Thursday, June 26, 2008

review: passing strange

I finally saw the musical Passing Strange, which I’ve been wanting to see for some time, last night. I thought it was incredible, and without giving anything major away (I hope, but if you really don’t want anything ruined, I’d stop here) will proceed to explain why.

The play is a coming-of-age story about a young black man from L.A., raised somewhat in the Baptist church and played (intentionally?) by an actor who bore somewhat of a resemblance to a young James Baldwin, who flees to Europe to “find himself” as an artist. The writer, co-composer, etc. etc., Stew, is also the narrator and basically co-lead. And if you haven’t figured out by the end of the play that the story is a bit autobiographical, a subtle face-to-face talk between Stew and the young protagonist, wearing almost-identical outfits, will probably clue you in.

Among the plays many strengths were a number of great songs, fantastic wit and humor (I’m looking at you, English phrases translated into 2-3 sentences by new-to-english Europeans), a great many glorious meta-moments (if you don’t know I love those, we’ve probably never met), and phenomenal acting. Among its weaknesses…I’m actually hard-pressed. I think the only thing that really irked me was the occasional sense of self-importance on the part of Stew, but even that grew on me by the time we got to intermission.

The play was extremely intelligent and handled a lot of issues around black identity, black countercultures, class in the black community, and the quintessential conundrum Baldwin lays out so beautifully in his essay “on the discovery of what it means to be american.” To share a scene with you (to the best of my memory), the main character, in his attempt to be legitimized as a true artist and revolutionary, claims all of black american oppression, saying “you don’t know what it’s like to have to hustle for a dime on the streets of South Central L.A.!” cue narrator: “no one in this play knows what it’s like to have to hustle for a dime on the streets of south central L.A.”

The play was full of this type of social commentary that felt light-hearted, got the audience to laugh, and then brought you back within yourself to realize the gravity of the point made so lightly on the stage. As always, it was fascinating to watch the audience and see who was still laughing when it wasn’t really a joke anymore. The narrator interacted with the audience in a very natural way, the cast interacted with the band equally seamlessly, and the result was a pleasantly self-aware, amusing, and thought-provoking production that I highly recommend to anyone who gets the chance to see it. It was great.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

a momentous occasion

you know its big news when i risk being seen blogging at work, but i had to stop everything for this breaking news: maureen dowd has written an op-ed that is completely reasonable, rational, and respectful. i agreed with it, and enjoyed reading it.

seriously. my world is turned upside-down. the big M.D. managed to lay off the liquor, put down the haterade, and sit down at her computer completely sober, as far as i can tell. and the result is a really valid point - what IS with this american aversion to having a president who is actually somewhat intelligent? because of course when they say obama is elitist, they mean intelligent. they can't possibly mean he's the beneficiary of centuries of privilege like every other president we've ever had, so what they mean is he's the beneficiary of years of very recent privilege in the form of an ivy league education. and that he's not trying to pretend like that's not the case. oh, right, and that unlike our current president, he actually made use of that education. i see what they mean. that IS terribly elitist. lets vote in some more of bush's boys. they may be billions of times more privileged than obama, but at least they'll never admit it to our faces. i hate honesty.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

the best and the brightest (aka you're not special)

a recent new york times article sent me on a journey of mental self-discovery - mostly made up of complaining to anyone who would sit still about how pissed off i was about the whole affair. so maybe "self-discovery" is a bit of a stretch. even so.

the topic: a so-called 'elite' education, and what that means to the individuals who go to schools such as harvard and yale. the times article asks the question "why are so many ivy-league graduates going to wall street?" the article fails to really answer that question because, like so many articles in the times of late, it is poorly-researched and has little to no structure. too harsh? suck it, times. teach your writers to use this crazy thing i call a "transition." research would also not hurt, while you're at it. the writers basically selected seemingly at random a handful of harvard seniors whose main similarity seems to have something to do with how much they enjoy hearing themselves talk to, shockingly enough, talk about their struggles to do something different from the hedge funds and i-banking all of their friends are going into. the writers did not, of course, interview anyone from any of the public service organizations on campus. one of the students in the audio slideshow segment actually had, as his plans for the coming year, NOTHING. i think that was supposed to inspire me to be bold like him and not sweat the whole 'job' thing, but i'm guessing he has someone else paying his rent while he does the whole "i'm too deep to be corporate and too rich to get a job like you commoners" thing.

i digress. i'm not actually here to rant about what a shitty job the times does of researching for articles, or the questionable merit of their interview subjects. the basic question still stands, and i think a few other people have done a better job of answering it than the times did, so i'd like to share some thoughts with you.

William Deresiewicz, in a better article (admittedly long, but i think worth it) starts out a bit awkward with an attempt to blame his own lack of social skills on yale, but goes on to turn that uncomfortable anecdote into a pretty interesting analysis. he talks about the constant repetition that you are the best and the brightest, the elitism at every turn, the vast amount of support you get from the institutions, and the notion of "entitled mediocrity." read the article for the nuance, but the main points i think are twofold:

1) entitlement: going to a school like harvard teaches you that you DESERVE to do a shitty job and still get an A, you DESERVE a six-digit starting salary your first year out of college, and you DESERVE all the praise you get. even more, you deserve those things because of something innate within yourself - that you got where you are because you really are the best, and not because of any privileges you may have had along the way. and most people, by the time second semester of freshman year rolls around, have begun to completely take every benefit they get for granted to the point that they would readily argue that an A- in a class they worked hard in proves there is no grade inflation, and that 3-week extension they got on a paper because they got sick is in no way out of the ordinary. by the time you graduate, your grip on reality has a 3.5 year head start, and you'll probably never recapture it.

2) expectations: harvard grads, and the parents of harvard grads, seem to expect not so much the development of the mind, as Deresiewicz puts it, but of the career. specifically, a high-paying corporate career. Deresiewicz calls it a lost opportunity, barack obama calls it a 'poverty of ambition.' it all amounts to the same thing: in a part of the world where you can afford to do pretty much whatever you want and still live a comfortable life, the "best and the brightest" don't consider 'anything you want' to be within the realm of acceptable careers. i know literally one person who did the teaching certification program through harvard, even though i knew tons of people who loved teaching and wanted to teach - my theory: you don't want to look as though you're "wasting" your ivy-league education on something you could have learned for less money. you don't want to look as though you failed to be all you can be. and while you're trying so hard not to fail, you're failing to realize that you're wasting your education instead on a career path that only requires you go through the motions: take test prep classes and AP classes in high school, get into an ivy league school, take uninteresting but easy classes to keep your gpa up, do e-recruiting for a major consulting firm, start in on a career you had never even heard of before you got to college, and that requires absolutely none of the education you had available to you but probably didn't take advantage of in your four years of college. talk about failure.

in the context of this discussion, jk rowling's recent commencement address seems pretty relevant. in her speech, on "the fringe benefits of failure," she explained that if she had not failed to succeed on the path chosen for her by parents, school, etc., she would never have had the courage to try doing what it was she actually wanted to do. and to me, that's the real answer to the question posed by the times. why are so many ivy-leaguers going to wall st? because it's ridiculously easy. you can get an entry-level job at an investment bank or a consulting firm with literally no knowledge at all, they'll train you on the job, and then pay you an absurd amount of money to just continue on the path they've set you on. once you're in, it's difficult to fail. whereas not taking that job forces you to think about what you actually might want to do, and in the process of trying to figure that out, more likely than not you'll realize your harvard education didn't prepare you for it (either that or you wasted your harvard education trying to fit in with future i-bankers and now its too late to go back and take that class at the school of public health), and you're no better-equipped to live your dream than you would be if you had gone to a different school. basically, you're not special, you're young, and you have a lot to learn. and coming hard on the heels of "you're the best and the brightest," "you're not special" just doesn't have that same magical ring. most people don't want to hear it.

so they don't hear it, they go get that i-banking job they've never dreamed of, and if they take the time to read shit like my blog, they get indignant because they have about 25 ready-made rationalizations for why i-banking was the career that made the most sense to them (and strangely enough, everyone they know). poverty of ambition is actually the perfect term for this. if i ever meet barack, i'll have to thank him for that.

anyways, to end this needlessly long post on a happy note, big shout out to all my people who are doing, or in the process of finding, whatever it is they want to do. there's a lot of those people too, and no one ever writes an article about them. dag.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yeah I know this is old

Apparently efforts to repeal this crazy ban have been stalled.  Part of me understands the logic behind a ban on HIV-positive visitors- but a very small small silly part.  At this point, the way HIV is ravaging communities, I don't think a reverse-quarantine is going to do much difference for anybody aside from being incredibly discriminatory.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

brace yourselves

i know its been a while. what can i say, i get lazy from time to time.

so after much internal debate, i'll give in and write my first (most likely of many) post about michelle obama. lets start it out on the right foot: the woman is fly as hell. did you SEE that purple dress the other day? damn. she clearly puts the right kind of effort into her wardrobe. i find that although you should never "judge a book by its cover," its always a good thing when someone takes the time to look good. if michelle obama were unshowered, for example, i'd be concerned. but no troubles on that front.

moving on: i can't even (don't even want to) IMAGINE the kinds of racist and sexist shit we are in for between now and november. if i were michelle obama, i would have put my foot down the first time barack mentioned the whole "running for president" idea and said "frankly, i don't feel like it." because god knows she is going to have to go through a world of pain for this. its already started, with the accusations that there's a video out there somewhere that shows her using the word "whitey," and with the heightened media hubbub surrounding the idea of michelle obama in general. i've read about a thousand "who IS michelle obama" articles in the last week. a thousand. and the level to which they invade her privacy is sort of unreal. the kicker for me was the recent piece of news everyone's seemed to grab on to: they've somehow forced the release of michelle's college senior thesis on being black at an ivy league school in the '80s, and everyone is dying to dissect it, to the point where i even read an article today that quotes the "dedications" page of her thesis. think for a moment about how humiliated you would be as a grown-ass successful woman to have the media close-reading something you wrote when you were barely 21. ouch.

but the big thing with michelle obama, the thing i predict will continue to be the biggest issue she'll have to deal with, is obvious even now: white people all across america are trying to decide whether or not she is, in fact, an Angry Black Woman. and they are looking for any reason they can to label her as such. the whole "first time i've been proud of my country" thing was a nice firm start, and paved the way for people to go crazy over the "whitey" video that does not even exist. i can only imagine what's in store for the future. its clear at this point that michelle obama is an intelligent woman who thinks a lot about race, and frankly, thats probably not going to win her any popularity contests. unfortunately for the obamas, america doesn't love it when you're smart enough to understand how fucked up she is. soooo moral of the story: i'll probably be posting soon in outrage about some new shit the media did to michelle obama. brace yourselves, people.

on the plus side, maureen dowd has, for the first time possibly ever, earned my respect by writing this piece. the 12-step program is working, M.D. i'm proud of you. you may turn out to be aiight after all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just in time for Father's Day!

Click here to go to an ebay charity auction for Bill Cosby's sweaters from the great days of Cliff Huxtable. Proceeds benefit Cosby's N.A.S. charity, fixing the hood one ungrateful youth at a time.

If you guessed what N.A.S. stands for +10 points.
If you guessed/said it and aren't Black -2,000,000,000 points.
Sorry, sometimes it beez like that.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Obama wins nomination, CNN projects"

I hate projections- they stress me out.  Somebody please get me when they get an official word.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

democracy's last hurrah

ok so i stole that title from a friend, and i'm not even going to write about it until later in the week.

right now i really should be getting to bed seeing as how i have to be up mad early in the morning, but i figure if i don't post this now i'll forget, like i do every day.

this is what i've been saying for some time now. except i've been saying it to myself and my roommates. not the new york times. i know speeches aren't going to like, change the world or any shit like that, but hillary still really needs to make one. so kudos to this chick for pointing it out.

and on the subject of politics, stay tuned in a few days after i get some rest and rehydration for me going apeshit about obama quitting his church and the rumblings about this michelle obama video. anger management, here i come.