Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Part 2 of Denis Simpson and Berend McKenzie, and James Baldwin in conversation with Kenneth Clark

6 PM Mountain Time
CJSR FM88.5 Edmonton
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Tonight on the programme, part two of my conversation with the pair who recently brought a hilarious and deeply-moving autobiographical play to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, a play with title that requires its own language warning: Niggerfag.
As the play’s title suggests, it’s an examination, through vignettes of several parts of McKenzie’s life, of the pain, humour, bewilderment, exhilaration, alienation, terror and love of growing up in Alberta as a gay African-Canadian boy in the 1970s and 80s.

It also happens to be superb, powered by both creators’ understandings of the dual exclusions and humiliations of racism and homophobia.

African-Canadian actor and playwright Berend McKenzie appeared alongside Halle Berry and Sharon Stone in the feature film Cat Woman, and has taken roles in television programmes such as Cold Squad, Jeremiah, Life or Something Like It and Andromeda.

Jamaican-Canadian actor, singer, songwriter, dancer and director Denis Simpson is probably best known as the brother who was the host of longtime Canadian children’s show The Polka Dot Door.
But Simpson’s career is extensive, with more than forty years of screen rolls on shows such as Robson Arms, Soul Food, MacGyver and Seeing Things, among many others, and stage credits including Wang Dang Doodle, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Denis Anyone?

I sat down with both men at the University of Alberta on August 15 to discuss their play, and of course our conversation—at times quite emotional—ranged over the territory of both men’s pains, resentments, insights and inspirations, which in Simpson’s case included James Baldwin.
Tonight you’ll hear the second half of our conversation. A warning: our discussion contains adult language and content. I advise listener discretion.

Part 2 begins with Berend McKenzie exploring his and his audience’s discomfort with both words of his title, and how and why he chose to try to transform those words.

JAMES BALDWIN

Denis Simpson spoke at length about his profound admiration for James Baldwin, the acclaimed American novelist, essayist and social critic who was also a gay man of African descent.

Born 1924 in Harlem to a religiously conservative family, Baldwin became a teenaged Pentecostal preacher. He struggled through poverty to build a career as a writer. Several magazines published his articles, including The Nation, Commentary, Partisan Review and The New Leader.

In 1955 in Europe he wrote the play The Amen Corner, returning to the US to participate in the human rights struggle, which came to propel and define Baldwin’s artistic production, his social vision, and his criticism. His celebrated books include Go Tell It On the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Nobody Knows My Name.

His non-fiction book The Fire Next Time is Baldwin’s exploration of the Nation of Islam, founder Elijah Muhammad, and its then-National Representative Malcolm X, whom Baldwin came to admire deeply, despite his criticisms.

In 1963, Baldwin spoke on American television with African-American psychologist, education activist and human rights advocate Kenneth B. Clark.

Tonight we’ll hear their conversation, startling for its candor about the racial divide even 46 years later, and troubling for how much it says that is still relevant in the allegedly post-racial society in the age of Obama as proclaimed by corporate, Euro-American media.

The audio begins with Clark alluding to a recent meeting between Baldwin and then-US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who, unknown to Baldwin at the time, was subjecting Martin Luther King to FBI surveillance.















Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Political Theatre at the E-Town International Fringe

















6 PM Mountain Time
FM 88.5 Edmonton
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Tonight on the programme, a first for The Terrordome: features on two plays at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, the second-largest theatre festival in the world.

In the second half of tonight’s show, I’ll be speaking with the actors and directors of Honey in the Lion’s Head, an electrifying retelling of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, with overtones of the modern Israel-Palestine conflict.



NGGRFG

But first I’ll be talking with actor-playwright Berend McKenzie and director Denis Simpson about McKenzie’s autobiographical play they’re presenting. I will warn you, their title is a shocker, and portions of tonight’s interviews and excerpts contain adult language guaranteed to offend some. McKenzie’s and Simpson’s play is called Niggerfag.

As the title suggests, the play’s an ex
amination, through vignettes of several parts of McKenzie’s life, of the pain, humour, bewilderment, exhilaration, alienation, terror and love of growing up in Alberta as a gay African-Canadian boy in the 1970s and 80s. It also happens to be a superb play, with remaining shows tonight at 9:30, Friday at noon and Sunday at 3:30 at the Art Barns. (Visit fringetheatreadventures.ca for more information and for tickets.)

African-Canadian actor and playwright Berend McKenzie appeared alongside Halle Berry and Sharon Stone in the feature film Cat Woman, and has taken roles in telev
ision programmes such as Cold Squad, Jeremiah, Life or Something Like It and Andromeda.

Jamaican-Canadian actor, singer, songwriter, dancer and director Denis Simpson is probably best known as the brother who was the host of longtime Canadian children’s show The Polka Dot Door. At one time he even co-hosted it with his sister Gloria Reuben, who played physician assistant Jeanie Boulet on American medical drama E.R.

But Simpson’s career is extensive, with thirty years of screen rolls on shows such as Robson Arms, Soul Food, MacGyver and Seeing Things, among many others, and stage credits including Wang Dang Doodle, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Denis Anyone?

I’ll admit—I was set to hate McKenzie’s and Simpson’s play because of the title. I’m no fan of what’s often called “reclamation,” that is, attempting to transform abusive terms such as the N-word into terms of endearment.

First, because one can’t re-claim something that one never owned and tht someone else created to cause h
urt; second, because the very people who say they’re reclaiming usually continue to use the words as terms of abuse and self-hatred; and third, because better words of endearment such as “brother” and “friend” already exist.

But after sitting down on Saturday with these two men to hear not so much about the title as about the r
emarkable stories in the play, I knew I couldn’t wait to see the show itself. And it’s excellent. Tonight you’ll hear my conversation with both men and an excerpt from the stage play.

Since I knew we’d have plenty of time to discuss his play’s social ideas, and because social artist’s politics are o
ften discussed to the exclusion of their artistry, I began by asking Berend McKenzie to tell me about the aesthetics of his work.



HONEY IN THE LION'S HEAD



Few conflicts of the n
ew millennium are as guaranteed to get people as angry as the crisis between Israel and Palestine.

To some, it’s a straightforward case o
f Westerners under attack by barbarians and fanatics. To others, it’s a heroic struggle against a genocidal colonial occupation.

The truth, of course, is n
owhere near as simple or as neat as that, since polls routinely demonstrate that substantial portions and sometimes majorities on both sides favour a two-state solution and peaceful co-existence. Both sides also have peace groups working for a nonviolent solution to the crisis.

But despite good will on both sides, the occupation continues to spawn violence. The recent Israel-Gaza War was a nightmare: according to the London Independent, 13 Israelis were killed, and more than 1400 Palestinians killed, including 900 civilians, of whom 300 were children.

That kind of disparity, a ratio of 1 to 107, parallels ancient war stories of how one powerful warrior from the side of the “good guys” slew scores or even hundreds of foes from among the “bad guys.”

One of those ancient stories is that of Samson, the Biblical strong-man who slew Philistines by the field-full. Having been betrayed by his Philistine lover Delilah, and blinded by his foes, he collapsed the Philistine temple and killed thousands of his enemies as his final act before his own death.

That story is the basis for the play Honey in the Lion’s Head, currently playing at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, with two more showings, one Thursday at 6:45 and another on Saturday at 2 pm at the Catalyst Theatre. (Visit fringetheatreadventures.ca for more information and for tickets.)

It’s a modern retelling of the war-crossed lovers, but without the baggage of perfect heroes and irredeemable villains in the original text. Director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and actors Nathan Barrett and Chala Hunter explode the story before our eyes while rendering it in human terms.

This isn’t the bombast of a propagandist’s pamphlet or the easy ultimate answers of a sermon. Instead, it’s a rich, engaging, funny, sexy, infuriating, elegant, violent and tragic display of how war, occupation and ethnic hatred deform people’s lives… a depiction of how people who can love are capable of evil, and how people who’ve committed evil are capable of love.

I sat down yesterday with the creators of Honey in the Lion’s Head, and I began by asking director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett why Samson & Delilah, and why now?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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Joker posters are an attack that we must counter





















I've been a public Obama critic since 2004.






















But
I recognise how the current attacks on Obama, including the idiotic Joker-style "socialist" posters are an attack on progressive politics, a subliminal racist attack, and an attack on public healthcare (and Obama is no friend of universal health care that is the standard in the industrialised West).

























But now it's time to go viral on the asses of the people who are against a better society.

























Please distribute, post and make your own variations as widely as possible.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

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TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

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6 pm Mountain Time


When we talk of heroes and icons, we use the language of war. People in search of justice are said to fight “the good fight,” to be battlers and “street-fighting men.”
We speak of crusades and even holy wars, of vanquishing evil and conquest. Martin Luther King Jr., the consummate pacifist, has been called a “warrior for peace.” There are books with ironic titles such as The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.
Even while hailing peace, we seem so enraptured with war that we fail to use metaphors suggesting creation, procreation, birth, production, engineering, teaching or artistry. We conceive of athletes such as ballplayers as heroes, even though heroes risk their privileges and their lives for other people’s betterment, whereas athletes are simply entertainers.

Why? Because the physical clashing of bodies speaks to us of war. And that’s why runners and swimmers are rarely called sports heroes: it’s the sports that offer the potential for collision, or which promise it--hockey, football, boxing—that we associate most with sports heroism.
We revel in our mythological heroes of old and our superheroes of modern comic books and screens because they can perform physical feats—especially the punishment of evil doers—with strength, endurance and grace that elude us. We yearn to have the capacity for violence in our grasp.
Our evolution is intimately connected with our capacity for violence: to kill predators, to kill prey, and to kill competitors for our prey.

Yet it’s just as true, if not more so, that our evolution is intimately connected with our capacity to care, to treasure, to cultivate, to reason, to heal, to comfort and to love.
So why is it so easy for us to use the phrase “Well, that’s human nature for you” when we want to point out evil, when it should be just as easy if not easier to use the phrase when we witness a mother nursing her baby, a father wiping away his son’s tears, a young artist achieving beauty, or a physicist revealing the structure of existence?
How did we learn to think of ourselves as killers and destroyers, and to equate those roles with heroism?
How did we come to believe that the ultimate deployment of violence—war, the greatest drain of resources in human history, the biggest scam ever foisted upon our species—gives us meaning?

Discussing this question tonight is veteran journalist Chris Hedges. At one time a seminarian, Hedges became a journalist and eventually a senior fellow at the Nation Institute.
He’s worked in more than 50 countries across the world as a correspondent, putting in fifteen years with The New York Times alone, for which he served as Middle East Bureau Chief.
Well-versed in English literature, Hedges is also a fluent speaker of Arabic, French, Spanish, Greek and Latin. With his colleagues Hedges earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2002. His solo work achieved him the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. His opposition to the American illegal invasion of Iraq forced him to resign from The New York Times in 2003.

Hedges is the author of several books including the recent Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
His volume War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning exclaims Hedges’ experiences in numerous war zones, and his conclusions about the futility of evil of civilisation’s most destructive activity—one that Hedges compares to an addiction.

Thanks to Active Ingredients Audio for this speech.