Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Melon eaters of 1937

August 13, 2019

In the NYT on the 11th (in print on the 12th), the entire editorial page given over to an opinion piece by Brent Staples, “The Radical Blackness of Ebony Magazine: The publication was revolutionary for its depiction of middle-class African-American life”, in the middle of which comes an astonishing observation:

As a close student of Life [magazine], [Ebony founder John H.] Johnson would no doubt have seen the dehumanizing images of African-Americans that appeared in the infamous 1937 issue of the magazine whose cover caption read “Watermelons to Market.” The cover photograph showed an unnamed black man — shirtless and well muscled — sitting with his back to the camera atop a wagonload of melons [on a dirt road alongside a cotton field]. The inside photos offered what Ms. Greer describes as a hierarchy of watermelon eaters, with white bathing beauties at the top and pigs at the bottom; in between was an image of a black woman holding a slice of melon to her face with one hand and nursing a baby with the other. The equating of blackness with sub-humanity is unmistakable in the photographs. The photo caption drives home the point:

“Nothing makes a Negro’s mouth water like a luscious, fresh-picked melon,” it reads. “Any colored ‘mammy’ can hold a huge slice in one hand while holding her offspring in the other. … What melons the Negroes do not consume will find favor with the pigs.”

You will say that things have changed, and to some extent that’s true: these days you wouldn’t find such flat-out unthinking racism in a publication aimed at a large audience primarily of the middle class. But the attitudes and images lie just below the surface today, to bubble up in barely coded form for mass audiences (as well as in undiluted form on flagrantly white-nationalist sites).

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4th of July displays

July 6, 2019

(Much about men’s bodies and mansex, in street language, so not for kids or the sexually modest; also about military displays for Independence Day, but that comes after the raunchy stuff — Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.)

So we have the 4th of July as a celebration of commercial mansex (every holday is a sales opportunity): selling premium men’s underwear by hawking men’s bodies; and offering gay porn sales, usually with a holiday-themed image (naked bodies wrapped in the flag are a conventional presentation, but there are many other possibilities). From this year’s rich crop of ads, I’ve chosen one of each type: a holiday ad for DJX homowear in the Trough line; and an ad for the political-satire gayporn film Cauke for President from TitanMen.

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Death, first as tragedy, then as farce

July 5, 2019

Today’s  Zippy brings us a Grim Reaper incarnated as a Twee Creeper:


(#1) Death Boy, who can still kill with cuteness

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Hunting mammoths in the Arctic

January 17, 2016

… 45,000 ago.

Passed on by Michael Palmer, from PastHorizons: adventures in archeology, “Mammoth injuries indicate humans occupied Arctic earlier than thought” (from the 15th):

The carcass of a frozen mammoth with signs of weapon-inflicted injuries suggests humans were present in the Eurasian Arctic ten millennia earlier than previously thought. These results, which provide perhaps the oldest known story of human survival in the Arctic region, date human presence there to roughly 45,000 years ago, instead of 35,000 years ago, as previously thought.

Sergey Gorbunov excavating the mammoth carcass. Pitulko et al., Science (2016)

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Fascinated with the history of English

August 5, 2012

A recent Zippy, in which Griffy is fascinated:

Don’t know about carving words into animal bones in England, but sheep’s knuckle bones were used as paving stones, devices for divination, and dice-like pieces in games.

 

Arrowheads

June 19, 2012

From Melinda Shore on Facebook, this image, presented as a puzzle:

Yes, a flint arrowhead, in remarkably good shape. As it happens, I have three such arrowheads, though not quite so beautiful as this one:

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Ota Benga and scientific racism

June 7, 2012

Continuing the story of Madison Grant, who helped to found the Bronx Zoo, from David Samuels’s essay “Wild Things: Animal nature, human racism, and the future of zoos” in the June 2012 Harper’s magazine: the sad tale of Ota Benga.

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The stigma of ungrammaticality

February 19, 2011

On the Stanford linguistics newsletter site (the Sesquipedalian) yesterday, Arto Anttila asked who was the first person to use the asterisk to mean ungrammaticality:

This question was brought up in the Foundations of Linguistic Theory class on Friday… I have been able to confirm that * was used to mean ungrammaticality as early as in 1963 by R. B. Lees and E. S. Klima in their article ‘Rules for English Pronominalization’, Language 39(1), 17-28. The relevant sentence is on p. 18:

(8) *I see himself.

The example is followed by a long footnote where Lees and Klima patiently explain what * means. They cite no precedents. These facts together strongly suggest that one of them is the originator of the notation. But we may never know which. Lees passed away in 1996 and Klima in 2008.

… Thanks to Martin Kay for asking the question and to Paul Postal for suggesting the answer.

Beth Levin checked Lees’s The Grammar of English Nominalizations (1960) and found that it has asterisks of ungrammaticality in it, starting on p. 7, where an asterisked example is given without comment.

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Quotes and footnotes

January 7, 2011

Two volumes of bookish cultural history that I’ve been reading: Willis Goth Regier’s Quotology (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2010), about quotations, and Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), about, obviously, footnotes. Both packed with fascinating detail, though their style and audiences are rather different.

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