The Exquisite Exquisiteness of Carol

We got this piece seven months ago and shelved it because, at the time, it didn't seem like it could be of any great relevance; the author just really, really likes a movie. And then we saw this piece in Wired on the rapid efflorescence of extreme Carol fandom online.  And we reconsidered. Go figure. Seldom has a movie so moved me as Todd Haynes's Carol. Haynes is an auteur's auteur, a throwback to the heyday of Great Directors in the 1970s.  His 1995 film Safe nearly inspired me to write a book, and his 2007 I'm Not There--a riff on the identity and iconicity of Bob Dylan--almost made me stop hating biopics. Indeed, the director's versatility and willingness to play with issues of gender … [Read more...]

Spinning through Arab America (and More) with Randa Jarrar

Despite being a slim volume, Randa Jarrar’s remarkable collection, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, manages to take readers on a world tour of unlikely places: the shabby apartments of an Egyptian beach town, the mean streets of Yonkers, the tony Seattle home of a celebrity feminist academic.  Jarrar, who teaches creative writing at Fresno State, offers readers a dazzling array of perspectives and voices, at turns slangy and foul-mouthed and bittersweet and lyrical.  Throughout it all, though, Jarrar ties together her short stories with the thread of an Arab and Arab-American experience that is diverse and varied yet utterly distinctive. Her voice may change from story to story, but it remains frank, … [Read more...]

The Untold Story of a Prison Guard’s Struggle

With a generator powering the house, my family reluctantly went through belongings at my sister’s home. While going through her bedroom, deciding what clothes to keep and what to donate, I discovered a journal containing my sister’s own words about her time as a prison guard. At the age of twenty-one my sister, Jami, went off to the California Correctional Academy with dreams of having a lifelong career. After completing and graduating from the academy at the top of her class, she received a job at Corcoran State Prison. When it opened in February 1988, Corcoran State Prison was only the nineteenth prison established by the state of California since 1852. The opening of Corcoran, however, … [Read more...]

The Other Freestyle: Recovering 80s Latin Dance Music

I was wandering through a street fair off Canal Street a few years ago when I came across a stand selling bootleg CDs of hip-hop, rock, and many other genres.  The discs were mixes, rather than outright copies of already-released albums.  I had, of course, seen both in Manhattan, having picked up a $6 copy of Beck’s Guero on Varick Street and some amazing, educational anthologies of bossa nova and Americana near St. Mark’s Place in years past.  I did not know what I was in for when I visited this vendor, though. One CD was labeled Best of Freestyle.  Though I did not recognize the names – Nice N Wild, Sa Fire, Freeze – I assumed they must be old-school rappers of hip-hop’s golden age, … [Read more...]

7 Books to Make You Grateful for Your Own Family on Thanksgiving

Visual media have the advantage of providing quick comfort; if you need a change of mood or just an easy distraction, a TV show or a movie or even a YouTube clip can get the job done without too much effort, so long as said visual media is not designed by Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier.  Earlier this week ToM offered up its suggestions for films that touch on the variegated vicissitudes of family, on the theory that watching Pan's Labyrinth or Rachel Getting Married might put the craziness of one's own family in gratifying context.  Books, however, don't offer the same kind of instant remedy.  As Meatwad once said, "Books is from the devil, and TV is twice as fast!"  However, we humbly … [Read more...]

The Whole World a Prison: Forced Feminization Narratives and the Politics of Sexual Identity

[Editor's note: Though undoubtedly analytical, the post below contains references to mature themes, sexuality, and sexual assault. Please proceed accordingly.] The idea that gender and sexual identities are malleable has become increasingly familiar to many Americans in recent years. The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s challenged ideas of what femininity meant—the submissive, dependent housewife and nurturing caretaker was not all womanhood could mean—while the rise of LGBT activism since the late 1960s put forth new models of acting, being, and loving in the world, which did not necessarily comport with older notions of heteronormative male and female identity. Most recently, the … [Read more...]

Born For Love: Juan Gabriel’s Ballads of Solitude, and the Pain of Immigration

It’s difficult to overstate the ubiquity of Juan Gabriel’s voice in the everyday lives of Mexicans, both here in the US and in Mexico, where the megastar’s dozens of hits, some of them decades old, still blare from roadside fondas, urban nightclubs, and the blown out stereo speakers in my uncle’s home in Zamora, Michoacan. From disco, to rancheras, to ballads, and everything in between, Juan Gabriel’s signature melancholic exuberance was at once relatable and alien: relatable in the heartbreak and poverty to which it often spoke; and alien in the unabashedly flamboyant style that came to define him. Perhaps especially because of his flamboyance and the often unspoken subtext of his desires, … [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...]

In Fits and Stops: Coming of Age in Anna Rose Holmer’s Extraordinary “The Fits”

When I first saw the trailer for The Fits, we were going to see Yorgos Lanthimos’s brilliant and mordant The Lobster at Atlanta’s Midtown Arts Cinema. Half paying attention, I assumed the tale of a Cincinatti teen who joins a dance team would be a gag-inducing inspirational sports/dance flick—Rookie of the Year or Save the Last Dance by way of Akeelah and the Bee. It’s understandable that promoters of a dark, underdog indie film would want to frame it in misleadingly appealing terms for mainstream audiences—it happens all the time—but I can’t blame the team behind first-time director Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits for playing an Entourage-style bait-and-switch with their trailer. On second … [Read more...]

Sex and the Purple Guy

For a generation of youth--queer and non-queer alike--Prince cleared the path to a different way of embodying gender and sexuality. I recited the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” at my wedding reception in 2006, to a room of largely puzzled fifty- and sixty-somethings.  When the news of Prince’s passing dropped this afternoon, a wave of horror ripped through my Media Studies class, and almost by instinct I stood before the students and spoke the Purple One’s classic words once again: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Electric word ‘life,’ it means forever and that’s a mighty long time but I’m here to tell you there’s something else… the afterworld… It … [Read more...]