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

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[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

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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

Aimee Semple McPherson, arms raised. Courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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”

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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

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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...]

Los Angeles Black Worker Center Pushes for Inclusion

Workers learn about apprenticeship, training and job opportunities. The LABWC addresses the black job crisis by actively working to increase access to quality jobs, reduce employment discrimination, and improve industries that employ Black workers through action and unionization. Photo courtesy of the LABWC.

LeDaya Epps grew up in foster care until adolescence. When she finished high school, bouncing from job to job with no real career path, she struggled to land steady employment. By 2010, she had three children to care for as well and prospects looked tough. Then in 2013, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center along with a coalition of partners including LA County Federation of Labor and LA/OC Building and Construction Trades and LAANE, successfully negotiated an employment agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA,) her life changed. For years, the city had been expanding its subway and light rail systems; the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Train that runs through several … [Read more...]

“Room” and the Allegory of the Cave

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Room is the adaptation of a popular novel by Irish writer Emma Donoghue, with a screenplay written by the author herself and ably directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Those are the basic facts. But there is always a gap between facts and truth. The truth is that the film pushes against the outer boundaries of what we understand about love, family, parenting, epistemology, and even the meaning of existence itself. That, of course, is an awful lot of freight to put on one movie—especially a film that, for much of its duration, concerns only two actors interacting in a tiny space, one of whom was a seven or eight year old boy at the time of filming (albeit playing a five-year-old). Again, the facts … [Read more...]

Jurassic World: Hollywood’s Epic Ode to Woman-Shaming and Mansplaining

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If there's anything Jurassic World gets right, it’s that the titular theme park was always going to be little more than Sea World with serial killers. The latest installment in the hoary franchise at least nails the cynical Disneyfication of dinosaurs and biotechnology in a way that the earlier films never really did—or never got around to, since life always “found a way” and mayhem ensued before business could really get going. My praise officially stops there. Where do you even begin with this movie? The leading characters are flat and one-dimensional, each less interesting than the last. There’s Jake Johnson’s hipster dinosaur purist character, who by all rights should have been … [Read more...]

A Look Back at A Brilliant Mistake

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Recently, the great historians at Nursing Clio issued a Twitter query: what's on your feminist playlist? Along with many other Twitterstorians, the chatterers of ToM joined the debate with gusto. Ryan Reft gave a shout-out to Sleater-Kinney's punk rock classic Dig Me Out and PJ Harvey's seminal Rid of Me. Lauren MacIvor Thompson gave this writer a welcome blast from the past in citing Mary Chapin Carpenter's epic anthem of working-class self-empowerment, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," which I hadn't heard in years. I had a tough time picking my own. Patti Smith's raw, swaggering cover of "Gloria" seemed too obvious, but I couldn't resist putting it on the list. Ryan had already taken … [Read more...]

Will and Grace and Cam and Laverne: The Power of LGBT Characters in Pop Culture

Will and Grace and Cam and Laverne

Joe Biden once famously said that Will and Grace “did more to educate the American public [about gay rights] than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.” While some may have dismissed the statement as a typical, off-the-cuff Bidenism, others understood the implicit premise: that the (relatively) positive portrayal of gay characters on programs such as Will and Grace (1998-2006) and Modern Family (2009-present) helped get Americans used to the idea of LGBT people as good, ordinary friends, parents, and neighbors. But can popular culture have such a direct effect on popular opinion? Given the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decisions in Lawrence (2003) and Obergefell (2015), it’s a … [Read more...]