Friday, August 24, 2007

Black Entertainment Television

It's so easy to criticize BET. I remember when it was considered a bit more, um, "low-budget" and maybe not the ideal channel to represent Black American culture, but it was still an endearing, if somewhat threadbare, attempt. Tonight, as I sat with my friend Daren and watched BET Presents: The Top 25 Fabulous Freaks of All Time¹ (give us a break, the channel was the topic of our dinner conversation an hour before) we couldn't help but reminisce about the good-ol', "budget" days of hazy Comic View when no matter what, the camera always seemed too close to the stage and the sound would periodically go out. TT25FFOAT was just as ridiculous in execution as its acronym, and it's only one of a slew of BET's "original" programs to parrot the offerings of viacom's other channels. Here was, roughly, a black version of VH1's formulaic countdown shows: the vaguely defined premise; the inexplicably cast, ill-suited celebrity hosts; and like a gazillion snarky commentators for each entry. Except this was much, much worse.

No, it wasn't perfect then either--not by a long shot--but there seemed to be more of an attempt. I remember the outrage when BET canceled Ed Gordons "Lead Story" and then followed up by removing "Teen Summit" from their programming. Both moves followed the sale of the channel by Robert L. Johnson to Viacom Corporation. Anyone who knows the patterns of big business media knows that it's all about the sale. When mom and pop franchises sell their name there's usually more growth in a short amount of time than ma' and/or pa' ever anticipated. Often an entity will grow faster than the people it's said to represent. What happens when the people media is said to represent, are recovering from generations-long displacement? Furthermore, what happens when the product that is supposedly representing the audience is riddled with the very symptoms that have stunted the growth of it's viewers?

There also never seems to be a shortage of "experts" or "hip-hop historians" on these specials glorifying mediocrity. They seem the experts of nothing, their statements are always bold but ulterior; their loyalty to network and station thinly veiled by a very hurtful pseudo-intellectualism. Their words are generally a disservice, both to their audience and to the history of the genre they are supposed to be representing.

-Ashleigh Rae


Wayetu Moore said...

I definately feel your sentiment on the regression of BET in the last decade. The sale of the network left all of our jaws dropped at the sudden changes in programming, staff, etc. Things like 'Lead Story' and even 'BET Nightly News' had such potential for growth, and could've eventually led to the fulfillment of the network's potential. The executive angles are wising up however with successes of programs like "106th & Park", which served as an alternative to TRL when black musicians didn't hold the top five slots (if you know what I mean). But they recently aired "Baldwin Hills", an alternative to MTV's "Laguna Beach". The show portrays the lives of nine African-American teens that live in the upper-middle class suburb of Baldwin Hills, most of whose parents are lawyers, professional athletes, entreprenuers,etc. It's a nice attempt at showing the other side of African-American life, a side that is rarely (or never) seen on other networks. It even shows their interactions with kids that live on the other side of the bridge in Watts and Compton.

Wendi Muse said...

i am nodding my head in agreement here. maybe it's because i was a little kid when BET was something to talk about and i couldn't see things more critically, but i do agree that it's gone waaay down. but then again, so have mtv and vh1. maybe we're just being hard on bet b/c it's a black network, but i think they all need a clean up