Lessons from The Good Place on Morality in a Pandemic

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On existential angst and the primal ache, or alternatively, a TL;DR of a bunch of philosophy books, articles, and treatises for you to drop into casual conversation.

As this hellscape of a year comes to a close, I’m fascinated by the evolving ethical implications of living in a society in the midst of COVID-19, and the necessity of morality in a pandemic. My third and final deck of the year is an investigation into what “patriotism” means from a philosophical perspective: how the cult of American individualism informs our ideas of moral obligation and social contracts (come for the philosophy, stay for the scattered musings on Survivor), using the wisdom of the sitcom The Good Place. …


The Cultural Significance of Overt Female Sexuality in American Music

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Did I purchase an OnlyFans membership for a month for the express purpose of watching Cardi B’s behind-the-scenes content for this music video? Yes. Was it worth it? 100%.

The latest in my series of Things No One Asked For (and a sequel to that TikTok deck) is an exploration of sexuality and power dynamics in music as it relates to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP”: the contextual significance of explicitness in rap music, the history of the word “pussy” in pop culture, the notability of French aristocratic design and Britney Spears’ influence on the video’s aesthetic, and how “WAP” represents the unapologetic reclamation of sexual agency and an alternate social hierarchy in which Black women are the reigning class. …


Examining the stories of the people and places lost in time to uncover the legacy of slavery and colonialism in modern-day Manhattan

In honor of my third year as a New Yorker and in light of the ongoing demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement and discourse around the significance of historical monuments, I thought I’d write about New York’s stolen history — the hidden and lesser-known parts that are omitted from modern documentation but are vitally important to the city’s history. “Stolen” because these stories were often deliberately erased out of shame and the contributions of marginalized communities erased. But part of becoming a better and actively anti-racist society is grappling with the darkest parts of our history.

From the subtly racist, like the ubiquitous ice cream truck jingle (as it turns out, a lot of the things we took for granted, like ice cream trucks and square dancing in elementary school, are byproducts of white supremacy), to the blatant erasure of indigenous people, New York City is filled with small markers of its checkered history that you may not notice at first blush. But once you know what to look for, you see the signs everywhere. …


A guide for non-black people on anti-racism and supporting the black community right now

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“What choice will we make? What world will we create? What will we be?”
— Ibram X. Kendi

Originally, this piece was going to be called “The Trap of “Authenticity” and the Rewards of Cultural Colonization,” inspired by the Alison Roman and Chrissy Teigen drama and unpacking the political and socioeconomic nuances of “selling out” and “authenticity,” and the complex history of cultural ownership and invisible domestic labor of people of color as it pertains to the marginalization of Asian-Americans.

But after two very different incidents of racism — the attempted swatting of Christian Cooper and the tragic murder of George Floyd by police — it is impossible to discuss the oppression of Asian-Americans without acknowledging systemic racism and the importance of intersectionality. …


Nine things I learned as an old person on TikTok

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TikTok is the hottest app of the moment now that everyone is in quarantine, but the teens have known about it for a while now. I started this deck six months ago as a Lunch & Learn about the role psychology plays in strategy, but it quickly turned into something else. I was fascinated by TikTok and its success, especially given its similarities to the now-obsolete Vine. …


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Instagram has always existed as a form of wishful thinking but never so much as now, as we sit in our living rooms scrolling through places that we would rather be. My feed is full of wistfully-captioned snapshots of soft white beaches melting into wavy cerulean seas, hidden waterfalls in velvety green jungles tumbling into mist, sandy honey-colored deserts under pale blue skies on 35mm film, and fields dotted with colorful wildflower blooms; invitations to step into a dream world of the past, vibrant postcards from a former reality that feels almost imaginary. …


On International Women’s Day, a critical look at the cultural implications of art after #MeToo

Almost three years have passed following Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Fox News and a tweet that ignited a firestorm of sexual abuse and sexual harassment accusations that culminated in the #MeToo movement.

It exploded into a tidal wave of social protests all over the world, with ancillary movements not just focused on harassment but on equality and agency and expression — the “rice bunny” movement in China that flourished despite strict censorship, the push for better sex education in South Korea, the ongoing fight to have survivor stories heard in France, the crusade against sexist dress codes in Japan.

Almost every industry has had experienced its own reckoning — media, comedy, tech, education, military, medicine, animation, even ballet. Mine is no exception: Ted Royers, the Chief Creative Officer of ad agency Droga5, was fired in response to sexual harassment allegations against him (in a cruel twist of irony, Droga5 was responsible for the creation of The New York Times’ moving “The Truth Has a Voice” campaign for women’s equality). But it’s a sobering reminder that these men are everywhere, and that they’ve built systems that work hard to obscure truth to keep them in power. It’s a reminder of how many industries are shaped by these systems of abuse. …


Jia Tolentino’s debut novel, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, is a grim yet nihilistically optimistic opus for the millennial generation

I am rarely compelled to write full reviews of books, but Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is a noteworthy exception for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not a novel, but a collection of nine distinct essays that dive deep into social and cultural ecosystems from the perspective of a Brooklyn millennial that habitually overanalyzes in retrospect, something I find deeply relatable. And second, the author is the absolutely wonderful Jia Tolentino, a staff writer at The New Yorker. …


Thanks to my family, for sharing their stories and to my parents, for everything

I’ve thought a lot about cultural identity over the last year, thanks to two things: a rereading of The Joy Luck Club and a Hispanic Heritage Month event at my agency.

The Joy Luck Club follows four Chinese immigrant women in San Francisco and their Chinese-American daughters, as they navigate the trials of building a life in America and the challenges of translating life lessons amidst contextual differences and a generational gap. …


I’ve cried frequently in the past couple of months, most recently when my phone ran out of space.

That in itself is nothing surprising — periodically, my phone will begin to lag and I begin the seasonal ritual of purging its SD card, cutting the ties of memories I’ve made over the last couple of years and jettisoning what is no longer necessary, releasing them into the black void of cyberspace. It’s always an exercise of weighing; of reviewing, reminiscing, and deciding what sparks joy and what has outlived its shelf life of usefulness. It’s usually a fairly clinical process — deleting documents I no longer have use for and pictures I’ve already saved elsewhere, or clearing text conversations with people I haven’t spoken to in months. …

About

jennifer mei

writer, strategist, creator, curious cat | http://jayemsey.com

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