The Art of Politics, and Vice-Versa.

two truths and a lie by maywaver

Late night television in America is a rite of passage for our most beloved musicians, from Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show to Lil Wayne on Jay Leno. In recent years, the SNL appearances of both Kanye West and Drake, black creatives renowned for their social media savvy, have been utilized to maximize hype and album success in the post-digital age.

Late night musical performances represent everything good cross-branding promotion aims to do. It brings an artist’s core fans to an institution and brings artists wider exposure to more mainstream audiences, a way to connect with the abstracted “middle america” between NYC and L.A. This wider exposure is usually much more beneficial to the artist than the fans they bring to the institution (although those advertising checks still cha-ching at the bank), but this is offset by the cultural cachet the artist brings the institution, essentially checking a box that says “we’re still cool, with it, and keeping our fingers on America’s pulse.”

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You can’t tweet from beyond the grave


denialofdeath by ellemiza

That dude just died.
Didn’t know if you knew.

Thus read two texts I received late one Sunday night after replying to a friend’s retweet. Humans have been trying to cheat and transcend death for all of recorded history, and the Internet is the best tool we’ve ever had to help us. Ephemeral thoughts become facebook statuses and tweets, hazily intoxicated nights become snapchat stories and instagram posts. My parents always warned me that anything I put on the internet is there forever, but that prospect always seemed more enchanting than intimidating. Who doesn’t want to live forever, even if only through a digital prism?

Post-mortem, your social media transforms into a shrine dedicated to your memory. People will retweet your best tweets, regram old photos of the two of you together, and post emotional statuses on facebook. Across cultures, grief is communal in nature; death rituals’ primary function is to bring communities closer together and foster a greater sense of togetherness in the face of our own mortality, even if said rituals are nominally for the spiritual benefit of the deceased.

Social media can be a powerful tool to bring people together, and amplify the whole point of grieving. The 2015 death of A$AP Yams saw his many friends, fans, and colleagues sharing heartwarming anecdotes about the young business mogul, finding greater strength in their shared love for the deceased. The communicative aspect of social media allows us to feel less alone in our pain; misery loves company. When we share our memories of the deceased, we don’t do it for our own edification; as humans, we intuitively understand that storytelling is one of the primal ways we relate to each other. Concurrently, the instant nature of the internet pushes people to articulate their particular sadnesses faster, which can help push us past the initial shock of bereavement and into the celebratory stages of mourning. Mourning is an admission of pain and sorrow, but it is also a celebration of the deceased, a tribute to their impact on the people who knew them. Mourning is a way of finding joy in our own mortality, a way of acknowledging how people can transcend the limitations of the flesh in their impact on others and the world.

But social media corrupts the grieving process in new ways as well. With increased attention on police brutality, the Muslim community, and LGBTQIA+ people, events like the murder of Clarence Howard, the Chapel Hill shooting of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and the recent massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, highlight the increased politicization of death. The collective grief of marginalized communities is constantly under attack from racists, islamophobes, and queerphobic bigots determined to vilify the dead as a means of justifying their murders at the hands of oppressive systems maintained by the state. Social media enables opportunists to “care” about an issue for retweets and likes, a disgusting appropriation of grief that defiles the memory of the dead. The echo chamber of the internet also leads to judgment of the grieving, for grieving too much, not enough, in the wrong way, in a way different than how we think they as people should process their grief, deserve to process their grief.

This past spring, I ran into the mother of an old classmate of mine who had committed suicide in the fall. She hugged me and told me that her daughter had always had a positive word to say about me. Later, in the parking lot, I nearly broke down in tears. A perfectly analog interaction, a way of sharing grief in the real world. Offline interactions, in many ways, feel more organic to a lot of people, myself included, as compared to online ones. But that doesn’t make our online interactions any less real. Our digital tributes to our loved ones are meaningful, powerful. Instagrams and facebook statuses and tweets are flowers laid at the shrine of another’s digital presence, a way of remembering people in the way they chose to present themselves. An expression of love, an expression of beauty.

DIY (a Jaden Smith fanfic)


whatever i’m chaos by tarynmcintosh

Jaden Smith is a famous black weirdo. This is different than being a famous white weirdo, because then you’re just an eccentric celebrity (see: 97% of all Hollywood). Jaden Smith is constantly put under a microscope because he is black, because he doesn’t adhere to traditional masculinity, because he is so fully, completely himself, and not whatever anyone else wants him to be.

While I can’t relate to being black or famous, I relate intensely to Jaden Smith as a non-white weirdo. Sans white privilege, quirky is just weird, a marker of being “too white” “not ______ enough” “strange” “poser” “swag jacking” “fake fan” “if you’re ~really~ into ________ you should know *obscure unimportant fact used to obscure the fact I’m an insecure jerk*”

Jaden Smith owes us nothing, but he keeps being unapologetically, unabashedly himself, breaking down traditional structures around masculinity, celebrity, and what being a teen is all about. He might not dress up in a cape, but he might just be the hero we need.

***

“Any last words?”

Jaden would have laughed at how fucking cliché the whole scene was if it hadn’t been happening to him. Any last words? Really? He had half a mind to spout a pithy insult, but with blood trickling out of his mouth and what felt like two broken ribs, he couldn’t think of any.

He opened his mouth to speak.

***

“Bend your fucking knees.”

Jaden winced as he hit the roof, more at Willow’s admonition than the pain in his knees. It was 2 AM, meaning that what always started as a sharp pain had dulled down to an uncomfortable ache. He knew better, he’d been jumping between rooftops for almost a year now, but still; he could never remember in the moment, always letting his mind focus on a million other things; the sound of wind whipping past his ears, the pressure of the mask on his face, the plummeting sensation in his gut as gravity grasped him.

He kept running, pain shooting up his knees as the next precipice approached.

***

“What are you gonna do to stop me?”

The first night. A mob enforcer with an aluminum baseball bat and anabolically-birthed musculature that Michelangelo would have wept to behold. Jaden gripped the mace in his left hand a little tighter, contemplating what, exactly, he could do to stop him. He stepped forward and the enforcer did too, a sneer twisting his pale face in the streetlight. The enforcer swung his bat and Jaden leapt back, letting the thug’s momentum carry him off-balance, then rushing forward, swinging his mace hard into the man’s ribs. A body crushed against the plexiglass window of a storefront, fractured ribs bloodying cotton shirt as the man slumped to the ground in pain.

Jaden stomped on his face; lights out.

***

“There’s nowhere to run now little boy.”

Jaden was actually cornered. Three on one and he had his back to a solid brick wall. He gripped his mace, quickly evaluating the situation. One with a crowbar, one with a knife, and one with a gun. They were advancing slowly on him, biding their time.

Then Willow dropped off the roof above, landing on Gun with a Rice Krispy crackling of bone. Jaden reacted instinctually, diving forward for Knife’s ankles while Willow went straight for Crowbar, punching him in the throat before he even had a chance to react. Jaden saw Crowbar double over in his peripheral vision as he laid on the ground, then saw double; Knife pinned him down, punched him in the face; Willow kneed Crowbar in the nose. Jaden rolled, flipping positions with Knife before grabbing Knife’s hair and bashing their skull back against the pavement, once, twice.

“Why were they after you?”

He wondered the same.

***

“You know you look ridiculous, right?”

Jaden looked at himself in the mirror. Black Timbs, bulletproof vest over a hoodie, shin guards and kneepads over fitted sweats, a DIY Maison Margiela mask that glittered in the light. Willow was right, he did look ridiculous.

“Do you even have a superhero name?”

“We won’t need names.”

For the first time since he’d told her his plan, Willow smiled.

***

“Any last words?”

Staring down the barrel of a gun, reliving days yet to come. The officer above him was shrouded in headlights, red and blue bouncing off the alley walls.

Jaden opened his mouth to speak.

A gunshot echoed around the alley.

Jaden blinked; blood was streaming from his shoulder, pooling beneath him.

Where the officer had been, now stood Willow, illuminated as though heaven-sent, a baseball bat resting across her slim shoulders.

“Come on. We have work to do.”