Friday, July 25, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: So Underwhelming--CNN's Black in America Part 2

I am underwhelmed. I wasn't going to comment on the second installment of the series, but I felt that for consistency sake I should, and then with a sense of completion, I am going to read some comic books, look over this article I am finishing, and play some Company of Heroes.

Some relatively spontaneous thoughts.

This show and the last made me think of Chris Rock's classic, "Black people versus Niggas" routine:

This is getting really tired. As I said before, in these "let's see the negroes in the window" news exposes the bad is usually highlighted at the expense of the good. Tonight's installment wasn't too offensive in this regard, and in some moments actually had a little nuance--I particularly liked the installment on the school superintendent and how his racist neighbors called the police on him. How many of us can relate to that?

I will be informal and freestyle so to speak, so please forgive me if this is a bit disorganized:

1. This show made me thankful for the men in my life. As I have said before, my dad had a very old school view of life and success. He, and my godfather, would always tell me you have to do better, and white racism will change its stripes, but it is very very real and ain't going no where. They also told me that in the present we don't have to do 10 times better, but we still have to do 5 times better. I accepted this fact and it has served me well. I am also thankful for the women and men, white and other (Asian, Hispanics, and others) who gave me wisdom. I tell my students that you may find mentors in surprising places: we need to reinforce this fact to our young people.

I thank God for my surrogate Irish grandpa who called black folks "colored," he said this with love not malice and had so much wisdom. My surrogate grandpa would always tell me that "you have to do better than the white kids" and "that you can achieve no matter what." Period. No excuses. He was an old white man who saw so much history, but had little faith in white society doing the right thing. I remember one of my favorite conversations with him, where we were talking about the Civil Rights movement and how it saddened him that Dr. King was treated so badly, because he "just wanted the rights every American" is entitled to.

Damn, this is bringing back memories. I am also lucky for having such folk as my 4th grade teacher, a white native American lesbian, in my life. In my elementary school all the black kids were tracked into the remedial or average courses. I look back on my life and how it would have been quite different had this teacher not intervened, and if I had not had parents who threatened to sue in order to remedy this racist injustice. In this class I would do the work in about 15 minutes and of course be bored. And of course, I would get in trouble. This teacher had 2 options: help me or punish me. I remember on one occasion I had detention during lunch and she sat down with me. We talked for a long time and she said that I am going to be moved to the upper track because I clearly don't belong in her lower track class. After I left her class, Mrs. D always checked in on me. She was never warm, in fact she was damn critical and mean, but she had my best interests at heart. I wonder in watching this show, how many of our young black men, in these crappy schools, have access to people like this? How many of our gifted, best, and most talented, end up in prison because school is a dead end and they are bored?

2. I don't know how one learns to be a man. I really don't, frankly, because I am still figuring out this great mystery. From my dad, my godfather, my uncles, and the other men in my life I learned about responsibility, about women (I am still mystified and confused), about success, and am still figuring out this responsibility angle. I do remember some key moments. I remember my godfather telling me that "real" men don't need porn--yeah, right. But, I got his point. I remember my father telling me after one of my peeps got beat down and all of his friends, including me, ran off out of fear, that next time a friend fights you fight together, of course assuming he is in the right, but even if he is in the sort of wrong, you have his back. Period. No excuses.

In another moment where I thank God I had good role models in my life, I was basically accepted to West Point--I had letters lined up and all from my congress people, did the application, interviews, and I was a black man going to the Point so I got extra attention--or I was alternatively going to Naval ROTC and then the Marines. I was about a day from doing it and a bunch of men who know better than I did said, "fool, you are black and you are going to die for this country? You best stop!" When I watch the news I am glad they intervened.

At a later point, me, my "2 brothers," and a friend were going to get beat down over some woman (she was a total jump off) at this club we frequented. I was scared to death, but I checked the wallet for the insurance card (it was going off like that) and I prayed. I was going after the guy in the middle and if I got the first shot in maybe I would have had a chance, unlikely. Thank God the bouncers broke it up. I also learned something that I took for granted, a lesson which many young brothers apparently are not getting--violence is real business and you don't raise your hands or fight unless you can't avoid it and you are prepared to do real harm to someone else. Violence isn't a game, it isn't to impress women, it is in fact a means to a carefully considered end. I wonder how many of of our brothers are learning this lesson?

3. How many successful, if not solidly working class black families, have a knucklehead in the kin group? Hmmmm. In this special we have a superintendent of schools who is quite comfortable, with an attorney for a son--a prosecutor--whose other son acts the fool and shoots someone. How sad? Are these brothers doing this to perform what they think a "real" black man is? People make mistakes of course, but is there something particular to the children of the black bourgeoisie that criminality becomes a measure of manhood? Perhaps, but I hope not.

4. I don't get worked up about these black men going to jail because the "system" is out to get them arguments. Sorry, I don't feel pity for the incarcerated black men featured in these stories. I just don't feel empathy. The prison industrial complex isn't a bogeyman hunting you down. Nope, you find this monster. Life certainly isn't fair, but you do make choices. Moreover, most of these "clients" of the prison industrial complex are preying on their neighbors--black and brown folk. Sorry, I don't feel bad if you catch a bid. Now, of course we need to deal with disparate sentencing for crack and cocaine. Yes, we need to deal with a criminal "justice" system which punishes black people more harshly for the same crimes as whites. Yes, we need to talk seriously about how to address felony disenfranchisement. Yes, we need to have a mass review of felony sentencing guidelines, and the DOJ needs to review EVERY death row sentence for possibility of acquittal. Yes, we need civilian oversight boards to govern and investigate police departments. Yes, there are lots of criminal, racist, crooked, and dishonorable police thugs who hide behind a badge and should be put in jail. But, the majority of people in prison are not victims. Sorry, they just aren't. They made poor choices and prayed on their neighbors, and consequently, they deserve their comeuppance.

5. I always enjoy the dismay which many Whites display when a person of color shares their paranoia, fear, and negative experiences with the police. The police are extensions of State authority--usually a racist state. Why would we trust them? In the wrap-up show following the Black in America special, Anderson Cooper interviewed D.L. Hughley. Now, the dude makes coonish movies, but he is a good father. Anderson Cooper looked shocked and appalled that D.L. has to teach his son how to interact with the police (Amadou Diallo anyone?). As many black men (and women) were taught, you need to be polite, speak in a measured tone, and assume these cops are looking to lock you up, shoot you, or at least beat you down. Of course you never, ever, talk back, and you best not run because the law wants to shoot you in the back. Again, it is sad, but how many of our men are not learning these unfortunate, but necessary lessons? I know this speaks to my agency, but I was told to be quiet, be polite, and don't let them search the car. Hold out and we will get a lawyer and sue their asses. I, like many of you, have been harassed by the police. Never mind being followed around stores or asked for id when using a credit card--that is de rigueur. Hell, my cousin, a really rich attorney, had a shotgun put to his head on I-95 by some Maryland Staties because of course his car was likely "stolen." No, he is just a millionaire. Little did they know who they messed with, but when the black middle and upper class share these stories with their white peers it is funny how these stories are often met with utter dismay. This divide in experience, and the common white denial when people of color share these experiences with their white friends, partners, and colleagues, is one of the great dividing lines in our society, a division which stands in the face of progress and racial unification.

6. The other narrative running through this show is how much we learn informally through access to social networks. For example, how do you dress for an interview? What do you talk about? What is workplace appropriate clothing? How do you negotiate the workplace and manage conflicts with your supervisor? Do you talk back or do you eat it? How do you diffuse conflict? Many of our young men and women are not getting the preparation necessary to move beyond an entry level service position, never mind onward to a managerial one.

7. I get really pissed when I hear educated black people recycling a narrative that the breakdown in black families is due to slavery and lack of employment opportunities. Come on people. There is much scholarship to suggest that black people at Emancipation struggled desperately to find their families during and after slavery. In fact, we so respected family that we recreated kinship and family relationships with friends, fellow slaves, and others, when our blood families were irreparably torn asunder. The next time a scholar reproduces this narrative, the interviewer should ask him or her, "so, if you were unemployed would you leave your family?" We know the answer.

8. Simple thought, black elites, the superintendent again, has two kids who are dating white women. Hmmmm...I am all for race mixing (you should see my photo album). But, why must it fulfill the tired narrative of a handsome black man of means likely marrying down and/or dating a fat white woman? (look at those 2 women and be honest, those two black men could do better, right?). More importantly, especially in regards to wealth accrual, why don't black elites keep their resources inside of the in-group like every other racial and ethnic group in America? Maybe, we are just very liberal, loving, and progressive?

Actually, there are social demographers (I need to find the cite) who study these things. The argument they make is that the brothers in these relationships are trading class privilege for race privilege by marrying a white woman of lower class status. The white women in these relationships are gaining class status by sacrificing racial privilege. So calculating isn't it? But it makes total sense...sort of like why you see gorgeous Asian sisters with really unattractive white men. Oops did I just say something impolitic?

9. Next time, these specials need to stop talking about "Black" values and "White" values. It is tired and silly.

10. These hip hop is bad segments are tired and silly.

11. The Cool Kids? That was a surprise.

12. The expose presented some research on how black felons have difficulty finding jobs. Great. Here is the real punchline they should have highlighted: that people with "black" names are less likely to be hired than white felons, regardless of credentials. Now, that is a great example of the real, day to day, racism which folks who do the right thing shouldn't have to deal with.

13. The A&R brother at the end of the segment unsettled me. It wasn't that he looked like he was in Leaders of the New School or Fu-schnickens, but that he was talking about being comfortable with being black, but I didn't buy it. He seemed to be a black person more invested in being exceptional and the special one, than really being comfortable with being a black man. Am I being unfair?

14. Finally, we need to talk to black men and black women about their life choices. In watching the young brother doing his baby daddy drama performance, and that sad sister who he laid with and made a baby with, I had to shake my head. How about this calculus. Passion is tempting, irresistible at times, and really compelling. I have my lust demons and more often than not give into them. Fine. But, let's have a campaign where we talk to the sisters about who they lay with. This CNN special featured a likely (under) unemployed, tax payer assisted sister, now knocked up by another man, when the first one is already not doing his job. I would have paid money to see Mrs. O'Brien ask her: Girl, do you have anything else to do with your time? Are there other things you can do instead of laying up under some man? Does he have anything to offer except five minutes of disappointing sex? I know the answer. Fate, please help us all.

Here is my idea. The buses, radio spots, magazine advertisements, and the like that feature my campaign should emphasize a simple set of slogans and calculi: does he have a job? is he using a condom? does he have anything to bring to the table? If the answers are "no" then close your legs. If you can't close your legs then demand he use a condom and you go on the pill. We need to mirror this with our men. As my mom said, "do you want a baby with this woman?" If not, wrap it up. Simple business.

That was therapeutic. I need to de-stress. As an appropriate but random non-sequitur, it is time for a little Serenity Now:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly--CNN's Black in America Part 1

CNN's Black in America: The Black Woman and Family, was all in all an interesting 2 hours of television.

The Good

1. Seeing solidly middle and upper class black families achieving and doing more than well (owning a construction company is way past good to people from my working class roots).

2. Julianne Malveaux is always a welcome voice. She stayed away from the victomology narratives which are all to common to these "let's go look at the Negroes in the window" television shows. Dr. Malveaux also brought some much needed attention to the fact that the majority of blacks in America are not poor, are not in jail, are not pathological, are not birthing out of wedlock babies, and guess what? they have the same struggles, worries, and hopes as "regular" Americans.

3. The brother struggling on 1 income to take care of his two wonderful children. Interesting though that no point was made about his not receiving palimony and how the life of this gentlemen's kids would certainly be easier if he had some support from the children's mother--a narrative which certainly would have been inserted if the gender roles were reversed.

4. Dr. Roland Fryer from Harvard University. It is exciting (and makes me a bit jealous in a good way) to see a young, black Econ Professor doing applied research on incentive structures and public education--economics is an extremely difficult field to break into, and doubly so for young people of color.

5. The older sister in Harlem talking about the day to day travails of being poor and struggling on a daily basis to do things that many Americans take for granted, i.e. how in some neighborhoods basic goods and services are hard to find at reasonable prices. The sum effect is what some have called "the black tax," or more appropriately, the poor, black, and elderly tax, which in sum makes the satisfying of basic household and life needs more expensive, more time consuming, and much more difficult.

6. Soledad O'Brien. Smart, poised, beautiful, down to earth, and "real." She has many of the qualities that makes this respectable negro's heart commence to racing when he sees her.

The Bad

1. At about 45 minutes into the special we switch gears into the obligatory what is wrong, pathological, and in crisis in Black America. I must ask, is there still a Black America? Or is there a Black America that is actually constructed of many smaller Black Americas distinguished by class, ethnicity, geography, and "culture"--shared or otherwise?

2. The tired trope of insert Black Pathology/Unique problem here and continue forward in story: tonight we were treated to single black mothers, the marriage "crisis" in black communities, a taste of the prison industrial complex, and the obligatory portrait of the young brothers shot up and laying in a hospital bed who serve as living symbols of the Beirut like violence plaguing many black neighborhoods.

3. In these exposes on Black America, the most recent trend has been to emphasize the marriage crisis facing black women. The current trope is that while black women are achieving and doing well professionally, those poor, raggedy brothers are either in jail, gay or on the DL, with white women, or unemployed. Of course, black women are left with three choices: partner with women; marry white or Asian men; or stay single. Tired, disrespectful, and untrue. At the risk of upsetting some, what I always find curious about these "black women can't find a good black man" sensationalistic pieces of yellow journalism is how, more often than not, the women in the stories are either unattractive, out of shape, emotionally damaged, unpleasant, needy, or possess some other undesirable quality which would warn off many a man. Next time, please choose some sisters that a brother would actually want to date because it would make the story much more compelling and persuasive.

The Ugly

1. Please get a better introductory host for future installments of any similarly themed shows. In this special we were treated to a hip hopesque, spoken word, poor man's version of Common with marginal talent. Why? Because of course bad hip hop spoken word Common wannabes appeal to the sensibilities of black middle class/neo-soul/NPR listening CNN viewers. I am not saying that we need to have a bourgeois host with a fake British accent, but there has to be a better way.

2. Marry Your Baby-Daddy Day. Come on black people! On one hand we have white, red state, fathers symbolically marrying their daughters in creepy, Christian fascist inspired protecting their daughter's "purity" ceremonies--you do know that women are repositories of a nation's pride, honor, and courage and their virtue must be protected at all costs, right? (there is so much wrong there I don't know where to start. Someone please reanimate Freud so he can help these pedophilesque who probably want to actually deflower their own daughters). On the other hand, we have a situation that is so dire in many of our communities that we have to have special ceremonies, Marry Your Baby Daddy Days, to encourage our wayward youth to get married because "marriage isn't just for white people." I don't know what was more painful? Watching the men and women in these ceremonies dance down the aisle, or listening to the labored, over-intellectualized explanations of how "baby daddy" is actually an affectionate and enduring term. As was said in Ghostbusters, we truly are a society too sick to survive.

Some thoughts and questions.

1. Me and Zora were talking on the phone during the show--yes, she is alive and well--and Zora made a great observation in regards to her interest (or lack thereof) in these Black expose news programs. Apparently, Zora doesn't generally watch these programs because she doesn't see herself in these documentaries. I can't help but agree. By extension, I do wonder where the silent black majority is? Where is the voice of those black people, who like Black folk in mass, are also struggling against the shared challenge of succeeding in what is still a racist society, but who don't fit any of these tropes of criminality, poor educational achievement, single motherhood, or the like? Perhaps, focusing on this silent majority would make for bad television.

2. I am always struck by the lack of attention given to class in these documentaries about race in America. This is a function of how America as a society is uncomfortable with talking about class generally, and how we are trying to explain the "common" or the "typical" experiences of our subjects as opposed to focusing too much on outliers. Now that issue aside, I do think there is something intellectually dishonest about framing the black experience as one dominated by crime, dysfunction, and exclusion--this was made glaringly clear by how the black middle class experience was given short thrift in CNN's first installment of this series.

3. A related thought, what would a class based conversation on race look like? We got a little taste of it tonight when the brother from Harvard highlighted the relationship between wealth and education. Scholars such as Thomas Shapiro have demonstrated that the wealth gap is at the core of the work, both historically and in the present, that racism does in structuring American society. Wealth, real assets as opposed to income, is horribly maldistributed in this country. When we account for race as a variable, the differences become even starker where the typical white working class person has more wealth and assets than an upper middle class black person.

This is the lived legacy of white supremacy.

Racial discrimination and class disparities are intimately linked. As a qualifier, I am not an old school Marxist who has spent a significant amount of time theorizing slavery and white supremacy as systems based instead in economic, as opposed to being purely, racial exploitation (I am not smart or patient enough).

But, it must be stated that because it was historically illegal for blacks to accrue wealth; inter-generational means of wealth transferal were very limited, housing options were segregated, i.e. red lining, and the market values of black homes made artificially low (important because the primary way that wealth is transferred between generations is through home ownership); the government created through racially discriminatory policies (such as the GI Bill and Veteran's Administration housing programs) a white ownership and professional class; and job discrimination in the present means that even when controlling for education, black Americans make about 60 cents on the dollar of what comparably educated whites make; that wealth remains in the present one of the invisible ways through which racial inequality is perpetuated. Adding an additional challenge is the frightening way that the rise of prison industrial complex, and the historical exclusion of large numbers of potentially productive citizens from the labor market by the State through criminalization and imprisonment, have also damaged the ability of Black Americans to accrue substantial inter-generational economic resources:

This difference will only become more stark as white baby-boomers pass their resources onto their children and grandchildren in the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history. If I were to effect a policy change, it would be here, where through a combination of increased taxation on wealth transfers and substantial investments in education and public infrastructure, that we could improve opportunities for all citizens. I would also support a guaranteed minimum income...and yes, I know that is never going to happen, but it would help alleviate some of the racial wealth disparities in this country.

4. One final thought. How great would it be to have a show that focuses on white pathology? Or on the problems in Hispanic, Asian, or Native American communities? These ghetto muckraking news specials love to highlight the problems of black communities as though they are exclusive to those grouped as "black" or "African American". Yes, the black experience is in many ways unique, but these social problems are largely a function of the failures of State, a crisis in personal responsibility, a lack of community accountability, i.e. what used to be called shame, and deficiencies of resources. If CNN's next special was called Poor in America or The Ghetto Underclass in Appalachia (which would be an ironic turn because the culture of poverty and social capital arguments that are now associated with the black inner city poor were first advanced by a scholar who studied a rural Mexican community) I wonder what the response would be? For example, this hypothetical, never to be produced news program, could focus on the out of wedlock birth rates, high percentage of students whom withdraw from secondary education prior to graduation, and inter-generational poverty among Hispanic and many "ethnic" Asian communities (you know those "non-model minority" Asians that no one wants to talk about).

The documentary could also feature the crippling levels of poverty among the white rural poor in Appalachia where a deficit of social capital is compounded by a lack of the social services found in major urban areas. If these journalists and documentary film makers were really brave, they could look at drug use, out of wedlock births, family dysfunction, and std and abortion rates among suburban, "middle class" whites. But then again, we can only hope that a news network would be brave enough to present such compelling television. I would suggest that you don't hold your breath too long in waiting.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: All the News that is Fit to Print? How the New York Times Helped Us Learn About a Pimp's Reading Habits

So it seems the New York Times has found some space to share the compelling story of Mr. Corey Davis aka "Magnificent," a local pimp in the New York area, and the exciting reading materials he had in his possession at the time of arrest.

Magnificent favored books included:

1. Black Wall Street
2. The Willie Lynch Letter
3. The 48 Laws of Power
4. Whore-Whoever said Whoring wasn't Easy

The other items of interest were some tacky "Afrocentric" art, special boots for "stomping" his prostitutes (he was a gorilla pimp it seems--in my worldliness I have come to know the nuances of pimp slang), and a special t-shirt that he wore during his "disciplinary" sessions which was emblazoned with the slogan "The Beatings Will Continue." Most interestingly, Magnificent also had in his possession a NAACP New York Volunteer business card. Again, as I am so fond of saying, sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

I smiled when I read this story because 1) I can imagine the writer of this "news" item smiling while playing with her metaphorical upturned mustache as she provided a little bit of voyeuristic pleasure for the readers of the New York Times; and 2) she probably delighted in pulling aside the veil and exposing for the world the exciting details of another black ign't's degenerate lifestyle.

These types of stories are heir to a great tradition of ghetto muckraking (I do hope that Editor and Publisher does a feature on this phenomenon so I can be appropriately cited for this turn of phrase) by the mainstream media--a tradition which has included stories on laws against sagging pants, features on the many criminals foiled because their pants fell down while said hoodlums were trying to escape (or here where the knucklehead was actually shot by the police), crazy, fat, black pre-teen degenerates who steal and destroy their grandma's car in a live action reenactment of Grand Theft Auto 4...and who are now in custody for beating up relatives over chicken wings:

And of course, one cannot forget the moral panic which surrounds the juking parties that are apparently all the rage at our local high schools.

But, the Time's piece does beg the question: What should a pimp read? No, seriously, what books would make him or her better in the pursuit of their life vocation?

My reading suggestions, and I will gladly add yours to the list as well, would certainly include:

1. Pimp by Iceberg Slim--THE pimp manual;
2. Freakonomics--there is no problem yet conceived which this book cannot be an aid in solving
3. The Tao of Pooh--a pimp needs balance in his or her life;
4. The DSM IV--the diagnostic manual for therapists and mental health professionals;
5. Man Sharing: Dilemma of Choice, a Radical New Way of Relating to the Men in Your Life--one needs a meta-narrative to help your "employees" understand and feel invested in the pimp-ho relationship;
6. Behind Every Strong Black Woman, There Is A Bastard Black Man: Love Sex? Randy? Punany Could be a Dangerous Ballgame!--I just liked the title;
7. The Blackwoman's Guide to Understanding the Blackman by Shaharazad Ali--frankly, if he had Willie Lynch I am really surprised that Ali's book didn't turn up as well;
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People--obvious and practical;
9. Black Players: The Secret World of Pimps--actually written by 2 white swingers in the 1970s.

The other fact of this case which caused me some confusion and consternation, was how disheveled and low rent Mr. Davis looked in his arrest photo. I know going to the lockup does wonders for one's appearance, but his slovenly way speaks volumes about the state of the game.

In the golden days, that bygone era of macking, a pimp had to come correct. Consider some of the 1970s role models:

I always wanted that suit, but my mom wouldn't let me buy it at the Good Will.


Curtis Mayfield we miss you.

Perhaps our present economic downturn has had a negative impact on the sex economy? In perusing Youtube and the Internet it seems that the self-regulating standards among pimps have certainly gone down.

Raggedy pimping in action:

A Mack who is true to the game--Now let me pimp or let me die!

Archbishop Don Magic Juan where you at?

Mr. Fillmore Slim, the wisest mack of them all, we are desperately in need of your wisdom:

Okay I couldn't resist.

It seems that the latest trend in the game is "internet pimping." Apparently, it isn't too hard to find damaged, vulnerable, and stupid folk and proceed to pimp them online. MySpace is great isn't it?

I don't admire pimps, but I do find them interesting. As part of my life mantra, I sincerely try to take knowledge gleamed from whatever sources I may come upon, and put it to good use. For example, one of my favorite life lessons came from Ice-T, when he explained how all of us, each and everyone one of us, as long as we are working for someone else in any capacity at all, is really a ho and would gain great peace through an acknowledgment of that uncomfortable fact:

Speaking truth to power again Mr. Ice-T as you effortlessly channel Karl Marx--and adding insult to injury your bed mate is that white queen Coco--some guys have all the luck it seems. Although that young ign't Souljah boy mocked Ice-T as an "old man," the brother is really onto something in his analysis of the relationship between globalization, labor and Capital. While the New York Times wants to focus on raggedy pimps, they should really use their esteemed platform to focus on the abuse we are all suffering at the goon hands of the biggest macks of them all, a rogues gallery which would include such pimps as:

1. The credit card industry

2. Dick Cheney and his war profiteering

3. Disaster Capitalism, which we are all, not just the 3rd world, victimized by:

4. Bush and the Bin Laden's--yes, I went there because these folks with their lock on most of the world's consciousness are running a serious game on everyone:

5. Crooked home mortgage companies:

6. The "Defense Industry"--several trillion dollars in the last few years alone, now that is a hard working pimp:

7. Prosperity, mega church leading black preachers:

We need to fight back against these most heinous of macks. We respectable negroes need to pimp slap the pimps:

And we should steadily work towards a return to a kinder, gentler time when Gary Coleman was the only pimp we really had to worry about:

Never forget: it is always Pimps Up! Ho's Down!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's Sexy Time with Barack Obama-Hot, Sweaty, and Pheromone Filled Like A Small Studio Apartment in the Middle of the Summer Without Inscents or A/C!

Sometimes you have to laugh, smile, giggle, or feel a bit creepy because someone effortlessly captures your deepest and darkest secrets--not mine of course! I mean those Obamaholics who also dream, yes, literally dream about Barack Obama, have man crushes on him, and feel like they are "saved" by his magical presence.

From the Nation Magazine's great piece, "The Shadow of his Smile," which should really be called, "Why Voters Want to have the Bro'Bama Put Them in the... buck/chicken wing/reverse cowgirl/wear me out on the Liberator sex pillow/practice inter-racial bipartisanship/place lingam deeply in yoni/pluck the bird/put her in the pile driver/do the helicopter/scissors/or T-Square." He is so sexy isn't he?

Despite the Atlah church's rantings that Barack Obama is a man whore of sorts (aka mangina--random fact: did you know I was once a mangina for Halloween? Praise the maker, for the bliss that evening rivaled that of the Song of Solomon), I guess Obama Girl was courageously ahead of the curve with her public declarations of love for Bro'Bama.

Here are some choice excerpts:

"He wasn't yet a candidate. He was Frank Sinatra, so cool he's hot, a centrifugal force commanding attention so ruthlessly that it appeared effortless, reducing everyone around him to a sidekick, and the girls in the front rows to jelly."

"There is something old about the new man, as well, though, or, rather, something of a romantic update on an old model. Not JFK. Obama resembles him only in his projected nonchalance. JFK's libido was like the Strategic Air Command, on permanent alert, meaning he'd spot a woman out the window, in a park, on a street and take her against the wall, while Jackie took to the White House trampoline. Barack and Michelle Obama channel some of the style of the current early-'60s revival--sleeveless sheaths and chunky pearls, Ocean's 11 and Mad Men--without the alienation. America, they say, you can be cool and sexy again, "back!" and swinging, but secure this time."

"When he leaned into Michelle as she wrapped her arms around him from behind after the New Hampshire loss, when she cradles his face in her expressive hands while kissing him, with every dap and nuzzle and palpable vibe between them, "you see love onstage," said Harriette Cole of Ebony, the first in a long line of popular magazines to certify the two as a "hot couple."


This is totally random, but whenever I see the name "Harriette" I think of "Harriet Tubman": that would make for a hell of a visual, wouldn't it?

Maybe the root of the hostility between Hillary and Obama was sexual? Although Bill was "the first Black president," maybe Hillary yearned for 1/2 of the real thing?

As a nation we best be careful or else the television show Cheaters will begin featuring relationships destroyed by Obama's irrepressible and magnetic sex appeal:

One more?

Grrrr she is a cougar:

Bro'bama you be a home wrecker who is gonna go and make folks put on some Teddy P!

Note to self: I need to buy a pair of white pants to wear during the epic wine, erotic massage, and cheese--only Asiago by the way because my ladies deserve the best--foreplay sessions that occur before I let the ladies go for a ride on space mountain.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Batman The Dark Knight Reviewed

Iron Man made me feel like a kid again.

The Incredible Hulk made me feel like a teenager.

The Dark Knight makes me feel like an adult.

Christopher Nolan's, Batman the Dark Knight is not a superhero movie. After seeing this film, and preparing to see it again this weekend, I felt pity for those fanboys and fangirls who dressed up for the Dark Knight because their camp, levity, and joy would not be validated by the sheer weight of what they were about to witness.

Again, don't make the mistake of believing that the Dark Knight is a superhero movie because it is not. I love superheroes, the mythos, the characterizations, the transparent morality:

However wrong, some have christened the Dark Knight as the greatest superhero movie ever made, the Empire Strikes Back of comic to film translations. Yes, the genre is a close match. Yes, there are "heroes" and "villains"--and notice how I bracket those categories. Yes, there are fantastic (if not wholly believable) devices. Yes, there is a "message." But, the Dark Knight transcends its genre in a key way. Not once, not for a moment, not for an instance, does this film have a moment where it self-consciously winks at you. Kayfabe (wrestling and carnival speak for the illusion of truth) is never broken. Consider: in Superman you knew you were watching a, if not THE superhero movie, a retelling of the Jesus story from the Bible. In the X-Men films, there is a self-conscious attention to the mythos of the X-Men (Colossus metalling up; Wolverine and the Weapon X program at Alkaline lake; the Dark Phoenix, Juggernaut repeating a line from Youtube fame; the Legacy Virus, Omega Red; and Project Wide Awake). To the credit of these films, the core audience (those folks like me, like you, that go to a midnight showing as a right and ritual), are rewarded immeasurably by engaging with these films as celluloid versions of their favorite comic books and as works of popular culture which are self-aware of their status as modern mythologies.

Batman does not wink at you. The Joker does not wink at you. Harvey Dent does not wink at you. The Dark Knight does not wink at you. There are moments of sheer delight and pleasure in seeing Frank Miller's iconic characterization of the Batman brought to fruition, but the events on the screen seem utterly real because the drama and action are not self-aware. Simply, this is a crime epic which happens to feature some larger than life characters who after the trials and tribulations they endure, save for one, are made much more human, flawed, and immeasurably more vulnerable.

I will spare you the basics of the plot or a general X and Y and Z happened movie review. You can read some of those here, here, here, and here. In short, the Joker creates chaos, the nobility of our characters is challenged, and there is not a character relationship, psyche, or person left untouched by the Joker's actions. Some have said this movie is about terrorism and the cycle of escalation: the idea of blow back and unintended consequences that come from a naivete and/or shortsightedness of action. This reading is essentially correct. I would add one more layer: what if an enemy is able to hurt you more than you can hurt him? You may win, but you will be so hurt that you will be forced to ask, "Is it worth the cost?" (among professionals who study international relations and military science this dynamic is called "asymmetry of escalation"). What if in order to defeat your enemy, you must sacrifice your own morals and integrity? Would you torture an enemy in order to find out where a crazy person who was eager to meet their personal God hid a nuclear bomb? You would save the city, but in doing so you would betray what your society stood for. Would you kill 10 to save 1,000? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?

The cold calculus of these choices has real meaning for our souls when they cease to be the mere province of the abstract exercises that are the stuff of first year philosophy courses. The harsh truth of the Dark Knight, and why it works as a a film, is that none of us leaves unscathed by our choices. We are all dirtied. We are all stained. To win, you may sometimes have to lose.

There are four agents at work in the Dark Knight.

The first is the public.

We, the people, those fickle masses, the 50th percentile, the rabble--we are protected by our heroes and by those for whom service is a calling. But, the public's affection is often temporary and transient. As quickly as the masses anoint a chosen one, a protector, they are as quick to betray. The culture of celebrity creates heroes only to see them fall. These are the people for whom Batman sacrifices, hurts, and experiences loss. Although he believes in their goodness, in their potential for morality and honor, it is he who must endure their cowardice. Batman exists because it is easier for us to look away from evil than to engage it. It is easier for us to hide from crime, evil, and immorality than to challenge it (it is always someone else's problem isn't it?). It is easier to send another's child to fight in wars abroad than to volunteer either ourselves or our own children, is it not? It is always easier to shirk responsibility than it is to claim it. This is the cowardice that the Joker plays upon--the selfishness and instinct towards self-preservation that is our most basic of instincts. And it is the people and their safety which forms the mantle upon which Harvey Dent is sacrificed and broken.

The second is The Batman.

Batman is a prisoner of his own code of honor. He is the literal wall which stands against chaos and disorder. Batman is that figure--a person better than we deserve--precisely because we do not have the courage to really support him, or to truly aspire to be him. Why? Because to be Batman requires sacrifice and a willingness to sustain loss for the safety of others. To be Batman also requires a supreme confidence in one's own morality and a willingness to carry that burden, whatever the consequences for us professionally, personally, or spiritually. Batman is an anti-hero. There is no glamor in such a role, there are no accolades from an adoring public, and you live in a prison which is in many ways one of your own making. In Christopher Nolan and Frank Miller's Batman, Bruce Wayne is as much a victim of Batman, as he is of the criminals that killed his parents. Bruce Wayne could gallivant around, enjoy the flesh of any woman he desired, live a bacchanal life of pleasures to satisfy and titillate the soul and body, but he does not. Batman is not Tony Stark's Iron Man. No, and despite his problems, who wouldn't want to be Iron Man, and who if they really thought about it, would want to be Batman?

The third is The Joker.

The Joker is freedom through chaos. The Joker never lies. The Joker is a truth teller. The Joker is so powerful precisely because of the sincerity of his beliefs. There is something compelling about a raison d'etre that is so wonderfully sufficient: I do because I can, I exist because I do, I am free of your society's rules because I make my own. The Joker is free. He has no ends on his behavior except those boundaries which he chooses to place on himself. The Joker wins in the Dark Knight because in order to defeat him you have to defeat yourself. The Joker is ultimately triumphant because he makes sense: Why would you choose to die for a society, for people who lack the basic personal integrity and courage to do the right thing? To give you, the Batman, the respect you deserve and have earned? The Joker wins in the Dark Knight because he is consistent, unrelenting and so insane that there is a profound clarity in his meaning and purpose. As we see in the Dark Knight, the Joker, this self-imagined and self-created figure, is sane in his insanity.

The fourth is Harvey Dent.

Harvey Dent is the victim of the public, the Joker, and of Batman. Harvey lived to serve, but in his nobility he was forced to sacrifice all that mattered to him. Harvey Dent, in his appeal to chance--the coin he flipped to make choices--never had to worry about chance because he was his own person. That is the tragedy of Two Face. He was so noble, so desirous of being the White Knight, he could not escape unscarred. The irony, is that like all good people he was punished for doing the right thing. How many of us have done the right thing only to end up the only one that suffered? How many of us have made an intervention, spoke truth to power, only to suffer because of it? How many of us have been righteous in our indignation and deeds and have been made to lose, to hurt, to suffer by those less good, less righteous than we are? And adding insult to injury, who were made to suffer only because it was expedient? This is the quintessential Harvey Dent: a good man made to suffer. And ultimately, it is Harvey Dent who is both simultaneously freed and destroyed by the cathartic freedom of chaos offered by the Joker.

The Batman, the Joker, and Harvey Dent are messiah like anti-heroes. The Batman is a messiah figure because he believes he can bear any burden and through which be an Jungian outlet, a dark knight, for the public's fears and anxieties. Bruce Wayne is solely capable and able to carry upon his shoulders a horrible burden that no one else is able or willing to endure. The Joker is a messiah figure because of his sincerity in belief and action. The Joker sincerely believes in the liberatory power of chaos, of violence, of living outside of the rules imposed by "civil" society. The Joker will free us. Harvey Dent is a messiah because he believes he can save us. Harvey is the bright light, the incorruptible and unflappable defender of the public. These men are all narcissists precisely because to be a savior requires a sincere belief in your own wisdom above that of others. Two of these men, Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent are devastated by the choices that their narcissism when combined with their nobility demand of them. In the end, it is the Joker who stands triumphant because even in the last moments of the Dark Knight, the Joker's narcissism makes him immune to defeat. He has outsmarted Batman. He has bested him. He has dirtied him. The Joker knows he has won because of a final truth which he delights in uttering--the Batman needs him as much as he needs Batman, and the truth is that they, the Batman and the Joker, are not so different after all.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Heath Ledger's performance. There is a subtle, yet iconic moment in the Dark Knight, where the Joker, driving away in a police car after a triumphant escape sticks his head out of the driver side window like an innocent dog out for a ride with his family. This moment of bliss contrasts so wonderfully with the dark madness he channels during the rest of the Dark Knight--do you want to see me make a pencil disappear?--that Heath's Joker is now THE Joker.

They said Heath Ledger stayed in his room, isolating himself in order to prepare himself for this role. In the end, we are watching the Joker, a character so unhinged that we are simultaneously fascinated yet repulsed. We cannot turn away even as we fear what Heath's Joker may do next. For this ghetto nerd, that is the ultimate complement. Heath Ledger, wherever he may be, should be proud of his creation, and if the Fates or the Gods are smiling he deserves an Oscar nomination, if not award, for this singular, triumphant creation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says--A Question in Response to the Obama-New Yorker Hysteria: Is Our Skin So Thin? Are We Not Stronger Than This?

"If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

To be consistently funny is the most difficult of tasks. Satire, perhaps more so.

I would imagine that the New Yorker's audience probably understood the magazine's attempt at satire. It is clear that those outside of the club did not. Simply, I am of the opinion that it fails as satire because there is nothing witty, ironic, particularly insightful, or funny about it (especially when compared against the high standard established by the smart and sharp cartoons that have previously graced the publication's cover).

Here, the central failing is that the cartoon states the obvious, i.e. that there are many people who believe that Obama is a Muslim terrorist and a fifth columnist, and that his wife is a fire-breathing, white people hating, black Nationalist. Okay, I got you. But, where is the payoff? I for one would have liked to see a cover with the same basic image, but instead modifying it by adding Michelle Malkin and Bill O'Reilly donning full body suits to imitate the Obamas, and perhaps McCain peering through the window with lascivious peeperesque glee in his eyes. Now, that would be a cover! But perhaps that cover would be better suited for Mad Magazine or Heavy Metal than the almighty, New Yorker.

Frankly, I have never been a particular fan of the New Yorker because it is too smart and self-consciously intellectual for its own good. Proof in point, their film critic disliked the movie Iron Man (how could you? Do you not have a soul and a heart?) and they have given Batman: the Dark Knight a negative review as well (how joyless they are):

Come on people, sometimes you just have to enjoy life. In my opinion, those cosmopolitan folk at the New Yorker just take themselves a bit too seriously is all. It doesn't upset me, it doesn't throw me into fits, I simply don't "get" the publication's hyper inflated sense of its own gravitas.

Not surprisingly, the brouhaha over the New Yorker's "offensive" cover was a conversation I was not too keen on participating in. It seemed over discussed, much ado about nothing, and while I understand how some could be upset, I felt that the energy being expended over a distracting sideshow could be better spent elsewhere: the housing crisis, on helping the unemployed, on finding a solution to the indebtedness of our country to multinational banks and foreign governments, or on staving off the impending Recession/Depression.

The New York Times with their piece on why comedians are afraid to make fun of Obama (all that messy race stuff), and (quite surprisingly) Gary Kamiya at, both hit the nail on the head: Are we so sensitive that every poke, tickle, or unpleasant dig must be met by cries of offense and with clarions of bloody murder? Moreover, why do we have an expectation that popular culture, political humor, or satire more generally, should be "offense free?" That it should be easy? Or that popular culture should always make us feel good or validated?

Maybe I am an old soul, or perhaps I am hardened a bit, but aren't we--we meaning people of color generally, and my black people in particular, a bit tougher than this? And I will be generous and add liberals and progressives to this list as well--at least the old school Lefties who had courage and true grit--can we not laugh at ourselves? Must all art, humor, or popular culture be politically correct?

Consider for a moment: Black Americans have fought off the chains of slavery, struggled for the full rights and fruits of citizenship, improved American democracy for all peoples, fought in every war and conflict, never backed down from white supremacy, struggled to educate ourselves and our children when the State said "No," formed maroon colonies to resist the regime of slavery, and generally have done pretty damn well for ourselves (and yes, we have much more to improve), but a cartoon, a failed bit of satire, is the source of consternation and angst? How would our honored ancestors feel about that? Are we not stronger and tougher than what the New Yorker hysteria suggests?

Perhaps we respectable negroes need to make an intervention? Maybe we need to correct the historical myopia embodied in the New Yorker hysteria by providing examples of some truly racist and vile popular culture? Why not...

Exhibit One: A Little Old School Minstrelsy

Exhibit Two: Speaks for Itself

Exhibit Three: Oh Those were Good Times, weren't They?

Exhibit Four: Cartoons are Fun and Harmless, aren't They?

Exhibit Five: A Powerful Film that is Wholly Under Appreciated

Exhibit Six: Get Me Some Fried Chicken!

I feel dirty. These images are truly ugly, ugly spiritually, foul in their energy, and cruel because of the political work and power they embody and encourage.

How about the following challenge: Is this segment from Mad TV's, My Black Momma smart satire or is it crude "racism?" Is it hurtful? Mean? Unfunny? Or is it brilliant? Is there such as thing as "positive" or "empowering" racist satire? Or are they mutually exclusive? And no, I won't give away my answer.

Folks had better toughen up a bit because as this race continues, and if Obama wins, he, like any other president will be fair game--and rightfully so. Because to treat Obama just like any other candidate, to muck rake, to attack him, to swift boat him not because he is black, but because he is running for the position of President, the most powerful person on Earth, would be a true step towards racial equality.

Yes, some of the attacks will be tasteless. Yes, some of the criticism will be motivated by racism. Yes, some of it will hurt. But you know, I really think that we should thank the fates that while these images and their legacy are still with us, looming in our political and social subconscious, that we live in a moment of hopeful possibilities. Or perhaps, I, we, dare to dream too much?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: Operation Blackout and Jesse Jackson's Anti-Obama Outburst Explained

To: The Council of Negro Elders, Midwest Division
From: Chauncey DeVega, field operative
Re: Operation Blackout's Success with Principal Targets Jesse Jackson and Bernie Mack

It has been several months since my initial reports on Operation Crabs in a Barrel and the Obama-Wright Affair. As outlined in my earlier recommendations, the Wright doppelganger has been under close surveillance. Also, in my efforts to determine how to best contain the threat posed by Reverend Wright, I have consulted with our experts in the psychic warfare division (their particular brand of "science" has always made me a bit nervous, and these most recent encounters are no exception). Ultimately, these meetings gave birth to Operation Blackout.

Operation Blackout's principal goal is to push undecided and swing voters to the Obama camp through the application of covert means such as the use of remote mind-control and personality conditioning, as well as the deployment of agent provocateurs within the McCain camp and at Fox News (by example, our cultivation of Geraldine Ferraro and Bill Clinton worked wonderfully, and Agent 69's seduction of both targets was rewarded with a commendation and promotion).

Our intelligence division correctly identified the dynamics of Obama's weakness among "hard working white voters" some time ago and we have been scrambling to find a solution. McCain's closing of the gap with Obama in several polls is further evidence that we must initiate more radical plans if we are to ensure an Obama victory. Unfortunately, some in the white working class may be beyond either the reach of normal political appeals to material self interest, or to the wisdom of voting for Obama as a function of common sense.

Several months ago, we became aware that a sleeper cell of Greater Opposition Party (GOP) agents had been activated in Flag City. This area has long been a hotbed of GOP activity and we have kept it under close scrutiny (in fact, Flag City was originally one of the "model communities" that Cobra's elite Crimson Guard had infiltrated in the mid 1980s) . As is typical GOP standard operating procedure, they chose to hide their control over the city in plain sight--the same way the Soviets used to operate with their command and control centers during the Cold War--and even went so far as to have their contacts at the Washington Post write a feature story about Flag City's residents.

Even when allowing for ideologically rooted ambivalence towards Barack Obama, the levels of anti-Obama animus among Flag City residents was shockingly high. Following through on my concerns, I pursued an intuition and inserted a small team into the hills surrounding Flag City to begin a more intensive surveillance campaign. I also requisitioned one of the new Reaper drones from an ally in Air Force Intelligence. This drone was put on alert and began signals intelligence over Flag City. On my orders, this drone was equipped with a high band electromagnetic energy spectrum analyzer. As expected, the drone detected anomalous readings from within Flag City. My worst fears were confirmed: the GOP was in fact controlling the residents of Flag City with a Brainwave Scanner.

It has been several years since we last came upon one of these horrific devices. As a reminder, the original devices were limited to targeting a very small area, and were ideally used for controlling only one person at a time. The energy readings from the device we detected in Flag City were orders of magnitude greater than those emitted by the comparatively simple models in use some decades ago. As per standing orders (whenever a grade one threat is encountered standing order 101 allows us to circumvent the Posse Comitatas Act and deploy our forces on U.S. soil) I deployed our troops with the following mission: 1) to seize the device with a minimal loss of life, and 2) remain unseen and unidentified by the residents of Flag City.

A small group was inserted into the town where it was supplemented by some former members of Task Force 145 (Delta commandos and Seal Team 6 mostly, with some operators from 1st Recon in the mix as well) who have joined our cause. The strike team formed a perimeter around the main science building of the local university, forced entry, and applied non-lethal force to subdue the human security in the area. Our team did encounter a surprise upon breaching the control room for the Brainwave Scanner: Battle Android Troopers (BATS) were defending the device. Fortunately, the team had deployed with a targeted EMP device and were able to deactivate the BATS without damaging the Brainwave Scanner).

Note: upon reading the after action report I was reminded of our early struggles against those damn machines and how they make those robots from the Terminator films look like children's toys.

The presence of both the BATS and the Brainwave Scanner pointed to the presence of one obvious foe, Dr. Mindbender:

We believed that Dr. Mindbender was "off the grid." True, he had recently worked with Roger Ailes at Fox News and was a long time confidante and adviser to Karl Rove, but after the Iraq debacle it was thought that Mindbender had decided to ply his craft overseas. Luck was with us again, as Mindbender was seized while attempting to leave town via speedboat and he was immediately secreted away to one of our safe houses.

Mindbender is a treasure trove of knowledge regarding mind control, interrogation techniques, psychic operations, and the occult (his father and grandfather were key members of Hitler's Thule society and were indispensable to the Nazi's efforts to obtain the Spear of Destiny). It was at this point that I made the faithful decision to move forward with a plan to deploy the Brainwave Scanner in order to influence key opinion leaders, targets of opportunity, and any others who could be used for our cause.

Personal Note: this decision has caused me no small amount of anxiety and doubt. Yes, there is a precedent for working with a war criminal for the greater good (our use of Nazi scientists to develop the space program following World War 2 comes to mind), but I still hope that we are making the right choice. Our plan will certainly raise some eyebrows when in the far future its full dimensions come to light (as is common to all of our missions, Operation Blackout's records will be sealed for 100 years). I am a firm believer in our democracy, but from time to time it must be helped along. I know I both speak for the agents under my command, as well as reflect your leadership, when I state that it is this common faith in our cause which empowers us to make these types of difficult decisions.

Operation Blackout began with several small tests of concept and operation which proved immediately successful (the singer in Denver who substituted the Black National Anthem for the Star Spangled Banner was our first target). Rather than attempt to influence the public in mass through a direct application of the Brainwave Scanner, a rather clumsy tactic in my opinion, I developed a counter-intuitive strategy with a high level of plausible deniability.

For phase one, I developed a list of targets according to the following criteria: What persons could be turned against Obama, and through their actions draw white voters towards Obama's camp? Accordingly, this application of the truism "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," involves provoking blacks (and others) that many in the the white public have extreme dislike for into attacking Obama. Phase Two will involve the conditioning of prominent conservatives, individuals who should by all measures be against Obama, into eventually supporting his candidacy for president. The sum effect of Operation Blackout will be a net gain for Obama in the presidential campaign.

Operation Blackout's first targets include(d)

1. Jesse Jackson
2. Bernie Mack

Both of these targets followed their programming. Jesse Jackson was programmed to express a desire to "cut Obama's nuts off" for "talking down to Black people." Although, he was not programmed to do so, Jesse Jackson may have used even stronger language to describe Obama (we are still analyzing the tapes). Mindbender believes that this second outburst, if it did in fact occur, was a result of the Brainwave Scanner freeing Jackson to state opinions that he may in fact deeply hold. In total, we believe that the Jackson-Fox event is pushing whites towards Obama--Fox News's decision to censor the interview hints that the GOP agents at Fox may also be mindful of this effect.

Bernie Mack's conditioning resulted in his using off color language during a comedy routine he performed at an Obama campaign dinner. Although this could have potentially embarrassed Obama, the plan worked as outlined with Obama playfully chastising Mack at the event and earning more praise from the public and mainstream media.

Future targets for phase one include:

1. Al Sharpton
2. Louis Farrakhan
3. Marion Berry
4. Charles Barkley
5. Harry Belafonte
6. Sheila Jackson Lee
7. Carol Moseley Braun

I will continue to update you on Operation Blackout as it develops. We are still in the process of developing a target list for phase two. If you have any suggestions for persons or groups that should be added to the target file, please forward them to my secure email. We are also open to expanding the target list to include "progressives." Per procedure, you will be updated should the plan encounter either unexpected difficulties or surprising successes as we continue to shape the battlefield prior to the Democratic and Republican conventions.


Chauncey DeVega