Mar 23, 2008

The Desi Guy in Sitcoms

Years after Apu, there have been a string of desi guys who have shown up in supporting roles on sit-coms. Everyone remembers "Babu Bhatt" from Seinfeld (though I'm still trying to forget). I'm sure people can name their favorites (or crappiest), but I'll just do this quickly. After all, I'm sure some of the pop culture sites have probably covered this a million times:

1) Unhitched - Shaun Majumdar - I just watched a snip of this, and it was bad. The dude's accent sucked - I don't know if he was hamming it up to prove the point that he doesn't actually have an accent, but it was pretty bad. Though he was apparently a "pro" at getting the "O" when married, of course it was tied to "tantric" technique, which he then went on to teach another character. So he's a sex machine. That doesn't really inspire me to think his character is breaking any molds (reading that he's a doctor in the show doesn't help). I couldn't stand it anymore.

2) Aliens in America - Adhir Kalyan - when I first heard about this show's premise, foreign exchange student from Pakistan lives with a family in Wisconsin, I really expected the worst. I heard from somewhere that it wasn't that bad, and because "Unhitched" was so terrible (and I was coming off a really funny Simpsons), I decided to check this out a gain. I'm glad that I did. The show actually dealt with some issues of difference and understanding fairly well for a sit-com. I was pretty pleased - I thought it would be more of a gloss on Gene Yang's Chin-kee character (see the wonderful, American Born Chinese), but it was a little more layered than that. In a way that is simplistic (who's the target audience for this show, after all), it is still humanizing this kid and gives us something better than the b.s. thrown out every week in shows like 24 and the like. Hey, and there's a cover of "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding" on the show that features Salman Ahmad of Junoon. That's pretty cool. I actually thought the episode I watched was better than most of the "Little Mosque on the Prairie" stuff I watched earlier.

3) Weeds/30Rock - Maulik Pancholy - The roles are not specifically desi, and that's kind of cool, actually. His politics are good, and he's a funny actor. I really enjoyed seeing him on Weeds, and haven't seen an episode of 30Rock with him, but he's just a character, not a desi character, and that's refreshing.

I'm pretty sure that show with geeks or super geniuses and the female neighbor (I think it's called Big Bang Theory?) has a desi guy in it, wielding the protractor or some other nonsense, but I haven't watched more than a snip of the pilot.

Beyond the quick run-through of characters, I think it's an interesting comment on how the desi guy has become the new accessory in these shows. Is it the accent? Is it some residual glow from the "Harold and Kumar" phenomenon? I'm really not sure, but it's definitely become more prominent. "Aliens..." actually focuses on the character, while the other shows have the characters in much more supporting roles, but it's an interesting time to watch what evolves out of this for desi male actors. Will they graduate from the boxes that they're placed in at this point (or do we say "not playing a terrorist" = the second wave of desi men on the little screen?).

Regardless, I still think Mindy Kailing, of the office, is the funniest South Asian on American television. And she's writing a lot of the stuff herself!

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Mar 20, 2008

Obama's Speech

Okay, I didn't hear Obama deliver the speech. I read it the morning before he delivered it, and I have to say a few things from the moment I read it:

1) Why did he make that comment about "staunch ally Israel"? Was that really necessary? He took the cheap shot, dismissed the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and kind of bent backwards when he really didn't need to go there. So that was annoying.

2) We've been saying for a long time that Obama had to talk about race in some real way. Running the campaign as a "post-race" candidate just appealed to the neo-cons who have hijacked the idea of a "color-blind society" from Dr. King and turned it into a crusade to ignore the devastating and real impact that race still has in the United States. It's not just about the past, either. It's about how things are right now and how they will be if we keep going the way we're going. Obama running for office was presented by some people - liberals who didn't seem to have a more critical analysis, especially - as a big step towards "healing" the country's wounds and divisions. A lot of people said to me, well of course he believes the same things we do about institutional racism and how far this nation still needs to go. He just can't talk about that right now, to get elected. Just get him in office, and you'll see.

Well that wasn't good enough for me. If other issues were handled that way - we would just work on faith that health care was a priority for Hilary but she wouldn't have to talk about it. Or national security for McCain. But that's not how it works, and just ignoring race, when it was clearly the subtext of the polling analysis and the undercurrent of "what will middle America, the white folk who don't live in cities do when it's time to vote?" didn't seem right. I felt like it was racist in itself to say that talking about race is too "controversial." Maybe Obama wouldn't have gotten this far if he'd had the dialog that his speech is said to have kicked up, a while ago. Maybe this is as soon as he could have had it. I don't know, but I think the way he approached these questions earlier (or didn't) really troubled (and puzzled) me.

3) I don't know, is it just me (I know it's not) - but I found Reverend Wright's sermons - at least the snippets we kept hearing - quite refreshing. It's funny that the media is calling the sermons so problematic. They should do the same about all the anti-gay sermons, literature, talk-show appearances that the mainstream evangelists do all the time. Or even just the simple "nonbelievers will go to hell" litany that immediately makes me feel pretty angry and powerless. But there have been some great pieces about how this may be the first time that white people in the mainstream are actually hearing the tone of what a lot of people feel. Maybe it's the first time that a lot of white folks are actually getting a glimmer of a sense of what it's like to feel powerless against someone speaking so patently against your closely held beliefs. Now imagine what it would be like if you really didn't have the political and race-based power that you have. I don't think you can.

4) Obama's speech surprised me. I didn't expect him to go as straight on with some of the points that he did. I was actually happy that he didn't make light of the anger, of the history that people all remember. That he didn't bring things up to say "all is fine now" but to reinforce his message of hope. I think he could have taken a safer road (though I don't know how revolutionary his speech was - he was towing some lines while saying "hold up, things aren't perfect"), and I'm happy that he didn't. I don't know if he's won away my vote in the general election from Nader/Gonzalez, but he finally showed me that he gets some of what we've been talking about in radical circles of color for a while.

5) That said, some of my friends have just trashed the speech. They hated it, they thought it didn't push the debate at all, they say that it was a purely political speech. I guess I'm not as cynical about it - though I can be pretty brutal in the post-mortem. I think that political operatives and the whole SAFO crowd are a little nutty, and not objective at all, but there's also such a thing as being over-critical without giving people the moment that they kind of deserve. I have to give Obama this moment - it was impressive, he's been getting and will continue to get a lot of slack for whatever he says, and really, the man said I'm not going to back down but I'm not going to yell in your face. I don't know if I'd be able to do that, myself. Because emotions are clearly running high, and he has been able to keep his poise and take the higher road through all of the b.s. It almost seems like he's too good at it - but that's not a fault. We may just be too cynical on the left to acknowledge and accept that.

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Mar 17, 2008

Maiden: Somewhere In Your Wallet Album?

Okay - so I'm clearly a Maiden fan, have been for a long time (again, not as long as some of the folks out there, but long enough), and was really happy with the last studio album. But how many greatest hits packages do you need? They are coming out with ANOTHER "greatest" hits, this time from "1980 - 1989" and the only reason to even look at it in the store is to see how the new Derek Riggs picture looks close-up (it's likely a digital piece, so it doesn't have the crispness of his original paintings, but it's still a Derek Riggs).

I'm sure we can all complain about what's included and what's not, but do we really need "Iron Maiden," "The Trooper," etc? I think I'm going to have to pull together my own dream set list for a show, and/or even for a "greatest hits" package. They don't throw in a new song (at least Best of the Beast had "Virus" on it), they don't give you alternate versions, and there's no best of the b-sides disk (for those of us who couldn't buy the outrageously expensive treasure trove, Eddie's Archive).

The other thing that's funny about this release is that they have a funky download first option that they are rolling out (and trumpeting) that just seems: 1) bizarre; 2) lame; and 3) like the idea really is "somewhere back in time" - like 10 years ago, in the context of what other groups are doing. If Maiden were really on top of this stuff, they'd take a number from Trent Reznor's book, pull together some deluxe packages for fans with Derek Riggs artwork, picks, whatever, and they'd be able to totally make the headlines and fuck up the major labels. Can you imagine if they gave the greatest hits away for free as a download, for real? And if you "buy" it - you'd get a special disk of b-sides and/or a small poster? Hell - Maiden is so rich that they could do a special printing of a 7" picture disk for a reasonably prized deluxe edition. How many fans would jump at that? I know I would. And it could go directly to them, or hell, to the Clive Burr Foundation that's been set up.

But they are conventional, and their management can't think that far ahead. And while I still love the music, I'm getting really sick of seeing the high prices and redundant releases. Do you really need that much more money?

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Mar 16, 2008

Somewhere Back in Time Concert Review

I caught Maiden at the Meadowlands on Friday, and what can I say? First, it was the third time I've seen them, after the Brave New World tour, their stint on Ozzfest where they played the tightest 1.25 hour set I could imagine from their first four albums, and this one, where they stretched out a bit and celebrated the Live After Death DVD release (finally!) with a throwback to that period. This time out, they promised to play songs from the next few albums, and we were treated to the four songs from Powerslave that people knew, a couple of tracks from Somewhere in Time, and a golden 3 from Seventh Son (as well as a sing-along of "Fear of the Dark," the title track from the album that I've written about earlier).

What can I say? I got into Maiden after a good friend said "you found Guns 'n' Roses? You should listen to this" and handed me Somewhere in Time. So I don't go as far back as many of the other fans who can point to original pressings of Metal for Muthas and whatever, but I ate it up. Maiden was the first band I really obsessed over, and getting to know the back-catalog became a bit of an obsession. I settled on my favorite album (post-D'ianno, of course) to be Seventh Son for a long time, and it remains the one album I know I can put on at any time and just listen to straight through (though "Can I Play With Madness" grates on my nerves, to be honest). Anyway, as I've gone through many phases in music, and even in my interest in much heavier stuff now, Maiden remains for me, as I can imagine for a lot of other people, a touchstone, a reminder of a simpler time, and a consistent favorite.

Going to this show was particularly exciting because the only good live recordings of songs from Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son I had heard were from Maiden England, which I thought was phenomenal. I wished I had known about the band (and been able to get out of the house for concerts) during the Seventh Tour. But even just hearing a few of these songs live for my first time would be a real treat, so I was excited.

I'll just break down my realizations after the show briefly:

1) Large venue shows kind of suck. Too much money for tickets (and Ticketfucker is involved and sucking the marrow out of your bones as you pay), parking and getting out of the clusterfuck parking lot sucks, and you have to walk a long time to get back to your vehicle.

2) Concert shirts are damn expensive. I'm a bit old to still buy t-shirts and wear them (and my walls don't have space for this shit anymore), but come on: $45 for a t-shirt?! Now I see the "strategy" that Metallica is employing, since their shirts are now available at JC Penney (well, I saw a Ride the Lightning shirt there, next to something with Pac-Man on it, I think). My souvenirs from the show? A downgrade in my hearing ability and a postcard announcing new tour dates in June.

3) There are a lot of assholes who come to Maiden shows. They are too accessible, they have been around too long, and they are an easy name to drop to show your "creds." So there are a lot of dicks who comes to these shows. We almost torched some of them when they started tapping our vehicle to talk to us.

4) There aren't really surprises when you come to a Maiden show: the catalog is deep, the B-sides aren't as deep -- with all the coverst they do, you can enjoy the songs when you get them but who cares to hear that shit live -- but they don't really have the space for spontaneity, which is too bad, really. So while there are new songs on this set that we haven't heard live, it's not like they are suddenly pulling back and giving you "Flash of the Blade" or "Big 'Orra" or something. Or even a throwback to the old Smith/Murray dual guitar solo that they did during Somewhere in Time. After seeing some other acts a few times, like Springsteen, who has been around for longer than Maiden, and seeing how he pulls together set lists that are so different each night -- drawing from fan favorites that aren't singles to obscure b-sides, and not really catering to the lowest common denominator each time -- you feel like you can go to one Maiden show, and you know 75% of the songs you're going to get each time (give or take a few tracks from the new album, if there is one). So that was a bit of a downer, though I don't know what I was expecting. I guess I feel like if they have to go back to the first 4 albums for some of the standards, I'd rather hear "Flight of Icarus" or "Still Life" live, which I didn't catch when they did their first revival of the old stuff, than the 1 millionth replay of "Iron Maiden," "The Number of the Beast," or whatever else. Maybe it's just because I can tell that they are on the top of their game as musicians playing the material (they were amazing), and I want to see/hear more.

5) Adrian Smith could be in a harder band. He looks the part. Janick is ridiculous with his onstage presence, but it's endearing now. Dave Murray's leads were on fire. I would have killed for even a short detour on one of the songs though, to let the guitarists breath a little. A tight set is a wonderful thing, but it would have been so worth it to see them let loose a little bit more.

Anyway - I don't want to seem overly critical. It was a Maiden show, it was amazing, and I was so happy I went. I may not get to see them when they return to the area in June, because of the damn bar exam, but I'm glad I saw them here. Hearing "Wasted Years," "Moonchild," "The Clairvoyant," and a few other songs just made the night for me. I think I'll have to pull together my dream set-list for a 2 hour show, just to see how different it would be. Thankfully, they didn't play "Die With Your Boots On," or else those poseurs who got in our way when we were trying to leave might have ended up on the evening news.


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Mar 12, 2008

Free Tibet!

The escalating tensions between China and the displaced Tibetan populations in India and the diaspora should hopefully raise people's consciousness about the egregious human rights violations that plague this relationship. I hope that more Asian Americans are very critical of what China has done to the Tibetan people - "saving" Tibet is not enough. Tibet must be free.

And people should disassociate their ethnic/racial pride as Asian Americans of Chinese descent from the nation/state of China - who you are is not defined by the political nation from whence your forebears came. South Asian Americans/Brits/Canadians are some of the fiercest critics of their countries of origin - because they have a legitimacy that may turn more heads than random white people. But for some reason, people don't always seem that comfortable with other Asian nations (show me that I'm wrong).

I've long considered Tibetans to be South Asian brothers and sisters, not that the boundaries matter that much, but they are a strong and proud people, and I don't really have a lot of faith that ever-more capitalist India will continue to be a safe-haven for Tibetans, even though so many of the young folks who are willing to march/fight for Tibetan freedom were actually born in India. How long before the Indian middle class says "let's cut this vestige of failed socialist Nehruvian policies - Tibetans are an internal matter for China to deal with, and we should stop letting them in."

Now is the time, I think, for some movement on this issue. But I want to learn more about it before I just shoot off from the heart without knowledge.

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Mar 11, 2008

Arthur Who?: Confronting Anti-Islamic Opinion in Asian Week

In today's Asian Week Opinion, Arthur Hu posted a vitriolic response to Michelle Obama's statement (a lifetime ago, it seems) that a particular moment was the first time she'd been proud to be an American (taken out of context and clarified ad-naseum, so I'm not going to go there).

His text includes this nugget:

Nearly half of America is crazy about the man, but I haven’t seen a survey asking if America was ready to promote a son of Islam, Christian or not. Even McCain had to apologize for a host who emphasized Obama’s middle name.

You should get the idea from that. I'm getting fed up of the islamophobia or just flat out bigotry that's coming up in "Asian American" spaces. I want to think that it's just ignorance, but I suspect that it's worse: Asian Americans, even those who think that they are representing some kind of dissident or civil rights voice, have bought into the American bias hook, line, and sinker. It makes navigating Asian American spaces really difficult for Asian Americans who are either Muslim or work in Muslim communities (read: South Asian). I'm not taking this shit anymore. I'm calling these people out.

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Mar 3, 2008

Asian American Activism: The Safe Work?

I've written here about working in the South/Asian American communities, and seeing that work as being where I've been and where I want to be after finishing with school. But regular interactions with family and desi family friends have made me think more about that choice: specifically because of how matter-of-course the older generation have adopted the racism of white America, fitting right into the racial hierarchy that puts them somewhere between blacks and whites, unless they get uppity.

Sure we get angry, upset, and try to educate within our communities, but how much is sinking in? How much just looks to people like we're idealistic? If we can't even move people on issues of faith (i.e. we are the same people, but choose to worship differently, so what's the big deal?), how are we going to combat all the racial programming that has convinced them that they want nothing to do with the black community (and increasingly, "those Mexicans"). I thought I had the patience, but I end up just ranting nowadays, not moving the dialog at all.

So I've started thinking that because there is still this perception that all South Asians or other Asian Americans in the United States are doing well, working in South/Asian American communities is a "safe" choice to explain/justify to the older generation. They think "job discrimination, yeah, I went through that in my effort to get my engineering job" so they think it's good that you're fighting for that particular right. They don't think you're talking about undocumented workers whose rights are being abused by other South Asians. Even domestic violence, which is so pervasive in our communities here, is connected as a middle class dilemma, and isn't questioned as much.

Never mind that we're thinking and talking about redistributive economics and hoping to work with people who will not be able to get that perfect job as a doctor, because they came here as laborers. The class distinctions are not quite as relevant to them - they can say "my daughter works for our community" without really thinking about what that "our" is -- it's still safe. "South Asian" the way we see it and the way they characterize/envision it is so different.

I'm starting to think that this enables us to do this work without being questioned to the same degree, probably, as people working for social, economic, and racial justice in a space that works primarily with other people of color - with "immigrants' rights" being thought of as working with the Latin@ communities in the middle, and working with Black communities still at the bottom of the perception latter for the first generation. So I'm starting to wonder if I'm taking the safe road by trying to work in South Asian or even Asian immigrant communities. Is it easy to hide some of the significant differences between my life experiences and those of the communities I want to work with because we have "co-ethnicity" for me to hide behind? Seeing how many people that work in Asian or South Asian spaces are incredibly centrist, are we just enabling more of the same by working in these spaces that don't really shake up the status quo? Are we just doing "charity" rather than "movement" work?

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Ahmedabad's Fancy Marketing

Check out the video below, sent to me by a family member who was born and raised in the city. It's amazing how you can just look at these things without a critical eye and think "wow - how great!" But then you start to think about how the city is incredibly segregated between the Muslim and Hindu/Jain sections, how Muslims live in abject poverty, and how there is such deep-seated hatred, racism, and bigotry fomenting in the middle-class Hindus/Jains there and abroad (which just makes no sense - you're doing okay, why are you hating on the people who are suffering?). And you remember that Ahmedabad has been the epicenter of Gujarat's politics of hate, culminating in the pograms in which thousands were killed and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes.

This is obviously to appeal to tourists and commerce interests abroad, saying "hey, remember us? forget about Banglalore and the other cities," but the omission of Muslims and/or the history of communal violence from the narrative about the city altogether (how many more pujas do you want to show, after all?) is very disturbing.

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Mar 2, 2008

Misogyny and Election 2008

Sometime in January, Gloria Steinem sent up an op-ed in the Times that got a lot of play because she compared the misogyny and sexism that Hilary was facing in the race - and by extension, that women face in their everyday lives - with the limited outright racism that confronted Obama in the race to date. The piece drew a lot of ire from various camps, and I don't know if there was any real resolution or even a follow-up or clarification by Steinem. Obviously, you can't really get far by comparing oppressions, but she was trying to make a point about how even facially obvious sexism pervades American culture.

I was not as sympathetic to the point earlier, knowing that there are a lot of factors -- class and particular life history -- that have been greasing the wheels for Obama at that point, and he offers good proof to the proponents of color-blindness that the system works (similar to Clarence Thomas, Alberto Gonzalez (maybe not so much anymore) and other really successful people of color). Of course racism exists, and is still deeply embedded in the institutional oppression and generational disadvantages that have made it more difficult for people and communities of color to have a fair shake.

But I've been thinking more about Steinem's points, and after seeing the segment below on Meet the Press today, was just absolutely shocked in two ways. First, Tim Russert pointing to recent Pew Research Center poll results (with an N of an undisclosed number, but higher than 100 people), mentioned that when asked to sum up the leading candidates in one word, 11 people said a "word that rhymes with rich." I was shocked that that a significant a percentage of people actually felt comfortable enough to say something that offensive. That's a large segment, and it seems to be very telling that they can use a slur rather than even some indirect way of getting to the point. Obama's words were pretty vanilla, pun both intended and not.

But when I went to the actual Pew site for the poll, I started thinking more about what happened on Meet the Press, and realized my second moment of shock and disgust: the Pew website summary doesn't draw the list out as far as the list shown on MTP. They only go down the top five. In essence, MTP could have done the same thing and made the same point. And I just wonder - even on the full list there's nothing remotely similar in the columns for the other two men (though McCainites might beg to differ concerning the "liberal" on his list, but I guess he should rest assured that nearly as many people called Hilary "socialist").

Why did they include the really offensive comment? Why was that okay? Beyond a conspiracy theory, what does it say about how acceptable it is to put something like that on national television (I don't give a fuck about your disclaimer, Tim Russert, that this is a "family" program, you still had it out there). Sorry, that's fucked up. Here's the clip:

While I'm not a big fan of either candidate at this point, this really made me think more about what this race is bringing up, and the fact that while "women" (of all backgrounds) and men of color may have aligned interests against white male patriarchy, there are some other things going on here that make it easier for some men of color to rise in prominence and still preserve the underlying inequalities of power that keep this society so screwed up.

This moment serves as a reminder to me that sexism and patriarchy are important oppressions that I have to keep in mind at all points, not just as an item on a checklist to mention while flashing left credentials. This shit is real.

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