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Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive

One version of my perfect day would consist of nothing but walking from one spicy-noodle stand to another, consuming so much chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns my mouth would no longer feel like it’s connected to my body. At Roads and Kingdoms, Josh Freedman made that dream reality, following Mr. Lamp — Chongqing’s most devoted noodle explorer — around the city, in search of the ultimate bowl of xiaomian.

Lamp steps out to take a call; he returns to tell me it is a reporter for one of China’s national newspapers. The article written about me the day before has been published in the local morning paper, under the headline “American Guy Loves Chongqing Noodles So Much He Flies All the Way to Chongqing to Eat Noodles and Learn About the Ingredients.” Within hours, the article was reposted by the flagship state-run paper, the state newswire, and dozens of aggregators. The article about me writing an article was such a big hit that the national press wanted to redo it for the international edition.

I look around the table, uncomfortable with the attention, thinking about the xiaomian stories that link each person together. Mrs. Lamp and her sister-in-law sit to our right, drinking sugary iced tea and gossiping. Across the simmering hotpot, Ms. Hu and her husband propose a toast to the table. They run a store called Fat Sister’s Noodles, named, they quickly add, after Ms. Hu. They operate the store themselves, with little help, starting before dawn every morning; rarely do they have a free moment to go out and eat with friends. After several rounds of toasting and laughter, Ms. Hu’s cheeks have turned bright red, almost as red as the hotpot broth on the table between us. Brother Lamp sits back, soaking it all in, watching connections borne of noodles grow into friendship and camaraderie. He has started smoking again.

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Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive

Longreads Pick

In Sichuan’s spicy-noodle capital, a local xiaomian aficionado takes a visitor on a quest for the ultimate bowl.

Published: Nov 21, 2016
Length: 12 minutes (3,028 words)

GQ's Sean Fennessey: My Top Longreads of 2011

Sean Fennessey is the editor of GQ.com. (See more stories on his Longreads page.)

I’ll try to follow a few guidelines for the sake of imagined objectivity, so, no friends; no GQ pieces; no pieces published before January 1, 2011; no stories pseudonymously submitted by my mom; no sandwiches. Here we go, with apologies, to, like, everyone.

***

Lawrence Wright, The Apostate (The New Yorker, February 14, 2011)

An obvious choice made less obvious by the passage of time. It has been only nine months since Wright’s startling, white-knuckled journey to the center of Scientology, with outraged and wounded filmmaker Paul Haggis as his Ahab. In Internet time, this story feels very old—check out Tom Cruise’s new movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this Christmas!—but it hasn’t budged an inch. Wright has long been a dogged writer-reporter and interpreter of foreign, pre- and post-Judeo-Christian faiths, but he’s never been so simultaneously zingy and stone-faced. TNY fact-checkers famously sent the Church of Scientology 971 questions for confirmation before this was published, followed by an eight-hour inquiry session with the religion’s spokesman. I have 971 questions for Wright. Question One: How?

Alex French and Howie Kahn, The Greatest Paper That Ever Died (Grantland, June 8, 2011)

An arch and hilarious move by the editors at Grantland to lead their launch week with the story of an ambitious, innovative, and ultimately overextended sports publication. Too cute by half or not, French and Kahn, who have contributed great work like this to GQ, too, talk to damn near every wunderkind, wonk, and graybeard involved in the fast construction and faster crumbling of The National, the first (and last) sports-only newspaper. By turns funny, informative, and oddly thrilling, it presages the too-much media by at least a decade. Also, the characterization of editor-in-chief and sports scribe demigod Frank DeFord as a dashing dandy beyond all, an almost Gatsby-esque sportswriter (?!) is remarkable.

Jessica Pressler, “It’s Too Bad. And I Don’t Mean It’s Too Bad Like ‘Screw ’Em.’” (July 24, 2011)

Access isn’t everything, but it’s a lot of things. Refreshing. Enlightening. Embarrassing. Mirth-making. Other gerunds. That much is clear in this loose, funny portrait of one of the most important people in America, drawn small and sorta goofy, but not without empathy by Pressler. Just a damn good and entertaining profile.

Nathan Rabin, Louis C.K. Walks Us Through Louie’s Second Season (The AV Club, September 19, 2011)

Rabin is a pretty brilliant cultural critic and flotsam scavenger, but he’s secondary here to the form, the increasingly utilized Insta-Tell-All. Though shows like Louie or the rabidly championed Community are seen by relatively modest audiences, rarely exceeding a few million or so, the fandom they inspire is maniacal, bordering on unhealthy. In some instances, I hate this. But when it’s something I care about, I make exceptions. This literal step-by-step, shot-by-shot printed audio commentary track for the second season of comedian Louis CK’s FX series plays out in four parts and in a way that both satisfies in a very grim empty-calorie way and devastates with clarity. Louie isn’t exactly better after you’ve heard about every motivation—it’s fine standing alone, on your DVR. But that doesn’t mean you won’t inhale this series in one sitting and then enjoy this.

AJ Daulerio, The Electric Dock Ellis Acid Test: An Attempt To Recreate His Drug-Addled No-Hitter, On Xbox (Deadspin, July 11, 2011)

Stunt journalism, maybe. Multimedia art project gone wrong, sure. Belly-button-deep inside baseball, yeah, definitely. Doesn’t mean this very funny and very unnecessary attempt to get high and get paid for it (while sort of lampooning the whole Plimptonian, we-can-do-it style of participatory journalism along the way) isn’t a genuinely inventive and uniquely audience-conscious piece of web writing.

Five More

Daniel Zalewski, Show the Monster (The New Yorker)

Guillermo del Toro, a perfect profile subject. Bonus points for savvy multimedia accompaniment.

Dan P. Lee, Travis the Menace (New York Magazine)

Brilliantly crafted. Made a monkey outta me.

Mindy Kaling, Flick Chicks (The New Yorker)

Could probably do with less tweeting and more writing of this kind from Kaling.

Bradford Evans, The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase (Splitsider)
Wherein the Chevy Chase is a Colossal Asshole reputation is burnished, buffed, and efficiently honed in a countdown form that neatly conveys the story of a career coulda-been.

William Bowers, Now What? (Pitchfork)
Made me feel better about all my time spent mining the crevasses of insular music writing.

Jeff Bridges Will Be “The Dude,” Now and Forever

Longreads Pick

Caity Weaver chills with Jeff Bridges for this profile at GQ. At 67, Bridges is totally cool with being known as the Dude, twenty years after The Big Lebowski.

Source: GQ
Published: Sep 20, 2017
Length: 6 minutes (1,505 words)

The Mastery and Magic of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Cashawn Thompson created the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic on Twitter in 2013 to draw attention to the accomplishments and resilience of black women in the public eye like Michelle Obama. With T-shirts, tote bags, videos, and news headlines, #BlackGirlMagic soon went viral. Like “(To Be) Young, Gifted, and Black,” a song written by Nina Simone, and “Black Lives Matter,” the affirmation “Black Girls Are Magic” creates positive associations with blackness and reconstitutes its possibilities. “Say it loud!” James Brown sang in his 1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In other words, let us not cower — let us like ourselves.

Affirmations like #BlackGirlMagic are important corrective tools, especially now, with a president in office who weaponizes language to stir up policies that are hurtful for communities of color. Still, I worry that a focus on black women’s extraordinariness obscures the unfairness of what we overcome. I wonder if, along with a litany of archetypes that have lingered in the public imagination, #BlackGirlMagic fortifies an idea that black women can endure anything, that we don’t need protecting.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Ellen Pao, Henry Wismayer, Taylor Harris, and Jeff Maysh.

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Who’s Trying to Monopolize Mary Jane?

Soon, pot will be legal in Canada. And as more and more states welcome Mary Jane with open arms, the U.S. government will eventually follow hoot, er, suit. As a crop, pot is worth “over $40 billion, which makes it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn.”

Who stands to profit most from legalized pot? Not the gov, but BioTech Industries. At GQ, Amanda Chicago Lewis attempts to find the people behind the secret, faceless company vying for strict, blanket utility patents on pot that would allow them a monopoly — the ability to sue anyone who attempts to grow and sell pot without first buying BI-licensed seeds. Talk about harshing our collective mellow, man.

According to Holmes, a secretive company called BioTech Institute LLC had begun registering patents on the cannabis plant. Three have already been granted, and several more are in the pipeline, both in the U.S. and internationally. And these are not narrow patents on individual strains like Sour Diesel. These are utility patents, the strongest intellectual-property protection available for crops. Utility patents are so strict that almost everyone who comes in contact with the plant could be hit with a licensing fee: growers and shops, of course, but also anyone looking to breed new varieties or conduct research. Even after someone pays a royalty, they can’t use the seeds produced by the plants they grow. They can only buy more patented seeds.

“Utility patents are big. Scary,” Holmes said. “All of cannabis could be locked up. They could sue people for growing in their own backyards.”

Pot is an industry worth over $40 billion, which makes it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn. And even though weed is still federally forbidden, it sounded like whoever was behind BioTech Institute had spent the past several years surreptitiously maneuvering to grab every marijuana farmer, vendor, and scientist in the country by the balls, so that once the drug became legal, all they’d have to do to collect payment is squeeze.

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The South Carolina Dylann Roof Knew

When Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah first began to cover the trial of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine parishioners of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, she initially assumed her feature for GQ would focus on Roof’s victims. But as Ghansah began to report on the trial, and specifically on Roof himself, she realized the thrust of her piece would have to focus on the murderer.

Over and over again, without even bothering to open his mouth, Roof reminded us that he did not have to answer to anyone. He did not have to dignify our questions with a response or explain anything at all to the people whose relatives he had maimed and murdered. Roof was safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers, it is never twisted out for meaning, we never identify its “handlers,” and we could not force him to do a thing. He remained inscrutable. He remained in control, just the way he wanted to be.

And so, after weeks in the courtroom, and shortly before Dylann Roof was asked to stand and listen to his sentence, I decided that if he would not tell us his story, then I would.

To do so, Ghansah had to confront the history of South Carolina. This was a journey that Roof had also undertook in the days and years before he entered Mother Emanuel with 88 bullets — one that ended with a perverted viewpoint of the antebellum period before the state became the cradle of secession. What Ghansah finds as she crisscrosses the state — visiting Roof’s own place of worship in Columbia, walking along “Slave Street” on Boone Plantation — is that South Carolina prefers its history viewed through a heavy-handed filter.

Dylann Roof was educated in a state whose educational standards from 2011 are full of lesson plans that focus on what Casey Quinlan, a policy reporter, said was “the viewpoint of slave owners” and highlight “the economic necessity of slave labor.” A state that flew the Confederate flag until a black woman named Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole and pulled it down. A place that still has a bronze statue of Benjamin Tillman standing at its statehouse in Columbia. Tillman was a local politician who condoned “terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable…to rescue South Carolina from the rule of the alien, the traitor, and the semi-barbarous negroes.”

Roof is what happens when we prefer vast historical erasures to real education about race. The rise of groups like Trump’s Republican Party, with its overtures to the alt-right, has emboldened men like Dylann Roof to come out of their slumber and loudly, violently out themselves. But in South Carolina, those men never disappeared, were there always, waiting. It is possible that Dylann Roof is not an outlier at all, then, but rather emblematic of an approaching storm.

I took a road trip last week down the Atlantic coast and spent a few days in Charleston. It was a somewhat shocking experience to be in a city that purports to treasure its history but so openly glosses over the gritty details. Boone Plantation is one of the few sites to feature slave cabins dating back to the 1700s, but as Ghansah notes, the majority of the cabins are staffed by odd-looking dummies, which she writes “are supposed to represent black people in their deepest ignominy…there were no dummies that were supposed to represent the masters or the mistresses of the plantation.”

It is also at Boone I first learned of the “compassionate” slave owner, mentioned in one of the cabin’s audio tools. To enslave another human being immediately disqualifies anyone from being described as compassionate, no matter that person’s other qualities. This was closer to historical fiction than history. This distinction continued through the tour. The text in one cabin explained the significance of an archaeological dig on the property, an effort undertaken by a private firm which suggests Boone Plantation was forced to review the land (so as to not run afoul of Historic Preservation Act) rather than act on of any sort of archival inquisitiveness.

That a site like Boone would include these fallacies only confirms what Ghansah discovered during her time reporting on Roof:

In Charleston, I learned about what happens when whiteness goes antic and is removed from a sense of history. It creates tragedies where black grandchildren who have done everything right have to testify in court to the goodness of the character of their slain 87-year-old grandmother because some unfettered man has taken her life. But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. I thought I needed stories of vengeance and street justice, but I was wrong. I didn’t need them for what they told me about Roof. I needed them for what they said about us. That in our rejection of that kind of hatred, we reveal how we are not battling our own obsolescence. How we resist. How we rise.

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