The Last Free Edition of 5 Things Friday

This week, 5TF is thinking about: subverting masculinity, corporations as the new religions, reclaiming what's been robbed from you, learning to listen, and the true meaning of the 8th house in astrology.

The Last Free Edition of 5 Things Friday
image credit: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Welcome to this week’s edition of 5 Things Friday, a weekly curation of five fascinating things to read, watch, and ponder.

This week, 5TF is thinking about: subverting masculinity, corporations as the new religions, reclaiming what's been robbed from you, learning to listen, and the true meaning of the 8th house in astrology.

If you're intrigued by this week's finds, and if you've enjoyed past editions of 5TF, I encourage you to become a paying subscriber for just $4/month, because moving forward, I will be experimenting with gating 5TF for paying members only.

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Okay, now on to this week's 5 things! I present to you...

5/ This subversion of "beta male" masculinity.

I mentioned in the very first installment of 5 Things Friday that the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once was "the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life," and I stand by that.

I was fortunate enough to see it when it was still in limited release, and I intentionally went in with zero context on the plot or genre (I avoided all trailers, reviews, and marketing materials) so my mind was truly blown as I watched this ambitious, genre-bending story unfold before my eyes.

This tale is epic in its scope, and yet at its core, it is also small, revolving around a family drama—the all-too-relatable effects of intergenerational immigrant trauma and the mundane moments of disconnection that add up to a family in which you feel alone.

Within this drama, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) reminds me of my mom, in ways both big and small: her eyebrows, the planes of her face, the way she express displeasure, the way she sometimes fails to "read the room" during a conversation, her need to stay busy, even her discomfort with her daughter’s queerness.

Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn
my mom, my brother, and me

She also reminds me of what I wished my mom had: the chance to be the protagonist of her own epic adventure. The chance to be powerful, and to open her eyes to possibility. The chance to see all the ways in which her life would’ve been different without my dad—and to actually do something about it.

I’ve heard that, originally, the directors and writers of this film—the duo known as Daniels—envisioned their protagonist as a man, with his wife as the one who supports his character arc.

They decided to gender-swap the roles, giving us something we haven’t had the privilege to see before: an Asian woman in her late-50’s, in a seemingly dead-end marriage and miserable life, full of regrets and "what-if’s," with the opportunity to change her life, embrace her powers, and save the entire multiverse. All wrapped up within a sci-fi/action movie which treats this woman as full, nuanced, flawed, funny, strong, fumbling, graceful, hesitant, brave, ambitious, scattered, defiant, and loving.

As a consequence of this gender-swap, we also get Waymond: the husband to Evelyn, and the emotional core of the film.

In his video essay "Everyone Everywhere Needs Waymond Wang," Jonathan McIntosh, the guy behind the YouTube channel Pop Culture Detective, breaks down Waymond’s role, and the ways in which it subverts expectations about masculinity, empathy, and on-screen depictions of Asian men:

When we first meet Waymond, he is characterized as "weak," naive, and hapless. Daniels, the directors, purposefully wrote him this way—in an NPR interview, they said: "We needed someone who was convincingly sweet, kind of a beta male, who you’d almost laugh at and dismiss."

As McIntosh points out in his video essay, male characters who start out this way (think: pre-spider bite Spiderman, Neville from Harry Potter, or literally any other depiction of a "laughable" male protagonist), usually change throughout the movie and "grow in power over time."

But, he says, "Waymond doesn’t change. He is essentially the same character at the end of the movie as he was at the very beginning."

Throughout much of the film, Waymond is contrasted with Alpha Waymond, a version of himself from an alternate universe who is "assertive, domineering, and aggressive."

"Initially the audience is just as enamored with this new Waymond as Evelyn appears to be," says McIntosh. But, it turns out that "he’s controlling, impatient, quick to violence, and distrustful of others. He builds Evelyn up, tells her she’s the most important person in the whole multiverse, then abandons her the moment she doesn’t live up to his expectations. Alpha Waymond is just using Evelyn."

In a typical movie, he says, Waymond would evolve into Alpha Waymond. Alpha Waymond is the epitome of the desirable, powerful, aspirational male character, as told by cinema.

But—Waymond doesn’t change. Instead, we come to see deeper into Waymond’s character, and we realize:

"Waymond isn’t actually passive or submissive. He’s been quietly proactive throughout the whole movie — constantly striving to smooth things over with the tax auditor in order to save their laundromat. He’s not getting what he wants out of his marriage, so he’s taking steps to change it. The divorce was his idea, after all. Part of his desperate plan to salvage their relationship. And he does all this, while also expressing vulnerability, and attempting to balance his needs with the feelings of others. In short, he knows what he wants, and he never stops trying to get it. He just doesn’t do it in a domineering way."

A character who "knows what he wants" and who "never stops trying to get it," is, in screenwriting terms, the textbook definition of a compelling character. It just turns out that what Waymond wants is a happy, loving, enduring relationship (glimpsed in the moment when, in passing, he sees an elderly Asian woman give her husband a kiss, both their faces wrinkling with familiar smiles).

And the way in which Waymond pursues his goals is different from what we’ve come to expect: as McIntosh says, Waymond embodies kindness, but "for him, kindness is not about putting on blinders, ignoring the negative, or being fake-nice. Waymond manifests kindness through patience, communication, and empathy. And the movie presents all of those traits as useful, pragmatic skills."

As another (alternate-universe) Waymond explains: "When I choose to see the good side of things, it’s not naive. It’s strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything. This is how I fight."

By the end of the movie, Waymond hasn’t changed, but "it’s us as an audience who have been given the character arc." We have come to understand Waymond’s kindness:

"Over the course of the film, our perspective has shifted so dramatically that we’ve come to understand Waymond, and more importantly, to embrace his revolutionary worldview. This shift in perspective also reframes the social expectations that Hollywood so often places on masculinity. Like kindness, empathy can occasionally feel naive or ethereal. Just a pretty, empty word with little to reinforce it. Especially in difficult times like ours. I’d argue, though, that what Waymond advocates is actionable empathy. It’s empathy that you don’t wait around for. It’s the kind of radical empathy that we can use to fundamentally change our reality."

4/ This theory that corporations are the new religions.

In this interview in Guernica, Judith Hertog speaks with author Carolyn Chen about her book, Work Pray Code, in which Chen argues that a "new kind of American Buddhism" has "evolved to serve the logic of work and business"—particularly in the hippie-meets-money enclave of Silicon Valley, where Bay Area spirituality rubs shoulders with tech-world venture capitalism.

One of the things that struck me most about this interview was Chen’s characterization of corporations as America’s new religious organizations, and how that negatively affects our wellbeing and our democracy:

Guernica: If companies are so focused on the secular and scientific aspects of meditation and mindfulness, why are they bringing it in as a spiritual practice?

Chen: For some companies it’s just a matter of out-perking other companies. On that level, it has nothing to do with spirituality; it’s just another perk. But on another level, companies are concerned about the spiritual care of their employees. They realize that employees do not perform well if their physical and mental state is not optimal. They worry about burnout. Many HR people talked to me about the spirituality of their workers as a competitive advantage. Human capital is the most valuable asset in a knowledge economy. So how do you grow the value of your capital and increase profit? You invest in your most important asset, which is your high-skilled workers. You try to persuade them to align the deepest parts of themselves with the company. You use "spiritual" practices to try to get them to love work and completely identify with the company. And the meditation and mindfulness that are being promoted in corporate workplaces are all part and parcel of that.

At some companies I observed, they would teach loving-kindness, Metta meditation, which is a traditional Buddhist meditation to promote compassion. Participants would be told: "Imagine yourself spreading your love to your family. And now imagine a circle of love that you enlarge to include all of your workplace, and then all of your community, and then all of the world…" So, first of all, you might ask, what does any of this have to do with work? But when you associate these practices with your company because they happen at work, you begin to associate this sense of wellbeing and spirituality with your workplace. The social and spiritual binding that happens when you practice meditation together — this is what gets people to develop a sense of belonging and identification with their company. It has nothing to do with compassion anymore.

And this happens not just in Silicon Valley. Almost all Fortune 500 companies are now organizing themselves to function as religious organizations. They have an origin story, a mission, ethics, and a particular set of practices, and many of them have a charismatic leader, which are all basic components of organized religion. I would say that this is strategic. They have learned that managing meaning is a central labor practice to compete for highly skilled workers in a knowledge economy.

Guernica: Could [the] desire for a spirituality geared towards one’s individual needs explain the backlash against organized religion in the US?

Chen: What we see in American religion, even if it is practiced in a corporate setting, is often the question, "How can the group help the individual realize themselves?" Whereas in other cultures this question tends to be reversed: "How can the individual help realize the goals of the group?" Interestingly enough, I think that companies have been able to command great self-sacrifice from Americans in a way that no other institution can today. I would argue that companies or workplaces have become the new faith communities that are replacing organized religion.

But there are downsides to this. We start to organize our selves, communities, and spiritualities around capitalism’s goals of efficiency and productivity, ignoring other possible ethics of justice, kinship, and beauty. Ultimately, companies, which are driven by the bottom line, cannot offer us a "solution" for a flourishing life.

Guernica: What worries you most about corporate control over spirituality?

Chen: It’s a problem when work becomes the alpha institution around which our lives revolve. I use the example of Buddhism to show how tradition and practices become flattened, impoverished, and hollowed out because they now serve the needs of the corporation. We see this also in families and in communities where civic participation has declined in the past 50 years. If we look at the economy of devotion in a community, devotion is collectively organized; it is organized around institutions such as the family, or the church, or the temple, or the workplace. But it’s a problem if you have only one game in town — the workplace — and essentially everything else orbits around it. This is increasingly what we’re seeing as we, human beings, become flattened into workers whose value is determined only by what we produce. This, I think, is also what’s behind much of the obsession with self-optimization, positive psychology, and the health and wellness industry: we are under constant pressure to boost our value as individuals to stay competitive in a capitalist society. And this also damages our democracy. People are spending all their time and energy at work. In a place like Silicon Valley, the workplace takes care of workers’ needs, but it also claims all their employees’ time, energy and devotion, so that they have nothing left to give outside work.

I think this is where traditional religions have a role to play. To be sure, religious affiliation and participation is on the decline, and extreme groups like white Christian nationalists have monopolized America’s popular conversation on religion. But religion still is a powerful vehicle for social justice, especially among people of color — think about the role of religion in the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers movement, or immigration reform. But religions have articulated traditions and practices of meaning and purpose and of community and kinship that can counteract the extremely individualized, decontextualized, "secular" kind of spirituality that is being marketed today.

3/ This place to reclaim your stuff.

This made me laugh. Thought you might enjoy it too:

video by @lucy.q

2/ This reminder to "listen."

I drew a card for you from the "Road to Nowhere" oracle deck by Mary Elizabeth Owens. This one jumped out —

— and the song "Listen" from Dreamgirls started playing in my head:

My spirit guide James says: "Listen to the song deep in your heart." It sounds cheesy when you say it like that, but it’s true. We want you to listen to what’s underneath all the other noise—the noise of daily life, the pressing, oppressive static of capitalist bullshit, the cacophonous noise of white supremacy, the old songs that play, that tell you that you have to something in just this way because that’s the way it’s always been done before. It doesn’t have to be done just because "that’s the way it’s always been done." You who are reading this are the vanguard of the new world order. One that is kind, that is deep, that is true to the song that plays in your heart. Each of you has a song within you that yearns to be heard. One that can feel quiet and weak in the face of that oppressive wall of sound. We are here to tell you that this song matters—that it cannot be drowned out, no matter how hard you or the rest of the world tries to ignore it. It will play until your dying breath. To live a good life and to die a good death is to play this song until the end, until the last note sounds."

1/ This incisive interpretation of the 8th house in astrology.

The 8th house, in my opinion, is a tricky house to grasp.

Like many of us, I was first exposed to astrology through "pop astrology" — astrological interpretations circulated through internet snippets, social media, and memes, which are often somewhat reductive.

If you’ve absorbed knowledge of the houses through pop astrology, it can be easy to think that the 8th house can be understood with just a few keywords which are often used to stereotype the sign of Scorpio: sex, death, the occult, and all things taboo.

Or, sometimes people with an understanding of traditional astrology will sum up the 8th house as "death and taxes."

In this post, Nate of Soul Friend Astrology beautifully breaks down the 8th house—its nuanced indications for both death and "other people’s money," as well as why it is not, in fact, a signifier for sex. And, most helpfully, he distills down the core meaning of the house in way that I haven’t seen before, and which I think you might find enriching:

"There are forces in your life over which you have no control. You can only control how you respond to these inevitable influences. The eighth house deals with powerful forces which lie beyond the ken of our ability to manage or mitigate, and the attendant emotions that those forces conjure within us."
"Part of working with the eighth house, its ruler, and planets in the eighth house in astrology is understanding that those significators are inviting particular parts of your life into a relationship of reverence for powers that are greater than you, powers which you have no control over—powers which can, indeed, undo you if you do not handle them with due reverence."
"The location of the eighth house ruler by house signifies where one experiences being subject to intractable power."
"Planets placed in the eighth house express the topics belonging to the houses they rule through one’s engagement with power, fear, and the unavoidable."

Want to grasp how all of this plays out in your own birth chart?

Take a look at your chart, locate your 8th house, note the zodiac sign there, and then determine the planetary ruler of that sign:

  • Aries — Mars
  • Taurus — Venus
  • Gemini — Mercury
  • Cancer — the Moon
  • Leo — the Sun
  • Virgo — Mercury
  • Libra — Venus
  • Scorpio — Mars
  • Sagittarius — Jupiter
  • Capricorn — Saturn
  • Aquarius — Saturn
  • Pisces — Jupiter

Now you know your 8th house ruler. Now take another look at your chart, and find which house that particular planet falls in.

Got it? Now these interpretations from Soul Friend Astrology will help you unpack what that placement means:

  • Eighth house ruler in the first house: fearsome power rests in claiming my own vitality and agency, and I might feel that I am beyond my own control.
  • Eighth house ruler in the second house: fearsome power rests in my relationship with my finances and resources.
  • Eighth house ruler in the third house: fearsome power rests in my local neighborhood, siblings, communication, and powers of mind.
  • Eighth house ruler in the fourth house: fearsome power rests in my family legacy and what I inherited from my ancestors.
  • Eighth house ruler in the fifth house: fearsome power rests in my creative potential, sexuality, and love of aesthetic beauty.
  • Eighth house ruler in the sixth house: fearsome power rests in my engagement with discipline, responsibility, and the people for whom I feel responsible.
  • Eighth house ruler in the seventh house: fearsome power rests in the Others who engage with me.
  • Eighth house ruler in the eighth house: fearsome power rests in my own reflections on the Unavoidables and healthy engagement with death, loss, and grief throughout my life. (This is a signification of, perhaps, someone who has a deep understanding of the fearful majesty of death and gives Sister Death her proper regard).
  • Eighth house ruler in the ninth house: fearsome power rests in my search for knowledge, truth, wisdom, and illumination, as well as in any capacity in which I am a distributor of wisdom.
  • Eighth house ruler in the tenth house: fearsome power rests in the impact of my conscious actions on the world around me and I am known as someone with access to power, for good or for ill (either that, or you’re a funeral director or CPA).
  • Eighth house ruler in the eleventh house: fearsome power rests in my relationship with chosen family and my aspirations.
  • Eighth house ruler in the twelfth house: fearsome power rests in my engagement with matters of sorrow, isolation, retreat, and all matters hidden.

My 8th house ruler is in the 2nd and that rings uncannily true for me 😅

What about you? Where does your 8th house ruler fall?

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