Friday, June 26, 2009

We Wear the Mask

The death of Michael Jackson gives me occasion to remember Stanley Crouch's essay "Man in the Mirror," which appeared in the collection Notes of a Hanging Judge.

Responding to those who (simplistically) thought Jackson's plastic surgery a sign of his self-hatred and the singer's desire "to eradicate his Negroid features," Crouch launched a long riff on masks and how we Americans improvise our identities; on practices of ritual mutilation and scarification in Africa; and on minstrel shows and gender bending.

It was Crouch's conclusion that got me, though, when I reviewed the book when it came out in 1997.

"When a man's power is found in an adolescent form, time impinges upon his vitality," he wrote. "If sufficiently spooked, he might be moved to invent a world for himself in which all evidence that he was ever born a particular person at a particular time is removed. That removal might itself become the strongest comment upon the inevitable gloom that comes not of having been given too much too soon but of having been convinced that one is important only so long as he or she is not too old."

The Coming Apocalypse

Two of the scariest books I've ever read are Colman McCarthy's The Road and Thomas L. Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

The Road, which has been made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen and forthcoming in October, is the story of a man and his son wandering in post-apocalyptic America.

Just what's happened--nuclear war? environmental disaster?--isn't clear. But all of society's institutions have collapsed and the unnamed protagonist and his son roam through a bleak, unforgiving landscape where nothing grows and people eat other people to survive.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded shows us how this terrible future could come to pass.

It's a big book--438 pages--and Friedman would have been better s
erved by an editor who made him cut 100 pages or so. Midway through, there's a a long, italicized section about how technology could help us use less energy without significantly altering the way we live that seemed more authorial self-indulgent than absolutely necessary to me.

But, quibbles aside, this is an important--and very scary--book that lays out in exhaustive detail how we got to the point where global warming threatens all life on Earth and what we can do about it.

Yes, Friedman says, there is a solution. The problem is, we needed to have started yesterday.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Celebrating Loving Day

Today, June 12, is Loving Day, a time to remember Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple--he was white; she was of mixed black, white, and Indian ancestry--whose suit resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning laws against interracial marriage in at least 16 states.

You can read more about the Lovings at the link above or at

For two years, my wife and I hosted Loving Day celebrations at our home in Washington, D.C. (One appears in the picture above.)

We're unable to host a celebration this year, which is unfortunate, because Loving Day has particular meaning for us now that we live in Virginia. Forty-two years ago we, too, could have been arrested for violating state law.

But even though we can't host a celebration, we'll still take a moment to remember the Lovings and honor their courage and their desire to live in full possession of all their rights.