Recommended Reading: Mid-Terms, Morose Pop, and Publicity Stunts

The sharpest, funniest, and most thoughtful writing of the week.

Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, smart takes on Tuesday’s mid-term elections, a round-up of old-school movie hucksterism, and a investigation of what happened to pop-y pop music. 

Kristin Hunt on classic Hollywood publicity stunts.

Movie marketing has become quite the color-inside-the-lines endeavor: teaser, trailer, TV spots, print ads, “viral videos.” It’s effective, predictable, and boring. At Vulture, Hunt casts an eye back at the good ol’ days of ballyhoo, in which publicity men hailed not from Wharton but the midway, and sold their pictures accordingly:

In this ’50s thriller, Joseph Stalin never died. It was all just a ruse to give the Russian dictator cover to flee to a secret hideaway, with a brand new face from a plastic surgeon. But before making his escape, Stalin punishes a young prisoner by shaving off all her hair. This scene serves as the opening to The Girl in the Kremlin, which Universal promoted by shaving heads on the street. At San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater, a 24-year-old housewife and mother named Patricia Smith hopped in a barber chair for a dramatic haircut. Universal gave her $300 for letting them shave her head as the cameras rolled — and a wig to wear until her hair grew back.

Jayson Greene on morose pop.

“Aren’t pop songs generally meant to lift us up?” asks Pitchfork’s Greene, noting that the current Billboard charts are dominated by music that “sounds submerged, cloudy, groggy, pained, dour,” full of lyrics concerned with misery and despair. “How and when did things turn so morose?” he asks.

The armchair-cultural-anthropologist answer is the easiest one: Everything is garbage! Who wants to celebrate when the world is crumbling? It’s a seductive explanation. After all, many of us are currently grappling with the reality that the Earth will probably be partially drowned within the next four or five presidential administrations (assuming presidential administrations keep happening). Despite whatever famed optimist and Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker might be peddling, most of us, no matter our politics, are united by the overwhelming sensation that Things Really Aren’t Going Great. As citizens, we are more pessimistic, more distrustful, more anxious. We are angrier. We are more fearful.

In this sense, the pop charts are just mirroring back our internal climate. Wouldn’t it make sense that we wouldn’t be clamoring for FUN! to run around screaming in our faces? When confronted with terms like “climate genocide,” who really wants to party like it’s their last night on Earth?

The Onion does Election Day.

One reason for our perpetual moroseness: our politics! We had a big mid-term election on Tuesday (hope this isn’t news to you) and, as usual, The Onion was right on their game; this particular “news in brief” item has held up all week, what with the extended battle for the Georgia governorship and reports of voting irregularities across the state:

LAWRENCEVILLE, GA—Insisting that the machine was operating exactly as intended, Georgia election worker Mitchell Hamlin reportedly assured a black man on Tuesday that the ballot scanner was supposed to sound like a shredder. “Don’t you worry, it’s designed to sound like it’s ripping your ballot into thousands of tiny pieces,” the election worker informed the middle-aged African American resident, adding that it was merely a coincidence that several white voters in front of him had been directed to insert their ballots into a different scanner. “You should absolutely be hearing a constant whirring and shredding sound—that’s the machine’s way of telling you that your vote counts. And that bucket below where the ballot scanner is dropping strips of paper? That’s simply the machine producing a receipt so we know it went through to the right place. Congratulations, you definitely voted today.” At press time, Hamlin stated that he could also confirm the man’s registration for the 2020 election if he just handed over his driver’s license.

Jamelle Bouie on why young people don’t vote.

In election after election, we see horrifying statistics of low turnout among the youngest of eligible voters. They’re usually shamed for it, and to some extent, that’s appropriate. But over at Slate, Bouie digs deeper, examining how much of the inherent qualities of life for millennials translate into difficulty participating in a system that doesn’t seem all that interested in including them:

With each account, we have a different example of how our voting system doesn’t actually encourage voting, especially among people whose lives are a defined by a certain amount of instability and unpredictability. Look beyond young adults to the larger population of nonvoters and you see a significant group whose lives are marked by traits associated with a lack of stability. They are less likely to have college degrees, more likely to have family incomes below $30,000, and more likely to belong to racial and ethnic minorities, making them more likely to experience conditions associated with instability.

Our system has adopted universal suffrage, which points toward open and easy access to the ballot, but our heritage in political exclusivity—where voting was once a privilege reserved for property-owning white men—continues to influence our handling of elections. Voter identification laws are tied to a sordid history of discrimination and vote suppression, but even procedures as uncontroversial as voter registration contain assumptions about who should participate. (Indeed, voter registration was first developed as a method to keep recent immigrants and the poor from the ballot box in Northern cities and was used similarly against black Americans in the Jim Crow South.) Our voting system is tilted toward people with stable, conventional lives. And that, overwhelmingly, is who participates, producing a conservative bias in the status quo.