You Better Spend: Drag Culture and the Limits of Irony

By Derek McCormack

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap” is an oft-used maxim drag performers use to express the enormous difficulties inherent to their craft. To assemble one complete look for female impersonation — which includes at least 10 makeup products, a wig, jewelry, earrings, a dress, corset, fake breasts, hip pads, pantyhose, and heels — costs well over $100, even when executed simply. As an amateur drag performer, I’ve become more aware of certain contradictions in my attitudes as my skills as a queen have improved. Derek, a wannabe bohemian with far-left views, lives with great thrift and scrutinizes his possessions and spending obsessively. Yet as the chanteuse Antigone Spade, he has amassed a large collection of lavish clothes, professional makeup products, and illusion-forming accessories. It’s tempting to claim that performers are afforded a certain ethical leeway that accounts for the disparity. But can that be true, when the dollars Derek saves are the same ones that Antigone spends? Some may be ruffled by my following conclusions about the manifold connections between drag with consumer capitalism, but be aware that this essay is an indictment of myself first and foremost. Continue reading

Sunset for a Blog and a Double Birthday

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

For several years, I’ve had the pleasure of co-editing this China Blog at BLARB, which carried forward the spirit of the old China Beat, an electronic magazine that closed up shop half-a-decade ago at the end of a four year run.  One thing I’ve enjoyed about the China Blog has been getting to collaborate with a succession of talented co-editors: first Megan Shank, then Maura Cunningham, and, most recently, Mengfei Chen. There is a happy rather than sad reason that this will be the last China Blog piece: it will be closing down to make way for the LARB China Channel, which went live with its first post today (that’s the first birthday alluded to in my title).  Continue reading

Art Inside: Graduation Day

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

Attending graduation, with all its traditional pomp and regalia, is a ritual I enjoy as a university professor. This year, I had the good fortune to celebrate more graduates from my department than ever before. Exciting as this was, there was another, smaller, graduation celebration that stands out in my mind. In June, together with three students who also graduated with BAs this year, I hosted a graduation at the prison in Chino for 11 students who completed the Yearlong Certificate in Art and Creative writing. These graduates did not receive a university diploma or celebrate their day with caps and gowns, dinners out, or even balloons and streamers. They walked across a makeshift concrete stage in prison-issue blues to receive their certificates. Those assembled to support them — teaching artists, volunteers, prison staff, and a precious few family members — sat together with the graduates in plastic chairs clustered under a metal awning in the visiting yard. Despite the humble surroundings, the celebration was as festive as any, and all the more laudatory for the effort that these men had put forward to complete this achievement. Continue reading

Three Recent Books, Including a Funny and Inventive Graphic Novel, On What It Means to Be a Korean

By Charles Montgomery

Time to take a break from the history of Korean literature and talk a little bit about three recently published works, each of which shines a light on a particular aspect of the Korean experience: one story and essay collection that shines a light on Korean literature under colonialism and just after; some “international” Korean fiction; and a lovely if voluminous manwha (or graphic novel) on man’s struggles with the city, the countryside, and himself. Continue reading

The Farhang Foundation 9th Annual Short Film Festival

By Orly Minazad

One of the perks of living in Los Angeles is the bottomless pit of cultural exploits and opportunities just an Uber ride away. At the forefront of some of those events is Farhang Foundation, the leading purveyor of Iranian cultural celebrations. Since 2008, the non-profit foundation has been championing Persian artists from all over the world and welcoming the community to indulge in the festivities. Continue reading

A Middle Class Childhood in the Middle East: Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Illustrations of old radios fill one sequence of Brigitte Findakly’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. Findakly writes that after the fall of the monarchy, when Iraq was declared a republic, the people of her country often tuned into an Arabic radio show broadcast from Israel, the only source of uncensored news about the Iraqi government. The program ran for over 20 years and was strictly banned: “Those who listened to it ran the risk of stiff prison sentence,” Findakly writes. “The show was a favorite and everybody tuned in.” But Findakly, at 11 years old in 1970, wasn’t everybody; an illustration depicts her sweetly smiling in bed with a radio on the pillow beside her, listening to Voice of America for English pop songs. Continue reading

The end of The Cambodia Daily: A Strongman Can Shut a Newspaper but Can’t Shut Up a Reporter

By Susannah Luthi

The last issue of the Cambodia Daily — “News Without Fear or Favor” — appeared September 4 with the headline: “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship” and a photograph of government opposition leader Kem Sokha in handcuffs and the grip of a policeman. Kem Sokha looks disgusted. The newspaper sold rapidly, people massed to get their copies all over the streets of Phnom Penh. And then there were none. Kem Sokha is locked up in a high security prison in an eastern province of the country. Continue reading

A Two-Way Street: Talking to Josiah Ober

By Andy Fitch 

This conversation focuses on Josiah Ober’s books The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, and Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule. Ober, Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University, focuses on the contemporary relevance of the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world. From probing the complicated (and intellectually generative) social status of economically powerful yet politically marginalized elites, to prioritizing democratic-tending Athens’s distinct capacities for producing/sharing both practical and specialized fields of knowledge, to reconceptualizing the commercial prowess and relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth across ancient Greece’s diversified macro-ecology, Ober consistently has prompted new methods for rethinking when, how, and why dialogue might open up eudaimonic possibilities within the lives of its participants. And even as these methods have received praise across numerous academic disciplines, Ober never has lost his deft touch for showing why our own ever-provisional democratic culture (both inside and outside the academy) ought continually to look to classical precedent as one practical means for engaging the most pressing social questions of the present. Ober’s latest book Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism in Theory and Practice, recently published by Cambridge University Press, will be the subject of a sequent conversation. Continue reading