If you’re truly a sports fan, your favorite team embodies something you love about where you live. Here in Chicago, the Bulls play with a stoic and unadorned grace that would make any Midwesterner proud. Accordingly, my life has been attached to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
When I was seven years old, my aunt and uncle moved to a second-ring suburb of Minneapolis. All the houses there seemed to genuflect towards one house in the middle of the neighborhood — it looked like all the others, but it had a regulation basketball hoop in the driveway. It was owned by a friendly, towering 19-year-old named Kevin Garnett who was new to the Twin Cities. He had just been drafted by the Timberwolves. But the Wolves didn’t have Shaq, who was the only player I really cared about back then, and I never saw him around, so I didn’t see what the big deal was.
One day, I was walking with my uncle around the neighborhood, and I saw a young guy in front of Garnett’s house sinking baskets at a frightening rate. We had a whole conversation, but I only remember his tautological parting words: “practice makes perfect, if you practice perfectly.” About a month later, Stephon Marbury joined the Wolves in a draft-day trade for Ray Allen. Before forcing his way out of Minnesota, before he was the hometown kid that failed to make good as a member of the Knicks, before I learned to be suspicious of such circuitous logic like what Marbury preached that evening in Minnetonka, Marbury was a pass-first point guard with such flash that he could make Rucker Park look like a Spurs game. He and Garnett were being touted as the next Stockton-and-Malone.* At the time, I saw Marbury as a kind of mystic trapped in a point guard’s body. He even wore number three, to represent a third eye that allowed him to make crisp no-look passes in traffic (per an article in Inside Stuff).
The year Marbury joined was the opening salvo of a new era for the Wolves, and for their fans. The possibility of success was a very real and exciting one, but we would find that it was one only to be glimpsed and not grasped. That year was the first of eight straight playoff appearances for the Wolves, each ending in defeat. The last one was the most frustrating: the Wolves made it as far as the conference finals behind league-MVP Garnett, only to be manhandled by Shaq and Kobe and the franchise that jilted Minneapolis during the Eisenhower administration.
The Wolves’ lousy track record isn’t significant on its own. For the first eight or so years of their existence they were a punchline. Even Kevin McHale, the man who later drafted Garnett, would eat popcorn while giving color commentary (also, per Inside Stuff) as the ’90s Wolves lost with a killer combination of bad basketball and great slapstick. But it was hard to frame it in terms of failure, since success was never a part of the equation for those early Wolves. Failure is a necessary other for success: as failure becomes much more threatening success becomes more tantalizing. Once the Wolves started losing playoff series they could have won — first to Seattle in ’98, to the Spurs in ’99, to the Lakers in ’04 — then the Wolves’ losing felt more like loss.
After Marbury forced his way out, Garnett was an easy choice to be the face of the franchise: he was charismatic, he was talented, and he was the only player who stayed on the team from year to year. Downtown Minneapolis was and is an office park, but you couldn’t walk five feet without seeing his face plastered to some surface. Still, most telling was how you would occasionally hear Garnett’s name as an honorific: if you were exceptionally good at something, you were the Kevin Garnett of ___ (e.g bocce ball, War Hammer). Not just great, but it meant a kind of giftedness that mirrored Garnett’s — it meant you were driven, and that there was nothing you couldn’t do. He played all five positions, and he played them well. As far as character went, it meant you had it in spades. Garnett was unselfish on the court (to a fault) and loyal off it. When Wolves guard Malik Sealy was killed by a drunk driver as he drove back from Garnett’s birthday party, Garnett told the press that he wasn’t going to “jump ship,” and that he was glad to remain a Wolf. When I saw Garnett buying kibble for his dogs at the PetSmart a few blocks away later that year just before my elementary school graduation, I told him I was sorry about Sealy. He thanked me, then gave me an autograph that said, “Stay Cool.” It was 90 degrees outside.
Though no one meant it this way, the KG comparison was a backhanded one, as KG could do anything except win in Minnesota. Garnett didn’t have Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant’s killer instinct, but that was small potatoes. The larger part of it was that Garnett was cursed. He couldn’t be blamed for the Wolves’ first round exits — it began and ended with him, but it was the in-between where the Wolves’ were dicey. Garnett was arguably the most talented player in the league, but Wolves management failed year-in and year-out to surround him with the kind of team that could compete in the Western Conference.
Between Garnett’s peripheral presence in my life and my growing obsession with music — one that would eventually displace my obsession with the NBA — I started to envision excellence as being diametrically opposed to success. Of course that was a lie: the Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, Pistons, and Heat were living proof. But those successes happened elsewhere, not in Minnesota.** Garnett took on a Minnesotan kind of stoicism in turning the other cheek through two more seasons of losing, as the Wolves began making their way towards the Western Conference cellar.
My dad and I went to a Wolves game during Garnett’s last year with the team. I was nineteen and home from college. It was against Allen’s Seattle Sonics, but Allen was laid up. The Wolves hadn’t been to the playoffs since ’04, and the way things were looking they weren’t going back anytime soon. The game was forgettable, except that the Wolves set a franchise record for the largest lead they had ever blown. They were up by close to 30 at the half, and wound up losing spectacularly. The Sonics didn’t exactly come roaring back — this was 2007, and the Sonics were even worse than we were. It was the first and last time I’d ever seen a team win by default. As the horn sounded, Garnett bricked a final meaningless jumper, and skulked off the court. A few months later, when he was traded to Boston, he proved all he needed was a better supporting cast to win a championship.
The trade went through the day before the I-35W bridge collapsed. I was out of town, so I found out about both from a paper at the hotel I was staying in. Garnett left gracefully — Wolves fans still cheer him on when he comes back to town; I still follow his every game from wherever I am — so Minnesota wasn’t as vitriolic towards him as Ohio was towards LeBron James. But when I got back to Minneapolis the next day, I remember feeling that something had ended. It would be ludicrous (not to mention insensitive) to say that Garnett’s departure would portend such a disaster as the bridge collapse, but that the two happened so close together seemed auspicious.
“If life, Oscar Wilde remarks, is too important to be taken seriously, then sports are just meaningless enough to get really worked up about,” Stephen Squib writes in his unflinching, spot-on n+1 Super Bowl piece. Squib’s fascination with football mirrors mine with basketball. It’s a kind of tabula rasa ripe for modern mythmaking: it’s city versus city, hero versus villain, bildungsroman of the hometown kid trying to make good. Once again, the Wolves are back in playoff contention, behind Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. We’re finally recovering from the fallout of losing Garnett. I’m starting to feel proud to be a Wolves fan again, and like I don’t need to explain to people what it means to willingly stand on a sinking ship in spite of yourself. Of course, given a step back it’s not so grandiose. Sports are soap operas, and if you watch closely you can pick out the artists at work among gladiators.
*Before Marbury and Garnett’s eventual reunion in Boston, Marbury would take potshots at Garnett through the press. In Jersey he mentioned preferring Keith Van Horn to Garnett. In Phoenix it was Amar’e Stoudemire. He went as far as making a “Michael Jordan/Mario Elie” analogy w/r/t Stoudemire and Garnett after a game where Stoudemire dropped 38 on the Wolves.
**Also a lie. The Lakers won five titles in Minneapolis, and the Twins won the World Series twice. But the Lakers won before my parents were born, and Kirby Puckett had retired by the time I was in first grade. So to a suburban Jewish kid with raging hormones and twin Ramones and T-Wolves fixations, that’s how it looked. As far as the rest of the world went, Minnesota spawned Bob Dylan and Prince, two of the most iconic and iconoclastic musicians ever. But again, chances of holding a candle to either of those seemed remote at best.
I’ve spent both ends of my commute this week listening to an excitable recovering meth addict scream into my headphones about “sexual sin” and the dangers of “De-God-ing God.” If I had to summarize, every single person I know is going to hell.
This all started a couple of years ago when my brother was “saved,” as he (and no one else in our family) likes to call it, courtesy of the ironically-titled Hollywood mega-church Reality LA. This came as a surprise, to put it delicately, and I’ve spent the time since cycling through a makeshift, more uppity version of the Kübler-Ross stages on the issue — bewilderment, disdain, amusement (it can make a great story at parties), another round of bewilderment and disdain, and, finally, anger.
Though we attended church when I was a kid, religious groups that oppose things like the existence of gay people weren’t to be trusted or validated. When this whole thing first happened, I did what I instinctively do in tough times, and tried listening to the corresponding This American Life episode for guidance (I highly recommend it).
Unexpectedly, though, my problem has lasted longer than 58 minutes, and it certainly didn’t fade into soothing music and an epilogue about how he’d eventually snapped out of it and enrolled in med school. So, a week ago I did what any mature, concerned adult would logically do next — I picked a one-sided Gchat argument with my brother about gay marriage, which is about to be legalized in our home state.
At the time it went nowhere, but a few days later, the podcasts arrived. He sent me a sermon series his pastor had recorded, divided into three sections: “Image, Gender, Covenant,” “Sexual Brokenness,” and “What about Homosexuality?” His email said he hoped I would find them a good “resource.” As it turns out, liberal guilt and religious guilt don’t work that differently, and realizing that I had clearly brought this upon myself, I decided to listen.
The pastor of Reality LA, Tim Chaddick, has a massive cult (and I do mean cult) following among vaguely-trendy young people in Los Angeles — he was even featured in a Details profile that made heavy use of “hipster” as descriptor. A formerly promiscuous meth addict, Chaddick has since been born again and has not stopped talking about any of it since.
His is a brand of religion so startlingly “old time” that its doctrines more closely resemble those of the Spanish Inquisition than, say, a William Jennings Bryan rally. Still, I thought I owed my brother a favor and might even be pleasantly surprised. This didn’t happen.
After a few minutes explaining what made his brand of evangelism less hateful than your average politicized conservative Christian and a promise to “do away with stereotypes and lies,” Pastor Tim launched into ninety minutes of what amounted to total loathing for both the self and others. In a nutshell: anyone who watches pornography “should be slaughtered,” homosexuality is a learned behavior equally offensive to God as rape and pedophilia, and masturbation, along with things like re-marrying after the death of a spouse, is completely out of the question. “People have accused us of bigotry,” Pastor Tim explains, “but it’s only bigotry if what we’re saying is wrong.” Oh.
Even though volumes could be written about just what makes all of this terrible, I still couldn’t tell you why I hate my brother’s involvement with it quite as much as I do. Of course, having an immediate family member who thinks that you and everyone you hold dear is damned for eternity isn’t ideal. And, in general, I’d rather avoid thinking about religion at all if I don’t have to — truth be told, I don’t know what I believe, and I also don’t particularly care.
In spite of this, I feel guilty. While my brother and I both seem to think the other is setting themselves up for a wasted, deeply unhappy life (or afterlife, as the case may be), only one of us is unwilling to shut up about it, and sex podcasts aside, it’s not him. Maybe if I were as deadly certain about things as he is, I would.
The painter Lucian Freud passed away last July at the age of 88, and, like all dead artists, interest in his work has never been higher. Today an extensive retrospective of his work opens at the National Portrait Gallery of London. The exhibition, which contains over 130 portraits spanning the entirety of his career, has generated a massive amount of buzz, both inside and outside the art industry: inside because it is the first showing of his final pictures; outside because it has already been graced by Kate Middleton, whose attendance at the royal preview yesterday marked her first solo public engagement.
Freud is famous for his intensely raw portraits. His supporters, of which he has many, bandy about words like ‘honest’ and ‘unflinching’ when describing his work; his detractors, of which he also has many, throw back at them words like ‘grotesque’ and ‘cruel’. His most famous image, a 1995 portrait of an overweight woman asleep on a coach titled Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, sold for $33 million in 2008 (at the time, it was the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist), could easily be labeled all four. That’s why his work is so demonstrably good: art that caters to any concrete sense of morals or reality often fails to find its own legs, while art that doesn’t give a damn tends to live forever. Freud’s images are concerned with elaboration more than representation — that a portrait looks like the person posing for him meant very little. Freud once said, “since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model.” Or, more succinctly: “The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh.”
In 1964, American writer James Lord sat for a portrait by the artist Alberto Giacometti. The book he wrote about the experience, A Giacometti Portrait, details the process, which mostly consisted of Giacometti struggling to accurately depict what he saw. “You look like a real thug,” Giacometti told him during their first session. “If I could paint you as I see you and a policeman saw the picture he’d arrest you immediately!”
The best portraits are self-reflexive: a guest at a party with one eye on the host and the other on the door, a mirror with a carefully-placed layer of grease. One of the most famous 20th-century portraits is Picasso’s 1906 semi-abstract rendering of Gertrude Stein. When someone commented that Stein did not look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.”
If I’m lucky, when I accidentally enter that brain-sucking vortex of music video comments, austere multi-media sidebars, vacation photos of forgotten middle school acquaintances, one-click petitions for livers, emails from Nancy Pelosi, five consecutive episodes of one of those old-time sitcoms meant for one-a-day viewing…
The name is one of a few of the network’s heavy-handed features, but such clunkers are a small price to be paid for a news outlet free from ads, porn, memes, and government ties. The user-sponsored model doesn’t guarantee better content, but with talented journalists like Jihan Hafiz covering breaking news in Cairo (a city she clearly knows backwards and forwards), ideals rarely come at the expense of quality or entertainment value at TRNN.
This seems in part due to the enthusiasm TRNN has inspired in “raptivist” Chuck D and a long list of similarly conscientious donors. (During a recent fund drive, there were a whole bunch of video promotions featuring people you have actually heard of on the website, but they have sadly disappeared.)
TRNN still has a ways to go to expand its coverage, but has made its mark with amazing original reporting on the Middle East and international protest movements.
TRNN clearly has its priorities in place, firmly opposite those of other new media outlets. So far, as with the more mature Democracy Now!, TRNN’s original content comes from a single host and a core team of experienced journalists.
TRNN has a lot of promise, but it’s a hard world out there for news media. Schizophrenic new media ventures like BuzzFeed are attempting to attract audiences with a “mix of oddities, listicles and web memes,” and headers like “LOL,” “cute,” “win,” “fail,” “omg,” “geeky,” “trashy” and “wtf?” before even beginning to sneak in “more traditional news verticals” (which the New York Times article I’ve been heavily quoting claims is the ultimate goal).
Is that really the model we’re going to champion as the future of sustainable news outlets?
Unlike BuzzFeed, the TRNN business model is clearly not designed to make as much money as possible (nor does it have naughty articles, like the Pillsbury-sponsored “10 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With A Crescent Roll”).
With some promotion, however, TRNN may be able to capitalize on current trends and gaps in mainstream news. While some may associate technological saturation with a low attention span, Wikipedia has prompted people to click at least a little further to learn the facts behind an issue like SOPA (although, in that particular case, it proved to be a catch-22), which springs into the superficial ubiquity of a news cycle and drops out just as most people are signing an unread petition to act on the matter.
Traditional print news outlets are increasingly joining the media literate and using video to create timely, didactic primers on such news topics. TRNN takes advantage of the availability of those primers, such as this oneThe Guardian did on SOPA. Original content is also frequently supplemented by videos from Al-Jazeera and other sources that fit their outlook and style. They also focus on actions taking place around issues in their “Organize This” section.
TRNN has basically asserted that if you’re spending so much time on the internet anyway, you might just have 12 minutes to learn about US policy towards the Congo. You don’t even have to break that vegetative, image-addicted state. I like to think of it as a mix between CNN and the Discovery Channel.
So far, TRNN has some innovative features to get users involved, but it’s difficult to tell to what extent they are functioning because there is little user content featured. Many interactive features, like the ability to pitch new stories for journalists to cover and vote them up or down to determine their priority, are only available to members and will hopefully thrive as the site grows.
Live interviews announced by email with opportunities to contribute questions have been more effective. The videos on TRNN started out as one-shots that led to browsing the site, but now members can watch them in a continuous player or create a custom “My Real News” page as well.
The “network” is in many ways attempting to build a contemporary answer to traditional TV news. It’s not struggling to convert a traditional news model to a new platform, nor is it satisfied with creating a single popular show like Democracy Now! or The Young Turks. TRNN is unafraid of sticking to a style all its own, whether in its original or found videos. That style is didactic, unapologetic, witty, and subjective, with a basis in hard facts.
Like any good news site, TRNN also acts as a curator, offering the “Best of the Web” along with humor clips from the likes of Lee Camp and The Onion. Hopefully they will soon have the resources ( interns) to make this section more consistent.
Right now, TRNN’s assortment of outside content is both a goldmine and a minefield: I can’t promise you won’t click a video and find yourself watching someone rap the news. I can’t promise you won’t watch the whole thing…and then read the video comments. It’s always the links section where one gets sucked into the vortex once again.
Lake Vostok hasn’t felt wind in over 20 million years. For the last 20 of those years, a Russian team of scientists and engineers have been drilling through the 2.2 miles of hardened Antarctic ice in conditions so harsh that machines frequently stop working and air traffic is halted. Measuring by volume alone, Vostok is the third largest lake in the world. It’s comparable to the conditions of lakes on some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Which is exactly why scientists were so excited to discover it in the ’90s, along with the other lakes making up the nebulous clump of subterranean waterways below Antarctica. You know the story: the Russians are doing something quickly that we’re taking our time with; we’re concerned that they’re doing it all sloppy and dangerously, potentially damaging the environment (because we’re huge hypocrites), but mostly we’re afraid that they’re going to get to some strange esoteric/atavistic knowledge before we do, etc.
I have a few initial, and sort of simultaneous, responses. There’s a part of me that can only see this metaphorically. (Maybe we’ll call this the “obvious” response. Maybe it’s the most accurate? Maybe it’s the most romantic.) I want to write a novel about a multi-national scientific team that completely falls apart during an expedition to dig up an ancient, ice-encased lake. Like an inverse Tower of Babel writ small.
Another part of me is bored by it. The detached, cynically safe part of me; hiding behind a cudgel of meaningless tweets that I only actually pretend to think are meaningless, but secretly adore — this part of me just wants to make up jokes. I guess the real reason I love shit like finding ancient underground 20-million-year-old lakes is that it’s something actually happening that takes me out of the atomized world of my wireless connection and makes me think about something that isn’t commentary on commentary. We’re inundated with jokes and pics and memes, but there are still people exploring. Like, actually exploring — not just trying to ride a trend before anyone else. So it’s a real story, with real things and real people. It’s the same reason I like Bill Vollmann, and the same reason that some people think he’s a joke: exuberance unfettered by irony.
Knowing how cheesy it sounds: go find your own ancient underground lake IRL.
The other day I saw some stills from American artist Corey McCorkle’s video installation Hermitage, which takes as its subject a dilapidated leisure garden outside Paris called the Désert de Retz. The video shows people in contemporary dress walking among weathered architectural eccentricities trussed in vines and wisps of fog.
I was intrigued, so I did a little research. I learned that throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Désert de Retz was basically an Orientalist theme park, complete with a Chinese pavilion, an icehouse in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid, Tatar tents, and various other exotic knockoffs — altars, tombs, something called the “Temple of Repose,” etc. For over a century, French aristocrats and foreign nobility came to stay at the estate’s summerhouse, which was built in the image of a fractured Roman column.
Designed to resemble ruins, these follies have themselves fallen into ruin under a combination of mismanagement and a tapering of interest in European leisure gardens that coincided with the emergence of commercial expositions, concert halls, and amusement parks. The idiosyncratic structures appear in McCorkle’s film as weathered monuments to forgotten fantasies, reveries consigned to oblivion.
Much of McCorkle’s other work, I discovered, also concerns ruins. His video project Bestiaire, for instance, is a study of an abandoned zoo outside Istanbul. As Time Out New York describes the work, “Stark shots of decaying domes, arches and brick walls alternate with lush images of groves and parkland inhabited by wild dogs… McCorkle captures structures once designed to cage animals and now overrun by feral beasts.”
The zoo in McCorkle’s video was built in the 1980s, at the promising dawn of Turkey’s financial liberalization program, a period of political stability and economic growth that was interrupted by sharp recessions in the mid to late 1990s. That the zoo sits on the periphery of Istanbul evidences the city’s anticipation of a large-scale urban expansion that never fully came to pass. If the zoo is as an indicator of municipal optimism, its abandonment suggests civic hubris and tragic defeat.
What intrigues me about McCorkle’s work is the way in which it differs from most abandonment photography, or “ruin porn” (as it is sometimes controversially termed). As writer JoAnn Grecco pointed out recently over at The Atlantic Cities, much “ruin porn” is domestic or industrial, fixated on the degree to which the quotidian is made meaningful by time and neglect. Typical sites are “marginal spaces filled with old and obscure objects,” a professor who studies urban ruin explains to Grecco.
In McCorkle’s work it is not the ordinary that is forgotten — but the extraordinary, the phenomenal and exotic. The effect of neglect on McCorkle’s objects and places is not the elevation of the trivial but an elegy for the tastes and fantasies of people whose time has run out. In some sense his sites, even in their prime, were already imaginary; already located on the margins of the real; each devoted in its own way to fetish and spectacle. Zoo and garden both promise a retreat from the tedium of reality into a world of novelty and adventure. Abandoned in McCorkle’s films, they represent dreams discarded and denied.
This past Wednesday The New York Timesran a piece on DC Comics’ plan to print Before Watchmen, a mini-series of prequels and back-stories to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ acclaimed 1986 comic Watchmen. Scheduled to start this summer, the seven new installments will be penned and inked by a group of writers and illustrators attempting to, in the words of DC’s co-publishers, “keep all of our characters relevant.” Gibbons reacted to the news gracefully, noting in a statement that he appreciates “DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire.”
Moore, on the other hand, has characteristically derided the project. The Times saved his most infuriating reason for last:
[Moore said] that the endeavor only weakened the argument that comics were an authentic form of literature.
“As far as I know,” he said, “there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to ‘Moby-Dick.’”
His egotistical comparison to Melville aside (of which I can’t say anything remotely constructive), Moore is simply dead wrong that prequels and sequels diminish a work’s literary quality. Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman, Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, Marilynne Robinson’s companion pieces Gilead and Home – all grant readers opportunities to revisit characters or stories from new perspectives (different ages in Roth and Updike, different narrators recounting the same events in Robinson). This is precisely what Before Watchmen proposes to do. Writers also frequently re-imagine works of other authors. In “Pip Adrift,” from his story collection The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, Rick Moody creates his own version of the titular character’s time lost at sea. Pip’s shipmates initially abandon him after he leaps overboard upon spotting a whale, and when they return for him they discover he has descended into madness. Any guesses from which classic novel Pip drifted into Moody’s imagination?
In the same Times piece, Jonathan Lethem points out that Moore often litters his work with literary references. Nowhere in my reading of Moore has that seemed clearer than the first volume of Saga of the Swamp Thing, which features an out of nowhere cameo by the Justice League of America. Moore can drop the entire DC Comics universe into his own narrative, so his argument goes, but DC Comics should never be permitted to expand Moore’s narratives into their own universe. I sympathize with Moore’s complaints over the film adaptations of his work, Watchmen especially – the novel’s complex narration and intricate back-stories get muddled when you try condensing it in two and a half hours. But there’s a difference between lamenting the compression of your work into film and lamenting its expansion in its original comic medium.
Though Moore told the Times he signed “draconian contracts” with DC, nobody forced him to. Even petitions against the new crop of stories suggest Moore made a conscious decision and DC is acting completely within its legal rights. Furthermore, nobody will forget or dismiss Moore’s contribution to the comic form, nor will they likely confuse these new installments for Moore’s own work. Ultimately the success of the Watchmen prequels hinge not on Moore’s claim to artistic integrity, but on whether fans decide to fiscally support it and treat it as part of the Watchmen legacy.
Kelly: I think the end is a bunch of crap because I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to bond in a BFF-y way on a website — even though I don’t think that’s what The Hairpin is doing exactly. I mean, yes the commenter community is definitely into itself and wants to be friends but, like, that website is just so fun and clever.
Kelly: I do think that she makes some interesting points… or at least skirts around some interesting points. Tavi’s brand of teenage-dom is peculiar because it’s so deeply rooted in ’90s nostalgia, which she never lived through. But I guess I have fetishized the ’80s which I was born in and don’t remember, in much the same way Tavi was born in the ’90s but doesn’t remember living in them.
Kelly: So it’s like, even though she’s writing for teenage girls and teenage girls can get into it, she’s also writing for older women. And I think that really points back to this concept of arrested development/extended adolescence that people say is now a thing in your 20s. Like people are still holding onto their sticker collections — and you know what? I don’t fucking blame them!
Kelly: Also, I HATE the overuse of the word “lady.”
Nika: Yeah, I think that is one interesting point she made which I had never considered — what does it mean that we refer to ourselves, ubiquitously, as “ladies?”
Kelly: I find that there’s something cutesy about “lady” when it’s paired with other words that bothers me. But, you know. Me and twee is definitely a strained relationship.
Nika: In general, though, I think Molly Fischer is essentially criticizing these sites for delivering what they exist to deliver (excepting maybe Rookie, since it’s for teenagers): funny and smart and engaging things to read on your lunch break. She concedes that they’re not feminist blogs, so they don’t intend to deliver that kind of content, but then (I think) turns around and criticizes them for not delivering that kind of content.
Nika: Like, to please Molly Fischer it seems that you basically have to cater to Molly Fischer — whether it be teenage Molly Fischer or 24-year-old Molly Fischer — and what Molly Fischer wants is a women-centered blogosphere that is STRONG and FEMINIST and CONTROVERSIAL and NOT SILLY AT ALL and those sites totally exist — in fact, that entire blogosphere exists — but those just aren’t the sites that Molly Fischer focuses on in her piece. I honestly can’t figure it out — why did she single out these sites? Also, she excluded Hello Giggles which, if you want to talk about women-centered sites that cater to a superficial, all-inclusive and sugary version of femininity, let’s talk about Hello Giggles.
Kelly: Those are excellent points. It honestly reeks of resentment. Like everyone is at a party at The Hairpin and she wasn’t invited slash doesn’t get the appeal and she’s mad she’s not included.
Kelly: BUT a lot of her points about late Jezebel are true. I hate late-Jezebel. I kind of miss the edginess of Slut Machine.
Nika: True. I was, honestly, with her for all the points about Jezebel, in the beginning of her piece. I think that was a really good summary of Jezebel‘s rise and (sort of) fall. I also think her summary of why xojane.com is such a bizarre place is pretty on point. It’s mainly her criticism of The Hairpin and Rookie that I have trouble with — I think the resentment and myopia of that critique undercuts the (valid) points she makes in the beginning of the piece.
Kelly: As a long-time reader of THE LADYBLOGS I think the thing that has always brought me back to them is what she mentioned, that they provide at least one model for what it means to be a modern woman. And for the most part, I have found this model to be an incredibly liberating one. For example, the concept of the man-child exists so I think it’s interesting that the concept of the lady-child exists (to go back to the concept of extended adolescence).
Nika: Ooh. That is interesting.
Kelly: And I remember reading the entirety of Tracie’s One D at a Time and being totally amazed by it. It just really helped to read about sluttiness in a way that held no judgment whatsoever.
Nika: I think one value of Jezebel and the way its influence lives on was to define feminism for a readership whose experience with it had mainly been historical. It defined feminism as acceptance and introduced things like the concepts of fat- and slut-shaming to the wider internet (or at least, the slice of the internet that reads blogs like Gawker) — whereas, previously, I think those concepts had generally been contained within strictly feminist sites.
Nika: I mean, something I think this piece completely misses is that it’s not really noteworthy that these websites are often silly and inoffensive — what’s interesting and noteworthy is that they actually DO bring many strong, critical, feminist pieces to the forefront, alongside posts about cat bonnets, etc.
Nika: I would also like to add that that piece and the comments that follow would, I think, fall within any person’s definition of “sisterhood.” But then again, I also think “bff-dom” is totally valuable. How are they different, in fact? Also, why is it so bad that women are getting along on the internet and then meeting up in person??
Kelly: a) Yes, The Hairpin still has serious/meaty posts to counterbalance the one-liner silly posts. And sometimes these meatier posts even use The Hairpin conversational tone because it makes the concepts easier to digest. Not everything has to be written pedantically.
b) I think Jezebel‘s big “choosy feminists choose their choice” point is actually PIVOTAL when it comes to feminism because feminism at its core is about creating a society where people are equal. Period. Any kind of person with any identity and any background. And that has to come from a place of total acceptance.
c) I think denigrating BFFships actually comes from a place of ingrained misogyny. There, I said it. Because the concept of like, slumber parties and snapping your gum and twirling your hair is looked on as frivolous, but placing value judgments on these kinds of relationships or how some women bond initially is…whack.
If you’re not familiar with the Latin etymology of “concrete” and the rhetorical device of antanaclasis, you may be in grave danger of not fully appreciating Tan Lin’s memoiristic text about language, family, and geology. Peter Nowogrodzki is here to help. His review is like a set of footnotes—the history of field guides to birds!—that make Lin’s work sound brilliant.
The awards go to just three reviews each month. The other winners were Meghan O’Rourke (Full Stop interview here) in New York for her review of Girl Landand Choire Sicha in Slate for his review of The Tender Hour of Twilight.
So there you have it — New York, Slate, and Full Stop. Seems about right. Congrats to all the winners and thank you Electric Lit!
Back in the summer we ran an article about the vexing labor conditions that young workers are often condemned to enter by virtue of simply having some aspirations to get a leg up in this world. One of the key pieces to the puzzle of why the normal channels of advancement are actually subverting this movement is the unpaid and underpaid internship, as documented in Ross Perlin’s excellent book Intern Nation. For readers of the book, or anyone who has been an intern recently, the content of Xuedan Wang’s claim against Hearst Magazines is unlikely to be that surprising. While an intern at Harper’s Bazaar, a fashion magazine owned by the Hearst Corporation, she was not paid, even though she was in fact working what amounted to a full time job. This, argues Wang and her lawyer, is in direct violation of federal and state wage and hour laws.
However, what is surprising and very encouraging, is that Wang and her lawyers have filed papers in Federal District Court in Manhattan to bring a class action lawsuit against Hearst Magazines. As Steven Greenhouse reported yesterday in The New York Times:
“Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work,” said Adam Klein, one of the lawyers for Ms. Wang. “The practice of classifying employees as ‘interns’ to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws.”
Media is one of the key industries that are heavily dependent on the skills, ambitions, and compliance of interns. Thus any attempt to interrupt their role has the capacity to further destabilize the already tottering publishing industry, as Jeff Roberts suggests. (Also, see the comments on the Melville House blog for a growing list of testimonials.)
These challenges to the perverse labor conditions that became naturalized over the past few decades are worth paying attention to in light of the Occupy movement and other attempts to redefine the conditions of work in the 21st century. Some are going to come in more familiar forms like Wang and her lawyers’ attempt to build solidarity amongst interns through legal channels, and some are going to come in unfamiliar forms, like April Wolfe’s piece on the indigence of the new poor. In whatever form they come they are welcome, so sound off below in the comments section with your own testimonials.