Culture postsWednesday June 17, 2015
Jelani Cobb on Rachel Dolezal
“On Monday, Dolezal resigned, in a statement that didn't answer questions about what she referred to as 'my personal identity,' though it did refer obliquely to 'challenging the construct of race.' That answer is clearly inadequate; many people have challenged the construct of race without lying about their lives. But there is something more worth discussing here. ... In truth, Dolezal has been dressed precisely as we all are, in a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging. This doesn't mean that Dolezal wasn't lying about who she is. It means that she was lying about a lie.
”Rachel Dolezal is not black—by lineage or lifelong experience—yet I find her deceptions less troubling than the vexed criteria being used to exclude her. ... Dolezal was dishonest about an undertaking rooted in dishonesty, and no matter how absurd her fictional blackness may appear, it is worth recalling that the former lie is far more dangerous than the latter. Our means of defining ourselves are complex and contradictory—and could be nothing other than that. But if the rubric is faulty it remains vital. The great majority of Americans recognize slavery as a figment of history, interred in a receding past. But, for black people, that past remains at the surface—close at hand, indelible, a narrative as legible as skin.“
-- Jelani Cobb, ”Black Like Her," The New Yorker. Cobb's is the first article I've read that has referenced John Howard Griffin's seminal book of the 1960s, which I never read, but which was everywhere when I was growing up. And don't forget the Lois Lane version, as much as all of us have tried.
The 5 Best Quotes from Chris Rock's Recent Guardian Interview
On movie comedies: “Most comedies aren’t really movies – they’re just vehicles for the funny person that’s starring in them. No one cares where the story’s going, and if it doesn’t work, they’ll just throw in another set piece. But with 2 Days, the jokes come out of the drama. Woody doesn’t make comedies – he makes sad dramas with jokes.”
On Scott Rudin, Rock's “Top Five” producer, whose Sony-hack emails included jokes about Pres. Obama's watching typically black films such as “The Butler” and “12 Years a Slave”: “He had my back the whole time so I was able to go into a bubble and write the movie I wanted without dealing with anyone else. Scott Rudin's not racist. Scott Rudin hates EVERYBODY.”
On Bill Cosby: “I haven't talked to him in a long time. The whole thing is just sad. What can you say? I'm not gonna defend him and I'm not go Judd [Apatow] on him. You do still have to wait, he hasn't been convicted. But it's sad.”
On being black while driving: “I've always been stopped by the cops. Cops stop black guys who drive nice cars.”
On Pres. Obama: “Oh yeah, he's been good. Great, even. He wasn't going to solve America, but the country was off the rails and he was like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, you know? He really sorted shit out.”
Really just another excuse to upload another photo of Rosario Dawson.
New Answer to an Old Riddle
Jordan started giving Ryan and I lateral puzzles he had been doing in school (like riddles) on the way to play rehearsal. I came back with the only one I remembered from my childhood. A father and son are in a car accident. The father is killed. The boy is rushed to the emergency room and the doctor says, “I can't operate on this child, it's my son!” The answer I remember is the doctor is the mother, which, at the time I learned it, exposed my own biases. Ryan, without skipping a beat, shouts from the back seat, “The fathers are gay!” Yep, worked for me.
Junk Mail for the Elderly
Last year my sister and I bought my mom, now in her 80s, a condo in a 55-and-over building in south Minneapolis. It's both in my name and my mom's name, so I assume that's the reason my mom received some junk mail from the Neptune Society at my home in Seattle. It came in a pale yellow envelope with her name mock-typed on the front, so at first glance it seems like personal mail. At first I thought someone sent us a card.
Inside there's a return envelope and two small, pale yellow pieces of stationery with a lavender banner. One of the pages is a letter from Tim Nicholson, President/COO, using a cheesy, near-cursive font. Here's how it begins:
For a variety of reasons, more and more people are choosing to plan for a memorialized cremation over traditional funeral arrangement—and the numbers are increasing every year!
The other page includes a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about today being a gift (which is why it's called “the present”), a photo of an elderly man playing ring-around-the-rosie with his grandkids at the beach, and an offer to WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION.
- You mean over *a* traditonal funeral arrangement?
- I would've lost the exclamation point.
- I seriously doubt Eleanor Roosevelt said that.
I have other thoughts, too.
To Like and Be Liked in Return
Last night I watched “Generation Like” on PBS's Frontline and wanted to kill myself afterwards. It's about the online world, and social media, and how corporations pitch to kids and kids pitch to each other, and how little starlets are made from all this. And how money is made from all this.
A lot of it is obvious—your likes are added to the pool of likes and constitute market research which is monetized—so why did it depress me so? Perhaps because it shows some aspect of my own desires (attention, fame, hits) turned to 11. Perhaps because it reveals how bad I am at this game. (Of course, I still think people want to read.) Perhaps because there doesn't seem to be anything else. It's just this airless, clueless world.
I think the most depressing moment was when author Douglas Rushkoff asked kids about being a “sell out” or the concept of “selling out” and they didn't know what it was. They couldn't define it. They had no clue.
Identifying yourself by what you like is an old concept. Milan Kundera wrote about identifying yourself by the method of addition (likes) or subtraction in his novel “Immortality” but he goes further:
Here is that strange paradox to which all people cultivating the self by way of the addition method are subject: they use addition in order to create a unique, inimitable self, yet because they automatically become propagandists for the added attributes, they are actually doing everything in their power to make as many others as possible similar to themselves; as a result, their uniqueness (so painfully gained) quickly begins to disappear.
Wanting to be liked is an even older concept. But that's all there appears to be in this world. To like and be liked by dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions. For doing what? Skateboarding? No, harassing girls. For singing? No, just talking. For pushing this or that corporate product. For being the person with 300K likes. It's all turned up to 11. It's icky.
After it was over, and not learning my lesson, I tweeted something about it, and that tweet was immediately “favorited” by someone else. But it was one of those fake Twitter accounts, with the pretty girl on it, and the garbled tweets, and a decided lack of followers. It was someone pretending to be human. There was no one there.