Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trending on social media: #CecilTheLion! RIP…but what about Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones?

From The Cowardly Lion to Simba, before and beyond, the "King of Beasts" has roared in our public consciousness for centuries. Powerful, regal, beautiful, the lion might be the most iconic non-human presence in the animal kingdom. I'm surprised the U.S. founding fathers chose the bald eagle instead to signify American national pride and strength.

Had they gone with the lion, Walter Palmer wouldn't stand a chance. He probably still doesn't. The biggest mistake the American dentist ever made was arranging a $50,000 hunt to kill Cecil, a major lion attraction in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. If the outraged public (and possibly the legal system) has its way, his life will never be the same again.

I'm one of the outraged many. With visions of lions in the Serengeti still fairly fresh in my mind from my July of 2014 African safari, I'm especially sickened by Palmer's misdeeds. It's bad enough that we descend upon lions' natural habitat wielding cameras like paparazzi chasing celebrities, but must we hunt them too?

Imagine if Princess Diana's death had been intentional and privately paid for by an egomaniacal bloodthirsty pap. In a sense, that's exactly how Palmer nailed Cecil. Money talks...and kills.

Horrifying as the murder of Cecil might be, the business transaction heightens the shock value for me. I don't know which is worse: that Palmer paid big bucks for the dishonor of killing a lion or that said dishonor can be bought.

But my rage doesn't begin or end with Palmer and the death of Cecil. I'm angry for anything -- anyone -- that dies at the hands of another for no reason. I'm angrier because I noticed more moral outrage on social media yesterday over the senseless death of a lion than I did over the senseless deaths of two black women, in two separate incidents, while in police custody this month.

I'm not saying that the people I follow consider a lion's life more valuable than Sandra Bland's or Ralkina Jones'. But I missed the mass outrage when two black women died for nothing. Have we become so desensitized to police in the U.S. killing black people that we no longer feel the need to comment on it?

Jimmy Kimmel cried last night over Cecil. Where were his tears for Bland and Jones? Where was the celebrity outpouring of hashtagged Twitter grief for them? Where was white America's moral indignation on social media? Why does the death of a lion seem like a much bigger story than the passings of Bland and Jones and all the blacks who've lost their lives to increasingly racist agendas in the U.S.?

Maybe Nicki Minaj had a point about the lack of respect and appreciation afforded to black women, but then, she's still alive. She may have missed out on an MTV VMA nomination for Video of the Year, but thanks to the exchange of a few choice words with Taylor Swift on Twitter, Minaj was hardly a loser. Yes, she's still alive.

She was perhaps the most-talked about black woman on social media this month, and from what I read, #TeamNickiMinaj was the victor in Nicki vs. Taylor, after countless tweeters, including Katy Perry, weighed in. The rapper even managed to swing a public apology from the former most powerful woman in pop, a title that perhaps should now go to queen of the pop jungle Nicki Minaj.

Oh, and she's still alive. So she can spare me the martyr act.

Unlike "Nicki Minaj," the names of Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones will continue to go unheard and unsung. When they have their posthumous days in court (if they have them), no one will likely be punished. Isn't that what typically happens when black people die in the custody of white police?

Walter Palmer probably won't get off for his high crime against the animal kingdom. He's already been crucified on social media, and I suspect this is just the beginning of the end of his life as he knew it. Stupid man. Doesn't he realize that in the killing game, the more value the public places on the target, the more likely you are to go down for nailing it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

10 things I learned while doing karaoke with my colleagues at our Christmas in July party

Don't worry: During our Christmas in July, clothing was not optional...thank God!
What I didn't learn: I work with a pretty cool group of people. I already knew that. Friday night just offered confirmation.

Now on with my learning curve...because there was no way I was walking a straight line after 10pm!

1. Waking up in bed alone, fully clothed, and not knowing for sure how you got there beats rising and not shining in the nude next to a not-so-beautiful stranger and not knowing for sure how he got there. Also, on the plus side, I somehow made it into bed without my shoes still on.

2. Nicki Minaj deserves our respect. I knew "Anaconda" was a great song, but I had no idea it could, in the immortal words of Destiny's Child, make me lose my breath. Rapping a few of Nicki's rapid-fire sentences left me gasping for air just as much as my Saturday runs from Kings Cross to the Sydney Harbour Bridge to North Sydney and back to KX via the Opera House waterfront route. OH MY GOD... Naturally, I skipped Saturday's run. I was still trying to catch my breath from Friday night karaoke!
3. I'm not the only one who finds Mick Jagger's chocolate queeniness in "Brown Sugar" kind of shocking. By the time I finished my first karaoke number (The Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar," as planned for weeks), one of my colleagues looked at me, astonished and revolted. "I had no idea those lyrics were so racist," he said, having just read them in large, bold print on the karaoke screen. When I explained that Mick wrote the song about his black girlfriend at the time, he echoed a comment I made in my recent "Brown Sugar" blog post: "Well, I wonder what she thought about it." Indeed.

4. Rose wine is not your friend. Splitting two bottles with a co-worker is enough to leave you and your boss/Sydney BFF dancing around a pub that doesn't actually have a dance floor. Don't you hate it when people who do that?

5. Friday night might not be the best night for a work party, after all. Now I know why they're usually on Thursday night: Having to work the next day stops you from going full-on and casting all your inhibitions to the wind.

6. Inner Sydney is not nearly as massive as I thought it was. Walking from the Japanese restaurant in the CBD to the karaoke pub in Surry Hills took about a half hour less than I would have expected. Wait. Does that mean those weekly runs that leave me as breathless as "Anaconda" are shorter than they feel?

7. Japanese steak might be smaller than the ones you get in those pub-grub specials, but the one I had for dinner pre-karaoke might be the best red meat I've had in Sydney. I'm going to give credit to the soyed-up teriyaki sauce. My trip to Japan next month can't come fast enough.

8. "Cars" by Gary Numan might be my favorite song of the 1980s. Waiting out the extended instrumental coda is as awkward as Gary said it was in my BFF Lori Majewski's '80s music tome Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s. (Karaoke is, after all, about singing, not posing through a never-ending wordless outro). Still, "Cars" now has a permanent spot on my future must-do-at-karaoke list.


9. The camera never lies, which makes the best Christmas in July party a Christmas in July party where not one single selfie is taken. In fact, I can't recall a single photograph being taken all night. That means I'll have to take my boss' word that I was "amazing" and in "top form." Who wants to see photographic proof? Not me.

10. Drunk texting doesn't always end in embarrassment. Just don't try it at home. It's best when there are friends around to work the edit button.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner: Kim Kardashian with substance (and a face that moves)

There's something about Caitlyn. Ms. Jenner's can't-look-away glamour dramatically caps a compelling story arc. But wouldn't the narrative be so much more powerful if, after the Vanity Fair cover, she'd emerged as a more down-to-earth woman?

Yes, she looks fantastic, but the costume changes, the perfect-angle shots, the reported diva demands, Angelina Jolie's glamour squad -- what does this say about transgenderism? About womanhood? The implication is that both are all about appearances? Isn't that just promoting another stereotype?

It started to dawn on me during the biography portion of Caitlyn's Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation at the ESPYs. The segment was edited so that we kept catching brief sideways glances of Caitlyn talking about her transformation. I understood the ploy: Keep everyone watching until the full-on money shot. Wasn't that why we were all watching -- to see how great Caitlyn looked...again?

In her introductory comments, Caitlyn emphasized the difficulties of being a woman. But they all revolved around the physical aspect, not the less tangible negatives like the lack of opportunities, the lack of support, the lack of equal pay.

Of course, Caitlyn, like her ex Kris and daughters and stepdaughters, doesn't have to worry about such pesky issues as equal pay. For the foreseeable future, she'll be raking in millions just for getting out of bed. And there'll be a glamour squad on hand making sure she looks perfect for the reality cameras. Did she wake up like this? Never.

In concerns me that in the mainstreaming of transgenderism, it seems to be all about beauty and glamour. Caitlyn and our reaction to her seem to be reinforcing that with every public appearance. Does she -- does anyone -- need to change outfits half a dozen times in one New York City day? Blake Lively pulled that one first, so it's not like Caitlyn was even being original.

Laverne Cox, the Orange Is the New Black actress and the second most-famous transgender woman of the moment, is currently celebrated for being beautiful...and brave, but mostly beautiful. Would we care as much about her if she looked like an average soccer mom?

After Caitlyn's Vanity Fair cover, I had a debate with a Facebook friend who was concerned about the gushing commentary revolving around how "amazing" she looked. Would we have been as accepting of her, he wondered, if she hadn't looked so good?

While I understood where he was coming from, I had to consider Caitlyn's debut medium. We were reacting to a celebrity magazine cover. Traditionally, they're all about shallow aesthetics. What else should we have been reacting to if not how she looks? Isn't that pretty par for course with two-dimensional photographs?

In the weeks since then, though, we've had time to focus on other things. Caitlyn has had time to give us more to focus on. Yet it continues to be mostly about how amazing she looks. This is such a loaded non-development.

All transgender women no more look like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock or Candis Cayne or Caitlyn than all non-trans women look like Kim Kardashian. The big difference is that Kim is pure celebrity. Unlike the others, she isn't regarded as any kind of heroine.

Where is the applause for, say, Chas Bono? He came out as transgender years before Caitlyn made it safer to do so. But where were all the plaudits and glowing testimonials about the bravery of Sonny and Cher's son? If he had come out looking like Josh Duhamel, would things have been different?

I'm not blaming this all on Caitlyn. She wouldn't be the center of attention if we didn't put her there, for whatever reason. So in a sense, we're financing the ego trip.

It's not like I was expecting that much more from her. After all, Bruce was not exactly a promoter of social progress, a tireless crusader. But I was hoping for a pleasant surprise. I wanted Caitlyn to be much more than the second coming of her stepdaughter.

Maybe once the post-initial furor dies down, after mama gets paid, she will grow into the role model she seems to want to be. But as long as her life continues to be a red carpet, complete with glamor squads and perfectly timed public appearances, she'll keep missing the mark in those impossible-to-walk-in heels.
 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I can't believe Anne Murray is 70!

I may not be celebrating America's birthday today (check out my previous post to find out why), but I'm in the mood for a birthday celebration, even if it's a belated one. Two weeks ago, on June 20, Anne Murray turned 70, and I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it.

I'm not really sure why. It's not like I have images of ingenue Anne floating around in my head to beg the question: Where did the time go? Unlike her '70s country-pop contemporaries like Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John, Anne was never really the ingenue.

She always seemed a little older, a bit more settled. Perhaps it was her calm musical approach and her utter un-trendiness. She was like the Julie Andrews of pop, with a strikingly similar hairstyle.



If you compare photos of Anne today to photos of Anne circa 1980, when I first fell in love with her, not much has changed. The woman is as ageless as her music. "Time don't run out on me," she once sang. But it always seemed to stand still as far as Anne was concerned, which is probably what makes it so hard to grasp that she's now entered her eighth decade.

In belated celebration, five of my favorite Anne Murray moments:

"Danny's Song" Like "A Love Song," written by Kenny Loggins but totally owned by Anne. They make me wonder what Anne might have done with later Kenny-written classics like "Whenever I Call You Friend," "What a Fool Believes" and "Footloose."



"You Won't See Me" The one John Lennon called his all-time favorite Beatles remake. The fade-in is still all kinds of amazing.


"Daydream Believer" Makes the Monkees original completely irrelevant. Note how Anne manages to sing flawlessly, completely in tune, while walking around and handing out presents in the video below, like it's the most natural thing in the world to do. That's the very definition of effortless.



"Lucky Me" The first 45 I ever bought. When I met Anne in New York City in the '90s, I brought along the old vinyl Capitol Records single for her to sign. She took one look at it and said, "Oh, another one that didn't do too well." When I considered that it hit No. 9 country and No. 42 pop, Anne's personal musical identity and allegiance became as crystal clear as her voice. She was all about Billboard's Hot 100, not Billboard's Hot Country Singles.



"Another Sleepless Night" Totally naughty to my pre-teen ears...She sang "making love"! The slightly risqueness of it all was one of the reasons I loved it. But today, Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" video makes it sound about as wholesome as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why I won't be celebrating Independence Day this year (or ever again)

One of my most vivid childhood church memories happened on a once-a-decade-or-so Sunday that doubled as Independence Day. It was religious business as usual at Calvary Assembly of God in Kissimmee, Florida, until the stoic woman who played piano during song service approached the pulpit.

She began to sing a song I'd never heard before and was sure she'd made up on the spot called "I'm Proud to Be an American." I can't say for certain, but I think she even may have been wearing a blouse that was patterned like the American flag. It was the strangest display of patriotism I'd ever seen.

My first thought: I never knew she could sing. My second: What the hell is she singing?...

This is church, isn't she supposed to be singing about God? What does America have to do with anything here? And what about the members of the congregation who are not American?

I looked around at all of the white faces around me. Wrong question. She was preaching to the choir. The room couldn't have been more American. It was the right song, wrong occasion. Wouldn't Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," which was probably a hit around the time, have been more on-topic?

I still probably wouldn't have sung along, though. It had nothing to do with separation of Church and State, or the idea that religion serves as the No. 1 ammunition for homophobes, like my Aunt Juliet. I was 10 or 11, way too young to be concerned with that yet.

The truth is, I've just never been into patriotic songs. I don't care for "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Nothing she possibly could have sung would have impressed me as much as a kick-ass original take on "Amazing Grace"...which by the way, I'm still waiting for.

Furthermore, Independence Day just wasn't my thing. Aside from getting the day off from school/work, I've never been into it. I don't even like fireworks. 

Now that I'm on my 10th July 4th living outside of the U.S., Independence Days matters even less because there's no reprieve from anything for me. It's just like any other day here in Australia. 

But deep inside my heart, it's actually a little worse than any other day, not for what it represents but for what it doesn't. For my fellow black Americans and me, Independence Day means absolutely nothing. On July 4, 1776, our ancestors were shackled and enslaved, forced against their will to serve their white masters. I love my country as much as anyone, but is that cause for celebration?

I've recently been watching a number of historical documentaries, with a focus on our Founding Fathers (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, etc.) One of the most alarming discoveries I've made is how many of them owned black slaves. Yes, even the Father of the Country himself, George Washington, "Master" to many.

Jefferson, our third U.S. President, even wrote an entire treatise on why blacks are inferior to whites. Was this his way of convincing himself that it was OK to hang them several rungs below pets, treat them as much less than humans (unless he was taking them to bed!)? 

Though not all of the Founding Fathers so publicly supported slavery or even owned black Americans, only one -- Benjamin Franklin -- ever publicly supported the abolitionist movement. And like 34th U.S. President Harry Truman a century and a half later, he had his ah-ha moment regarding black Americans rather late in life.

So despite the fact that at this moment, I'm prouder to be an American than I have been in years (or maybe ever, thanks to SCOTUS), I won't be celebrating Independence Day today. July 4 will be just like any other day, aside from offering another occasion for me to get atop my soapbox.

I'm glad I'll be spending it in the Blue Mountains of Australia, where I expect there will be no fireworks or TV coverage. Considering my current heightened state of awareness, I'm not sure I could stomach watching everyone celebrate our Founding Hypocrites who preached freedom and equality from England while denying that very thing to the people who would go on to contribute so much to American culture.

I have nothing against white Americans celebrating Independence Day, but it's their Independence Day, not mine. Wake me up when President's Day rolls around again. I'd like to raise a glass to Abraham Lincoln. Unlike most of our Founding Fathers, when he spoke about freedom and equality for all men, he actually meant it.