Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Black Women Are Getting a Bad Rap

There are several things I wish someone – not me – would write a book about. I realize that you’d have to be part minister and part shrink to deal with such quirks in the American psyche, but it would be a fascinating study. From time to time I will be blogging about issues that irk me. Here’s the first one – rap music.

Why do so many young females support this music? Mainstream rap, more than any other musical genre I know, denigrates women? It is especially hard on black women, but many of them still revel in it. They make excuses for it like a female victim trying to justify a beating by her lover. “It was my fault,” she says in his defense. “I made him mad.” Women who suffer such physical brutality often wind up in hospitals, broken and beaten, one step closer to the death that may eventually prove to be inevitable. But how about the beating young female listeners are getting? How does it affect their self-esteem? Many of them still flock to rap music concerts as if they just can’t wait for their next round of abuse.

Still, it is unfair to generalize about rap, as if it were all the same. It’s not. Such singers as Common, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, and Talib Kweli, to name four, are so-called conscious rappers that support and uplift women, and are serious commentators on the social conditions they see in life daily. My son Brian, who has done a lot of studying of the rap phenomenon, believes the fact that we hear so much of the negative and offensive in rap is really a function of who controls the media. The most outrageous and sensational artists get the bulk of air play while the truly artistic are confined to off hours and listener-supported stations.
I’d like to tack one other question on to the one about rap.

Why do so many women support horror films? I guarantee you that you’ll see far more women than men brutalized in these films. Most often they are white, young, and nubile. Often they are nude, or partially so. Always they wind up as a beautiful heap in a pool of blood. Isn’t this exactly the kind of film they should stay away from? Isn’t this exactly the kind of film that incites young men who prey on women sexually? I have always felt that a large body of women – not the majority, of course – are fascinated by the dark side of men. They like to dance with death as it were a handsome leading man.

But the truth is all too clear. Too many women in this society as well as others are treated like trash, disposable human beings. Many come from broken homes and bad families. Some times they are prostitutes, other times they are addicts, and many times they are just young innocents who made a horrible misstep and became easy victims. They are beaten, raped, brutalized, used up, killed, and cast off. Mainstream rap music is just one other instance of the brutalizing treatment they get. It celebrates their vulnerability and their gullibility. It weaves cheap rhymes about them as sex objects.

And all the while silly women dance suggestively in the background.

Tell a friend about me – visionpublishing.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Family History at Its Roots

I’m sure most of my blog readers will remember Alex Haley, the author of two outstanding books in black literature – The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots.

I met Haley in late 1981, not too long after the delirious success of Roots.

I, along with several other members of the family, was returning from visiting my grandmother in Little Rock, Arkansas. She had just turned 100, and we had been there to celebrate her birthday.

It was such a great time. The following are a couple of paragraphs from a piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times in late 1981:

It was grandmother’s 100 birthday. We descended on her house in Little Rock, Ark., like swarms of bargain hunters at a post-Christmas sale, covering every inch of space and eating everything that resembled victuals. Several of us overflowed into a local motel, but we managed to get most of our meals at Grandmother’s.

We tramped in and out of the house like foreign tourists, each with his camera or tape recorder. When we weren’t snapping pictures, or rolling tape or film, we gathered around Grandmother to plumb her mind for information on the family and the old days, a la “Roots.” We found no long-lost ancestor; what we found was Mary Elizabeth Williford, our own delightful heroine.

Actually, I had visited Grandmother several times before to record her memories of the past. I had no idea what I would eventually do with the information, but I knew I didn’t want her to die without leaving a record of all the history she had lived through.

She was born in Oak Ridge, La., on November 18, 1881, the granddaughter of ex-slaves. When her grandparents were set free, they were given 40 acres and a mule by the government, she said. The family later acquired 180 acres, but finally abandoned the property due to frequent flooding.

After the birthday celebration, we were on our way back home to Los Angeles but had to lay over for about an hour at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. While most of the family sat in waiting the area, my cousin Howard and I decided to browse the gift shop.

“Guess who just walked in?” Howard asked me.

I looked up as Alex Haley strode toward us. Who more than the author of Roots would appreciate the visit we’d just had with our 100-year-old grandmother, and the memories she had shared?

I told him about her and all the fun we’d had during the visit.

“That must have been a wonderful occasion,” he said

It was, Alex, and you capped it off perfectly.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Family Fare: List of Recommended Movies

To those of you who don’t venture out to movies often for fear of being assaulted with too much sex and violence, I offer my short list of fine family films.

My wife and I rarely go to movies these days, and we sometimes go long stretches without renting them. I don’t think I saw any of the films on my list at the theater. Generally, we wait until they are available on DVD. None of these recommended movies was released this year, and one or two of them may be five or more years old. Still, I think you might find two or three that will suit your fancy.

I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t occasionally rent other types of movies. We saw The Last King of Scotland, which was wonderful, but there is much violence in it. It’s definitely not a family film. We also liked The Great Debaters, and I would like to recommend it, but there is a quite unnecessary seduction scene. There is no nudity, but the scene seems absolutely gratuitous. So it doesn’t make my list.

I have seen Rush Hour I and Rush Hour II, and loved them both. But they are laced with obscenities, and definitely not to be listed.

On the other hand, if your household is like mine, your teenagers have already seen many of the movies I would not include. In fact, the ones I’ve left off they would consider tame.

Now the question many of you might have is this: Is this blog about books or movies? Well, we’re about books, and many movies start out as books. On the other hand, I’d just like to promote some good films. So here they are:

• At the top of my list I would probably place Amazing Grace, which is based on the life of British abolitionist William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a major factor in ending the slave trade in Britain. Wonderfully directed and acted, it has several interesting subtexts to it.

• Another excellent movie is Radio. You will absolutely love Cuba Gooding Jr. in this role. I thought he deserved an Oscar, but I’m not sure he was even nominated. He plays a mentally challenged youth who inspires his high school football team.

The Ultimate Gift feels like a low-budget HBO-type movie. It’s not explicitly Christian but it carries a wonderful message. The acting is superb, but with James Garner, how can you go wrong?

Beyond the Gates deals with the genocide in Rwanda. Its violent depictions are more implied than shown. The movie is about godly people standing up to the forces of evil in effort to help their fellow man. It will be a little heavy for children, and maybe some adults, but it’s worth it.

Hotel Rwanda offers the same subject and theme as Beyond the Gates, but most viewers will be glued to their seats during the presentations. Don Cheadle is exceptional, as are the actors in Beyond the Gates.

God Grew Tired of Us is really not a movie, but rather a moving documentary about a group of young Christian refugees from the Sudan who get a chance to leave the concentration camp and experience life in the United States. I wish we could say the same for those left in Darfur.

• For lighter fare, I enjoyed The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, from C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. There are Christian themes, particularly in the rising from the dead of the character Aslan. With several child actors, it’s something the little ones will enjoy.

Akeelah and the Bee has been around for quite awhile, and many of you might have seen it on television. This movie should resonate strongly with black families since the story is so uplifting and most of the characters are black. If you like Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, you’ll love this.

• If you haven’t seen Facing the Giants, then you must rent it. It’s another low-budget movie, but it has a big impact. It’s about how a decision to honor God turns a down-and-out high school football coach’s life around, and inspires his team. You don’t have to love sports to love this movie.

• I recommend Yesterday with some hesitation because it’s really an adult movie. But it is a very well done and very touching film about a young South African mother who, though she is dying of AIDS, is determined to see her daughter enter school. Some youngsters will be moved.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Acres of Books: May It Rest in Peace

Another bookstore has died.

Long Beach residents and many customers far beyond the city’s limits are mourning the loss of an old friend, one that has been around more than seventy-four years.

The deceased is Acres of Books, founded by Bertrand Smith in 1934. The giant bookstore was aptly named. Before the arrival of massive chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble, Acres of Books was a one of the largest book emporiums anywhere. It once boasted more than a million volumes.

In this era of trendy stores that offers coffee, pastries, other edibles and drinkables, along with spacious reading sections, Acres of Books may have signed its own death warrant. The huge, stuffy building had no air conditioning, no computer filing system, no place to sit, and no Starbucks on the premise.

How could it compete?

The Smith family business simply offered stack upon cluttered stacks of books. Not genteel enough for today’s fancy readers.

As with most independents, Acres was no match for the online booksellers with their fast delivery and downloadable books. Long Beach redevelopment provided a way out for the family.

Owners Phil and Jackie Smith sold the building to the city for $2.8 million. They plan to retire and travel, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The Smiths said nothing about reading.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Coffee, My Kindle, and Me

Amazon.com sells books, but a device it is hawking now might eliminate the use of all but a few in the future.

For readers looking to create more space in their homes, this may be an answer.

“Look, Mom, no bookshelves!”

Amazon Kindle is a wireless, portable reading device that gives instant access to more than 140,000 books, blogs, newspapers, and magazines, according to Amazon, which markets everything from electronics to general merchandise.

Readers can access a virtual library of reading material whether they are in bed, on a train, or lazing at the beach.

Just think of a book and it appears – for a charge.

The device itself costs $359.00.

The company recently announced that a number of large Christian publishers “have committed to making the majority of their catalogs of books available to Kindle owners by the end of 2008.”

These publishers include Strang Communications, Thomas Nelson, Tyndale, Erdmans, Zondervan, and others.

Kindle was introduced in November, with 90,000 titles available.

More are being added every day, the company says.

“Kindle books are available for wireless download in less than 60 seconds, and the New York Times best sellers and new releases are $9.99 or less on Kindle, unless marked otherwise,” the company says.

For those addicted to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal before they roll out in the morning – simply get up, grab your coffee, and scan them on Kindle.

For more information on the device, visit http://amazon.com/kindle.