In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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As I was finishing my book Stranger Faces, a new app took social media by storm. It was called FaceApp and it allowed you to age your face, to see what you would look like at fifty or at eighty years old. I never downloaded it, but from the screenshots that appeared on my timeline, the versions of one’s face it spat forth seemed startlingly vivid, without falling on either side of the uncanny valley—neither too cartoonish nor too realistic. Within days, conspiracy theories cropped up. The company was Russian; the app was a cover; nobody was reading the terms and conditions; FaceApp was collecting faces. These fears may have been exaggerated, but they were not unfounded. The problem of the twenty-first century may well be the problem of the digital face.
It began with Facebook, founded in 2004 and named for the analog paper book that Harvard students used to identify one another, ostensibly to put together study groups, but actually for dating or, more likely, hooking up. The first version of the app, Facemash, was a “Hot or Not” ranking system for photos scanned from a set of online “face books” from different Harvard residential houses. This binary hot/not, yes/no model has continued to pervade the sociality of internet technology, from the thumbs up/thumbs down to the swipe left/swipe right.
Associate Editor Alex Brock
Excerpt from “The Digital Face” in The Paris Review
Before he left Mexico, my father faced a crisis of political faith, and this led to his exile from Mexico’s power machine. He was given an order he could not, in good conscience, carry out. But he was still a conservative. He still believed in order. The San Diego suburbs where we finally landed made him comfortable and ruined him. He was now just a bowling-alley custodian, not a power broker with a black car and a Harley and a long military coat. He became the dad of a Bob Dylan fan. And he had to watch, in 1968, on our new color TV, how his beloved government massacred kids like me in Tlatelolco for protesting during the Olympics and embarrassing the mighty men in the presidential palace. He could no longer take refuge in the belief that the system was righteous, despite those leaders who strayed. He saw American conservatism as a last bastion of hope. But he would have finally lost that hope under Trump. He would have recognized the darkness too well.
Do you see where I think this is all going? When you monetize power, when your politics no longer have room for empathy, things spin into an amoral chaos. Not only the desperate suffer. Who gets hurt and who stays safe becomes hard to predict.
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from “American Caudillo” in The Atlantic
White racial grievance was cloaked with the aura of righteous indignation against the Democratic Party’s alleged fealty to identity politics—a vaporous claim that rendered the Clinton campaign’s simple name-checking of a diverse electorate as a dismissive message to struggling white voters that their plight didn’t matter. In this pundit fable, the excesses of identity politics prompted the working class’s rightward shift—a blunt repudiation of the snobbish designs of a “politically correct” liberal leadership.
In this distorted account of politics as culture-war-by-other-means, Trump’s racism never registered as an altogether more ominous harbinger of what was to come from stoking fear and resentment. Meanwhile, the racist dog whistle has become the neo-fascist bullhorn, and neither the left nor Democrats as a whole have a robust plan to counter the white supremacist messaging that draws so many to the Trumpian cult. Given Trump’s successful deployment of racism and fear to win the White House, resources should have poured into efforts to understand and interrupt the trajectory of white supremacy’s return to the center of American politics. But it wasn’t until George Floyd’s brutal murder that many individuals and organizations felt compelled to substantively attend in some way—rhetorically, financially, or otherwise—to the raw realities of white racial power that continue to stalk Black life.
Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from “Don’t Reboot the 2016 Horror Show” in The New Republic