The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 8/8

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The internet was GOOD this week! Highlights: the Beirut Explosion, how the pandemic defeated America, American racism, digital blackface, Simone Biles, the Olympic Games, beautiful pictures of Rihanna, stunning photos of Megan Thee Stallion, WAP, and Padma Lakshmi’s new show.



1. The Washington Post: Lebanon is no longer just crumbling. With the Beirut explosion, it has collapsed.

On Tuesday 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, as a result of being unsafely stored in a warehouse after being seized in 2014 by customs. Luna Safwan, a journalist based in Beirut, wrote, “Lebanon is no longer a country on the edge of collapse; it quite literally collapsed Tuesday, with hundreds of buildings affected, and families displaced and left with no shelter.”

Lebanon was in an economic crisis before the pandemic and currently “the local currency has lost nearly 80 percent of its value, and hospitals are lacking medical supplies while facing bed shortage and long electricity cuts.” Right now “most Lebanese have no faith that this political class or government will bring any sort of justice. To Lebanon, this catastrophe could be a new trigger to revolt, or a new reason to surrender to total helplessness. This time, there is no place in between.”



2. The Atlantic: How the Pandemic Defeated America

Ed Yong is one of the best scientific journalists writing today and I highly recommend following his work, especially his coverage of the pandemic thus far. It is common knowledge (or at least it should be) that Donald Trump and his administration have fucked over this country with their repeated mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic and refusal to follow the advice of scientists and doctors. Currently, “the United States has just 4 percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its confirmed COVID‑19 cases and deaths. These numbers are estimates. The actual toll, though undoubtedly higher, is unknown, because the richest country in the world still lacks sufficient testing to accurately count its sick citizens.”

But how did it get this bad? We didn’t shut down early enough and, when the country did shutdown, there were protests against stay-at-home orders, people are still refusing to wear masks, and a profit-driven healthcare system–these are just a few reasons why the pandemic has hit the U.S. so hard but, in many ways, they are just the tip of the iceberg and don’t provide much historical context. “Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields,” writes Yong. “I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable.” This is a must-read.



3. The Atlantic: Is This the Beginning of the End of American Racism?

Trump’s presidency has forced America to look at many problems that it has long denied. Ibram X. Kindi writes, “The United States has often been called a land of contradictions, and to be sure, its failings sit alongside some notable achievements… But on racial matters, the U.S. could just as accurately be described as a land in denial. It has been a massacring nation that said it cherished life, a slaveholding nation that claimed it valued liberty, a hierarchical nation that declared it valued equality, a disenfranchising nation that branded itself a democracy, a segregated nation that styled itself separate but equal, an excluding nation that boasted of opportunity for all.”

With his presidency, “Trump held up a mirror to American society, and it reflected back a grotesque image that many had refused to see,” and has confirmed to many Americans that systemic racism is still quite pervasive today, no matter what the president tweets. As a country we “are at a point of no return. No returning to the bad old habit of denial. No returning to cynicism. No returning to normal—the normal in which racist policies, defended by racist ideas, lead to racial inequities,” writes Kindi. He says we cannot wait for strategic plans and policies, but that we should demand immediate equality today. “Abolish police violence. Abolish mass incarceration. Abolish the racial wealth gap and the gap in school funding. Abolish barriers to citizenship. Abolish voter suppression. Abolish health disparities. Not in 20 years. Not in 10 years. Now.”



4. Wired: TikTok and the Evolution of Digital Blackface

TikTok is perhaps the place online where digital blackface is the most pervasive. While TikTok brands itself as an “app of joy and creativity” it is also a place that reflects the world in which it was created, one with harassment, racism, pain, and is “a site of blurred visions and youthful ignorances, where flattery quickly turns into mockery, mockery into theft, and theft into something altogether more disturbing.”

The video app, which allows users to upload videos up to 60-seconds long and provides “a suite of editing tools, from filters to green-screen special effects” allows for near infinite creativity. Like most social media apps, the primary goal of most users is to get views on their content, but unlike other platforms its “algorithm tries to avoid duplicating content or privileging accounts with large followings.” If the fastest way to gain influence on Instagram is a life of near-constant vacation and leisure time, and “the quickest route to success on TikTok is right through the bountiful fields of Black expression.”

As Jason Parham outlines in this article, on TikTiok, expression of Blackness by Black creators can often lead to their accounts being suspended or their videos muted for violating community guidelines, but when white users perform digital blackface it leads to virality. TikTok and its videos are filled with what “19-year-old Mia Brier, [calls] ‘low-key racism’—you might have to sit with it for a moment before the extent of the ugliness becomes clear.”

I don’t even use the platform and the amount of appropriation used in most of the videos I see from TikTok is disturbing. “The very tools that have made TikTok into one of the most efficient, visible cultural products of the era—easy to use, hyper-customizable—make instances of digital blackface uniquely personal. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, where instances of digital blackface are either text-based (abusing Black vernacular) or image-based (trotting out memes or GIFs of Black celebrities), TikTok is a video-first platform, and on it, creators embody Blackness with an auteur-driven virtuosity—taking on Black rhythms, gestures, affect, slang.”




5. Vice: Simone Biles Would Like to Thank Herself

Although most sporting events are still cancelled or postponed, including the Olympics, I feel as though I have been reading and watching more sports journalism recently, and it’s surprisingly good, maybe even better than what I had read before the pandemic, especially the profiles and this is no exception. Dvora Meyers’ profile of Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast ever, “was supposed to be a pre-Olympics story on Biles,” but as COVID-19 swept across the world and postponed the olympics, the profile could have been shelved for next year, assuming the games can take place in 2021. 

While “there are few certainties in sports… Simone Biles has been one of them” and was seemingly destined to win gold in Tokyo, and Meyers says, “it’s not necessary to wait for all of the unknowns to become knowns. Biles has given us more than enough to be certain of, and this will remain true regardless of what happens over the next year.”

With or without the gold, Biles is already historic. One of the issues with writing about Biles—or about anyone who is the best in the world, the greatest ever, a once in a generation talent—is that “the seeming incomprehensibility of what Biles does inflects the language used to describe it; over the course of her career, it has gotten more grandiose and more hyperbolic. While this was wholly complimentary, it has also had the effect of erasing her hard work by presenting her as something almost alien.”In this profile Meyers tries to demystify Biles, and the near incomprehensibility of her talent and hard work, when “the endpoint of her abilities is still unknown.”

Biles, who was set to retire after Tokyo has committed to train for another year, but reflects here on what is after gymnastics saying, “I feel like a lot of athletes have [this] issue because you dedicate your life so hard to be good at it. And then everything you do [after] is kind of just, even if it’s good, it’s just like …,” echoing the sentiments of Tessa Virtue, “one half of the best ice dance team of all-time” who recently retired. In an interview about a year after her retirement, Virtue “spoke candidly about how difficult it’s been for her to find her purpose in her post-skating life. ‘Whatever I take on next, I’m never going to be the best in the world,’ she said.”



6. Longreads: The End of the Olympic Games

I love the Olympics. I can, and do, watch them for hours on end, sometimes not leaving my house for days to make sure I catch everything. It messes with my sleep and eating schedules. It is not uncommon for me to need a week of recovery after the closing ceremony. While I always undoubtedly get lost in the spectacle, the older I get the more I learn about just how destructive the games can be—and almost always are—to their host cities. For years, activists across the world have protested against the Olympics as they are a huge economic burden for host cities which often displace their most vulnerable citizens, who are also often Black and Brown, to build immense pools, arenas, and gyms that will never be used again. These displaced citizens also are not the ones who benefit from Olympic tourism, but are often the victims in it.

The COVID-19 pandemic may be the catalyst activists need to stop the Olympics, at least in their modern version. Tokyo could be the tipping point “now that a lot of people in Japan are counting and monitoring the government’s spending to fight the pandemic, it became ever more clear actually just how much taxpayers’ money we had allowed the TOCOG [Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] and the government to spend on the two-week-long sport spectacle while we don’t have enough money to equip ‘essential workers’ with the essential protective gear,” wrote Dr. Satoko Itani to Dvora Meyers in an email for this piece. All of this is also happening during a global uprising against police brutality, which also usually disproportionately affects cities’s most vulnerable citizens, who are the ones displaced for the Olympics.

In this fascinating piece, Meyers connects the pandemic, the history and fate of the Olympic Games, and police brutality together writing: “While COVID-19 might be a virus incapable of racial bias, the course it has taken through the population of the U.S., wending its way through Black, Latinx, and poor communities, was determined by decades of racist policy and discrimination. American police forces have killed Black people for decades with impunity as part of the same system that allowed more African Americans to die from COVID-19 than any other group. It’s also the system that has allowed the Olympic Games in the post-war period to reshape the cities that host the event, rarely for the benefit of all citizens. The Games have been a driving force behind displacement, police militarization, increased surveillance, and violence against the working class and poor people, especially Black and Brown, in the cities where they’ve touched down. The very same groups that the pandemic has disproportionately killed and that the police disproportionately target are those who become the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of the Olympics.”




7. Harper’s Bazaar: Welcome to Rihanna’s Revolution

MORE BEAUTIFUL PICTURES OF RIHANNA! Rihanna, following her trend of giving us everything except music, released a skincare line, Fenty Skin, in July. Every industry Rihanna touches she transforms, a difficult feat as “successfully pivoting from one industry to another is a feat very few people have been able to pull off—let alone Black women.

Think about it: Other than Oprah, how many Black women have managed to take multiple industries by storm? The list is very short, and Rihanna’s name is unquestionably near the top.” One of the reasons for her success—perhaps the main reason for her success—is her inclusivity. She singlehandedly made 40 shades “the benchmark for foundation ranges,” began Savage X Fenty as a size-inclusive line with many shades of nude language, and branded Fenty Skin as genderinclusive, featuring Lil Nas X and A$OP Rocky in its campaign.

Rihanna is limitless, and “her outward success in the beauty space is a testament to something far more inward that is less about how her fans have embraced her and more about how she has embraced them.” Let’s hope R9, her much anticipated 9th studio album, is as groundbreaking and limitless as everything she has done since Anti.



8. Variety: Why Megan Thee Stallion Isn’t Slowing Down — or Backing Down

Not only did we get beautiful pictures of Rihanna this week, we also got BEAUTIFUL PICTURES OF MEGAN THEE STALLION!!! Honestly I’m not sure how my eyes are still working.

The more I learn about Megan, the more I like her. She is unadulterated, does her shit, and that is that. Megan’s rise has been meteoric since she dropped Stalli Freestyle in 2017. This Variety profile clarified some rumors, like what happened on July 12th when she was shot in the foot, and highlighted how Megan is “cheerful, funny, forward-looking and optimistic.” It is a solid piece by Jem Aswad and I learned a lot about Megan, but my attention was always drawn to the amazing photographs by Orin Fleurimont.



9. YouTube: Cardi B – WAP feat. Megan Thee Stallion [Official Music Video]

Cardi B came back from a hiatus Friday at midnight by dropping the music video for WAP featuring hot girl Megan Thee Stallion. There is so much in this music video and song that someone could singlehandedly write a dissertation on it. The music video, which is more engaging than the song on its own, is a whole ass visual album. 

As Cardi and Megan explore a mansion decorated with statues of asses and fountains of breasts squirting water, WAP—which stands for Wet Ass Pussy—announces that “there’s some whores in the house.” The design and aesthetic of the video changes from room to room, switching from Willy Wonka, to snakes in the desert, to large cat den and beyond. Kylie Jenner (maybe this is why Megan was seen at a party with her the day she was shot?), Rosaliá, Normani, Rubi Rose, Sukihana, and Mulatto all make cameos in the video. 

Apparently the song “was so nasty that YouTube was like—‘hold on, wait a minute, that song might be too goddamn nasty,’” according to a video Cardi posted to her instagram account, and the explicit version is available on all streaming platforms. Think about what Cardi and Megan do on their own, multiply that together, then add a little more and that is what this song is. I like their flows together, but, as a matter of taste, enjoy Megan in the song more than Cardi. 




10. New York Times Magazine: Padma Lakshmi Wants Us to Eat More Adventurously

I was relatively late to realizing the brilliance of Padma Lakshmi, learning through her 2017 Hot Ones interview in which she “gracefully destroys spicy wings.” Lakshmi, however, is widely known as the host of Bravo’s Top Chef since the show’s second season, in addition to publishing multiple cookbooks, a memoir, and being a model. 

Her new show, Taste the Nation on Hulu, in which Lakshmi’s goal is “demystify foods that are part of our culture but get othered by the greater American culture,” as “through food, you can tell a lot about not only a person or a family but also a community. You can trace history through foods. You can trace colonization.” Throughout this interview, Lakshmi highlights the importance of placing food in cultural context, the “laziness” in “reaching for the thing that is most familiar,” and the need for equity in the food industry.



Images taken from referenced articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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