The French have an expression called jolie laide—directly translated, it means “beautiful ugly,” but as a concept it embodies the intersection between attractiveness and unconventionality that makes us relish imperfection. Jolie laide is Sarah Jessica Parker and Benicio del Toro and Jessica Paré. It’s why Solange is visually more intriguing than Beyoncé, and why Meat Loaf, however improbably, was a sex symbol for much of the 1980s.
Sofia Coppola is often cited as the female embodiment of jolie laide, but as it relates to men, there’s no more obvious example in contemporary culture than Benedict Cumberbatch. In bleached-blonde, Botox-browed Hollywood, he’s the antithesis of everything we’re supposed to find attractive.
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Over the weekend, an anonymous writer launched a Tumblr imagining an X-rated tryst between congressional fitness buffs Aaron Schock and Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan XXX"— subhed: "Things are getting steamy on Ways and Means …"—is not appropriate work reading, and it’s clearly intended as satire of a certain kind of fawning journalism both men have tended to attract (as well as, you know, as porn).
"He was obsessive about his personal fitness. He cared deeply about those close to him. He had an outstanding sense of humor, but he never resorted to jokes about others. His laugh could make any room come alive," the author writes of Ryan, in one of the milder passages. "And there was his intellect. His vision. His ability to see how things were possible that no one else could."
Here the writer gently mocks the conventions of the many thumb-sucking profile of Ryan—be sure to mention the vision thing—by using them for different narrative ends.
Still, the piece is clearly not journalism, or even satire per se. It is fanfiction, or fanfic, a type of writing by individuals who riff on someone else’s story or characters or very existence as an expression of their own creativity. Fanfic is a big deal in the science-fiction and fantasy-writing worlds. Some new-media journalists also have self-consciously turned to fanfic in the political arena for the fun of it in recent years, mocking themselves even as they unleash their inner E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fanfic).
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A few months ago, Laura U., a typical 16-year-old at an international school in Paris, sat at her computer wishing she looked just like the emaciated women on her Tumblr dashboard. She pined to be mysterious, haunted, fascinating, like the other people her age that she saw in black and white photos with scars along their wrists, from taking razor blades to their skin. She convinced herself that the melancholic quotes she was reading—“Can I just disappear?” or “People who die by suicide don’t want to end their lives, they want to end their pain”—applied to her.
Among Tumblr’s 140+ million blogs, social communities form around specific topics: music, fashion, photography, and also kinds of disorders. Months ago Laura was part of one such community, scrolling through hundreds of photographs on Tumblr that evoke negative emotions through art and call it depression. Black and white photographs of mystical emaciated women who stare off into the distance put psychological torment and beauty on the same page, and quotes like “So it’s okay for you to hurt me, but I can’t hurt myself?” and “I want to die a lovely death,” try to justify self-harm. All this is at the tip of anyone’s fingertips: anyone can search tags like “self-harm,” “depression,” or “sadness,” and find thousands of blogs with a similarly distorted vision of what it means to be depressed.
Read more. [Image: Nikko Russano/Flickr]
On October 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The case centers on whether aggregate limits on donations to campaigns are constitutional, an extension of the legal logic behind the infamous Citizens United decision.
Before the Court hears arguments, though, the justices will have already consulted something unique: A legal document predicated on a Tumblr. According to Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard Law professor filing the brief, it’s the first time a Tumblr has been used in a Supreme Court filing.
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Hot Dog Legs has been called the “Tumblr of the Summer,” “genius,” and “your new favorite meme,” but it’s also a disturbing outgrowth of the thinspiration and body dysmorphia issues that proliferate on Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram. For those who aren’t familiar, the question posed by Hot Dog Legs is whether the pair of tan cylinders on display is “Are they hot dogs or legs”? Viewers are invited to browse through pictures of legs that look like hot dogs, or hot dogs that look like legs.
Charlene Corpus, a 35 year-old San Diego sales analyst, likes running errands wearing a grey hoodie emblazoned with the words “The Angry Therapist” in bright orange Helvetica.
“I like your sweatshirt. What’s The Angry Therapist?” a bank teller once asked her.
“He’s my therapist.”
The back of the sweatshirt, reads, in the same bold orange lettering: “Dream big. Listen more. Talk less. Eat clean. Get strong. Forgive often. Love hard. Live well.”
That blend of common sense, positivity platitudes and new-age wellness trends hardly sounds angry, but the title of the blog isn’t meant so much to connote its content so much as it is to provoke, and attract a young, Internet-savvy generation to psychotherapy.
The Angry Therapist is John Kim a 40-year-old Korean-American Los Angeleno who bills himself as the world’s first licensed Marriage Family Therapist with a “public” practice treating patients through a “growing online community.” He believes he is the first ever licensed therapist to build his entire client base from patients he first met on the Internet.
Read more. [Image: John Kim]
The amazing Tumblr Lucille and Mitt has been around for some time, but it’s only now coming to our attention. The idea is simple: Superimpose actual quotes from Mitt Romney, the teetotaling Republican candidate often accused of being out of touch with ordinary people, over pictures of Lucille Bluth, the vodka-swilling, laughably out-of-touch Arrested Development character. The results are surprisingly convincing.
[Images: Lucille and Mitt]
“Some people seem to think that getting acquired should be the highest aspiration for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley,” ur-investor Vinod Khosla recently wrote. With “some people,” though, he was being generous: Most people, it seems, seem to think that the end point of starting up is acquisition — ideally, by Facebook, by Apple, by Google. The acquisition assumption means that there’s a Valley full of incredibly smart, driven people who are founding things simply to sell them to giants. And though that may not be the most inspiring reason to start a company, it may well be the most practical. This little Wikipedia page — “List of acquisitions by Google" — is a testament to the ongoing enticement that the dream of acquisition represents.
Now, though, there’s another page that speaks to the same idea: the “We’ve Been Acquired!" Tumblr. The site, launched this afternoon, ingeniously aggregates the many acquisition announcements — posted to Twitter, to Tumblr, to websites — that drive tech culture from its roots.