Read/Listen/Watch #1: Media so good that it might be subject to a future executive order

There’s obviously a lot of media to take in out there. I’m regularly going to try to give you a taste of some of the things I’ve consumed recently that left me wanting more. Options are important so I’m going to try to give you something that you can read, listen to or watch. Everything listed below has different durations so you can adjust accordingly depending on how much time you have.

Read: How to Build an Autocracy by David Frum in The Atlantic

“If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.”

Frum’s story starts out by painting a scenario of the United States in 2021. It’s a worrying depiction of an America beholden to a new autocratic form of rule, less despotic and more subtly illiberal than we might imagine. Frum moves through different aspects of society, from the general public to business leaders, to describe the political degeneration of various cultural institutions that have lost their way under a Trump administration. Frum finally warns that the scenario he describes will only happen if people allow it.

“Normalization” is a word that briefly entered the popular lexicon of the liberal minded after the 2016 presidential election. As quickly as left-leaning commentators began to utter variations of that word as a cautionary measure to be taken against Trump’s presidency, it quickly disappeared from common parlance until the inauguration led to its resurgence. Google Trends can be used to illustrate the usage of that and related terms. Notice the valley between the two peaks of the election in November and the inauguration in January.

Graph comparing the search trends of different terms related to "normalization"
Comparing the search trends of different terms related to “normalization” – Graph by John Hernandez via Google Trends

Frum captures what normalization can do to a society in a detailed explanation of the scenario he creates at the beginning of his story. He explains how the potential fight against forces of autocracy could end up being a prolonged grind as opposed to some sweeping battle against evil. It’s exactly the sort of argument that makes me glad I’m blogging. Unless you’re aware of normalization, which can come and go as the graph above demonstrates, you might be doomed to live with its consequences.

Listen: The Dollop a podcast by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds

If you happen to catch me laughing and holding back tears on the bus between Austin and Texas State University, it probably has something to do with this podcast. The premise is simple: “[comedian] Dave Anthony reads a story to his friend, Gareth Reynolds, who has no idea what the topic is going to be about.” The results are hilarious.

It’s informative and downright interesting, as well. Anthony picks from a wide assortment of historical topics, like sports or historical figures, and Reynolds is always there to riff on them with commentary and improvisational absurdity that is always on point. Thanks to these two I learned that Glenn Burke, a gay baseball player, is credited with inventing the high five.

Watch: 13th directed by Ava DuVernay on Netflix

Documentaries with the all-encompassing power to devastate, inform and propel us into action don’t come around as often as they should. DuVernay, director of 2014’s Selma, offers a heartrending look into racial inequality, mass incarceration and the criminalization of drugs by law-and-order political candidates that manages to do all three of those things.

This film served as a personal impetus to not hide from information that will upset my sensibilities. If DuVernay, an African-American filmmaker, can face the depressing systematic marginalization of her race by American society then what right do I have to hide? The interviews and the presentation are top-notch. I can’t recommend it enough.

Let me know if you have any recommendations of your own. I’m curious to see what all of you are reading, listening to or watching.


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