“What Toast?”: Gender, Sexuality, and Language in the Poetry of M. Mack

grayscale milquetoast

Milquetoast, n. a bland, timid, or ineffectual person easily dominated from Caspar Milquetoast, character in H.T. Webster's The Timid Soul comic strip, 1924 to 1931 and later, Milquetoast the cockroach, purple crossdressing character in Berkeley Breathed's comic strips Bloom County and Outland, 1980 to 1995 And now, this. What Toast? When Milquetoast became a cockroach, he lost his mustache. He tried fulfilling this lack of apparent gender with a penchant for what he and many others understood as crossdressing, in a wig and an ugly green dress, but this became an occasional activity: the Christmas special, big fights or fancy dinners with Opus the penguin. * When … [Read more...]

Riding Waves, Forging Communities: Surfing, Gender, and Feminism in 20th Century California

frieda surfing

"I like surfing because I feel like the true me. I think that surfing can show off to people that you can actually do something," Salinas, CA resident and pre-teen surfer, Mari Howarth, told filmmaker Jay Dunn. "If somebody says really mean things like 'Boys can do this and girls can't,' that's a stereotype. If you really want to do it, just believe in it and you can do it." As a participant in the Wahine Project, an organization and movement founded by Salinas native and surfer Dionne Ybarra, Howarth represents the upcoming generation of female surfers, and Ybarra's program embodies the multiracial, transnational, boundary eschewing nature of the sport. Established in April of 2010, the … [Read more...]

Maps to Nowhere: David Cronenberg Takes on Hollywood, for Better or Worse

mia-wasikowska-and-julianne-moore-maps-to-the-stars

Birdman was the boffo Hollywood navel-gazing opus par excellence—the sort of thing the Academy just can’t resist. I’m told that the film was supposed to be a satire of actorly self-indulgence, and I just didn’t get the joke. To me, the wafer-thin paper cut-outs that populate the film—the pompous stage actor, the druggy blonde actress, the humorless critic with forever-pursed lips—were not so much knowing jabs at the business as they were boring stock characters. Alejandro Iñárritu’s flair for the dramatic was certainly on display—in, for instance, the film’s wildly frenetic soundtrack and the feeling of immediacy created by its crazy long shots—but overall it felt to me more like a … [Read more...]

Sporting Golden State: Women and Athletics in 20th Century California

Cheryl Miller during the 1984 Olympic Games | Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

In 1971, an adolescent girl in Connecticut sued for the right to compete on an all-boys athletic team. The judge dismissed her argument with a typically gendered assessment of athletics, "sports builds character ... we don't need that kind of character in girls." 1 Whatever the judge's assertion, he clearly proved himself to be on the wrong side of history, as one year later one of the most important federal laws regarding gender passed Congress, Title IX. The landmark legislation radically altered American sport; yet, before and after 1972, California and its female athletes have been and continue to be a forerunner regarding issues of gender, race, and sexuality. Tennis and … [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...]

¡La Lucha Continua! Gloria Arellanes and the Making of a Chicano Movement in El Monte and Beyond

Brown Beret Pics 007

“So we moved here to El Monte, and I remember all the neighbors were white,” recalled Gloria Arellanes in a 2011 interview conducted by the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.[1] “Eventually white flight came about and they started moving out to the Covina area, San Bernardino area.” This was extremely different from East Los Angeles, where she was born in 1941. Growing up in El Monte was not easy, she explained. Unlike East Los Angeles, where ethnic solidarity and family had sheltered her, in El Monte, discrimination and racism were omnipresent. It was not uncommon for her to hear disparaging comments about Mexicans: “that we were lazy…We’re dirty. In those days…[Y]ou couldn’t … [Read more...]

Tropics of Meta “Staffers” Pick the Best of 2014

stooges-fix

Each year, Tropics of Meta's intrepid team of cultural critics reports on the best of the year's music, movies, TV, scholarship and so forth.  We've commented on artists as humorless as Aimee Mann and as humorful as Chance the Rapper; we've listened to Harry Nilsson and showered with Greta Van Susteren. (And that was before her head transplant!)  This year, though, we decided to sound out our contributors on a battery of highly social-scientific questions, prompting some fascinating responses.  You think you know, but it's weird to learn what your friends and colleagues are actually into.  So here you have it: the first-ever ToMmys! 1. Best Academic Book/Article Nick Juravich: Roberta … [Read more...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

moonrise kingdom sam susie

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...]

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...]

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

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"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...]

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