HAIKU, FRACTAL SONG, AND OTHER MATTERS
Snow: winter sugar
making fortune delightful
for Beijing mornings.
FRACTAL SONG (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2016)
This morning during a conversation with 3rd graders at Grandville T. Woods Elementary School in Kenner, LA, I asked the students to name their favorite books. One student said "FRACTAL SONG." After a nanosecond of surprise, I asked him to read the poem "He Has Wonderful Eyes" (pp.73-74) for his classmates. He did. And he read brilliantly. This young genius forced me to believe that hope for a future still exists in the Age of Trump.
Tragic ignorance prevails.
Watching the news this evening, I was jolted by commentary on a crime of abject hatred that two young males and two young females recently committed in Chicago. Their victim, a target of tragic ignorance just as a few dozen African Americans have been targets since the death of Trayvon Martin, did not deserve to be tortured in Chi-raq.
Art is not sociology nor an inspired description of social pathologies in the United States of America. Nevertheless, much of the art of Spike Lee draws attention to extreme flaws in the human condition. It is fair to guess that the four young criminals have never watched Lee's Bamboozled. And if they did, they very apparently learned nothing. It is blatantly stupid to video and broadcast one's criminal activities. To do so is to embrace with alacrity and celebrate the stupid end of a false revolutionary suicide. it is also fair to guess the young criminals did not watch Lee's more recent satire about the city in which they live.
I feel a moral obligation to update remarks I made in 2015 about Lee's Chi-Raq, because the grains of truth in that film are given daily affirmation in Chicago and other major American cities. The moral boomerang of the film bludgeons us each day. it is cowardly to plead that we are innocent and a matter of twisted indulgence to plead that we are guilty. There is no exit from the twilight zone of the existential.
CHI-RAQ (update 2017)
If Spike Lee were truly as full of hubris as he might wish American consumers of film to believe he is, he would have asked two Chicago ministers, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to pray to their God for the success of Chi-Raq the film and for the end of urban violence in the city of Chicago, code name ShyRack. He did not hesitate to ask Reverend Jackson to pray for the success of School Daze. See the caption and ocular proof in The Films of Spike Lee: Five for Five (New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1991). 58.. And the film would have been endowed with the blessings of liberation theology and spiritual credibility had he also persuaded Reverend Wright to portray Father Corridan in the film. Wright and Jackson would have given historicized Chicago authenticity to his enterprise, but their involvement also would have prevented Lee from creating Chi-Raq as stereotype-reifying, slapstick pornography. The ministers would have forced him and his actors to burn in flames of tragic rather than comic "truth." Spike Lee is infused with chutzpah. And it is telling that neither Jackson nor Wright have grabbed media opportunities, as far as I can determine, to condemn the prevalence of crime in Chicago/Chi-Raq.
Lee has been in the cinema game too long to waste his juice or to send Hollywood an ISIS message. He is not a fool. Despite his obvious possession of some political consciousness, he is not a radical or an heir of Malcolm X. Like Aristophanes, he is a trickster of the first water. And like the ancient Greek playwright from whose Lysistrata he borrows theme and surface features, Spike Lee has good entrepreneurial skills. Satirizing the amoral/immoral cesspools of society and pious belief in the sanctity of human life (# All Lives Matter) has commercial value in the world of cinema. Money talks. It sponsors the confusion of shared values in the United States of America. Money reinforces the documented reluctance of many citizens who inhabit ShyRackish territory to enforce communal values, to break silence. To be sure, those citizens are not silent about the debilitating effects of entrenched systemic racism, the mental illness which thugs and police people cultivate, and the production of genocide in the heart of whiteness. They are quite vocal. On the other hand, those who are most vocal about social injustice are most frequently silenced and disappeared by money, mass media, and such films as Chi-Raq.
A comedy or comic film in the United States that smells of morality or serious interrogation of political and social issues is damned from the start. It is destined to turn no profit, because (1) the conventions of comedy demand exaggeration and (2) Americans are gluttons for trivia, the trinkets of nonsense. Abnormality has to be normalized. The comic valorizes a certain degree of vulgarity. Comic satire, as Bamboozled demonstrated, must embody dread, the quality of conjoined repulsiveness and attraction that can provoke laughter. Should abnormality and dread be the actual norm (the unfortunate case in sectors of American society where ShyRackish communities exist), satire tends to succeed as entertainment. It does not move significant numbers of people to adopt progressive, life-valuing behaviors. Thus, Lee's attempt to transform Greek satiric comedy into American comic satire delivers a gender-laden, niggardly mess of sexist, death-oriented, racist affirmation.
As a filmmaker, Lee is at the top of his game in terms of understanding his audiences as well as the ideological apparatus of the music, entertainment, and film industries. He is not, let me hasten to say, obliged to carry all the weight for what film in America has wrought since the advent of Birth of a Nation (1915). Some of the criminality of films involves the effort to serve competing desires. Artists who possess more than the intelligence of a prenatal fetus generally desire to do the right thing. The industries , on the other hand, desire to maintain power and what Charles W. Mills aptly named the American racial contract. The ethical dilemma can be addressed, but it can't be resolved. It is a Forty Acres and Zora Neale Hurston mule no-brainer to be outraged by the sexism of Chi-Raq, its selling the slogan "No peace. No pussy," its moral treason. This no-brainer is paralleled by the possibility that treason lives with immunity in the Trump Tower.
Some viewers of the film might be able to cut through all the audiovisual, hip hop anointed shit and hear Miss Helen (Angela Bassett) utter the name Leymah Gbowee and advise Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) to discover why, at least once in African and world history, sisterhood, prayer, and sex did matter and did make a difference. Out of the chaos of murdering cultural memory in Chicago, of minimizing Iraq's erectile dysfunction, and of selling the booty call crack of America's puritanical Founding Mothers, Spike Lee and company drop on viewers the challenge represented by Leymah Gbowee, Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkul Karman, the winners of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace. Chi-Raq is not about peace.
It is not about pussy and guns and what D. H. Lawrence wrote or did not write about Lady Chatterley's cunt. It is not about globally abused females and pathetic , demonic males, and innocent dead children and the manifest destiny of ethnic self-hatred to perpetuate genocide. It is not about child soldiers in the darkest hearts of the African continent. Chi-Raq is about the world's orchestrated failure to learn what needs to be done from Aristophanes' Lysistrata , from the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, or from Gbowee's book Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (2011). It would surprise no one should it ever be revealed that Pope Francis prayed for Chi-Raq on December 8, 2015 when he opened the doors of St. Peter's Basilica to mark the advent of a Year of Mercy during which the world can celebrate a Supreme Being's love for those who thrive in sin and are need of unconditional mercy. It would surprise everyone should Pope Francis put his imprimatur on Giorgio Agamben's The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (to be published May 2017 by Stanford University Press) and thus use his papal infallibility to back Agamben's argument "that Benedict's [resignation], far from being solely a matter of internal ecclesiastical politics, is exemplary in an age when the question of legitimacy has been virtually left aside in favor of a narrow focus on legality" (Stanford University Press promotion).
The air we breathe is tragic and ignorant, and there's no reason to doubt we shall continue to prevail in it. We are legal.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. January 6, 2017