A Dive into the Deep End: The Importance of the Swimming Pool in Southern California

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks canoeing in the swimming pool at Pickfair. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

[Let Summer begin! This week we focus on the role of pools and beaches in American, specifically, SoCal life. On Wed. we'll look at how L.A.'s African American population demonstrated agency and carved out spaces of leisure for their communities through beaches in early 20th century Southern California. For more on pools check out our review of Jeff Wiltse's social history on the subject, Contested Waters and our own take on the narrative surrounding New York's McCarren Park Pool and its connection to NYC's 20th century history of aquatic leisure. Dive in kids!] Perhaps you've heard the story before. There was once a poor mountaineer, who could barely keep his family fed. One day, "while … [Read more...]

White Racial Innocence Goes to War: Forrest Gump at 20

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1994—it wasn’t that long ago.  Or was it?  It was a time before iPhones, YouTube, Monica Lewinsky, WMDs, and Honey Boo-Boo.  The tech bubble was still a glimmer in Alan Greenspan’s eye.  It was in the Spring of that year that I remember seeing a trailer for a forthcoming Tom Hanks film with the unlikely title Forrest Gump.  I figured it was some weirdo prestige project that a big-name actor was doing for some indie cred, and would never, ever be a commercial success.  But a few months later, I witnessed a crowd of teary-eyed viewers streaming out of a screening of Forrest Gump, clutching Kleenexes.  Something was clearly going on. As it turns out, Tom Hanks’s portrayal of a Candidean … [Read more...]

Shifting Lanes: The Demise of the Southern California Autotopia

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To understand the City of Angels, Joan Didion once wrote, one needed to immerse oneself in the freeway experience or, as she put it, "the only secular communion Los Angeles has."1 Between 1968 and 1979 Didion published three books -- two collections of non-fiction essays: "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" in 1968 and "The White Album" in 1979; and one work of fiction: "Play It as It Lays" in 1970 -- that depicted a modern Southern California, buffeted by "the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse," but grounded by its highways and relaxed by its pools. Southern California combined the elemental extremes of nature with the rigidity of the decade's car-centric urban planning. For 1960s and early … [Read more...]

Memorial Day Reveille

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We here at ToM hope that your Memorial Day weekend has gone swimmingly.   Over the years, our writers have explored various aspects of foreign policy and military history, from the American Civil War and the idea of "total war" to the impact of the all-volunteer military and the efficacy of intervention in Iran and Syria. In honor of the holiday, we've gathered our most relevant pieces below. Was the American Civil War the First Total War? Alex Sayf Cummings (ASC) asks the question and surfs through the historiography to find the answer. Crayons, Fraternities, and Military Historians: The Perception and State of American Military History Georgia State University's John Southard traverses … [Read more...]

What’s Old is New: How Orange County’s Conservative Past Created its Demographics Today

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[Editor's Note: Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! ToM will be bringing forth several articles on Asian American history and culture over the next three weeks. Be sure to check out our earlier pieces on Asian American sports. The first, on masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here. The second on the transnational role of basketball in Filipino and Fil-Am identity here.] Looking at the many recent popular constructions of Orange County -- television shows like Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor, The O.C. -- one might be excused for seeing it as a homogenous collection of picturesque suburban beach towns. Politically, Orange County remains a … [Read more...]

Filing the Lane, Here and Abroad: Filipino American Identity and Basketball

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[Editor's Note: Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! ToM will be bringing forth several articles on Asian American history and culture over the next three weeks. Be sure to check out our previous post on masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here.] "We played in the barrios too and the whole town would come to watch us," fifteen year old Los Angeles native and Filipino American basketball player Gabe Abe Pagtama told journalists in 1992. "The one bad thing over there is the mosquitoes. We had to make small fires in the hotel rooms to drive them out." Pagtama and his Los Angeles-area teammates traveled to the Philippines to take part in a … [Read more...]

The Pirates of Los Angeles: Music, Technology, and Counterculture in Southern California

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[Editor's note: this article originally appeared in the Intersections column on the KCET Departures website, June 27, 2013.] In 1978, with a new album on the way and a growing popularity that had started among the Hell's Angels in Southern California, the Doobie Brothers made an unlikely guest appearance on the television show "What's Happening!!" Set in Watts, the popular series focused on the comic tragedies that befell its three main characters (apologies to Dee) Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun. In a February episode, the Doobie Brothers planned to hold a fundraiser for the Watts High School music program, a show all three boys hoped to attend. However, as these things go, tickets proved … [Read more...]

Radical Politics, Disgruntled Veterans, Internment, and the Fear of Dependency: The Military and Social Welfare Reform: Best of AHA 2014, Part 3

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Over the past couple of decades, categorizations like “military history” have undergone numerous permutations. Georgia State’s John Southard ruminated on the state of the field for ToM in 2012 and ToM devotes an entire page to the subject. (There’s even something for the Civil War buffs. ToM has even posted some original research in the area of the military and postwar suburbanization.)  Historians like Roger Lotchin, Ann Markusen, Carol Lynn McKibben, and Andrew Myers have offered new insights into the ways military installations in the South and California have interacted politically, economically, and socially with local cities, towns, and suburbs in which they are located or abut. The … [Read more...]

Transnational Protest, Media Bias, and Monopolized Airwaves: Best of AHA 2014, Part 2

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In part II of ToM’s AHA 2014 coverage our correspondents begin with papers on the efforts of Latin American students, workers, and rebels of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970 to use non-violent activism as a means to gain greater rights and autonomy in the face of increasingly repressive regimes.  We end with talks on media bias, conservatism, Rupert Murdoch/Fox News and the NAACP. What does it mean if we have more voices and greater diversity with those appearing in the media, but more and more of the airwaves under the control of fewer and fewer individuals? Remember, we went to the AHA so you didn’t have too.  For Part I of AHA 2014 - Bed-Stuy, The Illuminati, and the Importance of Fungus … [Read more...]

Filtering Music through a ToM Lens

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"Starting with the affirmation of man/ I work myself backwards using cynicism," Mike Watt sings on the Minutemen's classic track "The Glory of Man." "I live sweat, I dream light years/ I am the tide - the rise and fall." For many of our writers individuals like Mike Watt and bands like the Shins or rap groups like Das Racist have served as a means to connect and filter our understanding of late 20th  and early 21st century culture and history. Needless to say it was a veritable red letter day when Watt tweeted at ToM regarding an article we had written about the band.  Undoubtedly, Watt remains a testament to the ethos of the hardcore punk movement—"Punk rock is an idea, not a musical … [Read more...]

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