He’s dead and she’s half naked. Two images I encounter at every newspaper stand in Mexico City– blood and babes. A magazine cover shows a marijuana leaf and a stiletto heel in the shape of a gun. One newspaper regularly divides its front page with a preening bikini clad woman and cadavers. I’m compelled to believe that the graphicness of the individual images is enhanced when harmonized.
I whipped out a video camera and asked a few questions.
Sex and violence in the media isn’t new; but in the case of Mexico, fantasy is built on painfully real violence. Newspaper vendor Victor Luna tells me the pairing is meant to catch readers with a double barrel shot- the violence of “daily life” and sex, for a touch of “glamour.” One, the sex or the violence is sure to hit.
Ryan Reed Kaufman was 4 years old, unwanted by a mother who smoked crack while she was pregnant, living with a foster family who pacified him with NyQuil every night at bedtime. He had no reason to expect that the grown-ups who came to visit him one day at child protective services might take him home with them.
But he knew enough to try. When they handed him a coloring book, he stayed within the lines as best as he could. When they gave him a box of Legos, he asked to build a house. When it was done, he placed a toy boy inside it and then asked, “Who will take care of the little boy?”
Ryan recalls that moment only vaguely, but he’s heard the story since that meeting in 1992, back when the term “crack baby” was used to describe children such as him and experts predicted that children born to addiction would become a biological underclass, super-predators who would cause the crime rate to surge, a lost generation.
John Silber, then president of Boston University, spoke of “crack babies who won’t ever achieve the intellectual development to have consciousness of God.”
“Theirs will be a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said in 1989.
They were written off even before they could talk. But in the two decades that have passed since crack dominated drug markets in the District and across the nation, these babies have grown into young adults who can tell their stories — and for the most part, they are tales of success.
Vargas then goes over the stories of a few different children who were born with drugs in their system and largely abandoned to the care of the state.
Some of the stories are horrifying:
It was at the height of the crack epidemic that a little girl named Marika came to live with Eunice Boone. Her Capitol Heights house was known as the “reject home,” because she would take the children no one else wanted. After Marika was born, Boone said, the girl’s biological mother told a social worker: “Didn’t I tell you to let that [expletive] die?”
Marika is now 21 years old, living with cerebral palsy, and about to graduate from high school. Boone, her adoptive mother, says she is “doing beautiful.” Continue reading →
Winehouse answers that question by digging deep for scraps of authenticity. In addition to foregrounding her knowledge of R&B history in her lyrics, she mines her personal experiences for material, naming names, keeping those names in the news, and in the process, all but eliminates the barrier between biography and artistic expression, tabloid and Billboard. Only a complete novice could wonder what her songs mean, to which events they refer, or about whom they are written. Meanwhile, she acts out and “keeps it real” by defending her drug and alcohol addictions, and by standing by her jailed ne’er-do-well husband. The whole package smells like a bizarre simulation of a familiar black stereotype.
Wha? This is why I love Lauren – check out what she wrote in response:
To me, she’s not simulating some familiar black stereotype, she is the embodiment of a familiar white one. But I guess I’m wrong.
Winehouse’s musical influences are black, so her sad, sad behavior can be boiled down to her being a little Jewish girl embracing drugs and rejecting her culture in a desperate-but-failed attempt to “keep it real.” Because white people, let alone famous (Jewish) ones, never engage in harmful drug use or marry ne’er-do-wells. If they did, white people like Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty and Lindsay Lohan would be criticized just as much as black hip hop stars for being terrible influences on the children who love their movies and music. Instead, they get pass after pass and often sympathy for what is seen as some isolated problem instead of what it really is, which is flat-out criminal behavior of the sort that non-famous people, particularly non-famous black people (or famous black people, for that matter) actually get sent to prison for.