Tag Archives: Glenn Beck

“Secretariat”: A gorgeous, creepy American myth

I love Renaissance fairs.  I love eating in old-school diners.  I love going to Medieval Times.  I love playing history.  However, this history is biased and skewed.


Pappy's in Purdue's Student Union; Craig Davison/Summer Reporter for Purdue Exponent

Recently I ate a meal with my boyfriend at Pappy’s in the Purdue Union.  This burger and shake joint has been around at Purdue since 1927!  The diner invokes nostalgia for the halcyon days of the fifties, with old black and white images of cute couples and football players.  These pictures are darling – but where are the black people?  Oh right, they were prevented from attending Purdue then.  Where are the homosexuals?  Oh right, homosexuality was treated as an illness then, and openly gay people were prevented from attending Purdue.  And look at all these buff men – why might the ratio of men to women be so high in these pictures?  Because tons of men were given free rides to Purdue on the GI Bill.  The few women who did attend Purdue were stuck in home ec.

Pappy’s should have a disclaimer at the door: “We understand that white heterosexual males were privileged during the fifties while non-whites, non-heterosexuals, and great quantities of women were prevented from attending Purdue, and therefore enjoying our delicious burgers and shakes.  By recognizing these injustices in the past, we look forward to a more equal future.”

Likewise, Renaissance fairs should have to smell like shit since, literally, people threw their shit in the streets.  You should see women being slapped around, kids crying, and really skinny, hungry peasants.  Doesn’t sound so fun now does it?

Movies should also bear disclaimers, like “This is total horse shit but you’re going to love it anyway!”  Take for example, Secretariat, the new film starring Diane lane which Andrew O’Hehir from Salon describes as “a Tea Party-flavored, Christian-friendly yarn about one big horse and our nation’s past.”

Read on history lovers!

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Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, link to original article

“Secretariat” is such a gorgeous film, its every shot and every scene so infused with warm golden light, that I began to wonder whether the movie theater were on fire. Or my head. But the welcoming glow that imbues every corner of this nostalgic horse-racing yarn with rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose. (Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.) I enjoyed it immensely, flat-footed dialogue and implausible situations and all. Which doesn’t stop me from believing that in its totality “Secretariat” is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.

In its own strange way, “Secretariat” is a work of genius. On its lustrous surface, it’s an exciting sports movie in a familiar triumph-over-adversity vein, based on the real-life career of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, probably the greatest racehorse ever, and his owner, Penny Chenery, played by Diane Lane in a resplendent collection of period knitwear and steel-magnolia ‘tude. “Secretariat” is self-consciously crafted in the mode of last year’s hit “The Blind Side” (which made a zillion bucks and won Sandra Bullock an Oscar), and clearly hopes for similar rewards. Like that film, it uses a “true story” as the foundation for a pop-historical reverie that seems to reference enduring American virtues — self-reliance, stick-to-it-iveness, etc. — without encouraging you to think too much about their meaning or context.

Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in “The Blind Side” (where it’s more like text, period), “Secretariat” actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.

Now, the fact that director Randall Wallace and screenwriter Mike Rich locate this golden age between 1969 and 1973 might seem at first like a ludicrous joke, if you are old enough (as I am) to halfway remember those years. I’ll say that again: The year Secretariat won the Triple Crown was the year the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began. You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK — you could pick right now). Wallace references that social context in the most glancing and dismissive manner possible — Penny’s eldest daughter is depicted as a teen antiwar activist, in scenes that resemble lost episodes of “The Brady Bunch” — but our heroine’s double life as a Denver housewife and Virginia horse-farm owner proceeds pretty much as if the 1950s had gone on forever. (The words “Vietnam” and “Nixon” are never uttered.)

One shouldn’t impute too much diabolical intention to the filmmakers; for all I know, Penny Chenery really did live in an insulated, lily-white bubble of horsey exurban privilege, and took no notice of the country ripping itself apart. But today, in the real world, we find ourselves once again in an enraged and dangerously bifurcated society, and I can’t help thinking that “Secretariat” is meant as a comforting allegory, like Glenn Beck’s sentimental Christmas yarn: The real America has been here all along, and we can get it back. If we just believe in — well, in something unspecified but probably pretty scary.

Religion and politics are barely mentioned in the story of Chenery and her amazing horse, but it’s clear that “Secretariat” was constructed and marketed with at least one eye on the conservative Christian audiences who embraced “The Blind Side.” The film opens with a voice-over passage from the Book of Job and ends with a hymn. Wallace, also the director of “We Were Warriors” and the writer of “Pearl Harbor” and “Braveheart,” is one of mainstream Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to “people with middle-American values.”

Hey, all’s fair in art and commerce. Hollywood has finally woken up (a few decades late) to the enormous consumer power of the Christian market, and given all the namby-pamby Tinseltown liberalism right-wingers love to complain about, it’s about time. But it’s legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and “middle-American” inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they’re just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia. This long-suffering female Job overcomes such tremendous obstacles as having been born white and Southern and possessed of impressive wealth and property, and who then lucks into owning a genetic freak who turned out to be faster and stronger than any racehorse ever foaled. And guess what? She triumphs anyway!

If Americans love to root for the underdog, they may love to root for the favorite disguised as the underdog even more. That’s pretty much what happens here, with the blond, privileged Penny Chenery and her superhorse posed as emblems of American ingenuity and power against the villainous, swarthy and vaguely terrorist-flavored Pancho Martin (Nestor Serrano), trainer of Sham, Secretariat’s archrival. (Even the horse’s name is evil!) The competition between the two horses was real enough; they raced neck-and-neck in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But the depiction of Martin as an evil, chauvinistic braggart is fictional and highly unpleasant — and it’s tough not to notice that he’s one of only two nonwhite speaking characters in the film. The other one is Eddie (Nelsan Ellis), an African-American groom who belongs to a far more insidious tradition of movie stereotypes. Eddie dances and sings. He loves Jesus and that big ol’ horse. He is loyal and deferential to Miz Penny, and injects soul and spirit into her troubled life. I am so totally not kidding.

To move from content back to form, let me repeat that there’s a whole lot to like in “Secretariat.” Diane Lane gives a weirdly compelling performance, one of her best. She renders Penny Chenery as an iron-willed superwoman, striking and magisterial but utterly nonsexual, illuminated from within like a medieval saint. She busts down the doors on the boys’ club of old-money Kentucky and Virginia racing, outwits the tax authorities and defangs Pancho Martin, in between doing loads of her kids’ laundry. It’s hard to say who is more indomitable, Penny or the magnificent colt she called Big Red, who capped his Triple Crown with an unbelievable 31-length victory at New York’s Belmont Stakes. It’s a charismatic, ultra-cornball performance, and right about the time that Rich’s screenplay runs out of let’s-go-get-’em speeches for Lane to deliver, Wallace and cinematographer Dean Semler step in with wonderfully varied and dazzling approaches to Secretariat’s four big races (the Triple Crown plus the earlier Wood Memorial, where he finished fourth).

Despite those thrilling sequences, you don’t learn much more about the world of racing in “Secretariat” than you learn about Facebook in “The Social Network” (and a lot of the stuff about racing in this movie is wrong or misleading). (You won’t learn anything about anything from John Malkovich’s mailed-in performance as eccentric French-Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin.) Big Red himself is a big, handsome MacGuffin, symbolic window dressing for a quasi-inspirational fantasia of American whiteness and power. Horses don’t go to the movies, and this movie is about human beings, and our nonsensical but inescapable yearning to find the keys to the future in stupid ideas about a past that never existed.

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“Michael Jackson, Glenn Beck, MLK, and the Worlds We Create” – Racialicious

This is an excerpt of Latoya Peterson’s poignant blog post for Racialicious.  Read and watch the entire article here.

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Friday night, after another day of survey gathering and site visits, I headed over to the 9:30 club for DJ Dredd’s dance party to celebrate Michael Jackson’s birthday. As we swayed with the crowd rocking along to Michael’s (and Janet’s!) greatest hits, an observation kept pushing to the forefront of my mind, one I had wanted to write about last year when he passed.

While much was written about the racial politics of Michael Jackson, particularly in reference to his skin color/plastic surgeries, there was little discussion of the most striking part of Michael’s racial politics: the worlds he created in his music videos. Most folks are familiar with two of his most political hits, “Black or White” and “Man in the Mirror.”

But what always stood out to me was the populations of Michael’s created worlds – which were overwhelmingly multicultural, featuring a lot of different types of people all rolling with the King of Pop.

Michael’s worlds were often overwhelmingly urban. Featuring streetscapes and subcultures, Michael’s videos illuminated – and humanized – different segments of American and global life, in the face of a pop culture environment that insisted those types of images remain marginalized. Even his journey back to ancient Egypt became a quiet political statement.

Watching the mega-sized images accompanying the DJs selections, and looking at the assembled crowd gathered, it hit me that Michael’s legacy was one of both pop and politics – and in many ways, he had succeeded, continuing to unite very different factions of people through the shared love of his music.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to work Columbia Heights Day for the Public Media Corp (Read the whole article to get the full gist of her work). Sore from dancing, but with Michael’s songs playing in my head in an endless loop, I worked, gathered surveys, handed out waters, and looked at the conscious effort to create community. It was interesting working an event in my neighborhood – some of the other fellows asked if the make up of the crowd go-ers reflected Columbia Heights. While the crowd was pretty diverse for a community day, it still didn’t reflect the Columbia Heights I have come to know and love. Columbia Heights Day was intended to celebrate the diversity of a neighborhood in transition, the historically working-class black and latino population meshing with the new young, predominantly white professional set. But did we succeed in creating a celebration the entire community felt comfortable participating in?

It is these ideas of inclusion and exclusion that I keep thinking of, particularly in the aftermath of this weekend.

If my neighborhood looks like this:

Columbia Heights Mural

And Glenn Beck’s world (amusingly tagged “Whitestock”) looks like this:

And Al Sharpton’s world (as seen by his “Reclaim the Dream” rally) looks like this:

Al Sharpton Rally

What type of worlds are we each creating?

If Beck cared about creating a truly equitable society, then where is that reflected? Why didn’t the Restoring Honor rally look like my neighborhood? Or, better yet, why didn’t it look like Dr. King’s original march on Washington?

Dr. King's original march on Washington

…The part I hate the most is that we are all involved in shaping and creating the world in which we live – even those who chose to dodge these issues. And, as Dr. King showed, inclusion and opportunity for all is something that must be fought for. Complacency will not lead to equality. Bitterness (which many trade upon for political gain) and hatred of those different than ourselves can never lead to true unity – only more divisions… The battle has changed, no doubt, but in many ways we are still fighting for those same values so many marched for in the 1960s.

In a way, I can understand why people want to declare the fight for racial equality over. It is tiring work, to undo hundreds of years of policy, thousands of years of conditioning that those that are different are lesser beings. It is so temptingly easy to rest on our laurels now, to say that the heavy lifting was over, that the most important goals have been achieved. And it is far to easy to allow those who did not stand with us to pervert what we fought for, to “get their country back” by ignoring the massive inequalities that still exist.

No one said fighting for justice will be easy. And it is always a fight. In our own, tiny way, sweating out in the sun with surveys that most people don’t want to take, grappling with feeling inadequate, fighting the feelings of internalized shame, wanting to give up, knowing that if we do, we will do a grave disservice to the communities that need the most help…

The larger fight requires far, far more effort.

But, luckily, we have a lot of things working in our favor.

One of which is the burning desire for a better world, held by those who can look around and acknowledge that yes, injustice exists, and yes, we have the power to change it.

And fortunately, those of us who believe that we can make a change have a kick ass soundtrack to help ease the load.

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