This week’s internet was much more interesting than last week’s; it might have won my heart. Highlights: If Beale Street Could Talk is filled with radical black love, we don’t love Anne Frank for the reasons we think, Post Malone is whole milk, Zoë Kravitz is also upset that Williamsburg has been gentrified, people love CBD, we should all sniff more stuff, the New York Times is obsessed with the LA Phil and loves to fangirl over Gustavo Dudamel, Ina Garten likes to chug cocktails, just because something is a good idea does not mean it is right, and we should all be paying attention to Brazil.
1. Electric Literature: ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ Makes the Old Cliches About Love Feel New Again
I have a friend that has always been interested in love, but she has recently become obsessed with the concept. If you look at her Instagram story, @blackpoweprincess, it is often scattered with questions about love. “How has love broken/healed you,” “what are your love languages,” “tell me about the person you love,” she asks. The questions could define cliché, as could the answers. One person said that love has broken and healed them in “every way.” But there is something profound in their naïveté. And, perhaps it is the reason we always return to love.
Barry Jenkins’ new film, If Beale Street Could Talk, is based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. The story follows Fonny and Tish, played by Stephan James and Kiki Layne respectively, as they fall in love. Fonny is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, and Tish finds out she is pregnant while he is in jail.
Throughout the film, Jenkins’ cinematography creates a radical tender love and “manages to blur love and lust to the point where they’re not mutually exclusive, no matter how much of our cultural imagination would like us to think they are.” In the end, “love won’t, of course, set Fonny free. But it will sustain him. It will nourish him. It will help him endure. And in a world that wants to destroy black bodies, the power of such tools for survival cannot be underestimated.” The love between Fonny and Tish isn’t just radical love, it is radical black love.
2. Smithsonian Magazine: Becoming Anne Frank
This beautifully written piece hinges on the idea that “The problem is that the entire appeal of Anne Frank to the wider world—as opposed to those who knew and loved her—lies in her lack of a future.”
One of the most quoted lines in her diary is “in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” The line “is often called ‘inspiring,’ by which we mean that it flatters us. It makes us feel forgiven for those lapses of our civilization that allow for piles of murdered girls—and if those words came from a murdered girl, well, then, we must be absolved, because they must be true… It is far more gratifying to believe that an innocent dead girl has offered us grace than to recognize the obvious: Frank wrote about people being ‘truly good at heart’ three weeks before she met people who weren’t.”
In a different world, “an Anne Frank who lived might have told people about what she saw at Westerbork, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and people might not have liked what she had to say… the most devastating fact of Frank’s posthumous success, which leaves her real experience forever hidden: We know what she would have said, because other people have said it, and we don’t want to hear it.”
Out of all of the picks this week, I spent the most time trying to figure out what to say about this. And I still don’t know. But it is the piece I have thought the most about this week.
3. The Washington Post: Post Malone is the perfect pop star for this American moment. That’s not a compliment.
This is one of the most biased reviews I have ever read. That being said, it is also one of the funniest.
I have almost no context for Post Malone, so when I read this, I reached out to a few friends I suspected of listening to him. Only one, who is 19, actively listens to and seeks out his music. I sent her the review after receiving an “I love Posty” text and she hated it, largely because of its moral and political assertions such as “Post Malone’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad person or even completely untalented. It’s that he stands for nothing at all.”
I mentioned the review to another friend, who is around 30, that described Post Malone’s music as “cotton candy as opposed to a lollipop. A lollipop is concentrated sugar. Cotton candy has a lot of air.”
Like my younger friend and New York Times critic Wesley Harris, I question the use of morality as the sole or primary metric for evaluating culture. The problem with Post Malone however, is that the technical aspects of his music also aren’t present. “White people will inevitably appropriate the most culturally relevant music genre, one that’s become almost intrinsically bound to the modern conception of pop, but it’s not asking too much to attempt modest synthesis or the incorporation of a single new idea, or at least to not be so grotesquely desolate… If Post Malone were black… he simply wouldn’t exist.”
In the end, Post Malone is a “whole-milk hip-hop avatar: a proud non-voter, a nonreader of books, the type of person who gets a JFK tattoo without knowing about Kennedy’s role in the Voting Rights Act” and a product of our time, with little if any substance. This is probably why I can never remember what any of his music sounds like.
4. Rolling Stone: Zoë Kravitz, American Woman
LMFAO!!! This profile is too funny! To set the scene, the piece begins, “Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the neighborhood is being its Williamsburgiest self. Outside a gentrified coffee shop under the grimy elevated J-M-Z tracks, a jaywalking Hasidic man darts into the street, making a dude with dreadlocks in an SUV pump his brakes. Inside the cafe, three white twenty-somethings are brainstorming about starting the hashtag #stopkillingpeople when a woman in line overhears them and says she loves it. ‘Oh, thanks!’ one says. ‘We’re trying to figure out ways to promote our music video!’
“‘Noooooooo,’ says Zoë Kravitz when told of this exchange a few minutes later. ‘Were they serious?’ She hangs her head. ‘Aw, man.’”
The whole piece continues in this fashion. Her parents, Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz, also make appearances. Some of the descriptions are so rich and vivid I could swear I was also there.
5. Vox: CBD is everywhere. But is it a scam?
I have a lot of friends that use CBD. One of my friends pulled a muscle in her back last week, and when telling me about it said CBD has been saving her life. But due to the slow legalization of cannabis, “the legitimate research out there is extremely limited” for CBD. Although the FDA does not qualify CBD as a supplement, it is often marketed as such, creating vast variations in product quality.
The legality of CBD is also often debated. “The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that CBD is federally illegal but will not bother going after anyone for possessing or using it. Many argue that a provision in the 2014 farm bill allowing industrial hemp pilot programs, mostly aimed at the textile industry, actually makes non-THC use of cannabis legal; the much-delayed 2018 farm bill would make CBD and industrial hemp legal nationwide if passed as it stands.” In short, no one fully understands how CBD functions or if it legal. But this hasn’t stopped the CBD industry from making “at least a $350 million industry last year” with estimates that “by 2020, annual sales of CBD products could top $1 billion — and some say it already has.”
6.Egadget: On the Nose
I grew up in Michigan, and one of the things I miss the most about my home state is how it smells. Even in the cities, there is a crispness to the air that is unparalleled on the east coast. Michigan is a peninsula, surrounded by the Great Lakes. Stand on the shores of Lake Michigan or Superior and inhale the air as it whisps off of the water. Even on the windiest days, it smells calm, purified by Michigan’s dense forests. The air smells dirtiest in the spring, like the piles of soil the snow leaves behind. In the summer the air is often dense and humid, enhancing the decay of forest floors. There is a lull in the air during the fall—it cruzes along, mild and nearly forgettable. Winter is my favorite season. When it snows, the air is warm, soft, still and sweet, wrapping you like a comforter. On other days it is so cold and crisp and clear that it hurts to breath. Each inhalation pierces your lungs, tasting sharp and abrupt.
During all of the seasons, the air in Michigan is fickle and filled with premonitions, reflecting the peninsula’s constantly changing weather. One breath maybe filled with pinesap only for it to be whisked away and replaced with something else in the next. I never remember how much I love the smells of Michigan until I go back.
Sissel Tolaas is obsessed with smells. She sticks her head in places most of use wouldn’t dare, doesn’t believe in good or bad smells, and does the “unique fieldwork that has made her a legend in the colossal yet somewhat invisible world of modern olfaction.” Her “one ongoing project is creating ‘smellscapes,’ capturing the odors of cities from Singapore to Cape Town and preserving them for the future the way one would conserve a heritage building.” We live in a world dominated by images and sound. Technology allowed us to easily reproduce visual media and audio recording, and has dependent on touch to activate our phones and use keyboards. But taste and smell are being left behind. “today’s humans have overpowered eyes and ears while our other interfaces atrophy.” Tolaas is on a mission assuage, if not rectify this. “Through her work, she wishes to put us back in our bodies. Smell, the most inscrutable and visceral of the senses, is the tool she wields.”
7. New York Times: What Makes Superstar Conductor Gustavo Dudamel So Good?
I spent my childhood summers at Interlochen Arts Camp. Each Sunday the entire camp would poor into Kresge Auditorium, the largest outdoor performance venue on the center’s 1200 acer campus, that overlooks a lake in northern Michigan. Written on the wall behind the stage is the phrase “dedicated to the promotion of world friendship through the universal language of the arts.” Every person I have met that attended camp knows that phrase by heart. It is heavy handed, overtly modernist, has a massive savior complex, and can also be true.
Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is known for his unbridled joy and belief in music. For Dudamel, “music is not ideological… It is a way of ‘building bridges.’” Music is “a language ‘that talks to everybody.’ The danger of thinking ideologically, he feels, is that ‘you get stuck in one or the other side, and we don’t want that. I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe in one or the other. I believe in the people that I see.’” It is a decidedly moral position that often begets criticism, particularly from those of his home country, Venezuela. Gabriela Montero, the Venezuelan pianist, was critical of an apolitical speech Dudamel gave at the White House in 2016 writing “ I simply do not buy the PR froth and fundraiser clichés of ‘hope’ and ‘dreams’ and ‘empowerment’, when those three luxurious abstracts are so far from reach for the majority of Venezuelans” on her Facebook page.
I think I have given up, at least for now, on the perspective that the arts can heal or change the world. I guess I think experiencing art often requires a shift in perspective, a decentering of ourselves from everyday life. And it is the shifts that experiencing art engenders that can begin to alter our perspectives, not necessarily the art itself. Arts just happen to create these create shifts more consistently.
Ina Garten is, by far, my favorite celebrity chef. Not only does she give the best meme inspiration, her recipes are often super basic, simple and clean; there is no fucking around with her cooking.
Anyway, Ina visits the Bon Appétit test kitchen to make chocolate pecan scones. Everyone is fangirling over her, which she either seems not to notice or give zero fucks about, probably the latter. The best part of the video starts around the 11:40 mark while the scones are baking and Ina takes herself on a tour of the kitchen, tasting mezcal and cocktails along the way. They gave her a spoon to sample the cocktails, she indicated that her preferred method would have been to chug them. Same.
9. The Atlantic: My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery
Both of my dad’s parents were math professors. My dad is an econometrician. My sister is an environmental engineer. My oldest friend studies theoretical math. And math was my favorite and best subject growing up. By and large, math has always made the most sense to me. I am not well versed enough in the subject to read complex proofs and equations on my own, but when my friend explains his research, it is fairly easy for me to see the beauty and elegance in it.
Veronique Greenwood’s grandfather, Francis, worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he was a mathematician and physicist. Her “grandfather had a theory, one that he believed to be among the most important work of his career. And it had never been published.” What her Francis thought was that “he’d found was a way in which probabilities arose naturally, a way in which they could be derived from the basic laws of the physical world rather than deduced from experiments.” Her Francis used the “example of a coin on a table to describe how the concept works. Let’s say the coin is covered by a sheet of paper. You don’t know which side is up, because it’s covered. But you do know that if it is heads, it’s only a 180-degree turn from being tails, and vice versa. You can think of all the separate states that a system can be in…and all the different ways it can be manipulated. The coin can’t bend. If you require that your calculation of the probability respects these relationships—there is a mathematical way to do this—there will be only one right answer.”
Francis fit the caricature of the scientific genius, and after he failed to get his paper published, he was ridiculed out of the field. But maybe his paper was published in an alternate universe and “it might have been ignored by everyone, or maybe even criticized publicly, and discarded. Maybe it would have been enough for Francis, though, to have it out there….Even ideas that are wrong may somewhere down the road lead to something…if they can be put out into the open. Francis seems to have been caught in a purgatory of being unable to put the idea into the world and being unable to leave it alone.”
10. The Washington Post: Bolsonaro wins Brazilian presidency
A Facebook friend that posted this article wrote in a later status that “Brazil didn’t elect ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’- This is way way worse.”
On Sunday, “Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker and former army captain, defeated leftist Fernando Haddad” in Brazil’s presidential election. Haddad was largely seen as a “stand-in for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the popular former president, whose reelection bid was upended when he landed in jail this year on corruption charges,” corruption that Bolsonaro promises to end. But in the past, Bolsonaro “has been a passionate defender of the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985… He once said a female politician was too ugly to rape and suggested that having a dead son was better than a gay son. Last year, he suggested that some descendants of African slaves were fat and lazy.” For some Brazilians, like Jose Colares, “If there had been another decent candidate, I wouldn’t have voted for him… [Bolsonaro’s] said a lot of garbage, but he’s the lesser of the evils.”
There is so much going on in our country that we need to pay attention to, but we also need to remember the rest of the world.
*All images taken from reference articles*
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