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Martin Luther King Jr (#110 of 8)

Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film secretprojectrevolution

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Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film <em>secretprojectrevolution</em>
Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film <em>secretprojectrevolution</em>

In his 2004 film The Raspberry Reich, Bruce LaBruce declares that “Madonna is counter-revolutionary.” Of course, it’s one of many parodies of political sloganeering in the film; in the real world, the impact of the pop-diva doyenne’s work, particularly in terms of post-feminist sexual agency, is unmistakable. Notably, Madonna’s American Life album—which dropped a year before The Raspberry Reich and finds the singer posing on the cover like a cross between Che Guevara and Patty Hearst, two revolutionary icons who figure prominently in the film—proved that Madonna’s politics are best delivered with tongue in cheek. When she’s ventured beyond sexual politics (or, say, the Catholic church, her qualms with which are ultimately about sex and gender anyway), she’s stumbled perilously close to the brand of radical chic LaBruce satirizes in his film.

Hurt Village: Katori Hall’s Broken-Dreams America

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<em>Hurt Village</em>: Katori Hall’s Broken-Dreams America
<em>Hurt Village</em>: Katori Hall’s Broken-Dreams America

My first impression of the set of Hurt Village, the new play by Katori Hall at the Signature Theatre, was its Kienholz look. As in the work of the American installation artist, the eclectically assembled furnishings—an oversized plastic-wrapped sofa, blood-red kitchen, chain-link fences, graffiti, a solitary lamppost—evoked realism in loose, expressive brushstrokes, with a touch of the sinister.

The set befitted the play, which grapples with recognizable themes in bold and vigorous, if not always new, ways. Cookie, a 13-year-old rapper, is a resident of the Hurt Village project in Memphis that’s about to be bulldozed to clear space for new condominiums. Cookie’s precocious linguistic gifts clash poignantly with her at times shaky grammar. From the start, she’s the play’s anchor—no small feat, considering how seamlessly a relative newcomer to the professional stage, Joaquina Kalukango, balances Cookie’s childish schoolgirl angst, her bedwetting and sexual curio, with learning to hold her own, in a brutally adult world.

UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience

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UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience
UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience

By now you’ve seen the video and heard the outrage: A group of student demonstrators at the University of California Davis supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement and protesting violent police action against University of Berkeley protesters two weeks earlier were pepper-sprayed by UC Davis police. If the incident doesn’t become an iconic, defining moment of the Occupy movement a la images of black Americans being hosed down by police during the civil rights movement, it has at least galvanized the cause and ignited a long-overdue debate about police aggression circa 2011.

While the UC Davis police were acting on orders by the university’s chancellor, Linda Katehi, it’s unlikely she instructed Lt. John Pike to nonchalantly stroll up and down and shower the students with military-grade pepper spray at point-blank range like he was killing cockroaches in his kitchen. No reasonable civilian would begrudge police officers their right to protect themselves while in the line of duty, but despite UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza’s statement that the pepper spray was used because students were preventing the officers from leaving, video and photographs of the incident contradict her account. Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—who likened pepper spray to a nice, peppery vinaigrette on The O’Reilly Factor last night—thinks Spicuzza’s claim is bogus.

Prop 8: What Would MLK Do?

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Prop 8: What Would MLK Do?
Prop 8: What Would MLK Do?

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white moderates who sided with him on the issue of civil rights but who were reluctant to act, who told him to have patience and wait: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” It’s something that has stayed with me since I first read the text over a decade ago, and in the wake the passage of Proposition 8 (the California initiative that defines “marriage” in the state constitution as a union between a man and a woman, and which was largely funded by the Mormon Church and disproportionately supported by the African-American community compared to other racial groups), King’s words have never felt more prescient.

In the midst of an economic meltdown, and with the moguls of the Big Three automakers arriving in Washington to, as one legislator astutely put it, beg for money like someone showing up for lunch at a soup kitchen in a top hat and tails, the Office of the President-elect has unveiled the details of Barack Obama’s agenda for, among other things, civil rights. The plan proposes to expand hate crime statutes, as Obama did as an Illinois State senator, expand federal anti-discrimination employment laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, repeal the U.S. Military’s misguided “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and expand adoption rights (an important stance considering the precedent set by a new ban on adoption for unmarried couples in Arkansas, a state with a shameful foster-care record).

2008: The Year That Changed the World?

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2008: The Year That Changed the World?
2008: The Year That Changed the World?

To hear baby boomers tell it, the events of the 1960s—particularly 1968, a year that “changed the world,” according to a new TIME book—signaled an entire generation’s coming of age. There was a joke in my house growing up that while many of my friends’ parents were living the high life in the late ’60s and early ’70s, my parents, married at the end of the Summer of Love, were balancing their checkbook. But while they may not have marched on Washington or taken part in even the most benign of hippie-culture pleasures, they were at least politically aware. And so I asked them recently if, in relation to any other turbulent period in American history they’ve witnessed in their 60-plus years, things today are really as bad as they seem. Without hesitation, they answered with an unequivocal “no.”

I’m not sure my parents really understood the gravity of my question, or if I expressed it adequately. I wasn’t talking about the threat of physical harm at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, which is likely no more or less of a threat than a nuclear attack was during the Cold War, but the exploitation of that fear, as well as the McCarthyite stigmatization of those who might question it, to further the Bush administration’s political agenda: the flagrant abuse of power, their steady and deliberate dismantling of our nation’s justice system and Constitution, the corporate control of our legislative branch, the systematic upward-moving transfer of wealth, the profiteering of the energy and healthcare businesses, the destruction of (and denial of said destruction of) our planet. Having only read about Nixon, Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement in textbooks, it’s difficult to put things in perspective, but for a while it has felt like the United States has been on the precipice of something very, very bad.