Sunday, February 5, 2012

Further Exploration of The Myth Of The Magic Negro

Toure was apparently not happy about the film, "The Help".  In his review of the film, he wrote that he's tired of the "magic negro" affect.  Toure's certainly not the first person to use such terminology, but he's very apt in his discussion of it as depicted in "The Help".  Check out his description of this quintessential character of American cinema: 

They are blacks who arrive in the lives of whites with more knowledge and soul and go on to teach whites about life, thus making white lives better….Magical negroes exist so that the knowledge and spirit that comes from blackness can enlighten or redeem whites who are lost or broken.

This phenomenon is is something I have been mildly annoyed with (and bemused by) for years.  Here, for example, is why I hated The Green Mile: the strongest, most spiritual Black man, who was literally MAGIC, and hence had the ability to free himself at ANY TIME, was IN JAIL; he was not "intellectually gifted" and thus did not help himself. Instead HE MADE HIS JAILERS BETTER PEOPLE.  Just ain't right, especially when we look at the plot setup for the film from this perspective. And we as moviegoers have to suspend a WHOLE LOT of belief/reality in order to choose NOT to see things from this angle, in my opinion. Somehow our collective acculturation allows for this leap of logic, given how successful The Green Mile was commercially.  Yet there is something far more important about this magical affect black people have on the larger "majority" (ie white) population. The majority American collective consciousness has voted into the presidency one of these "magic negroes" and now many are mad that he hasn't made good, hasn't sufficiently played the role as intended.

Barack Hussein Obama was first called the Magic Negro in a song made popular by Rush Limbaugh during the 2008 election cycle. Besides being hella funny, Limbaugh used the song to suggest Obama wasn't "black enough" and therefore whites would vote for him; to imply that since he didn't have the "street civil-rights cred" of an Al Sharpton, blacks would not get the justice they were looking for (which is probably true).  I don't often agree with Rush Limbaugh, but in this case he was onto something. Cognitive dissonance notwithstanding, still I believe he only scratched the surface of the subject. In the Magic Negro Mythology, there is always a crisis in which some white person, usually from the mythic "when we were colored" time, you know, back when  black people did just fine despite brutal racism [see Whoopi Goldberg in "Corrina Corrina", Will Smith in "The Legend of Bagger Vance"], is in trouble and in need of a good, stern talkin' to.  Well, America in 2008 was in a crisis alright.  The good ole "thank God I'm a country" boy ruined the economy, and we were falling fast. Obama stepped in and looked cool and in control. "Magic Negro help us!" said the larger american community.  Does everyone remember the coverage of his inauguration?  Before he'd signed anything into law, folks were already comparing his first term in office to the greatness of Lincoln.  He received the Noble Peace Prize within six months of becoming president.

These days many of those same previously effusive people don't like Obama nearly as much because, as Mitt Romney inaccurately put it,"He didn't make the economy what it is, he just made it worse".  He didn't fulfill his mythological requirements of making everything better IMMEDIATELY, so for many people, he failed.  Dang it, apparently he's just human after all.  

Republicans are saying the policies Obama put in place didn't really help the economy.  That they would have been able to turn everything around much quicker.  He's the worst president ever! Nice guy, just not a good manager; most polarizing President of all TIME.  But…the jobs numbers  have gone up for the fifth month in row and unemployment is down to 8.3%.  We've had twenty-three straight months of positive job creation. While not good enough, things are moving in the right direction, concede most all the pundits.  So let me get this straight: we were in TWO hot wars, oil EXPLODED out of the gulf and ran all over erry-thang, Japan went, literally, radio active, (Godzilla is actually forming in the goo surrounding the reactors now) and the countries of the European Union one by one have been taking turns flirting with bankruptcy.  This has all happened in the space of…three years! All Bill Clinton had to deal with was Newt acting like a spoiled brat and some woman with bodily fluids on a dress. Currently, we are only engaged in ONE war, Europe is not imploding this instant, we are no longer in a self-imposed debt crisis… whew…we are starting to emerge from the abyss.  But that's not good enough, because Obama's Magical Negroness did not fulfill it's actual purpose:

They are there only to help whites. This relates to screenwriter James McBride’s recent assertion that in cinematic terms … [Blacks are] there to service white characters — not always literally serving them but functioning as a vehicle for them to show or prove their morality and heroism or both. We appear as mere props in white lives. McBride says, “Only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind cultural maid. You serve up the music, the life, the pain, the spirituality. You clean house.”

House Majority Speaker John Boehner does not look heroic.  Heck, he can barely get his caucus together. Frankly, in my humble opinion, there isn't a non person of color in government today who looks larger-than-life or heroic against the imposing presence of Obama.  So where's Neo to Obama's Morpheus? For, based on the Magic Negro Mythology rules, Obama cannot be the actual hero of the story.  That narrative wouldn't sell tickets and there would be no overseas box office.  And he's got a black wife and kids.  These just limit his appeal.  Maybe he should dump Michelle and bring Eva Mendes in as first lady….He's proven he can sing like black folks -- check.  He plays basketball - check. Now if he only he could see dead people….ahhh…feel much better now….

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