Thursday, April 12, 2007

She’s Stooping to Conquer

She’s Stooping to Conquer

Every once in a while you’ll hear a stand up comic crack a joke about reading Playboy magazine for the articles. As with all jokes, its irreverence relies on the imagined possibility, in this case a person flipping past the nude beauties in order to read articles like this 1965 profile on Martin Luther King Jr. Playboy editors have always incorporated fascinating profiles and recruited notable writers to make a case that the magazine provides its readers with more than naked women, but also provocative commentary on the world in which we live.

That said, many people also do not read the magazine because it is populated by images of naked women. Some believe that these images are pornographic, and if not that, then they commodify women’s bodies. These two arguments are grounded in the belief that the pictures represented are not art…

I bring this up because I find myself facing this dilemma now that one of my favorite bloggers, JB of She Real Cool, has started blogging at KING magazine. KING is a lad magazine in the vein of Maxim and FHM geared toward African American men, or lovers of the Afro American woman’s body. JB has an undaunted critical eye and an ever evolving engagement with jazz and poetry. In other words she’s someone who’s judgment I trust, and trust enough to read wherever her words might take her.

Which brings me to my dilemma: now that she’s writing at KING, do I, can I, should I, just read the articles? Do I disregard the alluring images of women captured beneath the headlines, “Bad Seed,” “Class Act,” or “Double Team,” as I read one of JB’s latest musings? What if I were to do so while at work and of my students were to walk in, wouldn’t it just confer some of their suspicions that my gender analysis may not be as acute as theirs?

These questions, or rather this quandary interests me because it sounds like the one gripping rap fans torn between the beats and rhymes, a conflict, that these days is only really important because we have allowed it to fester long enough. Indeed, it’s one that should have been done away with years ago, much the same way that the doo-wop, be-bop, blues and early African American rock n roll musicians helped do away with minstrelsy, thereby paving the way for the glorious harmonies of the sixties and seventies that people often wax nostalgic. Of course this did not stop blaxploitation or the emergence of an ethically irresponsible commercial music industry, but it did provide us with a half-century of glorious music.

Writers have never been divorced from this conflict either as practictioners or citizens in the culture industry. A writer’s life and writing often involves breeding intimate relationships between sinners and the saved, vices and those who have fallen prey to them, and of course conflict and content. The content needs conflict to be good and great writers like all great artists exude conflict from their pores.

If this sounds like trivial rambling, I encourage you to ponder this, what must it feel like being an anti-misogynist at a lad magazine. She Stoops to Conquer, JB’s blog at KING functions as the antithesis to everything the magazine represents. JB operates as part writer, part ombudsman, and part conscientious objector---in other words the conflicted content.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Don Imus Must be Fired

Don Imus must be fired. We should all honor freedom of speech, but freedom of speech does not condone insensitive and seemingly incorrigible comments. Freedom of speech should not protect Don Imus in this situation because if he retains his job, we face a greater risk, the declining significance of the apology in America.

Ok, in all honestly, public apologies really do not mean anything. Let me take back that last comment because if we look at the litany of public figures who have offered apologies over the last twelve months,George Allen, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and Isaiah Washington have all offered for derogatory remarks that they made in public., we see that these apologies rarely really a sincere conviction to changing. This makes sense because in a homophobic, misogynist and racist society, virtually everyone will at some point trip and make an offending comment. However, the fact that we are inevitable to make mistakes does not mean that we should not face the consequences.

Thus far, Imus has been suspended two weeks for calling members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “Nappy headed hos.” In an era where media outlets repeatedly push compromising pictures of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Tara Reid one understands where Imus finds the precedent for his disregard for women. The lives of these young white starlets is often presented as a never-ending episode of “Girls Gone Wild” on the entertainment news programs and tabloids.

However, these women are young, white, extremely wealthy, and there is clearly an industry invested in their exploits. There is no comparable coterie of young black women and clearly no one is interested in the exploits of young black women—no—B.E.T. does not count because it’s often the male rappers and r&b heartthrobs that drive that machine.

In most cities women college athletes are often minor stories with the majority of the attention going to their male peers. The success of women’s college basketball teams at the University of Tennessee, Connecticut—and—Rutgers over the past two decades has indicated that women’s athletics have the ability to anchor a universities athletic department. C. Vivian Stringer’s team at Rutgers has done the most impressive job in this arena because unlike her peers at Tennessee and Connecticut, her team has kept that athletic department afloat without a national powerhouse in either men’s basketball or football.

Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, another woman coach, a white woman coach, has been the only member of the holy trinity of college basketball coaches extending her support for Imus’s firing. Summitt arguably realizes that Imus’s comments disparaged her team members as well, and just as importantly, it is unlikely that Imus would have made these comments about members of Geno Auriemma’s team at UConn. Imus would have surely found more subtle ways of disparaging the white male Auriemma’s athletes, if at all.

As you could have guessed Stringer is the lone African American woman coach in this trinity. What does that matter you ask? Imus wasn’t calling her a “nappy headed ho.”

Oh he was, he may not have thought he was, or rather he thought he wouldn’t get caught doing it, but he was calling C. Vivian Stringer a nappy headed ho. It’s not his fault, someone had to do it, she was too big for her britches, Rutgers couldn’t go on being a school known for women’s basketball. Rutgers’ football team had finally come alive this year and awakened to national prominence under head coach Greg Schiano, the man who turned down a job offer at the vaunted University of Miami this year to remain at Rutgers.

No, I’m not implying that Schiano or anyone else at or affiliated with Rutgers put Imus up to making his racist and misogynist comments.

What I am clearly saying is that a week after playing in the women’s national championship game C. C. Vivian Stringer has to defend her players who were assaulted as “nappy headed hos.” Weeks after their bowl game appearance the members of the Rutgers men’s football team were still being feted at NBA games and award dinners. Their white male coach did not have to defend the integrity of his players because no one dared to challenge his own integrity. He had made history and was treated as such.

At a point in time when she should be hosting boosters, raising more funding for her team and the athletic department that she has helped keep afloat, C. Vivian Stringer has to spend her time holding press conferences answering back to disparaging comments made against her team, and arguably herself. Knowing that he couldn’t call C. Vivian Stringer “a nappy headed ho,” to put her in her place, Imus instead chose to attack her players because that would have the same effect.

Don Imus should be fired because by calling the members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos” he defamed the team and their coach. He should be fired because his actions have undermined the success of one of the most respected women in her profession, and a public institution’s revival. Don Imus’s comments have initiated a racist and sexist maelstrom that in any other workplace are grounds for dismissal.

He doesn’t work at Rutgers you say. Correct, Don Imus, does not work at Rutgers. However, he does work at a public forum which implies that he works everywhere. He’s the voice of listener’s everywhere, and his firing is an apt sign that calling African American women “nappy headed hos” is not permitted anywhere.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Raging Bull

While I can not prove this, I have a hunch that Maurice Clarett is laughing as he watches Ohio State's resurrection to national prominence in basketball. Most media outlets carelessly present Clarett as a thug or a pariah without ever acknowledging that not only was his decision to challenge the NFL's early entry rules legitimate, but when compared alongside what occurs every year in college basketball, it's downright sacrilegious that Clarett's case was overturned. Throughout this entire NCAA basketball season analysts have fawned over "one and done" NBA prospects Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. Many commentators speak of Oden and Durant as if they already have their NBA contracts lined up and there was a recent article pointing out that this was the better year for Durant to turn pro because if he waits until next year, he will have to compete with other stars in the making OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose, both of whom are currently high school seniors, for lucrative sneaker contracts once they've done their year of college service during the 2007-08 NCAA season.

As their basketball peers run off to the professional ranks college football phenoms must compete until either their junior or sophomore years in order to qualify for the NFL. The difference between spending one year in college versus two years may seem trivial to most people, but for star athletes like Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn Jr., and Michael Bush, three football players who have had to work their way back from major injuries and reassure NFL scouts that they're worthwhile draft prospects, that extra year sometimes means playing in the NFL or tearing your ACL.

Although, it's not just the double standard that applies to college basketball players that I think has Clarett smiling and shaking his head, because after all the basketball players are still pawns in the same NCAA monopoly. Clarett isn't the only oracle who sees through the duplicitous nature of big-time college sports. He's the one to have been most prominently publicly undressed by his bid to challenge the NCAA corporation which treats athletes like property, chattel even, particularly when you hear broadcasters calling football and basketball players "thoroughbreds," "beasts," "horse," or "animal."

The most fascinating thing about this current NCAA tournament is how Tubby Smith's decision to leave Kentucky has caused such an upheaval in the coaching ranks. From the moment he went left college basketball analysts on ESPN have been besides themselves with glee over the potential coaching changes and insider information about how other coaches will use Smith's departure to siphon raises from their universities. This morning it was reported on ESPN's The Sports Reporters that Kentucky is supposedly considering offering Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan 4million per year to become their head basketball coach.

To put it in realistic context, that's the equivalent of IBM paying someone 4million dollars a year to run one of their internship programs. The fact that IBM would not do that even if the interns were the top programmers at MIT, Caltech and Stanford speaks volumes to the absurd and unwieldly salaries currently tended to high profile college coaches. It continues to amaze me that boosters, college presidents and athletic directors fail to realize that coaches at smaller colleges are doing the same job for much less, and the high school coaches from whom they inherited these young men, are doing it for even less. There is no rationale explanation for why two of the most non-nba coaches in the last thirty years are being so far outpaced by their collegiate peers in terms of salary. Dematha High's Morgan Wootten and St. Anthony's Bobby Hurley Sr. have been two of the best basketball coaches at the high school level in the last 30 years and neither of them command salaries that are even close to being on par with what their (sometimes lesser talented) collegiate peers make.

When Donovan's alleged Kentucky offer was raised during the Sports Reporters conversation, the response by one of the guests was "there's no way that Florida is going to pay Donovan more than 4million because Urban Meyer only makes 2.5. million."

Urban Meyer is the coach of Florida's football team, the same team that beat the Ohio State team, which if he had stayed in school for four years, Maurice Clarett would have been starring for. He would have been playing alongside classmates Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., well at least alongside Smith, because Ginn injured broke his ankle on the first play of the title game, an injury that dealt a fatal blow to OSU's title hopes and a minor blow to Ginn's NFL prospects.

As this drama plays out Maurice Clarett sits awaiting trial. He's on no one's draft list for the upcoming NFL draft and has been eclipsed by Smith, Ginn Jr, Oden and Mike Conley as OSU's favorite sons. Clarett on the other hand exists as a tragic lesson about what "greed" and looking out for "your own best interests," or daring to "challenge the system" can do to a young man. And while Florida and OSU's basketball thoroughbreds get ready for their tilt on Monday night, Clarett is the raging bull who has been securely locked his pen--for whom there will be no breakout game.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Bling: Planet Rock

I attended a screening of Raquel Cepeda's documentary "Bling: Planet Rock" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night. It was part of the Creatively Speaking film series curated by Michelle Materre spotlighting films that "convey a realistic universal portrayal of people of color." "Bling" recounts the experience of rappers Raekwon, Paul Wall and Tego Calderon as they travel to Sierra Leone to learn about that nation's diamond trade and the violent war that it spurred in the 90s-2001. These rappers were invited by Cepeda who was already in the process of developing this documentary exploring the broader relationships between violence and bling in the United States and war and diamonds in Sierra Leone. Cepeda's documentary hinges on the keen connection between the ostentatious buying habits of rappers and Sierra Leone's alternative narrative of violence and struggle. In other words, if American rappers are often talking about war and suffering what happens if they are brought face to face with members of a society who have been ravaged by one of the deadliest civil-wars in recent memory.

"Bling" has many elements working in its favor, not the least of which is the incredibly charasmatic Raekwon. Without the presence of his more gregarious Wu-Tang brethren Method Man or the late ODB, Raekwon, aka Raekwon the Chef, has a forum to exhibit an extroverted persona that some might find as a departure from mello Wu-Tang manner. He emerges as the lightning rod to which the camera remains fixated as the rappers make their way through Sierra Leone. Raekwon is at times silly and sullen, seemingly negligent, vulnerable and undoubtedly touched by what he witnesses.

Paul Wall and Tego Calderon operate on two different realms. Wall plays the dual role of artist and jewelry store owner. This latter career enables him to capitalize on rapper's cultish affinity for diamonds in very tangible ways that eclipse the everyman attitude he strives to relay. Calderon on the other hand is intimately connected to his African roots--declaring in one of the films more profound moments, "I didn't go to school but I did go to Africa." He does not play the part of naive actor in this film. Instead throughout the documentary Calderon maintains a conscientious demeanor that gives it a much needed bout of gravity.
Further grounding the film is the presence of former child soldier Ishmael Bael who makes his first trip back to Sierra Leone during the filming of this documentary. Bael fills in the gaps that rappers by no means could and gives Cepeda an eloquent authorial voice through which to relay the factual/historical background of life and conflict in the country. Bael receives support in this task from current residents of Sierra Leone who survived the war and who work in various rehabilative shelters serving various segments of the nation's population. These survivors range from women who were raped to the former child soldiers.

While there are still a number of issues that need further analysis, not the least of which is the plight of women survivors, and the post-war relationships between men and women, the film is a notable accomplishment for helping to bring forward the complex relationships between art and capital in these very different yet interconnected societies. It is a production well worth seeing.

As mentioned earlier the screening was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Creatively Speaking film series curated by Michelle Materre. The series continues on April 1st 2007 with a line-up of films focusing on women directors and films homing in on the plights and stories of women in the African diaspora. A full schedule can be found here....

The Nightshift Chronicler