The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 12/20

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Art AND: Magnolia Laurie

There were a lot of great long reads on the internet this week that had me deep in my feels. Also, the electoral college confirmed Joe Biden, essential workers are getting vaccinated, Lizzo did a detox, Taylor Swift released a new album, and FKA twigs sued Shia LeBeouf. Highlights: Black nonchalance, “the architecture of abolition,” Nipsey Hussle, our unlived lives, the history of femme superheroes, Nancy Meyers’ cinematic universe, how COVID-19 changed science, Mormonism, Oreo’s simple brand strategy, and Dionne Warwick’s tweets. 



1. The Yale Review: Unbothered

I was so excited and curious reading this essay by Namwali Serpell on how Black culture is infused with unbothered-ness. Serpell, a professor of English at Harvard, looks at how the internet capitalizes on Black unbothered-ness via memes and GIFs, and traces how nonchalance appears in Black music such as the spirituals of slavery and contemporary singers and rappers like Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion. 

While “Black nonchalance has long been mistaken for laziness, lassitude, indolence, ignorance,” Serpell goes on to discuss how “in the pantheon of black feeling, nonchalance is not a god like righteous anger or crazy love. Nor is it a minor deity, like Sianne Ngai’s racialized affects of ‘irritation’—the tendency to experience racial micro-­aggressions as a pervasive dissatisfaction—and ‘animatedness,’ which treats black people’s bodies as malleable, manipulable, excitable objects. Black nonchalance doesn’t react to racism. Or rather, it performs nonreaction. It isn’t unfeeling; it’s unfazed. It isn’t callous; it’s cool. It registers and refuses at once. It declines, in the sense that it withholds consent.”

The fact of the matter is that “a mask of nonchalance wouldn’t be necessary if violence weren’t the very air we breathe here.”


2. Cabinet: No Man’s Land

Elleza Kelley’s imagination in this article on “the architecture of abolition” is absolutely beautiful. In imaging the architecture of abolition, Kelley considers that “There are many kinds of open,” quoting Audre Lorde’s poem “Carol.” Unprofitable urban areas are often “discursively produced as dangerous blind spots, places that evade the scopic gaze of the state. Alleyways, underpasses, airshafts, rooftops: places that on paper are uninhabitable but in practice are lived in and utilized, typically in clandestine, ephemeral, collective ways.” 

One is often told to imagine a utopia to transgress and dismantle oppressive systems. “I always thought utopia meant heaven,” writes Kelley. “I went to college and found out that its etymology is ‘no-place,’ that the fantasy of utopia is not its perfection or beauty or ethics but the fact of its impossibility… What if utopia is the place we arrive at when we get rid of place—its markers, its border walls, its statues, its flags, its forts, its pens?” What happens when we consider abolition’s relationship to land and the many kinds of openness that exist and can be? 


3. NPR: Caught In The System

I didn’t know much about Nipsey Hussle before he was murdered in 2019. When he died, I read many obituaries and learned some of the facts of his life, but what struck me the most was the palpable love he had for his neighborhood of Crenshaw, and how much it loved him back.

Since his death, “the story of Nipsey Hussle’s life has been retold into mythology, a hip-hop fairy tale, one that reinforces the illusion of the American dream: a self-made man who came up from the bottom, stayed connected with his community and used his art as a vehicle to change it. But the irony of his untimely death sheds light on the larger backdrop of inequality in his hood — the phenomenon of mass supervision in Black communities.”


4. The New Yorker: What If You Could Do It All Over?

Reading this was very strange for me. Joshua Rothman explores the unlived lives we all have and why we have them: “because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time.” I think this was strange for me because I am in graduate school, with one semester left. I’m getting an MFA, which is generally considered a terminal degree in fine arts fields (this is changing, but many consider a PhD in Fine Art obsolete), and, in some ways, my life feels like it is closing in on me. I know I could go to more graduate school to study art history or critical theory or some related field, but I’ve done the thing—at least in terms of education—in my chosen field. 

People haven’t always wondered “what if” in the ways we do today, and Rothman tracks this history and its relationship to capitalism, individualism, a decline in religion, and the belief in an afterlife—“given just a single shot at existence, we owe it to ourselves to hit the mark; we must not just survive but thrive.” In describing the work of philosopher Charles Taylor, Rothman writes that “we learned to think of ourselves as ‘deep’ individuals, with hidden wellsprings of feeling and talent that we owed it to ourselves to find. At the same time, we came to see ourselves objectively—as somewhat interchangeable members of the same species and of a competitive mass society. Subjectivity and objectivity both grew more intense. We came to feel that our lives, pictured from the outside, failed to reflect the vibrancy within.” The kind of fantasy and desire that imaging unlived lives requires “is painful, but it’s an odd kind of pain—hypothetical, paradoxical. Even as we regret who we haven’t become, we value who we are. We seem to find meaning in what’s never happened. Our self-portraits use a lot of negative space.”

I don’t feel quite old enough to wonder “what if” in a retrospective sense, but I do wonder “what now.” What do I do now to lessen the chance that I’ll wonder “what if” in the future? But this might be a young person’s question. 


5. Hazlitt: Wonder Women

I love superhero movies! Generally, I am a Marvel fan and have seen all of the movies in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe multiple times, but I also frequently watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, DC Comics movies, and a lot of sci-fi action movies (like Godzilla and Pacific Rim) that are not superhero movies but feel like superhero movies to me. I watch these movies for escapism and comfort, knowing their endings as I have already watched them, but also appreciating their predictability in structure and narrative. I like not having to think and I enjoy being acritical in my analyses. And while I love the superhero genre and the escapism it offers, I do get tired of watching (mostly) white men save the world on an infinite loop. But hey! That is what She-Ra is for!

Here, Soraya Roberts breaks down the history of women superheroes in Hollywood from 1984’s Wonder Woman, through Catwoman and Elektra, to Jessica Jones and Captain Marvel, to the anticipated Christmas release of Wonder Woman 1984. While the recent push for women to be superheroes in movies and on TV might seem major, “film, television, comics, each of these media only has women starring in under 20 percent of its titles,” Roberts notes. “That may be a 300 percent growth from a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean the representation is fair, it just means it’s slightly less unfair than it was. Hollywood may want to diversify its audience, but not at the expense of the old one. That means you start with white women, maybe some men of colour, but women of colour? They may make up the majority of earth but they make up the minority in superhero movies.” At the end of the day, Hollywood cares about its bottom line. 


6. Vulture: Nancy Meyers Searches for Her Own Comfort

Although I’d seen many Nancy Meyers movies before, I couldn’t have told you that they were written or directed by her, or really anything else about her, until this week. But as I learned via Twitter (this interview circulated like wildfire), Nancy Meyers has a cult following. 

Meyers describes her movies as “optimistic.” Hans Zimmer says, “Nancy makes movies about how love is possible. And she makes movies that are about decency.” And many of her films engender a sense of comfort. 

In this interview, Rachel Handler and Meyers reflect on her career which includes such classics as Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, Something’s Gotta Give, and The Holiday.” Meyers and Handler “grappled with her legacy as a filmmaker, discussing everything from her relationship to the male critics that have dismissed her work as ‘chick flicks,’ to the fans who fixate on and meme-ify details she finds merely incidental (the kitchen islands, the all-white outfits), to the quantifiable and unquantifiable elements that really do define her cinematic universe.”


7. The Atlantic: How Science Beat the Virus

Everything I’ve read that Ed Yong has written about the pandemic has been so thorough and nuanced, and so necessary. In this article, Yong discusses how the pandemic has changed science in that “as of this writing, the biomedical library PubMed lists more than 74,000 COVID-related scientific papers—more than twice as many as there are about polio, measles, cholera, dengue, or other diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries.”

Apart from the sheer volume of scientific articles about COVID-19, the ways in which the field is addressing those problems is also shifting, harkening back to theories developed by Rudolf Virchow, the “father of modern pathology.” Virchow, 170 years ago, “advocate[d] for social reforms” when he investigated a typhus epidemic in Upper Silesia, observing that “its spread was possible because of malnutrition, hazardous working conditions, crowded housing, poor sanitation, and the inattention of civil servants and aristocrats—problems that require social and political reforms,” although he had not identified the disease.

Today, “To study COVID‑19 is not only to study the disease itself as a biological entity… What looks like a single problem is actually all things, all at once. So what we’re actually studying is literally everything in society, at every scale, from supply chains to individual relationships,” says the Social Science Research Council president, Alondra Nelson, who is quoted in this article.  

This is a must-read on the future of the pandemic, of science, and of how both intersect with countless social systems and highlight the inequities that have always been present. 


8. The Atlantic: The Most American Religion

I’ve learned a lot about Mormonism over the past year and a half as some people in my graduate program are Mormon, and it has been the subject matter of or has greatly influenced their art practices. Before this program, most of what I knew about Mormonism was from a brief unit in a high school world religions class. 

I’m always interested in learning about others’ belief systems. I learned a lot from this article—some parts of the church’s history were clarified for me, as were some of the changes the church recently made on its LGBTQ+ stances. I also think, as one Black member of the Church, Tamu Smith states, “that an apology is necessary” for its past racism. And while my understanding about the religion is still developing, I will say that one of my main contentions with Mormonism is how actively its missionaries recruit and convert people. I’m skeptical of any religion that has missionaries, but the fact that “the Church now averages nearly 700 converts a day” makes me very distrustful. 


9. New York Times: We Asked: Why Does Oreo Keep Releasing New Flavors?

Wowwwww. The answer to the titular question, “why does Oreo keep releasing new flavors,” is so “stunning in its simplicity” that it is almost hard to fathom. Releasing new flavors “help[s] drive consumers back to milk’s alleged favorite, the 108-year-old paterfamilias, the plain old Oreo.”

This is the kind of brand strategy that is so simple (and so macro) that it is almost impossible for it to fail. It also makes a lot of sense as everyone already knows what an Oreo is—“milk’s favorite cookie”—and helps to explain why “Oreo has introduced 65 flavors, including, in the last three years alone, Hot Chicken Wing Oreos, Wasabi Oreos, Crispy Tiramisù Oreos and Carrot Cake Oreos.”


10. Elle: The Year 2020 As Told By Dionne Warwick Tweets

LMAOOOOOO. I, like much of the internet, discovered Dionne Warwick’s Twitter account this week and it is amazing!!! Warwick has joined the cache of “beloved older celebrities carrying on and occasionally throwing shade,” and it is very 2020. This account, and the memes and the SNL sketch it spawned, have really made me laugh in a way I quite simply enjoyed this week. 


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