James Baldwin and the Raised Fist: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

James Baldwin at his home in France in 1983 (AP)

James Baldwin Should Make You Feel Uncomfortable
K. Austin Collins | The Ringer
“He’s never left us. And yet his popularity has risked flattening some of the most important tensions in his work. The meme-friendly Baldwin quotations adorning our dating profiles and dormitory walls lack self-awareness. The urgency of his thought prevails, but the consciousness-raising sense of antagonism, the resistance to easy takeaways or preordained political credibility, is smoothed over. If you have Baldwin on your bookshelf or quoted on your Facebook page, you’re signifying that you’re already hip to his message: He attests to your hard-won knowledge, not to the fact that you need further education. (We all do.)”

High on the Apocalypse
Jessa Crispin | The Baffler
“Maybe we all just decided it was cooler to be George Orwell (who came from money) than H. G. Wells (who did not)—cooler to be the smirker saying, ‘Pah, it’ll never work,’ than to be the kid chirping, ‘Here is what we can do.’ The H. G. Wells we find profiled in Krishan Kumar’s Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times was someone who suffered greatly and wanted to help prevent the suffering of future generations. He was someone who cycled through great optimism and great despair, but kept coming back to optimism, believing that equality is possible without totalitarianism.”

24 Is Back to Make You Fear Muslim Terrorists Again
Gazelle Emami | Vulture
24: Legacy’s arrival at this moment in American history highlights the awkward tension inherent to TV reboots, particularly ones linked to a larger, arguably dated, cultural discourse (see also: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). In many ways, 24 reflected the Bush era’s war on terror mentality, and was largely accepted by critics and viewers at the time within that context. When a show reboots, especially one with such explicit political overtones, should it pretend like nothing has changed in its absence?”

The Unusual Genius of the Resident Evil Movies
Daniel Engber | The New Yorker
“I wouldn’t call them soulful—they’re highly processed and derivative, as one might expect—but they also have a real electric spark. It’s as if the robotic process that created them had Easter eggs hidden in its code, producing moments when calculated mayhem bursts into abstraction. [Paul W. S.] Anderson may be a Hollywood hack, but he’s one who has found a way to break into the industry machine and turn what should have been an empty-headed action-horror franchise into a vehicle for his spectacular, maximalist aesthetic.”

What Does the Raised Fist Mean in 2017?
Niela Orr | BuzzFeed
“Certain mottos and slogans from the civil rights and Black Power movements have fallen out of fashion, but the raised fist remains a hugely popular visual signal of defiance and solidarity. The co-optation of the raised fist as a patriotic symbol, winking cultural reference, and even totem of irony show that it is just as much about how we perform protest in the 21st century as it is about communicating resistance.”

Ghost in the System: Has Technology Ruined Horror Films?
Scott Tobias | The Guardian
“As physical media has disappeared, and the digital realm of streaming and smartphones has taken over, the movies have struggled to figure out how to make technology a threat again. The telephone was once a reliable scare tactic: the abrupt shock-scare of a ring, the raspy taunts of a serial killer, the cutting of a landline, the cord as a strangling implement, and even the phone itself as a blunt force object in films like The Stepfather. Starting with the dawn of cellphones, however, the new technology has become more a hassle than an opportunity.”

Sampha’s Debut Album Speaks to Anyone With Anxiety
Aimee Cliff | The Fader
“Like the process of navigating any mental health issue, Sampha’s album is not linear or predictable. With its glittering synth melodies and lyrical imagery, it's flooded with sunlight—but this brightness doesn’t always offer comfort. But in the end, Process acts like a musical balm for anxious minds, ending with the message of how important it is to accept the things we can't change about ourselves.”

The Rise of the Female Nerd
Inkoo Kang | MTV News
“Living well is the best revenge, the poet George Herbert wrote—and by that metric, nerdy girls and women should star in their own Tarantino flick. Theirs has been a quiet but steady vengeance, as smart female protagonists and fan favorites have vanquished their previous invisibility or two-dimensionality to claim their place in pop culture, though mostly on TV. The gradual fusion between the nerdy and the normal has heralded a greater acceptance of women who tend to prize their own bright minds as people worth humanizing and getting to know. (It’s an event that Stranger Things, in its salivating adulation for the ’80s, completely missed about Barb, whom it treated as mere fodder.)”

How Pepsi Used Pop Music to Build an Empire
Jeremy Larson | Pitchfork
“If there still exists two separate states of art and commerce, they are often smeared together by the marketing concept of creativity: the extremely clever ad, the artist-facing sponsored content, the spectacular Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show. As long as there is the appearance of creativity, the brand underwriting the show will fade into the background and the consumer will fawn upon its aesthetic bona fides. It may even be truly transcendent, leaping from mere creativity to high art.”