Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

From the History Dept Blog: History Tools in the Digital Age

This was a post of mine recently published on the NSCC History Department Blog:

"It can sometimes sound like the war-stories of old but when I was in college, "smart classrooms" were barely in existence and few faculty could use them.  But here at North Shore Community College, we have the fully fledged multimedia console in the vast majority of our classrooms and it can fundamentally change how we teach history.

Capable and competent instructors that we are, we are quite capable of engaging an audience who is usually less than thrilled to be taking a "required" history course.  But we do not have to do it entirely on our own.   What follows are a variety of digital resources that can be used inside and outside the classroom for your students that can help the course come alive.  The beauty of these resources is that they are public domain or open content, allowing for much more dynamic use of them without violating copyright and potentially creating a vast collection of resources that can allow the instructor to bypass the traditional textbook (and its hefty price)."

For the rest of the post, click on through to the NSCC History Department blog.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Yes--That's Sexist and Yes, I Have to Call You on It

So right on the heels of my Letter to the Editor, I also have this to say (though, I wrote this before the letter to the editor came out and had to reschedule its release here).

I have a rather undeveloped policy about how I deal with things I take issue with on Facebook or other social media in which I am connected to people.  What little I understand of it though is that it starts with the assumption that if a person has chosen to virtually connect with me, then they have chosen to accept the fact that I am an active user of social media who seeks out conversation and meaning.  By accepting or requesting and continuing said connection, they recognize that I'm likely to engage with those things that grab my attention and to which I have some knowledge and/or stake in the conversation (and granted sometimes I have too much of latter without enough of the former--but that's a post for another time).

So when someone I'm connected with on Facebook, posted the following.  It certainly got me a wee bit angered and ready to say something.  In fact, it annoyed me enough to write a blog post about it.

Oh the many things wrong with this.  Particularly, because it was created on or around March 27/28 and it comes in the aftermath of the Stuebenville rape conviction and the various backlashes.   The many, many, many things wrong with this.  So much of this wreaks of a moral technopanic about the nature of women's behavior in public which is always easier than considering the role of the men or the system at large.

Of "Girls" and Men
So language is always an interesting thing to study and this meme is no different.  The women are all girls--even those who are married.  It may be a small or irrelevant point--obviously the page (IM So Fuckin High I can't even see u--clearly a page for chauvinistic, sexist, racist and other mad hattery) wasn't looking to be deep in any regard, but it does illustrate a disregard for women in our culture (fostered more by the 22,000+ likes and additional 1700+ shares).

A History Lesson.
I find the faux history most amazing and misinformed.  The idea of women as purely pristine and pure has never really jived with the actual history of sex, if anyone who has taken the time to study the history of sex will tell you.  In fact, the later half of the 1800s was a hotbed of sexiness with sex and sexual acts happening everywhere from dancehalls to brothels to saloons.

It annoys me when people level the supposed morals of the past to lay judgment on the present.  In most cases, these morals were nothing but myths to begin with.  It's like finding speed limit signs 100 years from now and deducing that people never drove over the speed limit--when in fact--we almost all do.

If we were to look at the late 19th century, we find that New York City had hundreds of brothels and brothels were also found in the West .  And the dance halls were filled with women exchanging drinks and gifts for favors--yes, sometimes of the sexual kind.

That's not to applaud what for many was a "choice" that wasn't a real choice (i.e. do this for survival's sake--one's own or family and loved ones) but it's to acknowledge that women were not the bastions of morality that we pretend they were.  That mentality (women's past purity or women's declining morality) contributes to continued sexism and mistreatment.  It first upholds women to traits and ideals that were never entirely true in the first place (and to which we never believe or feel that men can live up to) while also allowing for further shaming of women--another form of power and control.  That much of this is done by or for men without men having to adhere to the same spurious morals, only further illustrates the coercive power of patriarchy.

The statement that "In 1995: Girls Got Undressed for Money" is very curious and another play at shaming.  In all likelihood this is a reference to the Girls Gone Wild series (that's a link to Wikipedia-not to the actual site--and they state GGW started in 1997). But here again, the language is suggestive.  Women have been accepting money for getting undressed for thousands of years as there is ample evidence of temple prostitutes going back to the ancient world.  If the claim meant accepting money to take clothes off for a camera, they would still be wrong.  Women undressing for cash and the camera is something too that is over 100 years old.  Thus "girls" takes on a further meaning.  Girls in this sense are supposed to mean "good girls" to which prostitutes, strippers and other sex workers clearly do not fall into.  The judgment upon women to maintain their "girl" status clearly coincides with the ways in which they act as sexual beings.  Their state of undress is only for the male who (in 1880s parlance) owns her.

Facepalm indeed.
It's telling the that the last panel is a man in a state of disappointment.  First, because it seems that the meme-maker couldn't find a woman offering up herself in a state of undress on Facebook.  But also, that it gives away the bigger lie.  We put this expectation upon women, but in the end, it's typically men (or mayhaps we should use the term, "boys") that are encouraging, demanding and condemning it.  There's the perversity of it--the women are judged by the same sources of those who make the demands.  The ideas of Mulvey's "male gaze" are still relevant.

But It's Just a Joke
It's easy to shrug this off as a goofy internet meme in poor taste and saying I'm looking too much into it--take it too "literally" as the person who posted it said below.  But all memes are not the same and this one I found a bit caustic.  That we can shrug it off so easily as it so grossly represents truth, and plays into the ideas of a demoralizing society brought to us by technology and whose responsibility is placed upon women to uphold is utter rubbish.  Technology nor women contribute to the decline of society (and I continued to revoke the idea that society is in moral freefall).  If you think the moral decay of society is real, I would encourage you to read The Better Nature of Our Angels by Stephen Pinker (his TED Talk only scratches the surface) and significantly reduce the amount of "news" you watch.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Responding to the Value of Popular Culture

So there's this regular letter-to-the-editor writer for the Salem News, Malcolm Miller, who writes these 3-4 sentence quips that seem to largely disregard and condemn popular culture and society in some capacity or another.  Whether it's sports or talk shows, he is dismay with it all and with any who appear to take value in it.  Last month he wrote one called, "A Cultural Question."  Here is my response to said letter.  I originally sent it to the Salem News but they appeared to pass on it.  So here it is:

There is much to read that may not be considered "good.”  I believe Miller would appreciate the quote--though not necessarily the actual writings since they were more common--of  science-fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon:  "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud."

But as one who seems to value the authority of established "cultural assets," you might look to Plato.  He would be more likely to idolize the sports figure as a representation of the ideal than to idolize a book.  As he said in Phaedrus,

"Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."

We live in a time where we have many forms of meaningful storytelling.  Books absolutely have a place in that world, but they are not the sole means of transferring and developing substantial cultural artifacts.  That we have become a culture of such diverse range and taste speaks more to our cultural complexity than any uniformity to a preordained and highly limited ideal.

Lance Eaton
Watcher of television, films, and even Youtube videos.
Reader of books, comic books, blogs, and even Twitter feeds. 
Listener of old time radio, audiobooks, great speeches, and even podcasts.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Recent Letter to the Editor: Fools tilting at windmills

This one was in response to Barbara Anderson's column "Overreaching government still a concern".  

To the editor:

Barbara Anderson’s selective reading of the Second Amendment and her NRA advertisement (“Overreaching government still a concern,” Jan. 3) is disappointing.

Never mind that there is no major movement or serious interest in repealing the Second Amendment — and while there are people advocating this, they are on par with those wishing to secede from the United States; fools tilting at windmills.

Follow through to read the rest.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Recommended Reading - 2011

Here is my most updated list of Recommended Readings. I’ve broken them down into general categories and listed them alphabetically by author’s last name.  Without a doubt, I’ve missed a few and I’m sure some are bound to raise an eyebrow.


  • I'm Not Scared by Ammaniti, Niccolò
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Ray
  • A Clockwork Orange by Burgess, Anthony
  • The Awakening by Chopin, Kate
  • The Good Earth by Buck, Pearl S.
  • The Souls of Black Folk by DuBois, W.E.B.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, Alexandre
  • The Three Musketeers by Dumas, Alexandre
  • Invisible Man by Ellison, Ralph
  • Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
  • Bartleby and Benito Cereno by Melville, Herman
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  •  The Iliad by Homer
  • Brave New World by Huxley, Aldous
  • The Metamorphosis by Kafka, Franz
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver, Barbara
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, Harper
  • Mary Reilly by Martin, Valerie
  • Beloved by Morrison, Toni
  • Lolita by Nabokov, Vladimir
  • Animal Farm  by Orwell, George
  • 1984 by Orwell, George
  • The Bell Jar by Plath, Sylvia
  • Twelve Angry Men by Rose, Reginald
  • The Jungle by Sinclair, Upton
  • Frankenstein by Shelley, Mary
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Smith, Betty
  • Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, John
  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Stevenson, Robert Louis
  • Dracula by Stoker, Bram
  • Pudd'nhead Wilson by Twain, Mark
  • The Color Purple by Walker, Alice


  • On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Asma, Stephen T.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Diamond, Jared
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Kinzer, Stephen
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by Loewen, James W.
  • A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Zinn, Howard


  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Anderson, Chris
  • NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Bronson, Po
  • The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by Brooks, David
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Chabris, Christopher
  • Popular Culture: An Introduction by Freccero, Carla
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Carr, Nicholas G.
  • Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When Not to Trust Them by Freedman, David H.
  • The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Gardner, Dan
  • The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Glassner, Barry
  • Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism by Illouz, Eva
  • Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea by Lakoff, George
  • Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives by Lakoff, George
  • Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World by McGonigal, Jane
  • Culture, Self, and Meaning by Munck, Victor C. de
  • Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media by Parenti, Michael
  • Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World, The Project on Disney by Project on Disney
  • Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't by Prothero, Stephen R
  • Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by Shields, David
  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Shirky, Clay
  • The Truth About Lies by Shea, Andy
  • Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization by Storey, John
  • Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation by Turner, Chris
  • Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are by Waal, Frans de


  • The Coke Machine by Blanding, Michael
  • "They Take Our Jobs!": and 20 Other Myths about Immigration by Chomsky, Aviva
  • Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Davis, Mike
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • The Assault on Reason by Gore, Al
  • We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Gourevitch, Philip
  • There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children by Greene, Melissa Fay
  • Black Like Me by Griffin, John Howard
  • Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Hawken, Paul
  • Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World by Kielburger, Craig The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Klein, Naomi
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Kozol, Jonathan
  •  The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Kozol, Jonathan
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristof, Nicholas D.
  • We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love by Wooten, James T.


  • No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Beavan, Colin The Vertical Farm by Despommier, Dickson
  • Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Ettlinger, Steve
  • Eating Animals by Foer, Jonathan Safran
  • The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy by Fishman, Charles
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Friedman, Thomas L.
  • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything by Daniel Goleman
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Kingsolver, Barbara
  • The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health—and a Vision for Change by Leonard, Annie
  • The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food by Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability  by Owen, David
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Pollan, Michael
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Pollan, Michael
  • The End of Food by Roberts, Paul
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Shell, Ellen Ruppel
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Schlosser, Eric
  • Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders by Scurlock, James D
  • $20 Per Gallon: How the Rising Cost of Gasoline Will Radically Change Our Lives by Steiner, Christopher
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Wansink, Brian


  • Woman: An Intimate Geography by Angier, Natalie
  • The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts
  • Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by Chauncey, George
  • Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Clover, Carol J.
  • Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America by D'Emilio, John
  • Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Dodson, Betty
  • The Ethical Slut by Easton, Dossie
  • The Vagina Monologues  by Ensler, Eve
  • Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Feinberg, Leslie
  • Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Fausto-Sterling, Anne Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray by Fisher, Helen
  • Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity by Gamson, Joshua
  • City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 by Gilfoyle, Timothy J.
  • The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines
  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Maines, Rachel P.
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Meyerowitz, Joanne J.
  • Symposium by Plato
  • Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution  by Shlain, Leonard
  • Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Simmons, Rachel
  • Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women by Traister, Rebecca


  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Entire series) by Adams, Douglas
  • The Robot series by Isaac Asimov
  • The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
  • Ender's Game by Card, Orson Scott
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Dick, Philip K.
  • A Scanner Darkly by Dick, Philip K.
  • Crooked Little Vein by Ellis, Warren
  • Stone Butch Blues by Feinberg, Leslie
  • Neverwhere by Gaiman, Neil
  • From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Faust, Minister
  • The Last King of Scotland by Foden, Giles
  • The Maltese Falcon by Hammett, Dashiell
  • Double Indemnity by Cain, James M.
  • The Wayfarer Redemption series by Sara Douglass
  • The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Geillor, Harrison
  • The Outsiders by Hinton, S.E
  • A Widow for One Year by Irving, John
  • The Body by King, Stephen
  • It by King, Stephen
  • Just After Sunset by King, Stephen
  • The Stand by King, Stephen
  • Let the Right One in by Lindqvist, John Ajvide
  • What Dreams May Come by Matheson, Richard
  • Fight Club by Palahniuk, Chuck
  • Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Quinn, Daniel
  • Q & A by Swarup, Vikas
  • The Hobbit by Tolkien, J.R.R.
  • Player Piano by Vonnegut, Kurt


  • Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre by Coogan, Peter
  • Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture by Duncan, Randy
  • Comics & Sequential Art by Eisner, Will
  • The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by Hajdu, David
  • Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Jones, Gerard
  • 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Madden, Matt
  • Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City by O'Neil, Dennis
  • Comic Books As History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar by Witek, Joseph
  • The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman by Yeffeth, Glenn


  • Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki
  • Barefoot Gen by Nakazawa, Keiji
  • Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
  • Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
  • A Drifting Life by Tatsumi, Yoshihiro
  • Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
  • Ode To Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka
  • With the Light... Vol. 1: Raising an Autistic Child by Tobe, Keiko


  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Bechdel, Alison
  • Powers by Brian Michael Bendis
  • Unwritten by Mike Carey
  • The Contract with God Trilogy by Eisner, Will
  • The Boys by Garth Ennis
  • Preacher by Garth Ennis
  • He Done Her Wrong by Gross, Milt
  • The Nightly News by Hickman, Jonathan
  • Transhuman by Hickman, Jonathan
  • Sandman by Neil Gaiman
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe/World by Larry Gonick
  • Homer’s The Odyssey by Hinds, Gareth
  • Shakespeare's King Lear by Gareth Hind
  • The Broadcast by Hobbs, Eric
  • The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Jacobson, Sid
  • Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  • Invincible by Robert Kirkman
  • Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans by Jr., Roland Owen Laird
  • The Complete Essex County by Lemire, Jeff
  • Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Mathieu, Marc-Antoine
  • Asterios Polyp by Mazzucchelli, David
  • Making Comics by McCloud, Scott
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by McCloud, Scott
  • Superman: Red Son by Millar, Mark
  • Batman: Year One by Miller, Frank
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Miller, Frank
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
  • V for Vendetta by Moore, Alan
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore
  • Captain America: Truth by Morales, Robert
  • Remains by Niles, Steve
  • The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics by Normanton, Peter
  • Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr's Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped by Ottaviani, Jim
  • Three Shadows by Pedrosa, Cyril
  • Renfield: A Tale of Madness by Reed, Gary
  • Lovecraft by Rodionoff, Hans
  • Earth X by Alex Ross & Jim Kreuger
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski
  • Disaster and Resistance: Political Comics by Tobocman, Seth
  • Understanding the Crash by Tobocman, Seth
  • Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan, Brian K.
  • Y: The Last Man  by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Irredeemable by Mark Waid
  • Kingdom Come by Waid, Mark
  • Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde ed. By George Walker
  • Fables by Bill Willingham
  • DMZ by Brian Woods
  • American Born Chinese by Yang, Gene Luen

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some of My Moments of Popular Culture

We’re all aware of them (and I say that at the end of the week when Charlie Sheen has for all intents and purposes gone off the deep end; who knows by the time you’re reading this, he may be an uber-celebrity or you may be asking “Isn’t that like saying Britney’s gone crazy or Lindsey’s got arrest?”—it’s a bit ubiquitous).  For many of us—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—we experience these moments of popular culture “history-in-the-making” that we in some part internalize or feel to be a part of us.  We mourn the passing of a celebrity, attend a major film on opening night, attend ritual event that grants us access into a particular event, or are witness/participant to some other event.  Some of these events become over amplified through media outlets while others stay upon the fringe but still captivate fans.  Ultimately, these moments are part of our individual narratives, yet also shared with many others.   These moments are as numerous and diverse as there are staked interests and entertainments.

John Candy's Death

Image of John Candy as Barf in Spaceballs
Certainly in my 31+ years, there have been ample deaths:  Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Princess Di, Michael Jackson, Gianni Versace, and Walter Kronkite to name a few (And yes, Wikipedia has this one covered).  However, in my own popular cultured life, these weren’t as prominent.  The first real celebrity death to hit me was John Candy.  His death hit home for me since I grew up deeply enjoying his movies (memorized significant portions of both Spaceballs and The Great Outdoors).  His death meant that this giant gentle of a man would no longer bring smiles to my face as he had for much of the 1980s and 1990s.  Chris Farrelly hit me in a similar way too.  The most recent celebrity to leave an impact was Gary Coleman whom I enjoyed a good deal during the 1980s in Diff’rent  Strokes.  Besides Coleman’s illness and the fact that he had become a punching bag for lame-jokes about child-actors, it just struck me that Coleman was a part of my childhood range of familiar faces that separate me from those who grew up in the 1990s or even those who grew up in the 1970s; they each had their own range of contemporary characters to access.

The New Star Wars Trilogy

Poster of the film, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Another major event for me was getting to see an advance showing of Star Wars Episode I:  The Phantom Menace.  Now, regardless of how people feel about it now, in 1999; the anticipation was palpable.  After all, in the previous years, Lucas had stoked our fires with re-release of the videos shortly after he re-released them in the theaters with added scenes.  As an avid Star Wars fan who had watched his videos to the point of wearing out the video cassettes and up to that point had read all the books that had been written (15 or so) taking place in the Star Wars universe, this was epic.  Though I passed on dressing up to attend, it certainly crossed my mind.

The Fall of Napster

Napster was also a major popular culture event for me.  We’re still feeling the effects of it today.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, downloading music en masse as Napster allowed us to was pretty fantastic.  But it was also a collective group from certain ages and places.  College students were a major part of it (in part thanks to colleges with their T-1000 connections).  We gained access to mountains of music and could combine and manipulate the music in whatever way we wanted.  I used to spend hours creating my mixed tapes; now it took minutes to download and a very short time to compose.  I also was one of the earlier people to have an “mp3 player”, well before there was an iPod.  It had 16 megabytes (and my second one had 32MB) and could contain 5-8 songs depending on what I put on there.  But there was an excitement of discussion about Napster and other programs (my favorite was Audiogalaxy Satellite) and what would happen to them with Napster in court.  There was a frenzy to download with abandon before it ended.  In fact, nerd that I was, I was downloading more audiobooks than music by that point since others got it in their head to make mp3 audiobooks available.

The Death of Superman

Image from The Death of Superman DC Comics event
And there was of course the “Death of Superman” in the 1990s.  Of course, he wasn’t really dead; it was a complete marketing tool, but that didn’t stop me and a good deal of fellow comic fans from buying the issue in its poly-urethane baggy (2 copies:  1 to open; 1 to keep because it was gonna be worth something—like 10% more than what you paid for it, ha!).  That talk about his death, who was going to replace him (there were at least 4 contenders), and being the one “in the know” at the school when others were interested because it had been announced on the news.  It was indeed momentous for someone like me where my knowledge and experience made me a resource for others (granted, I didn’t actually read Superman or any DC Comics at the time, but that only meant I directed discussions to the comics I thought were cool).  Thus, my interest in it became the means of how others perceived me which became my badge or sense of empower and pushed me deeper into comics.

These moments of popular culture can form or at least influence us, propel us in interesting directions or even create an outward appearance that we are part of a particular group or knowledgeable about a certain arena of popular culture (hence why I get to teach courses on monsters and comics).


What about you and your moments of pop culture?  What events have you witnessed that left an impact on you and how?  In answering look for moments that others haven’t talked about as well as choose moments that you actually had a stake in—don’t’ just name them to name them.  What moments have moved you?  A series ending?  A particular sporting event?  Your generational equivalent to Woodstock (if such could actually be realized)?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview With Cartoonist Genius: Larry Gonick

To some, Larry Gonick is a cartoon genius in all senses of the phrase; for others, he's more like a cartoon madman.  In 2009, Gonick published his fifth volume in the Cartoon History series, thereby spending some 1400+ pages depicting the history of humanity in comics.  He has been kind enough to grant me an interview for this blog.  

Picture of Larry GonickLANCE EATON:  You spent some 30+ years composing the Cartoon History series?  How does it feel to be “done” with it?  Are you done with it?

LARRY GONICK:  Yes, I'm done with it. When I finished, I felt great! Proud! Master-of-the-Universe Powerful! Then a few months went by, and I began to feel as if the organizing principle of my life had disappeared. Vacuum at the center. I kept asking myself, "if this was a lifetime project, is my life over?" Then those feelings faded. Now I just get up in the morning and go to work. I still do feel happy to have finished what I started, though.

EATON:  What were the most challenges elements of composing the Cartoon History series?   What sections/chapters/events might you re-evaluate or re-do if given the chance?

GONICK:  You ask short questions with long answers! Right now the most important revision would be to the human evolution section, Book 1, Volume 2. So much more is known now than when I wrote it, especially the details (gathered from DNA evidence) about the earliest migrations of homo sapiens out of Africa.

Another issue, and would be an expansion, not a re-do, is to explore more fully the "peripheral" regions of the world. Sweden, Korea, etc. When the Korean translation came out, every email I had from Korean readers complained about the lack of Korean history. At first I tried to explain that my idea of world history didn't mean the history of everywhere in the world, but rather a large story that was mainly about interactions, and peripheral places didn't have as many interactions. Since no one seemed receptive to hearing this, I quit bothering.

As it is, I could have and should have added more in the very last installment about several places, which are now more thoroughly integrated into a globalized world.

Another one would be to re-ink Book 1, Vol 7, with a brush, rather than a pen. All the rest of the series was done w/ a brush.

EATON:    What kind of issues around production/publishing in terms of content/censorship, book-length, and other behind the scene concerns did you run up against?

GONICK:  None. The length and structure were self-imposed. I wanted the discipline to make sure I finished. As I say, I could have used about 35-50 more pages in Modern World Part 2.

   What are your own critiques of your work? Book cover to The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 2 by Larry Gonick

GONICK:  By and large, I like the writing better than the drawing. Just putting together all the information was so time-consuming that I always felt I didn't have as much time for the art as I would have liked. This problem felt less acute as I went on, especially in the last two books, when I had established something like a regular "visual vocabulary" on which I could draw, but I felt it acutely in the first two—except for the dinosaurs, which I drew lovingly. I think I've always liked dinosaurs better than people. Is that a critique?

EATON:  Besides the dinosaurs (and finishing), what did you find most rewarding about doing the Cartoon History series?

GONICK:  They stay in print!!!!!

EATON:    One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about your books is that they had a good blending of historical theory, criticism of the history discipline, and humor to produce a series of books that don’t just provide a straightforward history provide a meaningful approach to thinking and learning about history.  Can you speak to this at all?

GONICK:  As Ike Turner once said (in "It's Gonna Work Out Fine"), That was my plan from the very beginning. Voiceover a fairly straightforward narrative. Commentary from people "on the ground." A certain amount of historiography (i.e., poking fun at historians), mostly in the footnotes.

The footnotes, by the way, are the main vehicle for explicit commentary in the authorial voice. The idea came to me from a book my father picked up from a used bookstall in San Francisco when I was in high school. The book, called "Almanac for 39ers," was a well-produced guidebook/calendar for the 1939 World's Fair. It had historical items listed day by day, but also included independent footnotes on various topics, and these were fun.

I first used footnotes in a Sunday comic strip, coincidentally titled "Yankee Almanack," a history of colonial Massachusetts I did for the Boston Globe. As you probably know, Sunday strips have to have a flexible format, with some independent panels that can be discarded to convert a half-page to a one-third-page. There's a standard way to do this, but it didn't work for me; the footnotes, though, had the same effect.

EATON:    What have you found most surprisingly about the reception of your comic guides and A Cartoon History of the Universe/Modern World series the most?

GONICK:  Surprising? I don't know... For some reason, I have a big following in Indonesia. That's a puzzle. Otherwise... frankly... I've always wondered a little why the series doesn't sell about 10 times what it has, but at least it all stays in print, so I can't complain.

EATON:    What kind of discussions have you had with historians about your work?

GONICK:  Almost none at all, strangely enough. Sometimes I wonder if historians don't take their subject too seriously. I've had far more interaction with scientists.

EATON:    In talking of the series popularity, what was your reaction when you discovered it being used on college campuses?

GONICK:  Relief that professors and students were "getting it." The main thing, from my point of view, about classroom use is that I know that the stuff works. I operate pretty much in isolation, writing the comics to suit myself. The fact that teachers actually find them useful is extremely gratifying. It also absolves me from any whiff of the implication that these are some kind of Cliff's Notes, easy summaries. I like to think there's enough originality, effective story-telling, and interpretation to make the Cartoon Histories stand on their own.

EATON:    Is there a “Comic Guide” that you wouldn’t write but would like to see out there?

GONICK:  That I *wouldn't* write? I hope to write the ones that I would like to see out there!

EATON:    Do you feel the field of nonfiction/informational comics has changed since you first started?  If so, how?

GONICK:  Now it exists. Before, it was pretty much confined to "industrials." At least in the United States. The pioneer non-fiction humorist/cartoonist was Rius in Mexico. I started after seeing his work.

EATON:    Can we expect an “omnibus edition” Cartoon History of the Universe with all 1450 or so pages?

GONICK:  Probably not, at least not soon. There have been three different publishers, for complicated reason, so we'd have to find someone willing to do a three-way or four-way negotiation to make it happen.

   So you’ve covered the history of the world, what’s your next project?  Comic or otherwise?

I'm finishing up The Cartoon Guide to Calculus. After that, I hope to do at least one more math book. There's a novel percolating in the back of my brain. And (hint, hint) if there's anyone out there who wants to animate the Cartoon History of the Universe, LET'S TALK!

For more information and updates on Larry Gonick, check out his website!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Overinflated Claim: Now Is The Beginning of Widespread Hyper-LinkedInterconnected Traceable History…P.S. Thanks F.B.!

Facebook, for all our praise, fears, neurosis, and hookups that we can attribute to it, continues to be a compelling intersection of culture, identity, technology, and history.  On my mind today is one of the latest features that Facebook unloaded:  A history of your account activity.  I found out about it when listening on the radio and the crux of the discussion was “fear Facebook, they now allow you access to your entire history.”  Nothing like old media trying to scare us from new media; next they’ll be telling us it’s bad for our eyes and will lead to juvenile delinquency…ooops, they already do.  

Upon hearing about this new feature, I went to Facebook and checked it out.  Under account settings, there is now an option “Download your information.”  Clicking through allows to make the choice to keep your history and download it.  I went forward and selected to download it.  However, since it can take some time to accumulate, you don’t download it from Facebook, but through a link sent to your email.  So, forth I went and downloaded the file, which was 300 megabytes (not a light load by any means).  It’s broken down into pages such as messages, friends, notes, wall, etc along with folders with photos and videos.  It’s all really fascinating, though with material going as far back at 2006.  

The Floodgates of Copying

But this has me reflecting again on the nature of preservation and records in the digital age.  While certainly so much can be wiped out very easily, there are also many more copies available.  Before the printing press, if a person destroyed a book, that may be the only copy of that book around and thus, the knowledge the book contained could be lost.  This is the case in the burnings of the Library of Alexandria.  In the mechanized age of the 19th and 20th century, destroying books did not have nearly as caustic repercussions (though, we have inevitably lost some books; not many by contrast).  But in the digital age, where bits are easily replicable instantaneously (simple copy & paste), much throughout the Internet can be (and is being) preserve.  The most classic example is The Way Back Machine at the Internet Archive where you can few what websites looked like for each year they have been in existence (and sometimes, you can see month to month or day to day changes).  

What is intriguing about Facebook is not just that it contains a person’s history, usage of the site and other information, but from a historical perspective, if gives us much more.  After all, Facebook isn’t just one person writing/posting for his or her own pleasure.  Instead, it’s an intricate web of connections and back and forth discussion among a range of people—entire conversations occur on people’s “wall” in their absence.  As I’ve said before, a “Facebook profile” has a mixed authorship between the company, Facebook, the person whose profile it is, and the person’s friends; they all come together on the profile to make it what it is.  And now, that can be seen in the large scope of things.

This has the potential to pack a powerful amount of tracking/exploring of how social networks and interactions develop, work, and evolve.  In tracking this, it not only allows us to better understand the sociological and psychological elements but also to actually have a (albeit limited) accounting of a person’s life.  After all, for active users, Facebook is essentially an interactive journal revealing a variety of things about their choices, preferences, actions, interests, etc that might not generally come out in any kind of standard record keeping.  From “Likes” to “Fans” to “Tags” to all the other kind of information provided about each person, it allows for a plethora of things to research.  

But most importantly in this possibility is that access to a large group of people (non-elite, in particular) with this range of information is unprecedented and extremely useful.  Gathering this kind of information has usually required soliciting individuals in expensive/expansive research projects.  But imagine if at some point, Facebook made this information accessible to sociologists, anthropologists, and historians (among other researchers).  It could generate a great deal of research.  (Granted, this also scares the bejeepus out of us because it implies our personal information would be out there.  However, that could simply be fixed by replacing names with numbers to avoid individual divulgence; or have a rule of name reveals could not happen until 10 years after a person’s death or some other means of keeping individual anonymity).  

The floodwaters of social dynamics (or social dynamics in an online environment) could give significant insight into understanding humanity as well as potential ideas about the past or how the individual experiences and discusses historical events (take your pick of events in the last 6 years).  


What is some of the information that could be weaned from one’s profile that could be used for the historical record?  

What specific ways could the profile history give insight into larger cultural/historical events?  

How much can we rely on what is being said as “truth”?  Definitely, people lie (and they have lied throughout history) but are there things that we can consider more reliable as truthful than others (that is, just like with primary sources, there are some things that we feel are more reliable/dependable to believe than others; so what are those more believable things in a Facebook profile)?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spreading the Word: Intolerance?

This article sparks some rather interesting albeit for many challenging issues.  At its center is a study that finds devout religious people to be more likely to have more prejudice views of different minorities.  Some of the explanation stems from the fact that as a group such as monotheistic believers fixates on their religion/superior being as the sole one, they often slip into a dualistic mentality of followers and nonbelievers, with the nonbelievers inferior or wrong.  The article goes into a great more detail and is worth checking out.

Articles like these can be hard to digest, process, or accept.  Some may read it and feel that “well, I’m religious and that’s not me, so it must be wrong.”  But it’s not quite that simple.  So often when we read something that paints something we highly regard in a negative light, we are instantly resistant.  Our barriers are quickly drawn up and quite hard to pull down.  To that, I would say, that some of that might actually also have relevance to what the article is trying to get at with regards to challenging our fundamental or traditional beliefs as well.

Though it’s easy to either blindly accept or reject what the article has to say about some kind of pre-programmed bias, I think it’s more useful to step back and ask several different questions about what inherent biases you might be operating under or influenced by.

Do I do that?  And this might be the hardest one of all since it requires a degree of reflection, self-awareness, and honesty that many of us have trouble attaining or maintaining.  If you answer is an immediate and resolute “no” without thinking, reflecting, or running over in your head the various times you’ve had negative encounters with any person of any type, I think you might be not really digging as deep as such a question asks.  Getting outside our heads is an impossible task, but also a good exercise to better understand one another.  In this case, looking at how you act towards not just specific minorities, but particular social situations; such as the waitress who is slow with your order or gets it wrong, or the person at the coffee shop getting you the latest fashionable coffee drink, or the person doing your nails, or the person in the beat-down car in front of you, not moving as fast as you’d like them.  We often say these are situational circumstances that tick and tweak our negative response, but how much quicker are you to be triggered when the person doing it is part of some “Other” group to which you don’t identify, know about, or feel hostile to?

Another question to ask is what the culture at large (or my particular sub-culture) has to say about something.  In this case, I’ve included the two videos below.  One is of Pat Robertson blaming the major earthquake that struck Haiti in winter of 2010 on Haitians making a pact with the Devil and suffering the consequences.  The other is Jerry Falwell and Robertson again, discussing the destruction on September 11, 2001 to be the fault of feminists, gays, and other people of “alternative lifestyles.”  In both, the rhetoric of the minority as being dubious and troubling is pretty loud.  Both illustrate in some way; how cultures shape and influence, direct us to “right” and “wrong” answers.

It’s also useful to try to make analogies or comparisons with other situations of that may not always be equal in comparison, but help you to frame where your biases fit.  I often step back from any situation where I feel that a person is not doing the “right thing” and ask myself, if I am sure that I’m angry/frustrated/annoyed at the proper thing.  So let’s take the case of the coffee.  If I’ve gone into a store and ordered it.  If the order is taking a long time; and I get annoyed, I may find myself feeling negative toward the server.  But I step back and ask, am I always angry waiting this long?  Is it because of how I’m interpreting his actions?  Do I feel that she isn’t being nice enough (and yes, I intentionally switch the gender-pronouns to show what else might be having an effect in the situation)?  Is it because I’m tired?  Running late?  If I’m running late, then I’m much more aware and conscious of time, than this person may be and their lack of expedient delivery of my coffee might not be a slight towards me, but it can be hard not to think of it as.

All of this brings us back to the problematic “Other”  (Problematic in the sense that we find problem with the “Other”—not that the “Other” is inherently problematic of its own accord).    The one who is not me and whom I have trouble identifying and connecting with.  Within history, these differences have been the source of anger, resentment, violence, destruction, but we still are challenged by and fearful of outsiders of many different sorts.  The general answer to why there’s such problems around the “Other is just that we fear strangers, but I think articles like this help us to better understand why and how we fear others.  


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Moral Quandaries...from Outer Space

Poster for film, District 9 by Neill Blomkamp

This post from the NY Times posits some interesting (albeit not entirely new) ideas on the concept of human and potential-alien encounters.  The author, Robert Wright is drawing upon a quote of Stephen Hawking, the work of Peter Singer, and his own (which he promotes just below "too much" but it did evoke a scene from "The Critic" for me).  The discussion also seems to come in a year following two rather influential and powerful films impressed audiences throughout the world.  The first is District 9, directed by Neil Blomkamp.  Though the film was not as widespread, it was certainly well-received (made over $100 million) and had a compelling and intriguing premise about the types of aliens we might expect to encounter when they come here.  By contrast, there was Avatar, which of course, became the highest grossing film ever (until another film beats it…probably by James Cameron…probably in about 10 years).  Again, here we see an interaction between human and sentient alien life and the troubles of humans to be something other than what they’ve tended to be (though the disregard of non-sentient life in this film is also telling).

One element of the discussion is the debate about history:  Have we actually learned from it?  What are we to expect in the future when we encounter alien life or alien life encounters us?

What constitutes alien life?

If we encounter alien life, the first question that will challenge many of us is "what constitutes alien life?"  We may say that it seems obvious but for many, "alien life" will not mean much if it's single-celled organisms.  Many would not blink in acknowledging or bothering with deeper ponderings about these life-forms.  After all, the majority of us don't recognize them here, unless they're in our way.  The underlying assumption about "alien life" is that it's sentient.  Although even then, we would do well to consider in some ways the Prime Directive from Star Trek.  Although in this case, I don't mean it in regards to prevent sharing of technology but rather, to prevent interfering with their natural evolutionary growth.

Image from film, AvatarActually, I take that back.  That's a question that I don't even know how to come at it.  Do we interfere with any life that we can't actually communicate?  What gives us the right?  What's our larger goal in this?

Like Wright, this may sound like one big mind game, but it may someday have sincere consequences and speak to the kind of "Earthling" we will potentially be as we explore the universe.

This question of what will life look like comes to me from two different angles.  The first is insightful and challenging documentary, Earthlings where its opening sequence explains, that though humans assume (and so much of science fiction proves me right here) that "Earthlings" refers to humans; it actually refers to all life forms from Earth; and that's a lot of life forms.  Who will the aliens choose to engage with, should they come here first?  That also reminds me of the moment in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn when Ishmael points out that the first primordial creature to crawl out of the water, probably thought of himself as the big-cheese (or big fish?) because he was at the height of the evolutionary chain and in hindsight; he's not.  That is, as the current self-proclaimed head of the herd, we too think certain things are self-evident--like humans will be the species aliens choose to contact.  We base that on "civilization"; our ability to alter the physical earth to suit our needs.

But what if the aliens have other criteria?  What if they are looking for the most populous?  Then they might consider ants, plankton or beetles.  As JBS Haldane once quipped, “The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other…”  Or maybe, the aliens will look to plankton.  These are all what we consider lower-intelligent creatures but we presume that
1.  Aliens are looking for intelligence.
2.  That humans are intelligent in the ways that are important to aliens.
3. That the interaction/contact is how we perceive interactions on a human level; they might different significantly).

There’s lot of concern around how humans will act; regardless of the alien life we encounter.  On an individual level, we look at one another and hold one’s history as a means of understanding their present and future.  We are obsessed with each other’s history.  Whether it’s a job history when applying for a new job, your relationship history explained to a new partner, or a criminal history when it comes time to sentencing, we look at a person’s past as a barometer for future interactions.   So when it comes time to weigh in on the chances of positive human encounters with other life, we have to consider how the dominant human cultures have encountered other human cultures and even nonhuman cultures.  After all, if the alien species doesn’t have a recognizable face (meaning something we can register and process as a face), we’re apt to have trouble with accepting it on some level since our facial-recognition mechanisms are part of what allows for empathy.

Why do I say “dominant human cultures” instead of just human cultures?  It tends to reason that the dominant human cultures at a given time may also be the more likely to be sending forth people to other parts of the universe (although even then “dominant” might need some tweaking since it implies an all-arena dominance whereas we’re recognizing some countries/cultures dominate in certain ways: militarily, religiously/spiritually, scientifically, financially, etc.  There’s often overlap, but it doesn’t always mean one has dominance in all ways.

It’s a curious idea for sure; not expecting to have answers, just more questions.


For history students; what are some examples of more positive first encounters between different human cultures?  What about positive encounters between human/nonhuman species?

In what concrete ways have we learned from the past that might help us in positive future relationships with alien species (sentient or not)?

For my popular culture and monster students, what sense do you make out of all the alien-human movies, comics, books that have come forth in the last century?  How do you think they engage/help us with dealing with the potential encountering of alien life?  Do they help and in what possible ways?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Enlightened Evil...Definitely Maybe

6 Enlightened Ideas Brought to You by Evil Empires is an interesting entry from  It reveals as the title indicates compelling ideas that we generally appreciate in the modern world from some rather unlikely sources.  Thus from Nazis we get anti-smoking campaigns, childhood education from the Aztecs, egalitarian society from the Mongols and the Soviets, cultural diversity from the Akkadians, and essential elements of modern government from the Persians.  

But one paragraph I think is particular striking here:  " We put this on the list at great risk to our future political careers. You really can't say anything good about the Nazis without it getting taken out of context in a campaign ad, and obviously pointing out that, say, Hitler's soldiers were well-groomed doesn't excuse their many, many, many atrocities.”

Indeed, it’s quite hard to say positive things about a people whom we use as our epitome of “evil.”  You quickly draw the comparison of being a “Nazi” yourself.  However, I think the core of the site’s post is clearly revoking this idea.  To avoid any doubt, let me first say.  Yes, the Nazis and other groups talked about committed horrible acts.  I’m not refuting that in the least.  

Yet, that’s not the point of the post.  Reducing any of those groups into a strict category of “evil” misses what the post has to offer or rather exposes the issue that humans tend to categorize everything into “good” (could also be read in evolutionary terms as “nonthreat”) and “evil” (“threat”).  The Nazis are a great example.  In hindsight, we see them as evil.  In fact, they are the monsters we tout out every so often for our different stories whether it’s Indiana Jones fighting them, Edward Norton aspiring to be one of them, or Nazi Zombies (the movie Dead Snow  and also present in mini-games in the Call of Duty video game series).  

Monstrosity Over Humanity

In doing so, we’ve emphasized their monstrosity and ignore their humanity.  We think of them as a class of monsters that did horrific acts that invalidate their humanity.  When we discuss the Holocaust and other events surrounding World War II, in common talk, we say “Nazis.”  Not Germans; Nazis.  And yet, they didn’t rise up out of nowhere and become a force for the world to reckon with.  They were first humans and gained support from the people they ruled over.  That is, their message (scary as it is to believe) spoke to the people.  And ordinary people were needed to ultimately run the smokestacks of Auschwitz.  Some books have looked at and considered this at some length including Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning and Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.

People—not inhuman monsters known as Nazis—were committed to the cause and that’s hard to swallow for many because if “ordinary men” can commit these acts and people consider themselves “ordinary” that means those people are not too far removed from these same evil acts.  Of course, there is truth to this; after all, the Holocaust was supposed to be the last genocide, yet the 20th and now 21st century is speckled with additional genocides.  

But we’re not comfortable equating ourselves with such evil (I already have enough trouble looking at my face in the mirror-hahaha); thus we think of them as a separate category and have trouble finding anything about them redeeming (for it will just remind us of their and our common humanity).  Thus this post reminds gets to the heart of the issue in that, we cannot completely remove all human elements from such groups that we have seen as inhuman.  While it is easier to see Nazi Germany or the Mongol Empire as completely evil, it denies the complex course of events that allowed them to become the power they did or what the ways in which they may have influenced us (beyond serving as a negative role model for much of history).


What are some other examples of deriving positive results from what are seen as negative/evil/malicious groups/societies/civilizations?

Do we have examples of civilizations/groups that were once considered "evil" and now are considered less so (or even "good")?  Or the reverse (civilizations that were considered "good" and now considered either "less good" or "bad/evil"?)?  

What does it mean anyways when we discuss groups/societies/people/cultures/nations in such terms as "good" and "evil"?  What kind of context are we talking about?  Should we be suspect of such contexts?

The Complex Gooey Muck We Call Culture

Michael Kimmelman offers some rather interesting insights into the every elusive and shape-shifting idea of culture.    Of course, the definition of “culture” is 

the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation.” (Taken from
Merriam Webster).

And Wikipedia has a rather lengthy entry on the subject as well.  

What I find interesting with Kimmelman is that he starts off discussing France and moves into the larger landscape of culture and globalization’s role in cultural development but also emphasizes the fluidity/flexibility of culture.  He’s quick to point out (rightly so) that just because certain cultural products are appropriated by others, it’s wrong to assume they mean the same thing.  

This can be seen in many different places and one of the most curious is the case of 3 Dev Adam, a Turkish film from the 1970s.   The plot is standard melodramatic fare, but the characters are appropriated from US and Mexican culture (Captain America, Spider-Man, and Santo).   With Spider-Man cast as the villain, the creators have taken some other piece of popular culture and reoriented it to their liking which would seems to be standard fare within global cultural exchange.  After all, cultural food appropriation has been a main habit of humans as soon as one culture encountered another.  One of their first questions when encountering a new group most likely being, “What have you got to eat?”

With 3 Dev Adam, the fact that they’ve recreated Spiderman and decided to toss in Santo can seem strange to us; 30+ years removed and also, having no basis for associating the two Marvel superheroes and the wrestler (who happened to be a real living person as opposed to the two fictional characters).  But that matters little at least in Turkey in the 1970s where the film was made.   

Equally, intriguing are the series of videos on YouTube featuring a re-dubbed Hitler speech from a film (from what I gathered, it was taken from Der Untergang (2004) ).  Here, too, is something that is mixed and matched with regards to global culture.  The title and the visual cues tell us it’s Hitler at an important meeting during World War II.   As a German film, it’s not immediately accessible to most English-speaking people (and in particular, Americans).  It’s only with the use of subtitles (thereby manipulating the film in some way—adding to it) that it can more clearly communicate its message.  But these films decide to play with the added material.  Indeed, the video is spliced in numerous ways, often using the same clip but adding different subtitles.  In this one, Hitler is devastated about not being cast as The Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight but others deal with just as outlandish topics.  Again, people are using cultural products in rather compelling and inventive ways. 

The key here is to realize that this is not new.  For as long as cultures have interacted, they have adapted, appropriated, and re-constructed the cultural products and practices of others.


What are some other modern ways and examples of cultural appropriation and reinvention taking place?

What are some past examples of cultures, societies, groups, etc using the ideas of another to further their own?

What do these incidents (past and present) suggest about our larger conception of “culture,” particularly with regard to the above definition?