It didn’t matter that the outcome was predictable, that Beth Hogan would invariably be crowned Miss America. We competed fiercely, as if we expected to win. A year earlier, when we were in fifth grade, we held séances, but now we staged beauty pageants as if our lives depended on it, as many as four or five a night.
I’m not an athlete. I’ve always disliked team sports, with their conformist, vaguely fascist associations. While as a child I longed to be a tree-climbing tomboy, I had to admit a preference for tea parties, dress-up, and long afternoons at the library.
Then one summer night, three years ago, I played my first game of bike polo. It’s an elegant game: With mallets in their right hand, players ride their bikes up and down the field trying to whack a grapefruit-size ball between two orange cones. It was instant love.
The Sims is a game that consists of little more than creating characters and pushing them through the day, making sure they eat, sleep, stay clean, make friends, advance in a career, and buy stuff. The bodily functions are tedious and the rest is everything I hate about life in a capitalist society. So how to explain why I own all seven expansion packs for the first game, as well as Sims2 and its expansion pack, University?
Each semester in my American popular culture class, my students and I spend a night playing board games. I start them off with games for small children, like memory cards or Strawberry Shortcake adventure games. They play self-consciously, giggling at the losers who can’t master a game for preschoolers, but loosen up enough to start looking beyond the activity for the deeper meanings.
The year my oldest daughter turned 4, her little sister was born, and that spring, in desperation, I let her play more or less unsupervised in the neighbors’ yard. When I came up for air from the endless diaper changes and nursing sessions, I’d catch a glimpse of her through the family-room window. Sweaty, dirty, and wild-eyed, she ran behind the neighbors’ pack of crazy, good-natured, and mostly unsupervised boys.
Kate Clinton has been called the lesbian Jon Stewart. Her fans, however, prefer to think of Stewart as the straight Kate Clinton. Her career as a political humorist spans several White House administrations, but the current regime has offered her, like most liberal comedians, endless material for both her onstage comic monologues and her monthly columns for the Progressive and the Advocate.
In this era of social conservatism, the so-called mommy wars, and renewed cultural clashes about gender, work, and “family values,” it’s hardly surprising that nanny narratives are making a comeback. Faster than you can say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” nannies have popped up in movies (Uptown Girls) and bestselling novels (The Nanny Diaries, I Don’t Know How She Does It), as characters on tv shows (Friends, Kevin Hill, Desperate Housewives), and even as a subgenre of reality tv (Nanny 911, Supernanny).
When the curtain rose at the London premiere of the play Peter Pan in 1904, it unveiled a drama of flying children, fairies, and pirates that would soon become a classic—and inspire countless spin-offs, adaptations, and reinterpretations. On the cinematic side, these began with the 1924 silent-film version of the play, starring Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily. Disney’s animated Peter Pan (1953) has been described as “ageless” (though one wonders if critics took note of the decidedly dated, stereotypical depiction of Native Americans), while Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) told the story of a grown-up Peter’s transformation into a mature father.
Once upon a time, politics was serious business. These days, however, presidential merit is measured as much by frat-house standards as by traditional approval ratings (apparently, American voters would rather have a beer with Bush than with Kerry), and a well-timed joke can sometimes sway public opinion more effectively than a reasoned argument.