Talk Hole: American Hole

By Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst

Photographed by Christine Hahn

Styled by Shaoul Avital

September 17, 2021
american hole

Talk Hole is the bi-weekly spoken column of New York’s alt-comedy darlings Eric Schwartau and Steven Phillips-Horst, offering their oracular powers of cultural analysis on all corners of the zeitgeist (high, low, top, bottom). From a call in Brooklyn, Schwartau and P-H (as Steven is lovingly referred) prove talk is chic and drop references to hot trends, hotter temperatures, and scalding political debates. This time, Talk Hole contracts the Eckhaus variant, stages a very body positive Bruce Springsteen-esque photoshoot, and dives deep into this great big American Hole that we’re all living in. 

SCHWARTAU: Well, we survived fashion week.

P-H: Don’t count your swag bags before they hatch. It’ll be ten days before we know if we got the Eckhaus variant.

SCHWARTAU: At least we look thin. 

P-H: We might need to fact-check that “we.”

SCHWARTAU: I feel like I always get my summer bod just as summer is ending.

P-H: Lucky for you, climate change is extending midriff season.

SCHWARTAU: And crop tops are more resilient against rising sea levels. Speaking of rising sea levels, the Vaquera show was serving flash flood warning—very caught in the rain and concerned for one’s own safety.

P-H: One thing I noticed from the fashion shows I was invited to—in addition to the ones I was not invited to and therefore need to return to the workroom and pack their garment bags—was body positivity is really being embraced for female models, but men still need 8-packs to get cast. Rarely was a blazered man even wearing an undershirt. It was like abs were shirts for men. Women are allowed to be more randomized. Old. Young. Top-heavy. Side-saddle. 

SCHWARTAU: Men are the ones being objectified now, which is why they’ve started wearing skirts and faking pregnancies. To escape the female gaze.

P-H: I do appreciate a rigorous gym requirement for male citizens. I’ve always said it’s not that beauty standards are too oppressive for women—it’s that they’re not oppressive enough for men. I’m certainly not advocating for bears on the runway.

SCHWARTAU: Bears are their own species— they don’t abide by your gym-pilled rules, Steven. Anyways, I don’t think New York has enough park rangers for that kind of animal control.

P-H: They’re too busy fighting fires in California.

SCHWARTAU: 50% of which are started by gender reveals. Or gender recalls.

P-H: And the rest by Caitlyn Jenner’s highly flammable unsold campaign merch.

SCHWARTAU: My takeaway from fashion week is that neurodivergence is in, body positivity is out.

P-H: Haus of Vyvanse.

SCHWARTAU: And by neurodivergence I mean abusing prescription drugs and wearing kooky, ill-fitting clothes. Or yelling at an SSENSE customer service rep because you forgot to return your $1,100 Loewe workwear jacket within the free shipping window.

P-H: By kooky do you just mean slutty? You’re referring to the cutouts, the holes, the endless iterations on the question “how can we reveal as much skin as possible, while also revealing as many different pieces of fabric as possible?” I think it’s a response to the twin anxieties of global warming and needing to look like you bought a lot of stuff online. It’s hot out, but my cart is full.

SCHWARTAU: I wear my cart on my sleeve.

P-H: The Amazon Prime delivery hunk mantra.

SCHWARTAU: I also think showing skin is a part of the broader carnival feel of this year’s fashion week. All the shows were outside. Chromat was at the beach. Clothes felt piece-y, costume-y and homespun. J Lo wore feathers randomly. When I showed my dad the Vaquera show on your story he called it a “parade.”

P-H: Not to fact-check, but I did notice a lot of indoor shows on the Insta stories of people who actually work in fashion.

SCHWARTAU: But those were industry shows. I’m talking about culture, which is our industry.

P-H: Ah yes, this week’s maxi challenge is about industry vs culture. Telfar, since you won the Olympic mini challenge, you get to pick your fabric first.

SCHWARTAU: It was also very carnival because my boyfriend was out of town.

P-H: Thank you for dropping hints that I’m single now.

SCHWARTAU: At least you have this column.

P-H: I’m not sure I trust columns. It was actually language that caused the first breakup. If you can’t say “we need to talk,” then you never do.

SCHWARTAU: To me, being single is like, instead of having your “rock” you have lots of little pebbles. That you’re having sex with.

P-H: Some are smooth river stones (twinks), while others are coarse granite sourced deep in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (anyone over 35). 

SCHWARTAU: And the US and Afghanistan broke up, too. So you’re not alone.

P-H: My ex left me for the Taliban.

SCHWARTAU: Some women want to be silenced.

P-H: Meanwhile, I’m at the Kabul airport tweeting at @USArmyAir about flight delays.

SCHWARTAU: The Karen of Kabul. 

P-H: Kamala was able to get me out, but she made me chaperone Ella Emhoff to fashion week as payback.

SCHWARTAU: Were there any security threats?

P-H: Yeah, someone tried to give her a sweater without holes in it, so I leapt in front of her and saved her life.

SCHWARTAU: She’ll melt if she touches a fully completed garment.

P-H: The wicked witch of East Broadway.

SCHWARTAU: Her skin is green from all the activated matcha.

P-H: And what is activism if not a canned beverage with adaptogens.

SCHWARTAU: But what does America’s retreat from Afghanistan mean for fashion? 

P-H: Invading Afghanistan was actually very fashion, in that empires are always doing it, and therefore it’s very unoriginal. The Soviets pulled out in the ‘80s, and now we’re copying them.

SCHWARTAU: I can see the Diet Prada headline now— “Did Biden plagiarize his Afghan exit from Gorbachev?”

P-H: Biden is stealing valor from an imperialist of large birthmark experience.

SCHWARTAU: The Taliban really said rent is due September 1st. And I’m sure they’re the type of landlord that only takes checks by mail.

P-H: I loved how the netizens of Instagram suddenly seemed very concerned about girlboss rights in Afghanistan. I saw a micro influencer I met in Ibiza post that we all need to “kill the Taliban within,” then list the ways in which you are your own Taliban, which included “not giving proper credit to women in the workplace.”

SCHWARTAU: The Taliban love to steal women’s ideas for opium production and claim them as their own.

P-H: If you see a Taliban member not tagging their female stylist in a red carpet photo—CALL THEM OUT!

SCHWARTAU: They barely even highlight queer creators.

P-H: When the AOC administration invades, I hope they start spelling Kandahar with a Q.

SCHWARTAU: From Taliban to Plastic-bag-ban. The real tragedy is that Drag Race: Afghanistan is getting postponed till the next war.

P-H: Please welcome to the stage, Sharia Law.

SCHWARTAU: Speaking of Drag Race, can we talk about the Met Gala? I feel like it should have been an elimination competition. 

P-H: My initial ru-action was to put AOC in the bottom three with Dan Levy and Carolyn Maloney’s Joseph-and-the-Amazing-Technicolor-Equal-Rights-Amendment-dreamcoat—but then I thought, well, what was the challenge? AOC’s Tax the Rich dress was in many ways ugly, cringe, and decidedly low-concept, but it got the most memes. And isn’t that what a social event is all about?

SCHWARTAU: I liked AOC’s outfit—it fit the theme. What’s more American than promoting your merch line? And what’s more Drag Race than capitalizing on the one phrase you’re known for?

P-H: It reminded me of the poster for the Katherine Heigel film 27 Dresses. Using a white, A-line silhouette as a canvas for that girlboss handwriting typeface.

SCHWARTAU: Maybe AOC is trying to tell us she’s getting married soon.

P-H: Or that she has 26 more dresses to subject us to.

SCHWARTAU: I love that she had to do the “look back at it” pose for every photo. Her neck must be killing her.

P-H: Get her a theragun.

SCHWARTAU: I think she’s trying to ban those.

P-H: Thera Gunn… I’m sorry my dear but you are up for elimination.

SCHWARTAU: It felt like there was a mass communication breakdown on all fronts. Very WFH—like no one ever saw the dress or knew the theme and publicists were scrambling to write talking points about how Kim’s Balenciaga burqa connects to the importance of having a female Speaker of the House.

P-H: Kim’s dress was about making fame invisible which is interesting, but not very American. It’s almost Canadian. Just sort of being there, but not.

SCHWARTAU: Kind of like us at the Interview launch party.

P-H: When I think “American lexicon,” I think about the specific contemporary cultural vocabulary that makes up this beautiful, chaotic country. I think of people saying “how was your summer?” and “hope you’re well.” I think of meth, and Impossible Burgers, and chunky highlights, and obscenely large vehicles, and sitting in your home waiting for a father of three from Bangladesh on an e-bike to bring you a $6 iced coffee in a transaction that benefits no one and makes everyone feel sadder and more alone. 

SCHWARTAU: I can’t believe we were the only celebs to wrap ourselves in a vintage flag, wear tighty-whities, shove a shoe on our dick, or dress like an Amazon Prime driver.

P-H: If that doesn’t get us an invite next year, I don’t know what will.

SCHWARTAU: Being more famous? 

P-H: Friend of the pod Rachel Tashijian said American fashion is ripe for disruption because Americans have this purity/hypocrisy complex—we’re completely self-obsessed, yet tend to think fashion is “frivolous,” vain, un-Calvinist. It’s time to show Americans fashion is for them, too.

SCHWARTAU: We’re Calvinist Kleinist.

P-H: I guess I’m wondering, how can we ever have this populist appreciation of fashion and culture without guilt—when it’s still being sold through exclusivity? Fashion only stokes desire through a world of events you’re not invited to, even if you’re guaranteed a Telfar bag at every drop. You only want the bag because the parties look fun.

SCHWARTAU: It’s pull-yourself-up-by-the-Telfar-purse-strap capitalism for the poor, and champagne socialism for the rich.

P-H: That’s why the Telfar bag has two sets of straps. The longer ones are for when you start making six figures.

SCHWARTAU: I ended up in a decidedly non-six figure conversation at the Gawker launch where two writers were competing over how old their Telfar bags were. 

P-H: Old is the new black.

SCHWARTAU: Get ready for distressed Telfars.

P-H: Speaking of distressed bags, I’m surprised Vetements hasn’t done a tiny little drug Ziploc for $750.

SCHWARTAU: Balenciaga should do HRT needles. 

P-H: The Justin campaign was definitely serving low T.

SCHWARTAU: Still waiting for our column merch cash cow. 

P-H: Maybe a Talk Hole cigarette? Cigarettes are back. We’re smoking in our latest Calvin Klein campaign (thank you to our advertisers!)

SCHWARTAU: I would prefer to be the face of something more youthful but I guess my chasmic  forehead wrinkles scream “I only smoke when I’m blackout.”

P-H: Besides, it’s American! There’s the obvious Marlboro Man reference, but I think our embrace of vice is very America right now—which also happens to be very Britain in the ’90s or Russia at any time in history. Everyone’s an alcoholic, drug-addled smoker. Cancer rates are higher than ever. 

SCHWARTAU: I think cancer is overdiagnosed. No one’s cells are perfect. 

P-H: I recently met a scientist who told me he thinks the vaccines don’t really work. 

SCHWARTAU: I’m skeptical because I know you met up with this “scientist” in Dimes Square.

P-H: I love that half the time I show my vaccination QR code I accidentally flash a United ticket from LA to Newark from two years ago, but it’s the same blue color so bouncers don’t notice.

SCHWARTAU: Flight attendants don’t notice either—I flew to Miami using a screenshot of my Excelsior pass. 

P-H: I got into Elsewhere using a photo of a menu from a midtown taquería.

SCHWARTAU: Covid ends not with a bang, but a faulty QR code scanner and a liability waiver.

P-H: I love the introduction of the term “breakthrough.” It has such an implication of virtue. It’s very “I did everything right, I waited my turn to get vaccinated, and I only traveled at a safe distance to an outdoor tented wedding with under 80 guests. Obama wasn’t even there! And still I contracted a breakthrough case. Je suis breakthrough. I should be studied in a breakthrough lab by a hot breakthrough scientist.”

SCHWARTAU: Ok we get it… you met a scientist. Just don’t rush into anything. Being single is when people create their best work. Remember that passage from the new Sally Rooney book I read you?

P-H: Dropping hints that you read again.

SCHWARTAU: Well, literary criticism is in these days. And by literary criticism I mean using books as a vehicle to discuss your own personal issues.

P-H: Well in that case, folx should check out my recently Rolling Stone-approved podcast Celebrity Book Club, where me and a lesbian pretend to discuss a celebrity memoir every week while mostly critiquing the fashion choices of people we went to high school with.

SCHWARTAU: I’m hearing impaired when it comes to your podcast.

P-H: This column is for the hearing impaired.

SCHWARTAU: Gay upspeak can damage the inner ear.

P-H: That’s why everyone is screaming.

SCHWARTAU: Fashion week really centers the “sight” wing of the five senses.

P-H: Um, that’s DJ erasure.

SCHWARTAU: And synesthesia erasure, which every girl who grew up in L.A. claims to have.

P-H: I think they have anesthesia. 

SCHWARTAU: Or is it Dasha-thesia?

P-H: I’ve noticed you have Tennis-thesia as of late.

SCHWARTAU: I’m a born-again jock. Or maybe an alt-jock. I’ve rediscovered tennis, or rediscovered the fact that I’m good at it. It feels good to be good at something.

P-H: I like how tennis is so lonely. You have to be far away from your competitor. Which is great because you can talk to yourself and no one will notice. 

SCHWARTAU: The word tennis actually comes from the French “tenez,” which translates to “take it,” which the royals at Versailles would yell before they served.

P-H: Fuck that’s hot. So from the start it was a very binary, sexual pursuit.

SCHWARTAU: And a rich one.

P-H: The rich sports are always more solitary. Skiing. Equestrianism. Masturbation. Whereas in poorer communities everyone grows up playing fütbol, or basketball, or circle jerking.

SCHWARTAU: Tennis is somewhere between conversation and sex—so it’s a good sport to play with someone if you don’t know whether you want to be friends or to fuck. You need focus, rhythm, and chemistry for it to be a good match. 

P-H: You have to stay hard the whole time?

SCHWARTAU: Or at least grunt convincingly when you hit the ball.

P-H: Curious that in both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open, the underdogs won. That’s the classic, pre-9/11 American Dream. You come to this country, unknown, untested, with nothing but a dream and three balls in your pocket, and make it all the way to the top with nothing but a tight body and a white skirt.

SCHWARTAU: The taller, hotter, younger players won—not sure if that’s being an underdog or their opponents being overdogs. 

P-H: What if they just gave the award to the hottest person anyway? They play all their sets, count up the points, but at the end they go, “Ok, great job everyone, but this Romanian-Chinese-Canadian-British girl is the hottest, so… Here’s your check.”

SCHWARTAU: There’s something very rich about having four nationalities. 

P-H: Yeah, your parents’ income goes up a figure with every passport.

SCHWARTAU: Happy 9/11 by the way. How did you celebrate?

P-H: I saw Caroline Polachek and Xtina live in concert. Both of them talked about how resilient New York is. Which I think is definitely true, when you consider how many events I went to this week but still made it to therapy before noon.

SCHWARTAU: The most exclusive event in the city.

P-H: And somehow the most expensive, despite the lack of vodka sodas.

SCHWARTAU: My therapist has been in Greece for two weeks…

P-H: Guess this column will have to be your therapy.

SCHWARTAU: I just feel like—

P-H: Anddd we’re out of time for today. 

SCHWARTAU: See you next week?

P-H: I’ll have to check your insurance.

———Retouching by Kushtrim Kunushevci


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