Friday, December 10, 2010

The Late, Great Richard Pryor Takes On The N-Word

When Richard Pryor died - on this day in 2005, nine days after his 65th birthday - one of the brightest lights in American culture went out... Of course, it was akin to a miracle that he'd managed to live to the ripe old age he did in the first place, all the while shining that light into the darkest parts of the American psyche, but the fact remains that he did and so deserves to be celebrated for it.

In this clip Pryor - who was never one to shy away from controversy* - takes on the perennial hot button issue of the N-word; endlessly argued over by everyone from identity politicians to semanticists, grappled with by philosopher and pundit alike, extolled as a reclaimed word and hurled like a weapon, with an elegant turn of phrase Pryor helps it all make sense. 'That's a word that is used to describe our own wretchedness,' he explains, in his 1982 concert Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. On that stage he promised to never use the word again to describe another black man, and so far as I can ascertain he never did...

*That the preceding statement is an epic understatement cannot be overstated...
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"Nature, the gentlest mother..." by Emily Dickinson

Nature, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveller is heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,
A summer afternoon,--
Her household, her assembly;
And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles
Incites the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps;
Then, bending from the sky

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.
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"19" by Paul Hardcastle

Birthday wishes go out today to Paul Hardcastle, the British-born DJ and keyboards whiz who scored a hit worldwide in 1985 with 19 - a tribute, really, to the much-maligned Vietnam veterans whose sacrifices were only then (a dozen years after the last of them had returned Stateside) being recognized.

Featuring the sampled vocals of narrator Peter Thomas - who initially didn't want his vocals to be used in the song; fortunately he later relented - the song was also among the first to highlight the tragedy of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or what used to be called* shell-shock. Inasmuch as the Vietnam War was a disaster for the American Empire diplomatically, its aftermath has been an even greater disaster at home, filling American streets with men who should have been treated like heroes but who, having served their purpose, were thereafter discarded like so much trash.

*Far more poetically and therefore far more effectively, in my opinion...
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Pop History Moment: Edward VIII Signed the Instrument of Abdication


On this day in 1936 England's Kind Edward VIII signed the so-called Instrument of Abdication, clearing the way for him to renounce his throne in order to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.

Signed at His Majesty's home, Fort Belvedere, and witnessed by his three brothers - Prince Albert, Duke of York (who succeeded him the following day as George VI), Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Prince George, Duke of Kent - it wouldn't take effect until the following day, after a special Act of Parliament (His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936) was given Royal Assent. Given the unique structure of the Commonwealth of Nations under the Statute of Westminster, each independent Dominion was required to give its own consent, which is what happened. Among the machinations involved in this process was a move by the Irish Free State to rid itself of all references to the Crown in exchange for the required unanimity.
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Red Kettle Alert

This Christmas season, as you are out and about on your errands, take note of the various red kettles provided by the Salvation Army at the entrances to malls, supermarkets, and other stores and always remember to ignore them. It's important to always remember that the Salvation Army is not a charity, it is a church - and a particularly loathsome one at that.

PhotobucketIf you believe, as I do, that a) charity is love, and if we can agree that b) all love should be unconditional, then c) the Salvation Army fails on both counts. They like to stress the help they give the poor and less fortunate, but usually fail to mention that every bit of the help they do give comes with a heaping helping of fire and brimstone, usually via a sermon.

They are homophobic and misogynistic*, and consider themselves a military organization for a reason; during the debate in Canada over allowing same-sex marriage in this country it was the Salvation Army who lead the charge against it, by aggressively lobbying many Members of Parliament - lobbying that in many instances could have been considered harassment. There were also numerous high-profile lawsuits against the Salvation Army in Ontario in the late 1980s/early 1990s over their refusal to employ and assist unwed mothers.

I have been consistently thwarted in terms of charitable giving by the dearth of secular charities; I would gladly sponsor a child in a developing country if only I could be sure that my pennies a day weren't spent robbing them of their religion, culture and language, beating or molesting them or in some other way inculcating them with the dangerous hypocrisies of modern Christianity. I would gladly support a soup kitchen if only I could find one that didn't ladle Old Testament judgement along with its soup; similarly, many food banks run out of church basements also find ways to pick and choose who is worthy of their largesse - by choosing to only support families, for instance, and not single men - men who may or may not be gay.

As much as I am loath to support the United Way (since too many of the funds they raise go toward management rather than helping people) I'd rather see them reap the benefits of Christmas cheer than allowing the Christian soldiers to move onward even one step further.

*They are also racist, requiring proof of citizenship from children before they'll distribute toys to them... Because that's what Jesus would have done, I'm sure. Thanks to my Facebook friend Cheryl Young Cohen for this little tidbit!
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"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon

Today marks two weeks until Christmas Eve, the traditional beginning of the Christmas season at the Pop Culture Institute; and what better way to usher in a festive and lovely time of year than a real downer of a carol by John Lennon?

Please - during this season of giving, remember the less fortunate: the poor, foreign orphans of various colours, and certain bloggers whose attempts to provide enlightertainment all year long have proven very expensive indeed...
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POPnews - December 10th

[There are few things as crushing to the human spirit as a coal mine, and likewise few things as poisonous to the planet (not to mention the human body) as coal; anyone who tells you coal is still a viable energy source today is on the take from the coal industry, and must be stopped before their greed kills us all. In the meantime, for a sensitive look at the life and travails of coal miners, read George Orwell's 1937 book The Road To Wigan Pier.]

1041 - Zoe, Empress of Byzantium, elevated her husband's nephew - whom they had adopted as their son - to the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire as Michael V following the death of her husband and his uncle/father Michael IV.

1394 - A son was born to Scotland's King Robert III and his queen Annabella Drummond at Dunfermline Palace who would ascend the throne in April 1406 as James I.

1508 - The League of Cambrai was founded by Pope Julius II, France's Louis XII, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Ferdinand II of Aragon in order to balance the power of the Republic of Venice; initially successful, with so many princely egos at the table it was bound to fail, which it did in 1510.

1541 - Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn for their alleged adulteries with Catherine Howard, the 'fifth' wife of Henry VIII; Howard herself would be confined to the Tower of London and executed in February 1542.

1665 - The Royal Netherlands Marine Corps was established by Michiel de Ruyter.

1684 - Isaac Newton's derivation of Kepler's laws from his theory of gravity, contained in the paper De motu corporum in gyrum, was read to the Royal Society by Edmund Halley.

1817 - Mississippi became the 20th US state.

1864 - Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union Army troops reached the outskirts of Savannah during Sherman's March to the Sea.

1865 - Widower of Britain's ill-fated Heiress Presumptive Princess Charlotte and favourite uncle of Queen Victoria Léopold I, first King of the Belgians, died; he was succeeded by his second son, who assumed the throne as Leopold II, his elder son Louis-Philippe having died in May 1834.

1898 - The Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the Spanish-American War.

1901 - The first Nobel Prizes were awarded on the fifth anniversary of the death of their benefactor, Alfred Nobel.

1906 - President Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to win any Nobel Prize; in his case, the Nobel Peace Prize.

1907 - A nighttime battle in London's Trafalgar Square between 1,000 medical students and 400 police - which came to be known as the Brown Dog Riots - was actually the culmination of an escalating struggle over a memorial to animals used in vivisection, which had been heavily vandalized before being secretly taken down in 1910; a new memorial was finally erected in Battersea Park in 1985.

1927 - The Grand Ole Opry premiered on radio under that name, having debuted on Nashville's WSM as WSM Barn Dance in October 1925.

1932 - Thailand's new constitution was signed by King Prajadhipok, making him both the last absolute ruler and the first constitutional monarch in that country's history; the event is still celebrated in that country as Constitution Day.

1948 - The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the day is now celebrated as Human Rights Day around the world.

1968 - The biggest heist in Japanese history - the 300 million yen robbery - was committed against a branch of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Tokyo's Kokubunji district by a man dressed as a police officer; despite seven years of investigation, also the largest in Japanese history, the crime was never solved.

1993 - The last shift left Wearmouth Colliery in Sunderland; the closure of the 156-year-old pit marked the end of the old County Durham coalfield, which had been in operation since the Middle Ages - or more than 800 years!

2007 - Led Zeppelin reunited for the first time in three decades when they appeared at the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert; nearly thirty years after the band's dissolution following the death of John Bonham in September 1980, the seat behind the drum kit for this legendary gig was occupied by his son, Jason Bonham.
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