Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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The Big Lie About Kitty Genovese

In the years that followed, “Kitty Genovese” was what New Yorkers said when asked why they were moving out to Long Island or Bergen County or Westchester. It was the warning to children when, like many in the early 1990s, they announced an inexplicable return to Brooklyn, still dangerous and raw. Genovese achieved the dream of many who come to New York, which is to become famous. In the iconic photograph of Kitty, her angular face and short hair suggest a rock star from the second half of the Sixties, not a crime victim from the first.

The Witness, from first-time filmmaker James Solomon, is full of arresting moments like the one above. Its protagonist is not Kitty but Bill, the brother who cannot let her case rest, who cannot trust the press or the police with her story.

Shakespeare on parade

For the 400th anniversary in April of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, perhaps unable to arrange for his exhumed remains to be put on public display, produced the next best thing: a traveling exhibition of the First Folio, destined for all 50 states. The Folio is the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays, printed posthumously in 1623, and there are only 234 known copies; the Folger, which owns 82 of them, is dispatching a rotating cast of 18. Thousands of people nationwide have been lining up to view what the Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith calls his “bibliographic embodiment,” encased in a high-tech vitrine to prevent decomposition.

'Roots' Remake Stirs Controversy

History can be hard to watch. The four-night remake of the miniseries about slavery in America debuted Monday on The History Channel, A&E and Lifetime. Bloodier and more foreboding than the 1977 original, the eight-hour event befits the tensions of the Black Lives Matter era. Rapper Snoop Dogg is boycotting, explaining, "They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took." But LeVar Burton, who starred in the original and co-produced the remake, says he hopes the discussion will "deal honestly with what continues to hold us back."

Dear White People: Here’s How to Interact With Your Black Co-Workers After They’ve Seen Roots

Just don’t. This is the safest bet. Of course, we (black people) are not stupid. While the effects of slavery still linger—and probably always will in America—we realize the events depicted in the story happened hundreds of years ago. We also realize you don’t own any slaves and that there’s even a chance that none of your ancestors did, either. Again, we know this.

But the morning after we just watched Kunta get his foot chopped off … or whipped into accepting “Toby” as his name … or have his daughter sold away is not the best time to ask us about when we’re going to finish that late TPS report. Or stop past the cubicle to ask about Memorial Day weekend. Or send us a Paperless Post invitation to your family’s annual deep-woods potluck. Or use the word “picnic” in any context.

Because while we are very aware that you personally didn’t do any of what happened, there’s somewhere between a 47 and 92 percent chance Roots-watching residue might make us hate white people for the next 24 to 144 hours. So it’s in everyone’s best interest if you just keep your distance for a little while.

Ken Burns turns focus to story of country music

For renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, chronicling country music history, in some ways, is a race against time.
The genre’s legends — men and women who can recount the roots and the rise of the signature sound — have aged. Their toe-tapping has slowed. Their voices have become more gravely.

And their memories have, with each passing day, become more valued.

So, four years ago, as Burns and co-producer Dayton Duncan began the quest to capture and recount the story of the musical genre for their latest documentary series, "Country Music," they made a list of all the individuals who could offer an important vignette or verse. Few other projects in popular media confer as much clout as a film by Burns. His reputation is one of assiduous documentation.

Interviews were planned first with those who may have the least amount of time left.

The Selfish Gene turns 40

It’s 40 years since Richard Dawkins suggested, in the opening words of The Selfish Gene, that, were an alien to visit Earth, the question it would pose to judge our intellectual maturity was: “Have they discovered evolution yet?” We had, of course, by the grace of Charles Darwin and a century of evolutionary biologists who had been trying to figure out how natural selection actually worked. In 1976, The Selfish Gene became the first real blockbuster popular science book, a poetic mark in the sand to the public and scientists alike: this idea had to enter our thinking, our research and our culture.

The idea was this: genes strive for immortality, and individuals, families, and species are merely vehicles in that quest. The behaviour of all living things is in service of their genes hence, metaphorically, they are selfish. Before this, it had been proposed that natural selection was honing the behaviour of living things to promote the continuance through time of the individual creature, or family, or group or species. But in fact, Dawkins said, it was the gene itself that was trying to survive, and it just so happened that the best way for it to survive was in concert with other genes in the impermanent husk of an individual.

The Weekly Standard reviews “All the Way,” the play about LBJ — And loves it.

Find a friend with HBO and be sure to watch All the Way, a new political drama that remembers the first year of Lyndon Johnson's accidental presidency and his unlikely passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Robert Schenkkan has adapted his critically acclaimed Broadway play for television (it left the stage in 2014) and Bryan Cranston returns to play LBJ with the same great Tony Award-winning ferocity that he boasted on Broadway.

Introducing America in 20 Minutes: The Smithsonian’s New Film on the Nation’s History

How do you condense hundreds of years of American history into 20 minutes? This was the challenge facing staff at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) in Washington, DC, where We the People, an introductory film for visitors to the museum, debuted in December 2015. Produced by the Smithsonian Channel, the film aims to enrich visitors’ experiences at the NMAH by encouraging a deeper exploration of American history in relation to the museum’s exhibits. It does so by examining how Americans have struggled with the ideals of democracy, opportunity, and freedom over several centuries. I sat down recently to talk with David Allison, associate director for curatorial affairs; Valeska Hilbig, deputy director, Office of Marketing and Communications; and Jaya Kaveeshwar, senior adviser to the director, about the goals and the decisions involved in making the film.

Dick Gregory backs dean who recommended a student read his autobiography — By Dick Gregory

As a lifelong champion of civil rights and a firm believer in fighting for what is right, I applaud our young people for the various protests they have undertaken in recent years, such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Recently, the young brothers and sisters of MRC Student Coalition at Matteo Ricci College, Seattle University, have taken up such a fight based on curriculum concerns. This protest, however, has become personal for me, since it is in part centered on my autobiography entitled Nigger, and the fact that some students became offended when Jodi Kelly, dean of Matteo Ricci College, recommended Nigger to a student to read.
While I strongly support their right to air their grievances, I ask these students to ask themselves if the scale of their movement is appropriate for a curriculum discussion. Can students adequately connect a recommendation to read my autobiography with their larger curriculum issues?

I am not offended by Dean Kelly's use of the word “nigger.” In fact, I am pleased that she has the foresight to want to give these young men and women the knowledge, insight and experience of a civil rights activist that might just help them understand life a little better. I am disappointed that they seemed to have stopped at the title instead of opening the book and reading its contents. Years ago my mama told me, “Son, sticks and stones can break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” I grew up thinking that Richard was what they called me at home, but my real name was Nigger.

Tom Hiddleston’s ‘Mystery Blonde’ Is Actually Famous Historian Suzannah Lipscomb

Is Captain America a secret Nazi?

Captain America, a symbol of American patriotism for 75 years, is actually just an undercover Nazi with Hydra, the organization he has been fighting against for decades, says Marvel Comics. “Steve Rogers: Captain America #1” dropped a bomb on the comic book world on Wednesday (just before Memorial Day) with a shocking and rather tasteless plot twist planned since late 2014.
The last page of the book shows Cap saying two shattering words: “Hail Hydra.”

Yet Tom Brevoort, executive editor of Marvel Comics insists it is indeed the real Captain America and it will not be easily explained away.

"It's not a Steve from the universe next door, it's not a clone, it's not a robot, it's not mind control," Brevoort said.
Brevoort said he thinks the new story reflects the mood of the nation.

Why America Forgot About ‘Roots’

NEARLY 40 years ago, “Roots” transfixed Americans — first as an overnight best seller by Alex Haley, then as an ABC mini-series, which drew 100 million viewers, still the record. It made the slave trade and black history inescapable parts of national popular culture and produced a unique moment when ordinary Americans talked about slavery in workplaces, bars, churches and schools.
This Memorial Day, the History, Lifetime and A&E channels will start broadcasting a four-night remake of the series. And while it’s a good bet that it will also draw millions of viewers, it’s an equally good bet that for almost all of them, the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants is at best a dim cultural footnote. For all that “Roots” says about American slavery, its career as a cultural artifact speaks even more about how America talks about its own history.

A new exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum in Long Island features the sinking of the Robin Moor in the Spring of 1941

In hindsight, the sinking of the Robin Moor can be seen as an inflection point in an undeclared shooting war between Germany and the United States. Joshua Smith, a historian at the American Merchant Marine Museum, in Long Island, makes the case that in the summer and fall of 1941, while the American public was debating whether to take a more aggressive tack with the Germans, we already had done so, at sea. Smith, who has organized an exhibit for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Robin Moor, also contends that the intense public focus on the Atlantic conflict helps to explain why it came as such a shock when, on December 7th, the U.S. was attacked by the Japanese on the other side of the world, at Pearl Harbor, and over thirty-five hundred Americans were wounded or killed. A few days later, Germany declared war on the U.S. as well.

100,000 from Dixie fought for North.  A new movie highlights their role.

The release of the movie, The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey next month, will introduce audiences to Newton Knight, who led an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Some joined clandestine political organizations such as the Heroes of America, which may have contained upwards of 10,000 members. Networks of communication kept resistors in touch with one another and their activities throughout the region. Unionists risked arrest by Confederate officials, ostracism from within the family, and violent reprisals from the community.

New Alexander Hamilton Novel Gets Presale Boost from Hit Musical

Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway megahit Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton is having something of a pop culture renaissance, and authors like Elizabeth Cobbs are reaping the benefits. The renewed interest in the Founding Father has helped  Cobbs' forthcomingnovel The Hamilton Affair (Skyhorse, August) find some unlikely champions in chains like Barnes & Noble and Costco.

Cobbs, a history professor at Texas A&M University who has written two previous works of fiction and two of nonfiction, blends history and romance in The Hamilton Affair. Part copiously-researched history and part tawdry romance, the follows the relationship between Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler, as well as his much-publicized affair with Maria Reynolds.

Museum Finds Piece Of WWII History For Sale On EBay

A British museum has been searching for parts of the Lorenz cipher machine, used by the Nazis in World War II to send secret messages. So when sharp-eyed museum volunteers happened upon what appeared to be a Lorenz teleprinter on eBay, it almost seemed too good to be true. National Museum of Computing volunteer John Whetter went to Essex to investigate. There, he found "the keyboard being kept, in its original case, on the floor of a shed 'with rubbish all over it'," the BBC reports.

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