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author’s voice

The Gay Question

People always think they know what determines sexual orientation. “It’s biological.” Or “It’s a choice.” But the reality, says Gayle Pitman, J94, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Sacramento City College, is that “when you look at the research, the jury is still out.” That uncertainty makes for riveting reading. Pitman’s book provides both a primer on sexual identity research and a scintillating look at the characters, plot twists, and hard questions associated with the desire to understand what determines who we love.

An academic book sort of sucks the life out of a subject. When a student suggested I write a textbook, I took her words to heart. For eight months, I sat and stared at the computer, feeling guilty that I couldn’t get the job done. One afternoon I was talking to a colleague who’s done a lot of research on lesbians, and she said, “There’s a story behind every research study.” Then it clicked: What if instead of writing a traditional textbook, I write this as a narrative, describing the political landscape and the personalities and motivations behind the studies?

So often the research that’s out there gets twisted around and is used for negative political purposes. There are really powerful organizations out there that have that as their mission. It’s very important for people to understand that a lot of researchers bring their personal perspectives.

It’s extremely difficult to get funding for LGBT research unless you’re studying HIV/AIDS. One of the examples I talk about is Dean Hamer’s “gay gene” research. Hamer was a scientist at the National Cancer Institute who suspected that sexual orientation had a genetic component. He managed to get an NIH grant by emphasizing genetic variation in the progression of the HIV virus. Hamer made a conscious choice not to reveal any aspect of his sexual orientation because he wanted his research to stand up for what it was. He made that choice from the standpoint of scientific credibility, but I had to think it came at a personal cost. He eventually abandoned that line of research to focus on filmmaking. He made his first film with his partner about being an out gay, getting married, and living in rural Pennsylvania. He said that science could only go so far.

When people make accusations about ‘activist’ researchers, they’re really asking, ‘Is it all right to use social science research to further a political goal?’ Coming up with a finding that could benefit a particular group is what applied research is all about. Brown v. the Board of Education was decided in part based on scientific evidence. Lesbian and gay issues—don’t ask, don’t tell; gay bullying; and marriage equality—are the primary civil rights challenge of our day.”


The Kitchen Daughter (Gallery)

Hiding in her parents’ closet and cooking are the only things that soothe Ginny Selveggio. The predictable rhythm of the knife, the meticulous honing of culinary skills, and the sensual memories conjured up by sesame oil or ceviche help anchor her to a world she finds baffling. When her parents die unexpectedly and her overbearing sister threatens her autonomy, Ginny retreats to the kitchen, where she discovers that she can summon the ghost of any dead person whose dish she prepares. A cryptic message from her late Italian grandmother, called by the rich scent of a ribollita, launches Ginny on a quest to unravel a family secret. In the process, she strives to escape the limitations imposed by the label “Asperger’s” and learns how to live. Jael McHenry, A95, also writes the popular “Simmer” blog, and her evocative descriptions of food will make your mouth water. This novel’s searing treatment of grief will have the same effect on your eyes.

Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism (NYU Press)

Watch the coverage of a presidential nominating convention and chances are, the camera will alight on a group of embattled protesters, perhaps engaged in an elaborate form of performance art. If we remember them at all, these groups remain on the periphery of our consciousness. This is exactly what worries Sarah Sobieraj, an assistant professor of sociology at Tufts. For many political activists, media attention is the gold standard of success. But do their efforts pay off? She followed fifty diverse organizations through two presidential election cycles and found that not only did their exploits fail to generate media attention, they actually impeded their larger goals by diverting resources from worthier endeavors.

Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual, and Imagery (McFarland & Company)

Catholicism and movies are a match made in heaven. The Church’s inherent theatrics—its dramatic rites, stories of saints and angels, and doctrine of transubstantiation—have long inspired filmmakers in the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres. This collection of twenty-two critical essays, edited by Regina Hansen, J87, includes reflections on obvious contenders, such as The Exorcist, Miracle at Fatima, and Danny Boyle’s Millions, the story of a young British boy who communes with saints. Catholic subtexts are also given thorough treatment, as are society’s shifting perceptions of Catholicism. Several essays observe that vampire and zombie films mirror the sacrament of Communion, with its promise of eternal life through the consumption of flesh and blood. Another draws a connection between anti-Catholicism in 1930s vampire films and the era’s anti-immigration hysteria.


Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers

Jumbo Gleeks have an album all their own. The Tufts Beelzebubs provide the background vocals for the hit Fox show’s all-male a cappella group, the Dalton Academy Warblers, rivals of Glee’s stars, the McKinley High New Directions. Former Bub Ed Boyer, A04, is responsible for the arrangements, which are produced at Q Division Studios in Somerville, then recorded over by Warbler leads Chris Colfer (“Kurt”) and Darren Criss (“Blaine”). The album includes thirteen covers, twelve with the Bubs backing.

9/11 Memorial Concert

Tufts commemorated the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks with a concert entitled Ten Years Later: Musical Responses to 9/11. Diana Dabby’s “September Quartet,” commissioned by the Tufts New Music Ensemble, received its world premiere. Also featured were works by Tufts composers Stefan Anderson, A13; graduate student William Kenlon; Kevin Laba, A13; Professor John MacDonald; and Kevin Warren, A13.

film & video

The Smurfs

The man of a thousand voices, Hank Azaria, A88, was the perfect choice to play Gargamel, the campily evil wizard in the movie version of the popular 1980s cartoon The Smurfs, which premiered in July. As the voice for more than half the characters on The Simpsons, Azaria has won Emmys with his shape-shifting vocal chords and fluid acting. In the original cartoon the character of Gargamel was voiced by Paul Winchell, and Azaria didn’t subject the over-the-top sorcerer to a significant reinterpretation. “I started from the ground up with the voice but ended up with something very close to what Paul did,” Azaria said in an interview for GateHouse News Service. “But there was also a stock cartoon villain voice that I remembered from the cheesy cartoons of the seventies. I thought that would be so bad and clichéd that it would be fun.”

Unlike his blue, CGI nemeses, Gargamel is a live-action character, and Azaria donned heavy makeup and prosthetics to perfect his demented hunchback look. Since Gargamel spends much of the movie chasing the Smurfs around New York City, this had to be a challenge, but Azaria has never shied away from the physically demanding side of acting, including performing a grueling eight shows a week in the Broadway hit Spamalot. He continues to work on The Simpsons, and appears in the NBC series Free Agents.

Do It Again

This documentary following Geoff Edgers, A92, in his quest to reunite the Kinks will be syndicated by American Public Television. A sixty-minute version of the film premiered on WGBH-Boston and, so far, has been picked up by eight other markets (Albany, Atlanta, Austin, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon, and Wichita) for broadcast later this year. The film, which Edgers produced, features Sting, Zooey Deschanel, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Weller, Peter Buck, and Warren Zanes. For air times, see doitagainthemovie.com.

a passage from . . .

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of
Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch, J84 (Harper)

Six hours to read and write equaled the six hours I had more or less to myself every day, at least during the week. Weekends were unpredictable, but I could stake a claim to four hours each morning, especially if I got up early. I planned out my year: if I spent two hours writing and posting a review, I would have no problem finishing up the daily book by the time school-day buses rolled in (and the corresponding waves of snacks, homework, activities, and meltdowns or euphoria that had to be shared). I would be able to plan and cook dinner (not well, but no worse than before my book-a-day year started); I could keep laundry under control (clean underwear in every drawer); and summary cleaning would get done (and I mean summary: crumbs off counters, dishes in dishwasher, kitty litter filtered and tossed). Weekends I would have to do some reading at night, but that was fine—I could swing it by ordering in pizza and relying on [my husband] Jack for at least one good dinner. I would be able to write my reviews, enjoy my books, and be there for my family as greeter, driver, food shopper, and server, cleaner, cook, friend, counselor, disciplinarian, lover (to my husband, on occasion, and not enough), and overall, overlord of the manse.

Other Books of Note

In A Basic Theory of Neuropsychoanalysis (Karnac), W.M. BERNSTEIN, A73, attempts to frame ideas from psychoanalysis and cognitive-social psychology in light of the latest neurobiological research. Escape (Doubleday), the latest page-turner by the New York Times best-selling author BARBARA DELINSKY, J67, follows a young lawyer who delves into the past to find her future. WENDY SWART GROSSMAN, G91, hilariously recounts her family’s year-long Winnebago journey across North America in Behind the Wheel (Ruby Beech). Workshop of Revolution (Duke), by LYMAN L. JOHNSON, A67, offers a historical account of the role played by artisans, free laborers, and slaves in the Argentine war of independence. In The Lobbying Strategy Handbook (Sage), PAT LIBBY, J79, AND ASSOCIATES provide a how-to for passionate students aiming to influence public policy. Santa Fe Poet Laureate JOAN SLESINGER LOGGHE, J69, combines her own poems in Love and Death (Tres Chicas) with those of her dearest friends, the poets Renée Gregorio and Miriam Sagan. In whimsical verse, ALICE (BERGER) SCHELLHORN MAGRANE, J66, G74, tells the story of Snõshoo the Stowaway Bunny, who escapes the teasing of the other North Pole rabbits by hitching a ride on Santa’s sleigh. MARILYN KALLET, J68, produced the first full-length English translation of the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret’s 1928 masterpiece, Le grand jeu, or The Big Game (Black Widow). From Piggybank to Portfolio, by BRIAN PERRY, F09, is a primer on investing for newbies. WILLIAM RUGH, Edward R. Murrow Visiting Professor of Public Diplomacy, edited The Practice of Public Diplomacy (Palgrave Macmillan), a thoughtful collection of essays by Fletcher students arguing for increased personal engagement in confronting challenges abroad. HYMAN J. ROBERTS, A45, M47, warns the medical profession about the consequences of restricting corporate-neutral ideas and research in Cracks in the Level Playing Field (Sunshine Sentinel). In From Rattles to Writing (Therapro), BARBARA A. SMITH, BSOT84, describes activities that help children develop the visual and manual skills for reading and writing. SABINA E. VAUGHT, an assistant professor of urban education at Tufts, documents the inequities in a West Coast urban school district in her critical race ethnography, Racism, Public Schooling, and the Entrenchment of White Supremacy (SUNY). The first novel by SUSAN V. WEISS, J75, My God, What Have We Done (Fomite), juxtaposes the creation and explosion of the atomic bomb with the rupture of a young couple’s marriage. Reconstructing Spain (Sussex), by DACIA VIEJO-ROSE, J96, examines the impact of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship.

  © 2011 Tufts University Tufts Publications, 80 George St., Medford, MA 02155