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October 23, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

BlogsCulture and Context

Progress and Regress 2

This is your second weekly round-up of pop culture stories that represented small steps forward… or two steps back.

Progress: Atlantic editor Scott Stossel “came out” as a person living with anxiety in a cover story and memoir that honestly, accurately, and fairly portrays life with mental illness. His thoughtful and evocative retrospective on his struggles and coping paints a realistic picture of a man who has found great success despite enormous obstacles. The story is a milestone in media coverage of mental illness, and is likely the most high-profile case of a journalist discussing his own disorder in order to educate and end stigma.

Regress: In their Valentine’s Day pre-Olympics coverage, numerous major NBC affiliates ran a story about “love in the air” in Sochi, airing dozens of images of opposite-sex couples publicly displaying their affection… continuing the whitewashing of the anti-gay human rights violations continuing to occur in host country Russia.

Regress: When Flappy Bird developer Nguyen Ha Dong announced that he planned to remove his controversial and generally infuriating game “Flappy Bird” from the App Store, he made it fairly clear that he wasn’t interested in any kind of further media interaction: “I cannot take this anymore.” The response from the media was, of course, to force him to continue to take it. When doing your job means infringing on someone else’s right to privacy, shouldn’t it be okay to hold back on doing your job just a little bit?

Regress: Nicki Minaj gave an aggressively defensive apology this week after posting a photo of Malcolm X with a rifle as the cover art for her current buzz single, “Lookin’ Ass N—a.” The meaning she was intending to convey is unclear, but the troubling juxtaposition between the photo (taken out of context: in the photo, Malcolm X is defending his family against a firebomb threat in his own home) and the song and video’s less-explicably violent and anti-male imagery elicited an immediate response.

Progress: Putting the controversy around his (more-or-less expected) Grammy loss in the Best Rap Album Grammy category (among six others), Kendrick Lamar gracefully told XXL magazine, “Everything happens for a reason.” Macklemore had previously apologized to Lamar for winning, acknowledging that his triumph could be attributed to his mainstream appeal outside of the rap community. Saying that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ four wins were “well-deserved,” Lamar continued to earn his position as one of the most well-respected men in rap. Meanwhile, Drake thinks Mack’s apology was “wack.”

Regress: There’s satire, and then there’s just weird, racist/ableist/homophobic/antifeminist garbage. In the latter category is the “work” of Nick Mullen (writing as Nicole Mullen, a fictional “fun mom and teacher a teacher teacher at a retarded school”) on Thought Catalog, America’s favorite thinkpiece aggregate for people who don’t actually want to “think.” Satire is meant to open a conversation, use humor to face difficult truths, and create awareness through accessible and clever storytelling. Nick’s work, which is slowly gaining ground as a viral blog, does none of these.

Coming this week: Should celebrities feel obligated to come out? What does our reaction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death say about our cultural understanding of addiction? Can Justin Bieber be stopped?