The Internet is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 9/18

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The internet was GOOD this week. Highlights: Hawai’i, the history of kneeling, Derek Bell, self-curation, Lil Nas X, Adia Victoria, TeenVogue, Nicki Minaj, The Met Gala, and brutes.



1. Afar: Hawai‘i Is Not Our Playground

I’ve never been to Hawai’i. Most people I know have been to the state, and for the longest time I figured that I’d eventually go. The first time I thought about Hawai’i’s mainstream representation was in 2016 when, on the Graham Norton Show, Jennifer Lawrence made a joke of scratching her butt on a sacred site while filming the Hunger Games on the island. Lawrence eventually apologized, but her nonchalance about the story has never escaped me. “To most outsiders,” Chris Colin writes, “Hawai‘i is defined by the lei-draped, aloha-dispensing, honeymooner-welcoming image of the place. There’s no room for another version to emerge.”

Throughout the pandemic, critiques of the Hawaiian tourism industry and mainland ignorance of Hawaiian history have become more prominent. As a Hawai’i that has been desecrated and exploited by colonialism emerges, it is becoming increasingly clear that “to engage Hawai‘i at anything close to a serious level is to ask what it means even to come.”

I don’t assume I’ll go to Hawai’i anymore.



2. The American Scholar: On Our Knees

This article drew connections between contemporary visual culture and that of the 17th century. For example, in tracing the history of kneeling, an “attitude of petition and surrender transformed into an act of defiance,” Farah Peterson argues that “the re-emergence of this gesture can be taken as a threat, not only to subvert and reclaim individual confrontations with power, but essentially to remake the American narrative.”

The imagery presented here dates back to Peter Paul Rubens’s The Adoration of the Magi, 1624 but even before that “early Western depictions of the Adoration of the Magi portrayed the three kings as European, but from at least the 14th century, artists began to use these paintings to showcase their skill at depicting the different races and ages of man.”

It is known that “the icon of the kneeling man is hundreds of years old, and yet it is still here, one part of that difficult past that we Americans drag with us from age to age. History is not past.. As one might expect, we feel the past as both a social and a political burden. But it is, unavoidably, an aesthetic one as well.”



3. The New Yorker: The Man Behind Critical Race Theory

I’m frequently surprised by the number of people who don’t know Derek Bell. I first read Bell, whose work focuses on how “racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it,” in undergrad. Of the scholars we read in my critical race theory course, I find myself thinking of Bell’s 1980 Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma the most.

In the paper, Bell “lanced the perception that the societal changes of the mid-twentieth century were the result of a moral awakening among whites. Instead, he wrote, they were a product of ‘interest convergence’ and Cold War pragmatism.” The principle of this argument is still present as many who support contemporary racial and social justice movements today as a way to maintain power as opposed to investing in systemic equity. This essay by Jelani Cobb is as much a legal history of the Civil Rights Movement as it is a memoriam to Bell and the creation of critical race theory.



4. Wired: Drake, Kanye, Lil Nas X, and the Art of Online Self-Creation

I used to be highly invested in theories on self-design, but haven’t paid much attention to its discourse over the past few years. Recently, however, the notion of self-design—or self-creation—has frequently come up. Instead of reviewing recently released albums by Drake, Kanye, Lil Nas X, through an explicitly musical lens, Jason Parham instead foregrounds self-curation with the music becoming a secondary critique. 

As am I, Parham seems most interested in Lil Nas X and Kanye as they, in particular, are known for the hype that precedes a musical release and their performative personas. The internet is a great tool for this, and “at its most transcendent, its most digitally divine, the social internet permits fantasy, it gives way to a kind of inflated realism. It authorizes a more porous self.” Many identities are born on the internet, and “as cultural totems who have reshaped the music industry on more than one occasion, [Drake, Kanye, and Lil Nas X] create not within a single context but across many.” There are generational differences between the three, however, and “unlike Drake and Kanye, who have morphed their identities around what the internet makes of them, Nas was born online and seemingly emerged with his persona fully formed.”


5. Spotify: Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X released his debut album, MONTERO, on Friday and it is all over the internet. Personally, I enjoy Lil Nas X’s music more in the context of his videos, and am less interested in his music on its own, but how he uses it (and trolling) as a means to express his politics. Mostly, however, I enjoyed it because of the press and analysis of Lil Nas X.



6. Spotify: Adia Victoria’s ‘A Southern Gothic’

On Friday, Victoria released her third album, A Southern Gothic. I’d never listened to Adia Victoria before this, and I’m really sad about that. This album was one of the most spacious musical projects that I’ve listened to in a long time, and it was easy to find myself walking around Victoria’s gothic south. On my part, however, I wish I would have listened to this album during an evening drive. 



7. Columbia Journalism Review: OK, Seriously

I never read TeenVogue until its “awakening.” The magazine’s shift can be traced back to 2016, “just a few weeks after Beyoncé performed ‘Formation’ at the Super Bowl, when Nancy Reagan died.” Other magazines owned by Condé Nast, TeenVogue’s parent company, published articles placating the former First Lady upon her death. “Teen Vogue took a different tack, publishing a piece with the headline: ‘Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Watched Thousands of LGBTQ People Die of aids.’” Since then “the magazine has attracted bona fide leftists to its ranks as well as praise from unlikely admirers. In 2019, Jacobin, the socialist publication, ran a piece that declared: ‘Teen Vogue Is Good.’”

As the magazine has garnered many fans and as “publications across Condé Nast have unionized, and there has been a rise in class consciousness across the journalism industry, the staff of Teen Vogue have been making increasingly bold efforts to carry the values they’ve instilled in the magazine off the page…But in taking the political power of girls seriously, Teen Vogue presents a paradox, as its employees find themselves at odds with Condé Nast, a bastion of corporate media that sells ads to young women.”



8. Slate: Why Is Nicki Minaj Doing This?

Nicki Minaj has not had a good week. In advance of the Met Gala, Minaj tweeted that she wasn’t going because the event required attendees to be vaccinated. Minaj, “in ANOTHER tweet, honestly an all-timer, she said her cousin’s friend in Trinidad got the vaccine and his testicles swelled up and his fiancée called off their wedding.” This tweet, which is full of misinformation, led to the White House offering to discuss the COVID vaccines with her, the Health Minister of Trinidad making a statement, and a suspension from twitter. 

The timing of this fiasco has also come under scrutiny as “her husband, Kenneth Petty, pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender in California last week. And now he’s potentially facing up to 10 years in jail.” This isn’t the first time Minaj has been suspected of redirecting an unfavorable narrative. Most recently, in the spring, amongst circulating news of her and Petty harassing his accuser, “in May, Nicki rereleased Beam Me Up Scotty, the mixtape that put her on the map as an insanely talented rapper, on streaming. Again, no direct connections or gotchas on the timing of this, but it’s all very convenient.”

Minaj seems to keep digging herself into deeper holes. Dear Old Nicki Minaj, Please Call Back.




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9. The Met Gala

I didn’t find an article that addressed The Met Gala that I loved this week. For me, the most engaging responses to the event were twitter threads discussed throughout the week. So inteased on choosing one article that focuses on the gala, I’m linking to some of the most interesting twitter responses I read to some of the event’s biggest controversies.

The Met Gala took place Monday night, closing out New York’s fashion week. The event, which has been described as “celebrities reauditioning to be celebrities,” is often discussed in the context of fashion history and celebrity beefs. This year, however, the criticism of the event, and it’s fashion, was much sharper, with more people seeming dissatisfied and angry about the event. On the fashion front, there was a general criticism of the general lack on Black American designers represented on the red carpet, especially considering the theme was”all things American fashion. The three largest topics of conversations I saw centered around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress, Cara Delevingne outfit, and Indya Moore’s Instagram statement condemning the event.  The Met Gala was a mess this year. 

In her gala debut, AOC wore a white dress with red text reading “tax the rich” on its back. While AOC and her supporters say the dress was good for starting a conversation, @queersocialism explains the main criticism in a twitter thread that explains the ironic hilarity of wearing a “tax the rich” dress (simultaneously defanging the more historically radical “eat the rich” slogan) at an event that functionally runs on blood; an event that is hosted and attended by your bosses as an agent of capital.” 

Cara Delevingne also wore a white outfit with red text that read “PEG THE PATRIARCHY ” on the front of her torso. Some are interpreting the text as saying “fuck the patriarchy,” others are interpreting it as a r*pe threat and are critical of the gendered implications of the term peg. Further, “PEG THE PATRIARCHY” was coined and copyrighted by a queer WOC, who was give attribution or compensation. 

After the gala, actor and model Indya Moore, who attended the event, posted a photo to Instagram with a caption that I found to be its most poignant critique. In the caption Moore writes about why Monday “will probably be my last Met Gala,”  and how the event “this year was cognitive dissonance.” Part of the dissonance was the fact that while many of the celebrities at the gala have made public statements in support of Black lives, Black Lives Matter protesters were being arrested outside. Moore concludes by questioning the ways in which “we organize millions for a museum, on stolen land that black and brown people suffer on unless white supremacy thinks they are exceptional- but not for the people? can’t we be substantially generous in ways that alliviate suffering and poverty? I am surprised that I was invited and I am grateful for the gesture and I want us to be more sincerely thoughtful around how we take from people we do not care about, not so we can accept that truth, but so that we can grow the heart to change it.”




10. Orion Magazine: Brutes

In a workshop this summer, I was tasked with making a piece based on the line “what if you’re the destruction coursing beneath” taken from Claudia Rankine’s Just Us. I ended up designing a short statement in response to the prompt that questioned, as Amitav Ghosh writes in this excerpt from The Nutmeg’s Curse, “When and how did a small group of humans come to believe that other beings, including the majority of their own species, were incapable of articulation and agency? How were they able to establish the idea that nonhumans are mute, and without minds, as the dominant wisdom of the time?”

The statement I wrote geared these questions to how humans are in relation to land, asking “when am I, when are they, when are we, when are you you” and answered Rankine’s question with one of my own. Throughout this excerpt Ghosh explores colonialism’s role in severing communication between humans and nonhumans, and how that relationship is being rebuilt today. 



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