Friday, February 1, 2008

Zora on Film: Has Hollywood Helped Pave the Way for Obama?

After voters have seen several black presidents on screen, are they more likely to elect one in real life? NPR's Michele Norris recently raised this question to Dr. Todd Boyd, Professor of Critical Studies in the USC School of Cinematic Arts aka The Notorious PhD. "I'm a bit hesitant to say that because James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman or Dennis Haysbert played a president on a TV show or in a movie, it means Barack Obama can be president," Boyd responded. "I think that's a bit of a stretch."

Boyd goes on, though, to say that such representations — especially those like 24's, beamed weekly into American living rooms — "may have unconsciously made some things in society seem less troubling" than if there'd been no pop-culture pictures of a black president.

I'm betting that a lot of folks will take issue with Dr. Boyd's response. Leaders within the African-American community have been pushing for decades to have more positive representations of Negroes in the media. The result is that we regularly see African-Americans playing the roles of well-to-do professionals who are in positions of power. (For some reason, television casting directors love seeing African-American women in the role of judges -- the Law & Order spin-offs must be the most consistent employer of middle-aged, black female extras in the industry.) The irony is that the majority of the most blatant stereotypical imagery we see in popular culture today is produced by ourselves and for ourselves --> T_ler P_rry.

With Hollywood favorites like Denzel Washington, Bill Cosby and Will Smith, we've been looking pretty damn good on television and film over the last two decades (local news broadcasts not included). Some might say, too good. The problem is that the progress we've made on the cinematic screen does not reflect the progress we've made on the street. Liberals in Hollywood are producing symbols that are not grounded in reality. These symbols may actually be negatively affecting African-American progress.

The power of the media in shaping American perceptions of reality has been a regular theme on this blog. Because we are still a very segregated nation, most white Americans get a lot of their information about black Americans from the television. In places with marginal black populations like New Hampshire, Vermont, Montana, Utah and New Mexico, media images are even less likely to be balanced by real life interactions with African-Americans. If all they're seeing is images of well-off, powerful Negroes, then tales of black poverty and racial discrimination must fall on deaf ears.

I live in a small, New England town where I can count the number of African-Americans on my fingers and toes. All of us are professionals who are associated with the local college. We are surrounded by a lot of deep and profound poverty. It is nearly impossible to talk with Whites who have grown-up in this area about racial inequality and discrimination. From what they can observe, African-Americans have actually moved ahead of Whites. Most of them barely have a high-school education, so you can forget about discussing symbolic imagery and media manipulation with them.

All of the positive images of African-Americans are surely feeding what social theorists would term realistic group conflict. This is especially likely in this time of economic difficulty with the competition for jobs and benefits growing more fierce each day. We should not have been surprised at all that Obama lost in New Hampshire. Bill Clinton wasn't surprised. He knew immediately why Obama lost and sought to nourish the seeds of conflict with his comments on the "race card." The Clinton camp knew that they couldn't win the South Carolina battle, but they are looking long-term at the war. For all of Obama's talk about "hope," he has to also acknowledge (at least among his strategists) that he also inspires a lot of fear.

With all of the black presidents we have seen on screen, only African-Americans are more likely to elect a black president. For them, the symbols represent possibilities that were perhaps unimaginable before: "Maybe we can win? Maybe we can be successful?" For other groups, the media symbols of Negro success are more likely to inspire fear, or apathy at the very least. I would argue that the lack of support for Obama among Latino Democrats is further evidence of this.

Does this mean that we should go back to being portrayed as maids and field hands? Of course, not. We do, however, have to make sure that we are portrayed in a balanced and realistic manner. It doesn't serve any of us to live in a "fantasy land."

A Few Words on the Hillary-Obama Debate

I have little to say, except that the debate was a spectacle of conviviality and (almost) friendship. You know? I almost feel cheated.

Fittingly, 2 songs were running through my head during the debate.

Song number one:



Song number two:



One great parody came to mind as well--just substitute Obama and Hillary as needed:



And bro'Bama when you gave that weak answer on immigration reform I wanted to "insert hand into throat" in order to vomit. Bro'Bama, you better wake up and come stronger on this issue because the "brown" part of the coalition you are pulling for has no love for a brother.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wrestlers, Black Elvis, and our 2008 Presidential Candidates--You Know, Sometimes You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Every presidential election has its collection of odd, funny, and bizarre moments. But this year has got to take the cake. We have Hillary, co-president in a political "dynasty" and wife of the first "black" president (soul pass revoked as of 1/26/08). Her chief rival Obama is a "halfrican," a man who also happens to be a legit contender for the presidency of The United States. The campaign also features a Mormon--insert joke here. And we have Mr. McCain, a man who I can't bring myself to make fun of given how he spent years in that hell hole, The Hanoi Hilton.

The stars must have really aligned because it seems that professional wrestlers are now giving endorsements to candidates. In this corner, we have Hulk Hogan endorsing Obama (I don't know if this is a gift or a curse):



It must be a trend. Let's match each wrestler with the candidate they have endorsed.


The immortal Ric Flair has endorsed a man on a mission from God, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Huckabee also has the support of the toughest man alive Mr., yes I call him Mister lest he come over my house and kick my ass, Chuck Norris.







Kane has endorsed Republican candidate Ron Paul.








Jimmy Snuka, who is a Mormon, ostensibly supports Mitt Romney.







John McCain, who is a very vocal critic of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts gets no support. No, just kidding. For the sake of argument let's give him the UFC's, "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell.






And Hillary has Black Elvis...Old girl just can't catch a break can she?







If we were taking bets here at We Are Respectable Negroes who would you pick to win this battle royal?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Movies and Fun for Ghetto Nerds

One of the fun things about the immediacy offered by a blog is that one can chase a random idea and see where it goes. I was watching television and stumbled upon Flash Gordon, which as I mentioned in my Cloverfield review, is one of my favorite "bad movies" of all time:



This got me thinking, am I the only ghetto nerd (as Zora has christened me) who thinks that Flash Gordon is one of the greatest movies of all time. I know I am not the only brown person who loves some Queen. I know I was not the only young man who had amazing masturbatory fantasies about Ming's daughter Aura--that racially ambiguous goddess was a queen among queens who I dare say looked better than any of the women that pygmy, Prince, had on his arm during the 1980's:



Plus, I know for a fact that I am not the only respectable negro who can quote Flash Gordon at length.

We have the classic conundrum: if Flash Gordon was ohh so amazing, where does that leave my other perennial bad movie favorite, They Live? Remember its classic line, "I am here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum."



And am I the only ghetto nerd who has fond memories of Zardoz?



What are some other "bad movies" that should be added to our We are Respectable Negroes Bad Movie Hall of Fame?

Monday, January 28, 2008

The We are Respectable Negroes News Roundup

It seems that January is the month of Obama. Don't despair, the world continued to turn, and for the less politically inclined among you I have 14 points of fun, mayhem, human depravity, and man-ape news to report.

But, we have to feed our Obama fever first.

1. Obama wins, no he dominates in South Carolina. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Obama did a Lamont Sanford on Hillary. Jesse won South Carolina in '84 and '88 so Obama's victory wasn't a total surprise. However, this victory will be remembered as the moment where Billy Clinton got his ghetto pass revoked. He hated on MLK, he cast the Obama campaign as being a "fairy tale," and accused Obama of playing "the race card" (whatever the hell that is--I think we need to do a whole post on non-sense statements such as this one). Billy Bob, as The New York Times and The Washington Post have suggested, you need to be reigned in lest you do more harm to ol' Hillary's campaign. Apparently, there are still some black folk who think Bill was right for having his wife's back. You know what, and please readers help me out with this one, am I the only person who is starting to suspect that Bill Clinton is maybe, just a little bit, jealous of Hillary? Could his foot in mouth syndrome be rooted in a little resentment for his wife? And now with the Chapaquitic/bootlegger/family dynasty of funky ol' dirty drawers wearing Marilyn Monroe lovers/Kennedy endorsement, Hillary and Bill are going for blood--I suspect Bro'Bama may eventually need to get his razor out for the big payback.

2. My boy Edwards may play the kingmaker. I sincerely hope that Edwards does well enough on Super Tuesday to hold up either Hillary or Obama in order to make sure that his platform is represented. Bob Novak, rumor monger extraordinaire is hinting that an Edwards-Obama deal is in the works where Edwards, in exchange for his support, becomes Attorney General in the Obama administration. Interesting prospect, but I think Bro'Bama may have to groom Edwards a bit for the position:



3. Osama's son wants peace. Apparently Osama Bin Laden wants peace as well. More interestingly, doesn't young Bin Laden look like a character out of The Matrix?

I can see it now, "My name is Olive Branch, you are all living in a digital simulation. This world you take to be 'real' is only a simulation. My father is not a 'terrorist,' no, he is your liberator, a man sent to wake you from your slumber. Please, come with me and be witness to the desert of the real." Readers, if you would like to join Junior Laden's peace crusade you must stop here and pick up some appropriately styled clothing.

4. I interrupt this news update to bring you a damn, dirty ape news update. It seems that one of these damn apes outperforms us upright walkers on tests of basic memory. If true, this test does give me some solace, because the ape's ability to retain simple information (in all likelihood to the exclusion of more complex data) explains the popularity of minstrel-hop and crap-rappers:



5. In other animal related news, researchers have developed technology which decodes the barking of dogs. Maybe researchers will apply this technology to develop a translator which will allow me to understand T.I., Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy and all those other shit-hoppers?

6. The devil was busy these last few weeks. A man throws his kids off a bridge. A man kills his girlfriend and cooks her up in a pot (collective sigh-Why did he have to be black? And why did she have to be white? Lord, I thought that was something "they" did?). A man cut off his hand and microwaved it because it was stained by "the mark of the beast;" a woman has killed her four children because they were "possessed" by demons; and there are ritualistic killings in a small town in Iowa. A crazy, hillbilly, The Hills Have Eyes type, is killing people out West while another nut case goes on a rampage with a chainsaw...damn, typing this stuff makes me scared to go outside. Final note: a mother cooks her baby in a microwave. We are indeed a society too sick to survive.

7. I love it when stupid people get their comeuppance because it makes that Middle School science lecture on natural selection seem so relevant. Case in point: don't get drunk and taunt lions, tigers, monkeys, or any other animal that can easily layeth the smackdown on your weak homosapien ass. For a summary, see The Darwin awards which "honors" folks whom have advanced the species by checking out early (my personal favorite is the couple who fell off the roof while having sex).

8. Speaking of stupid people, Presidente Bush went to the Holy Land and apparently had a moment of religious transcendence--no comment. As I have said these last few years, one of the great tragedies of the post 9-11 era is that Jesus freaks and Christian Nationalists are on a terminal collision course with a bunch of Islamo-fascists (here is one of my favorite interviews). Again, may we live in interesting times:



9. We have several shit-huffer awards to give out. Shit-huffer number one, the fool who got arrested for driving around during a Jena 6 march with a noose on his truck. Shit-huffer number two, the sports broadcaster who said that Tiger Woods should be lynched. Shit-huffer number three, Tiger Woods for saying it was a misunderstanding. Ohh,I forgot, Tiger isn't black he is a "mocha baby"/Canablasian so only 1/32nd of him should be offended.

10. Random news happenings. Holy Sand is apparently a drug. Oprah, my least favorite handerkerchief head is being reminded that she is black. Apparently, Oprah's viewers are upset that she has ostensibly "chosen" race over gender in supporting Obama for president. Ha Ha! Sacha Baron Cohen padded his pants for his role in Sweeney Todd. Thank goodness because after seeing Borat and then Sweeney Todd I was beginning to develop an inferiority complex. We have discovered a source of anti-matter (Scotty I need more power!) Astronomers have discovered a new blackhole of unimaginable denseness and mass at the heart of a quasar (doesn't that sound sexy?). Guess what the quasar's name is? OJ287..insert joke here.

11. The near shooting incident between Iranian speed boats and the U.S. Navy in The Straights of Hormuz may have been orchestrated by a prankster with the nom de guerre of "Filipino Monkey" (which takes Crank Yankers to a whole 'nother level doesn't it?). It could still have been a misunderstanding, or maybe a set-up, sort of like The Gulf of Tonkin incident which "provoked" The Vietnam War. In related news, researchers have documented how Bush and Company orchestrated a campaign of truth distortion prior to the 2nd gulf war. FYI, "truth distortion" is Neo-Con speak for lying. Did you know we will be in Iraq until at least 2012? Not a surprise to us respectable negroes and thinking people everywhere, but lest the unwashed masses (and many Republicans) be fooled again, we suggest that all citizens annually watch both The Fog of War and Eisenhower's prescient speech where he warns against the dangers presented by the military-industrial complex.

12. On a light note. Two kinky folk got their groove on and one of them is now dead. I am GGG, but I draw the line with putting electricity through nipple clamps 'cause it can kill folks. Next time, do it right. Shop at a reputable purveyor of kink, get the needed equipment, know your limits, and use a safe word. If you don't, your evening of sexcapades may end like this:




13. On a lighter note, Richard Simmons is nice to fat people. I sincerely believe this to be one of his best traits. Richard Simmons is also crazy, a phony, and a miserable soul with more money than God--grrhhh I am so jealous of him. Apparently, Richard lost it on The Today Show:



Random factoid: Richard Simmons was once a monger of exploding steam cooking machines:



14. Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit, is in big trouble. Apparently, he has been running his administration like a cross between Flavor of Love, 106 and Park, and We can do Better. Kwame's the "hip hop" mayor. He has strippers, parties, and security guards covering up his mess. Now, Kwame is caught creeping with his senior aid. It seems that Kilpatrick and his lover have exchanged 14,000 text messages over the course of a year, yes, 14,000. The rub of the story is that few of the text messages that have been released to the public are any good. I want some steamy, I am cheating on my wife, nasty and dirty text messages. For example, how about a few, "I am gonna come over and put you in the chicken wing girl;" "I want to put you in the camel clutch later tonight;" or "I am going to wear you out like a pair of shoes from Payless." In honor of our first hip hop mayor, a mayor by the name of Kwame, I present a classic cut from the original Kwame (see it makes sense in the end):



It seems Kwame thought he was a smooth operator:



But, Kwame may have just played himself:




Till next time, this has been your We are Respectable Negroes News Roundup

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: Obama wins South Carolina!

I will be covering this and other other stories in our news roundup Monday, but this clip really sums up how Bro' Bama whooped ol' Hillary in South Carolina:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Five: How do you spell it?--5 “black” terms with indeterminate spellings

Students and purveyors of negro language often come across terms that they hear on a regular basis, but rarely write or see in print. I’ve seen such words spelled several different ways, and I always have trouble translating them into writing. I present the pronunciation of 5 such terms below:

1.) sə-'dĭt-ē

2.) 'bü -zhē

3.) 'ĭg-nĭnt

4.) nĭm

5.) ô 'sʊk-ē 'sʊk-ē


I invite everyone to offer their best guesses about how any of these five is spelled…and feel free to offer other relevant words/pronunciations. For your convenience, I’ve included a handy pronunciation key. Cut and paste away!:


\ ă \ as a in pat
\ ā \ as a in ace
\ ä \ as a in father
\ au \ as ou in out
\ b \ as in baby
\ ch \ as ch in chin
\ d \ as d in did
\ ĕ \ as e in bet
\ ē \ as ea in easy
\ f \ as f in fifty
\ g \ as g in go
\ h \ as h in hat
\ ĭ \ as i in hit
\ ī \ as i in ice
\ j \ as j in job
\ k \ as k in kin
\ l \ as l in lily
\ m \ as m in mom
\ n \ as n in own
\ ng \ as ng in sing
\ ō \ as o in no
\ ô \ as aw in law
\ oi \ as oy in boy
\ p \ as p in pop
\ r \ as r in red
\ s \ as s in yes
\ sh \ as sh in shy
\ t \ as t in tie
\ th \ as th in thin
\ th \ as th in the
\ ə\ as u in cut
\ ü \ as oo in loot
\ ʊ \ as oo in foot
\ ûr \ as ur in fur
\ v \ as v in vivid
\ w \ as w in away
\ y \ as y in yet
\ z \ as z in zone
\ zh \ as si in vision

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bill Clinton Must have Eaten a Luther Burger Before this Speech Honoring Dr. King

It looks like our first black president has a case of "The Itis":





He must have eaten a Luther:




Maybe that tired, black preacher affected speech lulled brother Clinton to sleep?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: It's True, I Caught Cloverfield from a Toilet Seat

This is not a spoiler free review. In fact, I do not want you to see this movie and all respectable negroes and our friends should avoid this movie like the plague. I will also not provide any details about the characters or specific plot moments as to recall them would be too painful.

I will not make a habit of writing movie reviews because my girl Zora has staked out this turf and made it clear to me that if I sit on her porch she will shank me (Are you impressed? I picked up some of that prison speak while watching The History Channel). On Monday, in honor of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., I, like all negroes everywhere, went to the movies (in my case 2), bought my monthly comic books (Walking Dead is returning to form; The Punisher and Barracuda have upped it one more level in their on going "feud"; I just discovered Pax Romana and it looks promising; and The Ultimates is mixed at this point--beautiful art, but too dark, and the characters are sort of blah), and went to Chipotle for a pork carnitas fajita burrito.

On that day, I was blessed to see a great movie, There Will be Blood (TWBB), and a horrible movie, Cloverfield. The former is an undeniable classic. As I told a friend, by comparison, TWBB makes P.T. Anderson's body of earlier work look like a set of movies shot by well-intentioned (but untalented) 5th graders. TWBB is the work of a master, working with a master actor (Danielle Day Lewis), on a set of universal topics (greed, the human heart, faith, nationalism, religious zealotry, family, and human frailty).

By comparison, Cloverfield is the work of an amateur who is grappling with a motif and genre he does not understand. Yes, I took the bait. Yes, I was excited by the viral marketing. I also believed that JJ Abrams had the skill to reimagine the monster movie genre, and perhaps introduce something new to science fiction story-telling. I was wrong, horribly wrong. Cloverfield is the girl in the 5th grade who promises to show you something special if you go behind the bushes with her, but instead you see nothing. By analogy, one thinks Cloverfield is a beautiful woman, but instead your love/lust object is oiling up her inner thighs and playing a man like he is a naive trick. I have long asserted that in order to either innovate upon, or to reimagine a genre, one must have mastery over it. Cloverfield demonstrates that JJ Abrams has neither mastery over, nor any particular insight into, this particular sub-genre of science fiction.

Don't be mistaken, I am not a film snob. I know and love bad movies. In fact, I am a connoisseur of them (They Live, Armageddon, Flash Gordon, etc.) As a point of reference, I was one of those unfortunate souls whom saw Prince's magnum opus, Under the Cherry Moon, in the movie theater--a film so horrible that the audience cheered when Prince, our protagonist, is contemplating suicide because his death would have mercifully ended the film. Under the Cherry Moon is the first film I contemplated walking out of before its conclusion. Prior to watching Cloverfield, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe occupied second place on my list of worst movies of all time:



And compared to the masterpiece which was He-Man, Cloverfield is a failure on almost all levels. Akin to my experience with Under the Cherry Moon, this was one of the most divide screenings I have ever been to. Half the audience booed and hissed at the main characters (and cheered when we thought they were killed), and the other half--mostly teenage ign'ts, hipsters, and other victims of group think--clapped and cheered reverentially at the film's conclusion.

First, as a point of serious criticism Cloverfield uses the device of a monster destroying NYC as a means for exploring how people grapple with the incomprehensible. What would we do if a 30 story tall monster appeared in a major city and proceeded to destroy everything in sight? How would the average person process the unimaginable? Cloverfield fails in this regard because it fails to acknowledge one obvious fact: on 9-11 we saw both the unimaginable and the incomprehensible (see The New York Times, Salon, and Slate for reviews which speak to this point). As a society, we witnessed what was thought to be impossible. Abrams's use of the monster as a thinly veiled reference to 9-11 places a heavy, almost insurmountable burden on his film. Unfortunately, Cloverfield uses the device and fails to bring anything new (here meaning real inspiration, compelling story telling or even a novel narrative device) to the story. This is Abrams's greatest failure: in playing with such heavy topics his reach never equals his grasp.

Moreover, I am all for exploring 9-11 and its visual lexicon, and a great film maker could use the monster movie genre to effectively do so. Abrams is simply not up to the challenge, and ultimately, what remains is a rehashing of 9-11 with little innovation beyond that of substituting airplanes for a whale beast summoned from the deepest parts of the ocean by an incessant demand for Slusho Cola (sounds like Slurm soda on Futurama). Sorry Mr. Abrams, that cheap slight of hand is not enough to carry a movie.

Second, for a monster movie to "work" we need to have either 1) sympathy for the victims; or 2) to cheer on the monster as a device of righteous justice because it is punishing humanity for our sins. Cloverfield fails because the main characters are unlikeable. In a multiracial, polygot, New York City the main characters are remarkable for their diversity: a clique that has seemingly walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch or J Crew ad, with the obligatory racially ambiguous brown woman, and a wannabe, miserable, cynical hipster. JJ Abrams wants us to feel sympathy for these characters and to be empathetic to their plight. Instead, we want the monster to kill these folks--especially the cameraman--because they are foul people, truly vacuous, grating to one's eyes and ears, and frustrating to our intelligence.

As a proud negro geek, I take my genre films seriously. Here, I look for small details in the story telling which make a movie feel real and signal a commitment to good film making. I ask two questions. First, do the things I see look so ridiculous as to convey the filmmaker's intent to invite and court the absurd? Second, if the film maintains a pretense to "realism," does it do the little things right? Beyond the big monster running around and destroying the city, do the details ring true?

Cloverfield clearly fails the detail test. For example, our main characters have an indestructible camera with super batteries that never run out. Through monster attacks, gunfire, building collapses, and the like, the camera works without fail--in fact, they should make the Space Shuttle out of whatever this camera is made from. Second, our beautiful, obligatory, racially nebulous brown sister has on a silver necklace from Tiffanys and high heeled shoes. The necklace never breaks because it is monster proof (certified by Elsa Peretti..it really is). The 3 inch heels on these shoes, even when climbing over corpses, rubble, or running from our beast, never break. Moral of the story: super powered cameras and indestructible heels can ruin a film if you aren't careful.

Cloverfield fails the absurdity test because the monster is sort of "blah". He is a device, but he lacks personality. The monster is present, and a marvel of CGI and practical effects, but he is looming in the shadows. Yes, I understand that was Abrams's intention, this idea of what one sees is less scary than what one imagines, but a compelling monster would have added some measure of salvation to a failed project. It is in this regard that Abrams could have benefited from a deeper understanding of monster movies as genre entertainment. For example, the fun of Godzilla (or Kaiju films more generally), is that there is generally no pretense to seriousness. We enjoy the spectacle, the battle royal of men in suits beating the hell out of each other. Godzilla is interesting. She is an anti-hero who punishes mainkind for his sins. Yet, she protects us when we are in peril. It is this loving care which endears lady Godzilla to audiences. She is a friend, sort of a kinder, simpler version of Deebo from Friday:



Simply, Godzilla and man in suit monster movies "work" because they are fun. Cloverfield is not fun. Sure, it courts the eternal geek question of how one would defeat a 30 story tall monster or an alien invasion? I have always voted for a combination of superheroes and giant robots to do the job. Alternatively, we could bring in Charles Barkley to save humanity:



In Abrams's monster movie one would have to drop a nuke on the beast to kill it because the MOAB apparently couldn't do the job. We viewers could kill the monster far more easily by simply not seeing this movie.

Postscript: courtesy of the Internet Movie Database here are some answers to the mysteries of Cloverfield--http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1060277/faq#.2.1.34


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We are Respectable Negroes Mourns for You: Actor Heath Ledger Found Dead

Heath Ledger was one hell of a gay cowboy. He was ready to shine again as The Joker, but now we will only have those fond memories. Hopefully, Heath will find the peace in death that he could not find in life.

from msnbc.com:

Heath Ledger found dead in NYC apartment

28-year-old actor was nominated for Oscar for ‘Brokeback Mountain’

NEW YORK - A New York Police Department spokesman says the actor Heath Ledger has been found dead at a downtown Manhattan residence.

According to TMZ.com, Ledger, 28, was found dead in his bed in one of his residences in Soho by his housekeeper at 3:35 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The actor has a two-year-old daughter with former fiancee Michelle Williams. Ledger was set to play the Joker in the upcoming Batman film "The Dark Knight." He received an Academy Award nomination for his work in "Brokeback Mountain."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

All Things To All People...







In America’s poorest ghettos, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrait is one of the most popular subjects of public art. These images, which I have been documenting since 1977, regularly appear on the walls of the liquor stores, auto-repair shops, fast-food restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and public housing projects of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and many other cities across the country. The majority are the work of amateur artists. Though Dr. King is usually front and center, he is often accompanied by other inspirational figures: Nelson Mandela, John Paul II, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Pancho Villa. He is often accompanied by his famous phrase, “I have a dream” – a reminder that in many of the communities where these murals exist, the gulf between hope and reality remains far too wide.
-- Camilo José Vergara

New England Wins One More: It is Hard to be Tom Brady

My boy Brady is only human. Watching the game I felt like this:




To be honest, the game made me feel like this:



In two weeks our victory over the Giants will be more like this:



It is good to be the King.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Five: 5 stereotypes that whites and blacks share about each other

As I stated in response to Zora, not only was Toni Morrison’s “Bill Clinton is the first black president” comment not racist, it was aggressively anti-racist in that it was meant to underscore the inherent ridiculousness of racial stereotypes. I was extremely disappointed (though not surprised) when pundits and cultural critics in the mainstream media tripped over one another to condemn Morrison’s “racism.” If they’d only read Morrison’s short story “Recitatif,” they’d understand that Morrison would never condone essentialist racial stereotypes. The story follows the lives of two women—one white, one black. From childhood to adulthood, the women harbor racial stereotypes about each other, but Morrison uses ambiguous language and signals, so it is never totally clear which woman is white and which is black. “Recititaf” draws its force from one of the cruel (yet hilarious) jokes of American race relations: due to our historical and cultural proximity, black people and white people have many of the same stereotypes about each other. To be fair, these stereotypes apply to all groups that position themselves opposite another, but as I’m most familiar with black-white relations, that will be my focus.


1.) They stink

…as in, their bodies smell funny. “White people smell like wet dog,” “white people’s hair smells like wet dog,” “white women’s diggum smacks smell like wet dog.” Clearly, wet dog smell figures prominently in black stereotypes about white people’s odor. And any casual perusal of white supremacist literature and music will turn up assertions of black people’s supposed stink. Cooler heads have suggested that argue that genes, diet, cultural preferences for hair and body products can account for different racial odors. I can’t say that I’ve noticed, but then again, I don’t go around sniffing folks.


2.) They are sexual deviants

Many white people believe that black women are promiscuous and have a primal sexual energy (signaled by the hypnotic movement of black women’s hips and asses on the dance floor). Many black people say that white women are nasty and loose. Black men, in particular often brag about the relative ease with which they can bed or turn out white women. White folks (and black folks too) have bought into the idea that black men are sexually potent and promiscuous. Black people often say that white men are into “freaky shit” (s and m, interracial cuckolding, bisexuality). Nowadays, black men are getting some of that with the overblown D.L. panic, but the “freaky” stereotype is still relatively rare for them.


3.) They have terrible taste

…in music/movies/books/clothes/food/comedy/beauty, etc. Black people like Tyler Perry plays and movies, crappy stand up comics, lowbrow rap and derivative R and B, gross, greasy fast food, and tacky, bright colored clothes. White people like “Friends,” crappy stand up comics, unlistenable rock and country music, bland food (or sometimes “exotic” cuisines), and lame clothes. What makes this one an interesting stereotype is that it often goes beyond generalizations about cultural preferences. This stereotype tends to bolster the idea of differing racial aesthetic capacities. The white vs. black “tastes” typically break down along the binaries of affect vs. authenticity, formal training vs. instinct, script vs. improv, craft vs. style…in other words, (white) mind vs. (black) body or (black) soul.


4.) They don’t discipline their kids

Without this stereotype, 95% of black hack comedians wouldn’t have material. According to popular stereotypes spread among black people, white kids can curse, disrespect, and hit their parents, all without being punished. White people, on the other hand, look at unruly, vulgar black kids in public space like malls, schools, public transportation, and think that black kids are generally out of control due to absentee parenting or disrespectful black culture. There’s no shortage of asshole kids who have little respect for others’ property or public space, but racial tunnel vision makes us see only what confirms our prejudices. When someone has destroyed or defaced public property in an interracial neighborhood, many white people just assume that black kids did it; most black people probably think that drunken white fratboys did it.


5.) They are untrustworthy

I’ve come across quite a few old black people who tell me that white people are shady backstabbers, not by nature, but certainly by having been raised in a culture of white supremacy. As for white perceptions of black dishonesty, I will offer my first hand experiences. Occasionally, I’ve had to duck out of sporting events, museum visits, and symphony concerts at the last minute. Rather than waste time trying to sell the tickets outside of the venues, I’ve opted to give them to the first taker. But since I’m black, especially a black man, white people refuse to take the free tickets from me. One might argue that white people aren’t responding to my blackness; they’re responding to my suspicious behavior of giving away free stuff. That’s somewhat understandable, but then why do I never have issues giving them away to the first black person who shows up?


Can you all think of others?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The End of a May-December Romance? A Drama in One Act

I am a bit of a voyeur. I like watching my neighbors, I have listened to my neighbors doing the deed, I eavesdrop on loud conversations, and I make no apologies for being an observer of the human condition--I am sort of like that old lady on the stoop of that show 227. I did some dissertation work, and something beckoned me to go out. It said, "tonight, you Chauncey, are gonna see something interesting." As Grandpa Munster said, "curiosity killed the cat, but intelligence brought him back," (click here for one of my favorite Granda Munster moments).

Last year (and Zora can vouch for this as I told her the story right after it happened), I was lucky enough to watch an old school player in action at one of the local spots I frequent. He was in his early 60's or late 50's and was on a "date" with a young lady in her last 20's or early thirties. I knew what was up, as did all the other men in the bar he was signifying to: Old School Player (OSP) had on a wedding ring, she was smitten by him, and OSP had "cultivated" her (I learned that phrase from American Pimp) . She, let's call her Young, Dumb, Desperate, and in Love (YDDL) couldn't resist. Love (lust?) was in the air, and OSP was making his move. We know how the night ended on that occasion--his hand had crept up her dress and she was smiling. YDDL was smiling, winked at the men in the room, and the two left together.

Fate has a sense of humor. Frankly, I don't know if this fits the theme of We are Respectable Negroes, but I don't believe that questions of respectability are exclusive from questions of why young women fall for old men, so please indulge me. For your visualization, OSP looked like a cross between the notable light skinned musician Cab Calloway:



and 1980s action superstar Kurt Russell from the classic movie Escape from New York:



Yes, OSP did have on leather pants. Yes, OSP had on a leather jacket. Yes, OSP did have his hair straightened (or maybe he just had good hair?) YDDL was cute--not great--but cute. She looked like a cross between Tiffany Pollard aka New York (did you see her sex tape--I watched the tape and remain undecided as if it is her or not) and Angela Bassett. Yes, she too was wearing leather (I think they met at the local black motorcycle bar):



As I said, I was there at the beginning of their tryst and I was there at the end (?) Here are the events as I can best recall them (all folks are in a medium high voice. YDDL is a bit histrionic. OSP is quiet and trying to calm her:

Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am done with you! No more kissing! No more touching..
Old School Player: Come on, calm down..
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: Good pussy costs money!
Old School Player: I didn't promise you anything, it doesn't have to be like this, please calm down..
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am gonna tell your wife. I left a good man for you.
Old School Player: (Inaudible)...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I am gonna call my friend right now and leave a voice mail. I am gonna tell her that I don't love you anymore. I want everyone to know. Damn, I shouldn't have kept fuckin' with you. I am gonna tell your wife. I left a good man for you.
Old School Player: Baby, calm down...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: No more kissing, no more fucking. No! I don't want to share you.
Old School Player: Come on baby, please calm down...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: If you really loved me you wouldn't want to share me either! I hate you!
Old School Player: Come on baby...
Young, Dumb, Desperate and in Love: I hate you!

OSP and YDDL walk out together and presumably fight outside. YDDL comes back in, she sits down, collects herself and talks on the phone. She leaves 5 minutes later. What struck me was that OSP was calm the whole time. It was pretty clear OSP didn't care about losing his young mistress as he was more worried about being embarrassed by YDDL's behavior. It seems this sister, who was much more attractive and younger than our Old School Player, was really invested in old dude.

What do you all think? My smart money is on her returning to OSP and continuing on as the mistress. Plus, and this is up for debate, I believe that the more histrionic and upset a person is, the more invested they are in keeping that relationship alive. My money says they get back together this weekend. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle sighs: If only I weren't such an honest, respectable negro...

from: XXXX
to: mrgartrelle@gmail.com,
date: Dec 18, 2007 8:03 PM
subject: WGA Residuals
mailed-by: wga.org
Dear Mr. Gartrelle:
Are you by any chance a former writer on “The Cosby Show”?
If so,please contact me. We have been trying to locate you for a long time regarding residual payments owed to you currently in our possession.
Thanks!

XXXX
Writers Guild of America
Foreign Levies Department
(323) xxxxxxx Phone
(323) xxxxxxx FAX
XXXX@wga.org

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's Electric Boogaloo 2: The Wiggers Strike Back

Last weekend I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. One of the trailers attached was for the upcoming film, "Step Up Movie 2." I offered some narration during the trailers that much to my chagrin got quite a few laughs in the theater. What is the point of being 1/3rd of a blog if you can't share your pre-movie commentary with the world (or at least our readers)?

I now offer the following (and yes, I know our parents thought we were ridiculous at the time):

Start with Wild Style:



Add some Breakin:



Flavor with some Krush Groove:



Mix in some Cool as Ice:



And we have this:



Maybe it should be called "Now Introducing Breakin' 3-Poppin and Lockin' Gentrification?"

As a culture are we this bereft of ideas? And doesn't history indeed come full circle when "whites" through their imitation of "black" popular culture eventually come to own it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chauncey Devega Says: New Hampshire Primary Reaction Part 2--Obama's Still Got that Old Black Magic



In the interest of transparency, I will likely vote for Edwards come November if he remains in the presidential race. Simply put, Edwards's platform speaks to me in a way that Obama's platform does not. But, I cannot deny that Obama is an exciting candidate with much to offer.

However, I do have to admit that while I correctly predicted an Obama defeat, a big part of me, the proud, respectable negro part of me, really wanted to see him win. While political scientists, pundits, and other analysts are conducting a New Hampshire postmortem, we will not know for some time if Obama was defeated because of the "Bradley effect," i.e. white respondents reporting to pollsters that they will vote for the black candidate, when in the privacy of the voting booth these respondents then vote for the white candidate (and in an interesting twist, a white, female candidate). Alternatively, predictions of an Obama victory may have been a function of a sampling error, where as Andrew Kohut in The New York Times points out, the preferences of white respondents in New Hampshire making less than 50k a year were not "captured" by surveys. These voters disproportionately did not vote for Obama, what I affectionately call the PWT effect, and the pundits and analysts were blindsided by the subsequent failure to predict a Hillary victory (click here for a thorough list of possible explanations for Obama's defeat). Ultimately, Obama, his supporters, and the pundits, were caught in a "Damn!" moment by Hillary's victory--whatever the causal variables which may explain it:



Honestly, there is something compelling about Obama and he offers much to like. Obama is wonderfully self-deprecating ("I’m a black guy running for president named Barack Obama. I must be hopeful"). As a child in Indonesia, Obama was known to chase young girls at his school (something I certainly can relate to). Apparently, being such a young Lothario, Obama was tied to a fence and whipped with a cane by his schoolmates as punishment for his flirtatious ways (I was beat with either a paddle or a belt, but never with a cane). Obama once owned a pet monkey (cool--3 month long readers know my feelings about those damn, dirty, apes). But, Obama has also eaten dog (not cool at all). "Obamamania" may have even helped maintain the peace in a little corner of conflict afflicted Kenya. In total, while I haven't caught Obama fever yet, I am beginning to see why some voters find him so infectious:



But, as compelling as I find aspects of both Obama's life story, and some of his policy initiatives to be, I have two interrelated concerns which give me pause.

First, Obama is in a crusade for hope. While not a problematic theme (who can disagree with "hope"?) it has transformed Obama into a vessel for the dreams and desires of others. This is an important, yet simultaneously almost banal observation that demands reiteration. Obama is a vessel for the hopes and dreams of others, but who are these others? What do they imagine? In their eyes, what is he a vessel for?

Here, Obama's candidacy has been positioned, and has quite skillfully positioned itself, as a force for "racial healing." For the Right, the Left, and for the tragic mulatto crowd, a vote for Obama ushers in a "post-racial future." For the Right, Obama is the embodiment of a "color-blind" America. But, as part of their racial project the mere mention of race, or racial difference, or for that matter racism, is itself "racist." For the "color-blind" Right/neo-liberal Left, to speak truth to power, is itself a racist act. For them (and quite disingenuously in my opinion given Bush 1 and 2, Reagan, et al's assault on black people's sanity), Obama's race is irrelevant. Further, Obama's candidacy hints at a reality where race does not "matter," and to bring forth questions of race as they relate to Obama borders on being impolitic at worse, and impolite, at best.

For the tragic mulatto and self-consciously bi-racial crowd, Obama is a mascot. He signals a future where self-identified bi-racial folk will be accepted in a wonderful, post-racial world where one can be all things to all people, and where the fact of race will have no burdens, no consequences, and no obligations:



This fantastic post-racial world will allow all forms of "race play." In this racial Utopia one could be "black" on Monday and "white" on Wednesday depending on a whim (or utilitarian need, i.e. getting a scholarship). Ultimately, the arrival of Obama is a coronation of sorts. But, in an inconvenient truth for many, Obama identifies as a black American, a black man who happens to have a white mother, but nonetheless, he is proud, and unapologetically black. In the greatest of ironies, the post-racial future which Obama's candidacy signifies will allow tragic mulattos to exercise agency over Obama's identity by their claiming him, while in reality, Obama claims an identity as a black, and not creatively hyphenated, "Canablasian," "mocha," or "multiracial," American.

For the Left, an Obama candidacy signals the arrival of a type of political humanism where all citizens manage to forget the past (and exercise selective memory regarding the present) and to live in a world which appreciates "difference." But, this is a post-racial future where race, and its inconvenient baggage, neither has purchase nor power. As articulated by Gary Kamiya on Salon.com, if we could all just move forward, if we as a society could find a racial "healer" as opposed to a "divider" (those troublemakers who talk about discrimination, racism, and white supremacy), we as a society could transcend racial difference. More pointedly, the Left in its vision for a post-racial future wants a safe, conciliatory, black leader who privileges the good will which ostensibly underlies the intentions of white liberals.

Again, no plain speakers need apply to the cult of "multiculturalism" and "diversity" because race is an unfortunate "social construction," a social construction which is only skin deep. For the post-racial Left, we are all human, and no troublesome folk (be they black, brown, yellow, red or white) need apply. Collectively, these post-racial knuckleheads (or PRK's as I label them) embrace Obama as a "magical negro." Although their agendas are different, these factions see in Obama their hope for a post-racial future, and he becomes the site for a type of magical, racial catharsis. Ultimately PRK's look to a future in which race is magically transcended. However, I suspect their understanding of the magical negro is closer to this one:



Primarily, I have reservations regarding Obama as a healer of racial wounds because I believe that we as a society need to embrace the realities of racism in the present. As a society, we continue to struggle through a project of race and remembrance. Subsequently, the American project of racial reconciliation remains an ongoing one. In short, the PRK's and their support of Obama causes me great concern because the present is a product of racism in the past, racism in the contemporary, and racism in the near present (e.g. disparities in hiring; job discrimination; the prison industrial complex; illegal and racially disparate mortgage rates; health disparities; and the material consequences of slavery and Jim Crow, i.e. widely unequal rates of black and white wealth accrual). The cures for these problems are not a set of fanciful dreams which look forward to a heretofore undiscovered country.

Hillary's victory, and the conversations surrounding how gender may (or may not) have impacted "The New Hampshire surprise," point to my second set of concerns. As Gloria Steinem pointed out in the New York Times, Hillary's campaign is a essential site for feminist struggle. For Steinem, gender as an identity category is necessarily at the forefront. A white woman is almost by definition an underdog to a black man. I suggest that we cannot forget that the black body more generally, and the black male body in particular, is itself a site of what have been powerful and pernicious applications of both gender and race as socially marginalizing categories. In short, I suggest that the historical record would offer much that would complicate Steinam's assertion.

The relationship between race and gender is the 800lb elephant sitting in the corner of the room that few, be they black, white, or other, want to acknowledge. Obama is a black, male, candidate. Moreover, Obama is an attractive, black, male, candidate. Sex appeal, charisma, and personality are as relevant in this campaign as they have been in any other. Obama isn't a mandingo figure. But, Obama as a magical negro is able to leverage this identity to his advantage. I worry that it can also be to his disadvantage as well. Consider for a moment: we have witnessed many conversations (with much consternation) regarding why black people, and black women in particular, have not offered as fervent a level of support for Obama (Oprah excluded..but she ain't black, she is a celebrity) as have white women. In their continual search for black ideological solidarity, some commentators seem perplexed that black people have not rallied behind Obama. Yet, white women (and whites more generally) are among his staunchest supporters:



I am worried that Obama as the magical negro--their black Jesus (yes, I know Jesus was "black")--represents a false hope, a candidacy which will collapse once he either 1) dares to become too "black" or 2) when the media ends their love affair with Obama and casts him as a "black" candidate.




In a reformulation of the Bradley effect, it is also my worry that Obama is in many ways a "safe" choice. By analogy, Obama is the "well spoken," "professional," light skinned black guy that many white women would date and sleep with but damn well wouldn't marry.

Don't misunderstand my position. I believe that one of the ironies of Obama's candidacy is that these necessary conversations regarding black American's support for his campaign (or lack thereof) highlight our political sophistication. While we are proud of Obama, our cynicism, suspicion, and deep seeded reservations point to a profound understanding of power, race, privilege, and politics. While the Right has long lamented that black support for the Democrats is evidence of a plantation mentality--disregarding the fact that there are many rational, self-interested reasons for our being "behind the mule"--we have been ahead of the curve on many issues (for example, black folk saw through Bush 2 long before white people).

I am proud of both our insight and our caution. For example, as The Washington Post recently highlighted, there are many reasons for black Americans to approach the Obama campaign with caution. Quite logically, many black Americans are concerned about the reasons underlying white support for Obama. What are his allegiances? Who is he beholden to? Why would white voters support a black candidate? How sincere is their interest? In addition, many black Americans, myself included, are deeply concerned about how Obama has positioned himself as a post-racial black man, a new "New Negro" of sorts, who is emphasizing his immigrant roots in a way that distances himself from his domestic, black brethren. Strategically, Obama's appropriation of the Horatio Alger, American-immigrant narrative sends a signal to whites that: "He is sort of like us"; "He and his people came here and made it with nothing..just like our ancestors!"; "Obama isn't angry like those other black folk who always throw slavery up in our faces!" It is Obama's skillful triangulation between whites and "regular" black folk, that give us regular respectable negroes much to think about.

The next few months will be exciting. Brother Obama, do not doubt for a second that we respectable negroes have your back--a fact that will be demonstrated in South Carolina. You will probably benefit from the calls of politicians, black activists, scholars, and public intellectuals to support your campaign. Moreover, how can we not be happy that a member of our proverbial tribe is competitive for the highest position in the land and is representing himself with such confidence, skill, and political deftness? The next few months will also be challenging. "They" will remind you of your blackness. "They" will test you. It may get so bad that you may have to do an Eddie Murphy to conduct some reconnaissance:

If Karl Rove's recently published racist screed is any indication (a piece where he described you as "lazy," "rude," and "a trash talker" who learned to be disrespectful while playing pickup games of basketball), the campaign will get uglier. And let us not forget William Bennett's comments on CNN that:

"Well, I think it's -- and again, a wonder of America here, a remarkable breakthrough, this year, as the other group said -- 97 percent, in fact, Iowa, rural, white farming state. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, wins this for the Democrats...I have been watching him. I watched him on Meet the Press. I watched him on your show, watched him on all the CNN shows -- he never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the black community -- he has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson; you don't have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues. Great dignity. And this is a breakthrough, and good for the people of Iowa."

I hope you pass muster and respond as I know you will--with pride, dignity, courage, and intelligence. Who knows? You may still win my vote from Edwards.