Saturday, December 17, 2022

When Big Mama Dies

A few months back, the movie Soul Food (1997) was in the queue on one of the premium cable movie channels, which meant that for a few weeks, it aired every other night. Because it is one of those bad Black movies that I will stop and watch whenever, I got to see different parts of it a few times. In one of my FB groups, someone else must have done the same, and he started a thread about all of the ways we had misjudged the eldest sister, Teri, portrayed in the film by Vanessa L. Williams.

His shot across the bow--how it was time to have an adult conversation about how Teri was constantly mistreated by her ungrateful family. He argued that her bitterness was justified, and basically that Cousin Faith was lucky that Teri was too smart to actually kill her or whup her ass when she had the chance. He listed various other transgressions, and we had a great discussion of the many ways that her family had taken advantage of her, especially Big Mama Joseph, who presided over the entire dysfunctional mess. I mean, think about how eff'd up it is for your Mama to allow the dude who two-timed you with your younger sister to marry into your family and then eat dinner every Sunday without the constant threat of food poisoning hanging over his head? And that same Mama lets everybody treat you like the Joseph Family Building and Loan, even though she has a stash of cash she's been stockpiling in the house for years?

Yep, it's true. Big Mama Jo was terrible, yet we all cried when she died because that's what we're supposed to do when the family matriarch passes away. We're supposed to forget that she enabled a lot of unhealthy shit because she also was a kind and loving Mother/Grandmother/Auntie/Big Sister who fed all of the neighborhood stray cats. We have watched this movie for years and I have never seen anyone argue that maybe Teri was right to want to sell the house to get some of her money back from her family of freeloaders who were never going to treat her any differently anyway, so why not just be that bitch and finally break free?

The next time you watch that movie, tell me that your eyes have finally opened to see what I saw years ago, but didn't dare speak it lest I be branded a hater. Because I always thought the Joseph family was trash and that the depiction of Teri was too shrill and bitter as if she was just an upper-class snob instead of tired of their broke asses. (Hence why I deem it a bad Black movie, one that is problematic on many levels while still entertaining and watchable.)

At some point, I had an epiphany about another beloved figure in popular culture...I'm not naming anybody just yet, nor will I offer a list of the ways that she was just as bad as the fictional late Big Mama Jo. I will simply suggest that maybe now that she's dead, folks should look more objectively at the terrible shit she enabled and how that might have impacted various members of her family. 

Having lived through the death of a beloved family matriarch myself (around the same time Soul Food was released), I can attest that it blows a gigantic hole in the heart of the family that never refills. My extended family hasn't gathered for a joyous holiday since her death; instead, we have come together for funerals. And at each one, we all sit around at the repast and recall how great things were when we were younger and how we need to get together more often under better circumstances, and then another year passes. Somebody else dies, I skip past their name in my address book, and life goes on. 

Some of us chose to center our lives around a different matriarch. That could be our own mother, and/or some other woman whose mother-like aura has that same magnetic power to draw everyone to her for comfort and refuge. And like the Big Mamas that came before her, she does the best she can to keep her family and the assorted strays together, in spite of the bullshit that goes on in the background. She is polite to the new girlfriend who has replaced the daughter-in-law. She welcomes that troubled grandson who only comes around to borrow money, unannounced and at inopportune times, which she sends to him even though she has promised to stop. She cares for the babies of all the single unwedded women because she knows how hard it is, and she doesn't judge them for continuing to make bad choices with the wrong men. She has co-signed bad loans, hidden unmentionable contraband in her home, listened to every sob story, cooked a lot of comfort food, and keeps on giving and loving for as long as the Good Lord allows.

I want to be clear that I am not poking fun at Big Mama (considering the obvious connection to being a Busy Black Woman), so on general principle, she is not a bad person. She's just very complicated like all human beings. She's giving and loving and strong-willed, which are qualities that not enough people seem to understand these days. If some of y'all had been raised by a Big Mama, I wonder if you would still be such unrepentant jerks. (On second thought, she's the reason why some of y'all are what you are, so carry on.) Some of you reading this are already Big Mamas or in-training without even realizing it. 

I happened to be watching A Raisin in the Sun (2008) recently, and because it is the version with Diddy, it definitely qualifies as a bad Black movie. Watching a few of my favorite scenes reinterpreted by Phylicia Rashad, I saw some of the conflict with different eyes. Her Lena Younger has all of the same overbearing Big Mama presence that made Claudia McNeil so iconic and definitive in this role for so long. However, I noticed how Lena treats her daughter-in-law Ruth (Audra McDonald) like the only other responsible adult in the household. In essence, as her equal, and I missed that for years. As such, it makes so much sense to me why Walter Lee is so resentful and spiteful to his wife as she is the Big Mama in-training. (No worries, we're not going to examine the mother-son relationship nor how it was understood to be a point of contention between role originators Sidney Poitier and McNeil.)

However, the tension captured in the play/movie highlights how Big Mamas occupy a larger-than-life presence in the lives of others, especially their children. Walter Lee Younger is a 35 year-old man whose Big Mama Lena still makes all of the decisions for the family. In Soul Food, Big Mama Jo looms over family conflicts even as she is comatose and dying. Another Big Mama exercised her prerogative to meddle in the lives of her children and grandchildren, which is kind of why everything is so messy right now. Big Mamas mean well, but remember that saying about the road to hell and good intentions?

Like I said, Big Mamas are human. While we should honor and revere them, there comes a point when Big Mama's word isn't sufficient to resolve our problems. While her home can be a place of refuge, it can also become a cage. She can feed our souls, but sometimes she feeds our bad habits and unhealthy indulgences. Big Mama Lena Younger expects her son to act like a man but constantly berated him like a child. Big Mama Jo was clearly a great cook, but she didn't adopt healthier alternatives and it killed her. That other Big Mama kept silent when her voice was needed to silence the viciousness that was aimed at the women who married into her family (probably because the negativity heaped on them contrasted with the praise and honor reserved for her).

Because Big Mama is keenly aware that her time on earth is finite, she often selects an heir. And let me tell you, whew! Sometimes the choice is easy because most women don't want the trouble. It's obvious that Beneatha Younger has dreams beyond taking care of a family. Part of the enmity between two of the Joseph sisters was about who was Big Mama's favorite and heir apparent. Although Teri expected to inherit the mantle with everyone financially indebted to her, second-born Maxine steals earns the role by rekindling the weekly Sunday dinners. In that other family, the lines of succession having already been established, the idea that there was even the need for conflict is one that appears to have been manufactured to sell newspapers...

So, if you hadn't guessed which dearly departed Big Mama I keep alluding to, well here is one last clue: she was THEE Big Mama, even though nobody would have dared to call her that in life. But maybe if the world had regarded her with a little more humanity, then perhaps we wouldn't feel compelled to take sides and make demands regarding what is a very public after-the-funeral squabble that has been going on for these past few months.

I mean, why else do average people in these tweets think they should have a say as to whether one of her grandsons ought to be disinherited because they don't like his wife? Because that is the gist of this--y'all don't like his American wife and feel some kind of way that she didn't much care for how she was mistreated by the British tabloids. So she did what every other self-respecting celebrity does when they want to tell their side of things--she bore her soul to Rich Auntie Oprah.

Which, by the way, is exactly what happens when one feels that their appeals to Big Mama have gone unheard. Somehow, as if out of thin air, a Rich Auntie appears to sprinkle in her special blend of chaos and stir the pot. Mind you, she isn't a rival to Big Mama, just another powerful woman who serves her own important function in family drama. She knows everything Big Mama knows, but with neither the time nor interest in managing petty family business. She's like the therapist who guides you to the breakthrough and then sends you on your way to do the work of fixing your own life.

For all of this self-righteous British indignation over that Oprah interview, it isn't as if she hadn't taken on this same role in this same family in the past. Sarah Fergusen, Duchess of York, gave an interview to Oprah a year before Princess Diana died (and apparently Di was ready to spill the tea as well). And if you pay close attention to that clip, a lot of the stuff Fergie revealed tracks with everything Meghan has said about living in the royal fishbowl and braving the British tabloids (minus the racism). This notion that Meghan should have been made of sterner stuff is utter bullocks considering how the press not only helped to destroy Fergie's marriage and reputation, but some of you forget that Princess Diana developed bulimia as a result of her unhappiness in the Firm.

If Big Mama could have had her turn on the Oprah confessional couch, I'm guessing there is a LOT she would have to say about every last person, from the minor royals to the groupies hanging about the palace. I'm convinced part of the reason she never did was because talking shit about your kids in public is the one thing Big Mamas never do. It is against the Big Mama code, so now you know why she never banished her pedophile son. However, there is a LOT this Big Mama should have done differently, beginning with her failure to protect these unsuspecting women from the tabloid trolls and press ogres. But there's no point in condemning her now that she's dead. Instead, the living need to learn from her mistakes and make better choices. 

In full disclosure, I have yet to watch their Netflix special, pre-order his memoir, listen to her podcast, or binge-watch any episodes of The Crown, so before anyone accuses me of being unabashedly Team Them or Anti-Royal, that isn't the point. This is all about a family and the messy bits that get exposed when Big Mama dies. Since the Royals are too dignified to be caught fighting in the church parking lot after the repast, they dispatched their PR teams to trade barbs. If these were medieval times, William and Harry might have been jousting.

There was a line in The Queen (2006) wherein the fictional Prince Philip referred to all of the drama in the aftermath of Diana's death as a bunch of hysterics who needed help processing their grief, and well...

That 'keep calm and carry on' stuff is a great slogan to put on tee shirts and mugs, but a lot harder to follow in real life in the midst of conflicting emotions and while coming to terms with the inevitability of one's own mortality. Big Mama is no longer around to fix this mess. Somebody needs to man up and not wait until his coronation to declare that certain aspects of his family's lives are off limits. The same press establishment harassed your ex-wife to death, disparaged the physical appearance of your current wife, and referred to your newborn grandson as a chimpanzee. Your majesty, when do the beheadings start??!! Most of the people who claim to care so much about the Firm aren't your friends, Sir, they are friendly to the Crown because it benefits them. Public opinion is fickle and unpredictable, so if it sells more papers, they will rebel like American colonists. Furthermore, when you opened that cage and let those birds fly free, accept that you gave up the right to control their song.

Here are a final few words of benediction over the other Big Mamas, lest I leave the impression that I thought they had more bad qualities than good. Big Mama Younger was right to be suspicious of her son's proposed business venture, but her ability to forgive and ultimately support his other decisions allowed him to feel the dignity he felt had been so elusive. Mama Jo's insistence on keeping her family unified at all costs was something of a double-edged sword, but in the end, it proved to be wise and fortuitous. And hopefully Teri learned that being the Rich Auntie isn't a lesser position in the family--it just comes with a lot less responsibility. To anyone reading this who is herself a Big Mama or one in-training, you already know how much we love you.

Now here's my best hood-Rich Auntie advice to our nephew Prince Harry (even though he didn't ask). Move on. Keep sending Christmas cards and exchange gifts among the children and give your brother a heads up when you're going to be on the same continent. Otherwise, live your best life and perform whatever duties you owe to your Dad as King. You have another Big Mama in your corner for whom it is no imposition or breach of protocol for her to protect your babies and wife. She would gladly lay down her very life for you as well, so let those people across the pond worry about whatever it is the royals do. Big Mama Doria will be here for you as long as the Good Lord allows.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Hello From the Other Side

The results are in and Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock gets to keep his seat for a full six-year term. Herschel Walker can move back to Texas, his son Christian can reactivate his OnlyFans account, and we can focus our attention on something other than saving democracy for the next couple of weeks. But just until MLK weekend...

I had been working on another think piece linking Wakanda Forever to my experiences last month as an Election Protection poll monitor, but let's put that aside for now to address some of the more urgent issues that were raised by this nail-biter of a runoff. Because from this side of the ideological divide, this election should not have been this close.

A lot of folks have memes and jokes and I have a few of my own, but in all seriousness, we need to be very concerned that there was a runoff and that Herschel Walker was still a viable candidate. The man's skeletons had skeletons and all of it was messy AF. While y'all were making jokes about his werewolf and vampire comparisons, he was telling that to an assembled audience of folks who then went to the polls and voted for him. In fact, 1.7 million people did that.

Those of us from the other side are shaking our heads in disbelief, but also praising God that Walker lost. I assume his supporters are taking this hard and are regrouping. Just know that the response will be not to make the same mistake twice, so we've been warned. However, we need to understand how we got here in the first place by dispelling the notion that Herschel Walker was recruited to draw Black voters away from the good Rev. Raphael Warnock. It never mattered to those folks whom we would have supported because they didn't believe our votes were valid in the first place. Never forget that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol went there to force Members of Congress to invalidate the Black votes from Georgia (along with the Latinx and Indigenous votes from several other states), so that premise was wrong from the outset.

Nor should we be relieved that the more 'respectable' candidate won. They aren't all that concerned about respectability either, given that just five years ago the voters in Alabama nearly sent an alleged pedophile to the Senate. And they are still poised to vote for the Orange Julius Caesar in two years, so don't let any of this talk about restoring American values trick you into believing that their longing for the days of Ozzie and Harriet are wholesome.

It is always about power and keeping it to themselves.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it made so much sense to me during my recent work in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for the election last month. Someone thought it was a good idea to assign me to a few suburban voter precincts, and let me tell you, the view from the other side is quite different. They got lots of nice stuff out there...

And they want to keep it that way. They don't want Lotti, Dottie and errybody coming up in their exclusive spaces. They immediately feel threatened like we're casing the joint, so they have their security guards, those fancy doorbell cameras, and stockpiles of guns lest we get too close or our fingers too sticky.

For instance, did you know that out in the suburbs, they don't lock the deodorant behind those theft deterrent shields? Apparently, nobody wants to contend with an inconvenienced Karen who just needs to run in to grab a few things on her way to meet her friends for coffee. In the city where I live, the folks at the CVS aren't at all phased about what else I might need to do other than wait for the cashier to find the manager with the key. Where else am I going to go, to a Walgreens with the same setup?

I was stationed in familiar outposts in Northern Virginia, but still far enough away to have been noticeable as an outsider. At the two precincts located just outside of Charlotte in North Carolina, I took lots of mental notes of my surroundings. The first day I was stationed at the Town Hall which was located near an old-fashioned railroad junction. Across the tracks there was a town center anchored by a grocery store with all of the usual retail options such as a nail salon, dry cleaners, and a barber shop. In the shopping center adjacent to the polling place, there was another grocery store. There were landscapers and workers preparing to hang Christmas decorations from the light posts. I greeted the other campaign volunteers who had an entire area reserved for their snacks and coffee. There were even a few actual candidates who spent the bulk of the day meeting voters and exchanging pleasantries. I was literally in a modernized downtown Mayberry where everyone was polite and friendly, just like on TV.

In my hyper-vigilance as a veteran poll monitor, I got suspicious that a police car had driven up and parked at the front entrance of the precinct. I mentioned to one of the campaign volunteers that I was heading over to investigate, and she said "Oh, he's here to make sure that everything is okay" and sure enough, no one was intimidated by his presence. They just kept to their business and after about 30 minutes he left (later I learned that Sheriff Taylor came from the police station across the street). Midafternoon as the line got a little longer, and more than a handful of Black people were gathered (because at that point, it had just been me, myself and Irene), I walked over to get a closer look. I met Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC), and we had a nice chat about the Voting Rights Act, lawsuits over redistricting, and the big barbecue that had been hosted by a local AME church (from which no one brought me a plate, but I digress). 

Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood. One woman I met had brought her dog to spend the day as a campaign mascot for a local candidate. He slept most of the day in her antique convertible that was parked a few yards away, so I found it rather ironic to overhear her complain about the state of the economy and feeling unsafe due to the increase in crime. 

But who am I to judge the economic anxieties of others? What do I know about having to do price comparisons between the Food Lion and the Harris Teeter a mile apart, or the hassle of clipping coupons when it is actually a bigger deal for me to find a grocery store in my parents' neighborhood? Do your worries about crime in your gated community mean that your homeowner's association dues will increase to cover the cost of hiring a security guard? Or is it anything like the gun violence that is a daily feature on the local news in the inner city? 

When I went canvassing by myself in the dark after I completed my poll monitoring shifts, I wasn't all that worried. I was in Davidson, a college community where people literally had their front doors open and possibly their cars unlocked. If anything, I'm shocked that no one called the police on me, not even when I was walking around in the rain down their dimly lit streets. The next day, I did arouse some suspicion from the Black residents on the other side of the tracks who were more concerned about me working on a Sunday. 

I requested to be stationed in Athens for Election Day, which as a college town probably doesn't count as a suburb, but close enough. I had Monday off, so I took a trip down to Atlanta and visited my own college campus. In a comparison between small college towns, Davidson and Athens weren't that different, except that Athens is larger. I have often described my time in the Atlanta University Center as a small college community within a big city. That description is still apt, but we don't have the same imprint in Southwest Atlanta (the SWATS) as the University of Georgia has over all of Athens. While the residential parts of the neighborhood surrounding the AUC have changed dramatically over these past 30 years, the West End commercial strip looks exactly the same, including the Taco Bell that is still there on Lee Street! Davidson and UGA students have access to cute restaurants, bars, and shops; however, we've got the better theme song (because it truly is a different world).

Aside from all of those material differences and distinctions, one of the more pernicious ways of framing the divide in the political parlance is to suggest that what we want is what they have, but how we are undeserving. As in, we have to deserve equal treatment and citizenship, jobs, decent housing, and even clean water. Someone reading that might accuse me of being hyperbolic while failing to recall that just 60 years ago Black people were protesting in the streets for the right to be served coffee and food at Southern lunch counters. Of course, it was always bigger than integrated coffee which is why our other demands for basic dignity have required the same intensity of effort. And with every demand, someone in power is conferring with his colleagues and asking What do these people want now

The same things that have always been touted as the inalienable birthright of every American--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So yeah, a lot more than the kind of superficial integration that elevated Walker to the status of UGA football icon. Winning the Heisman trophy and playing professional football worked out great for him personally, and if that makes him a hero in the eyes of those who voted for him, that's fine. The fact that he has been less than heroic in his personal life is also his business, but problematic for someone who cited his character and faith as his primary attributes for office. That and the fact that he doesn't even live in the state...

Set aside all of those contradictions and what we saw was a contest between two Black men with two different motivations for seeking office. With all due respect to many of my friends who took umbrage to the idea of a less than erudite ex-football player serving in the Senate, I need to point out that there are no qualifications outlined in the Constitution that would have given one man the advantage over the other. They wanted the Buck; we wanted the Preacher. Truth be told, a former professional football player is no different than any other celebrity who has considered politics when being a has-been isn't enough. Some of this country's most beloved politicians were former entertainers.

I was more offended that Herschel Walker had agreed to be the mascot for an agenda that perpetuates the fear among the people who have always had everything that we, the unwashed riffraff, have come to steal from them. You see, Walker left our community a long time ago, not because he went to UGA and then went on to be successful football player. He left us to join the other side when he adopted their trickle down, up by your bootstraps, let them eat cake mentality and never looked back. As long as everything was good for him down at Southfork Ranch, then everything was peachy.

If he had cared about the people of Georgia, then he wouldn't have needed to be enticed to temporarily relocate there for this sham. Take a good look at his campaign biography and show me where he has been working to improve the lives of the people he claims to care so much about. Oh wait, he's a job-creator, so was his company's use of unpaid labor by imprisoned drug offenders an example of his Christian charity? Did Walker express any opinion on SB 202 and how it might have suppressed the youth vote in Athens, where he went to college? (Because it did, and I saw it in operation as a poll monitor on Election Day.)

When we lament how close this election was, we are operating under the delusion that the fears of Walker's supporters should not have compared to our hopes. Now that we know that hope and fear were evenly matched, like I said, they won't make this mistake twice. And we shouldn't be all that relieved by Warnock's margin of victory when his totals in the runoff fell short of the number of votes he received in the general. He received more support when he ran against Kelly Loeffler, so we need to question why more than 960,000 voters stayed home this time.

Finally, because I need to bring this all together, the reference to the conversation I had with Rep. Adams (D-NC) about redistricting wasn't just some random anecdote I included to floss, but a real issue that will continue to impact how we organize and mobilize voters throughout the South. When I tell you that the people who have everything don't think that we deserve anything nice, that includes the ability to elect our own representatives to Congress and to state legislatures. Local and national representation gives us a say over how resources are allocated, and if elected officials from our communities are demanding more equitable distribution of said resources and that results in one less thing for them, then they will draw us into a box and dare us to cross the lines. That's how we got SB 202 and all of its suppressive impact.

And to prove that we're wrong about calling those tactics Jim Crow 2.0, they just overwhelmingly voted for a Heisman trophy to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Even though he lost, they get to forever point to the fact that they supported him the way that so many of them claim they would have marched with MLK in the 60s. But (and here's the rub), they don't want their children to feel bad that their grandparents once opposed going to school with Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes at the same University of Georgia. (I know that's a different issue, but it is all inter-related.)

From the other side, where we see things in color and aren't as covetous as you'd like to think, we wanted someone who would fight for those who have less. Yes, we laughed at a lot of what Herschel Walker said, but we also listened and heard nothing that would improve our lives in the hood. Our families work just as hard for a lot less, so we don't care which spokesperson you choose if the message never changes and the results are always the same. Y'all who drive past our neighborhoods to get to your dog parks, yarn stores, sit-down restaurants, and overpriced sandwich shops, seriously thought that the high price of eggs would be more persuasive than protecting democracy. That's an even bigger joke than Herschel Walker in the Senate. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Irene Cara: We Remember!

This one was rough...normally, I would have just posted a playlist on the Facebook page, but the unexpected death of Irene Cara over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend deserves a more significant remembrance. 

I will be honest and admit that I had recently thought of Cara in passing as I sat through my annual viewing of Flashdance (1983) this summer. As some of you know, I have this ridiculous fascination with that movie, due in large part to the fact that it was HUGE when I was a kid, but it was rated-R so I only saw it for the first time years later in college. And after I saw it, I immediately questioned the hype, so it has become something of a ritual for me to watch and ridicule the absurdity of a movie about an exotic dancer who wanted to be a ballerina without ever having taken any ballet classes!

(And for the umpteenth time, I still shake my head at that premise for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that I actually started taking ballet classes around the time the movie came out, so from experience I can attest that the premise is utter nonsense. Even in the 80s when ballet was still very exclusive to certain types of girls, there were programs that made it available to the masses, such as the School of Performing Arts in New York, which we will address later in this piece. I also questioned the sanity of the elderly ballerina mentor in encouraging such nonsense...)

But I digress because the point here is to appreciate Irene Cara beyond her association with Flashdance. In spite of a steady resume of solid acting work in the 70s and early 80s, she will forever be identified with one of the most overrated of what I call the 80s fad movie genre. Movies like Flashdance, Breakin' (1984), Perfect (1985), White Knights (1985), and even Saturday Night Fever (1977) were all derivatives of Hollywood's tendency to capitalize on the latest pop culture trend with a bad movie. Even the film that brought Cara to the attention of mainstream audiences, Fame (1980), could be included in that group for bringing attention to the performing arts high school; however, as we all know, the pursuit of fame itself is not a fad.

Fame is the road that Cara began traveling as a child. I remembered her from The Electric Company as a member of an early lineup of performers in the Short Circus, the kid singing group that was featured in vignettes throughout the show. However, she had already been a Broadway performer and starred in two feature films by the time I saw her in those EC reruns in the latter 70s. I had also seen her on What's Happening (1977) and in Roots: The Next Generations (1979), so that practically made her Black famous before the rest of the world 'discovered' her in Fame. Until her death, I didn't even realize that Cara was just a teenager in the years before her big breakthrough. 

Therefore, by the time her career had reached its zenith with What a Feeling, it would seem that her Oscar win should have opened every door in the entertainment business. Instead, Cara receded from the scene and was practically forgotten in a few years. Similar artists such as Karen White, Jody Watley, Paula Abdul, Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, and Janet Jackson (a Fame adjacent alum) filled the void. Assuming that her account of what happened to her career in this clip is accurate and knowing that she had more talent in her pinkie toe than most of those others, it just doesn't make sense that everything just stopped.

Or maybe that is just the price of fame, as Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen) warned in this unforgettable monologue on the matter: You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs...

Since she spent so many years out of the spotlight, one can only imagine what Cara's career should have been in these almost 40 years since Flashdance. Starting with that list of her contemporaries, why didn't Cara enjoy more pop music success? She had the voice like Whitney Houston, and she could dance. She co-wrote What A Feeling, so if given the chance, her songwriting talent should have kept her busy like Patrice Rushen or even Babyface. On the acting side, even if she couldn't carry a mainstream film to box office gold on her own, she could have been in an ensemble film, found steady work on some mediocre sitcom, or been featured in some epic TV miniseries. And for goodness sakes, she started out on Broadway, so why didn't she ever find her way back to the stage?

What happened?

She had the look, the talent, the sparkle. The irony of her starring in two movies about the illusive quest for fame is the realization that for Cara, those attributes had already opened the door and ushered her to the center of the room. By 1980, Irene Cara knew a few things about show business. Yet, why it all fell apart is anyone's guess. A variety of other factors can derail someone's career--a bad combination of hubris, fickle fans, and/or the machinations of the suits who make decisions behind the scenes. In Cara's case, it just never made sense that it all went away. Who didn't dabble in drugs in the 80s? Who didn't make the best choices in choosing film projects? Who upon realizing that their work was undervalued didn't seek to rectify the situation?

Two years ago when we mourned the sudden passing of Chadwick Boseman, I wrote this piece and compared his death to the phenomenon that occurs when a star explodes, a supernova. Now I find myself trying to comprehend the opposite--when a star collapses and creates a black hole. Irene Cara was born a star. She deserves to be remembered as such, not as some has-been actor or a one hit wonderful or some pop tart wannabe, but as a bona fide STAR whose light still shines and bathes us in warmth nearly 40 years after her greatest career triumph. In death, we are lamenting that her light was eclipsed, but it was is still there, as brilliant and luminous as ever.

It doesn't seem right or fair that someone with Cara's prodigious gifts would be discarded over a million dollars. Lesser talents flourished in spite of bad choices; stumbled and rebounded; been hella problematic; and in some cases, committed actual harm to others with minimal career interruption. She couldn't have been the first artist to sue her record label (Teena Marie comes to mind) so how did that manifest in the kind of career-ending audacity that consigned her to doing voiceovers for animated Disney knockoffs and what-ever-happened-to obscurity?

For the sake of argument, even if she did become some kind of diva, hadn't she earned that right by 1983? She wasn't some bright-eyed ingenue, nor was she some naive schoolgirl who could be duped by a con man offering big promises. The mere fact that her career could just evaporate into thin air because she wanted to be paid what she felt she was worth for an Academy Award winning song she co-wrote and performed That's the only reaction I can register because somebody's need for petty retribution robbed us of her talents and prevented her from achieving a career worthy of her extraordinary abilities. 

It is well understood that the person who breaks through concrete and shatters glass ceilings first doesn't escape being harmed in the process. I deliberately waited until this point to mention the -isms lest someone assumes that her race and gender were not factors in her career demise. At some point the elephant in the room must be acknowledged as Irene Cara was the first Black Latina to sing an Oscar-winning song (for Fame) and then to win an Oscar (for What a Feeling). It would be tempting to argue how those achievements were proof that racism and sexism did not stop her career ascent. However, the -isms did hasten its demise, for once she broke down those barriers, it revealed that there were plenty of other promising artists waiting in the wings. She obviously deserved those royalties; instead, her demand to be paid was spun as being too demanding and difficult. The moment some record company executive huffed who does she think she is, Cara became a cautionary tale to other young women in the industry to know their place or be replaced. 

Can you think of another multi-hyphenate starlet with a Golden Globe, two Grammys, and an Oscar who had a similar trajectory? That isn't to suggest that her music career might have run its course, because the follow up to What a Feeling was Hold onto the Dream, a minor hit attached to another terrible 80s movie, DC Cab (1983). A few years later when Janet Jackson was taking Control and transforming the pop music landscape for female artists, Cara released this campy song Girlfriends, from an album that was produced by George Duke and a who's who of legendary hitmaking contributors, but it didn't chart. As for her acting career, she did find work...just not the kind of stuff that was any good like Certain Fury (1985) and Caged in Paradiso (1990). Yeah, I don't know what to make of either of those projects except to shake my head again.

Having spent this time wondering what could have been, perhaps it is fitting to rethink this as an exploration of what Cara gained by peaking too soon. She lived to see how others benefited from her journey and that her struggles had not been in vain. I hope that as she watched those others flourish in their careers, she felt some solace that her fate would not befall them. I want to believe that whatever lingering bitterness had faded, so what remained was appreciation, as can be heard on this duet with Mariah Carey. That instead of regarding the remakes of her iconic work in Fame (2009) and Sparkle (2012) as attempts to erase her legacy, she embraced them as tributes. Movies and record sales can't make someone who was born to shine into a star.

Last year when I was compiling the playlist for The Electric Company's 50th Anniversary, I totally forgot about Hard, Hard, Hard, one of the Short Circus numbers on which Cara sang the lead. I still recall a few of the lyrics that in hindsight were way too mature to be sung on a children's show. I mean, how were elementary age kids supposed to comprehend:

Sometimes I sit and wonder all about life
I know that every day will bring sorrow and strife
Even when you're up and feel you're going to win
The bottom drops right out and then the roof falls in

Ain't it the truth, but DAMN! And damn, Irene Cara belted that song out full throttle with no idea just how prophetic these lyrics would be. I wonder if she reflected on these words because nothing's easy in this life you see...

The secret, my friend is to give it your all
Sometimes you win and then life is a ball!

Rest well. We will remember your name.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Jangled Bells

It's the most annoying time of the year...

Yep, my inner Grinch is back because y'all insist on pushing Christmas on me earlier each year. This year, I swear some Southern radio station was playing Christmas music before Election Day and that isn't even the worst of it. I've been seeing Black Friday deals since September, so yes, it is already way too much too soon. 

Give folks time to eat the rest of the Halloween candy, damn!

Regular readers of this blog already know to expect a lot of bah humbugging from me right around this time of year, so no new ground to cover by writing yet another piece about how much I hate Christmas. So let's go in a different direction by addressing one of the many reasons why I find all of this so ridiculous: Christmas movies.

Specifically, the Hallmark kind that always end with a happy couple kissing in a faux snow-covered gazebo. Or the kind that features a magical appearance by Santa or his wife or an elf or an angel or an abandoned baby or a ghost. I think that covers the gamut of plot possibilities because no one has come up with a new Christmas story so y'all just do a remix of the various themes already out in the universe. And while there are a few Christmas movies that I do enjoy and could watch over and over, those tend to break the formulaic mode because they are comedies or about family dysfunction. If there is an all-day marathon of A Christmas Story (1983), Elf (2003), or The Family Stone (2005) playing somewhere, I am there--just not until after my birthday.

Every year, Hallmark, Lifetime, and now TVOne roll out a new batch of Christmas movies which makes avoiding that aspect of the holiday just as challenging as escaping Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that other TV networks have taken note and have been working on their own holiday programming, so now might be a good time for me to finally pay for a streaming service. What are the kids binge-watching on Hulu these days?

Having said all of that, the real reason I've brought you here today is to take note of a little article I recently read that explains why one of Hallmark's biggest movie stars, Candace Cameron Bure, suddenly defected to Great American Family network. Now, when this was initially announced back in April, I took a moment and thought, hmm, I guess that means more work for Holly Robinson Peete. And then I realized, yeah it must be nice that Candace can take her toys to her own room so that she won't have to share.

If you can read between the lines, it seems rather convenient that Bure would claim to want to promote more family-friendly holiday fare now that Hallmark has opted to expand the definition of its family offerings to be more inclusive. Not just in terms of racial diversity, but in presenting representations of family that depart from the "traditional" nuclear model. And while that is certainly her right, nothing screams I'M A SANCTIMONIOUS KAREN louder (except maybe writing it in all caps like I just did).

Color me not at all surprised because this script is just as predictable as one of those holiday movies. The former child star had built quite the brand for herself as the face of Hallmark made-for-TV movies. She got to work for about three to four intense months, and then spent the rest of the year teaching Sunday School and baking bread. It was the perfect gig, but then we had to ruin it for her by asking why come she and her other sitcom sorority sisters were the only ones getting cast in those kinds of movies. And then suddenly it was inconsistent with her brand to be seen in the company of the very people she moved to the exurbs to avoid in the grocery store.

I had taken note some time ago that the offerings on Hallmark were very pumpkin spice latte, so I rarely watched anything on that channel other than The Golden Girls or Fraiser reruns. Since I always fall asleep with the TV on, I often woke up to I Love Lucy, which as many of you know is definitely an all-time Busy Black Woman favorite. Like many niche channels, Hallmark fills the spaces between shows with a lot of promos for its own programming. And I began to detect a theme...

I wanted to keep an open mind about what or who I rarely saw. But it was kind of obvious, and despite the appearance of an occasional Black or Asian best friend, some things are exactly what we see as clear as day. Perhaps it could be written off as unintentional that Hallmark had become a refuge for former sitcom actresses, all of whom happened to be white...or maybe it was a choice. Because I could think of several nonwhite sitcom actresses who certainly could use some work but don't ever seem to get any.

The lack of diversity became undeniable to me the Christmas the Hub and I stayed with his sister. I remember that holiday in vivid detail because she LOVES those movies, they were airing 24/7, and I was pregnant. For three days (talk about biblical allusions), I don't know how many of those movies I sat through and actually watched, but if you can believe it, one stood out from the milquetoast fare. It starred Lacey Chabert, whom I knew as the kiss-ass friend from Mean Girls (2004), as a woman who gets wooed by a Prince in A Royal Christmas (2014). I don't remember anything distinct about the love interest, such as how they met or fell in love, but I do remember that his mother was Doctor Quinn Jane Seymour herself. And I thought out loud, well is there a white actress who hasn't been cast in one of these movies yet? When will there be movie starring the daughter from Mr. Belvedere?

No response to my pregnant rantings, so I just sat quietly in my corner. I could either brave the Staten Island Mall two days before Christmas, read one of my SIL's cookbooks, or give in to see if there was anything compelling or redeeming about any of these movies. I choose option C, and while not entirely terrible, it was a lot like spending a sick day at home with my grandmother. In other words, I knew to expect a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup, some saltine crackers, and an intense stare-down with Victor Newman...

The fact that my Nuyorican SIL was unfazed by the predictability of the plots or the homogeneity of the casts, in addition to knowing many sistahs who enjoyed those same movies, it made me wonder why none of the upstart Black cable networks hadn't produced any of their own holiday fare. It wouldn't have meant sacrificing much time on their already packed programming schedule to preempt a few hours of Martin reruns or not to air The Color Purple (1986) one weekend. Who would notice if instead of Danica McKellar, we got Tempest Bledsoe some work for a change? 

Like every other good idea that I was too busy to put into action, someone at TVOne realized that this ain't rocket science. Since practically every Black sitcom had a very special Christmas episode in the vaults that had been inspired by It's a Wonderful Life (1946) or Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, how hard could it be to come up with something, anything other than the sugar cookie cut-outs on the Hallmark channel? I don't know if Merry Wishmas (2018) was the first of their original movie offerings, but they've been pumping out new holiday movies every year which must have caught the attention of the Hallmark suits. Because now they've responded with their own Mahogany line of Christmas movies, along with a VIDA lineup, and methinks that it was only a matter of time before someone pitched the idea of two elderly lesbians kissing under a gazebo covered in faux-snow. And that was just too much for the most wholesome and ever self-righteous Candace Cameron Bure.

That, and having to cede some of her realm to Holly Robinson Peete.

I'm not calling Bure any names, just pointing out that it is really convenient to allude to "traditional family values" as a euphemism for realizing that she was no longer the Queen of the Hallmark Movie Empire. I wouldn't go so far as to call her a bigot; instead, I would argue that this was a rather shrewd move to make in the midst of a white-hot culture war raging in the real world. In a year when there has been legislation introduced in several states that target trans-youth and claims that children are being indoctrinated into the "gay lifestyle" by a storybook about two penguins, yeah Candy Girl you definitely chose a side. And again, that is your right, because there is an audience that prefers to only see stories that reflect what makes them comfortable in their own biases, so go forth and be mediocre!

But please do me a favor and stop using your narrow definition of Christianity as justification for your intolerance. I'm a Christian too Boo, and my Jesus, the one whose birth your crap ass movies are supposed to celebrate, doesn't seem like the kind of person who would have been concerned about tarnishing your brand. He wasn't all that worried about being seen with the wrong kind of people because there was no such thing in His eyes. You don't have to take my word for it because He said so, and I urge you to look it up in one of those $65 bibles you are hawking.

I will come right out and say it: the Hallmark channel got too ghetto for Bure, so she clutched her purse and hurried across the street. By switching to the Great American Family channel, she can lure her fans to the new mall where there is a traditional Santa and no David Sedaris-ian elves. At her new mall, Bure can get her overpriced coffee served in a disposable cup that has CHRISTMAS emblazoned all over it, brewed by an un-unionized underpaid barista working overtime. Her brother's crappy Christmas movie can play in the multiplex and her tee shirts can be purchased in stores where the retail workers are required to wish you a "Merry Christmas" instead of Happy Holidays (because Hanukkah and Diwali aren't for real Americans). The new mall is everything the old mall used to be before everyone got woke...

Because isn't that the reason for the season--for folks to keep buying the illusion that the Cameron siblings have been selling all these years? They want top shelf placement for their stuff, not to be comingled in what they perceive to be the bargain bin with ours. God forbid that someone just might prefer The Drifter's 1954 version of White Christmas to the movie version from White Christmas the film, also released in 1954. And why not add a little José Feliciano in the mix because Feliz Navidad is a jam! The notion that there is only one right way to celebrate Christmas, or that this is about constraining Christianity when it is all about Capitalism is absolutely on-brand for both Candace and Kirk and their ilk--former child stars whose careers were built on nostalgia for realities that only ever applied to them.

I want to end this on a more festive note because Bure did a lot of people a big favor by making such a dramatic exit. As she stated, this gives her an opportunity to help launch a new venture from the ground floor, so that is both admirable and risky. And by leaving an already established network franchise, she has cleared the stage for other actresses to get some of that Hallmark holiday shimmer and shine. Let the Mowry sisters build themselves an empire! My issue was never about the fact that she left (because even though I did write an entire piece on the matter as if I care, I don't); it is with the manner in which her departure was framed, as if she had to run for her life in order to save her virtue.

Although I'm sure her movies won't get any better on a different network, at least she is safe from secularism and the gay agenda. Her values and her fortune secured, Candace Cameron Bure will be just fine. All of you avid Christmas rom-com movie fans now have an additional channel with a new slate of movies, so now I know what to avoid while channel surfing. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Harriet Get Your Gun

For the record, my face is not tight like this over the fact that I missed Homecoming AGAIN...It is like this because I swear, some of y'all really need Jesus.

Let's cut straight to the point--yep, Ye is cancelled, and I don't want to hear anything about his genius or his mental health because none of that has ever been persuasive to me. As far as I'm concerned, he's been done since I wrote this piece back in 2018, but back then I was hoping that some divine intervention might save him from himself. It didn't, and after this very bizarre year of watching him turn every shade of misogynist, anti-Black, and anti-Semite, well, there isn't much else to say. It is above me now...

A few months ago, I had MSNBC on in the background while I was writing and some rapper popped up in a segment with Ari Melber, which wasn't unusual because he is a definitely a hip hop fan boi. Now, I need to say this as a disclaimer because I honestly did not know who his guest was at that time, but I did stop to watch because I used to find those segments kind of entertaining. However, in under one minute, dude insulted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and the hairs stood up on my neck as I wondered, who the eff is this and did he just say that isht on television? So color me not at all surprised to see how this same ashy dude resurfaced on Blue Ivy's internet to sing the praises of Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) earlier this month.

Before anyone argues that Killer Mike has every right to endorse or vote for whomever, save your breath. I get that. And if he wants to shout it from the rooftops that he would prefer to keep the devil he knows instead of voting for someone else, then that is his business. This is America. Mike doesn't need my permission to vote for anybody. (For what it's worth, I wrote that without rolling my eyes or crossing my fingers while typing.)

But he shouldn't expect not to be called out for it. 

Perhaps he saw what happened when Ice Cube decided to try his hand at being a modern Race Man and introduced a Contract with Black America in the closing days of the 2020 Election cycle. Earlier this week, a clip resurfaced from an interview he did with Graham Bensinger in 2021 that referenced his ill-timed foray into politics. My initial reaction was to think, so you're back for more smoke, huh Ice Water? Because right now, just as we are two weeks away from an election that might determine the future of our democracy, we definitely should be having a conversation about why Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. hasn't reached out to you, O'Shea Jackson, Sr., to discuss your policy proposals for Black America.

Were we supposed to believe that Cube's been waiting by the phone for an invitation to the White House for two years??? That in between performing at NASCAR and building his Big3 League basketball endeavor, he didn't have time to get his COVID vaccine but he had time to wonder why his calls kept going to Biden's voicemail. That when he blew off that meeting with Madame Vice President as if she was some kind of note-taking intern, Dark Brandon was going to forget that? Bye Felicia!

However, as Cube himself pointed out, this clip is a year old and in his own words he's sitting this election out. So for now, I have erased the snarky tweets in my drafts, reserved judgment that nefarious motives are at play, and will simply suggest in the alternative that maybe you should care if and how folks are planning to vote. Because if you were at all serious about implementing policies to improve our community, Ice Man, then you should not have been so easily dissuaded by Black Twitter trash talk.

Because here is the problem--too many people believe that the work of revolution is as simple as writing a solid business plan. If that's all it took, we wouldn't be here teetering on the edge of Armageddon and the Apocalypse. 

In case Killer Mike or Ice Cube come across this blog and see their names written here, I need them to know that I am not arguing that they should just stick to rap music. On the contrary, we don't need them to shut up; we need them to speak up more often. We need more men with platforms of influence to weigh in on the issues that impact our community. Talking amongst themselves in the barbershop isn't enough. We need them to lend a hand, to do some of the heavy lifting, and to stay in the fight, even when things don't go as planned.

When Harriet Tubman went back to her former plantation to rescue her family and friends, she did so at great personal risk. She was a fugitive and under federal law, she would have been returned to enslavement and sold further South if she had been caught. The legend of her threat to shoot anyone who got cold feet on the journey North is an important metaphor for what we face in our community from folks who would rather settle than fight. It wasn't just her life, but the lives of everyone she was trying to save. That is what makes the work she did in her later years so much more inspiring, like when she served as a Union spy and militia leader during the Civil War. She kept on fighting.

If you opt to sit on the sidelines or decide that the status quo is tolerable because you got to eat the scraps off Massa's table, then like Mother Harriet, I'm good with leaving your Black ass behind on the plantation. Or shooting you if you get scared and decide to run back.

Words are my weapon of choice, so yes, I will unleash a few bullets of criticism if I think your choices are more harmful and selfish than helpful. I will point out that your Contract wasn't a bad idea, just a re-packaging of Tavis Smiley's Covenant that includes many of the same legislative policy agenda items proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus. (Historically, similar proposals have been put forth by the Niagara Movement, the Atlanta Student Appeal for Human Rights (1960), the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Plan (1966), and the National Black Political Convention (1972), just to name a few). Sure, Donald Trump took a meeting with you in 2020, but did you follow that up by meeting with Mitch McConnell or anyone else in the GOP Caucus? Have you been calling on them to do more than listen to your concerns since you believe that the other side hasn't? If the GOP regains power in Congress, have they assured you that your Contract will be part of their agenda and that the legislation that has already been introduced and still pending will move forward? 

Or, as you so eloquently twote, do you just not give a fuck?

To my one-time Morehouse brother who has been tweeting a lot, but not telling us much, I've got issues with this Aaron Burr act of yours. When you took that meeting with Brian Kemp and had all of this advice for Stacey Abrams afterwards, you did understand how it benefitted Kemp to pay lip service to Black concerns while promising to do the bare minimum. After participating in that photo opportunity with you, he didn't even need your official endorsement since all he had to do was demonstrate a willingness to sit and talk football or whatever (since in your own words, politics and policy don't matter). Which is great at any other time except for an election year because y'all could have met for some craft beer in 2021 to discuss the finer points of vocational education. 

As for what you said about Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Democratic Party on The Beat with Ari Melber this summer (no I have not forgotten that), that may be why the good Reverend Senator Warnock hasn't been returning your calls to appear on your show. You went on national television and called a civil rights icon a sellout because y'all didn't support the same candidate. Then you assumed that the Senator would not take that kind of insult personally? Now with the tables turned, isn't that why you've been responding to folks on Twitter who have been saying the same thing about you...

I know you have your reasons, and you are under no obligation to disclose how you plan to vote, but you do understand the damage that can be caused by sitting on the fence. If you want to be respected as a kingmaker, the responsibility for safeguarding the crown is equally heavy for the person who performs the coronation. This generation's MLK may very well be a rap artist who is willing to sit down with friends and foes alike, but it might help to clarify who's who.

Furthermore, while y'all are worried about who gets to be a King, armies of Harriets have been busy registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, writing postcards, phone-banking, organizing, and staying otherwise pre-occupied with the work of saving this fragile democracy in less than two weeks. I know this because that's what I've been doing. I don't have the luxury of being able to call up my Spelman sister to offer advice and have it matter. But I have the choice to roll up my sleeves to lend her campaign a hand. I helped to get your Morehouse brother elected two years ago as well, and in gratitude, he's been blowing up my phone with fundraising appeals. Just as Kemp had to seem willing to talk to you, Abrams and Warnock have to play a version of political three-dimensional chess too. 

And here is where I need to break through that third wall because I got caught up with being busy and didn't publish this piece two weeks ago as intended. I am currently in a hotel room in North Carolina, about to head out to do some canvassing for a few hours before I head down to Georgia to work as a poll monitor. Election Day is two days from now.

Since we are just days away, I need to end this rant with a blunt observation for brothers like Killer Mike and Ice Cube because what I'm seeing in these streets is real. The folks that have been in power believe that we are encroaching on their way of life, and they aren't looking to share or lose any ground. They don't regard us as equal participants in this democracy unless we align with them, which does not seek to elevate us as a community, just individuals. This has been the playbook for centuries--and that is what prompted women like Harriet to escape and eventually work to dismantle the entire system. We are no better off if only a few of us are free.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Politics and Estranged Bedfellows

Sometimes what's old becomes new again, and we find ourselves in this surreal moment with respect to Herschel Walker, former football player turned candidate for the U.S. Senate. For some time, and even up to a few days ago when I began drafting this piece, I was convinced that he had agreed to run for the Senate because he was so flattered by the attention it garnered. Other than his recent reality show appearances and mixed martial arts bouts, the last time he heard his name this much on television must have been back in his prime football-playing days in the 80s. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, it was back when Ronald Reagan was President, Johnny Carson was the king of late night, and the most scandalous thing on TV were those Where's the Beef commercials.

Perhaps it was a flawed hypothesis, much like our childhood naiveté that rival gangs in New York City settled turf wars through break-dancing. It isn't flattery or nostalgia that explains how Herschel Walker is still a viable candidate in spite of the credible allegations of his intimate partner violence, chronic absentee fatherhood, and abortion payments to his mistresses. It is something much more cynical that puts Walker on track to pulling off the biggest upset in politics if he manages to beat the good Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock next month.

There are all kinds of memes and humorous takes I could post to illustrate my thoughts on this match-up, but we don't need to laugh at the prospect of a Senator Walker. We need to be terrified and motivated to do everything possible to ensure otherwise. Sure, it is expected that we would poke fun at his gaffes and insane "theories" about climate change and electric cars, but fun time is over. November is coming and the polls are tied. We are literally at that point where Walker could shoot someone on Peachtree Street in front of the historic Margaret Mitchell Home and it would not have any negative impact on his electoral chances. 

If you've heard that one before, then riddle me this: do you remember the upstart USFL and that Herschel Walker was once one of its marquee players? And did you also remember that one Donald J. Trump, the former DESPOTUS, was an owner in that enterprise? If so, then here is your prize: a vintage copy of JET magazine. 

Because that is how I remember being introduced to Walker in the 80s, before I moved to Georgia for college. We didn't follow college football growing up, so I read about him in JET when he went pro before graduating. We couldn't see his games because he was in a different television market (and unlike watching NFL games today, you could only see your local team). And I sort of remember this McDonald's commercial. Although I pride myself on my memory of random popular culture factoids that no one else typically stores for future reference, it took reading a few articles and seeing this video to recall just how far back and entangled Herschel Walker and Donald Trump are (listen closely around 1:38).

That shed a different light on everything such that I believe there is a lot more happening with this Senate campaign than just a couple of rich guys getting their egos stroked. Some people will compromise everything to access and maintain power. EVERYTHING. We learned this lesson the hard way in 2016 and saw a violent demonstration of that on January 6, 2021, no doubt intensified over the loss of this very Senate seat since Warnock was declared the winner that morning.

We underestimate what drives Trumposaurus Rex to destroy everything in his wake, which is his intent even in this election. I just watched that documentary about him, Unfit (2020) and while I have no psychoanalytic expertise to offer, I came away from that feeling profound relief that 84 million votes had prevailed in saving this country from annihilation. But that respite is tempered by the reality that he hasn't gone away and that he is still hellbent on destruction if he doesn't get what he wants. 

Even if you are not old enough to remember much about football in the 80s (other than the Superbowl Shuffle), then reading up on the history of the short-lived USFL provides one of many clear examples of Trump's vengeful impulses. Legend has it that in 1981 Trump expressed interest in buying the Baltimore Colts but was rebuffed by Robert Irsay, the team owner at that time. He then bought the New Jersey Generals, part of the nascent USFL, a league that offered football in the Spring. After a disastrous meeting with then-NFL Commissioner Peter Rozelle, Trump persuaded the other owners in the USFL to move the season to the Fall to compete head on with the NFL. He also filed an antitrust suit that ultimately bankrupted and shuttered the fledgling league. 

While he has not succeeded in destroying the NFL yet, just give him time. Anyone else similarly humiliated and exposed as a liar and grifter in court like that would have slunked away in shame, but not Trump. He spent the subsequent decades plastering his name on everything from casinos to office buildings, making cameos on television and in movies, and marrying his mistresses, before barging into politics. He left plenty of carnage in his wake with those other endeavors too. Thus, when his recent bids for NFL ownership were rejected again, he used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to savage its players and taunt the owners. He used the NFL as a proxy for his culture war, characterizing its workforce (primarily Black men) as ungrateful and taunting the team owners (all white men) as feckless. 

That Jim Lampley interview from 1985 referenced a personal service contract between Walker and Trump, into which Walker was allegedly locked until 1989. But since the League folded and Walker was picked up by the Cowboys in 1986, who wonders what transpired behind the scenes to have kept Walker so loyal all of these years? And having lost the Presidency due to his fragile ego and stunning hubris, Trump is exactly the kind of megalomaniac to lob a few heat-seeking missiles at the government and its institutions. This is Trump meeting with Peter Rozelle all over again, except this time his nemesis is Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, who regarded him as little more than a useful idiot. And just as he did with the USFL, Trump will gladly burn the entire system down.

Enter Herschel Walker, one of Trump's many useful idiots bringing the firewood. 

Walker and Trump have a lot more in common than just a shared love of football, their mistreatment of women, and being inveterate liars. Walker stuck by Trump even when it wasn't lucrative for him, as he admitted in this interview back in 2016. I don't have the psychoanalytic skills to diagnose the intensity of his narcissism either, but I'm guessing that it must be on par with Trump's. How else to explain that he knew how many numerous skeletons were hiding in his closet, yet agreed to run for office anyway? And before anyone feels sorry for Christian Walker for opening Pandora's Box on his father's myriad sins, consider how being Herschel Walker's gay conservative son built him a verified social media following. Methinks somebody's money got funny.

We've had men of bad character serve at every level of government (actual slaveowners), so this isn't some sanctimonious diatribe. To be fair, Herschel Walker isn't even the worst of the lot that Trump has chosen to carry his standard into battle; he just happens to be the most famous. So if it helps, I can denounce Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, and every other Trump-aligned candidate with the same broad brush. They are all terrible and would be disasters if elected to the Senate. If you need any proof, just look at Sen. Tommy Tuberville's racist rant about crime and reparations and how that revelation of his true character stunned and hurt many his former Black players. Lest we forget, Trump's original choice for that Alabama Senate seat was accused pedophile Roy Moore.

As my Spelman sister argued in this opinion piece, there were better choices if the intention was to pit two Black men against each other. Of course, since Trump killed Herman Cain back in 2020, his pool of options shrank by one, but what about Vernon Jones? I wouldn't vote for him, but the goal was never for someone like me to be tricked convinced to supporting someone like him just because he is Black. It was to provide cover for white folks who bristle at being called racist, but who under normal circumstances would never vote for a Black Senator unless he had been a Heisman trophy winning UGA Bulldog. 

Which is Walker's only asset, but as we all know, anybody can be elected to public office. The question for the voters is whether just anybody should. Congress is a body comprised of people from all walks of life which encourages citizens to take an interest in the affairs of government. The only qualifications listed in the Constitution are related to age, residency in the state, and citizenship status of at least 7-9 years. The range of professions include farmers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and yes, even former entertainers of some kind. Until the con man game show host, Ronald Reagan was the first showman to reach the White House and I recall that he was also underestimated as a useful idiot.

Therefore, I will not attack Walker's intellect or his extracurricular shortcomings as disqualifiers for public office. Instead, my issue is that it is the combination of his lack of integrity, moral character, and intellect make him a dangerous risk for the Senate. I think back to just a few months ago when this same body deliberated the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court, a lifetime judicial appointment. The irony that her job history--having been a defense attorney and advocate for sentencing reform, is what almost derailed her nomination. No one is raising concerns about Walker's career in sports, but we are questioning his personal character. It confounds logic that a man who physically abused his wife and child could be considered fit for a position where it would be his duty to give advice and consent on the qualifications of others, especially women, to serve in a co-equal branch of government. I wouldn't be any more inclined to vote for him if he were running for a seat in the House of Representatives, but at the very least the damage he could do is minimized in a legislative body where he would be one out of 435. 

Finally, there is the issue of re-platforming Donald Trump in national politics by default. Hopefully after the evidence just offered at the January 6th hearings, he won't be able to run in 2024 from prison; however, installing his minions throughout the government is akin to allowing the cancer to metastasize and spread. He has already done significant damage to our democracy with all of the imps and trolls who have overtaken the GOP as well as the unqualified judicial appointments from his tenure in office. There is no use in trying to contain Trump because as any oncologist will tell you, even a controlled cancer can be lethal. The tumor must be surgically removed, zapped with radiation, and then poisoned with chemotherapy. And it can still recur, so we may never be rid of this evil man until the Rapture.

But we can fight like hell to rebuild a stronger democracy. We can hold out hope that something redeemable from the Grand Old Party of Lincoln can be found under the layers of rubble and ruin. I may never agree with them, but in a flourishing democracy, diversity of thought and ideas are how we progress. One party rule that stifles dissent and rebuffs compromise is authoritarianism. Trump is a fascist, and useful idiots like Walker and Tuberville are no different than SS soldiers wearing those red hats instead of armbands.

To make use of a few final pop culture references from the 80s, I pity the fool who doesn't believe that we are one to two Senate seats away from disaster. Donald Trump doesn't care about anyone but himself and like his James Bond villain doppelganger Max Zorin, he'll sacrifice anything and anybody. He's made threats to instigate more chaos once he's indicted, so his next coup attempt is already underway, aided and abetted by a cabal of abusive womanizers, tax cheats, racists, and charlatans. Debates over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels won't matter if our country descends into an actual civil war...over face masks, gas prices, and solar panels. Our disagreements over how to address those issues aren't tests of our love of country. The only reason why Walker made it this far as a viable candidate is his connection to Trump, so a vote for him is a vote that endorses the notion that our best days are behind us. I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but growing up, it was his allusion to America as a shining city on a hill that inspires me to always work for the improvement of all. So please, reject Trumpism and his let's win one for the Gipper.