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Looking Very Strongly At A Williams-Sonoma, With James Austin Johnson

An embarrassment of riches, or rich people things, on display at a Williams-Sonoma store.
Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

There is so much obscenity in the daily flow of modern life that it would be crushing to notice all of it. This is not obscene in the prurient or crass ways that fired up the censorship-positive activists who invented the “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” sticker, or currently rile the weird tranche of online reactionaries who write about Western Values in stilted 19th-century language. The everyday obscenity of this moment is more on the order of, say, a posh family tumbling from their manse on Christmas morning to beam at a gift-wrapped luxury sedan in an ostensibly heartwarming TV ad, blithe super-spreader wedding receptions, or a solid two-thirds of the Williams-Sonoma catalog. All this heedless, insistent, annihilative excess is inexcusable on its own, but all the more obscene for being seen as thoroughly normal. If you stopped to get mad at every garish recklessness in the culture, it would be difficult to get much in the way of work done.

This is why Drew’s annual evisceration of the Williams-Sonoma Catalog felt especially cleansing and valuable to me this time around. It felt like this entire stupid era, and this mercilessly shitty and oppressive year, had all been leading up to this. I was extremely ready to get mad at how much these brass-clad doodads and Bluetooth-enabled gewgaws cost in our annual Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog episode. It felt good to let all that outrage in.

It helped immeasurably that Drew and I were joined on this journey by James Austin Johnson, a comedian whose dazzling imitation of Donald Trump was, perversely or not, a tremendous boon to my spirits over the last year. We talked to Johnson a bit about the physical and emotional strain of having to inhabit the sewage-flooded Access Hollywood brain of Donald John Trump and the strange ethics of doing an endearing impersonation of a less-than-endearing figure. He also told a story, about a job that required him to hear Hamilton performed in its entirety literally hundreds of times, that chilled me to the bone.

And then Johnson joined us on our journey into the dark and decadent heart of the Williams-Sonoma catalog. There we found horrors that were both staggering—coffee machines that cost two months’ rent, space-age waffle irons, a wine opener that cost literally 100 times what it should have—and familiar. All of it, the products and their prices and the implied lifestyles into which they fit, was bizarre, mind-bending, and contextually insulting in ways that are difficult to parse. All of it was unholy. And yet it felt bracing and somehow righteous to look it all in the eye and say, “Wow that’s really stupid.” Even if it was just about a preposterously overpriced cooler, it felt good to say something true.

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