I can’t remember where I came across Real Life Magazine. I’ve searched through my email inbox, but it’s not exactly a distinctive name now, is it? Let’s just say that I had a fever dream one night in January 2018 about a website publishing thematically-linked articles each week featuring interesting pieces by a wide variety of authors. Authors who manage to write work that remains compelling, even if you aren’t necessarily interested in the topic at hand.
In my dream these shapes formed over my head like a cascading, oozing monstrosity from the fifth dimension:
R̸ͤ̆ͩ̓҉̱͇̮̳͖̻̫̭͓̕ ̷̸͍͈̺̾ͦ̿̍̽̓̌͌̀ͣ͂̏̅ͤE̴̢̘̺͇̤̖̭̫͎͖͒ͥͯͭͪͭ̓̾ͮ̄͆ͤ̉ͧ̃ͨ͟͝͡ ̶̡̯̰̜͍͚̟͔̯̙͔̉̓ͨ̓ͫ͗ͪ̑̚A͚͇͇͈̤̜̥͍̝̩̥͎̭ͪͯ͌̒̎̚̕͞ͅ ̷̨̩̜̙ͪͮͪ̍̄ͣ̍͛́͘Ļ̸͙̲̘͎͕̮͎̭̮͇͑̐ͫ̎̿̓ͬ̑͟͢ ̷ͫ͌͊̀̐͜҉͉̩̞͕̝̠͙̮̫̞̤̣͉L̨̞̲̜̩̖̯̟̘̳ͦ̂̍͛̿̆͊ͥͯ̎̑ͣͫ͑ͥͮ́̕͡ ̶̡̠̪̲͇͖̖͈̜̱̭̰̮͒͐̃̍͊̂̆͜ͅI͓̺̠͍̹͕͌ͤ́̎͌͑ͥͮ̓͛̄̓́͟ ̵̰̫͇̯̺̥̱̗̙̯̘̩͇̇͋̊͂͞ͅFͩ͊̑̿̌ͥ̀͑̐̉̿̒́̀̚͜҉̼̯̩̱͈̘̣̗̬̻̪̦͍͉͕̘͕̲ͅ ͛ͬ̋ͦ͗̅̂ͩ̉̄ͯͬ͑͛ͬ̀҉͍̥̫̰̩̳̼̟̜͉̫ͅẼ̶̬͙͇̟͎̗̗͍̳̙͚̩̮̥̰͕ͤͭͣ̾̋͆̓͐͟ ̶͓̭͉̘̯̟͎̰͙̩̱̥͆̋̂ͥ̋͒ͪ͒͘M̷̮̻͉̬̻̀̂ͩ̒͌̂͊̃̎̀ͩ̂̅ͨ͘ ̡̗͎̪̻̠̳̙͙͔͔͓̹͚̪̫̬̍̓̈́̌́͢͠A̛͉͕͔͔͈̱ͧ̓͗͒̌̊̾͊͠ ̻͓͚̗̭͔̜̞̤̩͚̻͙̝͎͖̘̪̖̄̉ͫͭͤ̃ͦ͛͐ͮ͗̎́͂͗̇͊̀͡͡G̵̢̪͓̖͍̺̟̜̰̭̖̲͎̜̗̘̀͛̈ͫ͗́ͯ̑̊̿͂ͫ̇̄̒̐ͬ̚͘
Risking my sanity I decoded the hidden message and punched these enigmatic runes into my web browser… and LO, my dream was reality. As I wiped the sweat from my fever-hot brow, I pored over these tomes of timely wisdom, risking my very sanity to bring them to you, dear reader!
Or, y’know, I just came across it via the Republic of Newsletters, and it has consistently been one of the most interesting things appearing in my inbox ever since.
Here are some recent highlights:
In an attempt to counteract the narrative in which the slain black man is remembered as a “thug” (recall the protest to the New York Times calling Michael Brown “no angel” in 2014), Stephon Clark, who was shot at 20 times and murdered by Sacramento police in March, is being remembered as a father: candidly sleeping on the couch holding his children or in a formal family portrait his children and their mother. You shouldn’t have to be a “family man” in order to avoid getting slaughtered by the U.S. militia, also known as the cops. The collective shuffle of self-representation of the black family attests to the general attempt to recover the humanity and subjectivity of the desecrated, murdered, and neglected black figure.
In Move on Up, Tiana Reid looks at the idea of the black family, and the ways it has been attacked by everything from President Reagan to pornography, and how this helps to reinforce white supremacist notions that lead to police murdering black people and not only getting away with it, but being aided and abetted by a racist media.
What’s more, the current glorification of the youth activist fortifies the idea that being daring, politically engaged and passionate is a young person’s game. As such, teenagers represent an effort-free do-over for adults. In them, we wistfully imagine our own (best) past selves and enjoy a vicarious thrill in our ability to recognize their heroism, while absolving ourselves of the responsibility to participate. Close to half of Americans don’t show up to vote: the bare minimum of political engagement in a democracy and an action that could have a profound effect on everything from environmental protections to gun control.
In Children’s Crusade, Rachel Giese writes about the recent mass protests led by American youth, and the narrative that seems to dominate traditional and social media – “The kids will save us” – and how it’s a reductive generalisation that serves little purpose other than othering the youth and giving anyone not in that particular ‘generation’ an excuse for their own lack of political action.
The car has become the opposite of liberating: a dangerous and expensive hassle that has reshaped the landscape in its image, creating isolation and dependency for everyone, with or without one. Families must maintain a fleet of vehicles to complete ordinary tasks within a suburban landscape designed to keep everyone marooned in individualized convenience.
Cars themselves are no longer portals to the unknown, to be customized at the owner’s discretion; they are festooned with elaborate electronics that preclude the possibility of home repair, let alone modification, and they are equipped with monitoring devices that make them fully trackable (and susceptible to being hacked). When young adults get to drive the family car, they are still under the parental thumb, having their speed governed and their location monitored remotely.
I found the beginning and end of Uber Alles, by David A. Banks, to be really interesting, but your mileage may vary on the middle bit. For me it was a re-tread of ideas I’d kinda dived into recently thanks to the (so disappointing that I never bothered to finish it) second season of True Detective, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (still holds up extremely well after all these years). It talks about the corruption that went into dismantling the American street car systems in order to replace them with buses and cars, and then to demonise bus patrons in an effort to minimise their use and encourage more car ownership because, y’know, capitalism won’t stop until it kills us all, or we kill it.
Anyway, it’s about “our” (Read: the West’s) relationship to cars, the way they changed the landscape, and the way they – and our landscape – may change further with self-driving cars, and Uber, Lyft, etc trying to kill public transport in the coming years.