In case you missed it, our most popular post last week was Anna Hamilton’s review of Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim, a thought-provoking look at key issues in disability studies. Sound dry and boring? It isn’t, and if you’re interested in learning more about disability culture, it’s an interesting place to start!
Without further ado, here’s what we’re reading…
‘The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future‘ (Leslie Jamison for The Atlantic)
Digital subcultures often come in for mockery and dismissive attitudes; they are beneath the attention of serious people, the implication goes. But for the people who inhabit them, these spaces are intensely authentic and real, and they are rich, fulfilling communities. This piece exploring the world of Second Life provides a thoughtful, serious look at a topic that some might readily dismiss, and it might change the way you view Second Life.
In truth, in the years since its peak in the mid‑2000s, Second Life has become something more like a magnet for mockery. When I told friends that I was working on a story about it, their faces almost always followed the same trajectory of reactions: a blank expression, a brief flash of recognition, and then a mildly bemused look. Is that still around? Second Life is no longer the thing you joke about; it’s the thing you haven’t bothered to joke about for years.
‘Kate’s Still Here‘ (Libby Copeland for Esquire)
This piece has been making the rounds over the last few days, and when you read it, it’s easy to see why. This isn’t just an article about a home funeral and interest in alternative ways of approaching end of life. It is a deep, intimate portrait at people who love each other ferociously and intensely, about the community that surrounds them, about what happens when we die. It highlights the value of bringing reporters, documentarians, and other storytellers along for a journey, rather than just speaking to them at the end.
But in recent years, Americans have become increasingly interested in alternative death practices, like home funerals, environmentally friendly burials, and liquid cremation, which dissolves human remains through a process called alkaline hydrolysis. A Seattle entity has been working on a plan to compost corpses and perhaps one day use the nutritive remains on trees and in gardens. These efforts are about a lot of things: environmental concerns, the right to keep commerce and strangers out of a sacred rite, and a long-standing Boomer interest in customizing everything, including their exits. But they’re also part of a growing death positive movement that sees death as the natural order of things rather than a violation of that order.
‘Out Came the Girls‘ (Alex Mar for VQR)
Society remains perennially fascinated with female murderers, in a way that it isn’t with men. Why do women kill? Specifically, and most intriguingly, why do girls kill? Cases like the Slender Man trial consume the public, popular imagination and people don’t seem to understand why gendered killing is such a provocative topic. This piece explores the intersections of mythos, myth, teen girlhood, and society for an immersive, and chilling, read.
To be an adolescent girl is, for many, to view yourself as desperately set apart, powerfully misunderstood. A special alien, terrible and extraordinary. The flood of new hormones, shot from the glands into the bloodstream; the first charged touches, with a boy or a girl; the first years of bleeding in secret; the startling feeling that your body is suddenly hard to contain and, by extension, so are you. It’s an age defined by a raw desire for experience; by the chaotic beginning of a girl’s sexual self; by obsessive friendships, fast emotions, the birth and rebirth of hard grudges, an inner life that stands outside of logic. You have an undiluted desire for private knowledge, for a genius shared with a select few. You bend reality regularly.
‘The myth of the male bumbler‘ (Lili Loofburrow for The Week)
This, from The Week’s culture critic, is a sharp and much-needed look at the ‘bumbler,’ the hapless man who didn’t know what he was doing and definitely didn’t mean to do a bad thing. Loofburrow argues, though, that the bumbler is simply cover, that men are well aware of what they’re doing and they’re counting on our warped social attitudes about crime and punishment to avoid responsibility for their actions.
As the accusations of sexual misconduct roiling politics, publishing, and Hollywood continue to stack up, a few things are going to happen. The first stage of a phenomenon like this will always be to characterize the accused men as exceptions, as bad apples. #NotAllMen, the saying goes. But the second is that everyone is going to try to naturalize sexual harassment. If there are this many men doing these things, then surely this is just how men are! that argument will go. There’s a corollary lurking underneath there: They can’t help themselves. They’re bumblers.
‘McMansion, USA‘ (Kate Wagner for Jacobin)
The McMansion is a uniquely US trend, and it’s a mesmerising one that speaks to deep cultural attitudes about status, class, wealth, signifiers, and what the US values, culturally. This essay explores the world of the McMansion, offering some thoughtful, tentative assessments of what ‘home’ is and should be.
Formally, the McMansion is the result of attempts to architecturally assimilate a disparate, ever-growing list of wealth signifiers, something I have called the “Checklist Aesthetic,” named after the key plot device in the HGTV hit show House Hunters. Every episode of House Hunters starts the same way, with a checklist of atomized “must-haves”: wood floors, five bedrooms, huge yard, tall entryway, and so on. Should a house fail to contain any of these various elements, it is ultimately rejected in favor of one that does.
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