BackMatter Issue 4: Rabbit Holes

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letter from the editors When we set out to make BackMatter Issue 4, we were also entering a classroom as students, designers, writers, and editors, each of us excited but mostly unsure about what it actually meant to make a magazine from start to finish. What guided this issue from the start was also our biggest challenge: how to pull a cohesive theme from a stack of essays that covered a dearth of topics, viewpoints, and angles. The thread we found to connect them all? The writers’ unique ability to fall down a rabbit hole and emerge on the other side coherent enough to tell a story about what they found on that journey. Our featured essays cover everything from trying to understand a family member’s interest in QAnon (“Trump, Truth, and QAnon”) to dissecting the identity politics of a love for Naruto (“I Need a Hero”), to uncovering the mysteries behind a famed designer (“The Man Who Sold The World (Of His Own)”). They’re personal, they’re investigative, and some of them are even a little fun.

Madeleine Janz Editor in Chief

Our design team brought this theme to life with brilliant graphics, a bold color palette, and went above and beyond with their creations. The feeling you get when looking at this magazine is in big part due to them and their ability to wholly complement each essay with striking design. The design team elevated BackMatter far beyond its content and truly made it a magazine.

Vanessa Genao Co-Executive Editor

For the first time in BackMatter history, we added a podcast to the to-do list. With it came more challenges but also an opportunity for most members of the masthead to get a taste of podcast production as a guest, host, or audio editor. The podcast expands on themes found in our featured essays but mainly focuses on our creative process. Our hosts spoke to current BackMatter staff as well as former editors and professors to create a dynamic picture of the past, present, and future of BackMatter. This journey has been a stressful but fun one. It’s sad to leave a project when you feel like you’ve just begun, but we’re proud of what this fall down the rabbit hole has left us with and we hope you enjoy the trip too. From, The Editors


Michaela Keil Managing Editor

Erica Marrison Co-Executive Editor








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Editor in Chief Madeleine Janz Managing Editor Michaela Keil Creative Director Alla Anatsko Executive Editors Vanessa Genao Erica Marrison Digital Editor Andrew Scott Editors & Podcast Producers Tobias Lentz Katherine Peach Art Director Hanna Reichler Designers Ye Tian Chelsea Sarabia Marketing & Communication Director Ashley Fligg


Associate Editors Quinn Luthy Yasmin Arquiza

02 06 18 24 30 40 46 50 56 62 68 68 80 90 96 98

Letters From the Team The Man Who Sold The World (Of His Own) I Need A Hero Seeking (and Shaping) Queer Space Rabbit Holes Podcast A Brief History of the Podcast The Signs as Podcasts Love and Hate Letters Trump, Truth, and QAnon Proclamations from the Deep A Painfully Normal American Business Do You Know Who Makes Your Bed Sheets? Reimagining Nature: the High Line Experiment Editors’ Picks and Icks Capsule Reviews Pick Your Rabbit Hole


MAN SOLD t W the

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WORLD own)


by Alla Anatsko


It appeared out of nowhere.


Sometime around 2017 a bunch of noir-esque aesthetically appealing items started popping up here and there on my Instagram feed. Most items were diligently folded and tightened with elastic bands to look like black rectangles floating on a white background. It was hard to tell what all of it was about. Were the items clothes? Accessories? Gadgets?

While the story and the obscurity of the brand fascinated me, I was not ready to surrender to a cryptic service with a Jeremiah 29:11 quote on its site’s footer (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”). Rather than becoming a customer, I decided to watch the mysterious brand from a distance.

The brand’s name was LOT2046. I followed its Instagram account, but its visuals did not offer much explanation. Its Still, something about it felt weirdly familiar. It wasn’t until website design was radical, too. It was full of ambient pictures, early 2019 that I figured out who the brand’s founder was. At sad landscapes, and models dressed in cybergoth uniforms. that point, the phenomenon became even more intriguing, and Somewhere in between was the “buy” button; LOT2046 turned out to be a box subscription service. For $49 a month it offered a strictly curated set of clothes and for $99 a month, a wider range of essentials, including hygiene products with cryptic messages on them: “be still,” or “for the good death.” As a fashion critic, who over time developed a certain skepticism of such direct-to-consumer sales pitches, I felt slightly annoyed. For years we’ve been inundated with countless services that promised instant gratification of our desires for coffee, oysters, luxury bags, or sex toys—you name it—all claiming to know what you wanted better than you did. Of course, most of them did not satisfy our desires for long; when things become too predictable, humans get bored.

But LOT2046 promised to be different. It did not permit selecting products: Everything was chosen for you already, sent in several shipments, and topped up in several months’ time. Each customer received identical items. The only thing that offered customization of one’s look was an more personal. The man behind the strange subscription service elegant tattoo machine. was Vadik Marmeladov. Chances are you have never heard of While it might have been yet another service that sends you a him—but if you were born and raised in Russia, and interested toothbrush every two months—so its bristles never turn into in fashion, design and technology, as I was, you probably knew a disheveled mohawk—its entire premise was paradoxical. his work. Not that I had followed Marmeladov’s career on LOT2046’s ethos was that a uniformed life will set you free purpose; on the contrary, it felt like his work had followed me for from consumerist impulses. But it still operated by the same over a decade. subscription service methods that enable consumerism today— the hook was the thrill of waiting for the new package, not I heard the name Vadik Marmeladov for the first time in 2008, when the editors of the Russian Dazed and Confused magazine knowing exactly what it contained this time.


went to Siberia to write about a fashion school I was studying at. troubled time for post-soviet Russia when street crime was at I became one of the article’s subjects; Marmeladov turned out its peak. Both of us dreamed of leaving our motherland as to be the magazine’s art director. soon as possible. And both of us, in fact, were able to leave Russia, and come to the United States—me to New York, and Two years later I went to Moscow to attend the only truly him to Silicon Valley. cool fashion event in Russia at that time, Cycles and Seasons. Marmeladov did graphic design for it. When Russian hipsters en *** masse became obsessed with technology and started discussing the so-called Internet of Things (physical objects with sensors), I mentioned LOT2046 in a casual conversation with my Marmeladov was the one who built the most captivating smart husband, a fashion critic from New York. He did not know much object, Lapka, which he later sold to Airbnb. about LOT2046, except that his best friend Florian was among its investors, and knew “a guy named Vadik.” It immediately became clear to me who Vadik was, so I called Florian. Florian Schmitt, a co-founder of Hi-Res!, one of the most influential web-design studios of the late 2000s and early 2010s, became familiar with Vadik’s work around the same time I did, in 2009. He came across it while casually browsing the Internet, finding it “fresh and different” from what he had usually seen online. Without a second thought, he emailed Vadik and offered to meet him if he was ever in London. One day, without warning, Vadik turned up at the studio’s front door. “He looked like he was twelve,” Schmitt told me on a video call, gazing at his apartment’s ceiling as if his memories were recorded on it. “He walked in, awed, like our studio was a temple. I was embarrassed: we were just a bunch of cool people doing good work. There was obviously a language barrier, but he threw himself at the computer right away—to do some work with dedication and professionalism.” Schmitt wanted Vadik to stay in London. But the dream job lasted a mere year. The embassy refused Vadik the required visa to stay. He went back to Russia, then moved to the US, though he continued contacting Schmitt once in a while to share his new projects. LOT2046 was his latest invention, born as a reaction to the Silicon Valley corporate values he had grown to despise. Some of my compatriot creatives saw Vadik, as he was known to his friends, as nothing less than a young Russian Steve Jobs. Others were skeptical and did not hesitate to make jokes about his pseudonym. Marmeladov is the second name of a drunkard in Crime and Punishment; in the novel, Marmeladov’s addiction ruins his family.


In 2015, Airbnb invited Marmeladov to work for them full-time, right after they bought his ambitious sensor startup, Lapka. Lapka produced a number of “self-care” wearable devices that measured radiation, humidity, and temperature. The deal was cemented, even though American tech-oriented publications Though the Marmeladov I was watching hardly seemed as described Lapka as an “off-beat,” “quirky,” and “bizarro” dark as Dostoevsky’s character, something about his aesthetic startup. Marmeladov and his partner Sergey Philippov moved resonated with me. Both of us had grown up in the 1990s, a to the United States.



For Marmeladov it was the beginning of a life he always wanted, realizing dream projects with the freedom and resources that only an American Silicon Valley startup would allow. Until it wasn’t. In December 2016, fed up with corporate dick-waving, he left the company.

They called to.“build stories and languages, not things;” to “create your own universe;” to stop “exploiting introverts;” and to “fuck the corporations.”

As a trained designer, who also has experience in the advertising business, I was not a stranger to such storytelling. A In the following year a list of 30 “rules strong story and a sexy candy wrapper of life” appeared on Marmeladov’s now- like the Code of Practice may successfully defunct personal website. They later sell a weak product; the inconsistencies became “the LOT2046 manifesto” or between what is sold and what is told the Code of Practice. are common. Carefully chosen words become an added value. You “build “Wear the uniform” was the first rule. stories, not things” to sell things. You “Think long term (like 30 years from now)” “fuck corporations” to establish your own. was the second. Other rules, immediately labeled by someone on the Internet as In Marmeladov’s case, however, it felt less “nihilist-marxist,” sounded more like a cri- like a cynical advertising campaign and de-coeur of a corporate culture more like a dreamer’s attempt to finally survivor. build his own world. Yet, everything seemed too ambiguous, especially the idea of uniformity—a major selling point for LOT2046. For a person from the former Soviet Union, a uniform represents both a totalitarian state and a severe shortage of goods, including clothes. At the same time, LOT2046’s aesthetic called to mind Silicon Valley’s cult of sameness. Even though Steve Jobs’s infamous attempt to dress Apple’s employees in an Issey Miyake uniform in the 1980s failed dismally, the tech bros of the 21st century proudly wear identical All Birds sneakers and Patagonia vests—an illusion of choice in the world of homogeneity. And, indeed, LOT2046 was getting more and more popular in certain circles of creatives and engineers, graphic and UX designers, and art directors and storytellers. A few of them became investors, as did the musician Kanye West, whom Marmeladov bombarded with emails for over a year. Slowly but steadily Marmeladov’s portfolio began to grow with projects for West and his family. He created the trophies for West’s Pornhub Awards ceremony—a series of flamecolored alien-looking sex toys—as well as some packaging for Kylie Cosmetics, and a logotype for SKIMS, the shapewear brand established by Kim Kardashian.

Marmeladov was also mentioned by the press as one of the designers behind YEEZY home, Kanye West’s ambitious low-income social housing project, which was closed in 2019 when all the buildings had to be demolished due to permit violations. Regardless of his closeness to the always-on-the-radar Kardashian-West clan, Vadik is a very private person. He neither advertises his relationships nor gives interviews—with very rare exceptions. He did not respond to my multiple requests for an interview for this story. *** Kyle Chayka, who is now a contributing writer for The New Yorker, was actually honored with an interview. He discovered the brand in 2017—to his taste, it looked fake. “It just felt too radical to be true,” he told me via Zoom. “It looked like design fiction, and I was curious where the money was coming from. Who would fund it? Because it is a very niche product.” His skepticism seemed perfectly rational. Then, one of his friends subscribed to LOT2046; Chayka became intrigued and subscribed as well. Soon after, vacuum-sealed paper bags began showing up at his front door. A piece Chayka wrote for Ssense was mostly about his consumer experience. But a quote from Vadik that made it into the article just added more mystery: “There’s no founder, no equity, no board of directors, no future.” Although Chayka called LOT2046 an “aesthetic with a moral dimension,” during our interview he was less optimistic. He found the narrative to be better than the products, which, to him, have outlived their usefulness. “Any type of total system gets boring,” he said. “People crave variety.”


Other customers, who were fascinated by the brand’s cultish visual identity, were skeptical about its ideology.


Victor Lander, a co-founder of Avocado Toast, a creative production studio, got his first delivery from LOT2046 as a birthday gift. He always wanted to buy enough monochromatic clothing to build a pragmatic wardrobe capsule for himself. LOT2046 fit well into his wardrobe; however, Lander would not wear it exclusively, as was Marmeladov’s idea, nor was he convinced by the brand’s ideology. “Vadik can talk about liberation and the way Zuckerberg dresses as much as he wants. But as soon as a product is released, the narrative does not belong to its creator anymore.” Nevertheless, to Lander’s surprise, people he hardly knew started recognizing his clothes. “A dude from Google who I met at a party told me that he owned the same LOT2046 jacket.” I talked to the “dude from Google” a couple of days later. Anton Tolchanov is a software engineer from London; he subscribed to LOT2046 in 2019, when his acquaintance assured him that the service was not a hoax. At the time he was enjoying his new subscription, LOT2046 was less totalitarian: Tolchanov could unsubscribe from the products he did not want (such as dental powder), or purchase a sleek lint-roller on top of his subscription (for a cool $99). He did not care much about the brand’s ethos or Vadik’s fans’ obsession with the Code of Practice. What pleased him most of all was the element of surprise. “It was like having a Christmas every month,” he said. This childish but sincere expectation of a monthly gift was what all the other customers I spoke with referred to.


“We are all kidults,” stated one of the subscribers. It seemed that the brand hit on a core need—an inexorable longing to be pampered, as if loved unconditionally.

shares. When this rebrand occurred, the company’s value was shown as over twenty million dollars in Bitcoin. The number of active subscriptions was nine.

The festivities of LOT2046 ended when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains. Some packages were delayed up to 11 months. As a consolation, the brand offered a $15 subscription to their YouTube channel, sharing daily streams with Vadik. The brand’s future quickly became uncertain.

To some readers, Marmeladov may appear as one of those grifters or stringpullers, gleefully romanticized by major cable TV networks. But he may also be just a talented designer, who, infected with Silicon Valley sensibilities, fell into a rabbit hole of his own cryptic concepts.

Vadim Bulgakov, a former colleague of Marmeladov who worked with him on Lapka, and describes him as “beautifully chaotic,” said that the uncertainty may have started even earlier when Vadik’s partner Sergey Philippov left the brand. “Many things that Vadik produced are the result of his duet with Sergey, and people still overlook this fact,” he said. Philippov politely yet firmly declined my request for comment. The same went for other people affiliated with the brand. One of them suggested subscribing to the service to “get to know more about it,” even though he did not work for the company anymore. Another spoke with me for 45 minutes about his devotion to the company’s values which restricted him from talking about its operations.

In late September of 2021, Marmeladov was giving a virtual lecture at California College of the Arts to design students. Prophesying over Zoom from the dark of his room, he encouraged students to build their companies as cults, as he believes such an approach promises immortality.

On November 15, 2021, I got a message from Florian Schmitt with a link to the LOT2046 website. “LOT2046 is closed,” it declared. “This domain and the website will be terminated by January 1, 2022. We are refunding all purchased tokens, remaining balances, and missing packages. Please check for the email from LOT soon,” the notice continued. When I reached out again to LOT2046’s nowformer subscribers, most of them said that they were not sure of what happened or why. None of them had received the email In early October of 2021, LOT2046 they had been promised. However, some deleted all of its Instagram pictures. Reddit users said that they had actually Although it was one of their common received refunds. communication tactics—eliminating everything and starting their Instagram As of December 2021, all LOT2046 account “from scratch”—the new accounts have been deleted. message, typed under a lonely picture of a folded pair of socks, stated that all Rule number 28 of the Code of Practice payments would now be Bitcoin-only. stated, “Remind yourself daily: you and The explanation appeared on the brand’s everyone you know will die.” YouTube channel: Marmeladov considers Bitcoin the currency of the future. *** The brand’s website was turned into something named LOT OS. The interface, still austere, showed all Bitcoin investments (including the nicknames of inventors and the amount of cryptocurrency they transferred) and offered a chance to buy the company’s


In late November of 2021 a Twitter account @MarmeladovVadim appeared. The bio reads “35, Father, husband, tech entrepreneur. In that order. Crypto, fashion, and design news. Opinions are my own.” A young man with a big nose, sad eyes, and an awkward smile is its avatar.

To some readers, Marmeladov may appear as one of those grifters or string-pullers, gleefully romanticized by major cable TV networks.




by Nancy Wei

A HERO Content warning: Disordered eating and self-harm I take a serious pride in being a Naruto fan from the very start. Five years old, fighting exhaustion on late Friday nights, I witnessed Naruto’s evolution from outcast to leader, the Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village. As he and his ninja friends were Naruto Running on their way to village outskirts and battlefields, arms out and dangling behind their aerodynamic bodies, I was doing the same thing running laps around the school gym, proud that I was watching something all the other kids weren’t. I didn’t let myself get tired because Naruto never did. I didn’t let anyone tell me shit because Naruto never did. He couldn’t perform a basic cloning jutsu spell, so he learned a more complicated multiple cloning jutsu instead. He had a demon fox sealed inside of him and was known as the ultimate bad omen to his village, but he was going to become the Hokage. Because that’s Naruto’s ninja way—to choose goodness no matter what and succeed because of it. And even though I didn’t necessarily have the words to describe it at age five, I wanted to become my own hero as well, my own Hokage. I wanted to become the highest, most enlightened version of myself, a ninja legend.


I was always set up to be a ninja villain instead—in Naruto terms, a hero who never made it, a hero who never found comrades or friends, and an outcast. I was one of three Asian kids at my Catholic kindergarten through junior high school in Ossining, New York, a quiet suburb whose only landmark is Sing Sing Prison. Everyone else was white, including our teachers. The most ethnic school lunches available were tuna sandwiches and pasta

with meat sauce. The few times I dropped three dollars on tuna, I was met with pinched noses and claims that Chinese people smell, fart, and shit unlike any other race because there’s something inherently different and disgusting about the way we eat food. It wasn’t until after I graduated that the school added vegetarian options other than frozen pizza and grilled cheese. Last time I checked the menu, it even included a vegetable. Even when I was drafting my valedictorian speech, I had the condescending, white eyes of my grammar teacher tell me that normalcy isn’t a real word. Naruto would have had the courage to talk back. I didn’t. I let my speech do all the talking and dropped the mic on five hundred white people, all shocked that I ended up as the representative of the Class of 2012.

I WANTED TO BECOME THE HIGHEST, MOST ENLIGHTENED VERSION OF MYSELF, A NINJA LEGEND. The bullying at home was somewhat predictable—a side-effect of first-generationness. It was just harder to accept. I’m the only child of two Chinese immigrants who grew up and achieved the absolute most in Shanghai and still came to New York City for more. They grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution, which only hardened their drive to overcome anything. My mom’s first gig in New York zapped her from a shared Brooklyn basement to a three-floor Westchester townhouse. My dad spent his childhood begging for scraps in Szechuan and ended up thirty floors up on Fashion Avenue. China’s hypernationalism shaped my parents’ lives and ended up shaping mine more than I would have liked. Since elementary school, my parents were taught to call the Japanese guizi, or devils, for the bloodshed and tragedies committed during the Japanese invasions of China.


I remember sitting across from my mother, asking for historical clarification, as she recited “qi, qi, lugouqiao”— seven, seven, Lugou Bridge—like a Chinese proverb. The Lugou Bridge Incident ramped up already existing tensions between the Chinese and Japanese armies and marked the bloody start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. So from my parents’ anti-Japanese childhood to their hyperproductive adulthoods, it came naturally that they resented their golden child for dedicating hours of her life to watching Naruto. While I was honing my ninja run, both at school and home all I heard were high-pitched mockings of the Japanese language, of Naruto, of my only friends. Even a few episodes of Naruto itself messed with my head. I found out that my favorite character, Sasuke, my first ever crush, had his whole clan massacred, and as a result, he went rogue and left the village to avenge his bloodline. I think this is where my villainhood arc got juicy. I was so absolutely devastated by this plotline I stopped hugging my pillow pretending it was Sasuke—never mind the distress that my first crush wasn’t even a real human. By the fifth grade, the original run of Naruto ended after 220 episodes and was becoming another aspect of my life I couldn’t exactly keep up with. My Sundays consisted of language classes, PSAT prep, finishing up regular homework, piano practice, and parental screaming. I didn’t have the energy for Naruto anymore.

In the meantime, Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto had moved on to developing a new series, Naruto Shippuden, which follows Naruto’s teenage and young adult years. The last time we see kid Naruto, he vows to bring Sasuke back to the village, and embarks on four years of training. For Shippuden, Naruto comes back as a battle-hardened man, and I came back streaming on, unaware that the business trips my dad was taking to China foreshadowed his leaving the house like Sasuke left the village. Shippuden also came back with a bang, teasing Naruto’s reunion with Sasuke. His hard training was finally about to pay off—except it took another 50 episodes before we actually chronologically made it to that moment. For context, the diehard Naruto audience had to wait two years, ten months, and nine days to see Naruto and Sasuke back together in any meaningful way, grown and now hating each other. From age seven to twelve, I waited, mourning the way Sasuke violently knocked out the girl who loved him and tried to stop him from leaving. And, fuck, Sasuke still doesn’t come back. My dad didn’t come back either. My life felt like an anime where I was now a full-fledged villain. The ninja way I had inherited from Naruto, the determination to achieve, enlighten, and never give up, had gotten completely warped. The vigor with which I once had pursued goodness and Hokage-ness I was now misdirecting into self-harm and eating disorders.




My story is really not too uncommon. It’s a metatype microcosm of the experience of first-generationness. You think you’re some type of unicorn pariah, but you’re really just living the average first-gen Asian life. The morality of Naruto isn’t complicated, yet it’s realistic. Every villain is convinced they’re a unicorn, that they were so uniquely wronged nobody could ever understand the pain. And the kicker of every episode is that Naruto does understand that pain. He knows it’s nice to seem different, even if negatively. He knows it’s nice to bask in solitary darkness, plots of revenge, and marked unicornness. But, at the end of the day, he always chooses good, chooses comrades and love and positivity. Young Naruto spent 220 episodes over the four-year run of the original Naruto explaining his pain to every villain and forcing them to confess their own. I didn’t watch anime at all throughout high school, so I was not afforded the enlightened luxury of encountering, battling, and losing to a personal, real-life Naruto. I battled my eating disorder instead. I was threatened with inpatient and foster care, forced to gain weight, and all the while, I was still playing into the villain arc, choosing

negativity and misery at every turn. My parents stoked my unicornness and let it simmer endlessly in pure ignorance, giving no second thought to my daily postmeal trips to the bathroom, to my insistence to wear hoodies in 90° weather to cover my slit wrists. If a villain secretly craves being saved right as they drop the big bomb, my parents didn’t even know I had a bomb in the first place. It has something to do with the perceived Asian aversion to expressing love.

I grew up in a family of three, with a threefloor townhouse. It was always quiet because quiet meant good. My mom bitterly resigned herself to housewife duties, and my father roamed around between so-called business deals and streaming old Chinese spy movies. No one ever hugged. No one ever kissed. No one ever said bless you after a sneeze. The way attending a Catholic school around white families conditioned me to seek and need love, to my mom, this was laughable and somehow inelegantly naive. I was always called “dia”—a sticky brand of needy and trying to be cute—accompanied with a patronizing laugh. It’s honestly still hard to tell if my mom was a tiger mom or slightly emotionally off. She would yell and scream, and once threatened me with scissors, but she’d approach me an hour later with a bowl of fruit. The bowl of fruit is apparently such a universal experience for kids of Asian immigrants that there are TikToks describing the sliced apples and oranges as the closest an Asian parent can get to a real apology. It’s media like this that de-unicorns the Asian kid experience and shows us that we all grew up the same way. I recently went to 88Rising’s Head in the Clouds music festival, a gathering of 30,000 people, mostly Asians, with strikingly similar fashion tastes and all singing the same songs written by and for Asian people. I am not a unicorn. There were

30,000 more of me in the Rose Bowl alone. How many bowls of fruit is that?


My junior year, my unathletic ass surprisingly started training in martial arts with absolutely no remembrance of Naruto. My home gym full of huge men and one hyperathletic Wonder Woman became my first real comrades. In some ironic twist of fate, through oblivious kicks and sparring sessions, I remembered Naruto when my mom snarkily compared me to him. You could say I was now honing my martial arts and qi defense for her instead. My mom and I still had problems after that point, but when I moved out for college, I really took control of my life. She forced herself into my apartment; I showed her out and called my landlord to take her off my lease, like an adult. I had no interest in her tentacle-like, constrictive antics and eventually grew to hold no frustration or negativity of any type for her at all. I was over at her house doing laundry a week ago. I started calling my father when I moved out too. I hadn’t seen him since I was fifteen, save for the half hour he spent at my high school graduation. The phone calls started out with me yelling, demands for emotional reparations accompanied by a lot of tears. At some point, through early morning university lectures, I made peace with the fact I don’t have a mom and dad like other people do. Naruto was orphaned too.


I started my official rewatch of Naruto about a year ago, during my junior year of college, bored and locked down



AGE IS SIMILAR TO THE PATH OF AND PERSEVERING AT ANY COST. from Covid-19. I’m still only halfway through the saga. I was in tears every time the opening and closing songs changed, shocked that I still knew all the words to Japanese songs I couldn’t even understand. I cried when Sasuke left, but only a little. I still haven’t seen him come back yet, but now almost two decades later, I really don’t care if he does come back. I like to think that I don’t love him anymore because I’ve healed so much and ascended so far above his misery. Nowadays I use antiheroes like Sasuke as checks for myself. I can’t ever be like him again—small, pitiful, and filled with self-imposed misery. Finally, I wish Sasuke the strength to choose good.


A few months after I moved out, someone special brought me a container of pasta. I ate it piece by piece with my hands telling myself I’d eventually stop, but I ate the whole thing, unweighed, unmeasured, uncounted, and I kept eating just like that. I chugged gallons of milk trying to make weight for my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament. I’ve been in four tournaments now and have medaled once. I joke now that pasta and love healed me. Since then, I haven’t had a single unhealthy thought. I eat a lot and I eat to enjoy and build my body. My eating reflects my ninja way: I choose goodness constantly, just like Naruto does. In every infinite moment of the present, I choose goodness, and I’ve been doing it for four years. In martial arts, we call this divine goodness “oss.” It’s actually a tricky thing to define, but you would say oss to bow to a martial arts master. We say oss when we enter the mats for the day, and we say it when we step of. In my circle of martial artist friends, we say oss for the more casual things—it’s a placeholder for anything martial and good. That Naruto figurine looks so oss; this açaí bowl is super oss. I yell oss whenever I perfect a move or land a nice submission in a live roll. I think the path to Hokage is similar to the path of oss, choosing goodness and persevering at any cost. It’s almost bittersweet seeing Naruto so popular now, but since my little secret joy is everyone’s now. I’m not a unicorn anymore, and that’s great. It all circles back to the premise of every Naruto episode ever: Naruto’s been there, so now that he knows love, joy, camaraderie, and oss, it’s his duty to extend it to everyone else. I’ve come to learn it’s mine as well.


seeking (AND SHAPING)

QUEER space With only four lesbian bars left in New York City, where—and how—can queer community be found?


An hour into waiting for Deb Never’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone? release show to begin, my partner and I were swaying uneasily. Never’s opener, a delicate boy in an oversized dress shirt, strummed as earnest black curls fell into his eyes. Three girls cavorted flirtatiously beside us, exchanging knowing glances at lyrics about his favorite girl. One, bouncing devotedly under her raised phone, knocked into us repeatedly despite the spacious patio. Deb Never is openly, unavoidably gay. She sings dejectedly about the women who break her heart, kisses them in cars in her music videos, and carries herself with a slightly insecure, crush-worthy swagger. But this scene felt distinctly heterosexual, as did the growing crowd; the line to get in had been so thick with Bushwick skate bros that I’d wondered if I had the date wrong. The show was promoted exclusively to Never’s still-modest Instagram following only a week in advance, so I’d expected this to feel like a family affair. When one of the girls’ hair whipped my cheek, my confusion deepened to resentment: Where were all the queers?

by Radhika Rajkumar

Under yellow-green laser beams, Never jumped on stage, stubborn in a sweatshirt and pants despite the 80° weather. “Poison in your kiss, you love me to death, you’d do anything to get further in my head,” she sang, pounding out recollections of a girl she’d unwillingly left behind. I was flooded with recognition for her littlebrother electricity, the shy confidence of her body language, all the queer-coded magic the crowd seemed to lack. Looking around, I was disappointed—both that I didn’t see enough of us and in myself for feeling territorial. I turned wordlessly to my partner, but they looked just as surprised, even a little suffocated. While a person’s sexuality isn’t always visible, I got the sense that we were in some kind of minority. That feeling was punctuated when Never worked us into a moshpit; heavy, bumbling men slammed through me and into each other at full speed. I lost my ground, a feather in a pinball machine. After the show, I met two other queer women and asked if they’d noticed what I had. They nodded, their brows and noses crinkling with mirrored confusion. The number of queer bars across the US has been dwindling for years and the pandemic has only exacerbated the decline. Before Oddly Enough opened in Bed-Stuy this April, New York City had merely three remaining lesbian bars, all of which took to GoFundMe to make rent during the pandemic. Park Slope’s historic Ginger’s only recently reopened after being sold to new management. I had assumed that Deb Never’s show would be a queer space in a time when they feel all the more precious. I wanted to know if my expectations, and subsequent disappointment, had any merit.


Music is essential to the histories of queer space. Most of our havens have been bars where music and alcohol align to lubricate anxieties, dancing, and cruising. Queer nightlife is rooted in movement,

They can intuit that their physical boundaries will be respected by men who aren’t sexually interested in them.

sexual liberation, peacocking—expressions that are often still too risky for heteronormative spaces—and music is its scaffolding. In her book, Playing It Queer, musician and author Jodie Taylor considers queer bars, explaining: “[They] were meaningful, not least because they allowed me to meet and socialize with like-minded people, but that socializing was almost always accompanied by music and dancing.” Music is still central to New York City’s ballroom scene, respites where primarily Black and Latinx trans and genderqueer people live out fantasies of camp and glamour through disco hits and diva anthems. Used as a tool, an ornament, an excuse, or a shade of sonic wallpaper, music turns balls and bars into mediums for queer manifestation, shelters from an otherwise punishing world. Music and musicians also help us inhabit space that isn’t de facto queer. In 2018, Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan’s breakout single Bloom, lauded by many as a bottoming anthem, had infiltrated gay bars, grocery stores, and Hair Cuttery’s alike. My friends and I saw him perform it at Radio City Music Hall in October of that year. Trans popstar Kim Petras opened for him, stomping brattily across the stage in white platform boots. When Sivan, slinky on slender hips, appeared in an emerald green suit and matching mesh shirt, our girlish shrieks rattled the Rockette’s headquarters. We swayed with him as he reminisced about his tongue on the teeth of his boy “treasure.” The mostly white gay men in skintight tees around me occupied a privileged tier of the LGBTQ+ community that I, a cis woman of color, and many of my trans and non-binary friends, do not. But dancing alongside them, I felt the room shake with the sheer weight of our bodies; we’d overrun one of Manhattan’s most mainstream venues. Giddy, I pulled out my phone to record the bathroom line, easily 50 twinks long. As bars dissapear, queer musicians can still make momentary space for us. Part of what makes these spaces precious is that we presume a homogeneity of the communities that form around queer musicians. That presumption makes our codes, tools for safety, possible. Nearly every person I interviewed noted that they use music with queer themes as shorthand to identify other LGBTQ+ people. For example, the phrase “do you listen to girl in red?”, referencing the indie pop project of lesbian musician Marie Ulven Ringheim, has been meme-ified into slang for asking a girl if she’s gay. What does it mean if that presumed homogeneity turns out to be false? I recently saw queer Canadian singer Charlotte Day Wilson play Music Hall of Williamsburg. Walking in, my friend Ramsey asked expectantly: “So this crowd is gonna be, like, really gay, right?” I shared the hope in their voice, but couldn’t answer. Artists are central to whether live shows function as queer spaces. Music journalist and fellow queer Michelle Hyun Kim told me, “I don’t think queer artist concerts have to always exclusively have queer fans in the crowd, but I do think that the musician has a lot of power to dictate who shows up and whose safety is prioritized.” Mikaela Straus, better known as King Princess, is humbled by the


gravity her concerts have for young queer people. “I get a lot of kids that come up to me after these shows that are like, ‘I had $40 left, I got kicked out of the house, and I spent it on this show,” she tells me. Debates around who can and should access certain live events bring up hard truths about resources. A 2019 Williams Institute study on LGBT poverty in the US found that 22% of LGBT people live in poverty, compared to 16% of cisgender straight people. Poverty rates for trans people are especially high, at 29%, and rates for cis gay men and cis straight men are the lowest, nearly tied at 12% and 13% respectively. According to the Census, queer people were hit harder economically by the pandemic. These realities dictate who can buy access to space. “Realistically, I don’t think queer spaces can be protected, unless they are free-of-charge or have a funding model that ensures that all queer people can afford to get in,” says Kim. “Even with things like BIPOC-only queer parties, there are always going to be white people showing up because they’re the ones who can afford the tickets.” Straight people (read: bachelorette parties) visiting gay bars is not new. “I’ve been going to gay bars for as long as I can remember,” actor Daniel Craig told podcast host Bruce Bozzi, “because I don’t get into fights in gay bars that often.” He observed that in them, “you didn’t really have to sort of state your sexuality [...] it was a very safe place to be.” Craig then added that he was going to gay bars to meet single women. I can’t say I have sympathy for Craig, or the state of the bars he otherwise frequents, but he’s right. In the era of #MeToo and public struggles with heterosexual power dynamics, queer spaces are used as retreats for disillusioned straight people, primarily the women Craig hoped to meet. They can intuit that their physical boundaries will be respected by men who aren’t sexually interested in them. More deeply, they can be affirmed by a diverse group of people whose culture, broadly speaking, values therapy, open communication, and ethical non-monogamy. As evidenced by Craig, straight people crave the freeing embrace of a queer bar. But rather than adapt their own spaces in search of this, they continually enter ours. Still, we struggle to define our expectations. What responsibilities do cis, straight people have when entering queer spaces? Kripa, 23, hazards a guess: “If you’re a cishet person going to a gay bar, being mindful of, ‘Oh, how much space am I taking up?’” They land in a familiarly instinctual, albeit vague, place. “You feel it in your body if you’re acting correctly in the space, perhaps, and other people feel it in their body,” they explain. Kripa’s ambivalence is inspired by a desire to maintain a welcoming outlook while nursing an old, earned suspicion. Unfortunately, that tension doesn’t produce a clear solution.


Many of the people I interviewed shared a conflicted desire for ownership of queer musicians and their work. I empathize with them. In a homophobic world where you’re told that what moves you is niche, wrong, or perverted, those feelings are born of an impulse

Used as a tool, an excuse, or a shade of sonic wallpaper, music turns balls and bars into mediums for queer manifestation, shelters from an otherwise punishing world. to protect and cherish the scraps of representation that make it up the chain. Others I spoke to were assuaged by the idea of queer allyship. Straight woman and King Princess superfan Yasi, 25, tries to expose herself to a variety of musicians and genres. Her queer friends describe her as an LGBTQ+ ally, telling me they feel comfortable standing next to her at predominantly queer King Princess concerts. “[King Princess’s music] taught me a lot about queer love and relationships—it’s been a learning experience for me,” she says. But for Kim, the music journalist, Yasi’s thoughtful intentions are hard to expect from most listeners: “The way that music is marketed and packaged as a product doesn’t always prompt listeners to learn more about the experiences of an artist through a sociopolitical lens.” She notes music’s ephemeral nature as a virtue, saying “Sometimes you hear a song in passing and have no idea who the artist is or what they’re talking about—that can also lead to a beautiful and moving experience.” But she says she hopes consistent fans of an artist try to engage with their background on a deeper level. Her point recalls similar challenges in non-Black consumption of Black music and spaces: no system of accountability exists to trace the political beliefs or actions of white people buying up space at Afropunk.

shaming Frank’s queerness while elevating his music is absurd, yet common. The music industry relies on straight white people simultaneously profiting from and denying the humanity of the marginalized artists they manage, market, and consume. On a smaller scale, having to share space with those very people at a queer artist’s show feels unfair and defeating, but mostly just out of our control. Unlike physical space, digital space is endless. Exploding the discovery of queer musicians, sites like Tumblr allowed queer people to form distinct, if technically boundaryless, virtual fandoms. Beyond music, a broader, thirst-trap-laden lesbian community is now thriving on TikTok. Leaving shadowy usernames and avatars behind, dykes representing themselves is becoming the norm. But that expansiveness can make the ethics of consuming queer musicians’ work even muddier. Enter TikTok millionaire Charli D’Amelio, twisting stiffly in a vertical frame. Her purple-streaked hair bounces as she mouths queer rapper ppcocaine’s 3 Musketeers, her facial expressions straining for enthusiasm in place of seduction: Ayy, ayy, tell lil’ shorty come here I’m tryna blow her back out, walking funny for the year Tell me that you want me, that’s the shit I always hear I got three bitches on me like the three musketeers Bitch, shake that ass or kick rocks Fuck a situationship, I’m tryna see that box

When bisexual R&B/hip hop artist Frank Ocean released Blonde, his widely beloved second studio album, its queer themes spoke to Aliya, 23. For others, those themes caused anxieties that needed to be explained away. “It was interesting seeing straight people The video boasts 13.3 million likes, 10.4 million shares, and be like, ‘Frank Ocean’s the best, even if he’s queer,’ or ‘No homo, 162,100 comments. ppcocaine shared 3 Musketeers on TikTok in but I like Frank’,” Aliya recalls. The selective hearing involved in the summer of 2020. Blaring against a bare trap beat, the song

Queer nightlife is rooted in movement, sexual liberation, peacocking—expressions that are often still too risky for heteronormative spaces—and music is its scaffolding.


I tell the music journalist Kim about my Deb Never experience. “I don’t think that straight dudes shouldn’t be able to listen to Deb Never,” she replies. “Maybe they’re seeing something that I don’t see, or they’re connecting with something queer about it that they don’t realize they needed.” She pauses, inevitable ambiguity returning. “I’m not immediately, like, ‘Oh, we should share space,’ but if this music connects to a broad amount of people, I don’t D’Amelio is a bastion of straight TikTok, the term for the app’s think I should immediately expect them to not be there when I’m more normative, white, and heterosexual content. Her public going to a concert.” dating drama with teen Hype House boys and an absence of any known queer behavior make her appear straight as well. It’s not It’s beautiful that Never’s grungy confessionals about manipulathat her potential queerness, or lack thereof, is my business— tive women and persistent depression find homes in many ears. At her show, I watched burly part of what liberated queer white dudes in trucker hats futures envision is a freedom shout every lyric, eyes locked to explore and evolve in one’s on her, and I couldn’t say they sexuality without explanation. didn’t belong there. That Never Besides, shared to her hundreds is Asian American made the of million followers, D’Ameimage all the more powerful. “I lio’s video likely helped propel 3 do think music is a great unifiMusketeers to its nearly 83 million er,” Straus says optimistically, streams on Spotify, and ppco“It’s just that the powers that be caine themself into a promisare making it more and more ing career in dirty rap. But challenging for us to get along.” almost two years on, D’Amelio’s is still the most popular Our instincts to preserve are born video for 3 Musketeers on TikTok. of shrinking square feet, violent As the internet spills over with pasts, presents, and likely futures. queer women, non-binary and That makes them worthy of trans self-representation, it hits a consideration. But each person at nerve that a white, cis, presumably an artist’s show represents anothstraight girl is the app’s primary er stream, another purchased visual for a biracial, non-binary ticket, another step toward rapper’s anthem about queer sex. well-deserved success. With that D’Amelio’s video is the digital comes visibility, economic mobilmarker of the complex economy ity, and real (if incremental) queer music and culture operate industry change. It means more within. 3 Musketeers is a crossrole models for lost LGBTQ+ over success story as much as kids. If an openly queer artist it is a tense reminder that even takes off, maybe it doesn’t serve as our community takes off, us to be precious about whose we still grapple with the system. shoulders they’re standing on. For LGBTQ + musicians, transitions from niche to mainstream When Never’s last song ended, we joined the line forming around are usually also from gayer to straighter, and darker to whit- her. The man ahead of me, beaming, leaned in for a photo and told er, marking the reality that queer people can’t yet acheive star- her he drove five hours to be there that night. “Oh my god,” Never, dom on the backs of their kin alone. “If you’re only accessible my partner, and I said in unison. to a community that feels inaccessible to a mass audience, then you’re going to be a niche artist,” Straus says. “That’s a hard “We just wanted to say thank you, from all the dykes in Brookthing in my brain to reckon with, because at a certain point it’s lyn.” I smiled as I hugged her. “Hey, thanks for being dykes.” Never like, the gays need me, I need them, it’s osmosis. But I’m also laughed and hugged me closer. My arms sank through her sweatlike, you know what? I’m really tired of gay people not being shirt—she was smaller than I imagined. Her faded blue-grey hair at the level of massive diva pop—I think that’s frustrating too, hung weightless and tousled from puppy-bounding around the because we could be there.” In short, the heights of fame we know stage, her body still vibrating with disbelief at the turnout. She queer musicians can reach might depend on the ever-fraught seemed shocked by her own velocity. stretching, even relinquishing, of our physical and digital spaces. was virally embraced by LGBTQ+ and straight users alike. But watching D’Amelio dance, her body unsure of the lyrics, I was reminded of Tony Soprano elegantly pondering The L Word’s Jennifer Beals: “She a dyke in real life?” The excitable LGBTQ+ internet speculated in the video’s comments about whether D’Amelio was coming out.

“I had $40 left, I got kicked out of the house, and I spent it on this show.”










listen to the full podcast here


What’s the Use of a Podcast? ‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

by Tobias Lentz and Katherine Peach Even before Lewis Carroll first penned the tale of an obstinate heroine descending into a world where flamingos are used as croquet mallets and tea parties require bewildering madness, readers have experienced how the written word can both amuse and transport. What is the point of a publication if it doesn’t spark a bit of conversation? During this semester-long experiment, we aimed to spark conversation with a multimedia publication—complete with print, digital, and our first-ever podcast series. We couldn’t help but take Carroll’s advice by getting curiouser and curiouser: What is the use of a podcast? Sure, podcasts like Las Culturistas can fuel a deep cleaning of your neglected apartment. Listening to an episode of Keep It! smooths a delay in traffic or when waiting for the metro. But, with so much media to consume, why spend time with a couple of podcasters flooding your neurons? In 4 episodes, the BackMatter podcast brings our listeners down the rabbit hole of what it means to build a literary community by

speaking with the people who made this issue possible. In our first episode, hear from Rachel Rosenfelt, one of the founders of the program that hosts this magazine, Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism at The New School for Social Research, who brought the vulgarities of the world into the classroom. She asks, is it possible to create a publication through the power of collective belief? Discover how our team put together a magazine from scratch and accomplished what felt impossible in just four months. Hear insights into their individual roles and their thoughts on the challenges and rewards of producing an independent, literary publication. After all, who in the world are we? Co-hosts Katherine Peach and Tobias Lentz used this podcast to attempt to figure that out, but we think we must have been changed several times since then.


Fall down this rabbit hole for a look inside the making of BackMatter. What’s a publication without conversation, indeed.

Rachel Rosenfelt [15:51]

My name is Rachel Rosenfelt, and alongside Jim Miller and Juliette Cezzar, I am a founding faculty member of the CPCJ program and, alongside Jim, the first faculty administrator of the program, as well.


On the History of BackMatter

Tobias Lentz [16:16]

Rachel started the CPCJ program, years ago with Jim Miller. She was also doing this thing called the New Inquiry, which is now a magazine, but back then it was actually just her Tumblr profile, which was very funny. She, on her Tumblr, reached out to people and found writers to connect with who had similar beliefs, and that, over time, became the New Inquiry. When I talk to her, she keeps mentioning that whenever you’re creating anything—whether it’s a magazine or anything—it’s important to have an idea of collective belief. You need to have a common thing that you all stand behind.

Rachel Rosenfelt [17:04]

I like to tell this story in a way because it may confer agency to you and to other students. It’s important to say that I started New Inquiry on Tumblr. And in fact, if you count Tumblr as a social media platform, for years there was never anything other than social media, the New Inquiry was purely on social media. It was the organs of social media that I had access to for free, and it was an advantage. I mean, I also hadn’t met anyone who was in the New Inquiry before I started [the publication]. It was my Tumblr, that’s all it was, but I called it something that sounded real, the New Inquiry, which sounds like it would exist. And person by person—not because I knew them in my network—I just set out to find the others. I hit the streets, and that’s in a very literal way. It ended up feeling very novel. There weren’t women doing a literary, intellectual magazine with these sorts of politics. That got the attention of the New York Times style section, and they did an article about the New Inquiry. What was very interesting is that we did not have a magazine, and the New York Times didn’t even notice. There was never a magazine; it came after [the social media version]. So,

I think, that’s an important little piece of information about what collective belief is.

Tobias Lentz [18:53]

So, I think that’s very interesting. Essentially, the idea of a collective belief, at least for her, became something much bigger in the end—but that was not the point. It didn’t come together as she was creating the New Inquiry, it started with her putting herself out there. Then people started to join, or she found people to talk to and then over time, it became the New Inquiry. In terms of our class where it’s more forced—you join something to create it—that’s maybe not her way of doing it and that’s why, I think, whenever she had the class she wanted it to be completely from scratch. Like, you guys go talk. You guys go find a collective belief. But at the same time, in terms of productivity, it’s good to have a frame. And I think that whenever Jon took over, he saw that we needed a framework. Rachel has a different philosophy. I don’t know what’s best, but it’s interesting to talk about.

Katherine Peach [20:14]

I mean, the idea that you have the freedom to do whatever you want is really exciting and can also be very terrifying and overwhelming. So I do see how, for time’s sake, it is nice to have a framework. We still were able to come together and say, ‘Okay, we’re making a podcast. What do we want to make it about?’ So once you have the framework, it goes much faster. I really appreciate that there are different approaches. But I’m also very grateful that they didn’t say, ‘come make whatever you want.’

There are two big factors with [my role]. I think the first is really learning trust and learning the ability to really let go and say, ‘we’re doing everything we can on the editorial side to give a really good product—a good content product—to the design side.’ But then to say that I trust these people, and I know that they’re going to do a really good job. And even if the final product is not at all what I was envisioning, that’s great. I’m sure with their creativity and their skills that it’s going to turn out beautifully and, hopefully, really, really surprise me. I think it will. The second factor is, because we’re all really new to this, at least in running a magazine (we all, I think, have had intern/ fellowship experiences being a part of a team) but actually having to call all the shots and make all the decisions. A big thing we run into is trying to figure out what are the questions to ask. What could the problems be? At least for me, that’s been really difficult to think about. And this kind of feeling of you’re constantly forgetting something. I know, there must be something I need to ask design about—let’s say an issue map or mock-ups, layouts—I just don’t really know yet because I haven’t worked with the design team in this way. So for us, it’s learning by doing really, and I think many challenges will come up a lot with miscommunication. But we’re really trying to focus on just Slacking and emailing and meeting as much as possible to have those questions come up organically when we’re with each other.

Katherine Peach [09:12]

We called the podcast BackMatter Rabbit Holes because the theme this year is all about rabbit holes. That was a theme that Madi and other editors pulled out from recurring themes they saw in the writing. We wanted something a little more abstract, which also mirrors what the design team wanted to do as well. And so, I thought it would be fun to bring up Alice in Wonderland to distinguish this season (which, hopefully, there will be many more of the podcast) and build it around Alice in Wonderland the book and, of course, the movie. The inspiration for this first episode

is a quote from the [Lewis Carroll] book, “‘And what is the use of a book’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’” That really got me thinking about, what is the use of a podcast? And then we’ve been kind of spitballing from there.

Tobias Lentz [10:21]

That’s true. I think that’s very well said. A rabbit hole, this term that we just started to really like in the group, as in you come up with this idea or this concept, and you just want to know more about it. And you even though you might know about [this topic], you know, what a podcast is, but how does it work? How do you record it? How do you do all the small things that are part of that and the magazine itself? So that’s how this podcast became a podcast about making podcasts.

Katherine Peach [10:59]

And making a magazine and making a website! What does it look like to go to the printer and pick out paper? We’re going to talk about all those things in future episodes because that’s new to us, as well. And it can be, I feel like it can be, kind of obscure when people talk about making magazines—that nitty-gritty. I don’t know, the mechanics of it still feel very foreign, at least to me.

On Starting BackMatter for 2022

Madeleine Janz [07:42]


Katherine Peach [29:33]

Any advice for someone who wants to start their own magazine?

The Politics of Publishing

Alla Anatsko [23:38]


Don’t do it. No, I encourage people, and I think, I don’t have enough coverage myself. After I moved here three years ago, I thought I would maybe also love to start something for myself. I mean, making a magazine could be also a form of—I won’t say art because it’s a very big word—but at the same time, it’s a form of self-expression. And as soon as you have some means to self-publish, and in my country, there was a huge history of samizdat, which is selfpublishing, and quite obscure self-publishing, because it was a political gesture against the government because a lot of stuff was prohibited. And if you want to do [samizdat], I encourage people to do that, and I would love, maybe, one day to do it myself. But about people who are planning to start their magazines in order to get money, and if, even if it’s a printed magazine, I have my doubts. I worked for different magazines, and the most money-driven of them, that was a pretty weird experience. I must say. From small magazines who just wanted to be big to some Conde Nast publications. It also comes with certain limitations.

Katherine Peach [29:43]

What was your experience as an editor, working more on the publishing side? You’ve said you’ve worked for an editor for 10 years at publications small and big.

Alla Anatsko [30:56]

I worked as a journalist for more than 10 years, and for several years as an editor, but I started working as an editor quite early. So, I had, sort of, an early career, which is not that rare in Russia, actually. I think because journalism and especially glossy magazines were quite a new thing, if you think about Vogue, which is more than a hundred years old. In my country after the Soviet Union fell and at the end of the nineties—which was quite a weird decade— multiple, capitalistic . . . How can I express that? Before glossy publications were common there were youth culture magazines. In the late nineties and early aughts, and even the late aughts, that was a very interesting time for publishing in my

country. Of course, I was quite infected by this notion of publishing in general, and press, and glossy press, because I was always like a huge admirer of fashion. Not in a superficial way, I decided to study fashion because I wanted to be a fashion critic and a fashion writer. I was born in Siberia, and people always ask me, how did I discover things [like fashion, culture]? Because I didn’t even have, you know, cable internet before 2008.

Katherine Peach [33:17] Okay!

Alla Anatsko [33:21]

So, it was all dial-up and floppy disk culture, CD culture, tape recording culture. So, yeah, I’m quite old, in a good sense. I’m really enjoying that I’m 34 and back in school. [Editor’s note: Alla is not old; the interviewer is older] I was infected by this idea of publications, and specifically glossy publications, and not political journalism at all, but this cultural criticism is something that will kind of make me flourish and nourish my life. I can contribute. And I just wanted this life. When you feel integrated into the international context of things—where you can travel for a job, when you can meet people, when you can see how other people are living—but of course, it was a little bit of a naïve thing to think, because it is quite super superficial, still. But I started working in the local magazine many years ago. That was a pretty weird experience. I was inexperienced: people were yelling at each other, very rude to each other, throwing things at each other.

Katherine Peach [33:40] Oh, my goodness.

Alla Anatsko [33:43]

Yeah! But at the same time, it was very fun to work there, considering everything. I was quite protected from that quite toxic environment, I guess. And after that a friend of mine, who was also my colleague, she invited me to move to another city where I worked as an editor for let’s say six-plus years. One of my favorite jobs was, actually, when I combined the jobs of like 12 people. I was sort of an editor in chief of a beauty magazine. I’m saying sort of, because nominally, the editor in chief was another person. But I did all the work. And my favorite part of it was being a creative director inventing things. After the

Russian Ukrainian war started, I found out that the only thing that keeps me away from pain, even though I don’t want to be away from pain—I don’t want to eliminate it, I think feeling it, this is what makes us humane—but only one thing makes me feel like I’m doing something important is thinking about how things will look. Just creating something from nothing, from the thin air. And this is what I was doing after I moved from my hometown. I moved to Moscow, and I worked for Conde Nast for one year. I worked for GQ there, and I thought I would probably continue working for GQ, and maybe I will join another team of my friends who are making an amazing, very interesting online publication. Very beautiful. So, I had plans, but then life happened. So here I am.

Katherine Peach [37:43]

And being in New York is better for it really.

Alla Anatsko [37:46]

For publishing and journalism? Well, I’m not sure to be honest, because like in New York you have to hustle.

Katherine Peach [37:55] Very true.

Alla Anatsko [37:56]

You have to hustle a lot. And in my country people make pretty early careers, like everywhere. But at the same time, my former colleagues they’re writing to me and they’re like, ‘well, we don’t have people who we can actually hire.’ It’s like everything changed. And they cannot, I mean, it’s all observational. I do not pretend to have any sort of statistics or something. It’s observational from group chats and personal conversations. They’re just sharing their frustrations, but I think it’s just getting weird. Maybe it’s because the glossy segment is slowly dying, or maybe, just changing and transforming because political journalism and investigational journalism in my country is on its way, is on its peak. Considering everything that’s happening in politics and what’s happening now, too.

Katherine Peach [37: 76]

Is there anything else that I haven’t asked or you just wanted to mention?

Alla Anatsko [38:01] Uh, stop the war.

Katherine Peach [38:04] Yes.

In this extra cut from the BackMatter podcast, Creative Director Alla Anatsko and Podcast Co-Producer Katherine Peach spoke about Anatsko’s experience in publishing, including working for GQ in Moscow, and why Russia has a history of publications as political spaces.



social life of ideas

a few of our own.

answer some of these questions and pose

this three-part series, we at SLOI seek to

does the future look like for them? In

captured our ears and minds? And what

Where did they come from? Why have they

culture. For 2022, the focus is podcasts.

out to track the evolution of contemporary

Every year, the Social Life of Ideas sets



BackMatter 2022

a brief history


of the podcas


42 1979 Sony releases the Walkman TPS-L2, the first portable music player that made listening private

1934 During the “Golden Age of Radio,” approximately 60% of American households have radios

1930 The Motorola radio, one of the first commercially successful car radios, is introduced by Galvin Manufacturing Corporation

1925 The longest running radio show of all time, the “Grand Ole Opry,” makes its first broadcast on WSM Radio from Nashville, paving the way for the capital city’s nickname, “Music City”

1920 On November 2, the day of the American presidential elections, Pittsburgh’s Station KDKA makes the first national commercial broadcast. For the first time, Americans hear the results of the presidential race before reading them in the newspaper

1901 Guglielmo Marconi becomes the first person to transmit signals across the Atlantic Ocean, from England to Newfoundland

1896 In England, Guglielmo Marconi takes out the first wireless telegraphy patent

1891 Nikola Tesla invents the Tesla Coil, which enables the sending and receiving of radio signals



2005 “Podcast” is named word of the year by “New Oxford American Dictionary”

2005 Apple adds podcasts to iTunes, creating a directory of 3,000 podcasts for its customers

2004 Google finds more than 100 million search results for “podcast,” a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast” which has come to replace the term “audioblog”

2003 Using audioblog technology, Christopher Lydon launches the news podcast “Open Source” to discuss the Iraq War in a space outside of the mainstream media. “Open Source” now claims to be the world’s longest-running podcast

2001 Apple launches the first iPod

2000 Dave Winer, CEO of UserLand Software, updates the Really Simple Syndication format (RSS), originally authored by Netscape, and releases RSS 0.92, which allows users to attach sound and video files to feeds. The product is referred to as an “audioblog”

44 2014 “This American Life” launches the investigative journalism podcast “Serial,” which tops the iTunes’s podcasts chart before its debut and stays there for weeks

2012 The news satire fiction podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” launches. In 2013, it ranks on several top podcast lists, including #1 on iTunes’s Top 10 podcasts chart, surpassing “This American Life”

2012 Apple launches the Apple Podcasts app. As of 2021, Podcasts has more than two million free shows available

2009 The comedy podcasts “WTF with Marc Maron,” “The Joe Rogan Experience,” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” are launched. Due to its popularity, “Comedy Bang! Bang!” gets a television spinoff on IFC (2012-2016)

2008 launches the educational podcast, “Stuff You Should Know,” which currently records more than 1 million downloads a week and consistently places on iTunes’ Top 10 podcasts chart

2006 NPR launches a podcast version of the weekly radio show, “This American Life.” The programs currently reach 2.5 million and 2.2 million listeners, respectively

In a 2021 survey in South Korea, 49% of respondents said they had listened to at least one podcast in the last month, making it the country with the highest number of monthly podcast listeners in the world.

fun fact


2022 As of March, there are over 2.4 million podcasts on Apple Podcasts with 63.7 million episodes. Other popular platforms for podcasts include Spotify, Google Play, and Stitcher

2020 U.S. podcast ad revenue nears $1 billion

2019 “Stuff You Should Know” becomes the first podcast to reach one billion downloads

2017 “The New York Times” launches “The Daily.” In 2020, the news podcast generates 2 million listeners each weekday and wins the Webby Voice of the Year Award

2016 “My Favorite Murder” launches. In 2019, the true crime podcast earns $15 million in revenue, making its hosts the #2 highest-earning podcasters of the year

2015 Writer and producer Aaron Mahnke launches the folklore documentary podcast “Lore,” which receives the iTunes “Best of 2015” award

2015 “Serial” becomes the first podcast to win a Peabody Award

O s C O R p E O S H




Taurus, with your naturally grounded disposition and affinity for bucolic environments, is the climate crisis leaving you feeling untethered? Perhaps listening to “How to Save a Planet” is just the balm you need. In each episode, host Alex Blumberg empowers his listeners with vital information they can use to stand up for the environment in their own lives. What better cause than defending Mother Earth to put your Taurean dedication (and stubbornness) to good use?

April 20-May 20

Big-hearted and sentimental to a fault, you’re the perfect listener for “Modern Love”, dear Cancer. Based on the eighteen-year-old “New York Times” column, this podcast explores love in all its messy, complicated, oh-so-human glory. If you’re going to bundle under your comforter with some snacks instead of going out with your friends, which we know you are, consider giving this pod a listen!

June 21-July 22


Need your weekly dose of laugh-outloud comedy and celebrity gossip, Gemini? Look no further than “The Read.” Hosts Kid Fury and Crissle West cover everything from pop culture to politics to sports and even offer listeners some much-needed, but definitely unprofessional, advice on careers and relationships. As the social butterfly you are, you’ll certainly enjoy the fun and irreverent atmosphere.

Aries, we know you live for a bold moment, which is why we think “Call Her Daddy” just might be the listen for you! It’s nothing if not audacious. The show’s host, Alexandra Cooper, never shies away from relaying her personal experiences to her audience, be those experiences sexual, financial, or just plain comedic. We have faith that your quick wit and courageous demeanor will find a friend in this pod.


May 21-June 20


March 21-April 19




Oh Virgo, we know it’s hard always having to stay patient while you wait for the rest of the world to realize you were right all along. But no fear, there is a community to support you in this struggle after all: “You’re Wrong About.” On a weekly basis, journalist Sarah Marshall encourages her audience to reimagine a public figure or event from the past, correcting the record. Ruled by Mercury, planet of communication, you might even find yourself sending your favorite episode to a friend.

Aug 23-Sept 22

Dec 22-Jan 19

The only thing more dependable than a Capricorn is “The Daily.” You can always count on “New York Times” political reporter Michael Barbaro to chat with guest journalists on the latest breaking stories. Responsible is your middle name, Capricorn, and if you want to stay up-to-date on the current political climate, this is the podcast for you.


Sagittarius, do you ever have the sudden urge to quit your job and move to Bali? Never fear, we have just the podcast for you. In “Red Wine Talks by Damon Dominique,” travel influencer Damon chats with his favorite fellow nomads about all things living abroad. They get honest about feeling lost in their twenties, making a living on the internet, and chasing their passions. Knowing the carefree spirit you are, Sagittarius, you’ll certainly pull up to the chat with your own glass of red. Cheers!

Leo, you’re a leader and a lover, which is why “The Cut”—from “New York Magazine”—will satisfy your listening cravings. As a fixed sign, you’re known for being determined as well as fearless, which is why the strong yet tender episodes of this pod will make you feel at home. We suspect you’ll die for the episode “Emily Ratajkowski’s Body,” as power and attention are two of your favorite gifts to give and receive.


Nov 22-Dec 21


July 23-Aug 22


Aquarius, it’s time to get spooky. “The Magnus Archives” takes place at the Magnus Institute, an academic institution dedicated to researching the supernatural. Head Archivist Jonathan Sims refuses to see the witness statements as anything other than pure fantasy, but when unimaginable evils come knocking on their door, it’s up to Jon and his crew to save the Institute—and the world. As a fan of innovative storytelling, you’ll certainly appreciate the excellent writing, spot-on voice acting, and solid production.

Symbolized by two fish swimming in opposite directions, you often find yourself oscillating between fantasy and reality, don’t you, Pisces? In that case, “On Being” with Krista Tippett might be the perfect antidote for that war within you. Might we suggest the episode with poet Ocean Vuong, “A Life Worthy of Our Breath?” Who better to speak to you, water sign, than he?

Feb 19-March 20

As the most misunderstood sign, you certainly value truth and rationality, Scorpio. “Serial” is an investigative journalism podcast with a new story arc every season. With each case, the series examines the criminal justice system and how it fails to protect ordinary people. Host Sarah Koenig’s smart and thorough reporting would surely appeal to your more focused side.

Oct 23-Nov 21



Jan 20-Feb 18

Libra, lover of art, beauty, and harmonious connection, journalist Olivia Perez’s “Friend of a Friend” is the podcast for you. In each episode, Perez shines a light on her guests who typically work in fashion, beauty, or entertainment—all areas of life that you love. As a cardinal sign, you’re great at launching new concepts and ideas, and this entrepreneurial podcast will encourage your intuition.

Sept 23-Oct 22




50 Sincerely, the BackMatter editors

Love& leHate tters

To all the podcasts we’ve loved (and hated) before,


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id, Dear Morb


orning Show, uran and the M D radio is lv E r ea D ansition from tr e th f o k in th ney to Radio Dis g, I invariably en in st st li ca ld d u o o p t w k abou ys when I eet When I thin ith a bittersw ack on the da b w k io o d lo ra ly f d o n ty I fo ee tickets e populari to podcasts. winners get fr membering th g n re ri s, n ea o h ti r a o st s g art and other questing son ved to be a p re lo I d t n a a th in g ce n in ll ay of living nity experie nostalgia. Ca to this new w ure a commu lt d te cu p d a n d a a c d si n ance to n, a made mu it had the ch anged, grow re o ch ef e v b a g h n s lo g have died of. Many thin r show should u yo , er ev w o online; h dcast. sit down become a po t of having to h g u o th e th meone, an boil more th e hosts call so d th o n lo ei b er y h m w t es pset, men Nothing mak urt/scared/u ne Taps” seg h o / h ry P g “ n a re o n m one like ke that perso and listen to e country. It’s e else, to ma th n eo in s m n so o ti e a b st remotely est radio pretending to one of the larg kes aren’t even n jo o e it th st se ca u d a a then bro t worse bec tical Jokers, bu ac pr Im g in h ean. watc ingey and m cr st ju e ’r ey popular. funny, th is) incredibly d n (a s a w it , h rced ago, and yea n hosts feels fo rs a ee w ye et ce b la y p tr s is ad it tary is d, the chem Your show h , the commen tions feel date it y sa sa er v I n re co a e d d clude all But now, th turnover), an u choose to in ff a yo st t, f a o t rm lo fo a n e podcast (there has bee ents. exibility of th fl e th h it rtable comm w fo en m v E co n y. u g d eu n ch jokes, a silences, flat ornly the awkward Show is stubb ng ni or M e th t u wer you e radio star b nk off the po th ru d d le il so k e b eo y id tv ill eventuall They say tha is that you w e p o h n ca e alive. A ll w lly fall. at you’ll fina uch time once had, th g S how th is m in n or M e th d to g ive never wante I r o (f y tl n ta Reluc and energ y), Michaela


Oh so sincerely, Madeleine Janz

Listening to your podcast feels like standing in a cra mmed frat house basemen unwillingly smushed up ag t, ainst the frat president as he whisper-screams a 40 -minute lecture about the “behavior” of “females ” directly into my ear. I ge it, at this point, you love to t be hated, we’ve all been the re. The only good thing to come from your podcast is the swarm of female Ti kTokers mocking you. Unfortunately, if I found myself on the wrong TikT ok FYP, I wouldn’t be feelin vindicated by female creato g rs calling you out, but actua lly terrified by incels who call themselves “alph a males,” hopped up on pre -workout, planning their next harassment or assau lt. You’re not funny, or ins ightful. I hope you throw your mics away.

I, along with thousands of women on the internet, ha ve a problem with you. On top of hawking vile opini ons, you’re also liars. Your podcast is neither Fresh, Fit. The ideas you spread nor are by definition archaic. No w, thanks to you, they enjoy new lives from your mics to our ears in the for m of “women are asking it if they wear short dress for es” and “men can’t help the mselves, cheating is just a part of their biolog y.”

Dear Fresh&Fit Podcast,

TRUMP, H T U R T AND N O N A Q By Kaitlyn Stork

with illustrations by Chelsea Sarabia



“Look at this,” my dad snorted at dinner one night, thrusting his phone towards my mom. I tried not to laugh as she set her fork down with a sigh, reaching across the table for his phone.

My father’s boundless patience and understanding are fundamental parts of him. He’s the kind of man that would spend hours in the attic rummaging through boxes to find an old photo album for my mom despite an extreme dust allergy. He’s the kind of man who moved into my grandparent’s house without complaint to temporarily help take care of my grandfather when My father is the only member they couldn’t find a new caretaker (happily being paid in of my family allowed to use his beers and my grandmother’s cooking.) He’s the kind of phone at the dinner table. He’d man who would retrieve my drunk Uncle Charlie from successfully argued that if he had the train station in the middle of the night because his to leave the table every time work own family couldn’t bother to get him. I was concerned called, he would never get to eat. Still, that his new relationship with Charlie would make him it seemed he spent more time scrolling the kind of father I was embarrassed to be around. through Facebook than picking up calls. My mother glanced down at his phone, rolling her eyes as she sighed, and said that she didn’t find it very funny. QAnon’s core beliefs come from thousands of posts on internet message boards 4chan and 8chan, all signed “That feels sexist,” she told him between bites. off by the anonymous user “Q.” Everyone who posts He brushed her off, insisting that she takes on these message boards retains their anonymity by everything too seriously. I leaned across the ending their posts using a unique trip code—strings of table, trying to catch a glimpse of his phone. characters that correspond to a password used by the poster. Trip codes signify that a group of messages all “Well, what’re you looking at?” I asked him. came from one person, thus linking Q’s posts to one alleged military insider. In some posts, Q claimed to “Big Mike,” he answered as if I was supposed to be a government insider with Q clearance, granting know. I squinted at him. He sighed, leaning across him access to classified information about the Trump the table to shove his phone in my face. “Michelle administration and its enemies. Obama,” he punctuated. “You know, Big Mike?” On October 18, 2017, the first “Q drop”—his first post— The photo my father was laughing at showed an was posted on 4chan, validating another user’s claim obviously photoshopped Mrs. Obama towering over that Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be her husband, wrinkles in her clothes enhanced and arrested on October 30. Of course, Clinton has yet to be manipulated to look like a bulge in her crotch. My dad arrested. But the failures of some of Q’s predictions didn’t was laughing at the #BigMike conspiracy. Proponents stop followers from struggling to unriddle patterns in his of this theory believe that former First Lady Michelle posts, following his breadcrumbs until they “correctly” Obama is a trans woman, born Michael Lavaughn make sense of Q’s message. There’s even a board on Robinson (aka “Big Mike”), and that her daughters, 8chan, Q’s preferred platform, dedicated to solving Q Sasha and Malia, are not the biological children of former drops called “Q research.” President Barack Obama; instead, they’re “rented” from another couple. At one point, Q claimed that a secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles runs the world through our politicians and “I mean, I know she isn’t a man,” my dad insisted, laughing media—including the Rothschild family, the Saudi without looking up from his phone. “It’s just one of those royal family, and George Soros. Anyone with a large things your Uncle Charlie memes about.” amount of money and power belongs in the cabal, apart from one exception: Donald Trump. Hailed as a savior My Uncle Charlie is best described as raucous. You can hear by Q, Donald Trump would smash the cabal, setting him coming from blocks away, screaming unfiltered nonsense up a mass arrest called “the storm”—the name refers at anyone who will listen. When I was a teenager, my father to an off-hand, mumbled comment made by Trump in admitted that he only tolerated Charlie’s rants and invited October of 2017. him to events out of respect for his wife, my Aunt Helen who was also my father’s childhood best friend. Charlie is our family’s As I looked across the kitchen table at my father, still resident conspiracy theorist, and he firmly believes in QAnon. endlessly scrolling through Facebook, I couldn’t help

, H D N



but notice how dark and pronounced the circles under his eyes looked; he looked emotionally exhausted. Between the death of his lifetime best friend and my grandfather’s decline in health, his support system has been slowly breaking down around him. Recently, he’s been turning towards other members of the family for support—including my Uncle Charlie. He’s emotionally vulnerable, and I worry that Charlie may send him down a dangerous rabbit hole. I don’t want to turn on the news and see my father storming the Capitol.



Disturbed by my father’s apparent willingness to entertain Uncle Charlie’s wildest theories, even if only for laughs, I began researching online to learn how to challenge family members who uphold such theories. One of the leading experts in this area is Mick West— author of Escaping the Rabbit Hole, host of Tales from the Rabbit Hole, and creator of In his books and podcasts, he offers tools and suggestions for family and friends of QAnon followers to help move their loved ones away from conspiracy theories.

According to West, you first need to understand what theories your loved one believes in and figure out the depth of their beliefs—you’re less likely to break down a theory they fundamentally believe in. The theories you discuss need to have a perceived level of sensibility. You have to be mindful of your tone, straying away from speaking condescendingly or mockingly. They’re more likely to speak openly with a family member they like. Above all, you must be patient. You’re unlikely to change someone’s opinion in one conversation.


West presents two methods of providing information to a theorist in conversation: spotlight and floodlight debunking. Spotlight debunking calls for fact-checking false claims and proving their falsehood, while floodlight debunking involves filling in the blanks, providing context and information they may have missed or gotten wrong while stuck in their rabbit hole.


After reading West’s work, I sat my father down in the living room to try to open a line of communication, just as West recommends. “When I say QAnon,” I asked him, “what’s the first thing you think of?” “Charlie,” my mom called from the other room. My dad snorted. “Yeah, him and the magnets in our arms.” Unfortunately, my dad has grown obsessed with TikTok in the last few months and has thoroughly enjoyed sending my family and me videos of people sticking magnets and coins to their arms. The phenomenon even has a tag on TikTok: the #magnettestchallenge. Users subscribe to the theory that coronavirus vaccines contain microchips or metals the US government is using to track us. More likely, magnets and coins are sticking to their arms with the help of tape or spit— unseen in edited videos—or the natural presence of oils and moisture in our skin. My uncle is staunchly antivax, and my father enjoys sending him videos of himself sticking random objects to his arm with tape. He could recognize the absurdity of that theory, but I had no idea where he stood on any others. “Are there any conspiracy theories that you kind of believe in?” “Oh, the government definitely killed JFK.” Mick West uses a spectrum model to explain the extremeness of conspiracy theories on a scale from 0 to 10. On the “very boring” end sits the theory that Big Pharma suppresses negative results of their drug tests. By contrast, West says the theory that the government is run by reptilians has a rating of 9. I explained to my dad that the theory that 9/11 was an inside job is a 5 or 6– and that it is less sensible than believing that JFK was killed by the CIA (which West ranks between 0 to 4). At the mention of 9/11, my father burst out, “Look at the Saudis! How do you think they had the entire Saudi royal family on a plane an hour after the attack? Hundreds of people, all related to Bin Laden. You know he was royalty, right? He got disowned for being crazy. There’s plenty of evidence.”


I stood my ground. “You can arguably say you have evidence for anything.”

“Well, yeah,” he replied, sinking into the couch. “It’s like a big game of telephone. You go from saying,

‘Oh, I saw Bob sitting on a bench near a sewer,’ to, ‘I heard Bob is a reptilian man living in NYC’s sewers.’ Everything escalates. I guess that’s how conspiracy theories are made.” Something that stood out to me after our conversation was the humor my dad found in QAnon. It seemed fun to him. At one point in our conversation, he mentioned he believed part of the appeal of QAnon was the research. Many people enjoy falling down rabbit holes and revel in the thought that they know secrets other people don’t know. To my dad and many others, it feels like a game.

*** I knew a different kind of community that loved this feeling too. In my freshman year of high school, I was dealing with the death of a close friend’s brother and her subsequent breakdown. Things were tense among my friends. I initially turned online to look for a distraction but ended up finding a community. In 2014, I was in high school when Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) came out, and theories about it overtook the YouTube algorithm. I enjoyed the game and I flourished in the community, making connections between easter eggs found on Reddit. I had finally found a game and a community that I genuinely enjoyed. It was through FNAF videos that I came across and began playing ARGs—alternate reality games. ARGs, also occasionally referred to as transmedia storytelling or pervasive games, combine real-life and digital gameplay to create a fictional experience that feels real. Many ARGs exist across multiple platforms. Players are expected to work together to solve puzzles and connect storylines, acting as “narrative archaeologists.” More often than not, forums appear to connect the community of players and to allow them to work collaboratively. Notably, these forums resemble 8chan’s “Q research” forum. Many critics have noted the gamification of QAnon and, along the way, critics and game developers have drawn parallels to ARGs. Alyssa Rosenberg, one of the first people to make the connection between QAnon and ARGs, refers to QAnon in her Washington Post opinion piece “as an unusually absorbing alternate-reality game with extremely low barriers to entry.” ARGs guide players down clever rabbit holes situated in the real world. Some ARGs have had millions of players working collaboratively to solve puzzles. Good ARGs reward special talent and require crowdsourcing

to solve—Adrian Hon, the chief executive of the gaming company Six to Start and a designer of ARGs, used Egyptian hieroglyphs in one puzzle, preventing the community from progressing in the narrative until someone able to translate could solve the puzzle. ARGs and QAnon reward work and both communities praise research done by their members. You can achieve local fame for being the first to solve a puzzle in an ARG or for being the first to make sense of a new Q drop. Despite their similarities, QAnon and ARGs have key differences. Reed Berkowitz—a game developer and researcher—explains the importance of puppet masters in gameplay. While running one of his earliest games, players massively misinterpreted clues because of a mixture of human error and apophenia—the tendency to make meaningful connections between unrelated things. The puppet masters had to intervene and redirect players back towards the intended path. By contrast, there’s no one in QAnon trying to reroute theorists back on the correct path. Instead, everyone is encouraged to have their own opinions and “do their own research.” The most important difference between QAnon and ARGs is the players’ understanding of reality. ARGs and QAnon followers may do similar things by the nature of gamification, but ARG players don’t report fictional crimes to the police. They understand they’re playing a game. Many QAnon followers fully believe Q is real and, more importantly, that they’re making a positive difference in the world. As Berkowitz puts it: “You can’t play a game if you don’t know you’re playing one. Play requires an agreement to play. Otherwise, it’s just manipulation.”

*** I was looking for a way to explain to myself, in terms I understand, the psychology of QAnon. I used to write QAnon off as a far-right fringe idea somehow compelling enough to convince followers to attempt to coup the government. QAnon followers felt so fundamentally different from myself: a far-away,

nonsensical other. Yet I’m the kind of person who follows breadcrumbs in pervasive games and enjoys community-based puzzle-solving. I, fundamentally, am a person who enjoys things that satisfy the same itch as QAnon. I turned to ARGs to cope with something unimaginable that, years later, I still have not completely worked through. My world felt impossibly small, and I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about anything. So, I didn’t. I gamed and escaped from hard truths. My father isn’t running towards QAnon in the same way I clung to games. Unlike me, he’s turning towards a support system that just happens to include loved ones with outlandish beliefs. My father needs people to lean on and talk with about what’s troubling him and about the less serious things in life, like what beer to buy. He needs people to keep his world from collapsing, and I must trust that confiding in an anti-vaxxer won’t make him one. Options like Mick West’s litmus test, which imposes his own perceptions of authenticity on others’ beliefs, won’t help me understand my family members. Still, I include his work because not everyone responds to the same techniques. A snarky, and frankly, condescending approach will never lead to a serious conversation with my father, but some people won’t break and start looking for information elsewhere until a loved one has patronizingly poked too many holes in their argument. If there’s one thing to take away from my research, it’s that there are no one-size-fitsall solutions to QAnon or how to save the people we love from things we think may harm them. What I can explain is how my father and I are moving forward. We find common ground in supporting Ukraine and making fun of Putin. We joke about how my kids are going to have two heads because the government enabled a local company to poison the air and groundwater in the town I grew up in. He sends me cute TikToks about puppies befriending geese and, sometimes, I’ll recommend a mobile game for him to play during his work commute. Most importantly, we just talk with the understanding that we will always be there for each other.


Caroline Kent Is Shaking Up The Abstract Art World





Caroline Kent, A memory that confronts you in your dreams, 2021 Photo: Jason Wyche

By Lindsey Scharold



What does it mean to paint the unknown? Caroline Kent attempts to articulate this mysterious space in colors on vast fields of black. Each painting is a vignette of multi-layered textures, flat shapes, and wild hues which conjure up notions of otherworldliness against an omnipresent dark background. Kent met with me virtually from her studio in Chicago to discuss Proclamations from the Deep, her first solo exhibition in New York City at Casey Kaplan this past fall. A painting behind her depicting her characteristic gray shadows and violet forms, she told me about her practice and her journey as an artist. Viewing Proclamations from the Deep, I was easily swept away into the alternate reality

out in the cosmos or deep in the sea. You go in either direction and you are met with blackness,” she explained. “I like to think of blackness as a repository of the unknown and consider what might be conjured up in that space.” Kent’s choice to work in a large-scale format and use a stark black backdrop poses a welcome challenge for her. She seeks to “push against conventions of abstract painting defined mainly by white men who made very bold gestures in their paintings, who wanted to command space and command the room.” She is curious about how to make these grand paintings feel as though they aren’t simply “taking up space just because they can,” asking, “How do you get a painting that is all-black and 9-feet-tall to feel soft?”

pieces are neither offensive nor abrasive, rather, they invite close reading like a text or map. They possess what Kent called “a feminine mystique.” The male painters associated with Abstract Expressionism often used their art to explore essentialist ideas about “pure” feeling, “true” form, or other “objective” positions on creative expression or the nature of reality. Kent’s more selfconscious approach is one of curiosity. Rather than providing a definitive answer to the questions which energize her work, her practice feels exploratory. A peer of Newman’s, and an influence on Kent, was Carmen Herrera. Throughout her 106-year-lifetime, she explored every boundary of what her geometric abstract paintings could do, from drawings to op art to sculpture. Like Kent, Herrera had an eye for color and a special appreciation

Rather than providing a definitive answer to questions which energize her work, her practice feels exploratory. her paintings inhabit. Punctuating her usual large compositions were wooden sculptures, an impression in cement, works on Belgian linen, and some smaller-scale works. of varying degrees is a pared-down painting which makes use of patchy gray forms, translucent evergreen shapes, and martian-pink accents. Kent described it as expressing change, each of the slight variations in form referencing, mimicking, and resting atop one another, like still frames of a moment in time.

Abstract Expressionism has a long lineage of bombastic male painters: Jackson Pollock and his chaotic, flung paint, Mark Rothko and his bold color studies, and Willem de Kooning and his cacophonous brushwork. When I think about the prominent male figures in Abstract Expressionism who displayed authoritative, sometimes confrontational, ideas through painting, Barnett Newman comes to mind. His notorious 1969 painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III is an 18-foot-wide, 8-foot-tall painting in monolithic red, flanked by a thin, vertical, blue stripe and a slimmer yellow one. Since its acquisition, this painting has received intense reactions from the public. It was so evocative, so outrageous, that it was stabbed with a box cutter while on display at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.

Kent’s brilliance is most apparent in her skillful use of color and composition. She mixes her hues with a warm-toned white, creating colors that feel lively and inviting. These gorgeous colors, like minty-green brushstrokes against a dusty-rose form, float within a “black ground,” as she called it. This “black ground” is a space of infinite possibility which represents the bounds of human perception. “Blackness Suffice it to say, this is not the type of in this world is tethered to these places far reception Kent is going for. Her large-scale


for straight lines. Her 1949 painting Shocking Pink depicts hard-edge blocks and triangles in bold violet, black, and white assembled like pieces of a puzzle, a labyrinthine stripe of “shocking” pink carving through the image. Colors like violet and pink were not part of the geometric abstraction canon and conjure up Western associations with femininity. The fact that Herrera was a Latin American woman in the art world posed challenges for her throughout her career. She was excluded from galleries because of her gender and was often limited to showing in spaces dedicated to Latin American art, but that never stopped her from making work for upwards of 90 years. In an interview with Frieze, she stated, “I don’t want to be considered a Latin American painter or a woman painter or an old painter. I’m a painter.” Kent, who is Black and Mexican, echoed a similar sentiment when she told me, “I don’t want the work to be consumed as a trend or a moment. I have a long-built art

In a world where women and people of color are confined to the limitations of a society, abstract painting offers agency. practice. [Carmen Herrera was] making for a lifetime, and that’s while others whisper from beneath deeper layers. Brushstroke where I want to be.” glyphs communicate in mathematical waveforms and lyrical murmurs, swift lines cutting across canvas before sweeping back Abstract painting offers artists power and freedom—modes of into the dark. Each work can be viewed in parts, a magnifying being which might not be readily accessible outside of a creative lens lifted to interesting vignettes, or as a narrative tapestry, taken practice. Abstract painters often borrow from reality to remake as a whole. the world in their image. At the same time, they are not beholden to the constraints of form and function which exist within the real The first painting Kent produced on an all-black background world. Perhaps these qualities beckon artists like Caroline Kent, was It’s Like Magic. The piece was featured in her 2015 show Joyful Carmen Herrera, or Hilma af Klint to Abstract Expressionism. is the Dark at Public Functionary in Minneapolis, where I first In a world where women and people of color are confined to the encountered her work. This painting appears to be an homage to limitations of a society which has never prioritized them, abstract traditional icon paintings, with gold triangles and ambiguous loops painting offers agency. While Herrera, a well-practiced artist, and intertwining over a plane of dusty markings and blue droplets. af Klint, a pioneer of the genre, were excluded from mainstream Former executive director at the Walker Art Center Olga Viso success, Kent’s talent has luckily not gone unappreciated. In 2021, chose Fewer and Farther than One Expects, another painting from her work was exhibited not just in New York, but in Los Angeles the show, for the museum’s permanent collection. “It was very and Chicago as well. significant for The Walker to endorse the work and support it early on,” Kent reflected. This acquisition garnered her greater Hilma af Klint received belated appreciation of her work during exposure and ultimately led to her representation at Casey Kaplan. a 2019 exhibition at The Guggenheim. She painted large-scale works in soft pastels, but unlike Kent’s paintings, they feature While working on the paintings for this first solo show, she listened organic shapes reminiscent of the natural sciences. In her work, I to the motivational speeches of Earl Nightingale. Nightingale is see motifs which remind me of daisy petals, cardioid polar patterns, considered one of the progenitors of self-help literature and was electron valences, and mitosis. Early abstract painters like af Klint an early advocate for the philosophy of positive-thinking. In his and Vasily Kandinsky, who were some of the oldest painters in the most famous record, The Strangest Secret, he details the importance field, were heavily influenced by New Age spirituality. Af Klint was of harnessing the mind to manifest your desires. Kent said that a mystic and medium and drew influence directly from her spiritual his talks “really spoke” to her and helped her feel that she had a experiences. It follows that contemporary abstract painters like unique contribution to make to her field. Kent carry on this lineage, whether inspired by the art itself or the concepts behind it. Ideas about the immaterial world, and about Kent’s early experimentations on a black background gave her a spiritual life, feel inseparable from the essence of abstract painting. glimpse into the possibilities of her artistic practice. This is when The tradition of abstraction to which af Klint, Kandinsky, and she really understood that she and her paintings had something to Kent belong gives expression to immaterial and extraphysical say. These works are distinct from the ones in the Casey Kaplan things: language, feeling, music, memory, and spirit. In Kent’s show, but they remain foregrounded by the elements Kent paints work, the black background serves as the visual metaphor for this: today: collage-like forms, markings of varying textures and sizes, a It signifies that what you see here is not necessarily of this world. bold mix of colors, and plays on layering and depth. She said that Joyful is the Dark was experimental in nature and each work varied The paintings in Proclamations from the Deep invite curiosity, greatly from the next. Today, Kent seems to feel more assured their dreamlike presence and vivid colors signaling something in her style, producing bold and cohesive work that has emerged otherworldly. More than transporting me to outer space, the from the infinite, generative “black ground.” paintings drew me inward to the mind’s inner space, the psyche’s inner workings. Their forms exist in perfect harmony much like the mysterious balance of the universe. Some are sharp and loud


“Blackness is tethered to these places far out in the cosmos or deep in the sea. You go in either direction and you are met with blackness. I like to think of blackness as a repository of the unknown and consider what might be conjured up in that space.”



Caroline Kent, of varying degrees, 2021 Photo: Jason Wyche

PAINFU BUSINE do you know makes your B SHEETS 68

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by Sarah Dawson I never knew how many different brands sold refrigerated hummus and pesto until I was made to unload boxes from the loading dock at Whole Foods Market. When I began working there in January of 2021, the amount of salsa verde people went through in the dead of winter was shocking—though maybe not as shocking as the existence of brownie flavored dessert hummus. But unpacking boxes of dip was only part of my job; customer service was the priority.

One Saturday morning in January, the store’s doors were unlocked just as the nor’easter forecasted to hit suburban New Jersey was beginning. I watched through the window as customers spilled in from their idling Suburus and Priuses. The tops of reusable bags streamed from the pockets of their overstuffed LL Bean puffer coats as they walked briskly across

by Chrisaleen Ciro

I was raised with a rigorous set of consumer ethics that made simple things like shopping for duvet covers fraught. Some of my earliest memories include my dad, Hugo, scoffing at the “Made in China” stamp on my cheap, engineered-for-the-dump birthday presents. My family’s consumer ethics asserted that trade should be as direct as possible, involve as few “middlemen” as possible, and that producers— particularly farmers—should be paid the best possible price, up front. As a result of these stringent ethics, I didn’t step foot into a Walmart until I was a teenager, and that was only because it was the one store in town that sold the right kind of flour to make arepas.

Even when my budget forced me towards fast fashion brands like H&M, I’d still check the clothing tag. I would then wonder about the teen in Thailand, or Bangladesh, or El Salvador,

the lot. The automatic doors opened as they filed in, stomping their snow-dusted Hunter boots into puddles at the entrance before moving in to commence their shopping. Despite the seemingly unique chaos, I had seen this scene dozens of times before. Watching the customers shuffle in, I was slowly stacking the plastic disks of dip into cold shelves when a snow-chilled finger cut through my thoughts. Touching my

shoulder, a middle-aged woman looked down at her shopping list, then back up at me before telling me which brand of tzatziki she needed. I surveyed the woman; shorter than me, she waited with her chin slightly tilted upward, but she avoided my eyes when I tried to catch hers. I realized that she was not looking up at me, but over me. I pointed to the brand she had wanted with a forced smile under my mask, which I hoped would translate with my eyes alone.

Fair who made it. What are the conditions of her life? How far does her Left with two options, I studied the labels. On one of them, in paycheck stretch? Is her job safe? Are her managers competent or inoffensive Arial Narrow text, were the words “fair trade.” predatory? Does she dread going to work, or is low-wage labor her best-case scenario? They looked like any bed linens I could buy in any other big box store in North America: white cotton with a purple pattern. In August of 2021, pandemic-stressed supply chains left the aisles The package promised that the product was “ethically sourced,” of New York City’s Targets empty, meaning my dad and I had “sustainable,” and “fully traceable.” Taking that as a challenge, to go further afield to find necessary dorm room basics. Most I unfolded the sheets—juggling product and package, taking urgent? A new set of bed linens. Anxieties about buying from big up the full aisle—and felt for a hidden tag underneath a finely box stores were unwelcome guests on our trip to the Pottery Barn finished seam. Finding it, I looked up the lot code, which led Outlet store in Lititz, PA. Regardless of your values, sometimes me to the factory, Alkaram Textile Mills. The website offered you just need a fucking set of sheets. the name of the shift supervisor who, over a year ago, oversaw the making, packaging, and shipping of the product I was now I isolated all the linens that were the correct size, acceptable holding. Alkaram had an English website featuring several photos texture, and had something resembling a tolerable price point. of employees at various points of the production process, clearly


“No, dear. Put it in my cart.”

Having worked in various jobs across the food industry for nearly a decade, I knew I laughed bitterly to myself. the average American consumer would not be familiar with the process with which As I would learn that Saturday, satisfying saba vinegar is made, or what ingredients the whims of such customers was a key are in furikake, so I had grown accustomed aspect of my new job. Some would ask me to the constant questions. to explain the difference between heavy cream and buttermilk, while others wanted Even in the middle of a global pandemic, me to read the entirety of cookie labels the average Whole Foods shopper’s aloud to determine if they were gluten-free. concern for food sourcing continued to lack

any acknowledgement of my personhood or the role of labor in the food system. This, combined with the demanding nature of their requests, left me stunned. Daily confrontations made me acutely aware that while customers continued to prioritize their own dietary concerns, their wellness rituals remained focused solely on the self. Through its campaigns, Whole Foods has specifically positioned itself as an “ethical

Trade seeking to cultivate a sense of transparency, even intimacy, with me. The employees looked happy. Short of getting on the plane and seeing the factory for myself, I had to rely on Alkaram’s Fair Trade EU and USA certifications to feel good about my purchase. Store shelves and social media feeds are increasingly full of products that claim to be “sustainable,” “ethical,” or “fairly traded.” While these claims are now nearly inescapable, they are inscrutable— and interchangeable—to the average consumer. “Fair trade” is not a legal term; it is an industry. Producers and employers pay third parties, such as the World Fair Trade Organization and Fair Trade USA, to audit their businesses in order to maintain their certifications. My dad channeled this belief that trade could be done differently into founding his own coffee company in 1997. Fed up with the fees and unwieldy bureaucracy of becoming

so-called fair trade, some ethical retailers, including my dad’s business, eschew the fair trade label in favor of marketing their ethical claims directly to customers. Business owners who engage in ethical company practices rely on goodwill to get customers over the initial sticker shock of an ethically sourced product. As a result, many structure their message to seem as inoffensive and inclusive as possible, avoiding more divisive anti-capitalist rhetoric and praxis. Instead, they focus on humanizing the producer: they tell you their name, something about their family history, how they came to be a weaver, how long they’ve lived on this farm, or what it would mean to them to send their kids to school. The business owners work to reify the difficulties of bringing a product equitably and cheaply through the supply chain—the same conditions and complexities that corporations obscure with ruthless efficiency—to the distant North American


brand.” The company has become known for its Whole Trade Guarantee, which assures customers that all products are non-GMO, certified organic, and Fair Trade. Since its introduction in 2007, the Guarantee has been used to cultivate a consumer base of health-conscious individuals and families who seek to support brands that reflect their morals and values, like eco-friendly practices and produce grown without the aid of

pesticides. The company is expert in understanding the desires of their clientele and delivering the peace of mind they require in knowing their food has the very best of origins. The latest Whole Foods multi-platform ad campaign on social media, Sourced For Good, was launched in early 2021. The program is meant to identify, with a sticker, produce that has come from

consumer. The message is clear: by purchasing this product you are directly empowering this worker to improve the material conditions of their life. In our frenzied marketplace, buying “ethically sourced” products feels like a relatively frictionless means of reducing consumer harm, especially as corporations, seeking to capitalize on that good will, have made buying fair trade increasingly easy by putting it in our supermarket aisles. There is quantitative and qualitative data that suggests social enterprise and fair trade models can deliver significant benefits to individual workers, particularly to those who own their own enterprises or land. But, while fair trade business models may have the capacity to materially improve the lives of individuals, they are not—nor do they pretend to be—a path to a systemic transformation of globalized trade.


farms aligned with the company’s “Core Values.” The PR release for the program states that it is meant to “evolve” the Whole Trade Guarantee. With their cliched sticker-based produce program, it appears that this evolution was, in fact, very modest. Each social media post made in connection with the Sourced Food Good program includes an image of fresh vegetables with the tagline: “Products

There is a lot of economic and social history between my dad importing his first container of coffee and my standing in Pottery Barn holding apparently fair trade sheets. My dad came of age in the ‘90s during a series of neoliberal triumphs, as policies of tax reduction, deregulation, privatization, and austerity spread across the globe. At the time, there was consensus even among liberals and progressives that market strategies could be leveraged to eradicate extreme poverty and mitigate global inequality. Like many immigrants, my dad’s story is a confluence of sometimes hard-won, other times serendipitous, circumstances that gave him the opportunity to travel from his home country, Colombia, to study economics in Minnesota. He went to work as a financial analyst at a large engineering firm, but after nearly half a decade he became disillusioned with corporate America and set out on his own venture inspired by the trade ethics of a charming handicrafts

The average Whole Foods shopper’s concern for food sourcing continued to lack any acknowledgement of my personhood or the role of labor in the food system.


with this seal support workers, communities and the environment.” These ideals are not revolutionary for a company that has touted similar slogans for decades. Despite the undoubtedly high cost of designing and launching new campaigns, Whole Foods has found it in their best interest to continue to uphold the same trite ideals without much change in policy. Particularly since Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon, it is largely clear to the public that their employees lack significant support.

The company’s national brand image relies on the notion that they are socially conscious and consistently ethical. The real benefit of the Sourced For Good marketing campaign is not about spreading awareness for a difference in shopper experience, or even really to advertise what the program is. The campaign is a gesture of support without any new company policies that materially impact their workers. Sourced For Good exemplifies the awkward navigation many “ethical” companies

must handle: Inserting just enough “activist” language into their brand for it to persuade the average consumer without that language giving workers the power to turn the company on its head. In a 2020 article, Jade Ashley Yong remarks that “any post in which it is clear that there [is] a greater focus placed on aesthetics instead of the information being shared is a great example of how marketability, profitability, and selectivity are all


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market called Ten Thousand Villages. Unfortunately, the average Sonoma, the company that owns Pottery Barn, have all carried consumer only has so much need for statement earrings, scarves, fair trade certified products for years. My dad thinks that this is and heart-shaped rocks carved with the word “peace,” all of which unquestionably a good thing. I’m not so sure. Ten Thousand Villages is known for. My dad saw a potential solution to their problem: consumables. And as a Colombian, “The problem,” says Canada Research Chair in International coffee was his obvious (if somewhat cliche) answer. Development Studies, Dr. Gavin Fridell, “is that corporations can’t be ethical.” For two decades, Dr. Fridell has criticized the After a lean few years, my dad built a profitable ethical food fair trade movement from the Left, arguing that it is structurally wholesaler called Level Ground Trading. By the time I was a limited because it relies on corporations and consumers to teenager, Level Ground coffee was sold in grocery stores across volunteer to pay a price that includes “fair” wages, safe working the United States and Canada, including a five pound package conditions, environmental responsibility, among other things, as developed especially for Costco. opposed to requiring them to. Throughout its history, the majority of actors in the fair trade movement—with some notable exceptions—have remained studiously apolitical. Instead of calling for regulation and worker protections when sweatshop scandals break, many of these brands pitch themselves as a safe alternative. This has gotten more complicated as fair trade products have become increasingly mainstream: Walmart, Target, and yes, Williams-

At the beginning of the pandemic, when consumers in North America and Europe suddenly stopped buying jeans and started buying loungewear, companies supposedly committed to “corporate responsibility” such as Levi Strauss and American Eagle, canceled several orders, totalling a reported 1.5 billion dollars, leaving factories in Bangladesh to lay off thousands of low wage workers with little social safety net. Due to pressure from consumers on social media, some of these brands did eventually


intertwined with the boom in social media activism.” Corporate marketing teams take note of social media culture in order to reflect the aesthetic virtues of activism that they perceive as desirable to potential consumers. The frame never allows us to think about the direct relationship to employees on the Whole Foods payroll. Whole Foods workers feel the disconnect

between the company’s brand image and the way they are treated on a day-to-day basis by the policies imposed on them, including a lack of benefits. An anonymous Glassdoor review from a Princeton-based cashier’s assistant cites the company’s “thin facade of interest and care.” Explaining, they write that Whole Foods “claim[s] that employee welfare is one of their

cornerstones, yet as soon as stocks drop your hours are cut and your ‘guaranteed’ yearly raises are hard capped.” A review written by a former employee in Marlton, New Jersey tells of “expensive health insurance for families” that is not comprehensive and “doesn’t cover childbirth.” The review concludes that the

commit to paying out in-progress contracts, which the Worker wage for customer service employees, paid time off, and other Rights Consortium has been tracking, but because brands benefits. Despite the eventual resolution, the failed unionization typically pay suppliers once a shipment is delivered, this did little effort suggests Everlane’s progressive instincts have hard limits. to mitigate the immediate devastation for workers. Dr. Fridell thinks we should meet these hard limits with policy. Even beloved fair trade brands fall short under the existing He proposes international regulatory mechanisms, a means of model. Self-described “radical transparency” pioneer, Everlane, increasing equity in the system of global trade. This has worked laid off four customer service employees who had, just four days in the past with coffee. In 1963, coffee-producing nations and before, filed paperwork to get their union recognized. Before coffee-buying nations entered into the International Coffee this, Everlane’s commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainable Agreement, which implemented a quota system to restrict the materials was nearly beyond reproach. Their clothes were supply of coffee brought to market in an attempt to stabilize, accessible—more affordable than other ethical-ish options, yet and hopefully raise, the price. worn by celebrities like Meghan Markle. According to reporting done by Jacobin, Everlane did eventually capitulate to some of the Without regulatory mechanisms to ensure higher prices, fair trade most important union demands, including a $19/hour minimum becomes an experiment in ever-shrinking margins in order to


company has “no compassion for working parents,” and that “they only pretend to invest in their employees.” These sentiments have a clear correlation with where the company’s real concerns lie. A core tenant of the Whole Foods ethos is explained by CEO John Mackey on the company website: “Customers are our most important stakeholder and the lifeblood of our business.”

The website encouraged us “team members” to “Earn Trust,” “Just Get It Done,” and “Be a Servant Leader.” Of course, one can’t always be a leader and a servant simultaneously, but these were contradictions which we internalized and learned to work with. This duality has been baked into America’s views of customer service for decades. It was not the pandemic

alone that created the impossible working conditions which define the food industry, but for many, like myself, it is what made us realize the extent of our discontent. In my three months spent stocking shelves at Whole Foods, I asked coworkers who had worked on the floor through the entirety of the pandemic what it was like

compete. For example, Vetta Capsule, a company that markets itself as committed to transparency, sustainable fabrics, and responsible factories, broke down the cost of its $170 “oversized sweater” on its Instagram account. Together, the labor, yarn, shipping, trim, and transport cost $92.53, leaving a narrow $75.47 margin for stateside costs like marketing, distribution, and web hosting. To me, this tiny margin seems like a surefire way of exploiting your workers in other parts of the supply chain (like the “radically transparent” Everlane is alleged to have done) or getting clobbered by less-scrupulous multinational corporations.

knew of a cooperative of women in Bangladesh who worked with hemp, primarily making rope and twine. He connected them and The Body Shop placed an order for about 1,000 hemp bath mitts. When the cooperative delivered the shipment, The Body Shop rejected it, saying that the macrame was of poor quality. Ten Thousand Villages stepped up to absorb the shipment and sell it in their stores at a near loss and committed to working with the artisans to develop their product. When The Body Shop reordered, the product met its standards. Today, if you buy a hemp product from The Body Shop it comes from that same cooperative.

Doug Dirks, who worked at Ten Thousand Villages for nearly 30 years, including a brief stint as CEO, has a different perspective. He told me a story about a time when The Body Shop reached out seeking help sourcing handmade hemp exfoliating mitts. Dirks

Dirks is proud of that story and has a right to be, but I’m left with questions. Namely, wouldn’t a multinational corporation—especially one that seems to earnestly want to improve its trade practices—be in a better position than even Ten Thousand Villages to accept such a loss?


Those of us desiring a more equitable system of global trade need to acknowledge that this cannot simply remain a friendly apolitical movement.

While huge corporations can more easily absorb the associated costs of a one-off line of slightly more expensive fair trade products, companies like Vetta, Everlane, even Ten Thousand Villages itself, and smaller retailers like my dad’s business, are entirely dependent on their customers choosing to pay more for their product.

If Dr. Fridell has his way, one day we could see fair trade products in major national retailers like Pottery Barn and not have to wonder if it’s too good to be true. We could also have more and better legislation that ensures our clothes and bed sheets are made by fairly paid adults, in safe working conditions, with the protection of a union.

Fair Trade USA has acknowledged this critique in recent years, This is an ambitious vision, but a recent example shows that it can be especially as the debate about what constitutes a living wage achieved. In September 2020, smallholder farmers in India started has heated up closer to home. In a recent white paper, the Fair protesting against neoliberal trade reforms that would supposedly Trade Advocacy Office commissioned two economists to create “modernize” India’s economy but, in reality, would threaten farmers’ a formula for determining a living wage for workers on fair trade ability to collectively bargain for the highest possible price for their certified farms in four different countries. Their findings were harvest. As the protests continued, Indian activists and farmers pretty straightforward: a living wage should allow workers to called on their Western partners, particularly self-described socially afford the basics, such as healthy food, decent housing, education conscious wellness brands selling turmeric and other Indian for their kids, and healthcare. The hope is now that a formula traditional remedies, to express support and solidarity. Some did, for a minimum wage has been established, workers will be able such as Moon Juice, Golde and Rainbo, while others remained to collectively bargain for higher wages and better benefits. Fair conspicuously silent. On November 3, 2021, Indian Prime Minister Trade USA and Fair Trade International claim to be in the process Narendra Modi repealed the reform laws, delivering a victory to of ensuring that these standards are met by the organizations India’s longest non-violent protest. In light of this triumph, imagine they certify, though they acknowledge that existing regulatory the victories that could be ahead if fair trade advocates could align frameworks are inadequate. with activists to agitate for good governance, regulation, better working conditions, and environmental protections.


interacting with customers. While I was still encountering customers with some lasting panic, it was clear it was only residual. When handing over a shift to the night supervisor one afternoon, I asked him about his experience. Standing in front of the milk refrigerators, he rolled his eyes, pulled down his mask, and popped a half-bar of Xanax. Managing customers’ emotions on top of his own had become a difficult task.

In the end, supply chains—ethical or otherwise—are efforts to manage friction. The existing system distributes friction, and many other things, with devastating inequity. The most vulnerable and least visible contributors to the supply chain are always the first to absorb friction. In the effort to address these inequities, my dad feels vindicated that multinational corporations are taking on some of the burden of ethical trade practices, and celebrates that some friction is being removed so consumers can make an ethical choice. Similarly, Doug Dirks argues that larger fair trade retailers like Ten Thousand Villages exist to absorb the friction of product development to empower vulnerable workers. Dr. Fridell argues that friction should be added to the existing system, in the form of regulating multinational corporations to mitigate their expansion and capacity for harm. The way some fair traders, including my dad, talk, you would think that buying their product creates an inextricable connection between you and the producer. This is not strictly true. Supply chains exist to insulate me, the North American shopper, from the truth of consumer culture. Though it’s fun to know the names of the family members that wove your rug, to shake the hands responsible for your morning brew, or to look up the employees of the company who made your sheets on LinkedIn, buying

At a time when middle-class consumers wanted desperately to maintain business as usual, Whole Foods, through Sourced for Good, reinforced their ideals. The world— and consequently, the supply chain—has changed so much in such a short amount of time, and yet, so much remains the same.

something fair trade does not open a portal through the supply chain between customer and producer. The Bangladeshi girl I talked about at the beginning, who haunted me every time I bought from a fast fashion retailer, is also not real. And my concern about her, even my effort to buy

mostly ethically-sourced clothing, does very little to improve the material conditions of her life. In order to be in solidarity with her, those of us desiring a more equitable system of global trade need to acknowledge that this cannot simply remain a friendly apolitical movement. Until then, I’ll take up an aisle in Pottery Barn and look up lot codes, just as my dad taught me to do.


reimagining by Yasmin Arquiza





How plant design preserved the High Line for a city craving natural space

ATURE LINE experiment 81

In a quiet corner of Chelsea, the pedestrian Half of the plants on either side of the path of the High Line zigzags lazily pedestrian paths are native species, but between posh apartments and artsy lofts. the chief designer of this sliver of green On a sunny afternoon towards the end of space in Manhattan’s gray concrete summer, a gentle breeze from the Hudson jungle does not want people to think it’s River sweeps across the tufts of grass and an attempt to bring a slice of wilderness colorful flowers. Rusty train tracks are the back to New York. only reminder that the elevated walkway used to be a railway bringing food “It’s not nature at all,” says Dutch landscape products into what was once a bustling artist Piet Oudolf in an interview with PBS industrial district. These days, the High NewsHour. “What we do is just—we create Line feels like a tree-lined runway for artificial sort of communities, but also aspiring models above the roaring traffic enhance the beauty of nature in a smaller on 10th Avenue—providing respite for area.” The designer explains that the goal New Yorkers and the perfect Instagram is to create a design reminiscent of nature, backdrop for visitors. and Oudolf seems to have succeeded: The


gardens conjure a vision of what’s possible if more derelict and unused open spaces are repurposed as pockets of greenery amid gleaming towers. Originally built in the early 1900s, the officially re-named High Line was also called the “Life Line of New York,” and for good reason. Freight trains chugged along the elevated tracks bringing meat, fresh produce, and dairy by traversing directly through warehouses on the West Side, to more efficiently deliver supplies and leave car traffic undisturbed, at the height of a population and manufacturing boom in Manhattan.


Back in 1999, the two men had opposed the planned demolition of the railway line. While they wanted the High Line preserved, they didn’t quite know what to do with it.

The preservation effort picked up steam when then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time environmental campaigner, threw his support behind the High Line in 2002. The railway owner donated the elevated structure. The City of New York revoked the demolition order and gave initial funding to the nonprofit Friends of the High Line to manage the public space in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Business and political leaders donated philanthropic money and mobilized some $20 million in federal funding for the largescale landscape project. Names such as Hillary Clinton, Senator Charles Schumer, Diller-von Furstenberg Foundation, Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and Jane Lauder are inscribed on a metal wall at the 14th Street passage of the High Line.

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Another billboard features a photo of the co-founders of Friends of the High Line, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, on the abandoned tracks. Hammond, in an interview on PBS, described seeing the “one-and-a half miles of wildflowers in the middle of New York City” for the first time, “There was incredible tension between hard and soft, nature and manmade, the beautiful and the ugly, and you know, sort of the progress and decay of the city, and that’s really what I fell in love with.”

As part of their efforts, Hammond and David hired a professional photographer to document the High Line in every season for one year. The images taken by Joel Sternfeld show the bursts of color in spring, the orange and yellow hues of autumn, and the desolate tracks as a dreamy snowscape in winter.

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By mid-century, however, retail centers and office buildings replaced factories, giving way for residential neighborhoods. By the 1960s, refrigerated trucks began transporting products on a network of interstate highways, gradually replacing rail traffic. The last train came to a halt on the High Line in 1980 “carrying three truckloads of frozen turkeys,” per a description on one of the billboards at the northern end of the tracks on 30th Street.



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Any visitor would be forgiven for thinking that the landscape designer Piet Oudolf had simply allowed the wild grasses and flowers to grow among the railroad tracks, but, in fact, everything had to be taken out of the elevated railway—including the tracks— before any planting could be done.

disuse,” says Pettis. “As gardeners here, our But an artificial environment poses mission is to maintain the integrity of those enormous challenges. “We’re essentially designs.” She adds that her team allows for a giant window box, so we need to make the plants to be dynamic: “There are a lot sure that the moisture levels are carefully of plants in the design that self-sow so they regulated, so we don’t drown any of the kind of migrate and find their way to where plants,” says Pettis. they want to be. We edit that process a little bit. We’ll take seedlings out from over here, The gardening team also had to consider “There was lead, asbestos, pesticide to and maybe transplant them over there, so the construction of new buildings along keep weeds out in the past,” said Andi we’re looking for proportion and balance the High Line. The towering buildings Pettis, who served as the High Line’s aesthetically in the gardens.” create a corridor for high winds coming director of horticulture for 10 years, in from the nearby Hudson River, as well as an interview on PBS. “We had to remove Some 1,200 trees and 110,000 perennials additional shade for plants requiring full all that before starting to put soil and were arranged carefully over 1.5 acres sun. The 30-foot elevation of the railway plantings. There’s a misconception that of shallow planted beds. Around eight further exposes the plants to the elements. all the plants here are native, and we just gardeners tend the plants year-round with “We’re having to think about how the used the same plants that were growing hundreds of volunteers welcomed in the plants will succeed, so to speak, as an here before. That’s not true.” spring to help cut back overgrown herbs ecological process,” says Pettis. and perennial species. The gardeners must Pettis has said that out of the 500 varieties use handheld shears and pruners because Given the extraordinary conditions and of plants used on the High Line, only mechanical blades may be cracked by the meager space, the High Line’s custodians half are native to the United States, with gravel mulch, a design element meant were understandably cautious about about 30% native to the Northeast. The to evoke railroad ballast. Composting is the entire experiment. “The thing that rest are introduced species. “It’s a very done on site, and Pettis says they avoid surprised me the most was that this cosmopolitan plant design,” she says. using chemicals or fertilizers, opting for worked at all,” says Hammond. “Would integrated pest management instead. the plants live in just several inches of Meandering around the gardens, it is soil on a bridge that’s gonna fry in the easy to imagine the trees, shrubs, and “High Line is beautiful throughout the summer and freeze in the winter?” ferns just sprouting between the rusty seasons, and it was intentionally designed tracks. In reality, it takes a lot of effort that way,” says Pettis. In winter, she notes As the years passed and the design from the gardening team, working that the gardens look magical after a began taking shape, Hammond, the behind the scenes, to maintain the fresh snowfall because the “skeletons of co-founder of the preservation project, pastoral ambience. the plants are persistent.” In the fall, the recalled asking the landscape designer Chelsea Grasslands, native to the prairie if the green space could be considered a “The plantings on the High Line are states, are a favorite because the grasses wild landscape. “[Oudulf ] said, ‘there’s meant to evoke what was growing here look like a meadow. nothing wild about it. This is idealized spontaneously when the railroad was in nature,’” Hammond explains.


On a chilly Saturday in autumn, I joined volunteer docent Richard Graziano and four other visitors in the Meatpacking District, at the entrance of the High Line, during the weekly guided tour. Graziano is a retired social science teacher, who has been volunteering as a docent for the past five years. He recalled the area was not a very safe place for pedestrians when the first section of the renovated High Line opened to the public in 2009. Due to the district’s unsavory reputation, the Friends of the High Line estimated the public space would only get around 300,000 visitors. To their surprise, 1 million people came in the first year alone. Our walking tour started near the Gansevoort woodland, where Graziano directed our attention to the large bells hanging from the eaves outside the restrooms. It turns out they were sculpted


out of metal salvaged from the railway tracks. Some metal railings laid on the path still had numbers indicating their position on the railway from when they were removed during the renovation.

red brick building used as a warehouse to store uranium ore for the Manhattan Project; and the curvy Zaha Hadid condominium building. When we reach the field of wildflowers in front of a long row of seats, observing the huge number of people strolling along the High Line, even while the coronavirus remains a threat, our guide tells us that visitor numbers had been growing steadily, reaching 7.5 million the year before the pandemic.

At the sundeck, where I had often seen people reading books or smoking weed while watching the sunset over the Hudson River, Graziano showed us how the seats could be rolled on the railroad tracks. Fittingly, wetland species such as cattails and swamp milkweed were placed in the steel planters where water used to run down the tracks in this area. One of the impacts of the pandemic that landscape designer Piet Oudolf hopes will Much of the tour focused on architectural last is that people began to yearn more for sights and landmarks: the former factory gardens and parks. “I think that people of the National Biscuit Company, where will realize that we, as human beings, the Oreo cookie was invented, which is need that, to feel good,” he says. now the Chelsea Market; a little-known speakeasy in front of Little Island; the

The project keeps inspiring other neighborhoods to reimagine their own version of nature in an increasingly urbanized world. A case study from Columbia University put the cost of constructing the High Line park at around $250 million with more than half coming from public funds. The city government released an analysis citing 1 billion dollars in economic benefits in the first four years of operation. James Corner Field Operations, which led the design and construction of the High Line, takes pride in having won awards for urban design for the space, which the company says has served as a model for

infrastructure reuse in other cities around don’t realize is that it’s changing their the world. whole experience. They’re in nature. They feel different.” From Seattle to Miami, the original concept has expanded into the High As the first snow flurries began to fall at the Line Network that is creating more green end of November, the trees had shed their spaces from unused land and public leaves, littering the High Line pathways. facilities in more than 30 cities across the Various shades of brown and bare United States. branches dominate the landscape, casting a melancholy atmosphere. There are fewer “A lot of people think of the High Line visitors now, all bundled up against the chill as a design project, but in a lot of and biting winds. For the fortunate New ways, it’s really a plant project,” said Yorkers, who get to experience the High Hammond, who recently stepped down Line year round, it’s just another season as the executive director of Friends of to see what the changing gardens bring to the High Line. “Even the people who the senses, in a city that desperately needs don’t appreciate the planting, what they more natural spaces.






Madeleine s k c pi — 1999 cult favorite film 10 Things I Hate About You — Lychee martinis at Verlaine on Rivington — Movie theaters with reclining seats and/or table service

Michaela s k c pi — Cowboy hats and boots — Overalls — Posterzine posters

Erica s k c pi


— Jeremy O’Harris’ “CORONAVIRUS MIXTAPES” — The Condé Nast Union — Middle-aged men wearing simple outfits in NYC coffee shops (see: Yankees cap). As a New School student who is likely to witness someone in a studded leather boot-pant on a Wednesday at 8:00 a.m., sometimes regularity is soothing — Brooklyn-based floral designer, Flowers by Ford (@flowersbyford on IG)




— Man Buns: the hairstyle and the phrase — “The podcast reboot,” a way for the defunct cast members of shows like The Office and New Girl to make even more money without actually having to act again — Electric Citi Bikes




— Resorts on tropical islands — Men trying to write from the perspective of a woman i.e. Grady Hendrix’s obsession with pubic hair in The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires — Queerbaiting in Disney movies




— The New School elevator experience—the infrastructure and the ensuing crowds — Metaverse Fashion Week — The Celebrity Beauty Brand Industrial Complex


Vanessa cks i p — Scrunchies — “King” by Florence + The Machine — Intermissions during long movies

Yasmin cks i p — Dog walkers in midtown Manhattan — Culture Pass of the New York Public Library

Quinn s k c pi


— AUX/ARC Tript Ich: a poetry collection which is, at its heart, a queer ode to Arkansas — Tash Sultana — The New School’s mascot, Gnarls — Heath Ledger




— Period-inaccurate historical costume design — Dyeing dogs’ hair — Making reboots for a nostalgia cash-grab




— Shows glamorizing crime




— The United States Constitution — Jack Harlow — Dexter, Bones, Law & Order SVU, but really all crime dramas — Portrayals of The Joker after Heath Ledger’s death






Dark, quiet, and far too intent on eroticizing stalking, the newest rendition of The Batman left me wondering how the titular character is considered a hero at all. Even more disappointing is the writing of Zoe Kravitz as a neutered, domesticated version of the traditionally extreme Catwoman. Madeleine Janz Philip Glass’s music is often described as repetitive, so I was surprised to read that it’s the one description the composer refutes in his voluminous memoir. Glass considers himself an opera composer more than anything else and the book might be a good reference for music nerds (he lost me at hidden fifths), but for mere mortals, the bits about New York City are probably the most interesting parts of his life story. Yasmin Arquiza Not too frightening, not too dark, and not too violent, episode one of Moon Knight is a tonal Goldilocks. Between Steven Grant’s endearing mildmanneredness and Marc Spector’s unwavering confidence, Oscar Isaac’s character(s) strike the perfect duality. Vanessa Genao An anonymous narrator writes a book length letter to his mother. He wants to say “thank you,” he wants to ask, “why (on the I-95 in Virginia) do people hang taxidermy in the bathroom,” and he wants to know why people die. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is full of questions, as the narrator navigates growing up, love, sexuality, and diaspora. Ocean Vuong writes a story of multiplicity here that can’t be summarized or neatly explained. Instead, Vuong falls into language and creates a world. Quinn Luthy Singing pop tracks from her newest EP, One Foot in Front of The Other, the young English pop star Griff bopped around Bowery Ballroom’s stage in an oversized white blouse and a maxi skirt—still too new to the game to be wearing head-to-toe spandex. Her voice sounded just as it does recorded, if not better, and for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, I was in a room filled with dancing strangers. Erica Marrison I started watching Blair Fowler (JuicyStar07) and Ingrid Nilsen (MissGlamorazzi) on YouTube before I had ever worn makeup. Since then, the video sharing platform has become my main form of entertainment, surpassing any streaming service or other social media. I’ve watched creators leave the platform, and new ones blow up in months. I don’t know what this means for me or what it says about my personality, but what I do know is that the link to my subscription has been bookmarked on my browser for a long time. Marina Carral Pandal The Chinese Lady at The Public Theater is witty, biting, and heartbreaking. If Afong Moy could speak, she’d ask us why contempt trumps compassion even today. Shweta Nandakumar Love Catcher is a South Korean dating show that recognizes love as a laborious, all-consuming physiological mind game. Each episode leaves me refreshed, breathless, and terrified to give my feelings over to anyone ever again. Rachel Saywitz Parallel Mothers is part soap opera, part history lesson. If it doesn’t make you want to move to Madrid and own a nice place with a smoking terrace and also have an inherited Spanish countryside home, I don’t know what will. I wasn’t a fan of the English title, but everything sounds better in Spanish anyway. Miko Yoshida The love angle in Free Guy was nauseating. The pop culture references and battle against a diabolically business-minded Taika Waititi: chef’s kiss. Greg Coleman I put on Rosalía’s Motomami and was met with: “Chica, ¿qué dices?” Didn’t understand a word. Have had it on repeat ever since. Either Rosalía has created a sound, rhythm, and beat that can be understood past language, or I’m officially awakening my inner salsa dancer. Tobias Lentz



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5. What did you wanna be when you grew up?

1. Where are you heading Saturday morning? A B C D


A martial arts class Co-op coffee shop Cooper Union for a design seminar The farmer’s market

6. Who is your celebrity crush?

2. What’s your favorite color? A B C D

Orange Violet Black Khaki


3. What are you streaming? A B C D

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Euphoria Inventing Anna The True Cost

4. What are you throwing on for a night out?


Graphic sweatsuit Mesh top, overalls, glitter All-black everything Thrifted denim, vintage tee


Go to page 18

Superhero Rockstar Fashion designer Prime minister

Michael B. Jordan Rina Sawayama Grimes Emma Watson

7. How long would you survive on a desert island? A B C D

Forever A month 2 weeks 3 months

BC Go to page 24

Go to page 6

D Go to page 68

If you circled mostly...


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