(Originally posted: 12/6/16)
I first encountered the mind of Sarah Gorman on the internet in 2015, where her obsessive cataloguing of food in Kanye West lyrics, every soul-crushing hat on the Gilmore Girls revival, and the particular merits of each Kimoji showed me I was dealing with a person of exquisite taste and vision.
When I learned (tragically, after the publication of the first annual Staunchly gift guide) that Sarah makes her own gorgeous pop culture prints and sells them in her Etsy store, The Smash Shop, I knew I had to feature her on Staunchly.
I emailed with Sarah about the Real Housewives, the gendered dimensions of office small talk culture, and her strategies for self-care during the Trump administration. Her answers are so compelling and wonderful and might make you think twice about your calcified opinions on Kim Kardashian (I did).
So, get yourself a Dunkaccino and settle in. And make sure to read to the end of the interview to see Sarah's answers to the newly-minted Staunchly Survey!
I feel like I could talk with you about pop culture for literal days. Like, we’d need a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a case of Whispering Angel, and a stack of canonical Freddie Prinze Jr. projects just to scratch the surface. You’re one of the few people I know who treats the world of so-called “garbage” entertainment with both the sense of merriment and intellectual rigor it deserves. Let’s dig in!
How would you describe your taste in three words?
Trashy snob diva
You design and sell prints of iconic, fearlessly lowbrow pop culture moments on your Etsy shop. What are your main sources of inspiration?
I mean I think a lot of my inspiration just comes from my own taste. I started my shop because I'm always looking for interesting prints and posters to hang in my apartment but most posters with a cool aesthetic seemed to be tied to dumb white boy bands or books I hated reading in high school.
"The Real Housewives of New York City" was the first thing that really inspired me to get going, especially because this most recent season reached Shakespearian levels of human drama. The episode of Dorinda's Christmas Party in the Berkshires reminded me of the Pulitzer prize-winning play, "August Osage County," Completely sincerely. It's incredible.
And with that, the podcast "Bitch Sesh," where comedians Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider discuss The Real Housewives shows, kind of opened my eyes to the world of others like me who enjoy watching these "trashy" shows through a critical lens. I thought, "Okay, there might be a market for this beyond in my own head."
What is your favorite print you’ve designed?
Carey! This is like asking me to pick a favorite child! Which is fine because obviously every parent has one and is just lying when they say they don't. I think my favorite is the print of Dorinda Medley saying "I decorated! I cooked! I made it nice!" It's the first one I made and just such an iconic moment in Housewives and American history. We've all felt that way before, we've all wanted to wave a bottle of chilled vodka at our friends' heads when they don't appreciate us enough. I will always hold it close to my heart.
Love that print. All your Real Housewives prints are truly genius. If you had to invest your life’s worth in one of Sonja Morgan’s many, many businesses, which would you choose and why?
I mean this is so obvious, the toaster oven! I'm genuinely upset that it doesn't exist, as I would probably use it every day if I could. As someone who is also kind of a mess, I think it would just really speak to a lot of people who want to seem fancy but not put in a lot of effort. Tipsy Girl and Sonja Morgan New York need to go! Bring back the toaster ovens!
I worked in an office once where the men outnumbered women and thus really dominated the small talk culture. Basically they just talked about sports. Then the gender balance evened out and the small talk shifted. My friends and I would discuss the Real Housewives or Beyoncé and you could tell the men really bristled at this. They were used to controlling the office airwaves, so to speak. They kind of acted like watching this stuff made us idiots. I enjoy sports, but I’m not sure how watching a soccer game makes someone more interesting or serious than someone who unwinds with an episode of RHONY.
Do you think there’s a double standard about the way we ( = society) treat typically female- and male-gendered spaces of entertainment?
This is why I love you. I'm so passionate about this topic and could write a doctoral dissertation on it if I knew what a doctoral dissertation was. I think we're so conditioned culturally to write off things that women see value in, and reality TV is the prime example of that. Even if you look at the cultural conversation surrounding "Real Housewives" and something like, I don't know, "Duck Dynasty" (that's still a thing right?), there's so much more negativity and honestly, blind hatred, around the show that's centered around women.
I think it's absolutely ludicrous that people complain that people like Kim Kardashian are famous "for no reason," when all Tom Brady does is run back and forth and throw a ball. Sports are mindless entertainment and that's fine, but we hold them in a higher regard because it's typically men who enjoy them. Especially since I've moved to Chicago which is such a sports town, I feel shamed by a lot of people for liking the shows I enjoy, but I see grown adults crying and screaming through the streets because The Cubs won. Every office I've worked it it's just assumed that sports are this universal point of conversation everyone wants to partake in, but then I'm teased for posting a picture of Kim on my Instagram. It really pisses me off.
You're allowed to be an intellectual who loves sports but not one who loves reality TV, which translates to: men are inherently intellectual and women are inherently not. We have to work and mold ourselves to be seen as such, but men can like whatever they want and still be taken seriously. I like to say everything I do in my life is to boldly fight against that bias, but also sometimes I'm just a human woman who wants to enjoy an episode of "Vanderpump Rules" for a half hour of her life without feeling bad about it.
You and I share so many of the same pop culture opinions, but we disagree on a big one: the Kardashians. You have a print in your store that reads: Loving Kim Kardashian is a Feminist Act. I think one of the most obnoxious commands for an interviewer to make is “Convince me.” So instead I’ll say: “Persuade me.”
I'm actually a little taken aback that this is something we disagree on but I'm excited to persuade you. Because, to me, this is the most obvious thing in the world. I'm not a "we should all love and support each other" kind of feminist, but I do think our cultural attitude about her is exactly like you pointed out in the question above, a result of internalized misogyny.
I'm certainly not the first person to point this out, but Kim Kardashian is someone who took a man's betrayal of her consent and turned it into a business. She's deeply flawed and problematic in many ways, but just the visceral negative reaction she stirs up in people is something that endlessly fascinates me. Especially because I used to be one of those people.
As my understanding of feminism grew, so did my love for Kim. And I think especially as women, hating her is feeding into patriarchy in a lot of ways. Because the reason why women hate her, or at least the reasons why I hated her, was rooted in what society expects of women. Kim, the woman, is sexual (and sexualized), puts time into her appearance, is not an academic, is not apologetic, modest, or polite. She holds herself in a high regard and isn't afraid to tell the world that every inch of her exists.
I think, for me at least, I was taught that to be taken seriously as a woman in this world you have to essentially be the opposite of what Kim Kardashian is selling. And that's a system that's set up for women to conform to men's standards, and also set up for women to fail. Because no one can fit into it.
There's something special about a woman who tweets about how "Shrek" made her cry on an airplane, but also writes a thoughtful post about the Black Lives Matter movement, something many other cultural cornerstones were too scared to take a stand on. Her transparency just brings me so much joy. And loving her, for all she is, embracing that powerful women can be Hillary Clintons, Oprah Winfreys, AND Kim Kardashians is so feminist to me. She's completely the opposite of myself, she's the girl you're trained to hate in high school, but really she's changing the game and doing it for herself as well as any other trailblazer.
I was genuinely sad and upset when I heard about her robbery, and I actually turned to other feminist friends discussing our love and sadness for her genuinely in that moment. That's what inspired me to design the poster. Realizing the true care I felt for this woman I didn't even know, this woman I completely loathed five years ago, just felt so representative of my own feminist transformation.
How do you plan to safeguard your mental and spiritual health during the Trump administration, while remaining vigilant?
Such a great question. I take a lot of baths, like one a day probably, and I plan on keeping that up. It's always the best way to just escape from the day into your own world for a little bit. But other than that, I don't plan on getting too comfortable, because I think as soon as that happens, he's won. I mean, he already won, but you know what I mean. I think accepting and embracing that this is going to be a painful and upsetting time is the first step in vigilance. It's just about finding a balance between that and self-care. Feel the pain deeply, but make sure you nurse that pain as well. You know, march on Washington, then treat yourself to a massage. That's how I like to live my life.
Last question: which do you find more culturally significant: the final four words of Gilmore Girls or the song “Three Small Words” by Josie and the Pussycats?
"Three Small Words," hands down. "Josie and the Pussycats" is an astute dystopian cultural commentary while "Gilmore Girls" is a self-indulgent study in privilege. Plus those final four words sounded like they came from Fan Fiction. Anyway, "Josie and the Pussycats" is amazing.
Imma let you finish but….
I staunchly love you, Carey Seuthe.
(Interviewer's note: Is it obnoxious of me that I kept that last answer in? Don't care!)