Thursday, October 27, 2016

Climate change, carbon-heavy masculinity, and the politics of exposure

University of Texas at Arlington

The final weeks of the 2016 U.S. presidential election have become a lewd circus. Complex, urgent issues such as climate change have been upstaged by rude outbursts—“you’re a puppet!,”“such a nasty woman.” It is difficult to imagine these scenes could have anything at all to do with climate change or other environmental crises, and yet the mode of masculinity on display, is, I would argue, a “carbon-heavy masculinity,” a gendered style that contributes to increasing CO2 emissions. This exaggerated form of masculinity is recognizable in the U.S. as a familiar type of tough-guy bravado, but during a time of concern about terrorism, immigration, and economic inequality, the style—which can be performed by people of any sex or gender—is not just individual but political, even nationalistic, with wide-ranging implications.

After 9/11, during a transitional time when the majority of U.S. citizens finally began to believe that global warming was real, modes of carbon-heavy masculinity intensified. Living in Texas, I’ve noticed trucks and SUVs getting bigger and bigger as they tower over my Prius. Many trucks now sport aggressive front grilles and threatening weapon-like cones jutting out from the wheels. I’ve laughed at the spectacle of large metal “testicles” strapped to trailer hitches and have spotted a few jacked-up trucks “rolling coal”—spewing extra and extra black exhaust from their oversized smokestacks. Just last night, driving on an already hazardous freeway, we were enveloped in dense smoke that made it impossible to see where we were going. Rolling coal enthusiasts defy the EPA, the “liberal climate change conspiracy,” and government regulations in general, as they spend thousands of dollars to produce smoky spectacles. Coal rollers delight in a sense of libertarian freedom injected with a bit of violence. While women, as well as men, may inhabit these mammoth vehicles, YouTube videos such as “Rolling Coal on Hot Babe” display misogyny, as they revel in covering a woman in a bikini with black smoke. One meme illustrated with a picture of a Prius on the top and a picture of trucks on the bottom says, “You keep your fuel mileage. We’ll keep our manhood.” Even stroller pushers can hold on to their manhood with the colossal “vRS Mega Man-Pram.” While these particular modes of carbon-heavy masculinity might seem extreme, they exist on a spectrum with more “normal” sights—freeways lined with giant SUVs and suburban “hummer” assault vehicles, gated communities, and McMansions functioning as fortresses for families that can afford them. The reaction to a more frightening world is to aggressively shore up borders—of the nation, the home, the vehicle, and the self. Domestic militarism involves not only arming oneself but armoring oneself with layers of protective gear. The climate change implications are obvious, as larger homes and larger vehicles leave bigger carbon footprints.

Many environmental movements and feminist movements, on the other hand, occupy a sense of the self as exposed to environmental and other harms. When the already infamous video clip of the presidential candidate discussing how he grabs women’s genitals was released, women on social media told their own stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, exposing these incidents as a mode of political solidarity. And terrific cross-species memes exploded—with furry and fierce feline images: “Pussy grabs back,” “Pussy Votes,” and more. Against carbon-heavy masculinity, which asserts a tough exterior and strong borders, would be what I call “insurgent vulnerability,” in which we occupy a queer permeability as a potent political stance. Refusing to tow the line of capitalist individualism in which each citizen is expected to purchase the proper accoutrements for their own protection, some people search for a more collective and ethical sense of embodiment.

Environmental justice, environmental health, climate change, plastic pollution, and other movements stress that the human is “trans-corporeal,” inseparable from substances and materials that cross through bodies and environments. Thinking of oneself as utterly exposed to toxins and climates makes environmentalism something that is always as close as one’s own skin, something that is not optional, as no amount of armor can shield us from carcinogens or hurricanes. These exposures are terribly differential, however, as money can buy some protections—the most economically disadvantaged are almost always the most vulnerable to environmental risk and harm. Yet to occupy or perform exposure—even when exposures are unequally distributed—can be a form of political alliance. To occupy exposure as a political or ethical stance entails tracing how we are implicated in global systems of injustice, inequality, and what Rob Nixon has called “slow violence.” Even the most ordinary activities of daily life in industrialized countries—using a cell phone, driving a car, drinking bottled water—are part of global systems of extraction, production, pollution, and disposal that affect countless human lives, animal lives, and ecological systems. To occupy exposure is to directly engage in less harmful practices and to demand large-scale change.

Cartoonish versions of carbon-heavy masculinity would seem to invoke a gendered binary where women pose as the “angels in the ecosystem,” in Val Plumwood’s vivid phrase. Any one, male or female, can occupy those modes of masculinity, however, and anyone, male, female, or genderqueer can engage in modes of being that are less gender normative and less harmful to the planet. People of all sorts of genders delight in improvising alternatives to aggressive, carbon-heavy hypermasculinity. But it is also important to credit the long legacy of feminist and queer art, activism, and thought that have critiqued dominant modes of masculinity and have created so many rich, lively, dazzling alternatives.

Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasure in Posthuman Times features surprisingly playful, parodic, humorous, even psychedelic modes of occupying exposure as an ethics and politics, such as La Tigresa who—barebreasted—shouts poetry at loggers to persuade them to stop chopping down the old growth forests. In various demonstrations around the world “alphabodies” place their flesh in contact with ice, snow, or scratchy fields to spell out “No War,” “No GM” or other slogans. One Plastic Pollution activist video features a plastic bag gone rogue, rambling across the landscape accompanied by plucky tunes, provoking us to think about the material agency of discarded objects ("The Ballad of the Plastic Bag"). Another video stages a romantic beach scene where lovers feed each other a plate of seafood that happens to be filled with crunchy and colorful plastic bits ("Plastic Seduction"). Artist Marina Zurkow’s haunting animated video, “Slurb,” shows human, aquatic, and hybrid beings immersed in a post-apocalyptic watery world. The human and humanoid creatures in this video are painted the same aqua hue as the water that surrounds them, stressing the human enmeshment with the flooded, post-climate-change environment. Other visual renderings of aquatic lives include the stunning black and white video of a pteropod shell revolving as it dissolves, dramatizing the effects of ocean acidification. This short but entrancing video recalls the popular icon (think dormroom posters and headshops) of mind-altering practices—the spiral. Psychedelic traditions can be embraced as means of imagining the scale of human effects in the Anthropocene, exposing one’s consciousness across unimaginable depths, rather than enclosing it. To occupy an insurgent sense of exposure means to dwell in the dissolve where “the environment” can never be imagined as external. Rather than shoring up boundaries and borders, environmental consciousness, activism, and the practices of everyday life can begin with the recognition that humans and all other creatures are enmeshed with and exposed to the rapidly changing multi-species world.


Stacy Alaimo is professor of English and director of the environmental and sustainability studies minor at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is author of Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times, Undomesticated Ground, and Bodily Natures; editor of Matter; and coeditor of Material Feminisms.

"Accessibly written, lucidly argued, and capacious in its ambit, there is so much in this book to savor, to be inspired by, and to provoke."
—Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, author of Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman

"In addition to the descriptions and analyses of imaginative activism, strange agencies of non-human entities, and the politics of place, Alaimo develops compelling theories of self, action, and being human along the way."
—J. Jack Halberstam, University of Southern California

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On Bobby Vee, a great man to the core.


We knew Alzheimer’s would take Bobby Vee from us eventually, but it still seems too soon, too much, too unfair.

Wasn’t he just 15?

Didn’t he just step confidently onto that stage in Moorhead and make his first public appearance in place of Buddy Holly?

Didn’t he just reel off a string of Top 10 hits written by Carole King and other Brill Building giants?

Didn’t we just see him a few weeks, a few months, a few years ago, touring with his sons and playing all his familiar favorites?

Isn’t there some way we can freeze time and keep this kind, caring, creative young man eternally with us?

It seems the younger they are when they first burst upon the scene, the quicker they fade out of sight – drugs, booze, sex, scandal, indolence, or an inability to handle all the pressures that fame can thrust upon the famous. But that didn’t happen to Robert Velline of Fargo, North Dakota. He became Bobby Vee, but he never stopped being the nice guy that everybody liked, admired, and thought of as a friend. In some ways, he was always the kid who had to beg his older brother to let him into their basement band, who wrote songs in study hall, who gave young Bob Dylan a chance to play piano in his band, and who somehow beat all the odds and went from, yes, a complete unknown to one of the biggest-selling singers in the U.S.

Bobby Vee seems fixed in our minds as a teenager because that’s exactly what he was when he and The Shadows volunteered to fill in for Buddy Holly at the Winter Dance Party on February 3, 1959, after Holly was killed in a plane crash in Iowa. He was still just 16 when he and the band journeyed to Minneapolis in the spring of 1959 to record his composition “Suzie Baby,” the first rock and roll record recorded at Kay Bank studio and released on Soma records. Just a few months later, he was signed by Liberty Records and moved to Los Angeles, while his classmates were returning to Fargo Central for another year of English composition and algebra.

It was the dawning of the era of the teen idol – Ricky, Frankie, Fabian, and others – and Bobby Vee had the perfect voice to bridge the gap between the hiccuppy rockabilly style of Holly and the smoother pop sounds that began to dominate the radio. The best songwriters of the era – Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach, Jack Keller, Howard Greenfield, Helen Miller – could have placed their songs with anyone, but they frequently turned to young Bobby Vee, knowing he would deliver every nuance and emotion in their material.

Several generations have come and gone since the 18-year-old Vee topped the charts with such great songs as “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him” – just two years after leaving his midwestern home – but time shouldn’t blunt his remarkable accomplishments. Nor should his ten years on the Top 40 charts be looked at as the defining entry in his curriculum vitae.

Long after his hitmaking days were over, Bobby Vee continued to make huge contributions to his community and to his fraternity of musicians. He had four children with his high-school sweetheart, Karen (they’d been married for 51 years when she passed away last year), and his three sons played in his touring band for decades. He was also a tireless promoter and advisor to his friends in the music business. On his return from a tour of Europe – where he remained a big star into the 1990s and beyond – he informed friend Tony Andreason of the Trashmen that they, too, had a huge following in England, Germany, and France. “You should go over there,” he urged them. They did, to great acclaim and ever-increasing tour schedules. When Bob Lind – singer/songwriter of “Elusive Butterfly” fame – decided he wanted to return to the music business a few years ago, it was Bobby Vee – his first friend in Los Angeles – who spent hours on the phone with him, helping him strategize his comeback.

In a business where being a self-centered hedonist is almost considered part of the definition of success, Bobby Vee was the opposite: humble, loyal, helpful, and decent. No one who worked with him, knew him, or had a chance meeting with him had anything but the kindest words to say about him. To his final days – suffering from an illness that cruelly makes its sufferers forget even the best parts of themselves – Bobby Vee never forgot to treat people with courtesy and respect. He never stopped being that great 15-year-old high school kid who everybody really liked, and who could really sing.


Rick Shefchik, longtime Pioneer Press journalist, is author of Everybody's Heard about the Bird and From Fields to Fairways.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Cutting Class Nobly: Toby Thompson on Bob Dylan


My reaction to Bob Dylan’s being awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature is, oddly, less public than private. It’s public in that in 1971 I published the first serious book about Dylan’s life, and since 1969 have written of his work fairly regularly. It’s personal in that Dylan’s lyrics, poetry, and prose have appended themselves to my deepest thoughts at least since college. “College” is key, for those who object to Dylan’s having won this great prize in literature do so from the erroneous position that he is not worthy of academic consideration—as if he and the generation he represents ever have strayed far from campus. That is, campus with a beat.

During the university terms of 1965-66, I, like thousands of other American undergraduates, balanced a rabid interest in literature and art with one as keen in the new music. That music—folk, blues, jazz, rock, and the mongrel, folk-rock—occupied our leisure time. Weeknights were spent reading in the dormitory or at the university library. But weekends were for playing and hearing music, at the coffee house or local bar.

Bob Dylan had done this, from 1959-60, in the coffee houses of Minneapolis’s Dinkytown, “a little [Greenwich] Village,” he wrote in Chronicles, which was adjacent to the University of Minnesota, where he was a freshman. Though he “didn’t go to class,” he claims, he appears not to have flunked out. He played music each night and spent his days reading under the tutelage of figures like Dave Whitaker, “one of the Svengali-type Beats on the scene,” and a hipster guru. Whitaker leant Guthrie’s Bound for Glory to Dylan, and said dismissively of Bob’s coursework that “it was getting in the way of his education.”

Dylan was a cutter—not of flesh, but of classes, umbilically linked to the university but not of it, preferring side channels for the acquisition of knowledge, and aligning himself less with the student body than with a subculture of hangers-on that has a long tradition in college towns. In 1966's Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth, the university professor and novelist, perfectly describes such cutters as belonging to a subclass of “those intentionally marginal souls—underdisciplined, oversensitive, disordered in both appearance and reality—whose huge craving for the state of artisthood may drive them so far in rare instances as actually to work at making pieces of art.”

Hangin’ Round the Ink Well

My senior year at the University of Delaware coincided roughly with Dylan’s recordings of Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, outtakes from which The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 is representative. I recall listening to Bringing it All Back Home with friends in the dorm. At least half of the songs, we thought, were poor rock and roll, with comic references to world history or literature that sounded as if plucked from survey courses. Subterranean Homesick Blues was unique, however, as it addressed both high school and college students’ main concern: how to grow up. Conversely, tracks like “Outlaw Blues,” “Bob Dylan’s 113th Dream,” “On the Road Again,” and even “Maggie’s Farm” were forays into rock that sounded sophomoric and badly played.

Songs that did intrigue were those that would become Dylan classics: “She Belongs to Me,” “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit,” “Gates of Eden,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “It’s Alright, Ma,” and of course “Mr. Tambourine Man.” These spoke to different levels of education Dylan had been receiving—not as a cutter in Dinkytown but by “cutting classes” on the larger campus of Greenwich Village.

A conceit of Barth’s postmodern metafiction, Giles Goat-Boy (originally subtitled The New Revised Syllabus of George Giles our Grand Tutor), is a vision of the world as a university close, and his division of it into East Campus and West Campus. GGB is a Cold War novel, anticipating the political strife, religious hysteria, and digital overkill of a later era in skirmishes where all are members of an eternal student body. For Barth, West and East campuses might have been the U.S.-and-West-European bloc versus the Soviet one, or Christianity versus Buddhism, but for Dylan it was Dinkytown versus Greenwich Village.

During the 1960s, the Village had many exciting facets, not the least of which was its role as a hub of artistic endeavor and leftist, political verbiage. But it also contained the campus of New York University. NYU, with its population of students, faculty, commuters, barroom intellectuals, class cutters, and renters (it remains the Village’s largest property owner), contributed mightily to the neighborhood’s culture. Washington Square Park, where folkies gathered to sing, was flanked by NYU buildings and served as a de facto university quad. Dylan sang there, and 161 West Fourth Street, where eventually he lived, was two blocks from NYU’s law school. Despite being, in Al Kooper’s words, “the quintessential New York hipster,” it was as if Bob still were crashed above Gray’s Drugstore in Dinkytown.

His early mentors were Village folkies like Len Chandler, Fred Neil, and Dave van Ronk. He’s careful to cite, in Chronicles, the influence of learned figures like Paul Clayton, Izzy Young, and the perhaps-fabricated Ray Gooch, whose book-lined apartment Bob describes as a miniature university atheneum. Gooch’s flat had “a dark cavern with a floor to ceiling library . . . the place had an overpowering presence of literature and you couldn’t help but lose your passion for dumbness.” There Dylan read assiduously for at least part of each day, and in Chronicles his recitation of titles read or dipped into is like a course list for World Literature. Gooch and Dylan’s other tutors were educated men: Clayton had a PhD in English from the University of Virginia, and van Ronk was well read in history and politics. Dylan was a cutter by inclination, but whether he cut their informal classes is not known.

He had for the most part eschewed academic writing (even “Hard Rain” with its Surrealist-Symbolist take on “Lord Randall” might be excused as hipster wigginess), but on Home, songs like “She Belongs to Me” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” were decidedly English majorish. I had written a term paper for my Modern British and American Poetry class on Dylan’s work through Another Side of Bob Dylan. But these songs were something new. Aside from their generational kick, they spoke to our fiercest literary concerns at university—ones that in ‘65-‘66 were widely shared.

Girl by the Whirlpool

We stood amused by Barth’s postmodern take on Biblical-and-hero’s-journey themes in GGB, but The White Goddess, by British poet and novelist Robert Graves—subtitled A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth—was our touchstone. Graves’s thesis was that to be a poet one must sacrifice all to the muse. She was woman tripartite: maiden, mother, and the crone who laid one out at death. To consort with her one must ultimately die–after being flayed, impaled with a mistletoe stake, and nailed to an oak. All true poems were about the goddess. This was muse worship at its grisliest.

Dylan would give a nod to Graves in Chronicles. “I read The White Goddess [in Gooch’s library], by Robert Graves, too. Invoking the poetic muse was something I didn’t know about yet. Didn’t know enough to start trouble with it, anyway.”

By 1965 he was ready. Lyrics such as “My love she speaks of silence, without ideals of violence / She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful, yet she’s true like ice, like fire,” and “You will start out standing, proud to steal her everything she needs ... but you will wind up peeking through her keyhole down upon your knees,” are pure Graves. These lyrics are redolent of academic theorizing; despite his protestations, Dylan respected and respects people of learning. (A Princeton professor is his website’s historian-in-residence, and Bob holds at least two honorary PhDs) The following year he’d sing, “You’ve been with the professors, and they’ve all liked your looks, you’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books,” while acknowledging that in the streets of Juarez, “they got some hungry women there, and they’ll really make a mess out of you.” He’d started his death march away from cutter-chat toward service to the muse.

In ‘60s rock such service might be no more pretentious than hymns like “Oh, Donna” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Or in Dylan’s case, “Queen Jane Approximately” or “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” But on Highway 61—which The New Yorker’s David Remnick called recently “the best rock album ever made”—with the exception of “Desolation Row” and its string of literary/historical references, he’s rescinded academic concerns for a move toward the “mercurial” visions of Blonde on Blonde.

Here Dylan finds his mature voice. Here he moves past the literary posturing of Robert Graves to a pure vision of love and its consequences, in language that is elusive, referential, Dada-istic, absurd, irreverent, Miles-Davis-cool and steeped in mythical allusion. The results are breathtaking.

It’s instructive to watch Dylan via The Cutting Edge negotiate Blonde on Blonde’s stations of the cross. Its preliminary tracks are like penitential drafts of an undergraduate thesis, but Dylan is past any fealty to honors status. He’s moved to an unconscious praising of the muse. Though working in a midnight studio in Nashville, he might as well be, as Graves writes of the goddess, “Seeking her out at the volcano’s head / Among pack ice, or where the track had faded / Beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers; / Whose broad high brow was white as any leper’s / Whose eyes were blue, with rowan-berry lips / With hair curled honey-colored to her hips ...” On Blonde on Blonde Dylan couches his praise in service to real women–pop goddesses or their rarified superiors, as in “Visions of Johanna” and the incomparable “Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

Twenty Years of Schoolin’

Like Dylan, I graduated from university concerns in May of 1966 and spent the summer touring Europe. About then, Barth published the essay “The Literature of Exhaustion,” in which he predicted the end of literature as we knew it, particularly realistic fiction. Everyone was tired and the decade’s party had hardly begun. Barth was moving toward the fabulism of his first short-story collection, Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice. Had he been listening to Bob? Switch “Fiction” to “Songs” in his subtitle and it would fit Blonde. With the late ‘60s looming something was happening and . . . That was how many of us who’d left West and East campuses felt.

In July, I received news of Dylan’s motorcycle crash while reading Graves’ The Greek Myths by the Aegean Sea. First reports were that he was dead; second, crippled for life. In fact, like the fertility kings of that very coast, he was reborn. Or in Barthian terms, he’d abandoned his Greenwich Village campus for the Arcadia of Woodstock. There, as The Cutting Edge predicts, his ascension to emeritus was assured.

No more fitting cutter of academic dross might be found to wear this year’s Nobel laurels.


Toby Thompson is author of Positively Main Street: Bob Dylan's Minnesota (UMP), Saloon, and The '60s Report. He is associate professor of creative writing at Penn State University. He has also written for numerous magazines including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Playboy, and Esquire.

"Toby Thompson was there first." —Greil Marcus

"Well worth the attention of anyone who has fallen under the spell of the boy from the North Country." —Los Angeles Times

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lefse advice + Finnish Blueberry Bars recipe from Beatrice Ojakangas.

Last night, the Press celebrated the launch of Homemade: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food, a memoir-cookbook by James Beard Cookbook Hall of Famer, author of 30 cookbooks, and self-described home economist Beatrice Ojakangas. This sold-out event at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis included a conversation with Star Tribune reporter Kim Ode, who writes "Baking Central." One of the evening's finest takeaways? A question about lefse prompted Ojakangas to divulge her potato of choice, the only potato that makes a good lefse: Russet. She does a combination of both ricing and mashing.

Ojakangas's Cheese Picnic Bread recipe, which won the Second Grand Prize
at the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1957, was later changed to "Chunk o' Cheese Bread"
by Pillsbury. 

The evening included a sampling of classic Ojakangas recipes: Almond Cardamom Scones, her Pillsbury Bake-Off award-winning Chunk o' Cheese Bread, and Finnish Blueberry Bars. The first two recipes can be found in Homemade; the third is published below. Bon appétit!

Finnish Blueberry Bars (Mustikkapiirakka)
We had a corner of a slightly swampy forty acres that had been burned over—probably in the 1918 forest fire. Many parts of northern Minnesota suffered the same fate, but the prize was that this is where wild blueberries abounded. We had blueberry bushes with so much fruit that we could actually “milk” the berries into a pail. These tiny, juicy, flavorful berries found their way into many treats at our house when in season. We made pancakes and muffins heavy with this juicy fruit of the bush. My aunt Ida was one who had her “secret” patches, too. Here is my favorite recipe for these bars, which could be cut into 1- x 2-inch bars to go with coffee, or into larger 3- or 4-inch squares for dessert.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

2 cups wild blueberries
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt

About 3 tablespoons additional sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease and flour a 12- by 16-inch jelly roll pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a fork, blend in the butter until the mixture resembles moist crumbs. With your hands, press the crumbs together to make a dough. Reserve about 1 cup of the dough and roll the rest out on a lightly floured board to fit the jelly roll pan. (This crumbly dough may tear when it is being lifted into the pan, but it can be easily patched by pressing the torn pieces together.) With your fingers, form a ridge around the edge of the dough so that the filling will not run over during baking.

For the filling, pour the blueberries into a small mixing bowl. Mash lightly to produce enough juice to moisten the berry mixture. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cornstarch, and salt. Spread the filling over the dough in the pan.

Roll out the reserved portion of dough on a floured board to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut in strips about an inch wide and place in a loose lattice pattern on the filling. Sprinkle the top with additional sugar.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is a light golden-brown. Cool and cut into squares for dessert or into bars for the coffee table.

Makes about 12 desserts or 48 bars.


Beatrice Ojakangas grew up on a small farm in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota–Duluth. Childhood 4-H, college Home Ec, and work as a hospital dietary assistant, food editor, teacher, homemaker, and mother influenced her cooking career and her food writing for such publications as Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Cooking Light, and numerous newspapers. Ojakangas is the author of twenty-nine cookbooks and was inducted in 2005 to the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota in 2007.

"Beatrice Ojakangas has long been my personal cookbook hero. This book proves that Beatrice Ojakangas is not only one of this country’s most important food writers, but a national treasure."—Amy Thielen, author of The New Midwestern Table

"Beatrice Ojakangas makes her compelling family stories rich for all senses: we smell the cardamom in the bread cooling on the counter, savor the cream of morel soup, and long for chiffon cake. Best of all, we experience the joy of recreating these flavors ourselves with the recipes she provides. This book is a public service to history as well as to our stomachs."—Lucie Amundsen, co-owner of Locally Laid Egg Company and author of Locally Laid

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Zeke Caligiuri: My City, My Version

Award-winning writer

The city of Minneapolis has been like a shadow in my life since my father opened the doors to our family's funky brown Mercury Monarch and introduced me to her. As a kid who was born and raised in her clutches, he was loyal and protective of her. I have never fully understood her moods. She could be loving and progressive and then flip and be violent and cruel. We knew she wasn't always fair, with some parts of the family gaining a greater proportion of her graces than others. She was a bosom for some, and a belt or a switch for others, feeding plenty but starving some, too.

As the great shadow in our lives, she was the place where I met all of the ghosts that lived under bridges or the tunnels of elm trees, and all of the spots hidden in the cut. During summers I retreated into those shadows; in winter they engulfed me. Real life imprinted itself on my heart in those shadows. It always felt like she favored the ghosts more than us.

When we were younger we were all waiting on our moments to step away from our shadows. She wouldn't be the only shadow in my life, and those memories weren't the only ghosts. My relationship to the city brought me to Stillwater, the hundred-year-old prison that blocked the sun from my life for so long. I swear the ghosts here think you are already one of them, they whispered these things into our ears at night. It is easy to become one if you aren't paying attention.

When the Twins won the World Series in '91 we skipped school to go to the parade. While the whole city celebrated, what we saw was the underbelly. At 14, we were more conscious of the fights, and the bombardment of local businesses. It was chaotic. It was also exhilarating.

As a call to the spirit of our activist parents, we were drawn to the Free Mumia rallies at Cedar-Riverside in the mid-nineties. I didn't understand then the politics of confinement, or how it would later be such a central part of my life as I took my place in Minnesota's massive prison population growth. We half-heartedly stumbled into a movement that would become the major themes in ours and our families' lives.

These themes started in the nightmares I had in the old Hennepin County jail and courthouse with the copper-green roof. It was old and cold and you could flush an entire county blanket down one of those toilets. On Sundays and Wednesdays it smelled like orange peels and bologna. Some couldn't eat for days when they came in; others ate everything. Men came in and tried to sleep off the DTs and bargain a way out. Some men carved their names in holding cells so they could recognize themselves every time they came back. Everybody had a version of the city. They told stories forever: about the Southside and the Northside, and every other city we shared those cells with. They talked about lives in juvenile detention and trip after trip to jails and prisons, and wore the armor of men that gave up on conventional lives long before. I slept on a bunk that generations had before me. For as many men as it housed, there were so many more ghosts that spoke to me in those dreams. For as much as I just wanted to get out, they assured me it was only the beginning.

When I went away to prison, like so many other kids of the generation that grew up during that period of the late '80s and through the '90s, many of my friends got their allegiances to our city tattooed on their bodies: Southside and 6-1-2; names of parks and neighborhoods and streets; outlines of the state of Minnesota, with the city's skyline across their backs. The themes often crossed color lines and criminal affiliations. They were wearing in permanent ink what my father was showing me when the door swung open on the Mercury, and the expanse of Powderhorn Park was shown to me. I always planned on getting my own tattoos with my lifelong allegiance to her on display. But when it got time to put her on my flesh, it just didn't mean as much as I once thought it did.

Me and my friends have these conversations about our histories and the ways we remember certain people or places. We speak of how a guy was "a shooter," or "had hands" back in the day; how someone else used to "get money." They are the versions of people we hold onto when the flesh and blood versions of these people have come to disappoint us—just as we have come to disappoint ourselves. We hold onto their ghosts instead.

I have come to understand Minneapolis as a home for coalitions of good people working on behalf of other people, but I also recognize the wealth and educational disparities that so truly exist, that are hallmarks in the lives of the people I have grown up with in prison. Those disparities are themselves ghosts that just haven't seemed to ever go away.

The city has always been that shadow for me. I love my city even though I wasn't always loved back. She gave me a place to say "This is where I come from." It was where I met the people that would shape my world. Their ghosts hover through the streets in Starter jackets and tattoos of the skyline on their necks and backs. They are now in their late 30s or 40s fighting with younger versions of themselves with different names and different costumes over the city's propriety to them.

I wrote my book because I am sure there are still ghosts of myself moving through South Minneapolis. There is a ghost of myself moving through the prison in Stillwater as well. Much in the same way the phantoms of our earlier ideas and expectations still linger about who we are and what the city is to us: a loving mother or an abusive foster home; a first love or a girl that watched you get beat up at the park; an old friend or an unresolved beef; the place where you were most free or a prison where you most were not.


Zeke Caligiuri is author of This Is Where I Am: A Memoir. Caligiuri is the recipient of several awards through the annual PEN Prison Writing Contest. His work has been published in the collection Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates; From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline; and From the Inside Out: Letters to Young Men and Other Writings. He is incarcerated at the Faribault Correctional Facility in Minnesota, where he continues to write.

"An intimate, searing, and important document that makes no excuses for its subject’s life-choices and is all the more powerful for its honesty."—Joyce Carol Oates

"Caligiuri demonstrates a willingness and ability to look back and share his experiences without judgment or ego, which makes for a fascinating and moving account of one man’s incarceration and life." Booklist

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nostalgia for a lost nation in diasporic Iranian memoir.

Associate professor of English at Ryerson University, Toronto

In this first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, diasporic Iranians, many of them women, are deploying the autobiographical form to narrate their personal experiences of life in post-revolutionary Iran and in the diaspora. The explosion of life writing in North America since the 1990s, and the growing market demand for such autobiographical narratives, has been referred to as the “memoir boom.” At the forefront of what we can now call the diasporic Iranian women’s memoir boom are two texts, both published in 1999: Tara Bahrampour’s To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America and Gelareh Asayesh’s Saffron Sky: A Life between Iran and America. These autobiographies are the first among a now substantial corpus of texts by a generation of diasporic Iranian women, many of whom experienced the 1979 Iranian revolution in childhood and then immigrated to the West with their families. The predominant sentiment in these texts, nostalgia for a lost childhood, is thus deeply bound up with nostalgia for a lost (pre-revolutionary) nation.

These authors pen nostalgic reflections of their past inflected with a keen longing for “home.” For diasporic writers, unlike travel writers, it is the return that is the fantasy, not the departure; for them, there is little romance in being elsewhere. These life narratives emphasize the importance of memory, and of a careful re-membering (in the dual sense of recall and piecing together) of personal stories of families and friends that have remained half told, lost in the frenzied shuffle between nations, between an Iran of their past, and a North America, or Europe, of their present and future.

Nostalgia has tended historically to be regarded in negative terms: initially viewed as a curable medical ailment, it was later considered to be a form of psychological trauma. Once it was no longer diagnosed as a medical—and therefore treatable—condition, nostalgia was recast, in cultural and literary contexts, as an emotional wound. In popular discourse, nostalgia is often seen as a sentimental indulgence which market-savvy entrepreneurs have easily attached to consumer goods. These negative connotations have contributed to a view of nostalgia as implying movement backward, but as scholars of nostalgia have argued, nostalgia is as much about projecting a future past as it is about claiming an irretrievable past. In other words, nostalgic remembrances of pre-revolutionary Iran do not simply amount to mourning a past life, they are also an expression of mourning for one’s future self that might have been. In the nostalgic desire to reclaim an irretrievable place (Iran) and irretrievable time (pre-1979) lies an articulated grief for a future that could have been. At the level of the individual nostalgic, the desire for another place and another time involves a mourning for that (imagined) future self—who the diasporic subject imagines herself to have become, had a particular event (in this case, the revolution) not taken place.

Diasporic Iranian memoirs are particularly interesting in their mediation of the diasporic experience through the authors' memories of pre-revolutionary Iran, thus placing the concepts of memory and nostalgia, and questions of testimony and witness, at the heart of these narratives. These memoirs are deeply emotional, and deeply affecting in the stories that they tell. What, then, is at stake in the circulation of such affects as nostalgia, empathy, and compassion?

The prison memoir is part of a growing wave of testimonial literatures that foreground suffering, and impel the reader to take up a compassionate stance. The emotive power of these prison narratives is particularly significant for generating ethical and moral responses to the suffering body, and asks us to consider how suffering is expressed in narrative. What do narratives of suffering do? How can we, as privileged readers, bear witness to the traumatic experiences endured by political prisoners in a meaningful way, in a way that goes beyond merely expressing sympathy in the face of another’s suffering? How can we, as readers located in the West, read and engage with narratives of violence, torture, and imprisonment particularly when these narratives depict experiences in cultural and national locations—with which the West has a compromised, and often vexed, relationship?

In considering this relatively recent proliferation of diasporic Iranian women’s testimonial narratives we need to try and make sense of how certain narratives are received in the West, particularly since these texts do not have a readership in Iran: how do some narratives become more popular or more palatable to a Western or diasporic audience than others? How can we understand the far-reaching compassionate responses elicited by some popular prison narratives such as, for example, Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran (2007)? How can we understand the expression of compassion in relation to Nemat’s text against a marked lack of affective response to those unrepresentable subjects of trauma whose narrative reach does not extend as far, whose sufferings do not register as deeply upon readers in the West?

These testimonial narratives of suffering and pain impel us to bear witness and to feel the suffering of those represented in these texts, and also presumably the suffering of those lives that are not represented. How do we engage with testimonial literatures, with stories of suffering, without reproducing inequities between compassionate readers and suffering subjects?

The prison memoir as testimonial literature makes claims on the reader to respond to narratives of suffering in politically responsible ways. Prison narratives such as Shahla Talebi’s Ghosts of Revolution: Rekindled Memories of Imprisonment in Iran (2011), extend a significant challenge to readers. They require us to self-reflect in ways that can be deeply uncomfortable, asking us to imagine not only others’ suffering when they are at a safe distance, but also to reflect on the disturbing affinities between the cruelties to which human beings subject each other in their daily lives and the torture and betrayal of cellmates in a harrowing context such as in prison. Talebi’s memoir, in particular, compels us to contemplate and acknowledge, in profoundly unsettling ways, the limits of our own humanity.

A powerful genre with a far reach, the diasporic Iranian memoir can work to generate feelings of empathy for the suffering of others. As a mode of expression that humanizes an other, diasporic Iranian prison memoirs afford us an understanding of the memoir genre both as a testimonio that bears witness against injustice, and as a humanitarian narrative that asks us to rethink our capacity for empathy and compassion.


Nima Naghibi is author of Women Write Iran: Nostalgia and Human Rights from the Diaspora (Minnesota 2016) and Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran (Minnesota 2007). She is associate professor of English at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Women Write Iran is a Great Summer Read recommendation from Ms. Magazine.

"Nima Naghibi’s familiarity and eloquence on the subject of Iranian women’s textual cultures is seen throughout Women Write Iran, opening up a clear discussion of human rights and humanitarianism."
—Gillian Whitlock, University of Queensland

"Long awaited and truly welcomed, Women Write Iran offers an erudite analysis of some of the auto/biographical works produced by Iranian women in diaspora in post-revolutionary Iran. Nima Naghibi takes her reader on a journey into these works, showing their complexity not only in their own right, but in relation to their reception, demanding a more nuanced and historically situated approach from readers."
—Shahla Talebi, Arizona State University

Friday, September 16, 2016

The U.S. custom of tipping at restaurants, from the 1800s to now

Prior to the late nineteenth century, the practice of tipping in the United States was considered
humiliating to waiters.
Image source: An 1899 edition of Their Wedding Journey by William Dean Howells.


Assistant professor of history at Washburn University

Today, when Americans go out to eat at a restaurant that provides table service, it is standard to pay the server a tip. The practice of tipping at restaurants has been the norm in U.S. eateries since the late nineteenth century. Prior to this, tipping, or “feeing” as it was then called, was considered humiliating to waiters because it was un-democratic, a vestige of a corrupt European culture and society that made one man beholden to another and degraded the dignity of labor. Indeed, when Englishwoman Frances Wright visited America in 1821 and noticed America’s prohibition on tipping, she attributed it to the “republican feelings of this community,” adding: “I honor the pride which makes a man unwilling to sell his personal service to a fellow creature.”

Another contemporary custom in American restaurants that would have been shunned in the early nineteenth century is the practice of referring to members of the wait staff as servers. The title waiter, which seems to have recently fallen out of favor because it is not gender neutral, originated from an American desire to separate and elevate the work from being a servant. For example, in Royall Tyler’s 1787 play The Contrast, Colonel Manley’s servant prefers to be called a waiter because, as he explains, “no man shall master me!” Server, in contrast to waiter, sounds, well, rather servile.

If nineteenth-century restaurant waiters were a bit sensitive it is because they had good reason to be. Waitering was an occupation fraught with status anxiety in the young republican country, where citizenship was closely tied to economic independence. Native-born white men avoided working as a waiter if they could and these jobs were instead largely filled by men who, thanks to racial and ethnic discrimination, confronted more limited occupational options: African Americans and Irish immigrants. (There were no waitresses in early American restaurants; waiters were men.) Proprietors and managers, however—especially of luxury restaurants—recognized how important securing a skilled wait staff was to the success of their establishment. Accordingly, waiters’ wages were among the highest paid to unskilled workers, especially blacks and Irishmen, and the job was thus highly sought after among these populations.

A Parker House bill of fare from January 15, 1856.
Note the manager's request for patrons not to "fee" the waiters (bottom left).
Image courtesy: American Antiquarian Society.

In the decades after the Civil War, as Americans became more comfortable with what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen termed conspicuous consumption, tipping became in-vogue in restaurants that catered to the wealthy as a way for patrons to demonstrate their conspicuous consumption of waiters’ services and signal enhanced social status. The custom gradually caught on in more plebian restaurants.

A tip is now anticipated in every kind of American dining venue except fast-food chains. In fact, thanks to the custom of tipping, the restaurant industry is not required to pay its employees the minimum wage. Servers in some states make as little $2.13 per hour (the federal minimum tipped wage since 1991), with tips being expected to augment this income to at least the standard federal minimum wage of $7.25.

But for the last several years, a backlash against tipping has begun to resurface. The advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), founded in 2001, for example, has launched a campaign called “One Fair Wage” that aims to eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and abolish tipping altogether. One Fair Wage has been embraced in eight states and recently won the support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party’s platform.

Why is tipping once again under scrutiny? On its website, the One Fair Wage campaign points to a number of different reasons to eradicate what nineteenth-century Americans called the “tipping evil.” For example, although restaurant employers are supposed to “top off” a server’s pay when tips don’t add up to at least the minimum wage, many employers neglect to do so and rarely face penalties thanks to lax enforcement of the law. Partly as a result of this, tipped workers are three times as likely to face poverty as the rest of the workforce. This occupational hazard particularly affects women since, according to the National Women's Law Center, today, 70 percent of restaurant servers are female. The shift to female-dominated wait staffs in American restaurants is itself related to the custom of tipping that became popular beginning in the late nineteenth century; as waiting became more associated with servility, women moved into the position in greater numbers.

According to ROC, female servers’ dependence on tips forces them to daily confront sexual harassment from their customers as an occupational hazard. 90 percent of female restaurant workers living off tips report being sexually harassed at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finds that the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women, with a rate five times higher than in any other industry.

Opponents of tipping today would likely agree with Americans of the early Republic that the practice contributes to economic inequalities, creates a society divided between the haves and have-nots, and leads to a culture that denigrates labor. Perhaps we should take a cue from the restaurant trends of the past by once again eliminating the “tipping evil” and instead require the restaurant industry to pay its workers at least the minimum wage.


Kelly Erby is author of Restaurant Republic: The Rise of Public Dining in Boston. She is assistant professor of history at Washburn University.

"Restaurant Republic acknowledges the struggles involved in the development of a modern American consumer society and demonstrates that dining can make complex, and even contradictory, impulses rational."
—Andrew P. Haley, University of Southern Mississippi

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

René Magritte's Selected Writings: On Jane Graverol

Jane Graverol's Le Cortège d'Orpheé.


Though the artist René Magritte (1898–1967) wrote extensively throughout his life and career—from aspirations of being a detective novelist to crafting genre-jumping essays, prose poems, lectures, reviews, and more—it’s hard to say why exactly it has taken so long for Magritte’s writings to become available in English. His Ecrits Complets (Complete Writings) were published in French by Flammarion in 1979, weighing in at a hefty 761 pages. An English edition of his Selected Writings, translated by Jo Levy and edited by John Calder, was originally commissioned in 1987 by Calder Publications, but the book was never released. The translation languished in typewritten manuscript in the Calder archives in Caen, France. Almost thirty years later, edited by Eric Plattner and myself, here it is.

Thanks to our having seen the Magritte exhibit The Mystery of the Ordinary: 1926–1938 at the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 2014, I became intrigued to learn more about Magritte’s output as a writer, because many of the museum wall texts consisted of quoted material from the artist’s writing.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Magritte’s Selected Writings is that it offers fans a chance to see him acting as a tastemaker and critic, as well as a supporter of his fellow artists. One of his most succinct and heartfelt endorsements is the one below of the Belgian surrealist painter Jane Graverol (1905–1984), whom he met in 1949 and whose eerie and imaginative images he admired. This piece is from a 1953 issue of the little magazine Temps mêlés (Mixed Time) dedicated to her work that also contained contributions from other members of their Brussels circle of artists and writers, including Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, Marcel Mariën (with whom Graverol lived for 10 years), Louis Scutenaire, and Geert Van Bruaene.

The accompanying paintings testify to what Magritte describes as her participation in “the only necessary spiritual activity.”

Jane Graverol's L'Esprit Saint.

On Jane Graverol

Everything that Madame Jane Graverol wants to paint seems to me to be charged with the symbolic resonance that comes from a variety of romantic and dramatic feelings. Instead of “using art as an escape”, it is indeed possible, from the moment one decides to paint, not to give up one’s usual preoccupations and to create images of conflicting emotions which will be of real interest to someone interested in human documents, who can then, in his turn, arouse the curiosity of a new observer and so on, ad infinitum. Jane Graverol’s paintings are somewhere in this world of feeling where connections between things are contained within precise limits. But it turns out that the power of the unexpected makes it harder to grasp their meaning. Jane Graverol does not wish to counter the power of the unexpected, consequently she participates in the only necessary spiritual activity.

Jane Graverol's Lolita.


Kathleen Rooney is coeditor of René Magritte: Selected Writings. Rooney is senior lecturer of English and creative writing at DePaul University, and author of eight books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and criticism.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

When Homeland Security goes to school

Assistant professor of social foundations of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago

In 2015, the FBI launched the controversial website Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism. Through interactive games, the playful website intends to prevent young people from embracing extremist beliefs. Don’t Be a Puppet also offers resources for parents and teachers to “educate teenagers on the destructive and deceptive reality of violent extremism and to strengthen their resistance to self-radicalization and possible recruitment.” Although some support Don’t Be a Puppet as a proactive approach to thwarting homegrown extremists, others warn that the website promotes the stereotyping and criminalization of Arab and Muslim Americans.

Screenshot from the FBI's Don't Be a Puppet website.

Don’t Be a Puppet is part of a larger cache of educational programs and practices organized around fighting the global war on terror. From spy camps for children to high school homeland security studies programs to college degree programs in violent extremism, the global war on terror has ushered in a new set of educational policies, practices, and programs in the name of national security. In this approach to the global war on terror, schools train young people as the next generation of national security workers, cultivate youth as vigilant citizens who report and respond to perceived threats, and dissuade students from joining extremist groups.

In 2008, for example, Milton High School installed a specialized Homeland Security program. Located in the greater-DC metropolitan area, the program trained poor and working-class students of color for low-level work in the national security industry. Dozens of local national security experts, agencies, and corporations supported Milton’s Homeland Security program. These national security partners provided resources and curricular guidance to instill in Milton students the technical skills, durable dispositions, and habits necessary for vocational national security work. Algebra teacher Ms. Simmons, for example, detailed a “power lunch” with a Northrop Grumman employee. This consultation led Ms. Simmons to infuse eight lesson plans with national security logics, from calculating the probability of a terrorist attack at a local international airport to determining the parabolic force needed for a sniper to find and shoot a target in North Korea. Through specially designed Homeland Security courses, electives, field trips to national security hubs, national security guest speakers, and internships, Milton prepared its “rough” and “rowdy” students as future “military grunts,” cybersecurity technicians, Border Patrol agents, and NSA workers. Branded as the “vo-tech of the 21st century,” the Homeland Security program sought to improve the struggling school while providing a “pipeline” of diverse workers to the national security industry.

A Curriculum of Fear traces my journey through my yearlong participation in Milton’s Homeland Security program alongside the school’s hardworking teachers and its vibrant students. My experience at Milton was complicated, as my days in the Homeland Security program revealed the complexities, contradictions, and contributions of these new educational arrangements calibrated to the global war on terror. Despite my concerns about how this national security schooling shaped students’ understanding of the world and their place in it, I often found myself swept away by the program’s hands-on learning opportunities, its provocative topics, and its riveting guest speakers. I, for example, was captivated by a high-level NSA agent’s accounting of the “hackers, criminals, terrorists, and nation-states” who posed a threat to the United States. Like students, I listened attentively as a US Army Corps of Engineers representative described the haunting search and rescue missions in the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center towers after 9/11. I leaned in with curiosity as he detailed his subsequent deployment to “primitive” and “backward” Afghanistan to “support our warfighters” and prevent “another September 11.” Armed with a police training gun, I enthusiastically pursued students in a home invasion simulation at the State Police Academy. With what seemed like minimal effort, I acquired much national security knowledge, a clear indication of how effective the Homeland Security program was in teaching young people (and me) complex information in accessible and engaging ways.

A Homeland Security-focused classroom at Milton High School.

It was easy to understand why teachers viewed the program as an innovative way to improve the school while securing the financial futures of its poor and working-class student body. The Homeland Security program offered students a course of study anchored in a thrilling topic they valued, pathways to obtain stable jobs in a booming industry after graduation, and opportunities to protect their nation as vigilant citizens and national security workers. Guided by neoliberal pressures to run schools as job-training sites, intensified fears of resurgent terrorism, and a pulsating sense of national responsibility, Milton teachers and students alike argued that the Homeland Security program was a laudable effort to secure young people’s futures and the nation.

As exhilarating as I found it, I often worried about the effects of a program so narrowly focused on the problem of terrorism and the militarized solutions it offered. The more time I spent at the school, the more concerned I became by the fears students expressed, the militarized approaches to national security the school advanced, and the Orientalist worldview the program promoted. Eleventh-grade student Tiffany, for example, detailed how her participation in the Homeland Security program cultivated deep fears of a terrorist attack in her community. Her new knowledge, infused with palpable fears, compelled Tiffany to adjust her own corporeal engagement with the social world to ward off danger and ease her fears:

I’m not gonna say because of Homeland Security I’ve been alert, but we learned that people like terrorists look like normal people….On the bus, I just be like, “This looks a little suspect, I’m gonna walk away.” You could be suspect. They’re normal people and I would just sit there and just like, you know, when I’m the bus now, I just say, you know, don’t react. Like I don’t say “Hi” and talk to everybody ’cause you never know. I was so friendly before Homeland Security. I’m not gonna say I’m not friendly, but I was just so open to talk to anybody, anything, didn’t really care, didn’t really think about it and then [our teacher] made us realize, “Look, everybody not your friend. People are crazy out here. You need to watch out.” . . . So this class made me more of knowing to the outside world ’cause I was really just like cool with everything. I never thought, like I thought everybody’s good. I don’t think everyone’s bad or suspect. I just definitely watch how they act, their body language when nobody’s right there to see what they’re doing. ’Cause you never know. People crazy. So this class has definitely shown me that.

Tiffany’s new national security knowledge informed her fears of a terrorist attack while riding the bus. Through rehearsals of catastrophic attacks infused with haunting references to “another September 11,” fearful yet patriotic Milton students came to imagine the United States as under constant threat and thus demanded a matrix of national security practices, from armed police to war. Given these fears, students diligently studied the skills, knowledges, and procedures necessary to act as “good citizens” who defended their homeland from the “bad guys.”

Milton students briefly observed as police recruits learned to respond
to mass demonstrations on a field trip to the State Police Academy.

My daily participation in Milton’s Homeland Security program revealed, firsthand, how the global war on terror seeped into and reconfigured the public school, particularly for its poor and working-class youth of color. Although Milton school staff supported this remaking of their school, Homeland Security program coordinator Mr. Hopkins and Principal Young balked when I asked if their children would someday participate in the program. Prompted by their hesitation, I began questioning how a military-infused national security schooling became what one teacher called an “obvious choice” for Milton’s struggling students, but not the children of white, middle-class teachers. Informed by this contradiction, A Curriculum of Fear explores the social, political, and economic contexts that shaped how Milton school staff came to establish a Homeland Security program that, by design, funneled Milton’s non-dominant youth into the global war on terror, as “military grunts,” low-level national security workers, and vigilant citizen-soldiers. In doing so, A Curriculum of Fear calls into question the relegation of poor and working-class youth of color to a militarized education that nourishes fear, advances dangerous assumptions about who and what is “suspicious,” and pushes students toward war. Although teachers sought to improve the school for their struggling students, these good intentions often masked the underlying racialized and militarized assumptions, logics, and effects of a high school program organized around advancing the global war on terror.

As the FBI’s Don’t Be a Puppet website suggests, the global war on terror continues to usher in new institutional arrangements that align US public schools with military exigencies, especially in communities of color. This historical moment defined by the global war on terror demands a new political imagination that creatively works toward countering the militarization of public education in the United States. This imagination must articulate other forms of belonging, security, and national responsibility in US public schools outside of dominant tropes of terrorism, war, and violence. As I argue in A Curriculum of Fear, Milton’s Homeland Security program serves as a clarion call for a different kind of public education that nourishes the critical thinking skills necessary to solve today’s most pressing social problems and to contribute to a participatory democracy. The work toward the public education, and political future, we want for our children begins today.


Nicole Nguyen is author of A Curriculum of Fear: Homeland Security in U.S. Public Schools. She is assistant professor of social foundations of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

"A Curriculum of Fear offers unique and engaging insight on the intersections of education, securitization, and militarism in the United States. It makes an important contribution to research in each of these fields."
—Emily Gilbert, University of Toronto

"A valuable contribution to the literature on the militarization and corporatization of schools, situating the topic in terms of the broader ideological and economic constellation of neoliberalism and militarism."
—Kenneth Saltman, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth