ToM “Besties” of 2014

TOM best of montage

Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why

When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.”

Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” blossomed this year. Whether part of our collaboration with SEMAP, East of East, a war of words with Slate’s imperious Rebecca Schulman, or putting recent highway protests over police brutality in historical perspective, ToM writers brought in more debate from all quarters than ever before. In a year where the past stalked the present at nearly every turn, the articles listed below (in no particular order) did the best job of uncovering ignored or obscured histories of all sorts and putting forth new ideas for debate.

Sort of like The Wire meets Mad Max 2
  1. I Live in America’s Most Dangerous Suburb

GSU historian H. Robert Baker took issue with a piece from the real estate website that depicted his Atlanta suburb as crime ridden and obtusely dangerous. Baker’s investigation into the site’s sloppy use of statistics not only pushes back against such reports, it reveals the ways in which the media often oversimplify complex issues for the sake of click-bait.

  1. The Lego Movie and the Gospel of the Creative Class

ToM co-editor Alex Sayf Cummings broke down the 2014 hit for its insights into urban policies put forth by leading thinkers such as Richard Florida. ASC mines the film and Florida’s own work on the new “creative class,” which the University of Toronto urbanist argues remains the key to 21st century city life. Esquire dug the piece so think of that as the equivalent of a back cover blurb by George Lipsitz.

  1. Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

Princeton PhD and Staten Island adjunct professor Jeffrey Lawrence attempted to mediate the abstract division that exists between journalism and academia, which often breaks into hostility between the two. The piece unexpectedly generated lots of heat from Slate writer Rebecca Schuman, who expressed no small amount of displeasure with anyone disagreeing with her. Needless to say, ToM felt Schuman was more than a bit unfair toward Lawrence and his analysis, ignoring many of the excellent points contained therein, which we hope some of you will explore here.

  1. A Community Erased: Japanese Americans in El Monte and San Gabriel Valley

As part of the ongoing East of East project, Columbia University doctoral candidate Andre Kobayashi Deckrow explored the now nearly invisible history of Japanese American settlement in the communities of El Monte and South El Monte, CA.   With Deckrow’s contribution, East of East continued to excavate the valuable history of the two communities, demonstrating the complexity and importance of suburban history in new and fascinating ways.

  1. What Robocop Tells Us about the Neoliberal City, Now and Then

Longtime ToM contributor Keith Orejel (his Dog Days Classics essay on Barbara Fields remains one of our most read pieces to date) explored the remake of Robocop in 21st century America, contrasting it with the original 1987 masterpiece. Unsurprisingly, the 2014 version differed in many ways that reflect urban America today.

  1. I’d Know Where to Find You: Art Laboe’s Charmed Life on the Air

Columbia doctoral candidate, feverish NBA fan, and ToM contributor Jude Webre documented the long and rich history of radio personality Art Laboe and his influence on Southern California music and broadcasting. Again, as part of the ongoing East of East series, Webre highlights how Laboe embodies the history and importance of El Monte and South El Monte in California history. The piece proved so popular that SoCal’s KCET transformed it into a video essay months later.


  1. A Loray Mill of the Mind

ASC’s reflection on Gastonia’s Firestone Mill engaged a number of topics held dearly by ToM, including our eternal efforts to map out local histories in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C and issues such as gentrification, memory, and the history of labor.

  1. Toypurina: A Legend Etched into the Landscape

The indomitable Maria John, also a Columbia doctoral candidate in U.S. History, delved into the East of East project, documenting the complicated history of the Tongva tribe (native to what is today San Gabriel Valley) and the almost mythical history of the very real, and very complex figure of medicine woman Toypurina.

  1. The Massive Missed Opportunity

The article that got ToM banned from Facebook! You read that correctly, Nick Juravitch’s critique of Slate contributor, Tanner Colby (who also authored the tongue-in-cheek hipster epic All My Best Friends Are Black) somehow got us banned from the social media site for several hours. Whatever the reasoning behind the move, Juravitch took issue with Colby’s depiction of liberalism and the civil rights movement and then laid the proverbial smack down on the Slate writer. Slate really might hate us (or more likely, be completely unaware of ToM), which is probably a good thing.

  1. The Fragrance of Sensory Studies

GSU’s LG returns to the fold with this tour de force explaining a new and burgeoning field of Sensory Studies. Not sure what this means? LG explains its sources and meanings in this excellent investigation of the developing discipline.

  1. Structured Unrest: The Rumford Act, Proposition 14, and the Systematic Inequality that Created the Watts Riots

Though the Watts Riots turn 50 in 2015, Proposition 14 turned 50 in 2014. What was Prop 14? ToM co-editor Ryan Reft examines how this anti-open housing referendum reinforced housing inequality for minorities in and around Los Angeles, contributing to the kind of political and economic frustrations that led to the Watts uprising a year later.

  1. Freeway Takeovers: The Reemergence of the Collective through Urban Disruption

As the last few months of 2014 descended into protests and acrimony, UCSD doctoral candidates Jael Vizcarra and Troy Andreas Araiza Kokinis explored the goals behind and the meaning of freeway protests in SoCal. Undoubtedly our most discussed and shared piece of the year, Vizcarra and Kokinis provide one of the only histories and theoretical explanations for such protests and their relation to the history of freeway construction and its subsequent racial and class-based implications.


  1. Capital within a Capital”: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

 Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain’s camp denounced Northern Virginia as unrepresentative of America. Yet as Andrew Friedman’s 2014 book, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia reveals, the forces that made NOVA the racial and ethnic melting pot that it is today couldn’t have been more American. RR parses out and explores Friedman’s arguments in these two pieces: the former, a history of Eden Center and NOVA’s Vietnamese/Vietnamese American population, and the latter, a longer review essay examining the book’s contributions to the field.

14. Four Years Later: What Can We Say about Democracy in Tunisia?

It came late in the year and was overshadowed by the holidays, but ToM foreign correspondent Adam Gallagher traveled to Tunisia in November to witness the nation’s national elections as part of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (aka IFES). Gallagher, an expert Middle East analyst and editor for IFES, explores the ebb and flow of Tunisian politics over the past four years since the “Arab Spring” that swept across the region and relates his view of country’s current political state.

15. Does Rape Have a Color?  Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and the Racial Politics of Sexual Abuse

Lauren MacIvor Thompson, a senior ToM writer and contributor to the excellent blog Nursing Clio, anticipated the Bill Cosby controversy (and to a lesser extent perhaps, the UVA/Rolling Stone debacle as well) months in advance and juxtaposed his history of alleged sexual abuse with those of Woody Allen and R. Kelley. In this knotty article, Thompson concludes that history “tells us that white dismissal of black-on-black sexual abuse and child abuse was part of a longer historical trajectory of separating, isolating and otherizing black sexuality.”  The intertwining of race, class, and sexual abuse makes for a tragic and dangerous cocktail that continues to throttle the nation’s collective senses.