Home / General / And Now His Watch Is Ended: Remembering Steven Attewell

And Now His Watch Is Ended: Remembering Steven Attewell

/
/
/
1373 Views

This is a guest post by Murc.

He can’t be dead. His icon is still green.

That’s what I first thought when I found out.

I had gotten up from a post-dinner nap and groggily sat down at my desk to see if I could make myself productive for the rest of the evening. Clicked on LGM, and Erik’s post punched me right in the gut.

Not fully awake, my first instinct was to glance at my second monitor, where I keep all of my various chat nonsense. These days, anything with a built-in chat client likes to put down a lot of intrusive tendrils, letting everyone and their duck know where and when and how you’re using it.

Steven’s Discord icon had a little dot on it that was a bright, happy green in the shape of a cell phone, indicating that he had either touched the application in his phone within the past half-hour or had it actively open on said phone right then. His Tumblr icon was similarly green, which is supposed to indicate activity within the past two hours but often isn’t accurate. 

He can’t be dead. His icon is still green.

But of course he was.

______________________________

I’d like to have a great story about being friends with Steven, but I really don’t. I joined Tumblr in March of 2015, followed his blog there, and direct messaged him “Hey Steven, it’s Murc! From LGM!” 

And he said hi in return, and then followed me back.

It’s hard to make friends in your thirties. But I made the effort, because god DAMN was Steven someone you wanted to be friends with.

I really want to tell you all that Steven was smart, but not only did you already know that, it’s a poor beginning that explains little. There are a lot of smart people in the world. Some of them are real arrogant pieces of shit, wielding their intelligence as a kind of weapon against those they deem their inferiors.

But the very best of them, I’ve found, are those who make you feel smarter just for having been in the room with them. The kind of smart person who isn’t a droning didact, and isn’t using their command of knowledge to establish that they are superior and you suck, but is just so goddamn knowledgeable about stuff, and are so happy to know things and happy that you know things too and really happy that you can know things together.

That was how Steven was smart. It didn’t matter if you were talking about some deep policy cuts like the obscure details of Tammany Halls rise-and-fall cycles in the early 20th century, or if you were talking about how Kitty Pryde was super cool and awesome. He always had a book recommendation or a podcast and he was always so pleased when you came back to him and let him know you’d read or listened to one of them. I’m still working my way through a book he recommended to me less than two weeks ago.

I’m legitimately not sure I’ll ever touch it again. It’s the last thing about which he ever told me “this is cool, you should read it.”

______________________________

It’s impossible to talk about Steven without talking about both ASOIAF, and about Captain America.

His more serious academic work was of course top-notch, but I think most of us knew him best in the context of him applying his academic chops directly to pop culture, in the form of his ASOIAF Chapter-by-Chapter summaries on Race for the Iron Throne, and his Peoples History of the Marvel Universe.

It’s a little hard to remember these days, but a decade and change ago, before the rise of streaming services and the degenerate late-stage MCU, the sheer enthusiastic passion these two franchises inspired in so many people was all over the place. The modern explosion of what were once called genre shows and movies (now typified by “prestige streaming” TV that everyone either is or pretends to be oh-so-weary of) was in its infancy.

Steven was right at the forefront of all of that, which is impressive considering he was not yet DOCTOR Steven Attewell; he was still a Ph.D candidate when he founded Race for the Iron Throne in 2012, and went all-in on writing about the books and the show. He wrote for Salon, as well as other outlets. He was on every podcast in existence. I don’t know where he found the energy to do that as well as finish and defend his dissertation, as well as write three goddamn policy papers that same year.

Some of this is a little less impressive than it sounds; back in the day anyone with even a vaguely interesting take could get their thoughts about Game of Thrones published somewhere respectable. But still.

Over time, Steve would self-publish four books on the subject; collections of his online writing, as well as a volume with essays that were only available in-print. (If you have any interest in any of these, with his passing they’re likely to go out of print at some point, so I encourage you to check out his Amazon page if you want to own something of his that will last forever or a reasonable facsimile thereof, rather than being on an ephemeral website.)

He wrote so much. Economic development essays. Comparative religion analyses. Some of his chapter-by-chapter recaps had a section on Historical Analysis where he would write lengthy essays along the lines of “this is how the Battle of the Blackwater parallels famous sieges of Constantinople,” in sufficient detail to be worthy of Bret Devereaux.

He did this for no better reason than that he loved Westeros and the people in it, and wanted to unpack every inch of it using the same fine mind and analytical tools he used in his supposedly more “serious” work.

His approach to comics was somewhat more academically rigorous because Steve was, of course, a social historian first and foremost, and comic books, “sequential art” as they’re known today if you’re fancy, are an almost uniquely American artform and bound up inextricably in New York City’s Jewish community during the 20th century rise to power of fascism. And the standard bearer for that whole era is Captain America.

I’m not really qualified to expand on that myself, but I cannot count the number of times I have linked to his 2013 then-guest-post on Captain America here at LGM. It’s as relevant now as it was then, and everyone with even a vague interest in comics and their cultural relevance should read it.  

______________________________

It almost seemed sometimes, if you stopped to think about it, that Steven couldn’t possibly be a real person. He was proudly descended from an Attewell who marched with Wat Tyler, and also from Jewish socialists with roots in NYC. (He was not an observant Jew himself.) His brother and friend of the blog David is a fellow Ph.D holder, also in public policy. His mom was system-wide provost for the entire University of California system at one point; his dad a quantitative educational sociologist.

He loved to tell a story about an uncle in the UK who had no formal education beyond the grade-school level and drove a bus for many decades as his only employment, but who so fiercely believed in the duty of the proletariat to educate themselves he spent almost every free hour reading, usually from his local library, and was erudite to the point that people thought he had an Oxbridge education despite not even ever having finished A-levels.

He sounds like… not exactly a stereotype, but someone who was made up. “Oh, a New York City professor who is a child of two academics and a brother to one more, with roots in both Jewish AND English socialism, who writes about labor history but also has a deep knowledge of American pop culture and comic books? What third-rate literary fiction story in the New Yorker did he step out of?”

I loved that someone like him existed in the real world. 

______________________________

One of the more galling aspects of this loss is that Steven was just getting started.

He was no longer a young man, having just entered his forties, but was in his intellectually vigorous middle age. His writing, his art, was only getting better, and if he wasn’t as prolific as he was when he was in his late twenties with something to prove, that was replaced with breadth and depth. He should have had three, four more decades of reading and watching the things he loved, and then writing things other people loved about them.

I was talking to him less than three days before he passed. I remain unclear as to the exact circumstances of his passing (the perils of purely online friendships, something I need to give some serious thought to) but… he was excited about the coming months. He was teaching a new course at CUNY this semester that he got to design from the ground up and was real thrilled by what his students were turning in and looking forward to their end-of-semester work. He was just about to finish up a new chapter-by-chapter analysis of A Storm of Swords that he’d been looking forward to for years; the trial of Tyrion Lannister, which would let him write thousands of words comparing various forms of medieval jurisprudence and contrasting them with the fictional presentation of the Halfman being strung up by the system.

And he was loving, absolutely loving, X-Men ‘97, the revival of a beloved cartoon of his youth that was hitting him everywhere he lived and making him so, so happy. He couldn’t stop talking about it. He was putting together material for podcasts and long-form analysis.

The last words he ever wrote to me were about how Jubilee was designed to delight and amaze us when we were 14 as the epitome of 90s-era mallrats. I have the timestamp on it; April 7th, 2024, at 9.14 EST.

Three days later he was dead. 

None of his icons are green anymore.

Fuck cancer.

Thank you.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar
Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views :