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Rafael Casal is a poet, rapper, producer, writer, and actor. Over the last ten years, he and his longtime friend and collaborator, Daveed Diggs, wrote, produced, and starred in their first film, Blindspotting. The story revolves around best friends Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) during the last three days of Collin’s probation. As the days progress, their friendship is strained by Oakland’s gentrification and the community’s perception of Collin after his conviction for a violent crime. Throughout the film, heightened verse is infused to showcase Oakland, the city’s natural facility for language, and Casal and Digg’s background in poetry and music. I had the opportunity to speak with Casal about comedy as a vehicle to tell stories about trauma, toxic masculinity, unconscious bias, and the stories missing from Hollywood’s mainstream. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “In Plain Sight”

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

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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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I have never known my husband without his beard, a fact that disturbed me in the early years of our relationship. What was he hiding: a weak chin, a saber scar, a slothful nature, a psychological need for a barrier between himself and the world? But as time passed, I no longer felt the need to ask these questions. I now know my husband, and the beard is part of who he is. This seems to me to relate to the question that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson raised about the old man with the cane: Where does the one end and the other begin? Impossible to say, Bateson concluded, since the two cannot be functionally separated. A beard may seem less functional than a cane, but the choice to grow a beard has a function, though it may not be singular or simply articulated.

In the early ’90s, amid high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits and rape awareness campaigns such as Take Back the Night marches, two students accused a master at an Australian university of assaulting them at a school party. Hotly denied by the master himself, the charges consisted of a drunken grope while dancing, and a come-on later in his office. While the master was found not guilty of the charges, he still lost his job after leaflets appeared around campus saying that if the master was not stopped now, he would go on to rape a student.

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.

I think of poetry as a boys’ club. Do female poets have to learn to write in a “masculine” style to gain any praise for their poems?

— Sarah, Malden, Massachusetts

P.S. Do you know of any good poems about female relationships?

You’re right, to some extent: Poetry is a boys’ club, as are many professions. This is something that I have noticed more and more as I’ve lived, but maybe I’m being too sensitive. After all, I did just buy an anthology of female poets writing about birth and childrearing (Not for Mothers Only published by Fence Books), but anthologies like that seem to exist almost on the fringe. Maybe some women feel that they have had to alter their style to gain any credence for their poetry. From personal experience in writing workshops, my narrative poems — which are more straightforward — receive much more praise than… More…

Not too long ago, I was at a party with a number of people who have successful careers in lifestyle journalism. I was chatting with a beautiful, sexy friend who writes for a magazine that covers luxury spa vacations. She got that job, in part, because she wrote a wonderful travel book about bathing culture which one critic claimed “bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine.”

As we chatted, I shared some good news with her: I had just been hired to write a newspaper column about spirits and cocktails.

“You should really meet my friend,” she told me. “He’s the perfume critic at the Times.”

“Really?” I said. “Let me just see if I’m hearing this correctly. The luxury spa columnist would like the spirits columnist to meet the perfume columnist.”

“Yes,” she said, with a beautiful, sexy smile.

“Wait,” I… More…

 

Last year a few video trailers for Chad Kultgen’s novel The Average American Male came online. In one, a man bitches about the price of the dinner, demanding a blow job in return. In another, a man tells a girl he loves her only to get her to give him a blow job. And finally, over dinner with his girlfriend’s family, when the father asks, “We’re just wondering when we’re going to see a ring on our little girl’s finger,” the Average American Male replies, “As soon as she learns to swallow without gagging and take it up the ass without crying.”

If the novel itself had been as violently offensive as the ad campaign, it would have at least been interesting. Instead, Kultgen had about as much insight into the typical male psyche as Maxim…. More…