Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.
Okay, so “weekly” may be a bit of an exaggeration, considering that I missed, hmm, the entirety of 2019. But that’s ok; after we stop, we begin again. Here are some pieces that have recently caught my attention.
1. The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic (New York Times Magazine)
The crowd was rolling through tantric nerdgasms, sustained explosions of belonging and joy. It felt religious. Near the end of the show, during the chorus of “Amish Paradise,” as the entire stadium started swinging its arms in rhythm, I unexpectedly found myself near tears. Weird Al was dressed in a ridiculous black suit, with a top hat and a long fake beard, and he was rapping about churning butter and raising barns, and everyone was singing along. I could feel deep pools of solitary childhood emotion — loneliness, affection, vulnerability, joy — beginning to stir inside me, beginning to trickle out and flow into this huge common reservoir. All the private love I had ever had for this music, for not only Weird Al’s parodies but for the originals — now it was here, outside, vibrating through the whole crowd. Weird Al had pulled off a strange emotional trick: He had brought the isolated energy of all our tiny rooms into this one big public space. When he left the stage, we stomped for more, and he came back out and played “Yoda,” his classic revision of the Kinks’ “Lola,” and then he left again, and I decided that this was the single best performance of any kind that I had ever seen in my life. Weird Al Yankovic was a full-on rock star, a legitimate performance monster. He was not just a parasite of cultural power but — somehow, improbably — a source of it himself.
2. Why the Coronavirus is so Confusing (The Atlantic)
The confusion partly arises from the pandemic’s scale and pace. Worldwide, at least 3.1 million people have been infected in less than four months. Economies have nose-dived. Societies have paused. In most people’s living memory, no crisis has caused so much upheaval so broadly and so quickly. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before, so we don’t know what is likely to happen or what would have happened,” says Zoë McLaren, a health-policy professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. “That makes it even more difficult in terms of the uncertainty.”
But beyond its vast scope and sui generis nature, there are other reasons the pandemic continues to be so befuddling—a slew of forces scientific and societal, epidemiological and epistemological. What follows is an analysis of those forces, and a guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend.
Albala’s fascination with the quivering medium started last summer when a friend dared him to join Show Me Your Aspics. With nearly 40,000 members, the four-year-old Facebook group caters to a very specific community: people with a shared passion for all things gelatinous. It’s a rabbit hole of slo-mo jiggle videos, glossy objects of gelatin flower art, disconcerting vintage finds, and wiggly experiments savoury and sweet. It’s also the perfect example of how delightful it can be to surrender to a far from serious pursuit in very serious times.