Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reality Lies

Paddy Chayefsky was years ahead of himself when he wrote the film Network in predicting the superficiality of television that would later morph into, so called, “Reality Television” – advertisement snuff that preys on low self-esteem, constructed beauty and anorexia as the acceptable norm. In the film Peter Finch stood before the network during a live news feed and announced his upcoming death before millions of viewers, which – to no surprise by today’s standards -- caused the ratings to go up higher than they had ever been and wide-eyed America awaited the promise of live death that was to come their way; and that is exactly what they got.

Spike Lee attempted this same premonition with his film Bamboozled when he tackled the New Millennium Minstrel Show, where Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson shame(ful)lessly put on black face make up before a live studio audience to portray the dramatist personas of Sleep and Eat, and do a throw back to the old black face entertainers (at a time where black performers could only work if they were willing to make their already black faces blacker). Though Lee’s Bamboozled is an amateurish attempt at his own version of Network (including the worst screen performance of the decade by Damion Waynes), both Chayefsky and Lee’s points were clear in the direction they felt American entertainment and advertising was destined to go: the rise of “Reality Television.”

Technically Reality Television can be taken back to the talented (and sociopathic) Chuck Barris, with his creation of The Gong Show, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game – all based on the concept to use “real” people for viewer relatability. Barris knew people would flock at the chance to be on television no matter the risk for humiliation, since the satisfaction was not for the sake of upward mobility but plain old fashion bragging rights of one being able to say, “I was on T.V.” This concept is alive and well, more than thirty years later, in the era where reality television commands a large population of the air waves; one would think that Barris should be considered, some what, a hero in the eyes of the executives to embrace the strategy of using “real” people as oppose to actors, since you don’t have to pay these “real” people as much money as an actor because the “real” people have no union to protect them. Not to mention the concept passes the message to the young viewers that to be “ordinary” is to be ashamed of one’s self. For Reality Television preys upon the viewer’s insecurities; and in the case of young viewers these insecurities are heightened, since they have no tangible comparison to who they truly are. Young minds are a cotton field for advertising executives, causing the young viewer to serve as their own slave, picking the cotton in the hot sun, for the profit of the slave masters, and being whipped for stepping out of line; translation for today’s symbolic slavery: they are made to feel shame for not responding to the trends of popular culture and risk being left behind and unacceptable amongst their peers; and this serves as the bread and butter for today’s networks.

“Sex sells” -- so goes s the cliché in advertising and entertainment -- and there is no better example than America’s Next Top Model -- which advertises sex and beauty as a selling point (much like conservatives advertise God as a weapon) and discredits all the inner workings of an individual’s personal stamina, and promotes beauty as a physical prerequisite in the lives of young girls. “Sexy” is the stamp of approval to exist before the public eye (or in the case of young viewers, the school campus). For, without this stamp, one is “less than” and required to stand clear and sit on the bench, while the approved “beautiful ones” roam the field and live off the proverbial “free pass” because who can argue with a person of beauty? “Sexy” not only sells the product, but plays into the arousal of the male audience (the ultimate goal) which translates into the approval of the consensus, which then becomes the “universal” opinion for what “sexy” is (hence, the “free pass”) and therefore, becomes law in the book of popular culture (God help the child who breaks this law). This creates the image of what women are suppose to look like and plays into the insecurity of the average fourteen year old who will vomit herself fifty pounds lighter to be seen as “pretty” and risk her health and psyche in the interest of what we are told “beauty” is. Never mind that beauty comes from within. Never mind that it leads young girls to have sex for the sake of acceptance (nothing at all to do with the natural flow of their sexuality, but the ongoing approval from men.). The ratings are up! And for a network to take responsibility for the product that is peddled and force fed so often down our throats that we take it in as part of our daily lives, would just be asking too much.

American Idol not only serves as the type of trash TV that supports Top Model, but stands as the “New Millennium Minstrel Show.” The Minstrel show thrived on entertainment at the expense of humanity; popularity over craft; laughter over content; and while American Idol appears to be a showcase for talent, it serves as the ultimate cesspool for insecurity; and not only this, people go about the show feeling like the judges are just “being honest” (in a time of Myspace and text messaging where honesty no longer exists), and yet the credibility and behavior of the judges must be left to question. We have a pill popping, burnt out, untalented singer (Paula), a second rate producer (Randy), and a cynical Brit’ who has never played an instrument, well, in his life (the infamous, Simon). And yet, these are the opinions that America listens to? The answer is, “absolutely yes.” The reason? “Sex sells” but only second to “insecurities” and it shows we learned nothing from the popularity of teen suicide in the 1980s (the movie Heathers beautifully communicates this). Popular Culture creates a standard. And when one does not live by this standard, one is ex-communicated and left for isolation (which are motivating factors in the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech). Not to say this is the complete fault of Popular Culture; nor would I ever take a stance of censorship for television or any medium of communication and entertainment. However when advertisement insists that one “be apart of or get the hell out”, this insists on pressure for acceptance and paints individuality as taboo, whereas individuality should be encouraged. American Idol, in their search for the next “idol” does not seek the individual as themselves; but the individual as they would fit in the created shadows of what popularity is. There is a self-proclaimed stamp of knowing what is popular and what isn’t (Simon). Yet to know what will be popular is for one to fool themselves, since popularity is generated from a mood that, often times, viewers and consumers have no idea they are feeling, until the product or song or film is placed in front of them; then suddenly they find the connection and the potential of popularity grows from that. Yet to state what “sexy” is, what “beauty” is, what “will be popular” is a pompous point of view that thrives on arrogance, rather than knowledge (Barry Gordy refused to release Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On album, based on his prediction that the album would not be popular; and yet, when the album was released it became the fastest selling album in history; and to this day, What’s Goin’ On is deemed the best soul album of all times). The film Napoleon Dynamite found a “cult following” because it immortalized the angst of the outcast, which resonated to the mood of the viewer. Yet it is Will Farrell who holds the crown in popular comedy because Farrell is an acceptable figure in the tradition of self-humiliation for the sake of entertainment. Hallie Berry has been deemed one of the most beautiful women in America; and though I think Lilli Taylor and Kerry Washington are beautiful women (more so than Berry, based on personal choice), they are not yet excepted figures of beauty because America has no comparable figure to place them against; therefore, they sit on the outskirts. All of this is based on what we are told, through advertisement, of what we are supposed to feel about these figures leaving no room for individual input. It’s baffling, it’s barbaric, it’s bullshit. Popularity is based on mood, not dictation. Sexy is based on personal choice, not industry standard. It confirms Chayefsky and Lee’s point, in that television tells us what to think, and we may rest in comfort from not having to take the responsibility for ourselves. Yet the comfort creates a discomfort; and the discomfort creates low self-esteem; and it is the low self-esteem that has filled the pocket books of many Americans, without consequence through the genre of Reality Television.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Broken Ledger

Heath Ledger's death (a suicide? or accidental, according to the Ledger family) has caused the sudden fans to come forth. With responses like "He was on of my favorite actors" and Ang Lee's ridiculous parallel of Ledger to Brando is a sad calling to American standards. Ledger was a good actor and his death is a sad event. His work in Brokeback Mountain says it all in terms of his depth (though Jake Gyllenhall was the heart of the film); not to mention his appearance in the over rated Monster's Ball (Lee Daniel's "urban" expose' and Halle Berry's attempt to "play down" her beauty) established Ledger as an actor to look out for.

But that's it.

Ang Lee's comment on linking Ledger's acting capacity to Brando is a far cry from the truth. The closest comparison there ever was to Brando was James Dean; and even Dean's comparison was out of admiration and homo-eroticism rather than actual fact (Dean was bisexual, as was Brando; Dean's persona was openly snatched from Brando; it was written that Dean would irritate Brando with how boldly he would imitate Brando's acting style, beliefs, and personal life). Brando had no comparisons. Not even Johnny Depp matched Brando's esoteric nature. So Lee's comment, in my mind, results as false.

The closest Ledger came to any one outside himself was the late (brilliant) River Phoenix. Both Ledger and Phoenix were their own being, choosing the projects they did out of necessity and spiritual connection (Brando took his early career for granted and eventually was taking projects just to make money and ride off his name rather than embrace his love for acting; he stopped loving acting after On The Waterfront). Phoenix with My Own Private Idaho, like Ledger with Brokeback Mountain, can be seen as the on going plight for male acceptance in homo-phobic America. Both films explored the depths of male/male love (at the expense of jokes and possible blacklisting) better than most male/female love stories, that pretend to be genuine while falsifying character circumstance to fit plot points. Both Brokeback and Idaho left no room for pretend; nor did Ledger or Phoenix play it safe and make light of the dances with danger for the sake of exploitation. Both films consider the backlash of gay love and dare to go against cliche' beliefs of gay male encounters (in that all gay men wanna do is fuck).


As true as heterosexual men wanting to fuck; and yet as viewers we are told to swallow the garbage male/female love stories because their nature is considered "normal." But neither Ledger nor Phoenix allowed themselves to be caught in the madness while fully committing to stories that solidified their place in popular culture.

The annoyance behind Ledger's death are the pseudo-fans who come forth and claim a "loss." John Lennon was a loss. Malcolm X was a loss. Marvin Gaye was a loss. Aaliyah was a loss. Gregory Hines was a loss. River Phoenix was a loss. Heath Ledger was a misfortune (as was Kurt Cobain and James Dean) that gets mitigated from over-blown mourns. The fact that the deaths of Ledger, Cobain, and Dean conjure the vigil outbreaks without any real weight behind their work proves the shallow mindedness within Popular Culture. It encourages the "fuck it" attitude and allows would-be's to gain a legacy without truly earning it (Tupac Shakur earned his legacy). Even the death of Notorious B.I.G. brought an uprising to America's obsession with melancholy, forgetting that B.I.G. made two mediocre albums (the most over rated album of the 90's, next to Nirvana's "Nevermind" was B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die"), both of which contributed to the Diddy cess-pool of pop crap, and resulted in the ridiculous rip off from The Police's "Every Breath You Take." The celebration of B.I.G.'s death was not done out of honor, but out of guilt.

Ledger's plight towards stardom gained a respect based on his choices, rather than his mark. Fans revel in his nature to find projects that were "honest" in order to make Americans believe they have an understanding of what an artist is (these same "fans" who threw out the "brokeback" jokes, never truly embracing the importance of Ang Lee's contribution to cinema -- despite his ignorant comment). Not to mention it is forgotten that Ledger's place in history is marked ONLY by Brokeback Mountain, not First Knight; not The Patriot; not 10 Things I Hate About You; not Fourfeathers. Therefore his death can only be seen as a misfortune, not a "loss."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pornography and Sex Controlled America

“America continues to be sexually repressed. In the same vein, the media is obsessed with it, and uses it as an extremely powerful selling point, which in turn consumers, viewers become obsessed. They are ashamed of there sexuality, yet curious so they live vicariously through the media”
-- Sasha Grey

Pornography has been charged for being the determining factor for sexual misbehavior and corruption to the human psyche by judgment of conservative propaganda. Through controversy it has spawned a larger audience and is gravitating to mainstream America, while loosing it’s subtleties in it’s conduct; hence, pornography is a multi-billion dollar business on an uphill battle for Civil Rights, and yet, it seems to coast on the earnings achieved through internet, DVD, reality television, and music. Yet the accusation that pornography gets falls in line with standard conduct of conservative America: the call for self-responsibility while placing the blame outside of ourselves. Corruption is blamed on movies, music, and literature, instead of human error -- a scapegoat, in the tradition of gangsta rap, that is used over and over due to worries of eventual exposure.

Self-proclaimed “neo-conservative” Irving Kristol says pornography is cause for alarm in American values with threats of mental damage.

“…if you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book”
- Kristol

This is to say that pornography is a negative influence that creates misbehavior, impure thoughts and is solely responsible for our oversexed misconducts and reckless lifestyles. In a way Kristol has a point. One may not be able to have one without the other, since belief has to be based in faith and so faith must be accepted in all forms. Some Christians will tell us that if one believes in God, then one must believe in the Devil in order for a faith to be whole. Kristol tells us that pornography is an obscenity that will bring ultimate destruction to an idealistic conservative America. His bold statement leaves little room for argument, and is so convincing it causes one to nod and claim that Kristol might have a point; yet Kristol, amongst many other critics of pornography, fail to see the big picture. Despite belief, fear and resistance, pornography could be working its way into the mainstream; not to mention it could leave one to adopt the type of acceptance that one has for the very nature of religion. However the issue is not so much the nature of sex as it is the exploitation of sex that some call obscene; in most cases obscenity is rooted in the mere presence of pornography and encapsulates an ironic meaning that the courts seem to define with ambiguity:

“…language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
-- FCC’s Enforcement Bureau Web site

Laws of obscenity, seem to, come into play when convient rather than on a consistent level.

“In America only two sex acts are federally illegal: pedophilia and bestiality. Obscenity is based on ‘community standards.’ [What] people don’t mind [in] Los Angeles, will be considered obscene by people in a po’ dunk town in Alabama. It becomes an issue of prejudice; this person feels it’s okay for someone to watch [a] porn scene that is romantic and has a story but if someone watched a movie where a girl performs anal on a man, and she performs anal sex in a movie, that it is wrong. It’s like saying that all homosexuals are bad, and they can’t live near me. Obscenity is an issue of people’s opinions which is why it continues to be an ambiguous topic”
-- Sasha Grey

Like Kristol, Sasha Grey’s point of view – rooted in belief from observation and experience – stands as a perspective that contributes to dividing the issue of pornography. It also proves the point that for a topic to be so much of a fight almost guarantees its entrance into mainstream society; for popular culture relies on pushing the envelope. Emerging as a new force. Seeking controversy for the sake of social relevance. One continues to try and top the other, until finally, what was once “crossing the line” becomes the norm, and soon we are watching soap operas with penetration, and reality shows with live executions.

Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pig: The Rise of Raunch Culture points one of the origins of open sex culture to the Girls Gone Wild videos as well as the Paris Hilton sex tapes.

“Since the avent of the sex tapes, Hilton has become famous enough to warrant a slew of endorsement deals…Hilton [as a result of the sex tapes] isn’t some disgraced exile of our society. On the contrary, she is our mascot”
-- Ariel Levy

One can watch a music video and see scantily dressed women exposing themselves and exuding sexual temptation. Copies of Vogue magazine display, both men and women, in sexually suggestive poses, and in some cases women in see through tops exposing their nipples in a “tasteful manner.” However, even with sexually suggestive material, does this constitute as pornography? According to Random House Webster’s dictionary pornography is defined as:

“…writings, photographs, movies, etc., intended to arouse sexual excitement” (2001).

One could argue that mainstream culture has a mission to encourage sexual excitement since – as the old cliché goes – “sex sells.” It could also be argued that mainstream society is promoting sexual freedom since there is a mass of people who find sex, of any nature, downright offensive.

Nina Hartley is a respected porn actress and sex educator, “with the longest continuous career in the history of the industry” that spans over twenty years. She’s a registered nurse who began her porn career at the age of 24 (whereas most porn actresses began in their late teens) during her junior year of college. She was a dancer, who like most actresses, gravitated into the adult film world, and came out with a strong beginning that elevated her career.

“Nina Hartley is a prime example of an intelligent, sophisticated sex worker. She educates [people in] the business, as well as civilians…she is a huge influence to me personally as a sex positive young woman”
-- Sasha Grey

Hartley’s outspoken views on sex have been a cross between controversial and iconic. She has been the go-to spokesperson in defense for “sex work”:

“If I have the right to choose abortion, then I have the right to choose to have sex for the camera. Sexual freedom is the flip side of the coin of reproductive choice”
-- Nina Hartley

Hartley’s cross-reference to abortion – pro-choice and Civil Rights – is a blaring look at societal conservatism. It’s a tricky topic since porn is deemed as exploitation and – a la Andrea Dworkin – “violence against women”, while abortion is deemed murderous. Hartley questions these ethics and places them underneath the proverbial looking glass in order to find accuracy in her examination.

“It's…easier to characterize all female sex workers as degraded, humiliated and unhappy if you've never talked to any of us”
-- Nina Hartley

These generalizations come from those who have not studied the art form, but mearly came across it, or caught a glance of the most trashy on the market, giving corrupt examples in which to go by. Those who never saw Deep Throat but saw White Trash Sluts miss the pop culture breakthrough Deep Throat made. White Trash Sluts is everything the title suggests. It does not attempt to explore female sexuality, but rather satisfy male misogyny with internal violence, leaving female sexuality as a showpiece. Deep Throat explores feminine desire and deep-seated curiosity in a graphic unapologetic manner. Deep Throat allowed male/female sexual desires to connect in a raw fashion that did not advocate dominance, but sex amongst consenting adults. Despite the allegations by Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace (she states that she was not entirely consenting to the nature of most of the scenes), the film still accomplishes Hartley’s point:

“…the marketplace of sexual entertainment contains products for almost every taste and orientation, including material made by and for heterosexual women and couples, lesbians and gay men. It's not all Bang Bus, and by no means does all of it, or even most of it, conform to the…notions of porn-as-expression-of-misogyny.”
-- Nina Hartley

Hartley’s and Grey’s points are the opposite of Irvine Kristol:

“When sex is a public spectacle, a human relationship has been debased into a mere animal connection”
-- Irvine Kristol

Playwright Edward Albee explored the theme of the connection between humans and animals through a majority of his plays, including The Zoo Story, Seascape, and The Goat: Or Who is Sylvia? The latter explores this theme, literally, as a man betrays his wife by falling in love with…a goat. Albee’s point in his on going theme is that human instincts – despite intelligence and retractable thumbs – is close to that of animal instinct. We hunger, we desire, we hunt, we react, we mate. And during mating season – as around the clock as this might seem – we tune out the consequences and focus on the task at hand. In the case of Kristol, our irresponsible nature when it comes to our sexuality is a topic of concern, since humans, behind closed doors, indulge in the misadventures of sex; therefore, to make it public and available for the human eye to see and bask in voyeurism, puts us – in the opinion of Kristol – one step closer to symbolic bestiality.

The “animal connection” is blamed on the public exposure of sexuality; yet Kristol seems to ignore the natural instinct that humans gain with sexuality. One can find sexual desire without the influence of pornography and still subscribe to inappropriate acts (Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality, Louis Carroll’s pedophilia, Edgar Allen Poe’s incest). Understanding this, and taking into consideration the very sin that is placed on us through sex controlled America, tells us that it is unreasonable for Kristol to assume that we are so out of control because of pornography, when clearly, we are out of control because of our desires.

Ultimate Integration

The ever-changing work for actors of color in film and theater has continued to be a diabolical blessing and backlash for the world of storytelling. Though more status has been achieved for people of color within the industry, each new notch demands that another achievement be questioned; even with films like “This Christmas” and “The Great Debaters” the fact remains: white directors and casting directors don't know what to do with actors of color, while writer/directors of color refuse to expand from cliché images of race (Tyler Perry; Spike Lee) and fail at challenging audience of color with contemporary contradictions (Carl Franklin, Charles Burnett, and Wendell B. Harris, Jr have eclipsed this argument, yet have not found their place in cinematic history).

Will Smith has reached mainstream status, along side Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and to some degree, Don Cheadle (though even Cheadle has yet to crack the psyche of white viewers since he is not a man of safe matinee idol status like Washington). Smith and Washington work to charm the audience and let white people know that they are safe in their presence; yet Freeman seems to have broken away for different reasons. Not that Freeman isn’t appreciating his place as one of America’s greatest actors (Spike Lee and Martin Lawrence showed a bitterness towards Freeman for doing “Driving Miss Daisy”, misreading it as a sell out role rather than clear cut representation of Black mental superiority), but rather Freeman has made his choice to be an individual well aware of what is needed from him in Black America. Freeman does not try to be a representative for Black America; but rather a participant in the expansion. Freeman stands as the classic Negro of the early 1900’s, in that intellect and articulation are a clear gap between Black social and economic status.

Smith fits into the modern thinking of Black America. His high point sexuality and image of comfort (mixed with hard work, blood, sweat, and tears) penetrates popular culture and rivets us with a belief that “color blind” thinking is not impossible; though “color blind” is a term rooted outside of reality. Audiences don’t forget that Smith is Black; they simply over look it. Therefore it is impossible for Smith to be a spokesperson for Black America; but rather Smith has proven himself an icon in popular culture with an endless following that roots in his work with Jazzy Jeff. “I Am Legend” stands as a double edge sword; by putting Smith in the role it reminds America, historically, of the Black man being the first man on earth; not to mention the fact that Jesus was of a dark complexion (though, to much controversy) being that it was impossible for him to be of anything else considering the region of Egypt and the complexion of the early Hebrews. “The Pursuit of Happyness” did nothing for the classic “rags to riches” story; but rather played it safe by giving us the idea that “bad things happen to good people.” Yet “Pursuit” is not about bad happening to good; but rather connecting to a childhood gift and being left with no choice but to achieve it, which in itself is a recall of human skepticism towards upward mobility. In “Pursuit” we got the idea that Smith was perfect and it was the world who was evil and dishonest. Virtually no internal conflict was present in “Pursuit” and so created a false image of a man’s struggle in White America and failed in the textbook understanding of “complexity.”

Denzel Washington’s “The Great Debaters” reminds us that black cinema does have a place in history but only by calling attention to itself of being “important.” “Debaters” is not a cinematic achievement; and a far cry from actor turned director spouts done by Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Todd Field and Robert DeNeiro. However, Washington did achieve the classic storytelling benchmark that does attempt to socially challenge the audience while finding relatable moments of familiarity to Black audiences. He found it in the story. He found it in the revealing of communism; and most of all he found it in Forest Whitaker. With Whitaker, Washington puts himself against his polar opposite. Whitaker plays against popular culture (much like Freeman) and not only reveals that he is an actor of dedicated craft, but proof of embodiment in Black entertainment (everything that Ralph Ellison challenged us with in “Invisible Man”), making the excuses less reachable when it comes to white casting directors misunderstanding the complexity within actors of color. Jeffery Wright suffers from this misunderstanding, only embraced by few. Wright, much like Orson Wells and Daniel Day-Lewis, is shameless about finding the ugliness in his characters, while Smith and Washington (like Harrison Ford and Robert Redford) cannot stand the idea of their characters ever facing a void of triumph. Whitaker and Wright are not afraid to fail. Wright pulled off what Denzel Washington forbad Will Smith to attempt in “Six Degrees of Separation” when he did “Angels In America.” Washington believed that Black America did not want to see a Black gay man as a pure gay man (much like he believed America did not want to see him kiss a white woman in “Virtuosity”, while it being okayed by Spike Lee for him to do it in the horrific “He Got Game”), saying that it would misguide Black people into an unfamiliar territory; whereas Wright (with the influence of George C. Wolfe, who is not only openly gay but one of the most accomplished black writer/directors in American theater) gave us permission to understand that for one to overlook homosexuality in Black America would be to deny the darkest depth of our complexity; not to mention, it touches on the homophobia that plagues Black America. For Langston Hughes could not come to terms with his homosexuality in the open; while Billy Strayhorn came out at a time when it would be suicidal for a Black man to do so, while never being judged by Duke Ellington for his orientation. Washington’s need for image cheapens the impact Sidney Portier accomplished (Armond White refers to Washington as “the un-Portier”), while fooling audiences into thinking his “danger” is ever present. Yet the “danger” Washington was suppose to display in “Training Day” was buried by his need to be loved, despite the brutal death at the end of the film. Though Ethan Hawke appeared to be the one who triumphs, really it is Washington who still wins simply because of his legacy – “King Kong ain’t got shit on me!” – both Kong and Alonzo die at the end; but their legacy is bigger than all the rest; and Denzel could never stand to have it any other way. Washington’s ugliness was better achieved in Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues”, with Washington showing a self-involved jazz musician cluttered by his own mental garbage. Washington’s vulnerability was present and his self-defeat in result of a calling from God (in that to be a generous family man) was a relatable reality and important for the working class viewers in search of reality.

Cuba Gooding Jr’s Oscar win for “Jerry Maguire” confirmed America’s fear of white inferiority. Gooding’s opposition of Tom Cruise (not to mention one of the most honest portrayals of a Black from a White writer next to the character of “William” in Kenneth Lonergan’s brilliant play “Lobby Hero”) was an attempt at facing principals on a level of humanity rather than race. When Gooding won the Oscar the reluctance from the audience was visibly present (especially him beating out William H. Macy’s performance in “Fargo”), yet their acceptance of the reality as a result of Gooding’s appreciation for his win revealed America’s slow burn towards ultimate integration. Gooding’s win appeared to be a win of sympathy (and through the eyes of the skeptics, most likely was). Yet his win was a win of over coming Black stereotypes. Gooding IS NOT a safe actor (“Snow Dogs” and “The Fighting Temptations” aside, though “Snow Dogs” was much more compelling than Ice Cube’s silly plight in “Are We There Yet?”); yet has fooled America into thinking he is. Gooding is more so an actor that represents the inner complexity of Black America. He’s married to a White woman. He resists the instinct to be loved in popular culture; and he plows forward into an area that Black actors refuse to place themselves, which is on the same level as the White actor and gives hope to seeing the actor of color as a “character actor.” In “Syrian” Jeffery Wright’s colorless performance dug an even more dangerous hole (much like Wright’s portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Boycott” where Wright not only gave a clear projection of King’s image, but an insight to King’s inner struggle with maintaining his peaceful disposition; let’s face it. King was ready to explode; and it was Jeffery Wright that showed us this side to King). Wright portrayed a conservative play-by-numbers character on the look out for the truth in a world that embraced corruption and dishonesty; yet in the middle of this, Wright was a figure risking his life despite the potential odds against him. One could fully flush out Wright’s intentions by watching his actions since his inner life was so layered, one waits for Wright to explode with profanity. Wright is the polar opposite of Samuel L. Jackson’s bad-nigger image that has been misunderstood by White people across the nation. Jackson gives the “bad-nigger” gaze; the “bad-nigger” MOTHERFUCKER that Black exploitation lived by, whereas Wright (and Wendell B. Harris Jr in the brilliant “Chameleon Street”) gives the understanding that “Nigger does not live here; but rather your worst fucking nightmare!”

Yet the White casting directors over looks this type of complexity leading them to seek out the Samuel L. Jackson’s and shut out the Jeffery Wright’s and pretend this to be “color blind casting” (perhaps the most useless terms since “multi-cultural” and "diversity."). This is jargon that makes the White casting directors appear “edgy” while allowing the mostly White audience to feel as though they've gotten their culture and can live in the world more rounded than the rest. Neil LaBute did not understand this factor when he wrote his article “The Casting System” in saying that white actors are shut out by the advantage that actors of color seem to have when it comes to “color blind casting.” LaBute’s contribution to theater is that of a little boy (as are his views), while immaturely attempting to stir up shit through opinions that don’t appear to be his own; but rather opions embodied from the unrealized characters in his plays. LaBute has achieved the understanding of the bored White middle class who’s racial, sexists, and social prejudice has overtaken them to a point of corruption; however LaBute fails to realize the danger in writing “The Cast System” in that his “opinion” is that of a High School Nazi with access to his Father’s guns with private plannings of destroying all “outsiders.” What LaBute failed to realize is that few White directors do not understand that actors of color have a sense of depth that reaches beyond skin color (namely LaBute) into a pain and satire that originated American culture. Originated “dark humor”. That led Al Jolsen to success, while giving Elvis Prestly not only his status in Popular Culture, but a pass for his racial outbursts (the very thing that LaBute and Quentin Tranatino get away with since they are inaccurately deemed as being socially relevant).

Ralph Ellison was considered an Uncle Tom after the publication of “Invisible Man” simply based on the fact that his book dealt with black complexity; and according to the standards set by Richard Wright (Black Boy & Native Son) the appropriate point of view for the black novelist is "the protest novel" (just read Irvine Howe’s review on “Invisible Man” -- -- where he attacks Ellison and claims “Invisible Man's” complexity is inappropriate for what a black writer should be doing). The same applies to the actor of color. The fear of our edge through intellectual complexity is taboo, and so therefore, the obvious "angry black man" character grabs all the attention. Denzel Washington won the Oscar for “Training Day”, yet lost for “Malcolm X” to Al Pacino (who was nominated for both the appalling “Scent of a Woman” and the beautiful “Glengarry Glen Ross” that year). This repeated when Washington lost, again, for “The Hurricaine”, to Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” (who should have won for “The Insider”). For a black actor to portray a complex black character, such as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter or Malcolm X is too much for white people to handle, even with the admiration, interest, and stamp of importance that most White people play close to the vest. It is much more comfortable to grant kudos when actors of color do exploitation rather than tell a sense of truth -- and yes, “Training Day” is black exploitation!

The cause of ultimate integration is the fact that after fighting to integrate, we longed for separation; and as a result of that, White people have mentally separated us from them as well. Granted there are cultural differences within groups; yet to claim integration in film and theater, while so boldly placing actors in their categories is to recall old thinking and never truly progress into newer times.

Ice Cube' s Anthem For Gangsta Rap

Ice Cube's "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" gauges American influence, rooted in violence, and puts it in a nut shell proving that music is light years ahead of cinema and social criticism by hack journalists and uninformed commentators. Not since "Really Doe" has Ice Cube encompassed urban schizophrenia with such grace -- bringing us back to the introspective, yet, straight forward Ice Cube we recall on Death Certificate, The Predator, and Lethal Injection:

"You lookin' at the Grand Wizard
war lord,
vocal cords so vicious.
And I don't gotta show brit-giss,
to pull up
pull off wit' some bad bitches." begins "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It", which ignites a commentary not only to defend gangsta rap, but to call out the black elite who write off the expression as destructive. Ice Cube has not touched on a commentary this deep in years (drowning himself in dance records and kid-friendly films), though his previous work is forever a engraved in pop culture history as a landmark for urban expression, this "come back" is a relief in knowing that irony still has a place in rap music (only matched by the likes of Mos Def and Immortal Technique).

"I keep it gangsta
and why should I change that?
Fuck you old mutha-fuckas tryin' to change rap!
But ain't you the same cat
that sat back
when they brought cocaine back?
I'm tryin' to git me a may-bag,
how you mutha-fuckas gon' tell me "Don't say that?"
You the ones that we learned it from
I heard "nigga" back in 1971."

A clear strike at the old generation (and Reverend Wendell Anthony, of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP for the burial of the "N-Word") who were the origins of the urban up rise that eventually evolved into gangsta rap (which did not have it's true birth until NWA's Straight Outta Compton in 1988). The old generation who forgets the blues-men who were the gentlemen gangsta rappers of the day -- complete with booze, drugs, womanizing, and criminal records -- and used the same straight forward methods that Ice Cube, Geto Boyz, and Immortal Technique adopted. One would be a fool to miss the gangsta rap-isms of Leadbelly's "John Hardy":

"John Hardy, he was a desperate little man
Carried two guns every day
Shot a man down by the West Virginia line
They saw John Hardy get away
They saw John Hardy get away." it is ironic that the old generation would judge the expression in gangsta rap, considering they lived and appreciated the very life embraced by most rap artists (the gangsta/pimp persona).

"Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" is a reminder that America still misreads the intentions behind what true gangsta rap represents (urban frustration); yet this also comes from a refusal to listen to the actual music, but rather listen to the hearsay conjured by critics who not only never bother to understand rap music, but down right detest it. For one to ignore Ice Cube's The Predator album and write it off as urban shallowness rather than urban frustration only proves that it is NOT the fault of the artists for being over the top; but rather the fault of close minded Americans for never bothering to explore the art in the first place. Opinions reign loud when coming from those who lack experience in part of a culture; but conservative, pro-censor America encourages this type of thinking (much like Irvine Kristol with his attacks on pornography), since to experience it would be to subject one's mind to corruption. Those who do take a moment to listen to a song or two often times are exposed to the worst examples, which then takes gangsta rap out of context. For one to hear Snoop Dogg instead of The DOC; 2 Live Crew instead of The Geto Boyz; Rage instead of Boss; Tha Dogg Pound instead of Compton's Most Wanted, it is no wonder the plot behind gangsta rap superimposes as an audio gun show and chaotic cluster-fuck in American understanding of rap music. Snoop Dogg's contribution to popular culture is based in image, whereas The Geto Boyz are based in substance; this is a major difference between the attitude of "fuck it" and the attitude of "fuck you." "Fuck it" is the root of the white boys of Generation X (Beck, Ben Folds, Rage Against the Machine, Kurt Cobain), who found a sub-culture in the coffee shop revolution. "Fuck you" is the root of ghetto madness (Ice Cube, The Geto Boyz, Immortal Technique) encompassed by voices that make a clear distinction of their backs being against the wall. Both "fuck it" and "fuck you" are important; and still the tone must be fitting for the artist portraying it. When ghetto madness takes on "fuck it" (like Snoop Dogg; like 2 Live Crew) it poses the "lazy nigger" theory and misinforms white kids that urban life is a lazy life. Beck's "Loser" and "Today Has Been A Fucked Up Day" works best in the "fuck it" rather than "fuck you" since it was the staple to Generation X in the 90s. The Geto Boyz's "Dame It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta" is the "fuck you" to the mass public who felt gangsta rap could never capture the gentleman (gangsta) quality the blues-men represented. Snoop Dogg's inability to take the "fuck you" attitude makes him acceptable in white America. The fools controversy behind the "lyrical content" of Doggy Style (a dismal outbreak that did not live up to "Deep Cover" and "Ain't Nuttin' Butta G Thang") was nothing but a put-on to contribute to gangsta rap as a scapegoat. Had America listened to the "fuck you" in the Geto Boyz they would find a more introspective report on urban life, leaving Snoop Dogg in isolation along side 2 Live Crew.

Hence the plot to "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It":

"I can say what I wanna say
(ain't nuttin' to it! Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It!)
If I call you a "nigga"
(ain't nuttin' to it! Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It!)
I can act like an animal
(ain't nuttin' to it! Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It!)
If I eat you like a cannibal
(ain't nuttin' to it! Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It!)"

Cube's chorus captures the thinking of American white kids who live for their idolization of black culture (shown beautifully in the 1999 James Toback film Black & White); not to mention blacks who use the persona to their advantage while misrepresenting the urban folklore. Cube understands that gangsta rap is the scapegoat for violence (the late Bill Hicks said it best: "America needs an enemy") in a way that is impossible to ever be proven as fact. If gangsta rap were truly to blame, one would have to assume Geroge W. Bush has a collection of 2Pac, Mobb Deep, and Eminem blaring from his CD player, serving as his influence to continue the war and endanger the future of the US citizens. It's gangsta rap (not Christianity, despite the countless amounts of blood shed held in the name of God) that suffers the consequences, aided by support from the black elite; and even with over thirty years in American Pop Culture, rap has yet to dismiss it's controversy, which is why Ice Cube's "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" stands as an anthem for America's search for an enemy.

About Me

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writer, actor, & producer in training. in 2005, along side my partner in film and best friend since childhood, we produced and executed 3 films. to this day i am still working in "the business" to the best of my abilities and moving forward to the "next level." currently i am producing a film project, co-writing another, awaiting word on a stage play for New York, and pursuing my next one-person show. i'm also in school pursuing my Ph.D in Social Science.