Category Archives: Essays

Post-Truth & the Culture of Dissent in the World’s Largest Democracies

By Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
-George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl, upon announcing that “post-truth” has been chosen as the word of the year, predicted: “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.” Since the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s nomination and eventual victory, the term “post-truth” has gained major currency. Grathwohl identifies this upsurge in “the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust for facts offered up by the establishment.” Continue reading

On Payment

By Melissa Chadburn

Before I die… this is the writing prompt I used to give the first day of class. And I wish I remember what the tall young blonde had written. Carrie Melvin, whose favorite novel was The Lover by Marguerite Duras. She brought a copy to class and talked about it sheepishly. Like this was revealing something very secret about her. The way we do when we talk about books. I wish I was paying special attention to what she said. Because two weeks later, in July of 2015, she was murdered. Continue reading

Faith in 2017

By Michelle Chihara

2016 began with David Bowie losing his battle with cancer. Prince died in the spring. George Michael died on Christmas. Last Christmas. Carrie Fisher died two days later, on my birthday, as it happens. Her mother Debbie Reynolds’ heart broke planning her daughter’s funeral. She died the next day. I imagine exquisite drag queens and other unsung heroes greeting them all with cocktails in the heavens, saying, I know you still had work to do down there but we just couldn’t wait for you any longer. It’s so grim these days, watching them destroy themselves. Continue reading

Getting Schooled: Bluto vs. Tracy Flick

By Liesl Schillinger

On Friday, January 6th, eight weeks after our disastrous national election, Congress will meet for the official tally of electoral votes, and Vice President Biden will announce Donald Trump as our President-elect. At this moment, unthinkable a year ago, it’s consoling, if in a bleak and bootless way, to reflect that Hillary Clinton, the most qualified and experienced candidate for the Presidency this country has ever seen, actually did win the race. That is; she won the popular vote by some 2.9 million votes, perhaps more.
Continue reading

Only Emote

By Zack Hatfield

A little over a year ago, when entrepreneur and reality television tycoon Kim Kardashian debuted the first wildly popular line of celebrity emojis named Kimoji — an app that packages personalized emoticons and digital stickers for smartphones — a rumor propagated by online entertainment sites and the star herself claimed that Kardashian had broken Apple’s app store. The rumor proved false, but the publicity helped. Even more, people liked the Kimojis, which included risqué curves, Yeezy sneakers, a corset, a cannabis leaf, a car with suicide doors, and a now-viral image of Kardashian’s face with a pixelated tear placed below a kohl-dipped eyelash. Continue reading

Word of the Year: Surreal

By Jonathan P. Eburne

Each year, the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary select a “word of the year” based on the frequency with which users search for it on their website. They recently announced the 2016 word of the year to be “surreal,” which narrowly beat out “fascism.” The winning term — especially considered alongside its runner-up — seems a fitting descriptor for a year so full of unsettling geopolitical, cultural, and environmental surprises. So we are told, at least. Since 9/11 the popular use of the word “surreal” has become a shorthand way to describe events that overwhelm our very sense of the real. Surreal, in this sense, is the new sublime. A fashion trend in language, perhaps — no less than the emojis and vapes and selfies and hashtags that exploded into common US English in years prior to 2016. Even so, it seems more than a little discomfiting that a word used to describe events “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream” has become so familiar. Continue reading

Religion and Materialism at the K-Spa

By Robert Yusef Rabiee

Natura Spa is a Jimjilbang hidden in the basement of a decadent old marble-walled department store on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and New Hampshire Street in Koreatown. Unlike many other Jimjilbangs, which cater to large families with happy splashing children, Natura Spa is a sedate, oatmeal-colored refuge whose clientele is mostly middle aged Korean men and quiet, athletic types of various other ethnicities. As an obese writer with purple golfer’s purpura ascending my right leg, I am the odd man out here. But I like the feeling of being in the basement and subjecting myself to a battery of brutal saunas, powerful hot tubs, and icy cold dips. It’s peaceful, and the only thing that keeps my right shoulder — a victim of book bags and Modern Stress — from getting squeezed out of its socket. My evenings at the Natura Spa are also the only time I go without my glasses. I have very bad eyesight, so this is a treat for me; I get to see what the world would look like if I had been born three hundred years ago, with these eyes. Continue reading

What He Believed: Revisiting E.M. Forster’s Defense of Liberalism

By Rhian Sasseen

“I do not believe in Belief.” So goes the first sentence of E.M. Forster’s 1939 essay “What I Believe,” written against a backdrop of ever-increasing global fears. “I have, however, to live in an Age of Faith,” he later goes on to say, “the sort of epoch I used to hear praised when I was a boy. It is extremely unpleasant really. It is bloody in every sense of the word. And I have to keep my end up in it. Where do I start?” Continue reading