Going Too Far: Essays About America’s Nervous Breakdown by Ishmael Reed; Baraka Books, 235 pages ($19.95 paperback original). The first Baraka Books publication by Ishmael Reed was transgressively titled, including a racial epithet. Whatever Ishmael Reed chooses to do, then, in a euphemizing and undeniably ageist new century is likely to run into the same problem: that among those who pay it any public attention at all, there will be a substantial chorus of voices consigning the voice of the writer raised in the Buffalo projects to another era entirely and one now hopelessly out of touch.
To which, the only sensible reply, it seems, is “Not so fast, kemosabe.”
To be sure, Reed’s almost reflexive omnidirectional excursions into politically incorrect media matters can push him into anachronism far more quickly than is comfortable for any writer but for those who know who he is and what he’s written, his continuing presence and energy are ignored foolishly.
Take David Simon, creator of TV’s much-acclaimed “The Wire” on HBO, which Reed gives a thorough workout in an essay here. As Reed tells the tale, his dark opinion of “The Wire” has been on Simon’s mind often enough. To those, including a Harvard professor teaching “The Wire” in academe, says Reed, “I compared inviting Simon to Harvard to a professor from Native American studies inviting a producer from a John Wayne Western to lecture about Wayne’s westerns because they provide a great ‘understanding’ of Native American life.”
About the movie “Precious” from the same producer/director of the current hit “The Butler,” Reed writes of it as “Hollywood’s Enduring Myth of the Black Male Sexual Predator” and says that it “makes D.W. Griffith look like a progressive in comparison.” Later, in the same essay, Reed charges that Kitty Kelley’s book “Oprah: A Biography” was “the real reason why Oprah quit her show,” which while debatable in its reckless extremism, is so intransigently outside American media reliance on saying nothing at all that Reed’s supposed “irrelevance” and “anachronism” come as both reproof and relief. – Jeff Simon