Black Americans in the 1980s became figures of influence as never before, while a conservative government sought to chip away at hard-won advances, and the twin plagues of AIDS and crack began to blight the lives of millions of ordinary citizens. George, novelist and journalist, borrows some of John Dos Passos's "Newsreel" technique (from the massive trilogy USA)
to tell linked stories of oppression and freedom, in a present tense that makes for extraordinary intimacy and quickness. George is a superb reporter, and hindsight allows him to focus only on the stories that interest us today, though he uncovers many a half-forgotten cause célèbre. His critical judgments provoke admiration and further thought. Sometimes they're arcane: about the characters played by Carl Weathers and Mr. T. in Rocky III
(1982), he writes, "In writing the characters, screenwriter Stallone actually anticipates the black cultural wars that shape much black pop culture for the next twenty years." Here they all are—Michael Jordan, Prince, Colin Powell, Whitney Houston, Tawana Brawley, Eddie Murphy, the rise of Jesse Jackson, the birth of BET (Black Entertainment Television), the horrific bombing of MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, the Ishmael Reed-Alice Walker war over The Color Purple.
George's extensive background is in music, film, fashion and sports reporting, and he also does a good job discussing 1980s literature. He's especially thorough on the rise of rap and hip-hop music and culture, and is pithy on pop: "While Michael [Jackson]'s ongoing theme is paranoia, Janet's is overdue sexual awakening and exploration." Only in the visual arts does the material seem thin on the ground: one might think Jean-Michel Basquiat was the only African-American painter working in the '80s, actually an extremely vibrant era for black painters and artists. 4-city author tour
. (Jan. 12)