Watch what youre 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 Katrinas 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.
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
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 facultyor brain computer, as she calls it. These symbols are
responsible for the triggered reactions most of us educe when confronted by
certain imagesthe cross, the gun, the sun, the moon, the stars, sexual organs,
etc. They communicate with pre-established sentiments in our psyche, evoking
strong emotional expressionswhich 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. 
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 Communisman obliteration of the First
Amendment guarantee to Free Press. In the nameor rather, under the guiseof
exercising their right to uncensored broadcasting,
ruthless misrepresentations go unchallenged, countless lies are told, and
reports are presented as unbiasedto ensure corporate sponsorship is appeased.
Telling lies to
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
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
activitiesreading, 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.
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, violentas 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.
* * *
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 Fives 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,
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.
Unfortunately, Hip-Hop music videos
havent 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-Hoporganizing congressional
hearings, televising bonfire sessions to burn Hip-Hop posters and CDsthe
criticism wasnt all unfair. A good deal of it was warranted.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 shes found, one
even blurts out: Lets f**k the s**t out of this darky! Because of the crass
content and racially inflammatory representations, it wasnt 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 theyre horses. That scene made me happy.
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.
And this explains why most video vixens are light-skinnedeven if the artists
are anything but.
Up late night,
on they mothers cordless, thinking a perm or/
Bleaching cream will make them betterwhen they gorgeous/
Earlier this year in April, Hip-Hop
entrepreneur Diddys 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.
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, [theyre] looking at it as,
Okay, if this girl [is] light-skinned, you dont know if she [is] Black, you
dont 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.
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 artistsif
at all anyabout 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, youre one of us, too. … Youre just a tad bit less
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.
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): Im kinda racist I dont really like dark butts too much Its
rare that I do dark buttslike really rare. Its like, no darker than me.
But, as Pittsburgh MC Jasiri X pointed out, The Industry Doesn’t Like Dark
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. Whats
not ironic is that he disses her for a lighter skinned woman.) I guess video
casting directors are giving the pool test too. Yung Bergs 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
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.
the Spectacle of Terrorism: Global Uncertainty and the Challenge of the New
Media. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2006, p. 26.
Frances Cress. The Isis
Papers: The Keys to the Colors. Chicago: Third World Press, 1991.
My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem. New York: Atria, 2002.