Tag Archives: Vogue

Brit Bennett Reflects on Living the Past Year in “Trump Time”

380887 34: A young African American woman listens during a civil rights rally at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963 in Washington. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

On the night Trump was elected president, I sat at home alone feeling winded; just hours earlier, I’d been at a polling site in Bed Stuy where black and brown people, many of them women, smiled and waved and high-fived each other, certain that we’d soon be celebrating a national milestone just like we had eight years before.

Writer Brit Bennett, whose debut novel The Mothers will be adapted for film with actress Kerry Washington as producer, reflects on her experience of reality in the past year since President Trump’s election in a poignant personal essay for Vogue. Back to back scandals, large and small explosions of racial animus, and the whiplash-like event of Trump following the nation’s first black president have “compressed time,” Bennett writes, and have made the author, and her mother, who grew up in Jim Crow-era Louisiana, question the notion of progress.

In Trump Time, the clock moves backward. The feeling that time itself is reversing might be the most unsettling aspect of a most unsettling year. What else is Make America Great Again but a promise to re-create the past? Through his campaign slogan, Trump seizes the emotional power of nostalgia, conjuring a glorious national history and offering it as an alternative to an uncertain future. He creates a fantasy for his base of white Americans but a threat for many others. After all, in what version of the past was America ever great for my family? “The good ol’ days?” my mother always says. “The good ol’ days for who?”

Last September, I traveled with a publicist who is also black to a warehouse in Westminster, Maryland, in order to sign books. As we left Baltimore and headed toward a city that is, according to the latest census, 87 percent white, we began to see red Make America Great Again signs on lawn after lawn. “When I see those signs, I feel the same way as when I see a Confederate flag,” I said. She understood what I meant—that visceral sense of dread. Both symbols represent a racialized nostalgia that, to me, only evokes fear.

I did not realize then that, within the year, those two symbols would collapse into each other.

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Serena Williams on Returning to Tennis and Embracing ‘Power’

Serena Williams at the Met Gala on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly)

Serena Williams is planning on returning to the Australian Open next year to defend her grand slam title a mere three months after she gives birth. “It’s the most outrageous plan,” she told Vogue’s Rob Haskell from her home in Florida.

Williams has also learned to embrace what it means to be a powerful player on the tennis court:

Power—it’s a word that has clung with a sometimes unsavory vigor to Williams over the years, perhaps as a dismissal of her prodigious technical skill or, worse, as a proxy for her race. And it’s a word she has only recently come to embrace. “I think I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the idea of power,” she says. “In the beginning I didn’t like it when they said that my sister and I were power players. I thought, I don’t hit as hard as a Monica Seles. In Australia last year, I read that Maria Sharapova’s backhand and forehand are as good or better than mine, and that the only reason I win is that my serve is bigger. I was like, wait a minute, please. I place my serve. And what about my volleys? My speed? I’m the player who’s hitting angles. I’m the player who moves you. I use my brain, and that’s really why I win. Not only me, but women in general sometimes feel that power is a bad word. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to feel differently about it. Power is beauty. Strength is beauty. So now on the court I want people to think that I’m powerful. But I also want them to be shocked at how I play. I want people to expect something, then get something different.”

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Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

Hallowed Ground: Patti Smith on Visiting the Prison of Jean Genet’s Dreams

We were entering a military zone and hit a checkpoint. The driver’s identity card was inspected and after an interminable stretch of silence we were ordered to get out of the car. Two officers searched the front and back seats, finding a switchblade with a broken spring in the glove box. That can’t be so bad, I thought, but as they knocked on the trunk our driver became markedly agitated. Dead chickens? Maybe drugs. They circled around the car, and then asked him for the keys. He threw them in a shallow ravine and bolted but was swiftly wrestled to the ground. I glanced sidelong at Fred. He betrayed no emotion and I followed his lead.

They opened the trunk. Inside was a man who looked to be in his early 30s curled up like a slug in a rusting conch shell. He seemed terrified as they poked him with a rifle and ordered him to get out. We were all herded to the police headquarters, put in separate rooms, and interrogated in French. The commander arrived, and we were brought before him. He was barrel-chested with dark, sad eyes and a thick mustache that dominated his careworn face. Fred quickly took stock of things. I slipped into the role of compliant female, for in this obscure annex of the Foreign Legion it was definitely a man’s world. I watched silently as the human contraband, stripped and shackled, was led away. Fred was ordered into the commander’s office. He turned and looked at me. Stay calm was the message telegraphed from his pale blue eyes.

-From Vogue‘s excerpt of M Train, Patti Smith’s new memoir, in which she and her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, make a pilgrimage to the remains of the French penal colony in northwest French Guiana where Jean Genet longed to be imprisoned, which he wrote about in The Thief’s Journal. Smith collected stones there, to bring to Genet.

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How Truman Capote Compiled the Guest List for His Famous Black and White Ball, According to Gloria Steinem

Vogue, January 1967, courtesy Yale Library

Truman Capote’s legendary 1966 Black and White Ball still stands as one of the greatest parties of all time. Hot off the success of In Cold Blood, Capote billed the party as an “all-time spectacular present” to himself, inviting everyone who was anyone and demanding they appear in masks and black-and-white attire, a color scheme inspired by Cecil Beaton’s Ascot scene for My Fair Lady.

What gave the Black and White Ball “its intoxicating piquancy,” according to Amy Fine Collins, was the fact that Capote’s guest list had “flung together, in a gilt-edged melting pot, the most alluring power brokers in the worlds of high society, politics, the arts, and Hollywood—disconnected universes that collided, if not for the first time that evening, then at least with unprecedented force.”

The Ball also found an unlikely chronicler in Gloria Steinem, an invited guest who had made Capote’s acquaintance after she interviewed him for Glamour the year before. Steinem wrote a feature on the party for Vogue in January 1967 in which she described the luminaries, feathers, masks, ball gowns, and jewels all whirling around the room: “The effect was like some blend of Hollywood, the Court of Louis XIV, a medieval durbar, and pure Manhattan.” (The full article is not online, but is excerpted below.)

Descriptions of unlikely collisions between worlds are one of the highlights of Steinem’s piece: the detective hired to guard the ladies’ jewelry asking Lee Radziwill to dance; Lynda Bird Johnson’s Secret Service men looking unmistakably Secret Service-y despite their black tie attire and requisite masks; and Beverly and Norman Mailer creating a dance move that involved balancing on an invisible tightrope. Also of particular interest is Steinem’s description of how the party’s legendary guest list came together:

The guest list of five hundred and forty—inscribed painstakingly and by hand, like all his writing, in a ten-cent lined notebook—reflected the full range of twenty years’ writing and travel: one Maharajah, a Kansas detective, half a dozen Presidential advisors, businessmen, editors, a lot of writers and performers, some artists, four composers, several heiresses, one country doctor, and a sprinkling of royalties, with defunct titles attached to very undefunct people. Thunderous publicity which leaned heavily on the Maharajah-heiress side of things, soon made it the Party of the Year—possibly of Several Years—leaving the host and everyone involved some combination of pleased and stunned.

As the day approached, there was a growing conviction—false but intriguing—that the invitation list was not just friends but a new Four Hundred of the World. Pressure from would-be guests became enormous, especially from those who were strangers to the host but felt their social status alone entitled them to go. Truman resisted, but the requests, even threats, finally forced him to cut off his phone and retire to the country.

The week before the party, international guests began arriving in New York like family-of-the-groom for a wedding and caused the same string of accommodation problems and pre-party parties. A whimsical rumor that we were all being called together for some purpose—probably the announcement of the End of the World—spread by magic or telephone. Jerry Robbins wondered if we weren’t the list of those to be shot first by the Red Guard. Kenneth Galbraith said no, not as long as he was on it.

See Also:

1. “A Night to Remember: Inside the Black-and-White Ball” (Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair, July 1996)

2. “A Brief History of Epic Parties: A Reading List” (Michelle Legro, Longreads, December 2013)

 

Falling in Love, 30 Years Later

At Vogue, Mira Jacob writes about watching her parents love 30 years after being paired up in an arranged marriage:

The night before I went back to New York, I came home to a sight so disquieting that I stood outside in the dark for a full five minutes, just watching. It was late. The television was on in our living room. In front of it, my father sat on the couch, my mother cradled in his arms. She was fast asleep, her cheek pressed to his chest.

I went inside. Though I hardly made a sound, my mother woke up. She blinked quietly, than sprang up with the realization that I was there. “I was asleep!” she said, as if I’d accused her of something. Then she got up and took herself to bed, disappearing down the hallway. My father gave me a funny grin and followed her. I stood alone in front of the television clutching my heart, which I suddenly realized was not a mere figure of speech.

Flying back to New York, I could not stop thinking one thing: Why now? Why this sudden attraction to someone who had been there the whole time? Sure, it’s a plot staple in American movies, where clumsy, high-cheekboned beauties regularly realize their “best friend” just happens to be Justin Timberlake, but in real life? In real life, my parents had bypassed that kind of irresistible attraction with almost three decades of houses, children, and pets. In real life, their marriage had proved to be a patchwork of incongruities, the kind that were bound to exist between a cosmopolitan girl from Bombay and a small-town boy from outside Madras.

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Photo: Cindy Funk

The newly minted Grammy winner’s lows and highs—from throat surgery and heartbreak to the biggest-selling album of last year:

Every singer knows the List: citrus, vinegar, mint, dairy, spicy or fried foods, fizzy drinks, caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol. These are the vocal cords’ enemies. And when one has a five-octave contralto as dynamic, award-winning, money­making, and record-breaking as Adele Laurie Blue Adkins does, one figures out how to avoid these things. Some require less effort than others. Mint? Vinegar? Feh. Cigarettes? Not so easy. Over the few days that I spend around Adele, I see her sneak a fag here and there. No one is perfect. But alcohol? For a once hard-drinking South London pub girl who has admitted that she has written some of her best songs after a few belts, I would have thought this might present something of a challenge. Not so much, it turns out. Adele hasn’t had a drink since last June.

“Adele: One and Only.” — Jonathan Van Meter, Vogue

See also: “Come Party With Lady Gaga.” — Caitlin Moran, The Times (U.K.), May 24, 2010