Star Trek and Two Sides of Hip-Hop: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment

Donald Glover as Earnest "Earn" Marks in 'Atlanta' (FX)

The Beat Don’t Stop
Sasha Frere-Jones | The New Republic
“While The Get Down rockets through the Bronx in the summer of 1977, Donald Glover’s Atlanta slouches through the South of today. These two new shows bookend a 40-year period that has been defined by hip-hop, though they don’t see eye to eye on the power of music, socially, or culturally. The executive summary is that both are careful, concentrated TV shows that work in very different ways: The Get Down is a whirling, saturated, fantasy-friendly ‘yes,’ while Atlanta is a granular, stubbornly realistic ‘nah.’”

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out
Ian Parker | The New Yorker
“When Wells speaks, his fingers often flutter near his temples, as if he were a stage mentalist trying to focus. He ordered several plates of food; after hesitation, he asked for a glass of white wine. He does not follow Craig Claiborne’s practice, in the nineteen-sixties, of weighing himself every day, but he has begun to think of alcohol as calories that he can skip without being professionally lax. He is not fat, but the job stands between him and leanness: He can’t turn down food. ‘My body is not my own,’ he said.”

The Face of Television Is Changing
Alison Herman | The Ringer
“At their best, both Atlanta and Queen Sugar spotlight what there’s room for when blandly ‘universal’ shows and their often-patronizing tokenism no longer carry the sole burden of representation. Instead, Glover and DuVernay craft their own worlds on their own terms.”

Can Jonathan Safran Foer Make a Comeback?
Alex Shephard | GQ
“Foer presents life as a series of tests: It’s one reason he keeps coming back to the question of ‘choice’ in our conversation. Here I Am is no different ... Foer is adamant that he has passed the test of self-actualization, that his divorce was as healthy as divorces can be, that Here I Am is the product of who he is at this exact moment, that he does not think back on the precocious wizard who wrote two widely read books that made him a literary superstar.”

Star Trek’s 50-Year Mission
David Schilling | The Guardian
“But there’s no question that what defines Star Trek today is an egalitarian, pluralistic, moral future society that has rejected greed and hate for the far more noble purpose of learning all that is learnable and spreading freedom throughout the galaxy. That doesn’t exactly chime with the world we live in: one that is increasingly polarized, violent, and arguably teeming with existential despair.”

Why Do Funny Black Women Still Need to Be Trailblazers in 2016?
Tomi Obaro | BuzzFeed
“But in spite of Hollywood’s historically fickle relationship with them, black women are making their own way, distributing their work, stretching the boundaries of what we consider comedy, and supporting each other avidly, even as the Hollywood apparatus continues to imply that there can only be one funny black woman at a time (if at all).”

Blair Witch: Shaky Cams That Left Audiences Shaking
Marc Spitz | The New York Times
“The gothic nature of The Blair Witch Project seemed a bracing counterpoint to the modernity that marked much of American culture at the turn of the millennium. In an increasingly digital world, the feeling of something authentically creepy proved irresistible.”

The Link Between Whitney Houston and the Rise of Auto-Tune in North Africa
Jace Clayton | Pitchfork
“These effects flow from her masterful use of a technique called melisma. Technically speaking, melisma occurs when vocalists use melodic embellishment to extend a single syllable. Emotionally, it’s something else entirely, a mode of expression that bucks against the very limits of language.”