Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend Semi-Open Thread: Defending Elvis Presley's Reputation Against Charges of Racism While Looking at the Sky for Secret Airplanes and Doing Acid with the C.I.A. in a Brothel

As is our weekend tradition do treat this as a semi-open thread.

In my great conversation with "Champion" Joe Lansdale on the podcast known as The Chauncey DeVega Show, we discussed how Elvis Presley has been unfairly tarnished with the stain of being a "racist". The claim that Presley is a racist has become a truism; like gravity, it just "is".

[Speaking of that conversation with Joe R. Lansdale, as several folks have pointed out, yes I know that beef bourguignon is different from beef sauvignon. That slippage is part of my habitus as a child of the working class. I also was not explicit in one of my instructions--yes, and of course, you add water as need be if the dish is reducing down faster than expected. There is a reason I am not on the Food Network as I take certain things for granted.]

Of course, the Black Culture Industry is real. Yes, African-American music has often been coopted and stolen by white folks. The notion that "love and theft", to borrow from Eric Lott's essential book, typifies White America's relationship with black American culture is an accurate one. Unfortunately, those systemic issues are used to make granular claims about Elvis Presley the individual.

Elvis had many vices. I wonder, was acid among the party favors that he liked to indulge in?

If so, Elvis could have gotten the good stuff from the United States government and the C.I.A..

My former New Haven Black Panther griot mentor and casual friend of my father, would always tell me about the C.I.A. and how it experimented on the American public. Time has been kind to his claims. What some would have once dismissed as conspiranoid thinking has been proven to be true some years later.

The C.I.A. was a naughty boy. They were also perverts. From the website Io9:

For ten years during the Cold War, the CIA conducted mind-control experiments on unsuspecting San Franciscans. Dubbed Operation Midnight Climax, the program was packed with salacious details: a power-mad narcotics agent, a brothel equipped with two-way mirrors, and gallons of LSD.

Operation Midnight Climax was one of a few operations involving government-employed sex workers conducting business in "safe houses" as agents secretly watched; similar outposts existed in New York and in Stinson Beach, just north of San Francisco.

The brothels/science labs were part of the CIA's sprawling, clandestine MKUltra initiative, the infamous "program of research in behavioral modification," of which LSD experiments were just one element. MKUltra thrived in the 1950s and '60s, a time in America when paranoia about the Soviet Union and communism in general was sky-high. Hey, if tinkering around with mind control could secure some kind of military advantage, what could be the harm?

My favorite part of their story:
At the time of the SF Weekly story, Ritchie was identified as one of the last living victims of Operation Midnight Climax. His story is dramatic, but history remembers the program for its most prurient aspect, namely that many of its subjects (none of whom, not surprisingly, seem to have spoken on the record about their experiences) were johns visiting prostitutes in brothels that were decorated with velvet curtains and raunchy posters ... and secretly equipped with two-way mirrors and recording devices. The most famous address: 225 Chestnut Street, an unassuming dwelling in San Francisco's Telegraph Hill neighborhood. 
The houses were set up by George Hunter White, a Bureau of Narcotics (now known as the DEA) agent who had become a CIA consultant of sorts. He was a singular character who "made that fruitcake Hoover look like Nancy Drew," according to a colleague, and he'd always have "a pitcher of martinis" ready for his own use while he conducted surveillance. His conduct on the clock sounds more like a Hollywood spy movie than anything that has any business being funded by the government: 
Throughout the experiments, George White behaved like a power drunk sadist, reveling in his ability to foment debauchery ... The hookers would pour the johns LSD laced drinks. Meanwhile, White would sit and observe behind two way mirrors installed in the rooms. The drug took hold after some time and perversions quickly ensued. The rooms were fitted with listening and recording equipment, providing agents further lurid insights into minds of the drug addled johns. 
Ostensibly, the objective of Operation Midnight Climax was to observe the effects of LSD, and to investigate whether it might have military applications. Could it enhance interrogations? Could it turn a soldier into a time bomb, a la The Manchurian Candidate? The nature of the experiment also allowed the CIA to study the use of sex as a tool of war, discovering, for instance, that "the postsexual, light-up-a-cigarette period was much better suited" to information-gathering than any other part of the encounter between prostitute and customer.
The National Security State has conducted numerous illegal experiments on the American people, soldiers, spied on elected officials, undermined the "free press", uses Hollywood films to manipulate and manufacture consent among the public, and has conditioned the American public to be comfortable with--and in some cases actively surrender to--the surveillance society.

Orwell and Huxley are now the beast with two backs in the form of the American National Security State. The American people watch the copulation with a mix of fascination and fear.

Two of my favorite unfinished plastic models from my childhood are a Russian MiG-31 interceptor and an imagined version of their (circa 1990s) "stealth" fighter-bomber. One of the highlights of my ghetto nerd childhood was reading the monthly Jane's related and other military magazines. The Internet has made getting such information much easier. But, the immediacy of finding such information does not trump the joy of anticipation that was waiting for one's favorite monthly magazine to come in the mail.

My interest in military affairs and "secret" projects was only increased by late night listening sessions of the Art Bell radio show. In response to the supposed sighting of a secret American plane over Texas last year, the entertaining military aviation website Foxtrot Alpha, has a very thorough exploration of "black projects"--and which of them may soon be made public.

As someone who called his friends when the F-117 stealth "fighter" was debuted on the evening news during the late 1980s/early 1990s, I have always wondered about the early retirement of that platform. And of course, why was the SR-71 retired to then be brought back into service? There are so many "black" aviation projects still in existence. The public is let in on the secret when one of them crashes in Iran (and that subsequently should have been destroyed by an airstrike), but what other secrets are hiding in plain sight, or will only be admitted to decades later?

[I once had a chance to ask someone who would directly know such things about the existence of the Aurora spy plane and the Black Manta project. He looked at me with severe annoyance and then immediately changed the subject. I also asked a navy submarine officer about the Kursk incident and also got a really cold response too. And never mind, how the general public still has no idea about what really happened with the shoot down of the Korean airliner by the Russians during the Reagan era...]

Do you have any information about matters of public or private concern that you would like to share? Oscar thoughts or predictions? Recipes to share? Secrets to divulge?


Justin M. White said...

For the semi-open thread, here's a comic on color blind racism in the dating world:

The artist immediately followed up with a post discussing the negative response he got for pointing out a very basic fact about his own experience, and it is hilariously scathing:

chauncey devega said...

Thanks for sharing. Love some comics as you know. How have you been doing?

Justin M. White said...

Things are looking up but as complicated as ever. Sent off my PhD studentship application today since I have a physical interview coming up next week, and need to get my mind back into the proper frame for libraryland.

Any updates on the podcast? I seem to remember you mentioning you'd be shifting resources for posting more times a week.

chauncey devega said...

Once a week is it. Deciding what to do moving forward. More platforms to find it. Now need to see how metrics develop and if it is a good return on time of investment.

Shady Grady said...

Clark Terry passed away.

Justin M. White said...

Speaking of comics, have you seen the Graphic History Project? It's labor history comics done by volunteers, some of them have a lot of effort put into the details. Not as entertaining as Kate Beaton's Hark A Vagrant comics, but still pretty neat:

skilletblonde said...

The video on Elvis typifies the ongoing mental sickness (that's right I said mental sickness) that racism continues to inflict on African Americans. Whether it's an act of overt racism by Whites causing death, economic disparity, lack of due process, or in the case of Elvis, cultural appropriation, you can rest assured, a black apologist will emerge.

He didn't mean any harm seems to be the ongoing narrative. He's a good man! It is the default behavior expected of African Americans. No matter how offensive- whether it was Don Imus "Nappy Headed Hoes," Donald Sterling's "They Smell And Their Not Clean," to Trayvon Martin To Michael Brown's unjust deaths, the Negro apologist will be brought to the Mainstream Media to sing the graces of the offending bigot.

Listening to B.B. King, Al Green, Sammy Davis Jr. prosing on about Elvis was nauseating for me. Here they are praising Elvis for stealing their music, their song, and their dance. Elvis never wrote one song in his life. His music, including black gospel, was pilfered mainly from African Americans. The preacher who was elated with holiness that Elvis was in his church- had better not go any where near Elvis's church.

Perhaps I can excuse those artists born in the Jim Crow era. Placating the egos of Whites was normal. So, I'll think about it. But for 50 Cents, and whomever those rappers were toward the end, there is no excuse. Frankly, apologist for blatant acts of racism should not exist in 2015.. I'm proud of what Chuck D. said in the end. Elvis is not, nor should he ever be, the King of Rock N' Roll. And furthermore! Now that we're at it! Rod Stewart does not sound like Sam Cooke. Joe Cocker and Steven Winwood do not sound like Ray Charles. Mick Jagger cannot dance. Janice Joplin was not the queen of the blues. I could go on, but I'll stop.

Lastly, as far as the CIA and mind control, I am reading a book by a young British fella titled "Your Thoughts are Not Your Own". The authors name is Neal Sanders. There is a volume 1 and 2. He covers all of the mind control experiments of CIA/ Mk-Ultra, the Tavistock institute in England, and every mind control experiment you can think of. He has included Hip-Hop-which is fascinating.

Moreover, let's not forget that the CIA was formed under the umbrella Operation Paperclip. This is when the United States allowed Nazis criminals from the war to enter America and create the intelligence network as well as NASA. You should also check out the book, American Swastika by Charles Higham.

You can also go to the website freedocumentaries and watch the documentaries on Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernay's. Though I'm sure those who blog here are aware of Freud and Bernays, their manipulation of the American mind is profound. This documentary, I think, has 4 parts. It's worth watching. It's called the "Century Of Self."
Here is link:

chauncey devega said...

You caught my tell in the documentary :)

The general public knows so little about hip hop and the meetings done at Harvard and elsewhere about gangsta rap and crossing over.

Likewise, given how jazz was used, and the CIA op exposed re: Cuba, much will be written by great folks about those connections too.

The MKUltra stuff never surprises. Again, the public is so disengaged they have upsetness over none of these violations of their human rights. Sad.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I think you are being too harsh on Elvis Presley. You have to put him in the context of the 1950s. In 1947, the armed forces of the United States were integrated; in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education was decided; there was the Civil Rights Act; and Little Rock.

Rock n'roll was condemned not because it was the "devil's music" but because it a cultural battering ram against white supremacy, segregation, and miscegenation. That white and Black artists were exchanging musical ideas was radical, though it had started much earlier with jazz and big band music. That white students were going to sockhops and dancing to "race music" was radical. That Elvis was bringing open sexuality to television and his stage act was radical. A new cultural consciousness was developing. I'm not saying that Elvis was the be-all and end-all. There was folk music and the Beat poets. There was a lot of cultural ferment that was challenging the all-around status quo of America in the 1950s and 1960s.

Even in the video, Little Richard was not complaining, nor was B.B. King. One can quibble or argue over the term "King of Rock n' Roll," but Presley was a cultural change agent from the South. He wasn't a northern pretty boy. He was a poor boy from the South--and that stung even more. His experience with gospel was personal and direct, not indirect and stolen.

Where Presley went off the rails is with his management putting him into one stupid teenage movie after another.

All that said, the true power of the blues and rhythm and blues would come as Black artists toured England and Europe, and white groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but also Cream, and transplant Jimi Hendrix would come back to America to upend everything.

I grew up in the 1960s, having been born in the 1950s. Music in the 1960s, with much fewer distribution platforms was much more integrated than today. Out of KRLA in Los Angeles it was not unusual to hear the Beach Boys followed by the Temptations on AM radio.

That Black blues and hip hop artists still appreciate what Elvis did is a recognition that in the war against white supremacy Elvis was not AWOL and he was not neutral.

INDYOO7 said...

Oh snap another brother who grew up on ART BELL and Comics??!!! You hooked me. I will be frequenting YOUR site more often. Thanks for being you.