Category Archives: Culture

In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

In 6th grade wood shop class, my main project was making a Playboy bunny logo.  I carved the wood, torched the grain, added finish, and then mounted it on a piece of peg board I had cut and painted red.

Neither my fellow students nor our shop teacher thought there was anything odd about this.  In fact, my teacher had given me the template to cut the the iconic bunny head.  He had dozens to choose from, and I, like many of his students before me no doubt, had picked that one.

There were no girls in junior high wood shop class.

Like many boys of the 1970s, my childhood was punctuated by various pornographic discoveries.  Pornography was more prevalent than ever before, but in an era before VCRS, it was still largely hidden away in XXX movie theaters, or stashed on the top shelf of your dad’s bedroom closet.  For a boy, it was tantalizingly close, yet still far away, like some ancient Greek punishment that mocks you with with unattainable temptation.  But unlike the doomed souls of Hades, for us there was a way.

In a scene repeated countless times around the nation, my initiation into the world of sexualized, naked women came via the dirty magazine an older boy dug up from underneath a large rock behind our apartment building in the Bronx.  I was about 8 years old, maybe younger, and I stared in wonderment at those women’s nude bodies.

In the years that followed, similar occasions led me to cross paths with well worn, second tier nudey mags like Cheri, Oui, and Jugs.  It’s something that stays with you. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

Generational analysis, when done poorly, is half-a-notch above astrology: All the people born at this time are like this!

Of course there’s plenty of good generational research and analysis by demographers and other social scientists.  However, most people don’t delve into that stuff.  Most people simply absorb generational analysis from popular culture.  That’s unfortunate, because you can often get more penetrating insights from a Chinese restaurant paper place mat.

Worse yet, a lot of pop culture generational analysis is passively racist and classist.  You know who we’re really talking about when we say “Baby Boomers,” right? It’s hardly every American born between 1946-1964.  Black people? Latinos? Most immigrants? The deeply impoverished? Pushaw.  For the most part, we’re just talking about the white MCAU (middle class and up), and whoever can pass through their circles.  And we’re not even talking about them smartly.  By and large, we just rehash dumb stereotypes.  This generation sacrificed.  That generation navel gazed.  Bla bla bla.

For example, when I Googled “Baby Boomers are,” the auto complete came up:
selfish
the biggest
entitled

When I Googled “Millennials are,” the auto complete came up:
lazy
the worst
screwed

Indeed, pop culture generational analysis is often so shallow, haphazard, and/or commercialized, that it typically only blathers about every other generation.  There’s an accordion discourse, which fixates on alternating generations (Greatest, Boomers, Millennials) while largely ignoring the generations between them (Silent, X, Z).  As a result, Baby Boomers dominated popular discourse for a long time.

However, Baby Boomers have recently been knocked off their demographic perch.  There are now more Millennials than boomers in the U.S. population, and these relative youngens are increasingly the subject of America’s generational fascination.  As such, they catch a lot of flak, much of it head smackingly stupid.  I recently came across a stunning example of this vapid chatter while drinking a blueberry beer in a Lake Placid, NY tavern.

Yes, that Lake Placid, two-time Winter Olympic town and scene of the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  And yes, blueberry beer.  It was actually quite good, thank you very much, Judgy McJudgerson. Continue reading Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

Singing the Praises of James Bond

Roger Moore died last week at the age of 89.  He is the first important Bond to pass (sorry David Niven!), so predictably heated arguments ensued: Where does Moore rank in the canon of Bond actors?

It was a boring debate.  Moore was the worst, plain and simple.  He helped drive the franchise into a ditch of silly gadgets and bad puns.  Revisionists now praising Moore celebrate the supposed “camp” of his films are badly misguided.  They weren’t camp.

John Waters films are camp.  The Avengers and Charlie’s Angels are camp.  Drag queen lip sync cabaret is camp.  Roger Moore’s James Bond movies were just bad.

Moore’s first turn as Bond (Live and Let Die, 1973) was actually quite good.  That’s because he was still cowed by the towering shadow of Sean Connery, so he played it straight.  But director Guy Hamilton (who also pushed the franchise in the wrong direction) soon told Moore to stop imitating Connery and just be himself.  It sounds like the kind of genuine, supportive advice you should give any artist.  Except that Moore being himself, as it turned out, was little more than a dandy in a tux.  By his second film (Man with the Golden Gun, 1974) pubescent girls were “upstaging” him in a karate scene.  Har Har.  It wasn’t camp.  It was failed comedy, 1970s-style.  At that point Burt Reynolds could’ve been playing the role.

Part of the problem also stemmed from Moore’s age; he was simply too old for the part during most of his career.  Connery debuted as Bond at age 31.  Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die premiered.  From Moonraker (1979) on, his fight scenes were laughable and his love scenes with women half his age or less were creepy.  Bond the charming dilettante.  Bond the well groomed pensioner.  Bond as a candidate for late life romance on The Love Boat.

Jesus, maybe it was camp.

Nevertheless, when my favorite film critic, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, exalts Moore as the best James Bond on the grounds of camp and pshaws Millennials for not getting it, I just can’t go along.  I’m a Gen Xer like Scott, and I do enjoy camp, but this smells of defending the crap of our youth with rationalized nostalgia.  Waters wants to be camp.  Charlie’s Angels has to be camp.  But Bond movies can actually be good without being campy.

Anyway, instead of prattling on about who the best (or worst) Bond was, I’d rather tackle something a bit tastier: The Top 10 James Bond movie theme songs.  Drum roll please . . . Continue reading Singing the Praises of James Bond

My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

C-SPAN has a series of televised lectures on American history by college professors.  A colleague was kind enough to recommend me to them.  C-SPAN then asked for a list of potential lecture topics.  I submitted the list, and to my surprise, they asked to film my lecture on Victorian culture in America.   The producer said they she selected this lecture because it’s a bit different from the usual topics they get on the Revolution, the Civil War, and such.

I wrote this lecture a few years ago for the freshman introduction course on U.S. History since the Civil War.  The topic is pretty far from my research area, and nothing I actually specialize in, but I included it on the list because it’s gone over well in the past.  Maybe because it includes a discussion of sex.

So for those of you who have ever wondered just how boring it would be to sit and listen to me ramble on about history for an hour, here’s your chance.  Highlights include photos of dazzling Victorian fashions for men and women, some botched spelling and word history, and a nice cutaway shot of a student yawning.

The lecture was filmed on February 23, 2017 at Towson University.  It originally aired on C-SPAN 3 at 8pm, and then again at midnight opposite Saturday Night Live.  I haven’t checked the ratings, but I’m pretty sure I crushed them.

C-SPAN Lectures in History: Akim Reinhardt on Victorian Culture Continue reading My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

*

Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism

How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Marty Two Bulls cartoon
cartoon by Marty Two Bulls

Did I ever tell you about the four years I spent in prison back in the late 1990s?

Well, actually, it was just two hours on Thursday afternoons as a volunteer with the Native men’s group at Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I could gussy up the experience and say I was teaching inmates.  But mostly I was just hanging out.  Many prisoners, particularly those who’ve been in a while, are starved for new faces and happy to get some fresh conversation.

Sometimes I’d talk to people about serious issues.  Other times we’d just shoot the breeze.  One day while inside, I was talking to a guy.  Nothing serious.  I don’t even remember about what.  He asked something of me.  I said, “You got it, chief.”

Now here’s the thing.  Growing up in New York City, “chief” was (and still is) in the same class of words as “boss” and “buddy.”  They’re all informal monikers one man might casually give another if you don’t actually know each other’s names, or as a temporary nickname even when you do.  It’s a sign of modest respect and affection in the moment.  In a typical New York City context, they’re all completely harmless words and have zero racial connotation.

But the moment “chief” slipped out of my mouth in prison, I immediately remembered that of course this particular word has a very heavy connotation for Native people, particularly men.

His entire demeanor changed in a heartbeat.  We’d been happy, joshing around.  Now he stared right through me.

“Don’t you ever call me that again,” he said quietly, anger flashing in his eyes. Continue reading How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Notes Upon Seeing The Princess Bride for the First Time

photo from BuzzfeedI’m not sure why I never saw The Princess Bride before.  It came out in 1987, when I was a college student.  I saw lots of movies back then, both on the big screen and whirring through the VCR, but not that one.  And then over the years, it just slipped through the cracks.

I’d always heard good things about it.  I remember once my father sitting on the couch watching it on TV with my younger sister.  He raved about it and she was enraptured, but I was on my way out to carouse with friends.

Now and then people would quote lines from it; sometimes I was able to figure out the source, other times I had no idea.  Slowly it seeped into the edges of my consciousness without me even realizing it.

And then the other night, my girlfriend suggested we watch it.  So we did.

It is, of course, a minor masterpiece, easily living up to the hype.

Here are some random thoughts on what it is like at the age of 48 to see The Princess Bride for the first time, nearly 30 years after its theatrical release. Continue reading Notes Upon Seeing The Princess Bride for the First Time

Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey Filtered through Cold War Culture, or; Why Nobody Really Cares About that Guy from the Eagles

princeDavid Bowie was a white Englishman.  Prince was a black American.  Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords and melody of rock-n-roll.  Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements funk and R&B.

Prince’s and Bowie’s careers did overlap to a degree.  Their biggest selling albums, Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Prince’s Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other.  But of course Let’s Dance was Bowie’s capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince’s career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come.  So despite the kissin’ cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade.  That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.

Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning.  In particular, many people confess how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years.  And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie’s and Prince’s music, but especially from their artistic personae.

In between Bowie’s and Prince’s passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.

I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.

Why?  I suspect the answer is the Cold War.

Cold War Culture in the United States (roughly the second half of the 20th century) was marked by a rigid sense of right and wrong, an overwhelming pressure to conform, and vitriolic and at times even violent condemnations of outliers.

It was not an easy time to be an LGBT person.  Or a leftist.  Or a nerd or a geek.  Or not from here.  Or anyone who did not easily mesh with the dominant social and cultural norms.  It was an era when being different often meant being ostracized and isolated. Continue reading Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey Filtered through Cold War Culture, or; Why Nobody Really Cares About that Guy from the Eagles

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.

Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”