Monday, July 6, 2009

Black In America 2?!? No Thanks Soledad. Once Was Enough.

[Editor's Note: This post also appears on The Retort.]

Wouldn't you know it, things went so great the first time that CNN's going to the high ratings well yet again, with the sure to disappoint Black In America 2: Solutions, airing later this month. The mere fact that they are making a part two, and have the nerve to title it "Solutions" tells you what sorta cluster the first edition was. So hackneyed, negative, and extreme in its hamhanded representation of America, BiA was so universally criticized that the it's hard to see this followup as little more than a mea culpa. Well, either a mea culpa, or a nice way of saying "yeah, we totally f*cked up the first time, but did you see those Nielsen ratings?"

I mean, come on, what sorta responsible journalism is this? Using "Intellectual Masturbator" extraordinaire Michael Eric Dyson's backstory, CNN posits that Dyson's brother is incarcerated mostly because he is darkskinned.

Really? Wow. Just. Wow. I suppose the fact that he was convicted for murder is a mere footnote.

"Blame it on the me-me-me-me-me-me-la-nin!"

The obvious problem with the first show was the audience it was trying to speak to. Clearly, BiA wasn't made for black people, because any Negro worth his Lowry's already knows 97% of the bullsh*t they covered. Out of wedlock kids. Incarceration. Lightskin/darkskin tension. Hypertension. Divorce. Vocoders. We don't need a documentary for that, that sh*t is real life, and most of us have already lived some version of some part of it.

[Full Disclosure: I only watched bits and pieces of the first BiA. I did try, but I simply could not take being assaulted with story after the story of stereotypical dysfunction, with very few tangible success stories mixed in. If I wanna see Black Dysfunction, I can just tune in to Judge Joe Brown. No need to blow 4 hours of my life on something I can easily accomplish in 30 minutes.]

The audience CNN was clearly trying to cater to is that of middle America. The timing of the show was dubious, as anyone with half a brain could probably surmise that this was little more than a way to capitalize on the "wow, this black guy could become President, I might need to find out more about 'the blacks'" sentiment that swept the nation during Obama's rise to prominence. And if this was catered to middle America, then I wonder exactly what new information they might have gleaned from it that they didn't already know from watching the 6 o'clock news.

The show was ripped to shreds by nearly every black blogger and reasonable thinking Negro I personally know. I cannot personally say I know one single solitary soul that walked away from it feeling better about the plight of black folks.

So, in the face of this criticism, CNN aims to save face by presenting a sequel full of "solutions" to the "problems" last year's special harped on. The BIA2 website is woefully short on details about the show, but from what I gathered of one quick promo on the site, it's fair to say you can expect more of the same ole' same in the sequel.

Like seemingly every show of this sort, CNN focuses on high profile (read: famous) black folks and the extraordinary efforts they are undertaking to make a difference in their communities. There's coverage of Malaack Compton-Rock (Chris's wife), who takes urban children on a trip to Africa. Singer John Legend, "comedian" Steve Harvey, and all-around sheister Tyler Perry drone on and on about their successes and how they inspire others to succeed, not only by osmosis, but also through their own tax-deductible "philanthropic organizations". But mostly through osmosis.

While these tales are certainly laudable, there's just a couple of small problems. These stories (by virtue of their celebrity underpinnings) have already been covered many times over, as a quick look at any famous person's official website would inform you. But perhaps worse, by mostly (albeit not exclusively) highlighting the accomplishments and service of famous folks, you're giving the impression that the work that everyday people (ie: youth league coaches, bible school teachers, mentors) have long since been doing to solve these problems is somehow less important.

Call me crazy, but I've always advocated that if more of us just chipped in and did a little bit (ie: youth league coaches, bible school teachers, mentors) rather than expecting people with a name (or worse, White folks) to do a lot, we'd all be better off. It's obviously too soon to pass judgement on BiA2, but judging by the promo, this looks like little more than a celebrity circle jerk, and after the 2009 BET Awards, I think we could all do without another of those for awhile.

The bigger problem is the fact that there even needs to be a BiA2, let alone a BiA. As the longest running and arguably least biased of the major cable news stations, CNN has little excuse for not highlighting the everyday "good news" that it's now trying to cram into 360 minutes of backhanded apologizing. It's clear that if they cared more about the plight of Blacks, they'd give these issues a more consistent treatment the other 363 days of the year. Sure, there are lots of nice looking black folks on CNN (Suzanne Malveaux, Don Lemon, Fredricka Whitfield) in suits who sound great reading news from a TelePrompter, but what's so special about that? These folks seldom do any actual reporting of substance. Need I remind anyone of TJ Holmes' disastrous HBCU tour last year?

This is of course the same CNN that loaded its programming with Black pundits, only to summarily dump each and every one of them the moment Barack Obama edged out Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And the same CNN that hadn't given a black man a news and commentary show since Jesse Jackson's late 90's 1 hour/week snoozefest. The same CNN that finally did give a black man a show last year, which sounds good until you realize that said black man was DL Hughley. The same CNN that temporarily handed poor Roland Martin a sinking ship called No Bias, No Bull and then blamed him when it sank even deeper than sister station Headline News (motto: "All Missing White Chicks, All The Time!") in the ratings. The same station with narry a black woman in any on-air position of substance. There's no black female Rachel Maddow on CNN. There's no chocolate Campbell Brown. Hell, not even a ghetto Greta Von Facelift. And no, Soledad does not count.

So, for those reasons, it's really, really, really hard to believe that CNN's got its heart in the right place this time. Sorry. We don't believe you.

If you wanna raise your systolic pressha a few more points, tune in July 22nd and 23rd. If you want solutions, stop expecting CNN to do anything right and go sign up to be a tutor.

Question: What did you think of CNN's original Black In America? Is there anything about the promos you've seen for BiA2 that makes you think it will be any less of a disaster?

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