Monday, January 03, 2005

DB Media Shakedown: Essence Magazine Takes Back the Music

Essence magazine, self-described as “the world’s foremost publication for Black women,” is mad as hell, and they’re not taking it anymore.


Going further than the rap lyrics depicting women as sexual playthings, the editors of Essence are concerned about the visual images within rap culture that have become accepted and acceptable: “bikini-clad sisters gyrating around fully clothed grinning brothers like Vegas strippers on meth,” the “bare breasts and butts” and “hypersexual braggadocio and profane one-upmanship” that go hand-in-hand with any female hip hop artist trying to make a name for herself.

I’m reminded of a ‘Lil Kim lyric that sums up this attitude:

You think I’m pussy?
I dare you to stick your dick in this

What’s interesting here is that the campaign now being kicked off isn’t aimed at the usual suspects, aka the male hip hop bad boys, but at changing the way that black women choose to depict themselves.

An entire generation of Black girls are being raised on these narrow images. And as the messages and images are broadcast globally, they have become the lens through which the world now sees us. This cannot continue.

As New York Daily News’ Stanley Crouch writes:

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it.

Mr. Crouch also points out that Essence is kicking off a year-long campaign, including a town meeting at Spelman College in February, aimed at increasing awareness and changing the image and depiction of women in hip hop culture.

I think this campaign should be applauded for encouraging self-empowerment. Instead of whining about the current state of affairs or laying blame on rap music or culture in general (an easy target), Essence is keeping it real in a market that is rampant with images of sex, machismo, and power.

The message: if you want to see change, change yourself.


The Sore Loser said...

I wholeheartedly approve of what Essence is doing, but I don't quite get your "message" that, if you want to see change, change yourself. Essence isn't changing itself -- it wants to change the industry. Or were you referring to female rappers?

A confused and sore loser

Eric Berlin said...

Yes, the editors of Essence are turning to their readers (many of whom are presumably black women) and saying: you have the power to change this. Start with yourselves: don't buy into these stereotypes, don't let yourselves be humiliated, and for god's sakes don't let yourselves be treated like the women in these videos and rap songs claim to want to be treated.

I found the specific appeal to black women very interesting in that they didn't concern themselves at all with the thug-gangsta-gun-toting side of rap.

Sorry about the confusion -- I perhaps leaned toward ending the piece with too much of a clincher instead of just speaking plain-like.

And, of course: please continue to be both Sore and a Loser... we wouldn't have you any other way.