Featured Published Work

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Barbie’s Enlightenment Journey

As I sat through hours and hours of meditation on a Zen Buddhist retreat, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head. I’d seen the summer’s culture-dominating phenomenon on opening day, which happened to be the day before I left for the retreat. But it wasn’t just the movie’s overwhelming sensory delights that occupied my mind. Instead, I choked up a bit as I remembered how Barbie saw humanity in all its different forms—joyful and sad, young and old, deeply imperfect and careening toward death—and chose to become human anyway. This was, I thought, the only way to be a person. We don’t get to choose our humanity like Barbie does, but, to make peace with it, we have to accept its terms just as wholeheartedly as Barbie does. Read more…

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A Brief History of Psychedelics in Pop Culture

There’s something transformative about learning the story of Cary Grant and LSD. If you grew up during or after the 1980s War on Drugs, the time when we all came to understand that any illegal drug would fry your brain like an egg, the Cary Grant psychedelics tale shifts your entire perspective, is nothing short of an enlightenment moment. There’s something magical about the combination of this dapper icon of straight-laced masculinity (look at him up there!), coupled with this hippie drug, plus this dream of a mainstream media that was totally stoked about the possibility that mind-altering substances could be good. It’s when you understand: The 1950s were way more complicated and interesting than I was led to believe. Read more…

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Will Smith Could Have Been the Cary Grant of Our Time

Will Smith could have been a psychedelic savior, but then that one thing happened. There was a time when the strongest opinions about Smith regarded whether it was okay for him to be tinted blue when he played the genie in the live-action version of Aladdin in 2019. Then came the Oscars slap, and no one knew what to do anymore about this man who was, as far as I can tell, widely admired before this mind-boggling glitch in this increasingly glitchy timeline we call the 2020s. As Wesley Morris wrote in The New York Times shortly after last year’s Oscars incident, “So why the eventual shock? For one thing, it wasn’t Kanye West who’d lost it. It wasn’t Martin Lawrence. … The source of Sunday night’s disruption is the winner of 10 individual Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards.” Read more…

Peabody Finds
Betty White, Progressive Superhero of TV History

Betty White and television were made for each other.
 As a teenager, she performed on one of the first TV broadcasts ever, a test signal that made it all the way from the sixth floor to the first floor of a Los Angeles car dealership in 1939. A decade later, she made the most of a stint answering calls on a quiz show called Grab Your Phone by flirting with the host to snag more screen time. Soon after, she co-hosted one of history’s first talk shows, Hollywood on Television, ad-libbing to fill five and a half hours a day, six days a week on the air. (Networks had no idea how to fill all the daytime hours when TV first started. White turned out to be the answer for KLAC in Los Angeles.) At the same time, she co-created, produced, and starred in one of the earliest sitcoms, Life with Elizabeth. Having been roundly rejected by the film industry for not being glamorous enough, she was the perfect star for the new medium: the kind of person you wanted to invite into your living room every week, even every day, even for more than five hours every day. Read more…

Peabody Finds
The Power of the TV Finale

When I watched the Lost finale live in 2010 with a friend and fellow fan, he threw a wineglass across the room, knowingly allowing it to shatter in the corner, happy to later clean up the shards of his extreme disappointment. I appreciated him expressing my frustration, too. It didn’t even seem overly dramatic to me. Trashing the entire apartment wouldn’t have been out of line with my feelings in the moment. Read more…

Peabody Finds
If You Love ‘Ted Lasso’ … Don’t Miss These Other Great Depictions of Positive Masculinity

Ted Lasso is at the peak of its powers. Currently in its third season on Apple TV+, the show, starring Jason Sudeikis as a good-natured American coach of a British soccer team, has become a sensation. It’s so culturally pervasive that you know what it is even if you’ve never watched. It’s experienced the requisite backlash, a sure sign of domination. The cast even visited the White House recently to talk about mental health issues with President Joe Biden and his staff. The series has clearly hit a nerve with its depiction of positive masculinity—male characters talking about their difficult feelings, supporting each other, getting help from therapy, and, on balance, spreading kindness, even in the testosterone-driven world of sports. Read more…

The Dark Side of 21st Century TV Comedy

Shows like BoJack Horseman, Fleabag and Veep show how modern TV comedies have embraced pain and grief. BoJack Horseman started off, quite deceptively, like just another animated show for adults. It’s about a man (a horse, actually) who’s stuck in the past, reliving his glory days as a sitcom star on a banal ’80s show called Horsin’ Around. BoJack is an addict, has lots of ill-advised sex, and seems depressed – classic signs of edgy 21st-Century adult animation, in line with classics of the genre like The Simpsons and Family Guy. Read more…

The Coolest Female Characters on Television

From chic Sylvie in Emily in Paris, to Sam in Better Things, unapologetic and flawed midlife women are ruling the small screen. We need more. Earlier this year, as the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That…, sparked heated weekly debate over the lives of its 55-year-old characters, a meme blazed its way across the internet, shocking many in its wake: The Golden Girls, it reminded us, were the same age in the first season of their series as the Sex and the City women were in this reboot. It’s true: Dorothy, Rose and Blanche all indicate they’re in their 50s in the early episodes. And it’s a bracing realisation, because The Golden Girls has always been perceived as a show about “old ladies”– widows (and a divorcée) living out their waning years in Florida together. Read more…

Literary Hub
What Pop Stars Can Teach Writers About Failure

If you’re interested in having a commercial hit as an author, you’re interested in being something akin to a pop star. Pop stars are artists who, by happenstance or design, make something lots of people like, then dedicate themselves to reproducing that success at the behest of their corporate benefactors. Many find this process suffocating, since they are dynamic human beings who seek new experiences and expressions as they change, while the market demands they replicate the same fun trick they did that one time on their hit record. Successful pop stars must keep making the same thing, slightly differently each time, but not unrecognizably differently, or they must do something difficult and rare: come up with a totally new trick that people like just as much as the first one. Read more…

Lion’s Roar
Psychedelic Insight

You enter a beige brick building like all the others on the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s sprawling campus. Here, in an unremarkable maze of offices, something remarkable is happening. When you reach a third-floor office, there are hints of the mystical experience ahead. In the waiting room, you’re greeted by bright paintings, a crystal tabletop with blue and beige swirls, and a foot-tall amethyst gracing the gray filing cabinet. A set of swinging doors adorns the entry to the hallway, painted with the black silhouette of a face, with multicolored dots trailing off from the head like someone’s mind bursting with delight. It’s the official logo of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Read more…

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Author

Other Published Work

The Best-Laid Wedding Plans (Altared)

A Buddhist Chaplain Disrupts Suffering in Rikers Island (Lion’s Roar)

Buddha’s Champion: a profile of Robert Thurman (Lion’s Roar)

Dan Harris Is 10% Happier (Lion’s Roar)

A Gentleman in Moscow (Nob Hill Gazette)

HBO Max’s ‘Gossip Girl’ Review: A Glittery Revival for the Instagram Era (The Wrap)

How Mr. Rogers Taught Us to Love (Lion’s Roar)

Hulu’s ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ Review: Will You Namaste for Nicole Kidman’s Inscrutable Wellness Guru? (The Wrap)

How Sex and the City Helped New York Recover After 9/11 (Town & Country)

How Trevor Noah Conquered U.S. Comedy (BBC Culture)

I thought I was a Brandon Girl. Luke Perry helped me realize all I really wanted was a Dylan McKay. (The Washington Post)

A Lot of Old Sitcoms Don’t Hold Up. ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Does. (BuzzFeed News)

Mary Richards wasn’t trying to be a feminist icon. She would have marched anyway. (Washington Post)

The Middle Way of Abortion (Lion’s Roar)

‘Mr. Corman’ Apple TV+ Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Taps Into Millennial Angst (The Wrap)

Outside the Box: series on TV from across the globe (BBC Culture)

‘Sex and the City’: A Global Revolution (BBC Culture)

‘Spring Breakers’: An Appreciation of the Movie-Length Meditation on Britney Spears (Billboard)

Translating ‘Seinfeld’ (The Verge)

When Political Comedy Is a Case of Life or Death (BBC Culture)

Why Beyoncé Could Be the Next Bob Dylan (Billboard)

The Zen of Peter Coyote (Lion’s Roar)

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