The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

After the ball is over...

After this election is all over, it will be interesting to see what an impartial analysis can reveal about the relative negativity of the campaigns. My guess is that the candidates should get 10 points for each negative comment. V.P candidates maybe get a 5. Close surrogates a "3" or something. Total them up. The interesting thing is that somehow Obama put McCain in the position where trying to "Swift Boat" him only hurt the Arizona Senator worse. That probably happened as a result of a series of very careful strategies to evoke the public's "better angels," linked to a very deep desire for change. In that sense, being black helped him, because he represents change on such a deep subconscious level (especially visually) that to a huge chunk of the American public there has simply never been a choice as stark. I start to believe that Powell might have been able to be elected twelve or sixteen years ago (a black Republican-Conservative is a unique paradox for racists. If they don't wanna vote for Powell, where do they go?)

ᅠIf that's true, (except for that pesky assassination thingie) then there has been potential energy building in the American hindbrain for half a generation--the desire to see a non-white in the office. I mean, either you assume non-whites ain't got it, or you look at the exclusive club that the White House and Senate represent, and it looks bad to the world...and we care about our image.

ᅠCompare this to Halle Berry winning the Oscar for "Monster's Ball." I mean, she was good and all, but I think the Academy was LOOKING for someone black to give that award to. We'll not discuss the implications of Berry winning her Oscar for whoring herself to Billy Bob Thornton, while Denzel got his for being a murderous criminal who dies like a dog in the street. Ooops, we just did. Sorry.

But the people who whispered that Berry got the Oscar because she was black were right...but wrong if they think that being black is an advantage in Hollywood. It's been a serious disadvantage, but those who have survived the winnowing will find they have certain advantages over those who never went through such a selection funnel.

On a far larger canvas, something similar is happening with Obama. From my POV he is WAY smarter than most candidates, has run an almost perfect campaign, sufficiently good to make both the Clinton and McCain campaigns look quite bad in comparison, comparable to a Superbowl team making a lesser team fumble all over the field.

His skin well as his name and his father's religion made his candidacy incredibly unlikely. But when people talk about black (or white) people voting for him "because of color" they are dancing around the edge of a truth without putting their foot right in it. Alan Combes, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are all black, and don't trigger a response anywhere near that of Powell or Obama. My belief is that they simply aren't on the same level...and EVERYONE knows it. That it wasn't "just" the skin color, but the recognition of what a large percentage of the voting population considers a freak good politician and a sublime social theorist (his speech on race was arguably the best public discourse I've heard on the subject EVER.) People inclined to vote for him were and are definitely jazzed by the fact that they get a "twofer": a President they believe will be excellent, AND a chance to express their racial politics. But if they didn't consider him exceptional, they wouldn't have gone that way.

I've heard LOTS of black people talking about black politicians, and trust me, they don't talk about Obama the same way. They are just giddy that this guy is "one of ours" but I think that if he were white, he'd get almost the same percentage of their vote.

How good will he be if he's elected? My guess is considerably better than average. But the incredible thing is that it looks as if we're actually going to find out.

What an interesting ride this has been. Looks like I chose the right election to start paying attention. I'll let that part of my head go back to sleep I suspect...except to keep one eye open to see what happens when a high-functioning and (apparently) balanced human being reaches high office.

By the way--Bush seems to be decently balanced in the three major arenas. The problem is that he didn't have to work for the power he inherited. That's the problem with inherited wealth: the average person who EARNS a million is probably smarter than the average person who INHERITS the same amount. For those who want to argue with that, please try to grasp the difference between having a father who is a former President and head of the CIA and head of a dynastic fortune...and having a father who was a rural Kenyan. Bush was standing on the shoulders of a giant, Obama standing in the deepest hole any candidate for President ever dreamed of. No comparison at all.


"Lifewriting" has apparently been voted one of the 10 best free writing courses the world. I get sign-ups from India and China and it's just strange. I guess some things are universal, and I'm humbled to be part of the process of knitting this world more tightly together. That is exactly the gift I want to give my children. Well, one of 'em, anyway.


The 101 Program hits snags in the desire to create the best and most attractive deal possible for paying customers, but I want to get the basic beta going as fast as possible. My web guy had a very serious eye operation recently, (and I've been swamped on "Hannibal") which was gloriously successful, so hopefully we'll be running soon.


Here's another bet: within the next year, some black actor is getting laid in a movie that breaks 100 million. I'm reading comments on various blogs and magazine articles praising the obvious and powerful attraction Barack and Michelle feel for each other. People are getting all teary-eyed over it, in a way I've never seen before. This is DIFFERENT. Somehow, some little switch has been thrown, and people are empathizing with this man's humanity in a way that I've never seen...with the possible exception of Bill Cosby.

You know? Fictional images matter. If I didn't think that was true, I'd find a different profession.


Anonymous said...


I was thinking of this the other day. My family's been getting caught up on the TV show Lost, for a fictional example, and if you've never watched it, go rent it. It has the most sympathetic treatment of non-white characters I've seen on film (now granted, I seldom watch TV, so there might be a better example out there). Things are changing, bit by bit.

Anonymous said...

Steve why do u set the bar at 100 million, why not 50 million?

In the Money train Snipes got laid by J-Lo and in White men cant jump he got laid by his wife.

Why does the fact they make 100 mill mean Snipes getting laid is not significant.

Steve Perry said...

Because the cut-off at a hundred million puts a movie into the broadly-watched category, wide audience that is apt to be more mainstream. A movie makes thirty or forty million could be done with niche marketing and appealing to genre fans. Blockbusters have to reach a lot of folks, and some of them more than once. Steve's contention -- if I can offer my view of it -- is that a black man getting laid is an impediment to being a blockbuster.

Just like book houses don't like putting black guys on the covers because they think it cuts into sales.

Pagan Topologist said...

That is exactly the gift I want to give my children. Well, one of 'em, anyway.

I am curious, Steve. Why only one of them? I cannot figure out what this statement is about.

Michael Canfield said...

I think the Obama's marriage might turn out to be one of the most significant benefits the nation will receive during Barack Obama's administration. A source of inspiration, to anyone who cares to be inspired.

That fairly well-known post-wedding reception picture of the couple on a sofa -- Barack leaning back with his bow-tie undone, and Michelle resting across his lap in her wedding dress and barefoot was taken 16 years ago, but except for a close scrutiny of their more youthful faces it seems like it could have been take yesterday. They are still those happy connected people. This is still that couple in love. I think this marriage, their body language today, to say nothing of their children -- who clearly have benefited from good parenting -- are all huge factors in why these Ayers, terrorist, socialist, communist, whathaveyou, continually escalating mud slinging attempts have largely failed to stick. They simply don't resonate. Even if you entertained the comic book scenario that there are people out there plotting to destroy the country by faking a birth certificate, getting elected to the presidency and handing the keys over to Al Queda you could hardly believe it's these people. I mean come on, that's what the other side decided to go with? Really?

Ethereal Highway said...

Here's another bet: within the next year, some black actor is getting laid in a movie that breaks 100 million.

Steve, that will be even better if the guy doesn't get killed off afterward!

Nancy Lebovitz said...

By the way--Bush seems to be decently balanced in the three major arenas. The problem is that he didn't have to work for the power he inherited. That's the problem with inherited wealth: the average person who EARNS a million is probably smarter than the average person who INHERITS the same amount.

Well, he exercises and seems to be in decent health. However, we have no certainty of what his marriage is like, and afaik he didn't make much money until he became president.

I believe that what's fundamentally wrong with him is that he wants to act on a large scale without thinking about it, either before or after the action. And he's got a mean streak. I don't know if wanting to act without thinking is especially a risk for the inheritors of great wealth, but I expect that the level of ambition is connected.

I agree that the average person who inherits a million dollars isn't going to be as smart as someone who makes it themselves, and I'm amazed that there are people for whom this isn't obvious. What arguments do they use?

Tentatively, I think the thing about being from a wealthy family which can really screw people up is putting their life on hold while they're waiting for the inheritance.

In case I don't get a detailed book review done, I'll just mention that The Curse of Ham (a detailed scholarly look at the curse as it played out in the Abrahamic religions) implies that art and ideology are apt to result from power relationships rather than causing them. It looks as though Obama can get elected without Will Smith getting laid.

Marty S said...

Bush has made a number of mistakes, but his biggest was Iraq. I have a suspicion that this mistake came out of the father/son relationship and was a reaction to criticism of his father by many for not having "finished the job" during the first gulf war.

Steven Barnes said...


I stopped watching LOST when they killed one black character, and had the only other one betray his friends and leave the island. I have no idea what they've done since then, but I don't call that progress. I don't want "sympathy." Just give me my humanity, dammit. And don't kill off everyone who shares my ethnicity, and expect me to enjoy watching the white folks survive nobly.

Steven Barnes said...

100 million isn't an arbitrary number. It represents cultural acceptance: no one can get a film above 100 million without a vast white audience, and therefore represents what that audience wants to see. It is my way of keeping track of the American unconscious.

Steven Barnes said...

That is exactly the gift I want to give my children. Well, one of 'em, anyway.

I am curious, Steve. Why only one of them? I cannot figure out what this statement is about.
One of the gifts I want to give. I want all good things for both my children.

Anonymous said...


YOu said "within the next year, some black actor is getting laid in a movie that breaks 100 million."

I like the sound of that. But in order to be in theaters next year, wouldn't the film have to be pretty much in the can right now? Are you aware of any 100mil-plus-potential projects starring black actors that are at or nearing completion? I'd like to know what I have to look forwards to. I'm also wondering, what level of romance qualifies? Wasn't the 1st Matrix sequel about the most recent 100mil plus movie with a sex scene? Would something that fuzzy wuzzy count?


Steven Barnes said...

If Keanu Reeves had been black, the Matrix sequel would have counted, yes. Will Smith has some interesting projects in production and/or wrapped, and I suspect he's creeping up on that line. I also keep an eye on Jamie Foxx. Denzel is a long shot. Maybe even something by Tyler Perry. But yes, I think that people in Hollywood are sensing the trend lines, and will seek to fill that ecological niche.

Anonymous said...


Everyone who has died so far has been a white man, except the blonde girl.

Whoever or whatever you think I am, I am not your enemy. I came here to learn, and what I've learned is that your exercises don't take away the bitterness.

If you want to discuss this further my email is on my blog, which is linked here.