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Since its inception five years ago, The New Inquiry has published everything — blogs, essays, features, supplements, and magazines — for free. No paywalls, no ads, and no-string pulling benefactors. And now, we are presented with a unique opportunity that will help us continue it that way.

If we can reach $25,000 in July donations, an anonymous donor has vowed to match our efforts. This would mean a $50,000 operating budget dedicated to paying our contributors a fee more commensurate with their talents, revamping our website and magazine, and ensuring our independence to explore all projects and platforms for the benefit of our readers.

We’re approaching the finish line: With just two days remaining, we are close to goal and so grateful to our supporters. Still, we are not there yet. In these last hours, donations — $5, $10, $20, or any amount of your choice — will be doubled, but your support will echo far beyond any measure. We’re counting on you to help us prove that there’s still a place for online writing untethered to traffic-driving algorithms and audience metrics. The New Inquiry is a rare project, help us keep it a sustainable one.

Sincerely yours,
Ayesha A. Siddiqi
Editor in Chief
The New Inquiry

Out of Sight

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The Internet delivered on its promise of community for blind people, but accessibility is easy to overlook.

I have been blind since birth. I’m old enough to have completed my early schooling at a time when going to a special school for blind kids was the norm. In New Zealand, where I live, there is only one school for the blind. It was common for children to leave their families when they were five, to spend the majority of the year far from home in a school hostel. Many family relationships were strained as a result. Being exposed to older kids and adults with the same disability as you, however, can supply you with exemplars. It allows the blind to see other blind people being successful in a wide range of careers, raising families and being accepted in their local community. A focal point, such as a school for the blind, helps foster that kind of mentoring.

The Internet has expanded the practical meaning of the word community. New technology platforms aren’t often designed to be accessible to people unlike the designers themselves, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t used by everyone who can. For blind people, the Internet has allowed an international community to flourish where there wasn’t much of one before, allowing people with shared experiences, interests, and challenges to forge a communion. Just as important, it has allowed blind people to participate in society in ways that have often otherwise been foreclosed by prejudice. Twitter has been at the heart of this, helping bring blind people from many countries and all walks of life together. It represents one of the most empowering aspects of the Internet for people with disabilities — its fundamentally textual nature and robust API supporting an ecosystem of innovative accessible apps has made it an equalizer. Behind the keyboard, no one need know you’re blind or have any other disability, unless you choose to let them know.

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Full-Time Daughter

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Lana Del Rey’s Americana shows its demand for a feminine desire that knows how to long for death.

Lana Del Rey uses the imagery of American nationalism to construct the kind of iconic girlhood that white America goes crazy for. But her relation to this history feels complicated. She aims to be “classic,” an aesthetic throwback to a bygone time when music was music and men were men and so on. But something is wrong with the picture. Ostensibly, she gives white America what it wants—an image of itself as lethal but beautiful, guilty but forgiven, an image of violence as indistinguishable from romance. If a straight white man hitsyou, it means he wants to kiss you—get it? The albums sell, but it’s not enough; critics berate her for not being convincing. But maybe it’s not Del Rey’s fault that this gloomwashing of whiteness (“Okay, we suck, but look how much we hate ourselves!”) doesn’t work. Maybe the material can no longer be made convincing.

Del Rey’s whiteness is unstable because it seems somehow faintly disturbed by the knowledge of its formation. Why else the death wish? Why else do her lips circulate independently of her face? Her lips are so plump and pleasingly symmetrical that when she first became famous a lot of people thought they were fake. The mouth became a phenomenon in its own right, signifying some kind of excess that couldn’t be assimilated. There was an exposé of her alleged “lip-enhancement surgery” and a Tumblr where someone Photoshopped the mouth onto images of celebrities. With a couple of exceptions, most of the famous faces enhanced with Lana lips on this blog belong to white people. Evidently the joke doesn’t work so well when the lips are transposed onto black people’s faces. When thick lips belong to black people, they are part of the apparatus of racial and racist identification. But on a white girl, big lips are sexy and suspicious. They must be fake meaning they look fake might be interchangeable with they better be fake. In the context of American whiteness’s paranoid relation to what it perceives as the blood taint of blackness (which is also the taint of white guilt), false full lips might be deeply preferable to a real full mouth, even if they are superficially derided.

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Die 4 U

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Lana Del Rey’s sound is nostalgia for an old lie

“Darling, you can’t let everything seem so dark blue. Oh, what can I do?”

—“Black Beauty,” Lana Del Rey

The summer I was 16 and cripplingly awkward, my father’s job moved our family from Toronto to the southern U.S. After spending my whole young life in Canada, I started my first day of 10th grade at George Walton High School in East Cobb County, Georgia, and the ensuing culture shock was about as harrowing as you can imagine for an already uneasy teenage girl.

The high school of nearly 2,700 students was primarily white and Baptist, complete with daily prayer around the flagpole, pancake breakfasts for Jesus, and a Friday Night Lights–style football obsession. On game days, fully suited football players brought roses to their assigned cheerleaders, while the girls, clad in their freshly pressed red-white-and-blue uniforms, provided players with baked goods and breakfast sandwiches from Chik-fil-A. The town was famed for a 56-foot-tall steel-sided chicken statue, and for being an early adopter of evolution is just a theory stickers for its science textbooks. In one memorable round of bullying, a few other students decided I was a weirdo and a freak and threw food at me in the cafeteria while gleefully chanting insults.

The only way to suffer through 18 months in the slo-mo sport-movie montage of southern teen culture was to fetishize Americana—protests in Marietta Square and peach pies cooling on windowsills, buttery Waffle House grits and chain-smoked Marlboro Reds with bottomless diner coffee, and the appealing façade of southern hospitality. It was a bright-side approach to darkness, a juvenile fascination with the great American road trip, with drug-fueled binges for the sake of poetry and art, with Hollywood glamour and revolution and the blinking lights of Vegas—a false frontier mentality that made America seem majestic rather than menacing. Deluding myself into survival, I found something to love where there was nothing. And decades later, I’ve found that Lana Del Rey that sounds exactly like that glorious pretense. Her songs, are in essence, nostalgia for an old lie.

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Trophy Season

Despite what you’ve heard, not every kid gets a trophy. But why not?

The end of the school year is awards season, when students of all ages are herded into auditoriums and cafeterias and cafetoriums to sit and listen to adults read off the accomplishments of a select few classmates. Sometimes the crowd is instructed to hold their applause until all the recipients have received their award, and if they forget, they are told, sternly, not to clap yet. By the end, every hand in the room hurts, and the kids who get their awards last get hardly any applause. The winners take beaming pictures with their certificates.

I recently attended one such elementary school award ceremony. The children, who are students of mine, cheered for each other. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and afterwards, kids were leaping out of their seats to give speeches to the crowd about the year’s end. Fifth graders expressed appreciation for their teachers; a first grader told a joke. A kindergartner (who had won several awards) took the microphone, turned to his classmates, and shyly announced: “If you didn’t get an award… don’t cry.”

I’m with him. I worry about the kids who don’t win. Because — and I can report this first-hand — not everyone gets a trophy. If there’s one thing that young people are told when there are trophies to be had, it’s that not everybody should get one. Millennials have been told it’s the thing that ruined our generation, and the ones after us, and the ones today. Adults have very strong feelings about kids’ feelings about trophies.

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The End of the World as We Know It

Ancient Apocalypse films use the past to project a reactionary present into the future.

When we think apocalypse, we tend to think of the future. Accordingly, the apocalypse seems to show up on film only in the realm of sci-fi or, occasionally horror. But while every single hair on the rotting scalp of zombie cinema has been analyzed under bloodstained micro­scopes, a new subgenre has been emerging that wields the potent thought of the end of the world to even more reactionary ends. It uses the trope of apocalypse to project current power into the future by situating catastrophe and its overcoming in the past. These movies give voice to the blind hatred of the disgruntled agents of collapsing empire.

These films span a number of generic registers, from animated kid’s movie to big-budget summer ­production. You’ve probably seen one: 300, Noah, Gladiator, The Croods, Centurion, etc. These are the Ancient Apocalypse films, and they have opened up whole cinematic territories for a far-right theory of terminal crisis to play in.

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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.

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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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