Daily Dharma

Episode One Hundred Seventy Six: Daily Dharma
In which we check in.

1 comment:

  1. Shaft, 1971, dir. Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree. This came up on Criterion a couple of weekends ago, and I absently wandered into it. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid it was as an (alt) Holywood flick. Melvin Van Peebles apparently took the success of his Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, released while this was in production, as significantly influencing the mode of the story here. It's been years since I've seen Sweetback, but I remember it conveying an unsettling rawness. My father explained that his seeing Sweetback, in the theater, left him in an anxious panic for the coming race war. I would have been four; he was working in downtown Chicago at the time.

    Seeing Shaft now, it struck me as less cliched as I expected. It has taken on such iconic status that I was expecting something no less than dripping with attitude. What I saw was a solid production of relatable, albeit 70's-cop-show stock, characters. I just kept thinking that this must have been eye-opening for persons of color at the time.

    Unlike Sweetback, Shaft's main character isn't out to settle the bill - he's just living by his own rules. There's a peaceful freedom that floats in that character, unmarred by strife. He's a misogynist, self-centered jerk (in the tradition of the Noir gumshoe), but he does have agency.

    There's nothing specifically in that film that hands over to this strip - I was just inspired by some shots. A couple of scenes were compelling, most notably the image that centers this strip - with that cheesy pop art painting of a swivel of shades. This is a shot in which that painting is centered between Shaft and Davies (I think, played by Tony King).

    These actors are uncomfortably, and perversely (considering the source), un-blackened in the strip. Can't say why, except that the comic is an internal mapping, and it felt weird appropriating black images as part of my story. I don't have many black voices in my psyche, and feel like I'm dancing around a problem of cultural appropriation. Yet, I do have plenty of stock ethnicities, from TV and radio, expressing themselves inside my head, so feel less funny about turning out Italians, or class-types, like the gumshoe.

    Not sure what to say, really. It's clearly a complicated game. My mom was from Georgia, and always seemed uncomfortable around anyone who wasn't a white protestant, and I've spent most of my adult life up in Vermont, inside a whitewashed culture.

    Anyway, all that aside, the story in this comic is the message I hear, even after three decades, doing yoga. 'Find the limit, and back away.' Don't push it. It's a goal, but the goal is not to have the goal.

    And it never actually changes: there is always a limit, and there is a always pushing against it, and there is always some value in not pushing against it, in just sitting with it. Being there, next to it, causes change. This is more difficult than it seems.

    So, too the goal of the partner practice of mindfulness: approach the practice with the goal of not pursuing the goal. A paradox.

    So, the sergeant at the desk. the harried, always three-steps-behind proxy for my Ego, is always at a loss, and feeling like the effort is always a waste of time.

    Unanticipated, but a happy take noticed afterward, is the idea that, out there in the dangerous dark, the person reporting in (by telephone, naturally) on the state of things, reporting to the observing mind, is Shaft himself. The patient, calm, caring observer manisfests in the form of the quintessential Blaxploitation hero. What? It could happen.



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