Saturday, January 31, 2009

I'm Going to be on a Talk Show

By now, I've done a bunch of recorded appearances, on radio, in documentaries, on TV and even as a daytime talk show panelist (skip forward to 6:58 for some vintage Roker discussing tagging). It's all an extension of the platform my magazine has afforded me over the years, so I rarely turn down the opportunity. And let's be honest, who passes up camera time?

A couple days ago, I got an email from a booker at a very well known talk show, asking me to come on the show. She had read my Prop 8 editorial, which had received over 1200 comments on the Huffington Post. She told me the show's topic was, "gay is the new black," and they wanted a black guy from California who voted no on 8, but yes on Obama. The producers are flying me to New York on Monday to tape the show.

Not one to walk into a situation where I won't have anything to say, the topic of the new civil rights movement—one about gay rights, as opposed to black—is something I've ruminated on ever since it's become a topic du jour. And in wake of last week, where somebody held up a sign at the inauguration that read, "We Have Overcome," you can get the sense that even black folks feel we're collectively standing on a new plain. Of course, that sign was being held by a white guy, and a truly post-racial world might be some years off when a black man still can't get a cab in DC after dark (no joke).

But the argument that gay civil rights has moved to the top of the social justice food chain makes sense. At least in theory. On one hand, many people are touting a color blind optimism in the Age of Obama, at least in politics. On the other, there's the crushing disappointment in the passage of Prop 8 in California, and similar legislation in other states. For many gay activists, the fierce urgency of now applies to their movement, more than any other community. And, the not so quiet elephant in the room is whether blacks have even picked up on this shift. Or, more importantly, do they accept it?

I'm sure this will all be included in Tuesday's taping—or at least you can be sure I'll be ready to discuss it. When I can, I'll report back with a follow-up, including the name of the show and air date.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Colbert: The Remix

Lil Wayne Shows Couric His Gangsta Grillz

As part of her Grammy week "All Access" coverage, CBS's Katie Couric will be interviewing the esteemed Dr. Weezy F. Baby. Seriously, Couric gets more cred with me every day (read: Palin, now Weezy). This is just a preview of the full interview which airs on February 4th at 9pm ET/PT.

Best line: "I'm a rapper, and that's who I am, Ms. Katie. And I am a gangsta. And I do what I want."

Check URB's award winning Lil Wayne story.

Coachella Time: My Favorite Weekend of the Year

The 10th Coachella Music & Arts Festival touches down April 17th and the line-up was just announced. But I rarely care who gets booked, because for me, it's always been about a beautiful weekend with thousands of fellow desert revelers of all stripes. Sounds a bit hippy-ish, whatever, but I haven't missed a Coachella since 1999. Back then, I was even on the bill, as a DJ spinning drum & bass. But these days I go as a fan (albeit, armed with a backstage pass and photo credential), eager to capture a candid moment or just people watch from the grass (For those who haven't been, I did say desert and grass).

Last year's Roger Waters set (and SLICK's giant painted pig) was one of those brilliant Coachella moments, where you're swimming in the glow of the main stage, mind blown, sipping the sweetness of every note from wherever you happen to be standing (or laying), and just swaying to the rhythms. At your feet, a 20-something couple, cuddled in bliss. At your side, a dude who's been to a thousand of these. And in the distance, some chick enjoying her first outdoor show. But at that moment, that instant, you feel connected to each one of them.

See you in the desert.

For some of my Coachella photos, go here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More BART Shooting Video: Just Unbelievable [VIDEO]

As I stated when I first spoke out about Oscar Grant's New Year's Day killing, in Oakland, his death appeared as nothing short of an execution by police officer Johannes Mehserle. Mehserle has since been arrested for murder—which is only a start. This video is its own narrative to another obscene incident by an officer on the scene that morning. And it possibly set the stage for the shooting moments later.

Every time I watch video of this insidious event, I get chills. If you've ever seen or experienced the violent side of a cop, the YouTube clip won't surprise, as much as disgust, you. And the real life fear and shock of being on the wrong side of the badge—worn by the very person that's supposed to protect you, but who is now attacking you—is incredibly unsettling.

Cops like the ones on that BART platform deserve the full force of the law. And letting Mehserle be the sole fall guy for the whole affair won't do. But I also have no doubt that without the existence of so much cell phone video, the brutal murder of Oscar Grant would be one of those amorphous incidents where grainy reports and the notorious "blue wall" would be too much for the truth to hurdle. If there's any legacy to come from this, as far as the citizenry is concerned, it's that we're all witnesses if we're not participants. And some of us are both.

The new video

PETA's Banned Superbowl Ad

According to this report, NBC struggled to fill its upcoming Superbowl ad spots. So why did they dismiss this PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ad. I watched it, and besides bringing a little sexy back, I hardly think it's over the line (of course, I'm mostly veggie, so I can't be trusted). But I guess the censors are right, kids need to watch grown men act like millionaire gladiators, rather than see sexy women.

For crying out loud, this is what's wrong with America. We crave applaud a bunch of guys literally trying to disable one another, rewarding the most warlike conflagrations and machismo. The Superbowl hasn't been kids viewing since the '60s. Meanwhile, we castigate a little PG-13 foreplay. But once again, violence wins over sex.

Larry Flynt was right. And I'll take hot chicks with Broccoli any day.

here's the video

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The New Pop Goes to DC [VIDEO]

I've said this before, but I really love The New Pop crew. They represent so much of what is fresh about the Interweb. Their high quality guerrilla video is excellent, their stories engaging, and their team small and nimble. They make indie look completely professional but always keep their DIY ethos out front.

Last week, they hopped on the bus (literally, the NY Chinatown Bus) and headed down to DC to brave the crowds and witness history. Lead videographer (and in this series, the host) Trevz put it best when he said he wanted to be able to tell his kids that he was there. These videos will prove it.

Check out the series below.

Inauguration Photos by Rachel Feierman

More gorgeous Presidential Inauguration images, this time captured by Rachel Fiererman.

Check her site for the full set.

The Long and Winding Road


Saturday, January 24, 2009

In a Presidential Mood (Slide Show)

Check out this beautiful slide show by LA-based photographer Linus Shentu. He sets his images to an audio recording of a civil rights activist named Sandra Hill, who he interviewed in the Columbia Heights section of DC. Her sentiments bring a powerful perspective to the great photos captured on inauguration day.

Now that I think about it, I'm gonna have to step up my slide show game and add some sound to mine. Stay tuned.

Best Obama Tee So Far

I have no idea how to get this shirt. Let me know if you do!

Thanks to Jason for the link

Raymond Roker's Inauguration Slide Show

Here is the link to this on Flickr

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Curious Case of Flight 1549: Maybe the Best Metaphor for 2009 We Could Hope For

From my Huffington Post blog.

It started for me with a "CNN Breaking News" email at 12:57PM California time. I never fail to click these, and in a post-9/11 world I always hold my breath too. Whenever I read the first line, I'm hoping I don't see words like explosion, killed, or hostage. But yesterday, it was the type of news alert, that in the age of ubiquitous commercial travel, we all dread: "Emergency officials are responding to a downed US Airways plane in New York's Hudson River."

Fuck. My heart raced as I turned on the news and thought about my mother who had just sent me a text saying, "I'm on!! I'm on the plane!!!" I knew she meant she was on her delayed Southwest flight from Los Angeles to D.C., but I still shook at the thought of her flying at that moment. It would be a few minutes before I learned that flight 1549's passengers were presumed to all be safe too.

What? But how? All of them? There's no way all of them got out safely. Is there?

I am not a person of faith, but I can go for some cosmic interference every now and again, even if it can be explained by simple physics and not actually the "hand of god." I spent yesterday day marveling at news, eyewitness and survivor reports, while sharing thoughts with Facebook friends. But as I reflected, the events and exchanges soon got me thinking: What if yesterday's "miracle" was a perfect metaphor for 2009?

Yes, the NTSB will report what happened on the afternoon of January 15, and it will make perfect sense. But on the day George Bush said his last goodbyes to the nation. Less than a week before the president-elect takes the keys to the White House. And as each news report peels back another layer of this tear-inducing onion of an economic mess, maybe the story of this jet crash is exactly the real life fable we needed seared into our nation's consciousness.

I don't say this lightly, nor to I mean to cheapen what must have been a harrowing experience for some to watch, much less experience first hand. But the poetry of the event is just too perfect. Plane crashes kill and maim. Many of us shroud our fear with a couple Xanax or a few Vodka rocks. And it's a justifiable, if not entirely rationale, fear. You don't need to even fall out of the sky to die in a plane crash, a fuselage skid on the tarmac can take lives. But a ditch into near freezing waters of a fully loaded and fueled commercial airliner and zero fatalities? It doesn't happen. It literally hasn't happened. Ever.

So what if this water landing--an event that was never supposed to end well, but did--serves as an example of the fate that awaits us this year? I know, get my head out of my mumbo jumbo ass. But bare with me for a second. You couldn't have imagined it all turning out this way when you heard the news today. It never does, no matter how hard we pray it will. People don't just walk away. As a group. Unharmed.

In 1993's Fearless, Jeff Bridges plays a plane crash survivor who, realizing he's somehow cheated his most terrifying fear and lived, is conflicted about how to lead his life. The crash of flight 1549 might not change our attitudes and make all of us exactly fearless, but it should at least make us thankful. And it could surely be a template for the actions and reactions we could hope for this year.

Maybe the questions many of us have about how we'll fair in 2009 and in what shape financially, spiritually, emotionally, is somewhat answered in the events of yesterday. Think of how that plane landed at just at the right location on the Hudson River. An area where ferry traffic was thick (Another miracle in that no boats were hit in the plane's descent) and commercial dock boats were in constant movement around the piers.

Within seconds of the picture perfect ditch, boats were making their way to the site like arms extending from the shore. Is that the kind of quick response and compassionate, holistic rescue package the country's economy truly needs? Is it the one we can hope for in the new administration? If that's the ailing and anxious American public standing on those wings, waiting for help, then could they have asked for a better rescue? A more caring show of support?

And what about that Pilot, Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger? It would be easy to take my metaphor to mean he must be Barack Obama. Maybe. But this isn't even about politics--just like it wasn't about that inside the crippled plane. Nobody cared what party the pilot belonged to as they watched the water fall towards their windows. They were just thankful--and praying--a competent and composed individual was at the helm. After the crash, the pilot walked the length of the plane, not once, but twice, to ensure that no passengers were left aboard as the water rose. Everybody gets out alive he thought to himself. Doesn't matter how we all got into this mess, we are going to get to shore.

The captain wasn't alone. The ferry passengers who reached out to victims. The firefighters and police. The guy on the flight who yelled, "women and children first," were all part of the rescue effort. But they weren't all experts. The only common thread was that there was a crisis and lives--fellow citizens--needed saving. From all reports, there was no desperate dash or chaotic frenzy. It was the kind of order and calm you want from the person next to you. Not everybody for himself. But everybody for somebody else too.

In a few months, it's doubtful that whatever message there is in today's events will be as lucid to me. But maybe the metaphor is that we all fear the great crash. We're all unsure of that day where we may be asked to consider what we'd do when the pilot says, "Brace for impact!" Our country already has a catastrophic engine failure and none of knows how this flight will end. And what are we doing about it? Are we in the crash position? Are we hoping for a heroic pilot to land this sucker safely? Are we stoically wishing it--whatever it is--comes quickly and painlessly?

Or maybe if flight 1549 tells us anything, it's that it all might go well after all. Just like it did today. And we'll get out alive.

In one piece. As one family. All survivors.

Photo credit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BART Officer Arrested for Murder

From the San Francisco Chronicle—The BART police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man on an Oakland train platform and then refused to explain his actions to investigators was arrested Tuesday in Nevada on suspicion of murder, authorities said.

Johannes Mehserle, 27, of Lafayette was taken into custody in Douglas County, Nev., said Deputy Steve Velez of the Douglas County sheriff's office. The arrest was also confirmed by David Chai, chief of staff to Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.

Check out the full story.

Notorious: the Biggie biopic is great but still doesn't answer "Who Shot Ya?"

Biggie, for most, was the greatest rapper ever. Kanye may be the biggest star hip-hop has ever produced, but Biggie is Elvis. So the packed and raucous screening tonight of the biopic Notorious, at the Nike Montalbán Theater in Hollywood was no surprise (Full disclosure: My magazine hosted the event. And far more important, I cannot recite "Juicy" from start to finish).

Hip-hop films have either been in the vein of true school documentaries (Style Wars, Scratch) or MTV-style dramas laced with bankable "urban" stars (Juice, 8 Mile). In between all of this have been a bunch of time wasters that venture into insultingly embarrassing. And as URB alum Brandon Perkins pointed out in tonight's Q&A with Notorious director George Tillman Jr., this is the first biopic of a hip-hop personality (8 Mile was largely fictional, sports fans). Think about that as both an awesome milestone, as well as a sad testament. Has hip-hop culture been seen by Hollywood as so disposable for the last 30 years that this was the first real life story told on the big screen?

In any event, I'm not here to take shots at Tinseltown—or hip-hop, for that matter. Ultimately, it's up to an emerging generation of writers and filmmakers (like Tillman) to start uncovering rap icons and bringing them the immortality only film can achieve. But it's no doubt a tricky task to pull off well. Notorious manages to do it right, taking you along a classic linear path from Christopher Wallace's childhood in Brooklyn to the sad night in 1997. It was that evening of March 9, when he left the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, that was murdered at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. I know I'm not alone in remembering hearing the news when it happened, even though it was 12 years ago.

Notorious hits the mark on several fronts, all of which help take what could easily have been a disaster—a big budget rap saga done wrong—and delivers for both hardcore fans and weekend moviegoers. Die hard Biggie fans—which means pretty much all of his fans—were going to hold any flick under a microscope, or just not show up. Tillman, along with writers Reggie Rock Blythewood and former URB writer Cheo Hodari Coker, definitely recognized this challenge. The director mentioned his commitment to capturing things accurately, from the use of Biggie's actual Brooklyn neighborhood for filming, to the employing of Junior Mafia members, the rapper's extended family and crew. According to Tillman, Junior Mafia members served not only as actors, but as technical advisers, especially during the pivotal scene where Tupac gets ambushed and almost killed at Quad studios in Manhattan. The shooting at Quad left Pac suspicious of Biggie's involvement, eventually leading to the over-hyped but ultimately fatal East/West Coast rivalry between the two.

The final scenes in which Biggie is murdered and the grieving of his mother Voletta Wallace (well played by the almost-too-beautiful Angela Basset), family and Junior Mafia members is hard to watch. I admit, I fought back some tears in those closing moments. The sadness of Biggie's tragedy was a very real situation for hip-hop culture a decade ago, and for many of the fans who will ultimately fill the seats to see Notorious. The slain ghetto superstar is something Hollywood didn't have to invent. And as you watch the (I think) real life and staged footage of Biggie's funeral, as all of Brooklyn and the world tuned in, you can't help but be moved. It was the only time during the screening, that the audience simmered down.

One area everybody will be curious about is how the film addresses the murder at the Peterson. The longstanding belief is that Biggie's killing was in retaliation for Tupac's several months before on the Vegas Strip. But in the years following Biggie's shooting, a deeper, more insidious story has surfaced, dealing with the LAPD and others. It's far too much conspiracy theory for Notorious to tackle, but I hope somebody takes the documentary angle to give this some light. At a Hollywood Bowl concert a couple years back, Mos Def stood on the stage and boldly asked, "Who shot my man, Suge?" referring to his friend Biggie Smalls and the person many believe had at least a peripheral involvement, Death Row founder Shug Knight. Notorious will definitely reignite the passions and curiosity around this unsolved murder.

For me, suspension of disbelief comes when the actors disappear and I just see characters on the screen. Admittedly out of his struggle to find a working actor that could play the part, Tillman cast an unknown to star as the slain hip-hop hero. First timer Jamal Woolard plays the plus size don and he's totally convincing. Woolard had to gain about 50 lbs for the role (And he's reportedly diabetic? That is seriously putting your art first), but is from the same Brooklyn neighborhood as Biggie. You can imagine the outcry had he been from Queens or Compton (sorry, Guerrilla Black). The rest of the solid cast portrayed their real life iconic doppelgangers with varying degrees of success. Special props to Lil Kim's sex gangstress also done nicely (although the real Kim has beef) by freshman Naturi Naughton. Spoiler alert—best rap sex scenes with a big man, ever. Marc John Jefferies (as Junior Mafia's Lil Cease) and the Diddy dancing Derek Luke as Puffy are also impressive. The one definite disappointment is Anthony Mackie's Tupac's character, it just seemed overdone. Maybe I wish Pac could have just played himself.

Biggie, himself, was no Tupac, in the sense that his catalog of interviews and footage is tiny compared to his one time west coast friend cum rival. So our collective memories come in the form of flossy videos, foamy champagne toasts and still life magazine covers. Notorious, while still utilizing its Hollywood dramatic license, does a lot to fill in the story of the larger than life rap icon. Tupac, on the other hand, left so much documentary material in his short 25 years, that 2003's excellent Tupac Resurrection was made almost entirely of interview footage and home movies. See it if you haven't. I doubt any dramatic version could best it.

Any '90s hip-hop fan could attest to the reverence shown to the masterful Biggie Smalls. And anybody dare tempting to portray his story in dramatic fashion had better get the full blessing of the family and friends. Tonight's audience was loud and boisterous, audibly showing their opinions of each scene, down to the love making between Biggie and Kim. Overwhelmingly, they approved. Like a great hip-hop show, this film is best served in front of a crowd (read: not on DVD). This one's definitely for the fans.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

The Atlantic's "The End of White America?" won't be the last time the changing demographic tone of the U.S. is given front cover status. But with the historic events of next week on our mind, its timing and resonance is extra sticky. Writer Hua Hsu (who, I can proudly say, spent some time in the pages of my magazine URB back in the day) touches on several of the major components of the racial recalibration going on in America. It doesn't take a census taker to notice the trends in this country as we evolve into a beige nation, but Hsu does a great job looking under the hood.

Unaplogetically and without any cheerleading, Hsu cuts a careful balance between handing out muted props (Diddy, Russell Simmons, Tiger Woods) and empathetic examinations (the discarded aging white worker; white guilt; the defensive NASCAR crowd). But the sharpest tone of the piece comes in his thread between the fictional character Tom Buchanan, from The Great Gatsby, to modern day confrontationalists like Pat Buchanan. The MSNBC commentator is known to utter what some of the lighter hue think to themselves, that brown means down. That group points to regions like California, which leads the nation in diversity, but is also a state that struggles with a crumbling infrastructure and the perceived societal stresses of a dramatically diversifying population. In California, fears of what Pat Buchanan called a "Third World America" have been brewing for the last decade.

Part of what I always suspect comes out of articles like this, is the affirmation from some that a browner America should also mean minorities can finally stop complaining about inequalities. You've already seen the media discussion of Obama's presidency signaling the end of black politics or some sort of hopeful leap into a "post-racial" society. Don't tell this to the protesters taking to the streets of Oakland over the recent—and virtually absent from the mainstream media—police shooting of an unarmed young black man. Young, gifted and black still equals black. And we're probably a generation away before someone sharing Hsu's ancestry takes residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The end of white demographic dominance doesn't mean the same as a relinquishment of status.

But just the fact that Hsu, an Asian American that honed his early writing skills discussing black hip-hop music, wrote this piece, is evidence of the new paradigm he's discussing. The Atlantic itself represents white hegemony, maybe not through any overt force, but in its default setting. Any look into the workforce diversity in media (and advertising) over the past several years bears this out. Though as evidenced by the swift but still too token tinting of cable news over the past year, the rise of ethnic voices is a very noticeable plus in the so-called Obama generation.

A friend recently asked me why blacks claimed Obama as theirs when it's clear he's a racially transcendent president, and not only due to his ethnic mixture. It's a question that, beyond the pat answer (Well, he's black, so why can't we?), I find it hard to address. Especially since the vast majority of people that inspired me to believe in Obama were not black. In fact, just as many Asian, white and "other" friends of mine saw the landmark ascendancy of a brown faced man to the most powerful job in the world as a shattering of the constrictive racial shackles of this country. And no matter where they fit in the American chromatic graph, Obama's face in the White House is a liberating intoxicant.

But nobody's singing "Kumbaya" just yet, still so fresh from a political race that was as revealingly divisive as it was communal. As Hsu asserts, "It’s possible to imagine white identity politics growing more potent and more forthright in its racial identifications in the future, as 'the real America' becomes an ever-smaller portion of, well, the real America, and as the soon-to-be white minority’s sense of being besieged and disdained by a multicultural majority grows apace."

No ethnicity ever cedes control gracefully. And in modern times, only in America has the shift towards integration been so rapid. There are bound to be increased tensions and cultural backlashes for decades to come. The gulf between Sarah Palin the clown and Sarah Palin the VP-in-waiting is only growing, much to the delight of Limbaugh fans everywhere, who don't so much as fear the changes in society, as dismiss them. Diddy may get his home in the Hamptons but his music can still get hauled in front of congress or vilified for every ill of urban (and suburban) America.

Whatever the end of white America eventually means will continue to spawn debate. But one thing that seems sure is that no one group of present day minorities is power hungry enough—or monolithically in sync—to battle for some new title. My guess is that the way whites have governed thus far won't be the model for the next generation of ethnic majority stakeholders. The coming wave will be so diffused and blended into such a racial and cultural stew, that even using the simplistic anthropological definitions of the past will seem silly. Regardless, for whites and non, none of this eventuality should seem scary. In his piece, Hsu puts the future in simple nonthreatening terms for all: "This moment was not the end of white America; it was not the end of anything. It was a bridge, and we crossed it."

Can I get an Amen?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What The Hell is Wrong With Schwarzenegger?

As I wrote in my Facebook status update a few days ago, in a lame attempt to reduce California's unbelievable $41B (Yeah, that's a B), The Governator is proposing a shortening of the school year. Instead of 180 days, kids would be in school 175. This means five more days to go find some weed and hang in the streets. Five more days to sit in front of the Playstation. Five more days to not learn about how to be president one day.

I expect a lot of asinine behavior from politicians, but this move just boggles the mind. We should be lengthening the school year, not shortening it (India and China both have longer school years than we do). Seriously, let's lop off a piece of the state and give it back to Mexico if we need to save money on overhead. But cutting classroom time, especially in a state where education is in crisis mode? This jerk should be fired, if not deported.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

For The Gray Lady Death Comes Quickly-er?

The Atlantic poses the question all you Sunday morning ritual readers will care about: What if the print version of The New York Times doesn't even make it through the summer? According to her own accounting, The Gray Lady will be facing a critical cash crunch right around the time her travel section should start beefing up with vacation ads. This leaves the very real possibility that all this hyperbolic media death watching could take its most visible—and very surely missed—victim yet. It would be the equivalent of Sony Music ceasing the production of CDs. OK, maybe much worse.

You could easily argue that most of us in media are still playing piano on the deck of the Titanic, hopeful that this digitally enhanced iceberg didn't strike a death blow to pulp journalism. But if you love that easy like Sunday morning feeling with a coffee and the Op-Eds or The Arts pages, you better start praying for those lifeboats.

Check the full Atlantic story by Michael Hirschorn here.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Thank God for Cell Phone Video

A BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police office fatally shot a 22-year-old man during an arrest on New Years Day, in what appears from video to be a summary execution at best. Read after the jump.

From the San Francisco Chronicle — Early New Year's Day, a rookie officer with the BART police shot and killed an unarmed 22-year-old man on a platform at the Fruitvale Station. The officer is on leave. The man's family is suing for $25 million. The BART police say that they are taking the investigation very seriously, but they had better find a way to reach out to the public effectively about what is going on and why. Otherwise, public outrage over this case is going to grow exponentially with every passing day.

The raw cell-phone videos captured by witnesses on the train do not look promising for the BART police. The BART police do not have their own video - there's a live camera feed that goes to the department from the Fruitvale station, but they haven't had the money to upgrade their equipment so that it can record. This presents a crucial issue - what if there had been no witnesses with video recorders?

Read the entire story here.
A video of the shooting is
Podcast of the building protest surrounding the shoot.
What the fuck is going on?

Thanks Oliver for this

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dirty Harry Saves the Day. Again.

For the record, I am a big Clint Eastwood fan. His "spaghetti western" roles were the stuff of idol worship for any little boy who wanted to kick ass and take names with nothing more than a fake finger gun. And, in fairness, I haven't seen his new flick Grand Torino, but the commercials and premise bother me a bit. The film is set in Detroit where Eastwood's suburban Dirty Harry-type character is watching his once white working class neighborhood become home to a flock of recent immigrants, including Hmong families. I won't get into all the plot lines (you can see it/read the reviews), but the general gist is that Eastwood teaches the local thuggery a thing or two about manners.

What annoys me about Grand Torino is that here's another scenario where the fed-up angry white guy pushes back on the brown hoodlums (In this case, neighborhood gangsters) presumably taking over. I know there's a positive message in here somewhere about race and redemption—Variety thinks so, at least—but I doubt the typical moviegoer goes for that. Variety's review didn't share by beef and compliments Eastwood on dealing with race, citing his films like Bird and Flags of our Fathers (which director Spike Lee dumped on for its lack of black war heroes).

1993's Falling Down was the classic modern prototype for the mild mannered white guy (Michael Douglass) becoming fed up with the new locals—pretty much most of Los Angeles—and getting his Charles Bronson on. There is also the scene in 1991's Grand Canyon where Danny Glover rescues a hapless and freaked out Kevin Kline from some roving South Central knuckleheads. But Glover's tow truck driving character humbly reasons with the hoodlums--as opposed to snuffing them with a masochistic glee.

Ultimately, this comes down to typical Hollywood film making, limited by the life experience of script writers and directors (The white guys channel Bernhard Goetz while the black guy can "reason" with his people). The updated version of this light-skinned fear/paranoia of the urban/suburban jungle is 2004's Crash, which was literally inspired by the director's own car jacking. I don't know about you, but I found that whole film utterly unbelievable. On what planet does this series of nightmare criminal scenarios play out over 36 hours?

Of course the vigilante fantasy is in all of us, especially if you've been on the wrong end of a gun, mugging, fist or intimidating stare. It's a cathartic type of movie watching and I'm definitely not saying it's all racist. I'd just once love to see the film where the brown guy sets all the local ruffians straight and walks off into the sunset.