The Wide World of Tropics of Meta

ToM's audience has steadily grown for years, ever since it was invented in a humble Palo Alto garage back in 2010.  But we've certainly had a distinct surge in readership during 2017.  Perhaps it is just the mind-blowingly awful state of the world that drives readers to escape into the history of thrash metal and hardcore, the genealogy of the hipster, the racial politics of Gremlins. But certainly a handful of pieces have brought a lot of new people to the site. Notably, R. Mike Burr's critique of Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance appears to have struck a real nerve with readers, many of whom share his skepticism for the portrayal of Appalachian culture by the canny and ambitious Vance. … [Read more...]

Black History Month, Part I: “Fighting for Leisure” in Los Angeles

Over the past five years, ToM has spent a great deal of time investigating issues of race. While we try to avoid the usual black-white binary of racial discourse in the United States, highlighting the lives and histories of Asian and Latino Americans, we've no doubt examined the histories of Black America with great interest. Over the course of February, aka Black History Month, we're going to highlight some of our more notable pieces on the subject. Just two weeks after a massive snow storm struck the eastern seaboard and with the east coast and midwest stuck in the heart of winter, we figure why not take a look at the intersection of civil rights and leisure with one of life's warmest … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

Not Bowling Alone: How the Holiday Bowl in Crenshaw Became an Integrated Leisure Space

In May 2000, the New York Times reported the upcoming demolition of the Crenshaw District's Holiday Bowl. Built by Japanese American investors in 1958, just as Crenshaw and neighboring Leimart Park were reemerging as one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, the bowling alley served as an integrated leisure space where African, Mexican, and Asian Americans could interact. "It's like a United Nations in there,'' longtime employee Jacqueline Sowell told writer Don Terry. ''Our employees are Hispanic, white, black, Japanese, Thai, Filipino. I've served grits to as many Japanese customers as I do black. We've learned from each other and given to each other. It's much more than just a bowling … [Read more...]

Fighting for Leisure: African Americans, Beaches, and Civil Rights in Early 20th Century L.A.

"These people worked on the railroad, they saved their money, they put up a resort, and they lost everything," lamented Bernard Bruce in 2007. "How would you feel if your family owned the Waldorf and they took it away from you." Bruce, the grandson of former beach resort proprietors Charles and Willa Bruce, spoke to the Los Angeles Times after a contested Manhattan Beach city council vote of 3-2 confirmed the city's official commemoration of his parents' beach resort as a historic landmark. "There's a kind of tension," longtime resident and local historian Robert L. Brigham added, "between people who are very conscious of the history of Bruce's and those who would rather forget about the … [Read more...]

1181 Durfee Avenue: 1983 to 1986

Between the fourth and sixth grades, you are seized by three deep and compulsive obsessions:             Marvel comic books (all things Daredevil and X-Men and Spiderman). BMX bicycles (yours: a second-hand Mongoose, unwieldy and spray-painted black after you stripped the frame down to its bare chrome-moly tubing). And video games. Your parents find all three activities doubtful.  Comic books are allowed since they get you reading something else besides MAD magazine and therefore seem remotely educational.  And when you're on your bicycle, you're out of the house, out of your parents' way, and doing something sort of athletic, even if the extent of this athletic activity is you and … [Read more...]

Making Place: Mapping South El Monte and El Monte

South El Monte Arts Posse’s upcoming project “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte” will use interdisciplinary workshops to create a digital archive. Our hope is that our archive will be accessible to community members, journalists, and scholars and thus produce more written and other forms of cultural production about El Monte and South El Monte. Ultimately, we hope this will produce a better sense of place. Over a four-week period (Jan to Feb 2014) we will be bringing a range of professionals from Mexico City to work in South El Monte and El Monte with community members. Together, we will create a range of primary sources--oral histories, creative … [Read more...]

Waters of Community, Waters of Hostility: The Messy History of Urban America and the Municipal Pool

[Editor's Note: Just in time for summer heat waves, this is the first in a series of posts in the upcoming weeks on the swimming pool in American life.  For those interested in cultural history of the backyard pool, check out ToM's RR via @KCETDepartures - "A Dive into the Deep End: The Importance of the Swimming Pool in Southern California"] “Caddy Day,” read the Bushwood Country Club Swimming Pool sign in the 1980 comedy Caddyshack, “Caddies welcome 1:00 – 1:15.”    In the roughly five minute scene, the Bushwood Country Club grudgingly hosts its lowest rung of employee: the caddies.  As the motley crew of lower middle and working class white kids, the group’s ethnic population … [Read more...]

Helms, Zoots, Legos, Dinkins, Valley Girls, & Lebowski: ToM Contributors Around the Web

Tropics of Meta contributors do not only spend their nights toiling at Wordpress and waiting by the phone to hear from our editors.  They have also published widely in sources online and off, from traditional peer-reviewed journals to blogs and news sites.  We wanted to compile some of the notable things our contributors have written in a wide variety of the platforms for some light Summer reading, links to which are included below: Adam E. Gallagher Palestine: A History of Nonviolence (Carnegie Endowment) Jason Resnikoff Thomas Crown's Global Vision (Paris Review) The Indescribable Frankenstein: A Short History of the Spectacular Failure of Words (Paris Review) Carribean … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Lanny Budd, Upton Sinclair’s Ideal Idler

"It was profoundly true that movements of the spirit came first, and that events of history were consequences thereof." -Upton Sinclair, Wide is the Gate Several years ago I was directed toward Upton Sinclair’s socialist-minded quasi-spy novels about a young man named Lanning Prescott Budd. The 11 books span the breadth of time from the onset of The Great War to the rise of the Cold War, but as I have been able to acquire only the first half of the series, my investigation has followed Lanny only so far as the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. A New York Times reflection on the books gives a decent introduction to the protagonist: Born in 1900, he was the illegitimate child of an … [Read more...]