Questioning French Republican Politics

In this blog entry, Jennifer Fredette, author of Constructing Muslims in France, writes about Marine Le Pen’s reaction to Muslim soldiers who gave their lives for France during WWII.

French president François Hollande recently paid his respects at a memorial in Paris dedicated to the 100,000 Muslim soldiers who gave their lives for France during the First World War. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, responded by saying, “It makes me vomit.”

Strong words, to be sure.

What was it that made Le Pen vomit? In her words, it was the very idea of “dividing the French” along the lines of religion: these soldiers should be celebrated as soldiers, and as French; their religion should be immaterial.

On its surface, Le Pen’s statement reflects the French way of doing politics, the “republican tradition.” Americans are accustomed to hearing political leaders speak openly about race, gender, and religion. In fact, our political leaders even appeal to such group identities for the purpose of elections (consider “Women for Hillary” or the “Moral Majority”). French republicanism, however, abhors the recognition of difference. French republicanism is a political philosophy that demands that people engage in politics purely as a citizen, leaving their other identities and affiliations (such as race, gender, religion) at home. Why the distaste for identity politics? The short answer French republicanism offers is that identity politics rip a nation apart. They make it impossible for citizens to appreciate one another as equals, sharing a nation and its future together.

Constructing Muslims_sm We really need to examine Le Pen’s comment a bit deeper, however. After all, Le Pen is no difference-blind republican. She is the head of a xenophobic, anti-immigration political party whose manifesto boldly announces that France’s national culture is profoundly influenced by Christianity. In 2010, Le Pen equated Muslims praying in the street (a result of insufficient prayer space, not religious fanaticism) with living in Nazi-occupied France. True, French republicanism would criticize those who pray in the streets for bringing religion into the public sphere in a highly visible way; but equating them with Nazis was a rhetorical flourish all Le Pen’s own, suggesting that Muslims are dangerous outsiders seeking to invade and even oppress France.

Beneath the surface, Le Pen’s comments about the memorial communicate something else: the power of political omission. Le Pen says these soldiers should be celebrated as French, not Muslims. But many of these soldiers fought for France as French colonial subjects. To celebrate them simply as “French” is to conveniently forget France’s participation in the systematic domination and oppression of parts of the Muslim world. Furthermore, media coverage and political discussion of French Muslims today often portrays them in a negative light, questioning their Frenchness and depth of “integration.”

A 2012 French Institute of Public Opinion poll indicates that nearly half of the French would describe Muslims in France as a threat to national identity, and the National Consulting Committee for Human Rights recently warned that Muslims are increasingly subject to violence at the hands of their fellow citizens. In light of this highly charged and certainly not difference-blind climate, it seems a problematic oversight to celebrate these soldiers without recognizing that they happened to be Muslim, and that Muslims have indeed contributed to the betterment of the nation.

Let’s Talk about Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this Q&A, Sex and the Founding Fathers author Thomas A. Foster discusses our fascination with the intimate lives of historical figures.

Q: What do you think accounts for our interest in the private lives of public and/or historical figures?
TF: I think people are drawn to personal lives of famous people as a way of connecting to them. I have long been interested in the Founding Fathers as cultural icons. As I started reading biographies and doing research, I discovered that Americans have always been writing about the private lives of historical figures—sometimes with more imagination than evidence. It fascinated me to see how the stories change over time—often to suit the norms of the day. Apparently, people have been looking at the real men beneath the polished marble exterior for ages.

Q: Why is sex so critical for understanding the Founding Fathers today?
TF: The history of sexuality can tell us a lot about our culture and society. Sexuality is connected in vitally important ways to family, economy, politics, gender, race, class—you name it. Unless we know the history of sexuality, we will be missing the full picture of who we are and how we developed over time as a society. Studying how sex figures in our nation’s understanding of its Founders, shows that sexuality is part of that broader political and cultural identity that is being worked and reworked by every generation.

Author Thomas A. Foster

Author Thomas A. Foster

Q: So how does the desire to know the “real” Founders influence the stories we tell and remember?
TF: The whole idea of debunking myths of the Founders is an old one—and one that gets recycled over and over again. Americans are perennially hoping to reach the “truth” about the Founders—and sex is one way that they think they can get there. But for the most part it’s just a mirage. We have hardly any documentation for so much of what is spoken of as fact. One of the things that surprised me while writing Sex and the Founding Fathers is the way the stories change. Sexual standards shift over time and those broad changes become quite evident when we look at how the intimate lives of the Founders have been imagined by different generations.

Q: Historical rumors circulate that Washington was impotent, or that Alexander Hamilton was gay. How much faith can we put in these suggestions, innuendos, and accusations?
TF: That the stories about their sex lives change so much over time—and rest on very little actual documentation—is a sign that something else is going on than simply getting at the “true” man behind the public façade. As an historian of sexuality, I would argue that it’s extremely important that we recognize the ways that sex is taken up in discussion of national identity—with the Founding Fathers being one core element of that historical and cultural identity. How we go from Adams as a prickly prude to an amorous puritan, for example. Or how Americans feel compelled to speak about these political greats with the same superlatives—as being the most romantic, or the greatest love stories, etc.

Q: Right, reputations shift over time—for example, Thomas Jefferson has been variously idealized as a chaste widower, condemned as a child molester, and recently celebrated as a multicultural hero. How can we move from commemoration to accusation to celebration?
TF: There are multiple ways to read the Founders’ life stories. That these stories change over time shows that they’re crafted to serve cultural purposes—positioning Jefferson as a chaste widower was important in its day for many nineteenth-century audiences. Today that depiction doesn’t speak to us for a wide variety of reasons.

G-000865-20111017.jpgQ: Do you think Jefferson really “loved” Sally Hemings? How large is the gulf between what we know, what we can prove, and what we want to believe?
TF: The gulf is enormous, and we have so little to go on. The academic scholarship on sexual intimacy between masters and slaves tells us that the relationships were exploitive and abusive. But in popular depictions of Hemings and Jefferson, we often see them as in love and ahead of their time. We have no documentation to help us understand their relationship but we’re invested in imagining it as historically true. We certainly have no evidence that it was an abusive relationship, and we know that the Hemings family was positioned well on the plantation. We also know that Sally received some fine clothing while in Paris. And there is scholarly consensus that Jefferson fathered all of Hemings’s children. But as I point out in Sex and the Founding Fathers, establishing likely paternity is entirely different from trying to understand the interpersonal dynamic of a decades-long relationship. The relationship has been envisioned fairly unhesitatingly—in some popular venues as a romance.

Q: You address scandals in Eighteenth-century society, which contemporary politicians use to justify their own bad behavior. How have things changed—or stayed the same between Washington’s era and today’s digital age?
TF: Almost every scandal in Sex and the Founding Fathers was openly published. Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin all saw scandalous talk about their sex lives in print. However, typically, Americans remember their Founders favorably not negatively. Dirt on Adams? He certainly liked to think of himself as the most virtuous of the Founders. Americans have generally adopted a similar view. I think contemporary politicians find it helps them if they can point to Founders and say that they are similarly flawed (with the implication being that maybe they are similarly great in other areas).

Q: Gouverneur Morris is perhaps the least known Founding Father, and yet his extensive and explicit diaries reveal a treasure trove of unconventional sexuality, as well as details about his intimate life. What can you say about his attitudes toward sexuality that generates attention for him?
TF:
Gouverneur Morris left us the most material from which to understand his sexual identity and experiences. His diaries were quite explicit and he lived as a sexually active bachelor until he married at the age of 57. It’s not what he says as much as the fact that he said it that distinguished Morris. His writings capture late eighteenth-century ideas about sex out of wedlock—combining the rhetoric of love and companionship with a free expression and excitement about love and sexual pleasure.

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

Celebrating the life and legacy of Octavius Catto

Last week, the Philadelphia Freedom Festival, had a press conference announcing their seven-month project celebrating the life and legacy of 19th-century African-American civil rights pioneer, Octavius V. Catto, the subject of Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom.

Of particular note is the April 30th event, Let Freedom Ring, will showcase Tasting Freedom authors Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin.

Tasting Freedom_AD(12-16-09) finalLet Freedom Ring Scholarly Panel Discussion

April 30, 2014 | 4:00PM–6:00PM

Temple University, Mitten Hall

Live broadcast by 900AM-WURD, this engaging discussion joins a diverse set of voices from Philadelphia’s academic and activist communities to reflect on the life and impact of Octavius V. Catto. Performance by Cheyney University Concert Choir to follow.

This event is in partnership with the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and 900AM-WURD.

Other events listed below in chronological order

Let Freedom Ring Scholarly Panel Discussion

April 30, 2014 | 4:00PM–6:00PM

Temple University, Mitten Hall

Live broadcast by 900AM-WURD, this engaging discussion joins a diverse set of voices from Philadelphia’s academic and activist communities to reflect on the life and impact of Octavius V. Catto. Performance by Cheyney University Concert Choir to follow.

This event is in partnership with the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and 900AM-WURD.

Catto PressConf 

PHOTO: Authors Murray Dubin and Daniel Biddle (far left) at the Press conference

Other events are posted below in chronological order

Octavius Catto Story: A Philadelphia Freedom Fighter
Connecting Arts-N-Schools

February–April 2014

These workshop/performances will be presented in four participating Philadelphia schools and integrate with the history, literature, and arts curriculum.

Workshops open to participating schools only.

Let Freedom Sing
Community Jubilee

February 22, 2014 | 2:00PM–4:00PM

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church

Invited ministers and their choirs will participate in a church meeting revival offering a praise and worship opportunity for the entire community.

The program will consist of Negro Spirituals, sacred music born out of the African Diaspora experience, praise dancers, and special words from several special guest ministers.

Refreshments will be served after the event during a Meet & Greet with the ministers. Tours of the Richard Allen Museum will also be available.

Taste of Freedom
Catto Awards Luncheon

March 28, 2014 | 11:30AM–2:00PM

Union League of Philadelphia, Lincoln Hall

The Mann is honored to pay tribute, during Women’s History Month, to African American women who have made distinguished contributions to their professions and communities.

Freedom of Composition
Master Class

April 18, 2014 | 2:00PM–4:00PM

Curtis Institute of Music, Lenfest Hall

Music students from Philadelphia universities will be invited participants in this Master Class/Meet the Artist session facilitated by Uri Caine, the commissioned composer of the finale main stage performance.

Master Class open to participating schools only. This event is in partnership with the Curtis Institute of Music.

Let Freedom Speak — Voices of Our Children
Catto Youth Freedom Project

May 16, 2014 | 10:00AM–12:00PM

Church of the Advocate

400 Philadelphia students are invited to attend an engaging, celebratory program featuring local young spoken word artists and city-wide choirs.

This event is in partnership with Art Sanctuary’s Celebration of Black Writing and is open to participating schools only.

Freedom Rap Session
Youth Freedom Panel Discussion

June 7, 2014 | 10:00AM – 12:00PM

Crescendo Restaurant & Lounge at the Mann

Invited local hip-hop artists and scholars who have experienced & studied racism in Philadelphia will discuss how the power of music is reflected in their words. Also featuring performances by emerging young spoken word artists.

This event is in partnership with Art Sanctuary.

Sing Freedom Sing!!!
Festival Finale Concert

July 19, 2014 | 8:00PM

The Mann’s Main Stage

Premiere performance of a commissioned work by composer Uri Caine featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra, a 300-voice choir, headline soloists, and praise dancers.

Special Guest Artist Dr. Marvin Sapp

A pre-concert event on PECO Plaza will feature the “Trailblazers to Freedom Digital Interactive Media Traveling Trunk.”

Pre-concert event presented in partnership with the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Freedom Youth Jamboree
Young People’s Concert Series

July 28, 2014 | 11:00AM

The Mann’s Main Stage

A free children’s concert featuring “Catto at the Bat,” an original “baseball en pointe” piece by The Rock School for Dance Education, and Negro Spirituals performed by the Philadelphia Boys Choir.

Four Greenfield Performance Treasures Workshops to follow featuring the Philadelphia Boys Choir.

YPCS is free and open to the public.

Temple University Press staff selects the Books of the Year to give, get, and read

As we wish everyone Happy Holidays and happy reading, the staff at Temple University Press selects the memorable titles of 2013.

Micah Kleit, Executive Editor

The Press published a bounty of riches this year, from Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer’s Envisioning Emancipation to Dean Bartoli Smith’s Never Easy, Never Pretty, an exciting account of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win. But the book I’d most like to give as a gift is Philipp H. Lepenies’ Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World. It’s the kind of work that represents, to me at least, the best of what university presses do in advancing scholarship.Art, Politics, and Development_sm

I’d love it if someone bought me a copy of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  It’s just the kind of inside-publishing book that reminds me of why I love what I do!

The book I’m planning to read over the holiday — in preparation for the “sequel” that’s due early this Spring –  is Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists.  It’s one of his earliest novels, and I’m excited that he’s returning to this story and continuing it, since it speaks (like so much of his work) powerfully to the ideas of what makes up the American character.

2013 was a great year for big novels from emerging and established writers, and the very best I read this year had to be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a book that was at once really economical in style but epic in scope: about 70s radicals, motorcycles, Italy and America.  I don’t think I’m the only one who thought of Don DeLillo when reading Kushner’s wonderful novel.

Sara Cohen, Rights and Contracts Manager

G-000865-20111017.jpgThe best TUP book to give?   My loved one are going to have to wait until Presidents’ Day to receive their Christmas gifts so that I can give them Thomas Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays? The first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. A friend sent me Zadie Smith’s New York Review of Books piece “Man vs. Corpse,” which cites My Struggle, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I also hope to receive a vegan cookbook (maybe Veganomicon)  so that I can start the new year off with good dietary intentions.

The book I plan to read over the break?  I’m supposed to be reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn with my husband and one of our friends.  I’m going to spend the break trying to catch up to the two of them.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

MoreMuralsEarlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It’s engrossing historical fiction about what it might have been like to live in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union, and to feel real optimism about the country’s future even while beginning to see cracks that would spread and destroy it.
I look forward to reading and giving Temple University Press’s Philadelphia murals books Philadelphia Murals and the Stories they Tell, and  More Philadelphia Murals the the Stories They Tell, as a new volume, Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30,  is forthcoming in 2014. I’m from Philadelphia but only recently moved back, after thirteen years in New York, to come on board at the Press. The terrific Mural Arts Program expanded a great deal while I was gone, and I’m excited to catch up with it through these beautiful books.

Charles Ault, Production Director

This year I read A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which is now on my all-time favorites list. Ruth Ozeki is a 40-ish Buddhist priest who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver, Canada. Her book features a writer named Ruth who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver. She discovers the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl in a waterproofed bundle that washes up on the shore. The girl is contemplating suicide and has decided to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, as her last act. We (the reader) read pieces of the diary as Ruth does and then we read Ruth’s reaction to the same thing we just read (and reacted to). But I haven’t mentioned the Zen philosophy and ritual that pervades the story. Or the discussion of quantum mechanics. Or contemporary Japanese pornography….

Joan Vidal, Production Manager

Justifiable Conduct_smThe best TUP book to give: If you have a group of friends who like to read and discuss books, I recommend Erich Goode’s Justifiable Conduct . Filled with examples from the memoirs of public figures who seek absolution for their transgressions, this book is sure to spark conversation.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays: I would like to have The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, by Theodor Geisel.

The book I plan to read over the break: Next on my list is Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Don't Call Me_smThe best book I read this year?  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This year’s National Book Award fiction winner is the wild story about John Brown and his raid, narrated by a freed slave boy masquerading as a girl.  It’s hilarious.

The best TUP book to give? Don’t Call Me Inspirational, Harilyn Rousso’s compelling memoir.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

The book I plan to read over the break: I will finish Edwidge Dandicat’s
Claire of the Sea Light and begin Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Brian Murray, Marketing Assistant

How We DIe Now_smThe best TUP book to give this season is Never Easy, Never Pretty by Dean Bartoli Smith. My father has been a Ravens fan his whole life and reminisces about going to games with his father when he was growing up. This book is perfect for him and perfect for any other Ravens’ fan or football fan in general.
The book I plan to read over break is Karla Erickson’s  How We Die Now. What better way to celebrate the holidays with my immediate family and older relatives than to evaluate my own mortality and the cost of living longer? Also a perfect gift for my great Aunt Lenora who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday this January.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

WHAT I WILL GIVE: Music, Style, and Aging by Andy Bennett. Because holidays should be filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll and reading, right? Music Style Aging_sm

WHAT I WILL READ: Ink, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (one of the co-authors of 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia by the staff of Al Día). Ink looks at immigration issues through multiple lenses and I really admire Vourvoulias’ work.

THE BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013: Night Film, by Marisha Pessl, is not so much a book you read as a story you investigate. It involves a disgraced journalist and a cult filmmaker, whose daughter has died—or possibly been murdered. What’s intriguing is not just the mystery, but the format of the book: an impressive collection of photographs, website downloads, dossiers, missing persons reports, institution assessments, and created articles. It’s a fascinating interactive experience.

WHAT I WANT TO READ: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I really want to read James Franco’s Actors Anonymous.  I’m an unabashed  Francofile and a completist. I’ll also likely see his film adaptation of As I Lay Dying over the break as well.

A Strange Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination

In this blog entry, Art Simon, author of Dangerous Knowledge: The JFK Assassination in Art and Film, ponders provocative commemorations and the meanings of the JFK assassination.

With the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination coming up this Friday, the air and cable waves have been jammed with recollections, profiles and anecdotes about the slain president and his administration. PBS devoted four hours to JFK on the American Experience, NOVA took another look at the logistics of the killing, The New York Times reported on the meaning and on-going sequester of Jackie’s blood stained pink dress. Even the AARP Newsletter ran a piece by Bob Schieffer about his experience of being in Texas on that fateful day. The list goes on and on

But one of the stranger commemorative events is taking place at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth in an exhibition featuring the art that was collected and displayed in Suite 850 of the Texas Hotel where the Kennedys spent their last night together. The curators, while not wanting to re-create the room exactly, have brought together works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and Kline that were no doubt put on display to let the well bred first couple know Texans were not totally ignorant about high culture.

Dangerous Knowledge 2e_smThis strikes me as among the strangest forms of reenactment yet for an event that has been subjected to all kinds of re-creation, from The Warren Commission, to Hollywood versions in JFK and In the Line of Fire to an episode of Seinfeld (or was that a reenactment of a reenactment?) to a 2004 video game called JFK: Reloaded that places the player in Oswald’s alleged sixth floor window with the rather perverse object being to re-create the shooting just as The Warren Commission described it.

Somewhere Sigmund Freud has a knowing smile as the nation cannot break free of its own repetition compulsion and the killing of JFK. But with the art exhibit in Fort Worth we have moved away from reimagining the public space of Dealey Plaza and into conjuring the private aesthetic experience of the first couple. Why? Having heard from virtually everyone involved in the assassination, from Secret Service agents to Governor and Mrs. Connolly to witness-bystanders, and having participated in the question posed by virtually everyone alive at the time—do you remember where you were when you heard the news?—the only experience not yet tapped is that of the Kennedys. And since we can not get to the heart of their experience, we might substitute for it their experience of the hotel that morning, their waking up to a wall of 20th Century masterpieces.

As I have written about the culture of the Kennedy assassination over the years, I have always been reluctant to speculate about mass psychology, resisting the impulse to diagnose the various national obsessions around JFK and his killing. But with another nod in Freud’s direction, it does seem as though the art exhibit in Fort Worth is one more example of our 50 year old fetish, a need to find substitutes for what we don’t know but wish we did—about the Kennedys, about Oswald’s motives or those of his accomplices (depending on your opinion), about exit and entrance wounds and about what the Sixties might have been had the assassination not happened. We respond to the absence of knowing with a glut of images, recycled footage of Camelot, yet another examination of the Zapruder film, another memoir by someone who claims to have known the private side of the President.

And yet turning our attention to art on this 50th anniversary is not a bad idea. I would suggest however that we look not to what hung in the Texas Hotel but to what got produced within weeks and then within a couple years of the assassination, namely the silkscreen portraits created by Andy Warhol and the underground film masterpiece Report made by Bruce Conner. Indeed, pop artists at the time offered a fascinating reply to the assassination and its afterlife in the pages of Life magazine, the Warren Report and American culture generally. It’s a shame that in the media blitz now attending to JFK’s death, these works are being overlooked. Nearly 50 years after their making, they still present a compelling and visually provocative commentary on the meaning of the JFK assassination, both in its time and ours: Who gets to write the history of an event like this? Who profits from its telling and re-telling? How should we understand the moving image as evidence and window onto the past?

A review of the new film PARKLAND

In this blog entry, Temple University Press publicist Gary Kramer, reviews Parkland the new film about the JFK Assassination.

Released weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Parkland tells several stories—based on true events—that unfolded in Dallas during the horrible days in history that were November 22-25, 1963. Writer/director Peter Landesman (adapting Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days in November) introduces the players and their stories efficiently. Charles “Jim” Carrico (Zac Efron) is a doctor at Parkland hospital where the president is transported after he is shot; Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) shoots the famous home movie of the president’s assassination, which Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) asks him to hand over; Bob Oswald (James Badge Dale) learns that his brother Lee Harvey (Jeremy Strong) has been arrested for the shocking crime, and visits his brother and his mother (Jackie Weaver), who shares wild theories about her son; and James Hosty (Ron Livingston) is an FBI agent who was following Oswald at the time of the assassination.

parklandParkland uses these interlocking stories to present microcosms of grief that show how JFK’s death affected these individuals separately and collectively and, by extension, the nation as a whole. However, the parts here are greater than the sum. The urgency of the assassination is not nearly as striking as the scenes in the O.R. as Carrico works to save the president’s life. As the doctor tries to revive his patient, even as the flatline indicates death, the scene manages—albeit barely—to evoke some emotion, then goes overboard when Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) arrives.

The rest of the film is equal parts hit or miss. A dispute that arises when the local medical examiner insists on keeping the body in Texas, as per law, is an interesting diversion, but it serves  mostly to illustrate that Parkland is a series of loosely connected anecdotes that never build to any great crescendo. When one character remarks, “Nothing is ever going to be the same,” the line has no impact.

Even moments that revolve around one character are uneven. The early scenes of Zapruder reacting to the shooting are played broadly, whereas Landesman achieves a more graceful moment in a scene that shows the assassination footage reflected in Zapruder’s eyeglasses. The image of the man watching the striking footage he shot effectively conveys his emotions to viewers.

Landesman nicely incorporates the archive footage of Kennedy with the Zapruder video, given the small scale and narrow focus of the film, but he also includes cringe-inducing scenes of Secret Service men trying to accommodate the president’s coffin on the plane. A sequence that cross-cuts between Oswald’s burial and Agent Hosty burning his file on Oswald is also heavy-handed.

Even the acting ranges from subtle—James Badge Dale gives a rather poignant performance in his difficult role—to over-the-top in Jackie Weaver’s case. Zac Efron is miscast as Carrico here; he just seems out of his league; Marcia Gay Harden, the head nurse, easily upstages him. Even Paul Giamatti, who is well suited to his role, fares poorly, sabotaged by the lame script.

Dangerous Knowledge 2e_smUltimately, Parkland is an earnest effort that is more leaden than solemn.  

For a more exacting analysis of the JFK Assassination in art and film, one should read Art Simon’s Dangerous Knowledge, which was recently reissued by Temple University Press. While Simon does not cover Parkland in his book, he discusses public fascination with celebrity deaths and recent assassination-related media—from documentaries to scholarly books to the scandalous video game JFK Reloaded. He shows that the assassination continues to inspire writers, artists, and filmmakers.  Dangerous Knowledge examines the seminal works of art associated with the assassination, including Andy Warhol’s silk screens, the underground films of Bruce Conner, and provocative Hollywood films like The Parallax View and JFK. Simon’s investigation places assassination art and images within a historical context—one that helps us understand what the assassination has meant to American culture.

Remembering 9/11

On the 12th anniversary of September 11th, we offer a trio of Temple University Press titles that put the 9/11 tragedy in context.

History and September 11th edited by Joanne Meyerowitz; The contributors to this landmark collection set the attacks on the United States in historical perspective. They reject the simplistic notion of an age-old “clash of civilizations” and instead examine the particular histories of American nationalism, anti-Americanism, U.S. foreign policy, and Islamic fundamentalism among other topics. With renewed attention to Americans’ sense of national identity, they focus on the United States in relation to the rest of the world. A collection of recent and historical documents—speeches, articles, and book excerpts—supplement the essays. Taken together, the essays and sources in this volume comment on the dangers of seeing the events of September 11 as splitting the nation’s history into “before” and “after.” They argue eloquently that no useful understanding of the present is possible without an unobstructed view of the past.

Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11 by Lori Peek; As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.
Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking, award-winning book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.
Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11 by Athan Theoharis; Theoharis, long a respected authority on surveillance and secrecy, shows that the events that occurred 11 years ago are still felt everyday by Americans in the sense of government security. Passionately argued, this timely book speaks to the costs and consequences of still-secret post-9/11 surveillance programs and counterintelligence failures. Ultimately, Abuse of Power makes the case that the abusive surveillance policies of the Cold War years were repeated in the government’s responses to the September 11 attacks.

Considering indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay

This week in North Philly Notes, Rajini Srikanth, author of Constructing the Enemy, wonders: What if each of us could imagine being a detainee at Guantánamo Bay?

In June 2004, a Supreme Court ruling gave lawyers access for the first time to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay since their capture in 2002.  The over 700 Muslim men being held there, who had until this ruling been denied the right to any legal challenge of their detention, were thrust into the consciousness of our country as possessing voice, as being human. This outcome was the result of a case filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which at the time of the original filing in 2002 had received hate mail and death threats for upholding one of the most fundamental rights of Western law and of the U.S. Constitution – the right of every individual to challenge one’s detention in court and to ask why one is being held.  The Supreme Court ruled (6 to 3) that Guantánamo Bay was for all practical purposes under the control of the United States (though owned technically by Cuba) and so the detainees being held there had habeas corpus rights and could challenge their detention in court.  This reaffirmation of a basic and fundamental legal right prompted hundreds of lawyers, many from the private bar, to come forward to offer their services pro bono to represent the detainees against what they considered to be the Bush administration’s egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution and disregard for the rule of law.  The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York became the nerve center for these lawyers, and the long and arduous process of detainee representation began.  Due almost entirely to the efforts of the lawyers, the detainee population, at its height over 700 men, has been reduced to 166 (at last count).

Constructing Enemy smAmong the remaining detainees, there are more than 50% who have been cleared for release because they are deemed to pose no threat to the United States, but these men are still confined, caught in a bizarre and nightmarish situation in which their life is akin to death – forgotten by the citizens of the very country that holds them in confinement and condemned by the elected representatives of this country not to be released.  We use their incarceration to feed our need for a false sense of security; their indefinite detention (since 2002) stands as evidence of our ability to control what we see as a world that is unpredictable and unknowable.  It is no wonder that 103 detainees are currently on hunger strike; 41 of them are being force-fed. Who could live day after day knowing that one is confined without cause, knowing that there is no process by which one can expect to be released, because the Congress and the people of the country that holds them have abdicated their moral responsibility and tossed aside their ability to think rationally?

Three years ago, as part of my research for Constructing the Enemy, I interviewed several lawyers who were working on behalf of various detainees at Guantánamo Bay. One of them remarked that the lawyers’ intervention was crucial, because the American people seemed not to care: “we are holding the legal line until the politics kick in,” he said. But the politics have still not kicked in. In fact, if anything, despite President Obama’s declarations that he wishes to close the Guantánamo Bay facility because it stands as evidence of our egregious disregard for basic human rights and seriously besmirches our reputation as a nation based on the rule of law, we the people and our Congress refuse to acknowledge our complicity in the cruel and inhumane confinement of people who are no more guilty than you or I, even by the military’s own reckoning.  Law professor Mark Denbeaux and journalist and film director Andy Worthington have carefully and meticulously documented that the detainees were picked up under the most problematic circumstances – leaflets were dropped from the sky in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the early months of 2002 with promises of large amounts of money if people turned in “the foreigners” among them. Afghanis and Pakistanis responded to this allure of quick money, and hundreds of innocent and unsuspecting travelers from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China were handed over to the U. S. military as Al-Qaeda affiliates. One lawyer remarked that we filled Guantánamo Bay through good old-fashioned capitalist rhetoric.

Northeastern University law professor Mike Meltsner’s play, In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years, includes a scene that reveals the hollowness of our democratic fabric and the entire absence of integrity and rational thought.  A reporter asks a citizen if he is worried that water boarding is torture.  The citizen responds, “Not if the guy is a terrorist.” The reporter counters, “But how do we know who is a terrorist?” The citizen answers, “He wouldn’t be water boarded if he wasn’t” (71-72).  My students almost always gasp at the circularity of the argument; how can a person with even a modicum of analytical sense come to such a conclusion, they wonder.  And yet, through our virtual silence about the unlawful indefinite detentions at Guantánamo Bay, we are complicit in assuming that simply because someone is a detainee there, he must be a terrorist.

It would appear that Attorney Marc Falkoff, who collected and published poems written by the detainees (Poems from Guantánamo : The Detainees Speak) in an effort to stimulate empathy for them among the public, was unduly optimistic.  The truth is that most Americans don’t really care about the detainees, and many most likely believe that they are the unfortunate but necessary “collateral damage” of the times in which we live.   But we are all responsible for these 166 men. Our fear and paranoia put them there, and our fear and paranoia keep them there. Some of them likely pose a threat to the nation, but most of them do not: this latter group has, in fact, been cleared for release.  So why are they there? It’s easy to blame the Congress for stoking the public’s fears that should these detainees be released to their home countries or elsewhere, they will begin a campaign of terror against the United States.  But it’s not just Congress that is to blame. We are deeply at fault as a people.  We are unwilling or unable to imagine these men as individuals like us.  But what if we were the ones at Guantánamo Bay? What if we had simply been in the wrong place and the wrong time? What if we were never going to see our families? What if all we had before us was the prospect of years and years of such an existence?

The lawyers I interviewed were not at the outset motivated by empathy for the detainees. Their initial zeal came from their desire to uphold the U.S. Constitution or perhaps to take on the biggest legal challenge of their careers. But each of these lawyers quickly came to realize that the detainees are sons and fathers and brothers with desires and aspirations identical to ours; they have developed deep admiration for the detainees’ fortitude.  The lawyers speak of never giving up in the fight to seek their clients’ release.  Some have testified before Congress, some have written newspaper editorials.  The lawyers have met the detainees personally, an opportunity that the rest of us will not have.  But are we so emotionally impoverished or so imaginatively constrained that we cannot envision the absolute despair and unending bleakness of unjust and indefinite detention?  What is the point of being a member of a democracy if we do not exercise our capacity for independent thought?  At the very least, we should write our congressmen and congresswomen and ask them to close down Guantánamo Bay, to release those who have been cleared for release, and to try in our courts those who might pose a threat. It is our minimum obligation as citizens of a democracy.

A thorough makover of a classic classroom mainstay

This week in North Philly Notes, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, co-editors of Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, Third Edition, offer some thoughts on their new collection.

CriticalRaceTheory_3_smWhen we of us agreed to prepare a new edition of our reader, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, Barack Obama’s presidency had recently unleashed a flood of new writing on race and racism.  On topics ranging from AIDS in the black community, to undocumented Latino immigration, to imprisonment rates and profiling of foreign-looking drivers and pedestrians, the nation was coming to terms with a burgeoning population of color, coupled with strenuous insistence from conservatives that the solution to American’s race problems lay in colorblindness and a refusal to recognize the new reality.

With about 40 percent new material, this third edition is a thoroughgoing makeover. It includes new chapters on black males “on the down low,” scholarly activists who challenge harsh conditions in maquiladora factories just across the US-Mexico border, hyper-vigilant surveillance and hate crimes against Muslims, workers of color forced to act white on the job, and more.

We hope our readers will enjoy  Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge as much as we did working on it. 

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