“Chicago is not the most corrupt American city, it’s the most theatrically corrupt.” Studs Terkel.
With due respect (and a lot of it) for the late, great Studs Terkel, I think the Chicago city council has been supplanted by the Congress of the United States for political theater and corruption. As an old Chicago boy and fan of political theater, I was fascinated this week as the Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a sit-in in the well of the House, led by the venerable civil rights leader (and graphic novel author) John Lewis, to protest the refusal of the Republican leadership to even permit a vote on two very small and very specific gun control issues.
House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a “publicity stunt.” Well, duh. That’s what a sit-in is, a publicity stunt to draw attention to a specific problem. Ryan himself has done a fair share of publicity stunts so I don’t know what his problem is. It’s all part of political theater.
I think there was more to the Democrats’ ploy that a mere desire to shine C-Span’s cameras on themselves. It was triggered by the shooting in Orlando at the gay nightclub that left 49 dead and 52 wounded. The House had its moment of silence to honor the dead for the 16th time of these type of events and that was going to be it. No gun control legislation was going to be even brought up for a vote, let alone passed, and the Dems snapped. They protested, they staged a sit-in to dramatize the situation and they got attention.
Why didn’t the GOP leadership simply allow a vote? I have my own theories. I doubt that the Dems would have allowed a simple voice vote; it would be a roll call and each representative would have to be tagged as they voted. For the GOP, atsa no good. Estimates say that 90% of the electorate are in favor of simple gun control measures so the representatives who voted against it would have to justify that vote to displeased voters.
They also don’t want to vote for any gun control measures. The National Rifle Association gives good money to Congresspersons to keep that from happening and they have issued stern warnings of what they would do to any Congressperson who did vote for gun control legislation – any gun control legislation. Translation: we’ll pour money into the campaign of someone to unseat you. We will make sure you lose your job. This is more important to them than doing their job. More than ever, Mel Brooks’ line in Blazing Saddles as the governor of the state resonates: “Gentlemen, we must protect our phony baloney jobs.”
Not to say that the Dems were completely in the right. One of the simple measures was “no fly, no buy” – meaning that if you are or were on a no-fly list (and thus, presumably, suspected of terrorist ties) at any time, you should not be allowed to buy a gun. However, I watched Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show voice his problems with that. He has some of the same problems that the ACLU has – it’s too easy to get on the list, too little evidence has to be shown, it’s too hard to clear yourself and get off the list, it appears to unfairly target people of color, and it violates Constitutional freedoms including the right to due process.
It’s too bad because “No fly, no buy” is the sort of simplistic jingoistic catch phrase that works so well with the American public. We don’t do well with more nuanced declarations. Easy to say, easy to remember, and you don’t have to think. That’s ‘Murrica right there, that’s what that is.
To my mind, however, the real issue is not the specific legislation but the larger issue of how no meaningful gun regulation is possible because the NRA won’t hear of it. That’s the underlying frustration that led to the sit-in. Even though 90% of Americans want some kind of laws passed (according to many polls), they can’t even get discussed in the House and they sure won’t get passed in the Senate.
Just keep in mind that this Congressional version of Big Brother has one thing in common with the TV show – in the fall, they can get voted out.
We are tasked here at ComicMix to opine on all that is going around the world of pop culture. Maybe a bit more of a bend towards the comics side of things (it is in the name, right?). But as it stands this week… I don’t care about pop culture. I’ve been catching up on Legends of Tomorrow, but it seems trivial at best. I picked up comics from the shop, a feat I haven’t done on a regular basis in over two years.
I was going to wax poetic on all things Rebirth, but really, why would I? Heck. I could even stretch so far as to discuss my pending excitement of the announcement of Injustice 2, coming out next year on the Playstation and XBOX. I could, but I’m not going to.
I know you arrive at my column each and every week awaiting some poignant snark to set your weekend off to a grand start. Sorry to say that this week the well of said snark is bone dry.
A week ago, a savage man took 49 lives and injured a nation. It doesn’t matter to me his reasons. While I personally loathe guns and gun owners, my opinion carries minuscule weight in comparison to wealthy lobbies and angry gun-toters. This sub-human felt it necessary to end the lives of 49 people. It is assumed had he the time or the wherewithal, he would have taken more.
In the wake of this atrocity, no superheroes emerged. Pundits and politicians create continual chaos in an effort to quell some, and rile others. 24 hour news networks leech ratings over every inconsequential factoid gleaned. It’s sickening that we move so fast when we need to stop what we’re doing and really absorb what occurred.
I am sorry. I cannot do what I’m tasked to do. There are no more words I can use to communicate how I feel. In their place, I leave you with what you truly need to read:
Like my pal Joe Corallo, I find it impossible to think about anything other than the massacre in Orlando. Comic books and other pop culture ephemera seem trivial in the face of such unfettered and violent hatred.
That said, we need our entertainment more than ever. We need joy and pleasure in our lives. That’s what makes us who we are. That’s why life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is in the Constitution. As John Oliver said at the opening of his HBO show on Sunday, about why the Pulse nightclub was a target, “Latin night at a gay club in the theme park capital of the world is the ultimate symbol of what is wonderful about America.”
It is my opinion that most of the problems of modern American society come from our Puritanical mistrust of pleasure. We can’t allow anyone to enjoy sex or drugs or food or music or at without some suffering to offer in atonement.
It’s time we denounced these beliefs as un-American.
It’s time we minded our own business.
If a woman wants to wear a burqa or a hijab, or a thong and Spanx, she should go ahead and wear whatever she likes. I’m not going to wear any combination of those things, but any other woman’s choices have no effect on me.
If you want to be vegan or kosher or halal or gluten-free, that’s great. My food choices occasionally fit into some of those categories, too. Mostly, you should eat what makes you feel good in your body and what delights your taste buds. I would only caution you, as the Jewish mother that I am, to pay attention because as you age, you might have to adapt.
If you want to read sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, militaristic and/or xenophobic comic books, go right ahead. I might judge you, but I won’t stop you. Perhaps we can have a conversation about why you like them and I don’t, and we might each learn something useful about humanity.
It’s time we celebrate all those things that make consenting adults happy. This includes things that make us feel warm and fuzzy, like community service, but also things that delight the pleasure centers of our brains, like comic books, movies and television programs. And rock’n’roll music, hip hop, dancing and anything else consenting adults choose to enjoy.
Most of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and their ancestors came to this country because it offered them the opportunities they couldn’t find in their homelands. They came because the Constitution promised them separation of church and state. Freed slaves and their children were promised the same. It’s true that our governments have sometimes tried to renege on these promises, but that’s because it is a government by the people, and people make mistakes.
What makes us great as Americans is our inclusiveness. We don’t have to agree with each other about everything.
There’s a lot to comment about in the comics and popular culture community this week – Rebirth, Civil War II, who screwed over whom but did they really… the usual stuff that promotes our fannish wrath and strokes our inner-nine-year-old. But I don’t feel like it. Sure, I could fake it but you’d see through that in a heartbeat.
In this space yesterday, Joe Corallo eloquently and soulfully expressed his views regarding Sunday morning’s Pulse massacre in Orlando Florida. Joe deftly tied the story in to our comics community, and as a writer and as his editor I applaud his effort. Crom knows I couldn’t top that even if I tried, and there’s absolutely no need to try. So, instead, I’m going to tell you about how a couple of our pop culture icons handled it.
Sunday night, John Oliver attached a two-minute opening to his political comedy news show. Oliver had a problem I wouldn’t wish upon any broadcaster, although most of us have faced lesser versions of it from time to time. Everybody woke up Sunday morning to the news out of from Orlando, and the news junkies among us (ahem) spent the better part of the day watching and listening to the coverage – particularly Brian Williams’ amazing marathon anchoring job at MSNBC. And several million of us pretty much go to bed after watching Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. There are plenty of people who labor in that field; John Oliver’s show was the first one up.
He expressed his outrage, to be sure. What he said kinda sorta seemed like an apology for doing the subsequent comedy show, but if you pay attention to what he said you’ll see that was not the case. In fact, he made what I regard as the most gratifying statement I’d heard on the subject: “I will happily embrace a Latin night at a gay club at the theme park capital of the world as the ultimate symbol of what is truly wonderful about America.” Indeed.
Monday, Rolling Stone magazine covered Bob Weir’s comments at Sunday’s Bonnaroo Festival, held in Manchester, Tennessee. The Grateful Dead’s guitarist/vocalist said the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric coming from some prominent members of the Republican party mirrors the language of groups such as ISIS. Weir noted Georgia Rep. Rick W. Allen’s comments from the state legislature, quoting Romans 1:18-32 and Revelations 22:18-19 – the bits about how lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered and queers (LGBTQ) are “worthy of death.” Not a steroid-raging young lunatic who had enough cash to buy a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle, but a member of the state house of representatives presumably elected by the people in his district. You know, a position of honor.
Weir went on to quote Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick quoting Galatians 6:7. “This morning, the lieutenant governor of Texas using Galatians 6:7 to justify his comment regarding the LGBTQ community: ‘Well, they’re reaping what they’ve sown.’”
Explain to me again the difference between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians and exactly who we should ban from our nation’s shores in order to protect the security of all Americans.
This latter bit comes from the mouth of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, who, after the Sunday morning massacre, doubled down on his position that Muslims should be banned (somehow) from entering this country. Not that such an act would have stopped the Pulse gunman: this asshole was born in America – in fact, he was born in the borough of Queens, New York City, the same place where Donald Trump was born.
How do we put an end to this madness? Well, of course we must speak up and we must speak out. We cannot stand by idly while our elected psychopaths call for the building of new and improved ovens.
More important, as people involved in our popular culture, both as financial supporters and as creators, we must speak out within the framework of our media and back those who do so. It is our obligation as human beings, and it is most certainly our role as Americans.
Do you need proof of that? Okay, friends. Here it is.
I was 16, coming home on the subway from a party in Manhattan. It was 2 or so in the morning, and I was on the A train. Regardless of what romantic notion you may have of the A train because of Duke Ellington’s immortal song “Take the A Train,” that train is the last place you want to be at 2 in the morning.
What took my situation from bad-to-worse, the A train is (or was, this was 30 plus years ago) a local at that time in the morning. For those of you who deprived of the sheer delight – or utter dread – of an NYC subway ride, a local train stops at all stations on the line.
No matter where I boarded, I was going to the end of the line.
The “end of the line” on the A train on two occasions was not just my destination, but nearly a bad New York Post headline. One night while waiting for the A train I was stabbed during an attempted mugging. Another time while trying to defend a young white girl some thug put a gun to my forehead, pulled the trigger, but his gun jammed.
For asking him to be cool, I almost get shot in the head.
Take the A train? No. The Duke, a musical genius? Yes. Giver of great advice? No.
On this particular early morning, I was sitting alone with my feet up on another seat. My feet were up for a couple of reasons; the first was so I could look hard. Hard in a “do not mess with me because I’m hard and may have a weapon on me because I’m hard” kind of way.
The second reason my feet were placed on the seat next to mine was to discourage people from sitting there. Before the Rudy Giuliani era in New York, the subway was a Mecca for the homeless, and you don’t want a New York City homeless person sitting next to you.
After all these years I’m now a bleeding heart liberal, and I feel for those less fortunate than I. These days’ homeless people sadden me.
That’s these days.
At 16 what I felt for the homeless was an evident scorn. I may have felt that way because my mother, sister and I were truly just a grandmother and a paycheck away from being homeless ourselves. That perhaps hardened my heart towards homeless people. Maybe I didn’t want to be reminded that there for the grace of God go I… yada, yadda, yadda…bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, yadda, yadda and yadda.
I’m not that deep now, and I certainly was not that deep at 16.
The real reason I did not want a homeless person sitting next to me is that they stank.
You have not smelled stank until you smell an NYC homeless person. The smell is beyond horrible. Somehow NYC homeless people all manage to stink the same. The smell is indescribably bad to the point you’d almost rather die than get even a small whiff of it.
So, there I was, 16 years old at 2 in the morning riding the A train trying my best to look hard so a smelly homeless person would not sit next to me and force me to deal with my mortality.
At the Howard Beach stop a black man in his mid 20s boards the train. He made a beeline right to me even though there were plenty of empty seats. “Can I sit here?” He asked very nicely. I moved my feet so he could sit down. Frankly I was glad he asked because the train was waiting at the Howard Beach stop for some reason or another and since we were the only two black people on the train at that point I welcomed the company.
Howard Beach was known as hardcore crazy white boy territory during the time I grew up. In 1986 a young black man was beaten to death by a mob of white boys in a racially motivated attack. There have been incidents before and since. Black people knew not to mess with those crazy white boys in Howard Beach and not just because of racist attitudes there.
Howard Beach was also the home of John Gotti, the then-head of the Gambino crime family. I don’t like fish, so the idea of sleeping with them was not one that appealed to me. This was a place where African Americans had better fear to tread. I did indeed welcome this guy’s company because clearly we were on enemy ground.
Brandon was his name, and we clicked immediately. That may have been because we were both keenly aware that any minute a gang of crazy white boys could board the train and lynch us both. Our getting along so fast, I’m sure, was due to the fact we wanted to present a united front. Both hoping that would give the illusion we were two badass motherfuckers and any lynch mob should think twice about harassing us, strength in numbers and all that.
We sat at Howard Beach for another quarter hour when the doors finally closed and we could relax a little. The next stop was Broad Channel. Broad Channel was not nearly as bad as Howard Beach – it was more akin to crazy white boys lite, but still crazy white boys.
I realize I’m throwing “crazy white boys” around a lot. Back when I was 16 “crazy white boys” were my mindset and referring to white people in an all-white neighborhood where black people feared to tread was how I saw things.
After Broad Channel was the beginning of the hood, so Brandon and I needed just to chill (chill means just to be calm, but you knew that from reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, didn’t you?) until the perceived danger was past. Broad Channel came and went as did our gangster conversation.
Brandon asked where I was getting off, and I told him. Beach 60th Street. “You want to come hang at my house?” Brandon inquired. That made me a bit uncomfortable. The Howard Beach threat over, I now returned to my general suspicions of those not from my hood.
“I’ve got stuff I’ve got to do at home,” I said. Yeah, I had to get into my bed and give the impression that I was home all night before my mother got in from working the midnight to 8 in the morning shift at the nursing home this after she had the 3 in the afternoon to 11 at another job. She would be in no mood to lecture me or even hit me, after her 16 plus hour day she would go straight to the .38 and shoot me.
I couldn’t come out and say to Brandon “my mommy would kill me if I’m not home” that did not fit my hard-core persona.
“Come on. We can have some real fun.” Brandon said, his hand now on my leg. That hand was slowly but steadily creeping up. He seemed to be talking in a much softer voice and was smiling in a strange way.
Where had I seen that kind of smile before? Shit, I know where! I’ve seen it on me whenever I happened to glance in a mirror while alone in my room with some Vaseline and a Penthouse magazine.
Now I get it!
Brandon was a faggot and he wanted to ravish my young sexiness. Yeah, I said the ‘F’ word, I was 16, remember? Unfortunately, that was my mindset then.
Brandon still had his hand on my leg, and it was still creeping up. “What the fuck are you doing?” I said, trying to sound real hard. I wanted to look thuggish, but I was scared, so my voice rose and I sounded like I girl.
Not just any girl. Shirley Temple. So, imagine Shirley Temple saying “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Come on; it’s cool.” He responded even more softly than before. “Get your motherfucking hands off me, faggot!” screamed Shirley Temple. I was hoping, this time, he could see I was pissed and back off.
Nope. He squeezed my crouch. I guess he was into hardcore black boys from the hood with Shirley Temple voices. Then again, who isn’t?
I leaned back as far as I could on the seat and kicked him squarely in the chest. I wanted to kick him in his face but felt at the last moment if I leaned back any further I would have fallen off my seat. I hit him so hard he fell off his seat landed on the floor his head slamming against the subway floor. I may have sounded like Shirley Temple, but I kicked like Bruce Lee.
“Motherfucker, I’m not a goddamn faggot!” I shrieked at the top of my Shirley Temple lungs while looking to land my next kick right between his good ship lollipops. Brandon sat up his hands in front of him making a “no more” gesture. He looked up at me and said “Jesus, man what is your problem?”
It was with that I realized most of what I thought was going on, wasn’t. His hand was on my leg, but it wasn’t slowly but steadily creeping up. He did not grab my crouch nor had his voiced gotten softer. I had turned an innocent most likely accidental touch into a full on man rape in my mind.
So absorbed in my own horribly tainted view of the world I had imagined this was what was on his mind. To make matters as worse as they could be I then kicked away any guilt I felt at being wrong by responding; “Get the fuck away me.”
That was over 30 years ago. Today I would never use the ‘F’ word to describe a gay person. I hate to use the cliché some of my best friends are gay, but… some of my best friends are gay. My attitude towards gay people changed when I changed high schools in the 11th grade. My new school, the High School of Art & Design, had a diverse student body and being gay there was not a big deal at all. But being stupid was.
Stupid I was when I said something so gross my first week at Art & Design it could have tainted my entire time there. It was a gay guy named Frank who saved my ass by laughing at an insult giving the impression to everybody present I was making a joke. I wasn’t and Frank knew I was wasn’t. He whispered “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Michael, grow up.”
Thank god, I did.
After meeting and getting to know many gay people in my new school it dawned on me that they were no different than I was. They just happened to like sex with the same gender. Hell, in high school outside my loving relationship with the girls of Penthouse I was not having any sex at all, so they were one up on me.
Accepting gay people, having grown up in the severe anti-gay atmosphere of a black housing project was not as hard as you would imagine for me. My mother had a “no prejudice” rule in our home. Remarkable when you know just how dreadfully bad her encounters were with racists growing up.
Changing my position on gay people wasn’t hard, but it was still a huge deal for me because of my environment. It represented the first of many sea changes for me in my existence.
When I was not in school, I was still a resident of Edgemere projects in Far Rockaway Queens, which at the time was well on its way to being one of the worst projects in New York.
I was living a double life, and I intended to keep it that way. There was no way in Hell I would have ever acknowledged that I no longer found gay people repulsive to anyone in Edgemere.
Oh no, that would certainly not do. Why not stand up for my beliefs?
In the African American community where I grew up, there was little love for individuals who accept gay people. I may as well have stood up for and proudly proclaimed the Klan as the greatest group since The Temptations. Repealing my position on gay people would have gotten me branded as such, my ass kicked or worse in Edgemere.
At 16, noble I was not. No longer being able to participate in any reindeer games would have had a profound effect on me. It did not occur to me till much later that may have been a good thing.
I don’t want to give the impression that all black people I grew up with condemned the gay lifestyle, not the case at all. Many saw gay people as having every right as anyone else. But even today unfortunately among some in the African American community I’m in the minority, at odds with those, still light years if not eons away from embracing gay people at least in public.
“I gotta find this guy.”
Dwayne McDuffie said as he and I searched the corridors of a New York City comics convention in 1992. We were looking for Ivan Velez Jr., the remarkable writer of Tales of the Closet. The book was a look at the high school lives of gay and lesbian students and what they experienced.
Exceptionally written and drawn with a simple yet effective style the book instantly drew me back to A&D and thoughts of Frank and his crew. Ivan is a man of little words outside of what he puts on the page. He’s a big, gentle, quiet soul who lets his work do the talking for him. However, when he feels he has something to say few can match his oratory abilities, so it’s best not to engage him on the wrong side of an issue.
I thought about Frank, Ivan, the creators and fans of Prism Comics and my brother from another mother Andy Mangels when I heard the news of the Orlando massacre. I thought about how it must feel just to want to love who you want and be slaughtered for it.
This outrage was an attack on Frank who I haven’t seen in 30 years, Ivan who thinks I don’t like him, Andy who knows I love him and another, Billy who avoids me but protects my future ex-wife.
A friend lost to time, another lost to differences, one here forever, and the last not a friend but I’ve got his back also.
Each has a right to live their life, regardless of their opinion of me or mine of them.
Ivan and Billy are wrong about me, but I’ll take a bullet to defend their way of life as I’m sure they would supporting mine.
I was wrong about Brandon; I was also sixteen, young, selfis,h and stupid.
In 2016 those who would deny, suppress or kill someone’s love for another have no excuse and I’d say stupid would be a step WAY up.
I thought about how stupid I was at 16 and wondered how on earth some who claim to love their God can commit cold blooded murder on his behalf. I wonder how Donald Trump could brag about predicting another attack then hours later issue a more humane statement and not express his outrage or even mention the LGBT community then blatantly lie about the murderer being born in Afghanistan.
He wasn’t. He was born in the good old USA.
So was I and as far as I know most of the people at the Pulse nightclub, that night was born here also.
This was an attack on a lifestyle, an attack on America and an attack on freedom everywhere. Yes, it was all that.
It was also an attack on Frank, Ivan, Prism Comics and Andy. It was an attack on my friends. If you fuck with my friends, you fuck with me because unlike some people I know I stand with my friends no matter what.
No matter what.
If you don’t, soon they will come for you. They will because no matter who you are or what you believe in, you’re at risk. If you let this horror go then the next before long knowing you stand for no one but yourself, then those who disagree will know you stand alone.
Malcolm X said a man who will stand for nothing will fall for anything.