From Olympic Gymnasts to Drake : The Week in Pop Culture Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment.

American Simon Biles, 16, during her beam routine at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship (Russell Cheyne / Reuters)

An Ethical Stretch
Meghan O’Rourke | The Cut
“[Gymnastic’s] obsessive focus on the body and self-presentation is like kerosene poured on the flame of female adolescent self-scrutiny. By some lights, women’s gymnastics has come to seem almost retrograde, anti-feminist. I’ve even wondered whether watching gymnastics today is like watching the NFL in an era when we know its true price.”

Minimalism at Maximum Capacity
Kyle Chayka | The New York Times Magazine
“Part pop philosophy and part aesthetic, minimalism presents a cure-all for a certain sense of capitalist overindulgence. Maybe we have a hangover from pre-recession excess—McMansions, S.U.V.s, neon cocktails, fusion cuisine—and minimalism is the salutary tonic. Or perhaps it’s a method of coping with recession-induced austerity, a collective spiritual and cultural cleanse because we’ve been forced to consume less anyway.”

Rock-Docs in the Age of Access Journalism
Judy Berman | Pitchfork
“It makes sense that we’re hearing more about mental and physical illness as directors move beyond hagiographic or didactic portraits of famous musicians, to follow the longer arcs of lives that stretch past age 27 and contain more conflict than the relationship between a man, his guitar, and a crowd of screaming fans.”

Bringing Denzel Washington to the Table
Shea Serrano | The Ringer

“The most believably unbelievable performance comes in American Gangster, directed by Sir Ridley Scott. Washington’s character, a crime lord named Frank Lucas, holds court at a table during breakfast with his team. He sees a separate crime lord, Tango, played by Idris Elba, who is very handsome — more handsome than Old Denzel Washington, but not nearly as handsome as Young Denzel Washington. Tango owes Frank money. Frank wants it. Tango bucks. Frank shoots him in the head. Then he walks back to the table and sits down. It’s the farthest a Denzel Washington movie character has wandered away from a table and returned to it in the same scene. The table is a diner table.”

Drizzy’s Dancehall Appropriation
Sajae Elder | Buzzfeed
“For many American listeners, Drake’s claim to Afro-Caribbean music and culture seems contrived and unexpected — another example of his tendency to “ride” a particular wave and then move on to something else. It begged the question: What could a half-black, half-Jewish Canadian know about Jamaica? ‘There are all these different sounds so far on Views,’ some wondered, “but what does Toronto actually sound like?’”

Welcome to the ‘New Normal’: Kubrick and the Nuclear Farce
Robert Bright | The Quietus
“The only way out of the paradox of nuclear war lies in the ‘mind of man’ said Kubrick, and to fully appreciate the brilliance of Dr. Strangelove, we need to know that when he said it, it was men specifically he was referring to. The sublimation of sex and sexual anxiety are everywhere in the film. It’s obvious right from the start, where mid-air refueling sees the thick metal rod from a supply plane being inserted into a B52 bomber, all done to an instrumental version of ‘Try A Little Tenderness.’”

Dance, Little Sister
Karen Good Marable | The Undefeated
“The girls are athletes. Muscular and brown — a sea of builds and shades. Most of them have weaves that are as much about protecting their natural hair underneath as they are about the ability to whip it.”

80 Books No Woman Should Read
Rebecca Solnit | Literary Hub
“I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means. Let me prove that I’m not a misandrist by starting with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, because any book Paul Ryan loves that much bears some responsibility for the misery he’s dying to create.”

Watching The Purge in Our Year of Nightmare Politics
Jia Tolentino | The New Yorker
“I watched the movie in a small theatre in Brooklyn popping with children. None of them were white and all of them looked well under the age of seventeen. (All The Purge movies are rated ‘R’) They reacted effusively, externalizing things that do not sit easily: the nerves, the panic, the hardness required to take pleasure in the cinematic execution of civilians at a time when we already see such things on the news, on our phones, in our minds, on the street. This is a year when violence crackles ambiently.”

Where Have All the Political Novels Gone?
Richard T Kelly | The Guardian
“But there is often a difficulty for writers who adopt an overtly political stance. A novelist may set out purposefully to make a book that furthers a cause, but it is not likely to be any good, since good books don’t carry messages like sacks carry coal.”