I am sooo excited. I have told this story sooo many times; I’m just gonna blog about it and link people. This will be a very long entry…if you just wanna know why you should never laugh at me, skip to the end.
So I’m taking an undergraduate class offered by the Wagner school called The Politics of NYC. We had an assignment to pick an issue in NYC and analyze how the media covers it. I chose the shooting of Busta Rhymes’ bodyguard, Israel Ramirez On Feb. 5th. I chose this story for a number of reasons: my interest in ethnomusicology – specifically race relations, but probably the most important being that news stories in hip hop often have problems – not covered by the mainstream media, inconsistent details in reports, etc. I was also interested because Busta Rhymes is generally a clean guy, you know, doesn’t rhyme as much about violence and everyone says he’s the nicest, and the media loves to associate hip hop with deviant behavior uncharacteristic of Busta.
So the my analysis turned out to be pretty interesting. The media (basically the Post and the Daily News) barely talk about Ramirez at all – they just focus on celebrity misbehavior and how hip hop is evil and all this crap. They continually talk about Missy and Mary J. Blige – not because they’re suspects, but because they were there. Both the post and daily news even went so far as to suggest that Tony Yayo was responsible. Mind you, this is the DAY AFTER the shooting, before the police even have any suspects.
The Post was especially slick about how they did it:
Paragraph 1: Tony Yayo was there, in a bad mood, yelling at people, and asked to leave
Paragraph 2: Yayo’s a convicted felon, a member of the “infamous” G-unit crew. He’s not named as a suspect.
Paragraph 3: Witnesses report some thugs yelling at a security guard shortly before shots were fired. A man was heard saying “I’m on parole motherfucker,” meaning he’s a felon. He was wearing a G-unit jacket.
SLICK! talk about subconscious engineering
Anyway, so yesterday in class people were asked to share their papers. Lots of people did their papers on government issues – public ed. system, reconstruction of ground zero, etc. One girl wrote her paper on the murder of a young woman on the upper east side – an aspiring dancer (as if half the people in this city aren’t aspiring dancers) from rural ohio who was involved in some strange love triangle and was murdered by her jealous boyfriend. The class acted normally – like this was a story as important as all the other stories that had been shared etc etc.
So, after she went I thought it would be interesting to contrast the media coverage of Ramirez, so I volunteered. All I said was, “Well, I did my paper on the shooting of Busta Rhymes’ bodyguard during the filming of a music video” and almost everyone in the class started laughing! (i probably don’t have to tell you that the class was not very diverse, you know what i mean) I basically continued describing my analysis and the prof. asked me questions just like he did with everyone else, but the complete tone of the class had changed – much less serious. Some guy even commented, “Isn’t the point that he [Busta] isn’t cooperating with the police?” This guy’s comment actually reflected my point, that with the girl on the upper east side, the media is reporting all about her life and who she was, while the Ramirez articles have little or nothing to do with Ramirez, but more about celebrity scandal.
It also reinforced my point that the media does not treat the deaths of people involved in hip hop with the same gravity with which it treats other deaths. In fact, (i didin’t write this in my paper), a lot of us have known for a long time that the death of a minority, especially a black or Latino male, is not treated with the same gravity as the death of a white person, especially a white female. (i mean, come on, look at natalie holloway versus the pregnant woman who disappeared in Philly around the same time. I don’t even remember the Philly girl’s name – being that i heard it maybe 4 or 5 times when compared to the inescapable holloway) In my paper, I addressed how the newspapers’ use of outdated slang (their catchy headlines using rhyme, alliteration and puns should be noted as well) results in a flippant tone in the articles – this flippant tone was very much reflected in the class’s reaction. The result, whether it is the media influencing mainstream society or the other way around, is that people care less when someone in any way associated with hip hop dies (and I would even go so far as to say that people care less when a man of color dies than when a white female dies). I mean, the class reaction says it all, THEY LAUGH WHEN WE DIE.
This is quite interesting ethnomusicologically. (i told one of my ethno professors yesterday, she reacted with an gaping open mouth and asked me to share with the class.This process that hip hop is going through is much like at least 3 other genres that I can think of off the top of my head – Jazz in the US, Son in Cuba, and Flamenco in Spain. All are musics of the African diaspora. All started among poor/socially outcasted classes. All were initially associated with crime/sex/violence/and a baser, more primitive race. What these three have that hip hop hasn’t accomplished, is that they eventually got absorbed by the upper, white classes and became important parts of national/cultural identity. It will be interesting to see if hip hop ever reaches the same place. A difference that might impede this is that with jazz, son and flamenco, i think it was more acceptable to talk about race, basically, whites were less ashamed to be racist publicly. In today’s society, racism is much more subtle, more ingrained and denied to the point where people who are racist may or may not know or admit to it, and where racist thoughts practices are easily justified by other means (indeed, there is much disagreement as to what actually constitutes a racist practice.)
So, I emailed my the politics professor telling him a lot of what i said here, except for the ethnomusicology stuff, and he completely agreed with me and said that he though my analysis was important for a lot of the people in the class to hear.
THEN, he emails me again today, with this:
I spoke with a reporter from the NY Post last night and he agreed entirely with your assessment of the media coverage. In fact, I have invited him to speak to our class about this issue and how the tabloids cover the deaths of individuals in NYC. Mitchell Moss
BITCHES!!! Don’t EVER laugh at me because you WILL be wrong! And not only that, but the universe will go to extra lengths to rub it in your bitch-ass ignorant faces!!!
haha. it’s awesome being cecilia.