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Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22, 2014: Films for the Dog Days: Men with Guns

[Nothing beats the summer heat better than watching characters sweat it out from the coolness of a movie theater. So in this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five hot and heavy dog days films. Add your responses and summertime movies for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll sweat it out!]

On the two very different yet not necessarily dissimilar visions of Americans in Mexico in the same film.
As I wrote in this post on Edouard Glissant and the idea of creolization, and then extended in an entire series on Caribbean Connections, the United States has a lot more in common with the Caribbean and the rest of the Western Hemisphere than we often acknowledge. Moreover, as I spent another entire week’s worth of posts trying to illustrate, the relationship between the United States and Mexico is in many ways even more interconnected. Yet despite those parallel and interconnected histories and identities, and notwithstanding the basic fact of geographical proximity between the two nations, there’s no question of course that Mexico is its own place, a fundamentally different nation than the US—and thus that we can and must analyze how Americans travel to and engage with Mexico (in reality and in cultural representations) just as we would with any other place.
One of the most complex and interesting such cultural representations, of the last couple decades and of any moment, has to be John Sayles’ Men with Guns (1997). Sayles’ film was shot entirely on location in Mexico, using an all-Mexican cast who speak Mexican Spanish (with English subtitles) throughout the film, which makes the few scenes when two overtly American, English-speaking turistas show up that much more striking and significant. The two tourists, played to exaggerated perfection by Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody, are as clich├ęd and stereotypical as (I would argue) the rest of the film’s characters are multi-layered and complex; but while that leads their scenes to have a certain heavy-handedness, it’s also clearly Sayles’ point in these moments. These minor characters are not only outsiders and intruders in the film’s setting and world—they have no ability to understand this place and no interest in doing so, and their cultural tourism is, in the context of the film’s dark and powerful main stories and themes, both utterly ridiculous and deeply insulting. That might not describe all Americans’ attitudes toward or relationships to our hemispheric neighbors, but it’s certainly (both Sayles and I would argue) a far too prevalent perspective.
Sayles’ film would seem to be precisely the opposite: a thoughtful, nuanced, culturally immersive engagement with Mexican culture and community and history and issues. I love Sayles and am a fan of the film (although it’s not at the top of my list of his works), so I would agree with that description. Yet on the other hand, can’t we also see Sayles here as a kind of intellectual and artistic version of the tourist couple? A cultural tourist who comes down to Mexico for a while, engages with the place while he’s there, and then returns to the United States, to tell his stories of what he found? The film is, after all, not entirely unlike a tourist’s slideshow; “What John Did on His Mexican Vacation.” At the very least, I think we have to acknowledge that both Sayles and the tourists exist on the same spectrum, of American experiences in and with Mexico—and while of course it would be far too reductive to argue that all points on that spectrum are identical, it would be just as wrong-headed to claim that they don’t have anything in common. Only by acknowledging that we’re all cultural tourists, after all, can we perhaps start to analyze our own perspective and figure out how we can at times get beyond it.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
Ben
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Summertime movies you’d highlight?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014: Films for the Dog Days: In the Heat of the Night and Blake Snake Moan

[Nothing beats the summer heat better than watching characters sweat it out from the coolness of a movie theater. So in this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five hot and heavy dog days films. Add your responses and summertime movies for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll sweat it out!]
On realism, allegory, and hot Southern summers.
I’ve written many times before in this space about the difficult but vital question of how we might better remember our darkest national histories, a list that without question features prominently histories of race and slavery, lynching and segregration, and their attendant horrors. The issue isn’t simply that we don’t remember those histories, although certainly that’s the case when compared to more widely shared historical topics such as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (which, while not without their darknesses, are far easier to fit into progressive national narratives). It’s also that when we have produced cultural texts that engage with those dark histories, we have far too often done so through stereotypes and myths, through a-historical misrepresentations of the past, or through triumphal narratives of overcoming obstacles that allow us to pat ourselves on the back rather than really examine the histories on their own terms.
Those aren’t the only options, however, and I would argue that two films set in the dog days of Southern summer offer two very distinct but perhaps complementary means through which to engage more honestly with some of our darkest histories. Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (1967) is a gritty, realistic crime drama, one in which Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs (played famously by Sidney Poitier), passing through the small town of Sparta, Mississippi, finds himself working closely with the town’s racist police chief (Rod Steiger) to investigate the murder of a wealthy businessman. Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan (2006) is an over-the-top melodrama, one in which a troubled, drug addicted, and nymphomaniac young woman (Christina Ricci) is discovered by a religious but bitter former blues musician (Samuel L. Jackson) who decides to keep her chained up in his house until he can cure her of her various addictions. Despite their significant differences in style and tone, the two films share not only this emphasis on a forced and uncomfortable relationship between black and white characters, but also prominent imagery of heat to highlight their tensions: from Heat’s titular reference to Black Snake Moan’s tagline, “Everything is hotter down South.”
It’d be easy, and not at all inaccurate, to focus any analysis of this pairing on the differences between the two films. Those differences likewise link the films to two distinct, longstanding artistic genres: Black Snake Moan fits nicely into the tradition known as the Southern gothic, a genre that uses extreme imagery and tones to capture allegorically the region’s worst and best sides; while In the Heat of the Night uses the realistic plotting, characterization, and attention to detail of detective fiction and the police procedural to explore its social and cultural setting and world. Yet I would argue that to engage with the South’s (and America’s) darkest histories requires a combination of these two modes: a detective’s ability and willingness to investigate the past and unearth the truth, no matter how unattractive it might be; and in so doing, a sensibility attuned to the Gothic extremes that have, quite simply, characterized histories like lynching far more often and thoroughly than we’d care to admit. As such, a dog day double billing of these two films might just be the ticket to a fuller understanding of the sultry South, and all of us.
Last dog days film tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Summertime movies you’d highlight?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20, 2014: Films for the Dog Days: Body Heat

[Nothing beats the summer heat better than watching characters sweat it out from the coolness of a movie theater. So in this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five hot and heavy dog days films. Add your responses and summertime movies for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll sweat it out!]
On the problems with heat captured by a classic film noir.
The plot of Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981) couldn’t possibly be more film noir: a sexy, sleazy lawyer (William Hurt) and a sexy, wealthy housewife (Kathleen Turner) begin a dangerous love affair, one that leads to financial scheming, murder, investigations by cynical police detectives, double-crossings upon double-crossings, secret identities, and shocking plot twists (none of which I’ll overtly spoil here, I promise). But to my mind, at least as emblematic as all those plot elements is the film’s sultry setting of Florida during an intense summer heatwave; noir is (obviously) known for its dark, night-time settings, but I would say that just as important as the time of day is the season, and the way it amplifies the heat that comes from passion and jealousy, from lust and hatred, from greed and suspicion, from all the emotions that comprise the genre’s beating heart. There’s a reason why so many recent film noirs have been set in the Sunshine State.
Moreover, if film noir works can be read as cautionary tales—and given how much fun they are to watch, that’s not necessarily the case, but for the sake of argument I’ll go with it—the message often seems to be a simple and crucial one, one certainly repeated in Body Heat: don’t give in to the heat. Without getting into all the spoiler-y details, it’s fair to say that Hurt’s Ned Racine would have been better off resisting the appeal of the titular body heat, should have denied his passionate attraction to Turner’s Matty Walker. And it’s equally fair to say, as the film’s famous ice scene suggests, that the summer heat and body heat are intimately connected, that the season and setting seem at least as responsible for what happens to Ned as are his libido and the woman who draws it out. Moreover, the film noir characters who tend to come out in the best shape are, I would argue, those who can maintain their cool, not because they aren’t affected by all these forms of heat but rather because they can resist enough to think and act coolly nonetheless (a description that, MAJOR SPOILERS in this clip, ultimately does seem to apply to Matty far more than to Ned).
Don’t give in to the heat, find a way to stay cool—seem like simple and logical enough lessons, and certainly applicable ones in these dog days of summer. But I think they’re problematic, and not just because no heterosexual male could be expected to resist or even think clearly around Kathleen Turner in her prime. No, the deeper problem with film noir is that, much of the time, it seems to take a prudish and puritanical attitude toward sex, if not indeed all passions—to portray them as innately dangerous and destructive, temptations that will inevitably lead us to our doom if we are unable to resist them. Again, this argument would be complicated by how much fun it generally is to watch characters give in to their passions—but of course doing so can provide a vicarious thrill while still instructing us in the need to resist similar fates. Yet the truth is that we can’t and shouldn’t resist our passions, not only because they’re what make us human, but also because without such heat, uncomfortable and even overwhelming as it can be, life would be far too cold.
Next dog days film tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Summertime movies you’d highlight?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19, 2014: Films for the Dog Days: Jungle Fever and Mississippi Masala

[Nothing beats the summer heat better than watching characters sweat it out from the coolness of a movie theater. So in this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five hot and heavy dog days films. Add your responses and summertime movies for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll sweat it out!]
On two swelting interracial romances that work particularly well in combination.
I don’t have hard proof for this, but I believe that when we Americans think and talk about interracial relationships, we do so first and foremost, and perhaps much of the time solely, through the lens of black and white. As is often the case, my starting point for this idea is my own perspective, my own engagement with such simplifying national narratives—despite my past interracial marriage to someone whose identity falls outside of that binary, I believe that I do tend to link the topic explicitly and consistently to issues of black and white (as illustrated by an earlier post on cultural representations of controversial issues, where I mentioned Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and All in the Family/The Jeffersons in relation to interracial relationships). And moving beyond my own individual perspective, I would cite two quick (and very distinct) examples of this trend at work more broadly: the Supreme Court case that overturned all remaining state laws outlawing interracial marriage, Loving v. Virginia (1967), was responding not only to a marriage between a white man and a black woman but also to a statute that framed the issue in terms of those two races, and thus the Court’s decision likewise focused (not entirely, but at times) on how such laws treated “the white and Negro participants in an interracial marriage”; and one of the best scholarly works on images of this topic in our literary history, Werner Sollors’ Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (1997), likewise focuses (as its title indicates) on those two racial identities and communities.
The respective prominence of two films released within a year of one another, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991) and Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1992), provides another illustration of this trend, as well as an opportunity to move beyond any one understanding of interracial marriage and toward a more meaningful analysis of the issue in American culture and identity more broadly. Both films were successful at the (domestic) box office, especially in relationship to their respective budgets and releases: Lee’s film grossed $32.5 million, on a budget of roughly $14 million and a wide release; Nair’s grossed $7.3 million, on a budget of under $1 million and a pretty limited release. Both similarly received prestigious recognition from film festivals and awards ceremonies dedicated to supporting independent films: Nair’s triumphed at the Venice Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit Award (among others); Lee’s won at Cannes and a New York Film Critics Circle Award (ditto). Yet it seems clear to me that Lee’s film has lasted in our public consciousness in a way that Nair’s has not. While there are any number of plausible factors for that difference, many of which have little to do with race—Lee was only two years removed from Do the Right Thing (1989), the film that had put him on the map in a major way, while Nair had directed only one other, relatively unknown feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988); Lee’s film featured a star-making, award-winning turn from Samuel L. Jackson as a mercurial crack addict (although Nair’s film did star Denzel Washington in an award-winning role, just two years after winning an Oscar for Glory, so this factor doesn’t quite hold up)—I think it’s fair to say that Lee’s portrayal of a romance between an African-American architect and an Italian-American secretary tapped into our dominant narratives about interracial relationships much more fully than Nair’s depiction of a Ugandan-Indian-American motel employee falling for an African-American carpet cleaner.
One could get plenty of mileage trying to figure out which factors have most contributed to the two films’ respective legacies (or, quite possibly, discovering that I’m wrong about those legacies), but again and as usual my ideal would be a different and I believe more broadly productive emphasis: what we can gain by watching both films, not only individually but also as a pair of contemporaneous cultural representations of interracial relationships in the closing decade of the 20th century. And I think that both are particularly interesting, and particularly if complicatedly interconnected, in their depictions of the protagonists’ families and social networks. I don’t mean just how those families and networks respond to the interracial relationships themselves—certainly the near-universal judgments and critiques from all three (or four, if New York African American is considered distinct from Mississippi African American) cultural communities are telling, but I think the films are at least as interesting in how they construct the complex worlds of their respective settings and the familial and social networks within them. That means in each case both a kind of immigrant community (very literally and recently for the Ugandan Indian family in Mississippi; more as a vibrant and ongoing heritage for the Italian Americans in Jungle) and a homegrown African American one, but also includes other social and cultural factors—such as drug culture or the rise of an African American urban middle class in Jungle and the dictatorship and impact of Idi Amin or African American life in the post-Civil Rights South in Mississippi—that add significant layers and complications to any black and white vision of these different communities.
Next dog days film tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Summertime movies you’d highlight?

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014: Films for the Dog Days: Dog Day Afternoon

[Nothing beats the summer heat better than watching characters sweat it out from the coolness of a movie theater. So in this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five hot and heavy dog days films. Add your responses and summertime movies for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll sweat it out!]
On the gritty crime drama that’s sneakily subversive.
Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which was based on a Life magazine story about an actual August 1972 Brooklyn bank robbery, is first and foremost a gritty, realistic story of that crime and its messy aftermath. The opening montage of sweaty summertime New York sets that scene pitch-perfectly, and the rest of the film, despite starring Hollywood heavyweight Al Pacino at the height of his Godfather-driven fame, follows suit. Much of what drives the film’s plot, for example, are small realistic details that produce big problems and changes—a young criminal’s second thoughts, a security guard’s asthma attack, the bank manager’s collapse in diabetic shock. And virtually all of the film’s scenes take place in and around the bank’s cramped, tense, sweaty confines, greatly amplifying that sense of intimate scope and scale.
Yet despite that tight focus, Dog Day Afternoon works in a couple of complex and interestingly subversive social themes and commentaries. For one thing, there’s the scene where Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik briefly exits the bank to talk with Charles Durning’s police detective; the conversation escalates, and Sonny concludes by shouting “Attica! Attica!” while the gathered crowd cheers him on. The moment is an allusion to the 1971 Attica prison rebellion, a five-day standoff between inmates who took over the jail and federal troops that ended in a bloodbath, with thirty-three inmates and ten hostages (all corrections officers) dead. While the rebellion might seem an isolated incident, and one specific to the prison world in which it occurred, the film’s evocation of it reflects a different reality: that in this post-1960s era of cynicism and distrust, the period that produced Kent State and Watergate, many Americans saw the rebelling prisoners as potential counter-culture heroes. Sonny isn’t much of a hero, but in this moment, he certainly gives voice to such a perspective as well.
Sonny also connects to the film’s other and even more subversive element, through the character of his second wife Leon Shermer, a pre-operative transsexual played brilliantly by Chris Sarandon. Leon’s gender identity is in fact one of the film’s driving elements, as we learn that it is to pay for Leon’s sex reassignment surgey that Sonny tried to rob the bank (his first such crime). When I call Leon’s character subversive, I don’t just mean the presence of a transsexual character in a mainstream 1970s Hollywood film, striking as that presence is—I also and especially mean the way in which the other major characters, from Pacino to Durning’s police officer, engage with Leon as a person and an equal, not as an “other” or a freak or any of the other demeaning possibilities we might expect. Sarandon’s wonderful performance certainly contributes to that humanizing, leading to a character whose identity is radical and revolutionary without feeling the slightest bit overt about those effects. Definitely makes for a film worth checking out on a dog day afternoon (or any other time).
Next dog days film tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Summertime movies you’d highlight?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16-17, 2014: Birthday Specials: 37 for 37

[For a week that begins with my Dad’s birthday and ends with mine, I’ve shared a series of posts that engage with birthdays, both others’ and mine. This special weekend post highlights 37 of my favorite posts from the last year, in honor of my 37th bday!]
1)      August 23: Still Studying: Known Unknowns: A series on things I’m still learning concludes with a post on three recent takeaways from that 21st century resource, Twitter.
2)      August 30: Fall Forward: Three Years: In honor of the blog’s upcoming third anniversary, three of my favorite memories from those first three years.
3)      September 13: Newport Stories: To Preserve or Not to Preserve: A series on stories and histories surrounding The Breakers wonders whether and how we should preserve such historic homes.
4)      September 17: Gloucester Stories: The Sense of the Past: As part of a series on the Massachusetts fishing town, why it’s so important to better remember that community.
5)      September 25: Justice Is Not Color Blind: Duke: The most complex post in my series on race and justice in America, on expectations, realities, and the role of public scholars.
6)      October 14: John Sayles’ America: Secaucus and the 60s: A series AmericanStudying my favorite filmmaker starts with the movie that echoes but also challenges our narratives of a turbulent decade.
7)      October 21: Book Talk Thoughts: MOCA: With my year of book talks underway, a post on the inspiringly pitch-perfect New York museum that helped inaugurate those talks.
8)      October 28: Symbolic Scares: The Wendigo: A Halloween series starts with the supernatural legend that offers cultural and cross-cultural commentaries.
9)      November 7: Berkshire Stories: The Housatonic: Three complex and compelling sides to a New England river, part of a series on histories from this beautiful Western Mass. Region.
10)   November 12: Veteran’s Week: Band of Brothers: As part of a Veteran’s Day series, nostalgia and nuance in one of our best recent depictions of war.
11)   November 19: Times Like These: 1935: The debates over Social Security and how they do and don’t echo our own divided moment.
12)   November 29: Giving Thanks: Future AmericanStudiers: A Thanksgiving series concludes with an inspiring moment where past and future were in conversation.
13)   December 20: Representing Slavery: 12 Years a Slave: A series on cultural images of slavery concludes with two takes on the wonderful recent film, my own…
14)   December 21-22: Representing Slavery: Joe Moser’s Guest Post: And that of my friend and colleague (and Irish film expert) Joe Moser!
15)   December 24: AmericanStudies Wishes: Reform Now!: My annual series of wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves included this post on the very American reasons why we need immigration reform.
16)   January 4-5: Ani DiFranco and Slavery: A special addition to a year-in-review series, on a couple historical contexts for a very current controversy.
17)   January 23: Civil Rights Histories: George Wallace: Why we shouldn’t judge a lifetime by its worst moments, but why we do have to focus on them nonetheless.
18)   January 27: Football Focalizes: Concussions and Hypocrisy: A Super Bowl series opens with the gap between what we know and what we do, in football as in history.
19)   February 7: House Histories: Our Own Broad Daylight: A series on the House of the Seven Gables concludes with a post on the literary and communal presences of the past.
20)   February 11: I Love Du Bois to His Daughter: My Valentine’s Day series included this tribute to an amazing letter from my American idol to his teenage daughter.
21)   February 17: YA Lit: Little House on the Prairie: What we can and can’t learn about history from young adult lit kicks off a chapter-book-inspired series.
22)   March 8-9: Crowd-sourced Non-Favorites: One of my most epic crowd-sourced posts ever rounded out a series on American things that don’t quite do it for us.
23)   March 21: Cville Stories: 21st Century Tensions: Nostalgia, fear, and the current divisions that threaten communities like Charlottesville and America.
24)   March 27: Caribbean Connections: Bob Marley: On whether it’s entirely possible for an artist to cross cultural borders, and why the crossing matters in any case.
25)   April 2: Baseball Stories: Field of Dreams and The Brothers K: My Opening Day series included this post on divisive decades and histories, and whether baseball can bring us together.
26)   April 16: Animated History: The Princess and the Frog: On race, representation, and seeing ourselves and our histories on screen.
27)   April 28: Reading New England Women: Catharine Maria Sedgwick: A series on 19th century New England women kicks off with a funny, telling story that was way ahead of its time.
28)   May 7: NeMLA Follow Ups: Roundtable on Contingent Faculty: Three meaningful ways we can move forward with a crucial issue.
29)   May 12: Spring 2014 Recaps: 21st Century Writing: A semester recap series starts with three wonderful student papers from my Writing II course.
30)   May 22: AmericanStudying Harvard Movies: Love Story: On the enduring appeal of fantasies, romantic and communal, and what it means to share them with future generations.
31)   June 14-15: War Stories: Board Games: A D-Day series concludes with a special post on three board games from which I learned a good deal about histories of war.
32)   June 17: AmericanStudying Summer Jams: Summertime Blues: The summer song that gave multi-layered voice to the experience of youth.
33)   June 24: AmericanStudier Camp: Hello Muddah: As part of a summer camp series, the novelty song with an extended, very American afterlife.
34)   July 14: American Beaches: Revere Beach: A beach series kicks off with three telling stages of one of our most historic beaches.
35)   July 22: American Autobiographers: Olaudah Equiano: The controversial personal narrative that should be required reading whatever its genre.
36)   August 1: Uncles and Aunts: Uncle Elephant: A series inspired by my sister’s birthday concludes with the children’s book that’s as sad and as joyous as life itself.
37)   August 5: Virginia Voices: Thomas Nelson Page: For my latest return to VA, I highlighted interesting Virginia authors, including the question of whether and why we should read this once-popular writer at all.
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Any topics or themes you’d like to see covered in posts in the coming year? Lemme know!

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15, 2014: Birthday Specials: 2013 Birthday Best

[For a week that begins with my Dad’s birthday and ends with mine, I’ll share a series of posts that engage with birthdays, both others’ and mine. Cel … ebrate AmericanStudier birthdays, come on!]
For my 36th birthday I highlighted 36 of my favorite posts from the blog’s third year:
1)      Bad Memories, Part Four: As part of a series on how we could better remember our darkest histories, I considered memoir, photography, and fiction of the Japanese Internment.

2)      Crowd-Sourcing Bad Memories: Perhaps my favorite of the crowd-sourced posts to date, as many fellow AmericanStudiers weighed in on the week’s theme.

3)      Books That Shaped AmericanStudier, Childhood: I began a series on books that have hugely impacted me with one of my first favorites, the Hardy Boys series.

4)      Isabella Stewart Gardner: A Gardner Museum-inspired series began with a post on Gardner herself, one of my favorite Americans.

5)      John Singer Sargent: Posts on Gardner and Sargent go together as perfectly as, well, Gardner and Sargent did!

6)      Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Any post that allows me to write more about the greatest American sculptor, and one of the most inspiring Americans period, is well worth sharing again.
7-11) The five posts in this series on American hope remain perhaps my most definitive statements of the complexities, contexts, and crucial importance of this elusive emotion.
12) Up in the Air, Part Five: Summer camps, childhood memories, and nostalgia—one of my more universal and, I believe, broadly relevant posts.
13) Ezra Jack Keats: This post, in a series on children’s books, expressed the importance of this pioneering author—and was linked to by the Keats Foundation!
14-18) Another series in which I need to highlight all five posts—this has been the longest and hardest year of my life, and writing these posts on how Americans have responded to adversity helped me get through it.
19) American Spooking, Part 3: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Grant Wood, and American Horror Story help me think about whether America can have homegrown horror, and where we might find it.
20) Extra Thanks: A Thanksgiving series concludes with a few reflections on one of my most unexpected and inspiring moments of the year.
21) American Winter, Part Four: The very different but equally American perspectives at the heart of two winter classics.
22) AmericanStudying the Pacific, Part Four: On the limitations and lessons of a childhood spent building models.
23) Lincoln, Culture, and History: Some of my thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s popular and important historical film (with this additional post after I saw it!).
24) Making My List (Again), Part Five: A series of wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves ends with the educational experience I wish all children could have.
25) AmericanStudying Our Biggest Issues: Climate Change: As I’ve shifted more fully to an emphasis on public scholarship, I’ve worked hard to find ways to connect my subjects to contemporary concerns—and this post exemplifies that goal.
26) American Homes, Part Four: The American narratives inside (perhaps deep inside) one of our silliest films.
27) Remembering Wheatley and Washington: A Black History Month series on conversations begins with the time the poet met the (future) president.
28) I Love Three Pages in Ceremony: I’ve always wanted to write about my single favorite moment in American fiction. Here I did!
29) Popular Fiction: Christian Novels: It’s always fun to write (and so learn) about subjects I myself know too little about, and this post definitely qualifies.
30) Supreme Contexts: Santa Clara County and Revision: Few Supreme Court decisions are as relevant to our contemporary moment, and thus worth remembering, as this one.
31) Spring in America: Children’s Stories: Two pioneering children’s classics that captures two opposing sides to a new season.
32) Baseball in America: The Black Sox: This whole baseball series was fun to research and write, so I’ll just highlight one of its posts (yes, the one that includes John Sayles!).
33) Comic Book Heroes: Wonder Woman: Ditto for this comic book series, but this post was the one for which I learned the most and had my eyes opened most completely.
34) Roopika Risam’s Guest Post: I could include any and all guest posts in this list—but Roopika’s was certainly a wonderful addition to the blog.
35) American Swims: Cheever’s Swimmer: Part of the fun of this blog is sharing American texts that I think we should all read, and Cheever’s short story is a great example.
36) Book Release Reflections, Part Four: I have to end the list with one of the things I’m most     excited about in the year to come (and I now have at least 20 talks definitely coming up!).
Last bday special this weekend,
Ben
PS. Anything you’d add (bday wishes or otherwise)?