Thursday, September 18, 2014

NFL: DAYS OF RAGE


Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wants you to know he is “not a child abuser.” Peterson took to Twitter this week to say this: "I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser ... Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person."

These comments came after Peterson, 29, beat his son with a wooden switch, resulting in his indictment for “reckless or negligent injury to a child” on September 12, 2014. True to its own often negligent form, the NFL announced Peterson would indeed still play in the following Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. After pictures surfaced of the child’s injuries from his father’s disciplinary action, the public outcry swelled. Along with all of the other recent NFL scandals, finally some advertisers began to either pull out or express their concern. It was only then that the Minnesota Vikings management announced that Peterson was suspended.

Adrian Peterson
It has subsequently been reported that this was not the first time Peterson faced accusations of child
abuse. In June 2013, another of his children reportedly showed wounds that were inflicted by his father. When asked by the mother how those wounds on his forehead came to be, Peterson told her the child had hit his head on the car. The mother asked if he was hitting the child at the time, and Peterson said, “Yep.” No charges were filed in the 2013 incident. Peterson was not so fortunate this time.

The NFL, to put it mildly, has been lax in its approach to its players’ bad behavior. ESPN’s Tom Jackson summed it up nicely: “We started the week with players beating up women and we ended it with players beating up children. We are in a very serious state here in the National Football League.” So, what are we really dealing with here? From my perspective we are dealing with an industry – professional football – that necessarily includes a violent infrastructure. Watch football today compared with football 30 years ago, and the game is far more aggressive. There was some discussion of this on ABC’s “The View.” Here is what co-host Rosie O’Donnell said, and it makes
sense to me.

Now, if you are a hardcore NFL supporter, and/or if you don’t particularly care for Rosie O’Donnell, you may have had some trouble hearing what she just said. But don’t shoot the messenger. Here we have an entire league made up largely of 20-something-year-old men, flooded with testosterone, making way too much money for any 20-something to handle. The NFL has really taken a sort of “boys will be boys” approach to these guys, and often turned a blind eye to their mistreatment of women, their abuse of alcohol, their use of performance-enhancing drugs and even their mistreatment of their own children. As stated above, shortly after Peterson’s indictment became public, the Vikings had still planned to play him in Sunday’s game.

And therein is the essential problem: The NFL is all about its image, to the detriment of many people in the lives of its players. Not until something surfaces publicly does the NFL do anything about anything bad in their ranks. Not until the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin walked off the field and quit the team did the issue of bullying even enter the consciousness of NFL execs, even though they knew what went on in locker rooms coast to coast. In the Martin case, the chief bully was Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito, who had a history of overly-aggressive behavior on and off the field. In fact, he had become known as the NFL’s “dirtiest player.” With full knowledge of Incognito’s “issues,” the Dolphins did nothing until Martin walked. What “issues,” you ask? Well, shortly after being suspended by the Dolphins, Incognito attacked his Ferrari, valued at $295,000, with a baseball bat. By February of this year, Incognito was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In August, the mentally disturbed, serial harasser was cleared by the NFL to play again, and he is free to sign with any team. The buzz is that he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty chummy right now.

 And of course, not until Ray Rice, 27 punched his then fiancé (now wife) to unconsciousness in an elevator did the NFL suddenly show a social concern about domestic violence. Just days later similar
Ray and Janay Rice
news emerged about Greg Hardy, 26, who has been charged with throwing his girlfriend in a bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. Then came word that Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer, 25, was arrested for aggravated assault against his wife. That was just before we learned that San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, 29, was arrested on a felony charge of domestic violence. Earlier this month NY Jets rookie Quincy Enunwa, 22, was arrested on a domestic violence charge of “grabbing the victim by her ankle and pulling her off a bed causing her to strike and injure both her head and finger,” according to the police report.

All of this follows the long-reported legal battle between the league and former players who suffered head injuries that in many cases debilitated them. Some even committed suicide. In the end, the Federally tax-exempt NFL, which reportedly takes in $9-10 billion dollars a year, settled the case for $765 million. If that sounds like a lot, it’s not. There are roughly 4500 players involved in the suit, many suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer's that they blamed on blows to the head. Once again, the NFL did nothing until the situation was made public. The suit alleges the NFL knew about the proliferation of head injuries, concealed the information and routinely sent injured players back onto the field.

If anything good has come out of the NFL’s inexcusable “business model,” it may be this: The Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal re-ignited the national conversation about violence in relationships. Within two days of the Rice story being made public, The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported an 84 percent increase in phone calls. The Adrian Peterson child abuse case has resulted in a firestorm of discussions about neglect and mistreatment
Brett Favre
of children. Hyper-awareness of potential long-term consequences of a football career has caused some players like Denver Broncos guard John Moffit, and Cincinnati Bengals guard Jacob Bell to quit football for fear of ending up physically damaged or dead. Even veteran NFL player Brett Favre came forward to say if he had a son he would hesitate to let him play the “violent game of football.”

Let’s get real about the NFL. The league’s management certainly encourages overly-aggressive playing and often poor sportsmanship. Young guys just out of college are being paid exorbitant salaries, with no guidance in how to handle sudden fame and unlimited cash. Very bad behavior off the field is routinely overlooked, as long as the players bring money and attention to the franchise. Even criminal behavior is sometimes tolerated, so long as it doesn’t make headlines. The NFL is now the emperor who has no clothes. We all know its dirty secrets and we are beginning to pay attention. The good news? Sponsors are speaking up – sponsors like Nike, Radisson Hotels, Verizon Wireless, Pepsico, Federal Express, Marriott and Cover Girl has all issued statements questioning the values of the league.

And the NFL knows it’s in deep trouble, when none other than Anheuser Busch says this: “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

 I smell radical change in the air. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 15, 2014

HANDS UP, HEADS BOWED

Here’s a tough question for you: What do the late Michael Brown, a young black man of Ferguson, MO and I, an older white man living in New Orleans have in common? Give up? The answer is simple: We went to the same high school and we grew up about 10 minutes from each other’s neighborhoods. Michael and I both attended Normandy Senior High School, albeit more than 40 years apart. I graduated in 1971 and Michael was a recent graduate. So what, you might ask.

 I started Normandy in 1968, at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, which is generally held to have taken place from 1954 to 1968. 1968 was the year both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were killed. It was also the year that 10 white highway patrol officers opened fire on black protestors in Orangeburg, South Carolina, killing three teenagers who were about Michael Brown’s age, and injuring 28 others. In Orangeburg, authorities tried to justify their use of excessive force by claiming the protestors were armed. When the dust settled, no evidence was ever presented that they were armed. As “they” say, the more things change…

 When I was a senior at Normandy in 1971, the majority of the student population was white. But the black student population was increasing year by year, and there was an emerging undercurrent of racial tension on the multi-building campus. It played out this way: One morning in the cavernous cafeteria a chair went flying across the room and hit a young white girl in the head. From there the conflict escalated into a black vs. white uprising.
It was violent and somewhat prolonged. Another day when my school bus pulled into the massive parking lot behind several other busses, a school administrator approached the bus and would not allow us to disembark. We found out that a large group of black students had staged a “sit-in” in East Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Fearing violence, the school administrators decided to send us all back home. Another day a standoff between white and black students began early in the morning in the parking lot, and rapidly became an out-of-control situation that required St. Louis County police officers to surround the parking lot – again we were sent home. These incidents kept happening that year.

Normandy High, once a relatively calm institution became a racial battlefield with armed security guards in each building. Much like Ferguson in 2014, the underlying racial tension in the school community would inevitably surface and permeate the culture. But unlike Michael Brown in 2014, those of us in 1960s St. Louis County (home to Ferguson and Normandy) never expected to fall victim to a street war with law enforcement. Here is the major difference between my moment of youth and Michael Brown’s: When I was 18 years old, young black men were not being shot dead on pavements coast to coast.

 Does that sound like an exaggeration to you? Well, I could mention the obvious – Trayvon Martin – but let’s focus on those who have actually been shot by over zealous cops:
 • Inexplicably lesser reported is the case of Kimani Gray, 16, shot four times last year by New York cops after he left a friend’s birthday party. He was unarmed.
• Just a few weeks ago Eric Garner (right)
was choked to death by a white police officer in broad daylight on a New York sidewalk, after being suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner was unarmed.
• While riding his bicycle earlier this month, Dante Parker, 36, was tasered to death by police who were on the trail of a robber who was reportedly riding a bicycle. Parker was not that man. He was unarmed.
• After an investigative traffic stop in South L.A., Ezell Ford, 25, was shot by police when he was reportedly face down on the ground. He later died during surgery. He was unarmed.

 And then came Michael Brown. And then came late nights of demonstrations in steamy Ferguson, MO. Ferguson Police Department somehow became armed with equipment from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs a program called 1033 that has provided law enforcement agencies around the country with military style weapons.
What the hell are police officers doing with armored vehicles, grenade launchers and M-14s? By arming urban police officers with the same equipment that might be used in a military operation, there is an assumption made that all police officers are mentally, physically and psychologically prepared to use the weapons properly. Do we citizens honestly believe that the same cops who shot Erica Garner, Kimani Gray, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and scores of other young black men are to be trusted with the most high-powered weapons available in war efforts? I think not, and evidently I am joined in this skepticism by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder who told USA today, "It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”

Only about 20,000 people live in the six-square-mile municipality of Ferguson. The unemployment rate is considerably higher than the national average and the average income is substantially lower. The population is more than 60 percent black, but of the 53 police officers in the town, only three are black. That perfect storm of stats makes Ferguson ground zero for the renewed national debate about race relations. It is a sticky debate, because most of the participants have already made up their minds about how they view race in America. It is often difficult to persuade people to change their attitudes about race, but the debate that has been raging for hundreds of years has resulted in moderate societal change, albeit at a snail’s pace.

 For several nights after Brown was shot six times and mercilessly left face down on the August-hot street for four solid hours before being moved, I watched reports of police in full riot gear patrolling Ferguson. It was as if media [read: “CNN”] were waiting for an inevitable outbreak of violence. That violence never came. There were some tense moments, but overall it was peaceful. The only thing not peaceful about it was the sight of those cops and their tank-like vehicles and high powered weapons. The resounding mantra of the protestors, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”
will haunt all of us for a long time to come. At this point, I say, put your hands down, bow your heads and think hard about where we are in our cultural racial division, and about where we came from. Ask yourself why no one is requiring greater diversity among the police forces in places like Ferguson? Why is there no-training in multi-cultural communication happening in those same forces? Why are we trusting officers with two to three years of policing experience with M-14s? How deeply are we really vetting individuals who decide to craft a career in law enforcement? And where will the inevitable next Michael Brown meet his untimely death? Perhaps in your town?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WHY JOAN RIVERS MATTERED


Let me get this out of the way up front:  I loved Joan Rivers.  I really did. I followed her career since she was on The Ed Sullivan Show -- way, way back in 1967.  Watch for yourself:
Even in that early routine you could already see what was happening. Joan Molinsky, a gutsy, irreverent fireball of a person, had invented Joan Rivers, a character she would carry with her for the next half century.  She would streamline the character’s delivery over time, and she would glamorize the exterior, but Joan Molinsky was always in charge. She ran the show. By her own admission, Joan Molinsky was a driven, goal-obsessed laser of a human being who was going to win big.  And she was going to do it via the character she invented, Joan Rivers. She would much later in her life admit publicly that she was probably absent too much as a mother, although certainly loving and devoted. And she would also admit that in her adult household, her husband and her daughter and she were always, all about “the career.”

Whether you loved Joan Rivers as so many of us did, or not, one thing is indisputable: She was a constant voice in the American culture for most of our lives. She was more than a comedienne. She was a cultural commentator. That’s what comics are, really. They chronicle what we see right in front of us, but they find a way to build joy into it. As Americans struggled to determine what brand of extremist Sarah Palin really was, Rivers alternately referred to her as “a Nazi,” or “retarded.”  As former vice-president Dick Cheney publicly touted the wonders and appropriateness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [read: “torture”], Rivers pondered his humanity by posting this on Facebook: “I’m surprised Dick Cheney got a heart after lasting all these years without one.” When the FBI itself was offering $25 million for the capture of Osama Bin Laden, Rivers brought him down to size with humor:  “How can we not find Osama? He’s on dialysis. There’s one outlet in all of Afghanistan, find it and follow the cord.”

Nothing was out of bounds, and to Rivers, there was never occasion to look at an audience and ask,“Too soon?” She survived in her battleground of an industry by being constantly topical, strictly au courant. She was one of the first comics to inject humor into 9/11. And she was roundly blasted for it in the press. As a woman who had clawed her way through a jagged, uneven career, she had
little patience with those who were famous just for being famous. She was merciless with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.  She had things she wanted to get off of her chest, and she early on discovered the glory of free speech. It has often been said of her that she simply said what the rest of us were thinking. That may be a bit of a stretch, but she did verbalize all that was commonly forbidden, and we laughed until we cried.  You know we did.  As Rivers would often say, “Oh grow up!”

I have never witnessed the outpouring of grief, internationally, for an entertainer, as I have since Joan Rivers died. And I get it. Smart people knew Joan Rivers was a finely-crafted, carefully evolved character created and managed by her inner Joan Molinsky, the plainer, softer launching pad for the fiercely driven star. Smart people knew there was a genuinely loveable core underneath the take no prisoners, seemingly ruthless exterior.

Here are three things I know for sure about Joan Rivers: 1) Joan Rivers made all of us – even those who purported not to like her brand of comedy -- laugh at ourselves and our world, for 50 years;  2)  In a room full of people, Joan Rivers was among the smartest minds in the room; 3) What Joan Rivers brought to the table was nothing more or nothing less than joy.  

On behalf of about a bazillion people, thank you Joan Rivers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

THE DREADED J-WORD: JOURNALISM

Melissa Harris-Perry models tampon earrings.  Really.
It was a very embarrassing -one might say “humiliating”- week for journalism. One reporter wore tampons as earrings, live on air. Another tweeted a photo of himself almost nude, and a third reporter asked a highly respected scholarly researcher how he, a Muslim, could justify writing a book about Jesus.

Could it get any worse for the broadcasting business? Well, yes it could. In addition to all of the above, which I’ll detail in a moment, there was beleaguered, way-past-his-expiration-date Rush Limbaugh who said this of Huma Abedin, wife of serial sexter Anthony Weiner: "It's relevant to point out here by the way ... Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything.

“Muslim women don’t have any power, right?” he continued. “Muslim women are beheaded, stoned, whatever, if they drive, have affairs. In certain countries, Muslim women, if they’re raped, are killed -- it’s their fault."

Hmmm..did you know we behead Muslim women in America? I did not know that. Oh, and did someone forget to tell Rush that Huma Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Meanwhile, none other than anti-journalist Glenn Beck rented a series of rooms in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel to display his collection of Nazi memorabilia, including hooded KKK cape, a swastika banner that was used at Nuremberg, a copy of Mein Kampf signed by Adolf Hitler, the love letters of Hermann Göring, a satin handkerchief with Hitler’s blood.

Oy.

If you’re already starting to hyperventilate at all of the above, calm yourself and read on. First, about those earlier-mentioned earrings. Melissa Harris-Perry, a relative newcomer to the cable news circus, hosts a Sunday round table talk show on MSNBC. After state troopers confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other potential projectile items from those entering the Texas state capitol building recently, Perry made light of the civic debacle this way:
                       

Upon seeing Harris-Perry don tampons on her lobes, satirist and cultural commentator Dennis Miller tweeted, “David Brinkley turning over so rapidly in his grave you could make chicken shawarma in it.”

"70 is the new 50"...Not
Oh and about that above-referenced journalist who tweeted an almost-naked shot of himself: That would be Geraldo Rivera, 70, of Fox News. Rivera, whose checkered career spans five decades, tweeted the selfie with the tag line, “70 is the new 50.” No Geraldo, based on what we see in the photo,
70 is 70, and my unsolicited advice goes like this: Get dressed.

Compounding the tasteless episode were Rivera’s own words of attempted justification. He began by explaining he had had a long day at work, and he had a couple of drinks before breaking out the camera. Then he said, "And I never do tequila when I'm alone, but I had this new bottle that someone had given me. That second my fate was sealed. I said, 'Dammit, I like that picture.' I had learned how to use Twitter a couple of weeks ago and there I was."

Yes, Geraldo, there you were, but what about us? Do we really need to know that when you’re alone you like to do tequila shots and take naked self pics?

Then there is the case of Lauren Green, also of Fox News, who conducted an on-air interview with religious scholar Reza Aslan. Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life &; Times of Jesus of Nazareth, thought he was to be interviewed about the research he did and the content of the book. But Green inexplicably decided to interview him about how odd she found it that he, a Muslim would write about Jesus. Watch:
The Twitterverse exploded following Green’s disastrous interview. Tweeted one viewer: “Me: ‘I’m an oceanographer.’ Green: ‘But you live on land.’”

It bears mentioning that all of the broadcasters mentioned herein are experienced adults who were most likely hired in part based of their editorial judgment (except perhaps Harris-Perry, who has no background in media, according to her own bio). Of course one can also be fired for editorial judgment issues – does the name Don Imus ring a bell? Why then, would any of these professionals say or do what I have described here?

In part, this can be explained by a lack of oversight on the part of news directors and the editorial brass. The game today is all about attracting and retaining viewers or listeners. Watch cable news networks often and long enough and you will see a plethora of incidents just as tasteless and unprofessional as the ones I have described here.

You are observing the pioneer days of the 24-hour news cycle. It may not seem that way, but consider that even the granddaddy of all round-the clock news, CNN is only 33 years old. Others, like Fox and MSNBC didn’t arrive on the screen until 1996. By then, the average household in America was either wired for cable or just about to be, which meant the American viewer was on the threshold of remote control roulette. After decades of having just three or four stations from which to choose, suddenly we were in the TV driver’s seat with up to 200 channels. Heady stuff.

From there, cable news stations went into what we could term a “cultural decline.” And now, this many years later, a host is wearing tampon earrings, another is naked on Twitter and a third evidently hasn’t read her interviewee’s book, so she decided to try to discredit the author instead of discussing his work. Ugh.

According the a new Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in TV news is down to 23 percent of those who responded. That matches our lack of confidence in newspapers. To give you an idea of how bad the numbers look, in 1996 our confidence in TV news was at 46 percent. In 1980 our confidence in newspapers was at 51 percent. (These figures area based on responses when asked if consumers have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in these entities.)

Jon Stewart -- The New Cronkite?
If that doesn’t disturb you, you should also know that among young people, high profile news broadcasters are not trustworthy. Who will ever forget the TIME Magazine poll in 2009 that found Jon Stewart of The Daily Show the most trusted newscaster in America. Huh?

Therein is the danger of cable news networks putting people like Harris-Perry, Rivera and Green front and center. As if the journalism profession were not sullied enough by its own historical missteps, by promoting individuals who value entertainment over substantive content, the viewing public comes to equate their broadcasts with any other white noise that comes from our increasingly technologically- sophisticated televisions. The technology is at an all-time high while the content of what it projects is in the gutter.

I remember about a zillion years ago when I was in journalism school, NBC anchorman John Chancellor came to speak to us. He said, “You are about to enter the most noble profession there is. Keeping the citizenry informed about the issues that directly touch their lives is as important as any job can be. It’s a big responsibility that carries with it a rich history to which you will now contribute.”

Those were some wise words. Compare that with a quote from Geraldo Rivera: “I’m old, but I’m still cute and strong…and very butch.”

Fellow TV viewers..we’re doomed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

BUTTER AND BIGOTRY: THE PAULA DEAN STORY


http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_cIC17_FAHhQ/TIEaE0an4DI/AAAAAAAACgk/A4B2J0PS0ok/s640/PaulaDeen.jpgOh Paula. Paula, Paula, Paula. What fresh hell hath y’all wrought now? First it was you pushing high fat and cholesterol cooking when you knew you had diabetes, and now you’re slinging the word nigger. Some of us out here – okay, many of us out here are not having it.  I, for one, am not having it.

About 30 years ago I moved to the deep South from the Midwest. Where I grew up, we didn’t hear the word nigger much, and I did not use it at all. I know for sure I never heard either of my parents use the word, and neither did our neighbors or family friends. So all the people out there who keep asking the question, “Come on, how many adults have never used the word nigger?” should listen up. Many, many, many people know the demeaning, condescending and fully non-productive nature of the word, and we do not use it, ever.

  Paula Deen would have us believe that she used it because she’s “old” (66 is old?) and she’s from the South.  The latter, while certainly not an excuse, is something I semi-understand.  When I moved to New Orleans in the 1980s, where I have been ever since, I was stunned at the frequency at which the word is thrown around in daily conversation.  I remember going to a very upscale cocktail party in a private home when one of the blue blazered, white shirt and khaki-pants (the Southern gent’s casual uniform) guests told me to “Get yourself a drink – there’s a nigger walking around with a tray full of ‘em.” I also remember a sales director I worked with in a luxury hotel saying to me, “I told that stupid nigger I needed copies of this document for the meeting, but of course she’s too lazy to run copies.”  I also remember eating in that same hotel’s employee cafeteria, when one of my co-workers said, “You’ll be lucky if you can find anything edible in here – they cook nigger food mostly.” All of this happened. And so much more.

To this day, at almost 60 years old, I’m still taken aback every time I hear the word used.  I don’t get it.  I don’t want to get it. I don’t want you to get it either. But I feel compelled to write a few things that I do get about the ramifications of categorizing an entire population segment with one ugly, unforgiving word:
  •        Words are symbols. As symbols, words are painfully powerful. By calling a black person a nigger, the speaker instantly sets himself or herself up as superior to the person they are targeting. It is a false superiority based on a culturally historical misconception that one population group is superior to another population group. Key word: misconception.
  •       Having lived through the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement, I know that what followed that movement was a decades-long effort to evolve the word out of the English language. We who were fostering that effort were making great progress until about the 1980s when hip hop music evolved. The music insisted on using the word “nigga” routinely in lyrics. That use of the word among black entertainers served only to perpetuate its use among other population groups and to mainstream its use well into the 21st century. So to the many, many white people who ask the same question over and over again – “Why is it okay for a black person to use the word, but it’s not okay for us to use it?” – the answer is simple: It’s not okay for anybody to use it.
  •       The word nigger is used as a symbol for “less than.”  The user is essentially stating, “You are less than I.” What I know for sure is that nobody has the right in this life to decide if another person is less than anyone else. And that applies to any number of other English words that need to be trashed – faggot, queer, cunt, spick, kike, retard – shall I go on?  I think not.
So, back to “old” sweet Paul Deen.  I do not believe Paula Deen is a bad human being because she said “nigger.” I don’t even believe Paul Deen is a bad human being if she ran a business in which
certain employees were treated differently because they are black. I believe she is a flawed human being just like you and I are flawed human beings. But there are consequences for bad behavior, and Paula will now be subject to those.  I heard a guy who had been in prison for 21 years for a crime he did not commit,  say something very wise: “What I have learned over all these years,” he said, “is that revenge doesn’t work. Accountability does.”

Paula Dean knew that exercising institutional racism and false superiority was bad behavior. She knew all along that living in the South was no excuse for categorizing black Americans as “less than.” She knew that it was not okay to consider planning a plantation-themed wedding with all black male waiters in white jackets, that the very idea was unacceptable, and a twisted, ill-conceived tribute to a moment in American history of which we are all rightfully ashamed. She knows that apologizing for her bad behavior and “begging” (her word) for our forgiveness will not wipe out decades of subtle and not-so-subtle racist behavior on her part. And rest assured, she is now being held accountable for all of it.

Deen is a much-beloved figure among a lot of her faithful fans. They, and believe it or not, I, do not want to see her lose her career.  What I do want to see is Paula Dean working to regain her career, rather than simply stepping back into it once we are all on to the next big story in America. FOOD Network has dropped her, and so has Smithfield hams. Rumor has it that QVC, Kmart and even her publisher are considering doing the same. But contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are second acts in America, but they come with an uphill climb. I would point out that it was fully seven years ago that Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) was banned for life from The Laugh Factory (left)
after going on a much-publicized racial tirade after being heckled by a black audience member. You haven’t heard much about or from Richards since, have you? Only now, all these years later is he slowly re-emerging in the entertainment industry.  The uphill climb and all that, you see? What about Mel Gibson? Remember him telling his girlfriend he didn’t care if she was “raped by a pack of niggers?” Gibson, one of the biggest movie stars in the world prior to his crazy rants, is now pretty much on the Hollywood D-list.

http://img.foodnetwork.com/FOOD/2007/05/03/pa1001_brownies_lg.jpgWhat I have learned about racism is this: Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. If Paul Dean said she used the word “nigger” in the past and that her husband still does, and if employees in her business say she makes some business decisions based on the color of their skin, my instincts tell me somewhere in there is some truth.  I have also observed that otherwise really fine people can be racist." That is their major flaw. And I have made a decision for myself that the racism flaw is not acceptable to me. So I will not be spending any disposable income on Paula Dean products. I will forgo learning how to make Paula’s white chocolate cherry chunkies. That’s my choice. Others will choose otherwise, and I predict Deen will rise again, but perhaps not to the exalted, buttery level she once enjoyed.

I won’t patronize Paula Deen because I get who she is. I have met her a thousand times in a thousand different faces and places in the South. Racism runs way deep down here at the bottom of the United States. It is alive. I often say that I believe racism right now is much worse than it was in the mid-20th century.  Teenagers who try to “act black?” Racism. White collar execs who perpetuate the white man’s executive level in corporate America? Racism.  Broadcast and cable networks that rarely cast a black actor in a lead role? Racism.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of doing away with the Voting Rights Act? Racism at the highest level possible.

My personal decision is not to receive it in my life.  What is your decision?

Friday, June 14, 2013

OF CAFFEINE, COMICS AND SEINFELD


When you are at work wasting time on your computer --- notice I said “when,” not “if” and you know who you are – you truly need to be watching Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” GreenbergRants first clued you in about this series last year in a sidebar (those short takes we run in the left hand column on this page), and I wondered if the show would take off. Not only has it taken off, but it scored a second season on line, and it has a bigtime sponsor, Acura.

Seinfeld is widely known to be a car enthusiast, so it makes sense that an upscale motorcar company would underwrite the series. If for some reason you still have not watched this series, just know that the premise is simple: Each episode features Seinfeld and one of his famously funny friends riding in a car hand selected by the host, on their way to a coffeehouse destination to have coffee and just talk.

If you work in a cubicle, be careful when watching, because you are going to be laughing out loud and you may spit your own coffee all over your computer screen. It was during the first season that Seinfeld’s pal Larry David said, “You’ve finally made a show about nothing.” Who knew “nothing” could be this funny? The second season will feature the likes of Sarah Silverman, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Don Rickles and Seth Myers, among others.

Recently, BRAVO TV’s Andy Cohen spent a half hour talking with Seinfeld about the show. Even there Seinfeld was funny – the guy can’t help it. As a New Orleanian I’m especially keyed into Seinfeld right now because it was just announced he will do two shows to re-introduce the famed Saenger Theatre to the public this coming Fall. The Saenger was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and is now finally re-opening after eight years. Meanwhile, I’ll satisfy all Seinfeld cravings by watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You can too - go to www.crackle.com  Watch this:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

ZACH'S STORY

Last December, Zach Sobiech, 18, posted a video on YouTube of a song he wrote called “Clouds.” Each day, thousands of kids all over the world post videos, but this one somehow caught the attention of more than four million people, once his story was revealed. Zach was diagnosed with bone cancer that spread throughout his body.

Zach’s story would be predictably tragic, were it not for his indomitable spirit and his true recognition that life is indeed a gift. Told he only had a few months to live, Zach decided to do just that – live. What follows is a short documentary about his last days of life, complete with a family that embraced every second, a girlfriend who risked her own emotional upheaval and friends and musicians who rallied to make every moment count. On Sunday, May 20, Zach died. His story is not so much about death as it is an affirmation of life. In the end, it's a joyful story. Watch. Please watch.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

THE UNITED STATES OF BOSTON

There are a lot of us Americans out here who believe what happened in Boston is really indicative of a much more pervasive threat in America. The simple truth is that there are way too many human beings of varying nationalities who abhor all things American. We are roundly hated in many corners of the earth, and our one-time “impenetrable” borders are now anything but. Everybody is fully exposed now. We American citizens are seemingly dangerously exposed to unknown individual enemies with psychopathic intentions, and those very enemies are exposed to unprecedented law enforcement technology and countless cameras. We’re all naked in the worst way.

 Those of us in my generation trace one of our earliest memories to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. From that moment, we progressed on through a number of other mid-to-late-20th century bloody assassinations, and right into the ongoing carnage of the Vietnam war. In between it all was the civil rights struggle that saw eruptions of street rioting coast to coast. We were raised on violence and mayhem. As children we saw our President shot through the brain. As teens we watched blood and guts in Vietnamese rice paddies every night on Walter Cronkite’s evening newscast. As young adults we were already inundated with unnatural acts of horror. By the time we were full adults, the Murrah Federal Building (left) was blown up in Oklahoma City. This time the carnage was the work of a disgruntled American angry at the government for another violent confrontation in Waco, TX two years earlier. And then the road winds around right into 9/11.

And now…Boston.

The day JFK was murdered, the U.S was about as low-tech as a developed nation could be. When the riots happened late at night in Washington, D.C. and Harlem the night Martin Luther King was murdered, many of us had no idea it was happening until the next day. Vietnam happened on our TV screens, but generally not in real time. Even so many years later when Oklahoma City happened, and later when the planes hit the buildings in NYC, although we watched it happen live on TV, there was not much social media happening and cameras in phones were not widely available yet.

But Boston? The world is so high tech now that not only did law enforcement rely heavily on private citizens’ phone photos, but the second suspect was caught after a helicopter used infrared imaging technology (right) to determine that he was hiding under a sealed canvas in a boat. Those in the know explained it to us laypeople as technology that senses heat
to indicate there is an animal or human being in the targeted region. X-Ray vision, 21st century style. Technology did in the Tsarnaev brothers. As one network reporter put it, the phrase “lost in a crowd” no longer exists in 21st century America. If not technology, what other explanation is there that the Tsarnaev boys were identified and targeted by law enforcement within 24 – 48 hours of the marathon bombings?

 But there are other differences between Boston and the history-making violent events through which we have lived. Chief among them may be the fact that Chechnya, a country of just over 1.2 million citizens could be a threat to the mighty USA. It speaks to the undeniable shift in world security that these two boys were able to pull this off. Another meaningful difference between Boston and past violent incidents is the complex fact that although they caught us by surprise with the bombings, we are no longer fully shocked that it could happen. We know now that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. Three days after the Boston bombings a bomb threat at the New Orleans Marriott hotel forced its officials to evacuate the entire 41 floors and 1300+ guest rooms. Right here in New Orleans – we’re not a major U.S. center of commerce; we’re not a national government seat; we’re not even a tremendously populated city, compared to our more cosmopolitan sister cities. Yet even we have bomb threats.
The difference between Boston and other events we’ve witnessed is simply that now we know terrorism has no geographical preferences or boundaries. So – we are Boston. And Boston is us. And that “new normal” that you hear bandied about in contemporary vernacular is real. The new normal can be summed up this way: We are not necessarily safe in America. We know that, and we navigate our way through life with that sort of hanging over us each day.

It is still the freest country in the world, but freedom has been somewhat redefined. It now means we are on camera most of the time that we are not at home. It means there is even technology being used that can determine if someone is indeed in their home at any given time. The new normal holds that we Americans are not internationally adored. In many places just the opposite is the case. And the new normal holds that those who would commit violent mass attacks walk right among us. The surviving Tsarnaev brother is described by some of his American high school and college classmates as a great guy, fun, and just “one of us.” So far, to a person they describe someone who they would never have known had it in for Americans.

 Those are the necessary lessons of Boston. We are now the United States of Boston. I remember not so many years ago when we were all called upon to be the United States of New Orleans. It was a powerful feeling. The larger lesson I take away from these moments? That would be that unity is our true, best shot at national security.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

MY 7 OBSESSIONS WITH "MAD MEN"

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I’m one of those people who can’t get enough “Mad Men,” and after waiting almost a year for the show to come back with new episodes, Sunday night was a major event. Maybe it’s the focus on the 1960’s, the decade in which I grew up, and the uncanny social accuracy the creators achieve. The sets, the costumes, the drinks, the cigarettes, the music, the sexy overtones (more on that later!), but especially the mindset. How could our cultural status have appeared so sophisticated, but really have been so, so innocent? This new set of episodes appears to be set right around 1968, and if ever there was a year that altered the American psyche and the future of the society, it was that year. As one who is obsessed with the show, here are 10 objects of my obsession from the first new episode:

1. THE CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN: Main character Peggy Olsen represents the antithesis of what women were supposed to be back then. Career-laser-focused, Peggy is in a new, more responsible advertising position, and true to form,her behavior is now mirroring the behavior of her male counterparts at her former ad agency. That’s what women thought they had to do back then, and well into the 1980s, actually. They believed they had to become men to make the unlikely climb up the corporate ladder. “Can you get me some coffee?” she barks from her office while working all night on New Year’s Eve and forcing her male subordinates to do the same.

2. COUNTER CULTURE: A few seasons ago there was an NBC TV drama called “American Dreams,” also set in the 1960s, in which the year 1968 was just touched on in the third season. Those who didn’t live through the “hippie era” were about to see how it changed some young people from innocents into members of a new societal counter culture. It got cancelled. “Mad Men” is about to pick up right where “American Dreams” left off, with a view of how some young people rejected convention and formed their own youth movement.

 3. SEX: (As promised!) The birth control pill was only seven years old by 1968, and the HIV/AIDS scare was decades away, so sex was in the air, next door, in the office, at the holiday party, everywhere you can imagine. Back then, people blamed the more open attitude toward sex on the hippie movement, but truly it was a grownup phenomenon fueled by a widespread “because we can” attitude. Don Draper’s return to extra-marital flings in the first episode makes perfect sense. Comments now deemed inappropriate were de rigueur in the office back then. In the New Year’s Eve party scene in Don and Megan’s ultra-mod high rise apartment, a female guest who is in attendance with her husband, openly comes on to Don right in front of Megan. Later that same night, Don has sex with his neighbor’s wife. If only Sinatra were still with us to narrate that moment with his trademark “Ring-a-ding-ding.”

4. DEATH: Don Draper is focusing too often and too heavily on all things death-related. In one scene, a drunk Don questions the doorman at his apartment building, who had suffered a heart attack a while back and been declared clinically dead before being revived. “What did you see?” Don demands. “What was it like?” In another scene, Don plays the doorman’s death over again in his memory in slow motion. When Don attends a funeral gathering for co-worker Roger Sterling’s mother, he throws up in front of the entire crowd. In a rare faux pas, Don creates an ad campaign for a hotel/resort company that is rejected by the client, who says it strikes him as suggestive of suicide. Don’s got death on the brain.

 5. VICES: Cigarettes and booze are players in almost every scene in “Mad Men.” There is smoking in hospitals and at dinner tables, drinking at the office and even at funerals. When Roger Sterling’s secretary must inform him of his own mother’s death, he quickly pours her a stiff one, which she downs in one long gulp. On vacation in Hawaii, Megan Draper trudges down to a skeezy part of the beach to score a joint, which she victoriously brings back to the hotel room to smoke before she and Don have sex. Smoking pot was still considered sneaky, naughty, and yes…sexy. Very sixties.

6. MEN’S BURIED EMOTIONS: If you think men are denying their feelings orconcealing their emotions today, you really had to see 1960s men. Don Draper is great at withholding everything he feels and internalizing it all into some deep, dark tunnel of grey matter. And Roger Sterling, who barely blinked upon hearing of his mother’s death, cries wild tears upon hearing that his regular shoe shine man died – but only in his office, alone. 1960s men are accurately depicted in “Mad Men” as in emotional denial about everything and unable to converse with anyone in any circumstance about feelings.

 7.FASHION:“Mad Men” captures the look of the 1960s better than almost any fictionalized piece I have ever seen. In my first job out of college (1975) I worked at a TV station in which we absolutely had a woman of the Joan Holloway genre. Full figured, proud of it, and dressed to accentuate all of it. The office attire is dressy, tailored and dry-cleaned within an inch of its fibrous life. Men’s fashion is stylized, but understated. But, as mentioned, it’s 1968, and I predict soon we’ll see the leisure suits, chains, miniskirts, platform shoes, etc. But by 1968, office attire was still very 1960ish. My hat is way off to the costumers. Perfect.

Even with all of my above-mentioned obsessions, the real genius in the series rests in the writers’ words. For five seasons the writers have slowly and meticulously revealed that Don Draper is a human train wreck. Now it becomes more obvious: On vacation in Hawaii, he is on the beach reading “The Inferno,” of all things. Creator Matt Weiner walks a fine line of over-symbolizing… “The Inferno” was a bit much, but it fits with everything we already know about Don’s dark psyche.

The writers are also smartly and slowly working in references to Vietnam. So far the references are pretty benign, but 1968 was the year of the Tet offensive, a series of attacks by the North Vietnamese that escalated the war in an unprecedented way. Some say the Tet offensive did in Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, caused Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s military career to crash and burn and caused everyday Americans to truly realize we were in a war. How will “Mad Men” handle this new infusion of faraway blood and guts to influence its scripts? How will the writers balance their material between Wall Street, Hanoi and Haight Ashbury. That 1960s innocence I mentioned earlier? It’s due to fade to black in this season’s “Mad Men.” Why oh why aren’t you watching???!

Sunday, March 24, 2013