Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

Freeway Takeovers: The Reemergence of the Collective through Urban Disruption

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[Editor's Note: Last night citizens in Chicago shut down Lake Shore Drive in protest over the Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner. Yet in SoCal, protesters have been using the freeways as a vehicle for protest and political awareness for decades. UCSD PhD candidates Troy Araiza Kokinis and Jael Vizcarra explain the goals, meaning and context of these protests and others like them.] Driving along the Interstate 5 in Southern California makes commuters privy to the militarization of port cities like San Diego. It is not unusual to encounter a tank headed to Camp Pendleton or a truck filled with “1.4 Explosives.” … [Read more...]

Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital

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The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.[1] In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern … [Read more...]

Dick: The Forrest Gump of Stoner Movies

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It is the fate of the cult movie to be ahead of its time. One thinks of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which opened to middling reviews and pitiful box office receipts in 1983, only to see its dark media fantasia look far more prescient as video games and the Internet matured in the 1990s. Mike Judge had the distinction of directing two modern classics that tanked at the box office but flourished in video release; 1999’s Office Space resonated with the deepening economic malaise of the early twenty-first century, while 2006’s Idiocracy makes more sense today than ever before. Sometimes, though, a film manages to be both ahead of and behind its time—as the 1999 alternate-history farce Dick … [Read more...]

The Power of Public Shaming: Cartographies of Protest in Boston and PR Stunts for Public Housing in the ATL (Best of UHA 2014, Part 3)

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In part three of ToM’s UHA coverage, the role of media in shaping advocacy and protest occupies center stage. Whether advocating for Atlanta public housing or protesting Massachusetts’s plans for new highway construction, politicians and activists cannily manipulated media to their own ends. Refreshingly, in each case, agency was rewarded with victory or, in the case of Katie Marages Schank’s talk on Maynard Jackson and the Bankhead Court Project, a temporary reprieve.   Karilyn Crockett, “Maps, Newspapers, Press Releases and the Anxiety of Movement Building: Struggles within the Boston Anti-Highway Movement, (1966-1987) “Pack up, I’m strayed, Enough/Oh, say, say, say say…. Wait, … [Read more...]

What a Hagan Victory Would Mean for North Carolina

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North Carolina has long seemed to be on the verge of breaking from its reactionary past. Time and time again, the state has looked like it might actually depart from a historical legacy defined by low wages, poor education, and racial hostility, only to revert at the last minute to its old, conservative, Southern ways. In light of this past, the current effort of Sen. Kay Hagan to win reelection is freighted with great historical and political significance. It was only six years ago that North Carolina voters issued one of the most shocking upsets of the 2008 election, when Barack Obama narrowly won the state’s electoral votes. Obama was the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter won … [Read more...]

The War on Poverty at 50: How Far Have We Come, and Where Are We Going? (A Conference Report)

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One goal of studying the past is not to be trapped by history but to transcend it. -- Historian Michael B. Katz (1939-2014) ToM regularly covers disciplinary conferences. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania hosted "The War on Poverty at 50: Its History and Legacy." Your ToM correspondent spoke at the event while furiously taking notes during all the panels to produce the write-up you have before you. Videos of the event will be up shortly and embedded below. (Panelists, if you're reading this, let me know if something's missing or distorted, and I'll modify this account immediately. I tried to keep these as brief as possible while conveying the major thrusts of the papers.) The … [Read more...]

Spitting Hot Fire: Malibu Wildfires and the Santa Anas

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"To live with the Santa Ana, is to accept consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior," reflected Joan Didion in 1968. Quoting Raymond Chandler, she noted the environment's deterministic control over Californians. On nights when the Santa Ana gust through the homes of Angelenos, Chandler asserted, "every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."1 Though the winds alone might have inspired unpredictable behavior in people, every year from October through January, the Santa Ana's love affair with fire existentially pokes Los Angeles like a carving knife to a husband's … [Read more...]

“Taking Compton National”: Schools, Race, and Modern Suburbia in 20th and 21st Century California

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 “Our nation is moving toward two societies, One Black, One White – separate and unequal,” announced the 1968 Kerner Commission. In 1967, following riots that had erupted across urban America, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the commission, appointing former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner Jr as its chairman, to delineate the causes of American unrest; unsurprisingly, the report concluded that poverty, segregation, and lack of economic opportunities corroded urban minority neighborhoods while whites fled to middle and upper class suburban environs, taking income and businesses with them.Undoubtedly, the Kerner Commission correctly identified many of the systematic problems afflicting … [Read more...]

The American Military: Nineteen Histories about War, Society, and the U.S. Military’s Influence on the Nation

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Even today, the category of military history still elicits a bit of head scratching. Our own John Southard noted as much in a 2012 essay for ToM: “Crayons, Fraternities, and Military History.” Southard pointed out that in the last throes of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium, there existed among historians a great deal of doubt regarding the efficacy of military history. At the 1997 meeting for the Society of Military History, John Lynn publicly confided that one of his University of Illinois colleagues inquired, in the best voice of academic condescension one can imagine, if military historians “write in crayon.” At the 2008 meeting of the American Historical … [Read more...]

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