Friday, April 24, 2015

'They Live' and Opening the Eyes of Average White Folks to the Harm Done to Them by Whiteness


I am going to be at C2E2 this weekend. I will be sharing some pictures as I did last year. If I am lucky, I will be able to get some interviews as well.

I have a new piece over at Alternet on the con game that white elites have been running on the white working class and poor through the invention of the socially constructed--yet very real--identity known as "Whiteness". It is pretty long--more than 3,000 words--but I tried to offer up something that brings together some good scholarship in an accessible albeit synthetic way.

Do check it out, share, and the like if you could.

I think I did something good with The Murderous Scam White Elites Have Perpetrated on Blacks and Whites for at Least 4 Centuries.

Plus, I have the personal satisfaction of mentioning the indispensable auteur b-movie classic They Live in an essay on the colorline, truth-seeking, and politics. I count that as a double win.

Before I attend to nerdly and ghetto nerd related matters, I would like to share the following two videos.

The first is John Bracey's "The Cost of Racism to White People". It is one of the best and most direct explanations of how Whiteness hurts the average white person that I have ever seen. Bracey's lecture is essential viewing on the topic.

The second is Jonathan Lethem's deconstruction of the movie They Live. He is an amazing writer and thinker. Lethem shows his work and why he is one of the best in the game in that video and the book that he authored about the film.


Some questions for the day and weekend.

Do you think Whiteness has the same political, social, and economic currency in the United States than it did some years ago?

What movies have you seen that opened your mind to a broader world, that "red pill" moment that changed things for the better or worse?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Conversation with Keli Dailey About Comedy, Politics, and Her Online Show 'News Hangover'

Keli Dailey is the guest on this week's packed full of goodness installment of The Chauncey DeVega Show.

She is the host of News Hangover, an online comedy news series.

News Hangover is smart, sharp, and funny as Keli and her guests use comedy and satire as a means to talk about current events, social justice, and other related topics. Keli is also a journalist who worked at the U-T San Diego newspaper as a food writer. She is a Stanford grad and self-described "black hipster".

This makes for a great conversation as Chauncey and Keli connect the dots on a range of issues from life on the "racism beat", to learning the craft of comedy, the challenges of talking to young people about feminism and race, popular culture, Louis C.K. and the movie Pootie Tang, as well as the challenges of putting together a show like News Hangover.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show was recorded just as the story about the video-recorded murder of Walter Scott by a thug cop in South Carolina was breaking as a national news item. Chauncey and Keli share an organic moment where they talk about the unending wave of white on black police and vigilante violence in the United States.

Friend of the podcast, Bill the Lizard, also joins the show as he and Chauncey discuss the new trailer for the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Chauncey also shares his thoughts on the Michael Dyson versus Cornel West fracas, going to see legendary comic Dick Gregory, and a funny email about "race play" and kink that he received earlier this week.

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

The Chauncey DeVega Show can also be followed on Itunes and listened to via Stitcher on your smart phone or like device.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What if Michael Dyson Versus Cornel West was a Video Game?

The setup for the Michael Dyson versus Cornel West feud continues. Salon has an extensive interview with Michael Dyson about his effort to "ether" Cornel West.

The Root also has an audio interview with Dyson about his falling out with West.

In keeping with the professional wrestling trope I suggested in this piece, West must now cut a promo back in response to Dyson.

If I were booking the Dyson versus West program, West would surprise Dyson at first with the ferocity and intensity of his counter-strike. Dyson is the student turned master. West is the master. Dyson would then strike back in a way that further enrages West.

Cornel West actually believes that he is the victim. Michael Dyson is trying to help Cornel West understand the error in his ways. Both sides feel betrayed. This is a perfect story because there are serious emotional issues and drama between the two parties. It is also an opportunity for "redemptive violence" because Dyson still loves West, but believes that the latter has lost his way and betrayed his principles and friends. This whole scenario is box office, big money on the lecture circuit.

It is also mighty entertaining.

A thought, if Cornel West versus Michael Dyson was a video game like the new Mortal Kombat X, what powers and special abilities would each character have?

Cornel West would have a special ability called "Black Prophetic Fire" where he would blow fire out of his mouth and nose like Dhalsim from Street Fighter.

Michael Dyson would likely have a power called "Freestyle" where he hypnotizes and confuses his opponent with his hip-hop black academic cadence.

Other powers?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Michael Dyson Versus Cornel West is Not Boxing, It is Professional Wrestling


Michael Dyson and Cornel West are involved in a very public and ugly feud.

Dyson attempted to "ether" West in an almost 10,000 word essay written for The New Republic called "The Ghost of Cornel West".

Dave Zirin, sports writer, intellectual, and all around smart guy at The Nation offered up the following observation about Dyson versus West in his essay "Cornel West Is Not Mike Tyson":
As a sportswriter I am very sensitive to the use and misuse of boxing metaphors. Few analogies are either more powerful or more universally understood than comparing a public figure to an iconic fighter. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, in a panoramic, painfully personal, deeply researched 10,000-word excoriation of Dr. Cornel West, published in The New Republic, has compared the 61-year-old professor to Mike Tyson. He describes West as someone who once “tore through opponents with startling menace and ferocity,” but who has since devolved into a “faint echo of himself,” an ear-biting sideshow, more interested in celebrity than serious academic and political work. 
With all respect to Dyson, who wrote the intro to my book Game Over and has been a friend to me on numerous occasions, this is in my view the wrong choice of championship pugilists. West is not Mike Tyson: he’s Muhammad Ali. 
Not the Muhammad Ali of ESPN hagiographies or Hollywood films starring Will Smith. But the real Muhammad Ali: effortlessly provocative, undeniably narcissistic, and unquestionably brilliant. 
The deeply hurtful quotes that West has aimed at Dyson (he has “prostituted himself intellectually”) and Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry (“she is a liar and a fraud”) are 21st-century iterations of Ali’s regrettable, and for many unforgivable, questioning of the blackness of the great Joe Frazier, comparing the proud fighter to an ugly gorilla, all in the name of hyping up fights and throwing Frazier off of his game.
[And if a person really wants to understand the meta game between West and Dyson they need to read Political Scientist Dr. Adolph Reed Jr.'s classic article "What are the Drums Saying Booker?"]

I largely agree with Zirin's take on the fracas. However, he is too generous in his analysis of the organic nature of the dispute. Nevertheless, Dave Zirin also has a large piece of the puzzle mostly figured out.

Michael Dyson versus Cornel West is more like professional wrestling than it is boxing.

I offer some additional connective tissue for Zirin's great essay.

Muhammad Ali was a huge fan of professional wrestling and credits Gorgeous George as a having had a great influence on his style, demeanor, and ability to work an audience:
Gorgeous George would shout, bulge his eyes and threaten to annihilate his ''enemy." Some of his opponents feared George's tough talk outside the ring far more than his technique inside it. In short order, the anger aimed at him made him one of wrestling's - and television's - biggest attractions. And he cried all the way to the bank. 
His act lasted so long that a little-known boxer named Cassius Marcellus Clay, who won the 1960 light heavyweight championship in the Rome Olympics, took careful note of George's success. 
"Soon after I turned pro," Cassius mused, "I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn't making any money. I was the only champion that didn't have no jack jangling in his jeans. So I studied Gorgeous George and began doing his act better than he did it. 
"Before I became champ, I used to go in the ring and fight and when I went to the dressing room, people didn't pay much attention to me," Ali recalled years later. "One night, I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, 'this guy's on to something.' I think I'll put some of that in my act." 
Boxing fans plunked down their hard-earned cash to see Ali get knocked out. But alas, he had become as fine a boxer as he was a showman, and routinely whipped his opponents - "as if I was their daddy," he enjoyed saying. 
He also told reporters he probably owed Gorgeous George a lot of money: "Wasn't for him, nobody would have heard of me," Ali insisted."I didn't use no perfume or high heels, but I became real boisterous and the fans began paying attention to me. They hated my poetry and came to see if I would knock out my opponents in the round I'd predict. Fans would spend their money and rush to my fights, hoping to see me get my head whupped."
I have no doubt that the animus between West and Dyson is real. But, there is more money to be made in the build up, climax, and then blow off match, than there is in Dyson and West being compadres and brothers in arms forever.

As in other areas of life, we and they make up to break up.

For example, West, Dyson, and Smiley made a ton of money on their various tours during the Age of Obama and the twilight years of Bush II.

What better way is there to make money and get attention, i.e. return to relevance in popular culture and among the more literate audiences for the chattering classes, than to have a feud between former "brothers?"

Emotional issues between talented competitors plus good creative equals cash in professional wrestling.

It is no different in the world of public intellectuals.

West and Dyson will feud today. This will put a butt every 18 inches in a seat. West and Dyson will reconcile and sell it as a story about two lions and titans in the Black Prophetic Tradition who love justice and "The People" so much that they had to duel in order to place their ideas in a fiery crucible as a way of reducing their brilliance down to its essence.

Public jawing is West's and Dyson's way of applying black intellectual power to Plato's Theory of the Forms.

If Dick Gregory is not available to referee the series of matches between Michael Dyson and Cornel West, I am more than willing to do it for a very agreeable rate of payment.

Monday, April 20, 2015

If He was Black He'd Be Dead: What Happens When a White Murder Suspect Attacks an Ohio Police Officer?


Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending comedian Dick Gregory's concert at the Promontory restaurant and lounge in Chicago.

He is a legend. Gregory is also a legend who delivers on the promise of his title and reputation. One must wonder does he have the secret of youth? Did he obtain if through a nefarious bargain? Or is Gregory's vitality the result of good living and a fortunate roll of the genetic dice?

Opening for a legend is difficult. It is also an honor. Some of the younger comedians who stepped out on the stage before Gregory are very early in their training. They are journeyman bards with much to learn. One of those lessons should be to not steal a.k.a. "borrow" jokes from obvious sources. It is tacky and poor form. Of course, there are few new ideas. The classics are the classics (I just flew in from Detroit, and boy are my arms tired!). But one should at least try to innovate as they would not want to be so easily exposed by either their peers or a student of comedy who happens to be in the audience.

One of Dick Gregory's themes was the impotence of misdirected black rage. As he observed, folks are angry about "injustice" and "racism" but do little substantive to counter it. They may huff and puff, but that is all bluster for their exhalations are aimed in the wrong direction.

Gregory, like the best performers in the African-American comedic tradition, was pointing out the absurd, the (not) dilemma of the colorline (for is justice ever really that complicated?), and offering a deep critique of Power.

Ultimately, Gregory concluded that "we" choose to not see the truth. It is not a hard thing to divine or to understand, but most people choose to enable their own powerlessness and learned helplessness.

One of Dick Gregory's most wickedly genius observations was about America's police and the colorline. He asked, "why would a white person with all of the privileges and power that come with being 'white' in America choose to be a cop when so many other easy options are available to them?"

The answer to that question holds the key to understanding white on black police violence and the necropolis of black bodies that are more visible in the Age of Obama and a carceral surveillance society, but which historically have been a fixture of American life since before the Founding.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Semi-Open Philosophical Sunday Thread: How do You Define Happiness?


As is our habit, do treat this as a semi-open weekend thread. And as always do feel free to share interesting matters, topics, or information of public or private concern.

Philosophy is "love of wisdom".

Ideally, philosophy should be applied as a means of improving the human condition.

The question becomes, how does one live such a life?

Moreover, how can we work towards the Common Good through the pursuit of knowledge, and the development of a proper ethical framework, while also learning how to be better and more critical thinkers?

I was asked to teach an introduction to political theory and philosophy course this past quarter. Theory is one of the areas I enjoy--although I would never pass myself off as an expert beyond a niche interest in "democratic theory" and "power"--so I knew that I could do something passable akin to the Introduction to Political Thought class that I took while an undergraduate.

The course was interesting. It was more of a success than a failure. I did not have an Obi-wan who believes he can teach Anakin better than Yoda moment. Such an avoidance of disaster is all that I ask for in such situations.

However, I am still struck by how few students, many of which are about to graduate, have never been exposed to any of the foundational thinkers in the Western canon (Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Marx, Smith, Rousseau, Mill, etc.) that would qualify a person as being "educated". I have taught at a range of institutions. The problem is less worse at the elite schools, but seems to be pretty common at the decent to good mid-tier institutions that most students will attend.

[I also noticed a clear stratification in preparation. There were several students who attended good if not elite high schools who had a familiarity with the thinkers we were grappling with in class. Other students would have had no idea what or who we were talking about before class began. This is very troubling for the future of American democracy. The myth of meritocracy and upward mobility is exposed once again. Our public schools are contributing to the creation of American feudalism.]

I ask and challenge the students, "how can you be a good citizen and live a fulfilled and reflective life, if you have not grappled with critical thinking and 'big ideas?'" Most have no answer. They sit, looking embarrassed.

Yes, a broken economy and other priorities are part of this problem. Yes, the rise of S.T.E.M. and standardized testing has robbed many students of the ability to be anything more than technicians, robots, and human drones who feed the maw of hyper-capitalism and the 1 percent.

But, there has to be another way. Am I that wrong and misguided?

I am curious as to your thoughts on happiness.

Aristotle suggested that happiness is:
the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
What makes you happy?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Difference Between Criticism, Rage, and Villification: I May Not Like J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek' Movies But I Don't Hate the Man

I happened to discover Emily Asher-Perrin's essay Protecting What You Love: On the Difference Between Criticism, Rage, and Vilification over at Tor.com and thought it could be of interest given our recent conversations about Star Wars, the Hugo awards, and other related topics.

Fans are a passionate group. Self-identified members of "fandom" can be especially passionate.

Social media has only exacerbated those feelings as accessibility often creates a sense of entitlement and a twisted sense of "ownership" between consumers of a particular type of art and/or entertainment and those who make it.

I would also suggest that the entitlement and anger felt by the most rabid of fans can reflect both jealousy and envy in that while they may admire the creators of a given object of popular culture, most will never be able to have that same level of success both because most fans (like most people) lack the talent and also the courage to try to become a creator.

[Retired professional wrestler and Chicago native CM Punk described his relationship with Twitter as millions of entitled people yelling into the open window of his house and then expecting him to listen...as opposed to telling them to go to hell and then closing the windows in their faces. Spot on me thinks.]

New media, technology, and a coarseness to our public discourse has also created an environment where fans are not just critical of a given cultural worker's art. Instead, they translate it into personal invective.

Of course, this has likely always happened as art moves emotions. Thus, the public and spectator transfer those feelings to the art and its creators.

Writing in response to what she views as a decidedly negative moment in which the Hugos are being derailed by entitled angry white men and their allies, and various elements in fan culture are out of control, having forgotten or never learned basic rules of civil discourse and propriety, Asher-Perrin observes:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is The Force Strong With This One? The Second 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer is Finally Here!



The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer has just debuted.

I am still amazed to see a black man as a lead in a Star Wars film. For those folks who did not grow up having to "read yourself" into Star Wars because of the structured absence of black and non-white characters in the Original Trilogy (Lando and random Return of the Jedi Rebel Pilot) being the notable exceptions), the power of such moments may be lost on you.

The new trailer has some great stuff. We see the the physical evidence of the Galactic Civil War with a destroyed Star Destroyer on a desert world named Jakku, the rise of the "new" Empire, Storm Commandos (or are they an honor guard or personal strike unit for the new villain?), Luke's robotic arm, a Sith cult led by Kylo Ren who have found Vader's helmet from the funeral pyre, what seems to be some fratricidal combat between elements of the remaining Galactic Empire, and of course other goodness too--a lightsaber being passed from "mother" to "daughter" perhaps? and yes, Han and Chewie are finally "home".

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now a very real thing.

It is time to revisit the predictions and thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I made in this episode of the podcast known as The Chauncey DeVega Show.

Any thoughts or reactions to the new trailer? Excited? Worried? Both?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are Videos of Black Men Being Killed by America's Police the New Snuff Films?

My dear friend Bill the Lizard, he who is a fellow Star Wars aficionado and occasional conversation partner on The Chauncey DeVega Show, called me yesterday.

He explained that "I had a dream that you were shot by the police like Walter Scott in that horrible video".

Dreams do often portend the future. As is evident by my non-poltergeist act of answering the telephone, it would seem that I am okay.

Bill the Lizard also sent me a picture of "Herbert the Pervert" to confirm my safety. Friends of many years develop their own language with which to communicate with one another. I will leave the origins of our Herbert the Pervert inside joke suitably unstated.

He and I both agreed that viewing killed by cop videos such as those featuring Walter Scott, Eric Harris, and Eric Garner have a negative impact on one's soul and psyche.

But, this conclusion does not explain why the video-recorded images of black Americans being shot, killed, and otherwise abused by the police are captivating to (what would seem to be) so many in the global viewing public.

The corporate news media shows those images of horrific and spectacular violence against the black body because they garner ratings. Ratings equal cash.

But again, why would someone who is not paid or otherwise materially compensated view such a thing?

Writing at Medium, Jade Davis offers the following insight:
Black men being the first to die in horror movies, and being lined up for execution on death row is the norm — but that is for fun, or behind closed doors. These killings of regular black men, however — in public, dying on camera and reproduced on the Internet — speaks to the same kind of forbidden desire that Girls Gone Wild tapped into. The ability to easily capture and distribute video of overly horny co-eds out to have a good time fed the desires of overly horny people who wanted to experience the thrill of barely legal girls submitting to the lens. 
Now, instead of barely legal porn, these actual snuff films, not like those staged versions from the 1970s, are the forbidden jouissance of the moment. The black man’s death is repeated, reproduced, shared, and celebrated in a macabre way specific to the snuff genre. These films and activities have always existed, but in the past people didn’t consume them so publicly, or so proudly outside of public executions and lynchings.
She continues:
It might seem that the difference between these snuff films and Girls Gone Wild is that people paid cash to watch the women perform for them. But that is merely a sign of the times. The Internet eventually won when the audience decided to pay with clicks instead of cash: The places that brought Girls Gone Wild to an end still have age disclaimers for mature content, and can be blocked by enabling parental controls. 
But, when the most explicit imagery of the violence enacted against black bodies can be at the top of The New York Times and the Daily Mail, it says that these are the images that sell in a world where clicks equal cash, and there’s no warning necessary. 
This is content everyone should see! Don’t miss this amazing new footage of a black man dying. Warning, graphic content, but the screen capture really sells the tale. The distribution channel isn’t the same as those videos of gyrating youngsters, but it is distributed and monetized just the same.
It is not for me to say, but I believe that the late great Stuart Hall would likely be in agreement with Davis's analysis. On matters of race, representation, and semiotics I can think of no higher complement to give.

Are the video-recorded killings of black men by police and their allies the next iteration of snuff films?

A type of fantasy wish fulfillment for some of the most deranged and racist in the audience (example: those white people who donated money to Darren Wilson's "defense" fund) while also simultaneously serving as a non-therapeutic exterior projection of the fears and worries that black Americans carry within themselves about police violence and America's history of committing extra-judicial murder against them?

In a society where the lie of "reality television" is believed to be real by the mass public, the carceral society (with all of its anti-black violence) is popularized by shows such as Cops, The First 48, and Lockup, and the Culture of Cruelty extends along the colorline, the killings of unarmed black people by America's police may simply be the dystopian near future vision offered by the 1980's classic movie The Running Man made real.

Technology is a means for the circulation of white supremacist racial ideologies.

Lynching photographs were one of America's most popular forms of mass culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, in the 21st and late 20th centuries, digital media circulates images of violence against the black body by America's police to a global super public.

Are you not entertained?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Whiteness of Science-Fiction: Can You Please Help Me Understand the 'Sad Puppy' Hugo Awards Controversy?


We have a smart and diverse readership here at WARN.

Perhaps, some of them could help me understand the "controversy" about this year's Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy.

[Here are some helpful readings on the "Sad Puppies" imbroglio.]

The final slate has been announced here.

I respect the awards and their history--both for the good and despite the bad. But, I am not super plugged into the various politicking that goes on around the awards. Nor, am I one of the obsessives in science fiction fandom.

Politics is popular culture; popular culture is politics. Popular culture, broadly defined, is one of the primary spaces where a society's values and norms are reproduced, taught, internalized, and on occasion subverted and challenged.

As such, the "sad puppies" Hugo debacle and their cousin in "GamerGate", can be understood to reflect a type of Right-wing reactionary white male victimology that is unfortunately all too common in post civil rights era neoliberal America.

The election of Barack Obama and the United States' changing demographics (a change that I suggest is much exaggerated in its consequences for a "new" America as Whiteness always expands to include new members and to maintain its dominant position) has driven them to new levels of delusional aggrieved white victimologist madness.

Is the Hugo controversy simply an extension of a broader Right-wing reactionary politics?

And is the Hugo "Sad Puppies" and "GamerGate" mess any different from the American Right-wing's complaints about "multiculturalism", "feminism", and "diversity " during the 1970s and 1980s Culture War(s)?

Do enlighten me if you would.