Title: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 13th 2020
Genres: Cultural Studies, Non-Fiction
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
A HARROWING JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF WHITE SUPREMACY
Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers. Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online.
Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more.
By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within. Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.
Talia Lavin’s Culture
Warlords is a compelling, terrifying glimpse into white supremacy. This is by no means a complete examination of the many facets white supremacy reveals itself online and in our culture, but this is a good starting point and a good place to open up the conversation and personal research regarding why it feels like white supremacy has run rampantly unchecked lately.
I started reading this on the Friday after the attempted coup on January 6 because it felt like the right time to read it. I’ve always known white supremacy is deeply entwined in American history, but watching the events that unfolded last week brought it to the clearest forefront.
Lavin’s research and deep dives into white supremacist communities online and off are harrowing, brave, and gutsy. I know I don’t have the wherewithal to catfish on any level, so to me the levels she took this to are incredible. She risked so much going undercover to expose these internet communities, and I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional toll this endeavor has had on her.
One of the things I found most interesting about this is her exploration of the internet being a strikingly new tool at radicalization. It’s only in the last thirty or forty years that we as a planet have had the capabilities to share thoughts and information like this, and the more our society moves online to communicate, the more opportunities there are for unchecked, unmoderated spaces for white supremacist groups to connect.
I couldn’t put Culture Warlords down, and I finished it within a few hours of starting it. This is a necessary read, and it’s a necessary conversation opener.
Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!
Title: Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe
Published by Scribner
Published: August 20th 2019
Genres: Cultural Studies
A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Attorney, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.
In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.
Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.
Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites
explores the cultural phenomenon of true crime and how women tend to be drawn to the “genre” even though women are more likely to be victims in true crime “stories.” This was an examination of our society’s fascination with true crime and how that fascination has grown over the years through four case studies. In Savage Appetites
, Monroe takes those fascinations of women with true crime and separates them into four general archetypes – detective, victim, attorney, killer.
Through each of these archetypes, Monroe combines thorough research with her own anecdotes to explore what exactly it is that makes true crime so fascinating not only for women but for all of us. While her writing flowed easily and I enjoyed learning what she tied in with her archetypes, I felt that it all fell flat because some of the attitudes were a little negatively skewed toward the women featured in the archetypes. It’s uncomfortable to read unnecessary criticism against women in a book about women, but because I’m not well-read in true crime, maybe that’s something delved into a little more? I’m not sure. For me, when someone is offering cultural insight and criticism, I do want there to be more about what we as a society could do to be better or how it ultimately affects our society to be so interested in an ultimately violent “genre.” What happens when true crime begins being viewed as fiction rather than something that happened to real people? Do we become more desensitized to the violence because we’re beginning to assume it’s fiction and therefore can’t happen to us?
Even though true crime has certainly morphed into a genre, I was hoping for more in Savage Appetites about the implications of calling true crime a genre and ultimately why we’re becoming more and more fascinated with true crime. One more chapter tying the four archetypes together and exploring a result or conclusion would have made me like this a little bit more!
Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy to review. All opinions are my own.
Title: A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Cultural Studies
Format: Trade Paper
In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.
In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.
Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky
writes about the lives of four individuals in Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania and Uganda who are resisting against the extremisms they each face. Okeowo, a first generation Nigerian-American, manages to deftly weave hope and inspiration in her solemn, yet conversational, exploration of the bravery and courage these four individuals face in abject terror.
The four narratives are about an LRA child soldier and the girl forced to marry him, a man and his fight against slavery in modern Mauritania, a group fighting Boko Haram, and a Somalian young woman’s struggle for the right to continue playing basketball. While each of the stories were eye-opening to read, the story about the Somalian young woman finding friendship, companionship, and fulfillment in playing basketball tugged at my heart-strings the most. To us here in the US, something so commonplace as playing basketball doesn’t register as a forbidden activity for anyone, but for her, it was a forbidden activity, because she is Muslim, because she is female. Her struggle to pursue her dreams resonated with me so much.
Okeowo writes the lives of each of these individuals with clarity, empathy, and respect; she writes their stories with unflinching insight to their struggles and triumphs. This book will certainly raise awareness to events happening beyond our media’s reach and inspire people to take action. It’s an absolute must read.
Many thanks to Hachette for sending me a copy of this book to review! All opinions are my own.