Access your Project MUSE content using one of the login options below Close(X)
Browse Results For:
The People, the President, and the Performance of Political Standup Comedy in America
Why did Barack Obama court Jon Stewart and trade jokes with Stephen Colbert during the campaign of 2008? Why did Sarah Palin forgo the opportunity to earn votes on the Sunday morning political talk shows but embrace the chance to get laughs on Saturday Night Live? The Dance of the Comedians examines the history behind these questions—the merry, mocking, and highly contested anarchies of standup political comedy that have locked humorists, presidents, and their fellow Americans in an improvisational three-way “dance” since the early years of the American republic. Peter M. Robinson shows how the performance of political humor developed as a celebration of democracy and an expression of political power, protest, and commercial profit. He places special significance on the middle half of the twentieth century, when presidents and comedians alike—from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan, from Will Rogers to Saturday Night Live’s “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”—developed modern understandings of the power of laughter to affect popular opinion and political agendas, only to find the American audience increasingly willing and able to get in on the act. These years put the long-standing traditions of presidential deference profoundly in play as all three parties to American political humor—the people, the presidents, and the comedy professionals—negotiated their way between reverence for the office of the presidency and ridicule of its occupants. Although the focus is on humor, The Dance of the Comedians illuminates the process by which Americans have come to recognize that the performance of political comedy has serious and profound consequences for those on all sides of the punch line.
Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio
Seeking answers to the question, "Who benefits from homelessness?" this book takes the reader on a sweeping tour of Cleveland's history from the late nineteenth-century through the early twenty-first. Daniel Kerr shows that homelessness has deep roots in the shifting ground of urban labor markets, social policy, downtown development, the criminal justice system, and corporate power. Rather than being attributable to the illnesses and inadequacies of the unhoused themselves, it is a product of both structural and political dynamics shaping the city. Kerr locates the origins of today's shelter system in the era that followed the massive railroad rebellions of 1877. From that period through the Great Depression, business and political leaders sought to transform downtown Cleveland to their own advantage. As they focused on bringing business travelers and tourists to the city and beckoned upper-income residents to return to its center, they demolished two downtown working-class neighborhoods and institutionalized a shelter system to contain and control the unhoused and unemployed. The precedents from this period informed the strategies of the post–World War II urban renewal era as the "new urbanism" of the late twentieth century. The efforts of the city's elites have not gone uncontested. Kerr documents a rich history of opposition by people at the margins of whose organized resistance and everyday survival strategies have undermined the grand plans crafted by the powerful and transformed the institutions designed to constrain the lives of the homeless.
Why Development Assistance to the Third World Has Failed
For more than thirty-five years, Thomas W. Dichter has worked in the field of international development, managing and evaluating projects for nongovernmental organizations, directing a Peace Corps country program, and serving as a consultant for such agencies as USAID, UNDP, and the World Bank. On the basis of this extensive and varied experience, he has become an outspoken critic of what he terms the "international poverty alleviation industry." He believes that efforts to reduce world poverty have been well-intentioned but largely ineffective. On the whole, the development industry has failed to serve the needs of the people it has sought to help. To make his case, Dichter reviews the major trends in development assistance from the 1960s through the 1990s, illustrating his analysis with eighteen short stories based on his own experiences in the field. The analytic chapters are thus grounded in the daily life of development workers as described in the stories. Dichter shows how development organizations have often become caught up in their own self-perpetuation and in public relations efforts designed to create an illusion of effectiveness. Tracing the evolution of the role of money (as opposed to ideas) in development assistance, he suggests how financial imperatives have reinforced the tendency to sponsor time-bound projects, creating a dependency among aid recipients. He also examines the rise of careerism and increased bureaucratization in the industry, arguing that assistance efforts have become disconnected from important lessons learned on the ground, and often lessons of world history. In the end, Dichter calls for a more light-handed and artful approach to development assistance, with fewer agencies and experts involved. His stance is pragmatic, rather than ideological or political. What matters, he says, is what works, and the current practices of the development industry are simply not effective.
Shakers, Antebellum Marriage, and the Narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer
In 1813, Joseph Dyer, his wife Mary, and their five children joined the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. Joseph quickly adapted to the Shaker way of life, but Mary chafed under its strictures and eventually left the community two years later. When the local elders and her husband refused to release the couple’s children to Mary, she embarked on what would become a fifty-year campaign against the Shakers, beginning with the publication in 1818 of A Brief Statement of the Sufferings of Mary Dyer. The following year the Shakers countered by publishing Joseph’s A Compendious Narrative, a scathing attack on what the title page called “the character, disposition and conduct of Mary Dyer.” Reproduced here for the first time since their original publication, the Dyers’ dueling accounts of the breakup of their marriage form the core of Domestic Broils. In Mary’s telling, the deceptions of a cruel husband, backed by an unyielding Shaker hierarchy, destroyed what had once been a happy, productive family. Joseph’s narrative counters these claims by alleging that Mary abused her children, neglected her husband, and engaged in extramarital affairs. In her introduction to the volume, Elizabeth De Wolfe places the Dyers’ marital dispute in a broader historical context, drawing on their personal testimony to examine connected but conflicting views of marriage, family life, and Shakerism in the early republic. She also shows how the growing world of print facilitated the transformation of a private family quarrel into a public debate. Salacious, riveting, and immensely popular throughout New England, the Dyers’ narratives not only captured imaginations but also reflected public anxieties over rapid cultural change in antebellum America.
Gender, Reform, and American Interventions in the Ottoman Balkans and the Near East
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American Protestant missionaries attempted to export their religious beliefs and cultural ideals to the Ottoman Empire. Seeking to attract Orthodox Christians and even Muslims to their faith, they promoted the paradigm of the “Christian home” as the foundation of national progress. Yet the missionaries’ efforts not only failed to win many converts but also produced some unexpected results. Drawing on a broad range of sources—Ottoman, Bulgarian, Russian, French, and English—Barbara Reeves-Ellington tracks the transnational history of this little-known episode of American cultural expansion. She shows how issues of gender and race influenced the missionaries’ efforts as well as the complex responses of Ottoman subjects to American intrusions into their everyday lives. Women missionaries—married and single—employed the language of Christian domesticity and female moral authority to challenge the male-dominated hierarchy of missionary society and to forge bonds of feminist internationalism. At the same time, Orthodox Christians adapted the missionaries’ ideology to their own purposes in developing a new strain of nationalism that undermined Ottoman efforts to stem growing sectarianism within their empire. By the beginning of the twentieth century, as some missionaries began to promote international understanding rather than Protestantism, they also paved the way for future expansion of American political and commercial interests.
Americans Face the Atomic Age
When President Harry Truman introduced the atomic bomb to the world in 1945, he described it as a God-given harnessing of “the basic power of the universe.” Six days later a New York Times editorial framed the dilemma of the new Atomic Age for its readers: “Here the long pilgrimage of man on Earth turns towards darkness or towards light.” American nuclear scientists, aware of the dangers their work involved, referred to one of their most critical experiments as “tickling the dragon’s tail.” Even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most Americans may not have been sure what an atomic bomb was or how it worked. But they did sense that it had fundamentally changed the future of the human race. In this book, Robert Jacobs analyzes the early impact of nuclear weapons on American culture and society. He does so by examining a broad range of stories, or “nuclear narratives,” that sought to come to grips with the implications of the bomb’s unprecedented and almost unimaginable power. Beginning with what he calls the “primary nuclear narrative,” which depicted atomic power as a critical agent of social change that would either destroy the world or transform it for the better, Jacobs explores a variety of common themes and images related to the destructive power of the bomb, the effects of radiation, and ways of surviving nuclear war. He looks at civil defense pamphlets, magazines, novels, and films to recover the stories the U.S. government told its citizens and soldiers as well as those presented in popular culture. According to Jacobs, this early period of Cold War nuclear culture—from 1945 to the banning of above-ground testing in 1963—was distinctive for two reasons: not only did atmospheric testing make Americans keenly aware of the presence of nuclear weapons in their lives, but radioactive fallout from the tests also made these weapons a serious threat to public health, separate from yet directly linked to the danger of nuclear war.
Memoirs on the End of Life
In the past twenty years, an increasing number of authors have written memoirs focusing on the last stage of their lives: Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, for example, in The Wheel of Life, Harold Brodkey in This Wild Darkness, Edward Said in Out of Place, and Tony Judt in The Memory Chalet. In these and other end-of-life memoirs, writers not only confront their own mortality but in most cases struggle to “die in character”—that is, to affirm the values, beliefs, and goals that have characterized their lives. Examining the works cited above, as well as memoirs by Mitch Albom, Roland Barthes, Jean-Dominique Bauby, Art Buchwald, Randy Pausch, David Rieff, Philip Roth, and Morrie Schwartz, Jeffrey Berman’s analysis of this growing genre yields some surprising insights. While the authors have much to say about the loneliness and pain of dying, many also convey joy, fulfillment, and gratitude. Harold Brodkey is willing to die as long as his writings survive. Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch both use the word fun to describe their dying experiences. Dying was not fun for Morrie Schwartz and Tony Judt, but they reveal courage, satisfaction, and fearlessness during the final stage of their lives, when they are nearly paralyzed by their illnesses. It is hard to imagine that these writers could feel so upbeat in their situations, but their memoirs are authentically affirmative. They see death coming, yet they remain stalwart and focused on their writing. Berman concludes that the contemporary end-of-life memoir can thus be understood as a new form of death ritual, “a secular example of the long tradition of ars moriendi, the art of dying.”
A Documentary and Critical Anthology
Designed as a corrective to colonial literary histories that have excluded Native voices, this anthology brings together a variety of primary texts produced by the Algonquian peoples of New England during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and very early nineteenth centuries. Included among these written materials and objects are letters, signatures, journals, baskets, pictographs, confessions, wills, and petitions, each of which represents a form of authorship. Together they demonstrate the continuing use of traditional forms of memory and communication and the lively engagement of Native peoples with alphabetic literacy during the colonial period. Each primary text is accompanied by an essay that places it in context and explores its significance. Written by leading scholars in the field, these readings draw on recent trends in literary analysis, history, and anthropology to provide an excellent overview of the field of early Native studies. They are also intended to provoke discussion and open avenues for further exploration by students and other interested readers. Above all, the texts and commentaries gathered in this volume provide an opportunity to see Native American literature as a continuity of expression that reflects choices made long before contact and colonization, rather than as a nineteenth—or even twentieth-century invention.Contributors include Heidi Bohaker, Heather Bouwman, Joanna Brooks, Kristina Bross, Stephanie Fitzgerald, Sandra Gustafson, Laura Arnold Leibman, Kevin McBride, David Murray, Laura Murray, Jean O'Brien, Ann Marie Plane, Philip Round, Jodi Schorb, David Silverman, and Hilary E. Wyss.
The Language of Nature, the Nature of Language
Ecocritics and other literary scholars interested in the environment have tended to examine writings that pertain directly to nature and to focus on subject matter more than expression. In this book, Scott Knickerbocker argues that it is time for the next step in ecocriticism: scholars need to explore the figurative and aural capacity of language to evoke the natural world in powerful ways. Ecopoetics probes the complex relationship between artifice and the natural world in the work of modern American poets—in particular Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath. These poets relate to nature as a deep wellspring of meaning, although they all avoid using language the way most nature writers do, merely to reflect or refer directly to the world. Each of these poets, in his or her own distinct way, employs instead what Knickerbocker terms sensuous poesis, the process of rematerializing language through sound effects and other formal devices as a sophisticated response to nonhuman nature. Rather than attempt to erase the artifice of their own poems, to make them seem more natural and thus supposedly closer to nature, the poets in this book unapologetically embrace artifice—not for its own sake but in order to perform and enact the natural world. Indeed, for them, artifice is natural. In examining their work, Knickerbocker charts a new direction for ecocriticism.
The man widely believed to have been the model for Alden Pyle in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Edward G. Lansdale (1908–1987) was a Cold War celebrity. A former advertising executive turned undercover CIA agent, he was credited during the 1950s with almost single-handedly preventing a communist takeover of the Philippines and with helping to install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the American-backed government of South Vietnam. Adding to his notoriety, during the Kennedy administration Lansdale was put in charge of Operation Mongoose, the covert plot to overthrow the government of Cuba’s Fidel Castro by assassination or other means. In this book, Jonathan Nashel reexamines Lansdale’s role as an agent of American Cold War foreign policy and takes into account both his actual activities and the myths that grew to surround him. In contrast to previous portraits, which tend to depict Lansdale either as the incarnation of U.S. imperialist ambitions or as a farsighted patriot dedicated to the spread of democracy abroad, Nashel offers a more complex and nuanced interpretation. At times we see Lansdale as the arrogant "ugly American," full of confidence that he has every right to make the world in his own image and utterly blind to his own cultural condescension. This is the Lansdale who would use any conceivable gimmick to serve U.S. aims, from rigging elections to sugaring communist gas tanks. Elsewhere, however, he seems genuinely respectful of the cultures he encounters, open to differences and new possibilities, and willing to tailor American interests to Third World needs. Rather than attempting to reconcile these apparently contradictory images of Lansdale, Nashel explores the ways in which they reflected a broader tension within the culture of Cold War America. The result is less a conventional biography than an analysis of the world in which Lansdale operated and the particular historical forces that shaped him—from the imperatives of anticommunist ideology and the assumptions of modernization theory to the techniques of advertising and the insights of anthropology.