The end of the year is society’s officially sanctioned time to go retrospective-mad, so I thought I’d enter into the spirit and gather together some of the best articles I read in 2014. This year’s is a shorter list than the last, but some of these features are among the best journalism I’ve ever come across:
It takes one to know one
I read some staggering profiles this year, perhaps most notably Andrew O’Hagan’s 26,000 word epic on trying to ghost-write Julian Assange’s autobiography. The depth of insight into the Wikileaker’s world of contradictions is undoubtedly my long read of 2014.
In some way he found it impossible to imagine how another person could have a view of him, or of themselves, that didn’t accord with his own. ‘Every good story needs a Judas,’ he said, and ‘nearly everybody is a fucking wanker.’
When I read Asra Q. Nomani’s profile of her friend Danny Pearl – the journalist brutally murdered by Pakistani militants in 2002 – I found it upsetting and fascinating in equal measure. What I didn’t know was how prescient it would prove to be in a year when so many other journalists have suffered the same fate.
After nine years of being locked up at secret CIA detention centers and the “Gitmo” prison, 183 waterboardings, and years of uncertainty over whether he would be tried in a civil or a military courtroom, the man who boasted about decapitating Danny would finally be facing justice. And I would be there, almost face to face with him.
What do you do when you think you have a murderer in the family? John Reed’s exploration of his grandmother’s relationship with food and family makes for compelling reading.
You don’t want to believe your grandmother is poisoning you. You know that she loves you—there’s no doubt of that—and she’s so marvelously grandmotherly and charming…So despite your better judgment, you eat the food until you’ve passed out so many times that you can’t keep doubting yourself.
The latter half of this year has been dominated by discussions of institutional racism deeply entrenched within America’s police force, with the situation taking a seemingly endless number of dark and depressing turns. Following the revenge murders of two US officers, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes eloquently on police violence.
When the police are brutalized by people, we are outraged because we are brutalized. By the same turn, when the police brutalize people, we are forgiving because ultimately we are really just forgiving ourselves. Power, decoupled from responsibility, is what we seek.
Syria continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and an ever-decreasing number of journalists find themselves able to report from its front lines. Anthony Loyd, a foreign correspondent for The Times, writes incredibly evocatively on being kidnapped, shot and beaten in Tal Rifaat:
One of our captors asked what good we did. Dodging obvious pitfalls, I replied that independent reporting was essential in establishing factual record. The captor paused for a second…When the man responded, his words were considered and sincere. “What good is factual record to us,” he said quietly, “when our children are dying?”
When it comes to violence in plain sight, such horrors do afford us something: to ask questions. But what about when brutality goes on behind closed doors? Figures revealed by this investigation into the abuse of mentally ill prisoners at Rikers in New Jersey is beyond disturbing.
Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.
I’ve read several very moving personal accounts about dealing with cancer this year, but this piece, written by a cancer doctor on his wife’s illness, offers a new, painful angle.
Our life together was gone, and carrying on without her was exactly that, without her. I was reminded of our friend Liz’s insight after she lost her husband to melanoma. She told me she had plenty of people to do things with, but nobody to do nothing with.
The total circus that was Oscar Pistorius’s trial followed the form of most celebrity athletes’ judicial journeys, where those at the receiving end of the crime are all but forgotten. Hadley Freeman’s unpacking of the ‘dynamic relationship’ between Pistorius and his victim, Reeva Steenkamp, explores this trope.
The abuse of Janay Rice and the death of Reeva Steenkamp – and of Nicole Brown Simpson, while we’re talking about brutalised partners of celebrity athletes – remind us, were reminders needed, that men can cause unimaginable physical damage to the women they say they love.
When it comes to young women in the public eye, we seem to be caught in a vicious circle: expecting them to be paragons of virtue, self-deprecation and feminism. Suzanne Moore deconstructs the pressures put upon the selfie generation:
Each generation creates its own self-loathing. Now it’s binging and purging and self-harm. Young women reinvent the wheels that continue to flatten them.
Far from the insightful profiles listed above, a certain strand of celebrity interviews centres around a kind of bizarre fetishization of one’s subject. Monica Heisey parodies this brilliantly:
As I watch the actress walk away, I know she is really running. She is running from the truth (me) but she cannot out-run time. She is a 42 year-old woman. Soon she will be dead.
There’s no doubt that the press really, really enjoys talking about itself, but Gawker’s takedown of ‘new media’ sites is funny enough to excuse the navel-gazing.
Vox is a defective puppy-mill puppy, the even-more-defective-and-inbred-than-baseline result of a brief craze, overbred with all sorts of crazy-sad heart problems. Vox is also doing better traffic and growing more quickly than Gawker, and is extremely popular with “Millennials.” Euthanize Vox immediately.
At the beginning of 2014, BuzzFeed’s ‘Which city should you live in?’ quiz was an inescapable omnipresence. The New Yorker devised their own alternative responses, with excellent results.
You Got: Colonial Williamsburg
You’re an old soul, trapped in an old body, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and are now trapped in the future. You can find work as a blacksmith. It will help you cope. Just know that slavery ended, and those are actors, you nut. I’ll come and get you when I find a way to send you back to the seventeen-hundreds. I’m sorry this happened to you.
Did I leave out something brilliant? Let me know in the comments below.