Making friends with Meredith Graves

Fairy godmother of punk is excited to hang out with you

Join us at the West End Cultural Centre (WECC) on March 25th for a lecture with Meredith Graves. Doors are at 7:15 p.m. and the lecture is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 (available through Ticketfly or the WECC) and entrance is free with student ID. This is an all-ages event. There will be doughnuts.

Meredith Graves is coming to Winnipeg to talk about feminism and capitalism, but also to make sure we’re doing alright up here.

First, she wants to make sure that those who join her at the West End Cultural Centre on March 25 have their expectations pointed in the right direction.

“I really want them to come in with a really serious awareness of the fact that I am not a real journalist, barely a real musician, not a teacher and just a friend,” Graves says. “I feel like a sort of Tony Robbins fairy godmother accidental Amelia Bedelia kind of figure, (an) anarchist Mary Poppins.”

Those aren’t the kinds of descriptors you’d expect from an MTV News host, but landing that role was unexpected even to Graves herself. To punk and hardcore fans, she’s better known as the vocalist and frontwoman of Perfect Pussy (who toured through Winnipeg in March 2014, playing a short, frenetic set at now-defunct underground venue Dead Lobster).

Three years ago, she was a dishwasher, Graves says, and now the space she calls her “other office” is a penthouse in Manhattan, part of a space she shares with other members of a women’s group. So how does she feel about the transition to MTV?

“I am a huge believer in showing up when you’re invited,” Graves says. “If you’re invited and there’s even a chance that you might want to go or there’s something you might want to do, just show up, engage, and be part of the world that’s offered to you and follow it.”

While she’s engaged in the world of journalism now, she’s also critical of reporters clinging to objectivity.

“I think as writers and as creative people, a lot of times that bizarre omniscient insistence on objectivity is really damaging, because it depersonalizes you. It encourages splitting, where you no longer identify your own voice as also being a functional narrative, a journalistic voice, and it forces you to think of your work as something separate from yourself and something more serious than you,” Graves says. 

“And really, when you chase stories, you should be chasing desire, you should be chasing opportunity.”

It was that kind of curiosity that led her to consider working with MTV, even though she hadn’t been to journalism school. She figured if they thought she could do the job, why not try? 

“It’s mechanical bull rules. You see how long you can stay on until they throw you off. That’s how I’ve played it, and I’m still here,” Graves says.

She’s not afraid to wear her politics both on her sleeve and in her byline. 

Her contributions to MTV News include pieces like “Make punk rock great again: Hardcore songs for the terrifying specter of a Trump presidency” and “A day without a woman: The MTV playlist” (referring to the call for an international women’s strike on March 8, 2017). 

“I’m also willing to walk in and throw confetti and balloons everywhere and just say, ‘fuck it,’ (and) oust a bunch of shit that I didn’t have to pay a lot of money to learn,” she says.

Through reporting in online spaces, Graves also sees the possibility for feminism to move past the exclusionary politics of past efforts.

“I would pin the most contemporary feminism around mass accessibility of the internet,” Graves says.

“What we have now is sort of just like how post-punk is to punk, and post-hardcore to hardcore, and then no-wave being in there somewhere – we’re kind of another zone of no-wave feminism. Feminism now is as amorphous as the cloud, and it sort of came about at the same time as the Internet became democratized.”

One downfall of online content (and of capitalism) that Graves critiques is the lack of compensation given to creators, especially Black women and women of colour. 

Larger cultural outlets can take the work they put out there – their humour, their memes, their intellectual labour – as if it’s a free source and use it to turn a profit. While creators work to find ways to get paid in this environment, it’s not much.

“I think artists and punks and marginalized people – who are not three separate categories, of course, you know they overlap, and there’s danger in separating them, even lexicographically –  have always had to use what’s free and easy to get as a means by which to make money … my only hope would be that we would eventually get paid more,” Graves says.

If it seems odd to hear someone who calls herself an “anarchist Mary Poppins” to be calling for more money, hear her out.

“I am (an) anti-capitalist, and I am also a realist. I’m just tired of seeing my friends struggle … It is a danger inherent to acting within capitalism – there are countless dangers that we face every day as a result of living in a capitalist society. Capitalism is predicated on danger, and scarcity and the rhetoric of fear,” she says. 

“(But) even if we’re as far out on the margins as we often find ourselves, there’s still survival. There’s still the first necessity of remaining alive to write another exhausting article for 50 bucks. So really, there must be a paradigm shift where all freelancers are compensated fairly, and also where free content creators are treated as freelancers and paid fairly.”

While she loves to talk about capitalism, Graves also has some other topics in mind for her visit to Winnipeg. She’s fed up with the perception of all millennials as narcissists and the “deeply gendered” bias against formats like the personal essay. 

“I think now more than ever is the time for journalists to be extremely personal, to tell the truth,” she says. 

“If the personal is political and your work is your life, then those are the questions I think we’re going to be looking at: how honest are you, and what does it mean to be a good person?”

Graves doesn’t claim to have the answers just yet, though she says she thinks about these questions a lot in relation to her own work and life. And on March 25, she wants to hear from you too.

“Come hang out with me, and hopefully you will leave feeling better than you did when you came in, ’cause we’re just going to sit and talk and get to know each other, and be friends,” she says. “I’m psyched. We’re going to talk about our feelings, and I’m going to make space for people.”

In preparation for the lecture – which she promises will include more questions both from and for her – Graves offers some simple advice. Bring a notebook and a pen, in case ideas strike (she’s been a big fan of writing things by hand lately). Get some rest before and after. Have a snack, drink some water. 

“I’m coming to Winnipeg to make sure everyone is okay. And if people aren’t okay, they can tell me. And we’ll work on it. And then I’m going to take my umbrella and fly back to New York, and in between, we’re going to have a really good time.”

Published in Volume 71, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 23, 2017)

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