“You Owe Me Awe”: Culture, Class, and the New South in Thomas Harris’s ‘Red Dragon’

By Michael Grasso

Thomas Harris’s sophomore novel Red Dragon (1981) introduced the world to iconic serial killer and cultured cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and arguably set the gold standard for all serial killer fiction to follow. But Harris’s novel is more than just a taut true crime thriller that first popularized the archetype of the serial killer profiler. It is also a methodical, deliberate exploration of the class anxieties…

“Going At Ghosts With Science”: ‘Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale’

By Michael Grasso

Legend of 20th century science fiction Nigel Kneale (1922-2006) would likely bristle to be described as such. Andy Murray’s terrific biography, Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale, readily conveys Kneale’s sometime ambivalence at being pigeonholed as a genre writer. But the full parade of Kneale’s fascinating life gives perspective to the inseparability of the mundane and the fantastic…

No Powerful Idea Lasts Long: The Memphis Group and the Look of the ’80s

By Richard McKenna

Of the many cultural tributaries that flowed together into what we now think of as the visual aesthetic of the 1980s, one of the most prominent must be the Memphis Group. Convened in 1981 by Austrian-born architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, Memphis was a collective that—incongruously, for something that seems so violently of its times—took its name from the lyric of a Bob Dylan song…

“The Devil Had Worshipers Long Before Lenin”: The Occult Spy Novels of E. Howard Hunt

By Michael Grasso

In his series of “Peter Ward” novels, published by various paperback houses (Signet, Dell, and Fawcett) between 1965 and 1971, Hunt conjures an agent with a pedigree strikingly similar to his own: Ivy League-educated (at Brown), possessing both a mysterious past involving disastrous CIA ops gone wrong and a burning desire to see himself accepted by the clandestine Washington D.C. power structure…

Deserts, Screens, and Empty Smiles: The Vast Wastelands of Jean Baudrillard’s ‘America’

By Michael Grasso

In the early 1980s, French philosopher, media theorist, and cultural scholar Jean Baudrillard visited the United States several times, taking in the vastness of the continent-spanning nation, from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach. In 1986, his account of these trips, America, was published in France. Two years later, the book came to the US in a translated edition. In the work, Baudrillard ruminates upon Mormons and breakdancers, fitness nuts and canned laughter on television, on all of the sources of beauty and horror of American culture and society in the 1980s…

Miniaturizing the Monster: Sid Sackson’s ‘Acquire’ and the Capitalist Board Game

By Ben Schwartz

Ultra-prolific board game designer Sid Sackson made his first game when he was six years old; he militarized Uncle Wiggily, a 1916 children’s game based on a series of children’s books. In it, players race from the titular rheumatic-yet-cheerful rabbit’s house to Dr. Possum’s office, for reasons not elaborated upon in any rulebook I can find. It’s cute, in a turn-of-the-century, butterscotchy kind of way—calming, quaint, woefully unbalanced, and entirely luck-based…