My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

February 29-March 1, 2020: February 2020 Recap

[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
February 3: Immigration Laws: 19th Century Origins: Inspired by the anniversary of the 1917 Immigration Act, an immigration laws series kicks off with why 19th century state laws have to be part of the story.
February 4: Immigration Laws: The Chinese Exclusion Act: The series continues with how my thoughts about a foundational, exclusionary law have evolved over time.
February 5: Immigration Laws: The Immigration Act of 1917: On the anniversary of its passage, how the 1917 law built on the Chinese exclusion era, and how it went much further still.
February 6: Immigration Laws: The Tydings-McDuffie Act: The specific contexts and broader implications of a xenophobic 1930s law, as the series rolls on.
February 7: Immigration Laws: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Why the landmark law was indeed groundbreaking, and two ways to complicate that narrative.
February 8-9: Immigration Laws and Narratives in 2020: The series concludes with two distinct but ultimately interconnected public scholarly lessons for the present.
February 10: Fantasy Stories I Love: Revisiting Lloyd Alexander: This year’s Valentine’s Day series kicks off with the joys of watching my older son read a childhood favorite series of mine.
February 11: Fantasy Stories I Love: Tolkien Takeaways: The series continues with three AmericanStudies lessons from the LOTR trilogy.
February 12: Fantasy Stories I Love: Iron Crown Enterprises: The rise, fall, and enduring legacy of an innovative gaming company, as the series rolls (the dice) on.
February 13: Fantasy Stories I Love: Robin Hobb: The prolific author who helped changed epic fantasy’s too-often trite narratives of gender and sexuality.
February 14: Fantasy Stories I Love: George R.R. Martin: Why the book that took Martin’s blockbuster series off the rails also exemplifies his groundbreaking achievements.
February 15-16: Fantasy Stories I Love: African Fantasy: The series concludes with my first experiences with a contemporary genre community, and my need to read a lot more.
February 17: Non-Favorite Studying: To Kill a Mockingbird: The annual post-Valentine’s airing of grievances kicks off with what Harper Lee’s famous novel fails to do, and how reframing it might open up other conversations.
February 18: Non-Favorite Studying: Citizen Kane: The series continues with two very American problems with one of our most important films.
February 19: Non-Favorite Studying: Mad Men: The historical and American flaws in the acclaimed TV drama, as the series gripes on.
February 20: Non-Favorite Studying: “Africa” and Graceland: Perhaps my most controversial non-favorite post ever, on how overt and more subtle acts of musical cultural appropriation.
February 21: Non-Favorite Studying: Low Five: The series concludes with five historical figures with whom I have a bone—or a whole skeleton—to pick.
February 22-23: Crowd-sourced Non-Favorites: As always, one of my favorite posts of the year, the crowd-sourced airing of grievances that concludes the non-favorites series—add yours in comments!
February 24: Leap Years: 1816: A Leap Week (yes, I just made that a thing) series kicks off with significant global, cross-cultural, and national trends in a single Leap Year.
February 25: Leap Years: 1848: The series continues with how three distinct events within a ten-day period helped change America and the world.
February 26: Leap Years: 1904: Five of the many cultural legacies of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, as the series leaps on.
February 27: Leap Years: 1948: A couple significant contexts for a contested election beyond “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
February 28: Leap Years: 1984: The series concludes with how three of the year’s huge blockbuster films reflected 1980s debates and divisions.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, February 28, 2020

February 28, 2020: Leap Years: 1984 in Film

[In honor of this once-in-four-years phenomenon, I wanted to highlight and AmericanStudy a few interesting leap years from American history.]
How three of the year’s many blockbuster films reflect 1980s debates.
1)      Ghostbusters: I said much of what I’d want to say about Ghostbusters’ fraught relationship between science and the supernatural in that hyperlinked post. But it’s also worth stressing, as I did briefly there too, that the film’s conflicts also and perhaps ultimately boil down to the government vs. private citizens, with the film’s sympathies entirely resting with the latter community. In that way, Ghostbusters can be seen as an extension of Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” With which, when it comes to William Atherton’s deeply annoying EPA agent Walter Peck, it’s difficult to argue.
2)      Beverly Hills Cop: The central conflicts in Eddie Murphy’s star-making action-comedy are distinct from, and to my mind a lot more complicated than, those in Ghostbusters. On the surface, those conflicts are the titular ones related to class and setting, as Murphy’s working-class cop (Axel Foley) from the working-class mecca of Detroit finds himself pursuing criminals in the nation’s most famously wealthy, elite location. But it’s impossible to separate those contrasts from issues of race, not least because Murphy’s character focuses a good bit on how he is perceived and treated as a black man in the largely white world of Beverly Hills. And yet, he eventually achieves his goals by partnering with a white Beverly Hills cop (Judge Reinhold’s Billy Rosewood), a relationship that crosses all these boundaries and (in the long tradition of buddy cop films) models a more productive form of community.
3)      Footloose: Kevin Bacon’s star-making film presents a somewhat similar fish-out-of-water scenario, but in a very different direction: in this case the boy from the big city finds himself in a far more isolated and conservative small town, one where concerns of morality (guided by John Lithgow’s minister character) have led to bans of both rock and roll music and dancing. Lithgow is a talented actor and so imbues that character and perspective with more depth and humanity than might otherwise have been the case, giving us a sense of why someone (and thus why an entire community) might pursue these extremist practices. More broadly, I think the film reflects an emerging division that has only become more pronounced in the 35 years since, a vision of a nation in which urban and rural communities seem defined by not only distinct but contrasting values and identities. If only we had Kevin Bacon’s charismatic Ren to teach us all to dance together!
February Recap this weekend,
PS. Thoughts on this year or other leap years that stand out to you?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

February 27, 2020: Leap Years: 1948

[In honor of this once-in-four-years phenomenon, I wanted to highlight and AmericanStudy a few interesting leap years from American history.]
On a couple significant election contexts beyond “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Don’t get me wrong—“Dewey Defeats Truman” was a unique historical moment, and the shot of a jubilant Truman holding a copy of that November 3rd Chicago Tribune is one of the more rightfully iconic 20th century photographs. The moment also reminds us of just how much American newspapers have always been affiliated with partisan politics: the Tribune was a solidily Republican-leaning paper with no love lost for the incumbent Democrat, and its choice to allow veteran political analyst Arthur Sears Henning’s electoral prediction to determine their next day’s front page (the paper went to press prior to the close of polls on the West coast) was no doubt due at least in part to editorial wishful thinking. It’s easy to decry the partisanship of contemporary newspapers and news media (for more on which see this post), but in truth that’s been part of their identity throughout American history.
But even if the Tribune had gotten its prediction right, the 1948 presidential election would still be a hugely significant one. For one thing, there was South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and his third-party run as a Dixiecrat (or, officially, States’ Rights Democrat). Few American histories have been more influential than the long, gradual realignment of politics, race, and region, a story that starts as far back as Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson and extends right up to our present moment. Yet despite that century and a half long arc, the splintering of the Democratic Party at the 1948 national convention represents a striking and singular moment, a fulcrum on which those political and social realities permanently shifted. There were all sorts of complicating factors, not least Thurmond’s own secrets and hypocrises when it came to race—but at the broadest level, few election-year moments have echoed more dramatically than did the Dixiecrat revolt.
For another thing, both Truman and Dewey used the mass media in an unprecedented way in the campaign’s closing weeks. The two campaigns created short newsreel films that were played in movie theaters across the country, reach an estimated 65 million filmgoers each week. The first televised 1960 debate between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is often described as the first national political moment of the media age—or even as a moment that “changed the world”—and certainly its live broadcast to a national audience represented something new in American electoral politics. But since so much of politics in the media age has not been live, has instead comprised constructed and produced media images and narratives, it’s fair to say that Truman’s and Dewey’s competing movies likewise foreshadowed a great deal of what was to come in the subsequent half-century and more of elections.
Last leap year studying tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this year or other leap years that stand out to you?