Welcome to The Trend Report™ where you get a capturing of what happened this week.
For this week’s cultural temperature check, get ready for feel good reality shows and Thanksgiving alone, stories coming to [Insert Social Media Platform] and more of the same politics, an old writer who seems to have captured the Millennial vibe and one celebrity child who will not be mentioned here, a TikTok Trump makeover and a strange similarity between Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
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A good portion of my adult, working life was spent in the reality television and game show space. These were weird times, something that I’d love to write more on, if I had more time or literary leverage. Alas. Still, I have a soft spot for the genre and formats as I know very well how this sausage is made.
An ongoing trend in this space is happening in the food genre, remarkable as it’s almost anti-reality show: these are kind shows. The most obvious example of this is The Great British Baking Show. The now-iconic British series is a competition where normal people bake things for no other prize than a nice cake stand. The tensions are low, the cast is very supportive of each other, and everyone is genuinely excited to be there. While this season has had a few scratching their heads, Baking Show has sparked a rash of wannabes: there are the obvious foodie rip-offs like The Holiday Baking Show and the Mary Berry stealing Best Home Cook, there’s The Big Family Cooking Showdown which has too much going on to succeed and the decent and imitative Best Baker In America, in addition to the non-food wannabes like the fairly boring and over-produced The Big Flower Fight and the too disparate to work craft show Making It along with the perfectly fine Great Pottery Throw Down. There’s also TheGreat American Baking Show which is a horrible, horrible Americanized failure that isn’t even worth expanding upon.
The recipe for success here is that you have a cast of amateurs who you follow for an entire season, versus the Chopped style one-and-done episode casting. The problem with most imitative shows – and where they differ from Baking Show – is that they try too hard. American versions dangle big money which, when paired with Americans being too aware that they are on television, result in deeply disingenuous schlock. The market is also completely saturated, which is why you have something like Flower Fight, trying to imitate an artform like baking but never quite landing exactly on a same-same feeling. Baking Show is quiet and anti-maximalist. It’s also more about pride than prize. This is why the show works: people are doing what they love, with no care for the audience or television. They want to win, yes, but they also are happy to be there. The stakes are low, the competition is friendly. In America, everything is about winning. That’s why the imitations fail.
The most decent parrot of the show is Netflix’s The American Barbecue Showdown. The show takes a niche food subject – Barbecue! – and offers challenges that are abstract yet attainable for all, making the show relatable but just out of reach for home cooks. Everyone is nice and, while the hosts are pretty blah, legitimate barbecue royalty hosts (Melissa Cookston, Kevin Bludso) make for a winning combination. The show has it’s own quirks – a la, having the cast wear the same outfits the entire season, making it feel like one long day, which is a production shortcut so you can pop in sound bites from any episode – but is a winning Baking Show wannabe. It is worth the watch. You can also say the same of HBO’s Full Bloom which succeeds where Flower Fight fails by letting people be themselves.
The elephant in the room here is Netflix, who capture fun shows only to strangle both audience and market. This is why so many Baking Show wannabes are around and from Netflix: they, like Amazon, see what you watch and try to produce-then-vomit the same idea in a different way onto you. This takes us to Nailed It!, the comical Chopped style show that embraces people being not-great at something. The results are humorous and genuine, very much the actual American equivalent to Baking Show because it pokes fun and puts wannabe TV people on the spot, to actually do something other than be themselves. Of course there are parrots – Crazy Delicious attempts to use fancy foods instead of fails for blah results while Sugar Rush takes a similar approach but with sweets – but, again, it works when it doesn’t feel too same-same, a la Haute Dog, which applies the same character and format to dog grooming. The results are fairly stellar, if not always a rousing success.
The underlying theme here? Wholesomeness. In a world that’s literally fucking insane and terrible for the past few years, wholesome shows like Baking Show and Nailed It offer a make-believe world of giggles and sillies and sweets. They project a family friendly atmosphere without the issues of identity politics or economic inequalities. Everyone, for thirty minutes to an hour at a time, are equal. If you don’t really care, you don’t have to bother explaining why white people cooking Japanese food is a bit problematic. You can just smile, pointing at the screen, marveling at how pretty things are. And they are pretty! And tasty and silly. To love Baking Show, to love Nailed It, is to love a lie: the reality is false, unlike our world. Maybe all those mean, laugh-at-you style reality shows actually had it right.
What a stupid week for technology.
Fleets: a new way to join the conversation
LinkedIn Stories - Overview
This was the story of the week: “stories” – bite-sized video updates which Snapchat originated, Vine tried to popularize, and has been imitated by Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok – has finally hit Twitter and LinkedIn, which doesn’t really make any sense because these are text-based mediums. This has spawned many a take, mostly about tech companies wanting to be other tech companies. Here’s the best take. I, for one, am still waiting for Rihanna’s forehead to have stories.
‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Going To HBO Max On Christmas Day
This is great news for the “I don’t want to go to the movie theatre ever again.” set, meaning me. As everyone is saying, this is putting the pressure on Disney to put their superhero movies online.
BuzzFeed Inc. agreed to acquire Verizon Media’s HuffPost
This is major, considering both of these publications are digital titans whose luster has somehow faded (likely as Facebook, et al, have fancied themselves publishers). It will be interesting to see what this means for HuffPost, if they can survive at all.
Lil Nas X’s Roblox concert was attended 33 million times
DID I NOT TELL YOU THIS WAS THE FUTURE HAIL NAS
Charli D'Amelio Criticised Over Video That's Seen Her Lose 500,000 Followers
I read about this video being “rude” and thought it was kind of fake news but I guess there are real ramifications for being a brat. I hope this makes them a little less pronounced in the world! Team Addison.
Wait... Did Ron Watkins Just Rat His Dad Out as Q?
This was a huge story that kinda got buried. I will likely never do a QAnon deep dive but this is quite the update for the saga. Too bad the damage’s already been done (to this country).
Parler Is Unsurprisingly Backed by Conservative Megadonor
I will also not write a Parler explainer but here’s a big news bit about the conservative and alt-right supposed free speech utopia that never will be (or will be the death of us all).
Turn Off Gmail's 'Smart' Features to Avoid Tracking
I had no idea things like marking emails as “important” were actually a means to track data. Use the internet in smarter ways, people!
Oh God, the Worst Passwords of 2020 Are Here and They're Horrifying
WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE
Student Behind Popular Paint-Mixing TikTok Page Was Fired
While many brands, as noted last week, encourage employees to be their own street team of influencers, Sherwin-Williams doesn’t have a clue how to do this – and fired an employee with a massively successful paint related TikTok account.
Japanese town deploys robot wolves to ward off bear attacks
Finally, some truly good tech news.
When you want uppers, all there are are downers.
Sainted Too Soon? Vatican Report Cast John Paul II in Harsh New Light
"they caught The Pope in 4K"
What a week in papal news! First it was questioning the sainthood of John Paul II, for his overlooking sexual assault and rape issues in the church, then it was catching the pope (“the pope”) being horny on Instagram. All this is to say: religion makes people do really stupid shit. Unsubscribe.
A Disturbing Number of Republicans Support Trump’s Coup Attempt
Trump Wouldn’t Be the First President to Try a Comeback
Meet the 2 Republican Who Tried and Failed to Pull Off a Coup
I am tired of sharing this but here are your coupdates.
Of Course White Women Voted for Trump Again
Of course white women voted for Trump again.
Somehow, Thanksgiving is just days away. What should you do?
The Atlantic says to cancel it, “work together to achieve something meaningful and good” and end the pandemic by eating at home.
New York magazine is making the case to spend Thanksgiving alone, to indulge in yourself, by yourself, and be “liberated from the burden of anyone else’s expectations.”
The Washington Post has some book recommendations for you, to help pass the time.
USA Today agrees, offering help for making the most of a Zoomgiving.
Bon Appetit hope you have good food and good people – but are unsure who, if anyone, should celebrate the holiday.
NPR poses the question of traveling or staying home, with very rigorous, cautious, unexcited advice for going anywhere.
Refinery 29 can help you love every minute of being alone on this day while Bustle has a listicle of seven for lonely celebrating and Mashable can guide you from next Thursday’s holiday through the new year and Eater has suggestions for holiday-for-one takeout.
So what is the media telling you to do? Have Thanksgiving alone or don’t have it at all but, whatever you do, don’t be with people.
News of the body, for the mind.
What Writing a Pandemic Newsletter Showed Me About America
I was reading a physical issue of Wired and thought this story about Patrice Peck and her “Coronavirus News For Black Folks” was so informative and inspiring. Subscribe! And learn some.
"a woman giving birth in the United States is ten times more likely to die"
What the fuck is wrong with out first class third world country? Again: I HATE IT HERE!!!
How the CMAs Became the First Big COVID-Era Awards Show
I do not approve of this but it is interesting!
Gout Is Now Tormenting the Masses
One of the most fascinating, culturally engaging, smartest health stories of the week, which speaks to the meat obsession of the now (which is ironic given the state of the planet).
Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research
Maybe Dolly should be the new pope? Just a thought.
Bleak: Amazon Is a Pharmacy Now
Who wants to play Monopoly?
Study Finds Living With a Dog Increases Risk of Contracting COVID-19
I have very mixed personal reviews on this story.
You should be reading the work of Sigrid Nunez.
The late sextagenarian author has been on a hot streak, first with 2018’s The Friend and now with her recent What Are You Going Through. The two books cover grief, losing lifelong friends and being there for other people when they have no one. The stories are deeply intertwined with animal love, even if the animal isn’t entirely present (as is the case of the latter book).
What’s so interesting about Nunez is that, although decidedly Boomer, she seems to embody an extremely Millennial vibe. Perhaps it’s her relaxed language, perhaps it’s her candid, unfiltered subjects, perhaps it’s her deep knowledge of things that are very, very old merging with things that are very, very new: I’m not sure. Regardless, the sensation of reading both of her books is that I’m listening to a peer. In this, Sigrid Nunez seems to be the voice of a generation: Millennials. Here’s why.
Her books occupy the feeling of hyperlinking. They nest information, a reference to a book leading to a reference to a movie leading to a reference to a website, in a way that feels as if you are perusing Wikipedia or reading an interesting article, weaving in and out of information in a very digital pursuit to learn more. This relates to the style of these books, particularly The Friend, which is “autofiction,” a buzzy term for books that blur the line between the author’s life and fictionalized experiences. What makes this genre a genre is ties to the incorporation of theory, offering cultural criticism from within a work while also inviting mixed-media subjects into writing.
Autofiction is also a very Millennial construct, in that these books read like extended personal essays. Think The Cut or Buzzfeed or any other essay booming digital publication that offers a space for people to share their lives and experiences in intimate detail: Nunez’s books are that but they are fiction. They seem to leap from the essay and into the book, doing the thing that most writers of essays want to do: become fully literary. What some get from Jia Tolentino I get from Sigrid Nunez.
Then there are the subjects. Her books are obsessed with aging and, for a group coming of age, this is a pertinent subject. While the deaths experienced by the narrators are perhaps not in every Millennial’s current moment, the idea of being a touch away from youth is. From The Friend’s nostalgic professor to What Are You Going Through’s laissez faire writer, these two characters offer a way to look at aging that is through the young, by looking at moments that Millennials are perhaps experiencing now – being an adult child, forging adult best friendships, managing and losing love, drinking too much, women’s sexuality – in a present-but-past way. Both books could be called authorial self-care, therapy via writing. And who loves therapy? Who loves taking care of the self? Millennials.
Of course we have to mention the animals. While What Are You Going Through promises cats and gives you feline bits and pieces, The Friend is perhaps the best modern book about a dog. Rarely do these creatures get love and adoration, nay respect and understanding, in writing but Nunez’s Great Dane Apollo is a striking, unspeaking character. What she has done with The Friend is mark the dog as deserving of space in writing. Is that not the most Millennial thing ever, considering this is a group who pick pets over people?
(Coincidentally, both protagonists in her books are childless adults. Millennials? Known for not having kids.)
As this week saw a new National Book Award Winner – which The Friend won – and the new Booker Prize winner, it’s a literary week – and I want to draw the spotlight to Sigrid Nunez, who repeatedly impresses me by being the most Millennial non-Millennial, making quick books (Roughly 200 pages, short enough to read over a weekend.) that make you feel like a savvy urban intellectual just by reading her words. Isn’t that yet another Millennial dream come true?
The only business on the block to have survived all these years—and doing quite well, from the size of the crowd—if with every ounce of character erased. This we deplore; this we mourn. But it is still holy ground of our youth, from where how many times did we stumble home, propping each other up, more than once stopping so one or the other could vomit between parked cars. You know she’s your girlfriend when she holds the hair out of your face while you puke. We’ll drink to that.
A full-blown ‘Ratatouille’ musical is being created on TikTok
The biggest TikTok story of the week.
The Lady Upstairs
One of my friends from grad school had a book come out this week and it’s so great!!!! If you’re looking for smart, strong neo-noir that plays with Los Angeles, then this is a story for you.
Meet Shameika Stepney, Inspiration to Fiona Apple on Fetch the Bolt Cutters
This is one of the most tickling stories I’ve read in a long time: apparently on the new Fiona Apple record, there’s a song called “Shameika” about a classmate from her childhood who intervened in an episode of bullying. The two didn’t keep in touch but, somehow, Pitchfork tracked down the real Shameika who is a rapper and, now, working with Fiona. It’s an unlikely, surprising story that represents the importance of connections throughout our lives. You never know what impact you’ll have on someone.
Abstract sky penis above Ramstein Air Base evokes early Modernist themes
This story has everything you (I.) could want: art criticism and penises, while jabbing at the American military.
“Emily in Paris” and the Rise of Ambient TV
Theoretically, I agree with this story. Do I think that Emily In Paris is on par with any of the work of Brian Eno? No. That is a false equivalence. Do I think people are watching television mindlessly as they do other shit? Yes. That’s old news though.
Whatever It Is, It’s Probably Not Hair Dye
Hair professionals weigh in on what was happening with Rudy Guiliani’s hair. It seems to be mascara, masquerading as hair dye.
The Viral Pig Ad Is Fake. The Couch Is Real. We Spoke to Both Creators.
That Pig Couch on Craigslist? Not for Sale. (Also, Not a Couch.)
This story was huge and wild and artsy and you need to see it. The TL;DR is that it has a history of being shared for the sake of virality.
"This is one of the fucking funniest things I have ever watched."
Here’s the best nature story of the week.
Los Angeles Times: No one shades Cazzie David better than Cazzie David
New Yorker: Cazzie David’s Existential Dread
Vogue: Cazzie David On Her New Book
Elle: A Love Letter To Quarantine From Cazzie David
The Cut: Too Full To F - - - You Can’t Always Make Room For A Dick.
The Cut Podcast: Being An Anxious Weirdo With Cazzie David
I refuse to link out to these stories. Know that the nepotism machine is working in overdrive right now for Larry David’s daughter and, if you need more explanation of why this is so annoying, Jezebel can explain. I don’t know who her audience is (Olds??) but she is not the voice of any generation. Sigrid Nunez is!
Free your mind.
"we have PS5 at home"
Such is adulthood.
"one of the grestest edit i have ever seen"
Quite the twist ending.
"everyone needs to see this"
And what is “this”? An ASMR video of a kitten eating tiny sausages.
"four of the same guys two guys twice"
Straight men are wild.
"This TikTok deserves a Best Picture nomination."
Better than anything Chris Pratt has ever done.
"coffee prices are out of control"
Honestly? We should be selling more babies.
"Giving the president the golden ratio"
Of all the things I hate? This is the W O R S T.
"This looks like one of those Spanish art restorations."
The best take on these hearings.
“Leonardo DiCaprio who is obsessed with being fully clothed in water."
A most fascinating thread.
"Finally an accurate ‘a day in the life’ tiktok"
Very much don’t like.
"brad pitt is morphing into 1990s jen aniston"
This is, as they say, “sending me.”
And, finally, me when I can’t sleep.
Next week, on a Wednesday edition, we’re taking a quick look at the month of holidays.