bell hooks Is An Aphrodisiac, Part One

“I’m not used to being with a celebrity.” – bell hooks in reference to Melissa Harris Perry

“Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the result and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of this real society’s unreality. In all its particular manifestations—news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment—the spectacle represents the dominant model of life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production. In both form and content the spectacle serves as a total justification of the conditions and goals of the existing system. The spectacle also represents the constant presence of this justification since it monopolizes the majority of the time spent outside the production process.” Guy Debord, The Society Of Spectacle

“We are enacting more and more a paradigm of market morality in which one understands oneself as living to consume, which in turns creates a market culture where one’s communal and political identity is shaped by the adoration and cultivation of images, celebrityhood, and visibility as opposed to character, discipline, substantive struggle. And this is fundamentally transforming Black community in very ugly ways.” – Cornel West, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, Dialogue Between bell hooks and Cornel West


Black Female Voices: A Public Dialogue Between bell hooks + Melissa Harris-Perry, a public forum held as closure of bell hooks’ week long residency at The New School on November 8, 2013 was received with wide acclaim throughout the internet. Well, the internet that I tend to find my fingers fondling through. No, without feeling the need to support my claims with screenshots of Twitter responses, I can assuredly type that the academic slash or dot US Black feminist discussion garnered a large amount of attention that afternoon when it was announced hours prior to the actual event.

The New School LiveStream page which hosts the video and where most of us watched the original broadcast of the event, boasts of 248,458 views. Which is telling, given that The New School’s Livestream account only has 13,491 followers( And that number is since the original broadcast two months ago at the date of this writing). The New School’s YouTube account has 20,212 subscribers at the time of this writing, with the videos uploaded and viewed there ranging in viewership count from 67 views to 371 views. The Black Female Voices video on that same page has 49,649 views. I hope I need not provide any more numerical data to support my claims that the dialogue was highly received by the online community and audience.

Beyond the numbers, and more to the point–possibly the cause of the numbers in such a very narrow and niche market– are the two Black Women engaging one another. I do feel it necessary to visit both of these phenomenally successful scholar’s resumes due to the statement that prefaces their discussion as well as my own words here.

“I’m not used to being with a celebrity.”

What makes bell hooks refer to Melissa Harris-Perry as a celebrity? The forum’s moderator, Gail Drakes– presently the Director of Social Justice Initiatives at The New School at the time of this writing—states, “bell hooks is among the leading public intellectuals of her generation. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky…grew up in a working class family with six siblings, PH. D in 1983 from California Santa Cruz…her use of a pseudonym is intended to honor both her grandmother–whose name she took– and her mother. While her name’s unconventional lowercasing signifies what is most important in her works, ‘the substance of books, not who I am’ …hooks has written over thirty books, including personal memoirs, poetry collections, and children’s books, as well as numerous scholarly and mainstream articles. She has taught at several colleges and universities, lectured widely at public forums, and appeared in several documentary films.”

Ms. Drakes’ introductory line introducing Melissa Harris-Perry is telling. She states as introduction: “Melissa Harris-Perry is the host of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry…” Melissa Harris-Perry came to my attention when she wrote for the MSNBC owned US Black blogger gateway, The, along with Al Sharpton, Joy-Ann Reid, and Ta Nehisi Coates(All now MSNBC personalities either through having their own shows, co-hosting, or guest appearances). I wrote a piece back in 2009, prior to Harris-Perry having her own show on MSNBC, regarding a piece she had written in July of that year. From my writing that piece, I began to get comments and responses from women in academia that I knew who felt I was being unfair. I felt they were not actually reading the piece, but reacting to someone, particularly a Black man, writing something critical of their academic heroine. Even at that time, Harris-Perry possessed a cult-like fanfare with Black women in academic communities and professional status.

[Editor’s Note: Discussion continued here in part two]

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