The Buffalo Mass Shooting and the Myth of “Acting Alone”

Racism operates in heads and hearts, but also in the ideas and systems that structure our world.

Sunday Buffalo, New York experienced one of the worst attacks of racist violence in years. In the hours after the shooting all of our channels fill up with the usual scripts and snippets we drag out every time a catastrophe like this unfolds. It is hard to make sense of what can be done when the narrative pulls us first to gun control, then mental illness, neither of which leaves us with any response to racism itself.  What should—what can we do?

The Buffalo massacre is not an isolated event, but part of a trend of white extremist violence that has been growing in recent years. It is important to think about the implications of racist violence and what action we need to take to address it.   If we exchange cookie-cutter narratives for critical thinking about the complexity of the situation we can work to transform meaninglessness and lack of control into understanding and agency. It can help us find our own sphere of influence to eradicate racism and respond with something other than thoughts and prayers.

The shooter is 18, male, and white.  He is alternately described as a boy and a man.  The distinction matters.  Calling him a boy brings to mind lowered accountability for his actions: think about little scripts like boys will be boys, youthful indiscretion, and childhood innocence.  When we call him a boy, these mitigating concepts attach to this terrorist.  When someone is called a man, like Mike Brown was when he was killed by former police officer Darren Wilson, the narrative shifts—act like a man, man up, it’s a man’s world.  A man acts with power and intention, while a boy can be forgiven for acting out.

The shooter had been referred for a mental health evaluation following a threat of school violence last year.  Mental health can be a mitigating factor in legal defenses, but does it actually tell us why this happened? The vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent. Being racist may be a moral diagnosis, but it is not a mental health diagnosis. Implying racial terror is caused by the mentally ill further stigmatizes those struggling with mental health.

Referencing his mental health also sets us up to think he may have limited culpability. Blaming his disordered thinking suggests this mass killing is an aberration instead of making connections to numerous racially motivated terror attacks—Atlanta spas, Tree of Life, Charlottesville…

What we do know for sure is that he held racist beliefs and actively advocated for violence against black people.  Sometimes we think of racists as simply misinformed, or ignorant, as if they would believe something else if only they knew they were wrong.  But he chose. His intention was to kill black people. He told anyone that would listen via the power of social media. That is racist, full stop.

 The connections we have to others help to feed us, stoke our inclination to act or not, and create —in his case literally—an audience, something that we know mass killers crave. We know he live-streamed the attack—what clique did he find that shared his ideas and was willing to watch a massacre on a gaming platform? Were the people around him calling him on his bullshit or gassing him up with their own racism, normalizing hatred of Black people? 

If there were connections in his life that tried to stop this attack, the coming days will fill in the details. When he planned to shoot the school, who was responsible for a follow-up? Was there anyone in his life to slow his radicalization? 

Traditional media narratives report on a lone wolf, someone legally not fully responsible, an outsider, or deviant. But the shooter was not alone—he is connected to many people, from family to friends to teachers and trolls. Too often with racism, white people may be uncomfortable confronting peers, friends, and family members, leaving the space for radicalization to go unchecked. 

Gun laws are notably one area where institutional intervention—from the government and the private sector—is possible and could make a difference. But they haven’t. Gun-rights lobbyists and the government work hand in hand to thwart the will of the people who overwhelmingly support sensible gun control. More recently, activity to outlaw antiracism in education seeks to undermine educational institutions’ ability to reach or affect an individual like the shooter, and the legal system, we know, is racist (if you don’t, you need some CRT—but you won’t get that in school). 

And then there’s the media, including Fox News—the number one most watched cable news network in the country—and the internet, a warren of dark rabbit holes. Created by people with their own biases, media platforms are not neutral purveyors of ideas but megaphones for the misanthropic with algorithms written to accelerate the most incendiary ideas. Social media companies profit from accelerating radicalization—hot takes and extreme content get all the clicks. Companies bet on it. 

We are creatures that exist within culture, and the ideologies espoused by those in power give shape and direction to that culture and the individuals, interpersonal relationships, and institutions within it. The United States is guided by white supremacy: this is not hyperbole but history. White Supremacy as an ideology has at its center the control and destruction of black bodies.  When the shooter ended the lives of 10 people this Sunday, he was not acting apart from white supremacy but as the living embodiment of it.   

White supremacy has always advocated violence both inside and outside the law: slavery, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow and lynching, State resistance to civil rights activism, and police violence. Since 9/11 the majority of attacks against Americans on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by White Supremacists, including the January 6 Insurrection.  They are not lone wolves, but cells in a vast network of attackers, radicalized by right-wing media, and supported—vocally—by some politicians, law enforcement, and others with power.

White Supremacy is the ideology that connects all these attacks—it is the idea that birthed this country, and, if we do not intervene, will be the death of this country. Attacks on voting rights, the erosion of civil liberties to crack down on the Black Live Matter Movement, the militarization of the police, and greenlighting of economic inequality are things that hurt everyone in this country. These are a few of the myriad ways that White Supremacy contributes to a shitty quality of life and dreams deferred in the US. 

 After the murder of George Floyd, there were many commitments, but comfort and ennui crept into the nation, turning—again—away from supporting and securing Black lives. Like a weed, pulling the occasional leaf won’t alleviate your problem. 

Racism is prevalent and growing—it lives in the racist beliefs people hold and trade, and it is proliferating in social networks in the real and digital worlds of family, and friends, and remains codified in our institutions, all guided by the ideologies that shape the culture and the people in it. 

We must attack all the places where racism flourishes. Heal and decolonize your mind and body. Talk about what matters: hold the people around you accountable for their behaviors and beliefs vocally and often. Whatever institutions you are a part of—be it company, school, organization, or church—use your power there to actively embed equitable policies and practices, even when there is discomfort or resistance. 

While White Supremacy stalks our communities none of us are safe, so we all need to find space to build a better country. If you are a shaper of culture, you have added responsibility—C suite-ers, academics, politicians, and power players, stop slow-walking the change we need. You must battle with the tools you have against the root of White Supremacy.  Calling all content creators, teachers, and activists. Tell us the truth, show us the path to liberation and help us dream into reality a better future.

Let let our actions hasten the future our thoughts and prayers cannot.


Is America “Racist”?

The institutions and systems in this country have, since its inception, used a belief that races were different to enable disparate treatment  running the gamut from segregation and separation to slavery and death.  This is what puts the —ist in racist. 

This week Tim Scott set back the fight for racial justice by doubling down on the deniers favorite song—America is not a racist country.  Despite the fact that he shared a story about his family experiencing systemic racism two sentences before, he looked straight to camera and declared on behalf of the GOP that the United States in not a racist country.

Blink twice if you need help, Tim.

The country woke from its usual slumber of silence around race last summer to admit that given the failures of the justice system, the disparate support structures of the health care system and continued economic inequality we are looking like a pretty racist place, and that was without even adding Trumpism to the mix. We had a moment when many Americans were ready to recognize and reconcile America’s shitty record on race. And then came the racism deniers.  Trump and his 78 million supporters fought back hard against those that would identify and address racism. The White House put out communications attacking the schools of thought that spearheaded structures for studying race. The right wing media beats now a daily drum of misinformation and ad hominem attacks on anyone who dares to call out systemic racism, calling them whiners and haters instead of scientists and historians.

Saying the United States is racist doesn’t mean that this country is full of big meanies or that America is intrinsically bad—that’s a different argument.  Too often resistance mistakes feelings for facts—people criticize those critiquing the country by saying they hate America. They claim any desire to identify racism is born of emotion and aims to taint history.  In fact the reality is the opposite—the feelings and experiences that we have are a function of the systems of power and privilege that we use to organize our society, not the cause of it.

Race is a social construct that organizes humans into sub-categories according to but not bound by factors like ancestry, heritage, culture, and color.  We should note that the lines of race are fuzzy.  We are not simple sweet peas where mixing a red and a white give you a pink.  The categories of race fall along clear lines—white black asian latinx and indigenous—that fail not infrequently to truly capture the human tapestry of a nation of colonizers and immigrants.  The lines themselves are apples and oranges, comparing color, to country of origin, to continent to who was here first. The categories of race adhere much more to the needs of those in power than they do to any natural or biological grouping. Funny, not funny, how that happens.  

We used to be more science-y about proving race was a real thing.  Scientists in the 19th and 20th century spent oodles of scienc-ing measuring heads and casting questionable and ahistorical aspersions as fact.  Science, shaped by scientists who were “people of their time (aka racist), sought out to prove that white people were smarter and more moral than other grouping of people. And prove it they did with junk science like phrenology and demonstrably false theories riddled with bias like the bell curve or broken window policing. These theories supported decades of disparate treatment in education, employment and every other aspect of American life.

At the turn of the century, scientists finished mapping the human genome and proved once and for all there is no gene connected to race.  Yeah, race is not a real biological thing. Period, full stop. Tracing mitochondrial DNA shows the all humans share common ancestry—African ancestry for those of you who are unsure about who the original OGs were.  Even skin color is created by a set of eight genes that do not break neatly along racial lines.  The truth is race is not a biological fact, it is a social construct, made up by humans.

History shows us that race isn’t an ancient concept but is in fact a more modern invention.   Sure the human has always been obsessed with the boundaries between tribes, territories and nation states, but race as we currently conceive of it along its white-at-the-top framework was born alongside the United States. Yes, Europeans had all kinds of intergroup hate in the middle ages—they were tough times for Jewish people, or Roma—but the concept of ‘white” didn’t show up in language or thinking until 1400’s just in time to spin a story that Africans are not humans, and therefore ripe for the picking of an exploitable labor force to build the “new world.” Apparently, slaughtering indigenous people and creating the economic engine to catapult American onto the world stage was too much work.

In order to build the United States from a few colonies to the powerhouse it soon became, there was a need for lots and lots of labor that the fledgling country could ill afford to pay competitive wages for. The US trafficked nearly 400,000 humans from Africa, and over the next century, kidnapped, enslaved and trafficked 1.2 million African Americans within our borders for 8 or more generations.  These enslaved people built the very foundation of American, creating an economic engine as well as the literal buildings themselves.  Enslaved people brought craftsmanship, artistry, cooking and in exchange were tortured, raped, murdered, their children sold off generation after generation all supported by the lie that White people are human and black people are not.

The One drop rule, the 3/5ths clause. Dred Scott, Jim Crow, redlining, the prison industrial complex—for hundreds of years America has created laws, practices and policies to control Black bodies and Black freedom.  Even today the plaintive cry to stop killing Black people is met with a no. The institutions and systems in this country have, since its inception, used a belief that races were different to enable disparate treatment  running the gamut from segregation and separation to slavery and death.  This is what puts the —ist in racist. 

The suffix —ist means holding an ideological belief in something, in this case an ideological belief in the social construct of race. So yes, America has taken an ideological position that there are different races and has organized power, practice and policy to that end.  That makes America a racist country. Now you can look at the evidence yourself and judge if that is good or bad(spolier alert: not great), but what you cannot argue is that race is not a primary organizing ideological and social structure in this country.

You can’t fix what you can’t recognize. The utter denial of what is historical record, the cynical position declaring there is no racism here without reconciling what we can see with our eyes, what we can know through research and excavation of the historical record, what is evident in the data tracking of our justice, education and financial systems even today: this is what is blocking this country’s ability to evolve.  Without acknowledging how power is structured, we run the risk of enshrining for yet another generation harmful—and yes, racist—practices.

Tim Scott got some surprising support from the first Black and Asian Woman to hold the office of Vie President. Vice President Harris likes to remind us that she was that little girl so I gently remind her that that little girl was being victimized by systemic racism right here in America.  The impetus for the VP to fight for justice is born from the racism of the US. I hope she remembers that now that she is in an elevated position of power to fight the system that tried to stop that little girl. Tim Scott also seems to hold the power of his family overcoming racism injustice in one hand and the power to deny it on the other. Anyone of either party or any race can deny racism, but those with power have added responsibility to take the side of justice.

It’s time to stop attacking the messengers and open up the letter America has written to itself in the blood of generations of black and brown people. Let’s name it so that we can see it. Let’s look at the truth of our history in all its splendor and shame so that we can reconcile the horrors of our past and present with who we want to be tomorrow.  


This year’s Oscar nomination broke with tradition by being slightly more inclusive.  After 87 years of being racist, and a couple of years of openly discussing their racism, the Academy put forth a slate of nominees that had a couple folks more racially representative of the America we live in. Jordan Peele kicked the party off right with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay for his social thriller Get Out.


Holding it down with black girl magic to spare, Dee Rees was nominated for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, the first black woman to be nominated in this category. The same film that snagged Mary J. Blige a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Making a return to the Oscars as a nominee is Octavia Spenser for her role in Shape of Water.


In this corner for the fellas is Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for Best Actor for his tear-jerking role in Get Out.


These nominees got here through hard work and amazing artistry.  Too often diversity selections are equated will being less than, only winning because they got a pity vote.  These stars show us that black shines bright, and brings in box office bling.

Progress: yes! Perfection….well, we’re not even close. In an interview with CNN #Ocsarssowhite creator April Reign cautioned, “When we’re still at the point where we’re pointing out the ‘first’ whatever, there’s still a long ways to go.”

With all this black excellence, you’re right to get hype:  you are witnessing the new black renaissance.  Someday your children’s children will read about the days that black activists, artists, writers, and luminaries led a civil rights movement that toppled white supremacy.  Your digital consciousness, which will most likely be kept in a small decorative box on the mantle, will tell them you remember the dark days of racism, and the light artists shone to help us see our way clear.

More than Miley: Disney Stars Ride Black Bodies to Adulthood

Blackness functions as a code to indicate a pop star experiencing a wild awakening. Blackness is there merely to represent the dark, seedy, undesirable side of America that is valuable only as a rumspringa for white American youth. They aren’t stealing your beauty or your swag–they grant you neither.

Miley Cyrus, trap queen, and twerk team champ released a new album this week along with a new persona: country Miley is back! Gone are the gold chains, grills and booty shorts.  Instead, Miley is rocking country ruffles, cornsilk skin and white supremacy–guess White is in for summer!


To be clear, Miley has made several statements about this radical brand realignment, saying that she doesn’t listen to hip-hop because, basically, of people like her.

Wait, this is Miley, right?


Cue the outrage and the twitter dragging–well deserved.  After copulating with hip hop to birth herself a new career, Miley was public-shaming her fling and claiming her roots didn’t include them-over-there black people.  The think pieces started to look more closely at Miley, who she is and why she as an individual decided to ditch hip Hop for the white right.  But like Dead Prez sang, it’s bigger than Hip Hop–or just Miley.

Young white pop stars have been using black culture and black bodies as a PR rite of passage into an adult career for years.  It goes like this–say you’re a producer looking for the next big pop star.  You want someone as palatable as possible so you can reach the widest audience.  You want that squeaky clean all-American look, like a Mouseketeer look.  You audition hundreds and hundreds of kids to find those magic ones that fit the image of American teen idol.  They sing and dance their little feet off for you.  For years. But they’re getting older, and their fans are getting older too.  Hanah Montana’s fans now are wearing makeup,  now dating.  How can Miley be their idol if they are growing faster than her?  How can Justin still be sexy if he’s just so wholesome? If you want that star you invested all that time and money in to keep paying dividends you have to shake them clear of their childhood image, sever them from their innocence and make them seem edgy enough to appeal to twenty-somethings who often love risk and seek danger.  So you black them up, even the ones that are already brown or black–change their friends, change their look, change their sound, sometimes even darken their skin.


Now look at your favorite pop star, fans. They smoke weed, they sag their look, they hang out with those boys your racist dad told you not to hang out with.  They’re getting wild. They’re growing up faster than you. They’re doing all the dangerous shit parents warn you about. You, fan, pay attention to ads or articles they appear in again. Their songs go back in your rotation.

But you, fan are maturing too.  After a few years, that pop star making bad decisions is like a lot of your friends who aren’t doing too great–getting too high, acting stupid in public.  You start to lose interest, again.  Luckily the PR machine is here to remind you that that pop star is just like you. Ethnically cleansed and fresh from rehab with a mea culpa in hand, they’ready to be a mature star now, earning again for investors, and paying dividends to companies that have been banking on them since their Mouseketeer days.


It wasn’t that Miley, or Justin or Brittany or Christina were brilliant brand strategists–they were just the star shining on stage.  The puppet master lurks above, pulling strings in a shadowy world driven by profit, data, and research as much as ideology.  What many of theses stars have in common is their parent company: Disney.  This PR path over black and brown bodies to the bank is part of the Magic Kingdom.  Think about that–the company that so many parents trust their children’s hearts too has repeatedly used a calculated racist process to drive profit into their pockets and ideology into the hearts and minds of their customers.


Disney has long had a reputation for being racist.  Walt Disney himself was a racist and many early Disney movies and cartoons were also racist.  Song of the South and Dumbo have never been rereleased unlike many other titles in Disney’s catalog because they are so racist.  Even Disney’s greatest hits are packed with stereotypical characters, and reinforce dominant ideology about race.

Look, I know you love Disney and here I come to shit all over your mouse parade.  But the fact is that this is important.  Disney has a mainline into American children, pumping not just Frozen song lyrics, but ideas about what–and who–is right and wrong.  Disney shows, movies, and stars are vehicles for communicating ideas about how to be a good friend, good person, how to be a good girl or boy (how binary). Disney media shows us how to fall in love, how to fight for what’s right, and who the bad guys are.


It’s more than Miley.  It’s that Walt Disney Company, one of America’s largest purveyor of ideology, has a long-standing widespread practice of using black bodies as the stand in for wildness, incivility, hypersexuality and violence.  With America’s–and some of the world’s–children fed at the tit of Disney since birth, this equates to a silent symbolic war where one side has all the weapons.  How can black people, already underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, battle a Kingdom complete with land, legal protection as a corporation and a legion of children ready to scream “Acuna Matata”?

The Miley Cyrus story has raised cries of cultural appropriation.  Miley’s use of blackness, now discarded and demonized is a clear case for how cultural appropriation winds up hurting black people.  But I believe when we move up the food chain, there is no personal fetishization of blackness, as much of the analysis suggests with Cyrus. Instead, blackness functions as a code to indicate a pop star experiencing a wild awakening.  Blackness is there merely to represent the dark, seedy, undesirable side of America that is valuable only as a rumspringa for white American youth.  They aren’t stealing your beauty or your swag–they grant you neither.  Instead, they are stealing only their vision of you: raw animal aggression and untethered sexuality that they project onto black bodies so they can touch it, sell it, without taking any ownership of their own dark side.


For decades, from Annette and Frankie to Miley and Justin, Disney has used black bodies to flip child stars into adults.  If you think they couldn’t have meant to–the old argument that their intentions were not racist–that still means that Disney has perpetrated years of cultural war on blackness without any concern for those represented or hurt.  If you like your theory with a healthy dose of paranoia reality, maybe you believe Disney is intentionally vilifying blackness in the representational binary with their innocent white stars, then we agree on nothing less than symbolic genocide and ideologically armed racism delivered in brightly colored costumes.

Either way, Miley is just the tip of the cultural appropriation iceberg.  Disney’s pattern of using blackness as a code shows that the ultimate result of cultural appropriation isn’t the inappropriate use of cornrows or coochie shorts but symbolic annihilation. Remember that the next time someone tells you to let cultural appropriation go.

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The Fame Monster

note: some strong language is contained in this article

In our super saturated ocean of media, there are lots of celebrities floating around. Musicians and entertainers, famous politicians or notorious bad boys, and even a ton of people famous for…well…being famous. Is seems as though everyone is famous for something. You can get famous in just a few hours just by writing a tweet, posting a video, even just being captured in an image.


Ken Bone listens to Democratic presidential nominee Clinton debate Republican nominee Trump during their presidential debate in St. Louis
Ken Bone became an overnight sensation after his appearance in a presidential debate town hall


In a 24-7 media environment, fame seems to be almost as important as money, power, and status. In days gone by children dreamed of growing up to be doctors, lawyers, firefighters or ballerinas. Studied in 2007 by Uhls and Greenfield, the number one thing children wanted to be was famous.


So what is fame? How do you get it and who gets to keep it? And once you have it, is it worth it? In this article, we’re going to look at the price of celebrity, not only for people who rocket their way to stardom but for our whole culture: how does fame change the world you live in?

In just a minute we’re going to look back in history to see how fame is different now than it was before. To start off, though, we’re going to hear from this guy.

Andy Warhol, artist, portrait, himself, white background

This is Andy Warhol an American artist. If you’ve ever seen these paintings of a soup can

or these of Marilyn Monroe,


then you’re familiar with his work. Warhol was really interested in breaking down the line between high art—classical paintings and work important in the world of art—and low art, like soup cans and Hollywood actresses. Warhol was instrumental in the pop culture world. His work and his fascination with popular culture made the mundane seem special, where before only the great works of literature and art were worth studying. To Warhol, though, even the basic items of people’s everyday life were worth examining.

Warhol made art, went to parties, and, through his public activities and an art house nee club called The Factory, Warhol was also interested in making celebrities. He famously discovered British model Twiggy  and helped to catapult her to stardom, making one of the first supermodels.


Perhaps Warhol’s most famous quote is this:in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.


Look, he didn’t mean that everybody should be famous, or that this was like a squad goal. He was predicting that as the tools to become famous are more available, more people would use those media tools to achieve fame. Was he right? You better believe it.

Sweet Brown, famous for saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” in a local news report.

As we’ve learned, media messages have an impact on our perception of the world. Remember Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory that states that the more we watch TV the more likely we are to replace our own perception of reality with ideas from media. Media messages tell us what is important, what is worth doing, and who matters. Celebrities are like super-peers, acting as an image that we are to aspire to, so who are celebrities are will impact the norms beliefs and values of that culture.


In the early days of movies and TV, there were only three television channels, and programming only lasted part of the day. That meant that being on TV was a more unique experience than it is now, something affording to a very small number of people. Now, with over 1000 TV channels, billions of YouTube videos and a camera in every pocket, we have a lot more channels than we used to have, and we have to fill up those channels with something. Simply put, the space for fame has changed dramatically, so the number of people in our culture that fill that space is larger than ever. Consider for a moment how fame has changed over time with these pairings of famous celebs from then and now.

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So how did fame become so easily available? The process hinted at by Warhol decades ago is something that media theorist Graeme Turner calls the demotic turn. Not demonic—though sometimes fame is a little devilish—demotic, as in everybody gets a turn. Here is Turners definition:

slide06You’ll notice that Turner isn’t talking about how important or amazing individuals are. He’s talking about getting people to fill the space that we have for fame—who is the it girl actress of the day, who’s everybody’s favorite hero or villain, who it the bad boy of the moment: these are all roles in our media culture.

Any person who has the chance to occupy one of these rolls becomes famous—usually not for long, not because of any great accomplishment, but because they are fulfilling a role, playing a stereotype in the culture that gains lots of attention. We think what makes a celebrity a celebrity is some special and magical quality, but more likely, they are an individual that fits a role in our media culture, they’re cast in that role and rocketed to stardom, whether they wanted it—or deserved it—or not. Turner calls them celetoids.


Notoriety, name recognition, relevance: these are the keys to fame. It’s not about being the best, the most or the only, but about being the most widely known. Being a celebrity these days is about nothing so much as it is about being popular. The more followers, likes and fans one has, the more you can make the case that you are a valuable commodity in our media environment. Remember in a capitalist media structure, the main goal is to sell product—so anyone that’s going to get lots of attention becomes a valuable commodity media companies can use to improve their bottom line.


Whether you’re trying to save all the puppies and kitties, or if you are a horrible human through and through, if everyone’s talking about you then you can be the star. But just like the most popular kid in your graduating high school class—not everyone that’s popular has earned all the respect they get. Reality TV stars are especially controlled by their relevance factor. Shows may shoot a variety of people for a season, but only those most interesting to fans will get big story lines on the show.

So it’s not the nicest, smartest, or most generous, but the most divisive, most engaging, most attention-seeking characters will get the biggest story lines, therefore the most popularity, setting up a cycle that privileges explosive and outrageous behavior over behavior we may find more acceptable in our own personal relationships.

Drink throwing, tuna catching fights, father-son bike-remodeling arguments, circling sharks in the Shark Tank: conflict drives reality TV, more than other scripted shows even. Why and how is reality TV so important? We’ve got to get into our time machine and go waaaaaay back to the not so groovy days of the 2007-2008 Television season.

Reality TV is certainly very tightly controlled in the process of production to shape stories and creating interesting plots out of people’s everyday activities.   While I am sure that your life is full of drama, there’s probably not enough for a 16-episode season. Producers ramp up fights, gossip, conflict and disagreement all to build more exciting stories. Yes they make up stories, and even tell people what to say and how to act, but one thing reality shows don’t have is union writers. The media industry has very strong labor unions—the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America in Hollywood to name just a couple. Every TV show that has a script has to use a union writer.

But in 2007-2008 TV season, there was writer’s strike. The Writers’ Guild of America went on strike and that meant that no shows that used a script could be made. What were the TV networks to do? Instead, TV networks turned to reality TV—free from union writers—to fill airtime. Instead of new dramas, TV was awash in reality shows. The networks learned something interesting—first, viewers watched the reality programming instead of totally turning off TV altogether, and second, reality TV was much cheaper to produce. There were no expensive actors, no scripts to pay for or costumes. Instead, regular people stepped up for their chance to be a celetoid.   So enough viewers + cheaper production costs=more profit. What looked to be a losing TV season turned out to be a very profitable one, and the proliferation of reality TV continued.


Whether we’re talking about A-list celebrities or just the hero of the day from the latest viral video our media culture is absolutely obsessed with fame. Media technologies have made it easier than ever for someone to be known to millions, sometimes billions of people. That kind of power just wasn’t available to anyone in centuries past. Now that this era is here, analysis of who is famous can help shed light on the values of our culture.

The people that we make famous are a reflection of the cultural values that are most relevant at a given time. Remember, it’s not about what is right, good, just or best, but about what is popular—the lowest common denominator.

In media studies, the Uses and Gratifications Theory  says that we use media to help satisfy our urges, needs and desire. But how does media decide what people need? Using psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can look at the needs that are most basic, and therefore most common versus those that needs that require basic needs to be met before we pursue them, thereby being less common concerns in the viewing audience.


Those needs that are most common are likely to draw the biggest viewing audience for a media production. For example, think of the old adage that sex sells. Sex is a basic human drive, along with food, shelter, and so on. That means that media representations that feature messages about sex are going to appeal to anyone who has sex, wants to have sex, has had sex, or is interested in sex: that’s pretty huge audience. By contrast, the need for self-actualization—a deep and complex understanding of yourself and your life’s purpose—is a higher level need. Sure it may be great to sell yoga classes with ideas about self-actualization, but for many people, this idea may not be as relevant to their life at a particular time. Needs that are higher level, like self-actualization or belonging are sure to attract people, but it will be a more narrow audience than those basic human needs.


Now it’s time to leave you with some questions to keep in mind while you navigate our fame-obsessed culture.   Think about some of the most famous people in our media universe and think about why they’re famous. What does their fame tell us about what we think is important or worth watching? Are we encouraged to focus on people who are doing what is right or just relevant? Are celebrities and celetoids truly powerful, or are they media product? And if they are products, do they really deserve our time, attention and hard earned money? There won’t be one answer—there isn’t just one kind of famous person. The next time you decide to be a fan of a celebrity, take a second to think about fame, and make sure they’ve earned your attention.

New Times Call for New Stereotypes

In case you haven’t noticed, black people are really slaying these days.  From music to art to literature knowledge and activism and of course fashion.  There’s even new language to describe the fabulosity of black people: lit, melanin poppin’ and now, TNS.


TNS stand for the new stereotype, and it is an intentional move by artists to create new ways of seeing– and therefore thinking–about black people.  It all started with this photo shoot by artist Marqulle Turner showing black men far from the brutes who populate the evening newsreel.  These black men are diverse, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fresh.

Marqulle Turner
Marqulle Turner

Not to be left behind these womyn showed how to get into formation.

photos from


TNS seeks to challenge and provide an alternative to the stereotypes of black people that we look at all the time here at smntks.  TNS reminds me a bit of the Sapeurs, the elegantly dressed members of this Congolese fashion club.


Guinness: Sapeurs in their finery walk among the cattle

Stereotypes are formed in the machine of culture, rarely owned by one person, so can you create a new one on your own? My answer would typically be a no, but these images of TNS come at a time when they are reinforced by amazing images of blacks as thoughtful, creative complex and conscious, from the Sapeurs, to Lemonade to black twitter.  Taken together there is a widespread pattern of a new image of blacks in our culture.

photo by Washington Ave Styles,
photo by Washington Ave Styles,

So get your crew, get your melanin poppin’ and add your images to the new stereotype.


Loads of Love

Recently this Ariel laundry soap ad, titled #sharetheload , from India crossed my desk (thanks, D!) and brought a little tear to my eye.

The touching story of a father who learns–not too late–the importance of balancing the second shift at home is more than just bubbly suds.  When women entered the workforce, the talk was all about being able to bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan AND of course cater to your mates masculinity.  After years of all y’all trying to have it all, it’s time to concede:  work-life balance is a struggle if the partnership follows the plotline of Leave it to Beaver or today’s patch of modern sitcoms with dope dads and super moms.

The Don Draper uber-masculine scotch drinking dad of yesteryear is dead.  Cold distant dads are out.  Today with a wide variety of family structures and work commitments, the old school gender-role  driven division of labor is giving way to more balanced homes.  What’s more, sharing chores with your mate is good for more than clean laundry.  Here sociologist Michael Kimmel talks about the many benefits shared home-work.

So don’t wait till you’re a silver fox to pitch in at home.  Who knows, dinner might not be the only thing you get cooking!

#BlackLivesMatter: A Bibliography for the Revolution

Black Lives Matter Nashville

img_black-girlreading We, at Black Lives Matter Nashville, believe we are in the midst of a revolutionary movement for black lives. We believe we are at war with systems in this country and world that demean and undermine the humanity of black people–namely, white supremacy, patriarchy, transphobia, homophobia, capitalism, and imperialism. Thus, we believe in arming ourselves for the war. And we believe there’s no better way to arm ourselves than with books. We’ve compiled a rolling bibliography of books that have been helpful for us while we conceptualize and navigate this movement. It’s rolling because there’s always more to add. Please submit more books, documentaries, links, and resources that have shaped and impacted you to

Mass Incarceration

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture by Angela Davis

Slavery By…

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Here, Ladies, Don’t Spend It All on Shoes

I came across this super cute ad from Australia’s ANZ Bank where little girls detail a world that seems weighted on their failure.  The depressing facts are spoken in sweetly by girls in some fantasy room, drenched with sunbeams and piled with books.  To top it off, there’s one tough little grasshopper who wants youth know how strong these girls can be.

Nice, right?  The ad is a part of a campaign by ANZ Bank to address the gender wage gap.  In addition to the ad, their announced they will be adding and extra $500 to the annuity funds of each of their 12,700 Australian female employees. That’s 6.3 million dollars  for the ladies: bonus!

Now I love free money as much as the next, and the bank is clearly articulating that they know the wage gap exists-soooo with you! As a woman that earns a wage, I’d rather be paid fairly–every year–than receive a lady-boys to make up for it.  That seems like a booby prize to me.  I wager I’m not the only woman who wants  wage equity, not a handout.