Becoming Nona: Memories of a Grandmother

Nona. To a platoon of us Americanized cousins that included my little brother and me our maternal grandmother was always Nona. "Nona" is not a common term for grandmother in Latino families. Abuelita is much more widely used, especially in Mexican families, but my grandmother trained a whole wave of her first- and second-generation immigrant grandchildren to use "Nona." You see, we “americanos,” as Nona described those of our generation (even if technically we had been born in our original home country of Peru), spoke utterly broken Spanish.
Sep 15, 2009 /

I Am Indignant - These Are the People We Have to Look up to Now?

Only a handful of artists have truly made an enduring mark on popular culture in the past century; Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley, Audrey Hepburn, the Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jackson, to name a few. These are people whose images and work are recognized almost everywhere. They displayed talent, hard work and dedication, and what they created inspired people all over the world. They also gained their fame and popularity long before the age of “new media.” Perhaps it's not coincidence then, that of all the faces featured in current celebrity-focused magazines and websites, none stand out as potential Beatles or Madonnas. I’m convinced none ever will because with the rise of 24-hour news, internet tabloids and social networking sites, our concept of fame and our ability to recognize and bestow it has been utterly altered.
Sep 15, 2009 /

Bumps: Confessions of an Amateur Phrenologist

Two hundred years ago, a young Austrian medical student found himself with the same question. He was struggling in school, and he was jealous of those among his class who so easily excelled at memorization. In interminable lectures he watched these men trying to figure out what made them different from him, why it was so easy for them to remember and so difficult for him. It was the eyes, he decided. They all seemed to have larger eyes.
Sep 15, 2009 /

Of Red Shirts: The Saga of the Minor Character in Someone Else's Epic

The Red Shirt character is a colloquial reference among fans of a 1960s era television science fiction program. In Star Trek’s opening scenes, two or three of the lead characters (often wearing yellow or blue uniforms) would land on a planet, accompanied by one or two characters wearing red uniforms. Within the first ten minutes of the show, generally someone wearing a red uniform died, and her or his demise introduced the central conflict of the episode’s plot. So, at the beginning of the episode, if someone appeared in a red shirt, you knew that this person, no matter how likeable, competent, or regardless of how much this character connected for the moment with the yellow and blue uniformed lead characters (often the stars of the show), this Red Shirt was toast.
Sep 15, 2009 /

On Iranian Cats, Mice, and Revolutions

June 12, 2009 was the date of the latest Iranian political crisis, a coup. This coup was special, however. Not only was this coup a military act to seize power, but it is also an act that completes the Iranian revolution in a very ironic fashion. The last remains of those who began the revolution and developed its ideology have been wiped out. Thirty years after the revolution's victory, the revolution finally ate all its first children.
Jun 15, 2009 /

Leveraging Cultural Memory: Can NASA Use the Past to Shape Its Future?

Was it really one giant leap for mankind? Conspiracy theorists deny it. GenXers couch it in Cold War nostalgia. Millennials shrug their shoulders. The 40th anniversary of the lunar landing presents NASA with both an opportunity and a need to reframe the cultural past. As American exceptionalism fades, the moon landing can be repositioned as a scientific marvel, rather than a one-up victory over the Soviet Union, the Cold War foe of another era. NASA can focus on its long history of technological triumph to regain some of its lost cultural capital. Reframing the Mercury and Apollo programs can make these narratives relevant to a younger generation, and potentially make the space program meaningful in new ways. Doing so, however, will take some work.
Jun 15, 2009 /

Why Anniversaries Matter

Given all this, what then is the utility of an anniversary? Why are anniversaries still important, even after their rampant commercialization, indiscriminate application, and often specious interpretation?
Jun 15, 2009 /

The End of the End of the University

If Taylor has done nothing else, and in my opinion, by and large he hasn't, he has nevertheless succeeded in launching an opening salvo for a broader conversation as to what the university endeavors to be. How and toward what end should our institutions of higher education operate?
Jun 15, 2009 /

I Am Indignant!: Why Am I Forced to Buy Media on the Internet?

When I was a small child relishing the miracle of my family's brand new VCR, we would all pile into the car and go to the video rental place. I learned the pleasures of browsing the shelves, looking at titles and poster art, debating whether we should get a comedy or action movie based on what we felt like watching at the time. It was a social activity. As an adult, I still enjoyed roaming from one genre section to another thinking about what kind of mood I was in and whether it was more conducive to an indie thriller that I'd heard was really good or the romantic comedy that I already knew I liked. Or maybe something else entirely would catch my eye and be the perfect choice even though I hadn't known it existed before. Or feeling indecisive, I could just ask the film geek at the desk for a recommendation. The options were endless.
Jun 15, 2009 /

My So-Called Asian Identity: The Invisible Minority Report

In the most populous state of California, Filipinos have enough of a population presence that they are counted as a separate ethnic demographic from Asians and Pacific Islanders since the 2000 census. Yet Filipino cultural visibility and societal participation remains frustratingly minimal given the lack of Filipino restaurants, lack of Filipino celebrities and politicians, and minimal knowledge of crucial historical relationships between the Philippines and the United States. Filipinos truly are what the Wikipedia entry on "Filipino American" labels as the "invisible minority."
Jun 15, 2009 /

Five Republican Problems: Some Friendly Advice for the G.O.P.

If they wish to survive, the Republicans must confront five major issues: (1) they must re-think religion as it relates to politics and the social sphere; (2) they must re-think race and ethnicity in the context of traditional conservatism; (3) they must broaden the term "life," as in pro-life, so that "life" is not reduced to an ideological debate about merely conception and fetuses; (4) they must come to grips with the fact that gay people are not a threat to their lives; and (5) they must see that guns, in fact, are a threat to their lives (this is, ironically, the easiest claim for a liberal to make, and the hardest for a conservative to accept).
Jun 15, 2009 /

Issue № 3 | March 2009

As spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere, pieces in this issue of The Public Sphere fathom the hopes, limits, possibilities, and problems of seasonal shifts and moments of personal or social change. Taking a cue from U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, Valerie Bailey considers that liberal Protestants, and the U.S., more broadly require a new confession that addresses pervasive moral cowardice, and Jacqueline Hidalgo engages Ugly Betty in the non-postracial era. Breanne Fahs wonders if and in what ways Natalie Dylan's sale of her virginity is and is not a feminist act. Jeremy Fernando explores the ritual necessities of Valentine's Day, while Paloma Ramírez finds inadequate romantic comedies to be a cultural curse. In more artistic meditations, Hope Miller reflects on a road trip to Utah, and Geoshino Ollscia ponders seasonal rains. Finally, Katy Scrogin weighs the value of violence in artistic truth.
Mar 15, 2009 /

Artistic Truth Bites Back: The Bitter Taste of Hard Candy

Imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be brilliant. Brilliant, note—not enjoyable. The cinematography was fantastic and every one of us was retrospectively amazed that the whole thing was accomplished using a mere five actors. So yes, an incredible piece of work. The technical coups, however, were only icing on the cake. Its true distinction lay in its patent ability to discomfort the viewer in ways that I no longer thought possible, in a show-all, tell-all world.
Mar 15, 2009 /

In Defence of Stupidity; on Love and Valentine’s Day

Every year, on the fourteenth day of February, one is bound to hear numerous complaints from just about everyone (besides florists) about how Valentine's Day is mere commercialism. Whichever side they come from - and whichever variation of the arguments they choose - it all boils down to this: they are decrying the fact that relationships have moved from the private to the public sphere. The underlying logic is that love is between two persons only and should remain between them; love should remain an unmediated experience between the two persons in that relationship.
Mar 15, 2009 /

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