In this column, exclusive to our Patreon page, authors explain the stories behind writing their iconic McSweeney's Internet Tendency pieces.
AUTHOR: Brooke Preston
Where did you get the idea for the piece?
I wrote the piece as part of the very first class section of Second City's Writing Satire for the Web Level 1 class created and taught by the incredible Caitlin Kunkel back in the halcyon days of 2015, which now, of course, feels like 300 years ago. We were to begin with something that really bothered or enraged us, and I landed on women's Halloween costumes. In my notes, I wrote, "It makes my blood boil -- the men who encourage it and leer at it, the women who participate in it, the children whose perceptions about gender roles are shaped by it, and the corporations who profit from it." Specifically, the idea that society had devolved to the point where women's costumes were various themed lingerie. I had run to the store for a costume for my then-toddler daughter and been confronted on the racks with -- this is 100% true -- a "sexy Cookie Monster" costume clearly designed for a tween girl. That's the last thing I remember before coming back to consciousness at my computer, furiously typing this list.
Any interesting tidbits to share about the writing/editing process?
First and foremost, this was my very first McSweeney's acceptance after a decade (very on and off) of trying. I think this was like #14 in the series of submissions. I think the class not only helped me learn how to craft a sharper premise, but taught me the importance of peer feedback and editing. Until that point, I'd write a piece, maybe revise it lightly once, and send it out. But here I was forced to take the time to hear what wasn't working or connecting with others, and consider suggestions for wording tweaks or rep re-orders. I had to sort of "kill my darlings" for those reps that were more just old-timey but not really about gender inequality.
As part of the assignment, we created 10 potential headlines or angles for our selected topic. I waffled between whether 1915 (it being 2015 at the time) or 1955 would be funnier. I also included options like "10 Pieces of Personal Medical History Not to Share with Sexy Halloween Nurses" and "Top Iconic Feminists to Make Into Sexy Halloween Costumes." But ultimately the title I landed on felt like the one that most clearly hit my satirical target -- that women have always been held to a different, more critical standard, and it seemed (at least with regard to costumes) to be getting worse rather than better.
Shameless plug side-note: I now teach the very same Satire for the Web series for The Second City where I wrote this piece, which is easily the most satisfying full-circle moment of my life. (My process of writing this very piece and why it was pivotal for my career is actually now included in the Level 1 curriculum!) Also Caitlin and I obviously stayed in touch, and have become regular collaborators on so many other pieces for McSweeney's and elsewhere and on The Belladonna. And now this piece and "New Erotica for Feminists" have been included in Keep Scrolling Till You Feel Something -- to see my name along so many of my comedy heroes is humbling and breathtaking. So I don't think it's overstating things to say this was one of the first big level-ups for me and relationship builders that have truly since become bedrocks of my career and comedy life.
Was there anything about the audience's reaction to the piece that was surprising/most interesting?
I was so pleased it took off (on Twitter in particular) and did well enough when it was initially published, but probably the most surprising thing has just been how enduring a little seasonal list can be, in the right conditions. I write a lot more semi-evergreen seasonal pieces now, knowing that they tend to get another day in the sun once a year, which is rare for satire. It's been the slutty little gift that keeps on giving.