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Ban swag

On the very bane of my existence (right now)


Emily VanDerWerff

Sep 20 2021

10 min read


I have recently begun attempting to excavate my apartment from the several metric tons of crap that accumulated there during the pandemic. My mission began when I was considering having a friend over to help with my surgery recovery, and I abruptly realized my apartment was in terrible shape. Yet I also find cleaning weirdly soothing. So I'm having a good time? Mostly?

What has struck me, however, is just how much my problem isn't stuff I've accumulated, but stuff I've been sent. Yes, like any American with a relatively healthy income, I spend way too much money on things I think will fill the void at my center. (What ultimately filled the void at my center was estrogen the more you know dot gif.) But unlike most Americans, both my wife and I write about television. And we get so, so, so, so, so, so, so much swag, and a lot of it is just junk.

Now, at one time, we both worked in offices, and it was easier to abstract the swag there. I would open packages, and the disposal for the cardboard was right there. I kept the handful of things I actually needed for my job (mostly screeners and books), then placed the rest on a communal donation table out in the shared area for our office space. That stuff would disappear. It once included an enormous but stale chocolate egg that was meant to promote the Amazon adaptation of Good Omens. The more you know dot gif.

But in early 2020, as everybody locked down, publicists started reaching out to say, "Hey, we want to send a few items to your home." And since the pandemic's beginning in the US had closely coincided with Vox Media's LA office switching locations, I had no idea what my new office even was. So sure. I gave them my home address.

And early on, it was kind of fun! Every so often, a package would arrive and remind me that, yes, my job was still out there somewhere, and yes, all of the people I'd gotten used to seeing at TCA press tour and other events continued to exist. But somewhere in the summer, it became clear we were going to be staying indoors for a while, even as TV production started to ramp back up. And suddenly, the packages I used to get at my office were coming to my home. They immediately began to stack up.


It got to the point where in late 2020, I started begging publicists not to send me things, because many times, they just went unopened. In the process of cleaning, I've discovered whole boxes of shelf-stable snack foods gone stale, or chintzy mugs, or baseball caps emblazoned with the names of shows I had completely forgotten even existed. In the past, I would have put this stuff somewhere where those who might have use for it could take it. Now, I kind of had to throw it out or figure out some other place to leave it. (I finally found a small counter in our mail room in our building, where I just started leaving stuff. It always disappeared, hopefully to better homes, though I fear it just ends up in the trash.)

The problem with swag is that it's either cheap crap that I have little use for or it's beautiful, expensive stuff that I inevitably have to donate somewhere due to Vox Media policy (and just, like, general journalism ethics). Every so often, I get, like, a tote bag that I use, and I have a handful of journals and notebooks I've gotten that I use for reporting tasks. And of course, DVD screeners and books are typically appreciated, because they actually help me do what I do.

But most of it is junk. And as a human who is both trying to lose weight and reduce her environmental impact, it's frustrating to have those efforts made more difficult by TV shows trying to get my attention. And the thing is: I get so much of this stuff that it almost never makes me say, "Hey, I'm going to check out that show!" Even at the office, it would pile up, and I would open it, sometimes after a show's debut. I get way more use out of well-written emails, because at least I check my email daily.

I get it. It's really hard to stand out in this current landscape, due to the sheer ocean of TV. But if nothing else, the sheer amount of cardboard waste that ends up piling up in my apartment complex's vaguely labeled recyclables area always makes me feel a little queasy at the thought of how much stuff is piling up all around the country, sent to the homes of people who probably aren't going to write about these shows anyway, due to the aforementioned sheer ocean of TV.

So I don't know what the solution to this is from a publicity standpoint, because even I sometimes appreciate a well-timed care package or bit of swag. (It's usually edible, because at least that disposes of itself.) But the fact that I now have to dig myself out from this stuff at least once per week has made me much more cognizant of the sheer weight of it and has made me much more inclined to just decline packages when people ask me if I want them.

I know this sounds like I'm whining about getting free stuff, but I do think this affects everybody who cares about TV. When this much effort is put into selling even the most mediocre of TV shows, it creates a wave of exhaustion in almost every critic I know. Most of what we do is online now. Even most of you reading this watch TV online for the most part, I would bet. I'm not saying "let's come up with some fun digital swag, folks," but I wouldn't be averse. At least cleaning my apartment wouldn't be such a Sisyphean task.

Now if you don't mind, I have seven packages in my package room to pick up. Goody.

Programming note: My surgery is confirmed for the 11th! I will definitely take the October 18 edition of the newsletter off, and I will probably take the October 11 edition off too. We'll see what happens to the recaps, as they'll probably be tricky to assemble in a painkiller-fueled haze. Please, when you see me again, compliment my new face.

Talk back to me: What junk piles up in your apartment -slash- home?

What I've been up to: What I wrote last week all got bumped to this week, so nothing new published last week. But I had a ton of stuff go out during my hiatus, so here's a link to a piece I really liked on Lucy Dacus's new album.

“Hot and Heavy” sets up the album as a kind of memory play — Dacus is back somewhere and suffused with painful memories of growing up. Where “Hot and Heavy” explicitly roots that in memories of a person Dacus misses, it also creates an expectation for the album to follow: You’re listening to the sonic equivalent of driving through your hometown after years away, memories pouring in with every building you pass.

Also, I was on Blank Check again last week! Check me out talking about The Thing, one of my fav movies.

What you missed if you're not a subscriber to Episodes: Did you know my Fleabag recaps end on this upcoming Friday? RIP to my Fleabag recaps!! And you also missed Reyne Martinez on the many frustrating ways in which Disney+'s Loki made the characters' gender-fluidity completely beside the point.

An underlying theme of self-love permeates the show. So, Loki learning to love who they are through the avatar of another version of themselves? That could be perfect. Loki loving Sylvie as she is, empathizing with her, and assisting her in her liberation? Powerful. Loki learning that same love and directing it at themselves, healing from centuries of trauma and confusion? Incredible.

But did Loki actually achieve any of the above? Not really.

Read me: It was important that Defector's Brian Feldman investigated whether the "Turtle Club" scene from Master of Disguise really was filmed on September 11, 2001, as Wikipedia has long claimed, and I love that he got a hard and fast answer to this question.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of—as you are no doubt fully aware, especially this week—the making of The Master of Disguise. 

On the off-chance you don’t remember, The Master of Disguise is a comedy released in 2002 starring impressionist and sketch comedian Dana Carvey. It’s less of a movie than it is a collection of random opportunities for Carvey to be buried under layers of makeup and prosthetics and then do funny voices. This was the highest form of comedy in American society at the turn of the millennium. Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, a bumbling Italian manchild whose family trade is being masters of disguise. The defining characteristic of the film’s antagonist, played by Brent Spiner, is that he lets out a short toot of a fart multiple times throughout the film. The movie ends with Carvey, as George W. Bush, roundhouse kicking Spiner into a pool. It has a one percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Watch me: It is no secret that I deeply love the work of Jon Bois and the whole team at Secret Base. But I think The History of the Atlanta Falcons is a straight-up masterpiece, especially its closing chapter. You can watch it in isolation, but it hits harder as the culmination of the full, seven-episode story.

And another thing... I don't get addicted to video games often, but when I do... which is to say that the weird little gory puzzle game Grindstone has its hooks in me but good. (Also: As someone who loves weird indie games, Apple Arcade has been one of my favorite discoveries of becoming an iPhone user. Just bougie things!)

Opening credits sequence of the week: Sometimes I just get the weirdly catchy theme song to the 1990s ABC sitcom/attempted Home Improvement clone Davis Rules stuck in my head, so now you can too. The cast was stacked.

A thing I had to look up: Official Episodes style on "gender-fluidity." Please use the hyphen, thanks. (I don't actually have a style guide. Should I? Seems like a lot...)

This week's reading music: "Hold on Loosely" by 38 Special

Episodes is published three times per week. Mondays feature my thoughts on assorted topics. Wednesdays offer pop culture thoughts from freelance writers. Fridays are TV recaps written by myself. The Wednesday and Friday editions are only available to subscribers. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox.



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