Fall books available on NetGalley

We’ve got quite a few gems in our NetGalley catalog this fall, all available for advance review now. Book reviewers, journalists, bloggers, librarians, professors, and booksellerswe welcome you to submit a request!

Not familiar with NetGalley? Learn more about how it works.

 
Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut (September 27, 2013)

We think Booklist said it best: “In this fascinating blend of sociology, ecology, ethnographic research, and personal memoir, the authors range through all of the aspects of the human relationship with the honeybee.”

Ever thought of honeybees as sexy? You might after watching Mary Kosut discuss the sensual nature of beekeeping.

 

Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America by Theresa Morris (October 7, 2013)

In Cut It Out, Theresa Morris offers a riveting and comprehensive look at this little-known epidemic, as well as concrete solutions “that deserve the attention of policymakers” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

C-sections are just as safe as vaginal births, right? Not true, says Theresa Morris. Watch her discusses this and other misconceptions on our YouTube channel.

 

Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton (October 14, 2013)

Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever—and the last time for another 70,000 years. Brush up on your knowledge of the holiday in time to celebrate the once-in-an-eternity event. Publishers Weekly, in another starred review, promises a “scholarly but accessible guide to the evolution of the Festival of Lights in America.”

Stay tuned for our interview with the author!

 
Browse all of our e-galleys available for review on NetGalley.

Q&A with authors Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: Part 1

Did you know… September is National Honey Month? We didn’t either. So it’s particularly fitting that our book, Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut is coming out this month. What a beautiful coincidence! 

Today we have the first half of a Q&A with Moore and Kosut, in which the two authors discuss the origins of their book, look at urban beekeeping practices in New York City, and give a convincing case for why we all should care about the fate of bees. Stay tuned for part two later this month!

Question: What got you interested in studying urban beekeeping?

Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: We got interested in studying urban beekeeping because it seems as if the bee is the animal of the moment. Lisa Jean said, doesn’t it seem like bees are popping up everywhere? In farmer’s markets, at city fairs, people are taking beekeeping classes, and essentially it was a question of the fascination with bees in New York City.

We were also interested in the DIY movement that is very popular in many urban centers in the United States and in particular Brooklyn, where we live. The ways in which the DIY movement cleaves with urban homesteading. Urban homesteading is where people take some of the country into the city and do things like bake bread, make beer, knit, and raise chickens. Or have fermentation parties – there is connection between fermentation parties and bees – making mead. (And apparently bees are also the gateway drug to chickens.)

As professors, we were also interested in the trends regarding what students do the years after college. It used to be that students would take the year off and go get a Eurail pass and travel around Europe.  But we find now that our students are traveling around to different urban farms, or even rural farms, and doing organic farming – or Woofing – where you stay on organic farms and work in exchange for your room and board. We were fascinated by this need for the return to the land and how it has been modified from the 1970s to be in urban spaces.

Like the green-roof – the Eagle Street Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where they have an extensive rooftop farm with all sorts of vegetables, bunnies, chickens and bees. One of the many places in the city that is bringing nature into the urban as part of greening initiatives. Dropping out while staying in. Having all the luxuries of urban life while at the same time having this alternative identity and practice it.  Bees are part of that practice.

We were also interested in people making things, people getting involved. So in Buzz we talk about how there are these generations of old and young beekeepers who really enjoy both the interaction with the bee but also the collaboration with the bee to do things like make honey and harvest it, making beeswax and beeswax candles. And also in a sense of making something larger – what we would call the pollination of NYC which creates vast opportunities for the flora and fauna of NYC – the urban ecology.

Q: Isn’t Beekeeping in NYC illegal?

LJM and MK: Until recently, a couple of years ago, keeping bees in NYC was illegal. Under Rudy Giuliani, in 1999 beekeeping became illegal. It was a nuisance crime. The local authorities didn’t really go after people that kept bees unless some neighbor turned them in because they felt fearful of bees being in their space.  Fearful that bees would attack or swarm. This is a common misperception about swarming – it is not dangerous. It is just bees moving to find more space because they are such a healthy colony and want to grow. It is a spectacular thing to see a swarm – our informants talk about seeing a swarm live as a lightning strike or a shooting star. Where nature overcomes you.

Q: Has beekeeping been growing in popularity?

LJM and MK: Yes, definitely. When we started taking urban beekeeping classes at the Central Park Arsenal (which is a free six-month course run by New York City Beekeeping), there were probably about 200 – 300 in the room—and by the time we left, there were about 2,000 members… and it keeps growing. Once a week, we pick up the paper and there is a story about beekeeping in there – it is expanding as a hobby.

Part of that is because last year was a terrible year for the bees. In 2012, fifty percent of the bee population was lost. So colony collapse disorder (CCD) is not going away or being solved. It is difficult to keep up on the CCD crisis and how people are trying to fix it – while at the same time more and more people are cultivating bees. More classes are being offered – they are an urban animal now.

Q: Why should people care about bees?

LJM and MK: People should care about bees primarily because they are a native pollinator – not native to the United States, but brought here in the 17th Century. But they are a pollinator that can be domesticated through animal husbandry practices and trained to pollinate certain crops. Pollination is responsible for at least one third of food production and reproduction – both industrial and backyard food production.

And since 2006 bees have been suffering from colony collapse disorder, which we talk about extensively in Buzz. It seems to us that since they have been gone from the disorder, people care about them more. This shows how enmeshed with are with bees as this other species and how we co-mingle in all of these ways that are becoming more obvious to us now.

In Buzz we examine CCD through media studies. Different agencies, scientists, look at it from different angles. Some people write about it as being caused by pesticides, or mono-cropping, or the decimation of local ecologies; other people liken CCD to invader species being brought by urbanization and the movement of mites from different locations to attack bees. Ultimately CCD is caused by a host of factors which are human interventions into the landscape. It is highly politicized – if it is linked to pesticides. There are billions of dollars at stake.

Part two of this Q&A will appear on this blog on September 20th, 2013. 

Does money motivate doctors to do more c-sections?

—Theresa Morris

On August 30th, NPR reported on a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper that suggested physicians perform c-sections in order to maximize their pay. The NBER authors state this assumption and then go on to use it to explain why physician-patients are less likely than non-physician-patients to have a c-section birth in non-HMO hospitals. They argue that the different likelihood of c-section is due to physician-patients’ having information necessary to avoid unnecessary c-sections (that are due to physicians’ maximizing their incomes).

In my book, Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, I argue that making assumptions about individual motivations is very problematic if one has not talked to the individuals being analyzed. The question, “Do physicians perform c-sections to make more money?” is not explored. Further, to argue that financial incentives are at the root of the c-section epidemic in America, one would have to delve into how physicians are paid for deliveries. Health insurance companies typically pay a global fee for prenatal care and delivery. This fee is a few hundred dollars higher for c-sections, but how the fee is divided among obstetricians in a practice (and few obstetricians practice in solo practices) is complex. Many obstetricians are not paid simply for the births they attend. Rather the global fees are aggregated and then paid to physicians according to the number of call hours they complete. Thus, it is hard to see how physicians have much of a financial incentive to perform a c-section because the increase in pay is not direct and is likely split among obstetricians in the practice.

My research, based on fifty in-depth interviews with maternity clinicians, suggests that a viable competing explanation for the NBER finding is that physicians often have a low threshold for performing c-sections during the course of labor because of liability concerns. Physician-patients may have the information necessary to negotiate with physicians to allow them to continue to try to deliver vaginally and/or physicians may not be as concerned that physician-patients will sue them in the case of a bad outcome and, thus, give physician-patients more latitude during labor.

Also problematic is that that NPR report focused on the assumption of the NBER paper that physicians perform c-sections due to economic incentives, rather than the main empirical finding of the NBER paper. The main empirical finding of the NBER paper is that physician-patients have a different likelihood of c-section than non-physician-patients. The authors focus their conclusion on the finding that “physician-mothers are approximately ten percent less likely to have a C-section.” They conclude, “This paper demonstrates that 10 percent of C-sections represent overuse of healthcare, and that this overuse is not only costly but may have an adverse impact on patients.”

The title of the NPR story—“Money May be Motivating Doctors to Do More C-sections”—and its focus is something that sounds exciting and leads to blaming physicians for the high c-section rate. This is an easy claim to make because it seems to have some kind of intuitive appeal. However, it is has no basis in empirical data analyzed in the NBER paper.

Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).

 

De-extinction: Reinventing the wheel?

The April 2013 cover of National Geographic.

—Carrie Friese

De-extinction has recently emerged as a hot topic in the press, with prominent figures like Stuart Brand giving TED talks on reviving extinct species earlier this year, National Geographic’s recent cover story, and academic conferences on the topic being held with greater than usual press coverage. The debates over de-extinction are largely represented as entirely novel and new. However, what is striking is the extent to which these debates parallel and map on to the debates over using assisted reproductive technologies ranging from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and cloning with endangered animals. Indeed, many key actors – such as Robert Lanza from Advanced Cell Technology – have been involved in and acted as spokespersons for both ventures.

The debates on cloning both endangered and extinct animals have focused on the problems of technological hype for conservation, the practical limits of technology where wild animals are concerned, the ontology of ‘wild’ animals made by humans through technological means, and the quality of the lives these animals are made to live. Participants in de-extinction could therefore learn much by looking at the lessons learned by those involved in cloning endangered animals, where many of these debates have already been addressed.

In particular, de-extinction advocates could learn a lot by looking at how scientists involved in cloning endangered animals have responded to the politics of their work. In my book Cloning Wild Life, I note that some scientists responded to concerns about cloning endangered animals by changing their scientific practices. Different kinds of animals and cells were used in order to make cloned endangered animals fit the concerns of a wider range of actors involved in species preservation. This represents an important difference between de-extinction and cloning endangered animals.

Locating the debates over de-extinction between optimistic scientists seeking to intervene in nature and depressed environmentalists seeking to preserve nature relies upon staid and unproductive clichés. Cloning endangered animals shows that it is far more productive to engage with one’s critics and their concerns, and can even result in a better science.

Carrie Friese is Lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of Cloning Wild Life: Zoos, Captivity and the Future of Endangered Animals (NYU Press, 2013). She is currently writing on de-extinction with Claire Marris.

Muhammad Yunus, in 22 Ideas to Fix the World

Today, we’re sharing the first chapter of 22 Ideas to Fix the World—featuring an interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. In it, the founder of microfinance discusses his views on poverty, unemployment, and the role of social business.

Read the interview below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

22 Ideas to Fix the World – Chapter 1 by NYU Press

The opt-out revolution, ten years later

—Bernie D. Jones

Photo credit: Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons.

Ten years ago, the New York Times Magazine published Lisa Belkin’s controversial (and now infamous) article, “The Opt-Out Revolution.” In it, Belkin argued that young women were increasingly disinterested in feminist gains in the workplace. These women were interested instead in being married and becoming stay-at-home mothers, taking care of the house and children while their husbands worked. Much hand wringing followed, as it seemed the women’s movement had been stalled in the wake of Generation X’s rejection of their Baby Boomer mothers’ efforts.

The article was controversial for other reasons, as well: once again, feminist emphasis on highly educated and highly remunerated professional women masked the true motivations of the women who left. The article ignored the existence of other women for whom the dreams of feminist accomplishment had not yet been reached. The question was whether women “opted out” or were pushed out of work environments hostile to working mothers, regardless of class.

The book I edited, Women Who Opt Out, gives a more complete picture of the nature of women in the contemporary workplace, one which addresses workplace pressures, class as well as race. Higher income women in environments hostile to working mothers leave because it becomes impossible to balance their caretaking responsibilities with their responsibilities in the workplace; staying home just seems easier. Lower income women experience workplace inflexibility—they cannot opt out because they must work. Women with lesser educations and who are not high earners thus do not experience the same luxury of being able to leave the workforce. Instead, they are pushed out.

Not only is women’s ability to opt out dependent upon the type of workplace they are in, as well as class, but when women contract out their caretaking responsibilities, they often hire low income women—quite often one of color, a woman who might also struggle with caring for her own children. As for more highly educated and remunerated women of color, the choice to opt out was complicated by the intersectionality of race and gender: leaving the workforce was seen as relinquishing their racial group’s gains.

Ten years later, the opt-out generation wants back in, as their realities have changed since they left the workforce. Some of them divorced. Many went back to work in the wake of the recession (or “mancession”) because their families needed the income. Others who did not experience the recession, especially those in the highly educated group, are finding that things are easier now than when they were in the workforce. Their children are getting older and don’t need them at home as much. With changes in technology, they find that they can work from home. Those who kept up their skills and who maintained their network of contacts in their old industries found the transition easier.

If anything, this retrospective on the opt-out revolution indicates that certain basics remain: women who leave the workforce should find ways to cultivate their skills and maintain their professional contacts in case they ever need to return to work. Further, workplace flexibility is the most beneficial to women in the workforce, as it enables them to better manage their family responsibilities.

But it’s also important to note that not all women who leave the workplace intend to stay away forever. Belkin’s article founded a movement out of a brief snapshot of these women’s lives—without acknowledging they might have wanted to return to work at a later date.

Bernie D. Jones is Associate Professor of Law at the Suffolk University Law School and editor of Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance (NYU Press, 2012).

The bees of NYC

—Mary Kosut and Lisa Jean Moore

New York City is a multispecies metropolis – a place where millions of humans, animals and plants co-mingle and co-exist. Although pigeons and rats are the most iconic of urban animals, New York is home to over 230 species of bees that play a vital role in the local urban ecology. Since their migration from Europe in colonial times, honeybees have always lived throughout the five boroughs with or without the aid of humans, but our insect neighbors have never really been on our radar until now.

In the wake of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) the syndrome responsible for the disappearance of 50% of the bee population in 2012, we are beginning to understand our vital connection to bees. Bees are a species we rely on; their pollination makes our contemporary diets possible, and their honey, venom and pollen are revered for holistic nutrition and alternative health treatments. They are literally a part of our bodies, and we tend to describe their behaviors in anthropocentric terms – insects that become too much like us.

Honeybees are a green mascot and a cause celebre, melding well with urban farming and green architectural initiatives. As a recent article in the New York Times reported, beehives are being cultivated on rooftops in the city’s most prestigious locales, including Bryant Park, Chelsea and the Whitney Museum of Art on the Upper East Side. Even though some people are fearful or skeptical of living near a colony, many would likely agree that these industrious insects should be protected and even welcomed to rooftops, backyards, parks and farms. The honeybee has a new cultural status – it is officially an urban animal.

In the process of conducting a three-year multispecies ethnography in New York City amidst bees and their human caretakers, we were witness to tens of thousands of bees who challenged our senses and caught our attention. They buzzed, swirled, dive-bombed and stung. Like the beekeepers we interviewed who worked closely with their hives, we were often captivated while in their space. Being in the presence of bees challenged our taken for granted assumptions about the ways in which we consider nonhuman animals, and how it is so easy to slip into descriptions that perpetuate distinctions between nature and culture.  Best intentions notwithstanding, as humans we tend to think that we can save or fix ecological problems (that we created) through technology and other interventions. This is a perfect case of human exceptionalism.

Even though it takes a great deal of human effort to establish a hive and cultivate healthy bees, we must recognize that bees are also working alongside us to create commonly shared worlds. The generative capacity of bees – they pollinate New York City – must not be eclipsed by human-centric discussions of what we as a species are making possible for them.

Mary Kosut and Lisa Jean Moore are authors of Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee (NYU Press, 2013). Kosut is a cultural sociologist and Associate Professor of Media, Society, and the Arts and Gender Studies at Purchase College, State University of New York. Moore is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies and Coordinator of Gender Studies at Purchase College, State University of New York.

We are all George Zimmerman: Trayvon Martin and the youth control complex

—Victor Rios

In ten years of studying inner city boys labeled at-risk by law enforcement and schools, I have found that poor Black Americans and Latinos are often deemed as culprits, lost causes, and menaces to society. One Black American boy in my study reported that on the day he was born nurses at the hospital commented in front of his mother, “Poor boy. He’s destined to become a dope dealer or drug addict just like his mother.”

In my observations at schools I witnessed a teacher tell a truant Latino eighth grade boy, “You have a prison cell waiting for when you turn eighteen.” On the streets I witnessed a police officer tell a seventeen year old Black American boy, “We want you to kill each other off, that way we don’t have to deal with locking you up.” These kinds of examples are countless in the lives of over 200 boys that I have interviewed and shadowed.

The reality is that poor urban boys grow up surrounded by a system of punitive social control that sees them as deficient students and criminal suspects that must be controlled and contained from young ages. School officials, law enforcement personnel, neighborhood watch volunteers, store clerks, jurors, and everyday citizens perceive and interact with these young people with fear, disdain, and circumspection. This youth control complex, a collective system of negative treatment based on racialized fears of young people of color, is responsible for the criminalization and systematic stripping of dignity that many young people like Trayvon Martin encounter on a day-to-day basis.

George Zimmerman is not just an outlying overzealous rogue vigilante that hunted down an innocent Black American boy. He very much represents mainstream America. We–schools, law enforcement, the media, intellectuals, politicians, and everyday citizens–are all involved in a system that creates and perpetuates fear and outcaste of a vulnerable, marginalized segment of our population. These young people grow up feeling hopeless, undignified, and failed by the system.

As Ronny, a seventeen year old Black American boy I followed for three years puts it, “It’s like I’m invisible, like I don’t exist, like people see me as good for nothing but to be in jail.” This youth control complex produces social death among many young people of color; they are alive but are not recognized as fellow human beings with the right to live productive lives. Instead we rely on surveillance, policing, prison bars, and stand your grounds laws to control, contain, incapacitate, and eliminate them.

The difference between George Zimmerman and the rest of us is that he pulled the trigger. We simply continue to mundanely mete out punitive treatment, stigma, and systematic stripping of dignity to young people of color, slowly killing their soul and their right to pursue happiness. By the time we sit in a courtroom to determine whether Trayvon Martin’s life is worth imposing a sanction on George Zimmerman, five white jurors have already been socialized and acculturated to criminalize young racialized bodies and to view the victim as a culprit.

Politicians and school and law enforcement administrators (including those that supervise neighborhood watch programs) must demand that individuals who interact with a diverse population be trained in understanding their cognitive biases and how these inform the treatment they impose on others. We must train ourselves to recognize and eliminate our inclinations to perceive and treat young people of color as suspects and instead treat them with the dignity they deserve. Listening to the voices of young people themselves who have lived a lifetime of encounters with the youth control complex might be a good first step.

Dr. Victor Rios is a  Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (NYU Press, 2011) and Street Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D.

Zimmerman verdict rooted in segregated neighborhoods

—Jeannine Bell

[This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.]

George Zimmerman will not be the last vigilante to stand trial for the killing of an unarmed black teen. While it is convenient to blame the law, such as “make my day” or “stand your ground” laws such as Florida’s, for failing to protect Trayvon Martin and other innocent young black men assumed to be suspicious, the root of this problem lies much deeper in America’s maintenance of all-white neighborhoods.

More than 40 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, most housing in America remains segregated along racial lines. Census data from 2010 show that the average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white. The average black person lives in a neighborhood that is only 35 percent white.

Income and the size of one’s housing allowance, according to scholars, do not help most blacks escape segregation. Research also shows that minority neighborhoods lack the better schools and other amenities.

The causes of housing segregation are varied. To be sure, some blacks may elect to avoid living in majority white neighborhoods. One reason is violence. Zimmerman is not the first armed individual seeking to protect his neighborhood from someone he deemed an outsider.

In my research, I have chronicled hundreds of incidents between 1990 and 2010 in which whites targeted minorities who moved into their neighborhood. Cross burning, scrawled slurs and personal assaults- such violence occurs in upscale and working-class neighborhoods alike, in every area of the country, without regard to the wealth or poverty of the minorities moving in.

Blacks living in majority-white neighborhoods also face problems when inviting friends or relatives to visit. Martin’s killing highlights the vulnerability of these guests to white stereotyping that sees these black visitors, who dare to cross the color line, as potential criminals.

It is not disputed that Zimmerman initiated the encounter with Martin when he deemed the young man suspicious. It was only Martin’s blackness, not his size, nor his age, nor his behavior that sparked Zimmerman’s initial concern. Zimmerman argued that he feared for his life when his supposed assailant was an unarmed teenager he outweighed by more than 100 pounds.

Too many Americans are harmed by what I have termed the “integration nightmare.” They assume that “good” and “safe” neighborhoods are neighborhoods without black people in them. Thus, they see the arrival of black neighbors as disruptive; they see more diversity as threatening.

Ironically, the initial disruption to these white residents is psychological – the fear that more blacks will follow and that their guests will be criminals. When violence follows, it is usually initiated by whites acting out their irrational fears.

Nothing can bring back Martin, but as a society perhaps we can learn from the circumstances of his death. To prevent killings and other violence, we need to think differently; in particular, we need to recognize the value of racial and ethnic diversity in America’s neighborhoods.

Our strength as a nation lies in our learning from one another and building upon our common humanity. There is no better way to reduce the polarizing violence and politics than building integrated social networks based on living in proximity to one another.

Segregation needs to finally die and the integration nightmare is just that, a bad dream with little basis in reality.

Jeannine Bell is a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and author of Hate Thy Neighbor: Racial Violence and the Persistence of Segregation in American Housing (NYU Press, 2013).

Should Superman kill?

—Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl

[This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal online. Read it here.]

Warning: this essay contains spoilers from the film “Man of Steel.”

Man of Steel

The reviews on the latest superhero blockbuster, “Man of Steel,” are in, and while generally positive, the movie has ignited a firestorm of debate among fans about the appropriateness of Superman’s actions—most notably, at the end of the climactic battle between Superman and the villainous Zod. Superman kills Zod with a quick snap of his neck. On his blog Thrillbent, prominent comic book writer Mark Waid (“Daredevil”) expresses his dismay at Superman’s actions describing them as a “total-fail moment.”

Waid refers to the widespread sentiment that what traditionally has made Superman heroic is that he “does not kill.” Waid’s post provoked a slew of comments including disagreement from some fans who justify Superman’s behavior as proportionate and necessary to restore social order in the wake of Zod’s attempt at mass genocide. From the reaction of some moviegoers, in our theater at least, the death scene was satisfying and elicited approving cheers.

Superheroes’ portrayed determinations about whether to kill villains and other characters along their paths to justice is a concept we call “deathworthiness” in our book Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way (NYU Press, 2013).  Deathworthiness, a term borrowed from legal discourse about the death penalty, refers to the comic heroes’ self-described death penalty policy.

Comic book deathworthiness operates on a continuum from heroes who kill only the explicitly guilty to more extreme positions in which heroes will kill anyone, even innocents, encountered along the way. Notably, most contemporary comic books, though chock-full of bloodthirsty rhetoric and flashy fight scenes, most often end in villain incapacitation that falls short of death. Like the snapping of villain Maxwell Lord’s neck at the hands of Wonder Women in her “Wonder Woman #219,” when superheroes kill unexpectedly, fan controversy often ensues.

Our focus group research found that fan acceptance of a heroes’ depicted notion of deathworthiness hinges primarily on two factors: the seriousness of the threat (which, incidentally, in mainstream comic books nearly always reaches apocalyptic proportions rendering every situation one that is dire and requires drastic action), and the hero’s own personal, moral code.

At the extreme end of the deathworthiness continuum is the “Man of Steel” incarnation of Superman. Throughout his celebrated history, Superman almost never kills, with few exceptions. One of our focus group participants put it this way, “Superman is super-boring” because he has all the superhero powers imaginable and almost never engages in lethal violence.

Indeed, much of the discussion around Superman’s actions in “Man of Steel” points to his negligence toward innocents in Metropolis who presumably die as a result of his clash with Zod. For example, couldn’t Superman have easily taken the fight out to a desolate cornfield to avoid all that collateral damage?

Importantly, the “Man of Steel” debates reflect larger notions of justice in contemporary American society. Whether the threat is communism and the Cold War or terrorism in a post-9/11 context, discussions about deathworthiness prompt a re-examination of the concept of absolute power, the rule of law, and the difficulties balancing public safety with individual rights. To what extent should a hero go to protect public safety? And what is the significance when one of the most recognized cultural signifiers of the “American way” lethally revises his way of maintaining public safety?

The killing of Zod complicates the messianic nature of the Superman origin story—a story that Warner Bros. markets to Christian congregations through their Man of Steel Ministry Resource Site. If fans are rankled by the idea of Superman killing, devout Christians may similarly find it odd to equate Jesus, who preached peace and non-violence, with this Man of Steel who deems Zod deathworthy. Taken further, the aesthetic motif of “Man of Steel” borrows more from the dark, metallurgical violence in the “God of War” videogame than typical “no-kill” Superman comic books with their primary colors and emotive expressions.

The decision to kill Zod was recognized as controversial by the creators themselves, who were reportedly initially uncomfortable with the killing but were convinced by the larger creative team at Warner Bros. If there was any question about whether Superman is still relevant in today’s world (and among fans, there most certainly was), the discussions around the film indicate a resounding yes — fans really do want to debate heroes and their depicted moral standards.

For us, the significance of “Man of Steel” is not whether it has earned its blockbuster status by being a “good” movie, but in how Superman’s actions spark debate about deathworthiness and in the process challenge our notions of when—if ever—vigilante violence is appropriate.

Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl are the authors of Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way (NYU Press, 2013).

It’s bigger than hip-hop

—Andreana Clay

Last weekend, I taught a course at the Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality (CREGS) on the ethical dilemmas related to fieldwork with LGBTQ youth of color.  As often happens because of the title of my book, The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back, the conversation, inevitably, turned to hip-hop—and, specifically, how to talk to teenagers about the misogyny, homophobia, and sexism associated with hip-hop. This is a conversation with which I’m quite familiar and have quick answers to, sort of. My stock answer is to not confuse hip-hop as the only misogynist/sexist/homophobic culture we’ve got going on in the U.S. It’s a subset of popular culture in general, and American culture more broadly.

But that answer doesn’t often satisfy.

No, most folks (particularly those of us that work with youth) are quick to defend their stance that hip-hop itself is much more homophobic, sexist, and misogynist. Hip-hop and hip-hop alone. And this, for me, is where the confusion (and frustration) lies.

I don’t disagree that rap music, which is what people are usually targeting as oneaspect of hip-hop, can be all of these things. And I’m not defending homophobic and misogynist lyrics. In fact, like other hip-hop feminists, I have an ongoing, staunch critique against them. But to think that hip-hop is all of these things is often the easy answer: it’s a quick way to write it off, to criticize it, and to then rejoice when a rapper like Macklemore comes along to “call that out.”  You know, because no one else within hip-hop has done so before. But, folks might assume this to be true only if they have little understanding of what hip-hop really is.

Macklemore

I’m not going to talk much about Macklemore and “Same Love,” here, as Karen Tongson sums up much of what I think about it, the overall flow, the stance it takes, and the role it is supposed to play in a critical and much-read blog post. If you haven’t yet, you should read it—it’s part of the reason I was asked to gear my solicited writing of this Pride month post toward Tongon’s post, the subsequent response and her response to the response.

But, in addition to the sonic critique, I’m also interested in Macklemore and everyone else, for that matter, painting himself as a savior and calling out, what he believes, is the stereotypical homophobia in hip-hop. Drawing on his frustrations with the genre and the “need for accountability,” I might be able to get behind this stance a little more if Macklemore and his fans, including Ellen Degeneres, didn’t act like this was the first time hip-hop launched this critique.

This may the first rap by a straight ally to explicitly come out in support of “same love,” but the overwhelming support of Macklemore and this song completely ignores—how many times do I have to say it?—queer hip-hop.

DJ Invincible anyone? Deep Dick Collective? Yo Majesty? Or, even the more popular Goddess and She? And, if we take it outside of simply rap and look at the entire genre of hip-hop, which if they’d take the time to actually explore it as a genre, folks might recognize others who have critiqued not only homophobia, but the misogyny and sexism that some rappers choose to spew. For instance, how quickly we forget that when Frank Ocean declared his love for another man last year, Russell Simmons, Busta Rhymes, and others come out in support of Ocean.

Or what about Kanye West? Say what you will about him in other respects, but in 2005—nearly a decade ago—he declared his support for his openly gay cousin, friends close to him and a larger queer community in his plea for his fellow rappers to cut out homophobia. The next year, filmmaker Byron Hurt’s love letter to hip-hop “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” decisively took on hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny (which Macklemore espouses, but from what I’ve seen, fails to do) by actually having a conversation with rappers, producers, and members of the hip-hop generation, LGBTQ folks included. And, given that rap and other aspects of hip-hop ultimately comes down to performance, we can even draw on the queer presence in hip-hop dating back to Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Me’shell Ndegeocello, who inserted a swift critique of misogyny and homophobia simply by their presence. Not to mention hip-hop journalists dream Hampton, Davey D and Greg Tate who have long provided a space for critique by directly challenging homophobia and sexism in their writing.

Am I making my point? Or, do I also have to mention those of us queer people of color who have been committed to hip-hop since the beginnings, etching our way into the scene when there wasn’t a place—at clubs, house parties, concerts, and in our headphones. Knowing that there were something larger there, something representative of us without, perhaps, explicitly saying so. Like everything else we navigate everyday, including the LGBTQ(IA) community. And by the way, where’s the switch off? We are in the middle of a major media criminalization of murder victim Trayvon Martin, a member of the hip-hop generation. Where’s the calling out of the violence directed at young Black men—yes, sometimes present in hip-hop—by our allies, which includes the LGBTQ community? The arrow goes both ways.

It’s long been time to expand this discussion of hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny that we so heavily rely on and point to. Because the conversation, the solution, is really much, much bigger.

Andreana Clay is Associate Professor of Sociology at San Francisco State University and author of The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back: Youth, Activism, and Post-Civil Rights Politics (NYU Press, 2012).

Thrilled, but still uneasy about living in a Bible Belt state

—Bernadette Barton

I am excited and happy about the Supreme Court decisions ruling DOMA unconstitutional and overturning Prop 8. Since Prop 8 was dismissed on standing, this means gay people can get married in California, but it does not automatically overturn all the other state marriage bans. Like many folks, I watched the Supreme Court decisions roll out on Facebook in a sea of red profile equality signs accompanying status updates about first DOMA and then Prop 8.

A former student of mine messaged me while the decisions were unfolding that he was getting hate mail on Facebook for posting his happiness that DOMA was ruled unconstitutional. My partner, Anna, elated, texted me all morning yesterday. In one she wrote, “If we were married, I think we could actually file our taxes together come next April!” Attorney friends earnestly explain what it all means for us in short Facebook posts. The Human Rights Campaign declares that “30% of Americans now live in states with marriage equality.” But Anna and I live in a Bible Belt state and are not included among the 30%. I try to shrug off my uneasiness. Nothing and everything has changed.

While I am distracted by my apprehension about living in a Bible Belt state, I tell myself to focus on the concrete. Issues of gay rights are progressing at a galloping pace – excellent! I will be celebrating in the oldest gay bar in Lexington with some of my closest friends, kicking off our Pride week celebration with a drag show – fun!  And this revolution will include lots of dancing.

Bernadette Barton is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. She is the author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (NYU Press, 2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, (NYU Press, 2012).

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