Film Studies

Q&A with Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, author of Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper

Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez is Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, author of Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines, and coeditor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i. Her latest book is Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, which follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships.

If most people know anything about Isabel Rosario Cooper, it’s that she was General Douglas MacArthur’s mistress. In footnotes to most histories, she is portrayed as a tragic figure, “a beautiful woman who died of heartbreak.” What made you want to tell her story more fully?

This kind of feminine figuration has always served as camouflage for complexity, a shorthand that feeds into and is fed by a colonial fantasy of brown women longing for white men, as well as narrative desire for familiar tropes. This version of Isabel Cooper’s story is not in the footnotes: it is front and center because it’s the comfortable and typical characterization of “women like her.” When I started to dig into the footnotes of MacArthur biographies, I discovered a kind of recursive pattern that boiled down to a reliance on repeated citations of sources that had somehow become authoritative evidence for her story. What became clear was that these sources that were more hearsay or even outright inaccurate had circulated enough times that they had hardened into truth—in particular the version that revolved around the General as her object of yearning and heartbreak had become the standard. The work of postcolonial feminist scholars has taught us that of course there’s something more operating beneath the flattened image of dead, beautiful, heartbroken women, something more than “MacArthur’s mistress.” The short interludes that bothered to portray Isabel Cooper in MacArthur biographies and their suspect footnotes that were cited as evidence didn’t match up to this work.

Empire's MistressThere’s also a way in which stories like hers are dismissed as unworthy in the sense that her biggest known “accomplishment” is sleeping with MacArthur—often read as betrayal at worst, or venal at most—another way to marginalize women’s stories. At the same time, I did not want to dismiss her sexual agency, because to some degree, that was crucial to the kind of power and identity she wielded. From the great work that has been done on the early colonial period in the Philippines, particularly on the “woman question,” we know that the lives of Filipinas were complex, cosmopolitan, and often grappled with the contradictions engendered by the shifts in colonial society. I wanted to tell her story more fully because it deserved to be told with the same kind of effort in terms of research and writing as stories of men like MacArthur, and I felt that it would be a good vehicle to also interweave a parallel account about archives and genres, and the ways in which both open and up and foreclose how we learn to narrate ourselves.

You choose not to structure your book chronologically like a traditional biography. Instead you begin with her relationship with MacArthur and then jump around in time. You also feature documents, pictures and imagined letters and conversations in between your chapters. Why did you choose this structure? How does it help tell Cooper’s story more fully?

It took me a while to figure out how to tell her story. I knew I needed to include elements of biography—because so little of her life is actually known, and the broader historical context of her story is unfamiliar to most readers—so some part of this had to be fleshed out. But I also knew that I didn’t want to present an account that was somehow whole or authoritative or forthright, like an exhumation or an explanation, because I didn’t want to repeat the pattern of how she has been narrated in such an overdetermined way. I did begin with a chronological draft, but this structure felt like it didn’t make room for the ways in which patterns repeated themselves in her life, or how a particular part of her story (the MacArthur interlude) pre-empts others. It felt inert—and so I began with her death, because so much of what is written about her pivots on the suicide of this beautiful woman, and the half-truths or outright lies that adhered to it. I also foregrounded her time with MacArthur in the narrative, a bit perversely, because I wanted to arrest the desire to center MacArthur and frame him as the “reveal” of the story later on in the book. I felt like that the strange enticement of that infamous scandal was not something I wanted the reader to be invested in. The few years of her life during which she associated with MacArthur has come to define her and how she’s narrated: it’s the hook that draws most people to her story, but I didn’t want it operate as the climax of the narrative. It is certainly not the main driving force of her life, even as it is often characterized this way. I try to make the case that this moment is more an effect, rather than a cause.

The overall structure of the book also pulls from the protracted, piecemeal, and interrupted process of my research into her life, and from the sometimes-unexpected and last-minute way that new sources would shift a whole arc I had neatly mapped out. The sparseness and inaccuracy of the existing writing and archival materials on Isabel Cooper resists that neat and orderly biographical narrative: there are so many moments that are lost to history because of lack of documentation, and in her case, contradiction, inconsistency, absence, or outright error in whatever records can be pieced together. So that’s another story in itself: the colonial archive’s promises and secrets. I was struck by how so much of the narrative about her is fictional (in the sense of repeated inaccuracies), and as I dug deeper, how much of this fiction she also perpetrated. It gave me permission to speculate about moments that might not have documentation, or to invent, as she did, stories about herself.

Cooper goes by many different names in her life, from Dimples as a child performer, to Chabing Cooper, Elizabeth Cooper, and Belle Cooper, to a married name of Isabel Kennamer. Why does Cooper constantly rename herself and shift her identity?

To me, this was a strategy that was tied to moments in her life where she was reinventing herself, or starting over. She was someone who had, at a very young age, entered the world of the stage and screen, so taking on roles was a habit she never dropped. It was something she also learned from her mother, to some extent. But she also had really distinct periods in her life: she crossed the Pacific several times, experienced very diverse living conditions, married twice, had affairs, and made big choices about her career. I think renaming herself gave her some modicum of control over conditions that were far beyond her power to manage, and later on, allowed for her to have a clean slate when so much of her past tended to creep up on her unexpectedly due the lingering effects of US imperialism. As a researcher, this made tracking her occasionally tricky: it felt sometimes that these past decisions on her part were also about refusing an easy narration on mine. It forced me to pause and think about what went into her decisions to go by a particular name at different points in her life.

You say that “sex, and lots of it, defined the colonial encounter.” How does focusing on intimate relationships like that of Cooper and MacArthur change the way we view colonial history?

I owe so much of this work to postcolonial feminists who understand the intimate as a site of colonial power, and to work by Philippine Studies and Filipinx diaspora studies scholars in particular who have explored how sex and sexuality operated in the US-Philippine colonial world. My ability to tell Isabel Cooper’s story is built on that foundational research, and my claim is not new. What I try to shed a bit of light on is how the contradictions of American claims to benevolence and discourses of superiority break down when you look at how empire played out through relationships between people. So many of the colonial encounters turned on sex—the archives are filled with both overt confessions, allusions, or outright mentions of sexually transmitted diseases or decisions about the management of sex work. It’s dirty reading at times. I was interested in the messiness of transactions that revolved around sex or were defined through sexual exchange, as well as how the racial carnal desires at the heart of empire shaped relations well after the actual arrangement or encounter occurred. Who had the upper hand in these kinds of arrangements or coercions was not always clear, and that made for a fascinating dynamic to explore. Isabel Cooper operated within this colonial milieu and the ways she understood, navigated, and leveraged it gives us a sense of the push and pull, and the possibilities and limits of human agency and creativity at a more intimate scale of empire.

What can we learn about Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s from Cooper’s story? How does centering the experiences of non-white actors change the way we think about this era and its films?

I don’t know that we learn much more than we already know about how the Hollywood gambit was a story about deep disappointment for non-white actors in the 1940s and 1950s. For all the Anna May Wongs and Philip Ahns who carved out some kind of a career against and alongside the deep racism and sexism that defined Hollywood culture, there were hundreds of aspirants like Isabel Cooper whose willing and strategic self-exoticizations fell far short of any kind of living. It is probably safer to say that Cooper supplemented her income with her film acting roles but supported herself mainly from nightclub work. The casual mention of casting couch culture, or the matter-of-fact ways she tried to position herself for “Oriental” roles or parts for which she could make a racial stretch was evident in the letters that she wrote during that time, as well as in the industry literature itself. In some ways, her experience was more the rule, rather than the exception that gets written about.

How have artists and people of Filipino descent remembered and reimagined Isabel Rosario Cooper? What does her legacy mean to people today?

For most Filipinos, Isabel Cooper first registers as MacArthur’s mistress, with all the titillation and scandal that entails. This is why interest around her endures. In so many ways, this bit of her story feeds into the melodramatic habits that characterizes some of Hollywood/Manila cinema of her time, as well the theater of everyday politics in the Filipino diaspora. She is also known to some extent as a performer on stage and screen. Filipino cinema is just a bit over a century old, so there has been renewed interest in its pioneers—and as a crossover vaudeville star who made a big early impression in the first “modern” Filipino silent films, Isabel Cooper (she went by Elizabeth Cooper in film) is noteworthy.

Over the course of my research and writing, I also encountered visual artists (one of whom I write about), and writers (both fiction and non-fiction) who grapple with the kinds of narratives that adhere to Isabel Cooper. I think she continues to attract this kind of interest because when you dig deep enough, there’s a lot more to her story beyond the superficiality of MacArthur’s mistress that is typically the first draw. I look to these interpretations as retellings that reveal the inadequacy of the “mistress” framework. My purpose in the book is not to supplant or supersede any of these creative encounters with her, but rather to shake up the assumptions that produce a particular narrative account that is a habit of imperial culture, and one that clearly is not enough to contain her.

Read the introduction to Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E21GNZLZ.

 

New Books in February

Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. In February we have notable titles in media studies, critical race studies, and more!

Universal Tonality Jazz critic and historian Cisco Bradley tells the story of the life and music of bassist and composer William Parker in Universal Tonality, which documents fifty years of the monumental figure’s life in free jazz. Be sure to join us for a live online event featuring Bradley, Parker, Anthony Reed, and Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker on February 19.

Drawing on interviews with industry workers from MTV programs such as The Real World and Teen Mom, Amanda Ann Klein in Millennials Killed the Video Star examines the historical, cultural, and industrial factors leading to MTV’s shift away from music videos to reality programming in the early 2000s and 2010s.

Lauren Steimer’s Experts in Action examines how Hong Kong-influenced action movie aesthetics and stunt techniques have been taken up, imitated, and reinvented in other locations and production contexts around the globe.

Marina Peterson traces entanglements of environmental noise, atmosphere, sense, and matter that cohere in and through encounters with airport noise at Los Angeles International Airport since the 1960s, in Atmospheric Noise, showing how noise is central to how we know, feel, and think atmospherically.

Point of ReckoningTheodore D. Segal’s Point of Reckoning narrates the fraught and contested fight for racial justice at Duke University—which accepted its first black undergraduates in 1963—to tell both a local and national story about the challenges that historically white colleges and universities throughout the country continue to face. Catch Segal at two online events this month: on February 10, sponsored by the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, and on February 24, sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association.

Kevin Quashie in Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being analyzes texts by of Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Evie Shockley, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others to argue for a black aliveness that is disarticulated from antiblackness and which provides the basis for the imagination and creation of a black world.

Throughout The Powers of Dignity Nick Bromell examines how Frederick Douglass forged a distinctively black political philosophy out of his experiences as an enslaved and later nominally free man in ways that challenge Anglo-Continental traditions of political thought.

Black UtopiasEngaging with the work of Black musicians, writers, and women mystics, Jayna Brown’s Black Utopias takes up the concept of utopia as an occasion to explore new states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. You can catch Brown’s first online event this Thursday, February 4.

Samantha A. Noël investigates how Black Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century responded to and challenged colonial and other hegemonic regimes through tropicalist representation in Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism.

Candace Fujikane draws upon Hawaiian legends about the land and water and their impact upon Native Hawai‘ian struggles in Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future to argue that Native economies of abundance provide a foundation for collective work against climate change.

A time of YouthA Time of Youth brings together 89 of the more than 2000 photographs William Gedney took in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood between October, 1966 and January, 1967, documenting the restless and intertwined lives of the disenchanted youth who flocked to what became the epicenter of 1960s counterculture.

In Coed Revolution Chelsea Szendi Schieder examines the campus-based New Left in Japan by exploring the significance of women’s participation in the protest movements of the 1960s.

Ma Vang examines the experiences of Hmong refugees who migrated to the United States following the secret war in Laos (1961–1975) to theorize “History on the Run” as a framework for understanding refugee histories, in particular those of the Hmong.

Empire's MistressVernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships in Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, taking us much deeper into her life story than merely her role as the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur.

Jonathan Beller traces the history of the commodification of information and the financialization of everyday life in The World Computer, showing how contemporary capitalism is based in algorithms and the quantification of value that intensify social inequality.

In The Charismatic Gymnasium, Maria José A. de Abreu examines the conservative Charismatic Catholic movement in contemporary urban Brazil to rethink the relationship between theology, the body, and neoliberal governance, showing how it works to produce subjects who are complicit with Brazilian neoliberalism.

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Virtual Events in January

Start your new year off right with some great virtual events featuring our authors.

PostmodernismJanuary 9-February 26: Fans of Jane Bennett’s work may want to check out a new art exhibit inspired by her most recent book Influx and Efflux. Artist Taney Roniger’s drawings will be on display at the SVA Flatiron Project Space in New York City, where they can be viewed from outside while social distancing.

January 10, 10:15 am EST: Attendees at the virtual MLA conference won’t want to miss the panel on the thirtieth anniversary of Fredric Jameson’s classic book Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Many of our other authors are also appearing on panels at the virtual MLA, including Fred Moten, Lisa Lowe, Katina Rogers, and Kandace Chuh. There’s also a panel centered on Ronak Kapadia’s recent book Insurgent Aesthetics.

January 20, 12:00 pm CST: Kaiama L. Glover, author of A Regarded Self, joins five other authors for a conversation about global race studies, Black diaspora studies, and transnational feminism, sponsored by Transnational Feminist Scholars.

January 21, 12:00 pm EST: Daisuke Miyao talks about his book Japonisme and the Birth of Cinema in an event sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan.

January 21, 5:30pm EST: The Phillips Collection hosts a book club discussion about Latinx Art by Arlene Dávila. The discussion will be led by Fabiola R. Delgado.

January 29, 6:00 pm GMT: Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan celebrates the launch of his book The Globally Familiar with commentary and discussion by eleven scholars.

In Conversation: Anna Watkins Fisher and Elizabeth Ault

Check out our newest “In Conversation” video, in which Editor Elizabeth Ault talks with Anna Watkins Fisher about her new book, The Play in the System: The Art of Parasitical Resistance. Fisher talks about what “parasitical resistance” is, about the ways in which the Trump Era has built on the Obama administration, and about thinking with Bong Joon-Ho’s film Parasite.

New Books in May

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We’re pleased to announce that we’ve extended our Spring Sale through  May 25, which will allow you to pick up some new titles at 50% off this month. Use coupon SPRING50 to save.

In the beautifully illustrated, full-color book  AFRICOBRA, painter, photographer, and cofounder of Chicago arts collective AFRICOBRA Wadsworth A. Jarrell tells the definitive history of the group’s creation, history, and artistic and political principles and the ways it captured the rhythmic dynamism of black culture and social life to create uplifting art for all black people.

Eric Zolov presents a revisionist account of Mexican domestic politics and international relations during the long 1960s in The Last Good Neighbor, tracing how Mexico emerged from the shadow of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy to become a geopolitical player in its own right during the Cold War. Look for a Q&A with Zolov on our blog later this month.

Through innovative readings of gay and lesbian films, Lee Wallace offers a provocative argument in Reattachment Theory that queer experiments in domesticity have profoundly reshaped heterosexual marriage to such an extent that now all marriage is gay marriage.

François Ewald’s The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986 and appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. This edition is edited by Melinda Cooper.

Louise Amoore examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society in Cloud Ethics, proposing what she calls cloud ethics as a way to hold algorithms accountable by engaging with the social and technical conditions under which they emerge and operate.

In Re-enchanting Modernity, Mayfair Yang examines the reemergence of religious life and ritual after decades of enforced secularized life in the coastal city of Wenzhou, showing how local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism influence economic development and the structure of civil society.

In Writing Anthropology, fifty-two anthropologists reflect on scholarly writing as both craft and commitment, offering insights into the myriad roles of anthropological writing, the beauty and the function of language, the joys and pains of writing, and encouragement to stay at it. This collection is edited by Carole McGranahan.

In Beijing from Below, Harriet Evans tells the history of the residents in Dashalar—now redeveloped and gentrified but once one of the Beijing’s poorest neighborhoods—to show how their experiences complicate official state narratives of Chinese economic development and progress. 

Alex Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism in Porkopolis. As the coronavirus tears through meatpacking plants around the U.S., Blanchette’s analysis is highly relevant. We’ll feature a Q&A with him on our blog later in the month.

Drawing on examples of things that happen to us but are nonetheless excluded from experience, as well as critical phenomenology, genealogy, and feminist theory, Cressida J. Heyes shows how and why experience has edges, and analyzes phenomena that press against them in Anaesthetics of Existence.

In The Government of Beans, Kregg Hetherington uses Paraguay’s turn of the twenty-first century adoption of massive soybean production and the regulatory attempts to mitigate the resulting environmental degradation as a way to show how the tools used to drive economic growth exacerbate the very environmental challenges they were designed to solve.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

 

New Titles in Asian American Studies

We regret to announce that in the ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we will be unable to meet with you during the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) conference, which has been cancelled.

We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 1. Use coupon code SPRING50 to save 50% when ordering online. In addition, if you spend $100 or more, we are offering free shipping to U.S. addresses. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount, but they do count toward the $100 threshold.

Across Oceans of LawBig congratulations to Renisa Mawani, whose book Across Oceans of Law is the winner of the AAAS Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in History. The prize committee wrote, “Grappling with the interconnectedness of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans—and the ways in which Asian Indians navigated the reach of the British empire—Mawani shifts our perspectives not only from U.S.-centric histories, but also from terrestrially-bound histories. . . . Mawani is able to ground her conceptual insights, transforming what could have remained an abstract, legal history of maritime law into a richly materialized narrative of mobility, empire, and race.” 

Check out some of the other great titles we would have featured in our booth at AAAS. 

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In a brilliant reinvention of the travel guide, Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i, artists, activists, and scholars redirect readers from the fantasy of Hawai‘i as a tropical paradise and tourist destination toward a multilayered and holistic engagement with Hawai‘i’s culture, complex history, and the effects of colonialism. This volume is edited by Hokulani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez.

Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success in The Ocean in the School: Pacific Islander Students Transforming Their University.

In Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai`i and Oceania, Maile Arvin analyzes the history of racialization of Polynesians within the context of settler colonialism across Polynesia, especially in Hawai‘i, arguing that a logic of possession through whiteness animates European and Hawaiian settler colonialism.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror: Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility.

In Surrogate Humanity: Race, Robots, and the Politics of Technological Futures, Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora trace the ways in which robots, artificial intelligence, and other technologies serve as surrogates for human workers within a labor system that is entrenched in and reinforces racial capitalism and patriarchy.

Weaving U.S. history into the larger fabric of world history, the contributors to Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain de-exceptionalize the American empire, placing it in a global transimperial context as a way to grasp the power relations that shape imperial formations. This collection is edited by Kristin L. Hoganson and Jay Sexton.

Examining the work of writers and artists including Carrie Mae Weems, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Allan deSouza, Kandice Chuh advocates for what she calls “illiberal humanism” as a way to counter the Eurocentric liberal humanism that perpetuates structures of social inequality in The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man.”

If you were hoping to connect with one of our editors about your book project at AAAS, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!

Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount with free U.S. shipping on orders over $100 will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.

Courtney Berger on the Canceled SCMS Conference

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Our editors look forward to meeting their authors at conferences every year and are sad to be missing out on that this spring. The annual meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies would have taken place April 1-5 in Denver this year. We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 1. In addition, if you spend $100 or more, we are offering free shipping to U.S. addresses. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount, but they do count toward the $100 threshold.

CBerger_webInstead of greeting Executive Editor Courtney Berger in person this year, check out her recommendations for new titles in the discipline and a great round up of other ways to learn about all the new scholarship that was to be presented at the conference.

Hello, SCMSers. I’m sorry that I won’t see you all in person this year. In the past couple of months, we have published an amazing range of new books in film & media studies. I was looking forward to showing them off at the conference.  I hope you’ll go to our website to see the new and forthcoming titles and take advantage of the 50% off sale. (I know, I know. It’s not the same as being able to browse books at the exhibit hall, but it’s the best we’ve got right now.) You can learn Her Storiesabout the centrality of the soap opera to the history of American tv production in Elana Levine’s Her Stories, experience the film culture of mid-20th century Paris with Eric Smoodin in Paris in the Dark, or find out about the environmental publics that emerge in India around radiant technologies like cell-phone towers in Rahul Mukherjee’s Radiant Infrastructures.

There were some exciting panels this year that I was hoping to attend that highlight some emerging areas on Duke’s media studies list. Several panels on environment and media feature work related to the new Elements series, edited by Nicole Starosielski and Stacy Alaimo. Some of these panels will be happening in virtual form during the week, so check them out if Wild Blue Mediayou can. Melody Jue’s Wild Blue Media is the latest book in the series. Jue submerges key concepts of media—such as storage and transmission—under water, asking us to reconsider conventional notions of media environment. It’s a must read for folks in media studies, in my opinion.

Also, here’s a heads up about an upcoming book series on gaming and game culture called “Power Play” that will be edited by Jen Malkowski and TreaAndrea Russworm. It’s brand new, so no books yet; but keep your eyes open for new books in this area. And if you are into queer gaming culture, check out Bonnie Ruberg’s volume The Queer Games Avant-Garde, which features interviews with 22 queer video game developers and designers.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Eliza Steinbock, whose book Shimmering Images won this year’s SCMS Best First Book Award. Congratulations, Eliza!

Take care, everyone, and I look forward to seeing you next year.

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If you were hoping to connect with Courtney or another of our editors about your book project at SCMS, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our new online submissions guidelines here.

We’re also excited to welcome liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics and black studies to our publishing program next spring. And don’t forget to check out our great new journal issues in film and media studies, including “On Chantal Akerman” from Camera Obscura, “Contemporary German and Austrian Cinema” from New German Critique, “Scenes of Suffering” from Theater, and “Multimodal Media” from Poetics Today.

Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount with free U.S. shipping on orders over $100 will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.

New Books in April

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Curling up on the couch with a great book is an excellent way to practice social distancing this month. All these titles will deliver before our sale ends on May 1, so check our website regularly. You can save 50% on all in-stock titles with coupon SPRING50

Tyler Bickford traces the dramatic rise of the “tween” pop music industry in Tween Pop, showing how it marshaled childishness as a key element in legitimizing children’s participation in public culture.

The contributors to Playing for Keeps examine the ways in which musical improvisation can serve as a way to negotiate violence, trauma, systemic inequality, and the aftermaths of war and colonialism. This volume is edited by Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter.

John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place is the definitive biography of Sun Ra—composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, entrepreneur, poet, self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn, and a founder of Afrofuturism. We are pleased to be bringing this classic back into print with a new preface.

In Vital Decomposition, Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations in which she follows state soil scientists and peasant farmers in Colombia’s Putumayo region, showing how their relationship with soil is key to caring for the forest and growing non-illicit crops in the face of violence, militarism, and environmental destruction.

Micha Rahder explores how multiple ways of knowing the forest of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve shape conservation practice, local livelihoods, and landscapes in An Ecology of Knowledges.

In Relations, Marilyn Strathern provides a critical account of anthropology’s key concept of relation and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world, showing how its evolving use over the last three centuries reflects changing thinking about knowledge-making and kin-making.

In Virtual Pedophilia, Gillian Harkins traces the genealogy of the transformation of cultural construction of the pedophile as a social outcast into the image of normative white masculinity from the 1980s to the present, showing how his “normalcy” makes him hard to identify and stop.

In A People’s History of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin use a Marxist framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present, outlining the complex socio-political dynamics underlying major events in Detroit’s past, from the rise of Fordism and the formation of labor unions to deindustrialization and the city’s recent bankruptcy.

In Revolution and Disenchantment, Fadi A. Bardawil explores the hopes for and disenchantments with Marxism-Leninism in the writings and actions of revolutionary intellectuals within the 1960s Arab New Left.

In Tehrangeles Dreaming, Farzaneh Hemmasi draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles and musical and textual analysis to examine how the pop music, music videos, and television made by Iranian expatriates express modes of Iranianness not possible in Iran.

The Lonely Letters is an epistolary blackqueer critique of the normative world in which Ashon T. Crawley meditates on the interrelation of blackqueer life, sounds of the black church, theology, mysticism, and the potential for platonic and erotic connection in a world that conspires against blackqueer life.

Drawing on Whitman and Adorno, Morton Schoolman proposes aesthetic education through film as a way to redress the political violence inflicted on difference society constructs as its racialized, gendered, Semitic, and sexualized other in A Democratic Enlightenment.

In Kwaito Bodies, Xavier Livermon examines the cultural politics of the youthful black body in South Africa through the performance, representation, and consumption of Kwaito—a style of electronic dance music that emerged following the end of apartheid.

Reflecting on the experience, philosophy, and practice of Latin American indigenous and Afro-descendant activist-intellectuals who mobilize to defend their territories from large-scale extraction, Arturo Escobar shows in Pluriversal Politics how the key to addressing planetary crises is the creation of the pluriverse—a world of many epistemological and ontological worlds.

The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. This collection is edited by Jih-Fei Cheng, Alexandra Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani. It is currently available to read free online as part of our Navigating the Threat of Pandemic syllabus.

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La Grippe à Paris: How Paris Responded to the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, A Guest Post by Eric Smoodin

Smoodin PhotoEric Smoodin is the author of Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950, just published this month. He is Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis, and author of Regarding Frank Capra: Audience, Celebrity, and American Film Studies, 1930–1960, and coeditor of Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method, both also published by Duke University Press. This guest post is reblogged from his own blog, The Paris Cinema Project.

On March 14th, 2020, the French government announced the closing of all restaurants, museums, theatres, and cinemas, a response to the novel coronavirus, possibly the worst global public health crisis since the flu epidemic of 1918-19. But as a comparison, what exactly was the government’s response just over 100 years ago to la grippe espagnole, which killed as many as a quarter of a million people in France? More to the point of my interests here, how did the flu affect the cinema in France, and especially in Paris?

Information can be difficult to come by, largely because the press in France covered the disease only very slowly, perhaps because the government insisted so as not to cause any alarm, or perhaps because journalists simply didn’t understand the severity of the outbreak. Françoise Bouron has provided the most exhaustive analysis of the general attitudes of the press at the time. While the flu seems to have come to France in April, 1918, most newspapers and journals at first avoided it altogether, then reported that France, unlike other European countries, seemed to have been spared, and then only began to cover the national outbreak in the late-summer and early-fall.

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Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announcing the closure of all non-essential public places in France, including cinemas, on March 14th, 2020

In any case, and far different from the response of 2020, the governmental actions in 1918-19 seem to have been regional rather than national, and might vary significantly from place to place, with Paris, apparently, always doing less rather than more. In mid-October, 1918, Le Figaro reported that 700 Parisians had died from the flu during the past week, an increase of 300 from the week before. The newspaper indicated that more hospital beds were coming to the city and that schools would be disinfected but would not close. Hinting at the dense Parisian bureaucracy that may have made any decisive action difficult, Le Figaro continued that, anyway, schools could only be closed in Paris by the local government, at the suggestion of the Seine Prefect and in consultation with the Hygiene Council.

That same report in Figaro, however, let readers know that Édouard Herriot, the mayor of Lyon, had acted more decisively. Herriot, of course, was the radical socialist who would later be in and out of office as Prime Minister during multiple revolving-door governments in France during the 1920’s and ‘30’s. In Lyon, Herriot insisted that all corpses be buried immediately, demanded the daily disinfection of post offices, banks, cafés, restaurants, and train stations, and completely closed all theatres and cinemas.

Other locations did the same thing. In Périgueux, in southwestern France, schools were closed and so too were all theatres and cinemas. The Communist newspaper L’Humanité reported on those closings, and added that the ongoing Parisian response involved, yet again, more hospital beds and, in addition, thirteen thousand gallons of rum to be distributed to the city’s pharmacies and sold as a partial cure for flu.

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Édouard Herriot, who as the mayor of Lyon closed all the cinemas there during the epidemic

Assertions of official Parisian inactivity went across ideological lines. In late-October 1918, the far-rightwing newspaper L’Intransigeant wrote, “One thinks…of closing the cinemas, the theatres and even churches, as has been done in Switzerland and some French cities.” Then L’Intransigeant added that, “rather than facing anything that extreme, Parisians have been told to refrain from going anywhere they might be exposed to influenza.”

At least according to the press, aggressive actions by Herriot and others worked. In early-November, Le Journal reported that closing theatres—and it’s unclear whether this included cinemas—in Limoges, Dijon, Cherbourg, Orléans, and elsewhere had stopped the spread of flu. Le Temps wrote that “the efforts in Lyon had had their effect,” and theatres and cinemas would now reopen.

But Paris still did nothing comparable, and there was even some debate in the city about the usefulness of closures and the severity of the epidemic. On November 11th, 1918, the day that World War One ended, La Presse, a Parisian daily, devoted its front page to the Armistice. On page two, however, La Presse ran two stories about the flu. One of them insisted that the illness had declined considerably in the Parisian population (La Grippe décroit). In the other, a reporter for the paper, Lucile Laurence, wrote that city officials had given some thought to closing all cinemas and other public places, including schools. She went on, though, that even if they did, “public health would still be menaced” because of all the men who spit on streets, their germs then going into the air and onto the food that Parisians ate. On the same page, La Presse announced the opening of one of the most anticipated films of the season, Bouclette, at the very fashionable Palace-Aubert cinema in the ninth arrondissement. Bouclette featured one of the great French stars of the era, Gaby Deslys, who would die of influenza in February, 1920.

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An undated publicity photograph of the great French star Gaby Deslys, the star of Bouclette and a victim of the flu epidemic

Deslys’ film, which had a scenario by Marcel L’Herbier, was one of the great cultural events in the city just after the war. But there were also many, many others, in cinemas and in the city’s theatres. Reporting on the flu on February 23rd, 1919, Le Matin put the grim numbers next to the masthead at the top of the front page. La grippe à Paris had claimed 900 lives in the last week, an increase of 350 from the week before. Le Matin never listed the movies in Paris, but it did offer information for plays, music halls, and café-concerts, and the list is astonishing, both in terms of how much was going on and how little the city’s entertainment industry seemed to have been touched by the epidemic. Had they wanted to, Parisians could have seen Les Noces de Figaro at the Opéra-Comique, where it alternated with Carmen, or Cyrano de Begerac at the Porte-St. Martin, or Sacha Guitry’s Pasteur at the Vaudeville. The Folies-Bergère featured a lion tamer for its family matinee and then more adult entertainment in the evening. The great music hall stars Mistinguett and Max Dearly appeared at the Casino de Paris, along with 200 Jolies Femmes, and Raimu, the stage actor soon to become a great movie star, performed in Le Cochon qui sommeille at the Théâtre Michel. There was also much, much more.

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On the upper right, on the masthead from February 23rd, 1919, Le Matin announces that week’s death toll of La Grippe à Paris

Parisian entertainment continued as usual for the duration of the epidemic, as the death toll mounted and city leaders kept all venues open while supplying pharmacies with more and more rum for the afflicted. A century later, French officials were slow to react to the coronavirus, as were governments in Italy, Spain, the United States, and elsewhere. They had, however, apparently learned something from the earlier public health crisis. Spitting on streets may still be a difficult problem and still a means of spreading disease. But Mayor Herriot’s example in Lyon, closing theatres, restaurants, and other public spaces, including cinemas, has now become the French model for containing the epidemic, even in Paris.

Read the introduction to Paris in the Dark free online, and now through May 1, save 50% on a print copy using coupon code SPRING50.

New Books in March

Spring is just around the corner—so it’s time to stock up on books for a whole new season of reading. Check out all of these titles arriving in March!

In I Never Left Home, poet and revolutionary Margaret Randall tells the moving, captivating, and astonishing story of her life, from her childhood in New York to joining the Sandanista movement in Nicaragua, from escaping political repression in Mexico to raising a family and teaching college.

Demanding Images is Karen Strassler’s ethnography of Indonesia’s post-authoritarian public sphere, exploring the role of public images as they gave visual form to the ideals, aspirations, and anxieties of democracy.

Focusing on a wide range of media technologies and practices in Beijing, Underglobalization by Joshua Neves examines the cultural politics of the “fake” and how frictions between legality and legitimacy propel dominant models of economic development and political life in contemporary China.

A writing manual as well as a manifesto, Every Day I Write the Book combines novelist and essayist Amitava Kumar’s practical writing advice with interviews with prominent writers, offering guidance and inspiration for academic writers at all levels.

In Negative Exposures, Margaret Hillenbrand explores how artistic appropriations of historical images effectively articulate the openly unsayable and counter the public secrecy that erases traumatic episodes from China’s past.

The contributors to Visualizing Fascism, edited by Julia Adeney Thomas and Geoff Eley, examine the imagery and visual rhetoric of interwar fascism in East Asia, southern Africa, and Europe to explore how fascism was visualized as a global and aesthetic phenomenon.

In his new book-length prose poem, The Voice in the Headphones, musician David Grubbs draws on decades of recording experience, taking readers into the recording studio to tell the story of an unnamed musician who struggles to complete a film soundtrack in a day-long marathon recording session.

Rahul Mukherjee explores how the media coverage of and debates about nuclear power plants and cellular phone antennas in India frames and sustains environmental activism in Radiant Infrastructures.

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky theorizes the process genre—a filmic genre characterized by its representation of chronologically ordered steps in which some form of labor results in a finished product—in The Process Genre.

In The Queer Games Avant-Garde, Bonnie Ruberg presents twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video developers whose radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is driving a momentous shift in the medium of video games.

Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas traces how parenting practices among urban elites in Brazil and Puerto Rico preserve and reproduce white privilege and economic inequality in Parenting Empires.

In Rock | Water | Life, Lesley Green examines the interwoven realities of inequality, racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction in South Africa, calling for environmental research and governance to transition to an ecopolitical approach that could address South Africa’s history of racial oppression and environmental exploitation.

Matt Brim shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations in Poor Queer Studies, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education.

In Paris in the Dark, Eric Smoodin takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s.

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