Julian Assange (Wikileaks) & Slavoj Zizek in a debate with Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now!

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Zizek speaks at Occupy Wall Street / October 9, 2011

“They tell you we are dreamers.
The true dreamers are those who think
Things can go on indefinetely the way they are!
We are not dreamers.
We are the awakening
from a dream which is turning into a nightmare…”

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Angela Davis in “The Meaning of Freedom” (With art by Shepard Fairey and music by Fugees, M. Fanti and Arrested Development)

Power

Art by Shepard Fairey

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Angela Davis

ANGELA DAVIS in The Meaning of Freedom.


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“Beware of those leaders and theorists who eloquently rage against white supremacy but identify black gay men and lesbians as evil incarnate. Beware of those leaders who call upon us to protect our young black men but will beat their wives and abuse their children and will not support a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy. Beware of those leaders! And beware of those who call for the salvation of black males but will not support the rights of Caribbean, Central American, and Asian immigrants, or who think that struggles in Chiapas or in Northern Ireland are unrelated to black freedom! Beware of those leaders!

Regardless of how effectively (or inneffectively) veteran activists are able to engage with the issues of our times, there is clearly a paucity of young voices associated with black political leadership. The relative invisibility of youth leadership is a crucial example of this crisis in contemporary black social movements. On the other hand, within black popular culture, youth are, for better or for worse, helping to shape the political vision of their contemporaries. Many young black performers are absolutely brilliant. Not only are they musically dazzing, they are also trying to put forth anti-racist and anti-capitalist critiques. I’m thinking, for example, about Nefertiti, Arrested Development, The Fugees, and Michael Franti…”

Listen to Fugee’s The Score (Full Album)

Download Arrested Development’s album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…  

Michael Fanti’s albums for download in one single torrent

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“There are already one million in prison in the United States. This does not include the 500.000 in city and county jails, the 600.000 on parole, and the 3 million people on probation. It also does not include the 60.000 young people in juvenile facilities, which is to say, there are presently more than FIVE MILLION people either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation… Not only is the duration of imprisonment drastically extended, it is rendered more repressive than ever. Within some state prison systems, weights have even been banned. Having spent time in several jails myself, I know how important it is to exercise the body as well as the mind. The barring of higher education and weight sets implies the creation of an incarcerated society of people who are worth little  more than trash to the dominant culture.

Who is benefiting from these ominous new developments? There is already something of a boom in the prison construction industry. New architectural trends that recapitulate old ideas about incarceration such as Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon have produced the need to build new jails and prisons – both public and private prisons. And there is the dimension of the profit drive, with its own exploitative, racist component. It’s also important to recognize that the steadily growing trend of privatization of U.S. jails and prisons is equally menacing… We therefore ask: How many more black bodies will be sacrified on the altar of law and order?

The prison system as a whole serves as an apparatus of racist and political repression… the fact that virtually everyone behind bars was (and is) poor and that a disproportionate number of them were black and Latino led us [the activists] to think about the more comprehensive impact of punishment on communities of color and poor communities in general. How many rich people are in prison? Perhaps a few here and there, many of whom reside in what we call country club prisons. But the vast majority of prisoners are poor people. A disproportionate number of those poor people were and continue to be people of color, people of African descent, Latinos, and Native Americans.

Some of you may know that the most likely people to go to prison in this country today are young African American men. In 1991, the Sentencing Project released a report indicating that 1 in 4 of all young black men between the ages of 18 and 24 were incarcerated in the United States. 25% is an astonishing figure. That was in 1991. A few years later, the Sentencing Project released a follow-up report revealing that within 3 or 4 years, the percentage had soared to over 32%. In other words, approximately one-third of all young black men in this country are either in prison or directly under the supervision and control of the criminal justice system. Something is clearly wrong.”

 (pg. 25, 27 and 38)

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“When a child’s life is forever  arrested by one of the gunshots that are heard so frequently in poor black and Latino communities, parents, teachers, and friends parede in demonstrations bearing signs with the slogan ‘STOP THE VIOLENCE.’ Those who live with the daily violence associated with drug trafficking and increasing use of dangerous weapons by youth are certainly in need of immediate solutions to these problems. But the decades-old law-and-order solutions will hardly bring peace to poor black and Latino communities. Why is there such a paucity of alternatives? Why the readiness to take on a discourse and entertain policies and ideological strategies that are so laden with racism?

Ideological racism has begun to lead a secluded existence. It sequesters itself, for example, within the concept of crime. (…) I, for one, am of the opinion that we will have to renounce jails and prisons as the normal and unquestioned approaches to such social problems as drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and illiteracy. (…) When abolitionists raise the possibility of living without prisons, a common reaction is fear – fear provoked by the prospect of criminals pouring out of prisons and returning to communities where they may violently assault people and their property. It is true that abolitionists want to dismantle structures of imprisonment, but not without a process that calls for building alternative institutions. It is not necessary to address the drug problem, for example, within the criminal justice system. It needs to be separated from the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation is not possible within the jail and prison system.

We have to learn how to analyze and resist racism even in contexts where people who are targets and victims of racism commit acts of harm against others. Law-and-order discourse is racist, the existing system of punishment has been deeply defined by historical racism. Police, courts, and prisons are dramatic examples of institutional racism. Yet this is not to suggest that people of color who commits acts of violence against other human beings are therefore innocent. This is true of brothers and sisters out in the streets as well as those in the high-end suites… A victim of racism can also be a perpetrator of sexism. And indeed, a victim of racism can be a perpetrator of racism as well. Victimization can no longer be permitted to function as a halo of innocence.”

(pg. 29 – 31)

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A Shepard Fairey exhibition

“Black people have been on the forefront of radical and revolutionary movements in this country for several centuries. (…) Not all of us have given up hope for revolutionary change. Not all of us accept the notion of capitalist inevitability based on the collapse of socialism. Socialism of a certain type did not work because of irreconcilable internal contradictions. Its structures have fallen. But to assume that capitalism is triumphant is to use a simplistic boxing-match paradigm. Despite its failure to build lasting democratic sctructures, socialism nevertheless demonstrated its superiority over capitalism on several accounts: the ability to provide free education, low-cost housing, jobs, free child care, free health care, etc. This is precisely what is needed in U.S. black communities… and among poor people in general. Harlem furnishes us with a dramatic example of the future of late capitalism and compelling evidence of the need to reinvigorate socialist democratic theory and practise – for the sake of our sisters and brothers who otherwise will be thrown into the dungeons of the future, and indeed, for the sake of us all.

During the McCarthy era, communism was established as the enemy of the nation and came to be represented as the enemy of the “free world”. During the 1950s, when membership in the Communist Party of U.S.A. was legally criminalized, many members were forced underground and/or were sentenced to many years in prison. In 1969, when I was personally targeted by anti-communist furor, black activists in such organizations as the Black Panther Party were also singled out. As a person who represented both the communist threat and the black revolutionary threat, I became a magnet for many forms of violence… If we can understand how people could be led to fear communism in such a visceral way, it might help us to apprehend the ideological character of the fear of the black criminal today.

The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted as long as it did because it was fueled by a public fear of communism. The government and the media led the public to believe that the Vietnamese were their enemy, as if it were the case that the defeat of the racialized communist enemy in Vietnam would ameliorate U.S. people’s lives and make them feel better about themselves…”

(To know more about the Vietnam war, please watch Peter Davis’ Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds)

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“The connection between the criminalization of young black people and the criminalization of immigrants are not random. In order to understand the structural connections that tie these two forms of criminalization together, we will have to consider the ways in which global capitalism has transformed the world. What we witnessed at the close of the 20th century is the growing power of a circuit of transnational corporations that belong to no particular nation-state, that are not expected to respect the laws of any given nation-state, and that move across borders at will in perpetual search of maximizing profits.

Let me tell you a story about my personal relationship  with one of these transnational corporations – Nike. My first pair of serious running shoes were Nikes. Over the years I became so attached to Nikes that I convinced myself that I could not run without wearing them. But once I learned about the conditions under which these shoes are produced, I could not in good conscience buy another pair of their running shoes. It may be true that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods had multimillion-dollar contracts with Nike, but in Indonesia and Vietnam Nike has been creating working conditions that, in many respects, resemble slavery.

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Not long ago there was an investigation of the Nike factory in Ho Chi Minh City, and it was discovered that the young women who work in Nike’s sweatshops there were paid less than the minimum wage in Vietnam, which is only U$2.50 a day… Consider what you pay for Nikes and the vast differential between the price and the workers’ wages. This differential is the basis for Nike’s rising profits. (…) If you read the entire report, you will be outraged to learn of the abominable treatment endured by the young women and girls who produce the shoes and the apparel we wear. The details of the report include the fact that during an 8-hour shift, workers are able to use the toilet just once, and they are prohibited from drinking water more than twice. There is sexual harrasment, inadequate health care, and excessive overtime… Perhaps we need to discuss the possibility of an organized boycott… but given the global reach of corporations like Nike, we need to think about a global boycott.

Corporations move to developing countries because it is extremely profitable to pay workers U$2.50 a day or less in wages. That’s U$2.50  a day, not U$2.50 a hour, which would still be a pittance. (…) The corporations that have migrated to Mexico, Vietnam, and other Third World countries also often end up wreaking havoc on local economies. They create cash economies that displace subsistence economies and produce artificial unemployment. Overall, the effect of capitalist corporations colonizing Third World countries is one of pauperization. These corporations create poverty as surely as they reap rapacious profits.”

(pg. 44-46)

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meaning

All quotes in this post from…

Angela Y. Davis (1944 – ) 

The Meaning of Freedom
And Other Difficult Dialogues

City Lights Books / Open Media Series
www.citylights.com

San Francisco, California. 2012.

Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”

Blue-Jasmine

“Old habits die hard”, so the saying goes. It may be said that here lies one of the explanations for why comedy and tragedy are both so abundand in human existence: our psyches have a tendency to stick to behaviours learnt in the past, while the challenges we have to face are often new and unprecedented. I’m not simply stating the obvious – the “Freudian” thesis about how we’re necessarily “shaped”or “sculpted”  by our first childhood experience, when our characters are formed (and deformed…). What I meant to point out is something similar to Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror”. Or, as Kierkegaard said it: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine I get the impression a woman who looks at her rearviewmirror with a mixture of nostalgia and disgust, while she drives into the future to see what joys and catastrophes he’s got in store. Jasmine has lost a lot – her husband is dead, her big-money is gone, her son hates her guts… – but she’s still striving to recover what she has lost. What the film does really well is to transport us into a story in which we’re provoked to reflect upon Jasmine’s unfortunate fate, but she’s never merely a victim – she’s also someone who causes herself the disasters because of her unwise choices, her greed and arrogance, her belief that she belongs to a class of people above the rest. She’s diseased with the elite’s myopia: she believes to be part of the Special Caste. It’s a character that wasn’t made for an audience to love, much less idolize: Jasmine is at the same time a comical figure (a caricature of snobbish behaviour, a socialite-poseur who’s all about cheap tricks and bought glamour…), and a tragic one (a flesh-and-bone creature whose Psyche is being shattered to pieces).

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The film, it seems to me, feels somewhat closer to the “dramatic” section of Allen’s oeuvre, belonging in the illustrious company of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, Match Point, among others. There’s an artistic statement being made here, and, if I hear it well, is an alarm call against a peculiar brand of cultural madness that gets ahold of Jasmine – this character that Cate Blanchett brings to life so magnificently. The character may seem kind of typical of Woody Allen’s immense gallery of made-up-people: one more cheated wife who tries to start her life anew after the wrecking disaster of her marriage. But Blanchett manages to transform this character in something quite unique, into a multi-dimensional fictional creature.

It’s perhaps one of the greatest characters Woody Allen has created since Melinda and Melinda (2005). When Blue Jasmine ended, I had the impression that Woody Allen had achieved – at least for 30 seconds… – something as powerful and emotionally engaging as John Cassevetes did, in several unforgetable scenes, on the masterpiece of cinema A Woman Under The Influence (1974). If, throughout the film, Blanchett appears to be trying her skills on the art of comedy, as the reel rolls we marvel to see madness stepping in, and Blanchett portraying it in her flesh with a performance that would make Gena Rowlands proud.

Jasmine’s a woman that experiences an earthquake on her life, and the film chronicles the process of her downfall (from high-class to unnemployed tramp, from happily-married to a widowed single who’s “available”…). Woody Allen shows us lots of signs of her position in society’s classes: she’s rottenly rich, buys only fancy clothes and dresses all doll-like. To sum things up: she’s Barbie on Zanax. She’s somewhat similar to women in Lolita Pille’s Hell. She’s hooked on a drug called greed (she perhaps calls it “a comfortable life” and believes it can’t be bought with less than a billion dollars.) Woody Allen portrays her with a marvellous attitude of “no mercy”: she’s shown as someone full of vices and neurosis, a pouseur that acts like she’s a big-shot, refusing to acknowledge that she’s no longer part of the social pyramid’s top-floor. She’s a girl who once was rich and now has been thrown into the gutter, but who is still posing as a princess.

And one the most interesting things, in this movie, is the reason that explains Barbie’s downfall from privilege into the commonest of gutter-lives. Jasmine was married for years with a big-shot of Corporate Capitalism. Alec Baldwin’s character is an embodiment of what’s rotten on the behaviour – increasingly questioned in the streets of urban centers worldwide – of Wall Street, banksters, CEOs, and similar sharks and bulls of our present political and economical landscape. After the 2008 crisis and the Ocuppy Wall Street Movement, there seems to be another political wind in the air that’s also being captured in camera by some of the boldest filmmakers in North America. And Woody Allen and Alec Baldwin, it seems to me, were bold, and not so polite, when they portrayed, in Blue Jasmide, a lying-and-cheatin’ figure, which robbed his way into the top. In Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis we had another similar experience of utter disgust while we witnessed the day of a millionaire, in his limousine, while the riots flooded the streets around him, and a funeral procession for a dead rapper was being followed by thousands… Our are messy times. And perhaps they’re bound to get messier.

woodty

I really enjoyed Blue Jasmine because of it’s down-to-earth feel, of it’s refusal to indulge in the propaganda of a way-of-life. In fact, Woody Allen’s has used comedy as a weapon here in such a way that surprised me – I wasn’t expecting it, after Midnight in Paris, a movie that belongs to that category I usually call: “too cute to be true.” It may be said that, in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen is not so interested in beauty than in truth: by the end of the movie, we see how much Blanchett’s body and facial expression have lost all that top-model-posing-for-papparazis look of her “glory days”. By the end of the movie, she’s a wreck, a walking disaster, and you’re suspecting she might kill herself with a Zanax overdose or throw herself from the bridge. It’s a great ending, pessimistic as it may seem, and – If you ask me – way better than any happy ending could have been.

It may be said that Woody Allen gives vent to his sarcasm against Jasmine – she’s described as somewhat stupid, un-educated, an economically priviledged woman who never payed no mind to her own education and enlightnement. After her husband is jailed, and all the wealth is gone, she discovers herself not only empoverished in money; her whole identity is shattered and cracked. Her psyche is like a broken mirror. And yet she ventures into the new experiences always looking at the rearviewmirror – a shattered one. Her habits sure die hard: she’s hooked on fancy clothes and expensive jewels, but the money to afford them has been flushed down the toilet by her rich husband (Alec Baldwin), who turned out to be both an excellent money-maker and a criminal (doesn’t this happen quite often?). Now, her plan for survival is this: “to learn about computers and to study interior decoration on-line.” Yeah: I’m quite sure that Allen’s relation to Jasmine has a lot to do with sarcastic remarks about a figure he’s aiming to ridicule.

But that’s not all. Of course Jasmine experiences not only a revearsal of economical fortune, but also a personal tragedy – and this is truly where the merit of Woody Allen’s film lies. Jasmine is an object of sarcasm, ridicule, and disgust; but she also has something almost tragic about her. Because we see her in the process of losing all her previous comforts and securities – both material and emotional. She’s lost much more than money: her family has crumbled apart, her wealth has turned to ashes, her American Dream has revealed its true face: that of a nightmare.

Jasmine, once a wealthy high-class figure of New York’s economical elite, finds herself thrown down the ladder. She discovers she’s been married to a corporate criminal, who could only buy them such an easy-living with money earned by illicit means. And while her husband rots in jail, and finally chooses to cut his miseries short with a rope around his neck, Jasmine moves to San Francisco aiming to start a new life. But old habits die hard. She doesn’t want her new life to be much different than the previous (and privileged) one. So she does what mortals such as we so often do: she won’t learn with experience, and she’ll tread a similar path to the one that has lead her to disaster; she’s gonna commit the same mistake twice. Instead of changing herself and her ways, she tries to follow in the same direction she once took: she wants to go back to her former “happy life”, but is constantly discovering that it’s dead and gone. Her glory days are buried.

But nothing can convince her desire to change. She wants the fancy, wealthy, trés chic lifestyle back. She’s hooked on consuming expensive trash and sparkling jewels, and she’s not gonna refrain from a lying-and-cheating behaviour to get what she wants. She wants to be married to a rich guy again, and when she meets a candidate, well… she doesn’t even bother herself asking: “how did he get so goddamn rich?” He might turn out to be another rich criminal – who knows? But it’s as if she doesn’t care a bit about that. In order to seduce the rich-guy into a marriage proposal, she sets her trap and leads him into it with the aid of an invented past, a fictitious construction of yersterdays that never were actually lived. In other worlds: she’s acting like a pathological liar. She’s selling to another person a falsified image of her own past – but this past won’t stay quietly buried. It will come back to life and demand that its truth must be recognized. That’s a theme that also propels Cronenberg’s narrative in A History of Violence, as I attempted to show on this article.

Jasmine, if she was wise, would have truly learned from experience and changed her route. Instead, she followed the path that Woody Allen so frequently portrays his characters following: the comical and tragic tendency to repeat the same mistakes and also manage to discover ways to make brand-new ones. In mood, Blue Jasmine is quite similar a Coen Brothers’ comedy of errors. But its relevance, it seems to me, lies much more in its psychological insight and its commentary on society, culture and politcs. As I’ve said before, in this movie Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett really achieved, working together, an artistic result that brings to mind some of the best elements in the work of John Cassavetes. Jasmine’s descent into the maesltrom of madness is depicted in a truly multi-dimensional way – she’s deeply wounded by past experiences, and almost choking because of too many traumas, but she’s never only a victim of others peoples’ misdeeds: she’s also a victim of herself.

She’s almost like a junkie, but one who’s hooked on wealth and status and is dying from its withdrawal. And, it seems to me, it’s a cultural madness that Jasmine embodies, one that could be summed up by this tendency of uncontrollable greed for material goods, especially those denoting superiority of class. In Blue Jasmine, I believe Allen has made one statement of impressive power. The film provides what we expect from his witty creativity – smart dialogue, good jokes, fast-paced narrative… – and leaves us astonished at Woody’s capacity to continue crafting such marvellous original screenplays at his already advanced age (he’s brain, born in 1935, is still quite sharp!). Someday, after he’s gone to the grave, and after all the clouds of gossip and scandal settle down, perhaps Woody Allen’s ouevre will be deservingly praised as one of the greatest artistic bodies-of-work that North America’s cinema has produced in the last decades.

Read on: Seattle TimesThe InquirerWashington Post – ReelviewsToronto Star – Rolling StoneTime MagazineThe New Yorker.

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Woody Allen: a Documentary [DOWNLOAD PART 1 & PART 2]

Woody Allen: a Documentary [DOWNLOAD PART 1 & PART 2]