Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I do some great impressions. My personal favorites are Mick from the Rocky films and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not content to rest on my past performances, I always try to innovate. For Mick, I push the limits and imagine that he could have cursed out Clubber Lang with the most racially, angry white (black) Irish bigotry infused speech possible. With Brother Martin, I alternate between an inflection that is one part car salesmen turned preacher, and one part preacher turned pimp.
Did I just offend?
I often share stories about the perils, mischievous joys, and unexpected ironies of being a black working class guy tasked with teaching classrooms of majority white students about the relationship between race, American politics and popular culture. As I once hinted at, and fellow traveler Gordon Gartrelle once alluded to in a comment some years back, I am no keeper of sacred flames or idyllic truths.
This speaks to both temperament (kid gloves are just not my style) and pedagogy (I do not believe that teachers should allow students to remain in the dark, laying with the other troglodytes in Plato's cave). On Dr. King's birthday my priors almost always inevitably lead to a moment of reflection where I ask the following question: Should we tell complicated, rich, and nuanced stories about a man who did great things? Or alternatively, ought we stick to the official script and tell a flat story that fits within America's mythology, one that offers a vision of King's life which is more appropriate for School House Rock than for a college classroom?
To that end, let's take a trip down memory lane. For those who have already taken this walk please enjoy it once again...as I never tell the same story the same way twice. For those new to the journey, please indulge me as I spin a tale.
As I have shared before in my not frequent writings on teaching, I have found myself in some interesting dilemmas. I have shown videos featuring Fleece Johnson and the Tossed Salad man when discussing The New Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex. I have also used Paul Mooney and Dave Chappelle to discuss the normativity of whiteness and how race is a social construct. Of course I love to deconstruct the unedited version of Nelly's legendary Tip Drill video when discussing gender, the black body, commercial hip hop, and the pornographic imagination.
While some colleagues and friends have enthusiastically suggested that I should put the comfort of students first, and to "meet them where they are," I reject said position. Why dilute a claim that can make for an exciting and intellectually productive exchange? And how better a way to improve one's skills as a teacher, scholar, and thinker, than to salvage what has on occasion become a metaphorical car wreck?
For me, Dr. King is not off limits. Nor is he safe from critical inquiry and demystification.
Some years ago my students and I were having an interesting exchange about mythologies of resistance and The Civil Rights Movement. There I offered a much simplified version of Dennis Chong's argument that the free rider problem is operative in a person's decision to participate in a mass movement (or not). There are numerous rational and self-interested reasons to opt out. Why did so many black folk (and their allies) choose not to? Conversely, why did the vast majority of African Americans choose to not publicly participate in the war against Jim Crow by taking to the streets?
Our exchange was productive until I named that which should not be named. As an example of a grossly oversimplified--and oftentimes flat-out wrong understanding of history--I pointed out how Rosa Parks was not a tired little old lady with hurt feet who decided to sit down on a bus, a moment from which the Civil Rights Movement magically sprung. She was a trained advocate, resister, and activist who chose to exercise real agency in a decision to stand against power. Moreover, Rosa Parks was not the only person to ever be arrested for "the crime" of refusing to sit in the back of a Jim Crow bus. In fact, she was chosen for this act of political theater precisely because of how she modeled black respectability.
Light match. A firestorm then erupted.
One young sister accused me of lying. When I showed her the relevant part of Eyes on the Prize she then become even more upset and proceeded to stomp out of the room to collect herself...all the while muttering that "I killed her heroes." A compatriot said, "that wasn't true, impossible! The Civil Rights Movement didn't happen that way!"
Not one to stop in the face of weakness, I pushed harder. I asked, "what do you know of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What about Malcolm X? The Black Panthers? Angela Davis? Ida B. Wells-Barnett?" They recited their approved histories of great men, heroes and villains, and quotes taken out of context.
I probed, "what makes these people great? Were they perfect or imperfect? Were they like you and me, or were they otherworldly and divine? What practical lessons can we take from their struggles?" Surprised they looked at each other. I pushed harder: "What about Dr. King's womanizing and adulterous behavior, does this make him any less an important figure, any less monumental and courageous?"
Second explosion. Tears and more anger.
Curious, I asked a flummoxed student to explain the rage. He replied, "we aren't ready to know these things! A racist could hear what we are talking about and use it against Dr. King and black people!" I suggested that we ought not to limit our truth seeking because of what others may do, and that Dr. King as a figure, a 3 dimensional person, is made more complex, his radical Christianity and humanism made more complicated through an examination of the totality of his behavior--as opposed to the "official" Dr. King who is a two dimensional Civil Rights approved mummy or ventriloquist doll.
Ultimately I asked, "Should we not seek out complications in the world around us? Is that not why you are in college?"
Always one to push harder and turn the knife, I spoke plainly and asked, "Should it matter that Brother King was caught on tape mid-coitus moaning that "I am fucking for God!" and "I am not a negro tonight!"
More upsetness. More anger. And no small amount of shock.
On Dr. King's birthday I reflected on that day in the classroom. When not far removed from that moment by years and months I thought it was only youth and innocence which explained my students' inability to come to terms with certain truths, to complicate their stories and understandings of history. But in watching the ritualistic worship of Dr. King on Monday, my sense is that many adults, folks much older than their late teens or early twenties, would have responded in much the same way. Their words may have been different. But the sense that a hero was violated would have quite likely been the same.
This is not a sentiment which is confined to black folk. For some, the fetish object is a reverence for a childish, divinely inspired view of the Framers and the Constitution. For others, it is a pantheon of heroes of whatever ideological camp, political movement or people's struggle that they choose to identify with. Some have the myth of Reagan. While others have the myth of Martin. And more than a few tightly embrace Brother Malcolm.
I understand the need for true lies. I also understand the role of these true lies in a given community's myth of origin. But on a more basic level what explains the need of some for simple heroes? Am I so twisted and strange that the failings and complexities of those who do great deeds makes them more tangible to my eyes? That I am reminded that these heroes are real people who made choices...some for good and some for ill?
On this day after Dr. King's holiday I am curious: How do you like your heroes? On a pedestal too high for you to reach, or at eye level where they can inspire you directly?
Thursday, January 13, 2011
A Double Dose of Ugliness: Giving Voice to Sarah Palin's Know-nothing Brigades and The Tennessee Tea Parties Want to Whitewash the Constitution
Like clockwork, the reactionary Right-wing keeps it classy.
After my previous post on Sarah Palin's dog whistle use of the phrase "blood libel," I thought it only fair to give equal time to her supporters. As I tell my students, as folks try to work towards common solutions in the interest of the public good, we should treat the worldview and demands of the opposition with sincerity and honesty. Thus, we are obligated to let the Tea Party Populists New Age John Birth Right Wing reactionaries exercise full agency as they speak for their own issue positions.
In keeping with said commitment I offer you the above documentary. Right American Feeling Wronged is an insightful look at the bleeding heart of Palin's Know-nothing brigades. As a complementary piece of the puzzle, the following story details the struggle by the Tea Party and the New Right to "correct" the narrative that is U.S. history. Once more, the New Right shows us who they always have been. And one cannot help but smile when the White Soul displays its own unrepentant narcissism and myopic ugliness.
NASHVILLE — Members of Tennessee tea parties presented state legislators with five priorities for action Wednesday, including “rejecting” the federal health reform act, establishing an elected “chief litigator” for the state and “educating students the truth about America.”
About two dozen tea party activists held a news conference, then met with lawmakers individually to present their list of priorities and “demands” for the 2011 legislative session that opened Tuesday.
Regarding education, the material they distributed said, “Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
That would include, the documents say, that “the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy.”
The material calls for lawmakers to amend state laws governing school curriculums, and for textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."
“The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at,” said Rounds, whose website identifies him as a Vietnam War veteran of the Air Force and FedEx retiree who became a lawyer in 1995.
The group also wants the state legislature to reject key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as “an insult to Constitutional principles.”
The activists also said they want legislators to either start the process of amending the state Constitution to provide for the popular election of the state attorney general or to create a separate position of solicitor general who is directly elected by voters and with much of the litigation authority now vested with the attorney general.
In Tennessee, the attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court. The group’s printed material says the attorney general has reflected “views of the U.S. Constitution that conflict with those of the people of Tennessee.” It specifically says the current attorney general, Robert Cooper, has rejected “the call of the people and the General Assembly” to join with other states in contesting the constitutionality of “federal mandates, including ‘Obamacare.’”
The priorities also include terminating state subsidies for unfunded or unconstitutional federal mandates, and “enforcing constitutional law.” Later Wednesday, the Tennessee Health Care Campaign said repealing the federal health reforms would mean repealing protections the law gives consumers against insurance companies.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
This has been a very exhausting week. For my dollar, I do not know if there is any better example of the concept of collective consciousness than the spent feelings that reasonable folk are likely experiencing in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
What has really tired me (on an almost existential level) is the utter predictability of the events that have followed The Arizona Massacre. Rather than reasoned self-reflection, thus far this week we have witnessed a Right-wing media offensive. In this reimagining of events, Conservatives are now the "real" victims: they are being punished by a speech code and "McCarthyism," and (where if Rush Limbaugh is to be believed) Barack Obama and the Democrats are actually the masterminds of the political violence in Arizona.
Committed to outdoing themselves, Glenn Beck and Fox News have now embraced Sarah Palin as the victim of a proverbial witch hunt. It would seem that the collective ugliness of contemporary Conservatism and its allies has rarely been so collectively ugly.
In a video on Facebook, Sarah Palin has added her obligatory exclamation mark to the fray. In a slickly produced, teleprompter-glaring video (you can see the reflection in Palin's glasses), she named herself a victim of "blood libel." I am not surprised by this appeal to white victimology and Conservative victimhood. These tactics are staples of the Conservative, Right-wing playbook and have been for decades. And as I have said elsewhere, Sarah Palin is the premier example of white privilege and the ways in which it rewards mediocrity--rarely has someone accomplished so much with so little...and no, I am not going to play the "What if Sarah Palin were black?" game again.
I am immediately struck by two aspects of Palin's speech. Primarily, her video is a strident example of pathological narcissism (frankly, to call Palin a media whore would be too kind). How she can justify her own status as a victim in the aftermath of The Arizona Massacre, where six are dead and many more wounded, is beyond the limits of my imagination. And here I will be transparent: I am unsure if my inability to process her egomania is a failure of my own political vision or is instead a deficit in my understanding the depths of her lusting for attention and power.
Second, Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel" has attracted a good deal of negative attention and condemnation by the pundit classes. Because of the anti-Semitic roots of the phrase, Palin has been criticized for being insensitive, both because Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish) and that the term blood libel is injurious and bigoted against those of said faith.
These condemnations are misplaced. Palin was in fact hinting that she too was martyred and harassed like the Jews of Old--persecuted and killed, driven out of town, home, country, and into a semi-permanent state of Diaspora. What are claims prima facie utterly absurd.
There is however an inside game to Palin's use of the phrase blood libel--and here is where I suggest that the attention should be more rightly focused. For her audience of Right-wing Populists and Christian Evangelicals and Dominionists, Palin's allusion to martyrdom is infused with biblical and eschatological undertones. In a game of projection she/they are persecuted. She/they are victims of a liberal conspiracy. And she/they are God's elect and chosen to lead this country to greatness against Barack Obama, the mainstream media, and the "liberal totalitarian Socialists." Those outside of the club cannot hear the dog whistle politics of the Tea Party GOP and its Christian conservative base. In much the same way that McCain-Palin's wicked Barack Obama as the anti-Christ ad went over (or is that under?) the radar of the secular mainstream, "blood libel" is landing its mark with her base.
Ultimately, this is the danger embodied by Sarah Palin. She has perfected a game of feigned innocence and stupidity. Her "little old innocent me" con job has been politically (and financially) profitable despite its injurious consequences for both the public good and body politic. I used to think Palin a fool, a crony of sorts who did not know she was being played by some greater power(s). Now, in the light of The Arizona Massacre and a long pattern of demagoguery, I see Palin for the true danger she represents: She is the center of a cult of personality, one that embodies a know-nothing, reactionary, New Right, White Conservatives as victims politics that at the nadir of American Empire may become the new normal.
Frighteningly, this brand of political ideology is incapable of peaceful disagreement and reasonable negotiations over matters of public concern.
It is not so much that Palin is the problem. No, it is Palin's blind base of supplicants that take her, Beck, and the reactionary Right-wing mission as a calling. The question then remains: How did America get here? And how the hell do we navigate our way out?
Monday, January 10, 2011
On The Arizona Massacre and Gabrielle Giffords: The Right Claims Innocence But Their Language Wars Began with Newt Gingrich and GOPAC
Politics is chess and not checkers. Of course, candidates and parties can go after one another. But, we should also be mindful of (as I am so fond so saying) how styles make fights. Clearly, and this is not a condemnation per se or even a criticism, the Republican Party has been masterful in using explicit and coded language in order to generate fear and anxiety on the part of its electoral base.
Research in social-psychology has repeatedly demonstrated how fear drives the Conservative, authoritarian personality type. Thus, it makes good sense that a Right leaning politician would both encourage an environment of political insecurity and rage, and then seek to benefit from it.
Evidence of this strategy is none too hard to find.
For example, here is an excerpt from New Gingrich's style guide that was circulated during the GOPAC meetings of the 1990s in which Republican candidates are counseled on how to best describe Democrats and liberals. Notice: many of the words and phrases are still in use by the Tea Party GOP today. And one must ask, what type of politics and politicians has this game plan spawned?
Language: A Key Mechanism of Control
As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters." In the video "We are a Majority," Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."
That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.
This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used...
The list is divided into two sections: Optimistic Positive Governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community (your message) and Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic party.
Contrasting WordsOften we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
The Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords May Lead to a Momentary Pause in Right-wing Rage, But It is Encoded in Conservative DNA
I wonder if the folks who should be closely listening to Sheriff Dupnik's sage advice and wisdom will do so...
We are learning more details about The Arizona Massacre and Gabrielle Giffords' would be assassin Jared Loughner. For me, this is a difficult issue to write about because the factors leading to Saturday's shootings seem so utterly obvious. Given the Right-wing rage machine, the Conservative imagination's fetish for guns, and a bomb-throwing approach that mates a rhetoric of "real Americans" with a smearing of President Obama as a "Socialist" and a "tyrant," political violence of this scale was a matter of "when" and not "if."
Because of a reluctance to revisit already well-trotted territory, I may or may not post my essay on The Arizona Massacre. So much has been offered on the topic already--much of it far better than I could. To point, the following piece from the Guardian UK is a provocative exploration of the connections between the Arizona Massacre and the Right-wing political imagination.
It was instructive to read elected Republicans' official statements in response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting for what they did not say. The House Speaker, John Boehner, said: "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured and their families. This is a sad day for our country." Arizona Senator John McCain issued the following: "I am horrified by the violent attack on representative Gabrielle Giffords and many other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion. I pray for Gabby and the other victims, and for the repose of the souls of the dead and comfort for their families. Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race."
All well and good, and I have no doubt every word is sincere. But you'll note that they are silent on the question of the violent rhetoric that emanates from the rightwing of American society. You don't have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday.
Is he a nut? Of course he's a nut. By definition, anyone who shoots innocent people like that has a screw loose. But nuts come in many varieties. There are some who think Dick Cheney planned 9/11, others who believe the CIA has installed eavesdropping devices in their fillings, and still others who insist they're the reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don't have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that "you don't have to accept the federalist laws". He called a female classmate who had an abortion a "terrorist".
In sum, he had political ideas, which not everyone does. Many of them (not all, but most) were right wing. He went to considerable expense and trouble to shoot a high-profile Democrat, at point-blank range right through the brain. What else does one need to know? For anyone to attempt to insist that the violent rhetoric so regularly heard in this country had no likely effect on this young man is to enshroud oneself in dishonesty and denial.
I would like to report to you that my nation is in shock, and that we will work together to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Alas, neither of these things is close to true. Of course an event like this is hard to believe in the moment; but in the context of our times, it's really not surprising at all. Last summer, a California man armed himself and set off for San Francisco with the express intent of killing liberals at a nonprofit foundation that had been pilloried by Glenn Beck and others. Only the lucky accident of his arrest en route for drunk driving prevented the mayhem then.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has documented more than two dozen killings by or arrests of rightwing extremists who intended to do serious political violence since 2008. One Tennessee man killed two worshippers at a liberal church, regretting only that he had not been able to ice the 100 liberals named by author Bernard Goldberg as those most responsible for destroying America. Giffords herself received threats after voting for the healthcare reform bill, and shots were fired through the window of her district office. An event like this has been coming for a long time.
As to the future, some things will change, at least for a while. Sarah Palin will be deeply diminished by this. Speaking about the now well-known cross-hairs imagery over the map of Giffords' congressional district on Palin's website, Giffords herself last year expressed concern about "consequences". Palin pooh-poohed this at the time. Her unctuous and hypocritical "prayer" for Giffords and the other victims will mollify only those who think she can do no wrong. But in general, this hastens that blessed day when we no longer have to pay attention to her self-serving lies and idiocies.
Republicans and even Tea Partiers will have the sense – again, for a while – to steer clear of directly gun-related rhetoric. We won't be hearing much in the near term about "second amendment remedies" and insurrection and so forth. But this will be temporary. Guns are simply too central to the mythology of the American right, as is the idea of liberty being wrested from tyrants only at gunpoint. For the American right to stop talking about armed insurrection would be like American liberals dropping the subjects of race and gender. It's too encoded in conservative DNA.
In addition, contemporary American conservatism has been utterly arrested by this ridiculous paranoid fantasy that our government is a tyranny. Here was Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, speaking in Washington last April on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing: "Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the constitution, and they're right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States – and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us. It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government." The year before, this same Broun singled out then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, as one such "domestic enemy of the constitution". He was re-elected last November with 67% of the vote.
This kind of rhetoric will go into hibernation now, but only for a bit. Because not only is it too central to rightwing mythology; it is central to Republican electoral strategy. This is one of those things that no one says, because it can't really and truly be proved forensically, but everyone knows. Get people to hate liberals. Get them to think not only that liberals have ideas for the country that are wrong – get them to believe that liberals despise the country and are actively attempting to hasten its demise. Say progressivism isn't just invalid or even dangerous, but "evil" and a "cancer," as Glenn Beck says. Fear gets people to the ballot box.
Direct responsibility for what happened Saturday? No. Mentally ill people are mentally ill. The Beatles weren't responsible for the messages that Charles Manson heard in their music. But there's a difference. Paul McCartney had no earthly reason to think that an innocent song about a fairground ride (Helter Skelter) would lead a man to commit barbarous acts of murder. Today's Republicans and conservative commentators, however, surely understand the fire they're playing with. But they do it, and a tragedy like Saturday's won't stop them, as long as they can maintain a phoney plausible deniability and as long as hate continues to pay dividends at the ballot box.
Whither Now American Exceptionalism: On the Attempted Political Assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Its Parallels With Pakistan
So here is a Sunday thinking project for you all.
Back when Denis Leary was still a stand-up comedian, he had a funny yet sadly true bit about the fact that it's only the good ones that get assassinated. This morning, as I was reading a New York Times article about the sad killing of Pakistani politician Salman Taseer by a religious extremist, I lamented to my wife the bitter irony that it is always the voices of tolerance who are the assassinated by bigots.
How was I to know that a similar thing would happen on these shores later this very day? The shooting in Tuscon is proof positive that violent extremism knows no borders in these strange days. We like to think of the kind of political violence witnessed earlier this week in Pakistan to be something that happens elsewhere, something committed by the "other." Although the ideologies underlying the extremism in Pakistan and Arizona come from different sources (the Taliban and New World Order whackos hate each other), their unthinking, violent natures are very similar. Unfortunately, so are their consequences.
We should all be shocked and apalled, but not all that surprised. The recent rhetoric and actions of political extremists and politically motivated nutcases, almost exclusively on the radical Right, should have given us ample warning. Anyone remember the mob violence and racial slurs visited upon House Democrats when they voted on the health care bill? It fell down the memory hole, but someone actually showed up at a presidential event in Arizona with an AR-15. Or how about rhetoric like "don't retreat, reload" and "2nd Amendement remedies" that we've heard recently? Or the armed whacko who was going to kill people at the TIDES Foundation? For that matter, the sadly more "successful" crazy who shot up a Unitarian church because of its liberal views? Furthermore, I'm sure you'll recall that there is a popular demogogue on a national news network who continually likens progressives to a cancer on society to be eradicated.
Years ago this same man would have been ranting on a street corner, now he is only one of many fire-breathing hate mongers with a large and highly suggestive audience hanging on every blood-dripping word. Many people in this country attack Al-Jazeera and madrassas, claiming that they abet hatred and terrorism. Perhaps, to paraphrase a man that many of these same people claim to follow, we ought to pay attention to the beam in our own eye rather than the splinter in our neighbor's.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Pro-Slavery? Or Just Unapologetic? Glenn Beck Defends the Three-Fifths Clause of the U.S. Constitution
The Tea Party Glenn Beck Sarah Palin New Right's naive worshiping of
Yesterday the Tea Party GOP Congress sponsored a Right-wing politically convenient reading of the U.S. Constitution with all of the "inconvenient" and "naughty" parts omitted or politely glossed over. Glenn Beck (historian in residence at Fox News) had to set them right on their embarrassment motivated rewriting of history. Predictably, Beck did this by lecturing the Tea Party Republicans on the divine genius and perfection of the near deities known as "The Founders."
[Apparently, this cabal of historical superheroes--a bunch reasonable folk know as John Jay, Washington, Madison, Jefferson, et al.--can do no wrong. For Beck and the Tea Bagger crowd, this disparate collection of personalities were not real people, political pragmatists who committed deeds both ill and good in the interest of political expediency--interests and deeds both selfish and generous. Nope. Not here.]
Of course, instead of having an honest and transparent conversation about how the 3/5ths compromise empowered the South, reinforced their ability to preserve the slaveocracy through inflated representation in the Congress, and led to a Civil War, Beck instead indulges in a line of reasoning that does not pass the most simple tests of reasonable historiography and common sense.
Glenn Beck's misrepresentations point to a bigger play at hand. The Texas rewriting of U.S. history, the banning of "Ethnic Studies" programs in Arizona, the Neo-Secessionist movement, and the general politics of white victimology and racial resentment that are the beating heart of the Republican Tea Party, speak to an old and deep vein of anti-intellectualism in American public life. Symptomatically, as we work through history and its relationship to American politics, Beck and the New Right are possessed of a belief that all opinions are created equal, and that the historical record is simply a "social construct," a function of mere interpretation that can be massaged at will to fit the political demands of the day.
Question: Who would have thought that post-modern, New Times theory would have gone so amok?
We can only imagine the consequences of fiction and myth as the basis of a political movement that seeks to remake the very foundations of the social contract and American's constitutional republic.
I am not asking Glenn Beck to be the next Woodward, Williamson, Berlin, Franklin, Holt, or Hahn. Nor am I asking the Tea Party GOP brigands who carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets as they play 18th Century America costume party to be especially sophisticated citizens.
All I ask is that Glenn Beck in playing the the role of pseudo-historian at least maintain a pretense to truth seeking behavior...be it ethical, moral, or philosophical.
Is this all too much to ask of a dilettante historian with an on knee, mouth open, and ears ready audience that takes what Beck utters as wisdom from on high, metaphorical rain come down from the mountain top? Or am I just being too hopeful?
A question for a our first poll of the year 2011: Is Glenn Beck ignorantly willful? Or is Glenn Beck willfully ignorant?
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Brother X-Squared Goes to the Movies: Thoughts on Black Swan, True Grit, The Fighter, and the New Year 2011
As long time followers of WARNNN already know, Brother X-Squared is a potent activist, black futurist, and visionary thinker. He is also a noted cultural critic in the greatest tradition of African American commentary and letters. The last time we spoke with Brother X-Squared he shared his thoughts on the Tea Party-GOP election, the fall of Barack Obama, and his love of Fox News. As Brother X-Squared did with the 2010 Oscars, he also shared his thoughts on a range of movies including his new favorite Winter's Bone. Brother X-Squared has been traveling the United States during the last month and has returned to share his thoughts on what to expect in 2011, as well his reviews of a number of recent Hollywood films.
WARNNN: It is wonderful to see you again Brother X-Squared. You are a joy to speak with, and as always, your last interview is still resonating across the Internet. How did you spend the New Year? Were you with family and friends? Did you celebrate?
Brother X-Squared: I have so much to teach you Brother Chauncey. I have not spoken to you in a month and already you are on some foolishness. Just when I think you have gained knowledge, you, just like all the other so-called "respectable" negroes in this country, go back to acting like the white man's playthings.
WARNNN: Excuse me? Please be specific. I thought you of all people would have appreciated my comments on Christmas as a "helliday?" I am a bit hurt by your criticism.
Brother X-Squared: Hurt. Hurt as in our ancestors' backs from the devilish whips and whirling dervishes of the white man's lances and rods? You know nothing of real pain. Your mind state must become hard and calloused so that you can engage the wickedness of Amerikkka in battle! True, you did try to drop some knowledge about Christmas, but you dropped it in the same way that a baby does a bottle! You did it by accident. You did it without intention. You did it passively. You did it despite yourself! Just like one of these saggin' pants cumdroppers who manages to impregnate one of these fallen whorish black women with a bastard child who by pure chance grows up to be a Black God, you simply got lucky. No intent. No sacrifice. Now let's start again: Ask me about my New Year's properly.
WARNNN: Quite frankly, I am shocked. I have never seen you in such a mood. I will politely try again. How did you spend the change of years from 2010 to 2011.
Brother X-Squared: That is a little better. But only slightly. There is nothing to celebrate Brother Chauncey. As I have predicted, the black man is worse off this year than he has been ever. He is more likely to be poor. He is more likely to be wasting his money on nonsense in the service of the white man's economy. He is no closer to being free. I spend the quote unquote "New Year" as I always do. Deep in meditation, far-thinking, and prognosticating. I am the beginning and the end, I am the Black Guardian of Forever, but even I must synthesize my wisdom.
In fact, as you celebrate this wicked change of years, and as you feebly tried to point out with your "thoughts" on Christmas, the black man is still a slave to consumerism, celebrating a fake ass made up holiday. Moreover, this is so deep, how the White Man Battlestar Galactic Cylon thinker that he is--you best watch that show Caprica, never has there been such an insight in the pedophilia laced narcissism of the White imagination ever on television--manipulates reality. This is not even the year 2011. This calendar is made up by a wicked depraved white man to coincide with those twisted Romans' views of reality. The Gregorian calendar is what it is called. We as new found Black Warriors are on our own calendar.
WARNNN: Much to process. Okay, I understand that the dates are arbitrary. But, what calendar are you on? A Hebrew calendar? A Mayan calendar? Please share.
Brother X-Squared: Hmmm, you do indeed have mental drapetomania today Brother Chauncey. The date is unknown only to you and other mentally captive negroes. Our calendar begins with 1607, the year the first captive Nubians were brought to this hellish country and purchased at Jamestown! Yes, this is the year. We have been struggling for centuries and that is the only beginning that we must begin our counting of years from. This is now the year 414.
WARNNN: I must confess I never conceived of time in that way. Let me catch my breath for a moment. Okay, what are your thoughts on the upcoming year, specific thoughts on the President, the Tea-Party GOP takeover, and the general state of the Union?
Brother X-Squared: I am so happy to see the Tea Party sex freaks GOP in power. This is glorious. As I warned you several years ago, Obama is a spiritual zero, his life force canceled out by his African sex fiend father and his white mama. Many house negroes--the new word is "post-racial"--thought you could win the approval of the White Man! The White Man is too strong and too smart and too wicked for you weaklings to handle. He set a trap. He let a half-rican into the White House just to bring the temple down on Obama's head. I laugh and mock you all. Educated true Nubians such as Brother X-Squared and his legions saw the con a long way off. The Tea Baggers are just giving you the final blow! They never hid who they were, not for a second. But you fools believed in the good of the American, i.e. the White American people. Good can never, ever come of evil. I have a question for you Brother Chauncey. Are you ready to become a slave again?
WARNNN: What do you mean? Slavery was ended a century or more ago Brother X-Squared. I am all for listening to you and trying to grasp your wisdom, but I have to intervene when you veer into hyperbole and nonsense.
Brother X-Squared: Ha ha ha ha ha! That is why I love you so much. As much as you claim to have knowledge, you are blind to the obvious. The White Man is already talking about a return to "the original Constitution." Just this week, the Tea Party is having secret and closed meetings where that evil white Supreme Court Justice Scalia gives those new age bigots the "secret" meaning of the Constitution. They are publicly talking about making sure that the Constitution is read before every meeting of Congress and passing some law to make sure that Constitutional "principles" are obeyed in this country! The Constitution is a bigoted, racist document that supported slavery. Those White devils are loading the guns and loading them in your faces and you passive American born neo-slaves sit and get ready to take the blast. Some of you will even suck on the barrel of the gun like it is your momma's plump tit. Sick.
WARNNN: I have to admit I did not think of that at first. I can appreciate your sentiment that white racism and racial resentment drives the Republicans and the New Right. In fact, I have written about that myself many times. But, they are a nominally "diverse" group of people. In fact, they even have a black Representative from Florida, and there are other black Republicans now in Congress. They would not ever let a thing like that happen.
Brother X-Squared: Fool. There were black overseers during slavery. The black man who held the whip was worse than the white slave master! Those boot-licking Tom Negroes and Handkerchief head Aunt Jemima types like that hellish Oprah Winfrey who was given an award by the Kennedy Center! (a foul, evil, and corrupt white family connected to the Illuminati) would do anything to please their white owners. Centuries later, there are still some black people so sick and pathological that they will lay in bed with the White Man. Those Black Conservatives are cowards and traitors, but at least they are pragmatic. Here is how there sickness is so so deep and the White man's game so strong.
Listen to the race traitors speak, men who would have been the subject of Franz Fanon's wisdom years past, those Michael Steele's and Allen West's, they get no greater pleasure than being cuckolded by the White Man. It brings them joy. You presume that the Black lapdogs do not want to be slaves, thus their interest is yours. Nope, don't fall for that bit of mental trickery! They want to be slaves. And they want you captive negroes to go along with it! Brother X-Squared is too strong. Too powerful. Too wise to fall for such a thing! Because I know the Constitution, I can use it to defend myself! That original heathen document provided for treaties with the Native tribes--most blessed be our Red brothers and sisters who will one day have justice when Mother Earth demands penance--I am a member of the New Age Black Panthers. We continue with the traditions of the lost tribes of Elders who rightfully rule the Earth! Thus, we demand equal treatment under the White Man's "founding" document.
There is other trickery afoot here Brother Chauncey. The assault on our subliminals in preparation for the Tea-Party revolution and (re)enslavement of the Black Man has already begun in earnest. Who does that black neo-slave Allen West look like? What celebrity?
WARNNN: I never thought he looked "famous" per se. If anything, sort of like a G.I. Joe action figure?
Brother X-Squared: You are getting better. You have been studying. Close but no cigar...but the action figure, a foul device, it is neutered. It has no genitals. Not a coincidence that a neutered black man would be the mascot for the White Man. No, he looks just like Jim Brown from that evil hellish movie The Running Man starring that sick race mixing quasi Nazi Arnold Schwarzenegger! Oh yes. Did you see that movie? About an America that is failed, where people are homeless, sitting around watching a twisted show with runaway slaves who get hunted and killed for sport while you dumb troglodytes watch and clap like trained monkeys. America in what you call "2011" is the world of The Running Man! The end is near
WARNNN: It is fitting that you mentioned The Running Man--what was a great example of the late 20th century action genre. In our pre-interview you specifically mentioned several movies that you have seen and want to share with our audience. Based on that talk, I believe that at least one of these films was the source of the not common anger you demonstrated earlier in our chat.
Brother X-Squared: Anger. You know nothing of anger. Just as absolute zero is an abstraction or the gravity in a black hole's event horizon is something that mere mortals cannot comprehend, you know nothing of Brother X-Squared's rage and power. Because your mental defense membranes are incapable of blocking the full force of my wisdom, I only give you one iota of my power. So rage. So no, you have not seen rage Brother Chauncey.
WARNNN: I beg your apologies.
Brother X-Squared: Does a type five civilization even acknowledge a type zero civilization's presence...I thought not. Moving forward. I saw several films these past weeks as a favor to the readers of WARNNN. I am strong enough to withstand the tricknology on display at the local cinema and braved forth into the light of the white man's evil. And so evil it was. I saw things I have not seen ever in a movie...including that most sick movie Splice. Oh yes, even worse than that sex freak race mixing movie.
WARNNN: I have to ask. Did you see Tron in 3D? I am so excited to see it and am waiting for it not to be so packed and...
Brother X-Squared: No! What did I tell you about 3D! It is a guaranteed way for the White Man to manipulate your Nubian mindstate. Avoid those movies at all cost. Now let me begin. First, I saw the comedy The Fighter. Oh, I have never laughed so hard. This movie was almost better than the laugh out loud movie Winter's Bone. It featured that Christian Bale and that wannabe hip hop underwear model white negro Mark Wahlberg playing a bunch of poor white losers in some rat hole abandoned town called Lowell, Massachusetts. The film was a powerful performance. We got to see white crime and violence--their natural state! White primitive behavior--the sisters of the main characters were so primitive, with their big hair, trashy clothes and nasty looking poor white trash ways. So wonderful! There was emasculation of the White Man in almost every scene. But you see, even in comedy the White Man assaults the Black Man's mindstate. The Christian Bale character plays a drug addict crack head. And Lord he does such a good job of it. But guess what, he lost all of that weight for the role and looked so pathetic. Brother Chauncey, who is the White Man's mass media now depicting as a crack head, as a disappearing man?
WARNNN: I don't know...
Brother X-Squared: Of course you wouldn't. Your hero President Obama. Look at those photos and how similar they are! Not a coincidence! The White Man in his movies is attacking you subliminally, priming the battlefield to further destroy your man-child President. I laugh at the transparent ways of The White Man! So easily discovered.
WARNNN: Okay, what other films did you see. You sounded like you enjoyed The Fighter though?
Brother X-Squared: I found pleasure while revealing the White Man's evil. I also saw True Grit. You know I love the Coen Brothers. They are experts at depicting the wickedness of white people and the sickness of their ways. That movie Fargo, oh how funny, those ice people cave dwelling Caucasoids living in the middle of nowhere killing each other was wondrous. I especially love the actors William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. If I had a theater company they would star in all my productions so I could feature the White Man as pitiable loser in every feature. That having been said True Grit was also evil. But, its evil was more revealing of the ways of white folks and how they are trying with that Sarah Palin dingbat to bring the "real" America back. The Western is America's natural motif. The White Man loves that fiction. He gets to conquer some land, kill Indians, be a hero, and rule the world. All with this lie he called Manifest Destiny. The joke Brother Chauncey being that the only manifest destiny for the White Man is hell!
This True Grit movie has deep subliminals. The white men in this movie are dirty and foul and disgusting. They don't bathe and they kill each other. In fact, one even practices cannibalism and walks around wearing a bear skin! A double assault as the bear is a blessed creature and no White Man is fit to wear his skin. There are even sick sexual subtexts in the film, where the main character, a little girl of some 14 years old or something, is the object of lust by the White Men in the movie. Sick!
But you see, the film features magical negro slaves that serve the little girl. Grown men who serve her beck and call. There is a little slave child who works in a barn who gives this white ice queen a black horse. This is so deep! The horse is called Little Blackie! Oh yes! How symbolic. The whole word revolves around a little white girl just like in that other sick example of white narcissism, the movie The Lovely Bones. Just as in the real world, black and brown children get kidnapped and no one cares. Let one little white girl go missing and the world stops!
The evil Jeff Bridges' character later works this horse to exhaustion such that the poor beast dies. Powerful and revealing. So true as the black man is the engine for this country and has been worked to death!
But there are layers upon layers in this movie. There are no Black cowboys. No Mexican cowboys! No Asian cowboys! The Coen brothers white washed history! They removed the great Nubian cowboys like Deadwood Dick to make way for their evil white fantasy. Moreover, there is another meaning here, just as the evil Pastor Manning tried to share a few weeks ago in one of his "sermons." The white men of The Old West were real White men. They weren't cowards like the Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, the Tea baggers. Oh no. You cowardly neo-slaves are lucky that White men like those in True Grit aren't in charge anymore. They would have put you back into bondage no questions asked. White men are in crisis in this country and their only heroes are in movies like True Grit where they can play some fantasy and wish fulfillment. Little girls, magical negroes, black horses, filth and nastiness, True Grit is a projection of the White Man's psyche! Be very careful when you see this film. Do not bring Nubian Queens or children into the movie as their gentle souls are not prepared.
WARNNN: You also saw Black Swan?
Brother X-Squared: Oh goodness yes. This was the sickest movie in recent years. It features bestiality and such a twisted story that is not to be believed. It geniusly depicts white evil and the way that white women are so hypersexual and obsessive even with their own mothers. But that Natalie Portman was too too much. The movie assaults the mindstate of a proud Nubian by telling the story from the point of view of a crazy person! Yes, an insane woman! The Black Man cannot possibly understand the twisted ways of White People. Impossible. Then in a true moment of unequaled sickness, that Natalie Portman starts shape-shifting and becomes a black swan. This is deep! Europeans have long believed in shape shifting demonic creatures. This is all so arrogant, the absurdity that a white person could embody the energy of Black and white. That is a physical and psychic impossibility. But you see, madness is part of White culture. And then, please protect me most High Law Given Nubian ruler of the universe, the play has a White man playing a "Black" Swan and they are to have sex with each other. I cannot even give a proper account of this movie. So hellish it was. Stay away. Stay far, far, away. I had to burn sage in my home to purify it after coming back from the movie and I bathed in sandalwood oil and black soap. I have never been so unsettled by a film.
WARNNN: That was powerful Brother X-Squared. Thank you for enduring that experience for us. I do hope that folks will heed your warning. If you have the strength left, can you share something with us that we do not already know.
Brother X-Squared: My strength is infinite. Black fool superheroes and black fools who rape women with snakes.
WARNNN: What are you talking about?
Brother X-Squared: In Washington State, there is apparently a Black fool by the name of Phoenix Jones running around in a costume saving people in distress. This brother is apparently inspired by that Kick Ass movie--another White abomination--and is wasting his energy. He needs to join up with the natural Black Men in the Renewed Black Panther Party and fight for real justice. The second story is about a sick episode where two captive lost negroes who have watched too much of that evil White Man's pornography raped a woman with a snake. This is demonic! The snake is a natural symbol of the White Man's evil and obsession with the dark arts. In Obama's America so-called black men are using the foul beast to violate people. Disgusting. And sick. One more sign of what Obama and this post-race nonsense has unleashed on America! This society is doomed.
WARNNN: As always you both impress and amaze. So much to digest. We can't wait to have you back soon.
Brother X-Squared: I am always here, even when I am not. I am on the front lines fighting for you weak negroes and will do so until I cannot lift my cudgel anymore. I am forever. I am infinite.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Much Ado About Nothing: Faux "Controversy" Over "Inappropriate" U.S. Navy Video and Chris Rock's "Disrespecting" of Oprah Winfrey
Getting my swagger back...
There are two non-story, non-events that will be making their rounds this week across these Internets. The first is the obligatory "outrage" (isn't the sentiment "outrage" all too common these days? both overused and overwrought?) over Chris Rock's playful banter and humor at the expense of Oprah Winfrey, the most high mammy and emotional surrogate for white suburban women everywhere at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
Despite, or maybe precisely because of the protests, the jokes were quite funny to my ear.
Moreover, we got to see a panoply of black folks--including President Obama and the First Lady--presiding over American's highest acknowledgment for career success in the arts, culture, and letters. Talk about the power of symbolism and the deep upset faced by whiteness as the heliocentric center of our political and social universe. I can almost envision the bile filled faces of the Tea Party brigands as they attempt to watch said award show--their throats full of acidic rage that a bunch of black folks have some small degree of ceremonial and symbolic power.
This is where our attention should be focused. Not on some tendency to waste capital on a not always necessary habit of grievance politics. Truly, as Dick Gregory said a few years ago, black folks got to stop looking so mean and miserable all the time and learn how to laugh.
The second non-issue of the new year is the "scandal" over the release of a music video by Captain Owen Honors Jr., the Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Apparently, the XO on that ship had a great sense of humor and would sponsor skits and assorted escapades to raise the morale of the crew.
In the doldrums of the new year's news cycle, more politically correct types are crying foul over the "homophobic," "sexist" and "misogynistic" (again, the latter being one more overused word in the lexicon of the present) overtones of the video. But, I think this hints at a general misunderstanding of military culture, and of the particular traditions of the U.S. Navy.
For example, I wonder how many of those who doth protest too much have ever heard of King Neptune's Crossing the Line Ceremony when Pollywogs become Shellbacks-- a mad and near debauched rite of passage for Equatorial virgins in navies the world over?
I am a pragmatist. As such, I am more than a bit sympathetic to Captain Honors' plight.
Consequently, I am more interested in the readiness of the ship, her performance on patrol, and the Enterprises' ability to bring the pain when need be, than in some civilians' understanding of what is (or is not) proper behavior for a bunch of folks stuck in a tin can, circling the Earth for 6 months at a time (and yes, please spare me the letter of the law that is the U.S. Military Code of Justice talking point).
But also being the random soul that I tend to be, I am most impressed by 1) how computing power has grown such that on a laptop one can make a video for free that would have cost many thousands of dollars even a few years ago; and 2) the selection of music featured on the XO's video. Captain Honor and his production team seem to have no small amount of blue eyed soul.
The soundtrack of the XO's movie night video is mixtape worthy. One suggestion though: How much more perfect would the XO's movie have been if Loose Joints' house classic "Is It All Over My Face?" was one of the featured tracks?
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
I hope your holidays were fun and restful. Next week, I will resume my normal schedule of black genius in the form of my witty and wise meditations on all things I deem worthy.
On Christmas, I was tempted to be a party pooper and put some proverbial coal in your stockings. But alas, the angel on my shoulder won out over the devil on my side. As one who has both denounced and disavowed religion, I sit back on my perch and laugh with glee as Conservative Christian reactionary types "defend" Christmas against some imagined "assault." The religiously minded don't get me. I don't get them. We agree to disagree...usually in a peaceable manner.
Likewise, I snicker at some members of the Afrotocracy that muse about Kwanzaa as some type of authentic marker of one's negritude. I laugh because a central premise is not satisfied--how can you defend a thing from assault when the object of defense is itself a fiction?
Are you defending a lie that you believe to be true? Or are you defending your right to believe in a rite that itself may be based on some truth that you believe to be Right (or not)?
[Wasn't that turn of phrase not unlike wiping your behind with silk after a particularly full, potent, and satisfying bowel movement?]
Let's have some real talk: All holidays are fictions--made up bits of convenience that serve some practical need in the real world. For some, this fiction brings comfort and joy. For others, it is the power of faith and routine. And sadly for too many, a shared faith and belief in some given holiday is symbolic of who is outside of the tribe--a marker against those not included. Thus, the latter is made necessarily less than.
We all need our mythologies, our imagined stories. Sure, I wish that all children would be taught about Santa's black slave. That is not quite likely to happen. But this is America, the greatest country on Earth....insert finger into throat to induce vomiting. And because we are free, I can begin my own set of Christmas traditions.
I look forward to the day when I can tell the little ones that the historical Jesus, a "Black" man, soul brother number one who fought pimps and money lenders, was not born in December (where after this revelatory moment I will give them a Jeffersonian Bible). In the far, far, far future, when I am feeling really mischievous and feigning senility as a defense against criticism or familial disagreement, I will tell my grandkids (if so blessed) that Christmas is a pagan holiday, founded as a function of practical politics in order to get nature worshipers and free spirits away from their sex filled celebrations and under the control of the boring, sterile, bureaucratic State.
Either way, I will encourage my scions to bathe in the glory of their existence and explorations of the world, be they physical, metaphysical, or spiritual; to enjoy pleasures both small and large; and to always drink deeply from the cup of life.
Me? I am grateful for so much, including all of you. Enjoy the New Year and heed the words of the Black Israelites, lest you fall victim to the evils of Christmas...that most foul of hellidays!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I could say Merry Christmas. But, that is already implied.
I could write about gratitude in the time of the Great Recession. But, that is understood.
I could be naughty and not nice. But, I did that earlier.
Instead, I bring you a little ghetto nerd nostalgia from a more innocent time.
Can any show do it better than Robotech? I don't think so...
Have a very happy and safe Christmas. And stay classy people. 'Cause if you don't, Robot Santa is going to come for that ass!
Friday, December 24, 2010
How about a duel of the comedy iron mics? We have two contenders, both equally talented, either of which would make a great finale for a Christmas Eve movie marathon. Which would you choose? The criminally underrated Zack and Miri Make a Porno:
Or the blockbuster 40 Year Old Virgin?
On what criteria do you make the call? Timing? The intangibles of chemistry and heart? Quality of writing?
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Are you ready for Christmas yet? One more day to go and between the mindless shopping and inevitable grumpiness that results, please be mindful of the little things. Be happy for friends, family, and health. Be grateful if you have a job. Be hopeful if you do not. And please do something nice for a stranger--put some change in The Salvation Army bucket; give a homeless person some money; or donate to Toys for Tots.
The holidays are also a time for marathon TV viewing. This year I will be alternating between the Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon and a few obligatory hours of A Christmas Story. The latter was also the subject of one of my favorite WARNNN features. Did you ever watch A Christmas Story and wonder what happened to its black actors? We ventured forth and tried to find out.
From the archives.
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 Ryder 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 live 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 drugs...you 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 scared...my 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...