Black Panther (from Philosophical Asides)

[My thoughts on the Marvel film Black Panther.]

I have to admit: I was moved by Black Panther, the film right before the final showdown in Avengers: Infinity War. So in terms of where the film fits on the story line, it was an important film, and even though I’m not sure how it fits into the larger universe, I know I will soon enough.
Why did I like the movie? I’m not sure that I can say, immediately at least. It’s something that takes time. Of course, knowing me, you know I liked it for its revolutionary elements, not even just in terms of politics and film, but also the literary qualities as well.

 
Black Panther certainly had a rich history to pull from. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, President Obama, Cornel West, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, August Wilson, others. Black radicals and those who identify as part of the African or African American tradition, have enriched the world of literature and storytelling in a way that one cannot easily ignore. I myself am not as well-versed as I’d like to be, but I’m going to get there, because I want to understand the heritage, even if I am not directly a part of it.

 
What to make of the themes of revolution in the story? Well, for one thing, I find it inspiring. Revolutions are not always understood. The closest analogue that I have to revolution in my own personal worldview is the philosophical work and impact of Karl Marx. Marx himself was a revolutionary spirit, and I empathize with much of his efforts, even though it ultimately led to something like Soviet Russia, because I want to defend the poor, and fight for the exploited and marginalized.

 
Of course, I cannot be a part of the heritage of the Black Panthers. Honestly, some of the history is vague to me, when considering that I’ve been assimilated into American culture, even though I am from a Hispanic background, and my family grew up in poverty. I myself did not live in poverty, because my parents provided. But that doesn’t take away the history.

 
I am taken in by the line of Killmonger, a Malcolm X inspired villain/anti-hero/hero: He wanted to provide weapons from Wakanda to the poor and exploited, to African Americans and Africans. He didn’t want them to suffer. He wanted them to be able to fight back. I very much could empathize with Killmonger and his rage, because if you have been exploited for so long, you cultivate a subtle or less than subtle rage. It becomes a part of you. The desire to fight back. The desire to show them you’re game for violence. Even though I am a pacifist in many, many ways, I understand the point here, which is something that is missed by those with privilege, sometimes including myself: People have always used violence to get their way and control others, and that is exactly the point of white supremacy and white privilege. America is what it is because of the work of slaves and the massacre of American Indians. I don’t forget this, which is why I do my absolute best to pay attention to certain stories needing to be told, such as Black Panther.

 
The historical precedent, of course, would tell us that Malcolm X was wrong. He was too radical. But while I don’t think violence is the answer, force and revolution have their place in the world. I mean this, in that, we need people like Malcolm X. He is not all the revolution would ever be, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t important to the formation of black identity.

 
I honestly wish I understood black culture more, there are many reasons why I can relate. I have not always fit inside of a neat category, being both gay and mentally ill. Mental illness has given me a harder time than being gay, though they are both difficult. Being mentally ill is a scourge that follows you forever. You don’t easily fit in in any given situation. You are marginalized for having an atypical system of thought, for delving into something like paranoia or mania.

 
I mention this not for sympathy, but because I feel as though it allows me to experience certain feelings of alienation from society, that perhaps black people feel as well and have felt for a long time. This doesn’t mean that I am immediately a part of the tradition, though I have experienced similar feelings of ostracism. Indeed, I do know what it feels like, to be treated as though you are inferior, a mere second-class citizen. And for reasons like this, I see Black Panther as being important. It shines a light on various systematic troubles in our society, and it helps me to pay attention to what is going on in other cultures.

 
I was moved by the rage of Killmonger, and that is because I feel as though such emotions are important to acknowledge. In our society, we are expected to take what we are given, we are expected to turn the other cheek, but this is not how life operates, and this is not how those in power operate. All of these details are incredibly important to keep in mind, even if we don’t agree with them. I can imagine people might disagree with the conclusions of the movie Black Panther, but that is by no means a reflection of the truth, but rather the biases that we already have. I have learned that in art and in life, we don’t always try to understand merely what we like. We try to also understand counter perspectives. This is extremely crucial to a functioning democracy.

 
And what about the characterization of Black Panther himself? Well, he was the antidote to violence, even though he would fight for what he felt was right. His position is also immediately recognizable, in that he believed in peace, and that he was very much like Martin Luther King. Stuff like this is extremely important to keep in mind. There must be counterpoints to all the things that we believe, and that includes the stoicism of Black Panther himself to the violence of Killmonger.

 
I was really impressed at the technical achievements of the film as well, the fact that it was a well-done movie, the fact that the story line was solid, the fact that it was an important story to tell and was well-told. All of these elements, the fact that they were able to have an all-black cast, with a black director, leads to something truly revolutionary, and a story that must be told.

 
I agree with Chadwick Boseman: there are stories that we must tell, and we must be cognizant of when it is the right time to tell them. I have respect for these characters and these actors, because they help to shine a light on very important ideas, whether that focuses on revolution, or the way in which black children are displaced by a violent and oppressive culture.

 
I was really surprised at the underlying optimism of this dark story. This includes the ending, which had kids being able to experience the technology of Wakanda. The Black Panther was going to reveal the technology to society, to make the world a better place. I honestly was expecting, because of how I had seen other movies being portrayed in the MCU, this film to be very high-stakes, with a kind of built in cynicism and doubt. Maybe this is just me projecting, but regardless, the film was actually very hopeful and even optimistic, and it presented alternatives to the society that we have now, something that I find to be both beautifully done and crucially important. We do not get carried away by thinking that everything is how it is going to be, for that is the very spirit of revolution: we believe we can change the world, that society will progress, and we act on such principles, never giving up.

 
In summary, I would certainly say, this is an important film, even if it is perceived as being superhero fluff, so to speak. But I personally have been very moved by this film, and I think that it does a lot of what the film should do, what good storytelling should do: it should help us to see the world in a different light, to see the world from the perspective of somebody else, in this case, black America, and Africa. I know that this is hard to do, but this is why we need art. Art is able to show us what we need, and what we can have, if only we are willing to fight for it, to keep trying, to keep progressing. People are malleable, and we have to be able to inspire them to live in the world more compassionately and with more awareness, and have empathy for those who are suffering and are exploited. So I would say, this movie moved me precisely because it showed an important perspective that I don’t always see, but that I certainly want to be aware of, and that I know exists. Whether you side more with Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, is your choice, but just be aware: you are making your choice, and you can save the world.

Advertisements

Binary Star (from rap)

spinning and corrupting disrupt
what exists corrupt must stop

seen enough
this world will raw you rough
beautiful like a dog
so you woof

what do I believe in
dripping myself in sin
feel the loss
feel the bloody cross

I exist apart from
though my language is sung
to exist is to nonexist
what we see is crosser apathy
feeling a cracked reality
existence at the seam
popped dimensions and scare
the sensual love prepare
a ghastly affair

the star you hold is rare
I know you don’t care

memory mind splits and
harmony falls and quits
existence bright and stopped
nothing here to see or

mocked
a memory shades and language escapes
become a binary system
of good and evil past annihilation
speak a language of dichotomy
and song

a song sung
for a son

no son
your sun

words are a virus
outer space or
us

become nothing for split brain
head calloused by blood
pain
in this heart in flows
digital flood

maybe it’s nihilism for annihilation
I can’t speak so I cessation
be one become
for a spiritual ration
it’s my blood that flows
like shock

the viruses flock
sickness in fault
maybe it’s unseen
but you know what I mean

we created our hell for
genetic unfit
any kid is not good enough
though we head split

I may like yet not or wasn’t gay
yes misery shows us decay
body hurt infect
can’t speak it or
connect

what I see is nothing,
though

I try to spirit it and recall
my moment before the fall

Last Night (an essay)

What is the meaning of my existence? Certainly, this is a question I ask myself a lot, as do many people. There are many answers. In philosophy, the answer is to turn to reason and logic to be able to find the answers that you seek. In religion, it is often an emphasis on compassion and love, or a belief in God. In science, the faith exists in method, an emphasis on empirical facts, and a very specific idea of truth. 

But of course, what all of these viewpoints, and more, present, is one specific way of looking at the world. And of course, they don’t necessarily work for everyone. 

As I think about the things that I experience in life, I have come to the conclusion, much like an existentialist, that I must find my own meaning in my life. I don’t have a choice in that way, when considering that my perception of meaning, is that it is ultimately subjective, though that shouldn’t necessarily stop us from looking for objective meaning. Some people look for an objective meaning in the world, but as some philosophers have discussed, this isn’t the best viewpoint to adopt, because often, we are led to believe that there is no meaning because there is no objective meaning, and that we shouldn’t draw the conclusion that life itself is meaningless, simply because there is no objective meaning. 

Last night was a very strange night. I will admit, I am a little bit worried about my mental health, because the days that I struggle, last night as well, seem to be becoming a little bit more common than they were before. I will need to continue to talk with my therapist and my doctor, to try to figure out what I will need to do. In the meantime, I find it prudent to consider what happened, so that way I can have a clear perspective. 

As anyone will know about me, writing is the way that I express myself, it is my outlet, it is the way that I have always been able to express my ideas, without doing anything too drastic, so to speak. And there are indeed many things that I wish to write about, there are many things indeed that I do write about. I mentioned writing, because I was discussing meaning, and writing is the way in which I find meaning, and a lot of it. I’m so glad that I have the ability to write, and I am proud of the books that I have already written, and will continue to write. Writing just makes a lot of sense to me. I can’t always explain what that is, but there is something very intuitive about the process, which helps me tap into so many different emotions in so many different forms of expression. I love it. 

But with that being the case, finding meaning in life can be notoriously difficult. I will admit, I do turn to philosophy for comfort, I think that philosophy has a lot of cool things to say and to add to the discussion, and I do tend to think that reason, rationality, and logic have an important place in the world, and that they help us make decisions. But some of it, I have realized, is being blown about by the whims of the wind, so to speak, and even though I am generally not a fatalist, I have really had to confront the idea that some things do happen to us, and they happen directly to us, where we are passive, and I think there is not much we can do about that, about situations like that. 

That said, I think that doing our best to cope, which includes entertaining certain notions of free will, is important. I generally do not agree with Sam Harris about free will, for instance. And that is what I tried to do last night, was cope. I don’t really know what triggered my mood, maybe it was going to the gay bar, maybe it was listening to Metallica, maybe it was waving at a friend who looked reluctant to talk to me. All of these things, with their own internal logic and meaning, but in retrospect, I don’t find any of these things to be a problem, not really, and definitely not in the way that I did in the moment. 

I know that many things in this life affect me emotionally, and that makes it very hard for me to engage with other people, because they could say something a little bit offhand, and with my sensitivity, I could blow up that thought into a complete delusion. This is what I was experiencing last night, for instance. I had just gotten out of the bar, and I was thinking about the conversation that I had with a person there. There was nothing really worrisome about the conversation itself, of course, but I found myself analyzing the content of the conversation, looking for something deeper. I have had to learn to not do this, because sometimes, you have to take what is said at face value. And I would say generally, I have gotten better at that. But it was weird, when I was walking all the way to the grocery store, that I had literally been at that morning. But I was manic a little bit, and when I am manic, I walk very far. This is one reason why I have incorporated running into my life, is so I can balance my frame of reference, I can balance myself physically and mentally. 

There were other reasons for my kind of, what you could call, hijacked thought process, so to speak. I was supposed to hear from a guy who wanted to hook up with me, and even though I was on the fence about whether or not I was willing to do it, I was still looking forward to the opportunity. As of today, I haven’t heard from him, which means I will have to live with that consequence. It doesn’t mean that I won’t hear from him, but I’m not really expecting much to happen. I don’t understand hookup culture, and even though I do my best to define myself in the world, I still don’t know what my gay identity is, though I have made a lot of progress on that front. 

That was actually part of what was getting me going. The fact that he had said something to me, this guy that I was supposed hook up with. He said that, because I am twenty-eight, I am already starting to gain years, when you get to a certain age, guys want nothing to do with you, they don’t want to sleep with you, they don’t want to have sex with you, you aren’t attracted anymore. This struck me as a very shallow concept and comment, even if true, something that I could literally write an entire essay about, as crazy as that may sound. But suffice to say, it bothered me, because I started to wonder: what is the legacy of me being gay? Well, I know that I can adopt, something that I have considered, and I know that I can still have my own kid. But sometimes I wonder if that is for me, even though I do see procreation as being one of the greatest joys of being heterosexual (as Eric Fromm implied). And since I have, for a long time, of obsessed about the idea of having a kid, I’m not really sure that I am looking at all of this the right way. My emotions are too all over the place, and I am not looking rationally at my situation. 

Legacy aside, I do want to continue to exist in the world, and I want to keep doing my best. I have been able to do that. I have been able to make connections with people, and that is important. The crowning achievement of my life doesn’t have to merely be reproduction, even though I would like to have a kid. It could be about other things, right? Maybe I win the Nobel Prize for literature, you know what I mean? But honestly, I’m not sure. 

Last night was crazy, because I was thinking about so many things, and there was a point where I was very much manic, agitated, anxious. Thankfully this period lasted for a short amount of time, there was a moment where I was thinking, manic, and then, I literally wasn’t anymore. Part of it was just allowing myself to exist without all of the anxiety. I was reminding myself of all of the tools that I have been given, to be able to cope better, and to deal with difficult circumstances, and part of that was realizing that things weren’t as bad as I thought they were. Just because the one acquaintance didn’t wave at me, doesn’t really mean all that much. I know how much lives diverge, and I don’t feel as if I have the need to be in everybody’s life. I am comfortable with the friendships that I have, and even though at times they can be a little bit strained, they give my life a lot of meaning. 

I had never really thought about the song Sad but True by Metallica, but some of their lyrics pointed me in kind of a wild direction, because it brought up so many memories of my past, that including the personality that rages through me, whether known as the Devil, or The Snake Angel. 

If there is anything that I have learned from my writing, I have learned from my book Midnight Mania, that you can think that you are being rational and reasonable about your ideas, but until you look at them objectively, it doesn’t seem reasonable to actually believe this. I mean this specifically in the context of when you are having an episode or when you are struggling mentally. This is an important detail, because I have done this many times before. I thought that I was rational, when my thought process was so chaotic and impulsive, that seemingly nothing good could have come out of it. And I certainly understand that mentality, more than I ever have before. This is why I was doing my best to keep my thoughts under control, and to not focus so much on all of the emotions that I couldn’t understand or that hurt, just letting myself be. Part of what helped as well was singing the songs that I liked, and songs that I found very cathartic, such as the song Somewhat Damaged by Nine Inch Nails. 

The crazy thing is, I have actually been doing very well. Being able to live mostly without mania for the past year, has given me a lot of hope. I am out of the closet, and because of that, my real personality is integrating more with the other parts of myself. Or at least a certain part of my personality is integrating better. And all of that, I see as important, because it allows me to live my life. Part of the reason why I identify as gay and not bisexual, even though I place emphasis on heterosexual reproduction, is because I know how I think, and I know that my thoughts are very specific, and I can’t hide them anymore, I can’t repress that, it damages me. I have to deal with them, and the way that I do with them is by understanding that it is a part of me, and do my best to experience it for what it is. Sometimes I get sad because I’m gay, and I feel like I am missing out on a certain paradigm. But I also know there is something special about being gay as well, and that is, you see the world very differently, and this is a very good thing. We need diversity in the world. Diversity is what allows for novel creations and events. 

So, goodness. I talked a lot about many things, some of which was very personal, some of which was metaphorical or autobiographical, but I consider them to be important details. I don’t want to be at a point in my life, where I am living in “last night,” where I am continually struggling and suffering with mania and other aspects of mental illness. I don’t want that, and I need to be careful that I continue to take care of myself, take care of my body and my mind, even though we live in a culture that doesn’t necessarily allow for this. The point being: I want last night, so to speak, to be a rare occurrence. I have too much going on in my life to spend so much time going backwards, and dealing with mental illness to such an extent, again.  

And I’m happy, despite having these fears. That probably sounds a bit like a non-sequitur, but it is very much true. I am happier now than I have been in a long time, and I think that is because I have more wisdom than I did before. I still get thrown for loop by the stuff people say, and I still respond very heavily emotionally to the stimuli around me. (Hence the reason why I would tell people that when I am manic, I sometimes see everything as a literal threat, because I see everything as leading to my death.) But I can’t focus in on all of that. I have to give myself time to cope, and to heal. And I know I can do that, and I am happy that I can do that, and I will continually do so. Indeed, I must keep trying.