Fast Times with Valley Girls: 30 Years Later, What Do Two SoCal Classics Tell Us About America?


[Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the KCET Departures website under its Intersections column on February 15, 2013.  It is a pop culture supplemental addition to our Retail California series. Part one can be read here. Part two can be read here, and part three here.] "I hate working the theater," Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) laments to friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) in the classic comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "All the action's on the other side of the mall." Indeed, Rat's wide-eyed stare focuses on the food court, populated by establishments like Bronco Burger, Mexican Dan, and, where his new crush Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works, Perry's Pizza. … [Read more...]

Retail California: Ralphs, the Big Lebowski, and Shaping the American Shopping Experience

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[Editor's note: This article originally ran on March 21, 2013 under the Intersections column for KCET Departures. It was the second in a three part series on Southern California's retail history, parts I and II can be read here and here] Fifteen years ago, the Coen Brothers' oddly refracted tale of Los Angeles noir, The Big Lebowski, premiered to mild applause. Over time, the film inspired a rabid cult following that has since manifested itself in countless Lebowski festivals across the U.S. In the film, the Coen brothers depicted a low-slung 1990s Los Angeles populated by artists, gold diggers, paper millionaires, German porn stars, and bowlers galore -- truly the diverse … [Read more...]

Los Angeles F.C.: Soccer, Globalization, and Ethnicity


One year ago this month, Major League Soccer (MLS) opened its 18th season with a cacophonous and exciting opening match between the New Jersey Redbulls and the Portland Timbers. Though the game took place in Portland and the match ended in an exciting 3-3 draw, Southern California drew the attention of broadcasters during the game’s halftime intermission. Former MLS stars and U.S. national players Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas engaged in a bit of banter regarding the L.A. based Chivas U.S.A. and its increasingly notorious team policy. Both players took offense to Chivas’  pro-Mexican/Latino recruiting model.  While admitting the policy came just short of racism, Lalas asserted that Chivas’ … [Read more...]

The Lego Movie and the Gospel of the Creative Class


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...]

Building Nostalgia: Disney, Legoland, and Southern California

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[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Intersections column for the KCET Departures website on Nov. 29, 2012] In his review of Disney's  hit movie Wreck it Ralph (2012), New York Times critic A.O. Scott notes that its creators smartly appealed to the power of nostalgia. Based on the 8-bit 1980s video games of now aging Generation X -- Q-Bert, Donkey Kong, and others -- the movie appealed to "the affection parents feel for games that evoke their childhoods." The success of Ralph serves as a reminder of Disney's centrality in American post WWII life, while Disneyland itself has cast a long twentieth century shadow, repeatedly influencing suburban and urban planners as well … [Read more...]

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


[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...]

Living on Noir Borders: Race, Sexuality, and Law Enforcement in Touch of Evil and Crimson Kimono


“It has been argued that Touch of Evil is not so much the end of film noir as it is the beginning of a new kind of border film,” argued Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in their 2003 work Noir Anxiety.[1] Indeed, much of the classic noir period, spanning roughly from 1941’s The Maltese Falcon to 1958’s Touch of Evil, seemed uncomfortable with borders. Racial, sexual, and moral boundaries all seemed blurred and dangerous.  However, borders change. What once might have been a space seen as problematic or dangerous can, in a short period of time, become normalized. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, gay rights let alone same sex marriage appeared to have been located on the outer limits of … [Read more...]

Filtering Music through a ToM Lens


"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...]

Running the Jewels in a Government Town: Killer Mike and El-P in the Nation’s Capital


In a city of student government types, D.C.’s general population seems awash in people who actually believed high school and college SG’s mattered, rebellion feels fairly relative. Anyone who has spent a time in the nation’s capital recognizes the countless freshly scrubbed college graduates that cling tightly to their newly won internships.  Saving the world one Xerox at a time, they tell themselves.  Raised on Aaron Sorkin like dreams of West Wing do goodery (when the reality is probably closer to the acidic and hysterical Veep), D.C.’s youth culture often reflects this dynamic. So when ATL’s Killer Mike led Saturday night’s crowd at the 9:30 Club through an impromptu battle cry of “Fuck … [Read more...]

Swimming in Dysfunction?: McCarren and the Long Perspective on Municipal Pools


This is the third installment of our Summer 2013 pool series: Part I - A Dive into the Deep End: The Importance of Swimming Pools in Southern California - a cultural history of the pool in Socal (published at KCET Departures) Part II - Waters of Community, Waters of Hostility: The Messy History of Urban America and the Municipal Pool After reopening in summer of 2012 following decades of dormancy, Brooklyn’s Robert Moses era 1937 landmark, McCarren Pool, resumed operations for its second season in late June.  In New York, where media outlets from the New York Times to Curbed NY (writers enjoyed frequently  deploying the term “shit show” to describe it) to New York Magazine eagerly … [Read more...]


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