13 Great Books on the Post-industrial Society

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Since at least the 1950s, scholars have speculated about what the economy might look like when and if manufacturing came to play a smaller role in employment, output, and so forth. Though we often think of the early years after World War II as the heyday of a high-wage, unionized, mass-production economy, the most perceptive observers at the time noticed that manufacturing was already shrinking as a proportion of employment by the late 1950s; even if the absolute number of industrial jobs was holding steady at the time, employment was growing fastest in services such as retail, education, healthcare, and so forth. The young radicals of the New Left took note of these trends in their 1962 … [Read more...]

Reading Piketty at the Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero and Clotilde in Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has always had a penchant for the past.  Ever since The Royal Tenenbaums, his movies have increasingly drifted into a historical aesthetic, from the shabby (The Tenenbaums’ vaguely 70s-esque New York) to the quaint (the warm agrarian hues of 1960s New England in Moonrise Kingdom).  Few critics have missed the fact that his newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, amps up all things Anderson to the extreme.  It is cute, fussily pristine, ornately detailed, and even more deeply wedded to a time and place—a screwball comedy in the made-up European nation of Zubrowka, a seeming nod to Freedonia in the 1933 Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup.  Indeed, Grand Budapest harks back to a … [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...]

Retail California: Shopping Centers, Malls, and Creating a New Consumerism

Broadway-Crenshaw Center in 1947. Photo by Loomis Dean.

[Editor's note: This article first appeared on April 4, 2013 for the Intersections column at KCET Departures. Part of a 3 part series on Southern California's retail history, Part III (below) explores SoCal's role in popularizing shopping malls  Part II on the convergence of the Big Lebowski and Ralph's as a symbol of SoCal's early embrace of the grocery store and new "advances" in consumerism can be read here. Part I examines Los Angeles' role in creating the drive in market, a precursor to the dreaded strip mall. It can be read here.] "It was a peculiar and visionary time, those years after World War II to which all the Malls and Towns and dales stand as climate controlled monuments," … [Read more...]

The Lego Movie and the Gospel of the Creative Class

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Any parent who has ever stepped on one of the wonderful Danish bricks known as Legos might find their faith in karma reaffirmed by The Lego Movie. Indeed, a reasonable observer could not be blamed for doubting that a film adaptation of a toy could be hailed by critics as “the first fantastic movie of 2014,” or as “wickedly smart” with “a joyous wit.”  Yet this is what the Lego company—and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—have given us as payback for all those hurt feet: a fresh, dizzying, and audacious animated film about interlocking blocks and anonymous minifigurines. Of course, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies gave us plenty of reason to doubt the premise of toy-as-movie, … [Read more...]

Amazon and the Future of Free Media

Washington Post titanic headline

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his plans to purchase the venerable Washington Post last week, the American media were thunderstruck.  The $250 million dollar deal raised many questions: would Bezos use the newspaper as a political lever for his own, vast interests? And could the entrepreneur who revolutionized e-commerce find a way to turn around the flagging fortunes of print media, which have struggled to compete with freely available online options like blogs? Bezos seemed an apt, if ironic man for the job.  After all, his company has become a behemoth by getting books, movies and so many other goods to consumers faster, and at a lower price, than any brick-and-mortar bookstore … [Read more...]

Debating Dan Rodgers’s Age of Fracture

Age of Fracture detail

I’ll never forget the moment I ran into a graduate student whose confidence oozed out of his pores. There I was, fresh out of college, excited about a book I had just purchased that I believed would tell me all I needed to know about the decision to go to war in Vietnam. The confident graduate student snatched the book from my hands, quickly glanced at the blurbs on the back cover, and then proceeded to skim the endnotes and bibliography. In less than two minutes, he handed it back to me, declaring “there’s absolutely nothing new in this book. Don’t waste your time.” Well, okay…It’s easy now for me to see what he was doing, and, despite the arresting ridiculousness of such a know-it-all … [Read more...]

The Wisdom of Profiteers: Prediction Markets and Democracy

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[Editor's Note: For more of Cherie Braden's analysis of new financial instruments/developments, see Bitcoin Under the Liberal Microscope: How It Really Works and Why Does It Matter] Despite the ever-present abundance of contrary opinions on what various markets will do (Should you short sell gold this week? Is bitcoin a bubble? Is there a bond bubble? Is the Euro safe? Is my financial fly down?), there’s one thing we know for sure: speculation itself never goes out of style, and any market inevitably consists of a collection of investors who are “in it to win it,” whether they aim for internal profit through a boom or collapse or external profit through market manipulation. Where the … [Read more...]

Inauthentic Authenticity: Ian Svenonius and the Challenge of Indie Rock Satire in an MP3 World

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Saturday night, Washington D.C., a stone’s throw from one of D.C. hardcore’s central nodes and the playground of Nation of Ulysses (NOU) front man Ian Svenonius: the Embassy in Mt. Pleasant.  In the late 1980s and 1990s, Svenonius, NOU, and other D.C. punks used to gather at the Embassy to discuss music, politics, and agit prop, even serving as an ally to the Riot Grrrl movement when Kathleen Hanna and others left Washington for a sojourn to the capital in what for many, became a transformative experience.   Tonight, though, sitting in independent book store Politics and Prose and waiting for Svenonius to appear from on high to assault us with his latest philosophical tract, the shop hums … [Read more...]

A Mediating Mess: How American Post-WWII Media Undermined Democracy

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Editors notes: This review originally appeared in The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture (5.2, pages 254 - 257).  Unfortunately, in its original publication, the review  misidentified Professor Morgan as Edmund rather than Edward. These errors  have been corrected here. Apologies to Prof. Edward P. Morgan for the mishap. When the Swift Boat controversy engulfed the 2004 election campaign, America’s obsession with the Vietnam War once again reared its ugly head.  Democratic candidate and decorated Vietnam Veteran John Kerry’s staunch opposition to the war upon his return from deployment drew harsh critiques from conservatives in the early 1970s and in 2004.  The “swift … [Read more...]

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