The Bluestocking, vol 238
I’ve been immersed in WWII over the last few weeks, because I’m presenting Start the Week on Monday about how the Nuremberg trials created the modern world, and how that order is now under challenge from all sides (and was flawed from the start, to be fair…)
The Elephant in the Zoom (The Intercept)
This is, of course, a caricature of the left: that socialists and communists spend more time in meetings and fighting with each other than changing the world. But in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election, and then Joe Biden’s, it has become nearly all-consuming for some organizations, spreading beyond subcultures of the left and into major liberal institutions. “My last nine months, I was spending 90 to 95 percent of my time on internal strife. Whereas [before] that would have been 25-30 percent tops,” the former executive director said. He added that the same portion of his deputies’ time was similarly spent on internal reckonings.
“Most people thought that their worst critics were their competitors, and they’re finding out that their worst critics are on their own payroll,” said Loretta Ross, an author and activist who has been prominent in the movement for decades, having founded the reproductive justice collective SisterSong. “We’re dealing with a workforce that’s becoming younger, more female, more people of color, more politically woke — I hate to use that term in a way it shouldn’t be used — and less loyal in the traditional way to a job, because the whole economic rationale for keeping a job or having a job has changed.” That lack of loyalty is not the fault of employees, Ross said, but was foisted on them by a precarious economy that broke the professional-social contract. That has left workers with less patience for inequities in the workplace.
Long, in-depth piece on how the confluence of Trump’s election, the pandemic and long-simmering social tensions and polarisation in America have contributed to meltdowns at several progressive organisations.
I’m pretty sympathetic to insecure employees who deprived of social support finding the experience horrible, particularly when the water cooler was replaced by Slack. But something about 2020 does seem to have created a perfect storm, and led to impossible/tactically dumb demands made by workers of their workplaces. The lack of accountability for results, and weakness to mob demands, which is bred by the foundation funding model is also worth noting.
The Fight To Hold Pornhub Accountable (New Yorker)
MindGeek is registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg, but its main office is in Montreal. The company employs around sixteen hundred people, and the online platforms it owns, which include Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn, and Brazzers, received approximately 4.5 trillion visits each month in 2020, according to a company spokesperson—almost double Google and Facebook combined. MindGeek’s owners and investors have taken pains to obscure their identities, but once Mickelwait began investigating the company, she said, a former employee shared the names of the top executives: Feras Antoon, the chief executive officer; David Tassillo, the chief operating officer; and Corey Urman, a vice-president, who ran Pornhub.
The more agèd among Bluestockings might remember that I have been a sceptic of the user-generated-content revolution in publishing for some time. Thinking that internet comments were not an unalloyed good in 2012 was a pretty spicy opinion, and one that got you called an elitist a lot.
That tide has now turned, although on-site comments were killed as much by social media as the realisation that 99% of them were left by the same angry man called Henry. I think the tide has also turned on UGC porn sites, thanks to the work of activist Leila Mickelwait, and a shocking NYT piece by Nick Kristof which revealed that Pornhub was stuffed full of revenge porn and videos of what were presented as underage girls.
Mickelwait comes from a religious organisation, Exodus Cry. It should shame the liberal left—with the honorable exception of radfems—that her activism was so lonely, for so long. A lot of people didn’t want to seem “anti porn,” or maybe thought the subject was beneath them, even though that meant ignoring the abuse of minors.
The article also reveals that “some executives hid the fact that they worked in the porn industry, occasionally using pseudonyms,” prompting this comment from the investigative reporter Patrick Radden Keefe: “Having just published a story of my own about the use of pseudonyms & cover identities in the world of espionage — and whether that is really a ~security~ thing or maybe sometimes just an ~avoiding accountability~ thing, I found this fascinating. . .”
Internet Slang: Tom Chivers suggests “wambs” (the opposite of “nerds”) as a concept to help us understand the internet.
Brendan Miller suggests “normative dilution,” which is “why apologies have to get bigger and bigger;” the nirvana fallacy; sweet lemons—the opposite of sour grapes, also known to Marxists as false consciousness— and “Schrodinger’s douchebag”. That’s “one who makes douchebag statements, particularly sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted ones, then decides if they were ‘just joking’ or dead serious based on whether other people in the group approve or not.” You can find some of Brendan’s explainers on his YouTube channel, starting with an old favorite of mine, the Toxoplasma of Rage.
Richard M suggests “mania,” noting that the guy who started Kony 2012 ended up raving, stark naked, in public. I will say that sometimes when I see someone on a huge, ill-advised tweeting spree I wonder if they’re having (maybe a sub-clinical) manic episode.
Liz nominates “sealioning”.
Nicholas Gruen nominates “the main character,” from this excellent tweet: “Each day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” (Put the baseball bat down.)
Bluestocking recommends: Caroline Criado Perez is no longer invisible! Her new podcast for Tortoise, Visible Women, sets about uncovering and fixing the data gap she revealed in her bestselling book.
Substack founder Hamish Mackenzie on the story of a former Substack enthusiast’s prickly departure from the platform.
“At the same time, celebrities had cottoned on to the value of clapping back on social media. Responding to a random dickhead was no longer undignified or beneath them, but the quickest, easiest way to get positive press.” This Kat Rosenfeld piece on corporations attacking their Bad Fans is a good companion to my newsletter on the “orphan take.” (Unherd)
Alex Massie on the new Rushdie-esque blasphemy controversy (Substack).
“‘If only Hamlet went to Wittenberg, and came back home at Christmas—I always think that would be the ideal outcome,’ Icke said. ‘Let him calm down a bit—let him go visit his mates and do his plays. And then you can have a grownup chat with him, and maybe apologize a bit about the speediness of the marriage.’” Lovely profile of Robert Icke in the latest New Yorker, complete with a staring-into-the-middle-distance photo that must have Brian Cox worried. His Hamlet and Oresteia are currently in previews in the Park Armory, New York—Rob’s, not Brian’s—and I commend them to you if you’re there. I’m also glad to see that he has come round to my view that Othello is a more interesting play if you entertain the possibility that Desdemona did cheat on him.
“This man is the basic bitch of Good White Men, a computer-generated NPC of a Noble Ally.” This is extraordinarily mean, but also I laughed at it, and want to do a British one. It’s amazing how white men have cornered the market in loudly decrying white men. (Freddie de Boer, Substack)
Is this the end of Chinatown? Interesting reportage on the conglomerate that owns much of the area. Includes the horrifying fact that when Chinese first opened in Britain in the 1950s, they “had to resort to using watered-down Marmite as a substitute for soy sauce.” (Unherd)
“I can’t bring myself to hate Paddington and corgis but twee can be as oppressive as the formal, serious culture that preceded it. If our ancestors denied themselves the silly, child-like side of human nature, we now ourselves deny its solemn and difficult aspects. Twee is an aesthetic for an age uninterested in ethical complexity, which prefers good and bad as neatly separated as they are at Hogwarts. It fits the childish behaviour of social media’s most active users who swing between condemnatory temper tantrums and cooing over anthropomorphised animals.” James Marriott recently wondered if this is the “age of twee” in the Times. Here, Ed West agrees, adding brutally: “British Twee is the patriotism of the soft-left.”
“And now, two days on, I find myself truly en famille, sitting at Beyoncé’s dinner table on a Sunday night. I’m a little stunned at how relaxed it all is. Sure, the house is impressively minimalist, with acres of white walls, gleaming glass and beautiful art. As a scrumptious dinner of ribs, cream corn, peas, and mashed potatoes is served, I’m not sure the mood could be any cosier.” (Vogue)
See you next time!