America Needs N.W.A Now More Than Ever

This is a poster for Straight Outta Compton. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Universal Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

This is a poster for Straight Outta Compton. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Universal Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

I’m a 40-year-old white lady from the suburbs who just saw Straight Outta Compton at a Sunday afternoon matinée. (I know, it doesn’t get less gangster than that.) But you know what? I couldn’t wait for Straight Outta Compton to come out, and I wasn’t disappointed. The performances were genuine and electrifying. The story was sometimes joyous and sometimes heartbreaking, but always compelling. But I’m not writing this to give you a review of Straight Outta Compton – there are dozens of people already telling you how amazing it is. This isn’t about why it was great, but why it’s important.

I first heard of N.W.A in 1988 when I was in eighth grade. I was sitting in Ms. Davis’s English class when my friend, Tracy (who happens to be black if it matters), passed me a note that said, “Do you know what N.W.A stands for?” I shook my head. She wrote: “Niggas With Attitudes.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I knew that the N-word wasn’t something people around me said. We lived in the suburbs. We watched The Cosby Show. The only rap on my radar at that point came from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.

Then the show Yo! Mtv Raps came out. I watched it after school and found a whole genre of music I had never heard on the radio. I discovered Public Enemy, Ice-T, Eric B. & Rakim, and of course, N.W.A. I wouldn’t have had any exposure to hip-hop back then if it weren’t for Mtv. By extension, I wouldn’t have known anything about inner-city life either. Crips versus Bloods. West Coast versus East Coast. For a white girl from Kalamazoo, Michigan, there was a lot to learn.

Then in 1991, four LAPD officers beat Rodney King, and it was caught on videotape. I had been hearing about police brutality in the rap music I was listening to, but I had never seen it before. That didn’t happen in my neighborhood. Remember, this was before cell phones, social media, and even the internet. If your local news didn’t think you needed to hear about something, you didn’t. I was seeing this because a citizen was in the right place at the right time and was able to catch this happening with their VHS camcorder. It was shocking.

When the unthinkable happened and those four LAPD officers were found not guilty, it rocked the country. Los Angeles exploded with frustration and burned with the deadliest riots to happen in this country in over a hundred years. I saw the coverage on television. Rappers had been telling us about police violence for years, but now we were seeing just how tumultuous the situation had become. Ignore a problem long enough and eventually someone is going to make you pay attention.

Fast forward to now. In the twenty-five years since the mainstream explosion of rap music, hip-hop seems to be moving in a different direction. Eminem, Dr. Dre’s prodigy, exploded onto the scene and white suburban kids everywhere were enamored with the white rapper who got constant radio airplay. (Although Eminem didn’t rap about gang life, his rhymes were every bit as dark and violent as N.W.A’s ever were.) After the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, gangsta rap seemed to be winding down in favor of auto-tuned club anthems. For a long time, we stopped talking about inner city life and police violence, at least in the suburbs.

Until now.

With the prevalence of smart phones ensuring that most citizens have a video camera with them at all times, it was inevitable that someone would shine a spotlight again and force us to pay attention.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was put into an illegal chokehold and killed by a NYPD officer. Garner was unarmed. The incident was captured on video. The officer responsible was not charged. The following month, John Crawford III was shot and killed by a Beavercreek, Ohio police officer as Crawford shopped at a Walmart holding a toy BB gun he had picked up while there. The incident was captured on store surveillance video. The officer involved was not charged. A few days later, on August 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. There was no video evidence this time, and the circumstances were in dispute. Wilson was not charged, and Ferguson erupted in protest. By this point, anyone who was old enough to remember watching the Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of the four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King (on videotape) was wondering how it’s possible that in over twenty years, not a damn thing has changed.

From N.W.A’s song “Fuck Tha Police”, released in 1988:

“Fuck the police, coming straight from the underground,
A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown,
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority.”

There have been many, many more victims.  On April 12, 2015, Freddy Gray was arrested in Baltimore under questionable circumstances, sustained injuries while in police custody, and died days later. This time, the death was ruled a homicide and the six officers involved were indicted. The population of Baltimore is primarily black. What about the police officers involved in the death of Freddy Gray? Three of them were white and three of them were black.

From N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police”:

“But don’t let it be a black and a white one,
‘Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top,
Black police showing out for the white cop.”

So, were the members of N.W.A prescient? Of course not. The same police brutality that was happening in 1988 is still happening nearly 30 years later. I don’t know how we stop it, but I know we have to keep talking about it. We might have 24/7 news coverage and “citizen reporting” via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels, but maybe what we really need is another N.W.A – somebody reporting from the front lines to tell us what’s really going on outside of our own neighborhood, and packaging in a way that people will listen to. We need someone to keep us informed and keep us angry.

Listen, just about anybody my age is going to love the movie Straight Outta Compton. We were listening when N.W.A came out and we remember how revolutionary it was. But I hope that young people are going to see it too. We need to acknowledge how far we haven’t come in racial equality, particularly when it comes to treatment by the police. (Maybe you think we’ve made progress. Watch that Rodney King video again and you’ll see that we haven’t.) So, everyone, go see Straight Outta Compton for the groundbreaking music and the compelling story. You’ll get a valuable history lesson at the same time.

Justin Bieber Peeing in Jail


BiebsOkay, I’ll just break the news to you right off the bat: this page does not contain footage of Justin Bieber peeing in jail. Also, shame on you. You are disgusting for wanting to see that. And? The video doesn’t show anything anyway. Um, so I heard.

Can we talk for a moment about the fact that a video of Justin Bieber peeing, in jail, actually exists? Some of you may remember a post I wrote last year called, “What’s That’s Noise?” about the sad state of music today and how lame Justin Bieber is. I lamented his saccharin pop songs and how he was going to have to do better than smoke a little weed if he wanted me to take him seriously. I have to say, he’s apparently been taking my comments to heart.

Justin has been a bit of a bad boy lately: drinking the sizzurp, visiting hookers, and drag racing, Also, when he was arrested, he reportedly said the F word a bunch of times without putting any money in the swear jar. (Allegedly? Am I supposed to say “allegedly” so that Bieb’s attorney doesn’t shut me down? ALLEGEDLY.) In fact, he’s been such an asshole, a petition to deport him to Canada garnered over 250,000 signatures. (White House response pending.)

I don’t know – I’m still not impressed. Justin Bieber is an entitled little shithead and even with the drugs, he’s still not writing decent songs. I’m not buying his fake swagger either. I’m willing to bet that once Bieb’s team found out that they couldn’t block the release of the video of Bieber pissing in his jail cell, his attorneys paid the video editor a tidy sum to make the “black bar” covering his maple syrup dispenser a lot bigger than it actually had to be. I’m actually amazed he didn’t sit down to pee. Not that I’ve watched the video or anything.

And yes I used a picture of Justin from five years ago. I figure it’s kind of like those time-lapse photos of crystal meth users that circulated a while back to show you the dangers of using. Parents: don’t let your kids upload videos of themselves to YouTube. Before you know it, they’re pushing their bangs up off of their forehead and peeing in mop buckets and jail cells. A cautionary tale, indeed.

We Need Another Madonna


Madonna (Photo credit: choupigloupi)

There are several women I can credit with shaping my values and beliefs throughout my life. My mother, who stayed at home to raise me, was obviously the most influential. Just a few years ago, I discovered writer Dorothy Parker and immediately identified with her sharp wit and fragile interior. But in between the first woman I ever loved and the most recent object of my admiration, there was a pop culture icon that fascinated me and whom I desperately wanted to emulate; that woman was Madonna. Madonna was more than just the soundtrack to my adolescence – she was an epiphany. I’m better off for having grown up with her, and these days, when I see young women like Miley Cyrus twerking it up on Mtv, I feel the loss of Madonna more profoundly than ever.

No, Madonna is not dead – don’t start googling in a panic! But let’s be honest – she’s no longer a fixture in pop culture. Now we have, among others, Miley – a former Disney princess doing her damnedest to shed that image, albeit by trading it in for something that looks like it’s straight out of the casting reject pile for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“. I think back to how controversial Madonna was when I was growing up, but considering that she has never gone to rehab or jail, and all the “crotch shots” you’ve ever seen of her were pretty much taken with her consent, she seems downright tame by today’s standards. I’ll go on the record right now in saying that I think every woman – young and old – needs a little bit of this in themselves:

And that’s just for starters.

When Madonna appeared atop a wedding cake to do her lusty “Like a Virgin” performance on Mtv, she was 26 years old. This is important. She wasn’t a teenager and she was not on a teen award show. (See: Miley Cyrus pole dancing at age sixteen on the 2009 Teen Choice Awards.) Madonna was a grown woman using her talent and sexuality, on her own terms, to get people’s attention. And boy, did she.

Madonna was provocative when she wanted your attention, but your attention wasn’t the end game. Once she had your attention – once you were watching and listening – she had something to tell you. She wasn’t afraid of controversy and more often than not, it had little to do with skimpy costumes and scandalous dance moves. Madonna didn’t just want you to buy her records; she wanted you to think – about religion, sexual freedom, equality, freedom to choose, and on and on. All Miley has ever done for me is prompt me to google “twerking”. (That’s right, I didn’t know what it was. We just called it “ass shaking” in my day.)

How many pop singers could have a number one hit singing about unplanned pregnancy? Not surprisingly, “Papa Don’t Preach” stirred up controversy when it came out in 1986. Pope John Paul II even urged fans to boycott her on tour. This is a woman who has never been afraid to make people talk about uncomfortable issues, and is willing to endure the backlash.  Madonna never wavered in her defense of the song and what it meant to her. As told to Rolling Stone in 2009: “There were so many opinions. That’s why I thought it was so great… It just fit right in with my own personal zeitgeist of standing up to male authorities, whether it’s the pope or the Catholic Church or my father and his conservative, patriarchal ways.”

Madonna was teaching me to ask questions and to have opinions. I might have cowered in the corner during my fifth grade sex education class – the one where the boys go in one room and the girls go in the other so we can all talk about our changing bodies – but I had no problem popping in my Madonna cassette and singing “Papa Don’t Preach” at the top of my lungs. And because I had a mother who was open-minded and always let me know she was there to talk with me about everything, we were able to start a dialogue about things that were important.

“Express Yourself” was released in 1989 and when I watch Madonna perform it at the 1989 Mtv Video Music Awards, I still get goosebumps. At age fourteen, when I was entering high school and just beginning to explore my own sexuality, I can’t imagine receiving a better message than:

“You deserve the best in life
So, if the time isn’t right then move on
Second best is never enough
You’ll do much better baby on your own”

And because it’s always worth watching again:

She’s really singing! She has her ladies with her. She is in control. She is 31 years old. Madonna singing that song, in that moment…everything about it makes me proud to be a woman.

I don’t know how much of it was due to having a strong mother, the constant influence of pop music from a woman like Madonna who drilled independence and self-worth into my head, or if I was just born stubborn, but I was never the type of girl to give it up to the first guy who came along. I didn’t lose myself in a man. I valued everything I had to offer and that made me a force to be reckoned with, relationship-wise. I’m not saying that was an easy way to be, but I’m grateful I was raised to be that type of young woman.

As I matured, so did Madonna. In the 1990’s, she was in her thirties and still pushing people’s buttons. There was her infamous “Sex” book, which was deliciously scandalous and attention-grabbing. She released her “Erotica” album, among others. There were movies like the documentary “Truth or Dare” which offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse at her Blonde Ambition tour. I think what impressed me the most about Madonna at that point in time was not the overly sexual nature of her pursuits. (I probably wouldn’t fully grasp that until I was in my thirties, myself. Now, I totally get it.) No, what I realized was what a shrewd business woman she was. Madonna didn’t limit herself to music; she pursued all of her interests and didn’t balk when someone told her she wasn’t good at something. She controlled her own destiny and didn’t give up. If she had quit acting after her performance in “Shanghai Surprise” was universally panned, she never would have won a Golden Globe for her performance in “Evita”.

Madonna went on to eventually have three children: two biological and one adopted. She’s been married and divorced. She still makes music and still tours. She stirs up controversy here and there, although now it’s mostly in more conservative countries that aren’t used to women who writhe on the floor in white wedding dresses and sing, “Like a Virgin”. We have teenage pole dancers on Nickelodeon now; Madonna can’t do much to shock us. And although it pains me to acknowledge this, she turned 55 years old this month.

So, what now? Somehow, in the last couple of decades, the message of empowerment and individuality for which Madonna became known has been removed from the current pop equation, and today we are left with entertainers who are just shaking their asses for the sake of shaking their asses. Is that it?

I’m saddened to know that if I ever have a daughter, she won’t have Madonna in her ear. Sure, I can show her old videos and try to explain why this woman was revolutionary, but it won’t be the same. None of it will be happening in real time and I doubt it will have the same impact. You can’t recreate those moments that have long ago passed.

Of course I’d like to think that I will have some influence over my future children, but I’m a realist. I’d like a flashy pop star on my side to help drive the message home. Who is going to remind my daughter not to “settle for second best”? Right now, I’m still holding out hope for Lady Gaga, but we’ll see. Gaga is only 27 years old, about the same age Madonna was when she debuted. I’ll be interested to see where she goes with this. When Gaga’s song “Born This Way” came out and critics were complaining that it sounded awfully derivative of Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” I thought, thank goodness. Finally, somebody has the right idea:

A little odd, but odd is good. It sure beats the hell out of twerking.


Dating in the Digital Age


red-phone1I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that I am not part of the current dating scene. This is not just because the idea of someone besides my husband seeing my 38 year old naked body immediately sends me into a cold sweat. (Or maybe I’m just pre-menopausal?) No, it’s because dating today involves modern “conveniences” guaranteed to turn what is already an impossible challenge to find everlasting love into a veritable minefield where you must tread carefully in order to avoid miscommunications, bruised egos, and blistered genitalia.

My husband, Bryan, and I met in 1999. That’s right – we started dating right before the turn of the century. We didn’t have cell phones; those were still pretty much reserved for corporate executives and drug dealers. Bryan did carry a pager, though. He’s an engineer, and in the beginning of our relationship he was often “on call” at the manufacturing plant where he worked. On one of our first dates, we were walking through the park when Bryan was paged. We had to stop what we were doing in order to find a pay phone. Suddenly, this guy I was with seemed very important, and I was quite impressed. (It really didn’t take much to impress a girl back in the 90’s. Or maybe it was just me.)

I don’t think young people today can grasp what it was like to not have a phone with you at all times. In my early 20’s, my girlfriends and I would go out to the bar and have a good time, but then what? At the end of the night, if I wanted to see a “special friend”, there was only one option: the pay phone in the bar lobby. Here’s the thing: in my day, if you wanted to make a booty call, it was going to cost you $0.35. You had better think long and hard about whom your first choice was, the chances of him being home, and count up how much spare change you had on you. This couldn’t be a capricious decision. If you reached an answering machine, you weren’t getting your money back. And let’s be honest here – a collect booty call isn’t sexy.

The best thing about not having to deal with cell phones while dating was that I didn’t have to deal with text messages. Text messages! Oh, the humanity! Text messages are destroying us all. “What does he mean by that?” “I texted him, ‘What’s up’ and it’s been 32 minutes and he hasn’t responded. What does that mean?” “OMG, IDK, LOL, CU L8R!” It all makes me head explode. Don’t even get me started on the naked pictures. Are you people fucking crazy? You know that shit is going to end up online, right? In my day, we had Polaroid cameras. To my knowledge, they were invented for the express purpose of taking naked pictures and this was all they were ever used for. You can Google it.

Once you’ve navigated the murky waters of dating via text messaging, don’t forget to update your Facebook status! “We’ve been dating for a month and his Facebook status still says, ‘single’. WTF?” “I see you’ve changed your Facebook status to ‘It’s complicated’ – is there something you want to tell me?” For fuck’s sake. How about if we don’t use a social platform invented by someone with no social skills to communicate our feelings to each other? Or you could follow in the footsteps of the broken-hearted and use Facebook as a means for contacting your old high school girlfriend, relive your nostalgic fantasies and be surprised when your marriage disintegrates. Yay, technology!

As I’ve said before, I’m not a technophobe. I have a smartphone. I haven’t had a landline since 2002. I’m just glad I didn’t have to try and navigate my fragile 20’s or God forbid, my teen years, using one. You know what I feel worst about kids missing out on as they grow up, as far as cell phones are concerned? I think one of the quintessential rites of adulthood is when you get your own apartment for the first time, and the phone book arrives, and you get to look yourself up and see yourself listed. That is one of the first things that made me feel like an adult. Maybe that’s why these little Millennials are having a hard time growing up; they don’t get to have these little experiences.

Well, one thing hasn’t changed since I was young and still dating: you still need to wear a rubber when you carry out that (now free) booty call. So get yourself to the pharmacy, kids. As far as I know, there is NOT an app for that. (Yet.)

What’s That Noise?


records1I know I’m officially getting old because I don’t understand this fucking music that kids listen to today. I realize that every generation says this about the following generation’s music; it’s practically a rite of passage into adulthood to hate your children’s music. (I don’t have children, but I’ve seen kids around, or whatever. And I have a radio.)

Here’s the thing: I’m not disgusted with these kids’ musical idols because they’re too vulgar or too loud – quite the opposite. Saccharine pop stars like Justin Bieber and One Direction are so flaccid and cheerfully nonthreatening they make me want to…well, I’d like to say they make me want to scream, but I can’t work up the energy to care that much. I guess they make me want to take a nap. When I heard that “The Biebs” was caught smoking pot, I thought with a yawn, “Well, that’s a start, but call me when you find him passed out with a needle buried in his arm a la Nikki Sixx.” Maybe then he’ll make a decent record. Nikki used to chase the dragon in a backstage bathroom and then light his leather pants on fire. That’s a rock star. I don’t know what Justin Bieber and his hair are doing before a show. Reading the bible? Finger-banging Selena Gomez? Annoying the fuck out of me just by existing? I’ll tell you one thing though: His dad is kind of hot.

I started getting into music in sixth grade. My first few albums were: Licensed to Ill (Beastie Boys), BAD (LL Cool J), Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi), and What the Cat Dragged In (Poison). That was back in the cassette days of course, but I still have the first two on CD and they’re in my car right now. I remember when Appetite for Destruction came out in seventh grade. It was exciting. Guns N’ Roses felt like something new and different and…dangerous. (Speaking of dangerous, if you want to see something truly frightening, look at a current picture of Axl Rose. Plastic surgery is hazardous to your rock cred, dude.)

My parents hated my music because it was rude, I played it too loud, and my dad thought that Poison, based on the album cover, were a bunch of “ugly women”. (Maybe Poison and Bieber have something in common after all.) The point is, bubblegum popstars don’t scare anyone. (Unless we’re talking about Britney Spears during her bald, umbrella-wielding period.) If you turn this Millennial dreck up too loud it just makes the autotune that much more obvious.

Come on, kids. Give me something worthy of my disapproval. Is that too much to ask?

The Writing’s on the Wall


pencilI work for a company that provides “educational services”. (My boss says that is as specific as I can be without getting sued.) In my line of work, I come into contact with the written work of students of various grade levels and abilities.

If there is one thing that haunts me endlessly about my work, besides the state of public education in this country and the fact that the children are our future and we aren’t necessarily teaching them well so they can lead the way (RIP Whitney Houston), it’s the ridiculously bad handwriting I see on a continual basis.

Their fucking handwriting! Christ. Some of them look like they wrote with their feet. Seeing as how I spent my first three years of college as a psychology major, I feel pretty comfortable making broad, sweeping generalizations about children based solely on their handwriting. Here are a few types:

  • Teeny Tiny Printing: Some of these kids can fit 50 words on a single line. I swear they can hand-print in a size 6 font. I don’t know how often these children’s helicopter parents (Dr. and Mrs. Teeny Tiny Printing) are making them rewrite their homework, but these kids must only have one bowel movement per month, that’s how anal retentive they are. Don’t get me wrong – these kids generally write pretty well, but damn. I’m 38 years old and on the verge of needing bifocals. Give me a break, kid.
  • Fat Loopy Cursive with Hearts Over the I’s: These girls don’t generally knock it out of the park academically. I’m sure they are popular, have their own credit cards and drive a Volkswagen Beetle, but they aren’t going to change the world. They will do an excellent job decorating it.
  • Doctor Scrawl: I don’t know if these particular kids will ever actually make it to medical school, but their careless, “I can’t be bothered” handwriting has me convinced that these entitled average-achievers already possess one of the personality traits necessary to sustain a thriving private practice: they don’t mind inconveniencing others.
  • Serial Killer Handwriting: The stuff written in this hand is either terrible or fucking brilliant. The pages look like ransom notes: the letters vary in size and sometimes the pencil presses so hard against the paper it’s amazing it didn’t tear. You never know what kind of manifesto this crazy bastard is going to turn out when you start reading this mess. These are my favorite.

Although those are the main types, sometimes I get bored, like today, and I have to invent games to keep myself entertained. I came across something unusual that sparked my imagination, hence:

  • Secret Encoded Message Writing: This occurs when, due to the student’s hand or a computer glitch, random words appear several times darker than the surrounding text. It might look like this.

In my post-afternoon-break haze, I decided that the student was trying to send me a secret message. I tried reading just the darkened words, but they didn’t make any sense. Damn. I thought about rearranging the words and trying again. (Hey, what do I know? Maybe they didn’t want to make their secret code too obvious.) Instead, I just let it go. I was ready to move on, but that was a fun 30 second diversion. I can’t wait for the next one.

If you’ve recognized yourself in any of these psychological profiles, you’re welcome. This is the first step. I’m sure if you “Google” or check WebMD or something, they’ll have some answers for you that will get your life right back on track. Or maybe you can just type everything from now on.

Disclaimer: When it comes to talking about children, schools, and education, it can sometimes be an “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” situation. I take my job seriously, and I’m awesome at it. I joke because I care.