Scarlett Johansson and the perils of white feminism

Scarlett Johansson in "Ghost in the Shell"

Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, well-meaning white liberals have made their feelings known about where they stand in today’s divisive, bigoted climate: They are allies. They will wear safety pins and show up to at protests in order to show people of color, LGBTQ+ folks and other underrepresented groups that white people stand with them, too.

Scarlett Johansson is one of those people. In January she was one of the speakers at the Women’s March on Washington, an event coordinated by women of color and whose platform emphasized intersectionality. At the march, she addressed Trump, saying, “I ask you to support all women and our fight for equality in all things, including the fight to be recognized as individuals.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, one that is worth supporting. Except I’m not sure she really means it.

A few weeks later in an interview with Marie Claire, Johansson commented on the “Ghost in the Shell” whitewashing controversy. When asked whether she felt the charge of whitewashing with regard to her playing a Japanese character was fair, she answered, “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”

And then she pivoted: “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

That’s some A-list level evading of the point. Because guess what’s even rarer than a white woman leading an action film? An Asian woman or a woman of color leading any kind of film.

To recap: The role Johansson is playing in the adaptation of the Japanese anime property “Ghost in the Shell,” the Major, is in the source material a Japanese cyborg named Motoko Kusanagi. Apparently in this adaptation, which is still set in Japan and features Johansson shooting down random Asian extras, the character at one point was a Japanese woman who was then placed inside a white body. According to Nerds of Color contributor Valerie Complex, who saw an early preview:

“[I]t looks the Major is originally Japanese. Let me explain. It appears that the character is in a nearly fatal accident. This accident causes her body to be rendered useless, but her brain is the only thing that can be salvaged. So this Japanese woman whose brain is recovered is transferred into a body, or Shell, that just happens to be Scarlett Johannson’s new body. Now her name is ‘Mira.’”

It’s “Ghost in the Shell” by way of “Get Out.”

Knowing this, I somehow think Johansson missed the point of the Women’s March and what it means to be a white ally during a time when being a racist is suddenly mainstream again, thanks to the Reddit wet dream living in the White House. In taking a role that was originally written as a Japanese character, Johansson knowingly took an opportunity away from an Asian actress. She is just the latest Hollywood actor playing an Asian person on screen and to make a good amount of money doing so.

But Johansson is not the only white actor missing the point of white allyship. While the casting of a white man, Finn Jones, in the title role of the widely panned Netflix adaptation “Iron Fist” didn’t break with the tradition of the character, it also missed an opportunity to recalibrate the property for a 21st-century audience by casting an Asian lead. Tilda Swinton (of “Dr. Strange”) is another.

Last year Swinton made the same deflection of charges of whitewashing the role of the Tibetan-born Ancient One during her email correspondence with Margaret Cho, saying, “I’m a Scottish woman of 55 who lives in the Highlands. There’s precious little projected on contemporary cinema screens that means a great deal to my life.”

When faced with charges of racism, both Swinton and Johansson have deflected, saying, in essence, “It’s hard to be a white woman too!”

Want to know what’s harder? Being a woman of color. Where you will get paid less than white men and white women for doing the same job, and where you will get fewer opportunities because you have extra melanin in your skin.

Those excuses are peak white feminism, and it’s getting tiresome. What it really shows is that Swinton and Johansson are allies when it’s convenient — when it doesn’t affect their bottom line.

And yet, they do not need more money. Johannsson is already the Black Widow, with billions of Marvel money in her pocket, and killed Asians already in “Lucy.” Swinton has Disney money, and can sleep in a glass box and people will still pay to see her. Who is paying to see Margaret Cho or Michelle Yeoh sleep in a glass box? Well, I would.

What these white actors fail to understand that by virtue of being white in Hollywood, they automatically enter the field with more advantages than their POC counterpart. According to a recent study by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, people of color make up almost 40 percent of the U.S. population but occupy 13.6 percent of the lead roles in films. And the study also found that more diverse films made more money in the global box office. (It’s almost like people of color in other countries don’t care about all-white films, either. Shocker!)

Actors of color automatically receive fewer opportunities to showcase their skills. As Viola Davis famously said when accepting her Emmy for “How to Get Away with Murder,” “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” So many actors of color have echoed those comments and have expressed the pains of being typecast, of having to play the maid and the terrorist but never the hero in a major Hollywood picture.

That is why, when Asian stories are whitewashed and when white actors play roles that could have been cast with Asian leads, there is a backlash. Because white actors — performers who already have leading roles and buckets of money under their belt, even — are taking money away from actors who have fewer opportunities. Imagine the Asian actress who could have made her big break in “Ghost in the Shell,” who needed that chance to prove herself? (Kind of like when Johansson got the opportunity to prove herself in another Japan-set film, “Lost in Translation.”)

Unlike Swinton and Johansson, women of color cannot divorce their race from their gender. Actors of color cannot escape their race because Hollywood refuses to let them do that.

By not understanding that and by taking roles that they know are for Asian women, Swinton and Johansson are basically saying, “Women of color, we support you, until it affects our wallet.” They are throwing women of color under the bus to appease white men. And that is not allyship.

Allyship is uncomfortable and it’s inconvenient. It’s having the conversation you don’t want to have with your racist uncle. It’s standing up when you witness harassment on the subway. It’s standing up at the Grammys and acknowledging that you don’t deserve the record of the year award and that it belongs to Beyoncé. (White women, be more like Adele!)

And it is also turning down a role that you know is not for white people, that you know is for a person of color. Especially when you’re an Avenger. Swinton and Johansson can afford to say no; they can afford to have that uncomfortable conversation with a producer. They can afford to lift up underprivileged actors.

Or they may not want the competition. In which case, they can take off their safety pin and pussy hat. We see them for who they really are.

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Paradise found: Jason Segel and Charlie McDowell talk about “The Discovery”

The Discovery

The Discovery (Credit: Netflix)

Jason Segel may long have played goofball roles on TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” and in a string of comedies, from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to “The Muppets,” but his poignant turn as David Foster Wallace in “The End of the Tour” showed his dramatic side.

Segel’s latest film, “The Discovery,” co-written and directed by Charlie McDowell, is a provocative sci-fi-mystery-romance that has given Segel another meaty dramatic part. It’s an almost noirish film role, one that shows that the actor can move effortlessly between comedy and drama; he could be the next Fred McMurray.

In “The Discovery,” Segel plays Will Harbor, a neurologist whose father Thomas (Robert Redford) claims to have found the existence of an afterlife. The discovery is so profound, suicide rates are escalating (to 4 million) as everyone wants to “get there,” as the film’s lingo goes. Will is skeptical, however, and with the assistance of Isla (Rooney Mara), a woman whose life he saves, he investigates the reality of the situation.

McDowell, who previously played with time and romance in his 2014 film “The One I Love,” considers weighty themes in “The Discovery,” as his characters grapple with guilt and memory, as well as the textures of time.

The director and the film star met with Salon to talk about storytelling, how to find meaning in life and “The Discovery.”

Jason, people know you as a comic actor, but this is your second dramatic film in a row. Do you feel you need to change things up in your career?  

Jason Segel: Some of it is just a function of getting older. I’ve been really lucky to spend some time around actors and artists I really admire. One thing I gathered from asking a lot of questions is that part of this job and this life we’ve chosen is doing personal exploration in front of an audience. In a lot of ways, that’s what art is: personal searching with people watching.

I realized it was time for me to check back in at this moment in my life and have my work be reflective of that. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was really reflective of who I was at 25 years old. You can only do that so long before you realize, The work I am doing isn’t representative of who I am anymore. I did a little course correct.

Charlie, you like to play with time in your films. What can you say about how we customize our experience of time or manipulate our temporal experiences?

Charlie McDowell: What I’m attracted to and really what the movie deals with is, What if you were able to change something in your life? Would you want to do that? I think I played with that in “The One I Love” and in this film in a different way. Being in a visual medium, that’s how I process and view things. This idea of memory is important to me, and I think about it a lot.

Why is memory so important? I like that we tell stories where we deceive our selves and cling to memories that aren’t true and pass them off as true . . . 

McDowell: I come from a family of storytellers. The greatest memories I have of growing up with my dad [Malcolm McDowell alongside my mother Mary Steenburgen] are these incredible stories he has. And some of them are completely made up, and some are elaborated on. But I could picture them so clearly in my head. I’ve always been interested in visualizing something, whether it’s a memory or an idea you want to be true. I am a big believer in that. I’m constantly thinking of that. If I can’t picture something, then it doesn’t make sense to me. I try to visualize and believe that it’s true.

So you’re a realist as opposed to a fantasist? This is one of the points in the film.

McDowell: Yeah, definitely! For me, it was a really interesting way to visually tell the story: Instead of just sitting in the inherent darkness of the story, we introduced a love story that is greater than what we are witnessing in this specific visual. It was powerful.

Memories are activated by triggers. What triggered you to make this film?

McDowell: The film started with this big, global idea: How do we explore the theme of what if the afterlife is proven? Who are the characters in the story? And the first part of it was the interview scene. Rooney [Mara] read that scene and wanted to be in the film. We didn’t have the rest of the character, but she wanted to be in this world. She became the emotional focal point for the Will character and the audience. Their [relationship] is the film’s through line. The visual component came after that.

Jason, your character Will says in the film that “People have an instinct to search for meaning in their lives. When there is none, they create meaning. We lie to ourselves.” What are your thoughts about finding meaning in everyday life?

Segel: I can have two consecutive days and the first can feel like the world is my oyster, and the second can feel like impending doom, and no circumstances have changed. That is the kernel of this thing you’re talking about in your previous questions. The narrative of our lives is a total construct. We get to choose what that is. That is something I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older. I have a lot of choices about the story that I’m telling myself about my life. So where do I find meaning?

The reality is that we’re all guessing about what the point is. But it seems as though being good to the people around you has a lot to do with it. Taking care of yourself, doing a little bit of exercise — the minimal required exercise — I try to walk 15,000 steps a day. And pick something and go after it; have some sense of purpose. I found if I’m doing those three things daily, then I need to let myself off the hook. And that other voice — that tells you that you’re great or a piece of shit — that voice will kind of let me rest if I do those three things: Be kind, exercise, pursue your passion with vigor.

Charlie, can you talk about the design of the machines and the videos in the film? I thought they were very stylish and inventive.

McDowell: I always start with character — what’s true to the character? If the lab had been a futuristic, slick-looking place, we wouldn’t believe that Redford’s character worked there. He put this together and designed it, so it was about finding equipment from his era that he would have used and understood and then adding on to that with modern equipment. You see Apple computers.

In terms of the headpiece — that came from a National Geographic cover that I saw in a doctor’s office. It had this man with hundreds of these suction cups on his head. It wasn’t like a headpiece; they were actually on his head. I loved the visual of it. But it starts with “What does this character’s lab and office look like?” It started from a grounded place and then you add interesting ideas on top of that.

Jason, out of curiosity, have you ever stolen a corpse, as Will does?

Segel: [Laughs.] I’m trying to think if I’ve done it before in a movie. I don’t think I have.

But in real life, did you draw on any experience?

Segel: I have no robbing cadavers experience in real life. That was a fun day, our last day of shooting. It was a marathon 20-hour day. We shot in Newport in the morning and then drove to Providence and spent the rest of the night in an active morgue. That was a fitting way to end the movie. Something felt right about it.

McDowell: It was tough shooting there. The smell was rough.

Jason, Will is the film’s voice of reason. Can you talk about his moral compass?

Segel: It was a great, complex part that I got to play. There are conflicts in his moral code. He was a guy really grappling with the question, What is important? Is it the truth? Is it the right thing or your personal desire?

What observations do you have about the film’s depiction of guilt, memory and even forgiveness?

Segel: It’s what drew me to the movie: Is there room for regret in this life? Or is our only option to become one with ourselves and our past and keep putting one foot in front of the other? That’s Will’s point of view. Our job is to become OK with who we are and what our life has been — and keep enduring.

McDowell: It’s about focusing on what’s in front of you. Even if you know there’s something more, don’t you want to live your life in the moment and understand what you are doing? Being present in that place. That was a theme we wanted to explore. Then this idea that millions of people not wanting that. They don’t have a very good life — they can’t pay their mortgage, they just went through a breakup, whatever it is. When they want to press the reset button and go somewhere else, I think that was interesting to explore, because a lot of people would.

Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?

McDowell: No, I haven’t. I have definitely said, “Oh, I want to kill myself,” but everyone’s said that at a certain point. But I’ve never had real, actual suicidal thoughts. I think that I have guilt about having had such a nice life that my thought process goes so far as completely understanding people having suicidal thoughts.

I feel guilty about the great life I have, and I know people don’t all have that, so it’s something I think about. Thinking about it and the act of how you would do it, and going through the steps of planning it and doing it are very different things.

But I think with this idea [in the film] that the afterlife is proven and you could go somewhere else — it changes how we view death. Is death death anymore? If we are guaranteed to go somewhere else, to a new life, are we just constantly living? That idea fascinated me. Would death mean the same thing? Is murder murder, or are we just sending someone to a different place?

We talked about the number [of suicides in the film] and we wanted it to be as realistic as possible as if this actually happened. In the world, 4 million people is a small percentage in the grand scheme of things. It sounds huge, and it would be a massive deal globally to our society.

If you could reset something in your life, what would it be?

Segel: Honestly, I have come to believe that everything is in the order it’s in for a reason. I am happy with who I am today. I am aware in the great Jenga game of life, if I were to pull out any one of those tiles, I don’t know that today would be today. Today is a beautiful day. I walked around with my friend, we’ve done a movie together, and life is really good. Are there things that I did not like? One hundred percent!

But I really don’t know that you can cherry-pick your past.

There is a little bit of hubris to want to change the past. It implies that you know better — that things didn’t happen the way that they were supposed to. If I could go back and tell younger Jason, “It’s going to be OK,” maybe that’s the one thing I would do.

McDowell: That would fuck you up so much!

Segel: [Laughs.] Yes, I would be like, “Why are you here? And how did I get so handsome?! You look like you do minimal exercise!” [Laughs.]

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Hope in the heartland: Ohio could be second GOP state to pass law preventing LGBT people from being fired

Donald Trump,John Kasich

John Kasich; Nickie Antonio (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/Ohio State House)

Columbus, Ohio struck down conversion therapy on Monday night when its City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance banning the discredited practice. Also known as “ex-gay therapy” or “reparative therapy,” Columbus is just one of a handful of municipalities across the United States to ban mental health professionals from seeking to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBT youth.

The capital, however, is actually the third city in Ohio to outlaw conversion therapy in the past two years. Cincinnati became the first city in the U.S. to prohibit “pray the gay away” clinics back in 2015. Toledo followed suit in February.

The decision by the Columbus City Council is the latest in a surprising wave of legislation passed in support of the LGBT community in Ohio, a state with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature. The Buckeye State could become just the second Red State in the nation to pass nondiscrimination protections to prohibit bias in housing and employment against LGBT people. As Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas move to the extreme right on LGBT issues, Ohio offers a tiny glimmer of hope from the heartland.

Rep. Nickie Antonio, the state’s first openly gay legislator, introduced the nondiscrimination bill last Thursday, and Gov. John Kasich signaled that he could be persuaded to back it.

“I don’t want anybody to be discriminated against because they happen to be gay,” Kasich said when approached by press last week. “I don’t favor discrimination in any way. I haven’t heard much about this but if it’s happening we have to deal with it.”

Although nondiscrimination legislation has failed every previous time it’s been introduced, Antonio said that her colleagues have signaled a potential for bipartisan cooperation. Earlier this year, the Ohio General Assembly tabled the “Pastor Protection Act,” a bill that would exempted clergy from performing same-sex weddings. Republicans have wondered if her bill might strengthen protections for people of faith while upholding LGBT equality.

Antonio explained that her proposed legislation, called the Ohio Fairness Act, already does that. “Our bill upholds the religious exemptions that are already in the Ohio Revised Code,” said the Lakewood Democrat, who is in her final term as a House representative. “Faith leaders already have those protections in place right now. It’s their First Amendment right.”

Ohio is currently one of 28 states in the nation where it is perfectly legal to be fired for being LGBT. But in recent years, cities across the state have moved to either pass affirming legislation or strengthen their existing statutes. While striking down conversion therapy in February, Toledo also enumerated equal access for transgender people in its public accommodation laws. Although those protections already existed in its nondiscrimination ordinance, the trans inclusions weren’t specifically spelled out.

Nick Komives, Executive Director of Equality Toledo, said there was almost no opposition to the City Council decision, which was approved by eight Democrats and four Independents. One community member who attended council meetings voiced concern that the updated ordinance would allow women and children to be targeted by sexual predators.

Komives claimed the council “wasn’t having it,” and quickly dismissed the objection.

“We’ve had protections for trans people — including bathrooms — since 1998, and we’ve had zero incidences of rape or violence as a result of that ordinance,” said Komives, who explained that the same was true in other localities that have passed trans-inclusive public accommodation laws. Of the more than 200 city councils and state governments that have taken the same steps as Toledo, not a single one has seen a bathroom rape epidemic as a result.

Sixteen cities in Ohio currently offer trans-inclusive public accommodations. Grant Stancliff, the Communications Director for Equality Ohio, said that last year Cleveland moved to “plug this little hole” in its existing nondiscrimination ordinance. Although the City Council had already passed a policy that prevented workers from being fired solely on the basis of their identity, it left out equal bathroom access for trans people. Three days before the Republican National Convention, the Council voted to fix the discriminatory blindspot.

“After HB 2, it became clear that if you have this kind of language on the books, people are going to take notice,” Stancliff said.

In 2016, North Carolina passed House Bill 2, a law which forced trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate when visiting schools and government buildings. Stancliff argued that the fallout over that bill has “played a large part” in encouraging local politicians to pass pro-LGBT legislation. A recent report from the Associated Press — which the news outlet claimed was a conservative estimate — claimed that the Tar Heel State would lose $3.76 billion as a result of the controversial law.

The NBA announced that the state would forfeit hosting the All-Star Game while HB 2 remains in effect, while companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank moved jobs elsewhere.

“When PayPal pulled out of North Carolina,” Stancliff said, “that was a pretty big incentive for cities to say, ‘Hey, do we want large employers who might be planning an expansion to Ohio to move somewhere else because we don’t have inclusive policies on the books?’”

Youngstown passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in January, and Akron is set to be next.

Even though over a dozen cities have already affirmed equal access in housing and employment, Stancliff said that passing a statewide bill remains a top priority for LGBT advocates. Currently, he claimed that 80 percent of state residents can still be terminated from their jobs for having a photo of their legally wedded spouses on their desk. This population includes queer and trans people who are employed in suburban and rural areas.

“You can live in a suburb of Cincinnati, and work in the city,” Stancliff said. “While you’re at work, you’re a full citizen but halfway into your commute home — when you cross that city line — you lose all your rights.”

A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that more than one-fifth of LGBT respondents had experienced discrimination from employers. Kira Esperante, a transgender woman who lives in Cincinnati, claimed that she was let go from her law firm in 2009 after she began to transition at work. One day, her bosses pulled her aside and said that the changes in her appearance weren’t “good for the law firm’s image,” as Cincinnati’s WCPO reported. Esperante has struggled to find another position in the eight years since.

Under the current system, it can be difficult to pursue cases of employment discrimination even in cities with protections. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission doesn’t recognize LGBT people as a suspect class, so there’s no real enforcement mechanism in place.

“Because it’s not written into the law, nothing gets done,” Komives said. “The teeth around nondiscrimination comes at the statewide level for us.”

Research shows that a wide majority of Ohioans aren’t aware that it’s possible for fire someone for being queer or transgender, but when they learn the reality, they widely support laws to prevent cases like Esperante’s. Seventy percent of registered voters in the Buckeye State are in favor of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, and there’s hope Kasich will join them. The governor, a self-described moderate, famously said during the 2016 election that he would support his daughters if one of them came out as a lesbian.

But while Trump has emboldened hate across the U.S., Antonio said that the barrage of pro-LGBT support in Ohio’s cities shows another way is possible.

“It’s because people are standing up,” Antonio said. “Twenty or 30 years ago, gay people were first invisible and then they were told they weren’t wanted. There was something wrong with them. What’s happening right now is that members of the LGBT community are saying that we’re part of the fabric of our communities, and we should be embraced.”

Note: Kasich’s press team declined to comment on the nondiscrimination law, stating that the governor doesn’t “weigh in on pending legislation.”

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Viral for all: BuzzFeed announces it’s going public in 2018


The logo of news website BuzzFeed is seen on a computer screen in Washington on March 25, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images) (Credit: Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

In the wake of Snapchat’s impressive IPO, media company Buzzfeed is planning one of their own.

The digital news and content giant, which has over 200 million monthly users and 18 offices around the globe, is making plans to go public in 2018.

The company was started in 2006 by Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti, who has apparently been planning this for a while. He’s turned down offers from media companies in the past, and Axios reports he’s been long planning to go public.

Though it’s mostly known for its quizzes, lists and entertaining content, the site has had some serious investors and despite some setbacks, continues to grow in value.

In 2014, BuzzFeed’s total valuation fell around $850 million. That got a huge bump in August of 2015, when NBC Universal invested about $200 million in the site, putting their valuation somewhere around $1.5 billion. It got yet another bump in December of 2016, when NBC invested the same amount once again, bringing the total value of the company up to $1.7 billion.

BuzzFeed calls itself a media company with the “innovation obsessed culture and structure of a venture-backed tech company.” Its “about” section claims it’s known for “exploding watermelons, The Dress, Tasty, award-winning news investigations, quizzes, and lists.” It started out as a home for cat videos, but has now become a place of serious journalism.

“It also depends on the time, right?” Peretti said when asked about the innovative and unconventional news style. “So the Boston bombings happens, and immediately all of the most popular content on the site is hard news. Then there’s a slow news week, and the most popular content is lists or quizzes or entertainment, or fun content.”

“When there’s huge news breaking, it becomes the biggest thing. But most of the time, it’s not the biggest thing,” he added.

There is no word on when the official IPO date is.


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WATCH: Music legend John Oates on the 2 words that changed his life


As half of one of the most successful duos in music history, John Oates has sold more than 40 million records, performed at Live Aid, and earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But in his new memoir “Change of Seasons” (written with journalist Chris Epting), he reveals the ups and downs of his nearly fifty year career with partner Daryl Hall — and the two words that changed his life.

In 1987, an accountant for his management firm called him in for a meeting and dropped a bombshell, telling him, “You’re broke.”

“What he really meant was, ‘You’ve got a lot of assets, but you don’t have any money,’” Oates told Salon.

He says now that “as dismal and depressing as that moment was, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

What followed was a period of personal and rebirth as he “woke up out of my extended adolescent coma of being a pop star” to sell off his possessions, move to Colorado and “reimagine and recreate my life.” Today, he’s making music from his newer home base of Nashville, and gearing up to revisit his classic hits on a summer tour. And though his memoir features plenty of behind-the-scenes tales of the music industry and cameos from figures like Mick Jagger and Lou Reed, it’s very much a tale of growing up and moving on. Taking its title inspiration from his group’s 1990 album, Oates says that “the heart of soul of the book is about personal transformation.”

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How to dominate the charts and alienate no one: Lessons from Drake’s “More Life”


(Credit: AP/Jonathan Short/

Drake made history this week in what may have seemed like history making in a number of ways. Following the release of “More Life,” a collection of songs he dubbed a mixtape, Drake set the record for the most Hot 100 debuts in one week (21); the most simultaneously charted Hot 100 titles in one week (24); the most charted titles among soloists in the Hot 100’s history (154); and the most streaming equivalent albums sold (163,000, the equivalent of 245.1 million song streams).

While impressive, Drake’s accomplishments come in a period ripe for record setting. This month, Future became the first artist to have two albums debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in successive weeks; Nicki Minaj gained the most total appearances on the Billboard Hot 100 for a female artist; and Ed Sheeran set the record for the most Spotify streams in a single week (besting a mark set by the Weeknd four months ago).  

The music records set in 2017 will probably be looked back on the way major league hitting records set in 1998 are viewed in hindsight with an asterisk.

Are musicians cheating? Technically, no. And certainly not the way sluggers did in the late 1990s. But they are gaming a system in flux.

In 2014 Billboard changed the rules governing its charts to incorporate streaming. Artists could sell an album the old-fashioned way or they could accumulate “album sales” via 1,500 song streams from streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.  

The rule change reflected modern listening habits, and it encouraged artists to rethink their conception of an album and release strategy. Whereas in the CD era a fan might not have bought two albums from the same artist in consecutive weeks, in the streaming era, a time when all albums are accessible through subscription, one album begets momentum for the next.

And then there is the case of Drake.   

Drake’s record-setting performance is as much a testament to his savviness as to his popularity or even his artistry. In almost every technical way “More Life” resembled an album — the exception being that a physical copy hasn’t yet been released. But calling “More Life” a playlist signaled how Drake conceived of the project (as a menagerie of vibes and geographies rather than as a cohesive narrative) and how the listener was meant to consume the project (fully, but casually). It gave Drake permission to pack the project with 22 songs. On a traditional album that might have felt overwhelming and dense but, in the context of a playlist, 22 songs is short and fun.

The genius of loading a project with a lot of songs — and especially a lot of songs that are distinct, digestible and danceable — is that more songs means more to stream. More high-profile names (Kanye, Young Thug, Quavo, Skepta) appear on “More Life” than appear in an “Expendables” movie. And there’s a genre for everyone: grime, dancehall, trap and vintage Drake. All of which makes it ironic that “More Life” has been showered with critical praise.

The success of “More Life,” in a way, illuminates what a cynical project it was: It was built to satisfy modern listening habits and modern success metrics. And yet, it does both of those things brilliantly and has an ear on the pulse of the world. Gaming the system doesn’t have to mean cheating the listener. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch superstars hit home runs.

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Here’s why 18 LGBT groups are fighting Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination

Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch (Credit: Getty/Brendan Smialowski)

Neil Gorsuch believes LGBT folks are “people,” but does he believe they deserve the same rights as everyone else? 

That question was central to Democratic interrogation of the 49-year-old judge tapped by President Donald Trump to fill Antonin Scalia’s vacant spot on the U.S. Supreme Court. During his testimony, the staunchly conservative jurist was asked by Sens. Dick Durbin and Al Franken how he would rule on marriage rights for same-sex couples from the bench. Echoing Trump’s sentiments on the issue, Gorsuch referred to Obergefell v. Hodges, the high court’s 2015 ruling that established marriage equality, as “absolutely settled law.” That would suggest that, if confirmed, he would not overturn the decision if given the opportunity.

“What about them?” Gorsuch replied when further asked for  his opinions about LGBT people. “They’re people.”

Those comments should be a breath of fresh air during a political season when LGBT rights have constantly been under attack. But what Gorsuch said next has deeply concerned gay rights advocates, who argue that his confirmation could pose a grave threat to equality. Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign have opposed his nomination.

After Franken pressed Gorsuch on his views about marriage between same-sex couples, the judge, currently serving as an appeals judg for the the 10th Circuit, said there are open questions about how Obergefell v. Hodges should be applied. “There’s ongoing litigation about its impact and its application right now,” said Gorsuch, who opposed legal recognition for LGBT couples in his 2004 dissertation. (His adviser at Oxford University, John Finnis, infamously compared homosexuality to bestality.)

If Gorsuch believes that the ways the Obergefell ruling could be applied are not as “settled” as the decision itself, that could affect several critical U.S. cases. The Texas Supreme Court is currently hearing oral arguments in Pidgeon v. Turner; two Houston residents sued the city because they believe that their taxes shouldn’t fund partner benefits for same-sex couples. After originally declining to hear that case last year, the court reversed its decision after a sustained lobbying effort from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Attorney General Ken Patton.

“That case should not be taken seriously,” said Jenny Pizer, the law and policy director for Lambda Legal. “It is before the court because of a campaign pressuring the court to consider taking the case.”

Although Pizer called legal arguments denying benefits to married same-sex couples “fringe” opinions, Texas isn’t the only state debating whether legally wedded LGBT people deserve the same privileges as other couples. A case known as Smith v. Pavan, which was decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court last year, denied some same-sex partners the right to be on their newborn child’s birth certificate. Three lesbian couples sued the state’s Department of Health when the agency wouldn’t allow second parents (the individuals who did not physically give birth) the ability to be recognized as their infant’s legal guardian.

The court’s ruling ended up favoring the Department of Health.

Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the Arkansas court wanted to “draw a distinction between access to a marriage license and then everything that flows from marriage.” While that verdict has been appealed to the Supreme Court, there’s no word on whether the nation’s highest court will take up the case.

“It’s a tremendous concern for the entire LGBT community if Judge Gorsuch does not consider all these rights, benefits, and obligations to be a firmly settled area of law,” Warbelow added.

Warbelow, who testified against Gorsuch’s nomination before Congress last week, believes that the judge is “actually more conservative than Scalia.” While she said Scalia was “no friend to the LGBT community,” Warbelow pointed to a handful of favorable decisions he made concerning queer people. In McCauley v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Scalia sided with the majority, ruling that laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace still apply if the parties involved are of the same gender. Warbelow said that Scalia was “interested in the plain language of the statute” or what one could reasonably determine from how a law is written.

The problem is that Gorsuch is a strict originalist. As Warbelow explained, this means he believes that laws “should be read based upon what the drafters of the statute understood the statute to mean.” This is a problem when it comes to legal benefits for same-sex couples, as such privileges weren’t initially considered with LGBT people in mind.

Pizer said, though, that following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, any debate on that subject should be “moot.”

“The Supreme Court ruling makes clear that decision was not just about marriage licenses,” Pizer said. “It was about the full range of legal rights and social benefits that come from being married. The collection of cases that together carry the name ‘Obergefell’ carried with them a broad range of harms. That litigation was not about marriage licenses or a technical legal status isolated somehow from all the things that come with being married.”

Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff whose name graces that 2015 case, was not seeking a license recognizing his relationship with John Arthur, Obergefell’s partner of 21 years. Arthur died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2013. John’s widower wanted to be listed on his longtime love’s death certificate.

Now almost two years after Obergefell won that right, Pizer asserts that it’s “generally understood” that marriage should “mean the same thing for everyone,” whether it’s the right to health insurance benefits or inheritance. “That’s what the Supreme Court said in Obergefell” decision, she said. “Most of the country understands that.”

To Warbelow, the Obergefell ruling is likely safe because of a “five-person voting block” on the Supreme Court, since the same judges whose votes led to marriage equality two years ago are still on the bench.

Some gay rights advocates are concerned, however, about cases involving “religious liberty.” In his majority opinion in the Obergefell case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote “to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected,” although his statement does not settle how faith-based objections will be dealt with. “Justice Kennedy signaled there might be times he thinks people can discriminate,” Warbelow said.

That could pose a problem in a potential debate over the legality of Mississippi’s House Bill 1523, which was aimed at permitting  conscientious objectors (to marriage equality) to deny service to LGBT people in the name of religion. The legislation prohibits that state from taking action against an individual who, for instance, fires an employee for being in a legally recognized same-sex union or who rejects a lesbian couple’s application to rent an apartment. HB 1523, which was signed into law in March 2016, additionally called for allowing adoption agencies to cite a conflict of faith and deny LGBT couples a child. In July this law, however, was struck down by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who argued that HB 1523 violated the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment. That clause promises all Americans “equal protection of the laws.” 

Should a challenge to this case be heard by the Supreme Court, there’s no indication that the firewall blocking discrimination against LGBT people would hold fast. As a member of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch ruled in favor of the right to faith-based objections in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius. That case concerned whether the retail chain could legally deny employees contraception coverage as part of its health care insurance plan. Hobby Lobby won that decision, a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“It sets up the idea that people get to have these little bubbles around themselves and pick and choose which laws to follow based on their religious or moral beliefs,” Warbelow said. “If you follow that line of reasoning, anyone who acknowledges a same-sex couple in any capacity is violating their religious beliefs.”

Even if a Supreme Court with Gorsuch on the bench upholds Obergefell v. Hodges, the high court could still provide a pathway to discrimination against LGBT people. The conservative judge will face continued questions about his beliefs as Congress considers his Supreme Court nomination.

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Add orgasm to the to-do list: One a day might not be such a simple promise to make to yourself

women orgasm pledge

(Credit: Getty/SIphotography)

I recently wrote about a study that found employees perform better and are happier at work if they had sex at home the night before. The study interested me because it seemed to suggest that it’s not only okay to express oneself sexually, but professionally beneficial. On one hand, it’s encouraging and motivating, but also has alarming implications. To some degree it felt like the suggestion is that we need permission to have sex because our work lives have become so entangled in our personal lives that it feels wrong to put down a work device to go on a date after hours. And it’s nice that certain benefits occur post-coitus but it’s deeply unsexy to think about how something so primal, intimate and personal will affect someone’s work productivity. Thinking about sex in such structured terms does away with much of the romance, and some companies are seeking to increase women’s orgasms by regulating the frequency of sex.

O’Actually is a website dedicated to educating and enhancing female sexual pleasure. The site’s content ranges from podcasts, to stimulation guides, to products to encourage women to explore their sexual experiences more. . .  er, deeply. One method is through a program called the Pleasure Pledge designed to help women take charge of their sex lives by committing to achieving one orgasm per day.

To participate in the pledge, women are asked to commit to their personal pleasure by vowing to have an orgasm a day via her preferred method. This program is believed to be successful and help women get more in touch with their bodies.

It sounds like a nice idea, but I can’t help but find it insulting. Who’s to say women haven’t already “committed” to their own orgasms? Complicating factors that include a volatile political climate, familial responsibilities and professional responsibilities often take priority over a woman’s sex life, and many are exhausted after a long day of ruling her world. To suggest a woman hasn’t committed to her sexual pleasure feels like another way of saying “you’re not doing enough.” Women are accustomed to the struggle of trying to have it all, and yet orgasms are now being used as another example of failure. I’m sure everyone would prefer to have multiple orgasms per day instead of making breakfast or going to work.

A recent study shed some not-so-shocking light about the sleep habits of parents. More than half of mothers under the age of 45 get less than six hours of sleep, whereas sleep duration for fathers was not affected nearly as drastically after becoming a father. Biological, anatomical, and cultural factors make it easier for men to climax, and we need to be more aware of what a woman’s needs may be.

The parental sleeping habits study  highlights a stressor many women function with daily, and notes the prevalence of sleep-deprivation among mothers. Compounded by other health issues, I’m not sure how many women would be willing to pledge to have a daily orgasm. Some might be happier to commit to a daily nap. And it’s not something any woman should feel guilty about. Pressuring women to have a daily orgasm is like saying a woman should shave her legs everyday: great in theory, but few really have time for it.

With this pressure comes varying degrees of guilt: if a woman’s partner is out of town, she may feel guilty for achieving orgasm through masturbation; a woman may not be comfortable initiating sex with a partner for fear of rejection; or maybe there’s not enough time for intimacy.

The issue isn’t as simple as having an orgasm. Myriad factors affect a woman’s desire and ability to achieve climax, and making a pledge won’t uncomplicate things. Maybe we should pledge to unconditionally empower each other.

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WATCH: Why are adults fascinated with teen novels?


How does a girl who’s never left her house experience — and even explore — the world? That’s one of the questions young adult author Nicola Yoon posed in her debut novel, “Everything, Everything,” the tale of Maddie, a teen with a rare autoimmune disease whose life is changed when “a super cute boy” moves in next door.

Yoon’s New York Times bestseller is now set to be a new movie starring “Hunger Games” veteran Amandla Stenberg this spring, and the author sat down recently with Salon to discuss the boom in YA literature and her own inspirations. She says started writing “Everything, Everything” when her own daughter was just four months old. “I was a very, very nervous new mom, and I really did think she was going to get sick. . . so I started thinking about what life would be for a girl you had to protect all the time the way you protect an infant.”

Yoon’s second novel, “The Sun Is Also a Star,” similarly features teen protagonists, a pair of high schoolers facing the imminent deportation of one of them. She says she was initially drawn to writing YA literature because “I think that teenagers are naturally philosophical, and I want to be a part of that conversation with them.” YA, she says, is about “asking big questions, and saying that you should ask these questions. You don’t necessarily need to have answer to them.” And those same books are equally embraced by older readers, she surmises, because, “I don’t think you should stop questioning, as an adult. . . what your dreams and passions are.”

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Get ready for Trumpcare 2.0: White House reverses course, looks to renew health care battle


(Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Andrew Harnik)

Despite his loud proclamations to the contrary, President Donald Trump appears ready to tackle health care reform again.

“I would say that we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform. That will be next,” Trump told reporters in the White House after the GOP failed to rally enough support to pass the American Health Care Act last Friday.

Yet only days after the embarrassing defeat of the House Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which Trump backed and lobbied Republicans on the Hill to support, Trump is still looking to dismantle the signature legislative accomplishment of his predecessor — one way or another. According to the New York Times, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is already meeting with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group, in an effort to hash out a compromise between the bitterly divided factions of the Republican caucus.  

White House staff “has met with individuals and listened to them,” press secretary Sean Spicer explained to reporters on Tuesday. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes.”

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, confirmed to the Washington Post that Ryan meet with Trump at the White House on Monday and also met separately with Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Spicer said lawmakers from both parties have reached out to the White House since the repeal-and-replace measure’s collapse on Friday. “So there has been a discussion and I believe there will be several more,” he said. “I’m not saying we’ve picked a strategy and we’re going to go with this group or that group.”

It was, of course, the Freedom Caucus that Trump publicly blamed for sinking his health care plan:

On Twitter Monday night, Trump hinted that he may be more inclined to negotiate Trumpcare 2.0 with Democrats, many of whom are up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump, than with the most recalcitrant conservative members of the Republican Party.

“I’ve been saying for years that the best thing is to let Obamacare explode and then go make a deal with the Democrats and have one unified deal,” the president told the Washington Post immediately after demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan pull the American Health Care Act from a scheduled floor vote Friday. “And they will come to us; we won’t have to come to them.”

But while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently took formal steps to work on improvements to the law that Republicans have derisively called Obamacare for seven years, it is virtually inconceivable that a Democratic Party that is beginning to move toward coalescing around single-payer health care would suddenly go along with any possible bill put forward by Ryan and Trump. After all, the Congressional Budget Office has said that while the market for individual coverage is currently stable in most of the country under Obamacare, the first version of Trumpcare would eventually have left 24 million more Americans uninsured.

Perhaps that’s why Trump was so quick to shift the discussion of his major policy and political failure on Friday to focus on other agenda items. Republicans, on the other hand, appear eager to jump back into negotiations over an issue they have campaigned on for the last three election cycles.

“We saw good overtures from those members from different parts of our conference to get there because we all share these goals, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to get it done,” Ryan said after a meeting of the entire House Republican conference on Tuesday — the first since Trump traveled to Capitol Hill last week to threaten members of the Freedom Caucus to support Trumpcare. “I don’t want us to become a factionalized majority. I want us to become a unified majority, and that means we’re going to sit down and talk things out until we get there, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Republican whip aligned with conservatives in the conference, made the curious claim, “We are closer to repealing Obamacare than we ever have been before.” He continued, “We’re going to keep working” because “this issue isn’t going away.” 

According to the Washington Post, the Ryan told Republican donors during a Monday conference call that a plan is being developed in time to brief them in-person at a GOP retreat in Florida scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

“In a strange way, this really merged our teams — our team in the House with the president’s team — even more closely,” Ryan reportedly told the GOP donors.

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