Which side of the sphere are you on?

I’m curious if part of the fomenting unease with journalism (and photojournalism in particular) is the other, emerging edge of the social media sword: People have begun to understand themselves as brands. They might not use the word “publisher,” but, more and more, people are conducting the publicity and publication of their own lives. Personhood is something to conceptualize for an audience—and monetize if you’re good at it! When that perceived power is taken away and used by an external actor (a newspaper, let’s say), I could definitely see some backlash to what one might call an appropriation of someone else’s story. This is especially likely in sensitive political situations like a protest at a university building; the reaction could be quite incendiary. Safe spaces are not being acknowledged, I guess. Journalists are left to figure out how to do their job in this fraught digital-communications environment. Being a part of the student press probably makes this way more complicated to deal with, as the Northwestern reporters and photographers have pointed out in this latest dust-up.

Of course you’re seeing professional journalists around the country hemming and hawing over this. But it’s a great opportunity to look at the more nuanced angles of how we understand ourselves as individuals interacting in a society saturated with the internet.

I’m not optimistic about it.

When I’m in public as a 21st-century individual, going about my day and participating in things, I can publicize my life on Instagram or I can keep it quiet. Journalists make the same decision, choosing editorially to engage with this story or that story or to interview this person or that person. Journalists must discern the narrative of the public from those participating in the public. Now, in a just world, they’re considering the ethics of their work and navigating the public sphere with a clear eye for what sort of information is truly in the interest of the people.

To refrain from engaging the public? That’s not how journalism works. But so few people have even a basic understanding of how journalism works that the whole interaction often falls into frustrating nonsense. Trust in the news media begins to fray (and it’s not helped along by jackasses like the president). Loyalty among subscribers and readers rots. Leery-eyed goons talk openly about wanting to lynch reporters. Journalists are left to sort it out. You get shit like this student newspaper editorial. It’s not happening in a vacuum at Medill. The problem is everywhere.


I was fortunate enough to see Rage Against the Machine in New York City in 2007 with some of my best friends. It was one of those all-time experiences in the thralls of live music. Just total insanity in the pit. The rest of the bill included Wu-Tang, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy for god’s sake. I loved that show.

It’s good and hopeful that the band is getting back together for some more shows next year. I’m more leery these days about selling this sort of message on a stage like Coachella, but what doesn’t glow with the transactional sheen of commerce anymore? Capitalism has trammeled onward, accelerating its pace madly since the first iteration of Rage Against the Machine in the 1990s. What’s lost in the modern concert-going machinery is made up, I think, in the process of awakening that comes with bands like Rage.

What I learned from their poetry in those early days was what I brought into my career in journalism. I wrote my college entrance essay for Ohio University about Rage Against the Machine and George Carlin, twin influences of political iconoclasm and razor-sharp intellectual wit. In 2006, these were the main things I was processing in myself as I prepared for something approximating adulthood in a complicated world. I used “the voice of the voiceless” as a mantra that guided me through the student press and then into 10 years (and counting) as a professional journalist.

There’s a valid concern in how Rage was taken up in its peak years as angry-white-guy music. Anything aggressive and middle-fingery tends to get tossed around in a sea of misdirected emotions, and, probably, the message gets diluted in the mosh. It’s less a problem with the band’s delivery than with the lack of critical thought among that very audience base: the jacked-up, insecure braggadocios of the world moving through the day from one egotistical non-sequitur to the next. There’s some cultural cachet from listening to Rage Against the Machine; there always was.

It’s good and hopeful that they’re getting back together, yes, but I wonder where they’ll fit into a more flattened society. The inequality they lambasted in their music in the 1990s has only increased and further fractured the America we live in. But the way we talk about that inequality has changed, too, becoming more earnest and probing through the use of social media and the rise of identity-based politicalspeak. Earnestness is not always a good thing, I don’t think, but it’s here.

I’m curious what, if any, sort of reaction the band’s shows in 2020 will get. Will it feel like they never went away? Will it be frustrating? Does radical organizing need a new soundtrack, or will the old one be OK?


The thing I’ve come to distrust most is certainty. I see/read so many friends and acquaintances and mindless strangers showing off and strutting how deeply right and righteous they know they are. There’s a piety in almost every conversation about political trends, public policy, pet health, a piety that would seem to me otherwise reserved for the courtroom or for the hymnal. It’s rotten. I think the thing I’ve learned—am still learning—is how wrong we are. And even in this, I must imagine, I’m wrong. I’ve got the whole thing wrong.


There’s a playlist on my Spotify account called “&c.”

I remember creating this, or at least I remember creating the title and planning to build something long-lasting outside of my typical playlists. I usually set up a new playlist every season, quarterly, recording the songs that I’m discovering or even just plain listening to a lot during the spring of 2018 or the fall of 2015 or what have you. This one was going to be something different.

It’s situated between Fall 2016 and Winter 2017. I could say so much about this fleeting chapter in my life, in part because I’ve etched its memory in music. But the actual experiences, like so much else, are better left for another night of story-telling. I’m in a delectable chapter right now; everything that’s come before has its place, but I’m enjoying the present too much to split backward all that often.

I’m listening to this playlist as I drink a few Jackie O’s See Foam IPAs and work on what could be a short story or the earnest stirrings of a novel. It’s about a goofy-ass Northeast Ohio pothead who… Well, I’ll leave that for another time, too.

Here’s the playlist. I’m loving it right now. These songs have meant so much to me for various, unending reasons.

Factor Chandelier – Buildings

ALO – Barbeque

Tauk – Afro-Tonic

The Wood Brothers – The Muse

Railroad Earth – Hard Livin’

The String Cheese Incident – Sometimes a River

Oddisee – Meant It When I Said It

Wilco – Unlikely Japan

The Sheepdogs – Downtown

Soul Position – No Gimmicks

Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

Courtney Barnett – An Illustration of Loneliness

Marco Benevento – Witches of Ulster

Yonder Mountain String Band – Half Moon Rising

Perpetual Groove – Three Weeks

7 Walkers – (For The Love Of) Mr. Okra

Dinosaur Jr. – Almost Fare

Turkuaz – X.Y.Z. (Feelin’ Tough)

Aqueous – Don’t Do It

Phish – More

Wilco – Kingpin

Umphrey’s McGee – 1348

Cabinet – Spaceman

A Tribe Called Quest – Excursions

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Eyedea & Abilities – Spin Cycle

Blueprint – Radio-Inactive

Rob Sonic – Gorf

A Tribe Called Quest – Whateva Will Be

Billy Bragg and Wilco – My Flying Saucer

Tea Leaf Green – Sex in the ’70s

The Wood Brothers – Shoofly Pie

Jawbreaker – Save Your Generation

Past roadside berry stands

I think it was

Western Michigan

somewhere near the Sister Lakes

past roadside berry stands

and Blind Melon

on the radio

And I think it was

“Paper Scratcher”

reminding me where

to go

past tangled pines, clapboard churches

and, in a way, what I’ve

come to know

Fifth Avenue

“You know what else they say about my people?” he shouted in Sioux City, Iowa, on a cold morning in January 2016. “The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like incredible.”

Man alive, can he read a room.

I was working on a piece about this quote before the impeachment circus began (part of my essay hinged on Pelosi’s Reluctance), but my main point was going to be this: He’s right. He may be the most prescient dipshit in the country, and your friends and mine shoved him headlong into unrelenting power. Now, to borrow his lyrical verbiage, “we’ll see what happens” with this House inquiry, but nothing that comes out of the investigation(s) can tamp down the hatred and the ignorance foaming at the seams of reality in America.

You can see it everywhere. The anxiety. The teeth-gnashing isolation. It’s obvious that we’re less connected than ever before—digital technology ain’t helping—and now this! This regime!

And it’s not always there on the surface, no, but it’s always there, somewhere, behind their eyes or underneath their mislaid dreams. I don’t think this moment in history is that much worse than many others, ontologically, but the way we relate to one another—well, ding, ding, ding! That’s where the experiment’s gone off the rails.

Right now, though? If I were to sit with my thoughts and think about what’s to come? I’m less concerned with the international mafioso bullshit in the White House than I am with the clear-cut development of concentration camps, tear gas at the border, malicious attacks on the press and the First Amendment, the sell-off of public lands, the idiotic us-vs.-them rhetoric that punctuates every tweet and every news segment and every conversation about politics in 2019—but, hey, call me a purist. I know lots of people who voted for this, and I don’t mean *him* explicitly. I’ll spell it out: I know lots of people who may not be overtly willing to trap a Honduran child in a cage themselves—but they’ll pay someone time-and-a-half to do it for them. They may not say the words that you’re not supposed to say in public, but they sure do get all rosy-cheeked and hard in their khakis when a rich man on television says them. They wouldn’t shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York—no, sir!—but they’ve got their guns at home, their little fantasy objects, their projections of who they want to be, all nestled in desk drawers and bedroom closets. Might makes right! A big strong American man! Blood on the walls. Annihilation of something-that’s-not-me. No, they wouldn’t shoot someone! But if he did it for them… If it just sort of happened, say, in the natural course of events…

G major

I finished a 6.7-mile leg of the Akron Marathon yesterday, the longest stretch of pavement and neighborhoods I’ve ever run. It felt great.

Around the 5.5-mile mark, I switched from a podcast to some music. My pace quickly picked up. In that time, as I rounded the bend onto the towpath and hustled toward the finish line (where fiancee and dog awaited), I got all hung up on two songs in particular. They seemed triumphant. One was “Never Too Late” by Michael Franti & Spearhead, and the other was “G Major” by Guster. The Guster song lies off the beaten path of the band’s repertoire, squatting unsuspectingly on a 2007 EP. It’s such a terrific song for running, apparently, and I kept it on a loop at the end of the relay—cycling through the uplifting moments a few times as I ran around Summit Lake on a gorgeous fall morning. The sense of accomplishment was pretty visceral at that point.