Sunday, August 3, 2014

Honesty Ain't Policy

The main takeaway from a recent media celebrity non-scandal -- ESPN's suspension of First Take's Stephen A. Smith -- is that honesty is overrated.  Smith, certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing himself, gets paid to speculate and otherwise voice provocative opinions.  Beyond the fact he was filling time, I have absolutely no clue why he decided to postulate on the dynamics of modern dating as if it provided additional insight into Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's knocking out his (now) wife.  IMO, Smith spoke truthfully.  But in doing so, he got in trouble.

I'm not defending Smith as a victim of political correctness gone amok.  He isn't.  Neither has he been subjected to a double standard.  He forgot -- egged on by ESPN -- to make sure his self-check was turned on.  He certainly didn't help his case with that non-apology apology tweet-a-thon.  But I get that.  I am not about to rip him for demonstrating a common conceit of modern journalists, commentators, and pundits.  They're socialized to believe their every opinion is relevant, therefore valid, and facilitates healthy conversation.  ESPN is one of Smith's enablers.  Yet I've got no issue with the network throwing one of its talking heads under the golf cart. 

I refuse to get into an argument whether ESPN and Smith, respectively, were 'right' or 'wrong' as it's clear to me we humans aren't as concerned with candor, due diligence, honesty, full disclosure, etc., as many of us like to profess.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup from A Few Good Men, we can't handle the truth.  We often struggle when facing random and various facts, or more accurately, have difficulty reconciling fact with emotion.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Our brains' ability to block out select unpleasant or overpowering stimuli is actually quite impressive.  Dissonance, and in some cases outright ignorance, protects us.  There is a purpose; a value in 'for your eyes only', 'confidential', and 'need to know'.  None of us need to know everything -- the impossibility of which notwithstanding.

The inverse of We Don't Need to Know Everything is also true: we don't need to say everything.  Having the liberty to express ourselves isn't the same as knowing when, where, how, why, and to whom expressing ourselves is appropriate.  It seems many people in our culture are obsessed with volunteering their every thought or action for all to hear and see, regardless of whether the thoughts or actions make sense or if anyone is actually paying attention.  The behavior drives social media, reality TV, tabloid news, and is the basis for a 'self-help' industry that alternately attracts and repels people, sometimes simultaneously.  Considering the regularity with which individuals are censured for their public, semi-public, and sometimes private faux pas, off-the-cuff bad puns, tortured analogies, and malaprops -- often deservedly so -- my surprise is more of us aren't learning from these examples to just shut up.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beware: The Phony War on Go Go Music

In metropolitan Washington, D.C., a minor front in the region's ongoing cultural wars is being re-opened as a bass-ackwards reaction to regulations aimed at making public dance halls safer.  Public officials in Prince George's County, Maryland have been stepping up enforcement of an ordinance, CB-18, requiring more rigorous safety, egress, and security standards of public venues that host dancing.  Briefly, CB-18 requires 'public dance hall' [emphasis mine] owners to submit plans demonstrating their venues have adequate emergency exits, sufficient security inside and immediately outside the venue (including the use of security professionals registered with the county), and ample visitor parking with a (now) $1,000 annual license fee.  The law was created in response to the sporadic violence and illicit behavior that's associated with late night crowds, dancing, and alcohol consumption. 

As county officials have grown increasingly aggressive over time enforcing CB-18, it's important to note the law neither bans dance halls nor targets any one genre of music.  Nevertheless, many artists representing the indigenous Go Go milieu are crying 'foul' as various venues are shuttered, or their alcoholic beverage sales licenses suspended and venue owners fined.  Emerging music acts depend on these venues -- mostly 'mom & pop' restaurants and bars -- for earning income from concert performances.  But taken together with fly-by-night event planners/concert promoters and cheapskate restaurant owners, many of Go Go's artists and supporters perpetuate a dysfunctional cycle of superstition, mistrust, cynicism, and general unprofessionalism that alienates fans and undermines the artform's profile.   

Enter felon, race-baiting McActivist, and huckster Ronald Moten.  Moten, a D.C. resident and former CEO of the (now) defunct, scandal-ridden non-profit Peaceoholics, has taken to YouTube with a call to arms aimed at area African-Americans warning of an impending ethnic cleansing, first in Prince George's County and ultimately D.C., by unnamed (assumably 'White') gentrifiers wielding allegedly unjust laws like CB-18.  It's an absurd conspiracy theory considering CB-18 was authored by Af-Am elected officials responding to complaints from mostly Af-Am constituents, vetted through an open, democratic process by a county legislative body made up of mostly Af-Ams, and signed into law by an Af-Am county executive.  Nevertheless, Moten portrays Councilwoman Karen Toles as a hypocrite for defending CB-18 in a recent TV interview after being charged with a traffic violation in 2012, which is like an arsonist calling out the Fire Marshall for puffing on a cigarette at home.  He even has the temerity to justify his outrage as a civil rights issue claiming entertainers are entitled to perform concerts.  Yet not once does Moten address the civil rights of fans attending the dances, or residents who live near the venues to be safe.  Neither does he explain CB-18, the reasons specific events were cancelled, or the fact CB-18 does not prohibit public dance halls or censor Go Go music.

Go Go music's artists, entrepreneurs, and fans would be wise to dismiss the distortions and fearmongering by Moten and others as self-serving rhetoric.  CB-18 represents an opportunity to distance Go Go from the aforementioned negative perceptions.  If we're to organize a movement
educating the public about Washington, D.C.'s music and culture, fan safety at concerts and other public venues has to be a priority.  Besides, creating safe, comfortable environments where people can experience Go Go music is good for business.