The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week

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I learned a lot of things about the internet this week. Highlights: the breadth of TikTok, the history of modern celebrities, Judith Butler reviews Bari Weiss’s book, Jimmy Carter on climate change, the most dangerous way to lose yourself, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Fiona Apple, the invention of the labradoodle, MacArthur season, and an impeachment inquiry against Trump. 

1. New Yorker: How TikTok Holds Our Attention

About once a week I consider getting a TikTok. Videos from the app—which is basically Gen-Z’s version of Vine—constantly appear on my Twitter feed. TikTok is a complicated app: It can be used for surveillance and catapult its young users into stardom—as happened to Lil Nas X. 

The highly optimized platform “is an enormous meme factory, compressing the world into pellets of virality and dispensing those pellets until you get full or fall asleep,” writes Jia Tolentino. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which “has invested heavily and made major advances in artificial intelligence” in the past few years.  The app uses a kind of machine-learning that “analyzes each video and tracks user behavior so that it can serve up a continually refined, never-ending stream of TikToks optimized to hold your attention.” I’m not sure if I want to get TikTok more or less now. Despite that uncertainty, one thing is for certain: the number of providers who are selling TikTok likes and followers is growing – by a lot. A study conducted by the team at Virall, one such vendor of TikTok promotion services that help its customers increase the reach of the content they publish on TikTok says that this time last year, there were only three firms selling TikTok likes and followers. But, as of January 13, 2021, there are more than 200 different suppliers of TikTok promotion – and that number is only going up.

2. Times Literary Supplement: Heel turns: Irina Dumitrescu on the history of modern celebrity

I used to be VERY obsessed with celebrities. I even wrote my undergrad thesis on Kim Kardashian. I haven’t actively paid attention to the histories/theories of celebrity culture in a few years now, but Irina Dumitrescu’s comparative review of The Drama of Celebrity by Sharon Marcus, Kardashian Kulture: How celebrities changed life in the 21st century by Ellis Cashmore, and Melanie Kennedy’s Tweenhood: Femininity and celebrity in tween popular culture—all books that explore celebrity culture—might have reignited my interest. 

Today, being a celebrity is “its own performance. Reality itself turned into a show, and ordinary people began to polish their personal brand.” Fame has become the talent, “the accomplishment, the great deed, the healing salve, the song that sang itself.” The books Dumitrescu reviews take different perspectives of celebrity, but all explore how it affects contemporary culture and how we understand “which flaws are outrageous, and which divine.”

3. Jewish Currents: Bari Weiss’s Unasked Questions

Judith Butler reviewed Bari Weiss’s first book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, and DAMNNNNN. Butler’s review is quite generous, but, she writes, “Weiss’s book turned out to be both passionate and disappointing.” Butler’s main contention is that Weiss doesn’t provide enough nuance in her arguments—and that Weiss’s definition of antisemitism “often uses epidemiological language to understand antisemitism: it is a ‘thought virus,’ an ‘intellectual disease,’ an ‘ancient malady,’ ‘a cancer,'” suggesting it “seems to exist outside history, recurring in all possible spaces and times.”

4. Slate: The President Who Wanted Us to Stop Climate Change

Jimmy Carter tried to stop climate change, or at least heed the warnings of scientists around him. In what is now known as his “Malaise” speech, Carter called for “an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I’m asking you, for your good and for your nation’s security, to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can … and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense, I tell you it is an act of patriotism.”

Carter supported the alternative energy of the time, nuclear and coal, over oil and gas with “the goal of deriving 20 percent of U.S. energy needs from renewables by the millennium (so far we’ve made it to 9.4 percent),” writes Ellin Stein. But politics happened, and there was backlash. “Americans don’t like limits, speed or otherwise. Ronald Reagan promised them they didn’t have to have any.” 

We didn’t listen to Carter. Maybe we will listen to Greta Thunberg.

5. The Atlantic: The Most Dangerous Way to Lose Yourself

Sometimes it feels like we are forever on a quest to find ourselves. We all have what psychologist Prescott Lecky understood to be the “’self-view’—a deeply held belief about oneself.” 

After Sept. 11, University of Texas at Austin psychology professor William Swann built upon Lecky’s theory and developed a new concept called identity fusion. The terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks “seemed to… be driven by unusually powerful group identities. A willingness to die—and to kill thousands of others in the process—goes beyond simple allegiance.”

Identity fusion happens when “personal and social identities become functionally equivalent” and individuals take on ideologies as their own. “Fusion is not a bunch of individuals contorting their way of thinking, but a bunch of individuals suspending their way of thinking.” As people suspend their way of thinking, it can allow them to do things they never imagined, and to a devastating effect. 

6. NPR: The World Of Rosetta Tharpe: A Turning The Tables Playlist

Anyone who knows anything about rock ‘n’ roll knows—or at least should know—about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry all knew about Tharpe. “It’s often been said that Tharpe is a forgotten figure, but more accurately, she has been written over in music history by what was imprinted on the culture as characteristics of the rock and roll icon: being male and white.” The truth is “the Mother Of Rock and Roll, was an African-American woman, and her name was Sister Rosetta Tharpe.” 

7. Vulture: Fiona Apple Is Still Calling Bullshit

I’ve been thinking about Fiona Apple a lot recently—for no particular reason—and then all the sudden this appears on the internet! She is a known recluse and doesn’t really give interviews, but Apple reached out to Rachel Handler through a nondescript Hotmail address after a weird incident she had with Variety. The magazine released a video where Lorene Scafaria, Director of Hustlers, “applauded Apple’s decision to donate two years of royalties from ‘Criminal’ to an organization that assists refugees. Except in the video initially tweeted by Variety, Scafaria’s use of the word refugees was dubbed over, rather nonsensically, to imply that Apple is donating royalties ‘to the movie.’” When asked why she asked for an interview, Apple responded, “I think this is the first time I’ve ever asked somebody to do an interview… As my friend Zelda would say, I’m a justice kid. It doesn’t sit right with me that they covered over the word refugees.”

Currently, Apple is working on a “new album that was supposed to be done a million years ago.” Hopefully it comes out soon. 

8. ABC Australia: 14.0 The labradoodle of regret

I generally don’t like doodles. I feel like whenever a dog breed has “made it,” the breed gets turned into a doodle. My favorite breed of dog is a Bernese Mountain Dog, and over the past few years bernedoodles, Bernese Mountain Dogs bred with poodles, are becoming more and more popular. 

As it turns out, the labradoodle, the original doodle, was invented as a hypoallergenic solution for a blind woman who needed a guide dog, but whose husband was allergic to dogs. Their creator, Wally Conron, quick recognized that he created “Frankenstein’s monster” in the form of the dog, and says that it’s his “life’s biggest regret,” as many of the dogs now are bred in unethical ways.  

9. MacArthur Foundation: 2019 MacArthur Fellows

It is MacArthur season! I always love learning who the new MacArthur fellows are. This year’s fellows include translator Emily Wilson, poet Ocean Vuong, Mel Chin, Lynda Barry, and many others whose work I’m excited to learn more about. 

10. Washington Post: Live updates: House subpoenas Pompeo and schedules depositions of five State Department officials

There are currently impeachment investigations against Trump because of a July phone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding potential foreign interference in the 2020 US elections. We will see what happens. It is still early. Keep reading to find out. 

*All images taken from reference articles*

Have a suggestion for next week? Email with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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