By Dashon L.
Media has been the medium of popular culture for close to a century, and billions of people have been captivated by the allure of famous and beautiful people. The upper echelon who say the wonderful words that make you fall for Davey: the young bellhops with a dream, or Dania: the orphan who just needs one shot to get her life in order, but what are we realistically expecting from films, television, even the news? Comfort, illusions, or lies? Is show business the business of entertainment, or the influencers that make us content with the lack of progression in human evolution?
In mid-1960s America passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a major event in race relations made more important because the events that proceeded and followed the signing were openly televised. Comforting on the fence racist actions (like those who only watch a black man being assaulted by their friends in a park. Maybe they would snicker a little bit, but they didn’t call him the n-word). These types may have said, “that’s good for them.” When Johnson signed his name to the document. However, the aftermath was worst then segregation to the black way of life. The news covered blacks as uncontrollable and violent people. Animals, who didn’t show the respect for law that white people may. In the late 60’s going into the mid ’70s this was only worse with the way blacks were portrayed in film. The thug, the home invader, the monster, the pimp. On the other hand, they may have been cast in distinguished roles such as the janitor, the bus boy, or the jigaboo.
The only form of entertainment where African American’s were readily excepted were sports and music, and that’s because they highly excelled at both platforms, and above their racial competitors. African American’s have been credited with inventing Jazz, Soul, Funk, Rock and Roll, and Disco (and later Rap/Hip-Hop). The music industry saw where the money was coming from and exploited the talents of young African American musicians and re-released it with a white face. Chuck Berry was one of the earliest victims of this method as he was openly ripped off by Capital Records, Nick Venet, and The Beach Boys. At times blatantly stealing demo riffs from Berry’s sessions. Then artist like Elvis, Joplin, and The Bee Gee’s, artists who put a desirable face to a black art form.
These comparisons lead to the question of today: are white people “culture vultures”? Culture vulture is a term in some urban circles that accuses a person from a foreign culture of stealing someone else’s cultural traits. For instance; if an Asian man forms a mariachi group and sells the popularized Mexican structure as a traditional Asian art form. Today in the 21st century it seems rampant disco and rap were quickly integrated on MTV (even though the black artist weren’t allowed on the station until nearly a year after Thriller was released). The butterfly became a dance craze, while everyone was proclaiming “other people’s property” (or OPP).
Today everyone’s “woke” and looking for their “bae”. However, it’s not white people who are the ‘vultures’ of this story, or are they the hungry upstarts who want and need a chance? I believe that it’s the label, the production, and marketing teams, It’s the influencers themselves. The companies with the billions of dollars are the means to pump out a new slang term per hour, hoping they have found their new “Whoop There it Is”. The Beach Boys weren’t to blame from being influenced by Chuck Berry, Capital was to blame for allowing Venet to suggest pre-written music to an up and coming band willing to do anything for a break. Much in the same way you can’t blame The Beastie Boys for exploiting an untapped market, opening the doors for white rappers like Eminem and Vanilla Ice.
It’s all just show business, after all. Where you can point blame, however, is the obvious privilege behind the marketing. Americans have generally gravitated to a face that fits their vision of success. The vision that media and society have dubbed acceptable. Which is how Vanilla Ice because of the most successful rapper of all time at one point. There’s a good debate over if that’s still the issue today, as Macklemore generated major political heat when he beat Kendrick Lamar at the 2014 Grammy’s. It’s generational and it bleeds into the conversations we have about race relations today. We have a great divide on the facts and issues today. While most political idealist who gravitates to the left have become hypersensitive to race relations, we have counterparts who have become desensitized to the same issues.
The bleeding over of cultures may be a good thing, however, to disregard the culture's inception to further an ideology, makes for a slippery slope where genre, and culture losses its identity. Is there racism in America and in the music industry, absolutely, are there some that aim to steal the culture of other artists as a way to demean the race with an amazing new idea? Maybe. Is spitting in the face of black, Mexican, or Asian culture ingrained in the ways of white people? No. Eminem and Macklemore and The Beastie Boys have always shown the greatest respect to their influencers, and the cultures they represent, and have always been shinny examples, that culture (no matter who originated it) is for everyone.