Saturday, August 6, 2016

Good Times for Portrayals of Africans in Television

Watching "Good Times", the popular 70's sitcom centered around the lives of an African family living a hard, but loving life in the housing projects of Chicago.  Realistic and grounded in so much of its writing and performance, this important program regularly framed tough and not before seen televisual serial engagements of racism, sexism, gun violence, education, colonial politics, poverty, economics and African liberation. There has not been a show like or as good as "Good Times" since its run from 1974 to 1979.

One of the key contradictions in the narrative of "Good Times" was the presence and character of Jimmie Walker's character of J.J. Evans, the eldest son of the Florida and James Evans, played respectively by Esther Rolle and John Amos.  J.J. was ostensibly and persistently a problematic clownish Sambo character, complete with broad toothy smiles, overacted lines and a physicality that lent himself more to cartoons than the sophisticated "real life" drama going on around him. Some of the behind the scenes and contractual issues of the show were reported to have some from cast disagreement with the characterization of J.J. through so many of his "dy-no-mite" episodes.  It is remarkable and worthy of a closer look that a show like "Good Times", as progressive and forward-thinking as it was, still found a need to frame Africanity, in part, in this demeaning and clownish way.

The deeper look into "Good Times" helps us reveal the positive and progressive ways televisual narratives can represent the actual dynamics of human life in an interest of helping us actually see our way to more compassionate and liberated futures.  The problematic presence that J.J.'s character represented helps us to see that we must never let our media literacy guard down even in a largely positive and helpful narrative context.  Looking at those contradictions in that context help us to locate and critique troubling and negative portrayals in other narratives and also in the larger society itself.  Looking at these contradictions is part of the core work of cultural media studies that allows us to be better, more deeply literate  around televisual and cinematic texts.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Monday, November 16, 2015

EWTN Again: Thomas E. Wood & His Justificaton of Colonialsm & Religious Impwerialism

Suffice to say, I should have been in bed 2.5 hours ago.  I was drawn, as I regularly am to scan subject matter in numerous television sources. I chose EWTN, the roamin catholic channel again and heard one of the most reprehensible justifications for European church and state imperialism in the western hemisphere as I had heard in some time. The episode was on international law as part of series called, "The Roman Catholic Church: Builder of Western Civilization" based on a book by Thomas E. Woods who also hosts the show.  

In addition to incredibly racist ideas about indigenous peoples, Woods went on the give the catholic church a pat on the back for asserting that they espouse treating all people equally whether they are baptized into the faith or not.  (long pause)  And he was talking about the 15th century.  (long pause)  The racist, imperialist papal bulls were written in the 1400's.  (long pause)  That's the 15th century.  (long pause)  That's when the roamin catholic church decided it would reduce to servitude any nation not already held by a christian prince. (long pause) This boggles my mind that grown-ups say these things and have a 24/7 global tv channel to say them on.

Here's more on Woods and his twisted historical perspectives:
In this video lecture, amongst other things, Brad Birzer, a libertyclassroom guest professor asserts that Sitting Bull was a catholic, befriended and converted by a catholic missionary.  Interestingly enough, it seems Birzer nor Woods reads catholic writing as writes that Sitting Bulls vaunted catholicism was somewhat questionable.  Suffice to say, Woods, his EWTN show and his website leave a lot to be desired at first glance. 

At best, it's a body of questionable work that seeks to rationalize European colonial exploitation and religious imperialism, glossing exasperatingly over the pivotal role the church played in the genocide and exploitation of indigenous peoples from north to south America and Africa and glorifying the church's role as the source of western cultural genesis.  If Woods could actually draw a bead on what that means, he might not want the church to take any credit for any of that.

retrieved from

Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Blob" and the Answer to the "?" of Climate Change
"The Blob" is an interesting narrative that is slightly more than meets the eye as we watch the final scenes.  The amorphous globulin blob has shown up to terrorize and consume a small semi-idyllic town.  After oozing its way to dominating the townspeople, Steve McQueen realizes that the one way they can fight this menace is by freezing it. He notices it retreat when it is sprayed with a fire extinguisher, finding that the CO2's temperature puts it in check.

After calling up the powers of the federal government, they scheme to gather up the now extinguisher-frozen blob and parachute it onto the Arctic ice shelf from a plane named the GlobeMaster (hmmm...).

As McQueen hatches this simple plan with the town police chief, his final words of the movie are, " long as the Arctic stays cold". Needless to say, we may not be worried about an actual blob unfreezing itself as the Earth's Arctic region is gravely melting as we speak due to climate change, but we must be concerned not only with our assumptions about the inert effects of our industrial capitalist presence on the face of the earth, but our growing, though alarmingly slowly, of our awareness of how hard it has been to finally get it into our minds and hearts that the Arctic ice shelf is actually melting - a thing we never really thought was possible - and is increasingly revealing the dangerous domino-effect born out of the initial inceptions of colonialism's love for environmental exploitation and industrial over-production.

 Modern industrial human presence on the earth has had and is having deleterious effects on every ecosystem on the earth. Modern industrialized humans have created a dangerous context for the earth and its citizens that show the ludicrous nature of the presumption of being masters of this particular globe.  This movie was created at a time in which western society was reveling in its manipulative powers, maximizing its use of extractive industries, plastics, petroleum and artificial chemistries in colonial, settler-colonial and neo-colonial contexts. The very anti-cultural dynamics that were present during the creation of this film were exactly the elements that would answer the "?" in the final shot of the film as the blob gets gently dropped onto the ice.  The anti-cultural context of this film was the undoing of film's narrative.  The modern industrial world is still in the process of revealing if it's context will be humanity's undoing.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Thoughts on western movie narratives....June 3, 2015

Spending hours and hours still, watching western movies, floored at the depth of the fantasies about masculinity and the on-going insults to injury against indigenous peoples, women and Africans.  These films, old and new, are fetid oceans of violent male colonial misbehavioral replay after replay after replay of the worst narratives of Manifest Destiny laced unapologetically with christian biblism par excellence.  It is amazing how these writers and producers created slickish stories to spank us into paternal acquiescence around ever entertaining the notion that there could ever be a Spirit or Goddess or god that could be mentioned in the same sentence as their biblical "G-O-D" of faraway desert mythology.  There is constant shaming of Native-ness and scorn for the idea and presence of indigenous spiritual systems and a constant flow of ideological and visual violence against indigenous women...the "S-word" abounds, flows like polluted water.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Western Playset": Cowboys and Indians

I wonder what it is that goes through the head of the boy who asks for or receives this "play" set?  What narratives will he play out? Researchers/academics in the documentary "Mickey Mouse Monopoly" assert that children play out the dominant cultural media narratives related to those toys, those characters, especially when they relate directly to the characters in the movie or tv show.  So what narratives will they play out?  Will the cowboys always "win"?  Will the Indians always die horrific deaths at the hands and bullets of the settlers (cowboys)? Will colonial, manifest destiny narratives be reinforced by their play?  Will any Indians be heroes?  Will the cowboys be characterized as violent terrorists?  Will they gain any insight into settler-colonial dynamics and the nature of imperialism? Will the boy be any closer to becoming a settler-ally to indigenous peoples?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Classic": Retro-grade TV in Our Digital Age

One of the three old movie channels, digital channels of local network affiliates, has an ad professing testimonials of people so happy "real" tv is back again, that they feel good about tv again and that they can let their children watch without being worried about what they'll be exposed to. These are the channels that play movies from the 30's to the 70's and many made later.  They are cheap to replay and bring in advertising revenue with films owned by particular studios now boughtbout by the media conglomerates that own the networks.  These are the movies with the most racist and sexist images, characterizations and narratives ever produced, with some of the widest distributions of their time, now getting even more distribution - and a free pass on their socially and politically retrograde storylines...they're "classics".  It's troubling to think that those testimonials might be real, at least that they might reflect many other people's idea of what 'good', 'safe' television programming looks like.

And yes, I just watched a bug-eyed Willie Best react in his "classic" stepinfetchit role to the idea of a ghost in a haunted Puerto Rican swamp while ferrying yellow-faced Peter Lorre in 1939's "Mr. Moto in Danger Island".  It just doesn't get any 'safer' than that.  Westerns also figure voluminous on these channels, most old, but many newer, very few with any redeeming, non-settler-colonial, non-genocidal qualities.  "Safe", they say.  Isn't it strange that this sort of story, much created before the bare beginnings of social and televisual/cinematice reforms of the 60's and 70's, is what they say we think is "safe"?

Oh, and with regard to those ghosts in the swamp, the USAmerican colonials....yes, colonials as in colonialism...were discussing the people that hold such ideas about Spirit beings and Ancestors and such.  They chided such claims of "ghosts" as "superstitions of a dangerously ignorant people".  (long pause)  "Dangerously ignorant".  Those are indigenous people and African descendants in those swamps.  Those are humans, children, women and men, freedom fighters in those swamps.  And don't let it slip by you that these anti-indigenous, anti-African, anti-woman narratives assume the ascendancy and presumptuous superiority of a colonial culture that deified a particularly "holy" ghost, but maybe merely a ghost nonetheless, albeit tied to a he-god and a so-called savior-son whose adherents would prove much more globally and ignorantly dangerous than any culture known to revere and keep intimate relations with their Dead.