Archive for April, 2014

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve always been intrigued by the complexities of romantic love and relationships, so much so that my graduate thesis comprised an analysis of the representations of marriage in 19th century novels written by women. Research is one thing, dating is quite another.

Popular culture provides a bit more clarity. A favorite line of women worldwide is from “Sex and the City,” of course. The disenchanted and exhausted Charlotte York laments, “I’ve been dating since I was 15! Where is he?”

I hear ya, sister. If my current dating life were a t-shirt slogan, it would read So. Many. Frogs.

Being single in the 21st century involves many challenges; nevertheless, I am a lucky lady. Certainly, I am grateful that I was not born in any previous era, as I would have been forced to live the life of a hopeless spinster (my graduate study included close inspection of the compulsion women felt to marry if only for survival). Remarkably, I was also born into a culture that offers me the opportunity to work and provide for myself, without being dependent on a man. And, I am fortunately in charge of my own reproductive choices. Halleluiah and amen. Thank you, thank you, National Organization of Women!

Nevertheless, sexual liberation problematizes the contemporary world of “coupling.” Ultimately, for most single people, sex is readily available. This is a delightful development, as it enables people to enjoy the sexual life of their own choosing. However, as individuals become more independent in every other way, the only thing people seem to absolutely want, need, or crave from a potential partner is sex, not a relationship. Hooray for the honest, open sex advice the Internet provides, especially the brilliant Dan Savage http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?archives=all

New-sexual-revolution

Sexual freedom reveals yet another difficulty: sex is frequently perceived and prescribed as something individuals want, rather than an experience couples share. D. H. Lawrence’s essay “Pornography and Obscenity” differentiates sex from pornography in two ways. Lawrence identifies a healthy sexual relationship as one that is mutual (while pornography involves coercion or force); furthermore, healthy sexual activity always elevates and celebrates, rather than degrades, the other. Lawrence made these distinctions as a response to his books being labeled pornographic and banned, but the distinctions remains useful, nearly a century later.

Still, singlehood is a good. Indeed, I attended a Chicago Humanities Festival lecture a few years ago about the growing global trend of living alone given by Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University, and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Essentially, his research concludes that living alone builds popularity the moment it becomes feasible, meaning that the more financial independence an individual has, the more likely he or she is to live alone, for a long time, possibly throughout his or her entire life.

Contemporary life adds yet another wrinkle to the dating tapestry through the paradox of choice. Barry Schwartz
TED talk addresses the ways in which having too many choices results in no choice, at all.

choice

Living in a large metropolitan area provides me with untold number of potential partners. There are so many men! If one doesn’t suit me exactly, why, on to the next! This is not necessarily an intentional strategy, but it does encourage me to move on quickly. My two most recent dates clocked in at 25 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively. This type of thinking does two troubling things: it evokes that horrible MTV dating show (cringe worthy), and, of more concern, feeds the “don’t settle” monster.

Ultimately, in relationships, we all settle. In order for a committed relationship to come into being, both people must agree to accept (perhaps even embrace and adore) one another’s flaws and foibles.

As one of the few truly happily married men I know explains, “it doesn’t work, until it does.”

Perhaps I ought to put that on a t-shirt.

Advertisements

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Perhaps you have heard the name Cliven Bundy lately? Three weeks ago, the Nevada rancher made news because of a stand-off he was having against Federal Bureau of Land Management agents. The BLM had tried for 20 years to stop Bundy from grazing his cattle on federal land. Bundy repeatedly refused, and when the BLM attempted to enforce the law, Bundy took up arms in defiance and was quickly joined by hundreds of proto-militia

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy

members. Or, perhaps two weeks ago you heard about Bundy when Fox News host Sean Hannity repeatedly, and loudly portrayed the Nevada native as an American hero fighting government oppression.  No? Well, if not, then I bet you heard his name last week.  On Wednesday, Bundy gave a press conference that, strangely, led the rancher to pontificate on ‘the Negro’.  Bundy proclaimed:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro”…. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Not surprisingly, Bundy supporters in Washington and New York fled for the hills.  Senators Rand Paul (R -Kentucky), Dean Heller (R -Nevada) and Hannity went from 29234calling Bundy a patriot two weeks ago, to condemning the rancher’s ‘appalling statements’.  Within a few hours, Bundy transformed from the poster child for rugged small-government American individualism, to a disturbing representation of America’s continuing race issues.

Bundy’s words have led to an avalanche of media analysis.  Much of it is directed towards who Bundy speaks for.  Does he represent a larger portion of America that agrees with his racial ideas, but has too much tact, or duplicity to state them quite so loudly? Such questions are important, no doubt.  But, most such stories are often reticent about Bundy’s actual ideas, and their provenance; their history.

Look at Bundy’s most offensive statement (arguably): African-Americans may be “better off as slaves” than living free in 21st century America.  I assume to many, this portion of Bundy’s little speech is absolutely dumbfounding. The man must be off his rocker.  After all, who in the world would believe that anyone would be ‘better off’ in a state of chattel slavery?

Well, during the last 150 years of American history, a lot of people believed such bunk.  Said bunk was so accepted that it was taught as history to American schoolchildren. Bundy’s words are a reincarnation of a past ideology, and a deplorable myth of the ‘happy slave’ that poisoned post-Civil War race relations.

In the decades after the Civil War (and into the mid-twentieth century), notions about ‘happy slaves’ in the Old South held a great deal of sway.  During these years, American culture popularized the happy slave

Aunt Jemima: The happy mammy.

Aunt Jemima: The happy mammy.

 historical narrative through films, textbooks and even children’s cartoons.  Though invented during the days of slavery, this notion of the goodness of slaveowners, and the happiness of slaves was part of a larger romanticization of the antebellum South that swept the nation during the decades of postwar national reconciliation. This narrative painted the ol’ plantation system of slave and slaveowner as one built upon social contentment and order.  Destroyed by the Civil War, the epoch of Southern slavery was memorialized as a golden age of social harmony.

Historian David Blight has illustrated that popular books  in the immediate after years of the war played a large role in revivifying this idea.  These books published in the 1880s-90s portrayed an:

….idyllic world of the plantation system, where everybody knew their place, and where blacks were essentially loyal retainers and happy darkies.

In fact you could argue that the reconciliation of the Civil War, and even the reconciliation of much of the bitterness of Reconstruction, in the popular imagination, happened as thousands upon thousands, hundreds of thousands of American readers, most of them Northerners, [heard] the voice of loyal happy slaves in their ear, narrating these stories about this idyllic, romantic old South that had now been crushed by this unfortunate if necessary war. Oh, and maybe it’s even good — the stories would say — that slavery was ended. It was good for the nation that slavery was ended. But look what else we lost. We lost this ordered civilization, this hierarchical society, this sense of a nation where everybody knew who they were and where they should be. And after all, what were they living in, by the 1880s and 90s, but an urbanizing country, a modernizing country, a complicated place, now full of all kinds of new immigrants…. new ideologies…., and an expanding economy full of technology that people didn’t grasp and couldn’t understand. And when the world gets confusing, and it changes rapidly, they did what most of us do. They harken back to another time. They find another world to live in.

Let me remind you that Blight wrote these words a decade ago; he was analyzing responses to modernity in post-Civil War America.  The idea of the ‘happy slave’ was useful for those who feared the real world in the 1880’s. 130 years on, Bundy obviously took this old wine, and put it into a new bottle, finding some perverted sense in this ‘happy slave’ narrative.

Is Cliven Bundy the only one who holds to such notions?  Hopefully he is….but, I doubt it.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
Last week I went to get two of my favorite shoes repaired for the warmer weather. One was a pair of Birkenstocks sandals, essentially the only shoes I wear in the summer, and the other my beloved Hush Puppies Mary eco-friendly-starJanes that tie in a bow, well worth a trip to the cobbler.
When I asked the attendant how much it would cost for the repairs, he said the rate was $70, for each pair. Meaning, it would be cheaper to replace both pairs of shoes than repair them. I had a mini-tizzy in the shop before getting a gruff, “good bye,” from the man at the counter.
big green purseI remembered the first time I encountered this trap intrinsic to contemporary consumer culture. I had a Navy pea coat that I loved, perhaps too well. By the second winter of wear, the coat needed a considerable amount of repairs. I took my coat to the neighborhood seamstress, only to be told to “just get a new coat” because repairs would cost more than $100. “But I have a coat; I don’t need a new coat” I futilely explained. Ultimately, I did throw away my pea coat. I can sew. I could have made the effort, but I didn’t.
This conundrum reminds me of Anthony Burgess’ essay “Is America Falling Apart?”
In it, Burgess claims, “Americans are at last realizing that the acquisition of goods is not the whole of life. Consumption, on one level, is turning insipid, especially as the quality of the goods seems to be deteriorating, planned obsolescence is not conducive to pride in workmanship. On another level, consumption is turning sour. There is a growing guilt about the masses of discarded junk—rusting automobiles and refrigerators and washing machines and dehumidifiers—that it is uneconomical to recycle. Indestructible plastic hasn’t even the grace to undergo chemical change. America, the world’s biggest consumer, is the world’s biggest polluter. Awareness of this is a kind of redemptive grace, but it has not led to repentance and a revolution in consumer habits.”

Words written in 1971, before I even entered the scene of conspicuous consumption.
21st century life is convenient and comfortable in boundless ways, but also encourages waste and breeds a habitual indolence, which is why Earth Day is necessary.customers-going-green
This is not a call for guilt. Rather, we ought to channel the positive Earth Day emotion to asking questions about our choices and the impact they have on the planet. What is required is an honest assessment of what makes living a “green” lifestyle challenging, and determining to meet the task with an improved commitment.
As such, throughout 2014, I’ll celebrate Earth Day as I endeavor to become a better and “greener” consumer. Luckily, I’ll have help from agencies and organizations dedicated to protecting the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle tips from United States Environmental Protection Agency.
National Geographic provides helps simplify major purchases with their “Green Buying Guide
Here are Environmental Ratings of Household Tissue Paper Products from Greenpeace (so important not to flush away forests!)
locavoreOther shopping choices can have a positive, rather than negative impact on our communities and the world. The “10 Ways to be a Locavore” list from PBS offers the necessary encouragement to make small changes, rather than expect to transition to a completely new lifestyle.
Earth Day provides a reminder to celebrate the vast splendors of earth, and to follow her example, and begin anew.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Oh, how I love brunch! Starting with Easter this Sunday, high season for brunch will be in full flower until the next snow fall (next November, ideally).

Brunch is the nonconformist of the meal world, shaking off limits with cavalier abandon. Brunch sprawls over the entire chaise lounge of a day. Brunch can begin or end almost any time, and foods served can include fundamentally anything, making brunch a lavish smorgasbord of delight.

Chicago is a restaurant town, with brunch offerings expansive and delicious. Lists of local brunch recommendations abound, but I find Time Out Chicago offers reasonable suggestions across all price points.

Unsurprisingly, the history of brunch from Smithsonian magazine indicates a Chicago connection to the popularization of brunch:

In Brunch: A Plea, British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” [here, here!]

But wherever the initial spark of genius came from, the tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas. BloodyMary (1)

My favorite brunch spots are in my neighborhood, largely because brunch wants a slower pace, so a meandering walk to a local restaurant seems the most satisfying choice.

As much as I like local hot spots Lula and Longman & Eagle, the lines are just too long for weekend brunch; I visit these uber-trendy places on Monday, when my friends and I can enjoy our meal without enduring the ceaseless glares of contempt from the impatient throng waiting for a table.

Jam delivers a terrific Logan Square brunch. It was here that the whole Urban Family welcomed Clark to Chicago nearly two years ago. At Jam’s previous location, Leah ushered in the indulgent practice of ordering the spectacular French toast “for the table.”

Frenchtoast

French toast from Jam.

Specialty drinks elevate brunch to a celebration. Bloody Mary’s are my go-to brunch beverage, and Dunlay’s on the Square, one of my low-key local spots, serves an outstanding version featuring a mini-meal of garnish with a skewer of mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomato, an olive, and a pickle, Oh, and a Miller Lite back. I’ve enjoyed innumerable Bloody Mary’s and brunches with my entire Urban Family and nearly every out-of-town guest. I have brunched at Dunlay’s with Ingrid, Emily, Holly & Ian, Maria & Chris, Stacy, Larry, Jenny & Olivia, Jill, my goddaughter Mary, and my sisters Theresa & Margo. Whoever my next visitor turns out to be will be added to this list, I’m sure.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Although Azzurra has only been open a few months, I’ve had brunch at this new Wicker Park gem at least four times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the dazzling Leah Allen, one of my closest friends, runs the place with her characteristic warmth and grace. I’m wild for the Italian sausage, rapini, & fontina frittata while my buddy Paul has driven in twice from the suburbs to order the focaccia benedict.

Brunch can be done well at home, too. Thanks to the new mothers in my friend group, we’ve begun a “Lovely Ladies & Beautiful Babies” brunch tradition that involves more enjoyment than preparation. And once again this Easter, I’ll brunch at McTedros manor, my friends’ cheerful house on the north side of Logan Square, where Hanna and Ryan will surprise their guests with incredibly inventive cooking. Last year it was the Swedish delicacy smorgastata.

Like any grand food tradition, brunch entails sharing a good meal with great people, an experience that is sweet, indeed.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

One of the biggest entertainment stories of the last week was the announcement that Stephen Colbert will be taking over for David Letterman as the host of Late Night next year.  This news has created some waves, and not just on the entertainment pages. Many fans of Colbert have expressed concern that he will no longer be playing the role of ‘Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report‘, and instead will be simply ‘the real Stephen Colbert’.  The salute‘Report’ watchers want Colbert to retain his egotistical, self-loving, arrogant conservative political commentator persona in his new role. It looks like they are going to be in for a disappointment.

For others though, that fake conservative persona is exactly why they feel Colbert should not be allowed to take over for Letterman.  Colbert is obviously liberal, and most of his satire has been directed towards the more conservative talking-heads in today’s Washington and in the world of cable news.  Hence, Colbert’s humor can make a good many influential figures squirm.  Bill O’Reilly, who Colbert’s character is most obviously based upon, recently called Colbert a ‘deceiver’, and an ‘ideological fanatic’.  Being on CBS will give Colbert a much larger sounding board, and this is frightening to many like oreilly-colbert-618x400‘Papa Bear’.  Thus, after the announcement that Colbert would be succeeding Letterman, Rush Limbaugh vituperatively claimed that Colbert’s hire meant that ‘CBS had declared war on the heartland of America.’  This may have been classic Limbaugh hyperbole; or, perhaps he actually believes all Colbert watchers live exclusively in New York and San Francisco. Either way, he loses here.

Personally, I love Colbert.  If he is ‘The Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report‘, or the ‘real’ Stephen Colbert makes little difference to me; he is funny as hell either way. But, I do have one concern about his move to CBS, and that is this: What is going to happen to Colbert’s guest line-ups? Colbert’s choice of guests over the years on ‘The Report’ have been nothing short of revolutionary. Learning from his big-brother program ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’, Colbert provides a fresh intellectual breath of  air amongst the staid landscape of mindless TV talk shows.  While most talk shows interview celebrities, or cutesy human-interest guests, Colbert (and Stewart) have continually provided their audiences with a wide-range of less famous, but more important guests.  Sure, Will Ferrell will sit down with Stephen one night; but on the next night, Jane Goodall will stop by.  Brad Pitt on Monday; Tuesday and Wednesday, Neil de Grasse Tyson and Steven Pinker.

I am concerned these eclectic, intellectual guest line ups will be lost with Colbert taking over for Letterman. Just take a look at who has been the headlining guest on The Late Show during the last three months:

  • Michael Strahan
  • Julia Roberts
  • Drew Brees
  • Dr. Phil
  • Clooney
  • Jack Hanna
  • Tom Selleck
  • Etc, etc.

Now, here is a short sample of Colbert’s guests during the same period:

  • Scott Stossel (Journalist for The Atlantic/Author of My Age of Anxiety.)
  • Michael Chabon (Author of Adventures of Cavalier and Clay/On to speak about Ernest Hemingway)
  • Patricia Churchland (Neurologist/Philosopher)
  • Drew Brees (Hey, a match!)
  • Paul Krugman (Princeton Economist/NY Times contributor)
  • Brian Greene (Physicist)
  • Alexander Payne (Director of’ Nebraska)
  • Simon Schama (Historian)

If he keeps such guests, Colbert’s move could be a radical change for American late-night.  If he doesn’t, and becomes just another Leno or Letterman, viewers will have lost more than simply his fake conservative persona.

 

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

To all the do-gooders, past, present, and future, I bid you a Happy National Volunteer week!

Studies show that volunteers lead lives that are measurably more enriched and fulfilled. Here is evidence on the powerful impact of giving from The Globalization for the Common Good Initiative. PBS also has a special segment called “This Emotional Life” which also offers insight on giving and altruism. Happily, volunteerism is trending in The United States, a remarkable reminder that kindness never goes out of style.

volunteer
I’ve been volunteering at 826 Chicago since 2008. What a great place this is—miles and miles of exceptionally sweet, smart, and absurdly generous people. Not only have I had some great experiences promoting literacy and strengthening my community, I’ve met truly incredible people, making fantastic friends along the way. I help school children with creative writing projects andBoringStore homework, or help staff The Boring Store,  a fund-raising storefront that specializes in selling ridiculous wares, such as samurai sword umbrellas and stainless steel fish flasks (I have one, of course), all to benefit Chicago Public School students! Even now, plans are underway for the annual 826 Chicago “Prom” (21 and over) dance and fundraiser. This year’s 826 Chicago Prom themes are fantastically weird.  This year’s Prom 9 From Outer Space promises to be replete with neo-futuristic costumes galore! If you are interested, buy your tickets here.

LPConservatoryRecently I began the training program to become a volunteer docent at The Lincoln Park Conservatory. Expand my volunteering life to the Lincoln Park Conservatory is the best decision I’ve made in 2014. Naturally, the conservatory is sublime, but even more impressive is the team of seasoned volunteers, who work as part of The Lincoln Park Conservancy, devoting their time to teach my trainee class a considerable amount about the Chicago Park district, and I mean a lot: the history of the parks, the origin of the plants, the nature of interpretation, and the importance of green spaces are all part of the training curriculum, and like a true nerd, I’m thrilled to have homework!

Most significantly, I began volunteering thanks to the extraordinary example of the people I know and love. Nearly all of my closest family and friends support the work of amazing non-profit organizations. Below is a (incomplete) list of the fantastic organizations my friends and family have enriched with their time and talents.

The American Red Cross

Autism Speaks

Bike Walk Logan Square

Boy Scouts of America

Chicks Against Hunger

Cleveland International Film Festival

Corner FarmVolunteer2

Donate Life

Girl Scouts of America

Habitat for Humanity

The Humane Society

The Peace Corp

Teach for America

The United Way

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly involved in volunteer work. Allow me to highly recommend you do the same!

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

When it comes to my pop culture proclivities, I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile.  My late high-school, early college years was when my English-mania reached its climax. Though embarrasing now, I felt it absolutely appropriate to dress like, and style my long-lost hair in the manner of my favorite English maudlin and/or ironic singers.  In high school, it was a pompadour and t-shirt with blazer, a la 1987 Morrissey.  By college, it was a shaggy moptop with stripy sweaters a la Damon Albarn of Blur. At the time I thought I could pull this off.

By the time I graduated from college, I honestly didn’t have the energy any longer to style my hair in a particular fashion. Plus, I had my girlfriend, and eventual wife, who rightly felt the look went from a cute sign of style, to something much closer to pretention. I came to realize that there is a certain point when putting daisies in your back pocket, and carrying around a volume of Oscar Wilde is just sad. Though my fashion changed, my musical

large

An inside joke for fans of the Smiths.

tastes still focused upon the English pop music of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  In high school, my cohorts were obsessed with the Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Smashing Pumpkins grunge movement; I enjoyed a more dour line-up of The Cure, Depeche Mode and The Smiths.  By college, people were fighting over West Coast vs. East Coast rap; I was concerning myself with the Oasis vs. Blur quarrel (Blur is MUCH better, by the way.) Some of my university acquantances spent their nights listening to Phish, The Grateful Dead, and Blues Traveller, I…well, I just couldn’t stand that crap. Still can’t.

When we moved to Chicago 15 years ago, my Britpop obsession had cooled considerably.  Now in my mid (okay, late) 30’s, I thought my Anglophilia had finally died.  Then, a couple weeks ago, an import from the Islands rejuvinated my love.  But, it wasn’t music this time.

One evening, I was looking for a good historical documentary to watch on Netflix.  Not much there.  Figured I might as well check out PBS.  Nope, nothing really on.  Finally, I realized, ‘of course! Youtube!’  Sure enough, inputting historical documentary got me quite a list of shows to watch (835,000 hits to be exact).  How to decide?  Well, I quickly realized to look for three letters: BBC.  Youtube was awash in BBC historical programs.  After watching a couple, I was amazed at their quality and seriousness.  For instance, I found a wonderfully intriguing three part documentary written, and hosted by one of my favorite historians, Mary Beard.  Beard is a classicist at Cambridge, and though she doesn’t write about my specialities, she is wonderful at humanizing the people of Ancient world.   Just take a look how she deals with Roman toilets (yes toilets) in this scene from her series ‘Meet The Romans’ (Jump to 24 mins):

Now tell me that is not interesting!  Nothing at all fancy about the production; no special effects; no actors; nothing ‘EXTREME’ or ‘SHOCKING’ or pseudohistorical. Just an expert telling the viewer about a time period and a long gone people she loves. Such shows are stirring my Angliophile nature once again.  But, I must be honest.  This love is mixed with a serious degree of jealousy.  I mean, why can’t we produce works like this in America? Instead, we have  The History Channel.  AAARRRGGGHHH!  How I hate The History Channel.  Let’s just take a look at what the History Channel has on it’s two stations in the next couple days, shall we?  Oh, great, ‘Swamp People’!  Hey, ‘Ancient Aliens”!  How historically challenging! Wait a minute, don’t forget ‘Jurassic Fight Club’!  Sounds like a really enlightening program.

I just can’t figure out why Americans have such a limited understanding of history….Wait, what was that? ‘Pawn Stars’ is on the History Channel at 6:30? Nevermind.