Welcome to Issue 39.2 of Digestable, your daily mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
I’m all ears for your feedback, or if you’re already a fan, share this email with your friends. If you’re not yet on the list, click below to sign up.
Today’s news, fermented:
In the year I’ve spent living in Boston, it’s been a lot easier to identify the things that irritate me about this city (sports, bros, crooked streets, nasty drivers, colonial pride, terrible grocery stores) than what I do. But there are a lot of good Little Free Libraries.
Libraries stand for so much of what is good: people contributing to a shared set of resources everyone can use, no matter who they are; a place to gather and exchange or learn; a refuge from extreme temperatures; a place with bathrooms and information about accessible resources; one of the only institutions you can walk into where someone asks how they can help you and really, actually, means it.
Little Free Libraries, like their brick-and-mortar siblings, are different in each neighborhood—or block—reflecting the character of who lives there, the languages they speak, and what they need. During the pandemic, libraries have risen to meet people’s needs in a whole slew of ways, despite often being closed.
I bring this up now not because something new or distinct has happened with libraries, large or small. Rather, libraries have continued to serve people as our other institutions have continued to fail. (If you believe that Boston libraries should keep reflecting the neighborhoods and people they serve, sign this petition against a push to have four people determine the content of the whole city’s libraries.)
It was in a Little Free Library that I picked up a recent issue of The Atlantic, where I read How the Pandemic Defeated America. Ed Yong, author of the piece and so many others that have put this public health catastrophe in context, writes about how nearly every institution failed us—most notably, of course, the executive branch of the US government, the WHO (although not in a way that justified its defunding), the CDC, this country’s entire healthcare system, and on.
While it is surely an intense read, I found myself almost relieved when I finished. The impossibility of this pandemic feels impossible—but it seems that, had all the parts of our questionable democratic machine been working a little better, thousands of lives could have been saved and immeasurable suffering alleviated.
This does nothing to minimize the tremendous loss the country and the world have suffered this year, but I found it reassuring that we actually do have the tools to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening again.
Yong also writes that while institutions failed, people largely did not, pointing to high rates of continued mask wearing and social distancing. We know that mutual aid networks that stretch across redlined borders and build connections across identities have sprung up around the country. We know that the communities who have been taking care of themselves for the longest—the Indigenous peoples of this land—continued to do so, living proof of one of this year’s chants: Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.
Now that we have some sort of president and also a vaccine, maybe we can turn our national attention to the work ahead. A primary task—alongside delivering much-needed aid to those who have suffered the spectrum of ways from the virus—is shifting the planet’s collision course with the climate crisis. This is about protecting habitat to prevent animal-borne diseases like COVID-19 from jumping to humans; it’s also perhaps the most extreme safety threat our species has ever faced.
This snow leopard with COVID is ready for us to get to work.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
One of my cousins is an up-and-coming filmmaker and auteur in Malaysia. He's three years younger than me and is already a maestro in his own regard. I am using big fancy words because I can. Anyway, I wouldn't say the kid is a snob when it comes to movies but he's certainly got a lot of opinions -- some I agree with and some I do not. In any case, I enjoy talking films with him, even though we have somewhat different tastes when it comes to what we enjoy watching. So when I woke up this morning and saw that several movies have been newly inducted into the United States' Library of Congress' National Film Registry, I immediately thought of my cousin.
Every year, the Library of Congress chooses 25 films of historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance to be inducted into the National Film Registry for preservation. Some of the movies that you can expect to find under this registry include classics and critically acclaimed films such as 12 Angry Men, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Do the Right Thing, and many more (you can peruse the full list at the hyperlink above). This year, the inductees date as far back as 1913, and include seven movies by filmmakers of color and nine that were directed by women. Important inclusions, no doubt. I definitely do not want to take away from these achievements. But I want to also celebrate the fact that after nearly twenty years, the Library of Congress has also chosen to induct Shrek into the Registry. Folks, surely this must be a sign that the wrongs of this world are slowly being righted again, right?
Now in all seriousness, I believe I can make a compelling case for why Shrek deserves this accolade. From its iconic soundtrack to its knee-slappingly hilarious jokes to the endless meme-fication of the entire movie, nay, franchise, this is a film that is rife with cultural significance. It's also just such a well-made animated movie that has stood the test of time. Twenty years from now, whomstve amongst us can confidently say that they'll remember The Boss Baby with as much fondness as they do Shrek, let alone watch it, discuss it, and celebrate it to the extent that we do Shrek? Exactly. None amongst us. Because who can really relate to a Boss Baby the way we do a self-loathing, misanthropic ogre who comes to love himself and the people around him with the help of a wise-cracking talking anxious Donkey, a swash-buckling avoidant Puss in Boots, and the amazing, rational, loving, kind, badass ass kicking Princess Fiona? Shrek is an absolute gem and deep down, you know you agree.
P.S.: I did ask my cousin what he thought about Shrek's induction into the National Film Registry and he said "Shrek rules. It's why I wanted to be a filmmaker." in so many words so there you have it folks, decreed by our resident filmmaker-auteur himself!