Even with changes in programming, BET can’t escape media and public criticism.
This time, the target is the animated short devoted to literacy, “Read a Book”.
Recently, two of the nation’s largest newspapers, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times covered the video, which has been accused of playing up to the most vile racial stereotypes about African Americans.
“Introduced on July 20, ‘Read a Book,’ seems to flaunt every negative stereotype in the African-American community,” The New York Times article says of the video.
Representatives from BET responded, calling the video satire.
“It’s meant to be very satirical, and in a real way kind of mimics and mocks the current state of hip-hop and hip-hop videos,” Denys Cowan, senior vice president of animation for BET said of the piece.
The video features an animated character that bears a striking resemblance to reigning King of Crunk, Lil’ Jon. He goes on to say that he used to write songs with “hooks and concepts and shit,” paralleling comments from some rappers who have “dumbed down” their music to reach the masses. He says he’s ditching the complicated songs in an attempt to “go platinum.”
What follows is a hilarious and profanity driven ode to common sense.
Lines such as “read a book, read a book read a mutha fuckin book… not a sports page, not a magazine, but a book nigga, a fuckin book nigga,” dominate the song.
Parenting, the value of buying land over material items, and good hygiene are also touched on.
But not everyone is laughing.
While the song has been lauded by many in the Hip Hop community, the new millennium Thought Police are hot on the trail of BET and “Read a Book”.
The Jesse Jackson led Rainbow PUSH Coalition recently issued a statement condemning the song, labeling the video “futile”, “fruitless”, and “meaningless.”
“The video is plenteously scornful and insulting, but not of crassness. The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. ‘Read a Book’ heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance. The narrator is obviously illiterate, unkempt and disrespectful. So who takes his advice seriously?” the statement says.
Lost in the sea of criticism, is the song’s creator, Washington, D.C. based spoken word artist, Bomani “D’Mite” Armah. He appeared on Jackson‘s radio show, August 26 to defend the song. Armah says that he’s received e-mails from students praising the video for highlighting the ridiculousness of being anti-intellectual.
Jackson responded by comparing the video to the infamous “nappy headed ho” comment made by Don Imus and the “N word” blow up by comedian Michael Richards.
Regardless of the opposing stances on the song, it seems that both Armah and BET achieved their goal: to get people to talk and think.
Let’s hope they read a book in the process.