If you're anything like me, you're delighting in being outraged at the moment. I am gleefully consuming Twitter spats like a nasty little drama-loving gremlin and have made a hobby of standing by my window, tut-tutting at the people I can see breaking lockdown protocol. It appears that in order to deal with our anxieties about the global pandemic, we've turned on other people.
However, all this snarkiness is serving no one. It's not making the people it's directed at feel good, it's making me feel petty and it's creating a total bummer of an atmosphere around here. It's time to channel your need to be mad at someone into something that matters. Perhaps you need a guide to show you where to channel that anger? Then, boy, do I have a guide for you.
You're Wrong About is not a new podcast but it's one that I've taken to hungrily since lockdown, delighting in the satisfying mix of in-depth research and sarcastic wit. Since its beginning, hosts Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes (both journalists) have been taking different moments from pop culture history and informing listeners why what they think happened wasn't really what happened at all. Over the past two years they've challenged each other and listeners on everything from Stockholm syndrome to the Stonewall uprising, The Godfather to the O.J. Simpson trial. Because in a world where history has been written by straight white men, you can bet some important details got forgotten along the way.
The best episodes are where Hobbes and Marshall unpick the history of so-called 'problematic' women. From Yoko Ono to Tonya Harding, Marie Antoinette to Anna Nicole Smith, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton (the 'dingo ate my baby' mother played by Meryl Streep in A Cry In The Dark), Monica Lewinsky and Anita Hill, You're Wrong About gives context to the situations these women found themselves in, the patriarchal structures that existed to destroy them and the powerful men and media outlets that made that happen.
Take artist Yoko Ono, for instance – a hugely divisive figure for Beatles fans. There's a great episode on the popular but reductive narrative that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles and, depending how far into Boomer Dad territory you want to go, caused the demise of popular music.
As Hobbes and Marshall point out, this narrative conveniently ignores many things: differing tastes in music among band members after 10 years together, declining record sales, negative reviews, the fact that it was Paul McCartney – not John Lennon – who legally filed for the band's break-up... Sure, the whole lying in bed to protest the Vietnam War thing was insufferable (the irony of Gal Gadot and friends singing Lennon's "Imagine" is just *chef's kiss*) but to put the blame for the end of The Beatles on one woman alone (and, as the podcast notes, a woman of colour – check out just some of the hideous racism she endured) is insulting not only to her but also Lennon, who fans would apparently credit with being genius enough to write some of the world's best pop songs but not with having enough agency to resist becoming Yoko's 'prey'. Also, by the way, Yoko totally had her own tragic stuff going on and has said things like Lennon was so obsessive about her that he would follow her to the bathroom, which sounds like he might have been less than a stand-up guy. But hey, Lennon was the rockstar.
In a world where history has been written by straight white men, you can bet some important details got forgotten along the way.
What You're Wrong About does with so-called 'problematic' women is not always to call for us to forgive them (Marie Antoinette in particular did some seriously dickish things, like building a fake peasant town to play pretend in) but to examine them within the wider context typically afforded to men. Take Anna Nicole Smith, for instance; remembered predominantly as a gold-digger, her episode delves into her childhood, which was full of abuse and poverty. When she met her 89-year-old Very Rich Husband, she was a poor single mum who took 'two to three years' of convincing before she agreed to marry him. Nevertheless she was vilified by the media for her marriage and died at 39 from a prescription drug overdose.
There are a million ways to tell any story – even one as boring as what you had for breakfast. The way that it's told depends on who's telling it. You're Wrong About has a fascinating episode on Janet Jackson and the Super Bowl incident which examines the negative impact that Leslie Moonves, then CEO of the CBS television network, reportedly had on Jackson's career just because she didn't apologise to him personally, like Justin Timberlake. As Moonves also controlled MTV and VH1, guess who got to tell the next part in the story of Jackson's career?
We simply do not have the space in our heads to remember historical incidents in great detail. Most are reduced to little more than a soundbite in our memory. You're Wrong About encourages listeners to question those soundbites, to look for context and forgotten information and to find out who the real villain of the story was.
Because that's who you've got to focus your lockdown rage on, not your neighbour who's been out twice today. Channel your rage into the villain who used a woman – or (to look at other episodes) a queer person, or a poor person, or a person of colour – to take the fall for something they did wrong by using their privilege to write history in their favour.