Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Muhammad Ali on the KKK



Hope your turkey day was good. I also hope you didn't go out and act the fool for some cheap, made in China garbage from Walmart or boutique Target.

Ali's famous speech before the KKK is just a little weekend thinking project for those so inclined.

As I have often shared, Muhammad Ali is one of my few heroes. I love him because of his complexity, not despite it. While Ali is one of the elder gods who I do so admire, I do not lionize him. And yes, there is a difference.

For those who lived through the tumultuous moments of Ali's career as a living, breathing, figure of no small controversy, what are you thoughts about his canonization in the 21st century? For others--and especially for those that watched the Thriller in Manila documentary from which the above clip is taken--how would you respond to those who portray Ali as a bit of an anti-hero--a man whose motives and intent are secular and not divine, a real person, who is capable of both good and bad?

Ultimately, was the greatest really "The Greatest?" Or was he a man who made choices because of his handlers' whims, a consummate pragmatist and performer, a hero who is far less than we imagine him to be?

10 comments:

CNu said...

Marcellus Ali failed in much the same way as Bruce Lee failed. Those singularly superior talents harnessed to a physical discipline made him a celebrity, but it is only the harnessing of the ego to a superior discipline that is sufficient to make a man heroic.

{That narrator's voice sounds just like the voice of Adam Curtis' subrealist ouevre of documentary films.}

Xulon said...

I think he was "The Greatest", with the caveat that entertainer is part of what made him the greatest. Growing up in Lilly-white suburbs, part of what I liked was how he scared so many people (especially my parents). The loudmouth arrogant. I never thought he had an ego problem but that the loudmouth was just part of his schtick. (I recently talked with a guy who was in the Olympics with him and read a book on the 1960 Olympics which both kinda confirmed that) A similar situation (though not as grand), split along the same lines, was around Reggie Jackson

"he only wins because it's fixed and he's black" was a common comment, which always caused me to ask "what about that all his opponents were black too?" (okay, there was Jerry Quarry, but still)I really never took his rants as much more than a show, though I remember sometimes thinking he was going a bit far. I don't remember the gorilla bit, but I remember him calling Joe Frazier "Uncle Tom" and things like that. I also remember before his last fight, he went into an unfortunate "show" ending up being really insulting to his support crew. The next day's media time, he apologized to them and for the first time, introduced them to the media.

So, scattershot thoughts on Ali quasi-related to your post. Thanks for stirring it up. For a while, I had that picture of him standing over Floyd Patterson as my desktop.

chaunceydevega said...

Cnu--That makes me think about the nature of heroism. Was Ali heroic in not wanting to go to 'Nam or was he a "coward?" The tendency is to once more paint him as truly noble in this regard, but some who knew him suggested that he was really afraid of being killed (who wouldn't be?) and his religion provided him a ready narrative of escape. Now, that having been said, would celebrities of his stature today, esp. athletes do such a thing, i.e. give up all that money on principle. Highly likely no--Tillman excluded.

Xulon. Tell me more about your parents and kin. Were they truly afraid of him? Was it the type of "uppity" blackness they feared? On being an entertainer he learned so much from the wrestler Gorgeous George and Ali often talked about learning his stagecraft by watching wrestlers cut promos.

xulon said...

I would not say my parents were prejudiced, but they were children of the 30s/40s. The 60s were pretty threatening all around to that status quo. Combining a couple of threats, here is also something I had on my desktop for a while (how does one do links here? Copy/paste is all I can see to do.) http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/beatles-and-muhammed-ali/ Catholic dad, Baptist mom who converted. Five kids. In my High school of some 1200 students, there was one black, but by the time I graduated the number of blacks tripled.

Also, This is the book I recently read. http://www.amazon.com/Rome-1960-Olympics-Changed-World/dp/B002PJ4HHQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290894462&sr=8-1

Xulon said...

I noticed that I changed the word from "scared" to threatened". Threatened is probably the better word. My neighborhood was not wringing their hands over Ali, but there was a big pushback, which seemed to me to be out of proportion.

CNu said...

Was Ali heroic in not wanting to go to 'Nam or was he a "coward?" The tendency is to once more paint him as truly noble in this regard, but some who knew him suggested that he was really afraid of being killed (who wouldn't be?) and his religion provided him a ready narrative of escape. Now, that having been said, would celebrities of his stature today, esp. athletes do such a thing, i.e. give up all that money on principle. Highly likely no--Tillman excluded.

When the brothers started going in on their commanding officers in mass quantities, THAT was both heroic and highly competent because of its massive effect on the monoculture and its activities. (of course we've subsequently reaped the whirlwind in the aftermath of this soldiers revolt)

I am always turrrrrribly conflicted when it comes to principled martyrdom on behalf of negroes - because cap'n-save-a-ho is always a no-go. OTOH - martyrdom on behalf of the monocultural killing machine is strictly.out.of.the.kwestin. Marcellus Ali both pursued and enjoyed the fruits of talent, ego, and celebrity, I believe preferentially, to any transcendent commitment to his art, his religion, or our people.

Contemporary celebrities are heirs to generations of subject matter expertise on the pattern and practice of celebrity as a thing in itself. sheeeeeiiiiiittttt......, what is the lesson to be learned from a Paris Hilton or a Sarah Palin?

Thrasher said...

My take away from Ali was his comments about the Viet-Cong never called me a nigger...

That simple cut to the chase nailed the nature and essence of my country's relationship with me and my people..

chaunceydevega said...

@cnu--Quotable! "is only the harnessing of the ego to a superior discipline that is sufficient to make a man heroic."

@Xulon--Check out the DVD Facing Ali. It is a bit of a love fest, but to here his opponents talk about him is so very enlightening. My parents were of the 40s and 20s. I know much of their fears and they were likely in common with those shared by your parents too. But, please clarify: what were you parents afraid of in the 1960s? How did the world seem to be coming undone?

I ask because for some those were glorious years, for others terrifying.

@Cnu 2: "Contemporary celebrities are heirs to generations of subject matter expertise on the pattern and practice of celebrity as a thing in itself. "

What would Jack Johnson have to say about black celebrity today?

CNu said...

Can a brother get an intro to Chelsea Handler?

Thrasher said...

Jack Johnson would probably say 'where da white girls at'...