underpantsLast year Slate ran an article that, in that annoying Slate way, made it clear: the battle is won. We no longer have to fear book banning. It is a rare phenomenon, in America, at least, and true bannings—as opposed to, say, a parent opting out of reading a book on behalf of his/her child—have become rare.

Though no one seems to have numbers to support the matter, media sensations about book banning do seem to have gone down in recent years. Perhaps this is part of a general easing, though by no means a cessation, of the culture wars. No one, for instance, has pitched school uniforms as a panacea in ages. A warning label on music is a selling point now. Or maybe book banners just chilled as it became apparent the Republic could survive the all-media popularity of The Hunger Games.

Then, again, maybe we just don’t hear about it much, because the challenges so often take place at the local level. Or in other places below the radar.

Continue reading

williams word warriorThis past Sunday, Washington, D.C. radio station WAMU-FM went into the vaults to find a classic 1949 radio documentary on Ida B. Wells. Part of the classic Destination Freedom series, the Wells doc was penned by Richard Durham, the subject of Sonja D. Williams‘s much-praised biography of the African American writer and activist. Tune and listen to Durham’s talent for conveying the drama of history as he tells the story of Wells, one of the extraordinary figures of the Progressive Age. WAMU-FM continues to offer the broadcast for streaming through the weekend of October 1-2.

Courtroom dramas and filmed jury rooms have left an indelible impression on Americans. That impression? The law is so straightforward you can wrap up any case in a maximum of two hours. Unless you’re trying to win an Oscar. Then you need two-and-a-half hours. The University of Illinois Press merges its reputation for legal scholarship with its ongoing strengths in filmic criticism to offer a Corleones-and-all survey of how the movies have portrayed the legal profession.

denvirLegal Reelism: Movies as Legal Texts, edited by John Denvir
Law and and justice are important themes in film, not only in courtroom dramas, but also in the western, the film noir, even the documentary. In the Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola shows that the Mafia possesses its own strict codes, even though they are in conflict with those of the criminal justice system. Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors shows a protagonist who “gets away with murder,” but with a different dramatic intent by the director and a different effect on the audience.

Shedding light on myriad facets of the law/film relationship, the fourteen contributors to Legal Reelism analyze films ranging from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Drums Along the Mohawk to Do the Right Thing, Basic Instinct, The Thin Blue Line, and Thelma and Louise. The first volume to contain work by both humanists and legal specialists, Legal Reelism is a landmark text for those concerned with depictions of justice in the media and the impact of those depictions on society at large.

blackLaw in Film: Resonance and Representation, by David A. Black
The courtroom, like the movie theater, is an arena for the telling and interpreting of stories. Investigators piece them together, witnesses tell them, advocates retell them, and judges and juries assess their plausibility. These narratives reconstitute absent events through words, and their filming constitutes a double narrative: one important cultural practice rendered in the terms of another.

Drawing on both film studies and legal scholarship, David A. Black explores the implications of representing court procedure, as well as other phases of legal process, in film. His study ranges from an inquiry into the common metaphorical ground between film and law, explored through “the detective” and “the witness,” to a critical survey of legal writings about the cinema, to close analyses of key films about law. In examining multiple aspects of law in film, Black sustains a focus on the central importance of narrative while also unearthing the influences—pleasure in film, power in law—that lie beyond the narrative realm. Black’s penetrating study treats questions of narrative authority and structure, social authority, and cultural history, revealing the underlying historical, cultural, and cognitive connections between legal and cinematic practices.

wright

From the new UIP release Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century, by Nazera Sadiq Wright

African American educator and activist Fannie Barrier Williams highlighted what could happen when black girls in literature served merely to illustrate the problems associated with race advancement at the turn of the twentieth century.

In her 1905 essay “The Colored Girl,” Williams criticized how black girls were often presented as symbols of the problems of the race: “The term ‘colored girl’ is almost a term of reproach in the social life of America. . . . She is not known and hence not believed in; she belongs to a race that is best designated by the term ‘problem,’ and she lives beneath the shadow of that problem which envelopes and obscures her.”

Continue reading

Twentieth Century Drifter

In three decades as a singer and songwriter Robbins placed a staggering 94 songs on Billboard’s country music charts. His musical style ranged from rockabilly rave-ups to pop standards and even Hawaiian songs. Fulfilling another dream, Robbins spent time on the NASCAR circuit. He also published songs and took a shot at acting with Western comedies like Buffalo Gun and the car-racing drama Hell on Wheels.

Born on this date in Glendale, Arizona, Robbins had a rough childhood as part of a family of ten children. His parents divorced when he was twelve. Five years later, he left home to serve in the Navy in World War II, where he learned guitar to pass the time. His first big hit, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” brought him a gold record and set the stage for “El Paso,” a Number One pop hit in 1959 and still a revered classic today. Prosperity and lifelong fame followed.

But, as Diane Diekman makes clear, success never came easy. In Twentieth Century Drifter, the acclaimed biography of Robbins, Diekman shares a wealth of stories about the future star’s battles to break through. Alas, that included the bane of many a performer—the unwanted nickname:

Because of his many heartbreak songs, Marty became known as “the boy with the teardrop in his voice,” a title he credited to Jolly Joe Nixon, a Fort Worth disc jockey. The term first appeared in print as a magazine quote in late 1953. “At the time I was a boy,” Marty told an interviewer years later. “I was just a young man, but it always embarrassed me when somebody’d say ‘Mr. Teardrop.’ It used to be rumored that every time I would sing a song I would cry. I might get more emotion into a song maybe than some people do, but I don’t cry. I was asked many times in the early part of my career, ‘Do you really cry on your recording sessions?’ No, I don’t really cry on my recording sessions.”

1. University of Illinois scientists have long endeavored to create a base for chewing gum that uses zein, a protein found in corn. In 2005, researcher Graciela Padua announced that a six-year project working with zein had yielded which potential consumer product?

A biodegradable chewing gum that hardened when one spits it out*

2. Dedicated in 1969, the Krannert Center was founded with money from Illinois grad Herman C. Krannert and his wife. Herman, a mechanical engineer, made his fortune manufacturing boxes, and got his start in the business working for a firm that made which product?

Ventilated boxes used to ship baby chicks long distances*

3. Justin Smith Morrill lent his name to the Morrill Act of 1862, the legislation that funded institutions of higher ed across the U.S. The same year Morrill, a Vermont gentleman farmer, also sponsored which other 1862 law aimed at a specific religious group?

The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act enacting a ban on Mormonism’s practice of plural marriage*

roberts dempseySeptember 22, 1927. The date of The Long Count, one of most memorable moments in the annals of pugilism.

In this corner, the heavyweight champion of the world, Gene Tunney, the Fighting Marine.

Opposing him: Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, keen to get even for his defeat at Tunney’s able hands the previous year.

Yet after six rounds, Dempsey looks finished, his slugging style foiled and undone by Tunney’s ring savvy and technical acumen. Dempsey needs a knockout to defeat Tunney and every one of the 100,000 fans gathered at Soldier Field in Chicago know it. Fifty seconds into the seventh round, Dempsey incredibly appears to have landed the telling blow. Tunney, for the first time in his career, goes down, driven to the doorway of dreamland by two left hooks, and escorted over the threshold by a pair of combinations delivered as he falls to the canvas.

Then the drama began. Reporting from a ringside seat between silent film star Gloria Swanson and Princess Xenia of Greece is Randy Roberts, author of Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler.

Standing in a corner, just a few feet from Tunney, Dempsey waited for the champion either to get up or be counted out. Neither happened. Instead referee Barry yelled at Dempsey to go to the farthest neutral corner, as the rules required. “I’ll stay here,” Dempsey told Barry, as if that was concession enough to the new laws of the ring. Later, Dempsey told Dan Daniel, “I couldn’t move. I just couldn’t. I wanted him to get up. I wanted to kill the sonofabitch.” Barry, however, refused to allow Dempsey to remain near Tunney. So, grabbing Dempsey by the arm, the referee half-shoved, half-escorted him to the farthest neutral corner.

…By the time Barry returned from escorting Dempsey, four seconds had lapsed; in fact, the timekeeper, Paul Beeler, was calling out “five” in order to give Barry a count to pick up. But instead of starting his count at six, Barry shouted “One!” At the count of three–or seven seconds after the knockdown–Tunney lifted his head and looked at Barry. In turn, Barry moved closed to Tunney so that the champion could hear the count above the din of the crowd. At the count of four, Tunney probably could have got up. But that would not have been the intelligent thing to do; the wiser boxer takes a count of nine before he rises. If nothing else, Tunney was an intelligent boxer. He waited until Barry shouted “nine” before he regained his feet.

Tunney recovered, wore Dempsey down and felled him once, and ultimately won in an overwhelming decision. The fight became, and remains still, a cornerstone of boxing lore.

Dempsey’s paycheck, $425,000, was the largest ever received by a challenger. But more important than the money, the drama of the fight meant that Dempsey’s last fight would be remembered for a long time. Listening to the fight on the radio had caused ten men to die of heart failure; half of them died in the seventh round.

Judge for yourself:

Though UIP published photography on the beauty of the Midwest and the University of Illinois campus, we also venture out of these expected subjected areas. This week we present a few books that venture into landscapes of industry and humanity as seen through the shutters of three extraordinary photographers.

irving and strutinPlaces of Grace: The Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest; Photographs by Gary Irving; Essay by Michal Strutin
So often we imagine the Midwest solely as a place carpeted in useful, productive land, a “breadbasket” ideally suited to raising crops and livestock. There is another Midwest, however, one marked by lands that historically have resisted human purpose: the dark swamp forests of the far north, Nebraska’s arid Sand Hills, the rockbound Flint Hills of Kansas. Such lands as these, although difficult to cultivate, are valuable in terms not calculable in units produced or metric tons shipped. Many have been preserved as national parks or wildlife refuges. All hold secrets for the careful observer.

Gary Irving shares photos that uncover the mystery and beauty of a part of the country that, for most people, exists hidden in plain view. Places of Grace reveals both the physical splendor and the natural history of a ten-state region encompassing Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

cialdella 2The Calumet Region: An American Place; Photographs by Gary Cialdella, Edited by Gregg Hertzlieb
Impressive in its strength, the Calumet Region in northwest Indiana also moves us with the poignancy of its struggle. Gary Cialdella presents a series of black and white images of this legendary industrial/residential landscape. A professional architectural photographer, established fine artist, educator, and historian, Cialdella found himself drawn to the region of his youth for a photographic exploration that has lasted more than twenty years. Nearly one hundred of those images appear in this book, reflecting the artist’s sensitive, sustained vision and the changes the region has experienced through economic shifts and the irresistible rhythms of time.

Steel mills, tank farms, and refineries coexist with neighborhood houses in the artist’s beautifully composed pieces, which please the eye with their full tonal range and crisp focus. Cialdella himself provides descriptions and explanations of his working methods, sources of inspiration, and life experiences to add even greater richness to his images. Essays by Gregg Hertzlieb and John Ruff reflect on Cialdella’s work as a definitive photographic treatment of the region’s landscape.

raeburn ben shahnBen Shahn’s American Scene: Photographs, 1938, by John Raeburn
The paintings, murals, and graphics of Ben Shahn (1898–1969) have made him one of the most heralded American artists of the twentieth century. But during the 1930s he was also among the nation’s premier photographers. Much of his photographic work was sponsored by the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration, where his colleagues included Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

Ben Shahn’s American Scene: Photographs, 1938 presents one hundred superb photographs from his most ambitious FSA project, a survey of small-town life in the Depression. John Raeburn illuminates the thematic and formal significance of individual photographs and reveals how, taken together, they address key cultural and political issues of the years leading up to World War II. Shahn’s photographs highlight conflicts between traditional values and the newer ones introduced by modernity as represented by the movies, chain stores, and the tantalizing allure of consumer goods, and they are particularly rich in observation about the changes brought about by Americans’ universal reliance on the automobile. They also explore the small town’s standing as the nation’s symbol of democratic community and expose the discriminatory social and racial practices that subverted this ideal in 1930s America.

September 22 is an auspicious date in Illinois history. As this post recounts, boxing history took place on the date. In 1985, Willie Nelson teamed with John Mellencamp and Neil Young to put up the first Farm Aid extravaganza at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. And, in the bitter presidential campaign of 1960, Richard M. Nixon drew worldwide attention to tiny Sullivan, Illinois just by showing up for lunch.

Sullivan’s town fathers had invited Nixon and opponent John F. Kennedy to a debate. To everyone’s surprise, Nixon accepted. When JFK failed to show, Nixon settled for lunch and giving a speech at a town park. Nixon’s sandwich was buffalo meat courtesy of a bison herd kept outside of town. Standing guard over Nixon’s picnic table: Boy Scout and local teen Steve Jenne.

Nixon ate half the sandwich before adjourning to the park’s baseball diamond to speechify. A crowd of 17,000 followed. Jenne stayed behind.“Being the good Boy Scout that I was,” he said, “I stood there and guarded that sandwich.” It soon became clear Nixon was not a member of the Clean Plate Club. Jenne, in a stroke of genius, packed up the then-vice president’s lunch leftovers and kept the sandwich in his freezer. For decades.

Twenty-eight years later, a newspaper’s story about the sandwich went nationwide. Jenne and the bison meat ended up on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (Johnny gave Jenne a half-eaten barbeque sandwich to take home.) Later, Jenne took the meat item west again to appear on a game show. Media continued to interview him about the Nixon culinary encounter well into the 2000s. A Journal Gazette and Times-Courier article noted that he had by then wrapped it in new cellophane, though it remained in the same applesauce jar that had housed the sandwich since 1960.

ntarangwiMwenda Ntarangwi is an associate professor of anthropology at Calvin College. He recently answered some questions about his book The Street Is My Pulpit:
Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya.

Q: Your book explores the Kenyan music scene through the lens of Christian hip hop artist Juliani’s life and career. For those unfamiliar with Juliani, can your briefly introduce the artist and his role in the Kenyan music scene?

Mwenda Ntarangwi: Born in Dandora, a suburb of Nairobi famed for having the biggest dumpsite in the world, Juliani is one of the most popular hip hop artists in Kenya. He started his music career at the feet of Kalamashaka, Kenya’s pioneering hip hop artists, where he honed his lyrical prowess to articulate social problems facing youth in Kenya. Born Julius Owino, Juliani is known for his electrifying stage performance, dreadlocked hair, and a down-to-earth demeanor rare for artists as popular as he. His name has been used to promote new farming techniques, cell phone products, environmental issues, political change, wildlife conservation, and economic programs, among many others.

Q: How did your interest in break-dancing lead, eventually, to your academic study?

Ntarangwi: It got me connected to not only other youth with a similar interest but to a world far away from me that seemed to grapple with the same challenges I was facing as a young person trying to figure out my own identity and place in society. The breakdance film Breakin’ provided an interesting background to the pursuit of social issues I came to find in hip hop because it had some young people challenging authority as represented in a judge who was blocking a team from entering into a dance competition.

Q: There is a growing youth population in Kenya. Does the hip hop scene take on unique characteristics due to the demographic shift?

Ntarangwi: Because the majority of the audience for hip hop is youth, there is a special connection they have with the music especially the socially-conscious version that seeks to articulate their problems and frustrations. It is also because hip hop as an industry promises the youth (who constitute the majority of the unemployed) opportunities for a better livelihood and a platform to speak their minds without much control from such avenues as the government or their elders. Having the chance to articulate one’s lived experiences as well as aspirations is a powerful thing for youth who live in a context where they often feel disenfranchised.

Q: What is the Kama Si Sisi program?

Ntarangwi: This is a project introduced by Juliani to mobilize youth to become agents of change in their own lives’ circumstances. Kama Si Sisi (nani?), which means “if not us (then who?)” in Swahili is a program that encourages youth to seek economic independence through savings and entrepreneurship, combat climate change through planting trees and reducing trash, and changing the political scenario by being actively getting involved in voting and holding their leaders accountable.

Q: Are the social boundaries of Christianity different in Kenyan hip hop than in Western popular culture?

Ntarangwi: In Kenya there isn’t yet an operating public separation of church and state as it is in the West even though the 2010 national constitution requires such separation. Kenyan Christians are much more culturally conservative than their western counterparts. This has shaped the kind of music accepted as Christian and has led to a number of questions about how much of Juliani’s music is Christian. This is especially so for those who see Christian music as only about verses from the Bible or making references to Jesus. Kenyan Christianity also has shaped much of the public discourse, limiting the level of inappropriate language that can be used in hip hop. This makes Kenyan hip hop (Christian or otherwise) much more clean than its U.S. counterpart, for instance.