Trump’s presidency contributed to a culture of cynicism and apathy. But for writers, educators, and other cultural workers the struggle isn’t over.

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Will Joe Biden’s victory help restore democratic values to our culture?

When I dared to imagine November in the past couple of months, all I could see was a colorless wasteland, devoid of content or feeling. I hoped, of course, that Biden would win, but didn’t believe that the victory of this establishment candidate would make much of a difference in my everyday life. …


In September New York came alive with spring-like exuberance. As the heat subsided and the infection rate remained low, New Yorkers filled restaurants’ makeshift patios and thronged into the parks. The air of celebration was tinged with anxiety, yet it was possible to believe that this was the beginning of a return to normal.

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During the first shutdown, I couldn’t take the subway into Manhattan. Photo by Polina Kroik

Now, in late October, things are starting to change again. Though schools and more of the economy is now open, the outbreaks in many parts of the country, and large portions of Europe make the reopening seem fragile and temporary. …


With the presidential elections less than a month away, concerns about Facebook’s influence on its outcome are again in the headlines. Following the President’s call for his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully”, the tech giant vowed to restrict content that uses “militarized language” or implies that the aim is to intimidate voters — though it stopped short of removing the President’s son’s post with such a message. Late last week Facebook also announced that it would ban all political ads right after the election, and notify users that no candidate has been elected prior to the official results. …


I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Social Dilemma,” a new Netflix documentary about the ways in which social networks infiltrate our psyches and disrupt our seemingly stable institutions. The movie has received positive reviews for its accessible treatment of this timely topic, but the fact that Netflix uses the same tactics as Facebook or Instagram to keep our eyeballs glued to the screen, made me wonder just how far the documentary could go.

The Social Dilemma explains how Facebook taps into impulses and emotions to keep us connected
The Social Dilemma explains how Facebook taps into impulses and emotions to keep us connected
Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

Though the movie does a great job explaining the tech giants’ complex mechanisms of manipulation, it fails to consider the social and political failures that have left both our psyches and our democracies vulnerable to their exploitation. …


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James Baldwin in front of his Greenwich Village home by Jenny Kroik (@jkroik on Instagram)

Today James Baldwin is remembered as an eloquent advocate for racial equality and a talented writer of the Harlem Renaissance. But during his lifetime Baldwin was often a controversial figure, refusing to align himself with political and artistic movements. We can see it in his fiction which, despite being political, is first of all a work of art; and in the essays, in which Baldwin poses difficult questions, and explores them honestly and fearlessly. Then as now Baldwin’s writing may seem to lack the urgency of the activist’s call to action. …


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Older and younger Tove Jansson on Klovharu in the Gulf of Finland. Illustration by Jenny Kroik (Instagram: @jkroik).

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book takes us to an apparently idyllic setting: an island off the coast of Finland where the young Sophia spends the summer with her father and grandmother. But right from the start Jansson lets us know that this is not Eden. The grandmother’s false teeth go missing and the little girl helps her search for them in the undergrowth. When Sophia wades into the freezing gulf, the grandmother stays on the shore. Sophia hesitates: “She forgets I’ve never swum in deep water unless somebody was with me.” …


A street in Naples. Photo by Polina Kroik.
A street in Naples. Photo by Polina Kroik.

This week Europa Editions hosted a Zoom event to promote Elena Ferrante’s new novel, The Lying Life of Adults. The novel came out in Italy in 2019, but the publication of the English translation is delayed until fall because of Coronavirus. I’d looked forward to the event, and enjoyed most of it. My favorite part was a reading of passages from the novel’s translations into different languages. Apart from English, I could only make out some of the Italian and the German, but it was interesting to hear the cadences and intonations of the six or so different languages.

I’ve been reflecting on Ferrante quite a bit in the last year. I finished the first two novels in the “Neapolitan” series, traveled to Naples in January, then watched both seasons of the T.V. adaptation. The novels raised many questions for me having to do with writing, social class, and ways of approaching a difficult past. …


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Photo by P. Kroik

Since the start of the pandemic, I spend most more of my time writing. No, I haven’t writing a novel and not many articles like this one. Hunched over my laptop, I type out email, lesson plans, and comments on student essays. Then, in the evenings, I type my fears and frustrations into Facebook and Twitter — platforms that I normally try to avoid.

It’s no surprise, I guess, that when I decide to spend some time on “real” writing, I often realize that it’s the last thing that I want to do. …


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In early spring New York City is usually more exuberant than ever. New Yorkers and tourists throng the parks, and even the dingiest streets look inviting, festooned with pink and white blossoms.

This year, of course, everything is different. A week ago, when it still seemed reasonable to take the subway to Manhattan, I found Central Park nearly empty, the way it is on the coldest day of the year. In the following days, as the diagnosed cases in the city grew to nearly 10,000, I decided to stay in my neighborhood. …


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Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash

When Trump said earlier this week that Iran is “stepping down” everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Luckily no American soldiers were killed in the bombings of U.S. military bases in Iraq. Luckily Trump realized that going to war wouldn’t score him any more political points.

Everyone can now return to normal — everyone except the 176 passengers of the Ukrainian airplane that was likely shot down “accidentally” by an Iranian missile; and for the Iranians who were trampled at Qassim Suleimani’s funeral procession. But then what happens to people on the ground in Middle Eastern countries rarely matters to U.S. …

About

Polina Kroik

I write about tech, women, culture and the self. Book: Cultural Production and the Politics of Women’s Work. https://polinakroik.com/

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