Former South Park writer ridicules 'hate group' Moms for Liberty with disruption campaign

Tony Morton, a former South Park writer, is on a mission to "lampoon" right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty, which "has been at the forefront of a national movement to ban books (or even yearbooks) containing race, gender, LGBTQ themes, and sexual content," The Daily Beast's Kate Briquelet reports.

Briquelet writes "For Morton, what started as comic relief is morphing into a fundraising campaign, one that will create pages for each state. 'My plan is to disrupt this hate group for as long as possible with billboards, pamphlets, background information and other tactics,' Morton said. 'They have no interest in truly educating children and would rather actively prevent them from learning the true history of our country. I have a lot of support around the country so I'll continue updating my website about this group in each state so people are fully aware.'"

Morton's website,, features "swastikas encircling the 'parental rights' juggernaut's logo, a leadership page that boasts Hercules actor turned conservative pundit Kevin Sorbo as their minivan driver, and a listing of items the moms have 'banned for fun' including the board game Sorry. 'Those who are taught to say 'sorry' are weak,' the fake site for the far-right group declares. 'NEVER apologize for your actions because your actions are probably warranted if you're white.'"

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Briquelet notes that MomsForLiberties states, "We are an extremist organization that prides itself on making sure that freedom of speech and choice only applies to those who believe gays are demonic. Hitler actually wasn't that bad so Jews should stop overreacting, any transgender are considered trash and need to be disposed of, current teachers in this society should be under the control of fascists who know better, and that any teachers who disobey deserve to be handled by any means necessary and this includes physical control."

Morton's overall objective, Briquelet adds, is to "combat the growth of Moms for Liberty across the country, as concerned parents assemble groups of their own including Stop Moms For Liberty, Our Schools USA, Defense of Democracy, and Red Wine and Blue. In Pennsylvania, citizens launched an organization Grandmas For Love."

READ MORE: DeSantis appoints Moms for Liberty founder to Florida Ethics Commission: report

Briquelet's full article is available at this link (subscription required).

Why ‘Barbie’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ made 2023 the dead girl summer

Ariel and Barbie have quite a bit in common: They’re both frozen in time, and they both yearn to live as humans do.

The fantastic seascapes and perfect dollhouses of “The Little Mermaid” and “Barbie” might appear whimsical. But I see these settings – and the characters who inhabit them – as figurations of death.

In my forthcoming book, I consider the relationship between mermaids and Barbie dolls. In the case of the 2023 films, I couldn’t help but think about how Ariel and Barbie make the same ironic choice: to leave the stasis of their deathlike existence for a human life – which ends in death.

These dead girls offer insights about living. Embracing death’s inevitability brings some freedom, as well as access to truths about time and the natural world.

‘I am dead yet I live’

Ariel and Barbie are not your typical dead girls – at least in the literary sense.

The dead girl trope goes back to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who drowns herself after being driven to madness by Hamlet’s erratic, abusive speech. But dead girls have long populated folktales about sleeping beauties and myths of goddesses traversing the underworld.

Today, the trope is often found in noirish mysteries. These narratives frequently prioritize the development of a male protagonist – a detective who grapples with his own mortality while solving a crime that regularly involves sexual violence.

David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” which first aired on ABC in 1990, wields this version of the trope. FBI agent Dale Cooper investigates the murder of Laura Palmer, a homecoming queen whose corpse is discovered wrapped in plastic. Though Laura Palmer has been victimized, she isn’t voiceless. She appears in flashbacks and has recorded her feelings and desires in diary entries.

In Showtime’s 2017 reboot, “Twin Peaks: The Return,” the afterlife version of Laura tells Cooper, “I am dead yet I live.”

Ariel and Barbie are their films’ protagonists, and they don’t die via murder. But they nevertheless actualize Laura’s words: Choosing flesh over immortality is to live and die, too.

A bouquet of withering pink flowers.

Barbie and Ariel choose life – even as they know it will ultimately end in death.

Jonathan Knowles/Stone via Getty Images

Dreaming death in fish tails and pink

“Do you guys ever think about death?” asks the character known as “Stereotypical Barbie,” played by Margot Robbie, a few scenes into the film. The irony is that Barbie is already dead, cheerfully doomed to repeat the same pink day, devoid of food, conflict and sex.

Barbie’s dreamworld is home to many iterations of its title character, including Mermaid Barbie. There are also a number of Kens. They are coupled, but they aren’t having sex. As Stereotypical Barbie declares, Barbies don’t have vaginas, and Kens don’t have penises.

Fish tails don’t typically feature vaginas either. The virginal Ariel is stuck in her fin, fathoms below.

Ariel and Barbie don’t get periods and can’t get pregnant. They’ll also never go through menopause.

In their films, the protagonists reject dollified existences and choose human life with its opportunities for sex and unavoidable death. Ariel leaves the ocean’s eternity for the prince’s land-world after she saves him. Barbie sacrifices physical perfection – her own and Ken’s – for the possibility of authentic intimacy and the spontaneity of an aging female body. The latter leads her to visit the gynecologist’s office at the film’s conclusion.

Hollywood films promise happily ever afters, but those weren’t the main draw for audiences of “The Little Mermaid” and “Barbie.”

I think that part of what drove theater attendance this summer was a subconscious attraction to the deathlike repetition of timeless dreamworlds, whether underwater or plastered in pink.

As dead girls, Ariel and Barbie are appealing vessels because, in them, time stops: You can’t be out of time when there is no time to begin with.

A water-bound mermaid and an ageless doll present a “timeout,” especially for girls and women pressured to achieve specific education and other life goals within certain time frames. Fish-tailed mermaids and Barbie dolls are free from ticking biological and career clocks – although they imagine or play at the things determined by those clocks, too. As a doll, Barbie gets to have any and all jobs, trading one for another whenever her player gets bored. She can be a doctor, an astronaut or even president of the United States.

Audiences might go to the movies to escape reality. Yet, Barbie and Ariel choose to enter reality, leaving their respective dreamworlds. Such outcomes make the films relevant to the summer of 2023: The dead girl can’t age, but her perpetual youth signals the future’s promises, even when there is no promise of a future.

The tail of a mermaid covered in sand.

Ariel chooses to leave behind her fish-tailed existence for life on Earth.

Robbie Goodall/Moment via Getty Images

‘This sad, vanishing world’

In her fish-tailed state, Ariel sings about wanting to know about fire and its causes, questions applicable to this summer’s reckoning with global warming. Humans have scorched the planet to fulfill a desire for, among other things, plastic – the very material that made Barbie possible.

The unprecedented heat in the summer of 2023 demands that everybody listen to another ticking clock, the one counting down to environmental ruin.

Ariel and Barbie choose to live in the world their audiences inhabit, even though the characters are fully aware that humans are destructive and cause suffering.

“The Little Mermaid” is explicit about how humans hurt the ecosystem, a critique made by Black mermaids in older folk tales and recent literature inspired by them. Ariel and Eric inevitably sail away, leaving her home under the sea and his coastal kingdom. The bittersweet ending suggests they, each equipped with knowledge of the other’s world, will carry insights about environmental harmony to other places.

“The Little Mermaid” and “Barbie,” I believe, reveal a truth found in many sacred stories. If you accept that you are dead already and that time is always passing away, you might gain the freedom to truly embrace the brief life you do have in what the Hindu deity Krishna described as “this sad, vanishing world.”

Or as W.B. Yeats wrote, “Man is in love and loves what vanishes, / What more is there to say?”The Conversation

Katie Kapurch, Associate Professor of English, Texas State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Star Trek almost failed to launch

On Sept. 8, 1966, TV viewers were transfixed by the appearance on screen of a green-hued, pointy-eared alien called Spock. But beneath the makeup, actor Leonard Nimoy fretted that this would be the end of his promising career.

“How can I play a character without emotion?” he asked his boss, Gene Roddenberry. “I’m going to be on one note throughout the entire series.”

Nimoy thought he looked silly wearing the prosthetics that turned him into a Vulcan, at one point issuing an ultimatum: “It’s me or the ears.”

Nimoy’s misgivings were just one of many problems the writers, producers and cast faced during “Star Trek”‘s troubled journey to the screen. Culled from their recollections, this is the story of how “Star Trek”’s mission to explore strange new worlds was almost over before it began.

Seeds of inspiration

The ingredients of “Star Trek” had been slow-cooking in creator Gene Roddenberry’s brain for years. At first he wanted to write a show about a 19th-century blimp that journeyed from place to place, making contact with distant peoples.

‘Star Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry in the early 1960s.

Mutual of New York (MONY)/Wikimedia Commons

Deciding instead to set the show in the future, Roddenberry drew upon his youthful immersion in science fiction magazines like Astounding Stories. Also important was his experience as a World War II bomber pilot, which caused him to ruminate on human nature: Would we ever outgrow our obsession with violence? And from C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels, Roddenberry borrowed the idea of a courageous captain burdened by the duties of command.

With tiny Desilu Studios interested in making the show, Roddenberry pitched “Star Trek” to the networks. CBS passed after Roddenberry botched the pitch. But NBC bit and ordered a pilot episode, which was eventually titled “The Cage.”

NBC responds to the pilot

Watching “The Cage” now is a disorientating experience. In the captain’s chair is a sullen man called Pike, played by star Jeff Hunter. There is no sign of future series regulars McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, Checkov. Spock is there, but not quite the inscrutable Spock we would come to know. He shouts and, more than once, breaks into a wide grin.

The opening to ‘The Cage,’ ‘Star Trek’‘s first pilot episode.

The role of chilly logician and second in command is instead taken by “Number One,” a character played by actress Majel Barrett.

“Number One” wouldn’t make it past this trial run. In tests, some men and a surprisingly large number of women objected to her stridency, which was out of touch with the gender norms of the time. NBC doubted that Barrett could carry such a prominent role (and even thought Roddenberry had cast her because she was his mistress).

“The Cage” – a complicated story about alien mind-control – was an ambitious pilot. When Roddenberry presented it to NBC, the programming executives were blown away. But the sales and marketing department wasn’t convinced. Not enough action, they thought. It would be hard to promote. Pass.

“Star Trek,” it seemed, was dead.

Striking gold with Shatner

Roddenberry pleaded with NBC for another chance. He assured them he could make it action-driven, that it didn’t need to be high concept. A television miracle happened when NBC commissioned that rarest of things: a second pilot.

Roddenberry wanted Jeff Hunter to return as Captain Pike, and arranged to screen “The Cage” for him, reserving Desilu’s projection room for March 25, 1965. But Hunter was a no-show, sending his wife in his stead. “This is not the kind of show Jeff wants to do,” she told Roddenberry. “Jeff Hunter is a movie star.” Pike relinquished command.

William Shatner as Captain Kirk.

NBC Television/Wikimedia Commons

The ebullient Canadian actor William Shatner was hired to play the ship’s captain, now named James R. (later James T.) Kirk. For Leonard Nimoy, the casting of Shatner, a stage actor accustomed to playing scenes big and loud, was the key to unlocking Spock.

“Jeff [Hunter] was playing Captain Pike as a very thoughtful, kind of worried, kind of angst-ridden nice guy,” Nimoy later told Shatner, in an interview for Shatner’s book “Star Trek Memories.” “Pike didn’t have the clarity or precision of character against which you could measure yourself.”

Shatner’s clear-cut performance carved out space for Nimoy to shape his saturnine Spock. “For lack of a better metaphor, on a bright sunny day, the shadows get very clear.”

The second pilot, bolstered by the Shatner/Nimoy tandem, was a winner. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was a rollicking story about crew members irradiated in deep space and acquiring godlike powers. NBC liked it and commissioned a full season of “Star Trek.”

Righting the ship after a stormy start

Triumph quickly turned to panic for Roddenberry and for Desilu studios. Roddenberry needed scripts for the series – fast. He solicited stories from veteran TV writers, from sci-fi magazine and novel authors, and even from his office staff. His secretary Dorothy Fontana went on to become perhaps the most celebrated and prolific writer for the show.

But script problems would dog the young series. Veteran TV writers, unused to sci-fi, struggled to work within the universe Roddenberry had created. Sci-fi luminaries had boundless imaginations but little grasp of the practicalities of writing for television. Their scripts often called for casting and staging that would consume the budget for a feature film, let alone a fledgling TV series.

Roddenberry also wasn’t the best at managing the fragile egos of his writers. He took it upon himself to rewrite every script that made it on-screen, and his pages were often slow to arrive on set. Scripting was a constant source of tension and delay.

For Desilu, the elation of getting “Star Trek” picked up was dampened by the financial reality of producing the show. Network policy was to pay a set amount for each episode, calculated at something like 80 percent of the cost of production. For a small outfit like Desilu, deficit-financing both “Star Trek” and their other new show, “Mission Impossible,” required some accounting wizardry. Both were budgeted at US$200,000 per episode, with NBC kicking in $160,000. Any over-budget costs were born by the studio alone.

Tiny Desilu kept its head above water into the second season of “Star Trek” before finally drowning in debt. Studio owner and “I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball was forced to sell to Paramount. Had she been able to hold on a few months more, she would have seen “Star Trek” picked up in 60 countries. Had she retained the rights long-term, Desilu would have benefited financially from endless reruns of the show’s 79 episodes. Network-friendly deals also ensured it would be many years before the cast would gain financial security from their iconic roles.

With the premiere date rapidly approaching, NBC chose an episode titled “The Man Trap” to be the first to air. It is, in truth, a run-of-the-mill “Star Trek” episode. The network liked that it featured a creature – a shape-shifting, salt-guzzling monster – with which the show’s heroes could do battle.

Although NBC’s marketing team had not initially seen the potential of “Star Trek,” by the time “The Man Trap” aired, they were able to trumpet the show in a glossy, multipage promotional brochure:

“As the Apollo moon shot moves steadily from the drawing board to the launching pad, STAR TREK takes TV viewers beyond our time and solar system to the unexplored interstellar deeps … the STAR TREK storylines will stimulate the imagination without bypassing the intellect. While speculating in a fascinating way about the future, the series also will have much to say that is meaningful to us today.”

A half-century later, we are on the cusp of a new CBS series set in the universe Roddenberry created. (CBS acquired the rights to “Star Trek” some years ago following a complicated series of corporate maneuverings.) Titled “Star Trek: Discovery” and scheduled for release in January 2017, the new series has no doubt had to contend with its own casting controversies, script problems and budget constraints.

The writers of the new show certainly know enough about Trek’s turbulent beginnings to temper expectations: “If you go in with open minds and open hearts, you may be rewarded,” they told a crowd eager for news at the Star Trek: Mission New York convention held over Labor Day weekend. “Whereas if you go with a set of impossible-to-realize expectations, which even you cannot specifically define, then we’re bound to fail.”The Conversation

Stephen Benedict Dyson, Professor of Political Science, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The beautiful pessimism at the heart of Jimmy Buffett’s music

With the death of Jimmy Buffett, the feathers of his loyal network of fans – affectionately known as Parrot Heads – collectively drooped.

Over the course of his career, Buffett earned their love by transforming himself into a kind of musical shaman who offered transport from the banalities of everyday life to the bounty of a never-never land of eternal sun, endless sandy beaches and bottomless boat drinks: Margaritaville.

As a young fan in the 1980s and 1990s, I marveled at the power of Buffett’s music to carry his audience to this fantastic utopia, seeing in it nothing more than a bit of harmless fun.

But as I matured and eventually became a professor of philosophy, I came to see Buffett’s music as less an expression of optimistic pleasure-seeking and more a reflection of a profoundly pessimistic assessment of the trials and tribulations of life. Now his work strikes me as a closer companion to the pessimistic conclusions of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer than to the hedonism of leisure culture.

I see this hidden pessimism – which underlies most of Buffett’s music – as the key to its enduring power and allure.

An escape to Saint Somewhere

Half troubadour and half travel agent, Buffett has long been in the business of selling escape.

Escapism was not only the driving force and centerpiece of his 30 studio albums and the main plotline of his three novels. It was also the heart and soul of his billion-dollar business empire, which included two restaurant chains, a line of frozen dinners and a fleet of hotels and casinos.

These myriad products, as their varied taglines and marketing campaigns tout, promise to carry their consumer away from the monotony of suburbia to the galleys of some imaginary Caribbean Island – “Saint Somewhere,” as Buffett put it in his 1979 hit “Boat Drinks.”

Buffett readily admitted his commitment to supplying his fans with some relief from reality. In his 2004 appearance on “60 Minutes,” he gleefully professed, “I sell escapism.” When interviewed by Sports Illustrated in 2007 he said, “I’m just doing my part to add a little more escapism to an otherwise crazy world.”

The question remains, however: Why are people so consistently drawn to Buffett’s special brand of escapism? Or to escapism in general?

Answering this question uncovers the pessimistic heart of Buffett’s work.

Just a little relief

Buffett himself ventured an answer to this question in the afterword of his 2004 novel, “A Salty Piece of Land”: “… now, more than ever, we don’t just enjoy our escapism – we NEED it.”

For Buffett, escapism was not merely something fun, some fiddling flight of fancy that can be taken up or discarded at will.

It is something essential to our survival – something that, as he put it in his 1974 track “Trying to Reason with the Hurricane Season,” “cleans [us] out” so that it’s possible to move on with life.

To love the music of Jimmy Buffett, in other words, is not to love life. It is to pessimistically admit that life is difficult and that it needs to be escaped every once in a while just to be endured.

In Buffett’s music one catches a glimpse, however fleeting and even false, of the possibility that somewhere out there, somewhere beyond the persistent struggles and disappointment of life, there lies “somewhere warm,” as he puts it: some utopia where all our fears and anxieties might be wiped away and we can heal from whatever grieves us, whether the heartache of a breakup or the trauma of having “[blown] out a flip-flop,” or “stepped on a pop top.”

“When I look out at my audience,” Buffett noted in a 1998 interview with Time magazine, “I see people who are caring for aging parents and dealing with tough jobs, adolescent kids, and they look like they could use a little relief.”

And that’s what he endeavored to give them: a little relief from the woes and worries of their lives.

The role of good art and good music

Buffett’s first big hit, “Come Monday,” originated from his own need to escape a particularly dark period of life.

“I was deathly depressed and living in Howard Johnson’s in Marin County,” he confessed to David Letterman in 1983, “and this song kept me from killing myself.”

Fortunately, he explained to Letterman, “it hit, and I was able to pay my rent and get my dog out of the pound.” It was his capacity to respond to the overwhelming difficulties of life in this spirit of comedic melancholia that made Buffett’s music so special.

His songs acknowledge what everyone already knows to be true: that life can be excruciatingly painful and is often too much to bear, but that one must nevertheless find a way to move on. It is this pessimistic subtext to Buffett’s escapism that made it so achingly irresistible.

In this sense, Buffett’s music exemplifies what the 19th-century pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought of as the ultimate power of art.

To Schopenhauer, good art grows from a recognition of the difficulties of life, and it endeavors to respond to them by offering a momentary respite from its otherwise relentless slings and arrows.

For these reasons, Schopenhauer saw in art – and in music, especially – a way of escaping reality, of being carried away into a fantasy land that everyone knows can never exist, but that is nonetheless comforting to contemplate.

The value of art, according to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic perspective, comes from how it creates an imaginary space where one can momentarily hide from reality to summon the courage to continue on – and perhaps to even learn from that hiatus how to laugh at the gallows that confront every living creature.

By this pessimistic measure, Buffett’s music was high art, for what it did so well was to help its listeners to escape the onslaught of modern life and teach them to laugh again – not in hedonistic ignorance of its difficulties, but in spite of them. What Buffett and all of his fans secretly know is that such escapist reveries are not merely an optional lark but a necessary tool for survival.

As Buffett himself put it in his 1977 hit “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”The Conversation

Drew M. Dalton, Professor of Philosophy, Dominican University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US news outlet posts job ad for Taylor Swift reporter

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The most American pop culture phenomenon of them all

“American Idol” was “born” exactly nine months after 9/11. The timing was significant, because since its premiere on June 11, 2002, the show has become an integral part of the country’s coping strategy – a kind of guidebook for our difficult entry into the 21st century.

By carefully curating a distinctly American mix tape of music, personal narratives and cultural doctrine, “American Idol” has painted a portrait of who we think we are, especially in the aftermath of tragedy, war and economic turmoil.

As the show concludes after 15 seasons, it’s worth looking at how the past and present collided to create a cultural phenomenon – and how we’re seeing shades of the show’s influence in today’s chaotic presidential race.

All our myths bundled into one

“American Idol”‘s premise – the idea that an ordinary person might be recognized as extraordinary – is firmly rooted in a national myth of meritocracy.

This national narrative includes the dime-novel, rags-to-riches fairy tales of Horatio Alger, which were intended to uplift Americans struggling to get by after the Civil War. Then there was the American Dream catchphrase – first coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America – that promoted an ideal of economic mobility during the hopeless years of the Depression.

Indeed, decades before host Ryan Seacrest handed out his first golden ticket to the first golden-throated farm girl waiting tables while waiting to be “discovered,” we’d been going to Hollywood in our dreams and on screen.

The show has shown us archetypes of immigrant narratives, like when Season Three contestant Leah Labelle spoke of her Bulgarian family’s defection to North America during Communist rule. It has demonstrated how to rely on faith in the face of hardship, exemplified by Fantasia Barrino’s victory song, “I Believe,” performed with a gospel choir. Meanwhile, it served as a stage for patriotic passion, broadcasting two performances of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” when the United States entered Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, the many “Idol Gives Back” specials remind us of American philanthropic values.

The show has celebrated failure as both a necessary stumbling block and a launchpad to fame. Many singers needed to audition year after year before they earned their chance to compete. For others, such as William Hung, their televised rejection brought fame and opportunity anyway.

For contestant William Hung, fame blossomed out of failure.

“American Idol” has also served as a course in American music history, featuring discrete genres like Southern soul and Southern rock, together with newer, blurrier categories like pop-country and pop-punk.

Making the old new again

In one sense, “American Idol”’s format was nothing new. In fact, British entertainment executives Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell – who shepherded in a 21st-century version of the “British Invasion” – fashioned their juggernaut show as a new take on old business models.

There is something distinctly American about contestants standing in a Ford-sponsored spotlight, judges sipping from Coca-Cola glasses, and viewers sitting in front of television screens texting their votes on AT&T phones. The show’s conspicuous commercialization recalls the earliest days of television, when programs were owned and produced by advertisers. And “Idol,” like that early programming, was intended to be “appointment television,” bringing families together at the same time every week.

“Idol”’s production model is also a throwback. It’s structured like Berry Gordy’s Motown – a one-stop fame factory that offers stars a package of coaching, polishing, a band, album production and promotion.

The format also draws from amateur regional and national radio competitions of the early 20th century. (Frank Sinatra got his start winning one on “Major Bowe’s Amateur Hour” in 1935, with the Hoboken Four.) Another influence is the half-ridiculous and totally political “Eurovision Song Contest,” the hugely popular and mercilessly mocked annual televised event that pits nation against nation in (almost) friendly singing competition.

A vote that counts?

“Eurovision,” which originated in 1955 as a test of transnational network capabilities and postwar international relations, introduced telephone voting a few years before “Idol” premiered.

And like Eurovision, the impact of “American Idol” extends far beyond our annual crowning of a new pop star. The show’s rise has taken place at a time when the boundaries between entertainment, politics and business have become increasingly blurred.

Season after season, “American Idol” fans have placed votes for their favorite contestants – options which, somewhat like our presidential candidates, have been carefully cultivated by a panel of industry experts looking for a sure bet.

The initial success of “Idol” heralded not only an era of similar television programming, but also a new era in which we’re given the opportunity to “vote,” whether it’s for dum-dum pop flavors or the world’s most influential people.

Considering these trends, it’s not so farfetched to suggest that the wild popularity of shows like “American Idol” played some role in setting the blinding chrome stage and slightly “pitchy” tone for this year’s election.

It isn’t just that Donald Trump presided over “The Apprentice,” a reality competition that rode in on “American Idol”’s coattails.

His persona also seems to meet the same sadistic public need satisfied by original “Idol” judge Simon Cowell: the executive heir, the imperious arbiter of taste who owes his fortune at least as much to his superiority complex as to any financial acumen. At the same time, personas like Cowell and Trump deign to give an ordinary, hardworking American a chance.

That conceit, though, is mitigated cleverly by both moguls: they capitalize on what Cowell has identified as a universal desire to feel important.

The crux of their personal appeal is that they understand that everyone wants to matter, and we are willing – as TV viewers or as citizens – to risk an awful lot just to feel like we do. We each want to imagine our own sky-high potential, and laugh in relief when we see others who will never get off the ground. We want to be judge and jury, but also be judged and juried.

“Idol” gives Americans permission to judge each other, to feel like our opinion makes a difference. Trump’s unfiltered rhetoric has done something similar, giving his supporters implicit and sometimes explicit permission to mock, dismiss, exclude and even attack others based on racial and ethnic identity, religion or ability.

And so now, as “Idol” makes its final journey from Studio 36 to the Dolby Theatre, we deliberate over whose victory will herald the last “Seacrest – out.”

Whatever happens, and whichever way our presidential election goes, the U.S. is on the brink of something new, a major cultural shift. Wherever we’re going, “Idol” has served its purpose, and we don’t need it in the same desperate way anymore.

I think, though, that we’ll always be searching for the next big thing. And we’ll always be glad we had a moment like this.The Conversation

Kelly Clarkson, the first winner of American Idol, performs ‘A Moment Like This.’

Katherine Meizel, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, Bowling Green State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Michael Oher, Mike Tyson and the question of whether you own your life story

What if you overcame a serious illness to go on to win an Olympic medal? Could a writer or filmmaker decide to tell your inspiring story without consulting you? Or do you “own” that story and control how it gets retold?

Michael Oher, the former NFL player portrayed in the 2009 blockbuster “The Blind Side,” has sued Michael and Anne Leigh Tuohy, the suburban couple who took him into their home as a disadvantaged youth.

In his official complaint, Oher claims that through forgery, trickery or sheer incompetence, the Tuohys enabled 20th Century Fox to acquire the exclusive rights to his life story.

The Tuohys, Oher continues, received millions of dollars for a “story that would not have existed without him,” while he claims that he received nothing.

Just a year earlier, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was similarly incensed when he learned that Hulu had created a miniseries dramatizing his career without seeking his permission.

“They stole my life story and didn’t pay me,” Tyson charged in an Instagram post.

Oher and Tyson – not to mention countless influencers and wannabe celebs – share the conviction that they own, and can monetize, their life stories. And given regular news stories about studios buying “life story rights,” it’s not surprising to see why.

As law professors, we’ve studied this issue; our research shows that there is no recognized property right under U.S. law – or the laws of any other country of which we are aware – to the facts and events that occur during someone’s life.

So why are Oher, Tyson and others complaining? And why do publishers and studios routinely pay large sums to acquire rights that don’t exist?

No monopoly on the truth

In most states, the commercial use of an individual’s name, image and likeness is protected by the so-called “right of publicity.” But that right generally applies to merchandise, apparel and product endorsements, not facts and actual events. So you can’t sell a T-shirt with Mike Tyson’s face on it without his permission, but writing a book about his rise to fame is fair game.

In the U.S., the freedom to describe historical events is rooted in the free speech clause of the First Amendment, and it’s a fundamental principle that no one – whether it’s a news agency, political party or celebrity – holds a monopoly on the truth.

The law doesn’t sanction the invasion of privacy, so an investigative journalist who uncovers some unsavory detail of your past can’t publish it unless there is a legitimate public interest in doing so. Nor does it condone the dissemination of false information, which can lead to defamation lawsuits.

The First Amendment, however, does allow authors and film producers to truthfully depict factual events that they have legitimately learned about. They are not required to receive authorization from or pay the people involved.

The origin of life story ‘rights’

Film producers, however, are accustomed to paying for the right to repackage or use existing content.

Copyright licenses are required to commission a script based on a book, to depict a comic book character in a film and to include a hit song on a movie soundtrack. Even showing an architecturally distinctive building often requires the consent of a copyright owner, which is why the video game “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” had to remove the Chrysler Building.

Manhattan skyline with art deco skyscraper in the foreground.

Studios hoping to include a shot of the Chrysler Building in their films might have to pony up.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Along with these other rights and permissions, Hollywood studios have paid individuals for their life stories for at least a century.

Yet, unlike copyright clearances, life story deals do not involve the acquisition of known intellectual property rights. Life story “rights” are not rights at all. Instead, they bundle together a set of contractual commitments: the subject’s agreement to cooperate with the studio, not to work on a similar project, and to release the studio from claims of defamation and invasion of privacy.

By packaging these commitments under the umbrella of “life story rights,” studios can signal to the market that they have acquired a particularly juicy story.

For example, Netflix’s quick deal with convicted fraudster Anna Sorokin, the subject of the popular streaming series “Inventing Anna,” seems to have deterred competing adaptations of Sorokin’s story.

What’s more, the acquisition of life story rights has become so common that it is viewed, in many cases, as a de facto requirement for film financing and insurance coverage and thus part of the standard clearance procedure for many projects.

Exceptions don’t make the rule

As always with the law, though, there are exceptions.

Notably, the producers of the 2010 film “The Social Network” did not obtain the permission of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg before dramatizing the origin story of his company. In moving forward with the project, they risked a defamation or publicity suit by Zuckerberg and others depicted in the film. But their gamble paid off: Zuckerberg, while critical of his depiction, didn’t sue.

Nevertheless, other subjects who have been depicted in dramatic features without their authorization have sued to recover a share of the profits.

Silver screen legend Olivia de Havilland, for example, sued FX Studios for briefly depicting her in a miniseries about Hollywood rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. She won at trial, though an appeals court reversed her victory, citing the producers’ First Amendment rights.

Lawsuits can even be brought when the characters’ names and story details have been changed. U.S. Army Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver, the bomb-defusing expert who inspired the Oscar-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” sued the film’s producers for violating his right of publicity. He lost.

Lawsuits like these are not the norm. But many producers hope to get ahead of a flimsy lawsuit and bad publicity by acquiring nonexistent rights.

History is in the public domain

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong – and much that is right – with paying individuals to cooperate with the production of features about themselves. Doing so can convey respect toward the subject and make the production go more smoothly.

But the fact that life story acquisitions have entered the popular consciousness has spurred the widespread belief that any portrayal of a factual series of events entitles those depicted to a lucrative payday. This expectation increases production costs and the risk of litigation, thereby deterring otherwise worthwhile projects and depriving the public of meaningful content that is based on true stories.

What could be done about this situation?

One idea that we’ve written about would prevent right of publicity laws – the basis for many life story lawsuits – from being used against works that convey ideas and tell a story, such as books, films and TV shows.

Perhaps the most important thing that can be done, though, is educating people that they don’t have a right to cash in on every description of the events of their lives.

Collective history, in our view, belongs in the public domain.The Conversation

Jorge L. Contreras, James T. Jensen Endowed Professor for Transactional Law and Director, Program on Intellectual Property and Technology Law, University of Utah and Dave Fagundes, Baker Botts LLP Professor of Law and Research Dean, University of Houston Law Center

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

One death reported at Burning Man, thousands stranded in mud and rain

(Reuters) - Nevada authorities on Sunday said they were investigating one death after a severe rainstorm left tens of thousands of revelers attending the annual Burning Man festival stranded in mud, and asked that they shelter in place and conserve food and water. The Pershing County Sheriff's Office in northern Nevada said in a statement that the death happened during a "rain event" on Saturday but did not provide details of the cause of death or the person's identity. "The family has been notified and the death is under investigation," the sheriff's office said. "As the death is still under ...

How Jimmy Buffett found his vibe in the Keys, and why Florida will miss his presence

MIAMI — Jimmy Buffett branded Key West as a destination and lifestyle from South Florida to the “Far Side of the World,” to quote one of his compositions. And his work will endure long after Saturday’s announcement of his death. The Mississippi-born troubadour created a fictional “Margaritaville” paradise in song that became a global destination. But even through the 1980s when he’d already written the songs that made him world famous, he appeared the regular Joe sauntering up the stairs into his office atop an old Key West building on Duval Street to pick up his own mail. By 1985, he’d opened...

Trump’s mug shot is now a means of entertainment − but it will go down in history as an important cultural artifact

One of the most anticipated events in the summer of 2023 was former President Donald Trump’s mug shot.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s office released Trump’s mug shot on Aug. 24, 2023, a little more than one week after a grand jury in Georgia indicted the former president and 18 associates for alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Trump’s photo instantly generated a significant amount of media coverage and attracted public attention. Trump’s election campaign is now marketing the photo as a way to raise money. It’s also been used to ridicule and criticize him.

In the mug shot, Trump wears one of his classic dark suits with a red tie and a familiar, petulant scowl, with his brow furrowed and mouth turned down.

Save for the gold seal of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, there is nothing particularly noteworthy or interesting about the image.

But Trump’s mug shot’s ultimate importance is yet to be realized.

I have been interested in and researching mug shots and other forms of identification for more than 20 years. I did my Ph.D. thesis on the uses of photography in criminal identification and in 2009 wrote my first book, “Capturing the Criminal Image: From Mug Shot to Surveillance Society,” on the same topic.

It will likely be at least a decade or two before Trump’s mug shot’s significance truly registers with people. For now, it is a form of entertainment – a salacious piece of visual culture that Trump’s supporters and opponents have been waiting for and are now putting to use.

But as a historical artifact, the Trump mug shot will be truly unique – it will represent the first time a former president had a public, photographic record of criminal charges.

Long after the various trials come to conclusion, the mug shot will serve as a reminder of a particularly troubling time in American history.

From the 1840s to now

French police were the first to produce mug shots using a daguerreotype camera as early as the 1840s.

In order to avoid increased penalties for repeat offenses, criminals could try to change their appearance or give different names if arrested.

The mug shot was a way to combat this deception. Other police departments around the world quickly recognized mug shots’ useful nature.

By the end of the 19th century, police departments amassed photographs of criminals into bound collections called rogues galleries, many of which housed thousands of criminals’ images.

Given its use over more than 150 years, the mug shot has an established association with criminality or, at the very least, suspicion of criminality.

While a mug shot does not mean the person pictured has committed a crime, it does mean that police had reason to bring a person into custody and formally book them.

The typically stern faces of those subject to the camera, as well as the inclusion of accouterments such as identification or prisoner numbers or a height chart in the background, add to this association of criminality.

Variations of mug shots

Trump’s mug shot, along with that of his attorney Rudy Giuliani, closely follows the standard mug shot format from the 19th century – with people facing the camera head on, often with a grimace or a solemn face. By contrast, the mug shots of former Trump associates David Shafer and Jenna Ellis look more like family photos, with their wide eyes and toothy grins.

Shafer’s and Ellis’ mug shots follow in the recent practice of others – typically celebrities or politicians – who have pushed back against traditional ideas of how mug shots should look.

In 2014, musician Justin Bieber was arrested for drag-racing in Miami Beach and bore an innocent looking, boyish smile in his mug shot.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted for abuse of power in 2014 and gave a full-faced, closed-mouth smile for his mug shot, which looked fit for a political campaign advertisement.

Socialite Paris Hilton also struck highly stylized poses for the camera during all three times she took mug shots following her arrests for drug possession and driving under the influence in the mid-2000s.

Mug shots influence culture

Mug shots primarily serve as an official police identification record.

But when mug shots are released publicly, they become part of a broader conversation about culture and society and can take on different meanings over time.

Former football player O.J. Simpson, who was charged with the death of his former wife and her boyfriend in 1994 – and of which he was later acquitted – offers one the most famous examples of how a mug shot can have an enduring legacy.

Both Time and Newsweek magazines published Simpson’s mug shot on their covers in June 1994.

But Time darkened Simpson’s skin tone, reflecting false, racist stereotypes about dark skin color and the connection to crime. It later apologized for doing so.

Now, along with being available for purchase as a poster, print or other commercial product, the Simpson mug shot serves as a case study in college courses on criminology and media and communication studies.

Mug shots tap into a cultural fascination with crime and criminal justice, so it is no surprise that mug shots find their way into popular culture – especially when the subjects are famous people.

The mug shots of mobster Al Capone and singer Frank Sinatra from the 1930s are still available on a wide range of commercial products, like shirts and hats.

The actress Jane Fonda famously raised her fist in a 1970 mug shot after she was arrested for drug smuggling. That photo provides evidence of her career as an antiwar and feminist activist. Her charges were ultimately dropped.

Trump’s mug shot and its legacy

Trump’s mug shot will likely continue to be used in a wide range of political, commercial and public contexts, in different ways and to different ends.

Some – including Trump’s legal team – have said that Trump does not need to have a mug shot. No mug shots were required or produced during his other three arrests in 2023.

The argument is that Trump is readily recognized by the police. But the Fulton County sheriff said that Trump would be treated the same as any other person the agency arrests.

I think that Trump’s mug shot is unlikely to sway the hardened views of his most ardent proponents and detractors. There has been a nearly endless stream of information across all forms of media about the former president for nearly a decade. A mug shot won’t make Trump’s supporters think he’s a criminal, but it might encourage future generations to come to that conclusion.The Conversation

Jonathan Finn, Professor of Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The unfinished revolution of 'The Joy of Sex'

The sexual revolution may have reached its high-water mark 50 years ago, the week of August 5, 1973, when The Joy of Sex: A Cordon Bleu Guide to Lovemaking first topped the New York Times list of nonfiction hardcover best sellers. Published the previous fall, the book had swiftly become a publishing phenomenon. For the first time, anyone in America could walk into a respectable bookshop and openly purchase a detailed, illustrated sex manual: a modern version of the guidebooks that Indian aristocrats, Chinese mandarins, and Florentine grandees had consulted centuries before.

The book would notch 11 weeks at number one, and topped the trade paperback best-seller list for 13 months, making it one of the most successful books ever issued in that format, according to Publishers Weekly. To date, it has sold 12 million copies in various editions, and its sequel, More Joy, some 1.5 million more.

The Joy of Sex opened up the popular discourse about sex play, introducing millions of couples to a less anxious, more receptive and mutually pleasurable approach to intercourse than their parents’. While it was written specifically for heterosexual couples, it helped launch a vast genre of explicit better-sex guides addressing every possible inclination—gay, straight, trans, bi-, even some aimed at conservative Christians, Orthodox Jews, and observant Muslims, not to mention book-length explorations of specific techniques—all of which borrow something from the style and voice of their predecessor and that collectively have sold in the many millions.

Written by a 52-year-old British biologist, physician, poet, novelist, longtime anarchist and pacifist, and all-around pundit with the reassuring name of Alex Comfort, The Joy of Sex was a milestone in a cultural transformation that, half a century on, is still unfolding.

The sexual revolution was declared dead and buried during the AIDS crisis and has since endured a powerful, rolling backlash from antiabortion zealots, antigay and anti-trans crusaders, and opportunistic politicians eager to take advantage of the latest moral panic. But it never really ended. Despite efforts to discourage and suppress teenage sexuality, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics estimated that even in the pandemic year of 2021, 30% of teens had had sexual intercourse by age 18. Nor has the queer community gone back into the closet. Last year, the Gallup Poll reported that 7.1% of U.S. adults self-identify as other than heterosexual, double the percentage of 2012.

What did The Joy of Sex bring to the sexual revolution, and what does it have to say to us today, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and amidst the ongoing tug-of-war between personal freedom and social control? It was not the first best-seller to discuss sex frankly, but it was the first book from a major publishing house, intended for a mainstream, middle-class audience, that told you—and showed you—how to do it. To secure that audience, it rewrote the language and look of the sex manual: the format, the presentation, and above all, the voice. Previously, books about sex had fallen into one of two categories: sleazy, cheesy, and pornographic, or else dull, clinical, and unarousing. The Joy of Sex, by contrast, was urbane, witty, and disarmingly casual. “A well-designed bedroom can be a sexual gymnasium without it being embarrassing to let elderly relatives leave their coats there,” it advised.

The relaxed, humorous tone was intrinsic to the book’s message: “Bed is the place to play all the games you have ever wanted to play, at the play-level. If we are able to transmit the sense of play which is essential to a full, enterprising and healthily immature view of sex between committed people, we would be performing a mitzvah.” That approach extended to the visuals: a portfolio of paintings depicting the stages of a sexual encounter, a series of drawings explicitly illustrating the various positions described in the text, and a selection of classical Asian erotic illustrations, adding a touch of aesthetic refinement.

To be sure, The Joy of Sex displayed many of the deficiencies of what had always been a male-dominated form. It was noticeably phallocentric. In a good sexual encounter, it told the reader, the penis becomes like a third party or a child of the couple: “‘their’ penis.” That being the case, it was the woman’s responsibility to arouse the man, not so much the other way around. And while the book had no quarrel with non-hetero sex (“we’re all bisexual”), it still framed this as a deviation from the norm. Rape fantasies were fine as long as they weren’t acted upon, and when real rape occurred, it may have been the fault of the woman who deliberately excited a man she didn’t know well. The book would obviously receive plenty of justified criticism on these points and others in the years to come.

In spite of which, The Joy of Sex introduced an important positive element, urging couples to talk about their erotic needs and desires openly, unanxiously, and without embarrassment. “The whole joy of sex-with-love is that there are no rules, so long as you enjoy, and the choice is practically unlimited,” it urged. “That includes our whole skin surface, our feelings of identity, aggression, and so on, and all of our fantasy needs.”

* * *

Comfort’s agenda ran deeper, however. In his day, most people who studied sexual behavior assumed that sex had two functions: pleasure and procreation. Comfort added a third: sociality, or what he called “the forgotten art of being human.”

If socialization is the way we internalize society’s norms of conduct and belief, sociality is how humans learn to associate and cooperate with each other. Comfort held that sex is one of the most basic and profoundly formative ways that we achieve sociality. It’s how individuals, generally in adolescence, accustom themselves to understand and respond to each other’s needs and desires and, importantly, how they learn to share power within relationships rather than compete for it.

Unlike most forms of socialization, sex helps us achieve this not through discipline or instruction but through play. Fantasy is a basic part of erotic enjoyment, Comfort argued, and an important means by which couples understand and accommodate each other. He therefore encouraged exploration and experimentation over rigid sex roles (“refusing to try anything but the missionary position is as much a fetish as only being potent when wearing a diving helmet”).

Here’s how he summed up the elements of a healthy sexual relationship: “mutual respect, mutual communication, and a strong desire to protect one another without any corresponding wish to manipulate or mold.”

Other critics of sexual repression, especially Freudians and the followers of Wilhelm Reich, saw bad sex as leading to violence, oppression, even fascism, but Comfort turned that dynamic on its head. An unstable, economically precarious, often violent society distorts sexual behavior; sex can’t perform its crucial role in building sociality. In turn, a sexual culture riddled with violence helps make a violent society more so; and the cycle continues. Men are conditioned to experience sex as a kind of gladiatorial contest. Sexual imagery becomes increasingly tinged with violence and violent images in art and entertainment are eroticized. Meanwhile, much of the sex education that students receive in school is slanted to reinforce traditional roles and mythologies rather than to challenge them.

Censorship was not the answer, said Comfort, who had campaigned against the devastating air war that the UK and U.S. allies had conducted over occupied Europe during World War II and later against nuclear weapons. Rather, “a general outbreak of public resistance to militarism,” he once suggested, “would contribute more to the removal of sexual imbalance than any action through the channels we have come to regard as political.”

Accurate information that doesn’t just reinforce myths and stereotypes about sex must be made easily available, Comfort argued, and adolescents should be encouraged to explore their sexuality, not stifle it. He stipulated only two commandments: “Thou shalt not exploit another person’s feelings and wantonly expose them to an experience of rejection,” and “Thou shalt not under any circumstances negligently risk producing an unwanted child.”

* * *

The Joy of Sex was Comfort’s attempt to smuggle this agenda into the mainstream by updating the ancient but underground genre of the sexual instruction manual for the modern middle class. His timing was perfect. Booksellers couldn’t get enough copies fast enough, readily seeing it as the logical next step after Masters and Johnson’s dryly scientific bestseller, Human Sexual Response. Some put it on display like their other titles while others kept an unwrapped copy at the counter for patrons to peruse. Either way, opening this explicitly illustrated sex book at your local outlet became a semi-subversive statement for millions. You didn’t just look at it, you got away with looking at it.

Thereafter, and in spite of being repeatedly banned from public and school libraries, The Joy of Sex continued to sell in successive editions, the most recent appearing in 2009, nine years after Comfort’s death.

What kept the book fresh for so long, despite its flaws, was its insistence that we get the best sex when we develop the unashamed capacity to experience it not as an outlet for aggression or a neurotic exercise, but as play. Comfort’s insistence that problems in sexual relations between two people are not separate from social problems such as war, economic injustice, and abuse of authority still echoes strongly at a time when men in positions of power are repeatedly found to have leveraged their status to extract sexual favors.

The revolution that The Joy of Sex sought to instigate in the bedroom and in society at large is still a work in progress. But Comfort’s book, persistently in print and persistently finding readers, reminds us of the critical role that good, mutually satisfying sex can play in building a healthier, freer humanity.


Eric Laursen is the author of Polymath: The Life and Professions of Dr. Alex Comfort, Author of “The Joy of Sex (AK Press).

Seeing ‘Red’ after Taylor Swift debacle, lawmakers weigh new policies

There’s no question what motivated state Rep. Kelly Moller to push for changes in Minnesota law on concert ticket sales.

“Really, it was the Taylor Swift debacle for me,” she said.

A self-professed Swiftie, the Democrat found herself among millions of other Americans unable to buy tickets last year to Swift’s Eras Tour.

She preregistered for tickets, but never received a code to buy them. And on the day sales went live online, she sat by as friends with codes got bumped out of the ticket queue for no apparent reason. Then Ticketmaster’s website crashed.

The ordeal convinced her that the concert ticket industry warrants more government oversight.

“I do think a lot of that is better served at the federal level, but that said, there are things we can do at the state level,” she said.

Moller introduced a bill this year that would force ticket sellers to disclose the full cost of tickets, including fees, up front to buyers in her state. It also would ban speculative ticketing — a practice in which resale companies sell tickets they don’t yet own.

The bill stalled, but Moller expects it to be reconsidered next year. It is part of a wave of legislation considered in more than a dozen states this year following the unprecedented disaster in the run-up to Swift’s Eras Tour, which is on pace to be the highest-grossing tour in history.

Swift and her legions of fans were outraged when Ticketmaster’s website crashed last November as it faced unprecedented demand from fans, bots and ticket resellers ahead of her tour. Social media blew up over the fiasco, and news organizations published story after story. It sparked bipartisan legislative proposals in Congress, though no bill has become law yet.

That’s led state legislatures to step in: Lawmakers of both parties across the country introduced new bills this year to regulate concert and live event ticket purchasing.

Ticketing fights are far more contentious than anyone anticipates. Each side of the market likes to blame the other side, and consumers are stuck in the middle.

– Brian Hess, executive director of Sports Fans Coalition

It’s a rare bipartisan issue in statehouses. But lawmakers are learning how complicated — and controversial — the world of online ticketing is. In several states, legislators are caught in the middle between companies like Ticketmaster and secondary sellers such as StubHub.

“There are a lot of issues that beg for a national focus, a national solution. But because of the political dynamics in Washington, D.C., we haven’t gotten very many solutions. … So states believe they have to act,” said California state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat.

Dodd sponsored a bill this year that would ban so-called junk fees on tickets — fees tacked onto the base price that lawmakers view as deceptive. The proposal targets other services, including hotel and resort fees, but Dodd said concerts were a major driver. President Joe Biden called out junk fees in his State of the Union address in February and has publicly praised companies that have committed to transparent pricing, such as Airbnb and Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s parent company.

Dodd said he isn’t hostile to ticket marketplaces such as Ticketmaster and StubHub. He uses those sites to buy tickets to concerts and basketball games. But, he said, consumers should know the full price up front. The White House estimates junk fees cost Americans more than $65 billion per year.

“It’s outrageous,” he said, “and I think Californians are sick and tired of dishonest fees being tacked onto just anything.”

Dodd’s bill, which was backed by California Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, passed the state Senate and is pending in the Assembly. It is one of several ticketing bills considered by Golden State lawmakers this session.

The state Senate unanimously passed a proposal from Republican state Sen. Scott Wilk that he said targets the “stranglehold” some companies have over sales. The bill would prohibit exclusivity clauses in contracts between a primary ticket seller such as Ticketmaster and an entertainment venue in California. Wilk said in his news release it would allow artists to work with other ticket sellers without the fear of retaliation from large ticket sellers — and ultimately reduce fees for consumers. It’s in committee in the Assembly.

‘The states are where it’s at’

Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a bill that would have required sellers to fully disclose the total cost of event tickets, prohibited vendors from raising prices during the buying process and banned speculative ticketing.

But Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vetoed the act in June, saying it could prevent competition and “risk upsetting the successful entertainment ecosystem in Colorado.”

Chris Castle, an entertainment lawyer who tracks ticket legislation across the country, said the Colorado veto illustrates the industry’s ability to sway public officials.

Polis referenced concerns he heard from the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America. Both of those consumer advocacy groups have received funding from secondary ticket marketplaces such as StubHub, the music publication Pitchfork reported.

“It’d be easy enough to say, ‘Well, I heard from the stakeholders, and I thought these guys had the better argument.’ But he didn’t say that,” Castle said of Polis. “He starts talking about these groups. And sure enough, it turns out, they’re all on the take.”

Conor Cahill, the governor’s spokesperson, did not answer questions about the influence of ticket marketplaces on the veto, but said Polis will apply a “consumer-first lens” to future legislation on the issue.

State AGs Want Power to Hit Airlines for Consumer Complaints

The National Consumers League has no problem being associated with groups like StubHub, said John Breyault, the organization’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. He said the group shares a common belief with resellers that the marketplace needs more competition, not less. But it still disagrees on some specific issues, he said.

“There are problems at every level of the industry including in the secondary market that we are trying to address through both our advocacy at the state level and our advocacy at the federal level,” Breyault said.

Bills in several states backed by StubHub aim to protect so-called transferability of tickets — that is, the customers’ right to pass on or resell tickets they purchase.

Six states — Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Utah and Virginia — currently protect the right of fans to transfer or sell tickets. Without that right, some advocates say Ticketmaster’s terms and conditions can ban transferring tickets or require that they be resold on their own platform.

StubHub makes no secret of its efforts to educate and persuade state lawmakers.

“The states are really where it’s at in a lot of ways,” said Laura Dooley, the company’s head of global government relations. “Our industry right now is almost exclusively regulated at the state level.”

This year, the company has tracked nearly 70 ticketing bills proposed across 25 states. Dooley said many state lawmakers introduce new regulations with good intentions, but don’t always understand the industry.

As an example, she pointed to state efforts to ban bots — software that can bypass security measures in online ticketing systems and buy tickets in bulk faster than humans.

Ticketmaster cited bots as a major cause of the Eras Tour fiasco. Bots are banned by federal law, though that regulation only has been enforced once since 2016, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Dooley said StubHub isn’t opposed to state bot bans, but does push legislators to consider enforcement measures in crafting their bills. That’s because regulators need cooperation from the industry and access to ticketing software to monitor for bots, Dooley said.

Dooley contends some lawmakers’ proposed solutions don’t target root causes, including the unique way live event tickets are sold, generally through exclusive deals with one retail platform.

“When you have millions and millions of people wanting to buy a product and they’re being asked to buy that product at the same time on the same day through an exclusive retail provider — in this case Ticketmaster and in many cases Ticketmaster — that system is going to be overloaded, right? And it’s going to be a frustrating experience,” Dooley said.

Ticketmaster did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

If someone wants to spend their hard-earned money at $10,000 a ticket to go see Taylor Swift or Jay-Z or the Boston Celtics, giddy up. But I just want that consumer to know going into that initial transaction that they’re going to be spending $10,000.

– Massachusetts Democratic state Sen. John Velis

Brian Hess, executive director of the nonprofit fan advocacy organization Sports Fans Coalition, pointed out thatlawmakers have a variety of interests to consider: the primary ticket markets like Ticketmaster, the artists, the consumer, and secondary markets like StubHub.

“Ticketing fights are far more contentious than anyone anticipates,” he said. “Each side of the market likes to blame the other side, and consumers are stuck in the middle.”

The Sports Fans Coalition is in part funded by secondary marketplaces like StubHub and lobbies on ticket legislation across the country.

Hess said federal regulators should not have allowed the 2010 merger of Live Nation, an event promoter and venue operator, with Ticketmaster, a ticket provider.

“They are the monopoly in the industry,” he said. “They were the ones that botched Taylor Swift’s tickets, and they’re the ones that continue to have ticket sale problems when they launch new shows.”

A bipartisan focus

Texas Republican state Rep. Kronda Thimesch said she saw firsthand how bots can distort the marketplace and prevent customers from purchasing tickets.

That’s what she blamed for her own daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to buy Swift tickets last year.

Despite Bans, Ticket-Buying Bots Still Snag the Best Seats

“Fans then have to resort to paying hundreds, if not thousands, over face value to resellers in order to see their favorite artist,” she said.

That’s why she introduced a bill banning ticket-buying bots in Texas, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Thimesch noted that ticket issues aren’t just a problem for Swift fans — country star Zach Bryan named his December live album “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster.” Thimesch said she is open to exploring more ticketing legislation when the Texas legislature reconvenes.

More than 1,500 miles away, Massachusetts Democratic state Sen. John Velis has a similar outlook. He’s interested in diving deep into the world of ticketing. But he’s starting off small.

“I think the art, if you will, of legislating is you kind of go little by little,” he said. “I think ticket pricing is a great and very logical place to start.”

Velis introduced a bill that would require upfront transparent ticket pricing and ban “dynamic pricing,” a practice in which sellers adjust prices based on demand. While he’s interested in eventually exploring ride shares or other services, his legislation is so far focused on concert and live event tickets, he said.

Stateline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Stateline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Scott S. Greenberger for questions: Follow Stateline on Facebook and Twitter.

In ‘Blue Beetle,’ a superhero movie expands Mexican American representation in Hollywood — finally

It’s difficult to explain why I was crying five minutes into watching the new superhero movie "Blue Beetle." It wasn’t a sad scene. On the contrary, it was a celebration of lead Jaime Reyes coming home after college to his loving Mexican American family, who had papered over their struggles and sacrificed much for the benefit of the kids. If nostalgia means the pain from an old wound, what do you call the pain from recognition? It’s not just that Reyes and I share a hometown in El Paso, Texas, (at least in the comics; in the movie he lives in the fictional Palmera City, a kind of Mexican Ameri...

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson made a suggestion during the 1963 March on Washington − and it changed a good speech to a majestic sermon on an American dream

Known around the world as the “Queen of Gospel,” Jackson used her powerful voice to work in the Civil Rights Movement. Starting in the 1950s, she traveled with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the South and heard him preach in Black churches about a vision that only he could see.

But on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, something didn’t quite sound right to Jackson as she listened to King deliver his prepared speech. King was reading from his prepared remarks when she made a simple suggestion.

“Tell them about the dream, Martin,” she urged King, “tell them about the dream.”

Inspired, King cast aside his prepared remarks and ad-libbed from his heart. For the estimated 250,000 who joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that day, they heard King deliver one of his seminal sermons.

“I have a dream,” King preached, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Though most memorable, King’s voice wasn’t the only one that day 60 years ago. The other voice, the one King listened to and heeded, belonged to Mahalia Jackson.

“A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium,” King once said.

An international phenomenon

Born on Oct. 26, 1911, in New Orleans, Jackson had a contralto voice that first won fame as a gospel singer in the choir at Greater Salem Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side during the 1940s.

Among her earliest hit recordings were “I Can Put My Trust in Jesus,” “In the Upper Room,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Move On Up A Little Higher” and “Even Me Lord.”

A Black woman dressed in a white gown gestures with her hands as she sings behind several microphones.

Mahalia Jackson performing in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1961.

Lennart Steen/JP Jazz Archive/Getty Images

Before long, Jackson was appearing in major concert venues in the U.S. and Europe. In 1956, she was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. In 1961, Jackson sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. The popular “Ed Sullivan Show” made Jackson a household name by frequently asking her to perform.

But international fame did not make Jackson forget her religious upbringing and commitment to fight for equal rights.

In “As the Spirit Moves Mahalia,” prominent Black writer Ralph Ellison wrote about the meaning of Jackson’s voice.

“The true function of her singing is not simply to entertain,” he explained, “but to prepare the congregation for the minister’s message, to make it receptive to the spirit, and with effects of voice and rhythm to evoke a shared community of experience.”

Ellison further wrote that Jackson was “not primarily a concert singer but a high priestess in the religious ceremony of her church.”

Mahalia and Martin

Jackson and King first met at the National Baptist Convention in Alabama in 1956. King asked her if she could support his work there by singing and inspiring civil rights activists during the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

From there, she became the first woman to serve on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a prominent civil rights group led by King, and became one of King’s most trusted advisers. In a 1962 press release, King wrote that Jackson “has appeared on numerous programs that helped the struggle in the South, but now she has indicated that she wants to be involved on a regular basis.”

She shared his vision for breaking down the barriers of segregation and fighting for equitable treatment for African Americans. In her own right, Jackson became a visible fixture within the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackson died in 1972 at the age of 60.

Jackson’s voice in a movement

If music was the soul of the movement, strategic thinking was at its core. As psychologist Asa Hilliard later explained, among those strategies were moral suasion, litigation, grassroots organizing, civil disobedience, economic boycotts, the solicitation of corporate sponsors and the use of television.

The March on Washington was considered the culminating event of the historic Civil Rights Movement. The march was rooted in the ideal of economic justice and intentionally held on Aug. 28 to commemorate the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi on the same date in 1955.

Till’s death and the subsequent acquittal of three white men charged with the brutal murder was one of the turning points of the movement.

Among the building blocks of the Civil Rights Movement was music. It spoke to the soul, and Mahalia’s gift comforted the masses. King often called her during trying times and asked her to sing to him over the telephone.

A Black woman wearing a black hat stands in front of an American flag.

Mahalia Jackson greets others during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.

Roosevelt H. Carter/Getty Images

King called her “a blessing to me … and a blessing to Negroes who have learned through her not to be ashamed of their heritage.”

It was no surprise then that Jackson felt comfortable enough to make a suggestion to the civil rights leader during a sermon.

Before he appeared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Jackson had sung her rendition of “I have been buked and I have been scorned” and after he finished, she sang “We Shall Overcome.”

But her most important line that day might have been, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”The Conversation

Bev-Freda Jackson, Adjunct professor of Justice, Law and Criminology, American University School of Public Affairs

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is Hercule Poirot autistic? Here are seven clues that he might be

Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective with the flamboyant moustache and keen eye for detail, is one of the most beloved characters in crime fiction. He was created by British writer Agatha Christie and first arrived on our bookshelves in 1920. He has since appeared in 33 novels, 51 short stories and two plays.

He has also been depicted in film and television by an array of actors, with Kenneth Branagh’s latest iteration, A Haunting in Venice, opening on the big screen in September 2023.

Poirot’s characteristics have led us to speculate that he may be autistic, even though Christie never explicitly said so.

Headcanon and autistic representation

When audiences “headcanon” a character, this means they have interpreted them in a way which is not openly stated in the film, TV or other media in which they feature. As media portrayals of autistic people are rare and often unrealistic, the autistic and wider neurodivergent communities sometimes headcanon characters who aren’t explicitly confirmed as neurodivergent (ND).

However, creating a headcanon can cause controversy. They are subjective and some people believe the process of identifying a character as ND-coded is an over-simplification of the complexities of autism and other neurotypes. But celebrating difference can be positive for those who feel underrepresented in the media.

The detective

Detectives are often ND-coded in crime fiction stories. Their actions and diverse thought patterns are typically not understood by those around them. So, their personalities are labelled as “different”, or their mannerisms are classed as odd or eccentric.

Some are explicitly ND, such as Adrian Monk in the US series Monk and Saga Norén in the nordic noir series The Bridge. Others have been headcanoned as ND – most frequently, Sherlock Holmes in his various iterations.

Many argue that David Suchet is the quintessential screen Poirot.

Here are seven reasons why Hercule Poirot is also ND-coded:

1. Social exclusion

Poirot is regularly seen as “different” by those around him. Often, this is attributed to him being Belgian, with other characters drawing attention to his “odd” behaviours. He is also described as “positively exotic” in 1937’s Dumb Witness, and is regularly referred to as being French, something which angers Poirot.

2. Scripting

Poirot scripts conversations prior to having them, planning out what he will say and how he will act towards people, much like autistic people often do.

3. Masking

He also masks, which is a phenomenon frequently reported by autistic people, in which they hide or reduce elements of themselves to fit in. Poirot does this by putting on his “foreign shield of exaggerated mannerisms” – sometimes taking advantage of his uniqueness, knowing how others will see him and behaving accordingly.

4. Psychology

Poirot is interested in psychology, a common special interest for autistic people, who often wish to have an in-depth understanding of people.

He states that his brain and mind work differently to those around him, and arguably values his enduring companion Hastings for his “neurotypical” insights, telling him: “In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated.”

A book with the words 'Agatha Christie - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' sits on a wooden surface.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) was the third novel to feature Poirot as the lead detective.


5. Interaction

Poirot also displays a unique interaction style which other characters often do not understand, or label peculiar. This mirrors the differences in communication preferences, and misunderstandings this can lead to, between neurotypical and ND people.

Poirot is less governed by social norms and customs, considering each character as an individual, regardless of their age, sex, gender or socioeconomic status. Christie often played on the readers’ prejudice, with the detective obliged to see beyond this.

For example, in Peril at End House (1932), Hastings believes that an affable sea commander must be above suspicion, but Poirot responds: “Doubtless he has been to what you consider the right school. Happily, being a foreigner, I am free from these prejudices, and can make investigations unhampered by them.”

6. Routine

Poirot is very particular in the way he solves crimes, through order and method. He enjoys keeping a routine, typically revolving around his meals, which he is also very particular about: “For my breakfast, I have only toast which is cut into neat little squares.”

Autistic people often find comfort in familiarity and in eating the same or safe foods.

7. Sensory regulation

Poirot wears tight, patent leather shoes, as described in Hallowe’en Party (1969): “He was unsuitably attired as to the feet in patent leather shoes which were, so Mr Fullerton guessed shrewdly, too tight for him.”

This habit is arguably for sensory reasons, which is very important for autistic people and their wellbeing.

Poirot requires a particular sensory environment to think properly, and values his alone time to process what he has learnt. He also likes to keep his immediate surroundings, including his friend Hastings, neat and orderly.

Although Poirot’s neurotype is never explicitly detailed in Christie’s works, fellow ND readers who understand and recognise these codes may headcanon Poirot as part of their community.The Conversation

Rebecca Ellis, Assistant researcher in Public Health, Swansea University and Jamie Bernthal-Hooker, Visiting Senior Fellow in English and Creative Writing, University of Suffolk

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why have you read ‘The Great Gatsby’ but not Ursula Parrott’s ‘Ex-Wife’?

In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby.” Four years later, Ursula Parrott published her first novel, “Ex-Wife.”

I probably read “The Great Gatsby” a dozen times between junior high school and my late 20s. But I had never even heard of Ursula Parrott or her 1929 bestseller until I stumbled across a screenplay adaption of one of Parrott’s short stories.

Fitzgerald, in fact, had been hired to write that screenplay. Even though “Infidelity” was never produced because it was deemed too risqué by Hollywood’s Production Code Administration, its very existence piqued my curiosity.

Why was the most famous author of the Jazz Age hired to adapt a story by a totally unknown writer? And who on earth was Ursula Parrott?

I acquired a used copy of “Ex-Wife” on eBay and soon realized that Ursula Parrott was not unknown; she was just forgotten.

In April 2023, I published a biography of Parrott. Since then, I’ve continued to try to understand just how and why she and her writing drifted into obscurity – how “The Great Gatsby” is required reading but few have heard of “Ex-Wife” or its author.

Greeted by mixed reviews

Both “Ex-Wife” and “The Great Gatsby” are modern novels of love and loss, money and (mostly bad) manners. They’re set in New York and saturated with the energy, language and spirit of the time. Both garnered mixed reviews, deemed by many critics as entertaining and of the moment but not great literature.

At first, “Ex-Wife” was far more successful than “Gatsby,” blasting through a dozen printings and selling over 100,000 copies. It was translated into multiple languages and reprinted in paperback editions through the late 1940s.

Meanwhile, “The Great Gatsby” went through a mere two printings totaling less than 24,000 copies, not all of which sold. By the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, the novel had essentially been forgotten.

“Ex-Wife” centers on a 24-year-old woman named Patricia whose husband is divorcing her. Supporting herself with a job in department store advertising, she learns to navigate life in Manhattan as a divorcée.

Whereas “The Great Gatsby” is largely a suburban novel with trips into the city, “Ex-Wife” is fully immersed in Manhattan, especially Greenwich Village, where Parrott herself lived after she married her first husband. The novel’s characters drink Clover Clubs, Alexanders, brandy flips and Manhattans while frequenting the Brevoort, the Waldorf, Delano’s and Dante’s.

“Ex-Wife” revels in the rhythms of the city: One chapter even includes musical bars from George Gershwin’s hit “Rhapsody in Blue” sprinkled between paragraphs.

Musical notes appear on a page underneath dialogue.

Chapter 12 of ‘Ex-Wife’ features bars from ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’

Marsha Gordon, CC BY-SA

But “Ex-Wife” is not all martinis and music. Parrott uses it to address, in unsparing directness, the challenges that women faced and the limited paths available to them. This alone sets it apart from the male protagonists of “The Great Gatsby” and the novel’s scant attention to the experiences of its female characters.

Parrott’s witty and biting novel was, in fact, concerned first and foremost with a generation of young women who had abandoned Victorian sensibilities: They got educations and jobs, drank, had premarital and extramarital sex, and cast aside pretensions of being the fairer, gentler sex.

But in shedding these mores, they also sacrificed protections. Patricia reflects on how men of their generation used women’s self-sufficiency and independence as an excuse to leave them to fend for themselves: “Freedom for women turned out to be God’s greatest gift to men.”

Book cover featuring drawing of a young, forlorn woman.

‘Ex-Wife’ sold four times as many copies as ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the 1920s and 1930s.

Screen Splits

“Ex-Wife” depicts a culture in which women often suffer at the hands of men. At one point, Patricia is brutally raped. In another scene, her husband throws her through a glass window during a fight, a moment as harrowing for its rendering of domestic violence as it is for Pat’s nonchalant reaction to it. In one of the book’s most moving episodes, Pat is compelled to procure a risky abortion at her soon-to-be ex-husband’s insistence but at her financial, physical and psychological cost.

“One survives almost everything,” Patricia unhappily realizes.

She survives, however, thanks only to a streetwise female friend and mentor, her own ability to earn a living, practiced if not heartfelt flippancy, the numbing effects of alcohol and an acceptance that everything in her life is both transient and precarious.

Art imitates life

Ursula Parrott had a keen understanding of gender inequality and male privilege: Her own publisher made passes at her, her banker once proposed sexual favors in lieu of interest payments, and she experienced a rape not unlike the one she depicted in “Ex-Wife.”

Black and white photograph of woman sitting on balcony smiling and using a typewriter.

Ursula Parrott in California in 1931, two years after the publication of ‘Ex-Wife.’

AP Photos

Before she became a novelist, Parrott, who earned a degree in English from Radcliffe, had desperately wanted a career in journalism. However, she was barred from employment at all New York newspapers because her ex-husband, reporter Lindesay Parrott, marked his professional territory by warning the city’s editors – all male, of course – not to hire her.

There is a similar form of male chauvinism at work in the way that Parrott’s writing was often treated by critics during her lifetime. Many described her books and short stories as romantic or melodramatic, fit only for consumption by women.

“Melodramatic,” Parrott once smartly observed in a letter, is “just a word men use to describe any agony that might otherwise make them feel uncomfortable.”

Gatsby’s boosters

I am convinced that “Ex-Wife” deserves a place alongside Fitzgerald’s novel in classrooms and in the hands of a new generation of readers based on the merits of its style and contents.

But more importantly, I’m convinced that the reason Fitzgerald’s novel is so ingrained in American life and letters has little to do with its originality, craft or quality and everything to do with the way books were marketed and promoted over the arc of the 20th century.

“The Great Gatsby” owes its resuscitation from obscurity in the 1940s to the efforts of prominent male critics and scholars – and even to the American military.

Fitzgerald had important friends and admirers, among them the esteemed literary critic Edmund Wilson, who was instrumental in the republication of “Gatsby” in 1941. Thanks to Wilson’s efforts, Fitzgerald’s novel could be taken up by other well-regarded and influential scholars like Lionel Trilling, who wrote admiringly about Fitzgerald in The Nation in 1945, and Malcolm Cowley, who edited collections of Fitzgerald’s short stories and celebrated his literary gifts.

Seated man in suit holding a cigarette and looking out a window.

Critics like Lionel Trilling rescued ‘The Great Gatsby’ from obscurity.

Bettmann/Getty Images

After Trilling, a parade of writers took up Gatsby’s cause, praising it for precisely the same traits that might also have been found in “Ex-Wife,” had anyone bothered to look: its use of contemporary language, its critique of hedonistic behavior, its rich attention to period detail and its depressing portrayal of aimless, unmoored characters trying and failing to find meaning in modern America.

Consider just one instance of differential legacy-tending: during World War II, the American military provided over 150,000 free copies of “The Great Gatsby” to American soldiers – ensuring a readership that well exceeded the number of people who had, to date, actually bought the book.

But when the Victory Book Campaign started its drive to collect novels for overseas servicemen, it explicitly warned potential donors to desist from handing over any “women’s love stories,” specifically naming Ursula Parrott among the authors whose books they would not be putting in soldiers’ hands.

Making the case for ‘Ex-Wife’

There are, of course, many other factors at play here. There’s the tendency to romanticize the tragic lives of male authors who drink heavily, spend recklessly and make bad decisions – departments in which Fitzgerald and Parrott seem pretty equally matched.

Newspaper clipping suggesting authors to avoid when sending troops books.

Book donors were discouraged from sending ‘women’s love stories’ to troops during World War II.

Moberly, Missouri Monitor

There’s also what can only be described as a collective refusal to categorize “The Great Gatsby” as a romance novel, a category that has historically been used to diminish women’s writing.

“The Great Gatsby”‘s ascension from obscurity to ubiquity is only one example of how Parrott’s book was passed over. “Ex-Wife” and William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” were marketed alongside each other by publishers Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith. Faulkner biographer Carl Rollyson observes that Faulkner’s book sold “less than a tenth” as many copies as Parrott’s. But Faulkner amassed critical praise in the right places, and Parrott, Rollyson concludes, “did not manage herself or her work the way writers like Faulkner did.”

But this is not merely a question of self-management. It is true that Parrott did not publish during the last, difficult decade of her life. After a series of public scandals, missed deadlines, ongoing battles with alcohol and financial missteps, she tried to write herself back into literary society, to no avail.

The real difference, in my view, is that Parrott had nobody to tend to her legacy – no Trilling or Wilson or Cowley in her corner to bring her writings back into circulation or make a case for her genius or her novel’s importance.

However, there is no reason to believe that the erasure of “Ex-Wife” from cultural memory is a fait accompli, or that “The Great Gatsby” will always be the go-to Jazz Age novel. Writer Glenway Wescott, in his February 1941 tribute to Fitzgerald, wrote of “The Great Gatsby”: “A masterpiece often seems a period-piece for a while; then comes down out of the attic, to function anew and to last.”

Consider this article a “better late than never” effort to make the case that “Ex-Wife” deserves to come out of the attic of America’s lost literary past to be read, discussed and taught as one of the important American novels of the 1920s.

After McNally Editions republished “Ex-Wife” in May 2023, reviewers remarked on the “freshness of its prose” and the “remarkable erotic freedom” it depicted, as The New York Times review put it; The Baffler described Parrott’s writing as “deftly crafted, wryly observed, and thoroughly unsettling.”

“The Great Gatsby” is a fantastic period piece. But “Ex-Wife” manages to be both that and to remain timely. Women’s lives and bodies continue to be subject to all manner of scrutiny, critique and legislation, which means that many of the things that Parrott wrote about in “Ex-Wife” – the double standard, women in the workplace, work-life balance, rape and even abortion – remain astonishingly relevant today.

In “Ex-Wife” – and in many of her 19 other books and over 100 stories – Parrott wrote from what amounts to Daisy Buchanan’s point of view rather than Nick Carraway’s, to use “The Great Gatsby” again as a reference point.

Imagine what a different story “Gatsby” would have been had the reader seen the world through Daisy’s eyes?

Or don’t imagine. Rather, give “Ex-Wife” a read.The Conversation

Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Florida gets wrong about George Washington and the benefits he received from enslaving Black people

If there was anyone who knew the rewards of slavery, it was George Washington.

Over a period of about 50 years, the nation’s first president enslaved about 577 Black Americans, starting when he was 11 years old.

One of them was a Black man named Morris who was skilled in carpentry and became an overseer of other enslaved men and women working on a farm at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia. Though Morris’ skills afforded him a few extra benefits, he was still unable to buy what he coveted most – freedom.

Despite the existence of voluminous public records that reveal Washington’s treatment of Morris and other human property he owned, Florida officials want public school educators to instead emphasize Washington’s efforts to abolish slavery.

As a scholar of slavery in the U.S., my research has shown that Washington’s efforts to free Black people pale in comparison to how he fought to keep Black people enslaved.

Washington’s benefits from slavery

After marrying the widow Martha Custis in 1759, Washington had big plans for Mount Vernon.

Not content to grow only tobacco, he diversified, planting over 60 crop varieties and producing value-added products like flour, beer and whiskey.

A white man dressed in a military uniform poses for a painting while a Black boy holds a coat.

A portrait of George Washington with an enslaved Black boy.

Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

In addition to operating five separate farming units, Washington wanted to nearly triple the size of his Mount Vernon mansion from 3,500 square feet to 11,000. To accomplish that goal, Washington put skilled enslaved carpenters like Morris to work.

Washington hadn’t paid anything for Morris or his carpentry training. Morris was born enslaved to Martha Custis’ first father-in-law, and when Custis and Washington got married, the fruits of Morris’ labor became Washington’s property.

By the time Washington brought him to Mount Vernon in Virginia’s Fairfax County, Morris was 30 years old and had already trained as a carpenter in nearby New Kent County.

In addition to using Black enslaved people, Washington hired white overseers to deploy their “utmost endeavours to hurry and drive” Black workers.

The work never ended for enslaved Black people. Because skilled carpenters were scarce in Fairfax County, Washington hired them out to neighbors to make money once their work was finished at Mount Vernon.

According to economist William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr. and folklorist A. Kirsten Mullen, the lost wages cost generations of African Americans the modern equivalent of $14 trillion in stolen wealth.

Life as an enslaved overseer

Washington had different plans for Morris.

Impressed by his carpentry skills, he decided to keep Morris at Mount Vernon and promote him to work as an overseer.

Morris may not have wanted to oversee a dozen other enslaved workers, but Washington held out a carrot. Morris’ wife, Hannah, an enslaved woman who worked on another farm, could live with him. Washington permitted only 1 in 3 married people to live together at Mount Vernon.

A row of beds lines a wall in a room that has a table covered with different shaped bowls.

George Washington’s slave quarters at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

At 37, Morris started his management career.

It was hard work.

Morris oversaw teams of farm workers, making sure other enslaved people kept shoulders to the plow. He sent progress reports up the management chain and was responsible for crops and livestock.

Morris accounted for tools, responded to emergencies and was accountable for thefts and runaways. When a killing frost struck in 1768, he had to control damage. He had all the headaches of a middle manager with a small fraction of the pay and no ability to move on.

After two seasons, Washington started paying “my overseer Morris” about one-tenth the salary of a free overseer.

That bought Morris and Hannah a few comforts but wasn’t enough to save any money. Unlike white overseers, who could parlay a few years’ wages into their own farms, Morris and Hannah built no wealth.

And a path to freedom was out of the question, even though his master called the farm “Morris’.”

Based on Morris’ success, Washington promoted other enslaved people into management.

Davy Gray was about 16 years old when Washington brought him to Mount Vernon from his home in Hanover County, 80 miles away. By the time Gray turned 27, he had become overseer of Washington’s Mill Tract farm and went on to manage other farms for three decades. Whenever Mount Vernon had management troubles, Gray filled in.

But unlike the white overseers, Gray couldn’t quit and start his own farming business.

Washington’s legacy on slavery

After winning the American Revolution, Washington expressed hesitation over slavery but said of the children he enslaved, “I Expect to Reap the Benefit of their Labour Myself.”

Washington recognized Black talent, even if he didn’t reward it.

While president, he commended Gray and wrote that he “carries on his business as well as the white Overseers, and with more quietness than any of them.”

That same year, Gray begged his master to no avail for adequate food, reporting that “what his people received was not sufficient, and that to his certain knowledge several of them would often be without a mouthful for a day.”

Despite opposition from abolitionists, as president, Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 that authorized federal police power to recapture runaway human property.

In one instance, Washington doggedly pursued one of his wife’s enslaved maids for nearly 50 years. Ona Judge escaped and never returned to enslavement.

In his will, Washington set free 123 enslaved people, including a Black woman named Kate who was “old” and presumably freed in 1799, the year Washington died.

A painting shows a white man walking with a young girl as Black men and women work in nearby fields.

In this 1800 painting, George Washington watches over a group of enslaved Black people working in a field at Mount Vernon.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kate became a midwife at Mount Vernon and performed surgery on infants. She was married to another enslaved manager named Will. When she applied for the job of midwife, or “Granny,” she argued that “she was full as well qualified for this purpose as those into whose hands it was entrusted.”

At the time, Washington was paying about what an entry level nurse earns today to Mount Vernon’s white midwife, who was married to a white overseer. Though Kate got the job, with all the responsibility of delivering babies, she received none of the pay.

She did receive her freedom, but her husband, Will, Davy Gray and Morris did not.

Morris died at age 66 on the farm he managed for 25 years.

Like Morris, Gray was property of the heirs of Martha Washington and likely ended his days enslaved by one of Martha’s grandchildren.

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Martha Custis.The Conversation

Calvin Schermerhorn, Professor of History, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is a potent reminder that the internet is not real life

In the weeks leading up to June 16, 2023, when I attended the Pittsburgh leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, the online chatter about the 33-year-old singer had become draining.

The internet was ablaze with rumors about Swift dating Matty Healy, the lead singer of the English pop-rock band The 1975. Some Swifties – the term used for diehard Taylor Swift fans – berated the pop superstar for dating Healy, who’d become mired in controversy for appearing on a podcast whose hosts made racist comments about the rapper Ice Spice.

As the Pittsburgh leg of the tour approached, I wondered if I were about to dive headfirst into an angry mob of tens of thousands of Swifties.

On the day of the show, Acrisure Stadium was mobbed with 72,000 people, but the Swifties in attendance were far from angry.

In that moment we became deeply connected by our shared love and admiration for Swift’s music. Sociologist Emile Durkheim described this phenomenon as “collective effervescence,” the unique surge in feeling when large groups of people come together for a shared purpose.

“It was rare, I was there, I was there,” Swift belted out during “All Too Well.”

I was there, too, as life events touched by Swift flashed by: sitting at my first desktop computer as a teenager in Kathmandu, Nepal, replaying “Love Story” on LimeWire; my first week in the U.S., during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye West infamously interrupted Swift; how Swift’s eighth studio album, “Folklore,” brought me back to life after it seemed as if the world were on the verge of imploding in 2020.

Collective delusion

The Eras Tour was not my first experience of collective effervescence. Nor was it the first time I felt such a strong disconnect between the online and offline worlds.

Right before the pandemic began, there was the painfully quiet fizzling out of the Bernie 2020 movement. As a volunteer for that campaign, I had the remarkable experience of connecting with other Americans who wanted a Bernie Sanders presidency.

I especially appreciated how this role connected me to the people who make up the Nepali diaspora in the U.S. We hoped to improve our immigrant experiences, whether it involved no longer fearing the deportation of loved ones or easier access to health care.

But then repeated news cycles about “toxic Bernie Bros” seemed to drain the movement’s momentum. Mainstream media outlets reported that Sanders’ base was made up of white male cyberbullies. Negative tweets had been amplified, and the words and behaviors of a few Sanders supporters all of a sudden were being portrayed as representative of an entire movement.

The contrast between what was being said online versus my own experiences was jarring: Here I was working to find transportation for 80-year-old Nepali grandmas who didn’t speak English but wanted to vote for Sanders.

Post-election analysis would show that the Bernie Bro trope was entirely constructed; there was no evidence to show that young white men made up a majority of Sanders’ supporters. The movement, in fact, consisted of a diverse coalition of people from marginalized races and genders.

Women clap and hold blue 'Bernie' signs.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders cheer during a Get Out to Caucus Rally in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 21, 2020.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

A vocal minority sets the agenda

Online narratives distort real life more often than you might realize.

Research consistently shows that a small minority of people who have social media accounts post the vast majority of content.

In what’s termed the “90-9-1 rule,” 90% of users on these websites only “lurk” or read content, 9% of the users reply or re-post with occasional new contributions, and only 1% of the users frequently create new content.

Pioneered by Jakob Neilson, the 90-9-1 rule is one of many theories within internet studies that describe participation rates, and different scholars find support for different variations of this rule. Reddit, for example, has over 1 billion monthly active users, but according to a 2017 conference paper, an overwhelming majority of Reddit users are lurkers. X, the website and app formerly known as Twitter, had around 350 million users as of 2023; however, research from 2019 found that 75% of its users were lurkers.

In other words, most of the discussions happening on websites like Reddit and Twitter come from a vocal minority of users – whose posts are then curated and boosted by algorithms.

Nonetheless, in the past decade, the news media have increasingly constructed narratives about collective reality based on what happens in these websites.

Of course, toxic online behavior exists in all online communities. But it represents the words of a smaller minority of users within the already small minority of people who post content online. Media narratives that emphasize certain groups as toxic based on online behavior – whether they are describing fandom or politics – fall into the trap of confusing the internet with real life.

In the weeks when Swift was dating Healy, a vocal minority of Swifties came head-to-head with a vocal minority of Healy’s defenders. Then the celebrity pair ended their relationship, and collective attention moved on from that topic almost immediately.

Several weeks of nonstop debate, attacks and hand-wringing ended up being utterly meaningless – except to social media companies that converted this brief obsession into clicks, engagement and ad revenue.

My forthcoming book, “Attention and Alienation,” brings renewed focus to an increasingly demystified phenomenon: The online attention economy maximizes profits by designing algorithms that boost engagement, particularly by promoting negativity and outrage.

Oligarchy of the ‘extremely online’

Sometimes the consequences of mistaking the internet for real life are dire.

Take reproductive health. Online rage about the Supreme Court’s decisions to overturn Roe. v. Wade peaked within a few days and people moved on to different topics.

Today, reports about reproductive health care take up very little news media space compared with garden-variety trending topics like “Barbenheimer” – the double blockbuster release of the movies “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on July 21, 2023.

In the real world, many people continue to suffer from lack of access to lifesaving reproductive health care across the U.S., while the online chattering class celebrates the radical feminism of the “Barbie” movie.

Perhaps it’s time to sideline social media and the internet when evaluating the nature of our collective reality. Reality exists outside of our devices, whereas social media algorithms push whatever keeps us tethered to the screen. There is little evidence to support the idea that online discourse represents collective experiences.

That might be easier said than done: 94% of journalists say they use social media for their jobs.

But as an internet researcher – and Taylor Swift fan – I am hopeful that experiences like the Eras Tour will wake up more people to the fact that human beings are more united than social media algorithms would have us believe.The Conversation

Aarushi Bhandari, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Davidson College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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