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A Country Disappeared

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As Mexicans reach a breaking point in their tolerance for the drug war, the Mexican government reaps the legacy of presidencies lost to guns and drugs. 

A few months ago, 22 people were allegedly executed by Mexican soldiers in Tlatlaya, a small community southwest of Mexico City. They were told to kneel facing the wall, and then a bullet was sent through each of their skulls.

The news and shock came a few months later, when the Associated Press published an interview with a witness. There were women and children among those who had died.

Before that, the official explanation prevailed: a skirmish between the Army and criminals, in which a few soldiers were injured while the “bad guys” got what they deserved. Sometimes it feels that the only time Mexicans react anymore is when the day-to-day atrocities that go on in our country make it to the news elsewhere around the world. If someone outside Mexico hadn’t noticed, perhaps we wouldn’t be angry. Perhaps just wary.

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In Praise of Fake Reviews

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Yelp’s self-interest, rather than any objective set of criteria, is what determines a “real” review.

In August, Botto Bistro of Richmond, California—a no-nonsense restaurant with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude and a loyal clientele—set out to become the worst-reviewed restaurant on Yelp, offering a 25 percent discount to customers who would give it a one-star rating. The owners claimed that Yelp had been relentlessly pestering them to buy advertising on the site; they decided enough was enough, and retaliated to show just how little they needed Yelp.

Botto Bistro is not alone in its dislike of Yelp’s sales tactics, which some businesses see as a kind of protection racket. Just as Google’s search-results pages hold both paid-for advertising listings and “organic” listings generated by user searches, so Yelp displays both advertising and “real reviews by real people.” Some believe that Yelp manipulates these “real reviews” to show positive ones more prominently for establishments that advertise with them and to highlight negative reviews for those that don’t. You can find thousands of such complaints: in the Los Angeles Times; on a Reddit Ask Me Anything session with Yelp’s CEO; even at Yelp’s Yelp page. Yelp contends that the ads and user reviews are kept separate, but the potential for conflict of interest in its control of how both are displayed is obvious.

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How to Build a Dick

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At the level of identity, genitals are made neither in the womb, nor in surgery, but in the mind.

Thinking critically about ­genitals—how they look, what they are, what they mean—feels like repeating a familiar word so many times that it starts to sound weird and implausible. The physical properties of genitals feel certain, but the material of this certainty is often hazy guesswork, drawn less from experience than from the imaginative processes that give our ideas of things substance in the mind.

As we grow up, many of us build our idea of genitals from a patchwork of clumsy childhood discoveries, chaste textbook renderings, and the aesthetic valorized in mainstream porn. This early understanding of what genitals should look like can even survive encounters with bodies that don’t correspond to it. Reality apparently doesn’t always have sufficient power to undermine our fixed and abstract mental images. It’s as if the idea of genitals is more real than their physical form, or the latter is real only insofar as it confirms the former.

This is partly because commonplace concepts of gender treat biological sex as determinative in a violent logic: Genitals means sex means gender. Essentialist accounts of gender appeal to medical science to reiterate a mind/body or gender/sex binary, without considering how scientific truth claims are shaped by the paradigm from which they have emerged. These accounts are often at odds with some of the physical realities they describe, such as the prevalence of sex chromosomes beyond XX/XY, or external genitalia that don’t resemble traditional archetypes of penis-testicles and vulva-clitoris-vagina.

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Commuter Riots

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The Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium is in a suburban sports complex that is perfectly modernist, which is to say, perfectly designed to quash riots.

On game day, the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex could be described as the innermost suburb clinging to the outermost periphery of Kansas City, Missouri. Containing Kauffman Stadium and its neighbor, Arrowhead Stadium, the Complex exists in an eastern industrial buffer zone between the Kansas City metro and the suburb of Independence. But Kansas City sports used to have a decidedly less suburban home. From 1955 to 1971, Municipal Stadium, warmly situated in the birthplace of jazz, shoehorned fans of the Athletics (who decamped for Oakland in 1967), the Chiefs and the Royals into its wooden grandstands until Arrowhead and The K were christened.

For much longer, Municipal Stadium had been home to the Negro American League’s winningest team, the Kansas City Monarchs. They were so popular in the 1930-50s that church congregants would leave services to attend a Monarchs game, up to the point that many of the Black community churches altered sermon times to facilitate reverence to both God and game. Spectators would walk to the stadium dressed in their Sunday bests ready to baptize themselves each week in the hot summer sun. Bright metro buses parked along the first base line outside the stadium, shuttling people to and from games.

Kansas City Municipal Stadium is an old testament to what made baseball the national pastime. The fans felt a neighborly connection to the team, and with that came a sense of communal ownership of the stadium (rather than seeing it as an outside agitator encroaching on a space where it wasn’t invited).

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Ghostbusters

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Barbara Johnson showed that while deconstruction had ignored feminism, it was nonetheless a form of feminist critique.

Twentieth century literary criticism was a boy’s game. The prominent male critics of the time (including Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and others known as the Yale School) often disagreed, but they all adored the Romantic poets (Percy Byshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake) who adored one another. As the late deconstructionist critic Barbara Johnson casually noted in the 1980s, “Like others of its type, the Yale School has always been a Male School.” Along with her fellow feminists, Johnson sought to rewrite the deconstructive process and its academic brotherhood from a different angle. (Alas, the feminist manifesto “Bride of Deconstruction,” which Johnson and others planned as a response to the Yale School’s Deconstruction and Criticism, never quite took off.)

Deconstruction was radical because it dramatized the manner by which literary texts, rather than communicate a single meaning, inevitably betray multiple and often contradictory meanings. For Derrida, the touchstone figure for deconstruction as a reading practice and philosophical system, this was a result of the basic structure of language—rhetorical figures, syntax, the etymology of words. Meaning, Derrida argued, often appears in hierarchical binaries: public/private, presence/absence, and so on. As a translator of some of Derrida’s early deconstructive work, Johnson was instrumental in ushering Derridean ideas into the center of American intellectual life. She was also key in pointing out that the organization of many literature departments in the 1970s testified to a major problem with the theory: Namely, that this otherwise revolutionary mode of close-reading seemed to ignore one of the most fundamental binaries of all, that of gender.

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