theferrett: (Meazel)

So I was watching Tower Heist last night, which is a better movie than it has a right to be.  I knew it was about Ben Stiller and his other service-job buddies breaking into the apartment of the rich banker who defrauded them out of their pensions… But I wasn’t prepared by how much character work went into what’s otherwise a pretty by-the-numbers film.  There was a lot of effort put into showing how helpless and futile these working-class stiffs, most of whom took some pride in their jobs, felt when they were ripped off by a guy who wasn’t even punished for what he did.

Then I read that this was initially meant to be an African-American “Ocean’s 11,” and it all sort of came together.

I think I would have enjoyed this film a lot more if it were an all African-American film – it would have been stereotypical in its portrayal of blacks being the underclass, yes, but also more interesting to see a bunch of smart black men (and women) triumphing against a broken system.

But then I thought of Red Tails, which George Lucas claimed that Hollywood refused to fund because “all-black casts don’t sell movies.”  (Presumably because whites don’t want to see them.)  I know that’s why Tower Heist eventually had to get Ben Stiller on board.

That irritates me, because there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy here.  Most movies don’t sell.  You need to have your films make two to three times their initial budget to start being profitable, and the vast majority of movies don’t clear that.  Hell, Tower Heist with its all-white cast, sure didn’t.

So saying, “Black casts don’t sell movies, so we don’t make them” is kind of like saying, “Look, we gave you your one chance at bat, you missed, so you blacks clearly aren’t meant to be baseball players.” Forgetting that even the most skilled baseball players are lucky to hit four out of ten.

I think the perception is that white people won’t watch black people, which is doubtlessly true for some white people.  But on the other hand, it’s amazing what happens when a Will Smith or a Denzel Washington become a box-office star, because then somehow that white terror goes away.  Or when Tyler Perry makes a film, which admittedly mostly appeals to black people, but then those films get insta-marginalized to the field of “Tyler Perry films,” which is Hollywood code for, “the man’s a freakish outlier, nobody else can do this.”

Look, Hollywood.  You know what people want?  Good goddamned films.  The truth is, you don’t really know how to make them; as William Goldman once infamously said, “Nobody knows anything.”  If creating a hit movie was as simple as putting the right elements together, every movie would be a hit.  But some movies have an indefinable something that makes them great, and most do not.  Why?  Hell if I knew.  If I did, I’d be churning out bestselling novels.

So take some chances, man.  Make more action-adventure movies with all black casts.  See what percentage of them catch fire.  Because giving them one big shot every decade or so isn’t enough at-bats to see how someone’s truly hitting, man.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I know the Florida cops seem a bit sketchy in the Trayvon Martin case, but I gotta say – between Spike Lee exhorting his Twitter-followers to go harass the wrong Zimmerman, forcing an elderly couple to move, and a bunch of racist assholes hacking Trayvon’s email address (and changing the default passwords to the charming “niggerniggernigger”), it seems that the private methodologies aren’t any better.

Look, I don’t know what happened between Trayvon and Zimmerman.  I’m watching the news, but the news is frequently fucked and often provides the wrong evidence – those of you too young to remember the OJ Simpson case as it went to trial won’t remember the tons of “breaking news!” that turned out to be absolutely false, and that was in the days before Twitter gave rumors lightning-speed.

Now, I have my suspicions about what happened, but that’s why I want a full court investigation.  With due process.  And lawyers reading all the evidence in to be debated by professionals.  And procedures to make sure that fairness on all sides is mandated.  I don’t necessarily trust myself to be fair and objective.

This is why there are courts.  In the aftermath of a murder, there’s going to be emotions spilling out on all sides, both on the side of the murdered and the person accused of murder.  And just as I want Texas to grant the benefit of the doubt to its death row cases, I want the benefit of the doubt to go to George Zimmerman.  Specifically because I do believe he’s guilty, and I don’t necessarily trust that a bunch of long-distance reporting will get me the information I need to determine what really happened (or at least not enough to feel comfortable making calls that will affect the rest of his life).

This is why we have all the systems in place to force an objective look at it.  Because as humans, we’re all flawed.  Hopefully, between the existing rules and enough public outcry, something resembling justice will happen.  It often does.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So a kid’s been shot for the crime of carrying Skittles.  And of course, the media is raising the important question: did Trayvon Martin bring his death upon himself by wearing a thuggish, threatening hoodie?

Blame is, of course, important to assign.  If a woman’s been raped, the most critical piece of evidence we can gather is what clothing she was wearing, so that we can know whether she was asking for an assault.  So it’s kind of nice to see the symmetry here, as Trayvon’s dress code is questioned to see if he deserved to be gunned down for the crime of walking through the wrong neighborhood.

Remember: it’s all about the impression you present.  I mean after all, if I was walking down a dark alleyway dressed in a thousand-dollar suit, I’d just be asking to be mugged, wouldn’t I?

…except that never actually, you know, seems to happen.  I mean, Wall Street bankers get mugged on occasion, often in nice suits, and there’s never a big media question over whether they deserved to be knifed for wearing very fine clothing.  Occasionally, they might be questioned for their intellect for being in Those Neighborhoods, but nobody actually tells people with fine suits that they should have known better than to go out in that garb.

In fact, if a nice rich-looking person does get assaulted, there’s often a hue and cry about how unsafe the streets have gotten that they can’t wander around at will.  Their clothing choices are never in question. It’s other people who are at fault.

Make no mistake: any time you see someone being chastised for wearing the wrong clothing, they’ve slummed out.  Wearing a hoodie?  God, you look like a poor kid.  Wearing skimpy clothing?  You look like a slut.  There you are, a perfectly nice person, and you went out of your way to make yourself appear like someone who doesn’t deserve to have the protections that “real” society should have!  No wonder someone shot or raped you!  You purposely and knowingly discarded your protective identity!

How foolish you were.

The not-so-subliminal signal, of course, is that if you act like a criminal and/or slut, you have only yourself to blame if you get treated like one.  Even if the outfit you wear – say, a hoodie – is something that millions of quote-unquote lower-class people wear, only of which a few mug people.  But since we all know that the lower-class are mainly criminals (or at least we mainly interact with them as though they were criminals), the hoodie becomes the outfit of the criminal.

It’s really, really dickish and churlish to have the #OWS people harassing people in fine suits on the assumption they might be part of the bankers who almost destroyed America’s financial system!  That’s okay to get upset about.  But if a kid gets shot and killed because his low-class outfit threatened someone, well, maybe he should have known better.

The larger message is, of course, is that the lower class doesn’t really deserve to be protected.  If something bad happens to them, we should first look for the reasons why they had it coming.  They were in a bad neighborhood, they were probably not working very hard, they were almost certainly in some way responsible for their predicament.  ‘Cause you know, when a rich white kid vanishes on vacation and it hits the headlines everywhere, the first thing we do is start analyzing their history of teenaged drinking and sexuality in an attempt to unearth all the reasons why they might have stupidly caused their own kidnapping and/or murder…

…wait, we don’t?  We agonize unquestioningly about how such a lovely young thing could have been stolen from us?

How shocking.

The message isn’t subtle, but it’s there.  The whole Trayvon pushback is an attempt to get people to go, “Well, if he wore a nicer outfit, he probably wouldn’t have been killed!”  Which probably has an ounce of truth in it…. but it’s kind of like telling people that if they don’t go outside then they won’t choke on the cancerous gases emanating from factory smokestacks next door.  While wearing a hoodie might have saved one life, concentrating on the hoodie ignores the toxic class politics in play here.

The problem is that there’s this constant, subliminal signal that the wrong sort of people aren’t deserving of everyday protections.  If they get killed, it’s their fault.  We don’t really need to get involved.

That’s the core problem.  That’s what got brought to cold light when Trayvon got shot.

That’s what we actually need to fix.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

WARNING: There is no objectively correct answer to the question I am about to raise. There are only personal answers, rooted deeply in scars and society, that turn out to be unsatisfying when you overlay them with everyone else’s answers.  If you think there’s one approach, you are wrong.  This is dangerous territory.  Please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle.  

I’ve had racist thoughts.  So have you.  Oh, some of you would prefer to think why I never, that you’re above that sort of thing – but really, it’s impossible to walk into this mire and mass of complex culture without stepping on it once in a while.  Chances are good you’ve even expressed racist sentiments.  Possibly without even understanding that they are racist.

Yet here’s the thing: at some point, once you’ve expressed enough racist sentiments – and that tipping point differs for every single human being on the planet, a unique and crazed individuality – you move beyond “acting racist” and become “a racist,” which is an incomplete statement.

The full phrasing is “a racist piece of shit.” Once you pass the area of “occasionally being racist” to “a racist,” all your thoughts are suspect.  A racist may occasionally be right on something, but it’s in that stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day fashion where you’ve stumbled upon the correct answer via an incoherent set of crazed half-logic jumps that don’t make any real sense.  Becoming “a racist” means that you can be safely ignored.

Except that weirdly, being “a racist” seems to be something that springs from the heart.  You’ll see debates on people who’ve said something extremely stupidly racist, trying to determine whether they’re just acting racist or are racists.  Often you’ll see heartfelt pleas from people, claiming that they know this person and they know that s/he’s not a racist because they’ve spent time with them and they are this race, and they know that while s/he has made grievous errors, perhaps repeatedly over the course of decades, they’re not a racist.

So “a racist” often seems to be something that springs from intent.  You can act in a lot of racist ways, but your heart means well, and though you have had moments of enabling and propagating racism (as, I stress, we all do), your purity of spirit means that you have not crossed that line into “a-racist-ville.”

…maybe.  Or maybe not.

All we know is that almost nobody in mainstream culture wants to be a racist, and it’s a shame that the English language draws such a shoddy distinction between “acting racist” and “being a racist,” because if you accuse someone of being a racist, they will often go fucking berserk.  (If you accuse them of being racist they’ll often go berserk because that’s one step down that thorned path to being a racist, and they know they’re better than that and HOW DARE YOU.)

The reason I bring all of this up is because there were some reactions to my post yesterday on Ron Paul, mainly “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING, FERRETT?  A PERSON WHO UTILIZES THE EXISTING LIES ABOUT MINORITIES TO GET AHEAD IS MUST BE A RACIST.”  Which, as I said in the opening warning, is a completely valid viewpoint.  Perhaps becoming a racist isn’t in the heart, but in the deeds.  While there are certainly any number of politicians who’d be willing to sell out anyone, regardless of race or creed or class, in order to get into power, perhaps the ones who have used their leverage to shit on the little guy have crossed into a-racist-ville regardless of what’s under the hood.

Or maybe not.  The problem with all of this roiling stew is that everyone has their own personal definition of when someone stops “acting racist” and becomes “a racist,” and if you’re too kind then nobody’s a racist and the term has no meaning at all, and if you’re too quick to judge then everyone on the planet is a racist, and trying to determine when (or if) someone’s deeds begin to reflect their personal intention is such a crazy cluster of personal judgment that nobody can separate it to the satisfaction of everyone else.

So are those politicians I discussed yesterday racist – or, rather, are they each a racist?  Or are they just such piece-of-shit human beings that they’re not in fact racist, but enabled such racially horrid laws and rhetoric that they somehow wind up lower than racists because they’re hollow-hearted assholes who’ll say whatever it takes to get elected?  How many flavors of asshole do we want to distinguish among before we just lump them all together as one shitty hole we shouldn’t sit underneath?

Nobody knows.  And everybody knows.  But everybody knows in their own way, and often are not just astonished but enraged that anyone else could have a different definition.  And they’re often right to be astonished and enraged.  And that’s just one facet of why all this race stuff is so goddamned complicated.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a great (and rather chilling) article on how potentially non-racist politicians have used racist policies to get elected.  Which is kind of terrifying.  When you have statements like, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again,” then what you have is a terrifying portrait of democracy: a public so angry and discriminatory that the only way to get votes is to whip up public sentiment.

And I think it’s important to draw a distinction here between “racists” and “opportunists.”  When Ron Paul says shit like, “Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” he may not be a racist.  A racist would at least have the courage of his convictions.  An opportunist, on the other hand, sees that if he kicks a group of people who he holds no personal malice towards, he can gain personal power – and starts kicking these innocents in order to be better liked.

I’m sickened by the hundreds of thousands of douchebag racists who only get thrilled when their politician is hammering on the gays or the Muslims or the nigras. But I’m even more sickened by the idea that someone would go, “Well, aside from contributing to the deaths and torment of a bunch of people I have no problem with, I think I can do a lot of good here.” Which is, sadly, what I think Ron Paul is when you peel back the surface.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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