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

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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...]

Suburban Ideals vs. New Realities: Informal Housing in South Gate

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"[T]he idea that movies and stars inspire people from the world's pockets of desperate poverty to undertake treacherous journeys across oceans and borders to this city of immigrants is fatuous," writes UCLA's Eric Avila. "Immigrant understandings of the city rely upon the concrete aspects of urban growth: labor markets, employment opportunities, housing availability, and preexisting networks of family and community."(1) Indeed, the hard economic realities of life drive immigration - and internal migration for that matter -- and it is the intersection of these realities and the culture of immigrants themselves. This is particularly true in regard to family structure and informal economies … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

Mo Bobos, Mo Problems: Looking Back at David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise 15 Years Later

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Revisiting a work of pop sociology is almost always a jarring experience. Frederick Lewis Allen’s early postmortem of the 1920s, for instance, treated the Florida real estate boom as one of that decade’s most salient themes—not exactly what we think of when we think of the Roaring Twenties. Similarly, Alvin Toffler’s breathless language about hippies and happenings in Future Shock seems dated today, even as we continue to be as anxious about the quickening pace of technology and “information overload” as the gilded corporate-whisperer Toffler was back in 1970. In a different way, David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise offers a remarkable pulse-reading of America’s elite in 2000. In fact, it's a … [Read more...]

A Loray Mill of the Mind

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My family moved to North Carolina in the late 1980s, having left a stagnant and hopeless West Virginia in search of greater economic opportunities. My mom and grandparents and I first tried Indiana for a few years, but eventually left for the greener shores of the Sunbelt. We came to Gastonia, a modest-sized former textile town (it once boasted of having “more looms and spindles within its hundred-mile radius than... any other southern city”) in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area. An aunt and uncle had already paved the way for us, in a sort of internal chain-migration, leaving WV for NC several years before. I once asked my mom why Suzy and Jim had settled on Gastonia as a place to … [Read more...]

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

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"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 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...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case that led to Exley's promotion and subsequent municipal fame. However, in a brief exchange, Soto reveals that while guilty of sexual assault, the four men never stepped foot in the notorious Night Owl. "I don't know what time they left me, I wanted them dead," she tells Exley in a private moment. "Would anyone care that they … [Read more...]

Reading Piketty at the Grand Budapest Hotel

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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...]

Working to Play, Playing to Work: Mexican American Baseball and Labor in Southern California

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"I remember traveling to Lake Elsinore, which was a long way in those days," reminisced Zeke Mejia in 1996. "But the only ride we could get was from a friend who hauled fertilizer in his truck, so all the guys crawled inside ... and tried not to breath during the ride. By the time we arrived to play well we all smelled like fertilized fields. We did it because we loved the game." 1 For Mejia and thousands of other Mexican Americans laboring in Southern California during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, baseball served as a means to at once demonstrate belonging in the United States, while simultaneously asserting their own identity. In Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties, Mexican … [Read more...]