Archives for the month of: February, 2014

wukong

Advertisements

watermelondreams

 

johnandpat

Most of us dwell on the future in January, but February is a time to incorporate our past into our present challenges and future aspirations. This coming Tuesday, Wonder Root Community Arts Center will host U.S. Civil Rights pioneer Attorney John D. Due, Jr. for a discussion about why Black History is important to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I’d like to use this space to explain why Black History is important to me.

I like Black History Month and have felt compelled to celebrate it as long as I can remember. Full disclouse: I’m not black and I am an historian. From that statement, let’s look at two questions:

1) Why am I an historian? I first recognized my love of history- or to put in more Flash-like terms “my connection to the Past Force”- in fifth grade studying the U.S. War of Independence. The primary school introduction of those who founded the United States stirred a certain sympathy in me- they wanted to be free from the tyranny of King George and I wanted to be free from the tyranny of childhood. In middle school, I identified similarly with the Russian revolutionaries I learned about in my World History course at about the time their revolution was proving to fail. Like my most children in middle school, I had figured out that life would be a constant struggle to live peacefully among my peers. It is around this time that I began to take my own class consciousness seriously, placing it high among the tools with which I would understand the world. It was very popular among both black and white students to wear clothing adorned with large Xs, referring to Malcolm X, and I read Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X in an attempt to understand this pop culture figure; I distinctly remember being challenged by white students for reading the book and feeling pretty surprised. It has taken much of my life to realize how polarizing historical figures like Malcolm X are in the U.S. historical discourse. Similarly many students wore t-shirts with the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo on them, so I read a biography about them too and for those of you unfamiliar with their early years, the story of the Chili Peppers is largely one of racial harmony and cooperation. Other pop culture icons that my generation was following were Nirvana and Pearl Jam, both very vocal about women’s issues, particularly rape and access to abortion. I entered high school expecting a much more liberal world than I actually encountered. How was I so naive? Well, I didn’t belong and that brings us to question 2.

2) Why am I not black and if I’m not black, what am I? Born in New York into a family that nearly all lived in New England, my family had contributed very little to local history and in turn, had very little influence on how society existed in Georgia and the U.S. South generally. My heritage did not line up with the collectively understood narrative of history. Though Jewish by blood, I had not connection to the Jewish community. I didn’t partake of the big Jewish rituals and my Jewish ancestors came to the U.S. before the Holocaust. Though raised Christian and living in an unbearably Christian society, seeds of doubt were sown early on and I felt almost no kinship to that community. My ancestors had nearly all arrived in this country after slavery had been abolished and I felt little personal guilt for the heinous crime that was the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Raised by the moderately left-wing, the worldview I’d inherited did not always match that of my peers. My “segregation consciousness” really came alive in high school as students were separated by academic performance. I’d been part of special education programs for the gifted since primary school, but the cultures of the academically advanced and the other become much more distinct from one another in high school. While I embraced a culture of learning, I felt very suspicious of this group I had been herded into and saw it as little more than another institutionalized form of tyranny with an inherent and systemic character dependent on the alienation of my ideas. I kept getting shoved into White cultures that I either felt no affinity for, had no connection to, or stood in direct conflict with my understanding of the world. My experiences in college and graduate school reinforced many of my aversions to White cultures, but more importantly helped me accept my place in a much larger historical context and realize that many of the faults that I find in the world are the products of awkward compromises made between people trying to hold onto whatever power they have and people trying to obtain greater power. Heroes, villains, victors, vanquished- people are selfish and the bounds of their selfishness have the potential to expand and become more sophisticated. By this I mean, people take care of themselves and take care of their families, but social and spiritual progress hinges on recognizing that our families are not solely defined by blood.

It’s a great paradox, achieving a sense of community depends on the achieving a sense of self. While I’m not black, my sense of self is largely understood by the forces of history and those forces have been heavily informed by the Black experience. Growing up in Georgia and living in Atlanta again, daily life is informed heavily by the experiences and contributions of black people. If I have any hope to understand my place as a citizen of Atlanta, I must actively pursue Black History as local history cannot be separated it; additionally, I feel firm in the argument that the conditions of globalization make it impossible to separate Black History and specifically the experience of blacks in the U.S. from any local history around the world. While I’m not black, My History is recklessly incomplete without Black History; since I fully believe that My History informs My Identity, My Identity is recklessly incomplete without Blackness. How I respond to and incorporate Blackness into my life responsibly is a challenge that cannot and should not be ignored.

As I finished my final requirements for my MA at Georgia State, I applied to join the US Peace Corps, intent on serving somewhere in Africa. Like most applicants to the Peace Corps, my primary motivation was self-discovery through service and I believed pursuing Blackness to be crucial to revealing truths about myself. The winds of fate and the bureaucratic pen of the Peace Corps determined that my self-discovery plans were not ambitious enough and I found myself serving in China. Let me clarify for the geographically challenged out there, China is not located in Africa and no matter what Gogol tells you, it is also a completely different country than Spain. There aren’t a lot of black people in China, especially compared to Africa.  Barely coming anywhere close to reconciling the role Blackness has played and continues to play in my life, I found myself confronted with a whole new set of challenges that would prove to further sophisticate my worldview if I had any hope of surviving in my new home. While I had studied some Chinese History, it had certainly felt more foreign than studying Black History, but now that History was becoming much less foreign not only for me personally, but for every citizen around the world- pretty exciting time to be China and sharing in the experiences of the Chinese people during that time has had irreversible effects on my worldview. As an historian, I’ve come to appreciate how different cultures approach history. The historical tradition of the Chinese corresponds in many ways with the historical tradition I’ve inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the European Age of Enlightenment, and new methodologies popularized in 20th century academia such as social and economic history. My training in Marx, Hegel, Lenin, and other historically minded Western intellectuals that China has embraced also prepared me for discussions with Chinese historians as did my familiarity with opponents and critics of European and U.S. imperialism.

Upon entering China, I had no doubt that better understanding Chinese History would bring about in me a better understanding of World History. When my wife and I joined our families in marriage in 2009, we also joined our personal histories so that rather my family and its history expanded in very concrete terms as opposed to the philosophical exercise of embracing all history as essential to your own. My family had now become Chinese and though the Chinese people make it pretty clear that a 外国人 will never be 中国人, I cannot separate the history of the Chinese people with that of my family and certainly not that of my children, should my wife and I choose to reproduce. Since moving to the United States in 2012, my wife has realized that her historical understanding is incomplete without a better understanding of Black History. She’s currently reading The Black Holocaust for Beginners and is rarely shy to ask questions of people she meets. I’m regularly surprised by some of her insights into the racial dynamic of our city, the US, and the world at large as her revelations are informed by her experiences as a Chinese woman. For example, she understands the civic-minded Black Panthers much more than religious leaders such as the SCLC’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and NOI’s Malcolm X. Growing up in a society that largely views religion as dangerous superstition, the more pragmatic approach of providing clinics, food programs, and self-defense classes by the Black Panthers is much more reasonable to her than singing in a church, invoking the holy spirit, or pursuing salvation in the afterlife.

Black History is important to me because without a practical appreciation for it, I could not navigate my way in this world. Some Black History angers me, some inspires me, and some bores me terribly, but the study and discussion of it never weakens my understanding of the world and my place in it nor does it wholly satisfy me. I encourage you to explore Black History, share it with the people you know, and make it a part of your life all year round.

You are all invited to join us for a discussion about the importance of Black History on Feb. 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm at Wonder Root Community Arts Center, located at 982 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta, GA. The event is free and John D. Due, Jr. played a pretty amazing role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement as both an activist and an attorney.

attherojohndue

creepyplate

The World’s Second Greatest Detective was the proud recipient of a number of creative and practical items from one of our talented friends. Like me, he likes to cover lighters in pictures and glue, but he also works with a number of other materials. He gave us three light plates, which I brought to Wonder Root. The one pictured above can be found in the rear washroom. The one below can be found right outside the Darkroom.

gadaredevilplate

One of the light switches in the Ceramics Studio didn’t have a light switch cover at all. Luckily the Joker swung in to save the day.

jokerplate
Additionally, there were lighters.

lightersfromjason

All these very thoughtful gifts were bestowed upon us at our Spring Festival party where we introduced Sichuan Hot Pot (火锅) to our friends who proved themselves worthy of our friendship by eating a lot. We held the party on February 8, 2014 (aka 2/8/14 Green Lantern Day) so the Green Lantern lighter was especially appropriate. As everyone knows, however, Green Lantern stuff is always an appropriate gift, so we ran into each other again last night at a friend’s party. He and his wife gave my wife and I some buttons (not hand-crafted, but hand-selected)-

buttons

Yeah, the cat one are pretty cute.

valiantlogobybabynightsoil

It’s been a pretty good week here at The World’s Second Greatest Detective. My mind has been consuming some great content- I got to hear Ashley Anderson talk about his Memory Beach project; thoroughly enjoyed Justice League: War ; and met some great folks at the Atlanta Comic Convention,where I may have also picked up a few good books. Most excitingly, my new role with Wonder Root’s library led to Valiant Entertainment sending the arts center a box full of trades, the inaugural donation to the comics portion of the library. A perk of my role is reviewing the material before it’s cataloged, which I will also do.

So far I’ve read two of them, Shadowman: Birth Rites by Justin Jordan, Patrick Zircher, and Brian Reber and X-0 Manowar: By The Sword by Robert Vendetti, Cary Nord, Stefano Gaudiano, and Moose Baumann. I choose to start with these two works for two reasons. 1) Justin Jordan and Robert Vendetti can both be considered local treasures. 2) Jordan and Vendetti are both currently writing Green Lantern titles. Followers of this blog should already be appear of my fascination with the Green Lantern universe.

IMG_0008

Shadowman: Birth Rites is pretty good. The art is phenomenal and I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys the sort of superhero horror found in DC’s Dark family of titles. The color and detail in the horror elements are outstanding, especially the main villain Mr. Twist. I find it interesting that Shadowman’s story stems from receiving an amulet, Luther Strode’s story stems from receiving a book, and Kyle Rayner’s story stems from receiving a ring and that while Justin Jordan has written all these stories, those three characters and their stories couldn’t be more different. There’s a talking monkey that demonstrates some self-awareness in regards to racial undertones that would be impossible for a modern audience to ignore. It’s a good book.

IMG_0010

X-0 Manowar: By The Sword has the charm of not only the original series, but also of those classic science fiction comics that ruled the day before superhero multiverses, somewhere around the time of romance comics and breaking the sound barrier. The book travels through time at a breakneck pace, posing constant questions about the how of it all. The book moves quickly, but coherently and invests the reader in multiple conflicts without skimping on character development.

Final Opinion: Of the two books, Shadowman has the better art while X-0 Manowar has the better story. Perhaps more importantly, Valiant Comics should be recognized for their generosity towards Wonder Root and the Reynoldstown community. I wish the Wayne Xiaolong bump was as powerful as the Colbert bump because Valiant Comics really deserves for sharing their comics and expressing such interest in helping comics programming at Wonder Root grow. Good comics from good people? No, great comics from great people.

 

prometheusnetwork

Upon the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I’ve felt a slight discomfort with the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite characters of all time, and more importantly, I think Eisenberg will do a great job as Lex Luthor. My discomfort comes from the difficulty is separating Eisenberg from his Jewish heritage. Eisenberg is not the first Jew to play Lex Luthor- Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum played an incredible Lex- but part of Eisenberg’s charm is how well he personifies many of the characteristics that pop culture finds endearing about the way Jews behave. He’s not Woody Allen, but he played him once in a movie. Does he play up to Jewish stereotypes? Sure, to some extent, but he’s also embraced roles that challenged popular conceptions of Jews, such as playing an Orthodox Jewish MDMA smuggler in Holy Rollers. Eisenberg is Jewish and deserves a certain amount of consideration when he portrays Jews positively or negatively as it is his own culture he’s representing. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, Jews has suffered negative portrayals by gentiles and while it is a generally accepted dramatic trope, negative Jewish stereotypes are usually identified by the Anti-Defamation League swiftly and often make news. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I’ve come to tolerate the negative depiction of Jews as unavoidable symptom of a larger systemic social problem and rarely make a crusade about the way Jews are presented. As the husband of a Chinese woman, I’ve probably become more sensitive to the portrayal of Chinese people in Western media than I am to representations of Jews that reinforce stereotypes.

So……………………

what’s wrong with a Jewish Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor plays to some very specific Jewish stereotypes

1) Lex Luthor is the smartest man in the world. This point may be argued by Michael Holt or Ray Palmer, but it is generally accepted in the DC Universe that Lex Luthor is the smartest man on Earth. When I was living in China, the most common reaction to the discovery of my Jewish heritage was: “This is why you are so clever.” or “The Jews are very clever.” While this is not really a negative stereotype, it is a stereotype and one that makes the lives of Jewish children with learning disabilities doubly difficult. Is unforgivable to portray Jews as intelligent? No. Is it racist to portray Jews as intelligent? I’m not sure if it is. The belief that Jews are somehow smarter than others is rooted in the Jewish tradition of revering scholarship. Many cultures place an emphasis on education, but there is something special about the role education plays in the development of Jewish identity, both communally and for the individual.

2) Lex Luthor is the richest man in the world. Lex is not only one of the richest people in the DC Universe, but he has obtained his wealth through the type of ruthless business behaviors that non-Jews have frequently accused Jews of engaging in. Of course, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor won’t be as damaging as Bernie Madoff or any of the very Lex-Luthorian types of Jewish descent that the US government has an irrational fear of prosecuting. The stereotype that Jews have lots of money is hardly new. The phenomenon of Jewish wealth can largely be traced back to the limiting of opportunities for Jews by the gentile populatins in which they lived. The inability to own land and Christian opposition to usury can both be credited with encouraging a tradition of finance and trade in Jewish communities, making both finance and trade elemental to the Jewish economy and to Jewish social mobility.

3) Superman is Jesus. As we all know, Superman was created by a couple of nice Jewish boys from Ohio and the comic book industry itself was largely created by Jews, borrowing many of its production strategies from the garment industry where Jews were also prevalent. Why did these Jews make a caped Jesus? The Christ-like nature of Superman has always been there. While Superman’s origin story greatly mirrors the story of Moses, we should pay attention to some differences in the two stories. Moses liberates his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians while Superman liberates a foreign population from the tyranny of themselves and external forces of Darkness. Superman is Jor-El’s only son. Jor-El gives his only son to the people of Earth- people he largely look down upon while simultaneously adoring them (sounds like any god you’ve heard of?). The messianic nature of Superman is well-documented and generally accepted, so I won’t go into too much detail here and will assume that you accept that the idea of “Superman as Christ” has legitimacy. Lex Luthor hates Superman- perpetuating the idea that Jews hated Jesus or willfully contributed to his crucifixion is an irresponsible assessment of the relationship Jesus had he with members of his own community.

For these reasons, I’m a little uncomfortable with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, but as a comic fan, I have no doubt that he will do a better job than Kevin Spacey, the worst Lex Luthor of all time. My favorite Lex so far? Either Clancy Brown or Anthony LaPaglia.

Honestly, I might be more excited about the Son of Batman animated movie that was recently announced more than the Man of Steel sequel.

%d bloggers like this: