Love is love is love

COVID-19 in North Dakota, the root of a stuffy title few lawyers use, Millennials vs. GenZ on TikTok, #freebritney, why The Browser is the best, comics, & Judas and the Black Messiah.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the in-love and lovelorn alike.

This week, I got to meet a foreign journalist working as an international correspondent in the U.S. He’d interviewed a man that I’d also interviewed, and the man kindly thought I might be interested in meeting a fellow reporter. He gave me the journalist’s contact information, and I reached out, saying that I knew he was busy with interviews but if he would like a break from all of that, I’d be happy to buy him lunch.

He took me up on the offer, and we had a wonderful chat about his assignment, his past work, what brought him to the U.S., journalism in our respective countries, and much more. He’d been a leading reporter on terrorism, but a book he’d written made him a target. Staying in France no longer seemed safe. Not to him, not to his colleagues. He was now in hiding, but continuing to work as a reporter. Just under a different name, no longer covering terrorism.

There were so many interesting details that I wish I could share, but I don’t feel they’re mine to share. Overly cautious, I’m sure, but better safe than sorry.

I bring it up because it’s a day for love. Romantic love usually, but I don’t have any of that to celebrate. So I settle for this: I love what I do for a living. Though I was not working when I met this journalist, I was introduced to him through contacts I’d made through my own journalism. For someone who loves hearing people’s experiences and stories, for the lover of randomness and “how did that happen?” moments, there really is no better job than a journalist.

Here’s to love and all of the many ways and places we find it.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. It’s hard to overstate how much this New Yorker article about the COVID-19 response in “worst-performing county in the worst-performing state in the worst-performing country in the world” so closely mirrors the attitudes and responses here. North Dakota is not far from me, but the mindsets described in Atul Gawande’s excellent reporting are even closer than the physical proximity of Wyoming and North Dakota. It feels like I know the voices in this piece, not just because of the similarities with so many here, but because my ex-girlfriend’s dad was from Minot. He’s a sweet and wonderful man, and if a fraction of the people in the town are like him, it would befuddle many readers who read this and automatically assume that everyone there must be monstrously unfeeling or uncaring. I don’t fully understand the mindset expressed by one of the main subjects before and after he got sick with COVID-19; indeed, it was enough to make me toss down the magazine numerous times before I could finish the article. But the ending is profoundly affecting, recognizable in the contradictory and imperfect nature of humans’ desire for a return to normalcy.

  2. What does “esquire” mean? Have you ever wondered about that? I know I have, and I technically am one.  Insomuch as anyone is one. This Atlas Obscura article gets to the bottom of a archaic holdover from English nobility. And of course, no story these days is complete without a batshit-crazy right-wing internet conspiracy theory. This one dealt with a supposed “lost” constitutional amendment that stripped any American’s citizenship if they accepted a title of nobility, of which “esquire” was one, ergo then-President Obama (and the vast majority of lawmakers since the early 1800s, when the amendment was proposed) were legitimate. It’s nonsense, but that backstory is just a part of a larger story of titles of nobility and how “esquire” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “doctor.”

  3. An incredibly observant essay in The Walrus about the generation wars are playing out on TikTok, and how my generation, the much-maligned Millennials, is almost always the Big Bad. I laugh at the references to Millennials because they’re true, if overly reductive. I find myself reading the descriptors, shorthand for any number of cultural phenomena that I’ve taken part in over the years, and saying, “Yeah, but that’s awesome still, right? It’s not just me; that’s ACTUALLY hilarious or poignant or moving or meaningful, right?” Mostly, I like the deeper insights about how different generations approach the internet, and how much I see of myself in the description (for instance, I’m writing you these words to be sent out via an old-fashioned email) or the fact that I’m made aware of TikToks at all because 1) younger siblings send them to me or 2) they’re shared on the more Millennial platform of Twitter. 

  4. Speaking of emails, I recently got myself a paid subscription to The Browser, which I’ve loved for years but been neglecting for no good reason. I found it long ago before it was such a business; it felt more like a hobby at the time (and much more was free, I believe), but it was certainly an early inspiration for a newsletter like mine. It’s a daily email of articles from all over the internet that are relentlessly interesting, and I’m sure, going forward, no small number of suggestions from them will reach you (with proper credit given, of course). But if you’re a fan of this type of email and you have a few bucks to throw to a good cause, I’d encourage you to subscribe. For just a flavor, one of my favorite from this week: What if being lucky wasn’t just for the blessed few? What if you could increase your “luck” by adjusting the way you look at the world and interact with it?

  5. There are fewer and fewer instances of monocultural viewing events, but on Twitter recently, it seemed like everyone was watching the latest of The New York Times’ documentary series (available on Hulu) which detailed the ongoing conservatorship struggles between Britney Spears and her father, Jamie. The story goes all the way back to Britney’s ascendancy in the late 90s/early 2000s. It shows how unfairly she was treated by the national media, beyond the constant tracking at the hands of the paparazzi. It was an unnerving watch.

  6. The Britney Spears documentary rightly deals with the paparazzi’s obsession with the singer, which by any definition of decency, seems to be a gross “price” of fame. I recently finished The Crown, and its fourth season made Princess Diana a central figure. The show’s timeline has not yet reached her death and the paparazzi’s role in it. One talking head in the Britney doc makes the comment that, as Americans, we don’t have royalty; we have celebrities. Both pieces of culture reminded me of an old Esquire story written shortly after Diana’s death. The writer tried his hand at being a paparazzi photographer, and it’s a great read. A podcast episode from Esquire Classic makes for a great companion piece to the written article.

  7. I’m a fan of Disney’s The Mandalorian. It’s an exciting piece of pop culture expansion which, until the final moments of season two, was perfectly happy and willing to create new stories with new characters in a universe beloved by millions for a long time now. They did it masterfully. Recently, an actor who portrays one in that expanded universe, Gina Carano, lost her job because of social media posts that were labeled anti-Semitic. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait explains why that firing unfortunately represents the making of a modern-day Hollywood blacklist. Chait’s article, ironically, drew much criticism to him, accusing him of being sympathetic to her anti-Semitism for refusing to call it anti-Semitism. Reasonable minds can disagree over whether the offending post was anti-Semitic, or whether it deserves to be considered as part of a larger whole when it comes to her online activity and comments. It’s a complicated topic, but one on which I think Chait makes writes quite reasonably. At bottom, is there anything out of bounds about a company, one of the biggest in the world, deciding that an employee is bad for publicity, bad for the brand, etc. and wish to sever ties? No, I don’t think so, and as such, Disney was well within its rights to send Carano packing. Carano, like vast numbers of teenagers, are learning the difference between having a thought/viewpoint and the “necessity” of voicing it online, as if it were some imperative to do so. She should hardly be surprised that her numerous controversies could negatively affect her employment. But are such responses desirable for a society as a whole? Chait argues that they are not. 

  8. Carano’s firing is just one part of the much larger Disneyverse of entertainment and popular culture. I’m enjoying Marvel’s WandaVision on Disney+ as a form of escapism, which after all, is the underlying theme of the show at all. It’s an extension of a 20-plus film, decade-long immersion into worlds brought to life by one man: Stan Lee. Or was it? In The New Yorker’s review of a new biography of Lee, the prolific nature of Lee’s talent for myth-making is examined, and a central theme of the book seems to be that while the exact parentage of all of the characters in Marvel’s universe may not be easily divined, it’s safe to safe that he didn’t do it nearly as singlehandedly as myth would have us believe.

  9. Before there was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the silver screen superhero that captivated me as a little boy was Batman. I was never into comic books proper, but I loved the Batman mythology. I loved the movies, I loved the toys, I love the animated series that was actually quite brilliant. I even loved the campy 60s’ TV show, which a friend of my mom’s had dutifully recorded for me on a blank VHS tape. Pocket, my preferred read-later service, suggests stories regularly, and it recommended to me this story from 2015 published in Mental Floss about a man who’d turned his childhood love of Batman into a lifelong business pursuit. It’s not hyperbole to say that comic book film culture, which so thoroughly dominates right now, for better or worse, might not have happened without this guy.

  10. If you’ve got HBO Max, do yourself a favor and watch Judas and the Black Messiah, which recently premiered at Sundance. It’s taut and anxious-making at times, as the story of a small-time-crook-turned-FBI-informant is tasked with infiltrating the Black Panther Party to get close to the party’s Illinois chapter’s chairman, Fred Hampton. Here’s The Ringer’s Adam Nayman being typically smart and insightful on the film, and here’s an article he referenced in Slate about how JATBM serves as historical corrective to Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which also touched on Hampton and Bobby Seale during the tumultuous, late-1960s.

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