Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football

Bill Simmons, writing for The Ringer:

Forty years from now, we won’t remember a specific concussion that transformed the way we watched football. I remember joking about Troy Aikman’s Concussion Face in columns as recently as the early 2000s (and only because I didn’t know any better). I remember my feelings slowly shifting after that unforgettably violent Steelers-Ravens playoff game in 2009, a night plagued by multiple knockouts and a 30-second span when we thought Willis McGahee was dead. Not hurt — DEAD. I remember Jamaal Charles getting rocked in the 2013 Colts-Chiefs wild-card game, then being examined on the sideline and realizing, “Holy shit, it’s the playoffs and he’s still not coming back.” I remember Julian Edelman getting belted late in Super Bowl XLIX, right after his season-saving third-down catch over the middle, and talking myself into Edelman NOT being concussed … but only because of the stakes.

These dicey moments have changed how we watch football, that’s for sure. Twenty years ago, I would have written a joke about the Luke Kuechly Concussion Face and moved on to the next riff. Now I’m a little haunted by it. We have too much information about head injuries. I feel like an accomplice. Everyone wondered why the NFL’s ratings slipped for those first nine weeks, but Malcolm, maybe it starts there?

Is there a better combination of brains than Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell to discuss sports and pop culture in a slightly wordy, nerdy way that feels relatable while also academic? Maybe when Bill teams up with Chuck Klosterman? Imagine if the three of them just sat around watching TV all day? It could be its own channel.


Dominick Dunne’s Complete O.J. Simpson Trial Coverage

Dominick Dunne, writing for Vanity Fair:

At nine o’clock we walk into the courtroom and take our places in our assigned seats, and then the door to the holding room opens and in comes O. J. Simpson himself, usually surrounded by Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and Carl Douglas. We all stare at O.J. to see what kind of mood he’s in or to which lawyer he’s talking, and we watch him say good morning to members of his family. When Judge Lance Ito comes in, we do not rise, but we do rise on the bailiff’s order to do so as the jury enters. Then the trial begins again, and all day long we watch it, except for our lunch break, when we talk about it, saying things such as “Did you notice if O.J. looked when they showed the picture of Nicole lying in the blood?” The other night, after watching a segment of Hard Copy devoted to O.J. and a drug dealer, I went to a friend’s house for dinner. I had hardly gotten inside the front door when I was confronted by people who wanted to know what had happened in court that day. I had hoped for a little respite from the topic. I wanted to talk about something else for a change, and volunteered that Ethan Hawke was in the room across the hall from me at the Chateau Marmont, and that Keanu Reeves was in the room next to me, and that I had just seen Johnny Depp being interviewed in the lobby. But nobody cared. Polite nods were the most my movie-star name-dropping got. They all wanted to talk about nothing but O. J. Simpson.

If, like me (and many others), you've fallen hard for FX's American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, you've got some reading you'll want to do. As the show has portrayed, Dominick Dunne covered the trial in-person for Vanity Fair, and the VF archives has all 9 pieces linked up and ready to go. The writing is exquisite, Bret Easton Ellis meets Ernest Hemingway. Dunne is somber, charismatic, funny, and inquisitive. It doesn't get any better than this. The excerpt above is from Part 2, 'All O.J., All the Time.'


Microsoft Created a Twitter Bot to Learn From Users. It Quickly Became a Racist Jerk.

Daniel Victor, writing for The New York Times:

Microsoft set out to learn about “conversational understanding” by creating a bot designed to have automated discussions with Twitter users, mimicking the language they use.

What could go wrong?

How does that saying go? Every nation gets the Twitter bot it deserves?


'Pablo Picasso and Kanye West share many qualities.'

Jayson Greene, writing for Pitchfork:

Kanye's second child Saint was born in early December, and there's something distinctly preoccupied about this whole project—it feels wry, hurried, mostly good-natured, and somewhat sloppy. Like a lot of new parents, Kanye feels laser-focused on big stuff—love, serenity, forgiveness, karma—and a little frazzled on the details. "Ultralight Beam" opens with the sound of a 4-year-old preaching gospel, some organ, and a church choir: "This is a God dream," goes the refrain. But everything about the album's presentation—the churning tracklist, the broken promises to premiere it here or there, the scribbled guest list—feels like Kanye ran across town to deliver a half-wrapped gift to a group birthday party to which he was 10 minutes late.

This is probably the best review I've read of TLOP. This is the only assertion that I disagree with:

The Life of Pablo is, accordingly, the first Kanye West album that's just an album: No major statements, no reinventions, no zeitgeist wheelie-popping.

The way TLOP was and/or is in the process of being released is the big deal here. In five years or so, I think we'll look back at this moment and realize that this was when the gate officially came crashing down on the old way of doing these kinds of things.


‘Thank God for AIDS! You won’t repent of your rebellion that brought His wrath on you in this incurable scourge, so expect more & worse! #red.’

Adrian Chen, writing for The New Yorker:

It was easy for Phelps-Roper to write things on Twitter that made other people cringe. She had been taught the church’s vision of God’s truth since birth. Her grandfather Fred Phelps established the church, in 1955. Megan’s mother was the fifth of Phelps’s thirteen children. Megan’s father, Brent Roper, had joined the church as a teen-ager. Every Sunday, Megan and her ten siblings sat in Westboro’s small wood-panelled church as her grandfather delivered the sermon. Fred Phelps preached a harsh Calvinist doctrine in a resounding Southern drawl. He believed that all people were born depraved, and that only a tiny elect who repented would be saved from Hell. A literalist, Phelps believed that contemporary Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s love, preached a perverted version of the Bible. Phelps denounced other Christians so vehemently that when Phelps-Roper was young she thought “Christian” was another word for evil. Phelps believed that God hated unrepentant sinners. God hated the politicians who were allowing the United States to descend into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. He hated the celebrities who glorified fornication.

Phelps also believed that fighting the increasing tolerance of homosexuality was the key moral issue of our time. To illustrate gay sin, he described exotic sex acts in lurid detail. “He would say things like ‘These guys are slobbering around on each other and sucking on each other,’ ” Megan said. In awe of his conviction and deep knowledge of Scripture, she developed a revulsion to homosexuality. “We thought of him as a star in the right hand of God,” she said. Westboro had started as an offshoot of Topeka’s East Side Baptist Church, but by the time Phelps-Roper was born its congregation was composed mostly of Fred Phelps’s adult children and their families.

Nevertheless, Phelps-Roper didn’t grow up in isolation. Westboro believed that its members could best preach to the wicked by living among them. The children of Westboro attended Topeka public schools, and Phelps-Roper ran track, listened to Sublime CDs, and read Stephen King novels. If you knew the truth in your heart, Westboro believed, even the filthiest products of pop culture couldn’t defile you. She was friendly with her classmates and her teachers, but viewed them with extreme suspicion—she knew that they were either intentionally evil or deluded by God. “We would always say, They have nothing to offer us,” Phelps-Roper said. She never went to dances. Dating was out of the question. The Westboro students had a reputation for being diligent and polite in class, but at lunch they would picket the school, dodging food hurled at them by incensed classmates.

It’ll take you about 40 minutes to read this piece, but if you’ve ever spent any time thinking about the Westboro Baptist Church (and in 2015, who hasn’t?), there’s no way you can’t take the time. I would just assume that the film rights to this story have already been bought. Jennifer Lawrence was born to play Megan Phelps-Roper. 


‘Vote and support Ben Car-son/For the next president, he’d be awesome’

Inae Oh, writing for Mother Jones:

Ben Carson has made his contribution to the annals of awkward rap ads promoting Republican presidential hopefuls, and it's awful.

It’s easy—too easy—to mock this ridiculous, pandering piece of audio. So instead, when I heard it, I thought about one of my favorite pieces of wisdom regarding the creative process. It came during a discussion about some big Hollywood bust, a movie (I don’t remember which one now) that was obviously deeply flawed from conception and destined to fail, and the terrible box office numbers and reviews it eventually received were a foregone conclusion. The advice went like this: always remember that nobody sets out to make a bad movie.


Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up

Susan Burton, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

The control room had an anticipatory backstage feel. Moments earlier, a director was gesturing like a conductor, asking an engineer to ‘‘Hit it!’’ with an audio clip. In high school, Gross wanted to be a lyricist; one of the things she loves about radio is that it has ‘‘just enough theater.’’ ‘‘Fresh Air’’ is intensely collaborative, and many staff members have been there for years, including the executive producer Danny Miller, who started as an intern in 1978.

‘‘Hello, is this Sarah? Hi, this is Terry Gross. I’ll be doing the interview with you today.’’ Gross’s voice is briskly warm, with a luster that conveys the pleasure she takes in it as an instrument. For years, she took singing lessons; she told her instructor that she wasn’t trying to become good at singing — ‘‘I just want to be inside a song, to the extent that I can be. To just have my body inside a song.’’ The goal was raptness in a form she loves.

‘‘If I ask you anything too personal — I know your book is personal, but say I cross a line, just tell me, and we’ll move on,’’ she said to Hepola. ‘‘And you can tell me anything on the record or off the record. O.K.? Swell.’’

I settled in to listen. Along a long panel of buttons in the front of the room was a white plastic square with a big red arrow under it and a label that said, TALK TO TERRY BUTTON.

The best part of this piece was realizing that I’m not the only person who has rehearsed my future Fresh Air interview.


Taylor Swift’s GQ Cover Interview

Chuck Klosterman, writing for GQ:

Now, inside my skull, I am thinking one thought: This is not remotely crazy. It actually seems like the opposite of crazy. Why wouldn’t Justin Timberlake want to perform with the biggest entertainer in America, to an audience of 15,000 people who will lose their collective mind the moment he appears? I’d have been much more surprised if he’d called to turn her down. But then I remember that Swift is 25 years old, and that her entire ethos is based on experiencing (and interpreting) how her insane life would feel if she were exactly like the type of person who’d buy a ticket to this particular concert. She has more perspective than I do. Every extension of who she is and how she works is (indeed) “so crazy,” and what’s even crazier is my inability to recognize just how crazy it is.

So Taylor Swift is right again.

Great job by GQ. C.K. is the perfect pop culture writer to interview one of the biggest pop culture icons on the planet. It’s not easy to make being ludicrously famous look equal parts easy, difficult, humbling, and sudden, but T.S. pulls it off.


Boss Bitch(es)

First, Miranda July, in an interview with Rihanna for T Magazine:

Her lips were bright red, her long nails were pale iridescent lavender, her mascara was both white and black in a way I didn’t really understand. A rhinestone necklace against her chest read ‘‘FENTY,’’ her last name. Oumarou wasn’t the only person I had grilled about what makes Rihanna great. A lesbian art history professor told me that she’s ‘‘the real deal.’’ Others used the words ‘‘magic’’ and ‘‘epic.’’ But when I tried to get anyone to pinpoint things she had said or done — particular interviews or incidents — everyone became lost in inarticulacy. Yet another friend, referencing an episode of ‘‘Style Wars’’ that Rihanna had appeared on, concluded, ‘‘You could just tell she’s a good person.’’ None of this was all that helpful.

And then, Vanessa Grigoriadis, in a profile of Nicki Minaj:

Minaj has a shockingly beautiful and complex face, with a wide, high forehead, dark, almond-shaped eyes and deep dimples on both sides of her cheeks that materialize when she smiles. But when asked if she felt confident in her looks as a kid, she said, ‘‘Hell, no!’’ She paused. ‘‘Now, I want to take steps to become more aware of who I am, what I like or dislike about my body — why is that?’’ she said. She mentioned how insecure she felt on Instagram, ‘‘where everyone is freaking drop-dead gorgeous.’’ Don’t get her wrong, she said: Like most celebrities, she approves the pictures that appear on her Instagram and other social-media accounts. ‘‘I get that people put filters on their pictures — I definitely use filters — but I didn’t know people retouched,’’ she says, excitedly talking about being in a nightclub the other day, taking pictures with a friend, and how the friend ‘‘cleaned all the sweat off our face’’ before she posted the photo. ‘‘We’re in a club! We can have a moist, dewy-looking face.’’

I decided to link to these two pieces together not because they are similar—Rihanna and Minaj come off quite differently in the pieces, as do their interviewers—but for the pure simple please of  seeing an outlet like The New York Times publishing them so closely together (a week apart), admitting that these are the pop cultural forces of nature that our society needs to reckon with and understand more. That’s progress.