Public Performance and the Freak Left: ASCO, Metropolitan Indians, and the Politics of Disrespectability

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The mainstream Left often finds itself struggling to construct a respectable image within a liberal political sphere whose survival is based on the marginalization and exclusion of radical political thought and practice. Since winning the January 2015 election, SYRIZA, Greece’s respectable left coalition party, has faced ongoing difficulties restructuring loan terms outside of the logic of the nation’s new debt holder, the Troika (European Union, IMF, and European Central Bank), which has bought up the Greek debt in return for a series of payments and harsh austerity measures on the Greek people. SYRIZA’s inability to push the Troika beyond their already established rules of the game during … [Read more...]

The Gonzo Vision of Lana Del Rey

lana del rey with flowers in her hair

I do not know for a fact that Lizzy Grant, the canny songwriter behind Lana Del Rey, secretly earned an American Studies degree at SUNY-Geneseo, but all the evidence points in that direction. Lana Del Rey is, of course, the pop ventriloquist act who burst onto the scene in 2012—a ginger-haired gun moll with big hoop earrings, a moody disposition, and a lavish taste for 1960s torch-song atmospherics. Del Rey is a character invented by Grant: a full package of image, attitude, and sound that results in a familiar yet singular image. Indeed, her brand is that of the femme fatale in its most frankly Platonic form. Grant’s bio reads like an uptown-downtown hipster inversion of Jack … [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...]

What Does Woodward’s Origins of the New South Have to Say to the Twenty-First Century Reader?

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Less than a decade after C. Vann Woodward’s epic tome, Origins of the New South (1951), had been published, the author was already lamenting the passing of the geographic/political/economic unit he had dedicated his life to studying. In “The Search for Southern Identity,” an article originally published in 1958 in the Virginia Quarterly Review and reprinted in The Burden of Southern History, Woodward explained that every identifiable marker of southern distinctiveness—“the one-horse farmer, one-crop agriculture, one-party politics, the sharecropper, the poll tax, the white primary, the Jim Crow car, the lynching bee”—had been either destroyed or were “on their way towards vanishing.” A … [Read more...]

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

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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...]

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