I remember when Sun-Man was created. I’m glad it has survived.
The show, the after-party, the hotel: metaphorically busting up American hotel rooms in his youth, before he “grew up”
Muhammad Ali always made this reviewer laugh out loud, but this may be the first time that open cackle is the result of a very serious Ali documentary. Ken Burns, in filmmaking combo Blackface and cross-dress, takes the role of Black church grandmother with the big hat, waiting for her grandson Cassius to give up that Panther mess and return to their neighborhood AME.
To Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, Muhammad Ali is a Buddy Holly figure who got to live and grow old. He’s an Elvis-type who didn’t die suddenly on his toilet, a living, breathing hula hoop and frisbee, the dark fifth Beatle. Making a Third World activist who was a borderline revolutionary–someone who even Burns said was encouraging Afghan guerillas to overthrow the Soviet Union in his later years–into Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy took some skillful, involved work. The trio accomplishes this by using every rock-star convention, trope and cliche–the innocence, the power, the excess, the decline, the fall. There’s Ken Burns’ and Co.’s forced narration–aptly provided by Keith David–and then there’s Ali’s actual narration, so the socio-political-cultural tension is always there: Burns keeps trying to win the bout, the most prominent examples being that the Nation of Islam is treated like some sort of annoying cult-fad that Burns patiently waits to burn out, and Ali’s calls for Black/African/non-white solidarity just a phase of his–a step toward human consciousness (which only comes through illness and the subsequent white, matured sympathetic gaze, according to this tale), not the call for self-determining power.
Proving once again that PBS can put a pale frame on anything, this future award-winner can start with this writer’s mental tropies for chronological detail, where to put the episode cliffhanger, effective use of Digable Planets 🙂 and the proper poignancy, particularly at the close. If this presentation is the “white” Ali and The Trials of Muhammad Ali and When We Were Kings are respectively the political and Pan-African Ali, that means the only Ali story left to tell is one about his relationship to religion. At his best, Burns at least comes close to that–chronicling how the sinner who, now humbled, learned to ask for forgiveness. Ali had a lot to atone for–he was cruel to his opponents, the doc repeatedly says; the Black interviewees keep reminding the viewer that he took public umbrage to those Blacks who proudly represented America during the time of a worldwide Movement. That story is not emphasized here enough (although Burns would vehemently disagree), and the rationale for that lack of emphasis is that, for the purpose of this narrative, this Ali first peaks and, later, begins his denouncement at the Olympics, symbolically draped in Burns’ Love, Americana Style.
So much has changed in the 20 years since I wrote about now-known-as “legacy media” Black Entertainment Television, Radio One, 1190 WLIB-AM and WABC-TV’s Like It Is! Turns out the “new Black media” I ballayhooed in my very-flawed doctoral dissertation back then was waaaay premature! Nowadays, my study seems more like the “last Black mass media” story, not a “new media” story. After all, the Web was under 10 years old when I graduated and Web 2.0 was just on the horizon.
(The jury might still be out on whether my promoted ideological perspective [Black media has two prongs: it fights white hegemony and reinforces Black/African spirituality] and formula have current value, but since individuals can do what they want to do now, based on their own (grounded) theories and phenemological-based values, those might be equally obselete. Shhh! Don’t tell my Seton Hall University “Mass Media and Minorities” students this! LOL! )
From my vantage point, the de-massified media world we live in now comes from a combo of cheap-to-free tech, increased corporate hegemony and, frankly, the need and want of individual or collective championing or branding, depending on ones’ perspective and/or agenda. The three factors combined can be admittedly dangerous, but I wanna see the content first before I judge.
(Between the development of these new digital networks, and the great series and book on the digital transformations of Black journalism, all happening within the last two years, I definitely feel like a scholarly and journalistic dinosaur. And perhaps that description’s accurate: Hell, my professional 2021-onward goal is still to write something as good as Gay Talese’s now 55-year-old Esquire narrative classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” or James Baldwin’s 60-year-old Harper’s feature “The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King,” articles only a little older than me! That shows you where I’m at! LOL!)
The loose, unresearched chronology I have seen and now see:
1970-1980s: Black people created grassroots and/or national newspapers and syndicated print columns in Black newspapers, public-affairs shows and syndicated radio commentaries (and BET, which, it can be argued, comes out of both Black radio’s tradition and its white hegemonic corporate conglomeration, beginning roughly in the mid-1970s).
1980s-1990s: Black people created a) print magazines, then b) syndicated radio shows, then c) websites.
2000-present: Black people attempted all of the above, and then added radio and TV networks (Cathy Hughes’ TV One being the most prominent). Then website TV and podcasting, micro-blogging (FB and Twitter), social media TV and podcasting, and now, thanks to YouTube’s and now Zoom’s, and Crowdcast’s, etc., tested viability, the new era (and this time I think I’m right :)) of Black people creating their own BETs!
In my view, this chronology exists because of two reasons: the tech to produce and distribute became cheap or free and corporate America stepping to get every market they can.
It’s a golden era, really. As long as everything is archived and everyone is to the left of Larry Elder ;), I’m fine with it!
….right here! I won something 🙂
As 1968 draws to a close for the second time, I have only passing thoughts to add to the word avalanche.
- Will Credit-Card Biden really fulfill the abandoned visions of pre-Vietnam Lyndon B. Johnson and the economic-bill-of-rights Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Although I would not suggest anyone hold their breaths, Pooh’s head would hurt to see so many re-thinkings in America.
- My friend Jared Ball’s new book, The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power (now free for The People!) breaks so many patterns of thought, pushing away from the mythical “buying power” and toward economic redistribution. It has to be part of the Black discussions on how to approach that redistribution. An excerpt: “What magnifies the impact of buying power claims is that they are largely promoted by, and even the product of, a Black commercial press who would transform the original concept into one designed to specifically target Black audiences. Beginning with John H. Johnson and carried throughout commercial media to today via the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Target Market News, through popular journalists, academics and media personalities such as Tavis Smiley, Tom Joyner, and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and also traditional Civil Rights organizations, including the Urban League and the NAACP, the myth has been propagated for two primary reasons. First—less known and garnering far less attention in the overall conversation—is that buying power is used as a means to attract advertising revenue by convincing White corporations of the potential of the Black consumer. Second, for so heavily propagating the myth—far more popular and far more mythological—is as a means of collective uplift or empowerment. Buying power largely then becomes a way for contemporary leadership or punditry to rebrand particular and far more conservative traditions of Black political struggle absent a meaningful examination of the history of these claims, their shortcomings, or criticism.”
- Smiley, Joyner, and Malveaux have faded from the scene, but replaced by an army of Black liberals, ready for their 8-minute MSNBC segments. There is not one conversation on American “justice” since James Baldwin died that doesn’t lead to liberal democracy and capitalism.
- What ideas from 19th and 20th century America are going to join those Confederate statues into history’s dumpster? This period seems so exciting, but Black radical anger has quickly faded before. At least we will have a real March on Washington this time.
Attention, writers: three years is a long time to write these books:
- We need a serious media studies criticism book on the film phenomenon–how and why it happened, from both popular culture and propaganda-study perspectives, detailing Disney’s very detailed plan for worldwide mind control through eye-candy. The Disney-Sony dustup over Spidey would be an excellent coda.
- We need a book about the Africanisms of the film. Here’s where you would start.
- We need at least one more book about the history of the character in the comics: the 1988 miniseries, his leadership in and of The Illuminati, The Ultimates, The New Avengers and, in 2018, The Avengers itself have yet to be explored. There is a brand-new ongoing Black Panther comic, just out tomorrow, where T’Challa forms his own SHIELD-like team. (Sadly, the team has a primate on it and Marvel’s answer to Tarzan, Ka-Zar; let’s hope Black Twitter is paying attention. 🙂 ) This is historic because it’s the first time T’Challa has had more than one ongoing comic.
- We need a book on the history of African superheroes/mythological heroes, those created by Africans versus those created by non-Africans.
Well…..I’ll just say it’s a good thing historians nourish ourselves through memory. 😦
This year’s “Get Out”–and let’s have one of these attacking America every year!–is part “Network,” part “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and part “A—-l -ar-.” Political clarity meets visual hilarity.
1) The first thing to remember is that journalism is a TRADE. Anyone has done it, anyone can do it, and now everyone is now doing it. So there are no real “credentials” to being a journalist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Howard University drop-out. So, I may add, was Amiri Baraka, one of the greatest writers on Black culture that Black America produced in the 20th century. In his introduction to “The Price of The Ticket: Collected Essays,” James Baldwin talked about how he didn’t even bother going to The New York Amsterdam News because those Negro college boys would have laughed him out the office. Tchou, interestingly, ignores the two-generations-old pipeline that connected Ivy League grads to jobs like hers. (By the way, Farai Chideya is one of those people; Harvard to Newsweek by 25 by 1994.) I guess in Ivy League Land, The Harvard Crimson is “experience,” huh?
Journalism schools were created because the industry was too lazy to train anyone, but needed bodies. I have three journalism degrees, and what I’ve learned from them professionally (from the first two) I could teach in 40 hours or less. As an American journalism historian, I can tell you with some authority (ulp, there’s that word :)) that almost half of the greatest (white, male) journalists of three-quarters of the 20th century had NO degree, never less a “pedigree” (although, some, like George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe, did).
Journalism became a profession in the 20th century because of the MASSIVE need to fill space between advertising. Mass advertising had taken off because of the transfer of people from individual farms to collective cities. The mass audience/market had been born, and content was needed to draw eyeballs (later ears, then, with Tee Vee, the whole thing) to ADS. It was the same reason that
2) “Objectivity” was created. It was created after the Civil War. It was created after 100 years of American viewspapers. Why? For advertising purposes! Creating an “objective,” mainstream media allowed most people to be comfortable with buying the paper to read the advertisements. So both the newspapers owners and advertisers made a pile of money, ,and a WHOLE bunch of people got GREAT careers, travelling the nation and world for decades, with just a bachelor’s degree, decent typing skills and curisoity. They became “prestigious.” This is the real reason why “objectivity” was so cherished.
But what’s really happening here now, right?
3) The walls between mainstream journalism and opinion/literary/cultural/”alternative”/race journalism have been permanently destroyed by the Web 2.0. The segregated world of the Black press, white press, LGBTQIA press, etc. is, now that we are well into the 21st century, getting both merged and, paradoxically, re-segregated. Dude at MTV wants his version of the old Village Voice, right? Well, the VV had both investigative reporting and identity politics writing. The Nation is crapping on the idea because it is representing all of the white male writers who now can’t get jobs–not because their jobs have been eaten by 2.0., but by these “unqualified” Black people. There ain’t enough room anymore for all of dem anymore (and their core audience is dying off): ergo, the old “unqualified” sting. It was different in the mass media era because there were enough jobs for everyone; not everyone wanted to be Norman Mailer or I.F. Stone when they could be the next Edward R. Murrow or David Halberstam. Whites had real choices, based on their priorities and proclivities. But now things that used to be done just in the “alternative” media have now become fulltime, prestigious jobs. Now, these elite white boys have to go teach English and #$%&–you know, the stuff we, as Black people, had to do all our lives, and still do (Rachel Kaadazi Ghansah, one of the greatest writers on Black American culture in the United States, is a public schoolteacher; she’s not on welfare, begging The New York Times Magazine, where she contributes, to hire her.
I never forget that Albert Murray had to retire from TWO jobs (the U.S. Air Force and Tuskegee) before he was “discovered” in the late 1960s. It was the same time a 50-something historian and writer who worked, at various times, as a floor manager (read: janitor) for NBC and the operator of a sandwich stand, John Henrik Clarke, finally got a decent professor job at Hunter College.
So it was amusing to read this article, and to find out that Ana Marie Cox, for instance, is now “prestigious,” when I remember her as a 2004 blogger who supposedly upset the political journalism establishment! LOL! (Here’s the image from The New York Times Magazine cover, which showed her as The Next Big Thing. See, she’s white, so that means she can play a new game to get into the old game.) I remember her saying in that 2004 cover story that her goal was to be at MTV. How wonderful when white girls’ dreams come true! I’m sure Lena Dunham is proud! LOL!
In the end, then, this article is about how elite whites are pissed that they can’t get or keep anything for themselves without some “other” coming in and spoiling their frat party. So, no white boys: most of you will not be David Remnick, Thomas Friedman or the white male Gwen Ifill. Boo-hoo-hoo. And having an Asian female writer buffer your racism with an attempt as sophistication doesn’t take away this new truth.