Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Billionaire Boys' Club

Shawn Carter is not one of us. Maybe thirty years ago, back when he was still out in these streets, he was a regular person (and I mean that in a semi-good way), but that was before anyone ever heard of Jay Z. Back when he was this dude.

Now that he is this dude: married to Beyonce, Daddy to Blue Ivy and a set of twins, friend of Barack and Michelle, newly designated Black Billionaire who doesn't even bother to record his own music anymore (because why). Jay Z is no longer in our lives like he once was. To be honest, he hasn't been on our level since he and Kanye sawed up a Maybach for a joy ride in a music video. I don't care if it was a prop--who da phuck does that?

So let's break down all of this hand-wringing and public consternation about this NFL deal. Actually, let's focus on the real deal, which has yet to be officially confirmed except as told to TMZ (but they usually get it right). I suggested to the Hub after Jemele Hill and Very Smart Brothas weighed in, that this seems more like an effort to make nice with the owners because Jay probably wants to own a team. Unlike basketball where the owners tend to change regularly, NFL ownership is akin to membership in a private club. They don't let just anybody in, which is why the DESPOTUS is now leader of the free world...

And after you wrap your head around that revelation, team ownership makes a lot more sense than believing Jay wants to lock down a Superbowl Half-Time gig for Solange. Any dude that can rent out the Louvre for a music video isn't really entering into a partnership to provide entertainment that is easily obtained. And the sellout narrative doesn't fit him either since, and I repeat, this is a dude that can rent out the Louvre for his wife's music video. So no, Jay is simply doing what billionaires do, which is the type of shit that the rest of us can't fathom.

This is what Beyonce alludes to in Flawless, why she can work out her anger about his cheating on an entire album, and then go on to have twins with him. She was mad, not crazy. This is why Oprah won't marry Steadman. She did a cost-benefit analysis and determined that she only needs him for special occasions. This is why Robert F. Smith went off script, made an insane promise to a bunch of guys he never met, and has pissed off all those salty white people who have been paying off student loans for all of eternity. This is why Michael Jordan doesn't care that his visage has become the crying man meme because he's laughing on the inside. All of them can say without an ounce of irony what Dave Chappelle has been saying for years.


Billionaires operate on a level where the type of mundane stuff that the rest of us live with on a daily basis is, well mundane. Beyonce isn't clipping coupons for her children's back-to-school supplies. Of course Oprah doesn't know how to pump her own gas. Warren Buffet probably never carries cash, nor has he ever had his credit card declined. Mellody Hobson has a day job because she is just a millionaire married to billionaire George Lucas. If Robert F. Smith and his wife think the young men in the Class of 2019 need custom cuff links to wear with their off-the-rack suits, we won't suggest otherwise.

We expect Black billionaires to demonstrate a higher level of responsibility with their money and influence, which is why folks are seeing this move as a bitch slap to Colin Kaepernick. But don't feel that sorry for him. For all of his self-righteousness, that dude said that he would still play for the NFL if a team expressed interest. This is after he already signed a lucrative contract with Nike for not playing football. This is after he allegedly urged Nike to scrap a certain shoe design that was all ready to go on the shelves (and let's just ruminate on the idea that some dude who isn't selling shoes by playing in them has enough juice to kill another pair of shoes that he wouldn't even be promoting.) Kaep has every reason to be salty, but he's not operating on Jay's level. Billionaires aren't looking for jobs.

Billionaires create more opportunities for themselves to make more money. Oprah is preaching the gospel of cauliflower because she probably owns a farm somewhere. Does anybody actually believe that she eats frozen pizza? Jeff Bezos has convinced people that a trip to the store for basic items is more of a hassle than waiting 24 hours for front door delivery. He knows that we call Whole Foods 'whole paycheck' so while a few items are cheaper since he bought the chain, all of the exotic stuff is still overpriced. The Walton family makes more money per hour off the cheap crap y'all buy at Walmart than you save from shopping there (let that sink in).

Billionaires don't protest injustice the way the rest of us do. That's why Jay can declare that the time for kneeling is over because he doesn't plan on doing that and Beyonce isn't trying to ruin her expensive hosiery. Instead, billionaires use their money to address the world's problems (philanthropy is the fancy name for it), so that's why Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to eradicate certain diseases; why Michael Bloomberg is backing advocacy groups to address gun violence; and how in one grand act, Robert F. Smith has sparked a conversation about massive student debt. Jay might not have knelt or marched in these streets, but as a patron of the arts, he has been backing documentaries that address why folks are kneeling during the Anthem, such as the Kalief Browder story and the Trayvon Martin story. He has used his powers for good, and with the right type of pressure, that can and must continue. 

That doesn't absolve Jay from throwing Kaep under the bus; but let's be honest and finally disentangle ourselves from this righteous boycott/protest narrative. The real issue is not Colin Kaepernick, nor is it disrespect of the American flag. In some cases, kneeling has been in direct protest of the authoritarian posture of the DESPOTUS, which is why athletes in different sports like   Megan Rapinoe and fencer Race Imboden, have joined in solidarity. So we kind of get your point Eric Reid, but how much of your outrage is about your boy not playing, instead of about the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile where it belongs?

Billionaires play these high stakes, ruthless games of 3-D chess. Or poker. Or craps. So I agree wholeheartedly with Jemele Hill and every other smart person who saw through this shuck and jive move by Jay from the beginning. He is helping the league to save face by giving them a pass. In return, his reward will be a financial stake in a franchise, which is a lot more than the traditional 30 pieces of silver we're used to seeing in exchange for one's soul. But that's because he is already a billionaire, and in his world of 99 Problems, a soul ain't one. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

This is America

This started as a statement of annoyance on the Facebook page, but then I added visuals and started using big words and...

Monticello (2019)
I saw this post on Twitter and my initial response was to allude to my recent visit to Monticello, where the updated house tour now includes a more in-depth discussion of slavery. Then I went searching through my new phone to find the pictures that I just took there of the Hemings' slave cabin and the Big House. Then I started on a rant about why these images need to be seen together, regardless of your ethnicity because, for goodness sake, YOU WERE VISITING A DAMN PLANTATION!!!

Then I started on another paragraph about the many trinkets and artifacts that get preserved at those homes for display and how no one ever seems to wonder how those items are kept in such pristine condition considering the people who lived in the house didn't do much work. Maybe the lady of the house kept her trousseau organized--hand washed and ironed her own linen tablecloths and embroidered napkins. Maybe she polished her own silver brushes and handheld mirrors, then carefully wrapped them in tissue paper before storing them in velvet-lined boxes. Maybe she endured the heat of the sun to tend to the antique rose bushes, camellias, and hibiscus. Or perhaps that was the job of her husband, who also rose early every morning to tend to his vast acreage of cotton/sugar/rice/tobacco, which he planted, picked, and prepared for sale all by himself, dressed impeccably in a perfectly antebellum seer sucker or white linen suit.

For example, it is fair to argue that no one goes to Versailles to learn about the people who worked there, so why should anyone care about the people employed on southern plantations? Of course, Versailles is a beautiful palace museum, a showcase to the excesses of the French Monarchy, and we know this because once the servants got tired of going hungry while serving cake, enleves leur tĂȘtes!

Hemings' Cabin (2019)
But again, what does that have to do with visitors to an historic plantation home somewhere in the American South where once upon a time, people were enslaved? Why should you care that Miss Anne compelled her half-sister to serve as her chamber maid? Or that Master Tom worked his own son, whose mother was the head cook (upon whom he forced himself in the hidden places at night after everyone else was asleep), as his coachman? Who wants to hear about all of that depressing shit while on vacation? How dare they make you think about other people's suffering?

After all, your grandparents came to America years after all of that happened via a 'legal' immigration system that excluded Chinese immigrants, for example. Black people were already emancipated, so your Sicilian/German ancestors didn't own any slaves. Instead, they worked hard at those jobs in the industrial North and Midwest in factories, building trades, and shipyards (where the Blacks who had escaped Southern peonage could only secure work as janitors, cooks, and manual laborers). Your ancestors were allowed to fight to defend their adopted country, while Black and American Indian soldiers languished in segregated units or were barred from joining the unions. While it is tragic and unforgivable that 11,000 Germans and less than 2,000 Italians were interned during World War II; between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans (note the hyphen, because many were naturalized citizens) were interned on the US mainland and in Hawaii. After the War, your ancestors took advantage of the GI Bill and moved to suburbs like Levittown, NY and Clybourne Park, IL, while we faced restrictive covenants and redlining.

But by all means, do not allow these pesky facts to ruin your visit to Tara, Twelve Oaks, Nottoway or whatever other plantation you visit during your stay. (Update: I've learned that your Yelp complaint was posted about McLeod Plantation in South Carolina...did you even look at the brochure?) I'm sure that the little old ladies in lace white gloves who maintain these historic homes would rather host an upcoming wedding/vow renewal, prom, debutante ball, etc., than answer hard questions. For decades, they didn't want to talk about the slavery either because their side lost that war, so instead they regaled visitors with alternative tall tales like Gone With the Wind. That's a far more interesting saga than say...the story of why Hattie McDaniel couldn't attend the premiere of the very film that won her an Oscar.

Guess what, we (the Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders) are tired too. We're tired of insisting that our stories are as valid and as important and as significant as others. We're frustrated that the history of slavery and segregation in this country are considered optional, as if racism was no big deal. Because an understanding of slavery makes it a lot harder to ignore the Trail of Tears, the role of Chinese railroad workers in westward expansion, the Bracero Program and migrant farmwork, Hawaii, and the immigration raids in Mississippi. Understanding our history in this country is acknowledging that it is all American History--including how your Sicilian and German ancestors were similarly victimized.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

An Appreciation: Toni Morrison

When I first heard the news, I immediately thought about my Mother and how if she was lucid and able to articulate, she would write a more fitting tribute to Toni Morrison. That is because my Mother was one of Morrison's biggest fans--she read all of her books, taught several of them as well, celebrated her birthday in the same month, etc., while I can admit to having latched onto my Mother's appreciation. Like many of the Black women writers who came into my life in my youth, I loved Toni Morrison because my Mother loved her first.


So as I pondered the type of tribute that my Mother would have written, I decided to visit her. My Dad and I discussed Morrison's transition, but he said that he hadn't told her yet...because to him, my Mom is still very much aware of the world. The Alzheimer's has only made her mechanical existence a challenge, so I went along with his reasoning. Instead of sharing the sad news, I told her how I would download some of Morrison's audio books for us to enjoy together on my next visit. And she smiled.

Then as usual, life intervened, but before the great calamity of technical difficulties and shitty customer service, I had an epiphany via a text message exchange with one of my line sisters. I just learned that she is also a writer, so it seemed rather out of the blue that she would reach out to praise Morrison's well-known accomplishments. I responded with my wish that we could have had the chance to sit at Sister Toni's knee just to inhale her wisdom...but then it occurred to me that is why she wrote and became so celebrated--so that we all could receive her gifts.

I did not formally meet Toni Morrison in the flesh, but in hindsight, it would be inaccurate to say that I never sat at her knee. I heard her speak at Spelman College more than 25 years ago. It was right after she had been awarded the Nobel Prize. She came to Sisters Chapel for a reading that was open to the public, so the gathering was standing room only. Somehow, I managed to find a seat while she stood at the podium and read from Beloved and Jazz (just published). Afterwards, she offered some thoughts on reading and memory and history. I recall being childishly underwhelmed...

That story of my youthful foolishness could be another reason to cede this task to my Mother, who clearly would have had a different, more appreciative recollection. And that is entirely the point--I can't ghostwrite a tribute from my Mother's perspective on her favorite author. I must write from my own collection of experiences and encounters with Morrison's work. I must admit that I never could get through more than half of Beloved, despite several attempts. I must admit that I have only read a few of her books; yet the impact of those was profound. I must admit that I had been hoping to see the film about her life in the present tense before...because I had some sense that this moment was imminent.

My initial encounter with Toni Morrison came in high school. My Mother was teaching The Bluest Eye to her high school students and had accumulated a collection of her other works. I picked up Sula because of the cover art and inhaled that book twice. Then by chance, it was part of our summer reading list for Spelman, so I read it again. Then as we discussed it in our Freshman Composition class, I read it for a fourth time. Because of Sula, I met one of my best friends forever. Because of Sula, I earned a nickname that allowed me to finally appreciate the birthmark above my right eyebrow.

I re-read Sula every so often because it is a profound statement of womanism--the Black woman's assertion of her worth, her value, and of her free, defiant, and unrepentant self. The book was published the year I was born, in a time when society was beginning to debate the roles that were prescribed for women overall, so I am sure that it caused quite the scandal. I imagine that many good church ladies saw themselves in Nel, as many of us continue to do so now. I was always drawn to Sula, so I re-read this book to remind myself that whenever in doubt, I just need to live. And in my mind, Toni Morrison was a real-life avatar of the character she created.

I also read The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, several of her essays and editorials, and her collaborations with her late son Slade on children's books. But whenever I heard Toni Morrison speak, it was as Sula. I especially enjoyed her interviews with unsuspecting journalists who assumed that she should be honored by their attention. She wasn't--why would Sula be flattered by adoration? In hindsight, I understand now why Morrison seemed so unbothered, including the harsh critical reception of the movie version of Beloved. If we didn't get it, that was our fault for expecting it to be easy to read, easy to watch, easy to process...

Easy to assume that a Black woman with (or without) a Nobel Prize somehow needed permission to be free. To be Chloe Wofford. Toni Morrison. Mother. Sister. Elder. Audrey's favorite writer.

By reading her work, we all had the opportunity to meet her. If you have a favorite from her magnificent opus, you had the privilege to sit at her knee. If you have yet to make her acquaintance, lucky you--prepare yourself for a sumptuous feast, prepared lovingly like a Sunday spread.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

That Special Place in Hell

Madeline Albright famously said "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women," and Lord, I hope she's right. I have a list of recommendations for a few special ladies who deserve first-class accommodations in their expensive handbags...

1. Let's start with Tomi Lahren, who recently had to apologize for a particularly vulgar tweet aimed at Sen. Kamala Harris. It was so offensive that even her colleagues at FOX took issue with it, which is probably why she eventually apologized. Because really, of all the glass houses from which to throw stones...

2. Every single woman who still stans for R. Kelly.

3. If the world needed a nastier British version of Ann Coulter, there is Katie Hopkins. She is mean, and that is the most respectful thing I can say about her without insulting her looks or using an expletive. She gets regularly re-tweeted by our DESPOTUS, which means she is as deplorable as he is, but with an accent which might make it appear that she's a tad more polished, but racism and xenophobia coming from the gutter or from some lonely woman's parlor is still bile. And her obsession with hating on the Duchess of Sussex reads a lot like she once fancied herself as a contender for Prince Harry's affections (as if).

4. I have several Facebook friends who support her candidacy, but Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is absolutely on the midnight train to crazy town. And that is not my salty opinion in the wake of her debate night attack on Sen. Kamala Harris (because all's fair and politics ain't beanbag). However, it is my humble opinion that Gabbard is playing a very cynical game by going after Harris--the only other woman of color in the race. Take note of the fact that none of the other women have taken similar swipes at each other.

5. Every self-righteous pearl-clutching Christian lady who expresses an opinion on the DESPOTUS's strong faith and values. Yeah, I'm thinking specifically of statements made by former Rep. Michelle Bachmann, but she's not alone as there are clearly churches full of the faithful who agree with her. Believe whatever you need to in order to justify your misguided support for him, but be reminded that this is a man who endorsed a pedophile, has been accused of sexual assault by at least 12 women, and who bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. By biblical, do you mean the plague of evil he has unleashed in the world that has us needing the patience of Job to endure it?

6. Those sisters who proudly support and promote hotepian pontificating on social media. Like one sister I know who is on a self-appointed mission to convince Black women that our choices about everything are solely responsible for the deterioration of society. Or Yvette Carnell, who co-founded the American Descendants Of Slaves (ADOS) Movement which is another name for hotep with a hashtag. Of course, there are times when someone might inadvertently share hotepian booshay like a computer virus, such as those instances when someone posts what they think is a harmless meme of some dude sitting in a wicker chair with a barefoot woman standing next to him. If your Pavlovian response is to 'like' any picture that mentions the words queen and real man without taking note of the context, just know that is the same as buying raw shea butter from Walmart...

7. Mean mommies. We already know that abusive and neglectful parents deserve a one way ticket down under, but this special section is reserved for the mean moms who judge everyone else for their parental shortcomings. The women who would never forget the sunscreen or who always bring healthy snacks. The women who troll social media to shame other mothers. And if you don't immediately have an image in your mind of a woman who fits that description, you might need to look in the mirror...#ijs

8. The woman whose personal life impacts the environment of the entire office. And I'm not talking about Miranda Priestly at Runway (because her personal life was the office), I'm talking about that passive aggressive supervisor who makes everybody miserable, even her boss. As she sees it, part of her job is to micromanage everything, so she makes everyone clock in and out and has something to say if anyone lingers too long past a designated coffee break or lunch hour. If she doesn't have children, she brings her dog(s) to the office, but has an attitude whenever someone's child spends more than 20 minutes there. If she does have children, then their schedules dictate your access to her, so she's at work sending emails as soon as she clocks in at 7:30am, but refuses to respond to anything work-related after 4:30pm. You feel compelled to buy wrapping paper, popcorn, and Girl Scout cookies from her but she will call the cops on the kids selling water at the train station. And she is best friends with the woman in HR so there is no point in filing any complaints.

9. The Three Sirens of the Trumpocalypse: Lady Ivanka, Melania Antoinette, and because she is new to this blog and hasn't been properly introduced, the Lovely Lara, wife of Eric the Spare, the Duchess of Cork (since her husband runs the family winery). It seems rather fitting that if you listen to any of their lies long enough, you're headed for certain death...kinda the way our country appears to be heading. We already know that Ivanka only cares about her image, Melania doesn't care about anything, but what Lara cares about is dooming us to another four years of this madness. Which makes her the most dangerous head on the Hydra (yeah, I'm interchanging Greek metaphors all over the place).

10. Again, the Lovely Lara, Duchess of Cork, because for all of her hard work behind the scenes, she has earned her own paragraph. Of course there are plenty of other women who support the re-election of the DESPOTUS and they each have reserved seats (Ronna Romney McDaniel, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and everyone else mentioned in this article). But isn't it a little strange that the Duchess, a relative newcomer, has surpassed the other ladies-in-waiting? I just watched The King's Speech recently, so I can't help but to wonder if we are witnessing some kind of abdication now that Junior is more interested in romancing his new spokesmodel.

You know what, who cares about whatever Game of Thrones shenanigans they have going on because the point is that on some level, we need to look out for each other! I'm not saying that women have to agree on every issue, but there are a few matters where our interests in the common good should overlap. Like at the very least, we should all want clean air and water.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Revisiting Charlottesville

I had the pleasure of being invited on a girls' weekend trip to Charlottesville, and in as few words as possible, I will share everything that we did (because our trip coordinator RBP, one of those ultra efficient types who kept things moving, would want it that way):

On Saturday we went to the grocery store, got gas, greeted the other ladies, packed the car, then chose an 80s radio station for traveling music. We arrived at Monticello for our 11:45am tour, watched a short film on Sally Hemings, saw an exhibit at the visitor's center, then left for lunch at a nearby winery. We passed by the DESPOTUS's vineyard on the way to Blenheim winery where we had lunch, enjoyed a wine tasting, then left for our hotel to check in. We sat by the pool, had drinks there, then got showered and dressed for our 7pm restaurant reservations in town. We had dinner, took a walk through the downtown outdoor area, had ice cream, and headed back to the hotel for an hour of girl talk. On Sunday morning, we hiked four miles, showered and packed, had brunch, went back to the downtown mall to window shop, then returned home in time to prepare for the week ahead.

So why bother to write about all of that since that looks to be a very full and engaging outing? Well, because in the midst of that whirlwind, I was able to take a few mental notes about where I was, what had happened there, and how all of it relates to current events.

Monticello Revised

Slave Burial Ground (Jan. 2009)
My first visit to Monticello was ten years ago right before the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. The Hub and I went there to ring in the New Year and stayed at a local bed & breakfast. Until that time, I never had much interest in visiting any of those old plantations, but in 2009 I was still teaching American Government and History, so I saw this as educational research. I distinctly recall how the tour guides were very deliberate in their language--there were servants who worked in the house and workers who toiled in the fields. And given their reluctance to acknowledge anything illicit about the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, I just bit my tongue, took a few pictures, and rolled my eyes at all of the hypocrisy on display.
Gate to Monticello Cemetery

So I had no expectations for this visit. I just prepared to endure it as part of the weekend's itinerary. I did note that the tour offerings had expanded to include a separate tour about Sally Hemings, but I assumed that was due to the recent excavation of her living quarters. To my pleasant surprise, the general admission tour had been revised to be a lot more honest and forthright about Jefferson's complicated legacy, and that included a very moving presentation about Hemings' life. I won't spoil anything, but let's just say that there are no more euphemisms about whether the workers had the ability to leave their employment if they were disgruntled...

The winery

As previously stated we drove past the spare's property, with all of its gold-lettered pomposity on full display, staffed by H2-A visa holders.

Heather Heyer Remembered

On the corner where her life ended so tragically nearly two years ago, there is a makeshift memorial dedicated to Heather Heyer consisting of artificial flowers and homemade signs (a common sight in many urban communities, btw). There is also an honorary street sign. However, a few blocks away, there is another memorial to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson protected by state law and orange construction netting. I didn't see the Robert E. Lee statue, but no worries, I remember the one that stood in New Orleans and have seen countless others (including one in Gettysburg).

Jamestown 1619: The American Paradox

Tuesday in Jamestown, Virginia a ceremony took place earlier to commemorate the first legislative session held in the English-settled colonies 400 years ago. Because an invitation had been extended to the current President, most of the Democrats in the Virginia Assembly opted to skip the festivities. As a public service to my readers, I listened to his remarks and as usual, his speechwriters did a decent job of keeping him on topic. Only one reference to the indigenous people who were already here in 1619, but he denounced slavery and quoted MLK (who was born in Georgia). However, the highlight of the event was the heckling he received by one of the few Democrats who opted to attend, Del. Ibraheem Samirah:


I know that Jamestown is miles away from Charlottesville and was not part of my weekend getaway; nevertheless, that commemoration brings everything full circle to this moment where we are debating the meaning of symbols and language and intentions, as well as redefining what it means to be an American.

Well?

What does it mean to visit the plantation home of a Founding Father that only recently began to acknowledge his participation in certain aspects of the peculiar institution? Or to hike and/or drive through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain trails and not contemplate the Monacan, Powhatan, and Manahoac who once inhabited these lands? Why should there be permanent bronze monuments situated in city parks dedicated to men who rebelled against their country? Have grapes replaced tobacco as Virginia's most lucrative cash crop, and are we cognizant of what that means?

Is it ironic that situated adjacent to another Founding Father's plantation home is a property now owned by the 45th President whose unrepentant nativism, racism, and sexism brings to mind the very Disney animated villain whose story just happens to have taken place in Jamestown?

Before I lose track of my point, the past two weeks have given us this moment to confront who we are and the America we purport to be. Is it that fantastical crusading hero booshay that was offered up by the DESPOTUS in his remarks at Jamestown--hours after he disparaged the American city where the Star Spangled Banner was written as a rat-infested mess? Is it their land because they took to the streets to reaffirm their hegemony, or is it our land because we have been here since 1619 too and Woody Guthrie said so?

Maybe these are all rhetorical questions with no straight-forward answers, but at the very least, if we are attempting to reconcile with the past, that is progress worth celebrating. Or perhaps what I need is another fact-finding/soul-searching weekend trip to Charlottesville to visit two or three wineries...

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Lovers, The Dreamers, and Me

Last week I made the utterly insane declaration that I was going to take the Kid to see The Muppet Movie for its 40th Anniversary limited release in theaters. And then I promised to share the tale of our adventures, so here I am to made good on that along with sharing a bit about my nostalgia for the muppets.


It was just last month when I wrote this piece about Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary. A few days afterwards, I began to see advertisements on Facebook for the 40th Anniversary of The Muppet Movie, which made me suspicious about those algorithms, but also curious if it would be worth the trouble to see this at the theater with the Kid. And until late last Thursday morning, I had determined that given our past experiences (Hidden Figures, Coco, Moana, Ferdinand, Despicable Me, Misty Copeland in Swan Lake, etc.), it would be great in theory, but not worth the effort.

Mind you, I just passed on a formal outing to see the new CGI version of The Lion King for all of the above-referenced reasons (to which I will add Toy Story 4). Because in spite of her ability to sit quietly with a hand-held device for at least 30 minutes without so much as a peep, THIS KID CANNOT SIT STILL IN FRONT OF A LARGE SCREEN. And nobody has good money to waste on popcorn when half of it will end up on the floor. Nor can I afford to rent an empty theater for her to run around in for an hour in the dark.

But Thursday morning, two friends posted this article. And the next thing I know, I was recalling the words to this song and then I went looking for YouTube videos to post on the FB page and then I started searching for the closest theater with the best showtime and then hours later I'm on this improbable, hapless mission to drive across the Wilson Bridge in rush hour traffic by 4pm. Just as improbable and hapless as it was for an unlikely bunch of Muppets to travel across country to achieve Hollywood stardom.

As I shared in my Facebook post, this movie is peak nostalgia for me. And as I heard in the voices of the commentators who were discussing it the next day on Morning Edition, it has that same effect on all of us Gen X-ers who have seen this movie at least a dozen times (and its various sequels, and the original show, and Labyrinth, and Fraggle Rock, and the Muppet Babies).

Maybe I shouldn't try to speak for everyone in my generation, but there is something very emotional about seeing Kermit the Frog on that log with that banjo singing a song that many of us probably sang for some elementary school assembly (kinda like this clip from the Queen Latifah Show). There is the sweet nostalgia of looking back on that era of our youth--the innocence of a time when we could be entertained by the corniest of premises.

So yes, I got a little dust in my eye when those first familiar chords were strummed. I looked over at my sleeping Kid and had a full circle memory of being at the theater with my mother to see this movie (again for the umpteenth time) with my younger brothers. Now I'm the mother with the high strung little person who had to be taken out of the theater to diffuse a 20 minute meltdown in the bathroom...(and maybe I'll share the entire story at another time), but thankfully, we returned to enjoy the rest of the film without incident.

I tried to imagine how our parents reacted to all of that ribald adult humor and how so much of it went above our little heads. How Henson and Co. were clearly fans of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles and how significantly this Muppet film must have influenced the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou. How normal it was for us to accept that there was barely a handful of female muppets (all of whom were voiced by male puppeteers except for Fran Brill over at Sesame Street); yet, the diversity on display in that menagerie of characters would eventually inspire the likes of Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby Cadabby). And let's not forget to mention Avenue Q...

Back to the myriad reasons for our sentimentality--I was five when this movie was released and I can't name a single memorable Disney movie from the 70s. The 80s was a slightly more creative decade for the Mouse, but all in all, big screen kid's fare consisted of superheroes, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg blockbusters. And that was one of the inside jokes of watching the Muppets and SS during that time, because their parodies for younger audiences featuring real-life stars in comedic spoofs of their work was a wink at our parents. Who can forget Pigs in Space? And why else would we have tuned in to see Lynda Carter, Christopher Reeve, or Sylvester Stallone sing?

Ultimately, I realize that my own nostalgia for the Muppets has been the combination of this year marking a series of transitional personal milestones and the need for some form of escapism. Nostalgia during tumultuous times is like eating comfort food in the winter. Each of my recent trips back down memory lane has been akin to wearing my favorite pajamas, hugging my favorite stuffed toy, and eating my Grandmother's Sunday cooking. Which of course evokes the bittersweet acknowledgement of time and loss...because the longer we live, the more we have to look back on.

Hence that lump in the throat that develops whenever we hear Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog. To a lesser extent, we know that most of the other familiar voices have moved on (died or retired), and everything must change. In addition to Jim Henson, who created our beloved Kermit, many of the actors who had cameos in that movie are gone. Some of those classic muppet characters didn't return for subsequent incarnations of the show. Some of the people from that era in our lives may be gone or perhaps we're taking care of them. Our lives are busy, hectic, chaotic, and preoccupied; yet there is something so calming and special about that moment when an unassuming felt puppet frog tells us that we too can chase our dreams. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Lazy Sundays: Thirty Years of Romantic Comedies

It has gotten to that point in my life where every week it is brought to my attention that some major pop culture milestone occurred at least 25 years ago. And after I adjust to the shock, do the necessary calculations in my head, and then accept that yes, I am that old, I take a few moments to reflect on said milestone or event at issue. This isn't a scientific fact, but it feels as if this phenomenon is happening with more frequency now that I am on the other side of my big college reunion in May. So I have to admit to being a little caught off guard when I learned that one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, is turning 30 this year.

I am sure that I knew this because I still watch the Today Show and they are always good for a cast reunion segment. And I seem to vaguely recall that Rob Reiner, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal appeared together on the red carpet earlier this year, but for whatever reason, here I am scratching my head in disbelief that somewhere at my parents' house there is a well-worn VHS copy of this film that I can't watch anymore because no one owns a working VCR.

I won't take you through a sentimental re-visitation because there is really not much to unpack here. This movie is still one of the funniest and is IMHO, the ribbon-cutting high water mark for the romantic comedy genre for our generation, so there is no need for debate or additional discussion. Instead, I offer my Busy Black Woman list of other great romcoms that I believe merit some appreciation along with WHMS. My criteria highlights films that: (1) were released after July 1989; (2) place a coupling as the central vehicle for the plot; (3) I can enjoy watching at any point i.e., beginning, middle, or end; and (4) the comedy still holds up however many years after its theatrical release.

Boomerang (1992)
This is one of the funniest romcoms that almost never makes anyone else's favorites list, which is a shame. I'm guessing that is because it is tempting to see this movie as just another classic Eddie Murphy performance, but it is so much more. Instead it offers a role reversal scenario with the notorious womanizer who has seemingly met his match in his femme fatale boss...before the era of #MeToo. And it features an all-Black cast, so that also makes this movie a stand-out for me (while others might overlook it).

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
It might be tempting to assume that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan merit their own category; however, they only starred together in one other movie, You've Got Mail (1998) which is certainly a good film, and despite being perennially enjoyable, it isn't my favorite. My reason for selecting SIS over YGM is simple--the earlier film is sweet and timeless, which seems rather ironic when you consider that both films were made in the era before social media, smartphones, and even the internet. 

Forget Paris (1995)
I've read negative reactions to this movie over the years (as a Billy Crystal vanity project in which he wrote, directed, and starred), but it is brimming with hilarious moments. And while it might be tempting to compare it to WHMS and find it lacking, that's actually the point. This is the aftermath to happily ever after, with the tests and trials of two adults in midlife working to build a life together after the honeymoon.

Hav Plenty (1998)
This film is an underrated indie gem. The Hub, his sister, and I are probably the only people on the planet who think this movie even merits inclusion on any list. It's not that obscure, given Babyface's involvement in getting it produced and distributed, but it definitely doesn't get the same level of attention as most of the other films on this list. But it is at its heart a hopeless love story that makes the guy the lovelorn party who, as it turns out, is better off without the girl (if you believe the original ending).

High Fidelity (2000)
Jon Cusak is the anti-hero of this movie as the schmuck who does not deserve the love of any woman, let alone the ex-girlfriend who gives him what must be the third or fourth chance to screw things up. But he is self-aware of his fuckery while she apparently believes that her bad taste in men could only get worse, so maybe it will all work out.

Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)
If the category is a love triangle set to a soulful Motown soundtrack, then this is your movie. I never read any of Helen Fielding's books, but that doesn't mean they had the right to ruin everything with two sequels, as if maybe we care what happens after the first happily ever after. Well, no matter because as the Brits say, the first movie was brilliant with Hugh Grant cast as the bad boy our mothers warned us about (but we ignored her and enjoyed fucking him anyway).

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
There isn't anything that unique about this movie except for Joey Fatone. And I mean that in all sincerity. It is literally the same plot as every other sitcom or Lifetime movie that tells the story of a plain, awkward, sheltered girl who eventually blossoms/gets a makeover to become a less awkward, sheltered woman to win the heart of the really nice hot guy. Except in this version, her cousin is Joey freaking Fatone!

Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Are you even surprised that Hugh Grant makes another appearance on this list given his prolific success as a romcommer? I know that the die hards prefer him in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) or Notting Hill (1999), but his chemistry with Sandra Bullock in this film is undeniable. I mistakenly thought that she was also a constant presence on the romcom scene, but her only other title is While You Were Sleeping (1995). I like this movie for its modern take on the His Girl Friday (1940) theme.

Something's Gotta Give (2003)
I watch this movie in amazement that Jack Nicholson agreed to be the actual butt of the joke...but he is and it is hilarious. And because of that, it is even funnier at the end when he laments to being the chick in the chick film right before everyone lives happily ever after.

Hitch (2005)
It makes all the sense in the world to cast Will Smith as a relationship consultant to an awkwardly funny guy like Kevin James, but what makes this movie hilarious is how undone Smith becomes when the tables get turned on him. Not that he is even naturally awkward around Eva Mendes, it just becomes clear that for all of his charm and expertise, even the most confident guy in the room can lose major cool points and still win the girl.

Knocked Up (2007)
This movie offers another version of the boy-meets-girl-and-gets-her-pregnant-after-one-night romcom theme. Even though we know it will all work out in the end, because only Fools Rush In (1997); yet somehow it is a lot funnier to wonder what might happen if the guy is an unemployed stoner and the girl is an up and coming TV personality (hint: hilarity ensues). Just know that an improbability isn't an impossibility, which makes this film both enjoyable and endearing. 

Baggage Claim (2013)
This movie is so bad with its borderline Tyler Perry-esqe qualities, but because there is no preachy lesson about finding true love with the blue-collar brother who lives next door...nevermind. At least it manages to be funny without relying on the man wearing a dress trope (although Jenifer Lewis does appear as somebody's mama). More importantly, it is on this list as one of my guilty pleasures because as much smack as I talk about bad Black movies, I like this one.



Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, so these two classic films that obviously pre-date WHMS merit a mention:

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
I'm not a film historian, so I can't call this the original romcom, but I think it qualifies as a contender for that title. I love this movie although its casual references to domestic abuse are definitely problematic some 80 years later...(the 1956 remake High Society isn't funny at all).

Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Definitely not on your typical romcom favorites list, but once you consider that this is a classic love triangle embedded in a classic morality play set to a classic 40s-era big band musical, this movie is the real deal.

And finally, let's skip ahead four decades to mention these films:
Splash (1984)
One of my all-time favorites and also, one of Tom Hanks' very first starring roles.

The Princess Bride (1987)
Yep. Inconceivable, right? And the director is Rob Reiner, who later goes on to direct WHMS.

Roxanne (1987)
Another sentimental favorite from my youth, back when Steve Martin was a wild and crazy guy, and Daryl Hannah was the golden girl.


Coming to America (1988)
This movie was released a year prior to WHMS. And yes, this most certainly is a romcom (actually one of the first to feature a Black couple). She's your Queen to BEEEE!

And that's all folks! There are quite a few films that were considered but didn't make the cut this time around, but no worries because when Steel Magnolias turns 30 later this year, we'll revisit the broader genre of favorite chick flicks.