Monthly Archives: November 2016

Link Party: 11/21-11/25

I got new bookshelves and I am living.

I got new bookshelves and I am living.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

1. The hygge conspiracy and the year’s most overhyped trend.

2. Authenticity in the age of the fake.

3. Reflections on Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, 50 years later.

4. What was “random“?

5. The Moon Juice gospel of self.

And a bonus: Homecoming, the podcast.

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Link Party: 10/29-11/20

My favorite daily reminder.

My favorite daily reminder.

There hasn’t been much Link Partying around here lately. I need to fix that, and I promise to be more consistent in the last few weeks of 2016 and into 2017.

Here’s a party to last you all week. Take your pick:

1. An interview with Frank Ocean.

2. Zadie Smith on the dancers that inspire her. (I can’t wait to read Swing Time.)

3. An American journalist spends 10 years abroad and comes back to his homeland.

4. Hillary Clinton and the glass ceiling.

5. Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam‘s collaboration.

6. The barnacle queens of Galicia.

7. Instagram geotagging is ruining nature.

8. Yet another brilliant conversation with Elena Ferrante.

9. The wave of all-women art exhibitions.

10. The preserved shipwrecks in the Black Sea.

11. President Obama on his legacy and America’s future.

12. Behind the scenes at the Butterball turkey hotline.

Have a great week.

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Think Tank: About Last Week

"Abuse of power comes as no surprise," by Jenny Holzer. H/T Call Your Girlfriend.

“Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” by Jenny Holzer. H/T Call Your Girlfriend.

You know, there’s only one real way I’ll ever really be able to describe last week, Nov. 7-11, 2016. That week was a total dumpster fire, so vast in its width and depth that we can still see the orange glow of flames deep below the bags of trash on the surface. It’s like we threw the world into the dumpster, gathered up every highly flammable thing we possibly could, put it all in the biggest black bags we could find, doused the whole thing in gallons and gallons of gasoline and lit it with a blowtorch.

Depending on how you feel about the presidential election results in the United States, you may find that metaphor to be an understatement or an over-exaggeration. And that’s fine — I don’t really need your opinion to legitimize the way I feel about it. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my family and friends, and every day the shock of the results wears off a little bit. But I’m still sad, and I’m still angry, and I’m still worried. I’ve thought about writing this post for days, but wondered what contribution my opinion would make to the noise and if I could even effectively articulate it.

It’s taking me awhile to sort through all my feelings about my nationality and how the people of this country think about the concept of me, and I recognize my privilege as a white, heterosexual woman in that process. There are millions of people in this country whose lives have always been in much more danger, and this turn in our country’s history has made those lives even more precarious.

I’m extremely nervous about how the president-elect, his administration and the Republican-owned Congress will dismantle the progressive legislature and initiative in this country. But I’m more upset about something else. The vitriolic rhetoric of his campaign made ignorant white people think it’s okay to do and say hateful things about minority groups under the guise of making the country great again. America has never been great for everyone, with a history steeped in inequality and violence. From the very beginning, minority groups have been denied their rights and fought to their literal deaths for just the tiniest sliver of the so-called American dream. Relatedly, one of the things that has stuck with me the most from this election is this passage from a New Yorker article about Trump supporters (emphasis mine):

In the broadest sense, the Trump supporter might be best understood as a guy who wakes up one day in a lively, crowded house full of people, from a dream in which he was the only one living there, and then mistakes the dream for the past: a better time, manageable and orderly, during which privilege and respect came to him naturally, and he had the whole place to himself.

And for the white people who didn’t vote for him or didn’t vote at all, we’re still complicit in that behavior. I feel guilty about living in a liberal bubble, and not truly realizing how ubiquitous white supremacy really is in other parts of the country. I feel guilty about not making an active effort to canvass for my candidate. I feel guilty about not calling out the people I know who supported a racist, sexist and xenophobic candidate. I used to think I was a pretty informed person, but this election has made me realize I have so much more learning and work to do.

That’s more than just wearing a safety pin on my clothing, or getting caught up in this endless cycle of shared Facebook posts — which, by the way, is really just “performative” activism. I want to be a better advocate for the causes I believe in, and a better ally to marginalized groups whose lives are in incredible danger. I need to be more diligent at calling out racism, sexism and homophobia when I hear and see it. I must remember that social progress is a 24/7, 365 kind of deal beyond the markers of an election cycle.

So what do we do now?

All of us can stay informed about political issues, and pay more attention to our local and state elections. We should donate to the causes we believe in, whether that’s in the form of money or time. We must refuse the normalization of our president-elect’s language and past behavior, as well as the normalization of his supporters’ language and behavior. We need to make more space for people of color, the LGBTQ community and women in the political and cultural spheres, and treat their perspectives with dignity and respect. We have to support the dying investigative journalism industry that does such important work. And we will continue to make art for the voiceless, the disenfranchised and the past generations of people who fought for equality. You know this is an arts and culture blog, and I believe with my whole heart that art and the humanities will be our solace for the next few years.

And more than anything, we need to make sure that we’re also doing the support work in our private lives, and channeling our feelings into something productive. As someone who works in higher education, I now realize that it’s more important than ever to dutifully serve the students at my institution, and make them feel welcome and empowered.

It’s been absolutely incredible to see the visceral reactions people are having to the election results, and I hope we don’t lose the momentum or the power of those emotions. The future is scary and uncomfortable, but I am ready for the responsibility.

Toni Morrison, in a reflection after the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush, said:

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”… There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

It’s time to get to work, and it’s time to put out that dumpster fire.

 

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Think Tank: The Future of Vine and the Internet

(This is still my favorite Vine.)

A few months ago, I wrote about Vine, the joy it brought to my life and its cultural significance — focused around its announcement that you could start posting longer videos. Vine is and was a gem of the Internet, and I am still floored by how six seconds of looping video can be so mesmerizing and hilarious in a way that speaks much deeper than traditional comedy ever could

When I first found out that Twitter, Vine’s parent company, was shutting the social network, I was pretty upset about it. My family can attest to that — I walked around the house saying “What am I gonna do without Vine?” for at least three or four days. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m actually really concerned about what Vine’s shutdown suggests about the future of the Internet.

It brings up important questions about the Internet’s permanence. 

The first thing we need to lay out is our understanding and expectation of how these social media networks fit in with our lives. It’s hard to think about a big company, like Facebook for example, ever leaving our cultural stratosphere. The pull is too strong, and billions of people use their products every day. But everything has some kind of expiration date, whether it’s brought on by a decline in usage or a pivot in company direction. The audience’s wants and needs is the most important component for longevity, but in theory the company can ignore the audience and discontinue their product. Vine showed that that was possible.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, et al. are really only interested in one thing — monetizing their platform. They first get people to join under the guise that it’s easier to stay connected to people and informed about things they’re interested in, but after awhile the company has to figure out how make their platform profitable and grow their audience. Vine has had this problem from the very beginning. Six second looping video is pretty cool, but the platform did not offer monetization and had a hard time gaining larger user numbers.

But anyway, archiving the platform also costs money in the longterm. The Vine team at Twitter has said that while they’re shutting down the mobile app, the desktop version of Vine will still be available. In their press release on Medium, they said, “We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website.”

I immediately have several questions. They didn’t specify an amount of time that they’d keep, so does that mean the desktop website will eventually come down? Will there be a searchable archive in perpetuity, and will access always be free?

What I’m most concerned about in this turn of events is whether or not Vine’s shutdown will set off a trend of this Internet erasure. Beyond being an entertainment depository, the Internet serves as a digital archive of information that everyone has the right to access — for scholarly purposes or otherwise. To all of a sudden say that the content, which was a cultural barometer for the millennial age group with unfathomable reach, won’t be available anymore because it costs too much isn’t fair. It’s like losing the library of Alexandria all over again, except that this time it’s in a dumpster fire.

You might be thinking, “Zoe, you’re reaching.” But I don’t feel all that bad about making that comparison. Let’s look at the “what are those” Vine, for example — “What are those” became a signifier that Vine users could understand and assign meaning to. They created variations that are pretty funny. It became a facet of a culture and several subcultures (see black youth culture) that will eventually be dissected and analyzed, in the same way people today recognize and trace the trajectory of “To be or not to be” from Hamlet.

The best case scenario, and I don’t know how feasible it would be, is that Twitter gives the database to the Library of Congress so that the Vines are recorded and accounted for. I read a headline this afternoon that suggested Twitter was open to selling Vine, but as far as I’m concerned the cultural damage has already been done.

This complicates the relationship between technology and art.

The art that lives on the Internet derives a lot of its context from its digital medium. You can interpret a carefully composed Instagram shot differently than you would a painted portrait hanging in a museum. You could use different analytical criteria for a poem written on Tumblr than what you’d use for a long epic published in a book, and a 140-character tweet may have different layers of nuance than a print story in the New York Times would. It’s what makes the Internet so interesting and wonderful — it’s the primary form of record in today’s world, and it helps us derive meaning from our daily lives.

But when you think about how much power technology has over our lives — what it can giveth, it can taketh away — it’s kind of scary that we’ve come to rely on it for our most intimate confessions and artistic expressions. What would we do if it all just evaporated?

The Vine shutdown also makes me reconsider both how I use the Internet as a creative outlet, and how I feel about Internet culture. I had never really thought about what it would mean for a part of the Internet to be nonexistent or inaccessible, and how that would affect its future shaping. Now when I look at a piece of Internet art, I’m hyperaware of its level of permanence and more appreciative of the fact that for now, our culture still has it to admire and understand.

Let’s have a conversation about this in the comments. What do you think?

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