Hope you’re all having a cool and normal Saturday. Here is the first installment of a new post series I’ll be doing (hopefully) every two weeks—a roundup of stuff I’ve read/watched/listened to recently that’s stuck in the pear wiggler* for one reason or another.
Black Study, Black Struggle by Robin D. G. Kelley at Boston Review — God this article fucking rules. If you’re a college student who’s involved to any degree in campus activism, or if you’re a non-student who’s baffled or concerned by campus activism, or if (like me) you are a disillusioned grad who’s lost all faith in the viability of campus activism, you need to read this. Drawing on a Marxist political framework and a deep understanding of the evolution of Black radical student movements, Kelley lays out the two main sets of demands in modern campus organizing, then challenges readers to turn toward a third path, one that stays clear-eyed and critical of academia as an institution. Definitely do not miss the link to the radical reading list at the end.
White Like Me by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at The New Yorker — Before I read this, all I knew of Anatole Broyard was that he was a Black writer who spent most of his adult life passing for white. (I actually wrote a really bad standup bit a couple years ago in which I imagined a white-passing hall of fame that included Broyard.) That’s probably what most people nowadays remember him for, even more so than in 1996, when this piece was originally published. But there is a hell of a lot more to Broyard’s story: his emergence from the creative fecundity of Beat-era Greenwich Village, his carefully crafted rise to literary notoriety, his towering yet unfulfilled authorial ambitions. He comes across as someone who, more than anything, tried his best to do what he wanted and live out his idea of a good life while navigating the twisted illogic of white supremacy. Which, I suppose, is what everyone in America is always doing all the time—it’s just that Broyard seemed uniquely and painfully aware of the particular constraints and rewards before him.
Tech companies have an exploitative historical parallel: company towns by Andrew Taggart at Quartz — A few days ago I had a video call with a college friend of mine. As I am wont to do, I ended up going off on a rant about our alma mater’s fucked-up reliance on student labor. After we hung up, I did some searching and found this article about the workplace environments of companies like Google and WeWork (RIP bitches lol). While college campuses are only mentioned here as one of several models for the modern corporate office, the fact that they at all inspired these sprawls of closed-loop exploitation is kind of damning. Perhaps tech companies unintentionally looking like company towns is an outcome of their intentionally looking like college campuses. Perhaps… college campuses are company towns? Hot take or nah?
Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction? by Katy Waldman at The New Yorker — Not to pull a Lauren Oyler, but just, like, read this (emphasis mine):
Aesthetic and commercial incentives drive authors toward the “authentic,” and a newly legible form of authenticity, under (forgive me) late capitalism, is a kind of pained complicity. The most trustworthy speakers strike us as perceptive but self-critical. Often, they are darkly funny. Desperate to undercut themselves before the reader can, they don’t prescribe or argue or even exercise much agency but, rather, turn inward, holding up a disenchanted mirror to what they think and feel. The result, viewed uncharitably, is a crop of protagonists who are to be congratulated for spending enough time contemplating themselves that they can correctly diagnose their own flaws.
I see you, Katy. Well done.
The Internet of Fake-Baby Conspiracy Theories by Kaitlyn Tiffany at The Atlantic —I still think that “Louis baby fake” is one of the funniest possible phrases in the English language, but this piece makes a compelling argument for why it might also be one of the most dangerous. The fan-to-conspiracy-theorist continuum is a perilous one, especially once you get into shipping real people, which is at its heart a form of conspiracy thinking. Fans are willing to acknowledge this tendency—it’s right there in the term “tinhat”—but as Tiffany shows, whether or not they’re actually okay with it is in large part determined by the kinds of fandom communities in which they are embedded. To me, the idea that Benedict Cumberbatch’s three children are fake, and that his wife has trapped him in an abusive sham marriage, is utterly deranged. But then again: I have spent literal years at this point in proximity to a fandom where heated debates about the gender identity of a very famous musician are a near-monthly occurrence. The perils of treating celebrity lives like texts to be analyzed, I guess. Anyway. Louis baby fake.
Ocean Waves - Studio Ghibli’s (Accidental) Queer Film by eliquorice on YouTube — Speaking of texts to be analyzed! Look, there’s a lot of shitty half-baked YouTube video essays out there about animated movies. This IS NOT one of them. I didn’t even know Ocean Waves existed before I stumbled across this video, but by the time it was over, I was just as obsessed with its self-undermining story as the guy who made it. If you’ve ever been frustrated by works of fiction that resist their own logical conclusions, give this a watch.
“800db cloud” cover by Glycerin — That breakdown at the end!!!!!!!! Fuck yeah.
And here is a Spotify playlist of music I’ve been listening to a lot lately.
Okay, that’s all I got for today. I’m gonna go water my tomato plants now. Bye <3
*The pear wiggler is my mind. I promise there will be a post explaining this soon.