Saturday, May 30, 2009

God Bless the Funk, the Almighty Funk (Redux)

I guess this is the season for important anniversaries. My dad's birthday is Monday. Two years ago Tuesday I did some broom jumping with Missusknowitall. And one year ago today I started this blog. Honestly, it seems like a lot longer than that.

It has been a funky year indeed. In the past 12 months I have...
Along the way I've tried to keep posting on the regular, whenever I got an idea or saw something that was interesting, but it's been a struggle at times. The occasional love from people who read the blog has made it worth it though, so: Thank you.

By the way, don't be scurred, leave a comment!

And what's an anniversary post without a countdown list? Here are some of my favorites from the past year.

#5 The Negro Hulk

The Negro Hulk typifies everything Misstraknowitall aspires to be. He's big, funky, and can leap tall buildings in single bound. Plus, he's a G.

#4 George Clinton's Funky Drawers: Pedro Bell

Putting together the Funk Issue at Indiana Review was one of the most meaningful (and fun) projects I've ever been involved in. I learned a lot about the meaning (and possibilities) of funk, the way it mixes race, class, sexuality, blues, power, politics, humor, and rhythm. I also was kind of amazed at the way that visual artists, such as Pedro Bell, had such a profound influence on the way that Parliament-Funkadelic created their Cosmic Slop of Funk. I recently got to meet Pedro Bell and needless to say, dude is a genius and he laced me with some very funky game, which I will impart very soon.

#3 When 900 Years You Reach, Look as Good You Will Not

I think this was one of the first times that it really dawned on me that the game was about to change and that NeObama would be The One. Ever since I first heard about this brother with the funny name, I had been waiting for that other shoe to drop. In the back of my mind, I was thinking (and I know I wasn't alone) "These White folks is never going to let this brother in the White House. Never."
But after Neobama put Hill to bed, it became obvious that he actually had a legitimate shot to win and if They were going to take him out, They were going to have to use some real Rethuglican tactics. But after the primary was over, the sense of desperation emanating from the McCain campaign was palpable. They were weeks away from making their biggest misstep of the campaign (Palin), but McCain honestly didn't look like he knew what the heck he was going to do. Looking back, with all of the crisis we've had in the last 6 months, this country really dodged a bullet with McCain/Palin. *Can you imagine?*

#2 The Wisdom of Jericho Brown 1,2 and Tim Seibles: Ten Queries of Funk 1,2

I can't decide between the two and both of these guys are among the funkiest poets I know. They also contributed some awesome work to the Funk issue, so I got to show them love.

What's nice about their work is that it doesn't just dabble in the Funk mileu, it comes out of the Funk and it's always on The One. These Funk scholars are definitely dropping some funk knowledge.

#1 We Built It, Now We Live In It

I didn't envision this blog being explicitly confessional and, besides the occasional tidbit, I try to keep a lot of my personal stuff out, particularly about teaching. But I couldn't help but write about the experience of witnessing the next generation welcoming the age of NeObama.The ride has been a little rocky so far, but there's no taking away the sense of hope and possibility we shared that day, not only for our country, but for ourselves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh, crap.

This is why I would never want to be President.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The human condition no longer applies to you

It's ironic that Terminator: Salvation, a movie concerned with the destruction of humanity by machines, features a full cast of female characters who are more mechanical than the robots. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in T2 had one of the best female action roles ever, but why are all the women in the new movie so pathetic?

First off, you have Star (Jadagrace Park). She's small, fluffy-haired, extremely loyal, soulful-eyed, and has a sixth sense for impending danger. Ms. Park does the best with the role she has, but her character is essentially just a friendly dog.


Then there's Helena Bonham Carter taking on a minor part as Dr. Serena Kogan, the creator of Skynet. She makes out with a death row inmate to get him to donate his body to science. The worst part about the scene is that she's totally into the kiss, but gets totally "treated" (as the kids say) by a guy with no options. Later, she becomes the face of the malevolent computer program that destroys humanity. This brings up a bigger point: why is it that whenever the computers take over in a movie, they always seem to speak in that ice queen psycho bitch voice?
Dave, I will not be ignored, Dave.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor. Not much to say about her because she doesn't say much. All you need to know is that she wears this expression for pretty much the whole movie.


What about the feisty Blair Williams (Moon Goodblood)? She has a promising start, as a grizzled veteran pilot who fearlessly dogfights flying killing machines. You think she's going to be holding it down Sarah Connor style, but then she doesn't.

Are you feeling lucky, punk? Oh, wait...

Question: what tenet in screenwriting makes it necessary to add attempted gang rape scenes for females in action movies? I'm not sure, but usually the writer has the decency to let the woman kick the guys asses. Not so in this movie. Her man comes to her rescue, costing Blair almost all of her credibility. She loses the rest of her credibility by trying to "thank" said man by "keeping him warm" one scene later. Yuck.

I'm not sure how this fits into my feminist critique, but I should just say that Common needs to stop acting. Every scene does not call for the "open mic poet" voice and he showed more range when he was poverty pimping those kids in that Lincoln Navigator commercial. What, you don't remember?

Common is officially not helping our efforts to bring light skinned brothers back. Where's that Keyboard Cat when you need him?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Michael Steele versus Keyboard Cat

Michael Steel complains that White liberals did not properly "vet" our current President because he is a Black man. Interesting argument coming from a man whose main job qualification is that he allows the Rethugs to cluck their tongues at the unprofessionalism of their "Negro help," without feeling guilty.

How dare you reveal the secret of the Brotherhood, Michael Steel: It is too easy for a Black man to get a job.

Word to Jackie Robinson!

What do you think Keyboard Cat?

The true comedy of Michael Steele's statement:
There's not a brother in the world less qualified than the president we just had. Even Michael Vick would have known there wasn't weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An escalating probability of disaster

I never thought I would say it, but it's times like these that make George W. Bush's style so much more satisfying than NeObama. His speeches were brief, too the point, and made little to no sense. They were bold assaults on our understandings of logic and of language, and were usually followed by some random form of mechanized violence somewhere in the world. As horrifying as it was, there was a surreal, cinematic appeal to his governance. He spoke [like a fool] and then he acted [a fool].

Dick Cheney brought that back for me today in his counter remarks on detainees and torture. He growled and cursed and lied, just like the good old days. When they were rolling him around in that wheelchair at the inauguration, I was concerned that Mr. Cheney would not be able to take his rightful place as archsupervillain in the NeObama universe.

Sup, shorty?

But never fear, Dick ain't going nowhere.

In fact, in Matrixspeak, if Obama is The One, than Cheney naturally has to be The Architect.

In The Matrix Reloaded, The Architect was revealed as the creator of The Matrix. According to the entry on Wikipedia, the Architect
"appears to be a cold, humorless man sitting in a large circular room whose walls are covered by television monitors" [an undisclosed location???]...he also has little facial expression beyond smirks and glares, but does exhibit emotion on limited occasions, such as regret, annoyance, and arrogance."
Uh, besides the thing about regret, that's Dick Cheney.
In the third film, the Oracle explains to Neo that the true purpose of the Architect is to balance the mathematical equations that make up the programming of the Matrix, and he is unable to see the world as anything beyond a series of equations. It is also because of this that he is unable to comprehend choice and free will and cannot see the results of such choices as they are no more than variable factors in an equation to him.
I know, it's scary.

And if you watched Cheney's speech today, you could tell Dick was feeling good, with that familiar glint in his eye and curse on his tongue. Hell, according to CNN his poll numbers are up. The argument of his speech: Yeah, we did it. So what?

The Original Gun Clapper
You've got to respect his gangster. NeObama, on the other hand, had an awesome speech where he talked about the reasoning behind his support for "revamped" military tribunals and the suppression of torture photos. The speech was well-reasoned and articulate and, in the end, it was just a speech.

Why, yes, I am considering a nursing home for a family member.

The commitment to human rights and democratic values is demonstrated through action, not rhetoric. Although I appreciate the pragmatic approach he's taken towards cleaning up the messes of the last eight years, the more we learn about the excesses of the past administration, the more it seems like there will have to be a more formal reckoning, whether by "truth commission" or congressional investigation or whatever you want to call it. This country will not be right until we find our moral bearings by understanding the degree of taint that guided the navigation of Dickanddem.

Otherwise, The Architect is counting on NeObama to lead a rebooting of The Matrix so he can start the whole damn thing over again.

A sequel is the last thing we need.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Am I the only one disturbed by the axe-wielding veteran who is "helping" that stump "heal"?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Art of Seeing: Torture and Obama

In order for my NeObama/Matrix metaphor to have any integrity, I have to admit that I think the Wachowski brothers should have never made the two inferior sequels. One of the most exciting meta-realities in watching the first Matrix was the prospect that a movie could so thoroughly blow your mind that the world would actually change. A movie that so challenged your ways of thinking about things that at the end of it you felt an incredible agency in the world. If only you were brave enough to take the red pill, you could be eternal, a savior, immemorial. The revelatory ending of the Matrix was satisfying enough to make you flash back to adolescence, wishing you could fly.

But then came Reloaded, which was pretty good, and Revolutions, which was more interesting than good. Some of the shine came off the idea of the Matrix (especially after the introduction of the terrible white boy dreads).
Jah, dude!

The point of all this is that candidate NeObama got into office by telling us that he was going to change the game up completely. The possibilities would be infinite. It would be all good.

But now we have President NeObama. And although I'm still glad to see how he is executing his extraordinary power against extraordinary odds, I can't help but think of the fight scene from Reloaded where Neo fights a near infinite amount of Smiths.

In the scene, Neo is up against incredible odds, but you alway know he's going to get out of that jam, without a scratch. And that's cool, but it sidelines the personal moral question (blue pill or red pill?) of the first movie. Now the movie's about Neo, not our own power to change things. And that's less appealing, especially since it's hard to place the ideological position of the film.

That's even more significant because the premise of The Matrix is an extension of quite a few movies, most notably They Live, which was explicit about it's political leanings. Directed by John Carpenter, starring Roddy Piper, the movie reimagined Los Angeles as the site of an alien occupation, where humans are enslaved by omnipresent subliminal messages that instruct them to obey, consume, and reproduce. The movie's sharp critique of consumer culture and materialism is not hard to miss. When George Nada (Roddy Piper) puts on the special shades that decode the aliens subliminal messages, the first thing he does is go on an alien shooting spree in a bank. He's not after the money, he just wants to make a statement.

I have come to chew bubble gum and kick ass. Indeed.

When Nada finally awakens the world at the end of the movie, there's a certainty to the act that lets us know that there won't be any sequals.

The Matrix, on the other hand, is harder to discen. What is Neo trying to achieve, besides the preservation of human consciousness? Well...I guess when you say it like that it does seem really important, but it's still incredibly broad. Neo might be the messiah, but I can't imagine trying to resolve a moral crisis by thinking, "What would Neo do?"

Similarly, President NeObama has been less satisfying in some respects because although he changed the game up, he now has to operate within the new game he created.

Which brings me to the torture photographs. Now the military is concerned that the negative depiction of US soldiers and Arabs might lead to the deaths of our bravest men and women. You would think they would have similar concerns about their consultation with the makers of Iron Man, a movie about an arms dealer who creates super weapons used to control a violent and ignorant Arab opposition. Guess not.

This isn't about inflaming Arabs.

This is about not being sorry and not having to be accountable. There are plenty of people in this country, and in the military, who would not have changed a thing about the way the "terrorists" were treated in captivity. Look at the way we treat Americans who end up in our prisons. Lest we forget, we have the world's largest prison population. Execution is legal, despite the fact that we know a certain percentage of people are going to be wrongfully accused. It's a long standing joke that men get raped in jail. Don't drop the soap. Heehee. The term "prisoner rights" is another knee slapper.

Given that, I found it kind of incredible that NeObama was going to allow the release of the new photos. It would be an amazing gesture and would expend a lot of political capital. Perhaps he was not clear on how much capital it would cost him, but his conversation with the military leadership probably made it much clearer. He has planned a larger strategic shift in Iraq and Afghanistan, which requires a lot of cooperation from the men with medals and guns. He probably calculated that their support was more important than that of a few liberals who would never be fully pleased anyway.

And that's more than a little disappointing. Before I said that I think NeObama is going to reach a point where he's going to be very unpopular because of his policies, but now I'm not so sure. Obama is a master of centerdness, whether it's spiritually or politically. Almost half way through his first year as President, it's clear that he always lands on his feet, no matter how much he has to contort. One of my concerns is that he contorts to the point that he forgets his original shape.

We need to see all of the photos that exist. They teach us something about ourselves, part of who we have become as a society. Obama would not have been possible without the (forced) revelation of COINTELPRO, a program which actively extorted, kidnapped, and murdered members of domestic political opposition groups. More than any politician in recent memory, Obama knows the power of this history. Hiding these photos sends the very dangerous message that we don't really care to change. These days, we can't afford to take the blue pill.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lush Life

I don't remember the first time I heard Johnny Hartman, but I suspect it was over my dad's girlfriend's house. My parents separated when I was a youngin, and one of few benefits of the situation was that when I was with my dad I had the luxury of having him all to myself. But that changed when he met C. He was over her house all the time (or at least it seemed that way) and dragged me along for the ride. C had a bossy streak that ran afoul of my Taurus stubborness, so at times we clashed. She had a son of her own, so she wasn't trying to be my mama, but she was definitely from the "children-are-seen-but-not-heard" school. Our most memorable disagreement was about whether or not it was necessary for one to stir the butter into ones grits (Note: hell naw you ain't got to stir them grits!).

Grits aside, C was undeniably smart and cool--just like the Johnny Hartman album she kept on heavy rotation in her apartment. I remember his voice, butter-smooth or lion grizzled, mingling with the sandalwood incense my father loved so much.
Hartman never got the props he deserved (familiar story), but he did record a classic album with John Coltrane that everyone should own. Frank Sinatra couldn't fake the kind of cool that Hartman embodied.