Monthly Archives: July 2010

Links and Hijinks: Ellen, Anne Rice, Dexter, Potboilers and More…

  • The Baby and the Bathwater: Anyone who saw the 4th season of Dexter knows how much the game changed—horribly so. The trailer for the new season looks fantastic…and way different than any other season of the great Showtime show about a serial killer and the masks we all wear. Nikki Finke’s Deadline has the trailer here.
  • Pulp F(r)ictions: As someone (and a soon-to-be-academic) who really wanted his novel (coming out next year, haha) to be page-turning thrill ride, who really wanted to create an accessible, fun book that appealed to many peeps and (potentially) not just the other PhDs that I know, I was fascinated by this academic’s interestingly defensive defense of the fun and pleasures of what she calls “trashy paperbacks.” Of course, one woman’s trash is another woman’s flash. And as I’ve said before, trash, obviously, is in the taste of the beholder…but I love a good high/low culture debate with my morning coffee, don’t you?
  • Brotherly Love: And finally, I just had to post this news link. It intrigues me on so many levels: thinking about how rape shield laws operate in different geographical locations; how some news orgs cover stories in interesting ways–in this case, the Alabama network obviously re-cut a second version (see vids below); that age-old  race, gender, sexuality and class “intersection” that arises when we think about public representations of black folks; and finally, why do some vids “go viral” and others don’t? Antoine Dodson, step up for your close-up:

{Thank you to Crystal Durant, teacher/blogger/dope DJ, for pointing out the above vids…you can catch her funny  bi-weekly pop culture rants at Forcesofgeek.com}

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Filed under books, culture, gay, theater, TV, Uncategorized

Straight Eye (Network) For the Gays

So let me get this straight: CBS has asked (told? demanded?) the production teams and writing staffs of three of its shows—two that already exist and one upcoming this season—to add gay characters to the storylines. This after the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave the network a failing grade for lack of gay diversity—for the second year in a row. Apparently every year, GLAAD publishes a Network Responsibility Index which results from an investigative survey on the representation of gays on TV. According to the GLAAD website it is “an evaluation of the quantity, quality and diversity of images of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on television…intended to serve as a road map toward increasing fair, accurate and inclusive LGBT media representations.” On a scale of Excellent, Good, Adequate, or Failing,” CBS failed, which led CBS president Nina Tassler to announce the other day that those 3 aforementioned gay characters will now be added to The Good Wife, Rules of Engagement and new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, dropped like progressive multi-cult seasoning into a presumably bland, politically incorrect salad.

Greek

If you go to the GLAAD site you can download the entire study, and find some very interesting numbers and analysis. For instance, they break down the number of LGBT characters who are of-color. They look at each network closely and count up “fictional” characters and reality show contestants—guess where there are more of-color LGBTs? Apparently FOX is merely adequate, whereas MTV is excellent and ABC is good (well, there’s ABC’s new fall ad campaign slogan: ABC is Good!) Of course I’d argue that, next to ABC Family’s Greek, FOX’s GLEE has the best (written and acted) gay storyline on television right now (see a terrific scene here); and though GLAAD thought Rescue Me’s attempt at a gay fireman storyline a few seasons back to be “problematic,” I found it funny and somewhat touching—and real (but that might be because I tend to know a lot of closeted post-adolescent dudes struggling with how to balance a desire for dick with their suburban training as capitalist, nation-building heteros; of course I do, I went to Brown, haha).

My beef though, if you can call it that, is this: how does the writing/producing team of a show suddenly take the call to go gay?

Kalinda and Alicia on The Good Wife

And how do they do it, considering it’s almost August and shows have been in production for weeks, storylines planned, and actors cast? And how do you decide whether you’re going to bring someone out of the closet or suddenly, organically, drop a next-door gay into the story? And do these suddenly-arriving, obviously-destined-to-be-on-the-fringes gay characters have to be saintly and positive? Can they be complicated peeps with real problems (well, as real as TV can be) like the lead characters who never are gay anyway? And why The Good Wife? Isn’t Kalinda already sexually-ambiguous? Isn’t that how many of us experience sexuality anyway, not exactly knowing who our co-workers and friends are canoodling with? But here’s a suggestion to CBS: If you’re gonna go there, just go ahead and let Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick discover her latent lesbianism, now that she’s done with Peter—and since, be honest, the whole subplot of her potential dalliance with the senior partner/friend from law school is absolutely DOA. (Come on, let’s be real: No one leaves Chris Noth for Josh Charles; hell, Carrie Bradshaw spent 6 seasons of Sex & the City pining for Mr. Big and not even Aidan’s new body or Mikhail Baryshnikov’s money and fame and life in Paris could keep her from him.) Let Alicia and Kalinda have an affair. Can you say ratings gold? Or why not just create all-new gay shows from scratch? Already got an idea for you: CSI: Provincetown.

But I digress.

I’m wondering if this is how black folks got our jump-start on TV back in the day? Did the NAACP have a study of the (lack of) black characters on TV, leading a benevolent TV exec to sprinkle some color into shows, leading to the—um, how can I put this?—beauty and nuance that was Good Times and Baby, I’m Back? I think so, actually. And when I get a chance I’m gonna dig in the archives to find some of those old NAACP reports. It would be great to see the work that led to the growth we’ve seen toward the wonderfully diverse African-American characters on TV (like, you know, Meet the Browns and the many, many dramas starring black folks) these days. Yeah. Right. Just hope GLAAD’s work results in something real. Wouldn’t want them to get snookered.

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The SCOTT TOPICS™ Mailbag: On Blogging, Stephen King, & other assorted heartthrobs

“I really want to start a blog but I don’t know how. What should I write about? What if I can’t find something to write about every day? How do you do it?” ~ A.C.

Most bloggers I know of do not post every day. I don’t. I can’t, and don’t think I would if I could, time-wise, or wanted to. More power to those who do blog every day, but I believe that one should give your readers time to breathe, to recover from your pretensions and go enjoy someone else’s every so often, ya know? Nah, but seriously: write when you have something to share, about things you feel passionate about. I got another email from someone who asked why I didn’t post more “political” entries at Scott Topics™. It’s not that I don’t think about politics—in the “refudiate,” “health care as reparations,” snookered NAACP sense—it’s just that I don’t write that well about it, so why expose the world to my limitations like that when there are so many more peeps out there willing to do it? If you want to blog about books, do that; if you wanna blog about sports, do that. If you wanna mix it up, do that.  Or, here’s an idea: get a buddy or two and start a blog together. Neither one of you would be pressured to be on the grind every day, and you can switch off responsibilities. I blog, mainly, because I don’t have an outlet like journalism anymore, and because it’s such different writing from the main, “scholarly” work I’m doing now, blogging sorta clears my intellectual and emotional palate (or is it palette? can’t one of those be cleaned too?) before going back to that work. In other words I guess blogging is like a nice mint at a restaurant for me, only without everyone else’s germs all over it.

“I see that you’ve mentioned Stephen King often at your blog: So what’s your favorite Stephen King novel?” ~ R.T., Austin

The Stand. Sometimes I think its because, in Mother Abigail, it has the best Magical Negro of all of the ones that have Magical Negroes (or at least Good Morally Centered Negroes) in them, like The Shining, IT, The Green Mile, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (King can even make a real live person into a MN! That’s talent!)—heck, Misery opens with the words “Goddess / Africa.” But back to business: Yes, The Stand is my favorite: it’s epic in scope, just the way a good apocalyptic tale should be, yet has incredibly tender, intimate moments; it might show off King’s gift at building believable, relatable characters better than any of his books (other than maybe Christine, which is actually a quite touching book in some ways, mainly because of the finely-wrought teen-aged characters), and it has a hurtling sense of inevitability to it, like a prediction of things you only think you’d like to see come, if only just to say it was cool. I also think that The Stand contains one of King’s best characters in Harold Lauder, perhaps the most sincerely tragic figure in all of the SK novels that I’ve read.  Thanks for this note. I think it’s time to re-read The Stand again. Like I have time.

“I saw your tweets about James Franco. What’s your fascination with him?” ~ H.J. New Jersey

Um, I’m guessing, since you sent me this email last night, that you are alive, right, that you have a pulse? How’s this for a reason to be fascinated: He’s fine.  (Please don’t tell my girlfriend I said that.)

“On Facebook, you list your political views as “heteroflexibility” and your religious beliefs as “homoflexibility.” What do those words even mean????” ~ F.K.

See answer to the question above.

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SPB’s Top 100 (Best?) (Favorite?) Records EVER!

{I love lists. I love ranking things, even as I realize how fundamentally arbritary and ridiculous such endeavors can be. Every time Rolling Stone rolls out another “Top 10o songs Middle-Aged White Guys THINK They Should Like and Have in their Vinyl Record Collections”—and mind you, I pretty much have nothing against middle-aged people (I’m damn near one; yeah, damn near) or white guys or vinyl record collections—I accept them as arbitrary and ridiculous but I also always feel like those lists are so stagnant in the most trendy, impersonal, rock-crit way that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the songs/albums/concerts that people actually like. So upfront, I’m letting you know that I think these records are the best records mostly cause they’re my favorite records, the ones with the highest number of plays on my iTunes, the ones I force onto new and old friends via mix-CDs and Facebook-status-message lyric quotes. And though I know many of you would NEVER EVER allow that you like some of them—too pop? too rap? too girly? too cheesy? too something?—I’m the type that once I like a record I tend to love it forever. Records don’t get old for me. In fact a few of the songs on this list are records I first heard at age 9 on AM radio in my mother’s Cutlass. Yeh, some of them are old-fashioned; some of them have probably lost their preening pop-culture luster after a few years. But I don’t care; even though I like to tell people that I have lousy taste in music (but my eyes and calves are lovely), I think these records are great—and I suspect many of you peeps will, too. So, if you care, let’s get this thing started, from the bottom to the top, though the order does, in real-life, sometimes change depending on my mood, my aging knees, and love life. At least stick around for the memories?}

#100:

Wanna Be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson

This can’t be a surprise to anyone, that the first song on my list is by the greatest singing/dancing/songwriting entertainer of the past 50 years, the one who I’ve loved since I could stack 45s on my Close ‘N’ Play, the one who sadly  wrung way too many tears and memories outta me last June. Yes, the opening track of my list is also the opening track of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I can still remember hearing it for the first time in 1982, having already decided that I didnt love “The Girl is Mine,” the first single off the album. But hearing the percussive intro, the multi-tracked MJ, and the choral backgrounds at the beginning of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (paired with the major attitude of the lyric—“Someone’s Always Tryin’ To Start My Baby Cryin’/Talkin’, Squealin’, Lyin'”) sealed the deal for me: I wouldn’t be playing Off the Wall and Triumph for a minute because Thriller was obviously going to be the bomb. The chorus is undeniable, and the “I am Somebody” bridge that leads into the gloriously rendered “Mamase Mamasa Mama coo sa” tribal shouts is the perfect summation of MJ’s ability to mix the self-regarding gloss of early 80s pop with the frenzied communal joy of post-disco dancefloor dramatics. MJ knew best: you gotta get the peeps singing and dancing along with you by the first listen of the second chorus or there was no point of even going into the studio to record. “Sing it with me/Sing it to the world”: This was the beginning of many he-he-he’s to come. It had only, in some ways, just begun…

Here’s the tune:

{Every week for the next year, I’ll be posting two songs a week. Hope some of them are your favorites too!}

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Professor Robin D.G. Kelley

“It’s funny because I didn’t study history to be a historian. I studied history to attempt to solve a series of political problems.” ~ Robin D.G. Kelley, 2003

{When I decided to pursue graduate work for my PhD, I sent out one email: to Professor Robin D.G. Kelley. Why? Because in the years following my leaving Brown and going to NYC, he was pretty much the only scholar I read regularly. Why? His accessibility; his ability to synthesize sophisticated ideas into readable, elegant prose; his subject matter; his style (personal style, that is); and his ability to shift between academic work and consumer publications. His email back to me was funny, direct, a little skeptical and yet quite encouraging: I can honestly say that I’m where I am today, partly due to Robin Kelley. And I know I’m not the only grad student who feels that way.

Anyone interested in academic work, particularly in history, would be hard-pressed not to appreciate Kelley’s output, which has tilled the domain of African American cultural and political history with a blend of laser-sharp intellectual intensity and race-man love of community. His books—ranging from Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class to Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, to my favorite (and maybe one of the best-titled books ever!), Yo Mama’s Dysfunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America—have tackled working class social movements, radical political thought during the Depression, and African American artistic movements, and have been called “provocative” and “history at it’s challenging and transformative best.” Kelley challenges his readers to consider the brutal machinations of communities on the outskirts of mainstream resistance movements as well as the hopeful possibilities imbedded in the freedom quests of his narratives, and brings a passionate activist’s spirit to the process.

His most recent work Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, is a massive, meticulously-researched biography of the jazz legend, buttressed by rare Monk family archives accessed by no other scholar. It’s a passionate, nuanced work of jazz (and American) history, and it recently won the Best Book award from the Jazz Journalists Association (an organization not known for praising the work of scholars and academics!) The paperback of the book will be out this fall. Professor Kelley, who last year was the first African American to serve as the Harmsworth Chair at Oxford University, currently teaches in the American Studies and Ethnicity department at USC. I’m very honored to have him as the first professor to contribute to The’s SPB Q’s Grad Chapter.}

Name:  Robin D. G. Kelley

Hometown:     (Harlem) New York, NY

School/Year:  B.A., Cal State Long Beach (1983); PhD UCLA (1987)

Dissertation Title: “‘Hammer n’ Hoe’: Black Radicalism and the Communist Party in Alabama, 1929-1941”

Favorite book: W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Free Press, 1992, orig. 1935)

Favorite author: Elleza Kelley (she isn’t well-known, yet, but she’s the most brilliant writer I’ve ever encountered.  And she’s my daughter.)

Favorite movie: Nothing But a Man (1964) dir. Michael Roemer, starring Abbey Lincoln and Ivan Dixon

Favorite song:  Thelonious Monk, “Brilliant Corners”

Academic text that most influences your work:   Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (orig. 1983, New Ed. 2000)

Academic who most influences your work:  I can’t limit to one—at least three: Farah Jasmine Griffin, Cedric Robinson, George Lipsitz

Academic High:  Delivering Black History lectures to kids on lockdown at Boysville Detention Center, Saline Michigan, in the early 1990s.

Life High:  two: birth of my daughter, Elleza, and my marriage to LisaGay Hamilton last year.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

  • Beah: A Black Woman Speaks [Documentary by LisaGay Hamilton] [DVD]
  • Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall [CD]
  • Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley, eds., Black, Brown and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the African Diaspora (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009)
  • Desmond’s: The Complete First and Second Series [DVD]
  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works [OK, the last might be unfair because it’s 50 volumes.  But if I had to pare down to one, I choose Eugene Kamenka, ed., The Portable Karl Marx]

Your favorite quote: “You’re not worried about me marrying your daughter.  You’re worried about me marrying your wife’s daughter.  I’ve been marrying your daughter ever since the days of slavery.”  — James Baldwin

Guilty pleasure: Rockin’ Ice Cube (from the early 90s) on my iPod (at the gym or on my way to class)


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Filed under books, PhD, The SPB Q, Uncategorized, writing

Coming Soon at SCOTT TOPICS™…

Yo peeps, on another deadline, so won’t be posting today. But I wanted to give a heads-up about next week, which I’m excited about: Monday I’ll post my tribute to author E. Lynn Harris who, sadly, passed away on this day last year. Also, the SPB Q will be back, twice!, with super scholar Robin Kelley and NYU grad student Frank Leon Roberts. A new short story will get posted. You’ll get my take on this whole “sissy bouncephenomenon. And I’ll start my running list of SPB’s choices of the Best 100 pop songs of all time. I’d like the end of this list to coincide with the publication of my novel The VIPs next summer, so I’ll be doing 2 a week for the next year. Should be fun. Partly because I know I’ll get a bit of disagreement. But like I always tell peeps, I’ll be okay because: I have terrible taste in music, but my eyes and calves are lovely.

See you guys next week. Have a great, fun, chilled, productive weekend. (I’ll be prepping for my interview with Larenz Tate.) I’ll leave you with some old school music to get your weekend started…

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Links and Hijinks: Mad Men “origins”, “new” James Baldwin, True Blood’s Lafayette, & More Mel…

{Just a few tidbits til tomorrow…}

  • Mad Mad Mad Mad (Men) World: Next Sunday’s the day we find out what’s up with Don Draper and the gang on Mad Men…I certainly cannot wait to see what’s up a year after last year’s stunning finale. So, in honor of that return, here’s a question: is the hit show based on a 60s comic strip that no one remembers? Vanity Fair seems, jokingly,  to think so
  • New Blood: Does Nelsan Ellis, the great young, Julliard-trained actor who plays the incredible and ground-breaking character Lafayette on the terribly retrogressive (yet oddly compelling) True Blood, suffer from the typical “scared-to-play-gay” syndrome? Sure seems that way in this otherwise cute conversation between him and the crazy hot Kevin Alejandro (who I’m sorta, um, gaga for—you see what I did there?) on the set of the HBO show:

  • Sweet Baby James: And last but TRULY not least: At coffee with the calm, crazy-cool Tufts professor Christina Sharpe the other day, we agreed on the greatness that is Mr James Baldwin, chatting about his famous response to Norman Mailer with the brilliant essay “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy”—read it YESTERDAY if you’ve never done so; you can find it in this book or this one. I walked away from that coffee date not even knowing that there’s a new collection of James’ uncollected writings, The Cross of Redemption, edited and with an intro by author Randall Kenan, being published in August! (I won’t tell you about the cartwheels I was doing about this when the guys showed up to put in my air conditioner the other day; but it was more fun than embarrassing.) If you’re a Baldwin compleatist like me, this is like Manna from wherever Heaven is, and I can’t wait to get my copy. It’ll go on the shelf next to the French import of Harlem Quartet, the final Baldwin “novel” Professor Gates gave me (which has only been published in France—hopefully that’ll see the light of an American day soon…more on that in a later post…)

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