Jessica Bennett

Stories by Jessica Bennett

  • Book on City Graffitti Hits the Bookshelves

    It makes city governments cringe. But graffiti can be provocative, inspiring and poetic—sometimes even a tool for public discourse. That's what San Francisco designers Axel Albin and Josh Kamler say in their new book, "Written on the City." They've compiled their favorite "message graffiti" from cities around the globe—the musings, rants, political statements and cultural observations of artists who risk jail to have their voices heard. The best examples are poignant ("One week that we've been separated," reads an image of two lovers), funny ("You looked better on MySpace," jokes another) and thought-provoking ("Create beautiful children. Marry an Arab," says a wall in Tel Aviv). The original spray paintings are likely covered up by now: cities spend millions each year to do so. But the authors believe their photographs can tell us something about the dialogue happening around us. "People want to talk about graffiti as this kind of raw, urban, danger-of-the-city kind of thing," says...
  • Comic Books: Hurricane Katrina, in Drawings

    To this day, the images are haunting: entire neighborhoods submerged by toxic water, bodies packed into the Superdome like sardines. Seeing them rendered in a comic book—dialogue balloons filled with cries of anguish, inked and colored corpses—is, as it turns out, no less horrifying. But that's what makes "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge," a 14-part Web comic series about Hurricane Katrina, so good. The brainchild of New York cartoonist Josh Neufeld and Smith Magazine, "A.D." tells the story of six real-life New Orleanians who survived: a couple in their 20s; a sixth-generation native; an Iranian-born supermarket owner; a high-school student, and a local doctor. The series culminates this month with the hurricane's third anniversary, and hits bookstores next year with a contract from Pantheon."A.D." is raw and painful—down to the detailed depictions of ruined homes and the frenzied dialogue among friends. It reaches a climax in chapter 13 (above), with army vehicles whizzing past...
  • Videogames: Why People Live Second Lives Online

    We've all heard the warnings: addiction, isolation, a waste of time. But some 50 million people log on to online role-playing games like The Sims and Second Life—and many of them never log off. The makers of a new documentary called "Second Skin," which hits theaters in September, followed seven hard-core gamers to find out why. Victor Piñeiro, the film's producer, spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett: ...
  • Sex, Lies and Pillow Talk

    William Butler Yeats once said that sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind. If that's the case, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler is as serious as they come. His last book, "Severance," was told through the voices of recently severed heads. His latest, "Intercourse," is about, well, sex—but it's not erotica. Instead, it's the uninhibited inner thoughts of partners throughout history, all (well, most) based on serious historical research. ...
  • My Shrink Says ... Blog!

    Why do people write confessional blogs? It's a creative outlet. It's a forum to vent. It's an exercise in exhibitionism. To mental-health experts, though, it's more than that: a blog is medicine. Psychiatrists are starting to tout the therapeutic power of blogging, and many have begun incorporating it into patient treatment. A forthcoming study in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior even suggests that bloggers might be happier than nonbloggers.Mental-health experts say blogs are a step up from plain old diaries, chiefly because of the built-in audience. As kids, we learn that if we air our problems, we get help. We associate communication with consolation, particularly when the going gets tough. Blogging fulfills that primal need for sympathy. "Writing is an effort of the brain to communicate for comfort," says Harvard neurologist Alice Flaherty. "Diaries are a form of that communication, but removed. Blogging gets you closer to that sympathetic audience, and that's what...
  • Camp Memories: Wet Hot American Summers

    It was a place of many firsts: the first time away from home, the first campfire and—for a few zillion kids—the first kiss. It began with the long trip on a school bus with puke-colored seats, and it ended with friendships that faded by fall but roared back the next summer. Ah, camp: the hot-weather ritual where cheesy singalongs, Popsicle-stick sculptures and swimsuit wedgies were totally awesome, at least until August.If you're already feeling nostalgic, a quirky new book called "Camp Camp" is a "love letter" to the whole experience, say authors Roger Bennett and Jules Shell. The glossy book is stuffed with 301 pages—whittled down from thousands of submissions—of Polaroid snapshots, mess-hall memories, packing lists and diary entries from former campers whose recollections are so vivid you can practically smell the pine cones. Best are the tales of first-day jitters, the inevitable first-night homesick sniffles and, of course, the clumsy preteen sexuality: the purity tests, the...
  • Geek Girls: Revenge of the Nerdettes

    As geeks become chic in all levels of society, an unlikely subset is starting to roar. Meet the Nerd Girls: they're smart, they're techie and they're hot.
  • Boxed Vino Goes Primo

    Fans of boxed wine have always taken the good with the bad, the good being the price; the bad, of course, being the quality. But for those who've outgrown cheap hangovers but not cheap prices, a new breed of "premium" boxed wines has arrived. Made from pure wine varietals that don't carry additives or extra sugar, these wines have long been popular in Europe and Australia (where they make up 50 percent of sales, say industry experts), and are now the fastest-growing sector of the American market. Sales were up 50 percent in 2007, according to AC Nielsen.Brands such as Black Box, Bota Box and the Wine Cube by—get ready—Target use California grapes, and are stored with bags that collapse to keep out oxygen so the wines last longer—some up to six weeks. They're still cheap: a three-liter carton (that's four bottles) goes for about $20.That's still unlikely to attract connoisseurs. "My patrons would laugh me right out of the restaurant if I brought a box over to their table," says James...
  • Blog Books Go For Broke

    It's the latest ploy to get rich quick: create a quirky blog, solicit a following and—voilà!—six-figure book deal. Last year Collins signed the creators of the photo blog Passive Aggressive Notes for a reported six figures; Christian Lander, whose blog Stuff White People Like has clocked 20 million hits this year, signed for $350,000 with Random House in March. Now loyal contributors to Postcards From Yo Momma can revel in anthologized maternal mail as well as the knowledge that the site's creators sewed up a "comfortable" deal with Hyperion.But are publishers being smart? Many bloggers just repackage what they've already done. That can work, à la Robert Lanham's 2003 "The Hipster Handbook," which has sold 40,000 copies. But usually "the reading experience for a book needs to go deeper," says Brettne Bloom of the Kneerim & Williams agency. The media bloggers at Gawker, whose readership has topped a million a month, certainly learned that lesson after signing a rumored $250,000...
  • Exposing Hip-Hop’s Gay Subculture

    In a new memoir, a former MTV staffer dishes on the rap industry's persistent "down-low" culture. He doesn't name names, but it's a fascinating peek inside hip-hop's last taboo.
  • Heavy Metal Journal: Rocking In Baghdad

    Filming a documentary on the streets of Baghdad is no easy task. For the producers of "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," a new Vice film about Iraq's only metal band, it meant smuggling themselves into the country, shelling out thousands for security, and constant disorder. But for the members of Acrassicauda, the band those filmmakers set out to find, chaos is a way of life. To get to practice, the group must navigate roadblocks, curfews and death threats. To power their amps, they use gas generators. They play shows in the midst of power outages and mortar rounds. Eventually, their practice space is blown up, sparing their lives but destroying all their equipment.The film, which comes out on DVD next month, is also a tale of the thwarted possibilities for Iraq's youth. The band's four members are educated and Westernized, and though they're intensely loyal to Iraq, they yearn for a place where wearing a Slip Knot shirt won't get you killed. Playing heavy metal in a Muslim country has never...
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    The Backlash Against Magazine Airbrushing

    Airbrushing celebrity and model photos has become so common that it's a popular pastime for magazine readers to spot the digital manipulations. But have photo editors gone too far?
  • Books: Valley of the Dolls

    There was a three year period during my adolescence when Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the heart-stealing twins of Francine Pascal's "Sweet Valley High" series, were, like, my best friends and biggest idols. I'd curl up in the library and speed through their adventures with boys and boobs. They were everything I wanted to be: pretty, popular and fun, with beach-bum boyfriends who all had names like Todd. To this day, those books are still a nostalgia bomb for most girls (sorry, women) my age. So when I heard they were being rereleased this month— updated to reflect modern teen tastes—I was giddy. As series editor Beverly Horowitz puts it, "School dramas, sister issues and California beaches never go out of style."Actually, they do—at least for this former fan. The series updates are pretty minor (Liz writes a gossip blog on top of her duties at the school paper; the girls ditch their Fiat for a Jeep), but the characters I once loved now remind me more of the ice queens from ...
  • Fast Chat: Ben Stein

    His resume is loaded: lawyer, economist, presidential speechwriter—and beloved monotone teacher. Now Ben Stein ("Bueller? Bueller?") is taking on the role of moral crusader. In "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a documentary that opens April 18, Stein dissects Darwinism and what he calls its monopoly on American classrooms. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett: ...
  • Blogs: Stuff Other People Like

    What do recycling, farmers markets and "The Wire" have in common? If you've ever read Stuff White People Like, the satirical blog that has clocked 20 million hits since its January debut, you'd have your answer. Random House handed the site's author a reported $350,000 book deal—and that might explain the proliferation of knockoff sites by minorities poking fun at their own. Now there's Stuff Educated Black People Like (No. 8: business cards), Stuff Asian People Like (No. 46: cutting in line), Stuff Jewish Young Adults Like (No. 4: Ultimate Frisbee) and more. The sites, of course, are a joke. "I'm not speaking the gospel here," says Charlee Renaud, the educated black creator of Stuff Educated Black People Like. It's true: her list shows that other EBPs prefer neo-soul.
  • Just Go to Helvetica

    Or at least to Verdana. Because without a signature font, you'll never be letter-perfect.
  • Love Me, Love My Mix Tape

    It took hours to make: every free moment curled by the boombox, the local radio station's song-request line set to speed dial, the volume knob turned loud enough to hear, but quiet enough not to wake Mom and Dad. Then, finally, the master product: a flawless combination of Alanis Morissette, Nirvana and Boyz II Men—decorated, doodled on and packaged in that familiar square case—that would become the soundtrack to a fleeting eighth-grade romance.Ah, the mix tape. Philips first unveiled its cassette in 1963, but the durable plastic has long since been replaced by the MP3. Still, what's old is always new again eventually, and the cassette tape has a burgeoning cult following that, like the vinyl obsession of generations before, has made it hip again among the audio underground. "Cassettes are the last refuge of the music nerd," says Jay Cook, a New York DJ and cultural marketing specialist.Today, DJs covet old-school mix-tape sets by artists like Dr. Dre, and dozens of companies have...
  • Hillary and Young Women

    Four years ago, my college roommates and I saw Hillary Clinton speak. It was in Boston during the Democratic National Convention, and the four of us—all in our early 20s—swore that if she ever ran for president, we'd quit our jobs and work for her campaign. Speaking to an audience of all women, the former First Lady was poised but at ease, confident but lighthearted. She looked comfortable in front of all those women. Her strength was riveting. How quickly things change. Today, I'm a journalist (and no, I didn't quit my job to work for the Clinton campaign), Hillary is no longer the candidate of inspiration and each of those college friends—like nearly every other young person I know—has been sold on the Obama rock-star brand. Yet while the fear of betraying the "universal sisterhood" doesn't have the same impact for twentysomething women as it does for our second-wave feminist mothers, we remain conflicted about the candidate so many love to hate. She leaves many millennial women...
  • Enough Already: Facebook

    Every subject wears out its welcome eventually. In this new feature, we say when.
  • Closure: When Tonya Met Nancy

    STARTING POINTOlympic figure skater Tonya Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly masterminds the 1994 plot in which a hired thug clubs the knee of Harding's rival Nancy Kerrigan, forcing her out of the U.S. championships. Harding goes on to win, securing an Olympic spot. FEVER PITCHGillooly pleads guilty to racketeering and serves six months in prison. The phrase "getting Gillooly'd" enters the vernacular as a synonym for a sneak attack. PRESENT DAYGillooly, who could not be reached for comment, returns home to Oregon and changes his name to Jeff Stone. He remarries, has two kids and opens a tanning salon. Between 2000 and 2003, he's arrested twice on domestic-violence charges; both are dropped. By 2006, he is selling used cars, though one of his employers has its license revoked. Now 40, he's divorced again and dating a Portland exotic dancer, according to the woman's sister.
  • The Dark Side of Web Fame

    In the age of Google and YouTube, public shaming can turn anybody into a celebrity—or a fool.
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    Retouching Grade-School Pix

    More photo studios are offering to retouch your child's flaws away. But is digital perfection good for a kid's self-image?
  • Coolio: Cookin' a Comeback?

    In a new Web video series, Compton-born rapper Coolio makes a different kind of comeback: he's cooking.
  • Tim Gunn Reviews the Candidates

    In a presidential campaign, image is everything. 'Project Runway''s Tim Gunn reviews the candidates and gives advice on how to 'Make It Work.'