Three-part ‘Hip-Hop Vs. America,’ beginning Tuesday on BET

[23 September 2007]

By Cary Darling

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

After coming under intense scrutiny for being nothing more than a showcase for music videos that some people consider demeaning, BET is in the midst of trying to alter its image. The network’s still taking heat for the likes of “We Can Do Better (a k a Hot Ghetto Mess),” despite the life lessons viewers are supposed to take away from that series’ parade of the problem-prone and fashion-challenged.

But there’s also “Baldwin Hills,” which shows that black teen life can be as simultaneously idyllic and stupefying as the white teen life depicted on MTV’s “The Hills,” “Laguna Beach” and “Maui Fever.” Even better is “S.O.B.: Socially Offensive Behavior,” which has a terrible title but actually turns out to be a pointed, “Punk’d”-style reality-TV take on race and racial assumptions.

In that vein comes “Hip-Hop Vs. America,” a three-part panel discussion about hip-hop’s cultural reverberations through such issues as its treatment of women, crime and violence. Hosted by journalists Jeff Johnson and Toure, “Hip-Hop Vs. America” offers a wide spectrum of voices, including those of rappers (T.I., Nelly, The Poetess, Chuck D, Mike Jones), media commentators (Stanley Crouch, Jeff Chang, Keith Boykin, Farai Chideya, Nelson George), reverends (Al Sharpton, A.R. Bernard), activists (Hip-Hop Summit Action Network’s Valeisha Butterfield, NAACP’s Ben Chavis) and at least one well-known academic (Michael Eric Dyson).

As hip-hop deals with a decline in sales and a crisis of conscience, discussions like this about where the music and culture are going serve a purpose. Though, as is often the case in situations such as these, the discussions can end up shedding more heat than light.

Also problematic is how BET is showing “Hip-Hop Vs. America”: The first two chapters air on BET, but the finale will be shown on its broadband channel, BET on Blast, following part two on Wednesday. This is all needlessly confusing and irritating to viewers who don’t have broadband access.

Still, BET needs to be applauded for realizing that it, too, can do better.



Parts 1 and 2: 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday and Wednesday on BET

Part 3: 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday on BET on Blast

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