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...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

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Indie and art house film has always extended the possibility of artistic freedom—at least as much as it’s possible for any auteur to pursue a singular vision in a medium that requires the input of everyone from actors and producers to key grips and the tweakers on craft service. Hollywood is to film what Nashville is to music, the thinking goes—where formulaic pap is churned out for the general public, whereas indie (like alt-country or Americana) allegedly offers the possibility of something less polluted by conformity and commercial concerns. Of course, cinematic liberty can be a bad thing. Just look at the chronically self-indulgent and mediocre films of Woody Allen, which have cried … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: John Brooke on Joseph Smith, Alchemy, & the Longue Durée

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I entered my first semester of graduate school with supreme overconfidence. It was August 2001, three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. I had just graduated from a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois in May. The school was initially founded by self-exiled Kentucky abolitionists around 1848, at a time of antebellum experimentation. At this little campus with historic red-brick buildings dating back to the 1850s, I had gotten used to being a big fish in a little pond: out of fewer than 500 students, I was one of three honors graduates that year. I worked in the college archives. I knew a lot of history. I thought I was good. Grad school changed all that. All of a … [Read more...]

Not Bowling Alone: How the Holiday Bowl in Crenshaw Became an Integrated Leisure Space

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In May 2000, the New York Times reported the upcoming demolition of the Crenshaw District's Holiday Bowl. Built by Japanese American investors in 1958, just as Crenshaw and neighboring Leimart Park were reemerging as one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, the bowling alley served as an integrated leisure space where African, Mexican, and Asian Americans could interact. "It's like a United Nations in there,'' longtime employee Jacqueline Sowell told writer Don Terry. ''Our employees are Hispanic, white, black, Japanese, Thai, Filipino. I've served grits to as many Japanese customers as I do black. We've learned from each other and given to each other. It's much more than just a bowling … [Read more...]

Working to Play, Playing to Work: Mexican American Baseball and Labor in Southern California

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"I remember traveling to Lake Elsinore, which was a long way in those days," reminisced Zeke Mejia in 1996. "But the only ride we could get was from a friend who hauled fertilizer in his truck, so all the guys crawled inside ... and tried not to breath during the ride. By the time we arrived to play well we all smelled like fertilized fields. We did it because we loved the game." 1 For Mejia and thousands of other Mexican Americans laboring in Southern California during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, baseball served as a means to at once demonstrate belonging in the United States, while simultaneously asserting their own identity. In Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties, Mexican … [Read more...]

125 Years of 4th of July Parades and Liberalism in Maryland’s Takoma Park

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“We’re compromised,” an exasperated Julie Boddy told a Washington Post journalist in 2012. As a sitting member of the Nuclear Free Takoma Park Committee, Boddy and other committee members expressed sharp reservations about a recent city council decision. “What kind of reputation do we have if we fall down in that way?” Ian Barclay, a town native agreed. “It’s just a slippery slope … when you start letting this slide then where are you going to end up.” The issue at hand you ask? Town librarians had ordered a set of Hewlett Packard computers to replace older outdated models. However, HP’s historical association with the production of nuclear weapons led librarians to “stash” them away in … [Read more...]

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...]

Searching for the New South at the Dallas Flea Market

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Several years ago we ran a photo essay about a legendary flea market in Dallas, NC, and the Charlotte Observer's Pam Kelley decided to write a beautiful piece on the market after reading our post.  She visited the Barnyard with one of our editors, who went to high school right around the corner.  The original ToM essay contemplated what the market's diverse clientele and wonderfully bizarre array of goods could teach us about how the small-town South has changed in recent decades.  It is the heart of the Piedmont--what was once textile country, not far from where police fired on striking workers' tent city during a notorious labor conflict at the Loray Mill.  (Read all about it in … [Read more...]

Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

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Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [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...]

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