Look What You Made Me Do

On changing my mind, plus San Francisco's troubles, the decline of media, Iceland's publishing boom, the perils of London's gangland, and more.

Look What You Made Me Do

Our long national nightmare (or one of them at least) is over.

I referring, of course, to last night's Super Bowl. Don't get me wrong: Football is great. The pastime truly deserving of being called America's (sorry, my beloved baseball). And the Super Bowl represents perhaps the one event that's immune to media's fractured nature; it doesn't matter how we have to do it, we'll be watching the Super Bowl. It's our last vestige of the monoculture.

And last night's game was everything we hoped it would be. It was gripping and dramatic. It never really dragged. The halftime show was electric; Usher was everything I remembered him to be from high school when I listened to Confessions nonstop. We saw the further entrenchment of a true football dynasty with the Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

But leading up to the game, it was the Super Bowl (Taylor's version). And it was exhausting.

I have nothing against the Queen of Pop's new romance. I think it's quite endearing. Travis Kelce is just a high school jock cool guy that grew up and kept all the descriptors except "high school." He's dating America's equivalent of the prom queen. Good for them.

I can't imagine what it's like to be them right now, to become the subject of some weirdly specific yet totally nonsensical conspiracy theory that perhaps their relationship is a psy-op ahead of the 2024 elections. She's just a girl; he's just a guy; they're young and hot and in love, so who cares, right?

Wrong.

More than just the nefarious nonsense, there was mainstream media's and social media's near-constant obsession with the "story." She was performing on her world tour in Japan and had to rush to get back.

While I was working from my mom's house last week, she was home and had the Today show on every single morning. And every single day, there was a Super Bowl-related story, which shouldn't surprise anyone ahead of the big game, but it was the nature of the coverage that began to make my ears bleed. It was always about Taylor Swift's mere attendance, the relationship, her wardrobe, and more.

Sure, the Today show's audience likely didn't mind much, but still, this was our big monocultural moment, long before Taylor Swift ever dreamed of donning Kansas City red. And will be long after Travis Kelce becomes the focal point of an album. It's America's biggest night of entertainment, and we've never struggled for storylines ahead of it.

This is my gut reaction. Was during last week at home and was up through the pre-game coverage as well. But then my girlfriend said something I hadn't spent much time considering: There were lots of stories of dads getting to bond with their daughters over, of all things, football because they'd become invested in it out of loyalty to their queen. And that's incredible.

If they got to watch that game with their daughters, what a treat, and I guess, however reluctantly, I'll call a truce. I concede defeat. No bad blood between me and Taylor, I promise.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. In honor of the last night’s big game, check out Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books on why San Francisco has more to worry about than a painful loss after a hard-fought game.
  2. I loved everything about the Super Bowl last night. At no point did I say, “You know what’s missing? A sit-down with President Biden.” Though President Obama made a name for himself with Super Bowl interviews, I didn’t think twice about Biden sitting this one out. It’s hard to say whether it would have been a good idea or a terrible idea considering the week he’s just been through, with the release of Special Counsel Robert Hur's report on the investigation in President Biden's handling of classified documents. But the Columbia Journalism Review raised an interesting point recently: What if the next things to go are the debates?
  3. Speaking of next things to go, New York magazine ran an excerpt of Kara Swisher’s forthcoming book, Burn Book, and it chronicles her front-row seat as technology ate away at traditional media.
  4. If you don’t make anything for public consumption, it might be hard to follow the consternation behind this recent Vox piece about how everyone is a self-promoter these days. But it’s a real thing that I feel even with this little newsletter and blog. And those of us who succumb to it are likely worse off for it.
  5. Maris Kreizman wrote about a similar, related phenomenon for LitHub: Against Disruption: On the Bulletpointization of Books. (It brigs to mind Cory Doctorow’s 2022 term “enshitification,” which was named the 2023 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, and a topic Doctorow recently revisited for Financial Times., suggesting it will be much bigger than just his initial scope for the term (the internet) and now it’s coming for everything.)
  6. I love a chance to randomly quote The West Wing. I did so on Letterboxd recently after watching John Ford’s classic Stagecoach. I had another instance to do so when I read this Airmail piece about how Iceland is this publishing hotspot, where almost 1 in 10 Icelanders publish a book. It brought to mind the throwaway line in TWW when the president marvels at Sweden’s literacy rate: “Sweden has a 100% literacy rate, Leo. 100%! How do they do it?” And Leo says, “Well, maybe they don’t and they also can’t count.”
  7. Now for things that aren’t depressing in the media world: the always stellar Patrick Radden Keefe in The New Yorker on a teenager mixed up with the London gang scene. This story gripped me from the first paragraph. If you’re interested in stories about double lives, this one’s for you.
  8. And for something delightfully different, check out this Atlas Obscura story that seems like it will be one thing and then grows into something else entirely. | “The Long, Surprising Legacy of the Hopkinsville Goblins” (Or, why families under siege make for great movies.)
  9. I was recently at my mom’s for a week, and she always talks about Millie’s (our dog) different kind of barks. It’s not hard to imagine our family is under siege when she rouses from a dead sleep to bark at the nothingness outside our front door. It’s loud and authoritative, but also seems to have a question mark at the end of it, like she’s not entirely sure what it is that has her back up. When someone she recognizes arrives, it’s a different kind of bark. The bark for the familiar person, my mom says, sounds like “He’s here! He’s here! He’s here!” Mom’s right in two ways: 1) the bark does sound different when it’s someone Millie knows and 2) there is a certain vocal quality to those familiar barks that sounds vaguely like “He’s here!” This is what came to mind as I read Charles Foster’s book review of Why Animals Talk: The New Science of Animal Communication by Arik Kershenbaum. (The article is brilliantly titled “The Soliloquies of the Lambs.”)
  10. One of the animals studied in the book was the chimpanzee, which brought to mind the Netflix documentary series *Chimp Empire*. (I maintain that the creators missed low-hanging fruit when Chimpire was right there for the taking.) I spent the end of last year and the first weeks of this year in Africa, and once we returned home, there was something warm and comforting about a nature documentary set on the continent; this series was one of the first things I watched in 2024. Even if you haven’t been to Africa recently, you’ll find a lot to love about the show: from the names issued to this large group of chimps to their complex social structure and, if nothing else, the sonorous tones of Mahershala Ali.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.


Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming since the start of 2024.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

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1/19:We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch
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1/21: Chimp Empire (4) (Netflix); DAVE CHAPPELLE THE DREAMER (Netflix); TREVOR NOAH: WHERE WAS I (Netflix)
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1/23: Slow Horses, S3 (AppleTV+); ANYONE BUT YOU (Theater)
1/24: Australian Open Quarterfinal (ESPN+); Black Hawk Down,Mark Bowden; THE IRON CLAW (Theater); POOR THINGS (Theater)
1/25: The Curse (Paramount+)
1/26: AMERICAN FICTION (Theater)
1/27: Australian Open Women’s Final (ESPN+); True Detective: Night Country (2) (Max); THE HOLDOVERS* (Peacock); True Detective, S1 (4) (Max)
1/28: Australian Open Men’s Final (ESPN+); True Detective, S1 (6) (Max); AIR* (Amazon Prime); True Detective: Night Country (Max)
1/29: The Curse (2) (Paramount+)
1/30: The Curse (4) (Paramount+); Top Chef, S16 (3) (Peacock)
1/31: The Curse (3) (Paramount+); Top Chef, S16 (3) (Peacock)
2/1: Top Chef, S16 (3) (Peacock) (4); The Elite, Ranulph Fiennes
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2/4: ZONE OF INTEREST (Theater)
2/5: Arctic Ascent with Alex Honnold (3) (Disney+); True Detective: Night Country (Max)
2/6: THE 400 BLOWS (Criterion Channel); Fargo, S5 (Hulu)
2/7: Fargo, S5 (2) (Hulu); PARIS, TEXAS (Criterion Channel)
2/8: Fargo, S5 (1) (Hulu); STAGECOACH (Criterion Channel); Tokyo Vice, S2 (Max)
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2/10: The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
2/11: Super Bowl LVIII (Paramount+)