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Pandemic Publishing ︎

  1. Call for Submissions, SOS Edition
  2. 3.29.20 Irina V. Wang
  3. Let Yourself Be Lifted Jackie Scott
  4. Art Is Everything Jen Liese
  5. Two Poems Ella Rosenblatt
  6. Living Room Dance Party Ariel Wills
  7. On Walking When Walking Is Advised Against Keavy Handley-Byrne
  8. Untitled Cita Devlin
  9. Ads in Corona Hannah Oatman
  10. COVID-19 and Communitas Elaine Lopez
  11. A Time for Pie Elizabeth Burmann
  12. How to Stay Motivated When You’re Stuck at Home Clarisse Angkasa
  13. Coerced Harmony (A Tour) Hammad Abid
  14. Zooming In and Out Tongji Philip Qian
  15. [Form] Ciara Carlyle
  16. Hi.txt Dan Luo
  17. A poem about boredom, a composite Maixx Culver-Hagins
  18. Eyewitness News Tristram Lansdowne
  19. Distance Maps Marcus Peabody
  20. Therapeutic Suggestion Maria Aliberti Lubertazzi
  21. Keep Your Heart Six Feet Away From Mine (and other moments) Arielle Eisen
  22. Twenty Instructions for COVID-19 Charlott Isobel Dazan
  23. Cuerno 1 y 2 Yan Diego Estrella Wilson
  24. A Monolith of Grief Regarding the Absence of Touches, or Letter to a Future Lover García Sinclair
  25. Coronavirus by the Thousands Drew Dodge
  26. Two Poems Kathryn Li
  27. Beds Are Burning Aleks Dawson
  28. Still Lifes Yidan Wang
  29. Fragments of Seva Jagdeep Raina
  30. Packing Up and Staying Woojin Kim
  31. Chronic Pain and Fermentation Ralph Davis
  32. Quarantine Letters Hannah Moore
  33. Sounds of Silence: An Isolation Soundscape Dara Benno
  34. 14 Day Detox for Designers Erica Silver


Winter 2020

  1. From the Editors
  2. The Phantom Audience, or How to “Really Do It” Asher White
  3. Some Dry Season(ing) / 5 Tales in an Embryo Room Yuqing Liu
  4. Throwing Salt, Constructing the Homeland Ariel Wills
  5. Infinity Balloon Man Jack Zhou
  6. Texas Triptych Ali Dipp
  7. Phenomenology of Bones Chris Shen
  8. Erlking Yiqun Zhou
  9. Trouble in Reality Elena Foraker
  10. Family Stories Gina Vestuti
  11. Treasure Reilly Blum



Fall 2019
     
  1. From the Editors
  2. Architecture and Its Ghosts Xuan Liu
  3. Fit/O!de Jeff Katz
  4. Desde La Chinaca y La China Poblana Ariel Wills
  5. Ballast Tiger Dingsun
  6. Love Letters Brenda Rodriguez
  7. The Anxieties of Plant-sitting Carol Demick
  8. Zadie & Teju Ariel Wills
  9. Smooth Stones Ali Dipp 
  10. Kantha’s Melodies Michelle Dixon
  11. Glory West Megan Solis
  12. The 50 Best Albums of the 2010s Asher White



Spring 2019

  1. From the Editors
  2. A Room without a View: Reflections on Studio Practice from a Privileged Poor Chantal Feitosa
  3. Between the Battlements Jeremy Wolin

  4. Accessing Color: Dissecting the Harvard Art Museum’s Forbes Pigment Collection Makoto Kumasaka
  5. British Club Tattoos Nasser Alzayani
  6. Making Space: Creativity and Resilience in War-Time Sri Lanka Elizabeth Dean Hermann
  7. How to Become Trans: A Proposal for the Modern-Day Gender-Agnostic Asher White
  8. Making It Up: A Conversation with Kent Kleinman Wen Zhuang
  9. “In Peace”: A Conversation with Matthew Shenoda Mays Albaik
  10. Suburbia_hours.mov Nora Mayer
  11. Negative Spaces Emily Wright
  12. Centerfold: Urgency Lab
  13. Rise Up: The Sunrise Movement Takes Root in Rhode Island Irina V. Wang
  14. After Strand Nafis White and García Sinclair
  15. Soldiers of Love? Karen Schiff
  16. Decoding Ghosts Molly Hastings
  17. An Annotated Bibliography Eli Backer
  18. Jesus, Marilyn, and Britney: Relationships between Religion and Celebrity Culture Nina Yuchi
  19. The Social (Antique) Network: Empathy in the Age of Digital Antiquing Zola Anderson
  20. My Little Episodes Michael Brandes
  21. Seeking Fair Game on Hidden Fields Reilly Blum
  22. The Should Be Here Is Not Here Joss Liao
  23. Index of Agency Sophie Chien
  24. Don’t Eat the Models Barbara Stehle
  25. Hypothetical Drink Personality Test: Who Said What, and When? Eliza Chen
  26. Dear Arabic Mohammed Nassem



Fall 2018 

  1. From the Editors
  2. How to Make a Person: A Recipe Mays Albaik
  3. Providence Votes Marcus Peabody
  4. Encounters with the Codex: Redefining Forms of Publication June Yoon
  5. How to Encounter a Puddle Anny Li
  6. A Brief List of Premises from a Maker Stuck with Paper, Politics, and Performance Yasi Alipour
  7. Art Writing and the Place of the “I” Randy Kennedy
  8. Written in Stone: Lineage, Legacy, and Letterforms Irina V. Wang
  9. The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (a Graphic Designer) Tiger Dingsun
  10. Colliers/Necklaces Théïa Flynn
  11. When One Door Closes: Examining Issues of Space and Student Curation on Campus Wen Zhuang
  12. Addressing the Empty Plinth: Lessons from Gallery Shows and Public Art Jeremy Wolin
  13. Modern Usage: In Conversation with Remeike Forbes Eliza Chen and Tiger Dingsun
  14. Dangling Threads: Remaining Unclear in Capital Everett Epstein
  15. A Vagabond Viking Voyage and Midsummer Daydream Mike Fink
  16. Everything is Interdependent Angela Dufresne
  17. La Bolita Elaine Lopez
  18. Bread Day Olive B. Godlee
  19. Against the Archive Satpreet Kahlon



2017 - 2018 

  1. Birds, Bees, and Beyond: The Nature Lab Evolves
  2. Concrete Mixer Drum Solo
  3. Negative Spaces
  4. “Printer Prosthetics” at NYABF
  5. On Writing: Nader Tehrani and Katie Faulkner
  6. On Writing: Marie Law Adams and Dan Adams
  7. On Writing: Kunlé Adeyemi
  8. Connecting Food and Design
  9. Remixing Architectural Discourse
  10. Genesis : 1: Beret Shit
  11. “No voy a actuar en el mundo antes de entenderlo”: Una conversación con Alfredo Jaar
  12. “I Will Not Act in the World Before Understanding the World”: A Conversation with Alfredo Jaar
  13. Imagining Irmgard
  14. Afterwords: Bite
  15. Afterwords: Portals
  16. Afterwords: Calendar
  17. Seeking Drafts

Some Dry Season(ing) 

Asher White (BFA SC 2022)


At parties, or during breaks in class, or in line for coffee, we offer little references, often folded into jokes. The more specific the reference—the more precisely something is named, the more acutely relatable a shared memory is—the more the joke pays off. Maybe you make a remark about a teacher you’ve both had, or about some larger failure of the institution you’re involved with. It’s a way of intercepting a mutual projection of strangerness. It says: I’m like you! 

In particular, “classic” relics of the American Generation Z childhood1—Nickelodeon, Tamagotchis, gym class scooters, warm GoGurt tubes—radiate an especially relatable, sunny, romantic nostalgia. (This effect extends to even hazier, less recognizable artifacts: the curiously sparse graphics of Neopets, the fever dream artifice of The Amanda Show, kids with red “Gatorade lips,” strip mall laser tag). Such staples of an early-’00s cultural landscape make for easy memes and fun small talk because they signal a deep familiarity, a shared language. They say: we are in the same demographic group. Revisiting the touchstones we once avidly consumed as elementary schoolers brings us delight (Glee, even) and something close to pride. Which Lunchables did your mom buy? Who had more than two Webkinz?2 References like this remind us of a time when our enjoyment of the world was wholeheartedly sincere and based only on the actual process of experiencing it. Getting dehydrated at summer camp. Hearing the tinny explosions of radio commercials. Eating too many Gushers. Eerie music in a movie wasn’t codified into “eerie music”; it registered as legitimate anxiety.3

Whereas these pre-comprehension touchstones (circa say, 1998–2006) inspire fond retrospection, it’s the following era of Gen Z culture (2007–2014) that gets murkier, muddier, and much more difficult to wade through. Ages 10–14 for any generation is when the undiscerning joy of youth twists into skepticism and angst; cynicism is a given for middle schoolers. But for this turn-of-the-century generation, the cynicism was amplified and distorted into unforeseen and disastrous proportions by the Internet. We found ourselves in a dangerous reverse-Goldilocks zone:4 our parents had mostly overcome Y2K fears about the technological apocalypse but had yet to fully understand the threat of unrestricted Internet access, the implications of social media. YouTube was popularized in 2006 (the start of our elementary school), Instagram didn’t debut until 2010 (the start of our middle school).

It was during these years that the activity of Watching YouTube Videos was founded, when kids began dedicating hours to YouTube vloggers and subsequently developing affected personas and regrettable comedic tics, passionately aligning with subcultures and adopting niche vocabulary. Some of this may have done irrevocable damage to our personalities; you can always spot a reformed SuperWhoLockian.5

The effect vlogging had on me and my peers is hard to overstate. We became accustomed to a specific method of performing life, sensationalizing and curating for an invisible audience. Crucially, we learned to spectate, to watch alone and anonymously. We would intake reliable content that we didn’t necessarily understand but could expect to be stimulated by. We became less in touch with developmental milestones and more in tune with the possibilities of public persona.

I’ve noticed more reluctance to revisit this landscape than for the golden days of Arthur. This is understandable. There’s nothing particularly cute about Smosh. But in this shadier and less-traveled neighborhood of childhood lives a phenomenon that profoundly influenced the self-image of my peers. When friends of mine discuss this era in their lives, there is one constant: everyone unconsciously believed themselves to be the youngest viewer. Overwhelmingly, kids my age assumed they were at least a few years younger than the other viewers—a different class than the subscribers, raters, and likers. We all, I have found in conversation after conversation, privately and silently shared this sensation.

For me, the types of videos created by Shane Dawson or nigahiga—crude, outrageous, self-effacing in the self-aggrandizing way that self-produced content often is—always felt forbidden, a little more “adult” than what I was supposed to be enjoying. This was part of their appeal: here was a TV-alternative that was seemingly lawless, an infinitely rich and richly infinite network of references, parodies, and in-jokes that I had carte-blanche access to. Its arbiters, the producers of all these ideas, were in their 20s (or just ambiguously “older”6), so presumably it was intended for other people of that age.7 The Forbidden Fruit Factor was imperative: there was an unspoken understanding that the anarchic splendors of the online universe were intended for grown-ups, and that by some parental or societal oversight, we were getting access.

Now that our generation has reached the age group we once supposed the content was aimed at, we find, to our horror, that the videos are unwatchably embarrassing. They are all very clearly intended for middle schoolers. In retrospect, paradoxically, these videos could only ever appeal to younger kids entranced by the promise of maturity. Vintage Shane Dawson videos offer topical, tabloid-derived content and bizarre, self-referential digs; Smosh represents the manic id of America’s 5th grade boys. It’s the type of edgy, juvenile humor that represents what younger kids think “adult humor” is like: racially contentious, cartoonishly and impersonally sexual, absurd and abrasive.

In this bait-and-switch lies the Phantom Audience, the shadow of “older kids” we assumed the content was targeted at, the invisible audience that populated the comment sections and subscriber counts, the ones who got the top comments or made the GIFs. We projected this non-existent collective into the view counts: our friend’s older sibling or our older sibling’s friend, people who got every reference, knew the sex lingo, played the video game, saw the movie, were represented in the high school sketches.

The YouTube stars were, on average, a decade older than their fans. Ray William Johnson had producers, writers, a director—a deflating discovery that reveals its intentional marketing strategy: to tantalize middle schoolers with scandal.8 There once were clear delineations of content, which didn’t so much restrict access to explicit content so much as verify its intended audience.9 Regardless of whether these guidelines were followed, they indicated who the other viewers should’ve been. If the Internet corroded intra-cultural or material initiations of adulthood, late 2000s YouTube creators capitalized on Gen Z’s broken maturity complex. YouTube introduced its own rite of passage, beckoning all ages, requiring only chill parents who could grant restrictionless access.

Unlike the imagined co-audience that the content-consumer perceives, the invisible audience that the content-producer perceives has been researched and written about. A study in 2016 examined the way social network users conceptualize their audience as an abstract audience (a blank screen for the creator to project upon) or a target audience (legitimate, identifiable groups with “communal” or “professional” ties). Over half of all users admitted to conceptualizing the former, an entirely abstract group of people, faceless and insatiably eager for whatever ideas are haphazardly flung from a user’s laptop.10

These absent contingents are crucial to the Internet’s operation. Farcical projected masses oil the pipes of the Internet so content can travel through smoothly; forums rely on the distortion (if not complete concealment) of personhood in online interactions, and cumulative video statistics (1.2k views, 8k subscribers) are not numbers we can realistically understand. We trust that there are anonymous people out there with a more authentic appreciation for the meme we’ve stumbled upon, people who have spent more time with the music, or have histories and insights into the stories that we can only understand collaterally. It’s never for us.

While first writing this piece, I naively assumed I was the first to come up with the term “phantom audience.” But of course, the term is way too handsome to have been uncoined.11 Indeed, it was used by Lynn Deboeck of the University of Utah in her 2016 article about theater reviews, a not-so-distant ancestor of YouTube video comment sections. Deboeck describes the way a work’s cultural significance is shaped by the abstraction of an audience, in this case as theater is reviewed for publications. She writes:

The performance review is “haunted” by the memories assumed to be held collective, yet flowing from the reviewer’s pen. … The performance review, then, as a post-existing text, must create for itself a knowing audience. … In order to perform a review, the reviewer must make claims not only about what they saw in a performance, but what the audience as a whole witnessed. Unable to embody the diversity of an entire audience, the reviewer must claim authority by assuming they have it already. As a piece of archival information, a performance review could claim a certain amount of authority itself; and yet, the reader encounters only a single witness’s account in a performance review. … Given the power a review has as a particular archival memory mechanism, it ends up creating a phantom audience—an invisible presence of perception that both can and does not exist.12

Although she writes about a nonvirtual phenomenon dating back centuries before the web, Deboeck’s preoccupation with the way an original “witnessing” becomes corrupted and overwritten by reviews foreshadows the sensationalist and instantly archivable information processing of sites like Reddit. The viewers both do and do not exist. One can only imagine this Schrodinger’s Audience process being dramatically accelerated when the audience members never even enter the same room.

But Deboeck’s writing about cultural memory production evokes something beyond the Internet, something much larger about the mechanics of spectatorship and cultural influence.

One way to think about the relationship between audience, reviewer and phantom audience is as steps in a distillation process. … The performance itself communicates directly to an audience, who distills what they witness into a multiplicity of responses. The interpretation of those responses, influenced by the reviewer’s individual response and biases, breaks down the performance into meanings and associations that stem from currently held stereotypes in our contemporary culture.13

Theater critics have the ability to define a play’s cultural status by making claims about its assumed audience, whether around their political alignment, age, income, and so on. Critics have the platform to define the cultural position of a piece of media. But this is something all of us do silently when we consume. We project who we are—and who we’re not—onto other viewers.

Think of the brief, fleeting moment in a movie theater where you suddenly become lucid, aware of the bodies in the room performing the activity everyone has silently agreed to participate in. Watching people watch something is fascinating. Theaterfosters a shared experience in the most literal sense. As Deboeck confirms, the Internet did not generate this phenomenon. But it did exploit or exacerbate it—in forums like Reddit, we are reading reactions of reactions of reactions, and tumblr was built around the accumulation of reposts, reactions, and remixes. Now, a work’s cultural influence is less established by a paid critic and more so cumulatively, by thousands of individual viewers.

The dystopian popularity of the “react video” genre—where kids or the elderly are shown videos that presumably were not created for them—thoroughly acknowledge the satisfaction of watching someone watch something. They directly fulfill this desire to watch alongside someone and gauge their reaction as a metric for the differences and similarities between your perspective and theirs. These videos are the exact opposite of phantom audience videos: instead of tempting you with ideas that are slightly out of reach, they assure you that the ideas they present are far more out of reach for other people. The videos of old people learning about recent viral trends affirm that you, the viewer, hold the cultural vanguard.

By othering groups that deviate from the mainstream (in relatively inoffensive ways, like age), “react videos” are antidotes to the anxiety consistently expressed by my generation: that the post-time, post-space infinitum of the Internet has left us with diminishing touchstones for nostalgia. Nostalgia develops as things go out of style; if nothing goes out of style, it becomes increasingly difficult to find things that resonate as “before.” This is why we—the last generation older than YouTube—cling obsessively to the few pre-Internet relics we can still turn over. It’s why mentioning “Capri-Suns at the soccer game” can be heartwrenching.

I spent last summer back in my hometown of Chicago after my first year of college. During previous shorter visits home, I had performed for myself small rituals of nostalgia, resurfacing old memories from every era of my life, good and bad, vivid and fuzzy. That July night, however, I found myself in an unfamiliar role, occupying a spacious and incandescent-lit gallery nested in a historic Chicago mansion, sipping small cups of wine that had been laid out in an array in front of two large glass windows. It was the type of fancy, indulgent art experience RISD had promised, the kind that would occasionally appear in my most embarrassing high school fantasies. These spaces were filled with people who were more important than me, more qualified than me, and certainly much older than me. A monolith of real artists and devoted critics. Gatherings like these were premium arenas for “Map talk.”

“Map talk” is something I’d observed my whole life. It’s when someone—usually needlessly—describes routes around a city, using popular streets and landmarks to illustrate how comfortable they are with the metropolitan geography.14 This jargon is like an inverted, romantic Peanuts Adultspeak; to children it is incomprehensible but undoubtedly very important, to teens it is sexy, admirable, and embodies self-sufficiency . . . to those on the cusp of adulthood it is the quickest way to delude yourself into delirious fantasies of Real Life, whenever that may start.

When I was young, this performed and sustained elegance was unthinkable to me. But at the gallery, I suddenly found myself faking it with ease, moving around the room smoothly, watching everyone else adjust into comfort with this environment. I was now, with other Chicagoan Adults, engaging in “Map talk.” Suddenly, I was the adult doing the adulthood I once lusted after, for an audience of people doing the same thing. I was speaking the Language of Adults—a language created not by adults, but by people who sensed that others were adults. It occurred to me that most of the other attendees of this event were around my age, from parallel institutions. Ostensibly, all of us had grown up with a similar set of references, a similar relationship to media, a similar involvement with the Internet. Here, in person, we were not hiding behind view counts or avatars. Still, there was a palpable poise and expectancy, as if we were waiting for another guest to arrive. All of us were pursuing the same affirmation: that we were the target demographic for each other. That we got each other’s references—references to the layout of the city, to music, to childhood TV. That we were the right people there, even if we felt like we weren’t. That we were the missing audience who understood it best. Everyone was faking it, and no one was.

1. Various sources seem to agree this range starts in the late 1990s but it is unclear when the cutoff year is. I feel like those whose first remembered election is 2008 will have a different lease on life than those whose first remembered election is 2016.

2. I didn’t, but I did receive a month-long Club Penguin membership for Hannukah one year. 30 days in heaven for sure, and it may have ignited a lifelong and turbulent relationship with aimless accessorizing—does an 11-year-old need a vest for their Puffle?

3. This is why shows like Boobah hit so hard. Boobah got it. It understood that children under the age of 4 live by immediate sensory experience, and will be fascinated by media that appeals directly to that perception of the world. The puzzlingly structure-free episodes of Boobah follow indecipherable logic that glides from image to image, always tactile, visceral, vibrant, exciting. To grown-ups, Boobah is a remarkably psychedelic affair that often feels like someone designed a storyline around Candy Crush Saga. But to little kids, it resonates so deeply because it meets them exactly where they’re at and doesn’t attempt any patronizing claims to education or morality.

4. This zone could be described as post-“pre-Internet” and pre-“post-Internet,” or “Internet” for short.

5. The harbinger to this everlasting affect phenomenon was A Series of Unfortunate Events, a wry, smug, and pretty infuriating string of postmodern children’s books published between 1999 and 2006. As with fans of SuperWhoLock, you can always tell when someone read A Series of Unfortunate Events as a kid. No comment on my own exposure to such books.

6. Crucially, the childhood perception of a “grown-up” is hopelessly broad because as kids we don’t have real qualifications for what constitutes a grown-up. To elementary schoolers, a 16-year-old might as well be a 36-year old. There is absolutely no discerning of “older people”, and anyone older than middle school belongs to the Adult Monolith of better judgement and more responsibility. This works the other way too—“child” and “adult” are concepts dependent on the simplification of one another. This tenuousness of the construct of the child is bolstered by Sultana Ali Norozi’s succinct overview of recent age-relativity theory, in which she writes about “human beings” vs. “human becomings.” Anyone over an arbitrary threshold already is, and those under are still becoming. Sultana Ali Noroziand Torill Moen, “Childhood as a Social Construction.” Journal of Educational and Social Research 6.2 (2016): 75. Accessed online, Dec. 2019.

7. My Drunk Kitchen, for example, was a show predicated on an activity that, by definition, was aimed at college students and older; surely Jacksfilms existed in a universe of 20somethings that us kids happened to stumble upon (all of his friends were older, their lives and identities more developed, their jokes a little too mature). In actuality, My Drunk Kitchen’s premise excluded most of its actual audience, and Jacksfilms was not a relatable figure but an aspirational one. The best kind of art feels like it was created with you in mind—like the creator has tapped into something you possess but can’t access on your own. But a close second is art that makes you feel like you are peering into something you have very little reference point for, and are maybe far from understanding, but can mesmerized by. Late 2000s YouTube nailed this experience.

8. Deflating is, of course, a massive understatement; the whole thing is actually incredibly sinister. It confirms how little time it took for the utopian notion of a for-the-people-by-the-people video streaming site to become susceptible to the same hierarchies as the culture-prescriptive television world. Similarly, there was always something “a little off” about most of the sex-obsessed male YouTubers; lo and behold, the past 5 years have revealed slews of them to have been abhorrent and destructive predators.

9. The notorious MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) recently shed light on the process behind the designation of films as G, PG, PG-13, or R. As it turns out, a film’s rating is (somewhat puzzlingly) at the discretion of a board of anonymous LA parents who determine what constitutes “adult themes.” Dave Banks, “Today’s MPAA Ratings Hold Little Value for Parents,” WIRED. 10 Apr. 2012. Accessed online, www.wired.com/2012/04/mpaa-ratings.

10. Eden Litt  and Eszter Hargittai, “The Imagined Audience on Social Network Sites,” Social Media + Society, Jan. 2016.. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2056305116633482.

11. The other text I could find that posits a similar figure is, strangely, Fredric Jameson’s “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” which suggests the inadvertent invention of a “ideal reader” when Western audiences read unfamiliar third-world texts. The Other reader, in this instance, is conceived to mediate a text’s foreignness; the “ideal reader” is essentially an ambassador who can fill in the gaps between cultures, who assures us the text is readable on its own terms and can forgive whatever errors arise in translation. Jameson, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” Social Text, no. 15, 1986, pp. 65–88.

12. Lynn Deboeck, “Pushing the Boundaries: Performing Research,” PARtake: The Journal of Performance as Research, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.

13. Ibid., 6.

14. On that night I had taken the 35 bus east from Halsted to hop on the Red Line at Sox which I took north to Clark & Division.



Asher White has faked it a few times but never with you.