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It’s time to take Kpop seriously. Every pop culture form reaches a point where the product attains sufficient depth and complexity to merit serious critical attention, as opposed to sociological analysis or entertainment business history chronicling. For western pop, that moment came in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Kpop, that time is now. This is Kpop’s Sgt. Pepper moment.

To understand this moment, we need first to consider Kpop’s genesis and growth. Kpop has its origins in the processes that have transformed South Korea in the past two decades. Without the liberalization of Korean society at the end of the 20th century, Kpop would never have come into being. The military government that fell in 1987 had repressed rock and folk musicians as part of a larger policy of maintaining socially conservative norms. As the government democratized, so the media became open to a wider range of voices and styles. As part of this opening, the 11th April, 1992 saw one of the talent shows that were and still are a mainstay of television in Korea broadcast an act that broke with the hitherto dominant ballads and nightclub standards; Seo Taiji and the Boys drew on New Jack Swing and hip-hop in their performance of “Nan Arayo”. Kpop was born that evening. The show’s judges gave “Nan Arayo” the lowest score of the show, older viewers were bemused, but an enraptured younger audience, thrilled by both the new sound and the accompanying dance moves, rushed out the following day to buy “Nan Arayo” and kept it at the top of the charts for four months. More… “Kpop”

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Asheville winter submerges us, weeks of unseasonable cold expanding January into multiples of its actual duration. My beer-loving colleague — let’s refer to him as “Jim” — is in town for a client meeting he celebrated as an excuse to visit my peak-brewery town, weather be damned. His old friend, whom we shall call Kurt — some of whose money I manage (well, if I do say so myself) — has tagged along for a sexagenarian Hangover. Both wives bowed out of the trip with a set of excuses as carefully crafted as a local IPA. Jim and I make plans to drink and dine after our wispy meeting and take leave of one another so that I can collect my son from kindergarten, and he can begin beer sampling with Kurt.

When I next encounter Jim, he and Kurt are hours into their tasting tour and have bellied up to the long communal table at the Wicked Weed brewery. I wedge myself into a space between Jim and a non-English-speaking couple (German I think —consonant-tinged beer terminology like hefeweizen seems easy on their tongues.) I shake hands with Kurt across the farmhouse table, take stock of his heavy lids and irrepressible — charming, I admit — smile, the kind of face that only alcohol can paint. Kurt’s hand doesn’t as much shake mine as allow mine to rest in it, with a tingle that surprises me. More… “#MeSomething”

Ellen Carr is a bond portfolio manager and adjunct finance professor. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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Chicago is a crossroads, a second city, a chance at a new life. Some people think that the Second City moniker is about being second in size to New York or Los Angeles, but it refers to the city being the second iteration of itself because a large portion of the city burned down in 1871 and was subsequently rebuilt. In reference to size, Chicago is 3rd after New York and Los Angeles; however, Chicago has a character all its own. Indigenous people, colonizers, descendants of slaves, and people looking for a fresh start, live here. Running errands in the city, I travel through communities of peoples who identify as Latinx, Hasidic, South Asian, and European. Riding the bus or the “El” train, I regularly hear, Spanish, French, English, and Amharic spoke. While the city is plagued by racial segregation, economic inequality, and political corruption, there are cultural interactions that I never imagined. There are gestures towards justice happening in this town, the questions around movements are more – how and when — then – if – we can do it.

Though 59% of residents of the city were born in the state of Illinois, there is a transient nature to the city.  40% of residents that are transplants, demographers estimate that about half were born in the US and half in other countries. And for those of us transplants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allies, many of us came here because there was something else that we had to be, something that was not possible in the towns we used to inhabit. For my partner and I, both black lesbians, living in a small town in the Midwest, was suffocating. Upon meeting us, people did a double-take, for them we were an impossibility. We eventually became a part of a small queer circle that valued us, but on the edges of that community, danger stalked ever closer. When I moved there, I was followed by the police about 4 times on my way to work. A few weeks later, my partner, was stopped early one morning by a State Trooper, who told her that “she touched the white line” while driving. As a masculine of center (read: butch) lesbian who has a decidedly unfeminine silhouette, we both knew that these kinds of incidents could result in death. Black lives are on the line everywhere, and Chicago is on the front lines of the debate over police brutality, income inequality, and racial segregation, but here we are possible. We regularly see other queer people of color living their lives and getting on with the mundane. We hold hands in public freely. Our subjectivities are possible. Like the recent immigrants from Bosnia, Puerto Rico, and African Americans who came to this city during the Great Migration, Chicago is a place of possibility. For Chicago queers, this is a place where we can live, fight for inclusion, and, on occasion, win. Similar to the sentiment expressed in Graham Nash’s “Chicago”, here we believe that we can change the world. More… “These Queer Streets”

Anne Mitchell, Ph.D.  teaches at DePaul University in the departments of Women’s & Gender Studies and African Black Diaspora Studies. Her work primarily focuses on Black women, queer people, feminist theory, and the African American Civil Rights movement. And she is currently working on a manuscript titled Civil Rights Subjectivities and Black Autobiography. Her interests also include popular culture, Beyoncé, and the WNBA.

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In graduate school, a female classmate told me I read like a girl. We were at a house party. Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep had recently been released in paperback, and I mentioned that I’d read it over the summer and enjoyed it. “Really?” my classmate said. Her face began at surprise and then traveled toward disapproval. “I don’t know any other men who liked that book.”

Or maybe I was only imagining disapproval. She was one of those people who likes to amuse themselves at parties by playing armchair psychologist. On another night, drinking canned beer in someone’s patchy backyard, she referred to me as “one of our program’s alpha males,” a claim so absurd I did an actual spit take. A couple of months later, at a post-workshop dinner, apropos of seemingly nothing, she turned to me and said, “I bet you were popular in high school.” That time, at least, I knew I was being insulted.

It’s funny, the comments that stay with you and bury themselves deep in your pockets — small, smooth stones you can worry over in idle moments. I can still hear the voice of the boy who called me a sissy on a school-sponsored weekend trip to the North Carolina mountains when I was in the fifth grade. I can see his face too, ruddy in the cold, chubby with baby fat. I no longer remember the point of that trip, except that it was sponsored by the gifted and talented program and brought together kids from three or four different schools. But I remember walking through the woods with a girl I’d just met, a girl I was quickly developing a crush on, though at that age I didn’t know what to do with my crushes except stand near them, like a wood stove in a drafty cabin. I remember that she had an unusual name, hippie parents, and the kind of chunky, plastic jewelry I associated with much older women. I think we were supposed to be identifying trees. More… “My Trouble With Men”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00

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At first glance, Bull Durham doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would get the Criterion Collection treatment. A cinephile’s delight, Criterion is usually associated with more esoteric films: their staggeringly comprehensive editions of the works of Ingmar Bergman and Josef Von Sternberg are alluring indeed, but not what you’d call mainstream fare. Kudos to Criterion for being open-minded enough to notice how progressive, subversive, and worldly-wise Bull Durham really is. Brilliantly written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, the film shows authentic affection and respect for America’s pastime but doesn’t shy away from the deeper questions that go beyond calling balls and strikes. Bull Durham is a thinking person’s sports movie, containing a deep, unapologetically intelligent and mature understanding of the world both inside and outside the ballpark.

We follow the The Durham Bulls, a very minor league baseball team based in North Carolina. Most of the players know that they aren’t destined to be superstars, nor are they meant to be, which is mostly just fine by them. They’re in it purely for the love of the game, enjoying the laid-back camaraderie of athletes, content to horse around beneath the bright lights on warm summer evenings. Choosing to focus on this often-ignored aspect of the sporting life is particularly pointed, since the mid ’80s was a time just before baseball (and sports culture at large) got a metaphorical (and, it must be said, quite literal) shot in the arm, causing salaries and egos to run amok. The amiable Durham Bulls aren’t obsessively driven to be champions, which flips the implicit triumphalism of most sports movies on its head right off the bat, so to speak. More… “All-Star Flirtation”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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It began in the 11th grade in Dr. Hannum’s class on the 19th-century British novel. I was already a Dickens fan. I had read David Copperfield in the tenth grade and liked it so much that I spent the summer between tenth and 11th grades reading Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. But it was Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native that tipped the scales. I had bought the book for the course so that particular copy I already owned. By the time we had finished reading it, I wanted to own other books like it. Trollope, Thackeray, Austen, Meredith, the Brontës, all the great British novelists who wrote those tomes with complicated, melodramatic plots and dozens of idiosyncratic characters. Whenever I needed a refuge from 20th-century agnst, I would step back into Jane Austen’s Netherfield Park where men wore frock coats and pursued vaporous women, to Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers where determined clerics and their ambitious wives maneuvered for power and influence in a rural English diocese, or I would join Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they tracked their arch enemy Professor Moriarty through London’s fogbound streets. I wanted those books. I needed those books. More… “A Not-So-Curious Fascination”

John Capista is a reader who loves to write and a writer who loves to read. He reads, writes and resides in Drexel Hill, PA.

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“Well, what does sex mean to you?” he asked. I laughed. Kyle repeated the question, “Seriously,” he said.

We were young and 20, saddled up next to each other in my twin bed. The metallic frame chirped as he propped up on his elbow and stared at me. I stared at my ceiling, the textured drywall, the swirls in pale green. My bedroom in Pittsburgh was different from my bedroom at home where my mother and I had painted the walls a bluish green, sycamore.

“You’re tense,” Kyle said and then began typing his coarse fingers along my forearm. When I took his hand in mine and guided him to softer longer strokes, he pressed harder.

It was only our second date but I felt as if I were always playacting with Kyle, like I had to adhere to a script. In the past, when I’d told people that I had never had sex before (not for religious reasons, just because), it was never a big deal. But Kyle seemed to think that it was, which was why we had stopped. It made me nervous. I had sprung it on him; that much was true. Surely, I owed him that. More… “Geography”

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The name Ganja Acid combines the recreational sloth of marijuana with the cosmic distortion of the 1960’s most iconic chemical without offering any hint that it belongs to a four-seat psychedelic bar. A friend suggested my wife Rebekah and I visit it while on our honeymoon in Osaka. Although I no longer smoked weed or dropped acid, I still loved the psychedelic: surreal books, occult verbiage, hippie satire, and trippy music that sounded like it was made on mushrooms. They were fun and reminded me of the risky excitement required to warp reality in order to examine it. The thing was, neither ganja nor acid were legal in Japan. While marijuana shops had popped up all over Portland where we lived, over there, even the smallest amount of weed brought first-time offenders a minimum of five years hard labor.

Japan’s 1948 Cannabis Control Act outlawed the commercial cultivation of hemp after WWII. Because modern pharmaceuticals have recreational uses, Japan also outlawed the unauthorized possession of many opioid painkillers like codeine and banned amphetamines like Adderall that are used to treat ADHD. It didn’t matter how commonly they were prescribed in other countries. It wasn’t a matter of clinical efficacy. The laws treated them with the same firm hand as heroin and cocaine. In June 2015, a high-level Toyota Motor Corp executive was arrested for having 57 oxycodone pills hidden in a package, mailed to her Tokyo hotel from the United States. Authorities held her for 20 days, and, after she resigned her high-profile post, and after she was widely discussed in the media, they let her off without formal charges. This is common in Japan, where the process is often the punishment for people who apologize and express remorse. Although oxycodone was legally prescribed there, the exec didn’t have a prescription and she didn’t get official governmental approval in advance.

More… “Ganja-Acid”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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Fifty years ago a show of male nude art at a small gallery in Long Island, New York provoked the confusion and disdain of the critics. The poet and art critic John Ashbery complained in New York Magazine, “Nude women seem to be in their natural state; men, for some reason, merely look undressed.” (Ashbery’s concern here might have been masking his own homosexuality.) In a more sympathetic response, Vicky Goldberg noted that the homoeroticism that many of the works provoked cast such art “from its traditions and in search of some niche to call its home.” But it was Gene Thompson at the New York Times who pointed to the deeper concerns of this show when he wrote, “there is something disconcerting about the site of a man’s naked body being presented as a sexual object.” We have thankfully moved beyond such acute prejudices. But even today looking at… More…

In my first real music history class, I was confronted with a disturbing fact: I couldn’t name a single British composer. In a get-to-know-you exercise our professor asked us about our homes and histories, and then connected them to music. You’re from Louisiana? Tell us about the history of cajun and zydeco! Your family came from France? Name some French composers for us. Circling around the room, my professor stopped at me.

“Where are your ancestors from?”

“As far as I’m aware, my ancestry is almost entirely English.”

“Name a British composer!”

Mary Sydnor was managing editor of The Smart Set and is now a writer based in Baltimore. She has also written for Table Matters, Philly.com, and the Philadelphia Daily News. Follow her on Twitter @_MarySydnor.