By Bobbi Booker
Black Entertainment Television (BET) is once again embroiled in controversy regarding a music video entitled “Read A Book.” When the video first aired on BET’s “106th and Park” in July, the network invited viewers to join an online discussion about it. Since then the debate has escalated into an exceptionally heated online dialogue on various blogs concerning language and the negative stereotypes of African Americans. The controversial video has become a surprise viral hit for BET as several unedited versions of “Read a Book” recently surfaced on YouTube and drawn over 800,000 viewers.
The “Read a Book” video was developed by BET Animation, a new division established by the network’s president of entertainment, Reginald Hudlin, who made news in July as the executive who green lighted the “Hot Ghetto Mess” (HGM) series. Viewers, angry at BET lack of regard to their complains, took matters into their own hands by starting internet petitions and blogs. Nervous advertisers dropped out, television critics slammed the show and even BET sudden name change from HGM to “We Got To Do Better” could not save the programming from dismal ratings.
However, the “Read a Book” video has spiraled from an innocuous introduction to become an Internet sensation. The pro and con of this debate also highlights the generational—and digital—divide with older viewers saying they feel denigrated and younger ones saying the video is nothing more than a crude joke.
Bomani Ahmer, who says he’s “not a rapper but a poet with a hip-hop style,” wrote and performed “Read a Book.” The catchy video starts with a Lil Jon-like rapper screaming “Read a book, read a book, read a [expletive expletive] book!” In one scene, a woman shaking her rear with “BOOK” printed on her low-riding pants. The video also refers to “Niggas” and reprimands Blacks to raise “your . . . kids,” drink more water instead of alcohol, buy land, “wash your . . . teeth” and “use deodorant.”
“It is a satirical observation of the current ridiculous, offensive, and embarrassing state of the once noble art of Hip Hop,” writes Tcphilosopher , the primary poster of the video on YouTube. BET has not requested the popular video be pulled from YouTube.com. BET, is part of Viacom, the owner of CBS which earlier this year fired radio shock jock Don Imus for using what he called hip-hop-flavored humor in his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
Jesse Jackson, among others, recently denounced the video, on his radio show. The “video ‘Read A Book’ on YouTube takes us into the abyss,” read Jackson ‘s statement. “Billed as a satirical look at popular culture, a viewer is left with the distinct impression that nothing matters, that life is futile, knowledge fruitless, manners meaningless.
“A common definition of satire is witty language used to convey insults or scorn. The video is plenteously scornful and insulting, but not of crassness. The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. “Read a Book” heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance. The simplistic repetitive rhyme and tune made it clear that the creator had not taken his own advice, i.e. to ‘Read a Book'”
BET continues to support the video and issued press release praising the video’s positive message: ” ‘Read A Book’ uses an irresistible beat on which to place the catchy, overly repeated lyrics. But instead of exhorting the listener to dance as much of current hip-hop does, he takes the opportunity to suggest ways through which people can better their lives.”
Last month, the home of BET president Debra Lee was targeted by online protesters in an Internet-based plea to urge viewers to boycott the network and to get BET to change its programming. Reverend Delman L. Coates of Clinton , Maryland’s Mt. Ennon Baptist Church and founder of the blog, “Enough Is Enough: Campaign for Corporate Responsibility in Entertainment” reports over 600 people from the northeast corridor had registered for the Saturday protest.
“This campaign does not go after the individual artist because they have the constitutional right to produce whatever music they desire,” This campaign is not debating artistic freedom or individual artists’ rights. This campaign is about corporate responsibility and government responsibility,” said Coates to EUR.com.
“I do think that Black executives have a responsibility to be accountable to the community. There were people before us who suffered, bled, died so that we can have our broadcast licenses. There are people who struggled so that African American executives could benefit from these positions,” Coates added. “Dr. King didn’t die so that we could present ourselves before the world stage in a negative way.”