George H.W. Bush, the man who brought us one of the most vile, racist campaign ads in modern history, died on World’s AIDS Day, which is rich.
I hate the rush to deify complicated men online the moment they die. Twitter becomes a lending library of micro hagiographies—nothing but media personalities with months of pent-up civility nostalgia jizzing all over their keyboards in the rush to call an old white man “decent.”
I had a friend on Twitter who I really respect say that we should let people be dead for a minute before we scrutinize their legacy. I get what she’s saying, and in some cases would agree, but I could not feel more strongly that that argument does not apply to departed presidents, i.e. men who elected to serve out of some busted sense of noblesse oblige and thus put their legacies up for scrutiny.
Garance Franke-Ruta put it beautifully in The Cut: “To speak now, as several have, about the Bush administration’s lack of response to the AIDS crisis is not about dishonoring the man’s death, but about honoring the deaths of others who were equally beloved to their communities, but far from equal in power, then or now.”
All presidents have their shit. All wreak havoc on the country and the world in their own special way. Bush senior’s term was devastating in so many areas, but there is something uniquely evil to me about the way he dragged his feet during a plague because he didn’t believe in the “lifestyle choices” of the sick. Thousands and thousands of gay men died during his tenure as vice president and president because he refused to see them as fully human.
TL;DR: Men who passively exterminate a whole community of people for the sake of dubious ethical and political calculations are not “decent.”
Read: The Privilege of Being Remembered Like a Dead White Man by Damon Young (Very Smart Brothas)
Follow: the AIDS Memorial on Instagram, which posts heartbreaking tributes to victims of AIDS written by their surviving friends and family.
My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy by Andrea Long Chu (NY Times)
This is an important and probably new-to-many take on medical transition and the disservice we do to trans people when we conflate gender confirmation procedures with pain alleviation. Surgery and hormones can (of course) serve to make trans people feel better, eased of physical and emotional pain, but that is not the point, Chu argues. Or rather, it is not the role of the medical community to operate from a place of what will make this person happier, but instead a question of what does this person want—which transfers authority over the decision from doctor to patient.
In short, the longer we think of medical transition in terms of clinical need, the more we are subjugating trans identity to the moral and political opinions of an establishment that has been historically, glacially slow to recognize their humanity.
Even shorter: It’s not about what’s better. It’s about what’s real.
Toward a More Radical Selfie by India Ennenga (Paris Review)
Maybe selfies are what happen when a society sends a missive without a recipient.
Ok full disclosure I was high when I read this, so it’s hard to remember precisely what my take was, but I remember thinking it was very profound.
How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime by Julie K. Brown (Miami Herald)
This piece about billionaire sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein and the network of horrible men (and women!) who conspired to ensure his victims never saw true justice will knock the air right out of you. It’s also turned me into a full-on conspiracy theorist who believes this ring of child sex abuse goes so, so much farther than we could ever imagine.
The Korean Beauty Protest Taking Over Instagram by Kayleen Schaefer (The Cut)
This is a really interesting look at the backlash against the now-famous 10-step Korean beauty routine (and all the unattainable standards, expectations, and costs that go with it) from within the Korean beauty community. I thought this video on the subject was especially powerful.
Michelle Obama Is Done With the Gospel of ‘Lean In’ by Opheli Garcia Lawler (Vulture)
On “leaning in,” beloved axiom of nice C-suite white ladies, America’s Queen has spoken:
“That shit doesn’t work all the time.”
This past week I started A Legacy by Sybille Bedford, which I snagged a first US edition of at the Iliad not too long ago. It’s been on my radar ever since I read this Dorothy Parker profile in the New York Review of Books and learned that she reviewed it adoringly for Esquire in 1957. “Almost terrifyingly brilliant,” she called it, which sounded to me like when Michael Scott said he wanted his employees to fear how much they loved him. Maybe that’s why I bought it? Awe so grand it inspires alarm usually gets my attention.
Anyways. A Legacy is about German/Prussian society before WWI and a marriage between a Jewish girl from a well-heeled family in Berlin and a Catholic boy from Baden-Baden (a spa town where I planning on spending my 30thbirthday next year taking to the baths—but that’s another story). The beginning has this epic unveiling of parallel family trees, similar to East of Eden, but not a ton of plot yet. I’m about 60 pages in and deeply intrigued, if not totally absorbed. Will report back with a full review.
I saw The Favourite last week and I loved it. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a while, and I recently rewatched Talladega Nights. It’s a sumptuous 18th century period dramedy with awards-caliber performances directed by Yorgos Lanthimos—but enough about Talladega Nights! Ha ha. We have fun here.
No, but seriously. The Favourite stars Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as two ferocious operators in Restoration-era England vying for the affections of (and manipulations over) an eccentric and mercurial Queen Anne, played divinely by Olivia Colman. And it’s so good! Lanthimos seamlessly wraps coils of tartness and pathos together around a tiny kernel of dubious history and creates a world I want to live in forever. The period details, the palace intrigue, the well-paced ribaldry—honestly, even the gout! I love it all. A.O. Scott in the New York Times called the movie a “farce with teeth” and a “kinky, baroque variation on the themes of All About Eve,” which I think sums it up. It’s salty and frisky and a little gross, like play-nibbling on someone you love. I’m going to see it 10 more times.
(Unrelated: do I need to watch Outlander?)