Watch a Never-Aired TV Profile of James Baldwin (1979)

In 1979, just a couple of months into his stint with 20/20, ABC’s fledgling television news magazine, producer and documentarian Joseph Lovett was “beyond thrilled” to be assigned an interview with author James Baldwin, whose work he had discovered as a teen.

Knowing that Baldwin liked to break out the bourbon in the afternoon, Lovett arranged for his crew to arrive early in the morning to set up lighting and have breakfast waiting before Baldwin awakened:

He hadn’t had a drop to drink and he was brilliant, utterly brilliant. We couldn’t have been happier.

Pioneering journalist Sylvia Chase conducted the interview. The segment also included stops at Lincoln Center for a rehearsal of Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, and the Police Athletic League’s Harlem Center where Baldwin (and perhaps the camera) seems to unnerve a teen reporter, cupping his chin at length while answering his question about a Black writer’s chances:

There never was a chance for a Black writer.  Listen, a writer, Black or white, doesn’t have much of a chance. Right? Nobody wants a writer until he’s dead. But to answer your question, there’s a greater chance for a Black writer today than there ever has been.

In the Manhattan building Baldwin bought to house a number of his close-knit family, Chase corners his mother in the kitchen to ask if she’d had any inkling her son would become such a success.




“No, I didn’t think that,” Mrs. Baldwin cuts her off. “But I knew he had to write.”

Baldwin speaks frankly about outing himself to the general public with his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room and about what it means to live as a Black man in a nation that has always favored its white citizens:

The American sense of reality is dictated by what Americans are trying to avoid. And if you’re trying to avoid reality, how can you face it?

Nearly 35 years before Black Lives Matter’s formation, he tackles the issue of white fragility by telling Chase, “Look, I don’t mean it to you personally. I don’t even know you. I have nothing against you. I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t swear to the freedom of all mankind and put me in chains.”

The finished piece is a superb, 60 Minutes-style profile that covers a lot of ground, and yet, 20/20 chose not to air it.

After the show ran Chase’s interview with Michael Jackson, producer Lovett inquired as to the delay and was told that no one would be interested in a “queer, Black has-been”:

I was stunned, I was absolutely stunned, because in my mind James Baldwin was no has-been. He was a classic American writer, translated into every language in the world, and would live on forever, and indeed he has. His courage and his eloquence continue to inspire us today.

On June 24, Joseph Lovett will moderate James Baldwin: Race, Media, and Psychoanalysis, a free virtual panel discussion centering on his 20/20 profile of James Baldwin, with psychoanalysts Victor P. Bonfilio and Annie Lee Jones, and Baldwin’s niece, author Aisha Karefa-Smart. Register here.

H/T to author Sarah Schulman

Related Content: 

Why James Baldwin’s Writing Stays Powerful: An Artfully Animated Introduction to the Author of Notes of a Native Son

Watch the Famous James Baldwin-William F. Buckley Debate in Full, With Restored Audio (1965)

James Baldwin’s One & Only, Delightfully-Illustrated Children’s Book, Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (1976)

Listen to James Baldwin’s Record Collection in a 478-track, 32-Hour Spotify Playlist

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Revisiting Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and the Album That Opened R&B to Resistance: Revisited 50 Years Later

I just want to be heard and that’s all that matters. — Marvin Gaye

R&B superstar Marvin Gaye was more than willing to risk his career on a record.

His polished public persona was a false front behind which lurked some serious demons — depression and addiction, exacerbated by the illness and death of his close friend and duet mate, Tammi Terrell.

His downward spiral was also fueled by his distress over events of the late 60s.

How else to respond to the Vietnam War, the murder of civil rights leaders, police brutality, the Watts Riots, a dire environmental situation, and the disenfranchisement and abandonment of lower income Black communities?




Perhaps by refusing to adhere to producer Barry Gordy‘s mandate that all Motown artists were to steer clear of overt political stances….

He controlled their careers, but art is a powerful outlet.

Obie Benson also came under Gordy’s thumb as a member of the R&B quartet, the Four Tops. The shocking violence he witnessed in Berkeley’s People’s Park on Bloody Thursday while on tour with his band provided the lyrical inspiration for “What’s Goin’ On.”

When the other members of the group refused to touch it, not wanting to rock the boat with a protest song, he took it to Gaye, who had lost all enthusiasm for the “bullshit” love songs that had made him a star

Benson recalled that Gaye added some “things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem more like a story than a song… we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.”

Gordy was not pleased with the song’s message, nor his loosey goosey approach to laying down the track. Eli Fontaine’s famous saxophone intro was improvised and “Motown’s secret weapon,” bassist James Jamerson was so plastered on Metaxa, he was recorded sprawling on the floor.

Jamerson told his wife they’d been working on a “masterpiece,” but Gordy dubbed “What’s Going On” “the worst thing I ever heard in my life,” pooh-poohing the “Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting.” He refused to release it.

Gaye stonewalled by going on strike, refusing to record any music whatsoever.

Eight months in, Motown’s A&R Head Harry Balk, desperate for another release from one of the label’s most popular acts, directed sales vice president Barney Ales to drop the new single behind Gordy’s back.

It immediately shot to the top of the charts, selling 70,000 copies in its first week.

Gordy, warming to the idea of more sales, abruptly reversed course, directing Gaye to come up with an entire album of protest songs. It ushered in a new era in which Black recording artists were not only free, but encouraged to use their voices to bring about social change.

The album, What’s Going On, recently claimed top honors when Rolling Stone updated its  500 Greatest Albums list. Now, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as Polyphonic, producers of the mini-doc above note, its sentiments couldn’t be more timely.

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Hear Marvin Gaye Sing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” A Capella: The Haunting Isolated Vocal Track

Nina Simone’s Live Performances of Her Poignant Civil Rights Protest Songs

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her June 7 for a Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What Karl Marx Meant by “Alienation”: Two Animated Videos Explain

A common political distortion claims that socialists are lazy and want to live off other people’s labor. Never mind that this description best applies to those who do not work but live off rents, dividends, and tax breaks. A bigger problem with the idea lies in its definition of “work,” conflating labor-for-hire with labor for a purpose. In Karl Marx’s theories, work occupies a central position as a human value. We all want to work, he thought. We are not born, however, wanting to maximize shareholder value.

Marx believed that “work, at its best, is what makes us human,” X-Files star Gillian Anderson tells us in the BBC Radio 4 animation above. “‘It fulfills our species essence,’ as he put it. Work allows us “to live, to be creative, to flourish.” Work in the industrial 19th century, however, did nothing of the kind. You only need to imagine for a moment the soot-filled factories, child labor, complete lack of worker protections and benefits to see the kinds of conditions to which Marx wrote in response. “Work,” says Anderson, in brief, “destroyed workers.”




Under capitalism, Marx maintained, workers are “alienated” from their labor, a concept that does not just mean emotionally depressed or creatively unfulfilled. As early as 1844, over twenty years before the first volume of Capital appeared, Marx would elaborate the concept of “estranged labor”  in an essay of the same name:

The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity.

In an economy where things matter more than people, people become devalued things: the “realization of labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.” Workers are not only spiritually dissatisfied under capitalism, they are alienated from the fruit of their labor “to the point of starving to death.” To be an alienated worker means to be literally kept from things one needs to live.

This is the kind of work Marxists and socialists have opposed, that which grossly enriches a few at the expense of most everyone else. Whether or not we are content with Marxist solutions or feel a need for new theories, every serious student of history, economy, and culture has to come to grips with Marx’s formidable critiques. In the video above, Alain de Botton’s School of Life, a self-described “pro-Capitalist institution,” attempts to do so in ten minutes or less.

“Most people agree that we need to improve our economic system somehow,” says de Botton. “It threatens our planet through excessive consumption, distracts us with irrelevant advertising, leaves people hungry and without healthcare, and fuels unnecessary wars.” It perpetuates, in other words, profound alienation on a massive scale. Of course it does, Marx might respond. That’s exactly what the system is designed to do. Or as he actually wrote, “the only wheels which political economy sets in motion are greed, and the war amongst the greedy — competition.”

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Marxism by Raymond Geuss: A Free Online Course 

A Short Animated Introduction to Karl Marx

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Rick Steves Tells the Story of Fascism’s Rise & Fall in Germany

“Healthy, vigorous, respectable: everyone’s favorite uncle.” How many of us hear these words and think of that most beloved of all American travel-television personalities, Rick Steves? Indeed, in the video above they’re spoken by Steves, though to describe a figure very different from himself: Adolf Hitler, who convinced his people not to tour Europe but to invade it, sparking the deadliest conflict of all time. How and why this happened has been a historical question written about perhaps more voluminously than any other. But the Stevesian method of understanding demands first-hand experience of Germany, the land in which the Nazi party came to power.

Hence “Germany’s Fascist Story,” a 2020 episode of Rick Steves’ Europe whose itinerary includes such destinations as Nuremberg, site of the eponymous Nazi rallies; Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden; the Gestapo and SS headquarters in Berlin. We’re a long way indeed from Steves’ usual circuit of cathedrals, markets, and bed-and-breakfasts.




Enriched with the historical footage and the reflections of German interviewees, this travelogue explains the rise in the 1930s and fall in the 1940s of a powerful European strain of fascism. This manifested in popular capitulation to race-based, nationalistic, and ultimately totalitarian state power, not just in Germany but other countries also once regarded as the center of European civilization.

We all know how World War II ended, and the blue-jeaned Steves sums up the relevant chapter of the story while standing atop the underground bunker in which Hitler killed himself. But such a defeat can never truly be considered final, an idea that underlies the continuing encouragement of tourism to places like Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which figures briefly into this episode despite being located in Poland. As any dedicated “Ricknick” knows, the pursuit of any given cultural or historical interest inevitably leads the traveler through a variety of lands. Hence a project like The Story of Fascism, Steves’ hourlong documentary on that ideology’s traces as found all throughout his favorite continent. As he himself has put it, travel is a political act — and it’s one necessary to understanding both the politics you like and the politics you don’t.

For those interested in how Steves built his travel empire, we’d recommend listening to Guy Raz’s lengthy interview with Steves, one episode in his How I Built This podcast.

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The Story of Fascism: Rick Steves’ Documentary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Century

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How Did Hitler Rise to Power? : New TED-ED Animation Provides a Case Study in How Fascists Get Democratically Elected

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Invisible People: Watch Poignant Mini-Documentaries Where Homeless People Tell Their Stories

Over the past year, the story of evictions during COVID has often risen above the muck. It’s made headlines in major newspapers and TIME magazine, and received serious attention from the government, with stop-gap eviction moratoriums put in effect and renewed several times, and likely due to be renewed again. Stopping evictions is not enough. “For many landlords,” notes the United Way, “the order created a financial burden of housing renters with no payments,” and without income, they have no way to pay. But these measures have kept many thousands of vulnerable adults and children from experiencing homelessness.

And yet moratoriums aside, the number of people losing their homes is on the rise during the pandemic, with a disproportionate impact on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, and shelters have been forced to close or lower capacity. Framing increasing homelessnes solely as a crisis driven by the virus misses the fact that it has been growing since 2016, though it is down from pre-2007 levels. “Even before the current health/economic crisis,” notes a Homelessness Research Institute report, “the older adult homeless population was projected to trend upwards until 2030.”

Indeed, homelessness has seemed like a sad, inevitable fact of American life for decades. Rather than accept the situation, organizations like Invisible People have worked to end it. “The first step to solving homelessness,” they write, “is acknowledging that its victims are people. Regular people. Fathers. Mothers. Veterans. Whole families. Folks who fell on hard times and lost their core foundation of being human — their homes.” No one asks to be in the situation, and the longer a person goes unhoused, the harder it is for them to rebuild their lives.

Invisible People offers action steps and publishes well-researched journalism on the problems, and solutions, for the millions of people experiencing homelessness at any given time. But as their name suggests, their primary aim is to make the lives of unhoused people visible to those of us who tend to walk right by them in our haste. We can feel overwhelmed by the intractable scale of the problem, which tends to turn individuals into statistics. Invisible People asks us to “change the story,” and to start by approaching homelessness one person, or one family, at a time.

Invisible People was founded in Los Angeles by Mark Horvath, a former TV executive who became homeless after drug and alcohol addiction in 1995. After recovering, he lost his home again during the 2008 Recession. Horvath began interviewing people he met on the streets of L.A. and posting the videos to YouTube and Twitter. Soon, the project became a global one, incorporated as a non-profit, and Horvath has traveled across the U.S. and to Canada, Peru, and the UK to interview people living without homes.

The project, says Horvath is designed to foster  “a conversation about solutions to end homelessness [that] gives homeless people a chance to tell their own story.” Those stories are moving, human, unforgettable, and usually not at all what you might expect. You can see some of them here, and many more at the Invisible People YouTube channel. Connect with the organization and find out what you can do here.

via BoingBoing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Beautiful, Innovative & Sometimes Dark World of Animated Soviet Propaganda (1925-1984)

Growing up, we assembled our worldview from several different sources: parents, siblings, classmates. But for most of us, wherever and whenever we passed our formative years, nothing shaped our early perceptions of life as vividly, and as thoroughly, as cartoons — and this is just as Lenin knew it would be. “With the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922,” writes New York Times film critic Dave Kehr, “Lenin proclaimed the cinema the most important of all the arts, presumably for its ability to communicate directly with the oppressed and widely illiterate masses.”

Lenin certainly didn’t exclude animation, which assumed its role in the Soviet propaganda machine right away: Soviet Toys, the first U.S.S.R.-made cartoon, premiered just two years later. It was directed by Dziga Vertov, the innovative filmmaker best known for 1929’s A Man with a Movie Camera, a thrilling articulation of the artistic possibilities of documentary. Vertov stands as perhaps the most representative figure of Soviet cinema’s early years, in which tight political confines nevertheless permitted a freedom of  artistic experimentation limited only by the filmmaker’s skill and imagination.

This changed with the times: the 1940s saw the elevation of skilled but West-imitative animators like Ivan Ivanov-Vano, whom Kehr calls the “Soviet Disney.” That label is suitable enough, since an Ivanov-Vano short like Someone Else’s Voice from 1949 “could easily pass for a Disney ‘Silly Symphony,'” if not for its un-Disneylike “threatening undertone.” (Not that Disney couldn’t get darkly propagandistic themselves.)




With its magpie who “returns from a flight abroad and dares to warble some of the jazz music she has heard on her travels” only to have “the hearty peasant birds of the forest swoop down and rip her feathers out,” Someone Else’s Voice tells a more allegorical story than those in most of the shorts gathered in this Soviet propaganda animation playlist.

The playlist’s selections come from the collection Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika; “workers are strong-chinned, noble, and generic,” writes the A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson. “Capitalists are fat, piggish cigar-chompers, and foreigners are ugly caricatures similar to those seen in American World War II propaganda.” With their strong “anti-American, anti-German, anti-British, anti-Japanese, anti-Capitalist, anti-Imperialist, and pro-Communist slant,” as Kehr puts it, they would require an impressionable audience indeed to do any convincing outside Soviet territory. But they send an unmistakable message to viewers back in the U.S.S.R.: you don’t know how lucky you are.

Related Content:

Watch Dziga Vertov’s Unsettling Soviet Toys: The First Soviet Animated Movie Ever (1924)

Watch Interplanetary Revolution (1924): The Most Bizarre Soviet Animated Propaganda Film You’ll Ever See

Watch the Surrealist Glass Harmonica, the Only Animated Film Ever Banned by Soviet Censors (1968)

When Soviet Artists Turned Textiles (Scarves, Tablecloths & Curtains) into Beautiful Propaganda in the 1920s & 1930s

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The Red Menace: A Striking Gallery of Anti-Communist Posters, Ads, Comic Books, Magazines & Films

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

5 Free Online Courses on Marx’s Capital from Prof. David Harvey

Geographer and Marxist scholar David Harvey did not set out to become a Marxist. He didn’t even know what a Marxist was. He simply started to read Marx one day, at the age of 35, because all of the other social science methods he had applied in his study of the housing market and social unrest in US cities “didn’t seem to be working well,” he says in a Jacobin interview. “So, I started to read Marx, and I found it more and more relevant…. After I cited Marx a few times favorably, people pretty soon said I was a Marxist. I didn’t know what it meant… and I still don’t know what it means. It clearly does have a political message, though, as a critique of capital.”

The word “Marxist” has been as much a defamatory term of moral and political abuse as it has a coherent description of a position. But ask Harvey to explain what Marx means in the German philosopher’s massive analysis of political economy, Capital, and he will gladly tell you at length. Harvey has not only read all three volumes of the work many times over, a feat very few can claim, but he has explicated them in detail in his courses at Johns Hopkins and the City University of New York since the 1970s. In the age of YouTube, Harvey posted his lectures online, and they became so popular they inspired a series of equally popular written companion books.

Why study a dead 19th-century socialist? What could he possibly have to say about the world of AI, COVID, and climate change? “I think Marx is more relevant today than ever before,” says Harvey. “When Marx was writing, capital was not dominant in the world. It was dominant in Britain and Western Europe and the eastern United States, but it wasn’t dominant in China or India. Now it’s dominant everywhere. So, I think Marx’s analysis of what capital is and its contradictions is more relevant now than ever.”

To illustrate, and exhaustively explain, the point, Harvey announced by tweet recently that he’s made 5 courses freely available online as videos and podcasts. Find links to all 5 courses below. Or find them in our collection: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume 1 with David Harvey – 2019 Edition

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume I with David Harvey – 2007 Edition

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume 2 with David Harvey

Reading Marx’s Grundrisse with David Harvey

Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A List of 132 Radical, Mind-Expanding Books from Rage Against the Machine

If you like Rage Against the Machine, but don’t like their “political bs,” you haven’t actually listened to Rage Against the Machine, whose entire raison d’être is contained within the name. What is “the Machine”? Let’s hear it from the band themselves. Singer Zack de la Rocha pointed out that the title of their second album, 1996’s Evil Empire, came from “Ronald Reagan’s slander of the Soviet Union in the eighties, which the band feels could just as easily apply to the United States.”

The Machine is capitalism and militarism, what Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously called the “military-industrial complex” but which has folded in other oppressive mechanisms since the coining of that phrase, including the prison-industrial complex and immigration-industrial complex. The Machine is a mega-complex with a lot of moving parts, and the members of RATM have done the work to critically examine them, informing their music and activism with reading and study.




Evil Empire, for example, featured in its liner notes a photo of “a pile of radical books,” “and the group posted a lengthy reading list to complement it on their site,” declares the site Radical Reads. Debates often rage on social media over whether activists should read theory. One answer to the question might be the commitment of RATM, who have steadfastly lived out their convictions over the decades while also, ostensibly, reading Marx, Marcuse, and Fanon.

There are more accessible theorists on the list: fierce essayists like former death row inmate and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal and Henry David Thoreau, whose Walden and “Civil Disobedience” both appear. The Anarchist Cookbook shows up, but so too does Dr. Suess’ The Lorax, biographies of Miles Davis and Bob Marley, Taschen’s Dali: The Paintings, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. This is not a list of strictly “political” books so much as a list of books that open us up to other ways of seeing.

These are also, in many cases, books we do not encounter unless we seek them out. “I certainly didn’t find any of those books at my University High School library,” de la Rocha told MTV in 1996, “Many of those books may give people new insight into some of the fear and some of the pain they might be experiencing as a result of some of the very ugly policies the government is imposing upon us right now.” Doubtless, he would still endorse the sentiment. The workings of the Machine, after all, don’t seem to change much for the people on the bottom when it gets new management at the top.

Read the full list of Evil Empire book recommendations on Good Reads. And as a bonus, hear a Spotify playlist of radical music just above, compiled by RATM guitarist Tom Morello. The 241 song list runs

via Radical Reads

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Tom Morello Responds to Angry Fans Who Suddenly Realize That Rage Against the Machine’s Music Is Political: “What Music of Mine DIDN’T Contain Political BS?”

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The Entire Archives of Radical Philosophy Go Online: Read Essays by Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler & More (1972-2018)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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