Thursday, October 7, 2004

"The Predator Connection" (Column)

For the record, this appeared in print, five days before Saturday Night Live went over much of the same ground (of course, they didn't have the Sonny Landham connection, so I've got them there). Unlike the blogger who ripped off my Iggy Pop reference, I'm not fussing at SNL. It takes a week to set up and rehearse their sketches. I'm saying I'm happy that we came up with these ideas about the same time. It's just that mine saw print before theirs saw air. Don't nobody go saying I ripped off the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players. Great (and sick) minds really do think alike.

With the bread-and-circuses election in California recently, the Left Coast proved once and for all that the liberals out there are not the state’s only wackadoos. The fruits-and-nuts Republicans lined up to throw away their dignity and common sense to cast votes for an aging action star best known for playing a robot. Insert your own Al Gore joke here.

The cable news channels decided that everyone in the country actually gave a damn about who ran that yahoo state, and forced hundreds of mind-numbing hours of coverage on us. It was during some of the hypnotic, droning coverage that I stumbled onto the Predator Connection.
Predator, the 1987 sci-fi actioner, concerned a group of soldiers who ran afoul of a creature whose armor camouflaged itself, allowing him to vanish into the background and attack primarily through ambush – a lot like Gray Davis, but with a less abrasive personality.

Believe it or not, with a credited cast of only ten, Predator has spat out three actors who have run for governor in their home states. Jesse Ventura was first in Minnesota four years ago and this year brought us the Arnold Era. Even Sonny Landham, who played the psycho Indian, Billy, ran for governor of Kentucky in 2002, first as a Republican then as an Independent. He dropped out after a few months, but he ran.*

Friday, October 1, 2004

Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr. Interview (President of Jackson State University)

Over about a year, Planet Weekly was doing a series of interviews with the presidents of the local colleges and universities: Belhaven College, Millsaps College, Hines County Community College, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University. Each school was done by a different writer (which turned out well), and I was assigned Dr. Mason of JSU. It is my belief that he has the most dangerous intellect I've ever seen. He is brilliant and knows exactly what he's saying and doing. I still remain in awe of his brain.

Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr. became the President of Jackson State University on February 1, 2000. In his five years, he has led the school into a period of growth, economic development, and heightened reputation and respect. In this time, Jackson State has reorganized many of its schools and colleges, reached into the community to create a Jackson State-based technology cluster, and begun sweeping programs to increase economic and community development. The student body continues to grow and more and more alumni of this historic institution are making names for themselves in the world of business, public service, and the arts.

Dr. Mason’s inaugural address was “Rivers of History, Rivers of Hope,” in which he spoke of two rivers that came together in Mississippi, one of white history, one of black history. He compared the conflicts and meshing of two vastly different societies as a confluence of rivers that could drown a people or could lead them to a broader, unified river. The confluence was Jackson State University and the state of Mississippi and the one river – our future together. It was a clarion call to all that he was a man with ideas to implement, and that he believed Jackson State was more than just a place; it had a purpose, one that it must achieve.

"A Farewell to Johnny Ramone" (Column)

Two things about this column: the first is that when it came out I was well-known for mixing pop-culture with politics. At Planet, we had a neo-con columnist. He could write very well, but he was also a tool that didn't know when to shut up. He ignored everything I said to go online and try to start something, asking if I knew that Johnny was a Republican. Of course I knew. I'm a Ramones fan. Johnny Ramone was one of the best-known conservative rockers ever. I don't care. He was a guitar god and that's what I was writing about. Idiot. The second point is that I name-checked Ja Rule, and man, did I get that one wrong.

Death and rock ‘n’ roll have always meshed. There is some primal element to rock, and rap, and heavy metal, and the blues that fits neatly with the Great Beyond. The only other aspect of the universe that affects rock ‘n’ roll so much is sex, but that’s because almost every kind of music is about sex: about getting some (rock), about not getting some (blues), about getting it from the neighbor’s wife (country), or getting it gently, romantically, and with candles (folk). Many ancient pieces of music were hymns to God, a celebration of prayer to a higher being, but I believe that some of them were asking for something a bit more earthy. And who doubts that Beethoven didn’t perform his creations hoping to nail that front row fraulein?

Music connects with sex and death more than with just the “gettin’ horizontal” ideas. Musicians of almost every style exist at the center of a triad of “music,” “sex,” and “death”, which is why their lives tend to focus on three things: the music itself, who they sleep with, and how they die. It’s a dramatic, dynamic combination. Understand that these things work in concert – so to speak – and you’ll understand why heavy metal will not lead a kid to kill himself, why rap music won’t make you pop a cap in whitey, and why Goths are simply harmless sorts whose rebellion has the heft of the Bobby Fuller Four fightin’ the law.

(Of course, Bobby Fuller got whacked by the underworld for macking on a Connected Guy’s woman; just another dramatic combination of sex, death, and rock ‘n’ roll, but I digress.)

"People Are Afraid" (Column)

Couple of things about this one: Kane Ditto was the mayor of Jackson during its gunfights-in-the-streets early '90s days; yes, it's stat-heavy; yes, my stats are correct; and yes, I supported Harvey Johnson. In fact, only Planet Weekly and the Jackson Free Press didn't support Frank Melton. The daily paper, the television stations, the radio stations, and the pundits all supported Frank Melton. Melton won in a landslide and is now considered one of the laughingstocks of the political world. Jacksonians got the mayor they deserved. Fear and stupidity are a powerful mix.

Four years after Melton was voted into office, he collapsed on the evening of the Democratic mayoral primary - where he ran against Harvey Johnson. He passed on sometime later. I managed to avoid most "God voted" jokes, but not all.

You hear it everywhere; a constant refrain from Frank Melton, from the Melton campaign, and from Melton’s followers – “people are afraid.” You hear it in conversations, you see it campaign material, you hear it on newscasts (particularly on WAPT, which long ago jettisoned any attempts to maintain non-biased reporting), and you hear it from the candidate himself – people are afraid. Do you know what you rarely hear?

“I’m afraid.”

It’s much, much harder to find someone who says this than it is to find someone who says, “people are afraid.” Certainly, there are those who are afraid to live in Jackson. WAPT manages to run useless segments on the topic frequently, even though they exist to do nothing except reinforce Melton’s assertion. I was a crime victim two years ago. I’m not afraid, and I think that most people are not afraid. What has happened, though, is that Melton supporters have taken up this chant, in an effort to fool people into thinking it’s true, even though it’s not. A repetitious spurious ideology does not become a fact; it is simply a spurious ideology shoved down the throats of voters. I suggest the next time someone says, “People are afraid,” we respond:

“No, they’re not.”