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...]

Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

tolkien and martin

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

The Tragicomedy of Postindustrial Labor


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...]

If Quotes from True Detective Were Motivational Posters


Rust Cohle, the dyspeptic protagonist of HBO's True Detective, made both nihilism and logorrhea cool again in 2014, as a great episode of Radiolab recently made clear.  If you need a little splash of pessimism to get through your morning coffee, these motivational posters might just be your cup of tea.  Is that a mixed metaphor?  It's all one ghetto, man. … [Read more...]

Ten of the Greatest Books on Media History

Mixtape salesman from owen's VV article

Historians have always had a tough time writing about media. The danger of technological determinism tends to loom over any discussion of technologies such as television or the Internet—the risk of arguing that a particular medium or device causes people to behave or think a certain way. That fear has been present since the earliest days of media studies, when the War of the Worlds and the pioneering audience research of Paul Lazarsfeld and the Bureau of Applied Social Research in the 1930s raised questions about the “effects” that mass media had on people, both as individuals and groups. Meanwhile, the power of Hitler’s megaphone implied that people as a mass were pliant, susceptible to a … [Read more...]

From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media


[Editor's Note: This piece closes out our  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage.  Be sure to check out our previous posts on Asian American athletics, notably masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here and basketball's role in Filipino and Filipino-American identity here, and the intersection of the Cold War and Asian American citizenship, particularly in how the New Right, anti-communism and the Vietnam War created the diverse demographics of today's Orange county here or how film noir, Cold War ethos, and Asian American sexuality figure prominently in the 1959 L.A. noir classic the "Crimson Kimono" here.] "The problem of this era is … [Read more...]

The Sad Decline of The Daily Show

Bullets over Benghazi

With Stephen Colbert departing for CBS to replace David Letterman in 2015, I’d like to preemptively ring the death knell for the great hour of Swiftian satire that Comedy Central gave us Monday through Thursday for nearly the past decade. The Daily Show (TDS) with Jon Stewart, of course, will be sticking around, but it’s becoming increasingly timeworn, even uninteresting. Conservative critics of the show predicted it would lose its poignancy with the election of President Obama and Stewart’s chief bête noire, the Bush administration, out of power. And while they seemed to have a point initially--Jon Stewart seemed to have a hard time finding his footing after the first Obama … [Read more...]

“Looking” for Identity: Gender, Sexuality, and a Brief History of LGBT America


When HBO premiered the first episode of its new series Looking in mid-January, the show, as noted by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour “launched a 1,000 think pieces across the internet.” While Looking remains a compelling, if admittedly “low key” viewing experience, noted one critic, the show’s existence points to a more complicated and nuanced reality regarding 21st century gay identity.  How did we get here and how have ideas about homosexuality and identity been formed? The answer, one might argue, hinges on a complex mix of personal and group agency, popular culture and public discourse, and government, local and federal, regulation. As established by Josh Sides in his excellent 2010 work … [Read more...]

Transnational Protest, Media Bias, and Monopolized Airwaves: Best of AHA 2014, Part 2


In part II of ToM’s AHA 2014 coverage our correspondents begin with papers on the efforts of Latin American students, workers, and rebels of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970 to use non-violent activism as a means to gain greater rights and autonomy in the face of increasingly repressive regimes.  We end with talks on media bias, conservatism, Rupert Murdoch/Fox News and the NAACP. What does it mean if we have more voices and greater diversity with those appearing in the media, but more and more of the airwaves under the control of fewer and fewer individuals? Remember, we went to the AHA so you didn’t have too.  For Part I of AHA 2014 - Bed-Stuy, The Illuminati, and the Importance of Fungus … [Read more...]

Frank Costanza and the War on Christmas


Bill O’Reilly recently thought he had liberals pinned in their remorseless war on Christmas: the namby-pamby secular humanists who insist on saying “Happy holidays” so as not to offend people of other faiths had no ground to stand on this year. Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving in 2013, meaning “There are no other holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year,” O’Reilly snorted.  Thus, there are no grounds to say “Happy Holidays” in December.  There is only one holiday, the mac-daddy of all holidays, the reigning champ—Christmas—and every right-thinking American has to say “Merry Christmas,” or else. Elsewhere on Fox News, Sarah Palin was squawking about how much she loves the … [Read more...]


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