Ender's Game Ethics, Intellectual Jocks: The Week's Best Pop-Culture Writing

The most intriguing articles about entertainment we've come across in the past seven days

Click the links in the article titles to read the full pieces, and let us know what we've missed:


What Lou Reed Taught Me
Ann Powers

Listening to Street Hassle, with its songs about feelings no one would ever want to admit, with titles like "Dirt" and "Leave Me Alone," I slowly realized what most of the punk or New Wave rock I loved so much rarely gave me. Clarity! Most music was too earnest, too clever, too deliberately gorgeous or bloody exciting to require what Reed's demanded, which was that a listener sit with the ugliness of a moment and really grasp the fatal mistakes and collapses that go hand-in-hand with the risks that bring humans to life.

Reed's songs are actually often quite pretty, his pop ear well-tuned by the '50s rockabilly and doo-wop he loved as a Long Island teenybopper kid. But he would always show the sweat on the lips of the beauty queens and muscle boys he sang about. The fact that those queens were often in drag, and the boys were paying the rent with their erotic encounters, is in some ways secondary.


Ender’s Game, Chris Brown, and the Slippery Slope of Ethical Pop-Culture Consumption
Alyssa Rosenberg

Is the artist in question a criminal, or even just an unpleasant jerk? The second level of ethics: If the artist’s work isn’t abhorrent, but their personal behavior is, can that be compartmentalized? Some music lovers turned off by Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna before the 2009 Grammys and his subsequent behavior have struggled with the idea of bolstering his ongoing career by buying his music. In a creative form of offsets, Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz, a couple whose video of their wedding march, scored to Brown’s “Forever,” went viral in 2009, have encouraged fans of the video to donate to a domestic violence charity to make up for their role in giving the song a second life. At the latest count, contributors had ponied up almost $50,000.

Will someone who profits from the movie use the money to harm other people? The Ender’s Game boycott by Geeks OUT (an organization of LGBT nerds and their allies) isn’t just based on the idea that Orson Scott Card is a notorious and unpleasant homophobe (and his anti-gay views are actually among his less crazy political beliefs). It’s that the money he’d make from juiced sales of his 28-year-old novel could go directly towards supporting his political agenda.

Shady Records

Review: Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Christopher R. Weingarten

Okay, there are rappers who carry more emotional weight (Kanye, Drake); there are rappers who tell more evocative stories (Meek Mill, Ghostface); there are rappers with better hooks (Migos, Rick Ross); there are rappers far more resonant and meaningful and relevant, with a stronger grasp of what living in 2013 is like (take your pick, since Rap Game Jay Leno here spends his eighth album steady rapping about Monica Lewinsky and Lorena Bobbitt). Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, for starters, are better at all of the above.

But if rapping were a purely athletic competition, Eminem would be Michael Phelps and Mary Lou Retton combined: pure agility and flexibility, like an unstoppable bullet with only white-hot hate in his wake. His flow only gets more baroque and knotty and Nutrageous with age: syllable-cramming, unnecessarily complicated assonance ("I hope foxtrot gets an aerial shot of your burial plot"), a Minaj-erie of silly voices, blink-and-you-miss-it punch lines that range from slow burners to total groaners. This, the "sequel" (or whatever) to his landmark 2000 LP, is little more than a rapsploitation vehicle where practically every line is gratuitous, beyond ridiculous, an effortless and almost empty display of showboating, a carnival trick.

AP / Gene J. Puskar

The New Yorker
Why I Quit Major League Baseball
Adrian Cardenas

I quit after trying to balance my life as a professional baseball player with my life as a student during the last three years of my career. In the spring and summer, I played ball. In the fall, I studied creative writing and philosophy at New York University. But with every semester that passed, I loved school more than I loved baseball, and eventually I knew I had to choose one over the other. As I submerged myself into an academic environment, I thought often of my parents, who knew nothing about baseball but raised me with a passion for music and language so great that sports seemed irrelevant by comparison.

I quit because baseball was sacred to me until I started getting paid for it. The more that “baseball” became synonymous with “business,” the less it meant to me, and I saw less of myself in the game every time I got a check from the Philadelphia Phillies Organization, the Oakland Athletic Company, or the Chicago Cubs, L.L.C. To put it simply, other players were much better than I was at separating the game of baseball from the job of baseball. They could enjoy the thrill of a win—as it should be enjoyed—without thinking of what it meant to the owners’ bottom lines. These players, at once the objects of my envy and my admiration, are the resilient ones, still in the game. I am no longer one of them.

AP / Larry W. Smith, Pool

Here’s Why You Should Learn to Code
Chris Bosh

Plus, it’s cool. Even though I excelled at basketball, I was subjected to what many of my coding peers had to deal with before tech became “cool” — teasing. Although most people can’t imagine attempting to pick on someone that’s almost seven feet tall, there were some kids that still gave me a hard time. I was fortunate enough to have athletics to give me confidence in geekery. I was good at basketball so I was able to march to the beat of my own drum, and brush off what people thought.

I’ve seen lots of videos with me in them throughout the years – games, music videos, commercials — but watching myself in the Code.org video was one of the coolest moments of my life. When fans started tweeting at me that their teachers showed them a video of me along with some of the most famous tech icons in the world, it all came together for me and made one thing clear: the nerds have finally achieved their revenge.


In Defense of the Slutty Halloween Costume
Leandra Medine

He did also ask for my name, though. And the next morning, he sent me a message on Facebook to remind me that he really, really liked my costume.

Ultimately, I wrote him back and six years later, we got married.

With a year of marriage under my belt now and the approaching holiday that always reminds me of our When Harry Met Slutty moment, I’m starting to wonder whether we’d have ever crossed paths had it not been for my being forced – yes, forced – to wear the shell of a flight attendant’s uniform which my best friend lent to me when she vetoed my pirate get-up. (For visual reference, this included my fashioning gold chains, a white peasant blouse, a red bandana for my hair and an eye-patch, all of which items earnestly pre-existed in my wardrobe).

Though peer pressure won that round of Who’s Dumber: The Inflictor or The Inflicted (said friend reminded me that this was a college-age Halloween party and as such it was imperative that I show “at least some tit”), if it hadn’t, where would I be now? Looking for a get-up at The Treasure Chest, perhaps? Let's take a moment to reflect on an alternate universe where I forgo the selected ensemble and trust my gut on dressing like a buccaneer.


The Terrifying Hell a Marathon Inflicts on the Human Body
Matt McCarthy

This weekend, Pamela Anderson and thousands more will trek those 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City and when they cross the finish line, they will have more in common with each other than sore muscles, chafed armpits, and a sense of accomplishment. Their bodies will desperately be trying to restore a physiological equilibrium that they've thrown into chaos during the race. During a marathon, the body undergoes significant changes to cope with the metabolic and physiological demands of running for such a long time. These include increases in the rate and depth of breathing, increasing the amount of blood that's pumped by the heart, redistribution of blood flow away from internal organs and toward muscle tissue, and changes to the circulating concentrations of various hormones. Crucial electrolytes—potassium, magnesium—may be severely disturbed during the event and in some cases, the abnormalities will be considered life-threatening.

Marathon runners routinely release molecules from the liver, heart, and skeletal muscles into the bloodstream that are usually only seen in patients with diseased organs; from a biochemical perspective, many of the participants will resemble a corpse.