On Kings and Trump Cards

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

During the Super Bowl, RAM Trucks debuted a controversial truck commercial splicing images of Americana with a sermon excerpt from slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After outrage gave way to discourse, cultural critics were quick to point to the irony of Dodge’s signification. In the originating sermon, “The Drum Major’s Instinct,” King critiques self-interested pursuits that hinder people’s ability to see the value in others. He literally calls out Americans who ride in expensive “Chrysler” vehicles for the ego trip. NB: FiatChrysler Automobiles is the parent company of RAM.

To make the point,  the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs re-edited the commercial with an audio excerpt from the same sermon that they believe to be more indicative of King’s message. Continue reading “On Kings and Trump Cards”

The Parable of the Lemonade Stand

photo credit: http://www.gamacheseries.com/a-rule-against-murder-homemade-lemonade/

This past summer, as they have many times before, my kids asked if they could hold a lemonade stand. I’ll admit having mixed feelings about the whole enterprise. My less enthusiastic side tends to perseverate on my own lost work time and the endless number of supplies and chores that accompany that task, for no matter how much they insist they can and will do it independently, that never comes to pass.

When I’m at my most enthusiastic, though, I get tickled at their excitement, not to mention how effectively they convince strangers to drink their warm and questionably tasty beverages. After all, it was my children who, several summers ago, informed a customer at their kool-aid stand that the only reason why we had kool-aid in our house was because it was left over from their mom’s yarn-dyeing experiment. Since their mom would never ever let them drink the stuff, they added, they were (naturally) selling it to strangers.

All of that is perfectly true. Continue reading “The Parable of the Lemonade Stand”

Home Is Where We’re Not


One of our department’s former students just published a collection of her poems and, reading it the other night, one in particular caught my attention for the way it so nicely, so succinctly, captured the role alienation and nostalgia play in acts of identification.


I don’t think I need much commentary here, other than to say that distance brings things into a new perspective, helping us to edit, select, focus, and, yes, overlook and even forget…, such that our idea of home is the result of finding ourselves elsewhere and identity is the product of discovering what we’re not.

Dorothy tapping her heels together told us as much.

The Golden Age

As a college professor I often hear faculty lament the students we have “these days”; there’s a nostalgic decline-and-fall narrative we tell, according to which we’re far removed from the golden age when students were prepared for college and could actually read and write upon arrival. If only we could return to the seventeenth century, when students came to college reading Latin and knowing their Seneca and Cicero!

However, when this narrative is shared (and, to be honest, I’ve told the tale myself), what I hear — what that narrative seems to implicitly suggest — is this: things were better back in the old days, before they let a lot of women and blacks and kids from the working class into college. Continue reading “The Golden Age”

Coz these are the good old days

dairyI remember my dad, when I was younger, talking to a customer at the gas station that my parents owned and operated. The man was complaining about the price of gas going up and up and waxing nostalgic for how much it was years ago.

Now, my dad, who was born in 1923, also remembered things about the past but his memories ran counter to his customer’s; so I recall him replying with how much a quart of milk used to cost (yes, my dad once was a milkman, going door-to-door with a horse and wagon), pointing out that no one today seemed to complain about its astronomic rise in price — for if we use the early 1930s as our benchmark, when he was a kid, then the cost of milk has increased somewhere around 800% since then. Continue reading “Coz these are the good old days”

“I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…”

Picture 21Tonight is the series end to Mad Men, the story of the early years of Madison Avenue ad men (and women). When last we saw him, the protagonist, Don, had given away his car to a young scam artist, offering him a new start, and was seated alone at a bus stop, his belongings in a big paper sack. His ex-wife, Betty, had been diagnosed with lung cancer but was going back to school anyway. His onetime boss and then partner, Roger, was playing an electric organ in their freshly vacated offices while Peggy, once a secretary but now an integral part of the creative team, had rollerskated her way into a new found self-confidence and a new office, armed with some erotic Japanese art.

peggy Continue reading ““I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…””

The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Women in Military

At the small liberal arts university where I work, we offer a travel course entitled “The Rhetoric of War.” The course examines the way that rhetorics (both verbal and graphic) depict war, patriotism, and the nation-state in the American context. Midway through the semester, the class takes a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. in order to directly engage the ways in which war is memorialized.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Milakovic, is one of the faculty who teaches that course; she has a forthcoming paper about the experience, with particular focus paid to the Women In Military Service For America (WIMSFA) Memorial. As Dr. Milakovic argues, the attempt to honor military women at WIMSFA happens through a narrative that works only to the degree that it actually diminishes women. WIMFSA achieves this by reinforcing traditional gendered stereotypes at the same time that its physical appearance emphasizes invisibility and insignificance, two terrible ironies achieved in a place that claims to highlight and celebrate women in the military. Continue reading “The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial”

“Only Humans Can Really Get Lost…”

Picture 3

On Elvis Costello’s first season of “Spectacle” (2008) there was an interesting moment in his interview with James Taylor, in which the sort of model with which we work here at Culture on the Edge was explored briefly…

Elvis Costello: At times, I know I have a mythic map of my father’s hometown in my head, in which I move characters around in songs. Is it always a real Carolina that you’re speaking of in songs? Or is it sort of a place where longing goes? Is it an imagined place?

James Taylor: I think that that’s a very good way of describing it. It’s the sort of context of my longing, yeah. Continue reading ““Only Humans Can Really Get Lost…””

Business as Usual

memorialdaysaleToday is Memorial Day in the U.S. — a federal holiday marking a time to remember the past sacrifices of members of the armed forces.

In many cases, of course, “sacrifice” is a euphemism for death.

But it’s also a day that marks blockbuster sales — “half-off tops and shorts!” Continue reading “Business as Usual”