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ebogjonson's November 2005 archive

November 15, 2005

huffing, not puffing

Through a rather convoluted chain of association that doesn't bear explicating here (thanks, Sarah!) I'm going to be doing some blogging for the Huffington Post. If that's how you found this blog, howdy! If not, my post is here. Leave me a comment there, raise my ratings!

Posted by ebogjonson in me me me at 4:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 14, 2005

random on, random off

There sure is some funny, odd, weird ish on the internets. Hat tip to my Friendster pal, Therese.

Posted by ebogjonson in link dump at 11:19 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2005

terri hearts jonanthan

Didja catch Terry McMillan and her gay ex-husband Jonathan on Oprah yesterday? A few thoughts:

1 - Read at the most superficial (and therefore untrustworthy) level possible, dude came off as pretty queer, raising the question of what Terry could possibly have been thinking. While it's likely Jonathan has amped his vibe up since coming out, I have a knee-jerk inability to fully sympathize with (i.e., believe) cosmopolitan, college-educated, middle-class women who claim to wake up one morning shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to find their husband/boyfriend of 5 years has (doh!) a trunk full of gay S&M pROn in the garage. Is it really any surprise that the half-your-age rent-boy found recumbent on the burning sands of Jamaica is gay? Any gigolo - black or white, from here to Richard Gere - is always already tainted by bitchery, something any romance novelist worth their salt should know even if they'd never say so in public.

2 - In Terry's defense, though, black men are trained by history to police their public-facing boundaries with particular care and enthusiasm, so if anyone can put one over, it's likely the properly motivated brother.

These days the interesting action vis-à-vis the DL is seem to being played out in class-bounded arenas, this by thug-loving brothers whose aesthetic/safety hangs on the accurate interpolation of the gullier strains of black hyper-masculinity. Nelson George once wondered (and I'm recollecting/paraphrasing, so lay the blame for any issues on my game of telephone) if the drug war and its incarceration of vast numbers of black men in their sexually formative years was creating a new category of SSL (same sex loving) men that sat outside the boundaries of trad gay/bi identity. I'm inclined to believe him think there might be a connection there, and there's likely a world of self-published lit out there (on the shelf next to the books about the 15 year old drug dealer baby momma) that is less the lush, glossy stuff of E. Lynn Harris and more the grimey stuff of Oz.

2- On another register entirely, I'd like to see two, maybe, three parallel tracking black remakes of Bravo's Boy Meets Boy: one for college-educated, big city types over 35, one for younger, bling-minded street soldiers (post-millennial banji realness), and one for Southern church-going, choir-ish types. Unlike the actual Bravo series, which encouraged mercenary straight actors to break the hearts of poor defenseless gay actors, this version would be more observational, teams of black women competing to spot the gents on the DL. Prizes TBD.

3 - Message to Stedman - DO NOT FUCK WITH OPRAH'S MONEY. Of all the outrages to which the decidedly pro-Terry Oprah had the opportunity to react, it was Jonathan's attempt to nullify his pre-nup that most visibly incensed her. She about barked at gay ex-husband to explain why he should expect to get a cent from Terry. While I agree with her POV and loved the Judge Judy imitation, I also have a hard time imagining O going all bare knuckle on the empty-headed trophy bride of a famous black male author the same way. In so much as Jonathan Plummer imagines he has any rights to Terry McMillan's ducats, it clearly has to do not just with his sexual service, but with the fact that How Stella Got her Groove Back, roman and cine, is the couple's combined story. That seems fairly straightforward (along with the fact that people do all kinds of dumb shit while mad, divorcing and lawyered-up), but Oprah would have none of it.

5 - Oprah's on-air shrink Robin Smith was actually pretty good. Did O replace that wayward money-changing whore in the temple of mental health - Dr. Phil - with Smith?

5 - I started the episode feeling mock bad for Jonathan - poor Jonathan! Trapped like every call girl is trapped between the john and a payday! - but ended up feeling genuinely bad for Terry. Her boy toy had clearly betrayed her to the core on numerous fronts - as a wife, as a woman, as an aging woman, as a celebrity, as a fifty-and -loving-it success story, as a romance expert, a technician of black love. (Her books have always struck me more a fictionalized self-help than literature.) McMillan's taut, contorted face, her leaned-back, protective body-language all suggested that so many months later she was still in a kind of shock. And you know what? Every time the camera pulled away from her traumatized carriage for commercial you would catch the wall came tumbling down as she turned towards her cheating, gay, money-grubbing ex-husband - patting him, flicking at him, leaning in to make an off-mike, probably off-color joke whose terms only he would understand. She's obviously still in love with dude. It'd be cruel to call that pathetic, but it was definitely sad.

Posted by ebogjonson in screened at 4:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 5, 2005

[updated] about, uh, Madonna's new video

[Updated 12:30AM 11/3, notes at end]

1 - the video may be viewed here. All the comments below refer to the video and not the song.

3 - From its opening scene - Madonna working out moves solo in a rehearsal space - Hung Up wants to cobble together an internally consistent visual vocabulary that conjoins the aging Material Girl and the video's stand-ins for state-of-the-art cool: i.e., a plethora of young, dancing, colored bodies. It's an asymmetrical conjoinment largely concerned with process, mental real estate, appearances, plausiblity and (of course) Madonna's vanity and ego. The actual (real world) outcome of such a dance off isn't Hung Up's problem, making sure Madonna doesn't look the fool is, or, more precisely, that she doesn't look old. Confronted here by (predominantly) black people, the bar for victory is set significantly higher than when Madonna was confronted by, say, Britney Spears, and so her sights are reflexively set lower. Her goal here is basically just to keep up, and maybe get off if she's very very lucky.

3.5 - Bodies will dance, will hump, jump, mug, face off on the subway and throughout there won't be a white figure meaningfully engaged by the camera but Madonna's, a grabby Ms. Ciccone claiming representative / emblematic pole position over her entire race. In contrast to her well-honed, practiced singularity, the colored kids are figured by the video en masse - multiple, organic, hothouse and fecund in their black/asian/latino variety.

4 - (And really, who better to represent white people on the dance floor / Space Ark than Madonna? William F. Buckley? Judge Judy? Pee Wee Herman? Susan Sontag? Billary?)

5 - Hung up is ripe with anachronisms lifted from Madonna's 80s heyday. There's all those British Yout on a wacky race to the club, the cast styled just-so in the latest retro-BBoy finery, their antics reruns of Benny Hill and What's Happening. There's the rehearsal motif figuring Madonna in Larry Bird terms - hard working, practices a helluva lot, earns her spot on the roster by dint of a regimen of 10000 jump shots a day. There are the endless de-contextualized outbursts of quaint colored physical creativity - black folks just BE dancing AND SHIT - all the folks arrayed around Madonna young, moist little Magics to her Bird, gifted naturals bursting with Jack Kirby-esque energies. The one shot of an Asian chick stretching on a rooftop (sweet burdens of classical training) may run parallel to Madonna's dutiful self-ministrations, but it's a throwaway, a visual wormhole feeding into one of the video's recurring fantasy ciphers. Our stretchy Asian sistergirl is ultimately just reflexively shaking herself out before doing what Hung Up imagines colored folk naturally/jungalistically do; leap down concrete project staircases, for example, exultantly.

6 - Not for nothing, but the conflagration between, well, us and Madonna never actually materializes, strategic retreat in this case apparently being the better part of valor. By video's end, the rumors of war against the avatars of color are revealed to be largely the stuff of erotic fantasy, some motivational diddle-diddle playing out in the Material Girl's head while she works up a sweat alone in her rehearsal room. The video's fantasy cum shot happens outside the circle of dancers Esther Madonna Louise Ciccone Ritchie has seemingly been practicing to enter, Madonna instead hugging the wall where, no joke, she'll be passed between a Latin (BOGish?) dude, a Black dude, an Asian dude, a South Asian chick (MIA? Factually, no, but in concept, definitely), and a Black chick, in pretty much that order. In so much as Madonna dreams of clubland domination, she clearly means it in the "turned out in the bathroom" sense of the word.

7 - Mapped against Madonna's previous wholesale re-inventions Hung Up isn't particularly novel, and it's already being derided by her (online) fan base as "safe." While that's a legit read, the "safe" critique requires Madonna be frozen in time, its critical touchstone her own 20-year record of shifting persona. If you instead put Hung Up against the (nonexistent) backdrop of the 2005 output by the other chart toppers from 1985 it goes from disappointment to reasonably impressive display of stamina. Those of you waiting for Madonna's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" (or, conversely, despairing of its very possibility) need to flash forward 30 years or conspire to put her on her deathbed (ha!). Your revulsion is less engagement with the video and more terror and rage that the bitch just won't shut the fuck up.

7.5 - You also may be revolted that Madonna is still chasing colored dick/clit despite being older than pop culture dirt, i.e., 47. Give credit where credit is due. Hung Up's final, ballsy sexual proposition is that Madonna is and ever shall be the biggest, most-predatory, most powerful, most-slummy, most whorish LES white girl there ever was. There are many things Madonna is wrong about, but her ability to stamp competing white tramps (of any age) under a stilleto boot hell is not one of them. Make her 47, drop her in London, give her Kabbalistic religion, marry her to a hack director and it still won't mean a proverbial thing.

8 - The figurative gangbang to which Madonna surrenders (this while the "real" dancers dance) is in stark contrast to her search and destroy mission against the sexual/professional essence of poor little Britney at the '03 VMAs. The reason, of course, that Madonna could so easily manhandle the doily-like Spears while the unabashedly skuzzy Xtina escaped with some small measure of agency intact is that Britney plays it fairly white. (Her white trash-(in)bred, Springer-esque tendencies are the only avenues through which she could be plausibly niggerized.) Flash forward from the VMA's to Hung Up. where Madonna finds herself the one rapturously trembling before (six different kinds of) totemic pop otherness. Her self-ownership and purposefulness in the opening workout sequence isn't effaced by her subsequent surrender. In fact, her rigor is what makes the later (fantasy) release to the dusky sublime possible. The image of practice and rehearsal is a schematic, a plausible (to racist white people, that is) methodology by which an aging white woman may be imagined to pull hard-bodied, 19 year old blasianatinos. The secret recipe? Be rich, give good fashion, wear tall boots, keep your weight down, dance dance dance. Be Madonna.

9 - (Think of the practice sequence as a kind of whitegurl prayer to the gods of miscegenation, wherein the supplicant seeks to call down the physical resources necessary for the aping of colored kinesiology.)

9.5 - Charged as it is with creating a visual vocabulary to support a kind of one-woman sexual gerontocracy, Hung Up resorts to three "hacks" in hopes of short-circuiting our natural inclination to view its entire enterprise as absurd. First is Madonna's aforementioned feint and then retreat from any actual danceoff, her proper cipher becoming the orgy with the six kids against the wall. Second is the fact that in addition to the wall bit Hung Up also includes a semi-sex scene where Madonna rides (and I mean rides) her rehersal room boom box like it was a sybian sex machine. The solo, slow mo, dancefloor-lit romp atop the faux sybian upends Hung Up's presumed narrative arc - pro-active white girl works out to get limber before drifting to the dark downtown for a bit of strange - turning it into a techy auto-erotic fantasy powered by beats and bass. Indeed, the last shot of the video is Madonna lying on her rehearsal room floor, all fucked out and shit, by nothing, the old saw that the brain is the most powerful sex organ finding application in her oeuvre for perhaps the first time ever.

9.6 - Third hack: The sybian's feint towards a notion of masturbatory, enacted simulacra is echoed in the closing group scene where the club dance floor is abruptly replaced by a Dance Dance Revolution pad. The substitution is completely unmotivated, DDR floating through the video unmoored from diegesis. The pad comes back to its roots as surface here, Madonna alternately line dancing on it (centered in frame, of course) and free-lancing some moves that bear no relation to any visible game-play. Still, the suggestion that after so many different drummers have been offered up for Madonna to dance to - negrophilia, MILFy hubris, pop monomania - she might finally submit to DDRs pixellated virtual notation gives Hung Up a whiff of sober honesty, if not outright futurism. The DDR bit brings us full circle, makes the video a powerfully concise treatise on simulation and fakery and fantasy. The pun is priceless: Of course the video is a game; how else could a woman her age possibly hope to play? The current association between videogames and youth will disappear as the generations above us (us=me=37) die off, meaning that in the future the old will play MORE videogames, not less. 80 year olds will hold XBOX Tesseract rushing records. Jacked in via plug in the back of your neck, you will have the hottest sex ever with a bedridden great grandmother named Myrtle. At the age of 100 Madonna will release her final video. Thoroughly interactive and she will dance with each and every one us, maybe more depending on our settings.

10 - Me, I gotta go to sleep. Some specific praise for Hung Up's director should go here, but I'm way too tired..

[Update note: I've made a few language changes here and there. Item #2 re: Deluzian subtitling has been deleted (on grounds of dumbness). Item #3's been broken in two and #7's been split as well. I added two more items between 9 and 10.]

Posted by ebogjonson in screened at 3:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 4, 2005

thanks for nothing, jim 2.0

A hearty ebogjonson.com hat-tip to all the eagle-eyed readers who wrote and called to point out that your humble narrator was the only 90s Book & Snake Negro left out of Greg Tate's recent history of black journalism at the Village Voice. (As I posted rather obliquely a few days ago, Voice film critic J. Hoberman recapped five or so decades of VV film criticism in that same issue and similarly, Kremlinological-like, erased my successive, almost ten-year stints as film intern, Associate Photo Editor, contributor and smoking-room denizen.)

Rest assured, gentle readers, that your No-Prizes are in the snail mail.

Since none of my closest and dearest pals from my Voice days placed in the 50th Anniversary Issue's various beauty contests, I can't really lay claim to any particular personal injury, and therefore have little to say about either critic's history. The whole thing certainly does call to mind, though, a bit my father and his drinking buddies were fond of rolling out at family gatherings. The bit goes like this:

A group of men are standing in a circle, drinking. One of the men (very often my father) looks around, finds a mark outside their oval of intimacy, smiles a vicious little smile at said mark, and announces to those nearby that he knows exactly "kisa neg'sa peze" - i.e., exactly how much the nucca in question weighs. In response, another man looks theatrically over his shoulder at the mark and opines (and I'm translating), "Thing is, I hear dude claims to know exactly how much you weigh." To which my father nods, holds up his drink to the mark, flashes even more grim, pointy teeth and says, "Yes, you are correct, my friend. It is indeed a race to the grave."

Or, as they say in the original Haitian: "Giddyup!"

Posted by ebogjonson in media at 11:59 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2005

so so sad, this thing I'm going to miss

Jeez H. Mumblefuck. This is going to be good.

Break a virtual leg, Mike!

Posted by ebogjonson in videogames and other cracks at 8:40 PM | Permalink

imaginary dope for imaginary ghettos

Department of apropos of nothing: jimi iz recently posted a filmclash wherein Deep Cover and Shaft go mano-a-mano. I don't have much to say about Shaft, but Deep Cover's is one of my fave flicks. How come? In no particular order, a few points of interest are sketched out below:

1 - Deep Cover's McGuffin - i.e., Fishburne and Goldblum's initial quest to produce and market a side-effect-free super-high - has always struck me as vaguely science-fictional, afrofuturistic even. For one, their chemical grail is clearly on some next-level, as-yet-unmade shit, a veritable tricorder of ghetto speed: non-addictive, aphrodisiacal, hang-over free. (For those of you untainted by drugs or their associated culture, in real world terms the pair's hypothetical shit seems to sit somewhere between ecstasy and some kind of nicey-nice meth, with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg thrown in a la Tyrone Biggums' recollection of his first taste of crack.)

The happy making super-drug is just an opening gambit, of course, a combustible designed to launch Deep Cover on its ultimate arc. That the super-drug thing is as doomed as Jeff G's homoerotic dream of a coked-out, irony-driven black-Jewish comity doesn't undermine its appeal as an initial, vaguely utopian feint, though, the pair's search for a transformative urban upper not so much sitting in contrast to R. Raygun-era memes of mutant crack-babies and zombie base-heads but running in parallel, an alternate history to the actual age of crack.

Perversely, it's precisely the 80s and 90s nightmare tropes about crack cocaine that make possible (if not exactly necessary) the slew of later, science-fictional tropes for drug production that you'll find in any flick from here to New Jack City where enterprising heads cook product in NASA-style clean rooms tucked into the corners of abandoned tenements. (I call this "perverse" because coke/crack is largely pre-Paleolithic from a technology-standpoint, concerned as it is with the power of, like, fire.) The 80s/90s image of colored drug addiction, forced as it was to answer to three different masters (white racism, black middle class embarassment and hip hop's amoral fetishization of the hustle, i.e., hate the game, not the mind/body destroying player) was always more than the insufficient images Lalaland was built/intending to provide, so one of the ways flicks processed the excess energy was to recast the security and communications technology used by street corner hustlers as proto-cyberpunk. Think Ice-T in Ricochet, where dude isn't just Denzel's bad seed pal from back in the day, but the owner-proprietor of a drug factory so futuristic it could have been lifted straight out of Tom Clancy or lesser William Gibson. Or think (in a later example) Belly, where DMX hears about an esoteric next-gen heroin while watching MTV News and Louie Rankin's Lennox faces off against a razorgirl-type assassin.

(True. You're thinking the 90s were all about recasting current consumer technology as the first glimmer of the cyberpunk future - "You will..." are now / did - but I think there's something extra going on in the AA directed drug flicks like Deep Cover.)

2 - The cop/not-cop war of I-against-I that has Fishburne agonizing throughout Deep Cover is a classic syndrome that's afflicted movie narcs, house negroes, spies and hostages alike since, uh, jump street. It's also the central conceit of Philip K. Dick's 1977 sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly, wherein a drug called "Substance D" splits protagonist Bob Arctor into warring personalities, one belonging to a/the cop, the other to his drug dealer quarry.

Among other glories, Scanner Darkly contains the single most amazing stoner set piece ever, wherein some high-as-a-kite motherfuckers argue at length (and convincingly) about whether or not a bike they've found has seven, ten or twelve gears. It really has to be read (high) to be believed.

For an additional feedback loop into item #1, consider that the racial problematic (crudely stated, doubled consciousness) Deep Cover translates into genre-pic dialectics (i.e., to cop or not to cop) is, much like its hypothetical super-drug, almost immediately science fictional. I mean, what's double consciousness if not a sort of duel between homunculi? (Or, how about a Matrix-type reality effect produced by the implant that's been stuck deep in the metaphorical rump of black identity by white supremacy?)

If I remember correctly, Scanner Darkly avoids any explicit entanglement with race (there is some kind of SoCal Latino / Central American / Indian overlay) but so what? The nut of all afrofuturist fanboy enthusiasm is ever the sneaking suspicion that any science-fictional notion worth its alien salt encodes (and thus lays bare) some aspect of the IRL race dynamic. That kitchen-sinking, singularity-craving impulse may be a tad adolescent, but that doesn't make it necessarily false. In a Baconian Universe (as in Kevin Bacon), Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man sits a mere two star degrees away from H.G. Wells'.

John Amos was in All Over Again (2001) with Robert Loggia
Robert Loggia was in Greatest Story Ever Told, The (1965) with Claude Rains

John Amos was in Ralph Ellison: An American Journey.
Claude Rains was in the Invisible Man. Two steps, just like I said.

3 - Speaking of Baconian universes, Deep Cover screenwriter Michael Tolkin also co-wrote Deep Impact, where mother Earth gets KA-BLATTED by an asteroid on a black president's watch. His directorial debut was The Rapture, which also pondered the connection between late 20th Century forms of debasement and transcendental utopia, Mimi Roger's swinger finding god just in time for the second coming. Go figure.

4 - Finally, Deep Cover contains one of the best crackhead set pieces ever. Lots of heads will claim Chris Rock's Pookie from New Jack City and some hold out for Sam Jackson's Gator for Jungle Fever. The dudes with chronic masturbation issues fantasize double Halle Berry features from Losing Isaiah and the aforementioned Jungle Fever, and those of you got here yesterday are rooting for Chappelle's Biggums. All legit points of view, but Deep Cover's Kamala Lopez Dawson offers a bar-setting clinic. First off is the fact that Lopez-Dawson engages her single, key scene with the rabid, desperate gusto of the Hollywood C-lister taking their last/best shot for the brass ring. Her cracky Belinda tears through the genre's entire repertoire of effects with startling economy, ranging from the de rigueur "I'll suck your dick!" to the pathetic moment when the busted crackhead decides to monetize their own child. When Fishburne demurs on all counts, her crack-blunted pride erupts (the spark is tiny and internal: she mistakes his moral outrage for haggling, i.e., another market referendum on her value) sending Belinda into bang-zoom shifts of gear and timbre that transform her from an emblematic, impulse-control lacking social loser to a transcendent object of debasement. She dies at the end, of course, for eveyone's sins to be sure, but largely for her own.

It really is a great scene, and when I get some time I'll post a transcript of the dialogue with a chart outlining her zigs and zags.

eNd.

Posted by ebogjonson in screened at 4:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)