Friday, September 12, 2014

9 Things We Didn't Know About Miss America

We live in a much more complicated world than in 1955 when the first telecast of the Miss America pageant aired. Even if you don't plan on tuning in to this Sunday's ABC broadcast of the pageant, it is fascinating to reflect on the history and ponder its place in our contemporary culture.
More info

Kate Shindle's Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain is both a charming personal narrative about Shindle's experiences as a former Miss America, and a revelatory historical account and critique of the Miss America Organization. We learned so much about this uniquely American institution that we plucked 9 takeaways from the book that stuck with us.

Listen to Kate Shindle's podcast episode (embedded below) and learn what we didn't know about Miss America.


The feminist symbolic gesture of bra burning is a media myth. History remembers activists burning their bras outside the Miss America pageant in 1968. While bras were among the "instruments of torture" placed in the 'Freedom Trash Can' as part of the protest, bras were not actually set ablaze. The New York Radical Women weren't just protesting Maidenform but the "degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol." They also put copies of Playboy magazine and high-heeled shoes in there.
At the Freedom Trash Can, 1968 (Duke University, special collections)

America spoke, and we chose to keep the contestants in swimsuits. In 1995, the Miss America Organization attempted to settle the swimsuit competition controversy once and for all with a call-in vote:
"Seeking once and for all to bang the cultural gavel on the issue, the 1995 pageant incorporated a viewer call-in vote to decide whether this portion of the show would even happen. The well-spun effort—in which the powers that be claimed to be interested in letting the public make the determination about swimsuits—was actually a ringer; the cost of each phone vote virtually guaranteed that the pageant’s fans would dial in greater numbers than its detractors. And they did. About a million viewers spent fifty cents for each vote. Seventy-nine percent of them gave the thumbs-up to the swimsuit competition; since that decisive moment, it has continued without many mea culpas." (pp. 121)
It turns out that broadcasting a contest to choose the most "thoughtful valedictorian" Miss America does not make for sexy television.


Even pageant winners take women's studies classes and bristle at "prissy" stereotypes. During her year as Miss America, Kate Shindle once quipped to a nervous young man picking her up from the airport who jokingly assumed her heaviest suitcase was full of makeup, "Actually, that's the one with all my files on AIDS research."
"And then I feel terrible, because seriously, no need to be a complete bitch to this harmless guy. Except that I don’t think the stereotypes are harmless, because I live with them every day. Every time I show up somewhere and someone makes a crack about how surprised they are that I’m not wearing a gown. Yeah, dude. To a grade-school assembly? Seriously? Or the time I’m invited, and then uninvited, to speak at Stanford, because somebody gets the bug that Miss America won’t be able to relate to the students there. And by 'bug,' I mean 'suggestion from a women’s studies class.' Which I’ve also taken, by the way, at Northwestern. I think I can hang, guys." (pp. 51)

Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality

Reality shows and scholarship programs don't mix. When TLC broadcast the competition from 2007 to 2010, they attempted a few pre-ceremony reality shows where contestants had the clothes in their suitcases critiqued by the hosts of What Not to Wear. Another year, pageant hopefuls were asked to perform such irrelevant tasks as running obstacle courses on a cruise ship and designing outfits from scratch. It didn't go over well:

"There are also reportedly plenty of moments in these long, long days (often going from six a.m. until midnight, with not one penny of pay—which frankly doesn’t even sound legal) during which the producers try to set up conflict between the women. After the first few days, the contestants revolt and demand a meeting where they can voice their concerns. They refuse to be part of a show that is constantly trying to pit them against one another (“Miss West Virginia says she’s against gay marriage! You’re in favor of gay marriage; what do you think of her?!?”) The producers relent; the Miss America executives profess ignorance and horror that these things are going on at all." (pp. 183)


Controversy in the Miss America world isn't always bad for the pageant. Despite having to resign after nude photos surfaced, Vanessa Williams is apparently the most esteemed former Miss America, admired by both academics and journalists and even by the pageant's longtime fans and followers. Academy Award-winning author and former Miss America judge William Goldman says:
"I remember talking to some pageant people and they said that the best Miss America they ever had was Vanessa Williams. Apparently she was just sensational. She was just the most verbal, bright, terrific seller of the Miss America contest they'd ever had." (pp. 87)
Vanessa Williams, pictured at a 1984 press conference at the Golden Nugget.
Press of Atlantic City.


Pageant leadership should remember that old adage, "be careful what you ask for." In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Miss America Organization [MAO] tried to encourage a Miss America who spoke her mind by emphasizing her platform issue, but the pageant leadership wasn't prepared to work with Miss Americas who did just that:
"For more than a decade, MAO had rewarded young women for speaking their minds, both politically and with respect to their platform issues. The crown had elevated Miss America to the point where she had a voice. And this was the first time a Miss America had clearly and cannily used that voice to take the lead and put the organization in its place....the MAO leadership had absolutely no idea what to do with her....the pageant was still hanging on to the antiquated notion that a strong woman must be controlled. It probably was no coincidence that perceived 'manageability' began to pop up in Miss America judging literature and training as one of the critical personality traits for a winner." (pp. 170)

It never occurred to the MAO that a former participant could help guide the future of the program. Gretchen Carlson (Miss America 1989, host of The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson) was the first former Miss America to be invited to sit on the Miss America Organization's board, but only after 6 former winners solicited for representation:
"We tell the board members what we can offer them—sponsors, media contacts, turnaround specialists. We will call in our favors. We will mobilize other Miss Americas, most of whom are already fired up. Evelyn [Ay] gets choked up. Heather [Whitestone] cries. It’s pretty moving....And we tell them the only thing we want in return: board representation. It’s just stupid that Miss Americas—we who are living, breathing resources with significant experience, energy, and passion—are so underutilized....we do succeed in getting board representation. Two seats, to be exact. Later, three. Somewhat predictably, none of us who attended that meeting is among those chosen. If you speak up, you’re a threat. If you’re not easily managed, it’s better for you to be neutralized." (pp. 181) 

A public school assembly on AIDS delivered by a guest speaker can actually be informative, IF the speaker is savvy enough. It may not be surprising that it was easier to circumvent limitations instituted by high school administrators than the strictures of a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization, but Shindle got really good at dodging all the "don't-says" (condom, gay, etc.) at public school visits:

"Sure, I totally game the system. But what else am I supposed to do? Give a boring, condescending, up-on-a-pedestal speech that provides no information beyond 'just say no' and 'follow your dreams,' when that type of evasion is exactly what's causing AIDS to spread faster and faster and faster?...I tell them that they can ask me absolutely anything. And boy, do they." (pp. 105)
From Beyoncé's video for Pretty Hurts


Even the most outwardly confident and beautiful women struggle with body image issues. Not only is Shindle open about the problems plaguing the pageant internally, she's also very open about her own body image issues:
"I start to have problems with food. Without getting into the details, I’m overeating and then depriving myself. It’s dangerous and stupid and utterly not who I am—but really, the fact that I do it basically does make it who I am. It’s not unusual for me to burst into tears—big, hysterical tears, no less—if my plan to exercise gets thwarted by some event that runs long. Or if my ever-changing schedule means that I don’t get back to the hotel until after the gym is closed. It’s massively unhealthy, and it doesn’t stop when I give up the crown....It’s so much easier to turn myself inside out trying to make everyone happy—which, of course, is a fool’s errand on its own." (pp. 133)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor from Brazil to Canada

Labor Day may be the symbolic end of summer, but it's also a time to reflect on the contributions that workers, laborers, and unions have made to the social and economic well-being of the communities in which they work. Below are books from our backlist that tell the stories of workers from Latin America to Canada and everywhere in between. Happy Labor Day!
More info

From the Mines to the Streets

A Bolivian Activist's Life

By Benjamin Kohl and Linda C. Farthing, with Félix Muruchi
with Félix Muruchi

An extraordinary portrait of Bolivia's turbulent rise from military rule during the last half century, told through the eyes of a miner, union activist, and political prisoner.

By Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., Walter Fogel, and Fred H. Schmidt

The Chicano Worker is an incisive analysis of the labor-market experiences of Mexican American workers in the late twentieth century.
More info

The Informal and Underground Economy of the South Texas Border

By Chad Richardson and Michael J. Pisani

This first comprehensive, multidisciplinary, longitudinal study of the “off-the-books” economic systems that fuel the Laredo-to-Brownsville corridor examines the complex repercussions of these legal and illegal forms of border commerce.

More info
Organized Agriculture and the Labor Movement before the UFW

Puerto Rico, Hawaii, California

By Dionicio Nodín Valdés

More info
This pioneering comparative study investigates how agricultural workers in Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, and California struggled to organize and create a place for themselves in the institutional life of the United States.

Mexican Women in American Factories
Free Trade and Exploitation on the Border

By Carolyn Tuttle

Drawing on a rich data set of interviews with over 600 women maquila workers, this pathfinding book offers the first rigorous economic and sociological analysis of the impact of NAFTA and its implications for free trade around the world.

Tomorrow We're All Going to the Harvest
More info
Temporary Foreign Worker Programs and Neoliberal Political Economy

By Leigh Binford

This exceptional study examines the experience of Mexican workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), widely considered a model program by the World Bank and other international institutions despite the significant violations of labor and human rights inherent in the terms of employment.

Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950

By Gerald Horne

This engrossing book probes the motives and actions of all the players to reveal the full story of the Conference of Studio Unions strike and the resulting lockout of 1946.

Walking the Forest with Chico Mendes
Struggle for Justice in the Amazon
More info

By Gomercindo Rodrigues
Edited and translated by Linda Rabben

The inspiring story of courageous labor and environmental activist Chico Mendes, who led Brazil’s rubber tappers until his assassination in 1988.
More info

Apple Pie and Enchiladas
Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest

By Ann V. Millard and Jorge Chapa

The authors look at how Latinos fit into an already fractured social landscape with tensions among townspeople, farmers, and others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fall 2014 Preview

This fall and winter, UT Press will publish very important works in photographyfood, film and media studiesarchitectureLatin American Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies, including two new translations of provocative Lebanese texts by Rashid Al-Daif: Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep? and What Makes a Man?

More info
Not only do we have a memoir from a former Miss America, we're also publishing the first comprehensive examination of the Mr. America Contest by an acclaimed sports historian. Also this fall, a Cuban exile ponders the meaning of Mayberry, a veteran reporter for National Geographic and Newsweek provides a how-to handbook for aspiring journalists, and distinguished screenwriter and producer Bill Wittliff tells an engrossing tale of a Texas Huck Finn.
Below is a preview of our fall books, with videos and other goodies. Browse our full catalog here.

By Steve Wilson

More than 600 rarely seen items from the David O. Selznick archive—including on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage, restored costumes, and Selznick’s infamous memos—offer fans and film historians alike a must-have behind-the-camera view of the production of this classic movie on its seventy-fifth anniversary.

By Frederick Luis Aldama

With insightful analysis of films ranging from El Mariachi to Spy Kids 4 and Machete Kills, as well as a lively interview in which the filmmaker discusses his career, here is the first scholarly overview of the work of Robert Rodriguez, the most successful U.S. Latino filmmaker today.

By Kate Shindle

Kate Shindle weaves an engrossing memoir of her year as Miss America 1998 with a fascinating, insightful history of the pageant to reveal why confident, ambitious young women still compete in a beauty contest that struggles to remain culturally relevant.

“Kate Shindle’s sharply observed, smart, and heartbreaking take on Miss America will be embraced by pageant super fans and should be required reading for everyone who’s thought about what it takes to be America’s ideal.”
— Jennifer Weiner, author of Good in BedIn Her Shoes, and All Fall Down

By Judith Smith

Spotlighting a vibrant episode in the evolution of African American culture and consciousness in America, this book illuminates how multitalented performer Harry Belafonte became a civil rights icon, internationalist, and proponent of black pride and power.

“I thought I knew Harry Belafonte pretty well, but Judith Smith’s book has given me deeper insights into him. A wonderful portrait of Belafonte and his times.”
—Robert DeCormier, musical director for Harry Belafonte, 1957–1961
More info

By Aaron Siskind, Introduction by Gilles Mora

The first true retrospective of a towering figure in American photography and the only book on Aaron Siskind currently in print, this volume features important, rarely published work and an authoritative text by noted photo historian Gilles Mora.

Also forthcoming in photography, Beyond the Forest by Loli Kantor.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Violence and Central America’s Migrant Children

Unaccompanied minors from Central America migrating to the United States through Texas are making headlines across the country. We asked Donna De Cesare, an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Unsettled/Desasosiego: Children in a World of Gangs (2013), to wade through all the reportage and unpack what she's learned from decades of work with Central American children and gangs. 

De Cesare has documented a history of repression, violence, and trauma, in which gangs are as much a symptom as a cause of trauma, trapped as they are by social neglect. Here she offers her take on the current crisis and how policymakers in Washington should react.

The Violence Unsettling Central America’s Migrant Children

More info
by Donna De Cesare

Since June of this year an emergency at the U.S. Mexico border has been unfolding. The most immediate cause is a spike in the numbers of unaccompanied children picked up by the border patrol after making the dangerous and arduous journey from Central America to the United States. But the roots of this humanitarian crisis run much deeper. The stories the children tell involve such shocking violence that The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma was prompted to publish an online resource for journalists that references my own work of more than twenty years reporting and photographing the impact of gangs, violence, and migration on children living in Central America.

Gang violence and organized crime mayhem are major factors in the level of citizen insecurity behind the recent migration trends. Although most news stories have focused on Central American children, it is worth noting that rate of unaccompanied children from Mexico—while lower—is also increasing. A recent report by Mother Jones combines data on the magnitude of the surge in numbers of migrating Central American and Mexican children, discussion of the combination of extreme violence and poverty that these children are fleeing, compelling personal stories, and some discussion of the kind of monitoring and trauma counseling those who are able to stay here will need if they are to thrive.
San Salvador, El Salvador, 1989.
In the 1980s El Salvador had one of our hemisphere's worst human rights records. 

This victim was allegedly murdered by government death squads for violating curfew 
during the guerrilla offensive in November. 
Copyright © Donna De Cesare. From Unsettled / Desasosiego.
The crisis and the media coverage have also exposed the fear and fault lines in U.S. communities where emergency shelters for these children are being built. Protestors in Murietta, California, called to mind the ugly confrontations over school busing that plagued U.S. efforts for racial integration of schools in the 1970s. Claims that the Obama administration’s immigration policies are linked to the surge in children seeking asylum have had a polarizing effect on debate. They have little basis in fact, as Carlos Dada, director of the Salvadoran online news service El Faro and one of the best investigative journalists in Central America, can attest.

An excellent research study done in El Salvador last fall involving more than 400 child respondents by Fulbright fellow Elizabeth Kennedy, is available at the American Immigration Council resource page. "No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children Are Fleeing Their Homes" provides clear and incontestable data that child migrants are ignorant of Obama administration policies and are leaving because they are terrified to stay at home. To those who say, “If they are refugees, why aren’t they going to Costa Rica?,” the answer is quite simple. Many are going there, too. The UNDP has reported steep spikes in the numbers of unaccompanied minors flooding into Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize from the violence-afflicted nations of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

The reason that so many more children from those countries choose the life-threatening journey to the United States is that the vast majority of them know someone here. Ever since the Central American civil wars in the 1980s unleashed a flow of migrants fleeing for their lives, the trail has become a well-worn groove and a safety valve response to surges in economic and citizen security crises.

El Salvador / Hondoras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988.
Salvadoran families make their way to the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses,
after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Hondoras.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare. From Unsettled / Desasosiego.
My book Unsettled/Desasosiego published by UT Press in 2013 chronicles the stories of war refugees and describes how deportation policies spread L.A. gangs to Central America. The stories are as chilling as the stories we are hearing from children at the border today. What has changed is that the explosion of crime and violence, related to the inability of the U.S. war on drugs to influence the enormous profits made selling drugs in the U.S. market, has exposed many more children who live in the trafficking nations to a ticking time bomb. It is impossible to make staying at home a safe and desirable option until the violence unleashed by current drug policy failure is addressed.

Despite the opportunism and shrill partisanship dominating the debate in Washington over the amount and allocation of funding needed to address the child migrant emergency, for the first time in a very long time the governability woes that have been worsening in Central America have made it onto Washington’s radar. Americans are taking notice. A recent poll published in Newsweek shows that most Americans want to treat the children arriving at our border as refugees. And as I write, Time’s Lightbox blog has published a compelling set of images documenting the exodus of children leaving Honduras—currently the world’s most violent country.

Certainly Central American nations bear responsibility for weak and often corrupt state institutions and for failure to make any significant progress on the impunity, which renders their judicial systems more decorative than functional. But many Central American citizens feel they have been held hostage to a drug war designed in Washington that can only exacerbate the levels of violence in the context in which they live. If we in the United States fail to recognize that this humanitarian emergency is a symptom of our own failed vision and drug policies, a crisis that requires a thoughtful collaborative long-term response in partnership with our neighbors to the south, we will ensure an even greater crisis ahead.

Soyapango, El Salvador, 1989.
During the rebel offensive in November, civilians in a zone held by insurgents 

flee their working-class barrio after three days of aerial bombing and strafing by the Salvadoran air force.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare. From Unsettled / Desasosiego.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Call for Papers from Journals

The Velvet Light Trap, a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media studies, has a Call for Papers: The theme is “Case Studies in Technological Change.” August 17 is the deadline, and submissions may be sent to

CFP: VLT #76 - Case Studies in Technological Change

To paraphrase Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery in Film History: Theory and Practice, media depends on machines. Technology contextualizes industrial and stylistic change, reveals and obscures sites of cultural negotiation and meaning, and enables new modes of media production, circulation, and reception. The significance of technology to media studies has only become more acute with the proliferation of digital technologies, which have changed the methods and tools of our scholarship—to say nothing of the object of that study.

Too often, however, scholarship relegates technology to the background, rendering it less an object of study in and of itself than a cause of, or context for, broader situations. While useful and often necessary, this tendency can have unintended consequences. It risks the assumption that technological changes automatically engender concomitant changes in our “real” object of study, when representations and practices that endure despite technological change offer equally important insight. Similarly, focusing on broader trends may steer us away from failed efforts at technological change, where entrenched structures of cultural or industrial design are exposed and tested, while treating technology as the agent of change can ignore the roles of cultural and industrial demands in technological advancement or stasis.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap specifically seeks case studies of historical and contemporary technological change that privilege technology itself as the object of study. We wish to focus the issue’s attention on specific technological changes in context rather than theories that explore how technology in broad terms is changing media and culture. We especially welcome studies that reexamine accepted histories of technological change, reveal little-known changes worthy of attention, or show important continuities despite technological change.

For those interested, please send anonymous electronic submissions between 8,000 and 10,000 words, formatted in Chicago style, along with a one-page abstract by August 1, 2014. To submit a manuscript and/or any questions, please email

More info

In related news, the coeditors of The Velvet Light Trap in the Radio-Television-Film department at the University of Texas at Austin will host the 2014 Flow Conference (September 11–13). Conference participants will examine topics connected to the current state of TV and media through roundtable discussions and new plenary sessions devoted to three specific themes: “Television: Looking Back,” Television Restoration: Pragmatic Realities and Implications for Media History,” and “TV Or Not TV: The Future of the Television Industry.” Information on registration, the program schedule, and more details can be found on the conference site.

Follow The Velvet Light Trap on Twitter @VelvetLightTrap.
Follow the Flow Conference on Twitter @Flow_2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

10 Staff Tributes to Texan Modern Art

The very Texan "us against them" spirit drove the midcentury modern art movement in Texas before New York City's Abstract Expressionism was canonized as American postwar modernism. This barely known chapter in the story of American art is the focus of our new book Midcentury Modern Art in Texas by Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum curator Katie Robinson Edwards. Listen to Katie Edwards talk about the book in our podcast series.
More info

To celebrate the book's publication, we asked our staff to get artsy and craft their interpretations of major paintings from this canon-defining period. We were not disappointed with the results. We're showcasing the staff submissions below with examinations of the original pieces from the book and statements from our staff artists on how they connected with the pieces they emulated. Here's a video overview of all the submissions from our staff:


Left: Joyce Lewandowski, untitled collage
Right: Toni LaSelle, Study for Puritan, 1947-1950
Artist Statement: "My entry was a Lance Letscher inspired collage using scissors, paper, and glue―brought on by a 50+ year delayed reaction to skipping kindergarten."
—Joyce Lewandowski

From the book: The study for Puritan (1947) indicates the labored premeditation LaSelle undertook. The study, with its slightly less complicated design and more horizontal format, is harder edged. The final Puritan remains geometric but painterly, with forms fluctuating between floating and receding planes. Although looking nothing like Hofmann’s work, it achieves the German painter’s famed “push-pull,” which generates dynamism.

Left: Bailey Morrison, untitled collage
Right: Marjorie Johnson, Still Life with Grapes, 1951
Artist Statement: "I was drawn to the colors Marjorie Johnson used and took the opportunity to raid my craft box for old Alamo Drafthouse and Tribeza magazines to collage this 'masterpiece.'"—Bailey Morrison

Regina Fuentes and Sharon Casteel, In the Press Yoga Car
Jerry Bywaters, In the Chair Car, 1934
From the book: With its themes of youth, old age, piety, and modern transportation in a spare setting, In the Chair Car might be thought of as a pictorial novella. Bywaters spent decades documenting, promoting, and creating the state’s art.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fiction of Brazil

For those of you who may have already unplugged for the summer, the rest of the globe is in the throes of World Cup mania. Every four years, the fùtbol-loving public gets nationalistic and tunes in to watch match after match at all hours of the day. The host country always gets its fair share of attention as the media produces human interest stories to provide some context. This year, the world’s attention is on Brazil, and even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s an opportunity to delve into the culture, politics, and art of this BRICS emerging nation.

Fortunately, we have the Clásicos/Clássicos Latin American Masterpieces in English series. This series of translations is rich with diverse Brazilian landscapes and colorful characters and many are classics (hence the name...) of Latin American literature. So maybe when your eyes are glazed over from watching too many matches, pick up one of these books and get to know the real Brasil.

The full Clásicos/Clássicos series
laid out in a grid!
More info
“Colored by an intense feeling for her own people, 
by an omnipresent social consciousness”

The Three Marias

By Rachel de Queiroz

The Three Marias will be, for many non-Brazilians, an introduction to this nationally known South American author whose books have been widely praised for their artistic merits.

“an exciting novel with an unexpected plot”
Profile of a Woman
By José de Alencar

In this Brazilian novel, originally published in 1875, the heroine uses newly inherited wealth to "buy back" and exact revenge on the fiancé who had left her for a woman with a more enticing dowry.

Read an excerpt here >>
More info

“A classic in contemporary Brazilian literature”

Barren Lives
By Graciliano Ramos

A vivid novel about the solitary life of a peasant family in a harsh and unforgiving land, austerely told by a classic Brazilian writer.

“The author has a keen visual sense, and the reader becomes one with the part of the earth where Fabiano's life unfolds.... Barren Lives is a moving novel, one to ponder on."—Library Journal

“Social satire and experimentation in psychological realism”
More info

The Devil's Church and Other Stories
By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Translated by Jack Schmitt and Lorie Ishimatsu 

The modem Brazilian short story begins with the mature work of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), acclaimed almost unanimously as Brazil's greatest writer. In his technical mastery of the short story, Machado was decades ahead of his contemporaries and can still be considered more modern than most of the modernists themselves. That his stories elicit such strong and diverse reactions today is a tribute to their richness, complexity, and significance.