My outrage is so outraged it is effectively silenced.

Over-stimulated into a constant state of smoldering, there are no longer any fibers of my being to become appalled at the immoral and egregious atrocities inflicted upon humanity by self-appointed gods on earth.  I'm burned out.  Consumed.  Not quite spontaneous combustion, and certainly not self-immolation.  But who cares when the effect is the same?  When people set themselves on fire, or purposely starve to death, they are crying desperately for help, for someone to take notice, for someone to care.

Many years ago I read Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace: The lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation.  I've misplaced my copy—I've moved twice since reading it—but one thing I came away with was a glimpse into how wealthy people live with themselves and watch as their riches engender more wealth while a lack of opportunity, education and means engender greater poverty all around them.  At their feet.  Kozol's focus was on New York City, but the scenario is replicated not just throughout the nation, but globally.  They learn not to see us, to make sure we are off their radar.  This is why the 'master'minds and perpetrators of the slave trade industry chose to dehumanize and reduce to the status of soul-less animals the human beings they enslaved.
 
When I peered down from atop the then Sears Tower in Chicago, people didn't look like people.  They looked like tiny insects.  Ants.  With great imagination and for the purpose of, let's say creating a short story, I could pretend like they were just ants moving about their daily lives.  Others with different agendas could pretend for different reasons.  The farther you 'rise' above others the less they resemble human beings from your vantage point.  What you can't see, why should you care?  What you don't acknowledge, why should you want to?  One could claim these 'vanished' beings have no souls, that they have nothing in common with oneself, that their needs, no matter how real, will pass some day, that they don't deserve anymore than they have or they wouldn't be under the sole of your shoe.  Which is why it would be better for them to be put out of their misery, sooner rather than later.  —Lets have some fun!  Let's play Russian Roulette by placing a fertilizer plant in the middle of a town or allow a town to grow up around the fertilizer plant like they used to do around churches or bodies of water, at the same time creating a natural source of labor that translates into money.  Let them work in unsafe factory buildings for pennies lining clothing while we line our pockets—because there are too many of them anyway—and be put out of their misery when the structure collapses killing hundreds of them, mostly women this time.  Oops!
 
We no longer have aspiring demigods.  We have all out deity wannabes aching to increase their chokehold on humanity.  It used to be a territory, a nation, a continent to be conquered and ruled by ruthless, power-hungry self-appointed leaders and their bands of marauders.  Now it is the planet itself, and damned be any living, breathing spoils!  The days of emperors and pharaohs who would make claim to god-like status live on.  They hold our lives and our futures in their hands.  And they won't stop until they transcend the status of demigods to that of deities.

Mythologies created systems of belief at the center of which was either one God Almighty followed by his rank and file or a family of Gods getting along as dysfunctionally as families on earth typically do.   And among modern mythologies is one that would declare itself ancient, at the helm of which is a single all powerful god, worshipped and torn asunder by three rivaling sets of descendants of the same parent faith.  One branch begot the religious culture in which I was raised.  When I speak of 'God', I'm speaking of the one I was taught about and told to bow down to and worship, him and only him, because he is a jealous god. A vengeful god. Enigmatic and tyrannical.  So I ask, why, if one would be God, why choose those qualities that seem most in line with destroying the vast majority of mankind?  Oh, correct.  You can't plunder ruthlessly with honesty, moral purpose, and a love of humanity as sidekicks.

Earth.  A new iteration of the beehive, the anthill, the plantation.  Hell in the hive, hell in the hill, hell in the fields.  Hell on earth. You might not identify with this view of the world.  The concept might not resonate with you.  However, because we are living in a hell doesn't mean we are 'unhappy', that our goals in life are stripped from us, that we are left without hope even if, in the majority of cases, without means.  Happiness is relative.  Ignorance is bliss.  What you don't know can't hurt you.  We are drone ants, workers bees.  Slaves.  We are expendable. We are ninety-nine percent of the human population.

We have modern iterations of ancient gods.  We have individuals with household names (e.g., the Koch brothers who, by the way, own the fertilizer industry pretty near lock, stock and barrel); we have corporations (like Walmart that has connections to the Dhaka, Bangladesh tragedy), and political entities (the über conservative right wing - the list is far too long) for example. We have those who hoard the planet's wealth while destroying it at the same time, melting its resources—like Vulcan in his forge--into gold with which to line their pockets.  The new Poseidon—the monolith that refuses to  admit to global warming because to do so would mean pulling its hand from that cookie jar—is destroying the environment by conjuring up earthquake after earthquake, violent extremes in weather, floods, tornados and hurricanes where they were once either non-existent or infrequent.  We talk about acts of nature, meaning, generally, destructive phenomena due to no one's fault.  But when the heightened devastation of destructive acts of nature are directly linked to the willful hands of mankind with an ax to grind, then we must speak of destructive acts of human nature.  The banks and financial institutions where the new gods hide their fortunes are the newest treasures of Mount Olympus, the crown jewels of the new oligarchy.    

The trickle down effect of greed and abuse affects our everyday lives in ways our limited ability and resources do not allow us to entertain, to make the connections.  We can see that greed led to the collapse of the eight-story factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, or the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, or the crashing of jet planes for lack of proper maintenance.  The stock and housing market crashes, the spilling of thousands of tons of crude oil into our oceans, seas and gulfs.  We can make those connections.    

But how many of us realize that the seeming 'choices' we are given as consumers have been decided on by others as no more and no less of what they want us to consume?  Perhaps this too sounds obvious.  But think about it.  There is no freedom of choice.  We are manipulated and controlled from inception to production to consumption.  

When the rubble is piled so high that the earth becomes a wasteland, the gods will get in their spaceships that only they can afford and sail high above the planet into new territories, leaving the rest of us to rot in a hell created by them.  I know, the scenario is far from original.  It's just that it seems to get closer and closer to the truth.

Zeus overthrew his father, Cronus, to claim the throne for himself as sole ruler of the kingdom of heaven.  Are we really willing to allow it to come down to this? I'm just sayin'...
 
 
I don't recall ever going to see a movie on the first day it hit theaters in my area.  Even so, this time was neither planned nor anticipated.  It simply turns out that I have been going to the movies more frequently in the last months and felt like a movie.  I had also seen trailers, liked what I saw, and promised myself not to miss it.  

It had been ages since I had seen "The Jackie Robinson Story", filmed in 1950 and starring Robinson as himself, and recalled practically none of the 'autobiopic' when I decided to watch it again for comparison with "42".  Before going to the Renaissance Grand Lake where "42" is playing. My primary interest was to see how white racism in America would be portrayed on the silver screen either in truth-telling or filmmaking from one era to the next.

The voice over starts by telling us that "this is the story of a boy with a dream.  But more than that it is the story of an American boy and a dream that's truly American".  We see a black boy in the foreground walking down the street away from us, deep cuffs in his jeans, camera undoubtedly on a trolly to keep pace.  It is 1928.  An identical scene ends the film but this time the boy's image is paled with a projection of the Statue of Liberty superimposed.  

The action begins with a bunch of young boys heading out onto a field to field balls being batted to them by two white men.  Needless to say we see flashes of Jackie's budding talents that will lead him to prowess in basketball, football, track, and baseball, the latter his strongest suit, although the others are nowhere near shabby.  "Hit me one, mister..." he says to the batter.  "What do you want?"  "Ground it.  Line it.  Anything", comes little Jackie's reply, and he fields three different balls—with bare hands.  All the other kids, with mits, are white.  It is presumably Cairo, Georgia.  It's as wholesome a scene as any you would find in "Lassie". 

The flipping of the pages of a calendar indicates leaps in the passage of time.  Before we know it, the action has progressed to 1937, stopping along the way for cameo-like autobiographic sub-actions: playing all four sports for the UCLA Bruins; joining up with Uncle Sam who sends him a draft notice; getting scouted by the Black Panthers Negro team and playing for them for a while. Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers president, then enters the picture.  This is pretty much where "42" starts. As David Germaine writes in his blog review, ""42" plays out safely and methodically, centering on the two most critical years in his rise to the majors and letting that time unfold with slow, sturdy momentum".

I'm in agreement with film critic Marshall Fine when he says of "42" that "Helgeland doesn't dwell on the endless barrage of racist bile that Robinson (and his wife) endured, but he doesn't shy from it either", and he credits this restraint with lending more meaning and more power to Robinson's achievements.  In the "Jackie Robinson Story", white racist attitudes are depicted in Robinson being shunned by the other players when he shows up for spring practice with the Montreal hopefuls.  He moves from group to group—always with a gorgeous smile—when they pretend not to see him there, glove extended, waiting for a chance to be a team member.  In another scene, the entire team is refused hotel accommodations when on the road, and half the team signs a petition at some point saying they want him gone.

"Nigger" is uttered one time throughout the entire movie, the slur being replaced by "shine" or "black" on occasion (make no mistake, African Americans did not take lightly to being called "black"; it was an insult in those days).  The manager of the Phillies' was shown heckling Robinson with a shoe shine bag from his dugout which, of course, he had to go through the trouble of finding in the first place.  And one of the Philly players jeered at him by biting wide and nasty into a large slice of watermelon, while two fans—considerably older than teenagers—pass a black kitten with a rope around his neck over the wall and onto the bench near Robinson.  Is this why when Ruby Dee who plays Jackie's wife says that she is afraid to go out walking by herself because of what she has overheard certain white men saying, her hostess responds, "Oh they talk big but they don't really mean it"?  Really?  In Florida, the out-Lynching-est state in the union?  I'm wondering if director William Joseph Heineman truly meant that as some form of dramatic understatement. 

On the other hand, "nigger" is repeated so many times in "42" that it finally manages to take on the mammoth-like racist proportions intended.  Here, the Phillies' manager—racism incarnate (sorry but they picked the right face to play the part!)—repeatedly shouts the slur to Robinson each time he's at bat, varying only slightly the monotonous jeering, "Hey, nigger, nigger, nigger", "go home nigger", "you don't belong here nigger", "this is a white man's game, nigger".  This is more like it, the hatred and venom that was prevalent during those years preceding the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954.  And how many of us know that baseball became a segregated sport in 1889?

It is not unexpected that racism in an American-made film in 1950 would whitewash racism to little more than mild irritation and the crankiness of spoiled children.  It wouldn't be American to tarnish the reality of living in America if you look a certain way.  I have a different understanding of what the patrons and employees in the roadside diner might have really said to Robinson when he walked in looking for food and a place to wash up for his black teammates.  Even today behind closed doors the word "nigger" is used far more often than people are willing to admit. 
 
It might be understandable that "The Jackie Robinson Story" portrayed Robinson as mild-tempered and easy-going.  Perhaps he was.  But would he have also internalized the ugliness of racial hatred so that we have no sense of his inner turmoil?  He comes off almost as passive, a step above the happy-go-lucky Negro.  In "42", Robinson, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, is self-possessed and almost edgy, at least until he can't take it any more and explodes just inside the stadium tunnel, breaking and shredding his bat in multiple swings against the concrete walls.  It is a poignant moment that we all feel intensely.  The racism in "42" is much more realistically depicted. Yet, as Zaki Hasan, who finds "42" "unexceptional" points out in his review, "Other than a few cursory nods...we don't get those moments of doubt, of fear, of panic as the full import of what he was attempting dawns on him".   

When I was a child, my dad and his brothers used to play ball when we would go on picnics.
One uncle, I'm given to understand, even played in a Negro Minor League prior to marriage.
The fact is they were talented athletes too and when up at bat they would hit the ball farther than any of the other men there.  It would sail long long long long long...  And we the kids would stare in awe, mouths open, as an inexplicable sense of pride swept through us.  Imagine what black people of all ages must have felt when they saw Jackie Robinson playing on the field with white men and rising to the top as the absolute best among them.  

Jonathan Kim writes of "42"in his Rethink Review, "There's something beautiful about watching black fans watch Robinson, so filled with hope and pride as they hang on his every move and are inspired by something they never thought they'd see in their lifetimes".  Which is exactly what I experienced when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008. Whatever anyone else might have felt, I cried like a baby because I thought I would never see it in my lifetime.

One cannot explain that kind of joy, pride or wonderment.     
 
 
'Lolos' or 'lalas'?  That seems to be the question in Ivory Coast.  The other day I watched news coverage on TV5, the Francophone cable network, of the impending Miss Ivory Coast contest, fascinated by the agendas being called into play surrounding the marketability of beauty. Beauty and any close cousin is a commodity and as such has far-reaching tentacles, from political to cultural to economical.  Tout court, beauty is a business.  Since this website has an aspect to it that deals in part with the idea of marketing one's looks for compensation of some kind, I thought it not unfitting to start my first post ever by touching on the subject.  

Since the universal standard of beauty is founded on the Western European aesthetic—typically defined by what are considered caucasian features and morphology—the rest of us measure up in terms of how many deviation points away from that aesthetic we find ourselves.  Everyone seems to agree that Africans and their Middle Passage descendants deviate most from this norm.  The beauty chosen as Miss Ivory Coast will go on to represent her country in the 2013 Miss Universe contest.  

Exotic doesn't exist anymore, thanks to globalization made possible through huge leaps in technology.  We've seen it all, if not in person then on the internet via Youtube or streaming programs of all manner including broadcasts from the far corners of the world.  Exotic is out.
Ethnic is in.  We deviants have a chance then, don't we? Today, I mean?

When I was a girl of ten visiting an aunt in Houston with my family, I and two of my girl cousins walked into a neighborhood store to buy chewing gum.  It was a white owned establishment.  On the countertop were these applications—yes, this really happened—for the Miss America contest.  All three of us, dark brown children of the earth, fingered the slips of paper with what must have been a wistful look because the proprietress smiled through a corner of her mouth and said, "Go 'head.  Y'all go on an' apply".  She laughed at us. We knew where she was coming from.  We didn't have a chance in hell.  There had never been a Miss America who was not white.  We knew because we sat glued to our television sets when the pomp and pageantry was aired every year, picking our winners and being disappointed when they didn't come through for us or thrilled when they did as if it were a personal victory. Beautiful by proxy.  It would be another twenty-seven years before Vanessa Williams, African American, would take the title in 1983.  That was in America thirty years ago.

But Ivorians do not agree on what aesthetic the future Miss Ivory Coast should represent. There are, seemingly, two camps—the 'lalas' (the name the young Ivorian singer Princesse Amour uses in her latest song to refer to slim, small-breasted women like herself), and the 'lolos',  "...word used to describe voluptuous women by Ivorian musical heavyweight Meiway in his 2000 hit "Miss Lolo", according to an article published by France 24.com's International News website (click here).  The article seems to trivialize the subject matter by referring to the differing opinions as  a "war of words". But Ivory Coast's more voluptuous beauties claim to be slighted in favor of the more European look which, they claim, is not typically what African women naturally look like, some of whom participated in the resurrected Awoulaba beauty contest for voluptuous women.  Victor Yapobi, president of the organizing committee for Miss Ivory Coast, apparently feels that they should aim for "compliance with national standards", and makes the claim that (African) women are becoming more and more slim.  Really?  And why?  For the same reasons they almost all straighten their hair?  And some to go so far as to lighten their skin?

The article signals another artist, Augustin Kassi, who has turned his devotion to painting what he feels is the typical African woman aesthetic—voluptuousness or "fat" women that Africans typically see as being healthiest, happiest, and most beautiful.  Click here for a sample of his artwork in a video presented on the BBC website.

Long before globalization the exotic look was sought after, for objectification or exploitation of some sort.  Currency was often the bottom line, and it remains so.  Just as prostitution is generally considered to be an age-old institution that will always claim its own niche in society, the trading of one's appearance for gain, a more acceptable profession if not always respected, will likely never go away.  Attractive looks translate into currency and a huge chunk of the economy depends on their marketability.  Institutions, organizations and corporations such as department stores, fitness gyms, runways and beauty pageants, will continue to thrive in the interest of benefitting from their share of the market.

In Paris, France, about seventeen years following the mom-and-pop store incident in Houston, I was approached more than once with an offer to become a fashion model.  I was both flattered and insulted since I was there doing research for my dissertation at the Bibliothèque Nationale.  I was a brain—or so I thought—not an "empty-headed" beauty (not a uniquely "egghead" perspective in those days).  Now, decades later, it is one of several independent contracting gigs I do to earn extra income during my retirement years.  My agent makes money off me.  I make money off the client, as does the production team, and the client makes money off their customers—sometimes you and me. Advertisers and retailers of all sorts get in on the take as well.  It's a food chain, and a sustainable one.  It's an industry with its own peculiar genome that will live on.

Princesse Amour is hoping to have a big hit with her song. Meiwey's current "Wiggle Your Bottom" in celebration of big booties will no doubt up the ante enough to keep the dialogue between lolo and lala going at least for a while.

And who will be crowned Miss Universe?  The clone in black, white, red, yellow, green, or blue?