Diversity in Comics

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AriseTV America invited me on to discuss New York Comic Con and diversity in comics. I did the best I could in a five minute segment.

It’s a loaded subject because comics readership is increasingly diverse but the comic properties published by Marvel and DC don’t come close to adequately representing that diversity. So we are forced to look for ourselves in legacy characters that won’t necessarily remain relevant to us. That’s why I took pains to highlight Black creators like Jimmie Robinson and the great Kyle Baker, who both offer interesting work that comments on issues of race and class. I wrote a scholarly article on Nat Turner a few years back that I’ll be revisiting in my forthcoming book on race and representation in comics.

It’s not enough, but I’m happy to do my part to make sure their stories receive the wide attention they deserve.

The President and Political Narratives

President Obama held a press conference yesterday to address the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Ferguson.

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Like many watching and commenting in real time on twitter, I found Obama’s comments on the situation in Ferguson lacking. Ezra Klein attempted to illustrate the source of our frustration: the incredibly polarized political landscape that prevents this president from ‘reaching across the aisle’ and ‘healing the nation.’ Citing Gallup polls and other data, Klein asserts that it is simply beyond this president’s power to bridge not just the divide that colors the way that we respond to racialized policing, but any partisan issue.

Still, while he accurately captures the forces that limit the president’s ability to ‘bridge the deep divides in American politics,’ Klein’s analysis ignores another choice that President Obama might have made: to challenge the rhetoric around policing, the logics that produce victims like Mike Brown.

President Kennedy did something similar 50 years ago in response to unrest at the University of Alabama when he stated “It ought to be possible in short for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.” We now take platitudes of this sort for granted, but when Kennedy made that statement public opinion was not in his favor—most white Americans looked with displeasure upon Blacks Americans attempting to desegregate schools and other public spaces in the South. So when Kennedy made his claim he was challenging the dominant political consensus of post-war America: that Blacks should not be too insistent in their demands for civil rights.

As several  influential scholars have demonstrated, the dominant racial issue of the day in the unequal policing of the African American community. This is exacerbated by the fact that communities like Ferguson rely on the fines generated from tickets and civil-forfeiture to fund local government. Given this, Obama could have mentioned that communities should not create perverse incentives that necessitate arrests to fill the public coffers. He might have lamented the fact that in many counties in America, the number one employer is the local prison. He could have contrasted the incongruity of 20 years of falling crime being accompanied by ever greater rates of imprisonment. He might have taken Congress to task for blocking the confirmation of a lawyer to head the Office of Civil Rights at the DOJ. Instead of engaging these polices, Obama instead repeated the canard that more Black men are in jail than in college and touted the supposed virtues  his My Brother’s Keeper program. Instead, Rand Paul’s statement on policing seems more progressive than the presidents. 

Obama should know better. He should be capable of reaching beyond the immediate political calculus that Klein describes to challenge the structural assumptions of the nation. It seems, despite his cool and youthful demeanor that Obama is no Kennedy, and that’s a shame.

Recent Goings On…

So, I’ve been writing some for Entertainment Weekly.

A friend asked me why I wasn’t updating my blog with links from EW.com.  The answer: because I’m an idiot.  In the future I will update the blog with links to my mainstream writing.  I will also run some things here that don’t get picked up elsewhere. Below are some links to the things I’ve written at EW.  (Try to guess which of these articles got 50,000 clicks.) Enjoy.

http://family-room.ew.com/2012/08/09/searching-for-common-ground-with-a-tween-comic-books/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/08/06/dark-knight-rises-batman-franchise/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/07/14/on-their-30th-anniversary-love-and-rockets-move-to-the-digital-age/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/07/14/comic-con-chew/

Narratology

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The NBA Finals, which begin tonight, have been billed as a study in contrasts.  The Miami Heat’s best player, LeBron James, will be confronted by his opposite number in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant 

James, it is said, is narcassitic off the court and unsure on it.  Despite his immense talent his teams fail when the stakes are the highest–having won two games and lost eight in the NBA Finals and twice failed to reach the finals despite possessing the leagues best record.  Worse, James refused the burden of leadership, fleeing responsibility in Cleveland to pal around with his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.  This lack of intestinal fortitude is why James has come up short in the biggest moments, as in his near no-show in last year’s Finals against the Dallas Mavericks seemingly confirms.

Durant on the other hand is humble off the court and ruthlessly efficient on it.  He as worked hard to push his team inexorably closer to the ultimate goal, losing to the Lakers two years ago in the first round of the playoffs and the Mavericks last year in the Western conference finals before dispatching both former champions–along with four time champs the San Antonio Spurs–to advance to the NBA finals.  

Durant’s game is more aesthetically pleasing than James’ (Durant is a Porche, James a Hummer) but most of these differences are completely overblown and derive from James’ ridiculous “Decision” television special followed by Durant quietly resigning with OKC days later.  The seemingly clean cut, small town Durant can be just as image conscious as James, as is evidenced by the strategic way he has chosen to tattoo his body.  It’s easy to disparage James for abandoning his home-state team and praise Durant for his loyalty, but first compare Cleveland’s roster with OKC.  If you wanted to win a title would you leave Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka?  If you wanted to win, wouldn’t you accept less money to play with Wade and Bosh instead of remaining on a team where your best teammates are Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison?  

Commentators would rather talk about LeBron’s supposed lack of ‘clutch-ness’ (whatever that is) than talk about the real reason he didn’t play well in the NBA finals last year: fatigue.  I guess when you are 6’9″ and 270 lbs and play all five positions on defense and four of the five on offense you are not supposed to get tired.  I think OKC will win in 6, but it will have nothing to do with LeBron’s headbands or Durant’s humility.  It won’t mean the Durant is a better player than James, simply that his team is more balanced.  LeBron has had to do EVERYTHING for his team to win in these playoffs, and in this series he will have to do it against the best scoring team in the league (incredibly, OKC’s points per game has gone UP in the playoffs!).  Durant just has to be what he is–the leagues best scoring forward and arguably the NBA’s most indefensible player.  LeBron’s greatness allows us to think that he can solve any problem on the court.  Unfortunately for him, he can’t be all things to all people.

The Beautiful Game

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When something mundane is done well, over and over again, it begins to approach the sublime.  This is a fancy way of saying that something ordinary can become—like a work of art—capable of inspiring awe.  The last 48 hours of basketball have been awe-full. 

The San Antonio Spurs evisceration of the Oklahoma City Thunder was simply a joy to watch.  They should burn DVDs of the third quarter of that game and make every AAU coach (and half the coaches in the NBA for that matter) watch it until they have every second memorized.  There are already coaches out there dissecting this game to explain what the Spurs are doing correctly.  But such analysis strips the action of much of its beauty. 

If you have the time, click on this video and watch it with the sound turned off.  Without the sound it’s easy to see how the Spurs offense is designed to punish indecision.  If, as a defensive unit, you are not totally locked in and moving as one, the Spurs will pick you apart.  They don’t seek out mismatches with the intention of getting a given player a shot, they seek out mismatches in the hopes of compromising the cohesion of the team.  Other teams have offenses designed to break down the defense.  The Spurs offense—at its highest level—seems designed to break down your will.  Time and again three or four of the Thunder do the correct thing, but the Spurs are able to find the fifth Thunder, the one who is a step out of position, and exploit his uncertainty.  This seems incredibly simple in theory but like most simple acts is difficult to enact consistently.  Watch the play that begins at 2:49 in the video to get a sense of this.  The play ends with Parker driving the lane between four incredibly athletic defenders, but the action the precedes his drive has left ALL of them flat footed. Incredible.  Even worse is the final play of the video, which begins at 4:40.  Look at the body language of the Thunder when Parker takes his shot.  There is no joie de verve or determination, instead they are simply hoping that the shot will miss.  And hope, as we all know, is not a plan.[i]

The difference between the Spurs—with their offense designed around a certain collective harmony of spirit—and the Miami Heat—their inevitable opponent in the NBA finals—could not be starker.  The Heat embody a different sort of beauty, and almost militaristic and relentless plan of attack that infuriates and enrages those hoping to stop it.  Everyone in the building knows that the Heat’s two stars want to get to the rim, their attack is predicated on those stars using their ability to accomplish this even though you know it’s coming.  Executing such an offense requires an almost masochistic willingness to accept punishment.  Using your body as a battering ram is not for the faint of heart.  Dwyane Wade has always relished this element of the game.  It took LeBron James until game three of the Indiana series to accept this as his lot, as the best way to win an NBA title this season. 

LeBron, you see, wants to play the beautiful game. He possesses the court vision and the generosity of spirit to want to win in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.  This is what frustrates his legion of critics.  If, they think, LeBron would attack as relentlessly as D.Wade he would achieve greater success.  That’s debatable, but, after Chris Bosh went out to injury, LeBron has finally decided to play it Wade’s way.  He shot 24 free throws in game two against Boston and has been throwing his 6’9” 270lb frame around with abandon throughout the playoffs.  Along the way LeBron has begun to silence his critics.  Despite Wade’s brilliance it’s easy to see that LeBron is carrying a flawed Miami team to the NBA finals.  I wonder what LeBron does if (when?) he loses to a team that plays the game the way, in his heart of hearts, he really wants to play. 


[i] This is not to excuse Russell Westbrook’s terrible decision making, but even if you replace him with Steve Nash or Chris Paul, Oklahoma City is not winning this series.  They simply don’t have the habits of mind and their talent is not quite enough to overwhelm the Spurs. That said, they are clearly the second best team in the league.

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Hip Hop as Theory

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4LAb777Dtg

Priscilla Wald has suggested that academics expand their notion of what comprises theory. In the spirit of her idea I give you noted Hip Hop theorist KRS-One. This song should be #OWS theme.

Pop Perfection

It’s best to mistrust blanket disavowals about matters of taste. What’s fun, though, is that the opposite is not the case. One can assert the near-universality of a cultural artifact or event with a great degree of confidence.

This is a fancy way of saying that Cee-Lo Green’s new song is ridiculously enjoyable. In fact, if it doesn’t bring a smile to your face I seriously doubt you have a sense of humor.