Weekly Link Roundup

+ KFC’s Chizza Is a Chicken-Pizza Mashup with One Looming Question: Why? (The Washington Post): “The Chizza, it turns out, is exactly the sum of its parts. That is, it’s a chicken cutlet — the brined, well-breaded, crisp-fried stuff that the chain is known for — topped with a small amount of pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni slices … so familiar are the visual cues it offers that it doesn’t take much imagination, no matter how much KFC plays up its gimmicky side, to get a sense of what it is and whether you will like it.”

+ Why Rich Shoppers Get So Angry About Hermès (The Atlantic): “Luxury brands … manufacture the illusion of scarcity, which is one reason that limited editions and collaborative releases have become so popular—they impose brief bouts of lack on top of industrial abundance. The regular stuff, which is what most people buy anyway, is still there waiting for you, no matter where you are, if you want to pony up … Buying luxury goods isn’t intoxicating to so many people because they all love fine craftsmanship, or even necessarily because they all want everyone to know exactly how much money they have. At least in part, it’s because arriving at a velvet rope and being let inside is a thrill, and modern luxury businesses have found ways to preserve that feeling while raising the velvet rope for as many paying customers as humanly possible.”

+ A Hit Brand’s ‘One Size Fits Most’ Clothing Is Dividing America’s Teens (The Wall Street Journal): “The chain has 41 of its roughly 50 stores in the U.S. … Annual sales totaled $212.5 million in 2023, up from $169.6 million in 2019 … Abercrombie had $4.3 billion in sales last year. Most of the clothes that Brandy Melville sells are either ‘one size fits most’ or small. The items, such as $18 tank tops and $32 sweatpants, generally cost less than some rivals. It has started to introduce larger sizes, according to customers, and its sweatpants and sweatshirts are oversize and can be worn by a range of body types … Brandy Melville opened its first U.S. store around 2009 in Los Angeles and has been posting on Instagram since 2011 where it often showcases selfies from so-called ‘Brandy girls,’ typically ultrathin blonde teens wearing its T-shirts, tank tops, sweaters and jeans … Hiring is based in part on looks, according to a former employee. Prospective job candidates are asked to pose for photos that are shared with the … managers.”

+ What Happens When TikTok Is Your Marketing Department (The New York Times): “The Pink Stuff joins a jumble of once obscure products that have been transformed by the internet, and TikTok in particular … Sales bumps attained through online glory can be fleeting, though. Just because a new product is hoisted aboard the viral train … doesn’t mean it will stay there.”

+ A Teen’s Fatal Plunge Into the London Underworld (The New Yorker): “London is so beautiful that it can be easy to forget that much of it was built on imperial plunder … in recent decades … the United Kingdom, stripped of its empire, has found a new role as a commodious base for global kleptocrats … a combination of lax regulation, permissive law enforcement, plaintiff-friendly libel laws, discreet accountants, unscrupulous attorneys, deluxe real estate, and venerable schools has turned London into a mecca for moneyed reprobates—a modern-day Casablanca. The London property market offers countless opportunities for someone looking to park a dodgy fortune … London is the capital of pristine façades, often painted in wedding-cake shades of cream or ivory; the city’s dominant aesthetic is literally whitewash … To launder cash—or a reputation—is to mingle the dirty with the clean, and one consequence of London’s new identity as a twenty-four-hour laundromat is that the city is full of crooks with pretensions to legitimacy and businessmen who seem a little crooked.”

+ How Comfort Shows Conquered Streaming TV (The Hollywood Reporter): “… library series (aka shows that ended their run years ago) … The top 10 overall titles in Nielsen’s year-end rankings are all acquired shows, the first time that’s happened in the four years streaming rankings have been publicly available … The top 10 accounted for 339.5 billion minutes of viewing.”

+ Dungeons & Dragons All Started In This Tiny Wisconsin Town (Atlas Obscura): “… the last decade has been among D&D’s best, attributing that success to a variety of factors—popular web series like Critical Role, where viewers are entertained by live game sessions; D&D’s appearance in Stranger Things; last year’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves film; and the pandemic, where people were introduced or reacquainted with D&D and played it in pods or via Zoom. But Gary Gygax never got to see this revival … The Gygax family decided the best way to remember Gary’s legacy was to do what he loved best. After his funeral, they assembled at an American Legion Hall in Lake Geneva This led to Luke envisioning an annual event, Gary Con, that would not only honor his father but other talented TSR game makers.”

+ A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men (The New York Times): “… what often starts as a parent’s effort to jump-start a child’s modeling career, or win favors from clothing brands, can quickly descend into a dark underworld dominated by adult men, many of whom openly admit on other platforms to being sexually attracted to children … Many accounts had a few thousand followers who were mostly female. But while men accounted for about 35 percent of the audience overall, their presence grew dramatically as accounts became more popular. Many with more than 100,000 followers had a male audience of over 75 percent, and a few of them over 90 percent … the gymnast’s mother said, a federal agent told them to stop talking to men online. ‘They told everyone to get off Instagram … You’re in over your head. Get off.’ That’s what they told us.’ “

+ Why Moms Seem to Love Temu (Dwell): “Temu’s ad strategy is the latest in a long history of niche home gadget marketing toward housewives: Take the early 20th-century introduction of Pyrex dishware; the 1959 miracle kitchen,” which turned out to be early Cold War propaganda;‘ … the rise and reign of QVC the pioneering television home shopping network; or the plethora of infomercial-marketed products now distinctive to the turn of the millennium: the Slap Chop, the ShamWow, the Showtime Rotisserie, and the George Foreman Grill. Most if not all of these products were marketed toward housekeeping women as aspirational goods with some level of practical use, as well as a considered aesthetic.”

+ Inditex Pushes Bargain Brand to Counter Shein (The Business of Fashion): “Zara has become less competitive on price since Inditex started hiking prices at its core brand to protect profit margins from inflation and as part of a shift towards more upmarket customers. But the Spanish company is also quietly growing its budget ranges. The expansion of Lefties, which sells €17.99 jeans, dresses for as little as €7.99 ($8.64) and €5.99 handbags, is a key part of that strategy. Lefties, which started life as an outlet for Zara leftovers, now has stores in 17 countries, including Egypt, Mexico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.”

+ Tech Bros Are Returning Their Vision Pros and Keeping Receipts (Gizmodo): “Apple’s Vision Pro seems to be too expensive, headache-inducing, and face-hurting according to tweets from dissatisfied users … While the Vision Pro is beautiful and impressive in many ways, it may take Apple a few more generations to really knock spatial computing out of the park.”

+ The Year Chatbots Were Tamed (The New York Times): “… most chatbots today are doing white-collar drudgery — summarizing documents, debugging code, taking notes during meetings — and helping students with their homework. That’s not nothing, but it’s certainly not the A.I. revolution we were promised. In fact, the most common complaint I hear about A.I. chatbots today is that they’re too boring — that their responses are bland and impersonal, that they refuse too many requests and that it’s nearly impossible to get them to weigh in on sensitive or polarizing topics.”

+ Like some of you, my first (and only) reading of David Copperfield was in early adolescence. I didn’t connect with it the way that I did with A Tale of Two Cities, but I appreciated Dickens’s attempt at the Great American Novel.

In 2022, a voracious reader friend of mine (who happens to be a Barbara Kingsolver completist) recommended Demon Copperhead to me, and sold it as David Copperfield set in (relatively) contemporary Appalachia (specifically Lee County, Virginia). I then put it on my to-read list, where it lingered until last month, when I finally started on the 560-page tome, which took me close to three weeks to finish. While there are certain aspects of the book that broke immersion for me, I never had more than a fleeting thought to abandon it, so this book is more than readable, but the GAN it is not.

I should first confess that I have an embarrassingly limited understanding of Appalachia and its history, so I found myself wondering often how representative Demon’s experience was, especially because his personal tragedies verged on a parade of tropes about rural poverty (which made me feel like a trauma tourist), and I let my skepticism rob me of the suspension of disbelief required to get lost in a novel.

Despite my ignorance, I appreciated how well developed Demon’s voice was in this character-driven work of fiction; he is also an easily likable, if heartbreaking protagonist. I thought the character and world building in the first third of the book was remarkable, but I struggled a lot with the sluggish middle, which felt meandering and clichéd, and the somewhat brusque and equally clichéd ending. However, the thing that I really didn’t enjoy about the book is the trickles of social commentary and the unmistakable author’s voice breaking through–like when Demon used the word “deplorable” to describe himself, or when a character said “hillbilly is like the n-word.” These moments put me on guard, and I found myself searching for more evidence of manipulation–I didn’t find many, but my reading experience was nevertheless diminished.

+ The Day I Put $50,000 in a Shoe Box and Handed It to a Stranger (The Cut): “When I woke up the next morning, a few seconds passed before I remembered the previous day. I was my old self, in my old bed, milky dawn light on the walls. Then it all came crashing back, a fresh humiliation, and I curled into the fetal position. I felt violated, unreliable; I couldn’t trust myself. Were my tendencies toward people-pleasing, rule following, and conflict aversion far worse than I’d ever thought, even pathological? I imagined other people’s reactions. She’s always been a little careless. She seems unhinged. I considered keeping the whole thing a secret. I worried it would harm my professional reputation. I still do.”

+ The Year After A Denied Abortion (ProPublica): “The embryo had been implanted in scar tissue from her recent cesarean section. There was a high chance that the embryo could rupture, blowing open her uterus and killing her, or that she could bleed to death during delivery. The baby could come months early and face serious medical risks, or even die. But the Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v. Wade … By the time Mayron decided to end her pregnancy, Tennessee’s abortion ban — one of the nation’s strictest — had gone into effect. The total ban made no explicit exceptions — not even to save the life of a pregnant patient. Any doctor who violated the ban could be charged with a felony … the same state that questioned Mayron’s fitness to care for her four children forced her to continue a pregnancy that risked her life to have a fifth, one that would require more intensive care than any of the others.”

+ How Two Single Moms Escaped an Alleged Sex-Trafficking Ring and Ultimately Saved Each Other (Cosmopolitan): “As of 2020, an estimated 39 percent of sex-trafficking victims in this country were brought into it by intimate partners—men, in most cases, boyfriends and husbands who exploit the trust and vulnerability of their mostly female victims, constructing sexual economies around them. Through physical force, manipulation, or fraud, those victims are compelled to engage in sex acts for the trafficker’s benefit. That could mean posing for nudes he secretly sells to cover his gambling debts or sleeping with random men off the street so he can score drugs or letting the landlord watch sex acts through the bedroom window as a form of rent payment.”

+ Is the Media Prepared for an Extinction-Level Event? (The New Yorker): “A report that tracked layoffs in the industry in 2023 recorded twenty-six hundred and eighty-one in broadcast, print, and digital news media. NBC News, Vox Media, Vice News, Business Insider, Spotify, theSkimm, FiveThirtyEight, The Athletic, and Condé Nast—the publisher of The New Yorker—all made significant layoffs. BuzzFeed News closed, as did Gawker. The Washington Post, which lost about a hundred million dollars last year, offered buyouts to two hundred and forty employees. In just the first month of 2024, Condé Nast laid off a significant number of Pitchfork’s staff and folded the outlet into GQ; the Los Angeles Times laid off at least a hundred and fifteen workers … Time cut fifteen per cent of its union-represented editorial staff; the Wall Street Journal slashed positions at its D.C. bureau; and Sports Illustrated, which had been weathering a scandal for publishing A.I.-generated stories, laid off much of its staff as well.”

+ The Biggest Supreme Court Case That Nobody Seems to Be Talking About (Slate): “Moody v. NetChoice LLC and NetChoice LLC v. Paxton arise out of the actions that Facebook, Twitter (now X), and other social media companies took in removing Trump from their platforms after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 … In response to the removal of Trump and concern over what they call ‘censorship’ of conservatives, Florida and Texas each passed laws that make content moderation difficult if not impossible for major social media companies … The key First Amendment question is how to treat the platforms when they curate content … The states argue that we should treat social media platforms as ‘common carriers,’ the way we do the phone company. There are laws that forbid the phone company from denying you service because it doesn’t like the messages you might communicate by voice or text.”

+ They Promoted Body Positivity. Then They Lost Weight. (The New York Times): “The body positive movement has recently faltered in a cultural moment where thin is back in thanks in part to the rise of new drugs like Ozempic that are being used for weight loss. Celebrities, models and influencers like Ms. Davis who once celebrated their curves are grappling with how to discuss their smaller bodies, while their followers feel as if they’ve abandoned the causes they used to champion: encouraging people to challenge weight stigma and to accept themselves as they are.”

+ The Billionaire Bully Who Wants to Turn Texas Into a Christian Theocracy (Texas Monthly): “For two decades he has been quietly, methodically, and patiently building a political machine that has pushed Texas forcefully to the right, sending more and more members of the centrist wing of the Republican Party into exile. A 68-year-old oil billionaire, Dunn seeks to transform Texas into something resembling a theocracy … Dunn has said he believes we’re in the midst of a holy battle that pits Christians against those he refers to as Marxists, who he claims want to control all property and take away freedom … In the past two years Dunn has become the largest individual source of campaign money in the state by far … he has given at least $9.85 million since the beginning of 2022. This is nearly all the money he contributed to Texas races over that span and the majority raised by the committee … what Dunn demands from his candidates, even more than electoral victory, is fealty … He is chief executive of CrownQuest Operating. While not well-known outside oil-industry circles, it controls a significant portion of the Permian Basin. In 2022 it was the eighth-largest oil producer in Texas. It operated wells that pumped out about 35 million barrels that year, worth more than $3 billion. In December, Occidental Petroleum agreed to purchase the company’s wells and oil reserves for $12 billion, including assumption of debt. Dunn and his family own about 20 percent of these assets. They stand to collect a windfall worth a couple billion dollars. Once the sale is completed, Dunn presumably will have more time—and more money—for his political interests.”

+ Recently purchased: House of CB Christiana Floral Minidress, Theory Belted Military Dress, J.Crew Pleated Mini Sweater-Skirt, J.Crew Fitted Tank Dress with Poplin Bubble Skirt, The Keira Collared Button-Front Blouse by Pilcro, Mille Violetta Ruffle Tie Waist Dress, STAUD Moon Raffia Tote Bag, PAIGE Samosa Dress, Banana Republic Ness Pleated Satin Midi Dress, and Open Edit Lace Trim Slipdress.

Have a good week, everyone!

Hi, I am Elle!

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