Thursday, March 26, 2009

Peter Tosh: Wailing Wailer

"I ask why am I black, they say I was born in sin, and shamed inequity. One of the main songs we used to sing in church makes me sick, 'love wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."
- Peter Tosh

At the One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978, Peter Tosh drew a stark contrast between himself and former bandmate, Bob Marley, in a bizarre juxtaposition of sets. Tosh insulted the political leaders present at the event (including Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, who Marley famously brought onstage in the next set as a gesture of peace between oppositional parties) by stating, “I am not a politician but I suffer the consequences.” He continued to grill the politicians for their failure to bring equal rights to poor blacks in Jamaica and he demanded freedom from the “general oppression of Africans on the planet” (Live at the One Love Peace Concert). After the rant, Tosh brought his militant demands to the forefront with the song “Equal Rights,” whose chorus sings, “I don't want no peace/I need equal rights and justice.” At the close of the song, Tosh continues on what he refers to as a “livatribe,” or live diatribe, concerning police brutality towards blacks and the legalization of cannabis while smoking a “spliff” (marijuana cigarette), a criminal act in Jamaica, to antagonize the present officers (Griffith 12). Five months later, some of the same police present at the event arrested Tosh and beat him within an inch of his life (Steffens). Even the threat of death could not silence the man whose incisive speech earned him the nickname “Stepping Razor.” Tosh’s confrontational and brutally honest approach to his music and words, on and off-stage, earn him a place as an uniquely aggressive black vernacular intellectual.

Peter Tosh’s beginnings in Kingston, Jamaica were a challenge and spawned his self-reliant philosophy. While Marley grew up with his mother and received financial support from his absent white father, Tosh lived with his aunt without a father or mother. He claims to have raised himself without influence from his aunt (Steffens). He met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer at the age of 15 and they soon formed The Wailers group. Tosh’s militant attitudes towards black oppression and his optimistic outlook of escape from such oppression find their way into The Wailers’ major label debut, Catch a Fire, on songs such as “400 Years” and “Stop That Train.” The Wailers’ follow-up album, Burnin’, contains a smaller volume of material from Tosh, a foretelling sign of his departure from the group soon after the album’s release. However, Tosh’s sole contribution “Get Up, Stand Up” is a forceful call (Tosh’s verse is frequently considered one of the first “raps” prior to hip-hop’s emergence) to action for blacks, particularly Rastafarians, to “stand up for [their] rights.” Despite the success of the album, Tosh left the group, blaming producer Chris Blackwell for wanting to shift focus solely onto Marley. Tosh humorously but bitterly refers to Blackwell as “Whiteworst,” shedding light on his consistent distrust of whites in any level of authority (Steffens).

In 1976, after leaving The Wailers, Tosh released his (in)famous debut solo album Legalize It. Despite the overwhelming coverage of Tosh’s “cannabis cause,” a self-induced distraction from the truly oppressive system of racism, Tosh managed to call out the abuses of colonialist leaders in “Burial.”

What a big disgrace
The way you rob up the place
Rob everything you can find
Yes you did
And you'll even rob from the blind.

Tosh addresses the abuses of whites and the systemic destruction of African culture in this song. He sings that the African Diaspora has “robbed everything” from blacks similar to the way Frantz Fanon, who Tosh cites as an influence, explains in Wretched of the Earth (Campbell 79). He elaborates in interviews that blacks are the “blind” victims of a “brain-washing shitstem (Tosh’s play on the word “system”)” where blacks are left uneducated and illiterate in order to pacify dissent and maintain hegemony (Steffens).

While Tosh and Fanon may agree on how colonialism has destroyed African culture, Tosh’s second solo album, Equal Rights, shows a slight divergence from the Martinique’s philosophy in his song “African.”

Don't care where you come from
As long as you're a black man
You're an African.
No mind your nationality
You have got the identity of an African.

Fanon advocated the assertion of national cultures while Tosh “identifies a collective African identity based on blackness” and asserts that blacks, regardless of location, should unite and use their collective identity (Wright). Tosh’s Pan-African viewpoint stems from his Rastafarian roots and the Pan-African ideals espoused by Haille Selassie, the prophet and God-incarnate according to the religion.

The Equal Rights album serves as Tosh’s thesis on the condition of blacks around the world and is arguably his greatest contribution as a black vernacular intellectual. The album sets a defiant tone with a remake of The Wailers’ “Get Up, Stand Up” which was an anthem by the time of Equal Rights’ release. Tosh's verse from the original Wailers recording of the song is considered a prototype for rap.

We sick an' tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin' 'n' goin' to heaven in-a Jesus' name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Tosh's album proceeds to stand up lyrically to white oppression with the subsequent track, “Downpressor Man,” an indictment of the courage (or lack thereof) of the white oppressor. Tosh warns the “downpressor man” of an uprising and asks, “where you gonna run to?” Tosh’s confrontational lyricism on these tracks as well as the aforementioned “African,” the title track “Equal Rights,” and a South African protest song, “Apartheid,” criticize political, social, and economic injustices. His music also provides sources of resistance through assertion of black identity and calls for action from all black people.

Equal Rights and Tosh’s “livatribes” leads one to believe that he would become more ingrained in the vernacular. Mick Jagger, who was present at the One Love concert, signed Tosh to the Rolling Stones’ record label, which brought Tosh’s music to a broader, international audience. Despite freedom from censorship and wider distribution, Tosh’s militant message diverted from issues of blacks on Bush Doctor, Mystic Man, and Wanted Dread or Alive, all of which were considered financial and critical failures (“Peter Tosh Biography”). Tosh’s 1983 album, Mama Africa, managed to squeeze in only one song with vernacular merit, “Not Gonna Give It Up.” Tosh sings that he “will be fighting ‘til Africa and Africans are free” and reiterates his arguments concerning poverty. After the release of Mama Africa, Tosh left for self-imposed exile in Africa, trying to free himself from record contracts that distributed his music in South Africa.

Tosh returned in 1987 to record No Nuclear War, which contained numerous protest songs concerning apartheid and racism and won a Grammy for Best Reggae Performance. Tosh appeared on the path to career (and vernacular) revival. Unfortunately, a gang of three men, who opposed his militant views, murdered Tosh, on September 11, 1987 (Campbell 237). Peter Tosh’s premature death made him a martyr for his outspoken and unveiled attitudes and cut short an uncompromising vernacular career.

Works Cited

Campbell, Nicholas. Stepping Razor Red X: the Peter Tosh Story. Boston, Massachusetts: Northern Arts Entertainment, 1992.

Griffith, Pat. "Marley Meets Manley as "One Love" Triumphs." Black Echoes May 1978. 30 Apr. 2008

"Peter Tosh Biography." Rolling Stone. 2004. 30 Apr. 2008.

Steffens, Roger, and Hank Holmes. "Reasoning with Tosh." Reggae News. Sept. 1980.

Tosh, Peter. “Burial” By Peter Tosh. Rec. 1974. Legalize It. CBS, 1974.

Tosh, Peter. Equal Rights. Rec. 1977. CBS, 1977.

Tosh, Peter. Live At the One Love Peace Concert. Rec. 22 Apr. 1978. Jad Records, 2000.

Tosh, Peter. "Not Gonna Give It Up." By Peter Tosh. Rec. 1983. Mama Africa. Capitol, 1983.

The Wailers. Catch a Fire. Island Records, 1973.

The Wailers. "Get Up, Stand Up." By Peter Tosh, Bob Marley. Rec. 1973. Burnin'. Island Records, 1973.

Wright, Handel Kashope. "Whose Diaspora is This Anyway?" Goliath. 2003. 30 Apr. 2008 .

Dave Chappelle: Vernacular Intellectual

"Who is funnier, politically smarter, and more politically agile than David Chappelle?"
-Grant Farred, author of What's My Name?

"I passed the torch of comedy to Dave Chappelle" 
-Richard Pryor

Chappelle's Show
Frontline - Clayton Bigsby

In January 2003, Chappelle’s Show, starring Dave Chappelle, premiered under controversy with a Frontline parody sketch with a character named Clayton Bigsby, a fictional black white supremacist. Comedy Central initially rejected the skit, citing its gratuitous use of the word “nigger” and other racial epithets (over 20 instances in the course of a nine-minute segment). Neal Brennan, co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, describes the fight, “Comedy Central didn’t think it was exemplary of what the show is and that was the most vicious fight we ever had with them because we were like, ‘This is exactly what the show is’” (Haggins 222). Dave Chappelle’s commitment to racial progress through his humor and his unwillingness to censor his art makes him a strong and incisive black vernacular intellectual.

Chappelle's Show
Frontline - Clayton Bigsby, Pt 2

The Clayton Bigsby sketch sets the tone for the next two-and-a-half seasons of Chappelle’s Show. The skit opens with a warning from fictional-journalist Kent Wallace, “WARNING: For viewers sensitive to issues of race, be advised that the following piece contains gratuitous use of the “N” word. And by “N” word, I mean Nigger. There, I said it” (“Frontline”). Kent Wallace’s exclamation of “There, I said it,” indicates the discomfort the sketch creates for a white audience. Chappelle’s “gratuitous use of the ‘N’ word” confronts the acceptability of the term. The sketch continues to play on the absurdities and issues surrounding the white supremacist movement and stereotypes of “blackness.” Clayton Bigsby, although black, represents the wrongs in “white” behavior.

Chappelle’s Show continually pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on cable television but it became notorious for addressing issues of race especially uncomfortable matters such as the “N” word. Through sketches like “Roots Outtakes,” “The Racial Draft,” and “The Niggar Family,” as well as recurring segments such “Ask a Black Dude” and “Negrodamus” featuring Paul Mooney, a former writer for Richard Pryor, Chappelle’s Show brought the concerns of the black community to a diverse primetime audience. Despite its multi-racial viewers, Chappelle’s Show was anything but subtle with its delivery of racial humor. In a sketch entitled “Black Bush,” Chappelle, giving an interpretation of a black President Bush and his administration, blatantly points out the injustices and overt scrutiny that blacks face compared to whites. Chappelle asserts the public would be more critical of his administration if Bush were black. The skit aired amid controversy, like many Chappelle's Show sketches, during the 2004 election. While not a factor in the end of the series, “Black Bush” would be the last Chappelle-endorsed sketch to air on Comedy Central.

Chappelle's Show
Black Bush

Chappelle’s humor clearly draws from his experience as a black man in America. This is evident in his stand-up special, Killin’ Them Softly. Born in Washington, D.C., Chappelle returns to the Capitol years after leaving the city where he claims to have “seen some shit.” Even prior to Chappelle’s Shows success, the audience greets Chappelle with screams, cheers, and a standing ovation. He jokes to his hometown crowd about race relations, racial-profiling, police brutality, and life “in the ghetto.” He highlights the double standards of race by describing a white friend who confronts a cop under the influence of marijuana and gets out of a speeding ticket by saying “I’m sorry officer, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” while blacks are wantonly killed by police and the injustice covered up by “sprinkling some crack” on blacks. Although Chappelle exaggerates, his musings point out fundamental wrongs within the law enforcement system and its treatment of blacks.

In a special, after the initial success of Chappelle’s Show, entitled For What It’s Worth, a predominately white, San Franciscan audience greets Chappelle with polite applause, a stark contrast to the zealous response from the black DC audience. He begins by saying that he knows how they manage to get along so well because they “put the niggers on the other side of that bridge.” This shows that Chappelle will not restrain his material due to the demographics of the room. He addresses the injustice towards blacks since the founding fathers, referring to money as “baseball cards of slave owners.” He also riffs about racial bias in the trials of Kobe Bryant, R. Kelly, and even Michael Jackson, blaming black reaction to the OJ Simpson trial for the “black-celebrity witch-hunt.” However, Chappelle claims when he visits schools he says to black children, “You need to focus. You gotta stop blaming white people for your problems and you’ve got to learn to rap, play basketball, or something! Nigga, you’re trapped! Either that or sell crack! Those are your only options!” His joke contains the common theme of uplift and despite some negative stereotypes, it resonates with the black audience who not only understand the need to control their own destiny but also the limited options that white-oppression has given them.

Chappelle’s Show came to an abrupt and mysterious end in its third season when Chappelle left for Africa to escape the pressures of fame as well as his disillusionment with the direction of the show, wondering if he was “reinforcing stereotypes” that he was trying to combat. A “Racial Pixies” sketch, where Chappelle portrays pixies of different races giving stereotypical advice on how to act, reportedly led to Chappelle’s departure when a white crew-member laughed in a way that made Chappelle feel uncomfortable with the material. Chappelle’s “Black Pixie” is particularly regressive. Chappelle plays himself and a pixie made up in blackface. The pixie bugs Chappelle on an airline flight when he is given the choice between ordering chicken or fish, telling him to "order a big bucket" and proceeds to shingle dance. Chappelle orders fish, angering the pixie, but the flight attendant tells him they are out of fish. Chappelle asks how the chicken is prepared and the attendant replies, "fried," and the pixie exclaims "hallelujah!" The pixie summons a minstrel banjo player, played by Mos Def, “to celebrate.” A passenger offers to switch his fish dinner with Chappelle’s, which Mos Def’s pixie exclaims might be catfish and they begin to sing. Given the obnoxiously bigoted portrayal of regressive stereotypes, it is no surprise that Chappelle claims he felt that the unnamed “white crew-member” was “laughing at me instead of laughing with me.”

Chappelle's Show
Pixie Stereotypes - In-Flight Meal

Filmed two years before the infamous “Pixie Sketch,” Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is anything but regressive. Chappelle is at the height of his game, having recently captured the famous $55 million dollar deal (which he later returns after his Africa departure) for Season 3 of Chappelle’s Show. Most of the film consists of music from Chappelle’s Show musical guest regulars such as Mos Def, The Roots, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, dead prez, and other artists that Chappelle believes “say what nobody else is saying and what needs to be said.” Between scenes, Chappelle jokes around with the “regular people” who he claims are the “reason [he is] in this business.” While Chappelle’s humor may be incisive, bold, or even regressive, his comedy ultimately serves to uplift the black community while building bridges to other races with his widespread appeal. As his reemergence in the stand up circuit post-Chappelle's Show illustrates, Chappelle’s talent is here to stay.

Works Cited

"Black Bush." Chappelle's Show. Comedy Central.

Chappelle's Show- the Lost Episodes. Dir. Neal Brennan. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Comedy Central, 2006.

Chappelle’s Show Season 1. Dir. Andre Allen. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Comedy Central, 2003.

Chappelle’s Show Season 2. Dir. Andre Allen. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Comedy Central, 2004.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Dir. Michel Gondry. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Universal Studios, 2006.

"Frontline: Clayton Bigsby." Chappelle's Show. Comedy Central.

For What It's Worth. Dir. Stan Lathan. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2004.

Killin' Them Softly. Dir. Stan Lathan. Perf. Dave Chappelle. DVD. Urban Works, 2000.

Haggins, Bambi. Laughing Mad: the Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers, 2007. Google Books. 28 Apr. 2008 .

"Racial Pixies." Chappelle's Show. Comedy Central.

Black Power: An International Struggle for Human Rights

This was a paper I wrote this year for a history class on The Sixties taught by David Farber. I highly reccommend taking his class if you go to Temple.

During his arrest on June 16, 1966, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Stokely Carmichael declared, “The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin' us is to take over. What we gonna start sayin' now is Black Power!"i In the 1960s, this assertion of “Black Power” shocked white America. Even with the legal achievements of the Civil Rights movement, middle-class whites were unprepared to face the sad reality of racial inequality in United States. However, the angry and occasionally violent sentiments of the Black Power movement should not have surprised anyone. American foreign policy, through both its triumphs and failures, forced the United States to acknowledge the inconsistencies between its foreign and domestic policies while international class struggle movements paved the way for black resistance within America. Black Power leaders and organizations recognized the importance of these connections with international movements and used them to strengthen their fight for freedom. As Peniel Joseph argues in Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour, the Black Power movement was an “anti-colonial struggle within American borders” but it was part of a greater “struggle being fought around the world.”ii

American foreign policy in World War II served as a catalyst for both the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement. The Nazi’s treatment of the Jews turned a mirror to America’s Jim Crow laws that allowed similar mistreatment of blacks.iii As American foreign policy shifted focus from fascist totalitarianism to communist totalitarianism, the comparisons to America’s injustices continued. The international marketplace of ideas spread concepts of revolution and resistance. As a result, the Black Power movement borrowed ideas from international perspectives. The Black Power movement emerged during an era of revolution within countries from Africa, Asia, and South America. Important leaders like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Huey Newton read works from international writers including Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx, Marcus Garvey, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung to inform their resistance.iv International movements created a global atmosphere that encouraged African-Americans to challenge the United States’ system of hierarchy and oppression.

Leaders in the Black Power movement recognized the connection between class struggles around the world and their own struggle at home for racial justice. They used this common ground to unite against a common enemy. After his departure from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X created the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964 to unite Africans against racial oppression across the world arguing, “We need to expand the civil rights struggle to a higher level—the level of human rights.”v He toured African countries including Ghana, Egypt, and Kenya as an international diplomat for the Black Power His visits tapped into a philosophy called Pan-Africanism, a sense of a “global African community,” championed by W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American intellectual turned Ghanaian citizen.vii Stokely Carmichael continued this collective philosophy after Malcolm’s assassination, visiting some of the same leaders Malcolm met on his African trip, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.viii Pan-Africanism not only gave the Black Power and Civil Rights movements a broader mission and empowered black people to assert their own sense of identity domestically but it also created alliances around the globe to pressure the United States to reexamine its racist policies and attitudes.
Blacks could not fight the United States superpower on black unity alone. In order to change the United States, Black Power needed to threaten the white, middle-class American way of life.

Domestically, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale scared Americans by arming the Black Panthers with guns in order to appear “dangerous” to whites. While visually successful, the Black Power movement required an existential threat to Americans. The Cold War had spawned fear in the United States to the point of nuclear Armageddon. The ultimate threat to the United States was communism, which sometimes treated blacks better than American capitalism did. In resistance to the United States, Black Power leaders logically aligned themselves with America’s greatest international ideological foe. Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro in Harlem during his visit to the United Nationsix and later declared Che Guevara “one of the most revolutionary men in this country right now.”x Stokely Carmichael advocated communism and class warfare. He argued that black people and Third World people’s fates were intertwined and that the international struggle needed to “turn into reality the words of Che.”xi

A famous portrait of Che Guevara. Ironically, this is one of the most commericialized images in the world.

The alignment of Black Power leaders with communists and guerillas certainly made the United States pay attention to the movement but this notice did not necessarily change its ways. The United States treated the Black Power movement, as well as the Civil Rights movement, as domestic threats. The United States government tapped phones, arrested activists, and investigated individuals who they considered a threat. Race riots caused “white flight” from major cities across America.xii Black nationalism’s inherent rebelliousness and strong, incisive criticism made it difficult to persuade white America. The Civil Rights movement used mainstream American ideals and familiar language from the Bible, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence to criticize the United States’ failure to live up to its promises.xiii Black separatists refused to pander to the American people and used ideas from philosophies foreign to white America. In this way, the international influences on Black Power made their ideals less palatable for whites and therefore, less successful in creating practical political power for blacks. Although the Black Power movement served as a strong critique of mainstream America, the movement and its prominent leaders failed to create a substantial plan for black nationalism/separatism. International influences exacerbated differences in an already fragmented movement. Disagreements over varying political ideologies, religious philosophies, and pragmatic plans to achieve the Black Power movement’s goals undermined the black unity necessary for success.

While the Black Power movement shocked America more than it persuaded, Black Power remained essential in the encouragement of a strong black identity in America. Although the Civil Rights movement spawned legal successes in the advancement of blacks, the Black Power movement advanced black dignity. International influence is inseparable from the Black Power movement’s achievements because it remains part of the same global anti-colonial struggle. The leaders of the Black Power movement learned from their international allies; rather than speaking to power in conciliatory language, one must speak honestly to the people and the authority regardless of their reaction.

i Joseph, Peniel E., Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour, 142.
ii Ibid., 106.
iii Farber, David, Lecture on Racial Justice, Temple University, Philadelphia, February 9, 2009.
iv Joseph, Peniel E., Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour, 209.
v Ibid., 99-102.
vi Ibid., 106-109.
vii Ibid., 105.
viii Ibid., 106.
ix Ibid., 35.
x Anderson, Jon Lee, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, New York: Grove Press, 1997, 618.
xi Joseph, Peniel E., Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour, 193.
xii Ibid., 121.
xiii Farber, David, Lecture on Racial Justice, Temple University, Philadelphia, February 9, 2009.

Carry The Fire: A Comparison of Cormac McCarthy's The Road to the 9/11 Generation

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road follows a father and son on their journey to survive in a post-apocalyptic America. McCarthy’s story of death and destruction emerges from the context of the events of September 11, 2001 and the reactions to that day. The father and son represent the past generation and the “9/11 Generation,” respectively. Much like the boy in The Road enters the post-apocalyptic world without any knowledge of a world prior, our generation, most commonly referred to as the Millennials or Generation Y, is too young to know a world without the premise of 9/11. The events of that day inevitably affect our worldview, enabling our generation to address the problems that face America today with a different perspective from previous generations. The boy in The Road serves as a symbol of our generation’s optimism and understanding, enabling our generation to “carry the fire.”
The events of 9/11 drastically changed everyone’s perception of the world. Initially, people turned to leadership for comfort as George W. Bush’s approval soared as high as 92 percent in the aftermath of the attacks. However, the events quickly resulted in mass paranoia. The sudden and anonymous nature of the attacks made the country feel threatened. Muslims and southeast Asians received harassment and abuse in the wake of the attacks. The country’s paranoia led to some irrational decisions on the part of the government. The attacks served as justification for curbing civil liberties through the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay, and warrantless wiretapping. They allowed for a greater expansion of presidential power in general. Most infamously, the terror caused by 9/11 was used to justify a pre-emptive war in Iraq based on faulty intelligence. The Bush administration’s abuses after 9/11 created more distrust in government. Paranoia led a considerable number of citizens to believe conspiracy theories that the Bush administration was behind the attacks or had allowed them to happen. The events tarnished the American people’s sense of safety and trust.
The Road reflects the paranoia of post-9/11 America. Along the road, no one trusts anyone else. The boy and father cannot stay anywhere without fearing that “bad guys” will find and kill them. Their fear is justifiable, given that they find gangs of people killing and eating other people. However, people’s fear for themselves hinders them from working together in the post-apocalyptic world and leaves them no time to help others. The boy struggles with this fearful mentality throughout the book. He pleads to his father to help others in trouble on the road including a “little boy” who he hears crying. The man tells the boy that they cannot do anything to help the “little boy” and assures the boy that “he will be all right.” The boy is not convinced and cries “What about the little boy?” (McCarthy 86). The boy in The Road displays a greater sense of altruism than his father does. He only knows a world in the state it is in now unlike his father who remembers a safer time.

Just as the boy cannot remember a time before the apocalypse, our generation has no true recollection of the world before 9/11. However, the events have definitively influenced our perspective of the world. Studies have shown that 9/11 has caused greater civic engagement and has instilled a different sense of social justice than those of previous generations. Researcher Patricia Somers asserts that the millennial generation "may not have been old enough to understand what happened on 9/11, but they are going to see the after-effects — the long-term war on terror.” Despite the difficulties facing our generation, millennials seem much more optimistic about the future. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, combined with its rhetoric of “hope” and “change,” reaffirms young people’s belief in moving the country in a better direction.

Barack Obama's presidential campaign relied heavily on newly eligible "9/11 Generation" voters for support.

Previous generations have not left young people completely to their own devices. McCarthy’s story reflects this reality with the interdependent relationship of the father and son. The boy’s only source of knowledge is his father; he asks his father questions about almost everything they encounter on their journey. The boy’s understanding of the world therefore remains a product of his father’s teachings just as we learn from the history of previous generations to give a fuller view of the world. The attacks changed our parents’ philosophies towards teaching us for the future. While our parents’ education focused more on Western ideals, our generation’s education reacted to 9/11, learning more of other parts of the world, particularly concerning the Middle East. As a result of this change in education, our generation gains a greater understanding and sense of tolerance in this “clash of cultures.”

The interdependent nature of the father-son relationship in The Road makes it a more democratic relationship than traditional father-son relationships. Typically, a father takes on the role of an alpha male but the father and son share responsibilities and the boy is permitted to make decisions. The boys input supplements the knowledge of his father, enabling the father to make better decisions. The United States has begun to build this form of relationship among the generations as parents turn to their children to cultivate their own perspective. Instead of the traditional clash between generations, it seems that the younger generation has altered the point of view of the older generation. This flow of information between generations can only further enrich the ideas of their members. It remains to be seen whether these understandings will translate to a change in the relationship between the people and government leadership in the post-Bush era.

The greater understanding gained through our unique perspective of the world enables us to learn from the mistakes of our parents. While there is no justification for al-Qaeda’s actions, America’s arrogant foreign policy laid the foundation for eventual retaliation. Bin Laden argued that America had been “occupying the lands of Islam” and “plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, [and] terrorizing its neighbors.” From Bin Laden’s perspective, the United States appears closer to the being the “bad guys.” The Road reflects this confused concept of morality in a post-9/11 America. The father and boy assure each other that they are still the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” of moral civilization. However, after a man steals from the boy and his father, the father leaves the thief in the road without any clothes to die (McCarthy 257). The event calls the boy’s perception that he and his father are the “good guys” into question. The boy begs his father to leave the thief alone, noting that “he was just hungry” and now “He’s going to die.” (McCarthy 259). Through this situation, McCarthy challenges the United States assertion that the war on terror is truly a struggle between “good and evil.”

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The father shows a greater sympathy for others along the road after his son’s reaction to his treatment of the thief. Someone shoots the father with a bow and arrow but the father does not pursue vengeance as he did with the thief. The boy later asks “Did you kill him?” and when his father responds “No” he asks if his father is telling the truth (McCarthy 270). The exchange exemplifies a shift in a relationship much like the change in generational relationships after the older generations’ reactions to the events of September 11. With 9/11, the younger generation’s sense of social justice changed. The unthinking reactions of fear and war now show clear consequences in seeking vengeance. The 9/11 Generation became skeptical of the prevailing judgment of their parents’ government and attitude after the failures of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the overall War on Terror. The youth of America inherit an enhanced perception in the wake of the parents’ mistakes.

McCarthy’s writing in The Road reflects some of the worst possibilities from humanity but Phil Christman argues, in “A Tabernacle in the Dark,” that McCarthy consistently “comes down firmly on the side of humanity.” Traits such as “generosity and emotional courage” characterize the loyalty between the father and son. Their relationship truly represents better nature of humans with their distinct demonstration of “human goodness, sympathy, generosity, and imagination.” Christman notes that although “The Road has been called a depressing book…it's the truest compliment to the human spirit.” McCarthy’s “compliment” represents an optimistic attitude that people’s better nature can emerge even in the most difficult of times.

New generations learn lessons from the more noble nature of their parents. In this way, they continue to the “carry the fire” of the American way of life. Despite the United States’ muddled history of hypocrisy, the fundamentals that strengthen our democracy will pass on to the next generation. Devotion to upholding the ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” will continue with the next generation. America is no longer an unchecked superpower, as that day in September made us realize. However, America, under the direction of a new generation, can still find an important role in the global sphere. The country is already beginning the journey to restore its integrity. High young voter turnout and overall turnout in both the 2004 and 2008 elections indicates a diminishing of complacency among Americans. The new generation seems less restricted by the problems of previous generations, lacking the calamity of culture wars that our parents had. The new America ought to understand that everyone, regardless of religious, ethnic, cultural or national identity, can bring about a better world. With this awareness, the traditional perception of right and wrong falls apart as arbitrary borders and cultural differences no longer make any moral distinction.

Eventually, one generation has to pass responsibility on to the next. The father’s death symbolizes the end of our parents’ America, an seemingly more innocent era. However, the father’s death is not entirely disheartening. Before he dies, the boy asks him whether he remembers the little boy they left behind and says that he is “scared that he was lost” (McCarthy 280). The little boy becomes an even larger symbol in the context of America’s lost innocence in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The father reassures his son though that “Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again” (McCarthy 281). Three days later, the boy encounters a family with a little boy and a little girl and continues “carrying the fire” with them. Hopefully, our generation can “carry the fire” to allow America to find its “goodness” again.

Bigger Than Jesus?

Photo Credit: Roy Kerwood (Lennon)

John Lennon once said, “[The Beatles] are bigger than Jesus now.” Soon after uttering that infamous proclamation, a firestorm of protests erupted across the American Bible Belt. Angry conservative Christians burned Beatle albums and memorabilia while disc jockeys boycotted their music. Lennon later apologized, noting that he was not saying that The Beatles were better than Jesus in any way. Nonetheless, the incident put the two influential men at odds.

Despite the “bigger than Jesus” controversy, John and Jesus shared similar messages. Both preached pacifism. Lennon was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War based on his views on peace. While we cannot be certain that Jesus would have been against the Vietnam War, it is clear throughout the Bible that he also imagined a “world of people living lives of peace.” Jesus and John seem to agree that the masses ought to hold influence in a democratic way. John Lennon’s song “Power to the People” is clearly within the same vein of thought as “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The major clash between their messages is John Lennon’s perspective towards organized religion. He maintained through controversy that he was not “anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion.” John Lennon was cynical concerning religion, as he perceived it to be manipulative.

Given Lennon’s cynical view of religion, would he and Jesus still get along with one another? The answer is probably. While Lennon may have said things that seemed very anti-religion, he did not have much bad to say about Jesus as a person. It is evident in quotes like “Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me,” that Lennon’s skepticism focused on the exploitation of religion rather than any sort of issues with the teachings of Jesus. Personality wise they would not mesh perfectly but they could at least be civil towards one another. Young Lennon’s arrogance and pessimism could cause a humble Jesus some frustration, but by following his teachings about “turning the other cheek,” they could keep clashing down to a minimum. Lennon’s post-Beatles, Yoko-influenced humility could have made Jesus and him more compatible.

People view Christ and Lennon as martyrs in their own right. Keeping any arguments of divinity (regarding both men) out of the mix both seemed to die for their cause. Aside from debatably being killed for all of humankind’s sins, Jesus was a martyr for freedom of religion. He stood up for what he truly believed, in spite of the consequences. John Lennon faced death threats during the “bigger than Jesus” controversy for the same accusation that killed Jesus, blasphemy. Granted, Mark David Chapman did not kill John Lennon for his actions and beliefs and Paul McCartney was not a modern day Judas but John Lennon became a martyr nonetheless.

Both men leave huge legacies behind and enough time has not passed to tell whose story will live longer. How can we even measure how these men have influenced the world? With The Beatles, John Lennon sold over one billion albums worldwide while there are about two billion Christians in the world. Jesus had a one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-forty-year head start over John Lennon. It should prove interesting to see how long The Beatles’ music lasts. Theirs was an immediate success compared to Christianity’s gradual development. John Lennon’s message was mostly unadulterated while Jesus’ disciples filtered his message. Thousands have not fought wars in the name of John Lennon whereas Jesus has been the excuse for many military actions.

Conveying messages of peace and brotherhood, Lennon and Christ appear to share many similar aspirations for humankind, whether their methods and personalities would be compatible, their lasting influence is immeasurable. Each has become an enduring icon of world culture. Let us hope that John’s musical legacy outlives Jesus’ musical influence because I’ll take Abbey Road over the soundtrack to Passion of The Christ any day.

God: In Man's Image or His Own?

This was a paper written in my 12th grade Philosophy Through Literature class as a response to some of the philosophies unveiled in the book, Sophie's World.

Did God create man or did man create God? From the dawn of time, every great intellectual, scholar, and philosopher has wrestled with this ever-circular question. Millions have died in the name of God, Allah, Zeus, or any other name the “intelligent designer” dons. “God” influences how people act, think, talk, walk, and even vote. The question lies in this: are we taking inspiration from God or are we passively accepting the words of those manipulating His or Her will to their own way?

Xenophanes famously noted that God was created in man’s image. His idea brings about a revelation harder than the entire Book of Revelations. Each society’s God takes upon the image of the people and the environment around them. God is white in Europe, black in Africa, or drinks wine and wears sandals in ancient Greece. The great deity appears to shift shapes to suit his audience. The Almighty One becomes everyone’s perfect ideal, and why not with great party tricks like turning water into wine. He is jovial when we are happy; infuriated when we are angry and flexible when we are ambivalent. God’s views conveniently cater to power. He fights on the sides of both Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. Given our similar inconsistencies, maybe we were made in God’s image.

How can God seemingly have his cake and eat it too? This brings on the rationale that God is not who the Pope, the Ayatollah, or the Dalai Lama says he is. God has more public relations representatives than Hollywood’s stars combined. Everyone from Saints to soccer moms claims to know the “real God” through their bizarre sense of overt self-importance and delusions of grandeur. The fact is none of us has truly experienced God in a physical sense enough to prove his physical existence and even if we did, skepticism of others and our perception hinders our ability to understand this higher power.

Our inability to comprehend God properly does not necessarily rule out his existence. The universe certainly finds potent quantities of quality workmanship within its design. Atomic structure, the reproductive system, the water cycle, and the way everything that tastes good is bad for you-- all these give the impression of careful thought and a sense of humor that only a high-minded being like ourselves could devise. The concept that God created us in his image holds some weight given a little faith. We appear chosen in a way, given our own special “blessing” of rationality. While the universe may not revolve around us, so far it seems to have favored us. One could argue that the reason we cannot concretely prove the existence of God is the exact rationale behind why we cannot come to a consensus regarding His image. Our unreliable perception prevents us from fully realizing the ideal image of the Alpha and Omega. Because of this, we are unable to prove the existence or form of God entirely, but that does not rule out his existence.

Regardless of who created whom, God is filtered through humankind’s ideas or perception. The answer to fact or fiction has no bearing on the importance of the concept of God. Through either answer, we can find purpose, rationalization and virtue in life. God’s image could be indecipherable or a mirror image; the conclusion is equally powerful.


America is the land of cultural diversity, opportunity, liberty, justice, free thought, political correctness, sports, music, television, movies, fast-food results, and of course, the most competent and ethical leaders in the world.

Despite these successes as a nation, a greater challenge than communism, terrorism, and gay marriage threatens the fabric of our society: our work ethic. We live in a country where if a person works hard enough he can do virtually anything he wants and that is exactly where the problem lies.

Americans simply work too much. Laziness is supposed to be an epidemic, but with such low unemployment rates, the USA is only running a temperature of about 98.7°F. Take a look at all the countries in Africa who are so much further ahead of us in poverty and unemployment. We can’t allow people that we forced into slavery to be less successful than we are; we need to out-lazy them. What incentive do we have to work when that means we have to help other people? The United States even has a lower unemployment rate than quasi-communist China, a country whose economic structure is based upon forcing its citizens to go to work. If we allow even the communists to beat us at our own game, we have allowed for the Karl Marx’s, Joseph Stalin’s and Tucker Good’s of the world to succeed. (Editors note: Tucker Good was one of my best friends in high school. I call him a communist because for a different assignment in Gregorio's class he argued that communism could still work despite the failings of the Soviet Union model. I think I just effectively killed both his and my political careers.) (Special Recession Editors note: America's unemployment was below China at the time this paper was written, the recession has caused America's unemployment to exceed China.)

Joseph Stalin, Tucker Good and Karl Marx: The Enemies of Freedom

Speaking of my friend Tucker Good, the master procrastinator, when Americans actually do work they should blow it off until the last minute. Procrastination is an important skill to develop in order to succeed in life. If you find yourself having to do something, make sure you do everything enjoyable first and then do a last minute job on your English essay on a Sunday night. The President is setting a great example for us. Granted, we could pull out of Iraq now, saving thousands of lives but why should we when we have so many better things to do like clearing brush off our ranches in Texas or shooting 80-year-old men in the face?

There’s not enough “intellectual laziness” in existence today. Lady Liberty still has her children taking AP classes, Wal-Mart (a store that should be supporting laziness with its one-stop-buys-all shopping style) still sells thousands of books, and journalists keep asking questions about WMDs and reasons for war. (Thank God we have Fox News). This kind of stimulation of the brain is unhealthy and leads to new ideas that spawn even more work for this country yet again. If people continue to think as much as they do now, they will quit obeying their corporate overlords, start going to college to become brainwashed by liberal agenda pushing professors, and worst of all, Republicans will stop getting elected. I typically don’t advocate the advice of liberals like Timothy Leary but maybe for once America should listen and “turn on, tune out, and drop out.” At least that way, they will all be too stoned to think about anything except for when the next episode of Spongebob Squarepants is on.

Spongebob Squarepants: Totally Tripping with Timothy Leary on a TV near you.

Laziness is the mother of invention. If people weren’t too lazy to do certain mundane tasks, we wouldn’t have all of the tools we have today. We have robotic vacuums so you don’t have clean up all the Doritos you dropped on the floor while you were watching TV. We have escalators so that you don’t have to move those appendages attached to you called legs. Flip through any SkyMall magazine and you’ll find sloth at its finest. Computers and the Internet have made so many aspects of life effortless, such as sending pictures to friends, “writing essays,” finding directions on Mapquest, and even instant messaging your favorite congressional page. However, the most important tool for the success of this country is television. It raises our kids for us, feeds their addiction, and allows them to escape reality, which has a well-known secular-progressive bias. Instead they receive their consumerist orders from advertisements, which feed the beast of Television. Television is the key to perpetuating our laziness thus manipulating our citizens and maintaining our country’s beautiful McPhysique.

The McPhysique: America the way God intended.

So wake America! Then roll over and fall back asleep into your Monday morning stupor. It’s time to stop thinking and just doing. Even doing is too active. Let’s quit trying to be things we aren’t. No more being active, intelligent, or productive. We need to be a little more passive than that. America should simply “Be.”