Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Political Significance of The Flavor of Love

Flava Flav's meteoric rise from sidekick rap hasbeen to pimped out leading man is not just another example of mainstream media's plunge into the depths of mediocrity. It just may equal the final nail in the coffin of Hip Hop as a mainstream source of positive social change in the lives of African Americans.
Formerly one half of the most important political rap group of all time, Flava Flav presently takes minstrelsy to new heights as the monied mac daddy slumming among a harem of 20 video hos for a chance at finding true love. On its face the exploits of the clock slinging lothario are degrading and offensive for the stereotypical way in which women, especially black women, are portrayed as man hungry beasts and black men are hypersexual thugs with only one thing in mind. You won't be finding much in the way of black love on this show.

However, it is this caricature that has been catapulted into the popular culture juxtaposed against the waning significance of counterpart Chuck D that is most instructive. As the front man for Public Enemy, Chuck D was probably the most important political lyricist of the golden age of rap music. Flava Flav's yesman cooning was acceptable solely because it complimented the serious challenge Chuck D's nationalist lyrics posed to mainstream America. In the post Civil Rights era where integration was the (social) law of the land, Public Enemy's
insistence on fighting the powers that be threatened not only the structural racism of white society, but also the efficacy of the Movement and its leadership. Flava Flav's antics confused some and offended others, but smart people understood that he took the heat off of Chuck D to enable those politically challenging messages to see the light of day.

Fast forward 17 years later...Chuck D has seen nowhere near the resurgence in popularity as has his sidekick. His lone regular media outlet bumped him out of a daily primetime morning slot in favor of Jerry Springer. Jerry Springer! The rap icon has been relegated to a Sunday evening talk show that reads more like a description of a James Brown godfather of soul revue than a serious analysis of the day's events. But one has to wonder how much of this is really him. The rank paternalism of a show that insists it's doing its audience (i.e. black people) a favor by delivering news "tidbits" so that they "won't be bored", and because "its positively futile" to think that "journalists can change your unique perspective" with "two hours and one beat to death topic" could hardly be called pro-black or nationalist. But can anyone be surprised of the content when it's produced by Air America - a group of aging white liberals who still haven't figured out that telling people that they just don't know what's good for them is not a winning strategy?

Divorced from each other, the political agency of either partner has been inverted. Chuck D's message of black self sufficiency and black political power has actually become the opposite within the framework of Air America's programming. True it's sad, but hitched to the wagon of the bankrupt station, his redlining has less of an impact than the explosion of Flav's cooning on the pop culture scene. Any political agency Flava Flav had, was by definition as Chuck D's dissembler. Severed from that role his playacting of minstrelsy actually becomes minstrelsy.
One wonders when watching Flav today if he ever understood the nature of the game Public Enemy was playing. If not, he is one of the biggest dupes of all time. If so, he is one of the biggest sell outs of all time. Of these evils, can one really pick the lesser?

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once you dig in said...

Thank you for saying all this. I thought the same thing too about Flav and this stupid show, but don't possess the eloquence to express it like you do. I made a comment the other day to my daughter that if I was woman on that show, I would probably bore Flav to tears by wanting to talk about Public Enemy and Chuck D the whole time. She just looked at me like I was crazy! I had never thought of Flava Flav as a "minstrel", or considered the possiblity that he really didn't know what was going on in that band, but now that you've said it, you definetly got a point there!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comment. It's disappointing to see how low people can sink for some media attention and a paycheck. Maybe someday he'll come to his senses, but I'm not holding my breath on that!