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Monday, October 22, 2018

‘Tackling Taboos’: A conversation on redefining our own truths

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 03:38 PM

Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi - VANESSA BUENGER
  • Vanessa Buenger
  • Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi

"I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo," said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event "Tackling Taboos." The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it's important to talk about difficult issues transparently.

The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO's Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or "Daddy," as she calls him. "I don't have daddy issues, don't worry," she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn't know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she'd had growing up in an African household.

When living with African parents, "dreaming is a luxury," Orji said. "Living with Mexican parents too," said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents' plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.

Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they've held on to for the last 40 years. "Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help," said Orji.

Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.

"Our own taboo limits us," she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences." What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.

Following Witt's talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. "Your fake period got rid of that jerk," she sang. "'Cause you're disgusting and useless when your pussy don't work."

The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.

"I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people's lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me," he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people's stories and solidified him as "the Cardi B of lit."

The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn't continue being normalized.

Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Raya Martin discusses Filipino cinema and his latest film, the crime drama Smaller and Smaller Circles

Posted By on 09.17.18 at 06:00 AM

Smaller and Smaller Circles
  • Smaller and Smaller Circles
One of the more welcome film series in town, Asian Pop-Up Cinema (now in its seventh season) presents recent work from east Asia that might not have reached this city otherwise. Case in point: this Wednesday at the River East 21 at 7 PM, it will present Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017), the latest feature by Filipino director Raya Martin, with the filmmaker scheduled to appear for a postshow discussion. Martin’s work has received much attention over the past 15 years—some of his films have played at Cannes, and he’s been the subject of retrospectives in New York and Paris—but his movies rarely play in Chicago. Perhaps this screening will mark the beginning of a belated local discovery of his filmography.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Chicago police ‘satanic panic’ document from the 80s goes viral

Posted By on 05.08.18 at 06:00 AM


A Chicago Police Department document from 1989 that outlines (in absurd fashion) how to identify teens involved in ritualistic crime went viral on Twitter on Sunday.

On May 6, Jennifer Jordan, a PhD student at Stony Brook University in New York, tweeted that her sister, a Florida art teacher, had found a 25-page pamphlet called "Identification, Investigation, and Understanding of Ritualistic Criminal Activity," by a Detective "Robert Semandi" of the Chicago Police Department in a supply closet. That tweet was shared 7,000 times, liked more than 25,000 times, and made Twitter's "Moments" section on Sunday. Some outlets, like the digital news sites the Daily Dot and Mashable, have posts responding to the document pictured in Jordan's tweets.

But the detective's name was misspelled—it's actually Simandl. He was a "gang crimes and ritual abuse specialist" for the Chicago Police Department who traveled the country and held seminars and spoke at conferences to train police and other child-protection-affiliated professionals in the 80s.

"It's a very complex subject that makes street gang activity look like a nursery school rhyme," said Simandl in a 1987 Minneapolis Star Tribune article. "It's not a pleasant topic, but I believe it's going to be the crime of the 1990s."

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Christian indie-rock star who broke up with God

Posted By on 04.17.18 at 06:00 AM

David Bazan at Cornerstone, July 2, 2009 - AZUREE WIITALA
  • Azuree Wiitala
  • David Bazan at Cornerstone, July 2, 2009

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

As the front man for the band Pedro the Lion, David Bazan was Christian indie rock's first big crossover star. His lyrics, Jessica Hopper wrote, "have a through-a-glass-darkly quality, acknowledging the imperfection of human understanding rather than insisting on the obviousness of an absolute truth." But then something happened: Bazan lost his own faith.

Hopper, who was Bazan's publicist during his final years with Pedro the Lion, ran into him in the spring of 2009 when both were appearing on a panel at a music conference. She hadn't seen him in several years. ""I'm not sure if you know this," he told her, "but my relationship with Christ has changed pretty dramatically in the last few years."

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Friday, March 30, 2018

How are these seders different from all other seders?

Posted By on 03.30.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Steve Jacobs

A few years ago, some friends joined me in writing a Passover Haggadah that borrowed the tunes of Beatles songs. We named it "You Say Shalom, And I Say Shalom." None of us is particularly observant (we're more Jew-ish), but we longed for the days when matzo was a delicacy and grandpa chugged the glass of wine left out for Elijah—the prophet who is said to attend seders in spirit form, thirsty for that sweet, sweet Manischewitz—when nobody was looking. Plus, it was a fun way to include our non-Jewish friends and sing as if we were camping out around a proverbial burning bush.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

How Don "Magic" Juan, king of the pimps, found God and Hollywood quasi-celebrity

Posted By on 03.22.18 at 06:00 AM

Don "Magic" Juan and his fellow pimps at Mancow's wedding in 2003 - STEVE MATTEO
  • Steve Matteo
  • Don "Magic" Juan and his fellow pimps at Mancow's wedding in 2003

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

A pimp and a preacher are remarkably similar. Both require charisma, and both involve persuasion and guiding people to do things they might not ordinarily do. Both, in short, are hustlers. And both get to wear lots of bling—at least depending on the denomination. So maybe it made sense that Don "Magic" Juan Campbell, the legendary pimp from Austin (and founder of the annual pimp gathering, the Players Ball), would find Jesus and become known to the world as Bishop Don "Magic" Juan Campbell.

Campbell first appeared in the pages of the Reader in a 1994 Our Town column. He was the pastor of the nondenominational Magic World Christian Kingdom Church, and he'd just published his autobiography (cowritten with his sister Ann Bromfield) From Pimp Stick to Pulpit: The Life Story of Don "Magic" Juan. Jeffrey Felshman hung out with him during a book signing at Heritage Books and Music in Edgewater. He'd driven there in his money green Cadillac and, Felshman writes, he was "resplendent in a suit of many colors—jacket and pants with stripes in hues of green and yellow, and yellow socks and shoes. His jewelry catches the light and rarely lets go. . . . Dangling from a thick golden rope is a giant gold, jewel-studded crucifix that stretches approximately from breast to navel."

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

This year, celebrate Purim with Salmontaschen

Posted By on 03.01.18 at 08:50 AM

The story behind Purim has the same basic narrative as many other Jewish holidays: they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat! At Purim, you eat triangular cookies called hamantaschen, meant to represent the hat worn by the villainous Haman. (Just go with this story, OK?) These are stuffed with some sort of filling, traditionally poppy seeds or jam, though I personally prefer chocolate or salted caramel. Traditionally, you also wash them down with vast quantities of alcohol, which helps out a lot while performing the two other great Purim traditions: making a lot of noise to drown out the name of the villainous Haman and wearing a silly costume. It's a great holiday.

This year, however, there's a new spin on the hamantaschen tradition, thanks to Forrest, an employee of the kosher fish department at the Jewel at Evanston Center on Howard Street, aka Kosher Jewel. Over the past few years, Forrest has gotten in the habit of carving up salmon into different shapes in honor of the Jewish holidays. For Hanukkah, for instance, he makes salmon menorahs. Salmontaschen seemed like the next obvious choice.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Nobody likes a Nazi, but somehow Art Jones is now a congressional candidate

Posted By on 02.06.18 at 09:00 AM

  • Marcus DiPaola/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
  • Art Jones in 2018

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Art Jones, a white supremacist, anti-Semite, and Holocaust denier is running for Congress this year, as he has done seven times before. This year is different because he's actually won the primary, by default, since no Republicans are opposing him.

Jones didn't just come from nowhere. He'd already had a lengthy history of white supremacist activism by 1994, when he sat down with the late Grant Pick, who Michael Miner called "the writer who best defined this paper," for a lengthy profile, "Bigot for Hire: Nobody likes a Nazi, but Art Jones has found his niche." He'd been a member of the National Socialist White People's Party (NSWPP) since the mid-70s and had already run for Congress several times and for mayor of both Chicago and Milwaukee and had altercations with Geraldo Rivera and Jerry Springer.

"Some neo-Nazis resort to violence," Pick wrote, "but though Jones has had his share of altercations and gets blustery with ease, he's basically a propagandist. He puts out a newspaper, maintains a hot line, participates in demonstrations, and appears on TV talk shows. 'I'd be a fool if I didn't take every opportunity to get my ideas before the people,' he says."

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

From the archive: The man who built a 33-foot-tall metal Madonna

Posted By on 01.17.18 at 09:02 AM

Our Lady of the New Millennium outside Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park in 2003. - TAMARA BELL/PIONEER PRESS
  • Tamara Bell/Pioneer Press
  • Our Lady of the New Millennium outside Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park in 2003.

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

In another era, Carl Demma would have been a prophet or a saint. In late-2oth century Chicago, he was just another eccentric with a dream: to build a 33-foot-tall, 8,400-pound stainless steel statue of the Blessed Mother. It took him an entire lifetime to make it happen. "That guy upstairs, you don't know what he puts me through," he told a friend. "But I gotta do it. I gotta do it." Tori Marlan told the whole marvelous story of Our Lady of the New Millennium in "Carl Demma's Mighty Metal Madonna." (After touring for several years, the statue found a permanent home in Saint John, Indiana.)

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The theological brilliance of Blade Runner 2049

Posted By on 11.08.17 at 09:00 AM

Blade Runner 2049
  • Blade Runner 2049

Before Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 was released in theaters a little more than a month ago, Hollywood insiders speculated that the movie could be a rarity: an intellectually rigorous blockbuster that could connect with mainstream audiences and Academy voters. Once 2049 underperformed at the box office it was treated as a misfire, proof that audiences don't like to be challenged, or that the marketing campaign didn't try hard enough to appeal to millennials or women, or that the distributor's overzealous attempt to police spoilers wound up constricting the conversation around the film.

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