Have the Hip Hop BBQ

I keep having to explain a principle I arrived at a few years ago when I realized the modern conservative movement is grounded almost entirely in a contrived sense of grievance, predicated on a false victimhood of its supporters. (That’s not to say some haven’t genuinely suffered some wrongs, but they consistently focus on imaginary ones instead.)

The clarifying moment for me in realizing how to deal with this was the stupidity of when right-wig media claimed Barack Obama was having a “hip hop barbecue” at the White House. Obviously, this met all of the signature tropes of such efforts: it was a lie, was a transparently racist dogwhistle, and featured absurdities demonstrating a profound cultural illiteracy — in this case, asserting that Common is a gangster rapper. Forsooth.

My conclusion then was simple: give them what they want. They’re going to accuse you of it anyway, at least do the right thing and give them a reason to pretend they’re victims. Eventually, Obama did have a Hip Hop BBQ of sorts, and it was glorious. What could the right wing media outlets do, except say “he’s at it again!” Who’s gonna pretend to get outraged twice?

Now, of course, there are limits. No matter how desperately the right may have craved Death Panels back then, we can’t give them the true version of that lie they created. But for the most part, if the fact-free media and its credulous supporters want to pretend they’re being wronged, we should follow improv rules and say, “Yes, and…” and be sure to double down.

If they said you had a Hip Hop BBQ, then you damn well ought to have one.


Masters in Business

A few months ago, I got the wonderful opportunity to talk to Barry Ritholtz, who's best known as a Bloomberg View columnist and for his excellent "Masters in Business" podcast, but whom I've known online for many years.

We talked about a topic that's incredibly important to me, the ethical challenges facing all of us who create technology. It's a wide-ranging conversation that's over an hour long, but I hope you'll take the time to listen, as this is a discussion we all need to be engaging in.

There's also a longer story in the BloombergView site covering a bit of what we discussed.

Every Last Jedi

This is a spoiler-filled first set of reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The ultimate courage of what Rian Johnson has done here, is that he fully embraced what it is to be a director who obviously grew up as true fan of Star Wars, and retconned the whole universe into a new understanding of The Force. It’s the kind of revolutionary rethinking of the most successful pop culture franchise of all time that I would have thought would not be possible by anyone but George Lucas, and certainly not under the auspices of Disney. But here we are.

Though it’s well-grounded in the first definitions of The Force that we were introduced to in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi presents a radically inclusive new view of the Force that is bigger and broader than the Jedi religion which has thus-far colored our view of the entire Star Wars universe. (This is also why lost-cause diehards will likely always hate this film.)

On a personal level, it really makes me smile to know that in Carrie Fisher’s last film, in her most famous role, she’d get to know that the vision of what the franchise was about would be broadened to include everyone. Now, every kid who ever picked up a broomstick and pretended to be Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber is canonically one with the Force. It’s a wonderful summation of what Star Wars, at its best, represents in culture.

It’s also a brave film for its willingness to subvert the expectations of the most hardcore fans. In many ways, The Last Jedi is anti-fan service. Tonally, it’s totally different than the other films in the series. Flashbacks and editing sequences like when Rey first sees the Force feature a wildly different direction style than Lucas ever would have tried. Jokes like the initial Poe-Hux call are completely out of character for the voice of the other films (especially the prequels). And the Jedi are no longer an infallible inherited priesthood, but a religion of self-absorbed, usually short-sighted monks who neglect the beauty of the Force in favor of exploiting it for their own power. Any one of these would antagonize those who were overly invested in the old order; all of them together is rank heresy.

But for an open-minded viewer, there are wonderful touches throughout. Rey gets to be a whole person, who grounds the film and is brave and grows, without ever being reduced to a love interest or damsel in distress. Similarly, Rose gets to be not just the first Asian American woman to be featured in Star Wars, but the avatar of the theme of the entire film. The porgs porg it up. Lots of stuff is red. The sound design uses silence more effectively than any blockbuster film since Attack of the Clones. There’s not much Threepio. It’s all pretty great.

Most of all, it sets us up for a third film where, for the first time in 37 years, we don’t know what’s going to happen next with Star Wars. Restoring our sense of wonder or mystery or surprise about the most culturally dominant franchise of all time is one of the toughest challenges any mainstream director could pull off. Succeeding in that challenge makes The Last Jedi a wonderful gift to every kid who ever swung a broomstick lightsaber.


Star Wars Minute!

In advance of the upcoming release of The Last Jedi, excitement is building for all things Star Wars, so I'm thrilled to share that I got to be a guest on the inestimable Star Wars Minute podcast. The show tackles the world's most popular franchise one movie at a time, one minute at a time, and I was lucky enough to get to comment on everybody's second-to-least-favorite Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones.

It was really a joy to be on Star Wars Minute, and every one of these short conversations was amusing the whole way through — please do give them a listen!

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