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Rage Against the Machines

FarmVille’s mimicry of the economically obsolete production unit of the family farm, in short, proved all too apt—like the hordes of small farmers sucked into tenantry and debt peonage during the first wave of industrialization in America, the freeholders on FarmVille’s vast virtual acreage soon learned that the game’s largely concealed infrastructure was where all the real fee-gouging action was occurring. Even those who kept their wallets tucked away in their pockets and purses would pay in other ways—by spreading “viral” invitations to recruit new farmers, for example. FarmVille users might have been having fun in the moment, but before long, they would look up to discover they owed their souls to the company store.
- Game designer Ian Bogost, writing in The Baffler, explains how the real cost of video games is in the addiction and financial drain, not the violence.
AUTHOR:Ian Bogost
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3565 words)

Hoard d’Oeuvres

Art collecting for the 1% percent, and what it means for the rest of us:

Bernie Madoff’s prized piece of office art was a four-foot sculpture of a screw that he frequently dusted off himself (he, like Donald Trump and scores of other plutocrats, is a notorious neat freak). A defense lawyer pleaded for the valued object to be photoshopped out of court documents, lest it be prejudicial to members of the jury. When Madoff’s Ponzi scheme went bust, J. Ezra Merkin, whose feeder funds supplied Madoff with investors, was no longer Mastering the Universe quite so comfortably. So he sold his stunning batch of Rothkos for $310 million. Whenever I see a Rothko I think of Madoff, and how the afterlife of modern art is now yoked to the pissing matches performed by the big swinging SHLONGS of Wall Street.

PUBLISHED: March 15, 2014
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5634 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our story picks of the week, featuring SB Nation, Harper's, Kansas City Star, The Baffler, Nieman Storyboard and a guest pick by Kate Cox.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 18, 2013

Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not

Susan Faludi's takedown of "Lean In," and a brief history of feminism and its relationship with capitalism: "In the postindustrial economy, feminism has been retooled as a vehicle for expression of the self, a 'self' as marketable consumer object":

"In 1834, America’s first industrial wage earners, the 'mill girls' of Lowell, Massachusetts, embarked on their own campaign for women’s advancement in the workplace. They didn’t 'lean in,' though. When their male overseers in the nation’s first large-scale planned industrial city cut their already paltry wages by 15 to 20 percent, the textile workers declared a 'turn-out,' one of the nation’s earliest industrial strikes. That first effort failed, but its participants did not concede defeat. The Lowell women would stage another turn-out two years later, create the first union of working women in American history, lead a fight for the ten-hour work day, and conceive of an increasingly radical vision that took aim both at corporate power and the patriarchal oppression of women. Their bruising early encounter with American industry fueled a nascent feminist outlook that would ultimately find full expression in the first wave of the American women’s movement."

PUBLISHED: Oct. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9021 words)

Academy Fight Song

"The higher education mantra is possibly the greatest cliché in American public life." Thomas Frank argues that greed has taken over at most universities in the U.S., causing costs to spiral out of control, administrators to proliferate, and professors' work to be outsourced to instructors with no benefits or job security:

"We don’t pause to consider that maybe we’ve got the whole thing backwards—that the big universities expanded in their heyday to keep up with industry demand, not to build the middle class. Instead, what everyone agrees on is this: higher education is the industry that sells tickets to the affluent life. In fact, they are the only ones licensed to do this. Yes, there are many colleges one can choose from—public, private, and for-profit—but collectively they control the one credential that we believe to be of value. Everything about them advertises it. The armorial logos, the Gothic towers, even the names of the great colleges, so redolent of money and privilege and aristocracy: Duke and Princeton and Vanderbilt. If you want to succeed, you must go to them; they are the ones controlling the gate."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5777 words)

Longreads Member Exclusive: The American Nonconformist in the Age of the Commercialization of Dissent

This week's Longreads Member pick is "The American Nonconformist in the Age of the Commercialization of Dissent," a 1992 essay by Thomas Frank from The Baffler, the magazine he cofounded with Keith White in 1988. 

Frank writes: 

"In republishing this bit of juvenilia from 1992—my very first exploration of an idea that I reworked and reconsidered a number of times over the years that followed—it is worth remembering some of the context. This was before the web, for the most part; it was right about when 'alternative' was beginning to hit the culture, and a lot of the stuff I describe here was new and surprising at the time. Today, of course, most of it seems utterly unremarkable, so far has what I used to call the commercialization of dissent advanced. It's not something I really even think about anymore, except for the most outrageous iterations—like the ski helmet I bought last week, a model called 'Mutiny' by 'R.E.D.' And even then I'm too exhausted to bother belaboring the ironic contrast of this bragging rebelliousness with the millionairiest sport there is. I'm off to even more ironic fields. See you there."

p.s. You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member for just $3 per month.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2897 words)

Come On, Feel the Buzz

A critical look at the political newspaper and website Politico:

"One classic method of unleashing irresistible Drudge bait on the Internet is to boil another outlet’s story down to a couple salacious-sounding excerpts, or (failing an effective condensing strategy) to simply reinterpret the material to fit a Drudge-friendly narrative. This past May, for example, Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Maraniss’s biography of Barack Obama. (The liberal media vetting blackout continued apace, in other words.) Politico’s Dylan Byers took the excerpt and turned it into a little micro-news story: Obama admitted to Maraniss that certain figures in his first memoir were 'compressions'—i.e., composite characters. Byers completely missed that Obama explicitly said at the outset of his own book that some characters were composites, but Drudge didn’t care. 'Obama Admits Fabricating Girlfriend in Memoir,' went his headline, with a link to Politico instead of Vanity Fair—and another false right-wing meme got its wings."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 5, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6530 words)

Dead End on Shakin' Street

Why the sudden proliferation of "vibrant" communities in the United States? And what does it even mean?

"Is Rockford, Illinois, vibrant? Oh my god yes: according to a local news outlet, the city’s 'Mayor’s Arts Award nominees make Rockford vibrant.' The Quad Cities? Check: As their tourism website explains, the four hamlets are 'a vibrant community of cities sharing the Mississippi River in both Iowa and Illinois.' Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Need you even ask? Pittsburgh is a sort of Athens of the vibrant; a city where dance parties and rock concerts enjoy the vigorous boosting of an outfit called 'Vibrant Pittsburgh'; a place that draws young people from across the nation to frolic in its 'numerous hip and vibrant neighborhoods,' according to a blog maintained by a consortium of Pittsburgh business organizations.

"The vibrations are just as stimulating in the component parts of this exciting new civilization. The people of creative-land use vibrant apps to check their bank accounts, chew on vegetarian 'vibrancy bars,' talk to one another on vibrant cellphones, and drive around in cars painted 'vibrant white.'"
PUBLISHED: July 16, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4121 words)