Rage and Love: In Defense of Millennials

This post is brought to you by the letters R and L as part of Robin Renee’s BLOG MARCH 2017, a fantastic voyage for all six senses!

As a teacher of literature to undergraduate students, I face difficult conversations about the history of American eugenics, the onset of catastrophic climate change, and the effects of Jar Jar Binks on the Star Wars franchise. Against the wisdom of my elders, who characterize Millennials as melting snowflakes, I must report that my students are tough, determined, and not easily fooled. [irony]I am sure this will be a popular view.[/irony] Admittedly, these are broad strokes about the American middle class, such as it is these days, but there is a problem, and it isn’t over-sensitivity. What hounds my students, I find, is the madness of being stuck in someone else’s story. Afflicted with a Hunger Games job market, they are told that they are lazy. Witness to the racial, sexual, and economic violence of our times, they are told to stop complaining. They are so easily triggered, submerged by rent and the rising tide. I share their confusion at such smug narratives. A generation earlier, I graduated into a recession, only to be told it was my fault I was a temporary worker with a college degree. The Matrix of America taught me to confuse structural and personal problems too. The experiments in student debt, the new Jim Crow, and endless war were conducted on Gen X before M, and therein lies some good news, if we choose to make it so. The Millennials are not alone: they have cranky older friends who aren’t high on our own supply. We assure them they are not crazy or blind, not exaggerating the anxious twitch under their tattoos. The gifts that X offers are signified by a band we share, Green Day, and drawn from their prescient album American Idiot. Those gifts are rage and love.

“I’m the son of rage and love” sang Billie Joe Armstrong in “Jesus of Suburbia.” This is a moment of repentance for me: in the snobbery borne of Dead Kennedys and New Wave, I was not sure Green Day was really punk until this album. But there in the heart of the Iraq War came a melodic yet righteous protest that I am happy to share with my Millennial friends: rage at the state of the world and a burning love for it. If the art of X has succeeded in shaping any new story, it is the persistence of Scooby-Gangs in the name of justice (thank you, Buffy). The latest Guardians of the Galaxy is nothing if not a declaration of solidarity among funky friends in the face of murderous patriarchs. That’s a story we can use these days, one that evolves. One change, as X ages, is the younger allies that rise in the plot. Among my students, I pose as the grumpy old Logan in the film of the same name, no longer healing the way I used to, but still with the adamantium claws. After all the harrumphing about corporate villains and mercenaries, Logan admits that he cares about X-23, the deadly daughter he never planned for. “Does she remind you of anyone?” asks Patrick Stewart. You don’t need to be a telepath to get the point. Logan’s anger, his will to fight, was always an urge to give new mutants a chance. X-Men comics are never about defense alone, but the creation of refuge that allows children to grow into citizens. This too is a kind of love–not romantic or parental, but republican, the foundation of the res publica, the commonwealth.

So it falls to us to tell another tale beyond the tropes of generational failure. “The bible of none of the above,” dear Green Day, is not a blank book: we are writing it. To our Millennial friends, let us say: today is a good day to struggle with love, to make a better republic and to save the world a lot. We are on our way. We’re with you now.

Like la lutte, the Blog March continues: Check out Jessica Walsh tomorrow at A Wellness Journey to My Better Self and a Simpler Life!


Artifact Internship Utah Division of State History

Artifact Internships at the Utah Division of State History (UDSH)

July 22, 2013

The Utah Division of State History located in Salt Lake City in the historic Rio Grande Station seeks to fill three temporary summer then part-time positions (July to possibly the end of October, 2013). 

Under the supervision of  Library & Collections Program staff, these employees will prepare collection storage rooms, produce preliminary registration/collection records and create case files for unprocessed and legacy artifact collections held by the UDSH.

The hourly rate is $12.00 per hour, no benefits.  Applicants must be able to lift 50 lbs., sometimes constantly;  and in combination with other employees lift and move oversize objects exceeding 50 lbs.  These employees will also be standing for extended periods of time.    

Preferential  consideration will be given to those who have completed, or are now engaged in a  graduate programs in museum studies, American material culture, curatorial studies, public history, American history or other allied programs where emphasis is placed on the study, description and care of historical objects.  Knowledge of Microsoft Suites and exposure to databases is also a plus.

These positions will remain open until three qualified applicants are selected; however, the UDSH wishes to fill these positions as soon as possible. Interested applicants should send their resume and cover letter to Doug Misner, Coordinator of Library & Collections Program, at dmisner@utah.gov

Brad Westwood

Director | State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)
Utah Division of State History & Utah State Historical Society 
300 Rio Grande St. | Salt Lake City, Utah  84101
bradwestwood@utah.gov  | Mobile: 801.367.6324 | Office: 801.245.7248
Web http://history.utah.gov/ | See also LinkedIn and Facebook 
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In the fall, I’m teaching a course called “Postmodern Fiction and Environmental Justice,” and the last novel we will read is The Hunger Games. Having just finished it myself (I saw the movie first), I am still in shock that such a profoundly dystopian novel has become so popular. I mean, was a teenage doomster, but most of my peers were not. My contacts in the tween world inform me that entire schools become obsessed with this novel at once.

So now I am starting to think about how to approach this with the class. By the time we arrive at December, we will have thoroughly discussed such cheerful topics as environmental racism, corporate capitalism, and climate change. The Hunger Games will fit right in, once I explain the history of coal mining in Appalachia. But I am very much interested in the way postmodern fictions produce hope as a narrative effect, and the hope of this novel centers on the lack of a double-suicide in the protagonists! Woo-hoo! Yes, the success of Katniss and Peeta implies the possibility of rebellion against the metropole, and the use of the term “district” points to the successful struggle against South African apartheid, but…that’s not a lot by itself.

I will be using this space to think through these problems. If anyone has any suggestions, especially if you’ve taught the novel before, please feel free to chime in.

Cultural Sustainability and the African Burying Ground

black heritage trail

I just had the pleasure of attending the summer seminar “Ecology and Ethnicity: Sustainability Studies’ Contributions to Place,” sponsored by the Sustainability Institute of the University of New Hampshire and led by Siobhan Senier of the English Department. After reviewing the history of sustainability and the rise of Sustainability Studies as a field, the seminar asked pointed questions about the contributions of the environmental humanities to that field. It asked how the project of sustainability should be informed by issues of race and ethnicity as “wicked problems” that humanists study. We were addressed by Darren Ranco, an anthropologist from the University of Maine who studies the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer–an invasive insect that destroys ash trees–on Wabanaki basket-making, and by Angel David Nieves, a professor of Africana Studies at Hamilton College, whose research traces the rebuilding of District 6, a multicultural neighborhood of Cape Town, South Africa, that was razed under apartheid.

One of the most provocative concepts they addressed was cultural sustainability, the aspect of sustainability excluded from technocratic treatments. Following David Throsby, we can understand cultural sustainability as the promotion of cultural diversity as an aspect of ecological sustainability. Our field trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, provided a lesson in cultural sustainability through our investigation of its African Burying Ground. The African Burying Ground, originally a swamp where African slaves and indentured servants were buried, dates from the eighteenth century. This ground was paved over in the twentieth century, and the graves lie under Chestnut Street, as seen in the photograph below, taken from In Honor of Those Forgotten: The Portsmouth, New Hampshire African Burying Ground.

burying ground2

The situation of the Burying Ground illustrates the intersection of cultural sustainability with ethnicity. While the graves of English townspeople from the same period are well-preserved, raised off the street level and marked by fence and gravestones, the African graves were unmarked and forgotten until very recently. This raises questions of racial equity in the representation of history. Whose history is honored? Whose history is accessible to the public? How does the loss of memory shape our use of urban space, and whose interests are served by this loss? Who benefits from the recovery of the Burying Ground? What is the relationship between the forgotten graves and the filling-in of their swamp? When examined on the scale of centuries, these questions clearly fall under the rubric of intergenerational equity, an important principle in Sustainability Studies, which states that a sustainable culture should not steal from the future or the past to serve the present. In Portsmouth, intergenerational inequity is inflected by race: the white masters are remembered and the black servants are forgotten. But equity, understood across race, also suggests that the loss of the African Burying Ground disfigures the present of Portsmouth because the city has been shaped by African American lives since 1645. Sustainability teaches us that the burying ground must be recovered in order to understand the history of the city’s land and water, which is also the story of race and power.

Through the work of local activists, historians, and the Portsmouth Town Council, the burying grounds have been reclaimed through an ongoing project, In Honor of Those Forgotten, which seeks to convert this block of Chestnut Street into a memorial park. The work has proceeded in phases. As we saw, there are new signs of the burying ground even as the street continues to be used. At the moment, the problem of collective memory is highlighted by signage:

town records2

This sign is posted on the side of a house used as a local business, demonstrating the potential conflict between economic and cultural sustainability: once the memorial park is built, the business will have to relocate, and the character of this part of Portsmouth will change. However, because the reclamation of the burying ground was pursued as a public matter, it has become a matter of civic pride, raising the cultural capital of the city itself, as demonstrated by the rhetoric of the project’s web site. The city hired professional archaeologists and designers to investigate the grounds and design an appropriate memorial, resurrecting the memory of the African dead through an official civic process.

The practical limitations of such work can be seen in the problem of financial capital. Though the project has been approved, it cannot move forward until all the funds for the memorial have been raised. Local sources suggest that the city has not raised half of the needed funds. Until the fundraising goal is reached, the creation of public memory will be stalled in its current state, where the memory of forgetting features more prominently than the ground itself. As material ecocriticism reminds us, the transformation of the land as a site of memory is more complicated than the transformation of media about the land. The case of the Portsmouth African Burying Ground demonstrates that the intersection of race and sustainability creates a long-term need for financial, cultural, and social resources that require the attention of communities over many decades. As ecocritics consider the practical import of sustainability and resilience, we should remember that intergenerational equity is broken across lines of race and ethnicity, and fashion our responses accordingly.

Environmental Humanities is online

The new journal Environmental Humanities is now online.

In “Thinking through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities,” the editors–Deborah Bird Rose et al.–say this about their project:

“Welcome to the first volume of this new, international, open-access journal. Environmental Humanities aims to support and further a wide range of conversations on environmental issues in this time of growing awareness of the ecological and social challenges facing all life on earth. The field of environmental humanities is growing rapidly, both in research and teaching. In just the past few years, a number of research centres and undergraduate and postgraduate programs have emerged at universities all around the world: in the USA, the UK, Scandinavia, Taiwan and Australia, to name just a few places. In each area, this broad domain of scholarship is being taken up and developed in a distinct way. In general, however, the environmental humanities can be understood to be a wide ranging response to the environmental challenges of our time. Drawing on humanities and social science disciplines that have brought qualitative analysis to bear on environmental issues, the environmental humanities engages with fundamental questions of meaning, value, responsibility and purpose in a time of rapid, and escalating, change.”

Slaying the Climate Crisis

Below is a video featuring Jane McGonigal, game theorist and author of Reality Is Brokena book about the use of games as heuristic devices for solving problems. Here, she talks about the way she overcame the despair that followed a serious head injury. Essentially, she made her recovery into a game, in which she deployed strategies, recruited allies, and told herself a story that enabled her recovery.

It seems to me that the environmental humanities, especially those of us who work in rhetoric, have a lot to learn from this approach. As many have noted, American environmental rhetoric has often depended on fear as a motivating force. McGonigal details a technique that could be used en masse to mobilize hope. That’s really important, especially at the interface between scholarship and activism.

A Picture of the Damage in New Jersey


This is a picture of the damage in my neighborhood in Highland Park, NJ. We were struck by sustained hurricane-force winds for several hours, and lost power for days and, in some cases, weeks, but we were spared major structural damage, otherwise.

It’s hard not to read this picture as an allegory of Sandy’s psychic impact on the region. Thanks for John Paxton for the photo.

The Bloomberg Plan for New York City in the Era of Climate Disruption

Those of us who address sustainability, resilience, petroculture, infrastructure, and other issues related to climate disruption may be unaware that Mayor Bloomberg commissioned a series of reports on these topics well before Sandy hit. One of the most important reports, “PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York,” can be accessed here.

This is the way the site describes the plan:

“Released in 2007, PlaNYC was an unprecedented effort undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The Plan brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York. Since then, we have made significant progress towards our long-term goals.

In just four years we’ve built hundreds of acres of new parkland while improving our existing parks. We’ve created or preserved more than 64,000 units of housing. We’ve built whole new neighborhoods with access to transit. We’ve provided New Yorkers with more transportation options. We’ve enacted the most ambitious laws of any city in the country to make existing buildings more energy-efficient.  And we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions 13% below 2005 levels. Over 97% of the 127 initiatives in PlaNYC were launched within one-year of its release and almost two-thirds of its 2009 milestones were achieved or mostly achieved.

The updated plan has 132 initiatives and more than 400 specific milestones for December 31, 2013.