Obama-Mania: Enough Already?

Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and newcomer Reginald Hudlin take on the news of the week, including what some say is an overdose of media coverage of the America's new first family. The men also discuss the tragic realities of job loss.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil-rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar; and I'd also like to welcome to the Shop producer-director Reginald Hudlin. I may jump in here or there but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, yo, hey, fellows, how're we doing? Welcome to the Shop.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Thank you. I'm feeling good, man.

IZRAEL: Hud, in the first chair, welcome, man. Well, yo, check this out. You know, we're all kind of decompressing from the campaign. Now, we've got Obama overload. We're just trying to recover from it. Now, you know, we all had Obama products out the yang. We had Obama music. I'm waiting for the backlash to start. Hud, what do you think?

REGINALD HUDLIN: I don't think there's going to be any backlash. I've got to tell you, I was at the inauguration, literally, 2 million people of a single mind, euphoria. I'm back in L.A. People are ecstatic. I think the media is looking for a problem because there is none, and they can't stand it. But it's just all love, and we're not used to it.

MARTIN: Hm.

IZRAEL: I don't know about that. Why...

MARTIN: There's no problem. Media has no problem.

HUDLIN: There's no problem.

IZRAEL: I don't know about that.

MARTIN: Jimi, hello.

NAVARRETTE: There's no problem.

HUDLIN: There's problems, but what I'm saying is, comedians are complaining, we can't make fun of Obama. You know, the media's like, where's the Obama backlash? I'm just saying that we're not used to having a president we can like, having a president we can support, that people don't know what to do with themselves, and they keep trying to fall into old patterns as opposed to accepting the reality of the fact that so far, dude is putting foot to ass in an extraordinary way.

NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. Listen, I understand that comedians have a tough time making fun of Obama. That is why God created Joe Biden. So, it's all good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Ouch, ouch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And let's just get real about the real issues. Jimi is upset because nobody has put his face on a plate.

IZRAEL: Oh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: It's like that. You know, my thing is, that, you know, for awhile, he was kind of like Beanie Babies or Milli Vanilli, and you know, I mean, there's just an inevitable backlash. Now, what I think is happening is that kind of in towns and hamlets all across America, we're starting to see, like, a little race hate jumping off. A-train?

IFTIKHAR: Well, let's put this into proper context. You want to talk about Obama fatigue? How about the last, you know, last eight years of Bush fatigue that this country has had? I mean, give me a break. I think that, you know, obviously, now that he is the commander-in-chief, we're going to put him to the same standards and look for those mistakes, but you know, obviously, George Bush provided more comedy material for late-night comics than the last 13 presidents combined. So, I'm still reeling from the Bush fatigue. Don't talk about Obama fatigue.

NAVARRETTE: I'm not - and Jimi, this is Ruben. I'm not with you. I'm with Arsalan on this. I don't think there is any fatigue here, but we do have this sort of interesting backlash on the part of many white males who - and I just wrote my column about this very subject. You know, all of a sudden, you've had 200 years of white, male presidents, 43 of them. We've had about 10 days now of one African-American president. Already, some white males are freaking out...

IZRAEL: Right...

NAVARRETTE: And talking about how, you know, the Robert Reich comments, perfect example, you know, the former Labor secretary makes a comment about how the stimulus money shouldn't just go to white, male construction workers. I heard that comment on about a dozen different radio talk-show hosts' shows, all of them white males, and this sort of notion that somehow the world had turned upside down, and all of a sudden white males are going to be victimized. It only took 10 days, brother. I expected this down the way, but this is soon for that.

IZRAEL: I hear you, man.

MARTIN: Can I just throw in a thought there? I think one of the things that they're reacting to is the fact that a lot of the women's groups and some of the progressive, I don't know how you want to call it, sort of, economic observers are saying that a stimulus package can't just go to the traditional bricks-and-mortar jobs, that there has to be some thought about the kinds of employment that are, frankly, more dominant in the economy now, where women are more present - like education, for example, and like health care. And so what they're saying is that as part of the conversation, there needs to be some thought about that. But speaking of that, I do have to wonder whether some of this backlash - and it is - exists, and the fact it has been documented that there's been an increase in some of the sort of a hate chatter on the usual sites - and so far, this doesn't have to do with the fact that the economy is such a mess. I mean, every single day you pick up the papers these days, there's been news about layoffs at companies that we all considered to be blue-chip at some point.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And I just have to ask whether you all think that - is that part of it, that people are scared, and when people are scared, sometimes they get hateful?

HUDLIN: Yeah, people are scared. And here's the reality: They don't have the affirmative action of white privilege - I mean, well, they do, but the point is, they feel the affirmative action of white privilege being threatened because now you have a black commander-in-chief. So, if there's an actual even playing field, they know that, you know, some of them cannot compete. You know, if the world turns into a basketball team, they may ride the bench.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Hud.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Yo, how do we think the layoffs are affecting men of color? The R, jump in here.

NAVARRETTE: I mean, across the board, Michel hit on it, the fact that you had something like 70,000, more than 70,000 layoffs in a single day this week; you had figures that go up to 500,000, 700,000 jobs lost in a month. Here's the problem, though. I think we - there are so many great things about Americans and about what's in our DNA, but there's one thing that always sort of gets in the way, and that's our tendency to look for quick fixes and simple solutions. And I think in this case, people are getting very impatient with Obama because, oh, my goodness, look, it's been 10 days; you know, why do we still have an economic crisis? So, I'm with him in the sense that this is going to take a long time to get out of. But again, I think he's going to run head up against this impatience on the part of some of his supporters. Some of his supporters are going to be upset and impatient because they want a quick fix, and there isn't one.

MARTIN: Could I ask a question, though? And forgive me if this is too personal, but I couldn't help but notice this week that there are two stories this week in two parts of the country, where two men wiped out their families and killed themselves because they had both been laid off.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Now, we can assume that perhaps there is a mental-illness component that we are perhaps unaware of. I think that's not an unreasonable thing to think. But I do think about the strain of this economic situation on the country. And you all are men; you're all heads of households. And I just - I don't know, forgive me if it's too personal - but I just wondered, do you ever feel this? Not to taking such extreme steps, but do you feel this? Do you feel it?

IZRAEL: Well, I think, first of all, I think it might be worth noting that the family on the West Coast - there were some other elements there to why he committed suicide. He was being investigated for fraud or something like that, and...

MARTIN: That's true.

IZRAEL: So, there were some other elements to that. But me personally...

MARTIN: But it is a pretty amazing thing to wipe out your whole family because of that. I mean, come on.

IZRAEL: Oh, man. It's awful. It's awful. And me personally, I mean, people that know me know I stay hustling, you know? And it doesn't matter the times are good or the times are bad, you know, always tell these kids that are coming out of J-school think they're going to, you know, walk out of J-school, off the stage and into the New York Times, it's like, yo! You better have your hustle together because you'll walk into the New York Times, and be walking out the back door with a pink slip later on that same day.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: I mean, it's real serious out there, especially in journalism. So, me personally, I always try to keep a few hustles.

IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan again. I think that the sort of depths that we've reached as an American economy, it really shows us for the first time, at least in my lifetime, that no one is immune, that it could be any one of us, you know, that loses, you know, a job or a gig here and there. And I believe that might be one of the motivating factors that helps give it sort of a sense of collective urgency. I mean, President Obama's been in office 10 days. He's sent, you know, Senator George Mitchell to the Middle East. He's hit the ground running doing practical things, whereas, you know, we gave President Bush eight years to do a whole lot of nothing and create this economic mess. And so, you know, we have to look at things in context. Look at what he's done for the first 10 days, and let's hope that, you know, the administration continues to move forward to help remedy this for all of us.

HUDLIN: Hi, it's Reggie. Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. Even in Beverly Hills, where Ferraris still sell at a furious clip, I mean, the reality is, like, cheap is the new cool. People are unashamedly cutting back expenses...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

HUDLIN: Trying to lower overhead where they can. So, the idea that, yes, these are hurts that are being felt across all economic classes is absolutely true. I think for working-class black folk, it's always been tight, so we've always had a wide range of survival skills to pull upon. And it's just a matter of holding on, hoping that this stimulus stuff kicks in. But it's going to be a brutal year for folks.

MARTIN: I just have to say, though, that times like this - and I'm not giving any disrespect to all the single women out there who are heading up households and working very hard to take care of their families - and give them my respect. But I also have a lot of sympathy for men at a time like this, because I think the cultural expectations are still that, you know, the guy - if there is a guy - is the provider. And when you can't fulfill that role in the way that you expect, I just think that, you know...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Because, you know, for me, I mean, yeah, if I were, you know, to get fired or laid off, I'd be sad about it, but I wouldn't feel like, you know, as a woman, I had failed. Anyway, if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Reginald Hudlin, Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Now, fellas, it's Oscar season, and there are few breakouts in contention now. A lot of the chatter seems to be around "Slumdog Millionaire." Now, strangely, my bootleg dude cannot seem to get a hold of a copy, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: It's so hard to get good help. I just - it's crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: And the thing is, you know...

MARTIN: It's so hard to get $8 to go.

IZRAEL: But see, in Cleveland - you know, I don't want to dis Cleveland - but I don't know anywhere that it's playing. You know, it's like that. It's like "Notorious" is playing eight different places. "Slumdog Millionaire," I can't find. But this to say it's getting a lot of chatter, but you know, it's taken the critics by storm, on the one hand, but there's been some backlash from people that call it poverty porn. We've got some tape of it, right?

MARTIN: Yeah, we do. This is the lead character, Jamal Malik, is playing the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" And here it is.

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DEV PATEL: (As Jamal Malik) I'll go for D, London.

Mr. ANIL KAPOOR: (As Prem Kumar) (Hindi and English spoken) Computer-ji, D, lock kiya jaye.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KAPOOR: (As Prem Kumar) Jamal Malik, you're absolutely right.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KAPOOR: (As Prem Kumar) A few hours ago, you were giving chai for the phone walahs, and now you're richer than they will ever be. What a player...

MARTIN: What's the story is that this young guy wins at this game...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But of course, people don't want to believe that he actually could know the answers. And so, they accuse him of cheating.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what did you think of it?

IFTIKHAR: Honestly, I think "Slumdog Millionaire" will be known as one of the best films ever to play anywhere in a theater.

IZRAEL: Well, there's no hyperbole there. Hud?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUDLIN: Yeah. Hey, it's Reggie. Yeah, I think one of the reasons why the movie has really caught afire is because Hollywood seems to have lost the ability to make films about working-class people. You know, there was an era when we - when Hollywood made movies like "Grapes of Wrath" or "Norma Rae," but they don't do that when it's Oscar time. They make movies about mental illness or, you know, they take some other kind of approach. So, to make a movie about people's real-life struggle and to tell a story of triumph that is actually earned, that's not contrived, it's a wonderful thing.

MARTIN: But what about Jimi's point, though, that notwithstanding the fact that maybe his Google was down that day and didn't have time to go, you know, check out where the movie was playing, is that it just seems as though we put these films in the - this film has universal themes.

IFTIKHAR: It does.

MARTIN: It really does. It's just that, you know - it's like people take you for granted. You are invisible. Because you are poor, people think you couldn't possibly know anything. Why wouldn't this film be considered something that everybody would be interested in? Why - it seems like these things are treated as like art-house objects...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Just for certain people. I don't know.

HUDLIN: Well, I mean, it's very hard to get people to go to the movies. I mean, it just is. And there's a lot of talk within Hollywood about, why do we keep nominating movies like this, because the Oscar telecast gets low ratings because it's celebrating movies that the general public hasn't seen. The ideal version is a movie like "Lord of the Rings," which was vastly popular and was a great piece of filmmaking. But usually people - things tend to fall in one category or the other. Often, some of the best-made films are films that do not necessarily have a wide appeal.

IFTIKHAR: And I think another thing that makes this movie transcend, you know, all these barriers is the fact that it truly was a global movie. You know, whether you are in a theater in Cape Town or in Brussels or in Australia or in Brooklyn, this is something that, I think, our global community, our shrinking global community, can sort of tap into this instantaneous communication, this, you know, multilingual, multiethnic, multi-religious sort of transcendental, you know, experience. I think, you know, that's another reason I said that it's going to be one of those greatest global movies ever, because I think that people from around the world, regardless of your background, will be able to appreciate the message that this movie sends.

MARTIN: But I mean...

HUDLIN: But a lot of movies are global. I mean, "The Dark Knight" is a global movie, too. It's just that, you know, we don't think of it in those terms because it looks like a traditional Hollywood film. But for me, a well-told story resonates globally, whether it's from Japan or what - I grew up watching international cinema...

IFTIKHAR: Sure.

HUDLIN: And I appreciate that, but I also have a deep appreciation for great Hollywood product, too.

NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben, real quick. Arsalan keeps talking about the word global, and I'm glad he does because I think this is the flipside - this movie is the flipside of the globalization coin, because we have for so long been sending jobs to various countries; companies have been sending jobs to various countries. But to the minds of many Americans, we put those countries out of mind; we don't think about those places. And this is an instance where the story comes to us from another place, made in another country, telling us about people of another country, and a country that we're sort of familiar with but only tangentially so. So, I think it's a trend. It's part of, as Arsalan said, this global trend, where even if you don't get out to the world, don't worry, the world is coming to a theater near you.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, it's football season, and it's the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals. Now, gentlemen, who's going to take home the glory, and who's just going home with the story? A-Train, you always seem to have the line. Go ahead, man. What's the over/under?

IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, it's because I get the picks right. So, I mean, to most football fans out there, we're wondering why the Arizona Cardinals are even going to show up in Tampa. But it's going to be a good game. I think that on the Cardinals' side, you've got to look to their star wide receiver, Larry "No Relation to F. Scott" Fitzgerald.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: But on the Steelers' side, it's still going to be Big Ben "Put Some Extra Mustard on My" Roethlisberger, who is going to get his second Super Bowl victory 27-10.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: And you can join - bring in your March Madness brackets in March to the Barbershop.

IZRAEL: Wow. That's redunculous(ph), bro.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Hud, what do you think, man?

HUDLIN: Hey, man. Once the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Arizona, I checked out. I'm from East Boogie...

IFTIKHAR: Nice.

HUDLIN: And you know, I'm not checking for that.

IZRAEL: All right. He's spoken. The R, my man.

NAVARRETTE: Oh, anything could happen. I don't know. The Steelers look good, but likewise, you know, when the San Diego Chargers fell off, went by the wayside, I sort of checked out myself, you know? Heart's just not in it, just not there.

IZRAEL: Michel, what about you?

MARTIN: Well, you know my husband's from Pittsburgh, right? So...

IFTIKHAR: Uh-huh, Billy.

IZRAEL: Billy, what's up, man?

MARTIN: Who's heading to Tampa tomorrow...

IFTIKHAR: Nice, nice, right.

MARTIN: Leaving me with the kids.

NAVARRETTE: And the Giants are not going to Tampa.

MARTIN: And the Giants are not going, nor the Jets. So, I think you can understand where I'm coming from.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I hear you. Well, I'm going with the Steelers...

MARTIN: There's some haterade, there's some haterade, yes, mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: I'm going with the Steelers. You know, the Browns aren't there, but you know, the Midwest is repping, so what can I say? I'm taking the ball. I'm throwing long. And I think that's a wrap, everybody. I've got to thank you for coming to the Shop, and I've got to hike the ball over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com, and he joined us from San Diego. Reginald Hudlin is a producer, writer and director. He joined us from our NPR West bureau. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil-rights attorney, and he was here in our Washington, D.C., studio. Gentlemen, thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

HUDLIN: Thank you.

NAVARRETTE: Hey.

IZRAEL: Yep, yep.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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