What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Here are the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  There’s some interesting stuff here, for sure.

Invisible Child (NYT)

This is a really long piece (it’s long-form journalism, so that’s to be expected), but it’s pretty amazing, compelling stuff.  It’s definitely been making the news media rounds this week, so if it sounds familiar, it probably is.  At any rate, the piece focuses on 11-year-old Dasani, a girl who lives with her family in a NYC homeless shelter.  The article takes on all sorts of things, including race, class, addiction, and poverty.

It might take you a while to read it, but it’s worth it.  Moving, riveting, fascinating.  Probably the best journalism piece I’ve read in a long time.

Against “Guilty Pleasure” (The New Yorker)

Taking aim at the concept of the “guilty pleasure” and why the term is so ridiculous, this article nails it.  I’ve long struggled with the phrase “guilty pleasure” and have worked to strike it from my vocabulary (with mixed success).  This piece makes a case for doing so.  Because when you think about it, what is a guilty pleasure, really?

Guilty pleasures refer to cultural artifacts with mass appeal—genre novels, catchy pop songs, domestic action movies (foreign action “films,” no matter how awful, tend to get a pass), TV shows other than “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire”—that bring with them an easy enjoyment without any pretense to edification. What’s even more perverse is that these so-called “guilty pleasures” never involve actual transgression: the bland escapades of Bridget Jones are a guilty pleasure; the depraved orgies of the Marquis de Sade are not.

I’m not going to lie, because it’s the New Yorker, it goes into the history of the phrase and gets a bit academic.  But it does beg the question: why do we consider anything with mainstream appeal a guilty pleasure?  Does everyone do this, or is it only those of us who consider themselves connoisseurs (snobs, guys. I’m a snob.  whatever.) of culture that do this?

Why “Love Actually” Matters (Mother Jones)

I think it’s a testament to the film’s staying power that over ten years later, we are still talking about this silly British ensemble dramedy.  This article tackles the polarizing effect the movie Love Actually has on audiences.  Me?  I’m firmly in the “love it” category, and I watch it every year at Christmas with my mom.  Whatever, it’s our tradition.  This article is smart and frequently funny, but this part is probably my favorite:

Also, all of you, everybody, stop comparing Love Actually to most other romantic comedies.Love Actually is only a traditional romantic comedy insofar as it is a film about romance that has humor. It does not have the structure required of the genre. To be honest, if you’re going to compare it to any one film you should probably compare it to Crash, the working title of which I’d like to think was Racism, Actually.

Why I’m Quitting the Online Atheist Community (Slate)

Look, guys, I’m not shy about my atheism.  If asked, I’ll tell you.  I was raised Jewish by parents who were skeptical and unconverted (mom) and what I like to call a “High Holy Days Jew” (dad), and while I had a Bat Mitzvah, I was already a complete disbeliever at 13.  The temple and I did not part ways amicably, and while I don’t hold a grudge or anything, I also don’t think of my time there in what could be described as “warm” or “fuzzy.”  There’s no nostalgia lost here, folks.

But I’m not what some would consider a “militant atheist.” I firmly believe that you get to believe whatever you want if it makes you feel better.  When your beliefs start infringing on the rights of others?  That’s when we have a problem.  Your heart is full of hate?  Also your problem, but if you decide you need to speak it loudly, I’m going to have a problem with you and your “beliefs.”

I don’t go willingly looking for a fight on social media or in person, though.  This thoughtful blog post sums up much of my problems with trying to engage in a debate with a person of faith:

But I will no longer be dragged into debates with theists who make a ludicrous claim, then base their evidence on the very book from which their ludicrous claim originates. There is no point in it. All this back-and-forth sniping serves to do is to make us feel a sense of superiority to the person making the claims and does nothing for them except leave them with a smugness about their assumption that “atheists are all mean.” Faith overrides knowledge and truth in any situation, so arguing with a theist is akin to banging your head against a brick wall: You will injure yourself and achieve little.

This is something that I have struggled and continue to struggle with.  I don’t have an answer, but I can choose to not engage unless I feel it’s really important. And that gives me some peace of mind.

What did you read this week that got you thinking?

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