This week: Millenials and Robert Caro raise awareness of custom t-shirt deep-fakes
In this first post of a new recurring feature (that I’m already anticipating having to rename to “What I’ve Read Since The Last Time I Did One Of These” when I inevitably let the schedule skip) I’ve put together some of the more interesting things I’ve read this week. Who knows, maybe you could also read them!
If you can read this, you almost definitely can
In 2017, Current Affairs’ Nathan Robinson (he of the unnervingly prolific publishing history) published a review of Kids These Days: Human Capital and The Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris and it was interesting, as pieces in Current Affairs tend to be.
The general gist of the book (which for clarity I haven’t read but would like to), according to Robinson is as follows:
if millennials are dysfunctional, it it [sic, yeah, that’s right, busted] is not because they have chosen to be, but because the generations above them have built a world in which dysfunction is inevitable… Harris says that “the Millennial character is the result of a life spent investing in your own potential and being managed like a risk.”
The review then runs through how parenting, education, work and our attitudes towards childhood and leisure time have changed over the years, before closing out with Robinson’s critiques of the book’s apparently quite pessimistic conclusion.
As a millennial myself (I think) and someone who has recently started to come around to how much an attitude that one must always be doing “worthwhile” and “productive” things with one’s time has affected my life, I found a lot to relate to here.
And, on a lighter note, the line “Discovering that Barack Obama liked golf was the first moment I became truly suspicious of him” made me laugh.
Like, I imagine, a few people, when I watched Lindsay Ellis’s excellent conclusion to her Game of Thrones Hot-Take bonanza I felt the need to look into author (and one assumes part-time Leonard Nimoy lookalike) Robert A. Caro, who she mentions twice in the video to discuss his feelings on the subject of power. As the video explains, Caro wrote an acclaimed biography of New York city planner Robert Moses but is also well known for this multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. The later project is still ongoing and Caro has been working on it for forty years at this point. The dust-jacket description for his recent reflection on his own life and career, entitled Working, sells itself in part on the fact that it contains the most complete picture yet of what direction he’ll take with the final volume of the saga. I mention purely because of how peculiar it was to me, sating the desire of fans for any new info is the sort of thing one might expect from the writer of a long-running fiction series (such a George R. R. Martin) rather than someone writing an account of a public figure.
But to get back to articles I’ve read and away from videos I’ve watched and dust-jackets I’ve glanced at, The New York Review of Books published an interview with Caro last year. It’s a lovely read, with lots of details about how books get made and how Caro specifically writes his books, for example, he tries to visit locations featured in the narrative as much as possible and writes early drafts by hand in order to slow the process down and improve the overall quality.
On The Outline Alex Nichol (whose article on the commercialisation of online culture wars for the same outlet is a must-read and something I think about every time some fringe weirdo gets catapulted up to the status of international talking point) pulled off what I consider to be one of The Outline’s signature tricks of digging so deep into an inane subject that it becomes interesting, this time in relation to those bizarre “Don’t Cross Me, I Was Born In June”-type t-shirts. I bring this mostly as an excuse to talk about another must-read from similar, but sadly defunct, publication The Awl titled “How Minions Destroyed The Internet” which parts of The Outline piece were strongly reminiscent of.
Compare this section from The Outline:
In the mid-1990s, as Bartmania was waning, Big Dogs Sportswear figured out how to replicate the generic sassiness of decontextualized Bart without infringing on a Fox trademark. The answer was a big cartoon dog crossing his arms and saying things like ‘I wish people were more fluent in SHUTTING UP” and “Don’t like my attitude? Take a number.”
To this from The Awl (emphasis mine):
Minions have a purpose — serving villainy — but no specific emotional drive to go along with it. I guess that their whole… gestalt… is faux-brutal honesty; the sort of call-it-like-I-see-it posturing that thrives on social media. This makes Minions uniquely exploitable on the memescape. Their central core of mischief applies to many of the feelings that people like to vent through memes: anger, joke-y threats, the idea that whoever’s posting is smarter than everyone else around them. Minions can be paired with many of the same phrases that appear on graphic tees at Target.
A few years ago, Julie Beck wrote a piece for The Atlantic that talked about the concept of “raising awareness” and the growing trend of awareness days and I liked it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it said a lot of things that I’d often thought myself and I’m a total fraud so I like it when people agree with me. Secondly, much of the piece is based on an article published in The American Journal of Public Health and interviews with its authors but at the same time doesn’t treat the scientific publication as the definitive word on the subject (for example, highlighting that is a “preliminary, not systematic metareview” of the existing literature) which is the sort of considered science reporting that is nice to see. The Beck article seems to me to be an informative introduction to the issues and questions surrounding raising awareness, so uh, go read that, I guess. I should mention that a quick check on Google Scholar indicates that piece from The American Journal of Public Health hasn’t been particularly well cited in the intervening years, make of that what you will.
Finally, I leave you with these unnerving displays of what technology can do, which are also cool displays of how good Bill Hader is at impressions despite having quite a distinct voice himself.
If you enjoyed basically anything about this post, even if it was just the font, please do let me know!