Sunday, March 22, 2009
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Reflections on Battlestar Galactica's Finale--the Politics of Race, Place, and Memory
The finale is now past and Battlestar Galactica has gone out in fine form. The consensus among critics has been almost unanimous: Galactica's 3 part finale "Daybreak" has answered our remaining questions, and exited while still being provocative and timely. While some will complain about the ambiguities of Starbuck's exit, or how neatly the story now seems to have tied up its many loose ends, I for one, am content. The first 90 minutes of the episode gave us action (how can any ghetto nerd not get a shiver up their spine at the sight of the Old School Centurions going mano a mano with the "new School" Cylons?), while the last hour gave us resolution and closure (President Roslin's passing, and Adama's loving eulogy was heartfelt and sincere, he really is the proverbial old man on the mountain).
In watching the finale several more times, and trying to reflect on the series as a whole, I have come back to 3 recurring themes. Yes, as I have noted here and elsewhere, Battlestar Galactica has always been about the "now"--be it the war in Iraq, the disaster of Katrina, our worries about technology robbing us of our humanity, or holy war and terrorism. But, Battlestar Galactica has also been about the historical, or more rightly the transhistorical--those themes that cross decades and centuries of human experience. In total, Battlestar Galactica, as highlighted most tellingly in its finale, has been centered on the themes of race, place, and memory.
Race(ing) Battlestar Galactica
Race and a sense of profound racial difference between the Cylons and the humans, this idea of "us and them," has been the fuel for their decade long conflict. In science fiction, the cyborg (the human looking robot or synthetic life form) has been a powerful mirror for our own society's duel madness of both race making, as well as the maintenance of racial orders. As I am so fond of saying: race is a fiction, a social construct, but it is a dualism of sorts because this fiction is also true and real. This theme that is repeated throughout Battlestar Galactica.
Baltar's "Cylon detector" in season 1 is a thin reference to the pseudoscience of race and racialist thinking in the late 19th and early parts of the 20th century. The almost fetishistic quality assigned to the half-human/half Cylon child Hera, the racialized body, or in the case of the latter, the mixed race body, is an object of fascination and obsession. The power of love, or more bluntly how Battlestar Galactica depicts inter-racial sex as somehow recuperative, radically humanistic, and a pathway to godliness and wisdom (Caprica Six and Baltar, the two most passionate lovers on the show are also the emissaries, either symbolically or literally of fate and God) is one of the bedrocks of the series.
As the Battlestar Galactica's epic unfolds, we discover that humans and Cylons are more alike than they are different...so similar in fact, that there are no physical characteristics that truly distinguish them from us. In the same way that there are no human "races" or sub-species, we cling to the social realities of race and how it has, and continues to, structure our societies. Likewise, the humans and Cylons hold onto the imagined differences of biology (and parallel an imagined difference in biology with a firm dividing line of theology) in order to remain grounded on some fixed reference point in what is a tumultuous and unsettled world.
In both Battestar Galactica and our world, these differences of race are comfortable geographies of belief, philosophy, reason, and perception that help us to navigate and make sense of our lives. Blood is not necessarily destiny. But blood, be it the struggle between Cylons and humans, or the fight for (and against) a fully realized and inclusive democracy in this country, hints at how blood--differences both real and imagined--can be fate, or in the case of Battlestar Galactica, fated. In reflecting on race and racial difference, the lesson that Battlestar Galactica offers comes in the form of a question: do we go forward together or do we remain here, standing apart?
Looking for Place in Battlestar Galactica
Place is the second theme that drives Battlestar Galactica. And place is directly related to the idea of home. As Roslin told Adama in the concluding episodes of this season: sometimes home is where you make it; home is where you feel most comfortable and where you lay your head; home is an idea as much as a real location. This theme resonates throughout the show.
The human colonies, the literal home of humanity, were destroyed by the Cylons. The Cylons have been searching for a home as well, be it by destroying the homes of the humans (and occupying the colonies) or by creating a paradise where Cylon beliefs and "humanity" are acknowledged as full, normal, right, and natural. In narrative terms, the idea of home has pushed forward the plot. The ragtag fleet has been forced out of the colonies and sent wandering across the galaxy in search of their ancestral home. In keeping with its religious subtext, Battlestar Galactica's human protagonists are cast out into the wilderness, where like the ancient Israelites, humanity will wander until they find their destiny--or until their destiny finds them.
Home is also a fantasy. Recall, that this whole journey was set into motion by a struggle over home and place, and if it would be either the Cylons or the humans that had a right to exist, as well as to ownership over the 12 colonies. This was a battle fought over a generations long war, the origins of which have been debated, reimagined, forgotten, and (re)remembered (e.g. was it the Cylons who actually started the war? or did the humans provoke the confrontation? Were the Cylons slaves who were the victims of human exploitation? Or was the Cylon response disproportionate to the "crimes" committed against them?). In the first episodes of the series, Admiral Adama in a leap of fate intended to fight the despair that would surely destroy humanity as quickly as any Cylon Basestar, told the human fleet a "true" lie: Earth is real and that he will lead them there. In fact, Earth was the stuff of mythology and fantasy. It was only through blind luck, the intervention of the fates, and human daring and courage that the fleet survived and triumphed.
Here again is where place and home are so central to Battlestar Galactica's mythos. We finally found Earth, and then discovered it was destroyed. We found a second Earth, "our" Earth long in the past, and decided that it was "the" Earth that humanity was always fated and destined to find as salvation. It is on this second, new, now real, and forever "original" Earth, that humans and Cylons can find the peace of home. The question remains: will we, as the descendants of humans and Cylons, create artificial intelligence, thus repeating the cycle of creation and destruction, and once more force our future descendants to venture forth to the stars to find a new home? As Adama said, "Earth is a dream, we have been chasing it for a long time, we deserve it." Do we?
Battlestar Galactica Memories
Memory is the third leg of the triad that anchors Battlestar Galactica's epic story. In thinking through the series's aesthetics, the how of its storytelling style, I am struck by how often it used flashbacks. Characters were always remembering their pasts. The origins of the war, and the theologies of the Cylons and the humans were communicated through appeals to memory and the past. The Final Five, shared their memories in an effort to bring an end to the war, but also to reconstruct their own lives. For me, one of the pure joys of Battlestar Galactica, is how it inexorably moved forward, while continually moving its frame of reference to the past. The combination of these two elements made for a challenging and rewarding drama that rewarded close attention, while fueling reflection and speculation by its fans.
Surely, the main characters were exercises in memory. Adama and Tigh remembering their decades long friendship, and how their fates are tied to each other. Ellen's memories of her eternal love for Tigh. Starbuck struggling with how she will remember herself given the discovery that she is both dead and alive. Baltar and his profound narcissism and egomania--a desire to work through the memory of how he betrayed humanity by aiding the Cylon attack, while also trying to craft a new memory (or would it more rightly be memorialization?) and role as a spiritual mentor and prophet.
Battlestar Galactica is also about memory on a grand scale. Here, I suggest that the show is also about how humanity remembers itself. Specifically, the idea that throughout the struggle to find Earth and to survive the Cylon genocide, humanity and its leaders (Adama and Roslin in particular) chose hope over despair. Adama chose to fight the Cylons when it would have been easier to retreat or to surrender. Adama chose to launch a suicide attack to save Hera when it would have made tactical sense to surrender her to the enemy. The human resistance on New Caprica chose to fight against impossible odds, rather than sacrifice their dignity to the Cylons. Regardless of what one thinks of Admiral Cane's leadership style, she too chose to fight rather than to surrender. Each of these examples speaks to how humanity would want to be remembered--as a race that chose to fight rather than to surrender, and moreover, that struggle has dignity, worth, value, and meaning for how our own epic is remembered and retold by our ancestors. Ultimately, the heroes of Battlestar Galactica, those survivors who chose to face battle, to be daring and brave when others would have cowered and retreated, struggled so that even in defeat, our dignity as human beings would be preserved.
My favorite memory from Battlestar Galactica, and one of those moments that encapsulates the best of the series and its beating heart and soul, was the great reveal where the Final Five discovered themselves and one another. Saul Tigh, in a moment of naked honesty tempered with profound denial declared that, "My name is Saul Tigh. I'm an officer in the Colonial Fleet. Whatever else I am, whatever else it means, that's the man I want to be. And if I die today, that's the man I'll be."
For me, this is the essence of Galactica. We choose our memories. We fight for our identities. We choose to survive. And in these trying times, as the economy, our sense of collective well-being and security, and relationships with one another are tried by increasingly powerful forces that are outside of our control, Galactica's message that hope can triumph over despair, in fact that hope must triumph over despair, is Battlestar Galactica's most powerful truth--a truth that speaks to why it will be remembered as one of the greatest series in television history.
1. Did the show end the way you would have expected? Was the finale totally out of left field so to speak, or was it quite predictable?
2. Is Galactica a profoundly conservative show at heart? Or is it very liberal and transgressive?
3. Will we repeat the errors of our ancestors? Will artificial intelligence destroy us? Is this fate?
4. Baltar and Six and the beings of light from the original series. Comment?
5. Cool moments, during the finale, Simon quoting Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars: A New Hope.
6. Cool moment #2: Galactica borrowing the Daedalus maneuver from the SDF-1 on Robotech.
7. John/Cavil shooting himself, rather than suffering the humiliation of capture. Question: isn't Cavil one of television's best villains? The idea that he set free Final Five so that he could torment them is masterful. Second question: so, did John prevent the Cylons from destroying the fleet so that he could torment his creators?
8. So the humans spread out and settle the Earth. They are the source of our mythology. Could it be that some were not content to live as Luddites, thus explaining the existence of civilizations such as Atlantis, and humanity's long held beliefs in magic and sorcery? Could the diversity in human religions (polytheism; animism; monotheism) be rooted in the diversity of religious beliefs held by the human tribes and the Cylons?
9. Starbuck, Adama, and Apollo--the father, the son, and the holy spirit? Is Starbuck the third part of Christian divinity?
10. Hera as the mother of humanity. Got to love the humans returning to the cradle of humanity and civilization that was mother Africa.
11. During the last few minutes of the conclusion, was anyone else thinking of the controversial Time Magazine cover that in an effort to speak to the "browning" of America morphed together together all the different human "races" to generate a new Eve?
12. I have to go here: what of the folks of color on the show? With the exception of Adama (who is not "coded" for as Latino), do we really have any redeeming non-white characters on the show? Consider: Torrie kills Cally; Bulldog is a brainwashed "traitor"; Bill Duke's character runs the black market; Simon is for all intents and purposes a rapist; Gaeta betrays the fleet; Boomer is foul while Athena is the loyal, "Asian" with her Hapa child and white husband; and Dualla cannot cut it and kills herself. What is a brother or sister to do?
13. How can you not love that the opera house hallucinations, were in fact the Galactica herself! Battlestar Galactica was a grand opera, so how better than to speak to that fact than to hide one of the show's great mysteries in plain sight.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I know this ghetto nerd isn't alone when I share my sadness at the end of our beloved Battlestar Galactica television series. We will have Caprica to look forward to, but Moore's reimagined series has given us so much to talk about, and has left such a legacy, I think anything else set in that universe will pale in comparison (and would have ever thought that the cast of BattleStar Galactica would have the opportunity to appear before the United Nations! how far we have come).
The finale is tomorrow night, and I will certainly be posting a piece or two on the series. I have also reached out to some fellow BSG fans and they too will be offering their reflections and thoughts.
Here is where you all come in. Are you a fan of the new Battlestar Galactica? Are you also going to be suffering withdrawal following the airing of the finale tomorrow night?
If so, share your thoughts with us. Do you have an exegesis of the show that you want to share? On its politics, depictions of gender, race, religion, or technology? Do you have a poem or some fan fiction that you have wanted to get out to a broader audience?
Some other thoughts: If you were a character on BSG, what character would you be and why? What is your favorite BSG moment? Do you love BSG? Why or why not?
You get the idea.
This is our bon voyage to what this ghetto nerds thinks is one of the best shows in recent television history, and this is our last frakkin' chance to give the old girl a proper going away party.
In keeping with our traditions, the best submissions will receive a token of ghetto nerd appreciation--we still have some of Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, the Beautiful Struggle to share with you all, and we may have some other swag as well.
So say we all!
For an example: here are some earlier BSG related posts from Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds that some of you may have missed the first time around.
Gordon Gartrelle Says: Shelby Steele Isn’t a Coon, Tom, or Respectable Negro…He’s a Black Supervillain!
After reading Chauncey’s latest appeal to define Shelby Steele as a Coon, Tom, or Respectable Negro, I’ve determined that none of those categories is right for Steele and his ilk.
What do they have in common?
Yes, they’re all successful black men and they would all define themselves as conservatives (except for Crouch, who is very different from the rest of these characters. I’ve included him here because he shares their M.O.).
But what else? Be honest.
They’re all goofy-looking, goofy-sounding nerds.
It’s clear that they were socially awkward kids. Their childhoods in a nutshell:
They were laughed at and beaten up by black boys.
They were ignored and rejected by black girls.
They were never fully accepted by black people (They attributed this to their intelligence and uniqueness, when really it was due to their social ineptitude).
They were called punks, chumps, simps, and wimps.
They spent many lonely nights crying into their pillows.
They did all they could do: they buried themselves in their studies.
They worked hard, promising themselves that they would get back at the black people who cast them out.
They bided their time, waiting, stewing in their self-hatred and resentment.
They made it into the upper echelons of popular conservative thought.
The once timid nerds are now stentors spewing racial nonsense from their giant platforms.
They have (in their minds) enacted their ultimate revenge on the black people who clowned them.
Behold—the birth of the Black Supervillain!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: He Loves Him Some White Folks or Is Shelby Steele a Coon, an Uncle Tom, or a Respectable Negro?
I have such mixed feelings about Shelby Steele. Listen for his observation that "freedom is a revolutionary idea for black America." Goodness. And yes, I will leave it at that.
Steele is so smart and has the potential to speak so much truth to power, but more often than not his politics appear to be grounded in a deep self-loathing. Moreover, in his working for such think tanks as the Hoover Institute, Steele has clearly signed away his soul to be one of the very well compensated black poster children, aka slave catchers, for the Right.
His latest piece in the Wall Street Journal, where he laments the inability of conservative ideology to compete with the grievance based culture of "liberalism" and how it has monopolized narratives of truth and justice, is another such example. In short, Steele argues that black and brown folk (and their liberal masters) have held America's conscience hostage, and virtuous White people (code for conservatives) have not been acknowledged for how they are in fact the true defenders of human dignity, worth, and equality in America. For Steele's reimagining of history, it was those who argued in favor of the broader Civil Rights agenda that were immoral, and not the conservative, racial reactionaries--many in Steele's own Republican Party--who held firm against racial progress and social justice.
In short, as Mathew Yglesias pithily observed on his Atlantic Monthly blog, "Shelby Steele Hearts White People."
The three faces of Shelby Steele (my playful name for the trio of videos in this post) made me think about my own politics--as well as those of Gordon and Zora. Are we in fact conservatives? We rail against white liberal guilt, liberal racism, as well as conservative bigotry and myopia. Our wrath and disgust knows no bounds of party or ideology, so where do we fit on the ideological spectrum? What makes us respectable negroes so different from Shelby Steele?
I know the terrain of my own personal politics (even as I struggle to articulate my beliefs in the form of a coherent ideology) and for now, I will leave them unstated.
Thus I ask, is Shelby Steele a Tom, a coon, or a respectable negro? And why?
My vote: Shelby Steele is a Tom, because he has no love for himself or for his people. Steele cannot be a "coon," because while a coon may not understand how he or she is embarrassing black folk (or more generally, how a deficit of race pride informs their behavior), coons at least have some love for themselves as "black" people. Respectable negro? Impossible, because one cannot simultaneously be a lap dog for the Right and also a respectable negro--like matter and anti-matter, the two states exist in perpetual and permanent contradiction (and explosive hostility) to one another.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Zora Says: What Does it Say That We Finally Have a Negro in the White House with "Madea Goes to Jail" as the #1 Movie in America?
I am really struggling to maintain the high I achieved on my trip to witness the inauguration. I returned from D.C. to a town fraught with economic anxieties. The major employer in the area, my employer, had announced that soon it would be entering an unprecedented period of layoffs. My community is largely white with a strong "town-gown dynamic." The expectation was that the layoffs would be concentrated among lower-level support staff -- "townies" -- and among more recent hires -- "outsiders" who tend to be mostly minority. The result was that folks outside of those constituencies did little to prepare themselves for the cuts. With their Obama buttons on their lapels, they put together restructuring proposals that would do away with diversity initiatives and benefits for pink/blue- collar workers, and that would consolidate responsibilities under insider, white managers. Picture Sarah Palin wearing one of those Obama masks.
Surprise, surprise ... the cuts did not happen as expected. The decision-makers actually took the time to assess the value of the employees based on their productivity, performance evaluations, and ability to work with others. The cuts were still bottom-heavy, but not as much as expected. The result was that there were significant lay-offs among those who had considered themselves untouchable. When the news broke, the atmosphere was like that in the Republican National Committee during McCain's concession speech. It didn't take long for folks to start leveling the "stink-eye" at the "outsiders" who survived the cuts -- as a relatively young, African-American woman, that includes me. Of course, it was my gender and race that saved me. It had nothing to do with the fact that I manage to be twice as productive with half of the resources of others, that I regularly work 10-12 hour days while my colleagues are off skiing in Stowe, that I am one of a hand-full of employees who have made an attempt to update practices that were put in place back in the seventies, that I have turned around an office that my older, white colleagues deemed un-fixable, ... Nope, none of that.
We should not be surprised. Obama's election was a watershed event in American politics; however, it is naive to expect that Americans would drop their racial hang-ups with his election. Up until a few months ago, his own Secretary of State was pulling out every affirmative action stereotype she could think of: "he's smart, but he's not experienced," "he's articulate, but lacks leadership skills," "his mentors and advisers are the engines behind his success." Obama was labeled as an "outsider" not just to Washington politics, but to American society as a whole. What's so funny is that many of the folks who were quick to point out the racial hypocrisy and prejudice of the campaign season, are the very same who refuse to acknowledge it in their reactions to recent layoffs. It is a lot harder for them to acknowledge racial baggage when it sits on their own stoop. Obama is not their competitor, I am.
Even more funny is the indignation that is expressed by supposed Obama supporters when you call them on their prejudice and lack of understanding. One of my colleagues suggested that restructuring involve the slashing of our institutional diversity offices and personnel. First, she cited the election of Obama as proof that such resources were no longer needed. She then went on to suggest that as a white woman married to a black man, she was perfectly suited to anticipate and address issues of diversity. (In case you are wondering, she has no formal training on these issues.) She was offended that her "expertise" would be questioned. I tried to get her to acknowledge the absurdity of her assertion by suggesting that men have an intrinsic understanding of women's issues simply by being married to women. She failed to understand my point and looked at me like I was the idiot. This woman was part of the lay-offs and is now considering a discrimination lawsuit based on her status as a middle-aged, white woman -- no kidding. I still see her zipping around town with her Obama CHANGE bumper sticker.
Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote in the New Yorker about politicians who are arguing that the Voting Rights Act is no longer relevant given Obama's election. He counters this by pointing out that voting patterns in the Deep South signal that race continues to be a major factor in American political life: "Barack Obama actually did worse among whites than John Kerry in several of the covered jurisdictions, despite the nationwide Democratic swing." We should be careful not to dismiss this data just because it focuses on the South. Those of us who have been "raced" experience everyday instances, difficult to recount and impossible to quantify, that confirm racism as a continuing phenomenon in our society. Conservatives are not alone in their desire to use Obama as an excuse to take racism out of the national dialogue. Joining them are some so-called "progressives" who are all too willing to use their Obama button as a way out of confronting their own demons.
So what does Obama in the White House have to do with "Madea Goes to Jail" being the #1 movie in America for seven weeks? Well, I began thinking about this question when I realized that being #1 for seven weeks means that Negroes are not alone in flocking to view a tired stereotype play itself out on screen. When I saw it showing at the local theatre in a town where the number of black people amounts to less than one percent of the total population, I really began to wonder. Why is Madea so popular at a time in our history when you would think that such a character would be passé?
It wasn't until I was approached for the third or fourth time by white co-workers praising Madea that I realized why he/she is so popular. Madea evokes a time when Negroes were non-threatening, when their only legitimate roles were to serve and to entertain. With the fate of our nation in the hands of a black man, it would make sense for Americans -- still immature in their racial understanding -- to cling to such stereotypes like a baby clings to a pacifier. And, in my role as an African-American woman who is perceived to have unjustly survived a major layoff, I can't help but to think that my co-workers' praise for Madea signals their desire that I conform to what he/she represents. Again, the irony is that these are people who are nearly Obamaniacs. At the same time, are they also people who are uncomfortable with the thought of losing white privilege?
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Watchmen has a Dark, Intense, Brooding Soul, But I don't Know if It has a Beating Heart
We all have rules for entrance into the party, a magical password that signals, "I belong."
For students of film, it is having watched Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. For students of modern literature, it is having read Ulysses. For philosophers (pretend or otherwise) it is having read Nietzsche, Kant, or Hegel--in German. For East Coast hip hop fans, it was knowing every line and verse of all the Notorious BIG songs ever released by DJ Mister Cee.
And if we don't possess this knowledge, we know how to pretend that we do. Moreover, we are skilled at lording the truth of that lie over all who would dare to enter "our" world. For comic book geeks, Watchmen is a password for entrance into the sacred tribe.
My confession, I have lived a lie of sorts. I have never read Watchmen. Thus, I come to Watchmen with relatively virgin eyes.
With that confession now made, while I cannot assess Watchmen by a standard of measurement relative to the original text, I can, with great confidence, make the claim that Watchmen is an amazing achievement. It is "special"...and I rarely give such an accolade.
For the uninitiated, Watchmen posits a world where super-heroes are not the stuff of fantasy or fiction. They are normal, typical, and as flawed as the public they ostensibly protect. This is an alternate reality where Nixon is still president in the 1980s and the Russian-U.S. rivalry threatens humanity with imminent destruction. Domestically, the American government passes a series of laws banning costumed heroes because they are threats to public order. It is a dystopian world that is creator Alan Moore's critique of the celebratory, juvenile, unreflective and jingoistic conventions of superhero comic books as a genre, as well as Reagan and Thatcher's neo-liberal political order. In total, Watchmen set the standard for "dark" or "adult" works in the medium. And so long is its shadow, that Watchmen made possible such films as the Dark Knight, where now the mass public finally accepts, some 23 years after Moore's work was originally published, that comic books (and their adaptations for the screen) are "serious" works.
The world of Watchmen, and the world of our present, are both suffering from an existential dilemma, a deep crisis of being. It is this shared experience that explains the resonance of the film. While some would suggest that Watchmen is dated Cold War era fare, they miss the central point of the text--that a crisis of meaning and values lies at the heart of our late 20th century (post-modern) project.
In parallel, a crisis in meaning and a lack of faith lies at the heart of Watchmen. In much the same way that capitalism is in crisis because the public has lost faith in the invisible hand of the market, Watchmen depicts a world where nothing really matters. During the Cold War, it was looming destruction through nuclear cataclysm that gave our collective experience a pause and emptiness. At present, it is an imminent Depression and the evaporation of trillions of dollars of wealth where all that worth and value has been exposed as so much mist and illusion.
The uncertainty of our world is revealed through the characters of Watchmen. The public has no use for super-heroes as they are reminders of their own frailty and pathetic normalcy. The superheroes themselves are Gods among men, but they too are imperfect. They are prone to the same moral weakness, desires for the flesh, the arrogance of egomania, and narcissism as any "normal" man. The one "hero" in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan, is literally a super man, the one figure who comes closest to possessing God-like powers. But, he rejects the title of god and doubts the very existence of a master creator. From the perspective of Dr. Manhattan, a character laden with symbolism, even time is flexible and malleable. In the post-Newtonian world, the age of Einstein's Theory(ies) of Relativity, time, the one constant that ostensibly binds us all together, is itself unmoored. This change is so profound that even time itself, what was once a universal constant, is reduced to being but one variable in a far more complex equation.
As Dr. Manhattan observes, what are we to do with a world where there is a master clock but no master clockmaker, a Deism without the initial mover? How depressing is this thought? Not surprisingly, the Comedian and Rorschach, the only two characters with the insight and vision to see this existential absurdity, are depicted as psychotic and unbalanced. In this skewed world, it is through madness that one achieves sanity and clarity of mind.
Standing alone, the character Ozymandias imagines himself to be a god. But, Ozymandias is utterly amoral and irresponsible in how he uses the god like powers that he has achieved through technology. Ozymandias is also a true pretender. Thus, he fails because of a lack of maturity and moral vision, traits that are demanded by godly power.
In total, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero. However, "anti hero" in this usage is not the same as anti-hero. Here, it is not the anti-hero--the badman, Clint Eastwood's "the Man with No Name"--a figure who is amoral, but who we idolize nonetheless. Instead, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero in the sense that heroes do not exist.
Quite simply, there are no heroes in this world because the public does not deserve them, and Watchmen cannot be heroes because they are undeserving of the adoration.
Watchmen is also a deep reflection on the sexual themes that are omnipresent in superhero comic books (e.g. Wonder Woman's lesbian sensibilities and appeal to kink; the thin homosexual subtext between Batman and Robin):
In the shadow of the Cold War--what itself was in many ways a phallocentric rivalry over whose "missile" or "bomb" was bigger--the costumed superhero speaks to our sexual impulses and anxieties. For example, be it how the Nite Owl dreams of having sex with Silk Spectre 2 where at the point of climax a nuclear bomb detonates in the background; the playful allusion to a pathetic, masochistic "villain" who liked to be physically abused by Watchmen (until Rorschach kills him); the Comedian's rape of Silk Spectre 1; or the Nite Owl's impotence and how it was replaced by male libido, strength, and ecstasy once he donned his costume for a night of adventure, there is a close link between violence and sexual release in Watchmen.
The costume allows us to hide ourselves and to become someone else. This second skin reveals the impulses and desires that are normally hidden from public view. Alternatively, for the superhero, this denial of one's true self can tragically lead to the depressingly routine boredom of (what could otherwise be an extraordinary) life lived in plain sight:
This is one of Alan Moore's central critiques of the West's abundance, commercialism, and excess: What of a world where the extraordinary is ordinary? Where the magical is common? Where the super and the miraculous are typical? Would you want to live in this world?
Because it is so dense thematically, Watchmen can be viewed from either the foreground or the background. By this, I mean one can "simply" watch the movie and have a very satisfying experience. But, Watchmen can also be viewed more deeply, where the audience looks to what is occurring in the depth of the screen as being primary, rather than secondary, to the film--the details in the frame, the signals and cues in the background, what is written on the numerous billboards that are generously spread throughout the city (a hint: look for multiple references to the company Pyramid Deliveries), the happenings on the periphery of a scene, or the music playing in the background. In watching the movie multiple times one gains an appreciation for how layered this film actually is, and why Watchmen transcends being merely a "movie" and becomes something far grander.
Ironically, Watchmen's depth is the foci for one of my few criticisms of the film.
There are moments in the movie's score that are directly borrowed from the seminal, dystopian film, Blade Runner. While watching Watchmen, and hearing the hauntingly melodic notes of Blade Runner, I was reminded that a film can be dark, and at times even hopeless, yet still have a beating, passionate heart:
Watchmen contains a second moment that also speaks to this sentiment. During the concluding scenes of the film, Ozymandias is surrounded by a wall of televisions, on one of which, the film Mad Max: the Road Warrior is playing. Like Batman: the Dark Knight, the Road Warrior is a reminder that a film can be dark, even sad and brooding, and still have a heart.
By comparison, Watchmen is a cold movie that is deeply soulful, but one that ultimately lacks a heart.
Watchmen is a masterful accomplishment. Zack Snyder has created an amazing work of transposition. Some would say that he has simply copied a masterpiece--and thus dismiss Snyder as a filmmaker who is incapable of originality. As a rebuttal, I would argue that sometimes transposition is a more difficult task because one has to retain the essence of a thing, while making careful choices about what to change or excise. It is in this act of transposition, and how successfully Snyder has done so, that makes Watchmen a near-masterpiece of a movie.
Coming full circle, a question still remains: how many children of the 1970s and 1980s who dreamed of what a Watchmen film could be are going to be disappointed? Can it win a duel with their imagined memories and fanciful expectations?
I don't know if it can, but I certainly hope that it will.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Lord, What Shall We do with the White Men?...They do So Seem to be in Need of Help--10 People Murdered as Gunman in Alabama Goes on Killing Spree
Do I have to keep saying it? Lord, some people really do need help. Thought exercise--again--make the story about someone other than a "good old boy." How about making him someone black, brown, red, yellow, or Other?
The difference in reaction by the public would be predictable. But, would the difference in reaction be noteworthy and important? Absolutely.
Funny, how some try to salvage crazy, murderous, monsters as being "good folk" somehow gone wrong. Of course, some folks do in fact try to make excuses for the black and brown ign'ts, but as I tell my students, the great privilege of whiteness (as opposed to white privilege) is anonymity and individuality. Thus, there will be no great effort to link Michael McLendon's actions to those of White men, more generally. There will be no moral panic. There will be no outcry for a national conversation about why White men go crazy and shoot up their workplaces, their schools, or become serial killers. White men will not have to worry about being racially profiled or harassed by the police because of McLendon's actions, nor will a White man be shot because someone was "traumatized" or "made nervous" about White men writ large because of this one man's cruel deeds.
Nah, those are just crazy individuals--White privilege wins again.
When I read stories like this, or about those 2 school teachers who were giving the same student a "reduced price lunch," (like the euphemism?) I really begin to feel that the next installment in our White in America: the Never to be Made Documentary is increasingly imminent in its necessity.
Till next time...and there surely will be one.
Monday, March 9, 2009
College, End of Quarter/Semester Evaluation Season Potpourri--Welcome to a World where Feelings Trump Empiricism, Critical Thinking, and Fact Finding
I am working on (what I think is shaping up to be) a "classic" ghetto nerds review of the Watchmen.
Until then, I have been sitting on these links about the state of higher education, undergraduate teaching, and the depressing state of the academic job market. If anyone wants to commiserate, by all means chime in. We haven't directly broached these topics before on the site, but they seemed timely given some of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues these last few days.
My personal entry point into this conversation--or the straw that broke the camel's back--has been the following situation: have you ever had a student who is utterly impervious to critical engagement? In fact, so difficult that they make you--and all the other students around them--feel like you, the professor/teacher are in fact the crazy one? That is so incapable of critical or reflective thinking, all you can do is look at your watch to pass the time while they struggle to give voice to their muddled thoughts?
For those of us who teach classes that are rooted in issues of identity (sexuality; race; gender; class...) this can be even more vexing and challenging as some students are looking for self-validation and therapy through their coursework, when you the teacher are not equipped to, nor will allow, class to become an "I feel X so it must be true" party.
Don't be mistaken, I have some really good students, students that really want to grapple with and think about these difficult issues. But, the others are wearing a brother out.
Final thought, for those of you in the academy, as a respectable negro I am still taken aback when it seems that the students most resistant to critical engagement, especially on matters of race and racial inequality, are students of color--black students in particular. There I said it. And it felt good.
Am I just having a respectable negro moment of exhaustion? Or is there something to my instinct that this generation of young "race men and race women" do not see their education as a political act? Thus, not having a sense of being in "the struggle?" By extension, these young black and brown students do not have a sense of obligation to, nor are they happy to see someone who looks like them (and is invested in their success) in front of the seminar room?
Maybe I am getting old, but I was grateful for my professors who really demanded the best out of me and held me to a higher standard.
They say the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis. Could it be that this generation of coddled, helicopter parented, "I'm unique and special," undergraduates are impervious to critical thinking?
To the articles--
1. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Horowitz at Emory
David Horowitz gave a speech at Emory this week, and he lived up to the advance billing posted here. It was a provocative, in-your-face lecture, and he railed against Islamic radicalism, Jimmy Carter, liberal professors, and Arab anti-Semitism.
There were no disruptions this time, no protests. But the evening turned out to be an utter disappointment. While Horowitz was pointed and passionate, the audience response was feeble and flat. Nearly every questioner opposed the speaker, but their opposition came down to one repeated phrase: “I’m offended.” They felt that Horowitz insulted their religion, their politics, their ethnicity, and they told him so — earnestly and courageously.
But they didn’t say much more...the article continues here.
Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.
“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”
He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.
“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”
3. You all know my feelings on this one. Also from the NY Times:
Chris Pieper began looking for an academic job in sociology about six months ago, sending off about two dozen application packets. The results so far? Two telephone interviews, and no employment offers.
“About half of all the rejection letters I’ve received mentioned the poor economy as contributing to their decision,” said Mr. Pieper, 34, who is getting his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin. “Some simply canceled the search because they found the funding for the position didn’t come through. Others changed their tenure-track jobs to adjunct or instructor positions.”
“Many of the universities I applied to received more than 300 applications,” he added.
Mr. Pieper is not alone. Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Association’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year...
The piece continues here.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
It's Spreading Like a Disease: Sexxed Up White Female Teachers Again Caught Having Sex With Young Male Students
Where were teachers like this when I was in school? And this young stud must have some really good game--or some other special gift--to be able to have his way with two teachers, in the same school, at the same time.
Once more, we have a case of two desperate housewives aka public school teachers, reaching out to the young studs in their lives. No, not the mechanic or the cable guy--rather, the junior high school students who are sitting in their classes.
But lest I complain too much, I must concede that school must have really been in session during those late afternoon and early morning tutorials (insert self-congratulatory moment: sometimes I do so impress myself with my oh so easy turns of phrase).
As I said in my lampooning of CNN's Black in America series, imagine if black or hispanic teachers were featured at least once monthly on the evening news for giving some special "counseling" to the students in their care? Me thinks the public reaction would be quite different.
What drives white female teachers to drink so freely from these (too) youthful waters? Are they succubuses? Do these teachers find sustenance in the life force that is generated by the tumultuous, hormonally upset, Pon'Farr afflicted, always aroused state of being common to young boys between the ages of 12 to 17?
And I must ask: what is the romance and foreplay like? Do they pretend to be teacher and student? Is the latter "naughty" and in need of discipline, while the former is excited and all too ready to give it? Or instead, do the older woman and teenage boy pretend that they are married to one another, and after a fight over bills or the kids, the two find a way to reconcile so that they can enjoy 3 minutes of semi-monthly, boring, tedium filled, monotonous coitus?
The story follows:
The Salt Lake Tribune
Two Bountiful Junior High School teachers are accused of sexually assaulting the same 13-year-old student, after their separate relationships with him spiraled from personal conversations to the exchange of sexual text messages and phone sex, authorities said.
On Friday, the Davis County Attorney's Office filed first-degree felony charges of rape and sodomy on a child against Linda R. Nef, 46, and Valynne Bowers, 39.
Nef, a Utah studies teacher and cheerleading adviser, and Bowers, who teaches math, each confessed to having sex with the student, said Bountiful Police Lt. Randy Pickett. Until recently, the two teachers did not know about each other's relationship with the same boy, Pickett said.
The charges were filed after Nef arranged a meeting with police on Thursday and admitted having sex with the boy for more than a year, Pickett said. Their sexual relationship allegedly began in October 2007 and lasted until December 2008, he said.
Nef was booked into the Davis County Jail on Friday afternoon and has her first court appearance scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 27.
Bowers also was arrested and booked into the jail on Friday, Pickett said. She later appeared in court, where she waived her right to a preliminary hearing and was ordered to stand trial. A felony arraignment in her case is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 16.
Nef, who began her career with the Davis County School District in 2004 as a physical education teacher at Taylor Elementary School, resigned from her post at the junior high on Monday, said school district spokesman Chris Williams.
Bowers was placed on administrative leave while district officials conduct their own investigation. Bowers has taught in the district since 1996 and was an elementary school teacher for nine years before she transferred to Bountiful Junior High in 2006, Williams said.
"So far, there is nothing to indicate that there are any other students involved, or any other faculty or employees involved," Pickett said.
In separate conversations, the boy and the two teachers began discussing personal problems, Pickett said. That led to text messages, including ones involving sexual matters, then phone sex and the alleged sexual assaults, Pickett said.
The investigation so far indicates none of the alleged sex acts occurred at the school, Pickett said. Instead, the teachers allegedly went with the student to homes, parking lots or parks in Bountiful, Woods Cross, Farmington and Kaysville.
Williams said parents picking up their children from the school Friday expressed disbelief and shock. Jenifer Wright, whose eighth-grade daughter attends the school, said the news alarmed her.
"It makes me very worried. I'm very protective about my children," she said.
Holly Ruhr, whose seventh-grade daughter attends the school, said she is not worried by the charges because she has been "impressed in every way" by Bountiful Junior High.
"My daughter is thrilled to go to class every day," she said. "This is just a case of one or two teachers. Not a bad school."
Another parent struggled to believe the allegations, defending Bowers as a great teacher.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
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I had a vision, a shimmering image which came to me in the twilight of my waking hours. As Saint James Brown departed us, he sent a messenger. I did not know HIS name, but his energy was powerful--yet it possessed a great sadness. HE, the great White ambassador, spoke to me and the Earth shook. This messenger sent by Saint James communicated in the most clear and melodic voice: What of your White allies? What of the White masses? We too have great guilt...especially the most "liberal" and "progressive" of us. You, Chauncey, must build us a temple, a place where we can confess our guilt and shame. I looked to Brother James and he said go forth and help our White allies, for it is the special burden We Respectable Negroes must at times suffer as an act of love.
I awoke. I went to class and encountered a young white student who was emphatically recounting the events of the previous weekend to his friend. Curious, I listened. It seems that this young, naive, white soul had loaned his cell phone to a stranger in need. This stranger was black. They were on "the wrong side of town." Our naive white liberal did not want to "prejudge" this "homeless" and "rough" looking black man. "That would be wrong," he told his sympathetic friend. The black stranger implored to our white liberal student of kind comportment that he needed to "borrow" the phone, in order to call some friends so that he could find shelter for the evening.
As I heard this story, I shook my head--we respectable negroes all know how this story ends.
In great shock and pain our young white friend explained how the black lumpen walked off with his cell phone. Our young white liberal ran after the brigand. The black tough then told our progressive young friend, that "the phone is mine." Our noble youth further protested at which point the black ign't threatened to shoot him. So sad, so very sad.
Our pink cheeked, ivory hued protagonist shrugged his shoulders and told his friend, "I didn't want to fight him or complain because given that I am white in a black neighborhood somehow it would be my fault if something went wrong."
Come one, come all, be you either anonymous White folk or our white allies. Unburden yourselves, share your pain.
Do you pretend to like rap music because you don't want to be perceived as "racist?" All the while hating it?
Do you pretend to like "ethnic food" because you want to look tolerant, but you really can't stomach it?"
Do you not lock your doors in high crime areas as a "progressive" act against racism because the 'hood happens to be predominantly black and brown?
Did you pretend to support Barack Obama when in fact you actually find his politics deeply troubling, yet, you wanted to do the "right" thing?
When in line at the ATM do you tell yourself that it is wrong to be scared when the hard looking brother, with the prison muscles and tattoos, who is also wearing a hoodie with a scarf wrapped around his face, is standing behind you at 3am?
Come to us, one an all...share your secret White liberal shames--those hidden thoughts--for you will find salvation here.
And let it never be said that We Respectable Negroes are guilty of reverse discrimination! As we gave gifts to the parishioners of the Church of James Brown, we shall give the best 2 confessionals in the Church of White Liberal Guilt a free copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates's great book, The Beautiful Struggle, courtesy of Spiegel & Grau publishers. Do you have the courage to lay bare your souls?
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Now this is some heroic, respectable negro behavior. We salute you!
Response to terrorist attack makes bus driver a heroLAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- His job was to drive the bus. But Meher Mohammad Khalil is now being hailed as a lifesaver.
When gunmen jumped out of bushes and began spraying bullets at the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team Tuesday, Khalil quickly sized up his options and got everyone to safety.
"First I thought there were some firecrackers going off. Then, when I saw the elite force cars in front of me taking fire, I immediately lost my voice," Khalil told CNN on Wednesday.
"At that time, the other elite car that was with us gave me cover, and then, when I saw he was giving me cover, my courage and my patience returned.
"I decided to take the vehicle from there, and one way or another, even if I had to drive over someone, I would take this bus and escape."
Khalil returned to the scene of the attack in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday to honor those who were killed and to place flowers in their memory.
One of the dead was Zafar Khan, a friend and fellow bus driver who had been in a vehicle behind Khalil.
"My eyes filled with tears that these were people that I was eating with and who died in doing their duty."
Khalil had been part of a convoy heading to Gaddafi Stadium, where the Sri Lankan cricket team was to continue a match against Pakistan.
Six police officers were killed, in addition to Khalil's friend Khan who was driving a bus with the match umpires. See where the attack happened »
The Sri Lankan cricketers praised Khalil's quick thinking and action, saying he saved their lives. Six team members were injured by broken glass and shrapnel.
Team captain Mahela Jayawardene wrote on his Web site of Khalil: "He probably saved our lives, showing remarkable bravery in the face of direct gunfire to keep the bus moving."
Crowds mobbed Khalil as he paid his respects at the place where his life changed in an instant.
"He is a hero, a real hero, a real man of the people," a man in the crowd said.
Private donors in Lahore have rewarded Khalil with 300,000 rupees (more than $3,000) -- a small fortune for a Pakistani bus driver.
Today, Khalil says all he can feel is pain of the loss of life. And he called on the attackers to recognize that their victims are humans just like them, with mothers and sisters.
"For God's sake, please stop this terrorism and let this nation breathe a sigh of relief," he said.
CNN's Zein Basravi contributed to this report.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: Dr. Martin Luther King Didn't Die for You to Let Your Pants Sag! or How Will Barack Obama Fix this Problem?
This video is priceless. We are going to do an expose on the politics of pants saggin' and our Bureau of Ign't Affairs, but this video is so great that it has to be posted and shared all around these Internets.
Some choice quotes:
@ 5:22--God, underwear, and the family:
I think it is disrespectful first of all to God and then their parents…Pants weren’t designed like that. They need to start honoring the Father in heaven, and then their parents, and then they will honor themselves…I don’t think that is a way of honoring…
@5:43--You have to give points for linking Brother Martin with the crisis of pants sagging among the ign't youth:
Hi, I am brother Malcolm and my opinion based on the law in reference to the young men that are wearing saggy pants and baggin pants I think it really is a negative attitude that is sent to the children. I have young men coming up, and I am a father, and I think all young men ought to have the potential to be as much as they can, and a gentlemen should not be walking around the neighborhood with his behind out, showing his underwear. What difference does it make what color underwear you have on? You know, we ought to be like Martin Luther King, we ought to be judged by the content of our character not the color of our skin nor the color of our behinds…
@ 7:25--Poetry in motion:
A real man do not want no one to see his underwear but a woman...
My respectable negroes and white allies, how do you manage to negotiate the plague of saggin' pants in your neighborhood?
We are happy to say that the membership of the Church of James Brown has increased thirty-fold over the course of our revival. Respectable Negroes from far and wide have marched down the aisle to drop to their knees and confess their sins at our black velvet altar of Negritude. Can I hear an Amen?
In a reversal of the long-standing, Negro church practice of soliciting offerings for a never-to-be-built building fund or for a Cadillac upgrade, we deacons have decided instead to make offerings to our parishioners. Several of you deserve special offerings for the degree of humility and self-reflection expressed in your confessions. In addition to a small token of recognition in the form of a book written by one of our prophets, we will also be sending to you a piece of red polyester taken from the hem of Father Brown's cape along with a small flask of his blessed cold-sweat. Hit meh!
We begin our recognitions with Sister Marci. Sister Marci was the brave soul who was the first to stand up and take those meaningful steps toward the altar. It took a lot of courage to confess her addiction to the dangerous mixture of raw eggs, oil and vinegar. Sister Marci, my brethren, is a Mayo-lover -- pure and simple. Don't be ashamed, Sister Marci. We are all equal before the Permed One!
We recognize Sister VOD for confessing her impatience with sisters who whine about the shortage of marriageable black men. Sister VOD's lack of empathy likely comes from the fact that she looks like one of the Glistening One's background, praise dancers. With her afro-puffs and hot pants, Sister VOD has never experienced a shortage of interested brothers -- marriageable or not, already married or not, on the down-low or not, employed or not, living with their mothers or not... Because of this, we can also understand Sister VOD's lack of sympathy for the "endangered black male." For, they are not endangered in her world.
For his low-down and dirty confession, the Church of James Brown gives the nod to Brother Al from Bay Shore. Brother Al. Brother Al. With tears in his eyes and a lump in his crotch, he confessed his secret shame of wanting to have a threesome with NeNe and Kim from the Real Housewives of Atlanta. It overwhelmed us all when he added the details of jheri curl juice and Jodeci on a cassette tape. Brother Al, we hear your confession and absolve you for your sins. There is not a deacon in this church who doesn't have a hot, ghetto love fantasy buried somewhere deep in his mind. Amen?
Sister Ya-Akua also deserves recognition for his heart-felt confession. She loves ghetto mess as portrayed on shows like Maury Povich and Flavor of Love, but confesses a fear of traveling to the ghetto alone. Sister Ya-Akua is a cultural voyeur. For this, she joins the ranks of Cornell West, Melissa Harris Lacewell, Henry Louis Gates and Mary Patillo McCoy. Sister Ya-Akua, we will absolve you only if you promise to reconcile the contradictions in your values. Go forth and stop eating watermelon and fried chicken in the dark!
For confessing her rage against all things Madea, Sister Natasha is recognized. Her rage has led to visions of Madea in the White House. Calm down, sistuh; otherwise, we'll soon be watching a new series called Natasha in Jail. To other members of our congregation, we ask that you hold Natasha up in your prayers. We also caution you against seeing a Madea movie in a black neighborhood -- Natasha may be in a theatre near you!
Finally, there was one who confessed but wished to remain anonymous. His shame was so deep that he couldn't bear to share his identity with others in the flock. Among other things, Anonymous confessed to hating "grown ass men, over 20 in matching hat, top, pants and shoes," "people wasting money they don't have on rims," "gold /platinum teeth," "weird, unnatural hair colors like blue, pink, and purple," and "Black churches that encourage 'prosperity salvation'." Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, and AMEN! Anonymous, we all break out in a cold-sweat when faced with such abominations. Wherever you are, you are absolved.
Brothers and Sisters, we end this service by encouraging you all to keep love, peace and funk within your hearts. Should you find yourselves burdened with the guilt of not being an authentic Negro, feel free to shift the weight from your shoulders by confessing at the Church of James Brown. A revival will be coming soon to a church near you. For now, may you be blessed with the serenity of knowing that you are not alone in your sinfulness. Good Gawd!