Some Sunday Stuff: July 9th.
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Happy Sunday, All. Have you seen Jay Z’s video for “The Story of O.J.?” I’m so utterly fascinated by the thing. Check it out:
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Of course, “4:44” is not without its critics (also here, here, here), and even from the Anti-Defamation League. For more on the ADL’s concerns about “The Story of O.J.”, here’s an excerpt from Rolling Stone by Jon Blistein:
The Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish organization dedicated to fighting anti-semitism, says they are concerned about the implications of a lyric on Jay-Z’s new 4:44 song, “The Story of O.J.” On the track, the rapper rhymes, “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/ You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”
“We do not believe it was Jay-Z’s intent to promote anti-Semitism,” a rep for the ADL tells Rolling Stone. “On the contrary, we know that Jay-Z is someone who has used his celebrity in the past to speak out responsibly and forcefully against the evils of racism and anti-Semitism.
The organization, however, finds the particular lyric problematic. “The lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. The idea that Jews ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish ‘control’ of the banks and finance.”
A rep for the rapper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lyric immediately sparked a debate on social media over whether the lyric was anti-Semitic, and if not, whether Jay intended it to be complimentary despite signaling to long-held stereotypes about Jews. Madonna and U2’s manager, Guy Oseary, who is Jewish and was born in Israel, offered his interpretation in an Instagram post that featured a picture of himself with Jay-Z.
Oseary argued that the line taken out of context could be seen as anti-Semitic, though he noted that Jay-Z uses exaggerated stereotypes in both the lyrics and video for “The Story of O.J.” “Jewish people do NOT ‘own all the property in America,'” Oseary said. “Jay knows this. But he’s attempting to use the Jewish people in an exaggerated way to showcase a community of people that are thought to have made wise business decisions. As an example of what is possible and achievable … In my opinion, Jay is giving the Jewish community a compliment. ‘Financial freedom’ he mentions as being his ONLY hope. If you had to pick a community as an example of making wise financial decisions achieving financial freedom who would you choose? I’m not offended by these lyrics.”
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Now, let’s head over to Slate for this story by Austin Elias-de Jesus that discusses the video imagery of “The Story of O.J.”:
The animated video plays on America’s long history of racist cartoons from Fleischer Studios, Warner Bros., and Disney, among others. In the video, Jay voices the cartoon character Jaybo, whose name is a reference to both the racist Little Black Sambo books and cartoons from the early 20th century and (as the second half of the video, which features Jaybo flying by flapping his ears, makes clear) Dumbo, a Disney movie with its own set of racist caricatures.
In the four-minute video, Jaybo walks through Brooklyn and uses the lyrics of “The Story of O.J.” to narrate images of such racist archetypes as mammies, pickaninnies, and Uncle Toms, which the video mashes up with more realistic imagery of slave auctions, lynchings, and burning crosses. A number of images in the video also directly echo specific old racist cartoons, such as when a rendering of Jaybo eating a watermelon closely resembles the image in Walter Lanz’s Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat of a caricature of a black man happily eating a thick slice of watermelon. Meanwhile, the song samples Nina Simone’s own examination of black stereotypes, “Four Women.”
But in the end, the video, co-directed by Jay himself and his longtime collaborator Mark Romanek (who previously directed Jay’s “99 Problems” and “Picasso Baby” videos), underlines the song’s not-so-subtle message that no matter how successful a black man becomes, America will always see him as lesser. Jay contrasts with O.J. Simpson’s notorious idea that—as others quoted him as saying in last year’s excellent documentary O.J.: Made in America—“I’m not black. I’m O.J.” As the video’s pitch-black final images make clear, and as LeBron James recently said in his emotional statement after his house was reportedly spray-painted with racist graffiti, “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough.” Or as Jay’s old collaborator Kanye West once put it, “Even if you in a Benz, you still a n—a in a coupe.”
I’m just Kendrick Lamar right now… and since I am, I’ll mention here that I just finished the superior James Baldwin/ Raoul Peck documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”. I kept pausing it throughout because it was just so… so very much. Here’s the trailer:
Actor/Singer Harry Belafonte weeps at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral while sitting next to the slain civil rights leader’s widow and children. Footage from the service is included in “I Am Not Your Negro”. (Video screen grab)
If you have Amazon Prime (like I do), you can stream it for no charge there. There are other ways to watch it available here. Shorttly before it was released in theatres in February, The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott praised the film:
A few weeks ago, in reaction to something we had written about blackness and whiteness in recent movies, my colleague Manohla Dargis and I received a note from a reader. “Since when is everything about race?” he wanted to know. Perhaps it was a rhetorical question.
A flippant — though by no means inaccurate — answer would have been 1619. But a more constructive response might have been to recommend Raoul Peck’s life-altering new documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.” Let me do so now, for that reader (if he’s still interested) and for everybody else, too. Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind. Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.
To call “I Am Not Your Negro” a movie about James Baldwin would be to understate Mr. Peck’s achievement. It’s more of a posthumous collaboration, an uncanny and thrilling communion between the filmmaker — whose previous work includes both a documentary and a narrative feature about the Congolese anti-colonialist leader Patrice Lumumba — and his subject. The voice-over narration (read by Samuel L. Jackson) is entirely drawn from Baldwin’s work. Much of it comes from notes and letters written in the mid-1970s, when Baldwin was somewhat reluctantly sketching out a book, never to be completed, about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
(Video screen grab from “I Am Not Your Negro”)
Reflections on those men (all of whom Baldwin knew well) and their legacies are interspersed with passages from other books and essays, notably “The Devil Finds Work,” Baldwin’s 1976 meditation on race, Hollywood and the mythology of white innocence. His published and unpublished words — some of the most powerful and penetrating ever assembled on the tortured subject of American identity — accompany images from old talk shows and news reports, from classic movies and from our own decidedly non-post-racial present.
Baldwin could not have known about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, about the presidency of Barack Obama and the recrudescence of white nationalism in its wake, but in a sense he explained it all in advance. He understood the deep, contradictory patterns of our history, and articulated, with a passion and clarity that few others have matched, the psychological dimensions of racial conflict: the suppression of black humanity under slavery and Jim Crow and the insistence on it in African-American politics and art; the dialectic of guilt and rage, forgiveness and denial that distorts relations between black and white citizens in the North as well as the South; the lengths that white people will go to wash themselves clean of their complicity in oppression.
Bonus, listen to this 1963 debate between Malcolm X and James Baldwin:
Before you stream “I Am Not Your Negro”, let’s head over to Medium to this story by Sam Cook and look at how streaming has completely transformed TV seasons and episode counts:
For stability and the need for shows to have a consistent TV slot, networks aimed for one season of a show to cover three quarters of the year. This resulted in 22 episodes in a season and a mid-season break. That started to change in the late 90s and early 00s.
Cable channels had to compete with the biggest networks. Quality became as important as quantity to networks like HBO. The shorter runs seemed to be capped at 13 episodes, fitting into a quarter of the year. Four higher quality shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire over the course of the year were more preferable to the smaller networks than 22 episode seasons.
That desire for quality over quantity has been moulded by cable networks and subscription-based streaming services into the need for quality and quantity. Services like Netflix and Amazon need to produce and purchase top quality content and have to do so frequently. In the short term the quality content drives customers to subscribe and the fresh and exclusive projects keep them there. Netflix’s MARVEL series would have increased subscriber numbers but shows like Stranger Things and more recently GLOW would have kept them there. The shorter seasons allow for more TV shows being shown than ever before.
In 2015 FX’s CEO John Landgraf said that the United States had reached peak television and ‘there is too much television.’ FX’s figures showed that there were 455 scripted original shows in 2016. This is up from 288 just four years earlier. Since 2006 the number of scripted TV shows rose by 137%. Consumer choice has never been so varied. With the record number of scripted shows fighting for spots in watch lists the need for the shows to be quality has never been so high.
With the over 400 shows to choose from the story needs to be character-driven to engage an audience. It’s through this that shows are being created with an end in sight from the beginning. Breaking Bad had one story to tell — and the show finished when that story finished. Game of Thrones has a story to tell and the showrunners have shortened the final two seasons to suit the story. The desire — and need — to tell a quality story has long surpassed networks’ target episode numbers.
The focus on the story means these shows can be pitched to bigger stars. As the number of shows is outgrowing the number of consumers, all show providers are having to find ways to separate their products from other shows. It’s hard to show off a story in trailers and media appearances, so these shows are starting to convince big-name actors to get involved. It’s unlikely that Game of Thrones would have persuaded Sean Bean to play Ned Stark if there wasn’t an end in sight for his character. The same goes for Tom Hardy with BBC’s Peaky Blinders and Taboo. If HBO’s plan with True Detective was a long-running case-by-case detective show, it wouldn’t have been able to draw Matthew McConaughey. Luring these big names to TV shows with ten or 13 episodes still allows them to work on movie roles.
Read the rest here. Finally, here’s Yohana Desta at Vanity Fair with a definitive guide to “The Diddy Laugh”. Oh, spoiler alert, this has nothing to do with Shiny Suit Man.
There are some sounds that stay with you, rattling around in your brain until they become part of your sonic memory. See enough movies, and certain sound effects will hold this honor—like the Wilhelm Scream, a schlocky screech that’s been slipped into films for decades; Fred Flintstone’s twinkle-toes effect; or the Castle Thunder thunderclap, which originated in the 1931 version of Frankenstein before being appropriated by cartoons like Scooby-Doo. Some effects become singularly tied to the pop culture they’re paired with, like the commonly used “eagle” sound—actually a red-tailed hawk—perhaps best known for its use in the opening theme of The Colbert Report.
Then there’s the Diddy Laugh. You may not know it by name, but you’ve heard it if you’ve ever watched, oh, anything: The Walking Dead, The Bourne Identity, Mulan, Legion, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hot Fuzz, Taken, Monsters University, the BBC’s Sherlock, and countless other film and TV projects. You’ve heard it if you’ve ever played games like StarCraft II or RollerCoaster Tycoon. You’ve heard it in innumerable commercials for children’s products. You’ve heard it if you watched the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.
It sounds a little something like this.
It’s a short, charming burst of two children laughing that sounds natural, but almost musical in its delivery. It peals up and quickly trickles down distinctly enough that viewers with acute sensibilities have noticed it with increasing regularity over the decades. For years, Internet sleuths (particularly Redditors) have tracked its fluidity, griping over the way it hides in plain sight—and reacting to it with everything from knowing chuckles to pure animus. When you Google the Diddy Laugh, one of the top results is a YouTube video with the title “I HATE THIS SOUNDEFFECT!” Underneath it are 85 comments, most of which agree with the poster.
The Diddy Laugh is hosted in a commonly used digital library, and editors often use it to supplement scenes in which children are laughing, but don’t need to sound particularly crisp or authentic. (Sounds are often added to digital libraries after they are created, which prevents editors from having to create every effect from scratch.) Why is it called the Diddy Laugh? Unfortunately, the name has nothing to do with Sean Combs. Back in 1997, Nintendo released a Donkey Kong game called Diddy Kong Racing. In the game’s opening introduction, you can hear the laugh in all its splendor.
Now a closing song… what do I choose to cap a post that got reeeeeallllyyyyy deep before an abrupt pivot to Neflix shows and irksome giggles? I’ll go back to a song I chose for a “Some… Stuff” in the past. The last hip-hop song I ever played for my dad. And probably the last one he actually liked. Yeah, mayne… Have a great week.
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