Tuesday, February 28, 2017

justin thinking about justin

A friend who's going through some of her old stuff just sent me a photo of this Valentine's Day card I made for her maybe 15 years ago.

I'm fairly certain that's Justin Timberlake thinking about Justin Timberlake and make no mistake: when I made this thing, I was a grown-ass adult. It sort of feels like this image should be my About Me section for everything from now on, or possibly my business card.

Justin thinking about Justin is obviously a very powerful work, but I'm not sure that even it can make up for my pathetic selection for Book of the Week. (If you're new to this, I'm reading one not-for-work book every week, then gloating about it here.) And, okay, a busy week capped off by a visit from some old friends has resulted in my really phoning it in on this one. I mean, this is some seriously shameful shit: Food Rules by Michael Pollan.

First and foremost, despite the fact that I'm a relatively nonviolent feeble person, Michael Pollan fully lived up to my expectation of coming across as someone I really want to punch. I'd been vaguely thinking about reading one of his other books for various dumb reasons (it was free, and I've been reading stuff like it because I've had a whole boring health thing), but then I saw this after I'd already more or less given up on reading anything this week (which would have been most unwise, as it would've inevitably lead to me dumping my book pledge). At 140 pages, why not? As it turns out this book is much shorter than that, even. Really it's more like a long brochure, if brochures had no information in them whatsoever.

My favorite of Pollan's stupid food rules was definitely "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." My own great-grandmother famously ate Vick's Vaporub every night before bed for "health reasons," so if you imagine for one second that crazy old bitch wouldn't recognize Pizza flavor Combos as a foodstuff, think again Pollan. This whole romanticized notion of women in the olden days is actually a big theme in the book and guess what, I hate it. There's this one part at the beginning where he talks about having consulted with lots of doctors and scientists and mothers and grandmothers. A million years ago, I saw a tweet from a guy who was re-watching Waiting for Guffman and he was like "hmm, this seems really homophobic to me. Is this what it means to be radicalized?" And first of all, yes, that sounds about right (the radicalized part), but second of all I often ask a similar question of myself when I'm pondering the way some book or comic talks about women. Like, was Pollan really setting up a dichotomy there between doctors & scientists vs. mothers & grandmothers, or is that just my own shit? Who cares, he sucks. I'm going to do better next week.

Here are some other random things that caught my eye:

"Bustle and the Industrialization of Confession" (Gawker)
This piece is about a year old, but it was vaguely alluded to in this (bad) blog post by Sam Kriss. I'm really interested in the way people talk about the so-called industry of confession. And despite knowing something about that subject, I somehow missed that this was a thing:

Turns out the site that Kriss is talking about here is Bustle, by the way, which makes perfect sense. I'm not sure if this is still their practice, but as recently as a year ago they were asking their freelancers to tell them about abortions, drug addictions, sexual experiences, etc. At Gawker, Rich Juzwiak had some smart things to say about that:

I can hardly bring myself to believe that survey is real. I have mixed feelings about "write what you know" with regard to identity politics. Sometimes it's pretty obviously true, and sometimes less so. But asking women to disclose rapes and abortions and threesomes or whatever in their welcome packet? Jesus.

That blog from Kriss is the most pretentious thing I've read in a while. My feeling is that if you're going to be really pretentious you've got to show me the money. The money is...not this:

This is a very common distinction that people make, the "true" self vs. the online self, and what I object to isn't the possibility that we each are more or less a collection of identities, but in the primacy and integrity of some pristine true secret self that lives above it all. Different people and different places bring out different facets of identity, and if you don't get that right out of the gate I have zero interest in your opinions on identity. Zero.

"The Year's Best Weird Internet Video Gets Its Viral Payoff" (Gawker)
Speaking of old Gawker... I was sitting around the other night thinking about Videogum, as is my wont, when I remembered this old video I'm obsessed with:

Videogum archives are impossible to search so I googled some iteration of "sword children dancing" and found this explainer on what was up with these people, anyway. In some ways it's exactly what you'd expect...you don't need real powers of deduction to recognize that the video is neither 100 percent "authentic" (due to blatant art kid stuff) or "fake" (because of the girl's obvious expertise in whatever it is she's doing). Still, I never quite imagined this scenario (this is the guy talking):

And that, children, is where viral videos come from.

"Different Women's March, Same Message" (NYT)
Oh look, Missoni did a pussy hat.

"The pussy hat arrived on the runway," writes some lady at the New York Times:
The designer Angela Missoni and the rest of the extended Missoni clan, including her mother, Rosita, crowded onto the runway in their hats and urged everyone, along with all their models, to join them to “show the world the fashion community is united and fearless.” In the background, “Power to the People” played.
God, just kill me.

"The Latest Lesson in My Five-Year Journey toward Figuring Out that Fran├žoise Mouly Possibly Sucks"
Not sure if I'll be doing any comics links this week, so allow me to direct your attention to the most recent cover of the New Yorker, which is about representation:

It's titled #OscarsNotSoWhite." Oh, and here's the guy who made it:

Remember when I said there are some cases where identity politics obviously matter when it comes to choosing which creator you publish? Well, this is that.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I hope these aren't too boring

I don't know why I'm not writing about comics lately. What even happened this week? I guess Milo died, that was sort of exciting. (I consider him Honorary Comics, having been officially endorsed by the CBLDF and all.) Turns out child-fucking is not good for your brand. Who knew. Except, well, okay, sometimes it's good for your brand. Jon Benet's been dead for 20 years and she was a Lifetime movie last year. But, listen, if your brand involves child fucking, you can't do edgelord. Everyone knows that. You've got to do, like, full-on Nancy Grace faux outrage drag or get a middle-aged actor to play Chuck Bass. No one wants to hear your defense of child rape...unless you're writing a terrible thinkpiece on Game of Thrones, or maybe defending R Crumb. Those are the rules.

For anyone who might be confused about whether or not grown men should have sex with 13-yos we thankfully have Twitter heroes like Kurt Eichenwald. As the father of two large sons (at least one of whom does kung fu) and the savior of countless teens, he's out here to help all the rest of us plebes who've hated Milo for the last two years discern right from wrong:

Yes, American hero Kurt Fucking Eichenwald, who "saved" teens from pedophiles by...writing his 18-year-old source a personal check for $2,000? It's called journalism, and who am I to argue with it. I'm really sorry, because I'm getting off topic here--and I'm not into ugly shaming most of the time, I'm really not--but my absolute favorite burn on the internet is when people tweet Kurt Eichenwald his own photograph without comment:

Nothing will ever be funnier than this to me, unless you count the large sons. Sometimes I google "Eichenwald large sons" when I'm feeling down. How large exactly are the sons, I wonder, and do they have heads like Kurt's?

I haven't even looked at tweets 1, 3, or 4 in this series cause I'm saving them for a rainy day.

So...I don't mean to make light of pedophilia, which is bad, and obviously quite different than watching adults pretend to be teens on the CW. But--and I think the Eichenwald thing illustrates this really well--the way we talk about it is super fucking fake. Just this endless loop of self-aggrandizement for eeking out a pass in Humanity 101. And the fakest thing of all is the pretense that CPAC or Simon & Schuster or Brietbart or other entity gives a flimsy fuck about Milo's views on molestation apart from how much they impact their respective brands. (Roxane Gay lays this out quite clearly, I think.) Plainly Milo has said and done way worse. For that matter Bill Maher has said and done way worse. Maher is basically the proto-Milo. I guess no one has shot anyone in the name of Bill Maher, but he's stoked some serious, serious Islamophobic bullshit for...I don't know exactly. Since 2001, anyway. How is it that anyone on earth has any interest in that guy's opinions on anything? Who is watching that show?? Is it for the people who used to watch Entourage?

Let me share a secret with you: the Milo thing isn't about children. Not really. I mean, there are people who care, of course there are, but what we're really talking about in this moment is Democrats who care about children insofar as they can make themselves feel like heroes, Republicans who care about children insofar as they can use them as an excuse to oppress trans people (and, barring that, will accept making themselves feel like heroes as a distant second best), and corporations that are only capable of caring about money. If any of the above cared about children then people wouldn't be able to buy Jason Bourne-grade weapons arsenals in those roadside trailers that sell fireworks and go execute a class of kindergarteners. Every I think about that it makes me cry, and I have no hope whatsoever that it will change in my lifetime, but anyway I guess Milo talked about pederasty on a podcast and now the world is weighing the fuck in on the one issue that literally everyone except child molesters (and the President of the United States, probably) already agrees on. I'm glad that Simon & Schuster took back their book deal but let's not mistake that for progress.

Oh well, haha, time to get down to business. This is my third book report, and I don't know why I wrote that long preamble except that I'm vaguely worried these posts are boring and, well, unfortunately I'm disgruntled. Also I'm afraid this week is double boring because my book was just the sequel to Flowers in the Attic, which is awesomely titled Petals on the Wind. It's weird to me that doing these posts no one reads is enough to make me feel accountable about keeping my book pledge, but it seems to be working. Petals in the Wind isn't as good as the first book--there are some pacing problems, for one thing--but what really strikes me is that it's so much more rapey than I remember? I find this is a thing sometimes when I read books I loved when I was a kid. The whole series in a nutshell is Cathy getting raped by different kinds of men she then falls in love with. Also sometimes they rape her little sister. It's really deep though.

Here's some other stuff I found interesting this week:

"The Downfall of YouTube's Biggest Star Is a Symptom of a Bigger Illness" (Jacob Clifton @ Buzzfeed)
It's still insane to me that "Mommy, where do gamers come from" has become the question of our times, but here we are. One of my very favorite writers, Jacob Clifton, has addressed it in an uncharacteristically straightforward manner in a piece that connects the dots between that Swedish gamer guy, Milo, Gamergate, and the alt right, and I am so much smarter for it:

From this piece I also learned that Television Without Pity will be reanimating sometime this year and Clifton, who was the original site's best writer with a bullet, is going to be its deputy editor. TV recaps are the worst, except for TWOP, which is so, so great. I couldn't be more thrilled.
Over at NYT Magazine, John Herrman also wrote about the Swedish gamer guy, studying the situation more in terms of social media ecosystems and how they're being monetized:

Herrman has long been the sharpest observer of this ecosystem we've got...so sharp, in fact, that often I have to read his stuff two to three times before I really get what the fuck he's even talking about. I only read this once because YouTube just isn't that interesting to me, but fortunately the takeaway was clear enough:
[Maker Studios'] severing of ties [with the swedish gamer guy], in the bigger context of YouTube, amounts to a disavowal. YouTube's reaction, and how it follows up, is the thing to watch.
Duly noted, Herrman. Ta.

'I'm Going to Give Up My Best Gift': George Saunders Discusses the Writing of His Offbeat Novel  (Vulture)
I don't often read books in real time (meaning when everyone else is reading them), but I think I'm going to do Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm not sure why, exactly, because I have the vague sense that I'm going to hate it. In any case I've read a couple interviews with George Saunders and I'm baffled that no one out there is asking the obvious question: George Saunders, what is going on with your head??

What's weird is that he looks exactly like before, only his mullet has taken on that very specific Chester Brown aesthetic of 100 strokes/night with a cat brush. I just need more information on these grooming choices.

Anyway this is mostly a very good interview, but here's the part that really struck me:

I'm a big believer in arbitrary parameters for art projects. I'll be interested to see how this choice played out.

"A Heavenly Respite at the Westminster Dog Show" (New Yorker)
I have never loved Twitter so much as when author Jia Tolentino posted photos from her day at the Westminster Dog Show:

This woman is living my dream and I'm not even mad. Best part of the article was about the breed that "once worked as rotisserie attendants, walking on medieval treadmills that rotated the spits holding meat over a fire." Dogs!!!!!!! I love you, dogs.

"Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency" (New Yorker)
I finally read this David Remnick piece, which is about how Obama is "a scholar of his own predicament." It's very, very good. I've always known Obama's smart, but what I find interesting about him is that he's always smart in ways that surprise me. For instance in this piece, he shows that he's an incredibly savvy critic of social media:

I suppose I thought that, having been pretty busy for the last eight years, as these platforms devolved (matured?), Obama wouldn't be so insightful about this stuff. "Everything is true and nothing is true." I don't know, to me that's a much deeper take than blah blah blah FAKE NEWS. Here he is on Trump:
"Trump understands the new ecosystem, in which facts and truth don't matter. You attract attention, rouse emotions, and then move on. You can surf those emotions."
Surfing emotions...I'd never thought about it in quite in those terms, but that's exactly right. A brain like that bookended by W. and a reality television star who just hired a Sandy Hook truther. Just...what a thing, man. What a thing. What a thing.

Monday, February 13, 2017

book report

My new thing is trying to read one non work-related book every week, and then write about it here along with whatever else caught my eye. Having now accomplished this two weeks in a row, it is slowly dawning on me that I might secretly be a perfect person who's capable of anything. I'm feeling very wise, very powerful. Let's begin.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Over the weekend I was talking with a group of people about what we read when we were kids. I usually find that other girls who were big readers were into relatively literary books like Black Beauty or Laura Ingalls Wilder, but what I most loved to read was genre fiction. I spent maybe third and fourth grade reading and re-reading the ouerves of Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Thomas Harris, and Agatha Christie. I tried to explain this when a friend expressed shock that I hadn't read Anne of Green Gables. "I was more into Stephen King," I said. She was like, "Yeah, me too, but I wasn't reading him when I was ten." She wasn't getting it. "My favorite book in fourth grade was It," I explained. "I think that's why I'm like this."

Anyway another person there said something about V.C. Andrews and it had never really occurred to me until that moment how weird it was that one of my favorite series as a kid was about children who had to live in an attic? And then the brother and sister straight-up start fucking while they're imprisoned in the attic? And how I inherited those books from my cousin, so she must have read them too? I have no idea what the kids are reading these days, but it's weird to think there was a time when these insane gothic incest books were pretty much what young girls around the country were reading. Someone is bound to have written about this phenomenon somewhere; I'm going to have to look into this later. I just googled and saw a Slate take where the writer says that kids loved it because it dramatized the way that teens feel oppressed by their parents. Nah, I'm 99% sure it's about the incest.

As soon as my friend mentioned Flowers in the Attic I knew I was going to read it as soon as I got home. (I actually started out reading a totally different book this week, but it's going to have to wait.) I must've read this series half a dozen times when I was a kid, maybe more. What's remarkable is that Flowers in the Attic really holds up. A few years ago I reread The Stand and felt hugely disappointed. Woof. I'm not writing off Stephen King yet--I'll definitely reread Salem's Lot and It at some point--but it was almost enough to make me question my elementary school self's taste. Now I'm feeling vindicated because Flowers in the Attic is nearly perfect. I remembered everything that was going to happen, and still I was totally on the edge of my seat...when are these children going to start fucking? Can't wait for this brother and sister to fuck on their dirty attic mattress.

Clearly a book for people of all walks of life. Five stars.

"Liberal Fan Fiction: Too Many Memes Will Rot Your Brain" by Ezekiel Kweku
I wish I had written this piece. It's about what Kweku calls liberal fan fiction, which includes Biden memes, that idiotic game theory guy, and those blatantly fake 'rogue' twitters that purport to be government employees:

He even accounts for the new subgenre of liberal fan fiction where people imagine Trump et al to be competent manipulators (e.g., the 'balloon for a coup' guy on Medium):

What I really enjoy about Kweku is that he's not an asshole, ever. Like not even a little bit. Even when he's writing about very disturbing things there's something about his voice that's very soothing to me. Not for nothing, I first read him years ago at The Toast.

"The Esquire Man Is Dead. Long Live the Esquire Man" (NYT)
Oh my god, this entire article, which is about the identity crisis in men's magazines (particularly Esquire), made me laugh so hard. Long story short, Esquire is launching a redesign that is surely doomed to fail. Here's the cover from the first issue of the redesign:

My favorite thing about this is how there are not one, not two, but THREE references to peen and yet this still somehow comes off as WIRED for virgins. Here's the EIC on the redesign:
“I look back on what the New Journalism invented, what Gay did, what Tom Wolfe did, what Norman Mailer did. They had to up the literary horsepower with new tools and techniques in order to compete with the speed and seismic shock of one insane event after another in the ’60s and ’70s. We’re just having to do the same thing.”
Yes, yes. I'm really getting all that from "A Hot SEX GUIDE to...the NOVEL!?!" haha, I'm just really looking forward to watching this fail.

"How the Light Gets In" (New Yorker)
In grabbing this link I noticed this article has a different title on the website. I like this one better. Anyway this is David Remnick's profile of Leonard Cohen, published just a few months before Cohen's death late last year. There are so many great moments in this piece. There is Cohen arguing with a grocer about potato salad. There are paragraphs upon paragraphs of cogent analysis of Cohen's songs from Bob Dylan. There is this letter from Cohen to Marianne (the one from the songs), days before her death in July 2016:
He was right; he died a few months later. Man. Man oh man.

But my favorite part was when Cohen described a conversation he had with Bob Dylan in a car many years ago:

"I'm Number Zero." lol

"Meet the Woman Who Helps Humanize Murderers" by Elon Green
Jennifer Wynn is a mitigator: she digs into murderers' pasts for abuse and other circumstances with an endgame of avoiding the death penalty. A lot of this piece is just her discussing some of her most memorable cases:
I love Luis. He was my first full case. So articulate, so forthcoming, so remorseful. Luis admitted to brutally bludgeoning his girlfriend to death with a hammer.
A super fascinating and sad read.

"Sean Spicer's Breitbart Interview Is an Avant-Garde Triumph of Trash Cinema" (AV Club)
An exegesis of a two-minute interview with Sean Spicer that is truly worth your time:
The final three shots will be puzzled over by scholars: Spiering gazing into the camera, half of Spicer’s face, and then a chilling final image as Spiering gazes into some far-off abyss.
I've watched this four times already and bookmarked it for later.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

you could use some soup

It's February in this, our dumbest winter, and you've had a bad week. You haven't gone to see John Wick 2 yet, and you honestly wonder if you should save it for an emergency because John Wick 2 is maybe the only good thing that's left. You're hungry, but you don't feel like cooking something fancy. Maybe you don't feel like cooking anything, period--maybe not ever again--but at the same time some part of you wonders if it making something with your hands might you feel human again.

You know what you need? You need some soup. And I'm going to interrupt all this sweet-ass content at my comics scold blog to be here for you with a recipe.

Every year around February I get together with a group of friends for a soup swap. It's vegetarian, which of course I resent even though I mostly eat vegetarian. The first year we did it I really phoned it in with a lentil number and everyone else shamed me with their elaborate recipes. This one girl made a Thomas Keller recipe, and honestly it wasn't my favorite, but still. My lentil bullshit was the clear loser of the night.

Every year since then my soup has been very good, because I'm only competitive when it comes to things that don't matter at all, but I have to tell you: this year my soup was fucking amazing. (I'm especially proud because this time around I had a lot of limitations due to an allergy situation that's ruining my life.) This recipe truly hits every note: a little special, but not too fussy; a little spicy, but not aggressively so; really healthy and totally, totally satisfying. Also: dead easy and extremely cheap. If you cook a lot you should have all the spices, but if you don't just go somewhere like Whole Foods where you can just buy what you need from the bulk section for cheap. Don't substitute regular paprika for the smoked unless you're desperate. I think that's what really makes the soup.

Probably I'm setting your expectations too high. I'm so sorry. You're probably going to hate this fucking soup. If so, please blame this lady whose recipe I adapted. It's on her.

But seriously...I love this soup so much.

Somewhat Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

I use homemade coconut milk because I had some on hand the first time I made it (long story). Not to be an asshole, but if you want to make a batch, I really think it's worth it. Also makes a hell of a chai. Otherwise use unsweetened coconut milk (preferably from the chilled section at the grocery store, but shelf-stable should also work) or canned (lite or full fat). If you use the canned stuff, esp. full fat, the soup will be on the thick side.
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds) 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 
  • 1 head of garlic (yes, the whole thing)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (olive oil or vegetable oil should also be fine)
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of thyme
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 14 ounces coconut milk (see note, above)
  • Salt to taste
  • A large handful of roasted salted pistachios, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

1 - Peel the squash and chop it into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat. Spread the squash in an even layer across a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Sprinkle with salt and roast for 40 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and soft, stirring occasionally.

2 - Slice the top off the head of garlic so that most of the cloves are exposed. Otherwise don't worry too much about the papery skin; you want the head to stay intact. Put the whole thing in a ramekin and drizzle with olive oil. Stick it in the oven with the squash and roast for 40 minutes or until it's golden brown and very soft. Set it aside to cool for at least 10 minutes.

3 - While everything's roasting, combine your spices--the curry powder, smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and thyme--in a small bowl.

4 - Warm the coconut oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the red bell pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the roasted squash, sprinkle with the spice mixture from Step 3, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the vegetable broth and the coconut milk. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and leave it to simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. You just want the flavors to mingle a bit.

5 - Turn off the heat and stir the soup. It will look really fucking dubious; try to have some faith. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins into a small bowl, sprinkle with salt, and mash with a fork.

6 - Pour the soup in a blender and zip until combined. Add the mashed garlic and blend for a while longer, until it looks really smooth. Taste the soup and add salt to taste, about 3/4 teaspoon. Be conservative because the pistachios are also salty.

7 - Ladle the soup into a bowl and sprinkle with maybe a tablespoon of chopped pistachios, or to taste.

Toasted Coconut Milk 
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 4 cups water
  • Pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Spread the coconut flakes in an even layer over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Toast for about 7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Keep a close eye on it; you want the coconut flakes browned, not burned. 

Put the toasted coconut in a blender and add the water and salt. Blend for five minutes on the highest setting--maybe longer if you don't have a high-powered blender. It should look white and smooth. It is not smooth, though. Don't be fooled by your lyin' eyes.

Strain using a nut milk bag. If you don't have a nut milk bag, strain it with your finest sieve, pressing to get all the liquid out of the coconut pulp. Then put two layers of cheesecloth over the sieve and strain it again. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

some stuff I read this week

Over the last however many years I've noticed that I read fewer and fewer books, mainly because I read too much internet. Since the internet is absolutely bonkers right now, which feels like a lot on top of my own personal freakout about everything that's going on, it seems like a good time to focus more on on "real" reading. After giving it some thought I'm setting a little goal for myself to read one non-work book a week, plus one issue in my hoarder pile of New Yorkers. Not impressive, but respectable. I will almost certainly fail.

How many books do normal people read? Normal isn't the right word...I guess I'm really wondering how many books readers read. Curious, I googled around a little and found a Pew study where the line of demarcation was did you read a book last year, or not. One book. Then I saw a Gallup thing where the highest echelon of readers was 11 books/year or more. I definitely read more than that, but I still feel as though I read less than everyone I know?

The idea is that I'll post here on Sundays about whatever book I read, plus anything else that really struck me over the course of the week. And if you'd like to leave a comment about something you read last week, why, I'd like that very much.

Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi
His new collection of stuff on the 2016 election. I had to read it for work, though I probably would have picked it up on my own (maybe with a little more distance, though). Last year I read some of this stuff in real time, but it's definitely worth revisiting in one big batch. Taking it in this way, my feeling was while the quality of thought was consistently high, I found the writing a bit more uneven than I remembered. Maybe the pieces I had read before were the ones that people circulated most, and therefore the best ones? I don't know, there's this thing I find where that stuff I've read on the Internet collected as a book usually disappoint me. I felt the same way about Samantha Irby's Meaty and Allie Brosch's book a few years back. Those I have some theories as to what went wrong, but I'm less sure what's going on here here. What do I know, Matt Taibbi at his absolute worst is better than anything I'll ever write. Except for, like, there are a couple of chapters in here that are drinking games? Those were pretty bad.

Neither here nor there, but I had somehow never put together or possibly forgot that Taibbi was the guy in charge of Racket. Haha, remember that? Also he's apparently on Bill Maher a lot. Quick question, is Matt Taibbi a nightmare person? I realized when I was working on this book that I don't know much about his persona. Here's an anecdote I just found in his wikipedia:
Journalist James Verini, while interviewing Taibbi in a Manhattan restaurant for Vanity Fair, said Taibbi cursed and threw a coffee at him, then accosted him as he tried to get away, all in response to Verini's volunteered opinion that Taibbi's book, The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, was "redundant and discursive".
I think this makes me like him more. Back on track.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This guy was the brother-in-law of a blogger who I've been reading forever, and I'm not too proud to admit that I cried bitter tears when she posted about his death in 2015, and then again when she posted about her twin sister making over the house that she had shared with him. His illness became national news after a couple of essays that would later become this book went viral, and it was weird reconciling that with the happy-looking guy who'd popped up in these posts over the years. Anyway Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who got nightmare cancer in his mid-30s, and then he died pretty soon thereafter, when his daughter was still a baby. Like if this were a movie it would have Mandy Moore in it, that's how sad this story was.

Kalanithi was one of those people who's good at every fucking thing, but he's likable anyway, which is itself a feat. This was quite a thoughtful book with this dignified zen vibe that is basically the opposite of my entire thing. If I were dying I'd probably just Carrie Mathison-cry and be rude to people. Oh wait, I'm already like that. So that plus I would eat flamin' hot cheetos with every meal.

Perfect title.

"John Cale's Inventive Retrospection" (New Yorker)
Dating back to Sasha Frere-Jones, whose work I really really despise, I have a proud tradition of hating the music dept at the New Yorker. It doesn't really matter who's writing, that stuff is consistently the worst. This caught my eye because it's about John Cale revisiting his old work, "revising" his albums in a way that's sort of like what Kanye's been doing with Life of Pablo. I don't think the stuff she says about the songs themselves is worth a hoot, but there's a lot of other stuff to chew on.

Evidently Cale has been doing this for a while, sort of reorganizing and revising his own legacy. I wasn't aware of this but it just so happens the latest album he fixed up (Fragments of a Rainy Season) is my favorite. (To be fair, I think it's the only John Cale solo album I actually own.) Thinking of albums as living, breathing things instead of a static artifact is itself very interesting, but the fact that it's John Cale in particular speaks to me because one of my most worst opinions is that some of the best Velvet Underground stuff is from their live 1993 reunion album. Cale singing All Tomorrow's Parties is one of my absolute favorites of all time.

A thousand years ago I talked to John Cale at a book signing for his autobiography and he was a real asshole. (And also bright yellow, which was sort of unsettling. I think he had hepatitis, though, so maybe that's what made him mean.) I think that's around when I decided that meeting your heroes is maybe not all it's cracked up to be.

The article also had a great anecdote about Cale's version of "Hallelujah."

These days that song isn't really listenable anymore, but I think Cale was one of the first people to cover it. His version really is stellar. I liked it back in the day. The article referred to a video he released for it a few months ago. It's sorta hacky but there are these shots where worms are crawling over his hands and, later, on his face, and it's a pretty powerful image, this 75yo covered in fucking worms. I think it was shot right before Cohen died? Also the piece mentions this interview where a journalist asked Cale if he was over Lou Reed's death. "Not really," he said. "I don't think that will happen." :(

"Brad Troemel, the Troll of the Internet Art World (New Yorker)  + "Christo, Trump, and the Art World's Biggest Biggest Protest Yet" (NYT)
Technically I read the Christo thing last week, but these two that are worth thinking about together. I probably would have dumped the first one after the first few paragraphs had it not been written by Adrian Chen because Troemel sounds worthless. I'm of an age where, when I really hate a gimmicky artist, I have to stop and ask myself if it's just because I'm old. But Troemel is one of those New Museum types, and I hated the New Museum even when I was a lot younger. His most famous project is literally a tumblr with pictures of a computer in the bathtub?? Whatever.

Christo, on the other hand, is a favorite. Maybe my very favorite. And he just completely burned down a project he's pumped $15 million of his own money into because he hates Trump so much. I hope someone writes a biography on him someday. One time I read this article about his process that said he pops raw garlic cloves all day long as a snack. Gotta imagine it gets weirder from there.

The parts of the Troemel piece I found most interesting were the ones that reminded me of Christo. For ex, Troemel is really interested in creating works that are ephemeral:

He's also interested in making stuff that exists outside of traditional settings like galleries and museums, having the potential to reach passersby instead of people deliberately taking in art:

Art memes. Not sure what I think about that. The article said that, while this was a thing that art people know about, most people who encountered the tumblr had no idea it was this weird concept art. Seems like it would be way cooler to make something that regular people could somehow recognize as art, that sort of made its context strange in the way that Christo's wrapped buildings made you rethink the skyline, the city, what art is, etc.

"Cat Marnell Is Still Alive" (New York Magazine)
Oh my god, this article fucked me up. I think it may be cursed or something. This article is basically The Ring and I have to show it to you so I can move on with my life. I wasn't familiar with Cat Marnell, but she's one of these Internet confessional types. And the piece is written by Emily Gould, who basically invented that. Anyway Marnell's thing is that she's a high-functioning drug addict and she wrote a book about it.  (The excerpt that's with the article is also crazy, but less so. Like if Bret Easton Ellis and William Burroughs wrote a women's magazine.) This is the paragraph from the Gould article that's been haunting me all week:

What the fuck. What in the fucking fuck does that even say. Just when you think it can't get worse there's that meat thermometer??

There are parts of this piece like this that are actually very good writing in the sense Gould undermines her own investment in all those dumb myths that spring up from bad addiction writing--the fake glamorousness, the tendency to make drug addiction sound like some sort of heroic quest, etc. There's this contrast between the Gould piece and Marnell's book excerpt, which is much, much more sanitized (even though her whole thing is supposed to be about being candid about being a mess). But mostly I hate this fucking piece. Emily Gould is one of those women where I feel this sort of carefulness about disliking her, because a lot of people hate her for the wrong reasons. But this is when I decided she's conclusively a garbage person:

"Story arc." Girl, get a soul.


Friday, February 3, 2017

black history month profile in courage: chris ware

Just in time for Black History Month, The New York Review of Books published an essay on black identity by comics' foremost expert on race relations in the U.S.

That's right! It's Chris Ware, who took a break from drawing his terrible New Yorker covers (also about black identity, for some reason) to make a case for the preeminence of a comic you've probably never heard of...a comic that's truly underrated by comics lovers everywhere...one that's somehow always overlooked on all those Best Of lists:


Yes, Krazy Kat, aka the comic that history forgot. Pegged to a new biography on kartoonist George Herriman (1880-1944), a black man who passed as white, Ware writes about the merits of the comic and how they deepen and multiply when considered through the lens of black identity. He has a Maya Angelou epigraph and everything. Which is all fine and good till, inevitably, Ware comes around to the universality of Herriman's (really rather particular) predicament. You know, because "fiction...in its finest form" isn't just about articulating black identity--it's about transcending it.

Before we dig into this thing, many thanks to Twitter user Jon Gabes, who correctly intuited that I would never normally click on anything described as "Chris Ware on Krazy Kat" and sent me this crazy fucking link.

Ugh, let's do this.

I should probably admit right off the bat that I'm jealous. Clearly I have never in my life loved anything as much as Chris Ware loves Krazy Kat. Not a comic, maybe not anything. My family? I maybe love my family as much as he loves this comic. And there's this thing that happens when people write about something they truly love, which is that it comes through--and I can feel it here, in places, just his sheer enthusiasm for this thing, and that kinda moves me because I'm not a total asshole. It's nice when people write about the things they love, isn't it? I wish this could've just been that.

But it's not, so by the third paragraph Ware is imagining what passing as a white man must have been like for Herriman:

Is it me or is this paragraph deeply strange? The first sentence straight-up sounds like we're talking about man-boy love. Damning, dire, and disgusting? I don't know, maybe I'm being pedantic, but I find these choices odd. Ditto "the footsteps of your deception," which is definitely the name of my fake band's next album. Just the audacity of this white guy in Oak Park, Illinois, 2017, writing about the thoughts and feelings of this man who was never once afforded that opportunity...and assuming that he was preoccupied with guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

(Is this starting to sound familiar? "We understand others only as refractions through the optic of ourselves," Ware writes. That much he got right.)

Like, who knows, maybe Herriman felt all of those things. But what about fear? I'm just spitballing here, but I feel there's a distinct possibility that Herriman was super afraid all the time. And maybe angry. Right? It's certainly possible that part of Herriman experienced what Ware describes--hating himself for being a traitor to his race (though even then, one wonders if he put it to himself quite that way)--but maybe a bigger part of him was angry that he felt forced into denying such a big part of himself in order to build a safe life. But fear and outwardly directed anger--these emotions just aren't part of the Chris Ware toolbox, and so we end up with this construction of a black man who was sitting around hating himself for Jim Crow-era racism, worried about the embarrassment he'll suffer if his neighbors were to learn his secret. Nothing about survival, which is the basic obvious shit that comes to mind if you close your eyes and put yourself in Herriman's shoes for two seconds.

It gets worse.

I just have to pause here to say that, reading this, one can't help but wonder about Chris Ware's secret. I'm picturing him turning very slowly towards a camera, raising a finger to his lips...Shhhhhhh....I have a secret. And the secret is he steals candy bars or something.

But to return to my point.....no. Jesus. "Everyone passes" is emphatically untrue. People editing their lives to look a certain way on Insta or whatever are not "passing" like George Harriman passed as a white man in the early 1900s. That analogy is fucking insane. Ware says that "each of us....reviews, sorts, discards, rewrites details that allow us to somehow get on with our lives," and I don't disagree, just in general. But the whole point here is that Herriman wasn't in control of his own narrative. He couldn't be who he was. How is this not clear?

Of course, it all starts to makes more sense once you realize "everyone passes" is consistent with Ware's dumb Unified Theory of Race. Remember Black Bobby Hill and White Bobby Hill?

To quote myself (baller move):
My tentative conclusion is that the art editor of the New Yorker should maybe make a little more effort to give someone who's not her white male friend the chance to depict experiences that are not, in fact, universal--experiences that in fact hinge upon not being universal. 
And now here we are again, except this time it's the New York Review of Books.

Universality in literature has always been a white guy's game, and it should really be enough that they get to create the works that are considered ~universal~ without then also co-opting the experiences of minorities as their own. People make fun of Chris Ware for being a cold creepy alien, but I've always appreciated the way he builds such an elaborate artifice around any expression of personal feeling. (It reminds me of how Alison Bechdel has to use those weird contortions of theory to express love...that sort of pathological need to control it.) Still, when it comes to experiences that are truly far-flung from his own, Ware's storytelling becomes narcissistic and just plain BAD. True empathy isn't about remaking someone in your own image.

You know, "To Walk in Beauty," the title of Ware's piece, invokes a Native American practice where you experience a sort of oneness with the universe. However much that phrase might mean in the world of the comic, or to our understanding of it, I can hardly imagine a worse metaphor for the life of a black man who never felt free enough to tell his own story. Ware writes that Krazy Kat "was the very soul of George Herriman himself." It wasn't, though. George Herriman was a person. The best way to honor him now is to let his memory exist as he could not: outside the shadow of who some white person imagines him to be.