Cool Girls and Bad Men: 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:


The New Yorker
Cool Story, Bro
Emily Nussbaum

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

This aspect of “True Detective” (which is written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga) will be gratingly familiar to anyone who has ever watched a new cable drama get acclaimed as “a dark masterpiece”: the slack-jawed teen prostitutes; the strippers gyrating in the background of police work; the flashes of nudity from the designated put-upon wifey character; and much more nudity from the occasional cameo hussy, like Marty’s mistress, whose rack bounces merrily through Episode 2. Don’t get me wrong: I love a nice bouncy rack. And if a show has something smart to say about sex, bring it on. But, after years of watching “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Lies,” and so on, I’ve turned prickly, and tired of trying to be, in the novelist Gillian Flynn’s useful phrase, the Cool Girl: a good sport when something smells like macho nonsense. And, frankly, “True Detective” reeks of the stuff. The series, for all its good looks and its movie-star charisma, isn’t just using dorm-room deep talk as a come-on: it has fallen for its own sales pitch.

Craig Sjodin / ABC

Huffington Post
Andi Dorfman Just Exposed the True Reality of The Bachelor
Emma Gray

Last night, contestant Andi Dorfman, an ombre-haired assistant district attorney from Atlanta, took known-homophobe and former soccer pro Juan Pablo to task. After spending a private night together in a "fantasy suite," Dorfman confessed that she couldn't wait to for it to end, because, to put it succinctly, JP is a pretty sh*tty person to date. "Not once did he really ask anything about me," she told the cameras. "I'm not unsure. I know he's not the one."

The fact that Andi announced the relationship was over before Juan Pablo had a chance to—and was allowed by ABC to do so—is damn near revolutionary in the "Bachelor" world. Like Sharleen Joynt who peaced out (by choice) before her, Andi just didn't want to date Juan Pablo and wasn't going to fake it once she realized that for sure.

As any woman in her 20s and 30s who has tried her hat at online dating knows, a blind date—even if you've seen a person's photo, or in the case of "The Bachelor," watched them on reality TV—is a crapshoot. The very idea that 25 pre-selected women would automatically be able to fall in love with any one man is laughable—especially if said man only uses two words to describe his dates ("amazing" or "beautiful"), slut-shames his suitors and is an all-around boring human. Yet "The Bachelor" operates on the premise that the star has the power to choose or not choose any of his suitors. (It's bit more common to see a male contestant bowing out early, but even then it is often portrayed as a massive betrayal or agonizing heartbreak.)

More Than A Vocal: Kingdom, Kelela and Why Dance Music Doesn't Get R&B
Sophie Kindreich

There is a difference between sneering at someone for not knowing all of the words to an Arctic Monkeys b-side—you might think I’m being hyperbolic, but I’ve been one of those pricks and if anything, I’m understating how joyless and judgemental they are—and being over the Reformed Indie Kid at the house party who’s taken his first pill, and thinks you want to hear his entry-level epiphany about how Destiny’s Child “actually have a couple of decent tunes”. That’s because R&B has long been pigeon-holed as a guilty pleasure, and not worth intellectually investing in.

One way in which this intersects with electronic music is down to the turn-of-the-decade influx of producers sampling R&B vocals. There was a point a year or so ago where you were as likely to hear Cassie’s pitched-down coo in the club as a kick drum and, while I’m not calling for a moratorium on R&B samples, the tendency to flip a Brandy or Cassie track has become seriously played out. […]

As the process of rendering R&B vocals unrecognisable became ever more pervasive in dance music, so did the erasure of black female voices. Did you know there are people who think Cyril Hahn’s remix of 'Say My Name' is an original song? Neither did I, until I heard someone who’d been to a recent set of Hahn’s in Glasgow complaining that he “Only played a few of his big hits”, and that they “Didn’t expect so much R&B”. Grim, considering two of Hahn’s most successful tracks (his Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey edits) are R&B—that is, watered-down, pallid, sexless interpretations of R&B. Hahn too possesses the exact dismissive attitude I’m talking about: in an October interview with Mixmag, he justified his choice of source material by saying “It’s not something I listen to seriously; more of a guilty pleasure.”

Wilfredo Lee / AP

What ESPN and the NFL Don't Talk About When They Talk About "Nigger"
Greg Howard

Last week, we got word that the Fritz Pollard Alliance, chaired by ex-NFL player John Wooten, was pushing a rule change in the league that would penalize players for the use of the word "nigger" on the football field. The proposal involves a 15-yard penalty for a player's first offense, with an ejection if he says it again. This idea is bullshit, but it's gained so much traction that it's already been kicked to the NFL Competition Committee, comprising a racially diverse eight-man group of league coaches and general managers. They'll most likely present the rule change to the NFL's mostly old, mostly white owners next month. […]

The problem of the word is that its etymology is entwined with an atrocity: the systematic purchase, relocation, enslavement, torture, rape, and murder of a race upon these shores. Not every black person has ancestors who were slaves, but nearly every black person in the Western Hemisphere can trace his or her roots to this bloody past, and no word or phrase has ever been devised that better or more efficiently encapsulates both that history and the way that history is woven into the present. It's a heavy word, having lost none of its violence or menace over the years. As Whitlock said during Outside the Lines, it was the last word many, many blacks heard before being shot or hanged or dragged or pummeled or hacked to death.

But "nigger" is also just a word. If it had never issued from a man's mouth, you can be damn sure the boats and the whips and the chains would've kept on coming. There would've been just as many shootings and hangings and draggings and pummelings and hackings in a "nigger"-less America, and we'd be having an earnest and altogether useless debate today about the propriety of using some other word, and we'd still be mistaking the symptoms for the disease.


Her Looming Shadow Grows: The Complex Women of True Detective
Molly Lambert

Everyone identifies with powerful men onscreen, and nobody wants to identify with neglected wives and disposable sidepieces. Perhaps internalized misogyny has caused everyone, including women, to all want to be the hard-boiled cops. But not every female character can be Claire Underwood, knocking over every hurdle in her path. When we are shown female characters who have been forced into passive roles in their lives, we are usually meant to see they were just that: forced. It’s a very meaningful aspect of modern life, but inevitably thorny to discuss. Does the show want to have its cake (topless young hotties) and eat it too (misogynists get punished)? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t think the women on True Detective are mere virgins and whores. Far from it. I think that it’s through them we are made to see the very obvious problems with Marty’s view of women as virgins and whores. The show is also equally weighted toward Rust’s POV, which questions much of that worldview.

Am I bending over backward to defend this narrative trend because I know it’s not going away anytime soon? Maybe. But I don’t see Marty’s behavior as all that different from his fellow serial cheater Don Draper. Sure, it’s mildly dubious that hot young girls would be throwing themselves at Marty, but I guess the same muscle that allows me to suspend disbelief for some of True Detective’s other craziest aspects also accepts that Marty is a chick magnet. Honestly, in real life, the biggest womanizers aren’t always the most obvious. The characteristic alpha male mistake is to be dumb enough to think you’re smart enough not to get caught. The drama of a marriage crumbling from the inside can be just as fascinating as a violent crime drama, a horror story where the only corpse is an ailing relationship on the brink of death.


The Videogame That Finally Made Me Feel Like a Human Being
Laura Hudson

We don’t just need more women in videogames—we need more women who don’t fit in boxes. Left Behind isn’t remarkable just because it meets a quota. Ellie and Riley aren’t just concepts or good intentions. They’re people: fully-realized, quirky, funny, dangerous girls. Ellie isn’t there for anyone—to inspire, titillate or motivate them. Ellie there because she’s herself, and for once, that’s reason enough.

Female characters are often treated as satellites, man-made objects built to orbit male stars so frequently and uniformly that you’d think the arrangement was written into the source code of the universe. That’s part of what makes Left Behind so special: Here, Ellie is the sun, the lightbulb that the rest of the universe rotates around. And she shines.

When Left Behind ended, I cried like a girl. And also like a girl, I took out my switchblade and methodically killed every last motherfucker in the game. I didn’t have to choose between the two. It hurt, almost, like something inside of me was breaking. I think it was the lie—the big one, the one I bought so many years ago, the box I wore like armor and the one that kept me small.

Frank Micelotta / AP

Jennifer Lawrence and the History of Cool Girls
Ann Helen Peterson

But is Jennifer Lawrence really just like us? She has a stunningly beautiful face and an equally fantastic body. She’s now nominated for her third Academy Award, and she’s also the star of the highest-grossing movie of the year. She’s award-collecting director David O. Russell’s favorite new muse. She’s operating on another level.

Then again, she’s also the girl who has gastrointestinal distress and talks about it on national television. She grew up in Kentucky on a broad swath of land, where, as the kid sister to two older brothers, she spent a lot of time fishing and tomboying around; in her own unfortunate words, “I was so dykey.” Her nickname was “Nitro,” and instead of spending time at Claire’s with the middle school girls after school, she played on the all-boys basketball team. By the age of 14, she was pushing her parents to take her to New York to start her acting career—just in time to extract her from the high school gender politics that could have made her self-conscious of the sort of frankness we now so closely associate with the J.Law image.

And it’s an image that keeps amplifying: She may have shed her tomboy pastimes, but she still loves fries, pizza, and Doritos—which she recently confessed to getting all over herAmerican Hustle costumes. She talks about food, and her voracious appetite, constantly. She photobombs like a boss. She hates exercising and promises to punch anyone who says “I like exercising” in the face. Girls love her, guys desire her. I love J.Law, you love J.Law, everybody loves J.Law

But, no, she’s not like us. She’s like a perfect character out of a book. Specifically, a book by Gillian Flynn called Gone Girl (currently being developed into a David Fincher movie), in which a main character describes a very particular yet familiar archetype.


The Oscars Will Piss You Off, But You’ll Keep Watching
Kyle Buchanan

This Sunday, nearly everyone who cares about pop culture will be watching the Oscars, and this Monday, almost every one of those people will be complaining about them. “Ellen DeGeneres was so boring,” they’ll moan. Expect multiple friends of yours to say, “Really, she won Best Supporting Actress?” no matter whether the victor is Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o. And like clockwork, as though we’re dealing with people who have never seen the Oscars before, nearly everyone will bitch about the elongated running time. It’s enough to make you think that people don’t actually like the Academy Awards. So why are those same naysayers virtually guaranteed to tune in next year?

Could it be because underneath it all, the Oscars really aren’t that bad? Yes, we’ve had our fair share of Oscar-hosting fiascoes — the Hathaway-Franco ceremony will forever live in infamy, and Seth MacFarlane’s juvenile stint last year provoked no end of aggrieved think pieces — but even the truly misbegotten ceremonies carry with them an inherent collective camp value, giving everyone the delicious opportunity to turn to their couchmate or Twitter friend and exclaim, “Is this really happening?”