Saturday, April 5, 2014

no such perfect intersectional justice | why i seek POCinema

My tendency to tear everyone down for whatever way they are contributing to or indicative of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc. is complicated by the general intersections and nuances people naturally have in their personalities, associations, and tastes.

1) Local Seattle artists of color such as Wanz are supporting, touring and making music with Macklemore, who through no fault of his own has raised my rankles (because despite his catchy songs, for many of us his Grammy wins are emblematic of white supremacy). If you just watch how different the performances at the Grammys (read:comfortable white space) were from those at the NBA All-Star Games (read:comfortable brown space), it is notable how Jay-Z, Pharrell, and other black superstars didn't seem to care at all about the Grammys and did lackluster performances, yet at the NBA All-Star games, their performances were outstandingly brilliant and confident.

2) Picasso annoys me because people praise him despite to me what seems especially considering his affairs and philandery reputation, very violent and objectifying of women--just within the visual content of some of his artwork. And yet, Spike Lee's grandmother, as I learned today--a woman of African descent taught (in a Jim Crow south, segregated school) art for fifty years, and her favorite artist was Picasso. A somewhat circular multicultural artistic influence, considering how inspired Picasso was by African sculpture.

That's collage/pastiche, baby.

3) I dislike and judge Heidegger for his Nazi associations, but love the fact that my theologian friend's spiritual awakening occurred through through Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, TS Eliot's The Waste Land,and Heidegger. i.e. there must be something redeeming (literally) there.

4) I am tempted to write off Bill Murray completely for stomping on a white guy dressed up as an indigenous person for a sports game. But The Royal Tenenbaums and Groundhog Day are so incredibly good, and he employs a rakish, embittered Bill Murray-ness I can relate to so perfectly in both!

5) Esther Leslie's sarcastic commentary on our shared writer-hero Walter Benjamin in her biography of his life. He was progressive and lovely in thought, yet clearly believed in male dominance/superiority in some small quips in his writings.

6) I h-h-h-hate it when snooty progressives say basically they're too good for hip-hop because it's so misogynistic, materialistic, and homophobic when they have noooo connection to or interest in the culture and have never tried, but I'm probably giving hip-hop the benefit of the doubt instead of calling those that need to be called out--I'm hesitant to judge, say, the glorification of wealth, abundance, and barbecues when it comes from a place of lack (as opposed to a Wolf of Wall Street type situation). Speaking of rap music, that reminds me of Nelly raising blood for his sister on a campus where sisters on campus were protesting his music video. He was trying to do good. They were trying to do good.

If you think about this, it's really not that complicated to think that you can love someone and they can be flawed. Art and people and the people who make art are the same in this way. But/and--as a woman of color, I love finding artists that speak to me artistically and in a way that empowers--i.e. that don't disappoint me and bring me and other marginalized groups down in some way. So, would I rather watch a film made by people of color starring people of color than your garden variety white male artistic production? Yeah, maybe. Does that make me biased against white male art? Yeah, maybe. But, can I seek art that represents me and those like me instead of passively accepting dominance by an unspoken "norm" of white straight cis maleness, in an endless vast sea of power, privilege, education, status, of said group? Um, I think so. I don't want to perpetually be invisible or at the margins of every story, because by definition I cannot be in my real life story. Why should I be relegated to the edges in my artistic endeavors and consumption?


  1. I struggle with this too, especially in my love for Western classical music, which is essentially the music of white male imperialism/elitism. The best arts/performance event of any kind that I saw last year was Wagner's Ring at Seattle Opera. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen and blew my mind in every way. After seeing it, it was easy to understand why the Ring is such a big deal. Basically, Wagner was the one who started this idea of epic multimedia spectacle that has evolved into modern-day cinema. BUT, if classical music is the music of white male imperialism, Wagner is pretty much the whitest, malest, most imperialist of them all. Plus, Hitler loved him. I mean, how much worse can you get? So, I really like your analogy about how you can love someone and they can be flawed. When I saw the Ring, I had already read all about Wagner's life and how he was basically a megalomaniac anti-Semitic prick, and then about how his music was used in a propagandistic way by Hitler. So I was already aware of some pretty obvious and major flaws. Honestly, I was not expecting to love the Ring or become immersed in it as much as I did. The entire thing just pulled me in and I was completely captivated, emotionally engaged, and just forgot about the outside world. I didn't even think of any of Wagner's flaws, or look around for signs of hidden or not-so-hidden anti-Semitism, sexism, racism, classism, imperialism, etc. that my radar is usually on guard for. I was just immersed in Wagner's world and storytelling. It was kind of like falling in love. I think the best art has the capacity to completely sweep us away from our everyday lives, but at the same time leaves us feeling more present in the current moment and connected to each other. Amazing as this is, I think it's critically important to acknowledge, recognize, and try to understand flaws in the people, art, and artists we love. (cont'd)

  2. (cont'd) In your post about "teachable moments" you talk about picking your battles and how it's impossible/self-defeating to try to correct every injustice and right every wrong you encounter. That idea really resounded with me too, not only in the way you present it but also in the way I've been trying to approach the behemoth that is white male dominated Western classical music. Wagner is certainly problematic, but I understand his flaws and choose to look beyond them. I wouldn't take offense if someone wanted to boycott the Ring because of their feeling about Wagner's philosophies/worldview, Hitler's love for him, or the general white male imperialist ideas the opera perpetuates. But to me, the art is so great that I don't care so much about the surrounding flaws. I love the Ring and that's that. I think the problem for me comes when I think about the artistic vision I have for the future and how my personal actions and choices as a viewer/consumer help or hinder that vision from becoming a reality. I don't think classical music as we know it is dead or dying. There are so many amazing artists in the classical music space who are helping it grow, evolve, and expand far beyond its Euro-centric white male imperialist origins. I see and hear so much hope and promise. However, like so many other art forms in the Western world, classical music is held up by institutions like the opera and symphony that are often hell-bent on keeping things the way they are -- upholding the dominant white male imperialist voices and denying anyone else a seat at the table. I mean, just go look at the audiences at the symphony and opera. You know what I mean. It's frustrating, and I go back and forth on it so much. Where is the point when one throws in the towel and says "enough is enough, I'm sick of giving my time/money/attention to these institutions that are too slow to change and may not even change at all"? I mean, my time/money/attention are finite and I should be giving them to institutions that are helping turn the world into the inclusive place I want it to be, right? But on the other hand I don't want to turn my opera or symphony visit into a guilty pleasure that feels like the "one step back" to every "two steps forward" musical experience that's more in line with my beliefs and ideals. Can we truly choose our battles when it comes to progressing beyond white male dominance in art? Must I sacrifice the art I love because of its problematic context? When does context outgrow the power of the art itself and become too problematic to ignore? What are the implications of my participation as an observer/consumer of, say, a production of the Ring at a major opera house? Most importantly, am I OK with these implications?

  3. Yes! In response to this question: "When does context outgrow the power of the art itself and become too problematic to ignore?", this/this:

    Agree with your quote that it's "critically important to acknowledge, recognize, and try to understand flaws in the people, art, and artists we love."

    So often we whitewash the story in order to lift up a hero/heroine to have somebody to admire/aspire to be. It worked-for a while-for Lance Armstrong and the beating cancer to become a x-times tour de france winner train.

    But especially when it comes to evils that people do, they need to be held accountable rather than take the easy route of overlooking the failings in order to revel in the art guilt-free: "I'm saying this was a huge story. Where was everybody else?"

    If you read Kara Walker's thoughts on reading Gone with the Wind, she had similar thoughts to you about its artistry and her initial ambivalence, and falling in love with the (racist) work.