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Time Is a Killer

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Aging, as a staged theme, provokes other forms of performance to become strained and uncertain

“She was also an actress, which made the discussions of her even more real because she could be anything. She was a good actress, she was brilliant at pretense. She was more real in suspended disbelief than most things are just standing there. Her body, the one that you touch with your hands, unfolded into other people, and she was so sunk into performance that things got funneled into moments as hard as diamonds. The moments shimmered and hung in the air, they were at her fingertips, they were her craft.” —Eve Babitz, Eve’s Hollywood

“She was a great actress, but only in real life.” —Hilton Als, White Girls

 

THERE is a 30-second scene at the end of Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 revved-up blaxploitation film Jackie Brown where Ms. Brown (Pam Grier) is practicing. She’s practicing to brassily draw her gun, a firearm named a Colt Detective Special. With the gun carefully placed in an open desk drawer, easily reachable, Ms. Brown purses her lips three times, sometimes smiling, always grabbing the gun and pointing, punctuated by a sigh. In each sequence, part of a triptych, her left forearm is posed gracefully on the desk, in secretary-like fashion. She is bracing herself for what’s to come; she is staring beyond the camera. The eponymous heroine is a flight attendant for a crappy Mexican airline and, in conjunction with her lack of professional success, is often described as a “middle-aged woman,” struggling to get what’s hers.

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Death by Immortality

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Cancer is a tainted bonus

Immortality:Debility

“If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Emperor of All Maladies

“(mutations in cancer genes accumulate with aging; cancer is thus intrinsically related to age)”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Emperor of All Maladies

IN 2015, my mother turned 70. A good Christian woman, she proclaimed that she had achieved her threescoreandten promise. Anything after that was a “bonus.” The joke about the “bonus” has been going on since she turned 65, a joke-not-joke rooted, in part, in her family history: a father who died at 73, a mother who died (of cancer) at 71, a husband who, carelessly, forgot to line up for the bonus and died at 51. Less than six months after turning 70, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer is also a bonus. Cancer cells are “immortal”: they replicate incessantly, refusing to obey signals to moderate their speed or to die. They are, in fact, death-defying cells that kill. Immortality cannot survive in our bodies. From a cancer cell’s perspective, debility, that condition most associated with aging, is for other cells, cells that do not know how to adapt, how to beat death, how to live forever. That cancer cells produce debility because they are immortal speaks to one of the central contradictions of aging: increases in life expectancy are heralded as signs of progress, even as debility inevitably accompanies such increase. The bonus is tainted. According to cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee, rates of cancer will increase as life expectancy increases, moving from one in four to, possibly, one in two. The bonus is tainted.

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Recoil Operation

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Small Arms, Long Reach: America’s Rifle Abroad

ON January 16th 2016, two California National Guardsmen pleaded guilty in a Federal court to a variety of weapons trafficking charges. They had previously worked in an Army National Guard armory not far from San Diego, and, being entrepreneurial sorts, had gone about gathering a small cache of guns to sell themselves. Some were military-issued, others were purchased in Texas (both over-the-counter, with serial numbers, and “hot,” with serial numbers defaced). The Guardsmen thought the guns were destined for south of the border; in fact, their client was an undercover ATF agent, and his purchases from the Guardsmen – three AR-15-style rifles, an AK-47, numerous high-capacity magazines, more – ultimately wound up as evidence at their trial, which was well-reported. Coverage from multiple sources all underlined one particular detail: for one of their meetings with that ATF agent, the two soldiers had arrived in full military uniform.

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Don DeLillo Did 9/11

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Surpassed by history, will the novelist put down his pen?

FOR a writer who has made a career out of understanding the increasing pace of contemporary life, DeLillo has remained steady, putting out a new novel every few years since his hyper-productive 1970s. The six years he took to write Zero K, his most recent novel, is the longest he’s taken since his 1997 masterpiece Underworld, which weighed in at 800-plus pages. It’s hard to write about the cutting edge of geopolitics, art, and ideology at that kind of interval. Zero K ends with the protagonist enraptured by the beauty of Manhattanhenge, a biannual phenomenon when the setting sun aligns with the New York City grid. At some point in the past 50 years, this might have been in a cool factoid for those not in the know and a nice moment of recognition for New Yorkers. But in the age of social media, it feels like an aunt posting a viral BoredPanda video on Facebook two years too late.

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The Bengali Click Farmer

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Factory-farmed likes rely on a global hierarchy that determines whose feelings count as real

WHAT’S the value of the Facebook like? Midway through American director Garrett Bradley’s nine-minute documentary, Like (2016), a scraggly, worn-faced Bangladeshi man asks this question — one that’s typically uttered by academics or social media strategists. Released at the end of March by Field of Vision, First Look Media’s documentary arm, Like concerns the cottage industry of click farms in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Flush with cash, this pay-per-like market employs a $200-million-a-year silent workforce, where a customer can pay $50 for at least a thousand likes per post. Its workers, like the man asking the question, receive a meager monthly stipend in exchange for the labor, the emotionally deadening task of manually clicking Facebook’s like button over and over again for hours.

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