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...]

Golden State Urbanity: 28 History Books That Get At The Heart of Metropolitan California

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For many Americans, the phrase “California history” sounds like an oxymoron. Born out of a Gold Rush and two World Wars, the Golden State, to easterners, has always seemed like the new kid on the block. Californians might have aided in such perceptions, notes the 1970s dean of West Coast literature, Joan Didion. “You might protest that no family has been in Sacramento Valley for anything approaching ‘always,’” she wrote, “But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it has simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west.” For Didion, such depictions of the past cast melancholy over “those who participate in it,” … [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...]

Hicks Camp: A Mexican Barrio

Queen of Hicks Camp

“I remember the Queen was beautiful, and the parade came down from Hicks Camp to Medina Court. The Streets were decorated like in Mexico and it was real pretty. Cinco de Mayo they made the fiesta and we had to dance in the street” – Lucy Flores “We didn’t have much, the roads were made of dirt, some homes were made of cardboard, but we were all one family” – Richard Pérez From the 1910s until its demolition in 1972, Hicks Camp was one of the most vibrant barrios, or neighborhoods, of El Monte. Named after the family who owned the land, Hicks Camp (later renamed Hicksville) grew from several dozen people in 1915 to over a thousand in 1930.[1] Never recognized as an official part of El … [Read more...]

600: Rise of My Blood Pressure

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Okay, last I checked the Spartans didn’t have an empire. They were some bad ass warriors, no doubt, but they didn’t have an empire. Anyway, 300 Part 2 (or 600), was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. Historical accuracy is one thing movies are always short on, but this one was quite honestly pulling shit out of its ass like no one’s business. Honestly, the movie is so insulting on so many levels that I really can’t understand how or why it was made. First, the constant droning on about how the Greeks were all free men was just sickening. It kept making me think of George Dubya and all the news shows post-9/11 about how every terrorist (read “brown person”… whether from the … [Read more...]

The Discreet Charm of the Gizmosie

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For some reason, our piece on Gremlins and the myth of the model minority has caught on in a big way in the last few months.  We first put together the piece nearly two years ago, as ToM sought a suitable candidate for our yearly treatment of some artifact of holiday pop culture.  Gremlins, the much-loved 1984 comedy-horror film, hardly seemed like a Christmas classic on a par with A Christmas Story or Community's delectable stop-motion send-up of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, both of which we'd covered in the past.  Indeed, Gremlins seemed more of a piece with the postmodern popcorn hits of the early-to-mid 1980s -- films like The Goonies (1985), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Back to … [Read more...]

Film Turducken: Movies to Help You Survive the Trauma of Thanksgiving

Hopefully your Thanksgiving dinner is less weird than this

Get your turkey on! Few holidays embrace gluttony and laziness like America’s premier competitive eating contest that is Thanksgiving. Most of us end up watching old movies, playing board games, or simply tying one on while we witness yet another set of NFL games meant to hypnotize us with promises of Black Friday sales and family bonding. ToM wants you to enjoy your turkey, cranberry sauce, and Uncle Dan’s homemade brew while considering the plight of Detroit families of the 1980s like Mr. Mom’s Jack and Caroline Butler; or maybe Thanksgiving with the family just reminds you of being trapped in the middle of the Spanish Civil War with a cowed mother and a sadistic stepfather. In that … [Read more...]

Is White the Only Color in Upstream Color?

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Maybe the title of Upstream Color primed me to be thinking about race from the film’s start, or maybe, given the non-white characters in the first scene, it was the fact that people of color are under-represented in films and are, when present, often accompanied by a race-related message. The movie opens with three non-white teens and a non-white guy who is later revealed to be some sort of confidence man. The non-white teens are involved in the production side of a sci-fi drug business, and they’re getting high on the product on the side. The confidence man uses the drug to infiltrate the life of a middle-class white woman and steal her money. Pretty much the rest of the movie is about … [Read more...]

When the Netflix Bingestrution Model Goes Wrong, or Why did Everyone Stop Talking about Orange is the New Black

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When Orange is the New Black first became available on Netflix, one could almost feel the wave of deserved critical praise that washed over podcasts for months afterward. It was like riding the Tidal Wave roller coaster at Six Flags Great America--exhilarating, breathtaking, and then, over.   Most critics felt obliged, rightly so, to only address the first couple episodes lest they ruin anything for those of us struggling to play catch up. “Orange burns with the kind of laughter that usually only comes after tears; it's audacious, shocking, intimate, and intense,” applauded Grantland’s TV critic Andy Greenwald. Normally a curmudgeon on the topic of the Netflix bingestrution model, … [Read more...]

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