The country’s incoming college students have been exhorted, repeatedly, to major in something “useful,” rather than something intellectual. The idea is that there is a split between “useful” majors, which teach a specific skill (like marketing, computer science, or architecture) and “useless” majors, which are designed to impart, gasp, knowledge (think the humanities, natural sciences, etc). Major in something “useful,” the argument goes, and expect to be showered in riches. Those who major in something “useless,” meanwhile, can look forward to a future on the unemployment line.
Chicago -- It was the skin—smooth and hairless as a newborn’s forearm—that I fastened on when I saw Sara Andrews, the first “transwoman” I had ever met, at the Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club in Boystown, on Chicago’s North Side. The ambiance at the club was glitter balls, silver-leather banquettes, Busby Berkeley dance loops projected onto the walls, and as entertainers a bevy of dressed-to-the-hilt, lip-synching “divas,” as the Kit Kat calls its drag lineup.
In an earlier life, The Scrapbook worked at the Washington Times under the storied foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave, whose long career at Newsweek was already the stuff of legend when he became editor in chief of the Times in 1985. As an underdog, upstart, scrappy competitor of the Washington Post, the Times had an eccentric newsroom in those days.
Every now and then a minor news story manages to capture, in its details, some particle of truth about contemporary history and the state of the culture. Case in point: a story in last week’s Washington Post entitled “Lyndon Johnson’s letter to MLK’s widow heads to auction after big fight.” Our attention was drawn partly because The Scrapbook has an interest in historical ephemera—manuscripts, daguerreotypes, early recordings, what eBay calls “collectibles”—and stories about Martin Luther King Jr. artifacts are always intriguing.
Over the holidays, I was at my sister’s place. The youngest generation was racing about the house screaming “Not in the face!” as they shot each other with foam projectiles launched from colorful plastic rifles.
When the sociologist Timothy Nelson asked low-income men who didn’t live with their children what the ideal father was like, eight of them spontaneously mentioned the same man: Ward Cleaver, the dad from Leave It to Beaver. That might make sense if Nelson’s interviews had taken place in the 1950s-60s, when the show aired; but these men were interviewed in the late 2000s. Why did they hark back to a man old enough to be their own grandfather?
What is America’s greatest contribution to the arts? Time was when many, perhaps most, people would have pointed to the Broadway musical as the likeliest candidate for admission to the pantheon. Theatergoers around the world have long rejoiced in the delights of the genre, including some whom one might well have thought too snobbish to admit its excellence.
When I tell you that, in my opinion, the three novels now known as the Fifty Shades Trilogy are the worst books I have ever read all the way through, I am not telling you anything interesting. To criticize E. L. James’s publishing version of winning the Irish Sweepstakes is to attack a cultural phenomenon entirely beyond the reach of criticism. These three books, originally published as a series of posts on a fan-fiction website, ended up earning their author $95 million in a single year.
Failing upwards is a Washington tradition, but even The Scrapbook was taken aback by the promotion of Jennifer Psaki from State Department spokesperson to White House director of communications. Psaki, along with her State Department colleague Marie Harf, had acquired quite the reputation for putting the “foggy” in Foggy Bottom.
This is a meticulous account of the 90-year debate over the teaching of evolution in Florida’s public schools, and it is full of high drama and raw emotion. It is populated by dozens upon dozens of passionate culture warriors on both sides of the divisive issue. But unless you are a dedicated student of this strand of intellectual history, or a longtime resident of Florida’s Gulf Coast counties around Tampa, you are unlikely to have heard of a single one of them.