Sunday, May 22, 2016

Beyoncé, bell hooks, ‘Carmen Jones’, and ‘Carmen: A Hip Hopera’

Deep into the Lemonade syllabus.

Chapter 11, is on Theatre, Film & Documentary.

Listed there is the multi-Academy Award winning 1954 classic Carmen Jones.

This movie has everything. Dorothy Dandridge. Harry Belafonte. Pearl Bailey. Olga James. Diahann Carroll.

But this is a Lemonade syllabus. Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

And I know the Oscars are everything or whatever, but Beyoncé made a Carmen, too.

Now, I love Carmen. When the genders in Carmen are reversed, and it’s a man who faces death unafraid, that person is glorified to the point of deification. Carmen looks her killer in the eye and says fuck you and that shit is so hardcore.

But Beyoncé made a Carmen, too.

bell hooks is amazing, and her criticisms of Beyoncé are well known and widely documented. The responses coming out this week have been amazing. There are now bell hooks/Beyoncé syllabi.

Now, I’m not here to pick a side in that fight. I love both sides too dearly to play favorites and can't do anything but read and listen at a distance so I can better understand both sides.

What I’m here to to do is talk about Beyoncé’s Carmen, because that is MTV movie is one of the few Carmen adaptations I know of where her death serves a different purpose.

Harry Belafonte kills Dorothy Dandridge in Otto Preminger’s 1954 Carmen Jones. José kills Paz Vega’s Carmen. José Lizarrabengoa kills Carmen in 1926. Don José kills 1932 Carmen. 1938 Nazi German Don José kills Carmen in Carmen of Nights in Andalusia. 1938 Fascist Spain’s José Navarro kills Carmen in Carmen, la de Triana. 1945’s Occupied French Don José kills Carmen. I’m not sure if Antonio or Vincenzo kills Italian Carmen in 1962’s Carmen di Trastevere but she is killed. There’s a Western version of Carmen called Man, Pride and Vengeance from 1967 where Don José kills Carmen. Goddard killed Carmen in his 1983 film First Name: Carmen. Carmen must have been in vogue because there was a Spanish version in 1983 and an Italian one in 1984 as well. Paco kills Carmen in the Spanish version, Plácido Domingo as Don José in the Italian. They even made a Carmen on ice called Carmen on Ice where Brian Boitano kills Carmen. Jongikhaya kills 2005 South African Carmen of U-Carmen eKhayelitsha. 2011 Carmen in Carmen’s Kiss... well, you know where this is going.

Now, Don José Navarro’s method of execution varies from Carmen to Carmen. The original novel, on which all this was based, was written by French citizen Prosper Mérimée. He was born in Paris the year Napoleon sold Louisiana to the Yankees and he died in Cannes the year Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury published this landscape of the French seaside town. Mérimée heard the story of Carmen from a woman named María Manuela Kirkpatrick who grew up in Málaga where the early stages of industrial revolution were taking off and she would probably have come into contact with the masses of women seeking employment in the boom town. She eventually married Napoleon III and created his only son. Her descendents are still Dukes and Counts and Marquises today.
Prosper Mérimée died here
Mérimée has Carmen killed with a knife, and implies that Don José will be executed. Rather than dramatizing the execution, as he had done with Carmen, Mérimée lapses into a long treatise on Romani people which his editor called “suspect” (translation: total bullshit). But Don José almost always kills Carmen.

There are some exceptions.

In 1948, American The Loves of Carmen Don José does not kill Carmen but rather Carmen's husband. Weirdly, Charlie Chaplin’s 1915 Carmen lives because Darn Hosiery’s knife is fake and they were just putting on a show for the camera (which they demonstrate by breaking the fourth wall as the film ends).

And then there’s Beyoncé’s Carmen.

Carmen: A Hip Hopera.

Produced by MTV Films. It’s available on multiple platforms to rent or purchase.

Beyoncé’s Carmen dies, but her lover does not kill her.
Beyoncé as Carmen

Usually, if Carmen lives, then Don José dies instead.

However, even though the story usually doesn’t depict his death it’s strongly suggested or straight up said that Don José will be executed for Carmen’s murder.

Carmen is a story that strongly punishes a woman’s independent sexuality, but, and this is a testament to its logevity, the woman, Carmen, is so defiant in the face of death that she becomes heroic. Her lover, or his rival (in some versions), is a bumbling tool who can’t hold a flower in his hand without crushing it as a twin result of his ambition in a hostile militarized organization and his adherence to hierarchical relationships of domination and submission.

In Beyoncé’s Carmen, Don José is Police Sgt. Derek Hill (played by Mekhi Phifer) and his rival is the corrupt Lieutenant Miller (played by Mos Def ***Aside, you know what’s weird. On the wikipedia page for Carmen: A Hip Hopera, someone took the time to update Reagan Gomez’s name and add her married name, but Mos Def’s name had not been updated to Yasiin Bey, so I logged into Wikipedia and changed that, Aside over***).

Rah Digga and Joy Bryant as Nikki and Rasheeda
Lieutenant Miller kills Carmen while shooting at Sgt. Derek Hill because Hill is aware of Miller’s corruption. Hill kills Miller in retaliation, but is charged with Carmen’s murder as well.

Beyoncé’s Carmen is an exploration of a corrupt police force which glances against Carmen’s life as a hustler. In most other versions, it is Don José/Sgt. Derek Miller turns out to be an abusive asshole who murders his partner when she leaves him. Tale as old as time, and an always current affair.

Hollywood Shuffle, Meteor Man, and B*A*P*S director Robert Townsend did the MTV version. The script was by Michael Elliot, who wrote Like Mike, Brown Sugar, and Just Wright. The cast is just insane. Jermaine Dupri, Joy Bryant, Da Brat.
Da Brat

Da Brat.

Do you know how many movies Da Brat is in?


Kazaam. The Shaq movie where he's a genie. Or djinn. Or الجن.

Oh, also Glitter. A badass movie that I have never seen but now want to called Civil Brand where a group of Black women take over a prison.

But to get back to Carmen: A Hip Hopera.

Most versions of Carmen manage to capture the horror of a lover drawing more and more inward until they are a trap from which you must escape or be killed and despite that horrible fate awaiting her, Carmen always goes with her head high and fighting all the way.
Da Brat in Glitter

Beyoncé’s Carmen does that.

And then she manages to criticize a police force that corrupts police as they go up the chain of command (Lt. Miller) and how it is tied to toxic masculinity because Sgt. Hill’s behavior puts her at risk as much if not more than himself. Considering that he survives this story, it is absolutely the case that a man’s adherence to rigid masculinity channels the violence that exists in women’s lives at all times.

That’s how amazing Beyoncé is, she sprinkles her tragedy with some crsip institutional analysis.

Now if only Carmen and Don José could survive the story. The tragedy could be that Don José gets a one bedroom in the industrial district and his internet access gets cut off when he violates the Hillary Clinton Online Gender and Sexuality Discrimination Protection Act of 2017 for posting imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist cisheteropatriarchal hate speech comments on makeup tutorial YouTube videos.

Carmen of course goes on to be the heavyweight champion of the world in all fighting based sports where her record is unbroken and her technique invariable. She simply stands in the center of any ring and falls in love with her opponent until they wither into dust.

Blue Ivy can be in that version.

But it goes a bit deeper than that. Because in the original Carmen, Carmen and Don José initially bond over (what Don José thinks is) their shared Basque status.

Remember María Manuela Kirkpatrick?
María Manuela Kirkpatrick

One year before she was born, in 1793 the French began a campaign of terror to destroy the Basque identity, destroying communities and scattering families across the country. It was the beginning of what was to be almost a century of warfare in the region and continued under Franco to the modern era, ending with his reign in 1975. Not that the issue is definitely settled. Tensions continue in France to this day.

When Carmen’s killer is her lover, she faces her death. In Beyoncé’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera, it is the system of corrupt police that literally shoots Carmen in the back because she is standing between the system of authority and the threat of that system’s irredeemable corruption.

Having said that, I sit down to watch Carmen: A Hip Hopera for maybe the first time (I am suspicious that I have seen it, but maybe not the whole thing, definitely parts).

And the corrupt police element begins immediately, with Lt. Miller planting drugs he received along with money as a bribe on a child he then arrests.

For further proof, Miller then hits on Caela (Reagan Gomez-Preston) right in front of Hill despite their being engaged. Then the two men whip their dicks out and slap each other for a few minutes (although I may have dozed off and dreamed that ***Aside, where is Beyoncé already?***)

Oh, here she is in the literal next shot. Or rather, her shoes are. Then a cut of Fred Williamson reacting to them. Then the whole room, including Lt. Miller, reacting to them. Back to the shoes. Back to Fred. Then in a slow pan, there is revealed Beyoncé as Carmen. In a sequined red cocktail dress that is slit up the left thigh to the top of the rectus femoris and with décolletage plunging to her navel.

She wears a red rose in her hair and the first words anyone says to her are “baby.”

A woman immediately gets possessive.

And Carmen, who has yet to speak, breaks out in song. A duet with Miller where he propositions her and she shoots him down by flirting with Hill.

Caela, to whom he is betrothed, does not take it lightly.

Caela intersects with another aspect of Carmen often discussed in history and criticism of the work. The character isn’t in the original story, but appears in the Bizet opera as Micaëla (and most subsequent adaptations that also depend on it for inspiration). There are two themes present in almost all adaptations along with Caela as an indicator of the non-Carmen path for Don José. Carmen Jones has one of my favorite incarnations of Micaëla. Her name is Cindy Lou. If your name is Cindy Lou, and you’re into dudes. Expect to be cheated on.

In all versions of Carmen, the narrative inherently sets up the ethnic minority woman, Carmen, as an oversexualized ‘Jezebel’ in contrast to the constant, propriotous, constancy of Cindy Lou/Micaëla.

Cindy Lou Caela follows the story, always trailing Don José as the life he could still have if he would just settle down and stop chasing after Carmen.

Carmen has no Cindy Lou, in any version of the story. Sure, there are always a pool of lovers vying for Carmen’s affections, but there is no normal life ever available to her. In the original, because she is a gypsy. In Beyoncé’s Carmen, because she is a Black woman in America. Instead, she has mysticism.

Almost every version of Carmen, including the original include an element of superstition, possibly because the story stems from an itinerant Romani person that may have actually existed with multiple income streams include fortune telling, but more likely because the French author was racist dickbag (Seriously, the last part of Carmen is just the author sounding off on the “patholigical immorality” of the Roma).

In that sense, and this is very often the case, all versions of Carmen function end up revealing more about white/colonizer fantasies about colonized women than perhaps was intended by the author. Anne Thériault recently wrote that men love metaphors because they think they are “smart and sneaky, even when they are in fact neither of those things.”

In that sense, Carmen: A Hip Hopera and Carmen Jones are also about the limits placed on Black women in American entertainment at different periods of colonization.

Dorothy Dandridge used the success of Carmen Jones to come out of the closet about her then taboo relationship with Ukrainian director Otto Preminger one year before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dandridge later said it was Preminger’s advice about turning down a supporting role in The King And I that led to a slowdown in her career.

Beyonce’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera came out in May of 2001, less than six months before the September 11th attacks in NY and D.C.

Both the 1950s and the 2000s were periods of intense crackdowns on domestic civil liberties but also a period of both expansion and transparency to the atrocities being carried out by U.S. forces overseas. Not to mention the ever escalating and expanding wars.

And then here we are in 2016 with Lemonade, 15 years after Carmen: A Hip Hopera and in the past two years there have been major uprisings in U.S. cities all over the nation but in Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, etc.

Fifteen years after Carmen Jones it was 1969, and U.S. cities had been burning for at least four years with similarly public actions taken in response to escalating police violence.

Dorothy Dandrige didn’t live to see that, though.

She died at the age of 42 in 1965.

One month after the Watts Uprising.


While bell hooks is overly critical of Beyonce, Lemonade ultimately concludes with a theme found in much of hooks’s work. Healing.

The world of Carmen is a disordered world. What little family anyone has is ultimately inconsequential, and the random characters that come together form small, temporary familial units that live and expire by their functionality.

That more than anything is indicative of it’s patriarchy, colonial/capitalist, hyper-masculine white origins.

Lemonade, with its themes of healing through spirituality, family, connectivity, community, reveal its creator as the intensely competent Black woman.

Because Beyonce is amazing all on her own (which she acknowledges when she sings “We gon’ live a good life” about the possibility of ditching her husband and absconding with their babies), but she surrounded herself with a team of equally competent people to create something greater than any of of their individual parts that also unites and connects a broad audience by telling a narrative both sad and bittersweet and full of pain.

And yet, as mainstream as can be, Beyonce always performs success with half a step out of line with a white America that could not be more critical. When Carmen Jones was on television, Britney Spears and the American Idol were making big screen, full court press marketing Hollywood movies.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Web Series Wednesday

Bougie Dilemma

"BOUGIE DILEMMA" a web series about a deluded optimist with a serious case of Bougie Dilemma. The series follows the ups and downs of a deluded optimist in Hollywood whose "reach for the stars" tastes struggle against her "down to earth" budget. Throw in some romantic misadventures of trying to find something "real" in the LaLa town of "make-believe" and you have one sista with some major “Bougie Dilemma.”

Created by : Nadège August
Directed by : Kent Faulcon
Animation : Sean Geer- Harrison
Music Composition: Abby Travis
Stars: Nadège August, Leith Burke, Anissa Borrego, Heidi Schultz, Abbe Meryl Feder, Laura Liguori, Thomas Wright

Reflections on African American Studies with Dr. Cathy J. Cohen

"All that stuff I just talked about—the homogeneity of these institutions—the only way they’re changed, it’s not because people wake up one morning [and say,] “Oh, we’ll change!” It’s because people outside those institutions demand a change. So you want to be committed [to] that kind of politicized work. So, for me, I want to do my job and I want to do it well, but I am interested in seeing institutions transform for the better and oftentimes that takes some pushing from the outside. That’s probably why I teach social movements, because that’s my theory of change for institutions like the University of Chicago." -- Dr. Cathy J. Cohen in conversation with Joy Crane at

JILLIAN’S PEAK is a true story about Jillian Thomas, a African American woman in conflict. A successful photographer and wife from Detroit, she disrupts the picture-perfect All-American dream that she has been encouraged to live. She determines to fully live her life as it was meant to be, to understand what will truly make her happy, and to explore her constant questioning of her relationship with her husband Keith. But mainly she seeks to explore her hidden nagging feeling of “Am I a Lesbian?” Jillian pursues her truth in New York. She lives with Gail, her best friend from college, a self-assured lesbian who challenges Jillian’s ideas and beliefs about herself and her life.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bits of Undigested 김치

Today, I have a new article at The Daily Beast about the closing of La Lunchonette, a small restaurant in Chelsea.

It's a great little place that I pass every day on my way to work.

As they are closing up shop this weekend and cleaning up, I went by the place to check it out.

There was a very cool basement that I would give my right arm to explore. The entrance is through a trap door below the bar.

Mysterious cellar door of mystery
Melva Max and Jean-François Fraysse own the place. I talked to Melva, but I met Jean-François in person when I went by the place during the cleanup. We had some nice chats.

As much as I passed by the place, and always wanted to go to their Accordion Nights, I only ate lunch there once. A month before they closed. I had a bowl of French Onion Soup and a cup of coffee.

I didn't really go for the food. I just wanted to sit there a while. Knowing the place was about to close.

The very first day I worked at The Daily Beast, I walked from Penn Station straight down to 18th Street and stood outside La Lunchonette because of the a sign that said "Accordion Show" (If you know me, you know I love accordions, concertinas, bagpipes... pretty much any instrument that whines when squeezed).

It was the the summer time and hot. I had just come from my other job at a Home Depot and I had done my best to wipe the warehouse grime off my filthy self before I had to go sit in an office and pretend to be normal sauce.

So I stopped in the little alley between a building and a parking lot where a man had set up a little shelter. I still smoked cigarettes at the time, so I bummed him one and we both smoked while I cooled off and put on a clean, collared shirt.

He was rousted out not too long after that. Now I rarely see anyone living outside in the neighborhood.

When I mentioned The Daily Beast, Melva said she knew at least two regulars from the place who would come in all the time. She didn't quite mention their names, but by her description I knew it was Mme. D______, whom I know well and adore, and M. V________, whom I also know well but have never met face to face (I worked remotely and we only ever emailed).

Magical Vanishing Snow
It also snowed this morning, with a decent amount of accumulation piling up before noon. It looked so fluffy and pretty. Then the sun came out, the weather went back to crazy warm, and the snow was all gone in a literal hour. It would have been more depressing if it weren't so warm.

A very busy, but in all a nice day. The kind of day where you feel present and responsible and with it.

Then you come home and realize you left the door unlocked all day so all your illusions of responsibility and resourcefulness are passing phantoms, bits of undigested 김치.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Dutch Tough

Advertising is the true story of any age.

As odious as it may be, an ad is the essence of every story, myth, fact, aspiration, and definition available at it's creation.

The ad at left is from a 1978 issue of Playboy magazine. It's on page 54.

Now, the first 53 pages of the magazine are equally full of similar messages (the leather looking man, the bored looking woman), but this one about pipe tobacco stood out in particular.

First, of all the bored women that appear in these ads, the woman in the second photo looks challengingly bored. The male model looks like someone slapped a wig and makeup on an old jacket and gave it sexually criminal sentience.

Because, second of all, what the hell is going on in the first image? A.k.a. The one where the possibly same models are in Dutch colonist cosplay.

And as a subsection of the second part, why Dutch colonists? In an American magazine? For pipe tobacco? In 1978?

What the all around fuck?

Amphora, the tobacco company, is still in production. And there are people with YouTube videos about it. So good on them for longevity. But a surprising number of Playboy advertisers from the same issue include similarly long lasting companies like Gillette, Chrysler, Cuervo Gold.

Turns out though that Amphora may no longer be available in the United States.

But with the name free, a company called Evofem Inc. created a personal lubricant called Amphora in 2004.

But the pipe tobacco Amphora brand is owned by Imperial Tobacco Group plc, a HUGE company based in Bristol (of all places).

So why of all things was the image of Dutch colonialism was being marketed to Americans in 1978 via their pipe tobacco?

Most of the other tobacco ads are for cigarettes, and they are primarily concerned about tar.

There is also one ad that appears like a proto-feminists appeal to the kind of lesbian smokers who might read Playboy in the late 70s.

But it's hard to draw any conclusions, because there are no real comparisons in the book to either other pipe tobacco ads, or specifically Dutch colonial imagery.

So, going back a few years to see what else might be in the advertising might prove fruitful, about a decade earlier.

To June of 1968.

Because, the logic is, if this use of Dutch colonial imagery to sell pipe tobacco in a semi-dirty late 1970s men's magazine means what it looks like it means, then that is pretty fucked up.


Looking into magazine archives from time periods is more rewarding than any other kind of garbage diving.

Once upon a time, with full access to the archives of Newsweek magazine, many hours of upload waits or downtime were filled with trips through old magazines from the 1930s, 1980s, 1960s.

Having said that, now that the ability to digitize old collections is a reality, everyone needs to make it a priority to save and reproduce all media.

Far too many things get left behind when the media changes.


An early summer 1968 magazine is such a strange piece of history.

Only two months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (but really a month to a month and a half in magazine production time) and already on the newsstand when Robert Kennedy is assassinated in California.

The very first ad is for gin, the second, malt liquor. Like the old saying goes, gin before malt liquor gets you fucked up quicker.

The smoking ads however have neither pipe tobacco or Dutch colonial imagery. They do however have weird father imagery and a hopeful focus on innovation and modernity.

Time to go back another decade.


On the very first page of the June 1958 Playboy magazine, there is an ad with loosely connected Dutch Colonial imagery.

The ad shows a man in a tuxedo holding a large parrot, surrounded by palm trees and two women, who are dressed in vaguely non-specific Pacific Island dress. It's not Dutch, but it's got Colonial written all over it. And the Dutch did have large colonies stretching all the way from the tip of Sumatra to New Guinea.

The ad even features a little Venus on the half shell with one of the two women decorating the James Bond/Don Draper original.

An interesting aside, the adjusted for inflation price of the After Six wash-and-wear jacket is $328.08.

The rest of the mag features no real Dutch Colonial imagery, or pipe tobacco ads, which is surprising. The Dutch Colonial theme is specific to the late 70s for reasons that will possibly become clear.

What is interesting about the late 50s Playboy compared to the 60s and 70s is that there is a lot more advertorial content in the 50s. With whole articles about cameras (conveniently for sale at low, low prices) in between pictorials of the the 1950s version of the girl next door and liquor ads. It's almost as if Playboy were a training manual for something.

Then there are other less disturbing things advertised like a one foot tall model of a human skeleton for only $2.98. With removable parts!

So once again, a whole issue of Playboy and no Dutch Colonial ads.

Lessons were learned, like "there are a surprising number of cigar ads with dads lighting up around their children", but for now it's back to 1978.


In 1978, the Dutch Colonial empire was in its final stages. Although Dutch Colonialism continues as the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the administration of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and other stolen lands; in 1978, refugees from former Dutch colonies moved to the Netherlands in waves. The migrants came both for jobs that would supply cheap labor to their former colonizers, but also to escape the political unrest left in the wake of their home countries' independence. Feeling underappreciated for heroically driving the Japanese military out of countries they had stolen fair and square, the scorned Dutch settlers stymied nascent democratic movements in the global South by force at first, and then economic domination (some of which continues to this day).

The US Northeast maintains a tenuous relationship with Dutch Colonialism in that it often gets mixed up with English colonialism in national myth, especially since their areas of colonization overlap in like New York and other foundational strongholds of European colonialism in North America.

Also, important places and figures in Dutch colonization share nomenclature with the Imperial Tobacco Group product line or brands purchased by Imperial Tobacco such as it's predecessor Commonwealth Brands, Inc. (formerly the Commonwealth Tobacco Company).

The infamous cigarette smoking baby on the internet that the Western world fetishized? From the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.

See, the Playboy magazines didn't have any Amphora ads, but newspapers and other sources do. Going back ten years in newspaper searches show Amphora advertising that employs certainly less cosplayish imagery. 1960s Amphora ads in general newspapers stress availability and price.

It would have been much harder to romanticize Dutch colonialism in the 1960s. The brutal repression of the Indonesian independence movement was still ongoing at the start of the decade.

In addition, this was a British-ish company marketing to an American audience, and unless the ad was specifically targeted to Northeast subcribers, it seems like a very narrow demographic that might find 17th century Dutch colonial cosplay enticing, but then again so is pipe smoking.

Plus, if there is a hetero woman alive that has ever had unpaid, non-coercive sex with a man who is actively smoking a pipe, she was a whaling shipman's wife in 1840s Nantucket, or, as the ad implies, the bonnet wearing wife of a European colonist somewhere in the Dutch empire circa 1500 - 1700.

What the image does recall today, however, is a million old men in a million old movies, about a woman protected only by her own boredom from a man who finds appealing the idea of taking things that don't belong to him. This is definitely a recurring theme in all those old Playboy. Not just the idea of women as for sale, because most of the things for sale are products like liquor, tobacco, and tobaccinated liquor. With a model or two promised by mere association with the product and the fine print that reads "woman not included."


Skipping ahead ten years, the difference is incredible, particularly as it comes to Tobacco advertising, which is still mostly allowed in the June 1988 issue of Playboy magazine, but is thoroughly in the grips of the Marlboro man.

There are also ads for Kools, Kents, Camels, Merit Ultra-Lights, Salems, and Winstons, all of which employ some working/middle class white guy at leisure. The Salem ad is a nude woman, her face and body out of frame, melting a cigarette pack sized block of ice on her neck with the brand logo frozen inside. The Marlboro ad which has not only seized on the colonial imagery, in this case the Cowboy "taming" the wild west (which in the 1980s meant horses for some reason).

The Marlboro Man as a concept had only a decade left in use by the Philip Morris company when they ran this ad in Playboy.

Cigarette ads like these were on their last legs.

Much like pipe tobacco in the 1970s. In a 2005 Washington Post report by Peter Carlson, head of the Pipe Tobacco Council, Norman Sharp, said "In 1970, Americans bought 52 million pounds of pipe tobacco. In 2004, they bought less than 5 million pounds."

5 million pounds of pipe tobacco may still be more than you can carry at a full sprint, but it's definitely not "advertise in Playboy" money.

But what does a creepy ad about the kind of pipe tobacco rooted in the Dutch colonial tradition have to do with a fictional advertising cowboy?

Philip Morris is the largest tobacco company in the world. Imperial Tobacco Group, Inc. is number four. In between are British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

Japan Tobacco, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco Group all started within ten years of each other in the waning years of the 19th century, and the earliest days of the 20th (Although, technically, Japan Tobacco spun off from a government monopoly on tobacco production and an independent company formed from the Asia Pacific division of RJ Reynolds, now a subdivision of British American, in the 90s -- coincidentally around the same time the Marlboro man was retired).

All of this built on a crop stolen from the colonized people of South America, built into a global industry on the backs of slaves, and sustained to the present day on the profits of a destructive and unhealthy activity.

And when it comes to accessing that past for the purposes of brand identity, these companies have been reliably happy to do so (albeit less so at times when it is politically expedient to minimize the systems' worst abuses). But when it comes to making amends for the health damages its products cause, compensating all that stolen labor, and paying off the debt owed to the indigenous developers of the product; all that history don't count for shit.

Also, old Playboys are fucking creepy.

Check out more Vintage Advertising here.

Some Thoughts on Elizabethtown, Kentucky and Gynnya McMillen

The recent news (or lack thereof) about the  prompts context.

Initial news reports about the death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen in Elizabethtown, Kentucky provided little detail, even neglecting to name the victim. A Facebook page was set up calling for an inquiry and more information. The family has spoken out on the page, criticizing both the authorities under whose watch McMillen died and the press that has provided little coverage of the story:

I'm asking that everyone repost and share my sisters story on your pages and in any groups that will help us get it out...
Posted by Justice For Gynnya McMillen on Friday, January 15, 2016
The lack of media attention means that most of the information about the case, and calls for more attention, are addressed on blogs and via individual users on social media:

A Twitter profile with a name matching Gynnya McMillen has only one tweet. It's from November 29th, 2013:

The official address for Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center is 820 New Glendale Rd, which on Google Maps is an empty field.

From the Elizabethtown page at
The Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Lincoln County, Kentucky, like all jails is a maximum security facility. Because the inmates in this jail range from low level offenders to those being held for violent crimes like robbery, rape and murder, the security level is as high as is it is in any maximum security state prison. Some of the security features in this facility include security cameras, electronic detection and reinforced fencing topped with razor wire. Correctional officers in Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center are armed with mace and trained to use physical force to protect themselves and other inmates from violence. 
The men, women and juveniles being held in the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center are either awaiting trial or have been sentenced in the Lincoln County Court System already and been sentenced to a period of time of one year or less. When an inmate is sentenced to a year or more, they are admitted into the Kentucky Prison or Federal Prison System. Inmates in the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center are fed three meals a day totaling 2,500 calories, are allowed access to phones to contact friends and family members, are allowed at least one hour a day for exercise, have access to books, bathroom and shower facilities. The inmates are allowed mail to be delivered to them as well as newspapers and magazine from trusted outside publishers. 
But the youth detention center is not the only carceral institution in the nearby area.

Just down the road is the Hardin County Detention Center. Which has a website you can check out here.

The Hardin County Detention Center provides an odd amount of information on its website: from a complete searchable database of all their inmates by full name and incarceration date, to pages of rules about communication, and the ability to make purchases from the prison commissary.

There is even a page with a short bio of the "warden" or "jailer" as the site refers to the administrator:
Danny Allen is a lifelong resident of Hardin County.  Jailer Allen started working for the county government as a Deputy Sheriff in 1985, and 1988 as the assistant supervisor for the Hardin County Road Department.  In 2001 Jailer Allen was moved to the supervisor position for the road department of Hardin County. Danny Allen was elected and took office of Jailer January 1, 2011.  Jailer Allen has also served (6) years on the Hardin County School Board and was also Fire Chief for # 86 Volunteer Fire Department.
Amid all this information, is a page about prison visitation. At the Hardin County Detention Center, prisoners do not interact with their visitors directly. Instead:

INMATES will visit with friends and family from a video visitation terminal in their housing unit.
VISITORS will use a similar video visitation terminal in the jail’s visitation area.
So prisoners just two miles away from where a teenager died in state custody at a maximum security facility, inmates are denied the basic right of being able to sit in the physical presence of their loved ones.

These visits are limited to two twenty minute sessions per inmate, per week.

Because the video system is remotely accessible, parties can connect to prisoners over the internet. Presumably these count toward the visitor limit each prisoner has. The sessions cost $12.99 each.

Lincoln Juvenile has a much lower internet presence (although their phone number is listed at (270) 766-5280). They are or were hiring a nurse. On the page describing the job, the following is given as a typical day:

A typical day starts with receiving a briefing from the Youth Worker Supervisor concerning any youth movements in/out of the facility and any current medical needs of the youth. Counting controlled medications and passing medications. Assessing youth with medical complaints. Health and history screenings for any youths who are admitted to the facility. Obtaining physician orders required for medications or treatments for the youth. Providing updates to the Nurse Shift/Program Supervisor about youth needs or concerns.
The do have a Google website. It is minimally populated with content, but it gives the same address as the one Google shows. The site also has a list of staff and a mission statement of sorts:
The Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (KY DJJ) Program Services Division currently monitors all of Kentucky's juvenile holding facilities and secure juvenile detention facilities for compliance with state and federal mandates. KY DJJ also operates eight secure juvenile detention centers. Kentucky's juvenile detention system provides pre-trial detention of all alleged delinquent juveniles and ensures state-operated detention centers to be available for all counties.The Detention Centers provide programs with a wide range of services including: education, counseling, acute medical and mental health care, behavior management, observation and assessment, as well as continuous supervision.
According to one report about McMillen's death on said that hers is the first juvenile death in custody since 1999. The same report says an autopsy was scheduled for last Monday.

The most in-depth report on the case comes from Anna Taylor at which lists, among other details:

  • McMillen had "only been at the facility about 24 hours"
  • She was brought to Lincoln "following a Sunday morning altercation with a parent at a Shelbyville residence"
  • Kelly Cable, spokesman for the Shelbyville Police De­partment, said a domestic violence call came in at 1:46 a.m. “The child was the perpetrator in the incident and the parent did receive minor injuries,” he said. “We contacted the court-designated worker. The juvenile was transported to Lincoln Village on a charge of assault fourth-degree – domestic violence with minor injury.”
  • Gynnya was "found unresponsive at 10 a.m. in her cell and was pronounced dead at the detention center"

Despite the extra details Taylor's story, most of them come from officials at the prison and the local police. Little is know about how she was taken into custody or the name/names of the responding officers.

Gynnya McMillen.

Say her name.


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