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...]

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...]

Coping with the Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary

Brendan Gleeson and Chris O'Dowd in John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.

“I think she's bipolar, or lactose intolerant, one of the two.” -- Jack Brennan, Calvary What could be more suited to 2014 than a film about collective punishment? It was a year when skin color seemed to prejudice police offers to exercise lethal force against Eric Garner and Michael Brown; when members of the Muslim Brotherhood were cavalierly sentenced to death en masse by Egypt's new, US-backed dictatorship; and when ISIS committed unthinkable acts of savagery in Iraq and Syria, decapitating innocent bystanders and burying women and children alive because they belonged to the wrong ethnic or religious group. Random people seemed to suffer for the sins of the system, or the nation, or … [Read more...]

Relax, Historians: As Long as There’s a Roy Moore, You’ll Be in Business


On February 8, Roy Moore issued an administrative order to Alabama’s probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite a federal district court’s holding that the Alabama ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Moore based his order on a couple of technicalities, the primary one being that the federal order was directed at the attorney general and not the probate judges. A lot can change in three days. On Thursday, February 12, Judge Callie Virginia S. Granade of the Federal District Court ordered Alabama’s probate judges to issue the licenses. Undaunted, Roy Moore continues to insist that Alabama is not bound by the federal district court, and took to the … [Read more...]

Roy Moore Is Right. Sort of.

This was fun. Let's do it again in 50 years

On Monday, February 9, 2015, Alabama became the 37th state to permit gay marriage. Well, sort of. Federal judge Callie Virginia S. Granade had already told Alabama on January 23rd in Searcy v. Strange that its “sanctity of Marriage” constitutional amendment was in direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] The state’s attorney general had asked for a stay to this ruling, hoping that some clarity might come from the Supreme Court’s upcoming Gay Marriage Cases, to be decided in this term.[2] But on Monday, February 9, the Supreme Court declined to issue the stay. Gay couples immediately applied for marriage licenses, and by this writing, several had been granted. But Alabama is not … [Read more...]

Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

“Let It Be”: The Replacements, Generation X, and Sexuality 30 Years Later


"If they hadn't come along I think we would have to invent them somehow," impressively bearded writer Robert Voedisch told filmmakers in 2011’s Color Me Obsessed. Sprawling over two hours, the documentary captures the feelings of affection, disbelief, and for many fans in regard to the last few albums, despair, that the infamous Minneapolis postpunk band the Replacements inspired. Indeed, the level of reverence that fans hold for a band clearly defined by irreverence remains palpable. They were a 1980s Velvet Underground, notes one; they may have sold few records, but everyone who picked one up joined a band. “The great existential heroes of American Indie rock,” Titus Andronicus lead singer … [Read more...]

Beware of the Blond Woman: Gender, Sexuality and the State in Modern Germany


Lola Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), regales the cabaret audience with this advice: “Beware of blond women.” (Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen.). As the first German “talkie” and with the definition of masculinity in question during the interwar years, it’s no surprise how The Blue Angel incorporates sound as a cinematic device to represent the “victim” of Lola’s gaze, Professor Rath. After meeting this strong-willed sex symbol, Rath’s voice devolves from a respectable, crowing rooster to the castrated whimper of a cuckold. Lola Lola typifies the modern woman, the “new woman,” who experienced greater opportunity and freedom as a wage … [Read more...]

Golden State Urbanity: 28 History Books That Get At The Heart of Metropolitan California


For many Americans, the phrase “California history” sounds like an oxymoron. Born out of a Gold Rush and two World Wars, the Golden State, to easterners, has always seemed like the new kid on the block. Californians might have aided in such perceptions, notes the 1970s dean of West Coast literature, Joan Didion. “You might protest that no family has been in Sacramento Valley for anything approaching ‘always,’” she wrote, “But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it has simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west.” For Didion, such depictions of the past cast melancholy over “those who participate in it,” … [Read more...]

White Racial Innocence Goes to War: Forrest Gump at 20

forrest gump ice cream

1994—it wasn’t that long ago.  Or was it?  It was a time before iPhones, YouTube, Monica Lewinsky, WMDs, and Honey Boo-Boo.  The tech bubble was still a glimmer in Alan Greenspan’s eye.  It was in the Spring of that year that I remember seeing a trailer for a forthcoming Tom Hanks film with the unlikely title Forrest Gump.  I figured it was some weirdo prestige project that a big-name actor was doing for some indie cred, and would never, ever be a commercial success.  But a few months later, I witnessed a crowd of teary-eyed viewers streaming out of a screening of Forrest Gump, clutching Kleenexes.  Something was clearly going on. As it turns out, Tom Hanks’s portrayal of a Candidean … [Read more...]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,392 other followers