Editors want reporters to have areas of expertise, and sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing, but let’s be real: One of my indisputable areas of expertise is Captain America. I’m not a New York Times film critic like A.O. Scott, but over the weekend, I became embarrassed for him. In a survey of politically empty summer blockbusters, he of course brings up my guy and his franchise. And I wanted to take him seriously. Except then he begins a sentence with this:
Steve Rogers, a loyal creature of the American military…
Egregious fact error, sir — and on Cap’s birthday, no less. The MCU is not built to be overly subtle, but did you miss two entire movies in which Cap explicitly rejects the entire apparatus of the U.S. government and his role as propaganda agent altogether?
(Thanks for the video, Tumblr user jamesrbarnes. And if you want truly great film analysis, check out Tumblr user sashayed’s thorough investigation of Cap’s running route through the National Mall at the beginning of The Winter Soldier, and how the only reasonable explanation for it is if he’s flirting with Anthony Mackie’s outrageously charming Sam Wilson.)
- Pivoting right into another piece about the Star-Spangled Man, Andrew Wheeler’s “Reflections on the Rifts in Superhero Fandom” is an excellent, nuanced and thoughtful look at a pattern that’s appearing more and more throughout pop culture: One group of fans reacts loudly to another group of fans’ perceived corruption of the thing they both love, and the corporation that creates that thing inevitably learns the wrong thing from it.
- Enough about Steve Rogers, though. Does it get more American than Garrison Keillor? The unabashedly corny and deeply heartfelt radio host, essayist and commentator stepped down from his role at the head of A Prairie Home Companion this past weekend, and I for one don’t know what I’m going to do without more news from Lake Wobegon. In the weeks leading up to Keillor’s retirement (not the first time he’s done it, but it’s more likely this one will stick), a number of outlets have covered his legacy:
- The Atlantic considers Keillor’s importance as someone who can bridge the cultural gap between conservatives and liberals, both groups to which he has belonged and empathizes with.
- Appropriately, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has a lovely narrative look at his showmanship and biography.
- Of course, it’s not at all likely Keillor will disappear from all stages, not with so many issues (like Donald Trump’s “ducktail” haircut”) requiring commentary these days.
- Trump, Trump, Trump. It’s bad enough that he’s lifting social media graphics right from white supremacist message boards. It’s more frustrating how many people are trying to make excuses about it (sheriff’s badge?? what?). One group that doesn’t have any illusions about the message the presumptive Republican nominee is making, though? White supremacists.
- Facebook recently clarified where its priorities would lie in terms of what you’ll see in your News Feed. It’s not going to be the news — not like outlets would prefer, anyway. BuzzFeed‘s Charlie Wartzel has the best take on what this means.
- Guess I’m not done with this latest Trumpian twist, am I. Right-wing Jew-hatred seems fairly obvious (“antisemitism” was coined to sound more scientific than Judenhass, so don’t let anyone get hung up on the “Semite” part of the word), but that’s not the only place these prejudices live. I recommend the following two Twitter threads as illustration; click through to get a look at the subtler ways Jews deal with this stuff all over the political spectrum.
Even if the story is infuriating, I’m delighted to share my first piece for Tablet, a publication whose stories I always learn something from. What happens when a comic book company needs to sell a lot of comics and upstage its chief rival, but there’s just not much money in comics anymore? Turns out there’s always revealing that a beloved 75-year-old character is a sleeper agent for his greatest enemy. Alas, when that character is Captain America and his greatest enemy is a stand-in for the Nazis, that publicity isn’t as great as you hoped. From “Say It Ain’t So: Captain America Is a… Hydra Agent?!”:
Speaking with Newsarama, Marvel Comics executive editor Tom Brevoort both acknowledged and dismissed the outcry. “We certainly knew…that reveal…would be shocking and unsettling, and take people aback,” he said, “but we didn’t anticipate the sort of math that got people to the idea that it’s anti-Semitic.” For Captain America to say “Hail Hydra” in a cliffhanger moment is not anti-Semitic. But it’s no surprise that fans read it that way, not when it rhymes so well with cultural and contemporary traumas.
Needless to say, between the jerks who insist we should all calm down and let the creative tell their story and the jerks who insist that disempowered fans who criticize hurtful editorial strategies are the same as toxic assholes who send death threats (which, nah), I’m going to focus on one good thing that’s come from this stupid, unsurprising mess:
- If you really want to talk homegrown fascism, which Marvel seems to think it is, BuzzFeed‘s Rosie Gray went inside a white supremacist conference, one that’s become a lot more popular since the rise of Donald Trump.
- This week, my Facebook feed blew up with the New York magazine feature on Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Whatever your political preferences, it’s a lot of great writing. I’d consider it Pulitzer-eligible just for the following: There is an Indiana Jones–style, “It had to be snakes” inevitability about the fact that Donald Trump is Clinton’s Republican rival.
- Hey, viral news! Darlena Cunha, writing for Contently, has a great piece that may interest journalists and non-journalists alike on how to write viral news without 1) selling your soul and 2) devaluing the reporting process. Pair with Slate’s legitimate grumping of the day, “Dear Journalists: For the Love of God, Please Stop Calling Your Writing ‘Content.’“
- Of course, the wildest stories don’t need tricks to sell them. The Washington Post tracked down North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s aunt, who has lived quietly in the U.S. with her husband for almost 20 years. Pair with “Dream Weevil,” a segment from a This American Life episode chronicling the abduction and escape of two South Korean movie stars by Kim Jong Il, who forced them to make films for his regime.
- Thank goodness for Hamilton, which is always good for filling you with the feels, especially if you want to close out a link roundup about the power of art and how we build relationships with particular stories. Sports writer Joe Ponsanski’s daughter loves Hamilton, with the kind of love he recognizes from his love of the game. So he decided to surprise her with tickets, and his experience of her experience is just — it’s really, really lovely.
It’s distressingly close to convention season, and even though Donald Trump clinched the delegates for the Republican nomination this week, I can’t imagine something won’t be worth covering in Cleveland this July. Fuse and Voto Latino are close to the end of a contest to send a young reporter to each party’s convention, and my friend Theresa Avila needs your help to get there.
You can vote for her once a day until June 1, and I strongly encourage you to do so, early and often, in the finest Chicago tradition. (Only this time, it’s totally above-board.) No matter what, if she’s a top-five finalist, Rachel Maddow will judge her entry, and holy cats, isn’t that an honor all on its own?
- It’s so cool to see your friends do well. For everyone wondering how to get there yourself, The Walking Dead star and Tony-nominated Eclipse playwright Danai Gurira shared some fantastic advice for burgeoning writers and artists, which, of course, applies to all professions and paths.
- You’ve heard about this Peter Thiel and Gawker thing, right? Worrisome for press freedom indeed. Gawker rarely makes headlines for occupying the moral high ground, but you should really read CEO Nick Denton’s return volley to the revelation that Thiel was financing the multimillion-dollar Hulk Hogan lawsuit. It lays out a case against the libertarian billionaire and asks some good questions about his endgame.
- There’s still some good news in the world, right? Well, Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs exists, which is always cause for celebration. Esquire has a long profile (with great accompanying photos!) up now. Me, I just always love that he’s one of the Tribe.
- Speaking of Jewish stuff, Nazi Captain America is still going strong (check the Twitter hashtag #SayNoToHydraCap for the latest). Watch this space next week, but if you only read one response to the controversy now, make it Jessica Plummer’s at Panels: “On Steve Rogers, Antisemitism and Publicity Stunts.”
- I could never read Preacher — it was just too violent for me as a comic. However, the first episode of AMC’s Preacher series dropped last weekend, and it’s beyond phenomenal: fun, stylish, dark as hell and totally self-aware, with fabulous starring turns from Ruth Negga, Joe Gilgun and Agent Carter’s Dominic Cooper. Vulture’s excellent comics writer Abe Riesman has a long piece up now about how producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg adapted the title for TV. Excited? Looking for Memorial Day plans? AMC has the premiere available to watch online free right now.
Who’s strong and brave, here to save the American way? Captain America, who’s a Nazi now, apparently! I’m excited to see how Marvel spins this one — it takes a special kind of willful dismissal to insist that “people who seem good can really be bad!” is a meaningful storyline when the character himself was created by two Jews to shame the United States into staving off the genocide of a minority group.
Come on, Marvel. Let us have nice things for once.
Ugh. Moving on.
- This is actually perhaps the perfect time to link On the Media’s excellent new episode on the politics of memory, specifically but not solely regarding World War II.
- Why don’t campus health centers provide access to abortion? Good question.
- Slate has a long, interesting look at liberal Christianity in the United States, and how it could mobilize as a political force to challenge that of the right. Lots of interesting numbers.
- Summer in Chicago is all about street fests and music fests. Unfortunately, they’re rarely about actually helping neighborhoods anymore. The Chicago Reader highlights efforts by community organizations to keep major events like RiotFest and the Pitchfork Music Festival out of their parks — because these events are wrecking everything.
- A lot of these links are about questions of ownership. Who owns Captain America? Who owns the Christian vote? Who owns the places they live? Aeon takes that question deep into antiquity with a really neat examination of artifacts and ancient Iraq. The twist? They’re Jewish incantation bowls. So who gets them — Iraq or the Jews who fled Iraq?
Oh, and if you’re confused by the title of this post, I present one of the few things Joss Whedon added to the MCU that I like:
I know there was some sportsball on either side of the Beyoncé concert this weekend, but only one thing happened on Sunday that deeply, deeply mattered to me.
However, I am probably going to spill an awful lot of ink about Captain America: Civil War over the next several months, so let’s talk about women, women, women, women and… okay, #CivilWar.
(First, though, no joke, holy cats, Bey, “Formation” is a hell of a thing.)
- Talking about sex frankly with your kids: It’s just smart parenting, writes Alanna Schubach in the Washington Post. And we’re not just talking moms and daughters — her amazing-sounding grandmother was a big part of this too.
- Meanwhile, at Marie Claire, I was really interested in “Can Women Fix Dating?” Maria Ricapito makes a compelling case for how the male gaze inherently makes most dating apps frustrating or dangerous on some level for women.
- Okay, have you been following this story from the Seattle theater world about Erin Pike? She’s been performing a one-woman show using dialogue and stage directions from the nation’s most frequently performed plays, and apparently it makes a hell of a statement. However, the publisher of those plays is not at all happy about that, and sent her a C+D an hour before curtain. It keeps getting more something else from there. Good meta-theater too, at least.
- Johanna Hedva writes about chronic illness in “Sick Woman Theory” for Mask, and what disability and intersectionality mean for her personal activism.
- I, uh. Can’t stay away from Marvel. The Daily Dot asked all the presidential campaigns if they were #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. Only Bernie Sanders replied. I’m darned pleased with his answer, but I’m also not entirely surprised.
It’s a good Tuesday when you can share some freelance that came to fruition, so here’s my very first piece for Mental Floss: “7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots.” This was both deeply strange and deeply fun to research — I had no idea people cared so much about, well, their right to grab eels in public, which is not actually a euphemism. Fans of Hamilton, yes, you have a reason to click through too.
What a time to be alive.
- Speaking of Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, she wrote a great quick hit on a Captain America: Civil War theory which neatly explains why Tony Stark is so distraught in the film’s first trailer.
- At Women Write About Comics, Hannah Katzman articulates the need for more Jewish representation, because despite the presence of Jews throughout the comics world, it’s still easier to find fake Nazis than ourselves.
- Meanwhile, the Editor-in-Chief of Electric Literature has assembled a thorough, data-driven look at the so-called war between genre and literary fiction.
- This is not the segue I was looking for, but Pacific Standard took a good look at the death of vinyl in the music world, which pairs with Flavorwire‘s September article “The Premature Death of Physical Media — and the Cult Home Video Labels Keeping It Alive.”
- It’s early enough in December that I’m not yet sick of year-in-review posts, particularly when they’re the Columbia Journalism Review’s best and worst journalism of 2015.