Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

TURN ON THE RADIO?

This month’s Harper’s Magazine features an article called “Turn On Tune In: Toward A Progressive Talk Show” by Thomas de Zengotita (which I can’t link to because these geezers are Luddites). But hey, it’s an interesting read–one dude’s take on how liberals can take back talk radio from the Rushes of the world (while championing the word ‘progressive’, natch).

de Zengotita argues that a progressive needs to be angry, caustic, ironic, and truthful. It needs to call right-wing liars on their lying lies and do it with glee. It needs to be hip (we’ll get to the hip-hop part below), interdisciplinary, and nobrow. I found myself agreeing with a lot of the points–even if the guy’s humor was a little too, uh, ah hell let’s say it, tea-and-crackers-at-the-Club for me.

Of course, there are issues. There are always issues.

de Zengotita is, like a lot of them are, another frustrated white boomer with white boomer frustrations. Like so many other heart-broken white boomers once did, he believes the future of progressivism lies with us, the young people of the world. (He’s a professor too, so there you go.) But, alas, like so many other frustrated white boomers, he is mainly looking for another young frustrated white post-boomer to take up his generation’s torch. Like Souls of Mischief liked to say, that’s when ya lost!

He’s ignoring the realities of the hip-hop generation: polycultural, post-white, and proud.

As usual, boomer liberals are looking for love in all the wrong places. They are searching for the next generation folks that look and think like them to tell them what they wanted to say anyway. Doesn’t that sound a little self-defeating and Gitlinesque?

Here are just a few of the shows led by non-white post-boomers that already fit de Zengotita’s proposal:

Davey D and Weyland Southon–Hard Knock Radio, KPFA (Berkeley)

Cedric Muhammad–Sirius Internet and Radio One (Washington DC)

Adisa Banjoko–Sirius and KNEW (San Francisco)

The Poetess–Reality Talk, KKBT (Los Angeles)

Fidel Rodriguez–Divine Radio KPFK (Los Angeles)

Harry Allen and Rosa Clemente–WBAI (New York City)

Frank Red–The Dungeon (Sacramento)

There are many more.

In any case, check out the Harper’s piece and if you agree with me, hell even if you don’t, hit them at mailto:letters@harpers.org

Here’s the letter I sent today…

To: letters@harpers.org

From: Jeff Chang

Subject: TALK SHOW WOULDN’T BE PROGRESSIVE IF IT WASN’T HIP-HOP

Re: “Turn On, Tune In”

As a loud and proud member of the hip-hop generation, who has spent years in activism and around community and commercial radio, actually subscribes to Harper’s, and has often admitted a throat-lumping nostalgia for the good old days of the anti-apartheid movement, I read “Turn On, Tune In” with great interest. I even agreed with most of Mr. de Zengotita’s points, especially his insight that progressivism can only be revived by my peers–the post-ironic, post-civil rights, post-political post-boomers.

So I found it amusing–in an Elvis Costello, “used to be disgusted” kind of way–that de Zengotita would, straight out the box, advocate for a SWM host, “an unmarked signifier”. Whoa. Doesn’t he realize that SWM-ness is just about the most *marked* signifier in the hip-hop generation? Do we need him to start picking up XXL along with his Harper’s down at the subway magazine kiosk? If he’s not proposing that Eminem be recruited, it certainly raises the question of who has any legitimacy with the hip-hop generation to step up to do this.

In fact, in the boomer liberal’s so-far-fruitless search to find someone just like them to say just what they want to say (inevitably, to people who look and think just like them), they’ve missed the fact that so-called urban radio is the dominant format for people under-30. Who does de Zengotita think young people are getting their cultural cues from? They’ve missed the fact that there are brilliant, witty, politically tough radio personalities like the Bay Area’s Davey D who already command passionately loyal young audiences. They’ve missed all the outrage young people have been directing towards ghettopoly radio–expressed, for example, in angry local boycotts of Clear Channel, and “Turn Off The Radio” campaigns led by hip-hoppers like Afrika Bambaataa and Dead Prez.

Same old same old.

Get with the program, yall. If you really want to get to us, you’ll have to get polycultural and post-white.

Peace,

Jeff

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