The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 7/11

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The internet was kinda sad and overwhelming this week. Highlights: Cat Person, Britney Spears, Jazmine Hughes on Lil Nas X, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure decision, remembering Ayesha K. Faines, reflecting on the legacy of Haunani-Kay Trask, Zalia Avant-garde, Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, internet rot, and we might all be addicted to caffeine.


1. Slate: “Cat Person” and Me

I remember when Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” was first published in 2017 in the New Yorker and ripped across the internet. Everywhere I looked, someone was posting about it, and I had many offline conversations about the story. Since I’ve been writing this column for nearly four years, that story is always one of the first that comes to mind when I think of viral media. “Roupenian’s story was the first work of short fiction to ever go viral,” writes Alexis Nowicki.

The story “follows its protagonist, Margot, a college sophomore, as she navigates a relationship with an older man named Robert.” After flirting, the two go on a date, and throughout their relationship “Margot vacillates between feeling disgusted by him and wanting more. Eventually, when they sleep together, Margot finds herself repulsed, creating an imaginary boyfriend in her head to laugh about the awful sex with later. In the following weeks, as she attempts to ghost him, Robert sends Margot texts that become increasingly aggressive, culminating in an encounter at a campus bar that leads him to text her: ‘Whore.’”

As the story blazed across the internet, Nowicki, and those that knew her, found elements of the story uncannily similar to her own life. Some of the story’s details that overlapped with her experience included “my workplace, my hometown, his appearance, the location of our first date,” Nowicki writes. The story’s main thrust—about the power differential between a young woman and a man several years older, and the eventual repulsion Margot feels about Robert—differs from Nowicki’s experience with her ex, whom she refers to in this essay as Charles. After Charles died suddenly last fall, and after months of contemplation, Nowicki eventually emailed Roupenian about these similarities.

From Roupenian’s response, in part: “When I was living in Ann Arbor, I had an encounter with a man. I later learned, from social media, that this man previously had a much younger girlfriend. I also learned a handful of facts about her: that she worked in a movie theater, that she was from a town adjacent to Ann Arbor, and that she was an undergrad at the same school I attended as a grad student. Using those facts as a jumping-off point, I then wrote a story that was primarily a work of the imagination, but which also drew on my own personal experiences, both past and present. In retrospect, I was wrong not to go back and remove those biographical details, especially the name of the town. Not doing so was careless.”

This essay and Roupenian’s response have given a more public forum to conversations about the genre of autofiction, “writing that, in its raw and confessional style, seems to blur the boundaries between the real and the invented.” Nowicki’s essay troubles the blurry line between fiction and nonfiction, writing about what it meant to process her past relationship through a viral story. And just like “Cat Person,” this essay is blazing across the internet. 



2. The New Yorker: Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Nightmare

I’ve read a lot about Briteny Spears and her conservatorship over the past month. Of everything I’ve read, including her statement at a hearing on June 23rd, this article by Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino has given me the most comprehensive picture of the conservatorship and its implications. This isn’t to say that Spears isn’t the foremost expert on her treatment in the conservatorship, but the way that Farrow and Tolentino structured and contextualized Spears’ experience helped me further grasp how exploitative the situation is. Reading this felt like reading a culmination of everything else that I have read. 



3. New York Times Magazine: The Subversive Joy of Lil Nas X’s Gay Pop Stardom

I like Lil Nas X because of the discourse that surrounds him. On its own, I do not particularly enjoy his music, but I appreciate what it does, and that “to have a young, strong, Black man openly identify as a bottom — a feminized position that’s often the target of misogynistic ire — is rare, a subversion of both power structures and social codes.”

A lot is always written of Lil Nas as he is a consummate internet troll—”gam[ing] social media by ‘tweetdecking’ — coordinating with other users to make tweets (often content stolen from smaller accounts) go viral.” I knew when I saw this profile that I wanted to include it because the writer, Jazmine Hughes, is Black, a lesbian, 29, understands many of the spaces in which Lil Nas dwells, and she always has beautiful and thoughtful writing. While I do enjoy the photos by Shikeith, I was more drawn to the writing here than anything else. 



4. CBS: Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones on turning down UNC role following tenure controversy 

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, best known for her work on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, rejected an offer for tenure at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill after a national controversy. As explained in this video, Hannah-Jones only received her tenure offer months after the faculty unanimously supported her lifelong appointment, weeks of student protests, a threat of litigation, and a national public outcry.

Hannah-Jones believes that the reason for such a delay has to do with her race and gender and that some of her views challenge major donors at the university and politically appointed trustees. Of her decision to decline UNC’s offer and accept a Knight Chair position at Howard University, Hannah-Jones stated, “I’ve spent my entire life proving that I belong in elite white spaces that were not built for Black people. . . . I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. Black professionals should feel free, and actually, perhaps [have] an obligation to go to our own institutions and bring our talents and resources to our own institutions. . . . It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina. That’s the job of the people in power who created this situation in the first place.”



5. Instagram: @corylscott Remembers Ayesha K. Faines

Journalist and influencer Ayesha K. Faines died on July 2. Her cause of death has not been made public. A central panelist on The Grapevine TV, an online talk show that covers pressing social issues that affect Black people across the diaspora, Faines’ death has rippled across social media where there has been an outpouring of tributes from family, friends, and fans. 

Cory L. Scott was a panelist on The Grapevine with Faines, and his tribune encapsulates the impact she had: “[Faines] was brilliant and insightful—there was no one on any panel—on any episode—that carried as much consequence when they spoke as Ayesha K. Faines.”

I’ve watched many episodes of The Grapevine TV. Through a screen, I easily observed the consequence Scott speaks of, and I always knew when she was on an episode I would have to do some googling and research after. Faines’ impact was immense, and “she changed the lives of all those who have shared space and time with her.”



6. Honolulu Civil Beat: Trisha Kehaulani Watson: The Passing Of Haunani-Kay Trask And The Uplifting Of A Nation

Native Hawaiian activist and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask died on Saturday. She was 71. She was known as “a fearless and bold advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty. She was ever unafraid to call out injustice and colonialism.” Trask was also an excellent scholar, and for writer Trisha Kehaulani Watson, “no scholar has had a more profound impact on the intellectual development of the Hawaiian community. Not only because of her own scholarship, but more so because of her foresight that if her discourse was to truly become part of an enduring movement, it would require subsequent generations to carry her work forward.”



7. Twitter: Scripps National Spelling Bee Winner Zaila Avant-garde

Zaila Avant-garde won the Scripps National Bee, becoming the first Black American to win the competition after successfully spelling “murraya.” The internet is absolutely falling in love with Avant-garde. Every time I’ve opened my computer since she won on Thursday I’ve seen posts about the 14-year-old, many of which are in awe of her talent for basketball and three world records for dribbling. I mean, Google even animated her search page (hopefully that link doesn’t rot.) 



8. The Guardian: Haiti requests US troops to protect infrastructure after assassination

On Wednesday, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. According to Haitian police, “the assassination was carried out by 26 Colombian and two Haitian American mercenaries. Seventeen of the suspects were captured after a gun battle in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince. Three others were killed and eight remain at large.”

The assassination has caused a flux of uncertainty, and Haitian officials have “requested military support to protect port, airport and gasoline facilities and other key infrastructure,” a request confirmed by the US state department. However, “any US military presence is likely to be highly controversial” as the US, UN, and other colonial powers have long histories of exacerbating political and economic instability in the country. Of the possible US presence, student and activist Kinsley Jean stated that he was “fervently” against it, and that “to this day, every foreign intervention has brought more problems to the Haitian people. The last intervention of the United Nations brought cholera and killed thousands of people. . . . I don’t think the solution will come from foreign intervention.”



9. The Atlantic: The Internet Is Rotting

This column ostensibly only exists in the form of links. Of course, I write little snippets about everything included here, but the main structure of The Internet Is Exploding is formed from other articles, other links. 

Link rot is when the webpage a link points to is eliminated. Since the creation of the internet, more and more of humanity’s knowledge is stored online and transmitted through networks that have “central control, or even easy central monitoring.” While this lack of centrality is part of what makes the internet work, and was particularly important in its earlier days, “people tend to overlook the decay of the modern web, when in fact these numbers are extraordinary—they represent a comprehensive breakdown in the chain of custody for facts. Libraries exist, and they still have books in them, but they aren’t stewarding a huge percentage of the information that people are linking to, including within formal, legal documents. No one is.”

Sometimes I think of this column as my personal archive, but I know it is not. I know it could rot one day. In some ways, the rot has already begun. Occasionally I’ll search BmoreArt’s archive for an article I included years ago and find that it is no longer there; it’s rotted away. 



10. The Guardian: The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?

My relationship with caffeine ebbs and flows, but I intentionally do not consume caffeine every day. If I can’t actively remember the last time I went a day without caffeine, I’ll take a few days off. This usually isn’t hard for me; at most, I consume caffeine about five days a week. I can also go weeks without consuming caffeine (or only consuming it once a week) and not notice.

Most people I know consume caffeine every day, usually in the form of coffee, and often openly (and somewhat jokingly) admit to an addiction. Caffeine addiction is “so pervasive that it’s easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, an altered state. It just happens to be a state that virtually all of us share, rendering it invisible.”

While humanity’s relationship with caffeine is relatively new, coffee has still been around for hundreds of years, first cultivated in the 15th century in east Africa and traded throughout the Arabian peninsula. “In 1629 the first coffeehouses in Europe, styled on Arab and Turkish models, popped up in Venice, and the first such establishment in England was opened in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish immigrant,” writes Michael Pollan. 

I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with caffeine. I’ve spent considerably less time thinking about how it works: “by blocking the action of adenosine, a molecule that gradually accumulates in the brain over the course of the day, preparing the body to rest. Caffeine molecules interfere with this process, keeping adenosine from doing its job – and keeping us feeling alert” and “for as long as people have been drinking coffee and tea, medical authorities have warned about the dangers of caffeine.”

My caffeine consumption has been higher than I like recently, and after reading this I wonder if I need to take a longer and more intentional break. 



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