Horror fiction, horror literature and also horror fantasy is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, or startle its readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. – Horror fiction, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia(Link)
‘Cause the streets are my stage, and terrors my show… -Colors, Ice-T
Often, when many of us think of the word,”horror”, it is associated with the genre of storytelling produced with the aim of frightening us. Images of blood, suspense filled scenes, and monsters in mask or special effects and costume are conjured in mind. We very seldom, if ever, connect the everyday lives of the citizens of the United States to the concepts wrapped inside the term,”horror”. Yet, the skin chilling and the scream inducing is exactly what would be best qualified to tell the tales occurring in the county of Ferguson and city of St. Louis.
Unfortunately, in this horror production, the expectation of the local heroes to defeat the villains and monsters is a smaller and smaller calculation as each dreadful day passes. Since the terror acted out in the Canfield Green Apartments of Ferguson(a county of St. Louis, Missouri roughly three miles away from the city limits) on August 9, 2014, not only have the residents of the apartments been victims to the daily monstrosities of para-military garbed police, but so have those engaged in peaceful protest. The macabre arena of events sprawling forth from the murder of Mike Mike Brown by law enforcement agent, Darren Wilson(or so this is the name we’ve been given), whereby the visuals of a neighborhood teen left bleeding to death for four and a half hours in the middle of an audience of his friends and neighbors, sparked a movement of protest akin to the gruesome days of dog bitten, law enforcement agent head cracked on, and water hosed down Civil Rights Activism.
That afternoon the police had bought drugs from the stepfather of two children, ages eight and six. Both were in the house at the time of the raid. The stepfather wasn’t.
“They did their thing,” Taylor says. “Everybody on the floor, guns and yelling. Then they put the two kids in the bedroom, did their search, then sent me in to take care of the kids.”
Taylor made her way inside to see them. When she opened the door, the eight-year-old girl assumed a defense posture, putting herself between Taylor and her little brother. She looked at Taylor and said, half fearful, half angry, “What are you going to do to us?”
Taylor was shattered. “Here I come in with all my SWAT gear on, dressed in armor from head to toe, and this little girl looks up at me, and her only thought is to defend her little brother. I thought, How can we be the good guys when we come into the house looking like this, screaming and pointing guns at the people they love? How can we be the good guys when a little girl looks up at me and wants to fight me? And for what? What were we accomplishing with all of this? Absolutely nothing.” Taylor was later appointed police chief of the small town of Winfield, Missouri. Winfield was too small for its own SWAT team, even in the 2000s, but Taylor says she’d have quit before she ever created one. Rise Of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization Of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko
Learning the history of racial discrimination perpetrated against African Americans is a very important aspect of racial socialization. Historical narratives about this racial discrimination are transmitted as a form of collective memory about blacks’ collective experiences with race and racism or as a form of the personal experiences of African American parents, family members, or guardians. This information is transferred from generation to generation in a way that conveys the historical and contemporary group status of African Americans. Trust In Black America: Race, Discrimination, And Politics, by Shayla C. Nunnally
From the moment Mike Mike’s bullet ridden body collapsed on that concrete road in Canfield Green Apartments, peaceful protesters have rallied together to fight against a horror of a overly zealous and well-armed, military style law enforcement presence. Night after night, day after day, these courageous children, teenagers, workers, politicians, students, husbands, wives, voters, and citizens have wage a peaceful protest against a determined and not so peaceful antagonist. The digitally recorded images and videos of the peaceful protesters reflects Whyte USAmerica’s subconscious fears of the Black Body in political space as well as the desires of this country’s forefathers to contain its Afrikan hostages in a social space common to religious caste undesirables and beasts of burden. The nightmare on the 2900 block of Canfield Drive spawned a sequel that has last and replayed itself in various forms over the seventy-two days since Mike Mike’s skull was met by Wilson’s slug at the time of this writing.
The images, videos, and actions of those on the ground weave a story of what I’m sure seems to be a persistent and ceaselessly ongoing onslaught of shocking extremities. Unfortunately, the tale of heroic civil disobedience in the face of an ever-growing, Hydra-like law enforcement agency hellbent on utilizing every military toy and tactic at their disposal has gone fairly unnoticed or written from the perspective of the antagonist. Much of USAmerican folk story, legend, and myth is a compilation of anti-heroes battling an abstract monster mainly known as anything other than democracy, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, Black Nationalism, or Communism. However, as the plotline of Ferguson shows, most of this story has been told from the perspective of the antagonist. It would be an alleviation to my my paranoia if this simply where a hyperbolic tickling the darker recesses of our id;but this not simply film noir: it is the life of many humans actually embroiled in what most media would broadcast hourly as horrific if it occurred on any other soil outside of the United States of these Americas.
Much of the US ideal is the historical notion or tale of its revolution and subsequent independence from British rule as a colony. The Declaration of Independence holds as its foundation the idea that citizens of a state be allowed to disband and disenfranchise a government as it needs to. This disbanding and disenfranchising according the document and the historical trajectory from the signing of the document should be made an actuality by whatever measures are best. It would seem as the US government is imposing its will on the people, it wishes to disarm them. Quite possibly this is to remove from them an option from the set of measures necessary to disband and disenfranchise the US government. As I am sure it would be argued that this is a preposterous line of thinking, it does enter my mind that when White men terrorize White schools and crowded areas in mass shootings, there is an immediate call for gun control. And yet, when US Blacks are killed by law enforcement agents, who are extensions of the government, Federal or State, the blame is removed from the guns and accountability placed on the victims, their neighborhood, their parents, their educational system, their voting practices, their dress code, and/or their music tastes.
While the perpetrators of Whyte on Whyte mass shootings have their guns called into question, when US law enforcement agents abuse their citizen given powers, their guns are not called into question. It could probably work as a reminder or memory jog for those that have forgotten, but after the Sandy Hook terrorist act of Whyte on Whyte violence, President Obama’s personal visit to the predominantly Whyte school came with his agenda of gun control. His visit to the grieving of Ferguson was not a reality, and his reasons why are possibly a glaring complicity with local law enforcement agencies and their new found hardware. The removal of guns from the residents is a high priority, and yet the same practice is frowned upon apparently by governing officials. In fact, according to Radley Balko’s book quoted earlier, after the murder of Abner Louima, these law enforcement agencies actually received more weapons of citizen destruction.
I quote that book again here:
POLICE MILITARIZATION WOULD ACCELERATE IN THE 2000s. The first half of the decade brought a new and lucrative source of funding and equipment: homeland security. In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, the federal government opened a new spigot of funding in the name of fighting terror. Terrorism would also provide new excuses for police agencies across the country to build up their arsenals and for yet smaller towns to start up yet more SWAT teams. The second half of the decade also saw more mission creep for SWAT teams and more pronounced militarization even outside of drug policing. The 1990s trend of government officials using paramilitary tactics and heavy-handed force to make political statements or to make an example of certain classes of nonviolent offenders would continue, especially in response to political protests. The battle gear and aggressive policing would also start to move into more mundane crimes—SWAT teams have recently been used even for regulatory inspections. Rise Of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization Of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko(Emphasis by Author)
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?–in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience;but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just;and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau(Emphasis by Author)
In the same manner that this American Horror Story in Ferguson and St. Louis is an extension of the American Horror Story that is the Black in USAmerica Horror story, so is the present peaceful battles being waged against it an extension of the Civil Rights Movement. The militarized police and dogs are still there, however, I could venture to say the fire trucks and water hoses have been replaced with tank-like S.W.A.T. vehicles and tear gas. A lot of tear gas. Not sure if tear gas is a more humane replacement, but the objectives are there.
In the same way that the police are simply an extension of the slave patrollers, their presence in the Black community is still simply a means to protect and project the racial stratified socio-economic system. The murder of Mike Mike Brown could be any number of Blacks from Aiyana Jones to John Crawford. Darren Wilson is the archetype of every gun totting gargoyle tasked with honoring a Whyte supremacist code of conduct, protected by badge forever sworn to shed Mike Mike’s blood.
As stated in this open letter from those that use peace as silver bullet, cardboard holding, marker written message as wooden cross, and drum beat, protest cadence as holy water:
We are living an American Horror Story. The unlawful slaughter of black bodies by the hands of power has continued day after day, year after year, century after century, life by precious life, since before the first chain was slipped around black wrists. Black youth, brimming with untapped potential, but seen as worthless and unimportant. Black activists, stalwart in pursuit of liberation, but perceived as perpetual threats to order and comfort. Black men, truly and earnestly clinging to our dignity, written off as the ravenous, insatiable black savage. Black women, always unflinchingly running toward our freedom, dismissed as bitter and angry after long denial and suffering. Not one group of us has been spared from the bullet or the beating, too many armed only with our Blackness, left to live this American Horror Story.
You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip, Skip out for beer during commercials, Because the revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox In 4 parts without commercial interruptions. The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia. The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal. The revolution will not get rid of the nubs. The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother. There will be no pictures of you and Willie May pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run, or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance. NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32 or report from 29 districts. The revolution will not be televised. There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay. There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay. There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process. There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving For just the proper occasion. Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and women will not care if Dick finally gets down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day. The revolution will not be televised. There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news and no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose. The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people. You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl. The revolution will not go better with Coke. The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath. The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat. The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised. The revolution will be no re-run brothers; The revolution will be live. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil Scott-Heron, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox(1970)In a lot of ways, I initially felt the events surrounding the murder of Mike Brown by Ferguson patroller Darren Wilson was cast in the media to damage any movement from the start. When a person that grew up in an area has to double take, and asks themselves, “Wait, is there another Ferguson in Missouri?”, then you sort of have to question the art involved there. Media communication is nothing like organic conversation;media communication is the art of deceiving people to believe it is just like organic conversation. As I was attempting to figure out why anyone broadcasting to an audience of people that may have never been to St. Louis would call Ferguson anything but what we who are from St. Louis call Ferguson when addressing people that have never been to St. Louis–namely, St. Louis–the media was handpicking its leaders. The actual movers of the movement could not be trusted to be pristine and clean enough for cameras that disperse images and audio across air, land, and water. That might be dangerous for a media controlled by the same government that filtered all the images transmitted about the Iraq “war” and made FOX news a credible source after the events of September 11, 2001. So, as the updates on Twitter began to multiply by the hundreds, and the possibility of a ratings behemoth became apparent, the “news” vehicles pulled up next to the domestic paramilitary tanks, and the narrative of Ferguson, Mo., a sharp contrast to Mike Mike Brown’s St. Louis, started to take shape. Anyone who has never slept with the City of Night might be misled into thinking the initial protesters needed attention, that they were crying out for a media hand strong enough to stave off blood thirsty pigs in slave patroller uniforms. I do not think this would be the proper analysis. That might be the accurate assumption with regard to Daddy Barry’s Ferguson, but not quite Mike Mike Brown’s St. Louis. For those three days prior to corporate controlled media outlets being shoved with guns and wondering where in the USA they had stumbled upon, those natives of that soil had already begun adapting and refracting the images shown via the corporate media lens. I do not want to romanticize the events and movements, the ripples of pain that followed the slaughter of Mike Mike Brown. Ultimately, I feel as though way too much exploitation has occurred, and regardless of if I type the names or not, those reading this that I wish to reach with this writing know the names(hell, they are probably the ones that told them to me). I would like to not like the idea of people receiving paychecks and stipends for appearing on panels to discuss Mike Mike Brown. I am not even sure if Steve Harvey paid Mike Mike’s Mother to appear on that segment that was as tacky if not more than his eponymous suits (That would have definitely been one hard earned check). In my mind, there is always a necessary balance between the socio-political and the business associated. Due to the manner in which I understand what socio-political movements mean to businesses, anyone I see mixing the two becomes framed in my mind as a business only. When businesses give donations to candidates they are buying decision making power in favor of their business. When business promote socio-political movements, they are attempting to align the brand of their business with that of the energy and emotions of the movement and its most popular adherents. The business is always about the business and NEVER about the actual movement. Even after typing the sentiments found in the last paragraph I am torn. OWL is not against acquiring funding, or even getting some needed bills paid. I do believe where I fold my fingers and proclaim my set is at the using of a business model as the sole effective means for addressing the murder of Mike Mike Brown. I do believe I have to pull my proverbial flag out my pocket and wave it in people’s faces when attorney’s of law hold conferences with the agenda of explaining how to avoid becoming “another Mike Mike” and yet sound more like advertising for their legal services. When PBS holds an impromptu “After Ferguson” town hall meeting, when all of a sudden Russell Simmons is interested in the lives of young Black boys in St. Louis, Mo, it begins to feel just a tad bit exploitative. And I do not want to be self-righteous from my wonderfully adorable and comfortable life hundreds of miles away from a hostile homeland, but it simply occurs to me that offered solutions to police murder in Daddy Barry’s Ferguson read more like a business plan than a political manifesto.
Culture is something quite different. It is organization, discipline of one’s inner self, a coming to terms with one’s own personality;it is the attainment of a higher awareness, with the aid of which one succeeds in understanding one’s own historical value, one’s own function in life, one’s own rights and obligations. But none of this can come about through spontaneous evolution, through a series of actions and reactions which are independent of one’s own will–as is the case in the animal and vegetable kingdoms where every unit is selected and specifies its own organs unconsciously, through a fatalistic law of things. Above all, man is mind, i.e. he is a product of history, not nature…The fact is that only be degrees, one stage at a time, has humanity acquired consciousness of its own value and won for itself the right to throw off the patterns of organization imposed on it by minorities at a previous period in history. The Antonio Gramsci Reader, Antonio Gramsci, D. Forgacs
Could the broadcast reform movement actually have been victorious in the 1930s, or was it a doomed, quixotic venture from the outset? Why precisely did the broadcast reform movement fail in its campaign to restructure U.S. broadcasting? If, in fact, the concentration and commercialization of broadcasting, not to mention the entire mass media, have increased since the 1930s with similarly negative implications for democracy, why has a new broadcast or media reform movement not emerged to carry the fight to a new generation? Telecommunications, Mass Media, & Democracy: The Battle For The Control Of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935, Robert W. McChesneyIt is interesting that there are more “think” pieces about “Scandal” than Mike Brown’s Ferguson/StL. In a society of spectacle, the media can concoct and create moments of “progressive racial justice” that resonate more than actual protest. It would seems as though those that operate the gates that keep mainstream media from being invaded by people such as myself would rather have a facsimile of “progress” than the actuality. Or even attempts at a more rarefied system of human justice if only through protest. As I have hinted at elsewhere, the symbols of justice, the symbols of upward mobility, the symbols of a socio-psychological system whereby a melanin enriched skin toned coded stratification does not exist are all worshipped more than the actual pursuit through effortful means. Human life with its monotony of daily gathering of sustenance and protection alloyed with the maintenance of that which has been acquired tends to lend itself to escapism. The magnitude of this desire for escapism increases exponentially when one is being forced through oppressive systems of their society to struggle two times as hard, or more realistically, two million times harder than one would if those societal restraints did not exist. This escapism seems to be also be fed in the minds of the members of the United States’ media consuming audience, at least, by the salacious, the overly dramatized, and the inordinately violent. For a few weeks, the salivating audience was fed the brutal treatment of Mike Brown and his St. Louis counterparts, and like Pavlov’s dogs conditioned to respond to tuning forks and meat powder, the audience was satiated by the time the news crews left only to mention Mike Brown and Ferguson in passing or after the suspicion of heighten violence might return. For those that are just tuning in to the OWL’s Asylum, in many ways the story of a one OWL who began writing while homeless on a university campus working on a degree, I grew up in St. Louis. That attachment to the city of my nativity often causes me to hear my adored other’s voice from the bedroom begging me to stop watching livestreams from citizen journalist recording the daily and nightly protests and come to bed. In a media saturated society, it can be awfully expensive to not use discipline in matters of what one ingests, as well as what one does not. While President Obama(we shall address him as “Daddy Barry” going forward) has consistently only spoken of Ferguson in terse and almost indirect statements of abstraction, his major concern with ISIL/ISIS, the budding Islamic State nationalists, has become the center of media attention in the same way that George W. Bush’s Taliban had in the years following the incidents of September 11, 2001. For me, it is a little like giving advice, it is better to focus on cleaning one’s own terrorist at home, than trying to clean out another person’s terrorist abroad. Or something to that effect. Due to the loudness reverberating from the chimes of the media silence regarding the Mike Brown Movement in St. Louis, I do a lot of reading on my Twitter timeline and livestreams(live recordings streamed to servers and broadcast via browsers) of those that are actually in Ferguson/St. Louis. Many of these people I have grown fond of over the last weeks, and those that I was already engaged with prior to the murder of Mike Brown have strengthened our ties to one another. In that viewing of these astoundingly wonderful human beings and reading their updates via social media, I have come to realize just how human history making can be. As I engorge myself nightly on the details of an irresponsibly overlooked confrontation of activists with local police, I go to work to a staff of US Blacks that are completely oblivious. I make calls and Facebook chats to family still in St. Louis that are oblivious. My media diet is that of the vegan in a world of cannibals. There is always a nagging nostalgia that enters my emotional body with a blunt intoxication of sadness. Ferguson is literally down the street from where my mother worked and lived before she had her massive stroke. Infused with every viewing and every image I see of West Florissant and the surrounding community is that sentiment. So, there is an admitted lack of a certain type of objectivity on my part here. I often tell people that I do not miss St. Louis, I miss my mother, my little sister, my best friend, and St. Paul sandwiches. While quaint and sexy in its own way, St. Louis is the enviro-social womb that gave me the material with which I have formed my Self. The majority of my existence on planet Life was spent in St. Louis, Misery. However, it is not the sort of neglect of objectivity that often arrives when one is stuffing themselves full of cultural hegemonic messages in the form of charismatic fictional characters–or caricatures for that matter.
This was the intrinsic defect of histories, of research into human events: to have examined and taken into account only a part of the documents. And this part was selected not by the historical will but by partisan prejudice, even if it was unconscious and in good faith. What this research aimed at was not truth, precision, the integral recreation of the life of the past, but the highlighting of a particular activity, the bearing out of a prior hypothesis. History was a domain solely of ideas. Man was considered as spirit, as pure consciousness. Two erroneous consequences derived from this conception: the ideas that were borne out were often merely arbitrary, fictitioUS. The facts that were given importance were anecdote, not history. If history was written, in the real sense of the word, it was due to the brilliant intuition of single individuals, not to a systematic and conscious scientific activity. The Antonio Gramsci Reader, Antonio Gramsci, D. Forgacs
Iconic representation is the use of pictorial images to make actions, objects, and concepts in a display easier to find, recognize, learn, and remember. Iconic representations are used in signage, computer displays, and control panels. They can be used for identification(company logo), serve as a space-efficient alternative to text (road signs), or to draw attention to an item within an information display (error icons appearing next to items in a list). There are four types of iconic representation: similar, example, symbolic, and arbitrary. – Universal Principles Of Design, Wiliam Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill ButlerI believe that often we as humans objectify what we see. The gaze that we apply to others can render them less human, or at least, remove from our conscious assessment that those we are looking at, also have an inner voice. The beauty of good design, and great symbol creation or usage, is being able to forge something that resonates with a large group of people. To apply a design strategy that utilizes a symbol that speaks a very similar thing in the language of a large group of people’s inner voice.
The passions of mankind have boiled over into all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes and frustrations. All of them are loaded with popular opprobrium, and their use results in a conditioned, negative, emotional response. Even the word politics itself, which Webster says is “the science and art of government,” is generally viewed in a context of corruption. Ironically, the dictionary synonyms are “discreet; provident, diplomatic, wise.” – Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer For Realistic Radicals, Saul D. AlinskyThe danger beyond this beauty, is that at times, when a symbol becomes a popularly used vessel to convey a particular meaning that is assumed to be spoken in so many inner voice tongues, it is taken for granted. In it being taken for granted, the objectivity occurs again. At times, I forget that commonly used symbols such as words defined in a certain way, sacred figures of history, or even authority influencers whose thinking that I might subscribe to, are not resonating with every other human. And vice versa: just because a word is used in a certain way or a person treated as an infallible omniscient being does not mean I treat that word the same, or that I find that authority authoritative, as it were. It would seem extremely simple to accept the reality that all people do not see things the same, and yet how often do I find my Self annoyed due to that very reality?
We need to free ourselves from the habit of seeing culture as encyclopaedic knowledge, and men as mere receptacles to be stuffed full of empirical data and a mass of unconnected raw facts, which have to be filed in the brain as in the columns of a dictionary, enabling their owner to respond to the various stimuli from the outside world. This form of culture really is harmful, particularly for the proletariat. It serves only to create maladjusted people, people who believe they are superior to the rest of humanity because they have memorized a certain number of facts and dates and who rattle them off at every opportunity, so turning them almost into a barrier between themselves and others. It serves to create the kind of weak and colourless intellectualism that Romain Rolland has flayed so mercilessly, which has given birth to a mass of pretentious babblers who have a more damaging effect on social life than tuberculosis or syphilis germs have on the beauty and physical health of the body. The young student who knows a little Latin and history, the young lawyer who has been successful in wringing a scrap of paper called a degree out of the laziness and lackadaisical attitude of his professors they end up seeing themselves as different from and superior to even the best skilled workman, who fulfils a precise and indispensable task in life and is a hundred times more valuable in his activity than they are in theirs. But this is not culture, but pedantry, not intelligence, but intellect, and it is absolutely right to react against it. The Antonio Gramsci Reader, Antonio Gramsci, D. Forgacs
A tendency to perceive a set of individual elements as a single, recognizable pattern, rather than multiple, individual elements. “Universal Principles Of Design,” Written By William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill ButlerThis is the current logomark for “OWL’s Asylum”. What may look like two distinct shapes crossed by a third, is really five distinct shapes that play on the perceptions in what is known in gestalt psychology and design theory as closure. Closure references the act of seeing disparate elements as one element although they are, well, not one element. This behavior does not only occur in graphic design, but also in socio-psychological realms. Closure is also what is referred to when discussing the underlying forces that cause us to lean towards uses of stereotype. It also causes us to allow those into our inner circles based on shared superficial qualities.
The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated–and precisely for that reason–this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness;the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation., The Society Of Spectacle by Guy DebordAs my logo is simply a symbol, not the actual writings or the team behind them, nor even the brand, which is simply another form of symbol, so are the symbolic gestures of those that we often trust. The notions of trust, and the symbols we used to convey that sentiment, can often fall into two camps of thought: those that believe that the symbols we use as a standard are confining our behavior, and those that believe that these symbols, our language, as it were, is a living and breathing cultural form. Trust
Organized terror against black Americans(e.g., in the form of actions by the Ku Klux Klan and other antiblack groups) and state-sponsored unequal protections for black Americans by whites (or even by blacks who held a negative view of the value of black life) also signaled how much people inside or outside political institutions could be trusted to act on behalf of blacks’ interests and protection. Even blacks who internalized racism could act in ways that were adverse to black interests (Woodson  1999). Moreover, blacks who did not challenge their subjugated status in society were referred to as “good,” whereas those who contested their status were referred to as “bad” (Hartman 1997). Trust In Black America: Race, Discrimination, And Politics By Shayla C. NunnallyI agree with both major schools of thought with reference to linguistic language construction. On one hand, I do believe that many proponents of a cultural hegemony will work to restrain the thinking of its less empowered members through strictly enforced rules of syntax and denotation. On the other, I believe that culture and language are dynamic and creative elements that are constantly in motion, growing and pushing the boundaries of collective conscious. A Prussian philologist, Wilhelm von Humboldt, is credited with a notion of language being inextricable from an individual’s or their social circle’s worldview. United States’ President Barry Obama reflects this notion while exposing his own worldview with a term he chooses to use in his address at this years Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual Phoenix Awards dinner.
“Gramsci’s strategy for resisting and eventually overcoming the power of the capitalist class in its most advanced nations, and thereby for deeply democratizing those nations, rested on his conviction of the need to challenge and displace the cultural dominance and leadership(=hegemony) of their ruling classes with a coherent and convincing alternative vision of how society might organize itself. He argued that over the two centuries of its expansion and consolidation, capitalism maintained and organized its leadership through agencies of information and culture such as schools and universities, the churches, literature, philosophy, media, and corporate ideologies. The perspectives on the wider society generated within these institutions often produced, he proposed, an unquestioning view of the world that took the status quo as inevitable and ruling class power as founded on that class’s unique, self-evident ability to run the nation successfully(whatever that critiques of the class’s individual members).
Thus, although the system was also powered by its economic mechanisms and shored up during political crises by the use of police, courts, jails, and ultimately the military (=the state in classical Marxist sense), mass hegemonic institutions such as those listed were, so to speak, its first line of defense, its outer ramparts. At the same time, their cultural influence emerged over protracted periods of time, not–outside of a fascist scenario–through some centrally orchestrated plan.” – “Radical Media: Rebellious Communication And Social Movements”, John D.H. Downing
“I just take time to make these few things clear because I find that one of the tricks of the west, and I imagine my good friend…or rather that type from the west…one of the tricks of the west is to use or create images, they create images of a person who doesn’t go along with their views and then they make certain that this image is distasteful, and then anything that that person has to say from thereon, from thereon in, is rejected. And this is a policy that has been practiced pretty well, pretty much by the west, it perhaps would have been practiced by others had they been in power, but during recent centuries the west has been in power and they have created the images, and they’ve used these images quite skillfully and quite successfully, that’s why today we need a little extremism in order to straighten a very nasty situation out, or very extremely nasty situation out.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)
The use of public intellectuals and popular figures to espouse the cultural hegemony of the established ruling class as we have seen in earlier paragraphs is a well-documented and implemented tactic and procedure throughout the history of capitalist structures. The Obama Administration’s propaganda against Edward Snowden stretches beyond governmental and political influence, entering the US Black public conscious through the attacks laid out by Melissa Harris-Perry through her show eponymously branded by her bosses at MSNBC– the Comcast owned cable “news” network. The impact of her broadcast due to her position in academia, and in US Black feminist circles –as well as simply being a US Black person on television in some ways– is reflected in many, enough at least, US Blacks regurgitating Barry Obama’s sentiments of Edward Snowden being some “young hacker” and not a “hero”. What belies the lack of critical thinking and reveals an emotional loyalty–primarily based on a racial loyalty, a fictive kinship response—is that Melissa Harris-Perry does not address whether or not Edward Snowden’s information about the NSA and US Government spying on its own population is accurate, which would be more in line with a journalistic and ideological posture that assumes a need to protect the democratic nature of the body politic.
Where I sense the difference of the US Black’s manipulation by US Black bourgeois interests and those of other working classes by ruling groups is the lack of identity and a history that erupts with debate even in establishing a proper nomenclature to label the exact group of people we are discussing. (Whose Black is it any way, right? Exactly.) On the topic of recuperation, US Blacks have seen Malcolm X’s image placed on a stamp in an era where Chuck D states, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” An announcement of pride in the fact that hero worship–a factor of cultural hegemony–presented by the ruling class marginalizes the images of others if they represent US Black radical thought, thus providing a clear indication of who or who is not considered representing “US Black radical thought”. Where the cognitive dissonance and the locations of dispute often arise are in the convoluted goals, visions, principles, and values that weave themselves in an intricate yet contrasting psycho-social tapestry. The daughters of Malcolm X should want their father– a man killed in front of his family for his staunch stance against oppression at home and abroad– to be recognized in the manner standard for a person with a legacy at that stature. Yet, far from simply an opportunistic co-opting, the “watering down” or “white-washing” of his image does seem to occur the more we weave it into the USA body of sacred images, or simply popular culture.
I feel this way not only about Malcolm’s image on a US postage stamp, but also in the lines and album covers of hip hop artists. KRS-One’s, while one of the genres’ most prolific and politically activated pioneers and masters, allusion to Malcolm’s concluding sentence in his Oxford debate with his record titled, “By All Means Necessary”– while introducing the discussion into the hip hop lexicon– works to provide it without context. This is where the tapestry begins to weave into the complicate design. KRS-One uses the image of Malcolm X defending his home against envious former students and disciples in the Nation of Islam as well as the FBI for an album cover and we are left to assume just who KRS-One is defending what appears to be his apartment from. Interestingly enough, without KRS-One posing for the album cover in the posture that initially was what I am sure a deathly stressful and traumatic moment capture in photograph, but has become iconic, many US Black youth would not have entered into a research process to find out where KRS-One gleaned the inspiration.
“I’m not for extremism in defense of that kind of liberty, or that kind of activity. They take this man, who’s a murderer, and the world recognizes him as a murderer, but they make him the prime minister, he becomes a paid murderer, a paid killer, who is propped up by American dollars. And to show the degree to which he is a paid killer the first thing he does is go to South Africa and hire more killers and bring them into the Congo. They give them the glorious name of mercenary, which means a hired killer, not someone that is killing for some kind of patriotism or some kind of ideal, but a man who is a paid killer, a hired killer. And one of the leaders of them is right from this country here, and he’s glorified as a soldier of fortune when he’s shooting down little black women, and black babies, and black children. I’m not for that kind of extremism, I’m for the kind of extremism that those who are being destroyed by those bombs and destroyed by those hired killers, are able to put forth to thwart it. They will risk their lives at any cost, they will sacrifice their lives at any cost, against that kind of criminal activity. I am for the kind of extremism that the freedom fighters in the Stanleyville regime are able to display against these hired killers, who are actually using some of my tax dollars which I have to pay up in the united states, to finance that operation over there. We’re not for that kind of extremism.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)
Hip hop itself being somewhat of a driving utensil of Habermas’ offentlichkeit– in whatever 1980s Reagan era media model that would take the form of– could be attacked for co-opting and reversioning from the original intentions of US Black cultural artifacts once the imagery of Malcolm is introduced (reclaimed?) by KRS-One. Malcolm’s defense of the oppressed to seek their human rights has been reinterpreted by many in the Hip Hop community as a criminal mantra akin to the ideals of “the ends justify the means.” Those “ends” typically referring to capitalist standards of success as opposed to more classless societal goals, of course. From Spice 1’s lyrics on his 1992 album stating, “By any means necessary, I must make my money” to Jay-Z’s intro to the “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia”(2000),” Watch it my niggas, I’m trying to be calm but I’m goin’ get richer, through any means, with that thing that Malcolm palmed in the picture.” It would be slightly remiss of me to leave out the most recent at the date of this writing use of the image of Malcolm by Nicki Minaj.
The question for me to answer in time is how exactly does one misappropriate a culture that was handed down to them or that they are, by virtue of that culture’s loose membership, a member of? At what point do these cultural artifacts belong to US Blacks, and at what point do they not? If they are to be treated as sacred, who is tasked with the training of others on which are sacral and which are not? Where does one go to pick up their application to apply for US Black Trainers Of Proper Custom Acknowledgement and where do they pick up their check or compensation once hired? Who is tasked with the defense when these sacred images are defiled? If Malcolm X did not have vigilant daughters in that regard–or at least in the instance of Nicki Minaj– who would be obligated to defend his honor?
I feel it would be absent minded of me to not ask about the elephant in the room here: if Nicki Minaj is guilty of sacrilege for using a very publicly available and widely manipulated image of Malcolm X, then what is the charge against Manning Marable? Surely, the usage of the photo by Ms. Minaj cannot be a greater disservice than a man paid by White academic institutions to pry into a man’s police records to find out if he was lying or not, or is it? Where are the guidelines of the US Black Board Of Customs with regard to US Blacks selling information gleaned through snooping and prying? And who is elected to govern over these Blacks in their decision making?
And whose “Black” is it anyway? Whose Black is it when there are no official US Black political society infrastructure that are not implements of the greater White society political society? Whose Black is it when there are no institutionalized US Black civil society constructs that are not implements of the greater White civil society? Nicki Minaj cannot be held at bay without threats of US political society—namely the court system—being called in. So, again, I ask: whose Black is it anyway?
“I think the only way one can really determine whether extremism in the defense of liberty is justified, is not to approach it as an American or a European or an African or an Asian, but as a human being. If we look upon it as different types immediately we begin to think in terms of extremism being good for one and bad for another, or bad for one and good for another. But if we look upon it, if we look upon ourselves as human beings, I doubt that anyone will deny that extremism, in defense of liberty, the liberty of any human being, is a value. Anytime anyone is enslaved, or in any way deprived of his liberty, if that person is a human being, as far as I am concerned he is justified to resort to whatever methods necessary to bring about his liberty again.” – Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate(Dec. 3, 1964)
“A community will evolve only when a people control their own communication” – Frantz Fanon
“In the context of the American dilemma the socioeconomic immobilization and destruction of the African American population must occur most intensely at the very time when a minuscule segment of that population appears to be garnering increased social and political status, and when a very substantial percentage of African Americans are deceived into thinking that such increasing status is indicative of ‘Black progress’. Racist agendas must be pressed while the dominant White groups for the most part, appear to be less overtly racist in attitude and behavior. Thus, if necessary, African American genocide must occur during the time the ruling segments of the White American citizenry seem to be relatively most committed to African American survival, upliftment, complete social, political and economic assimilation into the mythical ‘American mainstream.'” – Dr. Amos N. Wilson, “Black-on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics Of Black Self-Annihilation In Service Of White Domination”
“Describing a way of life that they don’t understand, G/So I’m goin’ keep breaking it down until they understand me…” – Spice One(1993)
There is a dangerous advantage for White corporate officers and their gatekeepers to be able to select and harness US Blacks to represent other US Blacks from a distance vis–à–vis class and experience. One of the major problems I have with fictive kinship is that it allows for strangers to feel connected to moments of accomplishment. To be allowed to represent those moments of accomplishment by other US Blacks for White people exploiting an audience that does not often see themselves on screens. I liken the hoisting of particular media personalities above US Blacks as spokespeople to a White Woman that dates US Black men exclusively articulating a bond with US Black Women and an ability to speak for US Blacks.
I want to write about neocolonialism here. I want to remind my readers that there is a clear and present cause for alarm when you allow an exploitative, greedy and hostile corporate entity to dictate who your US Black Leaders are. I want to reinforce the reality that there are no US Black controlled mainstream media outlets. All US Black media with mass access is influenced by White corporate financing. The sacredness that infuses all things US Black due to the atrocious nature of our genesis is being manipulated every time a US Black stands in the name of US Blacks under the auspice and machinery of White business and politics.
Due to this fact—due to this objective and empirical data set, I cannot support US Blacks solely because they appear in a position of authority along White controlled career tracts. If race is to be treated as solely a social construct, like one’s national identity, I reserve the right to pick and choose who I deem worthy of my loyalty and who should be held for treason. Since there is no US Black land protected by a US Black military and governed by laws and edicts erected by US Blacks, I feel no compulsion to simply honor the works of US Blacks chosen by Whites to serve their financial and influential purposes. There is no direct connection between them and I, and I have no need to believe the myth that because one US Black is selected to oversee the water cooler discussions of other US Blacks, that I too will one day be so “blessed” by Whites. A class domination pointing to what I suspect are the origins of the US race imbroglio.
Racial class organizing by Whites in regards to US Blacks has always been invidious comparison. The promotion of US Blacks by virtue of a cultural “closeness”, an esteeming of White physical qualities to ensure a branding of social authority feels recursive in this era, the authenticity of Willie Lynch and his letter be damned. The ascension to ranks among US Blacks is hardly ever solely a democratic act of choosing among the US Blacks. Our leaders are not weighed and measured by us, but by an oppressive outside entity seeking not to inject elite talent, but to further our obeisance and dependence on the White corporate state and loyalty to a branding of White people as supreme. A psycho-social internalization almost reminiscent of Pavlov’s classical conditioning with the need for social status being the dog’s saliva and money and prestige doled out by White CEO’s being the food.
Goran Therbon writes in “What Does The Ruling Class Do When It Rules?”:
“The classical format of bourgeois representation is one whereby political leaders emerge as outstanding individuals out of an informally organized bourgeois public, composed of members of the ruling class and allied strata, lawyers and sometimes bureaucrats. These persons appear as candidates for leadership in various noninstitutionalized ways during the everyday social intercourse of the ruling class. Originally, they were then elected by other members of that class. This was the prevailing pattern in the Dutch Republic, in England until at least 1832, and in France under the Restoration and the July Monarchy. It even managed to survive radical extension of the suffrage. Thus, a notables format has characterized the French Third and (after 1947) Fourth Republics, and, in significant though modified ways, the still unstable bourgeois party system of the Fifth Republic; it largely marked British politics before 1945(it was not until 1965 that a Conservative leader – Edward Heath was formally elected); and, on the whole, it prevails in the United States to this day.”
Much of the intra-racial stratification-that is to say, the class organizing and hegemony amongst US Blacks- is based on colorism and perceived assimilation. Perceived assimilation tends to have no higher coin than appearance in the media as celebrity. Celebrated academics that have no previous associated work in the US Black community– nor status driven primarily by an association with US Blacks– are given status over US Black by virtue of their celebrity bequeathed to them by White controlled institutions.
Due to a lack of control by US Blacks in not media but also academics, various bouts of scholarship and debate under the mask of social uplift and at times even “revolutionary” theory occurs between members of academia. One such occurrence ensued after Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”. Although her book discussing US Black incarceration with its leaning on the unfair practices of locking up US Blacks with drug charges received critical acclaim, it also was hailed as treasonous in some circles. One of the writers, Joseph D. Osel in his critique, ‘Against Prison Studies Without Capitalism: “The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow”‘, goes so far as to label her work a form of recuperation, which is the state propaganda mirroring of a détournement. As a US Black writer, I do find it offensive to use metaphors of the past to compare to modern plights of oppression, I also, as a former US prisoner, find her work a necessary bit of scholarship, if only that it opened up a discussion in circles I typically do not transcend.
My ultimate assessment is that Michelle Alexander’s work is less recuperation (in the hegemonic, propaganda sense of the word) as a socio-political artifice and more an extension of exploitation. A gambit less for the overall redirection of ideas against the lower classes being imprisoned as US slaves, or an effective rewiring of the energy and psychological charge held inside the symbol “Jim Crow”, and more for the reaching of higher steps on the ladder of prestige. Regardless, it works as one of those bits of misdirection that tend to allow readers such as myself to be led to greater ideals whereby the more common, yet initiated, reader might miss the ideal. This oversight not bearing its development due to an inability to tease out an ideal, just that the ideal is so buried under concepts that trigger reactions as to be neglected.
To look towards a more blatant–and still effective form of recuperation– I look towards the superficial use of US Black cultural artifacts by the US President Barry Obama. A pimp’s gait, an average basketball skill set, a selection of popular hip hop tunes on his audio playlist work well enough to rearrange the elements of US Black masculine rebellion to be used by the state to justify it—or at least to get a muppet worshiped. The same with many elements that are applauded in Rhimes’ “Scandal”. A US Black father addressing his daughter by telling her she has to work twice as hard– while borrowed from the audience– forgets that it is an attack against a system, and yet the show it appears in allows it to be used as a justification for the egregious enmities of the US State apparatus. While the bellows of “YAASSS!” might be followed with great details of one’s upbringing and dictations of parents, the use of a US Black idiom in such a manner begs me to question, “Whose Black Is It Anyway?”
The reduction of sacredness in the media– and where I might be so inclined, specifically US Black media—often is a result of such operations. While these lines resonate with a body of people, the overall usage is for the justification of another method, as well as an initiation into the rites of US Blacks. An unfair squandering of valued and shared artifacts for the sake of a career buttressed by assimilated postures that have worked to frown on the same culture whereby the artifacts are molded. I fear typing that this misappropriation is appropriate; the very poetic nature of this verity tempts me so. To ask a member of a group to respect and honor tacit boundaries that have no consequence due to a lack of vigilant members tasked with being vigilant in an organized way seems asinine and unjust here. And yet, this is what we ask of those writers working for companies that see not a US Black sacredness but a means into their bank accounts. Whose Black is it anyway?
The hierarchical distance that saturates and defines much of what is US Black media creation cannot belie its hegemonic position. Whether it is argued as an intentional or coincidental impact, that most US Black writers and cultural icons are either products of elite training or celebrators of it, can only work to support and collude with the hegemony. Barry Obama’s rush from the offices of his first bid for presidency to make sure huge funds were allotted JP Morgan can only speak to his support of and faith in the status quo. Johnson Publication’s entreaty and dependence on JP Morgan for financial support can only speak to the decision maker’s support of and faith in that same status quo. To believe that that support and faith does not also temper the visions and directions of Obama’s Administration and EBONY’s editorial processes seems less than accurate. An inaccuracy that beckons those it influences to not only suspend but quell whatever critical analysis might be developed for a total immersing in the sacral ambiance of the presentation simply because it originates at such a hierarchical distance. As Shonda Rhimes types, she is not only not talking to those that should only take her artwork as gospel, she is only talking to those that are at distance from her audience; those high up enough in the stratification to be intoxicated(get high?) by the rare air of Ivy League graduation ceremonies.
“Situationism, unlike Marxism, had no sense that human history was moving toward victory for subordinate classes. There was a permanent dualism in its adherents’ view of recuperation, namely, that the ruling class could twist every form of protest around to salvage its own ends. The situationists’ enthusiasm for what they termed détournement…suggests that by this term they meant something akin both to subversion and diversion. In terms of the spectacle of everyday life, détournement particularly operates by redeploying official language but can also employ official visual imagery to subvert the established order. It is the revolutionary counterpart to recuperation, a subversive plagiarism that diverts the spectacle’s language and imagery from its intended use.” - “Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements”, John D H Downing
“Philosophy is worthless if it is not practical.”
- Frank Chimero
“FICTIVE KIN – Unrelated individuals who are addressed using kin terms”
I never really felt as disconnected from the overall fictive kinship that race promotes as I do in this era. This miasma of a zeitgeist of confusing political expressions vying for digital attention while neglecting to fill the voids left by expired luminaries in palpable space. I thought when I began to get older, I would want to be younger, like most sane well socialized United States citizens. But no. I just want to get older and enjoy the privacy of personal and sacred space before it is over. I no longer know who these US Blacks are, and I no longer know if I care to know.
I suppose it all occurred around that fateful day that we thought the negro was free. The morning of great tears of happiness and a pride born of distant identifications celebrating victories of individuals that would never know them. The sort of pride that comes when the baseball team branded with the same name of the city you are obligated by objective fact to call your nativity wins the World Series. It is an expected pride. An expected pride reflected in calls from your older cousin implying that you should get out and celebrate because, “Your city just won the World Series.” The day that Barry Obama walked across that stage with his wife at shotgun and his daughters in tow was like a National Nigga World Series win. A global Nigga World Series win, even.
And yet, after Albert Pujols decided to leave the city that had enshrined his likeness in metal, I considered the value of that statement, “Your city just won the World Series”. I mean, had St. Louis won it? Did every nigga from McCree to 82nd actually take part in that win? How does one measure the obligation to a city that does not pay them anything when leaders of sport’s teams that represent that city with a high volume of fan loyalty and financial compensation do not even find it fitting to be obligated? I drove around one night and everybody became a baseball fan. I woke up one morning and everybody became a goddamn nigga. And I began to ask myself, not only whose win was it, but also, whose Black is it any way?
Sociology professor Nancy Foner writes in 1999,”Kinship ties are an effective way to cope with uncertainty and economic scarcity.” “Strength” as it applies to interpersonal bonds can be defined as the degree and magnitude of emotional intensity, intimacy, and time shared that qualify a particular bond. Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu outline their definition of fictive kinship in “Black Students’ School Success: Coping With The ‘Burden Of “Acting White”‘ in this manner:
“What is fictive kinship? *A kinshiplike relationship between persons not related by blood or marriage in a society, but who have some reciprocal social or economic relationship. *A cultural symbol of collective identity (playkin, brotherhood and sisterhood, soul brother and soul sister, blood). *A sense of peoplehood in opposition to white American social identity. * The medium through which minorities distinguish the ‘real’ from ‘spurious members’. *One learns the criteria for fictive kinship from parents and peers. But being black does not result in automatic membership. One can be denied membership to the fictive kinship because one’s behavior, activities, and lack of manifest loyalty are at variance with those thought to be appropriate and group-specific. One function of the fictive kinship is to invert the negative stereotypes and assumptions of whites into positive and functional attributes(dialect–ebonics, group loyalty in opposition to whites–O.J. Simpson?)”
Fictive kinship like territorial bonds pull at your emotional heart strings and forge these obligations that surpass critical thinking like traditional beliefs in a mythical creature. What makes OWL “Black”? And what does inclusion in said group entail? It would seem to me that social contracts based on shared genetic heritage or just historical territorial heritage are the easiest to render negligible. There is no national documentation of agreed upon terms that codifies one US Black person’s duty to another. There was never a Continental Congress for the Colored, which is probably why that term, “colored” encompasses so many other groups that share nothing but a supposed lack of genetic heritage with a group of people born on a particular grouping of land masses.
What truly bonds me with the nigga other than fear and misery? How feeble would a bond based on such qualities be? Thin enough to celebrate the victory of a man promising changes based on his skin pigment being slightly similar and yet his background and cultural heritage being nothing in common. Sort of like the residents of a city celebrating a victory they had nothing to do with other than live in the town that closed down the Black inner city schools to build the stadium the team that is branded with that town’s name plays in. Yet none of the players is tempered with any obligation to that city. In scope, the man promising the changes is not tempered with any obligations to his skin pigment.
I have watched Melissa Harris-Perry grow from a highly celebrated academic with a sort of cult following among young Black college aged girls, to a prominent media figure. A rise to immortality that comes on the back of a notion that she is a spokesperson for and expert in US Black Womanhood. And yet, her mother is a White Mormon. In the same way that Barry’s mother is a White Woman from Kansas and his father a Kenyan disowned by his family. A Blackness of one-drop rules, and in some instances, not even really a US Black drop, just any drop of blood that is not Whyte can include you into this little tacit thing of ours. What makes Barry or Melissa any less White than they are Black? When and where is the National Convention of Niggaz held this year so I might read the by-laws and run my finger through its rules of operation?
Black Entertainment Television(BET) the Washington, DC based entertainment company built by Robert Johnson was sold to Viacom for $2.3 billion in 2000, with finalized purchase by 2001. The year 2000. The year that was 14 years ago from the date of this writing you are reading. The company has been owned by a White company for six years shy of two decades but is still stamped with the appellation, “Black”. Whose Black is it?
ESSENCE magazine, a periodical and publication billed as catering to US Black Women readers sold 49% of its holdings to Time Inc in 2000. Yes, in the year 2000, which is 14 years ago from the date of this writing you are reading. The company has almost half(probably a majority stake holder) of its owner in the hands of a White business for fourteen years. In 2005, Essence communications, the company that owned Essence magazine sold the remaining 51% shares to Time Inc. In 2005, 9 years from the writing of this article you are now reading, Essence magazine, the magazine billed as for US Black Women, has been owned, en total, by White people. The company owned by White people for one year shy of an entire decade is still stamped with the appellation, “Black”. But whose Black is it?
JET magazine was pulled off of shelves with the final print issue published five days prior to the time of this writing. JET magazine and its greater sister publication, EBONY are published by Johnson Publishing, a Chicago staple. In 2011, JP Morgan purchased an undisclosed amount of shares of Johnson Publishing as a means to help the floundering company. Due to the agreement– and obviously, new authority at the shareholder table– the company was to use the funds to focus more on their interweb presence. This focus on the interweb digital presence seems to be the reason for the murder of JET magazine, a US Black cultural artifact, from print stands. How much of Johnson Publishing– the company that uses the appellations EBONY(Black) and JET(Black) as stamps on its major publications—is owned by Whites as opposed to Blacks, and whose Black is it anyway?
“Abstractions always distort and omit, because they have to. The trick is to be mindful it is happening.” – Frank Chimero
When did being “Black” become such an all-inclusive club? When did it become this exotic resort for the assimilated to bring their friends through like Jay-Z ushering Oprah through the projects he grew up in as if he had purchased them and turned them into some new commune of social evolution? How does a pride, a shame, a set of unwritten– and even worse, not agreed upon– set of standards based on a perception of inclusion represented by skin hue and tone help us? What powers of choice and resource are to be had when most of those worshiped and given authority in the group are assembled, associated, and assimilated in the very schools and corporate offices of the people that caused the misery that defines the bond based on “Black” blood to begin with? I fear that a capitalist system with its bourgeois radical notions and its consumeristic entrenchments of false status can never produce or nurture that type of social psychology that breeds loyalty to a heritage born in chains, torn mothers, and castrated maleness.
What further aches my soul(whatever that is) tends to be this need for a Barry Obama to walk as if he grew up in neighborhood or went to a school where “catting” even existed. A product of an extremely predominant White or very much other than US Blacks upbringing, I sincerely doubt he had much experience of the hourly reasoning behind the need to express a “cool pose” or whatever other superficial cultural artifacts so haphazardly gleaned through media representations of urban US Blacks on can imitate. I see this same appropriation, misappropriation, posturing (or whatever glossy hip term the alienated kids are borrowing from their sociology reading this year) when I watch Melissa Harris-Perry don braids on television. A hair style that images as recent as two months ago on Instagram show is not the hair style she wears when not on television. She initially styled her hair permed. But I suppose in this new media age we all must embrace the most nigga-like expressions. It all feels like overcompensation for lack of identity. I call it—hyperniggatude.
This childish echo of cries accusing “misappropriation” as if every artistic movement of US Blacks has not been met with this inclusion of all under the banner of “American” history. There is no US Black financed, funded, and solely operated museums of art that are globally recognized. Just like there are no US Black media operations that are solely Black owned, financed, and funded. Our loyalty to a skinship that is more volatile than that of most kinship ties has caused Shonda Rhimes to forget her loyal US Black Woman online powerbase in lieu of her “privileged” fellow alums at Darthmouth College.
I want to quote portions of her commencement speech for trajectory purposes, but I am also linking the transcript of that speech here as well as the video.Rhimes starts with a shaky ode to fear and trepidation, and her need to express her own fear of public speaking and why she does writing behind the screens. Which is ironic given the most sticky portions of her commencement address. She continues her speech:
Look, it would be fine if this were, 20 years ago. If it were back in the day when I graduated from Dartmouth. Twenty-three years ago, I was sitting right where you are now. And I was listening to Elizabeth Dole speak. And she was great. She was calm and she was confident. It was just … different. It felt like she was just talking to a group of people. Like a fireside chat with friends. Just Liddy Dole and like 9,000 of her closest friends. Because it was 20 years ago. And she was just talking to a group of people. Now? Twenty years later? This is no fireside chat. It’s not just you and me. This speech is filmed and streamed and tweeted and uploaded. NPR has like, a whole site dedicated to Commencement speeches. A whole site just about commencement speeches. There are sites that rate them and mock them and dissect them. It’s weird. And stressful. And kind of vicious if you’re an introvert perfectionist writer who hates speaking in public in the first place.This is interesting here because later she will respond that her commencement speech is indeed a “fireside chat”. And also include that as her defense, because her fireside chat was only for those outdoors getting intoxicated from the fumes wafting through the “rare air” of Ivy League graduation. I personally think the “fireside chat” bit borrowed a few too many times in this era should have been replaced by what Rhimes titles the speech during the speech herself: “Some Random Stuff Some Random Alum Who Runs a TV Show Thinks I Should Know Before I Graduate”. Very apropos and extremely apt at pointing out the very flaky nature of the speech presenter. She then in her “privileged Black chick from some eastern area” condescending tone begins to lament cynical criticisms of what she believes the standard commencement speech includes. She states that she believes being told to follow ones’ dreams is, as she words it, “I think that’s crap.” (She’s such an eloquent troll.)
Her substitute for dreams? Fleeting actions with no direction. In her words,
“maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new”.
To be completely honest here for no other reason than I still have those really costly things called “principles”, I do agree with Rhimes. Of course, I also agree that one should follow their dreams and spend some time finding a passion and sketching out their visions. But alas, I’m just a lowly servile who has yet to taste the obviously meth infused “rare air” above Ivy league graduation ceremonies.
So, after Rhimes rehashes how she cried on the floor of her dorm room whilst her mom packed her bags after her graduation, she makes these comments:
Find a cause you love. It’s OK to pick just one. You are going to need to spend a lot of time out in the real world trying to figure out how to stop feeling like a lost loser, so one cause is good. Devote some time every week to it. Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.Once again, I agree with Rhimes. Not totally. And not to the extent that I would have not qualified every one of those sentences with a “but I love my fans that have made my lackluster show a ratings monolith due to their hashtags, and since many of them are also hashtag activists, I salute their efforts wholeheartedly.” But, I am not writing this while catching contact highs from that rare strain of air they breathe at Ivy League graduation ceremonies. Unfortunately, for Rhimes, neither were her fans. As Rhimes once again left her Ivy League alma mater–alma mater a latin phrase denoting a fictive kinship encompassing a mother to child relationship– her fan base was taking to Twitter seeking an explanation to her comments about hashtags. And because Rhimes is so not a hypocrite, she responded to her fans, via Twitter. I am posting the Twitter response in full twice, one as a quote the other as an embed. I want to make sure this lasts for a few years.
I see there is some drama about what I said about hashtag activism. Which makes me think some of you who are upset … http://t.co/WomkJPnjhy— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) June 11, 2014
“I see there is some drama about what I said about hashtag activism. Which makes me think some of you who are upset did not actually read or hear my speech (I invite you to watch it — the link is here). I was very clear. That speech I gave? Was for the 1100 or so students graduating from Dartmouth on Sunday. If you were receiving the privilege of breathing the rare air that comes with getting an Ivy League degree on Sunday, I was talking to you. I was talking to those to whom much has been given and I was reminding them that much is expected (Robert Kennedy) Hashtags are amazing for raising awareness. But I was telling them to go beyond that and do more. To actively try to give back in a hands on way. If you were not receiving a degree from Dartmouth on Sunday? I was not talking about you. I wasn’t even talking to you. I love that so many people saw and responded to the speech. But as I said in my speech, I was having a fireside chat with my Dartmouth peeps, remember? Have a lovely day! (Am going back to my hiatus and my Orange is the New Black Watching) #dartmouth14 #hashtag http://www.whosay.com/l/OVo8y5b ”
The privileged and rare air of her fictive kinship and bond with the Darthmouth alum is obviously more important than the one shared with her and US Black Women online and off, that would seek her out for a less snarky and elitist response to a really simple concern. The fact that she felt the need to type these very snide lines points to my overall concern with blind loyalty to race, ethnicity, nationality, and just blind loyalty in general. Shonda Rhimes does not owe me anything, and whatever she does owe me, I better chalk up to the game—as we say. I suggest you do the same. Her “Black”—or whoever’s Black it might be—is not a Black that feels compelled to return a favorable response to a confused group of young US Black women possibly hoping to follow in her footsteps in the same manner those she is tasked to mentor vis-à-vis a commencement speech at that oh so privileged Ivy League university. Her accomplishments once planted a seed of hope and pride in the hearts and minds of those that she shared race and gender with, Rhimes thought less of those memberships.
Maybe we all should follow suit.
So I lay in bed with Bri last night to watch the Pharoahe Monch video entitled, “Broken Again”. Per the norm with Pharoahe’s work, my expectations where not only met, they were greatly superseded. The topic of the song, the visuals of the video, the metaphoric inclusion of elements within the overall piece gave it substance and artistic merit that help lend credence to the notion of hip hop as an art form.
In Pharoahe’s own words about the entirety of the album, he states,” It’s worded as a narrative, but this album is about me and my experiences. It chronicles my bout with depression and the time I was hospitalized from a severe asthma attack. They treated me with heavy dosages of Prednisone steroids and antibiotics intravenously. The side-effects wound up fucking me up! Anybody that knows those medications knows what I’m talking about. Things like a changing of sleeping habits, bloating and appetite increases. One time I was being released from the hospital, and they gave me a drug to wean me off of the drugs that I was already taking. Two weeks after I was released, I ran into issues like not being able to sleep, sadness and not wanting to be by myself. When I tried to tell people about my condition, I was met with responses like, ‘Have a beer or go smoke a blunt.’ I would tell them no, and further try to explain that I’m honestly going through issues.”
The video’s cinematic framing, cut scenes and cinematography are reminiscent of Hype Williams’ work of the latter portions of the last century. A gripping and dark soliloquy contrasted against a brilliant urban skyline, the visuals metaphorically conjoin the narrative of a human warring with addiction: a sordid love affair in a city– a world actually– full of beauty and warmth, yet cold and depressing .
The video starts with the shot from the camera hovering over the edge a bathroom sink slowly panning over scraps of red tape on the floor as the lens records the legs of Pharoahe tapping to the beat of the track. Pharoahe begins to sing the chorus of the song as the beat’s treble picks up:
Gotta move on
Gotta let go
Would’ve opened my eyes, if I would’ve known
After all of this time
Took my heart to mend
That I’d turn around, and be broken again
Although, hugely metaphoric in expression, his lines:
On the floor going through withdrawals I was itchin’
She rescued me, my heroine to the end
But then she morphed into heroin in a syringe
Around my bicep, I would tie a shoestring
Tap! five times to find a vein in there
As I have stated elsewhere, a lot of artists like to just share their works, but I enjoy the works of those that seem to enjoy sharing a moment with me. A relationship is nothing without its inner language, its inside jokes. And that is what culture gives a people through its art forms. I never seek to make my “favorites” into heroes or idols. I think that takes away from the craft. That’s what we do for the marketing. We sell you the illusion of pristine divinely touched products packaged in God’s toilet paper. But, art to me is really just a stimulating conversation with somebody through a piece that freezes time.
So, the difficulty I have with taking certain interpretive liberties here stems from my own storyline, as most conversations such as the one Pharoahe invites us to have with him will. Like much of life, addiction not only affects the substance abuser, but also those around us. For many US Black men caught in the rapture of this personal domestic self-inflicted violence, which often leads to a more interpersonal domestic violence, the only person that is available to aid are the women in our lives closest to us. As Pharoahe relates to us as his interpretation, he is battling with the scars that develop when one is in battle; real war, or the wars of everyday living. The post-traumatic stress that comes with attempting to live up to certain standards within the context of a White supremacist society can often only be rendered tolerable through the couch and psychiatric counseling of the Black Women that love us.
Due to the topics meshed here– the romantic savior as well as the overall strand of coping with depression, no matter how styled or with what literary device painted—I do not want miss the opportunity surface dwell while also entertaining the abstract notions the crop up. In other words, I don’t want to read too much into this, except when to do so might be entertaining as well as enlightening—OWL’s Asylum style of writing, yes? That being typed, once again, my reason for pulling so intensely on what could be seized upon as purely metaphoric—the heroin addiction—is due to, well, probably what most would define as, and the reason why Pharoahe uses heroin addiction as opposed to “prescription meds”: heroin is intense and it follows along the trajectory presented in an album entitled “PTSD”.
As the video progresses, we are thrust into the narrator’s memories. If I am following the trajectory of the metaphor and lyrics properly, Desiree Godsell plays both saint and demon, both the narrator’s “heroine” and “heroin” as the lyrics poetically describe it. While watching it, and musing over it, I thought for a second: since heroin in its more manufactured form is referred to as “chyna White” that the casting team and writers could have used a Chinese or White woman there. That probably would have introduced a number of other socio-political complications I am certain no one would have wanted to wrestle with in interviews (but I did have that thought). I also changed that reading once I saw Godsell’s very convincing interpretative dance against the large window overlooking the city skyline. I dubbed it, “intoxication dancing in his head”. I thought about it as those times when I sat in jail cells thinking about those I hurt and those I lost. The scenes with her dancing are spliced and mixed with a blurred transitions showing Pharoahe stumbling and blacking out, her slapping her hands together to wake him up, her arms wrapped around him, and in crescendo, we are cut to a scene with him wrapped in the red tape from the opening scene as he recites:
I’m relocated in Alabama now
That Maalox and Mylanta now
This is an allusion to withdraws, the stomach pains and bowel disruptions associated with going “cold turkey” in what I am interpreting as a rehabilitation center. Although, I remember most of the people that I know that “cold turkeyed” heroin having convulsions and extended vomiting, I can appreciate the need to keep a beat and the alliterative brevity lends to certain eloquence. The red tape works for me better than what I would assume was the alternative straitjacket here. Mainly for two reasons I can think of off the top: one, the association of the straitjacket is primarily for more psychiatric or psychological disturbances. Although chemical addiction is cited as a psychological allergy of sorts, I do think it would have been slightly cliché and mostly a less accurate depiction of a person attempting to “break up” with an addiction that physically constrains you through the withdrawal phase. Secondly, as noted, the symbolism had to lend itself to “breaking up”, and him breaking through and pulling away the tape from his person feels more attune with the overall process of recovering from chemical addiction. The scene puts me in the mindset that Pharoahe seems to be adjusting, and that there is not only this physical act of taking the tape off, but also an introspective processing going on that I do not believe would have been conveyed had they used a straitjacket(But, hey, what do OWL know, maybe red tape was just cheaper!).
I attempt to make a distinction between critique and analysis. Critique ought to be a conversation of a piece mainly constricted to the techniques of the craft and a placing of the piece along the trajectory of the body of works produced within that craft. Analysis ought to be a reflection of how that piece might impact or have been impacted by the culture and overall society whereby the piece was crafted. Where my critique and analysis converge is on the discussion of artists and addiction, with this being a musical composition and easily placed in the craft of performance poetry, I am specifically discussing heroin. I immediately am reminded of the lives of Miles Davis and Gil Scott Heron when I begin to sit down to critique and analyze this.
My own introduction to heroin was from a young man(we both were in our mid-teens) who had as belief that heroin made him a better business man. I do recall an interview with Paul Mooney who was a close friend of the comedic legend, Richard Pryor, somewhat comparing drug addiction to making a deal with the devil. The US ideal of creativity in the performing arts at the point of success is often summed up in the phrase, “Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. In the satirical HBO show pertaining to the rise of a budding technology company, “Silicon Valley”, the “CEO” of a tech start-up incubator is shown using psychotropic drugs to develop ideas. It is a crass allusion to the worship of Steve Jobs– one of USA’s most highly celebrated and successful drug abusers.
In the song’s most convincing proof Pharoahe’s verbal dexterity, he expresses:
Squeeze 7cc’s so I could see the seven seas
And CC all my friends so they could see what I was seeing
But what they saw was a despicable human being
So, I guess they just wasn’t seeing what I was seeing
Convert two into one and an invisible plan
To discover what dreams may come for this invisible man
Sentimental education, beautiful weather
Dam was constantly catching fire
Her skin deteriorated
Family infuriated by the myriad of tracks but my train never came
So humiliated, started begging for change
Failed rehabilitation so the scars still remain
Nice clothes became frayed
So isolated and afraid
I smell like an animal my teeth enamel decayed…
It is within these lines–a well worded attempt to convey the visceral emotions associated with social and class alienation due to addiction–where I begin to have trouble with the narrative. As I have hinted at in the above paragraphs: there is a myth accompanying the media presentation of substance abuse. Whether that myth is one of heighten creative ability, or a lack of financial discipline leading to a lifestyle that reflects one’s personal dysfunction, these myths persist and pervade even the writing of the more thoughtful artists among us. No matter how adroitly presented here is the story of a man that uses heroin, wants to present his view point of the world to friends, offends his romantic interest’s family, turns to begging in public while his financial stability wanes to the point where his “nice clothes” grow old and unkempt along with is hygiene. And although this is a song and discussion of redemption, which OWL of all people will readily accept and utilize as part of my theme music, it is also cliché. Unfortunately, it is that blood tinted regurgitation full of the need for the darker variations of James Baldwin’s sentimentality that gives the song its social responsibility, which is also what makes it authentic to me. Despite Pharoahe using experiences from asthma medication induced depression to fuel a narrative driven by the introspections of a heroin addict sans what seems to be any experience with heroin addiction in closer quarters, the narrative remains a morality piece. It is Tyler Perry’s cautionary tale only over a great track and much more eloquent word interactions.
As a recovering addict and alcoholic, I find it a dangerous notion to presume chemicals of this nature are some sort of cheat code to be transformed into a brilliant artist. However, it is difficult to argue with many that this is the case given the number of brilliant and more compelling, successful visionaries that developed their works while intoxicated or under the influence. I think it is a fair formula to use the symbol of the heroin addict to promote its often concomitant destruction, no matter how trite the imagery utilized. In essence, we have seen this before, but maybe we ought to be seeing it again, especially in modern Hip Hop’s overly intoxicant absorbed lyrical content.
As an analyst, it would be an oversight to overlook trends in certain substance usage. It would also be shortsighted to forget to mention the overkill in the media regarding use of chemicals such as crack cocaine in the 1980s, which does taint any media promoted campaign of awareness-raising as it pertains to drug usage in the 2010s. From a piece on the US Government’s drug abuse website called, “What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?”, I quote, “According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NSDUH), in 2012 about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year, a number that has been on the rise since 2007. This trend appears to be driven largely by young adults aged 18-25 among whom there have been the greatest increases. The number of people using heroin for the first time is unacceptably high, with 156,000 people starting heroin use in 2012, nearly double the number of people in 2006(90,000).”
A few recently published articles in more mainstream mediums have also discussed the rise of heroin usage, and maybe I should use quotes there. Jacob Sullum, who is billed as a contributor on the Forbes’ site with a bio-line that reads, “I cover the war on drugs from a conscientious objector’s perspective” states in an opinion piece published in March of 2014, entitled, “How Many Daily Heroin Users Are There In The U.S.? Somewhere Between 60,000 And 1 Million. Maybe.” :
“According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NUSDH), about 620,000 Americans used heroin in 2010. But according to a new report commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, something like 1.5 million Americans were “chronic heroin users” that year. That group includes anyone who has consumed heroin on four or more days in the previous month.”
Our friend, the “conscientious objector” of the war on drugs, here is referring to a blog post on the White House website that relates a report on the topic of money spent by US citizens for drug usage. That post links to a study(I might need quotes there as well) conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that I am linking here. It is a 124 page pdf entitled, “What America’s Users Spend On Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010″, because of course, where your money goes is much more important here. Not quite sure why the White House finds it necessary to contradict numbers in the blog post with information gleaned from 2010 studies, where the NUSDH is utilizing statistics gleaned from surveys compiled in 2012. But alas, numbers will often lie.
There is also a piece on Time’s site written by Eliza Gray dubbed, “Heroin Gains Popularity As Cheap Doses Flood The U.S.” where the statistic garnered by yet another agency led the journalist to type:
“Heroin use has been rising since 2007, growing from 373,000 yearly users to 669,000 in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Heroin overdose deaths have also spiked, increasing 45% from 2006 to 2010, according to the most recently available data from the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the geography of the drug’s users has also expanded. Once considered a largely urban problem, law enforcement and public health officials are seeing an uptick in suburban and rural users.”
As a necessary stipulation on my analysis, not matter how thoroughly presented, I also cannot overlook the racially and ethnically motivated codification of drug laws in the United States of America. Opium consumption was not only forced on the Chinese by Britain, but it led to a war, and the consumption of opium only became illegal in states and in conditions that allowed for discrimination against the Chinese in the United States. The same with marijuana for the Mexicans here as well as cocaine, and the use of crack to disproportionately attack US Blacks is well documented. To touch on these in a more comprehensive fashion is obviously (I would hope) out of the scope of this particular piece, yet I do find it needs to be mentioned.
Although the numbers might either be lying, or framed for the purposes of media propaganda, the National Institute on Drug Abuse documents that heroin usage among eight grades, tenth graders, and twelfth graders is fairly steady at one percent of lifetime usage of those surveyed across all three categories in 2013. With a fluctuation of .10 percent since 2012. Of course, that statistic almost doubles across lifetime usage once we note the responses from those surveyed in age groups 18 to 25 and above. However, once again, where numbers might be lying, I do find it necessary to lean on more anecdotal thoughts for guidance here.
Gil Scott’s own discussion of heroin (or possibly even cocaine) addiction, “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”, drives home(of course the pun was intended) a much more personal anecdote of substance abuse with a more original media fingerprint. Due to the contemporary nature of Hip Hop, I also feel it necessary to mention New Jersey Hip Hop artist, Joe Budden. Although Joey has subtly touched on his addictions on several of his works, the two that come to mind do not satisfy my need for a piece directly dedicated to the topic, but they bear the tone completely. Those two tracks would be “Black Cloud” where he discusses recovery and “Downfall” where he discusses the thought processes of why he possibly uses. Although, I do feel that because Pharoahe is borrowing sentiments from his experiences that are much different than the ones he writes about, and thus create a narrative that lacks a unique fingerprint beyond technique and style, I do feel time and genre afford him a place within the context of the Budden’s and Scott’s. Ultimately, I do not think the narrative, the story told, lacks value due to it not being a personal account, but I do wish it had been. Is that mean?
“We are living in an age when thinking itself is no longer a personal activity but a collective one. We are immersed in media and swimming in the ideas of other people all the time. We do not come up with our thoughts by ourselves anymore, so it’s awfully hard to keep them to ourselves once we share them. Many young people I’ve encountered see this rather terrifying loss of privacy and agency over our data as part of a learning curve. They see the human species evolving toward a more collective awareness, and the net’s openness as a trial run for a biological reality where we all know each other’s thoughts through telepathy.” – “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For A Digital Age” Douglas Rushkoff, pg. 181 (2010)
In the above quote passage, media communications expert Douglas Rushkoff explains much of the milieu of this early twenty-first century. Our world has become a communications network of ideas, memes, and bad oral sex jokes compounded by the speed of a click that our models of business have not caught up to. It is also a world where attention spans mean less than attention mongering(“euphemism” is still one of my favored words). For those that seek a route to attention without the ability to be entertaining, there is the need to forge one’s persona after the activists and intellectuals of a prior century. This particular form of opportunism crushes the value of a fact into bits of coin no longer valued for their ability to enlighten, but only for their ability to give the presenter of such bits of information the aura of expertise and influence.
Rushkoff states in the same book:
“As a person’s value and connections in the digital realm become dependent on the strength of their facts and ideas, we return to a more memetic, fertile, and chaotic communications space. Once a message is launched—whether by an individual or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—it is no longer in that person’s control. How it is received, how it is changed, and whether it is replicated and transmitted is up to the network. May the best meme win.” (ibid., pg. 107)
People typically are not seeking to exchange facts in an objective sense, but to frame facts in a manner that can potentially aid them in persuasion. The social sphere of what is termed, “social media,” is still a market place. Where this marketplace sells ideas is still the selling of a thing. This selling depends on that art of sales. The Art of Sales as in techniques such as groomed presenters, convincing demonstrations, branding, and persuasion.
The facts often cannot speak for themselves. The tossing of statistics and quantified measurements still need framing to be understood and useful. What I have gathered from social media is less about fact exchanging, but facts as a currency demanding one continue to borrow from a particular source. These factiods are not consumed for the purpose of being factual, but to be exchanged for social status and replication of a particular ideology.
“What factors might persuade us to adopt the perspective of a particular pundit we see on TV or on the Internet? One answer is how the pundit ‘frames’ the issue. To frame something means to place it in perspective. For example, is a particular drop in the stock market a ‘blip,’ a ‘crash,’ or a ‘meltdown?’ Are Democrats liberals or progressives? Are Republicans conservatives or right-wingers? Is gay marriage a political, religious, or financial issue, or none of the above? When you frame an issue, you are telling people what to think about it.” – “How Fantasy Becomes Reality,” Karen Dill(2009), [pg. 193]How one frames each objective reality or standard of measurement depends on what group they belong to or wish to belong to. Social capital, is this sense, is not simply the connections one has or the knowledge one possesses, but the ability to persuade others one is connected to in an effort to alter their beliefs, thoughts, and actions in congruence with the knowledge one possess. It is to make others believe the facts represent a perspective best suited for tailoring directives and directions. It is social capital as influence.
“…there are two key aspects to social capital: social networks and the resources that are embedded within these social networks that an actor can access. …social networks are comprised of the people with whom one has sufficient relations to be able to ask advice or seek assistance. Social capital theorists often distinguish between what they refer to as ‘strong ties’ and ‘weak ties.’ Perhaps counterintuitive, it is better to have social networks comprised of many weak ties than those comprised of just a few strong ties. Strong ties are those relationships we have that are very close: with parents, spouse/partners, other relatives, long-time friends, and so forth. Weak ties can be thought of more in terms of acquaintances: the other parents we see at our children’s weekly soccer games, colleagues at work—especially those with whom we rarely socialize—members of our congregation or temple, and so forth…” – “Prisoner Re-entry And Social Capital: The Long Road To Reintegration,” Angela Hattery aqnd Earl Smith(2010), pg. 88
“If you ever find yourself designing something a certain way because you think it would be better that way, then you’re probably performing art and not design. Art is about self-expression. Design is selfless.” - Jeff HarrisAs I’ve been working on various projects, in the design realm as well as media literacy writings, I’ve begun to tackle the question of presenting information more regularly. The question seems to extend itself more and more to those I deal with, so I’ve decided to publicly expound on some of the ideas and practices I’ve entertained and exercised. I suppose, since this is to be a public discussion, or a thought put forth in the shelves of the marketplace of ideas, I should begin with my thoughts regarding the reason why presentation means so much to the writer. In the earlier days of what might easily be labeled the “social web”, there were developers, creators and founders of web sites, or applications, welcoming the public to type their thoughts in textboxes. This practice has not changed, however the manner, or liberty with how much personality a person using these sorts of applications has. From the days of MySpace where a user could alter the background of their “page” to Facebook where the textboxes are strictly controlled for any adaptations, we’ve seen a strong adherence to the principles of presentation control. What you type into the boxes is your business-to a degree- but how that content is rendered to the public is a part of the visual branding of the application you are using. Even with sites such as Blogger, the conversations of the founder’s regarding the earlier decision making is strongly geared to controlling how the writing of the users is presented. It should come to no surprise if one follows the trajectory, that Blogger founders move to develop Twitter, and in an even more controlled visual environment Medium. This need for a dictatorship over content presentation has evolved from a few select template designs with a styling guide predicated on a proprietary front-end code to an application where no choice in the presentation of content is to be found outside of the basic text editor. Some where in the boardrooms of start-up execs, the idea that how the words of individuals are presented in an application that seemingly promotes self-expression is a reflection on the application itself. In our own writing, then, it should of course become something of a consideration. Does what you type become a prisoner of the format and surrounding design of that which you present what you’ve typed? Apparently, it would seem, yes. There are not many objective or groundbreaking presentations that are not capable of escaping the subjective force of the visual aesthetics they are presented through. The very font size we choose– although there is definitely an argument there in the realm of utility–brings with it concerns about presentation. How we present what we write has enough bearing on how it will be regarded to take note of it before having it published in the public sphere. So far I’ve discussed business model constants and constraints. As a designer, I’ve matured from a purely artistic approach to one middling somewhere between “ah that looks dope!” and “okay, I get the message”. Return of investment is not the only reason one should be concerned with presentation. As hinted in the example of font size, one needs to be careful that how they present a message doesn’t impede the message’s resonance or reception. The most poetic and refined love letter written on toilet paper might communicate much more than what is actually written. This might seem an extreme example, but a business man with such success as owning an NBA team once published a missive typed in Comic Sans. As the world wide web has shown many of us, in the public communication’s sphere, it doesn’t take much to run into extremities! Design for me has become a study of subjective objectives. That is, subjective considerations at root that manifest themselves as objective realities. It might not be prudent for the president of the United States(of any hue at any time) to address their country people as,”My Niggas”. The rendering of that term is purely subjective, yet the reaction and response to it is so objective that one could measure it without much resource loss. The use of Comic Sans as a font to illustrate one’s anger and frustration at a betrayal speaks at such a high degree of resonance that you could feel the laughter and the diminishing of credibility prior to even reading the missive. The jokes told themselves that night.
“Good design, good typography is a function of information and inspiration, of the conscious and unconscious, of yesterday and today a fact and fantasy, work and play, craft and art.” - Paul RandIn an attempt to understand from a practical level what subjective objectives have to be considered, it is of course necessity to know ones audience. Knowing one’s audience is different than knowing one’s targeted market. It is the difference in knowing what you aimed to hit in a shooting range from what you actually hit. Who you wish to talk to is not always who you are talking to. This sort of reminds me of conversations I have with some sisters about the men that they attract. The phrasing is something like,”I am not happy with my options”, which can, and should be translated as,”I’m not happy with the type of men that approach me or that are attracted to me.” Possibly a painful honesty, but one that should be brought to bear if one is to be thorough in certain aspects of their self-analysis. It reflects exactly where we as writers often tend to neglect, and that is, we are not doing this just for ourselves, we may actually want something beyond typed ideas on a page. Knowing exactly what your efforts are yielding may actually be more important than knowing precisely what you want your efforts to yield. I tend to take as default that most of us are targeting a market. That is to say, we want people that have money to spend to be interested in our publishings. That almost immediately speaks to a class demographic. It also almost immediately sets up an embrace of systemic languages and semiology used to create something that appeals to a group that is being largely appealed to. In essence, we promote a culture of marginalizing people in an indirect, yet direct way simply by targeting the group we believe will be capable of supporting our brand. Sure, this is a dangerous area, because, quite possibly these people will not be able to. I do not write for the illiterate population in Indonesia, and while for some reading that statement it comes across as obvious or common sensical, for another group, it could be taken offensively and used to harm my brand. Yet, the objective reality stands: I do not write for illiterate people, anywhere. An illiterate person is going to have some time making it into my audience, directly or indirectly. But, it is a market, and given certain technologies that exist, some writer’s reading this might want to consider if they have an illiterate base and make supplications for those of their audience that fit the profile. This is one of the reasons I do not like the appellation of “blogger”. Bloggers have to consider urgency in every element of their design and presentation. Although I do enjoy crafting link bait type titles for my pieces, I do not like composing lists. Lists are used to attract the eye and play upon the need for structure in the mind. They work well for people that write for those with busy schedules. My audience tends to enjoy reading the more comprehensive and detailed aspects of my thoughts on certain topics, so my fondness of theoretical frameworks as opposed to more conceptual ones is good enough. But, if you are writing for an audience that demands short bursts, you will need to get familiar with the color red and the bold button in your word editor. You probably will also need to develop a fondness for large font-sized headers, in fact, if you don’t know what h1 through h6 are, Google should be your friend. Furthermore, if you are one that needs to employ lists fairly regularly, I would suggest studying various methods of separating one point from another. In my experience, numbers lend themselves to a sense of momentum that can add dynamism to your writing.
“Changes in the visual organization of a document can lead to changes in how people perceive its content.” – Karen A. SchriverWhile we are on the topic of styles, I write communications that are attractive to other writers. I have other writers in my audience. This is not something I considered when I first started Owl’s Asylum, but it is something that fairly quickly came to my attention. Many writers have informed me that they have learned to write better by reading my works. The number one lesson that these particular writers have conveyed is the use of punctuation, particularly the use of the comma. Now, to some, this might seem elementary, however, I have overheard several conversations between undergrads about the use of the comma. It is not an uncommon device to use incorrectly, or more to my point, effectively. Now, this is not a style guide, I bring this up because if you are going to be a writer, you should be careful about using communication devices in a way that is appropriate to your audience. That may seem like something that should be solely the arena of grammar, but writing is writing and it is most effective at the point of design. How you sprinkle commas and bold type impacts the message and whether a person reading your writing will desire to continue to figure out exactly what you are typing about. As stated, I do not write for illiterate people in Indonesia. I do not expect that my audience will be highly composed of illiterate peoples of any culture. That being written, I also do not take time to research the cultural idioms of Indonesia with regard to spoken communications. I do not study the devices used to translate the written word into the spoken word. I do not waste a lot of time studying how to cater to audiences that I do not have. I also do not think you should. I make this statement about not writing for illiterate people prominent in this piece because it establishes two very core principles I take to heart in public writing. One, know who you are writing to, and know the difference between who you are writing to and who you wish to be writing for. I personally do not find it necessary or appealing to write Asylum for people that do not like reading. I am simply not the writer who should be contacted to compose works for people that do not like to read, or who cannot read. Unlike many bloggers who are asked to write at an eighth grade level, I have been blessed to attract an audience that typically aspires to read at a college and above level. Due to my cognizance of much of my audience, I know that if I wrote on an eighth grade level, it would ruin my brand. However, you’re audience may not be my audience just because you are in my audience. On that topic, I also advertise Asylum as a US Black media literacy essay archive. Now, much of my audience is made up of White Women. This is something I learned after publishing a piece stating why I did not date or romantically involve myself with White Women. I was readily informed via Twitter just how sizable my White Woman audience was, and just how much they enjoy reading my writing. Needless to type, I have since then always kept in the forefront of my mind prior to hitting the publish button of whatever styling that what I have just written will be read by a nice amount of White Women. Knowing your audience is of utmost importance because, why? Well, if you have not figured it out by now, your audience, whether you like it or not, whether you planned for it to be or not, is your market. Your audience, the group of people that actually are reading your works, is your market. That is to say, your market being that group of people that will and are spending money with you because of your writing. What I have seen from US Blacks using digital platforms to communicate to their audience is this practice of building a base, and then changing the content that attracted the base. Change is important, I tend to believe if you are not changing, you cannot be growing. However, if you built a base around erotic sexual stories, and one day your entire branding is communicating the idea of community events, this really hot to neutral rebranding, I think you’ve lost out. I have seen this more times than I am willing to count, and it almost always sends a person’s brand awash. My audience is important to me. It is who I have been having these conversations with for the last half decade or more. I would be lying here if I typed that I am not in the business of talking to myself. I am certainly in the business of talking to myself, I totally enjoy and am endeared by my introspection. Yet, I am also indebted to and fond of my audience. You should be, as well. I would be willing to put my name on the line here and type that sixty to seventy-five percent of the writing craft is research, organizing my thoughts, creative style and inspiration gleaning. That other forty to twenty-five percent is all presentation. That includes the language I write in, the vernacular, the grammar, the font choices, the mediums chosen for exposure and publishing, all the way down to the color the screen is styled in. These are all audience considerations. These should be considerations you as writers are making as well. A writer should be allotting at least twenty-five to forty percent of all time of their published communications towards audience presentation. If you are writing a book and decide to use seven different fonts throughout that book, you better check to make sure that does not offend your audience’s sensibilities. My audience will not stand for it, neither will I, but still. If your audience is composed primarily, or hell, even sparsely of the Jewish community, possibly using that swastika as a logo might be a bad idea. If you are prone to publishing posts with seven different font colors, I would suggest, at least, to consider how your audience is going to react. Prior to your drawing up infographics mapping your return of investment, you should at least have some familiarity with how your audience responds and reacts to your future design considerations. I do not write for illiterate people in Indonesia. I have never written for illiterate people in Indonesia. I still quote essays I wrote for Owl’s Asylum with published dates from the year when I started Owl’s Asylum. I have been asked to alter the content in the same manner addressed in the above paragraph. I have declined. I have been asked to rebrand, tone down, start another site, write under another name, and otherwise stop Owl’s Asylum from many people over the years. I have not. I do not write for illiterate people in Indonesia, but, I do write for who I write for. I write for the people that are attracted to my writings and have been attracted to them for some years now. Abandoning Owl’s Asylum would be abandoning my audience. It does not say that Owl’s Asylum is bad, and I have agreed that it is bad, and needs changing. It would be saying, my audience is bad in some way, and that I need to be attracting a different audience. And to that, I say, “nay!”