Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing in Place with Alice Te Punga Somerville

In Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Place, Alice Te Punga Somerville illustrates how Māori and other Pacific peoples draw their identity not only from land but also from water. She interrogates the relationship between indigeneity, migration, and diaspora, focusing on texts such as poetry, fiction, theater, film, and music, viewed alongside historical instances of performance, journalism, and scholarship. Te Punga Somerville’s work fundamentally articulates a more expansive understanding of place. In this excerpt from the book’s introduction, she reflects on writing from that unbounded place.

Writing in Place

Any book is a product of place: one always writes somewhere, and I am writing in a discipline, in a university, and in Aotearoa. Throughout Once Were Pacific, arguments will return to the place of place, from this point right here through until place is given the final word in the epilogue. The roots of this book lie partly in a chapter of my doctoral dissertation, written in the lands of the Cayuga Nation (upstate New York) and the Kanaka Maoli (Hawai̒i), but more particularly, the roots of Once Were Pacific are embedded in this place. One specific point of genesis for this project was an interaction in Hawai̒i when someone mentioned that he was pleased that there was another Pacific Islander in the English department that year; I replied, “Awesome—who is it?” before realizing that the person was talking about me. In that moment and that place, a Māori person was unproblematically Pacific Islander, but Māori and Pacific Islander are distinguished in New Zealand to the extent that I had not recognized myself when I had been spoken about.

Who was that Pacific Islander in the English department? For my part, I have mobility in my blood: I am a member of the Te Punga family, and our tribal connections are primarily to Te Ātiawa. After living in Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island since arriving across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki many generations ago, we migrated farther southward to the Wellington area—to the land around the harbor in which Matiu Island is located—in the early nineteenth century. Although that is our home base, we have been moving ever since, as individuals and in small family clusters. I was born here in Wellington, but when I was five years old, my immediate family moved to Auckland, where I attended a school in which almost all the kids were Pacific (Māori and Pasifika). Although one tends not to notice these things when one is small, on reflection, I can see how all of this affects who I am today and, importantly, why this is my first book. There are many stories to be told about Māori writing in English and many places to tell them. I have felt some urgency around telling this particular story—Māori articulations of connection with the Pacific—because it helps to answer questions that were in the air I breathed growing up and because the relationship between Indigeneity and migration is so crucial to Indigenous creative, cultural, political, and theoretical activities in the present.

I write as a practicing academic, a scholar, a researcher, and a teacher. Though there are many spaces in which these roles may be filled, I choose to work in a university. However, this book (and this scholar) sits alongside, and seeks neither to ignore nor detract from the multiple ways in which Māori migration across the Pacific is remembered, articulated, and mobilized in whaikōrero, waiata, ruruku, karakia, haka, and visual arts. Once Were Pacific is not about waka traditions or Māori involvement in the revival of Pacific navigation[i], but it takes for granted that people of waka memory affirm and share those memories in spaces outside as well as inside the university. Plenty of people who are well versed in the topic of waka traditions and the history of voyaging in the Pacific occupy scholarly halls, library bookshelves, and papae[ii]. In important ways, for example, this book seeks to sit alongside a large gathering that was hosted by Ngāti Kahungunu on the eastern coast of the North Island in November 2008. Relatives of Ngāti Kahungunu and of the other Tākitimu-derived iwi (tribes, nations, people) based around that part of the island poured into the area from around the Pacific: most obviously from the Cook Islands, from where the Tākitimu had departed for Aotearoa, but also from Sāmoa and beyond. In a press release, Ngāti Kahungunu iwi chairperson Ngahiwi Tomoana describes the festival as a celebration and development initiative in the rebuilding of relationships of indigenous peoples across Aotearoa, the Pacific and the Hawaiiki nation. We encourage all families and communities to celebrate our past, our present and our future in Aotearoa and the Pacific by participating in the festival.[iii]

Over the course of five days, descendants of Tākitimu celebrated their connections and shared stories and cultural products. Wānanga and other learning opportunities enabled the connections to be communicated and debated during the festival. I hope this book will provide space for other kinds of conversations alongside those we are already having about Māori, about writing in English, about Māori writing in English, about Indigeneity, and about the Pacific.

Once Were Pacific has regional and global roots but has been written in Aotearoa. If I lived elsewhere—indeed, when I did live elsewhere—the questions that would matter would be differently configured to the ones I ask in this book. This book asks questions that are important here, and yet writing from and in a specific place is not necessarily the same as parochialism. This book seeks to speak with, rather than for, others; it also seeks to refrain from speaking at others. Although I have provided cultural and linguistic translations at some points throughout the book to offer hospitality to a wider readership, this is not a visitor’s manual or travel guide. I anticipate that the tight focus of Once Were Pacific on Māori will, rather than produce barriers to consideration of its arguments in allied contexts, ultimately enable more robust extrapolation of its claims beyond Aotearoa. The specificities of the discussion will better enable connection rather than separation. As I write about the dynamics of connection and borders between Māori and Pasifika people during the 1970s Dawn Raids, for example, I cannot help but think about other borders as they are negotiated in the present day in relation to the designations “Indigenous” and “migrant.” Or, to extend the previous example, in Hawai̒i, a Māori person may well be a Pacific Islander, but is a Hawaiian?


Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Ātiawa) is author of Once Were Pacific and senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, where she teaches Māori, Pacific, and Indigenous writing in English.

"Alice Te Punga Somerville’s Once Were Pacific is the first major study of how Māori and Pacific people talk to each other in Aotearoa/New Zealand and Oceania. It is a splendid book, remarkably lucid, insightful, comprehensive, and accessible."
—Albert Wendt, author of Leaves of the Banyan Tree

"Once Were Pacific will help us to push beyond orthodox understandings of complex and contemporary Indigenous identities and representational practices through rigorous scholarship that is Māori focused."
—Chadwick Allen, Ohio State University


[i] Further information about these original journeys is plentiful. For example, see K.R. Howe, ed., Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors: The Discovery and Settlement of the Pacific (Aukland, New Zealand: David Bateman, 2006).

[ii] The paepae is the space from which orators speak.

[iii] Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc., “Supporting Indigenous Rights through Takitimu Fest,” Scoop: Independent News, October 9, 2008,


This post has been published in partnership with First Peoples.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Planning a summer or Memorial Day weekend trip? These beautiful, significant national destinations are primed to spark the intellectually curious adventurer in you.

Half Dome Overlook, Yosemite National Park, California.
Photograph by Robert Bednar.

Diablo Lake Overlook, North Cascades National Park, Washington.
Photograph by Robert Bednar.

Wawona Tunnel Yosemite Valley Overlook, Yosemite National Park, California.
Photograph by Robert Bednar.

Zion Lodge, Utah, 1930s. Colored Lantern Slide.
National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection.

Watchtower at Desert View, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Photograph by Thomas Patin.

Ruins of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco National Historic Park, New Mexico.
Photograph by Thomas Patin.

Reproduction of Thomas Moran's 'Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,' 1872, at Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Photograph by Thomas Patin.

The recently built Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Photograph by Thomas Patin.

Professor of art history and director of the School of Art at Northern Arizona University

If you’re planning a trip to national parks and monuments this summer, Observation Points (more info below) might offer you some ideas on what to see and why. The book covers various techniques through which the National Park Service presents, displays, or exhibits the “natural resources” that are contained within parks and monuments.

Visitor centers and overlooks use displays, interactive didactic materials, and photographs to present information to visitors. Along with scenic overlooks and viewing towers, visitor centers are technologies of display, using landscapes as naturalizing media that shape the relationship of visitors to park environments. Some of the more compelling visitor centers are Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks National Monument; Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and the new center at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. A state-of-the-art visitor and research center is also being built at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, slated for completion in October.

In many visitor centers you will have an opportunity to view orientation films, such as those at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Through specific rhetorical characteristics of films shown over the years at the memorial, the films have worked to shape a national identity, to naturalize expansion into the western United States, and to illustrate how exploiting the natural environment defines U.S. citizenship.

When you leave visitor centers and drive through parks, try to remember that cars in national parks were almost an afterthought, allowed into parks after most of the more prominent ones were established. One result of automobile access to the parks was an increase in visitation. But another result has been the attempts to help visitors in cars find their way through the parks. This was the main objective of the new modernist designs that the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program starting in 1956. The increasing numbers of cars through the parks also resulted in new “intermediary landscapes,” such as roads designed to frame views to be seen from moving automobiles.

Of course, one of the joys of visiting national parks is the view from turnouts, overlooks, and other spots. These viewing opportunities frame or prescribe views in parks using techniques borrowed from museums of various kinds. Specific instances of the rhetorics of display in national park presentations operate upon the visual experience of park visitors in such a way as to shape and enhance the significance of their encounters with parks. Presentations of cultural material in parks can be made to appear as if they are not presentations at all but “natural artifacts.” This is an especially important technique of presentation of “cultural resources” at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico as well as at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

Our national parks are dotted with turnouts, overlooks and viewing structures that you shouldn’t miss on your trip. Some of the more thought-provoking destinations can be found at Diablo Canyon Overlook in North Cascades National Park; Wawona Tunnel Yosemite Valley Overlook in Yosemite National Park; Half Dome overlook, also in Yosemite; Desert Watchtower in Grand Canyon National Park; Clingmans Dome viewing tower in Smoky Mountains National Park; and just about any overlook or turnout in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. As you stand on the edge of some precipice and gaze out into the distance, think about how the view is presented to be seen by park visitors. Have trees been removed to frame the view? How have you been positioned by the design of the overlook to view selected slices of the park? What kind of information is presented there on didactic panels?

Images of the landscape found in western parks and monuments in art are not simply unfiltered representations of views of natural features; they follow a preexisting visual grammar that is operative in places like national parks. Conventions found in German Romantic landscape painting, as well as in the Hudson River School and later paintings of the American West, find themselves repeated in the visual rhetoric installed at vistas visited and viewed by millions of visitors each year in our national parks. If this idea interests you, then do not miss a visit to Artist Point at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This spot features a reproduction of a painting by Thomas Moran of the scene that is presented before you!

Sometimes visitors to park are simply seeking peace and quiet. Since the late nineteenth century, wilderness and national parks were seen as refuges. Zion National Park is a prominent example. To a great extent Zion was designed to be a place of refuge and the architecture in the park is an important part of that sanctuary. Architecture in Zion has a rhetorical function that suggests an idealized experience of the harmony of nature.

Before you leave home, you could prepare yourself for your trip by watching Ken Burns’s documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. This documentary works as a form of visual commemoration and functions rhetorically as an exemplar of national environmental public memory. In a similar way to the orientation films offered to the public at many national park visitor centers, Burns’s documentary draws heavily from a recognizable narrative and visual rhetoric that produces a “conservation civics” and situates audiences as environmental citizens.

Observation Points is not exactly a travel guide, but if you're an intellectually curious traveler, or someone who appreciates landscapes for their aesthetic value, or even if you’re someone trying to teach your kids about American history, this book might be useful to you on your summer vacation.


 Thomas Patin is professor of art history and director of the School of Art at Northern Arizona University. He is editor of the collection Observation Points: The Visual Poetics of National Parks.

Contributors to Observation Points are: Robert M. Bednar, Southwestern U, Georgetown, Texas; Teresa Bergman, U of the Pacific; Albert Boime, UCLA; William Chaloupka, Colorado State U; Gregory Clark, Brigham Young U; Stephen Germic, Rocky Mountain College; Gareth John, St. Cloud State U, Minnesota; Mark Neumann, Northern Arizona U; Peter Peters, Maastricht U; Cindy Spurlock, Appalachian State U; David A. Tschida, U of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; Sabine Wilke, U of Washington.

Friday, May 18, 2012

From Character Toys to Designer Toys (Or, How I Became a Toy Collector)

Dunny from artist Tara McPherson, a concert poster designer and
former production assistant on Matt Groening's Futurama.
This is the fourth in a series of posts about author and anime scholar Marc Steinberg's personal collection of collectibles. See all posts here.

Assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University

In criticisms of the shift from the toys of the 1950s and early 60s to the character-based toys of the mid-60s onward, we often find an interesting articulation of the relationship between generic and singular. Collectors and historians of buriki tin toys such as Kumagai Nobuo in Buriki no omocha regret the shift to character toys (what were known as masu komi gangu or “mass media toys”), bemoaning a loss of the singularity of the toys in favor of a character-based generality. Children no longer played with the toys for their own individual appeal, but instead bought them for the access to the manga-anime worlds the toys provided.

Reading Kumagai’s and others’ critiques of the mass media toy is quite interesting, since I must admit to having the opposite reaction: upon first encounter I found the '50s and early '60s toys to be generic, undifferentiated, often lacking in defining attributes. By contrast I could easily recognize the character toys of the mid-60s, and for me this gave them their singularity, or specificity. Of course the question of the singular-generic depends on perspective. From the perspective of a single robot toy that has no anime or manga serialization, no world, and no narrative serialization, it is unique. It’s a stand-alone entity, only available and accessible as the toy in your hand. The Atomu toy, by contrast, may be immediately recognizable (and therefore seemingly singular), but it’s recognizable precisely because it belongs to a larger narrative and commodity universe. It’s recognizable because of its transmedial generality. As such it’s also eminently replaceable. Character merchandising creates a system in which objects become at once singular (a notebook marked by the Hello Kitty image) and general or de-differentiated (this is merely another Hello Kitty product from the Sanrio universe of image-driven goods).

Contemporary designer toys (a.k.a. urban vinyl or art toys) take up the relation of generic to particular found in character toys and give it an interesting twist.

While designer toys first appeared on the scene in Hong Kong and Tokyo around 1997-98, it would take almost a decade before I would first encounter designer toys, at the moment my initial research on character merchandising was nearing completion. It immediately struck me as an area where fascinating artistic and material work was being done exploring the boundaries, limits, and potentials of character merchandising. They seemed to be subverting the normal workings of character merchandising in their concrete toy form, calling into question the unity of character image across incarnations, the singularity of form, the relation between character and world – so many tenets of merchandising practice. And yet designer toys were also fundamentally based around the practice of collection, inciting a desire to complete the collection, a desire that would inevitably be thwarted. Or cost a lot of money. Or both. (At right is someone’s collection of Kaws pieces, including a wonderful subversion of Atomu in the front center.)

I was quickly hooked.

The three terms used to describe the toys all have their merits: they’re toys that are integrated into an urban culture, often drawing on the talents of graffiti artists and put out by those working at the cross-overs between urban arts and clothing (Kaws, Bounty Hunter and Kid Robot – some of the most prominent toy makers all have clothing lines). They’re toys that draw on talents from the world of graphic design, as well as from the art world. And they’re toys that are themselves considered pieces of art. Whether coming in limited runs of tens or hundreds, or in larger runs of the thousands, these toys generally play on a sense of rarity in production (as compared to other mass market toys), but at the same time accessibility in price (when compared to other art pieces by contributors like Gary Baseman or Tara McPherson).

I managed to pin down some of what I found exciting in designer toys in “Vinyl Platform for Dissent,” an article published in The Journal of Visual Culture that can be seen as a kind of companion piece to Anime’s Media Mix. But let me point to a couple of the elements that make designer toys compelling – and collectible.

First and foremost is the prevalence of the “platform.” An interesting concept heard more and more across media studies in general (in fact we need a general theory of the platform more than ever, but that’s another project entirely), the platform in designer toys refers to a single shape or toy form which artists use as their base or “canvas” on which they design their particular toy. Generally humanoid, there are several main platforms: the Dunny (by KidRobot), the Be@rbrick (by Medicom), and the Qee (by Toy2R). Some artists use the platform “well” – drawing on their own character onto the existing surface (like Tara McPherson’s Dunny [top figure]). Some artists use the platform against the grain (like Tim Biskup’s brilliant reversal of the Qee’s orientation [Figure 2]). And some just use the platform as a literal canvas for painting whatever (Baseman’s Dunny is my favorite example [Figure 3]).

A second style of designer toy – on its fringes in some ways, but one that definitely has a hardcore of followers in North America, and is generally a stronger trend in Japan – is the Japanese-designed or inspired toys that come from the tradition of kaiju monster toys. The kaiju toy established itself with the Ultraman craze of the mid-60s (Figure 4) – the next big event in Japanese children’s culture of the 60s after the TV anime boom – and was a major toy trend of the mid to late 60s. These toys are generally sculpted from vinyl, and hand-painted. The art toy variety of kaiju aren’t based on TV shows, are generally more daring and artistic than TV show kaiju, and differ from the smooth designer toys of North America and other parts of Asia. They’re also fertile areas of experimentation in hybridization, with an artist like T9G (pronounced Takuji) creating some brilliant and disturbing hybrids of kaiju and dolls (Figure 5). While not as wedded to the platform as other designer toys, companies like Secret Base tend to produce relatively standardized forms with an infinity of color variations and small-run releases that literally change with the weather (Figure 6). Total collection is both impelled and impossible.

Both the kaiju style toy and the platform-based designer toy play with the relation between generic and singular, shifting the ways these terms are articulated in the character merchandising universe, even as they play with elements of this world. In fact, unlike character toys, these toys are mostly singular entities, stand-alone in a way that harkens back to the tin toy of the pre-mass media days. But they’re also very much aware of a certain kind of standardization or generality, which they put into play in their emphasis on the platform, or in the relative stability of the form with the kaiju-style toys. Here variation becomes the name of the game, and artistic merit – and the desire to collect – stems from an appreciation for the virtuosity of the variation.

Ultimately, designer toys at once confound the logic of character merchandising, and reproduce its impulse to collect. If the best form of homage is betrayal, designer toys are the ultimate betrayal, producing the desire to collect that animates the anime system.

And so, via an appropriately circuitous intellectual journey that started with contemporary Japanese artist Murakami Takashi’s engagement with character merchandising, took me through the history of Japanese animation and its vibrant material culture, and culminated in Anime’s Media Mix, I now find myself in place not so far from where I started: with artists who make toys, or rather toy-makers who are artists. Only now, I’ve become one of the collectors. A development that my collectible-filled closet and display case bear witness to.


Marc Steinberg is author of Anime's Media Mix and assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University.

"Anime’s Media Mix is a must-read for anyone interested in the transformations of contemporary media. In portraying how anime characters are emblematic of mobility and connectivity in a broader media ecology, Marc Steinberg maps a new logic of production and consumption that shapes our world today."
—Ian Condry, MIT

"Marc Steinberg opens up brave new possibilities for the study of global media cultures. Attending to the watershed years of Japan’s 1960s and the ascendance of televisual animation he details how entire commodity regimes came to circulate around the idea of the anime “character.” Original and timely, historically dense and theoretically acute, Anime’s Media Mix definitively teaches us that anime can no longer be thought outside the networks of its transmediation."
—Marilyn Ivy, Columbia University

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Representation and the digital environment: Essential challenges for humanists

Breslauer Professor of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles

The basic challenge for humanists comes from adopting visualizations that don’t suit our fundamental epistemological values. Obviously humanism is not monolithic. But methods of statistical analysis and empirical observation are grafted onto the humanities, they were not created from within the traditions of textual analysis and study. Put simply, the distinction between humanistic and empirical methods is the difference between interpretation and scientific positivism. I have no quarrel with the latter, only with the ways visualization techniques from the natural and social sciences have been adopted for use in the humanities. The result is reductive, and in most instances, produces a reification of misinformation. Exceptions exist.

Nicolas Felton’s work is a performance, nearly parodic, of the process with which I take issue. His wonderful designs, beautiful to behold and an amusing, diverting, presentation of self-generated statistical analyses of his own existence, are annual report type graphics put in the service of his auto-ethnography. “Here I am in numbers and graphs, here are all my activities, allocations of time, energy, attention.” Does he actually document the amount of time he spends documenting? I can’t recall. In Harry Mathew’s darker The Journalist, the OuLiPian writer creates a classification scheme for his own journal entries. The scheme becomes so self-referential that it smothers the author, making it nearly impossible to write anything but more refinements of the scheme. All content is absorbed into metadata. But back to Felton, what gives his work a humanistic spin is the way it activates the reader/viewer into consideration of how one is or is not like Felton. The gap of critical thought is the space for production of interpretation as an generative, recognized, substantive part of the activity of a text or image.

The principles of humanistic method are simple, after all: interpretation always produces a work as a reading; no work, image, text, is self-identical, it is always produced anew; and the humanities are fundamentally concerned with interpretation, which is necessarily grounded in embodied individuals whose historical and cultural identities factor into the work. Extrapolate from this to our basic notions of time and space. If we consider that time is always experiential, rather than given, and that space is not a container, but an effect of actions, behaviors, movement, motivations, then we realize that we have to shift our understanding of these fundamental categories towards temporality and spatiality. Thus temporality is time with a factor of some kind – where the factor can be emotional, economic, political, in short anything that is integral to experience (e.g. anxiety). Does Felton include such notions in his representations? Of course not. He uses standard metrics borrowed from the empirical sciences. As do almost all projects in the digital humanities.

Yannis Loukassis, a designer/scholar I met recently, has produced some remarkable visualizations of urban geography in a course he developed on SurfaceCities. These maps are humanistic. They are built as an expression of spatial experience, rather than assuming space as a given that can be shown on a Google map. The difference between putting humanistic information into a pre-set convention – e.g. using a standard metric timeline to show experiential or relativistic records—and using these experiential foundations to build the basic model is enormous. I could cite other examples. Stuart Dunn’s work with modelling experience in prehistoric structures in Britain, Leif Isaksen’s work on Ptolemaic mapping, Chris Johansson’s work on point of view systems within the Roman Forum—each has engaged humanistic experience in the content model of their digital projects in interesting ways.

What’s at stake is the cultural authority of the humanities. If human beings matter, in their individual and collective existence, not as data points in the management of statistical information, but as persons living actual lives, then finding ways to represent them within the digital environment is important. If the value of interpretative approaches to epistemology matters, it is because it undoes the fundamental assumptions of univocal authority, singularity of point of view, and absolute values.

In whose interest is it to find an expressive graphical and conceptual vocabulary for humanistic approaches to knowledge as knowing, as partial, situated, fragmented, and located in specific individuals and their point of view?

In whose interest is it not to?


Johanna Drucker is Breslauer Professor of Information Studies at UCLA and a contributor to the volume Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold. She is also the author of many books, including SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing.

"Is there such a thing as ‘digital’ humanities? From statistical crunches of texts to new forms of online collaboration and peer review, it’s clear something is happening. This book is an excellent primer on the arguments over just how much is changing—and how much more ought to—in the way scholars study the humanities."
—Clive Thompson, columnist for Wired and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine

"I look forward to the day when anxieties about the disruptive nature of ‘digital humanities’ fade into memory and the innovative methods, theories, and approaches championed by those who have contributed to this valuable volume are respected across academia for their rigor and utility. This book will go a long way toward clarifying the debates within and about digital humanities."
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything—and Why We Should Worry

Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama's support of same-sex marriage: A game-changer?

Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio

This has been an unexpectedly dramatic year for same-sex marriage, and this past week is no exception.

Not only did North Carolina voters handily pass a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage this week but President Barack Obama also publicly announced his support for legalized same-sex marriage.

First, North Carolina. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of commentary and outrage over the passage of yet another constitutional amendment in North Carolina. The passage of this marriage ban is neither new nor surprising; 29 other states have passed similar constitutional amendments at the ballot since 1998, and 19 of those prohibited both same-sex marriage and broader relationship recognitions for same-sex couples.

What is new is the surprise and outrage. Much attention was paid to California Proposition 8 and Maine Question 1, which were both votes on legalized same-sex marriage. However, there has not been a vote on one of these same-sex marriage bans since 2008. Before 2004 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, when same-sex marriage bans passed in states like Alaska, Nebraska and Nevada, there was little large-scale public outrage. Same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the United States; it was not shocking that voters were opposed to it.

But things have changed. As more states legalize same-sex marriage and American adults increasingly support it, there is a growing sense that the tide has turned. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of states that recognize or allow same-sex marriages tripled. Indeed, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, excluding Maryland and Washington state, seven states have same-sex marriage benefits and an additional three states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. I think that some of this outrage and attention on North Carolina is that it is “business as usual” during a time in which people expect change.

Second, what is not “business as usual” is that Obama just became the first sitting president to publicly support same-sex marriage. Former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Vice President Al Gore have all come forward to support same-sex marriage after their terms ended. There has already been much speculation on how this might change the presidential election, support for same-sex marriage nationally, and ballot measures on legal same-sex marriage in Maryland, Maine, and Washington in the fall. In addition, voters in Minnesota and potentially the states of New Mexico, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Rhode Island will face same-sex marriage bans similar to Amendment 1 in North Carolina. There are predictions already that Obama’s statement may increase support for same-sex marriage in Maryland, where approximately 30% of voters are African American. In this case, the stakes are high; voters will be making decisions on actual same-sex marriage rights that were passed by the Maryland legislature this year. Right now the polls show divided support for same-sex marriage, and a small increase in public opinion could make the difference between retaining same-sex marriage and losing it.

It is unclear, however, how much people’s opinions will change due to presidential opinion. Opinions about same-sex marriage can be deep-seated, connected to larger belief systems about family and gender, and thus difficult to change. In an interview with a national LGBT organizer with more than 30 years of campaign experience, this organizer also described these opinions as “egg-shell thin”—that they may seem hard and unchangeable but can be transformed by a conversation that breaks through that egg shell.


Amy Stone is author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box and assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio.

"Amy L. Stone crafts a compelling, deeply textured portrayal of the more than 200 anti-gay ballot campaigns in the U.S. since 1974. Through interviews with movement leaders and other sources, Stone deftly analyzes the tension between winning campaigns and building a sustainable movement, between national, urban activists and local, rural communities, as well as debates over tactics and messaging. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the central, disturbing role anti-gay politics has played in contemporary U.S. politics."
—Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Fenway Institute and New York University

At Spoonriver Restaurant, excitement, a happy and healthy community, and awesome local food are all in a day's work.

Chef Brenda Langton signs a copy of The Spoonriver Cookbook
for a regular customer.

UMP blog editor

It’s just after lunch-rush hour at Spoonriver Restaurant, and when I arrive the place is hardly at a lull. Satisfied customers are casually hanging out. Staff are conscientiously attending to their needs. And beloved local chef and founder of the Mill City Farmers Market Brenda Langton is itching to show off a photo from local farmer Andy Rider—of a single morel mushroom that stacks higher than a soda can.

“You can’t believe for a minute the morel you’re going to get. Two of them make a pound!” she exclaims to familiar customers.

Farmer Andy Rider compares
the size of his atypically large
morel to a soda can. His
morels will be on sale at the
Mill City Farmers Market
on Saturday.
She’s never seen morels like this. For someone who’s been in the business as long as she has, that’s saying a lot.

Langton is a conscientious purveyor of all things local and organic, and has been so since the age of 15. She moved from Commonplace Cooperative Restaurant (formerly of St. Paul) to her own Café Kardamena in St. Paul, to Café Brenda in the warehouse district, to Spoonriver Restaurant, which handily sits right next to the Mill City Farmers Market, opening for the new season on Saturday. Despite her business’ booming success (“The recession never hit us!”), she’s quick to say she hasn’t gotten to where she’s gotten alone.

It’s her community that makes the restaurant special.

This sentiment is translated to action right before us. As we talk and order food, Langton is peppered by very nice compliments from friendly regulars, requests for cookbook autographs, quick questions from staff, and recurring summons from her phone. She manages to handle everything with expert ease and her full attention, never appearing overwhelmed. Before I know it, more than an hour has passed.

Within this time, I manage to be introduced to several of Langton’s longtime colleagues, including chef Chris Bundy, whose forte is the fish; Heather Reynolds, who will be demonstrating at the farmers market tomorrow with her daughter and who has been whipping up vegetarian creations with Brenda for at least 10 years; and Liz Benser, “chef extraordinaire,” who has been with Brenda for more than 25 years—together, they’ve served approximately 1,000,500 meals.

For lunch, we split the vegetarian enchiladas special
and the Commonplace veggie burger. Yum!
It’s clearly crucial to her to establish an environ-
ment in which her staff shows up excited and looks forward to working in a comfort-
able, happy environment. Not to be trite, she says, but food created with a good vibe is very important—and critical to making the community, staff and customers alike, happy. Without this community, she says, the restaurant and The Spoonriver Cookbook would not be possible.

With her restaurant, her focus is on community, engagement, and happiness. With her recipes, her focus is on simplicity and creations that are approachable for even the busiest working individual:

(The Spoonriver Cookbook) is intentionally simplified from the Café Brenda Cookbook. I really wanted to cut out any step, or any ingredients, possible. Really, it’s my job to inspire people to want to get into their kitchen. So again, the simplicity is very intentional.

Of course there are recipes in here that are not real simple, but I really tried to put a lot, lot of recipes in here that are very simple. I really love the chapter on whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, just very simple combinations of two or three vegetables that are beautiful together and make the meal extra special with hardly any more work.



The Spoonriver Cookbook recipe you should make right off the bat: Broccoli and Squash Saute over Couscous.

The Spoonriver Cookbook recipe that might be challenging but no less rewarding: White Fish with Persian Nut Crust and Yogurt Mint Sauce.

Hosting Mother’s Day brunch? Brenda recommends including the Smoked Salmon Quesadillas (recipe below). “They’re so damn easy you can’t believe it.”

Why you should eat more squash: “I love to put squash in a lot of my dishes instead of carrots, it just has a sweetness to it that’s so comforting. People think that you have to cook squash in the oven for an hour when you can peel it and slice it up as quickly as you can a carrot—so we’re talking 7 minutes or so.”

What she’s most looking forward to at the farmers market this year: The vegetables (of course!) and the community. “It’s a great opportunity for people to get to know the farmers and develop an appreciation for the food we consume.”

Dressing up a plain beer: I ask about Brenda's recent feature in Minnesota Monthly (Granola Glitterati) in which she pours a shot of yuzu juice into her beer. Curious, I’ve tried to find it myself to no avail. “Get it at Surdyk’s,” she says. She also recommends mixing kombucha with beer: 1 part kombucha (or more) to 3 parts beer.

Hosting? Tips for presentation: Pay attention to height, texture, and color, sometimes going that extra step to plating a meal for a dinner party instead of serving family-style, which “gives it something extra.” Also: incorporate fresh herbs.


Smoked Salmon Quesadillas

1 bunch green onions or chives
12 (6- to 8-inch) flour tortillas
¾ to 1 cup sour cream
Chopped dill, tarragon, or basil (optional)
8 ounces cold smoked salmon, thinly sliced
Olive or vegetable oil

1) Wash the green onions and remove the roots. Chop the green onions, including the greens.
2) Spread 6 tortillas with a generous 2 tablespoons of sour cream each. Sprinkle the green onions and herbs on top, then add the salmon slices.
3) Place a second tortilla on top of each prepared tortilla. Brush the top tortilla with olive or vegetable oil. Turn the quesadillas over to brush the bottom tortilla with oil.
4) There are two options for cooking the quesadillas. You can cook them on top of the stove in a skillet over medium heat, or place them on a cookie sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven. Turn the quesadillas after 3 or 4 minutes and continue to bake for another 3 or 4 minutes. The tortillas will be golden brown and the insides heated through.
5) Slice the quesadillas into wedges and serve them with salsa. (Spoonriver’s mango salsa is really good with these!)


Brenda Langton has been a presence in Twin Cities dining since 1972. She started her first restaurant, Cafe Kardamena, in St. Paul in 1978, and then moved it to Minneapolis and renamed it Cafe Brenda in 1986. Cafe Brenda operated until 2009. In 2006, Brenda opened Spoonriver and founded the Mill City Farmers Market. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and an educator and consultant on healthy eating.
Margaret Stuart is a horticulturist, landscape designer, and personal chef who has been cooking natural foods since her late teens. Langton and Stuart are coauthors of The Spoonriver Cookbook (2012) and  The Cafe Brenda Cookbook, first published in 1992 and republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2004.

Find out what's happening this weekend at the Mill City Farmers Market's seasonal opening.

Upcoming events:
-On Wednesday, May 16th, Magers & Quinn is hosting a recipe tasting and book signing.
-On June 7th, the Mill City Museum will host a "farm to market" discussion with Brenda and Atina Diffley.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kenneth B. Kidd: Goodbye, Maurice. And thank you.

Moishe from Where the Wild Things Are. Image via Flickr.

But the wild things cried,
Oh, please don't go
We'll eat you up
We love you so
And Max said:

And we roared our terrible roars, and gnashed our terrible teeth, and rolled our terrible eyes, and showed our terrible claws, but Maurice Sendak stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.

Sendak was one of our most gifted and prolific author-illustrators – for everyone, child, adult, what have you. He was also a living legend.

Unlike some friends and colleagues, I didn't know Sendak personally. Like so many of my generation, I grew up on Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen and other Sendak productions. For a brief period in college I was obsessed with the Carole King rendition of "Pierre" from The Nutshell Library. (I'm not proud, but I don't care!). Later I acquired his illustrated version of Melville's Pierre. All along, I had this sense that Sendak was familiar; I felt a strange kinship with him. Eventually, of course, I realized he was family.

Sendak came out to the general public in a 2008 New York Times profile by Patricia Cohen, in which he mentions the recent death of his long-time partner, Dr. Eugene Glynn, (not incidentally) a child psychologist. He also talks about how tricky it was to be a gay man working in children's literature in pre-Stonewall New York (he began his career in the late 40s and early 50s).

But Sendak wasn't only gay; he was queer, by all measures of that term. He was eccentric, irascible, difficult. And very funny. Anyone who's watched the Stephen Colbert interviews knows this. "He is not, as children's book writers are often supposed, an everyman's grandpapa," writes Patricia Cohen. "His hatreds are fierce and grand, as if produced by Cecil B. DeMille." Sendak declared himself not overly fond of children or of people in general. By his own report he preferred the company of dogs. If Sendak took a while to come out, his queerness was long on display in interviews, speeches, and certainly in his work.

In that work Sendak found not a safe but an exuberant space for self-expression and even social transformation. There are lots of queerish children in his picturebooks – imaginative, theatrical children, slightly rebellious children, children not drawn to the usual norms. And thanks to the success of Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak could do things his way, share his distinctive vision of childhood and the world. Sendak recognized that children have large, dramatic inner lives, even when they do not (as, unfortunately, they often do) face loss and hardship. Sendak insisted that the only way to "protect" children was to teach them about the world, its evils and disappointments included.

He was a fierce advocate of telling the truth.

Recently I wrote about Sendak as the quintessential "picturebook psychologist." Others before Sendak, I suggest, recognized the emotional and cultural power of the picturebook. Sendak built on and indeed greatly expanded that power, developing further the notion that a picturebook encounter could be vitally transformative. The master practitioner of the genre is therefore an important player in the life of the child, perhaps even something of a lay expert on childhood – creative and intuitive rather than officially credentialed or scientifically trained.

Sendak cultivated and relished his role as an authority on the inner and imaginative world of childhood. No wonder famed child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment, understood Sendak immediately as a rival, and denounced Where the Wild Things Are (he later changed his tune). Sendak's reputation as a picturebook master only grew over the decades.

Tributes and recollections are rolling in. Could be the select company I keep, but my Facebook newsfeed is a virtual wake. It's a huge loss, no question. We are down in the dumps – way down. Still, there's some comfort in all the stories and anecdotes, and even in the passionate mourning.

Goodbye, Maurice. And thank you.


Kenneth B. Kidd is associate professor of English at the University of Florida. He is author of Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature (Minnesota, 2011) and Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale (Minnesota, 2004) and coeditor (with Sidney I. Dobin) of Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism and (with Michelle Ann Abate) of Over the Rainbow: Queer Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

"This canny and original study (Freud in Oz) is far more searching, wide-ranging, and fun than its modest title suggests.  Kenneth B. Kidd not only analyzes but somehow evokes for us the way the child and stories told about her drift through our dreams, literature, and culture, giving form to our finest aspirations and darkest nightmares. An essential, generous, deeply-informed book."
—James Kincaid, University of Southern California

Friday, May 4, 2012

Marc Steinberg: Print Culture and Tin Toys

This is the third in a series of posts about author and anime scholar Marc Steinberg's personal collection of collectibles. See all posts here.

Assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University

Scholarship meets serendipity in the practice of collecting.
What is there to collect?
What is there to find?

All this depends on a certain amount of contingency, serendipity, and of course, a sense of what to look for. Books on the subject and magazines of the time help a lot to learn what to look for. I for one relied a lot on toy trade journals of the 1950s and 1960s like Gangu shôhô to see what kinds of changes were to be found in the toys of the time. Then things move to the realm of chance.

As I noted in the first entry of this series, my impulse to collect things Atomu-related was in part motivated by the need to prove or disprove the thesis that the Atomu TV series of the 1960s was what really kicked the media mix into full gear. But where to look? What things could be objects of inquiry? And how could objects themselves allow us to rethink media history? Omake or freebies like the stickers I wrote about in the last two posts were one group of things to look at.

Children’s print culture and toys were two other places to look. They were two other archives of transformation that could potentially map the changes attendant to the Atomu boom of the 1960s. And they were also closely linked, much as chocolates and toys were.

Children’s print culture has been a vibrant area and a key site for the development of character culture in Japan, going back to the 1920s. With the 1930s came the serialization of Norakuro, whose title character became one of the most popular characters of the 1930s (Figure 6, above), along with Disney’s Mickey Mouse. The Pacific War and the increased militarization of Japan over the course of the 1930s interrupted the development of character culture. It wasn’t until the 1950s that characters developed in earnest again.

Once again it was in children’s monthly magazines that characters found their home. Magazines like Shônen and Shônen Gahô were incubators for the character culture that would really take off in the 1960s. I’ve heard them described as the R&D unit for the media mix – a perfectly accurate description. It was these magazines’ publishers that created many of the earliest character-based toys I’ve come across in the 1950s – toys like a “Cinecolt” light gun that shot images of characters like Atomu or Tetsujin 28-gô (Gigantor) on walls (Figure 7). These toys were offered as prizes for mail-in questionnaires, or for outright purchase. I can picture many a child hankering after one of these – pull the trigger and Atomu will shine onto your walls.

It was also the magazine Shônen that included a “sono sheet” cardboard record player complete with the Atomu theme song as a furoku or magazine freebie (Figure 8). Sono sheets were a kind of low-tech, thin, and flexible record that could be played either on real record players, or on the cardboard ones that sometimes came as freebees with magazines. The only place I was able to come by the Atomu sono sheet and player is a treasure-trove of Atomu goods aptly called the “Tetsuwan Atomu: Happy Birthday Box” – a huge box released in 2003 on Atomu’s birthday (according to the manga, he was born in 2003). The Happy Birthday Box contains reprints of magazines, manga furoku of various sies, as well as re-issues of popular, Shônen-produced Atomu toys including the sono sheet player. Elsewhere I managed to find a Tetsujin 28-gô (Gigantor) sono sheet, released by Asahi Sonorama in 1964 and sold as a stand-alone object (Figure 9). This sono sheet appropriately came with an ad for Glico chocolates, Tetsujin’s sponsor, on the back of the album cover, a short illustrated story on the inside, along with the record sono sheet itself (Figures 10 and 11). Media synergy materialized.

But if magazines were incubators for the media mix, it was in the realm of stand-alone toys proper that we’d find proof of the extent of the material transformations wrought by the release of television animation.

Toys were also, not surprisingly, a lot harder to collect.

Priced in the thousands of dollars, toys of the 1950s and 1960s were to be seen, not touched. Here I relied on the formidable efforts of toy collectors like Kitahara Teruhisa (whose Omake no hakubutsushi is a real treasure trove of anecdotes and information), Takayama Toyoji and Tada Toshikatsu, all of whom have established museums, and published series of books collecting images of old toys. Visiting their museums, and studying the transformation of buriki tin toys from generic robots and automobiles of the 1950s and early 1960s (Figures 12 and 13) to character-based toys of the mid-1960s (Figures 14 and 15) was yet another way to get a sense of the transformations wrought by television animation on its surrounding media ecologies. Not only were characters increasingly integrated into the toys, but the very materials of the toys changed. Vinyl was introduced into the tin toy as a way of better capturing the rounded features of characters, leading to a hybrid tin-vinyl toy. This inclusion of vinyl proved to be an inkling of changes to come, with fully plastic character toys becoming the norm in the 1970s.

These transformations in form and the very material used to create them were proof of the impact of the character image on realms that were – like the buriki tin toy of the ‘50s – previously immune to the circulation of the character image.

This engagement with the form and material substrate of the toy also made me very sensitive to other kinds of toy experiments taking place in the present day. I’m thinking here of the explosion of so-called designer toys, art toys, or urban vinyl.

These I could collect.

(More next week.)


Marc Steinberg is author of Anime's Media Mix and assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University.

"Anime’s Media Mix is a must-read for anyone interested in the transformations of contemporary media. In portraying how anime characters are emblematic of mobility and connectivity in a broader media ecology, Marc Steinberg maps a new logic of production and consumption that shapes our world today."
—Ian Condry, MIT

"Marc Steinberg opens up brave new possibilities for the study of global media cultures. Attending to the watershed years of Japan’s 1960s and the ascendance of televisual animation he details how entire commodity regimes came to circulate around the idea of the anime “character.” Original and timely, historically dense and theoretically acute, Anime’s Media Mix definitively teaches us that anime can no longer be thought outside the networks of its transmediation."
—Marilyn Ivy, Columbia University