Things I’m Verbing: Cultural memory, peanut stew and how to be a better gentrifier

I don’t like to get off-track with posting, but today I’m delighted to have such a fulfilling excuse. For an assignment in my magazine editing class in journalism school, we had to pick a print publication to analyze. I wandered from the Medill newsroom in the Loop to the nearby Sears Tower, which not only boasted a Corner Bakery (their mini-M&M-studded Monster Cookies are just about my favorite) but a newsstand in the basement. On a bottom rack near the entrance, I spotted a nice-looking cover with a title I’d never seen before. It turned out to be a fascinating issue, and I’ve wanted to write for them pretty much ever since.

Yesterday, after some of my favorite reporting and editing I’ve ever done, I finally got to share my first piece for Pacific Standard. This story started with a grumpy late-night tweet; it became an investigation into how we form and curate cultural memory, and what we can gain from truly confronting the Great War and its legacy. I hope you enjoy it: “Why Do So Few Hollywood Movies Take Place During WWI?”

  • Two actors in talked-about shows have recently shared excellent personal essays on the nature of their performances. First, Corey Stoll, who played Brutus in the Public Theater’s recent faux-controversial Julius Caesar, wrote about that experience and why it solidified his commitment to free expression. Then Betty Gilpin, one of my favorite surprises from American Gods, bowled me over with a raunchy, hilarious and vulnerable look at how her large bust has messed with her confidence over the years, and how working on the new Netflix ’80s wrestling comedy GLOW has changed that.
  • I was really taken by this piece for Quartz Ideas: “Women are flocking to wellness because modern medicine still doesn’t take them seriously.” Definitely something to consider while we mock women who rave about alternative health practices.
  • I’ll always read alarming internet privacy stories, and Gizmodo has a small-but-noteworthy doozy on autofill and the company that collects that data even if you don’t submit it.
  • The title is sure to spark strong feelings, but the interview within asks a lot of difficult, interesting questions about what it means to live in an urban neighborhood: from the newly redesigned CityLab, “Toward Being a Better Gentrifier.”
  • For Serious Eats, Sara’o Mozac pens a beautiful, cranky and loneliness-curing essay on the Afro-Trinidadian meals he grew up with and the food he sought out during a college trip in search of his roots: “East, West, Then Backward: Falling for Groundnut Soup in Ghana.” Pair with the latest episode of Gastropod, about the history and science behind peanut butter.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: False feminists, bad business and a very good cucumber

I’m working on deadline today, so this is going to be quick — but in a short and sweet kind of way, rest easy. They’re all good stories, Brent.

I’m working on deadline today, so this is going to be quick — but in a short and sweet kind of way, rest easy. They’re all good stories, Brent.

  • What does it mean to be a good cucumber these days? Food writer Bee Wilson believes it’s become so watered-down, we don’t even know what that means anymore. (Link goes to the Financial Times; heads up on the paywall.)
  • Small Town Noir: I’m fascinatedNiemanStoryboard asks a Scottish fellow why he’s so obsessively collecting and investigating mid-century mugshots from a small town in western Pennsylvania.
  • You swooned and screamed over the first Black Panther trailer this week, right? (Ohmygod, go do so if you haven’t.) Seems like that kind of momentum would be a great time for Marvel to showcase its Wakanda-based comics, with their excellent writers and illustrators! Or… not, apparently? In the process, they’ve revealed a fatal flaw about how the industry insists it will get new readers into comics.
  • Last night in my corner of the internet, Twitter user Rave Sashayed bravely livetweeted her experience reading the godawful and rightfully canned 2006 Joss Whedon script for Wonder Woman. It’s worth considering where the famous-for-being-feminist Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator went so, so wrong in his approach to women. A Tumblr user named Laurel Jupiter took a thoughtful look at Whedon’s work back in 2015, when we were all still angry about the mess that is The Avengers: Age of Ultron. As she writes:

I wish he hadn’t turned, in twenty years, from the man who wanted to see the blonde girl in the horror movie survive and thrive into the rich bastard who thought it was funny to call Natasha Romanoff a cunt on IMAX and who called her a monster for being the victim of medical abuse. I’m still laughing angrily at Joss being driven off twitter by a mob of angry, betrayed female fans, because wow does he ever deserve it, but man, Joss. It didn’t have to be that way.

  • Samantha Bee is everything, and Full Frontal this week was a glorious poke in the eye to Jeff Sessions. Let’s end it on that:

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Fake food, bad HR and the act you’ve known for all these years

It is an act of radical self-care to remind yourself there is other news and journalism out there totally unrelated to Comey, Trump and the downfall of the republic!

It is an act of radical self-care to remind yourself there is other news and journalism out there totally unrelated to Comey, Trump and the downfall of the republic!

Chris Evans giggling at his dog is also a radical act of self-care. But also:

  • Let’s start with the Beatles. I love the Beatles. I spent the three years from sixth to eighth grade listening almost exclusively to the Beatles, so I’m honestly pretty chuffed (don’t @ me) at all the coverage of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Fifty! Years!) All Songs Considered brought in Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin, to talk about how he went back into Abbey Road’s vault to not just remaster but remix the album from scratch. As someone who knows nothing about sound engineering, it’s fascinating to hear the differences in production side by side. See also:
    • Vulture had the nerve to rank 213 Beatles songs from worst to best, always sure to produce hilarious and furious discussion, because obviously it’s going to be wrong bottom to top. (Although I can’t disagree with their No. 1 pick, why “Hold Me Tight” doesn’t occupy the final slot is a mystery.) The piece provides a fantastic history of the band in non-chronological vignettes along the way.
    • I have not read this yet, but I’m thrilled that this 2008 paper exists on PsyArt, a self-described online journal for the psychological study of the arts: “The Space Between Us: A Developmental History of the Beatles.”
  • Also coming from the podcast word, Gastropod, which charmingly examines the relationship between food and science, has an episode on fake and adulterated food (and the cops that stop its proliferation) that could put you on edge in the grocery store for the rest of time.
  • It’s a short response to a larger fawning article by the New York Times, but the New Republic‘s Sarah Jones punches back at the notion that tech giants fund coding programs for kids out of the goodness of their hearts. Speaking of techno-libertarians, a reminder from a former ardent supporter why Julian Assange is garbage. Same with Uber.
  • Journalism is in serious trouble. We all know that, even if we’re not in media. But the ways in which it’s in trouble on the hiring side aren’t always apparent to outsiders. Rachel Schallom, who will soon by starting a job with the Wall Street Journal, wrote up a clear-headed and damning account of what’s wrong with newsroom hiring practices, from the unpaid labor and lost intellectual property the luckiest desperate applicants give away to the ways in which HR performs gatekeeping through the interview process and the job postings themselves.
  • You can’t end a Friday post that heavily, so I present, from NPR: cat cafes vs. dog cafes vs… raccoon cafes?

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Christian seders, future ruins and rappelling for suffrage

I usually don’t share — can we call them incremental stories in the Trump-Russia thing, even when they’re massive, massive revelations? The thing is, it all tends to move so fast, and it’s easy to tune out because it gets overwhelming. But I can’t ignore the Washington Post’s “Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel.” This is literally the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel. I will be interested to see how Trump and GOP supporters continue to justify their support for this administration, whether it’s simply calling this reporting fake news, “just some left-wing blog” or shrugworthy, as Rep. Jason “I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more” Chaffetz professes.

Are you ready for more?

  • Let’s start off light with Colin Dickey’s “Building in the Shadow of Our Own Destruction.” If that and the fact that it’s architecture criticism don’t put you off, you’re in for a thoughtful and unsettling look at how great buildings must be designed while already imagining them in ruins. There’s also a story about a man who died because of accumulated pigeon guano, so really, don’t miss it.
  • Further light reading: Noah Berlatsky, for BuzzFeed, “The Zookeeper’s Wife Is Yet Another Gentile Savior Story.” Even though all the trailers tell me otherwise, I was somehow hoping this wouldn’t be the same self-congratulatory grossness that Schindler’s List epitomizes. Easter and Passover are sensitive times for Jews, not least because Easter has traditionally been a period of heightened violence against them. Not all violence has to be a pogrom; appropriative “Christian seders” and playacting Jewish culture are pretty upsetting too. Anyway, Berlatsky makes the point that centering the heroic bystander experience in mass storytelling, rather than that of the oppressed, ultimately dehumanizes the oppressed. All of these are worth reading.
  • Segueing into another aspect of Hollywood, Anne Helen Petersen asks a worthwhile question: “How Many Times Does Nicole Kidman Have to Prove Herself?” Ain’t sexism grand?
  • Meanwhile, from the Establishment, “Why Don’t We Think Fat People Are Worth Fighting For?” challenges thin people, particularly thin women, to turn body positivity into real solidarity.
  • Finally, Elle has a marvelous and poignant longread that I missed in November. “The 20-Week Abortion Ban Bind” sits with the women who need to terminate pregnancies after the “acceptable” cutoff date, and the heartbreak of losing a wanted child that could not survive outside the womb.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Fake people, entitled men and literal Danish blanket forts

I started journalism school four years ago today — holy cats. That whole first quarter, all anyone could talk about was Snow Fall, the multimedia longform investigation that was supposed to change everything, and Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame football player whose inspirational long-distance girlfriend turned out to be a hoax. In light of the latter, I’m a little pleased that the viral story of the week is about another personality who seems to be leading the entire media establishment astray; for more, see the Daily Beast,The Media’s Favorite ‘Millennial’ Is 55 Years Old.”

Right now, of course, four years is sort of a touchy increment. A lot can happen in four years, good and bad. Many on Twitter have noted that Trump and the GOP are basically DDoS-ing the American people right now (and presumably going forward indefinitely) so we can’t keep up with all their destructive, self-serving bullshit (for example, six confirmation hearings are set for the day Trump will supposedly hold a news conference revealing… what, exactly? another hotel?). Many have been writing about how to keep your spirits up and effect action; Charles Blow’s “The Anti-Inauguration” is as good a summation as any.

  • I know we’re supposed to be beyond analyzing why Trump won and Hillary… won, but not in the right way. I found the Atlantics “The Growing Urban-Rural Divide Around the World” interesting. There’s something not-comforting-but-kind-of-comforting in the notion that a trend isn’t just some uniquely complicated outgrowth of your own country’s nonsense.
  • On that note, see also, from the Guardian, “Welcome to the Age of Anger.”
  • Art critic John Berger passed away earlier this week. Dazed wrote up a good piece on why his work is still so important — on how being female means being constantly for consumption in Western civilization and media.
  • A not-at-all pleasant follower, also in the same vein: from the Huffington Post, most mass shootings simply don’t get all that much attention. Why? Because they’re about controlling men slaughtering their wives and children.
  • Grim, grim, grim. It’s hard not to feel that way as a journalist. I remember worrying if entering this profession would make me hate humanity. (Answer to my past self: It has and it hasn’t, mostly not in the ways I expected.) However, for all the hard things we cover and witness, we can also talk about the entirely frivolous (and find ways in which they’re much more substantive). For instance, I can’t stop giggling about the New York Times’ investigation into hygge, the Danish ethos of coziness. It’s a good piece! It’s very good lifestyle writing and reporting. It comes to some interesting conclusions about cost and insularity. It’s the best thing to read after all of the above.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Here Comes the General (Rise Up)

Hey, we’ve done it! (She said, incautiously, with 36-ish hours to go.) 2016 is still sucker-punching us with all it’s got, right down to the wire, of course. I’m not even a huge Star Wars fan, but the outpouring of raw, ragged grief at losing Carrie Fisher has really overwhelmed me. That her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would die a day later is just… well. If you’re going to read one Carrie Fisher thinkpiece, make it Anne Theriault’s “General Leia Organa Is the Hero We Need Right Now.” This started as a widely shared Twitter thread, and I’m glad to see it in a more permanent, shareable format.

(The full-sized original of that is by Julian Callos, by the way. I wish there was a print available, but it seems to have been a charity painting, so there’s just the one.)

So, how are we going to round out this flaming shitstorm of a year? Mad as hell, for the most part.

  • Madeleine Davies, writing for Jezebel, speaks for so many of us, I think, in “Becoming Ugly,” an essay about the fury of the constant humiliation of baked-in cultural misogyny. It starts off with young Davies dick-punching an asshole teenage boy, and the injustice that followed. I don’t know any woman who doesn’t identify, somehow.
  • One of the Rockettes spoke to Marie Claire about the command performance at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Meanwhile, a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has resigned rather than sing for that event; more than 20,000 Mormons have signed a Change.org petition to get the group out of their commitment.
  • Just what the transition needed: Israel/Palestine bristling up again. Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, has an even-handed explanation of what the UN resolution condemning settlements will actually do to the peace process.
  • You’re not going to get a much better polemic against this year than Chris Kluwe’s “Fuck You, Donald Trump.” It lays the blame where it belongs: everywhere. On the “a plague on all your journalistic houses” note, pair with Dan Gillmor’s “Fix the Demand Side of News Too,” a call for media literacy, now more than ever.
  • And yet, at the bottom of Pandora’s box, there was hope. WYNC podcast Note to Self re-aired its episode on FOMO versus “the joy of missing out” — an actually excellent conversation about presence, mindfulness and overload, particularly in that everything we complain about in being overwhelmed and oversaturated with media is exactly what suits the business model of the companies that fuel it. Also listen to their interview with performance artist Marina Abramovic, who has turned the focus of her art from her own body to her audience. I hope these both help.

Stay brave, friends. We can do this.

Things I’m Verbing: Cold War throwbacks, A-list blackouts and the new underground

It’s the Friday before Christmas, and… this is where we are, basically:

About that:

  • Yeah, Trump still hasn’t moved beyond “if we have nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t we use them?” Max Fisher clarifies the tweet (ugh) that set it all off this morning for the New York Times.
  • Trump’s inauguration is basically turning into a talent blackout — no one of note is willing to associate with him or celebrate him. Which is what makes it cool that the union representing the Rockettes is forcing them to perform.
  • North Carolina just earned a 58/100 score from the Electoral Integrity Project, putting it somewhere in the neighborhood of “authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone,” according to the report’s creator. Pair with Atlanta artist Cory Thomas’ comic “The weirdness of being black in white spaces after the election.”
  • There’s never been a better time (other than the past) for media literacy, and the Establishment breaks down your 2017 guide to overthrowing the media. Complements 99 Ways to Fight Trump and the Indivisible guide, now available in a nice/easy-to-follow PDF.
  • Finally, just unrelated and interesting and engrossing and affecting, “Before We Were Good White” by Jennifer Niesslein for Full Grown People, about family history, poverty and class in America. Also, an unsolved murder amid Prohibition-era bootlegging.

Stay brave, friends. And as we go into the weekend (and the holiday, for all you celebrants out there):