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...]

Ten of the Greatest Books in Food Studies

pakistani desi chicken manchurian

In addition to taking over America’s public imagination – isn’t everyone a “foodie” these days? – Food Studies has firmly established itself as a serious academic discipline over the past decade. While the majority of popular food studies books fall into one of three categories (single commodity histories; explorations of individual ethnic foodways; and often problematically universalist and racially and class- biased works of food politics), many of the best critical works view the study of food as offering the possibility of a radically cross-disciplinary and trans-national re-engagement of key topics in studies of the Americas. This list offers some of the most important texts that … [Read more...]

Ghostface Killah: A Critique of Patriarchal Masculinity


After watching the new documentary Amy, I’ve found myself revisiting the catalog of an artist whose creative work was cut tragically short. Sadly, there’s not a lot there beyond her two albums and a few odds and ends. Perhaps my favorite of her songs is actually the remix of “You Know I’m No Good” featuring Ghostface Killah. To Winehouse’s lyrics about the romantic travails of a bad girl who drinks Tanqueray and luxuriates in “Jamaica and Spain,” Ghostface adds a predictably testosterone-laden counterpoint. He’s the guy whose girl is telling him that he better watch out, because she’s no good. And he has something to say in return. What could have been a lot of macho posturing, though, … [Read more...]

The Fascinating — and Troubling — Gender Politics of Inside Out

Rileys Mom Emotions

More than a few years ago, I remember a friend saying he was troubled by the “sexual politics” of Pixar’s celebrated 2009 film Up. At the time, I thought his analysis was a bit much—his parents were professors, and he really couldn’t help talking that way. However, he did have a point. The heartbreaking intro to the film—perhaps the single biggest emotional punch to the gut in an animated film since Bambi’s mom died—depicts a man living his life with his wife, who gives up her own aspirations for the quotidian course of marriage and homeownership. At the end of a painful five minutes, she passes away, her dream of motherhood thwarted and her yearning for other adventures similarly … [Read more...]

Innocents Abroad: Reimagining the Immigrant Frontier in “Slow West”


“He was an officer.” “Wearing a dress don’t make her a lady. He ain’t soldier least no more … injun slayers.” “Wearing a dress don’t make her a lady,” Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) tells his new mentee, Scottish 16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Indeed, the first dialogue exchanged between the two in the new western, Slow West could serve as the film’s coda. Things are rarely what they seem, expectations do not often meet reality, and the stories we tell ourselves, whether about love, identity, or history, frequently obscure unpleasant truths. Cavendish had travelled from “the cold shoulder of Scotland to the hot baking heart of America,” Selleck tells viewers in the … [Read more...]

South Asian American Femininity: Who Can Play?

Desi Hoop Dreams Cover

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity (New York University Press, 2015) from Stan Thangaraj, a City College professor of Anthropology and friend of Tropics of Meta.  This passage comes from Chapter 5, "Breaking the Cycle." which consists of a series of fascinating vignettes about contests over identity among Asian American basketball players in the South. Women are present at [desi basketball] tournaments. Their presence constitutes part of the pleasure men take in performing athletic masculinity. The men become the main targets of gaze for a wide audience. Additionally, many women play an … [Read more...]

“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


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...]


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