Friday, August 3, 2007

Essays On BETism AKA Y'all Got To Do Better!

I was born in 1975, so I remember when BET first launched back in December 1980. I also remember back when BET began airing Video Soul and Rap City in addition to it's other serious programming like BET News. BET was committed to bringing quality programming to Black America that was also entertaining back in the early days. They were fighting a world full of stereotypes, few opportunities for Black themed shows and none of them were concerned about the welfare and future of Black people in the least. BET filled that void and created a venue where we got to see the full diaspora that is the Black experience in America.

Whether it was seeing Ed Gordon as the lead anchor on BET News at night or moderating all of those Town Hall Meetings that were must see TV, or catching Video Vibrations, Video Soul, Rap City, Video LP and Screen Scene all in a row. Or it was watching Teen Summit every Saturday morning, BET had it all on lock. They had the Black Enterprise showcase shows where we saw Black men and women owned their own franchises and chains, they started Emerge and YSB magazines both of which started out with a dedicated readership. Most of all, they were all about class and integrity.

 I don't remember Donnie Simpson, Sherry Carter, Madelyn Woods, Angela Stribling, Harold McCoo, Lisa Johnson or Chris Thomas ever doing anything completely or even remotely dumb or ignorant on or off camera during BET's early pre Viacom years. I can't say that is the case now. On BET nowadays, Ignorance is running rampant...and the Prophet is nowhere to be found to stab him in the heart with sharp steel bookmarks.

Why were these shows important to BET? Who remembers when BET News reported that story on that experiment to put electronic devices into prisoners in Baltimore/DC prisons? They halted those experiments thanks to BET. Remember when Timberland officials stated that the "urban" demographic only accounted for 5% of their business? Remember how quick BET News (and The Source back when it had real writers) put a foot in their asses? Who else reading this remembers when rappers would come on Teen Summit and had to answer to their audience? Here are a few classic moments that some of you unfortunately missed (there were a lot):

Special Ed is a guest and his second album has just dropped. he revealed that he never graduated from high school or even got his GED. The teens on the panel (Lisa Johnson included) then proceed to get in his ass (no Baby F. Weezy) and make him promise them to get his GED.

Scarface is a guest and he says that if someone tried to rob him he'd fight and kill for his material possessions (a la Cousin Harold..the scene in Menace II Society sparked the discussion) rather than give them up. The teens on the panel then tear him a new one, some going as far as to say that they "lost respect for him" over his stance on the subject. Then, he had to perform for them! If you saw the faces of those kids on the panel half heartedly clapping behind him...classic moment.

Lil 1/2 Dead of the Dogg Pound Gangstas coming on the show and explaining his name was 1/2 Dead not because of the villain in the Penitentiary movies, but because so many of his homies are dead and that since he still lives in an area where gangbanging is prevalent that he can die at any moment. A couple of girls on the panel start crying (one more than others) and a couple of the teens tell him that calling himself "half dead" is sending a bad message to kids coming from areas overrun by gangs because by saying that he's half dead, he's given up on life and they should, too. Lil' 1/2 Dead also tries to spin what his new single "12Pacofdoja" is actually about to the panel. Oh, man.

Queen Latifah being told point blank that in response her song "U.N.I.T.Y." that she made as an anthem of female empowerment by a panel member that in the song she (Latifah) punches a dude in the eye for grabbing her ass and calling her a bitch and "Latifah, you're a big girl. You're the queen. I'm just a regular sized chick and if I try to hit a dude for grabbing my behind it's over for me. How should I deal with that if it happens?" Latifah looks stunned for a while, not realizing that that question would ever be asked of her but soon recovers and gives the teen some good advice.

Seeing Chuck D, KRS One, Wise Intelligent and several other "conscious" artists chopping it up with the youth and interacting with them in a real way. They were regular guests, as was Jada Pinkett (who damn near became a regular host before God sent us a gift called Ananda Lewis...and Mya dancing in the background at the same time)

Without this type of sounding board or venue where we saw the artists talking about real issues affecting the younger generation who oftentimes were their listening audience and directly interacting with them we've lost a key instrument and forum. Imagine if these rappers know had to come on Teen Summit and answer questions about their content or explain their lyrics to a panel of teens and young adults with common sense? No fluff interviews that fail to even scratch the surface with acts that have the depth of a fish bowl. 

You as a new artist have to show up on and stand up to scrutiny and questions that aren't pre prepared to make you look good. Chuck D once said in a CSPAN panel that he used to put new artists in front of grade school kids and watch them squirm because the kids would ask questions that couldn't answer. Chuck's point was that if you didn't put enough thought into your own material that you can't answer a child's question about it, then chances are you shouldn't be making music.

Watch 106 & Park and ask yourself "Where is the quality control?". I saw when Denzel Washington showed up to promote Deja Vu (when an adult shows up, Terrance and Rocsi have to step up their interviewing) and they asked him this question with an obvious answer to any Black person with common sense:

Terrence J (to Denzel Washington, adult Black man with common sense): "If you could go back in time and change any one thing, what would you change?"

Dart Adams and Buctyala (adult Black males with common sense watching at home in unison): "Slavery!" (me): "That's a dumb ass question!"

Denzel Washington (one second later): "Slavery. Definitely slavery" (audience applauds)

Terrence J and Rocsi: "Wow" "Wow..that's deep." "I didn't even think of that"

I got up from my couch and changed the channel myself, I didn't even reach for the remote. Ever since BET ran off everyone that us old heads came to admire the network for employing and I stopped seeing Black intellectuals on the network or any serious programming that smacked of anything resembling journalism I knew it was a wrap for BET. "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" was on the wall. It was clearly time to move on for anyone who craved quality programming directed toward Black America.

What do we have now? "College Hill","Hot Ghetto Mess AKA We've Got To Do Better", "Strictly Offensive Behavior", "Baldwin Hills"and bunch of other shows that are simply shows from other MTV networks that have now been "blackened" or "negroized" for Black audiences. I know "Boiling Point", "Laguna Beach", "Makin The Band", "Real World"  and "Punk'd" in blackface when I see it!

Of course, BET has it's critics. Of course they've done little to change the fact that if TV One had a few shows that appealed to Hip Hoppers I would black out BET entirely from my didgital cable package. Cousin Jeff had a show that came on only while Dracula and meth addicts were awake. They make specials to address issues like the Sean Bell shooting way after the fact and then they don't air them enough to make a real impact. BET is feeding the masses a steady diet of visual junk food and high fructose corn syrup and they haven't done a damn thing to change it. If you think Aaron McGruder is the only one who has SERIOUS issues with BET's lack of quality programming then you're sadly mistaken. Make a search of the internet and the bloggerverse...This bullshit has got to cease SOON.

I don't buy that that the people in charge at BET care about making quality programming for it's viewership. You can't make a show called "We Got To Do Better" and then do nothing to actively make things better. Bring back "BET News" and hire some real journalists and anchors. Bring back "Teen Summit" and use the old interaction format but update it. Make these artists have to account for their music on a weekly basis and meet the audience face to face. Last but not least, put in place a show that caters to the underground or independent music scene. The audience is larger than you would imagine and they're hungering for a show right now. I would say to expand "Rap City" but the way it's going right now you can probably cut it to 45 minutes and no one would bat a damn eyelash.

As of right now, speaking as a 70's/early 80's baby I'm like "Fuck BET!". If I could go back in time and tell myself what BET would eventually become, I don't think I'd ever believe it...that is until 1998 happens. For real BET, y'all GOT to do better.



alley al said...

very nice, mister.
never had cable back in those days, so i missed all those goodies from teen summit. and when i finally got cable, i never really got into bet except for the videos.
it's very hard to imagine bet going back to those glory days. viacom has those huge #s with the current crap that's programmed now, so to lose that is insane for large corporations.

i know i watch tons of garbage, but when i see how robotic some host or newspeople are, it turns me off, so i switch channels.. it's like i'm embarassed for those people making a fool of themselves selling out,so i can't watch them go in flames.. it's sad.

Passion of the Weiss said...

Very eloquent and excellent post. I think the decline of BET mirrors the blurring of news and entertainment that has taken place in America over the last Rupert Murdoch infected decade. As terrible as BET has become, they aren't alone. There's nothing more disconcerting turning on CNN expecting hard news and instead, you're treated to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie updates.

Dart Adams said...

You are so right, Jeff. It's everywhere...God bless that woman who shredded that Paris Hilton news copy live on the air and refused to read it. Edward R. Morrow is rolling over in his grave right now.


Anonymous said...

Got you linked up over at my blog; thanks for the Technorati love. I also never really got into BET save for watching Rap City, but you could also attribute the decline of BET to the point when it was aquired by Viacom in the first place. It was around that time when BET suddenly decided to run their own TRL rip-off, 106 & Park, right?

Anonymous said...

love that Chuck D/CSPAN quote

brandon said...

Welcome back! Good post. I had totally forgotten because I was pretty young but you made me remember that when I was little BET had a news show and everything! It's just strange because now that seems pretty much impossible on the network...

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I was just telling someone two days ago that I found it amazing how BET has a show titled "We Got to do Better" when BET is attributing to many of the reasons why we have got to do better. I was born in 1982 so I remember all of the shows that you are talking about. I remember my mother actually sitting down and watching Teen Summit with my sister and me every Saturday morning. Nowadays, I'm almost embarrassed to watch BET with my mom. It is very sad to know that this generation of young people will never have the same memories that we have of BET. They will never know BET as the station that strove to uplift the Black community and challenge us mentally and politically. I agree with you....BET has got to do better!

Humberto said...

This is fantastic!