On Manipulation, Art, & Designing For Emotions

The premier question in any contest in the United States will eventually always boil down to numbers. Typically, with the number on your bank account balance trumping all others.


In the movie, “love jones”, (and yes, it is spelled with the lowercase type for the initial letters), we find an exceedingly immature couple of artistic types on a romantic roller coaster across the country for the spell of one-hundred and ten minutes. If you are still reading this after I made that particular assessment of one of the most compelling and influential romantic movies of my generation, then I am probably a more respected writer than my PayPal account suspects. No, all jokes aside, in the movie ‘love jones’, the character, Darius Lovehall(played by Larenz Tate) makes a statement regarding artists and definition when he is written to say:


“The true goal of an artist is to create the definitive work that cannot be surpassed”


And like many, I took that particular sentence to heart. In it, and mainly in the ideal of “definition”, and most importantly, in the ideal of that which is “definitive” or “that which defines”, I believe as humans that enjoy creating and have found a voice or an identity within the community of creators, we tend to find the most enjoyment. Until, of course, we begin to pair up with the hustlers and business men, and learn the ideas that drive successful capitalists. Either that, or a bill is late. Whichever comes firstly, of course.


Creation can be easy. Creation can be simple.


For some, it is a matter of reproducing with a canvas. For others it is molding the spark of an idea into an exploding explanation of pain. Regardless of which metaphor best suits one’s particular experience, one thing holds true for us all: food, clothing, and shelter will ultimately be a consideration at some point in our day. As a given coupled with a society of people programmed to glorify the wealthy, to celebrate the most sold above the most well crafted, it is utterly impossible to avoid the cliché in art.


To master a craft demands that techniques be developed and honed in order to not have to recreate wheels everyday. Those techniques that are found to produce the most sought after works(read: purchased), will of course become the techniques that everyone wants to use. This is even– and mostly– from those that have no love for the craft beyond its financial and political usefulness. Even those persons that love the craft can find them Selves mired in consumerist practices to pay bills yielding commercially successful, yet overly formulaic pieces.


Unfortunately, for my Self, these are the very thoughts behind art as design, and writing as blogging. The techniques of the artist: color schemes, closure, continuation, and the like, are used to manipulate the emotional body of the viewer for the purpose of clicks, reduced bounce rates, and increased conversion percentages. In my trade, design is touted as “communication”, but it is not just communication. It is a certain form of communication. When we are speaking of graphic design, the implication is sales.


The ideal of web design is not to just get a response regarding the aesthetic of a site or banner ad, but to elicit an action toward purchasing or returning with a desire to be a part of a community. When someone says,”by design”, they mean something done with the intent to yield a desired result. They mean manipulation. It is art as objectifying tool. Design is the intentional use of “ahs” and whatever onomatopoeia that fits there to change behavior.


And I understand the semiology behind a symbol or cue such as the word,”manipulation”. It has a “bad” connotation. It makes us feel less humane. We begin to itch as the greasiness of the symbol’s expressed meaning vibrates through our nervous system, echoing its perceived sentiments throughout the epidermis. But what is purpose if not manipulative? The very techniques of onomatopoeia, hyperbole, rhyme scheme, and metaphor used by poetic engineers throughout the ages have been with a desired purpose of eliciting a certain response from readers and listeners.


Do we think that AT&T just put a camera in a very well lit daycare center and accidentally arranged their spokesman in the middle of precocious children? Do we not think that at some point prior an assessment of the “cute factor” and its emotional tug on the viewer’s mind had been made by those that must place signatures on lines to signify the authorized permission to spend money on such things as cameras, cameramen, lighting, and well placed witty spokesmen?


And yet, although I probably will not be signing up to AT&T because of a few really entertaining pre-schoolers(my gawd, the “more is better/we want more” girl should be in the advertising history books next to Mikey), I was thoroughly delighted, and more importantly, I am writing about AT&T. That means it was effective and had impact. Yet, the more they attempt to rehash that technique, the more I compare the new batch of children’s responses and exchanges to the ones I was tickled by the most. Design techniques have to be used carefully, no matter how much we think we have something mastered.


Mastery of a few techniques that have worked over time will either lead one to develop their own language(signature style), or it will lead them to be regarded as formulaic. We are all users. It is when we are abused that most of us begin to take security measures. As we should, no doubt. Yet, in being used, in having my senses manipulated, I do want something in return.


I enjoy watching Aaron Macgruder’s The Boondocks. I think his series of cartoons have become a staple in the US Black culture, if not US culture en totale(which brings up a good design discussion: you know, US Blacks historically never saw an all-White cast performance and assumed it was “just” for White people;and hell, even if we did, we would just figure out away to disrupt the Jim Crow policy!). What makes his brand so compelling is that he has found a signature that is not formulaic, but if mishandled could easily be. He has not just blended adult humor and children’s animation, he has fused hip hop and anime, two very distinct cultures of art with rich contextual histories. That is Aaron being creative;but there is also a method, a purposeful use of the creativity. For The Boondocks is satire, and it is effective satire. Not only is it entertaining visually, and sonically, it adds another element of social commentary, that actually deals with critically salient topics.


I look at the Boondocks’ use of anime and its score in the same vein as I might look at a web site that uses a nationalistic motif for its color scheme. The colors red, black, and green immediately elicit certain reactions in certain people. I look at the topics discussed in the Boondocks as the content of the web site. No matter how great the design, and how masterful the designer utilizes certain techniques, if the content is garbage, well, garbage in, garbage out. I do not mind being used, I mind being taken advantage of. I do not mind a person needing to recognize what emotional strings they should be pulling to get me to something I find valuable. I mind you doing such and your overall product is that bullshyt.


When it comes to money, there are great advantages to possessing a great product as well as great advantages in being able to be accessible. I do not want anyone to think I am against earning money, or convincing others to give me money. I support the art of design. I support the formulation of techniques and the study of semiology for the purpose of understanding how symbols and cues work within the cultures that they work within.


I do not support mediocrity well hyped, although I might be inclined to applaud the hype and its practitioner. I do not mind being used;I use the oxygen and the plant life as well as meat of sentient beings to further my own physical and biological existence. Life is the only ecosystem, and I respect my place in it, and realize that something or someone must use me in order to exist in the same manner that I MUST USE others to exist.


I do not mind creative means to capture my attention created by someone that must use me. I, too, create means using cues and symbols that evoke emotional responses for the purpose of eliciting certain behavior for things that I need. Michael Jackson was a master at capturing my attention and with good purpose. A masterful entertainer that provided me with good entertainment, and insightful content with which I was pleased to give my money and attention towards.


Michael Joseph Jackson is not history’s greatest entertainer because he made a lot of money;Michael made a lot of money because he was history’s greatest entertainer, there is a nuance there that must be taken into consideration. And I do not want to give my attention to those that just want a lot of attention without being also great at their craft. Design how you need to appeal to who you need to, but please be ever mindful of what you are offering as content. Do not design the greatest titles for links that lead to lackluster bodies of content. It is a waste of my time, and it only serves to weaken your brand.

Aaron McGruder’s Tyler Perry: Just Another Gay Joke From The Emasculated Black Man?

So, I stayed up and watched Boondocks last night, and I must say Aaron McGruder is trying to turn this season around something fierce. In the episode entitled,”Pause”, the show begins with the boys and Granddad watching a play. The play shows a man dressed like Tyler Perry’s Madea character walking on stage while a young lady and a male are sitting on a couch center stage. The Madea like character(called “MaDuke’s” in the show) responds to seeing the couple together by gesturing, pulling out a gun, and asking,”Who dis?” “MaDuke’s” then shoots several shoots in the air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of Tyler Perry’s stage plays.

As the show continues, we find out that Granddad is seeking a role in one of “Winston Jerome’s” plays. We soon find out that Winston Jerome wants a man to play the role of “MaDuke’s” love interest. So, we have a cross-dressing man, seeking a man to play the role of his man dressed as a woman-but-supposed-to-be-a-woman character…I know, I know.

So, McGruder takes us on this voyage of his world’s version of Tyler Perry/Madea in the form of Winston Jerome/MaDukes. McGruder communicates in a not so suitable manner throughout the show that Winston Jerome is more than just an overzealous Jesus Freak who likes to cross-dress for ticket sales–he is also homosexual. As GrandDad is being selected for the role of MaDuke’s love interests, we see Winston Jerome surrounded by shirtless men in speedos, his “shirtless men”. McGruder uses a white Jesus while Jerome narrates how Jesus co-wrote his first script. Upon asking Jesus how to help spread Jesus’ message, McGruder has Jesus reply,”Cross-dressing”. I felt that “McGruder at his most extreme” moment when GrandDad(Robert) is lead into the “compound”(which actually looks a little like Perry’s Studio in Atlanta). Upon entering, Jerome as MaDukes begins a musical number very reminiscent of the performance of “Let’s Do The Timewarp Again” from the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The song Winston as MaDuke performs is entitled,”Its Alright To Cross Dress For God.”

The idea of Tyler Perry, I mean Winston Jerome, running a cult is threaded through out show once we enter the compound as a woman with eyes drawn in a hypnotic trance mentions twice that she needs to get “koolaid”(a referrence to the grape flavored mix used to hide the taste of cyanide in the Jonestown cult mass murder). In fact, as Robert(GrandDad) enters the compound for the Rocky Horror routine, he is greeted by a woman who is holding a glass of what could possibly be kool-aid.

The climax of the show is reached when Huey and Riley attempt to “save” GrandDad(Robert) from kissing MaDukes. They tussle with the elder Freeman until Huey slaps GrandDad(Robert) and GrandDad slaps Riley(You know Riley got to get his face handed to him physically in every show!!). Once again, McGruder references the cult by having GrandDad(Robert) say,”I know it is a homoerotic Christian Theater Cult. But if it gets me into Hollywood who cares?” This is where McGruder reintroduces the original plot theme, and somewhat of a moral dillema of sorts: what is going too far for fortune and fame(hey, an aliteration without even trying!). Another interesting point that is rekindled at the point of climax(no homo), is the use of a phrase, “pause” to express that a man is not homosexual–although their comments might conjure up homosexual references– while addressing a black man who cross-dresses for a black church going female audience. Which in turn raises a question about the susceptibility of the church going Black audience.

I’m not quite sure of McGruder’s own sexual orientation, but this is one of those times when he really brings out the extreme exaggerations to make a point about black male masculinity. This episode in many ways reminds me of the “Gangstalicious” episodes with the homosexual rapper influencing men to wear tank tops, skirts, and purses(Part 1, and Part 2. And of course, in the end we find out that Winston Jerome is indeed homosexual as he propositions Robert(GrandDad) for some “ass”. The final scene shows GrandDad and the boys riding with one of the “big girls” home, as Riley rewinds and pauses(literally) the clip of GrandDad(Robert) kissing MaDukes.

One of the overall problems I have with the critique and the support of this show is that McGruder is NOT addressing the Black Church. He is addressing the exploitative use of the name Jesus, and more directly he is address Tyler Perry and black homosexuality. There are no church scenes in this show, and I think that many are wrongly critiquing this show on that merit. There are some very strong and poignant points that are being made, enough that we don’t have to dig for any that aren’t. I enjoyed the show thoroughly, however, I do feel that McGruder is basically doing what he suggests Perry is doing. It is no secret that many black men don’t respect Perry, and in many ways Perry’s success, or his being chosen for success, represents a further nod at the emasculation of black men. However, I would be amiss if I didn’t state that Tyler Perry does address a lot more topics than the “dark/light skinned thing”, and he does portray black people in more than the traditional stereotypical roles. Which is sort of funny that McGruder feels the need to attack that angle as he has a flock of obese black women chasing GrandDad(Robert) down, and shows black homosexual men with scarves and bald heads(reminscent of Damon Wayans’ portrayal of Blaine Edwards on “In Living Color”). I wish McGruder could have dealt with the collaboration of Perry with Oprah on projects like “Precious” that present some of the most ugly and detrimental images of Black women of our modern time.

I suppose addressing real issues like that wouldn’t be quite as funny for black men as making gay jokes. The hypermasculine gauze is wearing thin for some of the writers out here. One aspect of the show that I’m not reading about is how McGruder uses Riley(the hypermasculine youngster) to explain the usage of ‘No Homo’ and ‘Pause’. How many caught how Riley hugs GrandDad(Robert) just for using the term!!? I don’t want to give McGruder more credit than he might deserve, but I’ll say the contradictory devices used in his work bring a lot to the show. However, I think the desire to call Tyler Perry a homosexual is going to overshadow the need to bring awareness to black women of how susceptible they have become to the name “Jesus”.

We can hint that Tyler Perry is the flamingo club all-star, and flaming is a strong enough term, but that isn’t going to change the fact that he built his audience from the church going black woman, that he can use the word “Jesus” in the same ways that Obama used “Change”(It shouldn’t surprise us that McGruder’s first episode this season was a critique on the “Obama Effect”). Do we really think women are going to stop watching Tyler Perry’s movies? Do we think Hollywood is going to “blacklist” a homosexual Black Man with his hands tied by the purse strings of the American Black woman? Trust me, for every ten men calling Tyler Perry a homosexual coon, I can show you ten men that will let their woman drag them to a movie or play made by a homosexual coon. Tell me I’m wrong.

Unthinkable, Boondocks And More About Black Bucks…

“The male stereotypes were Toms, Coons, and Bucks. We are all familiar with Uncle Tom. He is devoted to whites, religious, hard working, loyal, trustworthy, patient, and restrained. The Coon is happy-go-lucky, a clown, a buffon, a child, clever and witty but unable to perform the most simple task without guidance. He’s a trickster, cunning and resourceful. The third stereotype, the Buck..is brutal, violent, virile, tough, strong, and findes white women especially appealing…The Buck is the stereotype, the nightmare, that whites could not handle…” – “Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman” Michele Wallace

So, what’s up the Boondocks? Your guy trying to cater to a white audience? I mean the whole “uncle” Ruckus thing is laughable, and I’m entertained, and it is just a cartoon in the land where cartoons used to be the only thing you could go see(I’m just saying). And I’m not knocking the jester, I just know that the jester was usually the smartest in the kingdom. Just a few thoughts. McGruder took the “Uncle Tom” character to such a degree of “uncle” that I don’t think it will ever be used in such a way again. I mean he went further than Chapelle, and last night’s episode, although telling, made me feel more desensitized than anything. As I have stated, it was funny, but so was Kramer yelling niggers would have been killed on stage. Oh, I can’t compare the two, can I?

And your guy Sam Jack!! I watched “Unthinkable” last night, well, this morning anyway, and I’m like damn, go scary(read that as angry) black man! Not quite sure how I would feel as a white US man thinking about converting to Islam. I mean, that movie had me looking out my window and thinking about bagging up all my books. I’m joking, but I think you get my point here. Now, with the internet being what it is and Sam Jack being the type of name that sells movies, and the movie already has a Wikipedia plot summary, and is being hosted on at least one pretty popular online streaming site, I’d say this is going to get a lot of attention.

Now, I’m not quite sure if either of these are just sensationalistic, or propaganda, or both. But I was moved to read a passage from one of those books on the shelf that I’m pissing in my pants thinking about grabbing.

But if it wasn’t a black man to play the role then a black man would have been out of a job, of course, maybe they could have gotten the rock to do it. Well, then I’d only have said they are playing this mixed people thing pretty hard, why didn’t they give the job to a bald headed dark black man that at least looks like the BUCK! Eh…maybe I’m reading too much into all of this. Of course, if I didn’t, another black man wouldn’t have anything to blog about…