Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Note on Carl Paladino's Racist/Porn Convergence

This is a note on the racism/porn scandal that's developing around Carl Paladino, a multi-millionaire Buffalo NY businessman and Tea Party GOP candidate for governor of New York.

Yesterday, WNYmedia.net ran a lengthy story on the racist and pornographic e-mails Paladino has been forwarding to his friends, cronies, and political contacts in the Buffalo area.

There was plenty of racism and porn to go around.

Two of the racist e-mails focus on representations of Barack Obama. First, there's an African tribal dance pictured as an Obama inauguration rehearsal. In fact, there was a lot of "African" stereotyping of Obama right after his election. For example, some guy in my town walked into a convenience store on election night and announced that "we've elected a monkey for president." Of course, there's been even more "Obama" racist jokes after his inauguration. There is so much of it at my daughter's high school in Kentucky that dealing with racist joking is another reason to "hate" high school.

By the way, the tribal dance video was supposed to have been a big hit on racist web sites.

The second Obama picture involved Obama and his wife Michelle as a "pimp" and a "ho" in a play on blaxploitation movies from the 70's. This kind of stereotyping goes back to the images of "black dandies" in blackface minstrel songs from the 1830's. In relation to African-Americans, the racist idea in the dandy stereotype is to treat black people as absurd, inept, and incompetent for anything but singing and dancing. The stereotype is especially directed against African-Americans who are determined to shine in politics, business, literature, and the arts because it portrays black accomplishment as fundamentally farcical. In this sense, the picture of the Obama as a pimp and whore represents the election of Barack Obama as a racial absurdity.

The final racist item was a video of an airplane landing amongst a group of black people with the caption "run n-word run." There's a certain way in which this image is just as disturbing as the pornography I'll discuss below. Much like the tribal dance video and the pimp and ho picture, the video of the black men scattering is designed to demean and degrade African-Americans. But the airplane video is more demeaning because it portrays black people as being helplessly subject to white people and white people as getting off on their humiliation. It's a little bit like the scene in "Invisible Man" where a group of white men in a Southern town are entertained by watching young black men scramble for coins on an electronically-charged surface. The image was not only an abject humiliation of the black guys, it also involved the pleasures of white power. The same with the airplane scattering the black guys in the image circulated by Carl Paladino.

I find pornography to be traumatizing in the sense that contact with porn leads me to have post-traumatic stress symptoms. So I abstained from looking at it and limited myself to scrolling through. But there's very kinds of graphic sex clips and a bestiality video.

A couple of quick notes:

1. The Racism is not just Paladino's. It's the racism of the people who forwarded the e-mails to Paladino and the racism of those who laughed at the Obama racial send ups. To Paladino, the racist e-mails were "just humor . . . I'm not sensitive to ethnic humor. dago, spic, wap, polack, whatever we hear it every day. I think the oversensitivity to black/white humor is wrong and in itself demeaning." No surprise there. "It's just humor" is the typical response of racist blowhards when they're called out on their bigotry. In the case of Paladino, it's important to emphasize that he's a focal point for an extensive network of racist blowhards.

2. Pornography and Tradition. Hard-core porn has been at the heart of a number of scandals lately, including the sexting of Tiger Woods and the Jesse James/Sandra Bullock mess. Racism and porn have been linked in the United States since at least the 1830's. Paladino's e-mails bring the racism/porn nexus to the surface in the context of Tea Party politics. One of the things that interesting about the pornography angle here is the extent to which Tea Party conservativism is disconnected from Victorian ideas of tradition and propriety.

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