Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Catch Up

      A big obsession of mine is the nature of desire. And not just sexual desire, though it’s high on the list. I chew a lot of mental cud musing on the origin, shape and manifestation of the multiple desires we house or (try to) evict: The desire to be a parent, the desire to partner up, the desire to fly solo – how much of it is hardwired into us? How much of “our” shit, that which we’d swear is our most pure longing or need, is actually our absorption and acting out of conditioned expectation, of social “norms” that don't actually serve us, or of undiagnosed dysfunction? And how do shifting or evolving (if not devolving) cultural norms and values manifest in our desires?
      Those questions circled my head over the past several weeks as Octo-Mommy Nadya Suleman grabbed and held the spotlight and op-ed pages. I won’t rehash the controversies surrounding her or her brood but I will say that it seemed fairly obvious from the moment she opened her mouth in front of cameras that something was “off” with her. Photos of her cramped, dirty and very small home underlined the hardships that her choices have brought her and her parents; they highlighted her watery definitions of government aid, her inability or refusal to factor in ground-level issues of quality of life for a family (including three special needs kids under the age of six) that is already living at poverty level but being mind-bogglingly expanded… All of that solidified my initial gut reaction. And while I agree with those who argue that we walk a slippery slope when we start questioning who can and cannot, should and should not be parents (a discussion which will undoubtedly cast stones at and weigh unfairly against the poor, the colored, the female), I disagree that we shouldn’t have the conversation at all. There needs to be serious, sustained dialogue about parenthood, what it means, what it demands, and the fact that a whole bunch of folks (across categories of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever) simply should not assume the role. Just as people get married for a host of reasons, people become parents for a host of reasons. Not all of which include love or a genuine desire to actually parent. Tricky, I know.
      What’s most interesting to me about Suleman, as with many of our Daily Special pop culture figures, is that she’s a perfect distillation of larger currents of madness floating in the atmosphere. A new, transparently sliced & diced face by the time she sat down for TV cameras (which was pretty quickly actually) illustrated that she was more than ready for her close-up, prepped to ride her fifteen minutes of fame – as did her quick hire of a publicist. It’s old news that we live in a celebrity obsessed society. We are sick with the obsession. And in the last few years, parenthood (especially motherhood) has become a surefire way to increase one’s celebrity quotient if one is 1) already a celeb desiring more press 2) a mere civilian who spawns a freakish number of kids. One measure of the madness is the fact that the young offspring of stars now have their own paparazzi stalkers, with high traffic blogs devoted to every celebri-spawn gurgle and first step. At best it’s harmless; fans have always been interested in the children of their idols. At worst, as lines are crossed and boundaries ignored, it’s a disturbing evolution in the cancer of celebrity culture.
      What would happen if the maternal instinct and the desire to have children, that supposedly most natural of desires, was a corrupted impulse? Suleman has repeatedly stated that she wanted to have a shitload – my word, not hers – of children to counteract her lonely, unhappy childhood; she’s hinted at a dark dysfunction in her childhood home, and said that having her own children would balance the scales. But that ain’t really a baby’s job, is it? And what if that corrupted impulse was further conditioned by a craving for celebrity that is itself imagined (so erroneously) as the cure for whatever ails? (How many folks are desirous of celebrity as a salve to soothe whatever Carrie-esque aches plague them?) Sum it all up and you’d have a perfect storm of fuckery that I imagine would look an awful lot like the Suleman situation.

      I love Viola Davis. I’ve fawned and drooled over her many times. Often, in my speaking engagements, I am asked who my favorite singers, actors, actresses, etc. are. Without fail, I sing Davis’ praises. I’m not mad that Penelope Cruz won the Best Supporting Actress award the other night at the Oscars; she was wonderful in her film. But I’da been ecstatic if Viola had won. This scene… kills me. The layers of what her character is saying, and how Ms. Davis shades and sculpts her delivery to peel back every one... It’s unnervingly good. Confession: I’ve not seen the whole movie, only this clip. I’m not sure how it plays in the context of the film but as a stand alone bit it’s devastating. It speaks to so much: the ways that some of us (especially women and a whole bunch of faggots) learn early in life that sexual exploitation and even degradation might be something to be endured toward a (hoped for) larger goal, a means to an end. This mother, clearly pained that her boy is growing up in a house with a father who loathes him, has decided that, on balance, if someone – even a pedophile – is giving her boy something like affirmation in a world that hates him, and if the “abuse” (a complex dynamic of pleasure and wrongness) has a built-in time limit, at the end of which are doors of escape, well then… “It’s just till June.”

      I’ve never paid much attention to Chris Brown. To describe him as slight would ascribe him far too much heft as far as I’m concerned. Ditto Rihanna, a wisp of a void wrapped in designer gear and slickly produced music tracks. A Negro Tab Hunter and Sandra Dee, set to music and brisk choreography. But now that she’s been Chris’ punching bag, RiRi has a tragic back-story that brushes her with political and cultural meaning, that turns her into the scrim onto which is projected real life issues of violent gender politics. Anyone who’s suffered brutality at the hands of someone else, even (or especially) when the scales of physical power are grossly imbalanced, knows there’s a lot of shame and humiliation that comes with the bruises. So to have this incident and endless speculation on it broadcast around the globe must be exponential devastation for Rihanna. Without a doubt, Chris Brown should pay for beating her. No excuses are acceptable. The loud hum of folks who immediately asked what Rihanna had done to deserve it and then set about casting blame on her is infuriatingly fucked up. But as Brown is molded into the Great Satan, I truly hope he gets the help he needs and that even in the collective throes of justified anger, folks will allow him the option and possibility of working through his own shit.
      A common sentiment expressed in the wake of the Brown / Rihanna situation is bafflement that Chris, who grew up watching his mother be physically abused by his stepfather, would repeat that pattern. But why are folks shocked at that? That is exactly one of the most horrifying aspects of domestic violence – the gendered patterns of power and abuse that are so often stamped on the psyches of children who witness it. That’s not to excuse Brown of anything and he has the responsibility of his own actions. But he’s also a textbook casualty of domestic abuse who turns around to be perpetrator. Thing is, he’s nineteen. Nineteen. Still a boy in so many ways. And I would imagine that few, if any, of the folks on his career team (which I’d imagine is largely older males – lawyers, agents, etc.) have dared upset the golden goose by yanking his shirttail in the past when they saw or heard anything that hinted at a propensity for violence. (I seriously doubt that the night he beat Rihanna was the first time he’d displayed a violent temper but I’m willing to be shut down on that.) We talk a lot about the absence of fathers and positive male role models in the African American community. Chris Brown is the spawn of those absences and the unwillingness of grown men around him to step up to the plate and check him when needed. It would compound tragedies if he were simply demonized and discarded. He’s only barely a man, not quite an adult, and not yet beyond salvaging.

On a side note, I have to shout-out Elizabeth Mendez-Berry, who you just saw in the clip above. It’s interesting to me that the world of journalism, including criticism, is still so heavily male dominated but my most rewarding and satisfying work experiences have largely been with women: Manohla Dargis, Ella Taylor, Janet Duckworth, Sheena Lester – with whom I never literally worked but who was a huge inspiration; Kate Sullivan… and Elizabeth. Liz reached out to me when she was an editor at Vibe. I’d worked with the magazine before she was ever onboard and had parted ways with them without ever looking back. Truth be told, I wasn’t really pressed to work with them again. But I liked Liz’s positive energy; she was smart, full of good ideas, convincing me to come back onboard. She was also extraordinarily cool as we’d labor to turn my writing into something that would work for Vibe but wouldn’t embarrass me too much. It’s a thrill to see her get some shine she so richly deserves.
      Changing the subject quite a bit: Please be sure to check out the three clips below. They’re not normally something I’d have come across; I’m not cultured enough to have even sought them out. But I find them incredibly beautiful and moving. They were sent to me by Kevin Simmonds. I first encountered Kevin through the poems he submitted for War Diaries, the literary anthology I am co-editing and about which I’ve blogged before. We received a lot of powerful work and Kevin’s submissions were among those that made the cut upon first reading. The beauty, strength and melancholy of this ballet, choreographed by the late Ulysses Dove, reminds me very much of Kevin’s work.

An interview with Dove:

On a much lighter note: Hip-hop’s troika of itty bitty but hugely potent sex gods is now complete: Luda, TI and… Kid Cudi:

Music clips of the day. Especially pay attention to the last one:

And if you haven’t yet bought my books, you really should. They’re quite good.
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Friday, February 20, 2009


The week got away from me. I'm a bit overloaded, spread-too-thin. Update soon come, for real. As apology and token of my good intentions, please accept:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New post coming soon...

It's been madness, with me hustling up gigs, co-editing the literary anthology War Diaries (with the amazing Tisa Bryant) and mapping out some upcoming speaking gigs. I will do a proper blog update sometime Tuesday, February 17.

Be well,

Friday, February 13, 2009

Negroes are fundamentally cruel...

and will make jokes about their own mothers (or yours) to get a laugh. But even I wasn't quite expecting this one:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Meltdowns

Last Friday's Blow Pop (the monthly club I co-host with Kim Hill and Jason Van Veen) was stressful as fuck but also one of our best nights. I was able to chat quite a bit with Rahsaan Patterson and eavesdrop as he kiki'd with Kim. But my night was made when I finally met N'Dambi, who dropped in and danced the night away with her man. N'Dambi and I spent almost half an hour talking about everything under the sun, including her forthcoming CD on Stax. She's in the process of mixing it. She sought out and got Leon Sylvers to produce, and we spent a huge chunk of our convo gushing in mutual admiration over Sylvers' undervalued skills. I hope to interview N'Dambi for my blog at some point in the coming months.

Yesterday, the blogosphere buzzed with news of Christian Bale's on-set meltdown after a DP strolled through the background while a scene was being shot. Apparently, it wasn't the first time the guy had ruined a scene in this way. Not that I'm making excuses for the tirade. And the hack film director McG is clearly useless to calm the situation: (Language is NSFW)

There's already a dance remix: (Language is NSFW)

Bale steals the crown from Patti Lupone, who made headlines a few weeks ago when she stopped the show mid-song in Broadway's "Gypsy" to berate an audience member and have him tossed out for taking pictures during her performance:

Then there are these legendary clips of Lily Tomlin and director David O. Russell going at it on the set of I Heart Huckabees. Language is NSFW: