the internet. Forums that provided services and community for legal sex workers were shut down almost overnight, from the classifieds section of Craigslist to the escort service Cityvibe, and even the furry dating site Pounced. Now that websites are being held liable for the content created on their platforms, many platforms have resorted to shadow-banning: a practice that restricts an account's ability to be found or searched, preventing new people from following and discovering the page. Twitter is one of the main offenders, restricting and filtering out accounts related to sex work from hash tags, searches, and discovery features.

So when Netflix's new BDSM-centric dark comedy, Bonding, created the Twitter account for its protagonist Mistress May, adorned with a blue check and all, many sex workers saw it as a slap in the face. But the Twitter account was just one problem of many that members of the Dominatrix community have vocalized since the show's premiere.

Bonding chronicles the life of Tiff (Zoe Levin), a grad student who pays her bills by working as a Dominatrix under the title Mistress May, with the help of her best friend and aspiring comedian, Pete (Brandon Scannell), who gets roped into her BDSM world. While the show clearly intended to illuminate and subvert the stereotypes facing sex work, it's gotten a lot of heat because of what many dominatrixes claim to be a misrepresentation of BDSM culture.

In an Instagram post, Doyle outlined the show's inception, explaining that Bonding is loosely- based off of his real life experience of becoming the "assistant" to a dominatrix when he first moved to New York City. He wrote that his intent for the show was tied to "dissecting the many ways the patriarchy has had a stranglehold over sexuality and shame." The show's saturated visuals, he explains in the NY Post interview, are a creative choice meant to "subvert your expectations of what you think dominatrix culture is." He admits that the show's plot is "highly fictionalized," and that he is less interested in creating a show about himself and more interested in creating something that reflects what he learned about sexuality along the way. In the same interview, he states "The important thing about the show for me is we are exploring this world, but not exploiting it."

Reporting from IndieWire and RollingStone has shed light on various dominatrix's criticism of the show. Mistress Blunt, a dominatrix, reviewed the show for Vice. Blunt writes,

"The show purports to unpack the stereotypes of life as a dominatrix, but really just reinforces them at every turn. The main character is reduced to an archetype of an angry, traumatized woman who aggressively yells at men and is a control freak. Like most mainstream portrayal of BDSM, a nuanced understanding of power dynamics, consent and negotiation are utterly missing."

Bonding's flaws range from fundamental to technical. Many have commented on Tiff's ill-fitting corsets, party-city-looking whip, and inept basic rope work. Other pointed out that if Tiff is supposed to be New York's premiere Dominatrix, then why does she operate out of an underground dungeon? But then there are more critical issues like her inability to properly negotiate consent and boundaries with her clients and friends.

The show especially misses the mark when it comes to consent awareness, a major pillar of sex work. For one, Tiff tricks Pete into doing kinky things he's not comfortable with. Her reasoning is "if I told you what we were going to do before we did it, then you wouldn't do it." Some of Tiff's experiences with her clients align less with the tenets of BDSM and more with straight up abuse. This depiction undermines some of the main principles of BDSM practice such as risk-aware consensual kink (RACK) and Safe Sane Consensual (SSC).

Tiff is characterized as icy and self-serving, often brandishing a couldn't-care-less affect and even putting the people around her in precarious situations. It's a portrayal that reinforces the 'heartless b*tch' stereotype, rather than highlighting a dominatrix's care-taking and empathetic qualities. There's also the optics issue: Tiff is an attractive, young white woman who enjoys all of the privilege that comes with that. The show would do well to feature a more diverse range of sex workers from different backgrounds and modes.

One Domme named Mistress Velvet tweeted: "Am I the only person not here for @bondingnetflix ??? It's superficial and unrealistic. Like as an ACTUAL PRO DOMME I'm SO OVER mainstream portrayals of BDSM that erase risk aware and trauma informed care / consent. We are not one dimensional / not heartless. We are caretakers."

Other episodes reveal that perhaps the show's writers aren't familiar with the proper procedures and safety precautions that sex workers use. In another episode, Tiff skips vetting her client because of an offer-you-can't-refuse sum of money, which would be considered a case of risky malpractice for anyone in the industry.

There's also the storyline about Tiff's trauma and sexual assault, which they imply led her to sex work. It's a harmful stereotype often associated with sex workers' that undermines many Domme's experience of freely choosing to get into the business, not as a result of trauma, but as a road to empowerment.

One SW wrote on Twitter: "None of us are the target audience, nor does it seem we were considered during the production process. This is for college age civvie women who want to dip their toe into SW for lols without ever taking on any of the risks."

When considering the issue of target audience, one has to question whether this show was written for sex workers to relate to or as an introductory, simplified glimpse for a demographic who's never been exposed to the industry. If it's the former, it's failing. But if it's the latter, then perhaps credit is due for Bonding's attempt to de-stigmatize the stories and lives of sex workers.

People aren't necessarily knocking this show once and for all, but rather calling out the way the show misses the opportunity to create a more accurate and authentic reflection of life as a Dominatrix. Many have pointed to the sex-worker written web series Mistress Mercy, as a model of what real representation could look like. If Bonding were to bring kink educators and professional dominatrixes into their writing room who have actually experienced the sex work industry they would gain valuable consult into the intricacies, norms, and experiences of sex work. But until then, Bonding will likely continue to fall short of its potential.

Sara is a music and culture writer.

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