This morning I was skimming through Dave Ramey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, and came across this dope example he used about frogs to explain our habits and money. To paraphrase, if you throw a frog into hot boiling water, he’s going to fight and hop out. However, if you throw a frog into some nice warm room temperature water, he’ll swim around happily. You can keep turning up the heat little by little and he won’t notice the subtle shifts. Next thing you know, froggy is fried. Ramsey ended with a quote about how the enemy of good isn’t worst, it’s “just fine.” Complacency will kill you, and all of this reminded me how radio is slowly killing us—particularly black girls and women.
I’ve been listening to a lot more radio lately since I’ve started bringing my Zune to work. Usually, I bounce around between my top four stations—V103, WGCI, Power 92 and B96. WGCI has these radio spots, their “I am WGCI” campaign, that I’ve been hearing for a while but kind of just let them go through one ear and out the other while I waited for the next song to play. That is, until I heard one that made me do a Nicki Minaj and PAUSE.
The spots are “real” people representing where they’re from and how they connect to their favorite songs. If I did one, it might go something like this: “This Sandria from Bronzeville and when I’m in my zone I play this joint right here! (cut to Kanye and Jay-Z “In Paris”).” Nothing wrong with that. I dig the concept. But there is one that really, really gets under my skin. Meet Ariel. “This Ariel from 83rd and KedzIe and when I wanna motivate him, I play this right here (cut to “Motivation” by Kelly Rowland).” I don’t know Ariel, so my issue isn’t with her and I definitely have no issue with Kelly Rowland. The thing that bothers me is that Ariel from 83rd and Kedzie sounds like she’s kind of young. I don’t know how I feel about a teenager talking about what she plays when she wants to “motivate him.” Well, I guess I DO know how I feel because I took the time to write about it.
Would I care less if this radio spot was on V103 and the woman sounded of age? Probably so. A grown woman can motivate anyone she wants. She can be the jabber jaws of ‘motivational speaking’ for all I care. But Ariel (and most of the other young men and women used in the commercials, for that matter) sounds like she’s in high school. Of all the songs to intro, she picked “Motivation”? We're still thinking the water in the pot is room temperature right now. We think this is okay…
The temperature in radio and all of media has been increasing over time. Back in the day, you couldn’t suggest or even show a husband and wife sleeping in the same bed together (“I Love Lucy”), but fast forward to the ‘80s, and you can see Cliff and Claire Huxtable doing entire scenes from their bed. Foul language and sex scenes have long migrated from “just on cable” to basic television. I’m well aware that the times change and life and art must change with it. But does basic human decency change with that? Maybe I missed the app or the automatic update for my Morality 5.0 plugin. Apparently, I need that next level –ish because I’m a little too prudish for some of the things I see and hear that the rest of the world finds acceptable.
The water was already a little too warm for my taste when Twista dropped the song “Wetter” a couple of years ago. I can’t front, I remember being in high school circa ’97 and riding around with my crew listening to the Adrenaline Rush CD on repeat. “Get It Wet” (the mother to "Wetter") was a favorite. How can you be from the Chi and NOT like Adrenaline Rush? Though classic to me now, as an adult I’m listening to music on a different frequency. I’m still listening to what it’s saying, but now I’m really HEARING what’s being said and fed to me. I had to start turning the station when “Wetter” came on because it really made me sad inside. The song features a songstress, Erika, singing this slow, inviting chorus like a sweet, innocent LITTLE GIRL:
I’m callin ya daddy (daddy)
Can you be my daddy (daddy)
I need a daddy (daddy)
Won’t you be my daddy (daddy)
Come and make it rain down on me
Come and make it rain down on me
If you looked up audio porn in the dictionary, a link to “Wetter” would be there. This was the most pedophilic, molestation-inducing song I had ever heard. Every time I would hear it I kept envisioning a lost little girl, and it would start me thinking how the little black girls singing along to this do, indeed, need a daddy. It was too much for me. But not for radio. If “Wetter” is played in the club, cool. Arnie’s Idle Hour or The Factory? Cool. A class at Flirty Girl Fitness? Cool. I think this is an excellent song for stripping to, or putting on a show in the privacy of your own home. But to hear this on the radio, with a woman singing those words and in that way just seems wrong.
Little by little the water is getting hotter, but I think we’ve gone numb. I don’t even think we know we’re boiling now. Black girls are portrayed any old kind of way on “reality” television, talked to like street walkers when simply walking down the street, a synonym for free porn according to Google and raw dogged without a call the next day on the radio. We went from “Wetter” to just straight up “Wet the Bed” with Chris Brown and Ludacris. I’ve never heard this song in its in entirety. It made my Turn From Immediately List very quickly. Hearing how ridiculous DJs sound introducing a song called “Wet the Bed” and hearing Luda’s intro was enough for me. I’ll be late for that.
I’m inspired by Maria Stewart, a brilliant essayist, lecturer, abolitionist and women’s rights activist, and in times like these I often reflect on the words from her essay, “Religion And The Pure Principles Of Morality, The Sure Foundation On Which We Must Build.”:
“Where is the maiden who will blush at vulgarity?...Did the daughters of our land possess a delicacy of manners, combined with gentleness and dignity; did their pure minds hold vice in abhorrence and contempt, did they frown when their ears were polluted with its vile accents, would not their influence become powerful?”
My God, the weight of that question strikes something deep within me. Our influence would be a power that we’ve never known if all those things became so. We, the esteemed “daughters of Africa,” would change popular culture and all of humanity. But how do we change the tide that’s quickly engulfing the very essence of who we are, especially when everyone around is backstroking, talking about "Come on in, the water's just fine"?
Ms. Stewart is one froggy that leaped from the pot and used her voice and pen to save others. Me and my frog legs are slowly, but SURELY, right behind.