Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Racist Games

This cute print can be found here. Credit: Slovly.

Now that wearing a hoodie is synonymous with being a gangster and a thug, and is a good excuse for shooting someone (it's the new miniskirt!), it seems that racism is back. Then again, did it ever really go away? I'd like to argue that from November 2008 to January 2009, Americans pretended that racism was a thing of the past, like three-pieced suits and drinking at work. And then someone had to go and shoot Trayvon Martin. Or perhaps it was before that when Pvt. Danny Chen was bullied by his fellow soldiers. Or perhaps it was the summer when people realized that The Help, while popular, was a really racist movie.

But here it is some more, with teenagers complaining that one of the main characters in The Hunger Games film is black. Not the violence, the trivialization of the death of children, the way the story is derivative of every other dystopian, science-fiction story about kids killing each other (Ender's Game, Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies). Instead, it's something as asinine as skin color. Then again, I don't expect teenagers to have the best reasoning skills. Adults don't have it either these days.

It did lead to this very interested Jezebel article about the proliferation of white-washing characters when race is not specified. It's something I addressed in my TCG Circle blog post. But Jezebel addresses more directly (and in more colorful language) than I do. A choice snippet here:

You can see whitewashing in a grillion places—from old chestnuts like black characters always dying first (get out of the way! White people have stuff to do!), to more recent developments like 2011's HawthoRNe being only the third primetime drama ever to feature a black female lead. Third one ever. In 2011. There's the fact that if you have more than two black characters in a television show it becomes a "black show." There was Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I reviewed here), in which M. Night Shyamalan cast white actors in explicitly Asian roles—but only the heroes. The villains were dark-skinned south Asians. Remember the sassy black friend in 2011 rom-com Friends with Benefits? Probably not, because she only exists for like two seconds at the very beginning of the movie to establish that our heroine has an ethnic friend, and then disappears forever. Because that's enough! Tip o' the hat to you, black people! You're welcome! Now quiet down—the white people are talking.

It reminds me of when George Lucas was on "The Daily Show" and he said he had trouble finding financers for Red Tails because: "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all...I showed it to all of them and they said no. We don't know how to market a movie like this."

To quote someone very wise: "That's some racist bullshit!" And really depressing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Run a Theater Marathon

Gatz, credit: Joan Marcus
I think the first time I did a straight marathon run of anything was Lord of the Rings, the extended edition, which added up to around 12 hours of orc slicing, Legolas hair flipping and Frodo's freaky blue eyes. Of course, that was over a period of two days and I took frequent food breaks (mostly during the battle scenes, which got a bit tedious after a while) and most of the time was in my pajamas. My dad came in and out, exclaiming, "How long is this thing?" and my sister dropped out around Rivendell (weak). But not me, I was a "Ringer" and I was going to do this! For Middle Earth! For Frodo! For my future kids to prove that I was cool back in the day!

These days, I am significantly less cool and less prone to movie marathons. Instead, I have graduated to something even classier: theater marathons.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Quote of the Day

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it. - Gabriel García Márquez for the Paris Review

That's fortuitous. Though I can't quite agree with him on the function of a tape recorder (which I find is better for accuracy and long conversations), but to each their own. Now the next question is, what function does truth have in creative nonfiction?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pushing Daisey

 An interesting thing happened on Friday. Of course, to my managing editor and editor-in-chief, it was a face-palm-worthy thing. For me, it was interesting, because it called to question the nature of full disclosure statements.

Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which I blogged about as an example of provocative, on-the-ball, anxiety-inducing work, turned out to be partially fabricated. Consequently, "This American Life," which had aired a portion of the monologue and posited it as truth, aired a retraction episode to clear up the, what we journalists call, "factual errors."

Understandably, the Internet blew up, especially the theater people on Twitter.

Terry Teachout of Washington Post called it "unforgiveable." Issac Butler told everyone via Twitter to chill out until TAL aired the retraction episode.

And even Roger Ebert called that Mr. Daisey is a "fraudster." That made me sad because it simplifies the issue.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Danse Russe

William Carlos Williams died today. I learned that from Roger Ebert's blog (because if I am horrible at remembering birthdays and deathdays of my family and friends, I am worst at remembering those of famous people). He writes about the red wheelbarrow, that poem which looks like, and arranged like a wheelbarrow.

I wanted to honor the day by thinking about one of my favorite poems in the world. Which is Williams's Danse Russe
If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Thank you Dr. Williams (who was a wonderful physician and a poet, a man of two stereotypically opposing disciplines but did both remarkably) for showing my younger, more impressionable, college self that it was perfectly okay to be alone. And to feel no shame when you just want to dance like a "grotesque" fool when you're alone. That's inspired a lot of twirling when I'm by myself in my apartment.

Friday, March 2, 2012

It's a Man's World

Make it mandatory that health insurance cover Viagra and vasectomies and no politician makes a sound (and the Vatican is content, though what would those old popes be needing erections for?).

Make it mandatory to cover birth control for women and suddenly it's an assault against religion and an occasion to remind women to keep their legs closed and that taxpayers should not be paying for "slutty behavior." For people who believe in abstinence, Republicans sure are obsessed with sex. Forced celibacy will make a person do crazy, irrational, passionate things.

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The Hijacked Lorax

I have nothing to say, except shame on the Dr. Seuss estate! Shame!

The Minority Report (Asian Edition)

"I can't understand you, are you speaking Chinglish?"

It was only a matter of time before I addressed this. I actually wanted to avoid this topic because I hate bringing my racial background into a conversation where it doesn't belong. But I figured it was time...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On the Ball

But the March issue of American Theatre is out today, with a very prescient story about gay marriage as a theme. Considering that gay marriage is now a reality in Washington, New York, Maryland, really close in California and (if it wasn't for Chris Christie) New Jersey. See everyone? The American theater is not always behind the trend! Sometimes, we're actually running alongside it.

credit: Sara Krulwich, NYTimes
And in other news, I finally stopped being lazy and saw The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Public Theater down in the East Village on Tuesday. It was one of those moments where you knew what you were getting into (which was the reason why I had put it off for so long, I knew it was going to be good but a downer of a night. I was partially right). In this case, I knew I was going to be treated to an evening of a firsthand account of Mike Daisey's, the monologist, trip to China and to Foxconn, the factory that makes half of the world's electronics, including Apple's. And how that factory treats its workers, how it puts them through 12-16 hour shifts (one man died after working a 36-hour shift while Mr. Daisey was there) and how it throws them away like defective machines when their hands become too misshapen and carpal-tunnel-ridden from doing the same repetitive motion (assembling iPhone, iMacs, iPad, etc parts) for years.

I knew all that. But there's something about a story that's being told just right, in a relateable, sometimes funny, and oftentimes harrowing language that brings the point home. Especially when that story is told in the form of a retrospective, based on first-hand accounts.

You can download the monologue at Mike Daisey's website and read it and perform it at your leisure. And you can read the expose on Foxconn from the New York Times that was researched and published at the same time as when Mr. Daisey was performing in one-man-show.

Coincidence? Or theater doing its job? After all, isn't that the point of art, to hold up a clear (not rosy-colored) mirror to society? The argument for the importance of art is convincing when there are pieces like Agony and the plays mentioned in the gay marriage article being made.

And I also want to give a shout-out to that thing that I love more than theater: journalism. Real, investigative journalism. Not soundbites taken straight from a press release that passes for journalism on TV (no offense to broadcast reporters but really, someone please call Rick Santorum out on his three degrees in light of his claim that colleges are for "snobs"). From the Times expose on Foxconn, which attracted more than 1,000 comments, and petitions, letters and demonstrations, people are finally thinking actively about green technology. Finally, being a TRUTH avenger is a good thing again.