Recommended Reading: Going Viral, Problematic Musicians, and Paul Schrader

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, we have a crackerjack interview with the writer/director of “First Reformed,” a tough portrait of living in fear, thoughts on listening to music by cancelled artists, and the author of “Cat Person” on watching that story explode.

R.O. Kwon on avoiding assault.

“I’ve come to suspect,” writes The Incendiaries author Kwon at the Paris Review, “that maybe a lot of people, especially men, still have no idea what it’s like to be a woman in America going about her life while trying, and at times failing, not to be assaulted. So, these past weeks, I’ve been observing myself.” Her essay is visceral and powerful, a list of fears and strategies that becomes a horrifying portrait of how more than half our population lives their lives:

I park close to the gym. I get catcalled; I pretend I didn’t hear him. It’s after nine at night, so I decide not to walk home alone from my subway stop, paying instead for a short Lyft ride. I make sure the license plate is correct before I get in. The bar bathroom’s in the back, through a dark hallway; I have to piss, but I decide I’ll hold it, I’ll wait until I get home. I stand at a distance from the subway tracks: a friend who works in public transit once told me women are more likely to be pushed than men. It’s dark, and I park beneath a light. A stranger on social media sends me a direct message: “hey beautiful.” I ignore him. No, I block him. I walk through the parking lot with my keys out, bright points spiking between my fingers, in case I require a weapon. Several years ago, after a serial rapist attacked women in my neighborhood, I enrolled in a three-day self-defense class. The first thing I learned was that it might help if I walk fast, with a purposeful stride. I’ll look less vulnerable. It’s night, so I walk fast. I try to look purposeful. I don’t make eye contact…

Sometimes, I’ll read a novel written by a man in which a woman walks home alone, late at night, in America, without having a single thought about her physical safety, and it’s so implausible that I’ll put the book down.

Kristen Roupenian on going viral.

When the New Yorker published Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” in December of 2017, it was all but inescapable — everyone had an opinion on the story, on its characters, on their interactions, even on that header photo that seemed to keep popping up on your Twitter timeline. To have a piece penetrate the consciousness like that is every writer’s dream, right? Well, maybe. Returning to the New Yorker in advance of the publication of her new story collection You Know You Want This, Roupenian relives the experience of having everything she thought she wanted:

So what was it like to have a story go viral? For a few hours, before I came to my senses and shut down my computer, I got to live the dream and the nightmare of knowing exactly what people thought when they read what I’d written, as well as what they thought about me. A torrent of unvarnished, unpolished opinion was delivered directly to my eyes and my brain. That thousands — and, eventually, millions — of readers had liked the story, identified with it, been affected by it, exhorted others to read it, didn’t make this any easier to take. The story was not autobiographical, but it was, nonetheless, personal — everything I write is personal — and here were all these strangers dissecting it, dismissing it, judging it, fighting about it, joking about it, and moving on.

I want people to read my stories — of course I do. That’s why I write them. But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. To be faced with all those people thinking and talking about me was like standing alone, at the center of a stadium, while thousands of people screamed at me at the top of their lungs. Not for me, at me. I guess some people might find this exhilarating. I did not.

Jayson Greene on music by problematic artists.

Thanks to the powerful docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, we’re again talking about the credible accusations against the R&B artist — and, in general, about the choices we make when we listen (or don’t listen) to music. At Pitchfork, Greene examines those choices, and how the current consumer model influences them:

Amazon may have eroded the value of a book, but ebooks didn’t completely replace physical ones. The music industry, meanwhile, never quite convinced listeners that stealing digital music was harmful. So they abandoned the sale of discrete units and remodeled themselves around streaming, a model that looked and felt exactly like the stealing customers were already doing. In other words, they removed ownership entirely. We rent our music now, and then give it back to the cloud when we are done.

Music listening has always been private, but in another era, you might have at least had to venture outside to procure it. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to buy the music made by a known abuser at a store, you would have risked some hot, focused shame. Streaming, meanwhile, with its blend of radio dial and kitchen faucet, removes shame from the equation. You touch a song title, and it starts playing for you—and only for you. Turn off the sharing features on Spotify and you are free to move about cultural infinitude in silence, without fear of judgment. As as result, the gap between streaming an artist and purchasing their music directly feels enormous. It is the difference between liking a political candidate’s post on Facebook and knocking on someone’s door to canvas for them.

Mark Jacobson interviews Paul Schrader.

First Reformed has turned out to be one of the most surprising and assuring success stories of the cinematic year, a tiny, austere movie about faith and doom released clear back in the summer, that now has a decent shot at Oscar recognition, particularly for writer/director Paul Schrader. Jacobson interviewed the legendary filmmaker for Vulture, and got a marvelous, candid conversation about the state of the art, our digital lives, and his unusual career:

I’m an outlier. I’ve been an outlier all my life, I’m still an outlier. For one reason or another, many of my films, and certainly not all, have a shelf life. And continue to have a kind of a resonance. So even a film like Cat People, whose technology is completely out of date — there’s no digital technology in there, everything is floor effects, nothing like that movie would be made today — there’s still something in that movie that makes people want to see it. And it has, obviously, to do with the romantic obsession. Being an outlier has worked for me, and it’s one of the reasons I have a bookcase full of lifetime-achievement awards, and very few actual awards. I’ve never been nominated for an Oscar.

You’ve never been nominated for an Oscar. That’s kind of strange.
You know, you can’t really dwell on that. I remember saying to Marty [Scorsese] at one point — ‘cause he was all obsessed with that — I said, “If your priority is to get an Oscar, you need a new priority.”

So do you find it disappointing that your career didn’t blow up? Or do you feel happy with that?
No, no, I was very fortunate. I was very, very fortunate that I had validation, almost from the start. What I got out of Taxi Driver is what people work a whole career to get. You’re involved in a movie that doesn’t die. That hits the bull’s-eye of the cultural Zeitgeist. How do you ever plan for that to happen, and how does it happen to you when you’re 27 years old?