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Tortillas: A Cultural History

This work is the story of the versatile tortilla, an unleavened flatbread made from either corn or wheat. It is a story that opens the window of the past—of Aztec street vendors selling one of their most essential foods, thin, white, hot corn tlaxcalli, layered in a basket and covered with a white cloth, and Spanish conquistadors introducing wood burning ovens to bake loaves of wheat bread, in their eyes as superior to the ubiquitous tortilla as the entirety of European culture. Yet the tortilla and the mother culture of Mexico did not fade away.

Excerpt from: Tortillas: A Cultural History
“Deep in the highlands of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico a contemporary Zinacantecos shaman kneels before three wooden crosses decorated with pine tree tops and bunches of red geraniums. As he prays to his ancestral Maya gods who reside inside the volcanic mountains, the shaman plants white wax candles in the earth before the shrine, waves copal incense over the lighted candles and pours a powerful brew of cane liquor on the ground. For the ceremonial smoke, he lights cigarettes in the guise of burning incense. And he presents corn tortillas, the life-giver, to eat, perceived in the image of the flaming candles as the heat energy of the sun released into the soil to grow the sacred corn. ‘The gods’ meals are like those eaten by men. Or, as the Zinacantecos express it, men eat what the gods eat,’ explained anthropologist Evon Vogt. Fed and contented, the gods are ready to talk and the Zinacantecos listen to their ancestors, spiritual counselors who provide order to a world of crop failures, squabbling relatives and modernization.

More than two thousand miles northwest of the mountain shrine, Joe Bravo, a Chicano artist, pays tribute to his Hispanic heritage in his backyard studio in Los Angeles, California. He paints on a twenty seven inch wheat flour tortilla, custom made by a local tortilleria. The ritual begins with selecting the desired texture, shape and color of the tortilla and cooking it over an open flame. Burn marks are a distinctive characteristic. With bold acrylics he paints an ethnic Elvis Presley with a dark Latino complexion, a snake entwined Medusa or Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico. Bravo’s canvas is at the mercy of the elements, and after the paint dries he protects it against moisture and insects with an acrylic varnish. He grew up eating tortillas: ‘As the tortillas have given us life, I give it new life by using it as an art medium.’”

Tabloid Valley: Supermarket News and American Culture

Paula Morton’s rakish history goes behind the scenes to examine every facet of modern yellow journalism: what headlines sell and why, how the journalists gather the news, the recent and ongoing downturn in circulation, and, most important, what tabloid news says about American culture.

Excerpt from Prologue of Tabloid Valley: Supermarket News and American Culture
“On September 2, 2007, at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, more than seventy tabloid journalists and friends gathered for a wake in the Banshee Room of Brogues Irish Pub in Lake Worth, Florida. The Weekly World News had passed away quietly at age 28.

How better to mourn and celebrate a passing life than with an Irish wake? The deceased, a black-and-white supermarket tabloid, had been described by journalist Peter Carlson as ‘the most creative newspaper in American history.’ Its wake was an opportunity for the tabloid fraternity of writers, editors, and reporters to reminisce, drink beer, eat buffalo wings, and rock and roll to live music performed by Jody Pollard from Dublin, Ireland. ‘Welcome, tabloid brothers and sisters. Ain’t it great to be alive and be in America!’ shouted emcee and tabloid reporter Jim McCandlish. ‘Today we celebrate the life and times of the wackiest tabloid in the history of the world – the wild, the wonderful...the Weekly World News.’

In memoriam, a photograph of the deceased, the final cover of the Weekly World News complete with screaming headlines, greeted the mourners at the guest registry. For a few hours the Weekly World News’s legendary past came to life in the back room of Brogues. Elvis serenaded half-bat, half-boy Bat Boy. A space alien in a sombrero danced with a psychic countess. ‘Pig-biting mad’ columnist Ed Anger was caught smiling. Deceased former editor Eddie Clontz sat in spirit at the bar as a skeleton wearing a wig, hat, and a ‘Bat Boy Found in Cave’ T-shirt. Clontz, as detailed in an obituary from the Economist in 2004, described himself ‘not as an editor but as a circus-master, drawing readers into his tent with an endless parade of fantasies and freaks.’

Everyone at the wake wanted to know: did the demise of the Weekly World News signify the end of an era for a wild supermarket tabloid or its new beginning as an electronic publication at Would the National Enquirer, the grand dame of American tabloids, be the next to relinquish its prime real estate at the grocery store checkout counters to some glossy new celebrity magazine? What forces had the once-powerful supermarket tabloids on the ropes?”