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The Best Culture Writing Of 2014

​The fantastic long-reads that defined our year.

December 18, 2014

Here at The FADER, there's an awful lot of steps that go into the creation of every feature story. First there's the reporting stage, then the writing stage, then a long back-and-forth exchange of drafts between writer and editor, often followed by repeat, round-robin reading by multiple editors. Needless to say, we have a keen appreciation for all the sweat, tears, and anxious bathroom breaks that can go into a work of finely chiseled prose—and also a pretty endless appetite for great profile and essay writing from all corners of the internet.

Today, we're rounding up the culture-related longreads that left us swooning this year—some because they were written by great stylists, some because of the important conversations they sparked, and some simply because they helped us make a little more sense of this increasingly fast-paced and information-saturated world. When we compiled them all together, we also realized that they added up to a pretty good time capsule for 2014.

PROFILES

"The Sadness of T-Pain"

By Leon Neyfakh

"There's an argument to be made that T-Pain should have just stopped using Auto-Tune and figured out some other way to stand out—that, sometimes, it's worth listening to the haters. But what has made T-Pain most resentful since his fall from the top was seeing certain artists use Auto-Tune and not get criticized; rather, they were celebrated as innovators in a way that T-Pain never was." [The New Yorker]

"The Sadness of T-Pain"
By Leon Neyfakh
"The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit"

By Michael Finkel

"Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night. He said he didn't know if his parents were alive or dead. He'd not made one phone call or driven in a car or spent any money. He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet." [GQ]

"The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit"
By Michael Finkel
"Mara Brock Akil and the Audience TV Forgot"

By Logan Hill

"Brock Akil's shows trounce most of their competition in the ratings, becoming top Twitter (TWTR) trending topics every night they air, and she's won prizes from just about every African American awards organization out there. But, as a black showrunner on a predominately black network, she hasn't been accorded the same attention or respect as her industry peers. 'I have noticed that,' Brock Akil says, winking good-naturedly. 'A long time ago, I wasted a lot of energy on that stuff, and sometimes I got upset, but I got smarter.' Her gold bangles glint in the sunlight as she talks with her hands, as animated and quotable as a leading woman on one of her shows. 'I mean, I've employed more people than just about anybody, so go ask those other people why they're not doing it! Don't put me in a place where it looks like I'm bitching. I'm not bitching. I'm hiring!'" [Bloomberg Businessweek]

"Mara Brock Akil and the Audience TV Forgot"
By Logan Hill
​"Thirty-Three Hit Wonder: Billy Joel Still Lives on Long Island, Still Rules the Garden"

By Nick Paumgarten

"Joel projected a kind of niggling self-consciousness. His rock-star gestures always came with a note of self-ridicule. He was and remains a great mimic, in homage or parody. He has at times been bombastic, but he's as adept as any big rock star at taking the piss out of himself.

Springsteen, at least notionally, taps into the deep well of American blues, folk, and gospel, the dark muddy river, and came to prominence trafficking in the lyrical pose of Dylan. There were obscure images, sly references, misdirections. Joel is not that kind of artist. He states things very plainly, in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. The lyrics aren't difficult." [The New Yorker]

​"Thirty-Three Hit Wonder: Billy Joel Still Lives on Long Island, Still Rules the Garden"
By Nick Paumgarten
"To Live & Die In E5" (Dean Blunt Cover Story)

By David Keenan

"'But I still love hiphop,' [Blunt] smiles. 'Hiphop is good. In general, lower working class black entrepreneurship is a thing of genius. All about survival and it's all about it never stops, it never stops. Rappers, there are more failed rappers than successful ones, but these guys still act they are on the top. It doesn't matter. They live their own reality and that's their empowerment.'

Living your own reality, I nod, that's what I most respect. 'It's the most positive step you can take,' Blunt agrees. 'How else do you fucking live with this world but through that kind of lens? Because it's positive, it's the one genre that never looks backwards. It's the most progressive electronic genre as far as I am concerned, because it's all about the future. That's all we're trying to do, look forward, don't wanna look back. There's nothing to look back at. Back isn't nice for us so it's looking forward, it's positive, it's the future.' He pauses, then under his breath: 'Future, future, future.'" [The Wire]

"To Live & Die In E5" (Dean Blunt Cover Story)
By David Keenan

QUESTIONS OF TASTE

"What We're Really Afraid of When We Call Someone Basic"

By Anne Helen Peterson

"So what are those who make fun of basics actually frightened of? Of being basic, sure, but that's just another way of being scared of conformity. And in 2014 America, the way we measure conformity isn't in how we speak in political beliefs, but in consumer and social media habits. We declare our individuality via our capacity to consume differently—to mix purchases from Target with those from quirky Etsy shops—and to tweet, use Facebook, or pin in a way that separates us from others." [BuzzFeed]

"What We're Really Afraid of When We Call Someone Basic"
By Anne Helen Peterson
“The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and The Critique of Pop Culture"

By Alex Ross

"The Internet threatens final confirmation of Adorno and Horkheimer's dictum that the culture industry allows the "freedom to choose what is always the same." Champions of online life promised a utopia of infinite availability: a "long tail" of perpetually in-stock products would revive interest in non-mainstream culture. One need not have read Astra Taylor and other critics to sense that this utopia has been slow in arriving. Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon—presiding over unprecedented monopolies. Internet discourse has become tighter, more coercive. Search engines guide you away from peculiar words. ('Did you mean . . . ?') Headlines have an authoritarian bark ('This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind'). 'Most Read' lists at the top of Web sites imply that you should read the same stories everyone else is reading. Technology conspires with populism to create an ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes." [The New Yorker]

“The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and The Critique of Pop Culture"
By Alex Ross
​"The Unlikely Brilliance of Loiter Squad"

By Rawiya Kameir

"A hilarious reference to rapper Joe Budden's turn on the VH1 reality show Love and Hip Hop, for example, does not come with an explainer; it is intended for a specific sliver of audience. In fact, Love and Hip Hop is a cultural reference so black and niche that SaturdayNight Live's Jay Pharaoh recently said, on an episode of the podcast 'The Champs,' that it could never exist on SNL, whose white audience dictates the form that blackness that can take. Like much of Loiter Squad, the sketch is an inside joke broadcast nationally." [Penguin Random House Blog]

​"The Unlikely Brilliance of Loiter Squad"
By Rawiya Kameir
​"Snackwave: A Comprehensive Guide To The Internet's Saltiest Meme"

By Hazel Cills & Gabrielle Noone

"Over the past few years, an aesthetic we like to call 'snackwave' has trickled up from Tumblr dashboards. Now a part of mainstream culture, snackwave is everywhere: it's printed on American Apparel clothes and seen in Katy Perry music videos. It's the antithesis to kale-ridden health food culture and the rise of Pinterest-worthy twee cupcake recipes. It's the wording in your Instagram handle, a playful cheeseburger selfie, Jennifer Lawrence announcing on the red carpet that she's hungry for a pizza. In snackwave world, everyone is Claudia Kishi, and your junk food drawer is also your blog." [The Hairpin]

​"Snackwave: A Comprehensive Guide To The Internet's Saltiest Meme"
By Hazel Cills & Gabrielle Noone

TECHNOLOGY & CULTURE

​"Cheap Words: Amazon Is Good for Customers. But Is It Good for Books?"

By George Packer

"Recently, Amazon even started creating its own 'content'—publishing books. The results have been decidedly mixed. A monopoly is dangerous because it concentrates so much economic power, but in the book business the prospect of a single owner of both the means of production and the modes of distribution is especially worrisome: it would give Amazon more control over the exchange of ideas than any company in U.S. history. Even in the iPhone age, books remain central to American intellectual life, and perhaps to democracy. And so the big question is not just whether Amazon is bad for the book industry; it's whether Amazon is bad for books." [The New Yorker]

​"Cheap Words: Amazon Is Good for Customers. But Is It Good for Books?"
By George Packer
​"Against The Rage Machine"

By N+1 Editors

"The whole thing was so strange, so tawdry, so perfectly engineered to offend, that the internet had no choice but to explode with outrage. The Huffington Post, Gawker, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, NPR, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Esquire, Slate, New York magazine, the Telegraph, Business Insider, ABC News, the Week, the Atlantic, the Hairpin, Gothamist, WNYC, WBUR, Flavorwire, the Daily Dot, the Stranger, Fox, Grantland, the Daily Mail, Jet magazine, Time, the New Statesman—all had things to say about the 300 sandwiches. If the US had invaded Syria at this moment, no one would have noticed. A strategic advantage, unless the government's hope was to be seen invading Syria, in which case it would have been a bad time. It is possible that the 300 sandwiches saved us from war." [N+1]

​"Against The Rage Machine"
By N+1 Editors
"The Shazam Effect"

By Derek Thompson

"Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?" [The Atlantic]

"The Shazam Effect"
By Derek Thompson
"Pretty Hurts: Jay Z, Solange and The Elevator"

By Alex Pappademas

"Try not to look at the daughters of House Knowles in this image. I know it's hard, but do what you can to avert your eyes from the halo. Look at Jay Z instead. Look at his pretty white dinner jacket, his runaway shirttail, the slapped-awake expression on his face. You're looking at a man who got on an elevator feeling like Sean Connery and got off it knowing he's actually Roger Moore. Now look at Solange Knowles and her sister, Beyoncé. Look at Solange, wearing a sherbet-colored 3.1 Phillip Lim silk dress and the facial expression of someone who just beat up Jay Z and gives zero fucks how you feel about it. Look at Beyoncé withholding the gift of eye contact entirely, smiling behind that veil as if at a private joke. Is there any question about who's ready for this close-up and who's Sinatra with his hairpiece askew? You might as well ask Who run the world, rhetorically." [Grantland]

"Pretty Hurts: Jay Z, Solange and The Elevator"
By Alex Pappademas

GENDER STUDIES

"Twilight of the Assholes: Goodbye to Dov Charney, Terry Richardson, and Hipster Misogyny"

By Tom Hawking

"The hipster aesthetic, such as it was, incorporated plenty of semi-ironic appropriation of the tropes of traditional masculinity: trucker hats, flannel shirts, PBR, beards/mustaches, and so on. I say semi-ironic because beneath the veneer of irony, there was always something deeply conservative and deeply unpleasant about it. Specifically, it was reflective of a wider shift in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s toward the reassertion of traditional alpha-male masculinity." [Flavorwire]

"Twilight of the Assholes: Goodbye to Dov Charney, Terry Richardson, and Hipster Misogyny"
By Tom Hawking
​"We Don't Have to Do Anything"

By Sophia Katz

"He went into great detail about how he worships women, and thinks they are all incredible. He clearly meant this as a compliment, but to me all it seemed like was that he viewed women as literal objects to stare at and fuck and very closely admire. If Stan were a museum patron and I were a work of art, he would be asked to leave immediately. If women were different shades of lipstick at Sephora, Stan would be taken outside by the mall cop, and the mall cop would call his parents. If Stan were a 20-something man, and I were a 20-something woman, I would like to think I wouldn't have let him claim my body as his own. But the reality is that I did. The reality is that this happened. The reality is I'm not the first person he has done this to, and if I say nothing, I have a feeling I won't be the last." [Medium]

​"We Don't Have to Do Anything"
By Sophia Katz
"The Last Amazon: Wonder Woman Returns"

By Jill Lepore

"The much cited difficulties regarding putting Wonder Woman on film—Wonder Woman isn't big enough, and neither are Gal Gadot's breasts—aren't chiefly about Wonder Woman, or comic books, or superheroes, or movies. They're about politics. Superman owes a debt to science fiction, Batman to the hardboiled detective. Wonder Woman's debt is to feminism. She's the missing link in a chain of events that begins with the woman-suffrage campaigns of the nineteen-tens and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later. Wonder Woman is so hard to put on film because the fight for women's rights has gone so badly." [The New Yorker]

"The Last Amazon: Wonder Woman Returns"
By Jill Lepore
​"Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet"

By Amanda Hess

"I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username 'headlessfemalepig' had sent me seven tweets. 'I see you are physically not very attractive. Figured,' the first said. Then: 'You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.' As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary. But this guy took it to another level: 'I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for 'manslaughter', I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.' And then: 'Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.' There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: 'You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.'" [Pacific Standard]

​"Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet"
By Amanda Hess
"These Hoes Ain't Heard: On the Women Who Remixed 'Loyal'"

By Emma Carmichael

"The work these women put in to challenge Chris Brown's radio hit might have gone largely unheard (I came to many of those tracks, after hearing Keyshia's response from the idling car that night, through excited email chains and Twitter exchanges with other women), but that makes it no less important. It's as important, I'd argue, as the quiet, subconscious critical distance most women put between themselves and the words when they're dancing to a song like 'Loyal' on any given late night out. Misogyny, as a factor, feels eternal; still, it's almost more retrograde to conclude this analysis with the idea that women respond to being muted by actually being mute." [The Hairpin]

"These Hoes Ain't Heard: On the Women Who Remixed 'Loyal'"
By Emma Carmichael
​"'Accessible, Prompt, and Equitable?' An Examination of Sexual Assault at Columbia"

By Anna Bahr

"In New York State, first-degree rape is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years. At Columbia, a student found responsible for rape, groping, or harassment could potentially receive the same punishment given to underage students found in possession of alcohol. Both offenses could result in expulsion. Both could result in a written warning. According the Policy on Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, students found responsible for violating the policy, 'may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, reprimand/warning, disciplinary probation, suspension, and dismissal.'" [Columbia University's The Blue and White]

​"'Accessible, Prompt, and Equitable?' An Examination of Sexual Assault at Columbia"
By Anna Bahr
"Why I Am A Bad Feminist"

By Roxane Gay

"I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I'm not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I'm right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, sheknows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it's just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground." [BuzzFeed]

"Why I Am A Bad Feminist"
By Roxane Gay
Photography Andrew Burton / Getty Images

MATTERS OF LIFE & DEATH

​"The Frontlines of Ferguson"

By Rembert Browne

"Then I froze. I could see the soldiers marching up West Florissant. They looked like monsters.

At that moment, I didn't feel like a journalist. There was nothing about this event that I felt the need to chronicle. There was no time to find out what the bombs actually were and what was actually coming out of the guns and whattype of gas was coming out of the canisters. In this moment, there was nothing I felt the need to broadcast to the world. I didn't even have the desire to communicate my safety or lack thereof.

I was just a black man in Ferguson." [Grantland]

​"The Frontlines of Ferguson"
By Rembert Browne
"Find Your Beach”

By Zadie Smith

"The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty." [The New York Review of Books]

"Find Your Beach”
By Zadie Smith
"The Worst Day of My Life Is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction,"

By Steven Kandell

"The crowded memorial hall is lined with photos of everyone who died and touchscreen consoles that call up their obituaries; my sister is found, as she has been for 12 1/2 years and will be forever, between Gavkharoy Kamardinova and Howard Lee Kane. The names are read aloud on a loop in the adjacent darkened atrium lined with benches. My sister's profile has incorrect information in it that we'd never signed off on or even seen, and the annoyance is tempered by the realization that nonparticipation in the pageantry has its drawbacks. It also occurs to me that I am the only person here alone." [BuzzFeed]

"The Worst Day of My Life Is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction,"
By Steven Kandell
​"This Old Man: Life in the Nineties"

By Roger Angell

"Recent and not so recent surveys (including the six-decades-long Grant Study of the lives of some nineteen-forties Harvard graduates) confirm that a majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness. Put me on that list. Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let's hope full of their own lives. We've outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions." [The New Yorker]




​"This Old Man: Life in the Nineties"
By Roger Angell

From The Collection:

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The Best Culture Writing Of 2014