The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 9/12

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Rebellion, Relevance, Texas, and Lisa Yuskavage

There were lots of interesting longreads but also short news stories this week. The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas, Biden issues a vaccine mandate, Chloe Bailey and Ari Lennox released new singles. Highlights: Remembering Michael K. Williams, Rihanna, do genetics matter?, 20 years after 9/11, the Disaster Generation, America’s Atlantis, Judith Butler, addressing transphobia, Big Brother, and The Activist


1. Vulture: Death of a Storyteller
Michael K. Williams was found dead on Monday, September 6, of a suspected overdose in his Brooklyn apartment. He was 54. Williams had wrestled with addiction for many years, and “looking back over Williams’s public appearances and interactions with the press, it’s notable that there never seemed to be a time when he wasn’t struggling with addiction, in a perpetual cycle of moving away from drugs and being pulled back in,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz.
Best known for his character Omar on HBO’s The Wire, Williams’s “​enduring power as an artist came from his belief in himself — not merely as an actor or a performer but as a storyteller . . . In his mind, he wasn’t just hitting marks and saying lines. He was creating, incarnating, inhabiting, spell-casting.” He was one of those “rare actor[s] who can locate the universal in the specific and the specific in the universal in role after role and scene after scene, with such assurance that the story of one man becomes the story of a people . . . He made a point to see himself in others, and that helped others see themselves in his characters. He carried that weight. And he made it.”



2. Dazed: Rihanna: who is she to you?

There can be no ethical billionaires—Rihanna included. Still, there is something so interesting about Rihanna, about how she cultivates desire—how she defies definition. Often, when beautiful photoshoots of Rihanna are published, I’m entranced by the images and forget about the accompanying text. This time, my experience was the opposite. I was more entranced by Durga Chew-Bose’s words—her lush descriptions of how Rihanna cultivates anticipation, and that when R9 finally arrives, “you can trust that it will disorganise and organise us all.”



3. The New Yorker: Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?

After reading this profile on Kathryn Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, I sent it to numerous friends. I was interested in Harden’s research “in the field of behavior genetics, which investigates the influence of genes on character traits (neuroticism, agreeableness) and life outcomes (educational attainment, income, criminality),” but was also skeptical. You could say that I am one of the “progressives” (although I don’t necessarily identify with the term) that is yet to be convinced. 

This article offered a new perspective on genetics, but I see the perspective of “many of the left-leaning social scientists [who] seemed certain that behavior-genetics research, no matter how well intentioned, was likely to lead us down the garden path to eugenics.” I’m not claiming to be an expert on genetics or to understand, via this article, how they can influence life outcomes; I’m trying to say that I don’t trust that we—as individuals and a society—will interpret the research in a just and ethical way. As Dorothy Roberts, a University of Pennsylvania professor of law, sociology, and Africana studies, is quoted here saying: “There’s just no way that genetic testing is going to lead to a restructuring of society in a just way in the future—we have a hundred years of evidence for what happens when social outcomes are attributed to genetic differences, and it is always to stigmatize, control, and punish the people predicted to have socially devalued traits.”

For me, Harden’s research brings about conversations on the weaponization of science and how that has taken place historically, and who has been systematically targeted and harmed by it—which is why so many progressives have yet to be convinced. 



4. Longreads: Twenty Years Later: A 9/11 Reading List

Yesterday marked 20 years since 9/11. The six articles on this list were published from 2003 through to earlier this month, and they include personal essays and investigative reporting. I haven’t read everything on this list, but I’ve read some and appreciate the perspectives they offered. 



5. Culture Study: Meet Generation Disaster

I don’t fully remember 9/11. I was 5 at the time. I remember the adults being distracted and upset about something. I remember not being able to watch the news. Mostly what I remember, however, is how things changed. I remember increased airport security. I remember always seeing war on the news. I remember not really being told what happened—I wouldn’t comprehensively understand 9/11 and its historic geopolitical context until I took a class in undergrad. 

I’m part of what Karla Vermeulen, Deputy Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health and associate professor at SUNY New Paltz, calls in her new book the “Disaster Generation”—those born between 1989 and 2001, who grew up in the aftermath of 9/11. Acknowledging that Disaster Generation is US-centric, Vermeulen understands that “every generation has its experiences, individual or collective, that open their eyes to the fact that world is not really a safe or fair place.” But she argues “that no past American generation has faced the cumulative load of multiple simultaneous stressors with which today’s emerging adults grew up.”

Over the years, I’ve had numerous versions of the conversation here between Vermeulen and Anne Helen Peterson, and I gained new language and insights from reading this. 



6. The Atlantic: The Search for America’s Atlantis

There is an ongoing debate in archaeology about whether the first humans arrived in the Americas by land or sea. “Apart from Antarctica, the Americas were the last of Earth’s major landmasses to be glimpsed by human eyes,” writes Ross Andersen. For decades, researchers believed that the prehistoric Clovis people—named in the 1920s for Clovis, New Mexico, upon the discovery of the first “Clovis Point,” an ancient spear tip—“made their exodus across the grassland steppe that then connected Siberia and Alaska. After the rollback of two ice sheets opened a new corridor east of the Rockies, they raced down into the North American interior.” 

However, a new theory suggests that humans came by sea hundreds of years prior to that. Part of this theory is based on remains found in the Channel Islands of California, the area the Chumash people have called home for 8,000 years and maybe longer. In their creation story, “the Chumash people bloomed from a seed in the soil of the Channel Islands, planted by the Earth goddess herself. After allowing them to flourish there for thousands of years, she told some to leave, to go fill the mainland, which was then empty of people.” This myth also “supports the idea that people lived on North America’s west coast while the continent’s inner regions were still uninhabited.”



7. The Guardian: Judith Butler: ‘We need to rethink the category of woman’

Jules Gleeson interviewed Judith Butler for the 30th anniversary of their book Gender Trouble. For Butler, the book “was meant to be a critique of heterosexual assumptions within feminism, but it turned out to be more about gender categories.” 

If you’ve ever read any of Butler’s work, or engage in conversations on gender (most of which are now informed by Butler’s work), nothing in this conversation is particularly surprising or controversial. However, this interview made the rounds on Twitter this week after “one section of the Q&A was removed by editors because the interview and preparation of the article for publication occurred before new facts emerged regarding an incident at Wi Spa in Los Angeles. The consequent lack of reference in the relevant question to this development, in which an arrest was made for alleged indecent exposure at the spa, risked misleading readers and for that reason the section was removed. This footnote was expanded on 9 September 2021 to provide a fuller explanation.” 

In the removed section, Gleeson asked: “It seems that some within feminist movements are becoming sympathetic to these far-right campaigns. This year’s furore around Wi Spa in Los Angeles saw an online outrage by transphobes followed by bloody protests organised by the Proud Boys. Can we expect this alliance to continue?” To which Butler responded, in part, “It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with rightwing attacks on gender.” (Find the full deleted portion, free on Gleeson’s Patreon.)

As Zoe Samudzi tweeted: “I find it ridiculous that the Guardian would interview Judith Butler about womanhood and not expect very frank comments about TERFs—the redaction is pathetic but unsurprising. Anyway, JB is right.



8. Instagram: Schuyler & Kayden Chat

Last week, Lil Nas X released a series of emojis featuring pregnant men, followed by a photoshoot featuring himself appearing pregnant in advance of his upcoming album. Lil Nas X and this photoshoot in particular have come under criticism as being transphobic. This nuanced conversation between Schuyler Bailer and Kayden Coleman gets into how the photoshoot is transphobic, and the ways in which some of the people critiquing Lil Nas are also perpetuating anti-Blackness. 



9. Yahoo!: History is made on ‘Big Brother’ as all-Black final 6 ensures show’s first-ever Black winner

I do not watch Big Brother. I do, however, love reality TV, and this news covered my Twitter feed Thursday night. For the first time in more than 20 years and 23 seasons, a Black person will win Big Brother. On Thursday, “the season’s longest-standing alliance, ‘The Cookout,’ comprising all the Black contestants this season and together since day one, managed to evict the only remaining non-Cookout houseguest, Alyssa Lopez, leaving their alliance completely intact and accounting for the final six houseguests.” This is massive and long overdue for Big Brother



10. HuffPost: CBS Has A New Competition Series Called ‘The Activist,’ And Twitter Users Have Thoughts

This week, CBS announced a series, The Activist, “produced by Global Citizen and co-hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough, [that] will feature six activists competing against each other to promote health, educational or environmental causes.” Almost as soon as the show was announced, it received heavy criticism from Twitter users, before migrating to other social media platforms and receiving backlash there as well. 

The contestants “will be measured by online engagement, social metrics and input from the hosts. Their ultimate goal will be to advance to the G-20 summit in Rome this year to secure ‘funding and invaluable awareness for their causes.’” 

Many are comparing the competition to The Hunger Games and calling out how the premise of the show fosters performativity rather than legitimate organizing work, while others are comparing the show to the ways foundations make activists jump through hoops to receive funding



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