Monday, May 26, 2014

Damnation, and the Reclaiming of Northwestern Rivers

When I was in elementary school, at least once a year the teacher would haul out the movie projector and show us "It Couldn't be Done," a 1970 TV special featuring a hippie-ish Lee Marvin and the band the Fifth Dimension presenting inspiring stories of American achievement. (Trippy excerpt here.) One of the achievements celebrated was the Hoover Dam. Who could doubt that the dam was one of the greatest efforts in the history of mankind?

Lately we have been reconsidering. One of the most interesting developments in the western environment in the reevaluation of the many dam projects which remade our rivers in the mid-20th century. Many aging dams don't produce all that much electricity or other economic benefits, yet continue to have enormous environmental impacts. Why not take them out and restore the natural rivers that we have lost? In 2011 the removal of the Elwha Dam on the Olympic peninsula began what is shaping up as a national movement. A new film, Damnation, reviews the history of damming western rivers and the possibilities and benefits of removing some of them:

I am going to see if we cannot get a local screening of this film. Are you listening, Bart Milhailovich?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Boondocks

If I were teaching a course about race in America, I would be tempted to use the animated series The Boondocks as the primary text.

The Boondocks is the work of Aaron McGruder, who began drawing the strip for his college newspaper. The core of the show and its conscience is Huey Freeman, a radical black revolutionary trapped in the body of a ten year old. His hip-hop loving little brother Riley is often at odds with Huey. Both fight with their old-school grandfather Robert Jebediah Freeman, who moved the boys from Chicago to an unnamed white suburb ("the Boondocks") to raise them. I read somewhere that nearly every character is an archetype, which is very true. Supporting characters include Thomas Dubois (the black sell-out who has forgotten his roots and his masculinity), Thugnificent (the decadent rapper who thinks he is somehow carrying on the legacy of MLK), and most memorably, Uncle Ruckus, the colorful self-hating black man.

The writing is amazing, both very funny and politically-pointed. McGruder has two targets--the racism built into American society, and the problems in African-American society that hold back the community. The show is very controversial.

The best introduction is the first episode, below. Warning--the show makes free use of the N-word, and other offensive speech.