• If you’ve never come across the bizarre Twitter account Carnivore Aurelius, beyond false claims about sunscreen and patriarchal idealizations of bygone eras, you’re not missing much. For Buzzfeed News, Katie Notopoulos debunks the rumor that the person behind these viral tweets is actually a woman:

To many of his followers, it isn’t entirely clear if the account is genuine or satirical. He explained to BuzzFeed News that it’s a mix of both. He is genuine about the benefits of beef liver, but not the breast milk ice cream. “I just find that adding some playfulness, humor and exaggeration is helpful to bring some light-heartedness to such a tribal and dour dietary world,” Carnivore Aurelius said.

But there are themes and imagery at play that point to something beyond just diet advice and jokes. Curtis Dozier, assistant professor of Greek and Roman studies at Vassar College, leads a project called Pharos, which tracks and debunks the co-opting of classics and antiquity by the alt-right. Dozier told BuzzFeed News that the use of a Roman statue avatar (in this case, emperor Marcus Aurelius, a key adherent of the philosophy known as stoicism) is a visual motif associated with certain alt-right or neofascist accounts.

  • For n+1 magazine, Ken Chen reflects on late activist and organizer Corky Lee’s most iconic images of Asian-American life and community organizing:

Corky Lee started out as an organizer at Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. He convinced tenants to collectively withhold rent until their landlords made repairs and ameliorated their abysmal living conditions. The apartments in Chinatown often lacked heating, hot water, and plumbing and packed several people into a tiny, dingy room. Of course, these inhumane conditions meant that even poor migrants could afford them. To persuade the tenants to organize, Lee showed them photographs he’d taken in other buildings, displaying the original state of neglect and the improved conditions brought by collective pressure—a little like, he later joked, the before-and-after photos in a weight-loss commercial. At first, he did not even own a camera and had to borrow his roommate’s Pentax.

  • Scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom, who was banned from TikTok after explaining her research on blondeness and whiteness, writes for the New York Times about the need to lay bare the “invisible power of blond”:

People often get angry when I write about aesthetics and power. Most of us hate the idea that whom we are attracted to, for instance, has any political context. We hate thinking that the things we enjoy — like a soapy western with conservative tropes — mean anything. That is the thing about status. We all want it, but, should we acquire it, we don’t want it to mean anything. We don’t want to feel bad about having status. The real blondes let me have it because, they maintained, being blond should mean something for them but not mean anything for the rest of us. That is not how status works.

  • NYC Mayor Eric Adams has pushed aggressively for increased police funding, yet after he took office, policy changes stripped already vulnerable trans women incarcerated at Rikers Island of much of their existing support, George Joseph reports for The City:

The LGBTQ+ Affairs Unit now found its work consumed by conflicts with mid-level bureaucrats, who resisted requests to house detainees based on their gender identities and no longer had to worry about pushback from above. 

As a result, monthly programming for the LGBTQ+ community and weekly check-ins with the dozens of known trans detainees scattered across the island fell by the wayside. 

“I haven’t seen the LGBTQ coordinator or anything like that,” said Kirby Hiciano, a trans woman who has spent more than a year on Rikers Island at Rose M. Singer and various male jails. “I have never met with nobody here from the LGBTQ team.”

“The program has now dissolved,” said one uniformed staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Those services and all of the support for staff and persons in custody no longer exist.” 

For most of the 20th century, the Italian food served in restaurants came from southern Italy: olive oil, pasta with red sauce and meatballs, pizza. By the 1940s, the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal created a project on restaurants in New York City, marking Italian restaurants as “interesting, sometimes cheap, exciting places to eat,” says Ray. As such, it was becoming a popular food.

But, cautions Ray, “things can get popular, but it’s very difficult to climb the class ladder.” For Italian food, that didn’t come until the 1980s and 1990s, when restaurateurs began to emphasize northern Italian cuisine rather than southern. Risottos and wine sauces from the north became fashionable, and provided a class marker between the pastas and pizza of the south. In the 1990s, says Ray, “if you want[ed] to charge a price that’s higher, you [had] to call yourself northern Italian.”

  • Salman Rushdie’s newest novel Victory City is set for publication this February, six months after he was attacked during a talk at Chautauqua Institution, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris report for the New York Times:

In Rushdie’s vision, the city of Vijayanagar — the name means Victory City — is a place of magic and miracles that owes its existence to its creator, the poet Kampana, who blesses seeds and gives them to the cowherd brothers. If they planted them in a particular spot, she told them, a city would rise instantly from the ground. When her prophecy comes true, she breathes life into the city by whispering stories into people’s ears, imbuing the new place with history. Kampana envisions a society founded on the principles of religious tolerance and equality among the sexes, but is driven into exile, and eventually sees her empire conquered.

  • For New York Magazine’s Grub Street, Emily Sundberg investigates the rise of boutique “shoppy shops” that all seem to sell the same things — products you probably don’t need but will certainly be tempted to buy:

Successfully marketing a product so that it feels local everywhere is an art. I’ve started calling this crucial step in a product’s development “smallwashing,” i.e., when a brand positions itself as a small business and shows up on shelves as if it were small, even though it has probably been through at least one comfy fundraise and a hotshot General Catalyst VC sits on the board. (Bonus points if the company in question hires Gander to handle the design.)

It’s up to the actual companies to decide on their values — Will the jarred condiment be woke, aligned with a cool chef, or “artisanal” in some way? — but regardless of the chosen messaging, Instagram then takes over, drilling its users with targeted ads that help build a company’s story (Omsom lets you cook faster, for example; Momofuku’s noodles let you cook like David Chang). By the time a customer discovers an Instagram brand in a shoppy shop for the first time, it may even feel like a mirage: This chile crisp really exists just for me — it’s not only a story on my phone! 

  • Media and TV love a lesbian best friend character with no meaningful storyline or development, and the impact is real and harmful. Emma Copley Eisenberg writes for Mother Jones:

So how did we get all these flattened, second-fiddle renditions of queer women in our popular culture? The Lesbian Best Friend is, to some extent, a variation on the well-documented Gay Best Friend trope, a harmful stereotype of a gay man who exists in a narrative for heterosexual amusement without any real agency, nuance, or development. “The Gay Best Friend character serves the function of being titillating, being a little raunchy, saying all the things that the main character wants to say but doesn’t get to,” says Hollis Griffin, an associate professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan specializing in queer media studies. “These characters are for comic relief, or they are a way to outsource all sexual references, to make sexuality safe by putting it on ‘the Other.’ The gay character functions as the Id, becoming the repository for all the main character’s deepest wants.”

  • Seeing therapists on TikTok is such a strange experience; commenters gush over their expertise, but why would a respectful mental health professional offer up their clients’ private information as social media catnip? Sarah Manavis digs into the dimensions of this trend for the New Statesman:

Though many of these videos are merely vain and banal, some are actively unhelpful. Many TikTok therapists seemingly attempt to differentiate themselves in a flooded market by giving counterintuitive and, frankly, bad advice. Others encourage self-diagnosis of a variety of conditions – ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder – based on “symptoms” that are extremely broad (many public bodies, such as the American Psychological Association, have said social media is leading to a spike in misdiagnosed mental health issues). More than anything, these videos are simplistic – the advice offered is rarely illuminating. Videos such as “how to self-soothe” or “this is gaslighting” rehash the basics of well-known topics: a quick Google search would be far more instructive. With incredible frequency, these therapists make the bold suggestion that your problems might be rooted – gasp! – in your childhood. Videos toe the line between counselling and inspirational speaking, doling out shallow and unhelpful self-help platitudes. Struggling with low self-esteem? Have you tried simply not listening to other people’s opinions?

  • Students at Harvard walked out of Professor John Comaroff’s class on Tuesday, protesting his history of predatory behavior and the university’s failure to take action, Lexi McMenamin reports for Teen Vogue:

The protest was organized by a group of concerned students, Our Harvard Can Do Better, and the grad union’s Feminist Working Group, according to campus paper The Crimson, as well as students from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement. Photos from the action, published by The Crimson, show several students plastering a classroom with critical signs and weaving through the campus in protest.

“For the good of the university community and Harvard’s academic mission, it’s past time for Harvard to act,” freshman Rosie Couture said in a statement, accusing Comaroff of “undermining Harvard’s value of creating an equitable, safe learning environment for all.”

  • For The Dial, Lucía Cholakian Herrera interviewed three leaders of the Argentinian reproductive rights movement, which organized to achieve an overturn of the country’s abortion ban in 2020:

JULIETA BAZÁN, doctor: From the health and science perspective, the debate inside Congress and in academia focused on underscoring the high fatality rates for clandestine abortions. Most women who underwent them ended up in the hospital, which put their health, and in some cases their lives, at risk. If illegal abortions were so dangerous, our approach was to develop safe techniques within the public health care system to prevent them [from being necessary].

We worked on two fronts: We wanted to build a consensus on legalization within the health care system, and we also worked on the social decriminalization of abortion among doctors in order to stop the surrounding stigma.

  • Frieda Afary writes for Truthout about the working-class organizers whose leadership has been largely overlooked in the movement for women’s rights in Iran:

What also needs to be singled out is that while the majority of the protesters in the current uprising are young, most are either from the working class or represent the impoverished middle class in a country where two-thirds of a population of 88 million fall under the relative or absolute poverty line.* The four young protesters who were hanged by the regime in December and January were all from the working class: Mohammad Hosseini, a poultry worker; Mohsen Shekari, a coffee shop worker and caregiver for his grandmother; Majid Reza Rahnavard, a shop clerk; and Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a Kurdish karate champion and son of a street vendor.

  • It’s been quite the past couple of weeks for film censorship in South Asia, from Joyland in Pakistan to the BBC‘s documentary on Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Muslim pogrom in India. Twitter user @agirlhasnogames provides some comic respite in the midst of this grim reality:
  • A reminder that your land acknowledgment as a marketing strategy is not a cute look …:
  • Is there a Drag Race guest appearance in Congressman George Santos’s future?:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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Lakshmi Rivera Amin

Lakshmi Rivera Amin (she/her) is a writer and artist based in New York City. She currently works as Hyperallergic's editorial coordinator.

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