Crime, Death, and Heathers: 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:


Rhyme and Punishment
Jack Hamilton

Rap is not the news, rappers are not journalists, hip-hop is not an archive of literal truths. This isn’t something that should have to be explained in 2014. It shouldn’t have had to be explained in 1979 when a man called Big Bank Hank claimed to have stolen Superman’s girlfriend on the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” nor should it have had to be explained in 1991 when a 17-year-old Nas bragged about murdering Jesus Christ and kidnapping Barbara Bush on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque.” If you think rap music is real you shouldn’t be listening to it, nor should you be driving, voting, reading Slate, or doing much else besides enjoying the remainder of your time in elementary school.

And yet, a recent New York Times article sheds light on a growing and deeply disturbing practice of using lyrics by aspiring rappers as evidence for the prosecution in criminal trials. The article focuses primarily on charges facing Antwain Steward of Virginia, who is currently standing trial for two counts of murder largely on the basis of lyrics that allegedly refer to a 2007 homicide. (Prior to his arrest, Steward had achieved regional success performing under the handle Twain Gotti.) The Times alludes to nearly 40 other instances of prosecutors introducing lyrics as evidence against defendants, and Slates own Justin Peters has covered the phenomenon extensively. “Just because you put your confession to music doesn’t give you a free pass,” declares a former prosecutor, a statement that might belong in a negative review of a Drake album but absolutely nowhere else.


Is There Anything Left to Say About Kurt Cobain's Legacy?
Stephen Deusner

The book is refreshing because it doesn’t care about “Teen Spirit” or Nevermind; barely mentions Courtney Love, heroin, or suicide; has no interest in generational anomie. Instead, Pavitt turns his focus squarely on the group of tired guys trudging around cities they barely have the energy to enjoy. Here, in this snapshot of pre-celebrity life, Pavitt finds a sliver of humanity.

The problem with so many books about Nirvana is that they all more or less tell the same story, even if they differ over nuance and minutia. Cobain did spark a revolution in music and popular culture; he did become a figurehead to a generation coming into its own at a time when it didn’t have much to come into; he did flame out personally, if not creatively. That story is well known and generally accepted as fact, yet it’s becoming as threadbare as one of Cobain’s cardigans. As new generations of musicians find new approaches to Cobain (or ignore him altogether), what we need from subsequent Nirvana-related titles is a new, younger voice. If there's a future for Cobain publishing, it's in the hands of millennials who never knew the band in the present tense but have inherited its legacy. Does Cobain speak to anyone under 30? If so, what does he say?


Pacific Standard
How the No-Kids Paparazzi Policy Could Change Celebrity Gossip
Anne Helen Petersen

Wouldn’t a world without paparazzi be a better one? It’d certainly be a more sanitized one. I spend a lot of time looking at classic fan magazines, and the stars within are so unwaveringly pleasing: Everyone always looks beautiful, and blissful, and grateful. They were paragons of masculinity and femininity, perfect condensations of the American Dream.

Those images were ideologically airtight—but Confidential, the paparazzi, TMZ, and similar outlets puncture those creations, again and again. Of course, these publications were, and are, garish and trashy, framing revelations of sexual preference and partner as “scandal.” But scandal functions as an ideological wedge, compromising and interrogating our understandings of what it means to be “good” or “bad,” happy or married or sexual. By providing a way to map our anxieties onto celebrity bodies, this type of gossip can make the unspeakable speakable—an avenue, in other words, for us to talk about how we feel about gender performance, same-sex marriage, and dozens of other difficult topics. Sometimes that talk is regressive, homophobic, and reactionary, but it can also provide a way of thinking through what a different way of being in the world might actually look like.


The Washington Post
From Washington to Westeros, How Rape Plays Out on TV
Alyssa Rosenberg

Even as subsequent shows incorporated ideas about sexual assault drawn from feminist thinking, Cuklanz and Moorti note, it was often men who got to teach those insights to women, and television continued to focus on investigators rather than victims. Shows such as “The Wire” and “The Shield,” which presented a more complicated view of policing, still concerned themselves more with detectives’ responses than victims’.

The new breed of prestige drama has upended that convention. These shows are interested in survivors, who are often among the central characters rather than extras. The attackers are not abstract monsters but respected members of society. The male leads are often complicit in the violence or are unacceptably oblivious to the female characters’ experiences. And no one gets rescued; no one gets a day in court. The drama is less about the process of killing, jailing or confronting a rapist, and more about how these women’s lives have been inflected by their rapes, often years into the future.

For the Love of It: Notes on the Decline of Entertainment Weekly, the Firing of Owen Gleiberman, and the Ongoing End of an Era
Matt Zoller Seitz

There are, I'm sure, many complex, overlapping and perhaps contradictory reasons why media companies have no interest in publishing properly compensated criticism by informed and seasoned writers.  I don't pretend to understand all of them, although I suspect the die was cast in the late '90s, when newspapers and magazines bowed to tech gurus and prognosticators and started giving away their content. This made everyone—but particularly the younger generation—get used to thinking that writing was something they were entitled to have, like air or water; that it was not really valuable, indeed that it was not really work; that it was not really something that was "made"; that was not creative, and that for all these reasons it was not supposed to be compensated by anyone, not in any real sense—that it was, instead, a combination of entertainment and personal indulgence, something along the lines of an open mic night in print form, with people trying out "material," basking in the applause ("exposure"), and maybe picking up a little walking-around money. Like a violin player at a bus stop.

Whenever I dig into this topic, I get pushback from people who point out that the newspaper and magazine industries as we once knew them also employed mediocre or unoriginal writers and editors. Those people's inability to earn a living now, however personally devastating it may be to them and their families, is no great loss to readers, I'm told—or to the universe as a whole. That might be so. I can't imagine the coldness required to try to decide such a hypothetical question, so I'm just going to let it lie, except to say that I would happily live with knowledge of a 90% worthlessness rate in journalism if the tradeoff were employment for writers of Owen Gleiberman's caliber.

Matt Strasen / AP

If MMA Doesn't Change, Someone Is Going to Die
Josh Tucker

Due to the nature and rules of mixed martial arts—fights can end at any moment due to a submission, a knockout, an incapacitating shot to the body, a cut, an injury—everyone always has a chance in theory. (This does a lot to explain why referees, doctors, and corners allow cashed-out fighters to keep going.) In reality, that chance is often statistically insignificant. And even when a marginal chance does exist, someone is supposed to weigh it against the damage a fighter is taking. There are reasons why commissions have the power to veto lopsided mismatches, and why referees, medical professionals, and corner men all have the power to say, at any moment, "That's enough."

The problem is that no one likes to see "premature" stoppages, like those in Renan Barão's and Ronda Rousey's recent title defenses. No one wants to be responsible for depriving a fighter a of chance at victory, which can impact their money short-term and their entire career long-term. No one wants to disappoint a raucous crowd demanding carnage and screaming, "Let them fight!" It needs to be done regardless. This may be a difficult thing, a responsibility few would want, but it's what you sign up for when you become a ring doctor, referee, or corner. Most of these people seem to have forgotten that this responsibility even exists.

New World Pictures

Heathers: An Oral History
Adam Markovitz

WATERS It’s embarrassing, because I stole a lot of my lines. “What’s your damage” I stole from when I was a camp counselor and one of my little camper girls, Jamie, used to say “What’s your damage?” I just completely stole that from her. And one of my college friends used to say “F— me gently with a crowbar.” And then I realized crowbar sounded too masculine. Chainsaw was more feminine. And apparently “f— me gently” was at one time a common expression in England. This is the evolution of nasty language. That’s where my friend extrapolated “F— me gently” into “F— me gently with a crowbar.” And then I had to have him killed so I could take credit.

RYDER Shannen had problems with the swearing. There’s a moment when we’re in the hallway and she’s just shown me the petition, and then she walks away and you can notice that I put my hand through my hair but I stop and look at her. She was supposed to say, “F— me gently with a chain saw.” But she refused to say it.