A Muddled Response To COVID-19 From The Swamps

CROCODILE & SNAKE. A crocodile of Surinam attempting to devour a snake. Line engraving, c1705, by Maria Sibylla Merian.

I have a friend experiencing the excitement of a new relationship with a thoughtful partner she’s very fond of. We were texting earlier tonight when she suggested a trip between the two of them and Roy and I. My heart leaped.

I began brainstorming with excitement where we would go.

Then I remembered the pandemic.

The other day I was walking around the neighborhood peacefully lost in my thoughts when a stranger suddenly appeared wearing sunglasses and a medical paper mask in 90-degree heat.

I remembered the pandemic.

Although my husband and I were wed in a civil ceremony, we planned to host a larger gathering of friends and family in December. He was supposed to head to his bachelor party next weekend. I was headed overseas for my own reunion with friends next month. Both trips are no longer happening.

The wedding invites I ordered earlier this month arrived in the mail. Today I designed a note to assure our guests we are monitoring the pandemic and fully prepared to cancel the event for the safety of our loved ones, check the website for any updates.

Monitoring the pandemic.

How does one monitor a pandemic exactly? Do you count by the number of masks you see in public on any given day? The layoffs resulted? The total number of those who get sick? And what of the 120,000 people in the US that have already died?

Earlier I told another friend that being in Florida today feels like living on several different timelines. Orange County where I live has had a mask mandate for weeks. The county 15 miles north of me is still protesting one.

Much like the Western world experienced an entirely separate timeline against the virus than Wuhan, counties across Florida (and I will assume much of the country) now feel like they’re operating in completely different worlds, too.

The public perception towards COVID-19’s threat varies mile to mile stressing the political and ideological canyons that exist from person to person.

I am trying to navigate all of them as responsibly as I can. And I’m tired.

There’s no cohesive message from federal or state leadership to consider. And Americans are too entitled to inconvenience themselves for the sake of the greater good. We’ve known this.

I myself spent the last weekend in Jacksonville in an impromptu-reunion between my cousins, my mom, my aunt and my grandma. My grandma returned from being stuck in Central America for a month longer than originally planned for her vacation due to shutdowns. After her following time in quarantine, we were just excited, I guess, to finally see her.

I am embarrassed to admit we held this reunion now but Florida was “re-opening” — whatever that meant — after two months of lockdown. Restaurants and salons invited customers back, bars followed until they recently closed again and life was returning to… well, not normal but something.

Meanwhile, the state of Florida just documented 10,109 new cases of Coronavirus breaking earlier peak records.

Roy and I have no plans this Fourth of July weekend.

We have both been struggling with the increased rattle of tension we feel when we’re out in public these days and could use a return to our creature comforts for recharge. All I mean by that is I’ll most likely watch Bravo for 9 hours straight and things will feel better once I do.

At least until I remember again.

This Is All Sorts Of Feucht Up

Alright.

It’s 4:25 am.

I am very close to retiring any hope for a regular sleep schedule this year.

The last few months, I’ve been tossing and turning my way well into sunrise at which point I usually give up and put on a pot of coffee.

Earlier this evening, I dutifully took my melatonin gummies and resisted the urge to take advantage of the night’s quiet to do some writing.

Until I ended up on Twitter and saw this—

If you have no idea what you just watched, you’re probably better off.

The blond guy swaying his guitar like he’s trying to engage a distracted audience at an open mic in Nashville is Sean Feucht. He’s hosting a worship set at the site of George Floyd’s memorial in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A google search lists him as a politician but his Facebook page presents the following bio: “Sean Feucht is a husband, father, missionary, musician, artist, speaker, author, activist, and the founder of multiple worldwide movements.” According to his website, one of those is Hold the Line, “a political activist movement seeking to rally the global church to engage in their civic duty – to vote and stand up for causes of righteousness and justice in the governmental arena.”

We’ll get to that.

I first crossed paths with Sean’s er, sphere of influence let’s say, because of Bethel. Bethel is the more commonly used name for of The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. At its core, it’s a Christian evangelical ministry dedicated to teaching the Word of God while also training students to heal by faith, evangelize, prophesy, and raise the dead on occasion.

The school isn’t accredited but it promises toequip you to walk in the gifts of the Spirit, prepare your noble character, and empower you to follow Jesus as He moves powerfully on the earth today” for a cool $5250 in tuition per calendar year.

Molly Hensley-Clancy shared a comprehensive report describing what the environment is like for students at Bethel that will captivate your curiosity whether you’re religious or not.

She writes: Globally, Bethel Church is mostly known for its Christian worship music — songs that tend toward the bland and inoffensive, but are wildly popular. Justin Bieber once told Cosmopolitan that a Bethel track called “No Longer Slaves” (now at 34 million YouTube views) was in his iPod’s top three most-played, along with Lil Wayne and Drake.

Her use of Bieber’s name is a shorthand to communicate how exceptionally popular Bethel is. They’re right up there in the collective identity of the American Christian with Hillsong and Chick-fil-a. You’d be hard-pressed to find a contemporary evangelical church in the U.S. that doesn’t sing their lyrics on Sunday morning.

As a result, I found myself playing their songs on rotation for years.

I moved on from their music around the same time I stopped attending church but I remained grateful for the many tunes that fostered intimacy in private moments of prayer.

My relationship with worship music has became a lot more fraught ever since I saw this photo.

Pastors, worship leaders pray for Trump in Oval Office amid ...

Bethel publishes a catalog of popular Christian artists including Jenn Johnson, Amanda Cook, Cory Asbury and several others. Many of whom are featured here during a “faith briefing” with Trump at the White House on December 6th, 2019. Sean Feucht, the blond touching him, joined Bethel’s collective in 2016.

I would going to say this picture appears innocuous at first glance, but that’s not true. Perhaps it would be if it had not been shared on the heels of Trump’s Muslim ban or the peak of his family separation policies at the border, but it was.

Then there were the series of videos where a few guests awkwardly yet enthusiastically shared their excitement about “so many good things happening out of this [White] house.”

Andy Rowell, an Assistant Professor of Ministry Leadership at Bethel Seminary in Minnesota, communicates the message these leaders (who are usually apolitical on their social platforms) are participating in here:

…the strategy is to sell these worship leaders (who have big Instagram followings) with a one-sided “Look at what Trump is doing for evangelicals!” so that they then turn and communicate to their fans: “President Trump and his administration are people passionate about worship and prayer, just like you! And therefore, you should defend President Trump and try to see the good in what he does. And you should vote for him!

Many in the faith community were disturbed by the optics of aligning the most influential names in a Christian music to a spiritually-bankrupt administration. The campaign to promote propaganda further co-opting faith in exchange for political power was far too obvious.

And it took place just 3 months prior to the election Feucht lost as a Republican candidate for California’s 3rd Congressional District.

His website offers no information on where he stands politically. A glance at his Twitter and Instagram however makes it clear.

At a time when most of the world is reflecting on justice work and muting themselves on social in order to amplify the voices charging forth the largest Civil Rights movement in the last several decades, Feucht has focused his energy on “exposing” the Black Lives Matter movement instead.

Here’s another tweet where he shared a doctored screen-grab as if it were real. Although people were quick to point out it was manipulated with a scene from the film World War Z and not actually footage from a protest, he left the picture up which makes the irony of the words attached lead you to wonder whether he’s participating in some kind of performance art.

After all, why would he 1. irresponsibly tweet this without realizing it clearly has “World War Z —Official Trailer” at the bottom of the image and 2. not delete it when he’s politely been asked to multiple times?

But as I fell further into his content, it became obvious he invites controversy and goes so far as to court it by posting things like this—

My general approach to Bethel, and I guess by extension Sean Feucht, has been to ignore them up to this point. After all, we’ve seen this play out over and over.

Public figure stirs dissension then victimizes themselves at the alter of the conflict they’ve exploited.

But when I saw the video of Sean Feucht playing Sunday morning hits on rotation at the site of George Floyd’s murder, I couldn’t ignore the harm this man is doing to the Minneopolis community and the memory of George Floyd in the name of Christ.

Feucht is treating a pivotal (and may I add fragile) moment in our country’s history like a photo opp, much like his hero in chief.

DJs and MCs local to Minneapolis who were offering prayer and community at the site of Floyd’s memorial were forced to end their sets because Feucht’s speakers were louder.

Why is it that whenever the evangelical Church has a chance to show up for the Black community, we play a sanitized church-appropriate chorus over their cries for justice?

This week, Feucht has used his platform to promote empty, performative amends between strangers with different skin colors while elevating his image as an activist without actually having to put in the real work. Instead, he’s lazily using Christianity to protect a system built by white supremacy while inherently benefitting from it. He’s using his platform to promote himself as an arbiter of reconciliation when we are experiencing anything but. He’s left the gaslight on.

Photo courtesy of @emmalouiseri who was present for Sean Feucht’s set.

One might wonder where Feucht stands on, you know, the work that disbands our country’s school to prison pipeline or strengthening inner-city commmunities with more resources or holding cops accountable when they use undue force to murder a man over a counterfeit bill. But he’d much sooner lie about why he was disinvited by school administration from hosting an event at North Central University.

What Feucht fails to get is Minneapolis is not a third-world country he can exercise his toxic savior complex on.

To add insult to injury, he’s censored everyone that has respectfully asked him to read the room by deleting their comments from Instagram or blocking them on Twitter.

A lot of the captions for his Instagram posts from Minneapolis have the phrase “CHANGE THE NARRATIVE”. And he’s doing that, in plain sight.

But what else might one expect from the guy that published his campaign logo over an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and then used it to condemn *checks notes* abortions?

I’m honestly annoyed I even have to spend energy checking this guy. This blog was not created to check middle-aged white Christian men demonstrating bad behavior.

Yet I am so disturbed by this disproportionate and self-indulgent response to the murder of George Floyd that here we are.

In February, Feucht told The Reporter, “I don’t look like a politician, and I’m not running as a politician… I’m running as an outsider…I don’t owe anybody anything.”

But as a professing Christian leader, he owes the Church accountability.

Feucht’s alignment to Trump has always been about an exchange of power: access to Sean Feucht’s evangelical following in return for being the man at Trump’s arm. As much as he might reject the notions that he IS a politician, reality doesn’t exist in a siloed vacuum we can protect with a block button.

In reference to his failed Congressional campaign, Feucht told the Washington Examiner he imagines future activists thinking, “If this long-haired, 36-year-old millennial guy can do it, then I can do it.”

The danger is that others like Feucht will.

Breaking Back to Normal

Photo by J.Woods

Over the last couple of days, I fell sick with some sort of bug. On Wednesday, I went to dinner at a girlfriend’s house where she cooked brussel sprouts and a pre-packaged shrimp entree. Four hours later, I had a migraine unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and felt a pressing, dull pain in my stomach.

My grandmother died rather suddenly from cancer in 2016 and I’ve had a pronounced fear of illness and loss ever since. I imagine these are common but whenever I am laid up with the flu or an encounter with Norovirus, they return to my mind with severity.

Physical illness is a harsh reminder of how little control we have over our very own being. We do nothing to will our hearts to beat or lungs to breath, yet they do.

There is no guarantee of waking tomorrow yet up to this point, we have.

Since I wasn’t coughing nor had a sore throat, I assumed my symptoms were a result of gluten-poisoning and googled what we had eaten for dinner as I recounted my earlier meals.

None of the ingredients showed any indication of wheat but all the usual symptoms were there— a foggy mind, nausea, and a severe tension headache that made it impossible to think or pay attention to anything. At 3 a.m. I was still sleepless due to the discomfort and well into a few rounds of vomiting.

The next 20 hours were spent in a fit of running to the sink from my bed and answering emails between the clanging in my head from the migraine. It hurt to lay my head down on any of its sides and I cried my way through the tiredness more than once.

In the brief intimacy I had with suffering, I realized how removed my day to day life is from it.

I thought of strangers whose realities are ridden with grief like the many families around the country demanding justice for loved ones lost to police brutality. As I struggled to catch my breath after throwing up, I thought of COVID-19 patients across the country, their families worried for them and their neighbors eager to forget them as they deny a pandemic in exchange for dine-in privileges.

My body relented to the rejection of what I had eaten again and again over the course of twenty-four hours while l thought of this week, this month, this year and how many times it has hallowed us out.

I considered the violence this country has hollowed us out against in exchange for maintaining the status quo.

The result is a vacuum of injustice demanding our conviction and courage. A spine, if you will. In the wake of the suffering surrounding us, we are asked “who am I?” and “who will I become?” not just new year’s dawn but every single day. The kick in the teeth is just what our lazy sense of American exceptionalism needed.

I am feeling back to normal. We have yet to see how much else for us ever will.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Fan Accounts In The Modern Age

I must have been seven or eight the first time I watched “It Takes Two”, the story of a lonely rich girl Alyssa (played by Ashley Olsen) and an orphaned tomboy Amanda (played by Mary-Kate Olsen) that meet at summer camp and switch places after discovering they’re each other’s double.

I recently made my husband watch it with me on a night in; we discovered it still stands true as a heartwarming story of family, love, and adventure even twenty-four years after its premiere.

This is not unusual to the Olsen twins’ legacy as actresses.

I should know—growing up, my family would take a weekly trip to Blockbuster and I’d usually bring home a VHS featuring them as leads. I’d admire the covers in the aisles carefully choosing what adventure I’d join them for next in their series of musical mystery investigations or one of their many feature-length films.

Their genesis in my memory is indivisible from my own childhood.

Ashley and Mary-Kate seized an audience of young women that still rivals that of other entertainment queens like Taylor Swift (126 million Instagram followers) and Selena Gomez (167 million Instagram followers).

The Olsen brand diversified into fashion and makeup in 2004 by selling a collection with their namesake at Walmart, making their magic accessible to households like my own years before Kylie Jenner’s billion-dollar makeup empire would ever be discussed.

We’ll never actually know where the Olsen twins stand in comparison to their contemporaries because they’ve created a lane entirely of their own. I cannot overemphasize this point.

The Olsens cannot be compared because there are no other modern icons that have been acting since the age of 2 that have then retired from acting at the peak of their popularity only to remove themselves from the public eye.

The Olsens released what would be their last film, New York Minute, in 2004. Two years later, they debuted their luxury fashion line, The Row named after Savile Row in London.

The Olsens also own Elizabeth & James, a women’s lifestyle brand of apparel, accessories, and fragrances founded in 2007 which recently premiered a collection at Kohl’s.

Today, their fashion empire is valued at $1 billion.

 Olsen Twins
 Billboard Dad, 1998 

In many ways, the Olsen twins ushered in modern stan culture.

We grew up with their straight-to-VHS films, their fashion collabs, and they delivered blue eyeshadow into my ten-year-old hands at the peak of their iconography.

Olsen Twins
So Little Time, 2001 

My own story with the Olsens was one of admiration.

For better and worse, they were muses before the conception or ubiquity of Instagram existed.

Olsen Twins
Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen at the debut of their Hollywood star, California, 2004

Yet unlike other icons that capture the admiration and imitation of American women, they maintain a distance from the public unlike any other celebrity.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen don’t have social media.

Their private lives remain out of tabloids and they disperse no crumbs of speculation for public fodder. This leaves fan accounts like @olsensdaily, @olsensanonymous@mkastyle, and @lifestylemarykateandashley with the task of covering their life, their gatherings, their movements for those of us watching.

Olsen Twins
Ashley Olsen at Stars in the Sky Hole In The Wall Benefit,
New York, 2005

One such account, Olsen Oracle run by Alyce Peeler, caught the attention of Manrepeller, Fashionista, and Vice due to her encyclopedic understanding of the Olsens’ private lives and their friends.

I discovered Alyce’s account in the summer of 2019 finding her attention to the minutia of the Olsens’ interests and professional achievements fascinating.

From her coverage of the Elizabeth & James expansion to Kohl’s and her in-depth research on how to imitate the Olsens’ style with affordable alternatives, Alyce’s account stood scores above the rest in its acute understanding of the Olsens’ brand and allure, duplicating the enigma that exists among the twins so ardently admired without effort.

Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen,
Met Gala, 2006 

In January of 2020, Alyce’s account was suddenly deactivated by Instagram with no notification or warning due to a series of Instagram stories she posted that featured the Olsen twins smoking cigarettes, something they’ve done for years.

Her story was in response to critics who urged her to censor photos of their smoking habit due to impressionable followers. A follower admitted to reporting the story and Alyce’s account has been lost since. In the wake of this loss, I asked her to discuss with me how she grew this account to 90,000 followers and what her next move in its absence may be.

Let’s talk about the source of all this trouble. The smoking incident. I remember catching a bit of it on your stories and as it was happening in real time but could you go back to the beginning and provide some context around what led you to post the photos of the Olsens smoking back to back?

People would post rude comments under my posts or send me direct messages being hateful towards Ashley and Mary-Kate/my page because they will be smoking cigarettes in photos that are posted. I always deleted these comments and depending on how bad they are, I would often times block the person to prevent them from accessing my page again.

I’ve always joked about how I sage my page by deleting any negative comments – I like to keep a clean space and positive energy.

They’ve been smoking for over a decade now and often times, because they are so private, they are photographed smoking because it’s the only time paparazzi can catch them out and about. They spend a lot of their time working at their office headquarters, so they’ll pop outside to take smoke breaks and in return, we get incredibly fashionable photos of them (and yes, they have cigarettes in hand).

I posted a story full of photos of them smoking cigarettes because I was fed up with people constantly making mean comments about them on my page, or even worse, trying to tell them what they should or should not do, or what I should or should not post. I have made it clear from day one on my page that I post what I want to post and that Ashley and Mary-Kate are grown adults, free to do whatever they choose to do.

Someone got so offended by my story of photos of them smoking that she reported my story as spam to Instagram. Instagram then deleted my entire Instagram page because of this person reporting my page. 

Olsen Twins
 Ashley Olsen in New York, 2012

How much criticism would you say you’ve received for posting evidence of the Olsens’ smoking habit; was it an isolated incident or a larger percentage of followers asking you to stop?

It was not an isolated incident. It will come from people who don’t even follow me, just trolls in passing that see my page on the “explorer page” and instead of going about their day they choose to leave a nasty comment about them smoking.

That’s probably the most common criticism I receive, but all of my followers, especially the ones who have been following me from the beginning, they all love and appreciate Ashley and Mary-Kate for exactly who they are. Cigarettes and all.

I have a following of incredible individuals who believe life choices are yours to make and that women should not be told what they can and cannot do. Ashley and Mary-Kate are successful, smart and hard-working women – a lot like the women who follow me. I often remind people on my page that no one is perfect, we all have flaws, we all have vices and we should not judge others for being human. Ashley and Mary-Kate aren’t hurting anyone, they are not asking to be role models and they have and always will remain very unproblematic, private and authentic.

I think that’s part of simply being an adult – understanding that each person has different preferences and learning to live with the acceptance of those differences. 

Olsen Twins
Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen,
CFDA Awards, 2007

Could you tell me what inspires you to post this unsanitized version of the Olsens?

It is who they are. Unfiltered, natural, raw and real. I would not be portraying them in a genuine light if I didn’t feature them exactly as they come. I’d like to think my page became what it is because I am a hidden middle-man, providing photos and information.

I don’t want anything filtering through me, my opinions or even my preferences unless I am specifically asked my opinion on something.

It isn’t about me. My page is dedicated to Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen, and because I have followed them for over two decades I have learned a tremendous amount about them.

Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen, Free Arts NYC Annual Art Auction Benefit,
New York, 2006

Why do you think people who claim to be fans demand a sanitized version of them?

I have no idea.

If you want me to be honest, I truly don’t get that. I know social media has played a large roll in conditioning society to see the “best” side of people, a highlight reel of perfect moments/people but that’s not real life, and in my opinion, that is so far from who Ashley and Mary-Kate seem to be. People claim they want authenticity but turn around and bash imperfections. Little do people know, you can’t have one without the other.

I know there are probably fan accounts of them that don’t post photos of the sisters smoking cigarettes, so if that is what someone is looking for then they should follow those accounts and not bother following mine. That’s the beauty of social media, you are not forced to follow any account. You can exit the page at any time. You can mute a page, block a page, restrict a page, the options are endless.

Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. Tolerance is a very important practice society seems to be lacking. I see things and hear things every day on social media that I don’t like or agree with, but I’m not going to waste my energy trying to report each little thing just because it doesn’t sit well with me. That’s not a valid reason to report something and it discounts the millions of other people in society that may agree or like the things that I don’t. To each their own. 

Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen, front row at New York Fashion Week, 2011

How did you learn your account was deleted?

Around midday on Thursday, January 16, 2020, I was checking some notifications and looking through my page (I had been on my page through out the morning) when all of a sudden I was logged out and taken to the page where you log in. I thought that was strange, tried to log back in and it kept giving me an error message.

I never received any form of communication from Instagram letting me know what happened or why I couldn’t access my account or search my account name.

On Sunday, January 19, 2020, I received a direct message on my personal account from someone who admitted that they were the reason the Olsen Oracle account was deleted by Instagram after they reported my story as spam because they didn’t like how long my story was regarding the photos of them smoking cigarettes. She sent me a screenshot of the message she received from Instagram notifying her that my account was deleted due to her report of it being spam. If she had not messaged me with this information I would not know what happened to my page or why it is gone. 

If your account cannot be restored, would you restart from scratch?

I would if Instagram changed their policies.

I can’t build all of this from scratch again on such shaky grounds, knowing that all it takes is one hateful person erroneously reporting my account for all of it to be taken away from me. I need a more concrete foundation if I’m going to try and rebuild what I had before. So I guess the answer to that question is no, because Instagram is not going to effectively change its ways. 

Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen, front row at New York Fashion Week, 2011

What kept you going with your account considering the amount of work it took?

My love for Ashley and Mary-Kate. It was never about making money. From day one, I created Olsen Oracle with the intention of providing admirers with what we all lacked – a social media presence from Ashley and Mary-Kate.

There were plenty of accounts that posted older photos of them, but I wanted real-time updates of what was currently going on in their lives and what current projects they were working on.

If you ask me, that is why so many people gravitated towards my page, because I took a different approach and people genuinely loved it.

I am 29 years old, I grew up following them from pre-school and onward. So many women my age grew up the same way and I can’t tell you how many messages I would receive from women my age telling me I reignited that love for Ash and MK, that they had forgotten about them over time and that my page allowed them to renew their love for Ashley and Mary-Kate as the adults that we are now. 

How can people support you in reinstating your account?

If you have any kind of platform, simply post about what happened and ask Instagram to fix the mistake—it could make a big difference.

Even if you do not have a platform to share what happened, report the issue to Instagram. The more people that report the issue, the more attention it will bring it to Instagram.

When you’re signed into Instagram:

  • Go to ‘Settings’
  • Select ‘Help’
  • Select ‘Report a Problem’
  • Select ‘Something Isn’t Working’

You will then be prompted to write a short message explaining that Olsen Oracle was deactivated as a result of being incorrectly flagged as spam and should be reinstated.

Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, smoke break in New York, 2015

What prevents people from just unfollowing or ignoring what doesn’t cater to them?

I feel like we are living in an era of opinionated entitlement.

It seems hard for people to look away from things that bother them and look towards what motivates them, makes them happy, things they like. It’s easier to judge others and focus on what you don’t like in other people because that takes away from the time you have for self-reflection.

Many people will say, “I don’t like this person” but stop short when the follow-up question should be, “what is it that makes me not like this person and why do I allow them to affect me so much?” If you see pages that aren’t being run the way you prefer, do what I did and create your own.

Focus so much on what you are doing that what other people choose to do doesn’t hold any bearing on your life.

* This post was written in thoughtful collaboration with Alyce Peeler, the owner of the currently deactivated Olsen Oracle Instagram account.

* Olsen Oracle was restored by Instagram shortly following this interview