Goodbye and Good Luck!!

"Can we get more plaid in this picture??"; RR, ASC, and CUNY's Matthew Vaz at UHA 2016

Over the past six years or so, I’ve had a great time co-editing and writing for Tropics of Meta. It’s been a real journey. Co-editor Alex Sayf Cummings and I have learned a lot from each other; I’ve learned a lot from our contributors as well. I can’t thank Alex and everyone else enough. Thanks also to all those who have read our pieces, even when you didn’t think much of them because well, you have plenty of things to do in your day and taking the time to check ours out is and was appreciated. So it’s with good feelings towards all that I tender my resignation. I leave knowing that ToM is in the best of hands with Alex at the helm and I look forward to reading more great stuff from … [Read more...]

VP Debate 2016: Send in the Clowns!


Needless to say, somewhere Smokey Robinson is wondering “WTF?” or patting himself on the back for seeing into the future, maybe both. All over the heartland, real clowns are stalking the populace, horrifying rural and inner city populations alike.  The TV mini-series It turned 25 last year, and it’s as if the anniversary served as a dog whistle for a clown resurgence: a nation of Pennywises rising from obscurity. In almost parallel development, this year’s presidential campaign feels like an Edward Hopper painting, Stephen King novel, and three-ring circus all wrapped into one. The GOP debates functioned as a proverbial clown car with an array of insane candidates emerging to grasp an … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

"Reagan for Governor" pins from the David S. Broder Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

Making Miranda: What the Famous Warning Tells Us about Police Reform Fifty Years Later


Near the end of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, New Zealand social worker Paula, hot on the trail of the wayward and infamous Ricky Baker, finally captures her ward. “You have the right to remain silent,” she tells Baker, repeating the American police procedural standard to the boy. “That’s more an American thing,” the local constable tells her, demonstrating both Paula’s delusions of law enforcement grandeur and the pervasiveness of American culture, a sub-theme of the film. Over the past fifty years since Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Miranda Warning has become embedded in the American subconscious and apparently abroad. Paula’s deployment of it in New Zealand only underscores its influence … [Read more...]

Colin Kaepernick’s Critics Only Care about Symbolism and Ignore Substance


As for many American boys, sports were a staple of my life growing up in the 90s and it was rare to hear about contemporary athletes taking stands on political or social issues. Sure, there was Mohammed Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos and Tommie Lee, but that was a different era and the urgency that impelled their activism seemed out of place at the time (in the mind of a white, middle class kid). The reigning most-famous athlete in the world at the time, one Michael Jordan, made it clear that he was not interested in wading into politics. When asked to support Harvey Gantt, an African American running against racist Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms in 1990, Jordan reportedly (and … [Read more...]

The U of C Way: Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings, and Publicity at the University of Chicago


In a possibly, and very likely, apocryphal story that circulated among my social circle at the University of Chicago, one of my friends claims to have asked a wizened older professor what the school was like during the tumult of the 1960s. “A hot bed of inactivity,” he responded dryly. At least, that’s how the story went. Admittedly, no means of authenticating that anecdote exists, but the fact that it pervaded my notably non-political milieu says something about how at least a segment of the university saw the school’s history of social activism: limited to moderate, at best. Truth is, the school witnessed its share of protest. Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid uncovered some of this … [Read more...]

East Asian ToM: Five Days of Seoul


After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn't have been listed as a ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives, to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished, and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. "Most of Seoul lay in ruins," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. "The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves." Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings


In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]

The Complexity of the Present: Black Lives Matter, History, and Balancing Conflicting Ideas


“Whatever may be our quarrel with our fellow citizens in times of peace,” William Dawson wrote to the NAACP on April 10, 1917. “ [I]n times of national danger it is our duty to lay aside for a while the family feud and rally to the call against a common enemy and as long as we claim citizenship, we must respond to the call.”[1] Only days before, President Woodrow Wilson had committed the nation to World War I and the U.S., with a military ranked somewhere between 17th and 20th internationally, had to conscript an army. Earlier that Spring the government, anticipating the possibility of war and pressured by black leaders like Washington D.C. Reverend J. Milton Waldron and his Committee of … [Read more...]

The DF in the Rearview Mirror: ToM travels to Mexico City Again

The museum goes out of its way to recreate architecture of the pre-Columbian period; it's appreciated

In 1933, the visionary designer Charles Eames absconded from St. Louis to Mexico, in an effort to “[take] stock of and ultimately [change] his approach and situation in life,” notes his grandson Eames Demetrios. Charles spent about ten months traveling in San Luis Potosi and Monterrey, now and then dipping into more rural areas of the Mexican countryside. He got by doing occasional manual labor and selling sketches and painting for sustenance. When he returned, in 1934, he brought with him numerous depictions of churches and vistas, which so impressed his fellow Midwesterners that the St. Louis Museum deployed them as an exhibit; many of his sketches and paintings later appeared in the color … [Read more...]