Monday, May 26, 2014

Why Today’s PC Police Would Ban ‘Blazing Saddles’

This year marks the release of the 40th anniversary DVD of the classic comedy Blazing Saddles, directed by the incomparable Mel Brooks. If you were too young to have seen it in 1974, it is difficult to grasp just how outrageous and daring it was at that time; and if you were old enough to see it then, it is sobering to realize that Blazing Saddles couldn’t get made today.

Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Young Frankenstein’s Madeline Kahn, who actually earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the film, Blazing Saddles is set in 1874 in the American West. A proposed railroad is coming through the little town of Rock Ridge, and  a conniving politician played by the hilarious Harvey Korman wants to drive out the citizens so he can buy up the land cheaply. As part of his plan, Korman sends them a new “sheriff,” black convict Bart (Cleavon Little), expecting the bigoted citizens to be so repulsed that they’ll move out or kill him – either way, Korman wins.

But Bart bonds with an alcoholic gunslinger, the Waco Kid (Wilder), and they win the hearts of the townspeople and turn the tables on Korman and his henchmen. Along the way, it is – as the late Roger Ebert praised it in his 4-star review – “a crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken.” In its pre-PC era, it was bursting at the seams with jokes about rape and flatulence, stereotypes of all races, and more N-words than one would ever hear onscreen today outside of a Tarantino film.

In a recent interview, Brooks said that he had given his writers (including comedy legend Richard Pryor) free rein:

I said to all the writers, “Look, fellas, don’t worry, this movie will never get released. Never. [Warner Bros.] will see it and they’ll say, ‘Let’s bury it.’ So let’s go nuts. Let’s write things that we never would dare write.” And we did.

Crudity is nothing new to today’s movie audiences (or TV viewers, for that matter), but in 1974 the film’s bold assault on racism stampeded past the limits of good taste on its way to box office success, and audiences everywhere loved it, surprising Brooks as much as anyone:

I envisioned a race riot. I thought everybody would come after me and kill me for what I said about the Chinese, and the blacks, and the Jews. I thought if this was shown in Waco, Texas, the whites would storm the screen and cut it to ribbons. Because we were kind of hoisting the black sheriff up on our shoulders and made him a hero. But Texas liked it as much as New York.

The American Film Institute liked it too, ranking it sixth among their 100 funniest American movies of all time (ahead of two other Brooks-directed comedies, The Producers and Young Frankenstein). Blazing Saddles accomplished a sort of deft balance of satirical social commentary and outrageous abandon, not unlike the creators of South Park today.

Flash forward 40 years. Instead of Blazing Saddles blazing a trail toward racial harmony, race relations in America are more problematic now than at any point since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and PC intolerance has such a stranglehold on the current Hollywood scene (as well as our culture at large), that it’s impossible to imagine Mel Brooks’ movie getting that green light today. “Isn’t it strange?” he asked his interviewer rhetorically,

It could hardly be made then. Certainly not 10 years before then. And now it’s suddenly, it’s 40 years later, it cannot be made today. That’s weird. The prejudices or whatever, the restrictions, should have thoroughly diluted by now, and here we are — it’s amazing. We’re playing it safe.

Comedy can break down barriers and unite people over sensitive issues that otherwise can’t be discussed comfortably or even rationally – all while seducing people to laugh at themselves and others. It is the enemy of political correctness, which is the humorless enforcement of speech codes to control the language and advance a political agenda.

Forty years ago, Blazing Saddles had audiences everywhere laughing at the N-Word, defusing its ugly power; today that word is cause for media lynchings. Our culture has succumbed to a PC intolerance that only divides, never heals or unites. Mel Brooks couldn’t get that movie made now, and that’s the tragedy of one of the funniest American movies of all time.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/22)

Angelina Jolie: Not Just Another Hashtag Activist

In the most tone-deaf example of what is sadly becoming more of a fad than actual activism, the social media campaign to raise awareness of the schoolgirl hostages of Nigeria’s terrorist group Boko Haram made its way to the red carpet last weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, where some of the cast of the upcoming action flick The Expendables 3 posed for photos with signs bearing the now-familiar plea, “Bring Back Our Girls.”

“Hashtag activists” Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Ronda Rousey and Mel Gibson lined up and presented the signs (strangely minus the hashtag) to the masses of photographers that descend on the glittering French Riviera hot spot this time of year. In a separate incident, actress Salma Hayek brandished a similar sign on the Cannes red carpet.

(“Bring Back Our Girls” wasn’t the only such red carpet activism there. The cast of the Turkish film Winter's Sleep held up signs reading “#Soma,” referring to the Turkish city where over 300 people were killed in a ghastly coal mining accident a week ago.)

Apparently the Expendables actors didn’t confer beforehand about just what sort of facial expressions might be suitable for such a serious, weighty issue, because all were smiling to one degree or another. At least Ford looked a little sheepish and Grammar stiffly uncomfortable, as if they alone were aware of the vast disparity between their message and the glamorous setting. Perhaps Snipes was just happy to be out of prison after his tax evasion sentence, and maybe Gibson, looking like a tuxedoed Biblical prophet, was just happy to be in the spotlight for a reason other than personal meltdowns. Stallone and Rousey wore the most inappropriate grins imaginable, as if they were holding up signs with punchlines on them.

The efficacy of hashtag activism, discussed by Acculturated’s own Gracy Olmstead last week, is hotly debated. Some argue that it raises awareness and puts political pressure on the target, while others believe it accomplishes nothing except to make the sign-bearers feel momentarily good about themselves before returning to their sheltered lives. Indeed, the only impact it may have on the Boko Haram savages is to raise their profile and give them the notoriety they enjoy.

But whatever the answer, hashtag activism may have jumped the shark at Cannes. The reaction on Twitter to the Expendables photo was largely negative – and rightly so. “This is actually embarrassing at this point,” read one of the milder tweets. Two of the harsher ones were: “These girls deserve respect and help, not idiots holding cardboard. What an insult to them and us” and “F**k them. What are they doing about it while they're sipping champagne in viewing parties on French Riviera?”

In all fairness, the actors mean well, and it’s unclear whether it was even their idea or how much notice the actors had to prepare – perhaps a publicist thrust the signs into their hands just seconds before the pic was snapped, and awkwardness ensued. And what harm can it do, you may well ask? After all, who can raise awareness better than Hollywood celebrities?

The harm comes not from actors getting involved in the issues, but from ill-considered displays like the one involving the Expendables cast in Cannes, which may do more damage than good in the sense that they reek of “conspicuous compassion” and apparent insincerity, which just invite public contempt rather than inspire fans to take action.

By contrast, a serious celebrity activist like Angelina Jolie isn’t content to flash a hashtag from the red carpet or put in a brief appearance in a celeb-packed PSA. She does more than simply raise awareness. Check out the videos, for example, of United Nations ambassador Jolie visiting and talking with young Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in Turkey, as well as refugee children in Ecuador. There is no question of her active commitment.

Yes, she’s an extreme example, but the point is that her actions speak louder than any number of hashtagged phrases. If actors want to be taken seriously on a given political issue, they need to dispense with or avoid easy publicity stunts and, like Ms. Jolie, get out of their tuxedoes and luxurious comfort zone and do the legwork.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/21/14)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Camelot and the Miracle of Forgiveness

Last weekend I stumbled across a video circulating on the internet, of actor Jim Caviezel delivering an impassioned message to the members of a San Diego mega-church. Caviezel, a devout Catholic and the intense, handsome star of The Passion of the Christ and TV’s Person of Interest, assured the congregation that God’s grace and forgiveness are greater than their sins. “God forgives you,” he said, “and so now you need to begin again, to accept forgiveness.” As it happens, last weekend I also came upon a powerful, mythic example of that very lesson.

As part of the research for my book on chivalry, I was re-watching the 1967 musical Camelot, featuring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Guinevere, Franco Nero as the impossibly perfect Lancelot, and an incredible score by the songwriting team of Lerner and Loewe (the soundtrack from the original Broadway musical was America’s best-selling record for over a year). The movie spun out of the Broadway hit, which was based on T.H. White’s extraordinary 1939 novel The Once and Future King, itself based upon Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the 15th century compilation that is largely the basis for our familiarity with the Arthurian legends and with the tragic love triangle of the movie’s main characters.

Lancelot enters the story as the pinnacle of knighthood, a warrior of such unequalled valor and monastic virtue that he takes for granted his ability to surpass mere mortals. In fact, as White puts it, “he wanted, through his purity and excellence, to be able to perform some ordinary miracle – to heal a blind man or something like that, for instance.” As he proclaims in his signature song “C’est Moi” in Camelot,

And here I stand, as pure as a prayer,
Incredibly clean, with virtue to spare,
The godliest man I know!

But Lancelot soon discovers to his secret shame that, like all of us, he is far from perfect. Indeed, he betrays his friend and liege Arthur through his adultery with Guinevere, which leads to his slaying of a fellow knight in combat. Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, and all his subjects believe him to be the purest knight on earth, but Lancelot lives with the knowledge of his terrible sins in his anguished heart.

Then one day Lancelot is called upon to do just that for which he had once arrogantly hoped –perform a miracle. In the novel (which differs somewhat from the play and movie versions), a knight cursed with wounds that will not heal comes to Arthur’s Round Table seeking the purest in heart to heal him, and everyone naturally looks to Lancelot. The author T.H. White asks the reader to imagine the terror that Lancelot now feels, knowing that his very public failure to perform the miracle will expose him as living a lie:

Miracles, which you wanted to do so long ago, can only be done by the pure in heart. The people outside are waiting for you to do this miracle because you have traded on their belief that your heart was pure – and now, with treachery and adultery and murder wringing the heart like a cloth, you are to go out into the sunlight for the test of honour.

His spirit broken by sin, and with all eyes upon him, Lancelot kneels beside the knight and prays from a place of deep humility for perhaps for the first time in his life, asking God to please save the knight not for his own glory, but for the knight’s sake. Magically, the knight’s wounds close, and the crowd exults in jubilation.

Forgotten amid the celebration is Lancelot himself, who remains kneeling and weeps like a child because he knew “a secret which was hidden from the others. The miracle was that he had been allowed to do a miracle.” The humbled Lancelot had been granted forgiveness and the grace to perform the impossible. His own healing process had begun.

This struck me as a beautiful example of Jim Caviezel’s point: no matter how undeserving we may believe we are, there is a power, whether divine or human, that is greater than our failures. Forgiveness itself is the miracle; we only need be willing to accept it and begin again.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/20/14)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

NBA Star Names the Real MVP – His Mom

The wide world of professional sports is riddled with so many examples of unsportsmanlike braggadocio and trash-talking, that it’s refreshing when an athlete makes headlines by spouting not attitude, but gratitude.

Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder has certainly earned the right to be big-headed. At only 25 he has won an NBA Most Valuable Player Award, four NBA scoring titles, the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and an Olympic gold medal. He has been selected to four All-NBA teams and five All-Star teams in his short career.

But humility keeps him grounded. A couple of years ago, Durant wrote about that and his Christian faith:

In the Bible, (it says) the Lord exalts humility and that’s one thing I try to be all the time. When I’m talking in front of people or when people tell me I’m great, I (remind myself that I) can always be better. Humility comes before honor. I always work on what I have now. I have to be thankful to the Lord for the gifts He’s given me. My gift back to Him is to always be humble and always work as hard as I can.

Durant has a tattoo on his wrist that says live for eternity. “God says that’s where we’re all headed. And I wanna start living with that eternal perspective on everything I do now.” That’s a pretty mature attitude for a rich-and-famous 25-year-old.

Philanthropist Durant is well-respected for giving back to his community. He donated one million dollars to the local Red Cross in the aftermath of a 2013 tornado that tore across Oklahoma. He personally visited survivors and prompted Nike, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association each to match his contribution. 

Durant, who has been called the nicest guy in the NBA, was awarded Most Valuable Player last week, and in an extraordinarily touching and emotional acceptance speech, expressed his heartfelt thanks to the friends and family members who made him what he is. Tearfully, he thanked his two brother also for his support, and told his older brother Tony that “you taught me to feel confident in myself, believe in myself, that I can do it when I didn’t think I could do it.” He thanked him for “texting me Bible verses every single day, telling me you love me every single day. That builds me up and I thank you so much. I love you.”

Finally, he addressed his mother Wanda Pratt, sitting in the front row. Sometimes called Durant’s secret weapon, Pratt and her husband divorced shortly after Durant was born. “We were very young, immature,” she recalled. “Really not understanding what being a family was. So we split up and I did the best I could… I decided early on that my desires and wants and even needs came second to what they needed and wanted. That was my mindset.”

She proceeded to live by that mindset, and Durant didn’t take it for granted. He continued his speech:

I don’t think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later I came out. The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old.

Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and hugged each other because we thought we made it…

We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.

At that, the audience present rose to give Durant’s mom a much-deserved standing ovation, not because she had raised a superstar athlete, but because a mother single-handedly committed herself to raising a tight-knit family of good sons, keeping them out of trouble, and turning out a humble man who is unashamed to publicly discuss his faith and to express his love and gratitude to her and his brothers.

Earlier in that speech, Kevin Durant had told his younger brother that he strove to set a great example for him. It’s clear that, thanks to his mother, Durant in his short life is already serving as an exceptional role model not only for his brother, but for his teammates and fans – and that impact will go well beyond whatever successes he has on the court.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/12/14)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Are America’s Favorite Books Just Our Favorite Movies?

Last March, 2,234 U.S. adults surveyed online in a Harris Poll were asked to list their ten favorite books. The results give us some insight into our reading habits, but are they also telling us something about our movie-viewing habits?

This year, just as in 2008 when the Harris Poll last asked this question of other respondents, the number one book is – the envelope, please – The Bible, unsurprisingly a deeply imbedded influence on our national nature.

The number two preference once again is Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War-and-Reconstruction drama Gone with the Wind, published in 1936. The book was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the classic 1939 movie adaptation brought Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler to life in iconic style. An argument could even be made that, for better or worse, it is our Great American Novel. Its mark on our cultural consciousness apparently runs deep.

Or at least it does among women, who seem to be driving that novel’s enduring popularity (the poll also broke down the book list demographically, racially, geographically, and politically). Men, on the other hand, preferred J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series at number two (it is fourth overall, below J.K. Rowling’s astonishingly successful Harry Potter series). The presence of both series suggests a predilection among Americans for good-versus-evil fantasy epics. One has to wonder to what degree the blockbuster movie franchises (both begun in 2001) were responsible for the books’ appearance on the list both times.

One might wonder too if Baz Luhrmann’s glitzy 2013 movie remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby helped that novel climb onto the list (in last place) this year. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which moved up from seventh to fifth since 2008, also may owe its presence partly to a beloved classic film version starring Gregory Peck. And as I suggested above, Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable are practically synonymous with Gone with the Wind. Does this mean that our favorite books are actually just our favorite movies?

But popular film adaptations don’t explain the presence of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which moved up three spots to number seven. That coming-of-age classic has never yet made it to the big screen due to the late, reclusive Salinger’s reluctance to allow the book to be Hollywoodized. They also don’t explain the other titles new to the list this year: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (sixth), Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women (eighth), and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (ninth). All three have been adapted to film, but not in recent years, and none had the popular or cultural impact of the movie versions of the other books. The films no doubt drove new readers to the books, but it’s less convincing to argue that they had anything to do with earning the books their place on the list.

If Hollywood adaptations are shaping our reading preferences, one might expect to see, say, The Hunger Games or Twilight trilogies on the list the next time around. Of course, those books were already insanely popular before Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Pattinson starred in big-screen versions, but will they prove to be endearing favorites? Time will tell.

Literary snobs (and I once was one) shake their heads over the fact that the list includes a few critically disdained titles (Rowling’s work in particular seems to set their teeth on edge). They point to it as a sign of American Philistinism. But we’re talking about favorite books, not best books. Favorites are not necessarily top-rated critically and artistically, but are personally meaningful to us in some compelling way that may have nothing to do with literary quality. My favorite, for example, is Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. That doesn’t mean I also don’t also appreciate, say, T.S. Eliot.

It may be comforting to the snobs to know that last time, Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame held two spots on the list, and Stephen King another. This time the list features even more classics, with not a 50 Shades of Grey to be found. Maybe Americans aren’t dumbing down after all.

2008 and 2014 Harris Polls
 Favorite Books (all adults)
The Bible
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/5/14)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lessons from ‘The Americans’ on Crime and Forgiveness

If you’re not watching the FX series The Americans, you’re missing one of the most gripping, intelligently written dramas on TV. More than just an action-packed Cold War thriller, it is a series that has its surprisingly compelling protagonists wrestling with big questions of ideology and salvation.

Now in its second season, The Americans stars the darkly intense Matthew Rhys and the criminally underappreciated Keri Russell as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Soviet spies living undercover as a normal American couple in 1981 Washington, D.C. In between co-managing their travel agency and raising two children (who are oblivious to their parents’ true identities), Philip and Elizabeth carry out missions for the Communist cause and keep their activities concealed from their FBI agent neighbor, masterfully underplayed by Noah Emmerich.

Elizabeth is an ice-hearted true believer, but after many years undercover, the American way of life is gradually beginning to seduce Philip. In one riveting confrontation in the very first episode, she is aghast when he suggests that they consider betraying the motherland and embracing the good life. “America’s not so bad,” he argues. “What’s so bad about it? The electricity works all the time, food’s pretty great… We could have a good life.” Later in the series, on a self-indulgent capitalist whim, he goes out and buys a new Camaro, then comes home blasting decadent Western rock music out of the windows.

But the cracks in his commitment to Mother Russia run even deeper than just the superficial. As the Cold War heats up, Philip finds himself wrestling emotionally with the more ruthless aspects of his job – namely, murdering anyone who stands in the way of his and Elizabeth’s work. In last week’s episode, after having slit a young man’s throat and caused the death of another innocent whom he had kidnapped for information, Philip struggles with so much bottled-up rage, doubt and self-loathing that he explodes at his moderately rebellious teenage daughter Paige for getting involved with a youth-oriented local church.

Philip and his family are starting to come apart at the seams, thanks to the terrible lie he and Elizabeth have been living for most of their adult lives. Driven by a deepening spiritual void that he can’t acknowledge even to himself, the atheist Philip slips into the small church one night to confront its young preacher Tim. “I want you to stay away from my daughter,” he threatens quietly.

“I can’t turn Paige away from the church, Mr. Jennings,” Tim replies. “This is a sanctuary. I can’t turn anyone away.” Philip steps menacingly closer. Tim is nervous but stands his ground. “Are you really gonna beat me up over this?” He suggests that if Philip really wants to help his daughter, “you should find a way to deal with your anger.”

Philip gets in his face. “I’m not here to be saved. Not by you or your god.”

“I see that you’re in pain,” Tim whispers. “There is grace and forgiveness for you. For everyone.”

Philip challenges the preacher: “Do you believe that?” Tim stands his ground. “I do,” he answers firmly.

His conviction not only defuses Philip’s violence, but seems to surprise and bewilder him as well. The spy exits without a word, steps outside in the cold night air, and turns with one last look at the church, a look that betrays his desperate desire for exactly the grace and forgiveness that he doesn’t believe is possible for his crimes.

It’s a stunning end to the episode, in a compelling series that traces the growing turmoil of two unlikely TV protagonists: KGB killers, at least one of whom is increasingly torn between diametrically opposed world views – communism and capitalism, atheism and faith, sin and forgiveness, ideology and family.

Their FBI counterpart, Emmerich’s Stan Beeman, is struggling with issues of his own. An ordinarily emotionally-reserved patriot who has foolishly fallen for his beautiful KGB informant, Beeman has put himself in a position to compromise his country’s security and destroy his own marriage.

The Americans doesn’t drive office water cooler talk like, say, Game of Thrones or Mad Men. But its fascinating Cold War clash between spies agonizing over very human conflicts deserves to be just as talked-about.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/1/14)

Donald Sterling: A Tale of Black, White, and Green

If you’ve just emerged from a coma or were binge-watching Game of Thrones episodes, then you may be unaware of the messy and disturbing media firestorm surrounding Donald Sterling, wealthy owner of the Los Angeles Clippers pro basketball team. Allow me to recap.

The controversy began when a tape surfaced of a conversation between the 80-year-old Sterling and his half-black, half-Hispanic “girlfriend” V. Stiviano, a half-century younger than the billionaire. Unaware that he was being recorded, a distressed Sterling complained that she was embarrassing him by publicly associating with black people – posting, for example, an Instagram pic of herself with former NBA star Magic Johnson. The tabloid site TMZ got hold of the conversation, and the rest is hysteria.

The internet and news media sizzled with outrage over Sterling’s racist remarks. Everybody had to get into the act, to paraphrase Jimmy Durante. Some argued that Sterling didn’t actually do anything racist, and that his free speech had been infringed upon by the secret recording, while others rebutted that the NBA has every right and obligation to punish him. Republicans and Democrats both tried to link him to the other party – as if the racism of a single man somehow confirms the racism of an entire party. Racial ambulance-chasers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton called for bans and vigils. Celebrities like Oprah weighed in, of course; perhaps with a nod toward last year’s Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave, director Spike Lee accused Sterling of having a “slave master’s mentality.”

Now a lifetime ban from the NBA has been handed down to Sterling, as well as a $2.5 million fine, the harshest the NBA constitution allows. Sterling may also be forced to sell the Clippers, in which case they may be picked up by – holy poetic justice! – Magic Johnson and his partners (there is even speculation that Johnson himself somehow engineered this whole scenario, which would certainly thicken the plot). 

But former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a blistering opinion piece rightly excoriating all those participating in the “Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.” He reserved particular venom for the manipulative “girlfriend” Stiviano and wondered why it took her tape to spark everyone’s outrage about Sterling.

What he was referring to is the billionaire’s less-than-sterling reputation as one of the largest property owners and landlords in the L.A. area. Back in 2008 the LA Weekly posted a stunning summary of his violations of civil rights and tenants’ rights, in addition to, as Talking Points Memo (TPM) puts it, his “shameful reputation as a man who abuses his employees, acknowledges paying for sex with prostitutes, and has had a string of girlfriends who live in expensive homes and drive luxury cars” that Sterling has paid for.

And yet, with spectacularly awkward timing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been set to give Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award next month, an honor they are now rescinding, of course, while neglecting to mention that Sterling already has a 2009 NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award as well as a 2008 NAACP President’s Award.

Why is, or was, Sterling such an unlikely favorite of the NAACP? The answer is not black or white but green: he has been a significant donor to the organization – perhaps to whitewash his reputation – and the NAACP was happy to oblige despite his record of discrimination. TPM described the organization as “simply another cog in the Sterling PR machine.”

As for Stiviano, she was sued just last month by Sterling’s wife Rochelle for the return of the $1.8-million L.A. duplex, a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover that her husband bought for Stiviano last year (Rochelle was apparently upset that her name wasn’t on the deed too).

In fact, as easy as it is to dogpile on Donald Sterling, the real story seems as much about money as racism: for money, the NAACP turned a blind eye to Sterling’s sins; for money, his wife turned a blind eye to his “girlfriends”; for money, the “girlfriends” turned a blind eye to their own prostitution – until the glaring light of public scrutiny forced everyone to distance themselves from the radioactive Sterling.

Rochelle, for example, originally defended her husband against the charge of racism, saying “it’s not true”; but when it became impossible to deny, she threw him under the bus for his “despicable views or prejudices” and “small-mindedness.” The NAACP released a statement about standing up and confronting racism blah blah blah. Stiviano is currently hiding under a giant visor.

Abdul-Jabbar firmly believes that people like Sterling should be paraded in humiliation across “the modern town square of the television screen.” I couldn’t agree more that racists (of all races) should be exposed, but allowing the media and internet mobs to serve as judge, jury and executioner is a dangerous game. Donald Sterling may have made his bed and now must lie in it, but less culpable lives are easily destroyed by the media rush to judgment.

The ugly saga isn’t over yet – for one thing, Stiviano’s very suspect motivation for making and leaking the possibly illegal recording has yet to be revealed – but one thing is clear: the tale will have no heroes or winners, only media exploitation, opportunistic posturing, political smearing, and people covering their greedy tracks.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/30/14)