You, Me, Us, Them

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Do you ever see something that makes you shake your head? Ever feel embarrassment for someone else? Ever feel more embarrassed because you were somehow associated with that person? Remember when you had to do group projects in grade school, everyone would share the same grade, no matter what? If so, then you have some idea of what it is like to be black in America.

DeWayne Wickham’s article in USA Today strikes a fairly resonant cord. The subject is the appropriateness of black fashion, particularly jewel encrusted mouthpieces and low baggy pants. (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan. If you walk into my house, dittybopping, grillz in place, boxers showing, and you say, “Wuz up nigga?”, I’m hurling your ass out of my house.)

Vincent Holloman, a ten year old, was awarded with some grillz for examplary academic performance. No, they were not given out by the school board. These grillz were cemented in place by a dentist. A school guidance counselor found them inappropriate and tried to forcibly removed them from Vincent’s mouth, cause gum damage. (Read more here.)

According to Wickham, some states are looking to institute public dress codes to prevent exposure due to low riding shorts. Before anyone starts to cheer, remember, this would also ban the visible thong. Take that, White America.

Here’s the thing that everyone seems to have forgotten in all this talk about the appropriateness of black fashion. It’s fashion. It changes. It goes away. Give it time. Deplorable as you may find it, eventually, it’s gone. The Jheri Curl went away. You don’t see anyone rocking much kente cloth or Africa medallions anymore, and there was a time when those were the “must haves” of black fashion. Sad as the fashion statement may seem, and believe me, I can’t stand it, it’s going to run its natural course which eventually ends in termination.

There is a very poignant line at the end of Wickham’s article, “When blacks demean themselves, we give other license to do the same.” It hurts because it’s an unavoidable truth. I’ve said for a long time, “If you’re black and you do something exceptional, you’re special. If you’re black and you do something stupid, you’re a statistic.” Don’t take my word for it, pick up your local paper. Next time an incident involving a black perpetrator is reported, see if there is any reference to a “systemic problem”. See if the incident is “common in such areas”. Check if the words “ongoing”, “troublesome trend”, or “yet another” are used. Really do your homework. See if the same sort of crime is perpetrated by white people, and see if the incident is reported on in the same manner.

It’s a sad reality, if you’re black, and you do something stupid, it embarrasses us all. However, is the current fashion trend really so bad? As I admitted, I’m not a fan. If I had a child that walked into the house with his underwear showing and talked like his mouth was filled with marbles and punctuated every sentence with, “Knamean?” I’d beat him within an inch of his life. Nevertheless, that’s just my own personal taste and proclivity. Where is the harm in wearing a mouthpiece (in the appropriate circles, granted)? Are we making too big a deal about something that will eventually fade away?

The Face of the City

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“Why are they always picking on New York?” A friend asked me this question when we were discussing disaster movies. Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact. Whenever world disaster struck, New York City was always hit. Why?

New York has more recognizable structures than many other American cities. Think about it. Hollywood may be the movie mecca, but what structures to you see in Los Angeles that immediately identify the locale? The Hollywood sign? The Capitol Records Building? What about St. Louis? You’ve got an arch, but then what? Seattle? A needle? Boston? (Nothing for Boston is really springing to mind for me, so I think you get my point.) New York has the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, we had the Twin Towers, Grand Central Station, etc…

What defines the face of NYC outside of these structures, at least visually? What is the face of “the real” NYC, outside of tourist destinations? In the seventies and early eighties, we would have probably said, “Times Square”. Pretzel vendors, XXX theaters, checkered taxi cabs, and guys hustling watches on the street corners. Times Square is very different now, looking more like a Long Island mall than the centers of the most urban of urban locations.

Maybe the face of the city lies further south, in the areas like Soho, Noho, Tribeca, etc… It seems like all that is there anymore is designer boutique after designer boutique with the occasional pop music princess going from store to store.

There is hardly a dilapidated building in site, as everything is being renovated, rebuilt, or remodeled. Graffiti is almost a thing of the past, like 8-track cassettes. When you ride the subways, you won’t hear a live human voice announcing the next stop, that’s now pre-recorded. Maybe that’s the only thing that hasn’t really changed for a long time, the subway stations themselves.

Then again, much of the subway has changed. The turnstiles and booths are completely different, and is now an almost human-less enterprise, with the advent of the MetroCard. Remodeling the platforms, specifically the underground ones would be a monumental undertaking. It may be done someday. The elevated platforms are currently undergoing renovation, complete with new stained glass, new signs, etc… I’m not quite sure what the purpose is, but it’s happening all over the Bronx and Queens. Come to think of it, this project excludes Manhattan, as I don’t think there are any elevated subway lines.

So… if I was going to shoot a film tomorrow, and I wanted a shot that established NYC as the location, but I did not want to use one of the “tourist traps”, would the NYC subway be my only option? Does Central Park work? How about Battery Park?


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Sorry for the long delay without a post. I’ve been getting acclimated to new jobs and projects (all good), which will be discussed at greater length in the future. In the meantime, this is just a quick update post with some shout-outs.

Excellent article on getting sacked.
Do things like this happen? You better damn well believe it. Notice that very little of it has to do with the quality or quantity of your work. Almost every item on that list has to do with personalities, emotions, feelings, and status.

I wanted to get some public “Thank You”‘s in print to a few particular people who have helped me tremendously in my new career ventures.
John Packes
Rick Donato

Stephanie Strazza
You are all good friends, and I can’t thank you enough.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Infamy and Success

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“Fame has a fifteen minute half-life, infamy lasts a little longer.”

The quote was taken from the film The Insider. Now, The Insider is not a particularly great film for the simple reason that there is very little action. I don’t mean cars blowing up, guns firing, and hand-to-hand combat action, I mean that most of the film involves people sitting across from one another talking. Nevertheless, it’s a dramatic retelling of Jeffery Wigand blowing the whistle on the cigarette industry. More specifically, the story is about his interview on 60 Minutes and the legal battle that ensued to get his interview aired (official transcript of interview). The power of his interview did not lay in the fact that cigarette can cause cancer or other health problem, but that cigarette companies knew about the addictive properties of nicotine and actively attempted to manipulate cigarettes to make them more addictive.

However, cigarettes are not the point of the quote. CBS was unable to air the interview when they originally intended due to a legal battle with the cigarette companies. The Insider implies that the corporate offices of CBS tried to brush the interview under the rug. Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace uttered the aforementioned quote in response to an executive’s claim that CBS’s complicity with the tobacco industry would be forgotten shortly.

Granted, Plummer’s delivery makes the quote even more special, but like many quotes that I hold onto, it jives with my personal philosophy. At one job, my supervisor asked why I was so meticulous with certain projects. My response was something along the lines of, “When you do something right, you won’t hear anything from anyone. They take it as ‘Things working as they should.’ To some extent, they’re right. However, if something goes wrong, not only will you be sure to hear about it, but everything you do from there on in will be tainted with the memory of the time you messed up. In fact, you don’t even have to mess up, something could just go wrong, but it’s under your watch, so it’s your fault.” I still believe it to be true, and anyone would be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

With news of Don Imus returning to radio, I got to thinking about the infamy quote again. It’s not the first time that infamy has been a good career move. Better to be talked about in a bad way than not at all, right? I’m not saying that Imus should never return to radio. I don’t believe that he should be deprived of his right to make a living. I believe he made a mistake, he apologized and though he may not get a complete pass, I didn’t think he should be crucified. Nevertheless, he was fired. Something just strikes me as wrong, in the fact that Imus could now conceivable turn a profit from his admitted mistake.

Martha Stewart was another person to turn a profit off infamy. She was convicted of obstructing justice and perjury (something not wholly unlike insider trading), went to prison for five months and on her release, her stock goes up (entry date versus release date). Granted, last I checked, her stock price was close to the day she entered, but for a little space in time, you could have turned quite the profit from someone going to jail.

O.J. Simpson signed a book deal, which eventually got Harper Collins editor Judith Regan fired. Now, the Goldman family may be repackaging the book and reaping the profits.

Infamy is not always a sure-fire key to success. Despite all her problems and run-ins with the law, Lindsay Lohan’s I Know Who Killed Me, has only taken $7.3 million. I would be surprised if that covered production costs.

Maybe Britney Spears should have timed her OK! Magazine meltdown for when she had an album ready for release.

Additional Links:
Martha Stewart Prison Diary

Brigitte Harris

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I’m very surprised that this story has not gotten more mileage. After the country went ape over the castration of John Wayne Bobbitt, I thought that a stock like this, stocked full with abuse, revenge, postmortem mutilation, movie references, and allusions to alternative lifestyles would have been the kind of national media fodder that keeps people glued to their television sets. Let’s just do a little tally of the elements that make for great, low-brow entertainment:

1. Allegations of sexual abuse
This always garners a response. It’s a terrible tragedy for the victims, especially when they are children, and usually leaves them scarred for life. Nevertheless, sex abuse almost always makes it to the first few pages of the newspaper.

2. Revenge
It’s a theme that is almost as central to the American movie as is having a hero and villain. It’s found in the western, the action film, even the comedies and dramas. We love to see bad guys get their just deserts.

3. Pop-culture references
Harris called herself Lady Vengeance, a probable reference to the Korean film in Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy. It’s about a young woman that has to serve six years in prison because she is forced to confess to killing a child. The person that forces her is a sexually-abusive man who she may or may not have had a relationship with. At the end of the film, he ends up tied to a chair and tortured. Sound familiar?

4. Minority within a minority
Harris is a black woman, minority number one. She is a black woman who is a self-described “goth”, definitely a minority in the black community.

I’m really stunned that no one has piggy-backed on this to make political statements, either about violence in music and movies, or about sexual promiscuity in the black community. Mind you, I’m not saying that anyone should, but the fact that it has not happened already leaves me wondering, “Why?” Maybe there will be more attention when the case goes to trial. Then again, maybe this will just fade into obscurity.

More links:
Harris Enters a Mental Institution
Save Brigitte Harris Website