This Metaphorical Bar ep. 18: Comfort Media


This episode was recorded on May 31, 2020, in the middle of another publicized outbreak of police violence and brutality captured on video in the USA and in New Zealand, specifically violence and brutality against Black people. This episode is about media we consume in times of crisis, media that can help us find a moment of comfort so that we can keep fighting.

The number of Black people murdered by police continues to rise, and we must continue to fight. This Metaphorical Bar stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the USA and around the world. We have donated money to bail funds and Black community resource groups and have volunteered when able. No life can matter until Black lives matter, and we encourage our non-Black listeners to fight for Black lives. All Black lives. Trans Black lives. Queer Black lives. Disabled Black lives. Black lives in all their forms. 

For more information about disarming police in New Zealand:

For more information about Black Lives Matter:

The American Bar Association’s 21 Day Racial Equity Reading Challenge:

A spreadsheet published for Juneteenth with information regarding Black businesses to support, places to donate, petitions to sign:

Some Black-owned bookstores in the USA:

Who We Are

Robyn: I’m Robyn Fleming, a writer and parent in Tucson, Arizona. I put a soda in the freezer about ten minutes ago, and I’m REALLY hoping my husband remembers to take it out for me in another half hour or so.

Carla: I’m Carla M. Lee, an author, artist, and attorney in the Midwest USA, and I received a surprise box of apple alcohol the other day. For days I did not know who sent it, and so I had a lovely alcohol fairy and it was such a good time.

Karen: I’m Karen Healey, a writer and teacher in Christchurch New Zealand and teaching from lockdown sucked serious ass. Actually, it was worse than that because often sucking serious ass is a consensual act between loving adults but it was not fun.

What We’re Drinking

Robyn: Water, due to lack of planning
Carla: apple vodka soda
Karen: coffee with a scooch of whiskey

Episode Summary

Topic: Comfort media

  • What makes something a comfort read?
    • Robyn: Generally, specific things that make her feel a certain way. Biggest part for her is knowing that everything will fundamentally be okay at the end of the story. E.g., romance as a genre, stories are guaranteed to have happily ever after or happily for now. And that’s why she doesn’t read literary fiction.
      • Karen has a friend who started reading romance after having absorbed all those messages about the genre has now become a romance writer, so yay.
    • Robyn: When not romance, it is more about specific stories, a lot of people fighting the good fight but knowing they will win. E.g., Avatar the Last Airbender is comfort but Legend of Korra is not, because Korra starts with things good and they get worse while Avatar starts bad and gets better.
    • Carla: A little bit of romance on her list, some stories have a romantic aspect to them, but the biggest thing is that it has to have been something she’s consumed before, something she’s familiar with and loves and has a positive ending. Something she knows how it resonates with her and she wants that specific feeling.
      • Often built around people (sometimes teenagers, sometimes adults) hunting monsters. Almost always successfully hunting monsters. And when the real world is focused on humanity being the threat, she turns to monstrous creatures rather than humans hunting humans.
      • Mostly reads horror and fantasy as comfort reading, but can be broader genres for other media.
      • When you have a nebulous target like systemic racism, it’s not an individual thing to fight and can feel impossible, but the comfort stories make things possible and help her get back up and keep fighting.
    • Karen: Does not recommend them because they are objectively terrible books, racist and sexist and classist, but reread the Belgariad and Mallorean series by David Eddings while at home during the pandemic because they are a salve for her wounded heart despite all those things. Similar with Dark Jewels series by Anne Bishop.
    • Karen: The domestic part of some fantasy is what she loves, how you make a kingdom run or make a home work, etc. She is a domestic person and she loves domestic fantasy.
    • Karen: Loves group action to save the world, like Leverage, people come together to make a family to fight lawyers and corporations and governments. Parks & Rec is similar, collective action can make a difference.
      • Carla and Robyn both love the found family aspect, too, and that is important even beyond people working together to fight badness.
      • Carla: Comfort media includes Deadpool and Deadpool 2 because they are really about chosen family coming together, literally in Deadpool 2, and that makes them comfort to her.
        • HOWEVER, Karen brings up Fast and the Furious as chosen family to Carla who loves the series, but Carla doesn’t find it comfort media and can’t exactly explain why.
        • Carla would watch some of the Jurassic Park movies: Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but the others have less of the found family aspect and she doesn’t like that.
    • Karen: Pacific Rim also has chosen family coming together to fight something bigger, though she hasn’t watched it again, the feel of it is still comfort.
    • Robyn: Loves Stargate Atlantis and it has all these things, romance, found family, coming together to fight, etc., but the show itself is not comfort. She is very engaged in a way she is not with comfort media.
      • But some of the fic for the show is comfort reading for her, and it’s hard to explain why.
    • Karen: Noped out on Games of Thrones the show halfway through season two because so rapey, but she rereads fic because it is comfort, especially a very damaged, very bad man trying to live up to a woman who does the right thing even when it is awkward and she hates it.
    • Robyn: Will read only parts of certain books, e.g., the second 2/3s of Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold.
      • Karen feels similarly about the second half of Memory in that same series, because the first half is Miles going low and the second half is climbing back up.
    • None of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies count as comfort viewing for any of them.
      • For Carla, some of them were before phase 3, but the parts of Endgame that she hated soured everything that came before.
      • Karen can watch clips of the movies, e.g., the final fight in Endgame, or Yondu whistling his arrow around in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, or the airport fight from Captain America: Civil War.
      • Robyn still sort of finds Thor: Ragnarok comfort viewing, but has to skip the end credits scene.
    • Robyn loves commentary tracks and the act of putting an actual, physical disc into a player to do the watching instead of streaming it.
      • Community has some terrible parts and some good parts and excellent commentary tracks. There’s some levels of meta-text that becomes part of the comfort experience for her sometimes.
  • Karen: Is there a nostalgic aspect to it?
    • Carla: Maybe, but to her, nostalgic reading is more about trying to recapture a time, when it was published or created or when you first read it, whatever, but comfort reading is more about knowing she feels better after it.
    • Robyn: Read books as a kid that are not comfort books now because they are not what she remembered or what she wanted to remember, she can’t just skim over the problems (racism, etc.). However, some of the comfort for certain books is the nostalgic aspect of it, e.g., when she rereads Tam Lin she remembers how she felt when she previously read it.
      • The Evening and the Morning and the Night by Octavia Butler is so well written and so engaging that when Robyn rereads it, she thinks about lots of things, including Butler’s mastery of language and writing in general, and that is a kind of nostalgia to her.
  • Carla: Is there a different kind of engagement between comfort media and non-comfort media?
    • Robyn: Yes, but I can’t explain it.
    • Karen: Yes, there’s a difference between analytical engagement and emotional engagement. Sees it with her students all the time, and tells them they can intellectual engage (take it apart, see how it’s made and how it is intended to work) and emotional engagement is great, but it is a bonus.
    • Carla: That is why she doesn’t look at nostalgic reading as comfort reading, because she does so much intellectual engagement with it for recaps and can no longer emotionally engage with it as comfort reading. She wants the emotional connection for comfort media and can turn off the critical engagement.
    • Karen: Can very rarely turn off the intellectual engagement part, so they’re not always mutually exclusive.
  • Karen: Do we reread our own fic for comfort?
    • Carla: Yes, all the time, I’m amazing. I love my own fic.
    • Robyn: Yes, a lot.
  • Carla: Do we get something different out of fic than canon when it comes to comfort reading?
    • Robyn says yes, but Karen says it is the same feeling, the satisfaction of it, of getting what she needs (e.g., mystery novels where they find the killer). 
    • Robyn: Like romance as a genre, if you know how to search, you can find a fic that has exactly the things you want, the tropes, the character types, etc. Also, fic often cuts right to the heart of what she wants; it doesn’t set up hurt/comfort for six novels, it goes right there.
    • It’s actually difficult to talk about fic as comfort reading because you’re trying not to spoil on two layers, the source material and then the fic itself.
    • Carla comfort fic: The Changeling by annerb (Harry Potter fic, even though Carla is anti-Rowling at this point because of her transphobia) has Ginny sorted into Slytherin that gives a different view of the world, or Shall Be Vested by emeraldwoman (Marvel Cinematic Universe fic) which gives a different view of the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the fallout after.
      • And, of course, people come together to save the world, and in more down-to-earth realistic ways to save the earth rather than superheroes or the chosen one or whatever.
  • Someone recommended Karen and Robyn’s book The Empress of Timbra as a comfort read and it was one of the greatest days of Karen’s life.
  • Finally, Carla finds her friends’ writing comfort because she knows their writing style and their stories and trusts them and their writing.
    • Karen has a short story about cooking and fairies and it is the only time Carla’s really understood why Karen loves domestic stories and being domestic.

Comfort Media

Ask your friendly neighbourhood bartender

Are tacos and hamburgers really the same thing at the heart of it? 

Robyn feels strongly that this is a NO and it is generally a devil’s advocate type question that no one actually believes. AND IT IS THE OPPOSITE OF COMFORT. 

However, Carla’s partner, Jake, is the one who asked the question and does honestly believe this on a very high level.

Also, Carla and Jake were not sixteen and high when they spent an hour debating this before the episode recorded. They were full-grown sober adults.

Find Us Online

Carla: @carlamlee on TwitterTumblrInstagram
Karen: @kehealey on Twitter, @karenhealey on Tumblr, and
Robyn: @robyn_writing on Twitter

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