The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 7/4

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Wow! There was a lot going on this week. I’m not celebrating the 4th. Highlights: How Twitter can ruin a life, remembering Lauren Berlant, forgiveness and accountability, Tabitha Brown on Wendy Williams, Bill Cosby, Sha’Carri Richardson, a man named Gary, Zola, Canada Day, and the BET Awards. 



1. Vox: How Twitter can ruin a life

I vaguely remember when Isabel Fall’s science fiction short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” came out and “drew the ire of the internet.” Published in the online magazine Clarkesworld, the story “explores three separate but interconnected ideas: gender as an innate part of the self, gender as a performance for society, and gender as a (literal) weapon of the state.” The storywas enormous news within the bubble of people who cared about it and made barely a blip outside of that bubble,” writes Emily VanDerWerff. Although the story was only online for ten days before being taken down at Fall’s request, it garnered many irate responses from all corners of the internet. 

The story takes its title from a transphobic meme that “most likely originated on the forums for the game Team Fortress 2 before making its way to Reddit and 4chan, where it became a meme used to mock and demean trans people who spoke earnestly about their experiences and identities. The meme is transphobic on its face, because it suggests that one’s gender can be decided on a whim.” For her story, Fall took the sentiment seriously; “at its core, ‘Attack Helicopter’ is about the intersection of gender and American hegemony.”

Part of the reason “Attack Helicopter”—later retitled “Helicopter Story”—was so controversial was due to the fact that, at the time, Fall “was not yet ready to be publicly out as a trans woman, but hoped that writing it for a niche publication in a community that is frequently friendly to queer writers would be a good way to get her feet wet.” Apart from the author’s byline, there was no information about Fall online. While “Gatekeeping in a trans space usually involves loosely enforced rules that focus on giving those who exist within them a safe place to explore their identity,” people were skeptical of Fall, and “anonymity isn’t always welcome on the internet, where an anonymous identity can be weaponized for the worst. That gap — between the good-faith anonymity assumed in trans spaces and the bad-faith anonymity increasingly assumed online — was the one Fall wandered into.”

In her first time speaking to a journalist since “Attack Helicopter” was published, Fall tells her side of the story, explaining how Twitter can ruin a life. 


2. UChicago News: Lauren Berlant, preeminent literary scholar and cultural theorist, 1957–2021

Renowned University of Chicago professor, scholar, and cultural theorist Lauren Berlant died on Monday. They were 63. Best known for their award-winning 2011 book Cruel Optimism, Berlant “sought to define the desires and emotions that compel people to create forms of life that support a sense of belonging, and the complex ways in which gender, race, citizenship, class and sexuality affect and mold those attachments.” Members of the humanities community across the world and across social media platforms are grieving Berlant, a titan of their discourse. 

If you are not familiar with Berlant’s work, UChicago has made some of it available to download to honor their legacy. 



3. Culture Study: “Nobody is owed forgiveness”

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s comment, in this interview with Anne Helen Peterson, is so good because it is so simply true: “nobody is owed forgiveness, even to a truly penitent person who has done all the work.” While I’ve heard much of what is expressed in the interview before, I’ve never heard it from a Jewish perspective and through the lens of t’shuvah, which in Judaism “is often translated as ‘repentance,’ but it really means ‘to return,’ like to get back on the path from where you strayed.” Through a series of short questions, Ruttenberg clearly articulates her perspective on forgiveness and accountability: can people who have been hurt do healing work? Yes. Does healing require forgiveness? Nope. Is forgiveness a byproduct of healing?  Sometimes. Can a person forgive without reconciliation (that is, returning to being in relationship with the perpetrator of harm)? Yep. Does so much depend on context? Sure does! Can there be justice without accountability? I don’t believe so.”

I found this whole interview to be very quotable and I enjoyed how simply Ruttenberg broke down many concepts that people often complexify because they are unwilling to acknowledge the harm they’ve caused. 



4. Instagram: Tabitha Brown on Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams loves to comment on, make, and drag people into messes. After social media influencer Tabitha Brown announced that her husband is retiring from the LAPD, Williams took it upon herself to shade Brown for no real reason. In response, Brown posted a video to Instagram in which she prays for Williams, beginning with “the pain this woman must be in, Wendy the pain you must be in,” to degrade Brown and her husband’s choice to retire from the LAPD to pursue his dreams. Brown goes on to articulate the kind of supportive love she and her husband have, and hopes that Williams will also find that.

As writer Saeed Jones tweeted, he’s “still processing. Mrs. Madame Tabitha Brown, ESQ the Third straight-up said Wendy, I hope that ONE DAY you know what it feels like for someone to love you enough to know when you’re unwell. Do y’all… understand… the implications… of that read????” User @_RichieDinero said of the video that “Tabitha Brown done told Wendy Williams ‘mind ya business, heal, and find real love you, sad, miserable bitch’ but in the King James version.”



5. For Harriet: NOT PHYLICIA RASHAD! or Bill Cosby is free. Now what?

CW: Rape, sexual assault.

I know I’ve been posting a lot of stuff by Kimberly Nicole Foster and her media brand For Harriet recently, but she has great analysis. This week, Bill Cosby’s conviction of raping numerous women was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As explained by Foster, Cosby’s case was not overturned by a technicality, but because the prosecutors fucked up and used testimony to build their case that was given after Cosby was granted immunity by the previous prosecutors. As Foster points out, skirting the rules isn’t uncommon behavior for prosecutors. What is uncommon, however, is the profile of this case and of Cosby. 

In response to Cosby’s release, Phylicia Rashad made a comment in support of the Supreme Court’s decision. This isn’t surprising as Rashad has supported Cosby on the record numerous times over the years, but people had increased concerns as she is now a dean at Howard University. Rashad has since tweeted an apology, but it seems like it was in response to criticism more than anything else. 



6. Jezebel: Let Sha’Carri Richardson Run

After winning the US Olympic trials in the 100m, sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson will not be allowed to compete in the event after testing positive for THC. Richardson’s positive THC result “automatically invalidated her results in last month’s event. According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Richardson agreed to a one-month suspension, which the Times notes ‘could clear her in time to run in the 4×100 meter relay that takes place later in the Games. But that’s only if she’s named to Team USA.” According to the USADA, marijuana is banned due to its “performance enhancing” potential, although other substances like caffeine and alcohol are allowed. As The Onion put it: “Dream Crushed Over Trivial Bullshit Represents Nation Better Than Gold Medal Ever Could.”

Richardson took full responsibility of the suspension and explained that she consumed cannabis to cope with the death of her biological mother, who died during the trials. In a tweet, the sprinter simply wrote “I am human.” If there is one thing that the world will always do, it is denying a Black woman her humanity. 

It should also be noted that this week, two Black women from Namibia were banned from competing for naturally high levels of testosterone, and swim caps designed for natural Black hairstyles were also banned from use in the Olympics. 



7. Slate: The Night Gary Drove Me Home

The only thing Jill McCabe Johnson surely knows about a man named Gary whom she met in a dance hall in 1980 or 1981 and slept with is that “It seems impossible that it wasn’t Gary Ridgway who slept with me that winter night in early 1981. And it seems equally impossible that it was.” Gary Ridgway is better known as the Green River Killer and “was convicted of killing 49 women and girls, though police and prosecutors estimated the number to be higher, and even Ridgway said it was far more.”

While Ridgway isn’t said to have started killing until 1982, after Johnson met him, she can’t help feeling “irrational guilt again about what I’d done, and that I hadn’t detected anything disturbing about Gary—as if I were somehow responsible for his later crimes.” She wonders, “What if my roommates hadn’t come home when they did? What if I hadn’t gotten sick when he asked me out the next weekend? What if I’d been alone when I found him waiting in my parking lot?” What if he’d meant to kill her? 



8. Slate: Zola Is the First Movie of Its Kind

I remember when Zola first tweeted out #TheStory. I was in undergrad and didn’t have a Twitter account. Everyone was talking about #TheStory and eventually someone gave me their phone and made me read the thread. I was hooked from the first tweet. 

On Wednesday, Zola, a film based on the epic 2015 148-tweet stripper road trip saga, was released and it seems like I can’t go on any social media platform without seeing something about the film. I have yet to see the movie, which is maybe one of the reasons I have yet to find a satisfying review of the Twitter thread-turned-movie. The thread by A’Ziah “Zola” King chronicles a road trip from Detroit to Florida “to pole dance with a new friend, and how, at an alarmingly fast pace, the trip devolved into a whirlwind of sex and violence.”

I remember the thread being the most exciting thing I’d read in ages, and the film apparently “captures much of the zippiness and fun that made following Zola’s tweets so exciting, but [director Janicza] Bravo and her co-writer, the Tony-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris, never lose sight of the fact that, as thrilling as these events might be to experience vicariously, they must have been unpleasant and even terrifying to actually live through.”

I want to see this film SO BADLY! 



9. Al Jazeera: Cancel Canada Day: ‘Nothing to celebrate’ amid unmarked graves

Churches on Indigenous land are being burned in Canada after nearly 1,000 graves have been found over the past few months at former residential schools for Indigenous children, and in response to Canada Day. “Canada’s residential school system operated from the late 1800s until the 1990s. It was part of a wider colonial project that aimed to take over Indigenous lands and forcibly assimilate First Nation, Metis and Inuit children into mainstream Canadian society. Various churches, including most notably the Roman Catholic Church, ran at least 139 residential schools across Canada.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that “Canada Day would be a time for Canadians to reflect ‘on reconciliation, on our relationship with Indigenous peoples and how it has evolved and how it needs to continue to evolve rapidly.’” However, he did not cancel the holiday. Furthermore, “federal Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole . . . said he is ‘concerned that injustices in our past or in the present are too often seized upon by a small group of activist voices who use it to attack the very idea of Canada itself.’” For Idle No More, an Indigenous-led organization, canceling events that celebrate Canada Day is “the bare minimum recognition.”



10. YouTube: 2021 BET Awards Performances!

As was discussed last week, the internet is Black. The 21st BET Awards, AKA “culture’s biggest night,” took place last Sunday. I didn’t watch the show live but followed along via Twitter, and it might just be me (it probably is), but people seemed more engaged with the show this year than last year. People looked amazing, everyone fawned over Jill Scott, there were a lot of good performances (my personal favorite was H.E.R.’s), and Queen Latifah publicly acknowledged her partner and child for the first time when accepting her much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. 


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