The Year’s Best Cultural Criticism

2014 was a year when entertainment and real life crossed in ways both thrilling and unfortunate. We are cursed to live in interesting times, our sense of security as a culture growing ever more tenuous; but we also have more and more arenas to shout about injustice and fakery. Here’s a selection of the articles that took on the year’s more relevant pop-culture topics with style and grace, helping us to figure out just what our stories mean about the way we see the world.

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SNL‘s Leslie Jones Uses Slavery to Make a Point About Being Black and Beautiful,” Roxane Gay, TIME, May 2014

Roxane Gay is the hardest-working cultural critic on the Internet, and there’s a plethora of pieces to choose from among her 2014 work. This piece smartly takes a sketch — Leslie Jones on “Weekend Update,” saying she’d be the “#1 slave draft pick” — and finds the pain and humanity underneath the edgy humor, and it contextualizes it within ideas about the “black is beautiful” movement and what “diversity” really means.