Tuesday, October 20, 2020

David Menconi's "Step It Up and Go"

David Menconi spent 28 years covering music and art for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., writing about everything from gospel to heavy metal. Those years in North Carolina’s musical trenches inform his new book Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, a chronicle of nearly a century’s worth of The Old North State’s musical history.

In applying the “Page 99 Test” to the book, he reported the following:
From page 99:
That same year, Doc’s daughter Nancy also told me a story about a backstage well-wisher who had recently congratulated Doc on becoming a great-grandfather.

“Naw,” he drawled in his mountain deadpan. “I’m just average.”
It is entirely fitting that page 99 of Step It Up and Go falls within the chapter about the late great Doc Watson, who casts a long shadow across his native state in terms of both music and sensibility. One of the giants of 20th century music, Watson was discovered during the folk revival and became a beloved icon on the festival circuit – a blind man from the Western North Carolina mountains who could flatpick faster and cleaner than anybody ever had. Over the half-century before his death in 2012, Watson won just about every accolade and honor one could win in music.

But for all that, he also maintained the humble demeanor of a sideman and never cared much for people making a fuss over him. When the North Carolina town of Boone commissioned a Watson sculpture to be placed downtown, where he used to busk on the street in his pre-fame days, he would only give it his blessing if the plaque read, “Just One of the People” (which it does).

That is a mindset common to North Carolina’s greatest musicians, a roll call that includes luminaries like banjo master Earl Scruggs, R.E.M.’s early producer Mitch Easter and modern-day hip-hop producer Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit. Across decades and styles, they all share traits including ingenuity, working-class populism and the sense that artistic independence trumps career concerns. If North Carolina seems like “The Dayjob State,” it’s because going pro doesn’t change much about the music people play there.

Elsewhere in Step It Up and Go, Watson’s sideman Jack Lawrence spoke to this when he noted that Watson had a very utilitarian view of music. Had Watson been able to see, Lawrence speculated, he probably would have been a mechanic or carpenter who just picked a little on the weekend.

“Ask Doc how he wants to be remembered,” Lawrence said, “and guitar-playing really doesn’t enter into it. He’d rather be remembered just as the good ol’ boy down the road.”
Visit the author’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Niklas Frykman's "The Bloody Flag"

Niklas Frykman is Assistant Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bloody Flag: Mutiny in the Age of Atlantic Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 is concerned with the aftermath of the 1796 mutiny on the Dutch frigate Jason, a mutiny that probably conforms to what most people think mutinies in the age of sail were like: an unruly crew rising up in the middle of the night, seizing the ship, and sailing it to the nearest port in a blaze of alcohol-fueled glory. In this case, there was also a political dimension, or so Captain Donckum claimed when afterwards he was called upon explain how it was that he had lost control of his men, and with that of one of the Dutch navy’s precious few frigates. The answer was simple, Donckum argued, for his men had not only been a bunch of unreliable “runaways and deserters,” they also had counted among them a good number of counter-revolutionary Orangist traitors, who clearly would stop at nothing to hurt the new Batavian regime, including even outright treason.

A reader who stopped at the bottom of page 99 would be left with the impression that Captain Donckum was right, and that the Jason mutineers, like many other malcontents in the Batavian navy, were driven by an intense hatred for the new revolutionary regime. But in the book I suggest that a close reading and careful contextualization of their politics paints a far more complex and complicated picture than simple reaction. Indeed, on the very next page I demonstrate that it was only a minority of primarily petty officers who professed genuine loyalty to the overthrown regime of Stadtholder William V of Orange, mostly because the revolution had brought to an end the upward trajectory of their careers within the service. Most ordinary seamen, by contrast, had initially embraced the promises of social renewal that came with the revolution, but when the conditions of service in the Batavian navy turned out to be as lousy and exploitative as they had been under the old regime, they turned on their new officers with a violent vengeance.

It was a pattern that repeated itself again and again, first in the French, then in the Dutch, and finally in the British navy. As war consumed the north Atlantic world in the mid-1790s, naval seamen in each navy initially rallied to their country’s cause, but anger and disappointment at the conditions of their service soon triggered waves of shipboard revolt that eventually flowed together into a single, genuinely Atlantic, transnational revolutionary movement at sea. Far from expressing a hope of return to the conditions that prevailed onboard European warships under the old regime, the cosmopolitan mutineers of the 1790s brought together elements of contemporary radicalism with the ancient egalitarian customs of the sea to forge a new form of politics we may think of as revolutionary maritime republicanism. Tracing the rise and decline, and lasting legacy of that political tradition lies at the heart of my recently published book, The Bloody Flag. Page 99, I am sad to say, does not quite capture it.
Learn more about The Bloody Flag at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 16, 2020

Tony Keddie's "Republican Jesus"

Tony Keddie is Assistant Professor of Early Christian History and Literature at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Class and Power in Roman Palestine and Revelations of Ideology.

Keddie applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For all of his disclaimers about not getting involved in politics, America’s favorite crusader [Billy Graham] was a vocal supporter of war for decades—from Korea to Iraq. Graham soothed any presidential or popular Christian anxieties about the injustice of war by depicting military intervention abroad as a strategy for spreading Christian democracy in an increasingly communist world. Graham envisioned the Third World as the site of an apocalyptic struggle between American Christianity and the Soviet Union’s pagan communism. “God may be using Communism as a judgment upon the West,” he warned about North Vietnam.

Graham was more influential than ever during the Nixon presidency. For the first time in history, Graham led a full-blown worship service as part of President Nixon’s inauguration in 1969. He also introduced the first of what would become regular Sunday worship services in the East Room of the White House. The ministers who presided over these services, which were attended by conservative Christian politicians and corporate leaders alike, were hand-picked by Graham to ensure that their politics aligned with his and Nixon’s—that is, that they preached a Jesus who favored Small Government, traditional family values, and whatever other Republican causes came to the fore.
Page 99 of Republican Jesus nicely captures the way that a key figure in the emergence of the American Christian Right, Rev. Billy Graham, used anti-Communist fear-mongering as a tactic to gain support for right-wing politics. It highlights how he contributed to the construction of conservative Christianity and capitalism as God’s antidotes to “pagan stateism”—a boogeyman created to conflate liberal Christians and supporters of the New Deal with communism, fascism, and Nazism abroad. This promotion of Small Government, free market capitalism as the proper and inevitable political expression of Christianity receives critical attention throughout the book. Graham, his allies, and his son Franklin also appear as major influencers in the shaping of right-wing Christian politics throughout the book.

This page also notes that Graham employed a tendentious interpretation of Jesus to bolster his politics, but it does not indicate that much of the book (particularly the second half) is devoted to debunking the Right’s version of Jesus—“Republican Jesus”—on the basis of biblical and ancient historical evidence. Whereas the first half of the book explains who the Republican Jesus is and where he came from (that is, his origins as an interpretive paradigm in the modern era), the second half of the book takes on the task of showing why right-wing influencers most common interpretations of gospel texts are historically and logically problematic. To do so, these chapters restore their cherry-picked texts to their original literary and historical contexts by closely analyzing them in light of their first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman settings.
Learn more about Republican Jesus at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn's "Ars Vitae"

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is professor of history at Syracuse University. She is the author of a number of essays and books, including Black Neighbors (winner of the Berkshire prize) and Race Experts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living, and reported the following:
A reader glancing through Ars Vitae (Latin for the art of living) and lingering on page 99 would find a brief introduction to a movement I describe in my second chapter, “A New Stoicism.” At the top of the page a paragraph mentions just a handful of the institutions, websites, and events that signal a resurgence of interest in our times in the ancient school of philosophy of Stoicism, which the chapter goes on to explore. At the bottom of the page, after the subheading “Ancient Stoicism,” a paragraph begins introducing the ancient school and some of its concepts and early luminaries.

Browsers would get a surprisingly accurate sense of the book as a whole through this window onto Stoicism, ancient and modern. Ars Vitae explores the ancient and contemporary versions of five movements or schools of thought—Gnosticism (a religious movement) and the Greco-Roman schools of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism—treated in each of the five main chapters of the book. By encapsulating the ancient and modern Stoic movements for the purpose of launching Chapter Two on the New Stoicism, page 99 suggests the organization of each of the chapters, which begin by introducing the modern renewal of interest, go back in time to delve into the ancient movement, and come forward again to investigate the new form of the school of thought. This page even suggests the organization of the book itself, which begins with an Introduction describing what I see as a new cultural movement we can discern in both popular culture and scholarly sources today, a kind of new classicism, and then goes back in each chapter to pick up main themes of the ancient schools and forward to assess the significance of the contemporary echoes and reverberations of those schools and, by the Epilogue, the movement as a whole.

This browser’s shortcut reveals a great deal about the book by presenting in miniature the design, conceptualization, and structure of argumentation—of our philosophical adventure, as one reader has described it. For a reader leafing through the volume, page 99 might act as a tiny microcosm of the work as a whole. I hope it, like the Introduction and the introductory sections of each chapter, might pique the reader’s interest with the fascinating signs of a resurgence of interest in ancient Greco-Roman philosophies of eudaemonia, happiness or well-being. I hope these pages might feel like an invitation to explore these schools of thought together via total immersion and partake in an ancient yet enduring conversation about how to live. Such an adventure can allow for deeper explorations of life questions than those of the more fleeting or superficial forms of self-help in our contemporary therapeutic and consumer culture and can help us in these fraught and divisive times to consider more practical and meaningful alternatives.
Learn more about Ars Vitae at the the University of Notre Dame Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 12, 2020

Craig A. Monson's "The Black Widows of the Eternal City"

Craig A. Monson is the Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of several books, including Nuns Behaving Badly (2010), Divas in the Convent (2012), and Habitual Offenders: A True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in 17th-century Italy (2016).

Monson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Black Widows of the Eternal City: The True Story of Rome’s Most Infamous Poisoners, and reported the following:
Page 99:
… Maria continued with a description that precisely matched Giovanna’s in every detail. The pair had simmered the mixture over the fire for about two hours, until they heard the Ave Maria sounding, then let it stand overnight. The next morning Giovanna unsealed the jar, and emptied it into a glass bottle. They threw the dregs from the jar down the privy and simply tossed the jar out into the street.

“A little of the dough from around the jar fell on the floor,” Maria concluded, “and a little cat of mine ate it. The next evening, I found her dead. I skinned her and discovered her flesh had turned tawny red. So I figured the dough had poisoned her.” Another house pet had unwittingly paid the ultimate price to confirm the lethalness of Giovanna’s brew. Significantly, a similar ruddiness had characterized the corpse of Giuseppe Cencietti, the barber of Tor di Nona, and the cadavers of other, more recently departed husbands.

Maria went on to make another eye-opening claim: she suspected Giovanna might even have begun exporting her liquid to the suburbs. Once, when Maria came to visit at Santa Prassede, Giovanna’s current young woman exclaimed, “Don’t you know there’s a woman from Palestrina who’ll pay ten scudi to get some of that liquid to kill her husband?” Giovanna had even enlisted another woman from Palestrina as a runner, to make deliveries: the cartel, it seemed, had continued to expand. From then on Maria could hardly pretend ignorance of the extent of the enterprise, even as she determinedly persisted in presenting herself as an innocent bystander, simply observing it all.

Maria Spinola only revealed her final details about the poison recipe some weeks later, when Stefano Bracchi eventually inquired about her friendship with Gironima Spana. Their acquaintanceship had blossomed almost a decade earlier, during the Jubilee of 1650, when their paths crossed at Santa Maria Maggiore, while both joined the throngs of pilgrims making the rounds of the papal basilicas to garner an indulgence.

In the midst of their pilgrimage, conversation turned from piety to poison. “We chatted about many things, and, in particular, Gironima confided to me that she knew how to make a certain liquid to kill people. When I asked how, she told me she made one type with arsenic and lead and another with cooked eggs, which she said was an oil, just perfect for putting people away. She also said she made one sort with a toad, boiled inside a cooking pot over a slow fire.”

According to Maria, one of Gironima’s concoctions thus contained that prime ingredient of stereotypical witches’ brew in the public imagination:...
Page 99 introduces several of The Black Widows of the Eternal City's recurring motifs, chief among them, the notorious poison that terrified Rome (especially its male residents) after police discovered several widows who had used it to kill their husbands—rumor said no fewer than 500. For centuries writers speculated about the poison’s ingredients, as toxicologists variously suggested drippings from a butchered pig smeared with arsenic, pig slobber, white phosphorous, or strychnine. But the pope kept the transcript of the investigation under lock and key, “so nobody could learn how to make this poisonous potion, with which these cruel murderesses did away with so many.”

Under interrogation, Maria Spinola, one of the five chief protagonists, eventually hanged in Campo de’ Fiori, solves this mystery. Her co-conspirator, Giovanna De Grandis, decocted the lethal elixir from lead and arsenic, acquired from a renegade priest. (Apothecaries refused to sell arsenic to women.)

Maria also describes alternative recipes from Gironima Spana, the case’s most notorious perpetrator, who would eclipse all others in subsequent accounts and appears in many modern compendia of “serial killers.” Maria did not get Gironima’s standard recipe quite right, however: she in fact added antimony to the lead-arsenic mixture, which gave it an extra kick “so that very little does the job.”

Maria’s allegation that Spana stewed up toads must have strengthened her reputation as a witch: toads were commonly recognized as witches’ familiars and a favorite ingredient in their cauldrons (“Toad, that under cold stone / Days and nights has thirty-one / Swelter’d venom sleeping got, / Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!” Macbeth IV, 1).

Maria’s cat was not the only poisoned pet. Animal victims become a leitmotif as poison purveyors and police investigators force the mixture down the throats of dogs and the occasional pig, then sit by to observe the results. Maria’s flayed cat’s inflamed flesh perhaps explains why murdered husbands often “looked better dead than alive.”

Page 99 does not address the book’s chief protagonists, however: the wives of innkeepers, lineners, barbers, and butchers, who turned to Maria, Giovanna, and Gironima for their lethal liquid and whom Spana eclipsed in subsequent accounts. These forgotten, ordinary women are at the center of this story. They represent the 17th-century Roman abused wife, her strength to fight back, her brief success, and her ultimate defeat by powerful men and a society that offered her little recourse.
Learn more about The Black Widows of the Eternal City at the University of Michigan Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Nuns Behaving Badly.

The Page 99 Test: Habitual Offenders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Carl Smith's "Chicago’s Great Fire"

Carl Smith is Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and Professor of History, Emeritus, at Northwestern University. His books include Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920; Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman; The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City; and City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test would give the reader a good if not entirely complete sense of Chicago’s Great Fire. As it happens, there is less of my writing on page 99 than on most of the other pages, since more than half of page 99 is occupied by a haunting photograph of a lonely figure amidst the ruins of downtown Chicago [image left; click to enlarge]. The photographer was George N. Barnard, who only a few years earlier had documented the war-ravaged ruins of Atlanta and Charleston. He had moved to Chicago a few months before the fire. But Page 99 is still a good test because this photograph is one of some seventy powerful contemporary images, most from the collections of the Chicago History Museum, that are essential to the book.

My contribution to page 99 discusses the ways in which eyewitnesses to devastated Chicago marveled at how imaginatively suggestive the ruins were. While the city of Chicago was less than forty years old, the fire seemed to invest it almost magically with a history it didn’t have. The blocks and blocks of fallen buildings, “full of the charm of mystery and darkness,” recalled not a raw American, but the faded glories of distant and legendary places of the past. Post-fire Chicago evoked the ruins of ancient Cairo, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum.

While most other pages in the book present a compelling narrative of the titanic fire and the city’s rapid and robust recovery, they resemble this page in that the story is always told through the eyes of the people who experienced the events recounted. The book frames the disaster and rebuilding above all as a human drama. Of the thousands of sources that drive the narrative, the key ones are always the words of those who were there.
Learn more about Chicago’s Great Fire at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Shannon E. Reid & Matthew Valasik's "Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White"

Shannon E. Reid is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Matthew Valasik is Associate Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White, and reported the following:
Page 99 places the reader in the middle of a quintessential chapter on understanding the evolution and use of digital technologies (i.e., the Internet, social media, etc.) by the white power movement over the last three decades. Page 99 also examines the emergence of the broader alt-right social movement. The page starts with providing an example of a cloaked website, which intentionally disguises the authorship to conceal a political agenda and acts as a form of propaganda. These cloaked websites are a precursor to today’s “fake news.” As individuals are further removed from an event, either temporally (e.g., the Holocaust, the Civil War, etc.) or spatially, their ability to discern the legitimacy of a website is reduced. This is particularly concerning for youth who may be digitally savvy but lack literacy in critically evaluating media or lack an understanding of racial inequality making them susceptible to cloaked white power websites and providing an entry point for youth into the alt-right rabbit hole.

Page 99 then transitions to talking about an incident in video game journalism referred to as Gamergate. While the events behind Gamergate are tangential to the alt-right, the repercussions of this event are quite substantial for the alt-right in two distinct ways. First, alt-lite provocateurs (e.g., Mike Cernovich, Milo Yiannopoulos) gained notoriety among both the alt-right and manosphere, providing a bridge between the extreme and mainstream. Second, Gamergate greatly influenced the online activism of the alt-right, particularly their online trolling techniques, which mirrored the misogynistic practices of manosphere trolls.

While the Page 99 test does showcase an important element of alt-right gangs, their adeptness in the digital realm, it fails to capture the large argument that the book is setting out to make. The argument is that these white power groups, particularly alt-right gangs, may originate and exists in an online environment, however, their actions do not solely remain in a digital setting but transcend and manifest in the real world. The results of which are often violent in nature. As such, it is necessary to actually think of practical solutions that have been successfully used on similar groups (i.e., street gangs) on how these prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies can be adapted and utilized to combat alt-right gang violence. Overall, the Page 99 test does a mediocre job at introducing browsers to the gist of the book.

Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White provides a concise synthesis of alt-right gangs through an interdisciplinary perspective by engaging with an array of academic literatures to develop a more holistic understanding of these white power groups. It is through this broader perspective that enables one to identify the limits of existing studies and what research is still needed. The overall goal is to provide a foundation, such as a usable definition that is operationalized, for future studies and/ policy initiatives to be able to systematically examine alt-right gangs.
Learn more about Alt-Right Gangs at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Ernest Freeberg's "A Traitor to His Species"

Ernest Freeberg is a distinguished professor of humanities and head of the history department at the University of Tennessee. He has authored three award-winning books, including The Age of Edison.

Freeberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Traitor to His Species lands us in the midst of the event that first got me thinking about writing this book—the great horse and mule flu of 1872. That fall a mysterious epizootic disease broke out, first in Toronto and eventually all across the continent, that brought the American economy to the brink of disaster. In one city after another, the horses and mules that were essential to human well-being got sick. About 5 percent died, and most of the rest came down with a debilitating disease that could turn fatal if the animals were forced to work. Whole cities and major industries were forced to shut down, stranded without the partnership with horses. Reviewing the many devastating consequences of this horse plague, on page 99 I explain: “Shipping companies lost small fortunes every day that the disease continued. Wharves all along the Atlantic coast overflowed with boxes, crates, and bales that could not be moved…Perishable goods rotted on the docks….Some shippers ran newspaper notices imploring customers to come pick up their own packages if they could.”

In researching this brief but shocking event, what I have called “America’s First Energy Crisis,” I first encountered Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, the nation’s first animal welfare organization. Using the authority granted him by a law of his own devising, he parked himself in major intersections of New York City, halted trolleys and carts drawn by sick horses, and demanded that the animals be sent back to their stables—thus saving their lives, while inconveniencing many humans who were keenly feeling their dependence on horse power. Since Bergh ultimately became the central character of my book, and is notably absent on Page 99, then I’d have to say that this interesting test fails in this case.

Most of the other pages in the book would tell you this: Bergh was a fascinating character whose defense of animals made him a hero to many, a laughingstock to others, and a pest to those who resented his “meddling” with their right to use animals any way they pleased. Bergh came to the work in 1866, at the age of 53, after decades as a wealthy heir and failed playwright. A sudden conversion to the anti-cruelty cause made him what some called “The Riddle of the 19th Century,” a celebrated reformer who was soon joined by thousands of women and men who formed SPCA organizations across the country. Over two decades in the work, Bergh not only rescued sick horses, but fought against all sorts of animal abuse—from dog fights to elephant acts. His colorful career tells us much about how our relationship to animals has changed for the better, and how much of his campaign against cruelty remains unresolved.
Learn more about A Traitor to His Species at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Age of Edison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Gregory A. Daddis's "Pulp Vietnam"

Gregory A. Daddis is professor and the USS Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History at San Diego State University. He is author of Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines, and reported the following:
What were the cultural sources of sexism and misogyny in Cold War America? Did sexual harassment stem, in part, from how women were portrayed in popular culture? When young American soldiers deployed to Vietnam in the mid-1960s, did some of them see sexual violence against Vietnamese women as somehow acceptable given what they were reading as young teenagers?

These were some of the core questions I pondered while reading through scores of Cold War era men’s adventure magazines, what some collectors call the “macho pulps.” These crowd-pleasing periodicals – which monthly sold in the hundreds of thousands – featured catchy titles like Man’s Conquest, Stag, and Adventure for Men. Within the mags’ pages, pulp writers fashioned their manly protagonists as both heroic warriors and sexual conquerors. These were “real men,” defending the nation from the foreign and domestic threats of the Cold War years.

In these same magazines, however, women were reduced to sexual objects that typified mid-twentieth-century sexism. In the pulps, men controlled women, whether in the bedroom or on the battlefield. (The magazines, meanwhile, often portrayed female spies using their bodies as weapons of war and luring unsuspecting American GIs to their demise.)

Take, for instance, an advertisement from Honor House Products promoted in the July 1959 issue of Battle Cry [image left; click to enlarge]. The tag line? “‘Stuffed’ Girl’s Heads.” For only $2.98, pulp readers could purchase a woman’s plastic head – with “saucy glittering eyes, full sensuous mouth and liquid satin complexion” – mounted on a genuine mahogany plaque. Here was a “unique trophy” that offered the chance for “every man to boast of his conquests.” While the ad drew attention to the heads’ life-like appearance, it also bragged that “one of the nicest qualities is that they don’t talk back.”

Such misogynistic representations of women filled the pages of adventure magazines. And yet they were not far, if at all, outside the cultural norms prevalent in the 1950s and early 1960s. While the pulps may seem anachronistic today, they resonated with their core audience – white, working-class men, the same demographic group that made up the bulk of American ranks in the Vietnam War.

Did men’s adventure magazines, and ads like the one I examined on page 99 of Pulp Vietnam, contribute to sexual violence in Vietnam? It’s difficult to prove, though certainly worth exploring. My sense is that the pulps opened up a rhetorical space for readers to think along the lines of sexual conquest, to deem most all women as objects and as opportunities – for sex, for proving one’s manhood, and for demonstrating power in the larger Cold War era.
Learn more about Pulp Vietnam at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test:Westmoreland's War.

The Page 99 Test: Withdrawal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jane Caputi's "Call Your "Mutha'""

Jane Caputi is Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University. She is the author of The Age of Sex Crime; Gossips, Gorgons and Crones; and Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power and Popular Culture. She has also made two educational documentaries: The Pornography of Everyday Life and Feed the Green: Feminist Voices for the Earth.

Caputi applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Call Your "Mutha'": A Deliberately Dirty-Minded Manifesto for the Earth Mother in the Anthropocene, and reported the following:
The page 99 test works only in part for Call Your “Mutha’” as the book’s structure is not linear. Rather it progresses one way and then flips the script. The book begins by naming the paradigmatic motherfucking (expressed in genocide, femicide, and ecocide) that is the basis of the new geological age, the Anthropocene (Age of Man), and then turns to an avowal of respect and devotion for the Earth, the ultimate “Mutha’” (always placed within quotes to acknowledge my debt to the genius of Black English). The Black oral tradition reports that motherfucker was invented by enslaved children to name the White slavemaster who raped and impregnated their mothers. His abuse, exploitation and commodification of the enslaved women’s productive and reproductive powers is mirrored in the master class’ aim to dominate and exploit Mother Earth (a complex scientific and spiritual concept, particularly in Indigenous traditions). The Anthropocene is the Age of the Motherfucker, with motherfucking understood as “forced sexualized entry into, harm, domination, possession, spirit-breaking, exploitation, extraction, and wasting of another for reasons of power, pleasure, plunder, and profit.”

The page 99 test does work for the first half. There, I discuss the ecological need for limits and quote Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “Good is knowing when to stop.” I contrast this with an “eco-modernist” demand for environmentalists to be more “positive,” to stress prosperity, and no longer rely on verbs like “’stop.” I disagree, concluding that: “words like ‘stop’ and ‘constrain’” are required “to address standard frontier violation, extraction, theft, occupation, trashing and dumping. Respect for the word stop is so necessary because the environmentally abusive culture is at root a rapist one.”

That page does not, though, indicate the theme of the second half of the book, focusing on the intelligence and autonomy of Nature-Earth as the “Mutha’”. As the word motherfucker evolved it developed an alternate meaning of a formidable and indomitable force. I identify a narrative characterizing Africana and Indigenous philosophies, art, popular culture, activist discourse, Afrofuturism and world myth warning that the environmental catastrophes now unfolding are evidence not only of Man’s spectacular destructiveness, but also that the “Mutha’” is turning away no longer sustaining the patterns that allow human existence. Hence, the imperative to call, to invoke, the “Mutha’”.
Learn more about Call Your "Mutha'" at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue