How in the hellfire

This week: Amazon, Atari, audiobooks, Taylor Swift cats and disgraced pranksters

I am nostalgic for a time when our fake holidays involved “appreciating” other people. Now it’s 2021, the world lives and shops at the mercy of Jeff Bezos, and we celebrate Prime Day by purchasing nihilistically useless crap like lights for our toilet bowls.

Of course Amazon invented a festival of stupid spending. Amazon’s only goal is to make you buy stuff. What’s stranger to me is that lots of other companies, with far loftier goals — sayyyy, the education of an informed reading public — also shill for Prime Day like their bottom lines depend on it.

CNN will tell you which Amazon lightbulbs to buy. Wired highly recs this electronic toothbrush. There are round-ups for fathers, foodies and fashionistas (plus counter-programming, for the skeptical among us!)

In fairness, online media is a cruel and dirty game, a tiny piece of your soul may well be worth a tinier cut of Amazon’s profits. But I feel like we should maybe talk a little more about the fact that some of the same media organizations flogging Amazon for brutal labor practices and profligate waste also spend the third week of June running bottomless free Amazon advertisements.

P.S. A much longer, sobbier version of May 28’s intro — re: mourning my dog through Facebook groups — appeared Wednesday in Input. (As always, I am *feverishly* grateful to the assigning editors who read this newsletter.)

P.P.S. Big news from my corner of the world this week: Buffalo is well on its way to electing the only socialist mayor in the country. I am delighted to see my city make the news for something other than football, snow, racism and chicken wings!

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If you read anything this weekend

  1. He Thought He Could Outfox the Gig Economy. He Was Wrong,” by Lauren Smiley in Wired. You might’ve already heard the story of Jeffrey Fang, the DoorDasher whose car was stolen last year with his two kids in the back. But you almost definitely have not heard the full saga of “gig life despair” that Fang’s story represents.

  2. Cancel Amazon Prime,” by Ellen Cushing in The Atlantic. Last weekend I ate a gigantic, beautiful steak that a friend bought on sale at Whole Foods. It was the closest I’ve ever come to reconsidering Prime, which we cancelled a few years ago. For better or worse, however, I *then* encountered this very convincing argument against the diabolical genius of “a product whose value proposition is to help you buy more products.” (If the products are really good steaks tho? Nah?)

  3. David Dobrik Was the King of YouTube. Then He Went Too Far,” by EJ Dickson in Rolling Stone. A great profile of fallen prankster David Dobrik, for those who aren’t familiar, but also a surprisingly thought-provoking read on sincerity and performance in the age of YouTube and what viewers want from entertainment. “Everyone likes to look at a car crash … That’s what the internet is. People love to see chaos. And it’s all fun and games till you’re in the car crash.”

  4. I Probably Modeled Him on Something I’d Heard on The Wire,” by Laura Miller in Slate. On the racial reckoning in the audiobook industry, where white actors have for decades voiced characters from other backgrounds (… often very offensively!!).

  5. Don't Piss Off Bradley, the Parts Seller Keeping Atari Machines Alive,” by Steve Kupferman in Vice. This is the highest compliment: I could not possibly care less about Atari, retro-tech enthusiasts or video games generally, but I somehow could not stop reading this very (!) entertaining profile of a crotchety, eccentric Atari parts monopolist.

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Dark fish. Snowbirds. “The internet’s walk-in clinic.” Twitch is preserving rare languages and #FreeBritney is vindicated. The soothing, sinister world of TikTok productivity hacks. The crusading, capitalist experiment at Bitcoin Beach. I have in fact wondered how in the hellfire Disney’s “Hunchback” scored a G rating.

What became of Andrew Yang. How Rebekah Neumann put the woowoo in WeWork. Netflix dating shows have at last gone too far (… and I watched both “Love is Blind” AND “The Circle”). Please shout this from the office rooftops: “Creative collisions” are a myth!!!!! Last but very much not least: “Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, among others, have more control over our voices than we did.”

That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.

— Caitlin