Friday, August 28, 2009

Jayson Blair & the 2 Rules of Judging Black Screw-Ups

Disgraced negro Jayson Blair is in the news again. It seems that the black Leprechaun former New York Times journalist and plagiarist has reinvented himself as a life coach (notice how all the pics on his homepage are of white people). In all seriousness, if Blair is indeed on the path back to respectable negrodom, I have to applaud him.

Reading the many news reports on Blair’s new career made me remember how thoroughly he screwed up his last career. These reports also remind me how mainstream media depict Blair’s blackness as central to his deceit and his shoddy work.

The predictable way in which the Blair case played out in the media gives us an opportunity to illustrate the two broad rules governing how black screw-ups are perceived (and therefore judged) in mainstream American public discourse. These rules also shape how black folks respond to black screw-ups.

A version of the first rule is stated at around the 5 minute mark of this snippet from Chris Rock’s 2004 stand-up special Never Scared:

Rule 1: A black person who screws up is attacked more severely than is a white person who screws up.

In Rock’s corollary, “only the white man can profit from pain.” The words “wrongdoing” and “incompetence” can often replace “pain,” but the point stands. Rule 1 is what responsible black parents instill in their children when they state, “you have to be x times as good as a white person in order to succeed” (whether x is 2 or 5 or 10 depends on the parent, the place, and the year).

In popular discourse, Jayson Blair has become the poster boy for plagiarism. When I see this yoke placed on the lone black writer among the dozens of contemporary mainstream writers busted for plagiarism, my antennae go up (think also of high profile black offenders becoming the poster children for corruption and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system).

The journalistic fraud of former New Republic associate editor Stephen Glass was arguably as impressive as Blair’s; nevertheless, the public was more sympathetic to Glass’ fictionalized (auto)biographical novel The Fabulist as well as the movie it spawned, Shattered Glass than they were to Blair’s opportunistic literary cash grab, Burning Down My Master’s House. Glass certainly received his fair share of loathing, but, as evidenced by the sneering undertones pervading the reports of Blair’s new career, there is a little something extra in the condemnation of Blair.

Those who point out Rule 1 are often accused of “playing the race card,” which is supposed to imply a refusal to hold black people personally accountable for their self-inflicted woes. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Rule 2: The misdeeds of any black screw-up are attributed not just to that lone screw-up, but to black people as a whole.

Rule 2 is significantly more pernicious than the first. One of the biggest advantages of being white is having the luxury of being treated as an individual—for people who aren’t white, the sins of any become the sins of all, while the good deeds of any are exceptional and are used to denounce the masses (“you’re one of the good ones;” “why can’t the rest of you be like so-and-so?”).

Mainstream media framing the Blair affair as a black mark against affirmative action is an example of Rule 2 in action. This framing is hardly surprising coming from conservative opponents of affirmative action, but the affirmative action meme has also featured heavily in liberals’ accounts of the scandal, though sometimes merely as a foil. Such an interpretation calls into question the qualifications and character of all people of color and, most insidiously, undermines formal attempts to address systemic exclusion.

Rule 2 can also bolster the notion that the failures of a black screw-up can be attributed to some inherently flawed aspect of black culture (e.g. homophobia, misogyny, violence, anti-intellectualism).

Contrary to popular opinion, black people are the harshest critics of black screw-ups. Even though black people know the rules are unfair, the attitude seems to be that if you’re too reckless or stupid to ignore the rules, you get what you deserve. It should be noted that this attitude is not borne of defeatism or internalized self-hatred, but of individual and collective self interest: black screw-ups make us all look bad.

There is often black pushback against both rules, however. Black people may relent in their criticism of a black screw-up when it appears that whites are giving the knife in the back of that black screw-up an extra twist. Since explicit, anti-black animus has been driven from public discourse, these impulses must be either coded or channeled into publicly acceptable outlets. Black people can usually sense when white folks are criticizing a black screw-up in order to vent their anger toward black people in general.

I am willing to forgive Blair’s past screw-ups, and I wish him much success in his new endeavor, but since the rest of us are penalized for his missteps, he’d better not screw up again.

A Limerick for a Hoe, a hoe, and a Hoe's Grandma or You All Are Going to Jail--15 and 17 Year Old Girls Caught Working at Strip Clubs

Here's a tongue twisting kind of sort of limerick for you: so a Hoe's grandma attempts to beat a reporter with a hoe for reporting on her granddaughter's Hoeish behavior, a Hoe who is working at a local strip club--where said Hoe is a hard working Hoe and hoe. Hoes a plenty it seems!

Grandma was going to work over that reporter with her very own Shaolin spade--and I am impressed. But I must ask: is "grandma save a hoe" actually more akin to being an expert at Filipino stick fighting than the Shaolin martial arts?

Who says the black family isn't strong?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Keep on Keepin' On Edward Kennedy or Senator Edward Kennedy Passes Away at 77

Some Black/White dap from me to you. And Bro'Bama will be speaking at your homegoing ceremony. The torch passes? I hope so...

Travel well most honorable Senator Kennedy. You weren't a respectable negro, but you simultaneously WERE a respectable negro.

Senator Kennedy, can you please do me a favor? When you get to your destination have a drink with your brothers Bobby and John, and make sure one of my faves, President LBJ, gets a sip of the good stuff as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gordon Gartrelle says: Which Part of Michelle Obama's Body Will They Debate Next?

Chauncey and I often discuss Michelle Obama’s booty. It’s not what you think. Well before her backyard became a news story, Chauncey and I had tried to unpack the fixation on the body of Michelle Obama (the fixation on President Obama’s body is related, but distinct).

The treatment of Mrs. Obama’s figure goes beyond the typical, inane, sexist reduction of First Ladies to their bodies and clothes. With Mrs. Obama, there is a fixation on her perceived or imagined nudity. There is also an unreasonable expectation that she uphold stodgy norms of decorum (e.g. hugging the Queen, dressing conservatively and formally at all times). These hangups signal the persistence of race and class stereotypes about black women’s behavior while recalling the historical public uneasiness about the black female body.

Peep the slow creep of the debates surrounding Mrs. Obama’s body parts:

*September, 2008: Her boobs
This one didn’t really make a splash.

*Nov, 2008: Her butt
This one did make a splash, and it’s not surprising why: black women are more commonly associated with their butts than with any other body part. Even we got into the action a bit. I think that media folks were so uncomfortable with the sexual connotations of this discussion that they abstained from overt discussions of Mrs. Obama’s body…but only for a short while.

*February, 2009. Her hair
This moved us away from her lower half altogether, but it’s really a black thing; I’m not sure that everyone else gets the class and cultural implications of this one.

*March, 2009: Her arms
Now they’ve moved back down her body. Though stupid, this discussion seems safe because womens’ arms aren’t commonly sexualized or racialized.

*August, 2009: Her legs
Is it appropriate for a distinguished woman to wear active/vacation wear when she goes on vacation? Because of this dumb (non)story, I’ve probably sworn off TV news for good.

And believe me, it’s not over. So, we ask our readers--which of Michelle Obama's body parts will be the next subject of debate? Where will it end?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jon Voight, Why are You Making Me Boycott Karate Dog? or Proceed to Vomit as Jon Voight Speaks at Sean Hannity's "Freedom" Concert

From my cold dead hands! Oh sorry, wrong confused Hollywood celebrity.

In looking through my bedside copy of the DSM IV, I have finally made my official diagnosis: Jon Voight and the GOP are manifesting a classic case of Freudian projection where they attribute all of their own worst traits to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

In a previous piece, I lambasted Jon Voight and promised to never again watch Rosewood. That was really difficult for me because I love the Ving Rhames school of method acting, and Voight's nuanced portrayal of the stereotypically greedy Jewish store owner was an Oscar winning performance. Now, after his appearance at Sean Hannity's "Freedom" Concert, I am forced to boycott other Jon Voight classics such as: Anaconda, Bratz, Four Christmases, and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

And for the record, Jon Voight can show up at a Klan rally and I would still keep U-Turn in my film rotation--tell me that Jen Lopez's sex scenes in that movie are not something to behold, go ahead...I dare you!

A few random thoughts. One, Sarah Palin is a great American who will lead the GOP to glory? Lord, I hope they nominate her in 2012. Two, am I the only one who gets the sad irony that a rich man with access to health care (Jon Voight) is pandering to the masses with another corporatist (Sean Hannity) while a senior citizen who is likely covered by Medicare cheers on their Rightist, political, circle jerk? Three, "if we let Obama have his way he will create a civil war in this country." Huh? I didn't know that progressives, centrists, and liberals were showing up at health care rallies with pistols and assault rifles. And my conservative friends, wasn't Timothy McVeigh one of you folks? Four, am I alone in being disturbed that the CIA was praised as though they are a bunch of superheroes? The CIA is a necessary evil, but a citizenry cheering on the National Security Apparatus is a bit too fascist for this respectable negro.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tim Wise is a Bad White Man or Tim Wise on Barack Obama, How Race is a Factor, and Health Care Reform

Tim Wise is a bad white man. You get me, no? We have picked on Tim Wise a few times on this site, but this a White man who is on point--especially here.

Brother, we have met before, next time I will offer you a Sapporo beer and a sit down--one of my highest complements. We respectable negroes got some allies in the struggle and Tim Wise is (likely) one of them.

Yes or no?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Personal Happiness Pill of the Day: Pastor Manning Sings, Jukes, and Jives as He Proclaims his Support for a White Uprising Against Barack Obama

Pastor Manning is at it again. Now he is siding with white racist Right-wing militia members who want to depose President Barack Obama. In the immortal words of my avatar Fred Sandford, this nigga's crazy!

But you know what? This respectable negro still loves him some Pastor Manning. Can I have an amen?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Historian's Reflections on the Political Use of Racial Fear by the American Right Wing

I think I may have to put Werner Herzog's Bear on a semi-permanent retainer. His measured voice...such a historian isn't a nice balance for my often histrionic bombast. Courtesy of the blog, I Used to be Disgusted Now I Try to be Amused:


This article is less about the abuse of history than the history that much of our current political debate (if it can be called such) developed from. That hidden history (for the layperson, at least) is the political use of racial fear.

Some of these moments are pretty obvious, like the rhetoric of white supremacy used by Democrats in the 1870s to roll back Reconstruction. Campaign posters of the time unabashadly announced that "this is a white man's country" and that the Democratic party was for the "white man" and the Republican side was for the "negro" with stereotypical images thrown in to make the point.

Since the 1960s the use of racial fear has necessarily become more subtle and veiled, but remained just as potent and effective. The 1968 election is a case in point. Ardent segregationist George Wallace's ads alluded to law and order, school busing, and "local control of schools" without needing to explain that white fear and prejudice towards blacks was a major factor in his policy stances. During that same election Nixon used Wallace's split of the Southern Democrat vote and a less inflammatory version of his rhetoric to take the White House (and gave the Republicans their biggest success in the South to that point.)

Ronald Reagan, that canonized pole star of the modern day Right, learned these lessons well. His infamous 1980 campaign speech in Neshoba County, Mississippi, is case in point. Standing in the place where Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner were murdered in one of the most well-known violent attacks on the civil rights movement, he attacked welfare programs and claimed that he would stand for "states rights." At this moment, and others in his campaign, he implicitly associated welfare with African-Americans. States rights" had been the language of Wallace and other Southern governors in response to federal integration measures, certainly contrasted with the fight for equal rights that Goodman, Shwerner, and Cheney were martyred for.

His apologists like to pretend that Reagan's comments were entirely innocent, but at the very least they show a staggering inattention to the issue of racial inequality. Imagine if he had gone to Wounded Knee, and given a speech praising "frontier pioneers" without mentioning Native Americans, or had gone to a Waffen SS cemetery and called Nazi Germany's foot soldiers "victims" of Nazism. (He actually did the latter.)

Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, managed to make a comeback against Michael Dukakis and take the White House largely due to the Willie Horton ad, which nakedly played on white fears of black men. Like the Swift Boat ads in 2004, it was not produced officially by the Bush campaign, meaning that it could benefit politically from the fears it stoked while being able to plausibly deny any connection with its sentiment. This ugly tactic was so obvious that it was roundly denounced at the time, which may have lead to an overall reduction in the use of the racial fear card during the 1990s. (In 2004 homophobia was used intead, to great effect.)

These days the racial fear mongers have been active, with Glenn Beck ridiculously claiming that Barack Obama is a racist who "hates white culture," and the likes of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III turning the Sotomayor hearings into a circus of alleged white male victimization. Already during the election the birthers ginned up their crazy assault on reality, buoyed by the notion that Barack Obama's race and background made him alien to "real America," in the words of Sarah Palin. (Notice Wallace's similar use of "America" in his ad.)

The feverish inability to accept a black man as the leader of "America," which is most certainly coded white in their minds as much as it was in the 1870s, has made the expressions of fear and hate less guarded and more public. Witness the distrubing uptick in death threats against the president (including out in broad daylight by sign holding protesters) and the insane claims of the "deathers." The whole "death panel" rumor has absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever, but has a whole lot of basis in the perpetual white racial fears, which easily slide into the realm of the fantastical. I seriously doubt that this rumor would have been nearly as public, or would even be in existence, if it the current health care reform had been proposed by a white president. Clinton had Harry and Louise, but nothing like this. (This fear has always been gendered, too. Notice that deathers talk of "Grandma" getting killed by president Obama, not "Grandpa.")

If anything, the ability for that long-standing fear to still drive our public discourse, the same fear that made The Birth of a Nation the first movie blockbuster and gave the South to the Republican Party, shows that it's not going away any time soon. As I will explore soon, it is by no means the only factor, or even the most important, in the current backlash, but it should put to rest the ridiculous claims about America being a "post-racial" society.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Black Conservatives are the New Darkie Toothpaste or Black Conservatives with Guns Oppose President Barack Obama at Arizona Anti-Healthcare Rally

Things done changed. Back in the 1960s we had Negros with Guns. In 2009, we have Black Conservatives with Guns.

We have walked through the looking glass people. This is really dangerous stuff folks...truly, truly ominous. When I see this nonsense, am I alone in thinking that America is the laughing stock of the world right now? Ought I to be embarrassed by the collective state of affairs in our body politic? Am I alone in this sentiment?

First Kenneth Gladney, and now this. Is there a 2 for 1 sale at Walmart on Uncle Tom, slave catcher, moon cricket, Garbage Pail Kid, sycophantic, shine conservatives? Are they part of the federal stimulus bill? Is there a tax rebate I didn't get in the mail?

African-American gentlemen? Huh. He is carrying a weapon "because he could." Sure, I can yell fire in a movie theater. But should I?

Imagine the outcry from Fox News and their shills if armed anti-Bush protesters had appeared at an engagement where the (then) president was speaking? The Right would have had a collective priapism (yes, I did indeed say priapism). And imagine if said protesters were primarily people of color? We know the police response would have been neither measured, reasonable, nor considerate.

Two final points..

One, isn't it funny how the radical Right can put a black face in a crowd (this is part of their modus operandi) and his or her presence acts as a salve which magically immunizes the Right-wing cabal against the charge of being either racist or of harboring racial animus?

Metaphorically, are these black conservative lapdogs a right-wing version of Darkie Toothpaste?

Second, notice how said black conservative, brown shirt is dressed. Look at the glasses, white shirt, and tie. Notice any similarities to one of our greatest leaders? Is said "brother" channeling Malcolm X specifically, or the restrained, professional demeanor and style appropriated by African-American freedom fighters during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras?

Friday, August 14, 2009

They Chose the Wrong Man to Mess With: Harlem Store Owner Shoots 4 Robbers, Killing 2

The wages of sin are death. I wonder how long before these ign'ts are valorized as victims? From The New York Times:

Harlem Store Owner Shoots 4 Robbers, Killing 2

They strode into the restaurant supply store in Harlem shortly after 3 p.m. on Thursday, four young men intent on robbery, one with a Glock 9-millimeter pistol, the police said. The place may have looked like an easy mark, a high-cash business with an owner in his 70s, known as a gentle, soft-spoken man.

But Charles Augusto Jr., the 72-year-old proprietor of the Kaplan Brothers Blue Flame Corporation, at 523 West 125th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue, had been robbed several times before, despite the fact that his shop is around the corner from the 26th Precinct station house on West 126th Street.

There were no customers in the store, only Mr. Augusto and two employees, a man and a woman. The police said the invaders announced a holdup, approached the two employees and tried to place plastic handcuffs on them. The male employee, a 35-year-old known in the community as J. B., struggled with the gunman, who then hit him on the head with the pistol.

Watching it happen, Mr. Augusto, whom neighborhood friends call Gus, rose from a chair 20 to 30 feet away and took out a loaded Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun with a pistol-grip handle. The police said he bought it after a robbery 30 years ago.

Mr. Augusto, who has never been in trouble with the law, fired three blasts in rapid succession, the police said, although Vernon McKenzie, working at an Internet company next door, heard only two booms, loud enough to send him rushing to a window, where he heard someone shout: “You’re dead! You’re dead!”

The first shot took down the gunman at the front. He died almost immediately, according to the police, who said he was 29 and had been arrested for gun possession in Queens last year and was the nephew of a police officer.

Mr. Augusto’s other two blasts hit all three accomplices, who stumbled out the door, bleeding.

One of them, a 21-year-old, staggered across 125th Street and collapsed in front of the General Grant Houses, a nine-building complex with 4,500 residents, one of the city’s biggest housing projects. Someone called 911, and an ambulance rushed him to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where he was dead on arrival. The police said he had a record of arrests for weapons possession and robbery.

Another wounded man left a blood trail that the police followed to 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The fourth wounded man was picked up, on the basis of witness descriptions, at 128th Street and St. Nicholas Terrace. Both were taken to St. Luke’s.

The names of the men who were shot — two dead and two wounded — were not immediately released by the authorities. The two at the hospital, both 21 years old, were in stable condition late Thursday night, the police said.

Outside the emergency room entrance of the hospital, at 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, relatives and friends of the dead and wounded men screamed and wailed in anguish as word of what had happened spread.

“No! No!” a woman cried. “They said he just died!”

Another crying woman, surrounded by family members, heard one of her relatives had been shot trying to rob a store.

“Oh my God!” she wailed. “Why would they want to rob a store?” She started to scream: “Damn! Why? Why would he go to a family store? He got money!” She slumped against the wall and began to pray...

The story continues here.

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: District 9 versus Alien Nation

I saw District 9 last night at midnight, and will be seeing it again tonight. There is a lot going on with this film, but the recurring thought that I had upon first viewing centered upon its similarities to the classic Alien Nation (which not surprisingly I am watching on cable as I post this). With District 9 and Mad Men's debut on Sunday, I will have a full weekend of pop culture goodness to digest.

Courtesy of Cinema Blend:

Too Close To Call: 10 Ways District 9 Is An Alien Nation Knockoff

I feel like I should apologize for everything I’m about to write here in advance. The thing is I saw District 9 last week and I liked it, I really did. It’s a solid science fiction movie with sharp special effects and a brain rattling around somewhere in its CGI noggin. When you see it, you’ll go nuts for it. It’s likely to engender the kind of broad-based adoration not seen since Star Trek appeared earlier this summer, warped across all walks of life, and became one of those rare movies that everyone agreed was, wow, pretty good. And District 9 is indeed pretty good. In fact District 9 is a lot of things, most of them very positive. One thing it isn’t, though, is original.

Yet if you read some of the early reviews posted for the film, that’s the praise you’ll hear most frequently launched in its direction. The words “fresh”, “original”, “unique”, and “groundbreaking” have been used liberally in describing it and in particular its story. So I guess I’m the only one who’s seen Alien Nation?

The year is 1988 and in theaters is a movie about a near future where alien refugees have landed and humanity is forced to deal with the consequences of their presence. Sound familiar? Hey, that’s the plot of District 9! It’s also the plot of the movie Alien Nation, starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, and the acclaimed television series it went on to spawn a year later in 1989. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. District 9 is a great movie. Make sure you’re there, ticket in hand, to see it opening weekend. It’s a fantastic experience and writer/director Neill Blomkamp deserves praise for what he’s accomplished. But it’s not fresh. It’s not original. In fact, whether intentional or by accident, it’s kind of an Alien Nation knockoff.

Want proof? Here it is. Below I break down the similarities but be warned, in doing so I’ll be forced to hack through heavy District 9 spoiler foliage. If you want to see D9 unspoiled then read no further, unless of course you’ve seen Alien Nation, in which case you’re spoiled already.


Saucer Separation
In Alien Nation: When the movie begins Alien Nation’s aliens, called Newcomers, have been on the ground for many years. We never actually see their landing, except in brief flashbacks and stories told by present day characters who were there. Through those flashbacks and stories we learn that the Newcomers descended out of nowhere, with no communication, to hover above the ground near Los Angles, California in a single, massive, saucer-shaped spaceship.

In District 9: When the movie begins District 9‘s aliens, called Prawns, have been on the ground for many years. We never actually see their landing, except in brief flashbacks and stories told by present day characters who were there. Through those flashbacks and stories we learn that the Prawns descended out of nowhere, with no communication, to hover above the ground near Johannesburg, South Africa in a single, massive, saucer-shaped spaceship.
Slave Labor
In District 9: Prawns were bred as workers meant to carry out manual labor. When discovered aboard their ship they appear to be of limited intelligence, almost unable to take care of themselves, though they’re very good at taking orders. Once taken off the ship and brought to Earth things begin to change and there are hints that not only are they intelligent, they may be far smarter than us.

In Alien Nation: Newcomers were bred as workers and slaves meant to carry out manual labor. When discovered aboard their ship they’d been drugged to dull their intelligence and make them obedient, almost to the point that they’re unable to take care of themselves. Once taken off the ship and brought to Earth things begin to change and there are hints that not only are they intelligent, they may be far smarter than us.
Missing Overlords
In Alien Nation: Since Newcomers are basically obedient workers being shuttled around on a transport ship, no one is entirely sure how they got to Earth in the first place. Investigators never discover a ship’s pilot or crew, nor does there seem to be anyone giving orders… at first. Eventually the Newcomers in charge are revealed as a subplot in the film’s subsequent spin-off TV series.

In District 9: Since Prawns are basically obedient workers being shuttled around on a transport ship, no one is entirely sure how they got to Earth in the first place. Investigators never discover a ship’s pilot or crew, nor does there seem to be anyone giving orders… at first. Eventually the Prawns hidden leaders reveal themselves and by the end of the movie we know where the Prawn leader has been hiding.
Name Recognition
In District 9: Prawns are often referred to by a variety of other names, most of which, like Prawn, are really just bigoted slurs. Prawn is not their proper species name. In fact they are and prefer to be called… a complicated name which I’ve forgotten. Hey give me a break. In addition to being given English substitutes for their species name, Prawns are also given human personal names to use in their daily life. For instance, Christopher Johnson is the name of the Prawn lead in District 9.

In Alien Nation: Newcomers are often referred to as Slags, which is regarded as a bigoted slur. Neither Slag nor Newcomer is their proper species name. In fact they are and prefer to be called the Tenctonese. In addition to being given English substitutes for their species name, Newcomers are also given human personal names to use in their daily life. For instance, George Francisco is the name of the Newcomer lead in Alien Nation.
Alien Muscle
In Alien Nation: Aliens look pretty much like bald versions of us, except with spots, but they possess physical strength far beyond that of normal human beings.

In District 9: Aliens look like giant bugs, or prawns as their name suggests, and they possess physical strength far beyond that of normal human beings.
Internment Camps: An Alien Staycation
In District 9: When they first land Prawns are held in internment camps to protect a nervous human population from them.

In Alien Nation: When they first land Newcomers are held for several years in interment camps as they’re processed and certified safe enough to be allowed out in public.
Outer Spacial Descrimination
In District 9: Prawns are used as a stand-in for discriminated against minorities, in particular South Africa’s struggle with Apartheid which was a political and social policy of segregating blacks from whites.

In Alien Nation: Newcomers are used as a stand-in for discriminated against minorities, in particular they symbolize the struggle of black Americans against discrimination during the civil rights movement.
Hater With A Heart Of Gold
In Alien Nation: A bigoted homicide detective is forced to team up with a Newcomer by a government integration program. As they work together to solve crime, the Newcomer begins to win over his human partner who eventually abandons his bigoted views.

In District 9: A bigoted civil servant is forced to team up with a Prawn when circumstances beyond his control force him to take desperate measures. As they work together on a common cause, the bigoted human and wary alien develop a begrudging respect for one another.
Addicted To Gross
In District 9: Prawns are addicted to cat food which affects them like catnip. Though it disgusts humans, they’ll do almost anything to get it.

In Alien Nation: Newcomers are addicted to sour milk which affects them like alcohol. Though it disgusts humans, some aliens will do almost anything to get it.
Something’s Growing On Timmy
In Alien Nation: Two of the major subplots of the spin-off television series and the film involved both a strange substance which has unexpected effects on Newcomers and a dangerous disease which may have been brought to Earth along with the aliens. Newcomers will do anything to hide the truth of both.

In District 9: A strange substance brought to Earth by the Prawns has an unexpected and dangerous affect on humans. Both the Prawns and South Africa’s mega-corporation controlled government will do or say anything to hide the truth of what’s happening.
There you have it. If it were made by Quentin Tarantino District 9 would be an homage. With luck, Blomkamp can get some sort of special QT dispensation.

So maybe it’s not entirely original and maybe it’s not completely unique, at least for anyone born before 1989. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Whether knowingly or by accident, what Blomkamp has done is take an old idea and give it his own twist, his own flavor, and done it up in his own style. In some ways he’s made it even better. So to be fair, as long as we’re picking this thing apart here’s a few examples of District 9 going its own way..

I am Kenneth Gladney or Come One, Come All! Rub a Picaninny's Head (aka a Black Conservative) for a Dollar!

Okay, I think I am actually going to call for the discommendation of Kenneth Gladney. Apparently, he has taken a horrible turn for the worst following his appearance on Fox News. It seems Kenneth is now a token of sorts, a fetishistic idol whose head right wingers and conservatives can rub (or kiss) for good luck. He is a black conservative shrine of Lourdes. Sad. So very sad. And Mr. Gladney has a Paypal site where we can make donations towards his medical bills. But, I have to give him credit for his hustle. Maybe, I will go to one of these health care town hall meetings and get my behind kicked so that I can get a little cash. Are you with me? Do we all have a little Kenneth Gladney in each of us?

From his website:

I am Kenneth Gladney

Kenneth Gladney was attacked on the evening of August 6, 2009 at Rep. Russ Carnahan's town hall meeting in South St. Louis County. Kenneth was approached by an SEIU representative as Kenneth was offering "Don't Tread on Me" flags to those exiting the gathering. The SEIU representative demanded to know why a black man was handing out these flags. The SEIU member used a racial slur against Kenneth, then punched him in the face. Kenneth fell to the ground. Another SEIU member yelled racial epithets at Kenneth as he kicked him in the head and back. Kenneth was also attacked by one other male SEIU member and a woman. The three men were clearly SEIU members, as they were wearing T-shirts with the SEIU logo.

Kenneth was beaten badly. One assailant fled on foot; three others were arrested. Kenneth was admitted to the hospital, where he was treated for his numerous injuries. Kenneth was merely expressing his freedom of speech by handing out the flags. He in no way provoked any argument or altercation, as evidenced by the fact that three of his assailants were arrested.

We hope that Kenneth fully recovers from his injuries; however, he is in pain at this time. This was a truly senseless hate crime.

Kenneth subscribes to no particular political party. He prefers to think of himself as an independent. He is calling on the SEIU, Representative Carnahan, and President Obama to condemn the racist, violent actions of these union members.

Kenneth thanks everyone for their outpouring of support and well wishes. After he recovers from his injuries, Kenneth plans to travel across the country to promote "Project Liberty," a new educational program designed to teach America's youth about their fundamental rights under the Constitution.

To Kenneth, this is not about Left versus Right nor Democrats versus Republicans. This cause is about personal liberties and freedom of speech. Project Liberty will sweep across this great nation to unite people for the common cause of protecting our individual liberties.

Kenneth wants to make it clear that he is not funded by any special interest group or political party. Kenneth vows never to accept funds from any of these sources. Project Liberty is "people-powered." As with any endeavor of this magnitude, there are costs associated with this. If you would like to help defray these costs in this fight for liberty, stand up with Kenneth and donate today.

I am Kenneth Gladney. You are Kenneth Gladney, Remember, we all are Kenneth Gladney. "Liberty knows no race, sex, creed, or color. You see, liberty is for us all. It was given to us by our Creator." -- Kenneth

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: The Walking Dead to be a TV Series on AMC!!!!

Damn. Alien Nation being remade. V is returning. Fables is gonna be on ABC. Now, we get The Walking Dead. Yes, I still have a long forthcoming Walking Dead essay percolating in this old negro brain--I do have a chapter in a book which focuses on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead that is forthcoming (are you all ready for his new movie?) and I will most certainly do a zombie related giveaway on the site as an exclusive for us undead respectable negroes as the release of the book comes closer.

It is indeed a geek renaissance! AMC--given the magic they have with Mad Men (whose 3rd season debuts this Sunday), it seems fitting that my favorite comic book series would be on that great network. Why is The Walking Dead a great human drama? And pray tell why is a great zombie story not about zombies per se, but about the evils of the living:

Where is my Scalped series on HBO or Showtime? Or Gotham Central? Either would be a license to print money.

Courtesy of Variety:

Frank Darabont Circles Zombies

AMC is venturing into zombie-drama territory with multi-hyphenate Frank Darabont.

Cabler is close to finalizing one of the richest development deals ever with Darabont to write and direct a series adaptation of the Image Comics graphic novel series "The Walking Dead," penned by Robert Kirkman. Gale Anne Hurd of Valhalla Motion Pictures and David Alpert of Circle of Confusion are also on board to exec produce.

Project is set among a group of zombie survivors of an apocalypse who are led by a police officer, Rick Grimes, in search of a safe place to live. Numerous editions of the "Walking Dead" graphic novels have been published since 2003.

Joel Stillerman, AMC's senior veep of programming, production and original content, said the project appealed to the cabler because of "the quality of the storytelling" in Kirkman's work. The series will stay faithful to the tone of the original novels, he said.

"This is not about zombies popping out of closets," Stillerman said. "This is a story about survival, and the dynamics of what happens when a group is forced to survive under these circumstances. The world (in 'Walking Dead') is portrayed in a smart, sophisticated way."

Stillerman noted that the cabler's annual "Fear Fest" movie showcase around Halloween is one of AMC's most popular programming events of the year.

"We've got an audience that loves this kind of material," he said.

Darabont and Hurd pitched the project to AMC and several other outlets. There is no studio attached yet. The duo's involvement made the project a must-have for the cabler, Stillerman said.

"These are two world-class filmmakers who are also brilliant storytellers with experience in the fantasy genre," he said.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Reach or a Fair Parallel? Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on Palin, Health Care, and Right Wing Health Demagogues with a Little Dose of Lynching

I am 99 percent with Olbermann on this one. But, as I heard him mention burning folks in effigy and the frightening portent of lynchings, I bristled for the inevitable. I cringed and hoped that Olbermann wouldn't compare the faux lynching of a congressman by one of the anti-health care brown shirts, with what was once the popular American sport of lynching black Americans. Keith did indeed go there. Should I be upset? I don't know. A fair parallel, I think not. Cheapening our human suffering? I am unsure. What do you think?

I shudder as I post this clip, but I must. As I tell my students, can you imagine what it feels like to be so despised, viewed as so much a poison to the White Republic that you would be killed for sport, as the blood ritual that helped to tie together the imagined fraternal brotherhood of White men? Can you understand that level of existential disdain towards your very personhood? We should mind our collective history as this bigotry and xenophobia still lives on with the "birthers," "the Palin populists," and the Beck, Limbaugh, et al. brown shirt, 9-13 types. Be mindful folks 'cause a storm is coming. Or has it already arrived?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Let's Play the Conspicuous Negro Game (Again)--Kenneth Gladney, Black Conservative "Activist" Assaulted at Healthcare Protest

"Kenneth was attacked on the evening of August 6, 2009 at Rep. Russ Carnahan’s town hall meeting in South St. Louis County. I was at the town hall meeting as well and witnessed the events leading up to the attack of Kenneth. Kenneth was approached by an SEIU representative as Kenneth was handing out “Don’t Tread on Me” flags to other conservatives. The SEIU representative demanded to know why a black man was handing out these flags. The SEIU member used a racial slur against Kenneth, then punched him in the face. Kenneth fell to the ground. Another SEIU member yelled racial epithets at Kenneth as he kicked him in the head and back. Kenneth was also brutally attacked by one other male SEIU member and an unidentified woman. The three men were clearly SEIU members, as they were wearing T-shirts with the SEIU logo.

Kenneth was beaten badly. One assailant fled on foot; three others were arrested. Kenneth was admitted to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center emergency room, where he was treated for his numerous injuries. Kenneth was merely expressing his freedom of speech by handing out the flags. In fact, he merely asked people as they exited the town hall meeting whether they would like a flag. He in no way provoked any argument or altercation, as evidenced by the fact that three assailants were arrested."

Cue the violin, the corporatist, brown shirt, health care protesters have come upon a poor black or brown soul to use as a poster child.

There is always one in every group. As I have said before, do Republican activists keep a Rolodex of black conservative "activists" to trod out in times of need. Is there a glass case labeled, "break in case of emergency or when a handkerchief head is needed to promote your cause?" Nearby, the obligatory shine box is encased in plastic as an optional accessory.

Seriously, I am all for ideological diversity among black folk, and I am most certainly a critic of lockstep support for any politician. However, if my intuition is correct, wouldn't minorities greatly benefit from access to a public option in health insurance? Second, the grandfathers, and great-grandparents of the tea baggers, and these Village People-Palinesque populists, were not too long ago hanging black people from trees as Sunday sport, so why get in bed with them?

Brother Gladney, these people are not your friends, a great deal of this rabble is motivated by racial resentment and hostility. You were trying to get your hustle on and earn an honest dollar. For that, you are to be commended (and that is why I am not calling for your discommendation from the tribe of respectable negroes--although I reserve judgment to do so later). You should not have been assaulted (but again, the folks who did this could be agent provocateurs who wanted a neat victim to deflect any criticism of their group's disruptive behavior)

But please Brother Gladney, don't let Fox News put you on display as a prop or mascot.

My fellow respectable negroes, am I being too kind to Kenneth Gladney? Is he actually a convenient plant who is in fact a part of the anti-Barack Obama brigade? Or is he a victim? Who is playing whom? Do they make this stuff up--"union activists"--the horrible bugaboos that they are, now make a sport of beating up good American "patriots?"

And I have to ask, does he sound a little too much like a "yes, massa," "no, massa?" "our house be burning down massa!" negro to you?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Reviewed--Yo Joe!!!

Yo Joe! If I were 12 years old I would think that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the greatest thing ever. I am some years older than that, and G.I. Joe successfully brought out the 12 year old in me.

Please ignore all of the hate and hostility that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is receiving from "mainstream" critics and ubergeeks with impossibly high standards--and narrow and selective memories of what their favorite childhood franchise was really like. If you go into the new G.I. Joe film with the slight bit of goodwill you will be rewarded. It is loud, ridiculous, fun, self-aware, and smart. Now, some will smirk at the last comment--how can G.I. Joe be smart? It is a retread of a cartoon that was a 30 minute promo for Hasbro toys for goodness sake!

Before someone challenges my G.I. Joe cred...why would anyone be so foolish...I have my G.I. Bonafides (get the Oscar Wilde-like worldplay?) in spades. The comics? I have read just about every issue from Hama's run up to the IDW/Devil's Due reimagining. The toys? a whole bunch. I never get my parents to buy the USS Flagg, but that god awful G.I. Joe headquarters is still at home somewhere. I was the plague of Toys R Us and Child World where I would incessantly call them every Sunday about any new toys arriving that week. I sent away in the mail for the special edition of Zartan. I spent many an hour creating contrived stories where Tomax, Xamot, and the Crimson Guards would kill the Joes until Snake-Eyes and Flint arrived to save the day.

In the ultimate act of G.I. Joe loyalty, I even had the G.I. Joe storybook/comic on cassette. This horrible product featured voice actors reading the adventure along with some pretty crappy sound effects. It was also the source of no small amount of embarrassment when my friends stole it from me in elementary school (but that is a different story for another time). In fact, I was so ashamed I almost passed out in class:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra works because it is as ridiculous as the cartoon or the comic ever was. Brainwave scanners? Weather control satellites? Springfield, Sierra Gordo, MARS Enterprises, battles where no one ever gets killed (the invasion of Cobra Island in the comic was an exception for sure), Serpentor, Big Lob, Cobra-La, Cobra Commander's needlessly complicated plans to conquer the world, etc. etc. etc. Did any of this stuff ever make sense? Of course it didn't.

The comics (especially the Special Missions series) were our chance to be a bit more mature than the "kids" who exclusively watched the cartoon, but G.I. Joe, even with Larry Hama's military abbreviations and terminology (my favorite word that I learned courtesy of Mr. Hama: defilade) was 12 levels of crazy.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the comic book and cartoon with a 170 million dollar budget. The movie is a thinly veiled excuse to take live actors, actors who are in fact little more than living action figures, and have them fight and blow stuff up. Sadly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a victim of poor marketing, rumor mongering, and ill will on the part of critics who the studio foolishly did not invite to press screenings.

Ultimately, my decision rule for a summer popcorn movie is as follows: Did I have a good time and would I see it again? My answer is "yes" and "yes." I smiled throughout the whole film. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra wasn't perfect, and in script doctor tradition I will suggest some changes, but it was a great time. Yo Joe!!!

Some thoughts on the movie and its sequel (and yes, there will most definitely be a sequel)

1. Lots of folks have complained that G.I. Joe is a NATO group and not an "all-American" team. I feel their pain. A fix for next time, have all the soldiers wear the G.I. Joe insignia, then an American flag, and under that, their respective nation's colors. Have a throwaway line about it and move forward.

2. I want and need to hear the old school G.I. Joe theme (the cartoon movie version would be perfect). In the sequel, Breaker should be playing with some music editing software in the first part of the film. The other Joes tease him about wanting to be a music producer. Breaker is embarrassed and takes the mp3 and puts it on a zip drive. During the movie's climactic battle Breaker plays the original theme over the communication network to rally the Joes to victory:

3. It is too late now, but the Baroness should have a Russian accent. Destro needs to be more imposing. Here, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra dropped the ball. Destro serves Cobra Commander because he chooses to, not because the Commander has enslaved him. In a rewrite, Destro chooses to don the mask of his ancestors not because of injury, but as an act of loyalty to his past as he works to redeem clan McCullen's honor.

4. Ripcord and Scarlett? No. Sorry. Doesn't work. Scarlett is Snake Eye's woman. The petty romance between the two is a distraction. Likewise, the relationship between Duke and the Baroness is a waste of time. The next movie needs to make the world a little less insular and focus more on adding the legacy Joes to the mix.

5. We need Stalker, Gung-Ho, Leatherneck, Lowlight, Recondo, Tunnel-Rat and Shipwreck added to the fight. This first installment could have used Ace (his flying the Raven is far more plausible than Ripcord's effort) and Wild Bill (although, I think we do here his signature cowboy hee-haw during the first 15 minutes of the film where the Joe's "helicopter" evacs the group..maybe his cameo will be on the DVD). For Cobra, we need Tomax and Xamot, Major Blood, the Dreadnoks, BATs, and Firefly.

6. The movie needs more legacy vehicles as well. G.I. Joe's gear is especially sterile and generic. The fun of the toys and comic was the utter ridiculousness of the equipment. Nevertheless, it was "realistic" enough that a 12 year old geek could imagine it sitting in a DARPA lab, buried 10 miles below sea level for the sake of security. For the sequels we need HISS Tanks, Trouble Bubbles, the Mauler, the Moray, the Mamba, the BuzzBore, the Rattler, and more CLAWS. The film did have some Easter eggs--the FLAGG made an appearance, there was one CLAW, and we saw the Mantas and Sharks fight it out during the climax.

7. G.I. Joe is such a huge universe that the film has to be careful about overwhelming casual fans. Also, for narrative sake, the sequel cannot feature too many additional Joes or Cobras. But, some of this can be accomplished through innuendo, side conversations, carefully staged shots, and the like. For example, in his cameo Brendan Frasier should have been explicitly referred to as Flint. During the sea battle, we could have heard Torpedo and Shipwreck on the radio giving orders to their respective squadrons. Prior to the insertion in Antarctica, Ripcord could have joked about Alpine and Snow Job being upset that they were assigned to a different mission. You get my drift. These little winks give life to a film and also make the die-hard fans feel acknowledged by the film's creators.

8. Second to final thought: yes, Snake-Eyes is that dude. Storm-Shadow will be back for sure, and in a way that parallels the comics. Unfortunately, the origin story for Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow was an example of a film not sticking with what works. Next time, the writers should leave well enough alone--especially which a standard bearer such as Snake Eyes. The winks to G.I. Joe: The Movie were great, although we could have used Doc's over the top exclamation that Duke (or in this case, Hawk) is going to be okay.

9. Cobra Commander needs his iconic hood. And yes I know that it was dropped in favor of his armored mask because folks were fearful that Cobra Commander looked like a member of the KKK. But, Cobra Commander's plan within a plan was brilliantly executed and suited the G.I. Joe mythos. Again, G.I.: Joe The Rise of Cobra borrowed a storyline from the IDW/Devil's Due comics and executed it quite well, with the moral of the story once more being, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Any other thoughts or suggestions? What would you like to see in a sequel? Am I delusional and this film actually did rape our childhoods? Am I suffering from G.I. Joe Stockholm syndrome?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is “Racism” dead?: An in-depth conversation with America’s most inflammatory and most misunderstood word

Don’t ever say that we don’t deliver. The We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) has scored an exclusive interview with Racism…Yes, the actual word Racism.


WARNNN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Racism: Thanks for having me.

WARNNN: You’ve been extremely busy over the last few weeks or so.

Racism: You have no idea.

WARNNN: And actually, the last year must have been a whirlwind for you, right—what with Obama’s election, all this post-racial talk, and the backlash from the right?

Racism: Definitely. It’s just been too much. I all but shut down in the months running up to the election, and just when I thought I’d recovered, I get hit with this wave from the Right: Tea Parties, Birthers—it just never ends.

WARNNN: So how are you feeling now?

Racism: Frustrated, spent.


Racism: I still get national headlines, maybe even more than I used to, but I feel empty. I fear that I’ve become a shell of my former self. Scratch that—I don’t fear it; I know it.

WARNNN: That’s a pretty bold statement. What’s behind these feelings?

Racism: Popular race discourse in America has never been more uncritical and simplistic as it is right now. I mean, it’s certainly less explicitly hostile and bigoted than it once was, but what passes for discussion of racism today is pathetic. They've flattened me to the point where I have no meaning.

WARNNN: I assume you’re talking about some combination of white people and the mainstream media.

Racism: For the most part, yeah. White people aren’t alone, of course, but, by in large, whites have driven this process. But this isn’t to say…It’s not that white people are inherently bad or stupid or anything; they’ve dumbed me down strictly as a defense mechanism, as a response to threats against their interests—both material and psychological. And the corporate media have their own set of interests, as you know.

WARNNN: There’s just so much to unpack in that answer…I’m not sure where to start. OK, let’s bracket the media thing for a minute. First let me ask this: what exactly do you mean when you say that you’ve been “flattened” and “dumbed down?”

Racism: I really just mean that the criteria for what qualifies as racism has been changed to benefit white people: the bar has been raised impossibly high for whites, lowered for everyone else.

WARNNN: In what way? Can you elaborate?

Racism: Nowadays, only biological white supremacy, racial slurs (especially the “N’ word”), and explicit racial violence will get a white person labeled a racist. Therefore, many whites respond to charges of racism by saying things like, “I’m not a racist…Some of my best friends are black…I’ve never enslaved any black people or terrorized them with dogs and firehoses…I’ve never burned a cross on a black family’s lawn or called anyone ‘Nigger.’” You see? Nazis and Klansmen are the only racist whites from this perspective. This isn’t the only view, but it’s been the default for decades.

On the other hand, look at how conservatives have co-opted Civil Rights language to depict members of the black left as “racists.” I mean, in just the last week, these people have charged Obama, Sotomayor, and Skip Gates with racism. In some formulations, merely mentioning race and racial injustice gets you slapped with the racist label. Think about how, in the eyes of most whites, the Panthers, Malcolm, Reverend Wright—indeed, all blacks who offer savage critiques of white supremacy—are racists on par with David Duke.

WARNNN: Divorcing you from structure seems to be at the heart of this flattening.

Racism: Exactly. They focus on individual attitudes—racially hostile attitudes—so as to limit the scope of racism to the hearts and minds of benighted souls. Not systematic discrimination in housing, the criminal justice system, education, employment. Not racism with any kind of heft or history to it, but just attitudes. That way, anyone can be racist and all racisms are equal. They can say, “Hey, racism is a 2-way street!” That’s their new favorite saying.

WARNNN: That’s a great way to segue into your family, particularly, you younger siblings, “Reverse Racism” and “The Race Card,” both of whom have had quite a bit of success in their own right. How are they doing these days?

Racism: In all honesty, we don’t talk that much. We were never really close, but it’s hard to forgive the two of them for getting into bed with the lowest right-wing scum.

WARNNN: Your brother “The Race Card” is still wildly popular across the board, but your little sister “Reverse Racism” has fallen on hard times. Conservatives seemed to have abandoned her for you. Is there any truth to the reports that she was a prostitute for the Republican Party?

Racism: I’m not going to get into all of that. It’s a shame how they used her. That’s all I’ll say. She brought most of her problems on herself, but believe me, I take no joy in the fact that conservatives dropped her and are using me now. Both my brother and my sister are tragic figures.

WARNNN: Let’s go back a second. How do you combat the argument you just stated, namely, that anyone can be racist, that, that all racisms are equal? How is it not racism when people like the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Brother X Squared, and any number of black prison philosophers on public access TV go beyond a critique of the institution and ideology of white supremacy to espouse a hatred of white people?

Racism: Yes…yes. Great question. Racial hatred, regardless of its source or its victim, is deeply destructive. It corrupts the soul and dehumanizes those who are subject to it. This should go without saying. But if I am to have any real meaning, racial animus by a subjugated group cannot be placed in the same category as a system of racial disenfranchisement and generations-long second class citizenship—hell, second class humanity!

WARNNN: Switching gears a bit—Isn’t it somewhat unfair to attribute this dumbing down to white people as a whole when, from what you’ve been saying, the process is driven by Frank Luntz-inspired, conservative newspeak?

Racism: Hold on, now. Wait a second. I’m glad you said that, because it gives me an opportunity to clear up a big misconception. While conservatives have done immeasurable damage to my image by denying that I exist and/or conflating me with critiques of white supremacy, it would be dishonest to pin this all on them. When it comes to dumbing down “racism,” white liberals have been right there on the front lines with their conservative enemies.

WARNNN: And what do white liberals have to gain from this?

Racism: The same thing that white conservatives have to gain: absolution. They get to convince themselves that their success is due entirely to their own hard work; that they possess no unfair advantage over their darker brothers and sisters. They get to live their lives without confronting the most uncomfortable aspects of racism, namely, its real world consequences and legacies. Again, material as well as psychological interests.

I also want to make it clear that black people have enabled whites in their effort to flatten me. Like I said, it isn’t just conservative whites; it's everyone.

WARNNN: How have black folks aided the processes?

Racism: Blacks embraced the platonic ideal of racism: The American South. The South, the fetid asshole of Jim Crow, was the perfect embodiment of what I should stand for: corrupt institutions and ideologies reinforcing and sustaining one another to create a semi-permanent underclass. In many ways, the decision to emphasize this most unmistakable form of racism would seal my fate. Focusing on the Bull Connors, the Faubuses, the George Wallaces, gave whites a convenient villain upon which to project their racial anxieties. But it made blacks sympathetic. It left no doubt as to the justness of their struggle. Blacks were helped tremendously by the focus on redneck crackers, but it came at a great cost in the long term.

WARNNN: Hmm. We just can’t win, can we?

Racism: {laughing} It appears that way.

WARNNN: Any parting words?

Racism: All I’ve ever wanted was to be a fully drawn, complex semantic being. There are people from all backgrounds fighting the good fight, in academia and in communities, and I never thought that I’d see the day, but we now have a President that speaks of me in nuanced terms. My days are numbered, however. I have no idea how long I have or how I will go, but then again, I’m not a political theorist or a linguist; I’m just a word.

WARNNN: We didn't even get to talk about the media's role.

Racism: {laughing} Perhaps another time.

WARNNN: Thank you again for joining us.

Racism: It was a pleasure.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Barack Obama is the New Joker? or The Dark Knight Repurposed by Conservative Activists

Politics is popular culture and popular culture is politics.

As has been widely reported, a series of posters substituting Barack Obama's face for that of Heath Ledger's Joker have appeared across Los Angeles. My immediate reaction was simply that this isn't smart satire, and is thus ineffective, because the creator(s) of this piece of agitprop do not "get" the Joker character. As I outlined in one of my most popular essays, the Joker is freedom through chaos and mayhem--he is liberation through violence. The translation does not fit because Barack Obama represents none of these things. I may have to revisit the politics as work in Batman: The Dark Knight if this story continues to gain traction. But in the meantime, I leave you with this food for thought. Courtesy of The Washington Post:


Obama as the Joker: Racial Fear's Ugly Face
'Political' Poster Turns On Violent Symbolism

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

Between Jack Nicholson's 1989 portrayal of the Joker in "Batman" and Heath Ledger's 2008 characterization in "The Dark Knight," something sinister happened to the villain's iconic makeup. What had been a mask, with the clearly delineated lines of a carnival character, became simply war paint, and not very well applied.

The visual change signaled a change in the Joker's inner mechanism. Nicholson's dandified virtuoso of violence was replaced by a darker, more unpredictable and psychotic figure. What had been a caricature became more real and threatening. An urbane mocker of civilized values became simply a deformed product of urban violence.

It is the latter makeup job that has been superimposed over the face of President Obama in an anonymous Los Angeles poster campaign that is now the talk of the blogosphere, the airwaves and the 24/7 hermeneutical speculations of cable television. The image, which appears above the word "socialism," delights and distresses people roughly on the lines of the usual political cleavage, with wide agreement that the as-yet-unrevealed artist certainly intends it to be disrespectful. But there is little consensus about whether it is effective as political messagemaking.

Comparisons to Shepard Fairey's Obama posters, which rendered the president's face a boldly contrasted palette of red and blue above the blunt message "hope," generally tend to favor Fairey's artistry. The exhausted icon of last year's political campaign, now falling off bumpers and fading on T-shirts, had both a subtlety the current poster lacks and a simplicity that it desperately needs. Fairey's image included a clever visual play on red- and blue-state political values (a windmill rendered in red, a tank and dollar sign sketched in blue), but it required only one step of mental grammar: Obama is hope.

The new Obama poster has two basic thrusts. Obama is a socialist, or a crypto-socialist. And Obama is somehow like the Joker, unpredictable and dangerous. But joining these two messages together yields more questions and contradictions than good poster art can sustain. The Joker is violent and dangerous, but a socialist? And didn't we see George W. Bush depicted as the Joker not so long ago?

Yes, in an image by Drew Friedman published online by Vanity Fair on July 29, 2008. That drawing at least played into a view of Bush popular among his detractors, that the former president was unpredictable and fast on the draw when it came to geopolitics. But the danger many of Obama's detractors detect is more of calculating, long-standing deception, that he is quietly and secretly marshaling a socialist agenda, a view that would be better served by imagery that recalled "The Manchurian Candidate."

Even the first claim, that Obama is a socialist, isn't introducing anything new into the argument. Obama's opponents, in Congress and among pundits, have already raised the specter of socialism. The great virtue of an anonymous poster campaign is that it anticipates unspoken fears or claims, and leads the debate by insinuating and teasing out ideas that would be too explosive or alienating if simply dumped into the public forum by responsible actors.

Good posters lead on the viewer and tease us with hints about the unseen hand that has crafted the image. The Obama Joker poster leaves you with the sense that it has said everything it has to say, and waits only for the media to endorse the message through the legitimizing process peculiar to our new age of rapid-response journalism: that we are talking about it because you are talking about it, which means it must be worth talking about.

So why the anonymity? Perhaps because the poster is ultimately a racially charged image. By using the "urban" makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can't openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and '70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.

The Joker's makeup in "Dark Knight" -- the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world -- emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks -- the thinking goes -- don't just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.

It is an ugly idea, operating covertly in that gray area that is always supposed to be opened up to honest examination whenever America has one of its "we need to talk this through" episodes. But it lingers, unspoken but powerful, leaving all too many people with the sense that exposure to crime creates an ineluctable propensity to crime.

Superimpose that idea, through the Joker's makeup, onto Obama's face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life. It is another effort to establish what failed to jell in the debate about Obama's association with Chicago radical William Ayers and the controversy over the racially charged sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama, like the Joker and like the racial stereotype of the black man, carries within him an unknowable, volatile and dangerous marker of urban violence, which could erupt at any time. The charge of socialism is secondary to the basic message that Obama can't be trusted, not because he is a politician, but because he's black.