As the digital media bubble pops, journalism is in "panic" mode. Read our take.
Senior Research Editor
Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Vivian Maier's massive collection of street photography remained hidden from the public eye until a Chicago realtor named John Maloof stumbled across boxes of her negatives at an auction house in 2007. After amassing more negatives and finally googling her, he learned that she had made her living as a nanny and had died a few days earlier at age 83. She left an oeuvre of intimate glimpses of people caught in everyday moments, as seen in this 2011 Mother Jonescollection of her work.
Now, Maloof has joined with Charles Siskel and Submarine Entertainment to produce Finding Vivian Maier, a documentary due out later this year. The film draws on Super-8 footage shot by Maier as well as interviews with friends, family, and neighbors that expose more details of Maier's life and work. Discovering the real Maier is a challenge; as one of her friends put it, "she was a closed person" and also because most people she knew "had no idea she took photographs." About the film, one friend insists Maier "would've hated every minute of it. She would never have let this happen." Yet, says Siskel, "Vivian's story is as powerful as her art" and he hopes the documentary "will bring her the recognition she deserves."
Minnesota's iconic moose are in such bad shape that the state called off the 2013 hunting season on Wednesday. The heartiest herd, located in the northeastern region of the state, is down to around 2,700 animals, a 35 percent drop from last year and a startling 65 percent drop since 2008. Though the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources canceled hunting season, it stressed that hunters are not to blame for this worrisome news. "The state's moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter," said MDNR commissioner Tom Landwehr. "It reaffirms the conservation community's need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing."
Though the sharp decline has state officials somewhat baffled, many members of the conservation community feel climate change is at fault. Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, put it this way: "With the high temperatures in the summer, moose seek out shelter rather than feeding. Nutritional status declines, and they become more vulnerable to disease and parasites. It's like a person who smokes is much more vulnerable to other diseases, and that can be associated with mortality."
Women who morph into furred silkworms enslaved by the Japanese empire; vampires that rely on the "soothing blankness" of lemons to blot out their bloodlust; hoarder seagulls that stash scraps from the future in trees. Such are the strange creatures in Karen Russell's suspenseful new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which comes out next week.
Russell, 31, first made waves with the short-story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves, unleashed in 2006 as she graduated from Columbia's MFA program. Her 2011 novel Swamplandia!, about a family running a threadbare alligator theme park in the Everglades, was a Pulitzer finalist last year (though no book received enough votes to win). And as her new collection hits bookstore shelves, Russell is already hard at work on her next novel, set in the Dust Bowl era. Though she was pretty tight-lipped about it, her story "Proving Up" in Vampires hints at the spooky Americana she's capable of.
In our early morning chat, Russell recalled Flannery O'Connor's reading of Kafka's Metamorphosis: "The truth is not distorted here, but rather a certain distortion is used to get to the truth." O'Connor may as well have been talking about Russell, whose tales flirt with the fantastical, but are rooted in darker realities—loss of innocence, PTSD, all-consuming ambition. Even as she transforms the everyday into a wriggling bestiary, replete with colorful hallucinations and ghosts, her most haunting bits rely on the depiction of human impulses. I asked a "coffee'd up" Russell about the wellspring of her imagination, her swampy backyard, and breaking into the literary treehouse.
Mother Jones: When did you start to think seriously about writing fiction?
Karen Russell: I took a fiction-writing workshop my sophomore year at Northwestern, and I hadn't yet read Junot Díaz or George Saunders, Flannery O'Connor. There was something so attractive about those voices. I heard about an [MFA program], and it just sounded like this magic thing, fairy-tale style—that there was a school you could go to exclusively for the thing you loved. I moved to New York with the derangement of love. I was writing all these terrible stories, but I had never been happier.
In a memorable Portlandia episode, a pretentious couple prods a server for absurd details about the locally sourced chicken on the menu. With all our passion for food sustainability, asks Saru Jayaraman, shouldn't we consider the cooks, runners, and servers who prep our pampered poultry? Jayaraman shows us the dark side of the food industry, which hosts 7 out of the 10 lowest-paid jobs in America, where the federal minimum wage for tipped employees has stood frozen for decades at $2.13 an hour—even as employers pilfer tips, deprive workers of benefits, and allow workplace harassment and prejudice.
Amidst a busy week at the Mother Jones San Francisco office, five of us gathered late-night, burritos in hand, to watch a sneak preview of Season 2 of Girls. Despite all being twentysomethings and female, not all of us feel like we can identify with main characters Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), and the others portrayed in this series about friendship, sex, and ambition in New York City. (Zaineb Mohammed warned us at the start that she hate-watches the show.) Nevertheless, we couldn't let DC-based film critic and infamous naysayer Asawin Suebsaeng be the sole proprieter of MoJo's critical take on Girls. (See his takedown of Season 1, former MoJo fellow Maya Dusenbery's response, and his slightly less acidic takedown of Season 2—though he still considers the show "a crime against humanity." Really, Swin?)
We weren't blown away by the first episode. But sit tight. The series gets better—full of sharp dialogue and humor, awkward intimacy, experimentation with love and drugs, and self-realization or lack thereof—by the fourth episode. Swin thought some of those less glamorous moments came off sleepy: We felt that, even when imperfect, they were thought-provoking—and, at the very least, refreshing. (As Sarah Zhang put it: "Yes, thank you, awkward parties!"). And as you'll see below, the show is fodder for great debate, which in itself makes it worth a view. (Warning: minor spoilers sprinkled throughout).