Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Irrepressible Power of Blackness in the Age of Obama or Day to Day Racism in 2010: It Ain't Going Anywhere

I don't generally use this project as a location for personal venting and revelation. In fact, I do not have a preference for those blogs that are "today I had a bad day" or "now I am sad because X, Y, Z happened." I get that those types of projects are worthwhile and meaningful. Moreover, in an Internet of nearly endless possibilities there is room for everyone. But as we approach Dr. King's birthday and the 1 year anniversary of Obama's presidency there are moments when personal openness seems to be the most appropriate way for reflecting on how race remains operative in American life. It would seem that the personal remains political.

In "post racial" America we are told that race no longer matters. Most of us know better. Race has certainly changed over time. Race is a paradox. It is both unstable and stable. Ultimately, race is what scholars Omi and Winant in their groundbreaking book Racial Formation describe so deftly as a "changing same." Privilege, professional accomplishment, wealth, and pulling up oneself by their own bootstraps is not an insulation from the daily indignities of racism. These seemingly benign inconveniences are cumulative proof of how deeply rooted white supremacy is in this country.

We get followed around stores (ask Oprah, there are times when even she didn't get let in). We get asked for our id's when using credit cards while white folk who are in fact more likely to commit fraud go unmolested. Students and clients alike often look surprised when we walk in the room as their teachers/advisers. We have paid the cost to be the boss. But now we have a higher mountain to climb in order to earn many a person's trust. And as I have said elsewhere, for me, the greatest, most practical power of whiteness is the ability to ensure for its owners the ability to choose the time and place of their discomfort. Black folk have to prove our worth--in fact more than our worth--even while the most mediocre of others will never have their competence questioned. People's exhibit number one: Former president George W. Bush.

Those people of color who have achieved despite the obstacles in their path have a thick skin by necessity. We are too "white" for some. We are too "black" or "brown" for others. Damned if we do. Damned if we don't.

To point: in my neighborhood there is a shuttle bus service that undergraduates and graduate students alike can make use of. Alumni are also allowed to use this shuttle service. Tonight I quite innocently approached said bus in order to ask how long it would take to get to my apartment. One would have thought that I was a brigand, a thief, one of those many heretofore indistinguishable masses of negritude that supposedly live to rob, rape, cajole, panhandle, and disadvantage the good undergraduate students of an elite university. At that moment, I have never seen such fear. I was Black Frankenstein. The dozen or so students on the bus were the little white, black, brown, red, biracial, and yellow kids near the lake innocently playing with a flower before I threw them to their death. For the fear in their eyes I could have been The Terminator:

Fear is infectious. The bus driver, an African American himself, was also intoxicated by their terror. Sad.

Yes, I am a bit older than the late teens, early twenty somethings on the bus. No, I am not threatening. No, I was not hostile. No, I was not drunk or disorderly. And yes, I spoke in my best of the King's English. I am not a bad man...although I have fantasies of being one--one part Stagolee and one part John Henry if they had been given a part in the movie Unforgiven. In the real world, all five foot nine of me is not too imposing. Ironically, I have taught these students. Most certainly, I can intellectualize their fear better than they can. Not ironically, in the wrong context I am just one of those black folk in the neighborhood they are told to fear.

I did not know that I had such power in Barack Obama's America. With his election, I thought that I would be neutered. But tonight I felt like Nosferatu peering in a woman's window. Who would have known that blackness was such an irrepressible force? To terrify, frighten, chill the blood, and intimidate all who dare oppose its power? I must ask, how many of us, (myself included) in moments such as this have experienced a moment of pause where we ask ourselves, "did I do something wrong?" " Was I "aggressive?" "Did I frighten someone? Hell, is this a projection of my own racial insecurity?"

Ultimately, it seems that we are prisoners of our own efforts to justify the credos of colorblind, post-racial, race blind, playing "the race card," 21st century America.

Sorry, but today I do not feel like following that script. As Brother Malcolm said, "what do you call a black man with a PhD? You call him a nigger." What do you call those of us without one? I can only imagine...

Indulge me. Help a brother out if you can by completing the following sentence: The irrepressible power of blackness in the age of Obama is....

Friday, January 15, 2010

Time to be Heard Part 2--Slave Drivers and Slave Catchers of the 21st Century: Glenn Beck's Special on Black Conservatives and Dr. King's Dream

The black garbage pail kids black conservatives are at it again.

I firmly believe in highlighting the ideological diversity that exists within the black community. I also subscribe to the idea that there are as many different ways to be black as there are black people. However, I do not confuse "Black" with black. The former is a certain understanding of political blackness (linked fate or group consciousness), a sense of race pride, and an obligation to truth telling against power. The witches coven of black conservatives that Glenn Beck repeatedly features on his show (with brazen provocativeness in honor of all days, Dr. King's birthday) lack these attributes as they enthusiastically enable the inherent racism and racial resentment that undergirds white conservatism.

I have often suggested that black conservatives are psycho-racial projections for and of the white conservative racial id (note the use of "white conservatives" as opposed to "conservatives," as there is a substantial and real difference between the two ideologies). These black folk are the "good ones." These black conservatives are not "confused" by the liberals and Democrats. These black folk are not "angry." Nor, do "they" make "trouble." All the while these happy black conservatives are just pleased to be at the party, to have some table scraps thrown to them by their white conservative masters as they enjoy their positions as 21st century colonial intermediaries who can translate the drums of the natives.

Consider--and this would be my qualifier for distinguishing between principled black conservatives and the peanut gallery of jesters that is Beck's court--why did these guests not call Beck on his own nonsense? Why did not one of them ask Beck if Dr. King was a "Socialist" or "Communist" according to the former's criteria? How about asking Beck about Dr. King's support for the poor, world peace, affirmative action, and health care as a human right for all peoples? What of Beck's assertion that President Obama is a "slave owner" who wants to put Americans in "shackles?" Or how Beck through his support for the Tea-Parties, the seditious 9-12 militia project, the Birthers, etc. has encouraged a particularly venomous white nativism that sees Obama's presidency as being inherently illegitimate because he is not white? Ultimately, why not call Beck on his lecturing Black Americans that they should "just stop using African American" because it is a "meaningless" term anyway?

History echoes through to the present. It is the sea in which we swim, the ether that we all breath. In reaching back through history, it has become fashionable to call black conservatives "slave catchers." The more I think about the term, the more appropriate it seems. But, these racial apologists and collaborators also fit the role of "slave drivers": black bondsmen who worked under the overseer and/or managed the plantation when master was away. Accordingly, in researching the term I came upon The National Humanities Center's helpful entry on the topic:

On large plantations, the person who directed the daily work of the slaves was the overseer, usually a white man but occasionally an enslaved black man—a "driver"—promoted to the position by his master. Some plantations had both a white overseer and a black driver, especially in the deep South or on plantations where the master was often absent. Of white overseers, former slaves relate harsh memories (see the narratives in #1: An Enslaved Person's Life). Of black drivers their memories are more varied, reflecting the ambiguous state between power and impotence inhabited by the black slave driver.

The National Humanities Center also has a handy teaching guide. Ironically, I would suggest that it is a quite fitting tool with which to analyze the black conservatives on Beck's show. A selection of questions from that resource follows:
  1. What news items, forms of respect, requests and questions, etc., occur repeatedly in the drivers' letters?
  2. What tone do you identify in the slaves' letters to their masters?
  3. What construction of reality—information and impressions—do the drivers relate directly in their letters?
  4. What information and impressions do they convey "between the lines"?
  5. What information and impressions do they convey without their awareness?
  6. How would a distant master read and interpret these letters? What would he learn?
  7. How do the masters exercise control from afar? How effective are they as absent masters?
  8. What forms of initiative and power are the drivers allowed to exercise?
  9. How do the drivers differ in using or displacing this power?
  10. What words do the letter writers, slave and master, use in place of "slave"? Why?
  11. How do the black drivers relate to their fellow slaves over whom they hold authority?
  12. How do they adapt to their vulnerable (or empowering) position between master and slave?
History's echoes. Quite fitting, no? What do we make of Beck's trotting out of these black conservatives? What is their agenda? How do these questions help us to interpret the game that Beck's black enablers are running? Is it a profitable shtick, a type of race hustle, that Beck's guests are perpetrating (along with folks like Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, et al.)? Or do these slave catchers actually believe what they are saying?

Quick addendum:

This second clip makes me want to throw up in my mouth. I really want to go Mau Mau on these folks as they dare to let any allusion to our honored ancestors come out of their mouths. Disgusting. Truly disgusting. Notice the Freudian slip by the "hip hop Republican"--yes my dear, you will indeed walk chest deep in feces for a job:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If You Prick Me Do I Not Bleed? Pat Robertson: Religious Huckster and Hate Monger on Haiti "Deserving" Its Earthquake

This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature (or form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?

--Marcus Aurelius

What then is Pat Robertson?


I was actually going to post something light about this Harry Reid, Barack Obama, "negro" dust-up, until this story found itself on my radar. It necessitates me putting on the brass knuckles for a second and offering some real talk on Pat Robertson's most befouled commentary.

Unfiltered thought number one: What do we make of that nominally "black" woman sitting next to Robertson as she nods in agreement? Who is this hander kerchief head, self-hating, cum dumpster for that gangbang of vile white supremacist invocation of Godly insight that Robertson verbally ejaculated across the airwaves sitting next to Roberston? And yes, you did just read that sentence correctly.

What is her modus operandi? Is she enabler or victim? Is slave catcher too kind a moniker for Robertson's human prop?

Unfiltered thought number two: are there still kindly old black and brown ladies who while living on fixed incomes, somehow find money each week to donate to The 700 Club? Are they oblivious to Pat Robertson's politics? How could any decent human being support his endeavors? A more general question: Am I the only one whose first instinct is to run for the hills the minute anyone starts suggesting they have a privileged insight into the word of God?

Unfiltered thought number three: Where are the calls for the Right and Republicans at large to disown Pat Robertson? We know there is a double standard: McCain got a pass for his close association with noted anti-Semite John Hagee, while Obama was raked over the coals for his relationship with Reverend Wright. Imagine for a moment if a Democrat had amongst his or her core constituency a Pat Robertson, someone who on national television justified human suffering of the magnitude of Katrina (and now Haiti) through an appeal to Biblical prophecy? One can only imagine the media circus and the clarion calls of guilty by association that would erupt from Fox News and the Right-wing echo chamber.

Pat Robertson's vile suggestion that the poor people of Haiti "deserve" to suffer because they "rejected God" by rebelling against French domination is stunning. In this logic, Toussaint L'Overture, a freedom fighter and democratic revolutionary who liberated an entire people from the bondage of chattel servitude, is by extension a demonic force that damned a people to suffer from a natural calamity. Wow.

I am not surprised, for anything that Pat Robertson does or says is ever a surprise. As one in a long line of segregationists, in years past Pat would likely have worn a Klan robe to the local meeting on Friday, his finest suit to a lynching on Saturday, and then sat in pious obedience in his church pew on Sunday. Robertson's particular brand of faith also counseled slaves to be obedient and their masters to be just in their "natural" rule. In total, Robertson's religion segregated Sunday, found biblical justification for Jim Crow, and imagined a White Heaven where the natural order of things extended even into the afterlife.

In thinking through Robertson's proclamations of faith, I am fond of Chris Hitchens' pithy quote that "religion ruins everything" because it captures my secular humanist creed. Those words also speak to my instinct that religion is more often than not a force for ill rather than good. However, I would like to offer an olive branch of conciliation to Pat Robertson. In his case, I would like to work within Pat's faith/belief tradition in order to find a fair response to his thoughts on Haiti's suffering.

As a man of "God"--one gifted with "prophetic speech" and "insight"--Robertson must appreciate the ancient wisdom of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. As a rock for his church community, both real and virtual, Robertson ought to provide an example for his flock. How could he possibly resist offering himself up as an example for the time honored tradition that is Hammurabi's Code?

Pat Robertson, as a fire and brimstone preacher is a bit of a literalist. For him, our bodies are on loan from God. They are not our own to do as we wish. Thus, the body is made a site for redemption and salvation. The body is also a site for punishment. Physical punishment is also (to varying degrees) reserved for heretics and backsliders. Here, prayer is not necessarily enough for the conversion and salvation of these lost souls. Sadly, excoriation may be the only option remaining if we are to save their eternal selves. If we were to turn the tables on Pat Robertson and punish him for the spirit of his words, what would be a suitable comeuppance? What punishments would you suggest as a means to rebalance the scales against the wickedness in his heart?

My offerings:

1. I love the introduction to the Wu-Tang Clan's classic song "Method Man." In the opening to the song, Meth suggests torturing a rival by sewing his butt closed and feeding him until he bursts. Classic and painful. But, a bit messy.

2. Given Pat's propensity to run off at the mouth, The Bride's Scold (or "The Bit" as it was called) is also a fitting punishment, doubly so given how slave owners commonly used this device on their human property:

3. The Pear. This medieval device was reserved for those who committed "sexual transgressions." Given the correlation between holier than now behavior, sexual repression, and "deviant" acts, the Pear would do a great job of leading Pat Robertson to salvation:

4. The Sarlaac Pit. The "Great Pit of Carcoon" aka The Sarlaac killed Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi (at least in the original trilogy). While being digested by the Sarlaac, its victims will know pain beyond belief. If The Sarlaac can take down one of the greatest warriors the galaxy has ever seen, I trust it would find Pat Robertson a tasty treat.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Football Playoff Distraction: Paul Mooney on Tiger Woods

Two quick thoughts. One, I did not know that Paul Mooney has a new book out. He is a true original and gift to American arts so please check his newest project. Two, folks are catching up to the obvious truth that I laid bare day, in the not too far future, we will be able to talk openly about Tiger Woods and his particular predilection:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We be Settin' Trends: The 2010 Census May Include Negro as a Racial Category

It seems that the rest of the world finally caught up with We Are Respectable Negroes. A question: the host of The Griot got his chance to shine, when is Rachel Maddow going to give us our 5 seconds of fame?

Note: I occasionally crosspost over at Open This piece is one of the featured Editor's Choices today, so please chime in on the conversation there as well.

For the uninitiated, this blog is called We are Respectable Negroes. Not surprisingly, our choice of the word "Negro" in the title of this project has been the subject of quite a few emails by visitors to this site. Some readers have responded viscerally: we must be self-hating because only those black folk who despise themselves would ever name themselves such a "foul" word. Other readers found our choice of name refreshing and snarky--an ironic twist and wink at those folks who "get" our politics. Ironically, in reviewing the visitor logs to this site "Negroes" has also gotten us the attention of white nationalists and others of their ilk--apparently "Negro" is one of their catch all phrases for those of us who also identify as black or African-American.

I have never done a proper post on the logic behind my choice of the name We Are Respectable Negroes for this blog. I always felt that We Are Respectable Negroes worked best as a MacGuffan of sorts--one does not really need to know how or why my fellow bloggers and I chose the name to get the intent behind it. Ultimately, the "Negroes" in We Are Respectable Negroes is what you all make of it.

However, in lieu of the census controversy I will break kayfabe for a moment. For me, there is a certain dignity in the word "Negro"--a historical anachronism that signals to a bygone (and in many ways nostalgia-born) era of black respectability. As some have said far better than I, there is something to be said for imaging oneself as a colored gentlemen, with a "Kaiser Bill" mustache, rendering our musings on the politics of the day from the comfort of our sitting rooms. The problem though--as reality is so often inconvenient when counterpoised against fantasy--is that while I may fancy myself a Negro gentlemen, in the white gaze of that epoch I would be anything but free and equal. I must ask: Would I be willing to make that bargain?

It seems that the Census Bureau's decision to float "Negro" as a new/old category for the 2010 survey is not afforded the freedom of ambiguous intentions that we are allowed here.

Expectedly, the Census Department's exploration of whether to broaden the racial categories on our national survey to include a term to describe black folk that many had resigned to the dustbin of history has met with no small amount of upset. Because African Americans were for so long denied the right to name ourselves, our naming practices are laden with political weight. In this journey, we have gone from "Colored" to "Negro" to "Black" and "African American." Black folk reserve the right to our own naming. Individuals also reserve the right to name themselves (which is the logic behind including "Negro" on the census as many older black folk still identify as such).

In total, what is a name? What does it mean? What does it signal to others and to ourselves?

My late grandmother identified as "Negro" or "colored." While a product of The Jim Crow South, she never let white supremacy break her. To my face, I have been called "black" by white people with as much venom, hostility, and vindictive rage as I expect would accompany said persons calling me a "nigger" (for example listen to how Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, O'Reilly, Coulter, et al. utter "black" or "African American" during their screeds against Barack Obama). I have also been called "colored" by a white man--he was Irish-American--who was for all intents and purposes my adopted grandfather. He was a profoundly positive influence on my life and I respected him far more than most people I have ever met. By extension, we cannot forget that there were likely many a white ally who described us as "colored" or "Negro" all the while risking their lives in the service of the Black Freedom Struggle.

If I had to make a bargain, I would trade "Black" or "African American" for "Negro" in a second if it gained us better schools, fewer broken homes, a growth in income and wealth, a greater sense of personal responsibility among our youth for their deeds, and REAL racial uplift and progress that went beyond merely having more brown faces in (real) high places. And not to be forgotten, I would trade "nigga" for "Negro" in a millisecond if it would raise the level of respect held by many in the black community for themselves and towards one another. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that many black Americans would rather be called "Negro" with love, than "Black" with hatred and disdain.

Where do you, our respectable negro friends and family stand on this issue? Are you Black, colored, coloured, negro, "American," or some combination either thereof or heretofore unnamed? Is the Census Bureau out of bounds on this issue? Being provocative: don't Black folks have bigger fish to fry, both proverbially and literally, than engaging in another distracting debate on what we should be labeled? Being really provocative (and playful) shouldn't black folks be careful on this one? If we make Negro a cool word again, are white folks going to just take it back from us?

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Two Cents on the Devastating Loss of Wes Welker

I am no longer capable of being shocked into silence by the year which my New England Patriots have been having. Maybe we are the little engine that could? But I am not holding my breath. One thought though: Wes Welker is a great player hurt in a meaningless game against a hapless foe in the weekend prior to a wildcard game. Why Bill? Why?

In Bill we trust? Perhaps, but not as much as in seasons past

Courtesy of George King at Sports Illustrated:

Handicapping the NFL Field

NEW YORK -- Now that was a weird day. Sad with the devastating knee injury to one of the real poster children for everything that is good about the NFL, Wes Welker. Flummoxing with the total collapse of the Giants and Broncos. Maddening with starters sitting to some degree in six of the games involving playoff contenders ... and the weirdo Colts deciding that individual records are important a week after deciding 19-0 wasn't. Strangely undramatic for a Week 17, with only two win-and-get-in games, neither of which was any good -- the Ravens handling the Raiders with slight difficulty and the Jets handling the Bengals with none.

Eeriest part of the day: Houston safety Bernard Pollard landing on Welker after he had blown out his ACL and MCL early in Patriots-Texans and fallen to the ground in agony. This was 16 months after Pollard, then with Kansas City, had dove into Tom Brady's knee, shredding ligaments.

"I heard Wes yell out, the same way I heard Tom yell out,'' Pollard told me last night. "It was the same yell. It was terrible. He went down right in front of me. I saw his knee buckle, then I fell on him, and when he went down, I said, 'Just my luck.' ''

What are the odds of the same defender being at the epicenter of the temporary demise of two true New England heroes?...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thinking Project: Internet Tricknology--Is Jay Z's Video "On To The Next One" Satanic? Is Jay to the Z a Member of the Illuminati?

I don't know if Hova worships the dark prince, but this is one hell of a video.

I am a connoiseurr of conspiracy theories (I am very excited about Jesse the Body Ventura's new series by the way). As Gordon goofs on me often, I still do not believe that NASA went to the moon...or alternatively we arrived there and were told to leave. I also don't by the official story about 9/11. But, the idea that On to the Next One is full of satanic/Illuminati/Masonic imagery (the imprecise, and in some ways contradictory nature of the claims give away their thinness) does not sound persuasive to my ear.

Second random question: for those in the know, given his success maybe The Boule recruited Sean Carter after his rise to elite celebrity status?

Now, that is not to say that some interesting work cannot be done in analyzing these visuals. Personal note: start making notes on the video to write an article on the politics of its aesthetic conventions. What do you all see in this video? What is the symbolism? I see a combination of black and white surrealism, Rorschach test imagery, a wink to said character in Watchmen, and no small amount of borrowing from my queen J-Lo's underappreciated classic The Cell.

Is the following annotation of the video correct? Send in your detailed commentaries. I would love to feature the best one, and perhaps there is a prize in it for you critical sorts counting down the days until your winter vacation ends.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Come And Be Part of Our Respectable Negro Church Family This Evening!

This post goes out to all those sad souls who were dragged unwillingly to New Year's Eve church services as children....

Our church is the church of hope and joy. One only has to laugh, smile, and enjoy life to be a member of our flock. We are the Church of Respectable Negroes. Non-denominational. Pig worshippers (the pulled pork or Cubano pork sandwich is our Eucharist). Hedonists. In all seriousness, and whatever God you may (or may not) worship we send you the best of wishes for this upcoming year.

If you need some fellowship this evening we bring forth four options for your reflection. Which church will you join?

Oh behold the one and only Bishop Don Magic Juan:

Hell, I need some more money this year. Do you? How can anyone possibly hate on Reverend Ike's sense of style?

Tut, Lord of Grapes and God of Junk, do you hear our prayers? We are all junkists who practice junk each and every day, each in our own way:

We are also racially inclusive and progressive. In the immortal example provided by Akeem the African Dream, blackness is a state of mind and soul, not skin color, phenotype, or place of birth:

Update: Well damn! Courtesy of our commenter Jacked Up Jazz suggested a clip that I missed! Although I was watching Joe Joe Dancer last night I must admit I have never seen this clip...

If you all have any other suggestions send them on--

Drink and be merry!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Political Race? How Does this Respectable Negro Relate to Woody Allen?

When I go out to work for the day, I leave NPR on to scare away the ign't burglars. I am playing the odds as the voice of Terry Gross scares away most people. Those who proceed are simply gluttons for punishment and Lord have mercy on their souls.

Today, I came in from work and NPR was playing the best interviews of 2009 from its great series, Fresh Air. One of these interviews featured Woody Allen--one of America's preeminent actors and directors. In this exchange with Terry Gross, Woody Allen shared so many wonderful details of his childhood that I couldn't help but smile.

Yes, I could relate. Yes, unlike Allen in some decades past in New York I grew up in the 1970's as a working class black kid. Nevertheless, I could get where Allen was coming from. How many of our experiences transcend racial boundaries? Why is it so hard to communicate these shared experiences in order to find common ground? In the age of Obama, would it still be surprising to many that the experiences described by Woody Allen may be more common than not across lines of race, ethnicity, and class? Who knows? Maybe the story here is all about class and ethnicity as opposed to race...Historically, why has whiteness worked to separate these folks from a common experience, as opposed to bringing them together? Are the wages of whiteness that great?

In relating to Allen's remembrances of childhood, I too could relate to how:

My dad would come home with money won from playing Lotto, "the numbers" or any of the other games of chance that he excelled at (sort of like James in Good Times). During these rare moments it was indeed Christmas in July.

As Woody Allen also shares:
  • I would go with my dad to meet my uncle while he did collections in one of the seediest bars in New Haven, Connecticut. I thought it was great fun hanging out in what was a virtual speakeasy--at the time I just thought it was a dark restaurant that had overly sweet ginger ale out of the tap. Like Woody, there were so many adventures to be had for a respectable young negro--if he knew where to find them.
  • Ill gotten goods: I loved it when dad, or on occasion mom, would bring home some fenced swag purchased at "discount." To this day, my mom still wears the diamond ring purchased from a crackhead who fenced jewelry at Macy's department store.
  • I too ate dinner alone. By contrast, Woody Allen read comics. I also watched TBS and enjoyed the gastronomic pleasures that could only come from watching Mama's Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and Godzilla movies each weekday from 5pm-8pm. Like Woody Allen, I wasn't exiled. No, I actually enjoyed my quiet time. I would like to cultivate this peace in my children.
  • We were not an Af-Am version of The Waltons, Leave it to Beaver, or The Brady Bunch. On a good day, me and my family were far closer to Roseanne than we ever were to The Cosby Show. Gordon and I often talk about the regional differences in what it meant to grow up black in America. We often return to the same question: How did blackness ever become so constrained? Who gets to decide what black authenticity is? What is at stake?
Ultimately, what is blackness? How do/does/could a working class black kid find resonance and shared experience with a white ethnic kid like Woody Allen (who grew up many decades before)? How is the black experience depicted as such a narrow thing in the popular imagination that experiences such as the above are all too often put on the margins as somehow being inauthentic?

So many questions that I could not resist asking.

Monday, December 28, 2009

We All Can't Be 86 Year Old Sex Machines Caught in a Menage a Trois Plus One: Mr. Tiwari I Salute You

I couldn't resist, for this ghetto nerd and respectable negro the following story was too enticing. Mr. Tiwari, play on, player! And if you have any secrets to share on how you kept your game strong all these years by all means please email me.

Courtesy of the BBC:

The governor of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has returned to the capital Delhi after resigning following an alleged sex scandal.

ND Tiwari, who is also a leading Congress party member, resigned after a regional channel aired footage of him allegedly in bed with three women.

Mr Tiwari's office has denied the allegation, saying that the video had been doctored.

The 86-year-old Mr Tiwari has been a federal minister in past governments.

He resigned on "health grounds" on Saturday evening, his office said.

Opposition parties and women's right groups protested in the Andhra Pradesh capital, Hyderabad, after the footage allegedly showing Mr Tiwari in bed with three women was broadcast.

Sting operation?

The channel reported that the women had been brought to Mr Tiwari by a woman who had allegedly been promised a mining lease by the former governor.

The channel said the woman had decided to "expose" Mr Tiwari as "he had not kept his promise".

"The news channel report is fabricated, false and malicious to tarnish the image of the governor," said a statement issued by an aide to the governor.

Mr Tiwari's resignation comes at a time when Andhra Pradesh has been rocked by protests over the federal government's decision to allow a new state in the Telangana region.

An estimated 35 million people will live in the new state.

Mr Tiwari is a top Congress party politician and has previously served as the chief minister of northern Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and as a federal minister.

We All Can't Be Michelle and Barack Obama: A Commodity Greater than Gold--Black Women Discuss the Near Impossibily of Finding a Good Black Man

I didn't know that I was so valued! Where are all of my queens hiding?

Whoa is the state of Black America when Steve Harvey is our resident expert on black relationships. I will have a guest this week (or perhaps next) who will be chiming in on the black marriage gap (sounds like the missile gap of the Cold War, no?). For now, some impulsive and less than well considered thoughts--that is my way of asking the women folk to not be too hard on a brother.

Who is to blame here? The brothers or the sisters? If you look at the out-marriage statistics, most people of all races (even Asian women who are the most likely to out-marry) marry within their own race. I have many female friends who often recite the "all the good black men are with white women" line. My response: most black people are dating each other. I submit that we only tend to notice those dating across the racial line because while increasingly common, those pairings remain relatively atypical.

More generally, how do we explain attraction and chemistry? In addition, how much do marriage markets play into this (i.e. the pool of available partners in a given social milieu given one's expectations and willingness to trade one trait for another--income, education, attraction, race, age, etc.)

What of these sisters' standards? Only men who are 6 feet tall? 50 requirements? The likely response from these (quite beautiful) women would be that white women don't settle, so why should they? My intuition: the grass is always greener on the other side. Based on my observations white men are often as raggedy as black men, and white women are not having that easy a time of it. Am I wrong?

Finally, are these sisters looking in the mirror and asking themselves, "is there something about me that is turning folks off?" In the immortal words of Michael Jackson should these women start with the man/woman/person in the mirror when looking to explain their situation? Being really provocative, are some of these women damaged goods? Is their "singledom" a function of a self-fulfilling prophecy where bad choices lead to more bad choices and negativity attracts negativity?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hole in the Soul--The Tragic Lives of African American Actors in A Christmas Story Part 1: Percy Jones' Story

In keeping with our interviews with such notables as Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan, and the irrepressible Brother X-Squared, the We Are Respectable Negroes News Network (WARNNN) is proud to bring you the newest installment in our hard hitting special investigative series.

The movie A Christmas Story has become a new classic. Based upon a collection of short stories by Jean Shephard, what was once a niche movie has become a staple of the holiday season. A Christmas Story is genius in its simplicity: a young boy who only wants a Red Ryder BB gun, the machinations necessary to make this dream come true, and the adventures of an "all American" family as a date with Santa Claus approaches. It is of no small coincidence that A Christmas Story saw a rise in popularity during the Culture Wars of the 1980s--a moment of increasingly toxic and fractured politics. In many ways A Christmas Story is a salve for those heated debates about what America is--and what America is to become in the future. No doubt encouraged by this appeal to a simpler age of Norman Rockwellesque 1940s America (the film itself is set in nondescript Hammond, Indiana)--as well as 24 hour marathons on TNT and TBS--A Christmas Story has generated a huge following that has given birth to conventions, tours of the home featured in the film, and a cottage industry based upon A Christmas Story related memorabilia.

Every holiday season A Christmas Story brings so much joy to so many. What became of its actors? We know that some have been able to parlay their childhood success into some amount of fame as adults. We must ask: What happened to A Christmas Story's African-American actors and actresses? Seemingly lost to history, WARNNN has conducted an expansive search to bring the struggles of these actors to light. While these brave actors and actresses of color are forever linked to what is now an indispensable fixture in American popular culture, as is so often the case they have been denied the success, fame, and wealth earned by their white peers.

WARNNN brings you their story.

Almost invisible, the black characters in A Christmas Story are conspicuous by their absence as central characters. Present on the margins, muted both literally and figuratively, the African-American characters carry a heavy weight on their shoulders as embodiments of the role played by people of color in the American imagination: black Americans are rendered forever present through the fact of their exclusion from the master narrative.

A Christmas Story is set in pre-World War 2, 1940s Indiana, a time when legal segregation and white supremacy were still very much the rule of the land. Thus, A Christmas Story's exclusion of people of color in its vision of American suburban life is to be expected. Not to be denied, several black Americans responded to the casting call for A Christmas Story. They were determined that the presence of black Americans in this nostalgic vision of America's past be acknowledged. These pioneers would not be white washed out of history! However, what these actors would find would be no small amount of struggle...and experiences that would forever impact their lives in the decades to follow.

WARNNN had an extremely difficult time locating the black actors of A Christmas Story. They have seemingly been erased from any record of the film's production and distribution. It was only through a series of interviews with the film's cast, and a poignant confessional by Director Bob Clark (during which he expressed great sorrow at the treatment of African Americans in the film) that WARNNN was able to rediscover these heretofore lost tales of personal tragedy and triumph. There were four black actors in A Christmas Story. What follows is the first of 3 installments on their post A Christmas Story lives.

Percy Jones was the first actor that we were able to locate. Sadly, our ability to find Mr. Jones was made easier by his new identity--inmate number 203157 in Attica State Correctional Facility. While A Christmas Story is Americana come to life, Percy's life story is that of urban America gone wrong. Like so many young men of color caught up in the system, Mr. Jones (the oldest black actor in A Christmas Story) could not escape the sad mix of Hollywood fame, drugs, and the trauma he suffered while filming A Christmas Story.

We scheduled a meeting with Percy during a lazy after Sunday afternoon in November of 2009. Mr. Jones awaited us in the visitor's center. Since his arrest in 1989, he has been a model prisoner. Because of his exemplary status, the guards afforded him some degree of privacy as we were seated in a semi-private area in the corner of the main visitor's room. A tall man, now in his 50s, Percy has a hard earned dignity to his features. Sharply intelligent, yet understated and modest, Percy greets us warmly and with an exhalation of relief, "You came to talk about A Christmas Story? Do I have a story to tell you..."

We began by asking a simple question: How did you end up in Attica?

Percy looked down, "It was a random series of events that were simultaneously unavoidable. A Christmas Story gave me so much, but it also took much more than it gave. I simply couldn't avoid its clutches." He began to spin a story that was at one time utterly predictable, yet imminently fascinating. Percy continued, "I was a hustler, always was. I grew up in Cleveland in the late 1960s, I came of age in the 1970s after the riots. I was running with different gangs, you know all the Black Power groups that fell out with each other and lost the politics and picked up the guns. I got arrested a few times and had an epiphany. I had to get off the streets. I hooked up with my first high school girlfriend and started taking acting classes at the local community college."

At this point, Percy looked nervous and a bit saddened. He looked down to the shoulder of his orange jumpsuit and wiped a tear away from his eye. Percy continued, "the directors of the film were scouting local schools and colleges. They found me. It was immediate. They said they were making this Christmas movie and that I was perfect for a pivotal role. I immediately said yes. I didn't have a SAG card so I had to get one...the film subsidized it. I also got an advance. 1,000 dollars for my appearance. Man, I was so happy. I took my girl out, lord it was nice, we conceived Nichelle that night...she is my daughter. I got my mom a new tv. I brought my lady a necklace and I got a record player cassette player combo for my car. We were living large."

I asked the obvious question, one that often hints at the trouble awaiting Hollywood's newest stars, "did you sign a contract? What about residuals? What about back end money?" Percy looked up at me with heavy eyes, "come on brother, of course not! I didn't know about any of that stuff. So, I got to the set. It was supposed to be 3 days of filming. I thought this was my chance to break out, you know? To bring some dignity to the role I was playing. The wardrobe people walked up to me and sat me down for a fitting. Something wasn't right. I looked at the costumes and they had a black mask, and a striped shirt and some tight pants. I was like come on now, who the hell dresses like this!"

As viewers of A Christmas Story know, Percy is one of the members of the Black Bart gang that attacks Ralphie's home during the pivotal Red Rider BB gun fantasy. This is a key scene in the film that helps to set the stage for the near fetishistic power that Ralphie's Red Ryder BB gun holds over him that holiday season.

"I accepted the role as criminal as par for the course. You see I had a plan, I wasn't some lame who would get played. I was gonna make the role something special. I was gonna be James Cagney in Scarface. The world is mine! The director approached me and said that he wanted me to method act, to go to that dark place I lived in when I was on the streets. To really impute the role is what he called it. That was the beginning, that energy was always there, but I had suppressed it."

This is the moment where Percy's troubles began and A Christmas Story would exact a heavy toll on his well-being and life. Like a junkie remembering his first hit and retelling how he would relapse over and over again...from sobriety to and fro addiction...Percy's relationship with A Christmas Story was that of an unhealthy relationship, toxic, painful, and with an unavoidable ending.

"You see, the role didn't involve any speaking. Nothing at all. I was supposed to jump over this fence and get shot. Man it hurt so bad. They were slave drivers on the set. 3 days became 10 days became 15 days, on and on and on. I didn't know that the contract said they could do this. Of course, they threw me a little more money. But, I was internalizing the pain, you know what I mean? That little white kid kept shooting me with that BB gun. I kept dying over and over again. To add to the humiliation I was the first member of the gang shot. How humiliating. It hurt my soul."

I leaned forward and comforted Percy. His pain was so evident. I was curious, how did his costars feel about this treatment? Did he suffer alone? I carefully extended my hand to his shoulder and asked. "Chauncey, me and the other members of the gang...that is what we were called...were kept separated from the child actors on set. The directors wanted to create a sense of tension and menace about us. We were almost like real criminals. So, we would drink, use had to use painkillers to keep doing those damned stunts, and would sleep with the prostitutes and groupies on the set."

Inevitably, the movie shoot would end and Percy Jones returned to the "real world." He would go from job to job. Percy even cut a rap album, "Rapping with A Christmas Story." Sadly, it never sold more than 1,000 units. He was unable to get consistent work in Hollywood on his own. Percy secured an agent but the relationship was not fruitful. Mr. Jones had long spent the 1,000 dollars he earned from his role in A Christmas Story. Nevertheless, A Christmas Story still beckoned to him.

"I would watch the movie every year as it became more and more popular. Each year, I would become more and more enraged. So full of anger. I hoped a check would come, something. Never. I did a little research. Did you know that I was never even in the Screen Actor's Guild? Nope. Those crooks gave me a fake id card so they could exploit me! All that I had was the costume from the movie. I tried to sell it at a pawn shop, but got no takers. This was before Ebay and the Internets. It started to beckon to me, almost talking to me at night. I would lay there in bed next to the wife and that costume would call me. Quite literally it would whisper to me, telling me to man up and get mine."

I knew the ending of the story, but had to ask the inevitable question.

"Brother Chauncey, I did it! They wanted me to be a thug, a criminal again. And I couldn't resist. I put on that damn outfit and mask and got me a gun. Sure as hell did. I went on a rampage. I robbed everybody I could find. I became like a real life version of Omar on the show The Wire. Hell, in Cleveland I was The Ghost of Christmas Past. I was the king and I was putting some coal in your damn stocking!"

In a sad end, Percy Jones explained how he was arrested on Christmas Day, some six months after his crime spree began. High on crack, exhausted, and sleeping on a dirty mattress in a cheap motel, Percy (still in costume) was taken down by the Cleveland police department's SWAT team. Percy Jones, the Black Bart stickup man, became an urban legend. I heard the rumors, the poetic irony of his story had long been on the tongues of folks in Cleveland, so I had to know if the details were true.

"Yup, the rumors were true. I never had a real gun. I used a Red Ryder BB gun--I sawed off the barrel--and robbed folks. They were so victims had no idea I was playing them. I got 50 years, can you imagine that? I would have actually been better off if I had been using a real burner, at least I could have fought off the cops."

Our time together had come to an end. The prison guard politely motioned towards us that we should end the interview. Percy leaned in, happy to have made a new friend. Yet, his countenance was heavy with thought and reflection..."Tell the people that I am not the only one. Go out and find the other brothers and sisters from A Christmas Story. Trust, I had it comparatively easy. Find the others, what they have gone through will blow your mind! We were struggling, trying to do the right thing for all of the black folk out there. But that damn movie just got us caught in its clutches! Maybe, just maybe, justice will be done if the truth is known."

In our next installment we bring you the story of Little Red Ryder, once an innocent young school child, now a fallen woman...

Merry Christmas My Respectable Negro Friends and Family

Happy holidays all. I am most certainly happier this year than I was one year past (fingers crossed...don't want to jinx it). I got something I will post later today after my video game playing, new computer assembling, movie going day.

Today, please do something nice for someone dear to you. Also, please do something nice for a stranger (my rule is 20 bucks to a random homeless person).

Peace and good will...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Measure of a Man: What Does Avatar Tell Us About Masculinity, Wounded Warriors, and Disability?

***I am very fortunate to have really smart friends. After seeing
Avatar, I called my fellow sci-fi geek, expert in all things Star Wars to complain about the travesty that is Avatar. Bill the Lizard disagreed and offered what is a compelling take on Avatar--one that I had not considered, and that goes well beyond more narrow analyses that undercut Avatar as either an ode to white guilt or a cgi version of Dances with Wolves. For your consideration.***

Science fiction provides people with a privileged insight into topics and subject matter that would otherwise be inaccessible. Within science fiction, the author is freed to fully explore social issues through the use of allegory. In turn, this use of allegory frees the audience as well--allowing them to see themes in a film from a more critically distant vantage point.

To that end, James Cameron’s new movie Avatar is sparking a diverse debate across the internet. It is a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker that so many people can look at one work and bring to the table totally different ideas.

One such discussion is how Avatar handles race, or more specifically, how Avatar handles the racial “other.”

Annalee Newitz, editor of io9, states the following about the film: “Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege.” She goes on to state: “Whites still get to be leaders of the natives - just in a kinder, gentler way than they would have in an old Flash Gordon flick or in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels.”

In a broad sense, I agree that Avatar touches on the subject of race in a very tangible way, and that at face value, it’s often hard to see Avatar as being anything more than just a retelling of Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves or John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest.

However, I disagree with Ms. Newitz’s assertion that this movie is just a classic white guilt fantasy. Avatar is not racist, nor is it a calculated example of a kinder gentler form of social imperialism.

What many people seem to forget is that Jake Sully, the main character, is established early on in the story as being both an ostracized and emasculated character. Thus, he does not fall into the classic white privilege archetype that you see in white guilt fantasy.

Jake Sully is emasculated in a literal sense because of a combination of physical injury, financial inadequacy and family tragedy. Not only is Jake Sully a Marine who cannot walk or fight, but more tragically he knows that there is a cure for his injury, but cannot afford it. Further, Jake’s closest relative, his twin brother, has been killed in a meaningless act of violence that Jake could not prevent, and now Jake is now forced to step forward into a position that he does not feel he is smart enough to handle.

Because of this, the Jake Sully we first meet is evocative of the character Jake Barnes from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Like Barnes, I would not be surprised if Jake Sully is also suffering from some form of physical, as well as emotional emasculation. Impotence and incontinence are very common side effects with paraplegia, and since The Sun Also Rises deals specifically with the loss of optimism and innocence after a bloody war, I would suggest that there are a great many similar themes at play.

It’s clearly mentioned in the beginning of the movie that Jake Sully saw “some serious shit” in Venezuela, and James Cameron is an adept enough writer and director to pay attention to the details. Just because James Cameron doesn’t hit you over the head with hyper-melodramatic moments in regards to Jake Sully’s disabilities, it does not mean that these elements are not present in Avatar.

As a result, Jake Sully cannot be strictly viewed as the white man who never gave up “white privilege.” To say that Jake never gave up “white privilege” somehow infers that Jake had the privilege of racial entitlement and immunity before he joined the Avatar program. But, as already established in his back-story, if he ever had political, social, monetary or intellectual power, it is definitely not present at the beginning of the film.

This is not to say that Jake Sully, the character, is disillusioned or helpless – he’s not. In point of fact, Jake is determined to apply his knowledge and skills towards his own self-care and development. However, despite his desires to better himself and initially work within the confines of his own culture, he is still an “other” who at first is forced to operate outside of the two dominant spheres of influence at the Hell’s Gate facility on Pandora: the soldiers and the scientists.

As the story develops, we soon find Jake embracing his role within the Avatar program. While the scientists are slowly accepting him, it’s very apparent that Sully would rather immerse himself within the Na’vi culture through his interactions with Neytiri. The reasons for this are easily apparent: not only does the avatar body give Jake all of the things that he had physically lost, but also being with the Na’vi (and specifically Neytiri) emotionally completes him.

This notion of self-completion (in both a physical and an emotional sense) is very important to recognize in the narrative. For example, we begin to see evidence of Jake’s willingness to leave his old life behind by the fact that he stops eating, bathing or taking care of his human body. His old life, the life of a paraplegic and a type of now immediate a literal “other,” is rapidly becoming the unwelcome dream--and Sully’s ties to the Na’vi his new reality.

Furthermore, by deciding to become fully Na’vi at the end of the film, Jake makes a decision that is very similar to someone who may elect to have sex reassignment surgery. He is changing his outside in order to better fit what he knows is correct for him as an individual. Many people who have gender identity issues refuse to accept what is increasingly a dated notion of “medical normality,” that those in the “trans” community have a disorder. Here, gender is a social construct that is completely unrelated to biology. Similarly, while Jake Sully may be biologically human, it does not change the fact that he knows that he belongs with Neytiri, his life-mate.

In the end, it’s all about bringing your body into harmony with your perceptions of your own identity. I don’t think that it’s by accident that the Na’vi say “I love you” by saying “I see you.” Neytiri “sees” Jake, regardless of what form he’s in. When she saves Jake’s life at the end of the film, it’s easy to see the love in her eyes - despite the fact that she’s holding a small broken human who is all but helpless in her arms. Similarly, Jake “sees” her and loves her regardless of the fact that she’s not human. This is the dominant theme and meaning of Avatar.

As an important historical aside, I would also strongly suggest that Jake Sully is a Hugh Thompson, Jr.-like character. Hugh Thompson, Jr. was the US Army helicopter pilot who, along with his gunners, attempted to stop the My Lai Massacre in the village of Sơn Mỹ in 1968.

During the My Lai Massacre some 450 unarmed civilians were ruthlessly killed by about a dozen US soldiers, and Thompson, in an effort to stop what he saw as “pure premeditated murder,” threatened to shoot the US soldiers if they did not stop. In short, Thompson followed his moral center and fought against the atrocities that were being committed by his own countrymen. He did this regardless of the cost to himself.

Thompson received numerous death threats for his actions in Vietnam. He was also labeled as a “race traitor;” much like Jake Sully is in the film.

Thompson was then betrayed by his own government, by his commanders attempting to cover up the massacre, and 30 years later, while Thompson finally did receive recognition for his selfless act, he is quoted as saying in a 60 Minutes interview: “I mean, I wish I was a big enough man to say I forgive them, but I swear to God, I can't.”

Sometimes following your own moral center (like Thompson), while at the same time realizing who you are as an individual, is not “going native” as Annalee Newitz and others infer:

“Going native” is a racist and derogatory term from the 19th century imperial imagination. It is the idea that the indigenous population can corrupt a white person where they somehow ”lose themselves” to a “barbaric,” seductive, exotic culture. The indigenous population never corrupts Jake – in contrast Jake Sully is “completed” by the indigenous population and truly becomes a whole person by the end of the film.

Yes, Colonel Quaritch accuses Jake of “going native,” but that is because Quaritch is the racist (or more correctly the speciesist). It’s Quaritch who doesn’t care about the Na’vi, and it’s his employer, the RDA (Resources Development Administration) who feels that these people are merely implements, tools to be used for human expansion and progress.

Jake Sully understands that the Na’vi live according to their own traditional and tribal belief systems. All that Jake asks of the Na’vi is for them to judge him in the light of those beliefs. The fact that the Na’vi accept Jake so completely, enough to even follow him into battle, shows that the Na’vi view Sully based on his actions and merit. Ironically, the Na’vi “see Jake,” in a way that his own people are completely unable to.

Ultimately, while Annalee Newitz and others may see Jake Sully as that “white guy [who] manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member,” I would argue that she is missing the mark. Jake Sully already feels that the Na’vi are his family. Given his background prior to the climax of the movie, is it all that surprising that he would fight to protect them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 12 Days of Christmas: Barack Obama Shot Glasses, Action Figures, Cocoa Butter, and Bikini Line Bump Remover

The holiday season is upon us. I have some fun X-Mas related pieces forthcoming (volume 2 of my gift giving guide for ign't boys and girls should help with your last minute shopping). In the meantime, I am still out there hustling for the people. Following Obama's election, I asked you to send in your best/worst examples of the commodification of Barack Obama. Given that this is Obama's first Christmas in office, one would think that there would be many Obama bargains to be had. It seems that our local merchants in Chicago have certainly not disappointed. To that point, a recent trip to Walgreens revealed the following reviling O-man goodness (come on, talk about a sentence that is as smooth as wiping one's behind with silk!):

Barack Obama Shot Glasses

Now you too can get your drink on with the first black president of the United States.

This is really poetic. Given that Obama's numbers are going into the tank, perhaps we/him/us need a drink to celebrate the end of the year. Alternatively, we can take a drink to celebrate the fact that the brother is still breathing, safe, and making history in a world where there are all too many nut jobs that would do him harm.

Michelle and Barack Obama Action Figures

Kablamm! Boom! Pow! Sorry, just making my customary action figure noises. What adventures would you have with these fully articulated Obama action figures? Would Obama be a 24esque Shaft meets Matt Damon meets 007 superspy who comes to save Michelle Obama from the foul, lustful, frothing mouthed clutches of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck? Will you make a Christmas themed diorama that is a hyper accurate 1/16th scale version of the White House where the Obama action figures host an elaborate gala ball while some Motown Christmas music plays in the background?

Odd (or Perfect) Product Placement Number One: Obama Merchandise and Cocoa Butter

How products are placed on the shelves at retail is neither coincidental nor accidental. Consultants, leveraging decades of data about shopping and consumption patterns, place products in such a way (at eye level for example, or on endcaps) as to promote impulse purchasing (ooh look I just have to have a Snuggy!), complementary purchases (peanut butter and jelly), and a sense of fun and pleasure (don't I feel better from spending the day out and about in the mall. I feel so alive!) from the shopping experience. Ultimately, in the eyes of the Mad Men of the world, we are nothing more than self-perpetuating happiness machines.

What does the placement of Obama related merchandise near the cocoa butter section of aisle 1 suggest? Do black folks love cocoa butter, where while grabbing a bottle of Palmer's said coloured person will also feel the impulse to share in Obama's victory?Is it more about race pride, linked fate, and feeling good about one's blackness? You know that sense of positive energy and connectedness that comes with getting a new haircut, putting on some cocoa butter, and then buying some commemorative Obama merchandise?

Odd (or Perfect) Product Placement Number Two: It's Sexy Time! Bikini Bump Remover Paired with Barack Obama Merchandise?

I am at a loss for this one. Is this some signal to our most prurient desires where tidying up one's girl parts (or boy parts) leads one to buy an Obama sweater, shot glass, or action figure? Is this part of a love ritual? Given that the Obamas are Black Camelot embodied, are regular black and brown folk roleplaying as Michelle and Obama? Is there some romance afoot? And what does the order of one's purchase of these Obama related goods tell us about the sexual magic to follow?

For example: if one buys the bikini zone bump stopper first, then the cocoa butter, then the shot glass and finally the action figures what freakiness is going down that night? I would suggest that said purchases suggest fixing up one's kitty, then lotioning up, putting on the lingerie (most likely from Cacique) filling up the shot glasses with some cognac as a lubricant for the evening's events, and placing the action figures on the end table as totems/fetishes to enhance sexual potency (you know dude is going hard that night and needs some superman strength).

What am I missing? In what order would you suggest these items be used? Do you have any photos to share of local Obama X-Mas madness from you 'hood?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar is An Ode to White Guilt or Avatar is Like a Beautiful Woman Who You Lose Interest in the Minute After You Sleep with Her

Avatar is a beautiful movie that is best suited as a premier display piece for home theater systems on the floor of Best Buy. It is an amazing technical accomplishment. Avatar's 3d effects are the stuff of imagination--truly redefining for the genre of action and sci-fi film. But as often is the failing of beautiful things, Avatar has nothing new to offer. In its synthetic story we have seen elements recycled--elements done far better elsewhere. Likewise, in reading the overly enthusiastic praise offered by professional critics, and observing how some in the audience cheered and looked wide eyed at Cameron's display of technical brilliance as though it were a thing never seen before, I smiled.

It was not a smile of condescension, what I like to call "geek contrariness" where folks just want to be "haters" as to appear smart and witty. No, I was thinking of Lloyd Bentsen, the 1992 Vice Presidential Democratic Candidate and his ownage of Dan Quayle in their debate. There Quayle alluded to JFK. Bentsen looked at the baby faced, dim witted candidate (a male Sara Palin before her reign of terror over the know-nothings and willfully ignorant Right-wing Populists) and smiled. He replied: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

In that spirit, I must proclaim the following: Avatar, I know Star Wars. I love Star Wars. Avatar, you are no Star Wars.

I will dispense with a more detailed review of the movie except to offer the following--read any review of the film Dances with Wolves and substitute Avatar for the latter. While Costner's epic is far more enjoyable (Wolves is an "A" film, Avatar is "C+" at best), the general review will read the same. As to avoid redundancy, I offer the following questions and observations:

1. How much white guilt and colonial fantasy is present in Avatar? White human guy can go and become an alien, return to his human body, expose the wickedness of his human brethren toward the noble savages, and then lead a revolt against the evil human corporate henchmen. Second thought: did anyone else catch the phrase "race traitor" flippantly thrown about in the film? Third thought: while I am ashamed to admit it, I love Colonel Quaritch's proclamation that, "We will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep they won't come within a thousand clicks of here ever again!" If I ever get into fisticuffs with an ign't again in my life, I am going to scream that phrase as I beat them into submission.

How many articles, critical essays, and reviews are going to be written just on that one element of the film--the colonial imagination--ten, twenty, thirty? How many are going to be worth reading? I am getting my outline ready as we speak.

2. Are the Na'Vi supposed to be Masai warriors? Tell me the resemblance is not uncanny. Easter egg: "Na'Vi" is "Native" minus "E.T." Cool move.

3. On the white guilt point, so the Na'Vi take into their community a representative of their enemies, who learns their culture in three months, mates with an heiress to the tribe's leadership, rises to lead all the Na'Vi peoples against the human invaders, and gives poor said aliens agency enough to fight back. Come on! Talk about the white man's burden redux.

4. I will concede that the Na'Vi got some soul with their fiber optic lovemaking and magic swaying to and fro under the mystical tree. In fact, the Na'Vi's music sounded like something off of a world music soundtrack one could buy at Starbucks. But for my dollar, I prefer the Ewok celebration at the end of Jedi:

5. Final music point: when will John Horner stop recycling music from Glory and Willow?

6. For a spot on deconstruction of white guilt in Avatar (she beat me to it) see Annalee Newitz's piece on the great site Io9.

7. How fitting is the following? The Marines have the following saying of which they are quite proud: "Join the Marines, Travel to Exotic Distant Lands, Meet Exotic People and Kill Them." Mate some Greenpeace ethos with the spirit of the above slogan and you have Avatar summed up quite nicely.

8. How many movies and classic sci-fi novels does Avatar unsuccessfully borrow from? I count the following: Forever War; Old Man War; Dune; District 9; Aliens; Dances with Wolves; A Man Called Horse; Final Fantasy; Last Samurai; Pocahontas; New World; Zulu; Tarzan; Ferngully; the Star Wars Trilogy. What did I miss, Captain Planet?

9. I am not hating on synthetic films--I love Tarantino for example. What is so troubling to me is how Cameron has such an eye for detail in this film and has created such a wondrous planet (the world of the Na'vi is so beautiful and well thought out, the lack of innovation in terms of narrative is made painfully obvious by comparison). Furthermore, the glowing errors of reasoning and exposition in other aspects of Avatar is a glaring oversight as well. This leads us to...

10. I am a gearhead, ghetto geek. In layman's terms this means I pay attention to military hardware, strategy, and tactics in my films. To point: did the mercs in Avatar graduate from a correspondence course? Why wouldn't they simply destroy the Na'Vi from orbit? Why would they bring in their capital ships within close range of their enemies? Thus, sacrificing all their advantages of firepower and technology? Some other thoughts. Why can't the military simply turn off what is basically an elaborate wi-fi connection between the operators and the avatars? Who would invest money in such a technology without including a kill switch?

Yes, it is a film. But, Cameron could give us a wink in the narrative to explain this error in reasoning. Was there something about the planet that demanded they come in close to fight it out with some dirty boxing?

11. Second gearhead point: so the humans can travel between stars, cover light years of distance, and master transferring human consciousness into a host body, but we can't make a type of transparent steel that can stop arrows and spears? Just thinking aloud...

12. I am not a hater. Colonel Quaritch is a badass. As proof of my allegiance to the Clan Quaritch, I will most certainly dress as our leader next Halloween.

13. Does Avatar take place in the same universe as Cameron's Aliens films?

14. On Quaritch again, the knife his mech pulled out was 10 kinds of awesome! Did anyone else notice the engraving on the blade? Was it a prize taken from a fallen Na'Vi warrior?

15. How great will Robotech be if shot using Cameron's 3d technology?

16. What did you love about the movie? What did you hate? Were you as disappointed as I was? Or have I lost the eyes and heart of my 12 year old self as demonstrated by my inability to appreciate the wondrous genius that is Avatar?