Best of TLB Online 2017: Commentary

Image by Craig Howell. Reproduced under the Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

2017 is moseying on out so it's just about time for the TLB Online team to take our short holiday break. But before we do, we'd like to look back one last time at the incredible work we've published this year.

We asked our online editors to nominate their very favourite commentary pieces and series of the year and whittled them down to a mean, lean list of thirteen.

These gems will help you stave off holiday boredom for a little while at least. But if you burn through them – and who could blame you? – you can check out our commentary page or search our archive for more incredible articles.

Without further ado, here are the commentary pieces that have blown us away this year, in chronological order. Czech 'em out.

‘Brown Cardigan McGuires You: Mainstream Memelords, the Libertarian Laugh, and How Things End with a Joke, Not a Whimper’, by Alex Griffin.

Things are, necessarily, more complex than ever: we kid ourselves if we pretend our responses to the world around us aren’t complex, and we delude ourselves if our actions don’t attempt to take all of them into account before we act. Smuggling racism, classism, ableism, any -ism you name into the ambiguous shape of the feed as it does, can we regard Brown Cardigan as really a step removed from older forms of popular comic racism? ... We are deluding ourselves to think that a meme feed that simply offers juxtapositions is free of or outside politics, or political responsibility. Memes are culture, memes are interpretation, memes are power, and increasingly, memelords manage all three, all in the black measure of pleasure. If the right to laugh unambiguously at the ambiguous is given credence over the complexity of the problems themselves, we are scrolling past the point.

‘Ironic Sexism: The Male Gaze of Hipster Spaces’, by Emma Pitman

Just when classic sexism is looking more and more like a bloated old guy at the pub sweating with glee over an innuendo, in saunters his nephew, ironic sexism. He looks damn cool. He literally never takes off his sunglasses because he hates earnest eye contact and can’t risk someone springing it on him. He manages to appear defiant despite the fact that he powerfully maintains the status quo. He reads Vice, is in a book club with mostly women and can wax lyrical about contemporary misogyny and corporate control, all while looking like Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1999. While his uncle is harassing a young woman, ironic sexism swaggers up to her, laughs dismissively at the outdated, greasy approach, and then proceeds to continue objectifying her, but with self-awareness and a wink that make you almost forget they’re essentially doing the same thing.

Women in Sport: ‘The Physical is Feminine’, by Brunette Lenkić

Active women can change the world. And that might be why, over the centuries, they have been strapped into corsets, bustles and stilettos, or had their feet bound, necks extended and genitals mutilated. Such physical constraints in the name of fashion or religion suggest at a deeper level that if women weren’t tethered, they might escape. It has been a continuing challenge for girls and women to be allowed to run, jump, throw, catch, hit, chase, form teams and compete freely. Some of the obstacles that constrict female roles in wider society are particularly visible in the sporting arena because sport poses the question: what are bodies for?

'Arts Coverage in Australia: How Fucked Really Are We?', by Anwen Crawford, Alison Croggon and Anders Furze

Anwen: We often talk about the crisis in media as if it hasn’t been partly caused by the media itself, but it has. I’m not talking about individual journalists here. I am talking about the kind of financing and profit models that have shaped mainstream media, and which influence the stories that get told, and how they get told. And of course this narrowing of coverage is becoming even more narrow, now that digital metrics etc. dictate what gets published in the first place. We need to break out of this model, somehow, and (re)invent a model of media that is financially sustainable but not necessarily for profit.

'Making A Murderino: A Feminist Dissection of True Crime', by Aimee Knight

Statistically, women have a greater fear – yet less experience – of violent crime, compared to men. This is likely because women are subject to a surfeit of less visible violence and aggression, which often goes unreported. Do we turn to true crime to steel ourselves against future victimisation? Or do we live in fear thanks to the narratives we impute? I choose to believe the former.

Either way, I’ve now outlived the primary and secondary age brackets in which women are more likely to be abducted and/or sexually assaulted. For this, I’m relieved. For its implications, I’m sickened.

And what if I only made it this far on account of my hyper-vigilance? The day I don’t take note of the nearest exit could be my undoing. So I’ll continue eyeing every room for the closest weapon to hand. If pushed, I will pepper spray first, apologise later.

'150.Action: Gentrifying Space with the Revolutionary Potential of Fresh Blood and Sinew', by Sam West

I was standing behind someone with freshly shampooed hair when the fish were hacked apart so I inhaled this weird Pantene-and-fish-gut scent. At that point my girlfriend whispered a good joke about MasterChef getting weird this year. I wanted to laugh but stifled it. For hours now it’s like we’ve all been in a silent agreement to just furrow our brows and keep the quips to a murmur. Maybe it’s out of respect for all the animal rights protestors holding shame mirrors up at us on the way in. Maybe it’s because it’s goofy to laugh at something you’re not quite getting. Or maybe goofy is the wrong word. Because it’s my understanding that affecting art does one of two things (hopefully both): it helps you arrive at a new, sometimes life-changing, understanding of the world or it creates a transcendent space where understanding isn’t possible (but that’s okay because it’s nice not having to think).

'Buffalo in the Path of Totality', by Jack Vening

The last trip I’d taken to America I wore hope on me like a sail. I experienced the country in the breathless way of someone who could afford to ignore its problems. I left work and found work.

Now, I couldn’t do anything but look for omens wherever I went: the same motorcyclist circling a two-block radius around Michigan Avenue, Detroit, for an hour. A garbage can filled with fireflies. A Coopers Hawk arriving to pull worms out of the ground at a cold state-beach in Monterey as Sophie peed onto the sand. An American buffalo standing over its unmoving calf in the shadow of a mountain; a dead deer, white eyed and bent like a paper-clip, on the dirt road that runs by the lime acetate factory, its nose pointing the way back to our motel – never in my life was there a smell so filling.

'Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks, Toxic Masculinity and Resolving My Love of Lynch', by Timmah Ball

'A couple of times he’s tried to kill me, but guess what? I sure got off on it. Isn’t sex weird?’ In David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer’s unsettling conversation with her therapist achingly captures the peculiar sexual atmosphere that festers through the small town. Considering that Laura is a male creation, imagined by David Lynch, there is something particularly uncomfortable about this admission in an era where violence against women is on the rise. Despite these unnerving elements, the show remains alluring to me. A dead girl, wrapped in plastic is the main draw card to the show, yet I watched eagerly as a teenager, enamored by the brutal romances. I’m not the only one; in Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks, Diana Hume George writes “I was instantly hooked...I lived for Thursday Nights, taped the episodes for repeated frissons.” David Lynch’s male gaze presents women in various clichéd troupes: victim, slut, good girl gone bad or, in the ultimate objectification, just dead.

'A Rock the Size of My Fist', by Jennifer Down

Some research suggests that that high levels of schizotypy – a cluster of personality traits which are evident, in varying degrees, in us all – are positively associated with creativity. Moreover, self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety have been shown to be positively associated with psychometric ratings of schizotypy. But while a variety of studies have demonstrated a correlation between creativity and psychopathology, this link is not necessarily causative, if, in fact, it exists at all...
The painter Edvard Munch was famously fearful that, cured of his illness, he would no longer be an artist: “[Treatment] would destroy my art. I want to keep those sufferings.” But a century on, we know more about mental illness, though there is undoubtedly much more research to be done. For centuries, people have made art despite their depression, not because of it.

‘I Can’t Stop Crying…’(parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven), by Quinn Eades

I can’t stop crying. Not a sob, not a weep, not a howl, this is a leak. You send me a link: 100,000 people registered on the electoral roll last night. For a moment I am elated: 100,000 people saying yes. The warmth of your thigh, my knee pressing in. And then I think: what if that’s 100,000 people registering so they can say no? The moment I write about the warmth of your thigh, my knee, you adjust yourself, fold your arms differently, and now there is a cold patch where you were. The purple pink light sends four shadows onto my page. I think about that slogan ‘love makes a family’. I think about a twenty-seven second video I have of Zach when he was four singing, “Can you feel it, can you feel that lo-ooove?” and feel sounds like fool. Can you fool that love?

'The Mean Reds: an Ode to Maggie Nelson', by Tanya Vavilova

Red things: buoys, fire trucks, fire hydrants, fire blankets, stop lights, letter boxes, emergency signs, power and abort buttons. They are red because you are supposed to notice them – and at first glance. The colour signals danger, demands attention.

Which brings me back to blood. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s good to be aware of bleeding. Blood loss can signal serious injury or death. So we’re careful with the rock, with the blade, with the gun. The problem for me is that, on some days, I can’t even cope with a paper cut.

Please do not try to offer me advice. Believe me, I’ve tried it, whatever you’re about to suggest, I’ve tried it.

'I See, I See', by Fury

On a train home one night, a man began to watch me. It was a type of watching that, by design, was supposed to fuck with me, to put me in my place. Slumped comfortably in his seat, arms crossed and legs spread, he looked at me like this was a theatre – like he’d payed for me to perform and he was here to get his dollar’s worth; he was the type who would write a bad review, no matter what you did.

I looked back at him, something that usually works to shame someone who looks, but he didn’t turn away. I held his gaze as long as I could before my anxiety consumed me like a wave. I went into my backpack, pulled out my sketchpad, and began drawing him openly. Caught in my gaze, he looked away. Unsatisfied and furious, I kept sketching. He shifted in his seat. He began glancing at me furtively. By the next stop, he got off the train.

'Damage in four parts: Concerto and Reprise' (parts one, two, three and four), by Piriye Altraide

Am I afraid to speak naturally what I think and as I think, to use the language, the structure, the process that makes sense… the way that makes sense, because it is not the hegemony’s way? Because it is not the academic white-Australian way? Am I afraid to speak my mind which relates to the sum of the thoughts that haunt my experience to date the sum of past experiences my battle and fight to become, directly proportional to the extent of oppression suffering to the point of the extension to theorise to hypothesise to display to equate everything has a theory theory has everything can be demonstrated such that the sum of the oppressions and extent of lived experience is

∑ E
∝SO^2 where {T┤ ⋂_O^S E ∞, and vice versa

… and so, and over, and then…

I am trapped inside a story.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Best of The Lifted Brow Review of Books, which will collect the best reviews to be posted to the site in 2018.

Reminder: if you’d like to write for TLB Online in 2018, we’d love to hear from you – we’ll still be accepting pitches for Commentary pieces and The Lifted Brow Review of Books pieces over the break.