Readers discuss representation in Hollywood and other realms of entertainment from the perspective of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and political bent. Share your own thoughts via email@example.com.
In December, I wrote an Atlantic story about how the Internet led to the decline of female film critics at prominent media outlets. The piece noted a sad irony about women and film media in 2016: At a moment when checking up on the role of women in front of and behind the camera is a popular topic with news organizations and amongst film reviewers, women write just 18 percent of top reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and constitute less than a quarter of membership in the four top national critics’ associations. I called for news and media outlets to make a deliberate effort to hire women writers and editors, because the stakes are high: As one study showed, critics tend to write about films helmed by members of their own sex, and reviews have been shown to influence audience attendance and box-office totals. Even in the Internet age, critics matter.
At the time of my writing, I argued there was reason to hope. That BuzzFeed, Time, and The Village Voice had just hired women for prominent film-critic positions in the past two years seemed, to me, a solid reason to be optimistic that media organizations had made hiring women a top priority. But yesterday, the film blog Women and Hollywood put a damper on my assertion that prominent publications have “doubled down on their commitment to women writers.”
In a story called “The Dudeocracy of Film Writers,” the blog’s editors note “a bothersome trend” over the past month—many prominent film-critic jobs have recently gone to men. The new chief film critic at Variety and the Los Angeles Times, senior film critic and film reporter at Indiewire, the film staff writer at Rolling Stone, and editorial director and editor at Film Comment are all men. The editors at Women and Hollywood write they have received plaintive messages from women film writers who are “flabbergasted,” frustrated, and themselves struggling to land staff positions.
It’s important to take the Women and Hollywood story with a grain of salt. The editors did not reach out for comment from hiring editors, who may have told them they initially contacted women to fill those positions. Editors may have added that some hiring decisions have occurred in tandem with internal promotions of women (Kate Erbland, for instance, became film editor at Indiewire) or emphasized that at least one of those hired men—Justin Chang, now the chief film critic at the Los Angeles Times—fills other, gaping diversity holes in film criticism (in his case, Asian-American critics). And as one writer pointed out to me on Twitter, the article didn’t note two other major, recent hires: While the Village Voice has a new male film critic, MTV News recently brought a woman on to be its lead film critic.
But the Women and Hollywood story nevertheless provides a crucial check-in on the ongoing, disappointing conversation. I’m grateful to the blog for ending its own addition to this depressing dialogue on a high note—with a list of women critics to read. You can find those writers (follow them!) here.
Opening with the egregious example of Jared Leto playing The Joker in Suicide Squad, Angelica Jade Bastién takes aim at the ostentatious way Hollywood is using method acting in recent years. She observes:
[M]ethod acting of this sort couldn’t exist without the culture of permissiveness and indulgence Hollywood has fostered over the years. For the last few decades, particularly after Robert De Niro’s infamous body transformation for 1980’s Raging Bull, which netted him an Oscar, method acting has become a critical factor in the campaigns of actors seeking trophies. Actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio have spoken about how they lose themselves in roles—gaining weight, whittling themselves down, never breaking character, taking on accents and hobbies that affect their personal life.
I love this observation from a reader:
The hilarious thing is that the more actors talk about their Method acting, the more attention it calls to their acting in the movie, thus breaking the suspension of disbelief. Of course, this assumes that their goal is actually to heighten their art, as opposed to win trophies or gain popularity.
I had a similar feeling about Leto’s overrated and not believable method performance as a trans woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club:
Another reader looks to a difference performance from a long-time method actor:
There’s a great story I heard once that happened on the set of Marathon Man. Upon being asked by Lawrence Olivier how a previous scene had gone, one in which Dustin Hoffman’s character had supposedly stayed up for three days, Hoffman claimed that he too had not slept for 72 hours to achieve emotional verisimilitude. “My dear boy,” replied Olivier, “why don’t you just try acting?”
It didn’t quite go down that way. Here’s a clip of Hoffman’s response to that apocryphal anecdote:
Another reader takes the opportunity to snipe at Hoffman:
Putting aside acting methods, Hoffman is one of the worst actors. It’s a blessing that he rarely works. He is constantly drawing attention to himself, letting you know how hard he is acting. There is no sincerity in Hoffman’s acting; it’s all a front. (Meryl Streep suffers from the same self-absorption; one is always extremely aware that one is watching Meryl Streep act, not a character on the screen.) The English conservatory approach has trained many more exceptional actors than the self-indulgent method, in my opinion.
Another reader quips about Hoffman, “But he did give his all to portray a tomato in Tootsie; he Became that tomato.” This next reader goes into great depth over the English conservatory approach (and I’ve embedded clips throughout):
British actors of Olivier’s generation certainly didn’t use The Method, and it’s true that recorded performances by John Gielgud, Olivier et al appear “hammy” and unnatural, even by theatrical standards.
But as Ian McKellen has remarked: What modern audiences think of Olivier’s acting now is irrelevant. The important thing is that the audiences who saw him live cried when he died, laughed when he did something amusing, and empathised with his characters; they believed him. And that is the actor’s goal.
Of course what audiences want from theatre and film changes over the years and, as a consequence, so do tastes in acting styles. Hence why Olivier’s performances are now unpalatable, even laughable, to many.
Contemporary British actors now receive a comprehensive training (usually over a full-time, three-year study period) in a variety of approaches to acting.
The most reputed drama schools will train their students in Strasberg’s Method, Sanford Meisner’s techniques, Stella Adler’s techniques, Stanislavski’s System (with the most weight being given to Stanislavski, as his system is the most complete, and the root of the works of the other practitioners), with additional training in the work of Le Coq, Michael Chekhov, and Uta Hagen (to name a few).
These approaches to acting are complemented with classes in movement, dance, body conditioning, voice, singing, clowning, and improvisation. British drama schools offer the most comprehensive and in-depth actor training in the Western hemisphere and remain the most in-demand from international students who are serious about pursuing a career in acting.
The problem with restricting yourself to Strasberg’s Method alone is that it’s incomplete. Strasberg’s aim in developing The Method was to take the work of Stanislavski and to adapt it for contemporary performers. The trouble was Strasberg had only ever read Stanislavski’s first book, An Actor Prepares, which details such staples of Strasberg’s Method as emotional memory.
Not long after publishing that book, Stanislavski witnessed first hand the physical, emotional, and mental toll that his system took on a young Michael Chekhov (who would later go on to become a significant theatre practitioner in his own right). This experience led Stanislavski to develop his work to be more holistic, and complete, with a great emphasis on what he called the psychophysical.
He wrote two subsequent books on acting in which he did not precisely disown his earlier writings, but refined them within the context of his new ideas. Strasberg does not appear to have had access to these later writings (at least when he was developing his Method). Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler are two American practitioners who felt that Stanislavski’s later writings were of equal importance, and worked them into their own working practices and teachings, which are far more complete than Strasberg's.
Couple of little corrections to the article …
Daniel Day Lewis has expressed discomfort at being labelled a Method Actor. He’s gained a reputation for being “the actor who stays in character all the time on set,” but as he has said, he only does this as he feels it’s a better use of his time than sitting around having a drink and a chat with the other actors. If he stays in character between takes and scenes he might discover something new about the character that he hadn’t thought of before and that he could bring into the next take or scene.
Here’s a brilliant scene in There Will Be Blood of that actor playing a character who’s acting:
Back to our reader:
Other stories about Daniel Day Lewis’s immersion in the parts he plays tend to be exaggerated, and the truth behind them seems more to do with his personality than any strict adherence to The Method. He’s a naturally curious man, so his research often becomes in-depth (he learnt how to build a canoe for The Last of the Mohicans, for example). But it’s not restricted to his work as an actor; he learnt how to make shoes just because it intrigued him.
Marlon Brando has also always rejected the (what he saw as) accusation that he was a Method Actor. In fact he seemed to take quite a dim view of Strasberg and his work, describing him as “an ambitious, selfish man who exploited the people who attended the Actors Studio and tried to project himself as an acting oracle and guru. Some people worshipped him, but I never knew why.” Brando credits Stella Adler and Elia Kazan as being the people who taught him to act.
Here’s a compelling clip of Brando blurring the lines between professional acting and everyday acting by ordinary people:
On that note, here’s another passage from Angelica Jade Bastién—and an especially adept one in an overall compelling piece—touching on the macho insecurity that compels many actors to go method:
Brando never went to the extremes of those who came after him, but his career and outlook provide the template for those who see themselves as his successors. Beyond his obsessive dedication to the form, Brando was self-deprecating about his choice of career. He saw acting as inferior to the kind of work a “real” man would do.
By going method, a performer can signal that he works for his art; he can make his labor visible. This attitude has lived on today, and comes through in how [Christian] Bale once framed his career for Esquire: “I have a very sissy job, where I go to work and get my hair done, and people do my makeup, and I go and say lines and people spoil me rotten. This is just not something to be quite as proud of as many people would have you believe.”
Bastién goes on to press the case that double standards over method acting are “sidelining the transformative work of actresses.” Do you have any favorite method performances by women, or thoughts about the topic more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll post: firstname.lastname@example.org. For my part, here’s Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream—an Oscar-nominated performance that outshines all her costars, especially Jared Leto:
Angelica Jade Bastién’s popular essay about how Hollywood has ruined method acting culminates in a theory that “the gendered nature of modern method acting has had the unfortunate consequence of sidelining the transformative work of actresses who found authenticity without billing themselves as somehow ‘above’ their art form.” A reader, Kelly, isn’t persuaded:
I’m all for gender equality, but this seems like a stretch. At the very least, it certainly doesn’t get to the root of the problem. (Hint: It has nothing to do with method acting.) If Leo [DiCaprio] wants to eat a bison heart because he thinks it’s going to improve his performance, by all means. I don’t think that necessarily makes this the new standard for acting, as referenced by Jared Leto taking a similar approach and failing.
Another reader disagrees with Kelly and reiterates several points made in the piece:
Yes, but the exaltation of this particular brand of method acting that has so closely been associated with showy, masculine feats of endurance is a part of stigmas around gender differences. Men can engage in this brand of method acting and often be praised whereas women largely cannot, and when they are praised it’s because of the bravery in not being beautiful.
In this way, what we consider to be great acting has benefited one gender disproportionately, and more specifically it helps obscure brilliant performances by actresses (and actors) who either don’t practice this brand of method acting or simply engage in another method.
I get what you’re saying, but again, I don’t think it gets down to the root of the problem. It’s societal stigma (what’s acceptable for men vs. women) and doesn’t have much to do with method acting specifically. Not to mention, I don’t think many would classify the Joker or what Leto did to get into character [gifting the cast a dead pig, a live rat, used condoms] as “masculine.” The Joker is not a masculine character and neither are his actions. The point is he’s supposed to be crazy and maniacal, not muscular, valiant, strapping, or brave. Quite the opposite actually.
I agree that method acting antics are disproportionately accepted more with male actors than with female actors, but if the end product is the same, is it really a problem?
I guess the best example I can use is the one bright spot of Suicide Squad: Margot Robbie. She’s thus far gained critical acclaim in the role of Harley Quinn.
No, Robbie didn’t use method acting, but she gave a performance that was just as, if not more, eccentric than Leto’s, and people seem to appreciate it despite the fact that she’s not portraying a stereotypical cutesy female character (though she is in a somewhat skimpy outfit).
Bottom line: Gender biases certainly exist in Hollywood, but it’s much farther reaching than the ways in which actors choose to prepare for a role.
The following clip illustrates very well the narcissistic, look-at-me showboating of method actors like Jared Leto, who interrupts Robbie when she’s telling a story of how the movie’s director cut off parts of her hair:
(Side note regarding Kelly’s point about Robbie’s “somewhat skimpy outfit”: In the above clip, a publicity shot of Leto in character is also very skimpy, and it elicits a lot of hollers from women in the audience. Both genders are sexified these days when it comes to superheroes and villains.)
Another reader, Christopher, joins Kelly in skepticism:
The main thesis of the essay is how women and men cannot engage in the same sort of preparation because of gendered expectations, and the male avenue is more highly regarded and so it forms a sort of oppressive force against actresses. It’s an interesting point, because it is very closely connected to the Hollywood appropriation of the life of the actor/actress in the marketing material.
I’m not sure if the thesis as argued holds very well, though. I say this not because I think the central point is incorrect, but because I think “extreme method acting” makes people scoff as much as it makes people interested in seeing it.
For example, if no one knew what Leo did for The Revenant, I don’t think fewer people would have seen it, but even if they did, I think it’s fair to mention how so much of the criticism against that movie and his performance was specifically about how he prepared. (But I guess Hollywood doesn’t necessarily care what people are saying about a movie just as long as they’re talking about it.)
Christopher’s point about scoffing is a strong one, especially in the case of DiCaprio. The conventional wisdom during this past Oscar season was that DiCaprio—with five Oscar nominations but no wins before The Revenant—was so desperate to finally get a gold statue that he sought the role of an emotionally brutalized and physically tortured frontiersman (punctuated by a graphic mauling from a momma grizzly) and then prepared for the role by battling hypothermia, eating raw liver as a vegetarian, and sleeping in animal carcasses. It smelled desperate. And that desperation was widely mocked in memes:
Personally I thought Tom Hardy’s performance in The Revenant was much better than DiCaprio’s, and I suspect the latter was given an Oscar because he had come so close so many times. I genuinely laughed out loud at the film’s final shot, when DiCaprio breaks the fourth wall with a direct-to-camera gaze—as if to say, “Pleeeeease can I have an Oscar now … ” Imagine this scene with a gold statue standing in for the woman:
Back to Christopher, who wonders:
Is it true that an actress would not be praised for engaging in the same faux-method acting as her male counterparts?
I understand why it would be assumed to be the case, as the article points out, but I am legitimately unsure if a movie comes out and touts, say, Jennifer Lawrence, as being so committed to her role that she lived in the woods by herself for three months with nothing but a compass and a blanket to prepare for her character, that there would be a negative reaction. I mean, Charlize Theron did win an Oscar for Monster, and it’s fairly offensive to say it’s just because she chose not to be pretty.
Speaking of method performances from actresses who won critical and popular praise, I asked readers in a previous note for more examples, and many of them delivered.
One reader points to Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance in Million Dollar Baby. Swank is one of the most famous method actors of the past 20 years, and here’s how she prepared—and suffered—for that role:
[G]oing method was the only way for her to truly get to grips with her character. So “acting like a boxer” becomes “actually being a boxer” in this case, which—as you probably guessed—lead poor Miss Swank on the path towards death. As a result of having to “pivot” excessively whilst training for the movie’s now famous boxing scenes, Swank picked up … a Staph infection, which—left untreated—is usually fatal. “I got a blister, the size of my palm, on my right foot, and it was really swollen, and I couldn’t train and walk on it,” she said in an interview afterwards. “So I popped it myself, and it got infected.” What’s more, Swank didn’t bother to tell director Clint Eastwood about her injury as she didn’t want to slow down production ...
Swank’s early experience in method acting would pay dividends when she was cast in Kimberly Peirce’s devastating drama about Brandon Teena, a real-life transgendered man who was brutally raped and murdered in a Nebraska hate crime. “I walked around trying to pass as a boy for five weeks before filming that movie,” she says. “Seeing what worked and what didn’t work, and losing a bunch of body fat so that my face would be thinner. My neighbors thought that I was my cousin Billy from Iowa.”
Another reader points to, well, The Reader—specifically Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance. Her suffering for that film was psychological:
Kate Winslet was so focused on accurately portraying her character in THE READER she struggled to return to day-to-day life after filming wrapped. The actress plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard in the post-war drama, and put all her emotions into the intense role. And Winslet … admits it took months for her to bid farewell to the character. She says, “It’s like I’ve escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened.”
The next example of method acting comes from a reader who points to Anne Hathaway losing 25 pounds and cutting off all her hair for an Oscar-winning performance in Les Miserables. She masterfully plays Fantine, an ill-fated impoverished mother who is forced into prostitution to provide for her young daughter. The most heartrending scene:
Another reader notes Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan. To prepare for that disturbing role of descending into madness, Portman lost 20 pounds, did a year of intensive ballet training, and performed much of her own dancing. For example:
Yet another reader points to Oscar-winner Halle Berry for being a well-known purveyor of method acting. Here’s a look at some of her roles:
When Berry first came on the scene in her first motion picture, Jungle Fever, she did not bathe for more than a week, in order to bring realness to her character.
In her 2003 film, Gothika, Berry was so dedicated to the role, that she ended up breaking her arm in one of her scenes, with Robert Downey, Jr. Needless to say the production was down for at least eight weeks, while the actress healed.
In The Call, Berry did her own stunts. To prepare for the emotional demands of her character, Berry worked with real life dispatchers, listening to their phone calls and observing their behavior, mannerisms, and protocol.
Here’s Berry in Jungle Fever:
Lastly, one more reader notes Rooney Mara’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a disturbing thriller that includes a horrifying rape scene that Mara had to endure. Here’s how she partly prepared for the role of Lisbeth, a tough and fiercely independent hacker:
[Mara] didn’t even have ear piercings. She felt that to truly inhabit the character, multiple piercings all over her body were necessary. Mara had her lip, brow, nose, nipples and ears pierced. She said, “because of all the tattoos and the makeup and the piercings, and the physical transformations my body has to go through, it would always feel sort of like I was in costume, even if I was naked.
Do you have an example to include? Have any thoughts about this discussion in general? Drop us a note: email@example.com.
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
The similarities between 2020 and 1972 are too astonishing to ignore. But there’s one big difference.
Let me begin with a confession. When I started to report out and write this article, I had a simple thesis: Bernie Sanders is not George McGovern.
The catastrophic loser of the 1972 presidential election, McGovern has become a convenient bogeyman for any moderate or conservative arguing that leftism is a fatal disease in a general election. McGovern won just one state, Massachusetts, while the incumbent, Richard Nixon, commanded 96 percent of the Electoral College vote. It was then the largest Republican landslide in U.S. history.
Surely, though, I thought, the McGovern analogy was just glibness masquerading as historical analysis. America in 1972 was a different country—before personal computers, Star Wars films, 40 years of rising income and wealth inequality, and the electoral gender gap.
How much do members of “Generation Alpha,” or any generation, really have in common?
The cutoff for being born into Generation X was about 1980, the cutoff for Generation Y (a.k.a. the Millennials) was about 1996, and the cutoff for Generation Z was about 2010. What should the next batch of babies be called—what comes after Z?
Alpha, apparently. That’s the (Greek) letter that the unofficial namers of generations—marketers, researchers, cultural commentators, and the like—have affixed to Gen Z’s successors, the oldest of whom are on the cusp of turning 10. The Generation Alpha label, if it lasts, follows the roughly 15-year cycle of generational delineations. Those delineations keep coming, even as, because of a variety of demographic factors, they seem to be getting less and less meaningful as a way of segmenting the population; in recent decades, there hasn’t been a clear-cut demographic development, like the postwar baby boom, to define a generation around, so the dividing lines are pretty arbitrary. How much do members of this new generation, or any generation, really have in common?
It’s shocking how many of the tropes of middle age have been acted out by the most visible tech titans. And now the companies they built are also showing signs of entering an existential crisis: Despite the ideals that drove their younger selves to excellence, they’ve gone corporate, sold out, and moved to the top of the power hierarchy instead of tearing it down.
How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on February 10, 2020.
One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.
The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.
The president has interpreted the Republican-controlled Senate’s vote to acquit as a writ of absolute power.
There are twokinds of Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial two weeks ago: those who acknowledged he was guilty and voted to acquit anyway, and those who pretended the president had done nothing wrong.
“It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared, but added that removing him “could have unpredictable and potentially adverse consequences for public confidence in our electoral process.”
But Collins, like her Republican colleagues Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was an outlier in admitting the president’s conduct was wrong. Most others in the caucus, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, deliberately missed the point, insisting that Democrats wanted the president removed for “pausing aid to Ukraine for a few weeks.”
The former chief of staff explained, in the clearest terms yet, his misgivings about Trump’s behavior regarding North Korea, immigration, and Ukraine.
MORRISTOWN, N.J.—Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the former National Security Council aide and impeachment witness President Donald Trump fired Friday, was just doing his job, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told students and guests at a Drew University event here Wednesday night.
Over a 75-minute speech and Q&A session, Kelly laid out, in the clearest terms yet, his misgivings about Trump’s words and actions regarding North Korea, illegal immigration, military discipline, Ukraine, and the news media.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, said that Vindman is blameless and was simply following the training he’d received as a soldier; migrants are “overwhelmingly good people” and “not all rapists”; and Trump’s decision to condition military aid to Ukraine on an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden upended long-standing U.S. policy.
Where socialism imagines greater concentrations of power, her vision ultimately points in the direction of a more decentralized, more competitive economy.
Despite all the newspaper endorsements, Senator Elizabeth Warren is an underappreciated politician—and the candidate herself is among the ranks of those who have sold her short. She is a deep and original political thinker. Over her time in academia and in the Senate, she has evolved a distinctive critique of American capitalism as presently practiced, and a lyrical vision of what might replace it. Based on her presidential campaign, however, you wouldn’t really know it.
While Warren has clashed with some of the candidates to her right—she chastised former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for his foray into a wine cave and accused former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg of oligarchic tendencies—she has declined to truly delineate herself from Senator Bernie Sanders. The sharpest distinction Warren has drawn with her ally from Vermont is her gender. In a more accurate rendering of the pair, that is only the beginning of their differences.
If there’s anything corporate America has a knack for, it’s inventing new, positive words that polish up old, negative ones. Silicon Valley has recast the chaotic-sounding “break things” and “disruption” as good things. An anxious cash grab is now a “monetization strategy,” and if you mess up and need to start over, just call it a “pivot” and press on. It’s the Uber for BS, you might say.
Cloying marketing-speak, of course, isn’t limited to the tech world. As a health reporter, much of my work involves wending my way through turgid academic studies, which are full of awkward turns of phrase such as salience and overweight (used as a noun, as in “the prevalence of overweight”). Even more tedious is reading some of the reports put out by nonprofit organizations, which always seem to want to arm “stakeholders” with tools for their “tool boxes.” I wish journalists were immune, given that we fancy ourselves to be plainspoken, but sadly common in our world is talk of “deep dives” and “impactful long form.” (Use of the word impactful is strongly discouraged by The Atlantic’s copy desk. As is the use of many other words.)
Americans don’t need Russia’s polarizing influence operations. They are plenty good enough at dividing themselves.
Updated at 6:06 p.m. ET on Friday, February 21.
“Please move.” The white woman doesn’t raise her voice; she’s got her shirt on inside out and she’s aiming a cellphone at the taco-truck vendors parked on her street. She wants them gone, and they’re telling her to go back inside. “Okay, baby girl,” she says. “Vamonos. I’ll call ICE.” “Stupida bitcha,” comes a reply.
A video of the confrontation, filmed outside a house in Dallas last spring, soon went viral, with the title “racist woman talking about shes gonna call ICE ON US FOR SELLING FOOD IN DALLAS WHEN WE HAVE PERMIT.” Within weeks, it had more than 170,000 views.
This is the new face of Russian propaganda. In 2016, the Kremlin invested heavily in creating memes and Facebook ads designed to stoke Americans’ distrust of the electoral system and one another. Now, after nearly four years under a president whose divisive rhetoric and policies have inflamed voter anger on issues such as race, inequality, and his own conduct, the Russian government is still interfering, but it doesn’t need to do much creative work anymore. The taco-truck video wasn’t fabricated in some St. Petersburg workshop. It was a real video of a real incident, made in America—and all Russia had to do was help it spread with its Twitter trolls.