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What’s Killing Jessie Spano?


America loves to watch its best and brightest come undone, but it’s never really understood them. Look at Jessie Spano.

I’VE never subscribed to the notion that Jessie Spano’s (Elizabeth Berkley) breakdown in Saved By the Bell is a case of terrible acting. Prevailing wisdom suggests that the scene is a seriously misjudged attempt at portraying the vagaries of teenage depression, and history has confined it to the purgatory of parody. Through its endurance, this image has acquired a different meaning than its intended one. Jessie Spano’s caffeine pill breakdown is now evoked as a campy pastiche of 90s excess, a representation of everything we’d like to leave behind from that era. I’ve found this reaction to be callous and cold-hearted. Perhaps we’ve been unfair to her all along.

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The Unproven Body


Charting the losses of contestable sickness

ILLNESS is a state of the body that demands testing.

April 26th: Self-testing/Reality-checking

I woke up one spring morning with vertigo. I turned my head to the window and nearly got sick on my pillow. I was 33. It is common for the newly vertiginous to distrust their perception of motion because vertigo is uncanny. The world is familiar, and yet the known spaces of your life (your room, your street, your workplace) are uninhabitable, because they are moving. Thus, the first round of testing is a self-directed series of questions: Did that happen? Did the room turn with me? (Yes; yes and no). This second answer with its relative “yes and no” is the pivotal point of the vertiginous person’s relation to their life and to the world. Because the room turned for me, but not for my partner next to me, I would have to see a doctor. And because every space continued to turn for me wherever I went, I would have to change my relation to the world, as regards what I could expect from it and it from me. Could I expect rest? food? comfort? Could the world expect adherence to its metered and measured environment? Independence? Labor? Seemingly esoteric questions critical to daily exigencies: could I eat, and could I work?

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People Sorters

evan kindley socialDo you cordially recommend forgery?

AT a speech in August in Youngstown, Ohio, Donald Trump proposed “extreme vetting” along ideological lines for immigrants to the United States. “Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into our country,” the Associated Press reported Trump as saying. “Only those who we expect to flourish in our country — and to embrace a tolerant American society — should be issued visas.”

From a man who’d launched his campaign by suggesting that Mexican immigrants were rapists and had already been talking publicly about a “temporary Muslim ban” for the past nine months, this kind of xenophobia was no surprise. But an interesting detail emerged as journalists tried to determine how Trump’s off-the-cuff policy proclamations might actually be implemented. “Trump aides said the government would use questionnaires, social media, interview with family and friends or other means to vet applicants’ stances on issues including religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights,” the AP reported. “Trump did not clarify how U.S. officials would assess the veracity of responses to the questionnaires or how much manpower it would require to complete such arduous vetting.”

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Hollywood’s Drug War


Day of the Dead Rhetoric

IN recent years, Hollywood seems to have decided that the war on drugs is more complicated than “Just Say No.” The rising cartel-driven slaughter in Mexico, the heroin and prescription-drug epidemic hitting white Americans in the Rust Belt, and voter-approved marijuana legalization in multiple Western states have punctured the safe bubble in which Reagan-era bromides hid the problem. As a result, the cartoonish drug lords of films like 1983’s Scarface have been replaced. Popular TV series like Narcos, now in its second season on Netflix, and films like Sicario (2015) from Denis Villeneuve, have layered, nuanced characters sketched against a complex geopolitical background.

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Testing Beyond Control


In search of support, not surveillance

IN July, Prince Harry took an HIV test live on Facebook. For a representative from the Terrence Higgins Trust, a UK-based AIDS service organization, the Prince’s test sent a clear message: “Testing for HIV is easy, quick, and nothing to be feared.”1 The Royal test is the latest instance of a long — and successful — line of publicity efforts to reduce the stigma around HIV testing. Today, testing is a nearly unquestionable aspect of HIV care. AIDS service organizations are expected to administer tests. Pro-testing advertisements are ubiquitous. Testing is as institutionalized as condoms and Red Ribbons.

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