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Hot Buttered Soul: Politics and Pop Culture Are Really One

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Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
When change is upon us and we need media most, more and more traditional media outlets will simply pick up and disseminate what fewer and fewer folks have placed on the corporate-filtered news wire. Luckily, my new White House friend is as funky as you wanna be.
cover art

Fela Kuti

Music Is the Weapon [DVD]

(Universal; US DVD: 30 Mar 2004; UK DVD: 14 Jul 2004)

I just added the White House as a friend on YouTube. I had looked forward to President Obama’s weekly addresses, and made the mistake of filtering through some of my subscriptions, like the Hill Billy Report, for example, which I stumbled upon due to the slogan “Ditch Mitch!” That’s right, I went to elementary school with Senator McConnell’s daughter, and he’s still serving as my representative. Yet, sitting in my South Delhi apartment, realizing that I’ve never lived as an adult in my own hometown, news through the local newspaper’s website, as well as that from the Tube are a well-cherished and reliable friends. It is primarily through YouTube that I have been able to access local politics and inform myself as a voter.


Brown School Seniors for Clinton


It is unsurprising to find my elementary school teachers actively supporting the myriad of local rallies protesting the invasion of Iraq. They were also there when Obama breezed through the Ville, as we call Louisville, pronounced ‘Looavull’. My teachers provided peace trouper support for local rallies against police brutality or in support of the municipal gay Hate Crimes ordinance that threatened to evaporate once the county and city jurisdictions merged. All of this can been seen on this same screen, and considering how far we’ve come since the days of the Underground Railroad or the Civil Rights marches is daunting.


As a senior in high school, knowing I’d soon head off to college leaving the Bible Belt for good, too young too vote, I stuck out my support for the first candidacy of Bill Clinton. Compared to anyone who had come since Lincoln and Kennedy, he was as good as buttered toast and as dialogue-oriented as any leader could get in those days. We treated him like the great savior, and lauded his liberalism. Less than a decade later we had abandoned Bill for a private transgression, and his wife for intransparency, which still colors her public image. In retrospect, Americans were too scared and scarred to ask for more. Decades later, we were even too marred by PC politics to demand that Hillary come out with how she negotiates home and career just like the rest of us. How might that whole fiasco have played out if there were such outlets as YouTube, as opposed to the cooperate media following Ken Star? Bloggers, too, would have shut that shit down! Now we’ve had a serious revolution, and it makes me wanna holler. To paraphrase Miss Milkshake/Kelis:


He’s Bossy / He’s the first kid to scream on the track / He switched up the beat of the drum / That right! He’s the one that brought all the boys to the yard / And that’s right! He’s the one that’s in large an’ in-charge, cause he’s Bossy!


White House videos average the length of a pop song, though some pieces, like his passionate talk to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on education is as long as Black Moses’ Hot Buttered Soul. Barack is just as seductive in his delivery as well. Obviously the inauguration playlist is as long as Songs in the Key of Life.  Speaking of which, the George Gershwin Award ceremony is noticeably absent from the White House channel, as if he don’t want folks to know too much ‘bout what’s going through his head. Remember Talking Book? I know Barack heard when Stevie said: “Your name is o’erseer / I’ll change if you vote me in as the pres.” Barack probably didn’t want Stevie telling all his business. His transition’s YouTube account is a bit more revealing: Changedotgov. The historic campaign logs into YouTube as “BarackObamadotcom,” to which interested viewers will have to turn to see the 37-minute-long speech, A More Perfect Union, which at last count had over 7 millions viewers through the campaign’s channel, but had invariably been uploaded by pages of users in as many languages. Barack is Bossy! The White House’s masthead simply politely offers the latest news. Passionate is an understatement for our president, he’s Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. Amen!


My new YouTube friend—at least the invitation has been sent—joined only this year, so he has some catching up to do. For example, the White House hasn’t uploaded that many videos, and the profile is a little loose. They are probably pretty certain that they already get enough press, and besides, the videos speak for themselves, each one a conversation about morals and policies as a strategy, not “partisanship and bickering (applause).” YouTube bans uploads with even background music, charging copyright infringement. This means that one should not take inspiration from Donny Hathaway, for example, while Vlogging about heavy issues. Barack’s stuff is “public domain per White House copyright policy.” He ain’t heavy, Barack might say, He’s my brother.


On the Whistle Stop Train Tour video, Barack lauds the “conductors that make our trains run,” as the scene pans to a Black man in a well-starched RXR uniform, reminiscent of the Honorable Brother A. Phillip Randolph organizing the Pullman Porters, and later recruited Bayard Rustin to teach civil disobedience to Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is some of the most inspirational viewing on YouTube since somebody uploaded Mahalia at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Michelle Obama is there in her role as First lady, as is the vice-chef speaking about Green Jobs, other appointees on blogging, and the president himself on healthcare, ending the war and other social justice issues. There is even a short list of White House favorites, one of which has over 100,000 viewers. All of the videos are highly rated thus far, but frankly there are relatively few viewers to date. To put it in context, Beyoncé posted her video Diva two months ago, and already has ten million viewers. “OMG,” she says in one publicity video where she accepts a book from her fan club. I was ROFLMAO at her theatrics, however well meaning.


Both full-length concerts and full-length speeches are simultaneously available on the same site. Gone is the era of sound bites. The complexity of issues facing us today could perhaps only be met with media as comprehensive as High Life music, which is funkier than its American cousin, Funk. Fela’s intros alone could last seven minutes while we sweat it out on the dance floor. No break, no job, no sense, we’d chant protesting the government’s war on the people right there while getting down to the break of 1977’s Zombie. Government soldiers raided Fela’s home and threw his mother out of window in response. Politics and pop culture so often enjoy a relationship as complex as Fela’s polyrhythmic beats as this Nigerian artist’s own life has shown for better and for worse.


News longer than sound bites may have met its match. Folks as young as gen-Xers are raging about how attention spans have shorted, and new media, including satellite boob tube and its five-second clips, all cater towards rearing a generation of young Americans who cannot really pay attention. Given the adrenaline rush from video gaming, they might only enjoy instant gratification. Just today I overheard a 15-year-old ask his friend, “What’s 16 times two,” and then reached for his sophisticated graphing calculator upon seeing his classmate’s puzzlement. President Barack Obama, however, is asking us to ask more of ourselves. Setting an example, he consistently takes his case directly to the people. He addresses the nation for free each week, giving us more face time than any friend on Facebook. Truth be told, he’s as crafty as Stevie Wonder with those words, and he’s not even that bad to look at- see for yourself.


New media enthusiasts can filter through years worth of footage of Dubya blundering the English language, with a few choice search words. Users can just as easily listen to Ronald Reagan combating socialized medicine as an early class warrior, labeling widespread healthcare coverage an eminent threat disguised as a “humanitarian project.”  He had a single-minded vision of governance- that it should be miniscule. Like an orchestra conductor heading a symphony, there was little space in the old politics for dialogue amongst all the players, more akin to JB and the band composing Cold Sweat in one take. Maceo/C’mon now/Brother/put it, put it where it’s at now/Aww, Let him have it! James can heard saying leading his band. Like the beat of Miles Davis’ So What, from which this definitive funk music classic takes its pace, the polyrhythmic beat upon which Black music is built, depends upon dialogue- and that’s what’s up. Give the drummer some, James asks everybody before backing up to let the drummer get down. Everybody gets to shine and the final product is that much more fabulous, enriched by this synergy. Help him out Archie, go on ‘head play wit’ ‘em…double up on ‘em. Oh if we cold rely on government to be as in sync.


These finer bits of history are now available for anyone interested and attentive. Reagan argues: The “majority rule” is a fine aspect of democracy provided there are guarantees written in to our government concerning the rights of the individual and of the minorities. This is the same man that provided the fertile lobbying ground to recede the government’s ability to protect the people from media oligarchy. Now with Reagan’s trick, trick trickle down economics exposed as elitism and usurpation of public goods, traditional media outlets are letting folks go. When change is upon us and we need media most, more and more traditional media outlets will simply pick up and disseminate what fewer and fewer folks have placed on the corporate-filtered news wire. No, given those circumstances, I never thought I’d add the White House as a friend. Luckily, m new White House friend is as funky as you wanna be.


Media
"Don't moan so much, brother, don't moan"
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