Let’s face it. If Marvel’s Black Panther had failed financially on the same scale as 2016’s Birth of a Nation, no one would be talking about it now. We don’t talk about failure in this life, regardless of what it might teach. We talk about money. That is how we spell success.
Setting aside the apples-to-oranges issue, Black Panther is arguably the superhero-dollar-sign equivalent of Broadway’s Hamilton. Not only did the film earn back its $200 million budget during opening weekend, its worldwide gross reached $1.3 billion within seven weeks and even nudged past Titanic's spot as America's third top-grossing film of all time. Only the No. 1 ranked Star Wars: The Force Awakens and No. 2 Avatar have grossed more.
Released against a backdrop of “Take a Knee” and the tragic demo-loop in which black citizens are routinely killed by white police officers, the panther pounced into a cultural landscape that included Get Out and the Twitter feud between black intellectuals Cornell West and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Laced with resurrection-tinged street-cred and Biblical overtones, Wakanda’s superhero was nothing less than a fictional black messiah. Chief T’Challa even had an unlikely (though probably unwitting) John the Baptist in the person of Childish Gambino, whose hit single, “Redbone,” from Awaken, My Love! heralded Black Panther’s central conflict like the voice of one calling in the wilderness.
Probably only a few remember that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote a poem called "Retribution." But that's the one I'm reminded of when I recall the final outcome of this decades-long tragedy. The story of Medgar Evers resonates tellingly in 2018 as we mark a Black History Month shrouded with the deaths of too many African-Americans at the hands of white police officers, There is this thing, you see, called karma, which Longfellow clearly understood.
Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness grinds he all.
Who knew as early as January 16th that 1938 would see Hitler invade Austria, Japan declare war on China, or General Franco declare victory in the Spanish Civil War? There was nothing in the stars to indicate the arrival later that year of Superman, Bugs Bunny, and the first use of a seeing-eye dog. Nor perhaps did anyone realize the Fair Labor Standards Act would get rid of child labor that year and make the 40-hour work week the national standard throughout the United States.
Those were all history-making events. But so was Benny Goodman's appearance at Carnegie Hall on January 16th of that year. Already famous as the "King of Swing," even he had not conquered the legendary hall, which was then home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the leadership of the renowned Arturo Toscanini. When the idea was first brought to him several months earlier, Goodman laughed out loud. It was unthinkable that the august venue of classical music might also find an audience for jazz. Although often referred to as "America's classical music," jazz was nevertheless seen as low brow and undignified.
When he succeeded in bringing jazz to Carnegie Hall that year, Goodman broke down the barrier between the classes - and also between the races - for a while at least.
The concert was a raging, history-making success. Goodman's orchestra included Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Lester Young, Harry James, Johnny Hodges, and Lionel Hampton. Many of them are easily identifiable in the video clip below, which serves up the exceptional Goodman hit, "Sing, Sing, Sing," inter-cut with still images that reveal the life of the time. It all seems archaic now, but the music in this clip steps outside of time to become something memorable. It may be jazz, but it's undeniably classic. Which is why it's worth revisiting 80 years later.
For more on this check out this story from NPR's "All Things Considered: How Benny Goodman Orchestrated the Most Important Concert in Jazz History. Be sure to follow the links within the story to learn more.
We say it isn't so, but the evidence of our behavior contradicts the tongue: For most of us, the measure of a man is the size of his wallet.
Let a wealthy man enter the room, and everyone dances some version of Tom Lehrer's Vatican Rag. They may not call it that, but it comes to the same thing metaphorically. First you get down on your knees. Then bow your head in deep respect and genuflect, genuflect, genuflect.
More than anything we want the benediction of money. Our daily gimme, gimme gimme to God is that money will wrap us in its grace. Use its influence to open doors, grease palms, deliver jobs, pay the campaign debt.
Then one day the repulsive hidden life of a Harvey Weinstein is thrown open to the wolfish daily news feed, and suddenly everyone is appalled. The grotesque and possibly criminal allegations against him differ from other big-fish harassers only in the details.
Thus Cosby, Ailes, O'Reilly, Weinstein, and too many others like them prove the lie. The one we say we don't believe but to which we pay homage daily. The common denominator in each of these much publicized cases is wealth. You'd think the dough would be enough, right? That and the pretty wife, the big car, the private planes, not to mention the power that comes with it.
So why isn't it?
How about this answer: No one understands the lie we live by better than the man who embodies it. The Big Lie possesses him more than anyone else.
All that wealth is supposed to be nirvana, right? So how come you're still hungry after you get it? How come you're willing to gamble the whole kit and caboodle on a few unseemly moments? Could it be that the identity you've forged with all that cash is in fact a prison? That maybe you've designed the perfect labyrinth for the Minotaur that is also you?
Could it be that all you really want is a few moments of freedom, the space to feel truly alive for just a little while, the time it takes to get out on a limb, risk it all, hoe the bomb-strewn adrenaline row - and get away with it?
Too bad your way of going about it victimizes women. Too bad the power you hold over them diminishes you even as it demeans and repulses them. See how the act reveals you to yourself in the worst possible light? Bad side only. And don't you know, haven't you known all along? Sooner or later one of them will tell. Hasn't anyone learned anything from Monica Lewinsky?
But even if every assaulted and abused woman never opened her mouth, you would still be unable to escape the painful truth her very presence reveals to you. The lie you live by will never be enough. The elusive mystery of the feminine, that wellspring of unconditional love, which you are most hungry for, will forever elude you.
Because it's not something you can get by grabbing. It's not something you can own. Though all your other possessions and the daily genuflection at your feet say otherwise. It can only be had by way of a path completely unknown to you. The path of having without possessing. Anything other than that is obscene, pornographic. And so are you.
The first time I heard Lucinda Williams sing “Blue,” emotion kept me from getting the lyrics right. Instead of hearing, “We don’t talk about heaven, we don’t talk about hell,” I heard: “We don’t talk about heaven, we talk about hell.” Even now, whenever I listen to "Blue" that’s how I hear it. I remembered the wrong words and made them fit my meaning.
A Coincidence of Strange: Is There Synchronicity in the Recent Alignment of Luther Strange, Doctor Strange, Dr. Strangelove & Taking a Knee?
Synchronicity is the word Carl Jung coined to describe meaningful coincidence. In his lexicon, coincidence was meaningful when contents from your unconscious mind (dreams) lined up in an unmissable and non-causal way with events in your waking life. Bottom line: When this happens, you should pay attention. The Universe may be trying to tell you something.
Perhaps you already know that a new edition of Lawrence Otis Graham’s provocative 2009 bestseller, Our Kind of People, was published not too long ago. The book deals with class distinctions among African-Americans and the issue of “passing for white.” I learned about the updated edition from my daily Delancey Place newsletter, but I remember the original book well. It resonated with me. And still does. Not only because I grew up hearing the term passant blanc (passing for white, passer pour le blanc) from my New Orleans relatives, but also because I lived in Atlanta when segregation obscured the fact that black communities were often divided along class lines.
It was the frame. Of course. He could see that now. Had it been painted some other color, there'd have been no effect at all. But this was a gilt frame. When the sun caught its golden edge at a particular time of day, the movie poster within its periphery looked lit from within. Like a theater-lobby marquee. The phenomenon was so real, Sloane could practically smell hot-buttered popcorn when it occurred.
The whole thing was a bit eerie, but now that he had it figured out, he felt uplifted by it. As if the spectacle, though mere physics, carried some message of reassurance intended only for him. And possibly for Syl, too. After all, the reproduction hung on her bedroom wall, where you couldn’t help but see it first thing in the morning or whenever your head lay lazily upon the pillows. During the illusion's brief spell, the poster seemed dreamy, almost hypnotic. But that didn't stop Sloane from seeing the slant of light as a positive thing--a counterargument to what was clearly improper and unacceptable. Taboo even.
That was not a word either of them would have used, of course. But other people, whoever they were. Well.
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