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Unbearable Whiteness

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To help promote his recent memoir, Elvis Costello (real name: Declan Patrick McManus) revived this video of his dad Ross McManus singing in about 1963.

This video explains a lot about the son.

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As I pointed out in my Taki’s Magazine review of the Oscar frontrunner, La La Land:

Demographically, [Damien] Chazelle’s fantasy Los Angeles is much like Woody Allen’s New York or Paris: no Mexicans, Koreans, Persians, or Russians, just good-looking white Americans and dignified old black jazz musicians. To a semi-French artist like Chazelle, America will always be culturally white and black, and the post-1965 newcomers don’t much matter.

From Paste:

The Unbearable Whiteness of La La Land
What does Damien Chazelle hope we see when we look back?

By Geoff Nelson | January 6, 2017 | 4:30pm

By the way, here’s a list of article titles featuring the “unbearable whiteness” cliche / racial slur I found earlier this year. My favorite was “The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk: Food Oppression and …

… The film has been hailed by critics and fans alike as a piece of popular art in which to rest for a moment at the close of a punishing year. It’s escapism. However, the politics of the past do not satisfy universally. A McClatchy poll on the eve of the election found 56 percent of America’s white population believed life was better in the 1950s, and, according to the same poll, 72 percent of likely Trump voters agreed. Meanwhile, 62 percent of black voters thought contemporary life was better. The 2016 election wasn’t a chasm into which the nation fell, it was a time machine into which many white Americans hoped to escape.

If La La Land holds the power to transport, we might ask where—and importantly when—it takes us. There lies a profound irony in liberal white folks heading to La La Land to repair after a political season overflowing with the nostalgia of white supremacy. (For all its gauzy backwards glancing, Chazelle’s film might be subtitled Make Hollywood Great Again.) If seeing Gosling and Stone tap dance in the Hollywood Hills tickles something deep in some viewers, perhaps it’s worth investigating the roots of that feeling and its supposed universality. Quite simply: The past represents liberation for one group, a horror show for another.

Novelist Zadie Smith spoke recently of white nostalgia while receiving the Welt Literature Prize in Berlin. “Meanwhile the dream of time travel—for new presidents, literary journalists, and writers alike—is just that: a dream,” she said. “And one that only makes sense if the rights and privileges you are accorded currently were accorded to you back then, too.”

White fantasies of the past are not innocuous, it turns out; they link to discrete economic and political policy. Even in the platitudinous past tense of “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s red hats told a truth of a kind: Their way forward was back. Smith rejects the image of white, regressive time-space with the succinct, “But neither do I believe in time travel.” How could a person of color long for a past bleaker than the already admittedly bleak present? Many white viewers of La La Land may well consider nostalgic escapism as a horizontal unifier—something with which everyone identifies—but longing for the past is itself a political act.

Through a Los Angeles ruined by modernity, technology and commerce, Mia and Sebastian wander. The latter longs to open a “real” jazz club to save the genre; Mia longs for Old Hollywood, a poster of Ingrid Bergman on her wall. Eventually they long for each other, and Chazelle’s camera conspicuously longs for the days of the Hollywood musical. Mia and Sebastian watch Rebel Without a Cause on their first date, only now the generational conflict isn’t between disaffected young people and their conservative parents, it’s between young people and their present. La La Land’s cultural language speaks in the vocabulary of loss. Like Trump voters pining for an idealized, mythic past, La La Land articulates a displaced, if no less powerful, nostalgia.

So where exactly does Chazelle send the viewer? The allusions begin with Rogers and Astaire, whom Chazelle first saw while studying film at Harvard. Of the moment he discovered Rogers and Astaire, he told the New York Times this fall that he felt like he’s “been sleeping on a gold mine.” The Times interview was even aptly titled “‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again,” beating the reader about the head with Trump-ish sloganeering.

… When Hollywood did traffic in nostalgia in the first part of the 20th century, it looked, famously, to the Civil War and Reconstruction, Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind being two of the most famous and, to put it extremely mildly, racially problematic films of the era. The racial politics of nostalgia, not unlike America’s racial history, are rarely anything but gnarled. … Chazelle, in returning to the visual aesthetics of Rogers and Astaire, suggests that escapism is instead found in the past.

… As with so much of American cultural history, looking backwards with a romantic eye courts dangerous contemporary politics. What does Chazelle hope we see when we look back? …

Which brings us back to La La Land and its longing. What Gosling’s Seb and Stone’s Mia share is a commitment to the past—a place where, supposedly, dreamers dream their dreams awake. But which dreamers dreaming what dreams? Why do white Americans (in politics and film) often so wistfully return to the era before federally mandated desegregation, voting and civil rights? (Would La La Land ever have been made with two leading actors of color? Obviously not.) The film only functions as an ode to a lost era of white supremacy, and its viewers, consciously or unconsciously, participate in the delusion. The film’s politics of nostalgia and whiteness are inextricable.

La La Land contains other more explicitly problematic politics—in fact, Gosling’s “white jazz savior” narrative has been unpacked well by MTV’s Ira Madison III. John Legend’s Keith is cast as a sell-out to “pure jazz,” which Gosling promises to successfully save by the movie’s end. The movie concludes with Gosling taking over the piano from a black musician: The erasure of black art is complete. Madison documents the opening number, full of the many diverse faces of Los Angeles, only to see the film retrench into the middle-class bourgeois love affair of two white people. That one of them drives a Prius and the other a drop-top convertible seems to be the extent of the film’s commitment to diversity.

…. Where do LA’s Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, when thousands of white folks organized themselves into street gangs to assault people of color, fit in Chazelle’s reverie? Or what of the historical record of housing discrimination, whereby 80 percent of 1940s Los Angeles real estate was off-limits to buyers or renters of color? …

Redlining! Or as it should be called: The Houseocaust.

When Gosling and Stone walk into the stars, and into the past itself, at Griffith Observatory, they traffic in a dangerous political invention. People do not long for the past equally. Many do not long for it at all.

… La La Land isn’t the escapism America needs right now, it’s a regressive effort at time travel with no sense of shame for America’s many historical sins. Chazelle engages in the most dangerous type of cultural production: to have an audience feel without thinking. In this case that means the past seems like a good enough place to escape our current problems. The film isn’t as far as you might think from the asinine phraseology of “Make America Great Again.”

The word “nostalgia” originates from a merging of the ancient Greek words “nostos” and “algos”—meaning “returning home” and “pain.” Modern application means “nostalgia” translates to home-sickness. Of course, bizarrely enough, the Trump voter and the La La Land viewer, however separate from one another they imagine themselves, often long for a past they never experienced. They feel homesickness for a home in which they never lived.

Part of the artistic satisfaction of La La Land is in its ability to produce the pain of longing. For many white viewers—and voters—the pain reads as pleasure, like a middle-aged person walking the halls of their high school, remembering themselves more grandly than they ever were. While the romanticizing of one’s youth isn’t the purview of one race or another, longing for the historical past has become a dangerous cultural habit for white Americans, and whiteness more globally in the age of Brexit.

For a better hostile review of La La Land that focuses on Damien Chazelle’s personal artistic weaknesses rather than his racial faults, here’s Richard Brody’s in The New Yorker. I think it’s excessively focused on the Chazelle glass being part empty — his ideology of artistic ambition is what has pushed him so far so fast — but there is a danger Chazelle might flame out like M. Night Shyamalan or George Lucas.

By the way, here’s a similar review from a couple of years ago about the unbearable whiteness of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

It’s just unforgivable that white guys keep accomplishing stuff. White men should stop so that everybody else won’t have to feel so resentful.

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From Slate:

José Fernández Was the Future of Baseball

The Marlins’ exuberant, Cuban-born pitcher changed what it means to play the game the right way.

By Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate’s executive editor.

José Fernández, the 24-year-old Miami Marlins pitcher who died this weekend in a boating accident off the coast of Florida, was imprisoned in Cuba as a teenager for trying to escape the island. … Though he started only 76 games in his career, Fernández had the potential to be a Hall of Famer.

That’s reasonable. Fernandez was likely ahead of most pitchers who make the Hall of Fame, although many pitchers who start out that well don’t wind up in the Hall.

Fernandez turned 24 on July 31, 2016, so this season goes in as Age 23. His lifetime record through age 23 was 38-17 with a 2.58 ERA and 589 strikeouts in 471 innings. By way of contrast, Herb Score — who was the most legendary what-might-have-been pitcher when I was a kid — through age 23 was 36-19 with a 2.68 ERA and 508 strikeouts before arm trouble.

Granted, that’s hardly the greatest start ever. For example, through age 22, Bob Feller was 107-54 with a 3.18 ERA and 1233 strikeouts when he had to go off to WWII for three years.

Through age 23, Dwight Gooden was 91-35 with a 2.62 ERA and 1033 strikouts. By one measure, Wins Above Replacement, Dwight Gooden’s 1985 when he was 20, was the fourth greatest season of the 20th and 21st Centuries after Walter Johnson’s 1913 and 1912 and Babe Ruth’s 1923.

Feller made the Hall of Fame and Gooden didn’t. But Herb Score was particularly legendary in the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps because his Cleveland Indians had been the most plausible rivals to the dominant New York Yankees.

Most pitchers who start out with the potential to make the Hall of Fame don’t. But it’s perfectly reasonable to say that this young athlete who died young had the potential.

… But Fernández also had the potential to change a sport that desperately needs changing. The Marlins starter loved the competition and camaraderie of baseball, and he loved striking fools out. From the moment he made his debut for the Marlins, he ignored the fusty expectation that players—often young, Latino players—dial back their exuberance lest they annoy their tight-assed opponents. At age 24, he’d already started to modernize the game’s old-fashioned codes and what it meant to “play the game the right way.”

Fernández defied those codes during his rookie year. The then 21-year-old hit his first major-league home run on Sept. 11, 2013, though “hit his first major-league home run” doesn’t do this shot justice. Fernández crushed the ball, and he was justifiably thrilled, dropping his bat and watching his shot arc over the left-field fence before commencing a slow trot around the bases.

When Fernández reached home plate, Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann started lecturing him, whereupon the benches cleared, and both teams pretended to want to fight each other. “I just told him you can’t do that,” McCann said later. “You can get someone hurt. It was just something that didn’t need to happen.” Braves third baseman Chris Johnson added, “The kid is a good pitcher. He’s got some other stuff going on, too, that upsets people sometimes. There were some guys in the dugout who weren’t too happy with the smiling after getting people out and all of that kind of stuff.”

Actually, that’s not what happened (see below).

Veterans lecturing rookies on how to behave is as much a part of baseball’s folkways as players scratching their crotches. These lectures are typically focused on ensuring the game is as much of a joyless slog as possible … Gossage made the subtext of the sport’s on-field policing explicit: White players born in the United States don’t think their Latino counterparts conform to the sport’s behavioral norms.

As Jay Caspian Kang noted in a New York Times Magazine story headlined “The Unbearable Whiteness of Baseball,”

Oh, boy, Jay Caspian Kang, Seoul Brother #1, America’s Leading Sports Intellectual …

baseball’s demographics have shifted multiple times since Jackie Robinson broke the game’s color line in 1947. That season, 98.3 percent of players were white, 0.9 percent were black Americans, and 0.7 percent were Latino. By 1975, 71.3 percent of major leaguers were white, 18.5 percent were black Americans, and 10.2 percent were Latino. At the start of the 2015 season, white players represented 58.8 percent of all major leaguers and 8.3 percent were black, while the sport’s Latino minority had grown to 29.3 percent of all major-league players.

Back in November, the bat-flipping Bautista argued in a piece that appeared under his byline in the Players’ Tribune that Latin players can make baseball great again if the sport’s powers that be allow them to be themselves. “Baseball is a metaphor for America,” the Players’ Tribune article said. “It’s a giant melting pot made up of people from all over the world and all walks of life. How can you expect everybody to be exactly the same? Act exactly the same? More importantly, why would you want them to?”

I disagree with the Blue Jays slugger. It would be perfectly fine if every baseball player acted the same way on the field, so long as they all chose to act like José Bautista and José Fernández.

Early Messi

A more interesting hot take would be on Fernandez as a less extreme version of the transracial Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr.: the richer he got, the fairer he looked.

New Messi

It appears to be a tradition among Hispanics that is currently accelerating among athletes.

For example, soccer great Lionel Messi, an Italian-Argentinean, used to have brown hair.

But now Messi looks like this:

Update: It turns out that, contra Josh Levin’s ethnic prejudices, Fernandez initiated the 2013 tiff with the Braves by getting angry when Brave Evan Gattis hit a homerun off Fernandez and lingered at the plate to watch it. And then Fernandez massively exacerbated the situation by spitting in the general direction of an opponent.

From Yahoo Sports in 2013:

It seemed to begin boiling over in the top half of the sixth inning when Atlanta Braves rookie Evan Gattis … took Fernandez deep for a solo home run. That would be the only run Fernandez allowed in seven innings — he earned his 12th victory in Miami’s 5-2 win — but he clearly took exception to the extra second or two Gattis took to admire his home run. …

As the inning continued, Chris Johnson was a flyout victim for Fernandez, but as he returned to the first base dugout there appeared to be a verbal exchange with Fernandez. A little extra fuel for a fire that was already burning quite strong.

We move ahead to bottom of the inning. In what proved to be his final at-bat of the season, Fernandez muscled up for his first career home run — a no doubter to left center field — and let’s just say he took a second or two beyond what Gattis did to admire his own power. The message Fernandez was sending was pretty clear, but I don’t think the Braves appreciated the delivery. Then as Fernandez slowly jogged around the bases, he appeared to spit on the ground or at the feet of Johnson as he approached third base.

Here’s Fernandez spitting at third base:

Whether there was intent behind it or not, it didn’t look good, and when Fernandez arrived at the plate an angry Brian McCann was there to greet him. Johnson wasn’t far behind. A heated exchange and the emptying of both benches followed.

So Levin got his facts backwards: rather than the tight-assed Americanos objecting to the fun-loving Latino’s natural exuberance, the Latino objected earlier to an American showing off. (Of course, there may well have been a prior incident before that.)

Anyway, a more interesting question than the Unbearable Whiteness of Baseball is: After 50 years of Communist isolation, what are Cubans going to be like when their country finally opens up? My vague impression from recent ballplayer arrivals, such as Yasiel Puig, are that they are going to be a handful. Communism isn’t really good at engendering self-discipline.

It’s kind of like the difference in California between Armenians whose names end in -ian and -yan. You know, it’s almost as if Karl Marx should have guessed that Marxism wouldn’t be very good at inculcating the bourgeois virtues …

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First page on Google of a search for “Unbearable Whiteness” (a pun on the Milan Kundera novel and Daniel Day-Lewis movie Unbearable Lightness of Being):
About 46,600 results (0.71 seconds)


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Oops, here’s today’s real most burning issue from the New York Times:

Screenshot 2016-04-06 13.55.26

Seoul Brother #1

The Unbearable Whiteness of Baseball

By instinct, honed reflex and general contrarianism, I root for all “flashy” “showboats” who are “disgraces to the game.” …

As I grew older and started feeling alienated from my white classmates, I gravitated toward athletes who, in some way, flouted the white, stoic traditions of American sports — Allen Iverson, Ken Griffey Jr., Rasheed Wallace, Pedro Martinez. I felt as if this was a moral choice.

As this baseball season begins, I’ve been thinking about Henderson because of a problem that has been discussed ad nauseam in sports media: Whether we’re talking about Mike Trout, the young center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels whose beefy efficiency has already put him on track to become one of the greatest players of all time, or Clayton Kershaw, the tall Dodgers lefty with the knee-buckling curveball, or Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins slugger who signed a $325 million contract, baseball’s pool of young talent just doesn’t captivate fans like the stars of football and basketball.

Alternatively, baseball has consolidated itself as the team sport of middle class suburbanites, with spectacular growth in intellectual relevance among high IQ white guys (e.g., Moneyball, Nate Silver, etc.).

Giancarlo Stanton, whom I watched play football when he was in high school, is a good example of how suburban athletic talent is moving away from football and basketball. As a 6’6″ and massive mixed race kid, Stanton was a star basketball player at Notre Dame HS and an ungodly defensive end on the football field, with an excellent chance of making the NFL. But he chose baseball instead, and, as Kang admits, now has a $325 million contract. Perhaps he’d be getting more tweets on Black Twitter if he’d chosen a different sport, but, on the other hand, he does have a $325 million contract.

From a financial point of view, of course, the sport is doing just fine. Overall ballpark attendance is up. According to Forbes, the average value of a major-league team jumped nearly 50 percent between 2014 and 2015, and last season the league’s annual overall revenue approached a record $9.5 billion.

But baseball’s cultural relevance has been in a steady decline.

I’ve been following baseball statistics since 1965. Until I saw it in 2011, I never expected to see Brad Pitt starring in a movie about baseball statistics.

Doomsday prophets point to the N.F.L.’s dominant TV ratings, the advancing age of baseball’s core fans — the median age of baseball’s TV audience is 56; basketball’s is 41 — and the hordes of young acolytes who bury their heads in their phones to watch Vines of Steph Curry’s nimble acrobatics. Social-media metrics aren’t gospel, of course, but baseball measures up badly on virtually every online barometer, whether Twitter trends, Facebook activity or Instagram posts. Aside from some New York-related blips, World Series ratings have been steadily decreasing for the last 20 years.

As this graph from John Rivers shows, in reality baseball is much more diverse and “looks more like America” than the NFL and the NBA.

The source of baseball’s diminished hold on our imaginations runs much deeper than social-media strategy. The problem lies in the demographics of baseball’s rosters, and the shameful way in which the majority of its media has failed to pay anything approaching adequate attention to the Latino players who have entered the game over the last two decades.

Rather than embrace and promote its Spanish-speaking stars, baseball’s media have mostly ignored them. …

Last year, black players made up just over 8 percent of big-league rosters, down more than 50 percent from 1981. Analysts have been searching for an explanation. Some argue that baseball’s retrograde culture and traditions no longer appeal to inner-city youth who have been mesmerized by the speed of basketball and football. Others focus, far more convincingly, on the rising expenses of youth baseball programs and the relative dearth of scholarships offered by college baseball programs: According to a report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, black players made up only 2.9 percent of Division I college baseball teams in 2014-2015.

The decline in black faces in the Major Leagues coincided with a surge in Latino players, who made up roughly 30 percent of rosters last year. But rather than embrace and promote its Spanish-speaking stars, baseball’s media have mostly ignored them. … Vladimir Guerrero, the Clemente of the aughts, who hit and threw with a balletic violence, seemed to go through his entire career without a single memorable interview or profile.

Mr. Kang is quite right about the white media’s racist conspiracy of silence against Latino ballplayers. Look how Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez never got any publicity about their God-given natural talents.

By the way, it would be fun to graph the spread of the MSM headline cliche of misquoting Kundera about the “Unbearable Whiteness” of this or that as an answer to the question, “What in the world are white people upset about that they are listening to Donald Trump?”

Kang’s Wikipedia entry is pretty funny if you’re familiar with the concept of the Coalition of the Fringes:

Kang was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Boston and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He graduated from Bowdoin College.[4] At Bowdoin, he was awarded the prestigious 2003 Sinkinson Prize for Best Short Story and founded ritalin magazine.[5] He received his Masters of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University.[6]

Kang’s journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Morning News, Deadspin, The Awl, and The and many of his sports articles have appeared in Bill Simmons’ Grantland.[7] Among his more notable sports articles for Grantland are his articles covering Jeremy Lin. His notable articles on Lin include “A Question of Identity”,[8] “The Uncertain Future of Linsanity”[9] and “Dumb Move, Dolan.”[10] He has also written an article about Ichiro Suzuki entitled “Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro”[11] and about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entitled “What the World Got Wrong About Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”[12]

Kang’s debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve was released in 2012 by Hogarth/Random House.[13] … The book revolves around a disgruntled MFA graduate named Philip Kim, who discovers that his elderly neighbor has been murdered, and who soon becomes the unlikely protagonist of a quickly unfolding mystery.[15] Kang mentioned that he wanted to write the book about Korean American male anger and reflect on how the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was also Korean.[16]

Kang currently lives in New York and Los Angeles.[17][18]

As for how Koreans and blacks get along in the real world:

And from Ice Cube:

And from John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, the Seoul to Soul Real Estate Co. billboard:

Samsung’s opinion of rappers and their posses:

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Joe “Anonymous” Klein of The New Yorker headlined an article in Slate: “The Unbearable Whiteness of Poland.” Coming next in his series are essays on “The Unbearable Blackness of Nigeria” and “The Unbearable Yellowness of Vietnam.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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