It has been two weeks since my last list, and 2023 has gotten off to a wild start! Barbara Walters and Lisa Marie Presley passed. The Golden Globes returned. Highlights: Prince Harry, nepo babies, depicting Muhammad, an archive of menus, considering the nautilus, Gwen Stefani, trees and old-growth grasslands, Israel bans the Palestinian flag, Born-Alive bills, and Andrew Tate.
Never in my life did I want to know as much about Prince Harry as I now know, and I haven’t even read his book! Spare, the prince’s tell-all memoir has been dominating online discourse since excerpts leaked earlier this year. The book was officially released on Wednesday, and has been supported by a hefty press tour—which arguably started with the Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, that premiered in December.
The book is filled with details–about the Prince’s penis, fighting with his brother, and his “pride in killing twenty-five Taliban soldiers by othering them.” Some of the revelations (if they can be called that) are so unserious, that people have been satirizing Harry–and sometimes the jokes are hard to spot. In the book and interviews, Harry “directly accus[es] his family members of abusing him and Meghan,” yet still wants a relationship with them. He refuses to call his family, or the monarchy itself, racist, instead insisting they just have racial bias. It has become very clear that “Harry and his wife are not taking a stance against his colonialist family, but are just upset about not being able to participate in it the way they thought they would be able to,” as Gloria Alamrew tweeted.
I often poke fun at my dad and sister for being nepo babies. The term is most commonly used in reference to the child of a celebrity, who is—or wants to be—a celebrity and works in the entertainment industry in some capacity. While my family doesn’t have ties to Hollywood, both my sister and father both work in the same industry as my father’s parents.
Nepo baby as a term was popularized when Meriem Derradji was watching HBO’s Euphoria and tweeted out “Wait I just found out that the actress that plays Lexi is a nepotism baby omg 😭 her mom is Leslie Mann and her dad is a movie director lol.” Since then, the term has had a choke hold on the press, although “the origins of the modern backlash [going] to two pivotal events. First, the Girls wars of 2012, in which nepotism allegations became tangled up in discourses around race, misogyny, and privilege, prompting unanswerable questions like “Aren’t they actually satirizing people with zero Black friends?” Second, the Operation Varsity Blues scandal of 2019, which revealed the underhanded methods by which celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman sought to get their children into high-ranking universities.”
Although it may be seductive to follow famous celebrity nepo babies, the reality is they are all over, existing in every industry.
A professor at Hamline University in Minnesota has not been invited back after she showed medieval paintings of the prophet Muhammad in her art history course. Although not stated in the Koran, “many Muslims believe it is idolatrous to show Muhammad’s face. Most mosques instead are decorated with geometric designs and calligraphy featuring passages from the Koran, and Islamic figurative art is now rare.”
The professor, identified as Erika Lopez Prater, showed the images after a two minute content warning that also provided historical context for the images. The artworks shown in the class were representative of “a tradition of painting Muhammad, often in miniature, especially in Persia, Turkey, and India.” A student in the class, Aram Wedatalla, complained to the professor afterward. “Prater apologized in an email, but Wedatalla elevated the issue to university administrators, arguing that the lesson was disrespectful to Muslim students.” The school has supported the student’s complaint, and condemned the lesson as “Islamophobic,” something many scholars are taking issue with.
Academics and academic and muslim organizations from around the country, including Mark Berkson, the university’s department of religion chair and a professor of Asian religions, Islam, and comparative religion, have written numerous letters of support for the professor, stating that her dismissal is a violation of academic freedom and supports a monolithic understanding of Islam.
The Buttolph collection of menus, housed at New York City Public Library, spans from 1843 to 2008. Started by Frank E. Buttolph, a volunteer archivist at NYPL, in 1900, and “by 1924, when Buttolph died of pneumonia at age 80, her collection had grown to an astonishing 25,000 menus, most of them assembled at her own expense.” The collection now has over 40,000 menus, and “provide[s] a window into history, a vital connection to our foodways,” for researchers and chefs.
Nautiluses are living fossils having survived “all five of Earth’s previous mass extinctions.” While “some marine biologists have dismissed nautiluses as “dumb snails,” the least intelligent of the cephalopods,” research shows that they are much more intelligent than we give them credit for, and studying the species could “help answer questions about the evolution of intelligence” itself. Kate Evans profiles the cephalopods and the people that study them in an attempt to understand if the species that has survived it all can also survive the Anthropocene.
Until the last few years, appropriation, or “the use of one group’s customs, material culture, or oral traditions by another group,” as Professor Fariha I. Khan of University of Pennsilvanya puts it, wasn’t a mainstream term. People were doing a lot of things that would get them immediately canceled today, and Gwen Stefani is no exception.
Stefani was all over the airwaves in the 2000s, and has long been a problematic fav and queen appropriator. During her reign, Stefani had a lot of phases and personas “pop-punk Stefani with baby blue hair and bindis. Ska-era Stefani with platinum blonde hair, a bikini top, and cargo pants. And Harajuku Stefani.” Harajuku Stefani is arguably the most infamous, as that is when she had her fragrance line, Harajuku Love, which “launched in 2008, four years after the release of her solo album Love.Angel.Music.Baby., which took inspiration from Japan’s Harajuku subculture for its visuals and marketing (and subsequently Stefani’s own personal style).” In retrospect, many people have taken issue with Stefani’s appropriation of Japanese culture.
When Jesa Marie Calaor, who identifies herself in this piece as Filipina American, asked “a question about what she felt she may have learned from Harajuku Lovers — considering its praise, backlash, and everything in between. She responded by telling me a story she’s shared with the press before about her father’s job at Yamaha, which had him traveling between their home in California and Japan for 18 years.”
Calaor, and her colleague from Allure that was also in the room, initially thought they misheard Stefani, but throughout the 32-minute interview, “Stefani asserted twice that she was Japanese and once that she was ‘a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl.’” Later, a representative for Stefani reached out the next day, indicating that the author had misunderstood what Stefani was trying to convey. “Allure later asked Stefani’s team for an on-the-record comment or clarification of these remarks and they declined to provide a statement or participate in a follow-up interview.”
Calaor doesn’t “believe Stefani was trying to be malicious or hurtful in making these statements. But words don’t have to be hostile in their intent in order to potentially cause harm, and my colleague and I walked away from that half hour unsettled.” I haven’t heard or seen anyone calling for Stefani’s cancellation today based on what she did over a decade ago, when the cultural landscape was very different. But it is becoming increasingly disconcerting that she refuses to acknowledge the impact of her actions.
For the first time in over a decade, I went and visited some of the vast grasslands of America. I grew up amongst the stately pines of Michigan and I never thought much about how forested Michigan is until I met one of my friends a few years ago. She grew up in Montana and would constantly complain about how “compressed” and “closterfobic” Michigan was because of the trees. The only time she wouldn’t comment on this was when we visited Lake Michigan and she was reminded of the openness of the plains. I never understood what she meant until I visited South Dakota this past summer.
I drove to South Dakota from Detroit with my friend. We took our time on the way out, and as we drove west the landscape got flatter and flatter, and forest receded into grassland. Much of the grassland we saw, however, was not old growth grasslands, which take about 150 years to mature, but industrialized farmland. For so long, grasslands have been seen as the result of deforestation, but they are, in fact, biomes, and some of the least protected on Earth. Grasslands “are disappearing even faster than forests, and much of what remains has suffered varying degrees of damage. Their decline threatens a huge chunk of the planet’s biodiversity, the livelihoods of roughly 1 billion people, and countless ecological services such as carbon and water storage.” The history of the disappearance of grasslands is intertwined with colonization, and “reflects a deeply held preference for forests, mainly among people of European descent, that has warped global grassland science and policy.”
I was lucky enough to see some grasslands in South Dakota that were being restored, but they were few and far between the pastures of cows and vast fields of sunflowers.
Israel’s “Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir has instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces, calling the Palestinian national symbol an act of ‘terrorism’.” Ben-Gvir is a member of the far-right government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The flags are not banned outright, “but police and soldiers have the right to remove them in cases where they deem there is a threat to public order.” The new policy is concerning to “Many Palestinians, both in Israel and in the occupied territory, are fearful of the new government’s policies towards them, in light of the strong presence of far-right settler groups within it, with Ben-Gvir in particular previously convicted of inciting racism towards Arabs.”
Despite the obvious public backlash, Republicans continue on their anti-abortion bender. The Us House passed “the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” While the bill isn’t expected to make it out of the majority democratic senate, the “messaging bill” is “best read as a distress signal from a party that doesn’t know what to do with the abortion issue.”
The GOP has used abortion as a wedge issue for so long, and now their anti-abortion base expects legislation. The party “seems nostalgic for the world we all lived in a year ago—one that already had both a born-alive law and a Hyde Amendment, one in which Republicans routinely railed against the evils of abortion without having to do anything concrete. But the Overton window has shifted, partly thanks to the GOP itself. Anti-abortion activists are not content with the bans they’ve already passed: They’re pressing for measures that target out-of-state providers and the people who help those seeking abortion, and many are gunning for a national ban.”
Ex-fighter and misogynist influencer Andrew Tate lost an appeal in a Romanian court after being charged with “organized crime, human trafficking and rape.” Romanian athorities confirmed that Tate was in the country after he posted a response to climate activist Greta Thunberg’s trolling tweet. A pizza box from a Romanian chain was in Tate’s video response, and he was arrested shortly before the new year.
For years, many have dismissed Tate as a misogynist internet troll. His now-defunct website was “filled with scantily clad photographs of Tate’s supposed conquests in scenes of decadent luxury. The page’s marquee image shows Tate lying on a boat next to four bikini clad women. Others show him sipping wine and liquor with women at posh restaurants and bars and soaking with them in a hot tub.” Words lead to actions and behaviors, and “a far darker reality lurked underneath the breezy, sordid images. Tate and his alleged co-conspirators actually kept control of women through violence and physical coercion to sexually exploit them, authorities said.”