Buffoonery. Exploitation. Taboo. That's what BET means to me.
The so-called "Black" entertainment network, owned by Viacom, dedicates at least 20 hours a day to videos, hype, jokes, prison movies, expletives, gangsters and even snake-oil selling preachers offering blessings in a bottle for just $106 a whop. And we wonder why so many of our youth act the way they do.
Admittedly, BET is not the entire problem. But it sure isn't any solution. Impressionable youth are being negatively programmed everyday and all most of us do is complain about it.
Remember when BET at least had several programs that were informative and helpful to Black people? News, interviews with folks we respected and appreciated, Bev Smith, Ed Gordon, Tavis Smiley, George Curry at BET-owned Emerge magazine. At least our children could learn something of value from it. The old BET aired some ridiculous stuff too, but it wasn't as stupid as most of it is now.
Does that mean Viacom sees us as stupid, blind, conspicuous consumers who will go out and buy everything they advertise on BET? If we continue to buy the gold chains and medallions, "grills," spinners, plasma screens, cars, gym shoes, guns, athletic jerseys, champagne, liquor and all the other things we see during the daily BET video orgy of excess and nothingness, the answer is obvious.
I think Viacom not only believes we're stupid, they believe we're stuck on stupid. They pipe in garbage and we lap it up. They insult our children, especially our young women, and us and we insult ourselves by participating in our own exploitation.
Yes, I do remember when I was young and impetuous and how I liked to watch things that were not necessarily in my own best interests. An honest assessment of myself would reveal many of the same vulnerabilities and excesses as young men today. Each generation has its demons. But when we know better, we must do better.
Because this society is all about money, power and material gain, we are scraping the bottom of the garbage pit when it comes to providing our children with reasonable, attractive and lucrative alternatives to much of the behavior we often get on their case about. Black people remain at the bottom of every economic category in this country, yet we allow our children to sit for hours watching buffoonery, exploitation and taboo, vicariously living the "bling-bling" life of the rich and famous.
Meanwhile, they cannot speak in complete sentences, and when they do, you can't understand what they are saying. They know nothing about their history and culture and their Black consciousness is nonexistent. They drop out of school by the thousands and you and I both know what awaits them after that. Our youth need all the help they can get – from us – and a major part of that help must be our willingness to speak out against attempts by profiteers and biased media to brainwash them. Then, we must be willing to economically punish those who use our young people as fodder for their own economic empowerment.
And you know what else we must do? Those of us who are supposed to be men and women, adults in every sense of the word, must portray the proper examples for our youth.
Just as you and I of the older generations learned in our later years, we must pass on those lessons to our young brothers and sisters so they too may "get it" in their later years, if not sooner.
The supporters of BET will tell me about all the jobs and entertainment opportunities BET has provided over the years, and that's true. But can't BET do the same thing in a more positive way? It sure used to.
James E. Clingman, an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati's African American Studies Department, is former editor of the Cincinnati Herald newspaper and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce.