I made a tune, it’s been a while. 1 part boredom, 2 parts crusty bass
Did you know that on this day, February 7, in 1926, Negro History Week, originated by Carter G. Woodson (American), was observed for the first time? Are you aware that this is Black History Month (BHM)?
If you are not aware, perhaps you’re racist. Perhaps you’re willfully ignorant of the existential magnitude of this Blackest of all months. More likely you’re just one amongst the vast majority of people for whom this month is simply February - the indecisive month that adds an extra day every leap year. I had forgotten about BHM myself until I was reminded by a friend’s commemorative post on Facebook this morning.
Let me first put it in its proper context: as far as I know BHM is an exclusively American creation, the rest of the world is oblivious, nowhere more-so than here in Africa. Valentine’s Day aside, February doesn’t have many notable days or traditions. It’s the hangover month after the Super Bowl when it’s still cold outside so people are wallowing on their couches like beached whales wondering what to watch on TV now that the NFL season is over, slowly sabotaging their New Year’s Resolutions. February’s the month nobody will miss really.
There are twelve months in a year and February is the shortest of them all. If BHM is intended as some sort of palliative, it’s a bit cheap. February is the bare minimum, month-wise. Why not December? Black Santa, anyone? The Dutch already have the surreal tradition of Santa’s Little Black helpers and I for one think they’re due for a promotion.
BHM strikes me as fundamentally flawed. At best it’s well-intentioned, but awkward; at worst it’s counter-productive and not-so-subtly patronizing. If the powers who designate these sorts of things want to do something substantive they should incorporate more Black history education into school curriculums. Having a designated month makes it seem strangely petty to me, however well intentioned.
If Black history was well represented in mandatory and optional curriculums, this would free up February for better things like Black Tax-Free Real Estate Month, and Black Non-Violent Drug-Related Crime Amnesty Month.
I have a dream.
Over the last couple of weeks I watched two films whose lead characters were confidence (con) men and women: Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. I can recommend both films as entertaining and well-made modern western cinema. Due to the similarities in subject matter they lend themselves well to lazy comparison. Please indulge me:
When I heard the premise of Wolf of Wall Street I was immediately reminded of American Psycho which stars Christian Bale, who also co-stars in American Hustle. Perhaps because it centers around a fictional character rather than a real world swindler American Psycho was more creatively adventurous and uncompromising in its vision than Wolf of Wall Street. At times the latter feels like a high energy roller-coaster ride full of drug-addled thrills and spectacles but no visceral sense of danger. It’s fun to watch the debauchery, but we the audience stay secure with our safety straps on throughout the ride. American Psycho was unabashedly fucked up, the viewer left the film with no doubts about the depravity of Patrick Bateman. In the case of Mr. Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street I felt the film makers tried too hard to redeem him in the last section of the film. This on-screen redemption is an obvious proxy for the audience forgiving him (and themselves for loving money so much) and allowing themselves to be conned once again by his manic charms. In the film’s final scene Mr. Belfort is out of jail (after a very lenient two year sentence) and back in his element addressing a crowd of mesmerized schmucks who hang on his every word, seduced by the allure of easy success and confidence.
In my omniscient opinion, American Hustle is also a better film than Wolf of Wall Street. Its biggest advantage is a cast of richer, fuller characters, more than one of whom propels the narrative. In Wolf of Wall Street I found it odd how Matthew McConaughey’s character was blithely discarded after he was set up so well as Mr. Belfort’s mentor in the sky scraper lunch scene. Mr. Belfort overwhelms the other characters, so much so that they’re easily forgettable, it’s all about Mr. Belfort and his crazy lifestyle. His wives and daughter don’t really matter to Mr. Belfort, nor do they seem to matter to the film makers.
The deliciously retro clothing, brass interior decor, and voluminous hairdos make American Hustle more visually stimulating than Wolf, but these visual motifs never detract from the story, in fact they add to it. Christian Bale plays Erving, a middle-aged and inexorably overweight con man who sports a catastrophic comb over which is emblematic of his woeful decision-making. Hairdos play a quirky role in the film, Bradley Cooper plays Richie whose descent into egomania parallels his increasingly involved and greasy curls. Richie’s wardrobe perceptibly descends into absurdity as he becomes the villain Erving never had the callousness, ego, and ambition to become.
Jeniffer Lawrence is brilliant as Rosalyn, a dysfunctional junkie who mercilessly manipulates Irving. When she flippantly says, “we fight and we fuck, that’s our thing” you get the sense that she’s dead serious and will let nothing change that warped status quo.
American Hustle weaves a convoluted web of manipulative relationships, jealousy, and co-dependency wherein everyone has a hustle, everyone has desires, hopes, and needs which blur their judgement. The shifting allegiances and power dynamics are refreshingly fluid. Erving’s fortunes have the most ebbs and flows as he goes from shady know-it-all, to a totally emasculated pawn, to having the last laugh. Edith and Rosalyn shift their affections and allegiances seamlessly to whoever is running things, while they both want to be the dominant woman in Erving’s life. They both betray him at different times, yet they both want primacy. Edith is so fake at one point her faux light British accent lapses and returns uncontrollably. When she says ‘no more fake shit’ to Richie it’s far too late, neither can remember what sincerity feels like.
I’m becoming drowsy so I’ll spare you my observations on how telling it is when Erving’s comb-over falls apart the morning after his bender with the mayor, and how this is yet another instance of the hairdo-as-barometer motif, this time used to parallel Erving’s growing guilt as he becomes genuinely enamored by Mayor Carmine Polito, and how ironic it is that his target should become his best friend, I could ramble on about that, but I won’t.
A change is as good as a rest.
Art show press releases seem to be a cloying exercise in trying to seem relevant and/or thoughtful. Fair enough, these qualities are admirable, but where’s the unabashed showmanship and self indulgence? All too often they read like dusty librarians wrote them. smh
Some rain clouds on the horizon muddied the sunset, but it was still good to shoot a time lapse after a long break.
I just had my first oddly notable moment of 2014. I was invited to join a Whatsapp prayer group!
I was one of the first people invited so I curiously clicked on others’ avatars and noticed that one of the other group members was indulging in some Urban Shirtlessness in his profile pic. I respect people’s religious beliefs to a point and I believe humanity needs more shirtlessness not less, but it all felt a bit off.
There are a few key distinctions between Urban Shirtlessness (US) and Functional Shirtlessness (FS). Unless you’re a street corner thug flexing his gang tattoos, US is almost always motivated by drunken vanity. Eg. Drunk guy takes off his shirt and performs in da club. It almost always occurs with a camera/phone ready nearby because US exists mostly to be documented and shared on social media. FS is self-explanatory, one doesn’t wear a shirt when swimming, tanning, etc. Suffice it to say the US avatar didn’t really jive with the spiritual tone I’d expect of a prayer group, digital or otherwise.
I think the best time to leave a Whatsapp group is exactly the same as the best time to leave a stranger’s house when you’ve been hiding in the basement - quietly in the dead of the night, when everyone’s asleep. That way nobody will really notice and they’re less likely to re-invite me or send me any thinly condescending messages encouraging me to accept my lord and saviour.