Tag Archives: Japanese Americans

Shame Day: Michelle Malkin

We deal with a lot of complicated issues here at Culture War Reporters, with subjects ranging from war to feminism to internet shows about gigantic hamburgers. Every once in a while, it’s nice to return to cover a simple and straightforward subject.

The sky is blue.

Birds go chirp.

Michelle Malkin is an evil, evil person.

I mean seriously. We’re talking about a woman who has written a book defending- I kid you not- the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

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Slavery and Movies

I recently had a chance to see The Man with the Iron Fists, a gritty Kung-Fu-Spaghetti-Western-70s-Exploitation mash-up film presented (of course) by Quentin Tarantino. I say presented by Tarantino; the creation of the film itself is owed largely to The RZA of the former (and still awesome) Wu-Tang Clan. In addition to co-writing and directing the film, the RZA stars in the epic slug-fest itself, serving as the narrator and titular character.

Now I went into this film simply suspending my disbelief. I assumed all the nonsensical elements in the film would simply be loving jabs at the old-school kung-fu and action movies that Tarantino and Roth grew up on. That’s why Russel Crowe’s character has a gun-scissor-knife weapon, or why (and here’s the big thing) the blacksmith in this fictional Chinese village is black. Much to my surprise however, the movie began offering explanations (though not to the gun-scissor-knife). The blacksmith is, in a flashback, shown having grown up on a plantation and receiving his freedom from his dying master. Despite having papers declaring him a free man, he is continually treated as a slave- in one scene he is told by a couple of dandies that there’s no way he can read, and therefore understand what’s written on his documents. The two men crumple up his paper and proceed to slur and shove him until he fights back, inadvertently killing one of them. He flees west, and after his ship is wrecked, finds himself in China.

Now obviously that whole last bit about him running so far he winds up in the far east is obviously just the movie shifting back into fantasy, but what really got me was the depiction of slavery. Not prejudice, not segregation- slavery. When’s the last time you can actually say you saw a film deal with that? Glory in 1989? Some Little House on the Prairie episode sometime in the 70s? It simply isn’t done (and that one episode of The Boondocks doesn’t count).

And that’s what I want to talk about. Our depiction, or lack of depiction, of slavery. For all our grand talk of freedom, liberty, and American “exceptionalism,” we do tend to gloss over the uglier elements of our history, such as Manzanar, Wounded Knee, and perhaps most notably, slavery. It brings up all sorts of uncomfortable, and frankly unresolved conflicts. It throws a dark shadow over all of our self-reported greatness. Nevertheless, we really can’t shove it under the carpet, and it looks like, at long last, it’s starting to all come out.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels takes place during the years following the close of the Civil War, and like The Man with the Iron Fists is one of the few depictions of slavery I’ve ever seen on film or TV. In addition to its frank depiction of slavery, I want to take a moment to give the show some applause for the historical accuracy it had in general, depicting Northern racism towards the ex-slaves, as well as the racism inflicted to (and by) the Irish immigrants- another nasty little thread in American heritage you won’t find in most history books.

Of course, beyond that, there’s the highly anticipated Tarantino film Django Unchained, which we’re all expecting to be jaw-dropping in how good or bad it turns out to be. Unlike the previous two examples, which depicted slavery only briefly, this is a movie set completely in the antebellum South. That’s another hefty jump, though again, how well this is going to be executed is still very much up in air.

Now I’ve been struggling all night to come up with a conclusion for all of this, but I’m really not sure what to say. I can’t say why we’re suddenly interested in a subject we’ve been ignoring for the past century and a half. I can’t quite figure out if this is some little trend or the awakening of some part of our culture that’s been dormant so long we’ve forgotten it. I can’t pinpoint what’s causing this. I can’t tell you where it’s all going. I can tell you, however, where I hope it goes.

I hope this is the beginning of something that might pass for maturity in our culture or our generation. I hope that movies depicting the reality of slavery become a thing. I hope that they open up the doors for the rest of our small-pox-infected, witch-burning, Japanese-interning, waterboarding history. I hope we can actually learn something from all of this once it’s out there, and hey, maybe we can actually get some racial diversity in our movies for a change.

Maybe.

P.S. I haven’t seen Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter or Lincoln yet, so I can’t say how they deal with it in there.

The Good, the Bad, and the Racist

Over the past weeks, there’s been some talk here in Vegas about changing the name of our airport from McCarran to something- anything– else. Named after Nevada senator Pat McCarran (1876-1954), the group pushing for the change were of the opinion that it wasn’t quite right having one of the busiest airports in the world named after a viciously racist Fascist-sympathizing McCarthyite. Last night, I caught a bit of a local talk-show as I was channel surfing, and heard the subject get brought up. Steve Sebelius, a major journalist in Vegas, was commenting on the name-change movement’s loss of momentum, pointing out that despite McCarran’s psychotic antisemitism and racial bigotry, he was the principal defender of gambling in Nevada, and that without him “None of us would be sitting here”. The show wrapped up after that closing comment, and whether or not the they addressed the whole issue of what comprises one’s legacy I can’t tell you. Frankly, I would like to see the airport’s name changed- and not just the airport, but every street, boulevard, and building named after a bigot. But as the journalist rightly pointed out, the world doesn’t quite work in white and black.

Pictured: Pat McCarran, who objects to me using the words “white” and “black” so close to each other…

As much as we’d like to imagine (at our history book’s insistence) that America was created by heroic men who only drank distilled freedom and wiped the sweat from their brows with patriotic American flags autographed by Jesus, this nation was built on the backs of slaves and the bones of Native Americans. The same man who authored the Declaration of Independence owned his sister-in-law, and despite his assertion that it was self-evident that all men are created equal, hated and feared German immigrants with a passion that the Minutemen Project would feel is “a bit much”. Jackson- the hero of Federalism, the slaughter of Native Americans. FDR, the creator of the New Deal, the guy who forced over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans out of their homes and into prison camps. Between genocide, exploitation, segregation, and a host of other forgotten sins, there’s not much in US history or culture that doesn’t carry with it a stain of injustice or inequity.

Our food included…

But how, then, do we deal with this? If we rename racist streets or airports, why stop there? Why not get rid of the sexists’ names? Or those who were just plain greedy or arrogant or inept? It seems if we go down that road, we’ll wind up leaving everything blank as we dig through history in search of the perfect human being. On the other hand, we can’t exactly drive down Hitler avenue and assert that his anti-smoking campaign is just as much a part of his legacy as the concentration camps and Kristalnacht. So how do we measure a figure’s good acts against his bad ones? I’d personally like to see Jefferson Street renamed Malcolm X Street, yet I have to simultaneously deal with the fact that X held many racist views himself until his conversion and change of heart later in life. Again, how do we discern between the good guys and the bad guys? No one’s perfect, but not everyone uses child soldiers either. Simply, people are complicated.

Case and point…

And because I don’t want to leave you hanging with another “Make of it what you will” post (as I did in my report on Extreme Midget Wrestling– check it out), I’m going to fly in the face of caution and offer this criteria for naming your airports and roads:

I. Is he or she a good guy?

That’s it. If you can’t answer “yes” immediately to that question, and if “mostly” doesn’t work either- move on to someone else. Simple as that. There is always going to be controversy- and we’re going to have to deal wit that. Values change, secrets are uncovered, and some heroes become villains and villains heroes- but for now. For right now- let’s go ahead and make the change. Yeah, it’s a pain in the neck, but if we do it right the second time around, hopefully we won’t need to change up the names for a another seventy years or so. And before someone writes in about it being part of our past or our heritage- let me shoot you down right now. Yes, bigotry, as ugly as it is, is a part of our history. But changing names doesn’t mean that we’re running away from it- it means we’re passing judgment on it. In the end, that’s what I want to cite as my heritage- not racism, but the condemnation thereof.