- - Monday, June 28, 2010

‘No fun for you’

“The campaign [against the celebratory Persian holiday Chaharshanbe-Suri] culminated in the issuing by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of an unprecedented fatwa that castigated the ritual as both ‘irrational’ and in Islamic terms ‘illegitimate.’ It didn’t work. As ever, millions of Iranians poured into their neighborhoods to observe the national ‘calendar custom.’ …

“Why does the Islamist regime express so much paranoia over Iran’s great annual festival with deep roots in the country’s history? The immediate answer would refer to the political context: in particular, the eruption of popular protest against the fraudulent presidential election of 12 June 2009. …

“But … the suspicion of puritan Islamists towards many public expressions of human pleasure has been evident since the foundation of the regime in 1979. Any occasion of festivity and spontaneous life — informal gatherings at street corners, concerts and sporting contests, student parties and even bustling shopping malls — is regarded by Islamist zealots with profound disdain.”

Asef Bayat, writing on “Iran: torch of fire, politics of fun,” on March 24 at Open Democracy

‘Acting white’

“Traditionally, anti-intellectualism was distributed in black American culture precisely the way it was distributed in general American culture, imputed partly to class and partly to individuality. During and after the Civil War, blacks were starved for education, and the idea that loving to learn was ‘white’ was unknown. … After this, there was no achievement gap of note between blacks and whites. Unsurprisingly, blacks who went to under-funded backwater schools tended not to come out as learned citizens. But when conditions between blacks and whites were equal, there was no problem. …

“It was the demise of segregation, of all things, that helped pave the way for the ‘acting white’ charge. With the closing of black schools after desegregation orders, black students began going to school with white students in larger numbers than ever before. White students were often openly hostile, and white teachers only somewhat less so. … Unsurprisingly, black students started modeling themselves against white ones as a form of self-protection. This dovetailed nicely with the new open-ended wariness of whites that was the bedrock of ‘Black Power’ identity.

“As [Stuart] Buck rightly notes, humans seek group identity, and black teens passed on a sense that black identity did not include ‘white’ scholarly achievement even as the old-fashioned bigotry receded. Hence the ‘acting white’ charge now flung in plush schools like those in Shaker Heights, where racist hostility from whites is an affair of the past.”

John McWhorter, writing on “Guilt Trip,” on June 24 at the New Republic review site the Book

‘Piece of Work’

“By every objective standard, Joan Rivers has reached the pinnacle of success in comedy … but in the ruthlessly honest documentary ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,’ Rivers behaves as if her fragile sense of self-worth will dissipate completely if a crowd at an Indian casino in Wisconsin doesn’t guffaw heartily at every wisecrack and ad-lib. She’s a squirming bundle of insecurities driven relentlessly by desperation, calculation, and the fierce, not unsupportable belief that if she lets up for even a second, her place in the pop-culture hierarchy will be usurped by friend/rival Kathy Griffin.

“‘A Piece of Work’ is the antithesis of Jerry Seinfeld’s engaging but superficial 2002 documentary ‘Comedian’: where the innately private Seinfeld holds nearly everything back, Rivers loudly broadcasts the kind of fears, anxieties, and ambitions most people would do anything to hide. There’s no separation between Rivers‘ onstage and offstage persona. She’s the same shameless ham whether playing to an audience of thousands or to her indulgent entourage.”

Nathan Rabin, writing on “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” on June 10 at the AV Club