Search Results for: the culture of sameness

On Flooding: Drowning the Culture in Sameness

A 37-meter-long floating sculpture by U.S. artist Kaws in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, March 2019. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | March 2019 | 7 minutes (2,006 words)

In 1995, the Emmy nominees for Best Drama were Chicago Hope, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and The X-Files. In 1996, the Emmy nominees for Best Drama were Chicago Hope, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and The X-Files. In 1997, the Emmy nominees for Best Drama were Chicago Hope, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and The X-Files. That is: Two cop shows set in New York, two medical shows set in Chicago, and some aliens, spread across four networks, represented the height and breadth of the art form for three years running.

I literally just copied that entire first paragraph from a Deadspin article written by Sean T. Collins. It appeared last week, when every site seemed to be writing about Netflix. His was the best piece. Somehow, within that flood of Netflix content, everyone found that article — it has almost 300,000 page views. I may as well have copied it for all the traffic my actual column — which was not about Netflix — got.

There was definitely a twang of why bother? while I was writing last week, just as there is every week. Why bother, and Jesus Christ, why am I not faster? The web once made something of a biblical promise to give all of us a voice, but in the ensuing flood — and the ensuing floods after that — only a few bobbed to the top. With increased diversity, this hasn’t changed — there are more diverse voices, but the same ones float up each time. There remains a tension that critics, and the larger media, must balance, reflecting what’s in the culture in all its repetitive glory while also nudging it toward the future. But we are repeatedly failing at this by repeatedly drowning ourselves in the first part. This is flooding (a term I just coined, so I would know): the practice of unleashing a mass torrent of the same stories by the same storytellers at the same time, making it almost impossible for anyone but the same select few to rise to the surface.
Read more…

The 25 Most Popular Longreads Exclusives of 2019

Our most popular exclusive stories of 2019. If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday.

1. The Art of Losing Friends and Alienating People

Laura Lippman | Longreads | November 2019 | 17 minutes (4,147 words)

Laura Lippman, admittedly a rotten friend, is bummed by the ways in which friendships end as one gets older.

2. Atlantic City Is Really Going Down This Time

Rebecca McCarthy | Longreads | February 2019 | 14 minutes (3,579 words)

There’s no doubt that Atlantic City is going under. The only question left is: Can an entire city donate its body to science? Read more…

Under the Influence: Deeper Than Beauty

courtesy of Jakiya N. Brown / courtesy of Mina Gerges

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | October 2019 |  8 minutes (2,145 words)

Part two in a three-part series on the influencer economy. Read part one, “White Lies.”

* * *

It’s hard to find an influencer who doesn’t fit the profile. I could’ve spoken to a blond female beauty Instagrammer easily. Or a blond male gamer, even. Everything else was a nightmare. Try coming up with a tech influencer who is not a man. Or a man of color who is anywhere near grooming but not drag. In order to find the Travelingfro, Jakiya Brown, an African American woman Instagramming the globe, I had to go to a series of black culture sites. I might have discovered Mina Gerges, who lives in Toronto like me, if I ever walked rather than ran through a Sephora (he’s in the new Canadian campaign), but it was a Twitter callout that eventually brought us together. Surprise: “gay, genderqueer Egyptian beauty influencer” isn’t much of an archetype. Now I’m actually questioning whether being an influencer is a real thing either.

“You don’t do influencing,” Brown explains. “That, to me, that’s not a job.” She sees influencing as a side effect of admirable skill in one area (or, in the famous cases — from Kim Kardashian to Gigi Hadid — of having a name already), a way of selling brands on the attention you already have. She remembers working in beauty marketing several years ago and getting a flood of barely legible, text-style emails from beauty bloggers demanding free products. It was an easy no every time. Speaking of easy nos, I slogged through a sea of influencer-speak — I am now immunized from ever using the word “journey” again — to parse how Brown and Gerges slogged their way through a sea of sameness to get the influencing industry to say yes to them. Here’s how they got past the filters by appealing to reality.

* * *

You may already know Gerges for his “celebrity recreations,” a series prompted by a break up. Some guy ditched him in 2014, but not before mocking Gerges for being effeminate, and the first thing he thought of was that image of Beyoncé with mascara running down her face from her “Why Don’t You Love Me” video. “So I did that,” he says. The response was polarized. Social media stars were big with The Youth at the time, but they weren’t as pervasive in the mainstream as they are now. Gerges had some people thinking he was hilarious, others thinking he was weird: “When I saw peoples’ reactions, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I think I’m on to something.’” So he went nuts, producing scrappy imitations of everything from Kim Kardashian’s intricate Cavalli at the 2015 Met Gala (beige curtain, paint) to Beyonce’s twinkling Givenchy (garbage bag, rhinestones). In January 2015, Buzzfeed’s David Mack picked up his site — “Bow down, Instagram bitches” — and that was it. Gerges’s discount replicas were everywhere from Time magazine to Kim Kardashian’s fingertips, and people even started to copy them (that part was annoying, he says). He began to think he could make a living from this thing.

At the same time, Gerges was in recovery, having started his account while struggling with anorexia. “It became so amplified by the culture around Instagram,” he tells me. “Thin, muscular, white men having hundreds of thousands of followers.” He was proof that looking right could make you popular. As if to double down on this cliché, as he got well and gained weight, commenters stopped praising his work and started criticizing his body. It got to the point that he couldn’t look at his own reflection without comments like “What the fuck happened to you?” running through his head. He searched online for other men who might be struggling like him — nothing. “I realized there were no men talking about it,” Gerges says. “We’re conditioned to just take it and be quiet because men shouldn’t be vulnerable.”

He tried to figure out a way to work with Instagram so he didn’t have to hate both the platform and himself. After five months, on February 19, 2018, he had it: Gerges posted a series of images of himself shirtless and disclosed his eating disorder to his followers. He explained how he got sick at the age of 20, how he would starve himself, how he would spend hours at the gym, how he never felt satisfied. The post was covered in Teen Vogue and Paper and has since received almost 11,000 likes. “It took a very long time, because I was horrified to do it,” Gerges explains. But it wasn’t a fairytale ending. A year later he was considering deleting his Instagram account entirely. His work had turned increasingly vulnerable and he was increasingly bullied. And he would later find it impossible to make a living off his site, having sent out media kits and getting rejected left and right. He had a bad experience with an agent (he jokes that he’s now both Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian in one). On top of all that, he felt discouraged watching all these white cis influencers constantly being hired. “There was not a single brand that wanted to work with me,” Gerges says, “not a single one.”

Then the brands got a kick in the ass. As the media awoke to representation, it confronted various industries, including the fashion and beauty machines, on their lack of diversity. Up-and-coming designers of color were more inclusive in their campaigns and on the runway, and old-school companies were shamed into progress. Fashion magazines started approaching Gerges; he landed the gig with Sephora and, more recently, an underwear campaign with Calvin Klein. That which had isolated him then — his gender, his sexuality, his race, his body type — now made him indispensable. In the aftermath of the Sephora campaign, Gerges told me he was researching Egyptian culture through history in order to come up with ways to queer traditionally straight historical narratives. He plans to get a friend to photograph him on film — “I don’t edit any of my photos,” he says, “I think that’s another way for me to introduce an element of vulnerability and honesty” — which he hopes to unveil as an Instagram series, probably at a scientifically suboptimal time for maxing out the likes. Because aside from not Facetuning his images, he doesn’t rely on apps to tell him when to post or how to hashtag. “My value is not that I have, like, a, fucking whatever percent engagement rate,” he says. “My value is my story, my value is who I am.”

* * *

Before Jakiya Browne started @travelingfro, she had a lucrative marketing career in New York with L’Oréal and Coty, for which she scouted talent online. “I would stay on YouTube, like, all day watching these bloggers,” she tells me. But even back in 2014, finding influencers who weren’t interchangeable was a bit of a chore. “The ‘I just got out of college, I fell into YouTubing, now I’m a millionaire’ — we didn’t really want those types of girls,” Brown explains. On one of the influencer trips she hosted, however, she met the kind of woman she realized she herself wanted to be, the kind of woman who creates and sustains a brand outside the confines of an office. “It wasn’t like, ‘I want to become an influencer,’” she clarifies (she will repeat this a few times during our interview), but she was tired of the corporate grind and wanted to travel.

Brown quit her job in 2016. She roamed the world for a year, which sounds impossible, but she supported herself with the “substantial” savings she had amassed over her career and supplemented that with consulting gigs for smaller beauty brands. Still, she had a strict budget: $1,000 a month. In places with a lower cost of living, like Mexico and Eastern Europe, it wasn’t hard to stick to that. Otherwise, she stayed with people she had met during her marketing career. “I just started getting scrappy,” she says, “which is like: creative on how not to spend money.” Once Brown grew a following, her room, board, and transit were covered by sponsored posts. “People were always like, ‘How did you get these brand partnerships when you had like 3,000 followers?’” she says. “I know how to convince them that it’s more than just numbers.” That she was a black female traveler was “low hanging fruit” — there weren’t that many women of color in the travel space — but her high engagement helped too. She only had a few thousand followers but got hundreds of comments per post, which means that a brand could appeal to a market that wasn’t entirely white, and this market would bring sustained attention. Brown thinks she earned her audience’s loyalty by being honest not only about the good, but also about the bad, like whether or not she had the stamina to keep traveling indefinitely. That, and she was good on camera (Brown was an early Instagram Stories adopter), which many influencers weren’t: “If you couldn’t talk to your audience like your friend, and you were super awkward, people disconnected.”

The Travelingfro is now a brand that has had more than 100 clients, offering courses, consulting, and workshops to help “tired nine-to-fivers” find the freedom to “do the things they love, like travel the world.” Last fall, Brown took some time to refine her brand, which included researching literature on digital marketing. In that time, she realized she could marry her marketing and social media experience in order to teach influencers the business side of things. As she wrote in a recent post sponsored by Numi Organic Tea, “Keep building. Show up even when no one shows up. Keep going when everyone thinks you should stop. Keep following whatever it is inside that keeps you from giving up. Watch what happens.” Why a tea company? Because tea is part of her morning routine. Brown only works with brands as long as they work with hers. “If you’re working with, like, detergent one day, and then like plant food the next day, and then like these boots the next day, and then AmEx cards the next day, you’re a walking billboard,” she says. “I’m not about that.” She’s about keeping expenses down, rolling contracts, spacing out your earnings to account for dry spells — in short, being practical. “No exchanges,” she adds. “Like a backpack? I can’t eat that.”

As a marketing veteran, Brown used to know the industry standards, such as they were — companies apparently have piles of cash for influencing that they divvy out arbitrarily — but she doesn’t care anymore. She prices according to how much time and work goes into her posts. “If I feel like I am worth $2,000 for two Instagram stories, that’s what I feel,” she says, to which I say: Jesus. But that’s not even on the high side: at one point, Brown revealed that within a recent quarter she made $50,000, which happens to be my annual income. “You’re like, ‘Oh, my God, things are great, I’m rich,’” she says. “Then something happens and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m broke.” (Usually I’m just broke.) Apparently influencers serially undervalue their worth, particularly influencers of color who see an overrepresentation of white faces. Brown thinks the opposite should be true — in any other industry, the rarer something is, the more valuable it tends to be.

* * *

Neither Brown nor Gerges set out to be influencers, which is probably why they are so good at it. Instead of conforming to the industry standard, they exploded it. Gerges injects the beauty field, which has been largely marketed as white and female, with Middle Eastern queerness. Brown, a black woman traveling the world, also dominates a space that has been overrepresented by white bodies. Which makes her all the more savvy about how precarious it all is. “Instagram can pack up and go any day,” she says. “You do not own that space. You don’t even own the content on there.” I hate to use this term (especially since she didn’t), but Brown diversified in order not to stake her entire livelihood on one platform. Most influencers, however, in her experience don’t have a plan B — a book or a workshop or some other source of income. “They’re all kind of riding this wave,” she says. “Until there is no more wave.” Gerges is doing everything he can to ensure that he is not one of those people. For him, the work goes way beyond appearances. “It’s not just an aesthetic or a filter that you toss on every photo,” he says. “It’s about a larger idea.” Whether or not anyone else can see that is out of his control. But influencing on its own is definitely precarious considering the dilution of the industry by superficial infiltrators who pose as something more. “I hope that people can get to a point where they can differentiate between what’s actually authentic,” Gerges says. “And what is just fabricated to look authentic.”

* * *

Soraya Roberts is a culture columnist at Longreads.

White Looks

Getty / Illustration by Homestead Studio

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | August 2019 |  8 minutes (2,132 words)

 

They have a deep emotional investment in the myth of “sameness,” even as their actions reflect the primacy of whiteness as a sign informing who they are and how they think.

—bell hooks, Black Looks (1992)

 

I’m experiencing some deep angst about this essay. That anxious feeling where you’re standing on the edge of a cliff on a perfect day — no wind, no sound, no bird of prey — and you’re almost certain you’ll throw yourself off. Every time I email a black critic for this article, it’s even worse because I can’t even tell if I’ve jumped or not. Like I’m dead at the bottom of that cliff, but I have to wait for a reply to be informed. That I’m dead. This is what white people call “white fragility,” right? “Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race,” Robin DiAngelo wrote. (As book critic Katy Waldman noted, many people of color could have written White Fragility in their sleep.) I am in fact biracial — my father is white, my mother is Pakistani (she grew up in England) — but I pass. I barely identify with my Pakistani side, except when I see a group of Pakistani people. Then I’m like Hey. I know you. (Even though I don’t.) I don’t think this when I see a group of black people. Although, what’s that line in Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist? “To be an antiracist is to realize there is no such thing as Black behavior.” To be an antiracist is to realize there is such a thing as White behavior.
Read more…

This (Wo)Man’s Work

Bulat Silvia / Getty, photo collage by Homestead

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | June 2019 |  11 minutes (2,804 words)

What is it about my work that makes it so much less esteemed than so many men’s? Was it not produced with enough sweat? With enough brain power? With enough complaint? What is it that gives a man sitting in an ergonomic chair, staring at a computer screen, typing on a laptop, so much more gravitas? Maybe he’s not doing it with a fan pointed at him, like I am. Maybe he doesn’t have a bottle of water next to him. Or is it the bouquet of flowers on my desk? Does the smell transfer to my work? Is labor produced in a sweet-smelling room less insightful? If you shut your eyes and I put my work in one of your hands and a man’s in the other, will you be able to weigh the difference? What if neither of us have done anything yet? Will you be able to weigh it then?

“1 in 8 men believe they can make a better film than Andrea Arnold,” one person tweeted last week. I laughed. It was a quip amalgamating two stories that dominated social media that same week, both impressively undermining women’s work. One was a survey of 1,732 Brits conducted by YouGov that found that 12 percent of the men believed they could win a point off Serena Williams, a tennis champion who holds the most Grand Slam titles combined — singles, doubles, mixed doubles — of any player currently on the pro tennis circuit. The second was a report from IndieWire, citing a number of anonymous sources, that claimed the second season of Big Little Lies, directed by British auteur Andrea Arnold, was ripped out from under her and put back in the hands of first season director Jean-Marc Vallée to do with what he pleased. To be clear, Arnold is an Oscar-winning filmmaker who has claimed the jury prize at Cannes three times. Vallée is not. Like him, she has directed episodes on four TV series. But there’s one key thing that Vallée had that she didn’t: an established rapport with Big Little Lies creator David E. Kelley.

Oh, male bonds; so reserved and yet so unconditional. This is the kind of alliance that has Eddie Murphy backing John Landis to direct Coming to America a year after Landis was charged with involuntary manslaughter (he was acquitted). This is the kind of camaraderie that has Prince Andrew attending a welcome-back-to-New-York party that registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein reportedly threw for himself. These are extreme examples, but in essence, they show men supporting men they like, no matter the quality of their work, what they’ve done. 

Imagine how men who have done nothing so problematic are treated by their male friends. Imagine if literally any women were treated that way.

Read more…

You’re Just Too Good to Be True

Hulton Archive / Getty, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Kavita Das | Longreads | February 2019 | 27 minutes (6688 words)

New York City, 1980

Mommy and I had a deal. On our twice-a-week, 45-minute drive to speech therapy, I practiced singing South Indian Carnatic songs, the ones she grew up playing on the violin, and on the way back I was allowed to listen to anything I wanted. So, as soon as we hit the road from our house, she prompted me to begin with sa-pa-sa. Sa is the equivalent of do, the starting note in Western classical solfege, and pa the equivalent of sol, the fifth note above do. Singing these fifth intervals helped ground me in my pitch before I began any song.

Once that was done, Mommy picked from songs she had already taught me during previous car trips, or began a new one. She quizzed me on which raga, or key, it was in, and then we sang the scale of that raga together. Unlike Western keys, ragas might have different ascending and descending scales, which struck me as hazardous. Even if I knew my way up the mountain, taking the same path down might send me careening into a ravine of shame. Then, she began tapping out the talam, or the time signature, on the steering wheel of her deep blue Chevy Horizon hatchback, while navigating through traffic, and I followed along, tapping it out on my thigh or on the vinyl seat next to me. I began to sing. When I forgot a lyric or the melody, she piped up and sang alongside me, and then chided, “Start again and this time concentrate, and sing it correctly.”

We went from one song to the next as we made our way from our home in Bayside, Queens to Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx, driving over highways, crossing bridges, stopping at lights, paying tolls. Sometimes we arrived at speech therapy mid-song, and then afterwards, when we got back in the car, instead of switching to my choice, per our deal, Mommy made me finish the song first, which meant I only got to my music when we were halfway home. So, I learned to gauge how close we were to the medical center and speed up my singing so that the end of the Carnatic song coincided with our arrival. This way, the whole car ride back was just for my music.

As soon as we were back in the car, our seat belts fastened, I popped in my favorite tape. It was “The Ultimate Engelbert Humperdinck,” one of the only non-Indian music albums my parents owned, by the first Western musician I was allowed to listen to. I loved everything about him and his music. He spoke to me, an almost-5-year-old who felt she already knew a thing or two about the world — having visited India, Japan, Hawaii, and New Jersey; not to mention endured the pain of multiple surgeries and the monotony of speech therapy for a cleft palate, and the loneliness of being an only child, who was not so much misunderstood as not understood, receiving quizzical looks whenever I spoke. He knew me and cared deeply for me — it was all there in the beautiful lyrics of his songs, and in the way he crooned them just to me. His voice oozed with feeling. It was as smooth and sweet as the caramel squares my grandfather loved so much that he asked me to climb a chair and sneak up to the candy box and fetch him some more.

My absolute favorite song off the tape was Killing Me Softly. Listening to it, I felt as if I was all grown up, sitting in the audience at a small café. I was the person he sang about, who comes undone by the lovelorn songs of a soulful troubadour. I sang out with abandon, the windows down, drowning out city noises. Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song, killing me softly. My mother continued to drive as I sang my little girl heart out all the way back to Queens.

I had named my dearest possession after him — my nubby pale blue woven blankie, which stayed steadfastly at my side as I played, before I carried it to bed each night, and which in turn carried me to my dreams. And when my 5th birthday rolled around, and preparations were being made for my party, I instructed my mother to invite Engelbert Humperdinck. My mother assured me that an invitation had been sent to him in England, where he lived and where my parents used to live before they migrated to the U.S. I was so excited, I ran around our basement swinging from the foundation poles, which usually served as the villains I lassoed as Wonder Woman. I could barely believe that in just a few days, Engelbert Humperdinck — I always called him by his full name — would be here in our basement. I wondered what to wear. None of my Indian stuff. Perhaps my powder blue shift and jacket, trimmed with white faux fur. It made me look like a lady, just like the long silk gowns my mother had gotten stitched for me in India. My powder blue number was a hit when I wore it in Japan — while we were snapping photos of the sights and surroundings, Japanese young women were asking my parents if they could snap photos of me in the photo-finish outfits Mommy bought, hand-stitched, or had tailored for me.

I decide that when he arrived, I would give him the frosted flowers from atop my Carvel ice cream cake, a token of my selfless love and admiration. I hoped he would sing Close to You — my second most favorite song, with perfect lyrics for celebrating me as the birthday girl. On the day that you were born the angels got together, And decided to create a dream come true, So they sprinkled moondust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue. Well, hair of black and eyes of brown, but I still believed he meant me since Engelbert Humperdinck himself was no blonde-haired blue-eyed being.

I had taken out the album liner notes from the plastic cassette case so often to stare at the two jacket photos of him that the case had broken. He had a head of shiny blue-black hair that cascaded in waves over his smiling face, culminating in two sturdy pillars of sideburns. It reminded me of Daddy’s hair. Unlike Daddy, though, he didn’t have a mustache, which meant he wouldn’t scratch me when he kissed me on the cheek. His nose was pointy, but not too pointy, and his honey brown eyes seemed to twinkle at me like stars from the nursery rhymes I’d learned seemingly so long ago. Now that I was a 5-year-old, I had graduated from nursery school to kindergarten, from nursery rhymes to love ballads, and from imaginary play friends to real-life music idols. I imagined us holding hands, going to the park, and, of course, singing duets together. And sheepishly I wondered if maybe, when I grew up, we could get married. When Mommy and Daddy weren’t around, I pressed my lips against his in the jacket photo, the way I had seen grownups do in TV shows. I never saw any of the Indian uncles and aunties do it, but I knew it was something other grownups — white and Black — did when they loved someone. When I closed my eyes to make a wish, I sometimes focused on a Barbie doll, but other times I hoped for the chance to kiss Engelbert Humperdinck for real.
Read more…

Letters from Trenton

Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Thomas Swick | Longreads | July 2018 | 19 minutes (4,829 words)

 

In the fall of 1976 I returned home to New Jersey after a year in France. I had been pursuing my dream of becoming a travel writer by studying French in Aix-en-Provence and working on a farm in Kutzenhausen, Alsace. Now I needed a byline, preferably a steady one. Making the rounds of newspaper offices, I stopped one day at the two-story brick building of the Trenton Times. I wasn’t allowed to see anyone. This was the state capital’s leading newspaper, after all, and I was simply handed a job application. There seemed little reason to play it straight.

What was your last employment?

“Working on a farm.”

What were your duties?

“Picking cherries, baling hay, milking cows.”

Why did you leave your last employment?

“I got tired of stepping in cow shit.”

May we contact your last employer?

“Sure, if you speak Alsatian.”

A few days later I got a call from the features editor asking me to come in for an interview — my reward for being original, and knowing my audience, or at least guessing at it correctly.

I drove the river road south from Phillipsburg, where I was then living with my parents, back to Trenton. The features editor looked like a young Virginia Woolf in tortoiseshell glasses. She told me the paper was owned by the Washington Post and that one of her writers, a young man by the name of Blaine Harden, was exceptionally talented. The gist of the interview was that the editor — who, I later learned, had posted my job application on a wall in the newsroom — could not hire someone with no experience, as everyone else had come to the Times from other newspapers. But they would give me a three-month trial writing feature stories.

This suited me fine for, without a place in the newsroom, I was able to conceal the fact that I still wrote in longhand. I was possibly the last American journalist to do so. I knew how to type, but the typewriter was not a friend to the undecided. It was good for deletions — a quick, brash row of superimposed x’s — but for additions, I had to scribble with my pencil between immovable lines and on virgin margins.

In the evening, back home in Phillipsburg, I would write my stories. Then in the morning I’d get in my mother’s car and drive the river road through Milford and Frenchtown (whose bridges I’d worked on during summers in college), Stockton and Lambertville, the docile Delaware often visible through the leafless trees. The scenery was not as dramatic as in Provence, and the towns were not as picturesque as in Alsace, but there was a quiet, unassuming beauty to the place that suited my temperament, no doubt because it had helped shape it.

Once in the newsroom, I’d borrow a desk and type from my half-hidden handwritten pages.

After I was hired full-time, I bought my first car, a sea-green Datsun, and rented a studio apartment in Trenton. Most of the people at the paper lived in the more attractive surrounding towns like Yardley, Lawrenceville, and Princeton. Daisy Fitch, a fellow feature writer, had grown up next door to Albert Einstein. She was one of a dwindling minority of locals at the paper, as it was increasingly being written by out-of-staters who swooped in for a spell, then left to careers at the Post or someplace equally grand. Many were Ivy Leaguers — this was a few years after Woodward and Bernstein made journalism as sexy as it was ever going to get — and some, like Daisy, had interesting backstories. Celestine Bohlen, a young reporter, was the daughter of Charles “Chip” Bohlen, who had served as the American ambassador to the Soviet Union in the ’50s. Mark Jaffe, a former fencer at Columbia, was living with the daughter of Lyle Stuart, the publisher made rich and famous for putting out the 1969 handbook for women’s sexual pleasure The Sensuous Woman. David Maraniss, who exuded a kind of drowsy gravitas, and for whom everyone predicted glory, was the product of a marriage of editors: mother, books; father, newspaper. I was told that I had just missed the Mercer County careers of John Katzenbach, soon-to-be crime novelist and son of the former U.S. Attorney General, and his wife, Madeleine Blais, both of whose auras still flickered in the brick building on Perry Street.

It was astonishing to find this assembly of near and future luminaries in Trenton, a city I had associated mainly with Champale, whose brewery we used to pass on family drives to the shore. Add the fact that everyone had previous newspaper experience and you can understand if I say I felt a bit out of place. All I brought to the party was an irreverent job application.

Read more…

Disguised in Plain Clothes, but No Superman

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad, tariktolunay/Getty Images

Chris Wiewiora | Longreads | September 2017 | 13 minutes (3,328 words)

 

Zoe looks right through me as she boards my bus. She was one of my best public speaking students at Iowa State and admirably focused on social justice, but on the bus, she doesn’t give me a hint of recognition. David keeps looking at my rearview mirror as he sits by the door, trying to figure out how he knows me. He was a guy who skimmed along through the academics of class, but emanated a genuineness and care about his work. It’s been only a year since I taught them. I still know their last names and their final grades. Past semesters blur together for me the way that I must blur together, in the minds of these students, with the other drivers who pick them up at the park-and-ride lot by the Alumni Center and chauffeur them to campus.

I justify their blindness with what I think of as my disguise; my CyRide uniform of a tucked in polo and slacks is nothing like my daily teaching outfit of button-ups and unbelted jeans. Under my ball cap, I wear black-framed glasses now. But I’m not Clark Kent and I wasn’t a Superman.

I never felt like a superhero in my classroom and I don’t feel like an everyday driver on the road. After my contract expired, I chose to leave behind sitting in a desk chair in front of students. I was haunted by my inability to protect them, one particular afternoon, from a danger more fearsome than speaking in public. Now I hide behind the wheel of a bus.

Read more…

Monocle: The Magazine As Boring, Lifestyle, Branding Infastructure

After ten years of selling its slick, globalist vision of sophistication to the world’s elites, Monocle has implemented a redesign, though it’s subtle in voice and vision. At The New Republic, writer Kyle Chayka sizes up a magazine made for the world’s 1%, to see what Monocle represents, how it has shaped or been shaped by the world, and what our era of increasing nationalism holds for heavily sponsored-content that flattens nations into one continuous business and vacation opportunity.

With the recent redesign, some glimmers of political reality are beginning to enter the magazine’s editorial voice. The new page layouts are more text-heavy, with longer articles and fewer glossy photos and twee spot illustrations. The content has a new seriousness, though it remains ever-optimistic. In an interview for the March issue, the CEO of Lufthansa says he is confident that globalization “cannot be stopped or slowed down, even though some people are trying hard.” The president of Portugal, adopting the vocabulary of a start-up founder, pitches his country as “a platform between cultures, civilizations, and seas.” (“We were an empire,” he reassures readers, “but not imperialistic.”)

Monocle views the world as a single, utopian marketplace, linked by digital technology and first-class air travel, bestridden by compelling brands and their executives. Diversity is part of the vision—the magazine’s subjects are from all over the world, and its fashion models come in every skin color—but this diversity is presented, in a vaguely colonialist way, more as a cool look to buy into than a tangible social ideal. Cities and countries are written up as commodities and investment opportunities rather than real places with intractable problems that require more than a subsidy to resolve. If London is too expensive, Brûlé proposes, why not found your next business in Lisbon, or Munich, or Belgrade? If you don’t, someone else will, and you might just get priced out again.

The magazine doesn’t idealize homogeneity of race or gender norms, but rather a global sameness of taste and aspiration. Every Monocle reader, regardless of where they live or work, should want the same things and seek them out wherever they go in the world, forming an identity made up not of places or people but of desirable products: German newspapers, Thai beach festivals, Norwegian television. The end result of this sameness is that a country can pitch itself to the monied Monocle class simply by adopting its chosen signifiers, or hiring Winkreative to do it for them in a rebranding campaign. In this way, the magazine warps the real world in its own editorial image.

Read the story

Twinless in Twinsburg

Illustration by Laura McCabe

Anya Groner | Longreads | June 2017 | 20 minutes (5,065 words)

I’m stopped at a red light in Twinsburg, Ohio, when I spot my first pair riding in the Jeep behind me. Matching blond hair, bug-eye sunglasses, and pink chins fill the rearview mirror of my rental car. I glance and glance again before texting my sister. “It’s begun,” I type. “They’re here and you’re not.” I erase the last three words and press send. No point in guilting her for a decision she can’t reverse.

When the light turns green, I press the gas, heading to the local high school where a wiener picnic and silent auction will kick-off the 41st annual Twins Days festival. An identical twin myself, I’ll be eating my hot dog alone tonight. My sister, a marine biologist, has opted not to join me, instead signing up for a dive certification class the same weekend. Though she apologized for the timing, she didn’t offer to reschedule. Twins Days doesn’t interest her much.

I’m not sure what to expect or even why I’ve decided to come. The website tells me the three-day fete is patriotic and sweet, a massive show-and-tell where the attendees are also the main attraction. Last year, 2,053 sets of twins, triplets, and quads journeyed here from as far away as South Korea and Australia. The revelry includes competitive cornhole, look-alike and un-lookalike contests, talent shows, and a research plaza where scientists collect data from volunteers. My surface excuse for flying out is that I’m a writer, trying my hand at journalism, but even a rookie like me knows the event is far too personal for objectivity. I’ve known about the fest for as long as I can remember, and for most of those years I wouldn’t even consider attending. Lying on stacked bunks in our childhood bedroom well before our age reached double digits, my sister and I put Twins Days somewhere on the continuum between obnoxious and offensive, a gathering of voyeurs looking to celebrate sameness, the facet of our identity that frustrated us most. The best parts of twinhood we knew to be exclusive, shaped by our two unique personalities, shareable only with each other. For us, the festival held no appeal.

Read more…