Music Video Directors: Assassins 4 Hire?

“Watch what you’re watching/”

—Nas, “Sly Fox,” Untitled, 2008.

Images matter. The age of denying the

insurmountable effects graphic material masters on the minds of young,

impressionable viewers should be far behind us. In the last decade alone, we have

witnessed the dramatic possibilities an irresponsible media state is capable of

producing when held to no account. From the shock-and-awe broadcast of the 9/11

attacks; to the grossly unethical reports about mass looting, criminal rampage,

and child molestation, following Katrina’s landfall; to the media-manufactured

scandal last year, involving President Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright

Jr., the truth is no longer deniable.

By and large, the aim is to “elicit

specific and planned emotional reactions in the people who see them.”[1]

The media is a myth-making machine. It

thrives on the gullibility and vulnerability of untrained and uninformed

viewers. Whether to help propagate political propaganda, or to arouse viewers

to unconscionable actions, images can be the defining factor between life and

death. The power of imagery is so strong, that it has defined the humanity of

millions of immigrants (Blacks, Browns, and Yellows), condemned millions to

death (Jews), convinced nations in supporting unpopular wars, and programmed children

into believing in fables.

“Some say the

pen overpowers the sword/

The video camera is just as powerful when it records/”

Images matter. Raw footage of LAPD

officers brutalizing the skull of a drunk man[2]

awoke the sleeping beast of unrest in disgruntled youth, resulting in over $1

billion in damages.

Images come from symbols. Thankfully,

renowned psychologists like Dr. Frances Cress Welsing have taken great time out

to decode the meaning behind some of the symbols already ingrained into our

mental faculty—or “brain computer,” as she calls it. These symbols are

responsible for the triggered reactions most of us educe when confronted by

certain images—the cross, the gun, the sun, the moon, the stars, sexual organs,

etc. They communicate with pre-established sentiments in our psyche, evoking

strong emotional expressions—which should discredit the arguments of those who relentlessly

contend that what is shown on TV is mere entertainment; thus, undeserving of

the critical examination thoughtful viewers pay to it.  

Acclaimed scholar Henry Giroux has

dedicated a lifetime of service to the assessment of mass media, and the

development of critical theories to fight back against the rise of

neo-liberalism in this media-driven era. In Beyond

the Spectacle of Terrorism: Global Uncertainty and the Challenge of the New

Media, Giroux writes: “Mass and image-based media have become a new and

powerful pedagogical force, reconfiguring the very nature of politics, cultural

production, engagement, and resistance.” [3]

But the terrain gets a bit tricky to

navigate, with accepted notions that any call for responsibility in media

production is a half step away from Communism—an obliteration of the First

Amendment guarantee to Free Press. In the name—or rather, under the guise—of

exercising their right to uncensored broadcasting[4],

ruthless misrepresentations go unchallenged, countless lies are told, and

reports are presented as unbiased—to ensure corporate sponsorship is appeased.[5]

“Telling lies to

our vision/

Telling lies to our children/

Telling lies to our babies/

Only Truth can take us away/”

Images matter. The average viewer spends

3 hours a day in front of the idiot box, guaranteeing that by age 75, such

person would have flittered away 9 years of his/her life in the pursuit of

unreal imaginations.[6]

The brain functions primarily in Delta,

Theta, Alpha, and Beta Waves. The Delta and Theta waves occur in infants and

children, while the Alpha and Beta waves occur in adults. The Beta state is

required for more energetic work, and the Alpha for cerebral

activities—reading, sleeping, Yoga, meditation, etc. In the Alpha state, most

nerves are relaxed, and the brain is most vulnerable to information-penetration.

An attentive student in class is most likely to be found in the Alpha state.

The Beta, however, keeps the body functioning on optimum level.[7]

When most people watch TV, their brain

waves immediately switches from the Beta to the Alpha state, leaving the mind

at risk to whatever data is being transmitted. Researchers have found that, at

this stage, the brain relaxes into a mild-hypnotic state, which is why TV

watchers can seat firm for hours, without moving an inch. This also explains

why when disturbed in the middle of their TV-watching sessions, viewers can

become erratic and, even, violent—as some are when woken from deep sleep.

Because of the fast-paced images, and the rapid transitions on screen, the left

side of the brain, responsible for assessment and accountability, is, in

essence, shut down, rendering the mind defenseless to attacks from any source.[8]

* * *

Images matter. The gift of music videos

has blessed Hip-Hop with just as much curse. Through television, Hip-Hop

introduced the world to a reality that had trapped the humanity of millions of

Black and Brown men. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” has

stood the test of time, remaining the most prolific example of the best

prophetic Hip-Hop has to offer. With the music video release for The Message[9],

a global audience saw firsthand what it meant to be “livin’ in a bag” and

“eating out of garbage piles”; a place where “smugglers, scramblers, burglars,

gamblers, pickpockets, peddlers, and even pan-handlers” were local heroes. This

audience was forced to pay attention to the criminal conditions inner-city

Black and Brown youth were relegated to.

The message

was delivered.

Unfortunately, Hip-Hop music videos

haven’t all followed that tradition since. In fact, the majority have deviated

far from it, choosing instead to bow before the altars of sexual exploitation

and materialism, choosing instead to glorify the violence of inner-city warfare.

The horrendously misogynistic nature of

most of these videos has created an atmosphere where women who listen to

Hip-Hop are trapped between their love for it and the hate being hurled at

them, creating a sense of conflict within the psyche that can cause as much

pain as it does pleasure. And, though the ‘90s brought with it caricatures who

believed the best solution was an all-out vilification of Hip-Hop—organizing congressional

hearings, televising bonfire sessions to burn Hip-Hop posters and CDs[10]—the

criticism wasn’t all unfair. A good deal of it was warranted.

In The

Isis Papers, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing detailed the need for a critical

understanding of the havoc mass media reproduction of racial stereotypes wreaks

on Black minds: “These weekly insults to Black manhood that we have been

programmed to believe are entertainment and not direct racist warfare, further

reinforce, perhaps in the unconscious thinking of Black people, a loss of

respect for Black manhood while carrying that loss to ever deeper levels.”[11] 

Commercial Hip-Hop music videos have,

without a doubt, furthered and reinforced those insults, and, in many ways,

made it more palatable for a younger

generation to accept, digest, and pass it on to the next batch of guinea pigs.

Black women have been reduced to nothing but disposable sexual objects, Black

men have been portrayed as trigger-happy-gangbanging-Minstrels, and all sense

of commonsense has been completely blotted out.[12]

This “covert propaganda machine,” which

does the dishes for “white supremacist thought,” feminist scholar bell hooks

once explained, is in the business of “skillfully manipulating representations

to convey to black folks and everyone else the notion, however false, that

black life is horrible, that black people are the enemy, dangerous to

themselves and others.”[13] 

Images matter. Many Hip-Hop artists have

willfully participated, knowingly or not, in this operation; but music video

directors, answerable only to record label executives, should be held to

greater account.

Take for example famed director Gregory

Dark, who has helped put together videos for many Hip-Hop luminaries including

Ice Cube, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, and David Banner. Dark, in his former life, was a

porn director and producer.

In 1985, he directed and co-produced two

interracial porn flicks: Black Throat and Let Me Tell Ya ‘bout Black Chicks. In the second, Dark, who is

white, featured a scene where two white men, adorned in Ku Klux Klan attire,

are seen raping a Black woman. Upon entering the bedroom where she’s found, one

even blurts out: “Let’s f**k the s**t out of this darky!” Because of the crass

content and racially inflammatory representations, it wasn’t released to the

home video market. In an interview years later, Dark reportedly reminiscences on

his groundbreaking exploits: “I had these Klu Klux Klan guys riding on top of

black girls as if they’re horses. That scene made me happy.”[14]

It makes more sense now that a guy with

such history of devaluing Black femalehood is highly sought after, by our best

and brightest, to extend that tradition to a new generation. But, on the set,

artists rarely get a say. The directors mostly speak directly with the record

labels to draw out a plan for portrayal. Artists are merely the proxy through

which it is delivered.[15]

And this explains why most video vixens are light-skinned—even if the artists

are anything but.

“Up late night,

on they mother’s cordless, thinking a perm or/

Bleaching cream will make them better—when they gorgeous/”

Earlier this year in April, Hip-Hop

entrepreneur Diddy’s integrity was called into question, following a leaked

casting call memo for the promotion of his liquor brand, CIROC Vodka (40%

Alc./Vol.). The directors of an upcoming commercial requested that all models

be “White, hispanic or light skinned african american Height: At least 5’6 or

taller Size 7 or smaller.”[16]

Shortly after, CIROC representatives denied it had anything to do with the

“inappropriate and offensive casting call,” denying consent and knowledge; but

the truth had already escaped the tunnel by then.

Images matter. In an interview with TV

personality Joy Daily for an upcoming documentary, Complexion Obsession, Texas rapper Paul Wall reveals why most

mainstream Hip-Hop videos deliberately feature light-skinned women over their

darker-hued counterparts: “From the perspective of the director of the videos,

or from the perspective of the record labels, [they’re] looking at it as,

‘Okay, if this girl [is] light-skinned, you don’t know if she [is] Black, you

don’t know if she [is] Hispanic, and she might be White.’ And, too, a lot of

older White folks… it might be easier for them to accept a light-skinned girl.”[17]

Those executives, the “older White folks” he talked about, are the only ones to

whom directors answer, thus making it easy to disregard complaints from artists—if

at all any—about the unilateral

complexion of the models on set.

Accomplished actress Nia Long has

long-complained about the color-coded biases in Hollywood, and who is to blame

for it. Speaking in 2002 with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Long

contended that light-skinned actresses, in the minds of mainstream movie-goers,

are “less threatening” and more “identifiable.” She explained just why this is

so: “I think White people can say in their minds: ‘Oh, one of her parents is

White, and so, you’re one of us, too.’ … You’re just a tad bit less

threatening.”[18]

This identifiability factor also plays

out in the Hip-Hop game, more so at a time when White suburban kids have become

the dominant consumers of the culture.[19]

Of course, occasionally, some rappers

reveal their struggles with self-hatred, such as Chicago native Yung Berg who,

last year, confessed his distaste for dark-skinned women (or “butts,” to use

his term): “I’m kinda racist… I don’t really like dark butts too much… It’s

rare that I do dark butts—like really rare. … It’s like, no darker than me.”[20]

But, as Pittsburgh MC Jasiri X pointed out, “The Industry Doesn’t Like ‘Dark

Butts’ Either.”

Jasiri X, in a candid essay, revealed

why he chose to pass up the opportunity to join the fray of justifiably annoyed

Black women who lit up the internet in response: “[I]f you have ever seen 1 or

1000 rap videos you know dark skinned sisters are damn near nonexistent in

them. (Ironically, Yung Berg has a dark skinned sister in his new video. What’s

not ironic is that he disses her for a lighter skinned woman.) I guess video

casting directors are giving the pool test too.” Yung Berg’s comments were but

the inevitable reflection of a broader set of concerns, Jasiri noted, because

“the epitome of beauty in this society is the blond hair blue eyed white woman

and the closer you are to that image the easier it is to be accepted as

attractive.”[21]

Images matter. They are the bedrock upon

which our thoughts are formed. And conceptions of self follow suit. If these

“weekly insults” to our sense of humanity keep going unchecked, the future will

spell disaster for all those unlucky

enough to reach it.

[1] http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article80.html

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROn_9302UHg

[3] Giroux, Henry. Beyond

the Spectacle of Terrorism: Global Uncertainty and the Challenge of the New

Media. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2006, p. 26.

[4] http://www.buzzle.com/articles/power-of-an-image.html

[5] http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/01/ge/index.html

[6] http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/culture/television/television-addiction-is-no-mere-metaphor

[7] http://www.200words-a-day.com/alpha.html

[8] http://www.trashyourtv.com/node/318

[9] http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xrrio_grandmaster-flash-the-message_music

[10] http://velourpistol.com/the_souls_of_rap_folk.html

[11] Welsing,

Frances Cress. The Isis

Papers: The Keys to the Colors. Chicago: Third World Press, 1991.

[12] https://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2009/08/10/21886645.aspx

[13] hooks, bell. Rock

My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem. New York: Atria, 2002.

[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Me_Tell_Ya_%27bout_Black_Chicks

[15] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1653639,00.html

[16] http://sandrarose.com/2009/03/25/ciroc-doesnt-like-dark-skinned-african-americans/

[17] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbKseohALy0&eurl

[18] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NDs9iGjlZk

[19] http://www.divinecipher.com/blog/pivot/entry.php?id=38

[20] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNdAL0bklUk

[21] http://hiphopnews.yuku.com/topic/717

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