Sunday, October 5, 2014

Contemplating What Petey Greene Would Say About the Boston Herald's Barack Obama 'Watermelon' Cartoon While Cornel West Keeps Spitting That Hot 'Black Prophetic Fire'

As is our habit, do treat this as a (truncated) semi-open weekend (Sunday) thread.

I am about to take my daily constitutional around the lake. While walking about I will be focusing my energies on bending the universe so that the New England Patriots can lose with dignity in their match against the Cincinnati Bengals. Last week's defeat by the Kansas City Chiefs was devastating--it reminded me of watching the Undertaker put in a last horrific match against Brock Lesnar or Hulk Hogan's last days in the squared circle. Dynasties fall; we mourn them because we are reminded both that youth triumphs over age, and of our own bodies, which at a certain point, are dying more everyday than they are living in total.

In the spirit of our semi-open thread and conversation, here are some of my random thoughts and discoveries.

Last evening, I watched Gone Girl. If the mood strikes me, and there are folks who are curious as to my thoughts on the movie, I will share them (Grantland's essay channels my thoughts about Gone Girl almost beat for beat). Fincher's work is never boring; his film-making embodies a wonderful mix of commercially acceptable auteur sensibilities. 

[Have you seen the film or read the book upon the movie Gone Girl is based? What are your thoughts and feelings about the project?]

I recently spoke with Professor Claire Potter's class at the New School--she writes as The Tenured Radical over at The Chronicle of Higher Education's website--about social media and blogging. It was a great experience and good practice for my future endeavors. One of her very smart students asked me about the use of satire and irony in my work here at WARN. It was an excellent question because I have not spent much time consciously thinking about that aesthetic and its relationship to my "performance" style. 

I told her that maybe I just hear the drums of the ancestors and am responding to them on a subconscious level because the children of the Black Freedom Struggle, like all people of the subaltern and we who are the Other, learn very early in life "how to balance our smiles and cries".

These questions of satire and irony are call backs to our earlier conversation about President Obama and the Boston Herald's racist cartoon depicting his use of watermelon toothpaste. 

Petey Greene, was/is a legendary Black American comedian and radio personality. One of his most famous moments involved eating a watermelon on television, an exercise that he transformed into a rich exploration of the White Gaze and black identity politics. 

Greene was a master satirist.

When I watch "How to Eat Watermelon", I am mesmerized, shocked, confused, and somewhat offended even as I laugh and reflect on Greene's wisdom. Is that not the best of what socially relevant art should do? What is your take on Greene's multilevel performance? What do you think he was trying to communicate in "How to Eat Watermelon"?

Cornel West has a new collection of essays. In keeping with the release of that project, he has fired another fusillade of verbal darts at President Barack Obama. 

I have a deep and respect for Brother West. However, his assaults on Obama are like a great song on one of your favorite records that is perpetually repeating itself because the needle on the record is stuck in a groove. You know when that moment is approaching, the sound gets tinny and distorted, and then the record catches that worn away groove. The record was damaged by you; you repeatedly played that one song over and over again; now you have to surrender to that song and its loop and droning repetition. Because of nostalgia, love, appreciation--or maybe laziness and a lack of resources--you will not discard that record. Why? Because you love it.

 Cornel West hits his mark again, as few can, in the following passages:
It goes far beyond the individual figure of President Obama himself, though he is complicit; he is a symptom, not a primary cause. Although he is a symbol for some of either a postracial condition or incredible Black progress, his presidency conceals the escalating levels of social misery in poor and Black America.

The leading causes of the decline of the Black prophetic tradition are threefold. First, there is the shift of Black leadership from the voices of social movements to those of elected officials in the mainstream political system. This shift produces voices that are rarely if ever critical of this system. How could we expect the Black caretakers and gatekeepers of the system to be critical of it? This shift is part of a larger structural transformation in the history of mid-twentieth-century capitalism in which neoliberal elites marginalize social movements and prophetic voices in the name of consolidating a rising oligarchy at the top, leaving a devastated working class in the middle, and desperate poor people whose labor is no longer necessary for the system at the bottom. 
Second, this neoliberal shift produces a culture of raw ambition and instant success that is seductive to most potential leaders and intellectuals, thereby incorporating them into the neoliberal regime. This culture of superficial spectacle and hyper-visible celebrities highlights the legitimacy of an unjust system that prides itself on upward mobility of the downtrodden. Yet, the truth is that we live in a country that has the least upward mobility of any other modern nation! 
Third, the U.S. neoliberal regime contains a vicious repressive apparatus that targets those strong and sacrificial leaders, activists, and prophetic intellectuals who are easily discredited, delegitimated, or even assassinated, including through character assassination. Character assassination becomes systemic and chronic, and it is preferable to literal assassination because dead martyrs tend to command the attention of the sleepwalking masses and thereby elevate the threat to the status quo.
Harsh truth-telling.

Do you have any news items, public or personal, that you would like to share? 


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I think Petey Greene was trying to show people they don't need to be ashamed for their likes and tastes. If they like watermelon, but are ashamed to eat it off the rind, then they're only ashamed because they are black and the White Gaze has won over their minds. Even when they are among their family and friends they are ashamed to be black and just eat a watermelon.

It reminds me of a scene from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. When the protagonist sees the cart selling yams with butter and honey and he feels revulsion, then indulges and has such an epiphany of his own shame and why he felt such shame for being black and liking yams.

Fun facts about the watermelon:

People believe it originated from Southern Africa. Africa produced many of our global staples, many of which were cultivated in America and help continue to bring in wealth.

Watermelon is produced worldwide. Native Americans began cultivating it in the Mississippi Valley at early contact with Europeans and Africans.

Watermelon has been cultivated in Egypt as early as 2500 BC.

Watermelon is a cash crop and is extremely valuable.

Watermelon is hydrating for your body and fights inflammation. I have spent weeks eating watermelon and have noticed a reduction in my inflammation. I put it in smoothies now with the seeds which are full of anti-oxidants.

Please don't be ashamed if you enjoy watermelon. It's one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world and it originated in and permeated African cultures.

Buddy H said...

Did you see this satirical PSA on SNL?

A video featuring stereotypical white people celebrating their last hurrah before losing their racial majority in America. It's actually amusing.

chauncey devega said...

And it also has aphrodisiac properties. I mentioned this last year or so but we need better racial stereotypes because East Asians--Koreans in particular--are the largest group per capita of watermelon consumers. The USDA has lots of fun info.

chauncey devega said...

A few folks have told me that the last few episodes of SNL have been worth watching. I got to catch up. Thanks!

joe manning said...

Greene is saying don't be so cowed by prejudice that we loose sight of the fact that the best way to enjoy water melon is to pick it up and eat it. Cornel West puts the African American freedom movement into international historical perspective with his vignettes of 6 seminal figures.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I was mightily disgusted by the sight of the students at Goddard College in Vermont picking Mumia Abu-Jamal to be their commencement speaker. Are there no other black activists in the country, who aren't convicted cop-killers, who could have delivered the same message as he did? Seems to me like this was done more in a spirit of épater les bourgeois than from any desire for knowledge or inspiration.

Gable1111 said...

Greene's message is simple: be yourself. And he's saying it in the context of black pride. There is no shame in the real culture of black folk; it is what it is. And he's also saying don't allow the white gaze to make you put shame in your own game and disavow who you are. Besides, for all the efforts at pretension in this regard, the wages are the same: you are STILL a ni**ger.

We ate watermelon that way; corn too. And if you were from DC like I am, you didn't eat hardshell crabs with a little dainty hammer; you used your hands like you were taught.

Greene was no fool, and one thing you could say about him was, he kept it real. That's what he's doing here.

chauncey devega said...

Selective disgust much? Cops killing and shooting innocent unarmed black and brown people and you are upset by students picking someone whom they would like to hear speak? The horror!

chauncey devega said...

Did you see West on Democracy Now? He is that old favorite broken record, but damn , he still brings it.

joe manning said...

I enjoyed is Dem Now interview. West himself is his own best example of prophetic fire and his vignettes put a face on successive epochs.

T. Jones said...

I worked on Petey Greene's show for a couple years back in the day. There were plenty of shows I considered "ignant" like his Howard Stern segments but in terms of keeping it one hundred and "laying it down the way it needs to be laid down" he was unsurpassed. He had DC in his pocket and he never wavered.

chauncey devega said...

Now you have to share. How did you get that gig? What was Greene like? Do you think that the movie did him justice?

T. Jones said...

The film was OK. Don Cheadle can't do no wrong. Like most films about African Americans in the seventies the afros are too big and too plentiful, the platform shoes are too high, the style is too Flagg Bros. -like everybody dressed for work like they were going to the club.

DC was on fire when he reigned. In the 70's and 80's Black folks in DC were progressive, active, pro Black, pro Africa, engaged and involved. Petey Greene thrived in a mix of diplomats, Black career politicians, Pan Africanists, Marxists, Socialists, Communists, artists, powerful Black churches, at risk youth, student leaders, protests, demonstrations, stick up kids, go go music, community activists and a huge Black middle class- all of whom made their feelings known. Now I know that's a lot to cram into a modestly budgeted flick but that's the world where Petey Greene did his thing. It was a vibrant moment in the history of a "Chocolate City" and will probably never be seen again.

He was directly connected to Black folks of a certain generation and economic class and they in turn, were the people that kept the city running via municipal or G rated government gigs so he had the city's heart in his hands. He was also an expert code switcher who stuck with HIS lingua, making his guests conform and meet him on his terms.

I worked at the TV station in college and asked to work on his show because it shot at night and because it was always an experience. He kept the management on their toes but they let him do what he wanted within relatively loose limits. Something that would never happen today. He spoke his mind and frequently enraged what passed for the Black intelligentsia on DC's "Gold Coast" and then the next week he'd reprimand the hood for not living up to expectations and acting "like suckers". He spent time inside so he talked about prison life and street culture as well with a level of expertise and understanding that I haven't seen or heard since.

He was a product of his time with ability to speak real life to anybody regardless of their station. Now, they didn't always want to hear it- but that didn't slow him down in saying it.

SeaMikeJ said...

I've been a fan of WARN for some time, but have yet to comment on how much I respect your efforts to "rage against the dying of the light." But, this Petey Greene clip is the tipping point for me. I've gotta pay my respects.

Watching Petey preach, it occurs to me why the mainstream media mitigates powerful voices that advocate independent thought: They are DANGEROUS! There is nothing for them to fear from the Rush's, the Hannity's, even the Sharpton's because they are predictably feeding into the maintenance of the current power-structure...and not just the power of the white majority but, also, those that benefit from the continued subservience of minority communities (Hello, Rev. Jackson).

Why aren't you on Real Time with Bill Maher rather than sheep in wolf's clothing Michael Steele? Why aren't voices like Petey Green amplified to the masses instead of someone like Spike Lee? The truth is that you might say something that actually effects people...

And god knows we can't have that.

Keep fighting the good fight.

chauncey devega said...

What kind words. I got the spoon in my hand and am digging slowly but surely. As I say politics is professional wrestling. Learn the angles. Then the truth is readily apparent.

Who knows? Maybe one day the powers that be will want to have a hot feud and angle and give a brother his shot. I am ready and willing. Box office as they say.