The “Unite the Right” gathering wasn’t a Klan rally at all. It was a pride march.
Magical thinking and "alternative facts" have a long, proud history in these United States.
A bonus episode to discuss new revelations about North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and newly harsh rhetoric from President Trump
Our increasingly smart machines aren't just changing the workforce; they're changing us.
How tolerant and pluralistic is America when it comes to religious expression?
The past, present, and future of the American idea, and the world premiere of Jon Batiste's "Battle Hymn of the Republic"
The legendary jazz musician updates the American anthem for the magazine’s first podcast.
As a teen writing a draft of the book that would become Sense and Sensibility, the novelist poked fun at her older characters. By the time it was published, she was their age.
Most of their capital doesn’t wind up in grants, but in investments. Is the latter the key to maximum impact?
What are the implications of ads that know our search histories?
A new project from The Atlantic focuses on efforts across the United States to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.
S-Town plays on some familiar themes of storytelling about the South. As Aja Romano has noted at Vox, the show fits firmly into the Southern gothic tradition immortalized in the works of authors like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, even though it’s nonfiction. But in an interview with Deep South Magazine, the show’s producer Brian Reed said his instinct was to push beyond stereotypes:
Reed hadn’t spent much time in Alabama before traveling down from New York to meet John. His wife, who is African American, advised him to set his social media profiles to private. He thought she was just perpetuating a stereotype, but he does meet his share of racists among John’s friends. “In a way, the vision that John was feeding me of this Shittown or S-Town that he lived in, it had all the trappings of the stereotypes you think of when you think of rural Alabama,” Reed says. “My knee-jerk was to go against that. It can’t be exactly that. I know it’s more complicated than that.”
I grew up in central Florida. As Floridians know, the weird cultural geography of the state means that the farther north you go in Florida, the closer you get to “the South,” so central Florida is a somewhat ambicultural middle zone, not fully Southern, but bearing whiffs and echoes and markers of the South. So I’ve been interested to hear the reactions to S-Town from listeners who grew up in the region, and I’ve excerpted a few here.
Given the market dynamics of media in 2017, I expect that this very moment, somewhere in America, the invisible hand is penning an epic takedown of S-Town. The seven-part series from the makers of This American Life and Serial is popular enough that backlash is near-inevitable. Already, many folks have commented on the show’s milieu, a perfect fit for America's political zeitgeist in the same way that J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was in 2016. Between that context and the inherent problematics of any show that dives so deeply into the complex inner lives and tragedies of its subjects (see also: Serial, Making a Murderer, Missing Richard Simmons), this is a show that is likely to rub at least a few listeners the wrong way. But it’s a rich enough endeavor that no matter how you feel about it, it offers many footholds for conversation.
One danger in releasing a show like S-Town all at once is that it induces a sense of sudden, ephemeral ubiquity, at least within a certain cultural bubble. Conversations about the show will burn hot for a few weeks around its release, and if you don’t immediately start binge-listening, you’ll miss the social experience of it. You might get spoiled on key plot points. And it might already have gone through the critical wringer, so it will be impossible to listen fresh. Your impressions might be shaped by the vague sense that the show’s been deemed problematic, subtly priming you to listen for its flaws rather than its merits, a spoiler of a different kind.
So I’d like to discuss S-Town—with you, if you’re interested— a little at a time, here on Notes. I haven’t finished the show, but what I’ve heard has been remarkable. Although all the episodes are available, our discussion can proceed at a leisurely pace; the show is rich enough to reward multiple listens. Any spoilers will appear after the jump, and we’ll make sure to include a note that says "[ Spoilers ahead through episode X ]” before that point in each post.
If you’ve got thoughts to contribute, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. My Atlantic colleagues will join me, and we’ll make sure to excerpt coverage that runs elsewhere on the site. Whenever you’re interested in digesting the show alongside a thoughtful and curious crew, our thoughts will be here for you to catch up. (Start, perhaps, with the thoughts of the great Spencer Kornhaber.)
Just remember: Make haste, but slowly. Soon comes night.
It’s difficult to piece together, in the moment, which of the events we live through will be remembered over time. Will it be the resignation of a national security advisor weeks into a new presidency? Will it be the sight of people wearing shorts in the middle of winter, a chaser for the hottest year on record? Or will it be something else altogether, a domino that tumbled mostly out of sight, setting off a chain of events more significant than anything that grabbed headlines at the time? What historic events have you lived through that weren't thought of as historic when they happened?
Today, The Atlantic is launching something we call the Life Timeline. Enter your birthday, and the Life Timeline will show you a brief tour of the history that’s happened all around you. You can think of it as a rearview mirror for your life, allowing you to view the milestones that dot your journey to this moment, stretching back until just before you were born. Just like history, each Life Timeline comprises many different types of events—delightful moments and tragic ones, world-changing milestones and moments merely worthy of note, some you probably remember, some you might have forgotten, and a few you might not have known about at all. Many are paired with stories from The Atlantic’s archives, so that you can see how these events and their significance play out in the memory of this 160-year-old institution.
My Life Timeline tells me that right around the middle of my life, Google was founded. So right at this moment, I’ve lived in a world with Google just as long as I lived in the world without it, and as I age, I move further into a world where it's been around for most of my life. Those still-vivid pre-Google scavenger hunts through Dewey Decimal cards will start to recede deeper into the fog of memory. For me, the milestone is a reminder to mark my memories of that time before they get blurrier, to take a moment to think about what I might have gained and lost. But I imagine your Life Timeline will prompt different sorts of reflections.
We plan to continue adding to the Life Timeline over time and in response to your feedback. After viewing your own timeline, you can share your email with us to be notified of future updates. Whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, you’re living through interesting times. And you’ve already lived through enough to fill history books. Consider this a sneak preview of what those books might say.
There are a slew of products aimed at black men with this problem, but I found relief in early-20th-century razor technology. Now, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has built a company around the old-fashioned solution.
At an event marking the start of Black History Month, President Trump gave a very Trumpian shoutout to Frederick Douglass, who, he said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” The vague nature of the praise has drawn scorn from some corners of the Internet, but let’s not be churlish: Frederick Douglass was a king among men. So let us continue with our now-annual tradition of reacquainting you with his brilliant and prescient mind. It’s a valuable exercise in part because Douglass’s preoccupations are still very much the topics of contemporary political debate.
He proved he could still move records even after he discarded his teen idol image, and after the world knew he was gay.
The best audio sources to get through the next few days
I caught up with the first couple episodes of the new show Designated Survivor this past weekend. In the show, the top 12 people in the line of presidential succession, including the president and his entire cabinet and almost everyone in Congress, all perish in a bomb attack during the State of the Union address. So the running of the country falls to a somewhat obscure cabinet member, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), the “designated survivor” who’d been picked to watch the address from an undisclosed location in the event of just such a crisis.
Watching Kirkman wrestle with the burden of the presidency crystallized for me what bugged me about The Candidate (a film discussed by Megan here and here). Like Bill McKay (Robert Redford), Tom Kirkman is ambivalent at best about taking on a high-profile political office. But Kirkman’s ambivalence comes from the momentous regard he has for the office. McKay, on the other hand, treats the Senate seat he’s pretending to campaign for as something of a joke.
The promise McKay’s campaign manager makes him—the one that convinces him to run—is that he won’t actually have to follow through on any of the idealism of his campaign message. He can say whatever he wants, because he doesn’t intend to win. Although he gradually evolves into a more conventional politician, what drives him is his impulse to spread his cynicism about politics. He runs to mock the artifice of campaigning, and the biting satirical point of the movie (spoiler alert) is that his phony campaign compels voters all the more for its insincerity.
It’s hard to think of a more cynical move than asking people to invest their hopes, their votes, and their money in one’s campaign, all the while intending for that campaign to go down in flames. Yet many viewed McKay as a hero. Legend has it that the film inspired Dan Quayle to run for office, which inspired Jeremy Larner to address the future vice president in a 1988 op-ed in The New York Times. Larner wrote: