Snoop Dogg plays a DJ character in the new Netflix flick Dolemite Is My Name. A man named Rico enters the record store, (“yo, for real”), introduces himself as “A Repository of African-American Folklore.” He tells tall tales, plays the Signifying Monkey. From there the cameras lead us to the Dunbar Hotel. Junkies and wine. “Rhyming,” “down-and-dirty,” “rat-soup-eating.” Rudy Ray Moore invented a character both old and new. The Godfather of Rap. Put some swing on it. Formulated a critique and used it. Declared showtime, made an album. Called it “I ain’t lying: a comedy record.” A live recording. Storytelling veers from “write what one knows” to “welcome others to the Dolemite world of nightlife, streets, and clubs.” Behold: blaxploitation squared. The Dunbar Hotel remade as a movie set. Some of us absorb reality, a character says, while the rest of us act it and reflect it: a cine-magical Metafiction. Stereotypes, myths. Social fictions with consequences. Plus kung-fu armies, and funny as hell.
After watching a trailer for Japanese consultant Marie Kondo’s Netflix series Tidying Up (but before yet having watched the series itself), I wander about my house asking of objects, “What will give me joy?” The one that answers is an LP by a Bootsy Collins project called Sweat Band. It’s not a “great” record. Some of it bores me, but for some riffing back and forth by the drummer and the sax player. Does this record give me joy, or should I sell it? “Jamaica” saves it, I decide; the record’s worth keeping, even just for that alone.
What I want, though, is an intensification from within, jewels and miracles revealed amid an otherwise empty present. Sometimes nothing short of pennies from heaven will do. But absent that, I tell myself, try exercise.
In its final scene, the Netflix television series Russian Doll allows its time-looped protagonists, Nadia and Alan, to reunite as their best selves amid a parade of party people waving red flags of revolution. Given our current slime-pool polis, it seems reasonable to regard the show’s Groundhog Day purgatory as an allegory of that era of reaction since the defeat of the Sixties that Americans on the Left took to calling “neoliberalism.” The show boldly imagines that those who wish to live will one day get it right. In it I see a spirit similar to the one that animated Mitchell Goodman’s 1970 anthology The Movement Toward a New America, a book I wish I could somehow integrate into my classes. Let’s be straight with ourselves. “The Movement,” as Goodman defines it, “is the act of getting ourselves together. Clarity. Coherence. Community. It is also a vision” (vi). As if hearing a voice speaking out of myself, I read passages written by a man once known as Peter Marin. He tells me, from the future, to look for a book of his called The Free People. At the start of an essay of his featured in The Movement Toward a New America, Marin offers a description of a method of composition eerily similar to the one animating these Trance-Scripts. “Shuffling through my notes,” he writes, “I feel like an archaeologist with a mass of uncatalogued shards. There is a pattern to all this, a coherence of thought, but all I can do here is assemble the bits and pieces and lay them out for you and hope that you can sense how I get from one place to another” (vii). Like Marin, I am “impatient with transition, the habitual ways of getting ‘from here to there.’ I think restlessly; my mind, like the minds of my students, works in flashes, in sudden perceptions and brief extended clusters of intuition and abstraction — and I have stuck stubbornly to that method of composition” (vii).
I busy myself with psychedelic reassembly of cultural memory. Reshuffle the game-pieces and remember differently. The Rajneesh community, occluded for so long, re-enters political consciousness. Our society, drenched in capitalist realism, has no way to conceive utopian aspirations these days beyond “getting from day job to dream job,” as reads the text on a billboard in my neighborhood. This is the great virtue of the Netflix series Wild Wild Country: it reminds us not just to dream big again, but to demand everything.
A singsong routine occurs, a beckoning. Guided by voices, I advance, dreaming up games to be played, video-streaming services stocked with programs. Netflix takes the chill out of my basement with its new series Wild Wild Country, about the Rajneesh movement and its leader, the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. With crowns come guillotines, says a woman onscreen. Seek instead gentle, meditative gardens, oases amid seas of people. Unless those people are white christian practitioners of settler colonialism, who “settle” with bombs and guns and then defend their stolen land with same, heaven forbid others achieve ecstatic union with other deities. The conservative christians are the life-haters, the pleasure-deniers of history. The ultimate invasive species — over the planet they lay their rule.