Get Out: The First Great Film of the Trump Era

We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief. Suffice to say this quotation was not written by a Hollywood producer looking for the next big hit.  Driving an axe into the deepest fears and anxieties of audiences is not a recipe for success—perhaps not even in the horror genre. The words of Franz Kafka will likely provide cold comfort to those who already know and understand the black American experience firsthand—those for whom the disaster and the suicide that Kafka … [Read more...]

The Self-Serving Hustle of “Hillbilly Elegy”

As one of a smallish group of liberal Appalachian ex-pats, I have always considered myself an ambassador for my place of birth. I have tried to respond graciously to less than good-natured jokes about familial relations and general backwardness in the Appalachian region, and highlight the pride I still take in the work ethic and common decency of my family and community. Lately, every inquiry has been framed around J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: whether I have read it or whether conditions for “my people” are as dire as described in the book. Vance’s memoir might have eventually faded from relevance, as there is little glamour to be found in the cored and denuded hills of the region. Then … [Read more...]

Finding Family with the Wilderpeople

Historian and legal expert Ariela J. Gross opens her 2008 work What Blood Won’t Tell with details from the life of Alexina Morrison, an enslaved person in Jefferson Parish Louisiana. In 1857, Morrison fled her master and found herself imprisoned in a local jail, where she convinced the authorities that she was actually white; she had been kidnapped and unfairly sold into slavery, she told them.  William Dennison, the local jailer, believed Morrison and took her into his own family, gradually integrating her into white society where she attended balls and other social functions. Eventually, her master James White sued to return her to her previous status.  The case, Morrison vs. White, went … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part V: “Race” and Its Kid Brother, “Whiteness”

Every summer, ToM contributors revisit works that influenced them and meditate on how they've held up over the years as part of our Dog Days Classics series. These works have included everything from John Brooke's study on the roots of Mormon esoterica to Mike Royko's epic book  on Chicago mayor Richard Daley. But a quick look at our category cloud makes it clear that "race" stands out as a major theme at ToM, with "whiteness" not far behind.  While we've spent a good deal of time looking at Asian-American and Latino/a studies, African-American history has been a frequent subject for the site as well, so it's no surprise that Dog Days pieces have also touched on the idea of "race" and its … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part II: Reclaiming sporting culture

It's hard to think of a sport more awash in images of blonde blue eyed Californians than surfing. Depiction's of surfing from Bruce Brown's "The Endless Summer", fifty years old this year, trafficked in the idea of white surfers traversing the globe to the astonishment of Asian and African onlookers. The standard had been set by the 1966 classic; films and popular culture followed. Yet as Scott Laderman demonstrates in his recent work Empire in Waves, these images rest on a false narrative, the truth is that white Europeans and Americans appropriated surfing from other cultures and then due to segregation and other forces, cast its image in whiteness.  Others have also questioned the … [Read more...]

The Lakewood Plan: Homeownership, Taxes, and Diversity in Postwar Suburbia

If you're driving about 15 or 20 miles south of Central Chennai in Bali, don't be surprised if you find yourself in a pseudo Golden State. Sure the "road buckles and heaves" and you'll pass farmers in "Madras-checked dhoties" resting outside their palm tree roofed huts; goats might even meander about without molestation. But then, noted the Economist in an essay on international suburbanization, one turns a corner and "arrives in California." Not just any part of the state either, but specifically Lakewood Enclave, a Balinese subdivision named after its pioneering namesake from Southern California.1 Lakewood and other Southern California suburbs like those in Orange County have asserted an … [Read more...]

Generational Narcissism?: Less than Zero, Gen X, and Why Millenials Really Aren’t All That Bad.

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...]

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

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...]