On Like Donkey Kong

Posted: Jul 18, 2007 7:35 PM
I'm on O'Reilly tonight talking about the Internets, as usual.

We talk a little bit about HotGhettoMess.com, and I'll blog about it so y'all can click through to everything.

HotGhettoMess.com was founded three years ago on the Web by a young black lawyer in Washington, D.C. who saw outrageous pictures exemplifying the "hip-hop" or "ghetto" culture being passed around in e-mail and on the Internet without anyone addressing them.

So, she started collecting them, ostensibly as a bit of social commentary on her own, black community. The site features a "Not Ghetto" gallery as the foil to the site's namesake, a pretty good parody song calling for black educational achievement, and an eloquent essay on the subject. The site's motto is, "We Got To Do Better."

Jam Donaldson, the site's founder, seems to want to communicate the same message Bill Cosby got pilloried for a couple years ago:
We can’t afford to live like we’re living. From school, to clothing to music, to our children—where have our standards gone? And if our own can’t come out and rally for change, who can? Why do we so often condemn the people who point out what’s wrong instead of condemning the behavior?

And I will say again, to all of you who are angry at me for airing our dirty laundry—good I’m glad you’re angry, now maybe collectively, including me, we’ll be forced to finally go wash it. This site is the beginning, the ending is up to us.

There's a hot debate, of course, about whether the "airing of dirty laundry" in this way is helping or hurting. Some say it's perpetuating the stereotypes it's meant to combat. Others say it's a clever way of marketing the same message Cosby preached.

Enter BET. BET is releasing a "Hot Ghetto Mess" TV show, which is produced in part by the founder of the original Web site. The same people who have concerns about the Web site have greater concerns about the TV show. In the words of the founder herself, she too was worried about it becoming "America's Funniest Home Videos with black people." Others say it's just plain exploitation.

I'm of the mind that, while the site can be a place for decent social commentary and discussion (and, I think it can be), I'm pretty sure the show's going to be a disaster. In calling for submissions for a BET show, the show will probably end up glorifying and creating what Donaldson originally decided to bring negative attention to.

BET contends that the show has a social message, and is a way to bring that message to young people in a more effective way.
"There is a generation of people who don't know how to talk to their kids in a way that doesn't turn them off," Hudlin said. "Now they're complaining because we want to successfully engage them. Instead of complaining, they should take notes."
I'm reasonably sure that won't pan out on TV (although no one really knows because the show hasn't aired yet), because in giving that much hype to bad behavior, you usually create more of it-- see Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton. People will soon know that the quickest way to get famous is to get in a big, knock-down, drag-out fight in the street and send the video to BET's new show. Not sure that's what Donaldson was ever going for.

State Farm and Home Depot have already pulled advertising from the show because some African-American activist groups are objecting to it.

But I'm not sure the fact that advertisers are pulling out is an indication that the whole mission is fundamentally flawed. The issue of race in this country is so radioactive-- talking about the black community without getting in trouble is so hard, even for members of the black community-- that advertisers are naturally going to steer clear of anything that's not strictly inside-the-box when it comes to race.

Even opening one's mouth about race issues is like walking a terrifying minefield of political correctness, in which one wrong step can get you branded "racist" for life. And, as the years go by, the offenses that warrant the "racist" tag get smaller and smaller-- see the timpani drum behind the Bob Corker for Senate ad in '06. The minefield gets more and more dangerous, and no one wants to walk it. Thus, the only people who talk about race in this country are the two people who get issued full body armor-- Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They are the only two who can say whatever they want without fear of backlash.

Well, if that ain't unproductive, I don't know what is. So, I say let's give someone like Jam Donaldson a damn chance, at least. Reflexively calling her exploitative and questioning her motives seems to me the wrong approach. She's a successful black American who intent on helping the black community, not hurting it. Whether the TV show her site spawned will do that is a huge unanswered question, but it's worth letting someone in the black community other than Al and Jesse try. What do y'all think?

Update: Here's the video, thanks to Allah.