Jul 8, 2015

Star-Spangled Bannings

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Last week, retro cable network TV Land announced  it will no longer broadcast reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. If you're a child of the 70s and 80s like myself, there's a good chance you grew up watching the program, along with a bunch of other crap like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island and Trapper John, M.D. (Dr. Gonzo...le sigh).


From the time I could read (thanks, Sesame Street!) I pored through the TV guide in the newspaper every Sunday, meticulously mapping out my week of viewing. At one point, my obsession with Brady Bunch reruns became enough of a time-suck that for a while my parents instituted a 30 minute daily limit.

Fortunately for me, they never managed to enforce that limit. The only TV rule that actually held up over time was my father’s list of shows I was unequivocally forbidden to watch. There were three that I can remember: Three’s Company, Dallas, and The Dukes of Hazzard.

I remember lusting over this TV
Guide cover in line with my mom
at the A&P.

The Three’s Company ban was of course due to the consistently sexual nature of the show. Even as a young kid I could get that.

It wasn't until several years after they revealed who shot J.R. (something I had to learn from my classmates the day after the episode aired, the memory of which fills me with bile-inducing resentment to this day), that I came to understand Dallas was an amalgamation of almost everything my dad found wrong with the 80s--greed, U.S. dependence on oil, women with eating disorders, wine coolers, blow, and things in general that smacked of the word “Reaganomics”--hence it's verboten status in his home. 



But the Dukes? What was there not to like? They were cute, friendly, seemingly well-intentioned good ol’ boys? The song even said so!




Just'a good ol' boys                
Never meanin' no harm.
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

In 1979, Tiger Beat listed stats on  
John Snyder (AKA Bo Duke).
Because an informed stalker
knows her victim's inseam.

Staightnin' the curves
Flatnin the hills
Someday the mountain might get 'em
But the law never will


Makin' their way
The only way they know how        
That's just a little bit more
Than the law will allow.


Makin' their way
The only way they know how
That's just a little bit more

Than the law will allow.

I'm a good ol' boy

You know my momma loves me  

But she don't understand

They keep a showin my hands and not my face on TV

                   

OH YEAH

Sometimes, if my father was feeling especially generous and lenient, he would let me watch the opening credits to the show, probably because that Waylon Jennings tune was so damn catchy and my dad loves a good guitar riff. This meant 30 seconds of joy and enticement until that final OH YEAH, at which point my dad would flip off the TV with an overtly animated, sadistically vengeful click.

The grown woman in me now looks back on that moment as the childhood equivalent to coitus-interruptus.



Of course, today I realize there was so much not to like about that show, not the least of which was that Confederate flag emblazoned upon the hood of the signature 1969 Dodge Charger, AKA The General Lee. I know now had father let me watch the program, the ideologue in him would have likely felt compelled explain to me what it meant. He would have probably wanted me to understand  who Robert E. Lee was in history (i.e., a racist, slavery-loving cunt), and what that big X the roof of that car really symbolized (i.e., everything the racist, slavery-loving cunt stood for). And I don't think he would have had a problem doing that, even though I know at that age I was too young to understand the depth of the issue.
 
The General Lee. Current owner Bubba Watson said last week he will
be painting over its trademark Confederate flag.  Photo via Yahoo.


I think the more difficult issue for my father would have been trying to explain why these "Good Ol' Boys" were nationally revered as television heroes, if their own hero (General Robert E. Lee) was such a cunt.


I believe it was Socrates who first asked the question, Can a man be a hero if the hero of that man is a cunt?

That's really the conversation we need to be having.

Why do people want to fly the flag so badly? Why do people take criticism of the flag so personally, particularly when slavery is mentioned in that criticism? When Neil Young wrote Southern Man as a condemnation of slavery, why did Lynyrd Skynyrd feel compelled to give a rebuttal to that condemnation with Sweet Home Alabama? By the way, d
id you know that Governor George Wallace, the notorious segregationist, made  Lynyrd Skynyrd's members honorary colonels in the Alabama Militia after hearing the song's line "In Birmingham they love the governor", which referred to him? George Wallace! That cunt!

But back to my own childhood experience with banning.


My resentment over our household Dukes of Hazzard ban bubbled inside of me week after redneck cousin-fucking week that I had to hear about each episode's awesomeness from my friends at school. I didn't even know why I wanted to watch it so badly, but I did. My preteen, Esprit-wearing soul yearned for Bo and Luke and Daisy Duke, and even a little bit for Boss Hogg and Enos (even though I couldn't say his name without thinking "Penos" and giggling uncontrollably).

One day, while shopping at the infamous New England overstock emporium Spag's, I spotted a small, pull-back car replica of the General Lee hanging on the rack, as my mother and I breezed past the toy aisle. It was a Wrist Racer, a trendy new toy that was pretty much just a car attached to
The Spag-tacular discount emporium that was Spag's. R.I.P.
Photo credit: Greener Pasture.
a watchband.



I snatched the car off the rack and held it up to my mother, who was on a quest for something random (Spag's sold random shit)like  galoshes
or rugs or sleeping bags and didn't want to be distracted.

"Can I get it?" I asked.

I pointed to the Spag's bargain price tag. She glanced at the tiny car in my hand and went back to her shopping list. I'm sure she didn't even notice the cuntfederate flag on the roof, let alone process that it was Dukes merchandise.

"Fine," she replied. "Now let's move quickly, it's getting late. I don't want to sit in traffic on Route 9."

And just like that, a little bit of Hazzard County was mine.



It wasn't till I took U.S. history in high school that I began to understand why that X on the roof of that car maybe wasn't so cool, and in fact, that maybe actually HEY THAT SHIT WAS HELLA FUCKED UP.


Lynyrd Skynyrd began phasing out their use of the Dixie flag in 2012, but when
comes to history and hate, some things leave an more indelible mark.
Photo credit: Lord of the Barflies.
Around the same time in high school, my boyfriend and I were riding in a friend's car listening to a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette, when he turned to me with a look of deep concern.

"You know they're racists, right?"

"Who?"

"Lynyrd Skynyrd. Great band, but totally racist Southern guys. They fly the Confederate flag at their shows."

I wrestled with that.

Really? So every time we engaged in heavy petting to the emo twang of Free Bird, I had been perpetuating oppression and hate? Was holding up a lighter at a Skynyrd show actually a precursor to a cross-burning? I was filled with shame, along with the overwhelming anxiety that, despite my disgust over this newfound information, I still might not be able to control my "Ooh-oohs" were I to accidentally hear That Smell sometime in the future.

Skynyrd might be a bunch of inbred racists, but me? I was a cunt.  But in 2012, I was relieved to find my cunt status somewhat mitigated by Lynyrd Skynyrd's decision to stop flying the Confederate flag. The band told CNN:


"The KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soliders."


Um, hello? What was the "tradition and heritage" those soldiers were fighting for? Last I checked it was slavery, something that came way before the KKK and skinheads, but which arguably paved the way for both groups. Not that it matters in this case, because Lynyrd Skynyrd eventually went back on their word not to use the flag. That same year, the band told this to Radio's Brian Ives:

"Johnny still puts the Dixie flag around his microphone for Sweet Home Alabama, and we put a whole flag over the piano. We don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But we're still so proud to be Southern and to fly the Dixie flag."


Cunt Status: REINSTATED.


Here's the thing. I was delighted to hear the news this week that the South Carolina Senate approved a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse.The Confederate flag has no place in this country except in textbooks and historical museums. But I also know that in this country we have an overwhelming capacity for denial when it comes to things concerning race and our checkered past in that regard. Just as many believe we became a post-racial society once the nation elected a Black man president [insert LOL here], I fear that same contingent will view any legislation banning the Dixie flag as another proverbial nail in the coffin when it comes to talking about our history of racial divide, particularly in the Southern U.S.

And that, I'm afraid, will lead to apathy


 
 


Apathy--the silent killer. We see it already in the disproportionate coverage of this flag issue compared to the little-to-no coverage of the eight or more burnings of Southern, predominantly Black churches since the Charleston shooting (at least three of these fires have been directly linked to arson, yet authorities refuse to acknowledge them as possible hate crimes). We see it in the media's ambivalence to refer to the Charleston massacre as a hate crime, or to gunman Dylann Roof as a terrorist.  We hear it in a similar dispassionate response from legislators--in what John Stewart so eloquently termed "the nuanced language of lack of effort".

But the flag! They are moving to take it down. There's the progress! There is the effort!

Really? Or is it more of a gesture, another media-driven distraction (like  the distraction "transracial" Rachel Dolezal was until the Charleston story broke)? Is this true progress, or are we patting ourselves on the back for removing a symbol, while ignoring the manifestation of the very thing it symbolizes?



There’s also the sad economic reality that, by banning this flag on a retail level, we’re actually increasing its valueThe New York Times recently reported that, as retailers pull the flag from their shelves, hordes of inbred consumers have been running out to buy Confederate paraphernalia wherever they can find it. For instance, this used Dukes of Hazzard Confederate flag thermos (in visibly poor condition) is currently going for $99 on EBay.


For the sake of comparison, note that this completely awesome Garfield thermos circa the same year (1978), is listed on EBay for just $7.




That's just fucking wrong.

Also wrong is that now Ben Jones (who played the mentally deficient Cooter [insert more immature giggling here] on The Dukes of Hazzard) is rolling in the dough. Why? Because he announced publicly that he will not be removing any Dixie flags from the merchandise he sells on his once-dormant, now-booming website, Cooter's Place--even despite Warner Brother's recent decision to stop selling toy General Lees with Confederate flags. Here is the message currently displayed on the Cooter's Place web page:

"1st of all, Thank All of you for your orders. Please forgive us for the delay, but we have been overwhelmed with online orders and have hired extra staff in order to meet the demand. Everyone 
Congressman Cooter. This is why we can't
have nice things. Photo via Facebook.
placing orders can expect a 10 to 14 day delay on their orders. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but assure you that your order has been received and is being processed."



Yep. It's Christmas in July in Hazzard County.

Oh, and if you think all this is generally irrelevant to the political scope of our country, remember that Ben Jones, AKA Cooter from Hazzard County, was previously elected by the 4th District of Georgia to the United States Congress, where he served two terms. He continues to be a repeat guest and political analyst on the Fox News Channel and other media outlets.

#Murrikah

In the end, we can burn every Confederate flag on earth, but that won't change the sentiments of the people who continue to cherish it and the shameful history it represents. In fact, banning will likely incite and embolden them--it already has.

We can ban television shows. We can ban flags. But we cannot ban the threads of ignorance and hatred that weave together the tapestry of our country's history. That tapestry does not unravel just because we no longer fly it on a flagpole.

We are not done talking about race in this country. Regardless of this ugly flag's fate, we need to continue to talk about why the flag was and is so heinous, about what it represents and how its legacy continues to impact our society in profound ways. That starts with our children. We must teach them history--not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well.

Remember when my dad (who, I should add, was a wonderful, loving, compassionate father--HI DAD!) banned The Dukes of Hazzard when I was in elementary school? Well I didn't truly appreciate his reasoning until I was in high school. To his credit, my dad saved me millions of innocent brain cells with the ban, but his actions didn't enlighten me--they only pissed me off and engorged my already-throbbing
Dukes of Hazzard boner.

Not that I'm comparing prohibiting a 7 year old from watching an insipid television program to taking the Dixie flag away from a bunch of ignorant troglodytes...



Or am I?



Anyway, the real victory will be not when we succeed in banning the Confederate flag, but rather when it does not need to be banned--because nobody wants to fly it anymore.

Until then, flag or no flag, we remain a Cuntfederacy of Dunces.




Were they secretly gay? We may never know now. Also, Wopat? Schneider?
Rumor has it that the real reason Boss Hogg hated them is because
they were
secretly

JEWS.


 

May 28, 2014

Celebrity Reflux

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This instant gratification thing has gotten out of hand.



It started with the remote control. I’m old enough to remember watching television on my parents’ old cabinet-style Channel Master. When I wanted to change the channel, I had to pick my ass up, walk over to that mofo, and turn the knob. To make matters worse, some of the stations didn’t come in unless you carefully situated the knob halfway between one channel and another--a challenging trick for young fingers, and one complicated even more by the other critical task of adjusting the rabbit ear antenna (so that the picture didn’t “jump” up and down once the channel was tuned).
Photo via http://www.curtis-mathes.com/.
Looking back, I probably developed the majority of my small motor skills attempting to access The Brady Bunch on UHF. Of course, back then we only had about 4 channels to begin with, so the good part was, once you got a channel properly tuned, you tended to leave it there.



And then there’s music. When I wanted to hear Disco Duck, I had to sit by the radio for hours until the DJ played it. If I was really being high-tech, I would have a cassette tape cued up and would press play as soon as I heard the song come on. Of course, the result would be a song that was inevitably missing its first measure or two of music, and its last five or six tainted with obnoxious DJ voice-over.  Of course I could also go down to my local Strawberries or Tower Records and buy the 45 record, but only if I did it within the first few weeks that the single became a hit, because those were only available on a limited basis; after that, you had to  purchase the entire album. And let’s face it, even the biggest Disco Duck fan doesn’t want an entire Rick Dees LP.



So while I love the fact that now I can access over a hundred television stations without leaving the comfort of my sofa, while I am grateful to Youtube every time I crave a particular song and can hear it without sifting through cds, records, or tapes, there are still some things that we don’t deserve to have on demand simply because technology may make it possible. There are some things we just don’t need to have at our fingertips.


Like dead people, for instance.




Last week I went into my living room to find Michael Jackson singing and dancing on my television during the Billboard Music Awards. Of course I realized almost immediately that this was another effort by techies to recreate a legend with a hologram. Even so, for a brief moment, I was tossed back to junior high school, sitting around that Channel Master with my parents, all of us in awe of this man who could do amazing things with his body and voice. While my parents and I had different taste in music, we all greatly anticipated his appearances on award shows, the display of unique talent that left me speechless (until the next day when it was all we talked about in school). Even though he wasn’t my favorite performer, I still played the hell out of my Thriller album, cried when he caught on fire that time filming the Pepsi ad, and generally appreciated him for being the inimitable icon he was.

Inimitable. Generally that’s what makes a legend most. That it can’t be fucking imitated. And if it is imitated, no matter how accurately, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And that’s what I experience when I see these holograms of dead artistic geniuses, after the fleeting moment of nostalgia passes. Just as I was sickened when I saw the footage of Tupac Shakur's hologram inserted interactively into a live concert, I stood in my living room the other night feeling nauseated and repelled by how technological genius can rob artistic genius of its magic, all in an ironic attempt to create something magical.

It’s kind of like gastric reflux. Those escargots might have tasted really good when you shared them with your hot brogrammer boyfriend at that hip new restaurant in Downtown Oakland. But two hours later while you’re in the midst of pre-coital ceremonies back at your swanky loft, a belch wielding the same taste of snails in garlic butter just doesn’t have the same allure. In fact, that belch can make you never want to eat escargots again.

Indeed, it will be a while before I can listen to Michael again without having that objectionable hologram aftertaste in my mouth. Until then, I’m hitting OFF on my remote.

Feb 7, 2014

Imitation of (Thug) Life

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When I learned Wednesday that George Zimmerman will be fighting rapper DMX in a celebrity boxing match, my first thought was, WTF. George Zimmerman is a celebrity?

My second thought, of course, was,  I hope DMX beats the shit out of that motherfucker.

After taking a moment to envision Zimmerman’s teeth flying across the ring like a handful of Skittles between X’s manic outbursts of "WUT!", I chided myself for thinking ugly, hateful thoughts. None of this would bring Trayvon back, and shame on me for even taking an interest in such a shameful display of greed and disrespect.

My third thought was, OMG. This is what they want us to see, because this is what they see.



They, of course, being the folks that think Martin had it coming. They, being the folks who believed the Zimmerman defense team’s assertion that this 17 year-old boy was a thug.  



Let me first say that I have long been a fan of Dark Man X.  As an artist, he has poured his troubled life into his work and the result is music that, regardless of what one thinks of its subject matter, reflects a brutal and often tragic authenticity that few artists are able to achieve. And the beats. Oh, the beats.

That being said, DMX is a thug.  



I hesitate to use this term because of how it has been co-opted by racists as code for the n-word. Although many rappers themselves have branded themselves with the
Tupac Shakur. Image via Soul Train.
term (Tupac Shakur did so literally, with his iconic THUG LIFE tattoo), we also hear it in reference to young Black men who possess no true thuggish qualities (as was the case with Richard Sherman, the NFL star and philanthropist whose Stanford education and lack of criminal record could not seem to mitigate a few testosterone-fueled words on a football field a few weeks ago).



And of course, who can forget the way Trayvon Martin was portrayed as a thug by the media, despite the fact that he had no criminal record and was still legally a child?  

Start typing “trayvon martin” into your browser and you’ll find that Google shows “trayvon martin thug" within the two subsequent autocompletes (second only to "trayvon martin costume"--equally disturbing, for different reasons).







In light of this reality, how will this match manifest itself in the eyes of the American people?


What if DMX wins? Is it vindication? And if so, for whom?

Or is this merely a perverted reenactment of something awful, a caricaturization of what happened that fateful night in Florida? Is it a charade that illuminates the most extreme stereotypes and prejudices that ignited a media frenzy in the first place?


Beyond the overtly distasteful premise in which Zimmerman and others seek to capitalize on the death of a boy, is the larger issue of what this boxing match really signifies to people.


Even those of us hip-hop-loving nerds (who have been known, in the privacy of our own vehicles, to rant about losing our proverbial minds up in the proverbial here) must recognize the reality of who DMX is.

Indeed, DMX is a tremendous talent, but he is also a tormented soul who has long battled addiction and mental illness. He is a convicted
felon with a lengthy rap sheet who has pled guilty to charges of both assault and animal cruelty. He is a crack addict.


And upon recognizing the significance of DMX's checkered past, we must reflect upon all those things of which Trayvon Martin--a kid with no criminal record-- was posthumously accused of being: a ruffian, a criminal, a drug abuser

Trayvon Martin was, and continues to be, packaged and sold to the general public as a thug (again, see: Google).


For every one of us who believes George Zimmerman got away with murder, there is another person who looks at a candy-wielding 17 year-old Black boy in a hoodie and sees this:


The many mugshots of DMX. 
 
So what if Zimmerman gets what so many of us think he has coming to him? What if the real drug addicted criminal succeeds in finishing the job Zimmerman's lawyers claimed Trayvon the "thug" set out to do?

Who really wins this fight?






 


 
 
 
 

Oct 3, 2013

Git Money: The Dookie Chain Reaction

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Image from Poo B Gone.


This week has bummed me out a little.  Between that horrible thing that happened on the Henry Hudson Parkway and the current government shutdown, I've been having nightmares about the world ending.  In addition, I'm finding myself distracted by the obscenity of the fact that my friend, one of the hardest-working, most patriotic folks you'd want to know, has been furloughed indefinitely from his military job while lawmakers in Washington continue to collect their paychecks.

Photo via Get Rambled.
All this has got me to thinking about who will be the real sacrificial lamb in this whole thing.  For some reason it seems like it shouldn't be the nice guy who signed up to risk his life for his country ten years ago.  Then again, tell that to the homeless vet who panhandles at your local freeway off-ramp.

For example, I'm wondering, whose job it is to sift through a Ziploc bag filled with feces-encrusted currency remnants down at the ol' U.S. Treasury?  Who is the dude (or lady) whom taxpayers paid to examine the $500 in bills that passed through the digestive tract of Wayne Klinkel's dog, Sundance earlier this year? Is that guy still getting his check? 

Probably, for as our friend Jr. Deputy Accountant reminds us, the federal government may have shut down, but not the Federal Reserve. 

Not familiar with Sundance, the golden retriever who shit a dookie chain of gold? Read on.
Daily Mail:

The Klinkels were on their way to Denver, Colorado, to spend the holidays with their daughter Amy Church and her husband Coty.
On the way, the couple stopped for dinner and left the 12-year-old retriever alone in the car - along with $501 in cash.
When they returned to the vehicle, the $1 bill was sitting intact on the driver's seat and half of one of the five $100 bills was laying next to it. The other four $100 bills were nowhere to be seen.

'Sundance is notorious for eating anything and everything, so right away I knew what happened,' Klinkel told the newspaper.
The man followed the pet around armed with rubber gloves for the rest of the vacation. Knowing that paper doesn't digest, he managed to pick portions of the gobbled notes out of the dog's poop.

Klinkel placed the dookie bills in a Ziploc back and sent them to the U.S. Treasury, with a request for replacement bills. Independent Record:


Git money. Sundance Klinkel displays his
 government check.  Photo by Eliza Wiley,
Associated Press.
A Federal Reserve spokesperson said that it could take up to two years and nothing was guaranteed; but if more than 51 percent of the bills were there, the Klinkels could get at least some of his $500 back.
Late Monday afternoon, when he picked up his mail, Wayne noticed an envelope from the government. Inside was a green and gold check for $500.
“I opened it and thought ‘holy s—t,’” Wayne said on Tuesday. “I gave Sundance a pat, showed it to him and told him not to eat it.”

So, just to recap:

--Guy is irresponsible with money. 
--Guy ends up with big a pile of shit and no money. 
--Guy hands shit to government, who gladly accepts it.

--Government pays someone to examine shit. 
--In return for shit, government prints up some fresh money and sends it back to guy.


I'm not saying it's a metaphor for anything, but it does have me wondering if we need to trade in the bald eagle for a new mascot

Perhaps a golden retriever?

Sep 26, 2013

Kind of Blue

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I have not written much lately.

And that bothers me, but not much as writing when I’m not inspired bothers me. And lately, there’s been so much that should inspire me, it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve let my site sit dormant for so long.  


The trial of George Zimmerman left me each day with a feeling of needing to write, but too despondent to summon the motivation.


Syria?  Meh. 

And Miley Cyrus?  Hey, I like Miley!  Although, in my personal opinion, what really
Chicken?
needed to be talked about was how in the hell Robin Thicke is allowed to copy a dead man's song, then sue that dead man’s family, then shove his fat butt into a zebra suit on MTV, but all anyone can see is a nymphet
dressed as a raw chicken. 
A raw chicken who, as far as I can see, is smarter
and more career-savvy than
Robin Thicke.

But, hey, hey, hey--I digress.


 
And then there was the story of  little Tiana Parker, the girl who was sent home from school for wearing her hair in locs (or “dreadlocks”, as they are commonly known), because natural hair styles such as afros and locs were against the school's dress code.


Tiana Parker, wearing the verboten style.
Photo via AP.
As someone who has spent a great deal of time working both with children and with hair, I was disturbed that a place of learning would outlaw locks and afros, two legitimate natural hairstyles that require essentially no unhealthy chemicals or damaging irons, effectively encouraging parents to keep relaxers in their girls’ hair.  

How is a person’s natural hair not allowed at school?


Anyway, that got me to thinking about my own childhood, and the things about my own body I felt needed to be changed.  I thought about the scores of Jewish girls to whom a nose job was (and still is) just another rite of passage like a bat mitzvah, and something I used to find myself considering more
Photo via Art of Manliness.
frequently than I'd like to admit. And, even though I resisted the urge to lop the bump off my Semitic proboscis, I have friends and family who were lined up at the nearest plastic surgeon by the age of 16.  It was hard enough telling myself I was pretty in a school full of blond hair and button noses; I can only imagine how I would have felt had my school instituted a policy in which my face, in its natural state, was deemed a violation of dress code policy.  
 
Sounds like a stretch, comparing a relaxer to a nose job?  You're laughing at the idea of mandatory rhinoplasties?  Okay, maybe,  but given what we know about sodium hydroxide (the active ingredient in most relaxers), I think it's only fair to note that both procedures are just two of the many ways which American women and girls assume substantial risks and discomfort to mold their bodies to a different "standard" of beauty.

HAIR RELAXER, MEET CHICKEN:


With all this talk of identity and appearance in young girls, I was reminded of a lecture one of my most beloved teachers, Dr. Abdul JanMohamed, gave in regard to Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye.  He related the protagonist--a young black girl named Pecola who wants to have blue eyes--to his own daughter, a dark-haired, dark-skinned girl of East Indian descent, who came home from school one afternoon, with a self-portrait she had drawn in art class.  The picture was of a girl with blond hair and blue eyes.  
 


When he asked her why she drew the picture in a way that did not accurately represent her looks, she replied that her drawing was a representation of what she wants to look like.  Blue eyes and blond hair, she told her father, are beautiful.


JanMohamed was stunned. How could it be that his daughter, whom he was raising in arguably one of the most liberal, ethnically diverse places in the world (Berkeley), might harbor feelings of inadequacy and ugliness because her looks did not conform to a “Western standard of beauty”?  Had he, a man whose job it was to lecture on identity and ethnic stereotypes, failed as a father? Or were societal messages about what is and is not pretty just too powerful for even its most "enlightened" members to combat?


Toni Morrison
This then brought him to tell another story, one about the negotiations made by Toni Morrison when, well over a decade after its publication, she agreed to sell The Bluest Eye movie rights to Oprah Winfrey.  As this story goes, the two women were meeting with their respective agents to close the deal.  As Morrison looked at the person about to own the film production rights to her book, she noticed something different about her.  Her eyes.  

Oprah was wearing blue contact lenses.


Morrison gave pause for a moment, JanMohamed claims, likely wrestling with her suspicion that the novel’s message had perhaps been lost on the Queen of Talk.  In the end, though, it seems the dollar won, and Morrison signed the deal with Oprah.


Anyway, I mention this all because, in the midst of all this talk of identity (whether it be that of a pixie-cut Disney starlet gone astray, or a loc-haired princess in Tulsa) comes the news that school officials in both Ohio and Alabama moved this month to ban The Bluest Eye from high school curriculums.  Huffington Post:


“The Ohio schools chief is taking particular issue with the scene in which the novel's main character is raped by her father, commenting that the passage is not suitable for school-age children.
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter  to [school leader Debe] Tehar challenging her seemingly personal opinion that Morrison's novel is "pornographic." Instead of banning the book, the advocacy organization suggested that Ohio schools "use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students' critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community."
In August, Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) also called for his state to bar students from reading the book, taking issue with the work's language and content.”


Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a school board has voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, another classic of African American fiction with similar themes of racial, cultural, and physical identity. PBS:


“In a 5-2 vote this week, the Randolph County School Board of Education banned the book from county school libraries after the mother of an 11-grader complained. The mother claimed Ellison's work was inappropriate for 11th grade summer reading, citing both language and subject matter.
In response, Board members each received a copy of the novel to assess for themselves. According to The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro, N.C.at Monday's meeting, the board chair rejected "Invisible Man" as a "hard read," and another member stated he couldn't "find any literary value" in it.”

 

I should add that all of this comes just in time for Banned Books Week (September 22-28, 2013).





Image via Taylor Marsh.
If you haven't heard about any of this, it's probably because our national fauxtrage has been reserved for a small group of inbred Miss America fans on Twitter, fans who, since the coronation of Nina Davuluri ten days ago, appear to be convinced that the Taliban is taking over the U.S., one beauty pageant at a time (see  image to the left).
Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri.  Photo via Getty Images.

Not that I don’t support our new Miss America, a woman who,  much like JanMohamed’s daughter, is a dark-haired, dark-skinned beauty of Indian descent.  I just wonder why sometimes we choose to pick the battles we choose, and why our media chooses to report the musings of morons as if they actually matter.  Then again, we live in a country where more girls dream of winning the Miss America crown than the Nobel Prize for Literature (Morrison won hers in 1993).  Our girls should be looking towards champions of identity like Morrison or, for that matter, like Tiana Parker, the similarly loc-haired little girl in Tulsa who changed schools rather than would agree to change herself.  These ladies, and the controversies that recently surrounded each of them, are worth our tweets, not to mention a spotlight in our weekly news cycle.


Finally, I would be remiss if I did not pause for a moment to wax nostalgic upon my own memories of the Miss America Pageant, which I watched with my mother almost every year as a child.  I can remember my mother’s outrage when the legendary Burt Parks was fired from his position as emcee, just as I can remember the joy she expressed when Vanessa Williams became the first African American woman to win the crown.


As emotional as that moment was, in retrospect, I am confounded by the irony that exists in “progress” (racial or otherwise) made within an archaic tradition of ranking women based mainly on their physical appearance.  


It makes me wonder, had Twitter been around in 1985, what would people have been tweeting about Vanessa?  Would there be blatant racism like what we saw last week? Would the whole thing be politicized by people largely ignorant to politics, not to mention geography?  Or would people focus on the basic question posed by the pageant and society itself?  “Is she beautiful?”    


Would they comment on anything besides that beauty?  Would they mention her merits beyond her appearance, her singing talent, for example?  Furthermore, would they foresee that this woman, soon to be de-throned by haters in a shitstorm of scandal (see photo to left), would fight back with a vengeance, eventually becoming one of the most successful performers of our generation?


Or would they be too distracted by the intoxicating blueness of her eyes?
 
 




 
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