Monday, July 21, 2008

The Commercialization of Ideas

"All good things are wild and free" -Thoreau, goes the quote plastered across my wall. The only problem is that I tore it from a magazine where it was written in pink, lipstick typeface across an advertisement for surfwear company Billabong. Errr, so you see my dilemma?

Revolutionary authors have their thoughts whored out to companies that make thong bikinis, one of my favorite quotes by Laurel Ulrich Thatcher ("well-behaved women rarely make history,") is available on Facebook as a bumpersticker, the faces of Che Guevara and Barack Obama are plastered all across T-shirts, the likes of Common and The Roots name rap albums after classic books that they admit to never having read (Like Water for Chocolate, The Tipping Point, Things Fall Apart) and soulless singers like Solange Knowles freely evoke the words and images of great thinkers in music video clips that will play on MTV alongside Tila Tequila's A Shot at Love.

This, for me, is kind of a problem. Not only does it cheapen the art when, say, Biggie's Juicy is played during a Boost Mobile commercial, but it diminishes the importance of what that person, or that movement, stands for.

Jay-Z proudly wore his El Che T-shirt while performing his MTV Unplugged selections to an audience that probably neither knew nor cared who he was. I think that was kind of the end of great thinkers actually being famous for their thoughts.

Having worked for a marketing company that was very successful at convincing non-black people that black people were cool so that they'd buy products that were marketed to black people but were actually consumed by non-black people, I can attest to the hours spent brainstorming on everything from why black people like sweeter drinks to the history of black people and dance to sell things like gum or body oil. The simple fact is that images like revolutionary communists and words that big-up a woman's carefree side pull strings in our hearts that marketers know ultimately cause us to consume not just a product, but to believe that a brand "gets us." Yes, it's that deep.

I know this trend is really old and isn't going anywhere. I just wish that, alongside her proud Team Obama lapel pin, that 21-year-old Brooklyn hipster would read some of Obama's policies, or that when a neo-soul artist uses a book as inspiration for an album, they actually read it, OR that Solange doesn't plaster images of freedom fighters being hosed down during the Civil Rights movement and then write MySpace blog entries about A Piece of Cake being the best book she's ever read (meaning it was probably the third book she's ever finished. In life).


Nicole said...

I love this post. It's exactly what I was thinking a little while ago in regards to the history or Che Guevara that seems to seep more and more into pop culture. There is a misguided interpretation of his persona. I loved "The Motorcycle Diaries" as much as the next person, but I think some key facts about Che's tactics and personality were missing.

The tag, "Know your History" is most apt here. People can easily distort the historical context of something to suit their personal agenda. Thus the initial message or idea is watered down and miscontrued. I'm just discovering that The Roots never read Things Falls Apart or The Tipping Point. (truth?)

Another thing: Do you know that Angela Davis wrote an essay a few years ago criticizing the over popularization of the Afro? She says her initial intention for wearing the Afro-- to pay tribute to the pride of the women on her block and in her family who were already rocking the 'fro--has become an empty beauty accessory that becomes "fashionable" again during certain seasons.

Good jumpoff for a UL discussion...

Latrice said...

AMEM sister, AMEN