A couple quick things: I published a new piece in Chicago Magazine called "The History and Power of Chicago's Block Clubs" which was fascinating to do. Also--FUNNY HA-HA IS TONIGHT. Get down to the Hideout, laugh your tinyÂ heinie off and see some of Chicago's most creative, funniest people.
Today's interviewee is an old internet friend of mine--I recently discovered some old Twitter messages we exchanged about American Idol Season 8, AKA the Anoop Desai season. Nowadays he's a culture writer at MTV News (where he writes the funny, critical Twitter-oriented column "Delete Your Account," which I hope never mentions me). He also co-hosts Speed Dial, a podcast on race and pop culture. If you want to be up to date on culture, politics, and the realities of 21st century life, make sure to follow him on Twitter.
You were on the Savage Lovecast a few weeks ago addressing some questions posed by a man who admitted that his romantic interests were heavily influenced by childhood viewings of the X-Men. What pop culture touchstones of your youth made you the man you are today, either romantically or otherwise?
I would say that comic books definitely had an influence on my romantic interests, in only that I tend to be attracted to Peter Parker types. Smarter guys with glasses who incredibly intelligent. The last person I fell for had a PhD, so, there's that. Otherwise, horror movies have affected by dark sense of humor. And especially my favorite film Heathers has probably influenced me far more than I'd like.
You write for MTV, which used to and apparently will soon again broadcast music videos. What are three of your favorite videos, either contemporary or vintage?
My all-time favorite music video is Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time." I love the Ancient Egypt setting and the fact that it's one of the only few pop culture interpretations of Egypt with an all-black cast.
I love Janet's "Pleasure Principle" video, because of the simplistic nature of dancing in a warehouse in front of a mirror.
I also really love Britney Spears' "Oops...! I Did It Again" video which I watched on repeat daily the summer it came out.
What pieces have you written (for MTV or elsewhere) that got people the most inexplicably angry?
Anything I've ever written about Madonna. And I actually love her! But every Madonna fan on the internet seems convinced I hate her. Probably because I only talk about her when she does things like call her son the n-word on Instagram or sing horrible tributes to Prince.
I'm curious about guys with roman numeral names. As a III, how were you referred to in your family? If you had a son, would he be IV?
Just as Ira. Or "Ira Lee," which is my middle name. I'm the one who started going by the IIIrd, since it's in my legal name. I definitely want to have at least two kids I can name the IV and the V.
We've both been around the Internet for awhile. What's improved about being online since you had your first email address/screenname? What's been lost?
I think I've improved as a person. I've been on the internet since I was a kid and I was assuredly a nightmare back then. But what I do love is how it's more common for your friends to use the internet. I seemed like an anomaly back then, a bit of an outcast, but now all my friends (particularly ones from when I was a kid) love to read my stuff on social media. So I'm thankful what I did as a teenager is now how people actually communicate in 2016. What's been lost is tight-knit communities. Big places like Facebook and Twitter give everyone access to your thoughts, for better or worse.
You recently turned 30. If you could choose, would you rather be our age, where you experienced an analog youth and then got online later on, or to have access to the internet right out of the gate?
I like where I am now. It makes me better as a writer, I think, having grown up without much of the internet and then having to adapt to it. I think you really have to look for great writing while you're younger and on the internet now. If only because, I knew I was a good writer as a teenager and you could tell the other kids who had talent back then too. Nowadays, any hot take will get you published online as an adult or as a teenager. There's less discernment. Which makes it easier for great writers to break through, but sometimes, awful stuff will go viral too.
What's your philosophy in regards to different generations having differing perspectives on social issues? Do you think grandparents and such can get away with opinions about, say, sexual orientation or race that you wouldn't allow a younger person to?
I think at this point, the world has changed so much where I don't afford people the right to have "different perspectives" if they're damaging to others. Like, if you're an asshole and homophobic and racist now, you were the same when you were younger and you knew it was wrong then.
What are some parts of pop culture (music, movies, shows, sites, etc.) you feel that you are supposed to be into but just aren't?
I really dislike a lot of "prestige" TV like The Americans or Mr. Robot because they don't feel entertaining. They feel like a chore to watch. Which is no different from books, you know? I preferred reading Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ellison, Baldwin in school because they wrote excellent books that were also entertaining. I don't have time for the Infinite Jests or War and Peaces of TV. I'm sure they have interesting things to say, but at some point you have to draw a line at what doesn't entertain you.
I ran this question by my brother and his boyfriend, who are both self-described gay nerds, so if the basis is mendacious, it's their fault. But it seems like there is a wider berth these days for gay men to publicly embrace nerd culture instead of being put in a sassy fabulous box. What, in your mind, were the catalysts that let those Venn diagrams more happily/publicly intersect?
There are a lot of hot gay nerds, aren't there? Peter Parkers! I don't know, being nerdy became really popular at some point, when very attractive film stars started being in comic book movies and the general public started embracing them. Now everyone wears a comic book t-shirt these days. I feel like there are some gay nerds who are still on the fringes? Like, I'm into comics and pop culture, but I'm also not playing Settlers of Catan and RPG on the weekends. So those people are just like the straight nerds, only gay. I think the advent of more mainstream geekiness has made it possible to realize that you can be into nerdy things and not be someone who looks like they're in The Big Bang Theory. That was always sort of a cover that straight white guys tried to create, to make themselves special, as if they were the only ones that understood games and comics, etc. But gay guys do, black people do, women do, etc. I think maybe it's been less "mainstreaming" and more letting other people be a part of a culture they were closed off from.
How does it feel to be the 422nd person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
The minute I check into a hotel room with the number 422 I'm gonna be freaked out, is all i know.