Thursday, September 9, 2010

What do Soulja Boy and Fox News have in common?

What Soulja Boy did to Hip-Hop

"She call my phone like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
We on the phone like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
We taking pics like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)
She dial my number like
(da da dadadada da da dadadada da da..)"

-Soulja Boy, "Kiss Me Thru Tha Phone"

If you read that quote without managing to laugh or facepalm, then you are probably a Soulja Boy fan.

But if you did laugh or facepalm, then you might, like me, also be wondering what the hell happened to Hip-Hop music since Soulja Boy's debut in the Rap game.

You see, Soulja Boy is what Hank from the Sugar Hill Gang would refer to as a "sucka MC." Since his inception, radio-played Hip-Hop and Rap have been corrupted with total garbage like his collaboration with Gucci Mane on "Waka Flocka" and Drake's "Find Your Love." Hip-Hop and Rap have sadly degenerated into much like what Afrika Baby Bam of the Jungle Brothers described in the oldschool hit "Doin' Our Own Dang."

"The industry's filled with copycats
R and B mixed with sloppy raps
Tribes like us always open doors
But what for, so you can get yours?
You ain't into it, all you want is profit
So I ask you please to stop it."

-Jungle Brothers/Q-Tip/De La Soul/Monie Love, "Doin' Our Own Dang"

Hip-Hop, back in its golden days, used to be about inspired collaboration with fellow MCs, writing creative rhymes to go with dope-ass beats, breakdancing, graffiti, and lyrical expression of the struggles of inner-city life.

This is not to say that good Hip-Hop still doesn't exist today- you can find some really amazing lyrics and beat work in the music of MCs like Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, and a great many others who keep the founding principles of Hip-Hop sacred. For example, consider the brilliance of these lyrics, both in their meaning and their rhythmic flow-

"I sell rhymes like dimes
The one who mostly keep cash but brag about the broker times
Joker rhymes, like the "Is you just happy to see me?" trick
Classical slap-stick rappers need Chapstick
A lot of 'em sound like they in a talent show
So I give 'em something to remember, like the Alamo
Tally-ho! A high Joker like Spades game
Came back from five year layin' and stayed the same
Sayin' - electromagnetic feeling blocks all logic, Spock
And G- shocks her biological clock"

-MF DOOM, "Rhymes like Dimes"

Even Rap music, an offshoot of Hip-Hop music made more for the sake of dancing in a club than for mere listening purposes, has MCs who make hits perfect for dancing in a loud, dark room with dozens of scantily-clad strangers. I may not be able to sit and listen to Lil Jon with some headphones, but if I'm crunk in the club and the DJ doesn't spin some Lil Jon, I'd be outraged. And if you've been in a club when Notorious B.I.G.'s "Get Money" was being played, or even 50 Cent's "Candy Shop," you've had the full experience of what Rap music was intended for.

But that all changed with the advent of 17 year-old Soulja Boy, with his hit "Crank Dat Soulja Boy." It came in a complete package; a song, a video, and a catchy dance so its complete novelty would catch on from the youngest of kids all the way up to Greek parties at colleges. Most of us have heard the inane, mindless lyrics in songs like "Crank Dat" and "YAAAHHH," right?

"Ain't got time for chit-chat,
I'm tryin' ta get dis money
So get up out my face
You doo-doo head dummy

-A-rab and Soulja Boy, "YAAAHHH"

The effect Soulja Boy has had on popular Rap music, and indeed, the perception of Hip-Hop and Rap outside of the music's longtime fan base, is perhaps irreversible. Those of us in my generation who grew up with good Hip-Hop hardly have anywhere to turn when looking for good new music; we have to dig deep these days to find the good stuff. And as far as convincing someone outside of the fan base to consider an open mind when listening to good Hip-Hop goes, forget about it. Older generations are completely turned off to even being introduced to Hip-Hop and Rap even by aficionados because of the garbage that gets airtime on the radio.

Hip-Hop pioneers like Snoop Dogg have gone to great lengths to disparage the crap that Soulja Boy puts out and labels as "Hip-Hop." And fans of oldschool Snoop, are dumbfounded that Snoop even shares the stage with Soulja Boy. Ice-T calls Soulja Boy the MC who "singlehandedly killed Hip-Hop."

"This ain't no East Coast/West Coast...Ain't no North or South, I love the Dirty South. If there's any war, it's gonna be good Hip-Hop, against WACK Hip-Hop."

Soulja Boy tarnished his genre so much that not even its reputation is salvageable to the masses, at least not yet. It'll take a lot of work and a balance of excellent Hi-Hop to even begin to counter what Soulja Boy has done to the genre.

So what does any of this have to do with Fox News, you might be asking?

Soulja Boy singlehandedly killed Hip-Hop.
FOX News has singlehandedly killed the news media.

What Fox News did to the Mainstream Media

"And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama...uh, uh, Obama. (laughs) Well, both, if we could."
-FOX News guest commentator Liz Trotta

Fox News likes to boast that its "Fair and Balanced" coverage makes it the most-watched news network. They love to repeat "We Report, You Decide" on their network ad nauseum. However, a close analysis of their coverage reveals Fox to be overly favorable to right-wing commentators, viewpoints, stories, and coverage in general.

For example, this study shows that for all of the major cable networks, stories about the BP gulf oil spill was dominating the public discourse, as it should have been. There were hundreds of angles to report on; from the sheer size and scope of the disaster, to the wanton abuse of federal oversight, collusion with oil companies and lack of regulation on the part of MMS, the lack of regard for safety on the part of Transocean, and the egregious greed and lack of compassion from BP CEO Tony Hayward. There are still stories pouring out of the gulf from the shrimpers, oysterers, restaurant owners, charter boat captains, and other generators of economic activity who are now largely broke, unemployed and hopeless thanks to the damage from the oil gusher. While CNN dedicated 42% of their coverage to the event, and MSNBC a third of their coverage, FOX contributed merely 18% of their airtime to covering the biggest story of the country. They were too busy framing liberalism as "tyranny" and framing the Park 51 community center as the "Ground Zero Mosque."

But Fox's negligence of the truth in favor of being the propaganda arm of the GOP goes far beyond their oil spill coverage- a prime example of their incompetence was brilliantly highlighted by Jon Stewart. Through dissecting their favorable coverage of opposition to the Park 51 mosque, Stewart found that the guy funding what FOX called the "terror mosque" is a Saudi Arabian who is the biggest shareholder of FOX news next to the Murdoch family. TPM has taken the liberty of cataloguing FOX's most notable mistakes.

FOX's most-watched pundit, Glenn Beck, a man who makes his living by throwing hatred and insults at anyone from 9/11 victims, Katrina victims (he calls them "scumbags"), veterans wounded in combat, and countless others, has the audacity to urge us, "don't hate." While posturing for a self-aggrandizing rally he dubbed "restoring honor," which basically amounted to a chest-beating "God and Country" rally in Washington, he spent time on airwaves insulting the President's Christianity. This is the same man who accused President of Obama of being a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for White people and White culture." Katie Couric exposed him for the charlatan he is, while FOX News owner Rupert Murdoch defended what Beck said. Beck finally retracted this statement months after the fact. Folks can say that TV pundits don;t have power and that mere speech is meaningless, but Beck drew a crowd of 90,000 to the national mall for his "Restoring Honor" rally. His upcoming 9/12 rally could likely draw similar numbers. He may be a hatemonger and a peddler of fear, lies, historical revision and hatred, but people still take him seriously. And that is a dangerous thing.

Despite their claims of being "Fair and Balanced," FOX News' parent company, Newscorp, owned by Rupert Murdoch, recently gave a million-dollar donation to the Republican Governors' Association for their 2010 efforts. Along with news coverage favorable to right-wing politics, FOX now puts its money where its mouth is. If FOX is deserving of a title other than "propaganda arm of the GOP," I'm all ears.

But I guess most of you already knew most of this. And if you're still reading, you may be asking why I'm comparing FOX News to Soulja Boy, yes?

Just as Soulja Boy is busy killing Hip-Hop with his simpleton lyrics and FruityLoops beats, FOX News is killing all credibility Americans still had in their news media. I believe FOX News' ultimate goal is completely undermining the news media in being the one entity Americans depend on for reliable information.

Think about it- since the mid-nineties (FNC began operations in 1996), we've seen a growing distrust in the American news media. It used to be that we could take what we got from the news at face value when Cronkite was at CBS- this is the information of the day, do with it what you will. Cronkite's only hints at being personally involved with his news coverage were his editorial on the effectiveness of the Vietnam War, and the dramatic removal of his glasses when announcing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Today, the news is a completely different beast.

Now, the mainstream networks have followed FOX's lead instead of dismissing them for the propaganda artists they are. Networks from CNN to MSNBC to FOX all are now geared more towards pundits and opinion instead of newscasters delivering the news. After all, sensationalism and shouting matches make for better ratings; nobody is interested in watching some suit prattle on about facts and happenings with no emotion attached. Because everybody watches FOX, from conservatives who take what Hannity says religiously, to liberals who enjoy fact-checking Glenn Beck. And the rest of the cable news networks want a share of the massive ad revenue FOX gets from their increased ratings.

So, networks match FOX pundit for pundit, screaming match for screaming match. Admittedly, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Rick Sanchez are all incredibly tame compared to Beck and Hannity, because those four still choose to rely on facts and documented evidence to support their opinions. But Hannity and Beck still garner the ratings, because blatant lies attract viewers from both sides of the aisle.

So, now that the rest of the networks have given FOX credibility by allowing their news coverage to also degenerate into sensationalism and opinion shows, FOX is now taken as a legitimate news organization. Political candidates get interviewed on their shows. FOX has a second-row seat in the White House press room, and was a contender for a front-row seat just months ago.

Much like Soulja Boy transformed Hip-Hop from a once unique and creative genre of music into a breeding ground for materialist, empty lyrics, FOX has transformed the news media from news anchors who deliver reliable information to the public into sensationalist opinion-givers and pundits.

So what does this mean for society in general? Why did I spend hours writing this in hopes that you'll read what I say and take heed?

Dire Consequences

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power."
-Malcolm X

Soulja Boy's ultimate goal isn't destroying Hip-Hop, although he has indeed done plenty of damage to an entire genre of music; his goal is just to make money. But FOX's goal, as I stated earlier, is not merely to enable the Republican agenda with right-wing news coverage posing as "journalism," but a more nefarious goal. They seek to destroy all integrity in mainstream media.

By undermining the media's credibility and generating an atmosphere of apathy and distrust, which they have succeeded in doing, FOX news has driven the American public away from a key source of information. Now, most Americans don't strive to be informed in this age of constant and unlimited information; they just want to be left alone. And when Americans are no longer interested in keeping up with current events, this enables the oligarchs who run the world's economy and governments to continue getting away with murder.

What's to stop an oil company from completely disregarding safety standards and ignoring red flags to make money, when nobody is paying attention to the only folks who call them out on it?

What's to stop multinational corporations from buying elections if nobody pays attention to which company it is, and the candidates to which they're throwing millions of dollars?

What's to stop right-wing extremists and bigots from engaging in religious persecution, if there's no honest media to report on it and no public to watch or care?

The media is an essential part of Democracy, because it informs the public on important events and the activities of leaders in politics and business. Democracy fails when there is no longer an educated voting public to select the best candidates to represent them, and to demand accountability from those who undermine founding principles, those who harm human beings, and those who destroy the environment for higher stock numbers.

Soulja Boy's damage to Hip-Hop can be overcome in time. But I fear FOX News' damage to the media and to public discourse is irreversible unless we all decide to collectively stop watching FOX, and until our politicians stop giving them legitimacy by appearing on their network.

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