Caliphate, Dead Whales & Reverse Harems

Kicking off this newsletter with a hodgepodge of topics.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of KEEP IN TOUCH, a newsletter sharing all sorts of stuff. This newsletter is a balm for the ache of missing those spontaneous conversations among friends that aren’t quite reproducible on Discord or Twitter. I also want to write more, and having to write to an audience (even if imaginary) every week on deadline is as good a new year’s resolution as any.

I’m sure a structure will emerge over time; in general, I’ll endeavor to email only when I have at least three links or a more lengthy missive. Weekly-ish, maybe more, maybe less.

Without further ado, three articles I’ve been thinking about lately. Feel free to read only my comments or preserve them as a chaser after checking out the link. Let me know which option you decide.

Stalking The Story: The journalist as patriot and predator

By Rafia Zakaria

Caliphate is also a new model of Western journalism, where the journalist is the moral hero, simultaneously a reporter and a protector of Western (read “good”) values. If she hunts and preys on her subject, takes liberties with journalistic ethics and likely even in assurances she makes to her subjects, the sum of it is all forgiven, given the larger noble purpose of fighting terror.

The retraction of The New York Times’s Caliphate was the rare bit of journalistic scandal that seeped into the domain of consumers, not just creators. Among Twitter takedowns and media industry commentary, this 2018 essay exploring the nexus of journalistic ethics and American imperialism stood out. Zakaria masterfully explores how in war reporting—both on-location in foreign countries and in the general societal sense—journalistic objectivity is rarely extended to the Western state.  

In his book and podcast The View From Somewhere, Lewis Raven Wallace explains Hallin’s spheres of consensus as “a way of looking at what’s considered acceptable discourse. And what’s key here is that journalists collaborate with the public on moving questions from deviance to legitimate controversy to consensus. What we decide to cover, what debates we give air time...these determine what’s in these spheres. And that doesn’t always shift in the direction of justice.” Caliphate sits firmly within the realm of patriotic consensus, which led to focus on story instead of truth. Getting wrapped up in a narrative that was so easy to mold and deploy to a national audience contributed to the hubris of the journalists involved and the ultimate downfall of the podcast.

As a journalist, it is easy to lionize our profession—fill ourselves with grandiose purpose when pursuing an investigation, as this essay argues Callimanchi does in Caliphate. In the weeks leading up to the 2020 general election, I had to have a come-to-Jesus moment: if there was a coup, or evidence of electoral meddling, there was nothing I could do. I don’t have the expertise in the area to inform the public, and I’m not in a geography where on-the-ground reporting would be beneficial. It’s unlikely anyone would come knocking on my door asking for charts to preserve the integrity of the republic, and I’ve accepted that. [Note: This paragraph was written before Jan. 6th, a day which proved all the previous to be absolutely true.]

Whale Fall

By Rebecca Briggs

The whale body reaches a point where the buoyancy of its meat and organs is only tethered down by the force of its falling bones. Methane is released in minuscule bubbles. It scatters skin and sodden flesh below it, upon which grows a carpet of white worms waving upwards (grass on its grave). Then, sometimes, the entire whale skeleton will suddenly burst through the cloud of its carcass. For a time, the skeleton might stay hitched jerkily at the spine to its parachute of muscle; a macabre marionette dangling in the slight currents. Then it drops, falls quickly to the sea floor, into the plush cemetery of the worms.

This gnarley quote is from a 2015 Granta piece that was assigned in “Writing The Science Essay,” a class I took last year. (Excellently taught by Sabrina Imbler at Catapult.) Of all the pieces we read over the six weeks we met, this one stuck with me because of its effortless blend of climate commentary, first-person narrative, and zoological exploration. 

Reverse Harem and the Rise of Polyamorous Fantasy Romance

By R. A. Stefan

Somewhat ironically for a genre that’s all about not having to choose, the existence of this limited number of gatekeepers resulted in ménage books that were almost laughably formulaic, in many cases. Publishers—I kid you not—issued guidelines on everything from plot structure to book length to the content of the story’s climactic (heh!) group sex scene. Double penetration or bust, baby!

I was browsing books on Goodreads and saw a title billing itself as “RH/WhyChoose.” After some cautious Googling in private windows, I found this blog post tracing the evolution of the “reverse harem” romance trope. From strict guidelines for group sex to arguing whether women can be part of a reverse harem (answer: only if they’re a lesbian, so they can’t screw the other men in the harem) to hashtag censorship workarounds, this was a fascinating dive into a hereto-unknown to me part of Romancelandia.

Did something here strike your fancy? Reply to me or comment, and tell me what it is you have been consuming lately. I’m always up for recommened reading.

Keep in touch!