Tropics of Meta “Staffers” Pick the Best of 2014

stooges-fix

Each year, Tropics of Meta's intrepid team of cultural critics reports on the best of the year's music, movies, TV, scholarship and so forth.  We've commented on artists as humorless as Aimee Mann and as humorful as Chance the Rapper; we've listened to Harry Nilsson and showered with Greta Van Susteren. (And that was before her head transplant!)  This year, though, we decided to sound out our contributors on a battery of highly social-scientific questions, prompting some fascinating responses.  You think you know, but it's weird to learn what your friends and colleagues are actually into.  So here you have it: the first-ever ToMmys! 1. Best Academic Book/Article Nick Juravich: Roberta … [Read more...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

moonrise kingdom sam susie

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...]

Sideways at Ten: Shut Up and Drink the Damn Merlot

sideways giamatti and church

Americans are awash in wine. We sniff it, eyeball it, drink it. We bathe in it.[1] It is a marker of cultural superiority and hipness. Things were not always so. For the Depression and Beat generations, wine was culturally denoted by the wino rather than the connoisseur. Even the heady Baby Boom generation, which drank a lot, preferred smart cocktails to Pinots and Chardonnay. So how on earth did wine enjoy such a turn around? Usually these things are complicated, but thankfully we can pin the entire wine revolution on one cultural moment: the theatrical release of Sideways in 2004. In the words of one authoritative and disinterested individual, Sideways “changed the international wine world … [Read more...]

Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

What Our Contributors Have Been Up To

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Each year we ask our contributors to tell us what else they have been writing, publishing, or otherwise working on.  Incredibly, as it turns out, the writers of ToM do not spend all of their time working on material for this site.  In fact, their work has been landing in the esteemed pages of The Nation, Dissent and more, while our friends at the South El Monte Arts Posse's East of East project has been blowing up both at ToM and KCET. Below you will find the latest news from some of our contributors and links to some great pieces.  If you're a ToM contributor and would like to add something to the list, hit us up. Alex's essay "Atlanta's Beltline Meets the Voters," based on a 2012 ToM … [Read more...]

Beware of the Blond Woman: Gender, Sexuality and the State in Modern Germany

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Lola Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), regales the cabaret audience with this advice: “Beware of blond women.” (Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen.). As the first German “talkie” and with the definition of masculinity in question during the interwar years, it’s no surprise how The Blue Angel incorporates sound as a cinematic device to represent the “victim” of Lola’s gaze, Professor Rath. After meeting this strong-willed sex symbol, Rath’s voice devolves from a respectable, crowing rooster to the castrated whimper of a cuckold. Lola Lola typifies the modern woman, the “new woman,” who experienced greater opportunity and freedom as a wage … [Read more...]

Making Digital History: 13 Books and Articles about Computers and Society

altair8800

Since electronic computers were declassified at the end of World War II, journalists, social theorists, and ordinary people have speculated about the ways these devices would change their lives, the way they worked, and the ways that companies and governments would make decisions. Almost seventy years later, the social consequences of computation is still a favorite topic of public intellectuals and the mass media. Press coverage of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street highlighted the new role of social media in organizing, publicizing, and sustaining political movements. Likewise, analysis of Bitcoin and Wikileaks focused on the potential of new technologies to destabilize (or, in Silicon … [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...]

“A singularly intricate situation has developed in Washington”: Some Historical Background on Hobby Lobby

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If Progressive Era birth control reformer Mary Ware Dennett hadn’t been cremated in 1947 immediately following her death, she’d be rolling over in her grave today. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (or Burwell as the decision was handed down) has abruptly called forward again the long legal story of the fight for reproductive rights. Other landmark cases along this path have included Griswold v. Connecticut (1965); Roe v. Wade (1973); Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989); Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and somewhat more recently, Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). What’s Dennett got to do with all of this and why does it matter? We have to go … [Read more...]

White Racial Innocence Goes to War: Forrest Gump at 20

forrest gump ice cream

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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