Laura Hudson’s “Twine, the Video-Game Technology for All” in The New York Times Magazine
When talk turns to video games, gaming, GamerGate, any of that, my mind creeps away. I don’t play videogames — well, not since I entertained my younger brother by playing Disney’s Aladdin with him — and the world of gaming seems inherently male. Hudson’s article opened my eyes to the art form that is gaming, and how at least some of the people who create them are artists. She focused specifically on Porpentine, an independent game creator, and, while I don’t want to give away the magic of what Porpentine does, I was truly astounded by the limits to which she pushes the genre. Well worth a read!
Amanda Hess’ “How the Sexiest Man Alive’s Sausage Gets Made” in Slate
I’ve been reading a lot of heavy stuff lately, so it was a relief to come across Amanda Hess’ unexpectedly fascinating history of People magazine’s annual “sexiest man alive” cover segment. It’s smart, funny, and, at its heart, it’s a story about how magazines get made and sold to the public. Here’s Hess on how People selected its 1988 pick, John F. Kennedy Jr.:
“We all thought it was a hilarious choice,” says Victoria Balfour, the reporter tasked with sniffing out juicy details about Junior. “I don’t recall anyone choosing John because they thought he was sexy. I never thought he was. He always seemed like a kid, wandering around the Upper West Side like an anxious, lost soul.” But from the vantage point of Middle America, “he was a Kennedy,” Balfour says. “He was good-looking. And he was the son of an assassinated president.” The choice, she says, “was a marketing ploy,” and it paid off: “After that, John in the papers was always referred to as ‘The Sexiest Man Alive.’ ” Gaines says the cover moved between 1.5 and 2 million copies, a standout seller in a banner year. The buzz established People as a beefcake oracle, and the SMA as a franchise capable of generating its own publicity.
Kennedy wasn’t in on the joke: His cover was the SMA’s first write-around, a formula the feature would replicate for the next 15 years—all the better for constructing a fantasy. Balfour, who lived a few blocks away from Kennedy in Manhattan, painstakingly extracted minor revelations from his “third-tier friends” from Brown University, a model ex-fling, and even RFK Jr. (who penned a nasty letter to the editor when he discovered his quote on his cousin’s moral fortitude—“He has a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility”—had been leveraged for a meditation on his muscle). Wadler filled in the blanks with lusty speculative fiction. “What do they say? ‘If you don’t got it, write it,’ ” Wadler says today. “So, having nothing, I ended up writing about how his thighs had the strength to crush walnuts or something.” Actually, the line was: “Legend has it that if he lived in Tahiti, instead of Manhattan, he could crack coconuts with them.”
Judith Newman’s “To Siri, With Love” in The New York Times
This is a bit of an older one, but it’s worth reading this “love letter to a machine” if you missed it when it ran. There’s much writing out there about the isolating effects of technology, so it’s refreshing to read something that illuminates the surprising ways in which technology helps foster human connection. Newman’s autistic son Gus has found a companion in Apple’s Siri, which Newman sees as a gift in itself. Perhaps most profoundly, though, Gus’s conversations with Siri are teaching him how to talk to the people in his life.
My son’s practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him that I’ve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory. I can promise you that for most of my beautiful son’s 13 years of existence, that has not been the case.
Newman is grateful for Siri, but what really comes through in these passages — which make clear how much of Newman’s attention is devoted to just observing her quirky, smart son — is her love for Gus. It’s a very sweet essay. It’s also very funny, because it turns out Siri is not just a “nonjudgemental friend and teacher”; she is also a fine comedian.
Last night, as he was going to bed, there was this matter-of-fact exchange:
Gus: “Siri, will you marry me?”
Siri: “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Gus: “I mean, not now. I’m a kid. I mean when I’m grown up.”
Siri: “My end user agreement does not include marriage.”
Gus: “Oh, O.K.”