Over the past week many of us have sat in seething anger as news show after news show and pundit after pundit have been granted large platforms and an abundance of air time to come and trash Michael Jackson. I’m not talking about raising a couple of controversial issues here and there, but some of the folks who have been dragged out the sewer with the express purpose of going all out not to just to smash on MJ, but to do so in such away that it would hurt us. It was like some diabolical mind sat in a room and said ‘Here’s how you can really totally demoralize Black folks-take their biggest icon and treat him like shit while the body is still warm’ Watching the coverage of Michael Jackson on many of these mainstream news outlets has me wondering if MJ did something personal to some of them. Simply put, OJ Simpson got and gets better treatment.
Now if it was just a Michael thing most of us wouldn’t care. Most of us would keep it moving and call it a day, but MJ’s music was the soundtrack for so many people around the world and for a variety of generations from the late 60s up to the 90s and beyond. Jackson’s videos, music, concerts all had deep meaning-and because of that we hoped that the criticism would be toned down and the hatred would be put away for another day.
I’m old enough to remember when Beatles’s legend John Lennon was shot and I don’t recall such hatred and long winded conversations about his drug use or anything like that. Right wing nutcases who found him to be this anti-war subversive figure dialed down their rhetoric and Lennon was allowed to be seen as this popular worldwide icon who impacted the lives of a generation of Baby Boomers. People understood with the passing of Lennon was the passing of an important era for millions of people and so his memory was treated with respect and dignity.
When Elvis Presley the King of Rock died, even though he was a drug abuser and about 300 pounds over weight at the time of his death, the tributes paid to him were stupendous. He was seen as royalty and people rightfully recognized that his persona and music meant a lot to a grieving nation. People dialed back the critiques. The Elvis who symbolized an era and exemplified several generations of music lovers was much bigger then the Elvis who one could trash all day and so space to properly grieve was created.
No such respect has been given to Michael Joseph Jackson. And too be honest in today’s climate of ‘gotcha’ media one shouldn’t be surprised. We shouldn’t be shocked but for many the hurt is there and damage done. Its hard to avoid. There are many commentators and pundits who I will never respect again because they went there and gave no room for a nation to grieve and reflect on the meaning of man who meant so much to so so many over the past 3 decades. As I said earlier, these folks seemed to be a part of a much larger game plan where psychological warfare is at play.
Enter BET-Black Entertainment Television.
Last night (Sunday June 28th) , all eyes turned to the Viacom owned music TV network as many of us perhaps naively hoped that those running the ship would use their platforms and immense reach to correct the wrongs we saw within the mainstream. After all, Michael Jackson helped put Viacom (MTV) on the map. I just knew CEO Sumner Redstone would see to it that one of his properties which has become the worldwide symbol for pop culture and music would ‘do this right’. All of wondered what sort of surprise Viacom/ BET would put forth.
Leading up to last night’s event the rumors were circulating. We heard Chris Brown was going to do a tribute with Usher as part of his comeback. We heard Justin Timberlake was coming in to do a special routine. We heard Beyonce had changed her routine around. We heard some of the Jacksons themselves were going to be there. (We later saw father Joe Jackson and sister Janet Jackson who left us in tears when she finally took the stage) The word was BET was gonna deliver and deliver big and deliver like only BET can.
We already knew BET was scheduled to pay tribute to the O Jays and so one figured they were already in the zone. Perhaps the O Jays themselves would set the tone having known MJ and coming from that important era in our history where music and social causes all merged together. Who better then the O Jays to say a few words and put a grieving nation at ease. We figured some icons from the Motown era would be on hand last night to say a few words-Diana Ross, Barry Gordy, Quincy Jones, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Smokey Robinson etc would maybe come on board-not to perform, but to offer up their own insights and share in the tribute/ celebration for Michael Jackson. And if they couldn’t show up in person because everything was so sudden and so last minute then Viacom with its worldwide reach and set ups in every country on planet Earth could’ve sent a camera crew to Timbuktu if needed and get some insightful words from the aforementioned and beyond.
We thought every record industry executive from Clive Davis to Tommy Motolato the people who run the Grammies to Bono from U2 on down would’ve been on hand to say a few words and talk about how Michael Jackson saved their industry. We thought we would’ve heard more about the charities he so generously gave to over the years so folks would better understand that he was more than the white glove and moon walk.
We thought maybe BET would have a correspondent on hand in Gary, Indiana where MJ was from to give us a historical perspective of what that city meant, why they did a song called ‘Going Back to Indiana’, and how people are fairing there today. We thought maybe the Mayor of Gary, Rudy Clay who is an outspoken gentleman who we had on our radio show during the primaries could speak to the issue. Or perhaps BET could’ve gotten former Mayor Richard Hatcher to come out and stand alongside the current Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi James Young who was honored last night and together they could’ve loaned some context to the Civil Rights struggle past and present and where Michael Jackson and his ability to transcend race sat within it.. Imagine if something like that went down last night.
We figured our best and brightest commentators would be on hand. Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Cosby, Tom Joyner, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Julianne Malveux. We figured there would be some of our best would be on hand to stand tall and proud and let the entire world which was watching to see how we do. They could’ve set the record straight and established BET and Black America as the ‘go to place if you wanted to grieve, celebrate and talk in earnest about Michael Jackson.
We figured there’d be pictures, vintage footage and a somber moment of silence for Michael Jackson. Did we have a moment of silence last night- I may have missed it? All I know is we wanted more for our ‘King’. This was our true king when it came to pop culture and music. As I mentioned so many of us were grieving, so many of us felt like we were being assaulted, so we really looked to BET- Black Entertainment Television to rise to the occasion in ways we had never imagined.
Look, I been a part of big productions on numerous occasions and I know the hard work that goes into them. Award shows are not put together overnight, the really good ones are being planned hours after the current one ends. Stephen Hill the man behind the scenes at BET was probably up to his ears putting together last night’s show as originally planned and believe me when you have a production like that you simply can’t change course midstream. It’s not easy. To the degree that he was able to carry that additional load as was acknowledged by BET President Debra Lee, he deserves his props.
With that being said we can’t forget that BET is part of Viacom..It’s the giant among giants. Debra Lee’s boss is Sumner Redstone and at their disposal they have more resources then most countries both 3rd World and Industrialized. Viacom has positioned itself to be the number one when it comes to Music Television-This is what they do. This is how they make their billions. So quite naturally we expected alot more.
Michael Jackson was not some beefing rapper from the streets who got shot over some petty nonsense. He wasn’t having a war of words with 50 Cent, Rick Ross, Suge Knight or some other artist. He wasn’t some Johnny come lately who had one or two hit songs and that’s it. He was Michael Jackson-worldwide icon and when he died in spite of controversary or what me and you may have thought about him, the music world needed to stop. All the stops needed to be pulled out.
When John Lennon died the world stopped. It came to a halt. I was in school and we suspended our lessons to talk about John Lennon. When Elvis died the world stopped. All hands were on deck. People cancelled whatever they were doing and they flew to where ever they needed to go to to pay homage. When 2Pac and Notorious BIG died the music world stopped. We suspended our programming on the radio station for two days as family friends and whoever flew in to honor them.
I recall a day after Biggie died our radio station owned by Evergreen/AM-FM and later Clear Channel did a a special simulcast with Emmisowned Hot 97 in New York City. We had on air personalities like Sway and the Breakfast Club and damn near our entire staff on one end and the Hot 97 crew on the other. Right there while we were on the air coast to coast grieving over Biggie, the folks from Hot 97 worked it out to do a nationwide program honoring Biggie and to bring attention to stoppingthe violence. Everything was pushed full steam ahead. Two days later a nationwide co-ordinated broadcast took place.
My point in referencing that scenario is that with the death of Michael Jackson and all eyes on the BET Awards show owned by the biggest music network in the world and one of the biggest media companies in the world, this should’ve damn well expanded beyond BET. The call should’ve went out; ‘Stop what your doing-All hands on deck… the King of Pop died and proper tributes must be paid. If the show goes over an hour so be it. If Lil Wayne and Drake can’t change up at the last minute and use their incredible talents to do something more fitting versuses the profanity laced bs routine they did last night about wanting to screw every girl in the world and have what appeared to be 12 year old girls on stage-then its time for them to fall the hell back. Save that nonsense for another date and time. Alicia Keyes kept mentioning the spirit in the room was enthralling and that everyone was feeling Michael’s presence. It was hard to tell on TV. We wanted more than a shout out to MJ after each song was sung. We wanted more, needed more, expected more from a network so powerful.
We understand people didn’t have time to prepare and hone things to perfection. We understand that that it was last minute, but the rule of thumb in show business has always been when in over your head keep it simple. Where was the film montage like they did for the O Jays? To be honest that was all that was really needed. Imagine if we were treated to a 15 minute film montage and then Janet came out to speak followed by Jamie Foxx andNeyo singing? That would’ve been butter- pure butter. Imagine if this was done with a nice set up away from the regularly scheduled routines which at times seemed mediocre and totally in approapraite if MJ was being honored?
If extra money was needed to get Stevie Wonder on via satellite from Milwaukee where him and John Legend where doing a concert last night then extra money needed to be spent. If Quincy Jones was in another part of the world then a camera crew needed to find him and put him on on so he could speak eloquently to the moment at hand. If the BET staff was overwhelmed as was mentioned numerous times throughout last nights broadcast then the rest of the Viacom team needed to be brought on to do the extra lifting. If they can spend time and money flying actor Sasha Cohen aka Bruno from a harness during an award show to land on Eminem to shove his balls into the rapper’s face and garner world wide attention they could’ve harnesses some meaningful tribute to uplift us. It was what the world that needed. We needed them to them to step up and be counted.
In closing I will tip my hat to the tribute that Johnny Gill, Tyrese and Trey Songz did for the O Jays that was an example of us really shining. Those guys should form a group and maybe try to see about doing something similar for MJ in the future. That’s was how a tribute should be done. Neyowas on fire and I’m sure with more time can do MJ justice and Jamie Foxx although he was over the top with plugging his concert was good. I liked the opening act with New Edition and while I understand they didn’t have the singing down to perfection they got busy on the dance routine-I wanted to see them do more in that vein.
A Few things to Ponder….