Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hamsters, Bodymore, and Bawlmerese

There are so many parochial facets of Baltimore that make this city's natives proud to call (c)Harm City home. The "o" in home is a long sort of "o," and there's a bit of a Hiberno-English or perhaps Cornish Enligh twang on the phoneme. All of you who are familiar with the highly particular "o" sounded in these parts will know of what I am speaking. While the accent and dialect of English spoken in Baltimore is similar to that spoken in and around Philadelphia, south Jersey, and up and down Delaware, the distinctly Baltimore accent is by far the most fascinating sort of mid-Atlantic English. Hyperbolic I am not, and you shall take a most pleasant trip to Highlandtown or Hampden to find out from where the mystique doth come.

In particular, the hamsters (Hampden hipsters) became enthralled so much by the accent most commonly found in Hampden that they began to flock to the neighborhood formerly inhabited exclusively by mill workers and other industrially-inclined folk whose ancestors migrated there from Appalachia. Though the neighborhood was in serious decline throughout the 80's and 90's, the urban locale is now one of the hottest areas in B-more. The main commercial artery of Hampden is known as the Avenue (36th st.), where a mix of true Hampdenites, hamsters, and assorted other Baltimorons roam the strip. Kitsch, schmaltz, and authentic indigenous crafts dot the landscape, but an uneasy feeling of invasion pervades. Is the old Baltimore reluctant to step aside, or can the two demographic segments coexist harmoniously? A-rabbers still parade their donkeys across the Avenue, peddling their produce to pedestrians while parroting paeans. And, Hampden plays host to a breed of urban dweller that is said to have missed the second half of the 20th Century.
The rudiments of Baltimore's unique flava are found in horrible haircuts, mispronounced consonants, and in the remarkably parochial citizenry who typically cannot name more than three neighborhoods outside of the one they inhabit. These attributes are beautiful, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Gentrificious, educated, and stodgy folks might lend human capital to their geographic niches, but the masses provide cities with a sense of tradition, a love of things that aren't so peachy, like stubborn murder rates and b-more club. However, don't let this laundry list convince you that Baltimore hasn't been well-served by its honorable mayor. Also, don't be deceived into thinking that I don't adore my native city (though I do in fact currently reside in the northwestern portion of the metropolitan region and not in the inner sector).

Lord O'Malley has indeed created a city that is more amenable for absorbing yuppies. Though this town ought not truthfully proclaim (as it does on omnipresent bus stop benches) that it's the Greatest City in America, this town has a lot going for it. One native, Spankrock, once said that Baltimore is the most under-rated party city in America. A budding anthropologist from Manhattan's Upper West Side once became so obsessed with both Dundalk and Hampden that he decided to excise his uptown Yankee demons and become baptized as a born again Baltimoron.

We got crabs, Berger cookies, and damn good police dramas abour our urban pharmaceutical industry. Stop Snitching, Babe Ruth, and Edgar Allan Poe all germinated in Baltimore. Long live Mr. Boh! How bout dem Ravens?

Me, I'm just impatiently waiting on the construction of two new mass transit lines: one, the Green, will be an extension to the NorthEast of the current Subway line that ends at Johns Hopkins Hospital; two, the Red, will run east-west from the Social Security Administration to Patterson Park, through downtown. These projects likely won't be completed til 2014 or so. We've got 1/3score to wait until Baltimore has a genuine public transit network. Citistat/Compstat may be able to pinpoint the locations of lead poisonings, waste removal, and property crimes, but it cannot provide sufficient impetus for an end to the tremendous favortism that city, state, and federal governments have exhibited for cars, highways, and sprawl. Enough is enough. Baltimore is back. JHU might be commandeering the Middle East community, but B-more is on the map now more than ever. After New York City, Baltimore was the 2nd city in the US to reach a population of 100,000. In fact, until 1870, Baltimore was indeed the 2nd most populous city in the nation. Rod Lee, show these knuckleheads what time it is!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Waters vs. Borat the Brute

Both of these not-so-gentlemen humor the world with a penchant for highly offensive musings on sex, substances, and seldomly serious stuff. For my money, humor seems like it almost mandates significantly disgusting or disconcerting content these days if it intends to arouse substantial reactions. John Waters puts on GayFace/VanillaFace, resulting in an irrepressible combo of wry wit and socially relevant chortling.

Borat, along with the two other incarnations of Sacha Baron Cohen, dons BlackFace/KazakhFace/ GayFace in order to cover the gamut of gangsta-ness, orientalizing barbarism, and gaiety. What do these masks convey in this funny world where the funny farm is overflowing with obscene narratives and culturally corrupt concepts?

Culture exists so that it might be corrupted. What is culture if it cannot be misappropriated and mashed up for conspicuous consumption? Comedians are said to be successful upon crossing the point at which they've appropriated appropriately enough to receive comedic license. This license allows for licentiousness and filthy frothings. In the case of Waters, the monologue tends to the familiar and cutesy, albeit nastily nauseating. For Borat the trickster, humor is a game in which he cons his subjects into displaying their alleged animosities and/or miseducations.

For the rodeo islamophobe, the ostensibly Jew-baiting gun merchant, and the frattish rv drunks, Borat eggs on their hatemongering. Borat enjoys bringing people into his universe in order to ridicule their absurdities and revel in the debased qualities of normal folks. Is this noble? Not terribly so. But, it's godforsaken hilarity. That movie has corpses turning giddy. Waters, on the other hand, knows how to document the styles and the accents of the common man, without managing to stick a fork in their collective anus. Waters perhaps does not aim for the same manner of cultural critique as Borat, but the effect in his films is a bit more deferential with respect to class differences, even if not to propriety and behavioral norms.

One looming issue strikes again. In the spirit of Dave Chapelle, are we allowed to make fun of our own people? Can we adopt a people and then code-switch into their ranks in order to become a cultural chameleon? Imeptuous Borat from the Kazakh steppe impersonates a brutish faux Central Asian in order to become an ethnically ambiguous character of his own creation. This character ends up being a hybrid Slav-Jew-Oriental uncouth ignoramous who never ceases to enthrall. Ali G, as a black person who is not actually black, also presents us with a Bamboozled sort of minstrelsy. Cohen no doubt embodes the new age minstrel show. Bruno, for his part perhaps more akin to Waters, is cast as a relentlessly "out" homosexual, who actually was once physically assaulted for his aggressively impudent advances. It is hard to reproduce the comedic effect of Borat on a blog, but his jokes turn poker faces sour, make soccer moms squirm, and leave the rest of us wondering what the net effect of his routine is. Do the offended feel more victimized than the fans feel uplifted?

The movie is designed to draw massive crowds of eager young fans, mouths gaping in awe of the cinematic presence that Borat captures. Conversely, Waters leaves his older cast of onlookers utterly stunned by the various cult films that he's churned out, punctuated by kitschy Cry Baby, virulent Serial Mom, and pop classic-turned Broadway thriller Hairspray.

Waters finds comedic relief in absolutely disgusting tales of anal blossoms, nurses feeding turds to unsuspecting patients, and meth-hooked hyperactive homos. Does this mean that Waters does not have to leave his cultural universe to attain superstardom? The creation of Kazakhstan as imaginary home of Eastern orientalisms and ignorant imbeciles for Borat's unending but misdirected adulation. The real nation that exists independent of Borat's illusions plays no role in this spoof. Nonetheless, it's not just a place represented by villages of angry Romanians who've sued Borat for misrepresenting them on screen and for exposing their virtues (or lack thereof) to the moviegoing set. (I read that the so-called town abortionist was the most irate upon realizing the SUCCESS of the Boratic travesties).

Anyhow, join me on Borat's irreverent and repulsive bandwagon. Be sure to check the official Borat website for a slice of the cheese curd made from his mother's breast milk. Ahh yes, I liiiiike!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Early ChriKwaNukah Present: Progressive Power

Given the decisive victory achieved by the Democrats in the recent midterm elections, one might expect that a left-leaning individual such as myself would be pleased with the result. Moreover, given my energies expended working for the Democratic Party in Baltimore City, one might additionally assume that I was a faithful member of the donkey establishment. The former is somewhat true, while the latter is rather distant from the truth. On the one hand, I am undoubtedly giddy that the elephant no longer snubs his fat trunk at the masses of Americans upon whom he's consistently stomped. On the other, what assurances do I have that the Dems won't continue to cook up the same ole can of rancid pork and beans? Therefore, I hereby declare my support for an imaginary third party that has not yet come to fruition. Since I am somewhat of a pessimist regarding the political future of these divided states, I anxiously watch the entrenched two-party system, as it continues to erode the basic principles of open, accountable, and democratic government. Hence my tardy midterm vote for the rebirthed Progressive Party of America.

I have generally advocated voting Green to show support for various candidates - in order to build awareness about the party. But such a strategy is not viable if such a vote cast will come at the expense of handing the election to a horrific right-leaning candidate. The solution to this problem is ranked-choice voting (also known as prference or instant run-off voting), which has already been instituted in Australia and San Francisco.

There is undeniable difficulty inherent in third party action in the US, due to a robust yet diseased two-party tradition that has served America as a relatively stable outfit. Nonetheless, it is time for a drastic change. Political realignment is the best course currently, not merely for Progressives such as myself, but also for the median voter, who is poised to benefit from the injection of a higher dose of honesty in the political discourse of our day.
My dream would be to promote the emergence of a Progressive Party that would fill the void that has existed on the left for quite some time. Since the nation drifted rightward in the aftermath of all those lib movements, civil rights, student protests, and social upheaval, the political center in America has been rather to the right. As the perceived excesses of the Warren court were undone by subsequent judicial activism from the right, by legislative destruction of regulatory and social welfare provisions, and by a rash of executives committed to neoliberal ideology, the spectrum shifted. It is now time to reverse the rightward drift of the political standard. Rise up, barons of leftist ilk! Reclaim thine positions and reload your civic weaponry.

In such a scenario envisaged above, the current Democratic Party would continue its rightward migration and would become a truly centrist electoral behemoth. Renaming itself as the Liberal Democratic Party in the true sense of the term "liberal," this machine would promote the efficiency of corporate power, relatively small government, fiscal conservatism, and diplomatic prudence in the international arena. This party would inevitably receive upwards of 50% of the national vote total, as McCain-type libertarians, Arnoldesque Machiavellians, and Lieberman lovermen would flock to the erstwhile Democratic Party, which would still indeed be the proud home of the Clintons and many others.

On the right, the Christian Nationalist Patriotic Front would emerge with the support of approximately 30% of the national vote. As the unabashed tent for religiously reverent folks, cultural moralists, and admittedly chauvinistic souls, this camp could strive to represent candidly its egotistical yearnings. With most of the business types having vacated the party, this front could focus on the cultural and racial issues that the moderate Republicans never stomached. It has yet to be determined whether the isolationist or the aggressively neoconservative elements would win out, but it is likely that, without corporate support, the neoconservative comrades would be discredited. Even so, the paleocon base would abandon any allegiance to unrealistic international ambitions regarding the promotion of political buzzwords such as "freedom" and "democracy" in certain occupied countries but would also realize that their imperial goals propel America to similar ideological ends as the neocons.

The Progressive Party, which I wholeheartedly embrace, would base its platform upon much of what the current Green Party stands for but would create a broader set of goals. Public campaign financing, re-urbanization of America (i.e. an urban Marshall plan), universal healthcare, green energy, internationalist foreign policy orientation, increase in corporate taxation, and the reversal of massive socioeconomic disparities would be the tenets of this energized movement to incorporate the populist roots of fin-de-siecle progressivism, fulfill the needs of people excluded from the neoliberalist-dominated mainstream, and uplift Americans who had previously been deceived by cultural facades that masked ulterior economic motives. Progressives of the world, UNITE!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Circuit of Theory into the Future

At this juncture in the evolution of American political fashions, it has become necessary to segregate the various forces of ideological power in our multi-faceted system of domination by mainstreamed, neoliberal influences. These methods of incursion deem the benefactor not worthy of postcolonial liberation or even the slightest admission of credit-based tender and meeting the simplest of requisites for the injection of truly polyamorous government into American World War IV Society. That being said, in terms of the eventuality of primal dictatorship over the currencies of comprehension, we are pushed ultimately into the peripatetics of a residentially inept climate in this era of increasingly demolishable and demonical corporate control over the strictures and victuals that pervade our long lives. Is this proper to yield such aggressive and formidable interplay between the divergent mantras of central importance to the creation of an entirely novel set of norms that bridge the multiple discourses of geopolitical exaltation in such a way? That might encourage the adoption of a bifurcated disaster of a strategy to knock down the towers of the two party system. Ok, I must show you the two towers that now dominate the discourse on dispelling the occupation. Did you know that the two parties of the American political system are maintaining a complex of severe and strangulating occupation of our collective turf? The occupation will face a hasty end. This will come about as a result of the emergence of a Progressive Party that throws off the shackles of neoliberal domination and thusly inculcates the new front of forwardly oriented imaginations with a thoroughly green, black, and orange drapeau, articulating the future of international political expression.

Monday, November 06, 2006

3 Monotheisms = 3 Militarisms

The Iranian so-called "Holocaust cartoon contest" recently announced the winner of a $12,000 sum, for penning the most clever retort to the series of Danish caricatures of the Muslim uber-prophet, Mohammed. Jabbing at the Jewish faith in response to a secular Christian Western European nation's bold assertion of press freedoms, this Iranian contest allowed for supposedly intelligent people to continue lambasting rival monotheistic creeds. All have missed the point! My cartoon collage to the left makes use of a range of critical images designed to unify the collective absurdities of the contemporary inter-religious discourse and its undying strife.

A violent international controversy was unleashed in February 2006, months after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (and subsequently several other Western newsdailies) published inflammtory cartoons depicting Mohammed, which Islam explicitly forbids (called aniconism, the absence of representations). As a result of the Danish failure to apologize for the publication of the hyperbolic and vitriolic representations, the Muslim world rose up in protest. This map shows the distribution both of re-publication and of violent reaction to the depictions. Altogether at least 139 people were killed in the riots, Danish/Norweigan embassies were set ablaze across the Middle East, and Danish companies lost approximately 134 million euros as part of the Arab economic boycott. However, Wikipedia reports that Danish exports to the U.S. climbed 17% in the U.S. for the 1st Quarter of 2006, as rightwing consumers snatched up Bang&Olufsen stereos and Legos galore.

It would seem that this whole mess, which pitted virulent Western Islamophobia against a vengeful "Arab street," ought to have been avoided at all costs. Yet, flying the sanctimonious flag of almighty press freedom, Western media outlets pushed the limits of tolerance. Perhaps humor and satire should be acceptable means of critiquing all religions. Ideally, cartoons would never provoke such a response. But, given the current climate of tense relations between Islamists and Christian-Western nationalists, this quixotic desire to publish cartoons whimsically and successfully just could not be fulfilled.

In my humble opinion, all of these militant monotheists are fools and hyprocrites. None of the three faiths actually represents the virtues it purports to embrace. And, all of them clearly violate, on a daily level, the most basic tenets of the Abrahamic creed, which forms the basis of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In a show of solidarity with the Muslims worldwide who suffered more from pens than they did from swords, the Iranian contest (sponsored by Tehran daily Hamshahri and displayed in Tehran's Contemporary Arts Museum) aimed to place Jews squarely in between the original Danish offenders and the offended Islamic audience. The entire spectacle becomes a celebration of Holocaust denial, in which there is a range of blame and negation for the Nazi victims and the Palestinian oppressed, who seem to have received the brunt of the historical karma that the Holocaust initiated. No Iranian media outlet actually published any of the winning entries, which were announced on November 2nd. Also, very few Iranians have apparently visited the exhibition, which featured a range of artists from around the world. The official sponsors claim that they wanted to test the West's tolerance for drawings about the Holocaust.

The winning entry (to the right) shows the landscape of the Auschwitz concentration camp etched into a separation wall being constructed around the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third-holiest site. Another of the most notable toons also uses Holocaust imagery to project the suffering of the Palestinians. However, this cartoon also introduces the downtrodden Palestinian as the latter-day Jesus, since he is ostensibly being crucified by the historical Holocaust. Jesus was indeed an original Palestinian and a Jew, but Jesus would most likely not endorse the absurd set of cartoons that have been launched towards all of the three monotheisms.

Clearly, none of the three stands for the heinous violence and blatant lack of compassion that adherents to these faiths display without fail. While the Pope is able to apologize for offending Islam, why can he not simultaneously apologize for the fact that his religion has often acted as malevolently and disturbingly as the religion that he insulted? When will Jews realize that the Holocaust does not give them free reign to condemn Palestinians to an eternity of injustice and segregation? When will Muslims admit that their religion, among many others, was engendered by an agressive conqueror? The jingoistic/monotheistic deity that all 3 of these religions embrace is the same male, exclusive, and singular godhead. None of the three faiths is any better at carrying out the spiritual tradition of peace, tolerance, and freedom, while all three engage in perennial violence, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness IN THE NAME OF GOD.
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