"I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares."
So while we congratulate ourselves on not having political prisoners like China or Cuba, we do have what we might call prisoners of politics. Again, Obama described the incarceration crisis as “containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and willing to do something about.” Politicians have not been willing to face up to and do something about the underlying problems and all too willing to seek means of “containing” them—i.e., warehousing the people left behind. The political decisions made in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, concurrent with the War on Drugs, have resulted in a surplus population that cannot be absorbed by the sort of economy advocated by Washington and a severe criminalization of the one economy that does work in communities left behind.
-- Matthew Pulver, “Why America’s prison problem is so much worse than Barack Obama wants to let on”
“Some folks are born into a good life. Other folks get it anyway, anyhow.”
Marc Maron is a lot of things, but the reason his name has been in the news the last week is because he is a podcaster. Well, a podcaster who managed to get President Obama as a guest. Maron’s podcast is called “WTF with Marc Maron”, and there is no mistaking what the “F” stands for ... Maron begins his podcasts by proclaiming, “How are ya, whatthefuckers, whatthefuckbuddies, whatthefuckeneers” ... you get the idea. He usually starts with general ruminations, and then gets to the week’s interview. He’s cranky and has a knack for getting guests to say things they might have kept to themselves in another context, but Maron mostly has guests he likes, and there is a friendliness to the show, even when it is biting.
How and why Obama ended up as his guest isn’t all that weird, at least not in 2015. What is true is that Maron’s fans hoped that he wouldn’t hold back just because his guest was the most powerful man in the world.
Maron records in his garage, and so his street was closed off, Secret Service took over the block, and the President made his way into the garage. Usually, a host tries to make his guest comfortable in the first few minutes, but it was the other way around this time ... you could hear a bit of nervousness in Maron’s voice (and why not), and it was Obama who began by looking at the stuff on the walls and commenting, as if it was just two guys hanging out.
Was Maron co-opted? Yes, and again, why not? What did people expect? I’ve often said that I’d have trouble being angry with any president, even the ones I hated most, if I had them over for dinner. I might think the man had been the source of war and destruction, but how could I bring that up? “Mr. President, could you pass the peas, and oh, by the way, you are a war criminal.” OK, I might have found it easy to do that if my guest was Dick Cheney. But at the dinner table, the president isn’t my enemy and I’m not a journalist. I like to think I’d offer my opinions honestly, but the truth is, if the conversation never rose above how good the pot roast was, I’d likely leave it at that.
So Maron led the conversation in some interesting directions, but he served mainly as a set-up man. Obama sounded more casual than usual, but the words coming out of his mouth were often rather boilerplate. He never admitted to anything new ... when Maron brought up the good old days of college, no one said the word “drugs” but there was a kind of frat-boy good-natured “drink and smoke” thread, and other than the most virulent anti-Obama listener, nothing about such topics was particularly illuminating. The conversation gave the illusion of being “true”, and Maron led Obama into areas where we got a glimpse of what it’s like to be President that felt very “behind the scenes”. But for the most part, in the context of just sitting in some guy’s garage, Obama portrayed his accomplishments as being evident. He also said he understands that some wish he had gone farther, but that as President, he has to confront the realities of our system, and accept that he’ll only be able to lead us incrementally.
Maron didn’t ask things like “how does it feel to kill innocent people”, and I can’t believe anyone thought that was even a possibility. In fact, this was the key to why Obama was there in the first place. He knew that however cranky Maron can get, he has a fundamentally good heart, and he would know how far he could go with the leader of the free world, just as I would if I were having the President over for dinner. Maron was dressed casually ... it’s a radio podcast, on one level that didn’t matter, but the pictures got out, and while Maron was clean, not a slob, he looked a lot different from Obama (who, as POTUS, must present casual as “rolled up my long sleeves”). It made a visual that suggested more dogged questions than Maron offered.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m knocking Maron’s performance, which was human and completely understandable. But if there was the slightest chance that Maron would actually bring up, say, the deaths of innocents, Obama would never have done the show in the first place. It was just another version of the President turning up on The Tonight Show. Maron was less fawning than most hosts, but he was always respectful, and Obama is excellent in those situations, seeming like a regular guy who got high in college, then like a really smart guy who rules the world, then like a father who dotes on his kids, and never saying anything that will get him in any trouble that didn’t already exist. He wasn’t going to say anything for which he’d have to later apologize for.
In the end, like so many hyped affairs, the lead-up was more exciting than the event itself. I’m glad Marc Maron got some attention, but I don’t think people in general will remember this six months from now.
Yesterday, for a Facebook Throwback Thursday, I posted a video of Joe and Eddie singing “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight”, a song I loved when it came out in 1963. The only video anyone seems to have which shows Joe and Eddie “singing” the song (rather than just showing a 45 RPM record going around while we listen to the audio), from a movie called Hootenanny Hoot:
It’s an odd clip. Obviously, they are lip syncing, but that’s not unusual. What is weird is that Joe and Eddie were clearly filmed separately from the crowd scenes. Also, it is clear that if Joe and Eddie were actually in the same place as the audience, they would be the only black people in the room. And if there had actually been a Hootenanny concert featuring everyone who performs in the movie ... well, Joe and Eddie would still be the only black people in the room. Honestly, I’ve never seen the movie, but my guess is Joe and Eddie are the only people of color in the entire film.
I posted the video on Throwback Thursday because of a slight connection I have with the singers ... they met at a middle school in Berkeley that my mom and both of my kids attended.
This morning, the video exists within a disturbing context: the Charleston church shooting. In Hollywood, Joe and Eddie stopped by the hootenanny to sing their hit (after the place had been cleared of an audience of white people). In Charleston, a young white man entered a meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and started shooting. He murdered nine people.
I’ve got nothing. I don’t know what the connection is between the Joe and Eddie video and the atrocity in Charleston. I know that they connect in my mind in some unexplainable way. I know that when I was ten years old, I liked listening to that song. I lived in a town beyond segregated: it wasn’t that whites and blacks didn’t mix, it was that Antioch, California had no black people in 1963. Black people lived in the neighboring town of Pittsburg. I don’t know how that applies. I’ve got nothing. I know that this seems worse than other killings, not only because there were nine victims, but also because it took place in a church. But don’t be misled. Black people are murdered all over this country, in church and out. It always matters, it is always worse.
I've got nothing.
"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
Something I wrote in 1997:
This is what we know. In the future, we will always fuck off. No one will work. You won't feel pain, you'll revel with family and friends. There will be no labor; what the heck, since this is utopia, neither will there be death. No work will be freely chosen, because no work will be done. You will fuck off forever, you will make no sacrifices to the work ethic, you will fuck off in as many different ways as there are molecules in the universe. Fuck work. Fuck off!
I usually start a new week on this blog with a roundup of the movies I watched during the previous week. But I didn’t watch any this time around, so that’s out. I’ve been “online busy”, but not here ... I had the usual movie post, and a couple of Marianne Faithfull-centric posts, and that was it. Most of my blogging went to my recently re-opened World Cup blog, which may get a lot of my attention over the next month.
But I also found myself having “undercover” conversations on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner. I wasn’t really writing anything, I was just posting links. And there was the “undercover” aspect of those posts (where “undercover” just means I engaged in “conversation” indirectly).
Someone I like, whose interests are often close to my own, and who is a very smart person (i.e. he and I share a lot of opinions), went off on a Caitlyn Jenner rant after the Vanity Fair cover. He said he was “astounded at the money-making pranks of Bruce Jenner” and concluded that “Jenner is a media ho through-and-through and even talking about the douche bag does an injustice to the real dialogue we should be having about women's rights.” I didn’t reply in the comments (hence, “undercover”), but instead posted a link to a short panel discussion of the issue that aired on ESPN’s Outside the Lines:
Having decided that I wasn’t making myself clear, I later posted a link to a piece by Christina Kahrl, who also appeared on the OTL segment. She wrote:
Whether you devour or despise celebrity coverage, Jenner is an important player in that conversation, not only because of what she has to say, now and into the future, but because the nature of celebrity affords everyone else the opportunity (and excuse) to start talking about it among themselves. ...
Take Jenner’s looks and the corseted glamour shot, for example. Sure, there’s a lot of money invested in achieving the look; Jenner had the means to spend it and chose to do so. Some might fidget over women allowing themselves to be sexualized in such a way, but Jenner has made a choice that other famous and beautiful women such as Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington have been free to choose. There’s something ultimately transgressive in putting a beautiful 65-year-old trans woman in that kind of company. ...
So let’s welcome Caitlyn. She’s not just a conversation-starter, not merely a celebrity or just a person with privilege that some might envy. She is first and foremost a beautiful woman, a parent, an accomplished Olympian. But most of all, like all of us, she is somebody trying to make her way in the world. Let her do things her way, and karma might just pay you back by letting you do the same.
I was sadly not surprised when my posting of this link led to a comment from a friend that went on another rant against Jenner. In this case, I actually inserted myself into the conversation, asking if the commenter had read Kahrl’s piece. She admitted that she had only seen the Vanity Fair cover that accompanied my link, and hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t just posting the picture but linking to an important article.
I used to write more on this blog about what gets the category tag “Current Affairs”. I do much less of this now, because I don’t feel I have enough personal insight or expertise, but even more, because other people who do have that insight and expertise have already written what I want to say, and I don’t often see the point of just posting a bunch of links. Even here, I am focusing less on my opinion re: Jenner, instead looking at the dynamics of Facebook conversations while letting Christina Kahrl say what I think needs to be said.
There’s another thing. Over the years, I have grown tired of a certain method of bringing up a subject that first insists on establishing a distance from that subject. For instance, “I have never once seen a reality TV series, and I couldn’t name a single Kardashian other than Kim, but I think ...” followed by an explanation of why this one thing a Kardashian did was good. Such an approach is more interested in proclaiming the writer’s immunity from popular culture than it is in making its supposed point. I do this myself, of course, but I try to catch myself in advance. So I didn’t want to frame a discussion of Caitlyn Jenner with my own take on reality television or the Kardashians. My relative ignorance about those subjects does not lead to insights, but rather means I lack knowledge in the area being discussed. So I fall back on links to the work of others.
40 years ago today: The Fall of Saigon.