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...]

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...]

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