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Election 2008

My Take on the New Yorker Joint w/ Brian Lehrer Show Audio

cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics My people, it has been a while. Apparently a brotha cannot take a vacation without major ish going down! Jesse Jackson is crazy. Tony Snow is dead. Phil Gramm let slip McCain's true economic idiocy. And the New Yorker has generated more comments on Jack and Jill Politics than any other post. The first media request I got upon my return was to join fellow (black) comic Jordan Carlos (known for playing the role of Colbert's black friend and writing this Washington Post op ed about the lack of black comedy writers) on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show yesterday. I had been so cut off from media and cell phones that I missed the initial heat and played catch up late into the night reading over 300 comments here and articles elsewhere across the web. Here's the audio of our appearance. It's about 30 minutes, and former New Yorker cartoonist Art Spiegelman joined midway through. I have mixed feelings on the cover, but I basically come down in defense of it. You should listen to the entire show to hear the range of opinion, including my full explanation of my own, but here are the highlights. I don't believe the cartoonist or editors of the New Yorker are out to get the Obamas. Their intention, to satirize the conspiracy theories about the Obamas by combining all in one, seems clear to me even though it is not clear to all. We should, however, distinguish between what PowerLine might mean by the same image vs. The New Yorker. Satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Many criticisms I've read say "That didn't make me laugh." If you're looking for a "joke," this certainly isn't it. But if you're looking for a provocative piece of art that shines a light on something previously below the surface, this is that. Satire is hard and could always be clearer after the fact. Universal acceptance of any piece of art (and I'm sticking to "art" rather than "comedy" or "humor" intentionally) means the piece probably isn't saying much. I'm generally defensive of the artist, being one myself and having had my own satire royally misinterpreted. Years ago, I posted what I thought was an objectively funny piece about the Rapture over on dKos under the title "A Final Solution For The Religious Right." (the point was all the crazy right wing evangelicals getting beamed up by Jesus was a good thing cause they would leave us alone). Most people didn't get it and focused on the "final solution" in the headline and ripped me for making a joke "about the Holocaust." I later updated the headline to "A Final Solution For the Religious Right, But Not In A Holocaust-y Way." Similarly, the idea that this magazine cover could/should have been framed in a Karl Rovian thought bubble might have made it clearer to some, but the essential nature of the piece would be the same. I don't think this cover gives any addional "permission" to the Right. Much of the criticism focused on the hypothetical abuse of the image by the right wing. Given the poisoned environment around race and Obama's politics specifically, I understand this concern, but I would just say that I don't think Fox News needs any help from the New Yorker in the offensiveness department. We've talked about this before in terms of political positioning. The Right is going to attack Obama on patriotism regardless of how he votes or speaks or acts, so he might as well do the principled thing. So goes the argument. A similar logic applies here. Those who already believe every one of those images will see what they already believe. This cover doesn't turn new people against Obama, and the editors There is a challenge of knowing who the audience is. So much of the criticism I've read says "Well I get it, but they won't." I made this point in the show after Jordan said the New Yorker needs to "know its audience." That's a nice idea whose time has past. In the age of the Internet and low-analysis cable news, every public expression can reach every person nearly instantly. There is no "audience" because the audience is everyone. Dave Chappelle found this out when he saw some white people laughing at black people through his show rather than at the absurd jokes he was making. He decided to end the show because his real audience was getting things not meant for his intended audience. Obama and Bill Clinton found this out when Mayhill Fowler aired their semi-private statements for all the world to see. This is a tough reality for anyone expressing an idea in public, whether a magazine, comedian or politician. I understand and think the criticism is valid, however. I'm not saying that people upset by the cover are wrong or "don't get it." I've learned from my own past experience and from this campaign just how deeply frustration over an image or statement can run. Beyond the Obamas, there are those who abuse the idea of art/comedy/free speech as a cover for their own racism and hate. The white comic who uses the N word because he just wants to but excuses it as an act of artistic defiance is not the same as the artist trying to make a poignant social point. Michael Richards is not Bill Hicks. Many of us are worn down by the ignorance spewed on a regular basis about the Obamas. We've seen official debates in which his love for America is questioned. We've seen a simple cultural expression (the pound) foolishly referred to as terrorism. We've seen the contradictory fears of his Muslimness promoted at the same time as his membership in a crazy America-hating Christian church. We've seen Michelle Obama villified for things she never even said about "whitey." We will see more. When Malia and Sasha get cornrows, this country will lose its ever-lovin mind and ask, "Are the Obama children gang bangers??" In this environment, any expression that seems to add to the incessantly rising tide of stupidity and distraction will be greated with skepticism and frustration and anger. I get that, and so I don't flippantly dismiss those of you/us who are enraged. But I hope we can also see the value and acknowledge the intention behind this work and not just focus on the hypothetical interpretation and abuse by "others." I hope we can distinguish between friends and true enemies. I hope we can see the good that may yet come of this incident. The controversy and conversation is a very good thing for the real problem: the hard-to-combat whisper campaign around the Obama's patriotism. It's hard to fight rumors. Directly denying them often validates the position of those who believe in them. John Kerry will never be a war hero again to many folks. He'll be an elite, out of touch, self-aggrandizing windsurfer for the rest of his days. If the world of artists can overexpose these rumors, by the time we get to November, it really will be played out and hack. The fact that the "terrorist fist jab" is ridiculed in almost every pop-cultural outlet is a good thing. It won't change the mind of those who actually believe Obama is a terrorist, but nothing will ever satisfy that minority. They are lost to reason and should not be used as a basis for judgment. So what if Fox uses this magazine cover!. They are beyond redemption and don't really need to. They could just darken Obama's skin, broaden his nose and thicken his lips as their own track record shows them capable of such acts. The person sitting on the fence, however, will see that such beliefs are being ridiculed en masse by the popular culture and may dismiss them as they should. The fact that many in the country have been talking about this cover is ultimately a good thing (even if you think the cover itself was bad) because it brings into the light the shady theories and lets us show them for the foolishness they are.

Video: Google Pop/Politics Panel w/ Me, Winstead, Obama Girl Guy, etc.

Friday I was so annoyed that I couldn't get my Tivo to record our Google Pop Culture and Politics panel as it was aired by C-SPAN. I completely forgot that this event took place at Google, and thus, is on YouTube. I'm an idiot. Anyway, here's the 45 minute video of our panel. They cut the opening Onion News Network video I showed right after my intro, but you can see it here. I haven't replayed the entire thing, so they may have also cut the second Onion video I showed, which is friggin hilarious. Highlights:
  • My hot shirt. Seriously, you know you love that shirt. Jill Sander baby! Bought it myself
  • Christopher Hitchens. Look at his beverage. That ain't ginger ale
  • Lizz Winstead. My hero. Twas an honor to tag team with her against our cable news-defending moderator
  • After the panel, the Google folks got short one-on-one interviews with all of us. Here's mine.
And now, the panel...
For some reason, Google disabled comments on the YouTube video, so feel free to heap praise and scathing criticism here.

Michelle Malkin - Teflon For Racism?

cross-posted to jack and jill politics Liza Sabater over at Culture Kitchen breaks down another problem with the Obama Baby Mama Drama unfolding at Faux News: Michelle Malkin. (background on the baby mama drama) Liza gets at who's really behind Malkin and why it's more effective to have a brown person hating on other brown people
Yet what's most important about all this mess is the other Michelle. La Malkin. Why do you think Fox News has on their payroll a dark-skinned Filipina who is not only their quite giddy and willing cover for the racist rants you pass as news, but also something of a news maker herself? Michelle Malkin seems to be racist Pygmalion who has been molded by her husband, Jesse Malkin. Two years ago four bloggers documented what many people were wondering at the time about the increasingly prolific Malkin : That and most probably Michelle Malkin the syndicated journalist and columnist and are not Michelle Malkin but the woman, her husband, Jesse Malkin and maybe indeed a small team of interns and researchers. That nowadays she has people guest blogging at is a complete turnaround from the early days. Michelle Malkin in 2006 had just given birth and was slugging across the country interviews and book readings all the while writing a syndicated column, making TV appearances and peppering her blog with about 6 posts a day. Every day. Including Sundays. And she would do this and boast about how she didn't have nannies, how she didn't have interns or assistants working for her. She was the super brown woman, spokeswoman for anti-immigrants and white supremacists at large. It's why finding out who really is Michelle Malkin the author became so important. Was this a xenophobic genius or is she a front for a larger right-wing juggernaut?
It's an historical pattern, this getting brown people to tear down other brown folks. There's no shock value in brown folks demanding rights for immigrants or fair wages or justice of any kind. As much as people dis the professional black spokespeople for jumping on victimhood, there's a lot more money in denying racism and actually blaming the victims of systemic racism for their own oppression. I wrote and performed about this years ago in my piece, "I'll Be A Black Conservative For $240,000"
[Black conservatives] are in very short supply, but they're a must-have accessory for every ass backwards policy. Need to undo affirmative action? Find a black Supreme Court judge. Wanna bomb poor people? How bout a black National Security Advisor. Need to pimp one of the greatest underfunded federal policies since 40 acres and a mule? Armstrong Williams is your dawg!
Full video here:
Update from Comment From Left Field. a great reminder that while the Baby Mama lower third was up, Malkin was saying attacks on Michelle are ok so long as they are substantive. Fox is so triflin.

Video Of My Panel On Participation & Politics Online

Last Wednesday, I spoke on a panel during NYC's InternetWeek. It was put on by OneWebDay and Susan Crawford. The topic was participation and politics online. It was actually really good! I spoke about the ClintonAttacksObama wiki at Jack & Jill Politics, and the audience and other speakers brought some really great thoughts and insights to the table. I shared the stage with Andrew Rasiej (Founder, Personal Democracy Forum) and Jay Rosen (Professor, NYU Department of Journalism and creator of OffTheBus at HuffPo). The moderator was Allison Fine (Author, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age)

Here's the YouTube Link. It's 90 minutes. You can find it in various other formats here.

My Op Ed In The Independent Of London On Obama And Black America

cross-posted to Jack and Jill Politics Wednesday morning I got a call from the UK asking if I would write an editorial about the significance of Barack Obama's nomination in Black America. I find it hard to resist that crisp British accent and made room to compose my thoughts. The piece has been published in print and online under the title Baratunde Thurston: I used to be cynical about my country. No longer... Not quite the headline I'd have chosen, but pretty accurate. In the piece,  I share a story for the first time from my experience with the Obama campaign in Dallas and write about the power and limits of symbolism. Here's an excerpt
Despite our sacrifices – fighting in wars and paying taxes – we are constantly reminded we're not full members of the club. Yet, Barack Obama made me feel American. He has, and this is really quite annoying, made me care enough to get more involved. His early opposition to the war, the grass-roots nature of his campaign, and his habit of speaking in grammatically correct sentences have all helped. His very composition from white Kansan and black African parents tells a story that is authentically American. Beyond him, however, the reaction of the American people best demonstrates Obama's impact. For black America, the defining moment occurred on 3 January, when Obama won in overwhelmingly white Iowa. It was a sign that things in this country were changing. Although Obama is the nominee, the path ahead won't be easy. People still ask, "Is America ready for a black president?" That's the wrong question. America has never been "ready" to extend its ideals to all of its citizens without being pushed. Was America "ready" for emancipation or women's suffrage or Simon Cowell? No, but we've got them now and in two of those three cases, we are much better for it.
Check out the full editorial at their fancy British website!