Another Week Ends

It’s Christmas time, and it feels like everyone on the Internet is talking about…the Internet. […]

Ethan Richardson / 12.12.14

It’s Christmas time, and it feels like everyone on the Internet is talking about…the Internet.

In Hard Cover!

In Hard Cover!

As the debate continues about what journalism is becoming—in light of the fall of the New Republic and the retracted reporting of a certain Rolling Stone article—much of what gets talked about is money, and the kind of click-bait that tends to get corralled for the sake of it. As the age of online news matures, it seems that content is more the handmaiden to investors than public dialogue and interest.

But deeper than this, other discussions have emerged pointing to the “radical liberal” cause, and the new dogma of progressive thought in liberal media. It’s old hat to point to FoxNews as the source of calcified, homogenous news media, but it’s counterintuitive to talk about “progressive” media in like terms. And it’s certainly a bit ironic to hear Slate talk about what was so good at The New Republic—its own brand of opinion politics was never safe from its own scalpel.

The New Republic’s heterodox liberalism—the willingness (indeed the eagerness!) to test liberal thinking from within the liberal family—is now being squeezed. Internet journalism has made it easy to find opinions that confirm one’s own beliefs and flatter one’s prejudices. Facebook places soothing assurances before our eyeballs. The left and the right are retreating into cocoons of information and opinion, on cable TV and social media.

In other words, today’s media landscape is so curved inward that our sacred opinions are safe. They can remain undiluted by contrarian ways of thinking with all the others in social outlets. In an era of the all-access information superhighway, a red-voting, gun-toting Southerner can find all the buffered news he wants to find on his Facebook Newsfeed, and so can his freewheeling, atheistic socially progressive sister across town. We are protected from the idiots who might prove us wrong. Andrew Sullivan found this post by Aurora Dagny about intellectual honesty and “quitting the (religious) radical left” that cuts to the heart:

When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

When she was finally moved to leave this paranoid, cultic frame of mind, she was freed up:

The aftermath was wonderful. A world that seemed grey and hopeless filled with colour. I can’t convey to you how bleak my worldview was. An activist friend once said to me, with complete sincerity, “Everything is problematic.” That was the general consensus. Far bleaker was something I said during a phone call to an old friend who lived in another city, far outside my political world. I, like a disproportionate number of radical leftists, was depressed, and spent a lot of time sighing into the receiver. “I’m not worried about you killing yourself,” he said. “I know you want to live forever.” I let out a weak, sad laugh. “When I said that,” I replied, “I was a lot happier than I am now.” Losing my political ideology was extremely liberating. I became a happier person. I also believe that I became a better person.


2) Speaking of radicals and paranoia and excess, what about Serial? Have you listened? Have you caught up? Have you started? Are you breathing?! The TAL-bred podcast is taking the airwaves by storm. The multiple-episode, real-crime program is the most popular podcast in history, and it is a no-brainer as to why. Sarah Koenig’s a journalist (see above) of masterful proportions, and the story itself pulls all of our ears into the light, our confirmation biases, our self-righteousness. In the wake of its success has pooled all kinds of media. There are podcasts about the podcast. Bold Italic made a “Mail Kimp” pie chart. Et cetera.

But Slate asks what the deal is with “media obsession” in general. It’s hard to remember, but think back on how many Mad Men cocktail viewing parties you attended last season. What about Breaking Bad? I can scarce remember the plot of the finale, but I certainly remember who I watched it with, and barely being able to breathe before it began. Many of us felt the same about True Detective, just in the last year. And more will come next year. What’s with this buzz and chatter?

I suppose this gets filed under the “Everything’s amazing and no one is happy” category of internet-age entitlement.

Humans have always been obsessed with things. Tulips and Twin Peaks and the Beatles did pretty well in their day. But adults used to obsess about things in a more steadfast manner, by having long-term interests known as hobbies. (Whatever happened to those?) Or they obsessed with downright stately occasionalness, when something out there really gripped the nation. Now we are engaged in a near-constant cycle of being “totally obsessed” with a cultural object (“obsessed” is the term of art on social media) and perpetually on the lookout for that next binge-experience. Why are we getting hysterically excited about very good but not hugely original cultural products seemingly every other month? Why have we turned into compulsive obsession-seekers?

3) Over at the Atlantic, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar writes about being an “Elephant Mother” in the age of Tiger Mothers, and features a cameo from Brene Brown. Rather than the home as a training ground for the world outside, i.e. tough love, Sharma-Sindhar describes the home as a haven for parental tenderness, empathy, and grace. For her, it is a cultural mandate (ht JD).

Dumbo,-Baby-MineIf you’re wondering what ‘elephant parent’ means, it’s the kind of parent who does the exact opposite of what the tiger mom, the ultra-strict disciplinarian, does. Here’s a short video clip that shows how real elephants parent. And that’s what I’m writing about here—parents who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.

My elephant mom was a doctor with infinite patience. I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one. (I did get the annual proficiency prize for Hindi a year later at the same school.)

Sharma-Sindhar discusses how, often times, parenting styles reflect a belief that parental expectations for adult-like behavior leads to adult-likeness. Not so for the Elephant Mother, or Brene Brown:

Nurturing. Vulnerable. Empathetic. That’s how parents need to be, she suggests, when kids are having a “big feeling” (in other words, a meltdown).

I heard something similar in a TED talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, who studies the human connection. “You can’t selectively numb those hard feelings,” Brown said. She was referring to emotions like guilt, vulnerability, and shame—emotions kids and adults feel. In an uncertain world, Brown said, we like to make things certain. “We perfect, most dangerously, our children.”

4) Per our Christmas shopping guide, more information was given into the nature of the lumbersexual this week. And into the Baked Potauntaun.


5) The Awl covers everyone’s “scariest page on the Internet”. It is, yes, your history page, which is available here:

It’s funny, but it’s not (ht TB):

Are you unsure if you have a sexually transmitted disease? Did you do some panicked research? It’s there! Are you attempting to figure out if your depression matches a pathology or if it’s just some kind of mood? That’s there too. Things that are not bad become bad by virtue of their recording and display on this very creepy website. In a vacuum, this page is an interesting read: It’s a more honest assessment of your online activities than perhaps anything else. But we don’t live in a vacuum! We live in an accelerating data-commerce cyber-hell.

And a similar, but not-so-alarmist identity piece over at the New York Times Magazine about the interior underworlds of passwords.

6) Well, the first ever Thomas Pynchon movie is out, and most of the reviews rave yet again about the prolific P.T. Anderson. And apparently Josh Brolin takes the cake—pancake, that is—in a Japanese restaurant.


Oh, and consider this a last, and perhaps best, gift idea for the gift list we posted this week. This is the perfect gift for the New Son-in-Law Who Probably Owns Every Bonnie Prince Billy Record (on Vinyl), Or At Least Most of Them And You Can’t Be Sure Which Ones—But Would Certainly Like Something To Introduce His Friends Too. The Nettles record, Locust Avenue, is out now! You can download and stream “Brando” for free here.

And, of course, the Hardcover Devotional!