In this new Rookie feature, we ask a human to take us through their favorite twists and turns of the Deep Web. No, not the one they talk about on House of Cards where people trade government secrets and other forms of illegal activity! At the risk of sounding all GET OFF MY LAWN, we are exploring the free education that awaits us all beyond the bite-sized videos and memes of our everyday. To kick things off, I bring you some of my own favorites to dig into the next time you’re down for a 45-minute video or a longread from a random author site that hasn’t been updated since 1998. Praise be to devout online archivists everywhere.
1. Star 1973
I take pride in the reputation I must have if multiple friends have sent me this link independently of one another. Behold: all five issues of Star, a 1973 Los Angeles–based teen magazine whose life was cut short on account of being too risqué. Beyond the stellar font game and glam rock interviews, the articles cover topics such as: “THOSE FOXY HOLLYWOOD HIGH GIRLS: How they get guys!” Can you imagine picking up a magazine for pick-up tips from a gaggle of other high schoolers so notorious for their game that they make headlines? Screenshot all the style inspiration, read the artist profiles, and keep an extra eye out for what was considered unsavory, like this closing paragraph from an article on developing your own “Super Secret Weapon” to combat the male ego: “Yes, Sister, self-respect is the reason a girl needs a Super Secret Weapon in the first place. A guy won’t ever respect a girl who doesn’t respect her own foxy self. Check it out.” WILL DO.
Dave Eggers wrote this casual manifesto against policing artists for “selling out” as an email response to a young guy who was interviewing him for The Advocate. I first read it at the start of high school, and in retrospect, parts of it strike me as somewhat douchey, but the overarching sentiment was really important for me to take in—that trying as many things as possible instead of staying precious and humble is a way to take advantage of being alive and is not innately wrong. This email taught me a lot about being a fan, and how much enjoyment I was closing myself off from when I was quick to dismiss anything popular as too mainstream.
The Paris Review has an overwhelming archive of in-depth, hyper-specific author interviews, but the only one I’ve taken advantage of the site for is Toni Morrison’s, from 1993. She shares some of the lessons she taught her students (free college courses from Toni Morrison!) and discloses her writing routine (before dawn, motherfuckers). I learned the most from what she says about the structure and syntax of Beloved, and the very concrete choices behind passages which had always struck me as too emotional to have been constructed at all strategically: “I wanted to show the reader what slavery felt like, rather than how it looked.”
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman in conversation with Simon Critchley on happiness
If we were to send another golden record out to space to show aliens examples of human pain and suffering, a handful of Philip Seymour Hoffman performances would do the job. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking to hear him talk about the choice to explore those emotions in his work as an act of what he and Critchley describe as choosing truth over happiness. “It’s your job to really sit with those things and to not let yourself off the hook,” he says. He discusses his need to humanize seemingly villainous characters, hoping that he could get a viewer with preconceived notions of someone like Lancaster Dodd to end up asking themselves, “Why would I think I’m so different from that guy, in the human race?” He continues: “If I don’t somehow allow [the audience] to identify with the worst inside themselves, they never have a chance of actually walking out with that [character] in their heart, or in their mind.” He describes the reward of this as an audience member, in watching theater specifically, as a feeling of, “They’re doing this just for me! No one else gets it!” Critchley, who wrote a very enjoyable book on the philosophy of David Bowie, asks all the questions I wanted answers to.
5. A Swedish Love Story
Most of the time YouTube is lying when it says it has a full movie for free, but this 1970 gem is an exception, and dreamy as all heck. I don’t totally have the attention span to watch a movie on my computer in a language that I don’t understand without also keeping busy, but it’s lovely just to take in the visuals and music.
This podcast details the histories of various pop cultural phenomena, and host Karina Longworth’s soothing voice makes me feel like I’m listening to a late-night radio show about love advice. I was most taken with this two-part series on the way Madonna utilized romantic relationships, with Sean Penn and then Warren Beatty, in her art and her branding. I hadn’t known about Penn’s abusive history (amazing how easily famous men are able to recover from such missteps while someone like Anne Hathaway basically does press regularly to apologize for seeming annoying to some people). Nor did I know that Beatty hated the public eye almost as much as Madonna loved it. After learning that Like a Prayer came out of Madonna’s divorce from Penn, I became obsessed with it, and started identifying just with the sound of her singing voice in a way that it had never really clicked with me before. Sometimes I think the podcast gives her too much credit for facets of her image she lifted from queer culture and people of color, such as voguing. This essay by bell hooks, another longform read, is a strong antidote to that erasure as it pertains to African-American culture.
My favorite feature on the A.V. Club is when they interview a showrunner about every episode of a T.V. show’s whole season. I was most taken with Dan Harmon’s on season two of Community, because it’s the kind of show that’s created to be picked apart.
8. Zadie Smith and Chris Ware in conversation at the New York Public Library
It’s been a couple years since I devoured this two hour-long discussion between Chris Ware and Zadie Smith (audio only, unfortunately), but a lot has stuck with me: Smith gently urging Ware to quit being so self-deprecating, Ware’s astonishment when Smith talks about writing her first novel, and Smith saying she started writing by copying down Agatha Christie stories and changing a few words here and there.
This is another one I read a while back but still direct Yoko haters to all the time. I, too, once blamed her for the Beatles’ demise, and it was important for me to read this thorough look at her relationship to John Lennon and the abuse she endured in the public eye as an unconventional “Beatles wife.” As someone born in 1996, who long understood “WAR IS OVER” as the rhetoric of pre-distressed T-shirts, this series showed me how radical it really was for Yoko, a woman of color and an artist, to declare peace and love in the face of racism and sexism, and for a heartthrob like Lennon to stand together with her for the same ideals, as her partner. The same patterns echo today—consider the racist tweets directed at FKA twigs when she and Robert Pattinson started being photographed together—and this series helped me begin to understand how many of our perceptions of celebrities are informed by deeply ingrained forms of systemic oppression.
The word count on this piece is not that heavy but the IMAGE count, or rather, the CROP count of A SINGLE IMAGE, is immense, and had me in tears from laughing. The obsessiveness with which Browne conspires and cares over the unraveling friendship of these six prepubescent boys in the presence of Nicki Minaj is what I think it means to truly love, and to live. The emotional bandwidth required to read this analysis qualifies it as an integral part of the Deep Web, for sure. ♦