The powerful may be able to rip out one, two or maybe three roses. But, they will never be able to stop the arrival of Spring
– Lula Da Silva
A Busker’s Tale
It’s only fitting that the man who was eventually adjudicated the song rights to Hey Joe was busking in New York Citywhen he claimed it as his own, after a usurper had been collecting the royalties on the already popular tune. But, that was four years before Jimi Hendrix branded it with his indelible mark, launching the bluesy melody into the rock and roll stratosphere.
Regardless of who wrote the initial version, Hendrix would make a seemingly minor change to the lyrics – to go along with his haunting interpretation – that would crystalize it into one of the most searing bit of musical pulp fiction ever performed.
Guns, Money and the 60’s
We can’t be sure of what motivated Jimi Hendrix to swap the word “money” for “gun” in the opening line of Hey Joe. Perhaps, it was simply a case of a word flowing better with the music. But, we can’t ignore how that tiny modification transformed the story told in the song, making it a much more visceral experience and painting Joe as a far more violent character than originally intended.
What was not in doubt was the mood of the country in the mid 1960’s, coming off the trauma of a President shot in cold blood and the ramping up of the conflict in Vietnam. The anti-war movement, along with militant minority groups like the Black Panthers and the Native American Red Power movement, showed American awareness of state-sponsored violence to be at fever pitch. Hendrix’s recasting of Hey Joe at such a pivotal point would prove to be a cool metaphor about very hot button issues, which were not limited to the United States, alone.
Hendrix’s first hit single as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience trio, “Hey joe”, reached the top 10 in England’s music charts and took off from there to influence the way the song has been interpreted by the myriad artists who jumped on the bandwagon over the following years.
The song was released in the Autumn of 1966 and the musical prodigy would perform his extraordinary version in front of stunned peers from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others at London’s Bag O’Nails.
In less than two years, massive student protests would erupt in London, across Europe and the world over matters of social justice and escalating political tensions. Songs like Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” set the tone for an increasingly restless and unapologetic youth, that was unafraid to ask Uncle Sam and his family members where ‘he’ was going with that “gun”.
The socially-motivated artistic effervescence that flourished in the latter part of the 60’s produced much of the music we still listen to today; an age of comparative conformity stunted creativity within the realm of musical creation.
But, the unique circumstances that came together in the latter half of the 20th century as people took hold of their own power, produced a cascade of artistic expression so threatening to the powers-that-be, it had to be systematically suppressed and rooted out.
The explosion of creative agency that Hendrix and many others asserted during the late 60’s and 70’s left a body of incredible artistic work, that should have only grown in scope but was, instead, overtaken by a series of direct attacks by conservative forces upon the Humanities and art disciplines in universities and society, in general.
The mob, itself, would be phased out of the music business and supplanted with an even more ruthless corporate power structure, that has condensed music to algorithmic formulae and quarterly earnings projections. Artists with a message are shunned, if not blacklisted. Music from the heart is too risky for the bottom line and the party line.
Nothing beyond the most banal entertainment is permitted to find daylight, because any reflection on the actual state of the world and society threatens to pierce a hole in a carefully crafted fiction, which pretends drone strikes and white phosphorous are rooted in some sort of ethical principle.
The persistence of life, however, cannot be suppressed forever. The seedling will sprout in the smallest crevice between slabs of concrete, like a busker on the sidewalk singing from his soul. So, next time you walk past someone strumming that guitar or blowing into that sax on your way to work, stop and listen, because that’s the sound of life trying to break free.
1692, People fainting and causing disorder in a courtroom during the trial of suspected witch, George Jacobs. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Yesterday, one of the more obscene spectacles in American Television culture took place right here in Miami and at halftime, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira took center stage at Hard Rock stadium, whereupon a tinderbox of moral outrage exploded on Twitter from self-appointed arbiters of decorum in America, decrying the impiousness of these two half breeds who dared to expose the innocent gaze of our children to their depraved, pornographic instincts.
Imbued with the spirit of the rottenest and misogynistic ravings of the father of Protestantism, John Knox, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, appealed to “a sense of moral decency on prime time TV” to “protect” America’s children from the traumatic experience of seeing a beautiful, caramel-skin woman dance on a pole. Yet another neo-Calvinist wonk from a notoriously right wing media outlet chimed in with a particularly galling take. Jon Miller, the African-American host of Blaze TV’s “White House Brief” took offense at the unfurling of a Puerto Rican flag before lamenting the “R-rated” tastes of his nation’s changing demographic.
Anyone who has watched 5 minutes of American prime time TV knows it is one of the vilest spaces of on-screen entertainment in the world. From a seemingly endless stream of procedural crime shows, that detail and obsess over the most gruesome murder scenes their writers can come up with, to the awful reality of dating shows like The Bachelor, where a dozen or so women make themselves sexually available to the same man as part of a trite, commercialized bastardization of human mating rituals, the patented thrust to package and sell every last drop of titillating content is the most American of traditions.
Glorified Puerto Rican flag clad strippers parading around in r-rated halftime show at USA’s biggest TV even. Who exactly was this performance for? Not people who love America. I’m glad the demise of our country is worth reaching your target demo, which is obviously changing. https://t.co/rYraRNL4dR
I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time TV in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated in tonight‘s @Pepsi#SuperBowl Halftime Show—w/millions of kids watching.
Being the snake oil salesmen that they are, neither Miller or Graham are doing anything other than marketing to their own “demo” through these ridiculous remarks on social media, just as Pepsi and Netflix (producers of J Lo’s pole-dancing stripper movie, “Hustlers”) we’re doing in last night’s otherwise unremarkable show.
The American entertainment industry’s production values are among the best in the world, but the psychotic scripts and fake blood packets of any given TV show cannot begin to compare to the literal massacre of people, specifically children, by the guns these same two moral giants have infamously defended as a God-given right and the highest expression of American freedom.
So, if it comes down to making a “moral” choice between two people who condone and encourage an ideology that leads to the mass murder of men, women and children in our schools, parks and workplaces, and two scantily-clad ladies showcasing their talent and sensuality during a half-hour commercial, then the choice transcends the self-serving marketing sludge from which they plucked their race-baiting, anti-immigrant, self-serving, Trumpian rhetoric.
One truly does occupy the moral high ground. J-Lo’s fine 50-year old ass was perched right on it last night and both the preacher and the anchorman should take a knee in front of their 65-inch flat screen TV and kiss it.
FILE PHOTO: Colin Kaepernick in 2016 at a pregame press conference in Miami wearing the controversial shirt with Malcom X and Fidel Castro
The most violent sport on earth is holding its championship game in Miami and thousands of tourists – 330,000 by some counts – will be descending on South Florida for the Super Bowl. Miami will host it for a record eleventh time, cementing its role as the league’s preferred venue for the big game.
A cursory look at just a few local stories in recent days show why Miami is so coveted by organizers. From subsidized hotel rooms for the millionaire players of teams owned by billionaires, to phantom events raking in millions from city coffers, the mendacious opportunism of our municipal leaders is legendary. But, this year brings more than the usual grifters, plane-loads of shoulder pads, helmets and bright lights.
Coupled with the prospect of a President who could be removed from office before next Sunday’s kickoff and our own County Mayor announcing a run for Congress with an endorsement from the embattled President last week, the first visit of the San Francisco 49ers to Miami since one Colin Kaepernick donned a cotton t-shirt featuring Malcom X and Fidel Castro is the perfect chance to examine the undercurrents driving the country’s increasing level of inequality and polarization.
Even as poisonous invectives were lobbed at Kaepernick in 2016 for supporting “the dictatorship”, Carlos Giménez was getting ready to institute Trump’s anti-immigration policies, distinguishing himself as the first Mayor in the entire country to drop Miami’s status as a Sanctuary City, in accordance with Trump’s EO and publicly defending the detention of thousands of undocumented children at the Homestead detention facility.
“If you tried to do this in Cuba, you would be in jail!”, was the painfully ironic refrain used by many of Kaepernick’s Cuban-American detractors. The former 49ers quarterback’s message of resistance to the Black community through the use of symbols known for their defiance of America’s historical oppression of marginalized populations at home and abroad, was studiously ignored by nationally-syndicated media personalities, whose facile analysis is so prevalent in American media since the advent of “embedded” journalism, came off as disingenuous, at best, and the basest sophistry, at worst.
If Colin Kaepernick were still playing quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, today, there would likely be protests all along Calle Ocho and the County Mayor might even dare to make a public statement in support. Sports talk people would be righteously nodding their heads from their pop-up sets on Lummus Park and telling Kap he shouldn’t have expected anything less, barley understanding how they are promoting the leading voices for American establishment regime-change wars in Latin America, like Marco Rubio.
But, would any of the 25 shows broadcasting live from South Beach say a peep about Miami Gardens, a city with the 4th largest African American population in the U.S. and site of the actual game at Hard Rock stadium, losing out on much of the expected $500 million-dollar windfall to adjacent areas like Brickell, Miami Beach and Downtown Miami because of entrenched class and racial divisions?
Would they talk about Carlos Giménez’ own son working as a lobbyist to bring Formula 1 racing to the City of Miami Gardens against the expressed wishes of its own residents, while the Mayor, himself, threw legal hurdles against them from the County dais?
Would the case of a Cuban-American police captain, with an infamous record of bigotry and racism, standing at the podium in City Hall and calling himself a Black man to the face of an actual Black City Commissioner make any air time?
It’s highly unlikely, because Colin Kaepernick was not only biting off the hand that fed him when he took a knee during the national anthem and wore that t-shirt as a symbol, he was jeopardizing the entire propagandistic enterprise of the NFL.
Colonial Flag Football
When it comes to the use of symbols to craft a message, few can compete with the NFL. As the city gets ready for Super Bowl 54, league and team colors are displayed on every available surface of our urban core. Bayfront Park, in Downtown Miami, has erected a makeshift NFL theme park where visitors can walk on hash-marked Astroturf flanked by golden fiberglass footballs commemorating the league’s centennial anniversary. Each giant football sits on a base where a tiny speaker plays old and uninterrupted football game commentary.
Nostalgia is what the NFL really sells to its customers. Store racks of retired player jerseys, over-the-top film narrations of seasons past, the “Hall of Fame” and its interlocking relationship to the country’s storied universities, all contribute to make it the most popular sports league in the country with the most loyal fan base. The memories go deeper than mere replays of athletic prowess or draft day polemics; the National Football League rallies the national collective mind around a central tenet of foundational American mythology: Settlers vs Indians.
This year’s Super Bowl features one of the most obvious matchups. The San Francisco 49ers, named after a lionized subset of American settlers whose daring-do and ambition is considered to be a touchstone in the story of how the “West was won”, will face the Kansas City Chiefs. Taken from the old French, the word “Chief”, was and continues to be used as a slur of Native Americans. Other than the prominent spearhead used as their logo and a horse-riding Indian in a headdress to rile the home crowd, these “Chiefs” are as faceless to the football-watching American public as the ones massacred at Wounded Knee.
In Army training manuals “Indian Country” means enemy territory; a term, which harkens back to the days of Native genocide when European settlers used to organize into war parties to raid Indian villages, killing men, women and children indiscriminately. The U.S. military is the NFL’s biggest sponsor and hands NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, tens of millions of dollars every year to market the various branches of the world’s most powerful war machine.
On the eve of the California Gold Rush, the 11th President of the United States, declared his intentions to expand the borders of the nascent country with the following words in his inaugural speech:
Our Union is a confederation of independent States, whose policy is peace with each other and all the world. To enlarge its limits is to extend the dominions of peace over additional territories and increasing millions. The world has nothing to fear from military ambition in our Government.
California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming would all become United States territory at the end of the Mexican-American war, marked by the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe in the Spring of 1848, which included the cessation of Texas by the Mexican government. That Summer in 1848, a carpenter working on a site in Northern California noticed a shiny residue on a piece of wood.
What followed was the inexorable destruction of a fertile Western region, the wholesale killing of its Indigenous people and the birth of the modern-day extraction technologies, which are leading us to the brink of global environmental collapse. This is what is celebrated through the symbols of the National Football League. The game this Sunday is a symbolic ritual, itself.
After the Airforce, joined for the first time by the Marines and the Navy, do their flyovers, J-Lo and Shakira will be there for the halftime show, fooling you into celebrating it with them.
We all remember the droning, repetitive ritual of indoctrination known as the Pledge of Allegiance that our school teachers forced us to recite every morning. This compulsory mantra is used in homerooms across the nation to introduce young, pliable minds to the hallowed compendium of American scripture, which include tracts like the Gettysburg address, the Federalist Papers and, of course, the U.S. Constitution.
All of them are rooted in re-imagined narratives of Calvinist-infused Christianity. Concepts such as ‘Predestination’, – man’s incontrovertible fate as determined by God at the moment of creation – or the ‘Elect’, a select group of people known only to the almighty who are to be spared eternal damnation.
Over time these ideas were re-fashioned to fit America’s political narrative. The “god-fearing” puritan ethos of the first settler communities mingled with Locke’s quasi-theological empiricism and his novel take on private property, which was broadly used to justify the theft of Native lands.
Predestination became “manifest destiny” and “land of the free” worked well as a catchy twist on the idea of “the elect”. Together with other rehashed biblical plot lines, they formed what has been referred to as Covenant ideology; less an organic, cultural construct and more a facile tool for the manipulation of the American public by unscrupulous politicians. More alarming still, is its spread to other parts of the world and a deliberate push to bring “adherents” together as a single global entity.
In the United States, specifically, the contours of this informal state doctrine have taken the shape of a cult. Since the 70’s the inexorable decline of American manufacturing and exponential rise of household debt coupled with stagnant wages has left millions of disaffected citizens ripe for radicalization. A fact no one who witnessed the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its aftermath can deny.
But, most revealing of America’s descent into ideological madness is the continued apathy and even active resistance to address the epidemic of gun violence and mass shooting events in this country.
The priests of America’s state religion preach from their pulpits in the Capitol and other state churches across the country. They quote foundational scripture to their followers who rationalize the gun massacres taking their young men, women and children in workplaces, schools and churches.
In spite of the mind-boggling frequency of mass shootings and persistence of gun-violence in poor minority communities, the gun-control debate rages on. Meanwhile, as the stone-faced deities hewn on a mountain once revered by the native people of this land continue to ask for more blood, “believers” continue to offer it.
Through the sacrament of marriage and the concomitant prohibition against its dissolution, the Catholic Church had controlled the whole of Christendom for centuries. It was the fulcrum of its power and riches. The Church’s monopoly on the family unit allowed it to dictate the socio-economic dynamics of Europe’s disparate monarchies and, in turn, dictate to the monarchs themselves.
The Reformation was the beginning of the end for this arrangement and, in many ways, for the Catholic Church, as well. The fatal blow was delivered by Henry VIII, who empowered a competing ministry by divorcing five times under the authority of the upstart Anglican Church.
What followed was a series of bloody and protracted wars across Europe and the British Isles, in particular, as an emerging class of merchants and landed aristocracies vied for control. Religious doctrine became atomized as the different regions in Europe adopted their own more culturally relevant versions of Christianity.
John Calvin’s unique re-interpretation gained popularity towards the end of the 16th century and attracted adherents from all across the continent. Among the French theologian’s most ardent students and supporters was a Scottish theologian named John Knox, who would go on to form and lead the Protestant Church in Scotland.
Knox’s reactionary and misogynist brand of Christianity would permeate the culture of Lowland Scots who would eventually immigrate across the Atlantic. The hyper-moralist Puritanism of New England’s first settler communities can be traced back to Knox, whose particular take on Calvinism colored the worldview of their direct ancestors who were part of the Plantation of Ulster, a state-executed campaign of dispossession and land theft meted out against the Irish and a virtual dress rehearsal for the colonization of North America.
After the British experiment in Northern Ireland foundered, a great many Ulster Scots chose to test their fortune in the colonies as indentured servants. The Scots-Irish, as they would call themselves, would end up representing a majority of early colonial settlers and their state militias.
Meanwhile, Cromwell’s revolution had set the stage for British preeminence in a post-Catholic Church world. New forms of economic organization were displacing older feudal methods as the seeds of capitalism were being sowed.
Most significantly, it was the eve of the Industrial Revolution; driven not by the cotton gin, but by the evolution in the manufacturing processes of the single most important tool of the imperial model: the gun.
The Force of Lead
By the time war had broken out in New England, a proto-military industrial complex had already begun developing in the mother country. Sprawling colonial enterprises were putting pressure on London gun makers who tried to keep up with demand, while the state sourced its needs both at home and abroad. Gun makers not only had to fulfill ordnance requests from the Royal armory, but also from the chartered merchant companies stretching from subcontinental Asia to the Hudson river. Inevitably, artisanal gun making slowly gave way to more efficient modes of fabrication.
The Seven Years War in the mid-eighteenth century saw the largest conscription of British troops ever to that point, with over 100,000 men deployed throughout Europe. All of them needed guns. The Napoleonic wars further pushed firearm-manufacturing into standardization. The French, themselves, had made large strides in the area of factory-style production, while Britain relied more on a loose network of independent contractors designed to keep the cost of manufacturing low by inciting competition for state contracts.
This incipient arms industry produced innovations in iron smelting, casting and other manufacturing processes, that would prove indispensable for the realization of the Industrial Revolution. By 1776, every British soldier was carrying an identical, mass produced muzzle-loading musket known as the Brown Bess. Over 4 million were made.
As gun manufacturing was perfected, revolvers and other short guns democratized the ability to kill at a distance. By drastically reducing the skill and proximity required to exact lethal force upon others, guns allowed Locke’s theory on private property to fully manifest itself in the world. Defending the “perimeter” would now be an individual prerogative and the very foundation of our present economic paradigm – codified into law by America’s founders – became possible.
The U.S. Constitution was completed after two weeks of intense, cloistered brainstorming and foisted on a largely unsuspecting public. During the Convention, the issue of an armed citizenry didn’t even come up. The second amendment itself was only later included to address the contentious issue of standing armies, opposed by most states but favored by the Federalists.
Firearm ownership was taken for granted and its relative ubiquity was such, that certain groups, like the Quakers, had found it necessary to claim their “right” to NOT own a gun. For the better part of a century afterwards, courts would rule time and again, that the second amendment applied only to Congress in the context of militias and was irrelevant to the issue of personal gun rights.
The Abolitionist movement, westward expansion and the Union’s push towards the consolidation of a true federal structure all converged to produce a spike in gun violence and its gradual welding with patriotism, politics and religion.
Just before the Civil War, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, an outspoken Abolitionist, organized a gun-drive from his Congregational church in Brooklyn, declaring that there was “more moral power in one [rifle],… than in a hundred bibles”. The guns, destined for free slaves in Kansas, were dubbed “Beecher’s Bibles”.
As the Union claimed victory and inaugurated the nation’s first federally-funded army, the Industrial Revolution began to hit its stride. The quality, accuracy and availability of guns all increased. In the space of less than a hundred years, the gap between the government’s weaponry capabilities and the people’s grew exponentially.
The second amendment languished in irrelevance. As a strictly Congressional matter, it was understood to have no bearing on individual gun rights. Nevertheless, the issue of personal gun rights did come up in the infamous Dred Scot decision of 1857, in which the Supreme Court recorded the young nation’s racist foundations for posterity. The court concluded that black people could never be citizens and, therefore, had no right to carry a gun. While the decision was later overturned, the underlying sentiment that made it possible in the first place would express itself after the Civil War, when so-called “Black Codes”; laws that were widely instituted across the country to disarm returning black Union soldiers.
The defeated Confederacy re-emerged as the Jim Crow South after Reconstruction. It formed the base of the Democratic party for decades, thereafter, until the second half of the 20th century when a reshuffling of political alliances took place as a result of a re-alignment of national priorities following the Allied victory in World War II.
The Big Rebrand
The National Rifle Association makes much of its longevity. But, for most of its history, the NRA was little more than a club for enthusiastic game hunters and largely supported gun-control laws. Its current incarnation as a polarizing influence in American politics began in the late 1970’s, as part of a larger, calculated conservative backlash against liberal policy momentum accrued since FDR’s New Deal.
Racial tensions caused by the Civil Rights movement were motivating millions of Southern White Democrats to abandon their party and join the Republican side of the aisle. Simultaneously, fundamentalist Evangelicals asserted their leadership over the Southern Baptist Church, spurring the rise of televangelists like Jerry Falwell and his so-called “Moral Majority”.
In 1977, a shakeup of the NRA during their annual convention known as the “Revolt in Cincinnati” replaced the group’s leadership with hardline gun-rights advocates, who transformed it into a politically active organization. The second amendment would serve as the lynchpin for the upturning of the prevailing liberal order and the creation of a new voter base, which would bring the Neocons into power years later, via Reagan.
The romanticizing of gun-culture and its amalgamation with Judeo- Christian belief systems would continue apace when Moses, himself, came down from Hollywood Hills to become president of the NRA in the late 90’s. Outspoken gun advocate, Charlton Heston, would use the platform to lead the national pro-gun conversation, leading the flock into the new millennium with an iconic performance during the contentious election of George W. Bush.
Just after the end of Bush’s second term, and on the heels of the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling, conferring Constitutional protection to individual gun-owners, based on a so-called “originalist” reading of the Second Amendment. More than a win for gun-rights advocates, it was an epic victory for the broad coalition of conservative voices, groups and think tanks behind the emergence of a fundamentalist political ideology, which has successfully radicalized millions of Americans.
The rise of the “Tea Party” and other fringe right-wing groups would follow in tow. Explosive events like the siege at Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing and, crucially, the September 11th attacks galvanized these groups, taking them further down the road of biblically-induced madness. Their cause for “freedom” at gunpoint is now a global affair, as they batten down the hatches to engage “evil-doers” and “bad hombres” in a predestined “clash of civilizations”.
Spoiler Alert – This piece is only for those who have seen Roma. If you haven’t yet experienced Alfonso Cuarón’s latest and most acclaimed motion picture, I recommend you do so in a movie theater, before you consider watching it on television. I will not get into the Netflix distribution debate in this article. There are already more than enough takesabout this issue.
A Strange Place
The film is enigmatic. Cuarón achieves visually captivating moments throughout the two hours and change he prepared for us. From painstaking recreations of 1970’s Mexico City streets, to sweeping sequences and arresting cinematic frames, that we’re sure to continue seeing years from now. But, the choice to go monochrome creates an unnecessary distance between the story and the viewer.
Color is not incidental in a place like DF (Distrito Federal); it is part and parcel of everyday life. The color is still there in the film, but one has to have already seen it to recognize it.
The movie takes place in the neighborhood my mother grew up in. My aunt lives there, in the same two-bedroom apartment, to this day. “La Roma”, as it’s more popularly known, is a place I know as if I had grown up there myself, even if reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The only permanent abode I ever knew. A bastion of stability in the otherwise centrifuge of chaos that was my life.
Only those of us who are from there can see the pinks and the greens and the blues. We can see the multi-colored tiles of the opening shot. Beyond this, we can see the real stories being told through the lens of a semi-autobiographical work by a director who emerged out of that same, colorful, primordial Mexican sap.
Through his personal story we find the story of all Mexicans. What follows is an interpretation of these stories, from my own personal perspective and perched on a precipice at the edge of the universe.
La Colonia – The Allegory of the Still Birth
The correct translation of neighborhood in Spanish is “vecindario”, but in Mexico City, the term “colonia” is an official designation representing a specific area within the huge metropolis. The relationship is similar to that between counties and cities in America. Nevertheless, the word also carries the more familiar, political definition.
The colonial theme is inevitably present throughout Cuarón’s film, whether he intended it or not. Aparicio’s character, Cleo, is an indigenous servant in a criollo (European-descended people) household. Aparicio, herself, is a real-life actor in the ongoing colonial drama that Mexico continues to live. The state of Oaxaca, where she hails from, remains one of the country’s most indigenous regions.
Classism is rampant in Mexico. The rich and upper middle classes segregate themselves both physically and culturally from the rest. The media, especially, is guilty of projecting a completely false image to the viewing public. If you were to judge the Mexican population by the people cast in its television shows, you’d likely assume most of the country is blonde and blue-eyed. The pernicious influence of the “Telenovela” genre and other cultural Trojan horses have contributed to a widespread, and largely subconscious pathology of self-hatred in the mostly dark-complexioned Mexican population.
The oft-repeated, quasi-historical myth of “La Malinche” is the archetype Cleo embodies in the film. She is a bridge between the natives and the foreigners. It is the foreigners who comfort her when her offspring is born dead. And this is the first allegory of Roma:
She tells us, herself, that she did not want the child to be born. Her destiny is to clean Borras’ shit off the garage floor. Borras is the master’s dog’s name, which loosely translates from the Spanish to “Erase”. Her people will not go on.
Children of the New World – The Allegory of the Astronaut
The astronaut theme comes up several times throughout the movie in the context of youthful imagination.
In one example, he shows us two children playing astronaut. One wears a space-man costume with all the bells and whistles, “exploring” a swampy part of his extended family’s beautiful, sprawling property somewhere in the country. The other, wandering about in a dirt-poor area on the outskirts of Mexico City as if in zero gravity, wearing an improvised space helmet fashioned out of a bucket. Just before this, we see a man shoot out of a canon and land in a net – a scene, which followed a frame of the Hollywood classic “Space Cowboys”, in something of a homage to Kubrick’s famous montage in “A Space Odyssey”.
Underneath, these instances speak to a very particular form of classist indoctrination prevalent in Mexico City’s private schools, in particular. Social status signaling is cliche among school-age kids everywhere, but in Mexico this sort of peer pressure takes on a deeper meaning, encompassing the country’s unique relationship to its only neighbor to the north.
Clothing is often at the center of these contests of social acceptance. Wearing a national brand of shoes or jeans instantly relegates you to the bottom of the social ladder. American brand names, conversely, propel you to the top. ‘Hecho en México’ is only for “nacos” – a derogatory term for the dark-skinned lower classes.
I had a front-row seat during my elementary school years as both witness and participant of this grotesque dynamic. Attending one of the city’s top private schools alongside the children of rich foreigners or high-ranking politicians, we were the kids with links to the “otro lado”. We took shopping trips across the border and had family in the United States. We wore our American brand name clothes to school and compared our American school supplies. We had Trapper Keepers and collected Garbage Pail Kids. We listened to Duran Duran and The Thompson Twins. Belting out the words to “El Rey” and other classic, truly Mexican Rancheras was only done after a few Tequilas.
The allegory of the astronaut represents the negation of self through the pursuit of the unattainable. Cuarón reveals a subconscious reality, that afflicts the upper classes in Mexico. A profound racism rooted in self-loathing and false identification with a different culture.
Bastard Machos – The Allegory of the Dead-Beat Fathers
Visiting my great aunt’s house in La Roma was, at once, entertaining and terrifying. Her son, my second cousin, had an inclination for mechanics and a bit of a prankster streak, which expressed itself in fun ways, like a pulley system he’d made to open the front door of the house from upstairs and frighten anyone who came knocking. The real hair-raiser, however, was in a room on the second floor where a life-size sculpture of Jesus Christ stood in full catholic regalia on an altar surrounded by candles. The figure had been sculpted by my great grandfather after “supposedly” having a religious epiphany on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution.
The skepticism came directly from the women in the family, who seemed to doubt the sincerity of the man’s spiritual awakening and, rather, believed it was a momentary lapse in an otherwise steady pattern of drunkenness and adultery.
Mexican “machismo” is a world-famous stereotype, which is often accompanied by images of large hats and long mustaches. But, there is a much more mundane face to the pervasive reality behind the caricature.
On my mother’s side of the family, men were hard to find. My own grandfather had two families, simultaneously. He would only “visit” my grandmother in her two-bedroom Roma apartment every weeknight after his pediatric practice. She would make him supper and they would watch the “novela” together. Once the soap opera was over, he would wash up in her tiny bathroom and leave to spend the night with his other family. He seemed completely content with this arrangement and never appeared to have a shred of self-consciousness about it. To me, it was completely normal. I never thought to question why he was just coming in the evenings for a short while and leaving. Only later did I find out what a pathetic man my mother’s father was. My grandmother’s humiliation had become a part of her personality, so I never noticed that, either.
The absent father figure would manifest itself down the generational line in different ways. And it certainly isn’t exclusive to my family.
In the film, the chain-smoking father who abandons his family provides the inciting incident from which the rest of the story unfolds. The huge car, that barely fits in the car port, symbolizes the inflated sense of the Mexican male ego, too unwieldy to be part of a balanced family unit. When he leaves them, it is in a Volkswagen Beatle. But, his estranged wife still has to drive around in the massive vehicle, battering it as she comes to terms with her emotions and, finally, beaching the enormous four-wheeled animal.
Cleo’s love interest embodies the unfortunate archetype of the Mexican macho, as well. But, he also represents the larger context of the conversation. He tells us his story. How “martial arts” saved him from a dissolute life; a metaphor about the Mexican military and the thousands of young, disenfranchised men who make up their ranks. This is apparent when Cuarón makes him one of the plain-clothed gunmen chasing the activists through the furniture store – a scene, which makes little sense unless we consider the totality of the character’s symbolism and the actual history of state repression during those years in Mexico.
The allegory of the dead-beat fathers is the story of Mexican maleness. It is the historically ambiguous relationship with power, that stems from a 500-year old identity crisis borne out of the still unresolved trauma of colonialism.
Art, once it is completed, renounces ownership. The artist has no more say about how his or her work is seen, absorbed or interpreted than anyone else. I do not ascribe any of the above to the director’s original intentions or ideas when making his film. It is simply what I saw, as I saw it.
Distance is one of those factors that favors lying. The farther away you are from a person, circumstance or situation, the easier it is to believe completely untrue assertions regarding anything and anyone. Rarely is this fact more obvious than with political propaganda. History is full of mendacious leaders and politicians looking to provoke conflicts by disseminating patently false claims about an enemy.
Often, whole-cloth lies are used to instigate ill will between two factions by a third party who stands to benefit by their mutual destruction; a tactic frequently used by the British Empire in India throughout Victorian times. One such incident led to a deadly escalation between two warring camps, when the Her Majesty’s minions spread parallel rumors, telling one side their enemies greased their gun barrels with pig oil and the other, that cow grease was used by them for the same purpose. Since either side held each particular animal sacred, the results were predictably bad.
When the distance is both spatial and cultural, a lie is almost impossible to expose. Such a great advantage has been enjoyed by the United States for decades. The targets of their Tomahawk missiles and drone strikes have been, generally, very far away from the its shores. The horrific profiles painted in the mainstream press of their chosen antagonists are laughably absurd, yet completely believable to the vast majority of Americans, who are fed a steady diet of Hollywood stereotypes and hero-worship. Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, Putin, and so many others are the devil incarnate for a gullible, TV-guzzling, social media-crazed public, unimaginable to Howard Beal himself.
The so-called Military Industrial Complex – a fancy term for a crude partnership between government and the arms sector – has ridden this wave of cognitive dissonance to an unprecedented expansion of muscle around the globe. With over 800 military bases erected o virtually every continent, only the most alienated still challenge the fact that the good ole’ US of A is an empire.
But, thanks to the relentless indoctrination afforded by the most sophisticated storytelling machine in the history of humankind, hundreds of millions actually believe in the fairy tale of a benevolent overlord. Like Madeline Albright, they consider the murder of hundreds of thousands of children the price of freedom and democracy.
Americans are either ignorant of the crimes committed in their names in countries they’ve never heard of or they accept the ludicrous premise offered by their leaders: “They’re bad, we’re good”. Holding fast to such a simplistic concept of the world calls sanity into question. At the very least, it points to the stunted development of critical faculties. The increasing frequency of mass shootings and extreme polarization around relatively inconsequential issues is a symptom of a society running out of coping mechanisms.
Now we have Venezuela on the threshold. Another resource grab by the most energy-intensive economy on the planet, cloaked in the reliably effective fable of good and evil. The usual covert activities to vilify and uplift the proper parties has been ongoing for over a decade, but the U.S. public will only hear what has been curated for them.
As the cultural distance grows by leaps and bounds, the physical distance becomes less critical to maintain the lies. Trump’s wall has already shown this to be true and as the border discourse grows louder the distance between us becomes greater. We can expect, in turn, for the lies to get bigger and the false threats to get closer.
If you were dropped in the middle of Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Bogotá and tried to find a Latin American, you would never come across a single person who described themselves as such. No matter how deep into Rio’s favelas or the most recondite parts of the Nicaraguan jungle you looked, such a creature would be more elusive than the Loch Ness monster.
Although coined by the French during their Napoleonic bid for a world empire the term has seeped, naturally, into the lexicon of the current and far more powerful global hegemon, the United States of America. Its purpose then was much the same as it is now: to homogenize a plurality and subsume separate and distinct peoples under a singular socio-political paradigm, based on etymology. Never mind that millions of the region’s inhabitants – the original ones, in fact – spoke and speak their own native languages, which are completely unrelated to the romance varieties imported from Europe.
Latin Americans, Latinos and the more recently concocted Latinx are all things, that only exist here in the house McDonald’s built; an expedient way to identify television market share, with no real social value. Second and third generation immigrants might adopt the format in public. But, behind closed doors, at family reunions and when they go back to visit grandma in the old country, nobody claims to belong to a contrived pan-lat-am diaspora. They are loyal to their own vocabularies and songs, unique to the places they come from.
The American penchant for lumping people from different backgrounds and cultures together is not new, of course. Their infamously bad grasp of geography is often on display and hardly draws any shame. On the contrary, they seem to relish it; as if not knowing where Peru is on a map is a sort of humblebrag display of domination.
Just yesterday, none other than the éminence grise of American broadcast journalism, Tom Brokaw, revealed his own cultural chauvinism when he tried to backtrack from comments he had made about Hispanics on a TV show. The comment itself calling on “Hispanics” work harder on assimilation, while reeking of MAGA-esque intolerance, was not particularly noteworthy or unexpected. It was his clumsy Twitterpology (yes, I made it up), that perfectly encapsulates my argument.
i feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture
Historians typically frame Simon Bolivar’s attempt to bring every nation of the Americas under one flag in a noble light. But, it was just another imperialist doing what imperialists do. I didn’t work then and no amount of Latin Grammy award shows will make it work now.
Astronauts Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) discuss their concerns about the onboard computer HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” | Warner Bros.
There is a beast lurking under the Internet. A leviathan thrashing about in a colossal, silicon cage. An elite group of gate keepers guard against its discovery. The big data Brahmins, with their clickers and turtlenecks, distract us with fancy lingo and shiny toys as they lead us to the slaughter. Stupefied, we line up like cows; vacuum tubes attached to our proverbial udders.
Unaware of its very existence, we give it nourishment day after day. All of our insights, thoughts and attention – the milk of humanity – is usurped to satisfy this monstrosity. Instead of enriching our real lives with our conscious awareness, we forfeit the pleasure of our own company to rub and tap our fingers on a screen for hours on end, producing the binary coded sparks devoured by the grumbling behemoth.
So massively and so quickly does the creature grow, that its abode must be expanded almost daily. Warehouse after warehouse is commandeered to accommodate the arrays of plastic and metal, which make up its gargantuan presence. Its scale has no limits and as long as we continue to provide it sustenance, the enormous obscenity will keep getting bigger and bigger.
They call it Artificial Intelligence, and virtually every social media platform we use is a front for its development. Any ostensible uses Facebook, Twitter or similar websites claim to offer are simply hooks to entice us. They are designed to approximate actual social interaction and fool us into “talking” to the machine. Our “friends” and “followers” may or may not see our posts, but the machine is always listening, always watching and always recording. Even what we catch and delete mid-post is kept in its memory bank.
The quality of your connection to other human beings is of no value to the Big data Brahmins. They aren’t trying to help you talk to your neighbor or achieve meaningful social rapport through their sites. They are just after your social cues and responses, and they will come up with any and every trick to get you to engage with their big data-crunching machines. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, death itself; you name it… Any excuse is good enough to prod you into engaging. ‘Like’ buttons, emoticons, share functions, photo filters; all of these are just peripheral user-experience tools, that allow them to manipulate the instinctively human need to belong, and trick you into feeding the machine.
Snake Oil Transhumanism
Animating the covert motivations of this latter-day Sanhedrin is a quasi-ideology based on a childish notion of existence; one that flagrantly ignores the unfathomable mystery that operates human consciousness.
The idea of “Transhumanism” has been floating in the world’s collective consciousness for a good while, now. With Hollywood, as usual, churning out one cheap plot after another with some variation of a human-robot amalgam over the last half-century. From Star Trek to Ex-Machina, the concept is well-ingrained in popular culture, and buttressed by pseudo-academics like Raymond Kurzweil – the leading transhumanist evangelist – who present ideas such as the “singularity” with the hubristic inflection of a fiat accompli.
The tenor of inevitability many of its evangelizers employ is, frankly, offensive. Just a few months ago, I witnessed as much at a conference for one of the world’s most important financial organizations. The closing plenary speaker introduced herself as a “Cyborg Anthropologist”. Whether this was a cute, made-up title she gave herself to sell more books, or an actual degree issued by Harvard – the institution said speaker graduated from – is not something I’ve yet decided to research. It’s enough, for now, that she used it to identify herself before the representatives of the world’s financial elite.
In her address and subsequent Q & A with the organization’s CEO, the charming young lady framed her comments about the merging of technology into our daily lives with the same casual inevitability of her peers. In this particular case, she was speaking to the fusing of banking and payments into the fabric of our normal, day-to-day routines, so that such “mundane” tasks could be as seamless as possible. To illustrate her point, she told the audience about a smartlight installed in her kitchen, which automatically shifted hue and temperature depending on the time of day. She remarked how comforting it was to wake up in the morning and make her coffee under the warm glow of a time-appropriate light source – which, she emphasized, didn’t require any thought or effort on her part or even the unwelcome intrusion of real weather conditions, which might affect her artificially preordained atmosphere.
Presumably, this would be the goal for a technologically-enhanced life. The elimination of perceived inconveniences or undesirable conditions through algorithmically programed delegation. Like paying those pesky banking fees, for instance.
For decades, film buffs and critics alike, have been trying to figure out the meaning behind the next-to last scene in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, where astronaut, Dave Bowman, appears to spend his last few hours of life in a room featuring 17th century European decor, but with a markedly futuristic feel. All creature comforts seem to be available to the frail man until his death finds him lying in bed, surrounded by what can only be described as a morbid sterility.
When that movie was made, our current state of technological dependence was still decades away. But, perhaps because 1968 was close enough to glean the possibilities, a visionary genius like Kubrick could easily intuit the ultimate consequences of life fatally tethered to technology.
The big data Brahmins believe their programmatically modulated LED lights are an acceptable substitute for the sun, just as they think a silicon circuit board or other substrate moving binary data around is an acceptable substitute for the human brain. Ultimately, these are nothing but the megalomaniacal musings of insane individuals, who have lost touch with reality – or perhaps sold their soul – and should be treated like the good Dave Bowman treated the HAL-9000 super computer.
Have you ever considered the fact that millions of people are working to provide corporations, like Facebook and YouTube with the product they turn around and use to make vast fortunes – for free? Why are we investing our time creating content so that the Zuckerbergs of the world can get filthy rich?
There’s nothing social about our “social media”. At most, it magnifies the worst about us and their ubiquity provides cover to the shameless propagation of our vanity, pettiness and self-pity. Only momentum, falsely-inflated user numbers and the device-consumption cycle has allowed it to persist to this point.
But, what are these shiny, colorful, computerized objects if not just interfaces to get your data into the data aggregators, and data aggregating devices themselves? Every release will have some new bells and whistles to help close the sale. Usually, a marginally better camera to “up” your Instagram game, or some other unnecessary “convenience”.
Not everyone will have the wherewithal to understand the implications of what the big data Brahmins want to impose on us. Most, in fact, will readily brush off any concerns as the paranoid thoughts of neo-Luddites. Others may actually want such a world to come to fruition, whether as a result of their own ignorance or because they are somehow invested in its implementation. Only a few of us will comprehend what is really at stake.
Big data has its uses. And fantastic uses they certainly are. From Google Earth to real-time parsing of information for complex systems like agriculture or genetic sequencing, big data is a revolutionary leap forward in technological capability. But society and community, are no place for big data.
In as much as society constitutes an interconnected cohesion among groups of people, big data is a detriment; a peerless tool for pattern analysis and broad scheme implementations, it is, nonetheless, a poor social glue. After all, what does an algorithm know about the enigma of life? Absolutely nothing. We cannot rely on the law of averages or geo-location to determine who we will fall in love with; who our friends or even our enemies will be. These are strictly human endeavors and no amount of so-called social concept-sites will ever replace the journey we undertake as individuals to find ourselves and each other.
In Miami, one of the most popular phrases used by our political class is the ever present “American Dream”; the go-to euphemism for social mobility and odd rebuttal to the residents’ continued demands for better public transit.
A Better Life?
Cars, according to County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo, are part of the so-called American Dream. For the people who move to Miami from all over the world, toll-roads, expressways and bumper-to-bumper traffic on Bird Road is the fulfillment of a yearning they carry over from their respective Latin American ‘shit holes’. Buses and trains? That’s just a bad dream.
While Bovo pays lip service to the transit-challenged population, engaging in visible marketing bus adventures, the pervasive mentality among his ilk – who otherwise never step foot in a bus – is decidedly anti-public transit.
Just a few days ago, Bovo put out this telling tweet:
Using the @IRideMDT app made the experience good. I use Metrorail often, however the bus doesn’t work for me since I have my son in camp and meetings all over town. https://t.co/jyExnaWlla
Perhaps the commissioner is unaware that most people in Miami have children, too, and taking “meetings all over town” is about as feasible on a Miami-Dade bus as getting to a 9-to-5 on time. Perhaps the bus “doesn’t work” for him because it doesn’t work for anybody.
El Sueño Cubano
With few exceptions, wherever you look on the County Seat dais, instead of representatives we find agents of developer interests masquerading as elected officials, who carry a chip on their shoulder about a boogey man in another country altogether. It’s almost as if these guys have been making policy in Miami for the last 30 years just to ‘stick it’ to Castro, and show him how capitalist capitalism can be. To them, public transit is an expression of socialism, it seems. The car, on the other hand, embodies the ‘free market’ ethos they ostensibly champion, while rigging the game for their developer friends in back room deals.
The Mayor, who staked his entire re-election campaign on public transit, has invoked the so-called American Dream to excuse one of the most unbelievable about faces in recent memory, comparable only to George Bush’s “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Giménez even had the audacity, after circulating campaign materials with the words “More Rail Lines” directly above his pepper shade comb over, to dismiss rail as “19th century technology”, shortly before taking a publicly-funded trip to China with a 15-people entourage. The two-week sojourn was billed as a fact-finding mission for innovative transit solutions; a laughable premise, which never seemed to produce any kind of official – or unofficial- report of their observations. The only notable fact to come out of the Asian vacation was the Mayor’s absolute silence about the tragedy of the collapsed FIU pedestrian bridge. Despite having direct family connections to the company, which designed the ill-fated structure, not a single word came from Beijing or wherever in the Middle Kingdom Carlos Giménez happened to be at the time.
It’s also not a trivial matter that the Mayor traveled to a communist country to conduct business, and everyone who lives in Miami should get the joke. As a member of the world’s leading anti-communist exile community, Carlos Giménez and the rest of the Cuban-born gang who presides over the vast majority of local government seats have made a living backing a five-decade old economic embargo on ‘la patria’, and condemning everything left of your right hand’s pinky finger.
Cars Killed the Dream
The irony is that the automobile itself is to blame for the demise of the so-called American dream.
For close to a century, the American working class managed to gain benefits and increase wages, while reducing the number of hours they had to put in each day. This, in turn, resulted in the creation of the biggest middle class in modern history. The automobile was a big part of that process, spurring growth and entrepreneurship.
The federal highway system and urban roadway development gave rise to the car-based, American lifestyle characterized by suburban sprawl, malls and the big box store. It was an ode to prosperity as each generation bequeathed a higher standard of living to the next. This was the American Dream, and for a few decades it actually worked.
As Dr. Richard Wolff from the New School so clearly lays out in this lecture from 2009, the 1970’s was the beginning of the end. Since then, corporate profits have consistently soared while wages have stagnated, remaining at virtually the same level. The rise of productivity coupled with flat lining wages allowed corporations to acquire massive wealth, while the workforce they employed had no choice but to turn to credit cards to bridge the gap between income and their desire to continue to living the American Dream.
General Motors, was among the first companies to take advantage of the American working class’ new plight, and decided to go into the mortgage lending business, expanding the scope of their original car loan business, GMAC. The General Motors Acceptance Corporation kick-started what would become the credit card/debt boom in the United States. The automobile, in particular, would be used as the asset, which underpinned the burgeoning credit-based economy. Linchpin of the small loan industry, cars have been used to both issue loans and secure credit lines using the vehicle as collateral.
Television is riddled with car commercials, that flash financing and leasing terms on the screen. Every movie and TV series, almost without exception, promotes the idea of car ownership as a status symbol, rite of passage and the key to all your dreams come true, especially as it relates to sexual prowess. Anyone who knows the history of the diamond trade and how DeBeers manipulated public perception through movies and stealthy advertising techniques to literally create a market out of thin air, knows this is not an accident.
The unpolished truth is that cars are little more than debt traps. Gateway credit drugs designed to hook people on a lifetime of interest payments and modern-day indentured servitude. The literal American nightmare.
The children and grandchildren of the ‘exilio’ have heard the stories of dispossession and betrayal. If “El Sueño Americano” makes a cameo, it carries with it a certain melancholy, double entendre that reveals the real dream of their redemptive return to the island. This place called Miami is really just a way-station. It was never part of the plan. Smart or otherwise.
If the past keeps informing our actions in the present, then we are simply sowing the seeds for history to repeat itself. At some point, you have to let go. Miami is ready to move on. Francis X. Suárez is the first Miami-born Mayor the city has ever had. His father, County Commissioner Xavier Suárez, is one of the few voices in the County who seems resolutely against building more toll roads and regularly advocates for better transit solutions, though he, too, has been known to indulge in the occasional fawning over personal internal combustion engines.
The Columbus High alum, Francis Suárez, has hitched his wagon to Beckham’s soccer stadium as the first major project of his era. The wisdom of this move is yet to be seen, but the city’s very recent history with sports stadiums does not augur a good outcome. A serious lack of transparency in the process and the young leader’s full-on support of the massive development is concerning, to say the least. Hopefully, as the first native mayor, he will identify as a resident of this city first and foremost, understanding that Miami is not Havana 2.0 anymore.
Miami needs leadership that sees the city as more than a tourist trap or a preferred destination for asset flight of Latin American grifters. It’s time for the people of this community to stand up and demand a public transit system on par with the enormous potential of this beautiful place. The cost of neglecting transit for decades is already manifesting, and will ultimately inflict a terrible toll on the future of Miami if nothing is done to stop the irresponsible, short-sighted and tone-deaf approaches we have endured for years.
Our commissioners and representatives keep dreaming about America. But, this is our bed and we’re the ones laying in it. It’s time to wake up.
It’s Ultra Music Festival time, and the kids are back with their short shorts, fishnet stockings and lollipops to let loose for a few days in Downtown Miami. We took some pictures as Ultramiami kicks off, and thousands descend on the Magic City for their annual EDM ritual.