Tag Archives: pop culture

Blackface is Racist. Period. Mocking Domestic Abuse is Misogynistic. Period.

So this happened.

http://jezebel.com/5952124/idiot-students-in-blackface-reenact-chris-brown-beating-rihanna-at-worst-pep-rally-ever

Yeah an almost all white school had a performance where they did a skit in blackface portraying Chris Brown beating the shit out of Rihanna to win a popularity contest. This was a skit approved by school officials, watched by staff and community leaders. And now many of the students and faculty are defending it, saying it’s not racist at all. Sadly I’m not that surprised by this but it did make me feel some things I wanted to share.

First of all, as always I love it when white people, especially white people who obviously have no cultural knowledge of the history of blackface, and have close to no diversity in their community tell me what’s racist.

‘Cause they know right? They’ve been hassled by the police. They’ve been called the n-word by people that were supposed to be their advocates. They’ve been targets of harassment where people wouldn’t believe them because of their skin tone. They’ve been assumed to be a thief, thug, stupid, animalistic. They know how much it hurts some members of the black community to see blackface, how it’s tied to a time when we were considered less than human, how it was used to mock, belittle, terrorize, and propagandize to keep a group of people from having basic rights.

Blackface is racist. The end. Any comedy that requires you to darken your skin to be funny? Relies on the characters race for humor and considering you couldn’t get a black person to play the role I’m going think that the comedy wasn’t exactly flattering. There is no reason for blackface. Why is your art relying on an archaic and problematic premise?

Prejudice is the easy joke, it’s the simple laugh. Watch any frat dudebro comedy and you’ll see, they go for the old school stereotypes about women, foreigners, LGBTQI folks, disabled people, poor people, etc. for their humor. The women are always virgins or whores there to be mocked for either decision, the POC are always thugs (Af-Am), hackers (As-Am), mocked for their misunderstanding of America (everyone), etc. and the gay characters are there to be mocked with old stereotypes that compare queer women to men and queer men to women. We’re not even going to go into that problematic binary, that’s a completely different post. The point is it’s the easy laugh. HaHa look at the outsider, they’re not like me so their funny. If that’s the only humor you can reach for, aside from being privileged and oppressive you’re just a bad comedian. It’s old, it’s tired, it’s racist, it’s no longer okay.

And I assume if they’re defending this and past examples of blackface they’ve examined why they feel the need to use blackface. They’ve delved deep into their psyche and examined why an almost all white community that has little to no contact with People of Color finds blackface so entertaining it had to happen repeatedly.  They have a really good defense and reasoning for why they did this, why educators approved it, why everyone thought it was funny, aside from their critics being stupid or oversensitive, right? They were doing some good work deconstructing race and gender and the male gaze right? ‘Cause if they don’t have any that.

It’s. Just. Racist.

This is without even going into the fact that they were recreating the act of a black woman being abused! Go to the link above, look at that photo, look at the all-white audience laughing and smiling while they imagine a brown woman being thrown to the ground in violence. I don’t care what the skit was, I don’t care what they meant by it, I don’t care for anything the students, faculty or attendees have to say that is not a heartfelt apology, an explanation why they thought this was funny, and a commitment to examine their own amusement at mocking the physical assault of a black woman. Would it have been just as hilarious if it was recreating Pamela Anderson’s abuse incident? Sharon Osbourne’s? There’s misogyny here to be sure but the racial aspect turns it into something even worse.

What is it about seeing a brown woman beaten that these white boys think will win them a popularity contest, that their community will be entertained by the misogynistic, racist spectacle?

Also I’m sure the faculty and advisers know that 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend in an abusive relationship, that 1 in 4 teen girls have been forced into sex by a intimate partner, that 80% of abused teen girls continue to date their abuser, that almost a third of teen girls killed every year are killed by a boyfriend or husband. Given these statistics they must also know that there are likely girls in that auditorium watching that performance that are currently involved in an abusive relationship. So what message did they get from the faculty approving of this? How likely are these girls now to feel safe reporting anything about abuse to this school, to anyone in their community? They’ve effectively told all who see this that the misogynistic atmosphere of the community is the arbiter of who gets to complain, who’s pain is real and whose is a joke.

But it was all a joke right?

No, it’s not a joke. Abuse is not a joke, racism is not a joke. I’ve been known to make the off-color joke myself among friends, true but first that is among friends and I always try to be aware of the privilege I have and how that factors into what I’m saying. I try not to be defensive if people decide to call me on what I say. It seems like this community wants none of that. They want to pretend that blackface is just make-up, that watching a woman getting an abusive beatdown is all good fun, that a community rallying to defend white boy’s right to recreate a brown woman’s fear, terror and pain as entertainment is okay. It’s not. This is not art that’s meant to inform, educate or examine abuse in certain communities which is one thing but entertainment that mocks her pain, belittles it, makes it fodder for the humor of an all-white community.

And that? Is. Not. Okay.

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Privilege: I’ll Ignore You & It’ll Get Better

So I was watching Kathy Griffin’s new talk show this week and her talkin’ shit guests were Chelsea Handler & Whitney Cummings. I learned two things from the show.

1. Whitney Cummings is actually funny when she’s just being her. ‘2 Broke Girls’ is full of stereotypes and bullshit (which makes me sad ’cause I love Kat Dennings) and jokes about sexual assault so I fell out of that pretty quick. The show ‘Whitney’ feels repetitive and just not that funny. However her manic personality and willing to say anything come through very well when she’s just being herself.

2. Wow Chelsea Handler is both privileged and dumb.

Granted I haven’t had that much exposure to Chelsea. I’ve heard a few of her soundbites, which always seem funny, and read a few excerpts from her books but that’s it. So the first hint that  she really just didn’t know what she was talking about was about being offensive/racist in your humor. Where she basically said you have to start with the groups you belong to and work your way out and that way no one will care.

Okay quick breakdown, making fun of a privileged class is in no way the same as making fun of a marginalized group. So for example when Chelsea mocks someone for being white it does not have the historical weight behind it that making fun of other groups does. Also when people make fun of white people it very rarely has to do with their race directly. One of the things about stereotypes is that very few of them about the dominant group get so powerful as to be called fact “Blacks are more violent.” “Asians are more studious.” and none of them  get coded into laws to be used against your group.  So let’s not pretend that it’s the same thing or even similar. Making fun of the group in power is never as hurtful and damaging in a larger sense as making fun of people who are already treated as other.

That’s not even my main complaint with Chelsea in this show, that comes along when Kathy brings up feminism. Kathy Griffin is actually trying to have a semi-serious conversation about how women make 70 cents for every $1 that men make. Chelsea has the nerve to say (paraphrased) that she doesn’t believe in talking about inequality because that simply leads to more inequality. She prefers to ignore it and it will get better on its on.

What the flying fuckity-fuck?

When we don’t think about things, they get better? Excuse me. I’m pretty sure that no inequality in the history of the world has ever been improved by ignoring that it exists. Honestly being able to say that means that you don’t care about all those people who don’t have the option of not discussing it.  Chelsea can afford that have that opinion, literally. With the amount of money that she has coming in she can insulate herself from the worst of what those who aren’t as wealthy cannot help but  deal with. It seems to come from the same place of “Why are you always bring this up?” which carries the assumption that you derive some joy in discussing the ways we are oppressed in society.

The main assumption being made here though is “It doesn’t affect my life, so it can’t matter right? I don’t have to think about it so obviously you shouldn’t either. And you’re only bring this up to make me uncomfortable of course.”

Privilege is the ability to think that only things that affect you matter. Privilege is asking others to stop talking about inequality because bringing it up doesn’t help you in any way. Privilege is pretending that closing your eyes makes the monsters go away and privilege is not acknowledging that not everyone can or should close their eyes.

Gayin’ Up DC Comics!

So there was much discussion back and forth about who the big DC hero coming out was and it’s been announced:

Alan Scott  – Green Lantern

So whipping out my comic book cred a bit. Alan Scott is not the Green Lantern most of you know. He’s very rarely appeared in media beyond the comics. His original origin had nothing to do with the Green Lantern Corps (or as I like to call them SPAAAAACE COOOOPPS!) it had to do with him finding a green lantern fashioned years ago in Ancient China that instructs him to make a ring which it then empowers.

Most folks don’t know Alan Scott as the Green Lantern, he’s old school – the Lantern of the 50’s and the JSA. Most people know Hal Jordan the 70’s era Green Lantern who was called out for being privileged and white by his privileged and white friend Green Arrow.

So number one why this “coming out” is bullshit is that Alan Scott is not a major superhero any longer. In most recent comics he’s taken on a more wise elder mentor role but he’s not a huge name. Also it’s not a coming out of Alan Scott, if they were keeping him in the main continuity and having an older man come out as a gay man long after he had kids who are now adult I would be  all over this. We so rarely get the POV of the older man coming out of the closet post-family and kids that it would be extremely interesting to see it in a superhero context.

That’s not what they were doing.

What they are they doing are retconning the whole thing.  Alan Scott is not in the main DC universe. He’s no longer an older man with kids, he’s a young hero on Earth-2.  So he’s not in the main storyline, he is no longer the mentor to Kyle Rayner or the father of Jade and Obsidian (we’ll come back to this later) instead he is on a different earth. Okay do I really need to explain the issue with taking a character, reinventing them as GLBTQ and then shunting them into the secondary world (tertiary? quartary? quintary? who knows with comics?)?

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Rest In Peace: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse (9/14/1983 – 7/23/2011)

Wow, there are so many things I want to say about Winehouse’s death. The way I feel the media, society and yes even her fans were complicit in her destruction. I want to pull clips of her when she first broke in the U.S. and was more coherent and open about her use of marijuana. I want to pair it with articles and comments on her weight despite being only a size 10 at the time. The way she always seemed to perform with her gaze lowered as if looking at the audience was too much. The way I can’t help but wonder if her decision to give up pot to lose the weight also led to her decision to start using heavier drugs that are more destructive but also lead to weight loss. There is a lot we’ll never know and will constantly want to figure out.

I want to dissect the whole thing but it feels too soon and too raw. I’ve been a fan of Amy Winehouse since the release of her first album in 2003, Frank. I loved her style, her performance and her complete unconcern for others opinions. There was a lot to critique about her music and her personal life but very few would ever try to deny her talent.

In this moment though? All I wanna do is hear her voice:

Valerie

Fuck Me Pumps – the first Winehouse song I ever heard and I still have a soft spot for it despite some issues I have with message/lyrics.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – She never did an official video for this but such a great cover in any case and seems appropriate to end the post with.

Music You Should Listen To: CockNBullKid

So there have been plenty of amazing British imports when it comes to music. Just recently you have Adele, Duffy, Amy Winehouse and more. Reaching farther back The Sex Pistols, The Beatles, X-ray Spex, Dusty Springfield and more.

Currently everywhere I look singer Jessie J is being touted as the Next Big Thing(tm) from across the pond. Her song Price Tag is appearing in more and more places, other singers talk about her amazing range and voice. I have her album and it is very enjoyable but after a few spins I stopped enjoying the songs for what they were and started to try and figure out what 90s song she was channeling. I’m all for 90’s music, the beats were great and the lyrics awesome but you have to take influence/inspiration and make it your own not let it take you for a ride as an artist of any kind. She is certainly very talented and has an amazing voice but is perhaps not as original (in my opinion) as I would like.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered CockNBullKid only a couple of weeks ago. Another British singer-songwriter her album Adulthood is already out in stores and she’s versatile and fresh in a way that’s exciting to listen to. And I really wish her music was getting half the push that Jessie J is. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Jessie J is just outside of the norm enough to be edgy and interesting without really challenging anything. Anyway, on to the fabulous CNBK (CockNBullKid for those who don’t know)!

Hold on To Your Misery – A take on more 60’s girl group pop but with a bit of a twisted message. I love the use of children mostly because it doesn’t feel precocious and twee and it easily could.

Yellow – More indie-pop feel song with some really unique and interesting beats backing it up. All about fear and cowardice and love a song that sounds cheery then as you listen closer sort of isn’t.

One Eye Closed – A slinky rock song with a compelling and somewhat disturbing thready beat/rhythm that fits so well. And really worth it just for the video, it starts with her in a monster costume handing out fliers…then it gets weird.

Asthma Attack – Full blown dancey pop and I LOVE IT. An ode to London that is suitably tongue-in-cheek from a singer that calls herself the CockNBullKid.

Bonus Video: So CockNBullKid has started a series of videos called Covered Off where she duets on a cover with another artist. So far she’s done three: Plan B’s ‘He Said’ with Clare Maguire, Rui Da Silva’s ‘Touch Me’ with Gonzales but my favorite based on the staging as much as anything else (’cause they’re all amazing) is CNBK and Eliza Doolittle doing Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills, Bills, Bills,’ while checking themselves out in make-up mirrors.

Glee, Why You So White?

So Gwyneth Paltrow singing Cee-Lo Green. For all the reasons this hurts and why it should not be even in the most hellish of nightmare worlds, go here: A Few Things About Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘F*ck You’ As Performed on Glee for an excellent, intelligent and hilarious take on why it is so not okay. I’ve dealt with a lot on Glee (I’m looking at you Matthew Morrison and your incessant need to rap) but this is the first time I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting the songs on my iPod. So the part of the post linked above that seems to be causing the most drama up and in the comments is this part:

The song is off-limits for white people
Unless! Unless you really want to match Cee Lo sound for sound. First off, the soul-pop package doesn’t mitigate this song or its message; it mainstreams it. It’s subversion on steroids, and watered down to high-school pop it’s about as subversive as Reader’s Digest. More technically, I guess there’s nothing keeping Paltrow from actually rhyming that “if I was richer/I’d still be wit’ cha,” (hello, Amy Winehouse!), but her whitening of the phrase is kind of… well, disgusting. Let’s face it: Gwyneth Paltrow singing any variation on “F*ck You” is like Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti,” and maybe even worse: At least he didn’t have to dance with Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer.

Okay so the inevitable response to such queries as this is to scream “If you said black people couldn’t cover white songs that would be racist, so this isn’t okay! It’s reverse racism!” Okay first of all that’s a straw man argument that has nothing to do with the initial reasons given for why it’s not okay. Second of all, racism (as many people have said over and over) is privilege plus power. Black people as a group have never had enough power to enforce a nation-wide prejudice on white people in the west which continues through media to this very day.

Ignoring that let’s address that argument as if it’s valid. See the problem is that it’s only valid if equality is the base and we don’t live in an equal society at all and Glee certainly doesn’t exist in a universe of racial equality. See when this season started I was already a little put out that football coach Ken Tanaka and glee member Matt Rutherford were written out of the show and essentially replaced with white folk. Beiste for Tanaka, Sam for Matt. This is no comment on the characters of Beiste or Sam (both of whom I actually enjoy) but to show the whitening of the show in terms of diversity, one of the things they were initially praised for.

In the midst of this look at the guest stars they’ve had on the show so far: Eve, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, John Stamos, Johnathon Groff, Britney, Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban, Cheyenne Jackson and now Gwyneth Paltrow. With the exception of Eve they are all white and Eve doesn’t even get to sing during her entire one episode appearance. How many songs has Kristin Chenoweth had on the show so far? More than Tina, one of the “main characters” that’s for sure.

So why can’t we have some Broadway legends of color? Some Jennifer Holliday, Stephanie Mills, Rita Moreno, Lea Salonga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs. Shoot at this point I’m willing to accept Carol Channing’s sketchy claim to some black heritage and cheer for her as a guest star. Or even some actors/musicians of color? Jennifer Hudson, Halle Barry, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Enrique Iglesias, Lenny Kravitz. You could just prop Whitney Houston up in the corner and have her bust out some ‘Greatest Love of All’. Shit, why couldn’t Cee-Lo himself play the substitute teacher and sing his own damn song?

I’ve watched Mercedes get slowly pushed aside, until she is the only glee club member without any kind of romantic interest, or urge at all if the show is to be believed. The relationship between Tina and Mike crosses the line from cute to stereotype so many times it makes my head spin and the treatment of Santana, especially in this last episode with the whole Puck/Artie storyline has drifted far into the overly sexualized latina stereotype.

The way the characters of color end up sidelined so much has resulted in many, many songs by artists of color being sung by white characters on that show. The reverse is hardly ever the case. When Mercedes is given a whole song to sing it is most often a song already done by a black female artist. She doesn’t get to cross that barrier ever (with the exception of Rocky Horror which she got crucified online by Glee fans) while characters like Mr. Schuester and Artie do so on a regular basis. This is not a case of there being a basis of equality that has suddenly changed. This is a case of people beginning to notice that the show is getting more and more white and monolithic in terms of race.

Glee does not rest on a base of equality, just as the world itself does not. To argue the charge of reverse racism you basically have to prove that all things being equal the world isn’t already slanted against People of Color and other oppressed groups. I’m not saying that individual members of an oppressed group cannot be prejudiced but the charge of reverse-racism is erroneous and detracts from the overall question I’ve started to have with Glee, a show I love and would like to continue too love, Glee why you getting more and more white?

And don’t even get me started on the conflation of white, young boy and gay that happens on the series, that’s another post that will be going up later this week.

For Colored Girls…But Not Really

Now I’ll fully admit that I have watched some Tyler Perry movies in the past and even enjoyed one or two. There’s a lot to discuss about Perry most especially the way women tend to be portrayed in his work. Strong but unable to be so if they continue to be single. It’s like the law of Tyler Perry movies a female character cannot just leave her abusive/mean/dismissive/boring husband or boyfriend unless there’s another man already lined up for her to lean on. There’s also the added facet that all of these women go from “professional” men to “working class” men which adds a whole class aspect to his work. The men always marry up and the women always marry down in terms of socio-economic level. And this isn’t saying that that is not a valid story for some folks but it’s less the individual movies I have a problem with as much as the overall thematic pattern of his work. The only woman allowed to be angry and strong consistently in his work is himself dressed as Madea, which is a whole essay on its own. We could also talk about the fact that those who starred in his original plays and happen to be plus size and black never make the transition to screen unless its in the background, there’s not even talk about the originators of the roles being cast which is interesting considering the to do that’s happened around other transitions like Rent and such but again point for another time that none the less informs a lot of the things that bother me about him and his portrayal of women of color.

So I was understandably nervous when he bought the rights to Ntozake Shange’s amazing choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf which is an amazing work from the perspective of eight  black women only known  by the titles: Lady in Red, Lady in Orange, Lady in Yellow,…Green, …Blue, …White, …Brown and …Black. It’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read period. It interrogates the perspective of black women as they fall in love, deal with abuse, raise their children, confront their secrets, work, dance and just live their lives. It’s nuanced. It’s moving. It’s smart. It’s beautiful. These are not words I really connect to Tyler Perry or his work.

The fact that originally Nzingha Stewart was supposed to direct the film before he used his connections to snatch the film from her already did not make me a fan of  him. When it was announced that he was considering Beyonce for one of the roles I was too through. Then as things started to come together in terms of the cast I had hope: Janet Jackson (who lest people forget started in acting – Good Times, Fame and Poetic Justice), Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson and more. These are all actresses I’m a huge fan of and began to balance out the presence of Tyler Perry. I also learned that rather than writing the screenplay himself he was using the the screenplay that Nzingha Stewart wrote when she was still in charge of the film which IMDb and various sources confirm. Another point in the movies favor.

And as I was watching the trailer I actually was interested.

(WordPress would not let me embed the video of the trailer, go here to watch it.)

Until the whole video ended with this:

“Written For The Screen, Produced and Directed
By Tyler Perry”

WTF? So not only did Perry snatch the film itself from Stewart but he’s taking credit for her work. Now if it turns out that what I’ve heard and IMDB is reporting is wrong then I’ll take this back but as of now I hate Tyler Perry. What a move to make? To take a story about black women’s experiences written by  a black woman, steal it from a black female director (of which there are few enough as it is) and then take credit for her work. Methinks you actually need to read some of the original work you’re adapting:

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff 
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
 but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
 this is mine/this aint yr stuff/
now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self

somebody almost walked off wit alla my stuff 
& didn’t care enuf to send a note home sayin 
i was late for my solo conversation
 or two sizes to small for my own tacky skirts

link to the entire piece

We could also have a conversation about the shortening of the name, erasing a lot of the context in terms of the lives being portrayed, but that’s a post for another time.