Syncretize, Decolonize: First Nations Find a Voice Through Urban Music and Dance

It was a Thursday night in Albuquerque, NM, and on the floor of a small club on the outskirts of town a member of the Foundations of Freedom dance crew drew applause from onlookers. With his synthesis of moves culled from breakdance and traditions far older, the dancer transitioned from handspins to a kneeling archer’s position in one fluid motion. When the song – itself a hybrid of house and powwow music – finishes, the dancer straightened his shirt emblazoned with the image of a Playboy bunny sporting eagle feathers in place of ears.


A Tribe Called Red comprised some of the music at the event. The group, which emerged out of Canada in 2008, synthesizes powwow music and electronica into a genre known as “Powwow Step.”

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The club was packed with people predominately from New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos and from the Navajo (Diné) nation. Those who turned out were clad in intricately beaded jewelry, hand-painted Chucks and witty T-shirts which nodded to pop culture or made parody and political statement out of the stereotypes that so many non-indigenous Americans ascribe to when it comes to native peoples.

The party was one among dozens of music, art and fashion events surrounding the Gathering of Nations powwow held every April in Albuquerque, NM, where more than 50,000 individuals from more than 500 nations come to dance, sell their wares and mingle. But for most of those in the club that night, the powwow itself wasn’t the main event.


Patrick CloudFace Burnham (foreground) and Randy Barton create live paintings at a Gathering of Nations after party.

In fact, for many it represented just another means for non-natives to exploit native people. And while some would go to support friends and family, others declared the event fodder for the colonized and instead chose to attend native-organized counter powwows and Sacred Cyphers where musicians, painters and dancers could express themselves in their own spaces through a fusion of native song, hip hop and electronic dance.

A chat with Justin Simien & Lena Waithe of "Dear White People" (via Geekquality)

As mentioned previously, for the next wee bit, we’re going to be cross-posting some choice Geekquality blog pieces that we think may be of interest to the Coilhouse readership. First up, this interview with writer/director/producer Justin Simien and producer Lena Waithe about their indie film Dear White People, conducted by Geekquality contributing editor Moxie Munroe earlier this summer. (Thanks again to everybody over there. We <3 you.) ~Mer

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MOXIE: I’m completely in love with your project, having seen the trailer on Shadow And Act. What sparked the idea for the project?
JUSTIN SIMIEN: The original idea for the film happened during my senior year at Chapman University. After growing up in Houston, attending the rather diverse High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, college life at a small private college in Orange County was a four year long culture shock. I wanted to comment on my experience and started collecting personal episodes like mitigating the sheer disillusionment in certain White students when I couldn’t teach them how to crypt walk, or when I decided to finally cut my substantial fro, or just in general when I acted differently then the Black people they saw on 106 and Park.
LENA WAITHE: I was first introduced to [the project] in a writers group (which is how Justin and I met). He was writing it as a TV show, but all the themes and the characters were the same, and it had a huge impact on me. I loved his voice and I loved him. Of course we quickly became close friends and I finally read the feature length version of “2%” which is what it was originally called (because the black students at Manchester only made up two percent of the population). And once I read the feature, I was just sold on helping him bring this story to light.

M: As a Black woman and a creative I know I’ve had conversations with folks time and time again, especially in college, that are reminiscent of a lot of moments in the trailer. What was the moment when you all said, “We need to make a movie about this”?
JS: I had been working on the material for a few years, trying it as a TV pilot or an overwritten 265 page feature, which didn’t garner much interest for some strange reason, when I realized that my professional life was mirroring my experiences in college. I was still one of VERY few black faces in most of the places I found myself professionally. Requests to teach friends how to crypt walk were replaced with requests for “Dougie lessons.” I was being confused for the one other Black guy in the office, and the requests to see me with an afro continued unabated, despite my insistence that it was a pain for me to manage and I didn’t really want one.

Also (and more importantly) in the culture there seemed to be a real need for a fresh dialogue about race. The birther movement was gaining momentum, the ugly incidents over a “Black” themed party thrown at UCSD mirrored scenes from the script, and debate over the lack of Black voices in film and tv was happening all around me. That’s when I started the twitter account @DearWhitePeople and working in earnest to get the script to a place where it could be shot as a feature.

LW: I dug [his Twitter] so much that every now and then I would pitch him jokes for it and he would throw them up there. But myself, and one of the other producers Ann Le (who’s been there from the beginning) have been passionate about the film for years. And Justin’s been working on the project for about 7 years. So it’s always been around, I think we just all came to the point where we said it’s either now or never. And thank God, because the timing could not have been better.

M: How has the use of social networking aided in the development of this project? (Big congratulations on meeting and exceeding your IndieGoGo goal, by the way.)
JS: Starting the Twitter account was great because it allowed me to really work out the voice of one of the film’s leads. In the film Samantha White starts a radio show on campus called “Dear White People,” the controversy over which is a driving force for a lot of the plot. Through Twitter I was able to test out material, refine her voice, and gain some insight on the people that were so offended by what they perceived as an accusation of racism they responded to the account with genuinely racist comments.

LW: We’re a generation that lives on the internet. I actually credit Facebook the most because we can send the link to people we aren’t even friends with in a Facebook message, and the people we are friends with have no problem with us posting the link on their wall. When something is shared and posted on Facebook a million times, that’s when you know you’ve struck a nerve. And all the producers started to get all these random friend requests soon after the trailer launched. That’s when we knew folks were sharing it, emailing it, tweeting about, and blogging about it. When the producers would sit down and discuss the strategy to push the trailer we always knew that we would use Facebook and Twitter. That’s the best way to reach OUR audience.

M: There have been conversations about Blackness and the “Black Monolith” and what that means since the dawn of the Huxtable Dynasty (a name I’ve just decided to give the period of time between when The Cosby Show hit it big and Girlfriends went off the air). I know the project is called Dear White People but what do you think of the idea of a cultural Black monolith and “authentic Blackness”, and what sorts of conversations about it are you trying to raise with this project?
JS: To me the film is ultimately about identity and how race identity in particular can be both a gateway to and a huge obstacle for reaching one’s potential. This is compounded by the fact that Black folks and non-Black folks all have very different opinions about what being “authentically Black” actually means.

Each of the main characters are going through an identity crisis with regards to their “blackness” whether its not feeling Black enough for the Black kids, not feeling Black enough for the white kids, or feeling too Black for anyone.

Minorities, along with systemic socio economic disadvantage, have the added pleasure of going through life being pre-defined by everyone according to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Based on how we define ourselves, some of us find solace in our “ethnic cultures” and some of us feel alienated by it.

Ultimately the role of culture (black or otherwise) as I see it is to help us find our voice and footing in the world. But there also comes a time when to really reach our true potential we have to transcend the cultural and identity cues we’ve come to be defined by. Yes I’ve been watching a lot of OWN.

M: All of your characters seem to be very original, and quite different from each other, yet all of them are also really relatable, both to people of color and universally, which is really refreshing to see. Do you think, with independently produced content on the rise and this age of the webseries, we will see more projects by minorities and see a much needed shift toward more diversity in the mainstream media?
JSThe Misadventures of Awkward Black GirlSh*t Black Girls Say, and Sh*T White Girls Say To Black Girls is proof that the internet has made it easier for minority voices to circumvent the usual obstacles of creating and distributing content and connect directly with an audience. Here’s hoping that traditional media, be it films or television, pays attention. Diverse stories in the mainstream seem to be shrinking, creating an even bigger disparity between the demographic make-up of the country and the stories dominating our culture.
LW: I think folks have always wondered when there is one Black success others will follow, and I’ve come to the realization that the work just has to be brilliant. The only way a Black writer/director/actor/producer will be recognized is if the work is amazing and inspired. Not everything out there is great. Justin is extremely gifted. That’s why he has 3 producers behind him (me, Ann Le, and Angel Lopez) because his vision is so amazing. So if Black artists continue to hold themselves to a higher standard then, yes we’ll see a surge.

Sunflower, the Centaur Disney Wants to Forget

In 1940, Disney released Fantasia; an epic animated film consisting of several shorts set to classical pieces. If you haven’t seen it, it’s perfect for the holidays. There are fairies and unicorns and dancing mushrooms.

And, of course, Fantasia includes the Pastoral Symphony. As a child, I was happily unaware of the heteronormative, gender essentialist overtones of this piece. I was just excited to see all the centaur boobs and watch the fashion show unfold. Multicolored centaurettes wearing hats made from lotus flowers, birch bark and even live white doves. Exotic mythical creatures lazing around all day, spending the beautiful sunset hours eating grapes, swinging on giant swings, and bathing by the waterfall. It was just lovely. Looking back, it’s clear how ridiculous the whole thing was. A post at Nectarade provides a hilarious, pitch-perfect overview (click through to the site, it’s better with pictures):

There’s a centaur meetup and the ladies are “dressing up” so it’s not so obvious they’re all clones of each other in different colors. The males are also clonic, but they don’t give a shit about looking alike because they’re there for the mare pussy (well, that sounded funny). Also, there are some weird “little cherubs” playing as sassy gay friends of the girls, matchmakers, makeover artists, and creepy voyeurs. My first reaction: “Why are there cherubs in Olympus, anyway? I suppose they’re sort of little cupids without the bow and arrows, but it’s still fucking weird.” I did my homework, and those things are called putto (plural: putti) . Oh, okay, it makes sense artistically then. It’s still weird because they’re little creepers in this movie, but I’ve learned something new today!

…meanwhile, the clonic Ken doll centaurs get their own catwalk show from which they pick the girl they want to fuck senseless take to the prom. I don’t know if it’s racism or narcissism or fashion taken to the extreme, but I can’t help but notice that all the pairings have similar color palettes. Red/pink/brown/yellow goes with red/pink/brown/yellow, blue/purple goes with blue/purple. That’s very disappointing. You can also tell how much the couples want to have sex as soon as possible, but they can’t because there are little kids watching (and depraved putti stalking them).

Seriously, they have to settle with a lot of second-base touching and inane activities such as playing in swings and eating grapes and just hang out, sitting here consumed with lust for the rest of the evening. But OH NOES!! EMERGENCY!!! DISASTER!!! ONE OF THE CENTAURS IS ALONE! Don’t worry, guys! There’s a centauride who’s also alone! And in the same color scheme! We’re saved! How convenient that there was the same amount of boys and girls! So our team of putti, like fanbrats who feel compelled to pair every character up in the bad fanfiction they write, set them to a date by playing their phallic flute-trumpets. Thankfully, our two dorks liked each other and were actually the ones with less libido. Actually, they’re quite sweet and old-fashioned, and I’m glad for them. I mean, as happy as it can be since the putti are still stalking like Edward Cullen in Bella Swan’s period days, and even when they drop the curtain (literally) they’re still peeking over the centaurs. Eww, GTFO!

The above review of Pastoral Symphony was pretty complete… except, HELLO, WHAT’S THIS:

That’s right. Disney originally included a character named Sunflower – a half-donkey, half black girl servant figure who polished hoofs, brushed/decorated tails, and carried garlands for the centaurettes. It’s not surprising that Nectarade didn’t catch them; the scenes haven’t appeared on any release of Fantasia since the 1960s, and are hard to come by in high quality. Most versions on YouTube look like they were taped off a television. Here is the best-quality collection of all censored scenes. Sister Suffragette adds, “there’s also the possibility that there are more Sunflowers; the movie shows Sunflower with a couple different hair styles which could mean that they actually represent several servant/slave half-asses. It’s hard to tell, though, because the difference in hair style is the only distinguishing feature … of course she was happily shining the hoofs and fixing the tails of the non-black centaurs and there’s not even any thought or explanation given as to why she’s the only one that doesn’t meet a mate by the end of the segment. The others females are chosen by the males who picked them out of the lot after the females paraded and posed in front of the males.”

The real kicker is that, according to several sources, Disney adamantly denied that Sunflower even existed up until somebody finally dug up the footage and put it on the internet (despite the fact that you can find her chowin’ down on watermelon, in stereotypical fashion, in the Fantasia cut-out book. Perhaps Disney was counting on the fact that it’s solidly out of print).

Recently, artists have been reclaiming and re-imagining Sunflower, so perhaps there’s a silver lining to all of this (as an aside, people are also reimagining some of the other Fantasia nubile centaurettes in a very – how shall I put this – non-heteronormative, non-monogamous way. Thanks, Rule 34. Thanks, Internet). People are imagining Sunflower (or Sunflowers) as a strong, confident young girl. Or a self-aware, independent woman. Or even painting her as a servant, but with much more emotion and character. If Disney won’t make this right, the people will. More remixes of Sunflower, after the jump.

Sunflower by AtomicFireball: “This is not a fanart. It’s a little wishful thinking of my own. This is my Sunflower, who never served a mistress.”

The Praise of Motherfuckers

Another thoughtful article by guest contributor Jeffrey Wengrofsky, “The Praise of Motherfuckers” looks at intergenerational warfare and the use of the word “motherfucker” in counterculture. NYC readers, take note: Jeff’s latest film (with the Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers), “The Party in Taylor Mead’s Kitchen,” is an Official Selection of DOC NYC 2011, the documentary film festival of the Independent Film Channel. It is scheduled to make its premiere on November 6 at New York University’s Kimmel Center at 7:30 and on November 7th at the Independent Film Center at 3:45. The film depicts the romantic beauty and squalid dereliction of the bohemian life as embodied by Beat poet and Warhol Superstar Taylor Mead. It’s being shown with “Girl with the Black Balloons.” Grab your tickets here. Congrats, Jeff! – Ed


“WALL ST. is WAR ST.” Photo by Larry Fink. More photos here.

There is a … sort of madness… which the furies bring from hell; those that are herewith possessed are hurried on to wars and contentions… inflamed to some infamous and unlawful lust, enraged to act the parricide, seduced to become guilty of incest, sacrilege, or some other of those crimson-dyed crimes…  ~  Erasmus

Not long ago I attended a lecture on youth rebellion in the 1960s.  The presenter noted with disdain that the word “motherfucker” was used by some of the speakers at the notorious demonstration against the 1968 Democratic National Convention.   Use of this term, so the argument went, was emblematic of a movement that was politically inept if not inherently self-destructive.  And the most immediate casualty of the unholy coupling of “mother” and “fucker,” it was alleged, was the candidacy of Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon.  For those outside the Convention, however, Humphrey’s nomination – pre-ordained by party insiders – offered a continuation of the Vietnam War and seemed to make a farce of our democracy.


The Motor City Five get it on (and duck stray bullets)

Well, it got me to thinking, and I soon made the personal discovery that Motherfuckery was all over America in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  No, not literally, of course.  The phrase was, however, in conspicuous currency among New Leftists in a way it had not been before or has been since.

On that fated afternoon in 1968, Rob Tyner of the MC5 had, indeed, shouted his shibboleth – “It’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” – to ignite his band’s performance, as he did for nearly every show.  After hours of peaceable, if raucous, assembly and rock’n’roll (the MC5 were the only band with the gumption to perform), Chicago mayor Richard Daley dispatched 23,000 police and National Guardsmen to beat and gas the protestors.  And when Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff noted, on the floor of the Convention, that Daley was using “Gestapo tactics,” Daley himself fired the epithet of the era right back at the rostrum: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch! You lousy motherfucker!”

Just a year earlier, Everett LeRoi Jones decorated a poem celebrating the race riots that would permanently cripple Newark: “All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall mother fucker this is a stick up!” Magic words indeed, but the “joosh stores” did not “open,” they closed and remain shuttered to this day or marked only by empty spaces in their footprint.

The phrase “motherfucker” had already been in circulation in hip, African-American lingo long before Jones tapped it, referring to someone who may be evil, a passionate musician, or simply a force to be reckoned with.  It is important to note here that mainstream African-American society, ever-struggling for respect, was possibly even more hostile to the use of the term in polite company than America as a whole.

In New York City, Ben Morea, a ballsy street urchin whose totalizing, uncompromising politics was wedded to a phrase befitting his society of self-proclaimed “suicidal sidewalk psychopaths” known as “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker,” “The Motherfuckers,” or, most simply, as UAW/MF – though they referred to themselves collectively as “The Family.”  Perhaps significantly, Morea “did not know his father [and] did not want to tell his mother he was a Motherfucker because he did not want to disappoint her.”  Osha Neumann, another Motherfucker, also had a twist in his family romance: his father’s best friend, a man who had lived in his house like an uncle (Herbert Marcuse), married his widowed mother.

The Motherfuckers declared war on “the totality of reality as shaped by” the financial, military, and cultural elites by disrupting the suburban commute at Grand Central Station and high mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  In the middle of the garbage strike of 1968, Motherfuckers dumped bags of rotting garbage from the scummy streets of the Lower East Side onto the pristine promenade of the newly-minted Lincoln Center.  They “ran free stores and crash pads…organized community feasts…[and] propagandized against the merchandizing of hip culture…” And, in the middle of the attempted “exorcism of the Pentagon,” only the Motherfuckers actually got inside the five-sided hole of power.   Puritanical Roundheads on the frontline of America’s “cultural revolution,” they fought the police and sometimes against other radicals, criticized both the war and the naive embrace of the Vietcong by the left, shot blanks at poet Kenneth Koch (who may have fainted or told them to “grow up”), printed and distributed fliers in solidarity with fellow traveler Valerie Solanas after she shot Andy Warhol, and forced Bill Graham into letting them use the Fillmore East for free once a week.

When Detroit’s MC5 came to play New York’s Fillmore on one such night, free tickets had not been distributed to the Motherfuckers and their ilk, unbeknownst to the band.  The sight of the MC5 pulling up in a limo provided by Electra Records the Motherfuckers then took to be a sign of bourgeois bedfellowship, so they trashed the Fillmore and sent that otherwise courageous band into rapid retreat under threat of grievous body harm.   The Motherfuckers were so feared that they once closed the mighty Museum of Modern Art by simply revealing their plans for it.  Their slogan was put to music by David Peel and Harold C. Black, lo-fi renegades calling themselves “The Lower East Side,” in a feisty ditty on an album whose cover demurred from disclosing the word “motherfucker” although it was otherwise brash enough to be titled Have a Marijuana. More than a regional phenomenon, the Motherfuckers were the only non-student branch of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were admitted to and then purged from the largely French Situationist International, and had their slogans scooped up by San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane for their song, “We Can be Together.” (Jefferson Airplane would actually voice a parricidal fantasy in a different song: “Hey Frederick.”)

Cargo Cult, Native Appropriations, and Voodoo Programming

The campaign slogan was “Traditional Goes Digital,” and it included three images: Squaw, Brave and Chief. These were created for Australian printing company ColorChiefs in 2006, and recently resurfaced on the How to Be a Retronaut blog, to such wry comments as “Native American steampunk use ALL the parts of the 8088.” The images have also garnered some critique, both for their cultural appropriation and sexism. As blogger Ikwe recently wrote on Tumblr, “it’s not very creative to sexualize a native woman in this way but it’s packaged with a new futuristic sexy theme so it’s sooooo groundbreaking and chic. Oh yes, the ad also reminds us that we are moving forward from our primitive and savage ways. Meh.” Paging Dr. Adrienne!

Looking at this somewhat clueless ad campaign did lead me through an interesting Wikipedia tunnel. Come with me on a magical journey:

Cargo Cult on Wikipedia:

With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised to bestow on their followers deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or other sources, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldierssailors, and airmen use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day to day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles.[5] The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses.[citation needed] In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.

Which led to Cargo Cult Programming on Wikipedia:

A style of computer programming that is characterized by the ritual inclusion of code or program structures that serve no real purpose. Cargo cult programming is typically symptomatic of a programmer not understanding either a bug he or she was attempting to solve or the apparent solution (compare shotgun debuggingvoodoo programming).[1] The term cargo cult programmer may also apply when an unskilled or novice computer programmer (or one not experienced with the problem at hand) copies some program code from one place and pastes it into another place, with little or no understanding of how the code works, or if it is required in its new position.

Voodoo Programming on Wikipedia:

In computer programmingdeep magic refers to techniques that are not widely known, and may be deliberately kept secret. The number of such techniques has arguably decreased in recent years, especially in the field of cryptography, many aspects of which are now open to public scrutiny. The Jargon File makes a distinction between deep magic, which refers to (code based on) esoteric theoretical knowledge; black magic, which refers to (code based on) techniques that appear to work but which lack a theoretical explanation; and heavy wizardry, which refers to (code based on) obscure or undocumented intricacies of particular hardware or software. All three terms can appear in source code comments of the form:

Deep magic begins here…

In fiction, the term comes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, an early book from C. S. Lewis‘s The Chronicles of Narnia, which describes ancient laws and codes as “deep magic from the dawn of time.”

[via m1k3y]

The Friday Afternoon Movie: “Until The Light Takes Us”


Fenriz of Darkthrone. Still via Black Metal Movie.

[Video removed in response to copyright infringement complaint. Buy the film here.]

Screaming and corpse paint on this entry of The FAM as we take a look at Until the Light Takes Us, the 2009 documentary directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell which details the goings on of a small group of individuals who took the Norwegian black metal scene and propelled it into infamy with vandalism, church burnings, and, eventually, murder. It specifically sets its sights on two of the individuals: Darkthrone drummer and producer Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell and ex Mayhem member and one man band Burzum creator Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes who, at the time, was finishing out a 21 year sentence (the maximum under Norwegian law) for four of the aforementioned church burnings, as well as the murder of fellow Mayhem band-mate Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth.

The reasons for this decision are apparent from the start, as they are almost diametrically opposed to one another. Nagell continues to remain active in the scene, making music with Darkthrone and running his record label. He is also, seemingly, apolitical. Vikernes, on the other hand, is anything but. He waxes at great length about the ills his country and culture have suffered under the tyranny of everything from McDonald’s to Christianity. Indeed, of the two, he is far more charismatic. He is also the most problematic.

Critics have pointed out that Vikernes may have charmed his interviewers into complacency, and I can’t help but agree. Little is done to expand his views of Christianity, and yet it seems that most of those issues revolve around the fact that it is an offshoot of Judaism. It is also not mentioned that, for a number of years after his conviction, he identified as a neo-Nazi. (He has since created the term “odalism” to differentiate his beliefs, though those differences do not pertain to either racism or anti-Semitism.)

In a sense, then, Until the Light Takes Us serves much better as a history lesson, a snapshot of the early days of Norway’s burgeoning black metal scene. It serves little in the way of critique save to ponder how society has co-opted the scene, rendering it somewhat toothless in the eyes of its forefathers; and while this is an interesting diversion it is more observation than analysis. In the end, it could have used a more insightful vision. Aites and Ewell spent two years in Norway making this documentary and getting to know their subjects. It may have helped to get some distance.

“Dark Girls” Documentary Explores Colorism, Racism, Self-Acceptance


(Via Siege.)

Some thought-provoking, intense, and intensely heartrending clips from Dark Girls, an upcoming documentary by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry that examines “the deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color– particularly dark skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture.”

The film is slated for an October premier at the International Black Film Festival in Nashville. Follow Dark Girls on Facebook for updates.

“Detroit Thrives.”


The Michigan Theatre. Photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

Yesterday, having recently seen links about them in a couple different places, I tweeted: “Haunting, tragically beautiful photos of derelict Detroit by Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre: http://bit.ly/fwDwPg [from the UK Guardian]”

They really are breathtaking images. A lone copy of Marchand and Meffre’s (rare?) book The Ruins of Detroit is currently on sale at Amazon, if anybody with a whopping $237.94 to spare is interested.


The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit, and Light Court, Farwell Building. Photos by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

Here’s the thing, though: in American cities like New Orleans, the Salton Sea, and (most vocally) Detroit, frustrated residents who see scores of photojournalists touring their neighborhoods just to take pictures of the sexy devastation and leave again have started calling these sorts of de-contextualized photo series of their backyards “ruin porn”.

“Here in Detroit, we’re sick of how the ruin porn runs rampant around the world, and everybody loves to use it to show how things have degraded here. Know what? There is a big resurgence happening here, and things are getting better.” That’s a quote from Ryan Cooper, a Detroit resident reacting to Dangerous Minds’ coverage of the Ruins of Detroit photobook.

Only I hadn’t read that, yet. I’ll admit it: when I linked out to the Guardian feature, I’d never even heard the term “ruin porn” before. About an hour after I aired that tweet, someone in Australia called datacorrupt responded bluntly with: “Detroit Thrives.” And a link.


Photo by Jon DeBoer. Mural by Philip Lauri, founder of “DETROIT LIVES!

Clicking through to Palladium Boots dot com, I promptly had my ruin porn-disseminating ass handed to me by the following half-hour documentary featuring not just several of those same sprawling abandoned spaces that captivated Marchand and Meffre, but also a rich variety of local entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, urban farmers and prodigal shopkeepers of Motor City who have been steadily reclaiming and reviving substantial portions of the urban grid, creating robust communities in a crumbling realm that was:

“Once the fourth-largest metropolis in America–some have called it the Death of the American Dream. Today, the young people of the Motor City are making it their own DIY paradise where rules are second to passion and creativity. They are creating the new Detroit on their own terms, against real adversity. We put our boots on and went exploring.”


Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Williamsburg anymore…

Product-shilling and Johnny Knoxville-yukkstering aside, Detroit Lives is an inspiring point of entry into the tenacious world of modern DIY Detroit. After watching the doc, I spent several more hours online exploring other links and sites (several of which are listed below). These kids are making and growing and building and yes, thriving. They seem committed, fierce, and in fucking earnest. Check ‘em out.

Any Detroit badasses reading? Please forgive me; I… I still love my ruin porn. Can’t help it. But in all sincerity, I love what you are doing far, far more. I’m surely not alone in that. Long may you thrive. Please come say hello if you like. We would love to hear more from you, and about you.

Detroit revival links:

Other Coilhouse posts of possible interest:

The Racist Undertones Of Marmaduke

WHITEPRIDETV.COM has a varied lineup of video content for the modern white supremacist to educate themselves and keep up on the latest in good old American racism. From This Is The Klan to The White Woman’s Perspective Thomas Robb and his group of camera wielding bigots cover the entire gamut of life as an ignorant douchebag. They also, thankfully, have some children’s programing to help Confederate flag waving parents educate their offspring in the proper manner.

The programming in question is The Andrew Show which is, in case you had not already figured it out, “A Show for White Kids” (Finally!). Plopping the blond-haired youth in front of a green-screened bookcase, WHITEPRIDETV.COM lets the little tyke go at it, tackling the issues that face white kids today. This particular episode deals with the film Marmaduke, an unremarkable film in nearly every way except for the fact that it is a metaphor for racial tension; specifically the denial of land to white people by people of other various and sundry races. So goes Andrew’s thesis, a thesis he does not expound upon his, presumably because his point is so self-evident even a child can see it.

It is an unfortunate reality that even the worst among the human race can procreate, taking an otherwise unfettered mind and twist it with their own, poisonous worldview. It is, perhaps, worse when they give them their own television show to parrot that moronic bile.

Via Videogum : The Daily What

Respect and Love for Marlon Riggs

A wee bit o’ cheer, courtesy of Marlon Riggs and the Institute of Snap!thology…


… that’s spurring me to write up an overview of something far deeper and more complex. This “Snap Diva” sequence is one of the more lighthearted scenes from Tongues Untied, a powerful independent film by activist/educator/filmmaker/author Marlon Riggs. The clip was sent to me earlier today by an old friend as an offhandedly affectionate “haaaay”, but it ended up triggering intense memories of watching Riggs’ films on PBS over a decade ago. I was bowled over by them at the time; I’m overjoyed to be reminded of them again.

Riggs died of AIDS in 1994 while still struggling to complete his final film, Black Is…Black Ain’t. An intensely personal, well-researched examination of the diversity of African-American identities, Black Is…Black Ain’t was completed by Riggs’ colleagues after his death, and released posthumously in the mid 90s. “His camera traverses the country, bringing us face to face with Black folks young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban, gay and straight, grappling with the paradox of numerous, often contested definitions of Blackness.” [via]

Riggs was a giant of public television during the late 80s and early 90s, and a truly inspiring force for positive change. Via glbtq:

Riggs’ experience of racism began in his segregated childhood schools but continued even at Harvard, where he studied American history, graduating with honors in 1978. He then earned an M. A. in 1981 at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he later taught documentary film courses.

Riggs first gained recognition for writing, producing, and directing the Emmy-winning, hour-long documentary Ethnic Notions (1987), which explored black stereotypes and stereotyping. The film helped establish Riggs’ career as a contemporary historical documentary producer.

But most of his later films and writings probe the dichotomy Riggs perceived between the strong, “Afrocentric” black man and the black “sissy” gay man. As a “sissy” himself, Riggs felt deeply his status as a pariah within the black community.

Tongues Untied (1989), Riggs’ most famous film, is an extensively reviewed and critically acclaimed documentary that met with controversy in conservative circles when it was aired on public television. Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, it figured in the cultural wars over control of the NEA and the Public Broadcasting System.