Quickie Fall Reviews: Sleepy Hollow

sleepy hollow

Last Monday night was the season two premiere of Sleepy Hollow.  Considering where the show left off at the end of Season one, Ichabod Crane was trapped in a coffin, put there by his son, revealed as the Horseman of War and  his wife Katrina retrieved from Purgatory, was kidnapped by the Headless Horseman (True love don’t ya know).  Meanwhile Abbie Mills was stranded in Purgatory.  All in all, a lot of dangling plots.  So I was really annoyed that the first ten minutes of the show picked up as if a year had gone by.  Sometimes these shows are too clever by half.

And although I’ve enjoyed the show it’s annoyed me almost as much.  It’s sort of a supernatural Castle, which isn’t a bad thing. However regardless of whether it’s good or not  I’m stuck with it since this is one of those shows that my wife and I watch together, so there is no easy way to bail out of watching.  So since I’m in for the long haul, let me get a few things off my chest:

First, I don’t like how densely packed the mythology is.  There is a lot of worldview that you are given to swallow, and I’m not sure it all makes sense when you are combining an old American fairy tale with Biblical themes.  The Headless Horseman is one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Ichabod and Abbie are the two witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelations.  They could have eased us into all this.

Secondly, yes, Ichabod Crane is brilliant and educated, but come on, he’s adapted to the 21st Century a little too well.  They could have gotten a lot more play out of his fumbling with light switches and car door handles,  He’s confused about filling up the memory on his cell phone with video, but not with the concept of the phone itself?  But as well as he fits into the 21st Century, he’s still wearing the same 18th Century wardrobe.  Some Dockers and a polo might be a nice change of pace.

The elephant in the room, which is almost never mentioned, is race. The show as much as sleeps through race as Ichabod Crane slept through the centuries.  On TV, when you have such a diverse cast racial issues are either the star of the show or are totally ignored.  How many shows have had the one black friend, who hangs around with a bunch of white guys but has no black friends?  That’s not a really an example of the real world.  Of course, the world of Sleepy Hollow isn’t of course the real world, but the Headless Horseman seems more realistic than the casual way the show ignores race.

And it’s surprising too considering the diverse cast.  It’s probably one of the most diverse casts of a show when it didn’t need to be.  The show is set in upstate New York, and if the cast had wound up all white, no one would have batted an eye.  But the producers specifically went for a rainbow of colors in casting.  Why waste it?

When Ichabod and Abbie first meet, he asks her if she’s been emancipated.  Naturally she’s a bit incensed at this but humors him about being from the 18th Century and explains that slaves were freed.  Crane of course quickly explains that he’s always been an abolitionist with all of the quick earnestness of a white liberal meeting a black person and saying that they so respect Martin Luther King and think soul food is the best food ever.

And that’s it.  They’re partners and work together as equals in 21st Century fashion and race never comes up again.  The thing is, race would come up every day for Crane.  Skipping over the past two centuries leaves quite a gap in the racial history of the United States.  Crane should be constantly full of questions about racial manners and mores.

Well, it’s a wasted opportunity not to explore race, particularly when the set up of the show gives you the perfect opportunity.  Oh well, back to chasing monsters.

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Black-ish

Black-ish is the latest attempt to sell an ethnic sitcom to the wider, non ethnic audience.  Unlike the Cosby Show, in which a Black upper middle class family has the same concerns as any non Black upper middle class, and being Black was not a prominent part of the show, Black-ish is about nothing else but being Black.  It’s about upper middle class Black people who are concerned about being Black, ruminating what it means to be Black, embracing Black culture, maintaining Black culture, what is Black Culture… in short, it’s all Black, all the time.

Or at least that’s the case for the main character, Heathcliff Huxtable…err I mean Andre Johnson.  Anthony Anderson plays the Bill Cosby character in this Cosby show with guilt that can’t seem to stop thinking about race and its effect on virtually every aspect of his life.  I literally could not keep track of the number of stereotypes that this show…not skewered like you would think, but embraced. The main character is desperate to get his family playing basketball, eating fried chicken, you name it.

The lesson here is that assimilation to middle class values is bad, and “keeping it real” is good.  But maybe that’s just my white privilege talking.  Could this really be a positive uplifting show that I can’t see because of my privilege?  If so, how do I “check my privilege” in order to understand the true intent?

After typing into Google, “Am I racist for thinking the new show Black-ish is racist?”  I did find there was an actual Change.org petition requesting the show be dropped from the fall schedule because…it’s racist.  So I’m not alone on that.  But being racist isn’t even the worst sin this show commits.

It’s not funny.

Based on the pilot episode, the laughs were pretty sparse, and by sparse, I mean I didn’t laugh once, although maybe I missed something since I was constantly checking the clock.  If the show had been racist and funny, this would have been a totally different review. Some of the stuff that white people like is Black comedians playing up Black stereotypes.  Oh, how white people like that!  But for a show in which the main character wants to base his life on a racist parody of Black life you would think there would be laughs.

So I cannot give this show my much coveted thumbs up. There might be a Black audience for this show, and maybe it could find a second life on BET, but I don’t think that ABC is going to be keeping this.

 

Ferguson’s Affirmative Action Solution

Part of the fallout of the Trayvon Martin shooting was a change at the top for Sanford PD.  Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee first stepped down from his position, and then later, after offering to resign, was fired.  Lee was replaced by Cecil E. Smith as the new Sanford Police chief. In Ferguson, MO, Police Chief Thomas Jackson had his entire police department shunted to the sidelines as the Governor put the State Police, lead by Captain Ron Johnson, in charge.  The common thread of course is that in both racially charged cases, a white person was replaced by a black person.

Of course, in the never ending war on noticing, we…aren’t supposed to notice that.  It’s just a guy bungling the situation replaced by someone who is hopefully more competent.  But in both cases with black victims and an activated civil rights establishment on the march; literally on the march, it makes perfect sense that the head of the law enforcement agency in question be headed by someone who’s black.

And as a PR move, it’s worked great.

The media is full of respectful and flattering stories of Captain Ronald Johnson and it’s not just media hype, he’s achieved real results in bringing a boiling situation to a simmer and getting control of the looting after the Ferguson Police Department’s heavy handed military occupation-like attempt to gain control through superior firepower.  And although Johnson does deserve all due credit for that, the fact is that he would not have been able to do that if he were white.

In the post civil rights era, the realization of this started back in the infamous Rodney King beating and has continued up through the age of a Black President, from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown.  Black people do not trust white cops.  They never have, and are unlikely to start in any of our lifetimes.  We can gnash our teeth of this, and try even more community outreach programs that will fail like all the ones before, but in a town like Ferguson, MO, with a black population of 67%, the police department is 94% white.

The consequences of this are that the black population feels like they are under occupation, and as demonstrated by the Ferguson PD overkill to the looting, they clearly think they are occupying hostile territory. Black President or no, this is an extremely racially divided country, and not because of this or that racial crisis that the media loves to gin up, but because that is our default position.  Sad to say, but the racial divide is normal.  It’s not just a media creation (although they do love to exploit it).  White people like to pretend that after the civil rights era it’s all taken care of, and will point to our Black President as proof, “See there?  Black guy; mission accomplished.”

Mission not accomplished and it may never be accomplished.  We can of course, go on and pretend that this isn’t a divided country, or we can stare down reality and admit that we have problems that another commission, or inner city funding, is not going to solve.

Civil society and all of the threads that make a society work depend on social trust.  That is increasingly in short supply in our society, but it is clearly missing in the relationship between Blacks and police, otherwise we wouldn’t have ‘The Talk.’  But, if we’re willing to accept these painful truths maybe we can do something to mitigate the damage these incidents play on our national psyche.  We need to recognize that Black people really want to be policed by Black cops.

I’m no fan of the concept of Affirmative Action.  I think it’s a legal and constitutional stain on the country, but you know, we have a lot of stains.  Maybe we ought to recognize that for black people, they need the trust in law enforcement that black law enforcement can provide and that white law enforcement, no matter how well meaning, will never be able to.  So what am I suggesting?  I think we need black cops to police black areas.  This would require a massive hiring of new black police officers to police these areas, so this isn’t something that would happen overnight.  It would take years to implement.  But I think the benefits make it worth pursuing, and we certainly haven’t come up with anything else that’s made much of a difference.

But a major nationwide recruiting effort with the subsequent publicity might make a lot of black youth consider a career in law enforcement that they wouldn’t otherwise have even considered.  And not for nothing, but these are considered “good jobs.” People in high crime areas might consider calling the cops more, and actually talking to them, instead of avoiding “snitching.”  If they can start trusting their local cop on the beat, maybe they can start trusting law enforcement at large.  Certainly if a black cop shoots a black suspect, it’s not going raise the ire of the civil rights establishment.  Eventually, when those incidents happen, maybe black people will have the same reaction to those shootings that white people have when a white or black cop shoots a white suspect; ignore it.  Generally we default assume the guy had it coming, not that the cop set out to specifically murder someone.

It’s a low bar of achievement I realize, but we have to accept that for our racially divided society, we can’t even reach that low bar.  We need to try something, even if means recognizing painful truths.

 

 

 

My Netfix Review: Season 2: Orange Is the New Black

Season 2 of OINB dropped into the Netflix queue on Friday, and apparently plenty of people had time to go through all 13 episodes.

Sheesh!

I’m not a binge watcher and I think it’s unfortunate that binge watching has become a thing for our time shifted TV watching.  Frankly, I just don’t see who has the time to actually sit down for that many hours on a weekend to watch an entire television season.  Are there that many people with that much free time?  Or are unemployed hipsters the new must reach TV demographic?

So I’ve only seen three episodes so far, but I think it’s enough to know that I’m going to enjoy the season.  When last we left Piper she was beating the crap out of Pennsatucky in the yard, a season long culmination of evolution from prissy upper class WASP to what she she’s been all season and just hasn’t acknowledged; just another inmate.  Piper, with no knowledge of Pennsatucky’s condition, is roused from solitary confinement and flown via con-air to Chicago, all the while with no idea why she’s been sent there or when if ever, she’s coming back to Litchfield.

Back at Litchfield, things proceed without Piper, with interesting flashbacks on Taystee and Crazy Eyes to see what began their journey that would end up in prison.  And Red confronts a new/old rival who intends to take control of the prison.

One of the things I like about the show is that none of the inmates are who we think they are, including Piper.  Our impressions undergo a convergence.  It’s not that Piper becomes like her fellow inmates, it’s that she already had a part of her that was like them, and it slowly becomes uncovered.  And the other inmates?  They were always more complicated then we gave them credit for.

Any time there is a show with a diverse cast there will be some sort of racial controversy, however  in general, the reviews are fairly positive in that regard too.  The Root has a second season review called, Today’s Best Black Show has a White Star.  NPR’s review is New Faces Keep ‘Orange is the New Black’ Humming in a New Season.  This review is written by Eric Deggans, a man whose racial sensitivity meter is always turned up to 11, also gives a positive review of the show.  In a previous incarnation as writer TV & Media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, Deggans managed to almost single handedly get a syndicated radio show kicked out of the Tampa radio market because it crossed his racial line. So are we supposed to think there is a racial agreement on the merits of the show?

Not quite.

There is the show, and then there’s the image of the show.  One of the many blogs I frequent had, not a review of the show, but a review of billboard advertising of the show.  Particularly Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba).

The gist being, based on the billboard advertising, Orange is the New Black is a minstrel show that debases and degrades the image of black women.  As Spike Lee might say, it’s “coonery and buffoonery.”  I waded into the discussion with the argument, based on watching the entire first season, that the idea that show degrades black women is a severe misreading of the show.  The intent of the show is exactly the opposite of that; however my knowledge of having watched the entire first season couldn’t counter impressions of the show made by a few images.  Normally I enjoy a good internet argument, but quickly saw that this one was already  doomed based on the way the commenter’s were taking this show personally, felt that feelings supersede actually viewing and knowledge of the show, and was told to stop by the blog owner.

That’s fine, and although I feel I’m correct that the show does the opposite of what those commenters said, the fact is it probably would not have occurred to me to view those images as offensive in any case.  I’m not even attuned to my image and representation being constantly shown in a degraded light by the media; just the opposite.  Of course I have many identities and some of them I am sensitive to their portrayal.  As a dad, I’m well aware that dads have been treated as clueless idiots in TV and movies since the early 1980’s.  It’s the rare TV dad that shows the common sense, wisdom, or maturity of Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady.

I’m also sensitive to the portrayal of military veterans; again because I am one.  Frequently they are shown as damaged goods, crazy, homeless, suicidal.  That’s not the typical story of military veterans in general, but it’s common enough on TV and movies.  Of course the argument could be made (and it has been) that the show really hates men.  All the good men are weak and useless; all of the strong ones are jerks. As a man however, I didn’t really care. I think those portrayals made sense in the context of the show.  Just because a show shows dumb dads, crazed vets, or evil men doesn’t mean I won’t watch the show.

And that’s the difference, I think.  Since my image isn’t generally attacked in media, I don’t view media impressions as a personal attack on me.  Clearly the image of white men in the media is positive.  For every Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, there are literally hundreds of other movies in which white guys are the heroes. Even if these white guys get arrested for a crime-they-didn’t-commit, they can be assured of facing a black female judge in court.

 

Memorial Day Links

This is just a collection of interesting reading I’ve come across in the past few days.  They’re not really related to Memorial Day.

The Case for Reparations

This from The Atlantic, and my main surprise is that The Atlantic ran something like this before Salon did.  Written by Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates, the title doesn’t match the article, which instead is about the persistent housing and mortgage discrimination that sabotaged dreams of African American home ownership and achieving the middle class throughout the 20th Century. As a history, the article is extremely well done, but has what to do with reparations exactly?  My gut feeling is that this is a well researched piece that Coates had been working on for a while, and the editors decided to run with the title and the tacked on conclusion about reparations.  My guess is it’s after a call from either the White House, DNC, or whoever is planning election strategy for Democrats for this year.  In case there was any doubt, in the same way that the Democratic strategy for the 2012 election was the “Republican War on Women,” 2014 will be the year of the “Republican War on Blacks.”  In order to generate African American turnout, could this be the year that the Democratic Party begins supporting some sort of reparations?

Charles Murray is his usual controversial self, but he makes some good points with:

Down With the Four Year Degree!

Murray argues that the value of a 4 year college degree, the trusty BA, has dropped over the years as more people over the years as more people have them.  In 2014, does it make sense to tell every High School student who can fog an SAT to go to college, even if you are going for non descript social science or liberal arts field?  And he brings up a really penetrating question, why does it take 4 academic school years to get a BA no matter what is taught?

I’m not into what the kids call tumbler, but I came across this link and it’s eye opening.

Gobing Detroit

This tumbler however, compares street photos of Detroit from 2009 to 2013.  The rapid deterioration of the property is amazing.  Note to Walking Dead producers:  If you want to see how houses and businesses really look after the apocalypse, this will give you the comparative tools to build realistic sets.

No collection of links could be complete without one from Mark Steyn.  The problem is, as always, which one to pick?

Inequality Before the Law

The article compares National Review writer Dinesh D’Souza’s conviction for breaking campaign finance laws, with the Obama campaign disengaging their security for credit card transactions for 2008 and 2012 so anyone, from Adolph Hitler to Mickey Mouse could donate to the Obama campaign, and from anywhere in the world (Hitler donated from “The Reichstag, Germany”).  All a violation of campaign laws of course, but not even an investigation by the FEC.  It was an issue that was well covered in the conservative blogosphere but not at all interesting to the MSM.  This is part of a long term issue Steyn has been discussing of the organs of government being corrupted to serve the ruling party.

Since it is Memorial Day after all, on a military related note:

Army Taps Scorpion to Replace UCP

The Army has officially selected its new camouflage pattern, called Scorpion, to replace its current UCP gray pajamas pattern, the last one I wore before retiring.  It’s very close to, but not quite similar to the Multicams that have been worn for Afghanistan deployment for the past few years.  Why not just multicams?  If I knew the answer to that, I might be smart enough to know why switching from desert camo pattern of the old Battle Dress Uniform to gray greenish digital camo would make sense for the desert.  All I know is that the travesties of US Army camouflage uniforms over the last 12 years deserve a much longer treatment.

 

 

Those Interracial Right Wingers

Part two of the interracial Cheerios commercial was released for the Super Bowl, and of course, it’s adorable.

Of course, this was seen as yet another opportunity to pointlessly race-bait by MSNBC, which released this now deleted tweet.

Eventually, MSNBC apologized which is a minor victory in itself.

But they didn’t apologize before they had pissed off a lot of interracial conservative families, prompting this twitter hashtag # MyRightWingBiracialFamilyThat brings us round to the Volokh Conspiracy law blog, now run by the Washington Post.  In the post, New Evidence on the political views of mixed-race adopted and step-families, they break down the data on mixed race families using the GSS data, one of the largest social science surveys on the US population.  In fact some bloggers do nothing but mine the GSS data for interesting tidbits, so just about any sort of social science query on Americans can be teased out if you have patience and a familiarity with statistical methods.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.  The gist is that there is virtually no statistical difference between liberal and conservative mixed race families.

“Thus, there is no evidence in the GSS data that Republican, conservative, or conservative Republicans who were living with step-children or adopted children were less likely to live in mixed-race households than Democrats, liberals, liberal Democrats, or moderate Democrats in adopted or step-families.  Indeed, in each instance the point estimates for living in a mixed-race household were insignificantly higher for the right side of the spectrum than for the left side.

This is not really a surprise, unless of course you work at MSNBC.

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What Passes for Racial Profiling in Miami Gardens

The New York Times reports on yet another example of sweaty southern law enforcement going after the black man. The charge?  Working While Black.

“The mayor and police department of a predominantly black Miami suburb have been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit over allegations of aggressive police tactics, including stop and frisk searches and arbitrary arrests, targeting African Americans.

The lawsuit against the city of Miami Gardens, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court, alleges a long history of police abuse and racial profiling in the crime-plagued suburb on the northern outskirts of Miami.

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, lead defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately return phone calls or an email from Reuters seeking comment.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit is identified as Earl Sampson, 28, an African-American and employee of the Quick Stop who was repeatedly stopped once a week for four years, or about 288 times, the suit says.

On numerous occasions, it said Sampson had been arrested for trespassing while at work stocking the shelves or taking out the trash at the Quick Stop store.”

Now it’s hard to argue that there might actually be legitimate law enforcement purpose in arresting someone 288 times for trespassing at your own place of employment while working.  So something has clearly gone off the rails in Miami Gardens, but is this a case of racial profiling as the New York Times thinks?

Looking at the defendants named in the case, I wonder…

The Mayor, Oliver G. Gilbert III

The former Mayor, Shirley Gibbons

Chief of Police Matthew Boyd

Deputy Police Chief Paul Miller

You get the idea.

I’m curious as to why this employee and this convenience store is being targeted and I think it’s clear that there is some targeting going on.  But I think it’s more complicated than just racial.  If the primary defendants in the lawsuit are black, it seems like calling this racial profiling is missing the boat.  But I guess when all you have is a racial hammer, everything looks like stop and frisk.