rasx() on Media: Billboards and Postcards

This documents the rasx() context, featuring four items for his critical eye: “Let There Be Q”, “Bridezilla,” ‘Ass-imilation’ and From Woodstock to iStock. These titles refer to commercial billboards and a postcard that got in his face and this time he decided to lean forward against the corporate push.

“Let There Be Q”

Let There Be Q There was an idea in mind to start taking pictures of ‘thought provoking’ promotional materials out there in the “urban landscape” but I just could not get started. My initial idea was to provide visual references from “evil corporations” with some semblance of fair use. I have not checked with Lessig and paparazzi thugs but I assume that it is still legal for people who do not work for (or with) the police department to take pictures in public places… Anyway, I just could not get started! The initial idea was to show just how strict the neo-Hollywood, Black codes are when it comes to compositing people with African features into mass marketing materials. This angry study has been done before so many times in various ways… bell hooks is heavily invested in this… So I just could not get started until I saw the billboard pictured at left.

Do I find this Motorola billboard offensive? Hell no! What a great place to start! I took this picture in the middle of commuting traffic because it is so rare to see images like this, on this scale, in the Americas. And I need to show off my post-teen-hormone discipline when I use the word images. I could have just as easily said the word “woman”—but sorry to say all you faithful consumers of pornography: this is an image—this is not a woman. Not to sound so high and mighty, to speak on behalf of my younger self, let me mention that this ‘image’ represents an ideal of womanhood that I would have loved—beyond love—to have been saturated with in my childhood and young adulthood. Unfortunately this was not the case. And I had to investigate this matter thoroughly because when I write love beyond love I am not fucking kidding.

The following sentence provides the executive summary of this issue for the ever-so-slightly concerned: There was not a single moment in my life when a woman that even remotely resembled this woman in this complexion and build was rejected by me because of her looks. On the contrary, kids… On the contrary… Someone is likely to ‘get to her’ before I would have… So, for those of you with the ‘proper resources’ concerned as I have been (to the core of my being) about this matter, I beg you to get your new-millennium sociological research project going. I urge you to survey 100 professional (and amateur) models that resemble the image in the billboard to query them regarding the following assertions:

  • The model probably may have at least one memory of being psychologically abused by relatives or other people “close” to her during her formative years. This abuse was related to her physical appearance. The abuse could have been something as passive as neglect or something sick and active. This abuse made her appreciate kindness from anyone and eventually began to associate physical traits with kindness. This means, “Black people can’t help, white guys represent opportunity.”
  • The model is very likely to have at least one devout worshipper—perhaps a priestly and sincere fashion photographer from Milan who spends “a great deal of time” in Africa. He’s got Ethiopian girls eating pasta and Nigerian girls straightening their hair. He says to me laughing in halting, broken English, “Hey, bro do not player hate.” And I’m like: ‘Hey, when in Rome… they do what they got to do…’ This guy knows more about “real Africa” than I do. You know, he did that spread on Liberian girls with the guys of the UN. This coupled with the six-figure income from photo gigs makes him an “interesting guy.” She’s got the plane tickets in the mail and she’s off to Europe, baby. What do I have? Just a bunch of dead ancestors?
  • This model may be a product of hip hop. She may be an associate of someone like Idia Arie, Andre 3000 or Erykah Badu—or an associate of an associate. She can go from a few music video appearances to big-ass billboards. She could be paying her way through school following her mother’s doctoral-Black-hippie footsteps short of Alice Coltrane vegan vitality. Yeah! …Note that I do not even begin to speculate that she might come out of gangsta, bling-bling circles—because too many of these Negro patriarchs are proud to flaunt the “light-skin-ded” girls…
  • This last one is highly unlikely but very potent: The model may have memories passed down from her equally photogenic mother about idealistic Blacks parading their thin veneer of African bullshit rhetoric around and, as soon as the 70s started to wane and the Black Power Party started to flip towards MTV Disco, all of these so-called Black Revolutionaries are nowhere to be found—many of them getting married to “the enemy” Baraka style. Suddenly these strong African complexions are “out of style.” The message from mother to daughter is: watch out for that “Black shit”—it’s not to be trusted.

So, like I said before… on the contrary… on the contrary, kids. Once we get past the pornographic impulse we need to take a look at the behind-the-scenes footage and truly respect all human beings. We need to listen to their stories and learn about people—not faceless asses and tits wrapped up in institutionalized schoolboy fantasies. Eventually, my young 007, these fantasies will come back to haunt you. Anyway, I do not find this Motorola billboard offensive. Let there be Q baby! The only other place on the web where you can find photography like this (where the photography is produced by Black people) is megafunk.com. This is a project funkyfied by R/Kain Blaze.


Bridezilla Now let’s get back to normal—with the Normans and other Anglo Saxon visions seen by billions of people of all colors. Ah, doesn’t it feel comfortable now? Don’t you feel a sense of relief now that order is restored? Let’s get back to reality here and look at the we.tv billboard at right:

  • One of the few times in your life when you get to see a woman with strong African features—with her hair this short—is when she is scowling at you like an animal.
  • The very, very European bride’s veil—meant to outline long flowing locks with lithe strophes of elfish white—sits precariously on top of her short hair and looks like its about to run off in terror. This is supposed to be funny.
  • The model posing in the photograph was chosen for her healthy weight-to-height ratio. When I took a peek at we.tv, I quickly discovered that many of the “Bridezillas” were typically overweight according the current Norman norms here in the Americas. This means that the model in the billboard does not represent the real people in the television program.

Of course, I was not sitting in the marketing meetings that thunk up this composition, but my speculation hobbles something together suggesting that this campaign is designed for women (probably by women—dominated by white liberals of all colors). In order for “us” to laugh at our Bridezilla in the billboard “we” need a slim, attractive woman to laugh at—“we” refers to other women, mind you, because I do not find this funny.

Now, to the next level (here we go again): when a Black woman wears her hair this short she is taking a stand that sets her apart from “the norm.” She has colored and white women ‘wondering’ about her. So when “we” see her scowling and growling like this at her own wedding, “we” can laugh at her because she was “foolish” enough to set herself apart from “the norm” with that short hair and slim figure. Who does she think she is? Julienne Malveaux? But I guarantee you, sister, the real woman who occupied the body that posed for this photograph has no problems that remotely resemble this shit. Go to we.tv and see the real hefty hussies sporting matrimony. we.tv should be paying me for this guerrilla marketing!

The suggestion here is that this particular we.tv billboard plays on the tendency of petty jealousies among egocentric women of patriarchy. This cultural norm is often sold as “human nature” instead of the pervasive power of the Imperial Cultural Revolution. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that egocentric women of patriarchy are a large demographic group so it’s probably worth it… Swaddled in the white-liberal idealism of my youth, it took me a very large time to consider the possibility that some women are not happy for other women when they get married. Such petty pleasures may be fine entertainment for the “silent majority” but for those of us who are fully conscious when we speak of community—namely African community—we know that laughing at fundamentally flawed unions between man and woman is very difficult. Son House calls this The Blues. We know that children suffer when they are raised in this fundamentally flawed situation. Many of these children grow up and provide more human resources for The Prison Industrial Complex. To paraphrase something I read in a Basquiat painting, “There’s good money in savages.”


Ass-imilation I digitized a promotional postcard I received in the mail from Microsoft years ago. What we see floating at left is a “harmless” display of corporate compliance—three obedient employees playing leapfrog. The intended Microsoft message is surely something like, “You can leap ahead with Microsoft products. It’s like child’s play. Bring youthful happiness to your workplace.” That’s it. End of story.

In the rasx() context, however, this “innocuous” composition has always annoyed me, provoked me—and is a visual reminder of important 20th century events in African history. I’m reminded of the profoundly annoying work of Kara Walker when I look that this image. Many Walker compositions ‘suggest’ that young white boys play with the bodies of sexually mature women with strong African features. I am forced to place the word ‘suggest’ in quotes because Kara Walker leaves herself some wiggling room and the opportunity to imply that what I am seeing in her work is more my problem than her potential for non-constructive manipulation and self-serving seduction.

The same wiggling room is also available for the producers of this promotional image. “They are just playing, Bryan… Sexual maturity has nothing to do with it…” So now it’s time to play with your mind, reader. Look at the image—before you do read these words: doggy style. Now look at the image: who is going to get the next blow from the rear? Our sense of “fair play” may suggest that eventually the women with strong African features shown in the foreground will get her chance to leap forward—but what we actually see in this composition is her body about to take the next blow.

What I am supposed to cleanly and precisely separate from myself as I view this image is my memory of how Black women are seen as a deformed confusion of masculinity and animal non-intelligence—a sexual dumping ground for patriarchal trash. This act of separation is a form of high-brow discretion—quiet, refined self-censorship. In Art on My Mind, bell hooks addresses this directly in “Facing Difference: the Black Female Body” as she engages the work of Lorna Simpson:

Living in a white-supremacist culture, we mostly see images of black folks that reinforce and perpetuate the accepted, desired subjugation and subordination of black bodies by white bodies. Resisting these images, some black folks learn early in life to divert our gaze, much in the same way that we might shield a blow to the body. We shield our minds and imaginations by changing positions, by blocking the path, by simply turning away, by closing our eyes.

We learn to look at the images of blackness that abound in the cultural imagination with suspicion and mistrust, with the understanding that there may be nothing present in those images that is familiar to us, complex, or profound. Our eyes grow accustomed to images that reflect nothing of ourselves worth seeing close-up. As a survival strategy, aware black folks often cultivate a constructive disregard for the power of the image. Some of us just dismiss it.

Speaking for the generation after bell hooks, the opinion here is that more dismissing is taking place than shielding. In fact, I am certain that there are many of you who happen to stumble upon these paragraphs during a Google™ search, wondering why I am “wasting” my time writing about this “stupid” subject. I understand that I look so “stupid” because I seem to walk—in a stupor—head on into this place where “nobody” cares about going. I leave myself no wiggle room to conceal or confuse. These are the travel plans: I look at the image and her body is about to take the next blow. This disturbs me. I write about it.

From Woodstock to iStock

iPod I think it was in Lords and New Creatures, where Jim Morrison writes something like, “…we have come from wild men dancing on hillsides to two eyes staring in the dark.” Jim Morrison, under the cruel gaze of the rabid cynic, is a “failed” filmmaker. So when he refers to the eyes staring in the dark we may dismiss his critique as a bowl of sour grapes displayed in a shop window. However, when I see this iPod billboard, I think of “Native Americans,” Woodstock, hippies and this Jim Morrison line.

The hippies dancing around in the mud at Woodstock used an open air environment and their collective massive presence to enjoy their music. When they listened to music it soared across the sky on loudspeakers. When they danced it was among throngs of like-minded people—people dressed up like Hollywood B-movie Indians. So when I see this little white box attached to the skull of this dancing figure by catheter-like tubules, I see an almost medical treatment of musical freedom. Jim Morrison’s dreaded theater with the eyes staring in the dark is made into micro-sized white boxes administered individually to the masses in controlled, 99¢ doses.

My horrible little science fiction story is that large corporations don’t need to win over fully mature customers. All they have to do is have enough resources to grow their own customers. This billboard looks like freedom to so many young people. Yes, and we have heard of those tales of humans being raised by wolves. This means that humans are frighteningly adaptable. So my guess is that the iPod customer clearly can’t dance around like this alone in public. This means that she has to imagine that she can move like this while she is enjoying her digital music. This goes beyond Jim Morrison’s theatre into a world of pure, vaporware imagination. I have said it before and this is probably my first time writing this, Steve Jobs is a straight-up pimp. To put it in secular terms, he’s “building a brand.”

I’m an iTunes user. I can’t tell you in detail how I use iTunes because I think it’s illegal in the United States to tell you. Let’s me just write the acronym SPDIF and move on… My personal, portable computer is central to my flashy and exciting W2 lifestyle. This means that there is not much difference to me between an iPod and a USB storage device. However, I remember the Sony Walkman craze and that was cool for riding the school bus. I never thought it was appropriate for jogging or any other strenuous, physical activities outdoors. When the opportunity presents itself for me to be outdoors, let me be outdoors—not inside some idealized, little white box.