Pushing Boundaries with Youthful Ardor: A Review of K-12

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“The Reagan White House was one in which great expectations were allowed into play,” reflected Joan Didion in 1989. “Ardor, of a kind that only rarely survives a fully occupied Oval Office, flourished unchecked.” The former California governor, building on the work of Richard Nixon before him, successfully stitched together an unwieldy coalition of a fractious conservative America; one that today we see has reached its social and political limits. Peggy Noonan recognized the awkward alliance at the heart of Reagan’s presidency. “There were libertarians whose girlfriends had just given birth to their sons, hoisting a Coors with social conservatives who walked into the party with a wife who … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part IV: Compton as bellwether for urban America

Kendrick Lamar performs a medley of songs at the 58th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX273N1

Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”, with its #BlackLivesMatter theme and political overtones, struck a chord with many viewers. In a night of standout performances including the Lady Gaga tribute to the late great David Bowie and the John Legend/Demi Lovato led multi-artist homage to the artistry of Lionel Richie, Lamar sent a clear message to viewers in an election year in which the African American electorate – both in the democratic primaries and general election – will exert a pronounced influence on the ultimate result. More so in regard to his second album, good kid, m.A.A.d.city, but to some extent his first, Section 80 as well, Lamar’s own … [Read more...]

The Sound of Motor City: Ruin Porn, Popular Memory, and Protomartyr’s Vision of 21st Century Detroit

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For the past couple years, one of the most vital sounds in music today has come out of that ruined city of the middle west, Detroit.   “Before recorded time, in some suburban room, see the devil in his youth,” Protomartyr’s Joe Casey croons over a rapid postpunk beat. “He grew up pale and healthy with the blessings of his father.” Indeed, Detroit’s residents might recognize the suburban devil depicted in the opening song of band’s third album The Agent Intellect. “His privilege came before him, the promise of adoring, the devil in his youth.” Anyone familiar with the Motor City’s postwar history knows the critical place race has played in Detroit’s rise, fall, and current but perhaps not … [Read more...]

Generational Narcissism?: Less than Zero, Gen X, and Why Millenials Really Aren’t All That Bad.

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Over the past couple months or to be more accurate years, numerous commentators have bemoaned the apparent narcissism of millennials. Social media, more than one study claims, has made “twenty somethings” more self-absorbed than their predecessors and many employers claim millennials exhibit an unprecedented sense of entitlement. Perhaps even worse, earlier this year Fortune published an article asserting that millennials even lacked rudimentary talent, falling short in skills like “literacy (including the ability to follow simple instructions), practical math, and — hold on to your hat — a category called ‘problem-solving in technology-rich environments.’” A recent incident in which a group … [Read more...]

Floridian America Redux?: Wicker Park, Hipsterdom, and Neo-Bohemia

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“Creative people have always gravitated to certain kinds of communities such as the Left Bank in Paris or New York’s Greenwich Village,” wrote Richard Florida in his ubiquitously referenced The Rise of the Creative Class. “Such communities provide the stimulation, diversity, and richness of experiences that are the wellsprings of creativity. Now more of us are looking for the same thing.”[1] With his 2002 work, Florida staked his claim as an iconic New Economy urbanist and laid out a vision for urban growth in the new century that if not completely accurate rings true in many ways.  In general, more jobs would be based on “creative” or intellectual, knowledge-based skills rather than the … [Read more...]

Swiftian Springsteen: Ryan Adams, Taylor Swift and 1989

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Eight years ago, the avant-garde group/collective the Dirty Projectors released Rise Above, an album that bandleader David Longstreth described as a track-by-track “reimagining” of Black Flag’s 1981 Henry Rollins-era opus, Damaged. In its performance of Rise Above, Dirty Projectors’ almost resembled Black Flag: “serious, somewhat inhuman stuff, which is possibly why the band never smiles onstage: Longstreth, wide-eyed and focused, hair like wild grass ….” wrote Pitchfork’s Mike Powell. However, to say that the two scarcely sounded similar would be a massive understatement. For Powell, Damaged functioned more as a musical “anchor” for Longstreth’s “polyrhythmic arrangements.” In the end, the … [Read more...]

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

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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

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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...]

Seeking and Selling Authenticity in Michoacan

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Longtime friend of Tropics of Meta Pavel Shlossberg just published his first book, a fantastic ethnographic study of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts in Mexico -- and the complex cultural politics that emerge when interested outsiders, such as tourists and art dealers, impose their own ideas about what's "true" or "authentic" about other people's cultures.  It's a story as old as art and anthropology themselves, but Shlossberg tells it with a sharp eye and a fresh voice.  Certain readers will undoubtedly recognize the verve and wit of his prose from a dissertation writing group lo these many years ago in Morningside Heights.  Check out Crafting Identity: Transnational Indian Arts … [Read more...]

The Tragicomedy of Postindustrial Labor

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Why do we play the shell game of the so-called "knowledge economy"? The reasons are many, and few of them are quite so intentional as a long con. Since the 1960s, scientists and other intellectuals have warmed to the idea of an information society because it flatters their own sense of personal importance. Intellectual property interests have found this rhetoric useful in their quest for state sanction against technologies of reproduction. Meanwhile, the incorporation of information technology into all forms of production and services has lent prestige to intellectual property and its power, creating new conveniences and advances of productivity (particularly in the 1990s) that cannot be … [Read more...]

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