Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Friday, Jul 13, 2012
From a tough little rodent fighting bandits and corrupt politicians to the tale of a rich, greedy old duck, these classic comics characters ring true in these times.

July brings the latest volumes in Fantagraphics’ project to present the definitive catalogue of the two greatest ouevres in Disney comics: Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strips and Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comic books.


Volume 3 of Mickey’s adventures chronicles 1934 and 1935, an era of increasing maturity and responsibility for the scrappy adventure-loving mouse as he deals with Wild West banditry and then comes home to run a newspaper that exposes racketeering and corruption at City Hall. After crusading for justice at home, he does his patriotic duty as a special agent inside a Nautilus-like submarine captained by a thinly-veiled Nazi villain several years before the war.


There’s still no explanation for how some animals are “humans” while others are just animals, like how Mickey can ride a horse in the West and then come home to be greeted by his pal Horace Horsecollar. Or the eternal quandary of why Pluto is a pet while Dippy Dawg (later Goofy) is a chum. Some mysteries won’t be resolved on this plane.


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Monday, May 14, 2012
For a decade and a half, Steve Hughes has published Stupor, a zine that chronicles life in the age of diminished expectations. The newest issue was done in collaboration with international art star (and Björk main squeeze) Matthew Barney.

Quite often when I read mainstream American social science, especially of the “quantoid” variety, I’m reminded of much I appreciate literature. While acknowledging the importance of objective data collection and analysis in distinguishing social facts from all-too-fallible everyday perceptions, I also can’t help thinking that deeper, perhaps more significant meaning goes missing in the process.


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Thursday, Apr 5, 2012
When did pink become the de facto girls’ color, anyway?

Anyone who has friends or family members with young girls has surely heard the lament—“she’ll only wear pink”. Well, the thing is, from tutus to leggings to skirts, there is only really pink garb for her to choose from at the store. Is the little girl or the clothes manufacturer the chicken or the egg? And when did pink become the de facto girls’ color anyway?


The topic may seem most appropriate for a fluff piece on Today. But Jo B. Paoletti is an academic, and Pink and Blue is meticulously researched, with references to paper dolls, old retail catalogs and the arcane field of material culture studies. Her findings are fascinating, even if her prose can be repetitive.


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Thursday, Mar 8, 2012
John Updike the East Coast moral aesthete and Raymond Carver the West Coast drunken Everyman had more in common than met the eye.

“There were always books in one’s home back then,” the ripened, white-haired literary lion said, reflecting on his youth in the 1930s from the stage of the Writers Guild (WGA) Theater in Beverly Hills in the summer of 2006. “And there were magazines with words, not just pictures like today.”


John Updike’s appearance at the WGA Theater that evening came in the waning days of an exhaustive and expansive global tour to support and promote his (then) new novel, Terrorist, an underestimated contribution to the catalogue of 9/11 Literature.


The author, whose 1961 novel Rabbit, Run was featured in Time magazine’s All Time 100 Greatest Novels (published 2005), presented a weary and reflective visage when he settled his long, angular frame into a chair on the stage next to the host and moderator of the Q&A session, L.A. novelist and fellow social satirist, Bruce Wagner (The Chrysanthemum Palace, Still Holding).


As my eyes scanned the dimly-lit cavern of the theater, I mentioned to my host for the evening, novelist Diana Wagman, that the median age of the attendees appeared to be forty to fifty years, and quite a few of Updike’s peers in age were present as well. It was also, I remarked, patently absurd that a septuagenarian author of his standing and distinction (more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, and essays under his belt) in such obviously fragile health should be compelled to trot about the globe, hawking his book as if his name was an unknown, untested, commodity.


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Thursday, Jun 23, 2011
Mark Kurlansky’s curious, sliver-like investigation asks, What’s more important, the question or the answer?

For an author who has arguably made much of his career out of answering queries that you didn’t know you wanted answers to (how important was salt to the development of human civilization?), Mark Kurlansky has some nerve positing an entire book as one long inquiry. Granted, What? isn’t exactly a tome, at 96 pages it’s the nonfiction equivalent of a novella – the tomette. As macro in focus as his earlier works of nonfiction were monuments of specificity, What? is pleasurable and gamelike, toying with the reader right from the subtitle: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History – Or Is This a Game of 20 Questions? It doesn’t give anything away to say that question’s not answered.


In 20 short chapters, each focused around a specific interrogative, Kurlansky goes from the obvious journalistic big ones (“How?” “Why?” “What?”) to formulations that appear dashed off at first blush (“What Do We Hate About Children?” “Brooklyn?”) but on further reflection seem more thoughtful, if only slightly – and the answers to those last two, by the way, are: they ask endless questions, and Walt Whitman’s fundamental curiousity.


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