Features

The Clockwork Orgasm

Any minute now, all this technology will be mass-produced and affordable, transforming what are now sex dolls with AI heads atop their silicone bodies into the sex robots of science fiction, so sophisticated they are easy to mistake for a human. And then? Will men still bother with real women? Or will they prefer a projected fantasy to a more demanding reality?

Jack Higgins, Good Germans, and the Problem of Sympathy in Fiction

“Sympathy” in narrative usually means something more like “complex interest” than “pity.” The goal is (often but not always) to make characters as human as possible, within constraints of form, so audiences will find them meaningful. This requires treating characters with respect, at least to the point of trying to understand them, even if they are crooks, sadists, torturers, murderers, or Nazis. But if a narrative dramatizes very well, it risks justifying bad people or making us feel we “understand” or “identify with” them. This too is sometimes called “sympathy”—though it is more like empathy—for the devil.

Memorials on the Move

The controversy surrounding the Confederate Memorial’s June 2017 removal from Forest Park once again placed St. Louis squarely within a movement that encompassed dozens of communities around the nation. As these disparate outcomes demonstrate, such campaigns manifested not only as binary debates over whether contested monuments should remain visible, but also where they might properly be located and how they might be repurposed to convey historical lessons about the relationship between symbolic landscapes and larger systems of racial oppression.

Claiming the Past, Possessing the Park

As the aesthetics of the Confederate Memorial at St. Louis’s Forest Park laid claim to a particular narrative about the Civil War, written and visual evidence reveals how Confederate sympathizers, from the initial dedication of the monument to subsequent celebrations, utilized highly visible rituals to assert control over the site and its surroundings. It was through such events—along with news coverage of them—that Confederate boosters and the media alike defined a racialized sense of ownership over an obelisk in the center of a public park. The monument was one and the same an assertion of power over history and city space.

The View from the Eads Bridge

From its 1874 opening through the 1980s, when East St. Louis became equated with Blackness and crime, the Eads Bridge became an experimental zone, where racist geographic imaginations clashed with liberal fantasies of multiculturalism. On the Eads Bridge, we see the apparatus of hegemony at work, trying to fit all the bridge represents into the nation’s founding myths.

Delmar Boulevard

St. Louisans have for a century conferred upon this long, otherwise-unremarkable commercial thoroughfare an almost talismanic power to define the bounds of their racially-identified communities. In the process, the more complex reasons for its status as a marker of racial difference—reasons rooted in the city’s geography, shored up by the real estate market’s desire for predictability, and sealed in place through generations of social antipathy or simple inertia—have disappeared under a veneer of geographic inevitability.

Powell Hall

The “Requiem for Mike Brown” protest of 2014 engaged Powell Hall’s history in deep and provocative ways that went beyond the brief disruption of an evening of high culture. The protesters insisted on concern for Black lives in a building that, as the St. Louis Theater, had excluded African Americans. They questioned the troubled relationship between police and Black St. Louisans in a venue whose rebirth as a symphony hall hinged on the promise that police would protect its patrons from the city outside.

The Wellston Loop Pavilion

It is worth revisiting the summer of 1967, elsewhere hailed as the “summer of love,” but in Wellston a pivotal moment when the broader stakes of this community’s struggles were boldly articulated, fought out against the backdrop of the Loop Pavilion and commercial strip, and the long-term outcomes of those struggles were far from visible. . . The epicenter of conflict was a lawn statue, a monument controversy writ small that revealed much about the larger political stakes of the moment.