Best of ToM

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Tropics of Meta has addressed topics ranging from Islamic philosophy to tax-increment financing, from fiction to street art.  Here is a Whitman’s Sampler of some of the best essays that have appeared over the last few years:


“Your Asian Wasn’t Quiet”: Black, Brown, Yellow Alliances in America

In the first of many explorations of politics and identity at ToM, this piece examines the history of interracial and interethnic organizing in the United States.  Drawing on the work of Lorena Oropeza, Nicolas Vaca and others, it brings a critical eye to assumptions that groups such as African Americans and Latinos will organize around their “shared minority status” or that tension and conflict are inevitable between minorities competing for status and resources.  ToM’s November 2012 piece Californication: Race Ethnicity, and Unity in 21st Century California updates this subject with a review of Mark Brilliant’s The Color of America has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 putting Brilliant in dialogue with other writers like David Freund, Daniel HoSang, and Charlotte Brooks. In addition, our 2011 review of HoSang’s Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, Erasing Race: Whiteness, California, and the Colorblind, touches on similar subjects while engaging the work of Matthew Lassiter, Rick Perlstein, Kevin Kruse, and Eric Avila.

Tramps Like Us Swagger Like Us: M.I.A., the Boss, and the Class Politics of Pop

When you ask Google about the “inauthenticity of Bruce Springsteen,” it responds with a not-too-surprising, “did you mean ‘authenticity of Bruce Springsteen’?”  Because Bruce is nothing if not authentic.  (After all, as Jason Schwartzman asked in the film I Heart Huckabees, “How am I not myself?”) This piece explores the relationship between class and authenticity by looking at musicians such as M.I.A., Langhorne Slim, and Vampire Weekend, whose enactment of particular political narratives or personal class positions are central to their images as artists.

The Long War(s)

In this review of historian Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules, Joel Suarez traces the roots of an American foreign policy consensus dedicated to “permanent war” and “never-ending global-interventionism.”  According to Bacevich, a historian, Vietnam veteran, and father of a fallen soldier in Iraq, the foolhardy policies of the War on Terror originated in the “siege mentality” of the early Cold War, and the fateful interventions of two figures (Allen Dulles and Curtis Lemay), who set the US on a course of projecting its dominance in order to protect interests that were believed to be under threat on all fronts.  The result was a Cold War orientation that has mutated into the unending and undeclared war that the US conducts to protect its “interests” everywhere from Yemen to Pakistan today.

Containing Multitudes: The New Communist Manifestos a Decade Later

This piece revisits the seminal works by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (1999) and Multitude (2004), years after their influence was first felt in academia.  A Duke University literature professor and an Italian Autonomist radical, respectively, Hardt and Negri worked to synthesize a vast array of dense and difficult works by theorists of the Left into a new and more accessible treatise.  Empire‘s analysis of a loose, flexible system of world governance, embedded in capitalism but unrooted in any particular country or state, seemed to lose its salience following the resurgence of American imperialism in 2001, but the authors’ idea of the “multitude” as a new political subject or form of political organization looked more and more prescient with the rise of the netroots, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement in the new century.

Transporting Queens: The Meaning of Movement in the Urban Identity

In connection with our first photo essay, Transportation City, this piece explores the significance of transit in the NYC borough of Queens.  As Columbia historian Casey Blake pointed out, Queens is the borough perhaps most defined by various forms of transit, from the ubiquitous MTA and LIRR trains to the city’s two airports (JFK and LaGuardia) and the many roads and highways that stretch out to Long Island.  It is known as one of the most diverse places in the world, a destination for immigrants where countless foreign tongues are spoken.  The borough is defined by movement, as Ryan Reft illustrates by surveying its role in pop culture (e.g. Eddie Murphy searching for a queen in Coming to America; Kevin James driving an “IPS” truck in King of Queens; Vince Chase’s “I am Queens Boulevard!” in Entourage).

When the Reactionary Is Visionary: The Illusion of Low-Income Housing in Sunbelt San Diego

This essay deconstructs the hullaballoo around San Diego’s decision to leave the federal public housing program in 2007, at a time when outsiders praised its “innovative” approach to housing.  In fact, San Diego residents and politicians had long resisted any kind of efforts to provide public or low-income housing, selling off the units built by the federal government during World War II and refusing to participate in federal housing programs until the late 1970s.  While the city has been praised for not building towering, dysfunctional projects like Cabrini-Green or Pruitt-Igoe, the fact remains that this bastion of SoCal, Sunbelt conservatism built almost nothing at all.  This tragedy is made all the clearer by a comparison to Robert Moses, the long-vilified New York planner whose reputation some have recently attempted to rehabilitate.  While Moses harbored many of the same prejudices as leaders in the Sunbelt, he at least built infrastructure that a later, more diverse set of New Yorkers could make use of and enjoy.

Mending Mindanao: Diminishing Insurgent Violence in the Philippines

In this piece, Shane Updike offers a probing look into the little-understood history of Islamist insurgency in the Philippines.  The essay reveals the complex interplay of national politics, internecine struggles among militants, religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, and the more recent development of the War on Terror, all of which have contributed to a conflict that has unfolded over more than three decades.  (The acronym for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, incidentally, has brought many unsuspecting Internet users to ToM.)

Scenes from the Feminist Movement in the 1970s

This piece looks at some striking letters, articles, and images from grassroots publications of second wave feminism, particularly zines like Los Angeles’s Everywoman and the Female Liberation of Durham-Chapel Hill Newsletter.

The Sin City series: A Boy Named Sue, on the Moon and Hollywood without Hollywood: Las Vegas from the Periphery

ToM took the opportunity of the 2010 meeting of the Urban History Association to explore the landscape and culture of Las Vegas.  The pieces intepret the sun-scorched, soul-sucking sinscape of the city in two different ways: as a kind of asteroidal or lunar twin of ticky-tacky redneck destinations like Gatlinburg, TN and Myrtle Beach, SC, and as a postmodern melange of Disneyland, Hollywood, and Blade Runner. The accompanying photo essay, Large Variety, lets readers see Vegas the way we saw it.

Recreation Revolution: Working-Class Youth and the Creation of Skate Culture

Delving into the role of subculture, ToM explores the rise of the Dogtown skaters and how the both reflected and projected a multi-ethnic working class Southern California.  Carving out space of a collapsing built environment, skaters like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta crafted a new culture that incorporated SoCal and Latino influences that broadcast nationally.

Hoping for Housing: Hope VI’s Ambivalent Legacy

The dismantling of Chicago’s public housing has rightly drawn an unprecedented amount of attention.  However, the success envisioned by planners and officials of mixed income units run by private operators where middle and upper class residents model behavior and ambitions for working class counterparts has proven less successful than hoped.  What have been the problems? ToM explores the increasingly worrying legacy of HOPE VI.

Dopplegangers, Dickens, and All the Young Droods

ToM’s senior fiction correspondent Amy Heishman offers this perspective on Daniel Simmons’s Drood, a trippy exploration of Dickensian England through the fictionalized story of real-life novelist Wilkie Collins and his frenemy Charles Dickens.  As Heishman points out, Drood offers an excellent example of the literary convention of the “unreliable narrator,” whose account of events becomes increasingly questionable to the reader (who must sort out the rich detail of this historical fiction from the dubious perspective of the protagonist).

Benetton Dreams: The Multicultural World of “Rachel Getting Married”

ToM takes a look at a critical favorite, Rachel Getting Married, starring the now-ubiquitous Anne Hathaway as a self-absorbed drug addict coming home to witness her sister Rachel’s vows of matrimony.  Though the movie exuded a sort of joyful multiculturalism, not all the pieces fit together, argue ToM’s Alex Sayf Cummings and Ryan Reft. Rather, Rachel Getting Married remains about a troubled upper middle class white family treating its non-white characters like garnish or accent rather than truly developed people.

“Inglourious Basterds” and the War on Terror

One of our earliest pieces on ToM, this review of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II counterfactual offers a different take on the film, which many commentators simply saw as a rip-roaring Nat-zi-killing revenge fantasy (not unlike Tarantino’s similarly-themed Kill Bill and Django Unchained).  Rather than an uncomplicated tale of whupping bad-guy ass, we saw Basterds as a cautionary tale about the dehumanizing dangers of seeking vengeance–one that spoke to a historical moment when American presidents (note the plural) felt perfectly entitled to go torture and assassinate alleged terrorists without a shred of due process or simple human decency.  The Dirty Dozen-referencing finale showed Americans gunning down and burning alive Nazi officials, who had gathered to watch a gratuitous propaganda film that consisted of nothing more than a German sniper shooting one Allied soldier after another.  How different was the climax of Basterds from the mindless German film-within-the-film, Tarantino seemed to ask, and when do we become the thing we hate?

Zombieland: JB Jackson and the Abandonment of Detroit

This piece draws on the work of seminal essayist and geographer John Brinckerhoff Jackson to survey the landscape of a deindustrialized and “downsizing” Detroit.


Fire and ICE: The Realities of 21st Century Urban Development

The first in our series on the “post-industrial society” and the role of high-technology industries in American cities, this piece focused on university-led redevelopment in New York, Philadelphia, and southern California.  Drawing on the work of Mike Davis and Themis Chronopoulos, the post examines local resistance to the expansion of New York University, as well as the increasing dependence of cities on such development to shore up their coffers and credit ratings in a neoliberal policy environment.

The Rural Roots of America’s Cities of Knowledge

Another installment in the post-industrial series, Keith Orejel’s essay urged readers to refocus attention away from the big city world of the “creative class” and toward the relationship between high-tech development and rural America.  The Sunbelt’s image of prosperity, Orejel suggests, belied the reality of poverty and population loss in the countryside, as mechanization pushed farmworkers off the land and better opportunities in cities such as Charlotte and Atlanta were taken up chiefly by educated transplants from outside the region.  Meanwhile, rural workers moved into low-wage retail, trucking, and other industries that flourished in the shadow of the New Economy’s gleaming “cities of knowledge.”

Neoliberalism’s License to Ill

Discussing the work of the late Tony Judt, Adam Gallagher explored the damaging effects of neoliberal policies in this piece.  In the name of holding the line on spending and big government, American policymakers have, in the last thirty years, pursued a relentless course of privatization and deregulation, even as tax cuts for the wealthy fueled rising inequality and military adventurism blew up the budget deficit.  The 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent Great Recession seemed to illustrate the devastating impact of such policies, yet the resurgence of the GOP and the rise of the Tea Party showed that the US political elite has refused to abandon its allegiance to old homilies about the so-called “free market.”

How We Got Here: Stein, Cowie, and Arrighi on the Post-Industrial Economy

Continuing the post-industrial series, Joel Suarez examines the divergent approaches to economic change taken by Judith Stein, Jefferson Cowie, and the late Giovanni Arrighi in their widely read studies.  Arrighi employs the sweeping perspective of world-systems theory to explain the United States’ meteoric economic rise in the twentieth century, placing the country’s turn toward deindustrialization and finance in the 1970s as part of a long-term cycle of imperial expansion and decline.  In contrast, Stein focuses on the nuts-and-bolts of economic policy, highlighting how deliberate political decisions about taxes, subsidies, and trade favored industries such as finance, insurance and real estate (see “FIRE and ICE” above) and undermined traditional manufacturing.  Cowie’s Staying Alive instead looked at the cultural dimension of deindustrialization and changing perceptions of class in the 1970s.   Despite methodological differences, and the difficulty of reconciling large-scale and small-bore explanations, each of these scholars can concur on one point: the 1970s were a crucial turning point in the political economy and culture of the United States.

Hefner, Hughes, and Rogen: Playboy and the Origins of the 21st Century Hipster

The unending search for a definition of the hipster continues in this piece, which offers a new genealogy of the cultural type.  This piece deemphasizes the significance of familiar antecedents such as the beatniks or punks and instead ties hipsters to a different ancestor: the playboy of the 1950s, the prototypical, self-absorbed urban sophisticate.  Drawing on the work of historian Elizabeth Fraterrigo and essayist Ian Svenonius, “Hefner, Hughes, and Rogen” proposes that the most salient characteristic of the hipster is demographic; the virtually unprecedented emergence of a large, educated group of unmarried, childless twenty-and-thirtysomethings has given rise to hipster culture, as culturally savvy young people with disposable income and few responsibilities can devote time to putting birds on things and issuing cassette-only electro-pop covers of Bollywood songs.

Teaching to the Test: The Middle Class, Teachers, and School Reform in the 21st Century

In this piece, Ryan Reft and Shane Updike draw on their experience as educators to weight the implications of movements for education reform, particularly for American cities.  Charter schools, accountability, and teacher unions come under consideration, as well as the controversial career of former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who made fighting unions and firing incompetent teachers her signature policy.

Video, Terror, and the Politics of Reality TV

Written in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing by American commandos in Pakistan, this piece compared the way that images of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were constructed in the media after their respective downfalls.  Specifically, it discusses the lurid and humiliating use of video to degrade the formerly powerful men, who were viewed in the American media undergoing dental examinations (in Hussein’s case) and pathetically watching television (in bin Laden’s).  Such portrayals evoked practices of shaming and voyeurism that resembled those made popular by reality television in the last decade.

Pedaling Your Politics: The Variable Meanings of Critical Mass

This piece explores the controversial practice of critical mass by bicyclists in a variety of cities, considering the political dimension of the tactic and the different ways it has been received in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, and elsewhere.  Despite the somewhat confrontational nature of critical mass, which involves bicyclists taking over streets and other public spaces, conflicts over the practice have not deterred the growing embrace of bicycling as an environmentally friendly mode of transit or bike-friendly policies as a means of enhancing traffic and transportation in cities such as New York.

American Arab Kitsch: From Ahab to Abed and Back Again

This essay takes a long view of portrayals of Arabs and Arab-Americans in American pop culture, from the novelty songs of Ray Stevens and Pinkard & Bowden to the increasing presence of purportedly Arab characters in twenty-first century pop culture.  It considers the vagaries of politics and international affairs on perceptions of Arabs, who occupy a peculiar position between honorary white people (Lebanese Republicans such as John Sununu) and swarthy, hysterical terrorists (the Crimson Jihad in 1994’s action hit True Lies).  One of the strangest aspects of American pop culture’s treatment of Arabs is the fact that such characters are nearly always played by South Asians rather than actors of North African or Middle Eastern origin (Sayid on Lost, Abed on Community, and so forth), underlining their status as nonwhite in the American imagination.

Building the Perfect Echo Chamber: The 1970s and Political Discourse in the 21st Century

This wide-ranging essay looks at Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, among other texts, to consider how the conflicts of the 1970s set the course for today’s hyper-polarized, Red vs. Blue political culture.  Richard Nixon saw the value of exploiting the cultural, political, and economic differences between the so-called “Silent Majority” and increasingly vocal groups such as people of color, gays and lesbians, and others on the Left. John McMillian’s history of the underground press and the New Left, Smoking Typewriters, and Edmund White’s memoir of gay life in New York, City Boy, provide further perspective on the splintering of American culture during this era, as people divided along lines of political, sexual, and cultural identity and nurtured new subcultures that became increasingly unintelligible to those outside each group.  The result was an America that looked less like a cohesive polity, capable of addressing its most pressing and intractable issues, and more like an archipelago of echo chambers, where liberals and conservatives talked only to their own kind and viewed each other with resentment and mistrust.

Decide Yourself If Radio’s Gonna Stay: A Post-Mortem of R.E.M.

This post reviews the long history of R.E.M., the Athens, GA band that defined the course of college radio and indie rock in the 1980s before achieving massive popular success and gradually sinking back into obscurity by the late 1990s.  Written from the perspective of a long-time listener from the South (“southern boys just like you and me,” as Steve Malkmus said in Pavement’s tribute to the band), the piece considers how R.E.M.’s heady mix of 60s psychedelia and post-punk energy typified the early 1980s moment of crisis in the record industry, which was stuck in its post-boomer, post-disco doldrums.  The band’s first single, “Radio Free Europe,” was not only an impressionistic take on the state of the Cold War at the dawn of the Reagan Era, but a call to arms for independent music to chart its own course — a harbinger of how indie rock would develop in uneasy tension with the mainstream of the music business.

Demonizing Don Henley: Unwrapping the Byzantine Politics of a Boomer Icon

Is Don Henley nefarious? In this piece ToM’s Ryan Reft used the lens of 1960s and the figure of Jeff Lewbowski to break down Don Henley’s career from the soaring, boring heights of the Eagles to the sleep inducing solo albums that followed. Just what does Don Henley stand for and what does it mean? The End of the Innocence indeed.


“A Citizen, not an American”: Obama, Santa Claus, and the Language of Identity

In the aftermath of the 2012 election, many conservatives found themselves groping for explanations for the shocking and unexpected defeat of GOP nominee Mitt Romney.  Rush Limbaugh, predictably, attributed Obama’s victory to his pandering to parasitic dependents such as the poor, African Americans, Latinos, and women, but Neal Boortz searched for an even deeper explanation to this inexplicable series of events.  While eschewing birtherism, he nonetheless declared that the President may be technically American, but not truly, authentically, culturally American—which explains why his statist, secularist policies seem so incomprehensibly alien to the real Americans who listen to Boortz’s show.

The Sexuality of Whimsy: Gender and Sex in the Films of Wes Anderson

Sure, Wes Anderson’s work rings with twee and whimsy, yet his movies, though stuck in heteronormative frames, express a sexuality that exudes naivety, disappointment, euphoria, and sadness.  While Anderson deserves the lion’s share of credit, those around him–from actor Bill Murray to his writing partners Owen Wilson, Noah Baumbach, and Roman Coppola–have also contributed to Anderson’s well rounded depiction of sexuality from awkward enthusiasm of adolescence to the somber experience of adulthood.

This Wall Wasn’t Dead: Public Art in Atlanta

This photo essay takes viewers on a tour of visual culture in Atlanta, focusing especially on the murals and other works included in the second annual Living Walls festival.  It also touches on the sensitive politics of street art, graffiti, and gentrification in the empire city of the South.

Sparkling Music for a Dishwater World: The Shins and the Limitations of the Indie Rock Narrative

Kenneth Maffit joined us for this probing assessment of the oeuvre of the Shins, urging readers to discard the lazy, empty category of “indie rock” and resituate the band in a longer tradition of pop music, influenced by the classic songcraft of the 1960s, psychedelia, and the British invasion.  In the process, he suggests that Wincing the Night Away, the Shins’ under-appreciated third album, deserves a second look from listeners who stopped paying attention after Chutes Too Narrow.

Robert Wiebe and the Search for Order

As part of our yearly Dog Days Classics series, in which contributors revisit their favorite scholarly works, Jude Webre looked back to Robert Wiebe’s celebrated 1967 book — a text that remains a must for many history grad students, at least in the more old-school departments.  Jude goes beyond the familiar trope of the “organizational synthesis” that emphasizes the Progressive Era’s love of order and efficiency, showing how Wiebe’s interpretation does more than portray Americans of the early twentieth century as bureaucrats and “bloodless policy wonks,” trapped by “the procedural vacuity of cubical life.”  Rather, Wiebe probes into the deeper human experience of people who “clutched what they knew” in an effort to comprehend a rapidly changing, industrializing world of urban diversity and concentrated power.  And he did so with some of the finest prose of an era when historians still wrote fluid, engaging texts (much like another ToM favorite and Wiebe contemporary, Richard Hofstadter).

The Specter of Revolution in “The Dark Knight Rises”

In this piece, we waded into the debate about the murky politics of director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-ending film.  Although the film ultimately celebrated the virtues of the wealthy (Bruce Wayne), the police, and the military, while casting a wary eye toward left-wing or populist demagoguery, it also coursed with a kind of operatic impulse of outrage at inequality and corruption that captured the zeitgeist of the Occupy era.

The Food Truck Conundrum: Urban Politics and Mobile Eats

If food often provides an insight into broader cultural issues, what do the debates about food trucks tell us about the state of the American palette in 2012? In D.C., food trucks draw the broad support of most District residents and the ire of many of its restaurants.  These “movable feasts” suture political divisions as both the left and the right love them, but highlight the difficult economics of staying alive in the ever changing food industry. You won’t look at your fusion Korean BBQ corndog the same way again.

Emily White Killed Vic Chestnut

In a year of ludicrous controversies and microwaved sideshows (hello Sandra Fluke, Donald Trump), it might be easy to forget the furor that erupted last Spring over the naively honest posting by an NPR intern about her vast, unpaid music collection.  Though everyone in America has been taping songs from the radio, gifting mixtapes, and swapping flash drives containing huge numbers of MP3s for as long as anyone can remember, acknowledgment of this free music extravaganza was always best kept out of polite company and public discussion.   This piece explores the explosive debate that emerged about artists’ rights, listeners’ obligations, the ethics of the music business and the future of music as a whole in the aftermath of Emily White’s blog post, placing the discussion in a broader history of piracy and free music.

Civil Society and Mass Incarceration

Joel Suarez looked at the growing literature on racism and criminal justice in the United States, notably the work of Michelle Alexander, Heather Thompson, Christopher Glazek, and Frank Wilderson.  As the prison-industrial complex has generated a “new Jim Crow” that affects the lives of millions yet functions as totally invisible to many other Americans, the reconstitution of a racist system of inequality in the post-civil rights era has begun to draw serious and sustained attention from scholars.

Is the Beltline Bad for Atlanta?

One of our most read and most commented on pieces, this essay examines the complex and contentious politics surrounding the Beltline, an ambitious project to build a light rail loop around Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods, incorporating new parks, bike paths, and affordable housing along its path.  The Beltline holds out the hope for unifying a wide variety of neighborhoods in this notoriously transit-starved, traffic-choked city, yet it also threatens to speed the gentrification that has been transforming in-town Atlanta for the last twenty years or so.  Critics also challenged the funding model of the project, which would draw on property taxes normally assigned to Atlanta’s struggling public schools (as well as a sales tax that failed to pass as part of a larger transportation package in the summer of 2012).

Why Santorum Won in Iowa: A Historical Perspective

Keith Orejel drew on his own study of the rural Midwest to explain the upset victory of former Senator Rick Santorum in the crucial Iowa caucuses—a phenomenon generally attributed Santorum’s support among evangelical social conservatives.  Keith looked at political and economic dimensions of the candidat’s message that were otherwise little discussed or understood in most coverage of the nomination process.

The Municipal Military: The Impact of the Armed Services on Urban America

Too often we think of military history as the story of tactical battles, advanced weaponry, and aging generals.  Yet, post-WWII military expansion has come to influence the physical, social, and economic development of numerous metropolitan areas around the nation.  From Seaside, CA to Fayetteville, North Carolina to Columbia, SC, military personnel, families, and policies have exerted a clear influence.  Here ToM looks at what this has meant for these municipalities. Along with John Southard’s 2012 contribution, Crayons, Fraternities, and Military Historians: The Perception and State of Military History, ToM hopes to expand on people’s preconceptions of what the military’s place in American society is and what this means historically.

Requiem for a Heems: An Obit for Das Racist

“They called us joke rap, we kinda weed rapWe just like rap, we don’t even need rap.” Joke Rap? Weed Rap? What exactly were Das Racist? Maybe the best demonstration of hyperreferentiality since the Beastie Boys and certainly one of a handful of groups to really push the issue of race in directions we haven’t seen before, Das Racist’s disbanding this year marked the end of an admittedly short, but fantastic run: two stellar mixtapes and a more than solid album. ToM looks back to figure out what all the fuss was about.

Apocalypse on the Lower East Side: Zone One Zombies

Zombies. ‘Nuff said.

Black Power Pruitt Igoe Mixtape: How Two New Documentaries Make Sense of 1970s Urban America

Over the past decade or so, documentaries have emerged as one of most effective means of reaching an audience with a story or message. In the case of late 1960s and 1970s urban America, we’ve witnessed the blossoming of the field with new additions like 2011’s The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975 and 2012’s The Pruitt Igoe Myth, each pushing back against dominant perceptions regarding the Black Power movement (the former) and public housing (the latter).  Along with earlier contributions like 2002’s The Weather Underground, a new narrative regarding the radical politics of the late 1960s has formed as have new understandings regarding the legacy of public housing.


The Spanish Roots of the 99%

Jeffrey Lawrence explores the origins of the Occupy movement and the rhetorical frame of the 99% vs. the 1% in the struggle of the indignados, who have challenged the status quo of austerity in Spain since 2011.

“I’d Tap That,” or Whither General Keith Alexander?

In this investigative report, Larry Grubbs pulls back the curtain on the blandly anonymous yet incredibly powerful figure at the heart of the NSA’s vast campaign of electronic surveillance–an individual who has escaped significant scrutiny, despite the ongoing debate about privacy that has rocked the world since Edward Snowden’s revelations came to light.

The Motor City at War: Mobilization, Wartime Housing, and Reshaping Metropolitan Detroit

Ryan Reft delves deep into the historiography to present a panoramic view of Detroit in the midst of WWII, as military mobilization transformed the politics of race and housing in Detroit.

David Greenberg Doesn’t Hate Howard Zinn Because He Was a Bad Scholar, but Because He Was a Radical

In this blistering critique, Clement Lime takes Rutgers historian David Greenberg to the shed for his trolling of the late radical historian Howard Zinn in the pages of The New Republic.  If self-congratulatory snobs like David Greenberg and Jill Lepore ever inspire a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a percent as many people to become historians as Zinn did, then we’ll be more than happy to take them out for lunch.

Frankie Fitzgibbons, the Coen Brothers, and the Free Market

Alex Cummings finds improbable linkages between No Country for Old Men and the overlooked 1991 novel Ride a Cockhorse, which stars a semi-fascistic middle-aged sexpot who resembles no one so much as Sarah Palin — albeit a Palin with a powerful command of the English language.  Both Anton Chigurh and Frankie Fitzgibbons ultimately become avatars of a relentless new market logic in the wake of the Reagan revolution.

1181 Durfee Ave: 1983 to 1986

In this lyrical essay, poet and novelist Michael Jaime Becerra reflects on adventures with BMX bikes and Piston Hurricane in the rich social geography of 1980s El Monte.

How Much Have We Got Left? Jason Isbell’s Southeastern

Brian Ingrassia probes into the emotional undertow and rich regional specificity of one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, the solo release by former-Drive by Truckers hero Jason Isbell.

Is White the Only Color in Upstream Color?

Cherie Braden examines the otherwise-totally-unexamined racial politics of what is easily one of the strangest films of the year, Shane Carruth’s follow-up to the celebrated 2004 film Primer.  Going beyond the predictable whiteness of the standard indie, Upstream Color shrouds its weirdly exclusionary take on race in plenty of symbolism about pigs, orchids, and sound waves.

Economic Hardcore: Remembering the Minutemen Nearly 30 Years Later

Ryan riffs on the 1980s, punk, Repo Man, the joys of jamming econo, and the band that could have been (and maybe was) your life.

The Thin End of the Wedge: Faculty House, Columbia University, and the Future of Higher Education in America

A skirmish over a labor contract for a small bargaining unit at Columbia might not appear to have worldwide implications, but as Jason Resnikoff’s explosive piece shows, the Manhattan Ivy is at the forefront of disempowering workers and corporatizing higher education — in the classroom, in the kitchen, and just about everywhere else.

Eyes Wide Shut and the Paranoid Style in American Pop Culture

Inspired by the film Room 237, Alex rewatched Eyes Wide Shut to explore the fever swamp of conspiracy theory that has grown up around the films of Stanley Kubrick. (It’s not just the Moon landing, kids…)

Modern Family: Mr. Mom and Fatherhood in the 21st Century

With more and more men staying at home to raise kids, Ryan’s essay on family, gender politics, and Michael Keaton’s 1980s oeuvre could not be timelier.

Thin Is In: Rethinking 40 Years of Intellectual History in the Age of Fracture

Jude Webre closed out our summertime debate of Daniel Rodgers’s Age of Fracture and neatly summed up the debate with this elegant discussion about what Michel Foucault, Jesse Jackson, and Tim LaHaye have in common.