But First, A Brief Introduction to Media Literacy…
The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations in the World that does not require Media Literacy to be taught/taken during K-12 schooling. This means that folks in other countries are taught how to “read” media codes, signs, symbols, ideologies, discursive constructions, and cultural stories. When you are Media ILLiterate, you can be easily manipulated by media. Most importantly, many of us are capable of having our emotions easily duped by orchestrated “Media Moments.” And BET has orchestrated many such moments – usually around something frivolous and/or ignorant – over the years. The Truth: I think we prefer Bullsh*t Spectacle to Real Information. Because Real Information makes us feel hopeless and disempowered. And it makes us feel this way because in our individualized, self-centered culture, folks are either (a) Barely making it themselves, or (b) So concerned for their own well-being, that they greedily and pridefully hoard their money/time/energy/resources. The story of Media is the story of Capitalism – remixed, dubbed, chopped, and screwed. And this is also the story of BET.
BET: We WILL Make You Hate Yourself. And Then We’ll Throw In A Gospel Number!
Black Entertainment Television – in name alone – says to the World: THIS CHANNEL IS BY/FOR/ABOUT/REPRESENTATIVE OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY. The first problem is that there are various Black CommuniTIES, many of which are never given any play by BET whatsoever. (And of course, this would be almost impossible for any network to do. But for the past decade or so, BET hasn’t even tried.) The second problem is that they serve up REPETITIVE negative images of Black folks, and this NORMALIZES these representations for the audience…such that even BLACK people will modify/transform the way they relate to the world, based on who they are SUPPOSED to be as “Black People.” In any marginalized/”minority” community (racially, ethnically, sexually, etc.) standards of what it means to be an “authentic” part of the oppressed group in question, can become extremely strict and rigid. For Black men in this culture especially, standards of Black masculinity – due in large part to the proliferation of hip hop oriented mainstream media – can be compared to a straitjacket. If characters like Li’l Wayne (incarcerated or not) and Rick Ross are currently setting the Standard for Black Masculinity…who else can meet that standard, and what must they do/how must they behave in order to meet it?!? Similarly, Black Femininity has been obliterated to represent nothing more than large asses, small waists, big breasts, and closed mouths (unless, of course, a sexual act is taking place.) BET conveys these images daily. And the fact that they run Christian/Gospel-related shows during late night and Sunday programming cannot combat the negative images that the network bombards the audience with every few seconds during Prime Time. Furthermore, giving out a few BET Awards to Black people who are community leaders can not erase the bitter taste of ignorance that much of their annual Awards show leaves in the mouths of so many viewers. Anyway, speaking of Black Masculinity…*ahem* Let’s Talk About DRAKE!!
DRAKE: “No, Thank You.”
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not a fan of Drake’s work. Last week I forced myself to sit and listen to his entire “Thank Me Later” CD, and this is what I came away with:
(1) He uses lyrics that are almost exactly the same on at least two songs.
(2) He is a Pop Artist. Let’s stop pretending that 7 collabos on an album makes one a Hip Hop Emcee.
(3) His voice is DeGrassi High; his delivery sounds like he is asleep; every bar sounds exactly the same.
(4) What is all this “Ni**a” and “Bi**h” dropping…from a kid who was raised with a white French Canadian mother in a wealthy suburb of Toronto, Canada, and who was a Teen TV Star?!?
(5) Why all the angst in his music about being overwhelmed by Fame…when he had already experienced a fair amount of it as the aforementioned Teen TV Star?!? [Drake is Jimmy Brooks.]
(6) If you need to feature an artist (or your record company MAKES you feature an artist) who is bigger/badder than you, on almost every track on your latest CD…you *may* not be a “real” artist yourself.
7) How does it work these days? Does someone of note make a statement that an artist/album is Hot…and then everyone just follows that opinion blindly?
(8) Hip Hop has been Dead in the Mainstream since about 1995. |Tragedy.|
Now, that said…it doesn’t really matter what I think of Drake’s music; I don’t begrudge anyone their right to absolutely adore his work. Each individual has her/his own specific taste in music; a piece of work might deeply move one person, and intensely repulse another. I can admit that I enjoy many songs that are downright crappy, by pretty much anyone’s standards. So really, my issue is not with Drake’s music…or with Drake, the PERSON. Because I don’t even know that Fool. My problem is with Drake, the PRODUCT. The fake NYC Blaccent…the Corniness masquerading as Swag…the Myth that he is a brilliant Freestyler, and the dissolution of said Myth with the Funkmaster Flex Cell Phone Debacle…the copious collaborations/dearth of his own SOLO work…the fact that it seems as if he is being Pimped by multiple sources…I really could go on and on. He is a male Miley Cyrus to me; he was even on a Teen Television Show. In Canada. |Blank Stare.| When I think “Drake,” I just think… “Fake.” It is no coincidence, then, that many of his songs deal with issues of alienation from others (and self). So I guess I am answering my own critique (Point #5 above) – his lyrics seem to be telling the audience, “I don’t really fit into this lifestyle; I am alienated from my own Persona.” Too psychologizing?!? I think so, too. And yet…I think I believe it. So audience…whilst you are Hero-Worshipping this Baby Product, take a moment to extend a little compassion. I’ve been working on it with him. Lawd knows I can relate to the plight of being a “Mixed Kid” in this World. On the other hand, I accept my Natural Corniness, and will not be swayed into believing that there is one way to be Black, as Drake seems to have done. (He knows he prefers to speak in proper French! Hehehe…) When I wake up each day, the way that I prove my Blackness to the World is by walking out the door. But then…I’m not trying to “make it” in Hip Hop. All of the wealth in the world is not worth the Sacrifice of the Soul. And speaking of Soul-Sacrificing…enter Nicki Minaj!
Nicki Minaj & Women’s Empowerment: Where Are the Oxymoron Police?!?
Consider The Case of Nicki Minaj. Shake your head. Cry a little. Rock back and forth whilst meditating or praying. Now…return to Considering The Case of Nicki Minaj. A textbook example of a Media “Product,” Minaj – born Onika Tanya Maraj on December 8, 1984 – is reported to have been discovered on MySpace by Dirty Money CEO “Fendi,” and was then contacted by Li’l Wayne for a collaboration. Said to be of Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian descent (a mix commonly referred to as “Dugla”…which doesn’t sound nice to me. But terms for mixed folks rarely do), Minaj released her first mixtape in April of 2007 called Playtime is Over, which featured her posing on the cover as a Barbie doll. It is not coincidental that Minaj chose this particular image to embody; indeed Barbie is one of the most successful consumer products of all time. There are about a million critiques out in the World of Ideas about Barbie, so I won’t bore you with any heavy theory here. But the fact that Minaj would recreate herself in the image of one of the most stereotypical representations of the (white) female body, one that has helped to spread numerous ideologies about the role of women in our culture…tells the entire story. Minaj is a Product; she is also an amalgamation of various other artists – most notably Li’l Kim – but also Madonna and Marilyn Manson (a brilliant character/grotesque figure), among others I am sure. She is also (allegedly) openly bisexual; one wonders if this is not highlighted to increase the allure of the Nicki product. But this is Old News. The only reason I am even discussing her here, is to address her quasi-Feminist outburst upon receiving the coveted (har har) BET Award. Specifically, I was appalled by what she said after she pointed out that (although Patti LaBelle, Deniece Williams, Chaka Khan, and PRINCE were in the house) she was most excited to meet Scientological Product – and, according to every interview I have ever seen her do, Rabid Nymphomaniac – Jada Pinkett Smith. |Blank Stare.| She then uttered words that made me want to holler, AND throw up both my hands:
“I’M FIGHTING FOR WOMEN!!”
[Pause: Choke on Pepsi] – Um…WHAT?!? Oh Nicki…Onika…”Barbie”… My Child: Look around. Do you SEE what is going ON?!? Who ARE You?!? WHAT Do You Represent?!? WHAT messages are you transmitting to girls and women through your lyrics, style, and overall persona?!? Let me provide those Not in the Know with a brief sampling of some of Nicki Minaj’s lyrical stylings:
- “Baddest, the baddest, my p*ssy’s the fattest I’m bad. Bad. Bad, bad.” ~ From The Baddest Bitch, Minaj’s poignant ode to Black Female Sexuality.
- “I like to see a itty bitty piggy in a market/Give that bitch a quarter and car tell her park it/I don’t fuck wit pigs like As Salaam Alaikum/I put ‘em in a fill/I let Oscar Mayer bake ‘em.”~ From the Iconic “Ode to All Other Women” entitled Itty Bitty Piggy
- “Excuse me lil mama/But you say I’m on duty/I’m lookin’ for a cutie/With a big old ghetto booty/I really like your kitty cat/And if you let me touch her/I know you’re not a bluffer/I’ll take you to go see usher/I keep a couple hoes…” ~ From Little Freak, because there is nothing more Feminist and Liberating than a woman sexually exploiting and pimping out another woman!
I really don’t think I need to expose You People – or Myself – to this Misogynist Train Wreck any further. It is clear that Nicki is fighting: to keep women in damaging, stereotypical roles, and to aid in the exploitation of other women. I am in mourning for Onika Tanya Maraj. We have already seen the toll that this business can take on women like Minaj’s predecessor, Li’l Kim. Once beautiful and always talented, Li’l Kim devolved before our very eyes into a mess of poor choices and plastic surgery. And she was supported, prodded, promoted, and encouraged in her own self-destruction by many of the most lauded MEN in hip hop. But of course, they have no accountability here. Re-read Minaj’s lyrics above; now think about her exclamation, “I’M FIGHTING FOR WOMEN!” The level of contradiction and hypocrisy that we are willing to accept from our Entertainers…is Mind-Boggling to me. Yes, these contradictions have always existed…but seldom so blatantly. The audience at the BET Awards should have laughed out loud. And then cried. That’s what I did.
Nicki Minaj is in a desperate fight for her own womanhood. Maybe she’ll turn it all around and become a Preacher like Vanity (from Vanity 6! Though I must say…”Nasty Girl” has NOTHING on this Minaj material!) I don’t know. But I do know that if she is out there fighting for women…then I am terrified of whomever may be fighting against women.
Chris Brown’s Breakdown®: Self-Promotion & Media Spectacle
Spectacle, as I am using it here, refers to a mediated event that works to manipulate the emotions of the audience, and to distract them from “The Real.” Folks are so caught up in the emotion of the Spectacle, that they forget/are distracted from asking incisive questions and making informed assessments. Spectacles take the form of “Media Moments” – moments which have been carefully orchestrated in terms of content, production, and/or distribution. We live for these “Spectacular” moments; they make us feel connected – to whomever is involved in the Spectacle, and to one another. Spectacles promote group think and group bonding. Social Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have allowed us to bond almost instantaneously, from wherever we may be in the World, with everyone else who is able to experience the Spectacle simultaneously. When we experience a Spectacle, all emotions are engaged and all reason is suspended; we are, quite seriously, “caught up” in the moment. So much so, that if we are approached with a reasoned assessment of the Spectacle…we are often prone to rejecting it outright. We saw what we saw. We heard what we heard. And we felt what we felt. The Truth, at this point, becomes completely irrelevant.
Spectacle Example: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. as caught/distributed by media via the Zapruder film of that event. Check out Oliver Stone’s JFK; I don’t care if he made some of that sh*t up, you won’t be watching it for the facts of the event/case. You will be watching it for the extremely thorough and adept explanation of Media Spectacle that Stone lays out so brilliantly. This film is not just about JFK; it is about how the government and media (two of the strongest Ideological State Apparatuses in existence) work together to emotionally/psychologically/politically manipulate the masses.
There is no doubt that the assassination of JFK was one of the most profound Spectacles of our time. The President’s assassination, the almost immediate arrest of Oswald, the subsequent murder of Oswald by Ruby…all televised. All experienced en masse by the American people. All emotions engaged. All reason suspended. By day’s end, we knew who had shot the President and we knew that the man who shot him had been killed for this act. And this was widely accepted as the conclusion of this event. And then the country could mourn and bond.
We have experienced numerous Spectacles since then: the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger; the beating and trial of Rodney King; the OJ Simpson Bronco Chase; the OJ Simpson Trial; the destruction of the World Trade Center. All televised. All experienced en masse by the people. These are the BIG Spectacles. And then there are the Small ones. Enter R&B singer and accomplished dancer Chris Brown.
Most of us are aware of the domestic violence incident involving Chris Brown and R&B singer Rihanna. [If not, Google It.] In the aftermath of this Media Event (and “real life” event for CB & Rihanna), Chris Brown was largely vilified by media, and was recently even denied entrance into the UK for his actions here. I will now give my oft-stated caveat to this issue: There is an egregious double-standard at play in our culture, when some domestic batterers are lauded as “American Legends/Heroes/Icons” (Frank Sinatra; Miles Davis) and even current and constant batterers (Charlie Sheen; Christian Slater) continue to get work and make copious amounts of money for it. So I am against the idea that Chris Brown should be singled out on various accounts, when Hollywood/Media/The Masses have not CONSISTENTLY held batterers accountable and instituted “punishments” against them. Let’s be CONSISTENT.
Now…that said…Chris Did What He Did. AND he admitted it. So I am not sure why there are still people who are trying to claim that (a) Chris didn’t do it, (b) The photos of Rihanna’s battered face were photo shopped, and/or (c) Rihanna drove Chris to do it. (As I’ve heard many say: “She should have kept her hands to herself.” This is very true. And what is also true is that men have, for eons, been able to restrain a woman who is hitting them, and diffuse the situation by walking/driving away. I have one friend who called the police on a partner who was attempting to batter him. But he did not strike or attack her. Furthermore, Chris Brown was out and about days later, not a scratch or a bruise on him.) So this event took place; Chris Brown issued a public statement, saying that he was working with a Pastor (brilliant PR strategy – but do we know whether the Pastor had any expertise in DV counseling?) for rehabilitation. And then Chris just kinda…fell off. I’ll explain what I think he could have done better in a second…but first, a few words about his performance at the BET Music Awards:
- “Chris Brown is The Truth!! I am in Tears!!”
- “We Feel You, Chris! We Love You!”
- “ :Tears:”
- “THIS is the BEST PERFORMANCE EVERRRRRRRRR!”
- “Aw, Chris! I am STILL mad that they didn’t let him perform at MJ’s Tribute LAST year!”
- “It is time for us to FORGIVE Chris…let’s stop dredging up Demons from his past…”
These are just a few of the Statuses that appeared on my Facebook Newsfeed about 5 seconds after Chris Brown stopped singing and started sobbing on stage at the BET Music Awards to the soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”
For starters, the reason why Chris Brown did not perform at MJ’s Tribute LAST year, was that he had just publicly battered a woman. Anyone?!? In fact, CHRIS BROWN is the one who pulled out Demons from his OWN past, when he decided to turn what STARTED OUT as a spectacular Tribute to Michael Jackson, into a self-centered Spectacle. This was neither the time nor the place for him to emotionally manipulate his former fan base into accepting him back into the fold. Chris could have ended this Tribute after he had finished dancing; he had, by that point, proven that he still possessed talent enough to be accepted as a Performer. Or, he could have made it through the rest of the performance, professionally and without incident. Instead, he chose to engage in a brilliantly staged (and we have now read an admission from rapper Lloyd that he instructed Chris Brown to cry) Emotional Breakdown. In the middle of what was SUPPOSED to be a tribute to Michael Jackson, who had been dead for only one short year. As soon as “Man in the Mirror” began…I knew what we were in for. I immediately turned to Facebook to vent my frustrations at this small-time Media Spectacle. I was met with everything from denial to rage. I believe that at least two people lied to me, stating that they had “insider knowledge” of the event (“I know CB’s manager’s baby’s mama’s SISTER…and SHE said it wasn’t staged!!”), in an effort to defend a person whom they have never met and could not possibly know. I found the entire experience extremely disturbing. And it reminded me of a statement that bell hooks makes in a documentary called Cultural Criticism & Transformation, Part I. She says [paraphrased & remixed with my own words, as I only have it on VHS but I don’t own a VCR. Most college campuses generally do.] that “people want to reserve for the realm of media, a sense of “magic,”…we don’t want to believe that there are people/entities who make conscious decisions about how they will (re)tell a story or present information, in order to elicit a particular emotional response (sadness, fear, joy, rage, compassion) from the audience.” Indeed, this emotional moment that Chris Brown engaged in with his audience was magical for many. Chris Brown, in that moment, became their brother/son/lover/baby cousin; they knew Chris…he was like family.
And then, after receiving his BET award, he slipped in: “I’m sorry to have let y’all down.” And the audience reacted like they had just finished slapping a 5-year-old boy, who then said, “I’m sowwy, Mommy!” For the record: I am over the Chris Brown/Rihanna debacle, as abuse against women is happening every second of every day, and we simply do not have time as a culture to perseverate upon or demonize one person who was involved in an incident. But the truth is, there were real material consequences associated with this incident; everyone seems to forget that girls all across this nation collectively blamed Rihanna, exonerated CB, and then claimed that Rihanna “must have done something to deserve a beat down.” Girls as young as 11/12 years old have reported that they fully expect to be beaten by their boyfriends, once they start dating. When people see folks like CB – whose image up to that point had been squeaky clean – involved in an act of domestic violence, it works to further normalize and naturalize violence as an acceptable response to problems in an intimate relationship. This is especially problematic in Black communities. We don’t need CB’s Tearful Theater or Childlike Apology; we need to see him visiting schools and telling young people that he made a mistake, he regrets it, and he wants to help THEM (and himself) create and maintain positive and proactive strategies to curb violence in relationships. THAT is what he can do. And Rihanna can do that as well. He needs to save the Drama…for Broadway.
In fact, what the hell has Chris Brown been DOING for the past year?!? His People failed him; he could have really taken on this Gender Violence issue, and worked to create positive change in his own life and in our culture. Someone (and he is in good stead with many Heavy Hitters in the Game) should have given him some guidance as to how he might successfully address his own issues with battering, whilst spreading the message that battering is abnormal, unnatural, and unacceptable. He had an entire year to do that. And instead he cried. And he did not even ATTEMPT to do justice to MJ’s song, career, or life. Shame on Chris Brown. Shame on his People. And Shame on BET…just because.
Working Towards A Media Literate Future…
We do not have to be duped by Media Moments & Spectacles, People. I enjoy all forms of media, and I am constantly aware (and still probably, often unaware) of the multiple ways that I am being emotionally manipulated. I cry when I’m supposed to cry; I laugh when I’m supposed to laugh. I can enjoy a media experience tremendously, and afterward I can deconstruct much of the ideological bullsh*t that has been fed to me. It’s Fun. Moreover, when folks are Media Literate, they are less likely to internalize the ideologies and messages that are transmitted/received via media. And the Material Consequence of this…is Mind Decolonization & Liberation. Let’s Get It.