Rachel Dolezal and the Racial Trickster: A Local Perspective on Crossing and Crafting Identities


I live in Spokane, WA, where I write and teach about race, identity, and social justice. I have never met Rachel Dolezal, who also resides in Spokane, though we have at least a few acquaintances and causes in common. My own visceral reaction to the Dolezal story is tied to but also goes beyond the fact that I am a resident of Spokane as a well as a student of race. In part it’s a reaction to the racial crossing and how she did it. But it’s also a disappointment because she had been effective as an activist on the local scene.  Dolezal was an effective and cogent organizer and talking head—bodies and boots matter, and she did bring them out. (Then again, I don't want to discount organizations … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee


Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

1996: The Year R.E.M. and Pearl Jam Committed Suicide

e-bow the letter

The year was 1996—almost 20 years ago, kids—and the alternative revolution was in its dead-ender stage. Kurt Cobain was gone, the Smashing Pumpkins ruled with a cross-breed of Rush and Journey (before it was cool), and the ska and swing revivals were just around the corner. That year, two of the biggest bands of the early 1990s came out with albums that basically killed their careers: R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Pearl Jam’s No Code. Both albums met with mixed reviews from critics. Each earned an unenthusiastic 6 out of 10 rating from SPIN magazine, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi topped both best-of and worst-of lists for the year. Two bands who were at the height of fame—both of … [Read more...]

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


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...]

The Gonzo Vision of Lana Del Rey

lana del rey with flowers in her hair

I do not know for a fact that Lizzy Grant, the canny songwriter behind Lana Del Rey, secretly earned an American Studies degree at SUNY-Geneseo, but all the evidence points in that direction. Lana Del Rey is, of course, the pop ventriloquist act who burst onto the scene in 2012—a ginger-haired gun moll with big hoop earrings, a moody disposition, and a lavish taste for 1960s torch-song atmospherics. Del Rey is a character invented by Grant: a full package of image, attitude, and sound that results in a familiar yet singular image. Indeed, her brand is that of the femme fatale in its most frankly Platonic form. Grant’s bio reads like an uptown-downtown hipster inversion of Jack … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights


[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...]

Mo Bobos, Mo Problems: Looking Back at David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise 15 Years Later

Meet the Press

Revisiting a work of pop sociology is almost always a jarring experience. Frederick Lewis Allen’s early postmortem of the 1920s, for instance, treated the Florida real estate boom as one of that decade’s most salient themes—not exactly what we think of when we think of the Roaring Twenties. Similarly, Alvin Toffler’s breathless language about hippies and happenings in Future Shock seems dated today, even as we continue to be as anxious about the quickening pace of technology and “information overload” as the gilded corporate-whisperer Toffler was back in 1970. In a different way, David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise offers a remarkable pulse-reading of America’s elite in 2000. In fact, it's a … [Read more...]

From Kenosha to Chicago to Ferguson: A Depressing Tale of Heavy Handed Policing


Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either. -- Michael Bell, via Politico, August 15, 2014 I first read Michael Bell’s harrowing account of his son’s execution at the hands of a less than responsible Kenosha, Wisconsin police force earlier this year. Like most … [Read more...]

Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital


The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.[1] In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern … [Read more...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

moonrise kingdom sam susie

Indie and art house film has always extended the possibility of artistic freedom—at least as much as it’s possible for any auteur to pursue a singular vision in a medium that requires the input of everyone from actors and producers to key grips and the tweakers on craft service. Hollywood is to film what Nashville is to music, the thinking goes—where formulaic pap is churned out for the general public, whereas indie (like alt-country or Americana) allegedly offers the possibility of something less polluted by conformity and commercial concerns. Of course, cinematic liberty can be a bad thing. Just look at the chronically self-indulgent and mediocre films of Woody Allen, which have cried … [Read more...]


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