Month: March 2017

#RepresentYourStory: Chance Calloway, “Pretty Dudes” creator

Chance Calloway Twitter

#RepresentYourStory is back! Our latest entry into the #RepresentYourStory series is Chance Calloway, the creator the web series Pretty Dudes. In case this is your first foray into the world of Pretty Dudes, here’s the jist. Four good-looking, yet shallow guys (Xavier Avila, Tae Song, Kyle Rezzarday, Yoshi Sudarso) try to help their other good-looking friend (Bryan Michael Nuñez) find a lifelong partner and hopefully break their “pretty boy curse”—being extremely handsome and attractive, but unlucky in love. The web series, which you can watch here, is funny and charming, and I’m happy to have Calloway provide us with some of his own experiences and how he overcame them. Hopefully, what he’s learned throughout his life when it comes to overcoming differences can help you in yours.

You can find Calloway on Twitter. Pretty Dudes releases a new episode each Tuesday, and you can also keep up with Pretty Dudes on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook. You can also support Pretty Dudes through a donation via PayPal.

If you want to participate in #RepresentYourStory and read past entries, click here to read more about the project and where to provide your answers!


Where does your story begin? What first caused you think you were different?

Watching The Cosby Show in a room full of cousins when I was six/seven, and the reaction I got when I said one of the guest actors, a male, was “cute.” My mom pulled me outside to tell me why I couldn’t say he was cute. He remained cute to me.

What external and/or internal factors reinforced your idea that you were different?

Being a gay man who the other Black boys at school called the f-word, and being a Black man who the other gay boys at school said they just weren’t into.

How did you internalize your supposed difference? Did you accept it or struggle?

Struggled for a long time. Suicidal and depressed for the majority of my life.

Have you come to terms with your supposed difference? If so, how did you come to self-acceptance? If not, what issues do you still find yourself wrestling with?

I have. I had friends who accepted me before I did. And that made it okay for me to be who I am.

What would you say to someone else struggling with the same or similar difference you have?

You are not malformed. You are not a mistake. You are a piece of work, soon to be a masterpiece.

What would you tell your former self? What insights have you gained now that you wished someone had told you back then?

We make too big of a deal about our differences. Life would be so boring if we were the same. Differences create a kaleidoscope of beauty. Embrace that.♦

This photoshoot of Dev Patel and Imaan Hammam is begging to be turned into a movie

Dear Hollywood:

When we, the viewing public, say we want more diversity in our films, this set of photos is exactly what we mean.

This December 2016 Vogue photoshoot features Oscar-nominated Dev Patel and model Imaan Hammam are giving you a full sweeping international romance in just a few stills. Check it:

I happened to see the pictures from a tweet by film director Matthew A. Cherry, and as Fusion Editor-in-Chief Dodai Stewart responded:

I second this emotion. They look so good together you kind of hate them.

The film I see is one where it’s a retro Hitchcock-esque romantic thriller. Hammam’s character is a 21st century Grace Kelly, a cool, collected woman who’s as glamourous as she is intelligent. She’s a rich socialite who’s living in gilded prison; for some reason, she has some dangerous men after her. Meanwhile, Patel is a former MI-6 agent who is assigned to protect her, which involves taking her to a safe house in Australia. At first, all Patel’s character wants to do is retire to the English countryside where he can raise sheep and indulge his first passion, oil painting. But as he explores the Australian outback with her, he slowly starts falling in love not only with the geography, but with her as well. Eventually, the mission becomes one of getting rid of the thugs chasing her, moving back to the English moors, and putting a ring on it. The movie ends with all of this being accomplished, the last shot being on Patel’s character finally outside of his country home, painting the rolling hills with Hammam’s character hugging him from behind.

Hollywood, if you made this movie, I would start saving my money now to see it at least six times in the theater.

What movie do you think is happening in these photos? Give me your thoughts!

You know that picture of the 19th century black equestrian? She’s getting a movie!

If you’re a person who lives on the side of Diversity-in-History Twitter, then you’ve seen this picture of this enigmatic equestrian over and over again.

You’ve probably wondered what her backstory is, what her station was in life, and what she thought of the times she lived in. Lucky for us, she’s getting her own short film!

The film, The Adventures of Selika, will tell the story of the woman in the picture, Selika Lazevski, described by Shadow and Act as a “19th century high society equestrian.” Little is known about Lazevksi, but The Adventures of Selika posits that Lazevksi was a “young African princess displaced by war, who was brought up by a noble family in France during the Second Empire (1861-63). Now a young woman, following an unfortunate inciden, Selika is forced from the security and comfort of the life she has known. She sets off for Paris, and determines to forge her own curious and independent path in the world.” French actress and César Award nominated Karidja Touré, best known for her role in the film Girlhood, will play Lazevksi. Luke Elliot and Jennifer Daley also star in the film, adding to the portrayal of a world in which people of color are also a vibrant part of European high society.

It seems we’re finally entering a space in which more and more historical films about people of color are being created, and it’s about time, since history never happened in a white vacuum, unlike what history books what lead you to believe. As popular as historical/costume dramas are among a wide set of entertainment fans, including women of color, the genre can now begin to represent all aspects of its audience. Let’s hope some more historical subjects get their own films. 

Since this is a costume drama, of course there’s going to be tons of pictures featuring gorgeous clothes. Behold, the gallery of awesomeness!

And one last one from Touré’s Twitter account:

Overall, the film looks gorgeous, and really speaks to me on a personal level. As a fan of costume dramas myself, this film looks like the costume drama of my dreams. The Adventures of Selika will be released April 16, which also happens to be Easter, so happy Easter to us! What do you think about this film? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

More info: Shadow and Act, SUPERSELECTED

Make rhymes not war: the hip hop solution to gang violence

Mathys Cresson/Flickr

They showed up when Big Flossy was freestyling. At first, they kept to themselves, scanning the scene as if they were looking for someone. This made June Monsta nervous. He was standing next to me and told me that the two guys wearing oversized white T-shirts and fitted LA Dodgers hats were likely members of the Neighborhood Rollin’ 40s, a large local Crip gang. He watched them closely and said: ‘I hope they ain’t tryin’ to come out here with that gangbanging shit.’ A couple other regulars at Project Blowed – a legendary open-mic workshop – shared Monsta’s concern. They stood around nervously, waiting to see what these guys were all about.

And then, one of them edged his way into the middle of the freestyle session and tapped Big Flossy on the shoulder. Initially surprised, Big Flossy soon recognised his old friend. They dapped and the guy asked: ‘How come you don’t come around the ’hood no more?’ Big Flossy smiled and pointed to the corner, which was overflowing with MCs: ‘I been out here, on my hip hop shit.’

Big Flossy was one of many aspiring rappers I met at Project Blowed, a workshop that began in 1994 in South Central Los Angeles. I spent nearly five years in the scene, getting to know different young black men who had dreams of ‘blowin’ up’ or making it in the music industry. Each week, they performed original songs in the open-mic sessions, or freestyled with each other on the corner directly outside the club. Open Mike, a longtime regular, once compared Project Blowed to a dojo where martial artists train together. He said: ‘This is our dojo, where we come to train.’

Project Blowed was also more than just a lyrical training ground. It was a sanctuary for young men growing up in the shadows of Crips and Bloods gang violence. Big Flossy had grown up affiliated with the Rollin’ 40s. As a young man, he got jumped into the gang and identified as a gang member. But things changed once he got serious about hip hop. Once, while reflecting on his life, he said: ‘I was young and dumb back then. Just on some stupid shit. These days, I try to keep it moving – try to do something positive because this music is everything.’

Project Blowed offered Big Flossy and other young black men a safe space where they could hang out away from the menacing shadow of gangs. Across South Central LA in neighbourhoods such as the 40s, the 60s and the Jungles, police and gang members often ask youth if they are affiliated with a gang. ‘Where you from?’ or ‘What ’hood you bang?’ are questions that young people field every day. Answering these questions is not only a pragmatic issue, it’s also one that shapes their safety. Youth who answer this question incorrectly risk getting arrested, or attacked by rival gang members. At Project Blowed, nobody cared where you were from. All that mattered was if you had bars – that is, if you could rhyme.

Project Blowed was one of many creative interventions hosted at KAOS Network, a community centre. Ben Caldwell, a filmmaker, community activist and local leader, founded KAOS in 1984, running it to enrich the lives of young people who went to public schools that often lacked music and arts programmes. Rappers respected him, and saw him as part of the community. They knew Caldwell met regularly with local vendors and police to ensure that the open mic had broader community support. He was the backbone of a youth intervention strategy that might not have been possible without a leader who commanded respect from so many different interest groups.

At an essential level, Project Blowed departed from punitive ways of dealing with the ‘gang problem’. I did my fieldwork during a time when LA was rolling out neighbourhood gang injunctions – restraining orders against suspected gang members. They prohibit suspected gang members from doing things that are already illegal, such as selling drugs and painting gang-related graffiti on buildings. They also criminalise routine activities such as using one’s cellphone in designated ‘hot spots’ of gang activity, and prohibit suspected gang members from congregating with other gang members in public.

Proponents argue that these measures create an environment that’s hostile to gangs and the routine activities needed to sustain them. But these measures are notoriously vague. They create a system that increases the chances for racial profiling.

These issues came to a head recently, as the LA City Council approved a $30 million class-action settlement against the LA Police Department for illegally imposing curfews on suspected gang members. One of the original plaintiffs in this lawsuit, Christian Rodriguez, had been placed on an injunction list without ever having been in a gang.

Project Blowed was a local activist’s solution to gang violence. Instead of ramping up efforts at monitoring, arresting or punishing young people, it made positive and creative possibilities available in their lives before they were at risk to join gangs. Though it came from the community, Project Blowed was also much bigger, setting people’s sights on the world outside, and supporting aspirations and identities beyond the gang world. Perhaps more than anything, it provided an opportunity for young men who might have been sworn enemies in other aspects of their lives to collaborate and make something. That’s an example the world needs.Aeon counter – do not remove

Jooyoung Lee

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Human sex is not simply male or female. So what?

Aimee Ardell/Flickr

Sex is a divisive topic, loaded with moral weight and the scientific stamp of truth. The word ‘sex’ is of French (sexe) and Latin (sexus) origins, with sexus connected to secare (to cut/divide) and seco (half of). It is no surprise, then, that the sex binary is so firmly rooted in Euro-American thought, along with many others (think body and mind, nature and culture). It underpins and naturalises gendered divisions of labour through, for example, the notion of women as the weaker sex. Language mirrors the distinction between male and female, as in the way we talk about the sexes as ‘opposite’, and throughout life we are encouraged to think in binary terms about this central aspect of our existence.

While these gendered binaries play out in social life in reasonably clear ways, they also seep into places conventionally seen as immune to bias. For example, they permeate sex science. In her paper ‘The Egg and the Sperm’ (1991), the anthropologist Emily Martin reported on the ‘scientific fairy tale’ of reproductive biology. Searching textbooks and journal articles, she found countless descriptions of sperm as active, independent, strong and powerful, produced by the male body in troves; eggs, in contrast, were framed as large and receptive, their actions reported in the passive voice, and their fate left to the sperm they might or might not encounter. Representations in this vein persisted even after the discovery that sperm produce very little forward thrust, and in fact attach to eggs through a mutual process of molecular binding. Martin’s point? That scientific knowledge is produced in culturally patterned ways and, for Euro-American scientists, gendered assumptions make up a large part of this patterning.

In Gender Trouble (1990), the feminist theorist Judith Butler argues that the insistence on sex as a natural category is itself evidence of its very unnaturalness. While the notion of gender as constructed (through interaction, socialisation and so on) was gaining some acceptance at this time, Butler’s point was that sex as well as gender was being culturally produced all along. It comes as no surprise to those familiar with Butler, Martin and the likes, that recent scientific findings suggest that sex is in fact non-binary. Attempts to cling to the binary view of sex now look like stubborn resistance to a changing paradigm. In her survey paper ‘Sex Redefined’ (2015) in Nature, Claire Ainsworth identified numerous cases supporting the biological claim that sex is far from binary, and is best seen as a spectrum. The most remarkable example was that of a 70-year-old father of four who went into the operating room for routine surgery only for his surgeon to discover that he had a womb.

Early in its development, an embryo is sexless, able to move toward male or female characterisation. ‘The identity of the gonad,’ writes Ainsworth, ‘emerges from a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity.’ Different genes guide the gonad to turn into ovaries or testes, or, in the case of the RSPO1 gene, ovotestis, a hybrid of the two. Equally interesting are mouse studies that indicate that the state an individual’s gonads take is not just set early in life and fixed from that moment; rather it could require ongoing maintenance across a lifetime.

The picture this paints is of sex as a composite, potentially shifting over time. Sex is at the same time genetic, hormonal and morphological. All of these different manifestations of sex layer onto each other, so people might go their whole lives without knowing that they have cells or even organs of the ‘opposite’ sex.

Ainsworth raises the important point that while multiple gender identities are gaining social acceptance, and science is lending its legitimating powers to the idea of a sex spectrum, legal systems remain clumsy and ill-equipped to cope with such thoughts. Feminists and lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender scholars and activists have known this for some time, and have offered rich alternatives for thinking through law, sex and gender. Meanwhile, social scientists and historians have looked to other times and places to explore how sex and gender might be conceptualised.

In his book Making Sex (1990), Thomas Laqueur argues that some pre-modern Europeans recognised only one sex, on which they imposed two possible genders. The female body, from this perspective, was a mere inversion of the male. Both were characterised by a penis, which in women was simply interior to man’s exterior. As the anthropologist Rosalind Morris writes in ‘All Made Up’ (1995), Laqueur’s work ‘forces readers to acknowledge that gender dichotomies can be imagined in a variety of ways, none of which are reducible to the absolute oppositions that contemporary biology posits in the so-called natural body’. It also reminds us that the ‘sex spectrum’ is itself rooted in Euro-Western gender dichotomies, with male and female providing the framework upon which the new sex science is mapped.

In parts of Melanesia, the cluster of islands scattered through western Oceania, a person is thought to be made up of other, gendered, parts of people: their father’s bone, their mother’s blood. As such, they are always a composite of male and female. Though people here can resemble ‘men’ or ‘women’, ‘in gender terms, the single sex figure will have parts or appendages “belonging” to the opposite sex’, writes Marilyn Strathern in The Gender of the Gift (1988). Moreover, these parts might not always be of one gender or the other – they change according to circumstance. Relations and exchanges provoke gender to emerge differentially between people, over time.

This ‘dividual’ understanding of personhood is framed as a counterpoint to the individualism so taken for granted in the Euro-American world; dividualism acknowledges a form of existence in which the human person is not a bounded individual but an interpellated part of the social whole. That person’s existence is continually brought into being through interactions and exchanges with others. With such an understanding of personhood, sex becomes less of a totalising phenomena.

In the Papua New Guinean highlands, the Kamea see kinship not in terms of genes and heredity, but in social ties with familial obligations elicited through exchange, writes Sandra Bamford in Biology Unmoored (2007). For Kamea, a mother’s and father’s bodily substances struggle in utero, and the child’s ultimate sex is determined by the stronger. For the first five years of life, male and female children are treated as essentially the same, and referred to as imia (roughly, child) without any gendered qualification. Bamford writes: ‘The difference between “male” and “female”, or “brother” and “sister”, are not taken to be innate, but have to be created against an ungendered backdrop of “one-bloodedness”, which furnishes first and foremost an original field of sameness.’ This sameness drops away when a woman marries or a man undergoes his initiation rites. Through these rituals, people become fully reproductive beings. For the Kamea, biology is not meaningful in and of itself, but is made so through social processes.

Looking to other times and to other cultures, we are reminded that sex is to some degree produced through the assumptions we make about each other and our bodies, and the meanings we derive from our relationships. Now that our science is moving towards consensus on sex as a spectrum rather than a simple male/female binary, it is time to start casting around for new ways of thinking about this fundamental aspect of what we are. Historical and anthropological studies provide a rich resource for re-imagining sex, reminding us that the sex spectrum itself is rooted in Euro-Western views of the person and body, and inviting critical engagement with our most basic biological assumptions.Aeon counter – do not remove

Courtney Addison & Samuel Taylor-Alexander

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Mediaversity Reviews: “As You Are”

Originally published on Mediaversity

Title: As You Are (2017)
Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Madison Harrison 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Miles Joris-Peyrafitte 👨🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Mimi 👩🏻🇺🇸

Quality: 4/5
The film received rave reviews at Sundance, as well as a Special Jury Award, and has seemingly launched the career of its 23-year-old director. There’s much to laud in his feature-length debut, from the cinematography and editing to the writing of three-dimensional teen protagonists. The young actors—Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, and Amandla Stenberg—are absolutely riveting as a trio of outcasts who come to love each other.

While the 90s-throwback certainly has an aesthetic appeal, I’m not sure that the period setting did much to enhance the storytelling other than to do away with cellphones and computers. Finally, I wasn’t totally sold on the film’s ending, which I felt relied too heavily on its narrative gimmick rather than being earned through actual character development.

Gender: 3/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
Told mainly through the eyes of Jack (Campbell), the coming-of-age story features only two female characters—Jack’s friend, Sarah (Stenberg), and his mother, Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson)—who interact minimally with each other. Sarah seizes many opportunities to demonstrate her agency, although many of her actions primarily serve to create conflict for Jack and Mark (Heaton). Karen and her male counterpart, Mark’s father Tom (Scott Cohen), are both presented as a tableau of rigid gender norms, against which the younger generation is attempting to push back.

Race: 4/5
The burden of being the sole actor of color rests on Stenberg (who is half-black), yet she’s able to imbue her supporting role with a sense of depth and grace. The fact that her character is shown to have two white parents is also seamlessly woven into the story. Additionally, I appreciated seeing a diverse student body, especially knowing that the movie, which was shot in Albany, NY, (the actual hometown of the director and his co-writer) used local high students as extras.

LGBTQ: 5/5
The film’s greatest strength lies in its exploration of love and sexuality. The evolution of Jack and Mark’s relationship debunks any easy labels such as best friends, brothers, or boyfriends. And the constant ebb and flow of boundaries appear to happen organically, capturing what it actually feels like to be young—as well as gay, bi, queer, or questioning.

Mediaversity Grade: B+ (4/5)
It’s certainly exciting to see how easily this younger generation is able to dismantle heteronormativity, although I do wonder if Jack’s reckoning with his sexual identity was fully conceived or cheaply cut short. Overall, though, I think the trend of straight allies being invested in making art that is inclusive and nuanced is worth celebrating.

Mediaversity Reviews: “Get Out”

Originally published on Mediaversity

Title: Get Out (2017)
Director: Jordan Peele 👨🏽🇺🇸
Writer: Jordan Peele 👨🏽🇺🇸

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸

Quality: 5/5
Get Out lives up to the enormous hype. A plethora of traditional film reviews can speak to the nuances of the writing, directing, genre-bending, and historical and social contexts, so I’ll just leave you with a succinct quote from Paul Whitington’s review in the Irish Independent:

“Get Out is so clever you could write a thesis on it the length of War and Peace.”

Gender: 2.5/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
While none of the female portrayals were offensive, their screen time, number of speaking roles, and levels of sympathy were dwarfed by those of the male characters. Look, Get Out has no interest in discussing feminism or gender equality. But that isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, a tightly-executed film with a narrow focus is often stronger than a film that tries to do too much.

In this vein, similar to my feelings on Donald Glover’s TV series Atlanta or Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, I might love and support Get Out wholeheartedly but would be remiss to score it above a middling grade on Gender.

Race: 5/5
Peele points his finger at American society and lets us know that, dammit, the emperor has no clothes on. White America might look relatively harmless in 2017 (or, at least it did in 2016), but underneath all that self-congratulatory noise about living in a post-racial society, Peele makes the convincing case that white Americans have craved ownership of black bodies for the entirety of our country’s violent history and continue to do so.

He challenges the notion that we’ve made any progress at all. Is today’s coded control of black communities via rigged legal systems, disproportionate levels of incarceration, and cultural appropriation actually any better than literal slavery? It’s a topic few are able to unpack, especially in less than two hours, yet somehow Get Out winks at centuries of painful history and honors it with an absurd, no-bullshit de-pantsing of race in America. No sin is left unturned—every small micro-aggression hints at entire tragedies such as police brutality or sexual objectification, and Peele even finds time to comment on Asian participation in anti-blackness through a single line, as detailed by Ranier Maningding on NextShare.

Meanwhile, one of the most complicated and internal struggles minorities face, cultural appropriation, gets an onscreen embodiment as well. As Amandla Stenberg explains, “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.” For the black community, this could look like Miley Cyrus wearing cornrows and twerking, profiting immensely from the controversy. For Asian-Americans, this could sound like studios who say they are “paying homage” as they profit from Asian stories (Ghost in the Shell, Altered Carbon) or stereotypes (Iron Fist, Last Samurai).

Cultural appropriation is so insidious because of its blurred lines between “inspiration” and “theft” which are especially difficult to navigate for those in societal positions of power. All the more reason Get Out feels so necessary; it finds a way to bridge this disconnect, giving viewers a peek behind the curtain of the minority experience where they can feel for themselves the horror of having one’s identity and agency robbed from them for profit, victims able to do naught but watch on helplessly from the Sunken Place.

By the end of the film, we see the ugly guts of America’s racial history spilled out on the streets and are left with no choice but to leave the theater, chuckling a bit but thinking a lot.

LGBTQ: N/A
No representation but too short a program to ding them for it.

However, due to the allegorical nature of Get Out, I found that the racial anxieties explored in the film could be used as a thought exercise for other marginalized groups—for example, the experience of being queer in America. In the same way Peele suggests we lose some of ourselves by “acting white”, is there a similar loss of identity when LGBTQ individuals “act straight” or attempt to “pass”? What’s more important to us—celebrating our vibrant cultures and fighting for acceptance while staying authentic, or do we take the path of least resistance and lobotomize ourselves in order to assimilate into straight and/or white America for access to social and economic opportunities?

Through the lens of the black experience, Get Out presents the tension between the self and the performance for society—of having a double-identity. But this tension is hardly limited to black individuals; rather, it’s an overarching hallmark of the marginalized experience, whether that means being a woman worried about sounding too aggressive during a meeting, or an introvert trying not to seem “anti-social” at a party. Herein lies the magic of Get Out: it strikes a chord with so many viewers and in such personal ways.

Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.17/5
Jordan Peele sows the seeds and we water, nurture, and let bloom our own ideas of what Get Out means to us. Are we the oppressed, like Chris, who just want to live our lives without being interrupted by the crime of existing? Or are we the inadvertent oppressors, who awkwardly code-switch when we meet black individuals? More interestingly, are we both? For an Asian-American such as myself, I relate to the minority experience of being used and erased by white America, yet I also recognize the relative economic privilege of East Asians and the fiscal conservatism of my own parents—positions that sustain systemic oppression of low-income communities.

Get Out is the mirror held up to our faces that forces us to to pause and think about our own culpability in contributing to cultural tensions. The virtuosity with which Peele weaves together this complex social commentary with genuine comedy alongside eerie, horror-flick thrills, is impressive to say the least.

The night when straight white males tried to kill disco

DJ Steve Dahl during Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 12 July 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

‘This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.’
Richard Wortham, White Sox pitcher

It was a muggy summer night in South Side, Chicago in 1979. In and around Comiskey Park, home to the long-struggling White Sox baseball team, the scene was one of total chaos. Thousands of working- and middle-class young men, predominately white, predominately angry, went riot. Seats were ripped out of the stadium, urinals were kicked from the walls, and the opposing baseball teams were shut in the locker rooms for their own protection. Through it all, the rioters shouted a mantra. It wasn’t about inequality, lingering recession woes or the high-paying industrial jobs slowly seeping out of the Midwest. The slogan they chanted over and over, until their voices were raw, was: ‘Disco sucks!’

That summer, disco music was everywhere, saturating pop culture at the expense of almost all other genres of music. With its pulsing ‘four-on-the-floor’ beat, big vocals and affirming lyrics, disco was a shiny, upbeat escape for Americans living through the smoggy, cynical late-1970s. By the end of the decade, it had become as common as good old American apple pie – there were discotheques in most decently sized towns. Midwestern teenagers skated to Stayin’ Alive in roller discos, and many mainstream radio stations changed their programing to all-disco, all the time.

Disco hadn’t always been so mainstream. It evolved in the clubs and bars of communities that were historically marginalised by the straight, white majority. ‘Disco music was black music, basically,’ John-Manuel Andriote, author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music (2001), told me. ‘It was mostly recorded by black artists until the mid- to late-1970s, when white artists realised how popular the music had become. Back then, people heard new dance music in the clubs – not on the radio (at first) – so club DJs played a big role in introducing these black and Latino sounds to a bigger public.’

The gay community, its nightlife flourishing after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, embraced disco music and its pioneering DJs. ‘The group most responsible for keeping discos alive was the homosexual community,’ the sound engineer Alex Rosner told Newsweek in 1976. ‘The pioneering done in the disco field has been done by gays, with blacks and Puerto Ricans following … The common denominator there is oppression.’

By the mid-1970s, disco was catching on, and creating its own mainstream stars, such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. But it was Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie featuring a glamorous, dancing, ladies’ man played by John Travolta – and its accompanying disco soundtrack by the high-pitched Bee Gees – that made disco a nationwide phenomenon. ‘The Bee Gees put a white face on what was basically black and Latin music, and it exploded in popularity,’ Andriote says.

One of the victims of the disco explosion was Steve Dahl, then a 24-year-old Chicago radio DJ who pioneered the ‘shock-jock’ persona most identified with Howard Stern. In December 1978, he was fired from WDAI, ‘Chicago’s best rock’ station, when it switched to an all-disco format. Dahl soon found a home at the rock station the Loop 97.9, but he carried a grudge.

Built like the proverbial Pillsbury doughboy, Dahl brought with him a legion of young, alienated male listeners he named ‘The Insane Coho Lips’. Dahl and his posse greeted each other on-air with the salutation: ‘Disco sucks!’

‘If anything, the pushback from disco saturation was an act of self-preservation,’ Dahl would later write in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died (2016). ‘No kid, just figuring out who he was and where he was going, would be prepared to have his assimilated rock-and-roll identity stripped from him. If the resistance was furious, it was because they were not prepared to shuck the rock and roll, which had sheltered them in their transition from kid to adult.’

Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air. These targeted antics were not isolated to the radio booth. At promotions, Dahl took to performing in a helmet and military jacket, destroying albums on stage. For this complicated, insecure performer, the adulation he received made him feel that he was building a movement – and advancing his career. ‘[My fans] were passionate about their music and their lifestyles,’ Dahl wrote in Disco Demolition. ‘I tapped into it, both as a response to being canned to make room for the disco format, and to build a community so I could keep my job.’

Dahl’s wife Janet took a more nuanced view of her husband’s motivations. ‘He looked goofy and chubby, his hair was bad, and he was breaking records on his head,’ she remembered. ‘But to be embraced was validating for someone like him.’ His fans, often from struggling, working-class Chicago families, lost in a new culture of women’s liberation, black rights, sexual liberation and Studio 54-inspired androgyny and materialism, felt validated right back. ‘I was a chubby kid,’ Kevin Hickey, a fan, recalled. ‘I remember Steve saying the reason he hated disco so much was because he couldn’t buy a three-piece white suit off the rack. That stuck with me because I couldn’t either.’

On 12 July 1979, Dahl would come face-to-face with the community he had created, on a night that became known as ‘Disco Demolition Night’.

That night, the White Sox were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the equally middling Detroit Tigers. As part of a ‘teen night’ promotion with the Loop radio station, fans were told that if they donated one of their disco records, they would be admitted into Comiskey Park for only 98 cents. Between games, Dahl and his cohorts promised to put the records in a giant dumpster at centre field and blow it up, the physical realisation of the audio stunts that Dahl had been pulling for weeks.

Fans flooded the stadium, as ushers struggled to keep up with the number of disco albums being shoved in their faces. One young African-American usher, Vincent Lawrence (who later became a pioneer of house music, disco’s direct descendant), noticed a disturbing trend as he took the albums. ‘A lot of the records were not disco records but BLACK records – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.’

The first game passed relatively uneventfully, the Tigers winning 4-1. Comiskey Park, often half-empty on game days, was filled past capacity. More than 47,000 people packed into a stadium whose capacity was 44,492. So far, the promotion had been a startling success.

But as soon as Dahl, clad in military fatigues, emerged in a convertible Jeep, the night took a sinister turn. Fans began throwing beers at the Jeep. Even Dahl was momentarily stunned. ‘When the door opened and I saw all those people,’ he remembered, ‘it was: “What the fuck? They are throwing beers and cherry bombs at us. And they’re the people who like us!”’

To chants of ‘Disco sucks!’, Dahl stepped out of the Jeep into centre field and led the crowd in a countdown to the demolition of the albums. But too much dynamite caused album fragments to shoot into the sky, and a crater was formed from the explosion’s impact. The crowd roared, as players continued warming up on the field.

‘The place went bonkers … People started jumping out of the stands,’ D J Michaels, a witness, remembered. ‘It was like the rats leaving a ship. A few, then more, then total chaos.’

Dahl and his team were whisked to safety. Bonfires were started. The White Sox player Steve Trout remembered the scene:

I walked out to look at centre field, and I heard something go by me. It was an album from the upper deck and landed next to my right foot. It was stuck in the ground. I said: ‘Holy shit, I could have been killed by the Village People.’

The White Sox player Ed Farmer got in a fist fight in the parking lot. The Chicago Police Department, including mounted policemen, appeared at the scene. A little more than an hour after it was scheduled to begin, the second game was postponed due to unsafe conditions.

By the time the riot had dissipated, 39 people had been arrested, and the field was smouldering and gutted. For many of the participants, it was an exhilarating experience. ‘We didn’t take over the dean’s office but we took over our ballpark,’ Bob Chicoine, a vendor, remembered.

Almost immediately, the local media latched on to the story and ran with it. Joe Shanahan, a bar owner and native Chicagoan, recalled watching reports of the scene:

I could see the South Side kids I grew up with on the television running over their field. Those were the douchebags I ran away from in high school. And they were burning records. I thought: ‘Didn’t you all read Bradbury? Burning books? Burning records? This has the feeling of a really bad cloud. And why is it coming out of Chicago? And why is music of any kind, whether I like it or not, being destroyed for some radio promotion or some baseball promotion? It gave licence for people to not be in the modern world.

The story soon became nationwide news. Disco was again labelled ‘other’ – foreign and not tough enough for real, heartland American males. Dahl and his cohorts strongly denied (and continue to deny) that the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement had anything to do with racism or homophobia. ‘I’m worn out from defending myself as a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park,’ he wrote in his book. ‘This event was just a moment in time. Not racist, not anti-gay … It is important to me to have this viewed in the 1979 lens … That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication.’

Disco did not worship at the altar of the rock god. It was the Village People versus Pink Floyd. Andriote agrees: ‘My take on what happened [at Comiskey Park] was that it was a boiling-over of testosterone from white straight men who saw disco – and the whole club scene – as threatening to their masculinity.’

By the early 1980s, disco was beyond passé, and so were all the fanciful accoutrements that went with it – glitter balls, dance lessons and belting divas. Some people point to the events at Comiskey Park as ‘the night disco died’, although over-saturation and mediocre products also helped lead to its rapid downfall. Yet, despite the best efforts of men such as Dahl, disco’s influence lives on. The marginalised groups who loved the music – blacks, women, Hispanics, Latinos and gays – have increasingly claimed their rightful place in society. Disco informs the work of many of today’s superstars, from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, and popular music from house to EDM. As the Village People sang: ‘You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music.’Aeon counter – do not remove

Hadley Meares

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.