Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cruising or a Wide Stance?

Slate's popular Explainer column presents a few clarifying points about Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) indiscretions in a men's bathroom stall at the Minneapolis airport in June. Take a gander at the experts who contributed to the column -- you'll have to read on to draw the connection between U.S. Senate history and colorectal advice: "Explainer thanks William Leap of American University, Don Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office, and Robert Theobald of Comprehensive Colorectal Care."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Need More Maps

Miss South Carolina outshines them all at the Miss Teen USA 2007 competition.

It's funny to see Mario Lopez try to keep a straight face after listening to thirty seconds of such incoherent babbling. Is it just me or does she refer to Iraq as "The Iraq"? Perhaps she meant the Sudan.

Monday, August 27, 2007

To Be a Problem

My friend Alexis Gumbs is offering a free online course with the support of community and Duke University resources. Riffing on Du Bois and looking forward to the next generation of queer black radicalisms, the course is titled "To Be a Problem: Outcast Subjectivity and Black Literary Production." The syllabus includes readings and related media by Paul Beatty, Michelle Cliff, Toni Morrison, The Roots, Natasha Tretheway, and other artists and dreamers.

Like my own work on black pulp fiction, Alexis is concerned to retrieve the historical and cultural frames that enable what might be called resistance publishing -- creative acts of black radical meaning-making. Where my archive tends toward masculinist stories of life on the street, Alexis's is decidedly feminist, queer, and self-consciously political. Despite these obvious differences, our work has something vital in common: a desire to recover and reinvent radical strands of late-twentieth-century black social imaginaries. Ours is a literary-materialist project of great historical depth and infinite utopian-imaginative potential.

Alexis's decision to offer this course online is an act of radical pedagogy. It's truly the first step we, as scholars, can do to honor what black radicals and activists have always pushed for: bringing knowledge, resources, and opportunities of learning to the people.
I encourage you to visit the online version of "To Be a Problem" here. If you'd like to participate in the online discussion of course materials, please read Alexis's introduction (copied below) and get in touch with her ASAP.


Welcome! This is the online home of a course entitled To Be A Problem: Outcast
Subjectivity and Black Literary Production. As Audre Lorde, June Jordan and Fred Moten teach us, all knowledge belongs to the people. This is an effort to steal the force out of mechanisms through which the private University privileges itself as a site of "knowledge production". Since we all know that learning happens everywhere this FREE online version of a course that will be taught this fall at Duke University invites you to participate in an interactive process of reading and creating. Look for bi-weekly posts on the materials listed and weekly writing assignments. Please read and write along with us. (Take advantage of this opportunity to havethe infinitely-divided attention of a queerblackradical nerd for three months!) If you'd like to participate please send your email address and a sentence about your intention to

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ishmael Reed on PBR

From Reed's otherwise mediocre novel Reckless Eyeballing (1986):

He couldn't understand why Paul sneered at Pabst. If you ever examined the can or bottle closely you could see the reproduction of the medals the beer had received in international competitions with other beers.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Two Jennas, One Bush

The Triangle's own News & Observer blog Bull's Eye reports that Jenna Bush's father-in-law-to-be is a Durham native. I admit that when I read the headline for this entry, I immediately thought it was referencing porn icon Jenna Jameson, not Jenna Bush. Perhaps it was the use of the word "daddy-in-law." (As in "sugah daddy"?) Or maybe I was grasping for a more interesting subject than the daughter of our current president. (Jenna Bush is one of those girly girls who strikes me as neither Lindsay Lohan "mean girl" nor Anne Hathaway "girl with class" -- she's just... blah, nothing to write home about.)

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So Jenna Bush is getting married to the son of a North Carolina/Virginia Republican politician. Big deal. Let's get back to Jenna Jameson.

Now I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised after reading Jameson's autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Pornstar, around this time last summer. Published in 2004 by the controversial HarperCollins imprint ReganBooks, which was discontinued by the publisher in 2007, Jameson's book is probably the most engaging tell-all sex memoir to appear in U.S. bookstores since the publication of Linda Lovelace's Ordeal in 1980. The book became an instant bestseller and confirmed Jameson's stature as the world's most recognizable porn star.

How to Make Love follows the classic sex autobiography script: from (childhood) innocence to adolescent folly to hitting rock bottom and, finally, on to that exemplary moment of redemption -- seizing control of one's life, owning one's sexuality, and marrying your co-star. What makes Jameson's autobiography so intriguing is that it knows the conventions and serves them up with equal parts salaciousness and knowing self-parody. It should come as no surprise, then, that in between descriptions of various sex acts and drug-induced episodes of criminal activity, Jameson's memoir is divided into six "books," all of which are titled after a quotation from Shakespeare: for example, "The World's Fresh Ornament" (Book I), "An Imperfect Actor on the Stage" (Book IV), "The Gentle Closure of My Breast" (Book VI).

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As I fondly recall How to Make Love on this steamy end-of-summer day, I can only speculate that the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hagen (does he at least go by "Hank"?) wouldn't know how to make love interesting (much less like a porn star) even if the manual were to fall in their laps. Cheers, then, to Jenna Jameson for being as bad as she wants to be. Whatever your moral or spiritual views of pornography, there's no denying a certain savvy, even maturity, about Jameson that contravenes the (effectively) arranged marriages that flourish among America's wealthy elite.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Introducing Donald Goines

I recently wrote a brief review of Eddie Allen's Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines. The book is a solid biography of the man seen by many to be the father of African American pulp fiction, the cheap, mass-market paperbacks whose hard-boiled stories of the street and life in the ghetto were penned by former hustlers, pimps, and "users" themselves. The history of the rise of black pulp fiction in the 1960s and '70s is the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation at Duke University.

National Public Radio host Tony Cox interviewed Allen about his book and Goines's life (and tragic death by shooting) back in 2004. Follow this link to access that interview and to get a taste of the kind of writing Goines spawned in his brief but shockingly productive literary career (16 novels in five years).

He Lives

Regarding the Morse v. Frederick student free-speech case I commented on the previous post, I thought it'd be relevant to post a picture of the actual "speech" in question. Here's Joseph Frederick's inimitable "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS":

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Although both the opinion of the Court, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, and the dissent, written by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens (and joined by Justices Souter and Ginsburg), were dismissive of the banner's "seriousness," I consider Frederick's banner no more or less "serious" than the 1980s "This is your brain on drugs" ad campaign or evangelical church signs that announce, "Jesus: Coming Soon" (and other such soundbyte-secularizations of the Second Coming). Drug (or "war on drugs") and religious discourses in this country have always mixed the high-falutin' with the (unintentionally) ridiculous, promoting "noble" causes through the basest of rhetorical methods.

The only thing Frederick was guilty of was making fun of the faux seriousness with which we approach drug and religious discourses in this country. His banner was pure parody and intentional spoof, and in that sense was smarter than what the Justices were willing to grant it.

Originalism's Dead Letter

An article on by Doug Kendall and Jim Ryan scrutinizes recent opinions written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and finds that the self-proclaimed originalist is not as principled as his judicial philosophy would seem to demand. In Kendall and Ryan's analysis, Justice Thomas applies the doctrine of originalism neither coherently nor consistently but partially and selectively.

In two important cases from last term, Morse v. Frederick and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., Thomas at once denied a student's freedom of speech in a public high school and asserted a corporation's freedom of speech in sponsoring ads (past a deadline established by the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) during a public election. The problem is that in one case, Morse, Thomas invoked the "Founders" to declare that "they" never thought of granting students First Amendment rights in public schools, while in the other, FEC, Thomas concluded that corporations held the same free-speech right as individuals (though not students in public schools), despite the fact that the Founders' generation was more inclined to believe that corporations are, in Chief Justice John Marshall's words, "an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law."

Kendall and Ryan do a masterful job of deconstructing Thomas's "logic" here. By originalist standards, the second opinion, FEC, is downright unsupportable. The texts of the earliest constitutional law in the United States nowhere grant corporations -- which did exist at the time -- the same rights as individuals. A corporation was considered a legal fiction, not a living, breathing citizen like you or me. And yet the professed originalist, Thomas, somehow managed to overlook that body of textual evidence in supporting the majority decision penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Associate Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito.

Even in Morse, where Thomas applied schoolboy historicism to say that the Founders never granted students free-speech rights (public schools didn't exist at the time), Kendall and Ryan point out that a bonafide originalist reading might have yielded a different result. Originalism, they argue, doesn't simply ask, "Did the Founders knowingly and intentionally formulate this or that right?" Rather, originalism inheres in a fidelity to textual meaning -- a way of reading the Constitution in its most robust and principled form. A true originalist, Kendall and Ryan posit, would argue that "the meaning of the text... must be paramount over the subjective expectations of any individual, whether alive or dead."

Originalists say they are merely reading the Constitution to the letter. Kendall and Ryan suggest they aren't: those like Thomas are intentionalists (my term), not originalists -- they don't actually read, or interpret, the Constitution but rely on the dubious assertion that because certain things didn't exist in the eighteenth century (like public schools), the Founders couldn't possibly have legitimated any constitutional "right" relating to them. This "argument" is so facile it's insulting to anyone forced to listen to it. "Didn't exist, so couldn't have been" -- like a kid sticking his pointer fingers in his ears and singing, "La la la la la," to drown out his interlocutor's more persuasive claim.

By now it should be clear that originalism doesn't read the Constitution to the letter -- it renders the Constitution a dead letter, a document that, in itself, is utterly meaningless, because, remember, it's not what the text says or means but whether or not this or that existed when the Founders actually lived. Thus, with the passing of the Founders, so went all of our rights.

All of which is to say that Clarence Thomas is neither an originalist nor a particularly good jurist. For between his intentionalism in Morse and his outright business-friendly partisanship in FEC, it's clear that Thomas is nothing but a results-minded arch-conservative who hands down incoherent but consequential decisions on the U.S. Supreme Court. His supporters will congratulate Thomas on his courage and consistency, but if one were to take the time to read and compare his cases alongside each other (as Kendall and Ryan do), one would be hard pressed to find a shred of recognizable constitutional insight in them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bergman with Antonioni

Celebrating the life and work of two European masters.

Ingmar Bergman July 14, 1918 - July 30, 2007

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"Rock Star" (

BBC Obituary

International Herald Tribune Obituary

Michelangelo Antonioni
September 29, 1912 - July 30, 2007

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"Hold That Shot" (

BBC Obituary

International Herald Tribute Obituary