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, the mystery surrounding a Vietnam photo, the problem with Bohemian Rhapsody, the conundrum of parents creating their children’s digital footprints, and how EGOT became a thing.
Jason King on the fraudulence of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Oscars, as you might have heard, are Sunday, and the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — the surprise commercial blockbuster of the fall — is the front-runner for Best Actor, has a good shot at technical awards, and may even walk away with Best Picture. It’s also one of the most contentious films in consideration, under fire for the sexual misconduct charges against director Bryan Singer, its egregious sanitation of Mercury’s sexuality, and the liberties it takes with historical record. At Pitchfork, King explains why the latter issue is especially troubling:
Bohemian Rhapsody’s fumbling of history also comes at a moment in which we’re witnessing the rise of post-facts popular culture: creative projects that purport to tell the story of real-life historical figures but have no interest in whether the telling of those stories resembles the truth. Contemporary examples abound, but at the top of my list is The Greatest Showman, a brazen revisionist movie musical biopic that reimagines P.T. Barnum as an ahead-of-his-time liberal savior who gives voice to a ragtag community of outcasts, including queers and people of color, when, in reality, he was a slave trader who built his fortune on minstrel shows and the mass commercial exhibition and exploitation of social pariahs as “freaks.” While post-facts films like this rage on, trenchant documentaries like last year’s Whitney, which presents Whitney Houston as sexually fluid rather than as the compulsorily heterosexual icon she publicly appeared to be, suggest that some consumers want their entertainment to richly render the multi-dimensional lives of iconic figures otherwise left out of, or reduced by, establishment narratives.
In some ways, music biopics are almost intrinsically post-fact: They’ve often skirted the truth in the effort to mythologize the lives of historical figures. Perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody is indeed “true” from Queen’s perspective—and the remaining band members lived the history, we didn’t. But the problem with post-fact pop culture isn’t necessarily that it’s anti-truth, or even hostile to truth. Much worse: It’s indifferent to the truth.
Alyssa Bereznak and Miles Surrey‘s oral history of the EGOT.
And here’s another good read for this big-time awards weekend. Since its introduction on a fourth-season episode of 30 Rock, the notion of the EGOT — the goal of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony — has become a pop-culture touchstone, achieved by the likes of John Legend and Mel Brooks, referenced by Viola Davis, Helen Mirren, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and many more. At the Ringer, Bereznak and Surrey investigate the term’s surprising origin (it involves Miami Vice‘s Philip Michael Thomas), how it made its way to 30 Rock, how Tracy Jordan pulled it off, and even how that awesome EGOT necklace was made:
Kevin Ladson (30 Rock property master): The best part about that job was that Tina basically set me up in a Geppetto’s workshop. I called it “The Crow’s Nest,” which was an office above the stage where we shot. So, I could look down and see what we were shooting. … Typically I had literally four, maybe five days to prep an episode, which is a lot for television. I had a jewelry station up in my office. I was blingin’ stuff every week…
Kay Cannon (30 Rock writer and producer): I remember seeing different photos of how big should the necklace be.
Ladson: When I saw one of the prototypes, it didn’t look gold enough. I said, “Can we plate it with a little bit of gold?” And so, the second one that came back, that one, after it had a gold plate on it, then it really looked good. It was based on the EPMD logo. It cost $3,200. That was pretty easy. We had so many other harder things to do, like I had to create Jesus in a soup, one time. That’s hard.
Taylor Lorenz on growing up online.
Today’s children are growing up with a decidedly 21st century problem: coming of age and realizing that huge swaths of their lives are readily available online, thanks to images and updates shared by their parents on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. At the Atlantic, Lorenz talks to some of these kids about their concerns over “sharenting,” and desire to take back their digital identity:
Cara and other tweens say they hope to lay down ground rules for their parents. Cara wants her mom to tell her the next time she posts about her, and the 11-year-old would like veto power over any photo before it goes up. “My friends will always text or tell me, like, ‘OMG that pic your mom posted of you is so cute,’ and I’ll get really self-conscious,” she said. Hayden, a 10-year-old, said he realized several years ago that his parents used a dedicated hashtag including his name on photos of him. He now monitors the hashtag to make sure they don’t post anything embarrassing.
Once kids have that first moment of realization that their lives are public, there’s no going back. Several teens and tweens told me this was the impetus for wanting to get their own social-media profiles, in an effort to take control of their image. But plenty of other kids become overwhelmed and retreat. Ellen said that anytime someone has a phone out around her now, she’s nervous that her photo could be taken and posted somewhere. “Everyone’s always watching, and nothing is ever forgotten. It’s never gone,” she said.
Michael Shaw on the mystery man in an iconic Vietnam photo.
War photographer John Olson’s image of an unconscious Marine lying on a tank, surrounded by his fellow wounded Marines in the muck of the Tet offensive, became one of the more enduring images of the Vietnam War (and the moment that public opinion turned on it). It appeared in full color over two pages in Life magazine, became the centerpiece of Mark Bowden’s book on Tet, and is included in a major exhibition at the Newseum in Washington commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of that 1968 battle. And as Shaw writes in the New York Times magazine, there is compelling evidence that those contemporary sources have misidentified the wounded man in the photo:
At a deeper level, something else may be at work: an effect of cultural trauma. Long after the fog of war, perhaps the political and emotional miasma of Vietnam has extended to a fog of facts. It feels informative that the finale of a major work by a noted American nonfiction writer, an iconic image by a prizewinning American war photographer and an exhibition by an American museum devoted to journalism would all share and perpetuate a mistake that gave us a Marine who survived and came home in place of one who lost his life. And it is hard not to contrast their choices with the cleareyed conclusions of a British journalist and a British photographer who don’t have any patriotic skin in the game.
The confusion seems connected to the dissonance and denial that extends in an American through line from Hue to the ravaged Iraqi city of Falluja. There are Americans who celebrate battles in such foreign cities as crucibles of our character. Perhaps a hard look at this country’s wars is intolerable without a script offering a hopeful ending and enduring characters. It’s from that longing and the cultural pressures behind it that we want the unconscious Marine to survive. Bowden told me that Grantham’s story “is meaningful, whether he was the person in the photograph or not.” That’s certainly true but it’s not a good reason to take only reluctant half-measures toward correcting a case of mistaken identity. The notion that a good story is more important than actual truth is a troubling thought in these fact-challenged times.