#69 Disappeared

July 7, 2016

This week a man decides to sabotage the entire internet. Plus, PJ discovers the secret code he’s accidentally been speaking, and learns about the people who created it.

Further Reading

NPM on the Left-Pad incident

Kik on the Left-Pad incident

Azer Koçulu on the Left-Pad incident

Website of Jennie Livingston, Director of Paris is Burning

 

Show transcript

ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s the afternoon of March 22nd 2016, and Caty Caldwell, who’s a program manager at Microsoft in Seattle, is in a meeting. At approximately 2:30 p.m., her phone starts to blow up.

CATY CALDWELL: I remember just receiving a number of Twitter, like, updates, like, all at the same time. I just, like, saw all of the people that I follow–and I follow a number of tech folk–um, just explode. So first I was like, “Who died?

ALEX: 2000 miles away, in Houston, Texas, a developer named Dakota Smith is stuck. He’s trying to update a program, something he’s done a thousand times before, and it’s failing. And he has no idea why. But his boss is not pleased.

DAKOTA SMITH: He’s like “Well, uh, that’s not supposed to happen.” I mean, it- he was kind of incredulous. Like this was so without precedent, I’m certain that, at the time, he thought that I was just misreading the error message.

ALEX: Developers all over the world–France, Korea, Russia, China–they’re all getting these error messages. Just like Dakota did. And to someone who’s surfing the web, everything looks fine. But these developers who are just trying to do theirs jobs can’t do anything.

The term, “Break the internet,” is by now this tired cliche that’s used to describe something really popular, like a viral video. But on this one afternoon in March, even though most people have no idea that it’s happening, the internet is really and truly busted. And no one can figure out why.

PJ VOGT: Hi Alex.

ALEX: Hi PJ!

PJ: I have a question.

ALEX: Yes?

PJ: Why is everything broken?

ALEX: Well, there’s just one clue … which is that the error messages that everybody’s seeing, they’re all coming from a site called npm. And to understand how the internet is breaking, you need to understand how npm works.

So let’s say that you’re working on a website, and you want a piece of code that, like, automatically resizes images or automatically bolds certains words–but you don’t want to write that code yourself–you can go to npm and grab a piece of code someone else has already written. Developers call these pieces of code “packages.”

LAURIE VOSS: People started talking to us and going, “Hey, so this package–which absolutely has to be there–is missing. Uh, what’s wrong with your servers?”

ALEX: This is Laurie Voss, he is the chief technology officer and co-founder of npm.

LAURIE: Uh And that was how, you know, as soon as we went into investigating that, we were like, “Oh, it’s not our servers. This package is actually gone.”

ALEX: And that’s a problem because people don’t typically store packages on their own computers. If they need a package for whatever it is they’re working on, they just go to npm and grab it from there.

PJ: So what is the package that’s missing? Like, what’s the thing?

ALEX: So it was this piece of code that was called left-pad.

ALEX: First of all, what does left-pad do?

LAURIE: Well, it’s- it’s really sort of hilariously simple. If you’ve got a piece of text that you need to be aligned to the right, the way that you align a piece of text to the right is you put a bunch of spaces to the left of that piece of text. Uh, and that act is called “left-padding.” Um, and that’s all that left-pad does.

ALEX: So it’s basically a margin. And as someone who’s not a coder, that sounds pretty simple. But, just to make sure, I asked Caty Caldwell from Microsoft.

ALEX: How long would it take you to write a program like left-pad?

CATY: (pauses) Uh, I was just writing it in my head. So (laughs). I think it could take about, it would probably take me about five minutes. Probably less.

ALEX: That’s it?

CATY: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, a- it’s- ehhh … it’s not … it’s not that complex.

ALEX: But on March 22nd, left-pad is the most important program in the world.

So, back at npm’s office, it’s 2:35 p.m. Pacific Time, and npm’s servers are getting 100s of requests per minute for left-pad. And they’re all failing. It’s this weird, unprecedented event on the internet. And to illustrate the scale of how broken everything is, Laurie compared it to this episode of The West Wing, where mad cow disease breaks out at a small ranch in Nebraska and has a ripple effect that impacts the entire country’s food system.

LAURIE: So, suddenly they realize they’re gonna to have to recall all beef. And- and they start walking through–I think it’s- it’s, um, the president starts walking through the impact that this is going to have. So, first, all the beef farmers are gonna go bankrupt, ’cause no one’s going to buy beef–but that’s just the beginning because all the fast food restaurants are going to go bankrupt because they depend on beef. And then all of the people who worked at fast food restaurants … are going to be out of work, so all of the services that they depend on are suddenly going to have a lot less money.

All of the, you know, the people who grow lettuce, and the people who make ketchup, and the people who who who bake bread for a living–they’re suddenly going to be out of work. There’s gonna to be this huge economic impact caused by one farm discovering that they’re–they’re their cow is sick.

ALEX: So Laurie and his team start to investigate. They look up the author of left-pad. His name is Azer Koçulu. And this was the second clue about what was going on because Azer had written something like 250 packages–

PJ: Uh-huh.

ALEX: –and put them on NPM. And when they went to look for what was going on with left-pad, they were all gone.

PJ: They realized all his packages were gone?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: Huh. So what had happened?

ALEX: Well, Azer had gotten into a fight with a company called Kik. I’m sure you’re familiar with the company Kik, right? K-i-k?

PJ: Yeah, they’re uh … they’re a sort of like Slack or a messaging–they’re a messaging thing.

ALEX: It’s like a chat program but it has … hundreds of millions of users all of whom are very young–

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: –which is why us olds don’t know who they are.

PJ: No, I use it all the time.

ALEX: (laughs) You’re really cool.

PJ: To text with all my relevant friends.

ALEX: Uh, so anyway, the fight. Azer declined to do an interview with us, but he has written about it, and this is basically what happened. So, Azer wrote a package called “kik.” And he says, at the time, he didn’t even know that there was a company called Kik, but inevitably, the company reached out him and said, “Hey, we wanted to post a package on npm called ‘Kik.’ Can you please change yours?”

And Azer said no. And so Kik wrote back .. and did a little bit of saber rattling. They basically said, “Look, we don’t want to be dicks, but since the name “Kik” is a registered trademark, we’re gonna to have to get lawyers involved, and you don’t want lawyers beating down your door.”

PJ: Did he actually say “we don’t want to be a dick?”

ALEX: Yes. And Azer’s response–and this is a direct quote–was, “hahah, you’re actually being a dick. so, fuck you. don’t e-mail me back.”

PJ: OK.

PJ AND ALEX: (laugh)

ALEX: Kik sent him a couple more emails, but didn’t get anywhere. So they just kind of went over his head. They went to npm directly and said, “Look, you guys run this place, this guy Azer is using our company name. Please help us.”

And npm says, “OK.” Here’s Laurie again, the guy from npm.

LAURIE: We made the call, we said, “Well, you know, Kik the ios app has several hundred million users, and … it seems logical that the, that the very famous messenger application should probably have this name ‘kik.’ Uh, and so we gave the application name to Kik.

Azer really, really, really didn’t like that we had taken the- the package name away and given it to these other people. And so, in protest, he decided that he was going to delete kik itself. His–his kik … um, but he also wanted to delete everything else he’d ever written.

ALEX: Which included left-pad. And that doesn’t seem like it’s such a big deal because left-pad is not that complicated, but it’s built into tons of other packages. So, tens of thousands of people were using it everyday without even realizing that they were using it. So when Azer yanked it … it just broke everything.

Which is crazy. But what’s crazier is that there was nothing to stop Azer from deleting his package, because … because it was so unthinkable that someone would delete their package like that, that NPM hadn’t built any safeguards to protect against it.

ALEX: So, once everybody figures out what’s going on–that Azer Koçulu decided to take everything off of npm–they’re really pissed. I mean, they tweeted things like, quote, “Fuck this ‘Azer Koçulu’ guy. Kik’s claim is reasonable. Npm position correct. Koçulu response childish.”

PJ: These are developers. These sound–these are the insults of computer developers.

ALEX: Or maybe someone who only had 140 characters for–

PJ: OK.

ALEX: — what they’re trying to say. But … part of the reason that they’re so mad is that Azer’s has just violated the sort of holy agreement of the internet, which is called “open source.” I assume you’re familiar with open source.

PJ: Yes … yes in a way where, if you asked me to explain it I probably couldn’t do it well.

ALEX: Basically, open source is this community of people who develop code and the idea is that anybody can borrow anybody else’s best ideas and work on them. They can build something else on top of it. They can basically take your code and do whatever they want with it. And you–

PJ: And you’re OK with that.

ALEX: It’s–

PJ: Like, they don’t have to pay you.

ALEX: Yeah. If you share code and you share it as open-source, like, you’re essentially giving it away.

PJ: Right. So, the thing that I feel like I did not realize, that I am realizing now, is that you can share it with everybody … but if you decide later that you don’t want to share it anymore, it’s not just like new people can’t use it, it’s like, it goes away. Like, if it were like the real world, it’d be like you invented a screw that went in a bridge, and then you’re like, “No, I’m mad.”

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: And every bridge that was ever built that has those screws just collapses because the screws disappear.

ALEX: Yes, that’s right.

PJ: That’s insane. That’s an insane system to have.

ALEX: (laughs) So Azer took the screws out, everybody’s bridges collapsed. And, uh, it’s a total mess–but–luckily, npm has a backup of left-pad on their servers.

PJ: Oh! So they can just put the screws back in.

ALEX: Right. So, at 4:54 p.m., like 2 1/2 hours after Azer pulled the packages in the first place, npm restores left-pad.

Which., of course, Laurie knows is against Azer’s will. He deleted these things for a reason.

PJ: Hm.

ALEX: But, Laurie basically says, “Well, listen, Azer, sorry, but it’s not your decision to break the internet by pulling your code.”

LAURIE: You explicitly said, you gave it an open-source license, you explicitly said, “It is OK that other people can do anything that they want with this code.” In fact, uh, the license that is attached to left-pad … it’s … literally called the “WTFPL.” Which means the … you know, paraphrasing slightly, the “whatever-the-hell-you-want” license. That’s what it is. The license is incredibly simple. It says, “Do whatever the hell that you want with this code.”

ALEX: It doesn’t get more explicit than a “WTF” license. It just underlines how open source is this community that’s built top to bottom on sharing.

But, for all the people who were mad at Azer for deleting his code, there were just as many people who were mad at Laurie and npm for fixing the thing that he broke. And one of them is this guy Cade Diehm, he’s a developer from Australia. And Cade says, “Yes, what Azer did was obnoxious, but he was definitely NOT out of line.”

CADE DIEHM: Um, yes, it’s a dick move to- to kill off all of your- your–your, um, packages, but at the same time, he’s within his rights. Even if it does break a whole bunch of projects, if npm were concerned about people unpublishing, they shouldn’t have had that feature as part of their repository in the first place

ALEX: The real thing that bothers Cade about this whole debacle is that, as far as he is concerned, npm colluded with Kik, which is this powerful corporation, and they totally shut out Azer, who was the author of the code.

To Cade, this felt like a power play. Like totally against the spirit of open source. And the way he describes the open source community, it’s not just a bunch of coders working on their own independent stuff, it’s like this big, utopian experiment.

CADE: Open source is this swirling, amazing, uh, literary and technical anarchy. And so, when I say, “It’s an anarchy,” I’m not talking about molotov cocktails. I’m instead talking about anarchy in it’s purest form, which is self governance across the internet. And, of course, that- there’s some parts of this that are really bad. But, for the most part, the whole reason why we have this … this technology ecosystem is because of that–that founding philosophy an- and how open source, essentially, self-governs.

ALEX: And to Azer, that ecosystem where everyone shares their ideas gets totally disrupted if, anytime a corporation says boo, everyone just gets out of the way. He won’t stand for it. And he told me in an email, quote,

“Previous generations told us that big fishes eat small fish. I’m a small fish that doesn’t accept that. Big fishes can’t threaten, steal and get away with it. Big fishes can’t dictate small fishes anymore … we’re awake. Power to the people.”

PJ: Wow.

ALEX: Yeah. So the weird thing that I’ve noticed while talking to so many people in the open source community for this story … is that–even if they disagreed with what Azer did, like, even if they thought he was being a brat–they all seem to respect his world view. Like, they believed what he was standing up for. Even Laurie, the guy whose company Azer sabotaged.

LAURIE: Not to get too, you know, high-minded about things, but open source is … it’s a political act. It’s a statement about how you want the world to work. It’s a statement of how you want things to be open and free. Um, and part of being open and free is the ability to protest, and Azer had done this as a protest, and I knew that I was limiting the impact of his protest in a way that was exactly opposite to what he’d wanted.

He’d wanted a bunch of people to be broken. He’d wanted a bunch of people to … notice that this thing was broken and hear about it. And, by fixing it, I was … diminishing the number of people who would–who would be broken about it. And, also, diminishing the impact of his protest. I was limiting his free speech in some way.

ALEX: So, the net result of this entire fight … is that npm made it so people can’t unpublish stuff in the way that Azer did anymore.

PJ: So, it’s like … there wasn’t a guardrail there and now there’s a guard rail.

ALEX: Exactly. But, that is not to say that this will not happen again. Because something LIKE THIS will happen–definitely will happen again. I mean, maybe not at npm, maybe not, like, as severe … But, open source is in everything on the internet. Like, it’s in every website, it’s in every operating system–open source just touches everything. It’s like the foundation of the internet.

That’s the internet that we’ve chosen to build. And the benefit is that it’s open and anyone can improve it. But the downside is that it’s very vulnerable to, like, hurt feelings and egos in this weird way that I hadn’t really realized.

PJ: In a way that, like, bridges aren’t.

PJ AND ALEX: (laugh)

ALEX: RIght.

PJ: Like nobody gets mad and takes their bridge home.

ALEX: Right. So, I mean, if you look at it that way … this act of sabotage by Azer strangely makes me feel pretty good.

PJ: Oh.

ALEX: Does that make sense? I mean, every single day, there are countless people who could decide to break things. But they don’t. Instead, this fragile, flawed, human system–this system that we all rely on–it soldiers on for another week.

Coming up after the break, we realized that we didn’t get to Yes, Yes, Yes last week.

BREAK

PJ: So, uh, regular listeners to the show know that we have this segment called Yes Yes No where we explain confusing things from the internet to our boss Alex Blumberg. And the unspoken premise, of course, of Yes Yes No, is that Alex Goldman and I are, like, extremely with it people who are smart and relevant and know everything there is to know about culture. Otherwise, why would we be experts?

OK. So, last episode, Yes Yes No, we were looking at a tweet that Blumberg didn’t understand, and he was specifically confused by this word he didn’t recognize, “Yas.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, then, “Yas,” Y-a-s … Do you want to take this one?

PJ: It’s just like, an emphatic–

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, it’s just like–

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: –yes.

PJ: Yasss!

ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh-huh. Right.

PJ: And then we moved on. We just missed this huge story about where the word came from. We were three straight white guys sitting in a room talking about something that, it turns out, we knew basically nothing about.

To everybody who heard this and cringed and wanted to their punch their iPhones, I’m sorry. For people who are just as ignorant about where the word “yas” comes from as I was, good news–the story of how this word got here is so fascinating.

Alright, so let’s work backwards. So, probably the biggest reason that mainstream culture knows yas right now is because on the show Broad City, they say it all the time. There’s actually a scene where Ilana Glazer teaches her best friend how to say it.

ILANA GLAZER: Yas queen.

ABBY JACOBSON: Yas queen.

ILANA: YAS QUEEN.

ABBY: Yes, queen?

ILANA: YAS QUEEN!

ABBY: Yas queen!

ILANA: YAS QUEEN!

ABBY: YAS QUEEN.

ILANA: (slaps Abby) Again!

ABBY: Oww!

ILANA: YAS QUEEN!

ABBY: YAS queen!

PJ: But yas isn’t from Broad City. Ilana Glazer says she got it from this viral video of a 22-year-old Lady Gaga fan.

[Audio from Instagram video from user johnnyversayce. Lots of people are yelling in the background]

JOHNNY VERSAYCE: YAAASSS YAS, GAGA, YOU LOOK SO GOOD.

PJ: So Ilana gives THAT guy credit for “yas.” And so do a lot of people. But … the website Mic.com interviewed him, and he went out of his way to say that it wasn’t his. He said quote, “It’s something we just said naturally, I was saying yaaass with everyone else.” So that “we” there is really important. Because that “we” is gay people. “Yas” comes from Gay culture. Which still isn’t an answer–like, when, who, how? Where, specifically, did this thing start?

So when I got home from work, my girlfriend was just like, “You idiot, I can not believe you don’t where ‘yas’ is from.” She told me, just go watch this documentary filmed in the 80s called Paris is Burning, and I’d see. So I watched it. And holy crap, I saw.

[Paris is Burning clip: dance music, cheering]

PJ: So, “yas” is literally right there in the opening scene. This beautiful, golden drag queen struts out in front of an adoring crowd and they’re all yelling it.

So I went in with, basically, a trivia question. And instead, I found a story about people. People who were in an extremely dire situation. And who responded to that situation by making something very beautiful. And weirdly, the fact that a lot of us don’t know this, that’s part of the story–it’s actually part of the tragedy of the story.

So, to understand what you’re about to hear, you just need to know a little bit about Paris Is Burning, this documentary. Here’s the setup for the movie.

It’s the 1980s, and there are these late-night parties happening in Harlem. The parties are thrown by young, queer black & latinx people. And they’re called balls. At the balls, there were prizes given to the most fabulous drag queens. But there’re also these other prizes.

People competed to see who could dress up and do the best impression of just like normal, archetypical people who they’d see on the street. Like who- who’s the best, like, “cute girl who picks up her brother from school,” or the best, like, “tough guy outside the party who’s gonna mug you when you leave”? Or the best, like, “Wall Street guys”?

[Paris is Burning clip: dance music]

FILM MC: Get into their suits, I said. The well-dressed men of the 80’s–get into the suits and get into the pumps.

PJ: So, the MC does this big announcement, and out walks this man who is just dressed like a lawyer. He’s got a three-piece grey suit, he’s got a briefcase. He walks to one side of the room, he walks to the other. And there’s an audience of people studying him.

And the goal for this guy is to be “real.” And if he’s “real,” it means he “passes.” He could walk around in straight society and nobody would know that he was queer. Like, he could get on the subway and nobody would beat him up. But that’s not exactly why they do it. In the movie, this drag queen named Dorian Corey explains.

DORIAN COREY: Black people have a hard time getting anywhere … and those that do are usually straight. In a ballroom, you can be anything you want. You’re not really an executive but you’re looking like an executive. And therefore, you’re showing the straight world that, “I can be an executive.”

PJ: I actually got to talk to somebody who was there back then. His name’s Jose Xtravaganza, He’s 44 now. He came by the studio and he told me about the first time he ever went to a ball.

JOSE XTRAVAGANZA: I was 15 years old, and I was jus- I stood there the whole time with my mou- mouth open. The cheering and … all this creativeness–making something out of nothing. You know? It’s like, “How did you do that? What…” All the time and energy they put into these things just to go there and get a–acknowledged, t- a- for someone to tell me, “Oh, yes, you are fabulous.” That’s it, that’s all you get. You weren’t getting a big prize, you know?

PJ: Yeah.

JOSE: You weren’t going to be able to use it as a school credit.

PJ: (laughs)

JOSE: You know, as a class credit. You know? It was your 15 minutes to feel good.

PJ: All this work and all this creativity just for the benefit of the people who were there that night.

But a lot of this culture has stuck around, particularly the language. So, obviously at the balls, you hear a lot of people saying “YAS,” but there’s also these other words that I’m used to thinking of as internet language that COMES from there. That you hear in the movie. So for instance, “reading.” See it on the internet all the time. If someone gets “read,” it means they got criticized. If somebody’s “reading” somebody, they’re, like, criticizing them in very fine detail. That comes from the balls.

[Paris is Burning clip]

VENUS XTRAVAGANZA: Now, you want to talk about reading…let’s talk about reading.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That’s just [indistinct]

FREDDY PENDAVIS: What? She wears more makeup than my mother did.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (sound of loud disagreement)

PJ: Or “shade.” Everybody on the internet is always “throwing shade,” “being shady,” getting “shaded.”

[Paris is Burning clip]

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON 2: Oo, they’re shady! They’re throwing shade at him! I can’t believe this!

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON 3: Wait a minute, wait a minute…)

PJ: I thought I knew what that meant. I thought it was one more synonym for criticizing somebody. But in the movie, Dorian Corey explains that “shading”s more subtle than that.

[Paris is Burning clip]

DORIAN COREY: Shade is, “I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but … I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.” And that’s shade.

PJ: Another thing that straight culture took from the ball scene was vogueing. Jose actually became really famous because Madonna hired him to teach her how to vogue and to go on tour with her and be one of her dancers. Actually, the very first time he competed at a ball, it was in the vogue category, because that was his thing.

JOSE: I went, and I went with a group of friends. And … I wanted to walk. I didn’t tell anybody though that I was gonna compete. I was so afraid. And when they called the category, I remember that … going out there and just voguing at the speed of light.

PJ: (laughs)

JOSE: And you see that a bit in Paris is Burning. There’s a clip of it.

PJ: Yeah.

JOSE: Yeah.

PJ: Wait, that’s your first one?

JOSE: That’s my first ball–yeah, the little kid that’s, like, moving on the floor.

PJ: Oh my gosh!

JOSE: Yeah, and they’re asking him, “What is your name? What is your–” I didn’t even hear that. I didn’t even hear nothing. And that was my first ball and I won. And that night, they asked me to be part of the House of Xtravaganza.

PJ: The House of Xtravaganza. So, houses were like families, but like non-biological families. And getting asked to join a House was a big deal. Because a lot of the kids who showed up at these balls were homeless. They’d left or they’d been kicked out of abusive homes. And so they were just sleeping outside on the piers in New York.

But if you went to the ball and you were good, somebody would ask you to join their House. Your last name became your house’s name–that’s why Jose is Jose Xtravaganaza. And the people in the House would actually take care of you. Like, you had a place to sleep if you needed it, you had food–Jose actually got an allowance from his House. The House even had people who were like, the mother of the House and the father of the House. Jose is now the father of House Xtravganza, but back then the father was this guy named Danny.

JOSE: I remember going over to, uh, Danny Xtravaganza, who uh, may he rest–he passed away early on. And I remember I would just go to his house every day, and I would–every time I would come visit, there would be, like, sleeping bags, and, like, people on the floor. And- and, like, people waking up and somebody coming out of the bathroom. And I’m like, “Who are these people? I want to be here. I want a sleeping bag too.”

PJ: Ohh…

JOSE: You know? Yeah, it was the best feeling. That feeling of like, a un- a unit. It was a unit. And, um, yeah. And then, of course, like, I lost a lot of them to, you know, AIDS and stuff like that, you know? But … they’re with me. So.

PJ: Do you have people, like, do you have people on your floor right now? Like, do you have kids in sleeping bags and stuff like that?

JOSE: (laughing) No … not at the moment. But I had – I had a k- uh, a girl who just had a sex change, a little one. Yeah. She just went through a very big transition. And didn’t know how to feel. So she came over my house. (inhales) Yeah, and just–can you imagine? Just having this big procedure done, no parents, parents, you know, because … and no one there to be like–to hold your hand …That’s horrible!

PJ: It’s so much responsibility.

JOSE: Yeah, it is, but it’s responsibility that you feel is – is–is good responsibility. It’s – it’s like I know that I’ve made a difference in this young girl’s life. She really looks to me like a father. I see it in her eyes.

PJ: Yeah.

JOSE: And I’ve given you nothing, ’cause I really don’t have anything.

PJ: It’s also, I don’t know, like, as someone whose outside of it, the fact that you can like … just make family, is–you know what I mean?

JOSE: Mmm. It’s the best.

PJ: It’s just like, “You have a bad family, fuck it.” Like …

JOSE: Exactly that. (tearing up) And it feels so good and … I’m just an emotional dude, that’s all.

PJ: No …

JOSE: (laughing) I’m sorry.

PJ: No, that’s fine.

JOSE: Yeah. (gently crying) And when I got asked to be the father, it was in a very … hard time. You know? I’m 18, 19 years old, you know? All my friends are dying. And it’s funny, ’cause I’d never met anyone else like them. You know how you always meet people, “Oh you remind me of this person.” These guys were so ahead of everything … geniuses. I miss them every day, it’s crazy.

PJ: So that’s where “yas” comes from. Those people who are gone, they’re the ones who came up with it. So what does it mean then? What does it mean to take something from them and not know it?

A lot of the people from Paris is Burning are now dead.

The places they used to dance are gone. The piers where they used to sleep, there’s a golf course there now. And the really bitter irony is that while they’re gone, their language is so present, their fashion is so present. And that means that people like me, straight people, we use the things they invented without knowing the story of the people who invented them.

Sruthi was producing this interview, so she was sitting in the room.

SRUTHI PINNAMANENI: I- I think it also makes so much more sense, like, hearing this, that – that y- you feel that anger or frustration when you see words like “shady”–

JOSE: Uh-huh.

SRUTHI: –being thrown around, because it’s not just words that are being taken, it’s like–

JOSE: It’s a culture–

SRUTHI –these are

JOSE: –feelings and, yeah.

SRUTHI: –the people who made these words.

JOSE: Mhmm.

SRUTHI: Like, the people you’re talking about, the people you miss.

JOSE: Mhmm.

SRUTHI: It’s like, it’s them.

JOSE: A-huh and it was kind of like code. It was–we were speaking code. You know? For no one else to understand us, just us. You know? It was our code against society, so to speak, you know? (sniffs) … Ah. Have you ever been to a ball?

PJ: No.

JOSE: You have to go.

PJ: What–

JOSE: July 30th. We have to go, they’re giving me an award.

PJ: I’ll- absolutely!

JOSE: Yeah.

PJ: What–

JOSE: The Latex Ball.

PJ: What’s that?

JOSE: The Latex Ball.

PJ: The Latex Ball. Where is it?

JOSE: They’re having it at, uh, Stage 48.

PJ: OK.

JOSE: Yeah.

PJ: How do we dress?

SRUTHI: (laughs)

JOSE: However you want.

PJ: OK.

JOSE: Unless you want to come–you want to come in a fabulous, bizarre outfit.

PJ: I jus–

JOSE: And we bring you out to the stage.

PJ: I want to fit in and not stand out.

JOSE: You’ll fit in just fine. You’ll–

PJ: OK.

JOSE: –be fine. It’ll be fun. Yeah.

PJ: Absolutely.

PJ: Jose Xtravaganza. Father of the House of Xtravaganza. He’ll be at the Latex Ball on July 30th. I’ll be there too. And if you can’t make it there, there is a whole new generation of people throwing balls, go check one out.

You can see Jose in new documentary Strike A Pose, which is coming to theaters soon. AND in the upcoming Baz Lurhman Netflix series The Get Down.

Reply All is me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Chloe Prasinos, and Damiano Marchetti. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. He’s on vacation this week, so he can’t tell me not to tell you to go listen to his band Soltero. My favorite song is “Fight Song for True Love.” Production assistance from Thom Cote. We were edited by Peter Clowney and mixed by Rick Kwan.

We’ve got some special thanks this week. Special thanks to Jennie Livingston for letting us use clips from her documentary Paris is Burning. You can find out about 25th anniversary screenings of the film at her website. There’s also information about her new film project Earth Camp One.

And we had so much help with the npm story. Thanks to Samantha Quinones, Sam Bobra, Ryan Wilson-Perkin, Chris DiBona and reporter Julia Alsop, who put us in touch with Jose. There’s a great interview she did with him for Latino USA, go listen to it.

And finally, thank you so much to every person who emailed or tweeted or just got in touch with us and told us that we screwed. Please always tell us when we screw up. We really appreciate it.

Our theme music is from the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings.

Matt Lieber is the smoke from fireworks.

July 13th is the deadline for the Reply All August internship. If you’re interested, more information at gimletprod.staging.wpengine.com. Another website you can visit is reply.limo, where you can hear more episodes of the show. Or, you can check us out in iTunes or on Google Play–or wherever else you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next week.

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