Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Round-Up

Attack on JanitorsAccording to MyDD, one of the leading netroots sites, last night Houston mounted police trampled and intimidated janitors and their supporters who were staging a nonviolent, civil disobedient protest. MyDD and Houston Janitors for Justice have still photos and video. The janitors, some of whom are trying to unionize or are union members, earn the minimum wage, $5.35/hr, some as little as $20 a day!, and have no health benefits. Who were they protesting against? One of the targets was oil behemoth Chevron, which has made record profits this year, subsidized in part by billions of dollars of government giveaways. The direct assault on organized labor has been going on for more than thirty years, and this is yet another horrible, spectacular example. Without unions, fair wages, and workers' rights, we would not have the vaunted middle class (which is also under assault) in this country that politicians love to chirp about. Despite the best efforts of the current administration, we also don't live in a police state, or at least not a fully realized one; though most of the destruction of our civil liberties occurs without ever making it in the paper, this is one grotesque public example. And even one is too many to let pass by uncommented on.

I've come across a non-mainstream, foreign movie I couldn't watch all the way through. There aren't many, but this is definitely one of them: Park Chan-Woo's Oldboy. The frenetic pacing, cartoonish acting, confusing plot, and horrible dubbing were more than I could bear when I sat down to watch it. In fact, I tried to watch it twice, but both times I ended up stopping it around the time that that imprisoned protagonist is released. I'll say no more in case you haven't seen it and want to. Maybe I'll try another one of his films in the future, since he I've seen him extolled by cineastes more than once. I haven't been able to get one horrifying image, which comes during a restaurant scene, out of my head. It nearly ruined my appetite for one of my favorite types of seafood....

Ruth BrownVivacious, earthy Ruth Brown, one of the earliest lights of post-war R&B and thus a founding mother of rock & roll, passed away today in Los Angeles. She was 78. I'll always associate her with one of my and C's favorite films of all time, John Waters' hilarious, unforgettable send-up of early 1960s cultural and social integration in Baltimore, Hairspray. She took her role as the DJ and activist Motormouth Maybelle and with sassy aplomb turned it inside out. What I hadn't realized was that despite having been one of the hitmakers for Atlantic Records in its early days, she was so penniless at one point that she couldn't afford a home phone. Later, after mid-1970s comeback, she agitated successfully for redress on behalf of herself and numerous other early R&B musicians who'd not only been cheated out of royalties and rights but heavily indebted by onerous contracts, which eventually led Atlantic to cancel her debts and resulted in the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. According to the NY Times obit, the foundation distributed millions to other R&B musicians; in a sense, then, musicians who came after her owe her tributes of gratitude many times over. But all of us who love American music of the last 50 years do as well.

A Moment's PleasureArtist Mickalene Thomas has a gallery show currently underway at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago. I've yet to post the photos C and I took when we took in Kehinde Wiley's show there, so I'll try to do that soon. This show, which runs through November 25, looks like another great one, and the Chicago Reader praises the "rhinestone-studded portraits" highly, discussing her play with pictorial depth and style, her eye-catching use of color, and her appropriation of prior forms, such as the odalisque. The one Thomas painting we saw hanging in the back was enough to make me want to go back. The one at right (Rhona Hoffman Gallery/Chicago Reader), is entitled "A Moment's Notice."

A while ago, Bernie alerted me to the New-York Historical Society's exceptional previous exhibition on slavery in New York; they now have a second one, "New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War," focusing on the years from state emancipation, in 1827, through the Civil War period. I'll have to catch it when I'm home. One of the New York Times' reviewer Edward Rothstein's most interesting points is how New York City was (and still is) the site of powerful contradictions in terms of the political, social and economic status of African Americans, particularly during this period. As it became the commercial capital of the nation, it increasingly catered to the interests of the Southerner overlords who supplied it with the raw materials on which its fortunes were made; it was an important abolitionist site, but its press was heavily pro-slavery, and the New York Draft Riots, which involved draftees' protests against military conscription to fight in the Civil War, marked one of the most brutal mass attacks on Black Americans in the United States ever. (The Colored Orphan Asylum was literally burned to the ground during the riots in 1863.) Rothstein says that the exhibit, even at its end, forecloses any sense of triumph about the situation of Black people; as the city underwent yet more transformation through immigration and growth, the position of some of New York City's earliest residents remained fraught. It sounds like a shouldn't-be-missed exhibit; I'll try not to.


  1. hey john!!!

    What's up? haven't been to your site ages....things have been busy on my end since i'm no longer teaching these days (my blog)

    Oldboy: it's a very fucked up movie, no? I know the scene you are talking about and I actually couldnt finish one o fmy favorite meals (tuna noodle casserole) because I saw it. i sat through it and it's a violent mess, though oddly intriguing for some of themes Chan-Woo tried to address: incest, etc. NOT for the faint of heart. I know it was playing on Starz Indie and the Sundance Channel a couple of weeks ago...

    thanks for the grad school advice. I'm actually in the process of downloading a few reading lists from some of the programs I'm interested in for the areas I'm looking at (post colonial criticism, african american literature, lgbt literature and theory). It would be good for me to start reading as much as I can in these areas so i'm prepared for my return to grad school in Fall 2008.

  2. Ruth Brown was one of the greats. I saw her in Black and Blue on Broadway and have wonderful memories of that performance and may others.