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Weekend Reading: Juvenile Justice, Hollywood Goes on Strike, Profiles of the Powerful, and More
The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.
There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.
The Shadow Penal System for Struggling Kids — Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
I vaguely remember the Teen Challenge location in a neighboring town to where I grew up. I didn’t know much about it, except that it was intended for kids who’d gotten in some sort of trouble. I knew there was some connection to Christianity, but I gave little thought to it because it seemed like one of any number of programs in rural Tennessee. Rachel Aviv’s story revealed just how little I knew about the organization, and I’m equal parts thankful I didn’t know and ashamed by that same lack of knowledge. It’s remarkable the ways we can come up with to be terrible to the most vulnerable among us.
🖥️ Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge. — Meribah Knight, Nashville Public Radio & Ken Armstrong, ProPublica: This story first came to my attention by way of a well-written Twitter thread, and no matter the medium, the details of this story will turn your stomach. An episode that happens on countless playgrounds across the country every day led to multiple arrests and jailings of young Black children, not for participating in the non-event but for failing to stop it. This warped sense of juvenile justice is allowed to happen under the reign of a single judge, who thinks she’s on a mission from God to keep kids on the straight and narrow.
📖 In Arizona, a Radical Change in Juvenile Detention — Ruxandra Guidi, High Country News: A different state, a different judge dealing with juveniles, an entirely different outcome. An example of how things could go — should go — when trying to help out future generations.
The Film Industry Wants to Keep the Status Quo? Then Shut It Down. — Alex Press, The New York Times
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union that represents “below-the-line” workers in Hollywood, is threatening to strike over deplorable working conditions made only worse by the streaming wars and the COVID-19 pandemic. To get an idea of just how fed up the workers are, consider these staggering statistics: “On October 4th, IATSE’s 36 locals, including some 60,000 people, returned a vote of 99 percent in favor of authorizing a strike should progress at the bargaining table prove impossible, with 90 percent of eligible members casting ballots.”
📖 Behind Hollywood Glamour, an Instagram Account Highlights Darker Side for Workers — Anousha Sakoui, The Los Angeles Times: Social media became an outlet for disgruntled IATSE members to share their stories of extreme working conditions. The complaints are numerous, but a common one came from members working such long hours that they were literally afraid for their safety to simply drive home at the end of a shift. Some are even more extreme.
One worker on August 19th described an incident where a department head had died of a heart attack on set a few weeks earlier and crew members were told to keep working. A grief counselor was brought in the next day, but crew weren’t given time to visit the counselor, the worker wrote.
🎧 The Strike That Could Paralyze Hollywood — What Next, Slate: An examination of the issues underlying the IATSE strike and possible ramifications if it goes through, all in less than 30 minutes.
🗄️ From 1988: Labor Power and Organization in the Early U.S. Motion Picture Industry — Michael C. Nielsen, Film History/JSTOR: Anybody who’s ever been to college or graduate school or worked in a career field where academic research was required knows the value of JSTOR, an online repository of more than 12 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources in 75 disciplines. It’s just fun to read this type of material every now and then, and what used to be reserved to those only with library or institutional privileges can now be accessed by the masses to the tune of 100 free articles a month. Use one of them and read about the background of unions in Hollywood.
Paul McCartney Doesn’t Really Want to Stop the Show — David Remnick, The New Yorker
David Remnick writes only a few pieces a year, and his passion for music has shown through in recent years with his chosen topics. This one is no different. A massive topic — Paul McCartney — that seems daunting to even contemplate writing about in 2021, but it somehow seems routine for Remnick.
🎧 The Beatles: This is not quite another profile, but on the always excellent Song Exploder podcast, host Hrisikesh Hirway recently dissected a song a little bit differently than it’s normally done for the show.
Earlier this year, I got an amazing email — the estate of John Lennon said that they have a treasure trove of audio material from his life, and they were wondering if I would be interested in making an episode around the song “God,” from John Lennon’s first solo album. I’ve never tried making a posthumous episode before, because hearing directly from the artist is at the heart of Song Exploder. But with all the interview archives that they have of him speaking, plus all the isolated tracks from the recordings, and the original demo, it actually seemed possible. So this is a very different and special episode of the show.
📖 Kumail Nanjiani’s Feelings — E. Alex Jung, Vulture/New York: A refreshingly honest look at the price of desperately seeking superficiality. Kumail Nanjiani was perfect for a Marvel movie: a comic book hero role for a nerdy comic book fan. But then he got in shape and transformed his body into one befitting such a role, in modern viewers’ minds, at least. It didn’t feel good, despite the accomplishment, and in this interview, he and the writer grapple with why that was the case.
📖 Dwayne Johnson Lets Down His Guard — Chris Heath, Vanity Fair: Writing about people is hard. Full stop. Writing about famous people is harder. Writing about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has to be damn-near impossible. What is there left to say? How many times can a person run through his resume and accomplishments? How many different ways can a person talk about how kind and genuine the man is? Here, Chris Heath, a National Magazine Award-winning writer, tackles the assignment well, but it feels like it falls short of the same essential story written by Caity Weaver in 2017 because of Heath’s choice to begin the article around the lingering question of “Will The Rock run for president?” But he reveals some powerful stories, and we’re reminded of why we read celebrity profiles: in hopes of knowing giants a little more intimately.
🗄️ From 2018: How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million — Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The New York Times Magazine: You’re thinking it, I’m thinking it, we’re all thinking it: This list of recent profiles is just a bunch of men writing about a bunch of other, more-famous men. How boring, no? As a palate-cleanser, here’s one of my absolute favorite profiles, period. From one of the best in business, and I know that must be true because I remember exactly where I was when I read this piece, I remember being unable to put it down, and I remember (because it’s still true to this day) to being a run-of-the-mill, average-at-best fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. But that’s the power of a great profile: It can hook you and, suddenly, you want to be in this person’s world for just a minute, just a second longer.
More of Our Favorites From the Past Week
A Secretive Hedge Fund Is Gutting Newsrooms — McKay Coppins, The Atlantic
Blood, Lies, and a Drug Trials Lab Gone Bad — Brendan I. Koerner, WIRED
How to Be a Music Critic With The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh — The Press Box
What Wyoming Really Thinks of Liz Cheney — David Montgomery, The Washington Post Magazine
I Found Clickhole’s ‘Worst Person You Know’ — Cameron Wilson, Slate
The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.
The Promise and Peril of Nuclear Power
📖 Why Crypto Mining Needs Nuclear Power — Florent Haidet & Milos Atz, CoinDesk
The Fight for Local News
📖 New Owners Seek to Revive Missouri Newspapers Sold by Gannett — Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent
📖 Dave Chappelle’s Betrayal — Saeed Jones, GQ
This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.
'Storytelling Makes It Possible to Show the Ambiguities of a Reality': A Conversation With Pascal Verbeken
The Belgian writer on why he doesn't use the term "literary journalism," Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, and the demise of the local press.
Or how to write about TV shows without accidentally leaking spoilers.