Talking Identifying Roots with Rendering Unconscious

Rendering Unconscious Podcast, run by Vanessa Sinclair and based in Stockholm, Sweden, recently interviewed our very own Richard Newton about his recently published Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures (Equinox, 2020). Newton’s book is the fourth volume in the “Culture on the Edge” book series, edited by Steven Ramey.

Order this book through Equinox Publishers.

Check out the podcast below! (Click here if media player doesn’t load.)

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“But Can He Dance?”: Holy Books, Hamilton, and the Production of Sacred Histories

(Confession: I’m a sucker for musicals [to the degree that I tinkered with the idea of a musical theater major in college].  Having traded my on-stage destiny for a series of religious studies degrees, however, I humbly offer a different sort of review of the play, Hamilton.)

Like many in the US, I saw Hamilton for the first time earlier this month, when the blockbuster Broadway musical (originally hitting the stage in 2017) aired in movie form on the Disney+ platform.  The story of an orphaned immigrant (that is, Alexander Hamilton) coming to America to forge the country in its early days has generated scores of fans.  Those who have seen the show know that one among several factors setting it apart is the cast, comprised almost entirely of people of color.  In addition, the script is almost never spoken but is rapped or sung.  This has made it an incredibly timely musical in terms of addressing not just diverse racial representations, but such representations in the midst of the renewed resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Continue reading ““But Can He Dance?”: Holy Books, Hamilton, and the Production of Sacred Histories”

Just Dealing With the Symptoms

Screen shot of article headline on how asymtomatic people can spread COVID-19
One of the curves thrown at us by COVID-19 is that there’s a large number of asymptomatic people out there, infecting others but with no sign of infection themselves (which is among the reasons why taking people’s temperatures before admitting them to a venue strikes some as mere theater). The challenge presented by asymptomatic carriers is that the signs have all been removed; since tests take time, are still not widely available in the U.S., and none of us can just look at each other and see the virus, we have to rely on visible indications of its hidden presence — knowing that their absence really might not tell us all that much. Continue reading “Just Dealing With the Symptoms”

Hitting the Mark

Two lead characters in the Eurovision movie after they complete their duet performance

I watched the new Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell movie on Netflix this weekend, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. And then I saw some comments on social media and even online reviews about how unfunny it was. They struck me as entirely missing the point, since I didn’t view it as a comedy.  Instead, it struck me as a light-hearted but loving embrace of the 64 year old cultural phenomenon that Eurovision has become. And so, without an understanding of that history, of what the song contest was established to help accomplish, and how it has or has not actually accomplish those goals, sure, the uninitiated viewer may feel a little lost, much like someone utterly unfamiliar with NASCAR (yes, they do exist out there) trying to make sense of why Ferrell’s 2006 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby struck others as so hilarious. Continue reading “Hitting the Mark”

Caveat Auditor

US protesting the murder of George Floyd

There are times — often unexpected and sometimes rare — when a situation arises that makes profoundly evident how groups represent the world to their members in a manner that supports their interests.

Such a moment made the rounds on social media this weekend, when then US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke at an April 11, 2003, press conference on what was, at the time, the early stages of the long war in Iraq. Continue reading “Caveat Auditor”

Universalizing “English” Football, Part II

Making Football English” (Part I of this two-part series) addressed the ways in which Julian Fellowes’s The English Game narrativizes the origins of football (or soccer, for those of us in the U.S.) as distinctly English despite the Scottish influence on the English game. As discussed in part one:

Football historian and The English Game consultant Andy Mitchell tells The Telegraph‘s Paul Kendall, “The Scottish game was far more effective than the English game at this time. The English version … was more like rugby.” Paul Kendall continues: where the English teams “would just dribble in a pack and try and force a goal through brute strength,” the Scottish teams “developed a way of making space and passing the ball … playing the game as we understand it today.” The series concludes with this title frame:

Apart from Fellowes’s endeavor to portray football as distinctly English, I found this concluding title slide in the final episode particularly intriguing. The so-called “English game,” pioneered by Scottish professionals, is presented not only as being distinctly English, but also as the standard for modern football around the globe. Continue reading “Universalizing “English” Football, Part II”

Making Football English, Part I

Being a fan of both soccer and Downton Abbey, I decided to check out one of Julian Fellowes’s recent productions, The English Game. The Netflix miniseries, which aired in March 2020, is about the birth of football (or what we here in the US call soccer). The feel-good, wholesome show is set in 1879 and tells the story (with some embellishments, of course) of how a working-class team challenged and disrupted a gentlemen’s game. Take a look at the trailer…

The show opens with the historic 1879 Football Association (FA) Cup quarter-finals between the Old Etonians and Darwen FC. The Old Etonians are an amateur team of gentlemen, captained by Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft), the 11th Lord of Kinnaird. Darwen FC, on the other hand, are a working-class mill team in Lancashire who have just (illegally) hired Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie) and Jimmy Love (James Harkness), two players from Partick, a football club in Scotland. Continue reading “Making Football English, Part I”

Trinkets from the Vatican Gift Shop

Vatican gift shop

On a 2015 trip to Florence and Rome (my first visit to both cities), I had the opportunity to take in some of the more popular sites, such as the Pitti Palace and the Roman Forum, along with several museums and basilicas that are as plentiful in those parts of Italy as Walmart and waffle houses are in the U.S. Both cities were flooded with tourists, which made popular attractions like Michelangelo’s David a challenge to see without advanced booking and marked virtually every experience as one that was shared with camera-totting strangers. At some of these sites, this meant being herded through an enclosed space by stern security guards, as I encountered at the Sistine Chapel:

Silence, silencio, no photos.

The sheer abundance of it all — from people to works of art to the rich and flavorful cuisine — was overwhelming at times, offset by more tangible realities on the ground, such as Nigerian merchants of black market leather purses and the many Indian migrants who traded in sunglasses, scarfs, and colorful tennis ball sized toys that would be tossed down on a wooden plank, splatter, and re-form in a matter of seconds … pick up and repeat. In Rome, unlike in Florence, they even made a noise — “whaaah” — that could be heard at uneven intervals on popular streets throughout the city. Continue reading “Trinkets from the Vatican Gift Shop”