Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Theory of Obama Cinema? "Killing Them Softly" is the Defining Movie for the Age of Obama




I am suspicious of unifying theories which try to explain the relationship between popular culture and politics. However, A.O. Scott's piece in the New York Times on the defining Hollywood films of the Obama era is pretty compelling:
Last year in The New York Review of Books the critic J. Hoberman wondered when we would see an “Obama-inflected Hollywood cinema.” “The longing for Obama (or an Obama),” he wrote, “can be found in two prescient 2008 movies,” citing “Wall-E” and “Milk” as releases about creative community organizers, with Harvey Milk also a political symbol of hope. It may be too soon to identify an Obama Cinema, but the president’s second inauguration seems like an appropriate time to try.
Film is one of the sites where societies negotiate meaning, develop and challenge their own mythologies, and express the hopes, anxieties, and feelings of the collective subconscious. Films talk to us, talk to each other, all the while revealing the "spirit of the age." In total, popular culture is an informal type of public opinion, a barometer for the attitudes of a given society.

Obama's election in 2004 was supposed to usher in postracial America. It did not. Hope and change was met by the twin realities of a coordinated assault on the legitimacy of the country's first black President, as well as how practical governance is an exercise in realpolitik. As such, hope and change had to be surrendered to practical realities--here Obama's right-leaning centrism was greeted by upset on the part of Progressives, and recast as treason and Socialist-Communist-anti-white tyranny by Conservatives.

How do the Hollywood movies made in the Age of Obama reflect these dynamics?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ten Things to Keep in Mind When Talking About How White Men are a "Problem" in the Age of Obama

We are finally talking in an explicit way about what it means to be white (and male) in America. 

Some of these conversations have been necessitated by the country's demographic changes. 

The election of Barack Obama (twice), and the Republican Party's deep devotion to the politics of white racial resentment have also helped to force a national conversation about the meaning of Whiteness.

And as I and others have talked about in great detail, the recent murder sprees in Newtown and Aurora, where young white men have killed people by the dozens, have demanded that we discuss the relationship(s) between white masculinity, gun culture, and violence.

Many white folks have not responded well to these types of conversations.

Despite the opposition and shrill voices, the flurry of discussions online and in the mainstream media about the meaning of Whiteness in the Age of Obama is a positive development.

What was once an inside game of Left leaning cultural critics, scholars, and social justice types is now more fashionable and mainstream. As such, a chorus of voices are joining the conversation.


Many of these new voices are tempted, quite naturally, to call out the deleterious impact of Whiteness and White elites on America (slavery; Jim and Jane Crow; racial inequality; labor market and housing discrimination; wealth inequality; genocide against First Nations people; the Great Recession caused by an almost exclusively white financier and banking class), as well as the world (Colonialism and Imperialism; environmental destruction; two World Wars).

These moves are exhilarating. Yet, they often lack precision, a thinking through of end goals, and a consideration of the long plan going forward.

After "Django Unchained" Will There be a Remake of "The Black Klansman?"



This sounds like one of my post-coitus race conscious chats after riding Space Mountain across the colorline. And I thought I was original? Damn me my hubris.

I learn something new everyday. I was reading Orgtheory when I came across the above gem of a movie mentioned in the comments about the (recent) and oft discussed movie Django Unchained.

From what I can discern, The Black Klansman is about a black guy that can sort of pass, and looks like some of my cousins, who then infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, after they kill his daughter, in order to bring them down.

This brother is no Walter Francis White; however, he is very didactic and entertaining.

Whatever one thinks of Tarantino's body of work, he will be acknowledged for disrupting how mainstream audiences and critics view B-movies--those late night gems, drive in classics, and other guilty pleasure genre flicks--that were thrown on to the dustbin of film history before he and others in the postmodern turn elevated them to the level of "respectable" films.

It is true that popular culture is ephemeral and disposable. I have been long sympathetic to Adorno's concerns about how popular culture advances the agenda of Power and elites by offering up a space for the masses to self-medicate by projecting their dreams, anxieties, and hopes onto cultural objects, as they make themselves whole through consumerism.

Nevertheless, there remains something to be said about populism, and how regular folks repurpose popular culture for their own ends.

Popular movies can make money, be distributed through the Hollywood system, and still offer some type of political comment and critique. It is just harder for these types of movies to do so.

Now, we have Django Unchained. In the near future, I am hoping for a remake of The Black Klansman.

Will Lee Marvin's The Klansman be showing up again as well? And who would star in the movie if you were doing the casting?



Are there any B-movie classics that you think are worthy of being reinvented for the Age of Obama and 21st century audiences?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Taking on the Silly Talk from the Gun Right: A Modern Historian Debunks and Exposes the "Hitler was Pro-Gun Control" Mythology"

It is routine that references to Hitler and Stalin are used by many on the Right when questions about gun control are raised in the United States. It is particularly noteworthy that allusions to two of the greatest killers and tyrants of the 20th century are commonly used to criticize the country's first black president.

Hitler was a racial fascist. Obama is a black man who happens to be President, and whose very existence is terrifying to conservatives and the White Right because of their yearning for a return to a herrenvolk "real America." The Right's efforts to tie the two figures together is no accident: it plays on fears about "white oppression" while also legitimating the Right-wing media's eliminationist rhetoric in the Age of Obama.

The masses are asses--for the most part. The use of Hitler and Stalin are ways of triggering deep anxieties and fears about universal historical villains in order to make a point about basic and quotidian matters of public policy.

Moreover, the Right-wing media are masters of the politics of emotion, creating alternate realities, and alternative knowledge systems. For example, see the popularity of a piss poor piece of "research" such as the book Liberal Fascism or the work of pseudo historian David Barton.

One of our guest bloggers, the one and only Werner Herzog's Bear (who also happens to be an expert on 20th century Germany) has kindly offered up a great essay exposing the silly talk and foolishness surrounding the claim that Hitler was "pro-gun control," as well as the Gun Right's maniac anti-historicism and anti-intellectualism, more generally.
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Now that gun control is back on the national agenda, the Hitler metaphors are flying fast and furious again. They were last lobbed about during the heady days of the Tea Party's ascendance and its attendant crusade against universal health care. Back then the pea-brained likes of Louie Gohmert and Jim DeMint warned of a path to fascism, now it's the NRA and Drudge Report likening gun control to Nazism.

As someone who has spent years studying modern German history, and has the degrees to prove it, I feel it is my special duty to debunk this garbage. Lying behind both the Tea Party and gun proliferators' use of Hitler is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and historical context of the Third Reich. The misconceptions about that murderous regime are pretty much accepted in mainstream American life, and the Right has done an able job of exploiting them.

In our day the Nazis have been completely dishistoricized, turned into stand-ins for remorseless evil. There is no more effective way to label your political opponents bad and dangerous than by making such comparisons. Most Americans seem to think that Hitler was some kind of evil genius, that his followers were mindless automatons, and that his whole regime was one man's psychopathic power-trip.

This cartoon-villain understanding of the Hitler regime, reinforced in countless films like Inglorious Basterds and Raiders of the Lost Ark, makes it easy for the public to be swayed by the NRA's Hollywood scenario. In their counter-narrative, ordinary Germans (and German Jews in particular) could have grabbed their guns and brought down the Third Reich, if only those guns hadn't been taken from them.

This view of history is idiotic and deluded at best.

The esteemed historian Omer Bartov, in a recent Salon article, makes it clear that even if Hitler's opponents had guns, it would not have changed a thing: “Just imagine the Jews of Germany exercising the right to bear arms and fighting the SA, SS and the Wehrmacht. The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?”

The people who bring up these misguided Hollywood scenarios are also likely ignorant of how the Nazi state treated insurgents. Guerilla attacks on German troops on the Eastern Front often resulted in reprisal executions that killed hundreds for every German slain. 

The conspirators against Hitler in the failed 1944 plot on his life ended up being horrifically tortured and killed, their agonies filmed for the Fuehrer's amusement. Hitler responded to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris at the hands of Herschel Grynszpan in 1938 by unleashing the horrific Night of Broken Glass as vengeance. 

In the improbable scenario of German Jews (who were a very small part of the population) arming themselves and shooting Nazis, it only would have meant much worse visited upon the Jewish population.

One especially major problem with the pro-gun use of the Nazis as a cautionary tale is usually the case with other would-be invokers of the Third Reich. Namely, they just take things completely out of context, that context being the Nazi ideology of racist nationalism. Just as communism was the philosophy behind the Soviet Union, the Third Reich was a racial state governed by the principles of racialized nationalism. 

For example, abortion rights foes like to invoke Hitler as a supporter of abortion because the Nazi state pushed "non-Aryan" and disabled women to terminate their pregnancies. However, abortions were banned for Aryans, a change from the more liberal laws of the preceding Weimar Republic. (In this light the Nazis were more anti than pro abortion.) Anyone who tries to analogize about Nazi Germany without taking its ideological basis into consideration will inevitably go wrong.

Context greatly illuminates the issue of gun control in Nazi Germany. As the Salon article notes, Germany's 1938 laws on firearms were actually less restrictive than those of the Weimar government, which had enacted strict gun control at a time when armed militias threatened the stability of the nation after World War I. They were only more restrictive for Jews and other targets of Nazi oppression. 

 To contextualize further, German laws at the time restricted Jews in all kinds of ways, banning them from universities and other public places, and restricting them from engaging in most professions while effectively making it next to impossible to own their own businesses. These restrictions are only the tip of the iceberg, and the restriction on guns a mere fleck on that tip. The prohibition on Jews owning guns had little to do with any Nazi desire for gun control, and a whole lot to do with creating racial outcasts.

Here's one last bit of context, and one that's highly disturbing. The evil villain view of Hitler leads one to believe that the majority of Germans did not like this tyrant, but were kept in line by the security appartus of the Nazi state. On the contrary, while the Nazis never got a majority of votes in legitimate elections, once they consolidated power Hitler gained the support of the vast majority of the population. 

The most disturbing thing to me about the Third Reich is that it needed popular support to enact its agenda, and the public was more than willing to oblige. If ordinary Germans had greater access to firearms at the time, I can't imagine it would have made much of a difference. Armed insurrections most likely would have been used by the state to justify even greater control and authority.

The decontextualized, inaccurate understanding of Nazi Germany used by the Right is one of their most pernicious tactics, since it abuses the historical record while poisoning our political discourse. It also distracts from the fact that firearms kill thirty thousand people in America every year. 400,000 Americans died fighting against Hitler and his allies in World War II, at our current rate we're losing that number to guns deaths every thirteen years or so. I think it's time we focus on the real carnage going on right now, rather than ghosts of tyrants based off of a willfully wrongheaded interpretation of the past.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blinded by Their Racism: Breitbart Says that "Django UnChained" is the Most "Pro-Freedom" Movie of 2012...His Readers Still Hate It Anyway

Nate Silver was half-right it would seem. I am glad that he was correct about the New England Patriots beating Houston. With victory comes a cost: Gronk is out again, re-breaking his arm.

[An impolitic question. At what point does a player with amazing talents become a liability because he is too injury prone?]

Here I suggested that Django Unchained is a very racially "conservative" film. Consequently, it a perfect fit for the myth that is post racial America. I also observed how Tarantino's great film should be embraced by the Right because it is a nice fit for the public face which they use to 1) insincerely argue for "colorblind politics" and 2) how they fetishize guns. Populist Tea Party GOP conservatives are unable to understand those basic facts. Why? Because the White Right's deep racism and hostility to people of color compromises their thought processes and reason.

There are some conservatives who are more "principled" than others. For example, while he throws in the obligatory right-wing talking points about "god" and "liberals," Ezra Dulis' essay on Django Unchained over at Breitbart is both substantive and critical. As such, it should be seriously reflected upon:
"Django" is about liberalism and tyranny, and the era of American slavery was a perfect illustration of it. There was no law from the government directly limiting the freedom of slaves; it was on a human level—one man telling another, "I own you," and that becoming the established social order...
For those worried by Django's line in the trailer, "Kill white folks and they pay you for it? What's not to like?", this is no racial revenge fantasy. Django's revenge against the men who owned him comes at the end of the film's first act. What follows is a chivalrous rescue mission; his own freedom secured, Django fights through hellfire to liberate his wife when he could have just started fresh.
However, Breitbart's readers would seem to disagree with Dulis' reading of Django Unchained. All these conservatives can see is a black man killing white people in a movie made by their archenemy evil Big Socialist Hollywood. Django may be an African-American slave fighting for the freedom of his wife and to restore their family against the tyranny of America's Slaveocracy. But, he is still killing white people who just happen to be slavers.

It would seem that for the White Right, their allegiance to the principles of human freedom and liberty are bounded and limited by the color of the agents involved. Once more, in post civil rights America conservatism and racism are shown to be one and the same.

Racism, white racial resentment, and conservatism are conjoined twins quite literally attached to each other at the head and heart while also somehow managing to have a three-way orgy of political coitus. The histrionics of the Right in the Age of Obama are the premiere example of this social and political phenomena.

Apparently, as demonstrated by their response to Breitbart's endorsement of Django Unchained, the Right's mix of white victimology, conspiranoid fantasies, and embrace of a fact-free world even trickles down to their dislike of Django Unchained and its supposed  "anti-white" agenda.  

Lest You Misunderstand: Django Unchained is a Movie by A White Filmmaker That Fulfills the Fantasies of White People in the Age of Obama

This is a football weekend. I am so excited to watch my Patriots win later today. I agree with Nate Silver: the championship will be a contest between Seattle and the New England Patriots. Bring it on.

Folks are still talking about Django Unchained. To point. Here is an interesting podcast with some smart folks at the website PostBourgie. I may disagree with their conclusions; I do respect the spirit of their dialogue.

I was going to post a critical essay on Django Unchained as promised, but decided to pass for the moment. That blog post is gonna become a longer article that I am going to try to get published in a journal at some point.

However, I am hoping to do a podcast about Django Unchained with a very smart person that you will find (hopefully) both entertaining and enlightening, and which will cover similar ground if the plan comes together.

Nevertheless, I do have two thoughts related to Django Unchained that I would still like to share here.

First, in response to the young black woman on the bus talking to her friends about the movie: Django is not a biopic or a "historical" movie. Jamie Foxx is not a real person. I do not know why you were crying during the movie. The events you watched were fictionalized.

However, I do understand where you are coming from. As a young black woman, you may have been shocked or surprised by the relatively restrained depiction of the Southern Slaveocracy that Tarantino presented. Our public schools are sub-par in many ways. Your history teachers may have failed you. I do not blame you for their shortcomings.

I once had a student sheepishly confess that she thought that the movie Forrest Gump was a biography. In thinking about Django Unchained, I am quite concerned that too many folks will make a similar mistake. I do not think that you are alone is misreading Django. 

Second, on the surface, Django Unchained is a "black movie." In reality, Django is a movie primarily for white folks, and that caters to the sentiments, self-serving lies, and fantasies of post racial America. I will not unpack that observation. I will leave it for you all to process.

After repeat viewings, I still love Django Unchained; however, I do not think that most viewers are privy to Quentin Tarantino's deft sleight of hand in regards to the deeper racial politics at work in his film.

Yes, he is a negrophile. He is also a master filmmaker. He is also a hall of fame first ballot member of the Legion of Ghetto Nerds.

Never forget that first and foremost, Quentin Tarantino is making a movie that suits the sentiments and emotions of white folks in post civil rights America through the motif of a Spaghetti Western slavery counter-factual revenge flick.

Ironically, white conservatives hate Django Unchained. If they could get past their deep anti-black and brown racism and prejudice they would see that Django is a neat fit for the public face of their racial politics. White racial resentment blinds them to this fact.

Quentin Tarantino is a genius. Part of Tarantino's genius is that most folks do not get the meta game that he is playing.

Well played Quentin. I salute you. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Watch Out! Of Guns, Citizenship, and Freedom: A Letter from a Black World War One Soldier to the Jim Crow Draft Board That Sent Him to Europe

We have been talking about gun culture and masculinity a good amount here in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre. Given the madness of the gun right, and their efforts to appropriate everything from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to black enslavement in the New World in order to further their agenda, it is easy to dismiss the relationship between the gun and "freedom."

Moreover, Alex Jones' pro wrestling promo for a second American Revolution, Drudge's invocation of Hitler and Stalin in linking gun control to President Obama, and this screed by James Yeager (a gun rights "advocate" that threatens to murder people if "gun control" legislation is enacted in the United States) are further encouragement for how reasonable citizens can so easily dismiss the mental health of the "gun rights" crowd with such relative ease. 

The Gun Right's standard bearers are unhinged cartoon characters who are not truly interested in the Common Good. However, these people are so very dangerous because they have the arsenal with which to carry out their paranoid fantasies of defense against "persecution" by a "tyrannical" government. 

These same folks also have a very powerful network of lobbyists who do the bidding of the gun industry, and have mastered emotional appeals through the the language of "rights" and "freedom" in order to keep their corporate masters' tills full and overflowing with gold and treasure from the blood of children.

While taking a careful account of the crazy factor common to the Gun Right in the Age of Obama, we must not forget that the gun is a tool which has been used by freedom fighters, revolutionaries, and tyrants alike. As I discussed with Professor Ann Little in our most recent podcast, whatever we make of its semiotics, the gun is ultimately also a symbol of masculine power, the phallus, and control over life and death. 

I like to share pithy bits of writing when I come upon them. I was reading Lost Battalions by Richard Slotkin (whose great interview with me about American identity and gun culture will be featured on WARN's podcast series this upcoming week) when I came up the following letter from Private Sidney Wilson, a black soldier serving in the United States Army during World War One, to the draft board in Jim and Jane Crow era Tennessee: 
If afoads to the soldier boys wich you have sint so far away from home a great deal of pledger to write you a few line to let you know that you low-down Mother Fuckers can put a gun in our hands but who is able to take it out? We may go to France but I want to let you know that it will not be over with untill we straiten up this state. We feel like we have nothing to do with this war, so if you are thinks it, just wait till Uncle Sam puts a gun in the niggers hands and you will be sorry of it, because we have coloured luetinan up here, and thay is planning against this country everday. So all we wants now is the ammunition, then you can all look out, for we is coming.
He is no Rob Williams. The political philosophy is not fleshed out here; nor, does it rise to the level of political ideology. The anger is raw. His heart is real. But, this brother's understanding of the power of the gun, and both its practical and symbolic meaning, cannot be discounted. 

Is this letter funny or sad? And how must white elites have been shaken up by how practical concerns such as the Civil War and World War One necessitated the mobilization of black men in wartime, when the latter would learn the lethal arts and then come home and demand their full citizenship rights (again and again and again)?

It is no wonder why the Racial State has repeatedly gone to such great lengths to oppress black and brown folks who had found the dignity of the gun and a uniform. We had paid our freedom dues; those who owed us the check would do anything to renege on payment in full. And eventually those same elites were bent (if not broken) as they made a tactical retreat and surrender to the inexorable demands of the Black Freedom Struggle during the Cold War. 

As I am fond of asking, what is Sidney Wilson thinking about the United States today as he either looks on from the afterlife, or walks among us reincarnated?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Politics as Professional Wrestling: Alex Jones Goes "Dr. Death" and Cuts a Worked Shoot Promo on Piers Morgan



In a democracy, The Fourth Estate is supposed to perform a watchdog function where it educates citizens, helps to shape the public mood, sets the agenda for public debate, and most importantly, gives citizens the information necessary to hold their elected officials and government accountable.

With the rise of corporate media, the news establishment has become more of an organ of state power and elite interests than a force for the Common Good and a radically democratic political culture.

As an example of what passes for public discourse in a 24/7 news environment that is driven by ratings, where the public's attention is compressed into small segments, and complex information is processed into soundbites, Alex Jones and Piers Morgan engaged in an "conversation/interview" that was a spectacle.

The Left and other reasonable folks who care deeply about correcting America's sick relationship with guns can mock and laugh at the lunacy of Alex Jones and his Gun Right black helicopter New World order conspiranoid fantasies. The Right and those others who support Alex Jones position on gun ownership as the preeminent "right" of Americans under the Constitution, and that fantasize about a second American Civil War fought against a "tyrannical" government can crow that their champion went on national television and waved his/their flag high.

Both sides can feel satisfied. However, the American people and the Common Good are losers in this game. While we should be having a serious conversation about how gun violence is a public health crisis, serious matters are reduced to a carnival.

As I discussed a few months ago, my claim that politics shares much with professional wrestling explains a great deal about the Jones-Morgan debate, and how it has captured the attention of the public.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Would You Play a Video Game about Black Slavery and the Underground Railroad?

If you want to play a video game about the Underground Railroad click here.

One of my favorite conversations here on We Are Respectable Negroes was about race and role-playing games. Since that very instructive and spirited dialogue, I have tried to keep my eyes open for related stories.

As a ghetto nerd, I love a good game in any form. As someone who thinks a great deal about the relationship between pleasure and the politics of popular culture, those distractions which are supposedly just "fun" or "harmless," are of particular interest to me. How we choose to play is never "neutral"; rather, such choices are mediated by culture and Power, tell us a great deal about a given society, and are powerful lenses for thinking through questions of political socialization.

Several months ago, I became aware of a video game for elementary school children that would teach them about the underground railroad and the American slaveocracy. This game is now complete and has been released online. For those of us who are interested in power and social identity, the role of technology in society is of great importance as we try to grapple with how such categories as race, class, gender, and sexuality are imagined, taught, reinforced, contested, shared, and learned.

There are technologies of race. For example, the mass media was integral to the creation of the racial state and also its relative dismantlement. The Internet and social media are tools for political socialization. Racism has moved to the "backstage" and online. As such, cyber-racism is one of the most recent means through which white supremacist and colorblind racist discourses are disseminated to the public.

I am not a Luddite. However, I am deeply fascinated with the piss poor state of technological literacy in the United States. Just as too many people believe that if they see a thing on TV it must be true, there are sad foolish legions who trust the Internet to be a bastion of "truth," when in reality it is an organ of Power and mass culture--disseminating lies, half-truths, disinformation, and other intellectual chaff to the collective social (sub)consciousness.

Moreover, video games have a mixed history as a type of mass entertainment in regards to questions of race, identity, politics, and political socialization.

The most recent iteration of the game Assassin's Creed has dealt with such issues as the genocide of First Nations' peoples, chattel slavery, and presenting a more "realistic" version of Colonial America.

There is also a new game in development about the Lewis and Clark Expedition which does not ignore York, the black slave, fellow journeyman, intrepid explorer, history maker on that famed expedition, and the particular issues of freedom and bondage embodied (quite literally) by his role in that adventure.

And the very latest Bioshock game promises to offer loads of thinking material about libertarianism, technology, and questions of power and identity--I cannot wait for it to debut in a few months.

And then there is The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley. On the surface it is relatively benign. I am sure that the intentions of its creators are also noble. Yet, sometimes the sum impact of a given innocent endeavor can be extremely problematic and outsized.

As I said about role-playing chattel slavery in the game Steal Away Jordan, I do not know how to make a game out of the struggle of black bondsmen and bondswomen to be free. I do not know how to present their struggles in the context of a game, where the "characters" are awarded health points and bonuses as they try to follow the North Star to freedom. I do not know how to present slave patrols and slave catching dogs in the context of a video game. In all, I am not interested in coming up with the game mechanics for such scenarios, as that effort mocks and minimizes my/our ancestors great freedom struggle.

The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley is the result of many decisions by a range of individuals to create a product with an explicit purpose, design, and end goal. At some point, the creators of The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley talked with one another and said, "yes, a game about the Underground Railroad and American slavery makes perfect sense!"

I am very curious about the thought process that lead these good folks to decide that the Black Holocaust was a fitting setting for a game, while the Holocaust of Jews and many many others in Europe was not. Why not make a game about the Armenian Genocide? What about an action adventure set on the Trail of Tears? What about the Rape of Nanking? What decision rules are involved? Why are some horrors fair play, and others are considered bad taste for an exercise in educational technology?

Apparently, there is something about the murder of millions of black people in the centuries-long Transatlantic Slave Trade and Western slaveocracy which apparently makes it reasonable source material for speculative fantasy movies and video games. I wonder that it is?

The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley can be played online at this link. I am very curious about your reaction to it. How do you reconcile the good intentions of its creators with the game's aesthetics, structure, and narrative? Ultimately, are there some historical events that cannot be reduced to the premise of a video game?

A provocative question: how are books any different in terms of mediated experiences? Are my objections rooted primarily in form as opposed to content? How do we bridge the gap between how different types of texts communicate meaning?

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Advice for a Black Woman Whose White Boyfriend "Just Used the N-Word"

Dear Prudence, the advice column at Slate has a case that I thought worthy of engaging to start the week. Prudence offered up some reasonable--and I think very careful thinking--in response to a black woman whose white boyfriend called one of her friends a "nigger."

"Unspeakable," the woman who wrote Prudence ended her letter with the following: "He came to me and apologized profusely and had tears in his eyes while doing so. I accepted his apology because it was completely out of character for him, but I am now questioning our relationship. What do you think?

Channeling my best advice columnist voice, here are my thoughts on the matter. What advice would you give her?
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I can only imagine your hurt at having someone you care for use such language. One of the challenges of the post civil rights era, and especially the "post racial" multicultural moment where we as a society have internalized a "colorblind" set of scripts and rules for public discourse, is that white Americans have created bogeyman outliers who they can easily mock and deride as "evil" racists, "those people," or throwbacks.
 
The reality is far more troubling and challenging: the racist is looking at us in the mirror, he or she is our friend, neighbor, relative, or colleague. In many instances, white racism has simply moved to the "backstage" where it is couched in racial humor, tweeted online as a "joke," makes itself polite by using the language of "bad culture," white privilege laced opines about "American individualism," the Horatio Alger myth, or "real America."

Contemporary white racism also slips out in casual conversation when said person thinks they are among like minded people. This is a double hurt in your case because the great reveal was by someone who you consider an intimate. You had presumed that this white man who loves a black woman would not use such speech to describe another black person. You were proven wrong.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Questions of Black Murder and Revenge: Please Teach Me Something about the "Zebra Murders"

For six months, straddling late 1973 and early 1974, the city had 14 random killings. Most of the victims never saw it coming, shot in the back or the back of the head, execution-style, in what came to be called the Zebra murders. 
The shootings were racially motivated and usually happened at night along the Divisadero Street corridor. Here are three that were out of the norm but crucial to the case. 
On the evening of Oct. 19, 1973, Quita and Richard Hague came out of their four-story Victorian apartment building at 399 Chestnut St., at Stockton Street. They went west, downhill toward North Beach, maybe in front of Francisco Middle School one block down, when a white van pulled alongside with three men inside. The body of Quita Hague, 28, was found the next day on the railroad tracks across town. Her husband survived. The spree had begun. 
Two months later, on Dec. 13, 1973, the killer struck again, at the corner of Wisconsin and 23rd streets, on Potrero Hill. Social worker Art Agnos, 35, had left a meeting and was walking to his car when people started fleeing from a loud popping noise. The future mayor tried to calm them before realizing he had been shot twice in the back. 
On Jan. 28, 1974, Jane Holly, a 45-year-old Wells Fargo clerk, went into the Lightning Coin Launderette at 1440 Silver Ave., just off San Bruno Avenue. Her back was to the door. She was pulling clothes out of the dryer as a gunman walked toward the rear of the 24-hour wash-and-dry.
In our recent discussions about gun violence, Django Unchained, and America's gun culture, I have learned a great deal. Several commenters have offered up interesting bits of information, such as this reference to Robert Charles, a black man who shot 27 white people in the year 1900 during the height of Jim and Jane Crow.

I have also had an interesting discussion about black mass shooters and the argument that such crimes by African-Americans are somehow under-reported. Such a claim is fascinating because of how it stands against volumes of evidence about the racialized nature of crime reporting in the United States, and how stereotypes about black criminality are integral to the prison industrial complex, and the school to prison pipeline.

I may not always agree with folks here on WARN--which is part of the fun of our honest conversations--but I always learn something from the exchange.

In the spirit of seeking new information and knowledge, I also enjoy reading white nationalist websites. As I have said many times before, one must understand their enemies as not to be ambushed by them. Their waters are toxic and befouled; they are pure to the supplicants and white nationalist troglodytes.

During the Right-wing media's online fit about Django Unchained, and the prospect that a black man may actually want to kill white slave owners and other white racists during the 19th century (and Hollywood may dare to present such a fantasy in the form of a major motion picture), I came upon repeated references to the "Zebra Murders."

These were common White deflections where white racists search high and low for examples of black "racism," criminality, or violence in order to balance the centuries-long historical record of white supremacy's barbarisms against people of color--and also against white folks who did not follow the dominant script. The false equivalence is glaring; nevertheless, it is still instructive.

As a person of a certain age, I had never heard of the Zebra Murders. As a child of the hip hop generation and the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area who was born in the 1970s, I was too young and geographically distant from California to have ever encountered any information about a murder spree that was supposedly committed by Nation of Islam members against whites (and others) in the Bay area from 1973 to 1974.

Color me fascinated by this tale of interracial murder, police corruption and racism; resentment towards Earl Sanders, the black Police Chief of the San Francisco police department; and what is a fascinating story that has been optioned for a movie by Brad Pitt and starring Jamie Foxx and Will Smith.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

They Be So Ghetto: Did Steven Levitt of Freakonomics Fame Commit "Academic Blackface" With This Blog Post?

The Internet can get you in trouble. It can take an inside joke meant to be shared by a few friends and circulate it to hundreds or thousands of people. If you are one of the country's preeminent and most popular economists the Internet can circulate your inside joke to millions.

Several weeks ago, Steve Levitt, a genius and a starred economist, took some very important research on the black-white achievement gap in education that he co-authored with Harvard's Roland Fryer, and using a website, "translated" it into "ghetto English" which he then featured at Freakonomics.com.

I am a fan of dark and ironic humor. I also understand that Dr. Levitt is playing around with academic conventions regarding language, and how insular and self-important said community can be in regards to the rites and rituals of writing, research, and publishing. He is also likely having fun with notions of "code-switching" and the arbitrariness of language conventions.

But, there is something uncomfortable about watching Steve Levitt, a white economist who studies behavior, culture, economic decision-making, and the political economy of the everyday, playing this game with an important article on educational outcomes and race--one which reaches the following conclusion:
Compared with the results of previous studies, our findings provide reason for optimism. We find smaller achievement gaps, in both the raw and the adjusted scores, for children born in the early 1990s than others had found for earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared with earlier generations of students, the current cohort of blacks has made real gains relative to whites. Indeed, recent cohorts show smaller raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promising sign. 
Once students enter school, however, the gap between white and black children grows, even after controlling for observable influences. We speculate that blacks are losing ground relative to whites because they attend lower quality schools that are less well maintained and managed as indicated by signs of social discord. Though we recognize that we have not provided definitive proof, this is the only hypothesis that receives any empirical support.
Here is the same conclusion "translated" into ghetto English:
Compared wit tha thangs up in dis biatch of previous studies, our findings provide reason fo' optimism. Our thugged-out asses find smalla achievement gaps, up in both tha raw n' tha adjusted scores, fo' lil pimps born up in tha early 1990s than others had found fo' earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared wit earlier generationz of students, tha current cohort of blacks has done cooked up real gains relatizzle ta whites. Git tha fuck outta mah grill wit dat bullshit, recent cohorts sheezy smalla raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promisin sign. 
Once students enter school, however, tha gap between white n' black lil pimps grows, even afta controllin fo' observable influences. Our thugged-out asses speculate dat blacks is losin ground relatizzle ta whites cuz they attend lower-qualitizzle schools dat is less well maintained n' managed as indicated by signz of hood discord. Y'all KNOW dat shit, muthafucka! Though our crazy-ass asses recognize dat our crazy-ass asses have not provided definitizzle proof, dis is tha only hypothesis dat receives any empirical support. 
Roland G. Fryer Jr. be a junior fellow all up in tha Harvard Society of Fellows n' a gangbangin' faculty research fellow all up in tha Nationizzle Bureau of Economic Research. Right back up in yo muthafuckin ass. Steven D. Levitt be a professor of economics all up in tha Universitizzle of Chicago. 
While some have suggested that Levitt's post is "racist," I am not sure if said adjective is a good fit for his failure of good taste.

Posting a private joke online (at a website that is followed by millions of people) is ill advised.

Posting a private joke about race, poverty, and education, especially when you are one of the country's foremost economists (and by all accounts a pretty nice and cool guy), also reminds us of the troubled history and relationship between the academy, and the poor and working class communities that many elite institutions find themselves surrounded by. The town/gown distinction is real; the elite institution/ghetto underclass divide, where the latter is a convenient laboratory for the former to study, is real as well.

Did Steve Levitt commit "academic blackface?" I am not sure. And should it matter if he did? It is all a joke anyway, isn't it?

What Would Annie Davis Say Today? A Letter From A Slave to President Lincoln Asking What She Can do to Secure Her Own Freedom

January 1, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While we discuss movies such as Lincoln and Django (the latter with its fantasic and more real than real depiction of the historical realities of the Southern slaveocracy) it must not be forgotten that "popular" and "filmic" representations of reality are actually stand-ins for actual people and human events (many of them mundane and quotidian; others, life changing and world shifting).

As is often said by those in Cultural and Media Studies, films talk to each other about themselves and are mirrors for the social moment in which they were produced. While ultimately about the "now" and the "present," "historical" movies are also exercises in representing past events and the people involved with them.

For example, if you are a Black American in your thirties or forties who can trace their lineage back through to the 19th or 18th century (or before), your grandmother's grandmother was likely born a slave.

For example, reflecting on the echoes of history into the present, I came upon this letter to President Lincoln, dated August, 25, 1864, from a former Maryland slave:
Mr. President,
It is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern shore. My mistress wont let me.You will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do. I write to you for advice. Please send me word this week. Or as soon as possible, and oblidge.
Annie Davis
The Emancipation Proclamation was an acknowledgement of how black people had long been freeing themselves across the South, was a tactical move to further disrupt the CSA's labor supply and resource pool, was complicated in its enforcement by the border states, and while a document rooted in realpolitik, is rightly hailed for its symbolic value in a country fighting over its status as one that would be either "free" or "slave."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Conversation with Professor Ann Little About the Newtown Massacre, Adam Lanza, America's Gun Culture, and the Puzzle of White Masculinity

I hope that the New Year was restful and celebratory. Before Christmas, there was a momentary "national conversation" about gun violence in the aftermath of the Newtown Massacre. Curiously, but not surprising, said moment of introspection about how America's gun culture eats it youth has fallen off of the national radar as the pundit classes have moved on to other matters. There will be other mass shootings; we will have said "national conversation" again; nothing will be done given the NRA's murder hold on the American people.

As I explored in a series of posts, the central question regarding the Gun Right is how these mass shootings do not lead to any serious exploration of the intersection(s) of Whiteness, White Masculinity, and mass gun violence. White men commit an overwhelming amount of the mass shootings in the United States. Yet, except for a few outliers, there is no sustained effort to engage the obvious puzzle: if white men are killing people, often by the dozens--in murders where they are the offenders at twice their rate in the general population--why are so many in the news media afraid and hostile to basic questions about "white crime?"

In my effort to explore this question, I reached out to two great scholars of American history and culture. Both kindly agreed to participate in WARN's podcast series.

Our first guest is Professor Ann Little, author of the book Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England, who writes over at the great website Historiann. In our podcast, she does a wonderful job of setting up our conversation by offering a wonderful, rich, and insightful perspective on the Newtown Massacre and the colonial era roots of the United States' (near pathological) love of guns in the present

Dr. Little was so very generous with her time. We covered a great amount of material in this conversation and offered up a necessary, and to this point, very much lacking historical context for the Newtown Massacre, and the fear by many in the pundit classes to even discuss white masculinity and gun violence.

This was a real treat. I was so glad to be able to bring this dialogue to the readers of We Are Respectable Negroes and those who follow our podcast series.

I do hope you enjoy the conversation.



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2:59 As a historian and scholar of America and gun culture, what were your first thoughts about the Newtown Massacre?
6:18 How do we begin to think broadly about masculinity and gun culture in the United States, and how it helps us to understand Adam Lanza's murder spree?
11:22 The gun and white male citizenship in colonial America and the Founding
15:00 Is the magical thinking of Conservatives typified by the gun control debate? What are some of the regional differences in regards to gun culture in the United States? How is this surprising (or not)?
23:55 An open letter to white men. Beginning to think about White masculinity, Whiteness and gun violence
29:25 How do people respond to conversations where whiteness and masculinity are interrogated and challenged?
34:40 Is White Masculinity a story of historical continuity or change? Is White Heterosexual Masculinity static?
48:27 More context for avoiding a critical interrogation of Whiteness and gun violence: White Mediocrity and the subsidization of Whiteness vs. the myth of American Meritocracy
56:14 Historical myopia, the luxury of being white and historical memory, and the allure of believing the "White Lies" of American history
62:14 What is your "blogging story?" How does blogging fit into your academic career?
64:03 The failure of academics to be able to effectively communicate with "regular" folks who are also smart like them
69:20 Academic writing's impact vs the audience and impact of blogging

Monday, December 31, 2012

May You Live in Interesting Times this New Year 2013: Minister Louis Farrakhan Endorses Django Unchained



I wonder if I am Alice in Wonderland or Neo in the Matrix? Did I walk through the looking glass?

A black man is President who was elected twice; the conspiracy theory that my friends and I outlined during late nights in college where a black man is elected president--what we called "Operation Hamhock" at the time--in order to advance neoliberalism's "colorblind" racist agenda came to pass.

We saw three new Star Wars movies and another trilogy is on the way (hopefully better than the last), there are zombie outbreaks, and herrenvolk old white Tea Party GOP nationalists wearing tricorn hats obstructing the General Will and Common Good.

Star Trek was rebooted and is introducing Khan/Garry Mitchell, the Orwellian police state hides in plain sight, and people self-medicate with social media and cell phones in order to avoid reality and police themselves for the panopticon.

And now there is a black fantasy revenge film called Django Unchained where a black man gets to kill white slavers, and other assorted white trash, is the subject of a national conversation. Plus, Minister Farrakhan weighs in on said movie for the new year.

As the old Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times. What will 2013 hold? What are your resolutions and thoughts this New Year's Eve? Any resolutions to share?

Be well friends, and I look forward to our conversations in 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Post-Django Unchained: How Many of You Remember "The Legend of Nigger Charley?"


Something fun for the weekend. Django Unchained builds upon many movies. Most obvious, is the original Spaghetti Western Django. Less obvious, for those who do not have a deep understanding of American film, are such movies as Nigger Charley and its various sequels/versions.


"This will do as easy entertainment, I guess, but the novelty of a black cowboy shooting a white bad guy is sure to wear off sooner or later, and then maybe black Westerns will be made with the same care as the traditional item."

My man Ebert was wrong: the novelty of watching a black cowboy shoot a white bad guy never wears off. 

However, there are several far-telling gems of observation in Ebert's words. Primarily, it took forty years, and a white filmmaker, to make a mainstream black revenge film. Second, despite how badly it went off of the rails--and relatively soon following its genesis--blaxploitation suggested some radical possibilities about the relationship between black masculinity and popular film which have largely remained unfulfilled. 

For those of you that lived during that period how did blaxploitation go so wrong, so fast? 

And, for those of you who remember the Black Arts Movement and its explicit/public conversations about the relationship between arts, politics, and the popular for the empowerment of African Americans, are you disgusted, frustrated, numb, embarrassed, or just indifferent to how black cultural work has become fully commodified by the culture industry, and is used (largely) to subvert the political empowerment of black and brown folks in the present?

Here is Robert Ebert's original review. Could these same words have been written about Django Unchained?
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"The Legend of Nigger Charley" is an amiable black Western with sufficient episodes of violence to give it the appearance of heading somewhere. Actually, though, it mostly just drifts, and gets incredible mileage out of some nice guitar and banjo work on the sound track while the heroes ride everlastingly into the sagebrush. When things get especially slow, they throw in a shoot-out with Whitey, which cheers everybody up.

This will do as easy entertainment, I guess, but the novelty of a black cowboy shooting a white bad guy is sure to wear off sooner or later, and then maybe black Westerns will be made with the same care as the traditional item. You seen one piece of white trash blown out of the saddle for calling the hero "boy," you seen them all.

The story involves an escaped slave who heads West to freedom with a couple of friends. He is pursued by a white gang led by a sadistic slaveowner who allows, "I've never lost a nigger yet and I don't mean to start now." This represents one of the maybe six dozen times in the movie when the word "nigger" is employed. The idea seems to be to throw the word around until everybody is thoroughly sick of it, and then kill whoever has used it, setting the record straight.

If that is one of the themes of the movie, the other is that Charley is through being anyone's slave. "I'm a free man, and I'll die a free man," he assures his friends two or three times. That's fine except it's his friends who get killed. The only survivor is his comic-relief sidekick, who is there for the big fade-out at the end. "Where shall we go now, Charley?" he asks. "Don't matter," Charley says. "Wherever we go, there's trouble waiting for us."

Strictly speaking, this is the truth. But Charley has a way of finding trouble where he needn't have looked. After he wins the first shoot-out with the white pursuit squad, he is asked by a local farmer to sign on as a hired gun. It seems that the farmer's wife is half-Indian, and so no one will help when "Preacher" and his gang attack their farm. Preacher is your typical frontier lunatic in a stovepipe hat, who quotes from the Bible while cutting off people's fingers.

Charley says protection isn't his line, but 20 miles down the road he gets to thinking about that cute little half-breed wife. So he takes his men and rides back to the ranch in a clever bit of script-manipulation that succeeds in squeezing in two more gunfights. He also gets to kiss the woman, once, which does not seem like too high a ratio of sex to violence.

"The Legend of Nigger Charley" is frustrating partly because of the high level of acting talent in the cast. When you see fine actors being thrown into exploitative scripts, you begin to get a little angry. If the current group of black-oriented movies has proven anything, it's that there's a large pool of skilled and interesting black actors in Hollywood. Whether it will forever be necessary for them to waste their talents in dumb screenplays is a question that must come to them sometimes late at night.

Fred Williamson, last seen in Otto Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon," plays, Nigger Charley as a suitably heroic lead. There's not a lot of room for the character to stretch out and develop himself, largely because of the pale dialog, but Williamson is a strong leading man able to bring more complexities to a hero's role than, say, Jim Brown.

D'Urville Martin plays his sidekick, Toby, who is a genuinely funny pessimist. Don Pedro Colley is the bald, bearded and unshakable third member on the team, The way they work together in some scenes makes you think of Westerns like "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Professionals" - movies "Nigger Charley" might have resembled more if so much confidence hadn't been placed In the shoot-outs. There is no intrinsic reason why black Westerns have to be bad Westerns, so we can still hope.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Black Post Slavery Racism Incited the Ku Klux Klan": Pastor Manning Should Have Been a Character in Django Unchained



I came upon this over the holidays and was saving it for the appropriate moment.

Given that folks have Django Unchained on their mind, Sam Jackson's manservant adviser chief valet character was played as one of the most despicable negroes in the history of cinema. "Stephen" is the Uncle of all Uncle Toms and the Grand Emperor of Steppin Fetchits. He is the metaphorical Nile River from which garbage pail kid black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, and Herman Cain flow as double-corked black face new age political race minstrel tributaries.

Like them, Pastor Manning is also a direct descendant of Stephen in Django Unchained.

In a perfect world, he could have played a role in the film as a black preacher who taught the slaves to be obedient, giving the benediction at Big Daddy's skin parlor, blessing the "Mandingo" fighters, and seconding Calvin Candie's race science theories of black inferiority. If Pastor Manning was to have played such a part in Django, it would have been the most basic and easiest type of acting--he would essentially be portraying himself. Nevertheless, Manning would still be a perfect casting choice by Quentin Tarantino.

Given the latter's love of cameos, what other notorious negroes from the (near) present would have fit in the universe created by Django Unchained?

A bonus. Pastor Manning explaining how Jamie Foxx is an agent of the anti-Christ President Barack Obama:

What if Spike Lee Had Made Django Unchained?



I just watched Django Unchained. I will be offering up a longer response later today. But, I can say with confidence that Quentin Tarantino has made an excellent movie, that aided by amazing performances from Jamie Foxx and Samuel Jackson, should win an award (at the very least) for best screenplay this year at the Academy Awards. Christoph Waltz's role as a lens and critical voice, a chorus of sorts, through which a contemporary post civil rights, Age of Obama audience can be "present" in the film, was also superb.

I had quite a few concerns about Tarantino's use of slavery in the Spaghetti Western counter-factual revenge genre. Most of those concerns were more than satisfied; and as I alluded to here, I am now pretty sure that Tarantino had some historians (and others such as Henry Louis Gates Jr.) consulting on the film.

There are quite a few subtle moments of conversation, as well as meta-level questions about black citizenship, masculinity, and agency colouring the movie (a racial "color timing" of sorts) that someone was likely in Tarantino's ear helping him to flesh out questions of black freedom, and how black free people occupied a type of liminal space in the South during this period.

While watching Django Unchained, I was very curious as to how the audience would respond to the difficult subject matter that was America's centuries-long slave regime. Would black folks be upset? Would we laugh unexpectedly at the dark and tragic events, actions that are a means of negotiating the real history, unfolding before our eyes?  Would the white folks be self-conscious about the reality of white supremacy in the guise of speculative fiction taking place on the screen? Most importantly, would all parties in the theater be "entertained?"

Before losing myself in the film, I kept thinking about Spike Lee's complaints about Django and his worries about Tarantino's ability, as a white filmmaker, to present a still little understood (by average citizens) chapter in American history, and then to package it around the latter's unique genre sensibilities. Lee's concerns are reasonable.

After seeing Django for the first time, and before going to see it many more times in the next few weeks, his criticisms were misplaced. In the spirit of Tarantino's counter-factual speculative history of America's slaveocracy, one that is more truth than fiction, I left the movie wondering about how Spike Lee's movie would have been different from Quentin Tarantino's version of Django Unchained.

Here are some preliminary thoughts. And of course, if you saw Django Unchained what did you think of the movie?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Playing With Race and Sex: A White Male Cuckold Who Let's His Wife Have Sex with Black Men Seeks Advice About His Relationship

We are getting back into the normal routine of things this week and next. I posted this piece a week or so ago. The Newtown Massacre intervened. Thus, fun matters had to take a back seat to more serious concerns. 

As We Are Respectable Negroes moves forward, I am going to be doing more posts on sex and relationships. Why? Because I enjoy talking about such matters. Also, sex is one of the common denominators that ties us all together. And I am hedonistic lascivious ghetto nerd whose motto is "if it feels good, do it." Is any other explanation for our deeds and actions ever necessary?

In another life, I would have  been an advice columnist. I am both self-important and egotistical enough to believe that I have valuable wisdom to offer strangers. I am a good listener. I am nosy.  I have also had enough bizarre experiences in life--and am at peace with them--to be able to have the confidence to advise others. I also like power...unlimited power to quote Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine. I reason that giving advice will be the closest I get to being the hegemon. I am at peace with that. 


There was a belated comment on this post about sex, race, and cuckolding from a few months back. Said comment reads like a badly written sex fantasy on an interracial Mandingo sex party website.  


In the future,  I am going to be adding a link for questions and advice here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I already get quite a few of these queries where good people ask me, "what would you do in x situation?" It could be useful to formalize the process. 


Whatever its origins, this comment is good practice for all of us as we develop our "tree of trust," faux therapist, voice. What advice would you offer our anonymous advice seeker?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lest You Forget That Before "Django Unchained" There Was "Can't Be Roots--A XXX Parody"


And with that I wish you all a very Merry Christmas...






Cornel West Hits President Obama With a Christmas Stocking Full of Poop: The "Cowardly" President Doesn't Care When Black Kids Get Killed, Only When White Kids Die by the Gun


There is so much hostility and bad blood from Professor West towards Barack Obama that I do not even know how to begin explaining it. The President did not invite Brother West to his private inauguration party in 2008. This has spun into a one way feud where the latter is made even more upset by the former's ignoring of his complaints. Moral of the story? Always send a "thank you" note during the holidays for your gifts, and also be sure to say "thank you" as one never knows how a perceived slight will turn into a blood feud.

It is Christmas Eve. Do treat this as an open holiday thread. Any great stories so far? Random happenings? Fun events planned? Obnoxious relatives you are dreading? What did Black Pete do to you this holiday season? Events in the broader world that we should be keeping our eyes open for?

I am going to be cooking a Christmas eve dinner of langostinos and pasta and drinking some Bell's Winter Ale. I like scavengers full of mercury which I cook with butter and mushrooms: this was a tradition when I was a kid, as whenever my dad would hit the lottery, seafood pasta would be our "eating like rich folks" meal that night. We would then go bowling and see a movie.

As I have gotten older, such memories have taken on more importance. If I am ever blessed with kids and a good woman, she a long suffering wife if said poor woman chose to mate with such an eccentric personality, I will spend a good amount of time making sure that we have our own rituals. Growing up, the kid(s) would hate it; when they are older, I do hope that there would be some appreciation for the "uniqueness" of their upbringing.

For the holiday, I will be hanging out with a friend, watching The Dark Knight Rises blu-ray a few times, cooking up some fried chicken, bacon wrapped filet mignon, salad, garlic bread, homemade fried mozzarella  and rosemary potatoes. Stella is a perfect holiday beer and will accompany the dinner. I am going to cook up some old chicken for the animals outside and leave it strategically placed about. I also have a nice loaf of Parmesan Focaccia bread that went stale that I will give to my bird army. The soldiers need to eat too. 

I will then fall asleep after using the toilet, watching A Christmas Story a few more times, and then finishing off the night with Star Wars.

Will the meal turn out well? Who knows? I will give it my best try in any event.

I got a few video games during the Steam and Gamefly holiday sale event that I will be playing as well. Word of caution--if you are one of the folks like me who has not upgraded from Windows XP Pro do not download the new X-Com game. You will be out 25 bucks because it requires Vista and above to run. Crooks. Liars. Charlatans. Heart breakers. I curse them.

Finally, I would like to formally thank all of the kind people who donated to our first ever fundraiser. Times are hard out there. I appreciate the generosity. I will be getting a proper mic for our podcast series, and getting a ticket to go home after the holidays. Thank you so very much. I mean that, truly I do. 

Best wishes for the holiday. Do be good to each other. What is on your minds this holiday season? For those of you with kids, how are you making these next few days special and memorable?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pre-Christmas Sunday Sacrilegiousness: Come All and Learn How to Polish the Shaft at First Baptist Church



I hope you are all having a nice weekend and have finished all of your shopping and miscellaneous arrangements for the holidays. Given that there is a "war on Christmas," I wanted to do my part by sharing this story about the "religiously minded" and devout "Christians" doing wrong.

Many churches are shows and spectacles. How else could they pass that donation bowl around if there was not some entertainment value to be had?

Folks are there to see each other, profile, and to gossip. Religious communities are also just another conglomeration of people with all of the good, bad, ugly, and the like thrown in. As the joke goes in the black community, and for certain evangelicals in particular, the preacher (and other religious leaders too) is the same cultural figure as the pimp--both drive nice cars, are flashy, wear lots of jewelry, make their money by exploiting others, and are cults of personality who exploit the weak and vulnerable.

Apparently, that rule is especially true for First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.

Let me be clear. I would certainly enjoy a sermon about masturbation and polished shafts. I am practical that way:
In July 2010, an hour into the “Polished Shaft” sermon—in a church packed with thousands of teenagers there for a youth conference—Schaap went further. He lifted a stick in his left hand and a silver cloth in his right. He moved the bottom of the stick near his groin and angled it away from himself. Head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut, mouth gaping, he began rubbing the shaft rapidly with the cloth, up and down, up and down…. What he was doing was unmistakable: simulating masturbation, in front of thousands of children, in the middle of a church service. A row of white-coated high-ranking churchmen seated behind Schaap watched in silence.
I would also be a regular church goer if there were sermons like this one within walking distance. The after party and "fellowship" must be particularly joyous:
The true believers of the ultrafundamentalist Independent Baptist movement were accustomed to Schaap’s style. If he wasn’t scolding his flock for not living up to God’s demands (tithing, volunteering, “soul winning”), he was delivering R-rated sermons that, for example, likened the Lord’s Supper to having sex with Jesus Christ. “He would just repeatedly talk about sex and repeatedly talk about women, how they were dressed and body parts . . . in graphic detail,” recalls Tom Brennan, who attended the church for six years and is now an Independent Baptist pastor at Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.
I am suspicious of authority figures. I am especially suspicious of those who have power in a community where magical thinking, i.e "faith" are used to legitimate it. Once any person starts channeling "the word of god" my default judgement is that they 1) need counseling and 2) are egomaniacs who are not to be trusted for they can rationalize their own deeds through appeals to a "higher authority." In all, bad people can use the religiously minded and group think as covers for, and a means to, further their own wickedness.

That is not God's fault; it human nature. Even while writing said sentence I must default to the puzzle of theodicy in order to resolve the two statements.

The outcome at the First Baptist church would seem to validate said observation:

Unfortunately, it went well beyond talk. Last September, Schaap, 54, a married father of two, pleaded guilty to taking a 16-year-old girl he was counseling at First Baptist across state lines to have sex. Denied bond, he awaits sentencing in the Porter County Jail; the minimum term is ten years.
But Schaap is not simply one of those rogue evangelists who thunders against the evils of forbidden sex while indulging in it himself. According to dozens of current and former church members, religion experts, and historians interviewed by Chicago—plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents—he is part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse at one of the nation’s largest churches. 
Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church—many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors’ Schools—who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape.
The whole piece in Chicago Magazine is well worth reading. It is not at all surprising given how the "moral majority" projects their own insecurities and deviant predilections onto others.

Friday, December 21, 2012

They are the Tyrone Biggums of Interest Groups: On Political Crack, Post-Sandy Hook the NRA's Solution is More Guns Equals Less Crime


I hope you will all be having a restful holiday weekend. I send you well-wishes and good energy for the New Year and I appreciate all of the kind folks who contribute to our conversations here on WARN. I have two great podcasts on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, race, masculinity, and America's gun culture, that I will be sharing after the holiday. Do look out for them. 

 The NRA has finally chimed in on the Newtown Shooting. The public is exhausted by our "national" conversation about mass shootings and "gun rights." The NRA's timing was great insofar as most folks are distracted by the holidays and will not be watching the news. Fate has a dark sense of humor: the NRA conference devolved into a spectacle; and as timing would have it, there was a shooting in Pennsylvania, leaving four people dead, that coincided with said event. 

 The NRA's solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the United States and the unique scale of its mass shootings (a crime committed overwhelmingly by white men, but where race and gender will never be interrogated as variables) is more guns. The empirical data on gun violence does not support their argument

The common sense regarding the matter does not support their hypothesis either. The United States is a country awash with guns. But more guns will somehow reach a tipping point where our children and others will be made safe from gun violence...I riddle you that one. To eliminate "gun free zones" as a solution to gun violence is simply one more example of the magical thinking common to the Right in contemporary America. 

As I pointed out here, it is extremely difficult for trained personnel to respond to an armed assailant in a situation such as Columbine or Newtown; to suggest that a teacher or rent-a-cop would not make matters worse is right out of a comic book. Superman can fly and punch holes through walls. Joe and Jane Q. Public are not going to be able to effectively respond to an armed shooter who has the tactical initiative and is determined to kill everyone around him or her. A fully armed public--what are really vigilantes--that the NRA wants to create, are not the Punisher. 

The NRA is unwilling to pursue common sense gun solutions because there is no political, economic, or moral consequence for them not doing so. Gun companies are indemnified from lawsuits. As such, there is no consequence when guns are used to kill dozens of people because said weapons worked as designed. And ultimately, too many Americans actually believe that they are Minutemen in waiting, and have the ability to balance the State's monopoly on force. 

 The Gun Right is stuck on a type of path dependence in their thinking about public safety and the violence caused by firearms. Guns, guns, and more guns are the only solution to the problem; their magical fetish object made of plastic and metal is a universal tool that can be used to solve all problems. 

The Gun Right and the NRA are like crackheads where the solution to any problem is another hit from the glass pipe. They are Tyrone Biggums, chasing the next thrill from the guns which they worship at the expense of the public's safety. Tragically, Tyrone Bigguns and folks like him tend to only hurt themselves. By comparison, the Gun Right has the blood of many thousands more on their hands.

When is the NRA going to enter rehab?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Django Unchained" Does Not Make One a Historian: Sorry Mr. Tarantino, the War on Drugs is not the Same as the Enslavement of Black Americans

"This whole thing of this 'war on drugs' and the mass incarcerations that have happened pretty much for the last 40 years has just decimated the black male population," the filmmaker said on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. "It’s slavery, it is just, it’s just slavery through and through, and it’s just the same fear of the black male that existed back in the 1800s." 
In addition, he says that the flesh-for-cash business of slavery mirrors that of the prison industrial complex. 
"Especially having even directed a movie about slavery," he said, "and you know the scenes that we have in the slave town, the slave auction town, where they’re moving back and forth -- well, that looks like standing in the top tier of a prison system and watching the things go down. And between the private prisons and the public prisons, the way prisoners are traded back and forth."
Quentin Tarantino is an amazing filmmaker. He is one of the great talents of his generation. I will be watching his new slavery revenge flick on Christmas Eve. However, Quentin Tarantino, an autodidact film genius, is not John Hope Franklin. He is also not Michelle Alexander. Nor is Quentin Tarantino an authority on the "black experience" in America.

One of my primary concerns about Django is that a revenge flick about slavery, drawing on a history that few Americans really understand, and presented in the genre of historical fantasy, will simply confuse the public about the horrors of the Middle Passage and the United States' centuries long status as a country ruled by formal white supremacy.

My expectations and claims are precise: I do not expect popular culture to either responsibly teach or to be historically accurate.

The first obligation of popular culture is to pleasure and entertainment. However, the realm of the popular is invested with symbolic power. And in dealing with a topic, where the mass scale barbarisms and horrors have been quite literally white washed away, there is an almost unavoidable risk that Django will flatten history in the service of narrative convention, Tarantino's own predilections, and filmic vision.

In all, Django, despite the complaints and tender sensitivities of white conservatives and others, is a relatively benign depiction of white evil towards black personhood under the system of racial terrorism that was chattel slavery.

[If Tarantino dared to make an "accurate" movie about the Maafa it would be rated XXX or NC-17; Django most certainly would not be nominated for an Academy Award next year.]

Django is not "history written with lightning." One would be surprised by how audiences confuse history as presented by Hollywood with the actual facts of a given event. For many, across the colorline, Django, will not simply be an exercise in a mating of the exploitation and Spaghetti Western film genres. Rather, it will be a convenient and accessible "history" that will upset, anger, and titillate the audience while it makes millions of dollars.

In his effort to speak truth to power, Tarantino makes the error of conflating the injustices and racism of the prison industrial complex and the "War on Drugs" with chattel slavery. His heart was in the right place.

Nevertheless, sentimentality and emotion are not substitutes for empirical rigor or solid historiography.