Welcome to Issue 39.1 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:
Happy Monday! It’s finally actually dropped below freezing in Boston, which is a sign that we may see some relics of winter in the coming months.
Today, take a break from whatever terrible communication is present in your human world (there’s always something!) to spend some time with the subterranean communication networks forests use.
Or just channel this cat.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Let’s take a little trip back to the year 2009. I was in high school, iPhones were still all curvy looking, and T-Pain’s auto-tune was revolutionizing music and pop culture. Enter Auto-Tune the News, a video series by The Gregory Brothers that edits C-SPAN, Katie Couric, and other TV news sources into funny T-Pain style music videos. There are a lot of ways we could think about Auto-Tune the News as a historical document. We could talk about how it reflects the TV news ecosystem that has been replaced in large part by social media. We could talk about how Senator Bølverk’s exposed man nipple served as an awakening moment for my pre-coming-out gay brain. We should also take a second to cringe at the idea of four white folks using Black culture as a medium for satire. My goal here is to show how the video series, as a product of its time, can help us understand what to expect from the return of Biden politics to the White House. Note: going forward, hyperlinks will lead to different timestamps in Auto-Tune the News videos and I encourage you to listen along as you read!
So yes, today seeing a white guy in a baseball cap and shades singing “shawt-y” elicits a sharp inhale and a swift cancellation, but as far as 2009 mainstream media was concerned we had a Black president and race was over. Sure the world was still stuck in a financial recession despite Bush bailing out the banks but we had Obama and a democratic majority in both houses of Congress. Hope was in the air and we could smell it!
Despite the promising prospects of this administration, when we look at the issues Auto-Tune the News emphasizes as important in 2009, not much has changed. Federal marijuana decriminalization/legalization is looking more possible than it was 10 years ago and there’s certainly wide recognition of racial inequity within drug criminalization and policing, but I’m doubtful Democrats will be unified enough to move anything forward. That seems to be what happened with Obama’s promises of climate and health care legislation. Even with the congressional majority, democrats weren’t able to unify around climate action and ended up loosening environmental regulations to “compromise” with Republicans on the climate change bill. Of course, this didn’t work and if you’re looking to dive deeper into everything future “climate czar” John Kerry did wrong, I’d recommend the New Yorker’s forensic report on the Waxman-Markey bill. Healthcare, Obama’s other goal, did go through, but the ACA fell short of its ambitions and for some reason the way forward is still up for debate among democrats.
As another way to compare Biden season 1 to Biden season 2, let’s do a roll call of the politicians that show up in Auto-Tune the News:
Pres. elect Joe Biden: Still blessing us from outer space
Least Popular Minnesotan Michelle Bachman: Retired but replaced by Tom Emmer who is somehow even worse
Literal Amphibian Newt Gingrich: Still spouting bullshit
Pallid Skin Sack Chuck Grassley: Still giving Iowa a bad name
Tobacco Industry Shill Steve Buyer: Replaced by industry shill Jim Baird
Congressional Crier John Boehner: Resigned to become a lobbyist, replaced by cryptocurrency scam artist Warren Davidson
Nancy Pelosi: Still banging that good ol’ gavel
It’s unnerving how similar the political climate of Auto-Tune the News is to today because things in the real world are a lot worse. Again, Biden is coming into office during a health/financial/climate crisis and seeing “small business” bailouts and the creation of jobs jobs jobs and jobs as the way to solve it. Also the Supreme Court is fucked and even if Dems win Georgia the Senate will be in a stalemate. Shit’s scary.
None of this is to discount the victories of progressive movements over the past decade. If anything, looking at how little has changed shows us just how much pushing (and help from the federal commission of T-Pain) Biden needs. If the ice was thin in 2009, it's now very very very thin.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
It's been quite a while since I've written about the British Royal Family (BRF) for this column and I'm not quite sure why seeing as they keep bringing the ~*Hot Goss*~ given the lack of anything that's happened this year. For example, in the past three weeks, the monarchy has managed to make a big stink about the release of the latest season of Netflix's The Crown, a historical drama series that chronicles the life, rise, and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Each season of the series covers a particular time period and its current fourth introduces Princess Diana and includes her marriage into the BRF as one of its main plotlines. Which, well, I'm sure you can tell where this is going...
Prince Charles in particular has been quite irate about The Crown and the Firm wasted no time in trashing the series as soon as the Netflix released the latest season. A lot of old-guard royal commentators have joined the chorus too, with most of them trying to paint the drama series as "propaganda" and exaggerated for entertainment purposes. They are mostly jittery about the fact that The Crown lays out just how thoroughly and depressingly Diana was abused by so many members of the BRF, not least of all Charles who didn't even want to marry her in the first place and never really let Diana forget it for as long as they were husband and wife. The thing about it is that this isn't new news! After Diana's death, Prince Charles spent years and years rehabilitating his image and now that The Crown is reintroducing yet another generation to what a complete asshole he is, he's feeling the pinch. Princess Diana was no saint but her sudden and untimely death no doubt raised her to such a status and no one wants to hear her character being smeared in death. Yet the BRF never learns...
Which leads me to Duchess Meghan Markle. If you've been watching The Crown closely, I'm sure you would have noticed the eerily similar ways in how the BRF treated Diana with how they are treating Meghan now. In fact, I think there are lots of similarities in general between Meghan and Diana: both women are strong-willed, forward-thinking (for such a stuffy institution), go-getters with an impeccable sense of style. Meghan's mistreatment, of course, has an added layer of misogynoir and racism that Diana did not have to contend with but you can see how the Firm looked at the two women as "troublemakers" who don't know when and how to just sit down, drink their tea, and wave their hand like they're "supposed" to. But rather than doing any sort of self-reflection in the decades since Diana's passing, the Queen and her offspring and their aides have just dug into their heels to make sure they do the exact same thing to Meghan as they did to Diana. And all that did was drive Meghan and Prince Harry away from the family. But hey, you know what will really get the couple to return? Threatening to take away their HRH titles while the pedophile and criminal member of the family gets to roam around free.