Tuesday Reads: Cultural Appropriation Edition

Good Morning!!

First, a quick follow-up: I’ve been writing about the delay of stimulus payments to 30 million seniors, disabled people, veterans, railroad pensioners. Last Thursday, the Social Security Administration finally sent information to enable the IRS to send out the direct deposits/checks, but there’s still no information available on when these vulnerable Americans will receive the much needed assistance.

Newsweek tried to get some answers, but hit a brick wall: SSI Stimulus Check Update as IRS Stays Silent Over Payments For Social Security Recipients.

Many recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other federal benefits are still waiting to receive their stimulus fund. The Internal Revenue Service has yet to announce a payment date, as of Tuesday….

On March 25, the SSA provided the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with the paperwork needed for stimulus payments to be issued to federal benefit recipients following pressure from the House Ways and Means Committee. The IRS has yet to respond to Newsweek‘s requests for a comment since the SSA sent the required paperwork.

The SSA website also currently states that “the IRS decided to pay EIPs [Economic Impact Payments] first only to people who filed a 2020 or 2019 tax return, and to people who used the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool to receive a previous EIP. Some Social Security beneficiaries may have received a recent EIP if they filed a tax return with the IRS.”

People who were too poor to file a tax return have been left twisting in the wind. They are advised to use the “check my payment” link at the IRS, but when they do, they are told there is no information available.

Asked whether it had received any information on a stimulus payment date for federal benefit recipients, a spokesperson for NACHA (National Automated Clearing House Association), which manages the ACH Network, the national automated clearing house for electronic funds transfers, told Newsweek this Monday: “We haven’t gotten anything.”

Newsweek has contacted the IRS, the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Bureau of the Fiscal Service for comment.

The SSA website currently advises: “Please refer to the IRS’ website for the latest information about economic impact payments (EIP). Please do not contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) with questions about EIPs. Our representatives do not have information to answer your EIP questions. The IRS, not SSA, processes all EIPs.”

A spokesperson for the SSA told Newsweek on March 26: “As you may already know, many Social Security beneficiaries have already received their EIPs. The final files we sent to IRS yesterday morning [Thursday] will address those recipients who don’t normally file a tax return with the IRS.”

Now for my main topic: Cultural Appropriation

Wikipedia: Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

I seldom watch late night entertainment programs, but yesterday there was a strong reaction to a Tonight Show segment. A white TikTok “influencer,” Addison Rae, appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show to perform several dance routines. The problem is that she copied them from Black women on TicToc and failed to credit them or the Black artists who performed the songs she danced to.

From the LA Times story: Addison Rae taught Jimmy Fallon TikTok dances, but Twitter remembers who created them.

Many of TikTok’s viral dance challenges were started by Black creators, but you wouldn’t know that by watching Friday’s episode of “The Tonight Show,” which saw one of the app’s biggest stars, Addison Rae, perform several dances without crediting their choreographers.

What was intended as a fun moment between Rae and host Jimmy Fallon — who are both white — backfired over the weekend as Twitter users demanded recognition for the people whose choreography was featured on the show.

“Stealing from black entertainers and having white ‘creators’ regurgitate it to the masses is american history 101,” one person tweeted after Fallon shared a clip of Rae busting a move to eight different songs.

“I think Black creators should just stop creating content for like a good 6 months and just observe what these people come up with,” wrote another in a tweet that had amassed more than 261,000 likes….

Included in the TikTok dance compilation were:

  • “Do It Again” (recorded by Pia Mia, choreographed by @noahschnapp)
  • “Savage Love” (recorded and choreographed by @jasonderulo)
  • “Corvette Corvette” (recorded by Popp Hunna, choreographed by @yvnggprince)
  • “Laffy Taffy” (recorded by D4L, choreographed by @flyboyfu)
  • “Savage” (recorded by Megan Thee Stallion, choreographed by @keke.janjah)
  • “Blinding Lights” (recorded by the Weeknd, choreographed by @macdaddyz)
  • “Up” (recorded by Cardi B, choreographed by @theemyanicole)
  • “Fergalicious” (recorded by Fergie and will.i.am, choreographed by @thegilberttwins).

(The choreographers’ names have been shared by Twitter users and confirmed by Buzzfeed.)

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Rae’s performance to Cardi B’s “Up” along with the original performance by TheMayaNicole. See what you think.

More from Popsugar: The Tonight Show’s Addison Rae Fumble Is an Unfortunate Reflection of Our Creator Culture.

If you want to see a TikTok dance skit, why not ask the original artists to participate? That’s a question The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Addison Rae face after March 26th’s episode. The well-known creator walked Fallon through a few of the app’s most popular choreography in a sketch, similar to a video released with Charli D’Amelio last year. Quickly after airing, the clip faced criticism as viewers wondered why the creatives who actually created the dances didn’t get screen time — or at the very least, proper credit.

This controversy is not new for Rae, who faced similar pushback after she and D’Amelio became the face of a “Renegade” dance routine, which was originally created by Jalaiah Harmon. Intentional or not, Rae and D’Amelio’s names were synonymous with choreography they had no hand in. They went as far as to perform the dance at a 2020 NBA All Star game without Harmon. Harmon eventually got her dues, but only after publicly reclaiming the viral dance. Rae and D’Amelo need only whisper and their combined 100+ million followers would come running, so why did Harmon practically need a megaphone to get her credit? Her experience is a disappointing reflection of how art is co-opted on social media, especially from Black creatives.

You can’t separate Rae’s success from the work of Black TikTokers. Some of her most viewed videos are built on their choreography, like the “Savage” routine originated by Keara Wilson. (Wilson told POPSUGAR she doesn’t wish any backlash against Rae because she knows “how toxic the internet can be.” She said, “Yes of course it’s always nice to be credited but just having my dance on the show is an honor in itself.”)

As Twitter user @blackamazon wrote, “This is why I bang on EVERYBODY about the economics and race of social media. ‘Tik tok dances’ the names of the artists not there. The actual choreographers not there. She’s on national television but where are the Black kids who actually made these.” Another user, @868nathan, wrote, “The fact that Addison Rae is championed for ‘Tik Tok Dances’ whilst the black creatives that made them never get the same platform will never sit right with me.”

This reminds me of the days when white recording artists like Pat Boone released pathetic cover versions of songs by Black musicians like Little Richard. The good news in those days was that people who heard the covers sought out the originals and eventually the Black artists became well known and successful. The same thing happened again in the 1960s with British and American bands who covered performances by Black blues musicians.

Futurity (Feb. 3, 2017): How the 1950s Made Pat Boone a Rock Star.

While some early rock ‘n’ roll acts receive little critical respect, historically speaking, these same musicians and singers played an important role in bridging musical styles and bringing cultures together, writes Aquila, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Penn State, in his book, Let’s Rock! How 1950s America Created Elvis and the Rock & Roll Craze (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

“I spend a lot of time discussing Pat Boone and other pop rockers in the book. Boone refers to himself not as the father of rock ‘n’ roll, but as the midwife of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Aquila.

“What he means by this is that his versions of Little Richard’s songs may not be as good as Little Richard’s originals, but Little Richard couldn’t get played on mainstream radio stations back in the ’50s, due to racism and other reasons. But, after the kids listened to Boone’s music, they tended to go on and want the real thing.”

Boone spent most of his early career covering rhythm-and-blues songs, like Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Boone’s versions, however, were influenced by pop styles and standards that were tamer and more familiar to white audiences of the time. He also sanitized Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” for his white audience’s ears and, apparently, their grammar. He tried, for instance, to change the title of the song to “Isn’t That a Shame.”

While many music critics now consider this artistic theft or cultural appropriation, Aquila says that some black artists at the time appreciated Boone’s cover songs.

At a concert, for example, Aquila writes that Domino introduced Boone to the audience and, pointing to one of his diamond rings, added that Boone’s version of “Ain’t That a Shame” bought him that ring.

It’s still pathetic that our white-dominated culture made this happen and even more pathetic that it is still happening on social media platforms like TikTok and mainstream TV programs.

Some politics news, links only

Buzzfeed: US Cases Of COVID-19 Are Rising Again, Sparking Fears Of A Fourth Major Surge.

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: Opinion: The WHO covid report is fatally flawed, and a real investigation has yet to take place.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Birx rightly said most US Covid-19 deaths were preventable. But she won’t acknowledge her complicity.

Michael Gerson at The Washington Post: Opinion: The GOP is facing a sickness deeper than the coronavirus.

Raw Story: Trump lashes out at Fauci and Birx in bizarre press release issued from Mar-a-Lago.

The Washington Post: New accounts detail how New York health officials were told to prioritize coronavirus testing of people connected to Andrew Cuomo.

The Guardian: Asian American woman, 65, attacked in New York as witnesses stood by.

The Guardian: Sherry Vill is latest to accuse Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct.

That’s it for me today. What’s on your mind?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Tomoo Inagaki, Woodcut Cats in Moonlight

Good Morning!!

Before I get started on the political news, I want to note the passing of one of the great pioneers of rock and roll. Rolling Stone: Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87.

Little Richard, a founding father of rock and roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.

Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”

Wassily Kandinsky, Three figures and a cat, woodcut

Although he never hit the top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard’s influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally,” and Paul McCartney’s singing on those tracks – and the Beatles’ own “I’m Down” – paid tribute to Little Richard’s shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock and roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions.

Little Richard’s stage persona – his pompadours, androgynous makeup and glass-bead shirts – also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”

Read about Little Richard’s (born Richard Wayne Penniman) life and career at the Rolling Stone link.

 

Now to other news of the day.

As Trump and his personal attorney general Bill Barr take steps to erase the rule of law and establish a fascist dictatorship in the U.S., is President Obama finally getting ready to speak out publicly? Michael Isakoff at Yahoo News: Exclusive: Obama says in private call that ‘rule of law is at risk’ in Michael Flynn case.

Former President Barack Obama, talking privately to ex-members of his administration, said Friday that the “rule of law is at risk” in the wake of what he called an unprecedented move by the Justice Department to drop charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In the same chat, a tape of which was obtained by Yahoo News, Obama also lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.

Woodcut by Kioshi Saito 1985

“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”

The Flynn case was invoked by Obama as a principal reason that his former administration officials needed to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November election against President Trump. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”

Obama misstated the charge to which Flynn had previously pleaded guilty. He was charged with false statements to the FBI, not perjury.

Click the Yahoo link to read the rest.

And from Caleb Ecarma at Vanity Fair: As the DOJ Drops Flynn’s Case, Trumpworld’s Next Target is Obama Alums.

Conservative media figures who spent months insisting on Michael Flynn’s innocence, after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, are taking a gleeful victory lap in response to the Justice Department moving to drop its criminal case against the retired lieutenant general and former Trump national security adviser. But the reversal is not enough to placate the right-wing media rabble, as they are now calling for Attorney General William Barr to prosecute members of the Barack Obama administration and its judicial allies for their roles in the case….

M.C. Escher, White Cat, woodcut

Shortly after the news broke on Thursday, right-wing radio host Mark Levin appeared on Fox News to boast, and to accuse Obama of conducting a vast shadow operation against the Trump administration. “You know what this is? This is Barack Obama’s blue dress. That’s what that is without the DNA on it,” he told Sean Hannity, referencing Monica Lewinsky’s infamous garment. “[The Flynn case documents] tells us that Obama knew…. Obama was working with the FBI and the intelligence agencies.” Levin also tweeted that “the perps responsible for trying to destroy” Flynn should be prosecuted, a talking point Hannity is now pushing too. “All this does is exonerate General Flynn,” the Fox News host declared on his Thursday radio program. “Now, it’s time to investigate Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Department of Justice…and what they did here is they targeted an innocent man, and they—this is prosecutorial abuse.” Hannity’s colleague Tucker Carlson called Flynn’s case “demonstrably and provably unfair” and accused federal prosecutors of wanting “Flynn crushed purely because he happened to be away from the power they seek, and that’s why they’re still trying to put Roger Stone behind bars…. But the question is: How many other inconvenient Americans would they bankrupt and imprison if they could?”

A Daily Beast report found that numerous Trump administration and campaign officials are hoping to see Flynn resume work for the president in an official capacity. “Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” Trump pollster John McLaughlin said Thursday while discussing the possibility of a Flynn–Trump reunion with the Daily Beast. “Now after over three years of political persecution General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.” [….]

On Thursday, Trump described Flynn as “an innocent man” and “an even greater warrior,” before appearing on Fox & Friends the following morning to praise his attorney general’s efforts. “Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage, and he’s going to go down in the history books,” he told Fox News, adding that Fox hosts Hannity, Carlson, and Laura Ingraham “should get the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes” for leading the Flynn-innocence media campaign.

Wow. That is through the looking glass stuff. But the way things are going, it could happen. But through the looking glass is where Trump lives. Even with cases popping up in the White House, he still thinks the coronavirus will magically disappear.

Woodcut by Ellen Corddry

Yahoo News: Trump says coronavirus will ‘go away without a vaccine.’

President Trump on Friday broke with health experts, telling reporters that the coronavirus will “go away without a vaccine.”

“This is going to go away without a vaccine, it’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time,” Trump said at the White House. “You may have some flare-ups, and I guess I would expect that.”

Just days ago the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a project to accelerate the production of a vaccine for the coronavirus, which as of Friday had infected at least 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 76,000 here….

Asked what led him to believe that the virus would disappear without a vaccine, Trump claimed he had received that information from medical professionals.

“I just rely on what doctors say. They say it’s going to go. That doesn’t mean this year. It doesn’t mean, frankly, it’s going to be gone before the fall or after the fall, but eventually it’s going to go away. The question is whether we will need a vaccine. At some point it will probably go away by itself.”

Who are these mysterious “medical professionals?”

 

Trump doesn’t think testing for the virus is important either–unless you are Trump, Pence and people working around them. The Washington Post: Trump plays down coronavirus testing as U.S. falls far short of level scientists say is needed.

President Trump is increasingly dismissing the consensus of health experts, scientists and some of his Republican allies that widespread testing is key to the safe end of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, saying Friday that “testing isn’t necessary” and is an imperfect guide.

The president has played down the need for testing as he overrides public health recommendations that would prolong the closures of schools, businesses and much of daily life. Although he is now tested every day with a rapid-result machine, Trump has questioned the value of extensive testing as the gap between available capacity and the amount that would be required to meet public health benchmarks has become clearer.

Woodcut by Masharu Aoyama

Trump’s comments came as a second employee in the White House complex tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that prompted increased testing for staff and other precautions not generally available to most Americans.

“This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great,” Trump said at the White House, as he confirmed a positive test result “out of the blue” for a top staffer, Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller.

During a Friday morning interview on Fox News, Trump ticked approvingly through the current testing figures but did not say what level he thinks is optimal or safe to use as a national benchmark for economic reopening.

Asked about the positive test result for one of his Navy valets, the president said that he himself remains negative but that the valet’s experience is instructive.

“And this is why testing isn’t necessary. We have the best testing in the world, but testing’s not necessarily the answer because they were testing them,” Trump said of the staff members.

WTF?! He found out these people had contracted the virus because they were being tested! What a fucking moron!

I’ll end with this. The AP has learned definitively that the President and his buddies were behind the shelving of the CDC reopening report: AP Exclusive: Docs show top WH officials buried CDC report.

The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.

Two Cats woodcut by Felix Vallotton from the periodical Pan published by F. Fontane and Co., Berlin 1895

The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.

The trove of emails show the nation’s top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.

The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.

This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.

Read the rest at the AP link.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?