The Authentic Imposter

The first woman to paint the official portrait of a U.S. president, Greta Kempton also painted Cabinet officials, governors, senators, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, two Postmasters General, a Supreme Court justice, several university presidents, and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. But what would have happened if she had painted a self-portrait?

Putting on Superman’s Cape

The idea of CPAC made me sore afraid, so of course I wanted to go. I felt like the boy in the daguerreotype who has climbed a tree in order to better view the state funeral cortege.

Thoughts on The End and How We Go On

Dying is something we all do. Saints, film stars, Olympic athletes, con artists. I feel calmer every time another cool friend pulls it off; if all these smart, funny people have managed to die, could it be so awful to share their fate? Yet much of what we call culture is created to deny death, or at least distract us from it.

The Pilgrimage to the King’s Heartbreak Hotel

The real Elvis is American, remember, and America is a consumer society. The desires we project, the stuff we buy—that is what feels real to us. It lets us have any Elvis we want. He left plenty of kitsch in his wake, plenty of pseudo-religion, plenty of Elvis jokes—but he was not, is not, a joke. He lived our contradictions, released our inhibitions, and lost himself in the process.

Right-Minded Electricity, Anyone?

Distrustful of (some) digital technology, yet resentful of the power others might gain by its use, CPAC attendees were asked almost nonstop to consume “conservative” or “alt-tech” technologies. In the hours-long general sessions each day, in a ballroom with thousands of chairs, flashy, high-tech displays showed video ads between every speaker or panel—for The Right Stuff (“a dating app for the right wing”), Tusk (“The Freedom-First Web Browser developed exclusively for Conservatives”), Parler (a “free speech” clone of Twitter), FourSure (“a powerful remote control for the content you already share” so you “Don’t get hacked or canceled”), and other tech companies.

The Joy of Cruising

When I visit places, it never occurs to me to take photos of them. I also know that if I take a photo, I will never look at it again. As a traveler, a place has meaning while I am there at the moment, however slight that meaning may be. It is the experience of the moment that matters, not a memory of it, which is what a photograph is.

Carny World: Sideshows, Freaks, Oddities, and Curiosities

In the way that burlesque, roller derbies, and tattooing and other body modifications were reclaimed in the postmodern age (though not without detractors), sideshows and freak shows have tried to become something different than their earlier iterations. Many say they intend to be inspirational, empowering, and to realign conceptions about difference.

Blood, Sand, and Soil

WashU students scrubbed off the racist symbols as fast as they could, but the damage would cost $10,000 to repair. Meanwhile, the video Patriot Front made of the sabotage would be seen, liked, and shared by thousands. The destroyed mural is titled “The Story That Never Ends.”

The Endless Summer

Nineteen sixty-six was the last year of the family outings to Atlantic City. Things were changing. The world was changing. My family was changing. A moment may feel endless but never is. I was a teenager; everything was sharp and awkward.