I was asked the other day if I’m a cynical person. It’s a funny thing to be asked to determine yourself, I’ve always thought that cynicism is a label that is applied by others. However, given the opportunity, I accepted it very quickly. I’m cynical and I like it that way.
With that in mind I’d like to talk about the youtube video (or VIRAL SENSATION) ‘I am NOT black, you are NOT white.”. I came across it while wasting precious minutes of my life on Facebook; it was shared by one of those friends to whom you haven’t spoken in years and who you didn’t much like when you did speak. Perhaps that’s why the video, which is clearly supposed to leave its viewer with a feeling of wonder, left me feeling angry and frustrated.
The video is bought to us by Prince ea and is a member of a growing genre that consists of young men passionately rhyming at a camera about a subject they happen to care about. Classics of the genre include “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”, “I will not let an exam result decide my fate” and Prince’s own “MAN vs EARTH”. They generally seem well-intentioned, a flashy, concise, if simplistic, way to put across a simple point.
So why did this most recent edition make me so angry? Because, when you take a step back from what you’re watching and apply a little magic cynicism, you realise that this video’s only purpose, its sole reason for being, is to make you share it. Everything from the dramatic music to the easily acceptable message is designed to provoke a response in the viewer that will lead them to click share, thus swelling the wallets of its makers.
What awakened this suspicion was the thought that the guy rapping (sorry, Prince ea) looked and sounded a lot like other people I’d seen doing the exact same shtick. After some thorough investigative journalism, I discovered that this is because Prince ea is responsible for a veritable cornucopia of patronising, self-important dross all of which is wildly popular. That’s not to say that I disagree with his messages a lot of the time. From what I can tell he thinks we should look after the planet, not become too engrossed in social media and (wait for it)…not be racist. Well bravo, sir! what a ground-breaking and insightful set of opinions you have there! Thank God Prince ea is here to let us know that we shouldn’t label people based on the colour of their skin. What would we do without him?
You might argue that these videos are designed to change the minds of those who do believe that people should be divided based on race, but it’s very clear, upon examination, that these videos are actually aimed specifically at people who already hold these opinions because those are the people most likely to share it. Prince ea couldn’t be pandering any more to young liberals like myself if his life depended on it. “I am NOT black, you ARE not white.” contains lines like:
“the answer…is so simple every politician has missed it
Yeah stick it to the man! We don’t need no damn politicians!
half the people watching this will dismiss it”
Will they? Or are you just trying to create the impression that rallying behind this video will make me Rosa Parks? Prince ea isn’t really trying to change people’s minds; he’s just re-affirming broadly-held opinions among young people and making a mint from it.
It’s not that I think racism is not an issue or anything ridiculous like that; it’s just that I don’t appreciate being told in a blisteringly condescending and kind-of-accusatory way that judging people based on their skin colour is wrong. It’s not even that I think Prince ea is stupid; he has a degree in anthropology and I’m sure he’s a very nice man. He’s also a very astute business man, but what he is not is an activist.
If anything, I think this video’s success reflects worse on us than it does on him. We value a series of brief well-edited rhyming couplets over the words of people who could actually make a difference. Do you want to know what the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, JFK, George Bernard Shaw and Nelson Mandela have in common? They all run for more than five minutes and none of them rhyme!
This obsession with brevity, the idea that if it can’t be expressed in moment then it shouldn’t be expressed at all is rife within our generation (to the point where Prince ea himself has rapped about it). Every time I see a ‘Now This’ video boiling down US politics to a set of zingers and one-liners I despair; no one seems to have genuine interest in anything any more. And it’s fine not to be interested but at least admit to it! Don’t imagine that your sharing some guy’s nice rap makes an ounce of actual difference to the world.
Or maybe I’m just being cynical.