The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
The Killing Light by Myke Cole
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Game Changers – Lesbians You Should Know About by Robin Lowey
What’s College About? by Betty Thomas Patterson
Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Karpi
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
The BreakBeat Poets edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall
Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells
Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James ~ read
I’m putting The Daily Communiqué on hiatus for a couple of reasons. Mostly, it took me away from one true love, reading and writing critically. While I enjoyed the experiment in daily posting, my well-being was in danger of becoming un-well.
Monday was a good day to take about the pitfalls of poorly researched writing encouraging stereotypes of sexual and emotional abuse in the guise of BDSM.
Tuesday I got real about the history of Jesus.
A review of City Light Theater Company’s Eurydice was Wednesday’s spotlight.
Thursday’s commentary was about billionaire vigilante Batman.
One of my favorite authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates featured in Friday’s commentary.
Saturday wrapped the week with a discussion about what to do about the “Problematic Artist,” spurred by the recent banning of Kate Smith by the Philadelphia Flyers.
This commentary is about personal choice, not about policy making, or about judging others who consume entertainment you don’t approve of.
The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers stopped playing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” before games, and removed her statue, recently.
Why? Because an anonymous caller told the Flyers’ front office she had a history of singing racist songs.
Before I dig into the facts behind this contretemps, I want to examine this issue of the problematic creative. That is, the artist whose works provide joy to fans unaware of their favorite’s more hideous flaws.
Conversations across many tables about this happen regularly for me. How do we square someone as odious as Orson Scott Card with two of my favorite series, Alvin Maker, and Ender? Or Richard Wagner‘s operatic Ring Cycle (which was co-opted by the Nazis)? Kevin Spacey? Marian Zimmer Bradley?
Everyone has a line they draw, how and where that line gets drawn is obviously an deeply personal choice. It can be heart wrenching. I was so disappointed, and upset, with Kevin Spacey that I realized I could no longer watch any of his work. This brilliantly talented actor whose Richard III must have been glorious to see, and who starred in some of my very favorite movies, made it so that I can’t even look at him.
A conversation with my mentor one day centered on this thorny subject. We have to support creativity, and not censorship. So where does that leave us?
I’ve circled around this so many times I’ve met myself both coming and going. There are no hard and fast rules. And it’s not easy to decide what’s right.
But consider this. What if we didn’t know about the dark secrets of our favorite artists? We’d continue to consume their work without having the burden of weighing our morals every time we pick up a book or watch a movie. My personal library is pretty big and I don’t know a thing about a lot of the authors whose work occupies that space. I’m willing to bet that if I looked hard enough I could find something nasty about some of them.
I don’t have time or energy for that. I want to judge the work based on my enjoyment of what’s between the covers. And believe me, I have no problem bailing on a book if it’s not living up to my expectations. Life’s too short, time’s limited, I gotta get the best I can out of the entertainment I consume.
We all say and do things we wish we hadn’t. In our younger days, our judgement probably wasn’t that sharp. Mine definitely wasn’t and I would hate to be judged on a bad decision I made decades ago that no longer fits who I am. This is not to excuse the serial bad behavior of people. Someone having a really bad day saying something they immediately regret and never say again is one thing. A person who does that on a regular basis and show no understand or regret is a completely different topic.
Kate Smith’s “racist” history amounts to two songs she sang in her 20s when just starting her career. She certainly wasn’t a racist, especially by the time she sang “God Bless America” live at a Flyers playoff game in 1974.
An opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune questions the “moral clarity” in making the choice to boycott Smith. As far as I can tell, this isn’t about moral clarity, it’s about the politics of the day.
Where do people find the energy to stir up such trouble? Wouldn’t fighting actual racism be a better use of time and energy? A woman who sang two songs decades ago, and died in 1986, hardly seems worth all that tsuris. I can barely look after myself most days, so I won’t be spending that much more energy on it.
Enjoy what you enjoy, don’t feel guilty for enjoying it and draw your lines in the most comfortable places for you. And certainly, don’t look to anyone else for guidance. Unless you’re asking for book recommendations …
I’ve said more than once that Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most important writers today. If not the most important when it comes to matters of race in America. Especially matters of black and male in America.
His book Between the World and Me is written for his son explaining how to survive in a world where, “… navigating his Baltimore neighborhood was rife with literal boundaries and secret codes, any violation of which could get him beat up. Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to make sense of the senseless. While explaining to his son, it becomes clear that there is a sort of sense in the chaos, but only to those who are so invested in making sure the ‘other’ oppressed.” (7 Stillwell review, January 16, 2017)
Then came The Beautiful Struggle about his chaotic upbringing in Baltimore surrounded by his father’s collection of Black Panther and black power movement books. The only thing I could really identify with was being the nerd wanting to be left alone to read. For Coates, it was comics. For me, books. And we were both greedy for them.
These two books offer an insight into a world I could never know, and never truly understand. But Coates’ writing is eloquent, teaching many things along the way.
During interviews, he is gracious and thoughtful. At one point, he mentioned driving to the venue and seeing a billboard with his face on it. “It’s just unreal,” he said.
There was his infamous Twitter fight with Cornel West, a professor of philosophy at Harvard, and professor emeritus at Princeton. In 2003 (ish) a friend and I were moseying the Stanford Campus when we happened upon a lecture by Dr. West. I found it to be obtuse and inexplicably over-complicated. All I remember of it now is how he would lean into the lectern after a question from the audience and say, “I think the brother (or sister) for asking that question.” And would go off on an answer which made no sense to me. The upper class white people around us nodded their heads in sage agreement. My friend and I looked at each other quizzically.
To be sure I hadn’t missed something, I grabbed a copy of one of his books and diligently slogged my way through it. No wiser than before. Maybe Philosophy just ain’t my thing.
Anyway, Dr. West and Ta-Nehisi Coates got into this righteous Twitter feud which ended with Coates leaving Twitter for good after Dr. West called him a “house n….r.” I still don’t know what to make of that, or understand what prompted that particular epithet.
Coates’ third book, We Were Eight Years in Power languishes on my to be read stacks. Sometimes I nip over to The Atlantic website and read his columns from there.
I was reminded of his work in a Brain Pickings post about Coates, in which Maria Popova highlights the “terror of kindness” where we have been culturally conditioned to expect the worst from those we encounter and must face our disbelief that people can actually just be kind.
This book went right on to my wish list, not because I’m a huge Batman fan, but because I want to read Cory Doctorow’s essay.
“Occupy Gotham, [is] about the terror of letting a billionaire vigilante decide who is and isn’t a criminal …”
My first memories of Batman are of the campy 1960s television series. Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, Otto Preminger as Mr. Freeze, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, etc. I remember them fondly.
I didn’t know about comic books then, and I was not yet 10 so just went along for the fun of it. I’ve seen several, not all, of the movies and am currently watching Gotham in my copious amounts of spare time.
That’s where my critical thinking started and stopped. Until a co-worker mentioned he didn’t like Batman because he was a vigilante.
“Huh,” I thought. It stuck with me.
And now that I’m watching Gotham, fascinated by the origin stories and watching the evolution of young master Bruce Wayne, I think about it a lot. Who is Bruce Wayne to be making these decisions? Do we make allowances because Gotham City is so crime-ridden even most of the police are criminals themselves? Do we make allowances because Bruce is obviously working out his parent issues and using his money to do some good for the city?
Yes, it’s fictional and yes, it’s an interesting story. But isn’t this one of the times critical thinking can be used to question the appropriateness of vigilantism in society?
We all want to be rescued from the horrors of our lives, and we want to know that we’re safe because people are generally well-behaved and law enforcement does its job. Batman as guardian is a nice fantasy.
But let’s face it, he’s only Batman because he’s wealthy. He can afford the toys and the time for training and wandering the streets chasing down whoever he deems is a criminal. (As a side note, are his feelings for Selina “Cat” Kyle going to get in the way of treating her as a criminal?) The class system allows Bruce to behave in this manner.
People in a lower socioeconomic class, like Jim Gordon, don’t have the luxury of money. Gordon is a paid civil servant, he can’t compete in Wayne’s class system. The city government is so overwhelmed there’s no money to be used for salaries, equipment, etc.
Gotham City is society’s law-enforcement issues extrapolated to the nth degree. Plus villains one can usually only find in comic books. With bad guys like Penguin and the Falcone family, Gotham’s problems are unique and require unique solutions.
I’m just not sure vigilante is the way to go. And I have no other answers. Maybe Doctorow’s piece will help me figure some of this out.