The internet was eclectic but good this week. Highlights: Researchers are freaking out that young people aren’t having enough sex, sometimes we accidentally throw out the baby with the bathwater, loving a country is complicated, Amazon finally ended its reality show and chose two cities for its HQ2, Facebook keeps going deeper into the Russian troll hole, celebrity gossipers are disappearing, some paintings hum, being able to sleep is an immense privilege, Stan Lee died, and California may perpetually be on fire.
1. The Atlantic: Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?
I listened to this article while sitting in the main courtyard connecting the National Portrait Gallery to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was interesting to listen to an article about sex — a private act — in such a public space. As I listened, this article turned out to be more about relationships than sex, or rather how relationships influence a person’s sex life. The courtyard always has amazing people watching. And sitting there I couldn’t but wonder about the relationships people had with one another.
If you are having sex with someone for the first time, and want to have sex with them again, “Don’t choke them, don’t ejaculate on their face, don’t try to have anal sex with them. These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well,” said Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher interviewed for this article. This seems like common sense, but it might not be for someone that grew up on porn — which is now more easily accessible than ever thanks to the internet. Porn is one of the reasons often cited for the decline in sex among young people. As one interviewee stated, “The internet has made it so easy to gratify basic social and sexual needs that there’s far less incentive to go out into the ‘meatworld’ and chase those things. This isn’t to say that the internet can give you more satisfaction than sex or relationships, because it doesn’t … [But it can] supply you with just enough satisfaction to placate those imperatives.” But everything isn’t always the internet’s fault.
Sex is hard to research, and its decline amongst young people is due to a myriad of things, many of which have to do with relationships. People “have always been most likely to have sex in the context of a relationship” and many young people are less likely to be in relationships than in the past, with many choosing — or feeling forced — to focus on school, a career, stability, and life first. But sex is also interesting; we don’t need it to survive. We live in a time of climate change and political turmoil causing heightened anxiety and “under these circumstances, survival trumps desire. As Emily Nagoski likes to point out, nobody ever died of sexlessness: ‘We can starve to death, die of dehydration, even die of sleep deprivation. But nobody ever died of not being able to get laid.’”
2. Thrillist: I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.
Sometimes I find things I want to write about, but I stop myself because I know writing about it will destroy why I love it. Sometimes I don’t write about them because I’m selfish; I like having a secret and only want to share it with the people I care about and love.
Kevin Alexander set off to find the best cheeseburger in American, visiting 30 cities and eating some 330 burgers. Last May, Stanich’s took the top spot on Alexander’s list, and then the restaurant closed. The short version of why it closed is that “crowds of people started coming in the restaurant, people in from out of town, or from the suburbs, basically just non-regulars. And as the lines started to build up, his employees — who were mainly family members — got stressed out, and the stress would cause them to not be as friendly as they should be, or to shout out crazy long wait times for burgers in an attempt to maybe convince people to leave, and as this started happening, things fell by the wayside. Dishes weren’t cleared quickly, and these new people weren’t having the proper Stanich’s experience, and Steve would spend his entire day going around apologizing and trying to fix things. They might pay him lip service to his face, but they were never coming back so they had no problem going on Yelp or Facebook and denouncing the restaurant and saying that the burgers were bad. And then the health department came in and suggested they do some deep cleaning.” At first, the restaurant was only supposed to be closed for two weeks. Then life happened and ‘real life is always more complicated and messier than we want it to be.’”
What upset Sevet Stanich, the owner, most was that he lost his regulars. “The people crowding the restaurant were one-time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.”
And for Alexander, “A decision I made for a list I put on the internet has impacted a family business and forever altered its future. That I have changed family dynamics and relationships. And it could very easily happen again.”
3. Time Magazine: I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It
The title of this article is not a new sentiment, but it is one that is getting more attention recently. “Love it or leave it” is a complicated phrase if you live in a country you love, but a country that also hates and demonizes you. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but grew up in America and has always lived acutely aware of the colonial legacies that surround him. “French rule ended only 17 years before my birth. My parents and their parents never knew anything but French colonialism. Perhaps because of this history, part of me loves France, a love that is due, in some measure, to having been mentally colonized by France.”
Love for a country is not always simple or easy. “Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included.”
Nguyen is right in that we always don’t take the time to understand what we love, and in so doing often fall in love with the idea of the thing instead of the thing itself.
4. The New York Times: New York’s Amazon Deal Is a Bad Bargain
After over a year-long search, Amazon has chosen two cities for its new HQ2s: Arlington, Virginia, and New York City’s borough of Queens. After receiving outlandish incentives — ranging from free parking and an exclusive lounge at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Dallas creating “Amazon U” to Toronto offering nothing (because, Canada) — Amazon chose its new locations because “New York has more than 320,000 tech workers in the labor pool, the most in the nation. (Washington is second.) That talent commands high salaries, great benefits and won’t move to Pittsburgh or Austin or any other of the perfectly nice cities that tried to woo the online giant.”
No one knows what this means for actual New Yorkers except for gentrification and higher rent. “‘I welcome the jobs if it means Amazon investment in L.I.C. infrastructure, without us having to pay a ransom for them to be here,’ said the neighborhood’s state senator, Michael Gianaris.” Perhaps what is most astounding about the HQ2 search is that cities were willing to pay the most highly valued company in the world billions of dollars in incentives. “Rather than the state and the city paying off Amazon, Amazon should be required to invest in the subways, schools and affordable housing. It could also be required to include job guarantees for lower-income residents of Long Island City, not just flimsy promises of job training.” Let’s all take a note of Canada when the search for HQ3 comes about.
5. New York Times: Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
This might be bad to say, but I don’t find all of the drama around Facebook and politics that interesting. I find it expected. I have had a Facebook account for nearly half of my life, and I have never been able to vote in a presidential election not riddled with social media bot scandals. The Facebook and Russian bots have, sadly, become my baseline for American politics.
The New York Times has published a new account, with more information on Facebook and its Russian-linked activity. It is an “account of how Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg navigated Facebook’s cascading crises, much of which has not been previously reported, based on interviews with more than 50 people. They include current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members.” But if you have been following Facebook, most of what is in here shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it fills in the details for what many suspected to be true.
6. Jezabel: Michael K and the Disappearing Celebrity Blogger
I love social media. I think it is fascinating, and I often find myself browsing numerous accounts, on multiple platforms, for hours. But I miss the time when celebrity blogs and tabloids reigned supreme.
It has been well documented (at least colloquially) that pop culture had a peak between 9/11 and the recession in 2008, dying in 2009. It was a no-mans-land caught between the seemingly stable 90s and the social media of today. Each celebrity blogger of the early oughts offered something different: “Lainey Lui (LaineyGossip, 2003) was the smart one, Mario Lavendeira (Perez Hilton, 2004) was the dick who drew dicks, Karl Wang (The Superficial, 2004) was a smarter dick, Jared Eng (JustJared, 2005) was the nice one, and Lisa Sugar (PopSugar, 2006) was basically like her name… linguistic genius Shareka Roberts (Crunk and Disorderly, 2005), bright-eyed Natasha Eubanks (Young, Black, and Fabulous, 2005) and aspiring mogul Jamarlin Martin (Bossip, 2006).” Michael K was the anonymous private but “natural comedian” of celebrity bloggers and was once described as “Gay Shakespeare.” But, “by the close of the first decade of the new century, it didn’t really matter what Michael K said or how he said it. Celebrities were speaking for themselves and, when they weren’t, it wasn’t Perez adding a penile flourish with MS Paint, it was TMZ slapping up an actual penis, no comment required.”
The era of celebrity blogs has passed, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t be loved.
7. Hyperallergic: An Artist’s Impressions of New York City’s Most Exclusive Funeral Home
I love art that hums. And by this, I don’t mean music or sound art or videos, but paintings, sculptures, installations and other forms of visual art that emit noise. I could listen to Agnes Martin’s paintings hum all day. They create a constant buzz, that is somehow slow and melodic.
Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel at 1076 Madison Avenue in New York is said to be the most exclusive funeral home in the city. It is a quiet building, and doesn’t bring much attention to itself, but over its tenure “Judy Garland, Heath Ledger, Jim Henson, Mae West, Igor Stravinsky, Tennessee Williams, Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, Biggie Smalls, Candy Darling, Joan Rivers, Ayn Rand, and both of Donald Trump’s parents” have passed through its halls.
Cynthia Talmadge’s exhibition, 1076 Madison at 56 Henry in Chinatown, consists of 8 pointillist paintings of Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel’s exterior. In them, “Talmadge excels at inscribing loneliness into brick and mortar. A latent, ill-formed unease develops on the emotional edge of her seemingly benign pointillist paintings. Anxiety accrues when the visitor considers the paradoxical absence of spectacle in an artwork that consists of literally thousands upon thousands of tiny dots.”
I haven’t seen this exhibition, but Talmadge’s paintings seem to hum, even through a computer screen. Maybe it is the vibration of all the dots, or how direct the compositions are. The paintings don’t feel as melodic as Martin’s work, but they hum nonetheless.
8. Longreads: Insomnia: To Pursue Sleep So Hard You Become Invigorated By the Chase
I never really used to think about sleep. To me, sleep was just something that happened. My parents tell me stories of how I used to put myself to bed as a toddler, and if I couldn’t get to my room, they would find me sleeping of random corners of the house. I’ve always woken up around 1am to use the bathroom — and still do — but I usually quickly fall back asleep. I can’t go more than 20 hours without a nap at the very least. For the most part, sleep has never been hard for me.
Sleep is all some people think about, though. For Marina Benjamin, an insomniac, sleep is almost always lost, creating space for a new world to be born. “When I am up at night,” writes Benjamin, “the world takes on a different hue. It is quieter and closer and there are textures of the dark I have begun paying attention to. I register the thickening, sense-dulling darkness that hangs velvety as a pall over deep night, and the green-black tincture you get when moisture charges the atmosphere with static. Then there is the gently shifting penumbra that heralds dawn and feels less like the suggestion of light than a fuzziness around the edges of your perception, as if an optician had clamped a diffusing lens over your eyes then quizzed you about the blurred shapes that dance at the peripheries of your vision.”
If sleep—like anything—is always at the forefront of your mind, it can easily become an obsession. “When you cannot get sleep you fall in love with sleep, because desire (thank you, Lacan) is born out of lack. Perhaps there is an inverse relationship here, between the degree of lack and the corresponding degree of love. How much do I love sleep, I wonder. And can sleep love me back?”
I didn’t start seriously thinking about sleep until recently. I made a friend this summer who has narcolepsy. It is not uncommon for her to go days without sleeping. She sends me texts about how she has gotten 3 hours of sleep over 3 days. Other times, she sleeps for what seems like days on end.
I used to be shocked by how little sleep she gets, but now I just wonder what she does with all of that time, all of those quiet hours alone. I wonder if she reads or writes or watches TV. I wonder if she is more productive because of the extra time, or less due to her lack of sleep. I wonder what she thinks about when she longs for sleep. I wonder if she loves sleep and wants it to love her back. I wonder what I would do if I also couldn’t sleep.
I am good at romanticizing things. It is easy for me to get lulled by the possibility of more quiet hours alone. Then I reminisce on how good it feels to fall asleep when I’m tired, and I remember how necessary sleep is. Now, when I think about sleep, I mostly worry about my friend.
Stan Lee, a central figure in Marvel Comics, died on Monday. “If Stan Lee revolutionized the comic book world in the 1960s, which he did, he left as big a stamp — maybe bigger — on the even wider pop culture landscape of today.” Avenger’s is the most lucrative movie franchise ever, and its effects on pop culture are everywhere.
One of the most bizarre things to come from Lee’s death is how controversial it has become. Armie Hammer and Bill Maher have both drawn criticism for commenting on how people are mourning Lee’s death. Whether you are a Marvel fan or not, it is impossible to contest how prolific Lee’s career was, and the impact he had on comic books, superheroes, movies, and pop culture.
The California wildfires are progressing so quickly it is hard to keep up. Celebrities have their own firefighters, thousands have been evacuated, and a thousand more are still missing. “November always marked the beginning of rainy season in California. Now it is fire season.”
As a society, we are stubborn. “With climate as with everything else, we tend to ignore developing news at first, sometimes until we reach an inflection point and start exaggerating it, out of fear and perceived novelty. And so, in the decades ahead, the experience of living through climate change will likely be defined by sudden, cascading inversions, the changes creeping along imperceptibly before they feel terrifyingly all-consuming.”
This article is by no means up to date on the state of the fires, but it does do a good job of explaining their larger implications.
*All images taken from reference articles*
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