Thursday, January 15, 2009
On my way back from a poetry reading, I was walking through a rough part of town to catch my train. Focused completely on reaching my destination I was unexpectedly startled by a explosive string of angry profanity too vile even for ten o'clock at night. The object of this barrage was a small black boy who stood by the window, immobilized by the shock, his head bent, acting as if behavior of this kind was frequent. I saw only the child and one other adult, perhaps the mother. The voice appeared to be male, but from my vantage point I could not see him.
The screaming was so loud that it traveled to the sidewalk outside where I was walking. Regrettably, the ghettos are home to so many stories like these. The only thing particularly novel about them is their frequency. They find their way into news reports, the verse of street poets, and rap lyrics. Child abuse is a well documented phenomenon, as is the kind of rage that creates a never-ending cycle of violence and hostility. And friends, even though we have elected the first black President, this is one problem Barack Obama can't fix by himself.
The poetry reading, held in a predominately African-American part of town was an extension of this kind of behavior. The ghetto blues that Curtis Mayfield sang about pops up in nearly everyone's pieces---but in lamenting the sorry state of affairs, few people provide much of a solution. For every serious moment there are fifteen that resort to bawdiness or graphic sexuality for the sake of humor and shock value. Entertainment appears to have a higher value than craft, talent, or style. Sometimes I wish I could tell them that the world isn't a huge joke. Perhaps this is a kind of coping mechanism---their lives are full of tragedies, so why dwell on them? Yet, this kind of response is commonplace everywhere these days---the entertainment generation thrives on the cheap laughs and cheap visceral responses. Depth is still lacking.