Last week Alyssa made a point I've been thinking a lot about, in relation to some of the art that really has affected me over the past few months:
If there's one thing that marks our current era of popular culture, it's an obsession with cool of the kind exemplified by Quentin Tarantino's movies, or with transgressive badassery, of the sort that's characterized so many anti-hero dramas. And the way most people achieve that cool or badassness? The deployment of violence.
For me this goes back to Wolverine (who I loved as a kid) and mohawked Storm knocking Scrambler's teeth out during the Mutant Massacre, or Colossus snapping Riptide's neck. For those of who came up in the relentless violence of the Crack Age, there was the sense that all the nonviolent pieties of Martin Luther King, Jr. were totally irrelevant. (Bizzy Bone had it about right "Beg your pardon to Martin / But we ain't marching we shooting.") The point was that we lived in a time of great violence and what was needed was more violence wielded by a noble hand. What I didn't realize then was this idea--a Champion of Noble Violence--is probably as old as humanity.
Hip-hop, if not always premised on nobility, is certainly premised on transgressive violence. I loved the music, but (with some exceptions) that basic premise is why the music always felt a little off to me. I mean this about even my own favorites. I eventually wrote this need to always be badass Superman as simply what the music was, as something that could never really be any other way. As I got older the Champion pose became harder for me to take--not just in my music, but in movies, in comic books, and maybe (not sure) even in video games. Consequently, I moved away from a lot of things I loved as a kid.
A few weeks back, I went on at some length about Joe Haldeman's Forever War, and I think it was largely because I was happy to read a fantastic adventure story where the protagonist survives not because of great brawn, superpower, or even superior intellect. Mandella is smart, but far and away his greatest attribute is his sheer, dumb-ass luck. In that way, There was something refreshing about a hero greatest power amounts to not getting shot in the head. As virtually all of Mandella's comrades are killed off he seems to saying "I am glad it was not me." But behind that is something else--"that very easily could have been me."
That same kind of everyman vibe runs through Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. "The Art of Peer Pressure" has a series of great lines ("I hope the universe love you today.") but my favorite is one of the simplest, "Look at me," raps Lamar before pausing and continuing. "I got the blunt in my mouth."
It's such a simple line but there's something about his phrasing that abandons the superhero pose, that takes off the mask and reveals that dumb, ordinary black boy that so many of us have been. Good Kid is the first album I've heard that drops the Batman pose, and yet remains trapped in Gotham. Much like how Mandella is not some ace star-fighter pilot, Lamar is not Compton's Most Wanted, he is "Compton's Human Sacrifice." And he carries that vulnerability throughout the album. The fact is that most black boy's in Lamar's world are more human sacrifices than badasses. And even if some are truly the latter, all contain a portion of the former.
Perhaps this aesthetic is a bit conservative, but this is the art I love. I understand that there are drug-lords who double as soccer moms. I get that there are serial killers who kill serial killers, and worlds premised on big men with big swords and other worlds where being good at your job but horrible to your wife makes you noble. But then there are the normal people. And they have stories too.
The most personally moving, and most fundamentally patriotic, moment of the Democratic National Convention was the appearance by the bereaved parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, and the statement about the meaning of their son’s life and death, and about the Constitution, by Mr. Khizr Khan.
After Khizr Khan spoke, politicians and commentators on most networks said they were moved, humbled, inspired, choked up. (Commentators on Fox did not say these things, because their coverage cut away from the Khans for Brit Hume and Megyn Kelly, plus a Benghazi ad.)
How the election looks to backers of the Republican nominee
Perhaps the hardest thing to do in contemporary American politics is to imagine how the world looks from the other side. I’ve made no secret of why, as a Republican, I oppose Donald Trump and what he stands for. But I’ve also been talking to his supporters and advisors, trying to understand how they see and hear the same things that I do, and draw such very different conclusions. What follows isn’t a transcription—it’s a synthesis of the conversations I’ve had, and the insights I’ve gleaned, presented in the voice of an imagined Trump supporter.
“You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be. He’s playing this game in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen. And he’s winning too, in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen.
Not the people—the term. How generational divisions have driven down voter turnout over the last century of American politics.
Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election, pundits and activists have debated how to get more Millennials involved in politics, always stressing their distinctive character. But it was actually this tendency to slice up the electorate into unique generations that drove young people from politics in the first place.
In the 19th century, children, youths, and adults “mingled freely together” at rowdy campaign rallies, lured by the holy trinity of booze, barbecue, and bonfire. Older citizens introduced young people to politics, helping to drive voter turnouts to their highest levels in U.S. history. “It’s the ‘big fellow,’” observed the Republicans canvassing in pool halls and saloons in the 1880s, who does the best job getting “the ‘little fellow”’ into politics.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:
Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.
He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:
Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.
A collection of books recommended by The Atlantic’s editors and writers
The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their recommendations for summer reading—new titles, old favorites, and others in between.
By Yaa Gyasi
In her first novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly weaves the intergenerational tale of a family through a series of short, but interrelated stories set in what’s now Ghana during the mid-18th century. The two women at the center of the novel, Effia and Esi, are half-sisters who wind up on vastly different paths. One is captured during a battle between tribes, sold, and winds up on a slave ship bound for the U.S. The other—separated from her village and married off to a British slaver—ends up living on top of the dungeons that hold her own kin and hundreds of others who would also become slaves. The novel traces the lineage of these women through the tales of their children, and their children’s children, and so on—up until the present day.
Last month, my wife and I found ourselves in a disagreement about whether or not our apartment was clean enough for guests—the type of medium-sized disagreement that likely plagues all close relationships. In the midst of it, there was a lull and, feeling exhausted all of a sudden, I got up and left the living room. In the bedroom, I immediately fell face down into the sheets. The next thing I knew it was 20 minutes later and my wife was shaking me awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep; I just felt so fatigued in that moment that there was nothing else I could do.
This wasn’t new for me. A few weeks earlier, I had come into conflict with an acquaintance over some money. We were exchanging tense emails while I was at my office, and I began to feel the slow oozing onset of sleep, the same tiredness that came on when, as a child, I rode in the backseat of the car on the way home from some undesired trip. A sleepiness that overtakes the body slowly but surely and feels entirely outside of your control.
A church facing setbacks elsewhere finds an unlikely foothold.
At the end of 2013, in the low-slung, industrial Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, a bevy of officials came to attend the ribbon cutting of a huge former hotel that had undergone a top-to-bottom, multimillion-dollar renovation. Speaking before the throngs of celebrants who blocked the flow of traffic, Taiwan’s deputy director of the Ministry of the Interior praised the group that funded the renovation and presented them, for the 10th year straight, with the national “Excellent Religious Group” award.
“For years you have dedicated your time and lives to anti-drug work and human- rights dissemination,” said the director, echoing praise offered by the mayor’s office and the president’s national-policy adviser.
The World Well-Being Project uses Facebook updates to correlate language with personality traits.
Do our Facebook posts reflect our true personalities? Incrementally, probably not. But in aggregate, the things we say on social media paint a fairly accurate portrait of our inner selves. A team of University of Pennsylvania scientists is using Facebook status updates to find commonalities in the words used by different ages, genders, and even psyches.
“Governments have an increased interest in measuring not just economic outcomes but other aspects of well-being,” said Andrew Schwartz, a UPenn computer scientist who works on the project. “But it's very difficult to study well-being at a large scale. It costs a lot of money to administer surveys to see how people are doing in certain areas. Social media can help with that.”
Learning how to bond with my daughter, who found comfort in the familiarity of being alone, has come through understanding reactive attachment disorder.
My hands hover over the computer keyboard. They are trembling. I hold down the shift key and type the words with intention, saying each letter aloud: “R-e-a-c-t-i-v-e A-t-t-a-c-h-m-e-n-t D-i-s-o-r-d-e-r.” The words “reactive attachment disorder” are memory beads I gather into a pile and attempt to string along on a necklace.
I think back to when Judith, my neighbor who is a psychiatrist, offhandedly threw out the term the first time she met Julia. We were talking about babies who start their lives in orphanages, and she mentioned the disorder. She wasn't suggesting that my daughter Julia showed any signs, but she’d said it was a well-known problem with children who’d been adopted from Romanian orphanages in the '80s and '90s. I remember nodding my head and thinking, Shut up, Judith. We got Julia young. It shouldn't be an issue.