Thursday, June 29, 2006

Americans More Isolated? + Afro-Punk Weekend + Tongues Unchained

There's nothing like a flarf poem to make you start to see anything and everything as a potential source of poetry (or to run from the genre with your mouth wide open wondering why anyone devotes their precious time to that art form), though I'm also of the mind that we should look at much of life this way, creatively. I guess this is one way of responding to a query that Mendi had posed a long time ago in various venues. How do to that with potential housing contractors is another story altogether.


One topic I've been wanting to post about appeared in the Washington Post last week. Reporter Shankar Vedantam wrote an article on recent studies showing growing social isolation in the United States. Titled "Social Isolation Growing in U.S.," it begins

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

"That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. "There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."

If close social relationships support people in the same way that beams hold up buildings, more and more Americans appear to be dependent on a single beam.

Compared with 1985, nearly 50 percent more people in 2004 reported that their spouse is the only person they can confide in. But if people face trouble in that relationship, or if a spouse falls sick, that means these people have no one to turn to for help, Smith-Lovin said.

A few years ago I was somewhat skeptical about the main thesis of Harvard scholar Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, which was extensively hyped in the media but not addressed, as far as I could tell, in any substantive way by commentators and not really mirrored in my own experience. But more recently based on personal experiences, especially in light of my regular cross-country commuting, and based onthose of friends and acquaintances who've endured various kinds of strains and difficulties, I've begun to think he was on to something, and want to explore this topic more at some point on this blog. I found University of Toronto scholar Barry Wellman's comments about the increase in many people's interpersonal connections resulting from the Internet also to be fascinating, but the question of how thin or thick, or shallow or deep, such connections are is worthy of further discussion.


This week's Village Voice has a short article by Ed Halter on the upcoming Afro-Punk Weekend, which'll run from tomorrow (June 30) through July 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Cinemathek. First there were the musical and artistic predecessors to and several generations of Afro-Punks themselves (or ourselves, as I was sort of one in my youth, and knew a good few)--performers and fans, then James Spooner's 2003 documentary, Afro-Punks: The Rock 'N Roll Nigger Experience (photo at left of Matt, from and now Spooner is curating a weekend for those interested in taking in a number of documentaries that are, from the titles I've seen as much about Afro-Punkdom as a specific community per se as about its cultural, spiritual and metaphysical antecedents and its true status as a state of mind. Halter cites two films, the visually stunning Agnès Varda rally film The Black Panthers (1967), whose iconic protagonists remain political and cultural touchstones, and Black Briton Horace Ové's rarely screened Pressure (1975). Other fascinating ones include the 2004 documentary Negroes with Guns, which was on PBS just a few months ago; Aishah Shahidah Simmons's must-see No! (2006), which deals with rape and sexual abuse in African-America and which she spent a decade trying to find money to complete; the remarkable Shirley Clarke's documentaries The Cool World (1964) and Portrait of Jason (1967); and Don Letts's Sun Ra: Brother from Another Planet and Gil Scott Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, on two figures who need no introduction. Letts will be present for a Q&A session on Saturday after the screening of his 2005 film Punk: Attitude.


A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Larry K. of the Knight Bird about an important literary event taking place in Brooklyn tomorrow night, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Other Countries, one of the seminal groups in the development of contemporary Black gay/sgl/bi writing. I attended the 10th anniversary celebration, I believe, which took place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and at that time, my memories of some of the members who'd passed away in the early 1990s, including Roy Gonsalves, whom I knew; Donald Woods, with whom I had one of my first readings ever in New York; and the incomparable Craig Harris, were fresh in my mind. Their creative work and literary activism, as reflected in their books and journals, their performances, and their examples, as out and outspoken artists, especially during the late 1980s era, when Reagan-Bushism reigned and AIDS ravaged Black and gay communities, played a central role in opening up a cultural space for all subsequent Black gay/sgl writers and performers who've followed. Their loss has left a hole that has yet to be adequately understood and which can never be fully filled. The event tomorrow will include performances by some of their ancestors and mentors, peers and contemporaries, and some of the newest generation of writers. The music I know will be beautiful.

Tongues Unchained
A tribute in word, image and motion
to the 20-year legacy of
Other Countries: Black Gay Writing
Friday, June 30, 2006 at 8:00 PM
Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts
One University Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Phone: (718) 488-1624

Including work by Daniel Garrett, Roy Gonsalves, Craig G. Harris, Essex Hemphill, Gale Jackson*, Audre Lorde, Anton Nimblett*, Richard Bruce Nugent, Khary Polk*, Colin Robinson*, Assotto Saint, Pamela Sneed*, Donald Woods and others (*featured performers)

Directed by Valerie Winborne
Subway: 2/3/4/5 to Nevins St. B/M/Q/R to DeKalb Ave.

After-party: 10:00 pm on "Grand 275" - 275 Grand Avenue, btw. Lafayette Ave. & Clifton Pl. (20 blocks east of the theater) 718-398-4402


  1. I can personally relate to that isolation study, but for a long time assumed it was just the price of living in NYC. For any number of reasons I think it is simply harder to find people with whom to relate and form meaningful relationships, on any level. I trust is a major concern.

    I may have to comment on that one as well.

  2. Yeah!, for sometime I thought that it was a sign of NYC. Something you pay like that stupid city tax. But since moving down South and living in Nashville, I must say that being isolated is really the most undesirable of all American pastimes.

    The internet question is very interesting J. What kind of relationships are being formed? Booty calls are obvious. But there is also the issue of people giving and receiving "anonymous concern". I have experienced this before -- telling a stranger what a crappy day I just had, or talking about a financial, relationship or health related problem and receiving one sentence of support and vice versa.

    Sometimes it just a few interactions, and with others it is a real friendship or acquaintanceship that is similar to the types of faceless voiceless relationships you can have at an office.

    Is it just me?

  3. Bernie, I agree that it is hard, and it's definitely not just NYC (or any other big city). My personal experience has been that it's easier in larger cities than in smaller ones or the suburbs, though others may have a different perspective. Trust is key, but I also think it has to do with the way we live now, and I plan to say a bit more about this soon.

    B, hear here. I think of the anonymous concern you mention and how common it is on listserves I've been on, and how much it mirrors my prior experiences being on trains and planes and having people just unload, which seems to happen less and less these days, perhaps because I'm older or look less welcoming or something. It could be the dreadlocks! But I used to experience this a lot, and then it seemed to move to the virtual world. I do wonder about the Net and the sorts of relationships it fosters. I've developed real friendships based on Net exchanges, but I still would rather be interacting with friends in person rather than via these kinds of cybertechnologies.

  4. The NYT just published a similar piece, based on the same research if I'm not wrong. What sticks with me is their insistence that a "spouse" was the only way to avoid the loneliness trap. I often wonder how my perceptions of close friendship have been shaped by popular culture (yes, I point yet another finger there). But the foucauldian in me also wonders about how we understand friendship as a mode of confession. I'm still not used to what I often experience as american over-familiarity, a willingness to share what I consider to be intimate details in casual ways. Is that what many consider to be intimacy or closeness? Confession? If so, it would appear to be a pretty poor measure.

    I'm not sure friendship and intimacy are necessarily related to obligation or living together. We can-and do-live together without an expectation of emotional closeness, but with other social bonds, be they forged out of history or convention. Perhaps what the study suggests, or at least the anecdote on Katrina, is that we have lost ways to forge inter-class friendships and alliances, even as we move further away from home and family.

    I'm still trying to think through this, with little success as my many repetitive sentences attest. Perhaps this is where the theorist in me butts heads against empirical researchers. What does one do with data?

  5. Roy Gonsalves was the most beautiful male I have ever seen or met. OH how I wish I could communicate with the dead. RIP Roy.

  6. Roy Gonsalves was the most beautiful male I have ever seen or met. OH how I wish I could communicate with the dead. "RIP Roy...and talk 2 me."