COLUMBIA, S.C. – In the aftermath of the Zeta Tau Alpha incident, the University of South Carolina prepares to implement a program focusing on “sensitive” issues offensive to blacks people allow me to suggest one area of con-sideration: popular culture.Think about it where are most of the prevailing, degrading epithets and stereotypes created? And which people have the most influence over consumer behavior?
If you answered “the media” and “celebrities” to the aforementioned questions, congratulations: you have not been brainwashed into believing that these concocted images are reality.
Herein lies the problem: as long as the media caters to pop culture, false misconceptions and jaded perceptions will transform into stereotypes. Hence, there is a cycle of miseducation that can potentially become oppressive to the ethnic groups or parties being portrayed. Particularly, because persons or parties not affiliated or familiar with the customs of the conveyed group begin to internalize or accept the media images they are subconsciously perpetuated.
As shown by the influx of celebrities advertising every product imaginable, corporate America is capitalizing on the pop-driven market. Most celebrities welcome endorsement deals and consider them to be a staple of commercial success, but what’s the cost? Often, these stars must exchange artistic identity for the sake of capitalism.
For instance, as hip-hop continues to dominate the mainstream, many rappers, encouraged by their record companies, tend to follow the hackneyed formula for success. As an avid hip-hop advocate and fanatic, it sickens me to think that an art form rooted in originality and lyricism has become topically stagnant (with a few rare exceptions, i.e. OutKast). The main reason for this transformation is pop culture and the quest for so-called crossover success.
Even Jay-Z, arguably the best rapper alive, attested to this theory in “Moment of Clarity” on The Black Album stating he “dumbs down for [his] audience and doubles [his] dollars.” Essentially, due to Jay-Z’s desire to sell millions of CDs and despite his claims to the contrary, he bought into the capitalistic trap: release the party anthems and go platinum.
Furthermore, I must stress that the rap videos in heavy rotation are not representative of the black experience. So, please don’t patronize me in conversation by making references to rap lyrics or videos because they don’t reflect or define my existence.
Finally, one of the segments of entertainment that is defined by stereotypes is Hollywood. Blacks have historically been cast in subservient and degrading roles in the name of pop culture. Simply probe back to the first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer” from 1927, and many others in which black face was the norm.
Even today, many of the movies containing a multi-ethnic cast constantly go after the cheap laugh or cliched response based on perceptions rather than developing an intriguing plot and crafting multi-dimensional characters.
I challenge everyone to re-examine the impact of popular culture, the influence of media and the oppression of stereotypes. Only then will significant progress ensue regarding race relations and social justice.
Shaundra Cunningham is a student at the Univ. of South Carolina.