Short Movie Review: In the Heat of the Night

Norman Jewison’s Academy Award-winning classic is a story about racism in the south, set against the backdrop of a murder investigation. Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Sydney Poitier) is passing through the small town of Sparta, Mississippi at the time of a murder. Virgil reluctantly agrees to stay and help Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) solve the crime, despite—or perhaps *because* of—the blatant bigotry he encounters. As much as you’re encouraged to feel sympathy for Virgil, a black man beset in the deep south, he’s no saint: he’s stubborn, arrogant, and frankly, kind of a know-it-all. And Gillespie pegs him when he points out that Virgil can’t leave town, because he wants to show up Gillespie and the rest of his redneck police department. There’s no question that Poitier is a great actor, but Steiger provides him an excellent foil here, as the two characters ultimately grow into a grudging mutual respect.

What struck me most is that the movie was made in 1967—just about forty years ago. Even though the Civil Rights Act and National Voting Rights Act had already passed, racism was still highly entrenched, especially in the deep south. Forty years ago may seem like a long time, but it takes on a different perspective when I think that it was only thirteen years before I was born—and at the time, my dad was the exact age I am *now*. There’s also an unpleasant echo of the bigotry [still so prevalent in this country](—in particular, a scene when one character angrily shouts at Gillespie that he had “no right” to let Virgil stay in the room during an interrogation. To espouse a sentiment of entitlement that involves *depriving somebody else of rights* is not only unwittingly ironic, it’s kind of sickening. It’s a shame that we haven’t learned from our mistakes of the past.

Election Reflections

Well, despite my fears, nobody stole the election. And though I wrote that I didn’t buy into the “messianic” fervor of many Obama supporters and didn’t expect to see “fundamental change” in Washington no matter what the election results, I was still thinking about how policy was made, not about what an Obama presidency would mean for this country and its ability to move forward. I had forgotten that, in ways that remain important, casting this vote for a black guy can be a pretty big deal. Last night, watching the maps across three different news sites turning blue—not “blue for Democrats,” but “blue for Change”—I was filled with pride in my country and its people.

Today, I was fascinated to see what a roundup of pundits had to say about the election. As you might expect, some were celebratory that their guy won; some remained critical of Obama, but proud that America could take this step; and some were predictably cantankerous and crazy. A couple comments stood out to me, though.

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Contemplating a Stolen Presidency

As more and more news filters out about the various scare tactics, misinformation campaigns, and concerted, anti-Democrat disenfranchisement campaigns waged by McCain/Palin supporters, I find myself wondering what Barack Obama will do if he loses under dubious circumstances. This isn’t a matter of asking what might happen if nasty stuff goes down on Election Day; nasty stuff is already going down, and it generally points in the same direction. This goes beyond the usual batch of lies and propaganda smearing the opponent’s character. We’re talking about a combination of sneaky grassroots efforts and illegal policy calculated to rob those who might lean Democrat of their right to vote.

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Not-So-Short Television Review: The Third Presidential Debate, 2008

I watched the debate at a bar with some friends, projected on a giant screen, sharing the room with a guy in a superheroic Obama shirt and a few other tables of locals. We laughed a lot when Joe the Plumber came up. Dan occasionally turned his iPhone to the table to show us the results of his quick fact checking. We had fried pickles and beer. By the end of the night, none of our opinions about the candidates had changed, but I think I learned a little bit about what this debate meant for audiences.

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The Debating Game

I have enjoyed watching this year’s presidential (and vice-presidential) debates, but I also find it very frustrating. Why define rules and ask questions if there are no real repercussions in the debate itself for ignoring both to harp on your own talking points? (See Figure 1.) Thinking about it today, I decided that there’s just got to be a better way to get candidates to follow the rules and serve us before serving themselves.

And so, I submit to you The Debating Game (rejected name: “Broodsport”). Here are a few simple rules meant to encourage tougher questioning and harder thinking.

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Like Drowning, but there’s a Hitch

I’m not a fan of Christopher Hitchens, who is a supporter of disastrous American foreign military policy, and a divisive and intolerant ass in matters of religion and organized atheism. But I have to give him props: When he implied that waterboarding is not torture, and critics suggested he try it, he took them up on it—and changed his tune pretty quickly. Too bad our politicians don’t have the guts to do what a writer volunteered for. (I’ll leave it to you whether that refers to the “simulated” drowning or just admitting a mistake.)

Update: A video of Hitchens’s waterboarding, and the whole article in Vanity Fair.

The Respectability of Selling Out

If you’ve been with us awhile, you might remember that I’ve ranted a bit before about Shepard Fairey’s “obey” product line. His “Andre the Giant has a posse” and “Obey Giant” stickers started as a funky art project and grew into a guerilla marketing campaign for a clothing line sold through overpriced urban boutiques.

From an visually aesthetic standpoint, I’ve always enjoyed his art style, and so it has kind of bugged me that he has billed his work as politically subversive, encouraging reflection on speech and oppression. (Seriously, see quotes from the post linked above.) It’s really hard to make a “power to the people” claim when “the people” need to find a specialty store and shell out fifty bucks for the right to wear your political art in public—especially when plenty of the pieces in your clothing line feature no discernible visual or textual statements beyond a tiny “Obey” label over the pocket that might as well say “Stüssy” or “Volcom” for all that its fashion-conscious wearers care.

And this is why I am glad that Shepard Fairey is going legit.

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Finally, A Candidate You Can Trust

In 2008, you will kneel before Zod. Make sure to scroll down to see press clippings and real reader questions that illustrate how the General stands on the issues:

Q. Do you agree with George Will that Harriet Miers was a weak choice for nomination to the Supreme Court? Also do you support Supreme Court justices that will strictly interpret the Constitution or will you choose justices that have a more lenient view? — Justin
A. The Constitution is in writing — can you all not read? Surely there is nothing that requires meddling, wasteful interpretation. You humans will concentrate on your work and cease your struggles to become media darlings for the sake of some futile cause. From time to time I will override the Constitution, and that will be quite black-and-white. You shall trust your ruler.

(Link via Hipster, Please!)

A Point of Clarification on Feelings About Our Government

I recently said that our government makes me sick because it is strategically deploying our soldiers for just a day short of what would yield educational benefits promised to them under our own law. This is precisely why some people join the military. I think it is reprehensible to do this to our soldiers, especially for those who accused war protesters of not “supporting our troops.”

Still, after I wrote that, I felt like “sick” might come across as a strong word to some. So, I just wanted to make a brief point of clarification. I’m still pleased that I don’t live in Pakistan, whose government just “executed a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the news media and the courts, one day after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution,” according to the Washington Post. I don’t know the whole story behind this, but it’s been suggested that this is largely a bid to extend and retain presidential powers, more so than an actual response to “extremists.”

I am glad we still have a constitution, an occasionally feisty news media, and a generally reliable court system. If something like that happened here, I would have to find stronger words than “sick” to describe my feelings.

But you know, with so much of our money going to our military budget, I still think some more of that ought to be spent on fulfilling the promises we make to the people we send into wars they may have never asked for.

Reason #1,043 Why Our Government Makes Me Sick

Soldiers are being deployed for exactly 729 days at a time, one day short of qualifying them for educational benefits under the GI bill.