The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant was out for our morning constitutional when an older gent shuffled toward us. Gramps was wearing an orange ball cap and no shirt. Come on bro; we’re out here at 7am to beat the heat–The Rant lacks even a cup of coffee to brace us against such a sight. Follow the James Corden rule: shirt on unless you’re with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
We have delayed writing about the passing of the magnificent Muhammad Ali while others tried to co-opt his towering cultural presence. Including the shameless Florida Marlins. That’s all The Rant will say; we aren’t even going to link you to that nonsense.
In the aftermath of Ali’s death, The Rant has been cheered to see the attention paid to Gordon Parks and his photos of the Champ. If people know Parks at all, it’s probably as the director of Shaft.1 But the Fort Scott, Kansas native took some of the most important photographs of the 20th century; served as the first African-American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine; became the first black writer/director of a Hollywood studio feature (based on his own novel, The Learning Tree); championed civil rights and social justice issues his entire career.
Parks photographed and wrote about Ali in 1966 as controversy and acclaim surrounded him. He had changed his name from Cassius Clay, converted to Islam, announced he would not fight in Vietnam for religious reasons, and destroyed the heavyweight boxing division on his terms. In his photo essay for Life, Parks captured all sides of Ali and presented him as a sympathetic figure fighting inside and outside of the ring for his identity.
In 1970 Parks would return to chart the comeback of Ali. After refusing induction into the military, Ali had been sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of all his boxing licenses and titles. He lost three prime years of his career. The case would go all the way to the Supreme Court, where the decision would be overturned on a technicality. In the meantime, plenty of other Christian conscientious objectors avoided military service with no consequences.
The Rant would like to point out Ali stood up and paid a price for his beliefs. He did not engage in conspiracy theories or make a living whining on the talk-show circuit about perceived slights. Resisting all calls to conform to America’s idea of a submissive black athlete, he paved the way for others to create whatever public persona they chose. Had the Supreme Court ruled against him, Ali would have gone to prison rather than fleeing the country.
The Rant would be interested to know how many religious leaders that love to profit from stirring up anger and fear about persecution that remains merely a figment of their minds, would actually risk anything that threatened their comfortable lives or prosperity. We doubt a run on jail cells will be occurring anytime soon.