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February 26, 2005

Pick a Subject, Any Subject

Max Gordon sounds as if he's paid by the word, and rants in about seven directions at once in his massive rambling broadside against the usual suspects. Any one of these could have been brilliant, but taken together they are, in the immortal words of Rodney Allen Rippy, "too big 'a eat".

Let's see. There's the trauma of great-grandmother's bones:

My great-grandmother was educated in rural South Carolina through the sixth grade, when racist whites burned her school to the ground. Several children were still inside. As the story is told in my family, she went back to the school and searched the ashes for the charred bones of her classmates, some of which she kept and placed on a mantle piece. My grandmother grew up with those bones as a reminder of what education means in America for a black person, what it has sometimes cost.

There's the lowly entry-level peon's-eye-view of Godless Corporation:

If you are a black employee of an American corporation and have decided to file a complaint about racism, you may be dismayed to find that the entire human resources department is black (with the exception of one white supervisor). Having to face this black army you are immediately disarmed. To have to tell a black face, with your black face, that you've been passed over for a promotion or raise, or that you're underpaid and you think it is because of your race, seems more than a little odd.

There's some Queen Latifa:

What I want to shield the child from is not sex-talk or naked bodies; it's the contempt the movie has for her, for humanity. It's never the sex in pornography that eats away at us, nor is it just the sexual contact of incest that ultimately destroys; it's the cynicism, the overwhelming psychological burden of despair that an adult pours into a child's body and mind.

How is that about Queen Latifa, you ask? Unfair question. Meanwhile, Max takes us to some Affirmative Action in what must be the longest single sentence this side of the Nuyorican Reverse Poetry Slam:

However, for the working-class black student who may come from a community with inferior schools, inadequate money for materials and no advanced placement classes; whose relatives have taken out loans to get her a place to live on campus; who has to barter at the financial-aid department, filling out scholarship applications and concentrating this year on how she's going to pay for next year; who feels isolated on a predominantly white college campus and has to guard herself against the potential racist epithet uttered by the white person on her dormitory hall, or by her professor under the guise of "intellectual discourse"; who wants to stay in bed all semester, overwhelmed with the anxiety of trying to prove to herself and everyone else that she is there because of her achievements and not a number; by the time this student sits in a classroom at an American university, believe me, she's earned it.

Then Death Row (not thankfully not Suge Knight's Death Row):

In his Atlantic Monthly article of July 2003, Alan Berlow described how Alberto Gonzales, legal counsel to then Texas Governor Bush, helped in deciding the fate of prisoners on death row. (It is estimated by the ACLU that of the more than 2,000 people on "death row" virtually all are poor, a significant number are mentally retarded or otherwise mentally disabled, and more than 40 percent are African American, a disproportionate number Native American, Latino, or Asian.)

OK you get the picture. Or maybe you don't. Somebody needs to focus. Slow down. Chew your food, Max. You have a whole blog to get your points out. Try pieces that lend themselves to critical dissection because right now they're falling apart under their own weight. You can't go from Alabama to World Peace in 11 paragraphs, which is about as long as this monstrosity about Condoleeza Rice(!) made sense.

I paid attention because Professor Kim did. Then again she has the saintly patience that has to grade bad papers. Me, I hope that Max stays around long enough for me to play rope-a-dope Ali to his firebreathing (and ugly) George Foreman.

Posted by mbowen at February 26, 2005 01:02 PM

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Hi Mike,
I agree with you that Max Gordon needs to focus, and I hope that he'll learn to as he gets more of his ideas out. (And yes, you are right that my day job conditions me to look for the potential in an otherwise weak article or essay.) I think, however, that he is raising some useful questions, and that his criticism of Queen Latifah's role in "Bringing Down the House" has merit. She was a caricature (and I understand that it was farce) and her character's storyline was problematic. She progresses from being a ghetto golddigger to being a faithful retainer who helps save Steve Martin's marriage. I contrast that with the Steve Martin/Goldie Hawn vehicle "Houseguest" where Goldie Hawn played the dumb blonde who stooped to conquer. In the end, she got her man and he was happier for having been deceived. It's an anti-feminist plot to be sure --the very thing Mary Wollstonecraft decried back in the 1790s in "Vindication of the Rights of Women." But it's a positive stereotype. I suspect that the creative and business minds behind "Bringing Down the House" couldn't envision a similar progression for Queen Latifah's character.

I am not as critical of Queen Latifah as Gordon is, though. The Hollywood marketing machine tries to standardize actors to play predictable kinds of characters that will have a predictable appeal to designated market segments. After all, Steve Martin generally plays the same kind of guy in each of his romantic comedies too -- likeble, professionally successful men who become fools for the women they love. The problem is that in too many of her roles, Queen Latifah is being slotted into a character niche that perpetuates the very kind of stereotypes that she set herself against in the rest of her work.

Posted by: Kim Pearson at February 27, 2005 06:05 AM

I'm big on details. You spelled Queen Latifah's name wrong. Otherwise, it was a halfway decent post.

Posted by: Robert States at February 27, 2005 06:58 PM

I never even bothered to watch 'Bringing Down the House', so while I don't think most movies merit feminist or any kind of serious criticism, I can't doubt you're probably correct.

My nephew reminded me this afternoon that 'Beauty Shop' is coming out soon. Should be funny, I suppose.

Posted by: Cobb at February 27, 2005 09:17 PM