Showing posts with label Rant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rant. Show all posts

Sunday, September 10, 2017

In the early days of t.v., which is to say my generation, as youngsters, eyeballs affixed to the black and white screen, experienced a succession of celebrities, minor movie stars and character actors once regular visages of the big screen now finding homes on old game shows and back lot westerns like Rifleman and Rawhide. In the case of the TV westerns, you simply felt good, even as a child, that these old actors, pushed more or less from feature films, were able to continue to make their  expenses by the plethora of work weekly dramas gave them.It may have been a lapse in  status,but not in work. Paychecks are another matter, of course. For those who found jobs as permanent celebrity panelists on To Tell the Truth , What's My Line and the rest, I kept asking the grown ups who Arlene Dahl was, why was Tom Posten showing up drunk all the time, for the love of God, someone clarify exactly what an Orson Bean is? 

This was the class of the Professional Celebrity, C.Wright mills category of human who was famous for being famous; something , in some faraway past, had caught the eye of critics and the public initially,there had to be some arguable   contribution to the arts and therefor society they were making, but in the long run,they were given paychecks less for work than for their availability to be visible. Audiences, consumers, felt better when elements of their youth remained with them as they   aged, gather deep lines and sagging chins, talking about the old days . The tradition of the Professional Celebrity continues. What you might say about Steven Tyler is that he's in the great tradition of technological show biz, in that he's a professional has been , more famous than we'll ever be and more irrelevant than even a Monkees reunion could withstand. All that griping, bitching and carping to the side, it's not the old musicians that make me cringe than it is the adults,the old dudes and hip grannies who allow the mediocrity to continue to sit on the collective counter space like an open jar of grey mayonnaise, something so foul even the flies are dropping from their dive bomb runs on the crumbs and morsels left behind on the gathered retching of best ideas. 

Raging becomes something one does for its own sake; all of us have the ability make choices that ultimately can influence the tides, eddys and currents of will make the future, but , provided we don't die , we live long enough to realize we are powerless to undo what's we helped put into place. This president? This war? This number one album for 124 weeks ? Do we say we're sorry or become mumbling Methuselahs invoking names of cheap sequined gods in Cootie shades drinking from the tall glass of refined and spit polished discontent, looming presences in the background, lurking, hovering over the commotion of the latest mutual buzz, fading gradually, rattling chains and empty soup cans that make less noise the more we practice our disgust? Currently and forever, we realize that we are little more than tubes of toothpaste or some similar glop,squeezed from the bottom of the tube , rolled up to the aperture until there is nothing but off color residue ,congealed paste, finally dropped into the waste basket along with each musician, poet, professional cynic we might have fashioned ourselves after.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Your sponsor is not a trained professional

I dislike the self-help phrase "Feelings are not facts." The people who say have smiles that are so tight that it makes you think those rigid smirks are the result of a string of psychotic breakdowns;no one who utters the convenient adage truly seems convinced that it’s of any real use to someone who’s losing their emotional equilibrium. One has to do a bit of interpretation to get a sense of what the author was trying to say. I refute this cliché thusly: if I am sad, elated, angry, in love or grieving, it is a FACT that I'm feeling that way. The knee jerk bootstrappism of the cliché, on the face of it, discounts feelings and implies you ought to ignore them. Bad advice, dangerous advice. If you're feelings are out of hand and seeming too much to handle, one is advised STRONGLY to get help to understand the feelings and what one can do to recover. Feelings are not facts" is intended to tell sufferers that one should not let their feelings overwhelm them and prevent them from being proactive in their life. That I am feeling depressed, bereaved, elated, et al, however, are, in themselves, facts, and excessive states of each or in combination thereof that prevents the sufferer from engaging their daily life fully cannot be dismissed with this smug phrase. There are reasons one continues to be overwhelmed by fear, grief, anxiety, angst, a feeling of impending doom; if ignored, these feelings can become truly immobilizing. The danger in this is that the phrase seems to have morphed from being a part of a psychiatric / therapeutic treatment modality where distinctions are explicit and the aim, guided with professional aid, is to repair and reinforce a patient's coping skills, to make them increasingly resilient in spite of their feelings. The phrase implies a short cut and, sadly, I see many who would otherwise benefit from a more therapeutic situation vying for a faster fix. Generally speaking, they don't appear to be making progress. I see a lot of this and, in fact, have my own issues to wrestle with as a sober alcoholic. There is an AA phrase, an unfortunate one I think, that states that alcohol is merely a symptom of an underlying disorder. I know precisely what the author of that phrase meant, that there are reasons why we drank, emotional distresses and such that are now triggers toward the temporary and potentially terminal relief booze supplies, but it is said so often by members without thought that it implies strongly that if one attends and corrects the causes of the symptoms, one may return to normal drinking. It undercuts the importance of remaining abstinent. Alcohol, in my experience, was not a symptom, it was (capital was) and remains (capital remains) the problem itself. Generally speaking, all the other things that AA offers effective help in--making amends, righting wrongs, developing a workable spirituality that allows one become a better person, a sober person--are impossible to achieve unless one adheres to permanent physical sobriety. I just don't appreciate complicated problems being trivialized by way of bumper sticker slogans.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Rock and roll is all about professionalism , which is to say that some of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire, and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect their audience's expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new, and to makes sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied backbeat. It is always about professionalism; the MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, the story goes, turn off the power in the middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oooopha. The 5 would get the crowd into a frenzy, making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. At that point, Sinclair would switch the power back on and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs. This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integrity, and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what it was that excited them when they were younger, and what kept their fan base loyal.

It's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll has always been a brand once white producers, record company owners, and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al is beside the point. It coalesced, all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle-class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time, through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention, in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the conscious of their time with the music they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet , to get rich. It is that rare to a non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrity and poor. Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion, the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe, created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in music--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was an entrepreneur as well as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly, indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served. Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary, in that it changed the course of music, but it was also a Career change. All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles, Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys -- false, dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired, being fair to middlin', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians, or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine, real, vital art making. That standard is unknowable and those putting themselves of pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music. One is assuming that one does, or at one time did, enjoy music.

All entrepreneurs are risk takers, for that matters, so that remains a distinction without a difference. What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists successful in what they set out to do. The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers that are more than consumer guides-- criticism, on its own terms in within its limits, can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself, it can also be dull, boring, stupid, pedestrian. The quality of the critics vary; their function in relation to art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise, we'd be treating artists like they were priests. God forbid.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Photo copied genius

Plagiarism seems a sociopathic activity, like other forms of theft, petty and grand. The thief, due to whatever contorted world view, finely ratcheted system of rationalization and a dependable lack of conscious that they're doing any something wrong, will merely take someone else's writing and assign their name to it, no problem.

The only labor involved was the discovery of the writing that's about to be absconded , and whatever effort it took to cut and paste the material. What is especially aggravating isn't the big names that have been caught pilfering from other authors--Goodwin, Ambrose and Haley can at least fall back on laying the blame on harried research staffs--but rather t

I ran a poetry series for years in the seventies and eighties, where open readings were featured, and among the other poets, good, bad but definitely original in their work, where three regulars who read Dickens, Blake, Eliot, Marvel and Johnson , each of them claiming to have written the poems they just voiced. Others in attendance at these readings couldn't believe what they were witnessing, but no one said anything, fearing a fight or some such thing, until finally I cornered one guy, a forty year old, at the end of the last open reading I would MC. He'd just read a thick, awkward Canto by Pound, and I could see a dog eared copy of Ezra's poems crammed in his backpack. He taken the time to type out what he was appropriating , and introduced the poem as "the hardest thing I've ever composed..." I told him he has to stop taken credit for poems someone else composed. Not blinking, he stared at he, zipping his backpack shut, obscuring the Pound volume I conspicuously made note of. "Fuck, you man," he said,"language is free and genius isn't understood
in it's lifetime."

"Ezra Pound is dead for decades" I said,"and I still don't like him. But you gotta stop saying his stuff is yours."

He walked out, the cafe owner turned out the lights,  and I stopped hosting poetry series that night onward, and that is precisely the reason I'm still able to write and read poetry without losing a lung. 
he thievery of the truly mediocre scribe who continually gets caught using other people's writing as his or her own, and yet continues to claim authorship for the work of others.

Monday, January 16, 2012

There is little else but ill will circulating through the tubes of the internet

There is little else but ill will circulating through the tubes of the internet this morning, general grousing, gripes and jeremiads about little of consequence, although I would have to lend credence to the notion that a lot of anger is generated by site specific fears of losing one's financial security. This means that a good number of us in the work force, from upper management, mid management and the guys who wash out the trash dumpsters in the back of the stores we can't afford to walk into are worried that they might be invited into the boss's office and asked to close the door behind them. Not a fun way to start the morning, so I force myself to think only happy thoughts. La la la la la la is what I sing to myself, and I imagine pink ponies with ribbons and rainbows and smiley faces all over the landscape. Next I turn to my Facebook page where one of my friends posted a video of Brit punk band The Exploited doing the least ambiguous song I will hear all month: FUCK THE USA.
The rainbows evaporate, the pink ponies eat some toxic ragweed and fall over and die. Red robins drop from the sky. The smiley faces are now flipping me off.
Later this morning there is a mood of subdued insanity as each of us smile tightl
y, the corners of our mouths jagged like upended hangers, boomer rang creases pushing the eyes and eyebrows into the leering slant of a deranged carnival clown. Everything is fine and all of are going to heaven in a white boat with Black sails, that seems to be what we are dreaming while awake, a promise of deliverance tempered with an omen for perpetual disaster. Free floating anxiety that wakes up ten minutes before you do and starts pressing the proverbial buttons on the control center that constitutes your dreaming self. Oh dear, oh my, the worst has already happened, although neither the West nor the East coasts have slithered into an angry, boiling ocean. That boiling sound is more of a gurgle, the coffee maker that has stopped working, producing scratchy gurgling noises; it gave me half a cup this morning and did nothing else other than engage that death rattle. Another fine day to begin the day, especially on a Sunday. And now here I am, wondering, what? What am I wondering?
I was reading a piece by Peter Whitmer about Norman Mailer's essay "The White Negro” while on the bus coming to work this morning and noticed that the day so far had the hue of a dingy wash rag. I lifted my eyes from the twitching pages I was trying to read to see someone standing at the bus stop where the bus had paused to pick up new passengers, spying a guy in a grey hoodie standing on the side walk looking into the bus, straight at me where I was seated.
Alien twelve tone gangster movie theme songs emerged from my pocket just then, my cell phone was ringing. I answered, staring into nothing but an interface crowded with blurred icons. "This is me" I answered, "Who are you?"
The voice didn't bother with an explanation or an introduction or a confession of any kind, rather, he issued a command,
"Let me talk to the other guy" he said. There was a burst of static, a high whistling shriek. And then the phone became very hot in my hand.
After lunch I turned off the computer and noticed that there was a tickle in the back of my throat, the sort of irritation that makes you think of wet sandpaper being the universal standard for raw flesh and blues hysteria. My throat felt the way Tom Waits sounds, amplified aggravation in the center of the soft tissue, red and familiar like a bully's smirk before he knees in the nuts and bitch slaps you more time when you try to sneak out of school via the custodian's entrance. There was nothing I could do about the damn condition at the moment, but I did have a half bottle of Tustin, some generic syrup for the alleviation of sore throat, cough and yet manly enough to expel the grubbily greased mucus from the deepest of chest resonating chambers. I drank it one gulp, a semi sweetened version of the cruel cures your grandmother used to force down your throat with a funnel and the business end of a high heel shoe. It was awful, and all at once the store room started doing jumping jacks, my stomach declared itself a sovereign nation, my eyes saw through the thickest walls of the building and could the lips of cops writing crime novels behind billboards when they weren't getting hummers from bums who need one more dime for some Blue Nun. I was stoned on something, and suddenly the phone rang, or I thought I did. All I remember, really, was that I answered something.
"Gewekeekek" I said into the receiver.
"Hi, I need a red rubber octopus..."
I paused.
"Don't we all" I answered.
And then the sun exploded.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Take this and thrive, Pal.

Since writers are in the habit of making up stories as a matter of habit and profession, each of them, not just the beats, "faked" everything. 

That shouldn't be surprising from a class of folks we look to for tales, fables, metaphors and such that we might use , in some loose way, in making our own lives fit our skins better.

 The question is how well ,uhhhh, how artful one is in manipulating language towards the creation of fiction or a poetry where the world as its spoken resounds with suggestion and portents of secret knowledge.

William S. Burroughs was the one stone-cold genius among the Beat writers ,was the most interesting and successful destroyer and re-creator of literary form, and maintained what Mailer called a "gallows humor" that allowed him to explore the gamier side of human personality without mythologizing the journey. 

Ginsberg's early poems , as well, were filled with the bulls-eye hitting jeremiads that were such an exact fit for the condition he described that it still comes off as a fresh and blistering criticism of a culture that seems interested in no more than conformity.

 Fakery is what one expects and demands from creative writers. Beat enthusiasts might blanch at the notion, but comes down to the skill of the writer to get away with the imaginative tall tales he's putting forth. 

 The issue, it seems, is how well do we remember the lies that we've told others over the years when we might have otherwise kept it easy and simply told the truth.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Obiter Dicta

Talking to people about their problems makes for frequent miscues of speech and grammar, a habit stemming from something no more profound than that most of us don't know how to talk about ourselves and our personal problems to another human being. Hence, we come to the habit of trying to sound clinical, distanced, as if we have some clear grasp on what's the matter with our inner lives or internal organs. Either way, it makes for low-grade comedy, and it is a struggle not to laugh out loud or lecture someone on sloppy usage. I want to keep the friends and acquaintances I have. One of the most egregious uses I can think is the promiscuous use of “potentiality” when the simpler, punchier, less ambiguous “potential” would do a better job. There's a confusion of the number of syllables in a word with the precision of expression; the more trills the tongue has to glide over, the clearer the communication.

Another coinage that sends static crackling through my ear is the frequent use of the bizarre formation “unconformability”. Again, there's that self-conscious nervousness that mistakes terms with centipede rhythms to be superior to more succinct words, but this instance is even more problematic, (that is to say made more confusing) by an unintended, un-Empsonesque ambiguity. Are we to think the speaker is in a state of “discomfort”, which is what one arrives at through context, or is he addressing his ability to be uncomfortable at will? The literary possibilities are rich, but this is of no aid to someone who needs to emphasize that he needs an aspirin, a therapist, or a licensed sawbones to alleviate the particular disorder, physical or psychic. It's not that I object to multisyllabic words in everyday use, since one requires certain words to convey more elaborate ideas, but I do require that the words exist, in the dictionary if not in nature.

Ugly coinages wind up in dictionaries each year, complete with the varied pronouncing keys and definitions of the different uses the term can have, but they are awkward words all the same. My favorite personal tale of someone being needlessly (and unwittingly) unclear in stating what should have been straightforward when I was a graduate student. I had asked  a department chair if a particular Shakespeare sequence had vacancies. He told me the classes were “impacted”. I considered myself a smart guy who was fairly keen with words and their meanings even in the Seventies, but this was unclear to me; it was a strange application of a word associated with other meanings. I asked what he meant, to which he said, “The classes are full.” What I took from this was that there those folks who have a fear of being caught saying simple things simply; their obscurity seems to them to be a source of power.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Some years back I was in a coffee house thoroughly caffeinated into a babbling blend of erudition and nonsequitor overkill , arguing with someone , a young man dressed in black and brandishing a dogfaced copy of Ecce Homo that life had no meaning because it had no real structure, no arguable basis for being something other than an accident of molecules colliding at precisely the right point and time. Whew, I offered, that is the best Dime Store nihilism I've come across in a long time, and recommended that he put it on his blog, ;under a pilfered photograph of Richard Nixon. I went further and remarked that I had to disagree on the matter of life having no structure. Then the coffee really kicked in. 

Life, actually , does have structure, in the communities we create and the institutions we formulate to hold them together,and in the culture that is shared that provides a diverse citizenry with a sense that there is a purpose to where and the way we live, and that there are the means to improve, correct, or change the conditions of our lives. This is structure. While life has no narrative arc, per se, literature certainly does, and it is in the art of that narrative that the contingencies of life, all those things that one cannot predict (let alone prevent from happening) are contained in fictive form and which can be appreciated as drama, comedy, moral instruction, what have you. Literature is a means to make sense of life, to provide resolutions to brief joys and large traumas, and it is a way to prepare a reader for what ever strange turn one's life might come to.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

poets reviewing poets!

We now have a new form, circle--modernism. It's been bad enough that we've had to suffer a generation of dull poets writing poems about poetry (PAP) where the subject seems to be either the poet as sensitive being channeling the variety of vibes that the rest of us cannot discern, or the inability of poetry to "get" at the exactness of the moment. Now we have writing in praise of writing about poetry. 

There is a good amount of log rolling here, with more than a clutch of poets intent on not giving away the game on which careers and reputations are built on, but one does admire the adroit skill that gets applied to the least interesting of the least tangible poems. What is even more interesting is that a good amount of the essays exclaiming the value of these poets under nominal review don't actually explain how the poets are successful at their tasks; more often we get an examination as to the poet's intention, and then a long run in eloquence describing results that I , for one, rarely witness.

 I ought not generalize too much poets remarking on the work of other poets, since there is a difference between actual criticism-- evaluation based on close inspection--and the sort of careerist suck-upping one finds on the back of new books. There is the idea that some wag had put forwarded about poets who put forth their own theories about they and their associates do; the theory is more interesting than the poetry it discusses. It is, often enough, more poetic.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holmes gets all twisted

I haven't seen the new version of Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, respectively, but I have come across some whining from some reviewers about this film not treating the Conan Doyle creation with a sacrosant deference. It's a good time to insert the well worn notion from poet / esthetician Samuel Taylor Coleridge about the "willing suspension of disbelief"; as one enters into a relationship with a work that is an act of the imagination, one must relinquish their insistence that narratives be realistic, factual, or adhere to signifiers that merely reiterate the appearance of a world one already knows. The imaginative work should be judged on it's own terms, and from there one is in a better position to judge the relative success of the venture. The should go, of course, for those fictional figures, such as Sherlock Holmes , who's presence in in the culture seems known to us since before birth and who's exacting particulars needn't be , I don't think, cemented in place. The reputation, context and many particulars of Doyle's creation are not about to vanish from the earth; elaborations, embellishments,improvements, extensions, elisions, diminutions, and exacerbations of the character, are, in fact, what keeps us coming back to him; we have , in any event, seen quite a bit of Holmes as the pensive, reserved scientist thinking his way through a baffling series of murderous events, and it may be time,indeed, to see some bring the genius into the arena to bash the ruffians as well as baffle them. I would also like to see a Holmes/Batman team up movie , with the the two of them attempting to deal with a time warp crisis brought on by The Borg , who intended to infiltrate earth culture by assimilating a generation of Swiss watches. All this , of course, gets hopelessly complicated and lost until Thomas Dunson (John Wayne's character from Red River) appears on his horse and bitch slaps everyone into a stunned submission. After that, the sun will explode and there will no need to worry about the purity of any character, we needn't concern ourselves with the integrity of the text or author intentions, we can stop sniveling about canons and auteurs and Nobel Prizes and perhaps read books again, novels and poetry, and listen to albums again, all the way through, and perhaps take in a concert of music composed for instruments that don't required a power source to be heard. Wouldn't that be nice.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Shag and the Mullet

I had a shag haircut for a year or so during the early seventies. I borrowed twenty bucks from my Dad, who thought I was going to get a flat top and thus appear neat-as-a-doctor's office coffee table, and paid a guitarist who called himself Ramada to take the scissors to what was then an impressive, shoulder length cascade of curls. Ramada was also a badass guitarist for a local band called Madame Beast, who specialized in British rock--Small Faces, Spooky Tooth--and over all , I thought he looked cool, bitchen, the shit. I couldn't play guitar, but damn, I wanted his hair cut. A half hour later, I emerged from the bath room, tight ringlets of clipped curls on the floor waiting to be swept up, a skinny, glasses-wearing kid in jeans and a layered hair cut that made me look, well, ridiculous. And chubby-cheeked. And incredibly self conscious. I would try the trick of trying to catch my profile as I passed store windows, I'd linger in Sears clothing sections checking myself out from many sides in the three-mirrored fitting rooms, I would spend time in the bathroom trying to get my hair to seem to fall just so, like Keith Richard or Ron Wood. My Dad was pleased with neither the haircut nor the time I spent in the bathroom doing, apparently...nothing. No, the haircut didn't make me a hit with the ladies. But I did get stared at alot.

The Sixties died when rednecks starting wearing their hair long, and you knew that the bloom was forever off the rose for British rock and roll when the shag haircut morphed into the mullet, a style intended for the ambivalent white twenty somethings stranded between a gas station and a pancake shop just off the interstate who couldn't decide which was a better ideal to live up to, military respect or rebel-yell hoo-hah. As with a conflation of two bad choices, we have results that are worse than if one chose to do nothing at all. The mullet does not look good on anyone, at any time, in any era. Like much of American life itself, where the fabled opportunities and boundless avenues of choice have shrunk to the most scant options, the mullet is a haircut that isn't selected to someone so much as assigned, like a military issue. It's symbolic of one's willingness to dedicate themselves, in order, to family , flag, and God and yet retain the revolutionary spirit of our country's founding, a nice trick if you can manage it, but too often what we see are listless and angry young men working against their own interests, ready to bash gays, blacks, beat wives, girl friends, any one they suspect of being a terrorist merely because they don't resemble them in skin tone , speech, or accent. And perhaps also because they aren't wearing a mullet.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


When in doubt, slap a new coat of paint on an old idea and hawk it as something brand spanking fresh, as in the case of the folks who started up the site Stuff White People Like .Well, yeah, I laughed at this, recognized the material things we as a light skinned privledged gather about us, and then wearied of the whole notion of this satire. It's a riff that's been played into submission, like hearing the umpteenth posthumous live version of Hendrix playing "Red House" or the final "must-see" episode of the current season of Law and Order; try(and lie) as you might, there's nothing especially surprising at this point in Hendrix's drugged guitar fumblings, and the unexpected twist or turn of the legal scenario of that L/O storyline, the one that would simply stun you even though this show has been on the air for 18 years, is simply a hyped -up run through of old plot lines, old outrages, with the twists arriving on time, on schedule.Making fun of white people has been a dependable staple of comedians for years, a safe haven for those times when you have a need to deride, insult or stereotype an entire population with the most reductionist jibes. 

The sweet part of the deal is that one can indulge this stale diversion with impunity, as no one will muster the nerve or umbrage to yell foul; Richard Pryor through Dave Chapelle can mock the doings of the lighter hued race sans a protest, and white comedians will do it to their own kind because the current tone is zero toleration for a discouraging word said about anyone, on any terms, for any reason. Except white people. It's lopsided, yo. Gore Vidal remarked in the Sixties that homosexuals were the last minority group that one could make fun of and get away with, but times, attitudes and the strength of group pride changed all that. There remains the need to mock someone. White people are it. It may well be our turn in the barrel to many people's thinking, but that sort sort defeats the purpose of judging people by character, not skin color. This is progress?

"Post-racial" is a preferable state for the world to fall into, but meanwhile racial and ethnic matters are as touch as they've ever been. Ethnic cleansings are a very recent memory, and the GOP's hard right flank isn't shy about unloading racist stereotypes in their opposition to Obama's policies. Still, there remains , codified in our ethics, our laws, and our basic sense of decency, the notion that invective aimed at blacks, hispanics, gays, women, Asians and others is "wrong" , and evidence of a disturbed mind. I wouldn't argue against that; racists have to be censured, the message that it's not okay to denigrate anyone for matters of race, gender, sexual preference is unacceptable. My point though, is, that making fun of those of paler skin and European heritage is okay. No one in an official capacity, or any level of cultural influence, will arise and advise the rest of us , indeed remind us, that reducing a population to the sum of their stereotypes is not the way a more just and tolerant culture is created.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's better to give a resentment than to get one

Sometimes you run into a left hook that's intended for your chin that someone else thinks you deserve. The aggravating thing is being accused of things that were the furthest from your mind. I remember eight years ago

I was working at the customer service desk of a college bookstore,helping a customer, a woman of color who seemed to me to be from India. She presented an unsigned credit card to pay, and she became upset when I asked for a photo ID, basically declaring a racist with her remark "I bet you don't check their Driver's licenses" , referring to a white customer who'd been in line ahead of her. She grabbed her purchase and her receipt and stormed off before I could say anything. What I would have said to the offended woman had I the chance was this:

1.I'm required to ask for photo ID when presented with a credit card with no signature by both the credit company and store policy.
2.That I'd standing behind that counter for four hours prior to my helping her with her purchase, and that I'd already asked three white customers for photo ID when they gave me unsigned credit cards.

I never got my chance to explain store policy/tell her off, which is a good thing, as any additional words from me would come to no good for continued employment. So instead I stewed, dwelled on it, wallowed in my irritation, my thinking inching disturbingly close to redneckish. Ironically, since the cause was being accused of racism when there was no offense purposefully given. The offense was in the customer's mind, and all I could conclude was that she had an standing issue that was just awaiting the right time for what I took was its frequent expression.

Irony is one of those textures of life that never cease casting variations on a theme. In the post 9/11 age of digital commerce, over half the customers I help have credit cards that request that a cash handler ask of an ID. Further, it's not unusual for customers to become irritated when they aren't carded. One client had written in the signature space "DEMAND ID OR REFUSE THE SALE". That day I was an odd mood and took offense by given a demand from someone I didn't know. I processed the sale without asking for indentification, handed over the bagged merchandise and her receipt.

"You didn't ask for my ID" she said, "did you see what I wrote on the card."

"Yes" I said, " and it's unlikely a thief would try to get away using a card with such a demand on the back."
She took a deep breath, rolled her eyes and grabbed her small child's hand and left the store, not to be seen again all these months later.