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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama's on Their Side

Compromise, negotiation, tact... or is it pandering? The contest for President of the United States has begun in earnest. One sure sign of this is Barack Obama's values-laden politicking in recent weeks. Exhibit A is the following national campaign ad, which, as John Dickerson points out, is desperately intent on portraying Obama as being "just like one of us."

It's unfair of me to take Sen. Obama to task for trying to appeal to white Americans, and particularly to those who self-identify as reasonable, average folk. Clearly he's got to reach out to as many people as possible if he's to have a chance of winning the November election. But maybe it's too bitter a pill for me to swallow to see that 1) the aforementioned ad needs to be whitewashed (including mention of Obama's African father) in order to appeal to these demographics, and 2) Obama has to deploy an all-American, up-by-the-bootstraps life narrative in order to appear as an upstanding (black) candidate.

We can talk about this being merely a strategic effort to win votes, a pragmatic acknowledgment that a black liberal from Chicago needs to downplay his blackness and political beliefs in order to have a real shot at the Presidency. My question, though, is whether there's a point at which this effort at reaching out actually begins to chip away at the principled political vision that Obama has placed at the center of his campaign. In other words, how far are Obama and his supporters willing to go in order to convince folks that he's their candidate? Does Obama continue to try to sound as though "he's on their side," in complete alignment with their core values, or does he ask the tougher questions of what those values mean in everyday life, why people hold them dear, and what the best policies to nourish those values might be.

Perhaps Obama's perceived misstep of referring to white working-class Pennsylvanians as "bitter" came closest to asking the sorts of questions I outline here. Of course we all know how that turned out -- it almost cost him the Democratic nomination. So maybe the practical, give-and-take approach is the best route to take.

But then consider Exhibit B: Obama's reaction to the Supreme Court's bare-majority decision yesterday which says that the death penalty is a form of punishment that is incommensurate with the act of raping a child. The case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, featured a 43-year-old man who was sentenced to death in Louisiana in 2003 for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. Writing for the majority (which included Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) was Justice Anthony Kennedy, again the crucial swing vote between the liberal and conservative blocs on the Court.

Unsurprisingly, the dissenting Justices accused the Court's opinion of being too "sweeping," effectively outlawing the death penalty in cases which don't involve the murder of the victim(s). Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the decision prevented states from applying the full force of their capital punishment measures "no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be." Adding a questionable sense of morality to this litany of legal oversights, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain bemoaned the decision, saying, "That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing.”

I've come to accept such reactions as the Supreme Court rounds out its docket for the year and announces its major decisions. But Barack Obama's response to the case surprised me. In a move that has got some people saying Obama wanted to avoid a Michael Dukakis-type gaffe on the issue of capital punishment, Obama said, "I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime." Obama concluded by suggesting that if a state passes a law which levels the death penalty against such a crime, then that state should be allowed to impose it. This strong-armed states' rights position is unusual territory for Obama, and as enough commentators have pointed out, it locates his position squarely in the same camp as the conservative Justices.

Perhaps Obama achieved his goal in "disagreeing" with the Court's opinion in Kennedy v. Louisiana. Surveying readers' comments on several news websites, I've seen a smattering of, "This is the best thing I've heard come out of Obama's mouth," and, "Up to now I wasn't convinced, but Obama's got my vote after this." There have also been responses like my own, which basically say that Obama has been giving up too much by currying favor with the "values" demographic -- social conservatives, people of faith, law-and-order types. Unlike the folks "on the fence," though, those of us who object to Obama's stance on the case are unlikely to cancel our votes for him because of it. The issue is one among many, sure, but we also realize, to some degree, that Obama isn't addressing his reliable base in making such reactionary comments; he's talking to people "on the other side."

Like Justice Kennedy and yesterday's majority, I believe that the administration of capital punishment in this country is already fraught with arbitrary decision-making and line-drawing. But unlike the dissenters, John McCain, and Barack Obama, I would argue that allowing states to pursue the death penalty in non-murder cases extends, rather than narrowly limits, the reach of these arbitrary decrees. Who, after all, determines the degree of a crime's "heinousness," its relative "sadism," its offense to what's good and pure? If you ask me, any form of rape is "heinous," regardless of the age of the victim. In fact, we actually lose a great deal of footing in our fight against sexual abuse and gendered violence by conceding that the rape of an 8-year-old child is somehow more dastardly than the rape of an adult woman. Rape is always, under every circumstance, a heinous crime.

Acknowledging this does not compromise the Court's stance on capital punishment. It brackets the moralizing fetish of the sanctity of the American child, articulates the broad political goal of fighting against sexual violence in all forms, and recognizes the Court's decision as a pragmatic solution to the problem of capital punishment -- because it's such an arbitrary and imperfect punitive measure, the most our nation is willing to grant certain states is the ability to execute convicted murderers. In contrast, McCain's and Obama's responses effectively legitimate the death penalty in this Louisiana case on the grounds of a moral judgment -- we know a crime that merits capital punishment when we see one. (The dissenting Justices' opinion avoids such bald moralism and sticks to calling the majority opinion "sweeping," which is in effect a legal, not a moral, critique.)

Barack Obama's few weeks of being the presumptive Democratic nominee for President has energized this country's electorate in a way that we haven't seen for close to fifty years. His candidacy still holds forth a lot of promise. But I'd be lying if I said that his campaign ad and his response to Kennedy v. Louisiana didn't disappoint me. The greatest political orator of our generation no longer seems to be speaking to me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Habeas Lives

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court split 5-4 and declared unconstitutional the Bush Administration's refusal to grant detainees at Guantanamo Bay the right to go to federal court to challenge their continued detention. The decision has been seen as a crucial victory in the piecemeal process of reestablishing of the rule of law in this country, where George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress has made a mockery of the Judiciary branch of government to fight the so-called "War on Terror."

The Court's decision, Boumediene v. Bush, split along familiar lines, with the staunch conservatives, Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, making up the dissenting four. Anthony Kennedy, as is usually the case in the composition of the current Court, was the crucial swing vote who sided with Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. In a move seen as fortifying their position over and against the dissenters, the ranking majority opinion Justice, John Paul Stevens, assigned the writing of the Court's opinion to Kennedy himself.

The only points I'd like to stress about this victory are that 1) the decision upholds habeas corpus as an uncompromisable constitutional right, which means that 2) no amount of fear-mongering and threat-issuing on the part of our government can extinguish a person's ability to question the government's policies and actions, which brings us back to the fact that 3) the preservation of that kernel of freedom which is preserved in habeas corpus is one of the touchstones not only of American law but also of American civil society. Between preserving that right and denying it in the first instance is the thin line between nominal democracy and actually existing fascism.

Anyone who reads this important decision cannot help but notice that while the majority speaks mostly of the rule of law, the preservation of our rights, and what the Constitution means in these exceptional times, the dissenting opinions of Justices Scalia and Roberts ring of partisanship, politicking, and the very fear-mongering that the Bush Administration has been guilty of since 9/11. Roberts says that the Court's opinion will open it up to "charges of judicial activism." As his extreme deference to the Executive branch of government (and, when conveniently in place, a Republican-controlled Legislative branch) has consistently shown, it's utterly impossible for this Chief Justice to conceive that the President himself has been the activist here, brushing aside the law in a fearsome consolidation of statist power.

In the same vein but in a tone befitting his hysteria, Antonin Scalia pipes in with, “[The decision] will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed... The nation will live to regret what the court has done today." The Justice's emphasis in his dissent isn't so much on the law but on the Executive's claims that detainees are terrorists or terrorists-in-waiting, and thus have no right to habeas whatsoever. Scalia's ludicrous scenarios play out in the blighted field of his imagination, as they have done with so many people in this country since 9/11.

The Supreme Court is barely hanging on to a conscientious, pragmatic majority these days, and if the likes of Roberts and Scalia had their way -- if, that is, a President McCain would be able to replace Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and possibly Souter with three candidates of his choosing -- then we can look forward to a government that pays lip service to checks and balances, a civil society that legitimates its Orwellian measures of control through its own terroristic (psychological or otherwise) devices.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Insightful "Conservative"

Jon Swift is the alias of a blogosphere humorist who describes himself as a "reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture." Of course, like the "real" Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the Englishman of letters known especially for his biting satirical wit, this self-description is but a ruse. Jon Swift skewers conservative ideology and media talk by pretending to be their staunchest defender. Swift takes his cue from The Colbert Report -- addressing contemporary politics and news events -- but his writing is smarter, and more subtle, not unlike the work of the real Swift.

Jon Swift's tagline motto is: "Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues." And indeed most of his writing is devoted to pointing out the illogic of much conservative mass media. (His tagline itself is illogical -- the mass media is biased, but in his favor, and Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Jay Leno [whom I agree is both desperately unfunny and the biggest, dumbest misogynist on television] lie not at the margins of the public sphere but precisely in its center.) A recent post retains Swift's satirical tone while making fun of the mass media's lionization of Tim Russert, who, it should be said, did much to actually lower journalistic standards for public-interest inquiry of politicians and political institutions.

These observations aside, I was introduced to Jon Swift's world by virtue of his celebrated reviews. Back in 2006 Jon Swift posted reviews of books by the likes of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and David Horowitz. These books -- hardly worth the paper they're printed on -- spewed far right-wing ideology like it was gospel and participated in the Republicans' drumming up support among its base in preparation for the 2006 mid-term elections. Well, Jon Swift took these folks to task not by dismissing them out of hand but by approaching them from a ridiculously literal, arch-conservative perspective. It was a performance befitting Jonathan Swift's classic essay "A Modest Proposal" (1729), which suggested that the Irish might alleviate their economic woes by selling children born into poverty as food for the rich.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon removed all of Jon Swift's reviews. Thankfully, he kept back-ups, and his complete archive of reviews can be found here. Notice that he begins each review with, "I have not actually read this book but..." Which, at least for me, captures the essence of so much that's wrong with the arch-conservative mindset (or, for that matter, any extremist political ideology which is less attuned to actually existing socioeconomic conditions and more interested in defending its theoretical coherence).

Jon Swift gets the tone right here, and that's what makes his voice so effective, and at times so laugh-out-loud funny. My favorite review has got to be his take on Mark R. Levin's Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America. Levin is one of those conservative legal commentators who willfully ignores the Court's demonstrable conservative bent, as well as the fact that Republican-appointed judges make up the vast majority of federal court appointees, to lambaste the few (remaining) "liberal" social measures that the Court has protected. Levin has to blind himself to all of this as he puts the Republican machinery of fantasizing that liberals control everything (the media, the courts, etc.) into full gear. Levin's book is the definition of spin in legal circles.

Jon Swift's review doesn't explain these things to us, nor does it seek to. In fact, the review doesn't say much about anything... except for the movie Men in Black. Titled "I love Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones," it reads:
I have not actually read this book but I love the movie with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I thought it was very funny and very imaginative with all of the alien creatures. I don't remember the movie saying anything about the Supreme Court but I know they often change books when they adapt them into movies. Even though I agree with everything Justice Scalia says he does sometimes seem like an alien from another planet, which I mean in a good way.
That barb against Scalia is even funnier upon realizing that, for the arch-conservative, reading Levin's book is precisely akin to watching Men in Black -- neither says "anything about the Supreme Court." They do, however, put on a good show.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sex Work: Economies of Gender and Desire

Announcing a new course to be offered at Duke University in Fall 2008.

Sex Work: Economies of Gender and Desire
Women's Studies 150S/Cultural Anthropology 180S/Literature 124S/Sexuality Studies 120S
Tu Th 2:50 PM-4:05 PM (Friedl Bdg 126)
Instructor: Kinohi Nishikawa

The phrase “sex work” strikes most of us as paradoxical, confusing what we imagine to be an act of intimacy and pleasure with the banality of a nine-to-five job. Indeed, from prostitution to “exotic” dancing, sex work is seen as breaching important social divisions between labor and leisure, public and private, necessity and desire. It’s likely because of this confusion that our culture casts opprobrium on those who work in sex trades. Exotic dancers aren’t paid entertainers but bad mothers (Striptease). Prostitutes don’t negotiate the sex trade but are entrapped by it, never to escape (Born into Brothels). Female porn actors do what they do not because they want to do it but because they’ve been raped or abused as children (Howard Stern). In sum, mainstream culture slings personal attacks against people whose labor threatens the way we perceive the social order.

This course examines sex work as a particular form of gendered labor. Our aim is to understand sex workers as workers and to figure out what it is about their labor—“selling” embodied fantasy and desire—that disturbs citizens of modern capitalist societies. To this end, we will analyze the significance of sex trades operating as variable economies, at turns local (urban prostitution) and global (sex tourism), regulated (pornography) and criminalized (sex trafficking). We will also consider why the exchange of women’s bodies is important for the management of power in the sex trade and in modern capitalist societies more generally. Finally, we will attend to the views of sex workers themselves, for their experiences suggest it is still a relative luxury in this world to be able to separate one’s body or “intimate” sphere from the means by which one earns a living.

This course presents both transnational and U.S.-based case studies of sex work in prostitution, exotic dancing, and pornography. In order to foreground interdisciplinary dialogue of sex work issues, these case studies are illuminated by a variety of texts, including ethnographies, movies, investigative accounts, government reports, and memoirs by sex workers. This course fulfills the University research (R) requirement and would appeal to students from women’s studies, anthropology, public policy, sociology, and history, as well as the humanities.

Texts may include: Alexa Albert, Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women; Denise Brennan, What’s Love Got to Do with It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic; and Iceberg Slim, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Films may include: Lilja 4-Ever (dir. Lukas Moodysson); Working Girls (dir. Lizzie Borden); and The Girl Next Door (dir. Christine Fugate).

Three 4-5 page essays that respond to assigned texts in Units 1, 2, and 3.

Term Paper
8-10 pages in length, on a topic of the student’s choice. The term paper must integrate original and/or archival research into analysis of any topic related to the course.

Grade to be based on
Class participation 20%
Essay #1 10%
Essay #2 15%
Essay #3 20%
Term paper 35%

Friday, June 20, 2008

Against French Universalism

The Times has published an interesting piece on the (re)birth of black political consciousness in France in the wake of Barack Obama's victory to become the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential nominee. Writer Michael Kimmelman interviewed blacks living in Paris who have used Obama's campaign to make the case that it's high time for the French to have a public conversation about their vexed racial history and current race- and immigrant-oriented fears. For a nation that has long prided itself on forging a "color-blind" or "race-neutral" society, black French citizens like Patrick Lozès are saying, "[W]e’re blind in France, not colorblind but information blind, and just saying people are equal doesn’t make them equal."

From a purely electoral standpoint, the numbers seem to speak for themselves: "[O]ne black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Paris suburbs." Add to this the fact that people of color constitute the majority of the poor and working-poor classes in France. Many of these people live in the impoverished banlieues of major French cities, and it was in one such banlieue, Paris's Clichy-sous-Bois, where an eruption of urban violence in the fall of 2005 forced the French to confront the reality of social inequality in their country. (It led to a lot of reactionary, law-and-order-type rhetoric too -- like the chorus of white French politicians who denounced French hip hop artists for inciting the violence.)

All of this did not come as much of a surprise to people of color living in France. When you're forced to swallow the bitter pill of assimilating into a social order which recognizes itself as "universal," you're likely to see things -- elisions, erasures, denials -- that white citizens are loathe to admit. The right-wing, anti-immigration nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen is considered to be a political anomaly in France, and yet as recent as 2002 Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential race, having commanded close to 17% of the national vote in the first round.

Even more prescient was the fact that, earlier in 2005, the government passed a law which sought to recast educational curricula on French colonialism in a "positive" light. Article 4 read that "School programs [should] recognize, in particular, the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa, and give the history and the sacrifices of the French army fighters from those territories the prominence they deserve." Perhaps more than anything else, the tone-deaf revisionism of this piece of legislation (tone-deaf, that is, to actually existing postcolonial minorities and their needs, educational or otherwise, in contemporary France) forcefully suggests that France pursues a policy of racial, class, and immigrant discrimination all under the veil of "color-blindness."

Given this recent history, one wonders whether Obama's campaign really is the primary motivation behind Lozès and others' work. A new millennial black political consciousness has been on the rise since at least 2005. While certain aspects of this political project are, shall we say, race "positive" (or positivist: a politics stemming from racial identity), as Kimmelman's gloss on négritude makes clear, the project is equally committed to a progressive, structural critique of French universalism. Novelist Léonora Miano notes, "French universalism, the whole French republican ideal, proposes that if you embrace French values, the French language, French culture, then race doesn’t exist and it won’t matter if you’re black. But of course it does. So we need to have a conversation, and slowly it is coming: not a conversation about guilt or history, but about now.”

Despite white French politicians' unwillingness to acknowledge their racial past and present, smart, edgy, and talented French hip hop artists are at the forefront in making race, immigration, and social inequality important topics for public debate and cultural activity. In a twist to the post-riots backlash against French rappers, we are now seeing similar artists insist on the hypocrisy and blight of universalism. And they're articulating this critique not in the lofty tones of politico speech but in their own words, based on their own experiences, from the standpoint of universalism's unacknowledged others. One artist Kimmelman mentions is the aptly named Youssoupha (you suffer), a Senegalese French rapper whose music translates the social disenfranchisement of people of color into political art. There's no better way to end this post than to serve up a couple of Youssoupha's songs, participating as they do in constituting a new black French political subjectivity over and against an exhausted, untenable universalism.

"Ma destinée"

"Babylone zoo"

Euro 2008 Clearinghouse

We're in the midst of a pulsating Euro championship in Austria/Switzerland, and there's a lot of good stuff out there being posted on the teams, players, languages, and eye candy involved. Slate has published an inventory of the best Euro 2008 soccer blogs, and it's no surprise that the English press, whose national squad are not involved in the tournament, are some of the liveliest of the bunch. Finally, you've got your recently published books on the world's game: David Goldblatt's magisterial history The Ball Is Round, Grant Farred's paean to Liverpool FC Long Distance Love, and Chuck Culpepper's Bloody Confused!, an American journalist's tale of leaving the sorry US sports scene behind to experience the brilliance of English football for a year. Happy reading, all, and here's to the Oranje winning the Euro championship!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How Mike Gravel Lost the Democratic Primary

Well, technically he became a Libertarian. This and other fun facts/memories can be found in Slate's eight-minute slam-bam review of the Democratic presidential primary race.

Highlights include:

*Hillary Clinton's tearful plea in New Hampshire: "I just don't want to see us fall backwards"
*Barack Obama's Somali garb photo
*John Edwards's speeches about his father and the mill he worked in
*Bill Richardson's beard

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Gutenberg Remedies

Michael Agger has written a droll piece on online reading practices, summarizing research done by the eminent Web theorist Jakob Nielsen. Its title, "Lazy Bastards," is a bit perplexing, although here Agger is only following Nielsen's lead in calling online users "selfish, lazy, and ruthless." We are "information foragers" who sniff around for only what interests us, skimming as we go along, and using the Internet to confirm preexisting beliefs. This last point is my paraphrase, but it captures Agger's pithy statement that "If you don't see what you need, you're gone."

Contrast this to what Nilsen calls "ludic reading," or reading textually -- that is, reading in print. According to him, ludic reading -- what Barthes might call engaging in the "pleasure of the text" -- is medially more suited to print culture rather than the Internet. Agger's gloss of Nielsen's view posits that ludic reading is characterized by the following:

* When we like a text, we read more slowly.
* When we're really engaged in a text, it's like being in an effortless trance.

Well, sure, but I can point to examples of this in online reading practices (Nielsen is anti-blogging, but not all blogs are created equal -- there's some great material out there), just as much as I would argue that certain print reading practices actively disengage the reader from "play" (sifting through a novel for quotations to write an academic term paper).

The problem, it seems to me, stems from Agger's and Nielsen's limited definitions of "reading" and "text." Neither can account for alternative reading practices online (what I would call an "active dwelling" through digital media and design [the interplay of images, color, font, and text]), and neither can account for a view of textuality that doesn't fall into the modernist trap of a privileged dwelling in "difficult" literature. (Incidentally, hard-line defenders of print culture in the Age of the Internet also tend to err on the side of literature's salvific, sustaining qualities for the soul; see especially Sven Birkerts's The Gutenberg Elegies.)

Insofar as this rather traditional view of what it means to read text in print (ludic, pleasurable, etc.) informs Nielsen's formula, I'd say that his theory of online reading practices remains similarly constrained. Against the backdrop of modernist self-involvement in the text, Nielsen is able to posit that the attention span of your average online reader is effectively nasty, brutish, and short -- a veritable postmodern vacuum of context and illumination. There's great heuristic value to this modern/postmodern analytic, it's true, but as a guiding framework (even if not explicitly articulated by Nielsen), it fails to account for actually existing reading practices both online and in print.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Looming Aide

Here are my and Lorien Olive's (of Roadkill Politics) comments on this article from the Times, about Barack Obama's top aide (and Duke graduate), Reggie Love. The article strikes both of us as trafficking in stereotypes about black masculinity in describing the invaluable work that Love does for Sen. Obama; but we advance different interpretations about how, exactly, it does this. Send us your own thoughts on this and Lorien's blog.

KN: After reading the story and giving some thought to its title, I remembered the author mentioning that Love is 6'5'', a good three inches taller than Barack Obama. The title likely references this fact, but that doesn't necessarily make the use of the phrase "loom over" judicious: it still rings of someone figuratively "pulling the strings," and it no doubt reduces Love's complex personal story to his height and athletic build.

For me, the undertones of sexual tension between Love (oh, what a name!) and Obama are expressed most clearly in the author's extensive description of their sports/workout routines. There are the basketball games on primary days, the morning hours spent at the gym, and a rather admiring description of Love's athletic prowess (benching x number of pounds). But more than all of this, I found the description of their end-of-a-campaign-day routine of watching SportsCenter on ESPN to be most intriguing. The prose almost makes it seem as though Obama and Love share a hotel room when they "unwind before bed" and watch ESPN. The detail of Obama flossing his teeth while lying down and watching TV is almost too intimate, a touch of voyeurism that happens to be mediated through Love's eyes.

To be fair, this homoerotic bond over sports is not particularly shocking -- with its attendant locker-room antics and penis/sex metaphorizings, this bond is probably the most common form of homoerotic male bonding that our culture affords. This fact makes it difficult for me to determine whether the author's description of Love is any more racialized than other accounts of tight-knit male-male work relationships. I suspect that it isn't, with the caveat that Reggie Love's body is given an inordinate amount of attention in the piece, and usually at the slight expense of Obama's body (Love is taller, stronger, and more "fit," according to the author). Now this dynamic -- comparing black bodies as though they were specimens of athleticism and not political power-brokers -- is most certainly racialized, and that's where the real problem of this piece lies.

LO: Yeah, I agree, but I think that it is the special attention to the body that makes the piece carry a suggestion of carnality. Maybe I just haven't paid enough attention in the past, but I don't remember any other personal assistants being popularly known as "body men." Maybe they are by campaign insiders, but this is the first time I have ever heard that term in the mainstream press. Also I think that even if bonding over sports is a pretty typical thing to discuss, there is something that just didn't feel quite right about how the article describes their relationship. I mean it would be like if they ran an article about Hillary's "body person" pampering her, giving her manicures, and unwinding with a romantic comedy every night. Or McCain's "body person" giving him an enema, a sponge bath, and playing a game of Scrabble with him before bed. Anyway, I just don't hear any other stories that are similar to this one in relation to any of the other candidates, so maybe that's just sort of what makes me suspicious. I also don't like the way that they downplay the work that he does, as if the only thing that a former (black) college athlete could contribute to a political campaign is the equivalent of a butler or low-level service worker. This seems to, perhaps unintentionally, emphasize the hierarchy between educated, light-skinned, elite blacks such as Obama (who is exceptional somehow) and other blacks who do not share his unique cultural/ethnic background who will continue to be confined to service, sports, and entertainment roles, despite the possibility of having a Black president. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it, but I think that this is also what unsettled me.