Monday, April 30, 2018

Fake News and Eyelashes

On the Monday after the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner (which I have never been in the habit of watching) I find myself procrastinating by checking out old YouTube videos of past roasts. This is because I took the time yesterday to watch the entirety of comedian Michelle Wolf's roast, and have been watching/reading a bunch of post-event lamentations and refutations and denunciations and what-not. And my suspicion is that all of this ultra-sensitivity, especially on the part of those in the so-called Liberal Media Establishment is just a little too...

I don't know what word to use yet. Is it whiny? Is it self-aggrandizing? Is it ironic? Is it hypocritical? Is it sexist? Is it just more proof that there is a very flimsy sisterhood among white women?

But let's start with my initial take: Michelle Wolf was funny at times, flat at others. She lost the audience about midway through her set but like a trooper, she kept going. And then she zinged them at the very end, knowing that she had nothing to lose at that point. So perhaps, her best joke was the very prominent middle finger she offered to the stodgy Washington press corps for their complicity in helping to enable the train wreck that is the current Administration. 

So why has a good deal of the criticism been focused on three jokes that were aimed at Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Three jokes that offered the following critiques: (1) that she lies; (2) that her eye makeup is always perfect; and (3) that she looks like a character from The Handmaid's Tale. She did say some other stuff, but that was pretty much the gist and from that, we got calls for Wolf to apologize and a statement from Margaret Talev, the dinner chair disavowing her performance, accompanied by a chorus of complaints from the likes of Andrea Mitchell, Mika Brzezinski, and Maggie Haberman...

Fascinating (in my best Spock impression). And yes, my ironic choice of this Leonard Nimoy picture is meant to highlight how all of this outrage is over eye makeup.

Anyway once I started writing this, I stopped listening to the past WHCD roasts, so just to give you an idea of the standard Michelle Wolf is alleged to have sullied, judge for yourself: Stephen Colbert in 2006; Wanda Sykes in 2009; Seth Meyers in 2011; Jimmy Kimmel in 2012; Cecily Strong and Larry Wilmore in 2016; and Hassan Minhaj in 2017. I'm not even suggesting that you blow off half a day to listen to all of these, as this is just a sampling of what is available in YouTube. I am simply suggesting that there might be some really offensive jokes embedded in one or all of those videos, and one thing I do not recall is a call for an apology or any mea culpas being released. 

The point of inviting a comedian to the DC Journalist Prom is to get a few laughs, which is the same reason why comedians get hired to host the Oscars and the Emmys. Anyone who preferred to be covering serious news should have been in Michigan with the President. 

Exactly. While Michelle Wolf managed to poke fun of Rachel Maddow, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Preibus, Hillary Clinton, CNN, This is Us, and the Democrats, she avoided making a Bill Cosby rape joke, which probably would have generated much less offense. Meanwhile, the President was hosting a rally in MICHIGAN, never mentioned the ongoing crisis with Flint's water, but y'all mad because Michelle Wolf dissed Sarah Huckabee Sanders' flawless makeup techniques.

But Michelle Wolf did mention Flint, Michigan. She also mentioned the arrests at Starbucks and how they plan to solve racism in an afternoon. And maybe half of whatever else she said wasn't all that funny, but that really wasn't the point of the outrage, was it? Aunt Sarah's makeup is always going to be on point.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Cosby Show Revisited (Again)

Prior to the announcement of the verdict yesterday, I had been engaged in an existential conflict about whether to own up to watching snippets of old Cosby Show episodes in spite of my past declaration that I would not. I had not yet resolved that dilemma because I was not expecting such a quick conviction...but life comes at you fast. And while it doesn't matter to a single person other than my own judgmental conscience, I have made my decision. I will reveal it after you read parts of the earlier version of this piece:

Every now and then the Hub sneaks up on me when I'm channel surfing. And what tends to happen is that I land on the Cosby Show and linger there while I surf, or sometimes, I sit there and watch a few minutes before he ridicules my weak resolve not to watch.

I loved that show. I still love that show. And I want to watch when my favorite episodes air, but I know that I resolved not to watch just last year when I said that I was not ready for reruns. So here we are again, ready to sit through another trial that will reveal more sordid details of Mr. Cosby's sexual proclivities. And I'm still not ready.

I am not ready to see him found guilty, which makes me feel the same uneasiness I felt years ago when I made the same declaration with respect to Michael Jackson. I resolved that MJ dilemma for myself in what I would call a convenient manner...I chose not to believe any of the more serious allegations. I still don't, yet I accept that one of my favorite pop idols was a troubled and complicated man. And I admit that my choice was made a lot easier by MJ's tragic and sad death a few years after his last trial.

What I am ready to admit is that I expect a similar personal resolution of this Cosby matter. Not that I will choose to believe in his innocence (because I don't). Not that I will eventually allow my sympathies for his family and their suffering to soften my heart (although I have nothing but sadness for the trauma this family has endured, in the past and most recently). Not because I expect for him to die a broken man with a very complicated legacy (which will likely happen). Not because I think Tom Mesereau is some special kind of jury whisperer (even if this track record suggests that might be so).

I will resolve this by focusing on my affection for the show. I will try to pretend that I am not disgusted by the thought that somewhere behind the scenes, there was an unsuspecting aspiring actress who was promised a cameo under some elaborate pretense. I will remember how much I related to Denise, Theo, and Vanessa as peers and will try not to think about what their Dad might have been doing all those years in that basement gynecologist office. I will focus on the fact that my model of Busy Black Womanhood was Claire Huxtable, who was based on Camille Olivia Hanks...

I did indulge in one entire episode a few months ago, and I even tweeted/posted about it because of its utility to my #HBCUJustGive campaign. I know that reads exactly like an excuse instead of an admission that I just wanted to watch that entire episode (even if it was one of my least favorites in the past). However, the Hub has not 'caught' me again as I have managed to 'remember' that the show airs on a certain channel every morning right around the same time the Hub is about to jump into the shower. 

And that was the last thing I wrote before I put this piece aside. I made only slight edits to the draft, which included posting a link to the episode I referenced and adding the gif. I suspect that I will eventually resolve the dilemma of separating the actor from the character he created. The verdict hasn't changed my opinion of the show, which I still love and acknowledge for its historic and cultural significance.

However, there are other artists who can create meaningful work that deserve our support. We can always look back with fondness on the Cosby Show for what it meant, just as we can look back on other old TV shows that were products of their time (even if they are politically incorrect and culturally problematic now). I have often heard it suggested that if we were to judge every artist for their human frailties we would have no one left to admire. 

Well, I reject that. I don't demand that our artists be perfect, I just expect for them to show some modicum of human decency towards others. Sexual violence towards women is not the same as being a serial philanderer. So I am under no obligation to honor Bill Cosby by continuing to support his work or defend his legacy. If I choose to watch the show, I will acknowledge that is a controversial and problematic choice given what I know about his predatory behavior towards 60 or more women. And if I'm honest, the fact that I was ever ashamed to be caught says more about my conflicted feelings and why it is much easier not to watch.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Black, Drip Coffee

I didn't intend to write an entire post about the latest public racial micro-aggression, otherwise known as being black at Starbucks, but here I am because once again, here we are as a society, confronted with our "unconscious racial biases"...

I feel compelled to explain why I won't be participating in a boycott of Starbucks. For the record, I used to go hardcore on their burnt coffee, and every now and then when I need a jolt, I will make a visit. But the rotation of my life that once found me in Starbucks on the regular has changed, so I can take them or leave them alone. And I believe the last time I intentionally went to a Starbucks was to take this picture:

Which was part of an effort by Spelman alumnae to honor the appointment of Rosiland Brewer as Chief Operating Officer last fall (so any *news* that suggests that they found a black woman to promote in order to fix this for them is misleading). And I stand by this photo and the reason why we were so excited to take them to acknowledge her as one of the reasons why a boycott seems extreme.

So let me start there by addressing the fact that of all the places where an incident like this would occur, Starbucks is both the most obvious and yet ironic venue for a major racial micro-aggression. Starbucks is the canary in the coal mine of gentrification. Once a Starbucks opens in certain neighborhoods, that is typically a sign that demographic changes are about to happen. Yet, they hire locally, so at the same time that Aunt May is being persuaded to sell her home for more money than she's ever earned in her life, her adolescent grandchildren can get good paying jobs working at the same Starbucks that attracted the potential buyers to her neighborhood.

It is a melting pot where people go to loiter while drinking over-priced burnt coffee. I have never understood why they even bother to give the names of the varieties of coffees they serve because in the end, it all tastes the same. And because Starbucks serves both a functional walk-through as well as a de facto community gathering spot, there is always an eclectic mix of folks in there at any given time. Starbucks is Cheers, McDonald's, and the public library for every one who wants to avoid going to any of those other aforementioned places.

Without knowing much more about what prompted their arrest other than a request for the bathroom key, I think we can all agree that was no reason to call the police; however, what happened next is the reason why we might need to rethink whether a boycott of the entire company is the most appropriate response. Because the video was taken by a white patron, and on that video, the person who confronts the officers while they are making the arrest is another white patron. And while we might be all caught up in the mechanics about the biases of the employee, the manager, and the police, we need to stop to acknowledge that we know about this because of the woke white allies who intervened.

That would not have happened at Wal-Mart or Chick-fil-A, companies that black folks love but that don't demonstrate the same level of corporate support for their workers. At an Ohio Wal-Mart in 2014, a black man was shot to death after a white customer saw him walking around the store with a toy gun and called the police. This is a retailer that sells firearms. Chick-fil-A's CEO admitted to supporting organizations that oppose marriage equality. You may not care about LGBTQ rights, but companies that oppose the civil rights of one group probably were not on the front lines with our parents and grandparents (IMHO) seeking racial justice.

But a company that has at least tried to talk and walk the language of inclusion, diversity, tolerance, social justice, racial harmony, gender equality, living wages, universal healthcare, and that attracts the types of patrons who would stand up to the police in the face of what they felt was an obvious injustice might deserve benefit of the doubt. That company might deserve the opportunity to make things right, even after their CEO issued a less than satisfactory first response. Even if the employee wasn't fired or if it took them 48 hours to reassign the store manager.

Because the COO is a black woman with a grown son who could just as easily been in the same shoes as the two men who were arrested. Because it was just last month that Starbucks achieved pay equity. We can agree to disagree, but I cannot equate this incident with the protests at the Woolworth lunch counters from 50 years ago (like one of my classmates says I should). I cannot look upon Starbucks with the same wariness that I look upon the NFL, where black bodies are bruised and broken for entertainment value, but are not allowed the right to protest against police actions that result in bruised and broken black bodies under the guise of protecting and serving the public.

But I am happy to continue my boycott of Koch Industries and their products as the Koch brothers have funded efforts to support stand your ground legislation, stringent voter identification laws, and other conservative causes via ALEC (and trust that I am displeased by their alliance with UNCF). I don't need any craft supplies from Hobby Lobby, nor do I need any home improvement items from Home Depot. Each one of these companies has had issues that I find a lot more troubling. Now, I won't be going out of my way to get coffee from Starbucks, and I reserve the right to change my opinion of them if I am not satisfied with how they resolve this issue.

Besides, I can burn my own coffee at home.