The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 1/9

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Not Betty! So much has happened on the internet in the past two weeks, and I’m still catching up on year-end highlights and things from December. Highlights: Remembering Betty White and Sidney Poitier, country music, Whitney Houston, grief and hoodies, David Attenborough, Easter Island, Khloé Kardashian, the Teletubbies, and 


1. YouTube: Betty White and Joan Rivers ROASTING the S**T out of each other


American icon Betty White passed away in her sleep on December 31st, just days shy of her 100th birthday. There has been an outpouring of love for the actress and comedian, including many, many articles and obituaries remembering White. Amongst the memorials, this clip of White and Joan Rivers’ comedic genius has been widely circulated online. (See the full interview with Susan Anton and David Steinberg here.)

As others have already stated, thank you for being a friend, Betty.


2. Associated Press: Oscar winner and groundbreaking star Sidney Poitier dies

Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier died on Thursday in his home in Los Angeles. He was 94. Poitier’s career “mirrored profound changes in the country in the 1950s and 1960s. As racial attitudes evolved during the civil rights era and segregation laws were challenged and fell, Poitier was the performer to whom a cautious industry turned for stories of progress.” The list of Poitier’s projects is immense, and included Lilies of the Field, for which he won his Oscar, To Sir, With Love, A Raisin in the Sun, and many more. 


3. The Undefeated: The Black vanguard in white utopias

I started venturing into country music during graduate school. The teaching fellow in my program had previously lived in Nashville. I didn’t have a car during my first year, and frequently when she gave me rides she’d play country music. We would often talk about music, and she knew I didn’t listen to or know much about country music, so whenever she played anything it was curated for my taste and accompanied by a preamble. I’d often say that I didn’t listen to country because of  “the genre’s white utopianism,” as Tressie McMillan Cottom puts it in this essay. Knowing this, the teaching fellow would play mostly women artists, a lot of whom were Black (Amythyst Kiah and Joy Oladokun are some of her favorites and on frequent rotation). 

As with most American music genres, country music owes a “debt to Black, Indigenous and Mexican people,” yet “like the nation that produced the art form, country music is better at acknowledging dead Black people than living ones.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, “the GOP became the unofficial political party of country music because much of the genre’s repertoire could be coded as ‘white’ without saying, well, white,” writes Cottom. “The bag of country music tropes that we recognize today was born of Republican race talk and Reaganomics — sentimental and apolitical, colorblind and white identitarian, rural themed and economically urbane.”

With Black artists like Brittney Spencer, Mickey Guyton, Amythyst Kiah, Shemekia Copeland, Allison Russell, Joy Oladokun, and Adia Victoria, the country music genre is at a turning point and is being forced to deal with politics. 


4. NPR: Looking back at Whitney Houston’s 1991 national anthem
Whitney Houston’s 1991 national anthem is THE national anthem. Last year’s Superbowl marked 30 years since Houston’s iconic performance, performed as the nation embarked on the Gulf War. Last February, Sam Sanders of “It’s Been a Minute” did a deep dive into the performance with Danyel Smith, host of “Black Girl Songbook.” On New Year’s Eve, Sanders revisited this episode—one of his favorites from 2021—and the lasting legacy of Houston. 


5. The Baffler: Everybody in Hoodies

As the pandemic rages on, we are all continually learning to grieve. We are grieving a myriad of things: people, lifestyles, various versions of ourselves. As many have written, no one knows how to grieve the immense loss we’ve experienced over the past two years. It is incomprehensible. Yet it is something we must discover. 

Niela Orr writes about her uncle and aunt, who both died within about a month of each other. In the aftermath, Orr “became pure id—I agitated my ideal self, and poked at my responsible and critical impulses. I raged against the promise I made to myself to avoid purchasing frivolous things… I masked the ongoing grief and niggling feelings of despair with the mask’s upper-body equivalent—the hoodie.” In so doing, she “‘pulled a Kanye’ on myself,” buying one of Ye’s hoodies in collaboration with The Gap, partaking in “the last gasp of American monoculture.”

The last time Orr saw her uncle when he was “lively,” they were both wearing sweatshirts. “In the months that followed, when he shrunk down to nothing, I wished I could graft all of the extra everything I had—weight, vigor, hope—onto him. Instead I held his hand and half-watched TNT. Then we both died. Him, completely, corporeally, whatever; me, in small ways I’m still discovering.” 


6. Wired: David Attenborough’s Unending Mission to Save Our Planet

One of my favorite playlists on YouTube is a David Attenborough sleep playlist. I’m not alone in my love of the naturalist, as “on September 24, 2020, the 95-year-old broke the Guinness World Record for attracting 1 million followers just four hours and 44 minutes after he joined Instagram, beating the previous record holder, Jennifer Aniston, by over 30 minutes.”

Continuing his environmentalist legacy, Attenborough is turning his attention to plants for his next series: “We ignore [plants] because they don’t seem to do much, but they can be very vicious things… Plants throttle one another, you know—they can move very fast, have all sorts of strange techniques to make sure that they can disperse themselves over a whole continent, have many ways of meeting so they can fertilize one another and we never actually see it happening.” 

The Green Planet, “as is typical with all Attenborough/BBC Natural History Unit productions, contains a number of firsts—technical firsts, scientific firsts, and just a few never-before-seen firsts. But it also includes one great reprise. Attenborough is out in the field again for the first time since 2008’s Life in Cold Blood.”


7. The Atavist: ‘We Wish to be Able to Sing’

The indigenous Rapanui of Easter Island gained the full benefits of Chilean citizenship in February 1966, nearly 100 years after the island was first colonized by Chile in 1888. Alfonso Rapu grew up on the island, but left at the age of 12 to study in Chile. When he went back to the island as an adult to teach, he was “the first Rapanui to fill the role.” Rapu wanted more for his people than colonial oppression, and he sparked an unlikely revolution. 


8. Jezebel: Khloé Kardashian, Tristan Thompson, and the Commodification of Toxicity

There was a time when I followed Kim Kardashian. That was years ago, and I never paid much attention, if any at all, to Khloé. The Kardashians have been in the zeitgeist for over a decade now, famous for being famous and without any talents—except entertaining. 

There are many ways in which the Kardashians entertain, writes Zeba Blay: “For all the people who watched their reality show or follow them on social media because they genuinely like them and think they’re cool, there is also a large contingent of people who derive pleasure from laughing at them, not out of amusement but out of pure schadenfreude. The Kardashian mode of entertainment hinges on spectacle, absurdity, dysfunction, comparison, and just plain hate.”

In many ways, Khloé and her love and family life embody this sentiment more than any other Kardashian. Most recently, this has been apparent in the unsurprising announcement by Tristan Thompson, Khloé’s baby daddy (and maybe partner? I can’t keep up), who “fathered a child with Maralee Nichols” after denying paternity (re: Bossip’s analysis “Kondomless Klown King Tristan Thompson Kries Krocodile Tears To Khloé Over Infant Indiscretion, Apologizes For Rampant Raw Doggery”). 

With Thompson’s confirmation, “here was another humiliation, for both Khloé and Tristan. The history of their on-again-off-again relationship has been fraught with cheating rumors, adding to the impression that Khloé is an insecure bird and Tristan is an insecure thot,” and is emblematic of “a growing trend of toxic relationships playing out on social media and in the public eye, like soap operas in real time.” It’s also related to the commodification of toxicity: “If Khloé Kardashian has a talent, now, it’s simply riding the storm of constant public embarrassment. Like a pie to the face, every time Khloé takes another L, it generates some sympathy, but mostly a kind of glee, similar to the act of hate-watching a show you don’t like just so you can talk shit about it.” 


9. The Atlantic: I Have Some Questions About the World of Teletubbies

I was around 18 months old when Teletubbies premiered in 1997, so I fit into its targeted demographic of toddlers. I don’t remember the show being my favorite, but I remember gleefully sitting in front of the TV watching it from time to time. Apart from humming the theme song every once in a while and noticing its occasional trend on Twitter, I haven’t thought about the show for the past 20 years. 

Upon reflection, Teletubbies is “an acid trip of a show about portly humanoid creatures whose life in a verdant CGI landscape is routinely interrupted by videos playing on screens embedded in their bellies,” as Sophie Gilbert describes. “Teletubbyland is a deeply disturbing place, and my weirdo babies can’t get enough.” However, part of the appeal of the show, at least for its intended audience, is that Teletubbies “​​is uncannily good at replicating the toddler experience.”


10. Longform: is shutting down its article recommendations service

After recommending over 10,000 articles since 2012, Longform is shutting down its article recommendations. The Longform podcast, however, will continue. The announcement was made with a brief statement on the Longform website. 

Along with a few other places, I would check Longform multiple times a week to stay abreast of what was happening in the world of nonfiction. I am deeply grateful for the work of Longform and its “contributing editors, its supporters, and the publications, writers, and readers who made it all possible.” I will miss this incredible resource but look forward to its continued podcast. 


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