I think last week was probably one of the most insanely busy weeks I’ve ever had. The Daily Tar Heel launched our website redesign, and with that came new software for the backend of our website and for the production of the print edition. On top of that, three of my friends had birthdays this weekend, and I spent my weekend splitting my time between all the different celebrations (…and trying to find time to watch UNC in the NCAA Tournament, though that ended up being a heartbreaking loss last night). It’s Monday afternoon, and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving since I got back from spring break. I’m not sure a Monday has ever been a source of relaxation for me, but I’ll take what I can get right now.
Catching a Cheater Online High school was a hotbed for cheating, in the name of getting good grades and getting into the best college possible. It drove me absolutely insane, because of some weird and serious devotion to the truth I have. This article from The Atlantic talks about a group of teachers, in a Facebook group, working to catch a girl who posted on Craigslist in an attempt to find someone to take a math placement test for her. The teachers’ investment in catching this girl in the act is almost hilarious (and includes screenshots of Facebook posts on their group), but ultimately admirable. Cheating on these types of tests seems to becoming easier to do, and this article is definitely part of a larger conversation on cheating in the age of the Internet.
Ten Writing Tips This Morning (From Edie Meidav) This Tumblr post has been something I’ve kept coming back to this week. So many things exist on the Internet attempting to give tips on writing and how to integrate it as part of your everyday routine, to the point where I just skip over them at this point. I think I like this list better than the millions of others because it’s less “this is precisely this is what you need to be doing,” and more of a reflection on how to embrace writing as routine and how you can make it work with your writing style and schedule. Regardless, if you’re a writer, this is something you need to read.
The Down & Dirty: Making Peace With the Age-Old Practice of Eating White Dirt I already posted last week about my newfound love affair with The Bitter Southerner. Out of all the stories I’ve read (and loved) so far, I think this one about the practice of eating dirt is my favorite. I have to admit, I didn’t know what I was going to think about it before I started reading. This story does a great job of addressing what exactly the tradition of eating dirt is, who does it, the opinions in the South and elsewhere on it, and the attention the practice has gotten. As with anything in the South, those are some seriously racialized and controversial issues to begin with, and I’m in awe of how gracefully Chuck Reece takes them on.
The Little Mermaid‘s Twisted, Sofia Coppola-esque Origins I tweeted on Tuesday about how excited I was to hear that Sofia Coppola would be directing Universal and Working Title’s live-action rendition of “The Little Mermaid.” Besides Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” being one of my favorite childhood movies, I’m a huge Sofia Coppola fan. “The Virgin Suicides” may be the one movie in this world I liked better than the book (and I’m also a huge Jeffrey Eugenides fan, so that says a lot). In this article from The Atlantic, Noah Gittell articulates perfectly why “The Little Mermaid” is the perfect story for a Sofia Coppola film — it’s a coming-of-age story, with feminist undertones. After thinking about this story, I really believe the story of “The Little Mermaid” may really be the perfect story for Sofia Coppola.
A Website Asks Readers To Finance Independent Journalists In my last four years as a journalism student at UNC, I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve had conversations in class (and elsewhere) about where the future of journalism is. The startup in this article, Beacon, aims to finance independent, freelance journalists through readers pays $5 for one writer a month and receiving all content on the website in exchange. As the story says, the question with Beacon is not, “Will readers pay for digital content?” Rather, the question is, “Will readers pay for a journalist?” I think I might.
Yesterday, I fell in love. With a website. I can’t understand how I haven’t stumbled upon The Bitter Southerner since it went online in August 2013, but I’ve found it now and that’s what matters.
I ended up on The Bitter Southerner Thursday afternoon when I saw someone on my Facebook feed post A Love Letter to Appalachia, a wonderful story and collection of photos on the region. I spent three summers volunteering with Appalachia Service Project while I was in high school, and Appalachia has remained a soft spot for me ever since. After scrolling through the story and finding myself in awe of Roger May’s photography, I wondered what in the world this Bitter Southerner thing was about. After reading about their mission and who they are, I was hooked. Since Thursday, I’ve been working my way through reading all of the stories they’ve posted since August. (And come back on Monday to see what my favorites are so far in my next edition of What I’m Reading Now!)
When defining what a “bitter Southerner” is, the creators say:
If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.
The Bitter Southerner is for the rest of us. It is about the South that the rest of us know: the one we live in today and the one we hope to create in the future.
You know, I never thought about it in those terms, but I’m a bitter Southerner myself. All I’m really trying to do is show everyone the South that I know and love, which is really more focused on what’s possible for us to become in the future, rather than a romanticization of the past.
This is my first edition of What I’m Reading Now. Every Monday, I’ll post 5 stories I read in the last week that stuck with me and kept me thinking. This edition is going to cover a little bit more than the past week, partly because it’s the first one and partly because last week was my spring break and I spent it taking a break from the world (and the Internet) on the beach in Florida. With the last week behind me, it’s somewhat fitting to start this on a Monday where I’m feeling refreshed and rested after a week of relaxation in warm weather. It’s just too bad I had to return to freezing weather in North Carolina!
Can We Learn About Privacy From Porn Stars? Like the rest of the world, I’ve been following the Duke porn star story pretty closely. It’s fascinating to see a voice being given to this narrative and how different media outlets have covered it, and somewhat heartbreaking to see this woman’s privacy crumble around her. This is great story written by Stoya, a porn star herself, for The New York Times about how she ended up in the industry and the expectations of privacy there.
Precious Memories This story written by Tommy Tomlinson on Dean Smith for ESPN took the Internet by storm when it was published, and it’s stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I watched dementia take over my grandmother’s mind, or maybe it’s because from the time I could talk I was cheering on UNC from my dad’s lap as a toddler, but this story broke my heart. Tomlinson provides haunting insight to where Dean Smith is now and the imposing, inspiring individual he was.
Go West, Young People! And East! I’m 21 years old, and I’ve never been abroad. I visited Nassau, Bahamas, when I was 15 years old on a cruise, but I don’t really think that counts. Nicholas Kristoff is obviously a huge proponent of traveling the world, which I think is great. In this column, he advocates for colleges requiring students to study abroad. That idea totally shocked me when I initially read his column, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, at least in theory. I keep coming back to this column and contemplating what would have to happen at my own UNC for such a requirement to even been feasible. For me, studying abroad was not much of an option because of the course requirements I needed to fulfill (and UNC’s eight semester limit) and the internships I had at home, as well as the cost of studying abroad.
We Need More Tests, Not Fewer Like a lot of students, I hated taking the SAT and most standardized tests. I could do well on them without a lot of effort, and I didn’t feel like they said anything about my intelligence, only my test-taking abilities. John D. Mayer gives an interesting counterpoint to the prevalent “less standardized tests” philosophy that seems to be hitting the United States right now. I’m not sure I’m convinced that we need more tests, even with a wider variety of areas covered.
The Incessant Selling of Self In my last semester of college, this was a column I identified with so much. Ann Beattie discusses how students are taught to sell themselves and exude excellence, as well as the irrelevancy of recommendation letters. As I’m continuing the never-ending job search, this quote from Beattie’s column summed up exactly how I feel right now:
How sad for everyone, that they’re expected to have their narrative — facts are to be spun into fiction; they’re prompted to make up a coherent story, though life itself is hardly that — while they’re still developing.
This review was written as an assignment for Folklore/History 571: Southern Music with Bill Ferris at UNC-Chapel Hill.
A decade after the release of their first album, Kings of Leon is back with a “Comeback Story.” The release of Mechanical Bull follows a turbulent two years in the life of the band members and a short hiatus. For a while, it looked like the hiatus would turn into the end of the band. But that break brought Kings of Leon more focus and the ability to deliver an album not quite like anything listeners have heard before, but not entirely abandoning the unique elements Kings of Leon fans love about the band’s music.
With the release of their 2008 album Only By Night, I was drawn to the band’s alternative sound, with the influences of blues and country music still shining through the arena rock sounds throughout the album. I was 16 years old at the time, and Kings of Leon was managing to pull off a sound I hadn’t heard any other band master, or even give an honest attempt, at that point in my life. I was drawn to their sound because it was different. And mainstream music listeners tended to agree. The single “Use Somebody” off Only By Night went on to become a huge hit in the United States, as well as “Sex on Fire” and “Notion,” gaining commercial success the Nashville, Tenn., band hadn’t seen for any of their previous three albums.
After the release of the 2010 album Come Around Sundown was announced, I went into it with high expectations for a follow up to the album I had been such a huge fan of, only to be disappointed. No song on the new album quite grabbed me quite like nearly every song on Only By Night managed to. I used to listen to Only By Night all the way through, without feeling the need to skip a single song. The only song I was drawn to on Come Around Sundown was “Pickup Truck,” a slower, more emotional song that sounded nothing like the band’s previous album. The unique sound I appreciated on Only By Night was watered down and barely visible, not quite as impressively executed, resulting in a lackluster album.
The eighth song on Mechanical Bull is named “Comeback Story,” and that’s exactly what the album is — a comeback story from a disappointing album three years ago, as well as a comeback story from a turbulent several years in the life of the band members. “I walk a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a mile away, and I’ve got your shoes,” Caleb Followill sings on “Comeback Story.” This album isn’t Only By Night, and that’s part of what makes it a good comeback album — the band members have matured, and their sound has matured as well. From the opening stand-out song “Supersoaker,” it’s clear that Kings of Leon isn’t the same band they were in 2008. The hard-rocking, R&B influenced style still shines through, but it’s not “Sex on Fire,” part 2. Mechanical Bull establishes itself as its own album, worthy of being listened to for its own value, not for the records that preceded it. Mechanical Bull is the comeback.
The issues since the canceled tour of 2011, alcohol problems for Caleb Followill and hiatus for the band comprised of three brothers and a cousin are channeled into the writing on Mechanical Bull, dealing with themes such as drunken nights (and days), splintered love and lessons learned. One of the last songs on the album, “On The Chin” takes drinking problems and friendship head on in its lyrics, “Said make yourself at home, so I started day drinking … I’ll take it all on the chin for you, my friend.” The lyrics allude to the issues the band faced behind the music while working on Mechanical Bull and during the canceled 2011 tour, and it almost feels like the creation of this album was part of the healing and “comeback” process.
Beyond the lyrical value of the songs, the band delivers with a matured sound from its previous records. Mechanical Bull doesn’t sound like the arena rock style heard on Only By Night, but it’s not something entirely unfamiliar to the band either. It’s looser and down-to-earth, falling somewhere between the laid-back garage rock of 2007’s Because of the Times and the grandiose sound on Only By Night. Instead of playing “Use Somebody” in a huge stadium, they’re playing “Supersoaker” in a more intimate, local venue.
And that progression is okay. Kings of Leon isn’t the same band they were in 2008, and its members aren’t the same people they were in 2008. The music they’re putting out in 2013 shouldn’t be the same as it was in 2008, no matter how much commercial success they found with the their previous sounds. After the disappointment of Coming After Sundown, I commend Kings of Leon for not reverting to the style of Only By Night to find more mainstream success. Listening to Mechanical Bull, and considering the discography as a whole, it’s clear to the listener that they’re in this for the music — the commercial success is just a happy by-product. With Mechanical Bull, Kings of Leon has revived themselves, and they’re back.