Frontier Domesticity

In a July 10, 2017 entry on her website, The Pioneer Woman—popular television cooking personality Ree Drummond—describes a scene in which her husband and children round up their herd of cattle for shipping in the rain. Labeled under the tag “Confessions of a Pioneer Woman,” Drummond’s post details the cattle roundup and also serves as entry into the ways that the fantasy of the frontier continues to underpin gendered conceptions of individual, familial, and communal identity in the United States. Describing her daughter’s experience, Drummond writes, “Aw, poor cowgirl. She definitely earned her stripes. I wanted to run over and wrap her in a blanket, but she likes being one of the big kids … [Read more...]

Gary Soto, Oranges, Politics, and the World of Fresno

The Gary Soto Literary Museum is, unarguably, the "smallest, cutest, cleanest museum in the country." In Fresno, California, it tells the story of Soto, a high school graduate with a 1.6 GPA who went on to become one of the distinguished poets in American history.  Tropics of Meta and our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat had the extraordinary opportunity to sit down and talk with Soto about his life, work, poetry, and politics last Spring, at Fresno's LitHop festival.  ToM contributor and Fresno City College professor Juan Luis Guzman interviewed, and we hope you will enjoy this illuminating interview.  Soto reflects on both his own experience with youth and love as well as how to engage in … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: My Vietnam Vacation with John Paul Vann

My interest in Vietnam stems from various sources. I grew up watching the Vietnam War in my living room with toy soldiers scattered about – old enough to wonder how the enemy could withstand such a disproportionate number of casualties, but too young to reap the benefits of the Summer of Love.  Fifty years later, family members and friends are vacationing in Vietnam (my daughter brought me postcards from her trip there, which I use to take reading notes), a trend in travel which I find both strange and hopeful. Strange because the war claimed 3 million lives, including those of 58,000 Americans, and hopeful because of the Vietnamese people’s capacity to forgive. Moreover, Ken Burns and Lynn … [Read more...]

Spend Your Dog Days with Barbara Fields and HP Lovecraft

Way back in 2011, RR and I conceived the idea of a new series where writers would look back on, reread, and reassess the books that they loved or that influenced them over the years.  Since then, many of our best contributors have revisited books by the likes of Roberts Caro and Wiebe, Barbara Fields, H.P. Lovecraft, Karen Halttunen, Michael Holt and more.  (We've also opened up the series to other kinds of works beyond books or essays, to include music and film.)  The whole idea was just to use the waning days of Summer to write shorter, more casual pieces than the epic, longform articles that we often publish. If you have a favorite scholarly work, novel, album, or film you would like … [Read more...]

America and Russia: The Real Story Is Not What You Think

We here at Tropics of Meta--and our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat--have been thinking about Russia for a while. Remember when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried a goofy PR gesture of handing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a "reset button," meant to symbolize a desire to renew relations between the US and Russia?  (The Russian word on the button actually meant "overcharged," not "reset." Foreshadowing much?) Remember when Mitt Romney said Russia was our "number one geopolitical foe"--and everyone laughed at this weird Cold War throwback? Well, when we sat down to start mapping out our new podcast series in the Summer of 2016, we were casting about for ideas, and we … [Read more...]

The Deep, Frustrating, Complicated History of the Anti-Vax Movement

Do you feel feverish? Impotent? Suffer from ADD? You might have been vaccinated! Call the attorneys at Tropics of Meta at 976-HOT-TOMS to join our class action lawsuit against Big Science. In the latest episode of our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat, we delve into the gory glories of the anti-vaccination movement.  We obviously have strong feelings about the issue (all of our kids are enrolled at Los Feliz Daycare, after all).  But we wanted to talk to some bonafide historians of science, medicine, and public health to understand the contemporary movement to get to the bottom of this problem, and really understand the deeper historical and cultural roots of vaccine skepticism.  In the … [Read more...]

Ben Parten on America’s Other Founding Father: Nat Turner

In the 2014 film Top Five, Chris Rock's character has set out to make a film called Uprize, about the Haitian Revolution.  He sees it as his way of changing his image and being a more serious artist, rather than merely the star of a series of ludicrous comedies about a bear who becomes a cop.  Little does he realize that much of America has little appetite for a movie that's basically about black people killing a bunch of white people.  It doesn't "play in Peoria." Ironically, two years later brought The Birth of a Nation, director Nate Parker's ambitious attempt to tell the story of another slave uprising: the 1831 revolt led by Nat Turner in Virginia. The movie met with a relatively … [Read more...]

Looking Back at American Studies on the 4th of July

Lady Liberty has, admittedly, seen better days--bring us your awesome, bring us your amazing, bring us your winners, but not your losers, not your bleeding Syrian refugee children, please, OK? Sad! But those of us who are native-born or newly minted Americans still find the country fascinating, infuriating, and crazy.  On this most festive of days, it is good to keep in mind all that is decent, inspiring, creative, and complex about the United States and its culture. Over the years, ToM has covered a wide range of issues, from copyright to foreign policy to sports (the latter thanks mostly to our senior dude correspondents, Ryan Reft and Adam Gallagher). Our instincts have always run toward … [Read more...]

A Dirty Guide to Academic Publishing

In one of my favorite 30 Rock episodes, Tracy Jordan refers to his son as “this little d-bag.” Tracy Jr. says, “I know what that means.” His father’s response is, “And yet you won’t tell me!” Academic publishing reminds me a bit of this bit. Everybody sort of knows what it is but we often aren’t exactly sure how it works. (Like sex, or the Internet.) And like most things in academia, from graduate admissions to comps to the job market, it seems opaque, mysterious, governed by unspoken rules and norms that it takes an Indiana-Jones-style quest to find out about.  As Oxford University Press editor Susan Ferber once put it: Perhaps the most critical step in the professional lives of … [Read more...]

Katherine Dunham: The Artist as Activist During World War II

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a world-renowned choreographer who broke many barriers of race and gender, most notably as an African American woman whose dance company toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades. In Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford, 2017), author Joanna Dee Das argues Dunham was more than a dancer; she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. At the same time, Dunham struggled to balance these social justice goals with her artistic career, financial needs, and personal desires. The following excerpt is the introduction to Chapter Four, which explores how … [Read more...]