Lil’ Wayne on stage at the 9th Annual BET Awards (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
I write this article at the risk of offending my daughters, who are all in the “We think Lil Wayne and Chris Brown were sent by God” age group. It doesn’t matter if you’ve admitted to beating your girlfriend, or if you use every word other than “woman” to describe females. If you are rich and famous, you’re suddenly sexy, cool and dateable. That’s just the way things work for some teenagers (and some grown folks too).
As I rode in the car for 16 hours listening to the radio with my daughters, I noticed that Lil Wayne seemed to feature in every song. I think I upset the girls when I said, “Yeah, Lil Wayne’s song about wanting to have sex with every girl in the world reminds me of Eazy-E…Oh by the way, he eventually died of AIDS.”
Yes, I had just puked on my daughters’ parade, but I had to say it. Kids don’t want to hear that kind of stuff, it disrupts their celebrity buzz. So, the same way my daughters grimaced when I compared Lil Wayne to Eazy-E, some execs at BET might grimace when they read this article. I hope they will take comfort in the fact that I am not into blanket indictments. But that never seems to matter in a dichotomous world, where you are either a critic or a supporter. I’m just a man with a brain and two eyeballs, and I try to use them both.
I’ve done a great deal of work with BET, and I’ve always loved it. The staff is courteous, respectful and professional. Many of their specials have been informative, progressive and provocative. I do not, however, consider the most recent BET Awards to be one of these shows.
The great challenge for BET is that there is a genuine concern from the African American community that BET has slipped away from acknowledging any kind of double bottom line that merges necessary profitability with equally critical social responsibility. For every million dollars earned in revenue, there is at least another 20 million dollars in lost productivity created by a generation that was raised to shake their butts in the club all night while holding a bottle of Cristal. Now, every black boy wants to be a rapper, and millions of little girls think that the word “bitch” or “hoe” in a song means that the rapper is talking about somebody else. Sorry sweetie, but Soulja Boy wants to “super soak” you too, and you’re dancing while he says it.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of some hip hop and R&B music. But we would be insane to not be disturbed by the trends that have been created by BET, arguably the most influential network in the black community, especially among young people. R. Kelly’s situation might be a good example. Right after the allegations of child molestation (among other things) against Kelly, BET proceeded to honor him at the BET Awards, in addition to giving him one of the longest performances of the evening.
While I can certainly understand allowing him to be a part of the show (after all, he was found not guilty – cough cough), I cannot agree with the message being sent to our young girls, that a videotaped urination on a little girl can be written off simply as eccentric celebrity behavior. But again, we all know that R. Kelly was found not guilty (cough cough). In spite of all that, I would argue that some degree of conscious prudence might have been called for in that situation. The tragedy of the corporate model is that it trains us to ignore blatant sexism, racism and everything else, all for the sake of maximizing our revenue stream. Morals and values just don’t pay the bills.
This year’s BET Awards show was also interesting. I can’t help but wonder why there were what appeared to be really young girls dancing on the stage with Lil Wayne as he and others repeatedly stated that they wish they could ”bleep every girl in the world.” What’s scary is that I truly believe they were serious in their objective. What’s even scarier in a community plagued with alarming rates of HIV is that there are young men and women who emulate the behavior of Lil Wayne in their everyday lives.
I’m not “hatin” on Lil Wayne, and I’m certainly not out to attack BET. But there must be a point where enough is enough. Whatever poison exists within the organizational structure of this network that breeds such disturbing and socially destructive programming needs to be challenged. As a business school professor, I know how organizations work. So, the problem is that the same social sickness that impedes the progress of many of our greatest HBCUs is probably keeping BET from doing the right thing.
My greatest hope is that the intelligent minds that run BET will take a second and realize their personal power to gain the courage to critically assess what the network has become. I firmly believe that if the leadership is presented with a model that is both profitable and responsible, they will gladly use it.
The truth is that the public trust has been betrayed and the power of media has been underestimated. When our kids are literally being brainwashed with images that ultimately affect their physical and mental health, it’s time for all of us to step up to the plate.