Elevated Risk

13002446_10208048388020403_3384221694321341558_o (2)A few days ago I cracked open Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture: 1918-1934 by David E. Ruth. Over the title page was a small notice with a Homeland Security symbol. The notice read as follows: “As of 15 November 2007, the book you are holding has been deemed ‘Elevated Risk’ in accordance with PATRIOT-USA as per NSA and DHS regulations. By checking this book out of the library, you may be subject to the exceptional deployment of certain surveillance measures from the United States of Homeland Security.”

At first I thought it was a joke played by a bored, creative undergraduate student. Then I thought, if this is real, how come it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one of these? Then I was disconcerted. Libraries have always been my safe havens. When I arrive in a new city, the first thing I do is obtain a library card. The URI librarians and I are on a first name basis. It might have to do with the fact that when I was a child, librarians were the kindest people I knew. I was the adolescent that took out 12 to 20 books at a time–the stacks sometimes as tall as I was. I loved roaming through the card catalog and picking books out by the strange sounding titles or even stranger author names. I cracked open the spines of books and smelled the pages. The librarians always helped to reach the books placed on a too high shelf.

When I saw the Homeland Security notice, I did what I was trained to do: I went to the source. My librarians would know the answer. Tell me it was, in fact, a joke. When I asked the URI librarians about it, they said, “well, some books were deemed an elevated risk after the Patriot Act, but we never marked up our books.” One of the librarians called Brown University (where the book was from) and came back with this story:

Apparently back in 2011, Brown placed this notice in every book that had words like bomb, bombing, terror, terrorism, gang, gangster, etc. It had to do with some new amendment to the USA Patriot Act. Brown removed the notices a few years later, after the expiration of said amendment. Apparently, “they missed a few.”

After my visit to the URI library, I received an email from David E. Ruth. I wrote him because I wanted to know if he knew about the notice or if he might have some other insight. He said, it was “a product of clever anti-Patriot Act activism by someone at Brown.” So, I dug further. In June 2015, Section 215, which according to Slate magazine was “commonly nicknamed the ‘library records provision,'” expired. Before the expiration, librarians had fought this amendment through various tactics. In particular, some librarians hung up signs that stated: antipat4

Now I’m not sure what to think. If the Brown librarians were practicing civil disobedience, why didn’t they tell the URI librarians? Perhaps the Brown librarian with whom my librarian spoke did not work in the library during the years of fighting Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Or perhaps we have reached a point in time where we all know we are being monitored and accept it. Was the notice then both a warning and a protest? Either way, I know more and less about how I might be a deemed a “public enemy” for my reading and writing habits.


The Walking Dead as Pain Porn.

The season finale of The Walking Dead disappointed for many reasons, not the least of which were Rick’s, Daryl’s, and Carol’s illogical choices leading up to and including the last episode of the sixth season. Their choices unwound five seasons of character development. Carol devolved from the tough survivorship she earned over an evolving character arc to the simpering guilt-ridden coda that moved her away from the central action of the finale. Daryl lost his backwoods warrior status to emerge as an urban action figure who wouldn’t know how to track neon targets in a paintball park.

Crazy-eyed bloody Rick.

And Rick. Well, Rick has become my least favorite character. I understood and pumped my fist in agreement when he ripped the jugular from the much deserving Joe in the season four finale, “A.” Outside of a few moments when he has acted like a leader, he has seemed less like someone in charge and more like a mentally unstable horror movie victim. I was hoping he would be killed in the season finale. Instead, we know he and Carl are alive. But in “The Last Day on Earth” he became more deranged than even after his wife Lori’s death in the season three episode “Killer Within.” He knelt and drooled while Negan pronounced the rules of survivorship under his realm. I kept thinking, if I were Negan, I would want this idiot alive. He’ll keep everyone in line he’s so terrified. HA HA HA. He’s their leader! Well, I got it made then.

Even Carl, Rick’s son, showed more gumption as Negan said one of them would have to be sacrificed. As we all know, no one knows who Negan and Lucille murdered. But who cares? I mean, what is there to care about? The Walking Dead is not about relationship and community; it’s become only about how much pain can be inflicted on characters and audience alike.

The Walking Dead is pain porn. It’s not the only show on television that trucks in this brand of entertainment, but it’s the one that needs it least. The group is living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. There is not much you have to do to make the world seem horrific. And yet, Scott Gimple and crew continue to push the boundaries of sense in order to feed some insatiable need to watch people suffer.

Why do Daryl and Rosita need to be caught so easily? They are both trained survivalists. They would never have approached Dwight’s camp from the same angle once they found it. And how would they not have heard Dwight coming? Daryl has super sonic woodsman hearing. Besides the fact that Daryl would not have gone out on his own knowing what it would cost the group, this story arc seemed to only been written so Daryl, Rosita, Michonne, and Glen meet Negan at the same time as the crowd in the RV.

New power couple of the apocalypse: Carol and Morgan?

As I wrote about in an earlier post, Carol’s decompensation has made even less sense (and clearly my prediction was wrong about why the producers and writers had done this to her). The only plausible reason for her exit from Alexandria is so she is not with the group when Negan meets them. More than any other character, her 360 turnaround has felt like a betrayal–of character and gender development. She went from an individual who would kill anyone or anything who threatened the group, to someone who felt guilty for even thinking someone might have to be killed. Her continued mental breakdown seems designed simply to put Carol and Morgan together. Why? Why not have it happen more organically instead of making Carol have a nervous breakdown?

And Rick? How did he not figure out that the Saviors were shutting down every avenue of exit for him and the group in the RV? They were driving in CIRCLES for hours! And if not him, what about Abraham? He’s a trained Army sergeant who knows tactical maneuvers. Rick would never have fallen for this action before the Governor and none of them would have after Terminus.

It’s not just the characters that seem set up. During The Talking Dead where Jeffrey Dean Morgan made his The Walking Dead debut, he spoke of the series’ actors and how committed they are. JDM said the actors in the scene didn’t need to be there the entire time, but they stayed with him during 15-hour shoots and cold temperatures. He talked about how they knelt and responded to everything he said, no matter how many takes, no matter how many shots in which they would not appear. He said, they gave 150% and never complained. He said, they were the most dedicated actors with whom he’s worked. Reedus sat next to him, proud of their accomplishment. I was struck by other actors, like Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yuen, who speak of The Walking Dead as a family. In light of JDM’s praise, I can’t help but think that the actors sound like children in an abusive, alcoholic environment. Pain is the norm for everyone whether they are on or off camera . (There have been a few actors who have not engaged with this kind of conversation. Note Merritt Wever‘s absence from The Talking Dead after her character Dr. Denise Cloyd’s death and Melissa McBride‘s silence regarding Carol’s changed mind. Perhaps not everyone is on board with the pain porn environment, but remember, I’m just conjecturing here.)

From Glenn’s almost death in “Thank You” to Carol and Maggie’s girl fights in “The Same Boat” to Denise’s arrow to the eye in “Twice as Far,” this season has felt like one great big F-U from Scott Gimple and crew. “The Last Day on Earth” was simply the latest in abusing actors and audience alike. It’s a bit like the current presidential election season. Insufferable, solipsistic, and painful.

Bruce Springsteen Takes a Stand

Two months back, I railed against the cost of The River tour and thought Springsteen needed to rethink who his audience was and the message he was sending to them. This month, I’m here to praise Springsteen and a number of other companies and individuals who have shown North Carolina’s legislators the price that will be paid since passing HB2.

Springsteen receiving congratulations from President Obama during Kennedy Center Honors

HB2, known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, ostensibly discriminates against the LGBTQ community, most especially those who are transgender. Known colloquially as “the bathroom bill,” it was approved by North Carolina’s General Assembly and signed into law by NC Governor Pat McCrory in one single day.

Springsteen and the E Street Band made the decision to pull out of their Greensboro, NC date in lieu of this new legislation. Springsteen’s most important point, I think, about HB2 is his declaration: “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” He’s right. Taking a stand against prejudice and civil rights discrimination is of paramount importance. Waiting is not an option. Other states have bills lined up that will be at least as discriminatory as HB2.

Springsteen isn’t the only who has shown North Carolina and other state legislators who are putting together similar bills that this bill is nothing more than blatant discrimination. In addition to Springsteen’s cancellation, four conferences have pulled out of North Carolina as a site venue, Lionsgate has moved its Hulu series Crushed from Charlotte to British Columbia (yes, Canada), and PayPal has withdrawn its plans for creating an expansion in Charlotte.Springsteen and these companies are showing consistency in their responses to hate speech and legislation. Economics may force North Carolina to do the right thing, but that won’t change the bigoted attitudes of people like Governor McCrory. For that, we need education.

In my literature courses at University of Rhode Island, I often show Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Tedtalk: “The Danger of the Single Story.” I teach multiethnic literature and I want students to know how the dominant lens is not the “best” or “only” interpretation of a piece of writing, film, art, music, or community. Adichie’s talk opens them to the possibility of observing their own biases and also discussing the ways in which they have been (or have seen others) marginalized. It’s a good beginning before we tackle texts like Adichie’s Americanah, Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, or Daisy Hernandez’s A Cup of Water Under My Bed, global narratives challenging their view of the United States on macro and micro levels. I am not trying to change my students; I only want to offer them a more inclusive, expansive way of looking at and being part of community. Springsteen wasn’t trying to change anyone with his decision; he simply understands how his choice has the power to affect others to look deeper at the implications of their prejudice and ignorance.

Here is Bruce’s full statement.

Where I give my predication for the season finale of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is my crack cocaine—I know it’s bad for me, but I keep watching anyway. That makes me a reluctant fan of the show. And by reluctant, I mean, I watch it every week, ignore phone calls, and refuse to make plans that interfere with my viewing not only of the episode, but also The Talking Dead that follows. I also say reluctant since I have the-walking-dead-episode-615-carol-mcbride-800x600issues with how it portrays gender and race, but that is for another post. This season has bugged me for the way in which the plots have been driven by Neegan’s entrance and the need to fool fans familiar with the graphic novel (or at least have read the plot points). Think about the switch in the episode “Thank You” and how the show took Steven Yuen’s name off the credits for a few episodes. In the last half of this season, Ric and his crew are behaving in ways they never would have, especially after everything they have been through together. And Carol? In the last few episodes her behavior makes absolutely no sense, especially since she’s the one who was training children how to kill the walkers (“Infected”), put a bullet in Lizzie’s brain in Of Mice and Men-style (“The Grove), and murdered Karen and David because she was afraid they would infect the entire prison (“Isolation”). These are Season 4 references, but in this season, she has it out with Morgan in more than one episode regarding his inability to serve the community the way it needs—by killing anyone who threatens their existence. Someone who has done that amount of close, personal killing in the name of survival and community doesn’t suddenly lose it the way she has in the last half of the season. Unless, you want her gone from the mass murder that is about to happen. This reason for leaving is the only one that makes sense. Neegan is going to KILL THEM ALL. I realize this move would upset some folks, but the series could survive a reset like this one. Carol and perhaps Morgan as well as Tara and Heath survive because they left—Carol and Morgan for parts unknown and Tara and Heath are on a two-week run. Neegan may allow Judith to live, a kind of walker-world janissary. She won’t ever know where she came from and Neegan can mold her in his image. The only way the behaviors of these characters can be redeemed is if Neegan kills them all. Anything less is a copout. The only winner I see here is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who makes appearances in both the season finale of The Walking Dead and The Good Wife. I’ll be watching The Walking Dead on Sunday at 9pm and viewing The Good Wife on DVR days later. I may be a reluctant fan, but I’m a steady one too.

Where I Diss Bruce Springsteen…

Over at AmericanStudies this week, Ben Railton let loose with “those things of which [he is] not as big a fan” regarding all things having to do with American Studies.  The last post of the series includes those who rail against him for his choices and those who add their two cents bruce-springsteen-1worth to the discussion of least favorite American Studier thing from the past or present. The crowd-sourcing is eclectic, but for anyone who knows me, you might be surprised at my mini-rant against the Boss and his The River tour. Happy Reading and Happy Weekend, everyone!


Apropos of the Italian American Forum CFP for the 2017 MLA: The Streets of Philadelphia: From Rocky to Creed.

sylvester-stallone-muhammad-ali-1977I’m gathering submissions for a possible panel on “The Streets of Philadelphia: From Rocky to Creed” at the MLA 2017 conference. Here is the CFP for those interested in submitting:

The MLA Italian American Forum seeks paper proposals for a possible session at the MLA Annual Convention in Philadelphia, PA January 5-8, 2017. Taking a cue from the presidential conference theme “Boundary Conditions,” this panel seeks submissions that explore the boundaries of racism and ethnocentrism in the Rocky series. We are most interested in papers engaging with: Italian American and African American masculinities; South Philly as a multi-ethnic/racialized community; Boxing rhetoric in the Rocky series; and Gender stereotypes related to ethnic and racial constructions. One-page CV and 250-word abstract to ncaronia@uri.edu by 3/15/16.

And for a bit of inspiration!