Emmys 2020: 6 winners and 5 losers at the virtual Emmys - Vox.com
Winners: Schitt’s Creek and HBO! Losers: Netflix and The Good Place!
The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards reflected the ways we watch television in quarantine. They were dominated by a handful of shows with hugely acclaimed seasons that earned them must-watch status, making them marathon series of choice during our long Covid-19 nightmare (a nightmare that was acknowledged over and over and over again all night long, but rarely overtly). The biggest winner of the night was PopTVs Schitts Creek, which became the first comedy series ever to sweep the seven categories presented during the televised awards. The show was a frequently cited comfort watch for Covid viewers just looking to find something warm and inviting in these dark times. And the biggest winner of the 2020 Emmys overall HBOs Watchmen, which won four awards during the televised ceremony and seven at the earlier Creative Arts Emmys, for a total of 11 is a series about Americas history of racial oppression where almost everybody wears masks, making it another series with big resonances for the present moment. (The Emmys other big winner, HBOs Succession, is about a family of rich people thats ruining the world, so its of course not relevant right now.) But the 2020 ceremony reflected other ways that our viewing habits are changing. Consider the presence of Chadwick Boseman in the nights In Memoriam montage; Bosemans tragic death from cancer was a shock to his fans, but those fans largely knew him for his film work, not his handful of television appearances in guest roles and forgotten series that were quickly canceled. He would obviously be a great fit for the Oscars In Memoriam montage, but why the Emmys? And yet it would have felt deeply wrong if Boseman hadnt been recognized, because the lines between film and television are completely collapsing in the quarantine era, when movies intended for the big screen are opening in our living rooms. Bosemans last major screen credit before his death was in Spike Lees terrific film Da 5 Bloods, which premiered on Netflix in June and will likely never play in theaters. Does that make him an icon of film or TV? Does it matter? The dissolution of the boundary between film and TV the boundary that once held so firm that the Emmys almost reflexively gave huge prizes to movie stars who would deign to appear on television was already happening before Covid-19. After all, this years made-for-TV movie winner, HBOs Bad Education, was made to be released in theaters but was then acquired by HBO for TV, long before the pandemic broke out worldwide. But the mere existence of quarantine, and the fact that everything is sort of television now, made for an evening where the Emmys felt almost like the Oscars+. Soon, everything will just be something of an undifferentiated chunk of content, and well all watch as much as we want to watch before going to sleep. As a fan of long-form storytelling that sprawls across years and years and years of a TV show, this trend chills me (critic at large Emily VanDerWerff) to my bones, but what am I going to do? Go to a movie theater? At least where I live, in Los Angeles, theyre all closed. But you know what? Were not here to talk about TVs future. Were here to talk about its extremely recent past, via these six winners and five losers from the 2020 Emmy Awards! Winner: Schitts Creek For a series that received exactly zero Emmy nominations for its first four seasons, then received four nominations for its fifth season in 2019, but didnt win a single Emmy until it took home two trophies at this years Creative Arts Emmys (for casting and costume design), Schitts Creek sure went out with a bang. The shows sixth and final season, nominated 15 times, won nine Emmys total, including all seven of the awards presented during Sundays televised awards. It won so many that creator Dan Levy won four whole prizes (Outstanding Comedy Series, Supporting Actor, Writing, and Directing), one more than Phoebe Waller-Bridge did in 2019 when Fleabag swept everything. Waller-Bridge, after all, didnt direct her show. (But like Fleabag, Schitts Creek is also an import, hailing from the distant shores of Canada.) Only one other TV show has ever swept all seven televised awards in its category HBOs 2003 adaptation of Angels in America, which dominated the miniseries categories at the time. And yet those categories existed in an era when miniseries and made-for-TV movies were all but dead, so there was very little competition. Schitts Creek was up against contenders like The Good Place and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and... and... and... To some degree, this is a bit of over-hype: Few TV shows could possibly live up to such a high level of acclaim without leaving a lot of viewers to grumble, That was it? But Schitts Creeks fans are persistent, and they are legion, and they are now apparently every member of the television academys voting body. Emily VanDerWerff Loser: Known Schitts Creek skeptic and Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff I mean really. Its a nice enough show. But this show? Really? This show? Its completely fine! But its so light and fluffy that it might just fly off into space! I would gladly accept it winning a few of the awards it won even Outstanding Comedy Series! but all of them? No! No! This will not stand! I am writing a sternly worded letter about this. EV Winner: HBO (especially Watchmen and Succession) For many years, HBO has ruled the roost at the Emmys, but when the nominations for 2020 were announced in late July, its perch was threatened by those upstarts at Netflix, who absolutely demolished the record for the most nominations ever received by one network. Was HBOs status as king of Emmys mountain threatened? Well, as I predicted on nominations morning, not really. The network won 30 Emmys total across the Creative Arts awards and the televised Primetime Emmys ceremony; Netflix came in a distant second with 21 prizes. The gap is even more pronounced if you just look at the awards handed out during the televised ceremony, where HBO won 11 awards to Netflixs two. Most of HBOs strength was thanks to Watchmen and Succession, which won four prizes each during the televised ceremony. The limited series comic book adaptation was perhaps an unlikely choice to become a runaway Emmy favorite much less the years most rewarded program but Watchmen bore eerie relevance to the world today, even before everybody started wearing masks. And Successions sharp-tongued barbs and darkly funny rich people punctuated a story about the rot at the heart of modern capitalism. This is to say that both shows had that lightning-strike quality that the best television often has, and that lightning-strike quality so often seems to crop up on HBO, which still maintains a high level of quality control over the programming it produces. Thats one thing it still has over Netflix, which greenlights a much wider range of programming and thus has a greatly more varied level of quality, and its and one thing that keeps HBO winning Emmys. Of course, HBOs Emmy successes went well beyond just Watchmen and Succession. The network was also behind the most surprising win of the night. EV Winner: Zendaya Zendaya celebrated her 24th birthday on September 1. Nineteen days later, she won an Emmy. Thats a pretty dope belated birthday gift, made even sweeter by the history-making honor attached to it. Zendaya became the youngest winner ever of the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series prize for her turn in HBOs teen dramedy Euphoria. And it was truly the most adorable moment of the show, and not just because of Zendayas ceaseless charm and genuine excitement: Look how happy everyone is for her! And with good reason. Euphorias first season was fierce and funny and often quite stunning, buoyed by Zendayas performance as the drug-addled queer high schooler Rue. Yet it was shut out of all other major categories at the Emmys, save for Zendayas big nomination. For her to beat out such well-known competitionto take home the trophy for Euphoria including The Morning Shows Jennifer Aniston, Ozarks Laura Linney, and last years winner Jodie Comer of Killing Eve is a huge victory. And it feels even more special that it was a young, biracial woman of color who won the category over her otherwise all-white competition. Allegra Frank Loser: Netflix Based entirely on the results of the televised awards ceremony, youd be forgiven for not knowing that Netflix garnered 160 nominations and absolutely dominated the 2020 Emmy race overall. Because during the televised awards ceremony, Netflix won just two prizes Direction of a Limited Series or Made-for-TV Movie for Unorthodox and Supporting actress in a Drama Series for Julia Garners work on Ozark. In fact, Garners award was Ozarks only win, despite being Netflixs most nominated show with 18 nods. Not only did Netflix lag behind HBO during the televised ceremony, but the worlds biggest streaming service couldnt even catch up to PopTV, which had the Schitts Creek seven-Emmy sweep. (Making matters worse: Netflix popularized Schitts Creek but had nothing to do with producing it.) And Netflix remains winless in the three big series categories, where both Hulu (via its drama The Handmaids Tale) and Amazon (via itscomedies The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag) have won. I honestly dont know what to attribute Netflixs struggles to, except to say that the streaming service has also struggled to break through at the Oscars in extremely similar fashion. Perhaps thats because HBOs stranglehold on the Emmys is unbreakable, or perhaps its because Netflix is good at securing awards nominations but bad at campaigning for wins. But I think it might be that once the nominations campaigns are over, once everybody actually watches the shows that get nominated, they see something like Ozark and say, Wait. Thats it?? But thats just me. EV Winner: Black Lives Matter The story of 2020 has been defined as much by the renewed energy around the Black Lives Matter movement as it has by Covid-19. That was not lost on this years Emmys. In addition to honoring several Black winners in big categories, the ceremony gave the topics of equality and inclusion special attention all throughout the evening. There were moments that felt like nods toward the Black Lives Matter movement, like giving Issa Rae and Lena Waithe solo segments to discuss their creative processes; those felt like overdue recognition, and underlined the difficult path toward achieving equitable racial and LGBTQ representation in Hollywood. Winners Regina King and Uzo Aduba wore shirts honoring Breonna Taylor, giving the 26-year-old victim of police brutality a large presence during the ceremony. Damon Lindelof, creator of Watchmen, wore a shirt referencing the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, a shocking yet under-discussed historical event that the show is built around. Lindelofs co-writer Cord Jefferson also dedicated a portion of his speech for their Best Writing win to the importance of elevating Black voices. And Zendaya gave a shout-out to protestors for doing the work in the streets. In case these moments were too subtle, Black-ish star Anthony Anderson came on stage to chant Black lives matter with Jimmy Kimmel. Say it with me, Jimmy, Anderson said, after explaining to Kimmel that this years Emmys had the most Black nominees of any ceremony in the shows history. (Thirty-three Black actors were nominated this year, with Black actors representing 34 percent of nominees.) Louder, Jimmy. Say it so that my kids could hear it. Because Black lives matter, Black people will stay at home tonight to be safe, which is fine, because guess what? Yall dont know how to light us anyway. AF Loser: The Good Place Its a little bonkers that in a year where Schitts Creek did so well, the highly acclaimed final season of another feel-good comedy couldnt so much as register, but The Good Places final season of afterlife shenanigans didnt win a single Emmy, leading to a 0-for-14 record for the series across its four seasons. And, look, I had a lot of complaints about that final season, but the fact that The Good Place didnt win anything is the hardest thing to stomach about Schitts Creeks sweep. EV Loser: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel A couple of years ago, when Amazons show about a 1950s housewife who becomes a stand-up comedian won eight Emmys for its first season, it seemed like a surefire awards magnet for years to come, sort of a funnier Mad Men. But its second season got buried under Fleabag mania, and now its third season has been completely swept aside by Schitts Creek. Indeed, despite Maisels 20 nominations in 2020 the most for any show not named Watchmen it received only four wins, all at the Creative Arts Emmys. For whatever reason, this so-called Emmy magnet just never became an Emmy magnet after season one. EV Winner: New streaming services If you didnt pay attention to the Creative Arts Emmys (and who does??), you probably missed that Disney+s The Mandalorian made for the best first year ever for a streaming service, garnering seven total prizes for the brand new Emmy player. But it wasnt just Mando and his tiny Yoda-like friend. AppleTV+ didnt win a lot of awards at the 2020 Emmys, but it did take home a surprisingly big prize with a victory in the Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category for Billy Crudups work as an agreeably oily TV exec on The Morning Show. And then theres Quibi, which won two whole Emmys at the Creative Arts Emmys, for two actors in its bite-sized series #FreeRayshawn. Quibi! Making magic happen! EV Winner: The shows unorthodox presentation A virtual awards show shouldnt have worked. And there were times when the virtual Emmys didnt quite work. The choice to cut together Jimmy Kimmels opening monologue with footage of attendees at prior Emmy ceremonies laughing and applauding his jokes was one of those gags that went on a little too long. But the payoff was almost worth it, for the eerie, chilly look at Kimmel all alone in a mostly empty Staples Center, occasionally joined by celebrities who stood all the way across a giant stage from him. After Kimmels opening monologue, however, so many of the shows choices were wonderful. From the little glimpses we got into the nominees homes (and, uh, that giant Canadian castle the Schitts Creek team rented out) to the introductions from essential workers on the front lines of Covid-19, the ceremony was successful, by and large. Not everything was perfect those essential worker introductions sometimes felt a little haphazard but it was alsojust nice to see an awards show that didnt look like every other awards show. The surprising innovation of the virtual Emmys was perhaps best underscored by the In Memoriam segment, which let H.E.R. play Nothing Compares 2 U first at a piano and then on an electric guitar as the faces of TV legends who died in the past year (including Carl Reiner and Carroll Spinney, the man behind Big Bird!) floated on a big screen behind her. Occasionally, those images were superimposed over the sets that made them famous (as when Spinney was shown with the Big Bird costume standing in the far background of the picture of him used for the reel). At the end, the camera retreated from H.E.R. down a long, empty hallway. It was resonant and lovely, in a way awards shows rarely get to be. Anyway, I hope the Oscars were taking notes. Because this was a terrific show. EV Loser: Delicious, delicious chaos For an unprecedented virtual Emmys ceremony, this was a surprisingly well-oiled machine of an awards show. Which is good for the hosts, the nominees, the winners, and the production crew, for sure! But for viewers at home who sometimes tune into awards shows hoping for a little bit of disaster, it was kind of a disappointing watch. We were ready for spotty wi-fi connections, random kids showing up onscreen, and people getting a little too drunk a little too early from the comfort of their couches. Wheres the fun in perfection? We demand way more messiness next year to compensate. AF
Cuties controversy: Netflix’s French coming-of-age film meets the QAnon era - Vox.com
A movie critiquing the sexualization of young girls is accused of doing the thing it criticizes. Here’s how the controversy started — and why it matters.
Sometimes, a movie is just a movie. And sometimes, a movie becomes an unexpected flashpoint in the ever-escalating culture wars. Thats what has happened with Cuties, a French movie released this week on Netflix. The film is about a young girl in a devoutly religious family who chafes against her upbringing and wants to join the secular world of her friends. But while that world seems to represent freedom, it comes with its own kind of constriction and danger. In the weeks and days leading up to its release, Cuties became the subject of intense internet backlash over claims that it was sexualizing young girls. The cries to #CancelNetflix because of the film have even emerged offline: On Friday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to Netflix that voiced concerns about the films content and production and asked the company to please immediately remove this film from your platform, following a long string of tweets and articles criticizing it. But much of the criticism against Cuties spawned from inaccurate or incomplete characterizations of the film and the resulting narrative was that Netflix had produced a film aimed at enticing pedophiles. (Despite what Hawley implies in his letter, Netflix did not produce Cuties; its an independent French production that was acquired by the streaming platform before the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its also worth noting that Barack Obama, who does have a production deal with Netflix, is in no way associated with the film, despite what some of the backlash on Twitter has suggested.) The story of how this thoughtful, ambitious indie film became mired in controversy is a complex one, one that says something about how we talk about things on the internet today. To untangle these knots, Vox reporters Alissa Wilkinson (who covers film) and Aja Romano (who covers web culture) sat down to talk about it. What is Cuties actually about? Alissa: Aja, I guess we should start out by actually talking about Cuties itself. I firstsaw the movie in January, prior to its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was well-received and landed filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré the festivals directing award. Before the fest, Netflixs acquisitions people saw it and bought the rights to distribute it on their platform. When I saw it, I had a couple of reactions both about the movies story and how it would be received. The first was that Cuties is a pretty impressive debut film from Doucouré. The director is a French woman born and raised in Paris as the daughter of Senegalese immigrants, and so is her protagonist. While its not explicitly about her own experience growing up Doucouré was born in 1985, so she wouldnt have had access to a cellphone or the internet as a preteen, and those both factor heavily into the story the movie is obviously rooted in a place of deep understanding. Cuties is about an 11-year-old Senegalese Muslim girl named Amy (played by the excellent Fathia Youssouf) who is caught between two worlds. In one, theres her strict religious family, with whom she lives in one of Pariss poorest neighborhoods; they want to limit her Western cultural experiences while urging her to behave properly and follow their religious customs and traditions. In the other lies an experience that feels pretty familiar to Western viewers: Amy is fascinated by her classmate Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), who is the ringleader of a group of girls who dance and wear provocative outfits and call themselves Cuties. (Actually, they call themselves Mignonnes, the French title of the film, which means something like cute and petite.) Its also a challenging film to watch. Cuties often takes the girls perspective in order to illustrate and dissect a broader issue: the hypersexualization of young girls, often tied to images they are fed by advertising and entertainment which they turn around and recreate. Im not always sure it is entirely successful in that aim trying to depict something in the context of critiquing it isnt always successful but its going for something gutsy and raising an important concern about young womens lives in an internet age, wrapped up in an engaging coming-of-age story. We are meant to be uncomfortable because the movie wants to shake us out of complacency and make us think about how the images that young people see profoundly mold and shape their view of themselves. Thats certainly not a theme or an approach that started with Cuties a range of movies from Celine Sciammas 2014 film Girlhood, another French film about Black preteen girls, to Mean Girls has taken a similar tack for similar reasons. But even back in January, before Netflix acquired the film, I remembered thinking that it would be interesting to see how people responded to this particular film in this particular moment, banked on the one side by the Me Too movement and on the other by a divided political moment that sometimes seeks to weaponize films. But given it was a directorial debut, in French, about Senegalese Muslim girls not the kind of movie that normally generates a lot of buzz in the American press I thought the resulting conversation would be relatively limited, probably just the purview of people who habitually frequent art-house theaters. Perhaps I should have seen this uproar coming, given all thats happened in the world since January. But I didnt anticipate Cuties kicking up a firestorm quite the way it has. You recently watched the film for the first time, now that its on Netflix. What did you think? Aja: I watched it with the controversy alreadyin mind, so Im sure that colored my reception of it significantly.But even so, I thought it was a very well done film and really enjoyable which is not an easy feat to manage, given that its also, as you said, intensely uncomfortable at specific moments. Cuties feels like many films of its type, where we see the world through the eyes of an adolescent main character navigating a fraught and complicated world, largely by keeping silent until they reach their pressure point. I kept thinking of Diouana, the main character of another French-Senegalese film, Ousmane Sembènes Black Girl. Although shes a young woman in a very different social situation, both Diouana and Amy often move without comment through the restrictive roles being imposed on them as young Black women. We are left to interpret their responses through their expressions, not their words. Amy is sometimes able to break out of these restrictions the ones linked to her Muslim, immigrant background by turning to dance, but where another preteen drama would probably frame dance as a form of empowerment and freedom, Cuties uses it as an agent of confusion. Here, dancing forces Amy and her band of friends to sexualize themselves before theyre really able to comprehend what that means. Doucouré confronts and discomfits you with that reality, and then perpetually reminds you that these girls are still children, playing with fantasy sexual tropes while still being far too young to handle any serious confrontation with sex itself. I also kept thinking how vastly more complicated this type of coming-of-age film is when its framed through a young girls point of view than through that of a preteen boy. Theres nothing here of the overly romanticized view of boys sexual experimentation that we get from, for example, Fellinis Amarcord, where adolescence is a ridiculous wonderland of big-breasted women waiting to usher innocent boys into maturity. Without ever actually presenting sexual content, Cuties presents sexuality and adulthood as looming, largely inescapable threats for its female characters. So while we do see young girls twerking, the film frames dance as an insidious corrupting tool that could rob the dancers of their innocence. Its actually quite a conservative viewpoint, despite what its detractors seem to think. How did Cuties become a target of this kind of outrage? Alissa: I totally agree. Cuties basically makes the case that both the traditional rules of Amys family and the freedom afforded by the internet to children who are too young to quite comprehend what theyre doing are different ways of controlling girls bodies. Theres good in both the beauty of chosen devotion and dearly held tradition on the one hand and the joy of dance and performance on the other hand. But they can be twisted in ways that oppress both girls and grown women, and thats what Cuties confronts. So all that said, how did this movie, of all movies one that seems bent on getting across a message that its detractors would agree with end up being such a target of outrage? Part of it certainly did have to do with the first poster that Netflix released for Cutiess international debut, which involved an essentially contextless image of the girls as theyre dancing for the camera theyve set up. The poster made it look like theyre dancing for us, the audience, rather than performing inside a narrative that helps direct us to see what theyre doing in a particular way. (An interesting thought experiment is toconsider how many movies featuring teenagers would seem the same if you just chose some image at random from the movie to put on the poster.) Aja: Right! My understanding is that the film generated zero controversy through its French production and Sundance debut. But then Netflix, a high-powered US company, picked up the film and unfortunately marketed it using one of its most provocative shots as its first movie poster. On the left below is the original French poster (which I believe Netflix is now using), and on the right is the Netflix poster that first generated backlash: Left: The original French poster. Right: Netflixs initial poster for the international release. BAC Films; Netflix Ive also seen some buzz about the films trailer being similarly misleading, but honestly, the trailer to me seems perfectly benign: To be fair to all of the people who are angry: Theres a lot of reason, objectively, to criticize Netflixs marketing decisions, and even the film itself. Is it challenging? Absolutely. Does it contain frequent shots that are intentionally provocative? Absolutely. Theres one scene in the movie when the girls film themselves dancing to Yemi Alades Bum Bum that you can definitely at least argue is indefensibly eroticized. This scene is designed to make you feel gross and uneasy, but there is at least an ethical conversation to be had around Doucourés approach to filming this scene, as well as others where there are close-up shots on the dancers anatomy and skin-tight clothing. However, whether or not the film succeeds in its portrayal of child agency, restrictive religion, gender roles and sexuality, and the internets role in raising and grooming children is not the conversation thats being had. Instead, hysteria over the films marketing and the out-of-context shots of girls dancing has spread across the internet. Whats actually driving the Cuties backlash? Alissa: Another factor is this very specific proclivity to spark outrage over movies that most people havent seen, based on what one loud-enough voiceclaims is in the movie. I think of, for instance, the wholly invented First Man controversy of 2018 (which reached its nadir when a rumor started circulating that all of the American flags in the movie were replaced by Chinese flags in the Chinese market), or last years alarmist blow-up over The Hunt and its perceived anti-conservative content (which turned out not to be anti-conservative at all). Both times, politicians got involved to voice their dissenting opinion (and looked ridiculous as a result). But the backlashes were based mostlyon hearsay rather than on reasoned arguments that take into account the films text (or even subtext). The politicized flare-up surrounding Cuties feels like the natural continuation of what is becoming an unfortunate American tradition and it makes it almost impossible to have a conversation about whether the movie is actually successful in its aims. But this talk of Cutiess supposed sexual exploitation of minors also seems to have come out of left field, especially if you arent aware of the way that some corners of the internet obsessively track and accuse prominent people of child sex trafficking and pedophilia, something thats spilled into the open with the #SaveTheChildren campaign. I have been reading as much as I can about the various groups that have been pushing the pedophilia narrative, often with racist and anti-Semitic undertones, but its still very hard to wrap my head around. Whats going on? Who did Cutiess perceived content provoke, and why? Aja: A couple of things seem to be fueling a narrative that Cuties is an exploitative film made to entice pedophiles. You have grassroots activists who do earnest work to raise awareness on the internet about things like exploitation and trafficking of children and other victims these are the types of campaigns focused on promoting legal efforts like FOSTA-SESTA, which is intended to curb internet sex trafficking, for example. But then you also have things like the hashtag #SaveTheChildren (that has no connection to the childrens welfare nonprofit Save The Children), which may seem related to legitimate activist movements but is at least partly fueled by QAnon, a niche but growing internet community of conspiracy theorists who believe Trumps main presidential goal is rooting out pedophiles. QAnon is both the name of the internet community and the name of the convoluted conspiracy they ascribe to. The QAnon conspiracy combines several long-standing conspiracy elements (murky government pedophile rings, anti-Semitism, cover-ups) with a new Trump-fandom twist, wherein Trumps White House is supposedly devoted to ferreting out the pedophiles in government. So the QAnon community, perhaps by way of aiding Trump in his alleged mission, has become a systematic internet crusade whereby people call out perceived examples of pedophiles among us. Along comes a film like Cuties, made by a foreign production team, which the director says is explicitly based on her own childhood experimentation with the image of adult sexuality. This movies production seems to have been entirely divorced from conversations around whether high-powered US leaders are engaged in sex trafficking. When it debuted and received a warm response at Sundance, it was still divorced from that conversation. Now, however, the Netflix marketing has attracted a horde of QAnon supporters to rally around this film as a specific example of some kind of higher-echelon promotion of pedophilia. So you have people who are bystanders seeing the films images and getting understandably upset, but you also have their emotions being manipulated by people who have a vested interest in portraying this film as somehow sinister. Instead of discussing the content of the film, people who dont seem to have watched it are spreading the message that the whole thing is child porn, created for and now being marketed directly to pedophiles. If youve seen Cuties, you know how absurd that supposition is but its not helping that people are also spreading around clips of the film divorced from their context, similar to what happened with the initial Netflix poster. For example, theres one scene thats representative of the way the girls are learning to weaponize their sexuality when they falsely accuse an arcade security officer of molesting them in order to get out of trouble. A clip of it has been making the rounds on Twitter with the first half of the exchange removed, basically to present the scene so that it looks like the children are being wrangled by a child trafficker and that the film itself is about the subject of child molestation. This is the kind of tactic that QAnon proponents use to stoke the emotions of bystanders and spread the conspiracy. And in the middle of that disinformation campaign, you still have the random, weird anti-Semitic accusations that Netflix and the films production team are a part of a vast Jewish conspiracy. (Ironic, given that the film is about Senegalese Muslims!) All of this is preventing viewers and critics from having a meaningful conversation about this film, including its provocations and even its true flaws. Which is a shame, because I think, again, many opponents of child exploitation would side completely with the films takeaways. What should we do when we encounter this kind of outrage in the future? Alissa: I agree, and the twisty way this films portrayal of sexuality has become a topic on Tucker Carlsons show is all the more confounding because, again, this is a movie that most people never would have heard of if it wasnt for the fact it was being distributed on Netflix. (And even then, there are thousands of foreign films on Netflix that Americans dont talk about because, as a nation, we tend not to watch foreign films unless theyre very highly acclaimed.) Its hard to respond well to controversies like this. A great deal of this controversy was essentially manufactured and trumped up by bad-faith actors who do this sort of thing on a regular basis. But truly well-meaning people got swept into it because they see that children seem to be sexualized in a movie, and they have legitimate concerns about that. What gets left out is the actual movie, and a greater issue: that we seem very willing to judge movies (and to an extent, people) based on truncated snippets of things we saw on the internet. Thats not going to get better anytime soon. So Ive been thinking about ways to make sure that I dont get swept up in situations like this. One good way, which I already practice, is to withhold my judgment on a movie until I, or at least a number of reasonable critics, have seen it and had a chance to evaluate it. (Critics do not hesitate to criticize movies, thats for sure.) Another way is to investigate the source of a rumor, particularly about a movie that nobody or almost nobody has seen. Does this account, publication, or person have a history of bad-faith claims? Are they also pushing racist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise dehumanizing ideas with their claim? Then lets hit pause before freaking out, and think about what might be behind this. And I always am interested to hear your perspective on this, since your beat is web culture, and this is a facet of web culture. How would you advise someone to protect themselves from falling for a bad-faith moral panic, or at least to have a more grounded perspective on it? Aja: I have certainly written a lot about conspiracy theories and bad-faith actors in my time covering the internet. Often theres so much content and disinformation flooding the public sphere that disinformation or a de-contextualized campaign spearheaded by bad actors becomes the only thing people see. But Im also not sure we even have a consensus any more on what is and isnt bad faith and a bad actor, which is part of what makes this conversation really difficult. I think one of the best things we can do is not just to be skeptical of sources, but to be skeptical of our own emotional reactions. If we learn about something on the internet that seems almost over-the-top in its ability to draw our outrage, maybe thats a cue to think critically about how this information is being presented. Its especially important to understand what agenda people have for pushing the claims that they do. Increasingly on the internet, things that seem purely sincere or benign on the surface are used to prop up harmful and sinister hidden messaging, or obscure or divert our attention away from a different problem altogether. That doesnt just apply to debates and situations that seem to have an ideological bent. For example, I think we can all agree that animal cruelty is a very bad thing and that animal abuse is outrageous. But if we let, say, Tiger Kings Carole Baskin control the narrative about Joe Exotic, we end up with a story where hes an abusive animal cult leader and miss the part where she may have killed her husband, which is arguably the much greater crime! So its always, always good to hear and understand all perspectives about an issue before we make up our minds and form opinions. The quick, emotive tenor of modern social media doesnt really lend itself to that slow information-gathering process. But I think in cases like these where a director, a film, its crew and critics and supporters, all get caught in the crossfire of a totally unrelated political agenda its worth taking the time to think and absorb before we lash out. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand whats happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work, and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.
The WHO declares the eradication of wild polio in Africa - Vox.com
But the overall fight against polio looks as tough as ever — and Covid-19 is making it worse.
On Tuesday, the world celebrated a rare piece of good news from 2020: The World Health Organization announced that the wild polio virus has been eradicated from Africa. The milestone comes after three years went by without a single case of wild polio recorded anywhere on the continent (there are still so-called vaccine-descended cases circulating, though more on that below). It brings us one step closer to worldwide eradication of polio; however, that achievement is still a ways away. The eradication of a major disease is huge news, and not a common event. In the 1970s, the world came together in a concerted global campaign to eradicate smallpox, which the WHO officially certified in May 1980. It was an enormous accomplishment, both for global public health and for the power of countries working together to solve one of the worlds greatest problems. But its one we havent duplicated in the more than 40 years since. Efforts to eradicate diseases have run aground on both technical difficulties and political ones. Inpolios case,the diseaseis harder to eradicate than smallpox because in rare cases, the vaccine can give rise to a case of the disease. Meanwhile, the cause of polio eradication was dealt a setback in the 2000s when the CIA, during the Obama administration, used a fake vaccination program as part of the effort to track down Osama bin Laden. The WHOs announcement Tuesday is a reminder that progress continues, albeit at a bumpy, frustrating, and sometimes disappointing pace. And although eradication of diseases may be hard, requiring global coordination on a scale it is easy to feel pessimistic about these days, its achievable and well worth the effort. Once a disease is gone from the world, we never have to devote public health resources to it again. It can never again take or change another life, allowing humanity to move on to the next target on the list. The global fight against polio, explained Polio is caused by a virus, usually contracted in childhood, and often results in paralysis and can lead todeath. In the early 20th century, massive outbreaks of polio devastated communities in the United States and around the world. One New York outbreak in 1916 caused 9,000 cases and 2,400 deaths, mostly of children. Terrified New Yorkers, unsure of what caused the virus, engaged in mass killings of cats and dogs believed to transmit the disease. (They also took more sensible measures to fight the spread of a contagious virus, like shutting down schools and movie theaters.) By the 1950s we understood polio a little better, and researcher Jonas Salk had developed a vaccine he thought would be safe and effective against the disease. In 1952, a devastating outbreak in the USsaw nearly 58,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths. The following year, the vaccine was introduced in one of the first large-scale, randomized controlled trials in history: 1.83 million American children received either the vaccine or a placebo. The studies demonstrated that the vaccine worked. Other researchers developed a more effective vaccine that could be orally administered rather than injected, making it easier to deploy on a mass scale. The countrys outbreak was brought to a halt, and by the 1970s, the scourge of polio was nearly gone from the US. At the same time, the fight went worldwide, and through the 1980s and 1990s more and more countries drove the disease from their shores. But there was a complication, a mild one. The oral polio vaccine has a live virus, and that virus can (very, very rarely) mutate back into a harmful form, getting the vaccinated child sick. This has been estimated to happen in about 1 in every 2.7 million cases. And if a vaccinated person with a mutant, transmissible form of the virus is part of a community with very low vaccination rates, the mutant, transmissible virus can start circulating in the community again. This is even rarer. Since 2000, ten billion vaccine doses have been administered, and there have been 24 outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. Sufficient vaccination makes these outbreaks all but impossible, as the mutant virus does not get the chance to start circulating in the first place. But this scary side effect, though its exceptionally rare, has led to fears of the vaccine in a few developing countries, as has viral misinformation about other side effects and rumors that its a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children. All this has made eradication more complicated. Africas declaration yesterday was a declaration that wild poliovirus has not been observed on the continent for three years but the continent has still had some outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus. For true eradication, well need to stamp those out too. In recent years, the global eradication effort has decided to switch from the oral vaccines to the injected ones, which do not present a risk of the virus mutating. Still paying the price of a fake vaccine campaign The other barrier to global eradication is polios prevalence in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vaccination efforts in those areas have not been comprehensive enough to keep a lid on the virus. For a long time, vaccination in that region was made difficult by poverty, suspicion of aid workers, and ongoing violence. Under the Obama Administration, In 2011, the Guardian reported that the CIA had tried to confirm the location of Osama bin Laden by using a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to get DNA samples they hoped would prove Bin Ladens children were in a compound in Pakistan. The effects of this deception on polio eradication efforts in the area were catastrophic. Local militants began attacking health workers delivering polio vaccines, suspecting that they were U.S. spies. International aid organizations were forced to suspend their vaccination efforts. Polio cases spiked immediately. An article in the Lancet reported, Release of this information has had a disastrous effect on worldwide eradication of infectious diseases, especially polio... News of the vaccination programme led to a banning of vaccination in areas controlled by the Pakistan Taliban, and added to existing scepticism surrounding the sincerity of public health efforts by the international health community. Consequently, WHO declared that polio has re-emerged as a public health emergency in Pakistan. The White House later stated that the US wouldstop using fake vaccine programs for espionage, but the damage had been done. In the next few years, at least 70 polio vaccine workers in the region were murdered. To this day, the Taliban bans vaccination, and shoots health workers who are trying to provide it. There has been no accountability for the White Houses decision to authorize a fake vaccination program for military purposes, andpublic trust in the regionhasnt recovered. An embattled eradication effort still worth fighting for This year, the ongoing battle against the poliovirus was further complicated by fears of spreading the coronavirus, which brought public health initiatives against polio in much of the world to a halt. We did not want to have the program be responsible for worsening the situation with COVID-19, Michel Zaffran, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization, said. But without vaccination, polio resurges quickly. The numbers look awful for eradication, Hamid Jafari, who leads the World Health Organizations polio eradication efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said. With both wild polio and vaccine-derived polio viruses circulating, and with little immunity to the latter, affected regions could see vaccine-derived polio cases going up to the thousands of cases, if we dont intervene. In Africa, too, vaccine-derived polioviruses continue to circulate, and efforts to keep a lid on outbreaks have been damaged by coronavirus-related pauses in polio response. The milestone the WHO announced Tuesday is a real one, but in many ways this year was a setback for polio eradication. Despite all of those challenges, theres something important to celebrate here. A century ago, the world was ravaged by a terrifying disease we understood nothing about, which targeted mainly children and could kill them or leave them paralyzed for life. In the century since then, we learned how polio worked and how to fight it. We embarked on a breathtakingly ambitious campaign to make sure it would never kill a child again. And while were not quite there, the eradication of wild polio from the continent of Africa is a genuine cause for celebration. It is a vivid reminder that vaccines work and that the collective actions of communities, governments and partners can bring about tremendous changes, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organizations regional director for Africa, said in a Zoom call announcing the news. Sometimes despite our mistrust and suspicion, despite wrongdoing by government and violence by militants were able to make the world a safer one for children. We can be proud of that, even as were careful not to underestimate the work ahead. New goal: 25,000 In the spring, we launched a program asking readers for financial contributions to help keep Vox free for everyone, and last week, we set a goal of reaching 20,000 contributors. Well, you helped us blow past that. Today, we are extending that goal to 25,000. Millions turn to Vox each month to understand an increasingly chaotic world from what is happening with the USPS to the coronavirus crisis to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.
What the Hong Kong Covid-19 reinfection case tells us about coronavirus immunity - Vox.com
A 33-year-old man was confirmed to be reinfected with Covid-19. This likely isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Researchers in Hong Kong have reported that a 33-year-old man has been reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus the causes the Covid-19 disease. There have been anecdotal reports of reinfections in the US, but this time researchers have clearer evidence: They determined the genetic signature of the second infection did not match that of the first. Theres still a lot not known about the case. The researchers, who are medical scientists from the University of Hong Kong, announced their finding in a press release. (They say a paper in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases is forthcoming; a few pages of the report are circulating on Twitter.) When the report is finally published, theres sure to be more scrutiny from the scientific community. On this topic of reinfection, we can be reassured: The report, if corroborated, is in line with what immunity experts have been telling us is possible with this virus. The most important detail: The man was not symptomatic during his second infection, which shows that his immune system did respond to the virus. This is no cause for alarm, Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki tweeted about the new results from Hong Kong. This is a textbook example of how immunity should work. 1) Second infection was asymptomatic. While immunity was not enough to block reinfection, it protected the person from disease. (2/n) pic.twitter.com/C65F8ff5UN Prof. Akiko Iwasaki (@VirusesImmunity) August 24, 2020 According to the Hong Kong researchers, the first time the patient got sick, he felt ill: He had a cough, a sore throat, fever, and headache, and had to be hospitalized. The second time the patient tested positive for the virus four and a half months later after being screened at the airport, he felt no symptoms at all. As virologist and physician Muge Cevik explains on Twitter, this is in a way reassuring. Its what youd hope to see the second time someone is infected with a virus: a less severe reaction. Which is all to say: You can be reinfected with the virus but still have some protective immunity to it. Why? There are many, many components of our immune system that are working together to fight the virus. And immunity doesnt mean one single thing. There are no simple stories about immunity and Covid-19 The immune system is profoundly complicated, and immunity can mean many different things. A lot of this nuance gets lost in headlines about immunity. For instance: Previous research has shown that neutralizing antibodies immune system proteins that latch onto pathogens and prevent them from infecting cells can wane in the months after a Covid-19 infection. Headlines wondered if that meant the end of herd immunity hopes. But whats often misunderstood is that antibodies are only one component of the immune system, and losing them does not leave a person completely vulnerable to the virus. In fact, there are several parts of the immune system that may contribute to lasting protection against SARS-CoV-2. One is killer T-cells. Their names give you a good hint what they do, Alessandro Sette, an immunologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, told me in July. They see and destroy and kill infected cells. Antibodies, he explained, can clear virus from bodily fluids. But if the virus gets inside the cell, then it becomes invisible to the antibody. Thats where killer T-cells come in: They find and destroy these hidden viruses. While antibodies can prevent an infection, killer T-cells deal with an infection thats already underway. So they play a huge role in long-term immunity, stopping infections before they have time to get a person very sick. And its not just killer T-cells and antibodies. There are also helper T-cells, which facilitate a robust antibody cell response. They are required for the antibody response to mature, Sette says. Some proportion of the population (perhaps 25 to 50 percent of people) seem to have some preexisting T-cells (of both varieties, but the helper kind have been more commonly observed) that respond to SARS-CoV-2, despite these people never having been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. (The theory is that these people may have acquired these T-cells from being infected with other strains in the coronavirus family of viruses.) Researchers still dont really understand what role these preexisting T-cells play in preventing or attenuating infection (if any). But wait, theres more! Theres another group of cells called memory B-cells. B-cells are the immune system cells that create antibodies. Certain types of B-cells become memory B-cells. These save the instructions for producing a particular antibody, but they arent active. Instead, they hide out in your spleen, in your lymph nodes, perhaps at the original site of your infection waiting for a signal to start producing antibodies again. All the things immunity can mean All these different components of the immune system mean immunity isnt just one thing. Immunity could mean a strong antibody response, which prevents the virus from establishing itself in cells. But it could also mean a good killer T-cell response, which could potentially stop an infection very quickly: before you feel sick and before you start spreading the virus to others. In many infections, the virus does reproduce a little bit, but then the immune response stops this infection in its tracks, Sette explains. Also possible: You do get infected, you do get sick, but your immune system does enough of a job curbing the infection, so you dont get as sick. Immunity might also result from an awakening of memory B-cells. If an individual has memory B-cells and is exposed to the virus again, that infection will stimulate a much faster antibody response to the virus, which would, theoretically lead to faster clearance of the virus and potentially less severe infection, Elitza Theel, the director of the infectious diseases serology laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, said in a July interview. In general, scientists believe, the stronger the infection (and immune response) that occurs during an initial infection, the longer immunity will last. So reinfection may still be possible, but it may not mean severe illness. When a virus invades a body, generally, the body remembers. Could asymptomatic infections spread the virus? Unclear. Its still not known what the latest study from Hong Kong means for how long the pandemic will last. If reinfections happen regularly (and we have no idea how common they might be), then it might take longer to achieve herd immunity without a vaccination (which is an un-ideal, and cynical, goal to begin with). How long immunity lasts, on average, and how common reinfection is are key unknown variables in figuring out how long the pandemic may last in the absence of an effective vaccine or treatment. Since reinfection can occur, herd immunity by natural infection is unlikely to eliminate #SARSCoV2, Iwasaki tweeted. The only safe and effective way to achieve herd immunity is through vaccination. It may also depend on how often reinfections lead to more clusters of cases. A few days ago, I asked Shane Crotty, an immunologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, about this very scenario. Could there be an immunity scenario, I asked, where, after having recovered from Covid, a person could get infected again but not feel sick at all, and also be able to spread it? It is a good question, and the answer is that no one knows, Crotty replied. There are cases with other diseases where asymptomatic immune people can be infectious. There is definitely a lot to learn still about immunity to SARS-CoV-2. New goal: 25,000 In the spring, we launched a program asking readers for financial contributions to help keep Vox free for everyone, and last week, we set a goal of reaching 20,000 contributors. Well, you helped us blow past that. Today, we are extending that goal to 25,000. Millions turn to Vox each month to understand an increasingly chaotic world from what is happening with the USPS to the coronavirus crisis to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.
Folklore by Taylor Swift: 6 songs that explain the new album - Vox.com
Taylor Swift’s eighth album is Folklore, an indie folk-influenced record full of songs about fictional characters and lyrics wrapped in nature visuals.
It started with imagery, wrote Taylor Swift in the preamble to Folklore, her eighth studio album. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity. Among them: scars and battleships. Trees and sunshine. Wine and whiskey. And cardigans. Enough cardigans that one became the subject of an entire song. Swift announced Folklore less than 24 hours before its July 24 release, giving few hints about its contents. The one thing she did make clear, through an overhauled social media presence full of new, black-and-white photos of her, was that Folklore would have a well-defined aesthetic we havent seen from Swift before. The nature-focused and unadornedimagery of Folklore extends beyond the albums genesis; those images are identifiable in every one of Folklores corners and position it as different from most of Swifts other albums. Bucking her typical promotional period entirely suggested a rebuke of her own traditionalist, tightly controlled image. Thats also obvious in the black-and-white album art set among tall trees, the eight different colored vinyl options to choose from, the choice to drop title case for all the track names, and even Swifts decision to collaborate with indie-folk staples over her usual pop collaborators. (Bon Iver! Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner of The National!) As part of this approach, Swift skews away from her strongly first-person lyricism. Instead of her usual pop songs about exes or even her current long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn, which largely defined her 2019 release, Lover, the singer slows down to spin tales out of the imagery shes cited as her inspiration. Self-isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic pushed her away from looking inward and toward crafting original stories, she wrote in the albums introduction. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. Ive told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now its up to you to pass them down. To understand Folklore, then, is to recognize that, at least on this album, Taylor Swift is often absent from the stories shes telling. Which could be difficult to accept for the dedicated Swifties out there, eager to latch onto every line as self-referential and explicitly revealing. These songs still have the visceral emotional connection that Swifts fans expect from her, but they no longer seem to be encouraging listeners to trawl through the details of Swifts life to figure out who shes subtweeting, wrote Voxs Constance Grady of the album. The focus is on the storytelling rather than the gossip. Accepting this unique-to-Swift methodology is crucial to appreciating how strong a record Folklore is and, beyond that, how impressive a step it is for Taylor Swift as an artist. Folklore is best experienced as a full, complete work, but theres a handful of individual songs that stand out as most emblematic of its conceptualization, tone, and feel. You should listen to the entire album to form an opinion; your own enjoyment will, of course, be subjective. But in miniature, these are the six songs that explain what makes Folklore a standout album for Miss Americana herself. The 1, track one Folklore kicks off with an answer to our inevitable question: How ya doing these days, Tay? Im doing good, Im on some new shit, she sings. Been saying yes instead of no. This rejoinder is one of the few times on the album shes plainly speaking about herself, well come to learn. And knowing shes onto her new shit proves sufficient an answer and a true claim, at least as far as the music is concerned. The 1 is danceable in a way that Swifts album openers often are, but its been markedly slowed down from her usual establishing tracks. Its less a kiss-off to anyone expecting her to stick to that older shit she used to be on and more a solitary, gray-skied stroll through her day-to-day. This quiet quality is the work of Aaron Dessner of The National, who often writes and produces songs for folky, female voices. Hes the co-writer and producer on The 1 and on 10 other songs, each one wistful, introspective, and impressionistic without sacrificing the unmistakably melodic pop Swift is best at. Cardigan, track two Swift released Folklore atypically, skipping past her usual hype cycle of preceding the album with numerous singles, often accompanied by pricey music videos full of famous guest stars. These singles are generally regarded by fans and critics as the weakest songs on the album, which is why it can be considered a positive that Swift skipped ahead to the album release this time. Theres thankfully no chaff on Folklore, no obvious, cloying attempts to dominate radio play. Cardigan seems positioned as the albums first breakout, however, and its a good candidate precisely because it nixes any contrived Top 40 sensibilities. Instead, the song combines a memorable keyboard riff with strong imagery, as promised. In addition to the visions of cardigans (which Swift is selling in her online store, natch), we get sweatshirts, Levis, black lipstick; scars and bloodstains and smoke surround her. Its a tale of a girl in love with a boy whos betrayed her they go from kissing in bars to him sneaking around on weekends. The song also has a music video, directed by Swift and filmed with a minimal crew overseen by a medical adviser, which really cements its first single status and Folklores unkempt secret garden vibes. The Last Great American Dynasty, track three The Last Great American Dynasty has a clear storyline to it, as Swift relays the life of someone other than herself. Rebekah, she sings, was a madwoman who owned a fabulous house in Rhode Island. The Bitch Pack would join her to play cards with Salvador Dali and drink Champagne from swimming pools. She stole a dog from a neighbor and dyed it key lime green. Rebekah is a madwoman, and Swift means that as a compliment. (A later song, called Mad Woman, reinforces that shes reclaiming the term for the good of womankind.) Rebekah lived in that fabulous Rhode Island house for 50 years, and Swift mourns her with this ode to the womans eccentricities. At the end, Swift ends up buying Rebekahs old house which, fans know, happened in real life. Rebekah is Rebekah Harkness, a wealthy heiress who died in 1982, more than 30 years before Swift purchased the $17 million mansion in 2013. Swift is memorializing Rebekahs life and her connection to it through her singing, as she does with the subjects of the albums other whimsical folk tales. Theres nostalgia, a touch of regret, and the setup of an inclination toward small-town fiction that runs throughout Folklore from here on out. Exile (feat. Bon Iver), track four The Nationals Dessner lends a significant amount of indie music cred to Folklore. But a significant guest spot on Exile from Bon Iver, a.k.a. Justin Vernon, feels like Swifts insistence to any dismissive indie music fans that shes legit. Although Vernon has moved away from the lo-fi, cabin-made folk that made him a star in 2007 with his first album hes won Grammys, hes worked with Kanye hes still the pinnacle of the flannel-wearing, Midwestern-nice, banjo-playing crooner. His songs have soundtracked a million weepy Tumblr posts and smooshed into every high school playlist sent to a crush for more than a decade. Swift is undoubtedly pulling a lot of her imagery from these places, as a noted Tumblr fiend and the embodiment of cute crushin mixtapes. For Bon Iver to sing alongside her must be a personal win just as it is an aesthetic win for Folklore; shes earned the approval of one of the folksiest guys in music. Heck, Exile really seems more like a Bon Iver song featuring Taylor Swift than anything else. (The same goes for Peace, a song later on the album that Vernon co-wrote.) The striking similarities between Vernons and Swifts styles here will probably satisfy the all-natural, anti-establishment crowd that Folklore demands legitimacy from. August, track eight The core of Folklore is a three-song story arc about an intense young romance. While introducing a live premiere of the Cardigan video on YouTube, Swift explained that the arc was called the Teenage Love Triangle, with each of the three songs told from a different persons perspective. Many listeners have concluded that the three songs included are Cardigan, August, and Betty. The characters in the story are named Inez, James, and, unsurprisingly, Betty; Cardigan is from Bettys perspective while August is from Inezs perspective and Betty from Jamess perspective. Inez is implied to be the woman who had a summer fling with James, causing a rift between him and Betty, his true love. Perhaps because Inez is positioned as the other woman here, August works fairly well as a stand-alone song: It serves both as the midpoint of the arc and the album. Its also the most intriguingly ambiguous of the three songs in the Teenage Love Triangle arc, making it representative of the storytelling Swift is attempting on Folklore. We can tell with the full context that Inez asks James to jump into her car and get twisted in the bedsheets despite his affection for another girl. But Swift sings August from a place of heartbreak that fits into the trope of a difficult high school love. Its mired in the same kind of foggy nature walk-evoking visuals that are the crux of the album. Betty, track 14 Betty completes the Teenage Love Triangle storyline: Taylor is singing from Jamess point of view about how Betty breaks up with him after finding out that he hooked up with Inez. It also figures into an extensive and ongoing fan theory that Taylor Is Gay, Actually. Already, Vulture has declared Betty to be part of musics queer canon, for several reasons. Chief among those reasons is that Taylor Swift is named after James Taylor, so James, Taylor ... James is Taylor. Of course, Swift has established by this point that Folklore is a collection of fictional stories that she is retelling to her listeners, not any of her own. But its admittedly difficult to avoid looking for clues to the artist in their art, and anything that can reinforce the LGBTaylor theory is a win for those who believe it. Theres always at least one song on a Taylor Swift album to fuel the theory, and Betty is perhaps the most explicit one so far. James, whether hes a 17-year-old boy or a 30-year-old woman, really misses his former love Betty and wants Betty to kiss him in his car again while Betty wears that cardigan of hers. Maybe someone will develop a unified theory of Swifts cardigan obsession next. Support Voxs explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Voxs work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
J.K. Rowling’s transphobic tweets failed Harry Potter fans - Vox.com
The Harry Potter books helped me realize I’m nonbinary. JKR’s recent transphobic tweets and essay are devastating.
Last weekend, as Harry Potter fans the world over were still reeling from the latest round of anti-trans comments made by author J.K. Rowling, I boxed up 21 years of my life. Over the past few years, Rowling has made several statements that suggest a growing alliance with TERFism trans-exclusionary radical feminism, or the belief that trans women arent women and that biological sex is the only factor that determines someones gender. Many Harry Potter fans had previously voicedconcerns that Rowling might be anti-trans, but despite their efforts, the authors apparent TERFism wasnt widely discussed until December 2019, when she suddenly tweeted in support of a British TERF at the center of a highly publicized court case. Though Rowling was met with massive backlash at the time, shes continued to double down on her views. On June 6, she appeared to openly belittle transgender people when she mocked a news headline about people who menstruate. Im sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud? Rowling tweeted, seeming to imply that all people who menstruate are women and that only people who menstruate are women. Rowlings comment deeply hurt many of her millions of fans including me. More importantly, it perpetuated the type of pernicious hate and misinformation that leads to trans women, especially teens and black trans women, becoming victims of sexual assault, violence, and hate crimes at an appallingly frequent rate. And so, on Sunday night, I removed Rowling from my bookshelf and stored her away: all 11 books in the Harry Potter series (seven novels, plus three supplementary books and one play script); The Casual Vacancy, her scathing satirical foray into adult literature; and her four Robert Galbraith mysteries. In boxing up those books, I metaphorically boxed up years of intense participation in the Harry Potter fandom, from writing fanfiction and going to conventions to moderating fan communities online and nurturing the friendships I made within them. I still talk nearly every day to people Ive known in Harry Potter fandom since my earliest days there. I resolved to compartmentalize my Harry Potter fandom identity as something over and done with, instead of thinking of it as a cornerstone of my identity. Then on Wednesday, Rowling attempted to explain her stance on trans identity with a long essay full of harmful transphobic stereotypes. It was a profoundly hurtful piece of writing, riddled with hand-wringing, groundless arguments about villainous trans women, outdated science, and exclusionary viewpoints. Especially gutting was the essays self-centeredness; Rowling masked obvious transphobia as a personal appeal to reason, rooted in her own experience as a woman and an abuse survivor. She asked for empathy and respect for her own experiences while showing none for her targets. But even before she published it, to me at least, the damage had already been done. I had officially ended a 20-year relationship and started to grieve. Like many fans, Ive spent years critiquing the many problems embedded in J.K. Rowlings stories: their arguable racism, queerbaiting, lack of multiculturalism, fat-shaming, and upholding of the patriarchal structures she established in her intricately detailed Wizarding World. (And if you think that the Harry Potter books are just childrens stories, not worthy of this kind of real-world framework or critique, consider that Harry Potter bred several generations of Democrats.) Perhaps I should have reached my limit earlier; Im queer, Im fat, I strive to be an ally to people of color. But fiction is malleable you can tell yourself that with any given work there are extenuating circumstances, contradictions, multiple interpretations. Besides, many fans have spent years if not decades calling out the Harry Potter books for their shortcomings, and often actively transforming the world of Harry Potter into something better through fandom and its many offshoots, all while still loving it. For my own part, I would have forgiven and overlooked most of Rowlings fictional flaws and foibles including the ugly moment of transphobia in her Robert Galbraith novel The Silkworm. But its impossible to ignore direct and repeated examples of bigotry when they come from Rowling herself, a woman whos doubled down on her transphobic statements after months of heartbroken fans of her work expressing how hurtful those statements are. It doesnt help that Rowling truly is targeting one of societysmost vulnerable communities: In 2017, research found that a staggering 44 percent of trans teens in the US had seriously contemplated suicide, while more than half had experienced long periods of feeling sad or hopeless. And that was before many of them found out that a beloved author thinks their identity is a joke. Its the kind of statement that feels even more hurtful, even more raw and vicious, because Rowling clearly has access to information about the struggles trans and nonbinary people face when it comes to depression, homelessness, sexual assault, and hate crimes, yet she chooses to use her massive platform to further attack us anyway. And maybe thats the ultimate reason why Rowlings latest comments were the final straw for me its just too personal. Because my time in Harry Potter fandom may be one of the most significant parts of my life, but an even more significant part of my life is that Im nonbinary. It took me a very long time to figure out I was genderqueer, and when it finally clicked, one of my biggest revelations was that Id spent years mapping my own identity onto fictional characters without realizing it above all, Tonks in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I vividly remember the visceral excitement I felt the first time I read the fifth Harry Potter book in 2003 and met Nymphadora Tonks, a shapeshifter with spiky pink hair, a punk-rock aesthetic, and an insistence on being called by her gender-neutral last name. I was certain that Rowling had written a canonically genderfluid character. Like millions of other Harry Potter fans who dared to project ourselves into the books, I was ultimately disappointed: By the end of the series, Tonks was a married, fully binary woman, softer and gentler, letting her husband feminize her as Dora a name shed previously hated. I have always wondered if Rowling set up Tonks to somehow be tamed in the later books, from her earlier nonbinary presentation in Order of the Phoenix, and Ive always written it off as surely not conscious. As a sickening byproduct of Rowlings transphobic screed on Wednesday, I now realize I was actually right to have been wary all along. Rowling argues in the essay for the scientifically flawed and emotionally abusive narrative that gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria, and uses herself as an example of a teen who felt mentally sexless before eventually fortunately growing out of feeling confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual. I read this passage as a chilling, heartbreaking confirmation that Rowling wrote Tonks not as an affirmation, even a subconscious one, of trans identity, but as a conscious repudiation of it: She deliberately created Tonks as a dsyphoric individual so that the character could grow out of her dysphoria, subtly perpetuating the transphobic narrative that gender dysphoria is a choice. She consciously took the shapeshifting nonbinary character, who helped me figure out (well into adulthood) that I was genderqueer, and made her grow into being cisgender. Its hard to articulate how upsetting that realization is. A few months before Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003, I participated in a letter-writing project for Rowling. I parked myself in a café one day and spent hours trying to convey everything I felt for Harry Potter all of my joy, fear, wariness, and hope for what the rest of the series would be, all in what turned out to be a nine-page, handwritten letter. That day has always been a precious memory to me, and it feels unbelievably hollow to look back now and realize that while Id entrusted so much of myself to the author, she had been plotting on some tiny level to erase me. None of this changes what Tonks means to me. She remains the character who innately reflected my own nonbinary nature before I even fully understood it myself. Shes the Tonks I created, not the one Rowling gave me not the character who ended the books, but the Tonks who began them. With Rowling herself, though, such a tidy conclusion is harder to draw. Harry Potter fans can say we want to keep the Rowling we started the books with, not the one we have now, but thats difficult: The Rowling we have now is still tweeting. And no effort to separate the art from the artist can ever be fully successful when the artist is right there, reminding you that she intended for her art to reflect her prejudice all along. Ive thought, written about, and talked about cancel culture a lot over the past few years. People often ask me if I think it really exists if canceling someone can have any meaningful effect, or whether its entirely a performative stance. But I think that question flattens cancel cultures power. To me, canceling someone cant be about punishing one individual or ruining their career; even if humanity could agree on what social crimes were worth punishing, no one wants to live in a world where you can be blacklisted from existence, like in that one episode of Black Mirror. Instead, I think cancel culture is best treated like a collective decision to minimize the cultural influence a person and their work have moving forward. This approach has already been applied to some 20th-century figures whose art is now almost always foregrounded within the context of what remains problematic about it: White supremacists Ezra Pound and H.P. Lovecraft, and the white supremacist film Birth of a Nation, are the clearest, most well-known examples, but society has also recalibrated the way we discuss more recent creators like Woody Allen and Michael Jackson. In all of these controversial cases, the approach usually winds up being one of compromise: No one wants to lose Cthulhu or Thriller or Annie Hall, but we also can no longer talk about any of those stories without making it clear that they were created by bigots or predators. With J.K. Rowling, weve reached that point nearly in real time. Already, we can no longer talk about Harry Potter without foregrounding the prejudice lurking beneath the surface-level morality of Rowlings stories. Many aspects of Harry Potter are already up for debate and reevaluation. The sad and messy truth is that Rowlings transphobic comments may have ruined Harry Potter for many of its fans. But Harry Potter is simply too big a cultural landmark to jettison. I dont believe anyone wants to mind-wipe Harry Potters existence from the world; it means too much to too many of us. (Lets leave aside the nonsensical whatever of Rowlings Fantastic Beasts films.) But I also find myself bristling at the jokes that have invaded social media in the wake of Rowlings comments the ones fantasizing that the Harry Potter books magically appeared unto us with no author, or that they were written by someone else we like better. Sure, the author is dead, but that idea is about reclaiming agency over our own interpretation of a text. It paradoxically depends on the author having a proprietary interpretation of their own work one that we can then reject. Thats important, because despite its flaws, Harry Potter has influenced generations of kids to grow into progressives who then turned out to be more progressive than the books themselves and the woman who authored them. The series embodies what people in fandom mean when we say that fandom is transformative: The fans who sorted themselves into Hogwarts houses, sewed cosplay, wrote fanfic, played Quidditch, stanned Wizard Rock, swarmed stores for midnight book launches they did all of that, not J.K. Rowling. Their passion made Harry Potter into the cultural phenomenon it is today. By repudiating Rowlings anti-trans comments, millions of Harry Potter fans are also turning the series into a symbol of the power of a collective voice to drown out an individual one. The power of fans love and empathy for trans people and other vulnerable communities, and their steady rejection of Rowlings prejudice, is a potent, raw form of cancellation one undertaken not out of a spirit of scorn and ostracism, but with something closer to real grief and it deserves to be a part of the story of Harry Potter. But if we cant erase Rowling, what can we do instead? We can break up with her. We can grieve, nurse our wounds, and be sad we loved someone who hurt us so badly. We can celebrate happier times while mourning a relationship we outgrew one that became toxic and regretting the time we spent waiting for a problematic fave to change and grow. We can give ourselves time to heal. And we can consider accepting that the microaggressions we may have noticed in Rowlings books themselves were, perhaps, warning signs obscured by a benevolent, liberal exterior. Jo can keep the money, and Pottermore and Cormoran Strike, and definitely all of Fantastic Beasts. She can keep the house elves who really love their enslavement, the anti-Semitic goblin stereotypes, Dolores Umbridge, Voldemort, the Dementors, and Rita Skeeter. Ill take Harry and Hermione and Ron and Draco, Luna and Neville and Dumbledores Army. Ill take Hogwarts and pumpkin pasties and butterbeer and Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, and every other moment of magic and love this series has given me and countless others. Trans and queer Harry Potter fans get to keep Tonks and Remus and Sirius Black and Charlie Weasley and Draco, because I say so; Harry Potter is ours now, and we make the rules. J.K. Rowling lost custody over her kids and now we can spoil them, let them get tattoos, express themselves however they want, love whomever they want, transition if they want, practice as much radical empathy and anarchy as they want. HarryPotteris Desi now. Hermione Granger is black. The Weasleys are Jewish. Dumbledores Army is antifa. Theyre anything you want and need them to be, because they were always for you. As for me, I wont be reading or rereading Harry Potter any time soon. I have endless Harry Potter fanfiction and novels written by Harry Potter fans who grew up to explore instead. Above all, I have the Wizarding World that lives on in my heart queer, genderqueer, deviant, diverse, and currently defunding the Aurors. Thats the Harry Potter we all created together, without J.K. Rowling. And we all know thats the version that matters, in the end. Support Voxs explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. 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