Sep 14, 2009

A Weekend We Won't Soon Forget



After a rather uneventful summer, the multiple incidents of this past weekend suggest that the fall could potentially be off the chain. On Friday night the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, gave a Hall of Fame induction speech that sounded more like a rapper going through a list of all his personal beefs with other rappers than a typical induction speech. Then on Saturday Serena Williams got her Suge Knight on, threatening to stuff a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge. Not to be outdone, Kanye West decided to channel the late Old Dirty Bastard and upstage a VMA award recipient by declaring that someone else truly deserved the award.

Many have expressed disgust at the way that Jordan used his speech to settle old scores as opposed to giving the customary acceptance speech, full of platitudes, inspirational thank yous, and the obligatory tears. But people should not have been surprised. Not at all. Jordan was always praised for being so competitive as a player. So what did you think, that he would turn it off once he was no longer on the court?

The media long ago created a monster with Jordan and that monster came back to bite them the other night. Jordan willingly embraced that monster for so long that he was eventually consumed by it himself as well.

The person you heard speaking at the HOF induction ceremony was the real Jordan. The media-created, Nike-fueled machine had been replaced by an aging former player who seemed reluctant to give up his throne. The real Jordan was too much for those who have gotten accustomed to the corporate Jordan, a man who always tended to say and do the right thing.

Some people don't want to see what is directly in front of their faces. They would rather project some diluted fantasy onto the target in question than see the real for what it is. Jordan was compensated handsomely for his services, but now that he is no longer playing his former role has become a burden. He basically shed that burden on Friday night. I could appreciate the realness myself.

Now that Jordan is retired, people can't wait to crown LeBron. He needs to win some titles before that happens, but, trust me, the crown has already be fitted for his head. What this means is that Jordan's legacy, which was tied almost exclusively to his excellence as a basketball player and endorser of products, is no longer that viable considering that he is no longer playing. This is unlike Muhammad Ali whose conflicted legacy is often misunderstood, but nonetheless continually significant because his legacy did transcend his sport.

Perhaps, given the chance, Jordan might reconsider his refusal to endorse Harvey Gantt as the former mayor of Charlotte tried unsuccessfully to defeat the arch conservative Jesse Helms during the 1990 senatorial contest in Jordan's home state of North Carolina? If Gantt had been victorious, Jordan would be able to say that he helped kick a racist senator out of office and his legacy today might not be confined to basketball. However when your greatness is limited to your athletic endeavors and you only use it to otherwise sell products it is inevitable that once you can no longer play that your image will suffer. It is the reality of all this that informed Jordan's less than gracious remarks the other night. Again, I found the real Jordan refreshing and only wish that he had visited with us sooner.

As for Serena, let's just say that you can take the girl out of Compton...

One of the reasons that Serena and her sister Venus have enjoyed so much success on the tennis court is because their father taught them to play tennis the same way that dudes play basketball in the 'hood. That edge works both ways though. There are times when this edge wins tennis matches and then there are other times when this edge can lead to frustration and angry displays of emotion.

Serena flipped, lost the match because of it and also has to reach in her ample pockets to pay for her verbal transgressions. Like Jordan, her desire to compete got the best of her, at least for one night. And if the world is fair maybe she'll get the opportunity to cash in on her angry antics like John McEnroe has been able to do. Don't hold your breath for that one though.

Finally I arrive at the actions of Mr. West. Kanye has been doing this sort of thing every since he's been in the spotlight so I'm not sure why anyone is surprised anymore. Besides, it's an awards show, the MTV Video Music Awards at that, not tea and crumpets with the Queen. The reason people watch shows like this is to see something outrageous, because the VMAs are certainly not something to be taken seriously. Yet there seems to be a backlash against Kanye this time that threatens to eclipse the reaction to his infamous "George Bush don't like black people" comment after Hurricane Katrina.

Some, like Ann Powers, music critic for the Los Angeles Times, have attempted to make links across these recent events. Powers' states "it's been a banner week for widely broadcast outbursts, from Congressman Joe Wilson hectoring Obama during his healthcare speech to Serena Williams seriously losing her cool at the U.S. Open to this latest kerfuffle, and in every case, racial conflict has been an undercurrent." Powers goes on to speculate on whether Kanye's diss of the young, white Taylor Swift might have been racially motivated.

Let's get this straight. The rules that govern a presidential speech in the halls of congress are quite different than the rules that apply to tennis matches and music video awards shows. While pop culture has certainly invaded all aspects of our lives, the Joe Wilson situation has nothing to do with pop culture. It has everything to do with a old school southerner who refuses to accept a black man in a position of power. Joe Wilson must answer for Joe Wilson. To try and link Wilson's outburst with the especially minor actions of Serena and Kanye is to dismiss the utterly disrespectful and contemptuous act of a man who has a long history of racially questionable associations and actions to begin with.

Enough with the sleight of hand here. We've seen this before. Don Imus uses racist and sexist language to describe young black women basketball players and the next thing I know we're talking about hip hop and before you can blink Imus is back on the air. Say what you will about Serena and Kanye, but whatever you say, recognize that their actions should not be used as subterfuge to let Joe Wilson and the rest of those yelling yahoos off the hook. The three incidents should not even be conflated, as what has happened is most certainly not a tit for tat exchange. Besides, the line judge who Serena yelled at was an Asian American woman, so I'm not sure how this fits into Powers neat lil' package of racial conflict anyway?

Let's compare apples to apples here. And for Joe Wilson's actions, there are no comparable apples. Serena lost her temper, lost the match, and lost some cheese. Justice served. Kanye was booted from the VMAs for his actions. Joe Wilson, on the other hand, refuses to issue any more apologies and has already been cashing in, drawing large donations from supporters who regard him as a hero. Powers is right to suggest that there are real racial tensions in the country right now, but these tensions have absolutely nothing to do with Serena or Kanye.

Sep 11, 2009

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.


Joe "You Lie" Wilson (R-South Cackalacky)


Respect. A novel concept these days, at least as it pertains to the President. Or perhaps lack of respect would be more appropriate. When South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson--a former staffer for the late senator and Dixiecrat Presidential candidate Strom Thurmond and a man who voted to continue flying the Confederate flag in his home state--uttered his disrespectful outburst during President Obama's recent address it was but the latest in a series of acts purposely designed to undermine every aspect of authority that comes with the highest political office in the land.

We should not be surprised though. The momentum has been building up for this all summer. I'm certain that there is more to come. Yes indeed, the haters all got the same memo. It's on! Disrespect the President at every turn. In spite of his authority, in spite of showing class or exhibiting decorum, it's on. Act like he's not the President, even though he is. Come up with every possible diss that you can think of. Question his citizenship, his political affiliation, his motives, his true religion, and his very being. Call him a hater of white people, even though he was raised by white people. Call him a socialist even though he is bending over backwards to show you that he is really just a remixed Reagan Democrat. That's right, do everything possible to ignore the fact that the majority of voters last November elected him to the office of President. And in all your efforts don't forget what Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney said during the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, that a black person has "no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Again there is nothing necessarily surprising about this. When the grass is cut the snakes will show. As population and demographic changes point to a new day in America, rest assured that the old guard won't go away without a fight. The haters are emboldened. And now they smell blood. That's right, to paraphrase Jay-Z, the haters wanna test you when your gun goes warm!

That being said, respect is something that one must demand, not assume or expect. If people think they can disrespect you and get away with it, they will. I have grown real tired now of waiting for the President to respond in kind to his many disrespectful critics. At this point his overly conciliatory response to such disrespect is becoming as frustrating as the disrespect itself.

What kind of leader allows someone to call him a "lie" and then turns around and thanks the offending party for offering a forced, insincere apology? Sir, you are disrespecting yourself with this naive, nice guy act. There is a time for bipartisanship and a time to stand up for yourself on "GP," as they say. We elected Barack Obama to the presidency on a platform of hope and change, yet it's starting to look like we elected Rodney King and the "can't we all get along" campaign.

I have tried to give this man the benefit of the doubt, but the grace period is over. I cannot stand to watch these people diss the President and then watch him repeatedly absolve them of their crimes, however egregious. What next, is Joe Wilson going to get an invitation to the White House to have a beer?

If a Democratic congressman from an urban city--as opposed to a Republican congressman from the rural south--had yelled out that GWB was lying during a joint session of congress, though the urban congressman would have been telling the truth, he might have been charged with treason, sent to Gitmo, been waterboarded, and eventually forgotten about. There would be no acceptance of an apology because Dude would have been cuffed before the words were out of his mouth. He would have never had a chance to apologize.

The tactics that the haters have used to disrespect the President are deplorable. Post-racial my ass! But until Mr. President stands up for himself and his party by directly confronting this vile rhetoric then it will only continue to gain steam. At this point, it's fair game on Obama. As Charles Dutton famously said in Menace II Society, "the hunt is on and the black man is the prey!" While Obama's election has served to expose some of the latent racism still vibrant in this country, his lack of a proper response is serving to enable its malicious spread.

Yes, we know you're a nice guy by now. We know that you don't like partisan bickering. We know that you favor a level headed approach to problem solving. But there comes a time when it is necessary to put people in check. There is a time when in spite of the political argument of the day that one must demand respect. That time is now. And that's not partisan, that's real!

Sep 4, 2009

Hollywood Squares



I recently had a wonderful experience that I'd like to share. Such an experience used to be commonplace in my life, but as of late this type of thing has been quite rare. Hold on now, the experience that I'm referring to isn't explicit or illegal, and not necessarily that interesting really. It is however quite telling. Ok, here it is, I went to see a film and actually enjoyed it. What?! That's my rare experience; seeing a good flick.

As someone whose place of business just so happens to be the #1 film school in the world, you would think that seeing good flicks is a regular part of my professional routine. And it is, it's just that the good flicks seem to have already been made; many years ago, in most cases.

I was thoroughly captivated by the German film The Baader-Meinhof Complex.

This is a film about historical subject matter rendered in captivating detail. Baader-Meinhof takes up some serious issues and gives the issues at hand the best cinematic treatment, making the events themselves seem larger than life, as they were for the Germans living through this era in the 1970s. Yes indeed, what for one person might be considered left wing terrorists are for another person considered to be revolutionaries. The activities of the Baader-Meinhof group in the 1970s might be thought of as one of the early examples of what would come to be known as terrorism in the West. So watching this film in a post 9/11 world adds another layer to the film's significance.

This was not a film based on a comic book or an old television show. Nor was it based on aliens or robots. It was not fantasy, nor was it an animated morality tale. The film was not meant to be seen by "the whole family." It was an adult film about real people and real events, done in an intelligent and highly cinematic way. The Baader-Meinhof Complex is the kind of film that I was raised on in the 70s; political, artistic, and most importantly, relevant. It is cinema; a film, as opposed to simply being a movie. And there is a difference.

Hollywood has most recently being selling its soul to the devil of trendiness. As the economics of the industry have changed, the suits have been green-lighting child's fare and expecting adults to go along for the ride. I refuse.

Such an issue is confounded by the Academy's recent decision to expand the field of Best Picture nominees to 10, from its previous limit of 5. Such a decision is based on the sagging rating numbers of the yearly Oscar broadcast. It seems a bit curious that the Academy would rely on television rating numbers to determine how they decide what constitutes the best film offerings of the year. It's not like there were always 5 reliable choices up for Best Picture anyway. Now that the field has been expanded to 10, you can expect an even more diluted competition, with even less worthy contenders than ever before.

As we all go through the changes rocking our individual and collective worlds lately, Hollywood should take stock of itself. Old habits die hard, but the days of everyone watching the Oscars simply because it was pretty much the only thing on have longed passed. As box office numbers decline, so too do television ratings as it pertains to the Hollywood product. Don't panic and throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. This is not the answer. The answer is not to expand the Best Picture offerings. The answer is fairly simple actually, make better pictures!

I know I'm fighting a losing battle. The forces of mediocrity have long dominated the world of Hollywood. At least in the past though, you could count on something good coming out between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Not any more. You have to take the good ones when you can get them. That being said, I'll wait for the occasional substantive offering from Hollywood, but won't hold my breath. I'll be on the lookout for other foreign gems like Baader-Meinhof while keeping my Netflix queue stocked with classics and engaging documentaries. In the meantime, I'll leave the cartoons, aliens, superheros, and the robots to the kids, 'cause I'm a grown-ass man!