Goodbye and Good Luck!!

Over the past six years or so, I’ve had a great time co-editing and writing for Tropics of Meta. It’s been a real journey. Co-editor Alex Sayf Cummings and I have learned a lot from each other; I’ve learned a lot from our contributors as well. I can’t thank Alex and everyone else enough. Thanks also to all those who have read our pieces, even when you didn’t think much of them because well, you have plenty of things to do in your day and taking the time to check ours out is and was appreciated. So it’s with good feelings towards all that I tender my resignation. I leave knowing that ToM is in the best of hands with Alex at the helm and I look forward to reading more great stuff from … [Read more...]

Charles and Ray Eames: How Wartime L.A. Shaped the Mid-Century Modern Aesthetic

During the mid-1990s, while working evenings and weekends on her PhD dissertation on 18th-century Philadelphia, veteran Library of Congress archivist Margaret McAleer found inspiration in what one might consider an unlikely place: the papers of legendary Los Angeles-based, 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames. Ray Eames, who died in 1988, had bequeathed the collection to the library, and McAleer was assigned to organize the manuscript portion of the collection in advance of a 1998 exhibition on the designers.[1] She dove into its endless contents. “I was so inspired by their creativity and passion,” she noted in a recent interview. “They developed unique, fresh perspectives on … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

Making Miranda: What the Famous Warning Tells Us about Police Reform Fifty Years Later

Near the end of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, New Zealand social worker Paula, hot on the trail of the wayward and infamous Ricky Baker, finally captures her ward. “You have the right to remain silent,” she tells Baker, repeating the American police procedural standard to the boy. “That’s more an American thing,” the local constable tells her, demonstrating both Paula’s delusions of law enforcement grandeur and the pervasiveness of American culture, a sub-theme of the film. Over the past fifty years since Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Miranda Warning has become embedded in the American subconscious and apparently abroad. Paula’s deployment of it in New Zealand only underscores its influence … [Read more...]

Shouting in Silence: 9/11 and the Importance of Saying Nothing Revisited

As August comes to a close, the dog days of summer end, leaving before everyone the distance of Fall. For some like myself, Fall remains the premier season of the year. The air cools, football, England’s Premier League (EPL), and basketball commence and the business of work begins. In its own way, Autumn initiates a sort of professional renewal. For New Yorkers (and yes those in Washington D.C. as well) though, Labor Day marks the uncomfortable memory of an impending milestone many would rather forget, 9/11. Unfortunately as the fifteenth anniversary of this national tragedy approaches, a cacophony of rhetoric seems to be greeting it. When I orginally wrote this post a couple of years back, … [Read more...]

Laboring for You: The Best of ToM’s Labor "Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend, everybody wants a little romance,” yacht rock specialists Loverboy sang in their 1981 classic. “Everybody’s goin’ off the deep end, everybody needs a second chance.  “Working for the Weekend” remains a staple among AOR afficiandos. Unsurprisingly, labor might have been central to the Loverboy lifestyle, but only as a means to an end. “Everyone's hoping it'll all work out, everyone's waiting they're holding out.” Sure they rhymed “out” with “out” and “start” with “start” but hey didn’t they say they were only working for the weekend? Today we work more and more for what seems like less and less. Undoubtedly, … [Read more...]

The U of C Way: Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings, and Publicity at the University of Chicago

In a possibly, and very likely, apocryphal story that circulated among my social circle at the University of Chicago, one of my friends claims to have asked a wizened older professor what the school was like during the tumult of the 1960s. “A hot bed of inactivity,” he responded dryly. At least, that’s how the story went. Admittedly, no means of authenticating that anecdote exists, but the fact that it pervaded my notably non-political milieu says something about how at least a segment of the university saw the school’s history of social activism: limited to moderate, at best. Truth is, the school witnessed its share of protest. Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid uncovered some of this … [Read more...]

East Asian ToM: Five Days of Seoul

After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn't have been listed as a ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives, to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished, and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. "Most of Seoul lay in ruins," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. "The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves." Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings

In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]

How Los Angeles Helped Make the U.S. an Evangelical Nation

Carey McWilliams once called Louis Adamic Los Angeles’ greatest “prophet, sociologist and historian” of the 1920s. Adamic loved California not so much because of the famed climate, though that certainly didn’t hurt, but more because he found it a source of endless entertainment and absorption, and not always toward the good. “Actually, and in spite of all the healthful sunshine and ocean breezes, it is a bad place ... full of curious and wild and poisonous growths.” For the skeptical Adamic, “decadent religions and cults” served as warning of such perils. “Hardly a day passed … that I was not stopped in the street and handed a religious tract,” he noted. L.A. might be “the essence of … [Read more...]