Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

St. Michael Save Us!

Michael_Jackson_an_angel_by_Ice_BeatMichael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.

First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.

Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.

Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.

MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.

The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.

MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.

Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.

Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.

Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.

MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.

CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue

Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,

July 30, 2009 Posted by | branding, commerce, commodities, culture, democracy, institutional, manufacturing, marketing, media, movie, pop, product, reputation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gulags and Gitmos

For participating in an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Survey I received The Pocket World In Figures for 2009. Its filled with all kinds of interesting statistics to measure, compare and contrast economic and social indicators for countries of the world. Included in this useful little tome is the usual mundane statistical econometric measures like GDP, income levels, life expectancy, agricultural output and similar macroeconomic indicators. The Survey also includes many other quality of life statistical measures and one that immediately grabbed my attention were the entries concerning Crime and Punishment.

The Survey tabulates Crime and Punishment statistics in four areas; murders, death row inmates, total prisoner count and prisoners per 100,000 of a country’s population. Sadly the EIU Survey reports that the United States leads the list in two out of the four categories. Those include prisoner population and prisoners per 100,000 of total country population. The US holds the dubious distinction of the number two spot behind Pakistan in the number of death row inmates.

I find these telling statistical measures most perplexing and equally disturbing. The United States prison population of 2.253,000 is 30% higher then second place China with 1,566,000 inmates and third place Russia with 885,000 inmates. These numbers become more significant when measured as a percent of 100,000 of the country’s population. The United States again occupies the top spot with 751 inmates per 100,000 followed by Russia with 627 per 100,000. As a percent of total population the US incarceration rate is 17% higher then that of Russia. China which occupied the number two spot in total prison population falls off the list of the top 23 nations with the highest level of incarceration due to its large overall population.

One needs to ask what is it in the cultural, social, political and economic DNA that places the United States as the world leading gulag?

It has been long known that people of color comprise the majority of death row and prison inmates in the United States. The glaring racial and social class dimensions of imprisonment and how it is disproportionally borne by minorities and the working poor is a direct causal effect of the dismantling of the manufacturing base of the US economy. This has exacerbated the inequality of wealth distribution in the US economy. It has accelerated the deterioration of our urban economic zones thereby fostering the growth of illegal underground economic activities and petty economic crime.

The economic and social factors that contribute to crime and imprisonment are usually the central topics that take center stage in the debate between conservatives and liberals. Ironically this debate obfuscates underlying causal factors that can be ascribed to the political culture in the US. The preponderance of law and order candidates running for public office, the political clout of police and public safety unions, the emergence of industry sectors that build and manage prisons, the vibrant security and protection industries, the use of cheap prison labor and dramatic wealth disparity creates powerful market and cultural forces that incubate and sustain the growth of penal industries and the political sentiment that supports it.

Since 9/11 our political culture has been saturated with messages of fear, suspicion , demonization of “the other” and the pervasiveness of terrorism. This political climate has spawned two wars, the dramatic growth of prison privatization, suspension of some basic rights of privacy with the passage of FISA and the creation of special rendition prison camps like Gitmo that suspend habeas corpus and other internationally recognized standards of basic prisoner rights. The revelations about the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib has shamefully placed torture at the forefront in the political debate concerning appropriate practices and acceptable tools interogators can use in the fight against terrorism. The US is clearly in danger of losing the moral high ground in its self proclaimed defense of human rights as it continues to extol the righteousness of its law and order society by building and populating an ever expanding network of gulags.

Sadly our penal culture creates some horrific abominations. The US taxpayer conveys its eager willingness to pay up to $40,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner; while claiming that its good fiscal policy to balk at paying anything over $8,000 to educate a child in a public school.

This Sunday we will be marching in Newark NJ in Support of Solidarity Sunday. Our mission will be to join forces with those who are dedicated to ending violence and crime in our communities. We believe this objective can only be realized if we respond with unity, love, peace, hope and help.

Information on Solidarity Sunday can be found here.

It is our fondest hope and most fervent prayer that we will build more schools and factories and less prisons. We also pray that our fellow citizens and elected officials will find mercy in their hearts and proclaim 2009 as a Jubilee Year and grant amnesty and set free those who are worthy of freedom and have paid the price for their crime. We also pray that those who imprison others will recognize the humanity of their captives.

You Tube Music Video: The Midnight Special, Odetta

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott Heron, Angola Louisiana

Risk: civil liberties, rule of law, Bill of Rights, social justice

November 26, 2008 Posted by | commerce, crime, culture, folk, jazz, prisons | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment