York grad student sees Little Orphan Annie as a brief for conservatism

The idea that Little Orphan Annie as a historical document full of clues to contemporary American political culture is not, perhaps, self-evident, wrote Scott McLemee in insidehighered.com May 20. Many of us remember the comic strip, if at all, primarily as the inspiration for a long-running Broadway musical; the latter being a genre of which I, for one, have an irrational fear. (If there is a hell, it has a chorus line.)

Yet there is a case to make for Annie as an ancestor of Joe the Plumber, and not just because both are fictional characters. The three volumes, so far, of The Complete Little Orphan Annie (issued by IDW Publishing in its Library of American Comics series) come with introductory essays by Jeet Heer, a graduate student in history at York University, who finds in the cartoonist Harold Gray one of the overlooked founding fathers of the American conservative movement.

Heer contends that the adventures of the scrappy waif reflect a strain of right-wing populism that rejected the New Deal. He is now at work on a dissertation called “Letters to Orphan Annie: The Emergence of Conservative Populism in American Popular Culture, 1924-1968.”

Heer is the co-editor, with Kent Worcester, of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (2004) and A Comics Studies Reader (2008), both published by the University Press of Mississippi.

“As a graduate student, I was fascinated by mid-century Catholic intellectuals who did so much to inform our understanding of modernism,” Heer said in an e-mail interview. “[Marshall] McLuhan and company taught me that high and low culture don’t exist in hermetically sealed compartments but rather are part of an organic, mutually enriching, conversation: Culture is not an exclusive club, it’s a rent party where anyone can join in and dance."

York student dances krump

Former York University economics student Ajamu Eversley started street dancing in high school after an ankle injury dashed his hopes of a soccer scholarship, wrote the Toronto Star May 21 in a story about an intense form of hip-hop dance called krump. “The dance is about intensity and expressing yourself,” said Eversley, by day a banking sales rep. “If I had any negative energy through my regular life, I didn’t have sports anymore to release that energy in me, so krump is a perfect fit. It’s so emotional, like therapy; it makes me feel better. To the naked eye it doesn’t look like it has a solid foundation, but we’re counting (beats) in our heads and making precise, controlled transitions.”

Eversley said he spends about two hours a night practising alone or with friends “anywhere there is space and music.” Occasionally battles, organized through Facebook, draw as many as 50 krump dancers from Mississauga to Pickering, to an outdoor location near a subway station. “Usually the cops arrive and they ask for ID,” said Eversley. “Once they realize that we are just dancing and expressing ourselves, they don’t have a problem.”

Overcoming mental health issues

Downtown resident and former York student Esther Mwangi has battled schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as facing several other hurdles along the way, wrote the City Centre Mirror May 20.

Eventually, she was able to find the right mix of medications which have helped her overcome her issues. In recent years, she has begun volunteering, helping out with the Warm Line, which offers non-crisis telephone support to those living with mental illness, The Dream Team, which advocates for housing for psychiatric survivors, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and other organizations.

Mwangi was recently recognized at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Transforming Lives Awards ceremony, an event that honours those who have achieved success despite struggles with mental illness or addiction issues.

New Crown in the Sault is an Osgoode grad

Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District will soon have a new Crown attorney, wrote The Sault Star May 21. But the name and face are familiar – long-time assistant Crown attorney Bill Johnson (LLB ’76) has been named to replace his boss, Glen Wasyliniuk, who is retiring.

Among Johnson’s priorities in his new job will be moving to meet the objectives of the ministry’s Justice on Target, a strategy geared to reducing delays in Ontario’s criminal courts. “Hopefully, we can reduce the number of court appearances and the length of time to trial,’’ he said. “I think there may be some ways we can create more efficiencies in how cases are handled.’’

The 57-year-old, who holds dual citizenship, was born in New York City and moved to Toronto with his parents at the age of two. He studied at Yale University for one year before obtaining a political science degree from the University of Toronto and attending Osgoode Hall Law School.

Law society loses ‘lovable curmudgeon’

Lawyer and York grad Norman Earl Long (BA ’77) might be remembered for his ability to argue a case, but there was more to him than his professional side, wrote the Barrie Advance May 20 in an obituary. Long, 61, died April 20 after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He will be remembered as a tough barrister, but also as a generous resident.

After serving for three years in Vietnam (where he was nearly killed by a fellow soldier), Long applied for university and was accepted at New York City’s Columbia University but didn’t go. Instead, he went to York University – paid for by the US government under the GI Bill of Rights. He later attended law school at the University of Windsor.

Barrie lawyer Peter Douglas will remember Long as a “lovable curmudgeon“. "He had a terrific knowledge of the law, a terrific courtroom presence – a bit like ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ (a British TV law show),” said Douglas.

On air

  • James McKellar, director of the Real Property Development Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the condo market on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” May 20.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about negotiations between General Motors and Canadian Auto Workers on CTV News May 20.
  • David Ellis, a sessional faculty member in the Communications Studies Program in York’s Division of Social Science, Faculty of Arts, took part in a panel discussion on Trouble in TV Land on TVO’s “The Agenda” May 20.
  • Geoffrey Reaume, professor of critical disability studies in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, spoke about tours he will be leading of the 19th-century patient-built Toronto Insane Asylum boundary walls as part of the Doors Open events this weekend at the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health..