Cactus Rose
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Several great or powerful American films have yielded signature lines of dialogue to remember them by: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn;” “We’ll always have Paris;” “I coulda been a contender;” “Go ahead, make my day.” Of all John Ford Westerns, several of them truly great, only one of them produced a signature line: John Ford’s  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, remembered for “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This line is remembered superficially, and most viewers don’t perceive the raw emotions and brutal reality that the statement embraces. And it has meanings and contradictions that resonate today, perhaps the most interesting of which have to do with contemporary notions of masculinity. More… “What Hallie Knew”

D.B. Jones is a retired Drexel professor of film and the author of three books on Canadian documentary film.

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project mayhem
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For some of us, Fight Club is like a dirty bomb going off in the culture. I walk out of David Fincher’s iconic film sometime in the summer of 1999 feeling like I’ve just been touched by mad genius. The film is a hot, filthy, stylish channeling of rage against consumer culture and manufactured masculinity and the failing aspirations of an entire civilization. I love it. All of my male friends love it. We can’t stop talking about the one thing you’re not supposed to talk about.

Six months later, November 30, 1999, thousands of protesters are streaming into Seattle — most of them from student groups, labor organizations, and NGOs — all there to stop a big meeting of the World Trade Organization. Some of these protesters seize control of key intersections by chaining their arms together into “lockdown” formations. Others use newspaper boxes to form barricades. They stage marches and street parties designed to block traffic and prevent the WTO delegates from reaching the convention center. I am watching news footage of someone throwing what looks like a toaster oven out of the smashed window of a Starbucks, and I have an uncanny feeling of recognition. More… “The Project Mayhem Age”

Daniel Vollaro is writer and teacher of writing whose fiction and nonfiction has been published in Boomer Cafe, Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Crania, Creo, Fairfield Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Paperplates, and Timber Creek Review.

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Evil fisherman lures young mermaid with cash
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A few months back, a story broke about R&B singer R. Kelly’s alleged cult. There was, of course, an immediate divide between those who supported the singer and those who believed his career should have ended decades ago due to similar accusations. The situation reminded many of Taz’s Angels, an alleged escort service/prostitution group out of Miami which rose to fame via social media. Prostitution rings and “harems” are not as uncommon as many of us would like to believe, but these two cases are unique because they have the allure of fame. In the age of social media, fame has become a drug as addictive as cocaine. Much like the substance, fame maintains a look of sugary-sweet innocence while eating people alive from the inside out. Celebrities become idols, worshipped for anything from winning a Grammy to buying a toothbrush for themselves.

Social media has become a new avenue for the average Jane to create her own brand and become self-employed, but the cost of this is often using images from your personal life to grow an overly devoted following. We are all constantly being pushed: follow her, like this, buy that. It is to the point that if you say you don’t have social media, people often think that you are lying. At its best, social media brings us closer to the people we love, whether we know them in real life or not. There is a point, however, and society has reached it, where close becomes too close, particularly because we all try to only show the best of ourselves on the internet. Just read the comments of any celebrity or internet-famous person and you’ll see how mere humans have been exalted to the status of gods and goddesses. We have moved beyond forming strong opinions about people we don’t know, which is odd enough in itself. We are now in the realm of idolizing these people to the point where we often refuse to hold them accountable for their wrongdoings. This type of worship can have very dangerous consequences. More… “The Danger in Devotion”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance writer, teacher, and mother from Washington, DC. You can connect with her on twitter @okaykesia.

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Both the TV and the viewer exclaim, "I Love It!"
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During a protracted period on the couch with a stomach virus a few months ago, I found the only thing I could keep down was HGTV. The voices on these shows were so soothing and nonjudgmental, and the hardwood floors, finished cabinetry, coordinated backsplash, and designer-rustic farm sinks so aesthetically pleasing that I was lulled back to health before I knew it. I came away with a deep appreciation for how this programming functions in our culture.

To begin, it is useful to observe what these shows are not about. They are not about self-improvement. To be sure, they focus on improvement — i.e. on the production of a nicer envelope for living. But no effort is made to improve the health, wealth, or moral fiber of the clients being served. This, quite frankly, is a relief. We have passed through the cultural interlude in which we were bullied relentlessly about eating better, exercising more, and brightening up our personalities (not to mention our teeth). This, I believe, has made us acutely aware of how lazy and inherently imperfect we are, creating anxiety and anger as the eventual byproduct. Our current political situation can be understood as a backlash against that wearisome imperative that we be better than what we are inclined to be.  More… “Our HGTV Moment”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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It’s a bit specialized, admittedly. Nonetheless, Ben Davis’s Repertory Movie Theaters of New York City: Havens for Revivals, Indies and the Avant-Garde, 1960-1994 delivers exactly what the title promises. If you were ever dying to know what sort of programming choices distinguished the Carnegie Hall Cinema from the Bleecker Street Cinema in the 1970s, this is the book for you. But it might also be the book for you if you ever fell in love with movies and had a favorite theater or two, whether in New York or any small city or college town, to nourish that love. When I moved to New York in 1978, I fell so hard for movies that Davis’s book (hereafter RMTNYC) reads more like a lost diary from my youth than the erudite, exhaustively researched study that it is. Accordingly, what follows is less a review of the book than of my life. How can I talk about the Thalia without mentioning the movie-mad debates I had with the girl I loved and my best friend on our way to and from the screenings there? At the time, we were all grad students at Columbia, but the real education we got was in the theaters and the streets. More… Singin’ in the Rain for the 68th Time”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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Arguably America’s favorite film, as measured by various polls over the years, Casablanca turned 75 in November. Special screenings have been held across the country. Encomiums have appeared in periodicals. But perhaps it’s time to take stock of this fan favorite.

Its appeal is well earned. The plot is full of surprising twists and tense moments. The story is uplifting: a cynical, bitter American expatriate running a nightclub (called “Rick’s Café Americain”) in Vichy-controlled Casablanca is inspired by the reignited love of a woman to take incredibly brave steps, including renunciation of future bliss with his lover, to help a great resistance leader escape his Nazi pursuers. Its leads, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, have two of the most cinematic faces in the history of the medium. Claude Rains, perhaps a more skillful actor than both of them, has a strong secondary role. The cast includes the great character actors Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, and lesser-known but excellent ones such as John Qualen and S.Z Sakall. The director, Michael Curtiz, knew how to use the camera to underscore emotions. There are some great laughs. The film’s setting is exotic, reeking with promise of intrigue and adventure. In essence, it is a film about moral redemption, regained love, courage, and personal sacrifice for the greater good. What’s not to like?
More… “Taking a Hard Look at You, Kid”

D.B. Jones is a retired Drexel professor of film and the author of three books on Canadian documentary film.

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As a child, I believed my 16-year-old babysitter, at the peak of adulthood, had all of the answers one could have. She had hip kicks, cool hair, and was in high school, which I assumed to be the height of “getting it.” She was old enough to understand the complexities of the universe (for me, at the time, that meant she could make mac and cheese from a blue box), yet not old enough to be out of touch with youth culture. I could not wait to become a teenager and to be as cool as she and the other teens I saw on TV, like Kelly Kapowski, Shawn Hunter, and Clarissa Darling. When I reached that threshold, I learned I was drastically wrong and shifted my gaze to 18 . . . and then at 18 to 21, 21 to 30. Now I’m just waiting for the comfort of the void. More… “Good Graces”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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June can be the cruelest month in London . . . if you originally come from Spain. At this point in the year, most cities in the Iberian Peninsula showcase a splendid sun: a warning of the blazing summer that is to come.

But this was not the case in the gayish Soho district. It was a rainy and chilly afternoon as I hurried along, weaving my way through the crowded Shaftesbury Avenue. I was late for my coffee with Robbie Rojo, a tanned and good-looking expat from Cadiz who I knew well from the internet. Still, I had almost no knowledge of him. This is usually the case with porn stars. If you have seen them in action, you know very intimate details about them, but you have almost no idea about who they really are. “Will his demeanor be as wild as his performances on screen?”, I wondered as I looked for him in the Starbucks of Wardour Street.

What brought us together on that gray London day were intellectual concerns. For a long time, men have commercialized the female body through the media, especially in porn. A Netflix show, Hot Girls Wanted, has recently brought many of these stories to light. But what about those men who become objects of pleasure for other men? “Who is the person behind the body? How do you live your life when you become an object of desire?”, I asked Robbie on Facebook. He found my highbrow doubts amusing. He was the first of many. Over the past year, I have been in touch with a good number of gay porn stars. Much maligned sometimes, yet also secretly imitated and revered, these men had many things to say about the ups and downs of a profession greatly transformed by the internet in recent years.

More… “Sacred Monsters”

Ernesto Oyarbide is presently reading for a Dphil in History at the University of Oxford. He regularly writes on contemporary issues around cosmopolitan culture, human identities and anything digital.

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I don’t watch horror movies. Most of them involve demons, too much gore, and unrealistic stupidity that makes you think that the characters must have wanted to get murdered by the serial killer. I also don’t care for the trope of the black character (usually a man) dying first. But once your Twitter is being flooded with everyone talking about a film, it becomes something that you have to see. There was something about Get Out that seemed more complex and even more dangerous than the average man-in-mask-chasing-teens-through-woods kind of movie.

More… “Flipping the Script”

Byshera Williams is a Junior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is an astute observation, a reflection, and commentary that contemplates our contemporary urban islands. The film’s most consistent motif is inversion, a collapsing of the boundaries between the internal and the external, a conflation of self and society featuring a kinetic and nearly constant obsession with the surface vs. substance quandary that has confounded philosophers, artists, and poets for millennia. As I mused in the afterglow of the film, I found myself wondering why, in his recent transition away from the historical and towards the contemporary, Malick selected Los Angeles as his cosmopolis of choice. It took some thinking, but I realized that the last picture to capture L.A. and inscribe it this perfectly was released in 1969, and it wasn’t a film, it wasn’t a novel, it wasn’t an essay: it was an album, Joni Mitchell’s Clouds.

More… “Terrence and Joni Redeem L.A.”

Sean Hooks is originally from New Jersey and presently lives in Los Angeles. He teaches English and Writing at the University of California, Riverside and Fullerton College. Recent publications include Los Angeles Review of Books, Bright Lights Film Journal, Akashic Books, The Manhattanville Review, and Pif Magazine.

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