new orleans on our minds

i've never been to new orleans.

i've never seen the french quarter. i've never danced a second line or tasted etouffee.

i know the midwest and parts of the new south. i know post-industrial and rustbelt cities. i know vacant downtown spaces where rubber and tobacco money once made things happen. i don't know new orleans.

but strangely, or not strangely at all, as i sat and watched spike lee's made-for-hbo documentary "when the levies broke: a requiem in four acts" with my new southern family, i began to mourn this city - to grieve a place i've never seen or touched or felt myself.

i still haven't worked through all my reactions to the film or why i, as a midwestern new southerner, am allowed to participate in the mourning of the "big easy." but i would like to think about how my reaction bespeaks something complicated and deeply profound about the hold new orleans has on the national imagination. and why in this particular moment, i would like to acknowledge how new orleans, its history, and its residents, have shaped each and every one of us, whether we've walked its streets pre/post katrina or not.


seductions of race still surviving

i've been thinking further about the recent controversy surrounding survivor season 13's race-based tribes. (see my previous post)

now admittedly, i haven't watched the show since that guy who spent his birthday naked won top colonizer, but after doing a little internet research i've found out that season 12 had their tribes divided by gender and age into these categories: "older men," "older women," "younger men," "younger women."

knowing that season 12 did not cause the stir that this upcoming season already has, age and gender goes virtually unremarkable. but when race gets into the mix things get complicated and people (including myself) start blogging and talking.

so again, what is it about race???? whether we conceptualize race as a category, a social fiction, an experiential reality, or some biological based difference, what makes race so undeniably sexy? so seductive? so worth our repeated investments seemingly in and above other categories of identity?

would pitting sexualities against each other get everyone so hot?

survivor (admits it) does race

after a lot of internet speculation, the folks over at cbs have confirmed on the "early show" that season 13 of their once-popular-now-fledgling competitve reality, survivor, will resusitate their dwindling ratings by creating "tribal affiliations" based on race. no seriously. 20 contestants are split into the following four groups: the "asian american tribe," the "african american tribe," the "hispanic tribe", and the "white tribe." after competiting as race-based groups, the "tribes" will then integrate halfway into the competition and compete as...what...melting pots?

quoting from this chicago tribune article, host jeff probst states, “the idea for this actually came from the criticism that ‘survivor’ was not ethnically diverse enough...i think it fits in perfectly with what ‘survivor’ does - it is a social experiment. and this is adding another layer to that experiment, which is taking the show to a completely different level.”

if i can ignore probst's "social experiment" comment for just a minute (shouldn't that be eugenics experiment, jeff??), i'm much more interested in the seemingly banal statement that this new twist on the old format is "taking the show to a completely different level." what i'm interested in is what motivates producers of a declining show to seek out explicit instances of racial categorization as a way to resusitate its declining ratings. it's not as if survivor hasn't been working on screwed up understandings of racial difference for all of its previous seasons - i.e. the admittedly less diverse casts of seasons 1-12 "going native" until someone "outwits," "outplays," "outlasts," and notably, "outcolonizes" both the land and the psyches of their competitors.

so if survivor has been doing race for all these seasons, what's the seductive possibility of these supposedly bounded categories?

of course, race, like sex, simply sells.

lastly, just how were these discrete categories determined? just how black is black or white is white for the show's producers? are these categories diasporic? were they determined by sight? self-definition? genetics? how is ethnicity mapped by the different tribes? and what tribal box do those who identify as mixed or multi fall into?


inconvenient truths one year post katrina

every week my partner and i go on a date and this week, we opted for the obvious...dinner and a movie. my pick? something ridiculous and campy. my partner's pick? an inconvenient truth

i'll admit, i grew up caring nothing about recycling. and an entire childhood riding along with my three siblings in my parents' gas-guzzling, fuel-oh-so-inefficient, 8-seater, econoline van did not make me savvy about the ozone layer. and it wasn't just me. it became clear while growing up in a conservative christian household and attending a nondeminational private christian school that anyone interested in mythical global warming, reducing greenhouse gases and/or the thickening atmospheric layer was having a crisis of faith. for those people apparently did not believe that everything under (or because of) the sun was in god's plan for the earth.

i've been thinking a lot lately about the upcoming year anniversary of katrina's landfall in new orleans. beyond my politicized and humanitarian interests in the natural and unnatural disaster(s) of katrina, my interest in the hurricane focuses on its particular connection to southernness. as the broken levies moved images of the stranded poor and black of New Orleans from the invisible “dark matter” of this once tourist haven to the forefront of the national imagination, newscasters and their audiences could only process the unreal of their daily reality by displacing the long-standing poverty of the city from inside the nation to a more legible “third world” (a response that was not invoked in the aftermath of 9/11 since we could be certain that ground zero was/is still part of manhattan). as the unfolding horror and patriotic duty necessitated we leave the television tuned only to a 24 hour news station, the displacement was clear. “this does not look like the United States. it looks more like a third world country.” and when forced to admit this was the united states – albeit the southern half – patriotism dictated rage. “but these are Americans. we see them waving the flag from the roofs of their flooded houses.”

the incongruity of the televisual images of poverty uncovered by the harsh winds of katrina and the imagined idea(l) of what america “looks like,” reveals the contemporary othering done on the ideological and geographical place of the south.

but after seeing gore's film, i was forced to see my own role in literally creating the conditions of katrina. during the most poignant piece of the film, gore made the connection between the meteoric rise in CO2 over the past twenty years and its direct effect on the rise in catastrophic storms - including last year's record breaking hurricane season. so now i am immediately implicated in katrina - before the levies, before fema's failings, before bush's empty promises. and that above anything else makes me want to be more aware of my personal impact on the environment.


terrorism, popcorn, and the american way

i couldn't help but wonder as i turned to the news yesterday: does the successful foiling of yesterday's airplane terrorist plot give anyone the deeply patriotic urge to see oliver stone's world trade center?

did i just hear my mother gasp?

probably, but it's not that hard to make that connection. watching clip after clip of willing travelers discarding everything from lotion to contact solution while the crawler on the bottom of the screen repeatedly flashed the phrase "mass murder," television viewers had to be thrown back into that morning five years ago to make the current moment legible. and what helps americans process a traumatic moment (particularly in the greater service of the nation) better than oliver stone in a director's chair?

those who were worried about the success of the film should worry no longer. this san francisco chronicle article only bolsters my point.

and i quote...

"Dragon had been waffling on seeing "World Trade Center" over the last few days. He wasn't sure he was ready. But the minute he heard of the terror plot Thursday morning, his decision was made. "I felt like it was my duty as an American to see it," said Dragon. "I felt like I had to see it, and I am glad I did."

now i'm not saying that we just threw away hundreds of bottles of lotion and lube to promote an epic film...but it would be marketing genius wouldn't it??


michael jackson and queer cultural desire

if you know me personally you know how much i love michael jackson. i gave this paper at the Media Stardom Conference at Plymouth State University last october. the online magazine, _American Sexuality_, published by San Francisco State has decided to publish it! check it out and let me know what you think.


sweet tea: black queerness and the south

so part of my academic work is thinking about the relationship between black queerness and the south and lately i've been thinking a lot about the current debate in the black gay community on the in/appropriateness of muscle, homothug, gym culture, shorthanded in personal ads as simply, "no fems! no fats!". check out kevin bynes's blog on this.

i really started thinking about this last night at my most recent visit to cc's in raleigh (a gay club that turns hip hop/house on thursday nights. it's the only night that actually packs the club on a regular basis but cc's owners still insist on making more whitewashed techno the regular fare the rest of the week). while standing at the bar getting a beer a guy came up to me asking about my hair. he then proceeded to tell me that with hair like mine (a locked fauxhawk) i was in the wrong city and should relocate to his hometown of houston, tx (where apparently the "girls would eat me up"). now this was a very "masculine" guy, if black masculinity in this case is associated with what hip hop deems masculine: platinum grill and jewelry, wavecap, big white t, etc. after throwing up the "x" in an attempt to convince me just how great texas is (?!), he confides that he just moved to the triangle area and was pretty distressed at how "feminine" he found the guys around here. "they're too feminine here," he lamented. "the guys at home are like me. ya know...gay thugs. it's all that sweet tea y'all be drinkin'." i immediately thought about the general ban on "fems" lately and began to really take notice of cc's. so in this particular space, in this particular south, the "no fems, no fats" logic seemed not to apply. in fact, "fems" and "fats" dominated (overwhelmingly) the space, apparently in ways that made this particular "gay thug" as he called himself (or homothug) uncomfortable.

so i'm most interested in this guy's immediate need to pinpoint the difference in the black gay community here in north carolina. so he blames it on the abundance of sweet tea...obviously said as a joke, but interesting that he associates an almost celebratory flaunting of queer femininity at cc's and the triangle more generally, with the iconicity of southernness. and although he himself hails from texas, he made a clear distinction between texas as south and nc as south.

so how does this particular sweet tea south disrupt the possible generalizations about the lack of desire for "fats" and "fems"? how does this moment help us to think through how to define the south(s): as a psychic space, as a place associated with slavery, a temporal space, a geographic space, or a cultural one defined by foodways, let's say? what is the south's relationship to femininity? black femininity? queer femininity? and what about fatness/thickness and the south? (particularly in light of houston baker's claim that the south is defined by and through it's very "thickness" (in heat/humidity, in tangled racial histories, in violence, and possibly in bodies??)


stereotype super(s)heroes

in an effort to remix representations of race and ethnicity, a friend and i have decided to make a comic book giving actual power to those long enduring stereotyped figures. we're re-reclaiming everybody from mammy to uncle tom and giving them powers much like our more "traditional" white, male superheroes (superman and such). first to be re-reclaimed, "mammy". she's the character whose name you dare not speak since if you do all of her permutations (and their generations of concealed rage) will leap to life - that box of pancakes mix, that syrup bottle - and no longer are these recurring images bits of longstanding racist iconography, but the muscle-clad, revolutionistas of Ubermammy's impenetrable army. Ubermammy herself can never be summoned. she does no ones bidding, suckles no one's child at her breast and instead of the sexless woman from epic tales like _Gone with the Wind_, Ubermammy seeks to "milk" the powerful potential of queer love. needing little to no explanation is "watermelon boy"...whose super power includes shooting watermelon seeds out of his mouth like a semiautomatic. we're still working on uncle tom's super power. perhaps his power will become manifest in his actual cabin...a seeming oasis for neoliberal white folks who think they're on the p(o)c side of things and when they get to the cabin to rest their weary bones and get assurance from their only poc friend, tom, they quickly realize that they've entered a neverending workshop on sexism, racism, classism and homophobia. they can only leave the cabin when uncle tom (ceo of the organization) deems them ready. they'll also have to do a boot camp weekend with ubermammy's army. i'm thinking this whole comic book project will coincicde nicely with my side project of "negro spiritual" magnetic poetry. i've realized you can make anything a negro spiritual if you add "moses" to the end of it...wonder if the fisk jubilee singers will want to get in on this. they've got the corner market on sprituals.