On our May 10, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Fact-checker Ethan Chiel, Audience Editor Catherine Cusick, Contributing Editor Aaron Gilbreath, and Senior Editor Kelly Stout share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.
This week, the editors discuss stories in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The New Yorker.
00:26 “My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me.”
(Wil S. Hylton, May 8, 2019, The New York Times Magazine)
“These are often snapshots or frames in the film of your life, and they don’t often take into account the frames that come after…something like this that is both personal and societal, you certainly should get applause for stepping forward and saying I did these things, I am responsible in this way, but the work continues forever and I agree that the applause can sound like absolution and it should not be.” –Aaron Gilbreath
In his essay, Hylton recounts being physically beaten by his cousin in an unprovoked attack. The piece also weaves in the deterioration, over a decade, of Hilton’s marriage, and examines how masculinity and the ideas around masculinity were a factor in both events.
The team discusses why these types of intimate family violence stories elicit a different reaction when written by women versus men and the tension surrounding the question of whom toxic masculinity hurts more: men or women?
11:06 “Going Under at the Playboy Club”
(Josephine Livingstone, May 8, 2019, The New Republic)
“I think the thing we’re struggling over is intentional. Whether it was in 1963 or now, the idea that these women, these waiters, might sleep with you, is a big part of the business that is being sold.” –Kelly Stout
A follow-up to Gloria Steinem’s “A Bunny’s Tale” written in 1963, Livingstone’s piece is in explicit conversation with Steinem’s while grappling with gender performance at a place like The Playboy Club. The piece looks at how both writers examine how the playboy culture and the public conversation around it have changed in the ensuing years.
The team touches on the economic dynamics at play in the piece and “the strange thorny mix of labor and gender representation issues.” They talk about performances of gender and interrogating our reactions to these performances. Finally they look at Livingstone’s and Steinem’s roles as both participants and observers and the inherent reductionist problem of journalism’s assumption that a particular glimpse into a world is more full than it is.
23:20 “How America’s Oldest Gun Maker Went Bankrupt: A Financial Engineering Mystery”
(Jesse Barron, May 1, 2019, The New York Times Magazine)
“A story nominally about guns that really isn’t about guns at all.” –Ethan Chiel
Gun manufacturer Remington was bought by a private equity firm who moved manufacturing to Alabama and, in the process, pushed the company to bankruptcy. It’s a story about debt and finance and municipal government that looks at how when debt transfer is dressed up as job creation, responsibility is lost.
The team discusses the complex machinations of American finance and how the actual functioning of a company doesn’t always have to do with whether they live or die. Meanwhile, people’s belief that these things are happening in the free market, that meritocracy and supply and demand are the only things dictating whether companies survive, obscures what is really happening while allowing us to feel protected.
33:10 “The Race to Develop the Moon”
(Rivka Galchen, April 29, 2019, The New Yorker)
“For fresh starts we used to have California, go west. Now we go up to the moon.” –Aaron Gilbreath
Galchen explores a renewed interest in the moon by China, Japan, Isreal, India, the EU, and the US. Not as a place to stake a claim for political reasons, as it was in the 60s and 70s, but as a place to exploit and monetize resources and start businesses.
The team discusses what might happen if we take our capitalist, resource-exploiting culture beyond our planet and whether we can bring our ability to observe and reflect on the human experience with us as well.
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