Monday, August 25, 2014

MTV 2014 VMAs - Superstar Beyonce & Nicki's Anaconda

Beyonce Knowles Carter just came in and stole the entire MTV Video Music Awards show! Just stole it. To the point where I forgot it was an awards show, and felt like I was at the "On the Run" tour itself. And it's a good thing she came on stage, because I was feeling otherwise pretty dismal about the state of popular music and the images these poor young females are being bombarded with.

It was all pretty unsettling...but then Queen B came out and did the damn thing with the right mix of confidence, talent, sexuality, and stage presence that these girls can learn from. She paid her dues, however. She did the Destiny's Child thing as a young woman, and has now proven to be a lady of class and grace, so even with Beyonce shakin it up and down the stripper pole on stage...there is enough context of her behaviour and her persona as a performer, that it was embedded in the right amount of context to make it OK. Great performance.

The appearance at the end from Beyonce's hubby Jay Z and that super duper cutie baby Blue Ivy was fabulous...what more can we say? Any more questions? Any more speculation about their divorce? That display of family affection as they presented her with the night's most prestigious honour (The Michael Jackson Vanguard Award), and the look of humility on Jay's face...Beyonce's genuine tears of gratitude. Even if they ARE divorcing, that whole episode was touching enough to make you not want to speculate about their woes right now. You want to believe they're a happy Hollywood family. You want to believe that the image presented has been true and solid as a rock. It was a nice touch to end the show.

As for some of those other performers (by the way, WHERE were the men tonight??)...not as captivating. Not enough history, not enough respect yet, and definitely not enough clout in the entertainment world for me to stomach their antics and outfits and nonsense. They haven't build up enough context yet for their personalities and actions...what we see is what we get, and that's what concerns me.

I'm so glad I am not a teenage female trying to grow up in the midst of this mess. The entertainment lover in me couldn't help but tune in for the overall adolescent MTV VMAs tonight; the "journalist" in me loves to see the reporting from the red carpet, reading the live-Tweets, and of course watching the post-awards recaps and reading the next-day fashion reviews. It's all good fun for me, and this awards show in particular is always full of excitement and headline-worthy moments, each and every year.

But Ariana Grande and them make me feel sad, because the tight leather, the bodysuits and high boots are too much for a like...14 year old? How old is she? It's too much. She obviously has a fabulous voice, but it just seems like too much sexuality too soon.

Even Miley Cyrus and the whole tongue and Twerking thing last year...she did something great this time around, bringing the homeless man on stage to speak during her acceptance award speech time. Nice gesture, and I suppose she really had to make up for last year's fiasco. Had it not been for that moment, I would still just look at ol Miley with disgust.

Every action, every pose, every outfit...everything is so closely emulated that you can't help but cringe sometimes when you see their actions, or hear them speak. My main thought is that I wish these young women would just be YOUNG women. Cute. Subtle. Even if they're in their 20s, it's still OK to at least hold on to some of that innocence.

Chances are, even though they are in their 20s, most of their fans are pre-teens and teenagers that will try so hard to emulate them, without the maturity or understanding. Last year's "Twerk" fiasco was a prime example...everyone took what they saw, misinterpreted the dance and ran with it based on that one performance. Just too much. Fortunately Miley kinda toned it down this year, but last year's scars are enough to disturb me for a lifetime. The "trying-too-hard" image is in abundance, and I don't know if it's because I'm OLD...or because I know that young women need something a bit MORE to emulate, and something with some substance, and some innocence, and some class.

I can't lie...I don't mind Nicki Minaj. And that's me as a 36-year-old saying that I like her music, and I think she's an original. She'll never be Latifah, MC Lyte, or Salt N Pepa, but it is refreshing to hear a female rapper...and Iggy ain't cutting it. Sorry. But OMG, what do the young girls who watch Nicki think? She's suddenly so hyper-sexual, yet so completely mainstream that it's really really disturbing! Fine, for a grown man/woman to see Nicki shake her ass...but how does a 14-year-old take that "Anaconda" video/performance in?

I'm sooo glad I grew up in the era of TLC, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and them where it was all baggy jeans, bandannas, and absolutely no nudity and sexuality-in-your-face. Yes, TLC wore all those condoms on their clothing...but they wore a lot of damn clothing, as well! Doc Martin boots, over-sized baseball jerseys. There was no pressure back then to have perfect makeup, a monster bootie, and a flawless mid-drift. All by the age of 18.

Again, it could be a generational thing, but I believe something can be said for leaning more towards the side of modesty and class and good-old-fashioned talent, rather than the gimmicks, the over-exposure, and the sexual antics. More personality, less "persona"... more talent, less trickery. More humility, less diva-ness. Some of these young girls need to earn their stripes, and come up authentically. Put in a couple decades of work before claiming their spaces. They need to look at the examples before them, and focus more on their art than the sale of their image.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for the "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Trouble in Paradise - the Celebrity Relationship Facade

I'm the first to watch it, first to believe it, first to be inspired by it...and first to be upset when it all falls down.

Back in July of 2012 I wrote about the powerful image of the celebrity couple, and how folks like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, or Beyoncé and JayZ, could motivate and inspire us commoners to find love, sustain beautiful relationships, and create empires based on mutual interests and such.

I totally believe the hype! Every time! In fact, I enjoy the hype. Kim and Kanye...fantastic! A great mix of egos, and expensive clothing and vanity and beaucoup bucks. Completely entertaining as far as I'm concerned...but, if the current patterns of power coupledom are consistent, even those two will be wrapping up their nuptials by about 2018.

I don't take celebrity world too seriously, but I do enjoy it. As I've often stated, I can appreciate the power of an image, a message, and the brainwashing and manipulation that goes along with the presentation and reporting of these events and individuals. I watch reality television probably more than I watch scripted shows, and I take it for what it is: entertainment.

What stands out to me at this particular moment in celebrity history is the strong images that were projected about the couples in turmoil. For example, Beyoncé and Jay Z. No one else projects perceived perfection and power like those two. Just thinking about the "billion dollars in the elevator" and the amount of influence that the two of them possess separately, let alone together, makes them a couple worth watching.

With their recent "On the Run" tour, it seems to me like even fans started to tire of looking at the frozen smiles and staged photos. It all became too much. The secrets. The cover ups. The blatant PR spins, and of course, their inability to just keep it real and show their spectators a human side to them. As much as they are in the public eye and commanding respect and financial contributions to their seemed like they weren't willing to give much in return. Just more dancing. More boasting. And they drew the line at that.

As a fair-weather Beyoncé fan, I just grew tired of her. I love love love her music, have most of her albums, and obviously think she's a star like no other. Gorgeous, a great dancer, entertaining to watch and seemingly charming...even with all of that celebrity weight, she still get real annoying to me. Too much smiling. The perfectly timed Instagram photos. The staged outings and courtside NBA appearances all with a plastic grin and couture outfit. Not believable.

I always figured I was just a hater...but it seems like I'm not alone. After a while, the people want someone to believe in. Someone real. The entertainment takes you so far, but at the end of it, there needs to be an element of inspiration as far as I'm concerned. And the inspiration is only possible when authentic communication is taking place...and these people were starting to seem really really phony.

Another couple in the news this week is my beloved Mariah Carey and her little boy toy/husband Nick Cannon. They're apparently heading for divorce, and these rumours seems a bit more advanced and substantial than the "speculated" Bey and Jay rumours.

What interests me about the Mariah/Nick saga, is that within the lyrics of her latest album "Me. I Am Mariah" seemed to be some animosity towards him. Not directly, and I didn't read any dissections of the songs that would lead to these conclusions...but I could sense irritation. I could sense that maybe Nick was loving the celebrity limelight a little bit too much, that he was fronting a little bit too much, and that Mariah was far too successful (and mature) to be on that teeny bopper 106 & Park hype level with her man.

When they first hooked up it was really cute. On a Christian tip, and on a new love tip...Mariah finally finding love, and Nick hooking up with the woman of his was an adorable and romantic tale. As successful as Nick is, his shit seemed to turn up big time post-marriage, and I was impressed with his work ethic. He seemed to be everywhere, doing everything...unstoppable! Great for him, but with Mariah at home with "dem babies" it did even (from an un-informed distance) seem like...why is this little boy running around town, to Vegas, NYC and back getting jiggy, DJing and hosting 101 shows while he has a family to raise?

What do I know, as a stranger a million times removed looking in? Nada. But despite the fortune and fame...there is still a man, a woman, a family to raise, and basic expectations. And I guess Nick fell short. Most women might stick around and deal with it...but a woman of Mariah's stature ain't got time for that shyt. Been there, done that. Money's been made...she probably doesn't have the energy nor time.
WORSE that this little mf was on-air bragging about his former celeb conquests like Nicole Scherzinger and Kim Kardashian...tacky. Not acceptable. I'm not surprised that Mariah was like...uh uh. Enough is enough.

This is all speculation of course, but I'm sure in the next couple of months all of these rumours will become a reality. It's the nature of life...and the nature of the celebrity gossip cycle.

I don't wish anyone unhappiness, and I'm definitely not trying to make light of people's relationship difficulties...but it is a damn shame when the picture is painted so beautifully, when the images make you feel inspired, and the combination of power is enticing...and then the façade fades away, and (womp womp) the illusion is no more.

It's been happening since the beginning of time, and in another few months a new batch of "hot" news stories will be in circulation (there's always Rihanna, more Kardashians, and the countless other A-list celebrity faves to watch)...but right now I think the potential Beyoncé and Mariah separations are huge.

The key will be the way the stories are summarized, and the lessons learned post-breakup, if it gets to that. There still might be an opportunity to learn a lesson or two, or gain some insight as to how a relationship can manage to fail despite the ample access to resources, getaways, opportunities, financial stability, professional help, and the support of millions of fans.

Such is life in the fast lane...and I will stay tuned in to see how it all concludes, one way or another.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for the "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Crisis Communication & Trustworthy Journalism

I don't even have to hear what Anderson Cooper is saying right now, I am just happy to have him "on the scene" live reporting out of Ferguson, Missouri tonight on CNN instead of bitchass Don Lemon. The reporting thus far has been maddddd shoddy. The locals are angry. Americans are on edge. Canadians are like, WTF? African-Americans and Blacks all about are tired. The police down there are probably gearing up ten-fold for another night of perceived/potential/feared trouble. And I am glued to CNN, yet again.

I have a very intelligent Jamaican bredren that says he only reads the Toronto Sun, because he knows that it's the paper geared towards a 6th grade reading level and comprehension. He knows that the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star are slightly more reputable in terms of journalistic integrity and even the level of dialogue that takes place...which isn't a diss at all. Even the headlines and front page photos and captions of each newspaper can kind of tell you what the content will reflect. But he reads the Toronto Sun daily because that's the information that the "common" folk are supposed to digest. He said he would rather read the messages they are feeding to the "less intelligent" than the high-brow discussion and dissertations-in-print for the affluent and educated, say, National Post readers.

I use this as my justification for why I'm locked into CNN 24/7. Not because it's the most reputable or intelligent source of news out there. Not because their opinions reflect my own...but because I firmly believe that 9 times out of 10, if something major is going down in the world...the instinct of the regular cable-television viewer is to turn to CNN. Maybe CP24 for the real Torontoists. Possibly the CBC or BBC news stations. But...CNN is a quick fix to get the latest breaking news, more often than not. The reflex news channel. From time. So yes, I will use that to preface my argument, knowing fully well WHAT CNN is, and what it represents. And beneath all the bias, and fuckery, and gate keeping, and distraction methods and the eternal "breaking news" banner that never goes away even when there ain't a damn thing "breaking" and the news is old as shit...I still tune into CNN because I figure that's where the "common" man is getting his info.

I know that there are countless internet channels, satellite stations, and independent news sources that will definitely paint a clearer picture for me with a diversified and intellectual basis...but I want to hear what the folks in middle America are hearing. I want to see the images that the people in upstate New York are seeing. I want to get that MAINSTREAM news because that is fundamentally what is going to be the popular opinion, regardless of what is wrong or right. That is the nature of the media, God bless its heart.

Yesterday, I was stressed the fuck out. I was glued to CNN from about 6pm until like 1am when eediot Don Lemon ran off the air in his bullet proof vest and gas goggles. I was glued to it (like many, many others) even though it was the most ridiculous journalism I had witnessed in a long time, if not ever. Police tanks were rolling, tension was high, and I could barely breathe because I truly felt like I was witnessing a significant moment in that doesn't happen often. But was happening right before my eyes. Just pure madness.

But tonight, I breathe a sigh of relief. Because today I've seen Russell Simmons. I'm watching Spike Lee. And let the heavens boy Anderson Cooper is back on the scene!! The problems are still the same, but the DIALOGUE will change. It is changing. The images will look the same, but the discussion will improve. And from my couch here in Toronto where I feel like my social impact is very small in comparison to these huge systemic issues...I have a slight bit of hope because I feel that the reporting will take a slight turn for the better because I trust the faces behind the message. They have proven themselves to me over the course of many years and circumstances.

I am a student of Communications. I am not undermining the political, racial, social, historical, and judicial elements to this story...but my training, and my level of comprehension is rooted in THE MESSAGE and the communication of the message. My instinct is not to run down to Yonge/Dundas Square to start my own protest, or to draft a petition for the upcoming trial in Missouri. My interest is in the immediate message, the imagery, the news stories, the questions asked, the guest perspectives, and the subsequent lessons and progress that will be made as a result of this discussion. Right now.

These images are so important to how THIS particular story is being told. Right now. Just like images during Hurricane Katrina were. These images are essentially CRUCIAL to how this is remembered in history, despite the truth, and despite the reality...the way the images and messages are communicated, documented, and circulated are really, really important.

So when I see bullshitass Don Lemon shoo-shooing protestors off the sidewalk so he can get a good camera angle, defending the police for days on end, interviewing irrelevant pedestrians, calling the protestors names like a school boy, and asking inappropriate questions, I know that something has gone wrong. He is entitled to his opinions as a human being, but as a reporter his personal bias felt so heavy and disgusting and SCHUPID that I feared the overall TONE of the story was being tainted by his ridiculousness. So my blood pressure was on a level. I was angry. I was watching the footage and was mad about the nature of what I was seeing. This moment in time is TOO powerful in terms of mainstream opinion, to have just anyone at the forefront with a mic in his hand.

But there is a way that the anger can be turned into hope, or at least perceived progress. As deep-rooted as the issues of racism and police brutality are (and as HARD as the struggle is for young Black males, old Black males, and Blacks in general is)...there is a level of hope and potential progress that communication professionals are responsible for projecting into their daily work.

Could you imagine if during 9/11, when America was collectively WEEPING and paralyzed with fear, that the mainstream reporters were conspiracy theorists, radicals, or anything less than comforting, rational, or at least reasonably empathetic? Everyone has a role in our society, whether it's to protect the people, educate the people, clothe the people, feed the people, or drive the people...and the role of the journalist is to present the people with an unbiased look at the world, and use their intelligent and educated understanding of various elements of the story to come to a conclusion that is at the very least comforting and informative.

So while my heart is still breaking for the unnecessary murder of young Michael Brown. While I am still stuck on the CNN channel, and will be for the next few hours, I am at least semi-reassured knowing that the level of dialogue will heighten, and that even inserting Mr. Anderson Cooper and other passionate, authentic, and knowledgeable expert minds onto the scene is at least a slight spark of hope in an otherwise completely hopeless and redundant turn of events.

God bless them all, as this journey continues.