Friday, December 21, 2012

When My Brother Was an Aztec (Poetry Review)

 


Natalie Diaz is a storyteller poet. Her debut collection reminds me of the work of Gary Soto, but with much more words.  It is a powerful book, separated in three sections, and full of emotion, imagery, and history.

The first group of poems is all about growing up on a reservation: childhood experiences (Hand-Me-Down Halloween, Why I Hate Raisins); stories of other people on the rez (Reservation Mary, The Gospel of Guy No-Horse); and poems about racism and national oppression that native people have lived and continue to live through (The Facts of Art).  The best of these are the pieces about memories that show how racism was embedded into their daily lives.  Shown, for instance, in this long-titled poem, Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Reservation:

Like I said, no Indian I’ve ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.

Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—

Nazarene church holds one ever December,

organized by Pastor John’s wife.  It’s no wonder

Pastor John’s son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.

Quit bothering with angels, I say.  They’re no good for Indians.

Remember what happened last time

some white god came floating across the ocean?

The mid section group of poems is what people will remember the most.  These are all pieces about having a brother heavily addicted to meth.  And most describe the agonizing details her parents went through on a regular basis.  “My brother is arrested again and again.  And again/ our dad, our Sisyphus, pushes his old blue heart up to the station.” (Downhill Triolets); “Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother./ O God, O God, she said.” (My Brother at 3 a.m.).  It’s amazing how someone can write so beautifully about something so ugly, as in the following stanza from How to Go to Dinner with A Brother on Drugs:

Meth—his singing sirens, his jealous jinn

conjuring up sandstorms within him, his Harpy

harem—has sucked the beauty from his face.

He is a Cheshire cat, a gang of grins.

His new face all jaw, all smile and bite.

The last section seems to be a miscellaneous section, with poems about different topics; some nice poems about a lover with lines like “She has always been more orchard than loved,/ I, more bite than mouth.” (I Lean Out the Window and She Nods Off in Bed, the Needle Gently Rocking on the Bedside Table), and a very disturbing poem about a brother returning from war, (Why I Don’t Mention Flowers When Conversation with My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences).

Diaz’s lines are longer than what I’m accustomed to reading and some might say that she tells more than she shows with her poetry, but she makes up more than enough for it with emotion and the beautiful and disturbing images that these poems will create in your mind.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

They Live, We Sleep

On November 6, 2012--the same day that millions of American citizens hit the voting polls to "choose" who was going to run the country-- John Carpenter's 1988 classic cult film, "They Live," was released on DVD (Collector's Edition) and Blu-ray.

In this film, Carpenter gives us a world where poverty is abundant and groups of people have to live in homeless camps; where only the rich prosper; where police are brutal enforcers; and despite all this--people are still stuck to the television!

What we soon learn is that, aliens from a far away planet control everything.  With their technology, they have hidden themselves among regular people and send out signals through advertising in magazines, billboards, and (mostly) television, that are designed to numb the regular masses and keep them submissive as happy consumers.

Soon though, we are introduced to John Nada (played by Roddy Piper, a famous wrestler), who by pure accident, discovers this astonishing truth when he stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that reveal to him who is really human and who is alien; and also let him see the subliminal messages that are being forced on the masses. Messages like, "Obey," "Reproduce and Marry," "No Independent Thought," "Consume," "Watch TV," "Stay Asleep, "Buy," and many others.

John also discovers a small underground resistance group and enlists himself, and his new buddy Frank (Keith David), to reveal the truth to the American public, and encounter lots of blood and betrayal along the way.  Without giving away too much about the ending, it is not a typical Hollywood-ending. I would describe it as more of a love-letter to those who spit in the face of authority, and also a personal statement on the sacrifice of the individual.

What really makes this film work is the changes the characters go through.  In the beginning, John is a very pull-yourself-by-your-own-bootstraps kind of guy.  He doesn't like handouts and believes he's just going through a rough time.  "I believe in America," he says during an early scene.  Frank, however, has seen factory owners give themselves raises while he was taking pay-cuts.  He tells John that he believes in the Golden Rule, "He who has the gold, makes the rules."  But, despite his feelings toward a system that he knows is rigged, he strongly refuses to accept the truth that John has discovered.  In fact, he wants nothing to do with him, and it is only through a lengthy street-fight among the two friends that Frank finally puts on the sun glasses and sees what is really going on.

This, of course, is why I hold this film close to my heart.  Anyone who's read Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" can see that this is an allegory for one of the main points in that polemic: that class-consciousness is not spontaneous; in fact, it can only come from without.  I love this movie and I recommend everybody get a copy and share it with others.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recommended: November '12 Issue of Juxtapoz


My love/hate relationship with Juxtapoz magazine continues.  One month I see it on the magazine stand doing some gimmicky Halloween issue that makes me feel like I should never look through it again.  But then this month, they have an amazing Art & Politics issue curated by Ron English!!!

It's a very impressive group of artists that English has rounded up.  There are some well-established street-artists you've heard a lot about, like Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal; documentary filmmakers Morgan Spurlock and Susan Saladoff; and some up-and-coming artists--who are not new to the art world, but will probably start receiving a lot more attention--and that you should start following: Molly Crabapple and Ernesto Yerena Montejano.

One of the stand-out interviews is with conceptual artist Tom Forsythe who was involved in a long legal battle, in the 90's, with the toy-company, Mattel, who sued him for his depictions of Barbie dolls that he used a various series of photographs.  He talked about why he choose to work with Barbie:

"I needed something that exemplified the crass consumerism I meant to critique.  It took a nano second or so to come up with Barbie, since Barbie had every consumer need imaginable, and every outfit and accessory that any good consumer could dream of. . ."

But, my favorite interview in the issue is with revolutionary communist artist Dread Scott who was in the national spotlight in the late 80's when his installation piece, "What Is the Proper Way To Display A US Flag?" caused so much controversy that the US Senate passed legislation to "protect the flag."  (And that later resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled flag burning to be protected by the First Amendment).

In the interview, he shares his very refreshing views on his approach to art ("I make art with the basic assumption that a lot of people agree with me"), how he sees the role of art, and the role of the artist.  He says about being a communist and an artist:

"For me, constantly making work that concentrates my communist world view has limited some opportunities.  Some people in powerful places in the arts don't want a truly radical work to get seen and sometimes my work gets pigeonholed into the "political art ghetto."  But my work has been shown in major museums, had many students study it, been called disgraceful by G.H.W. Bush, and outlawed by Congress.  All because I stuck to my beliefs."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recommended: 'Rodney King'

What importance is there for a kid from the ghetto to learn about Rodney King?  This was one of the questions raised at a Q&A after a performance of "Rodney King" that I saw last month.  Indeed, though, why should anyone care to learn about who Rodney King was?

Although, I don't believe writer/actor Roger Guenveur Smith was asking himself this when he started to create his latest one-man show, he certainly did get into that question.

In the play, he tells the story--in as much details as he can--about what happened that infamous night when Rodney King was brutally beaten by four LAPD officers, whose subsequent acquittal--after being caught on tape--sparked the 1992 L.A. Rebellion.  (Also known as the "Rodney King Riots" by some people in the media--even though Rodney King didn't riot; all he did was survive "the baddest ass-whopping in history"). 

But, Smith also gets into what was going on in the community prior to the King incident--all the injustice and systematic oppression that Black people in South Los Angeles had been facing for decades.  (For instance, the story of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old girl who was unlawfully shot and killed by a Korean store owner--which occurred just weeks after the videotaped beating of King).

In a recent interview with Michael Slate on KPFK, Slate told Smith, "One of the things that happened with Rodney King from the moment he was targeted and beaten, the dehumanization...They robbed him of his humanity when they beat him--they tried to beat him to death; they robbed him of his humanity when they made him into this icon that he wasn't; and then other people robbed him of it too when they continued, all the way up through the end of his life, the struggle over, is he a hero? Is he a victim?...He was Rodney King.  He was a human being that was thrust unto the stage of history in a way that he never expected and didn't want, and then had to deal with the repercussions of that the rest of his life.  And I thought you did a really wonderful job in capturing that humanity."

Indeed, what can be most appreciated by this performance is the artists' ability to treat the subject with respect as he helps us explore the ills of society.  Smith does not put King on a pedestal as some kind of hero or idol because he wasn't any of those.  He was just a human being that--by way of accident--got caught put up on the national spotlight.  Most importantly, we are reminded that he was not unlike the many human beings in South Los Angeles today that continue to deal brutality by the LAPD.

"Rodney King" will return for a limited engagement, (only seven performances), from September 20-29, 2012 at the Bootleg Theater.  Please, check it out!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Must See Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild

"I see that I'm a little piece of a big, big universe." -Hushpuppy

Last week I saw a great film called Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I knew nothing about this film, but a few people who had recently seen it, highly recommended it to me.  I had high expectations due to all the positive movie reviews I read online and was very delighted with this film.

On the surface, it's a nice story about a cute, brave little girl--named Hushpuppy!--and what she and her single father, ( an alcoholic), have to do to survive a giant storm on a tiny island called, "The Bathtub."  But, in reality, this movie is about global warming--even though the only clue we are given about this are scenes throughout the film of the polar ice caps melting.

A lot has been made about the six-year-old girl, Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy in the film.  Indeed, it is great acting for such a young girl.  But more than her acting, I was really in love with the ideas of her character.  Throughout the film, you see that she has much respect for all animals and all of nature.  "The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.  If one beast busts--even the smallest beast--the entire universe will get busted," she says.  She is young and optimistic, and really believes that the whole universe is connected.  Just for that, this film is worth seeing!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Remembering Ghost World

"I can't relate to 99% of humanity." -Seymour

Just over a decade has passed since Ghost World was released in theaters (October 2001) and on DVD (February 2002), but no one in mainstream media even said a thing. (Only these people in San Diego seemed to have noticed).

But, it's one of my favorite films.  I've watched it so many times that my DVD copy is all messed up.  As a matter of fact, the idea for this blog post came up because as I was searching for a new copy of the DVD online, I was hoping to find some kind of 10-year anniversary special edition, but no such thing has been made.  It would be a real damn shame if future generations don't have access to this film.

For those who haven't seen the movie, Ghost World, (which was actually based on a graphic novel), is a movie about two young women, recently graduated from the high school, and the different paths their lives take as settle into adulthood.  Rebecca (played by Scarlett Johansson) quickly gets the first job she find in order to help realize her dream of moving-in with her friend, Enid.  But Enid (Thora Birch) just can't seem to fall into the mundane, 9-to-5, existence.  Instead, she spends her summer befriending a much older man, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), who has problems relating to people and pretty much hates everything.

On the surface, Ghost World is a coming-of-age tale filled with lots of sarcastic--even dark--humor.  But, below the surface, lies a story about how this consumerist culture has alienated a section of the population.  As one reviewer on Amazon said: "Ghost World isn t for everyone. But it should be. It gives a window into the world of the disenchanted, those of us who walk the streets and feel ill at the sights of the conformist and soulless masses."

I encourage everyone to watch this film.  For the first time--or the hundredth time--it is worth examining.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Monthly Review remembers Adrienne Rich

When Adrienne Rich passed away recently (March 27, 2012) I did not mention it on this blog.  Somewhere in my library I have a signed copy of a collection of her poetry, but I've never studied/read her work enough to be able to speak about her, even though I've known for a long time that the work (poems and essays) of Adrienne Rich commands a lot of respect from feminists and Marxists.

So, I was pretty happy when I saw that the new (June) issue of the Monthly Review had a whole section devoted to remembering this great poet.

Besides some selected poems, (that had appeared in the magazine in recent years), there was also an essay titled, "Credo of a Passionate Skeptic," (which first appeared in MR in June 2001).  It is a very thought-provoking essay in which she gets into a number of topics and questions.  But, what stood out the most to me seemed to be some self-criticism about how she had viewed Marx and Marxism.

She mentioned that she was, at first, dismissive of Marxism, but this was because she had been "echoing the standard anti-Marxism of the postwar American cultural and political mainstream."  She recognizes that this anti-Marxism was embedded in the early women's movement "both by garden variety anticommunism and by fear that class would erase gender..."  She talks about how she went back to study Marx and "found no blueprint for a future utopia but a skilled diagnosis of skewed and disfigured human relationships."

Although she didn't totally break with common-held American views of communism, (e.g. her summation of Stalin), she did embrace Marxism and was eager to show people where gender intersected with class.  The short obituary in MR ends like this:

So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Music Review: Killer Mike's 'R.A.P. Music'

"This some real G shit/ Ya gotta show respect."

That's the ending to the first track on Killer Mike's new album, R.A.P Music, and if you leave it there, this could just be another gansta rap album.  But it's a whole lot more than that.

For starters, there is the stand-out track, "Reagan," which was named Best New Track by Pitchforck Media in May.  (The album was released May 15, 2012).  I could write a whole essay on the beauty of this track, which exposes some of the oppressive crimes against the basic masses during the Reagan era, but also rants against some of the silly ideas often promoted by hip-hop artists.  Some of the lyrics: "So it seems our people starve/ from a lack of understanding./ Cause all we seem to give them/ is some balling and some dancing./ And some thinking about cars/ and imaginary mansions./"

A couple of the other stand-out tracks include the title track, which is a real homage to hip-hop music, as it compares it to a religious experience. And the very honest autobiographical track "Willie Burke Sherwood," (which has the best summary of the classic book, "Lord of the Flies," you will ever hear in any song).

Of course, what stands out the most on the album are all the contradictions.  For instance, you will hear references to Mumia Abu Jamal and the lack of justice for Black people, but in the same song you will hear Killer Mike refer to women as "Jezebel whores."

He's definitely not a "conscious MC" like Mos Def or Talib Kweli.  (Although his stance on Obama is a lot more radical than most conscious rappers).  He's more in the vein of someone like Ice Cube, who comes from the "hard streets," and whose lyrics reflect the best and worst thoughts of people living in the ghettos and barrios.

"A lot of people try to peg me as a political rapper and I'm not. I'm a social commentator and at times people have politicized the things I say, but I don't care too much for any political party. I care about people..." he recently told Spin magazine.

Killer Mike keeps his ear to the streets, and tells it the way he sees it.  This, (and the great production from El-P throughout the album), are good enough reason to listen to what he's saying.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On The Davis Dozen & Political Poetry

The Davis Dozen (also called referred by some as the Bankers Dozen) are a group of 11 students and one Professor from UC Davis that received arrest notices weeks after they participated in a sit-down protest outside a U.S. Bank branch located on their campus.  The bank decided to close that particular branch and now the university is trying to get this group to face misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and blocking a public entrance.

Those who have been paying attention to the Occupy movement might remember that UC Davis was the site of the infamous attack by campus police on students using pepper spray.  In fact, some of the same students who were pepper-sprayed, are part of the Davis Dozen.  So, this is actually a case where the university is trying to set an example of students and faculty by criminalizing dissent.

I write about this on my blog, not only because more people need to know about this, but because the professor--who is facing prison time (along with the students)--is a poet, who has actually been doing some good work writing about poetry and politics.  First check out his piece, "Spring Georgic" that was recently published in the Lana Turner Journal, and ends like this: "why would we not call these/ the possessed/ green and gold in the springtime/ in March and in April and in May/ especially in late March/ seize the banks"

Then, there is this wonderful essay co-written by Clover and fellow Poet Juliana Spahr where they talk about being poets and activists--at different times, and at the same time!  A short excerpt here:

We suspect as well that more poets couldn't find jobs or pay debts than has been true in the near past. In this we suspect they are like those who are not poets. And from this unemployed and debt-steeped position, we are even so bold as to believe, more poets thought seriously about making massive, substantive changes than they have in the past few years, changes in how society is arranged regarding things like jobs and debts and jails. Then they stood at moments together and at moments alone and talked about this on the steps of various public plazas some holding megaphones and some holding the microphone from an unpermitted amplification system and some using their voices which then got echoed by the others. Some stood in the crowd or went marching down streets holding cardboard signs with pithy and poetic phrases written on them with a Sharpie. And for the most part they did not call it poetry even as they knew a great deal of the thinking and the motivation that got them there came from being a poet. And even as they did this standing or this marching in the supportive presence of other poets, in spaces made possible by other poets.
Visit the groups website and keep up to date with their case.  They recently rejected a plea deal and a a new court date has been set for June 1.  More recently, the New York Daily News ran a piece on Clover and the case he and the rest of Davis Dozen are facing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recommended: May '12 Issue of Juxtapoz

I haven't been excited to look at--much less read--an entire issue of Juxtapoz magazine since March of 2011 when they had a cover story of Emory Douglas, (the Black Panther Party's Minister of Culture). But the current issue on the stands is the "Public Art Issue" which features, (besides four different covers), great photos and interviews of some of the biggest street artists working today.

There's also articles written by the artists themselves. For instance, El Mac, who starts off an essay about murals with a quote from one of the great Mexican muralists, Jose Clemente Orozco: "The highest, most logical, purest and most powerful type of painting is mural painting. It is also the most disinterested, as it cannot be converted into an object of personal gain nor can it be concealed for the benefit of a few privileged people. It is for the people. It is for everybody." And then there's this quote from the introduction of Ron English's article where he talks about his long-time involvement with public art:
"Most of the public art that I've done in my career was unsanctioned. So for me, public art means street art, which is DIY, immediate, unfiltered, non-paying, physically and legally risky, and sometimes resulting in situations unplanned for and out of control. I seem to have an innate ability to generate imagery that pisses people off. Combine that with a penchant for putting it on the street and what you have is a life of constant trouble with periods of great delight."

Other great pieces in this issue include the profile piece on Swoon, an artist known for taking her beautiful wheat pastes and highly creative "out-stallations" all over the world: from Brooklyn to Sao Paulo, Brazil; from New Orleans to Haiti; from San Francisco's Mission District and back again. You can tell she has a lot of love for the planet and loves to engage with all kinds of people. The interview with L.A. graffiti artists Saber and Revok is also good, as it spends much time speaking on the criminalization of graffiti artists (mostly youth), and the constant harassment from police and city government.

But, my favorite article is the profile on JR, a french artist who also travels the world trying to utilize art for social change an has gone to many different places like Brazil, Palestine, South Africa to wheat paste giant sized portraits of regular people that seem to bring out their humanity. "When I'm in the streets and I paste, I have to talk to people, so that's why it's easy for me to talk and paste because that's what I do, working in the streets everyday. I have to explain it to folks. I love people, and I love exchanging, and those projects are a great way to learn about people and ask them questions about their story and really learn about their conflicts," he said in the interview.

If you only buy one issue of Juxtapoz a year, make sure this is the one!

[UPDATE: Some stores have already removed this issue from the stands and have replaced it with the new June issue. However, you can still order this issue online].

Monday, April 30, 2012

Recommended: In Wonderland at LACMA

This past weekend, I finally got a chance to see "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States," which is on view at the LACMA only until May 6!  Ever since I read the description for this art exhibit I had been wanting to check it out.  In part it read:  "While their male counterparts usually cast women as objects for their delectation, female Surrealists delved into their own subconscious and dreams, creating extraordinary visual images. Their art was primarily about identity: portraits, double portraits, self-referential images, and masquerades that demonstrate their trials and pleasures."

The show has been very widely promoted on streets all over Los Angeles with large ad-banners featuring a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. (A detail of which is seen here on this blog). As I knew this was going to be group show featuring many artists, I was a bit worried that this show would only have one of Kahlo's pieces in the collection, but I was very happily surprised that they had seven of her paintings--including one of her most famous (and larger pieces), Los Dos Fridas, which is a real treat to see up close.

With over 170 paintings, sculptures, photographs in this exhibit, it was a great opportunity for me to discover new artists that I had never heard of before.  One of the artists that stood out the most to me was Remedios Varo, a Spanish-born artist, who worked in Paris before fleeing to Mexico during the Nazi Occupation.  She had a couple of beautiful paintings in the exhibit, including one titled, Papilla estelar (Celestial Pablum), which was very dreamy, but also evoked some sadness.

By the time some of you read this, it may already be too late to see this exhibit.  However, there is a companion book, and although it is pricey ($60) it is worth purchasing and is available in English, Spanish and French.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tom Morello & others Join Occupy Guitarmy

As many of you radicals know, this May first is International Workers Day, (also known as May Day), and the Occupy Movement is calling on people to participate in a General Strike (No work, no school, no business as usual). Over in New York, specific plans have been made for large protest marches that will include a "Guitarmy."

A call has been made for a 1000 musicians to enlist and other blogs have reported that The Nightwatchman, (AKA Tom Morello), will be leading this guitarmy to Union Square where he will be performing at 4 p.m. alongside artists like Immortal Technique, Ben Harper, Das Racist, and others. Morello has showed the Occupy Movement a lot of support; he's played some sets at a few of the Occupy encampments around the country, including in L.A., and even did a dance party for Occupy at SXSW earlier this year.

Here is what Pitchfork Media has said about the march route:
Morello will also lead a "Guitarmy" of 1,000 guitarists, string players, and singers that will march from New York's Bryant Park, through midtown Manhattan, down to Union Square, culminating in a performance at 4 p.m. An open rehearsal for the performance will begin at 12 p.m. in Bryant Park, to practice Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", Sergio Ortega's "El Pueblo Unido", Willie Nile's "One Guitar", the Nightwatchman's "World Wide Rebel Song", and the traditional protest song "We Shall Not Be Moved".
The song list seems pretty tame and lame to me, but this is still a pretty cool idea!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Juan Felipe Herrera; Poet Laureate of California

I'm late on this, but since it is still National Poetry Month, I wanted to acknowledge Juan Felipe Herrera, who was appointed the Poet Laureate of California last month. He becomes the first Chicano to ever hold this post.

It might be of importance to people who read this blog, as his work is very much influenced by the Beat Generation (writers like Allen Ginsberg), as well as the whole Chicano movement. In fact, Herrera was at the very first Festival de Flor y Canto (Festival of flower and song) at USC in 1973 where he shared the stage with some of the great Chicano/a writers of the time like Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, Alurista, Juan Gómez Quiñones, José Montoya, Ricardo Sánchez and many others. (In 2010, he was also present at USC for a new Flor Y Canto that included artists from the original festival, as well as representatives of a new generation of voices).

His most recent work, "Half of the World in Light" was a winner of that year's National Book Critics Circle award in poetry, but I'm more familiar with his 2007 collection, "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007." The title piece is perhaps his most known--and most hilarious--poem. A short excert below:
Because Lou Dobbs has been misusing the subjunctive again
Because our suitcases are made with biodegradable maguey fibers
Because we still resemble La Malinche
Because multiplication is our favorite sport
Because we’ll dig a tunnel to Seattle
Because Mexico needs us to keep the peso from sinking
Because the Berlin Wall is on the way to Veracruz
Because we just learned we are Huichol
Because someone made our IDs out of corn
Because our border thirst is insatiable
Because we're on peyote & Coca-Cola & Banamex
Because it's Indian land stolen from our mothers
Because we're too emotional when it comes to our mothers
Because we've been doing it for over five hundred years already...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ludlow: a Massacre, a Verse-Novel

Almost a century ago, on April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of 1,200 coal miners, and their families, who were on strike. As a result, there were between 19 and 25 deaths--including 13 women and children. The Ludlow Massacre, as this moment in history came to to be known, has been described by Historian Howard Zinn as "the culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history."

In 2007, Red Hen Press published a verse-novel called Ludlow, (think of it as a book-length poem), by the Poet David Mason (who years later was later named the Poet Laureate of Colorado). The author's note describes the poem as "a work of fiction, but certain characters and events have their origins set in historical fact..."

In 2010, when a 2nd edition of the book was released, the author was featured on the PBS News Hour where he talked about his book. He said, "To use all this language, all this history, all this knowledge about versification and put it all together in what I hope is a very compelling story about a very serious moment in American history that's still with us, because we still are a nation of immigrants. We still are a nation that struggles with issues of corporate power, corporate greed, the rights of individual people."

Below is a short excerpt that describes working-life in the mines:
The mines made windows too, when timbermen
or diggers deep inside the earth cut through
to gas and lanterns set it off, or when
the pillared chambers fell. You heard a slump
within, and some poor digger ran out choking
there was thirty boys still trapped in the seam.
And some days all you'd see was bodies carted
down the hill and bosses counting heads.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Things to Learn from the Günter Grass Poem

A few weeks ago, the German Writer, (1999 Nobel Prize in Literature winner), Günter Grass published a poem called “What Must Be Said.” In this poem, Grass denounced the state of Israel for its nuclear weapons program and its recent aggression towards Iran, which he feels endangers world peace. A few stanzas of it here:
Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we--as Germans burdened enough--
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

As Mr. Grass, is a very public and well-known literary figure, it did not take long for the government of Israel to respond and condemn the poet, calling him anti-Semitic and barring him from ever entering the country by declaring him a persona non grata.

There are two lessons to learn right away from all this: 1) Poetry is still very fuck’n powerful! 2) If you dare to criticize Israel, you will automatically be declared anti-Semitic. (This is actually brought up very sharply—and in a humorous way—by Michael Robbins in one of his poems from Alien vs. Predator.

Unfortunately, too many people let Israel get away with what it’s doing. (Not just for its nuclear weapon threats, but for the occupation of the Palestinian people every day since its existence). Even Dave Eggers, author of the book, Zeitoun, refused to accept a literary award from the Günter Grass Foundation last week, most likely for fear of being associated with Grass.

This reminds me of the way that Revolution newspaper Writer Alan Goodman ended a short article he once wrote about the lack of criticism of Israel for its war crimes. He wrote: In this light, this statement by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA is something that needs to be confronted by everyone, and poses a critical moral challenge: “After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.”


Friday, April 13, 2012

Recommended: Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins

Much has been said about Michael Robbins and the way his poems are deliciously drenched in pop-culture references. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it was this particular style (milkshake, if you will) that brought me to his Alien vs. Predator yard. His choice of words, not only brings much humor to his poems, but also makes them feel very timely—not just contemporary.

Once you look past the pop-culture references you will see Robbins’ real love for the poetic tradition of rhyme. For instance, in Welfare Mothers, “Little Bo Mercy in heels and hose,/ just under the water she usually goes./ She moves grams and ounces, prays for war./ She’s not the droid you’re looking for.”

And these two great final lines for the poem, Dig Dug: “Memory is the bended grass where deer have lain./ It’s hard to hold a candle to the cold November rain.” Throughout the book, you’ll find rhymes like these that make the reading experience enjoyable.

There are a lot of themes in the book, including some very serious political stuff. The poem, Remain In Light, gets into the struggle of the Palestinian people—in a very different and unique way: “This is a poem for the Caterpillar D9./ I, Rachel Corrie, one of the rough, a kosmos./ This must be nasty anti-Semitic poem!”

Some readers might have a difficult time finding out the meaning to these poems, as it will almost never be obvious. Truth be told, most of these poems went over my head. But I’ve only done one quick reading of the book, and I know reading this collection over and over again and really studying these poems will never be boring.

Have I sold you on buying this book? Well, here’s one last thing: You know how you’ll be at a bookstore flipping through poetry books, and in the last page there’s usually a photo of the poet—which is usually some old professor guy in a nice button shirt or sweater who looks like he’s spent too much time in the library studying the meaning of a Shakespearean sonnet? Well, in the last page of this book, there’s just a picture of some dude…in a Slayer t-shirt!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From the Back Issue Bin- Punisher: Going Out West

Recently, while I was at Emerald City Comic Con, I was able to talk to one of my favorite comic-book writers, Matt Fraction. I was happy that he autographed a few of my Punisher War Journal books that he penned back in 2007. These particular books were special to me because they were part of a storyline called, "Goin' Out West." I enjoyed this storyline a lot because it was a very political story that dealt with the issue of immigration.

The villain here was the Hate-Monger, who was leading a group of high technology-powered Nazis that were killing immigrants, (or would-be immigrants), near the U.S./Mexico border in the Sonoran desert. This was very important because, around the same time, there was a lot of controversy at the Arizona border due to "The Minutemen," armed militia groups who had taken it upon themselves to "patrol" the U.S./Mexico border.

In the story, instead of Minutemen, they are Nazis, which is essentially what they are, and exactly why I like the story so much--because they truly are villains! (Not heroes, or patriots, or whatever someone else might come up with to dress it up).

Frank Castle, the Punisher, does not like what these Nazis are doing. And although he usually spends his time taking out mob bosses or super-villains, he decides to infiltrate them so to best kill them. Although most of the story is about how Frank goes about infiltrating the Nazi camp and the repercussions of that, the beginning of the story does shed some light on some of the reasons why people go come to the U.S. from Mexico. In one whole page, Staurt, (a sort of sidekick to Frank), reads him some information, including this passage:


"Maquilas or maquiladoras, depending on your grasp of Spanish, exist throughout Mexico and Latin America in these--these special zones. No tariffs or taxes. They bring raw goods in and ship finished crap out. They're...dictatorial sweatshops, basically. NAFTA-sanctioned sweatshops."

I like this story so much that I even went ahead and bought a hardcover collected trade and recommend the same to anybody who is looking for a good story. As long as you don't mind a little violence.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Quick Guide to Banksy Books

While flipping through a book catalog yesterday I noticed some new books on infamous street artist, Banksy. I thought I would list them here, along with the other titles that I’m familiar with:

Wall and Piece by BANKSY
This is the one book that should definitely be on your bookshelf. And as far as I know, the only official Banksy collection out there put together by the artist himself. It is very popular and I have seen it “out of stock” on Amazon quite a few times, especially since the time that Exit Through The Gift Shop came out in theaters. (I know for sure it is one of the best-selling items at Revolution Books L.A.)

Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home by Steve Wright
A nice hardcover collection that focuses on Banksy’s hometown of Bristol and stands out because it has many images of the artist’s early work. (Also, some interviews with people who worked with him early in his career).

Banksy Locations and Tours Vol. 1 & Vol.2 by Martin Bull
These first came out in the U.K., but then PM Press put out their versions. The collections were put together by photographer Martin Bull, and can be very useful if you ever decide to go on vacation to areas where Banksy has left artwork behind. (Both books also have images of great art from other infamous street artists). But, the drawback to these editions is that they are small (for art books), so even though they have many great photographs, the images are rather small.

Banksy: Myths and Legends by Marc Leverton
This book just came out at the end of last year, from Ginko Press. It’s a smaller book with about 80 color illustrations; however it seems to focus more on “stories” and “facts” about the artist. It seems to feature some of his most recent work and looks like it’s priced very affordably.

Banksy: You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat compiled by Gary Shove & Patrick Potter
A new collection, set to be released this summer, and the preview makes it look very promising—especially because it’s supposed to include photos of the work Banksy did in New Orleans, and the stencils he did out in Los Angeles when he was in town for the Oscars. If you see this at a bookstore, grab it because it definitely looks like it would be worth to add to your home library.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Season Two Finale of Walking Dead

"This isn't a democracy anymore!"

With those words from Rick, (leader of a band of people who have come together to try and survive some sort of zombie apocalypse), the season two of The Walking Dead came to an end--and my excitement of the possible political implications of what this could mean for the next season began!

Could some real deep social commentary about America finally be at the forefront of this series? The show has had its ups and down in terms of plot, but it has mostly been an entertaining show to watch. However, it's mostly just been entertaining, so the possibility of a show that is both entertaining and also makes some sort of commentary on current events or the current state of society has gotten me very excited! Of course, this is all in the writers' hands...

But think of all that can be done: Could the zombie apocalypse represent the failed capitalist system? Will the zombies come to represent people who vote? Will the band of lone survivors become some sort of metaphor for a future society--possibly even socialism? (Or, another unfortunate cynical story about so-called human nature)?

What gives me hope is the fact that a lot of good social commentary has already been made in zombie movies. Cult classic films by George Romero like, "Night of the Living Dead," and "Dawn of the Dead," which deal with issues of racism, inequality and consumerism, come to mind. What do people think???

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recent Albums You Might Have Slept On Vol. 1

Saul Williams, "Volcanic Sunlight"
This album was actually released in November of last year, and I had mentioned its release before. This is very much a something-for-everybody kind of album, as there are all kinds of songs on here: fun, happy songs with simple hooks (“Girls on Saturn”); songs that you definitely want to play at your next house-party (“Dance”); songs with lots of poetry (“Look to the Sun,” “Explain My Heart”); and the more trippy, experimental songs (“Diagram”). There is a bit of dance album feel to a lot of the music, but the lyrics are at the level of what fans of Saul Williams would expect, so they would not be disappointed.

Outernational, "Todos Somos Ilegales (We Are All Illegals)"


This album was released online at the end of 2011 to provide a soundtrack to resistance and revolution—it is “future rock” after all. There have been some good things said of the album, some of which you can find on the band’s Tumblr page. Here I’ll focus on my highlights, which include the funky “The Beginning Is Here,” which looks to set the tone for 2012; “We Are All Illegals,” a new anthem for all those fighting against the attacks on immigrants featuring a bunch of guest stars on the track, including some short but politically sharp lines from Residente of Calle 13; “Canta El Rio,” a beautiful and eerie sounding song with Ceci Bastida providing vocals; and my personal favorite, “Que Queremos,” which the band has been playing at shows for a long time and finally released. It’s a pay-what-you-can album, so there’s no excuse not to have it on your computer’s music library right now!

Ana Tijoux, "La Bala"

The first album that I was excited to hear this year and it did not disappoint. It starts off strong with the title-track, “La Bala,” and then quickly hits its high-point with “Shock,” and you know right away that this album will be even more politically charged than her previous work—of course, with everything that is going on in her home country of Chile, you can’t be surprised that it was a politically heavy album. Some have said that they did not dig the beats as much as they did on her previous album, and although I agree (just a little), I have to say that the songs are just more meaningful and powerful than her last disc. (Also, I love her singing; her voice reminds me a bit of Nelly Furtado).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

MacArthur Park Through the Eyes of Sonia Romero

I have to admit that as much as I hate Metro trains and buses sometimes (for various reasons), I have to give it up to them when it comes to public art; they do a great job of putting up a variety of beautiful art pieces in many of their train stations.

My favorite public art piece (that was commissioned by Metro Art and completed back in 2010), is "MacArthur Park; Urban Oasis," by local artist Sonia Romero, and it is located in the Westlake-MacArthur Park Red Line station. It is a series of 13 porcelain mosaic murals, which can be described as vignettes that show daily urban life in the the Westlake-MacArthur Park neighborhood.

What I really love about it is that it represents all that is good in the area and it also gives us beautiful depictions of the working-class immigrant people that work and play in the park; for example, a lady selling tamales, and a paletero (ice-cream vendor).

There is also a lot of history in the pieces. For instance, there is one piece memorializing Al Langer, the founder of Langer's Delicatessen and Restaurant, which is across the street from the park--and has been there since 1947! My favorite panel is the one that depicts the Westlake Theatre, which was built in 1926 and used as a movie theatre until 1991, and is now a swapmeet. The clashing of the old neon sign and ticket kiosk with murals of products you can buy inside the swap meet always made this a curious sight for me and the artist really captures this well.

I'm not the only one who thinks this is great public art. As a matter of fact, last summer it was chosen as one of the best public art pieces by the organization Americans for the Arts. People should check-out this art by visiting this train station; or, if you live too far and can't make it to L.A., visit Romero's website HERE.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Marjane Satrapi on the Difference Between People and Governments

The other day, in one of their newsletters, World Can't Wait sent an old interview that was done with the Iranian-born Graphic Novelist Marjane Satrapi, who some people might know because of the animated film that was based on her best-selling Persepolis books. (It was a great film; although the graphic novels were better).
Although the interview was done in 2005, (by Michelle Goldberg for Salon.com), it is actually very timely--especially with all the recent talk of possible war with Iran.

The best quote in the interview is when she is asked if she has any advice for secular Americans living in a country that is increasingly becoming controlled by religious fundamentalists. She says:

If I have any advice, it’s that every day that you wake up, don’t say, “This is normal.” Every day, wake up with this idea that you have to defend your freedom. Nobody has the right to take from women the right to abortion, nobody has the right to take from homosexuals the right to be homosexual, nobody has the right to stop people laughing, to stop people thinking, to stop people talking.

If I have one message to give to the secular American people, it’s that the world is not divided into countries. The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other, but we talk together and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.


Earlier in the interview she made it very clear that, "My criticism is not towards America -- it's towards the American government, which to me are two different things" Another very interesting part of the interview is when she is asked her thoughts about the idea that some Americans have that Iranians would be happy if America came to "liberate" them. Although she has some allusions about the United Nations, she clearly sees that no good can come from U.S. intervention. "For people who think that America will come and liberate them, I invite them to read the history and see what America has done," she said.

(Click HERE for an article on U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, up to 2001).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bob Avakian on The Role of Art, and the Artist, and Their Relation to the State

Back in 2005, KPFK Radio Host Michael Slate aired an interview between him and the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian. A lengthy part of that interview was reprinted in the February 19, 2012 issue of Revolution newspaper under the title, "The Cultural Revolution in China...Art and Culture...Dissent and Ferment...and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism" Below is just a very small sample of that interview, which I wanted to post because of its focus on art and culture in a future society:

(Note: Stuff highlighted in bold was done by me, not Revolution newspaper)
MS: I want to roll on with this. Before I get into the question of actually pursuing more of this question of intellectual and artistic freedom and dissent as a necessity in the future society, I wanted to get into a couple of things about the role of artists in particular. You know, it’s interesting because, 10 years ago, Haile Gerima—I interviewed Haile Gerima, the filmmaker who made Sankofa, Bush Mama. He’s an Ethiopian filmmaker, but he’s been here a long time. He’s kind of been steeped, he’s very schooled in revolutionary theory around the world. And he was influenced a lot by the Cultural Revolution. And one of the things he had, he advanced this idea that the role of the artist in socialist society is to constantly—I’m trying to remember how he actually put it, but it’s to always be opposing the ruling apparatus. He looked at it: the Cultural Revolution went so far but not far enough because this didn’t actually break out that way—that the artists, they stopped short of that.

And then more recently I had the opportunity to interview and spend some time with Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer, and he has a couple of things that he advances around the nature of art and the relationship between the artist and the state in any society. And one of the things that he talks about is that there’s a conservative part of the state, in that it’s always trying to save itself and preserve its rule and preserve itself, and then that art actually—he says that art, on the other hand, is something that’s always changing. You know, it’s always that—art differs from that, in that it’s always trying to grasp things in their changingness. It’s based on how things are developing, how things are moving and what’s essential and not always what exactly is. And so he sees these two things as being in contradiction to one another, and he says that the artist actually should always be a constant questioner of the state. The artist has a role—his view of the artist in society is that the artist has the role of asking more questions than they do of providing answers, and that’s something that he feels should be enshrined in any society. And I was wondering how that would fit in with your view of socialism and the role of art and the question of artistic freedom and dissent.

BA: Well, I think from what you’re describing and characterizing, briefly quoting, I think there’s an aspect of truth to that, but it’s one-sided, it’s only one side of the picture. About 15 years ago I gave a talk called “The End of a Stage, the Beginning of a New Stage,” basically summing up, with the restoration of capitalism in China following the same unfortunate outcome as the Soviet Union, that we had come to the end of a certain stage beginning with the Paris Commune, more or less, and ending with the Chinese Revolution being reversed and capitalism being restored there. And now we had to regroup and sum up deeply the lessons, positive and negative, of that and go forward in a new set of circumstances where there were no more socialist countries temporarily. And, at the end of that [talk], one of the things that I tried to set forth was certain principles that I thought should be applied by a Party in leading a socialist society. And one of those was that it should be a Party in power and a vanguard of struggle against those parts of power that are standing in the way of the continuation of the revolution. And I actually think that’s a more correct way, a more correct context, or analogy, for how to evaluate the role of art in particular in a socialist society. In other words, by analogy, I think art should not just criticize that [socialist] state, it should criticize those things in the society—including in the state, including in the Party, including in the leadership—that actually represent what’s old and needs to be moved beyond. Not necessarily what is classically capitalist but what has turned from being an advance into an obstacle—because everything, including socialism, does advance through stages and by digging more deeply into the soil the old is rooted in and uprooting it more fully. So things that were advances at one point can turn into obstacles or even things that would take things back, if persisted in.

So I think art needs to criticize all those things. But I think it also needs to uphold—and even, yes, to extol and to popularize—those things that do represent the way forward, including those things about the state. The state in socialist society is not the same as the state in capitalist society. It’s the state that, in its main aspects—so long as it’s really a socialist society—represents the interests of the masses of people, makes it possible for them, provides the framework within which, they can continue the revolution and be defended against enemies, both within the country and the imperialists and other forces who would attack and try to drown that new society in blood from the outside. So the state has a different character, and as long as its main aspect is doing those things—is actually representing rule by the proletariat in which the proletariat and broad masses of people are increasingly themselves consciously involved in the decision-making process and in developing policies for continuing the revolution—wherever that remains the main aspect, those things should be supported and even extolled. But even within that, even where that is the case, there will be many ways in which there will be not only mistakes made but things which have come to be obstacles, ways in which in the policies of the government, and the policies of the Party, and the actions of the state, [there are] things that actually go against the interests of the masses of people—not just in a narrow sense, but in the most fundamental sense even, in terms of advancing to communism—and that actually pose obstacles. And those things should be criticized.

And I do think there is a truth to the idea that artists tend to bring forward new things—although that’s not uniformly true. Some artists—the same old thing over and over, you know, very formulaic—and especially those whose content seeks to reinforce or restore the old, it often isn’t that innovative. Sometimes even that is good [artistically]; often it isn’t. But I do think there is some truth that there is a character of a lot of art that it’s very innovative and it tends to shake things up and come at things from new angles and pose problems in a different way or actually bring to light problems that haven’t been recognized in other spheres or by people who are more directly responsible for things, or by people who are more directly involved in the politics of a society. And I think there should be a lot of freedom for the artists to do that. But I also think part of their responsibility, and part of what they should take on, is to look to those things that are—that do embody the interests of people—including the state. And they should popularize and uphold that, because there are going to be plenty of people wanting to drag down and destroy that state. But I think there’s not a clear enough understanding of the fundamental distinction—even with all the contradictions involved that I’ve been trying to speak to—the fundamental distinction between a proletarian state, a state in socialist society, and a bourgeois state which is there for the oppression of the masses and to reinforce the conditions in which they’re exploited, as the whole foundation of this society, and [which] viciously attacks any attempt to rebel against, let alone to overthrow, that whole system.

So I think there is importance to drawing a distinction—and then, once you recognize that fundamental distinction, then once again, as we say, divide the socialist state into two. What parts of it are power that embodies and represents the interests of the masses in making revolution and continuing toward communism, and what parts have grown old or stand in the way of that continuation? Extol the one, popularize the one; and criticize and mobilize people, encourage people to struggle against the other.


That was just one of the questions from the interview that covers a wide number of topics, but specifically tries to dig into China's Cultural Revolution, under the leadership of Mao Tsetung; its advances in Socialism, its shortcomings, and the correct lessons that revolutionaries should be learning from that stage in Socialism. The entire interview is definitely worth reading--especially if you've ever wondered about the role of art in a non-capitalist society.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Recommended: 'Short Eyes' at the LATC

Below is part of statement from Julian Acosta, Artistic Director of the Urban Theatre Movement, used to present the extended run of, Short Eyes, written by Miguel Piñero and currently playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. (General $30; Students/Seniors $20; Groups 10+ $20; $10 Thursday).

Although it takes place in a House of Detention that is a living breathing character in the dramatic action, Short Eyes is not about prison. Although a character is accused of child molestation, Short Eyes is not about molestation. Although the characters are all either incarcerated or work for the institution, Short Eyes is not about guards and convicts. . .

Of the few plays I've seen in my life, this one was the most intense. I know for sure that many people in the audience felt the same. One audience member left during the play because the language was very descriptive; and I could hear someone in back of me crying. All this goes to the show all the raw reality and emotion that Piñero was able to capture in his play--and it also shows how real the actors made the characters seem. Stand-out performances include Chris D' Annunzio who played the main guard, Mr. Nett, Matthew Jaeger who played Clark, and David Santana who played Juan.

This was--and still is--a very controversial play, and it won the New York Critics Circle Award and Obie Award for "Best Play of the Year" back in 1974. But this play has not had a formal production on the West Coast in 10 years, so people should take advantage of this extended run that ends March 11, 2012. (It had its first sold-out run at the end of last year).

The questions that this play raises are about justice, fair trials, "guilty until proven innocent," and revenge. It is very well crafted by all the people involved and very much worth seeing. So, go!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recommended: MEX/LA at the MOLAA

You only have a few days left to catch a great exhibit in Long Beach called, MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism(s) in Los Angeles 1930-1985 which "intends to tell a history of L.A. or of Mexico that often has not been seen as neither and yet it is important and both." It is showing at the Museum of Latin American Art, but ends February 5th, 2012.

The exhibit, which spans over four decades, is made of many different medias and has pieces from great Mexican artists like David Alfaro Siquieros and modern Chicano artists like Chaz Bojórquez.

The show can be broke down into three type sections: First, there are the Mexican artists like Siquieros and José Clemente Orozco who are represented in the show mostly because they painted murals when they visited Los Angeles. Although there are also a few artists represented in this show who were born in Mexico, but later moved to Los Angeles, or spent a good part of their lives living in Los Angeles--and therefore being influenced by the city.

Then there are many pieces by artists who have no blood-relation to Mexico but were being influenced by Mexico, either because they lived there for a while or studied Mexican art and culture. Although this section, spends a lot of time devoted to architecture, to me the most interesting things were the pieces relating to popular culture. For instance, the exhibit includes a short from the Disney film The Three Caballeros, which was created after studio artists visited Mexico to soak up the culture. (And video featuring the Spanglish-speaking Speedy Gonzalez)!

Lastly, there are the Chicano artists like Barbara Carrasco and Bojórquez, who has more than one piece in the show. Of course, once again to help represent the Chicano/a culture there is also a beautiful lowrider from Jesse Valadez Sr. right at the entrance, which is actually very much a highlight.

Other highlights include work by Yolanda López: photographs; drawings from her Virgen de Guadalupe series; and a very hilarious installation titled, "Things I Never Told My Son About Being A Mexican." The other highlight, for me, were all the great photographs of people--mostly of Chicanos/as in East L.A. There were many from ASCO member Harry Gamboa Jr. and some great ones from Graciela Iturbide, who in the 80s, took up residence with a family from the East L.A. barrio of White Fence and shot lots of photographs of Cholas on their daily routines.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Red, White, and Blue Tails

“Buffalo Soldiers”: Oppressed people given guns and sent out to kill other oppressed people.


If Star Wars Creator George Lucas plan was to create a new generation of Buffalo Soldiers with his latest film, Red Tails, then he did a good job trying.

He put together a team of Black talented professionals to make the film; including Director Anthony Hemingway, (previously known for his directing in shows like The Wire); Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder who was one of the writers; and high-profile actors like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard.

With this team Lucas was able to help Red Tails reach the 2nd spot of the Top 10 on its opening weekend. It was a film filled with plenty of action, lots of dog-fight battle scenes. And it was hard not to cheer on the protagonists as they fought Nazis in the air. (How could anyone be against the guys fighting the Nazis???)

But, it cannot be denied that the main thing this film does, is encourage Black people, (and other people of color), to fight for this country--a country that cares nothing about them. The U.S. Air Force loved the patriotic message so much that they even had ads running before the movie and promoted the film on their website.

A lot of commotion was raised by progressive people after Lucas went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote Red Tails. During the interview he revealed to Stewart that he had to finance the $58-million himself because none of the major Hollywood studios would finance an expensive film with an all-black cast. "It's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all. It's one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made," he told Stewart.

And, while it is true that there is much racism in Hollywood, this film sets a bad precedent at a time when the U.S. is carrying out two unjust occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, using drones to drop bombs on countries like Pakistan, and is gearing up for a possible war with Iran.

A couple years back, Carl Dix, spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, wrote an article called, Don't Be a Buffalo Soldier! In it he says the following:

"Some people think the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers is something to be proud of. Colin Powell kept a Buffalo Soldier statue on his desk when he was a top official during both of the Bush presidencies. Colin Powell, who tried to cover up the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war, who was a major architect of the 1st Gulf war and who went to the UN and lied thru his teeth to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, finds the Buffalo Soldiers inspiring. He called them "the wind beneath my wings" and especially cited their "loyalty." Later they were sent by the U.S. to fight Mexican Revolutionaries like Pancho Villa. This is a shameful legacy, and it’s no wonder that a war criminal like Colin Powell is inspired by it.

If you follow in the footsteps of the Buffalo Soldiers, you will be called on to do just like they did: commit horrible acts against people who have done nothing to you, and you will do it in the service of a system that has carried out terrible crimes, including against the masses of African-American people, and you may end up giving up the only life you have in the service of that foul system."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Recommended: 'A Better Life'

I recently saw this movie, (which actually premiered sometime last year), and really liked it--especially because it strays away from the usual "Hollywood Happy Ending." This movie is filled with a lot of emotion and a lot of truth and explores the lives of so-called illegal immigrants and their families.
Below is part of an article published last year by Revolution Newspaper regarding this film:

At first it seems father [played by Demian Bichir] and son have little to say to each other. Their relationship is tense and their worlds far apart. But when Carlos's new truck, his ticket to steady and better work, is stolen, Luis hits the streets with him, determined to track it down and to get it back.

Chris Weitz, the director of A Better Life, directed American Pie, New Moon (the second film of the Twilight series), as well as The Golden Compass. Despite having made films with much larger budgets, Weitz told the San Francisco Chronicle that, "I have to say for me, emotionally, this felt like the biggest film that I've made."

Weitz chose current and former gang members to play almost all the gang roles, and these performances are strong. They show specific human beings, not stereotypes. The film also gives glimpses into the Mexican subculture of L.A. and a feel for the life of immigrants like Carlos.

A Better Life lays bare the situation for the worker at the bottom rungs under capitalism, who is worth nothing unless he can labor. Like the 1980s movie El Norte, A Better Life shows the struggle, and the precarious and dangerous lives, of undocumented immigrant workers.

Speaking of the role of Carlos, Weitz told the Los Angeles Times, "All he does is work. He is invisible—and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Graffiti in Palestine

There was a post yesterday on Electronic Intifada about some Palestinian artists who "penetrated the heavily fortified heart of West Jerusalem overnight and painted graffiti bearing political messages on walls, doors, construction sites and other surfaces."

Those stencils made me think of the great pieces that Banksy put up when he visited the West Bank a couple years ago. (Example pic on right; click HERE for more pics).

And this, in turn, also made me think of a group that--a few years back--was raising money online by writing graffiti messages on a wall in Palestine for others. People from around the world were able to have donate money and someone would write whatever message they wanted on a wall with a spray-can and then a photo would be sent to them by e-mail.

They stopped taking messages a long time ago because they reached their goal and raised enough to pay for the renovation of the PFF open Youth Center in Bir Zeit. All in all, the sprayed almost 1,500 messages from around the world.

The beauty and power of graffiti art. Worldwide.