It’s hard to defend my generation against accusations that many of us stubbornly swim in the shallow end of the pool of thoughts.
The idea of consumption as culture isn’t our brainchild, but we’ve taken it to new and ever increasing heights. It’s constantly reflected in the music that offers a soundtrack to the times. Wars have happened and are still happening, poverty is soaring, and Black men and women are being lined up in droves and carted off to the various prisons being built over schools. You don’t hear much about any of it on the airwaves, though.
Social commentary and stunting used to be on a more equal playing field in the worlds of hip-hop and R&B, but the latter has shoved the other out of the way in mainstream music. Now more than ever is the culture about selling fantasies of wealth, privilege, and aesthetics. Escapism is fine – it serves a purpose – yet when it starts to completely blind people from reality, it’s fair to argue how problematic that is.
Even some of today’s biggest entertainers understand the issue. Earlier in the year Trey Songz explained to GQ, “I could make a hundred 'Bottoms Up's,’ but they won't change nobody's life.” He said he aspires to one-day follow the lead of soul singers such as Marvin Gaye. However, when asked when might he plan to get “radical,” Trey quipped in response, “I might. Give me a couple of years, though.”
In the meantime, he’s busy singing about coming to the club for the b*tches and the drinks. With R&B on such a decline it’s understandable why many choose to go with the flow albeit disappointing all the same.
I can see why people of older generations can look at where we are and be dismayed, but I take issue with that commentary coming with a whiff of self-righteousness and the stench of forgetfulness.
Speaking with the Hollywood Reporter, actor, singer, and activist Harry Belafonte addressed his “disappointment” with Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Belafonte complained that today’s artist “have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are.”
He added: “And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is Black.”
With all due respect to a pioneer, Bruce Springsteen is not Black, and what’s “socially responsible” is subjective.
One of Beyoncé’s most recent headlines is word of her partnering with the United Nations and various humanitarian aid organizations for World Humanitarian Day on August 19. She’s also appeared in a recent campaign ad for President Obama in which she reads a letter praising First Lady Michelle Obama. Beyoncé previously worked with Michelle Obama by recording a music video for her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity. In 2005, Beyoncé donated more than $2.5 million for transitional housing for Hurricane Katrina victims and storm evacuees in the Houston area.
You can throw in the $100,000 she gave to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund, which benefits victims of Hurricane Ike in the Houston area along with the salary earned from her role in Cadillac Records that led to the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center at the Brooklyn Phoenix House – a training program for rehab participants.
Beyoncé is doing her part her way.
And while there was chatter about the amount of money Jay-Z gave to his own scholarship fund, it’s not as if he hasn’t give a million here and there before and doesn’t partake in charitable initiatives all the time. Even so, we seem to forget at times that “the right thing” remains a choice.
Are Beyoncé and Jay-Z out there speaking on the prison industrial complex and immigration reform? No, but are they whom you want to hear about on those topics anyway? Our pop cultural mediums could definitely stand to be less vapid, but to what extent and how far should entertainers go remains a legitimate debate.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the way things have turned out, which is why it’s a bit unnerving to read from older people saluting Belafonte for asking “young people to pick up the baton that he’s been running since Dr. King was a teenager.” Never mind that these are members of the very generation that dropped it in the first place.
I understand Mr. Belafonte’s core sentiment that stars – specifically Black ones – are far less politically minded than they used to be, but the there’s trouble in attacking symbols versus the systematic problem. When offering a critique on that issue, it helps to be a bit more “responsible” in thought.