Category: Culture

How to Do It: Sex Education and the “Sex Life”

In 1696, in Somerset county in southwest England, a schoolboy named John Cannon and his friends took their lunchtime break on the banks of a river near their schoolhouse. Unlike other uneventful riverside lunches, though, this day was memorable enough for Cannon to record in his memoirs. An older boy who was “about 17” years… Read more →

Mange, Morphine, and Deadly Disease: Medicine and Public Health in Red Dead Redemption 2

Spoiler warning: This essay discusses major plot points about the ending of Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s dead midnight, there’s moonlight on the corn, and Thomas Downes owes me money. He protests he doesn’t have anything to spare, but I insist he does, and so we end up wrestling against the wood fence. Then, bruised… Read more →

Hallmark Christmas Movies: Guilty Pleasure or Feminist Rallying Cry?

A woman arrives in a small American town at Christmas time. Possibly her car has broken down, or she’s there on business, or to take a job she (initially) does not want, or she’s deliberately seeking the traditional festive comforts of a small town during the holidays. (It might be that she grew up there,… Read more →

My So-Called Life: Angela Chase, Body Image, and Teen Angst

In August 1994, ABC aired the pilot episode of My So-Called Life, and for the first time I felt that a television show spoke directly to me. I was fifteen, self-conscious, and searching for identity in a rural suburb of Lansing, Michigan. Shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place obsessed over affluence, sexuality,… Read more →

Lillie Western, Banjo Queen

It should come as no surprise that the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list includes only two women, Bonnie Raitt at #89 and Joni Mitchell at #75. The unyielding maleness of guitar culture stretches across decades and genres, even in the face of necessary corrections like Gayle Wald’s biography of Sister Rosetta Tharpe or the… Read more →

Photos with Santa Paws: Ruminations on Pets, Precarity, Consumption, and Family

Children have posed for photos with Santa, willingly or otherwise, for more than a century, but recent pics star new subjects: pets. Pet stores, along with department stores, malls, and community groups, now host special pet-friendly photo sessions. Lists abound online of such photo ops, as well as tips for how to get that perfect… Read more →

Deconstructing HIV and AIDS on The Golden Girls

In 1990, the much-beloved sitcom, The Golden Girls — a show about four older women, Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia, living together in Miami, Florida — was in its fifth season. On February 17, the “72 Hours” episode aired. In it, Rose receives a letter from the hospital where she had gallbladder surgery notifying her… Read more →

“Hateful, Un-American Ideas!” Gender, Race, and Politics in Cold War Romance Comic Books

In the October 1949 issue of the romance comic Hollywood Confessions, the protagonist of the story “Too Ugly to Love” describes himself as so ugly that he resembles a “menace from a horror picture.”1 Jon Koslo has “accepted … [his] ugliness philosophically!” when a film producer spots him and “exploits [his] ugliness” by giving him… Read more →

I Was Trolled – Here’s Why I’m Turning It into a Teaching Opportunity

Here’s what happened. I wrote an essay critically analyzing a YouTube talk show I actually watch and enjoy — Hot Ones — on which celebrities answer questions while eating ten chicken wings doused in hot sauces of increasing spiciness. I argued that interrelated gender conventions about flavor, food, appetite, and consumption shape how celebrity is… Read more →

Women’s Liberation, Beauty Contests, and the 1920s: Swimsuit Edition

For several years, I’ve had a wall decoration in my office: a panoramic photo of a 1920s beauty contest. I was surprised to come across it at a discount home furnishings retailer and bought it on impulse. After all, how often does a cherished primary source present itself as a consumer good? From its inception,… Read more →