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Mass Media Myopia

Alexander P. Brown
alexanderparisbrown[at]gmail.com / @RelaxAndAspire

Even though I am a thorough pop culture connoisseur, music especially, I generally try to keep my sanity by staying as far away from the music related Viacom properties as possible. It’s like watching your favorite punk band grow up to be Wall St. executives. But every so often I flick through a few hundred channels and happen upon one of the stations in the hopes they no longer are as bereft of artistic integrity.

Last week I stumbled upon BET’s 2011 Honors program, with one of the recipients being jazz legend Herbie Hancock. And once again I realised mainstream media companies probably are not the best of places for niche arts and audiences, even if they do have strong pop cultural ties.

So, against my better judgement, I continually flicked back and forth waiting for the time when a great jazz man would be given recognition in front of an interdisciplinary, inter-generational audience. My mind absently wondered who they would get to honor him, not really worrying about it, as all of the other “Honors”-label shows on sister networks VH1 and MTV usually adds a young upcoming artist to give credence to the massive influence the honoree has had in his or her genre.

Except, when it came time, what I thought would happen didn’t. First Morris Day’s keyboardist and that kid who was written out of Heroes after the second season did something meant to be funny. Then a group of legends in their own right under the name Chick Corea Quartet gave their tribute, which I thought was okay if a bit odd as reading between the lines it was more of a reunion for Miles alumni (Corea, Ron Carter, Wallace Roney, and Lenny White). Then an a capella group came up and did “Watermelon Man,” which I thought was wholly appropriate if BET confused Herbie Hancock, master of electric sounds, with Bobby McFerrin.

I guess I had too much hope that the media that governs would have an idea of the young and exciting jazz players who would’ve been more than adequate (and maybe cheaper, but I don’t know, Lenny White and Chick Corea do look like one could just find them hanging out in D.C. waiting for an order of crab cakes). I hoped someone fresh would be put on the national stage to extend the idea that jazz isn’t just music for your parent’s generation, but yeah, disappointment.

It just hardens the cement on the notion that today’s major media companies are about two thoughts behind on bridges to the future, stuck in the same miasma that has befallen most corporations in the past decade, too ardent in making sure everything right now glorious to see that there’s tunnel at the end of the present light. It sucks hard that they had to demonstrate their lack of foresight while honoring an artist whose legacy is greatly about trailblazing and providing inroads to the future.

Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work can be found at his blog Relax and Aspire.