The Difficult Truths and the Almost Forgivable Lies of Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A. first popped up on my radar in the seventh grade.  I was in my woodworking class sitting next to a Black kid who with the exception of rhythmic mutterings under his breath was silent.  I do not remember his name and we hardly spoke.  I think we both took comfort in the soothing sounds of a dozen sanders, the smooth feeling of finished wood under our fingertips, the absence of a teachers’ droning.  In the socially exhausting routine of middle school, woodworking was our sanctuary.

I do not recall what our exact assignment was, but the boy next to me was carving something into his project.  I was curious, but was afraid to ask.  At any rate, I would see what the writing was eventually.  Unfortunately, the teacher dropped by and asked him point blank what word he was etching in the wood.  The boy seemed at first to cringe, but then he sat up in his chair and said with sass, “N.W.A.”

He got in trouble and was forced to replace the piece.

I was thoroughly perplexed.  At the time I did not question the teacher’s authority to do such a thing but I wanted very badly to know what the three letters meant.  I spent the rest of the workshop summoning up the courage to talk to him, and when the bell rang and we were in the hallway a safe distance from the class, I asked him what N.W.A. meant.

He looked at me, flashed a smile, and gave their full name.  After thanking him for enlightening me I walked to my locker and thought to myself, “well, no wonder he got in trouble.”

The seventh grade was when people started to call me “Dan Dan the Music Man” because I spent a lot of my time singing.  My musical taste was rudimentary–I listened to what my dad did, sought out musicals, and had yet to choose the 2000s over anything else.  But when the cute girl asked me what my favorite genre of music was I would lie straight-faced and say rap.  For someone who had 3 years to go before he even came close to puberty, I did anything to feel cool.

I did not fake it hard at all though.  I did not go home and look up songs by N.W.A.  I wish I had that day though, because it would have given me an introduction to the pioneer of a crucial and relevant musical genre in American history.  At twelve years old I certainly would not have understood the socio-economic and racial importance of the hip-hop group N.W.A., but it would have helped me talk to that kid in woodworking and perhaps we would have become friends.  Perhaps he could have introduced me into the harsh realities of their music and our world.

The highly successful N.W.A. biopic opened in theaters two weeks ago and the music lover and critic in me was absolutely salivating at the opportunity to see it.  The empath in me also became very aware of the intense feelings the movie would provoke.  Last week I went to see the film with my little seventeen year old brother–who is a more savvy rap fan than myself–and it was quite an experience.

From the opening sequence, the entire film shows the artistic motivations of N.W.A.  It is terrifying and infuriating to be Black in an inherently racist system, where the most viable ways to earn a living are illegal, and that no matter how successful they are, the struggle never stops.  Juxtaposed over various racially motivated acts of violence and other illicit activities, N.W.A.’s story is at times difficult to swallow.  But the film itself is so captivating that looking away would itself be a crime.  For someone who is so deeply affected by music, to see so many people brought together with gangsta rap was magical.

On the other hand, this is a biopic about a group that raps lyrics such as “So what about the bitch who got shot? Fuck her! /
You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain’t a sucker!” and, “So we started lookin for the bitches with the big butts / Like her, but she keep cryin’, “I got a boyfriend,” Bitch stop lyin’ / Dumb-ass hooker ain’t nuttin but a dyke.”  Rap has a notorious history with misogyny, and that was on full display in Straight Outta Compton.  Women are reduced to nothing but objects to be used and then discarded.  The crucial detail left out of the story, however, is producer Dr. Dre’s assault of journalist Dee Barnes.  The film’s portrayal of women is accurate, but to leave out Dre’s history of abuse left her “like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A.: a casualty of [the film’s] revisionist history.”  The brilliance of the film comes from its moments of authenticity, and F. Gary Gray decided to tarnish his movie by treating an important case of violence against women like a footnote.

You can make five different N.W.A movies.  We made the one we wanted to make.

–F. Gary Gray

Furthermore, Dr. Dre should not have been allowed to executively produce the movie along with Ice Cube.  That is gross conflict of interest.  I highly encourage everyone to read Dee Barnes’ personal essay on this issue here.

Despite the glaring omissions, I paid to go see this movie because it was made by Black people for a Black audience and was not stereotypically offensive.  In Hollywood, the number of movies with the majority of the cast people of color is horrifically and inexcusably low.  So low in fact, that when a Black biopic largely set in Los Angeles is released, the police beef up security at the theaters.  This precise kind of ingrained, institutional racism is what makes Straight Outta Compton so relevant and so powerfully good.  To this day the police are intimidated by mainstream art made by and for audiences of color, which is so rare that it’s treated like a terrorist plot.  In 2015, the LAPD have shot 25 people and killed 13, but there have been no acts of gun violence by Black theater audience members in Los Angeles in the same year.  So as N.W.A. would say, fuck the police and go see the year’s best movie.

I’ve thought a lot about that day in woodworking in the recent weeks.  My pretentious response to a boy etching in an acronym for a empowering rap group name was an ignorant one.  The real reason he got in trouble was because the white teacher’s socially and racially motived power dynamic was in jeopardy.  In an inherently racist system the Black boy was not allowed to express his interests in art that upset the status quo.  He was also afraid of something that exposed his privilege and of music that did not represent himself.  Straight Outta Compton is a magnificent portrayal of a crucial chapter in American musical history that is sure to make people uncomfortable. As a result it is poignant and provocative and invites engaging in debates about several important issues relevant to life in the United States.



On the Eve of the World Cup: Praise the Women and May FIFA Burn

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts next Saturday, and it’s a tournament in which the United States has finished no less than third place since its founding in 1991.  Despite the fact that the US has a very high chance to win its third WC title this year, you’ll find that not many Americans will care.

Why is that?  Is it really just because of the sexist notion that women–not men–are playing and therefore it is more boring?  That’s a huge problem and a large part of why the average TV-watching-putty-brained American is not going to tune into the world’s biggest sporting event.  I suspect that another big reason is stubborn stupidity.  The US likes to scorn sports that it did not itself invent, especially those that England did.  Cricket, Soccer, Rugby, etc., all do not have a strong fan base here in the States.  Scorn might be too strong a word, however, because the development and playing of sports is much more a cultural phenomena than a political one.

To that end, I cannot condemn the US public of not liking the sport of soccer too much.  Baseball, basketball, and American football are all essential to US identity and culture, whether you accept it or not.  Soccer, on the other hand, does not have a rich history here.  That is the extent of my forgiveness.  If you’re a US soccer fan but don’t watch the women’s WC, you are a misogynistic hypocrite.


Two days ago nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives were arrested on corruption, fraud and laundering charges.  The lawyers in charge of the investigation?  The US Justice Department.  With the help of the FBI and Swiss police US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was able to get the ball rolling on cleaning up the world’s most corrupt sports organization.

Before I continue, let me say that this is AWESOME and a REALLY BIG DEAL.  Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and there is a tremendous amount of money and labor involved.  The amount of dubious money and human rights violations floating around its governing body is horrific and masked behind glamorous entertainment.  I am thoroughly pleased that there is finally some sort of effort to weed out corruption.

That said, the only reason that a 24 year long investigation (same number of years that the women’s World Cup has been AROUND) is finally bearing some fruit is most likely because Russia and Qatar won the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting bids respectively with bribes and kickbacks.  Everyone and their aides at the 2022 WC hosting bids election thought that the US was going to win and when Qatar took it, the stunned looks on people’s faces said it all.  It was, as Nate Silver said, an inexplicable decision.

Qatar, with no soccer history and brutally hot summers, is ill equipped to host something as large as the WC.  To put their infrastructure into perspective, they have no stadiums ready and the city in which they are going to host the championship game doesn’t even exist yet.  Think of the labor, the manipulation, the time, the exhaustion, etc. that goes into building those kinds of things.

And THAT is the crux of the issue.  Ignore all the blurred lines and stream of conscious thoughts I’ve had leading up to this point, because we’ve arrived at the most important point:

FIFA corruption matters because FIFA’s actions keep killing people. There is a clear line connecting FIFA officials to the murders of whistle-blowers in South Africa, to the bulldozing of schools and poor neighborhoods (so tourists won’t have to see any unpleasantness), to widespread accusations of the misuse and theft of public funds, to the clearing out of Brazilian favelas, to the violent suppression of dissent by governments that weren’t phenomenally good at tolerating dissent in the first place. This is why you should care about FIFA corruption: not because it’s the equivalent of NCAA-type malfeasance (which is bad enough), but because it’s spreading human misery and death on an international scale.

Those words, which are written by Grantland’s Brian Phillips, are the only thing I can find in the coverage of the most recent scandal so far that recognizes the real problem.  The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that four thousand workers will die in the upcoming Qatari construction projects.  And for what, my entertainment?  Fuck that, how about the 2022 World Cup gets hosted in the United States where there won’t be human rights violations?

*Cough*  Like there are not human rights violations going on down my road right now.  And yes, I am bitter the US lost the bid to Qatar, but seriously, killing thousands of people to host a sporting event is the kind of thing that humanity needs to fix, or we risk apocalypse and becoming like the people Mad Max fights in George Miller’s franchise.

“I can’t believe this is live!  This is incredible.”

That was my dad’s reaction when I started watching Sports Center’s three plus hour long coverage of the FIFA elections this morning.  He drew attention to America’s apathy of soccer by being incredulous that it was getting so much air time while simultaneously reacting to the gravity of the situation.  Too bad the anchors and analysts never explicitly drew attention to FIFA’s human rights violations and only hinted at the desire to see FIFA president Sepp Blatter lose and the 2022 WC host election re-held.

While I was watching Blatter plea to the delegates to reelect him, I thought of humanity’s tendency to drift towards power, greed and corruption.  In the end, those are the inevitable venomous sins that universally poison our ability to govern efficiently and justly.  Blatter is a “bloated eel” who knows how to control the system, a system that doles out money and favors to those that add to his power.  I also saw him sweat a little, a testament to the recent scandal and the most contested election in well over a decade.  One can only hope that this wave of arrests leads to more whistleblowing and more revelations, because honestly, I don’t care if there’s another WC held in the US in my lifetime.  I just don’t want to hear about people dying so that the rich can get richer or that some fan can experience that fleeting sense of glory.  Victory does not have to be bloody.

Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don’t settle for them. — Mia Hamm

The Heavy and the Light: This Week’s Link Dump (2/22/2015)

This week I’ve come across some fascinating stories that I’d like to share with those few who are reading my infant blog!!!!!!  Thank you so much!!!!!!  I am toying with the idea of doing a series called The Heavy and the Light in which I share links to stories, articles, and songs that I found to be particularly important or fascinating.  Some are intense, others alleviating (hence the name) and I hope that you guys get as much out of them as I.

The Heavy

What ISIS Really Wants

“It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State ‘a problem with Islam.'”

Thursday night I went out for a few drinks with some friends who are moving to the West Coast.  Besides wishing them much luck and embracing them many a time I took this final chance to ask some questions of the one who is an Army veteran and get some perspective.  We mostly talked about the US military bureaucracy and about the benefits of disciplined exercise but we did tip toe around discussing the current threats in the Middle East and what the response should be.  I hesitated and drew the conversation clear of that because I didn’t want to start a heated debate and because I became woefully aware about my ignorance on ISIS.  As a result, I have completely binged on ISIS scholarship and spent quite a few hours reading about it.  This article is quite a long one, but it is accessible and I think does an amazing job of exploring the intricacies of Islam as a religion and the variables that factor into the decision to send troops or not.  Thanks Uncle Steven for sharing.

U. Mass. Amherst Will No Longer Accept Iranian Students into the Sciences and Engineering Programs

“So I’ve been checking around and it seems like most institutions, particularly the top ones, have no such policy. Folks at MIT, Caltech, Berkeley, Michigan: no one can find anything remotely like this.”

I’m not going to get into my staunch opinions on immigration and higher academia, but education should be a right, not a privilege.  Furthermore, to completely refuse entry to an entire nationality is inherently racist and xenophobic.  At least MIT and others haven’t arrived at a bollocks interpretation of a US sanction and blindly turned away those who dream to learn.

Jessica Williams Apparently is an Idiot for Choosing How to Live Her Life

“Are you unaware, how insulting that can be for a fully functioning person to hear that her choices are invalid?”

Just like Islam, there are differing schools of thought within the feminist movement.  So when Jessica Williams got backlash for respectfully saying she didn’t want to host the Daily Show after John Stewart’s retirement, she defended herself.  Putting women down for not wanting to move up the career ladder is not useful feminism.

Seeing Purple: Prince in the 80s

“In this personal essay, Mike Powell details his gender-blurring experiences with the psychedelically ambiguous art of Prince and pinpoints why The Purple One’s flashes of social utopia and sexual liberation are so timelessly subversive.”

Every Sport Except Long-Distance Running is Fundamentally Absurd

This article explores why the Human species is the most adapted on the planet for endurance running.  We are awesome!!!!!!!!!  In the opening scene of the film Last of the Mohicans the three protagonists out run an elk in the span of a day.  It’s an amazing glimpse into how we as species have survived and are at the pinnacle of the food chain.

Mo Farrah Indoor World Record

The Light

Mo Farrah Breaks Men’s Indoor 2 Mile World Record & Genzebe Dibaba Breaks Women’s Indoor 5K WR

Speaking of distance running, two world records were broken this week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Great Britain’s Mo Farrah ran a freaking 8:03.4 two mile on an 200 meter track.  His first mile was a 4:03 so not only did he negative split his second mile, but he did it in 4 minutes flat.  Meanwhile, in the same race, ageless wonder Bernard Lagat keeps shattering Master’s records and ran an 8:17.

The second record to fall was the women’s indoor 5K.  Adding to the three world records she set last year in the 1500, 3K, and the 2 mile, Genzebe Dibaba ran it in an astonishing 14:18.86.  That’s an average mile of 4:36 over 3.1 miles.  If she wasn’t already, this feat establishes Dibaba as one of the best runners of all time.


Stunning Pictures of a Green Tree Frog Riding a Giant Rhinoceros Beetle


Tomatan: The Robot that Feeds you Tomatoes

Yup.  That’s Pretty Weird.

My Song of the Week

Someone showed me this fantastic set by Gaslamp Killer and hidden deep within it is this 60s or 70s Indonesian song.  There’s not a lot going on, but I really like the harmony and am fascinated by the idea that there is music out there that is so obscure it may never be fully cataloged.  Their voices are mesmerizing.

1000 is Pat Summitt’s Summit, Not Coach K’s

Last night, men’s Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 999th game.  On Sunday, he has the chance to become the first men’s Division I coach to reach 1000.  Anyone who knows me is thinking, “aw great here we go, DJ the Duke fanatic is going to go on a rant about how awesome Coach K is.”  Don’t worry, I’ll save that post for his retirement (please oh please oh please don’t ever leave I’ll go find the Holy Grail or the Philosopher’s Stone or something!!!!!!!).  As important as the milestone is, he’s going to get a lot of love in the next few days.  So I’m going to focus on the first and currently only NCAA basketball coach to ever reach 1000 wins (I’m not counting Oregon Tech’s coach Danny Miles or McKendree’s Harry Statham because they’re a part of the NAIA).

pat-summit I did it first  “I’m better than those Men”

During Landon Donovan’s retirement from Fútbol, a bunch of really stupid facts and titles were thrown around in discussing his career.  “Most goals ever for the US international team” was chief among them, and that couldn’t be more wrong.  Abby Wambach has the most, but the average person doesn’t know that, because sexism.  I was pleased to see ESPN’s article covering Duke’s win over Pitt last night had all the proper “men’s coach” identifiers, but journalism is different than discussion.  Over the next month–Hell, basketball season slash Coach K’s career and beyond–sports fans are going to suffer through a bunch of dudes talking about how he’s the “winningest coach ever” and “most successful” this and that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to be the first biased fan to argue that Coach K is the best basketball coach ever, but what is needed is proper recognition across the gender divide.  It would be refreshing and awesome if analysts on the telly called each other out for being wrong.  It’s going to happen a little, because basketball is more popular than fútbol here in the States and because Pat Summitt is a famous woman and there are passionate people who respect and love her.  A little is not enough.

pat summitt competitive

1098-208 with a win percentage of .841, 8 National Championships, 16 SEC Conference and Tournament titles, 8 SEC Coach of the Year’s, 7 NCAA Coach of the Year’s, 1 Olympic Gold, 1 undefeated season, Presidential Medal of Honor.  There was going to be much more, but she was diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s and is now channeling her competitiveness into battling brain degeneration.  Like most coaches, she doesn’t focus on the trophies and the awards, but the memories.  In living those memories, she has many joyous ones that will not fade into the blurry abyss of her disease:

“My short-term factual memory can be like water; events are a brief disturbance on the surface and then it closes back up again, as if nothing ever touched it.  But it’s a strange fact that my long-term memory remains strong, perhaps because it recorded events when my mind was unaffected.  My emotional memory is intact too, perhaps because feelings are recorded and stored in a different place than facts.  The things that happened deeper in the past, and deeper in the breast, are still there for me, under the water.

I won 1098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades.  But what I see are not the numbers.  I see their faces.”  – Pat Summitt, Sum it Up: 1098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective

1984 olympics pat