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The Fake as More

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Lana’s look is not to make it look easy.

In 2011, Lana Del Rey showed up to the chillwave party with flowers in her hair and a video she’d made herself. She was awkward, a pity guest tugging at the hem of her hand-me-down dress. She didn’t know how to do eyeliner. The video—for “Video Games”—looked something like a camcorder montage played at an early funeral, and something like a collection of messages left on Skype for a long-distant lover, and then like something less altogether, a naive and half-stoned distraction from full-time basement life. Singer and video both were accused of the ultimate high school don’ts: “being fake” and “trying” (the new “selling out”). In response, Lana shrugged and said that really, she should’ve tried harder. “Had I known so many people were going to watch [it],” she told The Daily Star in 2012, “I’d have put some more effort into it. I would have got my hair and makeup done and tried not to be so pouty, seeing as everyone talks about my face all the time.”

That year in fashion, the yen for pastels reached a zenith, and few stars went paler than Lana. I remember trying the trend, sort of—I’d bleached my hair to death in 2010, then infused it with lavender, rose—but when it came to clothes that matched, I felt ridiculous. I balked at what I then called “the bad girl gone Lula” look, which a “hazily pastiched” Del Rey embodied in and around her “Video Games” fame. I didn’t care if her lips were fake; I cared that the cigarette between them went unsmoked. (As a failed evangelical Christian, I have never understood why anyone would pretend to have sin.) Her songs I liked, but the outfits bored me: stiff, prim, and so often pastel, a hue synonymous with sweetness and artificiality. Pastels, and the Pleasantville styles they come in, also connote (to me) an anodyne, ladylike feminism that prizes smartness and self-righteousness at the expense of not only sex appeal but those who use it to win, as if brains are any less a thing of luck and cultivation than bodies, or as if the average intellect is any less artificial than (allegedly) Lana’s lips or Lana’s nose.

I find it funny-sad-true that in trying to look “smart,” she basically just dressed “non-slutty”: Google-image “Lana Del Rey 2011” and “Lana Del Rey 2012,” and you’ll get gowns to the floor, shirts buttoned all the way up, fuzzy sweaters, and cinch-waisted frocks. She dyed her Lizzy Grant–era, Britney-blonde hair a respectable, honeyed shade of brown. She lowered her voice, because “people didn’t take [her] seriously with a high one,” but then they didn’t trust her femininity with a low one. So she sang “Blue Velvet” but wore strawberry pink and mint green, peach and lemon and violet. And white—never white like a bride, but white like the girl who wears white to someone else’s wedding.

Why was Lana never believable as a Kennedy, whether she was playing Jackie or dressing like Carolyn Bessette? Because she was in on the joke. At 14, she was sent to Kent School, the 19th most expensive private high school in America; famous graduates include composers, actors, opera singers, Meryl Streep’s daughter, and a “yachting cinematographer and lecturer.” When she left to go sing about it (see: the painfully pre-fame “Boarding School,” 2009) she knew exactly what she was running away from; when she sang about “doing crack and drinking Pepsi,” she was announcing herself as the anti–Diet Cokehead. The kind of girl she grew up against is classy, symmetrical, “well off” (not “rich”), and thin; her beauty labor is 90 percent hidden, an alembic of genes and expense. She gets $900 blonde highlights, $140 blowouts, and $18 juices, goes in for daily personalized workouts and twice-weekly facials, and spends an hour a day taking vitamins, only to smile apologetically and say, “I swear, it’s just lip gloss and Touche Éclat.” Meanwhile, Lana came out looking like she spent more time on her face than in bed.

Accordingly, Born to Die (2012) took a Blue Velvet-ier direction. But for the album’s Pepsi-colored cover shoot, and for most of that year’s concerts, acceptances, and appearances, Lana put on a Sunday look she couldn’t altogether pull off. Pale prep revivalism made Taylor Swift look like a debutante, and Lana Del Rey like a runaway in shoplifted trends. Both Taylor and Lana are former tomboys with loaded dads and blue-collar origin stories. But Lana, dressed like a sweetheart, was nobody’s.

Not until the video for “Ride,” with its naive Amer-arcana and manic declaration of independence, did my impression make sense of the rest. Lana’s whiteness had never been innocent, or wasn’t now; her look was suddenly so conscious, so caricaturing of its influences that I could have sworn she was appropriating whiteness. The dresses had never been “daddy’s girl,” but “daddy’s little girl.” I was wrong about the cigarettes, too. Fader’s cover story has her “chain-smoking Parliaments,” a brand nobody buys to look cool, and her speaking voice is first-hand proof. Sober for a decade, she still sings about whiskey and “white lines.” She has never been spotted near a gym. Nor has she ever “opened up” about her weight, in regard to which she’s one of the less bothered pop stars alive. As seen in Tropico, Lana’s body is ripe, trembling, and defiantly unmaintained, a body as far out of time as her voice.

Because she seems not to take care of herself (that unfairest of modern mandates), Lana’s beauty is both laborious and ad hoc. It’s fake nails, false eyelashes, and lashings of powder and kohl. Her hair, which has always looked dyed from a box, is now the nightshade hue of Secret nylons. Just as her reply to “trying too hard” on “Video Games” was to try a lot harder—her colors more and more saturated over the course of Born to Die—so too, now that she’s famous enough to get her makeup done for a bodega trip, does she refuse the kind of Beyoncé-level mask that looks (but isn’t) effortless, or even good, up close (see: her Fader cover shoot, in which the cameras get hi-def and the makeup stays lo-def). The message is clear: stay your distance. Or maybe: I can’t bear my skin, but also: Who the fuck are you to think you’re entitled to the “real” me? She looks suprareal. She looks…exhausting.

“I wish I was dead already,” she says, but “I wish I was dead” was already sung on “Dark Paradise,” and we (the media) didn’t freak out two years ago. We either did not hear or did not take seriously the lyric. Failed to believe she had written it, assumed she herself did not believe it, we are trained to think of the pop star’s persona as safely removed from the person, the same way we recast as “fantasy” what we’re afraid to say we really, really want. I too think this of most personas, but not of Lana’s. I think, What if Lana did fuck her way to the top? What if she was hit? What if she liked it? What if her pussy tastes exactly like cola? And if all she wants is dope and diamonds, so what? What if the most radical—fuck it, feminist—thing you can do is believe everything a girl says about her life, whether or not you like it?

Two years ago, the prevailing (male) establishment didn’t like it one bit. Reviews had Lana looking not all that dark, only noir: a vamp, a tramp, the new Blue Angel, accused of luring lonesome crowds of indie boys from their shitty lo-fi principles. The New York Times’s Jon Caramanica called her a poser, a meme, and a has-been, suggesting she could only try again by “wash[ing] off that face paint” and “muss[ing] up that hair.” In other words, Lana Del Rey should do a better job of passing—of being a “natural woman.”

Instead, Lana has replaced Anna Nicole Smith as the reigning “faux queen,” a former blue-jean baby whose rejection of upwardly mobile feminism and/or high-class femininity in favor of fatalistic glamour and ­female-to-female drag makes her a gender deserter to some, but a godsend to most, because at least she never makes it look easy. And what a relief. When straight girls and women are meant to choose between chic, studied effortlessness (creative upper class/Manhattan) and tweely aestheticized failure (creative underclass/Brooklyn), Lana’s truth is way, way in between: Being a man-loving woman is not an identity; it’s a job. It’s a glamorous job, but the hours are long and there’s often no future and it sucks, it scars, and it hardens, and it’s hard. (Here I admit that it’s tempting to read “man” unliterally, as something big and impossible to get out from—drugs, fame, money, a whole damn country. In melodramatic pop songs, almost any relation is easier read as a relationship.)

Against the glistening “unlistenable” void of Ultraviolence, its clamor and glitz and classless, naked aspiration (shared also by the best songs on Born to Die), Lana’s old pastels seem cold in a newish light. Everything Ambien blue, Paxil pink, Oxycodone mint. Celexa peach, Klonopin yellow, Wellbutrin violet—the “violet pills” she sings of in a bonus track, maybe… but she’s off it all now. Gone are the prescriptive hits. Gone the flowers. Everything fades to bruise, until: the cover of Ultraviolence is her in black and white with a white car and a white simple V-neck over a white, visible bra, as if to say, “Is this real enough for you?” It’s strange. No one has ever looked less comfortable in a T-shirt. For a week I couldn’t figure it out, and then I thought: She looks like a patient escaping.

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The Journalist and the Suicide

By JESSE BARRON

A diagnosis of PTSD allows us to imagine that the problem is in the prescription

Recently on CNN, a man in late middle age sat beside his wife and read aloud his son’s suicide note. He was calm, considering the circumstances. A few years’ retirement in San Diego had given him a good tan, and he seemed the sort of dependable person who knows when it’s appropriate to cry. But the anchor was having some difficulties. “Forgive me,” she said, “this is tough.” She covered her mouth with her fist. “Daniel … he was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD, and a brain injury, and Gulf War Syndrome, and other medical issues.”

“Right,” said the father.

“Tell me about the process of asking for an appointment,” said the anchor, whose job was to steer the spot to a wait-time scandal at the VA in Phoenix. The mother, obliging, condemned the bureaucracy, and the father noted a lack of continuity of care, something they were now “trying to address.” Thus was the spot slotted into that narrative of American tragedy in which loss becomes admonishment to labor by the end of act five, and everyone can stop talking directly about the painful topic of Daniel.

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Turn Down For What

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By MALCOLM HARRIS

In imagining a homogenized future labor force, accelerationism ignores how capital opportunistically sustains difference to survive

Communists are not supposed to like capitalism. If there’s one thing everyone knows about communists, it’s that we don’t like capitalism. Capitalism, as described in the writings of Karl Marx, is an organized system of exploitation in which the many labor for the profit of the few. Capitalism takes human behaviors and personal relations and shapes them into market behaviors and market relations, leveling difference and originality along the way. It is bad, and we are against it.

That’s the Marxism for Dummies line, and for most intents and purposes it’s not wrong. But Marx has a more complicated relationship to capital than he’s usually given credit for. In Marxism, capital is a necessary historical phase that displaces feudalism and rapidly increases human productivity. There’s a contradiction in the code: Through capital, “the amount of labor necessary for the production of a given object is indeed reduced to a minimum, but only in order to realize a maximum of labor in the maximum number of such objects.” From this tendency, Marx deduces a way not out but through capitalism:

"The more this contradiction develops, the more does it become evident that the growth of the forces of production can no longer be bound up with the appropriation of alien labor, but the mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labor. Once they have done so—and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence—then, on one side, necessary labor time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed production power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labor time, but rather disposable time."

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For those who came of age during the war on terror, for whom adolescence was announced by 9/11 and for whom failed wars, a massive recession, and a total surveillance apparatus were the paranoid gifts of our adulthood, Lana Del Rey gives us a patriotism we can act out. Hers isn’t a love song to America; it’s a how-to manual.

— Ayesha Siddiqi, Ms. E-I-C. Get your TNI x LDR here.  (via snpsnpsnp)

(via pushinghoopswithsticks)

Lana Del Rey has replaced Anna Nicole Smith as the reigning “faux queen,” a former blue jean baby whose rejection of upwardly mobile feminism and/or high-class femininity in favour of fatalistic glamour and female-to-female drag makes her a gender deserter to some, but a godsend to most, because at least she never makes it look easy. And what a relief. When straight girls and women are meant to choose between chic, studied effortlessness (creative upper class/Manhattan) and tweely aestheticized failure (creative under class/Brooklyn), Lana’s truth is way, way in between: being a man-loving woman is not an identity, it’s a job. It’s a glamorous job, but the hours are long and there’s often no future and it sucks, it scars and it hardens, and it’s hard. (Here I admit that it’s tempting to read “man” unliterally, as something big and impossible to get out from—drugs, fame, money, a whole damn country. In melodramatic pop songs, almost any relation is easier read as a relationship.)

— Sarah Nicole Prickett, “The Fake as More,” on LDR 4 TNI (via snpsnpsnp)

(via pushinghoopswithsticks)

Far from being neutral or objective, data can be stockpiled as a political weapon that can be selectively deployed to eradicate citizens’ ability to participate in deliberative politics

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Thousands of subscriptions, 30 magazines, and three supplements later The New Inquiry is committed to remaining ad and paywall free. It’s a decision that maintains our editorial independence as we aspire  to enrich cultural and public life by putting all available resources—both digital and material—toward the promotion and exploration of ideas. 
The commitment that keeps us free from string-pulling benefactors also places our fate in your hands. Our readers are not only our priority as a publication, they are our patrons. Your contributions have enabled us to go from a tumblr to an award winning monthly magazine and website with new work everyday. 
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Your support would allow us to raise the baseline fee for writers, make necessary updates to our website and magazine, and continue pursuing projects like our beautifully designed and singularly focused free supplements like “Spring Break Forever” and “#KenyaRefuses” as well as innovative pay-what-you-can conferences like Theorizing The Web.
This week for the first time in our history TNI brings you not only a new magazine issue, but an additional supplement on Lana Del Rey, “Ms. America.” Available to all as always free of cost. We’d like to continue expanding our offering and commission more pioneering work. But we can only do so with your help.
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Editor-in-Chief, The New Inquiry

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The article of faith that in the beginning was the preference precludes consideration of how we could cultivate the desires we desire. Non-desire sparks no conversations; as theorist Guy Hocquenghem says in his celebrated essay The Screwball Asses, “Most everyone agrees that the refusal of desire is sovereign: ‘I don’t want to, that’s all!’” We know we are allowed to change our mind but we don’t know how to talk about how we might want it to change. In liberal sexuality nothing fundamental to the self is really exchanged along with bodily fluids; we are not transformed, not created interpersonally.

Online dating profiles, especially on Grindr, the gay cruising app, have brought new visibility to racist dating criteria. When it comes to sexual preferences, people who don’t think of themselves as racist, and who in other situations would feel compelled to cloak their implicit racism in socially acceptable forms, evidently feel no qualms about proclaiming their desire for “only white guys,” “no blacks, no Asians,” etc. This escapes significant censure by riding the coattails of the “Born This Way” discourse, which encourages us to strip away guilt and reveal our “natural” desires. The expedient argument used for decades to promote wider toleration of queer sexualities – i.e. as long as there is individual consent, sexuality is natural, amoral and should be non-ideological – also allows people to indulge their own racism under the cover of the primal innocence of sex. The “just a preference” argument pleads that it can’t be helped. But this naturalizes both sexuality and race. If we recognize race as socially constructed then racial sexual preference must be socially constructed fantasy too. We can’t become innocent of the original sin of being born into a racist, sexist society, but what kind of redemption is possible? Can we cultivate certain desires over others? Can we guide our fantasies to be more in line with our broader social ethics?

Choose Your Own Adventure" by Luke Pagarani

Cutting off the scream—censoring it—is a way to render inaudible that which threatens to become audible on the soundtrack: the inside of the woman’s body—her vocal cords, larynx, and lungs at full power, a pornography of pure voice.
"Scream Queens" by Kartik Nair

Cutting off the scream—censoring it—is a way to render inaudible that which threatens to become audible on the soundtrack: the inside of the woman’s body—her vocal cords, larynx, and lungs at full power, a pornography of pure voice.

"Scream Queens" by Kartik Nair

The New Inquiry Magazine, Vol. 29: Queens

TNI Vol. 29: QUEENS

This is the editorial note to The New Inquiry Magazine,
Vol. 29: Queens.

Look inside the issue here.

The queen addresses her audience. She is draped in ermine. She wears her jeweled crown and sits on her gold throne. It is the day she speaks to her assembled Parliament and delivers directives for the year. The representatives of capital stand before her, looking as obedient as children dragged to church. A single page boy faints, overcome by the power of the ceremony, but the queen does not signal that she notices. It seems like a grace note in the performance of her power, or a sad commentary on its actual application. Such is the plight of the queen.

A queen is the image of a woman at the height of her potential social standing. She evokes beauty, poise, and dignity simultaneously with power. Women who inhabit their social role fully and without struggle are crowned queens. But if the queen is the pinnacle, she is also the limit. If she is an exception to the general subordination of women, she proves the male rule.

We are now republicans, as far as the term goes. And the redistribution of royal titles can only be celebrated. Many more women than there have ever been noble families elicit cries of “queen” these days. “Queen,” unlike “princess,” functions as praise — though its deployment can teach us about the gender of power. She has avoided the fate of a princess, a title applied with more derision than awe, shaming women for articulating their desires as demands.

A queen is also ruthless, controlling, runs shit. A queen is not an executive, though. The corporate form of power is still far too fraternal to allow for anything sororal in the boardroom. A queen stands alone, fixed in place, with her subjects arrayed around her. This means she is also outnumbered. If her every movement seems deliberate, she might be self-possessed or she might be trapped.

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