No Complaints #5: Balloons, bronies and brains

Did you miss me last week? Of course you did.

Things to read

“Thousands of these balloons roam the skies of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro every year. Yet there is one thing these balloons do not carry: people. They certainly could — many of them are powerful enough to lift ten adults up and away. But that’s not the point. These balloons are not made for transportation. They are a folk art. They are meant to display the craft of their makers to their community, and beyond.Lipreading, on which I rely for most social interaction, is an inherently tenuous mode of communication. It’s essentially a skill of trying to grasp with one sense the information that was intended for another. When I watch people’s lips, I am trying to learn something about sound when the eyes were not meant to hear.”
Making and launching unmanned hot air balloons is a popular form of civil disobedience in Brazil. This (long) piece explains how they're designed, who makes them, and all the different ways the government tries to convince people not to bother.


“I agreed to have breakfast with her, before she disappeared. I met her in her hotel, where she was yanking a series of pulleys she’d rigged to the bathroom door, her daily physical therapy for a case of frozen shoulder—“one of the other lovely indignities of middle age,” as she called it. I’m a year and three-quarters to the day behind her. I was curious to find out what’s in store for me when I turn fifty.”
Two friends-who-are-writers discuss the way the media treats older women - the way pre-existing sexism gets complicated by pre-judgements about your senescence as soon as you turn 50.

“If you've heard of My Little Pony, you've probably also heard about “Bronies,” the zealous (and somewhat suspect) brotherhood of adult male fans. But to focus too closely on the Brony phenomenon is to wade in shallow water and pretend to know the ocean. My Little Pony is a worldview, and a way of life, for millions of non-creepy people who find the show entertaining and amusing, yes, but who also say it provides them with the personal guidance, moral ­lessons, and comforting perspective that previous generations used to find in places like church.”
I feel like I've been waiting for this piece ever since I accidentally ended up on the brony tag on Tumblr and saw some things I can never unsee. Really fascinating look at identity and fandom and, um, pastel horses.


“One might expect our modern spirit of innovation and disruption to turn its eye on the speculum. Surely something invented so long ago, under such dubious circumstances, could use an update. And many have tried. In the past 10 years, new designs for the speculum have continuously cropped up, only to fade away again. But while medical manufacturers continue to improve the design in little ways, there has been no real contender to displace the duck-billed model. The speculum’s history is inextricably linked to extreme racism and misogyny. But for all that, it just may be the best design we’re ever likely to have.”

This is particularly depressing if you're a woman and have to have regular cervical examinations. Apparently, despite its problematic history and the substantial discomfort it causes, that speculum they use is about as good as it's going to get.
“Having the right or the liberty to fuck things up is how some women imagine empowerment. It’s one strain in popular culture of what empowerment might look like: not giving a shit, doing things badly. And I think some of the fatigue around the figure of the wounded woman shares something with the fatigue of thinking about empowerment in terms of dysfunction. Like when I sent that email out to my friends asking what does this idea of “wounded womanhood” mean to you, one of the responses I got back that was really striking was from a friend of mine who said “I’m so sick of dysfunction being seen as the most interesting narrative material—women who drink too much, or cut themselves, or sleep with the wrong guys. There are all these other interesting ways in which women shape and form themselves, why do we keep returning to that kind of pained, angst-ridden version so much?” And that pained, angst-ridden dysfunction is a different sort of dysfunction from this whole “I’m fucking things up and I don’t care!” thing, which is more celebratory.It wasn’t until I was 21 that I began to take my intuition seriously and took to scrutinising my house. Look at how the nicks in the bathroom door lined up so perfectly with the nicks on the jamb, creating a perfect peephole. Crouch down low and affix your eyeball, behold the toilet bowl, right there with its puffy pink plastic seat cover, the kind that warms your butt when you sit down on it. Notice how the nicks between two separate pieces of paneling on my bedroom wall came together in the perfect little hole, as if manufactured, which it was. If you walked into my back hallway and moved a strip of particleboard propped against the wall there, you would find a big, punched-in looking hole. The hole was covered with a strip of electrical tape, dull and dry from being peeled back so many times. When I peeled it back for the first time it fell to the dusty floor like a dead autumn leaf. When I put my eye to the hole, there was my bedroom, all laid out like a diorama, a doll’s house. There was my bed, the posters on my wall, my stacks of books and records. The writing on the floor, my mirrored armoire. All that was missing was me.”

Apologies for the long quote, but it was hard to excerpt from this interview. Leslie Jamison talks about Frozen, Taylor Swift, addiction - and in a sneaky subtle way I recognise all too well from her essays, actually manages to talk about feminism and how we feel. Love her.


Things to listen to

Obviously, I just want to write SERIAL here in big sparkly letters and then scroll on. But if, like me, you're completely up to date and are now staring down the barrel of two whole weeks without another episode (honestly, Americans, what is so important about Thanksgiving), you might want to try the work of Roman Mars in the meantime. He does a lovely design podcast called 99% Invisible, and is also leading the charge on the future of internet radio with all his podcast outreach and fundraising work. Try this short thing of his about the history of chairs (no, really) for starters. Then don't forget to thank me when the Serial-less fortnight vanishes in a flash as you blast through his back catalogue.


Things to watch


Compulsory medieval thingamabob


The guest gif

My colleague Jonn sent me this, as part of an email about how he was lonely in the office on his own. It's a tapeworm wiggling through a man's brain.

THE END. See you next time*!

*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.