Biggie Smalls and Casablanca: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of writing about arts and entertainment

Biggie Smalls at the Billboard Music Awards in New York in 1995.  (Mark Lennihan / AP)

Heartthrob Never: On the Beauty of Biggie Smalls
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib | MTV News
“I like that Biggie did not seem to imagine himself a thinner man. I like that he spoke of his bulk, made it a character in his articulation of himself. I like that he didn’t always hide his weight underneath jokes, as the film and television tropes often go. Our bodies, as they are, aren’t flaws. What made the persona that Biggie created so great was that he knew this. If he did think of himself as a sex symbol in the mold of [Mick] Jagger or [Frank] Sinatra, it was all mental work, and not projecting their physiques onto himself.”

Ryan Murphy’s Limited Depictions of Controversial White Women
Pier Dominguez | BuzzFeed
“While Crime Story used the theater of the [O.J.] Simpson trial to explore race and gender in America, Feud isn’t interested in examining issues of gender through feuds. There are no insights into why such conflicts resonate so much, why the public likes to read about them, why people tend to think about women in opposition to each other, why feuds become symbols of larger questions.”

A Novel About Refugees That Feels Instantly Canonical
Jia Tolentino | The New Yorker
“Refugee stories often focus on transit, for obvious reasons. Children travel thousands of miles unaccompanied, hiding in train stations and surviving on wild fruit; men are beaten, jailed, and swindled just for the chance to make it on a boat that, if it doesn’t capsize and kill them, will allow them to try their luck in other dangerous seas. But in his new novel, Exit West, Mohsin Hamid tells a story about migration in which the refugee’s journey is compressed into an instant.”

By Immigrants, for Immigrants: Why Casablanca Still Matters
Noah Gittell | The Los Angeles Review of Books
“What separates it from its cinematic peers—if it has any—is that it refuses to hide the immigrant experience. Instead, it creates a new American myth celebrating that experience as a core American value. In those early days of the United States’s involvement in World War II, when compassion for the displaced was an urgent political priority, Casablanca served as both an instrument of empathy and a vital piece of anti-fascist propaganda.”

25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going: “F.U.B.U” by Solange
Angela Flournoy | The New York Times Magazine
“In ‘F.U.B.U.’ [Solange] Knowles doesn’t just eschew the white gaze for the sake of creating her art; she performs that rejection in song, to pull her black listeners close. It’s a rhetorical invitation for black folks to grab a chair and settle in for real talk about lives like theirs. To her white listeners (who are listening, after all), she offers a tongue-in-cheek indictment as consolation: ‘Don’t feel bad if you can’t sing along / Just be glad you got the whole wide world.’”

Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy Resonates Today
Skye C Cleary | Aeon
“Today more than ever it’s vital to recognize that freedom can’t be assumed. Some of the freedoms that de Beauvoir fought so hard for in the mid-20th century have since come under threat. De Beauvoir warns that we should expect appeals to ‘nature’ and ‘utility’ to be used as justifications for restrictions on our freedom. And she has been proved correct.”

How Buffy the Vampire Slayer Transformed TV as We Know It
Todd VanDerWerff and Caroline Framke | Vox
“Where Buffy cut its own path was in combining all of those influences to create a model that’s still in use today, largely unchanged. Every season of the venerable monster-hunting show Supernatural, now in its 12th season, uses this model. Lost used it too, but broke its overarching story into smaller pieces and swapped primary objectives (getting off the Island, etc.) for a big villain in each season. And do we need to point out The Walking Dead’s similarity to this storytelling format? Probably not.”

Beauty and the Beast: The Dark History of a Literary Fairytale
Amanda Craig | The Guardian
“The Disney cartoon, perhaps surprisingly, is the best version yet. Disney’s Beast begins as the incarnation of the spoilt rich kid but love turns him into a brave, generous and self-sacrificing hero. He steals the show even as the feminist, bookish (and rather prim) Belle reforms and loves him.”