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Where are they now?
Free for All Friday: 7 more robust things worth your time
Happy Friday! I think we’re going to call these “Free for All Fridays,” and we’ll keep experimenting. I like the double meaning:
There’s no set criteria for whether something makes the cut; it just has to be interesting and maybe a bit longer-lasting than the things we read every day, and
We’ll do everything we can to avoid paywalls. Thanks especially to some of the bigger pubs out there like the NYT, WSJ, & WashPost that make this pretty easy.
Here are my 7 for this week. Feel free to suggest others here, or else in the comments!
Inside the ‘Blood Sport’ of Oscars Campaigns
War rooms. Oppo dumps. Eight-figure budgets. How the quest for awards-season glory got so cutthroat.
The first of two Academy Award-related stories today. (The Oscars are Sunday night.)
Using the surprise Best Actress nomination of Andrea Riseborough as an example (she’s barely known, and her film, “To Leslie,” earned just $27,322)—the Times dug into how films can be lifted from obscurity to celebration with some incredibly coordinated campaigns.
Oscar campaigns are often run by professional strategists, essentially a specialized breed of publicist. Their job begins as early as a year before the awards, sometimes before a film is even shot. They advise on which festival a film should premiere at, shape a campaign platform and hope that the film gains enough momentum to propel it into awards season. Sometimes several strategists work on a single film, and the war room of an Oscars campaign can grow to be as many as 10 or 20 people. (New York Times, gift link)
Elon Musk Is Planning a Texas Utopia—His Own Town
There's an old saying about how history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. I keep hearing that when I learn about our 21st century titans and icons trying to build new municipalities for their employees, sort of like the company towns of the early industrial age.
Elon Musk is planning to build his own town on part of thousands of acres of newly purchased pasture and farmland outside the Texas capital, according to deeds and other land records and people familiar with the project.
Over the past three years, entities tied to Mr. Musk’s companies or executives have purchased at least 3,500 acres in the Austin area, collectively about four times the size of New York’s Central Park, according to county deeds and other land records.
One neighbor: “[T]hey want it to be secret. They want to do things before anyone knows really what’s happening.” (WSJ)
As Customer Problems Hit a Record High, More People Seek ‘Revenge’
Americans are encountering more problems with companies’ products and services than ever before, and a higher proportion of them are actively seeking “revenge” for their troubles, a new study has found.
The percentage of consumers who have taken action to settle a score against a company through measures such as pestering or public shaming in person or online, has tripled to 9% from 3% in 2020, according to the study. That reversed a downward trend with regards to revenge-seeking behavior: The average percentage of customers seeking revenge between 2003 and 2017 was 17%.
“It’s the idea of, if you as a company don’t really seem to care, well then I’m going to take to the streets." (WSJ)
Tech Is Allowing Businesses to Overcharge You in Tips
This feels related to the one above!
Payment apps and touch screens have made it easy for merchants to ask us for preset gratuity amounts. We don’t need to succumb to the pressure.
I have felt the pain and awkwardness of seemingly arbitrary tip requests. I was recently taken aback when a grocery store’s iPad screen suggested a tip between 10 percent and 30 percent—a situation that was made more unpleasant when I hit the “no tip” button and the cashier shot me a glare. (NYT)
Where Are They Now? Former Child Stars Are Rooting for Ke Huy Quan
Back in a different lifetime, he was Short Round and Data, two sidekick characters who lit up major 1980s movies and became icons of adventure for a generation of kids. Then, after the one-two bonanza of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” the actor Ke Huy Quan struggled to land more roles, a quandary familiar to former child stars.
Today, members of the “where are they now” fraternity of acting are rooting for Mr. Quan, 51, as he competes for an Academy Award for his supporting role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
“It made me so happy to see a child actor embracing their passion,” said Mara Wilson, who helped anchor three big movies (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Matilda”) over four years in the 1990s. “It’s like we’re in a very strange club together where we have our own unique difficulties and unique joys, so there’s some team spirit between us.” (Wall Street Journal)
Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest
A longtime reader, John Fees, shared this with me. It’s long, and I don’t agree offhand with everything in it, but it leads in part to a controversial but compelling conclusion: maybe the age of adulthood on the Internet should be 18 (it’s 13 now in many cases).
Greg Lukianoff was exactly right in the diagnosis he shared with me in 2014. Many young people had suddenly—around 2013—embraced three great untruths:
They came to believe that they were fragile and would be harmed by books, speakers, and words, which they learned were forms of violence (Great Untruth #1).
They came to believe that their emotions—especially their anxieties—were reliable guides to reality (Great Untruth #2).
They came to see society as comprised of victims and oppressors—good people and bad people (Great Untruth #3).
These cognitive distortions then caused them to become more anxious and depressed than other groups. Just as Greg had feared, many universities and progressive institutions embraced these three untruths and implemented programs that performed reverse CBT on young people, in violation of their duty to care for them and educate them. (After Babel)
The Enduring Mystery of ‘Jawn,’ Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun
This is not new, but it’s in keeping with something I shared this week about words with no equivalent in the English language—only this one (allegedly) is English.
(Personal note: I first heard the word “jawn” last summer when my family rented a camper van from Philly on Outdoorsy to spend a weekend on the beach; its owners used the word over and over to describe almost everything, like a verbal Swiss army knife.)
Taylor Jones, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania, was unfamiliar with the bizarre stew of linguistic quirks in Philadelphia when he first started school there. An army brat, it seems like Jones grew up everywhere but eastern Pennsylvania. But one of his first interactions with legendary Penn linguist Bill Labov started him on the road to understanding his new city.
“My introduction to graduate work was being asked about ‘jawn,’” says Jones.
The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.” (Atlas Obscura)