Sports

Did Joe Biden Try to Have Tiger Woods Assassinated?

What do GameStop, Reddit, Tiger Woods, and Joe Biden all have in common? This insane conspiracy theory.

Update 7/15/2021: As predicted, Bishop Larry Gaiters has added another name to the Deep State Democrat's ledger of violence against Black celebrities. Along with Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, Gaiters now claims that they targetted Chadwick Bosman.

Though this time he at least changed the script slightly by pointing to an actor rather than another athlete, the government's dark agenda is always the same: silencing Black conservatives. And what's so insidious is that they always manage to strike before anyone even knows that the celebrities in question are conservatives.

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In my life, there have been two celebrity deaths that shook me to the core. Those were the deaths of Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant.

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Hip-Hop legend Snoop Dogg is rap's cool uncle.

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CULTURE

From Baby Groot to Baby Yoda, Why Infantilized Characters Are Cultural Setbacks

TLDR: Baby Nut is a fascist and a threat to civil liberties.

First, we were bewitched by Marvel's Baby Groot in 2017, then Disney's Baby Yoda became our new god in 2019, and during the 2020 Super Bowl we witnessed the sprouting of an infantile, talking legume: Planters Peanuts' Baby Nut.

But do we want to adopt these infant forms of beloved cultural icons–or become them? Do they satiate our compulsion to parent or be parented, ourselves?

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As a marketing tactic, advertisers have been using mascots as brand ambassadors since the advent of visual media. Decades of research have revealed that mascots boost sales and public image by humanizing a product and banking on the public's emotional investment in the character. Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said that the concept for Baby Nut was bizarrely inspired by Game of Thrones' Jon Snow: "There is this renewed appreciation for these fictional characters after their death, and then they come back with a renewed sense of purpose to what they're doing, which helps to set up something bigger and a little bit different."

But recently we've amped up a worrisome trend that's been tracked by nail-biting social scientists for decades: the infantilization of American consumers.

To start with, look at the last decade of unprecedented success for children's and comic book movies. With every release we've asked, "Who is this for?" but masses have flocked to them, making superhero movies and remakes of Disney children's classics the most profitable releases nearly every year; in 2019 alone, comic book and animated movies accounted for 9 of the 10 highest grossing films (and seven of the top 10 in both 2018 and 2017). For another, frankly more perplexing, example, remember a few years ago when adult women suddenly wanted to be mermaids? "I Am a Mermaid" merchandise was worn as if womanhood was one long, unedited Disney Channel movie. And with a spike in the popularity of tattoo chokers and emo music, the resurgence of '90s pop culture was synced with millennials hitting adulthood hard and, apparently, experiencing crushing nostalgia for childhood.

But the trend goes back further. In his 2014 article "The Death of Adulthood in American Culture," The New York Times' film critic A.O. Scott critiques film and TV of this millennium for demonstrating that "adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable." He asks, "Who or what killed adulthood? Was the death slow or sudden? Natural or violent? The work of one culprit or many? Justifiable homicide or coldblooded murder?" As a critic of the media landscape, he says he's watched "over the last 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises...that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart."

Is this just art providing escapism, so business as usual? Not quite. Social theorist Jacopo Bernardini argues that one of the four primary reasons why infantilizing cultural artifacts appeal to the masses is because of the "nostalgia effect, trying to find stability in past experiences, because [an] adult already knows how it is to be a kid or a teenager" and, judging by 21th century media, nobody knows what being an "adult" even means anymore.

"I Don't Wanna Grow Up: I'm a Toys R Us Kid"

So, what happened? Cultural rewinds are part of the natural cycle of fashion and style, but they're also birthed from frustration and stagnation, be it economic or social. Bored social scientists have found that we, as a culture, are especially prone to indulge in nostalgia during times of transition, of upset and instability. So how has pop culture's absorption of recent social, political, and economic turmoil resulted in the so-called "death of adulthood?" Or in the killing and rebirthing of classic pop characters?

Bernardini would attribute companies' babifying of their icons to "the role of marketing in the infantilization of the postmodern adult." For one thing, today's media-saturated, Very Online world run by our robot overlords has not only rerouted our brains to work like mini-optimized search engines; it's also encouraged our desires for immediate gratification, shortened attention spans, and emphasized impulsivity over practicality. In other words, we're being socialized to stave off adulthood. In Simon Gottschalk's book The Terminal Self, he argues that "our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture's infantile tendencies."

In fact, the American National Academy of Sciences once suggested that modern teenage development doesn't end until age 30, while the USA Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine has suggested that practical adulthood begins around 34 years old. What this translates to, in terms of our consumer habits, is a booming market targeting kidults, a term first used in The New York Times in 1985 to describe a biological adult whose lifestyle affords them the leisure and resources to indulge in the hobbies of childhood and exist in a protracted adolescence, whether that means occupying one's time with cartoons and video games or drowning oneself in glitter and flip sequins. Bernadini describes a kidult as "an archetype of an encouraged regression, to facilitate the promotion of goods which are only apparently addressed to young people and children." To companies, that means "kidults are a perfect target for the seller. They have a large number of desires and the real ability to make purchases," adds social psychologist Maryna Dvorynk.

To put it that way sounds alternatingly condescending and banal, or even a little precious (after all, who doesn't yearn for the innocence of childhood?). But Dvornyk questions the cultural impact of this kind of marketing on our collective psyche: "Media communication, and especially advertising, nowadays seems to promote a kind of collective regression: Needs should be satisfied immediately because it is imperative to take here and now everything that life, or rather the consumer's society, promises to give us." In terms of marketing and the insidious ways brands creep their tentacles into our collective psychology, Dvornyk adds, "Youthfulness–like beauty, success and money–becomes an object that is possible to own. In other words, youth, a biological condition, seems to have become a cultural definition."

How the Kidult Became the Standard of the 21st Century

So, are we manipulated into buying goods and services that remind us of being a child in order to find reprieve from adult existential crises? Of course–look at how many crises today's adults are facing and, consequently, how difficult the transition from childhood to adulthood has become these days. Current young adult Americans came of age during two recessions and a shrinking middle class, a "forever war" in the Middle East, climate change crisis, and the starkest political polarity since the Civil War. But without haranguing about sacrificial economics and the ravages of industrial society at the cost of individual identity (okay, a little bit of haranguing), it's a mundane truth that scarcity is the god of invention. With millennials earning an average of 20% less than baby boomers (despite meeting expectations to earn a college degree and taking on their share of the nation's $1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis), labor opportunities are becoming both harder to find and less concrete. We can work online from home but often with the trappings of the gig economy, so millennials have gained a reputation for job-hopping, with three times the number of millennials switching jobs each year than non-millennials. Of course, that's largely due to today's job market, which is uniquely unstable compared to when prior generations transitioned into adulthood. And that's not to mention the entire work ethos of industrialized western society, which is dehumanizingly simple: You are what you do (for your paycheck).

Furthermore, it can seem like today's youth live in abundance, with techy shortcuts to solve every problem and more options than they know what to do with. But that's part of the problem; as Dvornyk notes, "Adulthood is being dangerously delayed by a generation who are overstimulated by a media-saturated society and overwhelmed by choice, which makes them unable to settle down, capable only of temporary alignments before they grasp onto the next bright opportunity." In a culture obsessed with constant self-optimization and upgrades (down to the way millennials were parented to prioritize "optimizing" themselves, according to the critic Malcom Harris), society's expectation to "correctly" enter adulthood is to streamline one's education into a career–to do everything, achieve in all areas, and have it all. In reality, financial analysts note that "millennials have taken longer to launch their careers than previous generations, and some have failed to launch their careers altogether, while progress toward equity in education and the labor market has stalled." So maybe millennials really are the worst for having invented Instagram and fostering in an age of selfies, FOMO, and "social media sites...shaped by infantile aesthetics and affects"—as some cultural analysts say—but it's because we inherited an unstable social reality where "stable identities have become unmoored by free markets" (and also, admittedly, Instagram really did f*ck up everyone's mental health).

So we turn to pop culture to ground ourselves, our shaky sense of selfhood and misfitted place in the world–or so say more bored social scientists who study our consumer habits in hopes to finally understand why we keep watching DCEU movies despite knowing they will always be terrible. Dvornyk critiques, "In our information-cluttered world media becomes the lifesaver and means to propagate values, trends and principles that comprise the symbolic universe of ethical choice." She adds, "Such communications legitimize immaturity or childish behavior and promote youth lifestyle." In pop culture, youth isn't just a commodity; it's a coveted identity.

Baby mascots

Enter baby mascots. As Dvornyk goes on to say, "The postmodern adult...chases the aesthetics and lifestyles of young people, lives in a state of continuous present, postpones or eludes those stages that used to mark the social recognition of maturity as well as the responsibilities and the preclusions involved." Traditional models of social maturation mark parenthood as the final transition into adulthood. But as U.S. birth rates decline due to millennials opting not to have children, not being able to afford to have children, or waiting until later in life than prior generations, today's culture suspends adulthood in a chrysalis stuck between carefree childhood and the responsibilities of child-rearing. The result is a generation of reluctant kidults who in many ways feel pressures of adulthood at younger ages while paradoxically being socialized by corporations and media to hide from adulthood behind performative youth: a cycle of palliative consumerism and nostalgia used to escape time. Putting Baby Nut aside, we love baby mascots who are designed without agency to speak for themselves (Baby Groot and Baby Yoda) and who fit into larger, cultural narratives (the superheroes or anti-hero on a quest to defend innocents). The ideal baby mascot is basically an avatar of our twin desires to nurture as well as be nurtured: We are all Baby Yoda; Baby Yoda is us. Or, as The Washington Post put it, "Baby Yoda is blank. And that means Baby Yoda, in a sense, is ours."

"Synth Culture": Is Baby Nut Fascist?

Unfortunately, the collective belief that "we are what we consume" is a lie, as most of "popular culture" is manufactured by a few corporations whose sole aim is to sell products. As psychologist Jim Taylor writes, "A more accurate phrase [than pop culture] is 'synth culture' because it is a synthetic product created by corporate conglomerates rather than being an expression of the shared experiences of real people."

Are our beloved characters just cash cows and damningly cute idols of escapism and consumption? Actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek Beyond) attributes this double appeal to the nefarious nature of capitalism, even citing French philosopher Jean Baudrillard to say: "Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in: inequality, corruption, economic injustice, etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth?"

For proof, one need only to return to the creation of Baby Nut. Mike Pierantozzi, an ad executive at Planters' agency VaynerMedia, shared that the idea for Mr. Peanut's death was inspired by the virtual bloodbath at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. Pierantozzi told CNBC, "When Iron Man died, we saw an incredible reaction on Twitter and on social media. It's such a strange phenomenon." He added, "We did the unthinkable: We created [...] an idea where Mr. Peanut dies and dies specifically sacrificing himself for his friends, which has always been a tenet of who he is and what he does — he always puts others first." Despite being met by the Twitterverse's collective "wtf that is a fascist legume," Planters wasn't playing around when they employed such blatant pathos to gain attention; Baby Nut merch was available just hours after its "birth" in the company's Super Bowl commercial.

Did it work? Sort of. We certainly love to hate Baby Nut (for many right reasons, spanning from the transparency of such a manipulative cash grab at Baby Yoda's popularity to the fact that "it's all so dumb" and "shamelessly shilling Baby Nut merch"). But the marketing strategy Planters based its "hair-brained" scheme on is demonstratively effective, considering the astronomical demand for Baby Yoda merchandise, Baby Groot's sizable role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's success, and Baby Nut inspiring disturbing fan art and at least one manifesto to murder all brand mascots.

If our collective maturity as a culture—and, possibly, our civil liberties—are at stake, then what can we do? While some may be able to resist the pull of Baby Yoda's large black eyes or Baby Groot's happy little smile, the rest of us seem doomed until we either have children of our own or topple capitalism's stronghold on American media. The least we can do is withhold our consumer power and abstain from buying a company's babified products or streaming their babified content on their streaming apps (but do we have the willpower when Baby Groot dances? Oh, how he dances).

Corporate brands cultivating soulless personalities on Twitter is bad enough. Brands creating intricate backstories to superimpose narrative arcs onto their mascots is even worse (you know Mr. Clean was adopted and that he's gay, right?). But because Grimes and Elon Musk are having a baby, because we can attend concerts of our favorite dead idols' holograms, because future pop stars will be nothing but computer algorithms, and because our society's cultural tastes are careening towards post-humanism—maybe the truth is that we just want to escape time and slip into the glossy alternate reality of ad space, where Gushers candy turns children's heads into fruits and Lisa Frank's technicolor tigers run free. Yes, Mr. Peanut–the 104-year-old gay cannibal and Planters mascot–has died and been reborn: We're now living in a world with Baby Nut, Baby Groot, Baby Yoda, and soon, even Baby Sonic.



CULTURE

How to Get Billie Eilish's Baggy-Chic Look

From comfy sneakers to bulky chains, here's how to emulate the "bad guy" singer's best looks.

Aside from her buttery vocals and her record-setting Grammys sweep, Billie Eilish also stands out for her iconic, androgynous sense of style.

The 18-year-old pop star is immediately recognizable for her oversized, streetwear-inspired looks. Whether she's on stage riling up a crowd or walking the red carpet, Eilish likes her clothes loose and in bold colors and patterns. Her idol Tyler, the Creator likened her wardrobe to that of a quarterback, but, in reality, her roomy outfit choices are meant to distract critics from making inappropriate and sexist comments about her body: comfy and empowering.

Sadly, Eilish's budget can be a little out of range for most of us, but that doesn't mean average Joes can't participate in her baggy-chic attire. Here's just a few ways to emulate the "bad guy"'s best looks.

Start with the Sneakers

If there ever were a sneakerhead in pop music, it's Eilish, who sports comfy kicks no matter the occasion. But you don't have to shell out upwards of $1,000 for a pair of Balenciaga tennis shoes; the Adidas Falcons give off the same effect for a fraction of the price. You can get them in a versatile solid white like Eilish has here or in a bold color to make an extra statement.

Adidas Falcon Sneakers, $100

Simple Logos

There's something perfectly kitschy about the Playboy logo, whether it's in a singular giant graphic like Eilish sports here or in a repeated print. We think she'd approve of this sweatshirt from Playboy's collaboration with Missguided—just be sure to size up if you really want to get her look.

Playboy x Missguided Pink Repeat Print Oversized Hoodie Dress, $59

Snow-Ready Shades

More often than not, Eilish's eyewear looks better fit for the slopes than for the streets. But chunky goggles are an essential component to emulating her look whether or not you're in the snow. Opt for some with mirrored lenses that'll keep you looking sporty chic.

Roka CP-1X Performance Sunglasses, $215

Chunky Chains

You'd be hard pressed to find interview audio of Eilish where her statement jewelry isn't jingling in the background. When it comes to dangling bracelets and oversized rings, the more the merrier, but a simple layered chain necklace like this one is a good place to start.

Dolls Kill Subtle Intentions Lock Necklace, $15

Mad about Monochrome

May we never forget this marvelously massive all-blue look Eilish wore alongside her pals Tierra Whack and SZA. The easiest way to replicate her ensemble is to pick one color and run with it, the small business Big Bud Press is a great, sustainable resource for unisex jumpsuits and separates in each color of the rainbow. This blue one is a slightly more toned-down version of Eilish's look, but will still have you dreaming of Camp Flog Gnaw all day.

Big Bud Press Short Sleeve Jumpsuit, $172

A Boot

We're kidding, mostly.

Braceability Stress Fracture Walking Boot, $39.99

Just Have Fun With It

Eilish might've titled her debut EP Don't Smile at Me, but she never takes herself too seriously. The best part of her style is that all of her bold and billowy looks feel true to her personality. She can't be bothered to look "hot" or traditionally feminine—she's here for a good time, and no matter what outlandish accessory she's wearing, her looks prove she's always ready to have a blast.

Opinion

Kobe Bryant Was Probably a Rapist: That Doesn't Mean We Can't Mourn His Death

The Washington Post should be ashamed of itself for suspending Felicia Sonmez.

Kobe Bryant

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic description of sexual assault.

On Sunday January 26, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, perished in a helicopter crash along with seven other individuals, two of which were Gianna's age.

The group was on their way to Kobe's Black Mamba basketball academy, where Bryant was going to coach his daughter and the rest of her team. But it's almost impossible that you aren't already aware of these details. As soon as the news of the crash broke on Sunday, celebrities and fans alike took to social media to mourn the star athlete's passing and to send their condolences to his wife and children left behind. There was not a media property in America, or perhaps the world, that didn't run a story about Kobe's untimely death that reflected on his cultural impact and personal strengths. When the Grammys aired Sunday night, there was an obvious heaviness in the room and myriad tributes to the Lakers legend. He was, almost universally, remembered as a tenacious athlete, a great leader, a loving father and husband, and an inspiration to millions.

A memorial set up in Kobe's memory

But, he was also an alleged rapist. And there are a few people who are refusing to erase that fact amidst the clamor of adoration for Bryant.

Actress Evan Rachel Wood tweeted, "What has happened is tragic. I am heartbroken for Kobe's family. He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously." Wood was referring to a case from 2003, in which a 19-year-old hotel clerk accused Bryant of rape. It was by no means a baseless claim, as Bryant even corroborated the majority of the accuser's story and there were vaginal lacerations (indicating force) documented by law enforcement at the time of the report. When originally confronted about the interaction, Bryant changed his story multiple times.

To read the accuser's full account of the incident, you can read this piece from the Daily Beast, which includes statements from the victim, such as, "Then he held me by my neck and physically forced me over to the side of the couch," and "'at that point I was just kinda scared and I said no a few times." She also stated that she repeatedly said no, once when he lifted up her skirt and again when he took off her underwear. The accuser also had a bruise on her neck after the incident. As the Daily Beast points out, "And the accuser, it should be noted, came from a wealthy family."

Bryant also read a statement of apology in court, an excerpt from which reads as follows: "I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."

Despite seemingly damning evidence, the case was dropped in 2004 when the victim reportedly declined to cooperate with prosecutors any longer. In 2005, Bryant and the accuser settled the matter out of court.

Kobe Bryant in court in 2003

On the day of Bryant's death, Felicia Sonmez, a reporter at The Washington Post, tweeted a link to that same Daily Beast story, a decision that has put her job in jeopardy. After posting the link, she later tweeted that "10,000 people (literally)" had sent her "abuse and death threats" as a result. According to Slate, "Sonmez also posted a screenshot of her email inbox, which included the full display name of a person who'd said, 'Piece of f*cking shit. Go f*ck yourself. C-nt.' Upon seeing these messages, The Washington Post punished Sonmez." Sonmez has since been placed on administrative leave while the paper "reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom's social media policy," according to managing editor Tracy Grant.

In the wake of the Me Too movement, there is undoubtedly something questionable about the decision to suspend a reporter for reminding the public of the facts of an alleged rape by a powerful man (especially one that's largely been erased from public consciousness since it happened) and then exposing the misogynistic harassment recieved as a result. Sonmez's story reminds us of the great lengths people will go to vilify women who refuse to ignore the corruption that allows flawed men to act reprehensibly and get away with it.

Kobe also made it clear he believed he was not the only NBA star to forgo consent in his sexual relations. At one point in the investigation he told officers, "I should have done what Shaq does, Shaq gives them money or buys them cars, he has already spent one million dollars." The report added, "Kobe stated that Shaq does this to keep the girls quiet." It's clear that Sonmez's suspension is a product of the same system that allowed Kobe to stay out of jail, a system that often protects and idolizes powerful, rich, revered men, like Shaq and Kobe, and makes victims and whistle-blowers just...go away.

To any rational mind, when reading the verified facts of the case, it becomes clear that—more likely than not—Kobe Bryant did not get consent from the 19-year-old he bent over that hotel room couch. He almost certainly raped this woman and then settled the case out of court. And, even when mourning his tragic death, that is worth talking about. We have to reckon with the entirety of his legacy.

As Evan Rachel Woods pointed out, this incident doesn't mean he wasn't an extraordinary basketball player. It doesn't even mean that he wasn't a loving father and husband (despite the philandering). Hell, it doesn't even mean that, in other ways, he wasn't a great guy. It also doesn't mean we can't be sad that he died. Regardless of his misdeeds, Kobe was a symbol of determination, hard work, and talent, and that's worth mourning. And at the end of the day, if we want Me Too to enact real change, then we have to allow people to exist in conflict. We have to begin to acknowledge that a person is not one thing: a rapist or a sports star, a loving father or a philandering assh*le, a legend or a pervert. We can't write someone off as purely good or bad based on any one thing.

But that doesn't mean we can ignore the bad—the horrifying, the misogynistic, the violent—to focus on the good. Acknowledging the duality that exists in all of us does not condone the rape that likely tore apart the life of the young woman it happened to. It does not mean it's okay that the justice system is designed to protect the powerful and the wealthy. It does not mean we don't have to reckon with the racism that makes us more likely to believe a white woman than a black man. It does not mean that it's okay to harass and suspend a reporter who was trying to talk about this important issue. It does not mean we can ignore his extraordinary accomplishments both as a philanthropist and player. Most of all, it does not mean that, in the wake of Kobe Bryant's death, we should ignore the grounded accusation of rape brought against him. We need to talk about it. We need to wrestle with the issue of whether or not we can or should deify a man who preyed on the weak–even if it was just that once, even if he was genuinely sorry. If the collective trauma of Me Too is going to be worth anything, we have to make room for complexity, reform, contradictions, and, most of all, conversation.