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

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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...]

Musical Fugazi: Politics, Post Punk, and Reevaluating D.C.’s Most Famous Rock Band 25 Years Later

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Last December, amidst one of D.C.’s colder and more snow-filled winters, a symbol of the city’s musical past appeared above one of its most travelled corridors. Over the I-495 Beltway on the CSX railroad bridge between Georgia and Connecticut Avenues, someone had spray painted six glorious uneven letters: “Fugazi.” The band had not played a note in over a decade yet here it stood a rough-hewn testament to their one-time presence. “I find it odd that someone painted ‘Fugazi’ on a railroad bridge in 2014,” wrote John Kelly in the Washington Post, “It’s like painting ‘Clapton is God’ on a London brick wall today. The moment has passed.”[1] To Kelly’s credit, he quickly pointed out that a … [Read more...]

Requiem for “The Sports Guy”: Bill Simmons, ESPN, and the Shifting Sports/Cultural Landscape

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When New York Times notifications lit up iPhones on Friday announcing “Bill Simmons is leaving ESPN,” it highlighted how important of a player “The Sport Guys” had become in the journalism and media world. “I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract,” ESPN head honcho John Skipper noted. “We’ve been talking to Bill, and it was clear that we weren’t going to get to the terms, so we were better off focusing on transition.” Skipper, a self-professed friend of Simmons, grabbed hold of the narrative and rode it into the weekend, while his former employee responded with “uncharacteristic silence,” Richard Sandomir quipped in the Times. Skipper’s announcement put an official end to a … [Read more...]

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

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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...]

Taylor Swift, 1989, and the Magic of Nostalgic NYC

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In October 2014, Taylor Swift dropped her fifth album, 1989. Less than a month later in November, she performed the first track off 1989, “Welcome to New York.” Letterman guffawed, the crowd gasped, and Swift looked like the seasoned artist she is, confidently belting out the song’s chorus with hand claps and poise galore. Without a doubt, “Welcome to New York,” like many of the songs off the album, nails all the peaks and valleys one would expect from an earworm by Ms. Swift, and it opens with the kind of universal experience that any Midwesterner new to the city can understand. That first trip to the “village,” the crowds of fellow young people all jostling to see and hear what movies and … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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[Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, a a group of Jewish and Latino activists began efforts to renovate and save the historic Breed Street Shul as a means to highlight the community's diverse history. With 2015 upon us, ToM thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit these efforts and place them in historical context] In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

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