“So One-track Minded”: Black Women and Sexual Performance As Sport

On May 19th, 2013, Nicki Minaj performed on stage at the 2013 Billboard awards. This performance included Lil’ Wayne in a duet fashion performing the song “High School”.

 

“Hotter than a middle eastern climate, find it 20 mataran dutty whine it, while it, Nicki on a pit while I sign it, how these niggas so one-track minded but really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K” – Nicki Minaj, “Monster”

 

“Look at all that ass”

 

 

The overall performance was divided it into three acts:

 

Act one:

Nicki Minaj coming out and doing her solo verse, a slightly erotic gyration as she eases from bar to bar verbally and physically hypnotizing her adoring fans.

 

Act two:

Lil’ Wayne and Nicki Minaj piggy backing bars with Lil’ Wayne introducing his dull cliché of hypermasculine energy that has prevailed for much of hip hop’s history.

 

Act three:

Which is of course, my second favorite act, Nicki Minaj giving Lil’ Wayne a strip club style lap dance.

 

My biggest concern with all of this outside of the normal apprehensions that come when one thinks about all the young children that might be watching was Lil’ Wayne’s inability to let Nicki Minaj just have her moment. Now, it needs to be written, Nicki Minaj totally owned Lil’ Wayne on that stage when he was sitting in that chair and she kicks that right leg up, slides with a step to straddle and just goes into her popping. She embraces her physique’s appeal, a strip tease for the audience of fantasizing fans that have fetishized her gluteus maximus with her hands pulling teasingly through her legs. And just when she concludes with her Captain Morgan’s stance on the chair after dismissing Lil’ Wayne, her prop…her stage accoutrement speaks in its mutant language.

 

“Look at all that ass”

 

It was an embarrassing power transferal. I would not even call it that. The statement in that moment is better referred to as power dissipation, really. And it did remind me of a similar performance by Kelly, Michelle, and Beyoncé of Destiny Child’s.

 

The Stats of Destiny’s Child Catering Service

 

 

At the 2005 BET Awards Show, the ladies escort Magic Johnson, Nelly, and Terrance Howard out to the main stage area and sit them down in respective chairs. Michelle partnered with Magic; Kelly partnered with Nelly; and Beyoncé with Terrance Howard. It seemed as though poor Michelle needed a footstool to hurdle onto the lap of Magic, and once there she seemed completely out of her league by being on his lap! There is a natural power dynamic attendant to height, and even sexual prowess can be incapable of reducing it. Kelly completely overpowered Nelly. In parts of the tease we can see Kelly having to guide Nelly’s hands, it just looked like poor Nelly had completely been reduced to the proverbial putty in Kelly’s hand. Which makes Beyoncé’s grace look less than polished in that particular performance.

 

 

Of course, as the lead singer, Beyoncé immediately commands the attention of the cameraman, all the magnetic seductiveness of the others, but with one difference, Terrance Howard is slowly sapping energy from her magic. And he’s not doing anything but giving in. Unlike Nelly who has just given up, Howard’s creepy puppy dog look is more controlled, and Beyoncé knows it. Towards the end of the dance she is almost falling into his arms — the absolute contrast to what Kelly Rowland has caused Nelly to do!

 

‘In Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham first coined the term “politics of respectability” to describe the work of the Women’s Convention of the Black Baptist Church during the Progressive Era. She specifically referred to African American’s promotion of temperance, cleanliness of person and property, thrift, polite manners, and sexual purity. The politics of respectability entailed “reform of individual behavior as a goal in itself and as a strategy for reform.” Respectability was part of “uplift politics,” and had two audiences: African Americans, who were encouraged to be respectable and white people, who needed to be shown that African Americans could be respectable.

African American women were particularly likely to use respectability and to be judged by it. Moreover, African American women symbolized, even embodied, this concept. Respectability became an issue at the juncture of public and private. It thus became increasingly important as both black and white women entered public spaces.

…The prevailing interpretation suggests that the politics of respectability undermined the rigidly scientific nature of racial categories, but generally tended to reinforce status distinctions within the African American community. These distinctions were about class, but they were defined primarily in behavioral, not economic, terms. By linking worthiness for respect to sexual propriety, behavioral decorum, and neatness, respectability served a gatekeeping function, establishing a behavioral “entrance fee,” to the right to respect and the right to full citizenship…’

 

– Gatekeeping and Remaking: The Politics of Respectability in African American Women’s History and Black Feminism, Paisley Jane Harris

 

Without delving too deeply into the politics of respectability, I do want to say that there is a difference between what Nicki does and what the Women of Destiny’s Child do. And I do not want this to get bogged down in the class (behavioral) discussion, because I feel Nicki could have done the exact same performance without the guy that used to strike a pose kissing his “daddy” and it would have been extremely powerful. Lil’ Wayne was at best a prop. However, there is a nuance that separates “seductive” from “sexy”, and I do believe Nicki Minaj falls into the later category. Sure, from my hetero masculine eyes, it is easy to fetishize Nicki in the same manner that White men have been fetishizing the Afrikan feminine anatomy throughout their records of history.

 

And without having to dance around the ring in any polemic bouts, sure, there is an objectifying quality here. But, sexual appreciation is often objectifying. Yet, I fully respect and honor the SHE of Kelly Rowland as she effortlessly causes Nelly to slide into trance level state of consciousness with her body movements and allure. While objectifying her in his head, she’s turned him into not much more than an object! And honestly, so has Minaj. While Little Tunechi is looking for a role to play, he settles for the shallowest pebble in his mind, the obvious look at Nicki Minaj’s derrière and locker room puerility of a 17 year young seaman recruit receiving his first lap dance. Little absorbs the collective psyche of 15 year old White boys in the United States and says what they wish, while Howard does to Beyoncé only what Jay seems to have, or at least I am hoping for Jay’s sake.

 

“How These Niggas So One-track Minded”

 

It is the childish expression that Little chooses out of his bag of mental marbles to display that causes me to wish Minaj had not done the performance with him. I can handle the raunchy. It was intentional. Destiny Child is singing a ballad catering to the men, some feminists may be adverse to that, but it was the song. I refuse to attend the outrage of anyone upset that heterosexual women are singing heterosexual songs. Minaj is rapping with Little– although their verses are asymmetrical– about a tryst between a man and woman. Nicki Minaj’s verse discussing how a woman helps a man to see the finer things in life after he has been incarcerated, Little’s concluding verse a batch of controlling banter that happens to be highly sexual. I expect Minaj to pay homage to Choice, Lil Kim, Trina, Salt-N-Pepa, Oaktown 357 and that sort of style of dancing and presentation because that is the genre in which she is in, and her entire career has been in homage to that particular posture developed by those women. I did not feel as though she was distasteful, in fact, I thought it was tantalizing. Her moves need polish, but so did Beyoncé’s moves.

 

Ultimately, I never want to write anything that would ever be deemed as me reducing any woman’s, or group of women’s power to “ass shaking”. For one, I would never reduce the herstories of Women globally to sex, there is too much pain in an Assata chapter for that. Nor would I ever reduce what Nicki Minaj, Michelle, Kelly, or Bey did as “ass shaking”. From belly dancing to ghost dancing, there is an extensive human art, science, and politic to the kinesiology represented in dance. I would just like it if niggaz let women do their thing, and if there must be power transference, let it be the gracefulness of a stare held too long cascading into the personae unmasking itself on stage in laughter.

 

Politics Of Sex & Sport

 

“An argument might be made that part of what it means to be a male athlete is to remain, emotionally at least, at the developmental level of many adolescent boys.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy pg. 80

 

“When sex becomes a contest, a means for domination and conquest, male-female relationships are reduced to a game in which there are “winners” and “losers.” The question, “Did you score last night, Steve?” represents an extension of male competitiveness in which “females are often perceived as opponents and various strategies or game plans are developed to get them to submit”. Men feel comfortable on the playing field, where they know the rules of the game and can maneuver a victory. This may be part of the reason many men avoid smart women. In addition to having their sense of insecurity about their own intelligence exacerbated, men may also fear losing. A woman who understands the rules of the game may be too much of an opponent, and male identity may be too invested in being the winner.” – ibid, pg. 85

 

 

That being typed, I think this comparison is an interesting study in how certain power dynamics operate. Without having to lean too heavily on my patriarchal socialization, there are spaces where sex is sport. And there is a space where the choices of conduct that deem us as quick witted are sport. Sport in the United States, is traditionally a male dominated social area. US professional sports define “equality” by the idea that no woman is physically capable of competing with male athletes. Even trying out for a position on a professional team where men compete is scoffed at (although that as a hiring practice in any other domain would be illegal). This fundamental notion is extended beyond race and class. In the Black community the male intellectual is relegated to the position of patriarch(like the pastor of one’s church, think Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson), and the woman athlete is relegated to social statures that are familiar as well: the “tomboy, the “stud”(or “want-to-be male”), or a hobbyist at best.

 

“Since their earliest manifestations in pre-Greek civilization, sports have grown out of a society’s need to be proficient in war. Hunting, wrestling, running, horse racing, and fencing gave warriors a means to improve crucial components of the limited military resources they had at hand. Ideologically, sports have been used domestically to reinforce class differences and to encourage men to become soldiers.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 60

 

Hip hop, as many will explain, has as one of its many roots, the battle rap. This is art as sport, music as competition. For Nicki to be privy to the space she holds– a Woman successfully navigating a space of sport in the US– is a feat in and of it Self. Dance also has competitive space, with dance competitive companies. Dance as competition has emerged to the degree of suggestions of pole dancing as an Olympic sport as Pole competitions is a professional sport. So, none of this is far-fetched. The space Michelle, Beyoncé, Kelly, and Nicki Minaj find them Selves in is not new terrain in the psyche of the viewers. Yet, like most things where Women, especially Black Women, have an advantage, the status of the event is tampered with to appease male insecurities.

 

“The relationship between sports and war in U.S. history illustrates the role of athletics as an instrument of oppression and animosity. Gorn and Goldstein trace the subtleties of this association, beginning with the American Civil War which “provided a well of memory, a master metaphor for the belief that conflict between individuals, classes and nations lay at the heart of human existence”. As a moral equivalent of war, “athletics offered an opportunity for young men to get their first taste of glory, and for older men to renew the tingle of heroic combat”.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 61

 

 

Nicki Minaj, one of the only Women in professional Hip Hop in 2013 with the degree of her success, can surely be taken to task for certain, um, added physical accessories. But so should Lil’ Kim, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and a host of other Black Women with national media coverage throughout history that alter body parts for cosmetic purposes. Sure, is there a pornification of Hip Hop? There has BEEN a pornification of Hip Hop since back when Salt-N-Pepa got on a stage in those black skintight outfits and told the world to “Push It”. I think it is dangerous to immediately run to the old standby of sexual lewdness as deleterious when it is women, or specifically Black Women, that command the power of the sexual act being portrayed.

 

Hip Hop dance, as well as sexual performance in the art of dance, is a fairly Woman dominated sport. An aside here could easily be that the competitive forms of dance dominated by men such as tap dance, break dance, and Capoeira as dance are more popular and acceptable in mainstream. The portrayal of Little, Magic, Nelly, and Howard as submissive instruments for the extension of Black Women’s exhibition is not a role men, especially Black men of stature, are commonly associated with. Yes, Nelly got the treatment, and showed it, and he was supposed to! Little was worked like the uneven bars in a Gabby Douglas set. Unfortunately, for Nicki, after she was done with her presentation of prowess, the damn balance beam wants to remind the world why it was supposed to be the inanimate object to begin with!

 

 

“Historically, as form of resistance to the negative stigmas and caricatures about their morality, African Americans adopted a “politics of respectability.” Claiming respectability through manners and morality furnished an avenue for African Americans to assert the will and agency to redefine themselves outside the prevailing racist discourses. Although many deployed the politics of respectability as a form of resistance, its ideological nature constituted a deliberate concession to mainstream societal values. The self-imposed adherence to respectability that permeated African American women’s lives, as well as African American culture, also later impacted African American activism and the course of scholarship in African American Studies. This strict adherence to what is socially deemed “respectable” has resulted in African American scholars’ confining their scholarship on African Americans to often the most “heroic,” and the most successful attributes in African American culture; it has also resulted in the proliferation of analyses which can be characterized as culturally defensive, patriarchal, and heterosexist.”“Examining the Politics of Respectability in African American Studies”, Kali N. Gross

 

So far, US history has shown us that Black Women are going to be lambasted as “whores” and morally deprived for simply being the interests of male concupiscence. If it is Black male concupiscence, there may not be an interruption in the game, but if it is in command of White male concupiscence, then you can almost guarantee a flag on the play. Madonna comes out on stage in a teddy to be received as queen and is not even performing, Beyoncé is attacked as being ‘too racy’ and ‘trampy’ for energizing an audience with spectacular use of technology, choreography, and enchantment. As a Black man and a media analyst, I have to toe the line of observer, voyeur, historian and critic. There is a history of competition between Black women and White women that reflects a delicate history where White men could glance, hawk, and rape Black women almost like hunting as Thomas Jefferson does Sally Hemmings, and then returns to the bed to place his White wife trophy on the well sculpted pedestal. The hard-fought battles of women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary Bethune-Cookman, Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, and countless others were not waged alongside White Women in the manner some feminist writers might misleadingly inject. The need for the protection of the “chaste” image of White Women remained a bloody timeline, while Black Women had to navigate a desirability that historically marked them as libidinous, a justification for the centuries of rape by White men, and also one that was anchored in centuries of caste positioning them in a psychological strata below White Women even in the minds of Black men.

That any Black Woman is able to capture the appeal of audiences in a seductive and sexy fashion without it being labeled in some manner as “animalistic” or “less than ladylike” is to confuse one’s Self with the implements of strategy. There is power in the sport of art and that power is economically viable, and psychologically impacting. We are not discussing subjective qualifications alone here, this is practical and utilitarian. Sport is the peacetime version of war, and there are gains to be had by the victors. Those gains will not be silently and calmly transmitted.

 

“The sports hero embodies this sense of control for the fan who vicariously lives out his fantasy world through the superathlete who has it all: money, fame, and beautiful women. Spectatorship emerged concomitantly with the rise of a consumer society and came replete with myths of the superathlete created by a burgeoning profession of sportswriting for an audience that sought “a sentimental sense of community, not new information or good writing”” – ibid, Murphy, pg. 76

 

Since sport is the peacetime preparation for war, it also contains elements of power and conquest. As a man, the sport of mating is a dog pit where my emotions and position as patriarch is the booty while I am tasked with getting…well, the booty. Beyoncé and Minaj are not just seen as artist in that sort of dynamic, they are looked at as champions. But there is a social dynamic of White supremacy that even in the most quantifiable of topics will place some quality of White involvement in a more worthy position than any other participant, as well as reduce the role of those non-white participants. It is a part of the game. What we call “shyt talking”, or “bad mouthing” on the court or the field of game is the propaganda of the war monger. As such, those competitors that are not the Beyoncé’s, the Michelle’s, the Kelly’s, the Nicki’s or a host of other celebrated Black Women whose entertainment puts them at the level of champion will be attacked, maligned, and antagonized like Jordan Crawford insulting Carmelo Anthony. Which makes me disdainful of Little and his immature response to what was a powerful play. It is proper to note here that Gabby Douglas, the first US Black Woman, and subsequently the only US athlete, to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics was not celebrated for her status but demeaned for her hair.

 

Black Men: Ball-hogging and Lack of Team Loyalty

 

“Racism finds a counterpoint in the sexism and misogyny of sports. Despite the impressive growth in the number of women participating in athletics, sports continue to evolve as an expression of a male culture that keeps women in their place even while on the playing field.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 78

 

 

In the same vein that I felt insulted that Shawn Carter had to refer to Beyoncé as a “bitch” in his song with Kanye, “that’s my Bitch”, I felt like Wayne fumbled a ball on a fourth down pass right at the in-zone. If a Black man of Carter’s stature can pay homage to the stereotypical older White patriarchs with his suit and ties and tumblers of brown liquor, can he not also extend the image of a team mate to the Woman that got him the Oprah interview? I cannot demand anyone treat their wife without verbally abusing them, wait, that’s not true, but, I am not going to do it now. It would be nice if Black men could show the same degree of loyalty to the team that Black Women collectively have shown throughout our genesis in the US. Nicki Minaj is helping to establish your brand beyond the place she found it. Regardless of what the uninitiated might think or type, proper training in team sports holds that if your teammate is about to score, the least you do is get out of the way and let them, if you can’t block or defend them. The proper show of appreciation in most sport cultures in the US is to grasp hands, nod approvingly, hug, or slap arse. You don’t have to open your mouth to the adoring fans in the stands. Champions walk off the stage of sport with the thunder of applauding fans as the background music of their life without needing to speak or allude to their win. Not because they are arrogant, but because they have been there before.

 

 

My Thoughts On White Privilege In The Age Of The First White-Kenyan US President

“Because habit is transactional, in a raced and racist world, the psychosomatic self necessarily will be racially and racistly constituted. Race is not a veneer lacquered over a nonracial core. It composes the very bodily and psychical beings that humans are and the particular ways by which humans engage the world. Like gender and sexism, sexuality and compulsory heterosexuality, disability and bias toward ability, class and class oppression, and other characteristics of contemporary human beings, race and white privilege are constitutive features of human existence and experience as they currently occur. Sometimes these habits are consciously felt, other times not, but in all cases they help make up who and what human beings are.” – Shannon Sullivan, “Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege”, pg. 24

 

My Thoughts On white Privilege in the Age of the first White-Kenyan US President are that White Male privilege did not grow in the bushes of manicured lawns, so neither can Black privilege.

 

Often, it can be difficult for me to separate my daily pains that are a consequence of my actions, from those that were accrued from the society and global experiences that weigh heavy on all US Black people. And I can be honest enough with my Self to admit that yes, I have made erroneous decisions in my life that impact my present welfare. I can also be analytic enough to say, well, yeah, there is an entire sub-culture of people that fear, are intimidated by, just do not understand or are completely oblivious of people that look like me or come from my background that control and operate the resource distribution channels of this country.

 

White Male privilege can be difficult for me to discuss. In the same manner, I suppose that some very enlightened and hardworking Black Women find it difficult to discuss “Black Male privilege”(I wrote “some”, if that does not include you, then it does not). Not so much that “White Male privilege” does not exist, but that when you are a person that fights hard, doesn’t give up, and is bright, you tend to earn a right to this little thing call pride that often makes you forget that it is not always your fault things have not gone as you’ve planned.

 

I do not want my efforts to be overcast or shadowed by some amorphous dynamic cast and created by a select few White men that decided to rub their resources together and not allow me into their reindeer games. It would be the loudest skeleton turning in a casket in recorded history if I found out my legacy was reduced to what people did not allow me to do versus what I overcame. Yet, people are not always their accomplishments. Many of us are simply the results of a privilege born by the atrocious and predatory acts of others that look like us.

 

“Modes of public expression in black and white communities can vary considerably, but only white, middle-to-upper-class modes of behavior tend to be utilized and viewed as appropriate in class discussions.” – Shannon Sullivan, “Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege”, pg. 24

 

Deep down, I do not have an issue with that. I just wish I was playing on a more determined and aware team. As the metaphor in the Black community as been stated, I do not want to run on a team that cannot learn to accurately pass the baton. No one is going to be able to convince those that have determined that the world is their birthright to “civilize” no matter how uncivil that piece of deed might be. Begging for rights and a human dignity that should be a default has only resulted in the murders of a great number of very talented and thoughtful set of Human Beings.

 

I am not against the collective White citizenry of the United States. I am not. I sincerely doubt most of them even know what the hell is going on.

 

I am not against the collective White Male citizenry of the United States. I am sure a sizeable portion of them cannot even spell “privilege” let alone decipher it when it gives them a professional career without considering they cannot spell.

 

Hey, if I was a part of a collective that understood the power of unity to the point where they would give me a staff position even if I had a criminal conviction before a person without one just because they did not look like my brother or sister, hell, I’d take advantage, too. But unfortunately, I do not.

 

White Male privilege did not enter existence with the blade of grass. It did not sprout in the valley of the Pyramids alongside the Nile. White privilege did not find its origin as vegetation, fruit, rock, water, or air. White Male privilege was fought for. It was hard earned. It was a success story too long for a Twitter update, too bloody for an MSNBC discussion.

 

Sometimes when you play the victim too long, you become your own victimizer. Reforming an economy based on United States Slavery will never produce an egalitarian society. Black people asking for reform in this country is like a man being raped in prison asking his rapist to only put the tip in. The violation is too huge; the solution too demanding.

 

The US Black believes that because they have galvanized at the polls to elect a man born of a White college student and a deadbeat Kenyan that they have developed leverage enough to topple the socio-economic beasts that drain them daily. Has White privilege fled the White House just because Michelle Obama chooses the flowers in the garden?

 

White Male privilege did not grow in the bushes of manicured lawns, neither can Black privilege.

 

“In social psychology, the term <i>aggression</i> is generally defined as any behavior that is intended to harm another person who does not want to be harmed…” – Baron & Richardson, 1994(Citing found Advanced Social Psychology, pg. 304)

 

The treatment of the descendants of US Slaves, the Afrikans in the United States of America that derive their present citizenship because of their ancestor’s choice to be here, but a forced immigration, has been the same since July 4, 1776. It is the texture of US society for Blacks to be over worked, underpaid, housed in the worse conditions, and dehumanized through media. Reform measures such as the Civil Rights legislation has only presented a socio-psychological dynamic where Black people look at White people as those to seek permission to be treated as humans from. Any government that has to legislate human treatment is the government of a country of savages that do not deserve to be feared but to be defended against. White privilege is the residue of conquering savages reproducing and legitimizing their savagery through sophistication. White privilege is the ostracism of Blacks from certain circles of resource and capital heavy social pockets.

 

“Aggression is not an emotion that occurs inside a person, such as an angry feeling. Aggression is not a thought that occurs inside someone’s brain, such as mentally rehearsing a murder you would like to commit. Aggression is a social behavior because it involves at least two people.” Ibid., pg. 305

 

The prolonged fear of admitting that the United States of America as a social study is bound to a creed of extending White privilege globally is to beg for the diminishing of Black people. The reason why Obama, the half Kenyan whose bloodline never crosses through the genetic trauma of Jim Crow USA, can promote the safety of the Israel state while it practices its own form of apartheid and holocaust on Palestinians and Afrikans is because he is the face of global white privilege. It is a team effort to conquer a planet, and team at that level is referred to as an allied force.

 

White Male privilege did not grow in the bushes of manicured lawns, neither can Black privilege.

 

“In social psychology, violence is aggression that has extreme physical harm, such as injury or death, as its goal.” Ibid., pg. 305

 

I am not against privilege. I think it is a very sagacious response to the demands of an aggressive humanity. Much of humanity is aggressive and bound by territorial, religious, or ideological systems. The insatiable appetite of human groups with mastery of war and destruction demands an equal or more forceful threat to be warded off. Lest that human group consume every other grouping in its path of fulfillment.

 

White Male privilege did not grow in the bushes of manicured lawns, neither can Black privilege.

 

Physical aggression involves harming others with body parts or weapons (e.g., hitting, kicking, stabbing, or shooting them). Verbal aggression involves harming others with words (e.g., yelling, screaming, swearing, name calling). Relational aggression (also called social aggression is defined as intentionally harming another person’s social relationships, feelings of acceptance by others, or inclusion within a group…Some examples of relational aggression include saying bad things about people behind their backs, withdrawing affection to get what you want, excluding others from your circle of friends, and giving someone the ‘silent treatment’. Relational aggression is similar to the concept of ostracism. Ostracism refers to being excluded, rejected, and ignored by others…)” ibid., pg. 305-306

Spoiler Alert:: Tyler Perry’s Temptation

It is entirely difficult for me to enter Perry’s Temptation without preconceived notions, assumptions, and a lack of suspended judgment. Perry introduces into most of his works a formulaic style, that –although seems to guarantee him financial success– doesn’t leave much for the imagination, nor does it leave room for those of us that like to be objective and neutral in at least a few of our Black media analysis. A Tyler Perry film critique is no country for unbiased review.

Perry is obviously devoted to his Black Christian/Baptist audience. In that regard, his plays, films, television shows, and interpretations of the works of others embodies the patriarchal, the conservative, the absolutist, and the traditional. Any media analysis or critique of his work that can only offer you a rehashing of how patriarchal notions meshed with Black vernacular(urban or rural) and cultural artifacts and western notions of romance is at best a superficial musing; at worst, another academic looking to take shots on the 4 foot rim. And yes, poking those particular holes in Perry’s work is just that easy. In that regard, nothing that Tyler Perry does should be unfamiliar: the ingredients of his secret sauce could be expounded upon by a 10 year old cartoon character in less than three minutes. More importantly, so much of Perry’s Temptation is the urban and predominantly Black cast version of “The Family That Prays”.

much of Perry’s Temptation is the urban and predominantly Black cast version of “The Family That Prays”.

I leave those initial statements there as disclaimer more for the sake of those that might choose to publicly analyze Perry’s Temptation, than for my own feeble attempt at political correctness. Any Black attempting a fair media analysis is beset by that gnawing reality that entertain and art are essentially subjective, thus no matter how disciplined or analytic the you or I might be, we still make a choice somewhere whether to like or dislike the movie based on criteria that is not always born by the content of the piece of entertainment or art. Moving on.

Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor written for the screen, directed, and produced by Tyler Perry is the narrative, or confession, of Judith, a middle aged marriage counselor.We are introduced to the story’s narrator, holding what appears to be marriage counseling sessions as she uses herself in anecdote as a moral story for not cheating, well, for not entering into an affair that has been suggested. The visual chronology is a bit off putting because initially we are given what appears to be a Black woman in her late 30s to 40s without any hint or subtitle of the date of the setting, but are told that she and her husband met 19 years prior to her meeting a social media guru at the age of 26 where the bulk of her narrative is set. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t become a household name until around 2009, but I’ll give Perry 2005, 2006, but it still is confusing because we are talking a good 20 years of physical age difference in the looks of the characters in the setting the narrator exists in. While I am on that note, the other glitch in production is that Judith’s mother, Sarah, looks the same age while Judith is supposedly 5 years old, a teenager, and 23-24 when Judith is marrying to her husband Brice.

Perry’s Temptation, although roughly 16 minutes short of two hours, left me wanting more for the initial age sequence built from what we find out is the span of 19 years. Perry’s Temptation toys at the concept of “show don’t tell” with the oft-mentioned rape scene, yet it fails to show us the burgeoning romance between Brice and Judith. One of the shortcomings of the writing of Tyler’s Temptation is that we are given very piecemeal portions of Brice’s character, and for the most part, we only know Brice in conjunction to Judith. This begs a question, sure, because we really don’t know that much about Judith. Also, we are made cognizant via dialogue, a luxury that Perry–as a playwright– often abuses, that Judith has attended and graduated from college, yet we don’t see her attending college during Judith as narrator’s depiction of her and Brice’s childhood romance. Tyler’s dependence on the voice of morality, Judith’ mother, Sarah, leaves a gaping hole in the overall character development and fluidity of Temptation as he needs to show us that her mother is always there watching over them. But, as far as whom these characters are is limited to a notion that Brice has been fairly clingy since Sunday School.

It probably makes 60 year old veterans of the Black Christian/Baptist matriarchy feel all warm inside, but for us Black media analyst that like a little meat on their fiction, it leaves Perry open for criticism on a level that Perry –a guy who has become the leading Black media producer and gatekeeper of the 2000s– should not be still dealing with. Given that Perry takes 30 minutes developing the relationship between Judith and Temptation’s antagonist, I would believe dedicating ten minutes of that for Temptation’s character evolution–maybe even just a full scene of them in high school, at least show her attending college, damn– would have gone a long way.

The antagonist of Perry’s Temptation, Harley, is injected into the story line while Judith is employed as a matchmaker working for Janise Wise portrayed by Vanessa Williams. Harley, supposedly the Black Shawn Parker, an urbane social media guru who is negotiating a deal with Janise Wise to build a dating site. Although, way too many minutes long, and a certain lack of chemistry between Jornee Smollet-Bell, who is cast as “Judith”, and Robbie Jones(“Harley”), I was captured by the development of their relationship.

Perry has a knack for squeezing various elements of Black culture into a plot cheesy enough to make your mother catch the holy ghost.

Perry has a knack for squeezing various elements of Black culture into a plot cheesy enough to make your mother catch the holy ghost. Although the subtly of a Perry script is Mother Goose meets King James–Temptation not being an exception–I chuckle and think to my Self, “yeah, I know a person like that” when Judith details why she does not like the idea of match making and online dating. It is not just a Southern Black perception of the online world, most Blacks across many subcultures of our subculture are prone to have issues with less than organic forms of social involvement, especially of the romantic sort. I was intrigued in a very reluctant manner with the alternating cuts and viewpoints regarding relationship via dialogue (this time it is complimentary) that was shared by the two. I was not happy with the plot device used to compare and contrast the archetypal “bad boy” with the archetypal “good guy”.

tyler perry's temptation

The cut scene from her just having a discussion with Harley to her rushing into her and Brice’s apartment and forcing him to be “passionate” with her sexually was confusing and embarrassing. This scene makes me wish Perry’s Temptation had spent more time developing the storyline of Judith and Brice’s earlier years because it feels as though this side of Judith comes out of thin air. It asks much too much of my imagination. The more salient point of this for the purposes of media impact is that works as foreshadow to justify a rape scene. Perry shows us that Judith wants to have an aggressive and spontaneous sexual experience that her husband Brice is too conservative to provide her with. Later, we are given the aggressive and slightly spontaneous experience in the form of a rape. The cut scene is not the only scene I have problems with, as I take issue with this entire discussion. I can almost stomach the Protestant era code of conduct propaganda as “morality play”, but, the “thug” versus the “choir boy” sans the streets and sans the singing is very much a Black cultural discussion that I am tired of insecure Black men having.

Beyond the need for Perry to use Temptation as a tacit standard pointer for what makes a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, Perry’s Temptation handles rape very irresponsibly. Judith is invited to a business trip to New Orleans with Harley. Due to Judith’s rural upbringing, she is counseled by her coworker, Ava ,played by Kim Kardashian, on how to dress. Not quite sure where Perry is pulling this archetype from as most rural and formally educated Black women that had conservative church going mothers would have been showing Ava how to dress in the same way Beyoncé would be teaching Kim Kardashian how to, but I do feel as though Kim is the voice of the “sexy standard” that Black men want in women as opposed to Harley who in Perry’s mind represents what Black women want from their professional Black men (I’m not totally sure he gets either right). With Kim as her guide into all things male libido, we cut scene to Judith arriving to a private jet and whisked away to lush lounges and strolling out with expensive daiquiris because that’s what you do in a Tyler Perry movie when you leave your husband at home and go away on a business trip to the bayou.

We are given about three minutes of nothing business related New Orleans and we are back on the private jet. With another relationship related conversation in tow, Harley tells Judith he wants to make love to her and forces him Self onto her. The major feelings of disturbance for me arose at the moment Harley breaks, makes the comment about her being able to say she resisted and we cut scene. I personally wish Perry would have just shown the rape because we already have the justification from the scene earlier, and now we have this gap in continuity that leaves a question in the air. The only reference we have for the rape is after Harley has dropped her off at home in front of her husband and mother with Judith smiling when Judith is in the bathroom mirror fantasizing about being raped. This is problematic.

Because we don’t discuss the reality that this is a rape scene in throughout the film, it impresses on the public conscious questions that are left unanswered. We go from a smiling Judith that just got raped, to a jealous Judith that calls Harley in the middle of the night and leaves to go be with him. We see Judith with Harley in a romantic setting being enticed to snort cocaine, which of course, she does. At this point, I’m left to say that Judith is a weak character, and that this movie portrays rape as a form of seduction. The “bad boy”, Harley–who is styled as “satan” through the symbolic coloring of his car and a daunting selection of burning candles where the smoke is more readily accessed than the fire—eventually moves Judith in, and they leave the life of rap stars. Although Harley is supposed to be a social media mogul, we do not see or hear of the business venture that they initially decide to embark on and that consequently caused Judith to quite her job. As Judith quits her job she makes a comment about the authenticity of her former employer’s accent, I suppose this is to show us how sophisticated Judith has grown. I suppose around this portion of the movie we get a climax when Judith and Harley go to pick up Judith’s laptop(of course Apple got the product placement nod). Judith walks in and her mother is in a prayer ritual a la Beloved. As Judith attempts to walk out with the laptop, she is grabbed by her mother and then Harley grabs the laptop and knocks Judith’s mother to the floor. This scene immediately made me state out loud, “Ah naw, in real life, they would have rushed that nigga…”

The crescendo occurs after Harley unable to find his cocaine after being slandered and attacked by Judith, beats Judith. Judith is left for dead until Brice, who is concurrently having a discussion with Melinda who tells Brice that her former husband who gave her HIV was Harley. The “good guys” always have impeccable timing in Tyler Perry’s worlds. So, Brice– mustering courage from some magical place that does not exist until this last chapter before epilogue—hits and kicks Harley, and grabs Judith and walks her to the car or whatever.

Cut scene back to Judith the narrator’s time and office. Judith concludes the story and her client promises to end the affair she is in. Judith walks, or limps ( actually, it is more of a nice paced stroll), to the pharmacy where we see that Melinda is still stocking shelves and has not gotten her half of Harley’s estate, and Brice now owns the pharmacy and is with a woman who we are able to assume is the mother of the child he is picking up and calling “son”. The credits cue with us watching Judith hobbling (oh, no confusion there) towards the horizon.

Because the redemption of the movie rests on Brice, I take issue with Perry’s Temptation being a public conference on what makes a man a “good man” and what does not. Perry’s Temptation presents a one sided discussion whereby the man that doesn’t say anything when the woman he is walking with is disrespected is redeemed and qualified as the “good guy” versus a man that immediately becomes physical even in the event of an obvious accident is “satan”. There is a not so subtle discussion occurring through Perry’s Temptation that feels like locker room or barbershop banter regarding what Black women “really” want from men, and what Black women “should” want from men. In contrast, we are presented with a Black woman that represents Judith’s opposite in Melinda played by Brandy, who gives us Moesha as a 30-something year old, but I am going to leave that all alone!

I am a little disturbed because we are, once again via dialogue, given this character Melinda that is the ex-wife of Harley. Nothing about Melinda suggests Harley at any point of either of their lives, though! Why is the ex-wife of a social media guru that owns a private jet working at a pharmacy? I understand that women in abusive relationships often need to put distance between them Self and their abusers, but divorce is divorce and I can’t buy into that aspect of Perry’s Temptation. The agency of the women in the movie with regard to retribution is lacking. On one hand there is a woman that has been raped and no cops have been called, on the other hand there is the divorcee that doesn’t collect any money from her annulment and has somehow been diagnosed as having HIV but her high profile former husband can scour the land spreading HIV with no legal ramifications. No one calls the police in the movie. I almost wish Perry would have donned grandma-ma pajamas and wig once more and brought the gun totting matriarch that is really a patriarch in drag, Madea in to rectify these loose ends.

Melinda is supposedly all that Brice wants in his Judith, or has lost. The danger for me with Melinda is that she does not offer any redemption. Whatever moral symbol she is to play in Perry’s Temptation is lost on me. She is presented as a wholesome, yet sophisticated, woman who could be the “right” woman for Brice, but, she has HIV. As most critics of this movie I’ve read have suggested, I too believe that Perry is using HIV to represent “hell fire and damnation” and in that regard, Melinda doesn’t provide a redeeming image for the women, especially the young women, watching this “morality play”. In the moral world of Perry’s Temptation, a Black woman is damned if she gets raped and damned if she gets married. There is no message that a Black woman could walk away from this movie with as moral guidance if I am to follow the vein of patriarchal, Protestant values. For the male characters in Tyler’s Temptation, there is no true “punishment” for doing what the Black women do.

Brice is well rewarded for being the “good guy” husband, although he has known Judith since they were 5 or 6 years old and fumbles on her birthday, does not know she periodically likes rough sex, in fact, I will stretch out my analysis and say the guy does not know who Judith is, let alone should he get the husband of the year award. In the world of Perry’s Temptation, a man should be dubbed “good guy” because he is passive, authoritarian, and apparently absent minded. Yet, Brice is able to attempt to kiss Melinda with no compunction while he is still depressed about losing the love of his life. In Perry’s Temptation, being raped is punishable by HIV, and being married to the wrong man is punishable by HIV, but as long as you are either rich or the “good guy”, or hell, A MAN, you are exempt from the punishments faced by the women of the movie.

There are no resolutions for a man who we are to assume is just passing HIV out like candy on Halloween. I am left to believe that the Black man, a dark skinned brother at that, who is touted as being the next best thing to Mark Zuckerberg in a setting that is supposed to be circa 2006– eh, give or take a few years for good measure and hopes that you can play on the imagination, or ignorance, of the audience on the timeliness of what would the present setting(that is, how far in the future is the narrator’s setting)– can go around giving women, plural, HIV? I am supposed to elicit a moral proponent – albeit sexist, protestant, and naive as hell– from a world where a high profile, Black social media programmer can have HIV and no one know about it but the spouse that contracted from him?

There is no resolution, or at least no redemption, for the two women who are now living with HIV. In Tyler Perry’s world, Black women with HIV aren’t able to move on with committed relationships although I personally know couples where one party is HIV positive and a Black woman. In Tyler’s world, why can’t Black women find love after HIV? Why is it that only the Black women are left single and stuck in the purgatory of dead in jobs while we don’t know what happens to Brice, and her husband is now happy with child and what appears to the owner of the pharmacy we are told in the beginning is his dream?

In the end, we sort of get more preaching to a familiar choir from a familiar preacher giving his familiar sermon. The icon of the film poster is a snake that wraps itself into the form of an apple giving further nod to Perry’s Christian/Baptist ideology and understanding of temptation, namely the story of Adam and Eve. And in Perry’s Temptation Eve not only walks away from the Garden of Eden, Adam gets to stay, so she walks alone.

 

And Why Should We Be Alarmed At Lil’ Wayne’s Sacrilege?

Not always sure about the word “perfect”. I am even less sure about terms like “sacred” and “sacrilegious”. And yet, although the abstractions leave me in an abysmal wonderment when framing practical application, from time to time in my life, those words have hit me hard as the only practical solution for certain situations.

I guess it was sometime last week, the #Her(oh, yes, I do love how we imbue our significant others with these simple titles), Bri, and I were in a discussion, and in mid-sentence, she evokes the qualification,”although I don’t want to be charged with sacrilege, Harriet Tubman…” and she continued her point. Often, it can be missed that our most sacred ideals do not have to fall from the imaginary scope of myth, and although there is a legend surrounding the personage of Harriet Tubman, given what we do know as objective history about the saint savior of our ancestors, her name does deserve a spot in our cerebral reservoir held in honor for that which is best noted as, “sacred”. In a world where even my most light-heartened critiques of President Barack Obama or Beyonce or Jay-Z are received with a snarl and a defensive reaction, it worries me that our most responsible group of Blacks to carry the future, our youth, do not quite understand the necessity of honoring those that through physical courage and moral indignation carried us to these moments we now refer to as “the present”. And yes, the abstract notion held within the symbol of the term, “sacrilege”, even for a seasoned black media analyst, can immediately open up debate mostly grounded in semantic foray. Yet, when she paused to consider my reaction to her evoking the name “Harriet Tubman”, I understood. I am glad that she has the sensibility to hold our ancestors in that regard in a time when popular Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has decided that Harriet Tubman’s legend is too much for him to chew, to the point where he has written an article for “The Atlantic” entitled, “The Myth Of Harriet Tubman”. I suppose somehow the numbers are just too much for the writer, not sure how that might have hurt him, but whatever.

While I was a member of an organization whose job it was to host guest speakers in a prison facility, one of the leaders was upset by the lack of consideration given to the clean up process and duties of other leaders and active members. As we both walked around the staging area after the guest speakers had left cleaning up, he made a statement,”Sometimes, somethings, have to be treated as sacred”. I was in or around my earlier 20’s at that time, but even then, he did not have to lecture me on the principles or delve into some lofty explanation. I understood him. Although, yes, the term “sacred” holds its own voluminous weight, and easily leads to those sorts of circular debates mentioned in the last paragraph, in that extremely practical context, I was able to grasp his meaning in seconds. In a world where any shortsighted error of action, or lack thereof, can cause the best things to be infringed upon, it is the better choice of action to treat that which you enjoy with a degree of evaluation worthy of such appraisals in real time.

Growing up in a culture that has often taught me to place twenty dollars above the respect I have for an elder, I have learned that our dollar signs– or our belief that we can accrue in some ways more dollars behind the dollar signs written upon our balance sheets–tend to be the only understanding of value we have in this society. As much as I would love to lambaste any person that does not hold sacred those same ideals that I do with regard to race and ethnic origins, I do understand how easily we are socialize to put the child of a White woman and Kenyan man raised light-years away from the Black community above those thinkers and leaders that took police knee and dog bite building Black organizations decades before even the first “Black president”, Bill Clinton(who initiated measures that contributed to the most vast building of prisons to incarcerate an imbalanced number of Black men), was ever elected. The esteem given to such personages, did not make it surprising to me that Lil’ Wayne would vocalize his lack of understanding of our collective sacred space by rapping,”I beat that pussy up like Emmett Till” over a DJ Smallz produced remix of Future’s “Karate Chop”.


And why should we be alarmed?

The majority of Black men in the USA felt Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” was redemptive. This means that a fictional character with very loose connections to anything historical was capable of making Black men feel as though they no longer had to defend or fight for the legacy of psychological trauma, economic inequality, social injustice, or even political disenfranchisement that came as the impact of US Slavery and is significantly highlighted by the slaughter of Emmett Till. Does not take much to appease these niggaz, right? If US Slavery as an institution cannot be held to the utmost critical assessment when adapted by White people for monetary gain, where do those that obviously do not understand the degree of sacredness it should be held in learn to hold it in such esteem?

And why should we be alarmed when they do not?

Comic turned Civil Rights spokesman Dick Gregory felt it necessary to attack Spike Lee for depicting Malcolm X in a zoot suit in the eponymous film production. Spike attacked no one in his interview explaining that he thought it would be disrespectful of his ancestors to watch Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. Mr. Gregory, however felt it was a tarnish on the image of Malcolm to accurately detail the accounts Malcolm asked Alex Haley to scribe in the only authorized account of Malcolm’s life. Yet, Mr. Gregory thought that “Django Unchained” was redemptive and Spike Lee worthy of epithets for not wanting to watch it in honor of his ancestors. If the elders cannot get it right…

And why should we be alarmed?

In a country where Barack Obama can be toted as the “first Black President” with no previous connections to the Black community before his romantic relationship with Michelle Obama…

In a culture that has a difficulty asking Barack Obama to stop his manipulative and incessant evocation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who took the US Government to task for its involvement in the destruction and imperialistic measures in countries such as North Korea(where Barack Obama as head of the US Executive Branch is NOW presently sending more US soldiers outside of the border in South Korea in preparations for war) and the US Government’s failure to address the unfair compensation practices of its own Black workers(while Barack Obama has consistently since before he was even elected as President of the United States given Billions of dollars to rich corporate and banking interests while making lightweight gestures and nods at raising minimum wage to a measly nine dollars an hour)…

In this sort of social sphere, where in the hell do we expect Lil’ Wayne to know that his words are not only offensive, but work to damage the power of the culture he him Self is a direct representative of?

This is not to defend Lil’ Wayne. It is to take all those upset with him to task. Emmett Till, murdered, beaten, eyes plucked, shot, tied with a barb wire to a cotton gin fan, his body tossed into the Tallahatchie River with what can only be assumed where hopes of his body never washing up. Emmett Till, who came from Obama’s political stomping ground(although, I’m sure Emmett did not have the same support from the Jewish Community as Obama!) to Mississippi, his only crime whistling at a white woman that probably looked much like the mother of EVERY US President that has ever been, including the one dubbed, “First Black President”. Emmett Till, whose mother, in sheer socio-political strategic elegance, decided that, when her son’s body had finally been returned to her, to have an open casket, a decision that allowed the human atrocities of the US Black Holocaust(naw, “holocaust” ain’t strong enough of a word to describe our historical plight in the USA) for not only the world, but for history to see. Emmett Till is a US Black prophet. But in a world where Black academics are paid to urinate on the names of our prophets for their own self-aggrandizement, who are going to be the teachers of those that apparently do not know?

And why should we be alarmed when they act out of that which they do not know?

Why should we be alarmed at the disgustingly misogynistic lyrics of Lil’ Wayne when Michelle Obama, the first Black woman to have sexual relations with a US President and it not be a rape or adultery, answers the question of “who is the one person in the world she would be if they could trade places”, it would be Beyonce? Beyonce’s who’s husband’s first public response to their nuptial arrangement is to call her a “bitch” at not only her performance but on his shared track with Kanye West, “That’s My Bitch”. According to some feminist ideologues, this is the empowerment of Black Women, and it is not my place to speak to who one chooses to empower them, but do not ask me to suspend my local logical ability to overlook glaring hypocrisies. A movement saturated in ideological doublespeak and even more contradictory actions where it is more important to justify sexual indulgences than to ask Florida why Marissa Alexander cannot defend her life from an abusive spouse or why Obama has not seen fit to introduce a bill less reformist than the Lily Ledbetter Act probably cannot be asked to address the layers present in the socialized psychology of a celebrated figure such as Lil’ Wayne.

And why should we be alarmed?

Why should we think what Lil’ Wayne has presented to history as his sexual prowess in hyperbole is so disgusting when we attack Lupe Fiasco for ‘policing the sexuality of women’ when he pens a piece discussing his understanding, no matter how limited, regarding the contextual presentation of the term, “bitch”, specifically as it is used in the phrase, “bad bitch”, and yet we proffer a proverbial ghetto pass to 2 Chains(whose “Birthday Song” which contains the lyrics,”All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe” and has as a guest on the song the same guy that is on the Jay-Z song calling Michelle Obama’s fantasy personage a bitch, Kanye West)? Where is the logic? When does the thinking find some sort of cohesion, let alone coherence? When do our demands on one another begin to makes any sense? When we place more value in celebrity and defend those we deem as highly touted beyond the realm of our most principled display of integrity, we open the door for anyone to trample over our sacred rooms.

And why should we be alarmed?

Why should we care when we continue to elect a president that has shown more concern for Zionist Israel than he has for Inner city Chicago? Israel knows how to hold every nanometer of neurological strand of every brain across the globe regarding the White western Jewish presence historic or otherwise as sacred to the point of demanding that the US and its Allies be held responsible for its holocaust against Palestinians because of the holocaust in Germany. What the West pejoratively refers to as “Arab spring” was further ignited by a Christian making a straight-to-Youtube movie handling the image of Prophet Muhammad in a less than sacred manner. US White media will protect every one of its young men who kill en masse under the auspice of “bullied”, “troubled youth”, and the like, but if one Black man is even thought to have behaved in a minuscule fraction of that, he is labeled as a “domestic terrorist” and hunted by man and predator drones.

But why should Blacks– who love to announce just how much of a monolithic people they are not while every other group of nationalized peoples on Earth is loyal to a common heritage and represents a diverse yet unified conglomeration– care? Why should US Blacks be so alarmed, now? Where was this collective angst when Tarantino called you “niggers”, when Ted Danson showed up at a date with Whoopi Goldberg in blackface, when the killers of Amadou Diallo where given promotions, when…wait…when the hell have you all ever really protected your sacred spaces?

So, why are you so damn alarmed that one of your celebrated did what the world showed him he could?