I woke up this morning and it was Martin Luther King Day here in the United States, so I put on “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder. It’s that song off of Hotter Than July where he sings about giving King a holiday, back when the Trent Lotts and Dick Cheneys of the world were still preventing it from happening.
“Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King”
Listening to the song was a good idea, but the bad idea was I’d been watching CNN Headline News. I shoulda turned it off but I just put it on mute. So I’m hearing Stevie singing:
“Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated all throughout the world?”
But I’m watching reports about car bombings in Iraq and what’s gonna happen to Iraqis if they try to vote in the, uh, election, and how they’ve been doing these secret missions in Iran to find out where to bomb when they invade there next. (Side thought: how is it really possible that these maniacs are even more dangerous than we thought, that they are actually so fucking deluded they really believe they can start another fucking war at this point and live to tell the tale?)
Well clearly that was a bad way to start out my Martin Luther King Day, turning on the news. It got me thinking all negative. I looked up at the giant American flag they fly on the Space Needle for national holidays, and I thought how can they do this to him? They turn him into a holiday and now he doesn’t mean anything. He’s a day the mail doesn’t come and the bank doesn’t open. If you’re rich you get the day off, you get to go buy shoes and hamburgers from the people in the jobs where you don’t get the day off. You think that’s the dream he had?
And I bet alot of people, they watch this war on TV and they don’t even see a connection to Martin Luther King. They think oh yeah, that’s that black guy that marched for equality. I’m totally for that. I’m glad they got that all straightened out.
Alot of people, maybe they know he stood for non-violence. But only in the context of protesting for equal rights. Yeah, he was the good one because he didn’t want to put a foot up the man’s ass. He just stood there and got sprayed with the firehose until he convinced us. No white people were harmed so it all worked out well.
These people don’t know what he said about Vietnam, they don’t know he wasn’t just about black people and white people, they probaly don’t even know he was helping with a garbage worker strike when he was assassinated. What does worker’s rights have to do with the dream? No, it’s only about sharing drinking fountains. We took care of that a long time ago. Good show everybody.
They don’t think of what he was saying in a modern context, just like they don’t do it with Jesus. Yeah, Jesus and Martin said to turn the other cheek, but that was a long time. 9-11 changed everything, including Jesus.
Great guy though, Jesus. But he was living in a September 10th world.
They gave him a holiday, they might as well have named a fucking Nike shoe after him. Give him a video game. They turned him into a meaningless three word phrase like I LOVE YOU or GOD BLESS AMERICA or SUPPORT THE TROOPS or I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE or KEEP IT REAL or WHERE’S THE BEEF. You say it so many times in so many wrong ways, suddenly it doesn’t mean anything. You don’t even think about it as a concept, it’s just a phrase that rolls off the tongue easy.
God damn it, it’s true. Most people don’t even think of the dream as something we still need to accomplish. They think of it as a famous speech that was made back in the sixties when TV was black and white and things were bad. They don’t think it’s a goal, they think it’s a chapter in their history book.
“It should be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people.”
But how many people really truly thought about Dr. King or equal rights or pacifism or humanism at any time during the day? I mean if you work at some retail place or restaraunt, you probaly had to work. Maybe there’s some businesses somewhere that closed so their employees could get the holiday off like they’re supposed to. And if that’s so then I bet there were people with the day off, they drove up and figured out the place was closed and thought, god damn it, why are they closed? Where the fuck am I gonna get my sandwich now? God damn it, ruining my day off.
I mean, you know that happened somewhere. It had to.
That’s what I was thinking anyway, thinking these negative thoughts. Am I Linus in the pumpkin patch, complaining about insincerity? Charlie Brown worrying that Christmas has lost its meaning and become too commercial? Am I about to get fed up and become the Grinch who stole Martin Luther King Day?
Well the more I thought about it, the more I thought no. I mean yeah, people are idiots, people don’t like substance and ideas and meaning, they take things for granted and they don’t look beyond the surface and they don’t understand history and they ruin it for the rest of us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a good Martin Luther King Day. We can have the Martin Luther King Day spirit.
Don’t look at it like they compromised and commodified Dr. King by making him an official American holiday. Look at it like this. In his day, Dr. King was not the establishment. He was the anti-establishment. He was a rebel, in the minority, fighting for things that most of the country didn’t understand, that they were afraid of. He was smeared, he was hated, he was tracked by the FBI, he was assassinated.
That was then. Now, it’s only the biggest fuckin nutbag kooks that have a problem with Dr. King. Now everybody knows he was right. He is an American hero and he has a national holiday and the American flag flies on that holiday, because Martin Luther King, Jr. is America now. No matter what the past has to say about it and no matter what Bush has to not understand about it. The problems have not all been solved but we have evolved enough as a society to know that he is not the enemy, he is what America is all about, he is who we aspire to be.
Martin Luther King Day shows how things really can change in this country. Now it’s hard to even believe there was a time when the holiday was controversial. To hear that the vice president voted against the holiday is kind of shocking. Even that insane bastard with the atomic heart, you would think, would’ve understood. And that wasn’t that long ago. And he knows not to ever talk about it now.
You see what I’m saying? At the time, Dr. King knew he was right. But the system didn’t know he was right, and most white people didn’t know he was right, and the media said he was wrong. That was then. Now it’s different.
Let’s extend that to what’s going on today. Right now, we have a government and a media and a culture trying to make excuses for this fucked up war we’re in. We know we’re right about this. We know it. Not just this war, but this whole Bush Regime approach to life, to the world. We know this is not the way to run our country, through fear and propaganda and murder and cruelty. Right now, not everyone agrees with us. They buy the line that 9-11 changed everything, including Jesus. They got the bumpersticker. But some day they’ll understand, that’s what Martin Luther King Day shows us. They’ll come around. They’ll just have to find something else to be wrong about.
There’s another Stevie Wonder song I like called “Big Brother.” The whole song is great but the last part gives me chills every time, when he sings:
“You’ve killed all our leaders,
I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you,
You’ll cause your own country to fall.”
Now hopefully these assholes won’t cause our country to fall, but I’ve been getting a feeling lately, and I’ve been hearing this in some e-mails I’ve gotten from people too, that this whole fucking machine of death and corruption and insanity is eventually gonna hafta pop some bolts and start falling apart. Maybe I’m being naive but it seems to me that it is scientifically impossible for the Bush administration to go too many more steps without exploding and collapsing and disintegrating spectacularly.
That is not to say we’re gonna just sit here and wait for it to happen. That’s not what Dr. King would want and that’s not what Stevie would want. But there is reason to hope, even after the events of November 2nd. (11-2 – Never forget.)
We are little but we are strong. Remember the Ewoks, man. Remember the fucking Ewoks. We’re gonna overcome this one.
Happy Martin Luther King Day,
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.