Monday, July 25, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Narratives of Terror

Shortly after the brutal Gabrielle Giffords shooting earlier this year, the name Jarod Loughner was injected into the American consciousness. Listening to the devastation that he caused, one couldn't help but grimly do what we do when we need answers to things: Google Search. 

The news media studiously instructed that the footage would be disturbing, and it was more than that. All of them are eerie, but America: Your Last Memory in a Terrorist Country, terrified me when I first tried to watch it. With its Death Metal soundtrack ("let the bodies hit the floor" is the refrain), it featured a desert scene with a single American flag posted on a dirt mound, scrapping the ground. A figure appears in a black cloak and a happy face mask.  Happy face mask has only one arm ("his right one!", the on-screen comment prompts). While the music rages, Happy face mask lifts the flag and lights it on fire (patriots burn flags to preserve their honor, fyi). Then he creeps off like a creep.

I felt like I was in that scene from The Ring when that creepo girl crawls out of the TV. I stopped the Loughner video because I thought happy face mask might crawl out of my laptop if I let it run to the end. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, this message directly from a killer was a surreal experience (if we're even allowed to use that word anymore) and a natural extension of our conversation to the digital world. Jarod Loughner probably knew for some time that his name would be searched for. (Afterall, that's what it means to be truly famous; people have to search for you.) He knew that they would search for him and he wanted them to see something special. Not some dumb skateboarding videos. Not some girlfights. Not some stupid mass transit rider beating on some other stupid mass transit rider. No, his videos would explain to people why he was doing what he was doing. Not only would he take lives, but as a child of our culture he knew the most important thing to control was the narrative of his actions. 

It turned out that this became kind of a moot point afterwards. Most of the videos were just rambling PowerPoints about world conspiracies, bad grammar, and the like. He seems to be wanting to say something about the power structures that lay under the ones we see. He wants to uncover the conspiracy that deceives 85% of us. Now, I believe the world is run on conspiracies, but the narrative Loughner kicked just didn't make much sense. There were snippets of truth tied together with a lot of nonsense. That's one of the real shames. He didn't even make sense. All that suffering he caused, that suffering he carries, all because of a war raging in his own head.

So what do we learn from it? If you thought the Giffords massacre would deliver the public support for stricter gun laws, you're crazy. With a Negro as president, we all just feel a little safer if the White man gets to keep his guns. Americans like being able to kill, and they don't need anybody to tell them different.

And as far as people taking the shooting as a message to tamp down the political rhetoric, have you seen "Give Us Your Cash, B****"? If you haven't, you really need to take a look to get an update on what the worst racist and sexist thing you've seen in a while. This is some cutting edge racism and sexism. It's educational. Sadly, the song and video look like they really were directed by an employee of Black Entertainment Television.

But maybe this doesn't have to be a meaningless event. Maybe we could actually learn something real about a danger we face. We are entering the age of narrative reassignment. Now, before someone does something horrendous, their first concern will be how to frame their own story. We've been constantly told that we have to "sell ourselves as a brand" and this is no different. Before they do what they do, killers will actually set the table for the crimes they are going to commit.

You know Facebook had to get their credit.
This came to mind recently because of the coordinated bombing and shooting that took place in Oslo yesterday. Apparently someone detonated an explosive and then later opened fire at a kids camp, leaving an estimated 80 92 dead in his wake. The suspect in the crime, Anders Behring Beivik, who looks like he stepped from the pages of of Norwegian Vogue, has a twitter account with only one post. What does it say? "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests." There has also been mention of "disturbing" right-wing internet postings from Beivik. Don't expect to see less of this kind of thing. Whoever conducted the 9/11 operation inspired a generation of murderous auteurs who want to control their own narratives. 

And to be honest, it's not the Loughners and the Beiviks that we really need to be worried about. They commit their crimes and become footnotes. The real controllers of narratives are the Murdochs and the Liebermans and the Bushes and the Bin Ladens and the...wait for it...Obamas. These are the men who sow narratives before they do their killing. 

9/11. The Taliban. Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Landen. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Saddam Hussein. That pretty much summarizes the last ten years of fear. It would almost be funny if not for the thousands of lives lost and the trillions of dollars wasted (stolen). Although the way Loughner and Beiviks managed to coordinate their online presences with their crimes may be disturbing, it pales in comparison to the horrors that await if we don't stop consuming these narratives that explain away murder and exploitation.

Oh, by the way, how's that Libyan petroleum extraction project going? 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Peoples

How often do you look at a blog's links, anyway? They're just there. Half of them don't work. Some of them haven't been updated in twenty years. They're all out of context, with no description or reason for you to want to click on them.

So, as a public service, here's the rundown on my current list of "My Peoples" and why you should read them.

Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson is the author of Blackberries, Blackberries, Water Street, and Birds of Opulence (forthcoming). I had the pleasure of both taking a class and being an associate instructor for Crystal back in the good ole days at Indiana University. Even though I didn't get a chance to have her in workshop, she taught a young(ish) Misstra Knowitall a ton about writing and teaching.

Her blog is a must read because it gives you insights into not only the writer, but also writing and the writing biz. I would recommend starting with her post about how she has to remind her mama that she's a writer and what that actually means. She's also got a dynamite post about the pressures that writers feel now that social media and the writing business have formed such a close (incestuous?) relationship.

Pedro Bell

Pedro Bell  helped develop the P-Funk cosmology and his writing and visual art are essential to understanding any endeavor that purports to be "on The One". This links to Pedro's MySpace account. I haven't heard from my brother in a while, but there's some good autobiographical information and if you leave him a message he might write you back. You should check out the series of interviews I did with him. Dude is deep.

 "So I don't steal nothing." Miss you, ND.

Under the Blue Light: Indiana Review Blog

What can I say about my baby? She's grown up so much *sniff* since I was editor. Now they've got a new design and they do awesome contests and they have interviews and authors reading. *Sigh*. Well, check out the newest posts, but if you want to walk back down memory lane, take a look at the beautiful IR editors at AWP in 2007. 

Cake and Potatoes: Jackson Brown

Jackson Brown and I were roommates back at IU. I thought I had it going on, but this brother is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and one of the coldest MCs to darken (ahem) the hallways of Ballantine Hall. Cake and Potatoes is all that and a bag of corn chips. Funny, silly, searing, smart ass hell, and beautifully drawn. It looks like he's on hiatus (or is that "hi-itis?) but check out his greatest hits. For my taste, Off the Chain is one of my favs.

I so tried to find a pic without a Black hand holding a link card. Alas. 
Jericho Brown

I was lucky enough to meet this brother during my Funk Issue days. This links to the book site for his collection, Please, which if you ain't got, you need to get. It's funky and all that. I also did an interview with Jericho that is, of course, quite funky.

Remember me?
Post No Ills: Kyle Dargan

Post No Ills is Kyle's brain child, which like a lot of his brain chilluns, is both smart and cool. You can find great reviews of the latest in literature, movies, and politics here. They just did a review of Evie Shockley's The New Black, which I gotsta go cop. Oh, what's that you say? Did they do an interview with Misstra Knowitall himself? Well, as a matter of fact they did.

Patrick Rosal

My best memory of Patrick Rosal is at the end of the Indiana Review Funk Issue reading when he jumped on the piano and started everybody to singing Billy Ocean's "Suddenly." (I'm glad he knew all the words because I wasn't doing nothing but humming until "...wake up and suddenly you're in love!") Pat's an amazing poet and someone who writes with his heart. He's been blogging for a minute and on his site you can find everything from poetics to politics to boxing.Check him out.

Play Vicious: Ro Pulliam

I met Ro in Baltimore during my Americorps days. I lived in a house with four(!) roommates and somebody got the brilliant idea that we needed another one. Thank God we did. Ro's my man. A renaissance man who holds it down with the words, music, and web design. His site is complex and fly, just like him.

Datsun Flambe: Rion Scott

I met Rion Scott during the Funk Issue (see a pattern?) and if you want to read somebody, you should read him. He's smart and funny as hell (see another pattern). He's publishing some great stuff over at PANK magazine, but his updates at Datsun Flambe are keepers. 

The Spire: Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is a writer of Lebanese-American descent that keeps it real. I met her at Indiana University and that was one of the first things I learned about her in workshop. She's thoughtfulness, humility, and honesty shine through in her work. She shares a lot of her work at The Spire, along with life reflections. Cool stuff.
Sorry, I couldn't resist

Tayari Jones

Writer, teacher, hustler. I picked up her first book, Leaving Atlanta, while I was still in the wilds of Minnesota, and I had to keep stopping myself from trying to write like her. This site is not only good for getting insights into her process, but it's essential for keeping up with what's going on with African-American fiction. Oh, and does she have any interviews with Misstra Knowitall? Funny you should ask.

Secret Inside Girl: Vanessa Mancinelli

From her "About" page:  Vanessa Mancinelli: 1. Writes fiction. 2. Teaches literature. 3. Lives in Los Angeles.

I would also like to add: 4. Is obsessive about her teaching 5. Is obsessive about her planning.  6. Sings a mean Bill Withers. You need to check out her Seriously, this just happened post. Hilarious.