Our favorite stories of the week, featuring the London Review of Books, New York magazine, Medium, Texas Monthly, and the Morning News.
Four men from rival gangs launch a hunger strike protesting the conditions of solitary confinement:
The severity of his isolation meant that as the strike began, Ashker had little idea of what effect it was having or how many other prisoners had decided to join him. It turned out to be the largest coordinated hunger strike in American history. On the first day, 30,000 prisoners across the state refused their meals. Three days in, more than 11,000 still had not eaten. “We had expected hundreds, even thousands,” says Dr. Ricki Barnett, a senior official in the state’s correctional health-care system. “We did not expect tens of thousands.”
From the beginning, even the most basic matters about the strike—what Ashker and the others were after, why so many people joined them, what the strike demonstrated—were opaque, and profoundly disputed. To the prisoners and their supporters, this was a protest against barbaric treatment, and the SHU was both an outrage in itself and a symbol of the arbitrariness and brutality of the prison system across the nation.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 26, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7106 words)
While reporting for The New York Times, Kevin Roose went undercover and snuck into an exclusive annual dinner party for Kappa Beta Phi, Wall Street's Secret Society. [Excerpted from Roose's book, Young Money]:
Bill Mulrow, a top executive at the Blackstone Group (who was later appointed chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Agency), and Emil Henry, a hedge fund manager with Tiger Infrastructure Partners and former assistant secretary of the Treasury, performed a bizarre two-man comedy skit. Mulrow was dressed in raggedy, tie-dye clothes to play the part of a liberal radical, and Henry was playing the part of a wealthy baron. They exchanged lines as if staging a debate between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. (“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Henry shouted. “My God, you callow, insensitive Republican! Don’t you know what we need to do? We need to create jobs,” Mulrow shot back.)
PUBLISHED: Feb. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2258 words)
In the early '90s, Mike Jeffries gave struggling retailer Abercrombie and Fitch new life by selling a specific kind of lifestyle to teenage shoppers who "wanted to belong." Times have changed, and the retailer needs to as well:
Until relatively recently, Abercrombie’s numerous press scandals followed a predictable pattern: a flood of petitions and angry phone calls; an army of talking heads on cable TV complaining about the pernicious influence of the brand; and then silence. Consumers seemed to accept that Abercrombie’s gleefully offensive vibe was part of the package, and the company’s bottom line was never truly threatened.
But sensibilities have since evolved; casual prejudice is not as readily tolerated. Today’s teens are no longer interested in “the elite, cool-kid thing” to the extent that they once were, says Gordon, the Michigan professor. “This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.” And with the help of social media, for the first time critics have succeeded in putting Abercrombie on the defensive. Last year, blogger Jes Baker drew blood with her spoof photo series “Attractive & Fat,” which satirized the iconic Bruce Weber images. A video of activist Greg Karber distributing Abercrombie clothing to homeless people has been viewed upwards of 8 million times on YouTube.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 9, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4213 words)
The producer reflects on how he keeps up with the Saturday Night Live schedule, and how Jimmy Fallon will handle the new Tonight Show:
Conan was an easy decision for me. Both Jay and Dave were essentially my generation—they were boomers. I thought the smart move was to drop down a generation, but if you’re looking at 30 or 28, there’s no one with any experience. I’m more used to putting someone on who’s never been on television before than most people, and that was the bet with Conan. He got roughed up badly, but he came through. The mantra that I used to say to him was, “The longer you’re on, the longer you’re on.” After a while, he just became part of the landscape.
But I think there’s always an alpha, and Dave—he invented late night. Both Jimmy Kimmel and Conan grew up under Dave, to the extent that I grew up under Carson. With Jimmy, and to some degree Seth, I think they were much more influenced by SNL. Jimmy’s not ironic.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4878 words)
Examining the case and trial of Gilberto Valle, AKA the "cannibal cop," a New York police officer who fantasized about kidnapping, killing, and eating women he knew with strangers, but who never acted on any of his plans:
On August 24, they discussed ways that Valle might kidnap another woman, Kristen Ponticelli, a recent graduate of Valle’s old high school whom he never met personally (Valle’s lawyers assume he just noticed her photo on Facebook). The next day, they moved on to Andria Noble. “If Andria lived near me, she would be gone by now,” Valle wrote. “Even if I get caught, she would be worth it.”
But there was no physical evidence from Valle’s home suggesting he was getting ready to kidnap or cook anyone—no oven large enough for a human, no cleaver, no homemade chloroform. Prosecutors had no proof he had a place in the mountains. They had no proof that Valle knew the identities of the three people he was chatting with. Valle never divulged the last names of any of the people whose photos he passed along (not even his wife’s) and never gave out any of their addresses, even after Moody Blues specifically requested one, and he haphazardly switched up details about their life stories and college educations.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4858 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring Gary Greenberg, Missouri Review, New York magazine, The Atlantic and The New York Times.
A daughter regrets the lie that sent her father to prison:
When he asks Chaneya why she told officials at the medical clinic that her father had sexually assaulted her, she gives the same answer three times: “I don’t know.”
When he asks what she’d say to the judge if he interrogated her about why she lied, she doesn’t quite answer the question, instead saying, “I want my father to come back home.”
The interview ends after 25 minutes, but then her grandmother asks one final question: Where did the story that she told on the witness stand come from?
“I just made it up,” she says.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5595 words)
This week's picks from Emily include stories from Vulture, New York magazine, The Rumpus, and The New Inquiry.