Inspired | July & August 2020

Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in July and August: morality, murder, and downtime. Enjoy! (Links marked with ($) may be behind a paywall.)

The Flawed Fantasy of the Chosen One by Margaret Owen

Since the answer is in slotting the correct people into existing power structures, and there are clear markers of who has been chosen and who has not, the audience is absolved of their ethical responsibility to confront injustice because they “aren’t the type.” Someone else has been chosen to fight those fights, to wield the magic sword against the demon king. Someone else will put their life on hold. And unless they come knocking at your door for help, you can go on about your day.

Murder Most Foul by P.D. James

In my own reading it wasn’t the puzzle which most intrigued me and I sometimes think that fewer readers watch for every clue, note every twist in the plot, and sniff happily after every red herring than we writers imagine. My younger daughter, reading my latest book, merely comments: “It can’t be him or her; you like them too much”, and I suspect that most of us guess the murderer more through our knowledge of the author, his style, prejudices, and foibles, than through close attention to every detail of the plot. We are pitting our wits primarily against the writer, not his villain or his detective.

Games need to return to black-and-white morality by Khee Hoon Chan: “It’s harder to make characters feel trapped in their circumstances when they can always compromise on their subjective sense of moral code and do something underhanded — an action that may feel uncharacteristic of them — just to keep the story moving.”

How to Think Smart About Your Downtime by Christian Jarrett: “It’s not that some hobbies are better than others, nor that you should always aim for hobbies that are either similar or different from your job. Rather, it all depends on the kind of attitude and approach you have toward a particular hobby—specifically whether you take it seriously or not.”

TikTok and the Evolution of Digital Blackface by Jason Parham ($)

The very tools that have made TikTok into one of the most efficient, visible cultural products of the era—easy to use, hypercustomizable—make instances of digital blackface uniquely personal. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, where instances of digital blackface are either text-based (abusing Black vernacular) or image-based (trotting out memes or GIFs of Black celebrities), TikTok is a video-first platform, and on it, creators embody Blackness with an auteur-driven virtuosity—taking on Black rhythms, gestures, affect, slang. The most effective videos come down to one factor: how well a creator grabs hold of our attention. That is to say, how deftly they make what we watch theirs. Blackness is a proven attention getter. Its adoption is racism, custom-fit.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen lately?