Things I’m Verbing: Clowns, witches and the trapdoor to Hell

You might say to yourself, “Esther, it’s Monday. Don’t your link roundups come out on Tuesdays and Fridays?” To that I say, “There is no way I’m missing out on sharing Halloween stories before the clock hits midnight and it’s November.” FOR INSTANCE: I have written a story for Refinery29 (my first!) on clowns and the cultural and psychological reasons behind why they freak us all out. It was a delight to do, and actual clown expert Ben Radford lights up my day just by existing and being really cool.

…I actually don’t have much more Halloween content, although The Establishment has been posting some great stuff on witches (plus Pacific Standard, plus A.V. Club, plus every single outlet writing up the greatness that is The Craft). Before we dive into the horrorshow that is the final week before we elect someone president at last, let’s savor this comic:

  • Today in “Wait, that guy was still alive?”, Jack Chick of the Chick Tracts died. Comics Alliance writes about his surprising influence on indie comix, while The New Republic pretty aptly compares him to Nazi documentarian Leni Riefenstahl without breaking Godwin’s Law. The Nib memorializes Chick in pretty much the best way imaginable.
  • This American Life is always kind of a big ask for me, listening-wise. An hour is a lot to commit to, and they don’t always land it. But “Will I Know Anyone at This Party?” doesn’t fall prey to hipster preciousness — instead, it’s a thoughtful look at the Republicans aghast at the nativism and racism that’s infected the party they love. The episode’s main focus is the white community’s response to Somali refugees settling in St. Cloud, Minnesota — essentially a history of “Muslim bans” and how that started.
  • Thank goodness Donald Trump pissed off The Washington Post. While it’s staggering that this is still possible, David Farenthold, who’s been owning the Trump charity beat, has published the biggest doozy yet. It starts with Trump blithely stealing honors from a major donor to a nursery school for children with HIV/AIDS and only goes downhill from there.
  • Back to the other gut-churning pillar of this campaign, Liz Meriwether, writing for The Cut, has a blistering, all-too-familiar essay about how women talk about sexual harassment and assault, and how it’s surprising the men around them.
  • It’s been a while since we talked about Marvel movies, right? Worry no more: Dr. Strange comes out in the U.S. this Friday, and it’s been taking a beating in activist circles for months going on years, thanks to its truly unfortunate baked-in Orientalism. The good news, according to BuzzFeed, is that the movie looks amazing and isn’t as joyless as the previews would have us believe. The bad news: We were right about the Orientalism.

Side note: I write personal essays at my blog Screwball Heroine, and this weekend I published “Baby’s first burlesque show,” about fear, monsters and baring it all. (A friend sold it on Twitter as “depression, creativity and nipple tassels”; “Whatever helps grab the eye,” he said.) I’m still figuring out what kind of essayist I want to be, particularly given the first-person industrial complex, but I think this one’s worth it. For all my fellow writers and anyone who’s just interested, the New York Times wrote up a roadmap for great personal essays their way.

Things I’m Verbing: Free publicity, soulful virality and transcending “content”

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.

Things I’m Verbing: Owning memory, wrecking public parks and vindicating the Nick Fury approach

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:

Things I’m Verbing: Angry women, the ur-boomer and Terminator birds from the future

The Christian Science Monitor won last week for my favorite news coverage. Amid all kinds of “pop goes the weasel” references as other outlets wrote up the shutdown of the Large Hadron Collider by a meddlesome mustelid, CSM told us that not only had this sort of thing happened before, but that CERN was certain it’s never been because of a Terminator scenario.

In November 2009, CERN said a baguette dropped by a bird was the cause of an electrical short that briefly shut down the collider.

In that case, the agency said the bird survived but “lost breakfast.” Asked whether the baguette had come from the future to sabotage the machine, CERN responded, “The possibility has been examined by theoretical physicists — considered unlikely as they feel baguettes will not play a part in future cultures.”

I’m not optimistic about a future that doesn’t include baguettes, but I guess that’s worth a debate. After all, the end of the republic has never looked better.

Things I’m Verbing: Down with ninjas, up with opera and right this way for swing

Sometimes I get down on myself for feeling drawn to the arts — isn’t there More Important Stuff going on in the world? I should stop doing that: Not only are the arts wonderful and important, but they’re as perfect a lens as any to examine the world and how we interact with each other. Plus not only that, but noodling around through arts links led me to Making Your Life as an Artist, a free ebook by choreographer Andrew Simonet about managing your time, your money and the worth of your work. Freelancers of all stripes, take note.


  • Arthur Chu is done with stupid Asian stereotypes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and everywhere else, frankly. “Not Your Asian Ninja” begins as an indictment of the second season of Daredevil, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Short version: Nobody has any excuses for the lazy characterization and world-building that are still acceptable for Asian characters in media.
  • Unmissable: “Tabletop Gaming Has a White Male Terrorism Problem.” It didn’t start with GamerGate — not even close.
  • On Hamilton and the U.S. prison system: “Tonight, in the midst of our shared creative endeavor, they saw themselves smack in the center of the narrative of creation, possibility, pursuit and achievement.”
  • Lighter, but really lovely (and certainly true to my experience): Animation student and beginning Lindy hopper Emei Burrell drew a series of comics about learning to swing dance and falling into the community.
  • And speaking of being a beginner, ever wanted to see what the start of a staggering opera career looks like? Luciano Pavarotti performed in Moscow in 1964, and while you can see the talent and the skill, you can also see how much he’s going to grow as a presence. Useful for all of us, and a darn pleasure to hear.