Monday, April 6, 2009

Zora Says: What America Really Wants is a National Mammy

She's statuesque, confident, self-defined, beautiful and black. Pobrecita. What an unfortunate combination of qualities for Michelle Obama to carry, for they seem to stand in the way of the mainstream's ability to feel completely comfortable with her as America's first lady. Folks are still struggling to understand her (and to define her) because she is so unlike any other Black woman on the national and international stage. One "tired" and superficial way of managing this is by focusing on her appearance.

If Michelle were overweight and outwardly insecure about her Negritude (ala Oprah Winfrey), America would likely embrace her more affectionately as our own. She would be heralded as our national Mammy. Yes, she would still get some digs; but the scrutiny of her appearance wouldn't be nearly as great. We've seen mammies before and we are comfortable with them. Instead, we don't quite know what to do with Michelle Obama. The problem is that she does not confirm the WASP woman as an ideal -- neither by fitting into the stereotype of the loud, overweight black woman nor by being the good, middle-class Negress who conforms to the norms of white women.

The issue with Michelle Obama is that she is not only comfortable with her body, but she also seems to like it. Michelle dresses to accentuate a body that she is obviously proud of. Her clothing is cut to show off toned arms, shapely legs and womanly hips. She wears bold colors that complement her dark skin and make her stand out in a crowd. She favors designers who are American but who are not necessarily designing for a white elite. From the beginning, it has been clear that Michelle Obama asks herself two questions when she gets dressed: What do I like? and What looks good on me?

Our first lady doesn't wear dowdy pantsuits to cover her hips or mid-section. She doesn't don black, brown or grey ensembles to facilitate her disappearance into the background. She passes up non-threatening pastels. She doesn't seem to concern herself with what others might be wearing. She seems to give a damn about what others might find proper.

A recent Women's Wear Daily article criticized Michelle Obama for not patronizing the major American designers. The author deemed her unpatriotic: "Save for a recent digression to Michael Kors, Obama continues to show zero interest in the big guns of American fashion, those whose names resonate around the world, and who collectively employ thousands of people." If you consider the style and advertising of the "big guns," it should not be surprising that Obama isn't flocking to them. Designers such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Oscar De La Renta and even Carolina Herrera have centered their aesthetic on a WASP ideal. (The biggest irony has always been that none of those major designers are even remotely Anglo-Saxon or protestant.) Their preferred base of consumers is located within eight or nine blocks on the upper-East side of New York City. Other than stylized conformity, what do they have to offer our first lady?

The truth is that Michelle Obama isn't particularly daring in her fashion choices. If you move past the colors, prints, and independent labels, her clothing is actually conservative. Thus, her preference for J.Crew. The hemlines are low and the cuts are classic. Stylistically, the comparison to Jackie O. is more than fair.

While Michelle Obama clearly owns her own image and makes her own choices (for better or for worse), observers are quick to credit fashionista Ikram Goldman with the first lady's style. Of course, our worldly, educated first lady has no means of knowing on her own about designers like Watanabe, Alaia, Thakoon and Toledo. The thought seems to be that she is, after all, only a black girl from the south-side of Chicago. One writer argues in response to a New York Times blog posting, "It is oddly , and you guys will go up in arms when I say this, as though everyone knows better what this unsophisticated (in the fashion sense of sophistry) woman of color should do and wear. The CFDA and it’s senior members feel it’s their domain to teach Michelle the ropes. You never heard them doing the same with the other non women of color who inhabited the White House. There was a bit of nagging Hillary to clean herself up, but nothing to this degree. It smacks of a very insidious form of racism." Another writes, "This idea that THEY know best and Mrs. O can’t figure this out on her own is silly. The attitude underlying this is a general one about BLACK WOMEN in the fashion industry (note, I didn’t say women of color)."

I have always said that racism is about the power to define and to other. The focus on Michelle Obama's appearance is a last ditch effort on the part of some to assert power over her, to sum up her worthiness on the basis of her looks. It is taboo to openly talk about her race, so they resort to focusing on the loud colors, the "big Butt," the "massive arms," etc. Give it up folks! It's not working. Michelle Obama and millions of other black women around the world could give a damn about what you think. Your norms are not ours. It is your problem if you can't engage us based on what is in our minds rather than what is on our behinds. What is unfortunate is that the more Obama resists the criticism, the greater the efforts will be to tear her down. Her appearance should not be on her list of battles.

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Wrestlemania 25 Reviewed

My criteria for WWE's pay per views is a simple one. Upon reflection, would I have spent X dollars on this event? Almost as always, this year's Wrestlemania delivers. And yes, it was worth almost 60 dollars to see it in high definition glory.

Here are some quick thoughts on the event.

1. CM Punk? No comment. The Money in the Bank Match was a great opener. It had a good workrate among all its participants and it featured some great--if not obligatory--high spots. I do wish Christian had won because he has been great since his arrival from TNA and has gone underappreciated. Second thought: Shelton Benjamin is amazing, if only because his physical gifts are outweighed only by the fact that he is crippled verbally. Third thought: imagine Shelton Benjamin in another era, one with great managers so that they could be his mouthpiece and Benjamin could just go out and work...that would have been awesome. Final thought: Kofi Kingston is so sincere and gifted. He reminds me of an early version of the Rock. In keeping with that parallel, Kofi needs to drop this gimmick and just find himself. Once he does so, Kingston will find greatness.

2. The Diva Battle Royal. For a real battle royal read Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man.

3. Jericho versus the Legends. Ricky the Dragon Steamboat can still go. Jericho is this year's MVP. Unfortunately, Mickey Rourke didn't do the "Ram Jam." All in all, a fun match despite its limitations.

4. Rey Misterio versus JBL. Rey looks like the Goppledy Gooker had a baby with Heath Ledger's version of the Joker. Yuck. SD Jones versus Bundy was the quickest to pinfall match in Wrestlemania History. Thank god, this was a close second. Oh, I guess JBL is going to Smackdown to replace Tazz.

5. Matt Hardy versus Jeff Hardy. Damn. After this match one could reasonably expect Jeff to violate the WWE's "third strike you're out" substance abuse policy. In conclusion, Matt went over Jeff as expected. This is a good move because it gets more mileage out of the feud, and it harkens back to the Owen versus Bret Hart match where the former won over the latter in the first match. But, I am of mixed feelings on these unnecessary high spots--what Jeff did was just crazy and risked ending his career. Again, sometimes too much is just too much.

6. Sean Michaels versus the Undertaker. As predicted, this was the highlight of the evening. Moreover, I pity the participants in the final two matches because while their matches were "good" they were diminished by the clinic put on by Sean and Mark. I will confess, that I need to rewatch this watch a few times to rank it in the annals of WWE history, but at present I feel confident that it is one of the best matches in WWE history. And no, this isn't some recency effect where because it is hours old one exaggerates the wonder that was witnessed in this match. I would also suggest that it would not be an exaggeration to state that Michaels versus Taker may be Frasier versus Ali in its greatness. I offer two thoughts that may be a bit different from what one would expect in the logic behind my assessing how wonderful this match was.

First, a mastery of subtlety distinguishes the good from the great. To that point, watch the facial expressions of Michaels and the Undertaker in this match as they convey volumes--professional wrestling is physical storytelling...epics wrought with emotion and physicality. Both of these workers display this reason for being in abundance.

Second, great matches are easy to call. Consequently, they bring out the best in the commentators. Listen to JR, the King, and Michael Cole on this match. As mediocre as the latter is, he sounds competent calling this match. JR, as the heir to Gordon Solie is truly in his element calling this match. Yes, Taker and Michaels gave all of them something special to call, and they stepped up. But, one final thought. I love a match that is predictable in its finish. I know this is counter-intuitive. Consider nevertheless: what is more satisfying than a story that ends the only way it can (i.e. with the Undertaker winning), but you are transfixed by how it happens? Wrestlemania 25 proved the genius of the convention of inevitability as an indispensable storytelling device.

7. The Hall of Fame Inductees: Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!

8. Big Show versus Cena versus Edge. Big show can't work--this isn't a surprise. Cena sells merchandise so he can't lose. Moreover, Cena has the best entrance of the three competitors so doubly so there is no way he can be defeated. Edge should win, so he can't. Guess what? Cena is drafted to Smackdown next week and Edge and Big Show go to Raw. Reset. By the way, please turn Cena heel...pretty, pretty, pretty, please.

9. HHH versus Randy Orton. This feud has been salvaged from the dustbin of WWE history only because of the sincerity of its participants. Hunter undoubtedly played politics backstage to go over. This is a given. But, the match was well planned and the story worked to a point. Here, we had an unnecessary ending because it betrayed one of the central tensions of the Orton-HHH feud: does Hunter care more about the title or about Stephanie. Apparently, the former matters more than the latter. Yes, this is in keeping with the character, but I have an alternate ending: imagine if instead of Trip's winning, we make the no DQ/countout finish mean something? HHH hovers over Orton with the sledgehammer (a gimmick that I absolutely loathe, and the ref tells him, "if you hit Orton you lose the belt!" HHH looks at the referee and hits Orton anyway, delivering the coup de gras. HHH throws the belt at Orton and says, "here, you can have the belt...until tomorrow night."

Your thoughts? How would you have booked Wrestlemania? And what grade would you have given it?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ghetto Nerds Wrestlemania 25 Countdown: Random Goodness--the Iron Sheik Loses It, Andre the Giant's Penis, the Megapowers, and Austin versus Bret Hart

Five hours to go until Wrestlemania 25. Here is some fun professional wrestling randomness to hold you over until then:

The Iron Sheik goes crazy on Howard Stern:

Jim Ross, Andre the Giant's penis, and 100 dollars?

Hogan versus the Ultimate Warrior--never have two wrestlers with such horrible work rates put on such a great match:

One of my favorite matches of all time--the 2001 TLC match with Edge and Christian versus the Dudley Boys versus Matt and Jeff Hardy:

Just because it's so funny, King Kong Bundy crushing SD Jones:

Austin versus Bret Hart--an instant classic:

Ghetto Nerds Wrestlemania 25 Countdown: Stone Cold Steve Austin's Hall of Fame Speech

Simple. To the point. Tomorrow is Wrestlemania. Stone Cold you are the man! We are ready for the annual spectacle and bacchanal.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ghetto Nerds Wrestlemania 25 Countdown: Legends of Wrestling Roundtable--African Americans in Professional Wrestling

Wrestlemania 25 is tomorrow night. This evening will feature the Hall of Fame Ceremony with the one and only Stone Cold Steve Austin as the featured inductee. On the "undercard" longtime fan favorite, Koko B. Ware will be inducted as well. This is a controversial choice among smart marks because Koko was a novelty act whose career in WWE was rather undistinguished (although he did wrestle for many years in the regional territories prior to arriving in McMahon's company). Of similar controversy, is the induction of legendary wrestling promoter Cowboy Bill Watts--a man noted by many to be "a good old boy," an unrepentant racist. I have heard these stories, but until this interview remained undecided. Based on this interview, my instincts tell me that Cowboy Bill Watts has been unfairly maligned.

Well-timed, the great television series Legends of Wrestling recently had a feature for Black History Monthly called "Soul of Wrestling" that covered just these issues, as well as the experiences of African Americans in professional wrestling, more generally. This is really great stuff:

Teddy Long, the territories, and Ron Simmons becoming the first Black Heavyweight Wrestling Champion:

Who knew that Harley Race wanted Tony Atlas to be champion? And that Olie Anderson was against it because Atlas was a Black man? Or that Dusty Rhodes had such strong feelings about the Nation of Domination?

It is all about the green isn't it? Is it any surprise that Olie Anderson was such a bigot? Most importantly, this clip features Bill Watts on running wrestling events in Texas--and his fear that Whites would riot if African American wrestlers were featured on the card:

The panel reflects on the rise of the Rock:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Random Lunch Reading: The Curious Case of Gay-Porn Star Identical Twins

I came upon this article in Details magazine and just had to share. The picture itself is worth a thousand words:

The Curious Case of Gay-Porn Star Identical Twins
by Richard Rys

The flashbulbs were oddly silent as the four models sat inside a photography studio, waiting for their moment to arrive. Never mind that the studio was in Delaware; this was high fashion meets old money. The models had been carefully selected by casting agents representing the London-based bank Barclays to star in a print campaign pitching the Barclays-branded Visa and MasterCard to a prospective corporate client—Ralph Lauren. For the models, it was a chance to be seen by the Ralph Lauren tastemakers, perhaps even the patriarch himself, a possible stepping-stone to becoming a face of the prestigious fashion company. Yet well past the scheduled start time, Barclays' creative director was calling a casting agent in a panic. "Keyon isn't here!"

Keyontyli Goffney is striking in a way that makes both women and men take notice—he's black with a trace of Thai, and has brown eyes, angular cheekbones, and a lean, chiseled body. At 26, he had the portfolio of an up-and-comer, including a Nike ad. He had also done extra work on television: as a lifeguard in a Lifetime miniseries starring Rob Lowe, on Law & Order, and as a dancer next to Tom Brady in a Saturday Night Live sketch. But Keyon wasn't content to be a backdrop for Gisele's quarterback husband; he wanted to be the next Tyson Beckford, to achieve his own stardom by doing Polo ads. The Barclays campaign could be that elusive big break, and he was missing.

The casting agent phoned Keyon's talent rep, who was stunned to hear her client was a no-show. Soft-spoken and polite, he was generally punctual. The rep tried every number she had for him and got only voice mail. Days passed before Keyon finally called to apologize. His grandmother had fallen ill, he said, and he had to take care of her. It was hard to argue with putting family first, but was there really no one else who could tend to his grandmother so he didn't miss the biggest job of his career?

...the story continues here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Bruno Trailer is Finally Here!! or Thank God Sacha Baron Cohen Didn't Finish his Phd on Blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement

Who says you can't be ABD (for those not in the misery clique, that is the abbreviation assigned to folks who haven't finished their dissertations) and still be fabulous...and a genius.

How can you not laugh at Bruno collecting his (presumed, as it seems an obvious dig at Madonna) African adopted child at the airport baggage check? And of course said child would have to have an "African" name like "OJ."

Sacha you be the man.

A bonus: some classic Borat clips:

Late to the Party Part 1: Racism While Shopping in an Upscale Store or My Dear Crying, Young, Well-Intentioned, White Liberal, There is No Santa Claus

Seeing that I was traveling last week, I was late to the party on the ABC News series, "What Would You Do?" and its feature, "Shopping while Black."

These types of exposes are underwhelming to me (you didn't know that folks are conflict averse--except perhaps the Brits in this video--and will choose to ignore racism rather than confront it?). Racism is not new. Racism is not going away any time soon. And we certainly are not living in a post-racial moment (as some on both the Left and the Right--for very different reasons--would like us to believe).

Sure, I could entertain you with my stories of being followed by clerks and salespeople around department stores. I could get a rise by conveying my experiences of being seated by the bathroom, also known as the black and brown section, in high-end restaurants--and the consternation when I complain and demand to be moved. Or, I could raise an eyebrow with my story of how I protested to the management of Urban Outfitters when I was singled out by a clerk who demanded my identification before allowing me to use my debit card to make a 2o dollar purchase.

Well, this latter story is actually worth retelling because when I asked said clerk why would they want my ID for such a small purchase (and not coincidentally why they did not ask for identification from the white customers in line ahead of me) she replied "for your protection sir, of course." I smiled and replied, "well, if I was going to use a stolen credit card and risk going to jail, why wouldn't I spend 100 or a 1,000 dollars as opposed to 20 dollars on a cheap throw for my couch?" Predictable response: "uhh, hmm, I am not sure." Her coworker's response: "This is odd, I never saw her ask anyone else for ID before." My response: "exactly."

I could cap it off with a story about being stopped for driving while black, or how my cousin, a very prominent DC area politician and attorney, was stopped and threatened with a loaded shotgun by a state trooper on the beltway because his car was "too expensive, and he had to be a drug dealer." Needless to say, being a respectable negro is hard work and all this stress can be detrimental to one's health. Ultimately, to me at least, these stories are anti-climactic, blah, tiresome, and oh so 'meh.

In my opinion, what is actually noteworthy and striking about the ABC News vignette is how the young white woman begins to cry when she witnesses the racist treatment of the black female shopper/victim. This is the real power of the "Shopping While Black" featurette. Here, the truth is not in the great reveal that black and brown folks are racially profiled. Rather, for those raised to believe in post-racial and colorblind politics, the cult that is multicultural America (where race no longer matters because hip hop is now "youth culture" and White kids can say "nigga" or that United Colors of Benetton ushered in the "cool" that is the marketing and corporatization of racial diversity in the 1990s), to actually see the ugliness of white supremacy is utterly shocking and painful. I smirk at these moments because in a perfect world someone would shake this young woman out of her Utopian, racially tinged halcyon dream and ask her, "how would you feel if you had to deal with this racist garbage--passive, secret, and often active, day in and day out?" I wonder what she would actually say? Would she deny this impulse as one born of paranoia and hypersensitivity, or would she simply stand mute?

Funny, in this instance our oh so upset young female protagonist somehow manages to become the "victim." White privilege wins again, no?

In short, her crying reminds me of the moment when one realizes that Santa Claus is not real, or that their parents still have sex, or even worse, that a teenage boy will tell any half-truth, at any time, to sleep with any given young woman (I call this one, the "I love you" lie or the "You told me you loved me!" tale).

My disgust is not limited to this crying, blubbering, sad, young woman as this is not a narrative only about race and white racial privilege per se. It is a broader critique. In this woman's histrionics I can imagine that many young people of color would act in much the same way. Why? because their parents have protected and sheltered them from the realities of a racialized world. This sickness is often more endemic among those folks of color where class privilege has allowed them to insulate (or is that protect?) their children from the ugliness that is racism. For this reason, I am an advocate of telling your children the truth, the whole truth, because the sacred burden of all parents is to equip their progeny with the necessary skills to successfully navigate a complex, and often unfair, world.

Am I cruel because one of my favorite moments is telling the most bourgeois and sheltered students born of the colored class about either the bloody summer of 1919 or the Tulsa Race Riots where material prosperity was no protection against White terror? Where Black success attracted White violence? Am I foul for smiling at these students in their moment of cognitive dissonance when the ugly truth, often denied or conveniently ignored, comes rushing towards them like a locomotive?

Moreover, the fact that is racial life in America is why I raise an eyebrow at those multiculturals, biracials, and others who want to raise their children to "decide their own race" because this "noble" choice leaves these young people without the necessary protective screen that comes with an understanding of the particular challenges that come with living life in a raced body.

Maybe I am mean. Or perhaps, I am cruel. But, I would like to believe that I am just committed to the truth.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Grim Sleeper: Los Angeles Serial Killer Targets Black Women...Life is Stranger than Fiction

The CNN feature on the Los Angeles based serial killer known as "the Grim Sleeper" is frightening on any number of levels. First, that this story has gone under reported. Second, that there are at least 20 to 100 serial killers operating in the United States at any given moment. Third, that one of these human predators may be living right next door.

This is some Tales from the 'Hood madness:

When I came upon this feature I immediately thought of Dr. Park Dietz. He is a noted forensic psychologist and one of the world's foremost authorities on serial killers. Dietz is a master of his craft: he becomes a confidante to the serial killers, earns their trust, and these serial killers in turn give him "privileged" insight into their twisted psyches.

Be afraid, very afraid...and be forearmed with knowledge:

Dietz with Jeffrey Dahmer--

The hitman, Richard Kuklinski also known as "The Iceman"--

Andrei Chikatilo, "the Butcher"--

How killers rationalize their deeds--

Now, I am going to lock my doors and stay inside the rest of the day.

Chauncey DeVega says: Jack Johnson, A Badman, A Respectable Negro, and Hopefully to be Pardoned in 2009

This must be an April Fool's Day joke. Who would have thought that old Mr. Morton, aka John McCain, would want to pardon one of my personal heroes?

Jack Johnson, one of the greatest boxers to ever live.

Jack Johnson, a pugilist of great skill who delighted in whooping White folks behinds in the squared circle--in an era when White supremacy was the law of the land.

Jack Johnson, whose fists laid blows for justice.

Jack Johnson, a man who wouldn't play the Tom or the Coon or defer to any man.

Jack Johnson, who cavorted with any woman he chose, when he wanted, and how he wanted to.

Jack Johnson, who stuffed his trunks with socks and gauze in order to intimidate his White opponents by performing his own version of impenetrable negritude, the hoodlum, the big black buck who haunted the dreams of both polite and less than respectable white society alike.

Jack Johnson was a respectable negro.

Jack Johnson was also a badman.

Jack Johnson is one of my, and our, heroes.

The story follows:

Pardon sought for first black heavyweight champ

WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain wants a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, who became the nation's first black heavyweight boxing champion 100 years before Barack Obama became its first black president.

McCain feels Johnson was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman — a conviction widely seen as racially motivated.

"I've been a very big fight fan, I was a mediocre boxer myself," McCain, R-Ariz., said in a telephone interview. "I had admired Jack Johnson's prowess in the ring. And the more I found out about him, the more I thought a grave injustice was done."

On Wednesday, McCain will join Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., filmmaker Ken Burns and Johnson's great niece, Linda Haywood, at a Capitol Hill news conference to unveil a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Johnson. Similar legislation offered in 2004 and last year failed to pass both chambers of Congress.

King, a recreational boxer, said a pardon would "remove a cloud that's been over the American sporting scene ever since (Johnson) was convicted on these trumped-up charges."

"I think the moment is now," King said.

Presidential pardons for the dead are rare.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the Army's first black commissioned officer, who was drummed out of the military in 1882 after white officers accused him of embezzling $3,800 in commissary funds. Last year, President George W. Bush pardoned Charles Winters, who was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act when he conspired in 1948 to export aircraft to a foreign country in aid of Israel.

The Justice Department and the White House declined to comment on this latest Johnson pardon effort.

However, the idea has a passionate supporter in McCain, who has repeatedly said he was wrong in 1983 when he voted against a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

"It's just one of those things that you don't want to quit until you see justice," McCain said of Johnson's case. "We won't quit until we win. And I believe that enough members, if you show them the merits of this issues, that we'll get the kind of support we need."

Johnson won the world heavyweight title on Dec. 26, 1908, after police in Australia stopped his 14-round match against the severely battered Canadian world champion, Tommy Burns. That led to a search for a "Great White Hope" who could beat Johnson. Two years later, the American world titleholder Johnson had tried for years to fight, Jim Jeffries, came out of retirement but lost in a match called "The Battle of the Century," resulting in deadly riots.

Johnson lost the heavyweight title to Jess Willard in 1915.

In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which outlawed transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.

Authorities first targeted Johnson's relationship with a white woman who later became his wife, then found another white woman to testify against him. Johnson fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He tried to renew his boxing career after leaving prison, but failed to regain his title. He died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68.

"When we couldn't beat him in the ring, the white power establishment decided to beat him in the courts," Burns told the AP in a telephone interview. Burns' 2005 documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," examined Johnson's case and the sentencing judge's admitted desire to "send a message" to black men about relationships with white women.

Both McCain and King said a pardon, particularly one from Obama, would carry important symbolism.

"It would be indicative of the distance we've come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go," McCain said.

Burns, however, sees a pardon more as "just a question of justice, which is not only blind, but color blind," adding, "And I think it absolutely does not have anything to do with the symbolism of an African-American president pardoning an African-American unjustly accused."

Burns helped form the Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson, which filed a petition with the Justice Department in 2004 that was never acted on. Burns said he spoke about the petition a couple of times with Bush, who as governor of Johnson's home state of Texas proclaimed Johnson's birthday as "Jack Johnson Day" for five straight years.

Bush gave Burns a phone number which led to adviser Karl Rove, Burns said, but Rove told him a pardon "ain't gonna fly."

Rove doesn't recall any such conversation with Burns, his spokeswoman Sheena Tahilramani said, and "if he had been approached, he wouldn't have offered an opinion."

Chauncey DeVega says: Bernard Purdie and Some Class A Drum Work from the New York Times

I love creative genius. I grew up in a house with a musician, and can't help but appreciate a great story in the mainstream press such as the following (and this same musician told me I was pretty good on the Alto sax, but I wasn't great--so I best find another instrument to play. He also gave me half of the 1500 dollars I needed to buy my first two Technics and a to love a dad like that). And most importantly, the first paragraph invites some Youtube, tricknology embracing posting.

From the New York Times:

A Signature Shuffle Enjoys a New Life


For bowlers the ultimate test is the 7-10 split. For card sharks it’s the hot shot cut. For drummers it’s the funky little miracle of syncopation known as the Purdie Shuffle.

You’ve heard Bernard Purdie — better known as Pretty Purdie — perform his creation on Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” from the 1977 album “Aja.” And you’ve heard variations on songs by Led Zeppelin (“Fool in the Rain”), Toto (“Rosanna”) and Death Cab for Cutie (“Grapevine Fires”).

Created with six bass, high-hat and snare tones, the Purdie Shuffle is a groove that seems to spin in concentric circles as it lopes forward. The result is a Tilt-a-Whirl of sound, and if you can listen without shaking your hips, you should probably see a doctor...

the story continues here.


Re: that first paragraph, I could have gone with Mark Roth's 7-10 conversion, but I always preferred John Mazza's:

The Hot Shot Cut (to be honest, before I saw this video, I had no idea what the hell this was):

I was going to put up "the helicopter" from the "Japanese Kamasutra" (definitely NSFW) but I didn't want to get a lecture from my compatriots. In its place, I offer the following routine from Mixmaster Mike that was featured in the documentary Scratch. It isn't too difficult per se, but it is wonderfully perfect:

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The King of Reflects on Women's History Month

Today is the last day of Women's History Month. Accordingly, I wondered aloud this morning, "what are the brothers from saying about our Nubian sisters during this most important of months?" My question is now answered.

Are sisters really hurting this much? I hope not, because that display was just pathetic and histrionic. Nevertheless, how can you not love the narrator's incisive analysis of the dualism (perhaps walking contradiction) that is the strong black woman/black woman in need of a good black man to support her.

Our narrator is in Kool Moe Dee meets BDP era KRS-ONE mode in this clip. Remember black man, don't let them treat you like King Kong! Never, ever, ever...

Get to the foxholes brothers because we are in a war with White feminism--I didn't get the memo, but then again I am not on the mailing list. Question: our "general" has a thing for Queen Latifah does he not? Second question: would Plato and Socrates agree with the king of Third question: just what is so wrong with piss colored hair? Is his objection a function of an aesthetic preference, or has piss colored hair somehow done the mayor of wrong?

Pastor Manning
will forever remain my personal happiness pill. But, I have to admit that the Church for Men Only does bring me great joy.

Who knows, maybe President Obama will appoint the leader of to a position in Health and Human Services? But, if the mayor of takes the job he should tread carefully as not to arouse the ire of our First Lady!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Real Obama Stimulus Package: A Face that Launched a Thousand Ships has Sold Many More Doo Rags, Wave Caps, Cheap T-shirts, and Bad Wigs

I was visiting my old neighborhood last weekend. During that time, I got my hair cut at Obama's barbershop, enjoyed eating some Joy Yee's, and bemoaned how the chess players have overrun the local Border's bookstore. During my journey I stumbled upon the following window display and had to preserve said images for posterity.

I must ask: Where's Waldo? Or more appropriately, how many random and misplaced objects can you find in these two pictures? My personal favorite would have to be either the "tummy belt" or the yellow plastic ghetto crocs. I can also imagine a brother or sister buying the inscents for an evening love session whereupon he/she returns home and announces, "baby, when I light these love sticks I am gonna put the Obama on you!"

It seems that Barack Obama is a cottage industry. Without the aid of taxpayer monies, his image has served as an urban renewal program and stimulus package for corner bodegas, street festivals, and petit entrepreneurs in cities across America. America loves its heroes. America loves to hate its villains. We also love to make a dollar in any way possible.

More Barack Obama Stimulus in Action

What is more disturbing, the pigs sitting next to Obama's picture (perhaps this store owner was bemoaning the pork in the stimulus package? Damn! my wit is so sharp today that I may just cut myself--for those who are counting that is two Oscar Wildelike wordplay moments in one day) or the bright pink wig next to the Obama family portrait?

What is the best or worst use of Obama's image that you have seen? What products should we expect him to "endorse" in the near future? Is this commercialization run amok or just another (positive) example of brothers and sisters getting their hustle on? (well, likely not brothers or sisters, as we know that black Americans own dismally few businesses in their own neighborhoods).

***Since we all have cell phones with cameras, let's indulge our inner photographer. Because so much museum space is dedicated to "high" culture, I think it would be fun to host an online exhibit of the worst, most amusing, and downright ridiculous uses of Obama (and his family's) image to sell wholly unrelated goods and services. To that end: if you are so inclined, please email your photos to us at and we will present them in a post entitled "A Photo Homage to Barack Obama as 21st Century Ambassador and Salesman."***

Bonus number 1: Dr. King, Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Ali would have used Apple computers and not PC's--

Bonus number 2: Never forget that Dr. King died so that you could eat McDonald's and become morbidly obese--

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hip Hop is Officially Dead (Again): The Professional Bowling Tour Discovers the Notorious BIG

Yes, I watch professional bowling. Yes, as folks who have been coming to our site for sometime know, I basically grew up in a bowling alley (another story, for another time).

And yes, I do think that bowling is authentic ghetto nerd behavior.

In watching the pro tour this week, I was totally thrown out of frame (get the pun!) while preparing to watch bowling phenom, Jason Belmonte (the guy who doesn't use his thumb in the bowling bowl, and instead uses a two handed delivery--insert fingers into mouth to induce vomiting...I am a purist, back in my day I was more of a "stranker," I swore by the book Bowling 300, and still consider David Ozio to be the epitome of bowling excellence):

It seems that the PBA is now using the Notorious BIG's song "Juicy" as background music for its televised events. This is just too much for me to bear. Once more I declare that hip hop ("commercial," at least) is officially dead. Also notice the use of the phrase "strong Island" during the telecast. What has happened to our youth I must ask, because to me, time seems to have certainly passed us by.

Nevertheless, Biggie will always be, and thus remain, timeless in his greatness.

Gordon and I have often wondered what hip hop would like in 30 years. I have always joked that it would be a wax museum come to life with Snoop, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye, Jeezy and the like performing at oldies shows, for their aging, still wanna pretend to be thugs for the evening fans whose pants have long since ceased to sag as a signifier of style or youthful rage (now they just sag because folks are just old and don't care anymore). Predictably, their grandchildren will look on with shock and disgust...just as we goof on our parents and grandparents when they go to see the once counter-culture, and now wonderfully passe, icons of their youth. Fate (and time) does indeed have a sense of humor.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Five: Five Great Black Songs Hollywood Ruined

Those who create terrible Hollywood movies, especially bad romantic comedies and family comedies, are an unimaginative lot. Not only do they use the same actors and clichéd plots, they use the same songs in the films and in the trailers. Some of these songs are used ironically; some are used seriously. Some are usedfor montages; some just for trailers. Most of them are stopped by a "needle being dragged off the record" sound.

The songs below are undeniably great, but because I hear them so much in romantic comedy trailers, I associate them with Hollywood dreck and can no longer simply enjoy them the way I would like to. It's really kind of depressing.

1.) “I Feel Good (I Got You)”—James Brown:

2.) “Let’s Get It On”—Marvin Gaye:

3.) “I Want You Back”—Jackson 5:

4.) “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”—Stevie Wonder:

5.) “I Put a Spell on You”—Screamin Jay Hawkins:

Honorable mention:

“Superfreak”—Rick James

“Groove Me”—King Floyd

“Loving You”—Minnie Riperton

Does anyone else have this problem? What black songs has Hollywood ruined for you?

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 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.

Random Questions:

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

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The Battlestar Galactica Finale Countdown

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.

Shelby Steele
John McWhorter
Stanley Crouch
Clarence Thomas
Michael Steele
Armstrong Williams
Alan Keyes

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.