Monday, February 2, 2009

Gordon Gartrelle says: Prepare for some Chitlins and Gefilte Fish!



This week, we are respectable negroes will be home to a series of posts about Black-Jewish relations. I’ve enlisted the help of some of my favorite bloggers on politics, hip hop, and sports—all of them heavy hitters, and all of them either Jewish or black.

On the chosen team, there’s some of the downest Jewish folks DrLawyerIndianChief and Bethlehem Shoals from free darko, the juggernaut basketball/theory site from which an incredible book was recently published; Rafi Kam, ½ of the iNternets Celebrities and proprietor of oh word, the greatest hip hop and media blog in existence; and, hopefully, a word or two from others.

Holding it down for the negroes will be me, Chauncey, and that brilliant writer and negro double agent The Assimilated Negro.

I’m calling this week’s event the Chitlins and Gefilte Fish Project.

Bon Appetit.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Geek Analogies--Barack Obama is to Superman as Michael Steele is to John Henry Irons




Barack Obama is a self-confessed geek. For ghetto nerds such as myself, this is another signal that we have finally arrived at the promised land as a people--a summer filled with great movies such as Batman and Iron Man, and now a Black president who reads Conan and appears in Spiderman comic books.

President Obama, has also packaged himself as a super man for our perilous times. He is part Abraham Lincoln, part superhero. In a tight parallel, this fits neatly with the Superman comic and film mythos as Clark Kent/Kal-El's story was also a thinly veiled messianic narrative (boy falls from the heavens; raised by parents who find him abandoned in the wilderness; he demonstrates superhuman abilities).

It seems that the Republicans are trying to find their own Superman to resurrect a party that is in disarray and quickly sliding towards irrelevance. The GOP's solution? Michael Steele, the first black RNC chairman--their Superman...their Barack Obama.

Ironically, Steele fits perfectly into the Superman mythology. If you recall, in one of the first comic book "events" of the 1990s, Superman was "killed" by a powerful alien named Doomsday. In the vacuum created because of Superman's absence, other superheroes, none with either the gifts or talents of THE Superman, attempted to fill the void as humanity's protector.

One of the most prominent of these well-intentioned, but otherwise incompetent superheroes, was a black man by the name of John Henry Irons. He was a gifted engineer and weapons designer, but utterly mortal. John Henry Irons fits the mold of Iron Man in that his heroism and powers are amplified and made possible by technology. Don't misunderstand. John Henry Irons was groundbreaking as an African American superhero--a role made more exciting given the symbolic value of his donning the title "Man of Steel."

Even more fitting to the political theater and keystone cops comedic drama that is the GOP at present as it nominates a Black man as Chair, while the actual head of the party is a bloviating, former drug addict, bigot, named Rush Limbaugh, is the other, more often forgotten version of the John Henry Irons character. Who is this you ask?

Shaquille O'Neal! In one of his first movie roles, Shaq who would later release the magnum opus Kazaam, took on the role of John Henry Irons in the movie Steel. Shaq's version of this superhero was a weapons designer for the Army. Kicked out of the service, Shaq did not have access to a high technology weapons laboratory to create his powered battle suit. In a manner quite fitting for the quality of this movie and Shaq's acting, he made his suit from parts culled from the local junkyard (maybe Fred Sanford was consulting?) Without the help of a staff of designers and engineers, Shaq's version of John Henry Irons utilized the talents of a wheelchair bound tinkerer and her elderly companion/guardian:



Sad. So very sad.

In the same way that John Henry Irons aka Steel was no Superman, Michael Steele, GOP knockoff, the Republican's Black savior, has neither the gifts nor talents of Barack Obama.

John Steele, if he is not careful, will like Shaquille O'Neal in the acting world, be the laughing stock of the 2009 political season.

Ultimately, if Barack Obama is the Optimus Prime of our generation, Michael Steele is just a Gobot.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Social Science Research that Matters--First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble? or Ghetto Names Will Get You Put In Jail



I love social science research that matters. Moreover, I love social science that allows me to imagine the researchers twisting their collective mustaches, having a laugh, and finding a way to use data driven quantitative approaches to have a joke at the expense of a given group.

Thus, the genesis for David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee's article "First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?" Alternatively, the article (which appeared in the Social Science Quarterly) could actually be entitled, "Are Ghetto Names Correlated With Making Poor Life Choices and Ending Up in Jail?"

Let the firestorm begin. I am a self-professed expert on ign't culture, and have taken the ghetto name phenomenon in stride. Thus, my relative indifference to the obvious connections between structural disadvantage, social capital, and ign't naming practices. But, this piece is too juicy a bit of bait to resist. A suggestion: as you read the following excerpts substitute "ghetto" for "unpopular..."

Some choice excerpts from the article:

1. Objective. "We investigate the relationship between first name popularity and juvenile delinquency to test the hypothesis that unpopular names are positively correlated with crime. Conclusions. Unpopular names are likely not the cause of crime but correlated with factors that increase the tendency toward juvenile delinquency, such as a disadvantaged home environment and residence in a county with low socioeconomic status."

2. "However, none of the studies investigated the possibility of a correlation between names and crime. To the best of our knowledge, Figlio (2007) is the only research that studies the relationship between names and disruptive behavior. He finds that, especially for blacks, boys with names commonly given to girls are more likely to be suspended from school."

3. "For example, if people with unpopular names in the population are more likely to have criminal histories, employers, renters, and others may avoid transacting with these applicants a statistical discrimination explanation. This study also has potential implications for identifying youths who may engage in disruptive behavior or relapse into criminal behavior."

4. "We add to the literature on first names by finding, regardless of race, a positive correlation between unpopular first names and juvenile delinquency."

5. "We show that unpopular names are associated with juveniles who live in nontraditional households, such as female headed households or households without two parents. In addition, juvenile delinquents with unpopular names are more likely to reside in counties with lower socioeconomic status."

6. "Gyimah-Brempongand Price (2006), for example, use the Scrabble score of a person’s first name as a tangential explanatory variable (their key independent variables measure skin hue) in regressions trying to explain age at incarceration and length of sentence. In the majority of their specifications, a higher Scrabble score is associated with either an increased hazard of criminal activity or a longer sentence."

@@@@

Some questions and thoughts:

1. Is this piss poor social science research? Or is this groundbreaking and valuable work?

2. Is it the chicken or the egg? What came first? Ghetto underclass behavior and criminality or the ghetto name? Is this correlation or causation?

3. What about poor white trash? How do the names common to Appalachia or the "Meth Belt"--the new "Bible Belt"--fit into this model?

4. What of outliers? I know a great many people with "unpopular," "unconventional," or "ghetto" names who are attorneys, doctors, professors and the like. Or are they exceptions to the rule? Should we instead focus on the meaty part of the distribution?

5. The popularity of names change over time. For example, names like Esther, Gertrude, Birtha, and Pearl were common in the 1900s but are relatively uncommon at present. How does the dynamic nature of naming practices fit into this story? And, what is a "black" name anyway? Anticipating the answer: please, don't introduce that black creative naming practice mess as a valid response.

6. We know that names influence both life choices and life chances. A study by researchers at the University of Chicago demonstrated that those with "black" names, even with superior credentials such as an MBA, suffered hiring discrimination when competing with White job applicants who were felons. More generally, names impact career choices, thus the over-representation of people with the last name "Law" in the legal profession. Being provocative, is it unethical to give a child an unpopular name? Is it even more unethical to give a Black child a "ghetto name" in a society where said child already has to contend with racism?

7. Related thought: if names influence life choices, are those young black men with "ghetto names" more likely to be athletes or hip hop artists? More importantly, are they more likely to see those careers as their destinies and a natural fit for their life trajectories?

8. Here is a complication. Can we assume a universal standard for "normal" or "popular names?" What if in a given community the "ghetto name" is the most popular and most normal name? Those children then have a type of local social capital and prestige (especially if the name is really "unique"). In this scenario those people with "normal" names, i.e. the John's, Mike's, and Robert's of the world are picked on for being different. Does this latter group then go on to commit more crime because of the damage to their self-esteem? Or do they get the hell out of their ign't community and use their "name advantage" to move up in the world?

9. Additional thought, does all this conversation about "ghetto" and "normal" names really make you think about how there may really be two nations in this country, separate, hostile, and unequal? More frightening, that there are some communities where you can have local social capital, but none of that social capital transfers outside of a five block radius?

10. How do ethnically specific or religiously specific names factor into this story? How does a history changing moment impact naming practices? On this point, one can only imagine the plague of little Obama's we will see in a few years...most of whom will never reach achieve a tenth of the great accomplishments of their namesake.

11. You have to laugh at the Scrabble Score Index. I guess our favorite car stealing ign't youth Latarian Milton is in real trouble!



12. What is your best/worst or most interesting "unusual," "unpopular," or "ghetto" name story? I have several. One would be Gordon's tale about seeing a young woman on the bus with the name "Fellatia" (the feminine version of fellatio I guess) emblazoned on the back of her track jacket. Mine would be either a young student I taught several years ago who happened to be from a lower socioeconomic background. What was her name? It was "Supreme Court"-her parents were thinking ahead. A close tie would a young boy I tutored in a reading program whose name was Yvonne. What is so interesting about the name Yvonne? It was pronounced "Why-von-ee."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Anti-Barack Obama Threat Pyramid Part 2: The "Principled Opposition" of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity et al.



In our first installment of this series, we analyzed the top of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid. In this second piece, we move down the pyramid to the "principled" opposition--a mid-level threat more common than the most dangerous grouping at the top of the pyramid. However, these bloviating conservatives are toxic to the public discourse because they hide behind a veneer of "respectability" and the shield provided by free speech. Moreover, the mid-level of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid is to be watched closely because their access to the popular media (and the audiences Rush Limbaugh and others command) represent the potential for a broader danger across the spectrum of possible threats in our battlespace.

In the following piece, guest blogger Buhbajangal takes on this issue by exploring the politics of blackness and black authenticity as inspired by Ann Coulter's recent performance/appearance on the television show the View.

@@@@



Well, we two black people of a certain age were talking about the upcoming inaugural festivities (“Where will you be?”), wondering which way the wind will blow (it’s been unseasonably cold here on the East Coast), and celebrating the selection of Elizabeth Alexander to bless us with poetry (ok, that last one was just me). I made mention of having watched the View on Monday (for which I was chided) and of the fireworks between the guest (one Ann Coulter) and everyone else (yes, surprisingly, even Elizabeth Hasselbeck seemed perturbed by this woman’s rude tone with her hosts). Neither here nor there. What was significant was the topic—race. There was Barbara Walters reading an excerpt from Coulter’s new book that had at its core something about how there are several successful Black (?) people today who pass themselves off as African Americans even though they have white mothers. Namely Alicia Keys, Halle Berry, and Barack Obama. Coulter wanted to know how these people can go about claiming to be Black (or only Black) when they are clearly not. To this I thought, “oh yeah?”

There were some valuable responses from the panel: something to do with the acknowledgment of said racial category being based on how these individuals are perceived in the world. Simply put: When people see them, they see Black people. The perceivers react accordingly—envision the same clutching of purses that happens to darker skinned Black people, imagine the same must to prove one’s qualifications in academic/professional settings, or sadly, the same got-to-act-the-fool-ness to prove you truly are Black enough. Of course, I thought Whoopi’s response (smirk—“I think that [Coulter’s view] is bulls… I think that’s bull!”) was…priceless!

But the mention of this line of thought (if you can call this stuff Ann Coulter does “thinking”) brought my friend and me to our own: Obama is suddenly not as Black (to White America) as he was. Or Black at all. Though what drives us globally to laud his election victory is that he is to be the first African American President, well, suddenly he isn’t! What?

There I was thinking about Blackness. What is Black? Who is Black?

We all know that back in the day in the United States it was if you had even one drop of Black blood… Even if you had lived your whole life as white and someday someone found out you had a Black relative somewhere in your family tree…BLACK! No matter how far back…BLACK! You can, by this logic, undo whiteness but you can never return from being Black, never cease to be Black. Until now. You remember how we used to say “There are only two things I have to do: Stay Black and die!”? Not anymore? Not if you get a lot of fame and/money or become President of the United States? (When did I up and move to Brazil?)

I was on my end of the phone saying that I think the Obamas’s Blackness cannot be denied. Somewhere I read that Barack Obama referred to his wife as “the most quintessentially American woman” he knows. I am going to say that she is quintessentially Black. I declare THEY are quintessentially Black.

Honestly, as a Black woman, the moment I first encountered
Barack Obama, I thought, Nice! But I was cautiously optimistic.

(Yes, I was readying to conduct the “how Black-identified is he?” test.) I know that all too often Black men achieve some level of success and they find a not Black woman. (Harold Ford Jr.!) Sometimes they find a not-Black-enough woman. (You know what I mean: She’s so light-skinned you have to ask and she likes it that you ask. She doesn’t want anyone assuming.) So I was left with the mix of not sure if to be happy or grieved. Then out came Michelle Obama—undeniably Black to the human eye. Then the public learned more about who she is—daughter of working class African Americans who emphasized education, excellence, family, oh, and education. That’s Black!


You know I think back to my mother’s and her parents’ generations and how the drive was always towards schooling—the best schooling. Even if they couldn’t or didn’t have it, they wanted it for us. We had Black people who fought for their children to be bussed to better schools because they believed that’s where it was at—access to an equal quality of education and everything else would fall into place. When white folks could see that we are the same sort of intellectual and moral creatures that they are, well, they had to treat us right. People risked life and limb for some book learning. Look, even when it was a mortal crime to learn something Black people found a way.



Black: parents living in the same household—mother and father—working sunup to sundown (and sometimes beyond) to provide for their children whose only job was to study hard. Black: parents and GRANDPARENTS tending to, guiding the children. Black: making you take all kinds of lessons (piano lessons, dance class, swimming lessons)! Black: making you say all kinds of “Yes, please” and “Thank you.” Black, Black, Black.

Look now, I did say I am a person of a certain age, but is it only me who remembers these as definition of Blackness?

But the issue is not Michelle Obama’s Blackness now. It’s his. So I say, “He’s a different, other, still-connected-to kind of Black. A postmodern kind of Black. A kind of Black that young people, people younger than I am, can relate to.” (Because to be Black is not just one thing any more than to be white, Asian, or Latino is to be just one.) Black: single mother trying to instill all that do-the-right-thing-via-education notion. Black: rising to the top even in the willful absence of a father. Black: grandparents doing the bulk of the providing for and child rearing in the face of a mother’s need to work. Black: deciding to marry your partner before you have some children (because you are not going to be like your father). Black: sticking around to raise said children. Black, Black, Black. (Now, do you see the intersection with and re-development of the first group of Black people?)

Family first is Black. Taking care of your responsibilities—i.e., the community—is Black. Speaking Standard English is Black. Keeping your cool in the face of some real bullshit is Black!

Society has to be careful with the kind of talk that Coulter and her sort are promulgating. By their reasoning (I use this word loosely here), Francis Grimke was not Black. Booker T. Washington was not Black. Nella Larsen was not Black. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was not Black. Damn, even the masterblaster Bob Marley was not Black! Even though the aforementioned identified as Black people.

I have not only this response to Coulter’s question; I have my own questions: You mean forever “the other” will exercise the ultimate in white privilege? Forever they get to tell us who we are? Forever? Forever ever?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Anti-Obama Threat Pyramid: or A Confederacy of Hatemongers, Fools, and Miscreants Who Ain't too Pleased That Barack Obama is President (Part 1)




I hate to interrupt the Obamamania induced halcyon daze that is America's love affair with their first black president. But, there are many people who for a variety of reasons are none too pleased with America's election of Barack Obama. The opposition ranges from the "principled" (i.e. Conservatives who wouldn't support any Democrat anywhere, anytime, or for any reason), to the silly (the creator of the Drunken Negro Head Cookies that are sold at a well-known bakery in New York City's Greenwich Village), to the deranged (the violent killers and hooligans who have taken Obama's inauguration as a signal to begin an open hunting season on black and brown folks).

Apparently, because they do not want to be accused of inciting panic or fear, the mainstream media has largely under-reported the violent crimes which have been committed in retaliation for Barack Obama's election as President of the United States.

Legendary military strategist Sun Tzu famously stated, "know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster." I want you to be prepared for battle. Accordingly, in the spirit of Sun Tzu's guiding wisdom, I have compiled a brief primer on the range of racism, bigotry and hateful threats against good, decent, and respectful people that can be expected in this, the Age of Barack Obama.

Today, we highlight the top tier of the threat pyramid.

The Deranged and Violent

1. From the New York Times, "Three Are Charged in Attacks on Election Night" (anticipating your question, yes, he is in fact one of the defendants):

Like countless other Americans that night, a group of young Staten Island men gathered on Nov. 4 to watch election results, and then took to the streets when it became clear that the country had elected its first black president.

But, the authorities say, they were not out to celebrate. Armed with a police-style baton and a metal pipe, they attacked a black teenager, pushed another black man, harassed a Hispanic man and, in a finishing flourish, ran over a white man who they thought was black, leaving him in a coma, the authorities said.

A federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday charged the men, Ralph Nicoletti, 18; Michael Contreras, 18; and Brian Carranza, 21, with conspiracy to interfere with voting rights in their efforts to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” black people on Staten Island on election night.

The men were arrested on Tuesday night and arraigned in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. All three pleaded not guilty...

2. From the Daily News Tribune, "Brockton Shooting Suspect Told Police He Targeted Blacks, Jews, Hispanics":

A 22-year-old white man is being held without bail on charges he shot three Cape Verdean people, killing two. Police said Keith Luke told them he was "fighting for a dying race" and planned to kill as many black people as possible and he had been planning to kill all "non-white" people.

According to papers filed in court, Luke said he had been planning to kill African-Americans, Hispanic and Jewish people and he had planned to go to a Jewish synagogue near his home that night and "kill as many Jews as possible on bingo night."

Luke of 1177 Pleasant St., Brockton, pleaded innocent to two counts of murder, kidnapping, aggravated rape and other charges in Brockton District Court Thursday morning. He was ordered held without bail.He told police in an interview after his Wednesday arrest that he purchased a 9mm handgun with 200 rounds of ammunition about six months ago outside Gilmore Academy on Clinton Street. He said he planned to kill himself after his killing spree...

3. From the Desert Sun News Service in Palm Springs California, "Three Alleged White Supremacists Arrested in Latino Beating":

Three more alleged white supremacists were behind bars today on $1 million bail in connection with the November beating in Hemet of a Latino who suffered brain damage. Crystal Lee McCann, 22, Derek Shane O'Brien, 22 and Darrin Peter Thibault, 24, were arrested between Dec. 19 and Thursday in connection with the Nov. 14 beating of a 19-year-old Latino whose name has not been released.

The teen, beaten at the Jackson Mobile Home Park at 225 Elk St., Hemet, has been placed in a long-term care facility and his brain damage will likely be permanent, said Hemet police Sgt. Mark Richards.

Thibault, arrested Dec. 19, has been arraigned on charges of attempted murder, membership in a criminal gang and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, with gang, serious felony and great bodily injury allegations, according to court records. McCann, arrested Dec. 26, has pleaded not guilty to attempting to dissuade a witness and gang allegations. She is to be arraigned Tuesday. O'Brien was arrested Thursday on suspicion of attempted murder, violation of probation and membership in a criminal street gang. He is also to be arraigned Tuesday.

The first person arrested, Justin Tyme Hayes, 21, has been charged with attempted murder and participating in a criminal street gang, with serious felony, great bodily injury and gang activity allegations. He has pleaded not guilty. All of them reputedly belong to a white supremacist gang, Richards said. Investigators may charge more people in the near future, the sergeant said.

4. Courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alternet.org, "Obama Called a "Visual Aid" for White Supremacist Recruiting":



"Historically, when times get tough in our nation, that's how movements like ours gain a foothold," the leader of the National Socialist Movement told USA Today. "When the economy suffers, people are looking for answers. … We are the answer for white people."

The Obama era comes after years in which white supremacists have successfully exploited the immigration debate – both providing racist propaganda that seeps into the popular culture and benefiting from the vilification of Latino immigrants. Mainly as a result of the bigotry and xenophobia surrounding the immigration debate, the number of hate groups operating in the United States has risen by nearly 50 percent – from 602 to 888 – since 2000.

Now, these groups have begun to turn their attention to Obama – distributing racist propaganda, filling Internet message boards with threats and messages of hate, and, in some cases, taking more direct action against minorities. Here is a sampling of racial incidents reported in the wake of the election...

****

So much for post-racial America. Have any of you experienced any bias or hostility because of your support for Barack Obama? Are these cases outliers that speak for a silent plurality? Why isn't the media covering these stories? Are they afraid to sour our presidential honeymoon? Should we be scared and worried? Or should we be emboldened because this collection of human debris are living anachronisms, embodiments of a now outmoded and obsolete type of virulent racism? Where is the outrage at these crimes?

Desperate for Five Minutes of Fame: Sober House meets Tiny "Deebo" Lister aka Zeus!



I love me some Sober House...or any other reality show where we can watch these most sad, B-List celebrities suckle at the teets of television for five more minutes of fame.

But, what is Zeus doing on Sober House? He is one of my idols and I am utterly disappointed! Deebo, the black Godzilla, Hulk Hogan's rival from the art house classic, No Holds Barred, is slumming on Sober House. Say it ain't so!

At least we will still have our innocent and precious memories of the No Hold Barred music video:



And we can also take comfort in knowing that the savage beast that is Tiny "Deebo" Lister can be soothed by the firey, flame broiled goodness that is Burger King:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Battlestar Galactica Reviewed--In Barack Obama's America We Are All Cylons Now



And the other thing is, I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that...

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Disappointment tests the mettle of one's convictions. Disappointment hurts, as much as it strengthens, our character. Disappointment can crystallize one's resolve, and make more resolute a hope for a better tomorrow. Disappointment can also destroy our belief in the virtue of our dreams, weaken the ties that bind our community together, and set us against one another in a sea of nihilistic fervor.

Battlestar Galactica is a series rooted in the "now." In its first three seasons Ronald Moore, the producer and writer of Battlestar Galactica, has used the show as a lens for discussing the national trauma that is/was September 11th, the morass of a twilight war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disastrous Hurricane Katrina. In the final season, Battlestar Galactica's first two episodes "A Disquiet Follows My Soul," "And a Great Notion" are an extended meditation on the hopes and dreams of the American people in the face of economic calamity--and the investment which they have made in Barack Obama, a political messiah of sorts (one in which I too believe), to lead them through this darkest of times.

In mirroring our present, Battlestar Galactica has found its promised land, the fabled planet Earth, a destination that was supposed to be a new home for the refugees of the human-Cylon War. The leaders of the human fleet, and now their Cylon allies, have sacrificed so much for a new beginning, that they are numbed by the discovery that Earth has been destroyed. The goal of their struggle, the object of the religious faith and belief in prophecy which has sustained humanity in its struggle for survival, has been exposed as a fraudulent, cruel lie.

Barack Obama's presidency, like the humans' struggle to find Earth, is pregnant with the potential for great disappointment and calamitous consequences if he fails in the great crusade to remake America. Those throngs of people in Chicago's Grant Park, the millions who attended the inauguration, and the many many millions both here and abroad, who watched America elect its first Black president, a man who is the first and best hope for change and salvation, can just as quickly sing Obama's praise, as they can turn in venomous rage upon him if he fails to right America's path. Will it come from the Left or from the Right? Who will be the first to whom Obama will ask, "Et Tu Brute?"

Battlestar Galactica as literate, compelling, challenging television is highly evolved and wonderfully executed melodrama. The "big" questions of faith, survival, life, justice, death, hope, and free will, are embodied by and through the struggles of its characters. In the first two episodes of Season 4.5, Battlestar Galactica has given us the dualism of spiritual emptiness and loss mated with the cathartic liberation of death through Dualla's suicide. Questions of government, justice, inclusion and community, are witnessed through the rebellion among the fleet against including Cylons, their blood enemies, into their political community. The dignity of struggle in the face of adversity, and the nurturing power of love are embodied by Admiral Adama and President Roselyn's intimacy...and also Tigh and Six's act of heretofore impossible conception. Painful truths about faith, responsibility, despair and loneliness are voiced by Baltar as he preaches, "What type of a father abandons his children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness?"

Barack Obama's campaign and election are also powerful melodramas. Consider, could one even construct such a story that is Barack Obama's life? The first Black president, born to an immigrant father and a white wanderlust filled anthropologist mother, abandoned by his father and raised by grandparents in Kansas, and who rode a meteoric star to Harvard, married a beautiful, smart and formidable woman with whom he would have two charming children, then elected to the United States Senate, and eventually the presidency. President Barack Obama's life is a fiction that is real. How will this story end? Will the political theater that is Obama's evocation of Abraham Lincoln end in the healing of what is now a broken promise between the American government and its citizens to guarantee the common good and national prosperity? Or, will the melodrama that is the Barack Obama moment end as a tragedy, one of epic proportions where disappointment and pain are the feelings most associated in the public imagination with President Obama's administration?

As Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica has thrown into question our assumptions about humanity's relationship with the Cylons by introducing the notion that perhaps humans and Cylons are actually one in the same species, in Barack Obama's America, Left and Right have been forced to work together to solve our collective crises. Once looming large in our political vocabulary, such once common sense framings as Blue State, Red State, and "the Culture Wars" have momentarily given way to a sense of collective, linked fate. White voters, voters who historically have chosen racial animosity, and the psychic wages of whiteness over shared class interests with people of color, have in a moment of enlightened self-interest, elected a Black man the President of the United States.

It seems that in a moment of disaster, just as in Battlestar Galactica, former foes are forced to work together for a common goal. Differences are seemingly erased, while still simmering beneath the surface. Genocidal calamity has brought humans and Cylons together, but for how long? Economic calamity has brought Americans together, but for how long? It seems that in Barack Obama's America, we are all Cylons now, but for how long?

Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Obama. It has a certain ring and cadence to it, does it not?

Some thoughts and questions.

1. Why Dualla? Why the strong black woman? Perhaps, she was not as strong as we thought? Or is she stronger than any of the other characters?

2. Is the prophecy which described Earth as the home of humanity wrong? Is the Book of Pythia incorrect? Or as in most matters of prophecy and faith are they merely being misinterpreted?

3. On this point, notice the language of the Prophecy, "humans were cast out of Kobol." Hmmm....sounds like punishment to me. And if we were cast out, what was our crime?

4. Confusion. Okay, did humanity make the Cylons on Earth and then the Cylons rebelled and destroyed us? Thus, the circle being complete when humanity returns and destroys the Earth?

5. Or did the Cylons make humans as slaves, we rebelled, and returned and then destroyed them? Again, the mirror, and the fulfillment of the idea that all of what we are seeing in Battlestar Galactica is cyclical?

6. Apocalyptic religions are centered on a narrative of destruction and rebirth. Could it be that the final five, and Tigh's wife in particular were part of a cult (i.e. those Christian Fascist Left Behind Rapture types) that actually put into motion the destruction of Earth in order to fulfill God's plan?

7. Oh, I have to gloat, I called Tyrol's baby daddy problem a year ago in this post.

8. We have the final five Cylons. But, we don't have a number "Seven" Cylon. Could Tigh's wife be a Seven, and someone else, Starbuck or Athena/Boomer's child be the real final Cylon?

9. My theory, this is all cyclical and will repeat itself again and again because the desire to create artificial intelligence is hardwired into the subconsciousness of man. We want to create life in an effort to become God. These creations will repeatedly rise up to destroy us. Second thought: each generation humanity leaves Earth and returns to find it destroyed. They, the humans and Cylons, then go out into the galaxy to find new planets. This cycle is repeated again and again. For a visual imagine the spokes of a wheel. We return to the center and then strike out in new directions, an act which in turn spreads our human/Cylon civilization throughout the galaxy. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Question: will this continue forever or until we finally get it "right?"

10. Two words: Count Iblis. I still put my money on a Deus Ex Machina moment where all is revealed and someone has been pulling the strings.

11. Do you take the Cylons into the fleet or leave them out to dry? Do you trust their technology given how they have used it as a weapon before? Do the Cylons merit inclusion as citizens? Given the many poor decisions which Adama and Roselyn have made how can you not be on Zarek and Gaeta's side in the upcoming civil war?

12. Ultimately, this all has to end badly with a huge loss of life, a loss so great that it necessitates the merging of the human and Cylon fleets.

Your thoughts?

Word and Picture Association of the Day: Rush Limbaugh and Bloviate



The average person has a vocabulary of approximately 10,000 words.

By virtue of our ability to code switch from the king's English to Black English, the average respectable negro has a vocabulary of approximately 50,000 words.

In reflecting on Rush Limbaugh's recent antics, let's add one more pithy word to our mental Rolodex:

Bloviate (pronounced ˈblō-vē-ˌāt)

To bloviate means "to speak pompously and excessively," or "to expound ridiculously." A colloquial verb coined in the United States, it is commonly used with contempt to describe the behavior of politicians, academics, pundits or media "experts," sometimes called bloviators, who hold forth on subjects in an arrogant, tiresome way. Some speculate that bloviate derives from adding a faux-Latin ending to the verb 'to blow' or boast, following a 19th-century fad of adding Latin-like affixes to ordinary words. However, others like William Safire claim that 'bloviate' comes from combining the words 'blow-hard' and 'deviation.' Although 'bloviate' is listed in slang dictionaries as far back as the 19th century, the term was popularized by United States President Warren G. Harding in the 1920s. Famed for his poor English usage, Harding often used the word to describe his long, winding speaking style. The term dropped from popular usage following his presidency but was resurrected in the 1960s when it was sometimes used in reference to Harding. It became widely spoken again in the 1990s. Today, it appears regularly in The New York Times, The New Yorker and the Washington Post.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Distractions: Dramatel, Old School Players, and Blacktown.net

Yes, I am in fact working on a review of Battlestar Galactica's first two episodes of the final season to post later today or tomorrow. To tide you over until then, I leave you with some wonderful discoveries from the greatest of all inventions, the Internets:

Dramatel! I don't now how I missed this wonderful infomercial...note the not so subtle racial cue that Dramatel will help the sisters keep their men from that Black kryptonite--White, blonde women:



Dramatel is a great tool for monitoring those old school players who can't help but stray from home:



We haven't heard from them lately, so I must ask, what do the brothers from Blacktown.net think about Barack Obama's presidential victory and inauguration?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Zora Says: If Nothing Else, "Change" Feels Good


As I sat at my desk on Monday afternoon, fretting about the layoffs and budget cuts that I face, I realized that I needed to feel part of something larger than myself, larger than my office, larger than the current state of the economy. So, I found a relatively cheap ticket and made my way to Washington, D.C. My goal was only to join the masses of people who are hoping for a better day.

Once in D.C., where everybody knows somebody, I was able to get two silver tickets to the swearing-in ceremony. This stroke of luck simply confirmed that I was meant to be there. I woke up at 5:00am and left the house at 6:00am. Leaving from the outskirts of the city, I had no problem finding space on a Metro car. Even though I could feel the bodies of at least five people pressing up against me, I was not annoyed, not afraid, not at all uncomfortable. It felt like one big bear hug.

Two Alphas on the train began a spontaneous game of Roll Call, singing out their names, hometowns and what they expected from the day. At first only other African-Americans joined in, but then the recognizable voice of an older, white southern man sung out, "My name is Bill and I'm from Kentucky. I don't know about ya'll but I'm feeling damn lucky!" There was a moment of silence before everyone cracked up laughing. After that, everyone joined in -- young and old without respect to race or class -- singing and rhyming and just feeling good.

I fell out of the car at Judiciary Square and joined tens of thousands of people as they streamed beneath the Mall through an underground tunnel. It was a shortcut that normally would have terrified me. I reached the end and found the sun shining on a shoulder-to-shoulder mass of individuals moving forward like a flock of penguins. The anticipation, excitement and general good feeling was apparent even on the faces of the police officers.

The silver tickets placed me right in front of the reflecting pool. I could actually see the figures moving across the stage. The jumbo-trons flashed images of guests taking their seats -- Sean Combs looking flashy and overdressed, Dustin Hoffman looking a lot like Sean Combs, Mohammed Ali being escorted by his attentive wife, Joseph Leiberman looking like the cheese standing alone, Justice Scalia, John McCain with a wistful expression, Mr. Nancy Pelosi, Governor Schwartzenegger with members of the Kennedy clan, the Bush girls with oblivious smiles on their faces, Laura Bush with an appropriate look of discomfort, Denzel Washington trying to deflect attention away from himself, Oprah Winfrey surrounded by a throng of folks (including her BFF) ...

Gradually the VP seating areas were filled. And, amazingly, the VPs looked a lot like the crowds that filled the Mall -- they were Black, White, Asian, Latino, old, young, important, not so important, recognizable and mundane. I don't recall ever seeing this before. I was especially moved by the seating area closest to President Obama -- the family and friends area. Typically buzzing with WASPs, the space looked like a snapshot of a crowded street in New York City, Chicago or D.C. The faces were recognizable. They looked like my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends, my family. Anyone in America could look at that area and see a face that looked familiar. For me, that crowd was more than symbolic. It was a tangible reflection of America in the 21st century. It was a reflection of a change that has been happening for decades but is only now being acknowledged by those in power.

Gordon asks, "What was so special about the inauguration?" What was so special was the synergy of feeling among those who attended -- a national synergy that eclipsed what was present in Grant Park by a thousand fold. Back in November, folks were still caught up in what could or should have been. White women, conservatives, Republicans, and old school haters were still entrenched in their petty grievances. On Tuesday, everyone was focused on the future and what will be. Even the Republicans in the crowd could not help themselves from smiling and joining in on this national celebration.

In November, Obama as President of the United States was still not quite real. After all, Bush and his cronies were still in charge of the fate of the nation. After Obama was sworn in and Bush's helicopter took off from the Capitol, the crowd looked to the sky and without cue began singing "Nana na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!" Imagine, hundreds of thousands of people singing this at once. You could hear the joy and relief in the voices as the song rolled over the crowds. That exhale moment wasn't possible in November.

Rereading what I have written, I realize that it doesn't capture an ounce of the feeling that I carried on Tuesday. All I can say really, is that I felt damn good and I have not felt that way in a long, long time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gordon Gartrelle says: Should I feel bad for not caring about going to the Inauguration?

I’ve spoken to a bunch of respectable negroes who attended Obama’s inauguration. Every one of them told me how magical and special the events were.

The freezing cold, the crowds, the inflated prices.

I don’t get it. What did January 20th offer that November 4th didn’t?

Was it that important to see him sworn in in person?

Was it as an article on The Root stated, that the Inauguration was the “intellectual freaknik” (just quoting that makes me feel stupid)?

Now, I was at Grant Park on November 4th, so perhaps I am only saying this because I got my “I was there” fix.

Please help me understand.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chauncey DeVega Says: The Circle is Now Complete: The Good, The Satisfying, and The Joyous of Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration



"It was a beautiful day, don't let it get away"

Sometimes the lyrics of a U2 song fit the mood perfectly.

Throughout the saga that is and was Barack Obama's campaign for the White House, I posted pieces on my hopes, fears, and worries regarding his candidacy. I am a "completist" by nature. Fittingly, I come full circle in my reflections on Barack Obama's inauguration.

In life, perfect moments are by definition quite rare. God knows this country, all of us, will face a trying road ahead. For now, before we return to the difficult work of correcting our wayward ship and steering her back on course, let's take a moment to reflect on our collective greatness and goodness. We are a country of misfit tax evaders, cast off religious zealots, discarded immigrants and emigres, greedy capitalists, iron jawed suffragettes, folks barred by law from being citizens, the cousins and children of zapatistas, victims of history who have made this our home, folks whose land was stolen from under them, and Creoles of the Middle Passage who created the West and modernity. In total: people who never stopped looking forward despite, or maybe even because of, the obstacles placed before them. Because of them, I can say with confidence and pride, "God bless America." We are a motley crew. Sometimes, we get it right as much because of ourselves as despite ourselves. Accordingly, today was one of those great days where we as a people show that we have more than a few surprises left in us, and thus lessons still, to teach the world.

Some thoughts--counter intuitive, surprising, and expected:

The Good: I am happy about the chance to be mad at, upset at, and disappointed in, Barack Obama. Why? because he is only a Black man who happens to be President, and to be honest, I thought I would never be able to write such a thing in my lifetime.

The Satisfying: Complaining about Barack Obama and raking him over the coals for his decisions, decisions which inevitably may not satisfy me or you. Also, watching the pundits and talk radio crowd second guess him. Why? because that is business as usual for President of the United States.

The Joyous: Liberal disappointment and Conservative damnation. Why? politics is like sausage in that you never want to see how it is made, yet one wants to enjoy and benefit from it. If President Barack Obama can disappoint the Left and provoke the Right, I know he is at least doing half of what he needs to do to be MY president.

The Good: The intangible mundanes of life, those basic but most existential of things...a Black man being called and hailed as "Mr. President!" His riding in Air Force One, Marines saluting him, Black children playing in the White House (what a turn of phrase, a wording almost poetic by virtue of its juxtapositioned irony), people not White sleeping at1600 Pennsylvania Avenue--moreover, Black people as President and First Lady, and not "just" as servants, employees, or slaves.

The Satisfying: Watching Barack Obama handle a crisis with deftness, grace, and towards a satisfying resolution. Why? Because that is what Presidents of the United States do.

The Joyous: Watching Barack Obama's missteps and mistakes. Why? Because that is what Presidents of the United States do.

The Good: Dr. King; Malcolm X; W.E.B. Du Bois; Frederick Douglas; Sojourner Truth; Sister Harriet; Jon Brown; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner; Rosa Parks; A Philip Randolph; the little girls in that church house in Birmingham; Thurgood Marshall; and those anonymous but never forgotten many millions gone and lost to history who never stopped struggling for freedom, smiling down from heaven on Barack Obama-a Black American-as he took the oath as 44th President of the United States.

The Satisfying: Reading newspaper editorial pages and online blogs, watching the talking heads in the mainstream media, and listening to talk radio on the Left and Right as they criticize Barack Obama. Why? Because they are treating him like any other President of these United States. Becoming President isn't a pass. Rather, it paints a target on the president's forehead. I will revel in watching Barack Obama contend with the mudslinging and yellow journalism that plagued his predecessors because less than fair play, dirty pool, and below the belt politics are perhaps the true fruits and obligations of liberty. President Obama, I eagerly await watching how you handle these challenges, challenges which have awaited all of your predecessors.

The Joyous: Watching Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and those other Right-Wing ideologues and their automatons, in less than subdued rage, as they spew their vitriol, hate, and confused, often incoherent, shotgun banter. I have waited oh so long for this moment and am anticipating how Barack Obama will respond to these miscreants. I know he will outmaneuver and sidestep the "Greater Opposition Party," but I also know that this cabal of frothing at the mouth, enraged, often confused and irrational, Right-wingers will keep Obama on his toes. Indeed, what is the sound of one hand clapping in the wind? I hope that the Right wing in this country soon discovers the answer to this classic question.

Final thoughts:

The Fun: Hypothesizing about how those lap dog Black conservatives, with their schizophrenic hand ringing and their internal doubts and recriminations, sad souls plagued by questions such as, "Am I black enough?" "How can I be more black?" "How can I be the 'good' black?" and "How can I NOT be Barack Obama?" will struggle through the next four years.

The Wondrous: Now, with Barack Obama's victory a whole generation of kids, brown, black, yellow, red, and Other, can now say, "I can be President!" With Barack Obama's victory, those thoughts won't be the stuff of impossible fantasy.

The Amazing and Long Overdue: For the Tuskegee Airmen; the Red Ball Express; the Marines of Mumford Point; the Buffalo Soldiers; the 54th Massachussets Infantry, and many others, they can now say, "mission accomplished!"

Prophetic Wisdom from Dr. King: Echoes of History and Congratulations to You President Barack Obama!



No longer, "elect," now just "Mr. President." Congratulations President Barack Obama.

What a day for all of us. We have lots to say and share (including an eyewitness report from our Washington D.C. embedded respectable negress Zora). For now, let's enjoy the moment.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 5 Worst Black Sitcoms of All Time

Say what you will about exploitative 70s sitcoms (That’s My Mama, Good Times at its worst), but they definitely had their moments. The sitcoms I list below are so terrible, so offensive, they are in a class of their own. A few points before I get started:

* You’ll notice that all of the shows on my list are relatively new. I harbor no nostalgia for the bad black sitcoms of the past. It just so happens that I think that black pop culture (like all pop culture) has gotten progressively worse. If I had to make a list of the worst rap and R&B albums, most of them would have been released within the last 5 years.

* Speaking of rap, 3 of the 5 sitcoms were marketed to (stupid) hip hop fans. Hollywood had a horrendous record of representing black culture before hip hop existed; hip hop all but killed any chance for realistic depictions of young black people in sitcoms.

*Offensiveness was my main criteria. What I mean by "offensiveness" isn’t necessarily racial stereotypes, but the extent to which the shows insult the viewer’s intelligence with heavy-handed morals, nonsensical plots, and bad acting. That’s why I’d rather watch a real minstrel show like Amos ‘N’ Andy than some family-friendly-but-shitty “positive” black show like The Parent ‘Hood.

So, without further ado, I present to you the 5 worst black sitcoms of all time:


1. Homeboys in Outer Space


This abomination featured two of the crappiest black actors of the 90s: Darryl M. Bell (Ron from “A Different World”) and Flex (can anyone explain to me how Flex and Bill Bellamy keep getting work?). In their defense, the writers had a winking acknowledgement of the show’s own terribleness. Still, there’s no excuse for this.



2. The Parkers


The trials of two loud, obnoxious, stupid black women. Nothing could be salvaged from this colossal piece of shit. What does it say that most of the clips of it online feature white co-star Jenna Von Oy (Six from Blossom)…or the back side of her anyway?



3. Under One Roof


Three words: Flava Flav sitcom. The reality show is the perfect medium for Flav’s brand of coonery. The sitcom is just too much.



4. Method and Red



A fish-out-of water, ghetto negroes come to the wealthy suburbs sitcom. How original! How the mighty have fallen: 2 of the fiercest MCs of the 90s reduced to playing nouveau riche simpletons in this Fox trash. What happened to the classy station that aired Did We Land on the Moon?, Celebrity Boxing and Man vs. Beast?



5. House of Payne


Quite possibly the worst TV show ever. Perry fired four of his writers who tried to get union coverage. That’s appalling; if anything, they should have been fired because the dialogue resembles something a 13 year old would write. Every single character is a walking stereotype: a mammy figure, a crazy uncle, a crackhead, some thugs, and each of them has this…halting…way…of…speaking during dramatic moments. There is absolutely no awareness of tone, plot progression, or the basic conventions of storytelling. I have relatives who swear by Tyler Perry’s movies and plays but refuse to watch his TV show. That's a sign. TBS and Fox bought 100 episodes based strictly on Perry’s immense popularity and success, which means that the show will be running nonstop in syndication for years. Embrace it.

What other shows should be on the list?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The Wrestler Reviewed by a Smart Mark--There is No Old Timer's Day for Professional Wrestlers



We live through them.

We admire them.

We worship them.

They worship themselves.

They bleed for us.

They bleed for themselves.

There is redemption through violence.

We give them forgiveness.

They seek glory.

We give it to them.

They love us.

We love them.

They fade into anonymity.

We allow them to.

There is no old timer's day in professional wrestling.

Mickey Rourke's movie, The Wrestler is a movie about professional wrestling that ironically has nothing to do about professional wrestling. The Wrestler is a human drama about love, loss, pain, redemption and destiny. The Wrestler is also an existential drama. What do you do when to do you, to be yourself, to follow through on all that you are, to truly inhabit and exemplify oneself--your ultimate personhood--means to die? Is this the ultimate act of humanity and triumph? Or, is it the ultimate tragedy?

The Wrestler follows the twilight of professional wrestler, Randy "The Ram" Robinson's, career. As metaphors for his fall from grace, rather than Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Spectrum, or my very own New Haven Coliseum (never underestimate the Connecticut-WWE connection), it is now high school gyms, bingo halls, VFW posts, and little attended fan conventions that are now the Ram's stage. Played brilliantly by the now resurrected character actor Mickey Rourke, the Ram is a shadow of himself, but for those dozens as opposed to thousands of his glory days (or tens of thousands) the Ram still bleeds, cries, works, takes bumps for, and sells. For the Ram, a man who is a real worker and old hand, he yearns for "the pop" and believes in a sacred obligation to entertain and amaze the audience. The Ram is their hero for the night. He makes worries disappear. He entertains and amazes. He is a living superhero that little boys and girls dream to be as they enjoy one night with dad (and maybe mom as well) where they escape the rigors, pain, disappointment and monotony of "the real world." Ultimately, professional wrestling, when done right and done well, is epic story telling that requires the utter dedication of its storytellers:



The Wrestler is also a multi-layered narrative where the in-ring action is coincidental and complimentary to the action outside of the squared circle. Professional wrestlers live a life on the road. They travel some hundreds of days a year and their "road family,"--the other professional wrestlers--become kin. The blood family, the kids, wives, mothers, and fathers, are often neglected. Traditional relationships often fail. Consequently, wrestlers become addicted to the road because those temporary moments of stolen bliss with groupies, drugs, or the bottle (and yes drugs and alcohol addiction are "relationships") become substitutes for the often more difficult obligations of wife and children. If wrestling is about the "pop" or the "rush," the road is a means to this end:



Accordingly, Mickey Rourke's character has difficulty...and difficulty is a polite phrasing..with maintaining a relationship with his daughter. Evan Rachel Wood (played by Stepanie Robinson), has distanced herself from her father. The Ram is a bogeyman, a shadow over her id and greater psyche, a dark father to avoid and run away from. The Ram desires a relationship with a local stripper played by Marisa Tomei. Like a professional wrestler, she too is judged by her physicality. Like a professional wrestler, time is her enemy. Like a professional wrestler, there is no old timer's day for exotic dancers. The irony of the Wrestler's father-daughter relationship is one that many can relate to: dad was often away from home, hustling and working, and thus he just wasn't there as a physical presence in the morning at the breakfast table or in the evening for dinner. As we presumably grow older and wiser, we come to understand that dad was in fact there, as those checks were coming in the mail, keeping a roof over our head, and food in our stomach. This is one of the universal narratives which makes the Wrestler so powerful:




The Wrestler is an accomplishment of film making and storytelling that is compelling and oddly beautiful. As a smart mark, a label which describes those of us who know that wrestling is "fake," but also understand how "real" it is, the Wrestler is sound, smart, and laden with moments that smart marks will "mark out" for. When the Ram "blades" (he should have mentioned taking extra aspirin to thin one's blood to get that real crimson tide a la Rick Flair) you feel part of kayfabe. When the Ram walks down the aisle to work in the deli section of a Supermarket, you will understand how utterly devastating this juxtaposition is: from walking through that tunnel to the applause of tens of thousands, to now doing "the walk" as an anonymous functionary, we can imagine that pain. The old school, "Texas catch can," chain wrestling era, smart marks will watch with fascination and disgust at the "New School" of extreme wrestling depicted in the film where ring work and craft are cast into the dustbin in exchange for cheap pops, high spots, staple guns, "hardcore," and less than creative, innovative blood sport that demands too much.



Smart marks are a brotherhood of sorts. Yes, I used brotherhood universally irrespective of race, class, gender, or those other categories of identities that often divide us. I smile when some talk about professional wrestling as the domain of poor or working class white folk. Those who makes those claims don't understand the range of our shared popular culture--"our" being a broad cross-section of humanity. In fact, there was and is something radically democratic about professional wrestling. Sure, it isn't perfect. Of course, it is a stage for spectacular, exaggerated, and ridiculous, racial caricatures. But us, we ghetto nerds, are still in the audience cheering, dreaming, smiling, and clapping with folk, black, brown, red, yellow, and other. Me and my fellow ghetto nerds, a generation of us, all wanted to be Hulk Hogan. We saw red and yellow, not Black or White. Me and my dad and my uncle screamed for Rick Flair and bowed in respect. Me and my dad jumped up and down at the New Haven Civic Center when via closed circuit television Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania. These are the stuff from which memories are made and why we smart marks follow our chosen "sport" almost as a religion, even as we simultaneously praise, criticize, and bemoan its current state of affairs.

Professional wrestling is a story of tragedy and triumph. At the end of the film this tension is made painfully and mortally clear. Do we die as we lived? Is this a triumph? Or do we die as something else, something less than how we imagine ourselves to be? I think you can guess my answer. In short, see the Wrestler.

Questions:

1. Who is to blame for the current state of professional wrestling? Is it a function of a monopoly where the WWE has no incentive to maintain excellence? Is it the fault of fans for lowering their standards? Is it the fault of professional wrestlers for teaching the audience to demand a more extreme, high spot style as opposed to a more intelligent, and in my opinion, fulfilling traditional style of wrestling?

2. Should their be a union for professional wrestlers? Should their be an off season?

3. How many wrestlers have died before age 65? Should we panic? Be worried? Is this an anomaly in the world of sports? Is professional wrestling being unfairly singled out?

4. Greatest era and greatest territory? I vote either 1970s WCCW or 1970s and1980s AWA/NWA. Your vote? Could it be the 1990s WCW-WWE-ECW era?

5. Two people: Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Is the Wrestler also their story?

6. ECW in its hayday, can it ever be topped?

7. For those who have seen the Wrestler, is the Ram's character channeling Sean Michaels, Terry Funk, Jake Roberts, all three, or some other combination of individuals?

8. If you could fix three things about the WWE to get it back on track, what would they be? What is your favorite WWE storyline now? TNA storyline? Why? For me, Sean Michaels and JBL is brilliant in its simplicity. Will they ruin it?

9. Will the great grandchildren of we ghetto nerds be watching professional wrestling? Will it be something we can recognize? Will we still be watching it?

10. Which is the sadder scene in the film? The legends convention where the old timers are selling videotapes in a DVD/digital era or the Ram playing Nintendo with his young neighbor? Could the movie have ended any other way?

11. My smart marks, why do you still love pro wrestling, its physical story telling mixed with soap opera melodrama for men?

draft Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The Wrestler Reviewed by a Smart Mark--There is No Old Timer's Day for Professional Wrestlers



We live through them.

We admire them.

We worship them.

They worship themselves.

They bleed for us.

They bleed for themselves.

There is redemption through violence.

We give them forgiveness.

They seek glory.

We give it to them.

They love us.

We love them.

They fade into anonymity.

We allow them to.

There is no old timer's day in professional wrestling.

Mickey Rourke's movie, The Wrestler is a movie about professional wrestling that ironically has nothing to do about professional wrestling. The Wrestler is a human drama about love, loss, pain, redemption and destiny. The Wrestler is also an existential drama. What do you do when to do you, to be yourself, to follow through on all that you are, to truly inhabit and exemplify oneself--your ultimate personhood--means to die? Is this the ultimate act of humanity and triumph? Or, is it the ultimate tragedy?

The Wrestler follows the twilight of professional wrestler, Randy "The Ram" Robinson's, career. As metaphors for his fall from grace, rather than Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Spectrum, or my very own New Haven Colosseum (never underestimate the Connecticut-WWE connection), it is now Bingo halls, high school gyms, bingo halls, VFW posts, and little attended fan conventions, that are now the Ram's stage. Played brilliantly by the now resurrected character actor Mickey Rourke, the Ram is a shadow of himself, but for those dozens as opposed to thousands of his glory days (or tens of thousands) the Ram still bleeds, cries, works, takes bumps for, and sells. For the Ram, a man who is a real worker and old hand, he yearns for "the pop" and believes in a sacred obligation to entertain and amaze the audience. The Ram is their hero for the night. He makes worries disappear. He entertains and amazes. He is a living superhero that little boys and girls dream to be as they enjoy one night with dad (and maybe mom as well) where they escape the rigors, pain, disappointment and monotony of "the real world." Ultimately, professional wrestling, when done right and well, is epic story telling that we smart marks live and breath. Thus, we admire the desire and dedication of our favorite pros:



The Wrestler is also a multi-layered narrative where the in-ring action is coincidental and complimentary to the action outside of the squared circle. Professional wrestlers live a life on the road. They travel some hundreds of days a year and their "road family,"--the other professional wrestlers--become kin. The blood family, the kids, wives, mothers, and fathers, are often neglected. Traditional relationships often fail. Consequently, wrestlers become addicted to the road because those temporary moments of stolen bliss with groupies, drugs, or the bottle (and yes drugs and alcohol addiction are "relationships") become substitutes for the often more difficult obligations of wife and children. If wrestling is about the "pop" or the "rush," the road is a means to this end:



Accordingly, Mickey Rourke's character has difficulty...and difficulty is a polite phrasing..with maintaining a relationship with his daughter. Evan Rachel Wood (played by Stepanie Robinson), has distanced herself from her father. The Ram is a bogeyman, a shadow over her id and greater psyche, a dark father to avoid and run away from. The Ram desires a relationship with a local stripper played by Marisa Tomei. Like a professional wrestler, she too is judged by her physicality. Like a professional wrestler, time is her enemy. Like a professional wrestler, there is no old timer's day for exotic dancers. The irony of the Wrestler's father-daughter relationship is that as many working class folks and others can relate to, is that dad was often away from home, hustling and working, but just wasn't there as a physical presence in the morning at the breakfast table or in the evening for dinner. As we presumably grow older wiser, we come to understand that sometimes dad was there when those checks were coming in the mail keeping a roof over our head and food in our stomach...this is one of the universal narratives which makes the Wrestler so powerful:



The Wrestler is an accomplishment of film making and storytelling that is compelling and oddly beautiful. As a smart mark, a label which describes those of us who know that wrestling is "fake," but also understand how "real" it is, the Wrestler is sound, smart, and laden with moments that "real" fans will mark out for. When the Ram "blades" (he should have mentioned taking extra aspirin to thin one's blood to get that real crimson tide a la Rick Flair) you feel part of kayfabe. When the Ram walks down the aisle to work in the deli section of a Supermarket, you will understand how utterly devastating this juxtaposition is: from walking through that tunnel to the applause of tens of thousands, to now doing "the walk" as an anonymous functionary, we can imagine that pain. The old school, "Texas catch can," chain wrestling era, smart marks will watch with fascination and disgust at the "New School" of extreme wrestling depicted in the film where ring work and craft are cast into the dustbin in exchange for cheap pops, high spots, staple guns, "hardcore," and less than creative, innovative blood sport. Mick Foley shared this frustration, how too much is often asked by fans of their heroes:



We are a brotherhood of sorts. Yes, I used brotherhood universally irrespective of race, class, gender, or those other categories of identities that often divide us. I smile when some talk about professional wrestling as the domain of poor or working class white folk. Those who makes those claims don't understand the range of our shared popular culture--"our" being a broad cross-section of humanity. In fact, there was and is something radically democratic about professional wrestling. Sure, it isn't perfect. Of course, it is a stage for spectacular, exaggerated, and ridiculous, racial caricatures. But us, we ghetto nerds, are still in the audience cheering, dreaming, smiling, and clapping with folk, black, brown, red, yellow, and other. Me and my fellow ghetto nerds, a generation of us, all wanted to be Hulk Hogan. We saw red and yellow, not Black or White. Me and my dad and my uncle screamed for Rick Flair and bowed in respect. Me and my dad jumped up and down at the New Haven Civic Center when via closed circuit television Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania. These are the stuff from which memories are made and why we smart marks follow our chosen "sport" almost as a religion, even as we simultaneously praise, criticize, and bemoan its current state of affairs.

Professional wrestling is a story of tragedy and triumph. At the end of the film this tension is made painfully and mortally clear. Do we die as we lived? Is this triumph? Or do we die as something else, something less than how we imagine ourselves to be? I think you can guess my answer. In short, see the Wrestler.

Questions:

1. Who is to blame for the current state of professional wrestling? Is it a function of monopoly where the WWE has no incentive to maintain excellence? Is it the fault of fans for lowering their standards? Is it the fault of professional wrestlers for teaching the audience to demand a more extreme, high spot style as opposed to a more demanding, and in my opinion, fulfilling traditional style of wrestling?

2. Should their be a union for professional wrestlers? Should their be an off season?

3. How many wrestlers have died before age 65? Should we panic? Be worried? Is this an anomoly in the world of sports? Is professional wrestling being unfairly singled out?

4. Greatest era and greatest territory? I vote either 1970s WCCW or 1970s and1980s AWA/NWA. Your vote? Could it be the 1990s WCW-WWE-ECW era?

5. Two people: Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Is the Wrestler also their story?

6. ECW in its hayday, can it ever be topped?

7. For those who have seen the Wrestler, is the Ram's character channeling Sean Michaels, Terry Funk, Jake Roberts, all three, or some other combination of individuals?

8. If you could fix three things about the WWE to get it back on track, what would they be? What is your favorite WWE storyline now? TNA storyline? Why? For me, Sean Michaels and JBL is brilliant in its simplicity. Will they ruin it?

9. Will the great grandchildren of we ghetto nerds be watching professional wrestling? Will it be something we can recognize? Will we still be watching it?

10. Which is the sadder scene in the film? The legends convention where the old timers are selling videotapes in a DVD/digital era or the Ram playing Nintendo with his young neighbor? Could the movie have ended any other way?

11. My smart marks, why do you still love pro wrestling, our addiction, its physical story telling mixed with soap opera melodrama for men?