July 4, 2007

BET is a Hot Ghetto Mess

A few months ago we joined others in the AfroSpear in urging that all villagers sign a petition protesting the negative images placed in our homes by BET and others. Recent developments give credence to those of you that refer to Black Entertainment Television (BET) as Black Exploitation Television.

Y'all know that I am OV (as Danielle recently coined us 'Original Villagers'). OVs remember when BET had some great talk shows hosted by Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon. We remember the original Video Soul with Donnie Simpson. I enjoyed the concept of BET so much that I once owned stock in BET Holdings ... the company that Bob Johnson took public as part of his move towards becoming a billionaire.

Today the network reaches about 85 million homes, has an 18 percent nonblack audience, and its core viewers are 18 to 34 years old.

I don't think that anyone denies that BET has done a lousy job of programming for many years. The oldest and largest cable network aimed at African Americans has long depended on reruns, movies and music videos, developing few hits of its own. In fact, the National Association of Black Journalists plans to give a Thumbs Down Award to BET, citing "its depiction of Black images in the media, lack of news and public affairs" and the network’s failure to broadcast Coretta Scott King’s funeral in 2006.

BET needs a fresh profile. As such, I was happy when BET announced an effort to debut 16 new shows over the course of the next year as part of a BET face-lift. After all, the cable television market is very competitive. Other stations such as VH-1, TNT and USA Network are adding viewers at a rapid click with original programming.

The network, a division of Viacom, has other original scripted series on tap, including:
  • "Somebodies" about a group of recent college graduates in Athens, GA
  • "Exalted!", a biography series starting in the fall that will focus on ministers
  • "Judge Mooney", Paul Mooney, the comedian, will have his own daily court show
  • Comic-book artist Denys Cowan (His company created the Black teenage superhero Static Shock) is bringing in three fresh programs
  • Orlando Jones (the actor and "Mad TV" writer) and Ali LeRoi (co-creator of "Everybody Hates Chris") have teamed up to create an animated sketch comedy.
  • "Hannibal the Conquerer", an animated series about the ancient North African general (produced by Vin Diesel)
  • "Cipha", an animated science-fiction series about a future in which hip-hop is outlawed (produced by Will Smith)
  • "Hell Date", a nightly reality show that hooks up unsuspecting suitors with the opposite of their dream date.
  • "Take the Cake", an hourlong live interactive game show of pop-culture trivia questions.
  • "S.O.B. (Socially Offensive Behavior)", is a cocktail of sociology and comedy that uses hidden cameras to capture people’s reactions to strange, politically incorrect situations. For example patrons in a restaurant are told that seating is by race. Comedian D. L. Hughley is the host of this show.
  • "Hot Ghetto Mess", which uses commentary, video clips and man-on-the-street interviews to examine Black popular culture. The show was inspired by the much-debated Web site of the same name, which showcases and comments on what it deems to be outrageous Black behavior.
Bloggers, including many in the AfroSpear, are protesting "Hot Ghetto Mess". Leading the charge is What About Our Daughters, a blog and audio podcast addressing depictions of Black women in popular culture. In recent weeks, the site targeted advertisers that appeared on a BET.com Web page advertising "Mess", including AT&T Corp., DaimlerChrysler and Target. Two advertisers, State Farm and Home Depot, released statements acknowledging that they withdrew both TV and online spots as a result of the boycott threat.
In many ways this looks like the Imus debate from earlier in the year. The next step is for large corporations to stop subsidizing degrading images of African Americans. A prolonged and consistent pattern of BET profiting off of promoting images that malign and degrade African Americans needs to come to an end.

It is odd how people look at the same show so differently. BET says,
"Hot Ghetto Mess" is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek examination of the good, the bad and the ugly of Black popular culture. Utilizing comedy, man-on-the-street interviews, video clips, pictures and music, "Hot Ghetto Mess" aims to shine a spotlight on prevalent images in pop culture and examine what role they play in American lifestyle. "Hot Ghetto Mess" goes where most shows fear to tread. As host Charlie Murphy guides viewers through shaking booties, thug life, baby-mama drama and pimped-out high schoolers, "Hot Ghetto Mess" will explore what these images really mean to all of us. Cutting edge, original, relevant and irreverent, "Hot Ghetto Mess" is like the traffic accident you can’t look away from. Viewers will laugh. They'll cry. They'll think. They'll learn, and hopefully they'll recognize they've GOT to do better.
Personally, I feel that BET needs to do better. I encourage villagers to take proactive steps to protest 'Hot Ghetto Mess' including your support of online petition to remove the show from the airwaves. The show needs to be pulled from the air with the same quickness that Imus was pulled from radio and television. The offense is the same whether perpetuated by an old white guy or a Black cable television station.

Well, Villagers ... what say u?


Eddie G. Griffin said...

BET is too far gone in its commitment to air these programs of "bad taste". Next step- after it airs- that is the question.

Anonymous said...


I haven't watched BET for years specifically because of all the shortcomings you've listed and more. I think it's a good move to hold them accountable and make our voices heard. I only hope they're listening...

Anonymous said...

I was recently asked the question about whether we should boycott BET because of poor programming such as "A hot ghetto mess". Unfortunately, I view boycotting BET like burning down the only grocery store in your neighborhood. Ok, you've done it, now what?? Now, don't get me wrong. I am not moved by the so called "programming" which is being broadcast on BET. I am from the Tavis Smiley Report, Video Soul, In the Mood, and Caribbean Rhythms generation of BET when Bob Johnson was at the helm. Unfortunately, BET is under the umbrella of the media MONSTER Viacom who I believe own VH1 and MTV. As a result, BET may not have the consciousness that it once had. Now, what I am in favor of is a writing campaign. TELL BET what you want to see. ASK BET to tell you how to submit programming suggestions. ENCOURAGE african american students in high school and college to prepare programming proposals. Start a new channel and invade the ranks of BET to take their best and brightest to another station. Then, after you've done everything to let your voice be heard, burn it down!!

Give it all you got, then LET IT GO!!

POPOBAWA said...


Move over Reggaeton! Ringitone is here. Or at least that is what they are saying in the East African islands of Zanzibar. Whereas the former grew out of the increasing popularity of dancehall reggae en Espanol which came from the decendents of Jamaican migrant workers in Panama in the 1990's and became a huge international dance craze earlier this decade, ringitone is only similar in its African roots.
Listening to the hit "Njoo Mpenzi [Babangu Kasafiri]" by one of ringitone's most celebrated vocalists Ali-Z and you'll see why. If the backing track sounds uncannily like 50 Cent's "Windowshopper" that's because it is actually a polyphonic ringtone of the song downloaded onto a Siemen's 255 cellular phone at Zanzibar's number one studio Hooney Toons. I spoke to maverick ringitone producer Hassan Makame Mtwana, known to all as H-Ditty after waiting for him to stop talking over his bluetooth mouthpiece for over half an hour. "Alot of niggaz want to hate cos' we got the flyest beats around. Matta fact we was first to go polyphonic," he explains in stilted Swahili with a distinctly African American inflected slang, "but now everyone is logged on to passionup.com and freeringtones.co.uk trying to be down. We from the old school. I started out with just one raggedy second hand Ericcson that I bought for like 20,000/tsh [about $18] way back in October 2005. Now all I can tell them is 'How you like me now!'"
H-Ditty and his partner Jamal Dupree initially faced alot of opposition from Zenji Flava purists. Post-modern taarab or Zenji Flava as its called, is a spicey mixture of Shaggy, Kevin Lyttle, and T.O.K. riffs which are found freely in the tutorial sections of some learners edition studio software. I spoke with one his detractors who preferred not be named, "Basically they are ruining our culture, we have a long history in Zanzibar of using Frooty Loops and pre-packaged hooks from Cubase that goes as far back as 2003."
Some decry what they view as a lack of real of musicianship, I heard one unemployed Zenji Flava artist saying, "They just calling up shorties on the phone and begging them to sleep with them and playing some appropriate ringtones to show their love. That's not music. Back in the day we used to take the tunes from the qasidas we learned in Quran school and turned them into sexy r'n'b songs with actual pre-programmed Cubase loops from a T.O.K. song, and then we would put California Love on the voice to get, you know, pitch correction, cos we couldn't sing, because most of us got kicked out of Quran school for trying to touch the honeys they had up in there. You know what I'm sayin? This stuff they doing today; it lacks originality. And even that song, that was my song, I sang "Njoo Mpenzi [Mamangu Kaenda Kuhijji]" back in the old school, like were talking 2004. These are just new jacks trying to cash in on the trail that we blazed for them."
Judging by the amount of prepaid scratch phone cards littering the ground outside of Hooney Toons Records studios it would seem that Ringitone is here to stay. I had to wade through a crowd of Fair'n'Lovely bleached out teenage groupies in transparent bui-bui's to get inside Hooney Toons studios. What I was delighted to see was the lack of clumsy recording equipment. Aside from some red Italian leather couches giving it a distinctly Urban Contemporary feel, there were just a couple of guys with heavily gelled S-Curl hairstyles deeply engrossed in seductive conversation on some of the hottest cellphones out of Dubai. Another was using a cameraphone to film the whole thing. This was an actual Ringitone video shoot in progress!
Impressed by the minimalism of Ringitone, I later went and talked to ex-pat ethnomusicologist Jennifer Blousenstern, at the offices of the American cultural NGO, EWOC [Enablers Without a Clue].
I found her twirling her hair around an index finger chatting away comfortably in Swanglish, slightly flushed, in a seeming sililoquoy to no-one in particular. It was only when she signalled that I sit down that I noticed the hands-free headset dangling around her collar.
Waiting for her to wrap up her conversation I perused her extensive anthropological library. A p.H.D. in African Studies from Barnard hung on the wall. In the corner were three cellphones being charged in an overloaded electrical socket, their wires draped over an elaborately carved ebony wood fertility statue from the Makonde tribe of Southern Tanzania. After exchanging pleasantries Ms. Blousenstern needed no prodding to discuss her own ringing approval of the ringitone movement.
"When jazz came along people said 'That's not music!' Hip hop, the same story. Now you see rap music in advertisements for soda and everything else. Ringitone is going through that same initial Eurocentric reluctance now. If we look at it from a cultural perspective, its really quite African. I see the ringitone caller [as ringitone artists are known] as akin to the griot or the praise singer. But instead of singing to praise a chief or to recount the oral history of great kings of their clan, they are trying to convince underage girls to come over to their parents' unsupervised air-conditioned mansions and have pre-marital sex with them."
When Kool DJ Herc used two turntables and a mixer in the 1970's South Bronx, he was recontextualising the available modern technology into a unique new-world African form. According to Blousenstern, Ringitone takes it one step further.
"Another thing I find intriguing about Ringitone is its implicit Pan-African thrust. The callers are coupling African-American slang with call and response. The phones themselves have the mineral koltan in their circuitry. Its a well known fact that the only source of koltan is in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo." She draws a perfect circle in the air, "So they are bringing it back home to your Motherland and keeping it real at the same time!"
"So there is this whole defiant subtext in which the ringitone caller is saying to the Western World, 'You might deny me the right of a visa to live and work in the UK or the US because of the color of my skin or maybe because there are purported members of al-Qaeda who share my surname, but you cannot keep me from talking over the telephone in an African-American slang or listening to Shania Twain, Beyonce, or Fabolous.... and liking that shit!'"

POPOBAWA said...


East African Ringitone star Ali-Z was hamstrung and taken hostage by
automatic weapon toting pirates in the early hours of Sunday morning
off of the East African archipelago of Zanzibar. Several of his guests
were injured and robbed of their possessions at a champagne brunch
after-party to the Death Star Unplugged environmental awareness
concerts which had taken place the previous evening up and down the
Swahili speaking East African coast.

Guests were snapping pictures of several frogmen who were posing as
black-pearl divers when suddenly the leeward sides of the boats in the
flotilla were simultaneously boarded by men in Barawa lungis
brandishing spearfishing guns. Ali Z in a typical show of Swahili hospitality
welcomed the men to eggs Benedict, ice cold Moet and showed them several bikini clad
aid workers who were dancing to the sounds of Zenji Flava and Ringitone
on the lido deck of his Scarab cigarette speedboat. The leader of the
group, later identified as Slinger Francisco promptly unsheathed a
Turkana simi concealed in his waistcloth and hamstrung the
unsuspecting Z and catching in mid-air, his large Cohiba cigar and placing
it in his mouth, proceeded  to instruct guests to remove all
valuables. Forcing them to walk the plank, Francisco made off with mad
cheddar as a despondent Z lay bleeding in pool of Crys, piss and
bilgewater. Just hours later a video surfaced on a repatriationist
website showing a haggard Ali Z in good spirits in the dark makuti
backdrop of the BPLA hideout. He said, "In the future I will shut the
fuck up when I don't know," and said  "I am being treated well and am
learning alot. And they gave me, like a mosquito net and whatnot, so
its all good!"

"Oh my god, that was so whacked! I couldn't believe how mean they
were." Remarked Kathy Johannson, commonly known Clove-Nyce, a member
of The Spyce Girls, the Swanglish bubblegum Ringitone trio made up
entirely of ex-pat Anti-Excision activists from Berkeley who was among
those who performed at the Death Star concerts and had been aboard Z's
boat "Fiesta Mami" when the incident took place.

BPLA, the Black Pearl Liberation Army is a ambiguous group with no clear
aims dominated by the whims of
its leader Slinger Francisco, a shadowy figure who has in the past had
links to Mungiki and Mashiftah criminal elements up and down the East
African Coast. He has also has been identified as a major player the
illegal " African blood pearl" trade and has been linked to the
alleged mercenary activities of Haines International in a failed coup
attempt in the tiny oil rich islands of San Pedro. Francisco who was
born, Natty Morgan, in the rural Jamaican Parish of Westmoreland rose
to prominence as the charismatic polygamist leader of the millenarian
Church of the Rice Bowl movement in the late 70's which grew out of
the shantytowns and back alleys of Illtown, East Orange. After being
indicted for tax evasion and e-mail fraud in the famed Borman Six Case
he was jailed at Clinton State Correctional facility for Women where
he made a daring escape and fled to Guyana, reluctantly welcomed by the
Burnham government. Years later he resurfaced as the chakacha crooner
The Stinker with a string of hits including "White Man's Hell is a
Black Man's Paradise" and  "Don't Touch Me Pylons, Holly".

"Our thoughts go out to you Ali Z. Stay strong and keep it real, son,"
the Zenji Flava artist Case Quarter appeals in a stylish PSA run
hourly on the African video channel MTV BASE. If you want to sign the
petition calling for Ali Z's speedy safe return, click on the link


Unknown said...

Eddie - Personally, I like the process that was used after Imus' comments about the Rutgers women ... focus on the advertisers. We should identify those that advertise on HGM ... and focus spotlight on them. Get the advertisers to drop out and the show will follow.

Keith - Hold BET accountable ... and the advertisers that enable them to show this nonsense.

Tony - Your comments are thoughtful. Your analogy is a good one. There are other options such as TVOne. I also like the focus on creating future programming from our own community. In any case, thank you for your time visiting us here in the Electronic Village.

peace, Villager

Believer said...

"Hot Ghetto Mess" will explore what these images really mean to all of us. Cutting edge, original, relevant and irreverent, "Hot Ghetto Mess" is like the traffic accident you can’t look away from."

Explore what the images really mean?! It's all wrong! I could say more...I want to say more...but I'm silenced by the pure ignorance of such a statement. God help us all!

Anonymous said...

Someone sent me the link to Hot Ghetto Mess and it is truly a mess.
The rationale said something to the effect of holding up a mirror to ourselves, so we could see and do better. But as I browsed through some of the categories, it
seemed more like titilation than edification. We really do not need to highlight any more of the negative images. WE need to stop supporting this mess. If we spent as much time publicizing the spectularly great things among us. One comes to mind of the autistic young Black man (I think he is French) who went on a 45 minutes helicopter ride over Rome and then came back and drew a mural of EXACTLY what he had seen.
What about emphasizing the history being made in America as we witness a viable, capable Black man
running for the proverbial President of the United States.

Unknown said...

Iya - I agree that we have to work harder to get positive images of our people into the media's spotlight. One website that I enjoy on a daily basis is Today's Drum. Check it out if you have time or inclination.

peace, Villager

*Tanyetta* said...

I have a headache. :(

Unknown said...

Tanyetta - Don't let 'em get to u. We can make a difference if we stay focused. Anyhow, I hope your headache went away over the weekend!

peace, Villager

Blu Jewel said...

first timer! i came by way of Rosemarie's blog "Miscellaneous Matters" and I'm glad I did.

This is an extremely well-written and profound post. As not to blog in your comments, I'll to keep my thoughts concise.

There is nothing worse than perpetuating the negative images, socialisms, and stereotypes than what BET is doing. I too, am an OV and truly miss the content and quality BET USED to carry. I miss the informative shows, the decent music, the quality of the shows they produced. Now, I don't even turn to that channel. I refuse to give my ratings to something that I feel demeans and discredits me as a black woman.

It seems like BET sold itself to the highest bidder no differently than we were sold as slaves to the highest bidder; even from our own.

I'll stop here, but thanks for the post.

Unknown said...

Blu Jewel - I appreciate your comments. I hope that you will find reason to visit our village again in the future. Your comments are on point in every way. However, I must admit that I've been enjoying the re-runs of THE WIRE. I don't have HBO so I didn't see those episodes when they originally aired. I may have to use Netflix to see the rest of the episodes now.

peace, Villager