Arizona State University Regents Professor David William Foster’s book “Glimpses of Phoenix: The Desert Metropolis in Written and Visual Media” examines the complex, dark cultural history of the city reflected in works by famous names who have called Phoenix home. Foster’s book highlights the role gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity have played in shaping the way Phoenicians perceive spaces and events around them. Foster will discuss his book.
Ted Simons: Arizona state university Regents professor David William foster has written a new book. It's title, "glimpses of Phoenix The desert metropolis in written and visual media." the book examines the city's complex cultural history as reflected in the works of local journalists, writers, and performers. Joining us now is David William Foster. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.
David William Foster: My pleasure.
Ted Simons: This is an interesting book. Because it's- I'm not sure if it is like a sociocultural treatise. Is it a history book? What is it?
David William Foster: It's a little bit of all of those. The sort of book that we do in the humanities in which the only thing is we take text, okay, humanities dealings with text, written text or visual text. And we put them in their context and discuss why they're important, how they're important, how they work.
Ted Simons: Yes.
David William Foster: How people read them. How people might read them. What people might have overlooked in reading them. And my idea was to assemble a group of texts that in one way or another said something interesting about Phoenix.
Ted Simons: And something interesting in the sense of, I notice an anchor here is the self-image of Phoenix.
David William Foster: Yes.
Ted Simons: A lot of folks think of the self image of Phoenix, what the reality of Phoenix is. Talk to us about that.
David William Foster: Self-image of Phoenix, historically a boisterous. Everyone in Phoenix was supposed to wake up in the morning and be grateful to his or her maker for another day in paradise. Phoenix is a very problematical city. Water issues, pollution issues, the heat of course, there is a lot going on in Phoenix, a lot that is good and a lot that is bad.
Ted Simons: Profiles here, we will start with Erma Bombeck. I think a lot of Arizona has known about her for quite a while. Didn't necessarily write about Phoenix though.
David William Foster: No, in fact, she went out of the way not to write about Phoenix. You can kind of tease out the Arizona Soccer Mom. She said once- But she wants to write and identify with someone looking out the window and seeing the swollen hose and think it is because of the cold in Ohio, which is where she was from. Another reader might say oh it's because of the heat in Phoenix. She wanted to write for a middle class, moms all across the United States, middle class families, but she struck a very important note here in Phoenix. She did all of her writing here in Phoenix. She was virtually a nonentity when they moved to Phoenix. And she did all of her writing here. But the interesting thing is all of her papers and stuff, at the University of Dayton, which is where she went to school. You go to the archives online, and there is not a mention of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting.
David William Foster: It really is.
Ted Simons: On the program last week, Lauren, years ago was referred to as the Erma Bombeck of her generation. How do you include her writings in a book about the self-images of Phoenix?
David William Foster: She creates this idiot girls' club is what she calls it. Being a woman in Phoenix and having to confront on a daily basis all of these self-myths that Phoenix has that really don't work. She says I come from paradise valley, the wrong side of the tracks. Paradise valley, that vague nebulous north of camel back area, rundown ranch homes from the 50's and 60's. Not THE town of Paradise Valley. That kind of juxtaposition is important in her writing.
Ted Simons: So, I want to get moving to other topics, Lauren and Erma and their images of life and or Phoenix, what does it say about Phoenix? What might we have missed?
David William Foster: I think what we missed, Phoenix, when all is said and done, very little writing about it. I'm from Seattle. Which was founded more or less at the same time that Phoenix was. Maybe a decade or so before. Seattle has this huge amount of writing about Seattle. About the good things about Seattle, about the bad things about Seattle. About the, you know, the positive self-image about the very critical self-image. We don't have that in Phoenix. It is kind of like it is a crime to say anything bad about Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Why is that?
David William Foster: I don't know why it is. I don't know why it is. Sociologist maybe needs to answer that question or an anthropologist. I know these writings deal with that. Real hard-edge stuff.
Ted Simons: You also have Wallace and Ladmo and what's interesting in reading your book, I literally laughed out loud. Because in the context of the serious analytical discussion, we get a story of how children are disappointed to see the original state fair which is a complete crock. And yet you know, we talk about the dark side of Phoenix and how there are aspects that people don't want to- and yet so many folks raised in Phoenix will say I am so glad that I was raised here because Wallace and Ladmo helped me to see things differently that kids in Dayton, Cincinnati, Seattle my not have experienced.
David William Foster: When you consider that Wallace and Ladmo when I first came here, which was in 1966, was being produced and with all of this irreverent humor. At a time when American opinion library was the most intellectual thing in Phoenix, John Burton society, super right wing stigma about the United States, and of course Phoenix because the John Burton society had one of his birth places here, Old Man Brophy was on the board with the John Burton society. So here Wallace and Ladmo are doing all of this irreverent and really there is a nasty edge to Wallace and Ladmo. You know, this isn't Sesame Street and that is a real treasure that Arizona has. And something that needs to be preserved.
Ted Simons: That is a real treasure. You have four artists here. The Steve Benson's cartoons are mentioned as well. I think a lot of people consider these cultural assets. What do we take from your book though? I mean, are they assets because people obviously revere certain aspects of these folks, are they ignoring what they're really trying to say?
David William Foster: No, I don't think they're ignoring what they're really trying to say. One of the functions of the literary scholar is to, or the cultural scholar is to point out what things are all about. What is Benson all about and what he is trying to do? He is writing against this booster thing, writing against this- if you don't like it here, get out. The sort of thing that when he was a business editor at The Arizona Republic. And so, you need to point these things out. But you need to point out what the context are and you need to point out how it works along with other works which have more positive things to say. Benson has a real interesting view of Phoenix. And, of course, Benson doesn't really do cartoons about Phoenix. you know, you could pull out Benson's cartoons and do a collection of them just about Phoenix. You know, he has this collection of cartoons just about the Evan Meakem era. I would like to see him do a collection of cartoons just about Phoenix. What I want people take away from this, Phoenix 5th largest Metropolitan area, is an area that doesn't produce much in the way of creative writing. Probably the only state in the union that doesn't have a major writer associated with it.
Ted Simons: Real quickly though, you got your Alice Cooper, you've got your meat puppets, you have some pretty bizarre out there acts that put Phoenix on the musical map. Something is happening here, we're just not sure what it is.
David William Foster: Right and I didn't touch music. You can't do everything in the book.
Ted Simons: Sure.
David William Foster: Publishers don't want to publish something that is much bigger than this, you know, it is a cross thing. I had to pick and choose. When people say to me, well, how come you didn't touch this and how come you didn't do that? You do it, someone else pick the ball up and run with it.
Ted Simons: It is an interesting read. Silver analysis of Wallace and Ladmo is fantastic.
David William Foster: Glad you liked that.
Ted Simons: Congratulations and thank you for joining us.
David William Foster: Thank you so much for your interest. My pleasure.
David William Foster:Author, "Glimpses of Phoenix: The Desert Metropolis in Written and Visual Media";