Exciting news out of NPR on the comic book-inspired film world: “Marvel’s ‘black panther’ isn’t just a black super hero”?
Here is a key moment in the piece: “Not only could Black Panther stay true to its sci-fi narrative roots, but with the full power of the Marvel hype machine, it could easily become the first truly mainstream Afrofuturist film.”
Every year in the spring the policy debate community is introduced to a new topic to be explored, theorized, deconstructed, revised and re-imagined. Policy Debate is a rewarding and rigorous, high school and college activity that requires daily practice, diligence, intellectual stamina, a willingness to loose, access to resources like printing, coaches, and a fairly substantial travel budget. Historically, policy debate has been a male, white and affluent dominated activity. But recently, there has been a push to create a space where women and ethnic minorities can enter the arena, feel comfortable and thrive. New accessible structures have been put in place by special programs called Urban Debate Leagues, that have popped up in many major cities like Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Memphis, Milwaukee and about twenty others. But these programs do not address the inherent debate cultural boundaries that still shut out certain students from the activity.
Spreading is a technique unique to policy debate that is strategically advantageous and heightens the level of competition unbelievably. The reasoning behind the practice is that the more arguments a debater can deliver in an eight minute speech, the harder it will be for the opponent to successfully answer all arguments and present their own. Spreading requires countless hours of practice to achieve, proper breathing techniques and advanced reading and critical thinking skills. It is an exclusionary practice because it makes the entire debate experience incomprehensible to a layperson and it immediately intimidates a lot of students who do not have strong reading and critical thinking skills, which are usually students who are in low achieving schools, which more often than not are schools that are mostly comprised of black and brown students.
Further, policy debate introduces the gamut of old, dead, white philosophers, complex theories and mind tricks that are meant to confuse opponents and give teams a winning advantage. Counter-plans (an alternative to the plan presented by the affirmative team), Kritiques (arguments addressing flawed mindsets, social assumptions and established paradigms) and theory debates all are considered advanced forms of policy debate argumentation. In order to run the complex arguments and successfully refute them both teams must have an understanding of the structure of the argument, what the specific argument says and how the argument relates to the yearly debate resolution. These intricacies of the game further alienate new debaters, who are often female and/or minorities.
But in the past two decades, the policy debate world has seen a kind of counterculture emerge that carves out space for the inclusion of gender, race, sexual orientation and other questions of intersectionality that allows traditionally underrepresented populations into the debate world, and gives them a chance to win. There have been teams who play music, who remain silent during their speech time, and who deliberately refuse to spread, opting for a more realistic pace of argumentation. These new push backs are like welcomed new air to an old, stuffy, stale activity. The HBO documentary, Resolved does a great job of chronicling this new shift in Policy Debate.
I was struck by the difference in the class’s reading experiences, in the most material of ways, based on the choice to read Anne Anlin Cheng’s Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface in an online, purchased, or borrowed library version. Each of these options afforded or took away from the relationship between the book’s form & meaning, function and structure (perhaps of particular interest in relation to Modernism’s guiding dictum, “form follows function”). This made me think that you all might enjoy the following article about new possibilities being forged in the area of book publishing and the ways that the very notion of what it means to “read” are being stretched.
Tupac is one of my favorite musicians. I admire him for more than his popular songs or his posthumous glorification or martyr status but because he was a complex man who allowed his audience to see all facades of himself. He unapologetic when he ‘Got Around’ (in reference to Tupac’s song, “I Get Around”) nor did he lose his candor when he recorded “Dear Mama” nor was he unashamed to emphatically demand for black people to “Keep Ya Head Up.”
After his death a book of his poetry was released entitled, The Rose the Grew From Concrete.
A few years ago I wrote an interpretation of that poem for an Educational Studies course I was taking, which dealt with the shortcomings of schooling for inner city children. Here is a piece of what I had to say:
In the United States there is a cruel joke played on many minority inner city youth. They live in a land overflowing with milk and honey, yet they are denied enough meager scraps to sustain themselves. Temptations plague them worse than the apple that enticed Eve of Biblical times. These students are the underprivileged and marginalized. The ones cast in the shadows when company comes. They are the dark stain upon America’s pristine image. Yet, they are here.
These are the roses Tupac Amaru Shakur wrote about. Daily, they defy the odds that are put up as roadblocks to their success. They rise from gang ridden high-rise projects. They rise from sewage-laden parks. They rise from drug addicted and alcoholic parents. They rise from rape and molestation. They rise through all the muck and mire life could possibly throw at them. It is no wonder that their rose petals are rough and bruised in places. In the midst of their miracle, America does not see that they are amazing for simply surviving. America sees these flowers as defective; they do not bloom as full as others that were planted on fertile land. They don’t have the thorns needed to protect themselves from the troubles life will surely bring. We as gardeners have an obligation to nurture all our flowers, regardless of their physical aesthetic or where within our garden they may bloom.
Though my words were very incisive, I think they speak to a raw emotion I felt at that time, just leaving an inadequate public school education just months before I wrote this. I share this because I think it most aptly speaks to the kind of world/head-space Tupac was most likely in when he wrote the poem a few decades ago. Further, the rose that he personifies typifies the magical nature that takes black art into the realm of Afrofuturism. Tupac is imagining a world where young black boys and girls are able to overcome all of life’s unfair obstacles and are able to show the world their true beauty.
Southern rap duo, Outkast has made a lasting mark on the HipHop scene for both their innovative and futuristic music and their eclectic, unapologetic style. In their sophomore release Andre 3000 and Big Boi push the bounds of Afrofuturistic sound production. The album title, ATLiens, pays homage to their cultural roots in the great city of Atlanta while also denoting thier seeming misplacement in the rap mainstream. At the time of the album’s release, 1996, HipHop was all about glorified drug culture and the glamorization of the street hustler. But Andre and Big Boi chose to focus on existential introspection, and extraterrestrial life. They intersected these futuristic notions with a southern, relaxed, ‘player-like’ persona. Outkast is a cornerstone in the futuristic realm of HipHop and rap music.
In the video for their album titled song, ATLiens, Big Boi and Andre 3000 are searching through hieroglyphs and climb through a narrow passageway that can be said to look very much like the entrance to a Utopian enclave. The hieroglyphs are clear allusions to an Egyptian past that can be viewed as the recursiveness of the blutopic, as it points to an ancient past and futuristic present.
In her first novel, The Third of Grange Copeland, Alice Walker introduces a family of characters with a peculiar type of social interaction and the capacity to perform some of the cruelest acts against one another, including child neglect, infidelity and murder. She takes the reader through the three lives of the main character, Grange Copeland. Her ability to wrestle with the complex idea of generational stagnation due to certain socio-economic status circumstances that leave the impoverished with no personal agency to change the situation for their offspring is skillful. Walker does an excellent job of examining how the theory of Social Reproduction can be applied in other areas besides its’ original educational context. She does this through the similarities between Grange and his son Brownfield. In the same story she weaves in a negation to Social Reproduction, which ultimately blames systems of oppression for all problems the oppressed face, by giving all her characters the burden of choice. Grange, in addition to being a part of the example advocating Social Reproduction, is the counter-narrative by ensuring Ruth, his granddaughter, is able to lead a different life than all the other Copelands.
In The Third of Grange Copeland, Walker is able to carve out three distinct lives for Grange Copeland, without reincarnation. In each of his lives, Walker creates new space for Grange which also alters his attitude. Walker’s ability to imagine Grange as a multifaceted character across space and time puts her squarely in the trajectory of Afrofuturistic writers. Though her novel is set squarely in the Southern United States and New York City, there are elements of futurism and un-realism that are found in this griping novel.
Spike Lee has made films pertaining to the African American experience for the past thirty years. He has grown into prominence as one of the defining voices of modern Black culture. One of my favorite films by him is Crooklyn. The movie is a coming of age story about a young black girl, Troy, living in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s. The movie is best known for its musical score with songs like “People Make the World Go Round” and “Everyday People.” The semi-autobiographical tale is the creation of another world that resembles Brooklyn, where Spike Lee grew up. The title of of the movie denotes this new space creation, otherwise the movie could have been simply titled Brooklyn. Significantly, there are no white Americans prominent in the film, there is hispanic or otherwise ethnic representation in the film with Troy’s neighborhood friend, Gloria, and the owner and operator of the local corner store. Lee is able to recreate remnants of his world in black and brown hues. He chooses to tell a story about a black family that is positive, entertaining and realistic that does not involve an outside white world. In this film Lee is able to create an all black space, which is not utopian. But nonetheless, it is a space for black people, created by black people.
Earlier this semester we discussed Frederic Jameson’s “Archaeologies of the Future” and from that discussion arose an idea of the suburbs being the middle space he describes as being between the city and the country. The long running Showtime series Weeds provides support for this notion of suburbia being this almost utopian space.
The beginning of every episode begins with a song called “Little Boxes” which describes how all the houses, cars, and people all look the same in a fictitious California suburb called Agrestic. The premise is that Agrestic looks like any other suburban enclave in the United States, with its exercising fathers, coffee drinkers and stay at home mothers. Upon watching the show, one realizes the show is more about debunking the myth of the monolithic ‘middle America’ experience. Nancy Botwin, the main character, must find a way to take care of her family after her husband dies. Instead of getting a job Nancy decides to start selling marijuana illegally. Nancy’s life before her husband died was pleasant and simple and his death took her from her happy/utopian space and into a harsh world where bills were piling high, her two boys are in desperate need of guidance and financial support, Nancy has very few lucrative job prospects.
What starts off looking like Utopia is quickly turned into a struggle to maintain what society tells Nancy she should have and the madness that ensues. Nancy Botwin’s life typifies why Utopia cannot exist in reality. What happens when tragedy strikes?