Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Michael Jackson’s “Breaking News”

I’m an unapologetic fan of The King of Pop. When I was a kid, I remember my role as the president of the Lewis and Clark Elementary School Breakdancing Club. Don’t tell me I wasn’t rocking those parachute pants and red zippered jacket.

When Jackson died last summer, I grieved half-jokingly, half-seriously, with the interns in my office and tried to explain the real significance of Thriller–its newness, its vitality, its boundary-crossing racial implications–when it first exploded in the 80s. The key was to ignore the crazy. Despite dangling his baby over the hotel balcony, and altering his face to extremes, the man was a genius–an artist doomed by his childhood success. With that kind of fame so early in life, who wouldn’t slip into fantasy worlds?

“Breaking News” is Michael Jackson’s first posthumously released single, recorded in 2007. The song sounds like Jackson in his Bad days: lots of sampling, driving rhythms, and Jackson’s trademark howl.

The cover art, designed by painter Kadir Nelson last year, seems an homage to the playful collage art in the Beatles’ legendary albums–though with a serious spin. According to Sony: “In the oil painting, Kadir – who is known for story telling through his art – takes us on a journey through some key moments and important people in Michael Jackson’s life.”

Long live the King of Pop!

Filed under: music, pop culture, race, , , , , , ,

Jon Stewart & A Ridiculous Glenn Beck

Nice to know that you can be off the grid for a month, and things remain relatively the same.

Take the ridiculousness of Glenn Beck, for example.

In the clip below, Jon Stewart skewers the bombastic, offensive, and completely inappropriate plans of conservative nitwit Glenn Beck to deliver a “Restoring Honor” speech on the same date and the same place as Dr. Martin Luther King. Beck, of course, claims that any echoes of King’s historic speech were pure coincidence.

Stewart ain’t buying it, and neither should anyone with common sense. The entire idea of Beck delivering a speech about equality, civil rights, or social justice is laughable. And the audacity to appropriate King’s moment? Can you say “bad idea”?

“Glenn Beck does have a dream,” Stewart says. “Unfortunately, it’s the kind of dream you have when you eat four pepperoni Hot Pockets right before bed.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Filed under: black history, comedy, race, republican, social justice, united states of america, , , ,

Limbaugh Explains Oprah and Obama’s Success

Vodpod videos no longer available.

You guessed it: Because they’re black.

In this searing clip, Keith Olbermann smacks down Limbaugh and his racist comments (the fun starts at 2:10). More than Glenn Beck and his ridiculous new job as a college professor (Olbermann’s “worse” person award), Rush Limbaugh earns Olbermann’s coveted “Worst Person in the World” award.

Among other odious comments, Limbaugh ranted on his weekend radio show:

[Obama] wouldn’t have been voted president if he weren’t black. Somebody asked me over the weekend, “Why does somebody earn a lot of money, have a lot of money?” I said it’s because he’s black.

It gets worse.

There’s a lot of guilt out there, to show we’re not racists, we’ll make this person wealthy and big and famous and so forth….

Thanks for explaining it all (and for using small words), Rush.

And thanks to Olbermann for doing what he does, drawing our attention to racist remarks like these ones, hiding in plain sight.

Filed under: hate, media, obama, politics, race, racism, , , , , , ,

Indian Americans and the Usefulness of Covering

Southern governor (and candidate) Jindal and Haley are Indian American

If Nikki Haley wins her bid to become the governor of South Carolina, she will join Bobby Jindal at the highest level of Indian Americans in contemporary politics.

This should be a moment of triumph, right? Indian Americans around the country should be rejoicing at the representation, the similar-toned faces and shared priorities, shouldn’t they?

Or, like me, did you not realize that both of these high-profile politicians were of Indian heritage?

Born Nimrata Randhawa, Nikki Haley is the daughter of Indian Punjabi Sikhs who emigrated from Amritsar, India. Her colleague, the current governor of Louisiana, Piyush Jindal, was raised in a Hindu household by Indian immigrants, converting to Christianity in high school and eventually baptized as Roman Catholic while at Brown. It’s telling that both politicians converted to Christianity at an early age.

In The Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan analyzes the success of these American-born politicians: not only have they removed the ethnicity from their birthnames (essentially whitewashing their public title) or exchanging their family’s religion in favor of the majority’s faith, but both public figures have adopted radically conservative stands that mirror the views of their Southern constituencies. As Varadarajan asks:

What explains the success of Jindal and Haley in their respective states? In posing this question, I hint, of course, at the South’s lingering reputation for racial intolerance; and who can deny that the two states in question have not always been at the forefront of America’s historical striving for racial amity?

I was first introduced to the concept of “covering” (as opposed to “passing”) by NYU Law School professor Kenji Yoshino in his book of the same name. Covering, essentially, is actively playing down one’s difference, whether racial, ethnic, sexual, or physical.

FDR covered his physical disability when he presented himself to the public behind his desk, chest-high, his wheelchair absent from view. Vanessa Hudgens and Nicole Sherzinger cover when they play ethnically ambiguous roles and decline to discuss their Filipino heritage. Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster cover when they purposefully avoid disclosing their sexuality to advance career and avoid controversy. As Yoshino writes:

Everyone covers. To cover is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. In our increasingly diverse society, all of us are outside the mainstream in some way.

Haley and Jindal are only the latest in the long history of American covering. What’s frustrating, for me, is not the theory of covering but the actuality of it: that public figures must conform to whitestream notions of normalcy to achieve success. What if Haley or Jindal expressed outrage over racial profiling in Arizona? Would it jeopardize their conservative political careers?

And by covering the essential, indivisible part of their ethnic identity, what kind of message are these very public figures sending to Indian American children? That to take pride in one’s heritage–or to speak against discriminatory policies rooted in xenophobia–creates unnecessary dissent?

For M. Night Shymalan, who whitewashed the summer blockbuster The Last Airbender, issues of covering are irrelevant because people of color are literally represented in his film. That all of the heroes were cast as white actors and the villains played by people of color does not trouble him:

Maybe they didn’t see the faces that they wanted to see but, overall, it is more than they could have expected. We’re in the tent and it looks like the U.N. in there.

What’s the use of a place at the table if we have to cover our identity to get there?

Filed under: asian america, government, india, media, politics, race, racism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What if Spiderman Weren’t White?

There’s a Facebook group trying to cast Donald Glover as the new Spiderman.

Interesting proposition: is it essential that the next incarnation of Peter Parker/Spidey be white? It would be mildly subversive–and a shock to mainstream audiences, I think–to cast a person of color in this role. Under all that skintight superhero wear, it would be great to see a dark-skinned face as the superhero.

Glover himself is a fine actor and comedian. I’ve blogged about Glover and his hilariousness in the past; he’s done hilarious work in Community.

Hey, if it worked for Betty White on Saturday Night Live

Filed under: comedy, entertainment, race, , , , , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2017
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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