What Is Black Media Trust (Pillar Tri) [March 2019]

Propaganda can be true or false in its origin or intent; but it is always directed at the public for the purpose of winning the support of that public to the sentiment expressed in the propaganda. If you hate a man, giving him a bad name well may explain one of the purposes of propaganda without truth behind it.

Nearly all organized efforts have a system of propaganda to convert people to their principles and get them to support them even though there may be no merit behind it all.

Marcus Garvey, “Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy”, pp 126

“It’s just entertainment,” and in a lot of ways it is.

As you may already know, I am a practitioner and student of communications & psychological warfare. I feel these terms are a bit loaded and cause people confusion now that they can be interpreted to mean many things. I have dubbed my understanding and practice of these disciplines, Godfare.

What GodFare would ask of me is, “What is entertainment?”.

This is where I believe most people become victims.

What a phrase like “just entertainment” does is similar to what a phrase like “recreational drug usage” does, or what “casual sex” does. These phrases allow activities seeped in context, history, and trajectory to be reduced to mundane actions isolated from their dynamic positioning in objective reality. Phrases such as these hope to absolve active participants of responsibility and accountability. Phrases such as these hope to blind or blur highly probable undesirable outcomes from mind of active participants.

All entertainment has context, history, and trajectory. Since Ancient Egypt(Kemet) people have used writing and performance to map constellations to seasons and to discuss moral precepts.

Entertainment is communication. Talking drums warned of impending doom signaled by approaching slavers. Dance embodies writing communicating affiliation and loyalty.

While entertainment is always a form of communication, it is not always a form of “voice”. What I am defining as “voice” here is one’s ability to use a platform to express social political grievance. However, entertainment has context, and despite it not blatantly or subtextually discussing social political ills or agreements, it must speak a language that borrows bias to cater to audience.

Another term we can use here for “context” is one I disdain, but I am sure it works, namely, “relevance”. Entertainment is not isolated from other cultural happenings surrounding its development, presentation, enjoyment, or interpretation. Entertainment has relevance. Entertainment is immediate to public discourse occurring around it and as a function of its creation.

As I have stated above, entertainment occurs along a trajectory. HipHop exists as it does along a trajectory based on a history of other musical forms, cultural expressions, political movements, and social happenings. HipHop takes form due to Ragtime, Blues, Bebop, Jazz, and Rock n Roll; HipHop is not isolated from these other forms of entertainment. It exists along a trajectory of history due to them.

I have elaborated on these concepts to give a cursory means of handling entertainment as we delve further. Stopping here would only confuse what I believe has been confused already. Black Media Trust incorporates GodFare not only to dissect exploitations of Media-Driven Racialized Fictive Kinship Obligations but also to highlight subtle or direct race or class-based psychological attacks found in communications.

Ideas buried within notions like “its just entertainment” manufacture vehicles for deploying psychological warfare. “I’m just playing” or “these are just jokes” allow social hierarchies to persist unchallenged. They add acceptance of subordination to our social pecking orders.

I would like to take time here to inject some interplay. Indulgence is healthy. In that same vein that violence is therapeutic, a need to step back, not away, from one’s conscious obligations and their concomitant stresses is healthy. What is not healthy is stepping back from one’s responsibilities and absolving oneself of potential consequences.

Black Media Trust does not suggest completely removing communications from our lives. Although I have mentioned my own intermittent thoughts about US Blacks simply not constructing texts until they have more power to control their distribution and interpretation, these are impossible whims. There is a need for an interplay of attitudes: one that considers Black Media and its related antecedents from a technical appreciation space, and another one that slices it apart seeking hidden weapons.

As this relates to HipHop, these two attitudes can be articulated respectively by two writers on this topic. In a massive tome edited by Orlando Patterson, “The Cultural Matrix”, Harvard University ethnomusicologist, Wayne Marshall includes an essay on HipHop. I will be using a quote from that essay to sum up my thinking on HipHop as a technical art and science. Armond White is a prolific cultural critic who has written for a number of outlets over his long-winded career. In an essay entitled, “Is There A Magic Bullet For Uncle Toms?”, he embodies my thinking on HipHop, and US Black Media generally, as a trojan horse needing to be x-rayed and cracked open to expose its enemy occupants to light.

Wayne Marshall implores us to explore HipHop’s craftspersonship when he writes:

Public debates about the genre are far too often bogged down by objections to the specific contents of hip-hop productions. Here I argue that hip-hop’s discontents, if you will, would do better to put questions of content aside, at least momentarily, in order to appreciate the importance of craft, innovation, media literacy, and other practices that have made hip-hop such an enduring and inspiring force in the lives of young people, especially black youth.

Marshall, Wayne, “Hip-Hop’s Irrepressible Refashionability”. The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, edited by Orlando Patterson, 2015, pp. 168

Let us quickly move into Armond White’s contribution to GodFare as it presently stands. As we are developing an interplay of forces, I do not want one set of thoughts to outweigh another before both are situated in our minds despite obvious recency bias(but hey, writing is linear, one had to come before that other one!!!).

Armond White warns,

The hiphop era announced a period of deceptive acceptance for Black performers — not just rappers, actors, designers, but journalists have also received the blandishment of mainstream attention. So they become performers, too. They put on a Blacker-doper-smarter-than-thou act…

In exchange for “authority” status, these writers attack any Black culture that goes against the dominant ideology…And be aware: mainstream ideology now includes the “legitimizing” of hiphop.

The institutions that sell hiphop and promote its image…use this cultural base to exert political influence…The cultural betrayal by Black journalists has become a worse problem than rappers’ “immorality.” …The result is, the mainstream legitimizes any hiphop that is predictable, unoriginal, that keeps Black folks docile, endangered, ignorant, unpolitical, trifling.

Even though rap is a great form of popular art, it isn’t only – merely – fashion.

…Defending the most obviously calculated rap, especially gangsta rap, they pander to the kids who don’t know how thoroughly their tastes and choices are controlled by a system of capitalist enterprise.

White, Armond, “Is There A Magic Bullet For Uncle Toms?”, The Resistance: Ten Years Of Pop Culture That Shook The World, Armond White, 1995, pp 429 – 431

This is that spectrum of cultural analysis I am comfortable executing within. Between these poles lies enough room for fair assessment. One pole is pure appreciation for techniques & mastery of form sans content analysis. That other pole is pure examination of message as it seeks relevance via social-political context, not trendiness. Of course, one might ask how an interplay between these two distinctions can exist.

Before we respond to that question, let us retrace our purpose for this writing.

Communications & psychological warfare are loaded terms. I mean this to say that they cause people confusion, being interpreted to mean many things. I use “GodFare” as reference to communications & psychological warfare as it applies to subtle or direct racial or class-based attacks located in media. I also use “GodFare” when discussing tactics and strategies of offense & defense vis-a-vis communications.

GodFare is extended from my conceptual framework, “Black Media Trust”. While it is probably interchangeable with notions like “critical thinking”, I wish to be careful about its application. In order for me to apply an appreciation of “the importance of craft, innovation, media literacy, and other practices that have made hip-hop such an enduring and inspiring force” (and any form of entertainment) it is necessary for me to expand GodFare beyond critical thinking. It must also embrace a sensibility for talented execution in arts and entertainment, giving attention to production and stylistic efforts.

In this vein, not only do I return to questions like, “what is entertainment?”

I also ask, “what is good entertainment?”

In poetry this invites studies of visual metaphor, wordplay, and economy of language. In graphic design, this employs color theory, grid usage, and typography. In fiction, this considers character development, plot devices, and story arc. This is all to simply say GodFare deals with effective execution of technique as well as asking why a technique was employed in a particular composition.

This is a good place to introduce what I refer to as subjective objectivity. There are qualities that embody a quantity, allowing measurement. If surveyed, we could tally how many people of a given sample size consider red their favorite color. This does not give red any more power or whatever over other emanations of hue detected by human eyes along what we perceive as the “color spectrum”. In fact, it is necessary to highlight that color is just a perception. However, in communications, I might need to tailor a message in a manner that takes advantage of a data set suggesting most of those I am communicating with favor red above other colors. This is utilizing subjective objectivity.

Subjective objectivity empowers in a similar fashion as context, or relevance, as mentioned above. It provides cohesion to group identity, groupthink, and even mob psychology. Granted, I realize my use of these particular labels will offer negative bias. It should not.

We are all participants in some collective programming — socialization if that suits you. This socialization gives birth to these situations where the subjective opinion of personal perceptions can be shared among large swaths of people. These personal perceptions feed on themselves in our collective groupings allowing us to study –and manipulate– sensibility. Not only sensibility but also acceptance of certain stereotypes for the purpose of belonging. What we like is not always some arbitrary stimuli, coincidentally shared by others around us.

Those techniques mastered by our writers, entertainers, poets, painters, designers, and craftspersons resonate with us in a visceral way. A way that feels natural. And yet, it is by definition, by design. Literally. Before we even discuss messaging, factors such as form, color, shape, tone, rhythm, and gestalts emotionally sync us to one another like ants in a colony.

Here I am discussing a perspective of Wayne’s appreciation over content that would best fit Black Media Trust and GodFare. It resolves to answer not only what is “good” entertainment, but why a person with vehement public pronouncements denouncing messages presented in the lyrics of a song or plot of a movie would still dance to that music or pay to see that movie. For lack of a better word, they have been hypnotized(or hipnotized…).

We discuss a rhythm that causes what amounts to an uncontrollable desire to dance in terms synonymous with disease. We call it an “infectious” beat. As if we are discussing a virus, an invading body. Subjective objectivity.

Recall what Nate Dogg taught us: an infectious beat does not have to be created with drums, snares, bass licks, or onomatopoeia. A dope beat can also be a dope hook. That is to say, a repetition of words repeated in such a way as to create a beat. What this suggests is that you can cause a group of people to dance and enjoy(be entertained) by a message that they publicly claim to disagree with on a moral or political level.

I agree with Wayne here when he writes that HipHop critics should be allowed space to appreciate media literacy demonstrated by HipHop practitioners, and Black Media, generally. These artists have demonstrated keen ability to read an audience and entice their movement( physical and fiscal) in spite of lyrics hostile to listener and politics antithetical to those responding to their call.

Armond White weighs not only response and its beckoning call, but also social political context. GodFare must also give weight to not only content and message, but underlying business logic of Black Media. If Wayne asks us to give attention to how and what a craftsperson produces, White alerts us to why it was distributed.

Two things to note from this selection that I quote from Armond White. White avoids being targeted for respectability politics. His stance seems to be influenced purely by radical politics and possibly, his obvious position as a die-hard Public Enemy fan at time of writing that essay. Also, White’s approach to culture criticism is reflective of subjective objectivity as it pertains to ideology. He believes that certain writers and corporations have vested interest in presenting debilitating images of US Blacks while working to silence more thoughtful acts.

Before I continue further, let us revisit our working premise here.

All entertainment is communications. This US Government not only uses media and psychological operations on foreigners, but also its own citizens. Due to terms like communications & psychological warfare being used in confusing ways, I have developed my own encapsulating label, GodFare. This term encompasses tactics and strategies used to implement and defend against mediated conflicts.

Obviously, Armond White understands these sorts of conflicts well. What he gifts us with is his uncanny ability to look past red herrings. He states that cultural betrayal by Black journalists is worse than “immorality” assigned to rappers by same said journalists. This is keen and key for GodFare. What White is imploring us to examine is context and trajectory without lazily wallowing in respectability politics.

It is important that I reiterate that while Armond White admits to perceiving certain rap products as “predictable, unoriginal” and that it “keeps Black folks docile, endangered, ignorant, unpolitical, trifling”, he also is not decrying it as a form of expression outside of Whyte approval. Armond White is not worried about Whyte people looking down on US Blacks because of certain images presented. Once again, he is not adopting a posture of respectability politics here.

I find it necessary to highlight this avoidance of respectability because often US Blacks are criticized based on their distance from Whyte standards of decorum and artistic expression. There are definitely images of US Blacks that promote criminality, and should be noted as such, but not for purposes of avoiding being stereotyped by Whytes.

Fear of Whyte stereotyping is a lens, or perspective, that places an emphasis on subordinating to Whyte power structures. Whyte people have to decide for themselves whether or not to stereotype US Blacks(or any other grouping, including themselves). It should not be the duty of Black entertainment to assuage Whyte prejudice, attitudes of superiority, or other indications of ignorance about Blacks.

GodFare should monitor but not be wholly given to analysis of Whyte people that are trained to see Blacks as criminals seeing Blacks as criminals. What should be of concern are texts that socialize Blacks to be criminals in reactionary, irresponsible, and unthoughtful ways.

This is all to suggest that in our efforts to accomplish a mission of enlightening Blacks that “don’t know how thoroughly their tastes and choices are controlled by a system of capitalist enterprise,” we should be more engaged in what goes into Black minds, not as much consumed by what probably already exists in Whyte minds.

Within this framework, entertainment is being measured more for its degree of Blacks intentionally appealing to Whyte markets(or being paid by Whyte corporations) using stereotypes; not as much if Whytes are simply interpreting them as such. There are simply too many ways in which socially nutritious Blackness can be enacted that will be misinterpreted by Whytes.

I would also add that what is important here is not attacking other Blacks, Indigenes, Asians, or even Whytes. What needs to be clear is that GodFare determines to establish an ability to tease out ideology and intention. This does not mean we will always agree or disagree with objectives of that ideology. Nor does it mean that intentions ascertained will necessarily be interpreted by us as beneficial or detrimental. Nor will it always be favorable to our aims to find fault with ideologies so gathered.

Entertainment is communication. As such, it is important to have criteria available to find out what is being communicated and what is that communication’s purpose. Further, being able to characterize the quality of communication, especially entertainment, is an inseparable factor.

Communication cannot occur without an active communicator. Active communicators are responsible for effects on active and passive listeners, viewers, and consumers. There is no “just” communication. By logical extension, there is no “just” entertainment.

Entertainment, like communications, is a product of context, history, and trajectory.

While no text, or media production, will completely conform to our visions or agendas, it is healthy for us to ask why a work exists and to whose ends. We do not have to assign that work an immediate label of ‘evil’ or ‘divine’, but we should be considering how that work impacts, or effects, us and our surrounding environments.

Media impact should consider subjective objectivity. How individuals or crowds internally “feel” about a media production or text, may have palpable results. Entertainment influences behavior regardless of rules, standards of composition. Syntax does not alter charisma of communications, neither does artistic license.

Finally, class antagonism must always be borne in mind when dealing with US Blacks. This ultimately implies a sense of caution when associating artistic license with inspirations of Whyte proximity, Whyte decorum, or western notions of postmodernism. US Blacks have their own history that forms their own trajectories and present contexts. Spray paint on a wall has to be given same or higher quality evaluations than say, screen printed pop cultural icons in a makeshift factory.

Respectability as it means a set of behaviors and postures adopted by US Blacks to gain good will and circumvent stereotyping from Whytes cannot be allowed to determine quality in art, entertainment, or any other form of communication.