This past year, California has had one of its wettest winters on record. In a state known for dramatic weather environments and diverse geographical systems, this has resulted in a lot of weather-induced incidents. This winter’s rains have been especially significant for Big Sur.
Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Carmel-San Simeon Highway - these are all the different names that the windy stretch of two-lane road that travels 90 miles from Carmel to San Simeon go by. It’s often taken by tourists driving the long and scenic way driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles (as opposed to along I-5 through the central valley filled with large scale vegetative and animal agriculture). The highway is also no stranger to weather related closures — over the decades it’s had to close numerous times because of damage to bridges that traverse canyons, or mudslides that have covered portions of the road.
In this article posted by NPR last night, it highlighted the demanding nature of the landscape and the toll it takes on residents through describing the alternative means of transportation many had to take to get to work and school: walking. And while Big Sur is known today as a scenic tourist destination that appeals to hikers, campers, bucket-listers, and free-spirits alike, it wasn’t always that way.
The Carmel-San Simeon Highway first opened to the public in 1937. Prior to that, the Big Sur coastline was home to ranchers (the original Post Ranch owned by the Post family), homesteaders (the Pfeiffers of Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park), and itinerant laborers working as miners, loggers, and any other manual labor required in an economy based heavily around natural resource extraction from the local environment. With the opening of the highway**, however, the culture and community of the coastline shifted toward natural preservation and a tourism-based economy. Even this NY Times article contributes to maintaining that image of Big Sur by reaching out to its nation-wide audience to say Hey! Big Sur still exists! And you can still visit it!
While the NY Times and others work to maintain the tourism potential of Big Sur, others are asking, is it worth it? The California coast line has always been a rugged place. When my family lived in the area, people told us about how the cowboys (yes, cowboys) would ride into the Carmel Valley Village on their horses still into the 1980s. Down on the coast, the homesteading lifestyle of the pre-highway era has been replaced. While many homes are still off the grid either running on generators or solar energy, the transportation infrastructure has changed, and the closures along the highway have illustrated that the community is not equipped to handle a throw-back transportation infrastructure.
In contrast to the heavy tourism along the central coast, California’s north coast remains sparsely populated and sparsely visited. Highway 1 continues up through San Francisco, into Marin and Mendocino counties (still popular tourist attractions) yet veers inland instead of continuing along a similarly rugged landscape. Known as the “lost coast” and part of federally protected lands, this part of the state has had a different history than Big Sur. I would suggest that it’s due in part to the (mis)fortune of not being situated between two major metropolitan areas within a days drive of each other.
The popularity of Big Sur rests on the visitors being able to enjoy the experience from their car seat. If that is no longer feasible, what becomes of the region? How does this shift California’s economy? What impact does that have for Carmel and Monterey’s tourism? For Hearst Castle? And how can we understand these changes in the context of climate change on the one hand, and economic shifts on the other?
*This post’s title is taken from Rosalind Sharpe Wall’s memoir “A Wild Cost and Lonely: Big Sur Pioneers” in which she chronicles growing up in Big Sur prior to the opening of Carmel-San Simeon Highway.
**I should note that the highway’s development was in part to more easily facilitate the tourism that had already been happening in the region.
This is Part II of my thoughts on the #FindYourPark movement. You can find Part I here.
The NPS has a loooong history of employing non-governmental persons and entities to assist with park administration, services, and publicity. I say this as preface to my examples so that they are not seen as strange and unusual, yet we might also be able to think maybe more critically about them.
First, is the sponsors banner at the bottom of the #FindYourPark homepage that follows you as you scroll through. The NPS on its own would not exhibit such a sponsor list (although political cartoons have joked about congressmen sporting NASCAR like suits showcasing their corporate sponsors). However, #FindYourPark is not solely an NPS endeavor, but a partnership with the National Park Foundation. As an organization that is not a government agency, they have more latitude with how they may operate, most significantly in relation to finances.
This page banner displays the redesigned logos of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, to showcase a closer relationship between them. It also features the company logos of American Express, Budweiser, Subaru, REI, Humana, and Disney. While Subaru and REI feel like more “natural” choices as they are often associated with outdoor recreation (I mean, Secretary Sally Jewell was the former CEO for REI), there are questions about the presence of a company based on debt, another that promotes the consumption of alcohol, a health care company, and an entertainment company. Many of these companies sponsor a variety of different activities and events in the US and around the world, yet the question remains, why partner for #FindYourPark?
Second, are the ways that #FindYourPark has deployed celebrities and public figures as talking heads promoting the #FindYourPark movement. The #FindYourPark website hosts a series of videos from these individuals profiling their role in the movement, ranging from Michelle Obama, to Bill Nye, to official NPS employees. The National Park Foundation has also been active on Tumblr, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been somewhat of a featured celebrity in his interactions with #FindYourPark and his work in promoting the movement and parks in general. His Tumblr (hitrecord) and his other tumblr (hitrecordjoe) have been partially devoted to promoting the cause.
Back at the NPS Narratives Symposium, people lamented at how the NPS has been really bad at publicity, expecting the NPS to sort of speak for themselves. Through #FindYourPark and working with the National Park Foundation, they seem to have taken that self-criticism and gone way into an almost corproate-style approach of publicity and outreach. I don’t want to call this a “neoliberal” move because I recognize the NPS has been using partnerships for almost as long as the agency has existed, but there does seem to be a shift toward a more corporate partner approach in addition to its longer legacy of private non-profit partnerships.
Recently, the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation have partnered together to launch #FindYourPark. This is in preparation of the 100th anniversary of the NPS (1916-2016). The “movement,” if you like, is largely based on social media and digital platforms (if the # didn’t already give that away). Part of the goal is to get people OUT to FIND and experience their parks, and then share that experience digital through sharing and tagging images and memories (mostly images).
[On a side note, in trying to learn more about #FindYourPark I learned that the National Park Foundation is the "official charity of the National Park Service," as established by an act of Congress in 1967.]
Much can be said about #FindYourPark, and I may revisit this topic. But right now, there are two aspects I want to focus on:
With the upcoming centennial of the founding the National Park Service, the NPS and its partners have been engaging in campaigns, studies, and dialogue surrounding the future of the next century of the NPS. At the NPS Narratives symposium in September 2014, issues of Diversity, Relevance, and Inclusion were a hot topic amidst these conversations about the NPS centennial.
The NPS recognizes that is a very white organization, and that it needs to do more work towards creating and managing sites that speak to a diverse American experience. Some moves towards this inclusion of diversity include the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, an LGBT special resource study announced by Secretary Jewell, and other identity group specific resource studies to identify culturally and historical significant resources. This comes amidst nation wide conversations about the shifting demographics of the United States toward a “majority-minority” country.
While I recognize the good work that the NPS is doing in thinking seriously about the issues it has around the whiteness of its workforce and the low retention levels of its employees of color, merely hiring more people of color or establishing more parks that speak to diverse historical experiences does not erase the fact that the agency’s (and nation’s) existence relies upon the territorial dispossession of native communities. I know that may sound a bit harsh, but conversations about contemporary inclusion can’t ignore historical exclusion.
Despite these aims, the promo video for #FindYourPark still is mostly natural/scenic sites and wonders, with some people thrown in, and a fairly diverse set of people at that. Again though, this does not erase the system’s roots as a playground for the monied elite whose industrial, political, and economic policies were responsible for some of the realities of economic inequality and low quality of life that a diverse array of communities experience today.
Scholars in Ethnic Studies and other related fields have used a framework of a “politics of recognition” to explore relations of inclusion and exclusion of oppressed and marginalized communities within the state or other powerful institutions. I want to consider though, what does a politics of recognition foreclose? What are its limits? And how does it reinforce ideas of the nation and/or state?
The thoughts continue in Part II.
This past weekend I went on a short hike in the Marin Headlands. Apart from being gorgeous, the area is also filled with old military bunkers, batteries, and installations. Some of it is interpreted (like Battery Townsley) and some of it is sitting there to be stumbled upon.
Since my first trip to Angel Island several years ago, I've been interested in the ways that State and National Parks do and don't preserve historical structures -- especially structures that have associations with WWII and the Cold War. From these images it's clear that the structures are not being maintained. While some of the graffiti is rather run-of-the-mill, some folks have gotten rather creative.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is not the only place to have its military ruins graffitied. This image from one of my first trips to Angel Island began my interest in noticing the graffiti in these park spaces.
This John Oliver clip has been going around. In it, he talks about the status of American island territories with regards to Presidential voting and Congressional representation. He points out that 98.4% of the population of those island territories are ethnic/racial minorities. And part of how he lambasts the situation where four million American citizens do not have congressional representation and cannot vote is by identifying the large numbers of (mostly) Guamanians and American Samoans who serve in the armed forces. He points this out as being especially egregious in the case of American Samoa where they are considered to be US nationals, not citizens.
While he jokes that perhaps the American flag should be an American Samoan waving a flag that shows a Guamanian waving an American flag, his argument still rests on the assumption that military service = citizenship and national belonging. This is part of the same logic that is used with regards to DREAM Act, that has the potential to provide citizenship to undocumented immigrants who immigrated as minors, and who either complete a four-year college degree or have served in the armed forces.
These same conversations have also happened historically with regards to Filipinos who served in US armed forces, where again, military service pays dividends in American citizenship. [Note too that citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands may also currently elect to serve in the US Armed Forces.]
Two things though become somewhat troubling, or at least bring up questions for me.
Yes. There is a massive issue at play with regards to voting rights (VRA, Selma, gerrymandering, American territories). But there is also an issue too about the values we place onto military service. As the military becomes a place for communities of color and poor communities to find national belonging, will it still offer that? Does it even currently offer that? And does the preponderance of bodies of color in the military facilitate the nation’s willingness to militarily engage overseas, taking more risks, and expanding its use of force when those bodies have historically not always even be seen as American?
Camacho, Keith L. and Laurel A. Monnig. “Uncomfortable Fatigues: Chamorro Soldiers, Gendered Identities, and the Question of Decolonization in Guam,” in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific edited by Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
In a show whose tagline is “Nuclear. Family.”, I should not have been at all surprised at the way that sexuality was incorporated into the show.
Aside from heteronormative affection, the first sign of non-normative sexuality we see is Dr. Glen Babbit’s implied gay identity. Never at any point in the show does he come out and say “I’m gay,” nor does anyone name him in such explicit terms. Instead, there are a series of pauses, looks, and assumed knowledge about other individuals. Frank, Glen’s friend and current supervisor, is surprised when he finds out, not because of Glen’s identity, but because he thought that Glen would have told him about such things. When Frank returns home, he tells his wife (again, without naming it as such), and she merely replies saying that she knew.
Glen’s gay-ness surfaces periodically throughout the show, although not in visible displays of affection toward another man. Shortly after we learn that he’s gay, the scene cuts to Glen painting in his room. Later on, his painting returns and we see him pull a canvas from out of a spaced wedged between other paintings that show’s a man roughly his age. After previous conversations we’re meant to understand this to be his ex/lover/beau, who had defected to Russia and attempted to persuade Glen to do the same. Glen mentions that ironically, his ex/lover/beau is now married with children, and that “they actually punish that sort of thing over there.” While it’s clear that Glen’s identity is a taboo subject (they can’t even name it!), now, decades after the Cold War has ended, the US is still presented as a “land of freedom” in contrast to Russia and the then-fight against Fascism.
In one other scene, Glen attempts to ask something of the polygraph tester, eventually getting his answer through stating and acknowledging their shared positions as “lonely middle-aged bachelors.” This is the only other instance in which someone else is presumed to inhabit the same position as Glen.
While the representation of gay men focuses on asexual “middle aged bachelors,” female sexual relationships are shown more intimately. Abby Isaacs, the wife of Dr. Charlie Isaacs who is working on the Thin Man team, begins work as a censor-ing switchboard operator (all calls in and out of “Manhattann” are monitored and censored). On her first day she meets Elodie, the wife of another scientist who incidentally is sort of Charlie’s nemesis. Eventually, she and Abby grow close, and end up developing a sexual relationship with each other. Through several episodes it becomes clear that Abby feels conflicted about this relationship, yet does not see it as “cheating” on her husband. From Elodie we do not sense the same qualms, and even get the sense that she has developed relationships like this in the past. There is also an added layer that Elodie is originally from France, thus perhaps adding an undertone about perceived difference in social norms between American and French cultures. Abby at one point says that she’s not cheating and doesn’t want to cheat, and Elodie appears offended, asking what it is that she thinks they’re doing anyways. Neither of them say anything about how their relationship or actions affects their identities or how they view themselves. Yet these two young, twenty-something women, are the only people who we see display a queer physical relationship.
Their relationship, and Abby’s time working at the switchboard, opens up the Manhattan Project’s world of little secrets. At the “bar” on-site, a departing couple asks Abby if she would like to join them, and she appears a little flustered and confused saying no, she has to be heading home. She turns to Elodie who replies that she (Abby) of all people should know by now, in part from working at the switchboard, that everyone has their secrets. These secret worlds continue to unravel throughout the first season as Reed Akley thinks that Charlie (Abby’s husband) and Helen Prins are having an affair, Liza Winter admits she has a mental condition, Elodie’s husband sexually assaults Abby who tries to keep it secret but tells both her husband and Elodie, and that G-2 is constantly trying to uncover a spy amidst the project (who is revealed to the viewer in the season finale).
Despite some of these unconventional representations (at least for a major TV network), there’s still a sense of being bounded by heteronormativity. The question that I keep coming up against is is this normativity a result of assumed values and search for TV ratings from today (that we can’t name gay-ness on TV and that a physical, sexual relationship between two women is not perceived as threatening to men), or an attempt at replicating what would have been “authentic” to the moment of the Manhattan Project? Yet for all the male scientists (and surely, they are all male except for Helen Prins), there is not one display of physical affection between two men, even after we know there are at least two gay men on the project, while Abby and Elodie’s relationship seems sensationalized for the audience.
This past weekend I marathoned the WGN Family show Manhattan. I had been aware of the show for several months, but had been somewhat reluctant to watch it because of the emphasis on family. Based on the 1940s, and surrounding domestic issues, I can’t say that I was too keen on viewing something that centered the domesticity of a (largely white) intellectual and scientific community.
But boy, was it interesting. Aired for the first time in 2014, the show’s representation of 1940s America is seen through contemporary lenses of liberal multiculturalism. There is:
Dr. Winter’s team, working on the “implosion model” of the atomic bomb, comes to be painted as the underdog. They have only six members on their team, compared to Dr. Reed Akley’s several hundred strong team working on “Thin Man” based on the gun model. We learn early on that there are complications with “thin man” and that the implosion model is on the verge of a breakthrough, yet lacking the resources to actually break through. This creates an interesting dynamic in the show where I want to root for Dr. Winter and his team to find the atomic breakthrough! The thin man team is painted as so obnoxious, in-step, and arrogant that the implosion team seems like a breath of fresh air. However, the show does not let you forget for long that these men are convinced that their work is going to end the war, and Dr. Winter is naive enough to believe that the bomb will never have to actually be deployed - its existence will be enough of a threat (and thus signaling the beginning of Cold War politics).
The show’s liberal multiculturalism is just the beginning of all the things it has me thinking about. Expect future posts on the show touching on issues of sexuality, militarization, mental health, American-ness, and security.
(And how's that for a first real post!)
We are looking for papers to join a proposed panel for the American Studies Association 2015 Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada October 8-11, 2015.
Proposed Session Title: "Suffering for the State: Touring and Commemorating Militarized Violence"
Suffering, pain, and death are the essence of war. Yet, the interpretive practices at military history sites tend to emphasize the heroic and triumphant over the experience of pain, illness, or fear of soldiers or civilian populations. Even when pain and suffering are foregrounded in the site’s interpretive narrative, the inability for visitors to experience the physical and emotional sensations of the moment affects how that memory is taken up. This panel will evaluate museums and national parks in which the absence or selected inclusion of pain and suffering underscores larger structural issues of how militarized violence becomes in/visible in national memory and discourse. Drawing on insights from trauma theory, disability studies, history, critical military studies, and cultural studies, the panelists will consider how military sites participate in the creation of a myth of disembodied, body-less, or “victimless” wars. Interested scholars should send an abstract (250 words) and short bio to Rusty Bartels (at rrbartels [at] ucdavis [dot] edu) and Ashley Bowen-Murphy (at ashley_bowen [at] brown [dot] edu) by January 5, 2015.
Rusty Bartels, PhD teaches in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.