Slate Plus

What Happened at Slate This Week?

Senior editor Forrest Wickman read a few skeptical takes about Trump, Pope Francis, and #BannedBooksWeek.

Image by Slate.

Image by Slate

Hey, what’s up, hello,

First of all, thank goodness Fetty Wap is OK, so we can all keep making stale references to that song without getting all teary.

I’m Forrest Wickman, and I’m a senior editor for Slate. This isn’t my first Slate Plus rodeo, so I’ll keep my self-introduction brief. I write and edit primarily for our culture blog, Brow Beat, and I also edit Slate’s music coverage—which means I get to work with people like Carl Wilson, who was a journalistic hero of mine long before I started at Slate. As for my own articles, I write (and research and quiz and emoji and 8-bit game and algebraically theorize) about everything from movies and books and TV and music to dirty words and backpack etiquette. I’m also the reason that your social media feeds may have recently been overflowing with photos of deadly animals hiding in America’s toilets. (I’m sorry, but not really. The threat is real.)

The biggest news this week, on the culture side of things, was the debut of Trevor Noah as the new host of The Daily Show. Noah began the show by promising that he would “continue the war on bullshit” that his predecessor waged for more than 16 years. As it happens, the “war on bullshit” seems like a pretty good theme for this newsletter, since one of the top reasons I love Slate is its own willingness to examine things with a skeptical eye.

Take Banned Books Week. As Ruth Graham pointed out in a timely article this week, it’s poppycock. Something else I’ve long wondered but never dared to ask is this: Why do so many Americans think they have Cherokee blood? Spoiler: It’s mostly bunk. One of my favorite segments on one of my favorite Slate podcasts is “Is This Bullshit?” on The Gist, and this week the show got to test its Official BS-Detector, Maria Konnikova, in front of a live audience. (If you couldn’t make it, look for it in your podcast feeds next week.) Hopefully you already knew that anything people say to assure themselves that slavery wasn’t that bad is baloney, but thankfully there’s also a guide (courtesy of the folks behind our great Slate Academy!) to debunking a few all-too-common myths.

Needless to say, Donald Trump is definitely bullshit, and, as Jamelle Bouie argued in a sharp historical comparison, his specific brand of cattle dung is most redolent of George Wallace. That was one of my favorite stories from our politics team this week, though I also enjoyed the way that the pope’s visit with Kim Davis gave the lie to the idea that Francis is some sort of cuddly, rainbow-wearing unicorn (a common bit of liberal folklore that Will Saletan was already dismantling while the pope was still inbound).

If this were a level in Super Mario Bros. (custom or otherwise), this would be the part where the music started to speed up, so I’ll use what space I have left to squeeze in just a few other stories. The Martian may or not be hokum, but I can attest to Dana Stevens’ judgment that it is, at worst, satisfying hokum. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ta-Nehisi Coates are MacArthur-certified geniuses, which is definitely not bullshit. That makes this a good time to read Jack Hamilton’s great review of Between the World and Me or my own post on Miranda’s carefully placed references to DMX. Finally, I loved Laura Bennett’s in-detail look at whether Jonathan Franzen’s latest sex scenes are a bunch of humbuggery, even if I fiercely disagreed with some of her assessments. (That squirrel sex was totally plausible!)

Happy fall (or autumn?),


P.S. As my boss Dan Kois would surely like me to remind you, this is the best topic tag on the Internet.