Do the Right Thing wasn’t ahead of its time. It was behind its time, and it’s ahead of ours. It came out in the summer of 1989, six months before Driving Miss Daisy, but if you can imagine it without hip-hop, it could have come out in 1939 alongside Gone with the Wind; without color, in 1929 with The Jazz Singer; without sound, 1915 and The Birth of a Nation. If you updated the soundtrack and the fashion a bit and released it next week, critics would praise its timeliness and how its depiction of police brutality and racial tension captures the angry zeitgeist surrounding the recent killings of unarmed black civilians by police officers. Some might even predict that it would ultimately end up feeling dated, as some did 25 years ago. If only. - Lessons from Do the Right Thing on Its 25th Anniversary
Gun Wars: the struggle over gun rights and regulation in America, in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings and the ongoing congressional stalemate over federal gun legislation. An investigative report from "29 students from 16 journalism schools, as well as an experienced staff of editors" for Carnegie-Knight News21. [more inside]
Patrick Henry College has been called "God's Harvard." The tiny, elite school is considered a safe haven for fundamentalist evangelical Christians. It teaches a dominionist "Biblical Worldview" and has a uniquely religious campus culture (pdf) that emphasizes evangelical moral values. Which leaves female students in a particular bind: How do you report sexual assault at a place where authorities seem skeptical that such a thing even exists?
Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" appeared in Esquire Magazine in April 1966. Sinatra had turned down interview requests from Esquire for years and refused to be interviewed for the profile. Rather than give up, Talese spent the three months following and observing the man and interviewing any members of his entourage who were willing to speak -- and the final story was published without Sinatra's cooperation or blessing. In 2003, editors pronounced it the best article the magazine had ever published. Nieman Storyboard interviewed Talese last month about the piece and has annotated it with his comments. [more inside]
Warning! The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased, entry for the United States of America
"We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites."-- War is Betrayal. Persistent Myths of Combat, an essay by Chris Hedges of Truthdig. Responses within. [more inside]
In 1971, the newly-created US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a bunch of freelance photographers to collectively document environmental issues around the country. They were given free rein to shoot whatever they wanted, and the project, named Documerica, lasted through 1977. After 40 years, the EPA is now encouraging photographers to take current versions of the original Documerica photos and are showcasing them on flickr at State of the Environment. There are location challenges, and a set has been created with some of the submissions, making side-by-side comparisons. [more inside]
"It's his charm. It's his gift. It's his political liability, and it's part of an American conundrum. We beg for authenticity, and then when we get it, oh man, it's hilarious. [Vice President Joe] Biden can be fantastic when he's on his game. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, his speech got higher Nielsen ratings than either Bill Clinton's or Obama's. He killed the debate against Ryan, pumped air back into a campaign deflated after Obama's miserable first performance against Romney. Watching those performances, it's almost impossible to see him as a person once crippled by speech."
The Other Redskins. 62 US high schools in 22 states currently use the name "Redskins" for one of their sports teams. 28 high schools in 18 states have dropped the mascot over the last 25 years. As public pressure continues to intensify on the Washington Redskins football team to change their name -- one many consider a racial slur that disparages Native Americans -- similar debates are being waged in towns across the country about their local high school teams.
In the late '80s, documentarians Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker spent six months in Tokyo looking at how symbols and imagery familiar to Americans had been appropriated and given new significance in Japan. Though more than 20 years old, the resulting video remains popular in undergraduate courses across the social sciences and humanities in part because it's so entertaining. [more inside]
The county where no one's gay. The 2010 Census of Franklin County Mississippi shows no same sex couples. (pdf). CNN videographer Brandon Ancil and human rights columnist John D. Sutter tried to determine if the census was wrong, and see if they could find gay men and women willing to speak about "what keeps them hidden." Video
Leaving the Witness. "In one of the most restrictive, totalitarian countries in the world, for the first time in my life, I had the freedom to think." [more inside]
Suffice it to say, Persepolis is quite a work. It’s a testament to the power of the graphic novel. The art’s simple linework helps the story feel unpretentious and direct. Persepolis was adapted as a 2007 French animated film, written and directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Among other honors, it was nominated for an Academy Award. Why would someone want to ban such a book?
"If you account for my access to academic journal subscriptions, my salary is really like half a million dollars."
This past Thursday, Forbes Magazine published a pair of articles: The Most Stressful Jobs of 2013 and The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013, the latter of which began with the sentence: "University professors have a lot less stress than most of us." 300+ outraged comments (and thousands of sarcastic #RealForbesProfessor tweets,) later they've added a retraction, and linked to a blog post that takes A Real Look at Being a Professor in the US. [more inside]
The most-watched show in the history of the National Geographic Channel isn't Wild, Taboo or even the longest-running documentary series on cable tv: Explorer. It's Doomsday Preppers, a show that documents the "lives of otherwise ordinary Americans" as they prepare for the end of the world. [more inside]
It seems strange, 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that ordinary Russians would still be hungry for details about how ordinary Americans eat and pay mortgages. But to Mr. Zlobin’s surprise, his book — published this year and marketed as a guide to Russians considering a move abroad — is already in its fifth print run, and his publisher has commissioned a second volume. - MOSCOW JOURNAL, A Hunger for Tales of Life in the American Cul-de-Sac (SLNYTIMES)
After 65 Years The Hollywood Reporter addresses its role in the hollywood blacklist, including an apology from W.R. Wilkerson III, son of THR founder Billy Wilkerson whose "A Vote For Joe Stalin" editorial named writers such as Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Howard Koch and John Howard Lawson as communist sympathisers.
Savagery - Arcadia - Consummation - Destruction - Desolation. The five stages of The Course of Empire, a fascinating quintet of paintings by 19th century artist and Hudson River School pioneer Thomas Cole. In it, an imaginary settlement by the sea becomes the stage for all the dreams and nightmares of civilized life, a rural woodland grown in time into a glorious metropolis... only to be ransacked by corruption, war, and a terrible storm, at last reduced to a forgotten ruin. At times deceptively simple, each landscape teems with references to cultural and philosophical markers that dominated the era's debate about the future of America. Interactive analysis of the series on a zoomable canvas is available via the excellent Explore Thomas Cole project, which also offers a guided tour and complete gallery of the dozens of other richly detailed and beautifully luminous works by this master of American landscape art.
"When the lights go out for good, my people will still be here. We have our ancient ways. We will remain."
In the Shadow of Wounded Knee. Along the southwestern border of South Dakota is one of the most poverty-stricken places in the United States—the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota people. After 150 years of broken promises, they are still nurturing their tribal customs, language and beliefs. Via [more inside]
Ephemeral New York 'chronicles an ever-changing, constantly reinvented city through photos, newspaper archives, and other scraps and artifacts that have been edged into New York’s collective remainder bin.' [more inside]
In February, PBS and AOL launched Makers, a video archive containing personal stories and anecdotes told in the first person by women, many of whom have sparked groundbreaking changes in American culture. [more inside]
Don't judge Honey Boo Boo, because the tv show doesn't care what it's saying about American culture.
In October 1870, as American Jews were observing the High Holidays, The Atlantic Magazine published an article called "Our Israelitish Bretheren." 'At the time, it served as a sort of crash course about a tiny, mystifying minority. Today, it survives as something quite different: a snapshot of a transitional moment in Jewish history.' Written by American biographer, James Parton -- the founder of American Heritage magazine.
"I finally said, you know what, I'm going to tell my story. The first American injured in the Iraq war is a gay Marine. He wanted to give his life to this country." ~Eric Alva, 40, former Marine and veteran of Operation Iraqi FreedomTell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military [more inside]
The New Republic examines what they're calling "America's Next Great Civil Rights Struggle" and asks, "What will it take for America to accept transgender people for who they really are?" [more inside]
Fareed Zakaria: Are America's Best Days Behind Us? - "We have an Electoral College that no one understands and a Senate that doesn't work, with rules and traditions that allow a single Senator to obstruct democracy without even explaining why. We have a crazy-quilt patchwork of towns, municipalities and states with overlapping authority, bureaucracies and resulting waste. We have a political system geared toward ceaseless fundraising and pandering to the interests of the present with no ability to plan, invest or build for the future. And if one mentions any of this, why, one is being unpatriotic, because we have the perfect system of government, handed down to us by demigods who walked the earth in the late 18th century and who serve as models for us today and forever. America's founders would have been profoundly annoyed by this kind of unreflective ancestor worship." [for/against]
In his project A More Perfect Union, artist R. Luke Dubois aggregated language used in the profiles of 19 million single Americans on 21 dating sites. He then organized the data to create "dozens of insanely detailed city and state maps which tell a wonderfully rich story about who we are, or at least, who we claim to be." A Video about the project. (R. Luke Dubois, previously on MeFi.)
Code-switching is using different languages or language varieties in different contexts. Ta-Nehisi Coates does it. Jay-Z does it. The President does it. But, for African Americans, is code-switching necessary to escape poverty, an element of race as performed or neither?
Anyone who wishes to understand American society must be aware that explanations focusing on the cultural traits of inner-city residents are likely to draw far more attention from policy makers and the general public than structural explanations will. It is an unavoidable fact that Americans tend to de-emphasize the structural origins and social significance of poverty and welfare ... If, in America, you can grow up to be anything you want to be, then any destiny—even poverty—can be viewed through the lens of personal achievement or failure. William Julius Wilson on the political and academic failure to recognize structural causes of inner-city poverty. Wilson interviewed in conjunction with the article. [more inside]
The Shinnecocks have been a fixture in New York State for centuries — their beads became the wampum Dutch settlers used as money in the colonies — but the US Department of Interior never included them on its official list of Native American tribes. That all changed on June 14th. Almost four centuries since their first contact with Europeans and after a 32-year court battle, the 1,300 member impoverished Shinnecock Native American Nation was formally recognised by the US federal government. The tribe's tiny, 750-acre reservation in the middle of the Hamptons (home and summer playground to some the country's wealthiest Americans,) is now a semi-sovereign nation, allowing them to apply for Federal funding to help them build schools, health centers and to set up their own police force, as well as the right to open a casino. [more inside]
The End of Influence - the latest in a long series documenting the US' relative decline (esp wrt China 1 2 3 4 5) Brad DeLong and Stephen Cohen reflect on what has brought us to our past, but now fast-fading glory: "Roosevelt's strategy [entering WW2] was to make Britain broke before American taxpayers' money was committed in any way to the fight against Hitler." Before delving into our present predicament, however, it might also be useful to briefly consider some of the lessons from Bretton Woods and what the wealth of nations is really built upon.
This is what the cultural elite wants us to believe: if our writers don't make sense, or bore us to tears, that can only mean that we aren't worthy of them. [more inside]
Few things in history are as compelling as the duel. Refined and barbaric at the same time, this practice has had a checkered history. The rules of dueling were codified by the Irish in 1777 in the Code Duello (summarized here), which was codified at Clonmel Summer Assizes in 1777. As evidenced by these documents, dueling was in practice prior to the Irish rules being drafted. The procedure and philosophy behind duels is illustrated in this article. Dueling gained some traction in America in the 19th century, culminating in the famous Burr-Hamilton affair. There are many more resources to find out more here. For a list of famous duels, you can check out this list. Lest you think men were the only ones dueling, here are a few short anecdotes of women dueling. Reportedly, dueling is still legal in Paraguay, as long as both parties are registered blood donors.
Dominick Dunne died yesterday at the age of 83. was well known for his chronicling of the follies and crimes of the rich. You can read some of his pieces from Vanity Fair here.
Charles Pierce, author of the 2005 essay "Greetings from Idiot America" decrying the rise of faith-based anti-intellectualism, has expanded his rant into a full length book: Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. (via) [more inside]
The American Hologram We suffer under a mass national hallucination. Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist. Our national reality is staged and held together by media, chiefly movie and television images. We live in a “theater state.”
In defense of suburbs: "Revolutionary Road," based on Richard Yates's 1961 novel of the same name, is the latest entry in a long stream of art that portrays the American suburbs as the physical correlative to spiritual and mental death.
Generation WE: How Millennial Youth Are Taking Over America And Changing Our World Forever (via) [more inside]
The Diner: A true American hallmark, that first appeared on the horizon in the early 70's (the 1870's that is), and has remained a fixture on the American psyche since. If you've never been to one, why not go ahead and have your next meal there? There maybe one right around the corner from where you live. If not, well, like me, you can sit back and look at the glorious images that are available and hope that one day your dream comes true. But until then: remember to adhere to the Ten Commandments, and yeah--if you can--get a copy of Diner (youtube) and watch it. It might not be "strictly" about Diners, but it's fun all the same. [previously]
Saddam's Confessions - Given Saddam Hussein's central place in the American Consciousness over the last couple decades and particularly in recent years, I found 60 minutes' interview with FBI interrogator George Piro pretty fascinating.
Lazy-Ass Nation. "Somewhere along the way, we fell in love with the dream of the effort-free existence."
Knob Creek Gun Range, a former military-munitions test range situated near Fort Knox is home to the "World's Largest Machine Gun Shoot and Military Gun Show". Run by private citizens excercising their second amendment rights (Kentucky has no state-level gun laws) the focus is on Class III firearms - things like assault weapons and anti-tank rifles, but also the occasional high-caliber sniper rifle and cannon. Hold my bourbon and watch this! (more)
Aptitude Schmaptitude! While the state of mathematical incompetence in this country has been much lamented, most famously in Paulos's brilliant 1988 book Innumeracy, it is still tacitly accepted . . . Being incompetent in math has become not only acceptable in this widely innumerate culture, it has almost become a matter of pride. No one goes around showing off that he is illiterate, or has no athletic ability, but declarations of innumeracy are constantly made without any embarrassment or shame.
Speak softly, don't argue and slow down' The reputation of the "Ugly American" abroad is not..... just some cruel stereotype, but - according to the American government itself - worryingly accurate. Now, the State Department has joined forces with American industry to plan an image make-over by issuing guides for Americans travelling overseas on how to behave.
"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." George Washington's Rules of Civility.
Embracing Illegals: Companies are getting hooked on the buying power of 11 million undocumented immigrants - The Underground Labor Force Is Rising To The Surface [pdf]
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