True Crime documentaries are nothing new. A few of the better ones have even freed innocent victims from jail for crimes they did not commit. The Thin Blue Line (1988) is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris that covers the story of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. One year after the release of Thin Blue Line Adam’s was exonerated and released from prison.
The Paradise Lost Trilogy covers the infamous West Memphis Three case where three teenage boys were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murders they did not commit. After 19 years in prison and two Paradise Lost sequels, new DNA evidence was found that linked a known serial rapist to the killings and the West Memphis Three were released from prison.
Netflix has a variety of crime docu-series available to stream. The most popular being last years ten part Making a Murderer, directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. Season 1 was a huge hit for Netflix and season 2 is expected on Netflix by the end of 2018.
And now Netflix has again struck true crime gold with The Staircase, a 13 part series directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade that covers the 2001 accidental death, or murder, of Kathleen Peterson . Kathleen was found covered in blood at the bottom of the stairs at her and husband Michael Peterson's home. Michael says she was drunk and slipped down the stairs. The police and the DA say that Michael Peterson bludgeoned her to death. 16 years of legal proceedings followed.
While the director and producers have very carefully claimed The Staircase is an unbiased look at the American justice system it becomes pretty clear that the docu-series is extremely pro Michael Peterson.
And that’s fine because, after watching the entire 13 part series I’m on the fence as to his guilt or innocence. Which, I suppose - makes for fine viewing. I found the series to be more satisfying, than Making a Murderer which is equally on the side of the white male man accused of murder. What I mean by “more satisfying” is that, agree with the conclusion of The Staircase or not - it has an ending. Making a Murderer for all it’s pros and cons - is just going to go on and on.
So what exactly is “The Staircase” about? (A spoiler free breakdown)
Fair question. As mentioned above - it’s mainly about the legal proceedings of Michael Peterson who is accused of murdering his wife. It covers Michael's life in great detail including the lives of his children and his charismatic lawyer, David Rudolph.
People are fascinating. Late great film critic Gene Siskel always said that an actor’s face is far more interesting than an explosion. And that carries over to documentaries and real life. People are interesting and flawed and ridiculous and they lie when they should tell the truth and they tell the truth when they should probably lie. And that’s what’s great about The Staircase. It's about people. I liked Michael Peterson, I liked David Rudolph, I like Michaels daughters and one of his sons.
I found one of the other sons a little shady, only to find out that said son had a weird, extensive criminal history - none of which was presented in the docu-series. In fact, there was considerable amount of “strangeness” cut out of the series. Accused murderer Michael Peterson had a fifteen year love affair with The Staircase editor even though the director and producers all claim that fact didn’t affect her judgement as she cut together the series.
Um - maybe that’s true. But probably not.
There is a hugely popular theory of how Kathleen actually accidentally died that is oddly absent from the series. There theory is equally absurd as it is plausible. If you want to continue a spoiler free review do not click this link here (which discusses the theory in detail).
But the main thing I found odd about The Staircase is the lack of empathy towards Kathleen Peterson - the victim. The woman who either tragically died or was murdered. We know virtually nothing about her other than - she's the victim. Maggie Serota writes a really nice piece for Spin.com called Netflix’s The Staircase Doesn’t Seem Particularly Concerned With Kathleen Peterson.
From her piece:
“Like a supporting female character in a mafia movie, the Kathleen presented in the crime doc had no interior life of her own and existed only to know other people, namely her husband and likely killer Michael…”
Serota’s observation is spot on. For a 13 hour series covering the death (possible murder?) of Kathleen Peterson - we are presented very little information as to … well, anything about her. Which means the show produces very little empathy for the victim, other than a few harrowing photographs of the crime scene. And worse than that, doesn't even try to produce empathy for her. According to The Staircase, Kathleen Peterson is basically just - "the dead woman."
And that seems like a professional choice by the director, the producers and the editor in an effort to slant the viewer towards the idea that Michael Peterson is innocent.
And maybe he is. But Kathleen Peterson is dead under mysterious circumstances. And her in debt husband needed money. And Kathleen had a huge life insurance policy. By the way, if you are suddenly thinking, “You said this was spoiler free!” I assure you that information was spoiler free. You know why? Because the 13 part series doesn’t even bother to mention the fact that there was a money problem and a huge life insurance payout. (Motive, anyone?)
Michael Peterson received one third of the life insurance policy, which he spent on legal fees. The other two thirds of the money went to Kathleen’s first husband and her daughter from that previous marriage.
All that being said, I found The Staircase to be fascinating and in places, quite shocking. There are story twists in the series that, if you viewed them in a feature film you would say to yourself, “No way is this even remotely plausible!” But as they say, “Life is stranger than fiction.” And the events surrounding the death / possible murder of Kathleen Peterson are certainly that - strange.
All thirteen one hour episodes of The Staircase are currently streaming on Netflix.
In a Tokyo detention house, Friday morning (7/6/18) Japan executed seven members of the notorious Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attacks that killed thirteen and injured thousands.
Cult leader, Shoko Asahara, along with six followers were executed by hanging. They will not be missed.
Amnesty International said the executions “do not deliver justice.” In general, I understand their policy of clemency but in this particular case, I am 100% on the side of - these people didn’t deserve to live.
The cult members of Aum are not martyrs or heroes. They were murdering, lunatic, fanatic cultists molded from a time of the dark ages.
And I’m glad they’re dead.
What was the Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult?
Well, it all started out innocuous enough. Shoko Asahara started a yoga and meditation class in his apartment. It steadily grew. By 1989 they gained official status as a religious organization and had attracted quite a few college graduates and alums from Japan’s elite universities, and gained the “religion for the elite” moniker.
Their religion blended ancient Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, taking Shiva (the God of Destruction) as their main deity and finally incorporating doomsday ideas from Revelations and Nostradamus.
Its founding member changed his name from Chizuo Matsumoto to Shoko Asahara and then, as these things often do, he declared himself a messiah and claimed all sorts of supernatural healing powers up to and including - that he would be able to protect and save all members of the from the upcoming apocalypse. This “survival protection,” somehow convinced really, really smart people - doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers - to join the cult. And somehow, at one point they had ten thousand members in Japan and thirty thousand members in Russia!
Oh, and “what apocalypse?” - you ask?
Basically, their doomsday cult involved the “original” idea that in 1997 (remember this was in the early 90’s) a nuclear holocaust would wipe out humanity and the attack would originate from the U.S.. They also, “originally,” decided that Jews, the British Royal Family, the Freemasons and all rival religions had labyrinthine plots working against Aum’s holy doctrine.
And for some reason they hated the Dutch.
Like I said, these folks were lunatics. And if that wasn’t apparent, yet - check this out - Aum Shinrikyo followers believed that the entire world was to be cursed with bad karma and upon death all souls would end up in some hellish limbo (or something like that).
Aum cult members knew how to save us all!
They would bring about the end of the world and therefor save everyone from their inevitable sins! You see, we were all going to bad karma hell but if we were killed by members of Aum - well, that act of generous murder by their holy hands would prevent our souls from accumulating bad karma and - save our eternal souls in the afterlife!
So, we are all going to hell unless we are murdered by cult members in Aum. So they have to end the world. And kill us all. To save us.
I have to admit that’s kind of a genius level super villain plot. It’s also, obviously - totally, batshit insane.
To make a long story short, over several years they kidnapped and murdered and prevented people from leaving the cult by torture, fear and … well, more murder. They assassinated rival religious figures and targeted politicians working against them. No one really knows how many people they killed. But it was a lot.
Then on March 20th, 1995 Aum released sarin gas on the subway in Tokyo, the cult’s most infamous attack. In the months after they had several more failed terrorist attacks. Eventually, authorities zeroed in on their compounds and rounded them up. A few fugitives escaped and remained at large for years after, but they too soon ended up in jail.
While cult members have not actively confessed to everything or accepted responsibility for their crimes there was plenty of evidence to convict and all top Aum cult members, ended up on death row.
And, get this, when authorities breached Aum’s main compound they found not just more sarin gas but they also found Ebola and anthrax cultures, thousands of automatic weapons, and a stolen Russian military helicopter!
This was a legitimate doomsday cult. These fools were not playing around. They wanted us all dead. You know, in order to save us.
How these lunatics remained at large for so long is beyond me. And you would think that that was the end of their cult. Right? But, no. They just changed their name and become Aleph. And then Aleph split into two factions with one keeping said name and the second branching off to be called Hikari no Wa.
But don’t worry, they’ve made it clear that the remaining members, approx. 1500 people - are just fine now. They even dropped the most of the “controversial texts” from their reading doctrine.
Thankfully, the Japanese government monitors the group now and will probably do so forever.
Interestingly, Japanese authorities do not notify any of an upcoming execution. And so, without fanfare, Aum’s leader and six of his cultist followers were hanged to death on the morning of June 6th, 2018. Seven more members of the cult remain on death row.
Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller might be the greatest gamer thing ever. Certainly so for gamers with disabilities. As you may or may not know - gaming controllers are a beast to handle. They have two small joysticks, one D pad, four top buttons, two trigger buttons and two bumper buttons. “I’m not really good with a controller” is a common complaint from able bodied gamers. I’ve been gaming for decades and I still find myself going, “Whoops! That was the wrong button - and now my character is dead.”
But the point is clear - you pretty much need both hands to finely manipulate the controller and the stamina to handle it for many, many hours. Which puts disabled folks at a colossal disadvantage just to play a console game. What if said person only has one hand? Or can’t use either hand. Or doesn’t have the strength to push the buttons or pull the triggers. Or doesn’t have the motor functions to properly handle the control. Or what if they are quadriplegic?
Their options are limited and usually expensive. There are some third party companies that manufacture controller accessories that help those with physical disabilities, but no company as large as Microsoft has tackled this effort. Until, obviously - now. And they spared no expense.
So what is the Adaptive Controller?
From Phil Spencer’s (the Head of Xbox) May 15th press release:
“By taking an inclusive design approach and considerations of gamers who might not be able to reach all the bumpers and triggers or hold a controller for an extended period of time, for example, we were able to design a controller that provides a way for more fans to enjoy gaming. On our journey of inclusive design, we have taken a wider view of our fans and a more inclusive approach to designing for them.
For gamers with limited mobility, finding controller solutions to fit their individual needs has been challenging. The solutions that exist today are often expensive, hard to find, or require significant technical skill to create. A number of individuals and organizations are creating custom solutions, but it has been often difficult for them to scale when most rigs need to be so personalized.
Joining the Xbox family of controllers and devices, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was created to address these challenges and remove barriers to gaming by being adaptable to more gamers’ needs. It was developed in partnership with organizations around the world, including The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Craig Hospital, SpecialEffect, and Warfighter Engaged. We worked closely with them and directly with gamers who have limited mobility to assist in our development. Our goal was to make the device as adaptable as possible, so gamers can create a setup that works for them in a way that is plug-and-play, extensible, and affordable. In addition to working with common adaptive switches that gamers with limited mobility may already own, it has two large buttons built in. These buttons can also be reprogrammed to act as any of the standard controller’s button inputs via the Xbox Accessories app.”
The Adaptive Controller releases in September and will retail at a very reasonable $100. There is already a whole array of accessories available on the Xbox site. The nice thing about the controller is that it has nineteen 3.5mm ports and two USB 2.0 ports of external inputs. A lot of those third party accessories that disabled gamers use to “hack” the regular Xbox gear will be fully compatible with the Adaptive Controller. So one wouldn’t have to buy all new expensive accessories as your old ones will allow you to just plug into the Adaptive Controller. For example, foot controllers or even mouth controllers will be able to plug directly into the Adaptive Controller, etc., etc.
According to worldbank.org, fifteen percent of the world’s population (approx. 1 billion) has some form of disability and between 110 and 190 million people experience some kind of significant disability.
I am certainly not going to suggest that the Adaptive Controller is about to save the world by allowing much, much easier access to Mass Effect or Tomb Raider via Xbox One. But - this is certainly a step in the right direction.
As an avid gamer I often want to share this AWESOME experience I just had with game X! It never even occurred to me that this simple pleasure of game experience was extremely difficult for such a large number of folks. I mean, if you’re able bodied and you just don’t want to game - that’s all good. But if you’re physically impaired and you really, really want to game - but you are unable to do so because of your disability - that fucking sucks.
And Microsoft is doing something about that.
Well played, Microsoft. Well played, indeed.
On Monday, June 23rd - the Wild Boar youth soccer team and their coach left their bikes chained at the entrance to the Tham Luang Nang Non in northern Thailand and ventured forth in what they expected to be a two(ish) hour adventure. But the cave flash flooded and the 12 young players and their coach vanished.
Nine days later rescuers from Thailand, China and Australia found them. Other than minor scrapes, miraculously, all 13 of them were safe. Here is the first video of rescuers reaching the boys. The boys didn’t have any food and were in complete darkness but stayed alive by drinking pooled rainwater.
Finding them was step one but rescuing them, it appears, is going to be a daunting task. The boys are estimated to be trapped about 2 kilometer into the cave and approx. 1 kilometer underground. Rescuers are trying to figure out the best way to get them through a labyrinthine series of flooded caves linked together by narrow passageways with zero visibility for most of the swim.
Thai Navy seals have even drained 120 million liters of water out of the caves in order to keep the water levels down to help the rescue. It appears as if rescuers have no great option in how to get the boys out. Some believe that the boys should be trained in underwater cave swimming, which is no easy feat. CNN spoke with Anmar Mirza, of the US National Cave Rescue Commission recently in this interview. From the interview:
"Cave diving is incredibly dangerous for people who are very experienced doing it. And now you're looking at taking people who have no experience or very little experience with diving, and putting them into a complete blackout situation, where they have to rely on a regulator and the tanks with them to breathe.”
Some believe that the boys should continue to be supplied until the rain season is over and the water levels drop and then rescued - something that could take four months.
For now Thai Navy SEALS, a doctor and a nurse are down with the boys. A communication director from the Navy told reporters:
"We have now given food to the boys, starting with the food which is easy to digest and provide high energy. Minerals are also provided. We have taken care of those boys following the doctor's recommendations, so do not worry. We will take care of them the best we can. We will bring all of them to safety. We are now planning how to do so.”
And just today, July 6th, the rescue operation has claimed it's first life, Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy diver tragically died while delivering air tanks down to the boys. This further illustrates how difficult it will be to get untrained divers, all kids mind you, out of the caves. And with monsoon season approaching, rescue workers don't really know how much time they have before the entire caves flood. A 3 mile oxygen line is now being rushed in along with power and phone cables.
Great news! On July 10th it has been reported via multiple sources that all 12 of the boys and their coach has been rescued. Fearing that the monsoon season would flood the rest of the caves rescuers had no choice but to move forward with a rescue operation. It took thousands of people rescuers more than a week to get them out safely. Here is the first video of the boys' rescue.
All of the boys and their coach have lost weight but are in pretty good shape. One of them has a lung infection but it sounds as if treatment is working well for him. The boys will be in quarantine for about 30 days to protect them from other people. Their immune systems have been weakened and doctors are taking no chances. It sounds as if they are all on the road to a full physical recovery.
UPDATED: July 11th.
UPDATED: July 10th.
UPDATED: July 6th 10:00 am.
After more than 30 years as a Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement. This news probably doesn’t come as a shock to many, as the man is 81 years old making him the seconds oldest Justice that served. Ginsberg is three years his senior but has vowed to stay on the Court through the Trump administration.
President Reagan appointed Kennedy to the bench in 1988 and for almost two decades Justice Kennedy voted largely conservative on a variety of social issues including (but not limited to) - abortion, affirmative action and gay rights and the Gore vs. Bush recount; however, in more recent years he has cast a key swing vote for liberal principles casting the deciding vote in 2015’s for same sex marriage and even wrote the majority opinion - much to the chagrin of Republicans who began to view him as a turncoat. That being said, Kennedy did side recently with the majority allowing President Trump’s travel ban to stand.
So, Kennedy has voted on both side of the fence but with his departure it’s pretty much a certainty that President Trump will nominate a strong conservative to the high court. Which will give conservative judges a majority for, probably - decades.
Kennedy’s retirement will take effect at the end of July.
Starting with iOS 12, there will be a free feature in Apple’s software that will automatically (and securely) share your exact location data with first responders. I’ve seen a few cynics already crying that Apple will use this information for nefarious purposes but, all of us reasonable folk will instantly see the time and life saving value in the new application.
It takes time to get information from a caller. And then, sometimes the caller needs to be routed which costs - more time. And during an emergency the caller might not have time to spare.
The current problem with mobile phones is summed up on the FCC website:
“While wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they also create unique challenges for emergency response personnel and wireless service providers. Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not always specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly.”
My understanding is that the nation’s six thousand emergency call centers are - well, outdated. The vast majority of the 911 call centers are still teched out for landlines. And if you call from a landline then the emergency center knows your exact fixed position. Which was great for a very long time. But 70 percent of emergency calls now come from mobile phones. And it sounds like that number is rapidly increasing.
Enter RapidSoS - a company that is focusing on upgrading the outdated call center tech. Michael Martin, co-founder and CEO of RapidSOS says this about his company:
“Last year, more than 10,000 people died when they could not relay fast and accurate information after calling 911. People in danger don’t always have the presence of mind to press the right numbers and explain where they are. But what if your smartphone could do that for you? That’s the idea behind RapidSOS’s smartphone app, Haven. With a single touch, it sends the 911 dispatcher your exact location.”
This upgrade probably won’t single handedly improve the first response rates for most callers because you will have to have an iPhone and you’ll have to have iOS12, etc. - but it will certainly get the ball rolling in the right direction for others to follow suit.
iOS12 will roll out in late 2018.
Anthony Bourdain, the famous world traveler, chef and Parts Unknown host was found dead in his room at Le Chambard, a luxury hotel in eastern France. The cause of death was hanging and local prosecutor, Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel said there was, “no reason to suspect foul play.”
Another tragic loss to suicide. I did not know Mr. Bourdain personally, but like most folks, I knew all about his world travels from his really fantastic CNN show - Parts Unknown.
I certainly don’t know what haunted Mr. Bourdain enough to take his own life so I won’t speculate. He leaves behind him a daughter, family, friends and legions of fans. It’s odd to think, “But he seemed like he was so happy - on TV!” Right? We like to think that we know people because we see them on TV, or in films, or through social media. We don’t.
His death, it seems has shocked Mr. Bourdain’s friends and colleagues. Usually, there are warning signs of depression and / or other things before an apparent suicide attempt. It really sounds, from what I’ve read, that no one had any idea he was suffering from whatever it was that drove him to take his own life.
Mr. Bourdain’s long time girlfriend, the actress, activist Asia Argento released a quick statement saying he was, “my love, my rock, my protector … I am beyond devastated.” Condolences seem to be coming in from all over the world which shows the vast reach of lives Mr. Bourdain has touched.
While suicide, or even a high suicide rate is nothing new in densely populated cities. In the US, the suicide rate has dramatically risen, with some states having an increase of 30% over previous decades. Nevada was the only state to report a decline (of 1%) while North Dakota reported a staggering increase of 57%. The report finds all sorts of factors as the cause - mental health, public health, addiction, alcoholism, economic hardship - to name a few. Just last week the fashion industry lost Kate Space who was unknown to me but was something of an icon in her field. And today we’ve lost Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, we all know it won’t be long before we lose someone else.
And suicide makes people - angry at the victim. And I understand. Bourdain’s long time friend, actress Rose McGowan broke down crying in a now deleted clip where she flat out screams at him that she’s “So mad at you.” Suicide is selfish. And I would probably feel the same way if a close friend of mine committed suicide. But I find it hard to judge someone I don’t know. So all I feel about Mr. Bourdain’s suicide is a tinge of sadness at a life lost too soon. He was only 61 years old and he certainly had a lot more to offer the world. Or maybe he didn’t. We just don’t know the struggles people face.
And so I can only offer the exact thing that everyone else is offering. Words.
Anthony Bourdain - Rest in peace.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Roseanne Barr goes on a Twitter rant and acts like a lunatic!
Not exactly news though, since she’s been a lunatic for at least ten years. Barr uses Twitter and other social media platforms to spread all manner of idiocy. That being said, she does indeed have the constitutional right to say such lunacy and spread such idiocy.
Also, we all know that her free speech right does not protect her from consequences. And today her lunatic rant has gotten her huge hit of a TV show - cancelled! (There is no sarcasm there, either. Her show was a ratings juggernaut for ABC).
It all started early this morning when, on Twitter (in a now deleted Tweet), Roseanne, while referring to Valerie Jarrett, an African American former Obama aide, wrote, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
Well, ABC wasted little time with a reply and two hours later publicly cancelled the Roseanne revival despite its huge ratings. ABC wrote:
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
Barr quickly deleted the Tweet but the damage had already been done. Screenshots of it can be found all over the internet (here it is on TMZ). Her cast mates and the show producers quickly fell all over themselves condemning Barr’s words. One of them even quit - Wanda Sykes said she would not return to the show. Of course, that’s all moot now the show has been cancelled, but still. It’s nice to see.
Barr tried to pull the ol’ “It’s a joke” instead of offering an apology. And I agree with her here. It was a joke. She’s a comedian, comedians make jokes. That makes sense. It’s just that - this was a particularly racist joke. Barr should have the right to say it. And she does. And now there are consequences. Which is great!
Not so great for the entire cast and crew who just lost their jobs because Roseanne is a lunatic racist. But still - a step in the right direction if you ask me. Roseanne did get around to offering an apology writing on Twitter:
“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste. I am now leaving Twitter.”
Meh, no big loss to Twitter.
Anyway, I should at least note I’ve not watched a single episode of the Roseanne show, ever. I’ve heard it actually did a decent job of tackling socio-economic issues. I don’t know one way or another and so I don’t really have a dog in this fight other than - I am happy to read that there are some things more important to ABC executives than money. The Roseanne revival made ABC piles of cash! But racism should get you fired every time and so ABC made the right call.
Well played ABC!
Without including a single player or union rep, the NFL has finally decided on a formal policy in regards to player protests during the National Anthem. NFL owners have decreed that players must stand during the anthem to show “respect;” however, there is an option for players to remain in the locker room.
Also, each team will be able to decide if there should be any discipline for a player protesting on the field during the anthem. Finally, the NFL will be able to fine a team (not a player) if any of the team’s said players protest on the sideline.
So, if a player decides to protest he can do so in the locker room where no one is watching. But if the player decides to come onto the field during the anthem and protests - the NFL fines the team and the team decides if there is any punishment for the player.
I have mixed feelings about the policy. On one hand, the NFL is a company and the players are employees within. And, in a regular business setting the company has the right to determine specific policies that employees must adhere to - dress code, workplace conduct, tardiness policies, etc, etc. Let’s face it, if your boss tells you that you have to wear a tie - and you decide to never wear ties - don’t be surprised when you’re fired. Because, a company should have some rights in deciding how their employees represent the company.
On the other hand, the NFL protesters are, by and large - black folks. And NFL owners are, by and large - white dudes. Which means we now have yet another policy where white dudes tell black folks what is appropriate for them to do and not to do. Which, is kind of tiresome. (Also, racist and gross.) And I'm not even getting into the inherent idea that, a person in a truly free society doesn't need to "respect the flag." Someone with the right of free speech is allowed, legally, to not stand and be forced to "respect the flag." It is literally their constitutional right to chose to stand or not, or to sing the anthem or not, and / or to show "respect" for the flag / anthem - or not. I am using a common sense attachment to the word "respect" but, yes, we could also quibble about "what does respect mean, anyway?"
On the other hand, again, as employees of the NFL, the company might be within their rights to say, "As employees of our company - you must stand and sing the national anthem." On the other hand it's not like the NFL has any competition. So, let's say a player says, "Well, free speech is in the constitution and therefor legal, and if your company policy takes away that right from me - then I quit and I'll take my talents elsewhere!" It's not like they can work at some other professional American football league. Their options are kind of limited.
I've already seen the Facebook rage begin. Even on my feed I have friends railing against the ruling and calling for an NFL boycott. I mean, first there was the ludicrous idea that the NFL was going to impose a 15 yard penalty on any team kneeling for the anthem. Which produced some online rage. Thankfully, it looks like that idea was shot down. But still - the very idea of it is insulting to reasonable thought. And now the idea that players can be fined - for exercising their constitutional rights - is burning some folk's britches. And I totally understand.
On the other hand - players are employees of a company who should have some say in how their employees represent them. Maybe. Right? Or is the policy too far? I honestly don't know. Some folks on Facebook clearly think they have the answer. Maybe they're right!
Or maybe they're overreacting.
Anyway, I hate to be wishy washy on the policy but I have mixed feelings about it. To be clear - I don't have mixed feelings about the obvious racial component. The new NFL policy is absolutely designed to make white Americans feel more comfortable watching the NFL. I mean, let's face it - if there is one thing that scares the F out of many white people, it's black folks exercising their constitutional rights and pushing for social change.
I mean, peacefully protesting by kneeling quietly during the national anthem seems pretty benign, right? This probably shouldn't even be a national issue. But it is. Such is the 'Murica we currently find ourselves in.
To be honest, I prefer the NFL's previous policy of - players are free to exercise their free speech. Or not. It's up to them. And I hate the racial component of this policy but I keep getting stuck on - but the NFL is a company and the company should be allowed some say in how their employees represent - the company. But the rage is building and I honestly don't expect the NFL to keep this policy.
I guess we'll see what happens now.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) had this to say about the new policy:
The NFL’s full policy statement:
The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.
The membership also strongly believes that:
1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.
4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
Holy wow, Batman! “This is America” is sophisticated, genius art!
But I’ll get back to that.
First I just want to say that, oftentimes music and movies are too quickly labeled “genius” or “art,” simply because they are created. And if something is created it must be - art. Especially if it’s created by someone we adore! Well - maybe. But not all movies are art, nor do they try to be. The same, I think it could be said, is true for music.
And then there is the much maligned “music video.” A truly lost form of expression. Well, not “lost” exactly but certainly ramped way down from the 90’s heydays where music companies paid to produce music videos because, “If you don’t have a video - you don’t have a hit!”
Remember, MTV used to have two full channels dedicated to music video. Not so much any longer. Nowadays, rich musicians use their own money to finance their own music videos and take the loss in hopes that increased publicity from said video, will lead to higher sales and more clicks on YouTube (or similar stream channels,) which also brings in the bacon.
And then we come to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” For those that don’t know, Childish Gambino is the musical stage name for freakishly talented Donald Glover - actor, writer, producer (no relation to actor Danny Glover). Gambino actually has several music videos out, most of them cleverly written with semi humorous, semi serious tones. And, for my taste - with mixed results.
So, this weekend, when I heard the crushing throng of folks talking about Gambino's “This is America,” I was skeptical. I mean, Glover’s talent is self evident. His writing is fantastic, his comedic timing is spot on, he’s going to be BADASS as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars Solo film. (But that’s just a prediction. That will totally become truth!)
Anyway. Again, I was a bit skeptical because - as much a fan of Glover’s as I am in regard to his writing and acting, I am lukewarm on his music.
And then I watched “This is America.” Dear Bloody God was my skepticism misplaced!
As a song - “This is America” has choir melodies and trap rhythms that blend incredibly well together. The writing is blistering social critique from all angles of race. But as a video - it’s a work of genius art.
Movies, and music video are a world of images and imagery. “Show, don’t tell” is the most commonly used phrase told to young directors - “Show your audience what is happening - don’t have characters tell the audience what happened or is happening!” Show your visuals. Show your imagery. This is, after all, a visual medium.
And “This is America” drips with important imagery beginning with (but certainly not limited to) Gambino’s Jim Crow comparison. The NY Times has a nice collection of writers from all over the country commenting on the video’s imagery. And since the imagery is critical to understanding the video, I urge viewers to read into some alternate theories into the “meaning” behind Gambino’s “This is America.”
David Pilgrim, the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University is interviewed over at Huffingtonpost.com. Pilgrim has this to say,
“You never know what’s in the head of an artist unless they tell you. So we have to interpret and sometimes we get it right. I did go out and read some of the critiques from various people and they’re just all over the place. I like it. I like it because, quite frankly, I like any art that pushes intelligent discussions about racism. Any art that pushes that is good for this country.”
In all his points here, I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that in order to be “great art”, it has to have the capacity to scare people. And “This is America” is doing just that - angering & scaring folks of all races, all over the country. That being said, the positive praise far outweighs the negative. The video has a crushing amount of fervent supporters. Count myself among the supporters.
But if you watch the video and you “just don’t get it” or even if you hate it - that’s okay too. Great art, such as this, can handle the criticism. I would urge you to read up more on the history of the imagery Then watch the video again, watch the sharply directed & choreographed obfuscations in the foreground and the background and take note of the loving treatment guns receive juxtaposed with the cold indifference of dead black bodies.
“This is America” is a really great, and important work.
I am certainly not alone in my thoughts. In less than one week, “This is America” has racked up more than 65 million hits on YouTube alone. And so, like this upcoming fact I am about to drop, or not but - “This is America” will go down as one of the greatest music videos ever produced.
Maybe even the greatest.
And that title will be well deserved.