Judy, Barbara And Juan: Random Thoughts About A Journalism-Filled Holiday Weekend

Watching and, frankly, enjoying the unapologetically hagiographic network television tributes to the semi-retired Judy Woodruff and newly-deceased Barbara Walters over the weekend, and then waking up to this Juan Gonzalez speech on Democracy Now!, shows how stark differences in mainstream American journalism can be–or at least, used to be, pre-Web and pre-1,000 channels. I accept my membership in Juan’s camp. But it’s clear to do today and tomorrow what he did means using Substack, etc. Effective mainstream journalism has this weird history of coming out of the American muckraking and capitalist traditions, and the millions made by mass advertising created a lot of space for approaches that don’t exist today. So you have to make them yourself, the way I.F. Stone and those folks did.

What’s also interesting to me is how in America, “alternative” spaces, if created by middle-class whites, can eventually become mainstream–or, as some critics of the mainstream would say, co-opted. We remember that at its creation almost 50 years ago, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report and All Things Considered, the newsmagazine of National Public Radio, were silent critiques of, and alternatives to, commercial mainstream news. (Note that among NPR’s alumni is former Philadelphia radio journalist and now Leftist legend Mumia Abu-Jamal.) Almost 30 years ago, Democracy Now! was a radical, almost anarchist critique of the million-dollar media institution it now is. 😉 I guess it now sees itself through that Gonzalez lens of outsider-within-the-inside. Which makes me think: is the middle-class, millionaire blond public television anchor Judy Woodruff just a “purer” version of her commercial counterpart, the long-ago-gone-Hollywood Barbara Walters? It’s a good, fair question.

In 2023 and beyond, more and more truthtellers must struggle with Amiri Baraka’s words, applied to race but easily, in this monochromatic circumstance, given to class:

***

I know it’s hard to be Black, and we’re all controlled by white folks.

[W.E.B.] Du Bois said we always have the double consciousness.

We’re trying to be Black, and meanwhile you got a white ghost hovering over your head that says, “If you don’t do this, you’ll get killed. If you don’t do this, you won’t get no money. If you don’t do this, nobody’ll think you’re beautiful. If you don’t do this, nobody’ll think you’re smart.”

That’s the ghost.

You’re trying to be Black and the ghost is telling you to be a ghost.

***

I appreciate Walters intervening Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. But I appreciate more that she said a few years ago that in today’s commercial news media climate, no one would care about it. I will appreciate what Woodruff soon will teach me about parts of America of which I know nothing. But I still see ghosts in my TV tube. And with money and stardom on the line, very few Juan Gonzalez-es who will challenge powerful people like Woodruff’s and Walters’ employers.

55-Word Review of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” [SPOILER-FREE]

The nuclear family blows up

A memorial interrupted by a war film. Whether this is an epic will depend on how it fades into (Marvel) film history. If it’s not, it’s not because of a lack of trying by writer-director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole. Marvel’s ability to acknowledge fans and critics simultaneously is quite extraordinary and remarkable. #BlackPantherWakandaForever

TV Review: Muhammad Ali, PBS’ and Ken Burns’ White Rock Star

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.

And So The Professor Shows His Age: Some Unorganized, Unresearched Thoughts About 2021 (and Beyond) Black Media

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!

Defund The Police, Refund The Community: The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power

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.

Four Books I Hope Are Written About Marvel’s Black Panther Between Now and 2022

Attention, writers: three years is a long time to write these books:

  1. 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.
  2. We need a book about the Africanisms of the film. Here’s where you would start.
  3. 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 IlluminatiThe 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.
  4. We need a book on the history of African superheroes/mythological heroes, those created by Africans versus those created by non-Africans.

Johnson Publications Files For Bankruptcy

Well…..I’ll just say it’s a good thing historians nourish ourselves through memory.  😦