Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Hospital Waiting Room, Circa 1983

Do normal people re-watch Terms of Endearment, like, for fun? Well, at any rate I do. And it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Exhibit A:

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Symbols of our Tribes

I recently read The True American, Anand Giridharadas’s account of the 9/11-motivated shootings of gas station workers in Texas. Rais Bhuiyan was the last of the three men shot by Mark Stroman - the others were Indian and Pakistani - and the only one who lived. Rais was a Bangladeshi man who had lived in New York City and who had recently relocated to Dallas; Mark was a native Texan with the signs of white supremacy tattooed on his body. I read this passage soon after the shootings at the AME church in Charleston and the parallels with that shooter’s flag-adorned jacket jumped out at me:

And a few days later I read this series of tweets from Jamelle Bouie, a writer for Slate:

And I thought about what I was up to last summer, reading The Grapes of Wrath and watching Family Ties, among other things, and I remembered the dance episode where Alex has two dates, one of whom is the wonderful Daphne Zuniga. The theme of their high school dance? "Gone with the Wind." I went back to the episode, vaguely remembering it; in it, Alex describes how they're going to transform the gym into a "magnificent Civil War plantation." But it was worse than that; check out what decorates one wall:

This is the Confederate nostalgia that Bouie wrote of, not as extreme as a direct paean to Robert E. Lee, but in its presentation as innocuous, arguably all the more insidious.

Speaking of Michael J. Fox vehicles, I also recently read a great piece about the Mad Men finale (spoiler alert!) that discussed one of the real creators of the Coke ad, an African American advertising executive named Roquel "Billy" Davis. Tim Carmody argues that Mad Men erased Davis, much like Back to the Future erases Chuck Berry by suggesting that Marty McFly inspired “Johnny B. Goode”:

In Back to the Future, this little bit of songwriting-musical-chairs-as-temporal paradox is a joke. It’s a clever contemporary pop-culture reference for the audience, who (one assumes) knows how it all really turned out. But it’s a joke with a nasty center, parked at the end of a movie that, for all its charms, kind of plays like an unapologetic nostalgia-fest for the 1950s. You know — the old, oppressive, fully-segregated bad times that even in Season One, Mad Men is trying to escape. 

Is it possible to be nostalgic without erasing vital stories, events, people? Not for the United States, it seems.

Bryan Stevenson knows this, and that’s why he’s working to revive those stories, events, and people through erecting memorials at the sites of violence against African Americans. I heard him on the radio show Here and Now last week and found him completely convincing, though I was a bit frustrated by how consistently the interviewer, Robin Young, embodied the naysayer’s point of view. I know that good interviews require the raising of potential objections, but here I longed for more kudos, more admiration.

Rais Bhuiyan also started an organization, World Without Hate, which works to increase understanding between cultures.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Recommended Reading

My friend Tyler wrote a great essay for Hobart about the Milwaukee Brewers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Looking for Lillian Randolph

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

5 a.m. = semi-random thoughts

-Babies don't really have special, stay-at-home wear, do they? I mean, I have my favorite "not going anywhere" outfits, like the rolled-up blue jeans with the growing hole in the left knee and the v-necked shirt with orange and pink shells. But babies these days seem like they're always so fashionable, so ready-to-go. Obviously they don't decide what to wear, period, let alone what to wear when they're having a pajamas day. I mean, I know they have pajamas, but do they have special, extra-laid back pajamas?

-Why are all my insecurities about teaching channeled through political metaphors? For instance, why do I sometimes wonder, "Am I the Jimmy Carter of teachers?"

-Speaking of politics, I still want to read an academic paper on Elmo and Bob Dole's use of the third person.

-Yesterday the student I bought my coffee from told me that the puppy he and his wife are fostering is named Julie Taylor. I was like, "Julie Taylor...why does that name sound so familiar?" Friday Night Lights, he told me, and I scream-laughed with joy. Apparently all current puppies at Motley Zoo Animal Rescue are named after characters from the show. One of Julie Taylor's brothers is Matt Saracen. Hilarious but also a bit creepy, right?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why Are Almost all of These Women White?

C'mon, Grey Lady, get it together. It's only been a few weeks since The New York Times caused an uproar for publishing Alessandra Stanley's inaccurate, clueless, and offensive piece about Shonda Rhimes and her TV creations. One of the conclusions that Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor, reached was that a lack of diversity in the ranks of culture editors could have contributed to the piece's  publication; she notes that, "among the 15 culture editors...just a few are nonwhite." 

Now this week's Sunday Book Review is focused on Women & Power, and what do you see when you scroll (or flip) through the contents? Of the 13 photos or drawings of women or girls that accompany each article, 11 are white. (I'm providing the link here although it appears that the table of contents in this order will only be available until the next Book Review replaces it). There's Diane Sawyer, Lena Dunham, Gail Sheehy, and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others, and then there's Sonia Sotomayor and a story about The Underground Girls of Kabul, which chronicles the practice of passing girls off as boys in Afghanistan (one such girl and her mother appear in the accompanying photo). Two books profiling nonwhite women, two images; that's it. This even when some stories - such as a piece about abortion rights and the origins of birth control pills - involve and affect all women and are illustrated with drawings, drawings that easily could have depicted nonwhite women.

At the end of her piece about the Stanley article, Sullivan wrote, "This contentious chapter may not seem like a welcome gift to anyone involved. But if The Times takes it seriously – looking hard at its diversity and its editing practices — it can be exactly that." It's clear that The Times isn't looking hard enough; I plan to email Sullivan to tell her just that.

Under the Dome with Only Microsoft for Company

Confession: I have not read Under the Dome, but I have watched it. It is so very nearly bad enough to be wonderful, but not quite. Anyway, I was curious how the book compared, so I read James Parker's New York Times review, which includes plot details such as President Obama writing a letter to the town's dome-entrapped citizens and a second selectman seizing control of the police department, ready to enact his right wing agenda now that de facto secession from the U.S. government has occurred. Parker closes:

     The coalition that forms against him includes a journalist, a librarian, an Iraq
     veteran, some acned skateboarders and an English professor from
     Massachusetts who (rather wonderfully) has just edited an issue of
     Ploughshares. Get ready, libruls, King seems to be saying: If the dome
     comes down, you’re going to need one another. 

In other words, it's the then-present day of 2009, a year after Obama's election, and it's recognizably our world, complete with our president, our war, and our literary magazines. It's got guts and gore, but it also has a political viewpoint.

In contrast, on the TV show the Iraq War veteran is retained, as well as the power-hungry government official, but there's nothing Iraq or Tea Party-specific about either of them. And the Zuzu's petals of the whole thing, Ploughshares? It's not there either, George. Yet we're in our world, product-placement-wise, from Microsoft to Prius, and others have written about the strange and unlikely ways these products have been introduced on the show. I know I'm writing seriously about a not-serious show and a book I haven't, ahem, read, but I think it's worth noting that Bad Stephen King Adaptation + Microsoft doesn't only = cringe-inducing viewing. It's that some proper nouns have ascended while others have been erased. It's Microsoft - Politics which creates such an empty vessel.

Not every story based in our world needs to ground itself in our real political names; of course alternate-reality narratives and straight-up allegories can offer politically and culturally astute commentary. I just think it's interesting when we keep the signifiers without the significance; for example, keeping the Iraq War veteran in name only. What does this accomplish? What box does it check off? Is it just a shorthand for, "This character is an experienced badass who has been through the shit"? Does the director think, "Let's show a photo of him with his Army buddies and their guns and call it a day"? How do actual Iraq War veterans feel about such characters?

I'm writing this late at night/early in the morning, so maybe my brain is fuzzified, but I'm also wondering now about political cameos on shows such as The Good Wife. Is this another example of a signifier without significance?