America in Progress

America in Progress
America in Progress

Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31, 2018: 2019 Anniversaries: The Moon Landing?


[There are a number of significant anniversaries in 2019, so for this New Year’s series I’ll highlight a handful of such historical anniversaries. Leading up to a special weekend post featuring exclusive AmericanStudier predictions on the year ahead!]
On the moon landing’s 50th anniversary, two interesting pop culture responses to conspiracy theories about the mission.
The third leg of the Cold War triangle of cray cray that includes the Roswell and JFK assassination conspiracy theories would have to be the ongoing and multi-layered theories that the six manned NASA moon landings between 1969 and 1972 were all elaborate hoaxes. These theories, which commenced almost immediately after the first landing, began to be developed in earnest with Bill Kaysing’s book We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle (1974); they have since been taken up by the very appropriately named Flat Earth Society, have led to numerous other works including William Brian’s book Moongate: Suppressed Findings of the U.S. Space Program (1982) and Aron Ranen’s film Did We Go? (2005), and have most humorously extended to include a multi-faceted theory about the landings as a blockbuster film, one financed by Disney and directed by none other than Stanley Kubrick.
The moon landing conspiracy theories are perhaps the most implausible of any I’ll engage with this week (given the sheer number of people who would have had to be in on the hoaxes and stay silent about them, for example), but a couple of the pop culture responses to those theories are well worth our time and thought. In 2002, French filmmaker William Karel created a brilliant mockumentary, Dark Side of the Moon (its original French title was Opération Lune), which explored and parodied the Kubrick connection at great length, including invented stories of the assassination of Kubrick colleagues by the CIA (among many other delightful such details). Karel’s mockumentary is so expertly and carefully done, so rich with seemingly believable information and interviews, that it has been accepted by many moon landing conspiracy theorists as an authentic text within their canon of evidence, perhaps the greatest compliment a mockumentary can receive (although Spinal Tap songs becoming accepted rock and roll classics has to be on that list as well).
Karel’s film isn’t the only nor the first innovative and interesting pop culture response to the moon theories, however. On their seminal 1992 album Automatic for the People, R.E.M. included the song “Man on the Moon,” a tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman that uses those conspiracy theories to engage with parallel ongoing theories about Kaufman’s allegedly faked death. Filmmaker Milos Forman was so taken by this metaphorical connection that he subsequently named his Jim Carrey-starring Kaufman biopic—a film that ends with a sly wink to the idea that Kaufman survived his “death”—Man on the Moon (1999). And I would argue that the R.E.M. song and its connection of Kaufman to the moon landing hoax also helps us think about another side to such conspiracy theories—the ways in which they are irrevocably tied, as were Kaufman’s life and work, to our age of media and celebrity, a period in which it has become increasingly difficult to discern the difference between reality and performance, the simulacra and the simulations. It’s the truth that we put men on the moon—but it’s equally the truth that we’ve been creating alternative truths ever since.
Next anniversary tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Anniversaries you’d highlight or predictions you’d share?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

December 29-30, 2018: December 2018 Recap


[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
December 3: Pearl Harbor Histories: The Attack: A Pearl Harbor anniversary series starts with three under-remembered sides to the attacks themselves.
December 4: Pearl Harbor Histories: The Conspiracy Theory: The series continues with the conspiracy theory that doesn’t quite hold up but is illuminating nonetheless.
December 5: Pearl Harbor Histories: The Tokyo Trials: The complex question of whether a military attack is also a war crime, as the series rolls on.
December 6: Pearl Harbor Histories: The Varsity Victory Volunteers: The post-Pearl Harbor community who embody the best of Hawai’i and America.
December 7-9: Pearl Harbor Histories: Remembering Infamous Days: The series concludes with the challenging and crucial question of how we remember infamous days.
December 10: Fall Semester Recaps: American Lit II: A Fall semester reflection series kicks off with expected and unexpected inspirations from my American Lit survey.
December 11: Fall Semester Recaps: Writing I: The series continues with how deeply familiar texts can sometimes evolve before our eyes.
December 12: Fall Semester Recaps: American Lit Online: The pedagogical challenges and inspirations of teaching online, as the series rolls on.
December 13: Fall Semester Recaps: Major American Authors: Three complex and inspiring characters from my Major American Authors course.
December 14: Fall Semester Recaps: Adult Learning Communities: The series concludes with takeaways from my connections to three adult learning programs.
December 15-16: Spring 2019 Preview: A special weekend post on four things I’m looking forward to in the Spring semester.
December 17: Revolutionary Writings: Jefferson’s Paragraph: A Revolutionary series kicks off with historical contexts for a cut Declaration paragraph, and its frustrations nonetheless.
December 18: Revolutionary Writings: The Adams Letters: The series continues with myths and realities of the Revolution in the John and Abigail Adams letters.
December 19: Revolutionary Writings: The Crisis: On the anniversary of its initial publication, what contexts help us understand about Tom Paine’s crucial pamphlet.
December 20: Revolutionary Writings: Wheatley to the Earl of Dartmouth: The poetic letter that anticipates the Revolution and links it to slavery, as the series rolls on.
December 21: Revolutionary Writings: Judith Sargent Murray: The series concludes with the home, career, and Revolutionary ideas of Judith Sargent Murray.
December 22-23: A Wish for the Elves: A special holiday post on personal and public wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves.
December 24: The Year in Review: #MeToo: A 2018 review series kicks off with historical contexts and applications for the activist movement.
December 25: The Year in Review: Black Panther: The series continues with a feel-good takeaway from one of the year’s biggest films.
December 26: The Year in Review: Parkland: What’s not new and what is about one of our most tragically common contemporary stories, as the series rolls on.
December 27: The Year in Review: Kavanaugh: What’s always been true about the Supreme Court, and what’s frustratingly new.
December 28: The Year in Review: Electing America: The series (and year) concludes with three newly elected Americans who embody the best of our community and identity.
New Year’s series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, December 28, 2018

December 28, 2018: The Year in Review: Electing America


[2018 feels like it’s been about ten years in one, but it’s almost done, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of the biggest stories from the year that was. I’d love to hear your year in review thoughts as well!]
On three of the many newly elected Americans who embody the best of our community and identity.
1)      Veronica Escobar: Escobar and Sylvia Garcia were both elected in November, becoming the first two Latinx Congresswomen from Texas (one of the nation’s most Latinx states, of course). They’re equally inspiring and impressive, but I wanted to highlight Escobar for a somewhat selfish but pretty cool reason: she is a former college English professor, having taught Chicano literature at both the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) and El Paso Community College. She also defines herself as a voice from the border and an heir to one of my favorite American writers, Gloria Anzaldúa. If that’s not one of the coolest sentences I could write about a newly elected Congresswoman, I don’t know what is!
2)      Jahana Hayes: Escobar was one of a number of teachers elected as part of the 2018 blue wave (you’re damn right I’m calling it a blue wave still), including, in one of the most ironic political results in American history, Tony Evers, the school superintendent who defeated Scott Walker to become Wisconsin’s new governor. But only one of those newly elected teachers was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year: Jahana Hayes, who became the first African American woman from Connecticut elected to Congress. That Hayes was a social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy High School (in Waterbury, CT), and one who was awarded her teacher of the year recognition by none other than President Barack Obama, are only symbolic layers of icing on this very real, and very American, cake.
3)      Deb Haaland: The first two Native American women elected to Congress were elected this year, and understandably a lot of the attention has been directed to Sharice Davids, a lesbian MMA fighter from Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk nation elected to the House of Representatives in Kansas (another one of those very American sentences). But I’m a particularly big fan of Deb Haaland, elected to Congress from New Mexico—she’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, the same community that produced the author and protagonists of one of my two favorite American novels, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977); and she’s an incredibly impressive and, as she puts it in this piece’s title, fierce voice. That phrase could be used to describe all three of these newly elected officials, and many others as well who helped make this one of the inspiringly American elections I’ve ever experienced.
December Recap this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think? 2018 reflections you’d share?