Empire As Metonymy For Nigga Rich :: A Semiotic Analysis Of Lee Daniels’ Empire

The use of metaphor and metonymy in symbol creation throughout communication is replete and yet often does not generate much discussion outside of academic trained spaces. In much of media analysis(yeah, that academically trained space), and by extension, Black media analysis, however, the use of metaphor, metonymy, simile, and other semiotic analysis devices are visited quite often. As it is a principle of OWL’s Asylum to make Black Media Analysis as accessible(raw) as possible, I have here discussed the metonymy of the title “Empire” as it is used in a trailer for the upcoming television show on Rupert Murdoch owned 21st Century FOX controlled FOX Television. Within the context of the discussion, I show that the term “Empire” is used less in a political fashion, but as a metonymy for a particular sort of success often displayed in hip hop imagery and storytelling. This particular connection leads me to develop a relationship between the show “Empire” and Starz Inc owned Starz cable station broadcast, also executively produced by Fifty Cent(nee Curtis Jackson), “Power”.

 



 

At the time of this writing, for about three weeks now, there has been a commercial airing for a new show. Due to the show starring one of my favorite actresses, Taraji P. Henson, I have decided to loan the show a few denominations of my attention. The show, “Empire” is executively produced by the same guy that directed “The Butler”, Lee Daniels, and also stars Terrance Howard in the lead role of drug dealer turned music executive, Lucious Lyon. What struck me beyond the show’s very closely related thematic elements with another show executively produced by Fifty Cent about a drug dealer’s rise to power, that so happens to be entitled “Power”, was the use of the term “empire” for the title.

 

The use of the term “Empire” here to express a family business of entertainment as opposed to say, something that could be more akin to an actual empire is noteworthy to me. In many ways, “empire” here sort of suggests metonymy in its associating rulership and the trappings of a dominant imperial conquest with what one might be able to flesh out as the “American dream” in a higher expression of capitalist attainment, but definitely not its highest. It is in this vein that I sort of find the use of the term of “empire” to refer to a successful Black entertainment company troubling. Where shows such as “Game Of Thrones” use terms like “empire” to suggest, well, an empire, the image of US Blacks is much less ambitious in scope. In this sense, the term “empire” here also works as a metaphor for political power; unfortunately, as a symbol communicating such erroneous ideas in a world where Barry Obama cannot be elected president of the United States and also discuss police oversight without having to invite police personnel light years beneath his pay-grade to the White House, I do wish there was a space for a more realistic image of power beyond the consumerist notions found in the average radio rotation heavy trap hop track.

 

It is also very telling, and probably a good time to mention here, that “Empire” as a textual semiotic device, or sign, represents and reflects the ideals of US Black capitalistic success as “power” is used as the title of show in the same genre as(or simply a carbon copy following after the ratings success of) Fifty Cent executively produced along with CBS Television Studios, Mawuli Productions Inc. and Atmosphere Television, “Power”. Once again, we have a show that associates power with the financial success and asset attainment as well as lifestyle of the accomplished street drug dealer turned not so illegal product trading businessman. Where the show “Empire” uses the sign “empire” in a way that is closer to what I would define as metonymy for the purpose of encompassing the show’s theme quickly, I see the term “power” used in the Fifty production a little differently. The main character of Fifty’s show, James “Ghost” St. Patrick (played by actor Omari Hardwick), is the symbol for Fifty Cent in some ways. The nightclub owner that happens to also be a drug dealer in the space of the fictitious New York urban scene seems extremely close to the iconography Fifty Cent uses for his own personal branding. The term “power” as a title also extends itself to connect aspects of Fifty’s personal branding, specifically how it ties Fifty’s written products, the book coauthored with “48 Laws Of Power” writer, Robert Greene, named, “The 50th Law”. By implication, this would make the book about Fifty Cent (nee Curtis Jackson), the 50th law of power. This, of course, works in the same overall container for me concerning US Blacks and the idea of power versus US Whytes. Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power” is a discussion of spies, military leaders, and their exploits; the idea of power here tends to be the type wielded by the heads of state. So, there is this connection and association with US Blacks and “power” as well as “empire” that tends to be less political, and while definitely financial, just more consumerist.

 



 

Consumerism is not the only term I can think of to describe the notion of power and empire exemplified through the show. It would be remiss of me as a Black media analyst to not consider bell hooks’ framework of Whyte patriarchal capitalism here. Both shows make a certain implication about male figures as head of the “throne” so to speak. Both shows are almost long form hip hop videos in that regard, with the show “Empire” even having the “bitter” US Black woman who “does what she has to” in order to feed her children which causes her to be incarcerated. This is a theme we’ve visited more than once in the history of US Black media, and it does not seem to be straying too far from the cliché of the urban Black female trope. I also add here simply to be in alignment with the Whyte patriarchal capitalism part that “Empire” airs on FOX(owned by 21st Century Fox which is still headed by the world-renown Rupert Murdoch),at the time of this writing, and “Power” is entering its second season on Starz network(owned by Starz Inc, whose CEO is Chris Albrecht and partly owned by The Weinstein Company[this can be found on the corporate website here]). Neither media company even remotely owned by US Blacks, but like the themes of both shows, Whyte controlled US Black media images are pretty much the going cliché.