Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Less Woods, More Wheatley

The Root, Prof. Henry Louis Gates' online progeny, has been hailed as the first, best step in claiming (reclaiming?) some semblence of real news, intellectually-stimulating debate, etc. from the usual trope (LeBron, College Hill/Hell Date, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Simon Cowell & Flavor Flav...etc. etc., blah, blah). Punchy articles on practical topics and with actual, practical themes (like this month's "America's Embracing of Ignorance, and Why Blacks Need to Let Go"). Indeed, "Skip" Gates has peopled the site with New School journalists like Rebecca Walker and NPR's Michelle Martin, and his humunculi from the academy: i.e. Prof. Marc Lamont Hill, Princeton's Melissa Harris Lacewell (contributing when she's not otherwise on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher as seen in a previous post); Melissa's a whole lot easier to look at and listen to than Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi--I think I my wife will allow me that one fawning statement.
And speaking of HBO, it is a major advertiser for the site, and underwriter of Gates' ancestry tracing efforts based at Harvard. Hence, Paul Giamatti's meaty face, prominently displayed. I have been following Tom Hanks' production of John Adams like a hungry dog tracks a porkchop, and yes, I actually read David McCullough's ten pound book and even met and had a danish with the author at Book Expo America at Chicago's McCormick Center a few years ago. Nice guy. Easy going. Not a dick-knotted old white man in the John McCain stereotypical vein. He asked me if I read Gates' edit of The Bondswoman's Tale (a novel written by a freed slave some 150 years ago). I said hell yeah! He asked how it was received in the African American community. I snickered. See, they don't talk about stuff like that on Charlie Rose...or even Tavis. After I composed myself I tried to limit the "hating" and the "elitism" and the "dirty laundry"to a minimum, and I told him of our illustrustrious bards, such as Terri Woods, or Darren Coleman, or C-Murder...of coldest winters and ghetto girls, of authors and poets named not Zora or Langston, but rather "Relentless." Of Madea. "You mean Jason [of the Argonaut's posse]'s wife Medea?" the white haired historian asked before his publicist whisked him away for a photo op with Oprah and fellow superstar author Isabelle Allende. "No sir," I sighed. "M-A-D-E-A. Tyler Perry." "Oh," said McCullough--and this was likely the first and last time I'd get to see him. "I heard he was funny." As McCullough shook my hand and was about to vanish, I called to him, "Yes, a bamma Benny Hill...dude in drag." He knew who Benny Hill was (the madcap limey comedian). Hadn't a clue what "bamma" meant. But then he said, "Has anyone done anything on Phyllis Wheatley...slave who became our first true poetress?" Then he was gone. Yes, there have been papers, journals etc. on Phyllis--a contemporary, more or less of John Adams and her idol, George Washington. Can't recall them. Indeed, anything that embraces history, whether nonfiction or literature, is hard to recall in our circles.
OK. Maybe the Root needs to sponsor and present these works: prose, art, performance/stage, poetry, documentary film. Hit HBO up for the cash, eh? It likely won't come from publishers. Terri Woods gets a million bucks from Warner for more hood fantasy (yes, fantasy--this is NOT about reality...buy The Wire or The Corner on DVD for reality). How much did James McBride get for Song Yet Sung? The Pulitzer cash award to Edward P. Jones was enough for him to buy a TV, some clothes, put a little bit in the bank but that's about it. Would love to James and Edward figured prominently on theRoot. Would love to see their work adapted and splashed all over HBO...or Showtime for that matter ("The Tudors"--screw 'em. See A Man For All Seasons or Anne of the Thousands Days doing it without the straining cod pieces and bare titties). Or The Pirate's Daughter, excerpted? Or Phyllis Wheatley, acclaimed and adorned by the denizens of Def Poetry Jam online?
For now, I guess Paul Giamatti's interesting mug will have to do. A few blog posts and a cool article here or there on theRoot. Otherwise I yawn or scowl through the Web, through TV, through bookstores which may or may not be open next week. But at least Terri Woods is happy, and isn't that what it's all about? I think Skip Gates should approach her about being a regular contributor. Would open up theRoot to all those "real folk" who couldn't give a damn about Phyllis, about John Adams, even. A bridge between David McCullough and Tyler Perry. "Madea & Missy Ann Go On A Roadtrip," starring Tyler and Laura Linney. Can't you see the ads on HBO now, and the traffic that would pour into theRoot? Ha! Skip--make it happen, bruh!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you SURE Crouch didn't bud you off like the microscopic pond animal, the hydra? (smile)Still, I agree with a lot of what you are saying.

But look, were it not for Tom Hanks, there'd be no "John Adams" on cable. If it takes a Hanks to do it among Chez Whitey, who'll do something like that in our community? Speilerg does something uplifting once in a blue moon, and non-Jewish and uplifting very rarely. Did we support "Amistad?" Look at the begging and scraping done just to get the ducats to produce "Toussaint L'Ouverture?" Have we seen it on screen yet? No. This is something about American culture in general and Hollywood specifically, not African Americans.

Lisa said...

Me likes!

Keep up the provocations!

Lola Gets said...

I guess Ill just have to check out this "Root" thing for myself. Ive only Jimmy Izreal's stuff from there so far.

I was at a book launching party for "Bloggers Delight, Vol. I" at Utopia last night. The bloggers/authors in attendance were suprised to hear that you live in the area (um, ok). It was a decent event - food was good, people were pleasant, lots of books were sold. But it was held down the street from the Dyson book reading, so I think some folks might have been conflicted...hehe. Were you at that one?

L

Christopher Chambers said...

No, I was working. Mike was at Busboys & Poets. LOL Mr. Dyson gets to roam at will yet we regular folks are tethered to Georgetown. I was thinking of cancelling class and hanging out at TheRoot.com but...nah...

FYI he'll FINALLY be here on campus next week, along with Baraka, Miller, Sanchez et al 4/14-4/15.

Somebody told me I looked like a black Paul Giamatti. I beat his ass good...

LeLe said...

I like The Root sometimes.

There are other times when some of the authors suffer terrible bouts of navel gazing. Perhaps it's due to the fact that quite a few are tenured academicians. No one really questions their ideas or statements. As a result, very intelligent people end up talking out of their asses and not saying anything of interest. I'm neither informed nor entertained.

I also don't like the fact that there is little diversity in the writing or among the writers. Why not have McWhorter do the call and response with a Michael Eric Dyson instead of one writer critiquing Jacoby and McWhorter's volumes?

brutus-tootis said...

I agree with Lele but I think these are growing pains for TheRoot rather than a culture.

NY/LA author said...

Elitist! Hater! Jealous! Out of touch with what folks want!

For real, thanks for giving my boy James McBride a shout.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

They have aduitions for T. Perry's next movie down her today _ MEDEA goes to jail

Natalie said...

Yet another only slightly related comment.

Back in 6th grade we were assigned decades and had to do two reports on people from that decade. One of the reports had to be on a president. I was assigned the 1770s. As there was not a president, I chose Ben Franklin and Phyllis Wheatley. I got an A on my Ben Franklin report and an F on the Wheatley one with "Where is your president report?" written on it. The Wheatley paper was better...I wonder why that one was flunked and not Franklin?

Kellybelle said...

Great post. I hate the "Black Literature" section at Borders. I shouldn't have wade through Zane and Gangsta Bitch 2 to read good Black authors.

I am not Star Jones said...

Great post which makes me wonder if HBO, Showtime, PBS (definitely not BET or TVOne -- don't think they would spend the money)

are planning a film adaptation of any Edward P. Jones books.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Medea goes to jail? You know it's going to be a big hit.

I'm not Star Jones...I believe HBO has the rights to the "Known World" and Anne Devere Smith is adapting.

Ferocious Kitty said...

Hate to nitpicked but:

It's Phillis Wheatley.

Just a nerd-girl pet peeve of mine.

That is all. ;-)