Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Conversation with the Band 'William Pilgrim and The All Grows Up' About Politics, Truth-Telling, and Popular Music

The American roots, rock, and soul band William Pilgrim and The All Grows Up is the guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show.

Contemporary popular music is often vacuous and empty. But, there are a few rare voices who are trying to speak truth to power while also making entertaining and provocative music. William Pilgrim and The All Grows Up is one such band. 

In this conversation, I sat down with Ish and PM Romero of William Pilgrim and The All Grows Up and had a great to and fro about politics, popular culture, the role of the artist as truth-teller, navigating the business that is popular music, and their experience working on issues such as global warming and the homelessness crisis in the United States. Ish and Romero also share some wonderful and inspirational life advice that we can all learn from.

This was an easy and fun conversation. It was also a nice complement to the other conversations we have had here on The Chauncey DeVega Show about music and politics over the last few months. 

Chauncey DeVega also shares his thoughts on the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette's white feminist fail, and John Legend's well-intentioned recycling of a distorted "truth" about African-American incarceration and chattel slavery.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show with William Pilgrim and The All Grows Up can be listened to below or "watched" on the official Youtube channel for chaunceydevega.com

The Chauncey DeVega Show can now be followed on Itunes and listened to via Stitcher on your smart phone or other related technology.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why do Patricia Arquette's 'White Feminism' Comments at the Oscars Matter?

After receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette clarified the unstated and undefined "we" that loomed over her acceptance speech.

Backstage, she explained to journalists how:
“So the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
The undefined "we" is a dangerous and problematic speech act. Of course, it is evidence of lazy-thinking. Thus, the unmarked "we" is obnoxious and empty based on that fact alone.

The unmarked and unqualified "we" is pernicious, because like the universal "I", it operates to normalize the privileged and the in-group while excluding the Other. Thus, erasure in language reflects a desire for the disappearance and the erasing of people(s) whose identities complicate and disrupt the "natural order of things" and the lies produced by the White Gaze.

In the case of Patricia Arquette, the unmarked "we" consists of white heterosexual women, a group she transforms into universal victims and whose selfless suffering and generosity in the service of others' freedom and equality must be acknowledged and remediated.

After writing my first essay about Arquette's "foot in mouth crude celebrity moment of she or he who wants to pontificate on political matters about which they have minimal to no substantive training or understanding about" moment, I asked myself the following questions.

Why do Patricia Arquette's racist comments at the Oscars matter? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

At the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette Unintentionally Exposed White Feminism's Racist Blind Spot

Film is magical. As human beings, we are captivated by movies because of a particular quirk of our physiology wherein images moving at a certain speed create the illusion of motion on a screen. 

Movies are also an insight into our collective subconscious. Consequently, film channels a given society’s struggles and anxieties about power and questions of identity.

Celebrations of film such as the Oscars are exercises in narcissism and self-congratulatory behavior for those people who are fortunate (or not, depending on one’s point of view) to work in Hollywood. The Oscars are also an exercise in spectacle as well as wish fulfillment for the viewing audience.

If film is a type of political text, then the celebration of “popular” film at events such as the Oscars, provides an insight into American (and global) politics.

There, the acceptance speech can be transformed into a moment of political advocacy. The host's opening monologue is an opportunity to comment on timely matters of public concern or controversy. He or she who receives an award for their work may choose to speak about a matter of public policy during their acceptance speech.

In that moment, a truth can slip out, one that exists despite and contrary to their best intentions.

Patricia Arquette provided one such example during the 2015 Oscars where after receiving an award for Best Supporting Actress she proclaimed:

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights… It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

The unmarked “we” is a powerful and dangerous turn of speech. It deflects responsibility. It exists outside of history. It dances around questions of causality and ownership. It is an empty vessel and marker. It is lazy thinking that legitimates inequality and injustice.

Arquette’s language is an appeal to a reasonable, principled, and long overdue outcome that all people of conscience should agree with. However, it is in the facts and details of history (and the present) where the problems with Patricia Arquette’s statement are revealed.

As much as some folks would like—both because of hopeful humanistic dreaming and out of cowardice for hoping to evade the fact of their unearned privileges and advantages—we cannot escape history’s gravity in the present.

As Neil Patrick Harris’s opening monologue alluded to, the Oscars, and Hollywood writ large, are examples of white privilege and the white racial frame as lived practice and political ideology.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend Semi-Open Thread: Defending Elvis Presley's Reputation Against Charges of Racism While Looking at the Sky for Secret Airplanes and Doing Acid with the C.I.A. in a Brothel


As is our weekend tradition do treat this as a semi-open thread.

In my great conversation with "Champion" Joe Lansdale on the podcast known as The Chauncey DeVega Show, we discussed how Elvis Presley has been unfairly tarnished with the stain of being a "racist". The claim that Presley is a racist has become a truism; like gravity, it just "is".


[Speaking of that conversation with Joe R. Lansdale, as several folks have pointed out, yes I know that beef bourguignon is different from beef sauvignon. That slippage is part of my habitus as a child of the working class. I also was not explicit in one of my instructions--yes, and of course, you add water as need be if the dish is reducing down faster than expected. There is a reason I am not on the Food Network as I take certain things for granted.]

Of course, the Black Culture Industry is real. Yes, African-American music has often been coopted and stolen by white folks. The notion that "love and theft", to borrow from Eric Lott's essential book, typifies White America's relationship with black American culture is an accurate one. Unfortunately, those systemic issues are used to make granular claims about Elvis Presley the individual.

Elvis had many vices. I wonder, was acid among the party favors that he liked to indulge in?

If so, Elvis could have gotten the good stuff from the United States government and the C.I.A..

My former New Haven Black Panther griot mentor and casual friend of my father, would always tell me about the C.I.A. and how it experimented on the American public. Time has been kind to his claims. What some would have once dismissed as conspiranoid thinking has been proven to be true some years later.

The C.I.A. was a naughty boy. They were also perverts. From the website Io9:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Conversation with Author Joe R. Lansdale About 'Bubba Ho-Tep', 'Cold in July', and Living a Creative Life

On this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show I had the honor to speak with author and all around creative genius Mr. Joe R. Lansdale.

In addition to his screenplays and graphic novels, he is the author of the books Cold in July, the short story Bubba Ho-Tep, and the Hap and Leonard series. Cold in July and Bubba Ho-Tep were made into great films. The Hap and Leonard novels are being adapted by Sundance TV as a 6 episode series.

I am a huge fan of his work. It is always great to sit down and chat with someone whose creativity you find both admirable and inspiring.

In this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Joe and I talk about "Southern heritage", race, the colorline, professional wrestling, the craft of writing, and the making of Bubba Ho-Tep. Mr. Lansdale also answers some of Chauncey DeVega's questions about the themes and politics of his great movie and novel Cold in July.

Chauncey DeVega also shares his thoughts about the 2015 Oscars. Chauncey also experiences an online cooking healing paroxysm as he shares his recipe for Oscar viewing Beef Bourguignon.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show with Mr. Joe R. Lansdale can be listened to below or "watched" on the official Youtube channel for chaunceydevega.com

The Chauncey DeVega Show can now be followed on Itunes and listened to via Stitcher on your smart phone or other related technology.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Little White Lies? James Comey’s Very Problematic Speech About Police and Black America

F.B.I. Director James Comey’s recent speech on race and crime has been praised for its supposed candor and direct engagement with uncomfortable truths.

There, Comey deployed the en vogue language of the moment when he spoke about “unconscious” racial bias. He also admitted the obvious:

First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups. 

For many Americans, the country’s police are increasingly—and with good reason in the era of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many other black boys, girls, men, and women who have been killed and otherwise brutalized by thug cops—viewed as illegitimate, not deserving of the public trust, and racist.

In response to this reality, Comey is presenting himself as “Officer Friendly”, a fair and reasonable person who will reorient America’s police so that they can truly serve and protect all Americans equally on both sides of the colorline.

James Comey is no Serpico--the brave police whistleblower.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Irrational" Actors Worshiping the End of Days: ISIS, George W. Bush, and the Christian Right


Is ISIS a rational actor? Is ISIS an irrational group motivated by religious fundamentalism and an End Times eschatological belief system? Or is ISIS acting "rationally" within the framework of its political-religious ideology?

America and the West's opinion leaders in the commercial news media would like the public to believe the second.

To wit.

Today, one of CNN's lede stories is, "Why does ISIS keep making enemies?".

It contains the following observations and claims:

Breaking the Halo of Distrust and Alienation? What are Your Thoughts on F.B.I. Director James Comey's Speech on Race and the Police?


Have you read the vaunted and much discussed speech by F.B.I. Director James Comey about race and the police?

If you have not, please do so. I believe that it will be of value to those folks who frequent WARN.

I am working on a new essay about Comey's speech. As I finish it up, your thoughts and insights would be much appreciated.

Comey has received much praise for his "brave" effort to tell the "truth" about America's police and their relationship with communities of color. I suggest that those folks who are praising Comey have not actually read the text of his speech. In much the same way as Obama's legendary 2008 speech on race received undo praise, Comey's supposed insights about police, race, and the colorline do not hold up to rigorous--or even passing--scrutiny.

The criminal justice system is one of the primary ways through which the United States as a herrenvolk white supremacist society maintains a racially hierarchical system, what is an order dedicated to the social dominance of Whiteness and those people arbitrarily categorized as "white".

The suggestion that Comey, who leads one of one of the main organs of White Power in the United States, would speak truth to power about race and police is absurd. Unless Comey can split himself in two and conduct a schizo affected conversation, no such moment of public truth-telling about race and policing can or will ever occur.

The American criminal justice system has created a type of second class custodial citizenship for poor and working class black and brown Americans. Comey can and will not substantively effect the changes necessary to empower said community.

Comey will also not make any substantive interventions to disrupt the halo of distrust and alienation that exists between the police and how they have made black and brown communities into battle zones and occupied territories. Again, such a move would be outside of the cultural history, policies, and day-to-day practices of police as a social institution that saw its birth in the slave patrols of the antebellum South.

Am I being too cynical? And what could Comey actually do as a matter of public policy that would improve how police treat black and brown communities in the long term?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Weekend Semi-Open Thread: While I Watched 'Jupiter Ascending' He May Have Killed a White Woman With His Lingam While Doing the Money Dance and Fighting Off Drunk Gorillas



As is our tradition and habit, do consider this a semi-open Sunday thread.

I am cold. Electric heat is expensive. I have no objections or compunctions against wearing a sweater while inside. One of my near-future dreams is to have a backyard or patio area so that I can barbecue outside during cold weather. I am a simple man. My dreams are modest.

Saturday afternoon I watched the Wachowskis' new movie Jupiter Ascending. I saw it on a huge IMAX screen in 3D. One may criticize the Wachowskis' movies; one can never accuse them of creating an uninteresting film. Jupiter Ascending is a wondrous mess of B movie Edgar Rice Burroughs' sensibilities mated with a Marxist critique of neoliberalism. Jupiter Ascending is also a visually stunning masterwork of world building. I really liked it. Most folks will hate it. Such is life.

We ought to embrace the absurd in order to remain sane in a world where angry white men shoot dead our Muslim brothers and sisters over a parking space and then days later an Islamic terrorist in Denmark decides to shoot at and kill people for daring to draw a cartoon of a mythological religious figure.

To cleanse the palate with a laugh, I offer the following randomness for a Sunday.

The Showtime network's, X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Movies of All Time, is a great documentary. It may also contain one of the funniest moments in a documentary that I have ever seen. How many men wish they could publicly contemplate--with confidence--that they may have "killed" a woman with the pleasure induced in her by their lingam?

I have no use for religion beyond its utility as a tool for human livestock management.

As such, I laugh at and mock the fools who give clowns such as Creflo Dollar and his prosperity ministry ilk their money. It has been said by folks far wiser than me that in the black community the pimp and the preacher are part of the same cultural imagination. The behavior of shuck and buck prosperity pimp preachers tend to support said proposition.


Finally, I love our animal friends. I especially love a good story about a drunk gorilla attacking nosy interloping human beings. How can one not laugh at a drunk gorilla? Tell me!

What interesting bits of information of public or private concern do you have to share?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Talking About ISIS and America's Lynching Culture is Verboten: Gary "The War Nerd" Brecher is None Too Pleased. He Doesn't Like The Fact That Black Folks Are People Too

Apparently Jim and Jane Crow Were Not Real Tragedies



The website Pando Daily has some useful content. One of its writers, Gary "The War Nerd" Brecher, occasionally offers up some insightful essays on military affairs and global politics. His style is acerbic and biting. We all have an online "voice" and angle. I do not begrudge him that choice of how to present his particular "brand" to the world. However, I do find it unfortunate that his recent essay Islamic State and American Narcissism, written in response to my basic observation about white on black lynchings and ISIS, is both intellectually dishonest and a fundamental misrepresentation of the facts.

[It is also very revealing that Brecher's essay is a close copy of the objections and comments made by overt white supremacists in responses to my work.]

Becher's Islamic State and American Narcissism is not an outlier or atypical in that regard: one of the recurring traits in the responses to my viral essay on ISIS and lynchings, Bill Moyers' thoughts on the same subject, and the online comments to others who dared to talk about America's cultural habit of spectacular lynchings and white on black violence ("then" done by rope and kindling; "now" and "then" done by cops and vigilantes in the guise of neo slave patrol overseers) is a hostility to the facts.

Yet, The War Nerd's discombobulated screed does have some value.

In Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Many Thousands and its followup, I located White America's denial of the connections between ISIS's horrible murder of Muadh al Kasasbeh and white lynchings of thousands of African-Americans in a matrix where Whiteness functions a type of racial innocence and also conditions its "owners", through the white racial frame, to a type of experiential, epistemological, and ethical myopia.

I believe that remains true. However, in a classic "but, and..." situation, responses such as Brecher's indicate that there are other explanations for a hostility towards discussing white on black lynchings in the context of ISIS.