What is the customary greeting you might expect from someone who has recently crawled out from under a rock? Or from someone who has washed ashore after many months of being adrift at sea? Or from someone who has finally awakened after a decade long slumber?
Whatever the appropriate words are (Hello again? Guess who? Well well well, I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me?) please consider them said, and please consider this post to be my bid for re-admittance amongst polite blogging society.
Because it has been, as they say, a minute. Here’s what nobody tells you when you start writing a personal blog: it is unbelievably easy to stop. Without an editor to be accountable to, without the pressures of deadlines or outside expectations, it is the simplest thing in the world to just … put off writing one of these old things until another day. And then another day. And another one, and so on, until you’ve accidentally taken a ~four month sabbatical and can’t figure out a discreet way to come back.
I suppose a good start would be to slip into using an active first person voice, instead of the cowardly and stylistically questionable blend of third and second that I’ve been employing thus far. I stopped writing for this blog, I ghosted this space like it was a Tinder match who repeatedly demonstrated an inability to distinguish between there/they’re/their. I have returned to it, bearing a humble handful of half-formed ideas with the vain hope that clearing my emotional and literal drafts will allow me to start this whole blogging enterprise anew.
Continue reading “Everything I Almost Wrote” →
I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous about posting this one. Not because my summary of pop culture as it has unfolded in 2021 thus far promises to be shocking or even mildly controversial– I have zero fears that I’ll get cancelled over benignly declaring that Movies Are Good. No, my trepidation can be better traced back to what happened last year.
Less than 365 days ago, a much younger Ainsley– an Ainsley with considerably less trauma-induced wisdom but significantly better posture– attempted to write up the 2020 edition of this list. It wasn’t a terrible list. I stand by my exaltations when it comes to The Last Dance, and the fourth season of Insecure, and the albums released by Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, and Waxahatchee. Was it a blatant circumvention of the rules to include the 2019 film Little Women? Probably. Do I expect that many were baffled by my esteem for Sam Hunt’s Southside, an album that peaked at 5 on the Billboard 200 and barely made an impact with its true singles? It would be more baffling if they weren’t, to be honest. But overall, at the time I thought it was a valiant-enough, comprehensive-enough effort to account for what was great about a year that gave me very little to relish in.
Four days later, Taylor Swift released folklore.
Continue reading “The Ten Best Pop Culture Moments of 2021 (A Midterm Report Card) 10-6” →
I’m not proud, but I have made it my habit to care deeply about things that don’t matter. Award shows, and professional sports, and the athletes who play said professional sports, and made-up turns of phrase designed just to irritate. Basically anything with stakes that are demonstrably, laughably low, but that somehow still manages to make my heart rate spike up and my fingers start flying furiously over a keyboard in an attempt to bully others into sharing my opinion. I promise I care about important things– like, say, climate change– too. I do. But putting that particular panic attack into words just doesn’t come as naturally as finding yet another useless perspective upon which I might stake my whole identity.
Perhaps nothing encapsulates this phenomenon better than my profound investment in the race to determine The Song of the Summer. Is this an important question? No. Is it a noble cause? Also no. Is it just a marketing gimmick ginned up by Billboard and the major record companies to boost their own sales? Chances are good. But despite knowing all of this, I have maintained a personal tradition of closely tracking each summer’s contenders, along with the overall state of the race, and bestowing the results with a significance that is frankly disproportionate and undue.
Often, The Song of the Summer is a song that I don’t even like all that much, chosen from amongst a group of songs that likewise would not top any kind of list if I was in charge. But my personal tastes are beside the point. To me, the quest to determine what wins the title is less about music than it is anthropology. Ubiquitous, popular things are always more interesting for what they say about the society that consumes them than for what they say about themselves, and the history of summer songs has plenty to tell us.
Continue reading “song of the summer 2021: June’s state of the race” →
You don’t need to be Sun Tzu to know that it’s never a good idea to start a war on two fronts, but somehow that’s the strategically ill-advised position that millennials have been backed into, while two battles are waged along generational lines: one against our elders, and another against the youths that aim to depose us.
For many years, that first conflict was the only one we had to worry about, and the antagonists were the same group I suppose every generation clashes with at some point: our parents. The Baby Boomers, perhaps you’ve heard of them. That bloated, hegemonic generation of former hippies turned stone-cold capitalists, who forged most western political and financial systems in their own consumptive image.
In recent decades, the Boomers grew fond of blaming millennials for “killing” entire industries and traditions (mid-priced restaurants, breakfast cereals, diamond engagement rings, among a long list of others); they called us soft and spoiled and self-centred, and linked these failings to a malevolence of so-called “participation trophies” (trophies, I’ll point out, that none of us asked for, and that the Boomers had taken it upon themselves to design and dole out); and they explained away our financial insolvency as the natural consequence of our love of brunch. We responded to these criticisms mostly by rolling our eyes, while also pointing to the tanked economy and ruined planet as evidence that their generation wasn’t all that great either.
But that song has been sung a thousand times by now, and though the quarrels continue, the antipathy has been slowly ebbing into apathy. Blah, we’re spoiled, blah, they’re selfish, etcetera etcetera infinity. Like a sports rivalry nobody else cares about (apparently the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings have a whole thing?) our disagreements have dissolved into comfortable, boring background noise.
:Gen Z has entered the chat:
Continue reading “Let People Like Things: Stories from the home front of the millennial wars” →
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony took place a little more than a week ago. It was an event intended to honor a handful of beautiful films and moving performances; an event that had plenty of obstacles working against it; and an event that ultimately fell day-old-champagne kinds of flat. I’ve spent too much of my time this past week wondering why, and my thoughts on the subject will most likely come across as a bit unwieldy. Somewhat circuitous. Contradictory, disjointed, incoherent, even. And I would apologize for all of that, if it wasn’t such a fitting tribute to the 2021 Oscars themselves.
Continue reading “What Do We Even Want From The Oscars?” →
If you are looking for a way to make time feel like it is passing exponentially faster, try committing to the idea that you will write recaps of what you did each month. Somehow all 28 days of February passed without me ever stopping to take stock of my consumption habits, and before I had reconciled myself to that, suddenly March was over as well. I’ll blame it on the homogeneity of pandemic life, where one day tends to blur into the next without the structure of our old way of life to differentiate between them.
Continue reading “March 2021 Review” →
Quick recap of what’s going on here: there is this thing called The GOAT Farm. If it confuses you to learn that it has nothing to do with actual farms or literal goats, but rather the abstract concept of greatness, I invite you to read this more thorough introduction to the concept. Basically it is an excessively cute way of referring to a list of all of my favorite books and music and movies and television– the art that is, to me, among the Greatest Of All Time.
Because imaginary thought exercises demand imaginary rules, I have implemented a five year “waiting period” between my first experience of a potential GOAT and its official designation. (Though this can occasionally be waived, as was the case for The Goldfinch, a book which immediately became as essential to me as oxygen as soon as I read it.) This is why the 2021 TV & Movie Inductees all hail from 2016, which somehow seems at once a lifetime and a day ago. So much has changed in the time since then, both in the broader, societal, cataclysmic sense as well as smaller, quieter shifts in my personal worldview, but my fondness and enthusiasm for the titles listed here have happily stayed the same. This is of course the entire point of distinguishing the GOATs from the Goods, or from the Merely Okays– not to remember what you loved for one fleeting moment, but to recognize that which endures for All Time.
Continue reading “The GOAT Farm: 2021 Tv & Movie Inductees” →
A few weeks ago, that most-cherished traitor, Tom Brady, won his seventh Super Bowl ring, and in the wake of all the nonsensical sports talk radio debates that have continued to rage since then (“okay, so he’s the Greatest Quarterback Of All Time, but does that make him the Greatest Athlete Of All Time? Where does he rank next to MJ, next to Serena, next to Michael Phelps?”) I have been thinking a lot about the general concept of “greatness”. What it means, and how we recognize it, and why, as a society, we can’t seem to stop having discussions about it.
Human beings have a natural inclination to commemorate greatness. We diligently keep track of historical records. We rank the accomplishments of one legend over another and engage in endless arguments over which one of them was the best. Entire award shows are predicated on this concept– the Grammy’s, the Tony’s, the Academy Awards. Buildings have been built, from Cooperstown to Canton to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, for the sole purpose of enshrining the moments, careers, and people that we believe deserve to be remembered.
I don’t have a television special or a physical museum or anything half so grand, but I do share in that same compulsion to document whatever greatness I believe I’ve encountered. Enter: the GOAT Farm. A metaphorical grazing ground I’ve just established for all of the books, music, and assorted pop culture ephemera that have made my jaw drop and my eyes widen in wonder over the years; the art that I consider to be among the Greatest Of All Time. I think keeping a running record of all the things you’ve loved is just another way of being able to look back upon your life and understand yourself better, the ways you’ve been shaped and influenced and changed, maybe without even having realized it at the time.
Continue reading “The GOAT Farm: 2021 Book & Music Inductees” →
If you’ve ever read my newsletter the evening coat you’re already aware that I derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the act of distinguishing the months from each other as they pass, of celebrating their seasonal virtues and idiosyncrasies, and feeling grateful for how all of it put together gives life the kind of texture and meaning it might otherwise lack.
Maybe it’s the writer part of me, but I find it helpful to think of the year as a twelve chaptered book in which each one does its part to advance the plot. Obviously the author of this book tends to be wildly experimental in style, with a penchant for circuitous narratives and unresolved subplots, leaving plenty of room for digressions and asides, but David Foster Wallace did a lot of these same things and is heralded a genius for them, so it must still be a method of storytelling that is worthwhile. To try and make sense of my personal edition of 2021, I’ve decided to compile my own version of a Cole’s Notes for each chapter, which I will now present to you here.
Continue reading “January 2021 Review” →
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” So lamented the corrupted Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and so laments a corrupted me, right now, on the morning of the second round of the 2021 NFL playoffs But I was a hero, once. At least insofar as I am using the term here, meaning I was once an NFL fan with a pure heart and noble intentions.
You might disagree. You might say there can be no such thing as a purehearted fan when it comes to an institution that has often displayed a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of its players and has traditionally led from behind when it comes to matters of social justice; an institution that unjustly excommunicated Colin Kaepernick for a peaceful protest; that has turned more than one blind eye to players who have been accused of domestic violence; and that waited far too long to take concussions seriously.
Fine. Yes, okay, you’re right. I was a hero who made some moral compromises.
Continue reading “The 2021 NFL Playoffs: A Hater’s Guide” →