Jesse Jackson Really Needs to Read a Book... explaining what satire is


Cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics under "Jack Turner"

Just over a month ago, I posted the video of "Read a Book" by poet, activist and not-a-rapper Bomani "D'Mite" Armah. The video has been blowing up on YouTube (over 800,000 views) and BET (debuted on July 20 and is one of the few BET airings to make me proud). Tomorrow, Saturday September 1, Bomani will be on CNN at 10:30pm, and the video will hit BET's 106 & Park again on Tuesday September 4. You can vote for the video to be number 1.

"Read a Book" has been garnering much-deserved praise and mainstream attention for the biting satire that it is, shining light on the sadly misplaced priorities of black popular culture, especially in pop rap music. The song is average length at just under three minutes, but the lyrics basically come down to 10 lines (warning, some explicit language)

Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh'fuckin book!
Not a sports page (what) not a magazine (who)
But a book nigga, a fuckin book nigga (YEAHHH~!)
Raise yo' kids, raise yo' kids, raise yo' God damn kids
Your body needs water - so DRINK THAT SHIT
Buy some land, buy some land (what) FUCK SPINNIN RIMS
Brush yo' teeth, brush yo' teeth, brush yo' God damn teeth
Wear deodorant nigga, wear deodorant nigga
It's called Speed Stick (bitch) it's not expensive (bitch)
Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh'fuckin book!
Yes there is explicit language and lotsa booty shakin in the video, but satirists must use the tools and techniques employed by the subject of their satire. Sure we could listen to another angry lecture from Bill Cosby, or we could hear, in these 10 short lines to a catchy beat, Bomani challenge rap artists and the consuming public to use our resources in a more reasonable fashion. Seriously? "Buy some land?" When is the last time you heard a black leader talk about the importance of real wealth accumulation? How many preachers are advising their flock to do more than contribute to his Cadillac fund? (I know I'm generalizing but I'm just sayin).

I get the message in the video, and I know my friends do as well, but poor Reverend Jackson and the folks over at Rainbow PUSH are unsurprisingly out of touch. Rather than praising the video for its effort to challenge the pop cultural images that are literally killing black America by supporting unhealthy eating, unsustainable consumption and a threatening image that tightens the trigger finger on an already gun-happy, black-bashing law enforcement community, Jackson & Co went out of their way to condemn the video.

You've got to read it to believe it.

CHICAGO and ATLANTA (August 23, 2007) The following is a statement released on behalf of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, from Attorney Janice Mathis, Vice President and Executive Director of Peachtree Street Project, Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Mathis's commentary comes after the release of a rap video, "Read a Book" on YouTube and BET. If Benjamin E. Mayes challenged us to reach for the stars, the not-a-rapper video "Read a Book" on YouTube takes us into the abyss. Billed as a satirical look at popular culture, a viewer is left with the distinct impression that nothing matters, that life is futile, knowledge fruitless, manners meaningless.
Wrong!

A common definition of satire is witty language used to convey insults or scorn. 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?
Apparently, Rainbow PUSH does. How do you go about giving a definition of satire and then interpret art literally, all in the same paragraph? That takes a special kind of incompetence for which the word "incompetence" does not suffice.

The best Hip-hop is clever, with allusions to politics, history, great music and literature. Part of the fun is finding the hidden meaning.
...which you clearly did not do!

I was prepared to forgive the crude language and lack of creativity if there was as message encouraging viewers to read and otherwise conduct themselves responsibly. I was disappointed. The simplistic repetitive rhyme and tune made it clear that the creator had not taken his own advice, i.e. to Read a Book.
Uh, the title of the song is READ. A. BOOK. That was the point. Do we really need to spell it out? Maybe Bomani can drop a track called R - E - A - D A B - O - O - K and deliver it personally to Jackson.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. For more information about the RainbowPUSH Coalition, please visit the organization's website, www.rainbowpush.org or telephone (773) 373-3366. To get additional information, please call the number listed above.
That's it. No more press releases from Rainbow PUSH. We have songs out there like "A Bay Bay" and you're gonna focus on the one hip hop song that actually says something??You have just disqualified yourself from speaking on behalf of anyone. I cannot believe that the people who were there during the Civil Rights Movement, when poets and actors and musicians played such a vital role in opening the public's eyes and challenging the system are so blind to the same role being played by today's artist/activists.

It's possible, of course, that Rainbow PUSH's press release was itself a work of satire, making fun of an increasingly out of touch and irrelevant generation of has-been Civil Rights leaders.

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