Race

Morning Thoughts on the CSA

The “CSA” is the mass of justifications and evasions that evolved to deflect attention from the damage done by slavery, the “Current Southern Apologia.”  Learning to recognize splinters of these statements, integrated into complex arguments, is important to learning to cut a rhetorical problem at the root.   For those who have been interested in the way I think about these things, here is an analysis of twenty-two words said last week:

In a discussion of race and slavery on another thread, a white guy posted:  “I think black people think white people just snapped their fingers to make all our wealth, that there was no work involved.”

 

Ah.    Good.  This was a guy who was either asleep, or a snake.    I was quickly able to see a way to trigger him into giving me more info.  I said:

 

“No more than the percentage of white people who think that, given the same history, they would have done better or complained less.”

 

He immediately started complaining that

  1. I had no percentages, and that was therefore an unfair comment
  2. He was sure those white people were being ironic.  Then followed by saying that they felt that if they had all the welfare, special programs and reverse discrimination aides, they would be millionaires.

 

This was great.  An entire salad bar of possibilities.

  1. “Ironic” implies an opposite use to what is expected.  Ummm…his clarification said that, no, they thought there really were enough advantages that given those advantages they would be millionaires.   If you believe someone has an advantage, but they don’t out-perform you, what are you saying?  Can you say “lesser initial capacity”?  I knew you could.
  2. He wants percentages?  But didn’t offer any.  “I think black people” in common speech implies “the average black person…”  Better than 51%, or that statement is meaningless.  He didn’t say “some.” He didn’t say “I met” or “Sometimes I worry that too many…”  all of which have flexibility.
  3. Does he think that “white people snapped their fingers and created wealth” is an intelligent or informed opinion?  No?  Then he is saying, at the very least:  “in this arena, I believe the average black person is unintelligent and/or uninformed.”

 

Now, he is welcome to have that attitude, of course, but if you don’t NOTICE that’s his attitude, you’re missing the point.  Now…since we can see that “black people are unintelligent and/or ignorant” as a general statement is only another step down that road, aren’t we at the point where the little Sambo Alert button goes “ding ding ding” yet?

 

At this point, The Question becomes your friend. “Given the same history, would white people have been as damaged, or complained as long?”

 

If he hems, haws, says it is an unfair or hypothetical question or starts talking about Jewish slavery in Egypt, “Irish slaves” or refuses to answer: YOU HAVE HIM.   He is riding the pale horse, heading off on the “Nature” train.

 

If he fumbles out a “Ummm…Yeah…I guess…” YOU HAVE HIM.  You know what he is afraid to say.  At this point, you have a choice.  But what you MUST NOT DO is try to “convince” him. Why?  Because at the core, his position is not political, or scientific. It is A core existential “Faith” issue about the nature of the human soul. All his rhetoric will only be trying justify what he already feels.  There may be additional scrambled brains, if he has a conflict on a belief level:

 

  1. Black people are not as intelligent as whites
  2. It is bad to be racist.
  3. Therefore, racism is something other than thinking whites are better than blacks.

 

Sure: they have black friends, like Will Smith, enjoyed Black Panther.  So…they aren’t racist. Right?

 

Sure.  Have fun with that.   YOU WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR MINDS, because the problem isn’t in their minds, in that sense. It is in their souls. A different sense of the order of the universe.  Doesn’t make ’em bad people.   It DOES mean that they can’t and won’t watch your back in THIS particular battle.

Now, if they take the low road, and admit it, don’t get into conversations about race with them–if they were honest, it would devolve to shouting, if they are dishonest it will go nowhere.

(PAUSE: Definition of racist:  “the differential attribution of capacity or worth based on race or ethnicity.”  That is the definition I use here, and my logic chains rest on THAT definition.  Whether you agree with that definition is another subject entirely.)

If they take the high road, if they SAY they believe in human equality, then all you have to do is examine the component parts of their argument and see if they align.   For instance:

 

“I think black people think white people just snapped their fingers to make all our wealth, that there was no work involved.”

 

This statement is racist IF you believe it literally AND you think this dysfunction is something innate.

 

It is NOT racist if proceeded by a statement/thought like “350 years of slavery and white racism damaged the black community so badly that they can have a skewed view of what it takes to succeed. White people would be just as confused if the shoe was on the other foot.”  If you like, you can also add “and black people would be just as self-servingly oblivious about what they did.” That’s fine.

 

That statement might be incorrect or correct (that’s another subject), but it isn’t “racist” IMO unless you are implying that whites would do better.   Which leads me to mentioning that I was asked yesterday by another gentleman why it was necessary to add the prefix “Due to the legacy of slavery” to the discussion of dysfunction.  Wasn’t it taken for granted?  Hardly.  It is the third rail of American politics, sometimes implied but almost never stated directly on the Right.

 

  1. Yes, our community has damage that only we can heal, like a hit-and-run victim must do their own rehab.
  2. But if you speak of the rehab without discussing the bus…
  3. The bus driver, their descendants and allies will try to pretend the bus doesn’t exist, and never did, and accuse you of “bus-ism” if you ask if anyone got the license plate.

 

The sad thing is that so many people fall for it.  Black and white.  Just five days ago I had this conversation with a black Conservative, and after he tried to avoid the question was forced to admit that, yes, he was afraid that white people were “stronger.”

The poison runs deep, and the rot goes all the way to the soul.  Yes, we have to talk about this stuff until we undo the result of 350 years of denial.  When I stop being able to quote weekly repetitions of the same toxic belief patterns, THEN I will discuss stopping the discussion. Playing the “Race Card”?  sure. But black people wouldn’t be able to play it, if white people hadn’t dealt it from the bottom of the deck.

Want to avoid guilt, shame, or blame about that?  Simply believe human beings are equal, and love them anyway.  Which you can do if you see them as connected to you…and love yourself.  See how this all connects?

###

Once you get clarity on which side of the fence they are on (and it is safest, by far, to assume no one is right on the middle.  They lean one way or the other; ALWAYS.  If you don’t assume this, you’ll get shanked, I promise you)

 

  1. So…Look at the core faith assumption under the “scientific” arguments, and assume they are coming from one position or the other.
  2. To save yourself endless grief in cyclical arguments, never accept as truth “I don’t know”.   Just…don’t. You may be being unfair to a tiny percentage of people, but you will also miss a LOT of troll-action.
  3. Don’t be confrontational or insulting. They have not attacked you unless they’ve hurt you.   Did they trigger your fear, your anger?  That is YOUR insecurity.  On some level…you’re afraid  they are correct.   Check yourself.
  4. Don’t engage with racists about racism.   Waste of time.   I would say with no hesitation that over 60% of people are not racist, or are committed to not being racist.   Most of us don’t want it.  YOU ONLY HAVE TO GATHER THIS 60% TOGETHER.  Don’t worry about the 20% of intractables.  Just…gather and nurture your tribe.
  5. You do this by being both kind and strong.  See racism as a disease of mind, a warping of human tribalism, an artifact of an earlier time.    You don’t get angry if people are sick, do you?
  6. But racism can cause damage. Violence.  No question–it is dangerous, when combined with emotional instability.  Think of the “Incels”.   Everyone has been ‘Friend Zoned”: wished that a friend found us romantically appealing.  Only the childish and damaged think this is some evil on the part of the friend.  Only the insecure, people filled with self-loathing and mindless anger, would actually commit violence out of that fear.   But it happens.  So…your anger at words is about your fear of what it might mean. Just as an “Incel” would only be angry if he doubted his ability to find a satisfactory mate, if you have NO lack of confidence in basic equality, then the only  fear is that these words might trigger actions.  That’s not bullshit, not fantasy.  So…you must be strong enough to protect yourself, your family, and those who need your protection.  That emotional, financial and sometimes physical strength is important for healthy adults to produce, because otherwise we cannot protect the weak…and cannot recruit those who will make political hay where they feel safe.

 

  1. Love yourself.  Enough to trust your deepest nature.  Human equality, the unity of the human soul is a reality.  Enough to be willing to defend yourself against anyone who would harm you.
  2. Love one other person. At least.   It is the fastest way to break out of your ego shell and see the connection.
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame.    This problem is not “out there.”  It is in our own hearts.   Solve it for yourself, and you can extend that understanding to others.
  4. Find your tribe. Don’t argue with Trolls.  Why talk with sleeping people? Let alone snakes. No, just have reasonable, rational, loving conversations with your tribe. Some sleepers will awake and join the discussion.   We have more than 60%, if we can create an empowering vision of the future.
  5. Win with integrity.  Remember that from the deepest level, this stuff isn’t about politics, or science. It is about core beliefs, what people FEEL about the world. The rest is how they justify it, or implement their view of reality.  They are only BAD people if they take bad actions.  The rest is the struggle to be good and decent human beings. Frankly I think that’s 80% of us.

 

 

Just my morning houghts, branching out from a small conversation. Do I know what this person really thinks and feels?  No.  But I know that if my intention is Triage; “who is on my side?” “who might be convinced?”  “who are the honorable adversaries?”  (and the term “honorable adversaries” is used to prevent yourself from going to “who are the knaves, fools and #$%% I’m gonna have to whup up on”, which is your fastest path to creating a verbal riot, in which those who MIGHT have become allies say: “Yuck!  I’d rather stay on my side!”)

 

Remember.  Let’s work backwards from my ultimate goals.  To the degree that they align with yours, my thoughts  may be useful.

1) Ultimate goal: to live a happy Life

2) Long term goal: to contribute to a more peaceful and loving and happy world.

4) Medium term goal: to help correct a perceived shift toward fear and intolerance, manifesting in violence and radicalized politics.

5) Short term goal.  To share my thoughts on how to identify potential allies in personal and political life, and motivate you to take those actions in alignment with your values and intents.

 

Politically, the goal might be to get to 60%, NOT to convince the opponent of a damned thing.  Let ’em go their way, or surgically dissect what they are saying to reveal the beliefs under the surface for people to see clearly.  Trust that if the average person really sees the meaning of the arguments they use, they will be able to ask if those beliefs match who they want to be in the world.

 

Trust that most of us are good and decent, and WANT to believe in equality, even if they have their doubts.   They are restless in the dream. And if they feel safe…if you don’t break their jaw when they drop their guard…

 

They can be tribe.

 

Namaste

Steve

http://www.Afrofuturismwebinar.com

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The Aliens are here! (and that might be a good thing..?)

I had a thought this morning, ideas colliding around.   The Aliens are Here.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

1995.   I was watching “Independence Day” at the Cinedome Theater in southern Washington.  Will Smith pilots a spaceship out of the atmosphere, and says “I’ve waited my whole life for this.”   I sat there with tears streaming down my face and thought: “me, too.”

 

After the movie was over, I went to the rest room. The Cinedome theater is in a very…well, let’s say “Redneck” part of the state, lots of pickup trucks, blue-collar Yee-Haw and a generous helping of Confederate Flags.    There were a couple of denim overall clad gentlemen who fit the stereotype quite well, standing at the urinals taking care of their business with no idea I’d walked in.    And I heard one say to the other: “Whoo-Eee!  That Will Smith sure was cool!   I can’t wait to bring my Daddy to see this!”

 

And I thought: Wow.  We are entering a very new world.

 

1965

 

I’m nine years old, watching an old (there aren’t any “new.”  Sigh.) Ray Harryhausen SX spectacular, “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.”    The world was at war against the aliens, in an expression of the “if the aliens came, all of Earth would pull together.    We would forget our differences”

 

Only one problem: in all the speaking roles, everyone was white.   Also most of the crowd scenes. A couple of shots of Asians hunkered by a radio, and one of a roomful of Indian-looking men  with maybe one African somewhere in a back row…but no, if the Aliens come, it is all the white people that will pull together.  So diverse. Why, there will be English, and Americans, and Germans, and Irish and Russians and…

I watched and loved that movie as a kid, but I knew that white people were somewhat twisted about this, and figured it would take decades to straighten it out. One of the reasons I’ve fought to take really good care of myself: I intended to enjoy myself when things got better.

 

Well, as of “Independence Day,” which was the first movie that REALLY paid attention to that notion about the world pulling together, I’d stepped into a new world.  Not fully balanced yet…but getting there.

 

And as of “Black Panther” we finally had a fully created fantasy film from “the other world” so to speak.  And even though two white characters were FRONT AND CENTER, the first seen, and the first speaking in the commercials, the same white folks who used to tell me not to complain about “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers” were now whining about the fact that there were no white people.

 

Wow.   As the great philosopher Sho Nuff said:   Stings a little, don’t it?

 

##

 

I see a lot of complaints  about diversity in films or comics.   “Virtue Signalling,” “Social Justice Warriors”  and “Political Correctness” are often the terms bandied about.

 

All right.  I’m going to assume that people who say that are honestly representing their points of view.  Let’s explore that.

 

Is diversity in film a matter of politics?   Well…yes, perhaps, if you are doing it to achieve a direct political goal (change) or indirect political goal (creating a coalition.  I’ll cover yours if you cover mine. Sort of like folks on the Right who defend the CSA), its political.

 

But shall we look at some other reasons:   How it being thought about philosophically?  Because you think it is the right thing to do BECAUSE IT IS TRUTH.  Demographically, what we see happening is just…reality.  The country is getting browner.   If racism and tribalism were not a factor you’d see movies with a HELL of a lot more diversity than we see now.     But every step in that direction, you hear the whining. Someone’s nerves are being tweaked.

 

 

How about spiritually?   Racial diversity could be considered an expression of universal humanity, “Num.”   Or religious diversity (Ms. Marvel being Muslim) could be a growing sense that there is one mountain, but many paths to its summit.

 

Psychologically? Maybe Emotionally?     You could do it because you remember some aspect of your own life where you felt like an outsider. Perhaps felt depression and despair.   Then you saw something in a comic book or a movie that touched your heart, gave you hope.  And now, you look out at the world, and wish you could give that same gift to some other child.   Pure naked self-interest. And as good as it gets.

 

For those who don’t care about ANY of those, how about economically?   If you want my money, you show me you respect me. You let me see myself in that world, because NOTHING but your aversion and leveraging of advantage would keep me from being there in your fantasies. I see who you are by the dreams you feed your children.

 

How about Art as a question: “Who am I?” and “What is true?”   Here, tropes can reveal cogitation.  “Who are these black people” they ask, as they ask “what is the moon?  What is an atom?”

 

If centuries of CSA brainwashing has warped the reality (assumption: human groups are basically equal.  All my thoughts flow from this, whether you like ’em or not is not my concern)  then what is the truth?  Are we “Magical Negroes?”    (This absolves guilt [why, they just LOVE helping us] and simultaneously confers some odd respect [well, they don’t have technology, but maybe they have something innate and more powerful than white science can understand…]  That one is almost cute. Kinda like it: it is a desperate attempt by the logical mind to avoid a racist conclusion)

 

Politics is an attempt to win.  Philosophy is asking “what is true?”  Art is an expression of philosophy (it can be political, but I think that in the sense I’m using the word, it is ALWAYS consciously or unconsciously philosophical) , in the sense that there are only two things to write about: “who am I?” (what is humanity) and “what is true?”  (the physical and ethical structure of the universe).    So a philosopher who looks out into the world and says “why is X?”  “what is Y?” may well write something touching those questions.

 

OR, they might say “what if some other quality than skin color was the most important thing about a character?”  (Which was, I think, the motivation behind Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Human Torch, however bad that movie may have been.  Not so much a political thing, but a philosophical one that decided to ignore the political push AGAINST such decisions.)

 

###

 

THE ALIENS ARE HERE

 

 

And if multi-national corporations are running studios, it is useful to ask if corporations are now complex enough that their actions can be best understood by considering them simple life forms.  Because if you do, then they are life forms that eat money and shit products and services.

 

And that…can be a very good thing if you grasp the implications.   It means that you can in essence communicate with an alien life form that is totally outside the binary racial or even gender system.  It eats money and shits products and services.   This is why bigots complain about boycotts (and yes, there are non-bigoted reasons to, of course)…boycotts work.  You starve them (not enough resources, Malthusian crisis) or give them constipation (not enough market, Keynsian crisis) and like worms moving away from a hot needle, they will do whatever is necessary to stop that irritation.

 

Including being “fair” if they really really have to. Which leads them to trying different things, including hiring diversity. Which leads to different decision, creating different products, some of which scratch that itch.  Money is made, irritation diminishes, the alien goes back to sleep.

 

So marching through all seven chakras, some reasons to embrace diversity:

 

Survival (making money)

 

Sex (Well…anyone who thinks human beings aren’t exogamous hasn’t considered that the only way you can stop us from boffing each other is to pass harsh laws against it. That doesn’t work, either.  We relish images of people with whom we’d like to bump uglie)

 

Power:  Yes, you can organize politically by exchanging favors. Also…money is power.  Probably the most useful and fluid form, overall.

 

Emotion: The sense that something is right.  Emotionally identifying with a person having a powerful emotional experience.  And representation, when you have been excluded, is a POWERFUL experience.

 

Communication: Art can also be saying “this is who I am. This is the world I see” if you see a world of diversity, then you are being dishonest not to express it.  Trust me: those who DON’T want a diverse world are not being shy about  expressing THAT.

 

Intellect: Asking “what is true?” and “who am I?”  Creating a valid world map.   If racism and tribalism (white guys ran Hollywood exclusively.  Of COURSE they were gonna make themselves look good.  But it isn’t “Hollywood.”  It is humanity.  You think Chinese film companies or Indian film companies or Nollywood goes out of their way to fill their movies with people not their own ethnicity?  Don’t you think “their own tribe” are at the center of most of their output?  Of course) created “Earth Versus The Flying Saucer” in monochrome, what happens when you release that energy?  You swing a bit, irritating the people who were happy with the status quo.  They squawk as loudly as they ever accused Liberal “snowflakes” of squawking, and the irony is hysterically funny.   “What is true” is that human beings are selfish…

 

SPIRIT:  But that selfishness isn’t a bad thing.  It all depends on your definition of  “Self”.  With some people, it stops at their own skin. For others, it is an infinite circle with no circumference.   I love the Koisan “Num” concept (dammit, I only found it once, in a book printed in South Africa by a pair of anthropologists.  Don’t know where the book is any more, but it had a red cover):  “one soul looking out through many eyes”.   That…is beautiful.  And if you START with an alive survival drive, IMO it is the best place to live.  If you feel this way, you might actually go out of your way to include “others” in your work, because it matches some internal music, a sense that instruments are missing from the Human Symphony

 

So: “Virtue Signaling”, “SJW” (implication: no personal skin in the game, pretending like you care), or “Politically Correct” are all implications of dishonesty and manipulation, or doing something because you want approval reaction from your tribe.

 

IF the above is true, then let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?

 

Proposed: There are basic two ways to view this.

 

  1. They are saying: “you are like me.  I wouldn’t do those things from any purpose other than naked self-interest.  So if you don’t acknowledge me, if it doesn’t increase my connection to other poseurs, or build a political coalition…I won’t do it.   I see nothing here that would motivate me if no one was watching.”

2. Or they are saying: “I am above you.  I can’t believe YOU would do a thing because you think it is right.  I would, and I’d do this if I thought it was right.  I don’t.”

 

I’m sure there are others, but these two seem pretty reasonable, frankly.  And easily dealt with.   With #2, they are coming from a place of “Superiority”–and frankly, anyone who steps to me from that position will get laughed at  (unless I feel sorry for them.  Or unless they really are in some specific arena I care about).  I certainly have no reason to want to engage with them.

 

With #1…well, at the core of that is a metaphysical discussion, isn’t it?   A bit of “faith” about the basic nature of humanity.  As it is possible to be a perfectly fine human being either way (I certainly prefer the notion that we’re connected, but know plenty of very good people who don’t feel all that connected to other people) I can simply listen to their argument, realize they are coming from a different position and let it go.  Why argue? There really are different ways of living together.

 

And it seems to me that there are way more than 60% of people willing to live and feel connected, that when I look at all seven levels of motivation, they will find something that resonates.   In terms of diversity, THAT is my tribe.  There will be 20% of hard core “NEVER!” but…so long as I focus on building a coalition, and keeping them safe, and inspiring them with a vision, that 60% will win.

 

What are the principles?

 

  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Find your tribe, don’t waste time arguing with trolls
  5. Win with integrity.

 

Can you see how this stuff fits together?   Whether you start at the individual level ( just aim at the 60%) or the top level (appeal to Corporate interests by voting with your dollars), the most basic motivations (survival) or the most elevated (spirit) I see a road map to victory here, if the win is defined by helping the human race to a higher level of love, peace,  integration and complexity. From 1/1 billionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe has been undergoing a continual march toward increased complexity, leading from stars to planets to life to intelligence and social construct. This is just what we do.  And there will always be resistance as we evolve: most mutations create cancer, not Wolverine.  It is good to be cautious. The ego fears death, and every time we go from individual to group, there is both loss and gain.  This is just real human stuff.

 

Understand history.

 

Anyway…the aliens are here.  And that might be the good news.   Because if they come, human beings will all pull together.  The “aliens” are corporations, nations, multi-national unions and banks.   They don’t care about human concerns. They are not us, although they are made of us: they have  emergent “differences” that are probably as hard to grasp as it is for an amoeba to understand an elephant.

 

But some of their motivations ARE understandable.  We can talk to them, if we speak their language: money.   And if we can speak to each other, as individuals. We can satisfy all of our needs…and still be spiritual beings living together.

 

All it takes is a commitment to two questions:  “who am I?” and “What is true?”

 

And, of course, watching Black Panther for the fifth time.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Maybe last comments on INFINITY WAR

SPOILERS.

 

If I had one  thing to change in INFINITY WAR that would make me think it lived up to the promise of CIVIL WAR and BLACK PANTHER, it would be to address a serious issue:

 

Unlike those other two movies, INFINITY WAR doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due test, which for the sake of a morning conversation, is the racial version of the Bechdel Test. That test measures whether there are at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

 

This test is very similar: one aspect is that there are at least two black people who speak to each other about something other than white people and events triggered directly by white people. There are other measures, like that pesky genocide thing, but that’s another discussion.

 

To my surprise, “Civil War” passed the test in the first scene with T’Challa and his father. I was actually shocked, and touched. It was beautiful, and I knew something special was happening.   That scene, I believe, was added to the film by Ryan Coogler.

 

Black Panther?  I have no words.  It was a movie from another world, to the point where it doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due, it damned near defines it.

 

Now…Infinity War.   Fails.  Everything black people say is in service to, reference to or in response to white people’s actions.

 

Here are some issues:

  1.  the Wakandan’s didn’t react intelligently to a threat whose only analog was the Battle of New York (they weren’t prepared for flying dragon machines, that’s for damned sure.)
  2. No internal debate about the wisdom of bringing Thano’s War to Wakanda (note that I don’t say it was a bad idea–but it involved the survival of his nation. There would have been debate)
  3. No sense of the panicked citizens (compare with New York)
  4. No “interiority” to the characters–it was all external reaction to the war Cap brought to them.
  5. Images of many black men dying, while the women were surviving.  No rational reason we were seeing that–should have been half of each.  As the movie was “jimmied” so that all original Avengers survived, you can’t even pretend it was random chance.

 

This drains the agency and humanity from a world we’d come to love. It was the mixture as we’ve seen countless times before.

 

So…to fix it, with the same basic results we saw:

  1. Better air and ground defense. It can crumble so that we fall back on hand-to-hand. I love hand-to-hand scenes. But they need to be intelligently presented, not just “cool trailer images”.
  2. Scenes of panicking citizens.
  3. MOST IMPORTANT: a scene between T’Challa and Shuri. Discussing T’Challa’s impassioned emergency meeting of the council.   They know that there is no place in the world to hide if Thanos wins.   Shuri is terrified, knowing that this is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and they may not be able to survive it. She may never see her brother again, and she is losing her shit, just a little.   He comforts her, shocked that she is actually directly expressing concern and love for him, and badgers her into being the teasing little sister again, remembering a time in their childhood where her mischief saved the day.   Tearfully, she teases him about N’Kia being sent out of country supposedly on an assignment, but really to protect her.  Perhaps a picture or swift video of his beloved.  They share a moment, then remind each other that they have duties to their country, and must be strong.

 

Now they are human beings with a past, agency, feelings, needs, fears, loves. What happens next happens to a COUNTRY, to PEOPLE, not just pieces on a game board creating a cool tableau.   And while the events might have been tragic…the emotions would have been earned.

 

That would have done a LOT for me to correct the problem. I’m perfectly aware that many folks felt no problem with this. That’s fine. In fact, the issue couldn’t exist if more people gave a shit. I’m not interested in explanations of why that it: they are irrelevant to me. We’re not talking an objective measurement of story quality.  We’re discussing my subjective reaction, and why I had it.

 

And what might well have made it better.    Tony, Thor, Bruce (who was short-shrifted), Starlord, Cap, Natasha (short shrifted with Bruce), and Rocket all had heart-space connections that made them more than costumes or effects.

 

The Wakandans did not, and I resent it.

 

 

Next time, Marvel..god dammit, pass the test.  Or leave us out.

 

Namaste

Steve

Torture rears its head

So the subject of “enhanced interrogation”  arises once again. My attitude on it is a little different than most. When someone brings up the “ticking time bomb” scenario, I find it pointless to argue with them about efficiency and effectiveness.

The truth is that if I was in a room with a suspected terrorist, and a nuclear weapon that could destroy the city was counting down to zero, I can imagine losing my shit and doing all kinds of things. Human beings are like that.

But you know what I wouldn’t do?

I wouldn’t expect the court to say “cool.” So…no matter what, efficiency and effectiveness off the table, I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they would need it to be legal or…what? They wouldn’t save a million people, including themselves? Really? That suggests to me that they never really believed it was necessary. If I did it, I would

1) be desperate enough that my logic was breaking down and

2) be doing it to protect a society.

And guess what? I WOULDN’T be as interested in protecting a society that would make torture legal. Largely because there is NO way it would only be used on “guilty” people, and no way that it would be applied fairly and impartially.

People who look like me would be disproportionately dragged into the dungeon. So…even if I thought it was effective and efficient, I wouldn’t trust it to be legal, and I would never trust the ethics and morals of someone unwilling to be imprisoned to save millions of lives.

 

Namaste

Steve

“Cobra Kai” and cultural appropriation

Some time back, I watched a documentary about  master Fumio Demura, one of the first to bring authentic Japanese karate (Shito-ryu) to the United States.   I thought of him because he was Pat Morita’s stunt double for the Karate Kid movies.

 

One of the things that struck me about the documentary was his struggles to integrate into our culture, his uncertainty about sharing his cultural treasure with us, the degree to which his masters in Japan didn’t really want him sharing (“cultural appropriation” anyone?) and his superhuman efforts to create not just a life of meaning but to uplift the children of Japan’s former antagonist.

 

As he is struggling with health issues now, the story is all the more poignant.  One of the most affecting portions was his interactions with Pat Morita.  Morita adored him, and the respect was fully returned. The “Mr. Miyagi” character was greatly beloved in Demura’s social and professional circles, and Morita was a super-star, the one who had “made it.”   They were so happy that he had made it, and his success was a beacon of hope and pride to the Japanese-American community. The love and admiration at a testimonial dinner when Morita took the podium was unmistakable. The shining faces made me so happy.

 

The “cultural appropriation” question is difficult. While it is true that all social or technological progress is a matter of exchanges between different people, there is also the very real fact that oppressed, dominated, colonized or marginalized people often feel that they have very little that is “theirs”, and it hurts to see that tiny remaining uniqueness diluted or misinterpreted. The fact that it is generally the larger group, often the dominator group, arrogantly asserting their right to take whatever they want is unfortunate.

 

Those are the polarities, and I can see both positions: the urge to protect, and the reality that we must share.

##

There is something missing from the “Cobra Kai” series, and while it is not unrealistic, and I really enjoyed the series, it didn’t hit me until this morning what it was.

 

Whereas the original movie was about a boy who wanted to find his way to manhood, and a man who needed an apprentice (there are only two stories, some say: the young man grows up, and the old man faces death.  Karate Kid touches both), it is also about the beauty of stepping outside your normal reality to see life from a different position.  And…the sharing of not just two lives, Daniel Larusso and Nariyoshi Miyagi, a  war hero and karate master. They need each other, and the exchanges between them are precious and beautiful.

 

Daniel learns an Okinawan art of power and grace, and the external “Rocky” structure of the film isn’t as important as his internal journey.

 

If I have a problem with “Cobra Kai” it is the reality that as martial arts moved away from the first generation, a matter of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants sharing their cultural treasure of body-mind unity with American students, the next generation was of Americans, some studying in the East, others here in America, opening their own schools. No more direct transmission.  And while great respect is shown the memory of Miyagi, I cannot help but wish that some of that dynamic could have been maintained.

 

Now, it is just about Americans teaching Americans, and while there is a little color in the system (a Latino student, a maybe 1/4 black student) it is basically all white people’s issues and challenges.

 

Again…this is statistically accurate. It is also legitimate.  Artists have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their experience.  I just…mourn a bit. When the only Asian in the cast is the villain, I flinch.

 

And while the Japanese community has aged out, and many of their children, most perhaps, see themselves more as Americans than Japanese…that creates a different set of problems when roles that COULD go to them are “whitewashed”, which happened egregiously as recently as “Ghost in the Shell” last year.  I know it hurts.

 

To see their images, and roles, and cultural treasures given only to others who often mock their very sense of exclusion.   Damn.  I have no easy answers here.

 

If Larusso’s student had been Japanese, that’s a facile reversal that could have backfired…or it could have been beautiful, if handled well.  But that could have been criticized too: “oh, look at the white guy who is more Japanese than the Asians…”  Sigh.    I understand both sides of that as well, and it is painful to realize that this has happened countless times as different cultures collide.

 

The only real answer I can see is to tell stories with respect and courtesy, with appreciation and understanding, and with both love and the strength to hold your center.

 

The answer is not JUST to beg the makers of excellent shows like “Cobra Kai” to be more sensitive (IMO), but for those who feel they are not represented to learn to express their essence in their art, to work their way into the business, to understand the marketing and sales techniques that allow you to express value to an audience and show them why it is in THEIR interest to buy your wares.

 

Don’t expect people to care for the sake of caring. That’s not human nature.

 

If I try to explain the ways in which INFINITY WAR is problematic, black people tend to agree quickly, white people more likely to argue.

 

Who is right?  One could say that whites are oblivious. Or that black people are too sensitive.

 

How about this?  If we assume equality, you split the difference: both are true.  If the average response from one group is a 5, and of the other a 7, you average them out and get a 6.  You go with the “hmmm.  There is a little more than I thought…but maybe the other side is being too picky. Or not picky enough.”

 

But you listen…while continuing to work to speak your truth and live your life the best you can. I’m not sure anyone can do more.

 

Meanwhile…”Cobra Kai” is a fine extension of many of the themes that made “Karate Kid” wonderful. Family, courage, maturity, awakening sexuality, what it means to find something worth fighting for, the power of both love and strength.  Connection between generations and the need of a father to find a son, a son to find a father.

 

It expands those themes a bit, and promises ways that future seasons could go deeper, explore more. The martial arts, like all profound disciplines,  are metaphors for all of life.  The west doesn’t have much of this body-mind stuff, arguably because the best of them, those that deal with death itself, have been supplanted as “technologies of defense” by firearms, and possibly the Cartesian body-mind split that has done so much damage to our Self-concept.

 

We need it.  And…we went and got it.  Yoga, Karate, Tai Chi and so forth.  Amazing, profound technologies that can take you all the way to genuine knowledge.   They are ours now, no doubt about it. We have our own masters. And have not just the right but the responsibility to teach our children to live within our world with integrity and grace and power and love.

 

And…eventually, if we go deeply enough, we are asking those two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”

 

The answer to those questions always takes us to the unity of the human experience, and the concept of Num: one soul looking out through many eyes.

 

The snarky folks complaining about Cultural Appropriation are, IMO, mostly just protecting their right to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, and screw you.

 

But those who appropriate with respect are being what human beings have always been at their best: respectful but moving forward beyond boundaries and dualities, sharing and listening and learning.  Always remembering that there really can be pain on the other side of the issue…but also that, as the Japanese community applauded for Pat Morita, proud that he was bringing their treasure to the American public…there is also joy.

 

No room for snark here.  But much room to celebrate how many ways there are to be human.  It’s what we do.

 

Do it gently, with love.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Yet More “Infinity War” stuff

SPOILERS (ya think???)

 

Tim Barham said:

“So I have a question, Steven… you noticed, as I did, the only surviving major characters were the (indeed all white) heroes from the first Avengers movie. So the old guard – characters we *know* are on the way out of the franchise – survive, while the new guard – characters we know have future films planned (Black Panther, Spider-man, Doctor Strange) die. Why do you think that is?

 

It seemed so obviously contrived to me that all the original Avengers survived, that I felt there had to be a very particular reason – an important pointer to what will happen in Avengers 4 (seeing as we’re now in a place where those who have to ultimately survive are dead, and those we expect to die – or at the very least retire – are alive).

 

My point being – if the twist of Avengers 4 involves those who died in Infinity War coming back, and something bad happening to those who survived, then those who died were chosen by dint of having an ongoing involvement in the franchise, and that’s the extent of it.

 

And it’s the sad fact of MCU history – all white heroes until Black Panther – that means all we’re left with, for now, is white heroes.

 

BTW, I get this is all pretty irrelevant to the disappointment this movie would have been to Jason (and you) – seeing all his black heroes die. And I’m not trying to take away from that, or justify it. And I’m certainly not trying to explain or condone this movie’s treatment of Wakanda. I’m just wondering, given the overall story line that might be planned, whether who died would have changed under a black director, for example – whether the problem here is more a consequence of the lily white history of the franchise than anything else.”

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Dear Tim:

 

Good questions.  Hopefully, some good answers.

  1. The movie was a vast improvement over the original comic book, in which (for all practical purposes) ALL black heroes were killed before the story even really began.   This only happens when all the creators are white.  Period.
  2. The meaning of a story is the emotional impact at the end. Everything is designed to create that moment.   The impact was designed for fans of the original Avengers.  The original Avengers were created at a time when comic characters were lily white.  In that sense, we are therefore stepping back into the past, and reflecting those values.
  3. Let’s say I’m the director.  I’ve been told by the “Suits” that the Avengers must survive.   And that the end of Part I is a holocaust. What do I do?
  4. First, I remember that after seventy years of comic books, superhero serials, television shows and movies, there was finally a black character that resonated.  And no, I don’t have to wait for the box office: I wouldn’t need to hear audience responses to “Civil War.”  Why? BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE FELT IT MYSELF.  I would have watched those scenes, gone home and dreamt about them.  Cried at the tenderness of T’Challa and T’Chaka interacting as father and son.   Cheered when the Dora said: “Move.  Or be moved.”    I WOULD KNOW what Wakanda meant.  The notion of throwing it away would be nauseating to me, a complete betrayal of the trust and emotion engendered by finally, after centuries, presenting an image of black people uncrippled by the legacy of slavery.
  5. Let’s say that “The Suits” insisted that Wakanda be severely damaged, as a way to demonstrate that all Earth, all the universe was severely damaged.    That…is tragic, but acceptable.  In fact, there is a way to do it without the taint of “Sacrificial Negro”-ness that so often tars such decisions…when the decisions are made by white executives.    White people honestly think there is something noble about dying to protect them.
  6. So…what would I do?

 

  1. Heimdall doesn’t die protecting the white guy and providing Thor motivation for revenge.  A combination of two horrific tropes, beloved by white guys.   Really.   Let him die fighting for his own life if he has to die.
  2. Wakandans discussing letting Vision come.  It is clear that letting Vision come to Wakanda will be devastating, bringing death and destruction  to their people.    I can believe T’Challa making the decision: the fate of the universe is at stake.  But he will have to make his case to the leaders of the other tribes.
  3. Wakandan defensive apparatus post-“Battle of New York” was pitiful. Where was air support?  We SAW their air power, including projectile weapons.   They KNEW, based on the only evidence (the New York Battle) what was coming.  Did they in any way look as if they were ready for flying metal dragons?  What the @#$$?? They even had flying ships that delivered foot-troops to the energy barrier.  Why were there no energy cannons on those transports?  Where they acted with no unit strategy, only raw courage and hand weapons.    This was a betrayal of the entire concept of Wakanda.  You can have them prepared, but then be overwhelmed so it comes down to man-to-monster hand-to-claw combat.  That would have been thrilling.
  4. T’Challa lives.  I promise you that T’Challa means more to black audiences than Tony Stark or Captain America means to white audiences.   If you choose to protect those audiences by respecting their emotional investment, it is dehumanizing not to realize what you are doing to black kids when you kill the greatest superhero they’ve ever had…and just throw him away.  And not even showing his face when you do.
  5. Falcon lives.  He is another intact, healthy dynamic black male.   Rhodey, emasculated due to his injury, can be sacrificed instead.
  6. Pepper dies.  Want tragedy?  Give it to Stark.  Take Pepper AND Spidey from him.  Not a dry eye in the house.
  7. Male and female Wakandan troops dying in rough equivalence.  Watching male after male crumble to dust as the women watch is pure creator artifice, with nothing to do with statistics.  One has to ask what was on the filmmaker’s mind.
  8. For that matter, a long shot of the evacuation of Wakanda.   The PEOPLE. We saw New Yorkers, establishing the basic humanity of a world we are going to damage.   That’s what you do when you give a damn.
  9. T’Challa interacts with Shuri.  All the Avengers had connection with people they love.  Thor and Loki.  Stark and Pepper and Spidey.   Cap and Bucky.   Banner and Black Widow were admittedly given short shrift–(I would have given them a scene together.  Missing that emotional beat was a major problem.)    Starlord’s entire arc was about his love for Gamorra.   Hell, THANOS was powerfully connected to his heartspace.    Where was T’Challa’s emotional connection?  If not his sweetheart (I can understand N’Kia not being there) then give him a moment with his sister.  Let them remember their childhood.   Now he is human, not just a symbol to be manipulated, a piece on a game board.

 

 

No, I don’t care that they will resurrect T’Challa and Falcon in part II.  The filmmakers have reminded me that they made decisions based on race: the original exclusion of the Avengers, and the discounting of humanity increasingly criticized in the 21st Century.  I am not interested in watching black people exterminated so white people can live, or be ennobled by the urge for revenge.

THEY LOST MY TRUST.

If you identify fully with a character, you give them sexuality and agency and family.  Hopes and dreams.  They act with intelligence and courage, or you make their struggle with fear part of what humanizes them.  When I wrote “Lion’s Blood”, I SPECIFICALLY set out to give my white characters more humanity than I had ever seen white writers give to black characters.  I REFUSE to be turned into what I hate.  That is allowing my enemies to win.

 

Marvel had a bad track record after “The Mandarin” and “The Ancient One” .  They knew white audiences would accept any explanation given for the change, BECAUSE UNCONSCIOUSLY, THEY WANT THAT CHANGE.   “Ghost in the Shell,” Khan, Chuin, Mr. Moto, Kwai Chang Kane… innumerable other “whitewashed”   Asian characters.  Any excuse will do.

 

I got scared when in “Age of Ultron” there is a retreat to the generic “all African are the same” when there is a screen title: “Off the coast of Africa.”  This was the typical “we are many, you are one group” bullshit I see all the time, and first noticed in “The Great Mouse Detective” when there is a mouse U.N. meeting with England and Germany and Japan…and “Africa.”

 

Right.

 

It’s the Matrix, and those asleep within it will argue for their dream.  I’m done arguing with them. Sleep on.

 

When Disney hired Ryan Coogler to direct BP I breathed a sigh of relief.   Perfect.  THEY KNEW THEY COULDN’T DO IT WITH A WHITE DIRECTOR.  There might BE a white director who could pull it off, but there isn’t one I would have TRUSTED  with the project. That’s just being honest.   Disney understood their limitations.

 

And didn’t understand that lesson here.  There is nothing at all unusual about “Infinity War” in that sense.  It is the mixture as offered countless times before: “you aren’t as human or important as us, and we have a raft of reasons to justify it that will be accepted by white audiences. So just be satisfied we put you on the screen.”

I was indeed satisfied with this all my life. I swallowed that bile for sixty years. I will not ask my son to swallow it.    There is only one answer to this: diversity behind the camera.  When you have diversity in the board rooms and directing and writing, things change.  Which is precisely why the anti-SJW types attack the concept: it works.

 

Yes, black writers and producers will make their own movies. Always have.  But they have to get those movies past white investors, distributers, exhibiters.   That’s before they can even REACH a white audience, which is just as invested in seeing themselves as anyone else.     An entire apparatus. Disney alone has EIGHT of the top ten box office films.   I’m sure segregationists love the notion of us trying to compete with that.  Separate and VERY unequal.

 

That’s fine.   Not my approach.   Here’s the point of attack:   Corporations are primitive organisms that eat money and shit products and services.  They don’t care much about individual prejudices…or even hopes and dreams on an individual human level

 

But they respond to things that hurt their bottom line. And rather than “educating” the Suits, just force them to hire more diversity. I’m not interested in educating people whose attitudes are mostly integrated at an unconscious level.

 

Want better roles for women?   Force the corporations, (which are not sexist.  Hell, they aren’t even human) to hire more women.

 

Any other sub-group can follow the same strategy. THIS, IMO is why some object to boycotts…because they know they work. Just sit back and observe who complains the most: almost always people who might be protecting their current power.  Their right to watch people who look like them being the greatest, smartest, sexiest, most powerful.

 

Everybody wants to rule the world, as the song goes.

 

Want change?   Be the change. And force the change.  There is no real human evil here.  Just natural, unconscious human tribalism, the automatic default switch that has been stuck in place for all human history.     And most people are asleep to much of reality.  God knows I am.  Not on THIS issue.  But doubtless on countless others. No one can be “woke” to everything. Too much input.

 

But no, I won’t watch my son’s heart open with “Black Panther” and then watch it slam shut because of “Infinity War”.  I  hear “wait!  We’ll bring him back next year” when you gave your own children Iron Man and Cap and Banner and Thor and Black Widow to empathize with because you KNEW you had to, or it would hurt them. The creators knew damned well that if you kill Spider Man, you have to have somewhere for their hearts to go…or those hearts will break.  You will lose them.

 

No, I won’t let you hurt my son like that and grin at you and say: “its good.  We can wait.  You can throw us away.  I trust you, Boss.”

 

Nope.  Don’t like it?   Not my problem.   No one has the leverage, force, or intelligence to intimidate me.  No one.  Not about my family.  Never.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Why Jason didn’t want to see INFINITY WAR again

(Warning: Sambo Alert and SPOILERS)

Saw “Infinity War” again yesterday with Larry Niven, Nicki, and Michelle Pinkus. I had a ticket for Jason…but he didn’t want to go.  We dropped him off at the trampoline park with a friend while we watched it.

He didn’t want to see it again. And I understand why.  Many of you will not. I’ll try to explain, one last time.

##

Watching it again, I understood what had irritated me so much the first time: Black Panther is what Tananarive and I refer to as “a movie from the other world.” A world which treats everyone as essentially equal across racial lines, and I don’t sense the strain experienced by filmmakers trying to conceal aversion or differential value or essence. PLUS it was an exceptional film, one that subverted superhero tropes to go beyond them into myth.

These two things, together, made an extraordinary viewing experience.

Infinity War is only exceptional on the logistical level, in terms of the number of plates spinning, and the ten-year stretch of 18 films that support it. It is very much a Marvel double-sized summer annual, filled with characters who swing in from the wings, with pre-existing relationships that mimic human emotions. There’s Spider Man! Watch him trade quips with Tony Stark, his father figure! How do we know that relationship? Ummm…from Civil War and Homecoming…?

In other words, in terms of the film itself, most of the emotional beats are unearned. But in terms of the SERIES of films, we “get it.” So…that deals with the second complaint. The first one, the sense of differential worth lurking under the choices, remains. Yes, there are justifications for the choices made. I’m simply not interested in hearing them for the umpteenth time. I have no more faith to extend, having seen those choices made thousands of times in the past, all perfectly reasonable. People will try to justify the events in a film as if they are history, rather than the manipulations of human writers and directors. The puppets don’t plan their own dance.

And if you kill half the characters, including almost all the male Wakandans, leaving the women (and yeah, they pretty much did that) and also kill the non-Avengers (including 90% of the diverse characters) leaving all the Avengers from the first movie…who just happen to be white…you know what? On one level its fine. Been here before. And on another level, I’ll notice that’s what you did. And that the creators just happen to be part of that same racial group. And that some people (guess which ones?) want me to ignore that.

No, its not open hostility on the part of the filmmakers. No, it isn’t conscious decisions. It is just the way the marbles roll. Frankly, I’ve seen this my entire life, and heard every rationale you or anyone you know is likely to throw at me.

And I don’t care.  Let me explain another way: Imagine you are black, and on the Titanic when it goes down.  You are swimming in icy water. There are two lifeboats.  You swim up to it, and try to climb in.  The passengers sneer, scream racial epithets at you, and send you away with curses. Drown, boy!  We don’t give a shit…

You swim to the other life raft. Here, the captain and his passengers smile sympathetically.  “Sorry, old boy, but this raft is reserved for first class passengers. Who all just happen to be white.  No offense.  Nothing against you.  That’s just the way it is.”

So…you drown.  Do you feel better because the people in the second raft were polite?  Reasonable?  Explained that it wasn’t your skin color, it was…well, the cost of the ticket…which happened to be influence by job opportunities and history, all of which WERE influenced by race?  Does it matter?  Do you enjoy a brisk discussion of history as the life drains from your body?

Or do you #$%%in’ DIE, knowing that it makes no functional difference at all.

But the people in the second raft get to feel great about themselves.  Or righteous.  Angry that the company didn’t include more lifeboats, perhaps. Resolve to write letters, or at least light a candle in your memory, and never, ever forget your sacrifice.

Feh.   Frankly, I’d rather they were more like the folks in the first raft.    At least then they would be forced to grasp that they didn’t really care, didn’t really give a damn.   That they operate by the law of the jungle. The problem of course is that they don’t want YOU to operate by that law. “Tragedy of the Commons” and all that.  They’ll take the advantages…but weep as they do.

And to a degree, that’s fine.

I’m dead either way. Either way, my son, watching Infinity War, watches all the healthy, primary black heroes he could grow up to be…fucking DIE. Heimdall.  Black Panther.  Falcon.  Nick Fury.

Leaving only secondaries like M’Baku, or badly injured and cybernetic (and gee…his lower body isn’t working…) character like Rhodey.

And if he’d been white?  Why, he could identify with Stark, or Cap, or Thor, or Banner, or the Dwarf, or Rocket (Bradley Cooper) or Thanos! (Josh Brolin) or Secretary Ross, or even Stan Lee.

Jason, who doesn’t enjoy movies much at least in part because he’s already noticed how often the black male characters die, enjoyed Civil War and loved Black Panther enough to want to see it twice.   And heart open, he went to see Infinity War and watched that door slammed in his face again.

I took that crap all my life: exclusion, or death, or secondary status.  I’m used to it.  He is not, nor do I want him to be.

Are you going to be the one to say I shouldn’t care about his pain? Or that he shouldn’t hurt?  Or should identify with a loser, or a damaged man, or the strong women of Wakanda…or the white characters, when rather obviously, that is difficult for white people do do back in our direction?  Why do YOU think they started the trailer for Black Panther with two white guys talking? And did you notice how many people STILL claimed the movie was “All black”?

Jeez, people.  Wake up.

It HURTS to watch the character you identify with killed.  You search for someone else to identify with.  And when there are none who look like you, you identify across racial or gender lines, and soak up the implicit values of those who created that situation.

M’Baku and Rhodey just barely, BARELY made it tolerable.   With them still limping to the beat I can stuff my bile, and enjoy 300 million in special effects. Fun for the whole family!

Unless you are a 14 year old black boy, who wants to be a winner just like every other boy, and realize you were given no winners to identify with.   But it doesn’t matter, you see. Because it wasn’t deliberate. Because, well, that’s just the way it is.  Not that we don’t love you, young man. Its just that these seats were reserved in 1965, when the first Avengers comic was published, in a different time, and a different world.

Have a nice drown.  I mean…enjoy the trampoline park, kid. This movie isn’t for you.

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

The Battle of Wakanda (SPOILERS)

An INFINITY WAR critique, with SPOILERS

 

AGAIN: SPOILERS.  NO KIDDING.

 

##

 

##

 

##

 

Still here?  Then I continue.

 

The last sequence of the new Avengers movie takes place in Wakanda, where Steve Rogers asks T’Challa to help them remove an Infinity Stone from Vision’s forehead.

 

This leads to a tense scene with super-genius Shuri trying to get that stone free, and the Wakandan army, side-by-side with most of the Avengers,  standing against Thanos’ legions.  I saw that coming in the trailers, and it looked exciting.

 

The only problem is that it makes no sense.

 

As John Ringo pointed out on his page, the Wakandans are considered to be (one of) the most advanced societies on the planet, with technology beyond any other nation.

 

Umm…in this battle, what the hell are they doing running toward their opponents with spears?  Aren’t these spears said to be capable of taking out TANKS?   Where were their land-mounted versions of such things?  Fortifications?  How about air power?  Those wonderful cloaked airships?   I could easily see a battle between two advanced forces, and if you want hand-to-hand, well, you can choreograph that in and around the larger actions, and have all the thrills you want.

 

But…why did T’Challa allow Vision to come to Wakanda, knowing that this would bring Thanos’ legions to their doorstep?  Surely he might have made the decision to do this, but shouldn’t we have seen him making his argument to the council of tribes?  Further, where were the panicked Wakandan citizens fleeing for their lives with their children?  What would THEY think of their king and the choice he made?  Again, the case can be made that Vision would have been given sanctuary…but if you show normal life in New York before the chaos begins, giving us a sense of Paradise Lost…why not here too?

 

And isn’t there a little sense of “he’s doing it because Captain America asked”?   How exactly does that sound like a sovereign ruler concerned for his people?

 

I suggest to you that the director and screenwriters had two problems:

 

  1. They were unfamiliar with military tactics, even tactics from the Civil War (the 1865 version).
  2. They were not invested in Wakanda as a real place, with real people, with real hopes and dreams and blood and tears.

 

They weren’t.   Wakanda was a “cool” place to stage a massive battle.  Wow! Watch ’em die!  Isn’t this fun?

 

Wanda can refuse to remove the stone from Vision’s head, killing him. So he comes to Wakanda, bringing death. Then, after Shuri runs out of time to remove it, Wanda STILL refuses until the last second, so that Thanos was capable of reversing her action and re-constituting the stone.   And using the completed Gauntlet to take out half the universe.

 

All those dead Wakandans. Because Wanda.  All right, I can accept a tragic love story killing tons of folks, and I could stifle my irritation with so many of those folks being African, while all the white Avengers, who just happen to match the ethnicity of the writers and directors, survive.

 

Coincidence.

 

Except for the stupidity of the defensive action.   It ONLY makes sense in terms of “let’s have cool action on the way to the Avengers feeling depressed and beaten.”

 

All those dead Wakandans were MEANS rather than ENDS.  They had no “inwardness”, were chess pieces manipulated to achieve the effect of guiding the audience’s emotions toward a given effect.

 

And while it is not uncommon (well…probably ALL writers do this to one degree or another) I refused not to notice what they did: moved the battle to a place where the filmmakers could choreograph “cool” action without regard for the humanity of the participants.

 

This is PRECISELY what I was afraid would happen with BLACK PANTHER. PRECISELY why I was thrilled that they chose Ryan Coogler to direct it, and frankly PRECISELY what I was concerned about had they hired a white director: no real concern for the “inwardness” of the characters.  Tony Stark had Pepper and Peter Parker to care about.   Steve Rogers had Bucky to care about.  Bruce Banner had Natasha (they REALLY gave that short shrift, didn’t they? But then I didn’t believe Banner’s emotional arc, starting with making him a dim bulb in RAGNOROK. But that’s a different matter).   Hawkeye was off with his family.  Thor was mad with grief over Loki.  Wanda, of course, had Vision.

 

Did War Machine have anyone? Has he ever?   Did Falcon have anyone?  Has he ever?

 

T’Challa had no one to care about except his people, and he brought death to their doorstep without the slightest moment of visible hesitation, and then defended his nation like an idiot.  Yeah, I said it.

 

This is the reason that diversity BEHIND the camera matters.  Would that have fixed the problem?   Considering that Tony Stark was a fine strategic thinker (he knew he had to take the fight to Thanos, or have Earth devastated) we can assume that a black director would have given T’Challa the same respect, and asked “what would he do?”  And once you ask “what would a warrior do?” You might, just MIGHT do what you do if making a boxing movie: ask boxing coaches about the training, tactics and strategy involved. Or in this case, ask a military strategist how an advanced nation would defend itself against an attack like this.  It just isn’t that hard…if you care, and if you think “these people are brilliant. What would they do?”  instead of “what would look cool” when you don’t really, REALLY believe they exist.

 

This is why diversity matters behind the cameras. Why it is critical for people to write their own stories.  If they had gone directly from “Civil War” to “Infinity War” without the humanization of “Black Panther” I’d be incensed.   As it is…it is just business as usual.

 

If you agree, let me know. And if you agree…patronize and create the art that DOES embrace full humanity…and intelligence.

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Some thoughts on Cosby

A few years back, T and I had the chance to work with one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby.   We spoke with him on the phone, and he was brilliant and funny, with a crystal-clear memory and just as charming as he could be, filled with enthusiasm for a new NBC project he wanted us to work on.  After I got off the phone, I remembered rumors I’d heard, and asked myself if I’d want T going to a meeting with him alone.    Or Nicki.  And felt the reaction in my heart.

The answer was hell no.  I knew the truth, dammit.  I knew.  Money be damned.

###

 

A piece of the Cosby puzzle.    I do not KNOW what happened with him.  I know no one who was an intimate, with any access to his private thoughts.   But if I was writing a book about a character with a similar public image and similar tragic arc (and make no mistake: this is an American tragedy we’re watching), I would look at a number of publicly known facts as highly suggestive.  Matching my sense of why human beings do what they do.

Start with a basic notion: (most) violence stems from anger.  Anger is a mask over fear.  If we look at sexual assault as violence, can we tease a bit of this out?

One conclusion  is that he was/is a man consumed with anger.  Is there any justification for this in the public record?  I found some twenty years ago, in his  autobiography.  In it, he makes a throwaway comment that really stuck with me.  It was that a comedian will pace and control the intensity of the laugh response, so that the audience doesn’t exceed their comfort zone.

 

Well…they will ordinarily. But when he was angry about race relations in America, when he performed for white audiences (which was most of the time) he would DELIBERATELY sequence and perform his routines to take his audiences further and further out of control, laughing hysterically, UNTIL THEY HURT.  And then increase the intensity, until he had an entire room writhing in laughter, begging him to stop.

Deliberately.  He was, in other words, beating the hell out of the audience, while smiling at them.  Holy SHIT, I remember thinking.  Did anyone else read this?   Did he realize how much of himself he exposed saying this?

 

Anger.  Seething and raw, enough to want to hurt people who loved (or at least admired) him.  And what is anger…?

 

Fear.    What did he have to be fearful of?  Well, if you’ve been following my thoughts on race in America, that answer would be easy.

 

One ignorant, shallow, selfish response is to suppose that since HE was rich and famous, HE had nothing to be upset with. I have to marvel at this, and wonder if the person saying it is aware of how much of THEMSELVES they expose by saying THAT.  Are they really saying they don’t care about anyone but themselves? That once they “get theirs” they don’t give a shit?

 

Maybe.  I’m not stupid enough to forget they said that, though, and they can’t take it back once said.

 

##

 

We know he was a serious supporter of HBU, and an Afrophile.  A “race man” in reality even though he very rarely addressed it directly in his entertainment.    He looked out at the world, saw things or experienced things that enraged him, and hid it behind that avuncular personality.

 

So…what we know beyond any doubt is that he had powerful negative emotions and did not honestly express them publicly.    Drawing a line between that and not being able to express them privately, or even within his own heart, isn’t much of a leap.   We KNOW he was dishonest.  How deep did it go?

 

Were there power fantasies?  Disgust with the people who “loved” him?   Impostor syndrome?   Anyone who would hurt a roomful of innocent people has to have a power fantasy.  But if we start with the assumption of human equality and “Num” (the belief that there is “one soul looking out through many eyes”) then we see that that is just ego shit.  He KNOWS he is not above them.  If he cannot forgive them, cannot see the errors and pains of the world from an elevated position, he likely cannot forgive himself either.

 

And that leads to despising the world.

 

I am a corrupt thing.  They cannot see it because they are corrupt things. The world is an ugly, corrupt place, a jungle place, where the only REAL rule is to take and get everything you can. But you must pretend to be good, to be loving, to be kind…or the illusion dissolves and we have nothing but the rule of fang and claw.

 

From this point, can you respect other human beings?   Hardly.

Can you respect yourself?  Hardly

Can you possibly respect the feminine energy of the world?  Hardly.

Men would be allies to be rallied or directed to conquer your foes.  Or if foes, to be crushed.  Women would be entertainments, or conquests, or talley marks, or momentary stress reliefs.

 

Or…if they were presented as unattainable, as ideals beyond your reach, they are symbols of your power.  Did he grow up in a world in which this was projected? Hell, I did, and I’m ten years younger. My mother was SURE I was only attracted to white women because of some forbidden racial fascination.    And that I would be destroyed because of it.

 

So…could that influence the situation?  Sure, it could.   I DON’T KNOW IF IT DID.  But if I was writing a novel about someone who ended where Cosby is ending…that would be one of the threads I’d wind together:

 

  1. A man with enormous fear along racial lines.
  2. That fear transforming into anger.
  3. That anger hidden behind a smiling mask. So many of us do this, without it ever becoming openly toxic.
  4. That mask gathering enough raw power, fame, and money to create opportunities to vent and slake the corrupt hungers.

 

I would use this notion as one of the threads. Others would have to do with general human toxicity expressed as male energy (and if you don’t grasp that there are both Yin and Yang, Female and Male aspects of this, you are pretty typical…but missing half the game).  With power drunkenness. And with some soul sickness that might have begun in the womb or before.  Who knows?

 

But THIS piece of the puzzle looks pretty sound, and pretty ugly.

 

So…what is the answer?  How does the “formula” work here?

What are the principles?

  1. Love yourself.   Can you see how a deep and abiding love of his own essence short-circuits the entire negative process? Part of the damage of racism is doubting yourself.  Internalizing the “you are ugly and stupid” messages.  It is grotesque, rarely discussed…and true.  Unaddressed, you are walking around with a time-bomb in your heart.
  2. Love one other person.   If he really deeply loved himself and Camille, does it take much to suggest that a compulsive need to screw other women, even WITH their total permission, would be less likely?  You think?   That when that connection is deep, his masculine/feminine energies would be balanced, and the notion of abusing that connection would be like slicing off your own eyelids?
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame.  And if you can love yourself and others, and see how human beings do terrible things to each other mostly from fear and ignorance, isn’t that cured with love and truth?   If he can forgive others, he can forgive himself.  He is no longer a corrupt thing leering behind the mask. Can just…let the pain go and embrace humanity.
  4. Find his tribe. Who should his tribe have been?  ALL HUMANITY. We all responded to his deep, wise, broad grasp of human emotion and experience.  Look at the gap between what he knew about us and what he FELT about us.    That gap was too broad to be bridged with logic. It was a seething ocean of pain and fear, self-loathing and anger, and all the applause and laughter and money in the world couldn’t heal it.  If they knew what I really am…He didn’t need to keep fighting. He had won. What he needed to do was embrace the victory.  Do good to the world.  Trust time to heal the wounds it creates.  Sigh.
  5. Win with integrity. Well. We don’t need to dive too deeply here, do we?

And the simplest answer? Love himself.  Tell the truth.  Just those two things would have taken him into himself, and anchored him to the world, forced him to integrate his inner and outer worlds.

Could ANY of this have happened with just those two elements?

Just those two things.

When I say that artists need to dig into their truth, express their true feelings, it isn’t because it is fun, and comfortable. Or even because it is one of the most healing things you can do, although it is.  It is because THAT is the gift you have to give the world, your deepest, most healing treasure.   This is risky: you may be rejected. Those who do not believe as you  will NOT want you rubbing their noses in your perspectives, and pretend that they have not rubbed yours in theirs.

 

They are asleep, mostly. Mostly.

 

Tell your stories.  Speak your truth, with love and wisdom.   The tribe you find may not be as large as the one you can create with lies and artifice…but they are real, and they see you.

 

They SEE you.  And love the person you really are, not just the image.  Imagine the nightmare of having the whole world love you…and believing that if they really knew how ugly I am

 

That must be a horror beyond ordinary thought.  A true personal hell.   And the demonic things human beings are capable of doing from that place are hard to even wrap our minds around.

 

But every one of us has the seeds of that nightmare in our souls.   Don’t water them with fear.  Don’t fertilize them with rage.

 

While I don’t, and might never really know what happened here…I’m willing to bet that this describes a part of this. How much? I don’t know. But enough that I know how critical it is to speak my truth, and come from love, and love myself.

And for you to do the same

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.sunkenplaceclass.com

INFINITY WAR (2018) review

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WARNING: SPOILERS

 

Infinity war is loud, colorful, logistically amazing and tons of fun. It is also not a film in any ordinary sense of the word. ALL of its emotional texture is borrowed from other movies, and I can’t imagine what this would feel like to someone who hasn’t seen them. All of them, really.

 

The only character who is treated like an actual being is the villain Thanos, whose dream of “restoring balance to the universe” is actually somewhat affecting, especially once we realize that he actually has feelings, isn’t just a CGI special effect. That there is an actual performance in there, thanks to Josh Brolin.

 

For those unaware of the story, it deals with Thano’s search for the six “Infinity Stones” that will give unlimited power to their holder.  He wants to wipe out half of the universe. Basically, every MCU hero teams up to stop him.

 

The problem is that the story is simply too unweildy, there are too many characters to expect any human being to juggle them all gracefully. Here, you have the Russo brothers doing it together, and I think they do about as well as anybody could expect them to. Better.  There really is a lot of fun to be had here. But at the expense of human moments, and some jarring character choices.

 

(Just for instance: in what world is the Hulk a coward?  I’ve watched that character for half a century, and that just isn’t part of the equation. Banner being basically useless is almost as jarring. When in THOR: RAGNOROK they had Thor spouting astrophysics while Banner sort of mumbled along, I thought it was a director’s joke: the big blonde guy had never seemed much one for book larnin’ and it was a good laugh. But not giving Banner a single decent thought seems…thoughtless)

 

There are emotional connections that really do work: between Wanda and Vision, and among the Guardians of the Galaxy (although the bit with Groot anchored to his video game seemed a little wearing after a bit).

 

The problem is that we only care about the action if we care about the people, and we only care about the people here because of what we’ve seen in other movies.  So Thor has Loki, Tony has Pepper, Cap has Bucky, Spidey has Tony (again), and so forth. But searching for that emotional texture means that when it doesn’t show up we FEEL it.   No real Natasha-Bruce reunion?   Really?  Seems…like an odd choice.

 

Without those connections, its just kinetics and effects. GREAT ones, often, but you don’t want to mistake that for real quality. This is really the first Marvel film where I could see the seams showing pretty clearly.   Joss Whedon was overwhelmed by ULTRON, but while it was a modest little boutique movie compared to INFINITY WAR, it also had more genuine entertainment overall.

 

I liked INFINITY WAR.  It was a pretty decent translation of the comic to the screen. It is just that movies demand an opportunity for their actors to act, not just posture and throw punches.

 

I have to give it a “B-” in more ways than I really wanted to.   And if you weren’t a Marvel geek?   Man, I can’t see any reason you should go at all.

 

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WARNING.  SAMBO ALERT.  AND SERIOUS SPOILERS

 

I loathed the “Infinity War” comics, because for all practical purposes they killed off ALL the black characters in the very beginning, the kind of choice that is only made when ALL the decision makers are white.  And one problem with the movie lies right in the same uncanny valley.

 

Heimdall dies saving Bruce Banner.  Thor vows revenge.  Ah, the Sacrificial Negro inspiring the mighty hero.  Screw them.

 

Neither Rhodey or Falcon have EVER been shown to have any human connections with anyone beyond their male white benefactors.  No wife, girlfriend, mother, father, friends…nothing.  Nothing at all.  They are satellites only.

 

In BLACK PANTHER, Wakanda was a vibrant land filled with diverse, brilliant peoples with their own history and traditions, fashions and life-ways, ruled by a king with deep spiritual roots and the soul of a warrior.

In INFINITY WAR, Wakanda is a place to stage some nifty action sequences, with little or no sense of the inwardness of any of the people involved, let alone the deep and searching decisions that would have to be made before bringing an interstellar war to their doorstep.  Black Panther makes one interesting decision, Shuri is useless, and Okoye delivers a funny line.    This is precisely what I’d been afraid about with BP, and why I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ryan Coogler was announced: I knew that as a black filmmaker he would have no problem addressing the “inwardness” of the characters.  This is why it is critical to have more diversity BEHIND the cameras, because otherwise you end up arguing with people about “how much humanity is enough?”

 

So the message for white readers: if you create black characters, invest them with the same humanity you give your white characters, or leave us out of your damned stories. We don’t exist to uplift you and your children.

For black readers:   Don’t settle for being second-bananas in someone else’s fantasies of power and glory.  Just…don’t.  Create your own.  And if you aren’t creators, support the films that understand that you aren’t a sock puppet to die nobly protecting white people. You just…aren’t.

 

Get mad, but don’t “get even.” Win by showing how its done right.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com