Tuesday, June 8, 2010

By the Time I Get Near Alabama

I'm going to say goodbye to some of my favorite beaches on the Gulf Coast. In some cases it's probably premature, but I don't know when else I'll have an excuse to drive along them. I'm not sure if I'll see the bleaker stuff. Last year I took a back way out of New Orleans and drove through part of the Lower 9th Ward and felt like a human vulture. Even if there is something visually awesome and profound about seeing white sand beaches turn pitch black, like an original-series Star Trek race metaphor, there's no guarantee I'd have the stomach for it.

It's always tempting on these trips to try to scan the AM dial and see if I can replicate the Simpsons' "Itchy and Scratchy Land" experience and skip to the next item on the Signs of Evil Countdown. Black oil gradually destroying significant economic engines — fishing, tourism — for each of the Gulf states certainly offers a key ingredient for approaching the apocalypse like David Letterman.

At least that level of discourse is a step up from the dominant local AM narrative of the past month or so, which has involved 2010 GOP candidates for office in the southern states falling over each other to see who can endorse the Arizona anti-immigrant legislation harder than the competition. The theatrics in Florida have been especially amusing or nauseating, depending on your mood, because of course Florida wouldn't function without people coming from someplace else, daily. On the white side of the coin, that's national and international tourism. But on the "creeping brown specter" side of it, there are all the people who cook those tourists' meals, clean their rooms and turn down their beds, who pick the sugarcane, fruits and vegetables that wind up in their glasses or on their plates back wherever they come from.

Thus each candidate has to work hard to parse his or her hatred. One can't offend the good sorts of Cubans who send money to the GOP because this is finally gonna show that Castro, just as one can't demonize migrant workers without risking the ruination of the Florida produce industry. The condemnations have to be nuanced, preserving the tacit toleration of the above groups while recognizing that citizens are right to be outraged that people who don't speak English as a first language live in their apartment/condo complexes or their subdivisions which were named for whatever indigenous plant was destroyed to build them. This is why Florida will always feel like a libertarian state — no income tax, Castle Doctrine — but never quite get all the way there. Unlike the GOP, serious libertarian ideology makes it difficult to pick and choose the right kinds of brown people to demonize without doing any math.

Anyhow, while the oil spill has given radio a respite from this topic, I'm sure I'll still hear something about it sooner or later. This is probably why I'll give AM a miss and just listen to MP3s, which have offered a nice valve for political disaffection. For instance, as soon as the Arizona story broke, Public Enemy's "By the Time I Get to Arizona" went into heavy rotation on both my MP3 lists and the Youtubes I kept watching when bored. At one point I think I'd listened to it every day for three weeks.

There is certainly plenty of smart and politically aware hip-hop today, but it's hard to think of an act with as much political philosophy and ferocity becoming as popular as Public Enemy again. It's certainly a stretch to think of one making a video as violent as "By the Time I Get to Arizona" again — which is a pity, because it's been 19 years, and Arizona hasn't changed.

Back then, Republican governor Evan Mecham refused to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. state holiday and essentially canceled it — to white acclaim — telling black leaders, "You folks don't need another holiday. What you folks need are jobs." Public Enemy's response was to make a music video in which the "Arizona governor" was assassinated. Today Arizonans are painting school murals to turn brown faces white, again toasting the worst sheriff in America (who has a fucking tank) and threatening to export a "papers, please" law dependent on racial profiling to the rest of the southern states. Racism doesn't change. It just changes targets and tactics.


At least there's still the video and the song to siphon off a sense of rage. (While enjoying it, why not load this page full of facts apparently completely irrelevant to Arizona.) Incredibly, this was actually played on MTV for a few days before white people who felt oppressed and discriminated against safely segregated it to late-night airings on Yo! MTV Raps, thus restoring America.

Now that I think about it, I definitely want to avoid AM radio. It's bummer enough watching people scrape dark sludge off some of the nicest beaches I've ever seen; I don't need someone explaining to me how it's the black president's fault and that the hue and spread are God's righteous metaphors.

4 comments:

  1. Here's another Official Sign of Apocalypse for ya: birther queen Orly Taitz actually stands a good chance to win the California GOP's nomination for sectretary of state. Embrace the hideousness here:

    http://www.frumforum.com/can-orly-taitz-win-her-primary

    As for Florida, when I think of it I don't think of beaches. I think of the Jerky Boys "Pablo Honey" instead (and, yes, Radiohead actually did name their first big album after a crank call). "Pablo, honey, when are you coming back to Florida? We miss you. Pablo, honey, are you keeping your ass clean, you big brown bastard?". And the exasperated guy on the other end of the phone going, "Who is this? Who is this? Who the fuck is this?". The "Jersey Shore" gang being in Miami for season two didn't help the state's image very much either. I heard that it was so bad that whenever the wind kicked up around the "kids" you could literally smell the herpes wafting through the air. Kind of makes the upcoming oil spill carnage look like fun by comparison.

    BTW, I think the jackass who used to govern Arizona back in the Public Enemy days was Evan (not John) Mecham. I sort of remember a Doonesbury strip based on the MLK controversy where the good governor was patting a black kid on the head and saying something along the lines of, "Oh, my, what a sweet little pickaninny!". Funny how this shit sorts of writes itself with little to no assistance whatsoever from outside commentators. Personally I was hoping that all the illegals would organize and spontaneously take a month off of work and literally end up collapsing the entire national economy just from the sheer fact of none of them showing up to do any of the shit work. But the lesson, as obvious as a hammer attack to the genitals should normally be, probably wouldn't stick with any of the Real Americans. All people like Orly would end up doing would be to just blame more of it on their most-hated pickaninny in the White House.

    Does any of this shit ever end? Or am I just gonna have to give up on the news altogether before it drives me totally batshit out of sheer frustration?

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  2. Thank you for introducing me to my new favorite rap song.

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  3. Man, I have always loved PE, and your invocation of them couldn't come at a more appropriate time. But you're right that in this day and time, invoking the spectre of political assassination is only acceptable when it's white folks suggesting the murder of those whose political ideas differ with theirs.

    -B

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.