I met Cara in the Bahamas when we were at an appearance where reality people get paid to frolic. I knew instantly that we were kindreds–no one can make me laugh like this broad. Through our times on the Challenges people have grown to love/hate us, but man, do we know how to have fun. Cara is a Road Ruler and Playboy Playmate, but now she is a mama, and a lifestyle blogger. Find out how we made it through the Real World Road Rules Challenges and what she’s up to now! Check her out at www.carazavaleta.com.
Kelly Carlin is an incredibly talented writer and performer, yet her name is always attached to that of her comedy legend father, George Carlin. While she admits to her fair share of rebellion and chaos, she now uses the relationship between her and her parents as a way to showcase her talent. Her one-woman show, A Carlin Home Companion, features stories about growing up with a legend and finding her own voice along the way. She always hosts The Kelly Carlin Show podcast on SiriusXM radio where she interview comedians, and she also hosts a podcast called Waking from the American Dream where she features much of her original material and interviews notable people. She does it all, I tell you. Visit www.kellycarlinsite.com for more information on this renaissance woman. Follow her on twitter: @kelly_carlin
Hate Group. Cult Members. Fear Mongers. Bigots. I know what people say about the Westboro Baptist Church. This Kansas church run by leader, Fred Phelps, Sr. (a former civil rights attorney who is now disbarred) and comprised mostly of Phelps family members has made quite a name for themselves with their colorful signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” and other inflammatory slogans. They picket at military funerals and other high-profile events. They are openly jubilant when innocent people die, claiming it was in God’s just plan. I know who they are and what they believe, but I chose to interview them for my podcast, The Meister Piece, anyway.
Many think the constant media exposure of the Westboro Baptist Church is part of the problem. People ask why we would give them so much attention when all we’re doing is promoting their hateful message. In preparing my guest list for my podcast I was faced with these same thoughts. Why would I use my platform to provide a voice for a group who openly condemns homosexuals, uses slurs, and believes God not only allows, but orchestrates, horrific acts on humanity for their disobedience?
As a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies, I was interested in speaking to the Westboro Baptist Church to better understand their theology. In the same way it is important to study the life and politics of Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, it is also important to understand theology (however revolting). I wasn’t interested in debating with them or condemning them publicly. I decided my intellectual interests and genuine curiosity justified my interview. I knew that it would be seen as a provocative and I ran the risk of being accused of being an accomplice to their hate.
Steve Drain, who is a convert to the church, handles all of their media requests. Incidentally, his daughter recently wrote a book, Banished, describing her experience in and excommunication from the group. I requested an interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper who is an outspoken media presence and has appeared on “Tyra,” “Hannity and Colmes,” and other shows. I was told I could get an interview, but I wasn’t told with whom. We “met” over Skype and the caller was Rachel Phelps Hockenbarger. She is a daughter of Fred Phelps, and says they have been on the streets picketing for 22 years.
She was attractive, articulate, charming, and sweet. She said a lot of things that most people find offensive, but she also revealed a commitment to her community, her family, and, of course, her faith. A mother of seven children, Rachel had just come back from hot yoga, and apologized for her rosy cheeks. The idea that a member of the Westboro Baptist Church does hot yoga was fascinating to me. She said her kids get all A’s and one of her sons wants to be an animator. I know a lot of you are probably angry that I would even bother to include this information—why would I want to humanize someone who spews judgment and seems to condone violence towards innocent people? I guess the short answer is because that’s how I would want to be treated and I believe in the “Golden Rule.” Her behavior has no influence on how I believe she should be treated. And her beliefs do not change my call to love my neighbor.
Two days after our interview, bombs went off in Boston. I chose not to post my interview, and instead asked Rachel if I could speak to her one more time to ask about why they see the bombs as God-ordained. She agreed. When she called on Skype this time, there was a sign behind her that said, “God Sent the Bombs.” She believes the bombs were an act of judgment towards Massachusetts for being the first states to legalize same-sex marriage. In her theology, God actively intervenes in good and bad ways to demonstrate his approval and disapproval towards humans. While most of us see the bombs as a demonstration of evil or at least very sick thinking, the Westboro Baptist Church believes they are a part of God’s divine plan.
Theologically, the Westboro Baptist Church is a testament to how one’s interpretation of the Bible (or most sacred texts) can make almost anything defensible. In their worldview, love includes condemnation of the things they believe God hates including homosexuality. They are Calvinists who believe everything that happens is pre-determined, both on earth as well as in the afterlife. They are not interested in converting you. They believe God has already chosen who He wants to be saved and unsaved. They see their picketing and the hateful signs they hold as a demonstration of love. They say that their focus on homosexuality is merely in response to society’s obsession with it. They have an affinity for the God of the Old Testament, who was quite merciless in his judgment, wrath, and hellfire for those who disobeyed. While most Christians now tend to gloss over or dismiss the evidence for a vengeful God, the Westboro Baptist Church focuses on it. The God who coordinated an earth-wide flood, had a hand in wars, and ruined the life of Job, demonstrates how God is actively engaged in earthly matters, according to them.
I find the Westboro Baptist Church’s interpretation of the Bible to be profoundly inaccurate, selective, and skewed, but I suppose mine is too. I prefer to focus on social justice, unconditional love, and tolerance. Maybe we’re all guilty of confirmation bias with regard to our faith—we find whatever texts and doctrines support our existing worldview and choose those as the foundation for our belief system. In the case of Westboro Baptist Church, it seems the heavy hand, charisma, and dominance that Fred Phelps Sr. has demonstrated towards his family and church drives most of their biblical interpretations. I know many of you will write comments below quoting Scripture about “casting the first stone,” “God is love,” and the fruits of the spirit, and I spoke to Rachel about those things, but that is not how they choose to see their God.
In the end, perhaps if we were all as devoted to our beliefs and as enthusiastic about unbridled love towards our fellow man as the Westboro Baptist Church is about their dogma, maybe love would win. They are not violent (physically) and are well-versed in their rights to picket even when their message is offensive. I celebrate that we live in a country where even the most disgusting message can be spoken and the most repulsive religious expressions are legal as long as they don’t infringe upon mine. In the end, I know love wins. I just wish the Westboro Baptist Chruch knew what love is. I can only hope I live a life that compels them to picket my funeral.
NOTE: Unfortunately, this was meant to be the first video podcast, but the first 30 minutes did not process properly, so you can watch two clips below. The podcast contains the full interview and can be found below the videos.
As I prepared for this interview many people asked why I would want to bring more attention to this “hate group.” My decision to speak to Rachel Phelps Hockenbarger of the Westboro Baptist Church was not done without careful consideration. I think the public and the media typically talk about this group without understanding their theology, reasoning, or motivation.
Let there be no mistake, I condemn the beliefs, actions, and theology of the Westboro Baptist Church. I do not think they represent Christians, Baptists, or Calvinists. I believe they have twisted the Bible to justify the condemnation of all who disagree with them. Their narrow-minded approach is antithetical to the message of Jesus and the themes of the Bible including non-judgment, compassion, and gentleness.
That being said, I am a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies and I am genuinely interested in how people choose to practice their religious beliefs and how they make sense of their theology even if I find those beliefs offensive. Whatever you think of the Westboro Baptist Church, they have given a great deal of thought to how they approach Scripture and their faithfulness to that interpretation is unwavering. I can only imagine the impact on religion if all people had such devotion and commitment to their religious tradition and theology.
As you listen to this podcast, remember that my approach was one of peace, love, and true interest in learning how they see the Bible and why. I was not interested in debate or hatred, for I believe I must behave in a way that I want them to–it’s the Golden Rule. Perhaps if there is any good that can come from interviews like this one, it is a call for each of us to consider what we believe, why we believe it, and what we can do to improve the world.
LISTEN TO THE COMPLETE AUDIO INTERVIEW HERE:
My guest today is an incredible woman who I became familiar with through her hilarious blog and Twitter page, and then discovered she was the long-time producing partner of Seth MacFarlane on “Family Guy” as well as “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show.” According to her bio, she has lost a lot of Emmys (in other words, she’s been nominated a zillion times for her incredible work!). In this interview we find out which Republican this hardcore lefty would marry if she had to and why she ended up working in animation. We taped this episode on Valentine’s Day, and there’s (almost) no one I’d rather be with on that day of love. She smart, talented, and funny (all that, and likable). Enjoy!
The best day of my life was when I sang Surfin’ USA on stage with The Beach Boys. Today’s interview is now tied for first as I got a chance to talk to my musical idol and ask him about his work with The Beach Boys, his passion for transcendental meditation, and his current tour. Along the way he talks about hanging out (and having a creative rivalry) with The Beatles, why he and (cousin and musical genius) Brian Wilson are so different, and, I’m not positive, but I think he hired me as his Twitter manager. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. I’m still swooning, and I will always be Mike’s #1 Surfer Girl (even if I don’t surf).
Critics and viewers lauded Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s hosting job at the Golden Globes this year. The rave reviews agreed their timing was flawless, their writing was smart, and their charm was undeniable. What should have been a celebration of women in comedy became a stereotypical catfight thanks to one attendee who was less than impressed with their comedic performance. Taylor Swift did not take well to the hosts’ jab at her well-documented toils in love. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Swift responded to the joke by referring to a pearl of wisdom offered to her by Katie Couric saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Aside from the ways in which Swift’s statement makes her look like someone who takes herself far too seriously (particularly in light of the fact that the reason we are so familiar with her love life is that she has made millions of dollars writing songs about it), there are myriad problems with her statement. Surely Swift would not argue that female comedians can only make jokes about men. And what exact does she mean by “help,” anyway? Why would Fey and Poehler aim to help or hurt anyone in an awards show monologue? Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the idea that women should be helping women just because they’re women. The concept reeks of sexism, and undermines the ability of women to achieve on their own merits.
The relationship of women with other women is fraught with allegations of cattiness, competition, and childishness. This “feud” between Fey, Poehler, and Swift demonstrates the way some women believe the “sisterhood” of gender should provide a safe haven rendering them immune from criticism or, in this case, harmless jokes. I’m also curious about Katie Couric’s intention in making this statement in the first place, assuming she actually did. Surely, she wouldn’t argue that “helping” other women means turning a blind eye to their flaws in the name of some unspoken vagina-related bond. I think it’s safe to say Sarah Palin would reserve a spot in that “special place in hell” for Couric after the much-lampooned (by Fey!) interview she did during the 2008 presidential campaign where she appeared, well, less than prepared.
The complicated relationship women have with each other has played out recently in the media coverage of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. The obsession with her “bump” has become fodder for countless magazines who either claim she is gaining weight at the rate of approximately five pounds a day or that she is desperately trying to stay thin during the pregnancy and already planning her tummy tuck for the “post-baby bod” covers that will inevitably follow. Curiously, women have been writing articles about how even though Kardashian has made a career of broadcasting (literally) her life, this “fat-shaming” is bad for women. I think everyone agrees that calling people fat simply to flog them in the public square is mean-spirited and fruitless. But who buys these magazines? Women.
Perhaps when demonizing the media for printing these stories we could also consider why they do it. Celebrity and pop cultures magazines will not print stories they don’t think women want to read, and the truth is we do. We love nothing more than to watch the women we covet for their beauty succumb to the reality of gestation and childbirth. When they somehow manage to get back into their size 2 jeans six weeks after they give birth, we snarkily refer to their private chefs, plastic surgery, and celebrity spas. “Well, if I had a million dollars and a chef, I could lose the weight too,” we cry. If you don’t like the stories these magazines and entertainment shows produce don’t consume them.
For me, these two examples connect in the ways women navigate their relationship with other women. We want women to be considered just as funny as men, but don’t allow any of those jokes to be about one of us. We want to simultaneously be angry with the media for “fat-shaming” Kim Kardashian, but we clamor to buy the next In Touch Magazine to vote on which celebrity wore an outfit “best” (and, implicitly, who looks like crap in the outfit). Our sisterhood is rife with contradictions, and we need to stop expecting other women to help us just because we’re women too. This does not help our cause and it reinforces gender stereotypes. The last thing we need is to be the perpetrators of the sexism we fight against.
For the record, the Fey and Poehler joke was funny, Swift needs to learn how to take a joke and contextualize advice from her mentors, and Kim Kardashian is not fat, she’s pregnant. If you consume the content that pits women against each other, then you’re a part of the problem. The time you spend reading about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy diet you could be writing a song about how you are “never, ever, ever, getting back together” with someone instead. Or something.
At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, Nadia Comaneci made Olympic history. She was the first to get a perfect 10 in gymnastics, and then she repeated this incredible feat over and over again. Once a member of the Romanian team under Bela Karolyi, Comaneci now lives in the United States with her gymnast husband, Bart Conner. Today, she talks to The Meister Piece about that amazing performance in Montreal, working with Bela Karolyi, and her work with the Special Olympics. Oh, and I ask her about working under Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice. She is a legend, and frankly, I have no idea why she agreed to talk to me. She truly is a Perfect 10. You can visit her website for more on her gym, appearances, and charity work: www.bartandnadia.com. Watch footage of that amazing performance here. Follow her on Twitter: @nadiacomaneci10 and follow me @susie_meister
Sheryl Sandberg’s media tour for her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Live has encouraged a lively dialogue about women in the workplace. Sanberg has been vilified by some and praised by others for her stance that women need to stop “leaning out” of leadership roles and professional advancements as they prepare for and grapple with family demands. Some see her position as lacking nuance and avoiding the real systemic issues plaguing the workforce. Others have been inspired by her suggestion that women need to assert themselves by negotiating for pay raises and promotions.
In talking with several successful women about this book, I have been struck by their frustration with Sanberg. They said by telling women to assert themselves she is reinforcing the idea that “masculine” traits are the answer and that this is a women’s problem. I certainly can’t speak for every woman, but in my experience, women are the problem. (GASP!) I have found the way women see the “balance” of work and family for themselves is different than how they see if for men, and the language they use reinforces the stereotypes they claim to be fighting against.
As a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies, I got pregnant with my first child. Countless women asked me what I was “going to do” about work now. Not one man asked me that question, and nobody asked my husband what he was “going to do” about his job. When I was nine months pregnant I defended my dissertation prospectus in which I outlined a timeline for the research project. My female professor said, “Don’t you think you’re being a little ambitious for a new mom?” My male professors thought the timeline was reasonable (despite my apparent child-induced disability). Other women consistently call me a “working mom,” while no one calls my husband a “working dad.” I have been asked by countless women if I “love being a mommy” (to which I say, “No, being a ‘mommy’ is hard and kind of sucks sometimes, but I really love my son.”). I’ve never heard anyone ask my husband if he “loves being a daddy.”
Maybe I am just hanging out with the wrong people, but I suspect there’s something more to it. The way women talk to each other (and the implicit expectations dripping from the language they use) is doing all of us a disservice. Furthermore, I think the perpetual debate by women about whether they can “have it all” is part of the problem. Oh, and I do recognize the irony of me writing this very article while telling women to shut up about their work/family woes. But maybe if we stop talking about “balancing” work and family, and just do whatever it is that works for each of us we would all be better off. At the very least, maybe we could stop asking working women things like, “How DO you do it?!”
My larger point is that, in my experience, I have never had by career goals and ambition questioned or doubted (at least openly) by a man. I have found my male colleagues, professors, and bosses, have simply assumed I was capable, committed, and driven, and they’re right. I wish I could say the same for the women. In fact, the dialogue raging about Sheryl Sanberg and other female writers writing about women such as Anne-Marie Slaughter (“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All“) speaks to my point. It seems if we stopped debating about it and just did our jobs (at home and/or at work) maybe we wouldn’t be in the position to begin with.
Erin Ryder is a woman of many talents; most notably she travels the globe and hunts down answers to earth’s mysteries. She chases UFOs, looks for monsters, and investigates ghosts. And she does all this while looking amazing. Despite my propensity to hate women like this, she manages to be likable too. In this interview we talk about her many adventures around the world and why she considers herself to be a “skeliever” (skeptic/believer) when it comes to paranormal activity. You can follow her on Twitter (@erinRyder13), visit her website, and watch for more TV adventures from her soon!
Raise your hand if you’re jealous that I got to talk to JR Havlan. This eight-time Emmy winner stopped by The Meister Piece to give us the scoop on his experience writing for The Daily Show and why he’s gotten back into stand-up comedy and producing his own podcast (hint: mid-life crisis…). He tells us what he watches on television and his advice for aspiring writers. My only hope was that some of his talent would be transferred via microphone to me. You should subscribe to his podcast (Writers Bloc Podcast) on iTunes and, of course, see his work on The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Enjoy!
I know it’s not unusual for me to flirt blatantly (but dare I say charmingly) with all my guests, but I truly am in love with Phil Rosenthal. If his wife says it’s okay I’ve asked him to come live with me and do odd jobs around the house and tell me stories. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator is freakin’ adorable and charmed me from the word ‘go’. He talked about his documentary Exporting Raymond about his attempt to help take “Raymond” to Russia and found that comedy is more complex than he thought. He also shares his feelings on sitcoms now and his current project traveling the world and eating the best food (we all agree he is one lucky bastard). And he just might be the nicest guy in Hollywood.
This interview was a dream come true for me as I have been a fan of the Dixie Chicks since my days slinging beers at Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon (don’t judge me). Emily Robison was as warm and kind as I always imagined. She talks to me about her music, her new band with sister Martie McGuire, The Courtyard Hounds, and describes life as a mother of four (and always putting on those same sweatpants!) while being a music superstar. I heart her so bad. Visit www.courtyardhounds.com for tour dates and more on her wonderful music.
My guest today made her television debut on the original season of Road Rules where she charmed America and started her long-running television career. She has had many hosting jobs since then, but she now can be seen on Access Hollywood Live weekday mornings with her co-host Billy Bush. She is as charming now as she was almost two decades ago when she started out in reality television. Find out her advice for reality stars, why her breath is so darn fresh, and what it’s like being a mom in Hollywood. You will love her, I guarantee it.
My guest this week is best known as the lovable and goofy son on the hit sitcom Roseanne. Michael Fishman played DJ Conner for nine seasons on the Emmy-winning show and is now all grown up with a family of his own. Despite the reputation of many child stars, Michael is humble, happy, and well-adjusted. He is still working hard in show business and continues to audition, write, and hustle in Hollywood. In this interview he gives us the behind-the-scenes stories of how he was cast, his memories on the set, and how he handled adolescence in front of the world and life after the show. Plus, we get a Meister Piece exclusive–find out if Michael voted for Roseanne in the Presidential election!
This episode features one of my favorite television and radio personalities, Chris Booker. I fell in love with him as a guest on the Howard Stern Show and the millions of shows he’s contributed to on VH1. He is also a DJ for Amp Radio in Los Angeles and a music and pop culture guru (with a surprisingly strong obsession for The Bachelor). Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisBooker. He is hilarious and you will love him!
This week’s interview features Saturday Night Live veteran, Victoria Jackson. While many know her from her days on SNL, she is now making headlines for her Tea Party politics and conservative Christianity. In this interview she tells us why she thinks Obama is a Communist, how she got to be a star, and why she’s not in showbiz any more. Despite our differences, I’m pretty sure she and I are starting a banjo/ukulele duo featuring our first (and bound to be hit) single, “Why Can’t We Just Meet in the Middle.” This interview is not to be missed!
To buy Victoria Jackson’s wonderful book, Is My Bow Too Big? (How I went from SNL to the Tea Party) go here http://www.victoriajackson.
This episode features the guru of all things reality, Steve Carbone. He says he has not missed an episode of The Bachelor or Bachelorette in nine years, and offers his followers his own “slanted, sophomoric, and skewed” commentary on the show each week at www.realitysteve.com. Today I get the scoop on why ABC is suing him for his “spoilers,” how he keeps all those crazy contestants straight, and why he has become the go-to reality expert.
This episode features Pittsburgh native, Carl Kurlander famous for writing St. Elmo’s Fire and producing Saved by the Bell: The New Class. More recently he has returned to Pittsburgh where he continues to make films including My Tale of Two Cities and The Shot Felt Round the World. He is co-founder, president, and CEO of Steeltown Entertainment Project and the Steeltown Film Factory and senior lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh. His Steeltown Film Factory is currently offering a $30,000 prize for the best short film submission–visit steelfilmfactory.org for details.
Back to the Future? This episode of The Meister Piece features history professor Oliver Bateman (University of Texas Arlington) as we look back at 2012 and make our predictions for 2013. We discuss our nominees for 2012 Person of the Year (Honey Boo Boo!), the scandals of the year (Elmo, how could you?), and our predictions for celebrity deaths in 2013 (Amanda Bynes is a sleeper pick). Oliver also reveals the absurdity of our year-in-review efforts as he explains how much of what we reminisce about will be lost to history before you can say “Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy.” So join us now for the ghosts of New Years past, present, and future. Visit The Moustache Club of America at the Good Men Project and Penny and Farthing for more commentary and original writing from Oliver.
This episode of The Meister Piece features my new friend and star of A&E’s hit series “Hoarders,” Matt Paxton. Matt is an “extreme cleaning specialist,” or as he says, “I clean up poop for a living.” Today Matt answers all our burning questions about hoarding (e.g. What’s up with ALL those cats? At what point does someone decide to poop in their living room). He shares his story of victory over addiction and offers insight on why anyone would start hoarding in the first place. You can catch Matt on Monday nights at 10pm on Hoarders, on his website, www.cluttercleaner.com, and listen to his podcast, “5 Decisions Away.” He’s an amazing guy and you’ll love hearing about his crazy job and insight into the legend of #poopmountain. Tweet me @susie_meister or @cluttercleaner for a chance to win one of Matt’s Golden Poop ornaments (#goldenpoop).
In this episode, I talk to my dear friend Sarah Rice from “The Real World: Brooklyn,” and we do what we do best: giggle and gossip. We talk about behind-the-scenes on MTV’s “The Challenge” and see what she’s up to when she’s not kicking butt and taking names. Get the scoop on whether she’ll be doing more Challenges and where you can get her yoga moves and artwork.
In this edition of The Meister Piece, I interview fashion guru, Shannon Young. A freelance stylist who has lived in New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, Shannon is an encyclopedic resource for all things fashion and beauty. Visit her website for fashion tips and to hire her for consulting services. In this episode, Shannon and I discuss this season’s hottest trends from the November/December issue of MANIAC Magazine. I utilize her expertise to get fashion tips for those of us who aren’t millionaires, but still want to look like a million bucks. Plus, she gives us the scoop on all the latest in make-up and what to wear to be fashion forward this season.
Here are some of the products we talked about: Revlon Colorburst Lip Butter ($7).
Makeup Forever Uplight Face Luminizer Gel ($29) (have makeup artist at store help you choose your color).
Sephora Jumbo Liner12HR Wear Waterproof ($12) in Beige
You know when you have a couple of glasses of wine and think of an idea and not only is a good idea, but it just might be the best idea that anyone ever thought of, and then months later after trying to implement it, you realize it was probably just really tasty wine? That’s pretty much the story of how this blog/podcast has come together. But, so what, who cares? You know what a blog is? It’s cheaper than therapy, that’s what, and as a result, you’re going to get to listen to all my musings on pop culture, current events, and whatever you want to call the phenomenon that is Honey Boo Boo. So I’m going to be using this space to post all kinds of interviews with people who have interesting things to say. Being a reality girl myself, there will be reality fodder aplenty. Also, the good people at MANIAC Magazine will be partnering with me to discuss the latest and greatest in fashion, beauty, and nightlife. There’s a good chance wine will be involved in many of my future interviews, blog posts, and “great” ideas, but I’m hoping you will come along with me for the ride. Stay tuned…