The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 2/28

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I was into the internet this week! Highlights: Cornel West, acting Black and white, Black intimacy at card tables, Bayard Rustin, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Chloe x Halle, Dolly Parton’s moment, Billie Eilish, the 30th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs, and why Canadian butter isn’t as soft as it once was. 


1. YouTube: Cornel West – “My Ridiculous Situation at Harvard”

The academic and activist Cornel West was recently denied tenure at Harvard after previously receiving the title of University Professor at the school in 1997, and receiving tenure at both Yale and Princeton universities. While West’s current position isn’t a tenure-track one, he has publicly threatened resignation from Harvard should he not receive tenure and respect for his decades-long career. In this conversation with his former colleague Tricia Rose, West discusses his theories of why Harvard won’t give him tenure, why tenure is so important, and the politics of academia. This conversation is largely based on principle, respect, and self-respect, which are all important, but as @ft_variations points out in a Twitter thread, “it actually matters whether we are debating a point of principle or rallying behind someone who has been concretely harmed or is in a vulnerable position.”

I highly recommend watching the video and reading the thread, they provide a lot of context to each other. 


2. The New Yorker: Acting Black and White Onscreen

This review by Hilton Als of Rebecca Hall’s Passing—starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga based on Nella Larsen’s novel of the same name—and Lee Daniels’ The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Suzan-Lori Parks’ adaptation from a Johann Hari book) is both insightful and entertaining. The first half is dedicated to Passing and how “how passing itself becomes a kind of race, with its own codes of behavior, carefully drawn lines, and exclusions.” 

The second part of the review (and largely why I included this) is an incisive, yet known, read of Lee Daniels and The United States vs. Billie Holiday. This part is short as “I don’t want you to spend too much time on Lee Daniels’s new movie about Holiday … because you won’t find much of Billie Holiday in it—and certainly not the superior intelligence of a true artist. What you’ll find instead is an illustration of the nasty impulses that spell out Daniels’s interest in degradation… the director of such deep-fried-chicken-and-pain movies as ‘Precious’ (2009), Daniels has emerged as a skewed moralist, one who, although he is Black, seems to feel that most Black people are both power-mad and powerless, and therefore fodder to be pimped out, debased, and manipulated.” 

LMAO! That is a read if I have ever read one, and the reason I try to avoid Daniels’ movies. 


3. New York Times Magazine: A World of Black Intimacy at the Card Tables

I have only played spades a handful of times. I usually decline to play any sort of game when asked to play. I’m okay at the card game, and am decent at board and strategy games generally, but I mostly play with my immediate family. I am very particular about most things, something that is exacerbated playing games, and can become whiny easily—which is often also exacerbated by playing games. It is not fun for anyone. Instead, I watch, or find some other way to entertain myself. 

Card games, particularly spades, are an intimate part of Black culture. Playing spades with someone is a quick way to get to know them or learn someone you know in a deeper way. Hanif Abdurraqib writes of the intimate space card tables hold in his life and memories. “I see my friends best when I can see them during a game of spades. How, in their playing, they become the parts of their personalities that I most envy.” While spades is “just a card game” it can also be “a conduit for something greater, or a window into a more vital community.”


4. NPR: Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the March on Washingto‪n‬

So many people don’t know about Bayard Rustin and it always makes me so sad. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s right-hand person, Rustin was the architect of the American Civil Rights Movement as we know it today. “Rustin imagined how nonviolent civil resistance could be used to dismantle segregation in the United States. He organized around the idea for years and eventually introduced it to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But his identity as a gay man made him a target, obscured his rightful status and made him feel forced to choose, again and again, which aspect of his identity was most important.”


5. Harper’s Bazaar: How the Studio Museum in Harlem Transformed the Art World Forever

There are a lot of things I like about this: The photos, mini artist profiles, and highlights of the impact Black women and artists have had on the museum. “Since its founding in 1968, the Studio Museum has cultivated some of the most lively debates, thrilling exhibitions, and boldest innovators of Black art that our country has ever seen. Before then, Black artists in New York primarily had to rely for exposure on the city’s predominantly white-led museums or the bohemian galleries in Greenwich Village, which largely ignored or marginalized them.”

I’m not totally sure why, but I’ve been wanting to go to the Studio Museum a lot more recently. The building has “been closed since 2018 due to a $175 million multi-year expansion project,” hopefully it will be done by the next time I get to New York, which might take a few years. 


6. YouTube: Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour (Official Video)

Damn, they did it again. I mean Chloe x Halle really are winning the pandemic. Everything they do is just so good? I’m sure they would have produced amazing work even if we weren’t in a pandemic, but they have adapted to our current circumstances remarkably well. Furthermore, most of the performances and videos the singing duo have done or released since June are based on their sophomore album, Ungodly Hour, which is honestly amazing, and it helps to have a strong foundation. You can create amazing visuals for a mediocre song, but it is so nice when the song is great as well. 

I’m not a student of music videos, and can’t give this video a proper analysis in the context of the history of music videos, but I am so excited for someone who knows more about the subject to write an article or post a video online. 


7. Essaying: The Dolly Moment

I adore reading essays about Dolly Parton. I can only name three of her songs off the top of my head (“I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5,” and “Jolene”), and will probably never sit down with her whole catalogue, but I always make time to read about her. While much of the recent writing I’ve read on Parton is largely based in personal experience and narrative, but here Tressie McMillan Cottom does a kind of meta-analysis of the singer, focusing on what she dubs “The Dolly Parton Moment” of the past five years and how she became “a reigning queen among pop culture’s most elite celebrity tier: the ‘unproblematic fave.’”


8. Vanity Fair: The Charming Billie Eilish 

When Billie Eilish first started to gain popularity I was high-key skeptical. I saw pictures of her circulating before I ever heard her sing, and wasn’t convinced of her image or her brand. That was in 2017, and it took me at least another year before I could recognize any of her songs. Over the past few years, I’ve become less entranced with the importance (or lack thereof) of celebrity brands. I’m still working through my thoughts on this, but I’ve realized that celebrities can matter a lot, but they also don’t have to—and the same goes for their brands.  

Generally, I just read profiles for the pictures, and skim the writing. But, with this review, I think I was more interested in the writing, largely because Keziah Weir openly acknowledges that “to profile a celebrity is to dip a toe into the waters of extreme fandom—it is both thrilling and banal to see Eilish pop up on Zoom.”

I’m warming up to Eilish, and this profile helped. 


9. Vanity Fair: “Dr. Lecter, My Name Is Clarice Starling”

Before I knew better, one time I decided to watch The Silence of the Lambs late at night. I had already seen the movie and knew its premise: “FBI trainee Clarice Starling, [is] sent to the figurative depths of hell to probe the mind of the refined, if cannibalistic, serial killer Hannibal Lecter and secure his advice about capturing another depraved murderer named Buffalo Bill.” Naturally, I fell asleep watching the movie and had very strange dreams for the next couple of nights. As Jodi Foster, who played Starling, stated in this interview, “The movie is so scary because it seeps into people’s consciousness through fears. It really works on fear more than anything else.” It fully seeped into both my consciousness and unconsciousness.

The Silence of the Lambs is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Foster and Anthony Hopkins, who played Hannibal Lecter, spoke with Vanity Fair’s Tananarive Due about the film, how it has aged, its cultural impact, and some of the decisions Hopkins made that rendered Lecter so scary.  


10. The Globe and Mail: Is your butter not as soft as it used to be? The pandemic and our urge to bake is partly to blame – along with palm oil

I love reading stories about seemingly innocuous things. This article is from a Canadian publication, and I’m not sure if American butter is not as soft as it used to be—I haven’t been paying attention. In Canada, however, butter isn’t as soft as it used to be, apparently because of palm oil supplements in the cow feed. The oil is then transferred to the cow’s milk, which eventually causes the butter to be more firm as palm oil has a higher melting point. 

Never did I think I would be this interested in Canadian butter, but here I am. 


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