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The Trend Report™: Ugly Americans
When bad things happen, Americans make it about them. But does this help anyone?
New UN Climate Report Is Shockingly Grim
Not to depress you but…this is not good, considering the UN calls it an “atlas of human suffering.” (Dark but also……..go off UN with that metaphor!!!) More here and here but understand that the future is grim – but you know that. Is there still hope? Of course! But I think the real solution, in a way, is realizing that we’ve reached a ceiling of “output” and “optimization,” that certain parts of life and the world need to become simpler and stupider (a la, using less resources and less taxation on the planet) in order for us to survive. If only the capitalists and capitalist systems weren’t so deaf.
Thousands evacuate as Australia reels from severe flooding
Related, which I feel like we’re not hearing much about given Ukraine and Russia.
"Ukrainians blocking Africans from getting on trains"
Black people report racism while fleeing war zone
This was a huge story late last week, about how Africans in Ukraine are being pushed out or mistreated in efforts to escape war.
"meet Vladamir Bondarenko"
This is a very futuristic story about fake people used by Russians to infiltrate digital spaces. But, while we thought we’d be fighting with lasers, this is the reality of future wars.
"soldiers approaching due to Tinder's location tracking"
Related to the above, despite it being unverified.
Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes
Interesting read, from an expert on Putin and Russia.
Disney Won't Say Much About 'Don't Say Gay' Bill
Coca-Cola, Pepsi boycotts over Russia operations
Attention turns to McDonald, yet to take a stand
This week in brands doing dumb, bad shit! Why is anyone surprised? They’re brands! Money is to be made during wars! You shouldn’t be supporting these clowns anyway!!
US Rep. Van Taylor abandons reelection bid
And now for something different, the representative ended the bid because of an affair with a former “ISIS bride.” A lot to unpack here!
“Lol his little facelift ears”
I did not watch the State of the Union, nor did I care. Either way, this was the only take I cared for.
"Florida parents push back"
That Florida governor is a douche!
I lived in Korea for a few years because my father was in the military and we moved around a lot. Being abroad, especially in relationship to government service, came with the pressure that we had to “represent” the country. On one hand, this was a sort of shitty, exceptionalist, White Man’s Burden™ nationalism that assumed that our American values and identity could spread from one person to the next. On the other hand, which was more pressing, was to listen more than speak, to follow cultural norms instead of your own. When served food, accept it and give it a try, even if it doesn’t seem like something you’re used to. When speaking with someone, attempt the language instead of assuming someone has a grasp of English. When out in the world, be mindful of what everyone around you is doing, as to not stick out because that’s what you’re used to at home.
This was all an effort to avoid being seen as the “Ugly American,” that the world revolves around you no matter where you are. We went to great efforts while living abroad to respect the culture we were within and to rise to the occasion, to be guests in their house versus terrible long-term tenants. It was all about realizing that, depending on where you are, it’s not about you but rather about people as a whole, about the macro instead of the micro.
This feeling of the Ugly American seems to have taken different forms, especially when it comes to online culture and international subjects. You can call it main character syndrome, you can call it childish selfishness, you can call it whatever you want, but it’s the prevailing narrative when it comes to people posting through the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Whether you’re AnnaLynne McCord or Stevie Nicks, World War III meme lords or those generally tying subjects back to their “thing,” sharing in the past three years – through a pandemic, through racial uprisings, through attacks on government – have lead to this moment, where people are so attuned to making the conversation about them that there is an inability to understand that a tragedy, a war, isn’t about you. The Ugly American may not be walking into Kyiv, demanding a Coca-Cola when only Kvass is available, but they are instead taking the news of the world and figuring out how to talk about it through the prism of the self.
This comes from the need to apply another country’s culture and problems to the rules of America. Some are using this moment to turn a profit or to promote the self, but it all plays into the need to make, to capitalize, on all parts of life. Even when the world is ending? The hustle continues, the need to turn the moment into money persists. It also relates to the feeling that, as main characters in America, we’re also watching a grand television show that has nothing to do with us. It’s not just that “everything is content” now but that by, adding #IStandWithUkraine to the back of your car or ordering a Kyiv Mule, you are rooting for your favorite character, for a fiction completely divorced from your life. At best, it’s a signal, just like the banging of pots for first responders or posting the Black square for Black lives. At worst, like in a pandemic or moment of racial injustice, you can’t root for the good guy your way through a problem, thinking that there aren’t larger ramifications in your own individual life.
The subject becomes more and more foul when you see how American Western truths about war and tragedy are revealed, by seeing “people like us” slaughtered. The best examples are the instances of talking heads in the media referring to scenes of war as something happening in “civilized” places, offering a “stomach churning” context since it’s not happening in the Middle East, where war “belongs.” Such empathy, such fuss, about vacuum bombs used in Ukraine weren’t made in when the United States used them in Afghanistan or when we drone bombed families in Syria. Apparently brutality is only brutal when the people look like you. Hashtag representation matters!
The thing about all of this, about this moment in time and these past few years of living through unprecedented times, is that it’s a reminder that you don't need to post, that it’s not normal to have an opinion on everything. You can sit and absorb and process this all yourself, or turn to your comforts in silence. It’s not that this is “the first social media war” (It’s not, as New York Times’ Liam Stack pointed out.) but the difference is the nature of trends and topics, that you’re pulling material, subjects, realities from your little phone to parrot back to your little phone. Read the room. It’s not about you, your brand, or America right now, nor was it ever. The subject is horrific and, somehow, we have placed flowers around the dead, spelling out our names instead of theirs.
What Do Animals Dream About?
The short answer here? Running. Oh, to be a lil puppy dreaming of running. Such simple desires!!
"25 years later"
I’m sure you saw the Romy and Michelle reunion photos but, let me tell you, Lisa Kudrow always delights me. The pause she puts into her delivery kills me.
Teen Who Tracked Elon Musk Chasing Russian Tycoons
Love this kid.
spot fake photographs of the war in Ukraine
I know you are smart enough to spot fakes. But, in case you aren’t, this story helps understand what Ukraine media is real and what isn’t.
Girl Scout Cookie Sellers Are Being Harassed
Who the fuck yells at a random child? Especially a child that isn’t your child??
TikTok Boosts Video Length Up to 10 Minutes
In case you missed it, TikTok is hoping to fully become YouTube! Stay tuned on if anyone bites (I don’t want anything more than 5 minutes on that app tbh).
The Next Retail Cycle Is Nothing
An interesting urban planning story, about how stores that have “nothing” (like ghost kitchens and startup storefronts), contribute to a feeling of city vacancy, as if entire neighborhoods are becoming empty malls.
“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this.”
Bandcamp’s getting bought by Epic is weird, to say the least. This take maps the pros and cons of this move, which is all interesting.
Rashida Renée on Killing Nostalgia
One of the coolest fashion people online and off gets the Interview treatment.
Were you in a church youth group as a kid? I was and there’s a specific brand of niceness that I think has defined a generation in Millennials and Gen Z in America. Let me explain.
Across several states, in several cities, even abroad, my mother ran the youth group at every Catholic church we attended in our constant relocations as a military family. These groups oftentimes ran into the activities and organizings of other Christian denominations, but the thing every group had in common was a performed niceness. Perhaps genuine, perhaps for the gaze of God, there was always the feeling that you were “welcome” because you were “here,” even if no one actually liked you or cared for you outside of the church’s walls. It was all a show of nice.
And maybe it was genuine! Maybe I was the weirdo who thought everyone was being fake! I cannot tell. But what’s interesting now is that service industries, from coffee shops to retail stores to your own job, seem to have picked up on this Christian Youth Group Feeling™ making it hard to separate niceness from that of sales. There are visual signals of this – reclaimed woods, dried flowers, snappy tiles, indigo aprons, muted warm colors, copies of Kinfolk, fonts with quirky-sophisticated personalities – which align with Instagram influencer culture and that of the style blogger from a decade ago. People are indeed nice, yes, but there’s the sort of feeling that they want to – and often do – sit down next to you, to learn about you, to tell you how great you are, to share in the fellowship of…What? The tea you just bought?
This feeling is not new but came to mind recently, while out to eat, where we got the sort of “You’re the only cool table here.” treatment. In moments like this, it’s hard to parse if this is a a kindly sales strategy or a genuine truth. Even worse is that it’s hard to figure out if that even matters at all. There is the feeling that establishment and staff are now trying to force an entire weekend of fellowship and vulnerability from a Teens Encounter Christ retreat into an hour dinner.
This dovetails into the obvious: the cool churches, the Hillsongs and Zoes and Mosaics which co-opt cool culture and turn it into Christian community. These churches prove how kindness is a form of branding and, by extension, brands perform kindness to form community. We see it everywhere, from “authentic” brand Tweets to businesses speaking the language of sustainability, all attempts to sit down next to you, to wrap an arm around the shoulder, to say I get you more than anyone else. Whether this energy comes from your boss or from a barista, the end result is you giving something up, either your time or your money – Your life. – in the name of a false (or forced) relationship, an encounter between two people that should stay transactional but is being forced into other territories.
While youth groups had God to gather around, businesses have business. Christian Youth Group Feeling™ is in many ways Disney Adult™ culture, capitalism masquerading as community. It’s not bad, no, but it shows the sort of vacuums that form in secular life when belief systems are replaced with sales. No wonder we all feel like we’ve lost our minds! Because the only things we have to comfort ourselves, the things that replaced belief systems, is using your debit card to buy things you don’t need for the small dopamine hits you get in return.
Sales are my shepherd and I shall want, I suppose.
“the part of the song on TikTok”
Very accurate summation of music in 15 second bursts.
“asked my students”
All the ways Millennial parents make their Gen Z/A kids cringe.
"We’re in our bad bunny phase"
Obsessed with this TikTok account where this girl dances and her dog walks around like Frankenstein.
"this genre of tweets"
Celebrities misunderstanding things? Priceless.
“I waited two years.”
Real footage of Zoe Kravitz in The Batman.
“watching them scramble for it like buzzards”
Please watch the original TikTok too. And I thought hipsters in the 2010s were bad!
"never wanted to scream this loudly"
If you missed this major Wheel of Fortune brain fart, please click above.
"high school english teachers to their gay students"
The one good thing to come out of the AnnaLynne mess. Also, is this not the premise of The Kindergarten Teacher?
"if the name Minnie"
I am obsessed with this Disney influencer baby name prediction TikTok.
"this painting that hangs in the police station"
Y’all……..I need this painting. I have to have it!!
"thought this pic of bella hadid was ruth bader ginsburg"
I keep looking at this Tweet and cannot process what I am seeing.
"British people look like one or the other"
I keep looking at this Tweet and laughing until I cry.
And, finally, me sharing my thoughts on America.