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Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

This page, featuring quotes from other websites, highlights fun and interesting developments in pop culture.

Douglass believed photography would set his people free by telling the truth about their humanity. He escaped from slavery, in 1838, just about when the daguerreotype came to the United States. He’d been advertised as a runaway, in the newspaper, with a little woodcut: a caricature of a black man. In 1841, he sat for his first photograph, in a dark suit, with a stiff, white collar, staring straight into the camera. “Have we been listening to a thing, a piece of property, or to a man?” the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison asked, when he took the stage after Douglass spoke in public for the first time. “A man! A man!,” came the cry from the crowd. His voice, his face, his photograph, proof: I am a man.

Douglass went on to become the most celebrated orator of his day and also—a fact established in a terrific new book, “Picturing Frederick Douglass”—the most photographed man in America. Douglass was photographed a lot because he was famous, but also because he was fascinated with photography. “Negroes can never have impartial portraits at the hands of white artists,” he said. “It seems to us next to impossible for white men to take likenesses of black men, without most grossly exaggerating their distinctive features.” But photographs, he thought, would tell the truth.

If Woody Guthrie, America’s most revered troubadour for social justice, was still alive he would no doubt be celebrating his 104th birthday today by writing songs about Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, the physically handicapped, and other groups and about the growing Black Lives Matter movement against police racism.

Since Trump began his campaign for president, many comedians have parodied him, and many political pundits have winced at his outrageous comments, but no one has yet written a song that captures The Donald’s full frontal craziness and mean-spiritedness.

Guthrie, who is best known for “This Land is Your Land,” would have had a field day finding things to write about Trump.

In the 1940s, Guthrie penned a song, “Mr. Charlie Lindbergh,” that that offers a glimpse into what he might have written about the presumptive Republican nominee for president. In the song, Guthrie excoriated two right-wing demagogues — aviator Charles Lindbergh and the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin — for views that sound very similar to those now expressed by Trump, who has branded his foreign policy with the slogan “America First.” In the 1930s and early 1940s, Lindbergh and Coughlin were part of the “America First” movement, an isolationist, anti-Semitic crusade that wanted the United States to appease Adolf Hitler. Lindbergh served as the committee’s principal spokesman and chief drawing card at its rallies.

A new film opening this weekend (July 8) focuses attention on a long-ignored war crime — the sanctioned and systematic rape of Polish nuns during World War II.

The Innocents” (“Les Innocentes”) tells the story of a young French doctor who is called to a Polish convent to aid a young novice in a breech labor. She discovers that Soviet soldiers, with the approval of their officers, raped dozens of the nuns during the occupation, leaving five of them pregnant.

But at the core of the film is the most perplexing question raised by war — why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? The faithful nuns wrestle with severe doubt while the atheist doctor respects their faith.

Everyone knows that Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear. But since that fateful event nearly 128 years ago, there has been continuing debate among scholars about the severity of that mutilation, which took place in Arles, France, in December 1888. Did he simply slice off a little chunk of his ear, or did he lop off the entire ear?

The author and amateur historian Bernadette Murphy, while researching the last period of that Dutch Post Impressionist’s life for a new book, discovered a document in an American archive that may help resolve the issue. A note written by Félix Rey, a doctor who treated van Gogh at the Arles hospital, contains a drawing of the mangled ear showing that the artist indeed cut off the whole thing.

The Photo That Changed the Civil Rights Movement (as video of police shootings is changing history today)

More than 60 years ago, when racial segregation was still the norm in many states, one grieving mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, understood the power of imagery to expose America’s racism.

In August 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. There he encountered Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Whether Till really flirted with Bryant or whistled at her isn’t known. But what happened four days later is. Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother, J.W. Milam, seized the 14-year-old from his great-uncle’s house. The pair then beat Till, shot him, and strung barbed wire and a 75-pound metal fan around his neck and dumped the lifeless body in the Tallahatchie River. A white jury quickly acquitted the men, with one juror saying it had taken so long only because they had to break to drink some pop.

When Till’s mother Mamie came to identify her son, she told the funeral director, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.” She brought him home to Chicago and insisted on an open casket. Tens of thousands filed past Till’s remains, but it was the publication of the searing image photographed by David Jackson and first published in Jet magazine, with a stoic Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s ravaged body, that forced the world to reckon with the brutality of American racism.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s final bows for his farewell performance in “Hamilton” on Saturday night seemed routine, if overly humble for the departure of the show’s star and mastermind. He even shared his bows with the other cast members also exiting the show, including Phillipa Soo and the Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr.

But then the theme song to “The West Wing” kicked in from the orchestra pit.

Mr. Miranda giggled and took a couple of shy bows, only to turn around and be embraced then pushed back to the front of the stage by Christopher Jackson, who plays George Washington, for a proper bow.

MATAWAN, N.J. — On a sweltering July afternoon in 1916, Lester Stillwell, 11, jumped into the secluded Matawan Creek here, not seeing the large mass moving toward him in the water.

“Watch me float, fellas!” Lester gloated to his friends, according to published accounts of the day.

Suddenly, a huge fish rose, snatched Lester’s arm and flung him up and down, then dragged him deeper into the creek.

That attack in this small town was the third of four killings by what was believed to be the same great white shark as it traveled — hungry and confused — north along the New Jersey coastline that summer, said Al Savolaine, a Matawan historian and author of “Stanley Fisher: Shark Attack Hero of a Bygone Age.” The Matawan attack was unusual because it occurred in an inland creek — no more than 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep — about a mile and a half from the closest bay.

Almost everywhere you turn, it seems, people have their eyes glued to smartphone screens playing Pokémon Go. Since its launch last week, the app has quickly become a cultural phenomenon that has fans of all ages hunting around their neighborhoods for collectible digital creatures that appear on players' screens as they explore real-world locations.

But there's at least one place that would really like to keep Pokémon out: the Holocaust Museum.

The museum, along with many other landmarks, is a "PokéStop" within the game — a place where players can get free in-game items. There are three PokéStops associated with various parts of the museum.

The song has rung out at marches and vigils throughout the country over the last week: “We Shall Overcome.”

With its message of solidarity and hope, and its legacy as a civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome” has become a symbol of peaceful protest. Along with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” it is so deeply woven into the country’s fabric that it is considered an American treasure, akin to a national park or a presidential monument.

Both songs are considered private property, however, since each of them enjoy copyright protection. But that status could soon change, through a pair of lawsuits that seek to have the songs added to the public domain, where they would join “Happy Birthday to You,” a formerly copyrighted classic recently ruled to be among the creative works available for any and all to use as they choose.

By Gabriele Neher, an Assistant Professor of History of Art, University of Nottingham.

I had better confess straight away: I love reading historical fiction. So much so that I actually recommend to my Renaissance students that they read it too. Putting fictional flesh on historical bones can teach us a lot – about storytelling and, yes, also about history….

Here are some of my favourite authors – any of whom would make perfect holiday reads.

CJ Sansom,
SJ Parris
Sarah Dunant
Toby Clements

Charles M. Blow’s widely touted view in the New York Times essentially dismisses the film as another entry to the “white savior” genre. However, the movie clearly depicts African Americans as saviors of Newt Knight. Their role is not that of bit players but as vital characters that move the story forward. As was true across the South, Confederate deserters heading into the hills or swamps found clusters of runaway slaves already present and would scarcely have done as well as they did without black assistance.

In the movie, Newt Knight nudges these deserters to reconsider their racial assumptions, but what really forces the point is their comradeship with African Americans in their status and active resistance. When Newt decides to address the question publicly among his band, he chooses not to do so himself, but questions his black comrade, Moses Washington, a composite of figures which surely did participate in the Jones County revolt.

In his The Last Policeman trilogy, Ben Winters imagined a detective practicing his profession in a world where the imminent extinction of humanity via an incoming asteroid makes law enforcement seem pointless. With his newest book, Underground Airlines, he invents another sort of existential detective—a manhunter for the U.S. Marshals—pushed to a different extreme. The narrator of the novel, who goes by the name Victor, tracks down runaway slaves in an alternate version of the United States in which the Civil War never occurred and four Southern states continue to support the ownership of human beings, or “Persons Bound to Labor,” as bureaucratic euphemism would have it. One thing that makes Victor a particularly effective operative is that he is black himself, and an escaped slave.