My fanboys and girls seem to have my number. Yes, a common thread of Cloverfield, Bumpy Johnson and Flags of Our Fathers is hype. Sort of. Or perhaps it's "monsters:" literally the monster in JJ Abrams' digital/home video style rendering of some monster biting the head off the Statue of Liberty and various super-sized pubic lice falling off the creature's johnson to attack hapless gentrifiers, "bridge and tunnel" folks and cops and soldiers? (note, you never see regular minorities and po' folk torn up when bombs, creatures, earthquakes or meteor impact-induced tsunamis strike a US city). Or a figurative monster, like Bumpy (as reflected with Robin Hood irony in the person of his protege Frank Lucas in "American Gangster?" Or the metaphorical monster of war in Flags of Our Fathers? The carnivorous beast that eats bodies and spirits...and the fact that in order to feed it you have to exploit a simple flag raising and lie about who's in a photo, just to sell war bonds to pay for the green and navy-blue dungaree and camie and khaki-clad cattle before sending them off to the slaughter? Okay, you got me figured out. Or do you?
The Net hype over Cloverfield's rivaled only by the bullcrap over Snakes on a Plane. Imagine if Blair Witch was coming out in 2008...there was no YouTube or Blogsphere back then. Abrams astutely injected this concept of Blair Witch meets Godzilla meets 9/11 mania into the digital grapevine, a milieu unfettered by journalistic rules or art/literary critical analysis. Who needs all that shit? Lemme get the news fast, lemme make shit up or embellish. Lemme get back to Assassin's Creed before Lost comes on. Who needs Lost--we have brain candy like Dancing With the Stars. Assassin's Creed's too thoughtful anyway. Hey, so's Lost. Hey, there better not be any thought in Cloverfield, else I'll spend my mortgage money elsewhere. Well, that's the worst case scenario thought process Abrams is hoping to break. I'm more interested in seeing how the brainless sheep respond to I am Legend. Yes, to appease the marketing monster Will Smith--superstar Safe Negro/clown--has been castas Neville (the role Charleton Heston played in "Omega Man"). To get intelligent folks and thoughtful gamers and lovers of lit in the seats, the rest of the story's going to have go beyond of bunch full or quasi-vampires running amok. I think the tightrope walk's going to be short lived and Will will tumble on the side of hype and stupidity and least-common denominator pandering. Can Abrams' monster keep out of"Bee Movie" whoring? Lost is a cutting-edge good show only when compared to the garbage and low expectations (creatively) of our times. I'd say Rod Sterling and a bunch of folks blew it away 40 years ago on network TV.
So we come to Karen Quinones Miller, fellow author who's books transcend "Nigglature" and actually tell fresh, visceral stories--whilst tilting a tiny bit at the street and black chick lit windmill just for effect. She and Bumpy Johnson's widow are telling the real story of this man, of Harlem, of joints and jezebels and murder and drugs and booze and the policy (numbers). Trouble is, the big publishing houses don't pay what they should for narrative nonfiction of this impact. Trouble is, they want to give amateurs and convicts and churchladies to the megaphone. Impart more brain candy. Why scribe something truthful when you can give the brothers and sistas mythical entertainment, simplistic/cliche plots and brain numbing formulas? Well, because that's all we seem to demand. Sadder still--all we need is some ebonics and some cursing and thongs...or a wayward pastor...as indicia of verissimilitude. Note the shifting demos when BET reports ratings for its own limited documentary series "American Gangster," with Ving Rhames doing his best work as narrator, versus almost every other show on the network. The skew toward folks with better educations, home owners, etc. is amazing. No, it actually cannot be explained by age or gender. It's explained by OUTLOOK. Something the giddy whitefolks in charge just don't want to hear. Bravo for Karen in deciding to bypass this machinery, and the thug lit-ocracy and present--not hype or market--this work directly "our kinda folk." I predicted this in my YouTube interview and I think you will see the silent majority of thoughtful folk eat it up: the people who pay to see This Christmas because frankly, there's nothing else to watch that's a cut above Tyler Perry. How's that for honesty?
Such honesty was lacking in the Spring of 1945. Yes, Hitler and Eva were getting married and taking poison in the Fuhrerbunker as Stalin's hordes scrambled on the bombed out streets above. Yet across the planet in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, the future makers of your favorite Toyotas and Hondas and computer games were still dug in or coming down in kamikaze dives. America was a nation sinking into debt to fund this march to Tokyo whilst also assuring milkshakes and baseball for a population on the cusp of the first big consumer orgy of the 20th century. Now, I bet Dick Cheney, Dubya et al read from this 60 odd year old playbook engineered after a journalist snapped a photo of a couple of grunts lifting a metal pole with a flag attached. Oh, there are the Pat Tillman analogies you could argue with a straight face when you survey the exploitation of the Iwo Jima flag Marines, but I'll admit it's a question of apples and apple orchards (not oranges). The orchard being our current War on Terror.
Americans haven't a clue about that reality and history are two different things, and that heroes are manufactured...like the folks in NBC's Heroes, and yeah, Abrams' Lost. Interestingly, Clint Eastwood, the supposed patriotic white man's man (who gave us the decidely un-NASCAR dad Bird with a young Forrest Whittaker and of course The Unforgiven and the flip side of Flags: Letters from Iwo Jima), is the author of this piece of Bumpy Johnson saga narrative nonfiction. It tells the truth about hype and myth and consumerism and how all is subordinate to those gods, without hyping itself. It does so in the guise of the Indian character, Ira Hayes, who suffers the physical effects of th deception, the hype, the marketing beast--all on top of the mental toll taken by the carnage on Iwo. I doubt these young bucks in their dress blues tossing rifles over in Arlington and beneath the statue know this. Indeed, they aren't supposed to. Lest it upset the monster. Look, if the Wizard of Oz had some verissimilitude, the Wizard would've concluded a secret pact with the Witch to kill Dorothy. Pulling the curtain away from him as a 1000 times more detrimental than anything those damn flying monkeys could've done to the Emerald City.
I again tug all of this yarn not because I love to grumble. No, it's a warning. The peril's here; it's not theoretical. Stupidity, mythology reign. Rather than facing reality, facing truth, embracing the healing power of real art and literature and robust discourse, the Roman Empire in the west retreated into greed, hyper-religious dogma, myth. Look what happened. The Empire in the east fared better only because it embraced reality. Even then, it couldn't last. We're on that cusp. So look, if you don't agree with all of my weird connections and tied thread, at last you've taken the time to sit and ruminate on them. Once you do, you can pick apart the hype inother venues. For instance, in a truly enlightened, non-hyped society, there'd be no Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Fox News, Jesse, Sr. or black books like Thong on Fire. That's Rome, before the Fall. So let's spin more string in '08, shall we?