Sunday, August 31, 2008

Against Sixties Nostalgia: "Easy Rider"

Asked for his own impressions of these films and the period they capture, Mr. [Andrew] Lampert, 31, hesitated, then said: “I recently watched ‘Easy Rider’ and felt embarrassed for an entire generation. I would hope that life in the ’60s was much more like ‘Chafed Elbows.’ ”

From an article in today's New York Times Arts & Leisure section, about the 60s independent films of Robert Downey--which I had not heard of, nor have I seen. Since they've now been restored, I'll hopefully have a chance.

I was pleased to see the jab at Easy Rider. I've wanted to write something about some of the problems I see with iconic films of the sixties, which were much admired at the time, and which I must admit, I too liked a lot when they first came out. (Thanks to AMC, I've had the opportunity to see many of them again, for the first time since the sixties.) Easy Rider celebrates male hippy pot-smoking freeliving renegade motorcycle riders, turning them into martyrs at the hands of Southerners. That is, long-haired virtue is produced at the expense of a stereotype of redneck evil. (There is also an implicit identification made between the victimhood of the white hippies and that of African Americans, who suffered at the hands of crackers during the civil rights struggles.) I remember coming out the of theater after watchin g Easy Rider in summer 1969, feeling shocked and outraged. I didn't ride a motorcycle, but I did have the long hair. So I certainly identified with the Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson characters. It worked with me.

Such infantile and ill-informed sorts of representations (echoed in many other cultural artifacts of the time, like Neil Young's "Southern Man" and the film Deliverance) have had pernicious political effects, and are a part of the complicated story of how the South has gone very Republican. I've lived in Texas and Arkansas for a total of over twenty years, and I still have friends from the coasts, and urban centers in the Midwest, who can't understand how anyone could possibly live in the South or how anything good could possibly come out of (t)here. They are still apprehending the South through the lens of Deliverance and Easy Rider, it seems.

Other films I've been meaning to write brief notes about are MASH and its homophobia and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and its sexism. I was completely blind to these issues when I originally saw these films. And I considered myself a political radical. I guess I'm trying to make sense of my own memories of the sixties.

So I vote for a revival of "Chafed Elbows." And "Flaming Creatures"!

More in future, I hope...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another report on the last Palestinian kufiya producer--plus hair gel

An AFP report on the Palestinian kufiya, with an overview of its recent uses in the West, the controversies, and the story of the last remaining Palestinian producer, Yasser al-Hirbawi, who faces severe competition face from Chinese producers. I like the fact that French reporters find it worthwhile to actually go to Hebron and talk to real live Palestinians. The report covers much the same ground as one that appeared in Le Monde this February.

But I do like this statement:

Even here [Hebron] most Palestinians, including the politically active, have cast off the traditional keffiyeh in favour of a more modern look.

"The young guys prefer to wear hair gel," Abu Rumilah, another merchant says.

It's been probably three or more decades, in fact, since anyone other than older men, especially those in traditional or rural garb, routinely wore kufiyas on their heads in the West Bank. But it has been very common for those wearing "modern" clothing to wear kufiyas as scarves, in much the same way as hipsters and politicos do in the West.

Abu Rumilah's statement has more to do with the fact that some in the older generation are quite critical of the younger generation for their modern and trendy hairstyles. It's true that many young men in the West Bank are quite concerned with keeping their hair looking smart, and with global clothing styles. This doesn't keep them from covering their necks with kufiyas in cooler weather, however.

(I found this via The Angry Arab.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid/Knockin' on Heaven's Door

I just finished watching Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid--part of the continuing obsession with Bob Dylan, inspired in part by the film I'm Not There. It helps to see the former in order to help make some sense of the Richard Gere-Billy/Garrett scenes in I'm Not There. But the film is of course supremely worth watching in its own right. I had seen the original, when it appeared in 1973, and I remember being underwhelmed. Now I know why--MGM butchered it. For some time the director's cut has been available, and I'm so glad I got to see it. I think it really tops what I used to regard as Peckinpah's masterpiece, The Wild Bunch. It's much more lyrical, understated, and moving.

I was particularly moved by the scene where Sheriff Colin Bear (played by Slim Pickens) is shot, knows he is dying, and goes to sit by the pond, to die, as the son goes down. His wife, played by Katy Jurado, sits near him, crying. No words are spoken, but Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" comes on, for the first time in the film. Watch it, I can't imagine that this scene won't just slay you.

Mrs. Bear/Katy Jurado, by the way, plays the only "strong "woman in this film. Which I seem to remember is typical Peckinpah, and typical sixties. Women in the film are mostly just there for men to sleep with (either whores or girlfriends) or cook food, and--probably most important--to show their breasts for the presumed male viewer. Rita Coolidge never says anything in the last scene, but she does show her tits. Mrs. Bear is middle aged and probably not worthy of objectification. So she goes with Pat Garrett (James Coburn) and her husband to hunt down some of Billy's pals, and she shoots them down, just like a man would, with her shotgun. (After shooting, she pulls new shells out of her cleavage--which we don't see.)

And wasn't Katy Jurado just great in High Noon?

I had an earlier "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" moment" when I saw I'm Not There. During the credits, a version of the song by Antony and the Johnsons comes on. I had never heard it, and was instantly hooked. One of the best Dylan covers I've ever heard. Since then, I bought the terrific soundtrack for I'm not there, with Dylan covers by the likes of Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo. But the Antony and the Johnsons track is still the best. I'm obsessed. Check it out:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Darwish

Here's a great source for more on the recently departed Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, from Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, published in London.

And I was pleased to receive my copy of the latest New Yorker (August 25) and to find that they had published this poem by Mahmoud Darwish.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

That (Sudanese) Target Ad

You've all seen it, that Target "dorm dance" ad, with what must be one of the best dance tracks and vocals ever in a mainstream advertisement. And you think, yes, every cool song, and especially now, the coolest world fusion tune, must, immediately and invevitably, be turned into a marketing tool.

(And if you are some nostalgist who imagines this never happened in the sixties, check out The Rolling Stones shilling for Rice Krispies, below.)

The song is "Calabria," by DJ Enur from Denmark, and features vocals by Natasja Saad, a Danish dancehall/reggae vocalist whose father, it turns out, is from Sudan. I can't claim there is anything remotely "Sudanese" about her singing, which is pure dancehall.

But she seems to be trying to look vaguely Sudanese in this photo, no?

On the other hand, here's Natasja in a more typical "dancehall" look.

Natasja was not just a star in Denmark, but also "the first non-Jamaican reggae/dancehall artist ever to win the Jamaican 'Irie FM Big Break Contest,'" according to wikipedia.

Here's the "official" video, in which Natasja appears. Pretty typical dancehall fare, I guess: one guy in a suit, ogling all the beautiful semi-dressed female bodies.

Natasja was killed in a car wreck in Jamaica in June 2007. "Calabria" was already a global hit by that time; in January 2008, it hit Number One on Billboard's Hot Dance Airplay.

And for those of you who are a little slow on the uptake when it comes to Jamaican patois (as I certainly am), here are the lyrics you hear on the Target ad:

Easy now no need fi go down (2x)
Rock that run that this where we from

Whoop Whoop, when you run come around,
Cu(z) I know you're the talk of the town, yeah

Best shown overall, shiny and tall,
One touch make a gal climb whoever you are,
Brass hat, hatter than fireball
Whoop Whoop!
You not small you no lickle at all

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

more on Palestinian Olympians

Courtesy Kibbush. Below is an excerpt, but read the entire post (articles from China Daily and Ma'an News Agency.)

The [Palestinian] team spent 30 days at a sports camp in China where they received training from Chinese coaches. While the coaches say that the Palestinian team is talented, they lamented a lack of sports facilities and training opportunities in Palestine.

Hamza Abdu trains in a 25-meter pool, half the length of an Olympic pool.

`There aren’t any Olympic-size swimming pools in Palestine and the ones that are available here are just summer swimming pools and small ones, and Palestinian swimmers are training in these inadequate pools. In addition, their trainers aren’t of a high enough standard,` said Palestinian sports exert Omar Al-Jafari, who works for Ma`an News Agency in Bethlehem.

`Regarding the runners I can say that unfortunately there aren’t any full-size tracks for them to run into in all of Palestine, and runners just train in any place that they find suitable to run, sometimes in streets crowded with cars,` added Al-Jafari.

Ghadir Al-Ghrouf, the sprinter from Jericho, trains on a dirt track. Nader Al-Masri, the Gazan who plans to compete in the 5km running event, trains by jogging halfway down the 40km Gaza Strip.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My favorite Christian Bale/Heath Ledger flick

It's not Dark Knight (which I liked a lot) but Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There, which I have finally, just now, seen.

I thought the film was stunningly beautiful all the way through, as well as "difficult," but in a productive as opposed to an off-putting way. It helps a lot to prepare for seeing the film, as I did, by viewing Pennebaker's 1967 cinema verité masterpiece Don't Look Back and Scorsese's 2005 PBS documentary Bob Dylan: No Direction Home. And if you really want to be obsessive, read, as I did, David Hajdu's Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina (2002).

Cate Blanchett, of course, is utterly fabulous as the mythical Dylan ("Jude Quinn") on tour in '65-'66. The photo above, which I shot, is from Haynes' hilarious fictional rendering of the Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and its effect on the folk crowd. What I don't like about the depiction is that it erases the African-American dimension of this era-changing act. Dylan's backing band at Newport 1965 was composed mostly of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included African-Americans Sam Lay on drums and Jerome Arnold on bass. How cool would it have been if the film showed Dylan and a band that included two black Americans firing machine guns at the folk crowd! (The photo below shows Jerome Arnold on bass; Sam Lay is mostly obscured.)

The first time I saw the film, I preferred the Christian Bale role to the Heath Ledger role. Bale plays "Jack Rollins," who is both the political folky Bob Dylan of the Village days, as well as the born-again Christian Bob Dylan. Heath Ledger is Robbie Clark, who plays Jack Rollins in a biopic. I came to appreciate his role much better when I watched the film again, this time with Todd Haynes' very smart and informative commentary. Then I "got" that much of the Robbie Clark footage is shot in the style of Godard's sixties films. And that it attempts to pay tribute to Godard's mixing of love/romance and politics in those films. The Robbie Clark scenes are very effectively punctuated by t.v. news footage of the Vietnam war. Finally Todd Haynes refunctions both Godard and Dylan in that he uses Claire (Robbie's wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) as an active female agent--in contrast with the ways in which men were typically the agents in Godard's films and Dylan's lyrics. As Haynes comments, this was entirely typical of the sixties counterculture and revolutionaries--males who wanted to remake the world but go home to a cooked meal and sex on demand.

Haynes' commentary, I repeat, is invaluable. I didn't know, for instance, that the Coco Rivington character (who Jude Quinn insults cruelly) is based on Edie Sedgwick, with whom Dylan reportedly had a significant fling. And I didn't catch the references to Fellini's 8 1/2 in the Jude Quinn "castle" sequence. I did make the connection of the Richard Gere/Billy the Kidd sequence in Riddle to Bob Dylan's Woodstock and "Basement Tapes" era. (Mainly because the Basement Tapes song, "Going to Acapulco," is playing.) It helps in this regard to have read Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (1998), as Haynes notes in his commentary.

With regard to the Richard Gere sequence, Steven Shaviro, in his very incisive review of the film, mentions Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which he considers "the most beautiful Western ever made." I did catch this reference, but I saw this film, ages ago, when it first came out (1973), and I didn't have the same impression as Shaviro at the time. It's now in my netflix queue, and hopefully I'll appreciate it more the second time around. (There's much more to the Shaviro review, check it out.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Palestinian rap: interview with Jackie Salloum

From the Daily Star's inimitable Jim Quilty (a Razorback alum), this piece on Palestinian hip-hop:

Chronicling the story of Greater Palestine's rappers

Jackie Salloum discusses 'Slingshot Hip Hop,' pop culture and art

Beirut: [Yet another] blackout has descended upon Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp this night. It makes your efforts to find the Palestinian Arab Center that much more atmospheric and inspires vague hopes that perhaps you won't miss the first minutes of Jackie Salloum's "Slingshot Hip hop" after all.

You find the hall's exterior bathed in generator-driven light. The interior is dim but for the concert footage projected on a screen and reflected back upon the white plastic chair-mounted eyeballs fixed before it.

Salloum's first feature-length film, "Slingshot" chronicles the rise of the Palestinian hip-hop scene - starting in '48 Palestine (sometimes called "Israel") and the other occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Salloum's central protagonists are DAM - who had a region-wide hit with their tune "Mean Irhabi" ("Who's a Terrorist") - especially the group's Tamer Nafar, from Al-Lid near Tel Aviv. Other profiled artists include the Gaza Strip's PR (Palestinian Rapperz), West Bank girl-MC duo Arapeyat (aka Safa and Nahwa), Abeer Zinati ("the first lady of Palestinian R&B," and Mahmoud Shalabi, veteran of the Palestinian hip-hop group MWR.

Considerable buzz accrued to "Slingshot" since early 2008, when the Sundance film festival nominated it for its grand jury prize.

The Palestinian-American multi-media artist screened her film in Bedawi and Shatilla camps as well as Bourj al-Barajneh. This tour came just after a series of screenings around Palestine, and Salloum was still radiating a high from the experience.

"Until we screened in Palestine, it didn't feel like we were finished yet," she said. "Over 4000 people came out to Nablus to see the show. I couldn't get the Gaza rappers out for the screening and I couldn't get into Gaza myself ... The shows in Ramallah and Jenin were awesome."

"Slingshot" took some time to ferment and, like so many independent films, it has an eccentric production history.

"By chance," she says, "I was in Gaza [in 2003] for the first hip-hop show there ever ... We just decided to make a movie."

"I didn't know anything about filmmaking and there were lots of production problems ... I didn't even bother reading the manual before I picked up the camera. We were working on graphics and the sound right up to Sundance."

"I have a great support group," she continues, "but basically I paid for the film on my credit cards." Though she's long since maxed-out her cards, Salloum is less interested in discussing her spectacular indebtedness than the artists at the center of the work.

"The project was a huge collaboration," she smiles, "even in the production. I left cameras with DAM and Abeer and PR. I wanted the film to speak with their voices as much as possible.

"They did start getting impatient after a couple of years. It was hard to convince them that taking a bit of extra time would make it that much better.

"But they were very loyal to me. Plenty of other filmmakers approached them in those years, but they told them, 'No. Jackie will make the first movie.' They even turned down Al-Jazeera. That's a big sacrifice."

Western audiences will be interested in the film's portrayal of how Palestinian rappers have found echoes of their own lives in some American hip-hop, but the form occupies an ambivalent space in occupied Palestine.

"DAM began as an Israeli act," Salloum says, and they appeared on Israeli TV. The most popular [Jewish] Israeli rapper is an ultra right-wing Zionist [named Subliminal--TS]. [Israeli filmmaker Anat Halachmi made a 2003 film] about him and [DAM's front man] Tamer, called "Channels of Rage."

"What really changed DAM's music was the second Intifada. That's when they released 'Meen Irhabi.' The Intifada made the Zionist rapper worse. He sings 'Death to Arabs.' You never hear Palestinian rappers singing 'Death to Jews.' [Incorrect! see comments--TS.]

"I have so much respect for their integrity. Coca Cola is a big player in Israel and they approached DAM about doing an ad for them. They offered them a lot of money but the guys told them no. You hear about that and you realize these guys really have principals, even though they're broke.

"The hip-hop is different in different parts of Palestine. In Gaza, it's harder to have shows because it's more religious, even though all the rappers believe in god. Yet it took off there more than anywhere else."

Salloum blinks in recollection. "You ask someone 'Do you like hip-hop?' and they'll say 'What's hip-hop?' If you say 'Meen Irhabi,' they'll say 'Oh I love "Meen Irhabi!"'"

"Slingshot Hip Hop" marked Salloum's second appearance at Sundance. Her first experience with America's most-loved independent film festival came in 2005, when her nine-minute short "Planet of the Arabs" caught the festival's attention.

“Reel Bad Arabs,” Jack Shaheen's 2001 study of Hollywood's cliched representations of Arabs and Muslims, inspired the short, which draws upon clips from some of the movies Shaheen discusses. A bravura work of editing, "Planet" emulates the cutting and splicing techniques used to produce feature film trailers to make a work that's funny (if you know this stuff already) and thought-provoking (if you don't).

"Editing," Salloum recalls, "taking images and placing them next to each other and setting them to music, that all comes pretty naturally to me. When I heard Sundance wanted to screen it and I had no idea what it meant.”

Salloum's filmmaking insouciance may stem from her coming to film from multimedia art. She graduated with a masters degree in fine arts from New York University in 2003.

Her work occupies the interstices between pop culture and political activism and she's proven adept in a number of media - politically inflected collages, gumball machines and flashcards as well as video.

"People have told me that 'Slingshot' is the first 'Palestine film' they've seen that doesn't make them depressed," she says. "... That's why pop culture works so well.

"When I first started, ... I didn't want to start with the Middle East because it was too close to me. My first collages worked with Latin American pop art themes. Some people hated it. 'Art's not supposed to be didactic,'" she rolls her eyes. "'We're all on the left here, so you're just preaching to the choir.'"

Salloum has an agenda but she isn't naive - being interested in how her artistic intentions are received, regardless how they're refracted through the public's consciousness.

Her gumball machines, for instance, offer art consumers plastic capsules with objects and written profiles inside. In one version, "Each comes with a magnet, sticker, or ring of your favorite revolutionary." In another, "Each capsule comes with a Palestinian refugee: Collect all 5 million!"

"A woman walked into an exhibition that had one of my gumball machines," Salloum recalls. "She put in a quarter and one of my rings dropped out. She came back with a roll of quarters and kept feeding them in one after the other.

"I asked her, 'What are you doing?' I was a little irritated, I guess, because a lot of time and energy goes into each one of those items. She told me 'I just liked to collect rings.'

"Hip-hop is like that," she smiles again.

"I don't think my work is going to change the world, that people will want to overthrow Israel after seeing my film. But if I'm going to work, it has to be meaningful. With 'Slingshot,' I also want to help the artists.

"One of the problems Palestinians face is how they're represented in the media. That means we have to make different media. Media is our strongest weapon, I think."

Having spent the better part of five years working on a feature-length documentary, Salloum says she has no plans for her next long film.

Rather, she's thinking about the possibilities of Arabic-language music videos.

"Right now," she says, "I don't want to make anything longer than three minutes."

Jackie Salloum's "Slingshot Hip Hop" will next screen in Beirut at one of the city's October film festivals. For more information see

Friday, August 15, 2008

I live in US's Pakistan...

according to this map....

If you check the ranks, you will note that Arkansas is not at the bottom...due no doubt to the fact that Walmart, Tysons and JB Hunt are headquartered in the state. Given that Arkansas is usually #49 or #50 in most other important economic and social indicators, it shows that not very much trickles down from our esteemed "local" businesses.

Akshay Kumar and Snoop Dogg kufiya turban footnote

Rachel, who alerted me to the "Singh is Kinng" video, has now put up her own post on the vid on The Elephants Child. Props to her alert kufiyaspotting abilities. The post is also very worth checking out for the video of a kiswahili version of Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram's "Yay." And check out the video of the original, featuring the seemingly timeless theme of cross-class eroticism, the middle class girl entranced by the hunk in the wifebeater....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

what else? a couple more kufiyaspottings (plus turbans)

People keep sending me this stuff. So here goes...

#1. The Akshay Kumar and Snoop Dogg video, "Singh Is Kinng." Kumar can be spotted sporting the kufiya, draped around his neck like a scarf, several times throughout the video. (Thanks, Rachel.)

Why in the world is a Bollywood movie star wearing a kufiya?--particularly when he is also wearing a turban, since he's playing the part of Lakhan Singh, a Sikh, which he plays in the film, Singh is Kinng. Is it because Singh is the king of the gangstas in Australia? Is it just international style? Or, since he's on screen with Snoop Dogg, is Kumar trying to look more hip-hop? Who knows?

"Singh Is Kinng" is a bhangra song, composed by the UK bhangra band RDB, but it's not terribly clever. Such hip-hop/bhangra collaborations seem to be getting more and more common, and there are lots of better ones. Jay-Z's collabo with Punjabi MC on "Beware" seems to have started the trend. Go here for more hip-hop/bhangra downloads.

#2. I found this video on the page of the band, Rainbow Arabia. It's one of their "influences," and it's a video that goes along with the performance of "Palmitos Park" by El Guincho. The kufiya shows up right away, as kind of table cloth, with colored feathers on it. The kufiya and the feathers show up several times, each time looking more psychedelic. It's a very "conceptual" video, by Will Bryant. Who knows why the kufiya is there. El Guincho is a Spanish musician whose music has been described as "space-age exotica."

As for Rainbow Arabia, it is a kind of exoticizing experimental band. Their press packet describes them as combining Middle Eastern flavors with American experimental dance music, according to a review of their first release by Pitchfork. (Thanks to Dave for turning me on to them.)

And catch this, the Pitchfork review actually says that the band has a "keffiyeh-fied aesthetic"!

I've not heard Basta, the EP in question. (It doesn't seem to be available for download on any sites I know.) But if you check out the band's webpage, you can listen to three of their songs. Only one of them, "Tiny Tiny Man," has a hint of "Middle Eastern" influence--the sound of the derbouka.

Not really sure how "keffiyeh-fied" their aesthetic is. It's definitely exotica. I'll let you know if/when I find out.

(Oh, and be sure to check out the 4th video of their "influences"--the completely amazing Syrian singer, Omar Souleyman.)

Hiking Palestine

Raja Shehadeh's new book, Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape, was recently published in the US. I bought it, but haven't yet read it (toooo much summer school teaching). But I'm amazed to see how much good publicity it is getting, and I'm glad. I found Shehadeh's previous books to be very incisive. I used to go on some hikes with Raja (and others) when I lived near him, in Ramallah, in summer and fall of 1985. And I saw him again, recently, when I was in the West Bank. (But we didn't get to take a hike.)

Check out this wonderful slide show, from today's New York Times, with photos taken by members of Shehadeh's walking group; this video which features Shehadeh talking about his walks; and the article about Shehadeh and his book, from the Books section.

The land of Palestine is beautiful but endangered, by checkpoints, settlements, the apartheid wall, tunnels, and bypass roads/highways, built by the Israeli occupiers. Hiking the land, as the original Zionist settlers knew, is a way of taking control. Will Palestinian walks become mass activities? One can hope.

Postscript on Mahmoud Darwish: His death was covered by the US media, at least by the Times, which published this quite decent obit. (Somehow I missed it on Sunday--see previous post.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

RIP Mahmoud Darwish

The great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish passed away yesterday, in Houston, Texas, of all places. Read about him here and here. (Will the US media cover this story at all?!)

The fact that this man never received a Nobel Prize is a cultural crime. (Arab artists can only receive Nobels if they have come out publicly and uncritically for "peace" with Israel. If they are in any way critical of Israeli policies, no chance.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympian Kufiyas


4 Palestinians are competing in the Beijing Olympics. They wore kufiya shirts in today's opening ceremony parade. The flag carrier is 5000 meter runner Nader Al-Masri, who hails from Beit Hanoun refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and who needed the help of human rights organizations in order to secure an exit visa, so he could train in...Jericho. (Thanks, Joel.)


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wal-Mart Hall of Shame, Cont'd

Update from Wal-Mart Nation (NW Arkansas). The Wall Street Journal reported on August 1:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

Read the rest of the article here.

If you support human rights and unions, try to avoid Wal-Mart. And avoid supporting musical acts that play at Wal-Mart's annual shareholders meeting, held right here in Fayetteville. Previous posts commented on artists that performed at the '06 and '07 events (here and here). They include Beyoncé, J-Lo, and Kool and the Gang. In '05, acts included Jimmy Buffett and Shakira. (damn!) I wasn't in town during this year's events, and I think there were no Against the Wal actions, unlike previous years. In May '08, performers included Journey (!), Taylor Swift, Lifehouse, Latin Grammy award-winning Juan Luis Guerra, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. And this year, for the first time, the Wal reached out to local residents, making the events open to everyone, not just for Walmart shareholders.


Thanks, Wal-Mart, for bringing Journey to NW Arkansas, and for helping stomp out evil trade unions....

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kufiyaspotting #40: "Born in Flames"

I was tipped off to this kufiyaspotting by a post on Feral Scholar. Filmmaker Lizzie Borden's film Born in Flames was much discussed at the time of its release (1983) but as I remember, it was widely panned. I remember (I think) being somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed when I saw it (in London, in either 1984 or 85). Watching it again last night, I appreciated it much more. Please read Feral Scholar's post, which provides a very good and detailed summary of the plot, and a fine analysis and appreciation.

The reason that the kufiya comes up in Feral Scholar's account has to do with her irritation with the character of Isabel, played by Adele Bertei (former keyboardist with the no-wave band The Contortions, and the solo vocalist on a truly classic '80s dance hit, "Build Me A Bridge," produced by Thomas Dolby, at the height of his powers. Listen to it, here, and see if it doesn't lodge in your head for days.

Feral scholar likes the other characters of the film, and finds them believable, but is embarassed by the “'wannabe urban Black' act and other bits of identity theft” engaged in by the "Anglo" Isabel character. To wit, cornrows, putting on a kufiya, and some Gil Scott-Heron style rap poetry. I take a rather more charitable view of this "identity theft," and would rather regard it as a kind of "interculturation" peculiar to New York that was going on at the time. This was precisely when hip-hop was getting hip in downtown trendy New York. And the very wonderful soundtrack of the film is quite representative of the kinds of cultural interchanges going on then--it's got funk, rap, punk and post-punk, early 80s disco, and so on. Moreover, the Women's Army--the protagonist of the film, the revolutionary movement that expresses lesbian-feminist dissatisfaction with the democratic-socialist revolution that occurred in the US ten years before the (fictional) time of the film--is a multi-racial coalition. Black women play a leading role, but white and Puerto Rican women play a strong part.

As for the Isabel kufiya, it is in fact neither a "hipster" kufiya or a "political" kufiya, but is worn in a theatrical scene where Isabel is reading feminist poetry, backed by funk music. Presumably the event is in solidarity with the imprisoned Adelaide Norris character. The kufiya is worn over the head, with an 'iqal (the black cord used to secure it as it's traditonally worn), and it is NOT the typical Palestinian kufiya pattern. This then is a "performative" kufiya, not a political solidarity or hipster kufiya as it would have been seen routinely in the early '80s.

But there are a couple of "solidarity" kufiyas to be seen in the film. One is in the scene where two women--Zella (played by black activist Florynce Kennedy) and an unidentified, older white woman go to inquire about the imprisoned Adelaide Norris at the police station. The older white woman is wearing a black-and-white kufiya around her neck--a very typical "accessory" item worn by activists at the time. (You would see them all the time at Central America solidarity events and at anti-nuke events.)

It is curious, isn't it, that Feral Scholar condemns Isabel's "identity theft," but not this kufiya wearing.

There's also a scene earlier in the film, featuring Zella (Flo Kennedy), who serves as a kind of guru/godmother for the Women's Army. Or maybe better to say, "ideological guide." Zella is making the argument that violence is sometimes necessary to employ in the revolutionary movement. And she is wearing a red kufiya, draped loosely over her head, but without an 'iqal. Worn this way, it looks even more "Arab" and definitely not hipster and not accessorized.

And that's not the end of it. When the Women's Army decides to undertake armed struggle, Adelaide Norris goes to the Western Sahara (former Spanish Sahara) to observe the struggle of the Saharans against Moroccan occupation, and to obtain weapons from them. (At the time of filming, the Polisario Front was actively engaged in a liberation struggle to free the Western Sahara.) Interestingly, the only fighters we see in the Sahara are women, who wear military uniforms, carry weapons, and whose heads are garbed with what look like kufiyas. (Just as Palestinian women who fought as guerillas wore kufiyas.) I imagine this is actual newsreel footage, but I don't know.

Born in Flames, then, is very useful for kufiyaspotters, as a kind of register of the ubiquity of kufiyas in progressive circles (including, significantly, African-American) in the US in the early '80s. It is also rather daring in its assertion of solidarity with Middle Eastern women (who at the same time happen to be "Africans" fighting against Moroccan colonialism.

Rent it from netflix.

(Additional fun fact: filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow plays one of the three female editors of the Socialist Youth newspaper, who eventually assert their solidarity with the Women's Army. Kathryn Bigelow directed two of my favorite movies, Near Dark--maybe the best vampire movie ever--and Blue Steel. And two I like a lot, Point Break and Strange Days. She's far superior to ex-husband James Cameron.)

I shot the photos myself...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

random kufiya notes #2432

1. Thanks to Julia, I've learned that back in June, the Jewish Defense League (ultra-right, homophobic, fascist) organized a demonstration in LA against Freshjive and its owner Rick Klotz, to protest Freshjive's recent t-shirt production. Specifically, it's "Victimized" t, with Palestinian children, and its Arafat "The Good Ol' Days!" t. (Below is a photo of a friend who purchased the latter.)

Read my earlier post about these t-shirts here, and about the JDL protest here. You will learn that the leader of the JDL and of demo, Shelley Rubin is the wife of the late Irv Rubin, who died in prison in 2002 while awaiting trial on charges of plotting to kill US congressman Darrell Issa. And you learn that Eazy-E (ex-NWA) once used Irv Rubin and the JDL for protection.

2. Another mundane, non-political kufiyaspotting (thanks to John). "Cool." "African-American." But Northcarolinian and Baptist...

The caption for this photo reads: "Quayshaun Hall, 16, a student at Parkland High, rehearses a number with fellow students at the Winston-Salem Youth Arts Institute. The program they’re preparing will be presented next weekend at First Baptist Church on Fifth Street."

Read more about it here.

3. Today's New York Times Sunday Style section has a wonderful "On the Street" report by Bill Cunningham called "Muffled." If you read the print edition, it's the usual set of colored photos and Cunningham's written report, but if you go online, it's a slideshow with Cunningham's delightful narration. He reports that many women (and some men) are wearing scarves on NYC streets this summer, despite the heat. It's to combat air-conditioning, and it's also a matter of style. If you watch closely, you will see a hint of red kufiya pattern on the third slide. (Update, April 6, 2010: I've now added the slide, below).

Cunningham says that at first, he thought this spate of "muffling" was related to what people do in the "desert" countries of the Middle East, where they wear wool gossamer scarves to keep the heat out. Maybe he was thinking of kufiyas? Actually, such scarves are more a matter of keeping dust and sun off you. (And in the case of women, it's a matter of either/and/or custom or piety.)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Kufiyaspotting #39: Rage Against the Machine

You might imagine that I would have noticed this kufiya earlier. After all, I have had this t-shirt for years. But maybe it's just that I haven't worn it for a long time. Who knows?

The progressive political inclinations of Rage Against the Machine are, of course, very well known. And Rage are one of the few music groups to have mentioned the Palestinian struggle in a positive light. On their song, "Within A Breath," from their terrific third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, Zach de la Rocha sings:

A rising sun looming over Los Angeles
Cause for Raza livin in La La
Is like Gaza on tha dawn of Intifada
Reach for the lessons the masked pass on
And seize the metropolis
It's you it's built on

"The masked" refers first and foremost to the Zapatista rebels, the EZLN, the political movement with which Rage were most identified. But also, given the reference to Gaza, it refers to what are known in Palestine as the "mulaththamin," the "masked men," who confronted the Israeli occupiers with their faces wrapped in kufiyas, so as to evade identification by Israeli security.

Here's a video of them performing the song live in Mexico City in 1999:

Trivia note: RATM guitarist Tom Morello, like Barack Obama, is Kenyan-American.