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3 January 2002
... Dylan Thomas wrote, ‘there is no other.’ I know what he is getting at, I suppose, but it isn’t true, at least not for me. I have had other deaths, but the death last month of my friend MichaelRogin was a shock. It’s not that we had, in recent years, spent much time together. I left Berkeley, where we taught together on the faculty of the University of California, in the mid-1990s, and ...
19 June 1997
American Original: A Life of Will Rogers 
by Ray Robinson.
Oxford, 288 pp., $30, January 1997, 0 19 508693 7
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... Will Rogers died in 1935 the most loved man in America. Ray Robinson, who was 14 years old, remembers the news reaching his summer camp by radio and spreading like wildfire from bungalow to bungalow. No death since Abraham Lincoln’s (the kidnapping and killing of the Lindbergh child aside) had moved the country so much. Motion picture theatres around the country darkened their screens in honour of ...

Feeling good

Michael Rogin

11 January 1990
The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream 
by Studs Terkel.
Hamish Hamilton, 439 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12667 3
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More than Bread: Ethnography of a Soup Kitchen 
by Irene Glasser.
University of Alabama Press, 180 pp., $22.95, November 1988, 0 8173 0397 9
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... Ronald Reagan left office more popular than any departing President since the end of World War Two. The same month Americans interviewed in a telephone poll achieved on a happiness scale the highest score in decades. Reagan’s popularity and American self-satisfaction have not risen together because of any general improvement in the standard of living: the rich are richer than they were a decade ago ...

Washed White

Michael Rogin

10 June 1993
The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America 
by Sacvan Bercovitch.
Routledge, 424 pp., £40, November 1992, 9780415900140
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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 315 pp., £17.99, April 1993, 0 671 76956 1
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... In a time of mass unemployment, budget deficits, infrastructure decay and economic decline, of ethnic cleansing, mass rape, communal violence and racial polarisation, Garry Wills and Sacvan Bercovitch proclaim the power of language to transform the world. Against one current fashion, both reject punning and the play of the socially detached signifier: they embed American words in American history ...

Sucking up

Michael Rogin

12 May 1994
Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War 
by John MacArthur.
California, 274 pp., £10, January 1994, 0 520 08398 9
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Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad – 35 Years in the World’s War Zones 
by Peter Arnett.
Bloomsbury, 463 pp., £17.99, March 1994, 0 7475 1680 4
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... The United States has been gripped by a campaign to drive violence from television. Some blame violent images for violent acts; others insist that the images themselves do violence. Senators bemoan television brutality, a national debate on the pros and cons of censorship takes centre stage for a time – displaced by other violent attention-getters like Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt, Tonya Harding ...
18 July 1996
Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 320 pp., $24.95, May 1996, 0 520 20407 7
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... Is there anything stranger than a pop star out of time? Before Elvis Presley, before Michael Jackson, there was Al Jolson – ‘the most popular entertainer of the first half of the 20th century,’ as MichaelRogin describes him. Eyes wide and mouth agape, arms outstretched and face ...

Crowing

Michael Rogin

5 September 1996
Imagineering Atlanta 
by Charles Rutheiser.
Verso, 324 pp., £44.95, July 1996, 1 85984 800 1
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... dominated the competition. In violation of Olympic protocol, only the US National Anthem was sung to open the games. Only Americans – Dennis Mitchell after winning a 100-metres heat and Michael Johnson after taking the 200-metre gold – puffed out their chests and pulled their jerseys to display the national emblem. Only Americans accused an Irish swimmer of using drugs when she won the ...
1 August 1996
Washington Babylon 
by Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein.
Verso, 316 pp., £31.95, May 1996, 1 85984 092 2
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... William Jefferson (‘Bill’) Clinton is not the man from Hope for nothing. And the major story in the American media this election year recounts his resurrection from the politically dead. Indeed, Clinton’s rise is matched in American history only by the equally spectacular fall of George (‘Desert Storm’) Bush, the collapse that put the Arkansas Governor in the White House in the first place ...

California Noir

Michael Rogin: Destroying Los Angeles

19 August 1999
Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster 
by Mike Davis.
Picador, 484 pp., £18.99, June 1999, 9780330372190
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... Waldie, who have participated in the controversy over Ecology of Fear, see Davis as suffering from what he himself so brilliantly labels the ‘nervous breakdown of American exceptionalism’. Like Michael Bernstein in Foregone Conclusions, Ethington and Waldie counterpose the ‘prosaics of the quotidian’ to ‘apocalyptic history’. In Davis’s vision, by contrast, the apocalyptic is built into ...
9 May 1996
John Wayne: American 
by Randy Roberts and James Olson.
Free Press, 738 pp., £17.99, March 1996, 0 02 923837 4
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... not only John Ford but also his Indians to thank. Yet Ethan was no monster to John Wayne. Anticipating the question (asked by a black reporter at the first debate with George Bush) that would cost Michael Dukakis – an opponent of the death penalty – the 1988 Presidential election, John Wayne once said of Ethan Edwards: ‘he was no villain ... The Indians fucked his wife. What would you have done ...

That’s America

Stephen Greenblatt

29 September 1988
‘Ronald Reagan’, the Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 366 pp., £19.95, April 1987, 0 520 05937 9
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... But in his farewell words the President did not need to explain or defend his programme. The final triumph of the cult of personality is that it can expose its emptiness without losing its magic. MichaelRogin’s brilliant collection of essays, ‘Ronald Reagan’, the Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology, attempts to account for and destroy this magic by restoring the two dimensions it ...

Diary

Christopher Hitchens: Reagan and Rambo

3 October 1985
... a hack oneself – like those who go to Republican conventions in Texas and dwell endlessly on the rhinestones and ten-gallon hats. Now, as we lurch uncertainly into the second term, comes Professor MichaelRogin of the University of California with a serious thesis on Reagan and celluloid. And now I wish that I had paid more attention to the obvious. At the annual meeting of the American Political ...

Mon Pays

Michael Rogin: Josephine Baker

22 February 2001
The Josephine Baker Story 
by Ean Wood.
Sanctuary, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 1 86074 286 6
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Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s 
by Petrine Archer-Straw.
Thames and Hudson, 200 pp., £14.95, September 2000, 0 500 28135 1
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... Travelling to Paris recently, I was surprised to see advertisements for ‘Joséphine Baker, Music-hall et paillettes’, an exhibition at the Espace Drouot-Montaigne commemorating the 75th anniversary of her electrifying Paris debut and the 25th anniversary of her death. With its pictures of Baker costumed and nude (and often both at the same time), with some fantastic outfits she actually wore and ...

Magician behind Bars

Michael Rogin: David Mamet in a Cul de Sac

2 July 1998
The Old Religion 
by David Mamet.
Faber, 194 pp., £9.99, May 1998, 0 571 19260 2
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... On 15 August 1915, a band of 25 men, among them the leading citizens of Marietta, Georgia, kidnapped Leo Frank from the Milledgeville Prison Farm, tied a rope around his neck and lynched him. Frank, the Jewish manager of an Atlanta pencil factory owned by his uncle, had been convicted of the perverted sexual abuse and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, who worked at the factory. He was convicted on ...

Unmistakable

Michael Rogin

20 August 1998
Celebrity Caricature in America 
by Wendy Wick Reaves.
Yale, 320 pp., £29.95, April 1998, 0 300 07463 8
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... The stocking cap, solid black on top and red-ribbed across the tube, an eye popping out at the face end. Red outline for ear, forked red line for mouth, blue-grey near-rectangle vertically placed for shoulder. These lines and shapes precipitate a face, itself un-outlined, from out of white space, the unmistakable head of Harpo Marx. Turn a few more pages of Wendy Wick Reaves’s spectacular book Celebrity ...

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