Monday, June 29, 2009

Beneath Low: BET, Lil Wayne Set the Stage for Child Pornography



Last night, live at the BET Awards in Los Angeles, a room full of head-bobbing, consenting adults bounced to Drake and Lil Wayne’s back-to-back performances of the hit songs “Best I Ever Had” and “Every Girl.” I watched, underwhelmed. I wanted more “Michael” in what was supposed to be this award-show-turned-Michael-Jackson-tribute. I watched, ever puzzled by the Lil Wayne phenomena that has captivated the music industry. I watched, wondering when the set was going to end.

Then the little girls came onstage…literally the little girls. “Are those children?” I asked out loud, in disbelief. Then the camera panned the audience. Everyone was still head-bobbing as the little Black girls huddled around these superstars.

“Are those little girls on stage…for this song?!?!” I, still in disbelief, lost breath and forced myself to exhale. “Why are these little girls featured on this performance? Is somebody going to stop this?” Again, the show was live, though for a nano-second, I was hoping that a hunched-over stage manager would bust through from back stage to scoop up the children, rescuing them from harm’s way…from being associated from this song. But instead, what those girls witnessed from the stage was hundreds and hundreds of adults (mostly Black people) staring back at them, co-signing the performance. These girls, who all appeared to be pre-teens, were having their 15 minutes of glam on one of the biggest nights in televised Black entertainment history, with two of pop culture’s biggest stars at the moment, with millions of people watching. They must have been bubbling with girlish excitement, shimmering like princesses all night. Pure irony: one of them wore a red ballerina tutu for the special occasion. And we applauded them.

But did no one care that Lil Wayne’s song Every Girl is about grown men and their sexual escapades with women? Did the meaning and intent of the song matter to anyone, this song whose hook and other lyrics required a re-write in order to get air play? “I wish I could love every girl in the world.” That’s the radio-friendly version of “I wish I could f--k every girl in the world.” But Lil Wayne’s BET performance was the clean edit of the song. Perhaps he (and the show producers) thought that there was nothing wrong in featuring the children in the clean version. Perhaps we were supposed to see the whole bit as cute and innocent. Absolutely not. There’s no other way to cut it: in presenting little girls in a performance of a song that is about sex, group sex, and more sex, BET and Lil Wayne set the stage for child pornography. It doesn’t matter what version of the song was played, much like a man who batters women is still an abusive man, even if uses flowery phrases while battering.

In the song, Lil Wayne mentions superstar Miley Cyrus, but Cyrus gets a pass on this lyrical sex escapade because, as he acknowledges, she is a minor. Huh? Why, then, is he comfortable with featuring four minors, these four little Black girls, in the show? How deep exactly is this inability of some men to respect women, and how deep is Lil Wayne’s disregard for the safety of little girls?

I’m told that one of the girls is Lil Wayne’s daughter. That doesn’t matter. In fact that makes it worse. Last night we were reminded that there are few safe spaces for our little girls to be children; that some of us are willing to trade their innocence for a good head nod. BET and Lil Wayne are beneath low because, in effect, they have given premium assurance to these and other little girls that their best value, their shining moment, their gifts to display to the world, all lie within a context that says they are f**kable.

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The programming at BET has been heavily criticized by artists, concerned citizens, college students, parent groups, social justice organizations, media reform activists, and many others for over a decade now. Their programming seems hell bent on broadcasting the worst pathologies in the Black community. Some have joined the anti-BET movement by simply tuning out. Others have been more pro-active. National letter-writing campaigns and other activities designed to shame and/or pressure the network into improving its programming have been in play for some time now. Boycotts have been called as well. Two years ago, for example, the network found itself in the line of fire as it planned to air the very controversial series “Hot Ghetto Mess.” Advertisers, such as State Farm Insurance and Home Depot, responded to pressure and requested that their ads be disassociated with the series (though, their ads could be placed in other programming slots). None of this has made a difference. In fact, it seems to have emboldened the network, for it is now expanding. In the fall, BET is due to launch another channel.

As a social entrepreneur and activist, my entire life/work has been dedicated to standing up for what’s right, especially within the culture of hip hop. When identifying what cancerous elements exist within the Black community, many fellow activists agree with Chuck D (of Public Enemy), and even Aaron McGruder (of The Boondocks), when they targeted BET as one of those elements. That said, I didn’t think that we would ever have to take the network to task for what amounts to child pornography.

But millions of Black people are not offended by the network and welcome anything BET has to offer, no matter how much it continues to unravel the fabric of our community. Imagine, if you will, BET as a human being and the viewers as the community. You would have to imagine BET as a drug dealer, with his swag on…perhaps outside standing atop a truck, the community crowded beneath him. Imagine him throwing nicely wrapped gifts into the crowed, or giving away turkeys at Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s Mother’s Day and he buys dinner and teddy bears to all the single moms and grandmothers around the way. Despite his best efforts and despite the approval of his fans, he is still a drug dealer, pimping death to the masses.

Proverbs is full of sacred text that teaches us that there will always be fools amongst us. Some of them will be highly paid, protected, and given world-wide platforms to show off what they do best. And these fools (be they performers, corporate executives, or others), will have fans and loyal supporters, and a place to call home, like a BET.

But as long as there will be fools amongst us, there will also be wise ones - a small group of people concerned about the long term health and well being of the community. This small group will often go unheard and they will be outmatched. They will struggle over which problem to address first: the child pornographer, the batterer, the pimp, the prostitute, the thief, the slumlord, or the system that enables it all. They will get tired and their defense will pale in comparison to the almost crushing offense. And they will be betrayed from within. Historically and universally, this is what happens in the struggle for what is right. But eventually, with continued pressure, something will shift. A radical new thinking will emerge, and the fools will lose their stronghold.

The sure expectation of victory, however, can not be understated. It is a concrete ingredient in the struggle against the death that is being paraded in our community…as necessary as letter writing campaigns, economic boycotts, symbolic and actual protests, and other pressure-oriented activities. It is indeed possible to bring more life into our community.


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NOTES ON HOW TO RE-POST OR RE-PRINT THIS ARTICLE. YOU MUST...
1. List the copyright info as: © 2009 by April R. Silver or Copyright 2009, by April R. Silver
2. Include this entire blurb directly under the article: "April R. Silver is a social entrepreneur, activist, and writer/editor. She is also founder of the communications agency AKILA WORKSONGS, Inc. Her first book is the critically acclaimed anthology "BE A FATHER TO YOUR CHILD: REAL TALK FROM BLACK MEN ON FAMILY, LOVE, AND FATHERHOOD." Contact Info: silver@aprilsilver.com or www.aprilsilver.com"

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

April, those tights you were on the cover of this blog is offensive. Stop being a hater.

Stevengfullwood@gmail.com said...

co-signing the performance. yes. we have been co-signing performances like this for quite sometime. i remember watching an arsenio hall show where a group of preteens bump and grinded their way through a brief performance before dropping to the ground and humping the floor - the enthusiastic (embarrassed?) applause of his audience. while i do not keep company with black folks who think that we have to dance the we matter dance for white folks, i think its important to address the complicated ways we, the community, authorize male behaviors like this. this is historic. i wanted to believe those little girls were lil wayne's kids or relatives but that would not be an excuse, either. very bad behavior, indeed. but aint that a part of black folks 'keeping it real?'

Anonymous said...

Thank you April. As a former music, film and black media insider, I can say that I am DONE with all of it. I canceled premium cable channels because outside of Food Network and a few other programs it just wasn't worth my jobless dollars. I have been in the black circles and must say they are in the midst of a vicious downward cycle that will be the end of them not soon enough. Black media/advertising/music/etc. suffer from wrong and shallow thinking. Legacy, culture and heritage are played out. Respect hasn't been on the map since Aretha put it there. What we have is a bunch of sell-outs and self haters. Black folks willing to sit around and let white folks pimp them and tell them about their own culture. Black folks that distance themselves from everything they are (black/mulatto/whatevah) but want to "REPRESENT" for the almighty dollar. I worked at a top black record label that told me "Don't write any memos in here cause nobody ain't gonna read em. So what you know how to write, if you didn't grow up on government cheese then F you" Believe it or not, we don't even have the power to keep stuff off the radio because of payola or whatever they call it now. The answer is to shut them down. Parent step up and turn off the TV/Cable/Ipod. Boycott shows and BIG BRANDS that advertise. Send them a letter telling them why. Make your kids READ A BOOK (a real novel idea pardon the pun), watch a beneficial movie. My mother didn't let us listen to R&B until we knew about birds and bees. Thank G-d I don't have kids. We just witnessed one of the richest men in the world die broke and broken hearted. Yes it helps, but Money is not everything.

gina g. said...

Thank you April for this great piece. I agree.. BET is morally bankrupt and is a major DESTRUCTIVE force in mainstream america. Their glorification and glamourization of thugs, guns, pimps and materializm is an outrage. BOYCOT BET!

Listen to APRIL on WBAI!
Listen to DAVEY D on KPFA!
Listen to TAVIS on NPR!
Read MICHAEL ERIC DYSON!
WHAT's FARAI CHIDEYA? I miss her show ALOT!

responsiblemen said...

Great blog April. Thanks for addressing this head on. What's worse is that song is #10 on Billboards Hot 100. The messages in that song are reaching millions of people - particularly youth. It is sad that BET, Lil Wayne, and Universal Motown are willing to cash in on the exploitatin of women and youth.

Wakandan said...

Lil Wayne is a roach. He was just being what he is. The problem is us. We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated by a crippling and debilitating word called "Hater." So for years now, we have sat back and watched ignorant a-- behavior and music and have said nothing because noone wants to be called a hater.
When Luke was making videos, sisters danced in them willingly and enthusiastically. When Snoop came out and every other word out his mouth was bitch, sisters walked around wearing his tee shirt.
When the cerebral and highly polished rapper, Nas, wanted to pay some bills he paid Black American women to stand behind him and sing "OOchie Wally-Wally. Oooochie Bang-Bang."
The person who came out on stage sunday night to give the humanitarian awards was announced as the person in charge at BET. This person is also an African American woman. I highly doubt she is the only African American woman in authority at BET. How in the name of sanity did that horrendous act get past all of those people and make it on the air?
You see, the reason social derelicts like Imus feel so comfortable opening their mouths the way they do is because for years, we have told the world that it is not only okay, but we find it amusing and entertaining. Sisters have told the world that as long as the beat is funky you can call us any damned thing you want.
Now that it has manifested itself with that visual of little girls being presented to the world as young chicken heads in training, everyone is SUDDENLY ticked off. Somebody please get Fishburne and a bullhorn out here. Please?

doc362 said...

I could go on 4ever talkin about how the Tell-Lies-2-Ur-Vision is a big detriment to us as a (carbon complexioned) people. Whoever was in charge of producing the show that night need a visit from the drop squad. When KRS & all the other real MC's were beefing about it, they were dismissed as haters. So now they're still doing their thing & we got clowns on stage(w dreads even) bringing more dis-taste & wack-ertainment to our children's eyes & ears, laying pure swine to this culture.I know there's a good & bad side to things but damn, the Sh*t Hop is outweighing the real stuff that's available & THE RADIO WON'T PLAY IT! Will u ever hear of a concert in Sweden, Russia, Australia,BRAZIL, JAPAN with LIL Wayne as opener or on the Billing? Hell no! Know why? Cuz those places mentioned know what REAL HIP HOP looks, tastes, feels & smells like. We should turn off B.E.T. & all of those other networks promoting the entertainment that sets us far more back then forward. 2 b continued...

doc362 said...

Hmm someone mentioned that Mike was known for molesting children. Unless you know personally yourself, rather than believing what the propaganda machine is telling you, then maybe you should fall back a little bit. Belief means you really do not know. There are a lot of things you may not know that would bring light to these allegations & why they were continually propagated.

Daniel said...

Ms April, i applaud you for your eloquent and highly insightful written thoughts regarding a problem which has practically been ignored in the mainstream Black social structure.
I have noticed this type of self destructive behaviour for years ever since songs dedicated to B.O.B. violence began being replaced by songs dedicated to rampant promiscuity with as many "bitches" as possible. God help me, i miss the days when rappers would sing about 187's around the block.
Nowadays everything seems to be centered around sex, and nowhere is this despicable excuse for music more prevalent than with so called musicians such as Ludacris (P-poppin) Nelly (Tip drill) and of course the aforementioned Lil Wayne. I thought Lil John was bad...but Lil Wayne seems to be Tony Montana to Lil John's Nino Brown.
I pray that there comes a time within the mindset of young Black Men and Women in the US when they finally wake up and realize that self deprecating music passed off as ghetto-tainment is harming the minds of the next generation of children who listen to this garbage non stop, partly because their Parents have been so desensitized to it, by it. This filth passed off as some sort of Black musical legacy is doing nothing but further spreading the egregious notion that Women are nothing more than sexual objects to be gawked at, howled at, and praised solely for the merits of their bodies. It does nothing but encourage licentious behavior within the Black community and can likely result in a number of relative social dysfunctions: teen pregnancy, increases in STD transmission, unwed and single Parents, rapes and so forth. Thank you for stating the facts as they are, not as some ignorant "haters" would like them to be. God bless you!

Pete Nav said...

Just read your piece and couldn't stop my self from responding. Many guys who watched, were offended and stayed quiet! In a recent article written by Jackson Katz “Eminem, Misogyny, and the Sounds of Silence” he wrote about the quiet collusion of well intended "men" that provides the social support for violence against women. Often these men are so paralyzed by a dimension of "masculinity" that prevents men from expressing their true beliefs at such outrageous sexual objectification of children. The fact that this could occur in the mainstream media only suggests that Men's role in ending violence against women has to start with ending this “quiet collusion” among men. Imagine what would have happened if every man who was offended stood up and protested. That would have been the end to this whole conversation. We have to begin to understand how seriously this quiet collusion undermines the safety and security of every women in our community - our daughters sisters, mothers, partners, all the women in our lives that we love and care about.
It really time for guys to speak out and put an end to this!
Pete Nav - standupguys.org

stevenalston said...

I can appreciate your frustrations, for the reasons you so eloquently presented. Unfortunately, the BET Awards (which I did not see), was the result of something that has been in motion for quite some time. Because the broadcast itself is representative of an entire generation of questionable choices, I could go on indefinitely about a world in which many of us are sleepwalking. In general, because of the rich history and experiences, African Americans have the unique opportunity to demonstrate how life could be pleasantly different. Clearly (in my mind anyway), people who have journey this particular American experience would not subject themselves or any others to the atrocities that have been documented over hundreds of years. They would seek a better existence for everyone in our society. Are we ready to let go of the things that no longer serve our collective well being? Unfortunately, the leaders that are creating a different way of existing (and there are many!) don't carry the ratings that our profit-centric television and radio networks seek. If we all want a different result, WE ALL have to make different choices. Here are some choices to consider TODAY:

Choice 1 - Continue watching or stop watching. Since TV has a significant following, the chances of anything changing are slim if everyone continues to support any station through viewer-ship. If a significant group of those that watch, join those of us who have not been watching (hence, why I didn't see the show), it will eventually have an impact. Advertising dollars, which basically finance the station, drop accordingly with a drop in viewers. If it drops low enough, network management will have to create shows that are more popular or go out of business. Instead of watching this network and many of the other limited options, reading might be a viable alternative. Library cards are still free.

Choice 2 - Continuing listening to hip hop with messages similar to the one in question or stop listening. A friend informed me that his 8 year old son had very little exposure to hip hop prior to visiting his cousins a couple of months ago. He said, "everything about him seemed to changed after a few days with his cousins, who were listening to hip hop the whole time. My 8-year old now thinks he's like more like 12-13 and I'm spending more time helping him work through influences he received through the music." Today's parents could expose their kids to other types of music. I'm not suggesting that we censor all hip hop, just expose kids to other stuff and screen the music for the appropriate age. Parents might be surprised about some of the choices kids make if they are presented other options. Throwing some classical, jazz, blues, blue grass, etc. into the mix can't hurt.

Choice 3 - Do nothing or create a different reality for our kids. Everyone is too busy or has too little money to change anything. NONSENSE! Start a loosely structured support group for kids and adults in the neighborhood to facilitate conversations about the influences of music and television. Mass media is putting in a whole lot more time with kids than parents are. By design, parents are challenged with information coming from so many different sources. If parents take turns hosting an event (cookout, book review, movie review, etc.) where the kids can share their challenges without being judged (this will take a special skill set), ideas to solutions for removing harmful messages will be available. If adults understand how the media messages are affecting the thoughts of our kids, then they have an opportunity to assist them. Without some activity to counter for unlimited messages from television and radio, we can just expect more of what was produced at the BET awards show.

Thanks for your post April. Our power exists in the choices that each of us make. Maybe your post will begin a wave of different choices.