Review of “BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family”

Cause nothing says “low-key” like putting billboards of yourself and your gang name around Atlanta.

I’d first heard about Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family via trap songs where his name gets dropped. I didn’t think much about it at the time but when doing research on gangs in Miami for the novel series I’m writing I came across their name again. I watched a video that Big Meech had released shortly before he went to prison and a documentary after and was intrigued. I came across a series of articles that Mara Shaloup had written about them as well as a book length treatment that she gave them titled BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family, so I decided to read it. I enjoyed the book. It’s light and quick reading and though remembering the names and relationships of people with multiple aliases was a little confusing at first, the chart included in the book helped make things clear.

Guwop so icey.

The story presented is fascinating and illustrates why Big Meech and the gang he started with his brother Terry became so famous within the hip-hop community. The most obvious manner why he has been so celebrated within that community is his promotion of Young Jeezy at the beginning of his career. While not an official signee to the BMF crew, he clearly gained from being associated with BMF members by gaining a greater aura of authenticity. Shaloup touches upon this and also tells an aside story of the conflict between Jeezy and Gucci Mane that left an associate of the former dead following an attempted robbery. Another reason for Meech’s lionization in the rap community is his attempt at going legit through a record label. While Bleu Davinci, an BMF associate that also engaged in cocaine trafficking, was it’s sole signee – it’s likely that it may have one day been a launching pad for rappers. One of the pictures shown in the book is of a conversation between Meechie and Nelly and his connection with Puff Daddy (Meech employed his cousin), T.I. and other important rappers is also detailed. In a way, this dynamic and these interactions seems like Meech wanted his life to imitate the musical art that he and his crew were so fond of.

One of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed was the description of trafficking craft. How certain hidden compartments in cars were created and opened, pay rates for couriers versus traffickers, means of laundering money, the manner of processing the uncut cocaine for distribution to associated seller, the different types of employee relationships that existed, the wildly excessive partying and extravagant purchases, difficulties felt when trying to “stay off the radar”, how relationships were formed with other crews so that wars were avoided, the relationships forged and destroyed over fear. It makes for compelling reading as even though it’s hard to identify with the people being described one still can’t help but wonder at what point someone is going to get caught. While reading I kept feeling wondrous anticipation as to what it was that would lead to someone’s arrest and, once that was done, wondering if they would snitch.

It’s this, in fact, that makes me feel a little uneasy about the celebrity which Meech has received. Shaloup doesn’t delve into these sorts of reflections, sticking more with the journalists craft, however after reading this and a number of the telephone transcripts available for perusal in the very large prosecutorial file on B.M.F. it’s clear the amount of stress that was felt by the individuals involved in the enterprise. The parties were like over the top cathartic releases for they seemed to all recognize that this was a house of cards and thought they were flying high – such heights meant that like Icarus they’d soon come crashing down. The sole factors involved in the safety maintenance of the operation seemed to be Meech’s code of conduct – No talking on the phone and make your employees love you first and also fear you so they don’t snitch – and a few corrupt people in minor government offices that could provide info or fake identification cards. While not sighting the tails that followed them, they all seemed to recognize – as more bodies of innocents and potential witnesses piled up and as police came to see that people which could potentially testify to crimes would clam up on learning who the suspects were – that greater police attention was being paid to them.

While the greater depth of personal insight into “the game” that I was hoping for was not to be found in the book through quotes or any interview with Meech, I found something of the sort while reading an interview. It seems that after a few years in the pen, when his legal options are dried up, his once boisterous, rebellious energy has disappeared. In his own words he states:

I’m crying inside. I’ve been in the hold on ’23 and 1′ [23 hours in cell and one hour out per day] since June 2011. This SMU sh*t is like a torture camp for real. First, showers are only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Both me and my celly have to cuff up whether one of us is leaving to go to rec, shower, or medical, or if both of us are leaving. Everywhere we go, our hands are in black box handcuffs behind our back with a C.O. holding our cuffs, walking with us. I’m always trying to get out of my handcuffs first because you never know when your celly may have a bad day and jump you while you still have your cuffs on.
There’s three or four fights or stabbings daily, especially since it’s hot. If you disobey them, you’ll get a heavy dose of tear gas, which has the whole building choking and coughing, eyes burning. Then they’ll put you in restraints handcuffed extra tight with a chain around your waist, shackled. I’ve heard grown men cry crocodile tears from their hands swelling and nerve damage from the cuffs. If that’s not enough, they have another form of punishment called “Four Points” where they put you on your back chained around both ankles and wrists in a very cold room with the lights on. Everyone who reads this should look up Lewisburg SMU online and read about the deaths, disfigurements, and inhumane conditions and brutality that goes on in here. So, my days are like a living hell.

It’s at this point that I start to agree with some of the people in the comments section of a number of Hip Hop news sites that despite his “success” it was all a big waste.

One of the other aspects that I found interesting in the book is the narratives about BMF associates that tried to start successful side business to launder money and to potentially become a platform to go legit. There was the BMF record label, of course, but within the story Mara also accounts for a recording studio, a high-end car dealerships and a number of other enterprises. Ironically but perhaps not so surprisingly, the successes that BMF had selling drugs was undermined by their failures as actual businessmen. Another irony is that despite all of the criticisms made by Terry against his brother Meech, it was the latter’s generous attitude and willingness to engage in opulent conspicuous consumption at strip clubs and night clubs with his subordinates that motivated them to not snitch on him once caught. Not that their testimony would have been the point on which the prosecution’s case would have rested in full – but it’s worth noting: as a means of maintaining organizational morale, it turns out that warmth and affection rather than coldness and annoyance have a significant impact.

Yet another major irony illustrated in the book is that after the capture of the Black Mafia Family, the drug task force which had helped bring them down gets disbanded following the accidental death of an elderly woman that the Atlanta Police Department tried to frame as a cocaine trafficker. While not widely announced in the paper, the presence was common knowledge amongst the criminal elements in the area and following this trade picked up apace and with greater openness. This time, however, it was largely done by Mexican gangs with military backgrounds that made the 270 million brought in by the Black Mafia Family look like peanuts.


Some of the original notes and articles from which made the book was written can be found here.



Unpacking Happy's Chapter

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved gangsta movies. I’d set up fake Colombia House accounts in order to get free VHS tapes of films like Menace II Society, Boyz ‘n the Hood, New Jack City, Juice, Paid In Full, and Deep Cover and watch them over and over again.
Whereas Jesse’s chapter is stylized after Spanish picaresque and German Bildungsroman literature, Happy’s is based on these films as well as a number of original documents and documentaries. 1, 2, 3

Rather than merely replicate these narratives, however, I wanted to inverse a number of the tropes that are found in these gangster films/reality to depict a gang that is crypto-socialist, truly consensual work relations rather than that which is strictly primitive-capitalist and based on force.
Now presuming that you’re familiar with the above listed movies, so I don’t have to cite each, here are some of those narrative tropes that I mentioned/inverted.
1. The leader of a group got due to his ruthless violence or a chance encounter with a plug rather than his intellect.
2. The leader of the group stays in power based upon loyalty out of fear and not of love (unless relations are also familial).
3. The capture of power foreshadows similar machinations on the part of someone else within the organization that similarly wants to take over.
4. Wealth created from the criminal venture predominantly accumulates in the hands of those at the top.
5. This wealth created goes primarily towards the administrator’s consumption, which leads to organizational degeneration in some fashion.
6. Money spent is primarily upon luxury goods that are flaunted.
7. This leads to general envy/viewing the criminal enterprise as the best provider for income and entices those willing to do whatever to get it, but this makes community relations poor.
Making an analogy to larger institutions of political economy, as I would like my readers to so, I can say in short hand that the typically depicted criminal association is more akin to an absolute monarchy.
This passage shows Happy’s organization is significantly different and touches upon a number of the problems that will be delved into later in the chapter. Specifically what is the Project; the impact that the investigation into Officer Daniels illegal dealings; who the other person is that Happy is getting information from in the police department; their relationship to the Zoe Pounds; the possibility that some conflict might transpire should a power vacuum be created from several Zoe Pounds members finding themselves arraigned; who are these important people in Atlanta that requires Happy to have to meet them in person, etc.
I’ve still got a lot to write about for this chapter to near completion – but I hope this explanation of a portion of my project and the small section of the chapter convinces you that my serial novel project is worth getting into and you buy Book 1 of Unraveling!

The Expanse and Iberian History and Literature

I wasn’t feeling too well and a science fiction aficionado acquaintance of mine posted praise for a new SyFy show called The Expanse. I decided to give it a try and after watching the first episode I found myself thoroughly absorbed due to it’s compelling characters, intricate plot and high production values. I binged it over the next two days without regrets and look forward to subsequent seasons.

While watching it, I noticed a number of things that weren’t necessarily evident to the average viewer so wanted to share the information informing my enjoyment of it. Spoiler alert to those that have yet to see the show – in order to share my perspective, I have to speak in some detail about a number of points.

The ship Tachi has its name changed to Rocinante

It was upon viewing this name change that a number of previous events in the show took on a new meaning. Tachi is the name of the Mars Class ship that allows James Holden, Naomi Nagata and others to escape attack by an as of yet unknown enemy. Following escape from the battle, the ship is piloted to Tycho Station, an area controlled by Fred Johnson and the Outer Planet Alliance.

Now Rocinante is the name of the not so mighty nag of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Besides the fact that both Rocinantes transport people from adventure to adventure, there’s not much similarity beyond the name. It does, however, hint at a number of interesting signifiers that relates Iberian History and Literature which I touch on below.

Don Quixote is plagued by Enchanters, James Holden is plagued by an unknown Forces

In the first episode we see James Holden, the Executive Officer of The Canterbury, and a small crew launch off their main ship on a small craft to investigate a distress signal. Shortly after discovering that the signal was likely designed to get their main ship to stop its path – a cloaked ship destroys the Canterbury.

A number of Don Quixote’s adventures consist of him misinterpreting circumstances around him for situations that require him to intervene. These interventions, however, don’t actually assist those that he imagines in need of help and result in him getting hurt.
Now, I don’t believe that Holden is a variant or new incarnation of Quixote. From what we know of his character he’s not obsessed with knight-errantry or some other sort of fiction. However, following the death of his crewmates on the Canterbury which he blames himself for, he does seem to gain greater moral agency by uncovering and revealing the REAL truth about the Canterbury – which he is not yet aware of.

The viral spread of Holden’s video denouncing the Martians mirrors the publication of Don Quixote part II in Don Quixote Part IIRemember the Cant

In book two of Don Quixote, the eponymous character learns that the tales of his adventures have been published and he meets many people that are aware of who he is. Quixote does not mind this, but he does take qualm upon learning that a sequel, published by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, is also available for purchase at booksellers stalls and that it contains many falsehoods. Don Quixote criticizes this False Quixote and even adjusts some of his behaviors so as to not be mistaken for the fake one.
Holden’s transmits a video denouncing the Martians for their purported blowing up of the Canterbury. This video makes him known far and wide. Upon encountering Martian consumers of the material, however, this fame is turned into infamy. He later realizes that they are not the one responsible and thus tries to correct the false image of him that exists in people’s minds.

Episode 7, titled Windmills, features a copy of Cervantes’ Quixote that is the brief subject of conversation between Holden’s mother and Avasarala

That’s mostly it in the headline. The only additional comment worth making is how it is that here we learn that Holden doesn’t, according to his mother, recognize Don Quixote as a tragedy. While I’d argue that Don Quixote isn’t tragedy – though it does has elements of it – it’s interesting that this comment is made to provide insight into Holden’s character.

The Geographic relationship between the Outer Belt and the Core Planets mirrors that of Spain and the Colonies

Placing the two maps side by side ought to suffice to illustrate this point.


The Expanse solar system map


However I think that it’s worth reinforcing this point through the below one.

The Economic relationship between the Outer Belt and the Core Planets mirrors that of Spain and it’s Colonies

The-Expanse-Series-Premiere-Chrisjen theexpanses01e01177

The Outer Planets exist in a relationship to Earth of complete economic dependence. Air and the technologies needed to survive are scarce. Belters lives on the physical and technical periphery of interplanetary trade. It is a large part of the reason that they have organized themselves into economic/political alliance. Why? Because resource extraction seems to be the primary economic activity and thus they are for the most part the suzerain partner to the much larger state. The Belt clearly demonstrates the qualities of a periphery as described in a historical context in Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Dependency and Development in Latin America and Immanuel Wallerstein’s Modern World Systems series.
While there are numerous allusions to this dynamic within the conversations of the characters I could quote, I found the graphic depiction of this relationship as illustrated following the capture of an OPA smuggler by United Nations forces to be particularly compelling.Chrisjen Avasarala, a powerful UN executive, submits the smuggler to gravity torture. His body is so distorted that literally can’t even stand up on his own – thus drastically limiting the possibilities for occupational development elsewhere. This is the curse of many a export economy, which is unable to develop a middle class due to underdevelopment.

The OPA Symbol is the IWA Symbol


Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.19.49 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.06.53 PM

The International Workers Association, also called the First Internationale, was an umbrella group for Anarchist and Socialist groups organizing in Europe founded in 1864. It was internationalist in orientation, but split into two main factions that disagreed whether or not to engage in parliamentary struggle or not. The faction supporting Mikhail Bakunin – the wing that rejected such struggles and which would later advocate for propaganda by the deed in the form of bombings and assassinations found it’s most numerous and vibrant following in Spain.

I don’t mean by the above to put forward an argument that claims that Iberian History and Culture are as influential to The Expanse as Game of Thrones is to the War of the Roses – as shown below – but merely to shows some interesting overlaps that I noticed with an area of my study.

On The Historical Echoes of Kanye West's Notion of Freedom


My DP1 – History of the America’s students are now reading Reconstruction by Eric Foner and one of them pointed out the above tweet to me by Kanye West. What’s the connection between the two? Well, let me juxtapose it with this quote by Thaddeus Stevens, bold section added by me:

We especially insist that the property of the chief rebels should be seized and [used for] the payment of the national debt, caused by the unjust and wicked war they instigated…

The whole fabric of southern society must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. Without this, this government can never be, as it has never been, a true republic…

Nothing is so likely to make a man a good citizen as to make him a freeholder [landowner]. Nothing will so multiply the production of the South as to divide it into small farms. Nothing will make men so industrious and moral as to let them feel that they are above want and are the owners of the soil which they till… No people will ever be republican in spirit and practice where a few own immense manors and the masses are landless. Small and independent landholders are the support and guardians of republican liberty.

To give the above quote by Stevens context. It’s also worth noting that in class we’ve been discussing different conceptions of law – whether it be the preservation of private property or that of justice (however so conceived) and how political expediency plays a major role in the determination of which is used.

Given the discourse that #blacklivesmatters and public intellectuals like Ta-Nehisi Coates have brought up surrounding reparations and the context of the Thaddeus Stevens quote, I thought the connection between the two though rather apt. How so? Well, freed slaves unable to get access to good or significant amounts of land because private property – even if garnered by hook and crook – is considered inviolable means that while they may be legally free (though the Black Codes of the time made this not so) they still exist at the economic whim of their masters and are thus only slightly raised in stature. Having been dispossessed and exploited without recompense, this group was unable to accumulate the capital for communal development in a similar manner to way that yeoman, plantation, merchant and financier cultures were. Worth mentioning is that this population was also at the mercy of myriad actions subsequent to this particular epoch that had a similar thrust. Kanye here seems to be pointing out that the economic liberty and freedom as propagandized today via capitalism or yesteryear via the Free Labor ideology, is something murkier than such ideologues would suggest. Freedom requires a greater degree of an even economic playing field lest aspirations of Republican liberty turn into the reality of plutocratic tyranny .

From this perspective the above Kanye quote is spot on and furthermore the Tidal music streaming service that ‘Ye is a founding investor in is not merely a selfish means for obtaining a larger share of profits for his product – though this is true – but also reflects the greater relations of labor in the music industry. Specifically the manner in which large companies like Apple, via iTunes, and Spotify, Pandora, etc. society that capitalizes on the products of black artists/entrepreneurs. The are, in a significantly different way but still comparable nonetheless, the manors of today. Towards this end the demographics of the majority composition of “founding” artists – Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, J. Cole – is significant. Are there some white artists that have joined, yes, but the underlying truth remains the same – music producers are incredibly dependent on the owners of content/distribution and will not get a “fair share” unless they have greater access and strength in the market.

An even deeper reading could suggest that those which have manipulated government policy by forcing them into a formal of capitalist exchange that they are severely disadvantaged in for their personal financial well being are deserving of expropriation. I’m not suggesting that Kanye has become someone who advocates for massive redistribution of wealth, but considering the level of Roaring Twenties level of income disparity in this country wherein 1.5 million households (over 3 million children) live in extreme poverty and the U.S. Debt is as of writing this 16.3 trillion dollars, one can see the argument underlying Kanye’s short tweet.


Thaddeus Stevens, “Thaddeus Stevens Calls for Redistribution of Confederate Land,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 2, 2016,


Picchi, Aimee, “The surging ranks of America’s ultrapoor,” accessed March 2, 2016,

A Genealogical Contribution to the Visual Economy of Early American Radicals


Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests
Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests

This essay is part of a larger project that analyzes the rhetorical methods found in late 19th and early 20th Century American newspapers used to mobilize support against the various radical groups then agitating and organizing for a revolutionary movement. Before I begin my analysis of the image, however, let me quickly define what exactly I mean by the term “radicals”. My use of this word is meant to include Socialists and Anarchists. The first term refers to parties explicit in their Marxist orientation, such at the Socialist Labor Party of America and includes organized by Daniel De Leon. The definition of anarchism I intend is more complicated, and best understood by reading Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der

Walt’s book Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Putting their several introductory chapters into a few sentence, their classification of the “broad anarchist tradition” rejects the notion that individualists, like Max Stirner, libertarians opposed to class struggle, like Leo Tolstoy or economic mutualists, like P.J. Proudhon, are anarchists. According to the authors, anarchist thought stems from the writings of Mikael Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin and as such can be tenuously classified with Socialists despite their antagonistic history due to a similar criticism of capitalism, equal avowal of the desirability of socialism/communism, and the need for organized struggle to achieve it. The best American example in this time period of such an organization would be the Industrial Workers of the World.

The image I’ve chosen to dissect is titled “Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests”. It was illustrated by Frank Beard for Judge magazine and published on February 7th, 1885. ”Judge…”, according to the Finding Aid to the Judge Magazine Illustration Collection, at the Delaware Art Museum: “…allied with the Republican Party and supported the candidacy of William McKinley largely through the cartoons of leading cartoonist Grant Hamilton. Circulation for Judge was about 85,000 in the 1890s” (Delaware). Given that the United Stated population at this period was around sixty‐two million, that the magazine was only distributed in the east coast and that as is the case with magazines today, it is un likely that their subscribers were the sole viewers of content and thus the actual number of people presumed to be coming into contact with the magazine should be considered higher. The number of viewers could easily be two to ten times their circulation numbers. However large

the viewership, the time length of Beard’s image would likely be short lived, surviving only as long as the owner of the magazine would keep it. The 16‐page magazine was printed weekly on letter size paper. Furthermore, Judge did not have a readership so much as a viewership due to the fact that the magazine was composed solely of cartoon images. Whether or not this is due to marketing considerations for the large but diminishing amount of illiterate people and immigrants with little to no knowledge of English is an unanswerable consideration, however this does indicate that the magazine did not require the same intellectual foreknowledge as Harpers Weekly and thus was more widely accessible to illiterate or semi‐literate audiences. What is clear, however, is that the magazines telos. The printed images in Judge were not just light‐hearted, humorous takes on current events, but the dissemination of specific associations and ideas that work to normalize a particular perspective within the reader and thus naturalize response to unfolding political events.

While assessing the effect that caricature had on the popular political conscious in America, Donald Dewey quotes the historian Charles Press, who states that: “the political cartoon has always been an aesthetic achievement only by accident. Its purpose is propaganda, not art” (Dewey 9). That such anti‐radical/anti‐ immigrant propaganda as Beard’s is being published at the time relates to the historical immigration of millions into America from Europe as well as the growing number and intensity of conflicts between Capital and Labor. Interestingly enough, this cartoon was published a year prior to the Haymarket Incident in Chicago, which was the first time the use of explosives occurred in a conflict between workers and

police. The anxiety expressed by this Republican/Right leaning magazines image is thus that the tactics of attendats and propaganda by the deed used by European radicals would soon be used in America.

Moving from the historical context of the images publication to the image itself, it becomes evident that there are several manners in which it seeks to legitimize the American government’s exceptional treatment of foreign‐born radicals as a means of preserving the status quo of liberal capitalism. Identifying and classifying these ideologies illuminates a part of the process as to how these immigrants were allowed to have a biological existence, but at points where their political life conflict with the interests of the State or Capital then they have reduced or no legal rights. Logos and mythos, logic and myth, combine in this image to form a meme, that continues to this day and is still used to delegitimize radical praxis, wherein exclusionary, repressive and oppressive practices are recuperated within purportedly pluralistic government. By wrestling with the slanders, contemporary radicals would be able to better present themselves to those that aren’t already involved in the movement.

The radicals trying to enter Liberty Hall are identifiable as criminals not only due the words inscribed upon them, the objects they hold, the knives, guns and dynamite that they possess but also due to their facial features. In the time period prior to this images publication the now discredited scientific theories of the Italian physiognomist Cesare Lombroso held sway within the public imagination and law enforcement. The definitive corpus of Lombroso’s work was to determine the traits

of social undesirables such that those who fell within these categories would be immediately discernable to police, who might mistake them for “normal” and law‐ abiding human beings. Lombroso not only classified the facial features of Italians that were prostitutes, thieves and brigands, but also of political criminals. Using the portraits of prominent in the 1848 French Revolution, Lombroso determined the facial features of those prone to insurrection and shortly after the Haymarket events, Lombroso even wrote an essay on the incident called Illustrative Studies in Criminal Anthropology, wherein he states that it is not so much the fault of the Chicago anarchists themselves for their actions, but their inheritance of “characters common to criminals and to the insane…” (Lombroso). Within this context, it is important to note that the faces of the anarchists in Beards illustration bear the atavistic stigmata of criminals and the insane according the physiognomy outlined by Lombroso. The foremost figure has a large, prominent chin, and high cheekbones – all the traits of the “born criminal”, while the pointed nose, saucer‐like ears and the beady eyes of the Nihilist are the qualities that Lombroso associates with the insane. By using this pseudo‐scientific discourse, also used by Joseph Conrad in his description of anarchists in his book The Secret Agent, the radicals claims for political agency are shown to be the claims of those that are devolved or mentally deranged. It is worth noting that this meme did not originate in the American context with Lombroso, but has resonances in Dr. Benjamin Rush, the founder of American psychiatry who discovered a mental imbalance called “anarchia”, which was characterized by an excessive desire for liberty.

Moving from the facial qualities of the undesirables to the stances of the three radicals in the foreground it is worth noting that all are walking slouched over with their body close to the ground. This gives the appearance not only that they are stalking, in this case Law and Order, but also that they’ve some difficulty in standing upright. They are thus shown to be closer to animals than civilized people, who no longer need to hunt with their hands. This image resonates with depictions of Blacks and Irish as monkeys in Judge and similar illustrated magazines such as Puck. Furthermore the contemporary associations given to the term upright, such as in someone being morally upright, apply and thus further relate these people with blackguards. Continuing to examine their physical features, it becomes evident that it is not just their criminal faces and stances that show them to be associated with darkness, baseness and badness.

All of the faces of the foreign born are all darkened or appear dirty. This quality, just as the French perceived Ali in Ali, Fear Eats the Soul, is in keeping with conceptual hierarchies of a nationalism that views foreigners as undeserving of equal treatment due to some essential difference. This aspect of the illustration becomes particularly noteworthy when one points out that their facial shading is incongruent with the illustrations light source. The sun is somewhere near midday to the bottom right hand corner of the painting, and even though the four group of men standing center right and the two men hutched over closest to them should all have their faces lit up, they are not. Furthermore, their positionality shows those closest to Liberty as having their backs to the light. Liberty, on the other hand, is a radiant as she faces the light. Thus while darkness, taken to be barbarism, ignorance

and arbitrary actions is a defining characteristic of the anarchists depicted, light, viewed as Enlightenment, Intelligence and Just Law, prominently defines their opponent. This allegorical element of the picture is not exceptional, as the whole illustration is an allegory.

Viewing the allegorical image from its narrative beginning we see the radicals swimming in the background, emerging from the sewers of Russia, Germany and Italy to cross the Atlantic Ocean and entering into the United States through . The historical fact that these immigrants brought over to fill factories and began fighting for less exploitative working conditions is thus transmogrified into a situation where they make up the refuse, the trash, the shit, the unwanted, the undesirable of these countries. They are like sewer rats that spread disease, the disease of Socialism, Nihilism, Anarchism and Communism, and they are just as dangerous as the rats that spread the Black Plague. As such all of the associations with trash, shit and rodents should apply these people. They, like trash, should be thrown out and not thought about. They smell and are unsanitary, their lives are not worth consideration, they must be repelled, chased back into the darkness, or even killed to stop the spread of social disease. The reification of this class of people is similar to that as outlined within Edward Said’s book Orientalism, but as the physical and historical context of people is changed, the political praxis is altered as well. Columbia’s placement with the dogs at the border to the U.S. is thus notification that as there is no metaphysical barrier keeping the foreign radicals from crossing the border, patriotic Americans need to be on guard for those disseminating seditious and rebellious ideas. The foreigners must be watched and

potentially disciplined, as there are elements within them that are dangerous to the conservation of the status quo.

This becomes evident when recognizing that the incarnation of Law and Order in the form of the two dogs keeping the Radicals at bay works to mystify the material political relations. Police, Order and the court system, Law, are shown to be mere symbols and unrelated to a specific economic system or the people which benefit by such an order. The allegorical form of the cartoon thus works to hide the fact that: “In all societies based on a social division of labor, the class or bloc of classes that controls the surplus value needs society‐wide help to legitimate the means by which it extracts it and to repress those who refuse to go along” (Ollman 201). By excising this material element of the depicted socio‐economic conflict, the presentation of actors in combat merely a furthers the comprehending of the historical situation as a metaphysical battle between Order and Chaos, Good and Evil, Liberty and Radicalism. All of this is accomplished by the mystifying nature of the cartoon allegory. While writing specifically about Daumier’s cartoons during periods of social conflicts that would end in multiple French revolutions, conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck’s presents an insight into the nature of Daumier’s art that is equally applicable to this allegorical caricature. Speaking of the universality within the works of Daumier, Koselleck writes that: “Enduring symbols become historicized, historical signals symbolized. What is figuratively held together on one level creates a provocative, incongruous element in the picture (271)”. Thus in the process of genuine history becoming myth, myth then becomes genuine history. This allegory, then hides the fact that the more than 37 million people that

immigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1917 were not part of some invasion to destroy the then ruling government but were encouraged to migrate on behalf of industrialists in need of more labor power. The vices associated with the foreigners, such as having a poor toilet, and the violent aspirations of some to overthrow capitalism, while stemming for a class basis, become essentialized as qualities inherent to people from a specific place.

Speaking on the power of mystification in The Dialectics of Seeing, aesthetician and philosopher Susan Buck‐Morrs examines the analysis of mythic consciousness in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, limns the philosophy of historical experience and concludes that “Myths give answers to why the world it as it is when an empirical cause and effect cannot be seen, or when it cannot be remembered.” I would add to her statement that those that seek to propagate myths about historical situations, such as the one being discussed here, seek to impart an ahistorical paradigm to the viewer for particular purposes. The rhetorical impact of such framing is to benefit the ruling class such that people believe that those contesting the legitimacy of government are simply criminals, crazies and barbarians who are the sworn enemies of all that is Good. The attitude in this illustration is not without historical effect. With the nationalist/capitalist discourse tied to Columbia, Liberty Hall and the dogs of Law and Order and the emphasis of the “foreignness” of the populist radical movement, typical occurrences not particular to radical movements but to the labor movement as a whole, such as strikes and meetings to educate, agitate and organize the workers, are not only cast as emerging from non‐ Americans, but concomitantly as being harmful to Americans. This harm to

American would be equated with strikes leading to stops in production that could lead to fuel, food or other supply shortages and the owners of production insisting via their media outlets that the impetus for such actions stemmed from foreign agitators. The benefits of such a framing of people’s demands for better working conditions and increased pay has several consequences. As a force that is construed to be “anti‐American”, any action that disrupts normal business can thus justify, within limit, the use of the police, paramilitary, private military and military means to end strikes. Furthermore, the purportedly foreign nature of such sentiments for economic democracy could be used to increase levels of exclusion and repression by presenting groups engaged in class warfare as the direct or indirect puppets of foreign governments.

It is of the utmost importance to recognize that these rhetorical aspects of Beard’s allegorical caricature are not merely on the plane of conflicting sentiments with various publications with different positions of immigrations and capitalism, or on the realm of possibility, but that it relates to actual events. Analyzing the historical record it is worth nothing that when historians weight in on the conflicts between Capitalists and Radical elements in the United States, the accord is always given to the fact that the United States had one of the most violent labor histories at that time period. Since the time of this images publication to the first national strike of July 14th 1877, and even after, the number of laborers killed by Federal Troops, National Guardsmen, militias and private detective agencies such as the Pinkertons far outnumbers those killed by radical activists. The assassinations of influential people such as Joe Hill, Frank Little and Harry Sims and massacres at places such as

Thibodaux, Bay View, Haymarket, Lattimer, Ludlow, and the West‐Virginia Mine War are just a small sampling of the violence enacted upon those workers seeking to better their pay or working conditions. While there a few violent events at the initiation of radicals would later transpire, the sensational news stories in the yellow papers combined with images such as Beard’s vastly overrepresented the violence of some radicals and underrepresented their actual presence. The message circulated within this image amongst the populace, and especially among the political parties representing the capitalists leadership image is thus that workers should not be allowed to pursue their own agency, which is construed as alien to native‐born Americans, foreigners are exposing them to ideas that might exacerbate conflict and such sentiments need to be contained.

In this image, where class antagonisms are transmogrified into conflict between good and evil, truth and falsity, sane and insane, legality and criminality, the highest aspirations of society and it’s basest depravities, evolution and devolution, indeed: of civilization and barbarism it becomes clear the fear that the subscribers to Judge had of the forceful overturning these binary constructions. And at this point it is worth noting that Beard’s cartoon is a clear artistic opposition to what Walter Benjamin defined as the “wish image”. Whereas the wish image was that which emerged from workers utopian urge for a classless society based upon the potentialities present within the industrial revolution, it is this contrary, nightmare image that incarnates the need to accept inequity as inevitable and illustrate the desire to combat economic imbalances as pathological. Incorporating another concept of Benjamin’s into the analysis and presenting this particular

illustration as a dialectical image, we can see in the illustration not only the brief history of the radical movement in the United States previously described, but also a glimpse of the future.

As American manufacturers were forced to deal with radical and labor movements that managed to get some, if comparatively little, concessions after a long period of unencumbered growth due to the destruction of production sites in World War Two, they were forced to move their sites of production overseas to places where class conflict, human rights and legality wasn’t so much of a problem. They thus searched for and found foreign governments that would act as satraps for the United States business interests. During this process and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they created a space wherein they lost their ability to effectively mobilize nationalistic sentiments against American radicals in the same manner. In fact they’ve opened up a space that encourages a potentially radical development. While such groups have been several steps behind the increasingly fast movement of capital, as more people become disillusioned with the myth of universal possibility for prosperity in America spaces for reorganization emerge. As this happens, due to gradual disillusion with the government, it is worth noting that similar motifs will again emerge in the press, as they are starting to now within certain circles.

Not all of the motifs can be the same, however. It is now impossible for facial features to be legitimately used to illustrate the undesirableness of a political philosophy and the xenophobia propagated within Beard’s caricature is no longer

applicable. The only form that’s left in this image for use by such groups is then caricature itself. It is here worth noting that this image isn’t atypical of artistic production created in the interest of capitalists, conservatives or counter‐ revolutionaries. As Slavoj Zizek notes in his book First as Tragedy, Then As Farce:

Enemy propaganda against radical emancipatory politics is by definition cynical – not in the simple sense of not believing its own words, but at a much more basic level: It is cynical precisely insofar as it does believe its own words, since its message is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad, such that radical change will only make things worse.

In the terms of Engels, one might paraphrase the above by saying that the only thing that artists connected with anti‐radical movements can do in combating such a humanistic tendency is to negate their vision rather than affirming their own as superior. For evidence of this in the literary world, one can see that the great propagandas of capitalism are dystopias or exceptional stories rather than positive portraits of widespread potentials existing within capitalism. Contemporary mainstream media television broadcasting that claims to be news outlets can only make comments lacking any depth or historical insight about modern radicals contesting capitalism. By becoming aware of the effects that representation has had on domestic American radical groups they can, perhaps work to counteract the press given to them in the manner similar to the way in which contemporary religious groups fight against what they construe as hate speech. As such Beard’s image that negates the aspirations of workers and leads to the aforementioned political practices, when it is itself negated becomes an important image in the development of alternatives to Capitalism.


Buck‐Morrs, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing.

Dewey, Donald. The Art of Ill Will

Delaware Art Museum. “Judge Magazine.” Biography

Koselleck, Reinhart. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts

Lombroso, Casear. “The Phisiognomy of the Anarchists: Illustrative Studies In Criminal Anthropology”

Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic.

Review of The Half Has Never Been Told

Shortly after reading The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist a friend that knew I was reading it sent me a link to a Huffington Post article stating that Ta-Nehisi Coates had suggested it as one of the critical books for understanding the early experiences of Africans and their masters in America. I was pleased to learn that something that I’d chosen to read was part of the critical zeitgeist that had more American’s interrogating the relationship between white and black American life, though found myself at times writhing in my reading chair due to the depredations that enslavers enacted upon their “investments”. This is because while Baptist illustrates the multi-faceted and evolving qualities of American slavery in a aesthetically and rhetorically compellingly manner, there is a discomfort emerges from the experiences of individual slaves that demonstrate a morally corrupt political regime that transformed lives into mere economic calculations on a bottom line. Such discomforting emotions are not, however, to be avoided but are to be confronted if one is to gain a greater appreciation of the realities that informed our contemporary society.

The book opens with vivid descriptions of the coffles driven by the “Georgia men” from the Chesapeake area to the South and West of the U.S. states as well as the territories not yet officially integrated into the federal system. By limning the relationship between center and periphery, a foundational concept within dependency theory, Baptist shows how the slave-owners were able to pressure and persuade their northern political counterparts through a number of means in order to get a power disproportionate to their population size within the Federal government. Key to understanding this is the legal designation of black both as 3/5 of a person and also a property that is wholly subject to the desired of the owners.

This quantification of laborers into abstractions of works had a number of intentions. It sought to erase not only the familial connections by separating family members but also the skills that those slaves in the Chesapeake region had accumulated. In the some of the northern regions those slaves that were skilled in the trades were able to make a more bearable life for themselves, however once in the south and west they became radically alienated. One’s skill as a carpenter, after all, has little use for picking the tiny white pieces of cotton. Incentives for working were almost wholly absent and instead corporeal discipline of a different sort from the North was the norm. Such abstraction was not merely for the purposes of work in the fields but also work in the bedroom. Female slaves increasingly came to be prized for their physical attractiveness and the degree of resistance they put towards males sexual advances.

Illustrated on a bar graph, one can see the productivity rates per slave rising over time as a result of the increasingly violent “whipping machine” at a rate equal to our higher than workers in the industrial north. Increasingly larger capital slave-holders displaced smaller ones. A bubble in the slave market as well as problems selling cotton goods due to the Boxer rebellion caused massive economic disruption and depression. Seeking to flee their creditors, a large number of those that once had “Alabama fever” took their capital investments with them to Texas. While the fact that Atlantic slave trade and dispossession of native lands was the primary impetus for the rise of industrial capitalism is something that has been long established by historians and political economists, this fact is often ignored or unknown amongst the general population. Though Baptist is primarily concerned with the slavery experience, his sections of comparative analysis as to the purported efficiencies of it compared to the inchoate northern industries is useful in explaining how the Southern slave-owning elite were able to become so rich and influential despite their being almost unanimously condemned as cruel and awful people within polite society outside of the South.

The chapter on the transformation of slavery from simple single ownership to financial instruments I found to be exceptionally fascinating. Requiring credit to obtain lands and slaves, intermediary firms would create bonds that were based on slave’s future labors and sell them on the international market. Thus while slavery was illegal in Europe, the capital of Capital, financial firms still implicated the purchasers of them into the nexus of Atlantic slavery. Such individuals weren’t the only ones that facilitated the slave trade and the trade in slave extracted goods. A number of states, specifically Louisiana was influenced by the slave-owning elite to sell bonds for the creation of cotton transportation infrastructure that would be paid for if need be by all and not just the slave-owning citizens.

These items are mentioned as it is meant to present a counter-narrative to the largely Southern antebellum historiography that presented slavery as paternalistic and the northern historiography that presented it as ineffective and irrational. There are many more aspects of Southern slavery and it’s relationship to the industrializing North – be it ideological, financial, etc. – that Baptist goes into that are worth touching upon. I would, however, simply suggest that those interested read the book as it is excellent. And with that said, I’m interested in any books or articles that deal with the manner in which these experiences had on the epigenetic effects of the African-American traumatic experiences. If you know of something please email me. Also, for those interested in reading Eric Foner, one of my favorite American historians, review of the book should read this article on New York Times website.

Review of This Is How You Lose Her

Continuing my study of Junot Diaz I read This Is How You Lose Her, which is a collection of nine short stories set in New Jersey in the Dominican Republic. I read it over two days, finding much of what I loved about The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as well as much of what I disliked about it. I, unlike Maureen Corrigan, liked the style. However like her I had difficulty in finding myself drawn to these characters. More below.

While I am in wholehearted agreement that Diaz’s style is unique and compelling, I say this as someone that doesn’t read a large amount of modern novelists, preferring at this moment the classics of world literature. That caveat given, I find the pacing, the internal dialogue, and the terminology to be compelling. Unfortunately I believe that here the insertion of Spanish here to be much less sensible than that in Wao. It seems without rhyme or reason, perhaps merely to remind the lazy reader that the narrator is from a Spanish-speaking country. This takes away a little for me, but is no big deal.

Another of the aspects that I liked of the collection is that Yunior, a character from Wao, features in a number of these shorts. Through them Diaz provides a fragmented but insightful backstory. Using Oscar’s terms, however, it’s a number of flashbacks instead of a Star Wars Prequel – meaning that we get glimpses of insight that appear to this read more as an accumulation of stories about someone rather than the story of someone. This may seem like a minor issue of semantics, but it is not. Let me delve into this some more as it relates to Yunior and the other characters.

The dislocating pressures wrought by migration, poverty, anomie, alienation and how they make maintaining a strong family and upright individual identity difficult is made clear and visceral through Diaz’s prose. The longing for a better life and willingness to endure painful humiliations because of it is masterfully wrought. The manner in which Diaz depicts his characters faith that once their goals are achieved happiness will be obtained is brilliant and furthered by their subsequent turn to dissatisfactions with the new conditions. These general commentaries on the fleeting nature of the preconditions to human happiness is not the issues. Neither is it the prose that I find problematic. It’s the characters themselves. As I’ve said in my review of Wao, while I am able to follow a narrator with which I don’t have a strong identification with – I am prone to be less sympathetic to them. There is very little in the way of laudable personality traits or character development in the tales and rather than showing deep insight they all seem to have a debilitating lack of self-knowledge and a blinding ignorance on to handle the issues that faces and oppresses them them.

Now after reading a work that I enjoy I typically review critical literature on it. Lacking access as I do right now to online databases I’m limited to Google, but despite this I found this article by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert. Being a Hispanic Studies and Literature scholar, she is able to comment upon feelings that the stories evoked in me with greater insight. One of the comments that relates to the above that Paravisini-Gebert made that I resonated with is on this. Comparing Diaz to another Hispanic author (that I am now interested in reading), she states the following:

“If Down These Mean Streets was a book of searing accusation against those forces in American society that con¬demned some ethnic minorities to alienation, discrimination, and disil¬lusionment, it was also a book that assumed that these conditions could be altered through political action and consciousness-raising. There is no such faith in concerted community action in Drown; there is, as a matter of fact, little semblance of a community – in the sense of groups living lives of multileveled communication with each other. There are friends and neighbors who come across each other from time to time in these tales, but they merge and separate, like the proverbial ships that pass in the night, leaving little in their wake. James Woods, in his review for the New Republic, accurately points to the stories “skillfully” catching Diaz’s characters “in their own glue of confusion, unable or unwilling to change anything.”

Now I recognize that a flawed character is part and parcel of the world and literature. A number of my favorite books – The Thief’s Journal, the characters that fill Dostoyevsky and Henry Miller’s oeuvres – as well as the sociopathic characters that I enjoy from the Golden Age of TV have such flaws. These are all, however, drawn together within a greater narrative that gives their tales some greater meaning. While this particular problem I see with the collection could be seen as a problem of art form of short stories itself, counterfactuals exist in Borges, Kafka, Tolstoy and others. Yes these character’s are all “realistic,” but just because they are real doesn’t mean they are worth of our attention. All that said, I feel in closing that I must state that despite my politico-aesthetic criticisms, the book reads well and will likely be read long into the future. I could certainly see myself, like a number of my friends that are in the creative writing profession, use this to teach style from.

Lastly, for those that want to read one of the selections gratis, I would suggest The Cheaters Guide to Love. Reading it I was taken aback at how eerily similar to some of my own experiences in my early 20s and I think it is the strongest work in the collection.