• A tan pitbull reclined on a white couch, smiling a doggie smile with front paws crossed.
    Rory Links

    Rory’s links #4: Institutional rot

    One of my biggest lifelong Roman Empires is the British Royal Family. I’m hardly unique amongst elder millennials whose moms loved Princess Diana and hated Camilla; Diana’s death was a big moment in my tween years. I paid attention to the major happenings for a while—I mean, I watched Will and Kate’s wedding live—but it wasn’t until The Crown aired and Harry and Meghan’s mistreatment went super public that I realized the depths of the institution’s rot. I made a concerted effort to follow the royals the year leading up to Queen Elizabeth’s death because I could tell that was impending, and I’ve been watching stories somewhat closely ever since.

    That means I was ready for this year, and all the speculation around Kate (and Charles-William to a lesser degree).

    To start this linkspam, I really recommend this Nieman Lab piece from a former Buzzfeed News royal reporter. To understand the BRF, you have to understand how symbiotically parasitic the BRF-royal rota relationship is, and this article breaks it down beautifully in context with recent gossip on and briefings about Kate Middleton. There’s also a timeline of events from the end of December through March 6th, if you’re wondering about the specific current events.

    You also have to understand that, while the BRF will make moves similar to influencers, they’re a major branch in the UK’s political system. It’s why four major news agency pulled a Kate-and-kids family photo posted for UK Mother’s Day after it was determined the photo editing didn’t meet journalistic standards. Will and Kate have long edited their family pictures—this Tiktok has a really good examination of past Photoshop fails all the way back to when Charlotte was a baby. The approach is one thing if you’re an actor or you’re selling something. When your next head of state is pulling this as apparent proof-of-life for his missing wife (and throwing her under the bus after), that’s something else.

    None of this answers what’s actually going on with Kate. The likely answer is probably some variation of the stated one, that she had a major health incident and hasn’t been up to public work. There are other theories both related to this and unrelated that have varying levels of credence, and maybe we’ll find out some of them are true. I personally find it less interesting than why this is so big now: basic lack of institutional competence has eroded public trust (for good reason!), and Charles wanting to hoard more money by slimming down working royals is blowing up in his face big time. The only people out there doing engagements—which are showy busy work at best most of the time, but vital to the monarchy’s survival—aren’t getting press or cameras. Kensington Palace, which should be taking up the bulk of the work in the face of Charles’s cancer treatments, has terrible comms strategies, making blunders minor celebrities with common sense would never go near. It’s a complete trainwreck.

    Maybe this specific event will fizzle out in another couple months, and will mostly be forgotten by the end of the year. But I have seen nothing that convinces me that Buckingham or Kensington Palace have the endurance to keep up what they’re doing in the long term, or that they will learn from this. They haven’t yet.

    A few links I enjoyed from the last monthish of the newsletter She’s a Beast (I think, a couple might have come from other newsletters):

    A journalist tried resume spamming bots, with some level of success. Just another one of those feeling-glum-about-capitalism days.

    Sports bras can restrict your breathing. I use sports bras as soft binding for gender reasons sometimes, so I wasn’t super surprised by this. The study in question seems to suggest that problems arise mostly during hard exercise and because bras get picked while people are at rest and not during most intense physical activity. Not sure how the average person should solve this one.

    On boring problems: an essay considering the way problems change depending on age. Approaching 40 means thinking about this kind of thing a lot, so while it’s a bit of a bummer, I found value in having some level of my experience mirrored back at me.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how modern life requires reverse-engineering experiences more natural to the function of the human body and brain. A couple interesting links for this: How to rewild yourself, with an aim at reconnecting with nature, and Here’s how to rediscover your childlike wonder, which privileges awe and play as worthwhile experiences.

    Also related to the above, the title of this article (The art of doing nothing: have the Dutch found the answer to burnout culture?) is misleading; I think it’s a better look at Dutch culture and its relationship to burnout than a broader remedy for the problem. That doesn’t bother me, though. I like seeing different cultures’ approaches to work.

    The Case for a Paper Fitness Journal is a specific essay weighing demands of digital versus physical paperwork for fitness, but it’s broader more applicably. There are great uses for apps and programs to track a variety of things and topics. I’ve been using Obsidian lately for information management and broader project conceptualization. But for a lot of day-to-day work, little is more clear and specific than writing in a notebook. If it gets overwhelming, I only need to turn to the next blank page.

    YouTubers broadly have their busiest season in November-December, and they will often take January or even February as time to rest and rebuild. The last month marked the return of a lot of temporarily dormant essayists to my subscriptions page. Here’s a quick glimpse at some recent videos essays (which you can read via the transcript on the page if you’re not adverse to flawed subtitles that are often auto-generated):

    The Queer History of The Lord of the Rings by verilybitchie. I was really into the origins of Eowyn’s story.

    The Rise and Fall of Muppet Cinema by Patrick (H) Willams. “Muppet Cinema” is mostly shorthand to refer to the period in film, especially the 80s, where puppets were a key element. I like the way the essay denotes CG as cartoons and puppets as theatrical without being dismissive about it. Different tools for different uses!

    The American Idol Theme Park Experience by Defunctland. My big theme-park experiences in the last decade were all West-Coast Disneyland, which didn’t have this attraction, but I could absolutely imagine having an annual pass and deciding a day on a trip would be spent on this. Also a valuable look at American Idol as an IP. (So that’s what JLo’s been up to when she hasn’t been making movies.)

    Saltburn: The Tumblr-ification of Cinema by Broey Deschanel. Excellent deconstruction of both Saltburn and the 1999 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, from which Saltburn takes a lot of its ideas without realizing why they were there.

    Twilight by Contrapoints. The chapter titles say it all here; the essay uses Twilight to explore philosophical perspectives on fiction, desire (both related and unrelated to fiction), fantasy, power, death, and identity. I’m not sure I agree with every point here—and there’s a more glossing over of the racism baked into Twilight than I would have liked—but overall, a meaty three-hour essay that was exactly geared toward my tastes.

    Hannah Montana’s Guide to Life Under Capitalism by Alexander Avila. Glad I watched this one before all the gossip about Miley’s family started making the rounds. I’ve been a big fan of deep dives on children’s sitcoms lately (see also: Quinton Reviews covering iCarly, Victorious, and Sam and Cat), and you can’t talk about Hannah Montana without talking about class. Also made me both laugh and unsettled by using AI politician voices to read quotes.

  • A fluffy black cat, leaning up against a brown-carpeted stair, illuminated by the sun.
    Rory Links

    Rory’s links #3: Sound it out

    Welcome back to links! Only took me three months to come back! Let’s start by collecting my initial year-end wrapup posts, if you haven’t seen them. (I spent my time and energy on these for a while instead of linkspams.)

    1. Movies pt. 1 (there will be a pt. 2 next month, along with Oscar posts)
    2. Music
    3. TV
    4. Books
    5. Video games

    I felt late posting these, but I did manage to squeeze them in right before Lunar New Year, so maybe I was right on time.

    A couple links on literacy: The Loss of Things I Took For Granted, a Slate column with a college professor that has watched literacy in their students drop over the last decade, and At a Loss for Words, about the flawed US teaching method of three cueing that has left kids and young adults struggling to read. The short version: sounding out words is a valuable skill.

    A random hobby wiki page: Did you know DND 5e allows characters to get married for an armor class boost? Why did no one get fake married in the DND movie or Baldur’s Gate 3? Wasted opportunities.

    Do you like space? Watch some documentaries and clips on NASA+. I think there’s Earth stuff on there, too.

    Totally respect if you don’t want to click Substack links, but here’s one person’s alternatives to Spotify. I’m not fully ready to ditch Apple Music in 2024, but I agree with the poor ethics of using these services and plan to prioritize buying music this year, especially for smaller artists.

    If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up Substack, the company has been really reticient about banning Nazis and white supremacists off the platform. (All the articles that came up when I searched were paywalled, like this Atlantic article, but they’re there.) Substack made a token reversal effort in January, but if we’re talking about digital ethics, moving off Substack is great to do in that regard. If you want alternatives: Egregious is WordPress + domain; Rory Learns is on Buttondown, Casey Johnson has talked on Bluesky about how She’s a Beast uses Ghost.

    JP Brammer of ¡Hola Papi! fame has an interesting column about Latino identity in the LA Times. So many good lines in this one, such as “…language, nations and identity are all ghosts with teeth, phantoms that aren’t real until they bite you and draw blood.”

    Black Twitter Remains Unbothered in Elon Musk’s X. I’ve limited my Twitter usage for a variety of reasons, both ethical and functional. In the past, I’ve also witnessed and been a part of online communities standing firm against profit machines that don’t care about people. No judgment from me (except for soulless billionaires).

    This might be paywalled if you’ve looked at New York Magazine much lately: Apple Vision Pro Owners Are Struggling to Figure Out What They Just Bought. Sounds like Apple is selling expensive VR headsets to people too cool (or work-focused) to buy already-existing VR headsets. I think there’s space for work apps on VR; I think most people buying the Vision Pro don’t have the skill to use them. Still, if Apple wants people to promo the Vision Pro, they should give one to Sara, who has VR experience and wants work apps. Just saying.

    Interesting YouTube videos recently (expanding the info box will allow you to click to a transcript, if you prefer to read):

    FD Signifier’s short take on cultural appropriation pointed out that Travis Kelce started sporting a fade because it was a way to signal that he was dating Black women. (That was pre-Swift, of course, but he hasn’t changed his hair since that started.)

    Slowly going through Variety’s latest Actors on Actors series, and I think Andrew Scott & Greta Lee’s is going to be tough to beat. Past Lives is my favorite Best Picture nominee so far (it’s on Prime Video right now), and I can’t wait to see All of Us Strangers, which I can pretty safely say got snubbed without even seeing it (but it’ll be on Hulu as of February 22nd, so I’ll speak more authoritatively about it then).

    An essay about east Asia and buying luxury. I got into cdramas a few years ago and was surprised to see how many Chinese actors/idols had deals with luxury brands. It was helpful to get perspective on how economic/social trends coalesce within collectivist cultures in this way.

    It’s hard to be remotely a US film nerd and not have heard about how Sofia Coppola ruined the Godfather Part III, but this essay put into perspective how much Francis Ford Coppola failed his daughter. It’s fascinating because only a nepo baby could have the career Sofia Coppola has after decades of (undeserved) attacks, but also, she never would have been made the face of the movie’s failure if she hadn’t been a nepo baby in the first place.

    Creative ownership and copyright have been hot topics the last few months, between tech bros stealing from artists for their fancy autocorrect, Steamboat Willie entering public domain, and hbomberguy’s big plagiarism essay, to name three prominent examples. A different essay talks about some creative copyright infringement from the past and asks where we go from here. You should mostly watch it to see Turkish Star Trek and Filipino musical Batman, if you haven’t.

  • Rory Links

    Rory’s links #2: A darker side of the moon

    Cloudy, dark day today. The Northern Hemisphere decrease in sunlight this time of year is really punishing; no wonder there are a few festivals featuring lights around now. I just wish we pushed it into January and February.


    1. World’s richest 1% pollute more than the poorest two-thirds, Oxfam says: It’s impossible to talk about climate change without talking about wealth inequality and labor exploitation:

    “The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, leaving humanity choking on extreme heat, floods and drought,” Oxfam International’s interim executive director, Amitabh Behar, said in a news release on Monday. He called for world leaders to “end the era of extreme wealth.”

    If you want a specific example of mega-rich pollution, the Guardian has a look at private-jet emissions for 200 celebrities since the start of 2022: “Jets belonging to entertainers, CEOs, oligarchs and billionaires produce equivalent to emissions of almost 40,000 Britons”.

    2. How to Maintain Mental Hygiene as an Open Source Researcher: This guide is geared toward potential researchers looking into war crimes in Ukraine, but I think the tips have a use for everyone in unmoderated or poorly-moderated spaces online right now. Additional thoughts not in the link that I’ve seen elsewhere online: curate your feeds aggressively, invert the colors on your screen and flip images around if you need to look closely, maybe play Tetris (one study, there are probably more)?

    3. Andre 3000’s new flute album, New Blue Sun, has been making the joke rounds on social media and late-night comedy. I like the album, and I like this profile about the album and Andre 3000’s career from the New Yorker: Andre 3000 disrupts our sense of time.

    4. I’m honestly sharing this one because summarizing can help me understand a topic better: ‘What the heck is going on?’ Extremely high-energy particle detected falling to Earth. Apparently, something like a supernova isn’t strong enough to create a particle like this, which makes it strange enough, but scientists have only been able to trace it back to empty space, which makes it even stranger. (I have also now learned the specific empty space bordering the Milky Way is called the “Local Void”.)


    (Remember, if you prefer to read over watch, you can read transcripts on YouTube! See my first link post for more.)

    1. Why Dark Side of the Moon Still Matters by Polyphonic: This is the joined-up, hour-long version of a video series Polyphonic did on the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon, which is one of my all-time favorite albums and a moving treatise on life, death, and modernity (in the ‘70s, but it still works). The video is a beautiful blend of visuals, audio snippets, lyric and musical analysis, and production review. Even if you don’t feel like watching the video, consider giving the album a spin.

    2. Three Specific Kinds of Terror by Jacob Gellar: An overview of horror as seen in the games Amnesia: The Bunker, Who’s Lila, and The Utility Room. What do you find more horrifying, how the gargantuan size of the cosmos renders choice meaningless, or having to live with the consequences of your own decisions?

    The video and comments left me most interested in Who’s Lila for two reasons. The game mechanics are largely built in unnatural facial expressions you control, and that, for better or worse, rang a bell with autistic viewers. Other commenters referenced another video essayist, Flaw Peacock, who made a 7.5+ hour analysis of the game. Whether I get to game or long summary first, I added Who’s Lila to my Steam wishlist, and the two “Similar to games you’ve played” listed are Disco Elysium and Phasmophobia. Promising!

    3. I Bought the Same Dress for $4, $30, $60, and $200 by Safiya Nygaard: An interesting look at the unchecked scam ad market on Tiktok (and although it wasn’t the video’s main focus, apparently things are similar on Instagram). Like, this isn’t (just) covering dupes of higher-end fashion design. This is hundreds of ads made from stolen videos, hundreds of fake reviews that steal pictures from Instagram and reviews from Amazon, and dozens of online shops that vanish before you can tell them they sent you the wrong product or that you never received a product at all.

    I’m not sure if the problem here is a lack of vetting or inadequate vetting. Either way, even if Tiktok and Instagram put more work into the process, things are still dire in the ad space as a whole. The video only touches on it briefly, but I was alarmed that Steve Madden (an actual company I’ve known about for decades) used a Markiplier overlay in an ad without his knowledge or consent (Safiya asked him directly). If a personality with his level of fame and clout has little recourse, what about the rest of us?

    4. You wanna see an edit where it looks like Cookie Monster is singing Tom Waits’s “God’s Away on Business”? (Trust me, you do.)

  • Rory Links

    Rory’s links #1

    It’s been a while, Egregious! Nice to see you again!

    Maybe you’ve been reading the Sara Reads the Feed series. If you haven’t, here’s Sara’s brief summary:

    I try to have an RSS feed reader that keeps me scrolling through hundreds of articles a day across many sites – that way I get a broad look at things and don’t get bogged down on Reddit. It seems it might be fun to read the feed “together” and round up some snippets of my commentary on the articles as we go.

    I don’t have a curated RSS feed (yet, it’s on the to-do list), but having a sporadic place to link and talk besides my Patreon (which has largely shifted toward review and criticism) makes sense. Maybe this’ll give me a reason to get more deliberate with my reading habits. Skimming my browser history and seeing the lack of diversity sure was depressing.


    1. A profile of a Taiwanese doctor addressing growing visual myopia. There’s a large focus on children here for many good reasons, but I’m inspired to get my eyes checked more frequently and get outside more. 120 minutes of daily outdoor activity is way above what I’m doing, and considering it’s Seasonal Depression Season, it’s a good time to push the number up.

    2. NPR’s Fresh Air did a long interview earlier this year with Siddartha Kara, “a fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and at the Kennedy School”, about the “horror show” of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (The link has both an audio interview, to which I have not listened, and a written summary, which I did read.) Cobalt is often used in rechargeable batteries that are vital for modern devices, including many that are part of the switch from fossil fuels, like rechargeable cars. One thing you can do now: read a guide on how to extend the life of lithium-ion batteries, like this one from University of Michigan, so your devices need replacing less often. Another way to help (this issue, and so many others) is to support right-to-repair laws, which are being enacted in a bunch of places, including California.

    Capitalism functions in a cycle of exploiting and/or enslaving some of the most vulnerable global populations and destroying natural resources. It’s been that way for centuries (see also: the history and formation of the United States, for just one example). I haven’t watched it yet, but in Last Week Tonight’s coverage of the chocolate industry, John Oliver says the following:

    So if we are serious about getting child labor out of our chocolate, we can’t keep relying on pinky promises and the honor system. We need tough legislation that requires companies do the right thing.

    And it’s not like this is the only industry where exploitation in other countries is the norm. I could just as easily have done this piece about coffee or palm oil. And we actually talked about trafficking and child labor in the US farm system this year. But experts themselves say of chocolate:

    “…in few industries…is the evidence of objectionable practices so clear…the industry’s pledges to reform so ambitious, and the breaching of those promises so obvious.”

    3. A nicer NPR link I’ve had open in my mobile browser for years now: Sewing your own clothes can be empowering. Here’s how to get started Yes, this has dark elements: the link references the initial COVID lockdowns and lack of available masks, and my personal motivations are related to exploitative labor practices/climate difficulties around fashion that aren’t unrelated to link two. But it’s also just really nice to have more control over something that’s a huge part of your life. I asked for a sewing machine for my last birthday and got one; maybe I’ll finally use it this spring!


    Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study fills my TBR list with so many good nonfiction books. Some good, recent author interviews:

    1. A Different Way to Think About Student Success, an interview with Ana Homayoun about the book Erasing the Finish Line. As someone who was ground to dust by the pre-college grind about twenty years ago and still struggles with what crumbs of executive function I can grab, it’s validating to see someone’s book reflect my lived experience (probably; I haven’t read it yet, but the interview’s promising).

    2. Butts: A Backstory, an interview with Heather Radke about the book of the same name. Not only is this a great topic to cover for reasons listed in the interview, that the author has to state “I should specify that my book is about the cheeks, not the hole” at the beginning is so good.

    3. There is Nothing Magical About Forgiveness, an interview with Myisha Cherry about Failures of Forgiveness. Incredible how so short an interview can challenge tired cultural narratives. I know I’m tired of the “rush to forgiveness” without any repair or reckoning for damage done.


    2023 has been a terrible year for Hollywood. While the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes are pointed to as a reason, I’d argue they were more major attempt at repair than direct cause. The signs of trouble have been there for years, and this year’s rot had set in long before the pickets had begun. And, as someone who follows a lot of film essayists on YouTube, it’s impossible to avoid the topic (unless you’re excellent channel Accented Cinema, which tends to focus on foreign cinema).

    Note: If you prefer to read over watching, most YouTube videos not only have subtitles, but transcripts as well! They often come from autogenerated subtitles, so readability will vary, but click “more” on the description, scroll down, and click “Show transcript” to get a box with text and timestamps.

    1. Who Killed Cinema by Patrick H Willems: A feature-length look at potential causes, shaped in a meta-comedic murder mystery style. You wanna blame terrible execs, Disney/Marvel’s business model, Netflix attacking theaters, and more? This one’s got ‘em.

    2. Are Film Critics a Dying Breed? by Broey Deschanel: I’ve always found film criticism to be a vital part of Hollywood’s artistic ecosystem—I was a kid who loved Roger Ebert, of course I’d think that—and this is an interesting look into criticism’s past and the differences between influencer and critic.

    3. The Marvelization of Cinema by Like Stories of Old: Patrick H Willems covers some of this, but Like Stories of Old builds a theory around entropy and builds an argument for meaning in storytelling, even in big-budget blockbusters.

    4. The Inevitable Failure of 2023 Blockbusters by Friendly Space Ninja: If you really want to see how badly the major studios are faring in terms of budget, here’s ten movies that financially bombed in spectacular fashion. And this was posted in August. I can’t get over how big a pile of money Disney burned when making and releasing Indiana Jones.