Jesse Jackson, irrelevant?

August 25, 2008 at 3:26 am (politics, snark) (, , , )

I was not really shocked when I heard that Jesse Jackson, was caught yet again uttering a crass statement into a hot mic during the taping break for a news show. The fact that it was about the first viable black candidate for President, Barack Obama, however was somewhat dismaying.

Stating to his co-guest on the show that Obama “talks down to the black community” when he lectures on morality in the black church and that he wants “to cut his nuts out” only adds to his earlier statements about Obama “acting white” regarding his silence about the Jena 6 debacle in Louisiana.

While Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson’s own son have been quick to distance themselves from these comments, this seems like an opportune time to critique the increasingly crotchety and out-of-touch old guard of the civil rights movement, which Jackson is a part. Jackson and Sharpton were alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and integral parts in securing equal rights for people of color in this country. Indeed, their continued willingness to publicly speak out about racism – however questionable their particular crusade may or may not be – is important and rarely seen in the more institutionalized black organizations (NAACP, etc).

However, somewhere around the 80s something started to go horribly wrong. Jackson began to compulsively rhyme, Sharpton insisted on keeping his flashy conk (relaxed, processed hair) and both started to believe too much in their own cult of personality rather than keeping their eyes on the prize. Now, I am not one of those people who would say that Jackson and Sharpton are relics in a racism-free world. I have more politically in common with the radicals of the 60s than the wishy-washy compromisers with a political office. For the record I also find fault with Barack Obama’s overemphasis on pull-yourself-up-by-the-bo

otstraps, personal responsibility speeches a la Bill Cosby. The problems of the black community were not created by laziness, stupidity or any other inherent pathology and they will not be solved by mere lectures that amount to telling us to get our shit together without addressing the persisting (notice I didn’t say past) structural inequalities that make this so difficult. I KNOW that men as smart as Jackson and Sharpton have an incredibly complex understanding of racial relations beyond the black victim/white oppressor dichotomy, but whenever they throw their 2 cents into a debate about race it SEEMS to always come down to this oversimplified equation.

Here are a few problems I have with the old guard and their position as spokesmen of the cause of civil rights:

1. Why does everyone have to be/sound like a preacher to represent the black community? This is really important to me because I think the role of the church and Christianity needs to be seriously, seriously examined in black progressive politics. At one point the black church functioned as the public sphere for a group of people hard pressed to find anywhere else to organize – for fear of their very lives. But what seems to be forgotten is that the same Christian theology that Dr. King used towards liberation was also used to justify the institutions of slavery, and prove the general inferiority of people of color (the story of Ham). Also, Marx’s statement that religion is the opiate of the masses perfectly sums up how apolitical the black church and believers have become. Too often when people have serious problems caused by poverty or inequality they are told to pray on it instead of engaging in collective action. The church has become a site for escapism where we can fantasize about how meekness and devotion to a deity will hopefully earn us a place in heaven if not an equal standing here on earth. Christianity is also fundamentally reactionary in terms of sexuality and gender roles. How many queer blacks are excluded from the public sphere of the black church and how many devout blacks are defecting to the conservative end of the political spectrum for abortion issues or to prevent gay marriage? As an agnostic black person I often find myself shut out of conversations that equate blackness with following Jesus or regularly attending church.There are blacks in all different religions (and non-religions) which deserve to be a part of discussions about the direction of our race.
On a personal note I find it annoying that every black intellectual or spokesperson (Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West…etc) finds it necessary to affect the cadence of a Southern preacher. It’s irritating precisely because it is an affectation. Worse, it’s goal appears to be to superficially align them with Dr. King or to downplay their extensive academic training in a “keeping-it-real” vernacular so as not to sound “white”, “uppity”, or “bourgie”.

2. They completely ignore gender issues . Many of the problems in the black community are inextricably linked to gender issues and the culture of hypermasculinity, yet these problems are only alluded to implicitly in discussions of the disintegration of the black family. Jackson and Sharpton’s main solution to the problem of single mothers is to chastise fathers for not staying with their family without asking why this happens in the first place. Besides the historical reasons that necessitated why black fathers often had to live away from their families to find work and send money back to them; the current problem is that the ideal of masculinity for young black men has been narrowed to material acquisition, sexual virility and brute strength. Instead of blaming this all on rap music or something equally specious, I would suggest that other avenues of traditionally masculine achievement in business, education, and production of knowledge were not only structurally closed off to men of color due to discrimination but black men were simply made to believe that they were not capable of it . Not to mention the class and religious issues that come into play with contraception use and young pregnancies. This doesn’t excuse the lack of respect towards women in the black community (or in any community for that matter), but it sheds some light on reasons other than amorality.
Old school civil rights leaders have long approached black issues in ways that made blackness synonymous with maleness. Jackson and Sharpton only deal with black women’s issues, rape and sexual harrassment cases if they present an opportunity for them to criticize white men. They are either conspicuously silent or side with the men in cases where it is a black woman who complains against a black man. Where was the support for the woman who charged Isiah Thomas with harassment or Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas or the underage girls against R. Kelly? Instead of taking these cases as a chance to critique attitudes towards women, often black women are accused of colluding with white men to bring powerful black men down.

3. They presume to speak for the rest of us Now this is as much their fault as it is the media’s. Men like Jackson and Sharpton are invited as talking heads for their pedigree and experience as much as their entertainment value. They will almost always give a pithy or ridiculous sound bite and therefore help the ratings. News talk shows will always invite the rare and extremist token black conservative for the same reason. However, there are other faces of the progressive black movement that are rarely seen in the media such as bell hooks, or the myriad of local, non-pastor community leaders that are helping people everyday on the grassroots level. If this is about advancing a political agenda that is helpful to blacks and not about advancing their own position, why can’t Jackson, Sharpton and the like defer to these younger activists for issues that they are not as in touch with any longer? And after so many years in the public eye why do they seem so media unsavvy in terms of simple mistakes like speaking into hot mics, badly worded comments and wild conspiracy theories that are sure to find eternal life on you tube or fox news? It’s not fair but a verbal slip from a black leader will get twice the airplay and derision than a similar slip from a McCain advisor for example, whose faux pas will get buried in page 15 of the NYT then forgotten. This is a fact that even I had to learn during two years of small-scale campus activism and media interviews at UT. How did they miss it?

4. Stop blaming young people and youth culture As I alluded to in the previous points, the older generation of civil rights leaders – and Bill Cosby – are all too
content to criticize this new fangled youth and hip hop culture for all of the problems of the black community. But children learn from their elders and many of the stubborn issues that we are facing stem from the oversights, flaws and mistakes of their generation. When several of the main architects of the movement, including Jackson himself are proven womanizers and have fathered babies outside of the marriage how can they be surprised at the rate of single black mothers and broken homes? When they complain that young people aren’t active and have bad values while ignoring the many young activists doing great work, then how can we close the generation gap?

I understand Jackson’s frustration with the overemphasis on morality in the black community. It’s easier for white Americans to blame black pathology than national policies or their own complicity in a system which privileges them. However, I’m just as frustrated with their slipups, hypocrisies and stubborn refusal to contend with how the face of racism has changed, the reality of spin and new media technologies and what it means for racial activism and public opinion, and continued ignoring (for the most part) of gender and sexuality issues.

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With friends like these, Ms. Spears doesn’t need enemies.

August 9, 2007 at 5:57 pm (pop culture, snark)

Ok, I’ve certainly indulged in my share of Britney bashing glee over the past two years. Who hasn’t? There’s nothing better than watching an overhyped commercial product take a  swandive into scandalous oblivion. For one, I personally blame her and her handlers for making the sexualization of pre-tweens mainstream and acceptable. And 60% of her music is crap (with the other 40% being bubblegum goodness). This we all know.

But post-hair shaving, car-attacking, bad weave having, photo-shoot drama queen 3847-bs13t.jpg Britney is actually kind of sad.  Now US Weekly comes out with a story and photos from a dancer who hooked up with Britney in a hot tub after a video shoot.   I agree that her behavior and dress as of late have been tramp-tacular but at least a little criticism needs to be directed at the vultures around Britney that are literally circling her, waiting for every little fuck-up so that they can sell their stories to gossipmongers and make a name for themselves. What kind of un-gentlemanly douchebag is this guy to hook up with someone and blab about it to the press the next day?  Who hasn’t at that age had an ill-advised hook up with someone that they met at a party or bar or at work (and probably in a hot tub as well)?

The only thing that Britney is guilty of is being incredibly stupid by believing that anything that she does is private at her level of fame.  On a woman to woman level I’m wondering why her parents or friends aren’t helping her out. I know if I was going hogwild on the front pages of InTouch every week, my parents would snatch me back to Texas so fast my head would spin- even though I’m 27 years old and that’s not to mention my friends who’d be calling me saying “Why are you acting like a vapid skank? Get it together!”

Ellen Pompeo gave an interview in a magazine blasting the media for speculating about her weight and concentrating on “Young girls who are famous for nothing but being rich and famous”. Which is funny because I feel that way about Ellen Pompeo considering that she sucks on Grey’s Anatomy and I don’t know anyone who watches the show that likes her. But she’s right.  There are plenty of young actresses that conduct themselves with dignity – Keira Knightly, Rosario Dawson, Natalie Portman, even teenyboppers like Amanda Bynes aren’t ho-ing it up in every bar and club in L.A. and N.Y. More about them, less about trash, and in the meantime can someone give this girl a break and a hand?

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Jordin wins American Idol – as if anyone still cares…

May 24, 2007 at 2:26 am (pop culture, snark)

catyawning.jpgmanyawn.jpg

Yawn! Oh excuse me, I just woke up from a bad dream known as American Idol 6. As everyone has known since the first show of the season, tolerable cutie-pie Jordin Sparks was just named Idol over fly white guy finalist Blake Lewis. Sex with Bob Dole could not have been more anti-climactic than this bloated, stretched out season finale since the judges have been pimping her for the top prize for weeks. Even she didn’t look surprised when her name was announced. Where’s the fun in that?

As usual, the declaration came after a string of Motown singers performing their greatest hits with Sanjaya giving his special flair as backup. And as usual some of the performances were great – Gladys Knight and Smokey, ya still got it – and others, not so much (Bette Midler screeched out “Wind Beneath My Wings” like a drunk Karoake star and Taylor Hicks sucked just because its in his nature.)

Yes, yes, yes, she has a great voice and is the total package but I found Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul’s hyperbolic gushing about her being the best singer ever. EVER. a little suspicious to say the least. Especially in the face of Melinda and Lakisha’s unbelievable talent.

Ah, well can we all at least admit that American Idol has jumped the shark? It has now been three seasons in a row that people with the personality of musty toe socks have walked away the winner in not-even-close snoozefests.

Here’s another yawn pic, one that should give the conservative, pro-lifer Jordin a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s a fetus!

fetusyawn.jpg

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Great – another singer turned actor. This time it’s Norah Jones debuting at Cannes.

May 17, 2007 at 6:58 pm (pop culture, snark)

norah-and-jude.jpgAs if it wasn’t enough for Norah Jones to bore me to tears with her snooze inducing lullabies on her last two albums, she has found a whole new medium to infect with her soporific adorableness. Looking like an ever so slightly ethnic mix between Rachel Weisz and Drew Barrymore – all pillowy curves and cuteness – Jones joined her caddish co-star Jude Law on the red carpet for My Blueberry Nights, the first English speaking film from Hong Kong director and critical darling, Wong Kar-Wai.

The pairing of Kar-Wai and Jones, seems like a natural fit. His fluid, smoky – and, let’s face it, sometimes downright SLOW – throwback cinematic style riffing on the themes of unrequited love and the elusive, transient nature of intimacy in Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046. Combined with Jones’ fluid, smoky, and slow chanteuse vibe, crooning about love lost. It could make for an unbelievably moving experience or it could be like watching paint dry, over and over again while “Come Away with Me” or something similar drones on in the background.

I’m generally skeptical about singers turned actors and vice versa. And if you’re wondering why, I have three names for you: Mariah Carey, Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. Yes, Glitter was THAT bad. As for Jude Law, while he may be handsome as a statue, he is no Tony Leung Chui-Wai, the impossibly suave star of In the Mood and 2046 as well as the recently remade Infernal Affairs.

On the upside, My Blueberry Nights has a solid supporting cast of Natalie Portman, David Straithairn, Tim Roth and Rachel Weisz. I can’t recall any of those actors ever giving a bad performance, so you really can’t go wrong. (OK, except for Portman as Queen Amidala and Weisz in Constantine, but I blame the directors in both cases!). While I wasn’t as crazy about either Love or 2046 as most critics and cinephiles were, mainly because of the pacing, it’s always fascinating to watch a foreign director sink or swim in a new market. And to analyze why some seem to make a successful crossover, i.e.Ang Lee or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and who falls flat i.e. Matthieu Kassovitz (La Haine to Gothika) or Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to Swept Away – ah, he was a hack anyway) .

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Paris gets reduced jail sentence for showing up to court hearing.

May 17, 2007 at 5:38 pm (pop culture, snark)

Wow. Did I call it or did I call it? This heifer gets her sentence cut in half merely for doing something that, last time I checked, is mandatory – showing up to court. Or perhaps the judge realized how much “beauty and excitement” she brings to the world and took pity on her because, really, what would all of us be doing without Paris’ wacky shananigans and tomfoolery to report on. No, I’m serious about that part.

This is an excerpt from her MySpace petition – penned by her – to convince the Governator to pardon her.

“Paris Whitney Hilton is an American celebrity and socialite. She is an heiress to a share of the Hilton Hotel fortune, as well as to the real estate fortune of her father Richard Hilton. She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives… We, the American public who support Paris, are shocked, dismayed and appalled by how Paris has been the person to be used as an example that Drunk Driving is wrong… This petition is to ask Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon Paris Hilton for her mistake. Please allow her to her return to her career and life.”

(insert your own cleverly constructed zinger about how much of a self-absorbed twat she is, here)

She will also be place in a special housing unit for law enforcement officers, celebrities and other high profile inmates, which is a good thing because as much as she annoys me I don’t necessarily want to see her get a prison beat down. Unless it’s taped. And I can watch it. Or they turn it into a Paris Hilton Prison Survivor reality show, which would be pretty fucking cool.

I digress.

Alas, it looks like Paris will still have to attempt the act of contemplation for nearly a month as she stares at the wall in her jail cell, brushing her extentions and muttering “This is so NOT hot.”

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Sanjaya Got The BOOT!

April 19, 2007 at 2:06 am (snark)

sanjaya.jpg See ya!
Sanjaya finally got his sorry ass booted off of AI! Don’t you fret though, he’ll resurface as a veejay or Extra correspondent sooner or later.

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The inevitable Sanjaya post

April 15, 2007 at 5:43 pm (snark)

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Sanjaya.

W. T. F. ! ! !

I guess that by pulling a completely desexed yet semi-decent rendition of “Besame Mucho” out of his ass last week, Sanjaya has definitely bought him himself at least two more weeks on “American Idol”, which has now officially jumped the shark. (As if it already hadn’t with the whole William Hung thing anyway.)

I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m a fan of AI even though some peeps give me shit about it – they’re generally the type of people that are like “Oh,I don’t even have time to watch TV” presumably because they are so important and busy, or the type to comment on your magazine choices “How can you read In Touch?” while flashing their erudite issue of UTNE Reader or something in your face. I’m a little too old to worry about my leftist intellectual street cred when someone looks at me askance for liking reality TV or gossip rags every once in a while. My standard response has become “Yeah, and somehow I managed to get into grad school, land an internship and hold down a job despite my bourgeous tastes and philistine tendencies, you fucking snob.” That last part would be under my breath. But you get my drift.

So I will readily admit to voting for Fantasia and Bo Bice in the past seasons of AI because they were awesome performers. You begin to root for these people from Bumhole, Ga or wherever and their hard luck stories because you get the sense that, for some of them this is probably their only shot. Which is why its a bummer that the show has shifted from 70% talent/30% popularity contest to 20%talent /80%popularity contest, as evidenced by Sanjaya’s mysterious staying power and Taylor Hicks’ victory last year despite the fact that he looks like your creepy uncle and sounds like Michael Mc friggin Donald.

Let’s face it, every year the male singers are no where near as good as the girls. There are a few exceptions like Elliot Yamin (who had a stunning voice but a funky grill) or Ruben S or Bo Bice :). But apparently the dudes have figured out that all you have to do is appeal to the soccer mom or tween demographic either by being a damn near tweenager yourself like Sanjaya, looking like a girl or possessing an ambiguous heterosexual status (also Sanjaya but Clay Aiken too), biting the style of an existing teen idol (this season’s Blake Lewis and Chris fighting over who can pull off the best JT impersonation) and most importantly, choosing songs that would be at home on the playlist of any local soft rock/adult alternative station. The type of music that you can probably find on your mom’s iPod, plays in an elevator, or is piped over the speakers at Loehmann’s. Ya know what I mean.

Here’s hoping that next week when Sanjaya is told that he isn’t in the bottom three once again, after a sucktastic attempt to “rock” out or make loveypoo eyes at the camera during a ballad, that someone in the audience will run on stage and tackle him. Just take him down by any means necessary from tasering to just mussing his friggin hair. That person would be my American Idol.

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