How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

Remembering Appomattox

Here in Australia and also in New Zealand, there have been a lot of memorials commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli where many Australian & New Zealand soldiers died and where Australian and New Zealand identity within the commonwealth was strengthened.

In the US, April 9th commemorates an important anniversary (although the date is not so widely remembered), the surrender of the Confederate troops at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The Last Salute

This year marks 150 years since that surrender and its lasting effect on national identity. No longer was the USA, a collection of states, but rather a unified country.

Despite all of our many regional differences, there are some core beliefs that Americans hold true which are that everyone is equal and has a right to pursue their dreams.

It is somewhat of a shame that April 9th is not as widely commemorated as other dates in US history, however you could easily say that is a reflection of the overall legacy of the Civil War itself. CNN posted this article 4 years ago (on the anniversary of the start of the Civil War) about “4 Ways We’re Still Fighting The Civil War,” and this article from Time asks the same question.

Yet, what I find rather fascinating is while there was a rush of articles to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Civil War, there’s not so many about the end of it, and about the healing and successes since then, which undoubtedly there have been. (Frankly, myself and my whole family are a testament to that.)

Father-Son Lessons from beyond

My relationship with my father was “civil,” which frankly was quite a minor miracle, because it could’ve been much worse as he was operating with the psychological handicap of being a vet of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The best way to describe it is that there was a certain melancholy around him that happened before I was born, and there was likely nothing I could’ve done to really make it disappear.

I mention the distant relationship I had with my father because this feature from NPR explained so much of my father’s seemingly odd behaviour when I was growing up.

When my parents moved to Mequon (a predominantly white suburb of Milwaukee), my father took it upon himself to introduce himself to the local police, thinking that if they knew him as a person and not just “some black guy” he wouldn’t be treated for being “black in the wrong place” (and honestly in the late 1970s you couldn’t fault his logic).

His strategy did work, as the one time he was racially profiled by a [nervous and subconsciously bigoted local], he had the police very much on his side, and the accuser rightfully had a lot of proverbial egg on their face.

All that said, growing up, I noticed that my father went out to of his way to avoid being alone in public without either myself, my mother, or preferably both of us. Much like the man in the NPR piece, I think it was because of that “thug” perception. He saw himself as a family man, but was aware (presumably from a traumatic experience) that the perception others would have of him would be considerably different. So my mother & I were his armour. Racism terrified a man who was a Vietnam POV.

And not once did he mention this directly, but he taught me to always carry myself in a somewhat deferential (but still proud) manner as a black man.

And even to this day when I’m in public, I feel a degree of anxiety about someone saying something based solely on my appearance, an appearance that I can’t do anything about. Whether it’s from being black, being gay, being American, I can never relax fully as the only black man in the room.

This seems to be unique to black men, as my mother never displayed or expressed any hesitation about being on her own in public in Mequon. Having grown up in Mequon, I was at ease there (it was my home, after all), but in places that are like it, I find myself getting the nervousness and hesitation that I think my father must’ve had.

Still, I manage to challenge my comfort zone–(If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have ever left Mequon!)–if only because I believe that one day I will feel relaxed as the only one whatever in the room.

My father passed away in 2002, so I have no idea what he would’ve made of the Michael Brown shooting. I can say that from the scant bits of news we get on it here in Australia, that a bit of a chill goes down my spine. I know that no matter what I have done and achieved, I can never override someone’s prejudices that they have in a split second. And that could very well be that second which determines if I live or die.

Below: The view out the window on Christmas morning at the house I grew up in Mequon.christmasmorning2008.jpg

When I Think of Home Now

As I write this I’m watching the final of the Rugby League Four Nations. For those unfamiliar with Rugby League this is a biennial tournament between Australia, England, New Zealand, and one other (un)lucky country.

This year the final is between Australia and New Zealand. Prior to last year, anytime Australia or New Zealand play, I have always stayed politely neutral, as I’m an Australian permanent resident and also a Kiwiphile.

After living in New Zealand for a year, however, I’ve changed.

I’m a Kiwi.

Well, I’m an American-New Zealander who lives in Australia.

Having lived outside of the U.S. for almost 6 years, I’ve seen my sense of what nationality I am become a lot more complicated that I ever thought it could be.

The best way I could describe it is with something I call the “warm, fuzzy feeling factor.” When you think of a place that gives you that feeling where is it? (Note, for Dutch speakers think “gezellig” or for Welsh speakers “hiraeth.”)

For me, I think of several places instantly :

A snowy morning in Wisconsin, an autumn afternoon in New York, an evening in Wellington or Rotorua, and a foggy morning in Auckland.

These places and the time I spent in them remind me of times I’ve felt grounded and certain.

That’s home in my book, and yes, it’s odd that with as many years as I’ve lived here in Australia, it hasn’t yet felt like home.

It’s a bit hard to feel grounded when to this day whenever I meet someone and they know that I’ve lived here for a long time I still get asked what I think of Australia. Maybe it’s me, but I think 5 years is a sign that I think it’s pretty nice place.

The next question tends to be do I think I might go back to the U.S. Which is a rather odd question for me personally, since though I’m from the U.S. (and as I’ve also pointed out here before, the U.S. is itself more like 50 separate countries), the country has moved on since I left and so have I. So who’s to say that we’ll be able to get in sync again like we were when I was younger?

Home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. In my opinion, the heart thrives where it feels supported and part of a greater “family.” (Probably I should say “whanau.”)

This isn’t to say that Australia won’t ever invoke those feelings, it’s just that Australia is not going to make it easy.

And the strange thing, the fact that it won’t, probably makes me love it more.

By the way, as I type this New Zealand is beating Australia 14 to 12.

Āe.

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Both Alike In Dignity and Complexity

“Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona where we set our scene”

"an excellent conceited tragedy" indeed

“an excellent conceited tragedy” indeed

I remember the opening prologue to Romeo & Juliet because I saw it countless times whilst waiting in the wings for my entrance during my high school’s production.

Let the record show that I was not Romeo. I was Friar Lawrence actually.

In the two productions of Shakespeare my school put on, I was cast as a religious figure who gave advice to those struck dumb with love.  Presumably this was due to the fact that as an overweight black teenage male, I didn’t exactly exude romantic lead material.

Waiting in the wings, waiting to go on, and observing the activity night after night gave me somewhat of an interesting challenge: I was disconnected from the action, but expected to thrust myself into it just a few scenes later.

This was not that different from my day-to-day life at the time, where I often felt like I was disconnected from the high school world around me. I was, for lack of a better term, “other.”

Now, on some level, that’s just a standard teenage phase, but as a double minority (black and gay), not being considered part of the mainstream really got to me. It got to me so much that I pretty much the kibosh on any thoughts of being an actor after graduating. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Yessir, I was going to write the world as I saw it and everybody’s minds would be collectively blown and the world would be a bit less daunting to the fat black gay teenage boys from Wisconsin.

I’d like to think that the world of 2014 is a bit more hospitable now than it was then.

Today, I saw two articles from The Atlantic that made me remember that sense of “otherness” from way back when.

The first one was from Enuma Okoro, praising the everywoman aspects of the lead character in the new BET (Black Entertainment Television) show Being Mary Jane, which is about a journalist attempting to get that proverbial work-life balance just right. In the article, Okoro quotes a study by Essence magazine that states that a considerable majority of black women see negative portrayals of themselves more often than positive ones, amongst which include the infamous (and unrealistic) head shaking, sassy black woman stereotype.

It certainly didn’t reflect the reality of the black women that I ever came across in my family, nor in my black female peers and friends.

This is not to say that it wasn’t true for some people, but not all, and particularly when your only representation is this archetype it can become an expectation.

Apologies for the cliché, but if I had a dime for how many people overseas asked me if black women really were that way, I’d be able to solve the GFC.

That’s the problem with television and media in general, it can turn a character trait that the actual person has to chop down (often with a metaphorical pickaxe) to find the truth inside.

And that truth is, as Okoro says about Being Mary Jane, “the potential to slowly alter the way viewers see and relate to African-Americans as a people whose lives and experiences—their good and poor decisions, and their trials and triumphs—can be encompassed into cultural and social norms in the same way that the lives and experiences of white Americans have been for centuries.”

The second article was Hope Reese’s interview with Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh, the creators of Looking, a new HBO show about gay men in San Francisco.

Haigh says “Our ambition is not to tell the story about all gay people, which is impossible to do. The gay community is full of all different types of people. It never was our intention to be the ultimate gay show about all gay people. We just want to tell the stories of these characters and their lives.”

In response to Reese’s question about whether they [Lannan & Haigh] felt a burden to “get it right,” he says: “I think ‘burden’ is a good way to put it. We do feel like there’s a burden, and then the trailer comes out, and everyone comments on it, saying, “That’s not my life.” It was hysterical looking at some of the comments. Some people decided it was a show about cock-hungry sluts, and others would say that it’s all white people. Everyone has a judgment. But we can’t represent everybody—it’s impossible.

So in many respects, we have to ignore that. But I also understand the desire, the need, for representation on the screen. My hope is that if this show does well, it will offer the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people.”

Haigh’s statement about hoping that it offers “the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people” echoes earlier remarks from the creators of the sitcom Will & Grace in response to accusations that the show wasn’t realistic.

Mind you, it is a comedy, and asking for verisimilitude in a half-hour comedy without it becoming mind-numbingly dull is a big ask.

A belated disclaimer: I have yet to see either of these shows, but I suspect that Looking will make an appearance on some Australian television outlet, and the eternal optimist in me hopes that Being Mary Jane might as well.  (I like to believe that in a nation that believes in the “fair go,” that is a possibility.)

With regards to Looking, I must admit that for some gay men out there, it might be a breath of fresh air to see their lives reflected onscreen. I remember when Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc debuted on LOGO. I remember thinking “wow, I see guys who are black and gay, and who actually have a sex life and relationships!”

Noah's Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

Noah’s Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

It might seem peculiar to those who aren’t black and gay, but for the most part, the representation of black gay men in TV  was pretty much as the “sassy sidekick” (mostly in drag) to the white leads who got to go through the ups and downs of romance, awkwardness, and well…reality.

Which brings me back to what the overweight black gay teenage boy waiting in the wings in 2014 sees.

I truly hope he can see that his hopes and wishes not that much different from everyone else, and perhaps, everyone else sees something of their own hopes and wishes in his.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Post 2014

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

Recently I’ve taken to reading the tablet version of the New York Daily News every day as part of my morning ritual. Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, a fair amount of the articles dealt with the legacy of Dr. King.

Yet, it was one ad in the paper that stuck out for me: It was for a 2014 Australian silver dollar targeted to US coin collectors.

Most non-coin collectors like myself would pass by that ad without thinking twice, but given that I live in Australia,  I lingered. Alas, I have been struck with the infamous “Ooh! It’s about my country” bug.

For all intents and purposes, I am Australian. I am also–and will always be–American as well. (I’ve lived here for 5 years now, so I think I’ve officially turned the corner from dalliance to full on relationship.)

The fact that I can live here of my own free will and volition is partly due to the work of Dr. King.

Many Australians are surprised that Australia has somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat inhospitable towards people of colour, due to the history of the “White Australia policy” that limited immigration to those of European background. Interestingly enough, the cracks in this policy started when a Black British man applied to come here.

What many in the US do not know is that Dr. King’s legacy of non-violent protest inspired Australia’s own Freedom Riders.

From The ABC’s “Discovering Democracy” website:

“In 1965 a group of students from the University of Sydney organised a freedom ride to towns in NSW to publicise the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people. Discrimination took different forms, such as not being allowed to live in town at all, not being allowed into certain shops or clubs, having to sit in the front few rows at the cinema or not being allowed in the public swimming pool. Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman led the students, with the support of Reverend Ted Noffs and Bill Ford.

“The students hired a bus and travelled over 3,000 kilometres through country towns of northern NSW which had large Aboriginal populations. Two journalists travelled with the students and recorded what they saw. The students interviewed Aboriginal people about discrimination in their towns. They picketed the swimming pool in Moree, where Aboriginal children were allowed in only if they were with a school group. Many townspeople were hostile to the students. They threw things at them, spat on them, threatened them and tried to run their bus off the road.

The freedom ride attracted great publicity in city newspapers and made the front page of the Bulletin magazine. The reports and photographs shocked white Australians and made them aware of the conditions under which many Aboriginal communities lived. The publicity generated by the freedom ride persuaded many Australians to vote for constitutional change in the 1967 referendum.”

Interesting parallels with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We hear quite often about how the world is ever more connected, and often times that just refers to trends, and not so much to ideas.

Dr. King’s legacy is not the sole domain of the US, nor should it be. The legacy of the late Nelson Mandela is not the sole domain of South Africa, as his recent memorial service proved to the global audience.

We are all more connected in our shared humanity than set apart by differing skin colour and cultural background.

The Antipodean Dilemma of the Gay Traveler

I’ve lived in Australia for 4 years now, and I do love living here, but it’s location in the world can be trying.

If you have your family and/or business mostly in the Western part of the United States, getting there is about a 12-14 hour nonstop flight to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

(This also explains why Australians tend to view the US through a Californian lens, and worthy of its own post.)

Getting to the Midwest or the East Coast generally involves adding on a flight from California to one’s final destination, adding on an extra 3-6 hours.

QANTAS itself operates a flight from New York to Los Angeles (where you can subsequently connect to its flights to the Australian East Coast), mostly due to the presumed reputation of US carriers and also to get its own significant slice of the fare pie.

Now, the reason I bring this up, is because QANTAS has been in the Australian media a lot these days because of their new alliance with Emirates, a major carrier from Dubai.

Emirates has been making serious inroads into the Australian market because whilst it’s 13 hours to Dubai from Sydney, it’s also 5 or 6 hours from Dubai to Europe, and the Europe to Australia market is huge and competitive.

Whereas before one generally flew QANTAS from Australia to Europe via Singapore (where homosexuality is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced), or via Hong Kong (where it is at least legal to be gay), or Bangkok (same), now those who want to fly the main national carrier will be routed through the UAE, a country where there are significant legal differences with Australia, homosexuality being illegal and prosecuted being a notable difference, as this article in the Star Observer points out.

Even the Australian government itself warns gay travelers to the UAE.

The other main Australian carrier, Virgin Australia, has an alliance with UAE carrier Etihad Airways, to fly its Europe bound passengers via Abu Dhabi. (Oddly enough they don’t emphasise the daily Virgin Atlantic flight from Sydney to London via Hong Kong, but that’s a bit of a quirk of Virgin Australia’s ownership.)

Getting to Europe without going through the UAE is seemingly difficult, but not impossible.

Air New Zealand avoids the issue by having its London flights via Los Angeles, though it’s not the most pleasant transit experience from what I’ve heard.

China Southern, Cathay Pacific, Thai, and JAL have been encouraging Australians to get to Europe (and the US) via Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Tokyo respectively.

That said it is hard to avoid the intense advertisement by the UAE carriers. I gave in, even though I was fully aware that by doing so, I was giving money to a homophobic government.

So I flew to Chicago from Melbourne via Abu Dhabi.

The flight was present, but when I got to the lounge, I was not able to log into several gay-identified websites (AfterElton, JOY94.9, The Advocate), because they were blocked.

Perhaps this is a bit close to my heart, because I’ve worked in the LGBT media. Others might not be bothered by it.

For me, personally, the cost savings were outweighed by the moral compromise.

Life is not a movie…no matter how much we want it to be

I can count on one finger how many times I have ever read the New Yorker. I’m not ashamed to admit that to me at least, because the attending baggage of being a New Yorker reader is much larger than the content.

Rally for Marriage Equality

Rally for Marriage Equality (Photo credit: vpickering)

For whatever reason today, one of my news aggregators popped up with this opinion piece from The New Yorker.

The article talks about the relative tranquility and unremarkable atmosphere in the recent US Supreme Court hearings about the Defense of Marriage Act & California’s Proposition 8.

Life is not a Hollywood film, and yet, we, particularly in the media and in the public try to organise real world events in that matter.

It’s understandable, because one of our greatest teachers growing up is the entertainment industry.

Take a look at your average long-feature news report, much like a bit from a reality show, it will have music that will steer you emotionally one way or another. (This is nothing radical, Dateline NBC did a feature about this, and even poked fun at itself. For further reference, read this report from UCLA & Carelton University)

Still, that’s the great thing about the US judicial system: it asks people to take away the emotionality and make a judgement on the facts.

This is why the rather subdued environment in the Supreme Court is remarkable. The facts are that DOMA is unconstitutional.

It’s also why I wonder what will happen to the activist machinery that has been set up around the marriage equality debate.

It’s time to think beyond marriage, beyond the happy endings.

We are all slurs

An advisory: This particular post contains use of racial epithets and homophobic language. My hope is that this will engender some discussion, and perhaps any discomfort will be, in the long run, brief.

Words have a power all their own

Words have a power all their own (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

I had an interesting exchange in a cab here in Melbourne some time ago. The driver told me that he was glad that I was a Black American, as opposed to a Somali immigrant, because in his mind and/or experience Somalis are “violent thugs.”

Cowardly, I did not call him on that. In fact, I didn’t think about that incident until today when I told someone that journalists and others should call out a performer for calling someone a “faggot.”

My response was that it’s a point of respect: how can you be a fan of someone who will gladly take your money but not respect who you are intrinsically?

I feel the same way about the use of the word “faggot” as I do about “nigger.”

They are slurs. Period.

I do not understand the purpose in reclaiming them. Is it a lack of creativity? Or is it a sense of saying “I’m not like those people, so please don’t be prejudiced against me?”

Living here in Australia, often times I come across social media where two Australians will refer to each other as “nigga,” under the belief that it’s a term of endearment.

The funny thing about social media is that it’s public.

On a completely emotional level, I would like to go to every house in this nation and tell them the history of this word. This word was used to dehumanise, demean, and sell people. This word was the last thing some people heard before they were lashed by whips or hung by a tree.

And some might say, well that was years ago, it has no impact on the present.

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

This word and its history exist as long as we continue to have racial discord in this world, and I mean racial discord between any races.

The second that you fail to see how a slur against someone else affects you, you become the next likely target.

This is also a matter of self-respect. If you don’t love yourself, then how can you expect others to love you, or even respect you?

By using these terms or even accepting these terms in the public sphere, you are allowing them to breathe.

Most likely, the reason why these words exist is because of lyrics: People want to emulate celebrities that they respect. If they feel that they get a better sense of who they are and what they want to be, then that is totally fine. The real problem comes from wanting to emulate without thinking.

Here’s a three letter word that isn’t used as much as it used to be: Why?

Why are these celebrities the way they are? What struggles have they gone through? What have they seen that perhaps you have and perhaps you haven’t?

Love the music. Love the film. Love the show, but don’t think that for one second playing verbal dressup will bring you closer to understanding your role models.

Listening will. Listening to what they have to say and why they said it will. Reading will. And here’s the tough bit: You can’t skip the listening, no matter how much you want to.

Otherwise, you’re just front.

I’m not trying to clamp down on expression, far from it. I’m just wondering at what point does personal responsiblity for that expression kick in?

Saying that you heard XYZ celeb say something and therefore by extension you can say it too, is a cop out. It places you on the level of a parrot. And the parrot has an excuse, you as a human being don’t, because you have a brain that is capable of complex thought and get a load of this:  Capable of compassion towards others both animal and human.

Compassion and listening will break down more walls than downloads and blog posts.

A Sacrifice for Mississippi

 

 

Belzoni in 1939

Belzoni in 1939

 

I’ve completed 2 full days smoke-free.

 

I’m not doing so for any forced reason such as lower health fund costs or due to a health scare.

 

The reason is mostly financial and personal.

 

I’d like to visit my father’s hometown in Mississippi.

 

My father and most of his family left Belzoni, Mississippi in 1943, when he was 7.

 

When they left, his family likely saw scenes like the picture at the top of the post on a daily basis

 

My father passed away in 2002 having never returned to it in his entire life, something that I think probably saddened him immensely.

 

Belzoni is a part of myself as well that remains mysterious.

 

I don’t know what to expect, but I know that I have to do this trip.

 

Given that my great great great relative Blanche K. Bruce was also the Senator from Mississippi (and served as Sheriff for Bolivar County, which is only a few counties North from Humphreys County where Belzoni is), there’s a strong calling from that side of the family as well.

 

Sign seen upon entering Mississippi

Sign seen upon entering Mississippi