Inside the social media factory created by former Huffington Post cofounder Jonah Peretti—how they’ve cracked viral content, invested in original content, and made money:
“At around 5 p.m., Stopera published ’48 Pictures That Perfectly Capture the ’90s’ on BuzzFeed. ‘These pictures are all that and a bag of chips!’ he wrote at the top of the list. A BuzzFeed visitor with an appetite for ’90s nostalgia could scroll down, gawk at the 48 retro images, read the deadpan captions, recall Bob Saget, Tipper Gore, and Scottie Pippen, laugh at the crazy fashion, and resurface to the present day in a matter of minutes. It racked up 1.2 million page views.”
This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Diana Nyad, Rachel Monroe, Ross Andersen, and Teresa Mathew.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, but these peaceful people are greatly outnumbered and misunderstood in America. Uninformed people assume their turbans mean they’re Muslim, and racists continue to attack and harass them. The first hate crime after 9/11 was perpetrated against a Sikh man. Yet a group of Sikhs in New Jersey have embraced one of the most iconic pieces of Americana — the motorcycle — to pursue their own piece of the American dream on the country’s back roads.
At BuzzFeed, Teresa Mathew spends time with The Sikh Motorcycle Club Of The Northeast to report on these motorcyclists of faith. Club members fly the American flag and the Sikh flag on the back of their bikes. For them, riding is centering, creates brotherhood and reaffirms their commitment to Sikh values and ways of life. In the American imagination, bikers are associated with drinking, lawlessness, and rebellion. As Mathew points out, Sikhism was partly formed from rebellion against Hinduisms’ inequalities and India’s caste system, but members of The Sikh Motorcycle Club do not drink or smoke. And instead of defining themselves in opposition to authority, they submit to their ultimate authorities: family, faith, and god.
The members of the Sikh Motorcycle Club love to ride, to practice what KJ Singh, another founding member, calls “wind therapy.” One bright morning in early June, three members met in front of a gurudwara in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. In true Indian fashion, the other half of the group trickled in slowly. As the early arrivals waited, they prayed and ate the rotis and lentil curries provided as part of the gurudwara’s langar, a vegetarian meal cooked by volunteers. Once the whole crew was assembled, the riders helped one another program location details into iPhones and clambered aboard their bikes.
They rode for hours, past large swaths of rolling green fields and Shell gas stations and dappled, densely wooded back roads. As they drove their Harley Davidsons through small, sleepy suburban towns, the scene could have made for an edgy take on a Norman Rockwell painting. When they wear their helmets, clad head-to-toe in jeans and leather, the riders’ beards are the only thing that make them identifiably Sikh.
Harjot Singh Pannu doesn’t twist or tuck his beard away when he rides; it flies in the headwind like gray gauze. “I love it,” Harjot said. “People look at my beard and wish they have a beard like that.” When he rides, and the wind runs through his hair, he said, “to me, that’s like living with nature.”
At Rolling Stone, reporter Jason Newman recently revealed another round of sexual assault and abuse allegations against R. Kelly. The allegations are from one of Kelly’s former girlfriends, disc jockey Kitti Jones, who dated the singer from 2011 to 2013.
It was June 2011, and R. Kelly had just performed to a frenetic crowd at the Verizon Theatre outside Dallas, Texas. It had been nearly two decades since the singer’s raunchy lyrics and honeyed voice turned him into a R&B superstar and sex symbol. But despite multiple controversies over his alleged sexual relationships with underage girls, his still-dedicated fan base sent his latest album — the throwback soul LP Love Letter — to number six on the Billboard 200…
[Jones had] been into Kelly since she was a teen in the early 1990s, when she’d hide in her room with his music to escape her mother’s tumultuous romantic relationships. She’d buy every magazine he was in and, upon the release of his 1993 solo debut, 12 Play, took a limo to a third-row seat at her first Kelly show. She’d seen him in concert seven times since. “He was my Brad Pitt,” she says.
The story of Jones’s relationship with Kelly includes food deprivation, forced sex acts, and a dormitory-style, cult-like atmosphere with his other girlfriends. It echoes Buzzfeed’s July story, “R. Kelly is Holding Women Against their Will in a Cult, Parents Told Police,” reported by Jim DeRogatis, who has followed the cloud of allegations surrounding the singer since before his 2008 trial for child pornography.
Jones says she went to Rolling Stone to support the women mentioned in the Buzzfeed report, some of whom are younger than 21 and are, according to one woman’s parents “brainwashed” by the singer.
Reports of Kelly’s illicit, predatory behavior go back to his marriage to singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 15 years old and he was 28. (Vibe published an apparent marriage certificate in its December issue that year). Over the years I’ve personally heard from Chicagoans with memories of Kelly traipsing the halls of local high schools looking to befriend teenage girls. Much less clear than Kelly’s gleeful exploitation of women and girls — he calls himself the “Pied Piper” of R&B — is how and why he gets to keep an audience and a job.
Rolling Stone’s article came out just a week after accounts of producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior were first published in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The public responded with shock, outrage, and then action. Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, expelled from the Motion Picture Academy, and could face criminal charges. Some of his accusers, like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, are powerful Hollywood players, but regular women also stepped forward on social media to tell their own stories of sexual violence, using the hashtag #metoo.
Accusers of other powerful, predatory men soon followed: actor Kevin Spacey, Amazon Studios executive Roy Price, NPR’s senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes, former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, and ex-New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish.
In a tough news cycle, the courage of survivors heartened me. I’ve been the victim of sexual violence more than once. I know many women who can say the same, but often, it’s only behind closed doors, in voices thin with internalized shame that we speak of these things if we ever do at all. Also heartening, of course, were the consequences forced on many of the predators — the public shaming of them, the loss of deals, relationships, credibility.
Weinstein’s victims, that we know of, were mostly white — with the exception of Lupita Nyong’o, who published a detailed account of her experience with the producer in the New York Times. Bim Adewunmi, a critic I admire, wrote that black actresses, who get fewer roles for less pay than their white counterparts, were mostly saved in this instance because of their lack of desirability in the eyes of the mainstream. Weinstein was reported to have turned down actress Sophie Okonedo for a role because he doubted that she was “fuckable” enough to draw audiences. Adewunmi’s thinking didn’t sit right with me; sexually predatory behavior isn’t fundamentally about desirability. Also, women of color — especially indigenous women — have a higher lifetime incidence of sexual violence than white women and are less likely to report it to authorities or use social services to get help. We haven’t been saved from anything just because multitudes of us aren’t on one predator’s list.
There was a lot of silence after Nyong’o spoke up, and with R. Kelly’s victims, there’s been a similar silence. Perhaps it’s news fatigue: Everything is exhausting and heartbreaking, and one can only be outraged so much. Still, it’s curiously telling who the outrage and action follows. There are black women writers and activists who’ve tried to wake us up to the horror of Kelly’s behavior, yet he continues to tour and record music. Right now, on this very day, about half a dozen girls and women may be held in a weird, multi-city sex cult in R. Kelly’s homes. Some of their parents have asked for help. Aren’t they worthy of our collective fury, too?
I know what you’re thinking: Not another sexual harassment post. Bear with me.
I’ve spoken to many women over the past few weeks who feel exhausted by the current news cycle, I count myself among them: the endless onslaught of horrific stories, interspersed with the occasional, extremely bad non-apology.
I know it’s tempting to look away, and it’s fine if you have to; please take care of yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad feminist. But it’s important the stories keep coming out, that the issue remains in the public discourse. It feels like we are in a moment of momentum, working our way towards something better, however clumsy, messy, and painful the process can be. It’s a little cheesy, but I keep thinking of the quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This momentum feels like hell, and we have to keep going.
At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen reports from Northern Idaho, where many conservatives have moved to enjoy a life among like minds in this white, right wing sanctuary. Once a Democratic region of loggers and miners, conservatives have successfully converted the area into a Republican stronghold. But to the ultra-right wing Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, the GOP isn’t Republican enough. This Committee’s loose confederation rallies around an outspoken, slightly mysterious man named Brent Regan, who works better as a behind-the-scenes strategist and source of funding than a public face. One critic calls Regan’s contingent “the whole constellation of wackadoodles,” but they seem too effective and extreme to dismiss.
Tyler and others say the only membership requirement to be in Regan’s camp is to be a true, liberty-loving conservative, but the truth is more complicated. You don’t necessarily need to be a Christian, but you should believe in Christian values — and the ability for Christians to practice their beliefs without restriction, which includes supporting “school choice,” aka using federal funds to support religious schools. You believe that the Johnson Amendment — which forbids nonprofit organizations, including churches, from making political contributions — is unconstitutional. You should be against any increase in “unnecessary” spending, any expensive public works — like the pricey renovation of a lakeside park in Coeur d’Alene, which prompted an attempted recall of the mayor and city council, or the recently proposed transit center, dubbed “a Taj Mahal for government employees” by Alex Barron. You should also oppose the growth of government, especially Obamacare and the “perverse incentives and waste,” as Regan put it to me, that have resulted from it. And you must disaffiliate yourself with those who don’t believe these things.
Christa Hazel’s conservative credentials have been challenged, for example, because she posted pictures to Facebook that included “known” liberals. A far-right blog accused Duane Rasmussen, one of the founders of the North Idaho Pachyderm Club, of “bringing Socialism to Kootenai County” for making friends with Spokesman-Review columnist Dave Oliveria, who often published photos Rasmussen had taken of GOP events. When lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Yates spoke at a recent Central Committee meeting, he was challenged for attending Johns Hopkins, a liberal school.
For many, it’s an exacting, and exhausting, sort of tribalism. As Deborah Rose, a political observer who’s been warring with Regan and his followers in the comments of newspaper articles for months, put it to me, “Here’s what bothers me so much: I agree with them on 95% of this stuff! But then the 5% that I don’t — that’s what makes them call me a liberal.”
Felling a man of Harvey Weinstein’s stature was undoubtedly going to create aftershocks. It must help that the actresses coming forward with accusations against him are famous, people we recognize, people we believe we love even if we don’t actually know them. It helps us to care about them and, as female crew members afraid to come forward about their own abuse told The Hollywood Reporter, it helps the actresses:
“We don’t have the power that Rose McGowan or Angelina Jolie has,” says one female below-the-liner, and others agree that it is a lot easier for a production to replace a woman on the crew than it is to lose a bankable actor or director.
The female crew members told THR they’re afraid to come forward, lest a producer deem them “a liability” or “a troublemaker.” It’s not the men who abuse that are liabilities, it’s the women who would be so inconvenient as to not shut up and take it. One crew member says what many of us know about human resources departments: “Human resources is not there for us; it’s there for the company. To protect it from a liability.” Again, here, the liability is the person who tells the truth, not the person who behaves wrongly.
Still, since the New York Times and the New Yorker published their Weinstein exposés, less famous women have revealed abuse by powerful men. Men have followed with apologies. (The best one came from Ryan Gosling, who said he was disappointed in himself for not knowing about Weinstein’s treatment of women sooner — we’ll come back to this.) Kim Masters was finally able to get an outlet to publish a piece she’d been doggedly working on for months, in which a producer on the Amazon show The Man in the High Castle came forward to report harassment by a top Amazon executive, who has since resigned.
The #MeToo campaign on social media — originally created by a black woman activist, Tarana Burke, 10 years ago and popularized in the wake of Weinstein by actress Alyssa Milano and others — brought out even more stories beyond the entertainment industry. The #MeToo campaign also seems to have been eye-opening for a lot of men. Maybe you think we should be pleased about this, but I feel more like Alexandra Petri, who wrote in the Washington Post, “I am sick of having to suffer so that a man can grow.”
I received a late-night email this week from someone who crossed a line with me 13 years ago. He wrote that he “struggled for a while tonight” with the email, which made me laugh, that he thought I should care that he “struggled” for a few hours that night, after 13 years. But of course he thought that. His whole email was about him. He wasn’t sure if he had done anything wrong, but thought maybe he had. He appeared to not remember that 10 years ago, I had written him an email of my own, telling him how his violation had hurt me. He had dismissed it then, telling me — a college student who had worked up a tremendous amount of courage to even write him that email — that I was overreacting. Hysterical woman, your feelings are incorrect. He wants forgiveness now, but can’t be bothered to go through his email and see that I told him, a decade ago, exactly what he did wrong and how it hurt me.
I remember the day in 1987 when my then-boyfriend popped their first EP, “The Tragically Hip” into the cassette player of his dad’s Chrysler Cordoba. When “Last American Exit” came on, I loved it instantly. It’s been on my playlists for 30 years. I’ve seen the Hip at community colleges, hockey rinks, bars, summer festivals, and arenas. I’m part of a swath of Canadians for which the Hip’s music meant good times and Canadian pride; our stories, truths, and landscape writ large in songs with incisive lyrics and driving beats.
Among my favorite Hip songs, “50 Mission Cap” honors Bill Barilko, whose last goal won the 1951 Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That spring, Barilko went missing on a fishing trip and the Leafs failed to win a cup until 1962, the year Barilko’s remains were discovered. Then of course, there’s “Ahead By A Century,” in which Gord asks us to embrace the moment, reminding us that “there’s no dress rehearsal, this is our life.” Part poet, part visionary, part activist, Gord Downie was a dervish on stage, growling those lyrics into the minds of audiences for three decades.
On October 17th, Downie passed away after battling glioblastoma for two years. In his moving tribute, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Downie is that he chose to spend the last two years of his life accelerating his contribution to social justice, working toward a better life for others, toward a better Canada. He used his profile and his songwriting to foster reconciliation between Canada and First Nations people by raising awareness of the atrocities and generational effects of residential schools. For his work, the Assembly of First Nations honored Downie with an eagle feather and a Lakota spirit name — Wicapi Omani — which means, “Man who walks among the stars.”
Here are five pieces about a man who used story and song to share his Canada and, through personal example, inspired and challenged us to be better as a nation.
1. “For Gord: 27 Short Essays About The Tragically Hip, Plus One Poem” (TheBelleJar, BuzzFeed, June 2016)
In this round-up, 28 fans share their earliest memories of The Tragically Hip and how Gord Downie and his lyrics became the soundtrack to important moments in their lives.
After initial die-hard fandom, Eric Koreen gets turned off the Hip for a decade after getting fed up with a small, boorish, white male contingent of the group’s fan base, interested only in hearing the hits in concert — certainly not opening bands with thoughtful, though lesser-known songs. Koreen eventually reconciles the Hip’s dichotomous hold on Canada, in that they “combine the intellectual side of Canadians — that we’re thoughtful, smart people — with that humble, meat-and-potatoes side, too.” Koreen suggests his change of heart came as a direct result of Gord Downie, who he characterizes as someone who could “be frustrated by your country but not disown it; that you can be an intellectual and an everyman at the same time.”
Damian Abraham, vocalist for Canadian hardcore punk band Fucked Up, recounts how he turned from lifelong Hip hater to friend of Gord Downie.
I met Gord properly for the first time in the summer of 2010 backstage at a Tegan and Sara/City and Colour concert. Gord was to join Dallas Green onstage to perform the song they did together on the latter’s Bring Me Your Love record, and I had brought my family with me to watch the show. My son was toddling his way around the backstage with us in tow when tumbled out in front of Gord. After helping him up and making sure he was OK, he picked up Holden’s flung and filthy soother and rushed over the sink to wash it. As he handed back the washed pacifier, I told him that he didn’t need to worry about doing that.
“Of course I did,” he responded.
Youthful exuberance can lead to rashness. In my rush to embrace punk and reject all that didn’t fit with my new world view, I ended up throwing out a lot of culture that I was thankfully able to rediscover later. Of all these bands, there are none I am more grateful to have awoken to the greatness of than the Tragically Hip.
Jim Cuddy, of the legendary Canadian band Blue Rodeo, shares stories of times his band and the Hip crossed paths in their early years touring Canada.
We were supposed to be on right before the Hip, but the Eagles inserted some guy whose father owns the Knicks. It was a blues band, and he was terrible. But he had to go on then because it was his plane that the Eagles were flying on.
Then the Hip came on and they were on fire. Gord was in a big white outfit, totally drenched. At the side of the stage is Irving Azoff [longtime Eagles manager and former CEO of Ticketmaster and Live Nation] standing there with the Eagles, and he’s looking at Gord telling him to shorten the set, making gestures. It’s making me furious, because I know the Eagles only want to shorten the set so they can get on a plane and fly out, which they can’t do after midnight or something. So Gord’s doing his thing and continues on. Then the Eagles come on and do a miserable set, just sucking the joy out of the whole island. Afterwards I was sitting with Gord backstage and asked, “Didn’t that bug you?” He said, “Pfft, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be playing and have Irving Azoff telling me to shorten my set.”
5. “Gord Downie opens up about battling cancer, says it’s ‘creating something'” (Peter Mansbridge, CBC News, October 2016)
In his first interview after his cancer diagnosis, Gord Downie talks with Peter Mansbridge about living with cancer.
When you see people now, you want to hug and a kiss. Why is that important to you now?
I do. Yeah. That was happening before, though, all this, strangely. My life was changing and I felt that everyone that hung in there with me, all these years, were still there — they didn’t write me off or anything like that. And they could have. So yes, hug and kiss. And my dad, Edgar, definitely kissed on the lips. And me and my brothers taught a lot of men how to do it.
For BuzzFeed, Molly Hensley-Clancy spends time in Redding, California, home to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, where you might end up with a crowd of faith healers rather than an ambulance after your car accident. Town-gown relations there are tense — the school donated half a million to save the jobs of four police officers, but students have also been banned from prophesying around one of the town’s largest tourist attractions. Hensley-Clancy’s piece is fascinating and well-balanced, and includes her personal foray into faith healing for her torn knee ligaments.
I can tell I’m a tough case, because a third healer comes over to us, and then a fourth. Soon I’m surrounded by people praying for me, one woman’s hand on my shoulder, another on her knees in front of me, and the force of their expectation — desperation, almost — is palpable. Unrelentingly, every few minutes, they ask me how I’m feeling, whether I’m better.
I try to deflect some of their questions, but it never works. When one healer asks me what I feel, I tell her I feel “your energy and prayers.” She jumps back, “But what about your knee?”
“Well, it’s a really serious injury,” I try. “So I think it might take some time.”
The woman seems almost offended. “Time?” she says. “Jesus doesn’t need time! Jesus can heal you right away.”
We start praying again, and I start feeling a little desperate, like I’ll never get out of here. The next time they ask me how my knee feels, almost automatically, without thinking, I lie.