Over the short weekend, the Spousal Unit and I found a flophouse no-tell motel in the San Gabriel Valley to pass a sleepy afternoon. There, with mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne on ice, we watched the bittersweet tale of Joe Louis on the local PBS affiliate TV broadcast.
As the SU sighed at gentle Joe's misfortune I parsed the narrative with exruciating exactitude, enjoying, analyzing, second-guessing and running a counter-narrative all at once. I cannot seem to let go with documentaries the way I do with action flicks. It's the same way I shout back at my children's teachers when I criticize the subjects they allow. But then again, if you're going to teach Global Warming, it might as well be to middle school kids.
About Joe, there was this disbelief that he could be humbled and obliged to America that ran through the entire program. It was as if the entire class of memories were being shape-shifted into the privileged impatience of Black Power for the sake of the generation that didn't know Joe. And at the same time you think, my God how easy it could be for any one of America's wealthy blacks to erase the Brown Bomber's enormous debt to the IRS.
At once I marvelled that the symbolism of the man could be so great and yet the actual man so manifestly abused. Was American patriotism ever purchased so cheaply? At the same time, I never sensed for a moment that Louis himself ever questioned that he should be patriotic. In the end, you have to love your country and your countrymen, or leave them.