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I always looked forward to Saturday mornings as a child. The good cartoons were always on between the hours of nine and noon, and I never really had to change the channels to find what I wanted. I was fortunate to grow up with cable television, but, as with most kids, it could have been better. Our television was a cabinet style model. The picture tube was encased in a wooden cabinet, and the television itself had a tuning knob for 13 different channels. I learned at an early age about that knob. With cable television, the actual knob on the television wasn’t meant to be changed from channel four, because for the cable box to work the television itself had to stay on channel four. Even after all these years, I’m still at a loss as to why it worked that way. But I do remember our cable box. It was a small, gray rectangular prism with two green knobs. One had approximately 50 channels, and the other one was much smaller and labeled, “tuning.” I was forbidden to turn the smaller knob. For some reason, I must have never been curious about it, since I have no recollection of ever touching it.

My spot in the living room was always somewhere on the floor. I liked to lie on the floor and read, or at least look at the pictures, or color/draw while I watched television with my parents. My being on the floor was a fantastic thing for them. I was closer to the cable box and the television; I was a living, breathing remote control. But Saturday mornings meant the television was mine. More… “Happy Accidents”

Stephanie L. Haun holds an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte.  When she isn’t teaching or scrambling to meet deadlines, Stephanie is a Perry Mason fanatic, an avid knitter, and a sometimes trombonist.

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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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We started our “best of” practice in 2016, when it struck us that we were all pretty cool people who liked a lot of stuff. Most of our editorial meetings become exchanges of the movies, music, books, articles, podcasts, and tv shows we’re watching and loving. We have had informal office townhalls on Bob Dylan, Roxane Gay, and Beyoncé. We have created lists of the top female vocalists of the 20th century and debated the merits of authorship, discussed the role of fandoms, and every drama — no matter how great or how small — that have arisen in the past three years. The “Best of” post has become one of my most favorite rituals for The Smart Set. First, it allows us to reflect on all the material we’ve come across throughout the year and pluck those texts or people that really struck a chord. Second, it allows us to share that joy. We hope that you find below a few samesies from your personal lists and a couple of new things to binge.

  More… “BEST OF 2018”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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In the movies, makeovers are the answer to everything. Before, she is identifiable only by her big, bulky glasses and untamable, frizzy hair. She has no fashion sense, no boy sense, no social sense. No one notices her, no one pays attention. No one cares.

Then, something happens. It doesn’t really matter what or how — someone notices her, she becomes a princess, or a part of a bet — it just matters that now, things are different. Now, she must change. So, with the help of a friend or a makeup team, she goes from ugly and unknown to pretty and popular. Someone forces a flat iron to her hair, foundation to her face, heels on her feet. In an hour and a half, two tops, the grand transformation has occurred.

Suddenly, she’s wanted. The mean girls want to be her friend and the popular boy asks her to the dance. She stands taller, speaks louder, sounds smarter, her clear skin and cleavage making her more confident. More… “The Banal and the Beautiful”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.

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Michael Andreasen’s first book, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, is one part Twilight Zone, a hint of Twin Peaks, with a dash of Booshian surrealism. Anchoring his short stories is one of my favorite sensibilities in film and literature: the extraordinary in the ordinary, whether that is making the banal fantastic or normalcy perverse. Below, Andreasen, graciously addresses some of the questions I had about Sea Beast, gearing up for his first book, and his inspiration.

More… “Sailing with Michael Andreasen”

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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When I was growing up in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, bad television was a redundancy. Think about what we had: The Beverly Hillbillies, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Petticoat Junction, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (even if Robert Vaughan did have a PhD). My parents, first generation intellectual snobs, were very down on television. I can remember my father looking up from his I.F. Stone’s Weekly and directing my sister and me, blissfully engrossed in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., to “shut that damn thing off!” More… “Bad Television”

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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Book-ended by two heavy-hitting true crime series, The Jinx and Making a Murderer, 2015 (and ’16) saw a lot of journalists grappling with the draw of these programs and true crime as a genre. These documentaries were cinematic, following those accused of crimes but with hazy details that either led to them being imprisoned possibly wrongly (Steven Avery) or free (Robert Durst). There is an ambiguity with these real-life narratives that allows filmmakers to create engaging documentaries that grapple with inconsistencies, problematic ideologies, and injustices. Both series quickly became rulers for filmmakers as more highbrow-aesthetic true crime films are showing up on Netflix and HBO. More… “TV Departed”

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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When the stubborn, stabbing nerve pain in her abdomen wakes her in the middle of the night and she can no longer endure it, my 15-year-old daughter quietly calls to me and we descend the stairs together and curl up on the couch, under cover of darkness, and seek out the quiet reassurance of a sure and steady friend: home shopping television.

Home shopping is the best 2 a.m., lull-you-back-to-sleep TV I know. There’s no dramatic music, no cliffhangers, nothing to get you hooked. In fact, they pretty much say the same thing over and over and over again. Talk about staying on message. And even when it doesn’t soothe you back to slumber right away, there is something oddly comforting about it. The hosts are so happy. They’re self-satisfied, but somehow inviting, with their facile stream of conversation punctuated by nearly incessant, yet strangely not unpleasant, laughter. What I wouldn’t do for an ounce of their easy, self-assured chatter at a cocktail party or a school function. More… “Home Shopping Network”

Nina Uziel-Miller is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband and two daughters.

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My dissertation was about women’s authorship and sitcoms. Authorship is a key word here. It wasn’t about “writers,” but about those who left their marks on the text, their control over character, storylines through aspects of performance and utilizing their star power — for most of my case studies (30 Rock, Girls, and United States of Tara) the examination did focus on writing, but what I found while returning to the archives was the thread of women’s narratives that dealt with writing without words. Lucille Ball never wrote for I Love Lucy nor was she the head of Desilu, but as Madelyn Pugh Davis, one of the show’s writers, notes in her memoir Laughing with Lucy, Ball exerted authorship through performance and her refusal/approval to perform certain scenes. Amy Poehler wrote a handful of Parks and Recreation episodes, but her iconic status in improvisation as a founding member of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and successful sketch career at SNL brought her a certain level of authority to the series, a sentiment continually asserted in interviews with the cast and crew. Mary Tyler Moore is also part of this legacy of women’s negotiation and “writing.” She wasn’t a writer but owned her performances. She owned her brand and in doing so provided opportunities for writers to develop their own. Mary Tyler Moore owned Mary Richards, who helped women figure out their place in feminism’s upheaval of roles and norms. More… “Left Wanting Moore”

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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We asked our staff to pick their favorite contributions to popular culture that we encountered in 2016. From books, to movies, to a YouTube concert video, we enjoyed a lot of beauty and truth in a year unlikely to be remembered for either. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen famously sang in “Anthem.” Embodying this year, Cohen triumphantly released the gorgeous album You Want it Darker shortly before his voice was suddenly silenced by his passing in November. A less-quoted lyric of Anthem is Cohen’s instruction “Ring the bells that still can ring.” Here is what chimed for us this year. More… “Best of 2016”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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