Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is Christopher Dorner "The Spook Who Sat by the Door?"

Christopher Dorner is a canvas onto which we can project our national anxieties and obsessions. Christopher Dorner is racialized as an African American. He is gendered as a male. Christopher Dorner represents authority, conformity, and State power, as a (former) police officer. Those identities are intersectional.

For some, Christopher Dorner is a hero who dared to speak truth to power and rode roughshod over the LAPD and those he identified as his enemies. To them, Dorner has Eric Hobsbawn's "social banditry" flowing in his veins.

For others, he is a criminal who went "crazy" and offered up a manifesto like those "liberals" have a habit of doing. As with Trayvon Martin, what you see may largely be a function of where you sit politically, ideologically, and racially. Ultimately, Dorner is the object who represents the intermixing of several long-standing American cultural and historical narratives; he is a nexus, a focal point for the birth of many memes.

Dorner is the African-American, "hulking, 270-pound former college football player" who is armed and dangerous. He is the 21st century echo of the "giant negroes" who attacked "innocent" white people as heralded in sensationalistic American newspaper headlines in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries. 

Some others would like to argue that he is Bigger Thomas or Tarantino's reimagined Django. 

I would suggest that Drnner has little if anything in common with the former, Richard Wright's iconic character, except for being black and male. 

Jamie Foxx's Django is more compelling. However, while the allusion is pithy and timely, Dorner is not fighting the white slaveocracy, living out a fairy tale slavery counter-factual, and willing to die (and kill) for the love of a good woman. Dorner and Django are both forces of vengeance; however, their goals are not the same. Those differences are not to be overlooked.

Is Christopher Dorner either a bad nigger or a badman, two of the classic archetypes in Black (American) literature and folklore? 



I have no ready answer, as either formulation is compelling, while also being insufficient to capture Dorner's deeds and words. The bad nigger was a black person (usually male) who defied white authority, norms of black respectability, and did not care about the consequences. He usually was feared by the mass of black folks because we would be left to suffer for the consequences of his actions. Decent black folks were also the victims of his mischief, violence, and anti-social behavior. 

The badman was just that, he was a "bad man." He was Stagolee or the Blues Man who did his own thing despite white racism and cowardly black folks who simply wanted us to be quiet to get along. The badman was a trickster figure who had the finest clothes, carried a pistol, enjoyed the prettiest women, and possessed the baddest car or horse. The badman was the king of the block--and dared someone to tell him otherwise.

Christopher Dorner is a "bad man" in the literal sense: he has killed, and is the target of a massive manhunt. 

 In the literary sense, Dorner is not a badman...yet. But, that is the power of cultural memory. 

Perhaps, Christopher Dorner will be transformed through cultural memory and storytelling into a figure talked about for decades and centuries to come, with multiple versions of his tales and exploits, shaped by the griots and bards for their respective audiences?

While Dorner has many attributes that locate him firmly within Black (American) folklore, popular culture, and memory, I would argue that he is most accurately described as an Age of Obama version of The Spook Who Sat By the Door

[But even that parallel seems incomplete, as Dorner is not trying to organize a revolution...but The Spook Who Sat by the Door would seem to be the best fit. Do you have any other examples that are more perfect matches for Dorner's escapades?]

Penned by Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is an underground book (and then film) classic. The story focused on the exploits of Dan Freeman an African-American CIA agent who in an epiphanic moment came to realize that he was working for a corrupt and racist government. The main character then goes rogue, just as Dorner has done, and organizes a cadre of black nationalist freedom fighters to "take down the man." The Spook Who Sat by the Door was later remade as a film during the blaxploitation film cycle of the 1970s. 

The Spook Who Sat by the Door would be caricaturized and mocked by many who saw it as "typical" "black paranoid" thinking born of the failed revolutionary dreaming of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Spook Who Sat by the Door would also be marginalized by its later association with blaxploitation--what some cultural critics have described as "degraded cinema."

The Spook Who Sat by the Door has endured as a book and a movie because it spoke to the realities of Cointelpro, police brutality, the CIA connection to the crack cocaine epidemic, Iran-Contra, the evils taught at places like The School of the Americas, and because it validated what many black and brown folks have long-known: the United States has historically operated in such a way that White Power and White Government are inseparable. 

In total, Christopher Dorner is a Rorschach test. We will see in him what our life experiences, cognitive maps, and life worlds, have taught us about violence, trust, the State, racism, and the police. Irrespective of how individual members of the public perceive Christopher Dorner, institutional power sees him, quite correctly, as a threat. 

He is a heretic. In the same way that The Church reserved special punishments for fallen priests and nuns, or how the Mafia and other such organizations deal with traitors, Dorner is going to be made to suffer.

In a similar example, more money is often spent apprehending bank robbers than was stolen in the heist. This occurs because the banking system cannot allow a person to escape because such a choice would be a sign of weakness. Consequently, such a short term cost benefit analysis would encourage more robberies in the long term. 

Christopher Dorner dared to tell his version of the truth regarding the LAPD's history of corruption and racism. They do not like tattle tales and "snitches." Dorner is a threat because of his violent actions and the symbolic power of his words and deeds. 

You can call him Django, Bigger Thomas, a badman, a bad nigger, or Dan Freeman. Regardless, Christopher Dorner is likely not going to live to tell many more tales. I would suspect that he knows such a fact already and has accepted it. This makes him all the more lethal. Wanted dead or alive, Christopher Dorner will have a life much longer than the 30 years he spent on terrestrial earth.

22 comments:

gordon_gartrelle said...

Have you ever read E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime?" Dorner reminds me a bit of the character Coalhouse Walker.

chauncey devega said...

So literate. No. How was the show?

40 said...

The “tragedy” of Christopher Dorner is that he will die upon capture whilst Jared Lee Loughner and James Holmes will be given their “proper” jurisprudence. This will also be rubber stamped in the court of public opinion because he’s been carrying the tag of “Cop Killer” all week. I find myself empathetic to Dorner and I know that he is at peace with himself, his actions, and his eventual demise. What I am waiting for though is some time so that the story can fully gel together so it can be analyzed in its entirety. There are far too many assumptions and patched together pieces of information here. One of the most fascinating pieces I’ve seen on this was on a Russian news feed where they interviewed an ex-LAPD on the story and he felt that the charred truck remains was a complete time delayed event and a decoy, and that they’re grossly underestimating his tactical and survival intelligence (which usually happens with any free thinking black man because as Turk said "Oh yeah and expertise is only a while man's trait?!?!?".)

The other kicker is the usage of drone technology to find
this guy, it is often in these frenzied moments that new “law enforcement” techniques are implemented with little to no comment because the collective eyes are on the capture and not the precedents being set in the
techniques. I do not absolve Dorner for the murders he has committed, but I find myself rooting for him after reading his manifesto. This is also no Larry Davis story either; it is more complex than a kicked around ex-con playing Br’er Rabbit with the system.

“Spook” is tied with “A Soldier’s Story” as my all-time
favorite movie, but it’s yet to be determined if he’s Dan Freeman, or more Dawson who decided he wasn’t playing for the pigs anymore. I think we should spare the Hollywood and literary parallels and see where this story goes on its own. Something tells me this is far from over, and if they bring him in alive, then there are definitely many more chapters to write.

(PS – Regarding the “Spook” reference, I had always applied it to the potential of The Black P. Stones/El-Rukns as the Cobras, Jeff Fort aka Chief Malik as Do-Daddy, and the yet unnamed “spook” when they went to align themselves with Libya.)

chauncey devega said...

The latter story is very little discussed. I heard about it from some Black P. Stones a few years ago. The story has to play itself out as you are spot on. But, the "framing" in the media is already present--"cop killer" equals nutcase who should not be listened to.


Dorner is a modern day heretic. I will look for that RT piece.

40 said...

http://youtu.be/a9yDJ06Z2-w

My apologies for not including the link.


PS - Not to go off topic but look forward to hearing more about that BPSN/Spook from you in the future.

CNu said...

Big bear truck was DEFINITELY a decoy http://youtu.be/a9yDJ06Z2-w?t=5m21s - but I ain't say nothin cause the brother is in my family's prayers....,

40 said...

Thanks CNu for that link. That was the piece I was referring to. I attempted to post it in response but it didn't take to the thread.

40 said...

CDV - On some other day I'd love to hear more about the BPSN/Spook information you've come across.

CNu said...

Of course he's now the first human target for drone location, and quite possibly elimination, on U.S. soil http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2013/02/dorner-has-become-first-human-target.html

aimai said...

I like this piece very much. I didn't want to log on at Kos and comment there--can't remember my info--but I wanted to compliment you on this piece and the reference to Hobsbawm. I'd like to throw in some other archtypes too--from Paul Bunyan to Joe Hill. From a folkloric perspective I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this guy transformed into a straight up hero--his murders (even if he did them) forgotten and his huge stature and stories of his deeds told and retold in a mythic way.

aimai said...

I'm curious about why you feel that its a "tragedy" that the obvious crazy political misogyny and violence of Loughner and that other guy (or Lanza for that matter) should be put down to insanity while Dorner is thought to be acting out of a more or less perfectly reasonable political agenda like "justice" or anti racism? Isn't that kind of a triumph? Dorner, in this sense, is more like Timothy McVeigh--a mass or serial killer whose motivations are explicitly political and thus comprehensible.

aimai said...

Sorry, apologize for the weird brain glitch. Of course I meant John Henry, not Paul &^% Bunyan.

chauncey devega said...

Thanks. Great examples. Interesting convo over there. I laugh at how "liberals" often mock "conservatives" for binary thinking. The comments there--now 100 plus--are examples of what they deride. Laughable. Such resistance to some basic questions and critical thinking.

Synonymous said...

Everyone on talk radio in Los Angeles goes on and on about just a single topic these days. I'm sure the same is true in much of the rest of the country. It's a huge national story.

A man has murdered several people, and he's threatened to murder many more. He says he has his reasons, and he thinks they're good reasons. He thoughtfully published his reasons so all of us can consider them. But when you read what he's said about why he's killing people, you realize it doesn't make any sense. He uses words that are familiar to us, but he uses them to mean whatever he wants them to mean. In the end, his reasons are just a lot of nonsense.

And he's killing people who have nothing at all to do with what he claims are the justifications for his murders. Even if you grant the legitimacy of what he says are his reasons, the particular murders still make no sense. He appears to be killing whoever happens to cross his path when the urge to murder overcomes him.

I'm confident they'll catch him soon. After all, we've seen him on television a lot. Someone is sure to get a glimpse of him any day now. He can't hide forever, can he?

So I'm sure he'll be safely behind bars in short order, and then everyone can relax.

It will be fine. I think we should all calm down. Obama will be locked up very soon.

chauncey devega said...

Obama will be locked up very soon....I see. [insert confused emoticon and assembly language for positronic network signalling utter confusion and bad data].

Synonymous said...

just kiddin. they'll never catch that devil.

Ray Ray said...

I read his manifesto, and yes it rambles on, but the message is clear. The LAPD is corrupt and rotten.

Marcuss Vessey said...

I will tell you this any individual who targets innocents to achieve a vendetta is a coward and deserves to be relegated to the lowest chambers of hell.

Idealizing this coward even in a slight way is condoning every act of “Terror” that occurs in the globe. It is one thing to direct your vengeance at those who actually wronged you…IE the premise of those who applaud this individual would have been much more credible if the individuals that he killed we actually intrinsic to the system he found unjust.

However, I defy any of those who laud him as a hero to look into the eyes of the young ladies the young woman he killed coached, and the family of her fiance and say this was a just and noble deed.

The reality is this, this is a mentally disturbed psychotic
individual who is willing to kill unrelated civilians to get “revenge” NOT “justice” for being terminated, rightly or wrongly.

So my question to those who do support this individual is this. How would you feel if your daughter or son was killed by one of your coworkers who was unjustly fired from a job that you worked at also? Would you just chalk it up to ‘righting a wrong’?

chauncey devega said...

I am not idolizing him. Just to clarify as some folks seem to not understand that fact--the silliness and lack of critical thinking at the Daily Kos, 200 plus comments later, are just as dim and binary as anything one would see on Fox or the Free Republic.

As you check out WARN I like to ask hard questions. Hard questions are good.

1. Is Dorner a coward? I think that phrase is misapplied to folks in order to marginalize them. From what I can gleam he seems like a determined adversary who is hurting his foes in a tactically sound way. Is the US a nation of cowards for killing via air power, drones, and missiles? Operating in a manner that leverages its strengths? Are snipers or insurgents cowards who operate to hit the enemy in such a way that they cannot respond effectively?

2. "mentally disturbed psychotic individual" That language is one of the ways that the powerful and the status quo marginalize their enemies. Until I see a series of psych evals I am not prepared to say he is crazy. Crazy like a fox? Maybe. The marker of "insane" or "crazy" has been used too many times against innocent people--civil rights workers, advocates for the poor, feminists, gay rights warriors, etc.--for me to take it seriously.

3. "the premise of those who applaud this individual would have been much more credible if the individuals that he killed we actually intrinsic to the system he found unjust." You/me may disagree with Dorner's target choice. But again, being a critical thinker here, weren't his first two targets involved with the DA's office and/or related to a senior police officer who wronged him in his eyes? If so, the target choice, however problematic to many of us, fits right in with his goal of hurting his enemies and attacking those associated with the institutions which wronged him.



The LAPD--which is a paramilitary organization (check out Gates book where he talks about borrowing from the marines)--made Dorner. The military trained him. Whatever he is doing, those skill sets are right out of the manuals and tradecraft he was equipped with. And I would bet money that Dorner has actually received even more extensive anti-terrorism training--skills which teach you to be a terrorist btw--than the general public knows.


Dude may actually have a manpad. I wouldn't doubt his ability to spoof an off the shelf drone.

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