Comments: Week of August 14, 2023


“Tell Me Why It Hurts,” July 31–­August 13

For New York’s latest cover story, ­Danielle Carr wrote about how Bessel van der Kolk’s theory of trauma went from fringe obsession to mainstream phenom­enon. Nick ­Clairmont called it an “incredible, pageturning thriller … An ­origin story of the rise of the entire bullshit memeplex of terms like trauma, trigger, abuser, toxic, attachment, etc., and the ­definitive story of this neuro­Lysenko­ism.” Boston ­Review’s ­Simon Torracinta said the story “has it all —reportage! wit! careful scientific geneal­ogies of trauma and neuro­psychiatry! close encounters in a Berkshire ashram! and a characteristically lucid attention to our anguished conjuncture.” Some readers took note of how the trauma discourse has ­affected other threads of culture and psychological research. The author Malcolm Harris tweeted, “This made me think about how the individualization/medicalization discourse of trauma served as an alternative outlet after ­second-wave feminism’s politicization of (genuinely widespread) child sexual abuse got blocked,” and @DefiantBritta said, “There are good ideas on trauma, but the over-inclusive ­nature of making everything Instagram-­ified traumatic moments really is doing a disservice to the actual science (and those folks with trauma dis­orders).” Michael Scheeringa, a Tulane professor and the author of a critical analysis of The Body Keeps the Score, wrote, “Despite some ­research early in his career, van der Kolk’s shtick became the guru — a Lightworker who can help usher in a new way of being by speaking to the soul. If ­others disagreed with him, the video and written records include many of his ­attempts to shame them as dullards who just can’t see what the guru sees, as Carr’s article captured. Much of his soulcraft ­consisted of cherry-picked research and ­imprecise ­jargon that could never be ­proven or ­dis­proven. The claims of van der Kolk’s ­fabricated reality have been discredited, but unfortunately remain popular ­because they fit a ­useful narrative for a ­variety of ideo­logical reasons.” Writer ­Magdalene J. Taylor said she was “hoping, praying, pleading for this to mark a turn away from our current tendency to center ‘trauma’ as the only experience of cultural authority.”


“ ‘Where Is Britney?’ ”

Rebecca ­Jennings investigated how a faction of the Free Britney movement has moved on to new conspiracy theories in a refusal to accept that the pop star was let out of her conservatorship. Tracy Gleason and Sally Theran, professors of psychology at ­Wellesley College whose research focuses on the intersection of parasocial relationships, ­social media, and adolescents, wrote, “This article highlights how a celebrity like ­Britney, who has endured so much so ­publicly, has difficulty maintaining any sort of ­private life. She is in a bind. She does not wish to alienate her fans, but any boundary she tries to set might be met with resistance, suspicion, or even hostility from those few who may overstep. But our parasocial relationships are, by definition, one-sided. Being a Britney fan is not synonymous with being her friend, and as outsiders, we do not necessarily know what’s best for her.” The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols said it was “yet more evidence that we are an existentially bored and unserious culture: When Spears got back on her feet, many people were deprived of an ongoing drama. So they invented a conspiracy drama rather than have it taken from them,” while Piaras Kelly tweeted, “The internet is a hell of a drug.”


“What the Builder Built”

Justin Davidson profiled the power broker Dan ­Doctoroff — who rebuilt the city under Mayor ­Bloomberg and who was recently diagnosed with ALS — as he ­considers his legacy. ArtsJournal’s Douglas McLennan wrote, “I adore stories like this … Cities don’t happen by accident—it takes vision and force of personality to realize the potential.” The University of Iowa College of Law’s Greg Shill called the reporting “phenomenally ­engaging,” adding, “I hope it’s the first draft of a biog­raphy.” “The Bloomberg era left a mixed legacy (downzonings). But NYC is still living on the intellectual ­ cap­ital of ideas built up in that period,” ­tweeted ­Arpit Gupta, an ­associate professor of ­finance at NYU Stern, citing congestion pricing, Citi Bike, Hudson Yards, the East River ­Esplanade, and other endeavors. And David Madden, an associate professor of sociology at the London School of ­Economics, wrote, “Agreed that the ­Bloomberg-Doctoroff era was ‘among the most consequential half-dozen years of any city builder’s term in New York history’ — but IMO their elitist mode of citymaking should be seen as a failure that helped set the stage for current problems.”

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Comments: Week of August 14, 2023