On March 23, 2003, around three days after President George W. Bush launched the Iraq War, Michael Moore won the Academy Award for his 2002 film, “Bowling for Columbine.” He walked to the stage during the Oscars and was joined by his fellow documentary nominees.
“We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time when we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president,” Moore declared. “We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.”
The booing grew so loud that Moore could barely hear himself. He started shouting, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush!” The microphone lowered, and the orchestra cut him off. The awards show producers prevented him from finishing his acceptance speech. This showed how well the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign was working.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” was Moore’s response to the squelching of dissent before and during the invasion.
One reason for all this adoration is that Whitman’s song can shatter glass. Still today, when you read his rough celebrations of bodily experience or his vertiginous democratic catalogs or his tender evocations of queer love, the world shifts. His poetry feels fresher than anything; his prose teetering and uncontrolled yet lit miraculously from within. “Because the vast sweep of democracy is still incomplete even in America today,” argued Langston Hughes in 1946, Whitman’s work “strikes us now with the same immediacy it must have awakened in its earliest readers in the 1850s.”
Whitman’s influence also has something to do with the sheer volume of writing he issued forth into the world over four rough decades, from the Civil War through Reconstruction to a cruelly prosperous Gilded Age. You can dip into Whitman’s vast, contradictory corpus and find whomever it is you’d like: the proto-socialist who saw economic inequality as democracy’s gravest threat; the righteous conservative worried by social degeneration and moral corruption; the paladin of Manifest Destiny well suited for the neoconservative case to invade Iraq; the poet of queer love, brave and unashamed.
In her long novel of the French Revolution, “A Place of Greater Safety,” Mantel also wrote about the damage done by utopian fixers. And surely the current uproar over state-sponsored torture had its effect on both the writing and the imagining of “Wolf Hall.” Yet, although Mantel adopts none of the archaic fustian of so many historical novels — the capital letters, the antique turns of phrase — her book feels firmly fixed in the 16th century. Toward the end of the novel, Cromwell, long widowed and as usual overworked, “the man in charge of everything,” falls in love with Jane Seymour, lady-in-waiting to Boleyn, and considers spending a few days at the gothic-sounding Seymour estate called Wolf Hall. What could go wrong with such an innocent plan? Perhaps in a sequel Mantel will tell us.
I left Kuwait in August 2011, really the best time to leave Kuwait, when it was 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew I would be unlikely to return anytime soon. My dream of leaving the country was as old as my body. Fascinated with the possibility of other places, I was also dulled by my place of birth, but most of all I was tired of being stateless, tired of a state younger than my father telling me I didn’t belong or I wasn’t native enough. On airplanes, I never sleep, nor on buses; something about the presence of others unsettles my rest. I killed the hours making final touches on a translation project commissioned by a white woman who tried to not pay me since she was giving me “exposure to the American literary scene.” A white woman with barely any name, I should say. I began to take interest in my seat neighbors, a mother with three children, after hearing their Arabic. We asked each other the question we tend to ask before getting each other’s names. Her son, born in Bay Ridge, said, “We’re Palestinian.”
Arriving in Kiev, the Palestinians and I got thoroughly searched, the 12-year-old kid, slick again, making jokes about “Us,” that it’s only Us who are made to hold the lines back, who make the crowds huff in frustration. From me, the Ukrainians took small scissors and a tweezer my hairy eyebrows were in dire need of. I grew frustrated and sarcastic, answering every question with a question—I don’t know… because… you know… why… do I have to? These are the coping mechanisms I’ve acquired airport to airport, as a substitute to smiling at those who search and humiliate you. My attitude surprises them, often makes them resort to getting their own managers to deal with a woman who speaks like a bossy American but is not one. Today, like other days, I refused to answer why I was stateless or why I had this refugee travel document. I wore the fuck-it-up attitude and thought to myself, Even the Ukrainians. The year before, Russia had invaded Ukraine, so you’d think they would have had better shit to worry about. I asked that we take a picture together, the Palestinians and I. The mother volunteered as photographer, her kids and I posing and throwing hand signs we couldn’t decode.
Q: In the 2018 interview, he said that his philosophy about running a company was understanding what you’re willing to tolerate. Have you noticed any change in what he or Facebook tolerates?
A: He doesn’t think like you and me. When they were debuting Facebook Live, I had a million questions about abuse. And they were like, “What are you talking about?” It was so typical. It wasn’t him, but it was his people — people who were like him who just reflect him. They were like, “You’re such a bummer, Kara.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’m a bummer, I guess, but I think someone’s going to kill someone on this thing and broadcast it.” And it didn’t take long before there was a mass murder on it. The idea of consequences seems to escape them almost entirely because most of them have never had an unsafe day in their lives. Truly. Why would he? He lived in a very, very expensive suburb of New York. He was treated like a prince by his parents. He went to Harvard. What’s his difficulty? What’s his challenge? I’d like to know.
Today’s newsletter boom was built on a promise of emancipation: by striking out into a new frontier of an emerging medium, went the rationale, writers could free themselves of the obsession with metrics, page views, and quotas that had seeped into even the most staid media companies. The notion that they’d be able to write exactly what they felt they should be writing and readers would pay for it drew in writers who’d already achieved escape velocity from the content mill churn that had become the industry standard. But these pioneers soon found themselves forced to adapt to the rigors of the medium and readers’ expectations of constancy. Salman Rushdie, who’d mostly stuck to the relatively relaxed rhythms of book publishing, launched his Substack newsletter Salman’s Sea of Stories in September as a new way to release his fiction. Still, he was soon reduced to writing up lackluster ask me anythings. Others were pulled in under the aegis of massive, well-funded institutions, but that hasn’t been enough to shield them from the demands of a grueling pace. Malcolm Gladwell signed onto Facebook’s Substack-competitor Bulletin and soon found himself scraping out lukewarm takes that would make even the most harried web editor grimace like, actually, beloved deceased comedian Norm Macdonald isn’t funny. Though writers with graphomaniacal tendencies have derived an enviable pleasure from turning out thousands of words a week, burnout has become endemic among newsletter writers.
The norms of newsletter writing demand regimented production and impose a particular sort of pressure on writers, especially in cases where they don’t have support from large organizations. (Full disclosure: This reporter is tired too.) “When you go from being one person in a newsroom to being the single point of failure in an independent news operation, you need to deliver or you’re going to die,” Kantrowitz said. “I’ve got to get my newsletter out on Thursday, period, end of story.”
The attacks on so-called “gender ideology” have grown in recent years throughout the world, dominating public debate stoked by electronic networks and backed by extensive rightwing Catholic and evangelical organizations. Although not always in accord, these groups concur that the traditional family is under attack, that children in the classroom are being indoctrinated to become homosexuals, and that “gender” is a dangerous, if not diabolical, ideology threatening to destroy families, local cultures, civilization, and even “man” himself.
It is not easy to fully reconstruct the arguments used by the anti-gender ideology movement because they do not hold themselves to standards of consistency or coherence. They assemble and launch incendiary claims in order to defeat what they see as “gender ideology” or “gender studies” by any rhetorical means necessary. For instance, they object to “gender” because it putatively denies biological sex or because it undermines the natural or divine character of the heteronormative family. They fear that men will lose their dominant positions or become fatally diminished if we start thinking along gender lines. They believe that children are being told to change genders, are actively recruited by gay and trans people, or pressured to declare themselves as gay in educational settings where an open discourse about gender is caricatured as a form of indoctrination. And they worry that if something called “gender” is socially accepted, a flood of sexual perversities, including bestiality and pedophilia, will be unleashed upon the earth.
Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.
With The Future of Ice, John Zurier manages to reduce each painting to what is essential only, yet he maintains an incredible specificity in each.
Agustín Fernández’s visual innuendos seduce the viewer into lingering on the threshold of visual perception.
Among the 12 artists included in Under the Florida Sun, the painters stood out most to me.
Lynne Ramsay’s 1999 debut film is arguably one of the masterpieces of 20th-century depictions of childhood poverty.
An investigation by the Cambodian government flagged 45 “highly significant” items in the museum’s collection as looted.