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The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 9/26

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There were some incredibly moving pieces on the internet this week. Highlights: Michael Azerrad grieves Kurt Cobain, 9/11 and MMA fights, motherhood, freediving, Jennifer Hough, Awkwafina’s blaccent, Gabby Petito, “The Internet’s Original Sin,” and fossil footprints. 

 

1. The New Yorker: My Time with Kurt Cobain

Michael Azerrad reflects on his friendship with Kurt Cobain in this honest personal essay. Starting with when they met in 1992, and when Azerrad “sensed that [Cobain] was one of those rock musicians who dies young,” this essay chronicles their relationship through the last time they saw each other in Dallas.

While it’s based on someone who died in 1994, this essay feels urgent as it deals with death and grief, something this pandemic has made all too familiar to the whole world at once. One of the most intense moments of the piece comes from Azerrad’s differentiation between grieving those one knows, the loss of a famous loved one, the grief of a parasocial relationship. 

“Dealing with the death of someone you know is always difficult and strange, but that difficulty and strangeness is vastly compounded when the person was a public figure,” writes Azerrad. “When a parent dies, for instance, you can dole out the information at a rate you’re comfortable with . . . But, when it’s a public figure, everyone knows right away. If people know that you knew the famous person, a lot of them will reach out to you, even if they wouldn’t have done the same had a relative died. Often, they have a parasocial relationship with the celebrity, an emotional attachment to someone who did not know them. They tell you, unbidden, what that person meant to them. They don’t seem to understand that you did actually know and love this person, and they knew and loved you, and that you’re on a different level of grieving.”

 

2. n+1: It’s Triller Night, Marv!

This was one of the most fascinating, and definitely the most bizarre, pieces I’ve read about 9/11. Set in “an alternate dimension where 9/11 is celebrated with boxing matches, like Thanksgiving and football,” which is an MMA fight in South Florida, Matthew Shen Goodman reports on an MMA fight that took place on the 20th anniversary of that historic day. I don’t quite know how to explain the experience of reading this piece, except it was like being led through a dazed dream—I know nothing about MMA, and Goodman describes it as a fantasy world, indeed an alternate dimension.

 

3. Harper’s Magazine: Good Mother

I’m still young enough to not have any friends who have children. Sure, I have many mentors with children, but not friends my age. I’ve thought a lot about who gets to be a mother and who gets to decide that (Dorothy Roberts is one of my favorite scholars on reproductive rights.) Never, however, have I sat down to define motherhood. 

Written by Sierra Crane Murdoch, a white woman, this essay follows the author’s journey of answering a questionnaire for her friend Lissa Yellow Bird, who had five children, “all of whom were taken from her and placed in foster care for periods of her life” and was seeking to be a foster parent. 

Motherhood, and who gets to be a mother, is defined by whiteness, and it is not lost on Murdoch “​​that in matters of the state I have power over her, and for the first time, [Lissa] is asking me to use it.” Through her relationship with Lissa and her daughter Shauna, however, Murdoch’s understanding of motherhood has shifted, and thinks of a definition of motherhood that understands it as “of one life keeping another life going.”

This memoir traverses many areas of motherhood as it also relates to reproductive justice, including eugenics, residential schools, and familial and community structures that do not center whiteness. One does not have to be related to their mother(s): “What is the word for a person not your mother whom you trust as much as your own mother? Lissa would say the word is still ‘mother.’”

 

4. GQ: The Secrets of The World’s Greatest Freediver

I often think about the primary force with which something is in contention. I’m trained as a sculptor, and one of the first things I learned in my earliest sculpture classes was to contend with gravity—to make something that holds itself up against this grounding force. Daniel Barenboim, among others, talks about music’s ever-present companion: silence. In freediving, there are “​​no cheat codes to water pressure, buoyancy, and gravity”—these are the forces divers must contend with. 

Alexey Molchanov, the world’s best freediver, perhaps has the most intimate relationship with water pressure, buoyancy, and gravity. His relationship with these insurmountable forces taught him to “slow his heart rate, his metabolic rate, while simultaneously slowing the activity of his brain and his body,” and to “train his brain to almost physically overcome his thoughts and hold his mind in a state of nothingness and nowness.”

 

5. YouTube: FULL INTERVIEW: Jennifer Hough On Nicki Minaj & Kenneth Petty: ‘I’m Tired of Being Afraid’

CW: Rape, Sexual Assault 

For the first time, Jennifer Hough, “the woman suing Nicki Minaj and her husband Kenneth Petty over allegations including witness intimidation and harassment,” speaks publicly on her 1994 assault and the harassment she has endured from both Kenneth Petty and Nicki Minaj over the past year. 

In 1994, Petty pleaded guilty to attempted rape and served more than four years in prison. When Minaj first went public with Petty, she defended him as some questioned her choice of a partner who is a convicted sex offender. Minaj continually defended Petty and has publicly insinuated that Petty and Hough were in a relationship at the time (which Hough denies in the interview) and that Hough was white when she is Black—and of course, neither of these insinuations contradicts the rape allegations. 

 

6. The Mary Sue: Awkwafina May Have Forgotten Her “Blaccent,” but We Didn’t and She Was Finally Confronted on It

Awkwafina, born Nora Lum, has been trending on Twitter on and off for the past month or so. The actor and rapper, known for her roles in Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8, and The Farewell, has consistently been criticized throughout her career for her blaccent, or use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Many people not only find her use of AAVE offensive but also hyperbolic, as in a 2017 Lum stated, “I refuse to do accents. I’m not OK with someone writing the Asian experience for an Asian character. I make it very clear, I don’t ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people.”

With the recent release of Disney’s Shang-Chi, the discussion of Lum’s appropriation has come back to the forefront. After years of criticism, Lum (somewhat) tried to address her blaccent head-on in an interview this week, vaguely stating that she is “open to the conversation” but the topic “is a little bit multi-faceted and layered.”

People are, understandably, unsatisfied with Lum’s response, especially as she has had literal years to think about it. 

 

7. BuzzFeed: How Gabby Petito’s Killing Went Viral

After being reported missing on September, 11, in Wyoming, Gabby Petito’s body was found last Sunday. She was 22. Her death is being investigated as a homicide. 

Petito’s case went viral as “America’s true crime obsession collided with new media like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.” Active on social media and “like almost every ‘famous’ crime victim — Petito was young, beautiful, and white, [and] it appears that some of the initial intrigue around her case is in part because she lived so publicly.” For some, “it may seem that the Petito case and its virality is some sort of new and strange internet phenomenon, but the way it is being consumed is not new or original at all. It’s the format that is different. There is no real difference between the fervor that drives someone to tune in to primetime to ‘gavel-to-gavel’ coverage of the biggest cases of the early aughts and what these social media sleuths are doing today.”

There has been a lot of criticism of the media’s—including individuals on social media—treatment of Petito’s case, most of which falls into one of two categories: people are using her death to gain followers and clout, and her case got a lot of coverage while many missing nonwhite people receive little to no coverage. 

Stephanie McNeal addresses both of these issues in this article. Of the former, McNeal writes that “this weirdness I, and so many others, feel about using true crime as entertainment is as old as the genre itself. To be a ‘fan’ of true crime is to constantly wrestle with the feeling that you are exploiting someone else’s tragedy for your own personal gain, and no amount of justifying it can really make that hard truth go away.” 

McNeal spends less time on the latter, but links to an article that states “at least 710 Indigenous people went missing between 2011 and 2020, according to a January report published by Wyoming’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Task Force. Of those that disappeared, 57 percent were female. Joy Reid, however, did a whole segment on the difference between how the media covers missing white women versus any nonwhite person. 

 

8. Instagram: Kendrick Sampson on Haiti

Haitians are being forcibly and violently deported and denied asylum in Texas. Much reporting on this, expectedly, omits the larger geopolitical context as to why Haitians are seeking asylum, including the billions of dollars Haiti paid France after it won its independence and US trade embargoes and military occupations

This Instagram post by Kendrick Sampson, which has been widely shared, includes screenshots and screen recordings from various social media platforms that address some of the previously mentioned historical contexts. 

 

9. Galaxy Brain: The Internet’s Original Sin

As someone who frequents the internet, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. Largely, what I research is the physical infrastructure of the internet’s seemingly virtual space. I think about the cables connecting continents and server farms and what line I’m on when I’m online even though I’m using wifi so I’m not connected to any. But I don’t spend much time researching the economy that runs the internet: ads. 

While once thought of as a utopic space—a public space—the internet has descended into the depths of capitalism that many people are forced to live within. The internet’s economy is an “oppressive, broken system,” one that is “vastly unregulated and all of the transactions and exchanges are happening billions of times per second because of computers.” The internet’s economy is run on data collection. In increasing reliance on the internet, “we’ve taught companies that they can grow to basically an infinite scale and thanks to all these connected devices that we’re using, they can collect infinite amount of data and build out new forms of data.” Most users, including myself, “fundamentally understand that this is how the internet works but they don’t have the words to describe how it works.” Shoshana Wodinksy, an ad-tech journalist, has that language, and explains how ads are the internet’s original sin in this interview with Charlie Warzel.

 

10. NBC: Fossil footprints show humans in North America more than 21,000 years ago

An article published in the journal Science this week dated human footprints at White Sands National Park as 21,000 to 23,000 years old. The prints “were dated by examining the seeds of an aquatic plant that once thrived along the shores of the dried-up lake, Ruppia cirrhosa, commonly known as ditchgrass . . . the ancient ditchgrass seeds were found in layers of hard earth both above and below the many human footprints at the site, and they were radiocarbon-dated to determine their age.” These footprints are “both the earliest known footprints and the oldest firm evidence of humans anywhere in the Americas,” indicating that humans “may have arrived up to 30,000 years ago, thousands of years before the height of the [last] ice age.”

 

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