Cocktail Chatter

Wal-Mart Sexism, Tina Fey, and the Future of Facebook

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Is Facebook a Fad? What social networks will look like in 5 years,” by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo returns to round out Cocktail Chatter with an assessment of Facebook’s staying power. Will Google emerge as a credible alternative, or is all of our social networking destined to take place in Mark Zuckerberg’s shadow?

Ceci N’Est Pas une Pop Star: The avant-garde brilliance of Britney Spears,” by Jody Rosen. The flesh-and-blood woman behind the music has never seemed so elusive. With her new album, Britney flees the land of the living to inhabit an Autotuned Otherworld of eroticized bass lines and controlling synths. Someone call Walter Benjamin.

Liberating Libya: Obama’s rationale for the Libya campaign will force him to expand it,” by William Saletan.  The president’s clear-eyed speech on Libya outlined important goals for the region, but they won’t be realized unless Western forces ratchet up the military pressure.

What Was the New York Times Magazine Like 100 Years Ago?: For one thing, there was a lot more clown coverage,” by David Friedman. One man’s research leads him to a rich store of century-old articles,. The stories tackle topics like  the plight of circus clowns , hunting in Central Park and Thomas Edison’s (sadly pessimistic) theory of the soul.

Libya’s Rebels: Approach with Caution: What comes after the air war?” by Daniel Byman. It makes tactical sense for Obama to pursue a policy of arming the Libyan opposition, but can we be certain the troops we help train won’t turn on us later?

Simon Winchester: The historian as tour guide,” by Nathan Heller. Heller is unimpressed by Simon Winchester’s manicured oeuvre: “His accounts of the past, like glossy lifestyle dispatches, simulate for readers the experience of discovery while keeping them at a spectator’s safe distance,” he writes. Affable and superficial, Winchester paradoxically strikes a nerve with his new book on Alice in Wonderland, in which he papers over Lewis Carroll’s alleged pedophilia.    

Play Nice: The rise—and fall?—of the mean sitcom,” by Joanna Weiss. With Two and a Half Men on the outs, it seems that American viewers are ready to embrace a kinder breed of TV show. Is heartwarming the new cynical? And what does this mean for The Family Guy’s Stewie?

Wall of Sound: The iPod has changed the way we listen to music. And the way we respond to it,” by Nikil Saval. Those ubiquitous white earbuds have a deeper impact on our culture than we like to imagine.  In his essay, excerpted from N+1, the writer says they may be shaping  both our taste in music (“As certain foodies score points by having eaten everything—blowfish, yak milk tea, haggis, hot dogs—so the person who knows and likes all music achieves a curious sophistication-through-indiscriminateness”) and our relationship to silence.

Everyday Discrimination: Why the Wal-Mart sex bias lawsuit is the most important case the Supreme Court will hear this year,” by Richard Thompson Ford.  Wal-Mart is facing a class-action suit by 1.5 million women  for its discriminatory hiring practices. But is collective action the best way to address a constellation of different grievances? And will the size of the suit prevent justice from being served?

Tiny Fey’s Tough Girl Feminism: The rough humor in Fey’s new book Bossypants is exactly what the movement needs,” by Katie Roiphe. For most of us, the knee-jerk response to sexism (or any other –ism) is rarely a joke so perfectly crafted, so coy, that it can peel back layers of discrimination and make us laugh while doing it. But Fey’s brand of humor is redefining girl power—and putting the feminist punch back in “punchline.”

The Future of Home Entertainment: When will we get all our devices to play nicely together?” by Farhad Manjoo. If only you didn’t have to tap complex strings of Morse Code into 16 keypads to watch Netflix on your TV. Lifting the veil on a brave new world of universal remotes, Manjoo ponders the simplification of consumer electronics.