Arts + Culture – Articles, Analysis, Opinion

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NBC newscaster John Cameron Swayze was television’s first “anchor man” – though not for presenting the news. The term referred to his status as permanent panelist of the quiz show Who Said That? Wikimedia Commons

The origins of the all-powerful news anchor

In the beginning, newscasters weren’t even visible to TV news viewers. With Walter Cronkite, everything changed.
Former US Poet Laureate Philip Levine (1928-2015) was down to earth and humble. But he spared no rage towards those he deemed selfish and narcissistic. Brooklyn Book Festival/Flickr

Remembering former poet laureate Philip Levine

Kate Daniels, the director of Vanderbilt's creative writing program, recalls the life and work of her mentor, a man "devoted...to creating gritty and empathetic portraits of American blue collar workers."
In American Sniper, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is the ‘sheepdog’ – someone who operates in a state of constant, anxious alertness against inevitable attack. Entertainment Weekly

At its core, American Sniper is about white fear

Many are decrying the film as merely conservative propaganda. But American Sniper – as with many of Eastwood's films – has a more nuanced approach that addresses modern anxieties.
Willie O'Ree, the first black NHL player, debuted for the Boston Bruins in 1958. The Root

Only the puck was black: a story of race and the NHL

Last week’s release of Black Ice – the memoir of Val James, the first African American to play in the NHL – brought me back to when I was a teenager living in Boston. It was the winter of 1978 – the year…
Jon Stewart’s tenure at The Daily Show may ultimately be remembered more for how he skewered the mainstream media than for the laughs he generated. Jason Reed/Reuters

The Daily Show was never ‘real’ news – but came (depressingly) close

Jon Stewart’s Tuesday night announcement that he’ll be leaving the Daily Show garnered an audible cry of disbelief from his live studio audience. Stewart himself was visibly emotional: “What is this fluid…
Red Army tells the story of the Russian hockey dynasty of the 1980s and early 1990s, focusing on the story of defenseman Slava Fetisov (pictured top right). Variety

Red Army portrayal of Soviet hockey misses mark

Gabe Polsky’s documentary Red Army opens with the film’s main subject – former NHL and Soviet hockey great Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov – giving the finger to Polsky while checking his phone. At the film’s…
Husband and Wife, Sunday Morning, Detroit, Michigan, 1950. Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gordon Parks exhibit offers intimate glimpse into segregation-era life for African Americans

In the spring of 1950, Gordon Parks, the first African-American photographer for Life Magazine, returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas. On assignment for the magazine, Parks photographed his middle…
Distraught Seattle Seahawks fans after their team lost the Super Bowl. Jason Redmond/Reuters

Worst coaching call ever? Hindsight bias and the Super Bowl

“The worst call in Super Bowl history,” read a headline in my hometown Seattle Times after Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll seemingly threw the game away with his ill-fated decision to pass – rather than…
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Harper Lee receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2007. Larry Downing/Reuters

What should readers look for in Harper Lee’s new novel?

The announcement of the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman – a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird actually written before the famous novel – has, not surprisingly, set off a flurry of…
Literary translation has occurred for centuries (the Bible is a prime example). And with Nobel Prize winners like French author Patrick Modiano, it’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Wikimedia Commons

Absorbed in translation: the art – and fun – of literary translation

I recently stumbled upon a post that describes the process of literary translation as “soul-crushing.” That’s news to me, and I’ve been engaged in literary translation for the better part of four decades…
Hollywood films have long depicted Arabs in a negative light. Pictured is the movie poster from 1921’s The Sheik. Wikimedia Commons

American Sniper perpetuates Hollywood’s typical Arab stereotypes

The first Iraqis to appear in Clint Eastwood’s Iraq War drama, American Sniper, are a young mother and boy of maybe 12. They are seen from the point of view of the man who will kill them: Chris Kyle, the…
Why is it that women can retain their heterosexuality if they kiss, but if men do the same they’re labeled gay? David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

It turns out male sexuality is just as fluid as female sexuality

If women can kiss women and still be straight, what about men? Some scholars have argued that female sexual desires tend to be fluid and receptive, while men’s desires – regardless of whether men are gay…
Foreign PR campaigns have been waged for decades. Films like 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front were significantly altered to appease Germany’s Nazi Party. filmjunk.com

How foreign governments can influence American media – and tried to block my documentary

Feature films and television shows notoriously play fast-and-loose with the facts. When prologues proclaim “Based on a True Story,” they’re gracefully implying that what follows is mostly fiction. Awards…
If you’re in favor of copyright extensions – and aren’t a corporation holding the rights or a descendent of the original author – you probably need some sense knocked into you. Flickr

Why Batman and Rhapsody in Blue should be in the public domain, but aren’t

In 1998, if Congress hadn’t extended copyrights by 20 years, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind would all be in the public domain…
Mixed-income developments replace Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Homes: Old Town Village West townhouses rise in front of the last remaining towers (since demolished) in this 2009 photograph.

Mixed income public housing: mixed outcomes, mixed-up concept

For decades, public housing stood as the most architecturally visible and politically stigmatized reminder of urban poverty in many American cities. Originally built to accommodate an upwardly mobile segment…
From where does opposition to depictions of Muhammad arise? Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters

Why there’s opposition to images of Muhammad

After the violent attacks on Charlie Hebdo – the French satirical weekly that routinely published caricatures of Muhammad – many are wondering: are depictions of Muhammad actually forbidden in Islamic…
In Samuel Roth’s time, there was no Constitutional protection for expression deemed subversive, obscene or indecent. Columbia News

An American Charlie Hebdo?

In 1957, publisher Samuel Roth spent his 63rd birthday in federal prison. His appeal denied by the United States Supreme Court, he would end up serving every day of his five year sentence. The crime? He…
Many former NFL players face the future with despair: the years after retirement can include an array of physical and financial woes. USA Today Sports/Reuters

Is there life after football for NFL pros?

The cascade of woes that have befallen former NFL players has stunned fans and casual observers. Former NFL stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson committed suicide. All-pro Warren Sapp went bankrupt after…
Racial disparities in tip size can’t be explained by discriminatory service. Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

What’s behind racial differences in restaurant tipping?

Within the US restaurant industry, blacks are generally considered comparatively poor tippers. One recent survey of roughly 1,000 restaurant servers from across the nation found that 34% thought blacks…