Aug. 28th, 2014

transemacabre: (Rose Red)
I have of late become obsessed with the movie Lords of Dogtown, and also the documentary on which it was based, Dogtown and Z-Boys, which tells the story of the rebirth of skateboarding in 70's coastal California and the rise of the three most iconic members of the famous Zephyr skateboarding team: Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Jay Adams. In case you're interested, you can watch Lords of Dogtown for free for the next couple of days on Crackle, and Dogtown and Z-Boys is available on Youtube for free with French subtitles.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered a chapter about this movie and the documentary in Kyle Kusz's book, Revolt of the White Athlete. Kusz treats us to some first-class, missing the fucking point, navel-gazing meta.

It is quite conspicuous and peculiar that this in-depth profile of Adams, a convicted felon, begins with shots of a wide-eyed, smiling, and happy go lucky Adams as a boy. Such images rely on conventional and mutually-reinforcing notions of whiteness and childhood as pure, innocent, and essentially good to activate the affective sympathies of white viewers for Adams. -- pg 127.

Jay Adams was thirteen years old during the beginning of the time period depicted in Lords of Dogtown/Dogtown and Z-Boys. Are the filmmakers supposed to portray him as having been evil from birth? His downfall is made quite clear in both the movie and the documentary. While Alva and Peralta become world champions, ran their own companies, and made millions of dollars, Adams chose the path of violence and drugs, and it eventually drove him into an early grave. This cautionary tale would have no impact on any viewer -- white, black, brown, or green -- if we are not first introduced to a young boy with a lot of talent who squanders it.

... this strategy of constituting white men in a variety of ways as innocent boys who are not quite fully men (think about the films Big, Billy Madison, Forest Gump, About A Boy, or even Fight Club) was yet another popular strategy used to distance and disaffiliate individual white males from white male privilege, as well as, disadvowing its institutional existence. -- pg 128.

All those movies are about fictional characters. Jay Adams was a real human being who really lived and really died. You cannot act like his existence was comparable to that of a fictional person from an Adam Sandler comedy.

At this point, we should recall that Alva's racial/ethnic identity is both suitably ambiguous and unremarked upon throughout the film.... Alva could reasonably be read as Latino, white, black, or bi-racial. -- pg. 129.

Only a fucking idiot could fail to realize that Tony Alva is a Mexican.

The illustration of Alva as a cool and "different" white Z-Boy... Add these black discursive encodings of Alva's white masculinity with heavy emphasis given to his "style" in showcasing Alva's exceptionality. -- pg. 130.

Oh, I forgot, this book is written by a fucking idiot. The Mexican heritage of both Alva and Peralta is brought up several times in both LOD/D&Z. Kusz can't have that, though, so he tries to argue that both of them are 'coded' as white (because only white people are ambitious? Only white people succeed in skateboarding? Only white people own companies and win film-making awards?) and bizarrely tries to make a point that "style" is the exclusive domain of black men and that Alva is leveraging the white privilege he apparently has as a dreadlock-wearing Mexican from the slums of coastal California to steal "style" from black dudes.

By constituting Peralta as the center of the film's [Lords of Dogtown] narrative, the Z-Boys' white masculinity, first and foremost, gets portrayed to the mainstream as: hard-working, desiring upward socio-economic mobility, virtuous, innocent, respectful of women and commercially successful, values better aligned with those of the American middle class. -- pg. 135.

As mentioned before, Peralta is also Mexican! (or rather Mexican-American) And holy shit, what a concept, portraying a Hispanic teenage boy as being hard-working and successful and nice to girls. Only white, middle class Americans want to see protagonists like this.

Also, by arguing that both Peralta and Alva are symbolically white guys, isn't Kyle Kusz committing the very sin he accuses these filmmakers of: erasing their Mexican heritage and portraying them as white heroes for a white audience because they're not authentically "Mexican enough" for Kusz? What would make them "Mexican enough" -- if they wore sombreros and rode on donkeys? This guy is so fucking racist and he can't even see it. Kusz pushes Peralta and Alva to the side in order to focus on the one legit white guy in LOD/D&Z: Jay Adams.

Whereas Alva and Peralta are portrayed in both the movie and the documentary as flawed but exceptional heroes, and Adams as a tragic figure who fell from grace, that doesn't work with the agenda Kyle Kusz is pushing here. He has to downplay Alva and Peralta's Mexican heritage and their achievements in order to promote his agenda. And along the way Kusz throws out some troubling racist stuff without seeming to notice or contemplate on it -- like why is "style" exclusive to black men? Is Kusz saying that black men don't care about substance, only superficiality? Why does Kusz think that teenage boys being portrayed as hard-working, successful, ambitious, and good-hearted is something calculated to appeal to white America? Does he assume that Latinos, blacks, and Asians don't like to see young men portrayed in such a way?


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