I skipped my five-year high school reunion, but I’m pretty sure I’ll go back for the 10-year next spring. Here’s hoping it’s less full of sexual harassment and general misogyny than this one appears to be! And I’m pretty sure all of us look too old to try to ingratiate ourselves with high schoolers of any age by pretending to love the Twilight books:
Michael Tomasky has a completely fantastic piece about the racist history of the Washington Redskins and the integration of the national football league that both lends context to some of the debates we have about the ethics of watching black athletes destroy their bodies for our entertainment, and to the idea that journalists are or should be objective:
The move to Washington meant that the Redskins were now the young National Football League’s most southern team, its only one below the Mason-Dixon Line…Marshall aggressively marketed the Redskins as the South’s team. He would be the last NFL owner to integrate his team and did so after years of heavy resistance and only because of government pressure…
It is largely for this reason that the NFL, in contrast to major league baseball, had actually had a few black players—the owners were desperate enough to accept them, and the public just didn’t care enough to lodge the usual protests about “mongrelization.” But in 1933, the league suddenly banned black players. It did so secretively, and no one would ever own up to the decision…Professional football actually reintegrated the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball…Pressure was growing, in these postwar years, after blacks had fought in World War II, for things to change, and one of the more informative aspects of Smith’s absorbing book is his discussion of the pressures brought by sportswriters in the black press of whom one hears very little today—journalists like Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier, once the largest-circulation black daily in the country. Patiently but insistently, they chiseled away for years at athletic segregation. With Robinson lost to baseball, they focused their energies on Kenny Washington, another UCLA star, who played just before Robinson, in the late 1930s. After the war, Washington was still young enough to compete. And so in 1946, the Los Angeles Rams, and principal owner Dan Reeves, signed him along with another black player, Woody Strode…Shirley Povich, the star Washington Post sportswriter. Povich (a man—Shirley was a male name as often as it was a female name in the early twentieth century) was Jewish and a native of Maine who originally moved to Washington to study law at Georgetown. He often wrote sentences like “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.”
It’s impressively racist that Marshall, the Redskins’ founder, stipulated in his will that the foundation that he set up not benefit any cause with anything close to integrationist values. And it’s impressive and refreshing that sports writers felt like they could call him on the racism he exhibited during his lifetime, loudly and repeatedly, and that there wasn’t an unspoken rule his position wasn’t one that had to be treated with neutrality and respect. Because neutrality is a form of respect — it’s not actually a value-free position.
Sportswriters (and arts writers of all forms, too) have always fallen in an interesting space between news reporters in the so-called hard subjects and opinion writers. Perhaps because the subjects are considered light, or because they are ones that are defined by people’s reactions to and opinions on them, reporters and writers in those areas seem to be able to get away with including a lot more judgment of not just the quality of, but the values expressed by, the things they cover. Obviously the stakes are higher in politics: if you don’t like a movie, no one dies, but quite a lot rides on who wins individual Congressional fights, presidential elections, and judicial nominations processes. But folks make decisions in both arenas based on preexisting preferences and information they get from folks they trust. So much of our conversation about the state of political journalism is based on suggesting that reporters shouldn’t be trusted because of secret biases. So why not make those biases transparent so readers can figure out who they trust to frame news and pull out context for them?
Regular readers know I’m a total nut for Tamora Pierce’s books, particularly her Provost’s Dog series about a cop with magical informants working in a nascent law enforcement system in Corus, the capital city of the kingdom of Tortall she introduced in her first fantasy series, the Lioness books. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the conclusion to the trilogy, Mastiff, which came out last week. Spoilers to follow.
I was initially disappointed that the story, which sends Beka, Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and a mage named Farmer Cape on a wild chase across Tortall in search of the Crown Prince, who’s been kidnapped and hidden in a slave caravan, takes them so far from the Lower City of Corus and from the class politics of the city. But Mastiff may be the most stinging book Pierce has written about the impact of a rigid class structure on the psyches of ordinary individuals. Prior books looked at the impact of big institutions on the poor people of the lower city: what it means when law enforcement isn’t reliable, when alternative social welfare networks break down, when the monetary system fails. People Beka knows pay with their lives, and poverty drives people she knows mad, and to dreadful crimes of their own. Mastiff, by contrast, looks upwards from the very poor to the nobility who, angry at the loss of their privileges, stage a devastating rebellion against the crown.
And the book looks up to Tunstall who, despite the reassurances of Lady Sabine, and the reinforcement of Beka, can’t get past the fact that he and his lover are of different classes. His insistence that the relative differences in their statuses are important and substantive eats away at Lady Sabine. And ultimately, it leads him into the most devastating betrayal in any of Pierce’s novels. Tunstall turns traitor, throwing in with the noble rebellion for the promise of a barony that would set his mind at ease about marrying Sabine. His confrontation with Beka is heart-rending because his betrayal is so unnecessary, such a deep reversal of the principals and values by which he’s lived his life: it’s a product only of his inability to stop hearing the artificial arguments of a class system that’s interested only in its own perpetuation. In defeating her teacher, Beka proves that she’s surpassed him as a Dog, and as a person. Read more
YouTube’s plunged into interesting and uncharted waters by announcing that it will shell out $100 million to a variety of creators ranging from Slate to Ashton Kutcher to develop 100 web television channels. Creators will get up to $5 million to program the channels as they wish, and if they earn back that start-up capital and make more, they’ll make money on the project.
There are, of course, a lot of silly contenders in there. I’m not sure we actually need an American Hipster channel (the fact of its existence probably renders it hopelessly passe, right?), or if Pharrell Williams or Shaq can support their own brands, though if the latter succeeds, maybe we can persuade Peyton Manning to give up football for buddy comedies. One would imagine the Onion doing just dandy — their Onion News Network videos are often, if not always, some of the funniest things on the Internet and it’s possible to see this becoming just another way to aggregate their content.
But what’s exciting about this is that it’s a low-cost way to experiment with niches that aren’t necessarily big enough to justify the investment and start-up costs on television. I’ve often lamented the fact that there isn’t a female equivalent of Louis C.K. getting money from a cable network to produce a tough, low-budget show, but Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party network might just be it. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the women involved along with Poehler (and if they haven’t though about it, they might bring on Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl as an addition to their roster) come up with. There are, of course, spaces where women get to experiment with art and comedy, but they’re fragmented, and there are women who get to do their own thing in a network context if they’re Tina Fey or Whitney Cummings, but the idea of a reasonably well-financed place where women can make weird, engaging comedy, where the operative word is Smart is so wonderful it makes my heart explode. Similarly, I’m excited to see what folks do on channels like The Nerdist, SB Nation, and TED, if only because it doesn’t really exist in my frame of reference that places like that could get as much support and bandwidth, and that is marvelous.
Not all of these networks will survive, but when they do and don’t, we’ll actually have some sense of what does and doesn’t work, what theoretically untapped audiences do and don’t exist. This is a chance to organize ourselves and show support for the kinds of networks we actually want, with a ratings system that will likely be vastly clearer and simpler than the Nielsen ratings system. And that’s exciting.
And this is also a chance to figure out what a web TV network looks like. Is there 24 hours of content a day? Do networks find existing web series like Husbands and syndicate them? Will the workforces be unionized (the Writers Guild East is working on a campaign for web writers and from what I understand, doing pretty well)? Will the networks become a breeding ground for network pilots, a kind of minor leagues? Or will they develop their own storytelling vernacular, their own sense of timing? I have absolutely no sense of the answers to these questions. But the fact that we’re going to have a well-financed lab to try to figure some of them out is pretty awesome.
I quite liked Margin Call, J.C. Chandor’s supremely confident and quietly sad look at a financial firm in New York that realizes it has some highly toxic assets and decides to dump them, destroying their own firm in the process. It’s a handsome, extremely well-cast movie that I think, taken with In Time, gets at the core challenge of getting the 99 percent and the 1 percent in conversation: how do you talk about systems that one set of people sees as wildly destructive that another set of people has invested considerable emotional energy in? I don’t happen to think it was a good investment to convince yourself the work of hedge funds and investment banks is critical, but people did.
Some critics have suggested that the movie humanizes members of the 1 percent, but I think that in a quiet way, it undermines the idea that wealth itself is particularly rewarding. Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) a division head who gets by mostly on his ability to project a sense that he’s indispensable despite the fact that he’s not particularly smart, runs through the way he spent the $2.5 million he made in the previous year, expenditures that range from clothes, to hookers, to $400,000 in savings, and it all just sounds incredibly dull. When Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), disgusted by the firm’s antics, tries to quit, his repulsive boss (Jeremy Irons) pulls him back in by making his vested investments in the firm conditional on staying for two more years. Quietly Sam admits that even though it sounds obscene, he has no choice but to stay because “I need the money.” Money hasn’t gotten these people anything, or more precisely, they haven’t done anything interesting or fulfilling with it: these folks don’t run off to private islands, or devote their millions to curing cancer and making themselves heroes, or just enjoying themselves. Instead, they’re set on a grim circuit of real estate, loud bars, fast cars, and late-night emergency returns to the office. Their dogs still die. They even drink liquor out of paper bags. Read more
My friend Gene Demby, the managing editor of Huffington Post’s Black Voices channel, tweeted yesterday, “Is it just me, or does the misogyny in Childish Gambino’s music seem especially pronounced?” I’d stayed away from the music by Donald Glover mostly because my friends who had seen him live hadn’t loved him. And I’d be curious to know whether Glover really believes the things he says about women as Childish Gambino, a persona he seems to use to displace the rage inspired by his treatment by other men onto women, who show up in his songs as hipster groupies, gold diggers, and almost nothing else in between.
Here’s “Freaks and Geeks,” in which, in a seeming show of contradicting the song’s title, Glover declares, among other things that he’ll “Fuck a bitch to pass the time,” describes a friend “He’se.e.’s coming on her face / now that’s poetry and motion,” and notes that “Green in your wallet is that pussy Open Sesame”:
Apparently, the point of recounting this narrative is to demonstrate his heterosexuality in the face of opposition: “They just call me ‘faggot’ ’cause they closeted,” Glover declares at one point. It’s a theme that reoccurs in “Be Alone” when Glover bitterly ruminates on “Like when these niggers call me faggot and we homies now / We are not homies, I just keep you around”
Then, there’s the charming “Bitch, Look at Me Now,” which includes the line “That female dog is blind / Bitch look at me now”:
In that same song, Glover enumerates another grievance against his rivals, and potential past tormenters, saying, “You started rapping when you wasn’t good at basketball / I started rapping because I needed Adderall.” It’s not enough to know you’re smarter or to enjoy the fruits of that success: past inequalities have to be rectified, insult for insult.
And the idea that women are objects (“See all this pussy, Imma fuck it all.”), solely interested in the contents of a man’s wallet (“I used to like these bitches, but couldn’t afford to get them.”), or to blame for Glover’s simmering anger (“I used to be a sweet dude / Now I’m so angry / Look at what these girls and these fake niggers made me.”) is all over “Fuck It All”:
This weird, toxic outlook on women struck me as reminiscent of the news that Odd Future has decided, either as a result of their celebrity, or as a way to up their notoriety, that they’re cool with physically attacking photographers, throwing water at and kicking the cameras of male photographers, and slapping a female freelancer so hard she was knocked down. And it also reminded me a bit of our conversation about pop culture geeks who feel a combination of resentment and entitlement towards women. I don’t really think that most geeky guys think this way, but it’s frustrating when someone like Glover comes along and projects that cocktail of emotions so strongly — especially when Glover’s someone who’s won all sorts of sweet-guy geek cred for his work on Community.
There’s a real incoherence to this kind of behavior and thinking. No woman owes any man anything. There is not a system of romantic reparations where a man is entitled to a certain amount of sex and (not to mention) romantic attachment. Insisting that women consist solely of their genitals and that women are powered solely by an attraction to money is both incoherent, and the kind of thinking that, if you project it, is unlikely to make you seem like someone women would actually want to date. Ditto for demeaning or physically assaulting women, behavior that may, in the imaginary value system Childish Gambino is laying out, prove something to your boys, but is unlikely to help you hold on to a steady girlfriend. And Odd Future, which is more extreme, but frankly, not that far away on the continuum from Childish Gambino’s nonsense appears to have missed the point: acting wildly antisocially is generally only effective and charming long-term if you’re demonstrating a genuine injustice or ridiculous in societal norms. Assaulting the people who help you make a living by hyping your legend only demonstrates your privilege. Hating women doesn’t make you brave.
A lot of people seem to think that I’m saying that misogynistic lyrics are equivalent to actual assault on women. Obviously, I don’t believe that. I do believe that casual misogyny in art and culture lowers the barrier to assault on women by removing the social stigma against treating women like objects, or as people who others have the right to put in their places.
It’s one of the few things that is an order of magnitude easier on a digital service like Netflix than actually popping in a DVD or managing a folder full of torrented movie files: the service perfectly maintains your place in the series, no matter what device you’re using, and you can just hit “play next episode” over and over again. Or you can easily scan for a rewatchable favorite. (Readers with kids know this is particularly useful.)
Full seasons of old television shows perfectly suit the pseudo-ownership viewers have with streaming video. You might keep DVD box sets of some of your favorite series, but you’re not going to buy the complete run of Cheers just to see what the fuss was about. At the same time, you’re unlikely to wait to bittorrent the entire thing or see every episode in syndication, either. It offers a service above and beyond what you can get with a cable subscription or internet broadband alone, for which a broad base of viewer are happy to pay a small sum.
But I think he could have taken this a step further: these services are particularly appealing and valuable because they allow you to do a big-gulp catchup on things you might have missed. If you’re like me and grew up without a television; if you’re an immigrant trying to pick up a bunch of American culture all at once; if your tastes changed over time and where you once cared about 90210 you now care about Roseanne, the ability to sit down and watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Cheers in an extended gulp rather than spread out over the years is invaluable. There’s no question that the Internet’s sped up and fractured the conversation around culture, as it has with politics and almost everything else. But it’s also given us tools that let us catch up to and participate in that conversation. Services like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime serve up nostalgia, but they also let people join in a set of references that would have been inaccessible to them before.
The Sundance Selects film Weekend has to be one of the most honest portrayals of gay dating I’ve ever seen, and it deserves the positive reviews it has been getting. Though people of all sexual orientations will relate to the themes of romance and courtship, Weekend shines in the way it offers a Queer Theory lens on the most primal aspect of gay life: hooking up and dating.
The premise is simple enough: Russell and Glen hook up on Friday night, but end up spending the weekend together, realizing that there’s something more than sexual chemistry between them. Glen, of course, is leaving the country Sunday afternoon, so the magic has to happen fast. It was disappointing that the film reinforced the stereotype that gay men use a lot of drugs, but with the short timeline, the alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine take the characters to a very vulnerable and honest place with each other, allowing for the film’s most compelling dialogue about gay relationships. Weekend thrives on its simplicity, using conversations between the two archetypal characters to dissect the script gay courtships are supposed to follow as the two learn and grow from each other’s influence.
Russell is the classic closet-case, who’s out as gay, but not really to anyone. He pursues sexual liaisons, but is afraid of commitment because it means being out and having to own his identity. Instead, he interviews his partners about their own coming out experiences and tries to live vicariously through them in his journal. Glen, on the other hand, is out and proud, but has sworn off of relationships after being hurt by a cheating boyfriend. He also interviews his partners, forcing a tape recorder in their face in hopes of exposing queer sexuality through some sort of eventual art project. Both are searching to understand the other’s archetype: Why is Russell so afraid and ashamed of his sexuality that he feels he has to hide it at all times? How can Glen be so comfortable with himself when he lets his sexuality define him? The exploration of these questions reflects the internal homophobia that impacts all members of the LGBT community, complicating our relationships as we attempt to pretend they are no different than those of our heterosexual friends and neighbors.
Towards the end of Glen and Russell’s hurried courtship, the topic of marriage equality comes up. Tapping into his queer radicalism, Glen condemns the gay community for trying to embrace the heterosexual norm, suggesting “no one gets married for the benefits.” Russell’s yearning for true love betrays his inhibitions as he implores that maybe two people just want to declare their love in front of their friends because it’s meaningful to them. Ultimately, though, the movie makes a point greater than either side of the debate. Given how the variable of being gay in a homophobic society complicates same-sex relationships, marriage equality would create a venue in which gay men and lesbians could be celebrated both for their unique identities and for the normal lives they can nonetheless live. Neither Glen nor Russell are ready to marry, but marriage would honor how both of them feel about their identities.
Weekend asks more questions than it answers, but it does so in a refreshingly unvarnished way. As public sentiment about the LGBT community changes, so too does the culture of the community itself, and this film creates a foundation for discussing the impact of those changes. And despite the archetypal nature of their identities, Glen and Russell are unsensationally realized such that audience members will relate to them both. The film itself is about relationships, but its biggest offering might be an opportunity to better understand ourselves.