‘Go Back to Africa’: The X-Men and the continuing war against racism

Cover of Storm No. 1 | Credit: Marvel Comics

Just a few short years ago, politicos, pundits, and the press were celebrating a long fought-for victory — the election of the the first black president. And with it came the arrival of a prophesied paradise — a post-racial America — that moment when our fair nation would final show once and for all that we were all equals, regardless of the color of our skin.

They were full of shit, of course.

Anyone who was paying attention to the 2008 presidential campaign that eventually led to the election of Barack Obama could’ve told you that.

After all, a sizable number of conservatives had no problem making Obama’s race the central line of attack against him. They were a minority, mind you, but a very vocal one.

Among racist dog whistles, their charge was unique.

By questioning the Obama’s place of birth — the African nation of Kenya — the bigoted blowhards created a narrative in which the Democratic candidate wasn’t even a natural-born American citizen, and therefore not able to run for president.

Although it was an effective attack, particularly among the simple-minded racist marks, the carnival barkers’ pronouncement were in the same fetid league as the statements from the post-racial sideshow — they were full of shit.

And not because Obama’s place of birth mattered.

It didn’t.

As the son of an American citizen, he was an American regardless of where he was born.


Be that as it may, the lie never went away.

In the months before Obama left office, and as the race to replace him heated up, the Birthers and the white-fright class reared their heads again.

Perhaps they were emboldened by the eight years their racially charged cause remained a fixture of Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and conspiracy-minded charlatans like Alex Jones of InfoWars.

Perhaps it was the emergence of Donald J. Trump as the GOP nomination.

Or perhaps it was simply because they had been freed from the burden to keep their racist comments to themselves thanks to the one-two-three combination punch of lost jobs, opioid addiction, and endless hucksters selling them a zero-sum, us-against-them snake oil game show in which the truth was called a lie, lies were called the truth, and everybody that didn’t believe exactly what the far-right believed were either seditious socialists or the lizard people who used false flag operations to push their new world agenda.

The reason doesn’t matter. Any of them are plausible, as are countless other possible causes.

The point is the post-racial paradise was a self-delusion at best and a negligent look-away lie at the worst.

The truth is, the United States is at yet another high-tension tipping point, and once again, much of the mess is centered around race, more specifically the very real prejudices that exist in modern American society.

Black Lives Matter. The Emanuel Nine. Colin Kaepernick. Motherfucking Starbucks. Do I need to go on?

I was reminded of this earlier this week when I came across a tweet reportedly presenting two 1976 letters to Marvel Comics. The subject: the X-Men’s new-found diversity.

One writer praised this new team comprised of unexpected additions like Storm, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Wolverine, each one representative of the new multi-national, multi-cultural society that was then beginning to emerge in America.

A black female reader, the writer said that this new team of X-Men gave her hope. And speaking for myself, a Southern white man who was a child at that time, it did the same for me.

But the other letter writer, not so much. This team seemed alien to him. It wasn’t the Real X-Men, a lily white, Beaver Cleaver team composed of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Ice Man, Beast, and Angel. And his argument can be best summed up by this line:

“Have Colossus and Storm get married and leave the X-Men and go back to Africa or some other place, as long as it is far away.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a reader wished that Storm would go back to Africa.

What’s most interesting about this clearly racist directive is how it resonates differently in America 2018 than it would have in America 2008 or 2000 or 1992, times when we honestly thought that a post-racial paradise was on the horizon.

In those earlier years, we would have read that fanboy’s complaint and shaken our heads at the misbegotten, malignant beliefs of the desegregation era.

Unfortunately, today we read this complaint as the summation of a present reality, a world in which the racists are still very much a part of the public sphere and a political force. They burn torches on our college campuses. They dress in riot gear and swing sticks at those who advocate tolerance and peace. They run mainstream news sites designed to spread hate and fear. They even sit in the Oval Office, where they call immigrants rapists, murderers, and, perhaps worse of all, animals.

This is the very future books like the X-Men were trying to help us avoid.

Yet it’s here.

And has been.

And will be.

Just as the X-Men continue to fight for a world in which mutants are not longer hated and feared, we must continue to fight for a better world of our own. —Wyatt Duvall



Stormy Daniels, the sad decline of the porn industry, and the curse of the side hustle

Tonight, Stormy Daniels will take the stage at South Carolina strip club.

For Trump fans, the timing of Daniels’ nudie bar visit must feel like a particular kind of VIP-room kismet, a chance to get a lap dance from the lady who reportedly spanked the president’s ass with a rolled up copy of Forbes magazine.

For others, it’s yet another international embarrassment that they’ll ignore as they watch the stock market rise and wonder when the Trump tax cut will trickle down onto them, and they’ll finally be able to bathe in gold ducats and wet, hot Bitcoins.

But lost in all of this is one cold hard truth: being a porn star has lost its luster. It’s a low-pay, dead-end job.

This wasn’t always the case.

Screenshot 2018-01-18 at 2.54.30 PM

Two decades ago, the Triple X industry reached its peak. The industry’s taboo had worn off to such a degree that nightly news magazines like Entertainment Tonight regularly reported on the genre’s top female stars with all the gushing adoration that they bestowed on Hollywood leading ladies like Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock.

Hugh Hefner had been transformed into a kindly grandfatherly figure that was one part Uncle Walt and one part Viagra prescription. Even infamous smut-master Larry Flynt had been turned in to an American hero despite having his first sexual experience with a chicken. It was nonconsensual. Presumably.

This was an era in which a silicon Barbie like Pamela Anderson could make the transition from Playboy Bunny to the star of of world’s biggest TV show, “Baywatch.”

It was a world in which Jenna Jameson, the star of such X-rated classics as “On Her Back,” “Up and Cummers 17,” and “Philmore Butts’ Taking Care of Business,” would pen a biography that would top the bestsellers list and emerge as one of the first major internet success stories, bringing in $15 million a year through her now defunct website ClubJenna.com.

The following years weren’t bad either, as a wave of leaked home videos turned no-name non-talents like Kim Kardasian into celebrities. Meanwhile, the dirtiest porn star in the biz, Sasha Grey, parlayed her talents into a successful career as an actor (Steven Soderberg’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and HBO’s “The Entourage”), photographer, DJ, and CIA spy. Or at least that’s what Ms. Grey thought for a time.

But along the way from Jameson to the era of Trump and Daniels’ alleged tryst, something happened that destroyed the one-time glamorous life of XXX stars: porn became free.

Sites such as PornHub, Thumbzilla, and countless others came along offering the same content — often pirated — that other subscription-based sites hid behind hefty paywalls.

To make matters worse, the internet, coupled with the decreasing cost of video equipment, unzipped the latex catsuit floodgates on amateur porn and cam girls.

To paraphrase Dave from “2001,” the world was now full of stars, but as a result they had all lost their luster. There simply was little to no money for porn stars to make.

This same thing has happened to rock ‘n’ rollers and journalists. Both of their industries have been decimated by the changes that the internet has brought forth. Where musicians could once make a living on their album sales, now they must relentlessly rely on DIY T-shirts and miscellaneous merch, all while relentlessly hitting the road as both tour manager and roadie and serving as producer and mixer when they make recordings at home. Journalists, meanwhile, no longer even get paid; they only get the promise of more exposure and clicks, clicks, clicks.

When the product you produce is free — and when the barriers to entry have been all but obliterated — the professionals are left with no recourse but to fight over the skinned knee, side-hustle scraps. They become every bit as desperate for any attention, for any retweet mention, for any Like or Share or promise to subscribe to your newsletter, they will gladly put their lips to the privates of any Kickstarter-GoFundMe patron.

Today, porn starlets like Stormy Daniels, Lisa Ann, or Tori Black have to venture out on the strip club circuit when they’re not in L.A. or Vegas or Miami cutting a video.

Even sadder, they routinely have to schedule cam shows and literally beg their would-be laptop paramours into buying them the routine items you or I might order from Amazon — clothes, video games, books.

Like so many today in Trump’s America, they can’t get by on the $50,000 they make each year, despite shooting dozens of films, some even on the same day.

And few things detail just how dreary the financial prospects for porn stars in 2018 America are then then paltry sum of money Trump reportedly paid Daniels to keep the news of their alleged year-long tryst a secret: $130,000.

Consider this: In the late 1980s, Jessica Hanh was paid $363,700 to keep her affair with PTL snake-oil preacher Jim Bakker to keep the lurid details of their dalliance a secret. Spoiler alert: No chickens were harmed and Hahn went on to achieve arm-candy video stardom with non-deceased funnyman Sam Kinison.

Years ago, if Stormy Daniels had waited for her paramour to become president, she could have taken her story to a national publishing house — a Harper Collins or Random House — and sold her story for millions. Needless to say, the resulting press coverage would’ve turned Daniels into a household name.

Now, she’s just a footnote — a strange, sad footnote in a strange, sad tale about the decline of the American dream, one in which even a porn star has to engage in the dreary business of hoofing it from one hopeless gig to another like a some sort of G-string Willie Loman of the modern age. —Wyatt Duvall