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.”
I read Alana Massey’s essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, with a pencil in hand. I read it behind the counter at work when it was quiet and customer-free. I read it in bed, long after my partner and cat had fallen asleep. I read it in Starbucks when I should’ve been writing but needed inspiration. Massey is a writer I’ve followed since I became interested in journalism. I admired her incisive blend of pop culture and literary criticism. I especially loved when she wrote about religion—Massey spent time at Yale Divinity School—because I went to a conservative Christian college and I was yearning to see how I could translate my weird, vaguely traumatic religious background into beautiful sentences. I bought her book as a reward for myself for meeting a writing deadline.
This reading list is partially inspired by Massey’s excellent writing about the way our society honors and rejects celebrated women—and also about society’s inclination, if not blatant desire, to know every little detail about our favorite celebrities and judge them according to our own arbitrary moral standards. (I’m not immune to this: I spent ten minutes in bed Googling potential paramours of one of my favorite YouTube stars, even though I know it’s none of my damn business.) Why do we feel like we own celebrities—not just their art or their products, but their images and their personal lives? What do celebrities owe us, if anything?
Christian McMahon remembers growing up transgender and disabled, and implores us to remember that acknowledging someone’s humanity is a lot more than simply allowing them to use the washroom they prefer. Acknowledging his unearned privilege as “a small white man with a disability,” he reminds us that everyone deserves the basic human “right to exist safely in public spaces.”
Until I was in fifth grade, I never questioned the fact that other kids could pee at school, and I could not. As a kid with a chronic physical disability — a tiny speck of a redhead curled into a wheelchair, slumped on a walker, or sagging between a pair of crutches, depending on the year — the rules were different for me.
I knew that if I had to use the bathroom midday, I would have to go to the nurse’s office and say my stomach hurt so that my mom would take me home. This, in turn, meant missing the entire rest of the school day rather than having her bring me back to class, which would mean facing the possibility of someone asking where I’d gone. That was the deal. From kindergarten on, I looked at each carton of chocolate milk, each astronaut pouch of Capri Sun, with the same calculated thought: Could I afford to drink this now and still stay at school all day with my friends? Probably not. My choice, then, was between meeting my human need for liquid and participating fully in my own education.
The ADA passed when I was 10. On TV, I saw a girl near my own age crawl out of her wheelchair and up the inaccessible steps of the Capitol building to demonstrate the need for such a monumental piece of legislation. People with disabilities deserved to be included in society as full citizens. We deserved to be treated as human beings. That we weren’t was something I had already internalized as an immovable fact. I cried in front of the TV that night at the thought that there would be an accessible restroom at my school by the time I started sixth grade. I cried because it hadn’t occurred to me, before that moment, that I could belong in this way.
It was me friend Anna who encouraged me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After my initiation, Anna made sick playlists featuring the bands of The Bronze—the nightclub in Sunnydale, where Buffy took place—and shared the soundtrack to the infamous musical episode “Once More With Feeling” with me. But I don’t remember consciously watching Buffy—it feels like I absorbed it by osmosis, or drank a large, invisible Big Gulp of Whedonverse. Like all of the folks in the essays below, I find Buffy the Vampire Slayer engrossing and nuanced. It’s not perfect, but it is wonderful.
Anna also designed me a t-shirt with THE BRONZE emblazoned on the chest. It’s tight and black with white letters, and I get complimented every time I wear it. It fits perfectly underneath my jean jacket. I wear it when I want to feel prepared, strong, sexy. It’s what Buffy would want.
1. “‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘ is the Greatest Show in the History of Television.” (Rachel Vorona Cote, The Week, March 2017)
Some time ago, I compiled a writing playlist comprised of my favorite instrumental pieces. Propelled by instinct rather than reason, I included “Sacrifice,” the music that concludes the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My husband watched with mild bemusement as I clicked and dragged the file to a place of prominence within the mix. “Are you sure you want to listen to ‘Sacrifice’ while you’re trying to work?” he asked. “You cry every single time.”
2. “Once More With Feeling: A ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ 20th Birthday Roundtable.” (Autostraddle, March 2017)
Autostraddle staffers share their come-to-Buffy moments, with especially insightful commentary about seeing queerness and depression represented on-screen.
3. “The Enduring Legacy of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ 20 Years Later.” (Angelica Jade Bastién, Vulture, March 2017)
One of my favorite aspects of Bastién’s analysis is the reminder that Buffy ends up single. Though you’ll find Buffy aficionados have Many Opinions about her love interests (we can all agree Riley is trash, right?), “This series was daring enough to say that its lead heroine’s romantic journey wasn’t her most important. Adulthood for Buffy was marked…[by] her relationship with her own identity and destiny.” This is an important reminder for women everywhere, I think. We can forge our own way. We don’t have to be at the mercy of the tropes foisted upon us.
4. “If the Loneliness Comes, Beep Me.” (Brian T. Burns, March 2017)
My editor, Mike, tipped me off to this wonderful, touching essay in which writer Burns turns to Buffy to help him process sadness.
5. “How ‘Buffy’ Changed Television For A New Generation.” (Alanna Bennett, BuzzFeed, March 2017)
Scandal, The 100, The Hunger Games, Veronica Mars…so many seminal works of television and film owe their story arcs and character development to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I was in the lobby of a theater in Washington, D.C. when I saw the first of the tweets about the Trump administration’s decision to stymie protections for transgender students on the federal level. It wasn’t until the play ended and I was on the Metro home that I had cell service; I began to piece together what exactly had happened. My palms were sweating. I tried to make conversation with my friend, but I felt nauseated and heartsick.
I thought of the transgender and gender non-conforming kids in the youth group where I volunteer and the outspoken, proud, lovely trans kids in our county’s schools. I thought of Gavin Grimm, who’ll stand up against the Gloucester County School Board in front of the Supreme Court on March 28. I thought of how often trans folks have to reduce their stories to make them palatable to cisgender people, smoothing all of our glittering edges into sameness, rather than celebrating our differences, to win over those on the fence.
That night, I felt hopeless and scared. Today, I’m angry. It’s Friday as I finish this post, and the people of Chicago will protest for trans liberation tonight at the corner of Wacker and Wabash. I wish I could be there with them, to celebrate our community’s strength and resilience and to honor the lives of the seven trans women of color murdered in 2017: Mesha Caldwell, 41; Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28; JoJo Striker, 23; Keke Collier, 24; Chyna Gibson, 31; Ciara McElveen, 21; and Jaquarrius Holland, 18. Seven women, and it’s only March. Unacceptable and terrifying.
This Women’s History Month, I implore you: educate yourself and stand up for your trans sisters, not only your cis-ters. Stand up for all of your transgender and gender non-conforming siblings, especially our youth, who need advocacy and protection now more than ever.
1. “Trans Rights Already at Risk in Trump’s Bumbling, Bigoted Trainwreck of a Presidency.” (Rachel, Autostraddle, February 2017)
This article on Autostraddle was instrumental in my understanding of what exactly the Department of Justice put forth two weeks ago:
Under Obama, the Justice Department had been appealing a court injunction that prevents trans students nationwide from accessing the bathroom or other facilities consistent with their gender. Under Trump and Sessions, the first order of business was to cease that appeal, and to allow a lower court injunction to harm trans students unopposed.
Unfortunately, this lack of action? reversal? doesn’t bode well for trans rights. Rachel goes on to quote Mara Keisling of the National Center of Transgender Equality:
“While the immediate impact of this initial legal maneuver is limited, it is a frightening sign that the Trump administration is ready to discard its obligation to protect all students… Transgender students are not going away, and it remains the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students.”
Rachel also describes Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ historical support of anti-LGBTQ legislation, which is unsurprising but scary all the same, and explains how Gavin Grimm’s Supreme Court case could affect the administration’s decision to cease the appeal.
2. “Janet Mock: Young People Get Trans Rights. It’s Adults Who Don’t.” (Janet Mock, The New York Times, February 2017)
Janet Mock, transgender author and activist, is the author of two memoirs: Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More and the upcoming Firsts: A Memoir of the Twenties Experience. In this passionate op-ed, Mock does what she does best: Use her personal experiences to advocate for trans youth. Mock contrasts her different school experiences–one with supportive adults, one without.
It’s adults like those in the Trump administration who don’t realize that pitting young people against one another has consequences. It encourages some to be bullies and turns others into sinister objects.
When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet — it also blocks them from public life. It tells them with every sneer, every blocked door, that we do not want to see them, that they should go hide and that ultimately they do not belong. When schools become hostile environments, students cannot turn to them. Instead they are pushed out. And without an education, it makes it that much more difficult to find a job, support themselves and survive.
Related: “What Trans Youth Need to Hear Right Now, According to Trans Adults.” (Sarah Karlan, BuzzFeed LGBT, March 2017) This isn’t longform, but it’s rare that trans kids have the opportunity to hear from trans adults who are happy and thriving.
3. “Pseudo-Feminist Trolls are Still Trotting Out Tired, Anti-Trans Ideology.” (Larissa Pham, Village Voice, February 2017)
Transphobia isn’t exclusively conservative territory. There are self-proclaimed progressives and feminists whose philosophies harm trans people in subtle and overt ways. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, better known as TERFs, are obsessed with the false notion that trans women aren’t really women, and, unfortunately, their illogical arguments continue to appeal to the fearful.
4. Telling Our Own Stories.
The following essays and interviews feature the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming artists, authors, activists, students, cartoonists, administrative assistants, analysts and teachers.
“Telling Trans Stories Beyond ‘Born in the Wrong Body.'” (Meredith Talusan, Tiq Milan, Jacob Tobia, and Nico Fonseca, BuzzFeed LGBT, May 2016)
“Transgender Stories: ‘People Think We Wake Up and Decide to Be Trans.'” (Kate Lyons, The Guardian, July 2016)
“My Life as a Trans Woman Teaching High School in a ‘Bathroom Bill’ State.” (Aila Boyd, Broadly, February 2017)
“This is What It’s Like to Be a Trans Kid in a Conservative School.” (Nico Lang, Rolling Stone, March 2017)
“Tomboys Don’t Cry: Edgar Gomez Interviews Ivan Coyote.” (LARB, December 2016)
“Five Trans Cartoonists Respond to Bathroom Hysteria.” (The Nib, March 2017)
When’s the last time you saved thousands of lives with a Facebook post? It happened last year to Greg Owen, recently profiled by Buzzfeed UK, a part-time bartender and club promoter from Northern Ireland who contributed to last year’s steep drop in new HIV diagnoses in London while homeless, underemployed, and himself HIV positive.
On 11 August 2015, Owen posted on Facebook to let his friends know that he planned to begin taking PrEP. A friend, who was HIV-positive and had been prescribed the drug as part of his treatment before switching medication, offered him some spare pills. Owen’s plan was to start taking them and blog about his experiences—a “blow by blow” account, he says, laughing…
The day after the Facebook post, he went to a sexual health clinic to double-check he was HIV-negative before taking the pills. Moments later, the nurse gave him the result of the rapid pin-prick blood test: It was positive. He had missed his chance to prevent it.
“I felt sick,” says Owen. “I said, ‘I need to have a cigarette.’ I was in shock.”
The following evening, aware that his friends on Facebook would soon be asking how he was getting on with PrEP, and while working a shift in a gay bar, Owen posted an update on the site telling everyone he was HIV-positive.
That single act triggered a chain of events that would change everything.
This single post caused Owen to become the unintentional poster boy for PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known by the brand name Truvada, a pill taken daily that can help prevent the risk of HIV infection. PrEP is available in the US under most insurance programs, including Medicaid, but in 2015, it was still unavailable on the UK’s National Health Service.
With the help of social media and a homegrown website about the PrEP regimen, Owen got word to thousands of people, garnering the attention of public health officials along the way. It’s a trajectory made all the more surprising by Owen’s total lack of resources and official support. Owen managed to turn his social contacts and personal commitment to HIV prevention into a movement—and by doing so, unwittingly became the latest in a long line of underfunded, grassroots activists who have battled HIV/AIDS through social networks.
The gay community confronted the illness in the early 1980s, when public health officials heard reports of a “gay cancer” spreading through San Francisco and New York. Before HIV or AIDS even had a name, gay men gathered in the Greenwich Village living room of playwright and activist Larry Kramer, where they met with Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist and virologist who told them what he knew about the disease. They could hardly believe what they heard.
Kramer’s living room became the headquarters for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, now America’s oldest AIDS organization, as HIV/AIDS began to decimate gay communities and disbelief turned to action. The group, and others like it, relied on social networking to get the word out about AIDS. They disseminated the latest research, raised funds, and provided critical support for patients at all stages. “Nobody paid any attention to it, recalls Kramer in an interview with Frontline. “We didn’t exist.” (Kramer later parted ways with GMHC and went on to help found ACT UP, an advocacy group whose in-your-face tactics drew national attention to the crisis.)
For early HIV/AIDS activists, grassroots organizing wasn’t a choice—it was a necessity. Scientific understanding of the virus was in its infancy, and a social stigma surrounded its victims. Researchers struggled to get enough money to finance their work and activists struggled for media attention. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration ignored both groups’ pleas for public acknowledgment, and the president famously failed to even use the word “AIDS” in public until 1985, and didn’t give a major speech on the subject until 1987. There was no choice but to pick up the phone, make a flyer, or get out into the street.
Part of the problem was what sociologists call “social death”—the exclusion of people who are thought to be beyond saving because of their social status. But grassroots activism gave hope to patients, challenged stigma, and ultimately pushed forward research. Celebrities whose own social networks were torn apart by HIV/AIDS eventually came forward, and slowly, an international movement was born. Today, those living-room gatherings, phone calls, get-togethers, and grassroots marches have resulted in prevention like PrEP and better treatments for HIV/AIDS patients. And they still fuel efforts like Owen’s to make sure those interventions get in the hands of those who are at risk.
As Owen’s story illustrates, there are still big gaps in awareness despite the existence of better treatment and prevention options. In March 2016, the NHS ceased—before it had even started—the process of funding the drug.
The resulting publicity surrounding the decision, however, had an interesting effect: More and more people were becoming aware of the drug and, says Owen, seeking it out on IWantPrEPNow. Traffic began to double and triple. His social media presence swelled, fueling further traffic and media traction: appearances on the BBC, more radio discussions, more press coverage. Greg Owen was becoming Mr PrEP.
In response to NHS England’s decision, all the major HIV charities joined forces to fight it. A series of meetings ensued. Owen was the only activist invited to attend, as every HIV specialist knew that he was the main link to thousands of people wanting the drug…
A legal battle commenced, brought by the National AIDS Trust, to counter NHS England’s claim that it was not their responsibility to provide PrEP as HIV prevention was the job of local councils. At each step of this process, as news reports described what was happening, traffic to IWantPrEPNow continued to climb.
By the time NHS England lost in the High Court in August last year, 12,000 people were visiting the site every month. NHS England swiftly appealed the ruling. Orders of generic PrEP kept rising… As the NHS stalled, an underground movement, facilitated by Owen, was in full swing.
The NHS eventually lost the appeal in November, and announced that it would provide the drugs for at least 10,000 people, but earlier that summer a panel discussion at the International AIDS Conference warned that global funding for the disease is still in danger of a “collapse” that could set back public health goals. If history is any indicator, activists won’t lay down their arms anytime soon. Like Owen, they’ll pick up their cell phones and carry on—even if their invisible labor goes unpaid and unrecognized.
The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness (Huffington Post Highline)
Dustin Lance Black, The Screenwriter Behind “Milk” and “When We Rise” on Coming Out as a Gay Activist (The New Yorker)
Reports say there is going to be another travel ban soon, perhaps even today. And so, standing on the precipice of our next great catastrophe, I have decided to take stock, as far as I can, of this thing we have wrought, which I can only describe as the new American carnage. Moreover (sorry about this) I would like to put forth my own obnoxious “all else is a distraction” theory:
In my opinion, this is the greatest story of the moment, and all else is a distraction. Think-piece-ologists have recently argued that the “real story” is the dismantling of our administrative state, or the lock-out of the free press from the halls of power, or the Russian oligarchy’s new influence on the Republican party, or so on. But, when the people of the future look back at us now, it seems to me that they will “little note, nor long remember” the exact form of our bureaucracy, or whether we took seriously our own promises to ourselves about freedom of the press, or whether Michael Flynn was actually colluding with the Russian ambassador rather than just wishing him a very very merry Christmas. These things will all be seen as incidental: goings-on as curious and inconsequential as Rudolf Hess in a biplane or Marat in a bathtub. I submit that, for the people of the future, all these stories will be incidental to the story of why we allowed our neighbors to be terrorized and rounded up.
So, I am making a small attempt to bear witness.
I am asking six questions.
Who has been detained?
Who has been denied entry?
Who has been rounded up?
Who has been deported?
Who has fled as a refugee from my country?
Who has been killed here? Read more…
In George A. Romero’s classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, the murder of Ben, the black character, by a mob of white vigilantes who think he’s a zombie — even though he spends most of the movie protecting people from zombies — serves as the quintessential political message of the civil rights era: black men endangered by senseless white violence. But making overt political statements about race through horror movies all but disappeared by the late ’70s, when commercial filmmakers began establishing the suburbs as the exclusive setting for horror and stayed there for the next three decades. Black characters were often confined to filling a quota in ensemble casts, or waiting until a franchise chose to move its narrative to the inner city — see Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) or Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995). The horrors rumored to take place in black ghettos were much too real for something fantastic or supernatural to seem plausible. (Except in the case of 1992’s Candyman, which is set in the Cabrini Green projects and depicts the titular villain as the son of a former slave.) Instead, black people were relegated to films where they engaged in the gun-toting, crack-slanging, and welfare-check-cashing that was apparently their exclusive province in that day.
Not until films like the Purge trilogy and Peele’s Get Out have black men been allowed access to the countryside, and depicted as vulnerable — a privilege they are rarely afforded in real life — rather than caricatured by the associations usually attached to their mythic bodies or the rumors of their sexual prowess. These films grant black men a rare aura of grace precisely by staging their moments of vulnerability in a suburban landscape, traditionally depicted as pristine and white. By doing so, they dismantle nearly three decades’ worth of associations that have rendered black men denizens of lawless urban spaces, undeserving of an empathetic gaze. They also remedy the lack of imagination that so often leads to the death of real-life unarmed black men (and children) like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Joe McKnight.
At BuzzFeed, Frederick McKindra examines how James DeMonaco’s The Purge and Jordan Peele’s Get Out work in stark opposition to the ways the American horror genre has depicted the suburbs as white, people of color as simplified pawns in the plot, and denied black men’s full range of emotion and humanity. Black Horror turns the old tropes upside down and realigns stories’ moral compasses, and it pushes the horror form into more realistic and interesting directions.
At the one-month mark, we now have a working theory of what makes an employee fireable (or not even hireable) in the Trump administration. There are two main types.
Fireable Offense Type #1: Be Drop Dead Scandalous
1. In December, Jason Miller, who was tapped to be the White House communications director, quit after another transition official, A.J. Delgado, tweeted her jilted love at him. Miller and his wife were expecting a new baby, so, via Twitter, “Delgado congratulated ‘the baby-daddy’ on his promotion,” ominously adding: “The 2016 version of John Edwards.”
“When people need to resign graciously and refuse to, it’s a bit … spooky,” Delgado then wrote. When an old law school friend asked on Twitter to whom she was referring, Delgado replied: “Jason Miller. Who needed to resign … yesterday.”
Delgado then deleted her Twitter account and, after Politico reported on the rumored affair, privately disclosed the details of the relationship to the transition team.
If you reach back into the deep part of yourself where you catalog other people’s misbehavior, you may even recall that Page Six reported back in October that, the night before the last presidential debate, Delgado and Miller, along with several journalists, were spotted together at the world’s largest strip club. Read more…