Collections of reflections address politics, culture

BY PETER ELLISON

“Feel Free” by Zadie Smith

 

This collection of essays by the brilliant Zadie Smith, distributed by Penguin Press, is eye-opening and contains a fascinating blend of history, politics, psychology and hip-hop. “Feel Free” is about 430 pages, divided into about 30 essays that make it surprisingly manageable.

 

This book tackles an extremely wide variety of social and political topics, often connecting various disciplines mid-essay. All of them display a remarkable amount of insight and succeed in not just pontificating, but rather prompting thought and further research on the reader’s part. While Zadie Smith is a self-proclaimed liberal, she constantly remains aware of her bias and is able to pick that apart. In her essays about politics, she rarely focuses directly on a political issue but rather goes beyond that issue and tries to capture the real problem behind it.

 

One respect in which the collection suffers is simply the limiting nature of an anthology. Many of the essays were written in a pre-Trump political environment and, as such, don’t perfectly address the crazy world we currently live in. One more word of warning to the reader: Smith is British and writes about British politics in a few essays, which can lead to a rather confusing read for someone, such as myself, with only a cursory understanding of politics across the pond.

 

Despite this, Smith’s essays on American culture, ranging from the psychological implications of Facebook to the psychology of journal writing, are truly fantastic and made me think about reality in a different way.

 

I highly recommend this book not just for someone interested in the world, but for anyone interested in exploring themselves further.

 

“Videocracy” by Kevin Allocca

 

This 300-page book by YouTube’s head of culture and trends Kevin Allocca (published by Bloomsbury) chronicles the rise of YouTube and other viral trends and analyzes how the new medium has impacted modern entertainment.

 

Allocca tells the growth of YouTube by using myriad real-world stories and anecdotes that work together to illustrate the changes that the internet has had on popular culture. “Videocracy” reveals a popular culture able to be influenced both by the creators and the viewers.

 

Throughout the text, gray-bordered insets divert from the narrative to reveal either historical background or Allocca’s personal experiences. Allocca’s voice also comes through the text through many footnotes scattered in the novel. These inclusions help make the book feel conversational rather than just a dry monologue.

 

One major strength of “Videocracy” is its ability to draw upon cultural phenomena that the reader is already familiar with in order to illustrate Allocca’s points. While this aspect strengthens “Videocracy’s” analysis, it also backfires at times. While I understood many of the references throughout the text, the passages about those I didn’t left me confused and a little bit lost as to what Allocca exactly intended to say.

 

Despite these moments of confusion “Videocracy” successfully quantifies broad trends in online entertainment that teenagers interact with on a daily basis. While not truly fantastic, “Videocracy” is a good read for anyone who wants to better understand today’s rapidly evolving internet culture and what that means for our society.