Archive | May, 2010

Mugabe and Ahmadinejad are Like Reality T.V. Characters We Hate

13 May

Appreciate the feeling of intense, yet futile rage? Interested in yelling at your computer screen for the next few minutes? Then take a little time to watch the video above, of Mugabe and Ahmadinejad’s press conference in Harare a few weeks ago.

If you can’t bring yourself to click on the play button (I get it, I really do). Here’s the text according to the New York Times:

Mugabe: “President Ahmadinejad and myself have the same policy, and same stance, anti-imperialist, anticolonialist, and stands to protect our sovereignty and our right of ownership of our resources.”
Ahmadinejad : “Iran and Zimbabwe are two countries that continue their efforts to maintain their sovereignty and they move in the path of independence, and do everything in the path of peace, brotherhood and justice.”

You know those people on reality tv shows who take things way too far? Like, Person X in the house finishes their milk so they decide to retaliate by humiliating that person in front everyone else in the cruelest way possible? And then they never, EVER let it go, and use it as an excuse for all sorts of heinous behavior? As a viewer, you think to yourself, “I was with you before you went insane and made this a bigger deal than it needed to be.”

These are the same people who are generally nasty, and think it’s okay because “that’s who they are.”  When others start confronting them about their behavior or actively avoiding them, they claim to be victims of a conspiracy to persecute them.  And then, finally, when they realize how isolated they are, they claim it’s because everyone is just s000o jealous and intimidated by whatever magical qualities they possess. The sad thing about these people is that in claiming that they don’t care about everyone  and “didn’t come here to make friends,” they make it painfully obvious that they really wish that everyone loved them.

On the world stage, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad are these people.

People in the West must hate them because they’re secretly bloodthirsty neocolonialists, and the overwhelming majorities of their own citizens who vote against them must be brainwashed. They, the autocrats, are the real victims in all this, the real peacemakers who are sincerely trying to build a better world.  And if you try to bring up all the truly heinous things they’ve done, you’re twisting the facts to try to paint them as villains. Moreover, it’s important to remember that their cause is absolutely noble, and that whatever means they employ in its pursuit are justified.  So if you disagree, it’s you who has the problem.

And just like when you’re watching Real Housewives/The Real World/The Hills you want to scream: People don’t hate you because they’re jealous! They hate you because of the awful things you do!

The nice thing about reality t.v. shows is that you know that these people are going to get their comeuppance one day. It will either happen on the reunion special (when the rest of the cast gangs up on them) or it will happen after the camera stops rolling, when their lives fall apart and they inevitably become has-beens.

My question is: when will the real world start resembling The Real World? When do the millions of people who have borne the costs of Mugabe’s disastrous policies get to see him shamed and punished? If he ever gets indicted by the International Criminal Court, I don’t want a professional, austere trial. No Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for me, I want it done reality t.v. style, complete with cruel humiliation! I’m talking the Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion level humiliation, with tears, jeers and Andy Cohen feverishly attempting to moderate. We could even bring out surprise guests, like people who have been illegally detained and tortured in secret prisons! And of course, someone will attempt to beat Mugabe up, except this time, Andy Cohen will be instructed not to intervene and instead, just let it happen. Aaaaaaaaaaah.

And then Mugabe will say he’s so sorry for every single thing he’s done. We’ll listen quietly while he talks, but then we’ll tell him that just like Jill and Bethenny, we’re DONE. “Get a hobby!” we’ll say, “Preferably one that suits the prison inmate lifestyle.”

Eric Holder Should Switch Lives with Stedman Graham

9 May

Image used under a Creative License from flickr user ImagePros

Image used under a Creative Commons License from flickr user Floyd Brown

Just think about all the perks, Mr. Attorney General!

  1. No one would notice! Stedman is totally your celebrity doppelgänger (or maybe you’re his). It’s like you both went to the same stylist and said, “give me some gray hair and a freakishly dark moustache.”
  2. You wouldn’t have to read graphic accounts of U.S. authorized torture anymore (because the torture memos aren’t part of Oprah’s Book club, and she would tell you that all those gruesome details bring too much negative energy anyway).
  3. Additionally, no more having to constantly explain why waterboarding is morally abhorrent, ineffective, and actually illegal! Your only responsibility, per Oprah, would be to “live your best life” (which I assume means eating a lot of amazing food and hanging out with Deepak Chopra)
  4. This most malicious rumor people could spread about you is that you are Oprah’s beard, not that you are an Al Qaeda mole intent on destroying the US from within.
  5. Dr. Phil would be at your beck and call, and I’m guessing after a year on this job, you could use some therapy.
  6. Barack Obama would go from being your boss to the guy your awesome partner helped elect. Which means he’d have to suck up to you.
  7. The only people yelling  stupid questions at you would be paparazzi, not Congresspeople and tea-partiers.

Of course, the only glitch in this switcheroo is that there’s absolutely nothing in it for Stedman, so I don’t see him saying yes. Unless he really feels like his life wouldn’t be complete without death threats from crazy right-wingers

An Open Letter to Clair Huxtable

8 May

Dear Mrs. Huxtable,

You are the most amazing fictional character ever.

Thanks for providing little black girls like me an excellent model of what it means to be a “modern woman.” You are so uncompromisingly intelligent, and most importantly, I never get the sense that you feel guilty about being ambitious and smart.  I remember an episode when you came home and talked about the amazing job you’d done at work that day, and it was so lovely to hear you unabashedly acknowledge how awesome you are, with no hesitation and no false modesty. Not only are you a good lawyer, you are also apparently fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. I don’t know what kind of law you practice, but I’d like to think that you would have made a way better Supreme Court Justice than Clarence Thomas (but I understand that your filming schedule probably got in the way).

Even though I remain a little grossed out by how much you and Dr. Huxtable apparently get it on, I do love that you guys have such a great marriage. You make the whole idea of an egalitarian marriage seem so easy and natural (when it is anything but). And you have tons of fun together! You go to jazz concerts and dance all the time, aaaaand spend like 90% of your marriage laughing. Props to you for knowing how pick ’em!

I hate to add this, because I shouldn’t have to say it just to make you seem more delicate and less threatening, but you are a great mom. You treat your kids like actual human beings who have opinions that are worthy of respect, and you push them to justify their beliefs or actions when you disagree.  And you know how to give a really scary “Oh no you didn’t” eye when your kids (mostly Theo) say something ridiculous. That alone makes you a winner in my book.

But mostly, I love you for this moment:

Thanks again

Being a Michael Jackson Fan Means Always Having to Feel Sorry (For Him)

6 May

I love Michael Jackson, I really do.  But, as you all know, there isn’t one single entity known as “Michael Jackson.” No, within that too short life span were several Mikes, each with their own distinct personalities, clothing styles and yes— races.  And the incarnations of Michael Jackson are not  created equally.  I have my favorites.

First is Jackson 5 Michael, the universal, uncontroversial favorite. In my view, this Michael Jackson unfairly benefits from his youth. Add the fact that he was preternaturally talented and ridiculously adorable, and the deck is stacked in his favor.  Despite that, I’ll admit that I too have a soft spot for the kid.  He was so beautifully black, with his well-maintained afro and genuinely mischievous smile. And that voice! Whenever I listen to a Jackson 5 track, I am always unnerved by how emphatically Michael sang about love and other grown-up issues, given that he was still technically a middle-schooler at the time.  I also love that while his singing voice was very mature,  it was still noticeably a kid’s voice, that is, it sounded unsullied.  I think that’s why we all love coming back to this MJ, because it allows us to revel in what he was like before fame (and Joe Jackson) destroyed him–beautiful, innocent, and astoundingly talented. And maybe we wish that we had the power to freeze time and keep him that way.

Next, is the Michael Jackson that I am wholly devoted to– Off the Wall era Michael. I am not  joking when I say that I would have married this man. Why? First, after some awkward teenage years, Michael had settled into young adulthood nicely,  and he was just so resplendent and handsome. Second, Off the Wall is pure genius. Michael was as bubblegum pop as you could get, but you can’t listen to that album and not be impressed by how musically sophisticated it is (props to Quincy). His  falsetto was at its best, and all the songs on that album celebrate the intense, immeasurable pleasure of being young.  I sincerely hope that Michael was  feeling a little of that joy himself, after leaving the Jackson 5 and escaping the control of Motown and Joe to start fresh on his own. Whenever I watch the music video for what is quite possibly my favorite song in the world, it’s hard not to get the sense that Michael felt free and happy:

This brings us to Thriller era Michael, the superstar.  Obviously, he’s a close second for my affection, given the uncontested genius of that album (Besides the obvious tracks, “Human Nature” is particularly amazing). The one thing that keeps me from being down with this guy is that at this point in his life, you start to see signs of how damaged he is.  The racial anguish that would torment him for the rest of his life was already beginning to present itself in nose job #1 and the slightly lighter skin, and his glorious afro had been replaced with an oily Jheri curl (that’s really more of the fault of the ’80s).  Not only that, but he was beginning to do weird stuff like surrounding himself with exotic animals, a foreshadowing of the full-blown creepiness that was to come in later years. My last quibble about this guy is that he became too much of a pro, which in my view, made him less of a joy to behold. His dancing was more tightly choreographed, and his singing more disciplined. Of course, those things led to some really brilliant results (particularly in his dancing), but I feel like a little bit of that unbridled magic from his previous work was lost. Plus, we now know that the intense scrutiny that followed  in the wake of Thriller was ultimately his undoing, so this album is a little bittersweet for me.

By the time  Bad/Dangerous era Michael came around, things were very weird. For some reason, Michael decided that he needed to reinvent himself as a super macho guy, the kind who gets into gang fights and inappropriately grabs himself all the time.  This was really misguided, given that what always made Michael Michael was his androgyny, particularly his ability to make femininity cool, even attractive, in men. So the whole tough guy thing was wholly unconvincing and unappealing to me.  I also thought that the quality of his work declined under this new persona, because it caused him to abandon his stunning falsetto in favor of a throaty growl. Moreover, at this point, Micheal was knee-deep in plastic surgery, going from looking vaguely biracial during Bad to looking very white by the time Dangerous came out. But, given that this is the Michael Jackson who was around when I was growing up, I can’t kick him to the curb altogether.  He made “Bad!” And “Black or White!” And “Remember the Time!” These are the songs that my siblings and I danced to, and this is the time when I thought that there was this incredible dancer in America who could literally defy gravity:

The last Michael Jackson I’m going to call Post-History Michael. And I’m not gonna lie to you, I can’t stand this dude. He was just so angry all the time, and intent on playing the victim when the reality was that it was his questionable behavior which was fueling all of the criticism.  The songs about going out to the disco and dancing his heart out were gone, now all of his music was about how no one understood him and how persecuted he was. This was bad enough, but he also insisted on virtually spitting out each lyric, which gave his music a decidedly caustic vibe. What disappoints me most about Michael at this point is that his behavior was so juvenile, perhaps a reflection of his lifelong desire to reclaim the childhood that Mean Old Joe stole from him. I have a lot of sympathy for that, but he took it too far, and became a joyless whiner for the rest of his life. The definitive “I’m a victim” anthem was “They Don’t Care About Us,” which included such embarrassingly self-indulgent lyrics as:

Beat me, bash me
You can never trash me
Hit me, kick me
You can never get me

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

Some things in life they just don’t wanna see
But if Martin Luther was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be

Negro, please. You know you’re arrogant when you think that your personal problems amount to an egregious violation of rights that Martin Luther King would have been disturbed by. As a rule, once you start name-checking MLK, Gandhi or Mandela in reference to your own crisis, it’s time to quit. But Michael continued on this road, blaming the bad sales of Invincible in 2001 on his record company, describing the head, Tommy Mottola, as “a racist” and “the devil.” It’s actually sort of funny when you think about the fact that once Michael stopped resembling a black man entirely, he began to act like the crudest stereotype of one.

In the end, the self-mutilation was too painful to observe, as Michael Jackson finally rid himself of everything that had initially made him such a breathtaking sight to behold. I stopped listening to his music after History, because it simply wasn’t fun anymore. Given what we now know about his drug use and personal life, it is evident that it was an equally joyless experience for him to make his final albums as it was for us to listen to them.  Still, when I stumbled on this track from his 2001 album, it was good to know that no matter what he did to himself, even he couldn’t completely extinguish his prodigious talent.

\”Butterflies\” by Michael Jackson