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A bonus batch of Read All About It recommendations worth your time.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Before I unplug from the news cycle for a few hours in observance of Juneteenth, I wanted to share a bonus batch of Read All About It recommendations ahead of this week’s reading list.
This special edition is filled with insightful perspectives on the holiday’s intersection with American consumerism, how the country is grappling with the debate on gender-affirming care, our overuse of the sleep hormone melatonin and the emergence of erotic cookbooks (bow-chicka-wow-wow…).
I hope you enjoy these stories and I’ll meet you here tomorrow with a new column on all the news I’ve been tracking over the weekend.
Julia Craven on why Juneteenth merch is American consumerism at its most crass:
You could argue that Juneteenth, which acknowledges the day when news of their freedom finally reached the last enslaved persons in 1865, made its most prominent mainstream appearance in 2020. Following the summer’s antiracism demonstrations, the holiday was infused with a new level of significance. Several prominent corporations — including Nike, Twitter, and Target — made Juneteenth a company holiday in an attempt to push forward antiracist policies.
Black people are indeed tormented by America today. The country’s capitalist system is no small tormentor, exerting its consequences through high poverty rates, a militarized police force, and so many other derivative structures we come into contact with on a daily basis. That truth is why Black celebrations are sacred. It’s how we commemorate our history. And it is why freedom, for us, is complicated. We’re celebrating a milestone of our ancestors even as we acknowledge a reality we don’t fully have.
That’s why it’s so galling to see corporations and businesses dig their nails into Juneteenth as if it’s a trend and not a day of reverence for freedom’s complexities.
Kaitlyn Tiffany on the death of the personal brand:
Something has shifted online: We’ve arrived at a new era of anonymity, in which it feels natural to be inscrutable and confusing—forget the burden of crafting a coherent, persistent personal brand. There just isn’t any good reason to use your real name anymore. “In the mid 2010s, ambiguity died online—not of natural causes, it was hunted and killed,” the writer and podcast host Biz Sherbert observed recently. Now young people are trying to bring it back. I find this sort of exciting, but also unnerving. What are they going to do with their newfound freedom?
Anonymity can also be ideological. Crypto culture, now known as Web3 culture, was founded on the idea that transactions can be made online without the exchange of personally identifying information. It also has a newer norm of replacing one’s human face with a cartoon. In crypto circles, mentioning a very rich and successful person’s real name can amount to “doxxing,” and even those who aren’t well known are cautious about sharing the barest personal details. At a recent party sponsored by a new Web3 platform, a guest with about 5,000 Twitter followers explained to me that people online do know what he looks like—he “shows face,” as he put it—but that he has never shared a single photo of his girlfriend. Too dangerous.
But in the end, a return to anonymity is just a return to form. Hiding your identity has always been important for getting through the horror of being a person under the age of 24 on the internet. The gradual reveal of personal information, even building up to a “face reveal,” was once a give-and-take among people who shared the same online space for a long time, fostering trust. When Instagram and TikTok arrived and made it possible to make a lot of money from your face, personality, thoughts, beliefs, and personal trauma, young people forgot how good it felt to be no one in particular, or to try on various identities. In the past few years, they have been coming back around.
Emily Bazelon on the battle over gender therapy:
Most of the young people today who come to clinics for treatment are affluent and white, live in progressive metropolitan areas and have health insurance. For them, gender-related care has become more accessible since 2016, when the Obama administration included gender identity in a rule against denying health care benefits on the basis of sex. If a provider deems the care medically necessary, it’s possible to get insurance coverage for puberty suppressants, which can be injected or implanted under the skin, and hormone treatments, which can be taken orally, injected or applied as a gel or a patch. Each can cost thousands of dollars a year.
But in other parts of the country, there is often no gender clinic and sometimes no therapist or doctor to help transgender kids — who often still face bullying and harassment — navigate the process of coming out.
Finding care can also be harder for low-income or religious families and families of color.
Sydney Gore on life after “colonizercore”:
In recent years, the masses have flocked to Instagram and TikTok to embrace the “feminine urge” of women wearing nap dresses, toting wicker baskets, making cross-stitch quilts, and baking sourdough bread, among other leisurely pleasures. With a pandemic underway, we were all reevaluating our personal relationships with nature as the “cottagecore” aesthetic led the charge.
Many of the faces of the brands at the forefront of this aesthetic looked the same: wealthy white women. (Look no further than Audrey Gelman’s new country-themed homeware store, the Six Bells.) In response, Black and Indigenous people of color criticized how this type of aesthetic blatantly romanticizes colonialism. It made me wonder: Should we refer to this trend as something I prefer to call “colonizercore”?
Now, a nuanced conversation around the way marginalized communities engage with craft, domesticity, and identity has begun.
Emma Wallenbrock on melatonin:
Because it’s sold on the shelves of CVS and at vitamin stores in the U.S., it’s easy to assume that you should just take it in whatever dosage is readily available, and even that it’s safe to give to kids as well without much thought. But even American sleep experts and physicians recommend starting with the smallest available dosage, often 0.5 mg or 1 mg, for a few days before increasing the dose if the smallest dose has had no effect. When an adult body gets too much melatonin for it to handle, the side effects are generally mild; headaches, nausea, and dizziness can occur. For children, though, the threshold for an overdose might be much lower. Though its worth noting that most of the kids in the CDC study on overdoses ended up perfectly fine, larger overdoses can lead to high or low blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular problems. They can also cause vomiting.
If it’s regulated in other countries, and it can have such negative effects, why do manufacturers here sell it in such high doses? My guess is that a huge dose of melatonin offers a quick fix. Taking 5 milligrams of the stuff can make you instantly sleepy, in the same way that actual sleeping pills or antihistamines do. (By the way, you shouldn’t be taking Benadryl to fall sleep.) And it’s a lot easier to grab melatonin at the drugstore in order to knock yourself out than to get a doctor’s appointment and an Ambien prescription. The common complaints that I’ve heard from my friends about taking melatonin, such as a “melatonin hangover” or intense dreams and nightmares, are actually the side effects of taking too much.
Spencer Kornhaber on how TikTok killed the video star:
The internet—coupled with MTV’s turn to reality-TV programming—might have seemed likely to kill the music video in the 2000s. But YouTube kept the form vibrant as audiences moved online. Stars such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé threw back to the ambition of ’80s MTV while adding details and micro-moments designed for endless pause-and-replay analysis. As Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook opened new avenues for artists to commune with fans, music-video aesthetics preserved a sense of stars as strange and unreachable (the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards looked like a Halloween party). Even today, as TikTok gobbles up attention, artists continue to treat the music video as a canvas for stylized, imaginative storytelling.
But pop’s ideology shifted a bit over the course of the 2010s. The dishy lyrics of Taylor Swift’s catalog and perhaps of Beyoncé’s last two albums—plus the influence of social media—led the way for stars to become more confessional, more knowable. Olivia Rodrigo’s and Billie Eilish’s conversational writing style, for example, project chatting-with-your-bestie intimacy. Today’s young stars still create pop-star spectacle with their clothes, stage shows, and, yes, videos. But many of those offerings seem subordinate to revealing documentaries, tabloid-baiting lyrics, and oversharing TikToks.
Glaringly, the prominent artists complaining about record labels demanding TikToks tend to be Millennials who love a good music video—or at least seem to appreciate the power of cultivating distance from their listeners.
Frazier Tharpe on Jerrod Carmichael:
The real project Carmichael is committed to working on is unflinching honesty: “I'm not hiding anything, anymore,” he says with impassioned urgency. “So now it's like my 12-Step Truth Program. [Rothaniel] was about the burden of hiding something, keeping the truth away from myself and from the public. And now, it's like, how do I keep [the truth] at the forefront in my own life and in my work? Confronting the things that are there, the things that I would want to push away or push down. Saying what I mean. Communicating my first thought, my first feelings and not my second,” he laughs. “That's the one thing about the special, bro… It’s about being as honest as I purport myself to be. Be who you say you are—or hey, [you can] be a full character… [But] I couldn't handle the purgatory. Like, I'm playing Jerrod Carmichael in my shows, and I'm onstage as Jerrod Carmichael, but I'm not able to fully express myself. It was such a contradiction. It's hell. You build these little hells [for yourself]. Once I knew that I had the power to tell the truth and I wasn't... I had no other choice.”
Emma Orlow on erotic cookbooks:
Although erotic cookbooks, with the exception of Playboy’s titles, have remained on the fringes of the cookbook publishing industry, today’s aficionados have nudged them ever so slightly toward more mainstream appreciation. You can find them on Instagram, where the account @70sdinnerparty posts vintage cookbook covers with names like Cooking in the Nude for Golf Lovers (clothes-free cooking, for the record, isn’t inherently sexual), and through cookbook sellers like Lizzy Young and Brooklyn’s Archestratus Books and Food. Meanwhile, the demand for bakeries making sex-themed treats, though not a new concept, is surging again.
Charming as they can be, erotic cookbooks are not without their (sexist) baggage — just like many documents of our changing sexual mores. Many of them, no matter the era, are written through the male gaze, and for a cisgendered-heteronormative audience. As Vester notes, the erotic cookbooks marketed to men promote the notion of women being discardable and ingestible, not unlike a meal itself.
Whatever their failings, erotic cookbooks — much like the broader erotica genre — can also function as an outlet for marginalized people to express themselves and find empowerment.