The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 12/6

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The internet was a little all over the place this week but I also loved it. Highlights: Julia Bullock, Yo-Yo Ma, America is getting less religious, Indigenous Europe, the food of fantasy worlds, secret diaries, lesbian rom-coms, Mariah Carey is the kitsch queen of Christmas, Michigan’s vote certification, and Forbes 30 under 30. 


1. YouTube: Julia Bullock: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

This season will be the first time in five classical music seasons that I will not see Julia Bullock perform live. I was first drawn to Bullock because of her voice, but the more I learned about her, and the more media she gets and interviews she does, I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways she frames her practice. I’ve seen her perform all classical programs, pieces commissioned while she was an artist-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Operas, and programs like this—a combination of songs from the classical music canon and those of American resistance. 

For this concert, her decision to include German and American songs was guided by her experience as an American living in Germany, “feeling simultaneously bound and distant to what is going on in the US.” The last song, an arrangement by Jeremy Siskind of Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” has been a touchstone for me after I first saw a video of Bullock performing it a cappella in 2017

Julia Bullock—like Jazmine Sullivan and beautiful pictures of Rihanna or Tessa Thompson—is someone that I often include in these lists. Even over video, her warm presence and extreme intentionality shines through. If you are interested in the intersections of classical music (particularly opera), politics, and social justice, her Instagram account is a must-follow. 


2. New York Times Magazine: Yo-Yo Ma and the Meaning of Life

Cello is one of my favorite instruments but I don’t know much about. I also don’t frequently listen to Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist with perhaps the greatest name recognition today. Sure, I have a few of his recordings, but I usually prefer Astrid Schween, Jacqueline Du Pre, or Alisa Weilerstein. I have nothing against Ma, but just don’t connect as much with his interpretations as I do others. 

This is the first piece of media on Ma (apart from his Wikipedia page) that I’ve consumed in years and I absolutely loved reading this interview with David Marchese. Ma is incredibly generous and never creates a hierarchy of knowledge or expertise between himself and Marchese. In fact, he does the opposite. After Marchese states that he is “fully aware that my engagement with music is minuscule compared with your own,” Ma affirms him by responding, “Don’t say that. I know you like music. You’re interested. You think about it. So don’t assume I know more than you.” So much is covered here: politics, art, cultural appropriation, and whether or not music is inherently good. 


3. The Atlantic: The Supreme Court Is Colliding With a Less-Religious America

While I was baptized and raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (although my dad and his family are Catholic) I have not considered myself religious for at least a decade. Generally, white Christian Americans are not in my social spheres. Sure, there are some but they are in the minority, and I seriously had to question if anyone I am close with would actively describe themselves as a Christian. I couldn’t think of one person.

While Americans are becoming increasingly less religious, the Supreme Court is taking on “religious liberty” cases with increased frequency, and the conservative majority of the court is ruling in the Christians’ favor. “White Americans who identified as Christians made up a majority of the nation’s population for most of its history—about two-thirds of the adult population as recently as the late 1990s,” writes Ronald Brownstein. “But sometime between 2010 and 2012, white Christians, for the first time, fell below majority status.” In spite of this, what is happening, as Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, explains in this article, “is this effort to turn religious freedom into religious privilege.” Robert P. Jones, the founder and CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, speculates here that part of this is due to “the sense that something is sunsetting, something is ending … has set off the kind of feeling of vulnerability, feeling of persecution, feeling of grief, all these things. Trump didn’t create them, but he has stoked those worries and concerns.”


4. White Awake: The Vast and Beautiful World of Indigenous Europe

I’ve been spending a lot more time recently thinking about and discussing Indigenous cultures of Europe and how they “sustained forced assimilation by the Roman Empire and other hegemonic forces.” I’ve been thinking a lot about how certain European cultures colonized other European cultures before setting their sights on the rest of the world. 

This article isn’t from this week, although a friend sent it to me and I read it for the first time this week. Lyla June, who is of Diné and European heritage, discusses her relationship to all of her ancestors, addressing how “our task is to honor our ancestors, even those who caved beneath the weight of systematic destruction and became conquerors themselves.”


5. Lit Hub: On Colonial Nostalgia and Food in Fantasy Writing

This summer, as I was perusing Instagram, a video of celebrity chef Claire Saffitz popped up on my Explore page, in which she is gushing over her love of potatoes. The video made me furious—how dare a white person love potatoes when “most of the credit for the potato surely belongs to the Andean peoples who domesticated it” as Charles C. Mann wrote for Smithsonian magazine. I was so irate that I had to call a friend to rant about why white people shouldn’t be allowed to love potatoes. I was, and still am, aware that that statement is a bit overreaching—and my reaction was exacerbated by the fact that Saffitz was at the time a Bon Appetit Test Kitchen chef, and the magazine was in the midst of a racial reckoning. But the frustration is still present when people extract food from its cultural context and capitalize on it, while its history becomes more and more obscured with each iteration of this cycle. 

Part of world-building in fantasy writing is imagining the food of a culture that does not exist. Many times, however, when writers create cuisine for fictitious cultures they “divorce food from its context, [and] tend to play into narratives that reinforce racism, colonialist ideals, and white supremacy.” In this essay, Lizzy Saxe gives many examples of this—from Willy Wonka, to Game of Thrones, to James Cameron’s Avatar—and why it is so significant and how many franchises capitalize on such foods (I’m thinking about butterbeer, here). While this essay is very nuanced, it can be essentialized into one statement: “If you’re going to make up an entire people from scratch—or write about any culture not your own—you need to do it well.”


6. Atavist Magazine: Castle in the Sky 

When renovating a Victorian house in San Francisco, Christina Lalanne found a diary from 1900 belonging to Hans Jorgen Hansen, the man who built her house. Hans wasn’t the only person who wrote in the diary, however, he shared it with a woman named Anna. “How unusual, I thought, for two people to share a diary—even more so because, according to historical records, Hans’s wife was named Christine.” As Lalanne describes the story that the diary holds, she also describes the journey of uncovering what happened to Hans and Anna and discovering who they were in real life. Handwriting is very personal, and that seems to be where Lalanne started: “Anna’s was neat, polite, and comfortably contained by the page. Hans, whose writing made up 90 percent of our find, had a bolder stroke.” This article is fascinating as it shuffles many stories: the story of Hans, of Anna, of their shared diary, and of Lalanne herself. 


7. BuzzFeed: The New Kristen Stewart Lesbian Rom-Com Is Kind Of A Bummer

I watched Happiest Season, “the new Kirsten Stewart lesbian Rom-Com” written by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland, last weekend. The film follows a fairly typical plot: “Harper [Mackenzie Davis] isn’t out to her hypercompetitive Waspy family, which means when she takes Abby [Kirsten Stewart] home for the holidays, Abby’s forced back into the closet.” I mostly enjoyed the film, but was a bit skeptical about how white and upper-middle-class everything was, and what that meant for representation. I was also disappointed in the ending in the same way writer Shannon Keating was: instead of Abby forgiving Harper and staying together after Harper continuously pushed her back into the closet, I wish “Abby told Harper that she loved and cared for her, but didn’t want to hitch her wagon to someone who still has a lot of work to do when it comes to processing and unpacking her internalized homophobia. And we still could have gotten the requisite happy ending that way: Harper forging new bonds with her family, and, hear me out, Abby running away with Riley [Aubrey Plaza].” In this way, and many others, “Happiest Season is neither a provocative queer portrait nor a good-time blockbuster; it’s stuck in some sort of middling in-between.”

I think Keating’s response in relation to mine is interesting, as one of my friends greatly related to Harper because she also had a hard time coming out to her family, and for her it was exactly the representation she needed. I’ve watched the movie again, and I keep thinking of my friend’s response. 


8. YouTube: Mariah Carey – Oh Santa! (Official Music Video) ft. Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson

I love Mariah Carey. I love how she completely indulges in spectacle. I don’t love holiday songs, but I can listen to Carey sing them forever. 

This performance was released as part of Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special, which premiered on Apple TV on Friday. I have yet to watch the special, but I am EXTREMELY excited to watch it as the singer is being heralded as saving Christmas 2020 with the star-studded event. And honestly, that shouldn’t be shocking considering “All I Want for Christmas is You hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts 25 years after its release. Carey has long established herself as the musical and kitsch queen of the holiday season and it’s no surprise that this year is no different, especially since she is celebrating the 30th year of her career this year


9. Twitter: Ryan J. Riley on Michigan’s Vote Certification

This video of Melissa Carone from the legislative hearing for the certification of Michigan’s votes has been viewed over 20 million times. Michigan is one of the many states targeted by Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, for allegedly committing voter fraud in November’s election—although that claim has absolutely no basis. In the video, star witness Carone spouted unfounded accusations of voter fraud. Of her performance, Lili Loofbourow wrote for Slate that Carone is “the slurring but concentrated version of a particular kind of American ‘authenticity’ whose very mockability is its potency: a type as confident as it is ignorant, so righteous and blustery and simultaneously sincere and unhampered by facts or deference that it makes terrific TV.” As someone who grew up in and lives in Michigan, I’ve had many interactions with all variations of Melissa Carone’s type. While it is unsurprising, what is happening here is still incredibly dangerous


10. Forbes: 30 Under 30

Forbes released its annual lists of 30 Under 30. While these lists rightfully get critiqued for promoting capitalist notions of productivity and unrealistic (and in some cases unsustainable) expectations for success, they are interesting to look at. I really enjoyed the Art & Style picks this year, including MICA alumna (and my friend) Faith Couch


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