Monday, March 23, 2009

New fodder on deck

Clutch is weekly for the third straight week. Below is my latest offering:

Rebecca Walker: A Family Affair.

Read it. Laugh at it. Cry over it. Whatever. Anything short of printing it out and using it as toilet paper, I'm all for it. But before you indulge, I must share a few thoughts on the limits of profiles.

I have done a number of profiles on actors, billionaires, athletes, writers and what have you, and it is a task that comes wrought with my sharp edges, if you will. People in high places want their positions simonized, because the run at the top is, well, ephemeral at best. So every so often, a few of the profiled have a problem with something that I wrote. That's cool. And then a few readers take umbrage with the points raised in my pieces. OK. Comes with the territory. But I never ever, ever, ever, EVER assume that the profiles I write even covers a considerable fraction of the essence of the person being crystallized.

The best information about people come not from the person, but the people around the person. That's why I think purely psychological profiles are limited, and should be taken for what it's worth: a snapshot of a person in their ideal environment. When I interview people, 9.6 times out of 10, it is where they want to interviewed and when they are expecting the questions. They give the answers they want, and many times it's a rote recitation of something they told twenty other media outlets. I know this and it is important that others know I know this, so there is no perception of deception.

In an utopian existence, I would talk to 30 people in the subjects' life and write massive tomes masquerading as New Yorker pieces and receive all kind of kudos from the subjects in the articles (that's who I write for anyway). I'll have my day with that, but for now, my singular person, career and psychological profiles of notable contributors to society will have to do.

Having said that, my profiles do hold some semblance of relevance. It is a thread in a cloth that adds to the shirt; it could be the most prominent feature on the shirt or it could be meaningless. That's totally up to the reader. To put it in sports terms, think of them as moments in a football game, the first four drives of a half or a six minute segment in the third quarter. Those moments are important, may even determine the outcome of the game. But they aren't the whole game, nor are they always indicative of a permanent state.

Also, in almost all of my profiles, I tie in some sociological issue with it. In my column on Terri Vaughn, I discussed the television industry and African Americans. In my Saul Williams piece (though a Q&A), I discussed the artists behind the artists, and how we all have those who spur us that intentionally or unintentionally eludes the spotlight. Tanedra Howard, I talked about realizing a dream come true. I like to think that those ideals and motifs render my work stark against the backdrop of homogenization and whitewashing.

To me, that's what it's about: how does this person's plight or flight reflect the malaise or fluorescence of society at large? That's the only way to effectively judge my work when it comes to the world of personal profiles, because I presume to hold no other ambitions.

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