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This Selena Gomez interview with Vogue will make you feel very, very uncomfortable

Why do I feel like this guy is smoking a pipe right now?

Older men writing creepy profiles of extremely beautiful 20-somethings are nothing new – in fact, they come around with a terrifying regularity. But some are creepier than others, prompting prose bizarre enough to make headlines of its own. (Remember Vanity Fair’s insane Margot Robbie profile?)

The latest victim of a leering fashion magazine cover interview is Selena Gomez, who is the star of American Vogue for April 2017. As Jezebel notes, the story “Reduces Selena Gomez to a Fragile Archetype”, infantilising, pathologising and sexualising her all at once. Come, friend, and take a journey with me through this strange and uncomfortable profile.

Rob Haskell starts his interview by telling us all about a fun joke he made that made Selena Gomez laugh:

She responds with the booming battle-ax laugh that offers a foretaste of Gomez’s many enchanting incongruities.

Leaving aside the use of the word “battle-ax” (and its questionable spelling), let us note that it is seems to surprise Haskell that adult woman Selena Gomez has an adult woman’s laugh, presumably because he expects her to have the “rapturous giggles” of the children in “pretty dresses” he later describes. 

If you are over 30 and find yourself somewhat mystified by Gomez’s fame [...] watch the video for “The Heart Wants What It Wants.” (You will be late to the party; it received more than nine million views in the first 24 hours following its release.) Before the music begins, we hear Gomez’s voice as if from a recorded psychotherapy session, ruminating over a betrayal. “Feeling so confident, feeling so great about myself,” she says, her voice breaking, “and then it’d just be completely shattered by one thing. By something so stupid.” Sobs. “But then you make me feel crazy. You make me feel like it’s my fault.” Is this acting? Is it a HIPAA violation? Either way, there is magic in the way it makes you feel as if you’ve just shared in her suffering. Pay dirt for a Selenator.

This paragraph makes international pop sensation Selena Gomez sound like a begging Edwardian orphan who has somehow managed to make a multi-million dollar empire out of your pity.

As I slip an apron over her mane of chocolate-brown hair, for which Pantene has paid her millions, and tie it around her tiny waist, I wonder whether her legions have felt for years the same sharp pang of protectiveness that I’m feeling at present.

Where do we begin? The simultaneously paternalistic and oddly predatory tone? The fetishistic fixation on her body? The asides continuing to suggest that Gomez is more model than pop star?

The paragraph continues…

Even as she projects strength and self-assuredness, Gomez is not stingy with frailty. “I’ve cried onstage more times than I can count, and I’m not a cute crier,” she says. Last summer, after the North American and Asian legs of her “Revival” tour, with more than 30 concerts remaining, she abruptly shut things down and checked into a psychiatric facility in Tennessee.

We’re making a connection between thinness and “frailty” (am I in a Gothic novel?) and a mental health crisis in just three sentences. I feel dizzy.

“The Heart Wants What It Wants,” a ballad about loving a guy she knows is bad news. The title derives from a letter written by Emily Dickinson, though Woody Allen reintroduced the phrase when he used it to describe his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn.

Who thought it would be a good idea to shove in a Woody Allen/Soon-Yi reference in an article that simultaneously infantilises and sexualises its subject? WHO.

On August 15, Gomez uploaded a photo of almost baroque drama: her body collapsed on the stage, bathed in beatific light. Whether this was agony or ecstasy, it drew more than a million comments from fans.

You know that feeling when you go to an art gallery, and look at all the almost pre-pubescent nudes of blonde white girls with sad faces and skinny bodies and think, “Wow, dudes have been perving over these pictures for centuries and calling it art appreciation?” Yeah, that. Also: why do I imagine this guy is smoking a pipe?

In the tearoom at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, little girls in pinafores and pink high-tops sit on heavily tasseled sofas and drink sparkling apple juice out of champagne flutes.

Let’s not talk about little girls any more. Please.

Doll-like and startled in pictures but almost breathtakingly at ease in person, Gomez was once described by her good friend Taylor Swift as “both 40 years old and seven years old".

A sentence that starts by describing Gomez as “doll-like”, pauses to call her “breathtaking”, and ends by referring to her as “seven years old”. Well, I feel uncomfortable. Let’s go home.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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