Hilton Als on James Baldwin, George Saunders on Anton Chekhov, Scott Pruitt on Being Awful: Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing excellent content, but also keeping an eye on other great writing from around the web. This may be a predominantly arts/culture-centric website, but given the immediate gravity of U.S. politics, we’ve been focusing this outward-looking post on indispensable political writing, as well the occasional cultural piece. This week, there’re a couple of pieces on our newly appointed head of the EPA — who is, as the Atlantic points out, also the “legal nemesis” of the EPA; a nuanced look into the culture surrounding revelations of PewDiePie’s virtual anti-Semitism; Hilton Als on James Baldwin; and George Saunders on Chekhov.

Might as well dive right into the awful, eh? Nothing like a couple of articles on our freshly Congress-approved head of the Environmental Protection Agency — who, as is the trend in Trump’s cabinet, has been the vocal enemy of the thing he now represents, appearing to have largely been put in charge to destroy it — to help with awfulness-immersion. Here’s the Atlantic on Scott Pruitt:

Pruitt will likely be sworn in early next week. Republicans have said that he will immediately seek to dismantle two major policies from the Obama administration: the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants while incentivizing states to switch to renewable energy; and the Waters of the United States rule, which clarified the bodies of water subject to federal Clean Water Act protections.

And here’s The Intercept with more:

The Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency today over the objections of Democratic senators, hundreds of former EPA officials, and hundreds of current EPA employees. Although an Oklahoma judge had ruled on Thursday that Pruitt’s office had to release more than 2,500 emails he had exchanged with energy and gas companies and industry groups, Republicans crammed through his confirmation in a 52-46 vote (with Democrats Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp voting with the Republican majority) before anyone had a chance to review the emails exchanged with the companies he’s now in charge of regulating.

Oh, and by the way, West Virginia and North Dakota dems, be sure to remember that when/if they’re up for reelection. (Heitkamp and Manchin’s terms are both up January 3, 2019.)

For Buzzfeed, Jacob Clifton has written on the plight of YouTube celebrity PewDiePie, whose anti-semitic social media posts were brought to light by the Wall Street Journal this week, and who Disney — who produced his web series — subsequently dropped. Clifton uses PewDiePie as an example in a current trend — stretching to Milo Yiannopoulos — of the way hate calcifies in isolated, white male minds online:

Reddit “ironists,” imageboard Pepe posters, and all the other uncreative online shock jocks are born of a culture that is insulated from real life. Hitler jokes and rape jokes alike come originally from naivete, and eventually harden into belief: Witness so many stand-up comics caught with their pants down, who then get so hurt by the backlash that they double down, becoming vicious. Projecting our cultural shadow onto their Other — we, the good people, searching out and stomping out those who are secretly not good — keeps us from seeing how these communities start, grow, and feed on our dismissal. This isn’t an argument against political correctness, which is a vile concept created by conservatism, and it’s not a call to sympathy for the internet trolls of the world. But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and what you can’t see — or what you refuse to see — you can’t fix. Hiding from the ugliest parts of our own culture is putting them in a position to do the most damage.

With this week’s publication of Lincoln in the Bardo, the new (and first!) novel by Tenth of December/Civilwarland in Bad Decline writer George Saunders, the author spoke with the Atlantic for their “By Heart” column, in which authors dig into their favorite passages of writing. Saunders chose Anton Chekhov’s short story, “Gooseberries.” He says:

We’re often told not to put our passions and political feelings into a story. But I actually think it’s a good idea. Put them in there, then step away. Imagine that the idea isn’t you, that it’s just an idea that part of you expressed. Then you can use the structure and the form of the story to kind of poke at your own beliefs a little and see if you can get more light out of them. That’s exactly what happens, structurally, in “Gooseberries.”

White Girls author/New Yorker critic Hilton Als writes in depth about Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and the act of capturing James Baldwin’s physical, verbal, and political presence onscreen:

It’s Baldwin’s voice—his luminescent words describing and analyzing dark matters—that ties together Raoul Peck’s latest film, I Am Not Your Negro, which is about many things, including the writer’s relationship to racial politics and the fantastic yet undermining power of the cinema’s racially defined images. One of the chief pleasures of the movie is watching Baldwin, who died in 1987, appear on talk shows and in public forums: he had an extraordinary physical presence, of a piece with his singular mind. We watch him because he saw us, wanted to see us.

And then a return to awful: in case you missed it yesterday, Donald Trump’s most recent fetid mess of a press conference (which inevitably pleased Trump supporters) has been transcribed and annotated by NPR.