Scandal-less: Black Women Throw Down Behind The Camera

There’s lots that can be said about the need for more diversity in front of the camera.  An equally important issue that goes to the root of diversity in media is diversity behind the camera.  Having opportunities for writers, directors, producers and actors of all backgrounds helps to provide fertile ground to grow new kinds of stories with fresh voices.  Enter five fabulous black women making interesting and fresh stories representing some typically unheard voices.  Since mainstream media isn’t really open to being that fertile ground, these ladies have made their own space to grow.

Their candid conversation here on their experiences making some of their breakout hits informs, educates and inspires, so take the time to listen to these queens.

Zimmerman vs DMX: Why You Need to Stop Watching

It’s official:  racist murderer acquitted vigilante George Zimmerman will be stepping into the ring to fight rapper DMX in a “celebrity” fight.  Adding insult to outrage, the announcement comes on what would have been the 19th birthday of Trayvon Martin, the child Zimmerman shot and killed February 26, 2012.

UPDATE BELOW

Despite the primal draw of vengeance, I’d be wrong to not point out what the problem is with this upcoming event and the conversation sure to surround it.

The Glorification of George Zimmerman

george_zimmerman_mugshot_120410_640x360_2221704047

Since his acquittal for killing Trayvone Martin, Zimmerman has had a hard time staying out of the spotlight.  Most recently he sold–and is being sued over– a painting copied from an AP journalist’s photo.  Coupled with his upcoming fight, we can guess he needs the cash, though he denies he will keep any prize money earned in the fight.   More seriously he was involved in several incidents resulting in law enforcement intervention, including threatening his girlfriend and his father with a weapon in separate incidents.  Plainly stated, this is a man who has killed one person, and has threatened to kill several others.  He has multiple less serious interactions with law enforcement including domestic violence, threats and assault–if you can call those allegations less serious.  This is a troubled and violent person strongly attached to weapons that make him feel powerful.  In no way should we as a culture elevate this man’s visibility or credibility by labeling him a celebrity.

Acquitted vigilante killer Bernard Goetz
Acquitted vigilante killer Bernard Goetz

But the problem is that we are the kind of culture that has elevated the visibility of the violent and deranged.  Serial killers,  vigilantes and those acquitted in the courts but not in the court of public opinion all have found fame and attention.  Zimmerman joins others like O.J. Simpson, New York vigilante Bernard Goetz and Casey Anthony  who disgust us even as we keep watching.  That Zimmerman keeps sucking up air time is an uncomfortable reminder of the undesirable state of our celebrity culture.

Racist Dialogue

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The murder of Trayvon Martin  and the acquittal of his killer is yet another wound opened in the long battle for racial justice and equity in America.  Even as a parade of stand-your-ground and police brutality cases cross the news ticker, loud chatter in other circles is lined up on the side against racial understanding, complaining of reverse racism and black domination.  Have no doubt that the men in the ring are fighting proxy in the bigger battle between staunch racists and the people of color who stand, still unjustly, as the target of their hate.

Fighters James Jeffries and Jack Johnson
Fighters James Jeffries and Jack Johnson

Like the Great White Hope’s fight with  master fighter Jack Johnson, boxing often pits pugilists of different races against each other, symbolically  fighting the race war that heats up today’s dialogue on social networks and in too many living rooms and streets across America.   Despite a steady insistence by the lawyers that the Zimmerman case wasn’t about race, the court of public opinion recognized no such fantasy.  The divisions split open during Zimmerman’s trial have festered in the meantime.  Allowing another public fight, and the guarantee of the nastiest of exchanges between races over its outcome is sure to aggravate an already hostile racial climate at a time when we need more unity, not less.

The Opponent

dmx-9.25.2013

When fight promoter Damon Feldman opened up his inbox for people interested in going toe to toe with Zimmerman, he got over 10,000 applications.  Earlier in the week, rapper The Game came out and announced that he would fight Zimmerman.  Despite saying he would fight anyone, Zimmerman punked out declined Game’s offer and instead called out Kanye West, then settled on DMX.  While DMX has showed he’s a tough dog, his battles with the law, drugs and himself have left him less than ring-ready.  Instead of the glorious avenger, DMX is cast by the promoters as another black male here to bolster George Zimmerman’s damaged ego.  The tale of the tape shows the fight will allow Zimmerman to continue his m.o. of trying to stack the deck.  Typical.

match up of potential opponents
match up of potential opponents

The serious and sad heart of this story beat in the chest of Trayvon Martin.  Too often in our popular culture what matters most, what we need to heal, untangle or unite is trampled by spectacle.  Maybe like you, I would also love to see some kind of justice, no matter how base.  But before you click that pay per view order button, let’s both remember that there is no justice at the end of fists full of dollars.  Each of us has to choose to feed the beast of frenzy or find other ways to find the justice we seek.

UPDATE:  The Zimmerman DMX fight has been cancelled.  All the outrage matters–keep thinking and talking about issues like these, and of course reading smntks!

DVR Alert: American Promise

February is Black History month.  Here at smntks we have a special devotion to examining race and media, so it won’t be hard to fill up February with some media analysis–past, present and future–of media representations of people of African decent.

12 yrs

While mainstream media didn’t shy away from representing Black people this year, it’s hard to say the representation was always good, accurate, or reflective of the African Diaspora in America.  There were some stand outs–like 12 Years a Slave–and some not so outstanding moments–twerking anyone?

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

What we can say is that 2013 didn’t give up very many nuanced and thoughtful representations of the experience of being Black in America today.  The contemporary representations of Blacks we did see tended to put them at either end of the socioeconomic spectrum: rich successful and fabulous, or broke down and hoodtacular.

Ratchet

In the middle lays a swath of African Americans nearly unknown to the mainstream viewing audience:  middle class blacks. By varying estimates the Black middle class accounts for 45 to 55% of the total Black population.  Media representations of the Black middle class are hard to find, and rarer still are documentaries produced by and featuring members of the Black middle class.

PBS POV series presents American Promise this week, the story of one family and the challenges and joys of the family’s two boys.  Set your DVR and see this rarest of birds in American media–young Black middle class boys and the educated, involved intelligent parents who care for them.  Check here for local listings.

We Can’t Recognize You With Your Tongue In

Miley Cyrus resurfaces again this month on the cover of W magazine.  No doubt she had a … transformative year last year–and laughed all the way to the bank.  Her newest photo shoot has her wearing even less than usual, as if that was even possible.  Am I the only one that is having a hard time recognizing her in these photos?

    

Are you sure that’s her?  For a star who assures us she is so into being herself, she certainly doesn’t look like any version of Miley we’ve seen so far.  And those haters?  Can’t stop, won’t stop her:

“Anyone that hates on you is always below you, because they’re just jealous of what you have.”

Which apparently doesn’t include a t shirt.

miley cyrus w magazine

More Ball, Less Boobs: SMNTKS Super Bowl Ad Review

Getting those snacks ready for tomorrow?  Don’t forget your pad and pencil for scoring a full card of million-dollar commercials.  Make sure you are the master of water cooler chat with this smntks primer on the slate of ads.  What’s going to be hot?

Puppies!!

Yup, soft, fuzzy bouncy bundles of joy–everybody loves ’em, even big boy advertiser Budweiser who will feature a sweet, sweet blonde golden retriever for family friendly brand buzz without the typical T and A you might expect from the Super Bowl.  With an increase in customer push back on inappropriate ads, puppies are as safe as blue chip stock.  Budweiser’s already enjoyed lots of pre game buzz with this ad, and with the cute butt in this ad it’s sure to get shared long after the game is done.

Super First Timers

Several advertisers from brand new and old will be making their first appearance at the big game.  Cheerios, covered here, and Heinz make their first appearance despite over century combined in business and newbie tech company Squarespace will join them with a horror-themed spot that will make you rethink browsing.

Drives off the Field

Eating up lots of commercial time, car companies will be wowing us with adventures thrilling and bizarre.  Volkswagen’s angels, Jaguar’s spies, Hyundai’s super dad and the muppets all make a play for car lovers’ cache.

Whole Lotta Love

There are fewer super sexual ads, but that doesn’t mean love is off limits.  Axe, Chobani and Chevy all rev up the love meter.  Don’t expect any kind of rom-com you’re used to.  Dictator’s gone lovestruck, yogurt stains and a bull in the mood for love make these ads more funny or strange than flirty.

Without a fratboy’s-eye-view of the ladies scheduled for tomorrow, smntks is looking forward to some good football.  And the ads–are you likely to surface from the Super Bowl with a shopping list?  Probably not–these big day ads are all about growing our warm fuzzy feelings for featured brands.  Don’t expect the hard sell with tomorrow’s ads, but with all the money and eyeballs, you’ll definitely have some ads worth talking about for your Monday morning quarterbacking.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

In 2004 an idealistic young State Senator from Illinois assured us that we were not red states and blue sates, but the united stated of America.  It seems like since that time sates are getting redder and blue-er each year.  Whatever side of the isle you’re on, chances are you  are getting a healthy diet of haterade for your political opposites.

Its hard to evaluate the tone of political discourse and lay blame at anyones feet without looking at the media environment that feeds on and fires up a politically hostile climate.

Decades ago, news reporting relied on–wait for it–reporters and reporting.  Networks maintained large bureaus of news reporters: trained journalist paid to chase down and thoroughly vet news stories for nightly and morning news casts.  A steady erosion of actual journalists coupled with more and more hours of news shows to fill has resulted in a crisis in news.  The result?  shallow reporting, an increased reliance on pundits and “experts” and recycled, regurgitated stories taken from video press releases, company marketing material and tabloid stories.

Imagine you’re a news network exec and you have, oh say, 24 hours to fill without letting your foot off the pedal for viewers and driving them to change the channel.  What to do?  Fluff it up with newstainment–stories with exciting video or salacious stories, but low news value and useless information.  The clutter of viral videos and celeb worship make it more difficult to find out what matters, and encourages a gossip culture that extends beyond Justin Bieber into the political arena in search of the next scandal.

In a race for ratings, political coverage has become increasingly inflammatory, amounting at times to little more than a bad internet forum.   Outrageous factual misrepresentation is rampant with truth falling victim to sensational headlines.  Without fact checking, many viewers are left not only uninformed–but ill informed.  A recent study  found that regular viewers of Fox news are more likely to be less informed than people who do not watch the news at all.

So tonight’s State of the Union speech and the response from no less than 5 republican rebutters is sure to fill tomorrow’s airwaves with plenty of verbal vitriol and heated debate.  In the middle of it, we could really do with some seasoned, reasoned analysis of the very real problems our country faces.  We need facts, not talking points.  We need compassionate consideration of how to make America better for everyone not tweets going for red meat.

While you’re looking to see who’s tearing the country in half, just don’t look across the isle, take a careful look at the messengers of doom. Demand better news from your sources.  Write them letters, tweet their factual finessing, and call them out till we can get the news we need.

The Grammys They Missed

Well, the 56th annual Grammy awards are all done but the hangover.  In case you couldn’t stay up to catch them all, you may have missed a few awkward moments, some aging rockers and a truly touching wedding a-la Moonies.  You also may have missed these award-worthy standouts.  Ladies and gentlemen, the first ever smntks celebration of the Grammys–the Sammy’s!

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Award

Pharrell and Daft Punk...or and angel with a thank you note from heaven
Pharrell and Daft Punk…or and angel with a thank you note from heaven

This year’s Hand That rocks the Cradle award goes to Pharrell Williams.   He hit the stage so much you might have thought he was escorting the guests…but no, he is stirring the pot of pop music behind such hits as “Get Lucky” and  “Blurred Lines” as well as his own “Happy”.

Thong of The Year

Putting to rest the argument about Beyonce being the face of black feminism, Queen B tore open the Grammys with her Drunk in Love Duet with hubby Jay Z.  She may not have taken song of the year, but this shot shows she may in fact break all laws of physics…or she has some spanxs like you wouldn’t believe.

Most Awkward Unscripted Tribute

Steven and Smokey

Steven Tyler belts out a few bars of Smokey Robinson’s   You Really Got a Hold On Me as Smokey looks on.  Maybe it’s that smooth skin you could bounce a quarter off, but Smokey looks less than impressed.

The Kanye Award

And the guy behind her? Oh, he is crushed!

Sure she’s a winner…but not last night for album of the year.  Taylor Swift had to check herself to not jump up when Daft Punk scooped up for best Album.  She would have gotten extra points for actually storming the stage and telling Daft punk that she deserved it.

Best Natural (?)

Look real...and real nice
Look real…and real nice

Beyonce takes a second Sammy for going yaki-free and sporting what looks to be her own natural hair.  Now she had a pixie not too long ago as my buddy T pointed out, but until we know otherwise we thank the Queen for showing up with hair that looked real and elegant

Hat of the Night

The winning hat
The winning hatThe second place hat...womp womp
The second place hat…womp womp

Hands down this award goes to Pharrell for his signature 2013 Vivian Westwood Hat.  Madonna tried to make a play for this award at the end of the night, but to no avail.  You can hate Pharrell’s hat–or make a funny meme out of it–but you cannot deny that it took a lot of confidence to rock that bad boy all year night.

Did we miss an award?  Hit the comments with your best Sammy.

Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy and Black People

This week the Pew Foundation released a report confirming that so-called “Black Twitter” exists.  In case you thought this meant that Black people are finally discovering the interwebs thingy, Okayplayer–a long time round the way site–lays down some  history of Black net nation.  If you remember Black planet, you know we didn’t just get here, but welcome to the party, Pew.

The Suprise Lord of the Dance (Track)

Have you checked out this lid-blowing secret from the music industry?   Hold on to your Katy Perry pompoms.  Your favorite star many not have birthed their biggest hit.

The headline for me isn’t that one man is so amazing that he made all these hits, but that the music industry functions much the same as, say, the peanut butter or paper towel industry in that packaging changes, but behind the scenes, companies are more connected than their brand names would suggest.    We cheer our hearts for our beloved pop stars, without realizing we are being sold a prefab fabulousness.

The label holdings of Universal, the largest of the four major music companies.  That's right, the majority of music in America is produced under one of four companies.
The label holdings of Universal, the largest of the four major music companies. That’s right, the majority of music in America is produced under one of four companies.

While Boy in a Band celebrated the amazinosity of Max Martin, lots of people would use a word other than hero.  The pop market of the last twenty years has been called flaccid and insipid, with songs increasingly indistinguishable from each other.

Far from being a fair competition between hundreds of thousands of want-to-be-stars competing not for industry judges or reality TV show audiences, it is an INDUSTRY with a massive internal structure completely mysterious and unknown most consumers.   Call it the MIC, Musical Industrial Complex.  And before you shout American Idol at me, reality TV shows determine the total course of the music industry in the same way that Project Runway runs New York fashion week.  A few breakout stars each season are not the primary drivers of the multibillion-dollar music business.

Surprise, the song is not just a spontaneous creative flash from your favorite singer, but part of a process that creates a product for sale.
Surprise, the song is not just a spontaneous creative flash from your favorite singer, but part of a process that creates a product for sale.

Sure, the industry works, pumping out stars and filling a variety of pockets, but do you ever wonder what music you would hear if we had access to fresh faces, unheard voices pulled not from the most popular but from the best.

Musical talent abounds in hidden corners of every city.  The music industry selects what they think will be profitable.  As Billy Sparks said in Purple rain “This is a business; you ain’t gone too far to see that…” have you?  Of the hundreds of thousands of records released by record labels this year, only a few hundred get mass market airplay, and fewer still get the massive distribution needed to become a hit.  Never mind the thousands of talented people that never get that break.  Think of all those talent show videos where judges are blown away by a deep well of talent in an unsuspecting contestant.  Have you ever seen someone in your own community who can really belt it out—but is far from a record deal?  What about your favorite local band that never made it big?

So while I doff my hat to the creative genius behind Baby Hit Me One More Time, I also say, move over Max and let someone else shine.  There will be hits, even if you don’t write them all.

Free to be Bad Part 2: Dear Congress, Love, Zombies

Just in time to fill the hole in our life left by the death of Walter White, AMC premieres season 4 of The Walking Dead.  If you’ve never seen it, the Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel of the same name, is an action drama set in the zombie-infested near future.  Like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead has us riding shotgun next to an antihero navigating a world made of bad choices and worse situations.

Rick, former cop, zombie killer extraordinaire, wears the badge of the classic western sheriff when we first meet him.  He takes on the noble task of shepherding a group of people, a newly formed family collected on the road, through an America destroyed by a zombie virus.  Where once the hero in the white hat stood, The Walking Dead  places a man, fallible and frightened.  Rick does his best, and then decides there is no best in a world where right and wrong have been devoured.

What is most fascinating about Rick, Walter, and AMC’s other bad boy Don Draper is that these men are complex and flawed, even as they put a brave face to dealing with a new reality.  What is not new is that each of them is all too willing to throw everyone around them under the bus as they search for the new world.

Whether it is Peggy toiling under Don Draper’s tutelage on Mad Men or Glenn running interference for Rick in the Walking Dead, our new anti heroes have fresh faced side kicks.  Diversity is blooming across some of televisions great scripted dramas.  While it’s great to see new kinds of characters representing the struggles of women and people of color too often absent from the scene, the characters too often end up as chattel, red-shirt wearing secondary character who are ground up to serve in our antiheroes wild plans.

The challenge facing the group in the Walking Dead is the same challenge we face in a world of increasing diversity–how can we all live together and share this fragile planet?  The Walking Dead shows us the problems of hammering out new leadership.  In order to avoid the pitfalls of the past, leaders have to run on something other than ego and hubris.  Leaders need to embrace diversity not just for show but for the valuable ideas and important vision diverse voices can bring to the table.

 

So some advice for Rick in this season’s Walking Dead?  Take some time to listen to the people you are working to lead– their voice matters.  Surviving in any crisis takes teamwork, collaborative problem solving and critical thinking.  Even in a world of bad choices, people together can make the world a livable place whether that’s a prison surrounded by zombies, or, say…..congress.