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American Tradition and the Gonzo Talent

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Brooke Olaussen

Pop culture has immortalized Hunter S. Thompson as Dr. Gonzo blazing through Las Vegas in a red Cadillac – trunk brimming with drugs, mind bubbling with fear and loathing. How well does pop culture remember Thompson’s quest to document the death of the American Dream?

Thompson’s 1970 bid for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado is perhaps less-well remembered. For his campaign he developed his own logo: a two-thumbed fist (think black power) clenching a peyote button (think freak power). Thompson offered a thorough restructuring of power. The second proposal of his platform for sheriff read as follows: "Change the name of Aspen to Fat City. This would prevent greedheads, landrapers, and other human jackels from capitalizing on the name of Aspen." He also offered humor.

And did you know that this anti-Christ trained in the Air Force? It was, however, a short stint. "In summary," his commanding officer reported before recommending him for early honorable discharge, "this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy."

Hunter S. Thompson was so visionary, so mad, so titillating articulate that upon reflection he seems bred from ethereal waters. Yet, Thompson’s greatness came not from broadcasting a new, different, freakish American culture, but just the opposite. He understood and believed in the tradition of the American political system so deeply that he sought out a vision of America in which the American Dream was attainable. In this call for intellectual revolution he was far from alone.

Alex Gibney’s new documentary Gonzo: The life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson propels you into the aura of Thompson and the forces of his times. It’s Thompson’s alter-ego Gonzo synergized with the last 50 years of American political history.

Everything you could want in a documentary film is in this one. By bringing you the mood and life-force of Gonzo, the film enchants, both visually and philosophically. The multiplicity of voices/interviews, footage, photographs, and songs transports you into the scene, as if like Alice you stepped through the looking glass. The soundtrack, Johnny Depp’s narration of Thompson’s writing,and interviews with friends and family guide you through Thompson’s wonderland. Those interviewed include: illustrator Ralph Steadman, fellow journalists and friends Tom Wolfe and Tim Crouse, historian Douglas Brinkley, his Rolling Stones editor, an ex-Hell’s Angel’s leader, his first wife, second wife, his son Juan Thompson, and even Pat Buchanan.

Click Read More for, well, more.

City Leaders Begin Registering for the National Conference

The Charlotte, NC chapter of Living Liberally city leaders to the National Conference September 5-7.

(Dick Cheney will not be wearing his hunting vest to Charlotte in September, so the proverbial ducks should be safe.)

We booked a hotel that the telecoms haven't 'bugged' yet. We've reserved a meeting space that will double as the holding cell for Rove and his buddies from the White House come January. We found an airport shuttle that runs on a clean-burning 75/25 mix of organic beer and wine. And finally, we promise to count every single Living Liberally libation drunk, er, vote cast here in Charlotte!

It's about that time, City Leaders. Register for our National Conference today!

The Search for the Ultimate McCain Video

As an intern here at Living Liberally HQ, a big chunk of my day is spent looking for John McCain stories on the internet (don't worry, I don't get paid). And since we just had our McCain-themed comedy night with guest authors Cliff Schecter and Paul Waldman, I'm coming off a week-long stretch of Google searches like "John McCain, old," "John McCain, flip-flop" and "John McCain, unflattering pictures." I've learned a lot of fun facts about old Johnny boy: he is a Virgo, his favorite movie is Some Like It Hot and he graduated high school in the same year as Fred Flintstone. But what I haven't found are consistently funny internet videos about John McCain.

Sure, I've found plenty of videos--there's the whole slew up at Brave New Films which aren't comedic, but still do a great job of making you want to move to Germany if McCain gets elected, plus droves of flashy, moderately-amusing clips like this McCain rap song (worth watching for the Chris Matthews sample) and John McCain's Spring Break Tips (cute, but the skin cancer jokes are kind of a low blow). Overall, though, I haven't been able to find that one McCain video that's, you know, worth blogging about.

However, I think the answer may lie with the man himself. Wacky McCain impersonators or Midwestern teenagers with their dads' camcorders can't touch the lunacy of the real McCain as he hurtles towards senility. I laughed hardest at this clip of McCain getting owned on Meet The Press (no Russert jokes here; I'm not a monster) and I also love watching this six-second clip of McCain babbling about sending bottled hot water to dehydrated babies over and over on a loop.

In many ways, I have come to feel as though I am Ahab and the world's funniest McCain video is my White Whale. And like Ahab, I will not rest until (spoiler alert!) my resources have been totally exhausted and the blood of both myself and my shipmates has been spilled. Or until the McCain Girls make another 80s music video parody. Because, you know. That would also be pretty funny.

Hello, Dolly! and the future of humanity

Walking into the theater to see the newest Pixar/Disney transplant, WALL-E, I expected to see a friendly tale of a quirky robot. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted when before my very eyes unfolded a social commentary as relevant to today as the campaign is long.

For those of you who think that WALL-E is a kid's film you may find yourself eating your words. It is great to see Disney using it's power for good rather than evil. Some of you may remember some of the social faux pas in the Disney closet: the racist movie we don't talk about, Song of the South, the subtle anti-Arab lyrics in the song "Arabian Nights" of Aladdin, and of course the good old belief that a woman should lie down and wait for her prince to come and rescue her from her dragon guarded castle in order to achieve happiness.

The jury is still out on whether Disney has gotten the PC bug or the Disney-Pixar marriage has given the Disney folk a younger more open outlook on the world. One thing is for sure, if their movies keep moving in a WALL-E direction then I will have no qualms with raising kids in the arms of the mouse.

The rumors you have heard about a lack of dialogue in WALL-E are true, the first forty five minutes are a sobering dialogue-less view into Earth 700 years after humans have left. The genius behind the WALL-E sound is the legendary Ben Burtt, the man responsible for the trademark sound effects of Star Wars.The sound effects in the film greatly make up for the lack of dialogue.

More important than sound or even lovable robots is the state of Earth and its former inhabitants, us. The Earth it seems has become our worst nightmare come to life, mountains of waste which tower over today's skyscrapers, holographic images of superfluous products of consumerism gone extreme, and a single international mega-corporation dominating the market on Earth and beyond. As the movie continued it became apparent that Pixar writer and director Andrew Stanton could very well have been listening to conversations between progressives across the country.

In the world of WALL-E humans have become dependent on liquid meals and their hover chairs, so much that they have all become obese. They also seem to have a problem disconnecting themselves from their holographic entertainment and servant bots, resulting in the loss of the ability to walk.

I fully recommend WALL-E for all who are young at heart and concerned about the future of humanity and our precious planet. Plus if you're trying to sell a "progressive" idea to the masses it doesn't hurt to have a unique robot on your side who is obsessed with Hello, Dolly!

Man, I Wish I Had One of These

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to say, "Yeah, I’m a card-carrying liberal. You got a problem with that?" Lucky for you, Living Liberally has a way for you to do just that.

Our newest project, The Liberal Card, proves you’re a liberal and helps you save liberally, too. For just $25, you’ll get a personalized card that proudly proclaims your liberal status. And while we’re sure that being able to wave around your Liberal Card is enough to make you buy one, there’s more. A whole lot more.

The Liberal Card also gets you discounts to places that allow you to shop, dine and drink with a clear conscience. From a free beer at Rudy’s the original home of Drinking Liberally to phone service from CREDO, we’re hooking you up big time.

Plus, by supporting our partner businesses, you’re helping support the larger liberal community, too.

So check out www.theliberalcard.org to order your card, and find places where you can use The Liberal Card liberally.

Oh, It's Happening Alright, Just Not How You Hoped

happening.jpg
Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Josh Bolotsky

I don't believe that the hype about Democratic disunity is correct. But what if I'm wrong? What if the 18-month primary season (remember President Vilsack?) was just too long and too bruising, the sexism and racism on display just too blatant, the animus on all sides just too much to overcome? If that's the case, what are these much-vaunted "party elders" we've heard so much about to do?

Granted, you can always go the Rahm Emanuel Is Intimidating route, but I'd like to suggest an alternative. If the Democratic leadership is really smart, they'll arrange for enormous group outings to The Happening, on a national scale; make sure to have impassioned Obama and Clinton supporters sitting side-by-side in each theater; and let the projector roll. Two hours later, you'll have a room full of new friends, rested and ready to focus on the general election, and it only took a trip to the movies.

Why do I have so much confidence in this admittedly unorthodox procedure? For one reason, and one reason only: The Happening is one of the most hilariously bad films ever to be released by a major studio, an unqualified disaster, a tonal misfire of monumental proportions - and every single ornery, discerning New Yorker who sat with me in the advance screening, who entered cranky and exhausted from the relentless summer heat, walked out of the multiplex smiling and, yes, back-slapping, having had a wonderful time guffawing together.

Let's be clear - yes, talking out loud during a movie is, generally speaking, an extremely inconsiderate thing to do, and, as a low-level act of solipsism, ranks fairly high on the Signs Of Civilizational Decline list. Like any rule, however, there are exceptions, and just as it is situationally inappropriate to glare at the group throwing rice at the screen during the Rocky Horror Picture Show, there are some films where the social contract of a moviegoer requires an escape clause, and boy oh boy is this one of them. It is that rare delight, a failed popcorn movie where talking out loud is not just permitted, but downright required, a prerequisite for enjoyment.

To the extent that there is a premise, we can get it out of the way quickly: in an act of retaliation against the ravaging ways of humanity, plants across the northeastern United States start emitting toxins in the air that infect humans, and inspire them to commit violent acts of suicide. And for the first five minutes or so, we can see where this could have been the basis for a legitimately frightening film - there are some visually stunning set pieces where the M. Night Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable seems to peek his head out and remind us that he used to have a real claim to the New Spielberg title, portraying random acts of self-violence in a way that is profoundly disturbing.

And then, after those 10 minutes, something...happens. (I can only assume that this is the other meaning of the title.) The misjudgments of tone and character become not just egregious, but hilarious, likely to be a film school-ready example of how to utterly botch genre entertainment. This is the kind of film which tries to scare us through multiple long shots of wind rustling through bushes and stalks of wheat as menacing music plays on the soundtrack. (That evil, evil wheat!) The kind of film where Mark Wahlberg tries to negotiate with a presumably sentient houseplant in a non-ironic scene that gives us no reason to believe it was intended for comedic effect. The kind of film where the characters ask, "Is this the end?", and the whole theater breaks out into applause when a teenager in the fifth row shouts out "Let's hope so!"

There's really nothing too special about a standard-issue bad movie - most bad movies are bad in boring ways, and it is painful to sit through them. However, for a film to be a true classic of awful cinema - your Myra Beckinridges, your Batman & Robins - it needs to be bad in interesting ways, and The Happening certainly qualifies. There is nothing standard-issue about line readings by normally wonderful actors like Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel that deliver news of the destruction of Boston as if bored and the decision to take a nap as if it were of world-changing import. There is nothing standard-issue about our protagonists finding refuge in the home of an elderly recluse, and discovering that she leaves life-size dolls around the house as decoys for potential thieves. There is nothing standard-issue about a scene where John Leguizamo tries to distract his carmates from the dead bodies strewn all around them by gleefully employing a non-sequitur brainteaser about doubling your allowance each day for a month. These are very particular choices, executed in very particular ways, and it is almost as much fun to wonder just how this movie came about as it is to laugh at how ineffective it is.

The Happening tries to be a communal experience, and at this it succeeds - except, instead of being bonded together by having the beejezus scared out of us, we notice each other shaking our heads and smiling at the ridiculousness of it all, and can't help but smile a little more broadly knowing that we're not the only ones. This election season is only going to become more intense, not less, and we are going to need some comedic release, and The Happening is just the ticket. It is a brilliant comedy that does not know it is a comedy, destined to be a consistent hit on the midnight-movie circuit, and, in that context, I could not recommend it more highly.

The Real Issue With Zohan

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Seth Pearce

When I first heard about Adam Sandler's new movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan, I thought to myself, "Wow, Sandler's at it again. What is this going to be? His fourteenth bad movie in a row?" But then it dawned on me: This could be really problematic.

Not that any movie that involves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't be controversial. It's just that I wasn't sure I trusted Adam Sandler to handle such sensitive material with care. Especially when it involves him playing, what seemed to be a hairdressing Zionist superman (albeit with some quirks.)

I had to see it.

I'll say this: Zohan is not anywhere near as profoundly upsetting or offensive as last year's I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. It does, however, most definitely have its issues.

The main political problem with Zohan is that while Palestinians and Israelis are both stereotyped for comedic effect, the Palestinian characters are treated much worse. Rob Schneider and his amateur terrorist cell are looked at as dirty and primitive, while the Israelis are merely treated as disco-loving buffoons who get extra points for assimilating into western culture. I also take issue with the large number of non-arab actors they hired to play Palestinian parts, (See: Schneider, Turturro, Chriqui).

That is pretty much the extent of the politically problematic parts of Zohan. It acknowledges the complexity of the current conflict and doesn't offer any radical suggestions on how to fix it, short of the somewhat Marxist assertion that the Israelis and Palestinians living in America should band together to fight an evil corporate tycoon who is trying to gentrify their neighborhood because their ethnic identities are just social constructs and it is their economic solidarity, as shop owners living in a relatively low income area, that's important. (After all, as one of the Israelis points out, to Americans, they look the same.)

Ultimately, the real issue with You Don't Mess with the Zohan, is that it is a bad movie. It is not very funny, (maybe with the exception of the hummus gag,) and sadly, though I guess this is now the norm, it does not live up to Sandler's earlier work.

You do not need to see You Don't Mess with the Zohan, but if you do, it won't kill you. Plus Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life is in it.

John McCain, You Are No Indiana Jones

Screening Liberally Big Picture by Justin Krebs

indiana-jones-crystal-skull.jpg An aging man-of-action shows show he can still throw punches with the young guys. A rough-and-tumble cowboy as American as apple pie wins our hearts again. A media favorite has returned.

You'd think that the release of the fourth Indiana Jones Adventure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, would be music to John McCain's ears. After all, if America can fall in love with one gray-haired hero, why not another?

And sure enough, in the opening scenes, Harrison Ford's rugged archaeologist adventurer, when confronted with a dozen guns trained his way, doesn't blink -- instead he faces down the Communist bad guys with a simple message: "I like Ike."

You can imagine the McCain spin room starting to whir, reaching out for Indiana's coattails.

But I'm sorry to say, Mr. Senator...America knows Henry Jones, Jr. And you, sir, are no Indiana.

This much-anticipated release offers 2 hours of icing for anyone who feasted on the trilogy of the 80s. It's not a film to win over a new generation, or even a stand-alone film in its own right, but a rambunctious romp that makes you laugh and cheer and roll your eyes a little bit.

The team is back together: Spielberg, Lucas & Ford -- and just as Professor Jones has one last adventure in him, so does this triumvirate. They pull out all the old jokes and references you could hope for, replacing Nazis with Communists, as Indy stumbles through a new decade (in an early moment, he even faces down an atomic threat...a far cry from the first films.)

You're in the company of old friends. It's even more implausible (is that possible?) than the original films, as Ford's aging body has become only more indestructible. But they are willing to laugh at themselves -- and their age...and their self-aware cheesiness -- and you love laughing with them. Or at least I did. I was just happy to see them again.

In a way the film is an Indiana Jones-approved spoof of Indiana Jones: louder, goofier, more tongue-in-cheek, and, yes, less sincere. At no point are characters really in danger; even in the context of the film, the characters don't really fear for one another's safety. At no point are we really surprised by their emotional turns because they aren't really emotionally-driven. And we kind of stop worrying about the plot, because really we're there for the ride.

That said, it's a heckuva fun ride. And part of what makes it work is an ingredient that also made the original Star Wars films works, but was absent from the second round of those films: quite simply, Harrison Ford.

He's great. He can still win over men and women alike with the twinkle in his eye. We're happy to have him back (back from his Indy hiatus, as well as from flicks like Firewall).

And that's one reason why John McCain can't see himself in this film: he's no Harrison Ford. McCain, looking tired, making missteps and fouled up by constant gaffes, just looks his age. Indiana Jones is a grayer figure, but just as hale and hearty, as flirtatious and reckless and wisecracking as ever.

Sorry, Senator, but you don't live in the movies.

There's also the political differences. Professor Jones is an archeologist studying and respecting past cultures. John McCain helms a party that has trouble with evolution. Indiana has as much reverence in this film for the stories of Mayan gods as he did in the last film for the mythos of the Grail; McCain can't tell Sunni and Shiite apart. Jones may be reckless at times, but he also makes allies -- from a young greaser, to an old flame -- while McCain follows the Bush tradition of going it alone.

There are few overt political nods in this film but one resonates: when Indiana Jones, under suspicion by the FBI for his friendship with an outed Communist agent, is forced from his professorial post by a timid university Board of Trustees. As much as Indiana punches Communists in the nose, he also is the victim of political persecution and fear-mongering.

Spielberg's politics come out here: a culture of suspicion -- suppression of academia -- authoritarian intervention by government. These are comments on the 1950s in which the film is set, but stand out as warnings today. It's a gentle touch, but it works. (Spielberg is no Commie sympathizer, mind you...an early chase scene has Communist thugs being smacked in the face by "Better Dead Than Red" signs at a student rally. Although, while anti-Communist sentiment is laid on thick, it never has the vigor or reaches the passionate extent of Spielberg's anti-Nazi hatred.)

But the biggest difference between the Professor and the Senator: Indiana Jones is joyous, hopeful. (Some in the audience were even a little disappointed by just how cheerful the film felt.) McCain is a dour, gloom-and-doom, fear-monger.

It's not Indy's age that makes us love him. It's that he elevates our spirits. And if John McCain wants to outrace his years the way Indiana Jones has, he doesn't just need to get more physically fit and verbally savvy...he needs to live in a more optimistic world as well.

Maybe that's what McCain's presumptive rival has picked up on...now if only Senator Obama had a hat and whip.

A Few Thoughts on the Politics of Iron Man

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Seth Pearce, NYC Student Union

Iron Man is a good superhero movie. Really. If you like that kind of thing, you should probably check it out.

For this genre, the acting is great. Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges are pretty much flawless at turning well-drawn, larger than life (see: Jeff Bridges' shaved head and big-time beard) comic book characters into real people...or, at least, real characters. The special effects are top notch. The science-fiction element of the movie, including the design technology used by Downey Jr. as weapons manufacturer and designer Tony Stark, and the glowing electromagnet that keeps his heart going, is really cool.

And then there's the politics of Iron Man: any movie that includes middle eastern terrorists and American weapons manufacturers double-dealing under the table is bound to raise a few political questions. So where do Iron Man's politics stand?

There are liberal aspects to the film. Stark Industries is basically a takeoff on Lockheed Martin, similar logos and all. Jeff Bridges's character Obadiah Stane (what a name) represents many of the problems of the American military-industrial complex, basically that a company making dangerous weapons and also thirsting for profit cannot always be trusted and might even work to promote war or help the enemies to keep a steady cash flow.

The key transformation of the film occurs when the debonair and amoral Tony Stark finds himself imprisoned in a cave in Afghanistan after being captured by terrorists who somehow have tons of Stark Industries weapons. He then builds his Iron Man prototype suit, escapes from the cave and swears off weapon making forever - as Rolling Stone puts it, "a switch to peace politics."

Here's the part that I don't get: Stark swears off evil weapon making and proposes to fight for peace... by building a better weapon, the Iron Man suit. The line that best summarizes Tony Stark's original (pre-cave) political views, goes something like: "Peace means having the biggest stick." I just don't see how this post-transformation approach is any different.

By comparison, the liberal stuff is developed in a downright superficial way compared to the spirit of vigilantism that pervades throughout the core of the movie. One could even argue that Iron Man's true message is that instead of depending on the clueless military or the corrupt businessmen to fight terrorism, we should just suit up and take 'em on ourselves.

Anyway, while Iron Man's political sentiments range from Super-Liberal to NRAesque, it's a darn good action movie, and worth ten bucks.

Oh, and when you see it: STAY UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS. I won't say why, just do it.

Pras Michel on Skid Row

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Katie Halper

In his latest project, hip hop artist, actor, and filmmaker Pras Michel of The Fugees goes undercover for 9 days and nights as a homeless person in downtown LA's notorious Skid Row. I met up with Pras in a hotel lobby in Manhattan to discuss Skid Row, the documentary based on his time on the street living with 90,000 people in a 50-square block area. Pras talked to me about Muhammed Ali, why he likes Obama and doesn't go for Bill Cosby, how Oprah and Snoop could help the "lost African-American" generation by meeting face to face, and why we're in a "transitional moment."

Check out www.skidrowthemovie.com to find where it's showing near you.

Why did you make this movie?

To make people aware. The majority of Americans just want to be able to work and provide. People on Skid Row...they just want to be able to work, they don't care what it is. A lot of people think if something's going on over here and not where they are, then it doesn't affect them. We have to get away from that mindset. Keeping the masses ignorant is hurting the country. If people were educated, they would learn to not pollute. I know the theory about short term vs. long term. But you gotta think about your children, your children's children...things that we think don't affect us, come back and affect us.

We saw this mindset during the AIDS crisis. No one cared because it apparently was only for homosexuals. Then AIDS showed that it did not discriminate. That's what's happening with homelessness. The health care crisis and the foreclosure crisis are distant, if not near cousins of homelessness. Millions of people losing their homes. Not all of them have people to stay with until they figure out their situation. This project is supposed to make people aware, to build a community. The globe has gotten smaller, more interconnected. We gotta start thinking like that. My job is to get people to realize that. Our goal isn't to say we have a solution because we don't. But we can show people that thinking "I'm gonna make it on my own, and if I'm successful I did it on my own, forget about everybody else" is wrong.

Did your own success make it hard for you to stay grounded and feel connected to the community?

I think the person that I am now, innately, has always been inside me. Success doesn't change us, it amplifies who we really are. If I'm an asshole, I'm gonna become a major asshole with power and money. If I'm a hermit, I'm gonna build a moat around my house so no one can come near me.What surprised you most about Skid Row?

I met someone who said he hadn't been distracted by women in three years. That's how he stayed clean. Any little distraction and he would have slipped back. In my world, I think about sex - I mean I don't think I think about sex like the average man does-

Which is 24/7?

Which is 24/7, I'm probably like...

2/6?

22/6.

No really, more like 22/7 right?

Yeah...I can't lie to you - sex was nowhere on my mind. Maybe because I was getting acclimated. But if I was there longer, I probably would have adapted.

And I surprised myself. When you're homeless a lot of things go out the window because it's all about survival. I had to do certain things I don't do. Like I'm not one of those people who smiles. It doesn't mean I'm not happy. It's just not part of my temperament. I never had to do that before. But on Skid Row, when I was looking for money, a guy said to "smile". He was gay. I'm not homophobic, far from it. Most guys would get offended. I wouldn't get offended, I just wouldn't smile. But on Skid Row when this guy offered me $5 to smile, I'm thinking, I have to eat. So I smiled for him. And another woman said to me, "Come on brother, it can't be that bad. Smile." And I smiled for her too.

I was really surprised by how nice people were to you and how much they opened up to you. Was it your smile?

Well they saw me as part of the community. They saw me around. It wasn't like I was an outsider. They saw me on the sidewalk. And they would save my little section for me when I came back late. That was New York's [Pras's alias] little home.

How did you feel about going undercover? Did you feel conflicted about violating people's trust, even if it was in order to raise awareness?

No, because I walked the walk.

So how did people respond when you told them who you were?

They thought it was good that we were exposing it, and exposing it in the realest form. It wasn't some Tyra Banks thing, going in there for two hours with no makeup. This was real.

What was the scariest part?

The unknown. Somebody got shot around the corner from where I slept. Someone could stab with you a needle and then you're done.

What did you learn on Skid Row?

I learned a lot. I learned a lot from the people on Skid Row. I was a student down in Skid Row. I was like a student at Oxford University. Like Philly [who lives on Skid Row] is brilliant. He builds computers. This dude is a computer geek...I mean we adapt to our situation. You take Philly and you take him from the street and put him in a corporate job - everything he learned he's able to upgrade it to a level, to a corporate side. Just like if you're corporate and not street-smart and you become homeless, you're gonna be able to downgrade it to make it work on the street. That's how you're able to survive.

Is hip hop still political?

Hip hop is just a mild version of what Reverend Wright was saying to his community. And it just got acceptable because it had music behind it and people said, "They're entertaining us. They don't really mean it." Then hip hop became successful, got away from what the agenda was, started doing the gangster stuff. So hip hop lost all edge, all credibility. But it used to be the black CNN.

Are there any hip hop artists who still have the edge and credibility?

Mos Def, Talib Kweli, but it's such a cult thing. The African-American generation is lost. They're not being represented correctly. The leaders, the Bill Cosbies, the Oprahs, instead of sitting down, they'd rather just criticize and point fingers. And they don't understand. Oprah, instead of saying, "Snoop is misogynist," can call Snoop and say, "Come see me in Chicago." He'll be more than happy to. And she can say, "Snoop, explain to me the disrespect of women, the homophobic thing, the gangster thing. Explain to me how is that advancing the community." And then he's gonna express it. And you're gonna have a form of dialogue. And guess what? Whatever she says, he may not totally agree, but it's going to influence him. Then maybe Snoop will come out and say, "Listen...it's all about the community now. I'm not saying I'm making mom and pop songs but I'm gonna be a little more conscious. I wanna do more." Because we know Oprah is the god.

So you're saying if there was dialogue, instead of finger-pointing ... ?

Oprah and Bill Cosby know you're not supposed to do certain things. But if you come from a broken home, you grew up without a father, how are you supposed to know? Just because black people don't relate to Oprah doesn't mean they don't respect how gangster she is. They know she is a beast. You can't deny who she is. Oprah can make the argument, "Listen, I came from a hard life." But you take 10 people and put them through the same thing, maybe 2 of them will come out of it OK. So we need a dialogue, we need communication.

What about the Cornel Wests of the world?

I love Cornel West. I respect him. But a black kid on the street don't have a clue who he is. Look, when Muhammed Ali came out...the reason he's "the people's champ"...is because he was defiant, he went against the U.S. government when they wanted to ship him to Vietnam. And he stood by it and people stood by him. Nobody called Michael Jordan "the people's champ." ... Michael Jordan is a sell-out. There are lots of black sell-outs.

Somebody said to me you only like Obama because he's black. Well I can think of a couple black people I wouldn't vote for. I'm not into black power. And on the other end of the spectrum, you got the Uncle Toms, the Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice...I'm not into that either. Obama is a uniter. He's perfectly comfortable with the skin he's in. He's not gonna sell out. That's a man of great principle.

The African-American generation is a lost generation unless something happens quickly. You have a generation of kids who are lost. Twelve-year-olds having sex and not understanding the meaning of that...People don't understand the power of having someone on a certain level that you can identity with. Five months ago, young African-American people didn't care about politics. Until Obama. If you are a young black person, you can relate to him because he's black and he's running for the highest office and he has a real good shot. He's articulate, he's smart, he's smooth. The people in the black community, in the urban community, are changing their style, the way they dress, because they see someone they relate to. He's not Charlie Rangel. He's only 46. He's 10 years older than me. He probably listens to hip hop and Mozart and jazz at the same time. I'm telling you, people don't realize the power of that speech Obama gave. Trying to hide and act like it didn't happen is like having a wound that can never heal. Obama is walking a tightrope. But we need to talk about this stuff. It's like if you're in a relationship with someone and something's not going well and you try not to talk about it because you hope it's going to disappear. It's not. I thought it was brilliant...By the way, I don't formally support Obama. I just want people to know I really like him.

I do not believe governments change willingly. LBJ didn't sign the Civil Rights Act because he wanted to. It was the pressure of the times. The times inspired Rosa Parks. The times inspired Martin Luther King, to stand up as a leader. It inspired white people who supported black people to come out of the closet and not be called a "nigger-lover." It inspired black people to say, "We can do this." It inspired a whole nation, which led to the Civil Rights Movement, which led to the Civil Rights Bill. The people are going to make the change - you can feel it. It's brewing in the air. You see it in the way we eat, the way we interact at work, the way we watch TV, movies, interact with the Internet. We're in a transitional moment.

Katie Halper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, one of the national directors of Living Liberally and artistic director and comedy curator at The Tank. Katie blogs regularly for the Huffington Post, Working Life, Culture Kitchen and the political comedy site 23/6. Katie is working on a documentary about Camp Kinderland, the "Summer Camp with a Conscience."

A version of this post originally appeared on AlterNet.