The Problem with Travel Writing, the Creator of ‘UnREAL’, and More: Today’s Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. Today, we have a queer history of gentrification and policing in NYC, a long overdue Democratic filibuster for gun control, a profile on UnREAL creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, and a conversation about how to decolonize travel writing.

No shocker here, but this country has a history of policing queer people of color, long before the Pulse tragedy. New York in particular has a part in this history, which of course overlaps with Bill Bratton’s famous “Broken Windows” policy days. Know your history! (While you’re at it, read this somewhat old but still great oral history of Queer Latinx immigrants in San Francisco.) Via VersoBooks:

In 1993, William J. Bratton was appointed New York City’s police commissioner for the first time. Empowered by a decade of broken windows policing in New York’s transit system (including under his own leadership), Bratton quickly crafted a city-wide police strategy of “zero tolerance” for “quality of life” infractions, escalating the enforcement and punishment of misdemeanor crimes, particularly in public spaces. Bratton’s approach was first tested in Greenwich Village, home to the famed Stonewall riots and one of the world’s best-known gay enclaves. Among its key targets were nonresident LGBT people of color who enjoyed the neighborhood’s abundance of LGBT-oriented services and reputation as a safe haven for LGBT people. As the strategy expanded across the city, it was governed by the logic of its different spatial contexts: taking aim at homeless people and workers in the informal economy in tourist zones (such as Times Square); at unregulated street life in newly gentrified areas; and, in the form of “stop and frisk,” at Black and Latino men, especially in parts of the city devalued long enough to become new hot spots for speculative investment.

And stay mad, y’all: Democrats are currently filibustering to push measures on gun control, like they should’ve done a million years ago. NBC is livestreaming the process, and senators are saying things that actually make sense. I never thought I’d be comparing Congress to Officer Healy from Orange Is The New Black, but things honestly feel a lot like this right now.

Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, said on Twitter that he was prepared to “talk about the need to prevent gun violence for as long as I can.” “For those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything, anything at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn’t just painful to us, it’s unconscionable,” Murphy said, referencing the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. “I can’t tell you how hard it is to look into the eyes of the family of those little boys and girls who were killed in Sandy Hook and tell them that almost four years later, we have done nothing, nothing at all to reduce the likelihood that that will happen again to another family.”

Are you obsessed with UnREAL yet? It’s the Bachelor/ette-skewering drama series from, of all oddities, Lifetime, but it’s so good, and Constance Zimmerman is such a boss. Turns out so is the show’s creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, if she’s like her profile in The New Yorker . At one point she used to protest The Bachelor‘s fetishization of beauty by wearing a “George Bush, Out of My Uterus” T-shirt.

Shapiro wants to build on her success by aiming the series more directly at the kind of viewer who admires such challenging shows as “Girls” and “Transparent.” The studio has a more conventional ambition: Season 1 averaged 3.7 million viewers an episode—paltry numbers. Lifetime is determined to transform “UnReal” into a ratings hit. “We’re seeing Season 1 as almost the pilot,” Nancy Dubuc, the C.E.O. of A+E Networks, which owns Lifetime, told me. Shapiro believes that she can accomplish both goals, and has transferred this desire to her alter ego. In the writers’ room, she described Rachel’s motivation in Season 2: “It’s really about ‘I’m savvy enough and smart enough that I know I have to give the network all the frosting and the froufrou and all the titties that they need, and in the process I’m going to slip them this super-important thing.’ ”

This is for anyone who loves travel or travel writing: check your neocolonialism and read this great interview in Everywhere All The Time. Though the blog, run by travel writer, zine-maker, and photographer Bani Amor, already has a general focus on decolonizing travel writing, this conversation with nonprofit worker India Harris is especially insightful on the topic. They explore why leisure travelers, because of their privilege, take on dated, exoticizing terms like “authentic” or “tribal” to mean something positive.

First and foremost authenticity is a social construct. In order for something to be ‘authentic’ it is inherently setting up a standard in which something else will be measured against it. Often, the standard for authenticity for Western travelers is that a place should be the complete opposite of the country that they are from, that it should look something from those outdated primary school textbooks…Yet there is no acknowledgment that in order to remain ‘authentic’ through colonialism the Maasai people and Indigenous people in Chiapas continually face insurmountable violence from the European countries that colonized them.