Bamboozled – Why Is It Cool To Be Dumb in 2009?

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Bamboozled Cropped

I often times post questions on my status-line in my Facebook account.  One of my recent questions was about movies and the answers brought me to think about how the landscape of Black movies is totally different in 2009 than it was in 1999.  That thought quickly lead me to reflect on the email that I recently read from Andreas Hale who was relieved of his duties as the Executive Editor of Music for Black Entertainment Television (BET.)  In the email Hale expresses the resistance that he was met with by BET Executives in bringing about a “positive” change within the programming of the station.  These thoughts then lead me to revisit thoughts that I frequently have regarding the lack of creativity and skill that is attacking Black music today.

In 2000 Spike Lee released a movie “Bamboozled” which was a satire about the effects of essentially turning Black entertainment into a literal “coon show.”  Although the movie was met with mixed reviews, in my opinion the movie has been prophetic when we look at the state of where Black mainstream media/entertainment is today.  A good friend of mine, Andrea, has expressed that “instead of art imitating life, life starts to imitate art and they [some individuals in the African-American community] believe that whatever these ‘artists’ talk about is real and try to live those things.”

I have a question for everybody 21 years old and older.  Regardless of how much you do or don’t like the current state of Black entertainment, do you feel that Black radio, Black television and Black movies were more provocative, mentally-engaging and intelligent 15-20 years ago and are we at an all-time low when it comes to Black entertainment? I think that it’s fair to guess that I am of the opinion that we are at an all-time low when it comes to the level of creativity and quality of Black entertainment.

I could get into the financial aspects of how the record labels and tv/movie executives only put money behind projects that they feel will produce revenue, but that’s a given at this time.  Additionally, I could say that there is a type of systematic racism that is taking place by “the powers that be”, but I feel that would be absolving the listening/watching/buying public from the role that they play in the caliber of entertainment that is being produced today.

The bottom-line is that it would appear that media outlets (tv networks, record labels, etc.) are developing and marketing media for the “lowest common intellect denominator” among African-Americans.  Of course there has always been “mindless entertainment” throughout the history of media, but the difference today is that “mindless” is now the new mainstream where it used to be more underground.  “Mindless” is the new rule where it used to be the exception.

I think that somewhere along the timeline that parents and adults forgot that entertainment is at times mindless fun, but at other times it is art.  There was a time that there was a fair balance of entertainment that inspired creativity on a higher level, inspired thought on a higher level and added a sense of “beautiful escape” from the world that we’re living in.  The caliber of entertainment today is so marginal, so beyond mediocre, at times so horrible that it doesn’t inspire it actually relegates the viewer or listener to a lower level of being.

The reason that I single out parents and adults is that there should be a certain level of maturity in this group of people that work out of a conscious position to expose themselves and their children to more than what the media executives are offering.  There was a time that if you wanted to let the TV/radio/movies raise your child that there were some options (does anyone remember “Teen Summit” on BET) that attracted younger minds and discussed/approached issues that inspired greater esteem and elevated the viewers’/listeners’ thought as it related to handling life from a more mature perspective.

I really don’t think that people in general realize what effect this “entertainment environment” has on young children.  Actually there are many people that are 20+ that don’t understand that much of their “socially accepted behavior” comes from the influences of the movies, music and television that they are watching.  Again, it would be very easy to point the finger at “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, Tyler Perry’s tv shows and movies and recording artists like Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy (who make music of no socially redeeming value) and say that they are THE REASON that everything is the way that is today.  Once again, that in my eyes would be absolving US of the role that we play.

I think that through the history of time there has been controversial music and entertainment that created a stir.  I can remember DJing in college playing Luke records and other music from Florida that was 50 times more lewd and outrageous than the music that I play today in the clubs.  However, I think that there is a huge difference today in the people that attended the parties that I DJ’ed in college 20 years ago and the parties that I DJ in the clubs now in 2009.  It appears to me that the party-goer of 1989 had interest and likes beyond “party music” which allowed them to go out and have a good time and leave the party behind.  The party-goer of 2009 in many instance look to imitate the lifestyle of the music/musicians and the music itself and many of them practically identify and live within the vein of party music virtually 24/7.

That’s not to say that 20 years ago there weren’t fads and things that people did outside of the club that were representative of club life.  There were “high-top” fades like Big Daddy Kane or Kid from Kid ‘N Play.  There were gold ropes like LL Cool J and Rakim.  As much as people were trying to look like a rapper or party like a “rock star”, they weren’t looking to emulate that in their actual lives.  Although there were people who did, again, they were the exception, not the rule.

Of course it’s easy for me to sound like I’m casting aspersions on the party-goer of today or the people that are fans of today’s “pop culture”, that is not what I’m looking to do at all.  My only point in this submission is to identify that there is a growing “pop culture” in the music, TV and movies today that is very dumbed down, unintelligent, if not “coon-like” that is becoming a way of life not only for the reality TV stars, rappers, “wanna-be” singers and the less than engaging movies that are being created, but for the people that are entertained by this media.  In many communities and social circles it has literally become cool to not care about one another, to not have a positive presentation of yourself by appearance or by the way you speak and it is cool to “not care” about much of anything.   Without creating a balance in the things that are being presented as entertainment, we will have a more difficult time restoring entertainment (and our communities) to a place that moves us to higher states of creativity, intelligence and consciousness.

As much as the TV, movies, music on the radio or even the music that the DJ plays at the club contributes to this – morality, virtue and ideals start in the home and its my opinion that we in our everyday lives need to be each others heroes and role models.  I think that the continued domination of mindless music, sex/drug music and less than intelligent TV/movies will continue to be that way until WE as individuals begin to want and gravitate to entertainment that is more in the “art/creativity/intelligent” category than programming that is a perpetual “guilty pleasure” with no intelligent or redeeming value.

That does not mean that I am taking a shot at an entire group of people or an entire time period.  I’m very proud of my frat brothers from Rainforest Films that produce high quality movies such as “Stomp the Yard” and “This Christmas.”  I applaud artists like John Legend and Alicia Keys for always bringing a positive, showing class and a talented presence in their music and on television.  I am stating that there used to be a balance of positive imagery and “guilty pleasure” imagery and I am of the opinion that balance is broken.  Just as important, I feel that the people who do not try to imitate this lifestyle, who see these “Stank Leg-isms” as pretty meaningless are themselves turning a blind eye to the disparity that exists in today’s music.  Understanding and consciousness are the things that will help re-establish the balance in Black “pop culture.”

In the past there was a balance: for every “N.W.A.” there was a “Public Enemy”, for every “Ice-T” there was a “Heavy D”, for every “Geto Boys” there was “A Tribe Called Quest”, for every “Friday” movie there was a “X” or “Do The Right Thing” and I can’t count the numerous TV shows including “A Different World”, “Living Single”, “NY Undercover”, “Roc”, “Soul Food” and “227” that were entertaining, good for the family and produced in a way that didn’t consistently have buffoon-characters “jive talking” ever episode.  I’m not calling for an elimination of anything from today, just restoring the balance that used to exist.

As I’ve said in other writings, if you have cousins, nephews, nieces, students or children continue to be a positive influence for them by not only being an example of how to live a balanced life, but also expose them to quality/intelligent/creative entertainment (from the past and present) that lets them know that there is a difference and that allows them to become an agent for change in the caliber of entertainment that’s being offered.  I know that for me personally, as a DJ, that I will play classic feel good music in the middle of a party to show people that there was a time music held a different feel and was made in a way that can stand the test of time.

I think that what’s happening right now in the first decade of the 21st century with Black entertainment is simply a phase.  I think that things go in cycles and that there will be a better day soon when we see more of a balance in “pop culture” that represents a higher standard of living and deeper grade of thinking.  For now the true change must be ignited from the inside (the people) to the outside (the media.)  It can definitely be agreed that companies have a large influence on how people think, but we can’t be so lazy that we just throw our hands in the air and say “there’s nothing we can do about it.”  It is possible for all of us to be agents for change and if we took a fraction of the awareness, the gumption and the initiative that our ancestors did to erect change then we would begin to turn the tide in a better direction.

As an answer to “Why is it cool to be dumb in 2009?”, I think that it has become a social norm in many African-American communities to live down to the example that’s being presented in much of our entertainment.  Moving to a better, more elevated way of thinking starts with everyone in their everyday life looking to affect change positively for not only themselves, but for the peers and younger people that they may influence.  Not only is it cool to be “dumb,” but it has become cool to not care.

Let’s make a change to care and display a positive alternative for people that allows us to continue to advance as a people and not take the years of social progress from the 1860’s, to the 1960’s, to the election of an African-American President and essentially relegate ourselves to a place where we are essentially out of control.  Originally the control was taken from us, this time we are consciously giving it away and that in essence is “dumb.”  Don’t be Bamboozled, we have a lot of power, let’s put it to good use.

Much love and take care of one another – “we all we got”…VA

Additional Info:

Andreas Hale Letter Re: Conditions at BET: http://www.bvblackspin.com/2009/09/08/bet-ex-employee-e-mail/

Top 25: Black TV Shows of All-time (ranked by Ebony Magazine 2007)

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_12_62/ai_n27391446/?tag=content;col1

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12 Responses to “Bamboozled – Why Is It Cool To Be Dumb in 2009?”

  1. VA,
    You know I feel you (I’m humbled by the quote, btw). I was listening to “LOL Smiley Face” the other day, and started thinking, “Wow…are we really at this point?” There is no room to even use your imagination with that song…at all.
    I am a Spike Lee Fanatic! I actually taught a class in college on the sociopolitical aspects of Spike Lee films. I was able to do that because he always left you with something to think about. Same thing with the music, X Clan, Eric B and Rakim even A Tribe Called Quest left you thinking. They used metaphor and imagery so well, you had to use your imagination. Now, let’s not pretend that our artists weren’t saying some of the same things the artists today are saying, but they were creative story tellers. Of course I think every generation romaticizes the art and music of their time, but we did have diversity. I think those of us who came of age in the 80s and 90s had it the best because we, more than any other Black folk in history, had options. The breadth of our stories were being told via music, film, TV, etc., plus we benefited from the creativity of our parents’ generation and those before them.
    That said, there is a place for Gucci and Soldier Boy and Lil Wayne. (I do like some of Wayne’s stuff. He is somewhat blessed with the gift of metaphoric imagery.)But I want to open people’s eyes so that they view this stuff critically. Party is party and fun is fun, but art can be political, and socially relevant too. We need to teach our kids to think…really think. They haven’t developed the filters that we should have as adults.
    I could go on and on VA, but you already know.
    NICE WORK!!!
    Luv ya,
    Andrea

  2. Well said… I agree 100%… It starts in the home, were are kids 1st and most important role models…. Nice job…

  3. Without getting too deep into it, I think entertainment has changed (Those making the decisions are now much younger), social acceptability has changed (now it’s no big deal to see bare asses on primetime network TV) and African-American culture has changed – young people feel as though they’ve arrived. To them, there’s nothing left to fight for. The perception is that struggles for equality were already fought and won so let’s party party party and all get wasted.

  4. Chontei Driver Says:

    The lack of choices in media today has co-created a generation lost. Robbed of the knowledge of the past. For most, that is acceptable. They look at the so called oldies as simply that–OLD!! And they want no parts of that. Unfortunately, it has not caught on to them that if you simply do not know where you have been then you can not know where you are at = GENERATION LOST. There interests consists of the here and now. What’s hot now, What’s going on now, What’s popular now, so on and so on. The other part of the co-creator are the LACK OF ACTIVE AND PRODUCTIVE PARENTS. For example, I recently saw a video of a kids birthday party in which the girls ranging from 5-7 years of age were all dancing like strippers to some fast rap song while the ADULTS encouraged and videotaped this disgrace. OUR VALUE SYSTEM IS IN JEOPARDY WHEN THIS IS ENCOURAGED AND NOT DISCOURAGED. We need to think of solutions that will recreate the balance of the two, because right now it is tipped on the side of STUPIDITY! We the consumers are going to have to start demanding more quality and stop supporting shows with NO merit what so ever. Simply, if we didn’t watch it or play it or buy it —then there would not be such a market for it. We need to support more quality programming versus the GARBAGE that is floating around now. —–GOOD JOB and well said……………CYD

  5. V,
    My 13 year old son read most of this over my shoulder. He said “he is like the old hermit who looks down on all the stuff that young people do.” 🙂 That being said, he is the same 13 yo who can identify any old school rapper/group in about 3 notes. His tastes extend far beyond hip hop and he also knows Frankie Beverly, Luther, Marvin Gaye, et al. He hates most of today’s music and is all around very musically mature.

    I will now take my proud mom hat off and say that there is definitely an alarming charge in the management of today’s urban media. It is more than apparent to me in the Baltimore/Washington market. For years I BRAGGED about Donnie Simpson (of Video Soul/BET fame). Donnie has one of the highest rated non-sindicated morning shows around yet I don’t know how much longer it will last. I was always proud that Donnie played whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and was in NO WAY a slave to program directors. If the station didn’t have it, Donnie played the song from his Ipod. I don’t know what has happened in the past 30 days but everything has changed. Donnie’s long-times side kick is no longer there, and Donnie has made references to not being aloud to play what he wanted (something he always vowed would make him leave radio). I don’t know what happened, but I know when Mr. BET has apparently been stripped of all power and plays “Lol Smiley Face” then the end is near!

  6. My take on this is……its not required now a days for numerous reasons. When i went to the movies years ago to see “School Daze”, i couldnt think of anything i wanted to do more than to go to college….when i watched TV years ago and religiously tuned into “A Different Word”, again wanting to go to college and surround myself with amazing friends…fast forward 20 years and you have “Dance Flick” (Wayans Bros movie) for your movie selection and “Real Chance at Love” for your TV viewing selection. I actually dug up School Daze for my teen daughter to have her watch it and recorded episodes of Different world to do the same for her. She was amazed that these pictures were out and since she was college bound REALLY found them relevant and interesting!
    My point is, for whatever reason ratings are probably SKY HIGH for those ‘dumbed down’ pointless movies, tv shows, hell…even songs, so why would they really change them? As i did and will continue to do is make more meaningful media available to me and mine (as im sure other parents or people concerned with themselves or loved ones being bombarded with garbage will do). It starts at home….be it just you, or with a tribe of kids!
    By the way….good point with this here…….
    It appears to me that the party-goer of 1989 had interest and likes beyond “party music” which allowed them to go out and have a good time and leave the party behind. The party-goer of 2009 in many instance look to imitate the lifestyle of the music/musicians and the music itself and many of them practically identify and live within the vein of party music virtually 24/7.
    This is me tellin the dude…..’U ARE NOT KANYE, JAY-Z, or PHARRELL…..take off the shades in the dark ass club, return your girlfriends scarf from around your neck, and 8 people going in on a bottle of Goose so you can sit in the big chair does NOT make you a baller/rapper……..that is all!! (lol)

  7. Shawn Oliver Says:

    Good read, VA. To be succinct, “our” media today is catering the lowest common denominator, thus we are saddled with the blight that you so aptly described above.

    I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle…if the money’s legal, then go for yours; however, this slide began years ago!! When “The Cosby Show” premiered 25 years ago, WE criticized it for not being realistic. WE dismiss our older musical acts with disdain because they aren’t writing/performing songs with degrading/offensive lyrics. Rappers who DON’T curse in their lyrics aren’t KEEPING IT REAL enough, etc.

    I guess that the beautiful thing about art…its meaning and influence is left up to the individual. Case in point…I will never forget walking out of “Boyz N The Hood” in Tallahassee and lamenting the fate of brothers like Doughboy and Ricky…then a cat from Miami walked by me and said, “Man, if those ni99as came to the Bottom, they wouldn’t last a week!” That same cat is now a respected lawyer…thank God people can change.

    Hopefully, the people in charge of OUR media outlets will begin to change as well!!

  8. Brian Hayes Says:

    VA, I appreciate the tag. I was thinking along a similar line this past Sunday, when I watched the twenty-fifth anniversary of “The Cosby Show” on WGN. I recall that, when it premiered at the beginning of my senior year in high school, I didn’t know people like the characters depicted on the program, but, in tandem with “The Wire,” it is the best television show I’ve ever seen, especially at a time when black people did not appear on television. At the time, only three, perhaps four, of my friends had two parents living together, and the closest to a professional living in those homes was a police officer. However, everyone my grandparents’ age was married, divorced, or a widower, and largely had blue-collar jobs, if they were not yet retired. But, the difference in that generation were the expectations they had for us, and I’m not sure that many parents today possess the same outlook.

    There was a level of foolishness that all of us had, but I would always straighten up when older people were around, because you never knew what person had gone to school with your mother, uncle, etc, and I was conscious of representing my family at all times. When I quit high school two months short of graduation, my entire family was…disappointed is too mild of a word to use. However, I promised both sets of grandparents and my mother that I would get my college degree, and I eventually did it. To my eternal regret, I’m only sorry that my grandparents weren’t there to see it, but my mother and my daughter were the loudest people at the ceremony, for entirely different reasons.

    In reference to the movies that portrayed black people during that time, aside from the “Blaxploitation” flicks from an earlier era, and films like the “Penitentiary” series, the majority had a positive image of people who had endured and were willing to sacrifice so that the next generation could push ahead even further. Today’s movies…I’m sorry, but I find no redeeming qualities in any Tyler Perry production. I know many of my “church-going” brethren always find offense with these declarations and express outrage (hating, keeping a brother down, etc.), but he is really the vocal point, in my opinion, of what ails movies today: no talent. Seemingly, people confuse getting paid very well for doing something with doing something very well.

    Honestly, I tried to give TP a fair shot, but when “actors” like Shemar Moore (possibly the least-talented actor working today) are employed in a major motion picture, it makes you wonder. I can’t say that he’s disappointed me, because I’ve never had any expectations of him. Fans of TP always say, “B, his movies have a message.” Well, I’ve received it, loud and clear: his movies suck. Better yet, it’s okay to question other black people, especially those that are well known, because they are role models, whether they accept that designation or not.

    I have always been a huge fan of the music that my mother liked, as well as music that my grandparents loved (big-band, swing, blues, jazz), but I have to confess that contemporary music is lacking. I’m not sure if it’s the talent (or lack thereof), a tendency to remake songs by superior artists, or the inspiration that has diminished all forms of music: the video. Once upon a time, an artist had to be able to sing or have stage presence in live performances. Sadly, that day has gone. I can’t totally dismiss some of today’s artists; I just don’t listen to any of them.

    In 1988 I partied because it was a fun respite from the weeks’ activities, but I never wanted the fame of any one, but I wouldn’t have minded having the money. In 1989, I partied because I was twenty-one, but there used to be such a thing as putting in work, whether it was your craft (entertainment) or school…there wasn’t such a thing as immediate gratification, which is one of the primary problems with Generation Y.

    Everyone will not be Martin Luther King Jr., nor should they, but so many people use the excuse that, particularly in the world of entertainment, corporations choose movies and also choose the songs that a recording artist will place on their CD. Being on a college campus, I freely share my life experiences with those who are interested. I tell them that I quit high school, joined the Marine Corps, left when it didn’t work out, got my first job post-military due to the “hook-up” (My aunt got me in the door, but it was up to me to open others), been married and divorced, quit a great-paying job that I hated in order to do what I had always told myself (and others) that I would do, and with the help of so many people, I’m still here.

    My story doesn’t have to be their story, and I will be the first to admit that a college/university setting is not for everyone, but one thing I have always been taught is that black people DO have control: control regarding what they view, what they purchase, and how they will be depicted. Kanye doesn’t represent me, nor do the Wayans Brothers (they should endure a public beating).

    History has shown us this, and it has shown us how, because we are consumers. If we won’t buy it, they won’t make it. However, it is pretty difficult to get people to boycott BET when their mother is watching “The Game” with them. What has to be communicated to the black community, with the greatest urgency, is that there are expectations, and there are just some things that will not be tolerated, starting in each household. I remember a Jim Rohn CD you made for me where he stated, “We Are the Sum Total of the Five People We Spend The Most Time With.” It’s okay to be smart and confident, and not feel the need to be ignorant. I’ve never understood why people, especially males, do that, and if they do succumb to that kind of pressure, they need an entirely different crew.

    What has also occurred, in some areas, is the death of the community. The absence of circumstances where elders would share stories with younger people, whether it was segregation, walking miles to go to school (my grandfather’s walks got longer the older he got), legally restricted to riding the back of the bus, playing football on concrete, or even music (my family will swear that Sammy Davis Jr. was better than Michael Jackson), has left us with a tremendous void in the fabric of our society. It is sometimes difficult to tell the youth of today that a world exists beyond what they see on television, their neighborhoods, the corner, etc. One of the prevailing images of success that they see is a person who, more than likely, never possessed a sense of social consciousness. Aside from Kanye acting like a jackass the other night, and Jay Z making an excuse for him, I didn’t hear anyone ask, “What would have been the ramifications had it been Beyonce that Kanye interrupted, instead of Taylor Swift?” That was bamboozling at its worst, and he should have gotten his ass kicked on national television. If nothing else, it would have served as a lesson to others, in that ramifications exist for decisions you make.

  9. ShaeMechelle Says:

    I think this is a very well written article. I know for a fact that I can easily partake in this so-called meaningless music and leave it at the party door when the night is over. Some ppl cannot do this and one thing that I continue to do is NOT influence my younger cousins w/ this music. I make it my business to not play this “dumb” and limiting music around them. I don’t get up and dance w/ them and rap all the ridiculous lyrics. I think it is importanta to not do this b/c the times that they do get to spend w/ me, I would like to show them something they are not constantly viewing/listening to each and every day. I think you’re right on the mark by saying that is is OUR duty to make the change from the inside and project that to the music industry. We have to do our part and although small, I try to make it clear to ppl younger than me that this music is just MUSIC and is not the way of life. There is so much more beyond what they see on the TV set.

    -end rant- 🙂

  10. Milo Edwards Says:

    Only %6 percent of network programming is geared towards black people! I’m on the Board of Directors for AFTRA (American Federation of Radio and Television Artist) and a member of both Sag(Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA. The powers that be choose mindless entertainment to present to the people because of the shallow society in which we live. Those of us who’re of more mental substance have to self promote and make it happen. The only ting about that is a large number of those who do that and make it get caught up in the money and other things. Then fall right into line with mindless entertainment for more money.

    Television is Advertiser driven and the more popular your show, the more advertising you can sell at a higher price. That higher price is what allows actors to make a million dollars an episode. Major corporations don’t support minority television to the extent they do “white america!” On black shows you see McDonalds and other face food places and Cadillac, black folk surely support both. On white shows you get AT&T, Verizon, General Mills products and other big time advertisers and they pay more for the Ads.

    I see this everyday and fight for change, I’m the Co-Chair of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Committee) at AFTRA and I fight for diversity daily. We have to stand up and make a difference ourselves if we want change. Stop looking to others for change and change yourself. Start with the man/woman in the mirror! Be the difference!

  11. **applause** and ** finger snaps**

    Insightful.
    Well stated.
    I’m in absolute agreement. (I miss Public Enemy.)

    ~I enjoyed the additional comments as well! 🙂

  12. What a facinating blog. I’ve bookmarked it and added your feed to my RSS Reader

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