Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • BSG And Gender Politics

    I don't entirely agree with this article from Slate. I particularly think this cliche of sci-fi and comic book geekdom needs to go:

    Perhaps because science fiction has historically appealed to men who don't leave home much, the genre has often used alien mores and alien technology to rationalize pornographic depictions of near-naked women. (Think Jabba the Hutt forcing Princess Leia to wear that ridiculous gold bikini in Return of the Jedi.)

    Sci-Fi movies are, at this point, a billion-dollar enterprise. You don't get that way by appealing strictly to "men who don't leave home much." Moreover, the comment assumes that women somehow fare better in, say, horror movies, in comedy, or in hip-hop movies. Geekdom has its troubles when it comes to rendering women. But all one needs to do is watch a few Spike Lee or Woddy Allen flicks to realize that this isn't about sci-fi at all. Anyway, that's just a personal pet peeve. Sorry for the mini-rant.

    The part of the piece I found most convincing is the indictment of the rather casual way rape is deployed in the series:

    Even more insidious than the lack of female friendships are the casual threats of rape made throughout the series. In Season 2, a "Cylon interrogator" attempts to violate Sharon, a Cylon pilot and the only East Asian on the show, but her husband Helo intervenes in the nick of time. In this season's "The Oath," Helo fights with a mutineer--"Frak you," he says (that's Battlestar's four-letter-word variant), and the mutineer responds, "Sorry, I'm saving myself for your ... wife." He means it. Rape is a trope on the show: Starbuck finds herself in a bizarre insemination farm on the Cylon-occupied planet Caprica, and Adm. Cain orders some cronies to rape and torture a Cylon in "Razor." Naturally the show doesn't condone rape, but it's discomfiting that the writers drop sexual violence into the script so often without comment. If nothing else, this pervasive threat--directed only at women--negates the idea that Battlestar conjures a gender-blind universe.

    I found that rape scene with Sharon, particularly disturbing--and not in a good way. I'll be honest--I have yet to put my finger on why. It wasn't because I like the character. Joan, from Mad Men, is one of my favorites. But I thought the rape-scene with her and her husband was troubling in the exact opposite way. I don't know how to explain it except in the following, admittedly creepy, language--it felt necessary and organic, given who the characters were.

    On BSG, evil comes so easy. So much of it passes without explanation or context. The rape scene with Sharon left me horrified--but not at what had just happened to this woman. Indeed, I felt almost no sympathy for her. It was like watching a sadistic cartoon, or something. And that made me really angry and ultimately horrified that someone would write a scene like that.

    I think so much of this revolves around the fact that, in the past decade, the ceiling for writing and acting on television has been raised. I can't have watched "The Wire," watched "Mad Men," watched "Big Love" and felt as I used to. I simply can't go back. BSG isn't operating in the world that Star Trek: Voyager did. The game is the same, but more fierce. Measured against that backdrop, I think the writing, and acting, on the show is rather lackluster (skipping ahead in time, at the end of season, was incredibly lazy). When narrative isn't done in a particularly inspiring fashion, it seems that the first people to suffer are women, and minorities. It's no mistake that "The Wire" is not only one of the best written shows ever, it is also one of the best depiction of black people ever committed to television.

    This will not be a popular thread. I understand that I have just pissed off half my readership. But you guys asked me to watch. You asked me to behold. I could never guarantee that we'd see the same thing.

    UPDATE: "Suffer" refers to the quality of the writing, not the actual characters themselves. More aptly put, when the writing is bad, the writing of women and minorities tends to be really bad--or really just stand out.

  • The Annals Of Ebonics

    A reader reports:

    I just heard one of the anchors on MSNBC say "I got this" when she was cut to for a breaking story. I suspect soon we will be hearing Andrea Mitchell telling David Schuster to "fall back."

    Indeed.

  • Levin vs. Frum

    This is rather painful to listen to. I actually couldn't it finish, as I felt bad for Frum (read his account here). Give him props though, he isn't backing down. I keep hearing this comparison between the Right now and the Left in the 70s and 80s. Obviously I wasn't around. For those lefties who were, and have some age and (more importantly) some wisdom on me, I ask, was it really this bad? Were we really this close to neanderthalism and mob rule? Were we really this fraking stupid?

  • The Watchmen

    I don't think A.O. Scott is a fan of the movie. But this part is funny:

    Indeed, the ideal viewer -- or reviewer, as the case may be -- of the "Watchmen" movie would probably be a mid-'80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate. The film's carefully preserved themes of apocalypse and decay might have proved powerfully unsettling to that anxious undergraduate sitting in his dorm room, listening to "99 Luftballons" and waiting for the world to end or the Berlin Wall to come down.

    He would also no doubt have been stirred by the costumes of the female superheroes -- Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, both gamely giving solid performances -- who sensibly accessorize their shoulder-padded spandex leotards with garter belts and high-heeled boots. And the dense involution of the narrative might have seemed exhilarating rather than exhausting.

    I'm not sure that this hypothetical young man -- not to be confused with the middle-aged, 21st-century moviegoer he most likely grew into, whose old copy of "Watchmen" lies in a box somewhere alongside a dog-eared Penguin Classics edition of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" -- would necessarily say that Mr. Snyder's "Watchmen" is a good movie. I wouldn't, though it is certainly better than the same director's "300."

    I think I'm mostly done with comic book movies, and big budget movies in general. I don't think (with a few exceptions) that they're made for me. Which is fine. But the more comic book movies I see, the more I value the imaginative space created by books. It's a great thing when your imagination is matched by the movie. I'm thinking that scene in the first Spiderman when Parker first swings on the webs to catch his Uncle's killer. Or that opening Nightcrawler scene in X2. Or the scene in the first Batman where Bruce Wayne is bumrushed by bats, and stands up and they all fly over him.

    Pretty great stuff. But more and more, I'm feeling like I'd like to keep my memories, and perserve my imagination. This is mostly personal. A bad movie really exacts a psychic toll on me. Kenyatta can sit back and enjoy the experience. For me it's excruciating and I can't leave it at the theater. I tend to be over-sensitive. And so the more information I take in--audio, visual, text--the harder it is for me to let it go.

  • The Source Of The Beef

    I was listening to NPR this morning and heard them discussing the Politico article on Obama's "dogwhistling." They quoted the following:

    On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what's known as "dog-whistle politics."His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences.

    The last part. That's the problem. Sorry guys, I missed that. It's one thing to talk about Obama's ownership of certain African-Americanisms, and then note the particular joy that black folks get out of hearing them deployed. It's quite another to argue that white audiences--en masse--"don't get it." I don't I'm qualified to speak on that. Nor, probably, is Henderson. The fact that the mannerisms have a special resonance for black people, is clearly true--we simply have never had a president who talked like our cousins, uncles, brothers and fathers. That isn't true for most white people. But the idea that it "sails over the heads of white audiences" assumes too much.

    It certainly sailed over the heads of the acolytes of Tim Russert (no disrespect). And you could probably say it sailed over the head of most White House reporters, and most people who work at Politico. But elite Washington reporters are a special breed---overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly middle-aged, and--most importantly--overwhelming susceptible to thinking right in the middle of the box. I can understand not wanting to be lumped in with those guys.

    One last note. I've noticed something interesting about this blog--the complaints I hear from whites ("Don't lump as all together!" We're not a monolith!") have an eerie familiarity. I don't think it's cool to simplify anyone, ever. But I would ask that we all take a moment and think about how it feels for this to be the conflict of your life, to constantly labor under the weight of idiots who you've never met. What if very few people ever cared to sort you out? What if the generalizations which raised your hackles in Henderson's article weren't a one-off--they were the media and really the world--as you'd always known it?

    This isn't about Schadenfreude, but empathy. It's so easy to toss people into the same pot--it almost feels natural, like something elemental and evolutionary compels us to do so. My own thoughts sometimes are so dark, they make me shudder, like, "Damn son, did you really just think that? Seriously?" You can't extinguish those impulses--they're part of us. But I think there's a humanity, a divinity, in pushing past them, in being more than what evolution and ancient instincts, have made us.

  • Awesome-Sauce Pt. 2

    A reader writes:

    I was hurrying to catch the Orange Line tonight when I noticed I a highschool kid coming up the escalator sporting a full-on Hi-Top fade.  I haven't seen anything like it in a good decade or so, so it really snapped me to attention.  Then I saw a couple other kids on the platform who looked like they were growing out their hair, and maybe tightening up the sides a bit -- sort of like it was too early to commit right now, but maybe they'd go into Big Daddy Kane mode come springtime.

    Now this is the first time I've noticed this.  Maybe it was just that one kid and I was imagining it with the others.  Or maybe it's just a Boston thing, or like, a particular high school team thing...I don't know.  But after seeing that 3rd Bass video you posted last week, I got all nostalgic.  And now if I really am seeing the early edge of the next big wave, I want to be ready.

    I currently have what's known as a "Boy's Regular" cut.  Based on your experience, how long do you think it will take for me to look like MC Serch (like, THEN, not now)?  Also is this a reasonable look for a 40 year old in middle management?  Please note that I am caucasian, unlike Mr Serch.

    Hmm, I think I should throw this one out to the crowd. What say you?

  • Awesome-Sauce

    A reader writes:

    Not sure how often you get these emails, but I wanted to let you know that I had a dream that we were roommates last night.  After you moved in, some woman came by and dropped off a lifetime's supply of cornflakes in for you.  As happy as I was about having an endless supply of cornflakes to mooch, I was concerned about how we were going to keep them away from the mice that currently reside in my apartment.

    Even the fan-mail is surreal.

  • Michael Steele Talks Like A Regular Black Guy

    We've alluded to this, but it's worth watching. This is Michael Steele talking to Chuck D and D.L. Hughley. This is the guy who could potentially help the GOP. I don't know who that "We did wrong. My bad" dude is. This guy, who as another commenter said, "just sounds like one of your conservative uncles" could help. Of course your uncle would never fall back for Rush Limbaugh, but that's another story.

  • Some Off The Cuff Analysis

    My name is Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I'm a social liberal. I'm pro-choice. I believe in the right to die. I believe in gay marriage. I'm against the death penalty. And, and as we've recently seen, I don't believe that all kids should be raised by married parents. I also like being black. But I'm clear that most of my views are to the left of most black people. By and by, I hope that isn't the case. But it is today, and understanding that difference is key.

    I think one of the biggest problems with the GOP is that they they mistake their deepest held beliefs for mainstream American beliefs. The root of the current conservative crack-up probably lies in Iraq, but the one event that exposed it all, for me, was Terri Schiavo. Here you had a sitting President, a gaggle of Senators and congressmen bending over backward to argue that government was a better arbiter of a woman's fate, than her husband and her doctors. The moment Bill Frist decided to give a diagnosis via video tape, I felt the wind shift. When it comes to the end of their days, most Americans would want their spouse--not the Senate Majority Leader--to be the final authority.

    The point is that you have to be able to distinguish your deeply held beliefs, from the electorates. I think much of the GOP's trouble stems from the inability to discern the difference. That whole "Real America," "Real Virginia," small-town snobbery bit, isn't an act--they actually believe it. I've never understood the whole "Center-right country" meme, because it's ultimately self-serving--and then self-defeating. It blinds you to the hard work of arguing, cajoling and fighting with the electorate, until they see your point. It's interesting that so many of their most dominant voices of the GOP (Steele, Gingrich, Limbaugh) have either never won an election, or haven't won one in a decade.

    I keep thinking about the big things that have always kept me from being a conservative--the knee-jerk worship of a past that branded me half a man, the elevation of the loud imbeciles who think science teachers should be using the Bible, the toleration and baiting of bigots who cloaked themselves in the garb of "States Rights," and now run under the garb of "protecting marriage." The common denominator here is an unreflective veneration of what was, a belief that tradition, no matter how backwards, can heal all. Thus it's only right, that Steele, Gingrich and Limbaugh make up the leadership.

    It's not that I think liberals are without flaw, but to argue that our most strident members should be our public face, would seem silly. As Ross intimates, if most liberals thought it was good idea for Howard Zinn Randall Robinson, or Noam Chomsky to be a spokesperson for the Democratic Party, I'd think we'd all gone insane. If Democratic politicians were scared to disagree with Keith Olberman or Michael Moore, I'd be a man without a home.

    But these guys think that they are America. They delude themselves with that "center-right nation" analysis, and then mask their losses by claiming they didn't really lose. They think the problem is their wardrobe, their slang, their hairstyle. This is what black folks call Project-Bougie or--more aptly put--just plain trifling. The GOP is out shopping for a new dining set, a new couch, a flat-screen--anything to make the crib look a little more inviting. Meanwhile the water bill is two months past due. The lights are off. And the eviction notice is in the mail.

  • The Foolishness Of Rick Santelli

    Don't ever say you're going on the Daily Show, and then cancel.

  • To All The J-School People

    I can't link to Ian Parker's piece on Iceland's financial tumble, in the latest issue of the New Yorker--it's behind the curtain. But I just wanted to say that it has the most gorgeous lede I've read in a long, long time. Anyone who's a fan of long-form journalism should read it.

    I was reading Parker's piece on the 2 train, coming home on Tuesday, and I couldn't make it through the second graff. It was so good that it was actually causing my brain to hurt. I think all professionals in any field are competitive, and sometimes stumble upon a piece of work so well done, that you think to yourself, "Why do I even bother?" It's like watching Jordan hit that last jumper over Byron Russell. I read the first couple graffs of that lede and thought, "Why even bother?"

  • Big Love

    I'm not feeling like I have the past two seasons--or even earlier this season. The whole thing feels rushed. The fraked up the trial by doing it so quickly. So much of the action seems dependent on the ineptness of otherwise normal people, and the seemingly superhuman guile of otherwise normal people. It's getting hard to watch.

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Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

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What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

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Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

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Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

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Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

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The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

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