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.

media, race, and pop culture explained