As expected, the New York Times and The New Yorker dominated much of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize fanfare, and while it is necessary to honor the award-winning reporting undertaken by Jodie Kantor, Meghan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow, some of the most-talked about features from this past year were also celebrated. Including, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, whose in-depth reporting on Dylann Roof for GQ won for feature writing (Ghansah also won a National Magazine Award for this story). And the staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which provided a brutal examination of the effects of heroin during a week-long period.
Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured the high school basketball team the Arlee Warriors on its cover. Hailing from the city of Arlee, home to about 600 people on Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation, the Warriors are among the greatest Native American high school squads ever assembled, a group that blends high-octane offense predicated on three-point field goals with a frantic and suffocating pressurized defense.
The feature, written by Abe Streep, doesn’t just showcase the Warriors and its players — including Phillip Malatare, a six-foot guard who’ll be a preferred walk-on at the University of Montana next fall — it also profiles the town, the reservation (a sovereign nation comprising the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and a wave of recent suicides in the community. It was these suicides that prompted the Warriors’ transformation: The team wasn’t just a winner of back-to-back state titles, but rather a beacon to those that viewed suicide as a solitary option. Read more…
There’s no denying that David Chang’s new Netflix docuseries, “Ugly Delicious”, is aesthetically gorgeous. The show’s underlying concept—”ugly” food like tacos, barbecue, and fried rice all have intrinsic values that surpass its creation born out of necessity and a lowly legacy—is a sui generis angle for a well-worn genre that has long shifted to food porn rather that pursuing and examining the cultural and geopolitical value that food possesses.
In a recent interview with Grub Street, “Top Chef” judge and chef Tom Colicchio mentioned the rise of “unfussy” food on the program’s 15th season: “The chefs were doing more, I wouldn’t say rustic, but a much more conventional style of food.” Translation: This shift isn’t occurring in a vacuum.
As the New Yorker‘s Helen Rosner explains in her review of the eight-part series, “What makes “Ugly Delicious” compelling, ultimately, is Chang’s commitment to rejecting purity and piety within food culture…In food culture, particularly American food culture, the concept of authenticity is wielded like a hammer…[and] the problem with such rigid categorizations, according to “Ugly Delicious,” is, for one thing, creative stagnation.”
This certainly makes for a thoroughly interesting viewing experience; before I realized it, I had binge-watched four episodes. This sort of programming is also refreshing—Chang has subverted a genre. For a generation that has been bred on the gluttony of glossy networks and competitive cooking, “Ugly Delicious” throws up a middle finger, and instead asked questions that are relevant to how we should be thinking about food (and not just consuming for its sheer shock value). Read more…
It started with a Lean Cuisine. After a night out catching up with a friend, I just made one of the last NJ Transit trains leaving Penn Station that April night, traveling the 20 or so minutes to the suburbs of New Jersey where my wife and I had moved two weeks prior in anticipation of welcoming our first child to what truly is NYC’s sixth borough (daycare and two-bedrooms aren’t cheap in the original five boroughs).
Dinner consumed and sleep completed, I awoke with one of the worst bouts of food poisoning I’ve ever encountered, a wasting that lasted through midway into the next week. Eventually, the illness subsided, but I wasn’t concerned when I woke the following Saturday with slight soreness in my right ankle and the inability to fully extend my left knee. Seemed odd, sure, but perhaps that was just a lingering side effect of the tainted Swedish meatballs. And there was a crib to be built along with final trips to Target and Buy Buy Baby.
On Sunday, though, I could barely put any pressure on my right leg, hugging walls as I walked in an effort to support myself. A nighttime sprained ankle, I thought, but I still went to the ER on Monday, while accompanying my wife for her final OBGYN appointment. The medical establishment’s consensus: must be a sprain. I spent four more days in sheer agony, unable to put any pressure on my right leg and unable to sleep because the pain was too intense. After our son was born, I was the one wheeled out of the hospital while my wife carried our nine-pound baby. By this point, my other ankle had started to tingle (both eventually swelled to the size of a grapefruit, and my left knee was significantly inflamed, looking as though a softball had lodged itself behind the kneecap).
The first two weeks of my son’s life were a blur. Of course, there was no way I could help during feedings in the middle of the night — it took me 10 minutes just to navigate the short hallway between the bed and bathroom. And unless I was sitting on the couch RICEing my legs (for what I thought must be the two worst sprains in the history of orthopedics), I couldn’t hold my son. I was an invalid, completely useless to all around me at a time when those same people needed me the most. My brother had gotten married during this time period, and I recently looked at the photos from the ceremony, which was held at City Hall: shuffling along in crutches, my ankles are encased not only in compression wraps but also air casts.
The realization that my “sprains” had — HAD — to be something more significant arrived during my son’s third week on earth. My general practitioner was located in Manhattan, so I found a local doctor who, for the first time since this health scare began, had more than an inkling of what was plaguing my body: I had joined the roughly 20,000 Americans who suffer annually from reactive arthritis. This exceedingly rare form of arthritis, which shares symptoms with rheumatoid arthritis, was attracted to the genetic antigen I carried, passed down maternally, and had proceeded to attack all of my white blood cells. When I finally was able to see a rheumatologist, I was told that my CBC — complete blood count — was one of the lowest he’d ever seen.
As I read Molly Osberg’s harrowing essay for Splinter detailing her health catastrophe, the result of contracting a rare form of strep that began to wreak havoc on her internal organs, I found myself mentally transported to my own uncertainties this past summer. Her concerns about medical expenses, proxies, if her full-time job still exists, and whether or not any of the poking or prodding will work — all of those emotions became all the more real again. We even both made it into medical journals!
I encountered them all when I was admitted to a Brooklyn hospital, though I only remember a fraction of the people who tried to puzzle out what was sending my body into septic shock. According to my medical records I saw six specialists in 40 hours. There was the anesthesiologist who assuaged my terror when I was put under for a bronchoscopy (I was afraid I’d wake up with a camera down my larynx), the infectious disease doctors who asked me about my sex life, how often I got high, my last period, whether I’d been anywhere near livestock.
I also shared her feeling of invincibility. Before I contracted reactive arthritis, I rarely needed anything more than a hot shower and a few doses of Dayquil to right whatever was ailing me. I didn’t get sick. As Osberg writes,
As someone with a pack-a-day habit, I got a little sick every year, and my response was to sleep (or work, or drink) through it until the issue somehow resolved. Before 2017 I don’t think I’d been to a doctor in about five years—though as was later reiterated to me by one chagrined specialist after another, my abysmal life choices up to that point didn’t end up making much of a difference.
Like Osberg, I was fortunate to have insurance, but if I had been a freelancer, my bills would have been astronomical. One shot of Humira, the immunosuppressive drug I inject twice a month, costs upwards of $500 without coverage, and that doesn’t include the barrage of pills I take daily. As I was reading Osberg’s piece, I stumbled across the story of Donald Savastano, a 51-year-old from central New York who recently won the lottery—a $1 million prize. A construction contractor, he first decided to visit a doctor, something he hadn’t done in several years because of his lack of insurance, before lining up a vacation. Following a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, and just twenty-three days after winning the award, Savastano died. Osberg conveys the sheer terror that accompanies such a health scare; the worry isn’t so much about how to survive — it’s about how to recover.
Never mind recovering physically or financially in any of these scenarios: I can’t imagine surviving emotionally, fielding calls from collections agents, facing eviction, waiting for the pain meds to hit so I can keep at a futile job search with an IV still dangling from my side. I am 29 years old, with no pre-existing conditions before this moment, and I am unemployed and exhausted and in pain all the time.
It took one month before I could walk a distance greater than a hallway. It took another month before I could walk back and forth to the elevator bank in our apartment building. And it took three months before I regained my walking gait and balance, and didn’t feel any debilitating pain for the first 90 minutes of my morning. It’s now been eight months since the diagnosis, and my health has somewhat returned to normal — although my right Achilles still aches every day, and I’ve been told to limit my exercise to stretching and spinning (so as to not potentially tear the tendon). But I can walk, and just the normalcy of that activity is something I never thought that I would have taken for granted. It’s those actions that become the most significant.
Around mid-August they took the PICC line out. My white blood cell count went back to normal; I was cleared to drink by far the best beer of my life; the scabs left over from the drainage tube punctures in my torso fell off. I was pleased the surgical incision had missed my favorite tattoo, and less pleased when streaks of my hair turned gray and started coming out in clumps, or when my nails fell off—a months-delayed reminder of that time my body was preparing to die. I went back to work towards the end of the summer.
I wish I could say that my love of the Spice Girls as an 11-year-old was based on some innate wokeness, but really, when I first heard the group’s debut album Spice 22 years ago, all I cared about were the insatiable melodies, catchy hooks, and Mel B’s rapping (“Here’s the story from A to Z”) that carried ‘Wannabe’ into its final chorus.
From the jump, I was a Spice Girls stan. The group, an all-female pop band cobbled together following a blind audition, made one of the first tapes I played non-stop, continuously transferring the record back and forth between my boombox and my walkman. It got to the point where my younger brother also became an uber-fan, eventually receiving a copy of Spice World, the group’s 1997 biopic-slash-ode to the Beatles’ A Hard Days Night.
For Broadly, Sirin Kale perfectly illustrates the film’s appeal to a generation of adolescents who were struck by the Spice Girls’ inherent coolness and fun vibes:
In 1997, the Spice Girls were cresting the Girl Power wave. I, an eight-year-old weirdo in platform trainers with an imaginary boyfriend, revered the five-piece with a doglike devotion (except Geri—more on that later). The Spice Girls were my childhood soundtrack and the object of all my worldly ambitions. To quote Mel C’s well-received 1999 solo offering, they were my northern star.
Kale delves into the backstory of the film’s production, including an ever-changing script, persistent paparazzi (e.g. posing as a cow to snap a pic of the super-group), and an utterly absurd plot that involved bombs planted in the Spice Girls’ bus and an alien invasion.
Despite this, Tickner does have some fond memories of the shoot. Without him, the iconic alien invasion scene might have crash-landed. “For some reason, no one was addressing the problem of what the spaceship was going to be on set,” he explains. “Here was a very obvious prop in the script. An alien was going to come down in the spaceship. But the art department hadn’t been asked to make one.”
There’s a lot to like about The Post, a film that has drawn rave reviews even before its pre-holidays debut. The combination of Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks as the paper’s editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee is the rare pairing of GOAT actors operating at their all-time peak.
The film covers the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times, the Washington Post’s attempt to obtain its own copy, and the ensuing battle against the Nixon administration which led to the Supreme Court case about the Daniel Ellsberg-leaked documents. As Manohla Dargis of the New York Times described in her review of the film, “The pleasure of The Post is how it sweeps you up in how it all went down…Like many movies that turn the past into entertainment, The Post gently traces the arc of history, while also bending it for dramatic punch and narrative expediency.”
The Post is the ultimate click-bait film for our current moment: An all-star cast telling the story of righteous journalism while press freedoms are being threatened on a daily basis. There is a time-honored tradition of films that have functioned in a similar way, including Network, All the President’s Men, and most recently, Spotlight. Last month The Post published a compendium of the greatest journalism movies ever made, selected by the likes of Katy Tur, Jill Abramson, and Marty Baron (who, of course, chose Spotlight, where he’s played by Liev Schreiber). And on the heels of The Post’s rundown was a feature by Haley Mlotek on the 30th anniversary of Broadcast News, the 1987 drama that “predicted journalism as we know it.”
What’s most interesting isn’t the selection of films that have largely defined what our conceived notions of how journalism functions, including what reporters look like — bodies clad in beige clothing drinking copious amounts of coffee. What I find fascinating is that most of these films deal with large-scale or long-form investigative reporting, the type of work that takes months and involves countless interview montages. What about a film that covers a day in the life of an average newspaper?
I’m talking about The Paper, in my opinion, the best journalism film ever made and one that almost never gets any credit. Starring Michael Keaton as the metro editor of the fictional Sun — a loose portrayal of The New York Post — the movie details the killing of two out-of-state businessmen in a pre-gentrified Williamsburg and the arrest of two black teenagers for the crime. The problem is the charges are bogus, a mob hit made to look like murders with racial undertones at a time when New York, on the screen and in real life, had reached a tipping point. The Sun and its staff, including Glenn Close as the managing editor, Robert Duvall as the EIC, and Randy Quaid as a quasi-Mike McAlary-Pete Hamill-type columnist, have a day to both confirm and break the exclusive. Asked at one point why the story can’t wait until the next day, as Close tells Keaton during a staff meeting, “We taint them today, we make them look good on Saturday, everybody’s happy.” Keaton exclaims, “Not tomorrow, right fucking now, today!”
Co-written by Stephen Koepp, former executive editor of Time magazine, The Paper beautifully illustrates the lunacy and creativity of working under a deadline. The feeling one gets upon getting the perfect quote — “Don’t take the bat out of my hands, it’s the ninth inning, I got to get the quote, the guy’s not going to be there all night,” says Keaton — or confirming a previously deep background detail on the record. It’s a rush native to only journalists, the endorphins multiplying as you have only minutes to finish the article. Every reporter has experienced at least one editor snapping at them as Duvall does to Keaton, “You want to run the story? You have five hours until 8 o’clock — go get the story. Do your job!” And then it’s over, and you have to do it again the next day. That’s the inherent genius of The Paper. No other film conveys the madness of deadline journalism — or the fun.
Midway through the film, Quaid, who shines as the paper’s embattled columnist who believes people are plotting against him, fires a gun through a stack of newspapers to end an argument, which allows Keaton to finish a conversation with his wife (played by the brilliant Marisa Tomei).
At which point, Tomei, whose character works at the Sun and is at the beginning of her maternity leave, gushes, “God, I miss this place!”
The journalism practiced in All the President’s Men, The Post, and Spotlight is never going to cease — it’s the journalism that will always endure. The deep-rooted injustices that are so outrageous, it is as if the abuses themselves are practically begging for someone to shine a light on. Liev Schreiber, as The Boston Globe‘s editor-in-chief, makes this point in Spotlight: “Sometimes it is easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on.” But what is being threatened is the journalism of The Paper: the daily local grind.
Following the dissolution of uber-local sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, Danielle Tcholakian wrote about what happens when newspapers stop covering what immediately impacts its citizens:
That was a big part of what we were there to do: show people exactly how every action, big or small, impacted their daily lives in the neighborhoods they lived in and loved.
And that is what makes The Paper so special, and why Tomei’s quote is such a genius line. She underscores the heart of the film: forget the money, the fame, and the accolades, all that matters is getting the story right — for a moment, because as the 1010 Wins tagline blares throughout the film at various points, “Your whole world can change in 24 hours.”
By now you’ve likely read Richard Fausset’s troubling New York Times’ profile of a “white nationalist and fascist” that tries to normalize and sympathize with its subject. You’ve also likely read the countless follow-ups damning not only Fausset’s article but also the Times’ tepid and inept response.
The profile attempted let ordinary details speak for themselves, and it opens with a description of a wedding registry: “On their list was a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer…Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist.” But these ordinary details don’t contain meaning, they merely surround it. As Josephine Livingstone of The New Republic explains,
writers who simply represent (rather than report on) extremists leave rhetorical spaces open for Nazi ideology to flood in. You cannot let a Nazi hang himself, because he is the one left holding the rhetorical rope.
Fausset’s article wasn’t the Times‘ first attempt to transform racism into a personality quirk. From 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, to his 1939 invasion of Poland, there was a significant movement both in the United States and worldwide to portray Hitler as a misunderstood genius whose everyday likability could better connect with the working class German people and lift the country from its post-war depression.
Magazines and newspapers like the Times of London, The New York Times, The Saturday Review (“Hitler at Home”) and even the American Kennel Gazette (“Hitler Says His Dogs are Real Friends“) were more interested in Hitler’s interior design sensibility, his gustatory preferences, and his love of German Shepherds. In 1936, Vogue toured Hitler’s chalet as part of a package showcasing the interior design of the homes of foreign rulers. (Federico Mussolini’s villa was also included). Their coverage of Hitler successfully peddled these themes of austerity, industriousness, and single-minded drive to the masses eager to believe in Germany’s rebirth.
In her 2015 book Hitler at Home, Despina Stratigakos, a professor of architecture and history at the University of Buffalo, catalogued numerous attempts to normalize the dictator, which started with the publication of The Hitler that Nobody Knows, a 1932 photo album that doubled as a behind the scenes peek into Hitler’s private life. With more than a hundred photographs taken by Hitler’s personal photographer, the book — which sold 400,000-plus copies by 1942 — meant to serve as a beacon proclaiming Hitler as the leader of the new Germany. But Stratigakos stresses the effect was a more insidious.
Until the turnabout in 1932, National Socialist publicists had diverted attention away from or suppressed stories about their leader’s private life. Yet even as they continued to fight reports that could harm Hitler’s reputation, the Nazis began to construct for public consumption their own version of the private individual. The image of “Hitler as private man” would now be reconfigured from a liability into an asset…Bildung and self-improvement, together with self-discipline, a strong work ethic, and modesty, formed the core moral values of the German middle classes. The components of the “good” Hitler were thus artfully assembled with an eye to courting this constituency of voters and persuading them to abandon their allegiance to [war hero and political opponent Paul von] Hindenburg.
Even the New York Times wasn’t exempt from indulging in Hitler’s spin. Laurel Leff, a professor of history at Northwestern University, published Buried by the Times in 2005, examining the ways the Times either ignored or inadequately covered the Holocaust, partially due to a distaste among the editors for Zionism. In October 1935, the Times magazine included a fawning profile of Hitler as an architect, featuring his remodel of a small Bavarian cottage and it’s transformation into the fortress of Berghof, which was shown completed on the cover of a May 1937 issue.
But perhaps the strangest Times article was, “Herr Hitler at Home in the Clouds.” Written by Hedwig Mauer Simpson, the wife of Stanley Simpson, a British journalist and Munich-based correspondent for the New York Times and Times of London (she was a frequent contributor to the The Associated Press and The Daily Mail)—he would be the first to report on the Dachau concentration camp, a piece that was ultimately turned down by the Times of London. A journalistic power couple within Munich, the Simpsons were among the first reporters to have early access to Hitler, and she was known for her ability to file several stories at once and under intense pressure.
In the article, Simpson rehashes worn troupes about Hitler’s vegetarianism, the long walks he enjoyed with his Alsatian dogs, and his love of the German people. The tick-tock of his daily routine is described down to the minute. Breakfast is at 9 am, lunch is served by “white uniformed butlers,” and dinner is promptly at 8 p.m., with the ladies of the Berghof in evening dress and Hitler in English tweeds. In a rare step back from the festivities, Simpson writes that the setting contains “all the elements of exacting bureaucracy and secret-police efficiency.”
The Times article was published on August 20, 1939, 11 days before Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Simpson would take one of the last peacetime trains out of Munich to London, and it appears she gave up writing following her departure from Germany. There is nothing in the article that suggests the chancellor, who “no makes no secret of being fond of chocolate,” has anything on his mind except the promise of an afternoon nap. Simpson clearly feels pampered and privileged to be in his presence. Whatever she felt on that last train out of Germany isn’t recorded here.
Longreads’ Catherine Cusick recently discussed why articles like Fausset’s and Simpson’s are dangerous: “Reporters and editors committed to covering this movement may not be able to feel their own hearts beating faster out of fear.”
Ordinary details can furnish a room, they can set a table, they can fill the time between hushed meetings of planned genocide or the quiet tapping at a computer, spreading hateful slurs to thousands of followers. If a writer can’t feel that fear, can’t show those feelings on a page, then all the reader is left with is Hitler at home.
In GQ’s fantastic oral history of the sun-kissed life of Jeff Goldblum, arguably Hollywood’s most enigmatic personality as well as its most magnetic actor, we learn many things about the former star of such classics as The Big Chill, Jurassic Park, The Fly, and potentially the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
For starters, he has two children, a pair of boys named Charlie Ocean and River Joe. He is uber charming, to the point where it can be disarming. His wedding ceremony was held at the Chateau Marmont and officiated by Goldblum’s therapist. He smells very nice and goes to the gym regularly. And he is fastidious about his diet, and that may just be the biggest takeaway from the article. As he enters his 65th year, Goldblum is careful to contain his dietary desires:
I’ve always experimented with life enhancement through nutrition. My first wife and I would bring our juicer on planes, and we’d do a carrot cleanse for a week, until I’d turn orange and all my poop would be orange—things that I wouldn’t adhere to now. Now I just get a good night’s sleep. I wash my face with soap. I like to work out a little bit. I try to eat right. I’ve stayed clean. I don’t really drink or smoke. I try to keep my perspective wholesome.
This also includes refraining from drinking milk, which Kevin Kline, who starred alongside Goldblum in 1983’s The Big Chill, revealed is off limits:
Jeff and I found a condo that had two separate wings. I remember him being so into health and pouring orange juice over his cornflakes. “What the hell are you doing?” “Oh, milk’s bad for you.” And then I tried it. It’s not bad!
With all due respect, Kevin, that cannot taste good. For starters, I don’t like cereal, which reminds me of something that belongs in an institutionalized setting (and beside that point, cereal never really fills you up). It is the most boring of all breakfast options—don’t even get me started on those who eat cereal for dinner—but if I was forced to eat cereal, I’d certainly have it with milk. Infusing an already cardboard-y substance with the sickly sweet flavor of orange juice seems perverse.
So while I learned much about the life and times about the personal treasure that is Jeff Goldblum, it pains me that something as gross as orange juice on cereal will now become normalized. Why Jeff, why?
Matt Giles | Longreads | October 2017 | 1,800 words (7 minutes)
As a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology at Penn State, Jason De León spent a decade in Mexico studying debris left behind thousands of years ago by indigenous peoples crafting simple tools out of obsidian. The goal, he says, was to learn about ancient political economies, but he ultimately felt his future career path was too niche. “I looked at 40,000 little shiny pieces of rock and tried to say something meaningful,” he tells me. “I don’t know if I actually succeeded, but I definitely got to the point where I felt like that wasn’t the best use of my time.”
Last week, De León was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” grant, $625,000 doled out in installments over the next five years with no strings attached. I spoke with De León, now an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, about the origins of his Undocumented Migration Project, how border crossings have changed in the decade he’s been in the field, and how he’ll use the MacArthur funds.
When you first founded the Undocumented Migration Project, what was your end goal as you were getting it up and running?
I had some pretty simple goals: How can we learn about what border crossing looks like without physically being with migrants crossing the desert? Are there other ways to study that behavior? Is archeology one of those ways?
People have some pretty strong opinions about border crossing. Based on accounts of journalists who have talked to migrants, you tend to get black or white kinds of discussions. So I thought, what would the archeology tell us? Is there a way to study this process? At that point, I was naively thinking, ‘Oh I’m gonna be a scientist and study this process and it’ll be this apolitical kind of endeavor.’ It turned out to be an incredibly political endeavor, but it’s definitely science.
Was that something you were fascinated with while you were doing your undergrad and getting your Ph.D. or did this evolve?
I’m a classically trained archeologist. I spent about ten years in Mexico before I began this project. The migration stuff came incredibly late, which is surprising given the fact that I grew up on the U.S.–Mexico border and I have many family members who were immigrants and have undocumented family members. It wasn’t until I started having really deep conversations with people who worked on archaeological projects in Mexico, and hired laborers who told me about their immigration experiences. That’s when I really started getting interested in this as a topic of study.
Archeology uses artifacts from the past to explain the present. But this is archeology as it happens. Has it been difficult to address what you’re finding in terms of how it forms your opinion of what migration means in this 21st century?
All archeology really means is we’re studying the past through material traces. We tend to think these must be ancient things. But what happens if you think about the archeology of the recent past, as recently as this morning in some cases? Is that still archeology, or is that something else?
I’ve had to be really defensive when people would say to me, “you’re not an archaeologist.” I’m now at the point where I use archeology to understand border crossings, but that’s not the end of it. I have to draw on other things.
One of the cautionary tales that I tell students is that people love to talk about these migrant objects: the backpacks, the water bottles. It’s very easy for them to empathize with shoes and baby bottles and to be emotionally impacted by a giant wall of backpacks. It becomes more difficult for them to take those feelings and put them in the context of a real individual. It’s okay to think these objects are powerful, but you have to remember they are only powerful because of their connection to these people.
It’s forming a connection, it’s forming a bond to something that you’re powerless over, or that you find hard to address.
Archeology that happens this morning, or yesterday, is a difficult and murky territory. Our interpretations of these materials become very complicated. If you find these things in the desert and you use archeology to try to understand it, you’ll have your own opinions about it. Then a migrant comes by and blows your opinions out of the water; it can become very troubling for some archeologists. If we can’t even figure out what this shit means yesterday, how are we going to understand what these things meant five thousand years ago?
It’s interesting too because history is subjective.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable with this stuff, and it’s okay to embrace ambiguity and subjectivity. I’d rather talk about the diversity of interpretations of the past, or multiple types of explanations for an observed behavior, than to just give you my one expert opinion.
I think that people want definitive answers because they erroneously think about archeology as a truth-finding mission where the artifacts don’t lie. Of course artifacts lie all the time. Think about the manipulation of the past through monuments., There are active, purposeful adjustments to material culture that will subsequently impact the way things are interpreted later.
We’ve been collecting this stuff in the desert for a long time, whereas other objects that were left have been taken away and thrown in the trash. But if someone cleaned up the desert, and then we went back in a hundred years or in five hundred years, you wouldn’t even know the border crossing ever happened. This active destruction of the archeological record that’s occurring in real time really hints at the fact that the archaeology is not always going be truth finding. We’re manipulating it as we go.
In the decades that you’ve been doing this, have the objects that people have brought with them changed over time? Soes that help you sketch out a narrative of how migration is changing?
The technology evolves. Water bottles and clothing come in and out of style. The preferred objects to get through the desert have evolved and adjusted. In the beginning of this project, we would find a lot of personal items, a lot of heirlooms, things that people thought they were going need that were not very useful, so they ended up losing or discarding them.
Over 25 years, people crossing the border have become well informed about the dangers of the journey. The material culture in the aarchaeologicalrecord has become much more focused and more strategic. It’s really about survival, physical survival, mental survival.
People will say ‘I didn’t bring anything with me because I know I’m gonna lose it.’ I’d rather leave it at home or leave it in my home country than risk taking stuff to the desert. And what we’re also seeing now, with this increase in Central American migrants, are people showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border with nothing. They have to cross Mexico first before they can to the border, and they have been robbed so many times that they have literally no personal effects when they finally make it to the border.
Has your project changed to study the archaeological record of Central American migrants?
We’ve definitely been focusing much more attention on Central America since 2015. We’ve done some archeology in Mexico, on the train tracks and other places where migrants are crossing and trying to look at that artifact assemblage as well. I have been working with smugglers as well.
I think the smugglers are an overlooked and misunderstood piece of this puzzle. Everybody, from migrants to law enforcement, loves to scapegoat the smuggler. So if a migrant dies in the desert, it’s because it’s the smuggler’s fault. Clearly, that’s not always the case. Smugglers don’t take migrants through the Arizona desert because they love nature. They’re taking people through the desert because of this border enforcement policy.
Looking at the smugglers, I’m trying to fill in some blanks and really humanize this group of people who obviously are doing some horrible things. At the end of the day, they are complex humans.
Are there are challenges to undertaking this project in the current political climate?
It’s not any more harder now in the Trump era than it was before. It has always been difficult dealing with the politics of the project, and people’s reactions to it. There are also the emotional difficulties of doing this type of research, working with people who are in the midst of so much trauma.
I just saw a report about a professor at UNLV getting called out by the Trump administration for bad-mouthing him in a classroom. We’re in this era where our civil liberties and free speech are being directly attacked by the people in charge. As someone who is committed to this issue, I’ve had to do some real soul searching about what my role would be. Am I gonna get quieter and try to protect myself? Or do I keep doing what I’m doing because I believe that it’s right?
I’ve got a lot of colleagues who didn’t think it was that important to be in the public or to engage with media. They are now trying to translate their work for a general audience. There are a lot of folks now who are so worried about what’s going on in this country that they are getting active and vocal.
What do you plan to use the MacArthur money for?
For many years I’ve wanted to have a research compound in southern Arizona, so we will buy some property in this little town called Arivaca, which is I think the greatest place on earth. I’ll probably start by putting a double wide on there so we have a permanent home base and then we’ll just start building facilities.
Part of this money will also go to buy a truck so I can stop renting vehicles all the time. We’re working on a new exhibition so some of these funds will be used to develop this multi-media traveling exhibition that we hope to launch next year.
The truck, the archeologist’s greatest tool.
You know, I’ve never owned a truck in my life. When I found out about the grant, I knew I could finally get my truck!
Matt Giles | Longreads | October 2017 | 7 minutes (1,769 words)
When Erik Malinowski was wrapping up the proposal for what would eventually become Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, he happened to spot the latest cover story for the New York Times Magazine and his heart nearly stopped. The feature, written by Bruce Schoenfeld in March 2016, detailed the rise of the Golden State Warriors through the guise of its front office and the team’s devotion to analytics and data, which sounded much like the book Malinowski was trying to pitch.
“I was gutted at first,” says Malinowski, a prolific freelance writer who also hosts one of the most insightful and interesting sports writing newsletters. “I thought [the New York Times Magazine] blew up my spot. The story’s framework was in parallel of what I was proposing with book.” But then he took a step back and realized there was so much more to the rise of the Warriors (which has won two of the last three NBA titles) than could be covered in just one magazine piece. It was proof of concept: “If the New York Times Magazine put a story on the Warriors on the cover, then this is a thing people want to read about.”
One year later, Malinowski’s book is a deep-dive into not only the fraught history of the Warriors’ franchise, a once proud team at the NBA’s founding that had been reduced to a bumbling and mismanaged group of castaways, but also a team that had essentially redefined the NBA. Sure, having a player like Steph Curry, a once-in-a-generation talent with endless range, helped fuel its rise, but Malinowski also details how the Warriors helped to drag basketball into the modern age—and, in the process, transformed into an annual title contender.
I recently spoke with Malinowski about the ordeals of writing his book, whether this type of embedded sports journalism is still possible, and why the Warriors represent not just a shift in playing style but also political and societal awareness. Read more…