The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Scoundrels" and the National Lampoon

I was reading a “Best of National Lampoon Cartoons” anthology.  Remember that magazine?  It grew out of the Harvard Lampoon, and always considered themselves in competition with Mad Magazine.  Well, they’re long gone as a magazine, and Mad is still around.  I always thought the N.L. was hysterical, but mean-spirited.  That if they saw a traffic accident, their first response would be to make jokes.  I remember that they got in trouble for a fake Volkswagon ad, showing a floating VW beetle with the caption: “If Teddy Kennedy had driven a Volkswagon, he’d be Presdent today!

Well, in looking back through the cartoons, they are just as funny as ever.  But I was also reminded of something about them that irritated me.  And that still irritates me to this day.

To be white, in the world of the National Lampoon, was to be normal.  To be non-white was to be the butt of a joke.  In other words, you’d never see a black or Asian person just walking by in the background, watching another character’s humiliation or situation.  No.  ALL background characters are white.  As are most foreground, central characters.  The ONLY time you saw a black person in a cartoon in the National Lampoon was if they were making a specific racial joke.  We weren’t human, we were jokes.

This hit me on the same day that I was looking at movie reviews, and saw one for “School For Scoundrels” with Billy Bob Thornton.  You know something?  He’s starting to annoy me.  “Monster’s Ball” was just a travesty in terms of racial imagery. 

Then there’s “Bad Santa” with the black dwarf.  And the single full-sized black security cop who gets killed.  All right…

And now Micheal Clark Duncan appears in “School For Scoundrels” as a “sexually ambiguous” assistant to Billy Bob.  Wow.  I believe that they’re making funny anal rape jokes as a running gag.  Considering that we will NEVER see Duncan in a love scene, emasculating him in a blonde wig to amuse the white frat boys is annoying.  It reminds me of one of my very least favorite movies, “The Green Mile” where Duncan simply functions to deliver white people to enlightenment, and to give Tom Hanks a raging sexuality…while he himself dies a dog’s death.

There’s this theory I came up with thirty years ago that I called the “Breeding Circle.”  It had to do with black male images in cinema.  I suggested that, grossly disproportunate to white images in cinema, black men were presented as non-breeding competition.  In broad terms, this meant that in a fascinating percentage of movies, the black characters were presented as too old, too young, too gay, too fat, or too dead to be reproductive competition.  The heroes of these movies were always young, straight, lean-bodies white guys.

Just for funsies, can any of you remember even a single movie where the only white male character fit in this category? 

I got so sick of seeing movies where the only black male character was an old man, or a little kid, or grossly obese, or gay (flamingly so) or died—often protecting a white guy, or inspiring him to rise up and improve himself.  Ugh.

It got so bad when I was a kid that when I was going to see an action movie with a mixed cast, kids in the neighborhood would ask me “how they killed the brother this time.”   We knew that America thought we were garbage.  The fact that these images were so enduringly popular told us everything we wanted to know.

Black male stars still cannot have love scenes and attract large audiences.  Until they can, I’m not going to see movies like “Scoundrels.”  I know why people are REALLY laughing: laughter is a release of tension, and believe me, a man like Michael Clark Duncan is threatening indeed.  In the subconscious fantasies of white guys across American (present company excluded, of course) he is a eunuch, or gay, and will never compete for breeding space in Halle Berry.

And by the way, it will be years before I forgive Adrian Brody for kissing her at the Oscars.  Does anyone here believe that if Wesley Snipes had kissed Julia Roberts, America would have found it as “romantic”? 
My workout schedule leading up to this weekend’s workshop is the following:

Warrior Wellness (wakeup and joint health)
Turkish Get-Ups (a fine whole-body exercise, performed continuously for five minutes.  Grueling)
Flow Fit 2.  (My current time for 15 repetitions: 29:00.  It works all basic fitness components, and also works the Six Degrees of Freedom, breaking the chains of Fear-Reactivity quite nicely)
Finish off with Kettlebell of Heavy Clubbell swings (in 2-minute rounds.  Thirty seconds of work followed by 90 seconds of light Silat)

ON alternate days, pure rest/recovery work, centering around Yoga.  These are my Bikram days.  My body seems to be enjoying this program…energy levels are high, and I can drop weight any time I want.  I sleep well, so I know I’m not overtraining.

All of my fitness aspects are handled at home…but only Yoga seems to address actual health in the way I like.  When I don’t do it, my body slowly starts remembering that I’m not twenty-five any more…


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