Coffee Log, Day 224

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I read a New York Times Magazine article about contemporary art. It started at a dinner table, two friends arguing about the show ‘Insecure.’ One friend liked it, the other didn’t. They both were black men.

The friend who liked it said there were no grounds to question ‘Insecure.’ It’s a TV series by and about black women in America – it’s too important as a social symbol to critique. They other guy – the author of the article – was wary. He described a world of bland dinner parties: no strife, no conflict, everyone agreeing to progressive standards, consuming media that was morally homogeneous. He said that wasn’t art.

But of course it’s complicated. Of course representation matters. There are studies coming out every day showing that kids who are given positive role models from their own race, culture, background, grow into healthier self-esteems. And there are still tremendous thumping gears churning night and day to keep the dark dream of white patriarchy vibrant, all the while actively draining color from whatever minority garden in which art or ideas might grow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is, in fact, ‘important’ that shows like ‘Insecure’ exist.

I met a guy in Japan who still lives there. He talked about America, about Wisconsin, about how everything was bleaker back home. He spoke fluent Japanese and knew how to party. He’d buy the seasonal chocolates at the corner store and ring the bell and clap three times at Buddhist shrines. He wasn’t Japanese but he wanted to be. I think something similar is going on with progressive art. You play an educated left-leaning American of whatever color one song by Kendrick Lamar, then one song by Young Dolph and nine times out of ten they’re picking Kendrick. Why? Because he’s able to sanitize a struggle so it’s palatable. Like Martin Luther King, Jr, he’s a great man with great words and zero blemishes, an idol, a god, in-human, unattainable, safe to aspire to because implicit in his image is the fact that you – 35, two jobs, disenfranchised by voter registration laws, behind on credit cards and paying half your income to rent, probably black but maybe even poor and white – will never get to life that life of freedom. Implicit in a blanket admiration for non-white art is the fact that these aren’t complicated, messy, people – these are fancy macaws and peacocks locked in carefully hidden cages, putting on a show for the upper class.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“This version of the culture wars casts Beyoncé as the goddess of empowerment who shan’t be blasphemed. She offers herself as both deity and politician, someone here to embody and correct.” – Wesley Morris, The Morality Wars, linked here

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Coffee Log, Day 195

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s

My bank branch flies it’s flag at half-mast for John McCain. I remember my Grandmother voting McCain in the primary against Bush. The man had a long American history. He stood for some things I disagree with, some that I do agree with. In ten years, what will we remember him for?

One of the vipers of democratic progress is the gradual dismemberment of heroes. No-one is perfect. Everyone keeps skeletons packed in closets. With more information and a greater appetite for justice, we begin – rightfully – pulling those skeletons out. This leads to underrepresented voices being heard. Dig enough, though, and who’s left to look up to?

A friend said “McCain doesn’t deserve the praise.” He’s right, of course. It’s important to know John the man as much as John the hero, just as it’s important to know our founding fathers were wicked men holding other men in bondage. But strip all the heroes to their wet, naked sin and what do we have left to look up to?

That’s an open question. I don’t have an answer.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you” – John McCain

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Coffee Log, Day 58

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Sumatra Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

Kendrick Lamar is not my favorite hip-hop artist. DAMN. – in my opinion – is not his best album. However, DAMN. winning a Pulitzer is a good, no a great, no a fantastic thing for art and culture and progress.

Awards don’t really matter in themselves. Kendrick reaches way more people commercially than he ever will with the Pulitzer at his name. James Patterson sells a hell of a lot more than Murakami. I’ve read a lot of articles talking about what a step forward to hip-hop this is, for black culture, but they’ve got it backwards: black culture and hip-hop have been excelling for decades; this is a step forward for the rest of us.

What makes me happy is that a group of stuffy curmudgeons felt either personally inspired or publicly pressured to speak Kendrick’s name into the same kind of prestige traditionally reserved for old white guys. This shifts the conception of what good art is and what a good artist looks like. The horse itself admits the prejudice in the cart and lets on a different kind of customer.

Next year, I want to see Lil Wayne on Pulitzer list. One step at a time though.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged
How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city
What they say ’bout me reveal if my reputation would miss me
What they see from me would trickle down generations in time
What they hear from me would make ’em highlight my simplest lines.” – Kendrick Lamar, Fear

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