I've been listening to Plushgun's (up there with the all-time terrible band names) "Just Impolite" pretty much on repeat since I heard it in my boss's office last week, and I think it's helped me figure out something about what I like in some pop music:
It's a big, narratively expansive song, but one that's chock-full of, for lack of a better word, stuff. The chorus alone, "I walk the line like Johnny Cash / I made the bus in seconds flat / I called your line too many times / I'm not obsessed, just impolite," has three separate ideas and three arresting images in it. And I think I kind of like that lack of focus. There's something true in it.
One of my favorite songs right now is Bishop Allen's "The Chinatown Bus," which is if anything, much more geographically and temporally broad than "Just Impolite" (though a little less musically shimmery, despite the tambourine):
I think the thing that these messy songs get at is the way an emotionally engaged mind works. The song begins with an invocation of a Chinatown bus driver's luck on a crowded road, and ends, after meandering through Shanghai and cotillions, with this verse: "I clutched at the Saint Christopher / I picked up at some country abbey / Long ago when I believed / He'd keep me safe and make me happy / But it seems / The luck he brings / Is not the common currency of penny in Japan." These are the kind of connections we make when we're open to the universe or tense with distress and scrambling for explanations. They're songs that get at the whole universe of experience and association behind a particular reaction.
And then there's the "Spaceship," (or hell, any album on that EP) by a guy I knew a little in college, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, who I really wish would start blogging again. It's got a frame idea, the struggle for success in that odd space of post-college uncertainty, and the same sparkly sound of the previous two songs. He sings: "Can't return a call / Skipping every breakfast / He tried to be a writer but instead he only fact-checks / Out of shape / Uninspired / Forced down solid / And you just feel tired / Wake up every day / Spend it from the get-go / Chewing on your thumb / Staring out the window / You could really go / No one's going to stop you / You could really go / No one's going to stop you / You could really go / You could spend your money / But you're burning through your twenties / For a misdirected, energetic asshole." That's a lot of explication to get through in 31 seconds, and it's only one verse and chorus.
And I think that's what it's like to be a particular kind of person in your twenties, overloaded by possible explanations for what your'e feeling and new experiences. Is the problem the job? The significant? The lack of courage to match ambition? A combination of all three? A profound spiritual lassitude? "I'll bide my time and pay my rent / 'Til something knocks me to my senses," but what will it be? Life's big and confusing, and sometimes only the three-minute framework of the pop song can force you to make sense of it, to the extent you can.
One hundred years ago, a retail giant that shipped millions of products by mail moved swiftly into the brick-and-mortar business, changing it forever. Is that happening again?
Amazon comes to conquer brick-and-mortar retail, not to bury it. In the last two years, the company has opened 11 physical bookstores. This summer, it bought Whole Foods and its 400 grocery locations. And last week, the company announced a partnership with Kohl’s to allow returns at the physical retailer’s stores.
Why is Amazon looking more and more like an old-fashioned retailer? The company’s do-it-all corporate strategy adheres to a familiar playbook—that of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Sears might seem like a zombie today, but it’s easy to forget how transformative the company was exactly 100 years ago, when it, too, was capitalizing on a mail-to-consumer business to establish a physical retail presence.
NFL athletes are protesting on behalf of America’s founding values––and Donald Trump neither loves nor understands them.
Donald Trump, who has a disturbing history of praising brutal dictators, possesses no better than a Twitter troll’s understanding of what it means to be an American patriot. He spent the weekend trolling the NFL over the players protesting police violence during the national anthem, though any other president would have been attending to the millions of fellow citizens suffering in Puerto Rico; and the NFL athletes who defied him by taking a knee Sunday in solidarity with protests against police killings had the high ground, as good students of American history will understand.
When the Founding Fathers affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence, the first act of political courage in United States history, the American flag as we know it did not yet exist. And it would be more than a century before the Star Spangled Banner was adopted as the national anthem. Yet the Founders were not deficient in love of country for lacking the Stars and Stripes. In bravely dissolving political bonds with Britain, Thomas Jefferson set forth the premise of the United States, the core ideas around which his countrymen rallied: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
The president’s latest comments shouldn’t be surprising—but his deliberate inflammation of tense situations is no less stunning.
During last year’s presidential campaign, I conducted a running feature called the “Trump Time Capsule.” Its purpose was to chronicle the things Donald Trump said or did that were entirely outside the range of previous presidents or major-party nominees. This, in turn, was meant to lay down a record of what was known about this man, as the electorate decided whether to elevate him to presidential power.
By the time the campaign ended, the series had reached installment #152. Who Donald Trump was, and is, was absolutely clear by election day: ignorant, biased, narcissistic, dishonest. As Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in our current issue, everyone who voted for him did so with ample evidence about the kind of person they considered the “better” choice, or even as a minimally acceptable choice for president. Almost nothing Trump has done since taking office should come as a surprise.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
A new film details the reason the star postponed her recent tour—and will test cultural attitudes about gender, pain, and pop.
“Pain without a cause is pain we can’t trust,” the author Leslie Jamison wrote in 2014. “We assume it’s been chosen or fabricated.”
Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” unpacked the suffering-woman archetype, which encompasses literature’s broken hearts (Anna Karenina, Miss Havisham) and society’s sad girls—the depressed, the anorexic, and in the 19th century, the tubercular. Wariness about being defined by suffering, she argued, had led many modern women to adopt a new pose. She wrote, “The post-wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim.” Jamison questioned whether this was an overcorrection. “The possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it,” she wrote. “Pain that gets performed is still pain.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch exemplifies how the Supreme Court has become fully enmeshed in the rankest partisan politics.
“There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge,” Neil Gorsuch told the nation during his confirmation hearings. “We just have judges in this country.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in July that he doesn’t quite agree. Asked to explain to his party’s base the Senate’s lack of legislative accomplishment, McConnell said, “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice.”
Gorsuch hasn’t commented on that statement. But he was quite happy to appear with McConnell Thursday on what veteran Supreme Court correspondent Kenneth Jost called a “victory lap” to the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky law schools last week.
“When President Trump sent his nomination to the Senate earlier this year, as some of you know, the friends of mine in the audience, I could not have been happier,” McConnell told the audience before Gorsuch delivered a speech on his “originalist” philosophy of judging. “I don’t believe in red judges or blue judges,” Gorsuch said with a straight face. “We wear black.”
The alliance between presidents and sports was perhaps the last fully functioning bipartisan tradition left in Washington. This weekend, Trump blew it up.
It’s hard to imagine Major League Baseball inviting President Trump to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before any World Series games next month. And he definitely won’t be tossing the coin before the Super Bowl next February. Over the weekend, Trump ignited a firestorm in the sports world by harshly criticizing the NFL for failing to punish players who take a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then he withdrew his invitation to Stephen Curry of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House because Curry was “hesitating” about accepting the invitation. Curry’s teammates subsequently announced that none of them would go to the White House but instead would use the team’s February trip to Washington to “celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion.” On Saturday night, an Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to take a knee during the anthem. On Sunday morning, Trump was back at it, calling on fans to boycott NFL games.
A good marriage is no guarantee against infidelity.
“Most descriptions of troubled marriages don’t seem to fit my situation,” Priya insists. “Colin and I have a wonderful relationship. Great kids, no financial stresses, careers we love, great friends. He is a phenom at work, fucking handsome, attentive lover, fit, and generous to everyone, including my parents. My life is good.” Yet Priya is having an affair. “Not someone I would ever date—ever, ever, ever. He drives a truck and has tattoos. It’s so clichéd, it pains me to say it out loud. It could ruin everything I’ve built.”
Priya is right. Few events in the life of a couple, except illness and death, carry such devastating force. For years, I have worked as a therapist with hundreds of couples who have been shattered by infidelity. And my conversations about affairs have not been confined within the cloistered walls of my therapy practice; they’ve happened on airplanes, at dinner parties, at conferences, at the nail salon, with colleagues, with the cable guy, and of course, on social media. From Pittsburgh to Buenos Aires, Delhi to Paris, I have been conducting an open-ended survey about infidelity.
Colin Kaepernick and other athletes have a better claim on the United States’s symbols and their meaning.
President Trump apparently slept on it overnight and woke up early on Sunday morning thinking: “Yes, I will fight a cultural war against black athletes.”
In two Sunday morning tweets, Trump urged a boycott of the National Football League until owners punished players who refused to stand for the national anthem, in protest of police brutality and racial injustice—capping a weekend of taunting and trash-talking that began at his Alabama rally Friday night. He’s now created a situation in which it will seem almost unmanly for black athletes, and not only football players, not to take a knee during the anthem. If they stand for the anthem, they will seem to do so at Trump’s command. How can they not resist?