23 March 2008

Around the Back and Between the Legs

The Harlem Globetrotters began as a serious basketball team on the South Side of Chicago in the 1920s. They were called the Harlem Globetrotters (by their "creator," Abe Saperstein) because of Harlem's status as the capital of African-American culture, but did not play their first home game in New York until 1968. In 1948 - a year after Jackie Robinson spike-cleated his way through the color barrier in professional sports - the all-black Globetrotters beat the NBA's premiere franchise, the all-white Minneapolis Lakers. They beat them again in 1949. When black players were drafted into the NBA in the 1950s, the Globetrotters went a new route - around the back and between the legs, sideshowboating to the whistled tune of "Sweet Georgia Brown."

Bloggers and academics alike suggest that the lighter fare of the Globetrotter exhibition is weighted with minstrelsy's complex legacy. Uncle Toms in their Uncle Sam starsandbars uniform.

Wilt Chamberlain played for the Globetrotters. So did baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.

The Globetrotters played for Pope Pius XII in 1951.

They have starred in two feature films, a Saturday morning cartoon, a variety show, and have guested on Gilligan's Island and Scooby Doo.

Honary members of the Globetrotters include: Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul, and Jesse Jackson.

From 1962 until the approximate present, the Globetrotters have a win-loss record of 12,594-5.

The term for losing-on-purpose or staging the outcome of a contest is "kayfabe," which apparently is carny slang of undetermined derivation. Professional Wrestling is the most prominent example of kayfabe. The team that is paid to lose to the Globetrotters is the Washington Generals. Louis "Red" Klotz is the founder of the Washington Generals. Klotz is the third shortest player ever to play in the NBA (5'7). He averaged 1.4 PPG for the Baltimore Bullets. After his stint in the NBA, Klotz starred with the ABL's Philadelphia SPHAs (an acronym for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association). In addition to running the Generals, Klotz was the team's pointguard until he was 62 years old and in 1971, at age 50, he hit a jumper at the buzzer to beat the Globetrotters in overtime. Klotz claims the Generals try to win every game.

Apparently, in the 30s and 40s, Jews were charged with the same backdoor praise as African-Americans - that they were intrinsically better ballers than their double-dribbling Gentile neighbors. The writer Paul Gallico said Jews excelled at basketball because "the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness." Newly emigrated Jews poured off boats and into the ghettos of eastern cities. Then, as now, basketball was an inner-city game. This certainly sounds familiar: "It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto," said Dave Dabrow, a guard with the original Philadelphia Hebrews. "It was where the young Jewish boy would never have been able to go to college if it wasn't for the amount of basketball playing and for the scholarship." (jewishmag.com)

In the halcyon days of barnstorming basketball, there were all-Jewish teams in addition to all-African-American teams. There was a team called the Cleveland Rosenblums. The Philadelphia SPHAs often matched up with the all-black New York Renaissance. And from the inside, the view was no less skewed. A former SPHA claims the Jewish teams played "a quick-passing running game, as opposed to the bullying and fighting way which was popular other places," while a former member of the NY Rens tells us the SPHAs were a "thinking" team while the Rens relied on "quickness."

This is the ghost of a research paper without the thesis. Certainly vaudeville, sports, and race are all knotted up here. Just gander again at that Washington Generals logo. Initially, I wanted to write on the phenomena of the Generals as a metaphor for somethingimnotsurewhat. Losing perpetually, purposefully, artfully, heroically. A team of straight men. Straw men. Patsies. Dumbstruck, breezed by, dunked on. For a living. And once I found out that the Generals' genesis, Red Klotz seemed an aptly named figurehead for my hasty constellation of ideas. But digging deeper, the history took over and it's too big for me here. The history of American popular culture never fails to be denser and more convoluted than you'd imagine. The. Ball. Is. In. Your. Court.

17 March 2008

Flipped! by Alan Smithee

So last night I watched a two and a half hour documentary about abortion. It's called Lake of Fire. And it was good. But first a note about director Tony Kaye.

Tony Kaye directed the video for Soul Asylum's Runaway Train.

Tony Kaye also directed American History X, which was released a decade ago, but I can assure you its rabble still rouses American college students, as more than a couple of mine provided it as a suggestion for the film we watch during our open final week of class. But Kaye wasn't happy with the film in finished form, claiming that Ed Norton had re-edited it to give himself more screen time ... the director wanted his name removed from the film and replaced with "Alan Smithee." The Director's Guild wouldn't let him.

["Alan Smithee" is the go-to-pseudonym of disgruntled auteurs and it has a rich 40 year history. Among other things, Smithee directed the pilot of MacGyver and "The OJ Simpson Story" and wrote "The Tony Blair Witch Project."]

Lake of Fire steers admirably toward objectivity (you don't need an eerie score or unequal time to make the crazies sound like crazies) and gains a lot from its scope. The pundits range from the deranged to the incomparably erudite (Noam Chomsky) and the footage spans over a decade, so it is extra chilling, for instance, to see interviews with both a doctor and the radical "pro-lifer" who would kill him soon after.


1). The brother of Eric Rudolph - the infamous Olympic bomber and lam-survivor (sort of a Neo-Nazi Christopher McCandless) - sent a videotape of himself severing his own hand with an electric saw to the FBI in order to protest the media coverage of the manhunt for his brother. Eric Rudolph's webpage is kept up and on it, you can read such tracts as "Feminism, by Eric Rudolph" (which sounds funny at first but isn't at all ... ideologically diseased as he is, he isn't stupid ... he's an exhaustive reader and an exhausting writer.)

2). [sadder, more important] Who put the Roe in Roe v. Wade? 'Twas one Norma McCorvey (named in court proceedings as "Jane Roe" for anonymity). Where is she now? Well at a 1994 booksigning for her book "I am Roe," the out-lesbian McCorvey was confronted by born-again pro-life activist Flip Benham. Benham worked his necromancy and now Roe herself works for his anti-abortion coalition Operation Rescue. Her baptism by Benham (pictured above) was televised. She is, of course, no longer gay. She got Flipped.

03 March 2008

The Internet Part I: It's A Sticky Web, And Worldwide

This post is about the internet. It begins with an anecdote about me and a stripper named Pandora. You may have heard this one before:

When we were seniors in college, we drove from New York to New Orleans by way of Graceland and the Waffle House. We spat in the Mississippi. Anyway one night we sat in the back of our first strip club and laughed nervously away from the men who stared hard out of their faces. Then Pandora came on. She came on to "Go! Speed Racer." She looked right at me as she licked her armpit and I kind of made a face like that was a funny thing to do to lick your armpit and then she smiled like yeah I guess it is. I thought that somehow that exchange gave the two of us the color and shape of real 3D humans in a room full of sad bodies sick for disconnection. Naive maybe, but a strip club is a good place not to be used to. I went up to give her the best tip I could afford on the condition that she give me a high five. Which she did.

NOW: On the internet there is a site for hipsters called VBS TV (of which Spike Jonze is "creative director"). And on that site there is a series called "Shot By Kern" which features short videos of former underground filmmaker and current erotic photographer Richard Kern (whose resume includes a Sonic Youth video) shooting naked ladies intercut with interviews of the models. There is a three part interview with porn star Sasha Grey (I won't link to it as I'm not too sure about what Google allows content-wise, but do go if you're interested and don't mind the nudity).

Sasha, who will turn 20 (!) in a couple weeks, is smart, articulate, and ostensibly not horribly damaged by abuse or abandonment. She talks about her love for Godard and Herzog, of forming a union for pornworkers, and clarifies the question of whether she is a "self-proclaimed existentialist." She considers porn work to be a combination of performance art and athletics. On her blog (also on VBS), she signs off with "Lotta Continua," which I had to google to learn means "the struggle continues" and is the name of an Italian radical leftist group. Intrigued, I went to see if she had a wikipedia page which she does. There I learned that she had a 3.8 GPA in high school. On her myspace page, her "top friends" include avant-garde filmmakers Harmony Korine, John Cassavetes, and RW Fassbinder ... as well as the Criterion Collection and Joy Division. Under "Who I'd like to meet" she includes NPR's Terry Gross.

There's a lot of porn on the internet and maybe just maybe I've stumbled across some of it once or twice when I was innocently searching for a recipe on how to cook chicken breast. But it occurs to me that this same crazy massive instrument can be just as much an instrument of subjectification as it is of objectification. Certainly the ratio of body parts to fun facts is skewed to the seedy side, but if I had (hypothetically) looked at Sasha Grey before, I will (hypothetically) never look at her in quite the same way. This is no justification. I understand that being curious about the personalities of naked women doesn't license my own or anyone's contribution to the Male Gaze that X-Rays its way through the outerwear of gender equity. Nothing is undone with high fives or cursory websearching. But soaked as surfers are in images of oppression ... not so bad if expression washes up in a bottle with a message in it.